This week's episode includes updates on net neutrality, workplace sexual harassment, bitcoin, worsening global inequality, Europe's recovery and instability, and using prison labor to fight fires. This episode also features a major discussion of consumerism, revolting against capitalism and the economics of alternative populisms.
Visit Professor Wolff's social movement project, democracyatwork.info.
Permission to reprint Professor Wolff's writing and videos is granted on an individual basis. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to request permission. We reserve the right to refuse or rescind permission at any time.Ready to challenge injustice and spark real change? So are we. Support Truthout's mission today by making a tax-deductible donation.
It's now officially 2018, and that means we're on the verge of a new Congressional session -- and all of the chaos it contains. Republicans managed to end 2017 on a high note by passing an improbable and unsustainable handout to corporations and the rich – and by throwing a repeal of the Obamacare mandate into the mix, too.
But now the GOP is heading into what many are predicting could be a bloodbath of a 2018 midterm election – with both the House and the Senate in danger of flipping into Democratic control. Will anything actually get passed this session, or will the buck get passed until after Election Day?
Here is what we expect to see from Congress in 2018:1. Immigration
The biggest issue that Congress will aim to tackle right away is the repeal of the DREAM Act, which has put thousands of undocumented Americans brought into the US as children in danger of being deported back to home countries many don't even remember. Democrats promised to make DACA the fight of the year, and we can expect a bill to address the issue as soon as Congress gets down to work. The question is, will enough Republicans come on board to pass a new policy?
Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Arizona Senator Jeff Flake and other Republicans have joined in with Democrats to urge a new DACA solution, but President Donald Trump continues to urge measures be added to any bill to discourage Democrats from signing on. Most recently he argued that any bill that offers a renewal of the program must also include funding for a border wall between the US and Mexico -- a pet talking point from his election campaign. And it's a requirement most Democrats see as non-negotiable.
"The Republican tweeted last week that 'there can be no DACA without the desperately needed wall at the southern border and an end to the horrible chain migration and ridiculous lottery system of immigration,'" Masslive.com reports.
Whether a compromise will be found will be one of the biggest questions of 2018.2. CHIP
The Children's Health Insurance Program, a program which provides low or no cost health insurance to children of lower or middle income families who lack insurance of their own, received a small reprieve at the end of the year: Congress gave CHIP a small short-term funding boost to keep the program afloat. But the funds were very limited, and many states are in danger of cutting children off of their insurance within the next month if Congress doesn't renew the funds.
Keeping 9 million children covered should be a no-brainer -- it's never been controversial before. That's why even President Trump's own advisors are urging Congress to make re-authorization a day one priority.
"Here's the bottom line: children's health has to be above partisan haggling," writes Boris Epshteyn, former Senior Advisor to the Trump Campaign. "The thought of a mother or father getting a notice that their child would be losing health coverage is truly heartbreaking. Enough with the short-term solutions from Congress. Since both parties already agree on the need for this program, our elected leaders have to fully reauthorize CHIP as soon as they get back to work in January."3. Government Funding
CHIP isn't the only initiative that didn't get funded last year. The government has only been running due to a series of continuing resolutions -- all designed to give it just enough money to avoid a shutdown every month or two. But now that the tax "reform" package is through, Congress is ready to finally compile and implement a full budget -- or shut down the government for good while trying.
But putting together a budget everyone can agree on won't be easy. There isn't just DACA and the border wall and CHIP to deal with, but funding for FEMA, military spending, infrastructure and more. And that includes trying to deal with the "deficit hawks" who will argue against raising the debt ceiling, since they only seem to approve of increasing national debt when the money is going into massive tax cuts for the rich.
Bloomberg News reports:
It's undecided whether a budget deal would also raise the federal debt ceiling, which was again hit in December. The Treasury Department can probably delay a default until March, the Congressional Budget Office has estimated. Lawmakers need to agree on new spending to aid victims of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, primarily in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, and wildfires in California. The House passed an $81 billion bill in December that stalled in the Senate amid complaints it didn't fully address rebuilding for Texas and Puerto Rico in particular.4. Cuts to the Social Safety Net
And finally there are the impeding cuts to Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare that are coming down the pike. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan promised a pivot to gutting "entitlements" -- such as ensuring retirees have money to live on, providing everyone with some form of health care coverage and so on -- now that the handouts to the wealthy are in the books. So, expect that battle to come sooner rather than later.
To try to reframe the issue, the GOP has divided the budget into two pots: Defense -- military spending -- and "non-defense discretionary spending" -- research, education, public health, environmental spending and everything else. And Tea Party Caucus Republicans like Mark Meadows are painting "discretionary" as nothing but "wasting" taxpayer money.
"The (Trump) administration has already been willing to say: 'We're going to increase non-defense discretionary spending … by about 7 percent,'" Meadows told CBS "Face the Nation," according to the Fiscal Times. "Now, Democrats are saying that's not enough, we need to give the government a pay raise of 10 to 11 percent. For a fiscal conservative, I don't see where the rationale is. … Eventually you run out of other people's money."
Hardline xenophobic elements within the Trump administration and the Republican Party are beating the drums about immigration, two months before the status of Dreamers is set to expire.
Thomas Homan, Immigration and Customs Enforcement acting director, said Tuesday that local officials who don't fully cooperate with the agency should face criminal prosecution.
"We gotta take [sanctuary cities] to court, and we gotta start charging some of these politicians with crimes," Homan said in a Fox News interview.
Homan made remarks the day after California became the first-ever sanctuary state -- a reaction to the election of Donald Trump and his administration's anti-immigrant policies. The move bars state officials from voluntarily complying with ICE.
According to an analysis published this week in The Los Angeles Times, abusive employers in the Golden State have already taken advantage of Trump's election. Last year, complaints to state labor regulators "over immigration-related retaliation threats" were up by almost a factor of five -- to 96 from 20. Roughly one-in-five undocumented immigrants in the United States reside in California.
Homan also issued the threat against sanctuary jurisdictions as House Republicans press Trump to take a hardline on negotiations over Dreamers -- the 800,000 undocumented US residents facing the imminent loss of their temporary status in March.
Dreamers had been granted deportation protections through an Obama administration initiative -- Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The Trump administration announced in September it would not renew the safeguards, saying Congress must act.
Some House Republicans -- like Reps. Steve King (R-IA), Mark Meadows (R-NC), and Dave Brat (R-VA) -- have called for the GOP to refrain from negotiating on Dreamers' final status before intensifying the crackdown on undocumented immigrants. In a recent interview, Brat echoed the arguments of far-right nationalist politicians in Europe.
The backlash has called into question whether legislation protecting Dreamers can pass the House. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) is pushing for a stand-alone vote on DACA, in a move that could empower conservative hardliners.
Democratic leaders in Congress, meanwhile, are pushing for the inclusion of the DREAM Act in talks over the latest government funding bill -- a move that would see Dreamers receive a path to citizenship.
The federal government is set to run out of money in a few weeks, yet again, on Jan. 19 -- the third such deadline since the start of December. Top Congressional Republicans and Democrats and White House officials are set to discuss legislation to avoid the impending shutdown on Wednesday afternoon, as Bloomberg noted.
President Trump's scandals have legitimized warmongering generals along with the CIA and FBI, and his persona is a media spectacle that easily distracts the public from the corporate takeover of our democracy currently being orchestrated by the broader GOP. The media should make clear that Trump is a fig leaf for a hyper-conservative Republican establishment, and the left should not lose sight of its priorities.
NYPD removes "Arrested Trump" from Trump Tower. The Backbone Campaign and NYC allies marked the kickoff of a nationwide tour of a giant Donald Trump puppet head on December 30, 2017. (Photo: Erik McGregor / Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Charles Derber offers a guide to the new era of organizing in Welcome to the Revolution: Universalizing Resistance for Social Justice and Democracy in Perilous Times. With guest contributions from Medea Benjamin, Ralph Nader, Gar Alperovitz and more, this book makes a compelling argument about how movements must come together. Order your copy today with a donation to Truthout!
Since Trump's election, the liberal media and much of the left have trained their fire on him, headlining daily his scandals, tweets and dysfunctional personality. Ironically, this is playing into Trump's hands and helping the Republican Party, as it undermines the values that the left claims to champion.
MSNBC anchors such as Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O'Donnell and Nicole Wallace arguably embody the problem most fully, perhaps because they are so creative, informed and dogged in their pursuit of the Trump house of cards. The brilliant investigative stories about Trump by The New York Times and The Washington Post also dominate the news and raise some of the same concerns.
So what is the problem? The anti-Trump narrative is that the president is unfit for office, a "child" whom the "adults" in the White House need to supervise full time. But who are these "adults?" They are the generals in Trump's cabinet -- John Kelly, Jim Mattis and H.R. McMaster -- who spent much of their military career orchestrating disastrous wars such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan. The anti-Trump narrative, stressing the rationality and good judgment of these "adults," tends to legitimate the worldview and behavior of the people responsible for so much of what is wrong with US foreign policy.
The problem is notable among the cable television commentators who tend to be former national security officers and rip Trump for questioning the moral virtues of agencies such as the CIA and FBI. Yet the CIA has led covert wars -- whether in Guatemala, Iran or Colombia -- that have engineered anti-democratic coups globally, often with help from the FBI and its attacks on domestic liberal dissent. Think only of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover's long, infamous war on Martin Luther King Jr. and civil rights.
Much anti-Trumpism thus legitimates institutions needing serious liberal and left critique while diverting attention from the Republican Party that is actually ruling the nation. It takes away time needed to expose in depth truly horrific GOP domestic policies, such as weakening Dodd-Frank banking and consumer regulations, opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling and taking health care away from millions.
Yes, there is some coverage of big issues such as the tax bill, but the policy stories play second fiddle to Trump's lies, tweets and bigotry. Since Trump knows so little about policy and is relatively uninvolved, the news becomes an endless story on Trump's crude and criminal carnival-barker persona -- and the rest fades out.
Anti-Trumpism tends to present the GOP establishment as trying to restrain its new erratic leader. But Trump is actually a creation of the "Reagan Revolution" and the corporate system that the GOP has long been handsomely rewarding. Trump has worse manners than the establishment, but he is their boy on almost all the policy questions they care about.Truthout Progressive Pick
"A must read for anyone serious about building a meaningful and positive future!" - Gar AlperovitzClick here now to get the book!
The focus on Trump plays directly into Trump's hands and GOP power. Every time the media goes after him, it helps him dominate the national conversation. His personality as spectacle draws viewers and thus revenue to the media -- and can attract money for anti-Trump candidates and political liberal or left groups, contradictorily aligning Trump with his most vocal critics.
Does this mean that Maddow, The New York Times or even leftist media should stop covering the Trump scandals? No. The Trump story has great importance, as Trump threatens democracy and even survival. But it does mean that the media should make clear that Trump is a fig leaf for a hyper-conservative Republican establishment and its wealthy donor class, now celebrating the massive tax giveaway to itself.
Anti-Trumpism is consuming the energy of liberals and the left, who need to fight Trump but also be urgently focused on stopping and reversing the disastrous GOP "adult" establishment and corporate takeover. We need to keep our eye on the ball and create a new politics prioritizing people -- real children and real adults -- over profits.
Erica Garner was tireless in fighting for justice for her father. She died fighting for police accountability and justice for others. Her heart gave out from the task, but she continues to inspire the movement for justice.Erica Garner, the daughter of Eric Garner, who was choked to death by a police officer on Staten Island, asks to speak with former President Barack Obama outside at a town hall hosted by ABC to engage directly with officers, parents, students, community leaders, and families on trust and safety in the communities at the Studio Theater July 14, 2016, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Olivier Douliery-Pool / Getty Images) The stories at Truthout equip ordinary people with the facts and resources to create extraordinary change. Support this vital work by making a tax-deductible donation now!
Three weeks before her death, anti-police violence activist Erica Garner spoke in an interview of the trauma and struggle that caused Kalief Browder's mother to die of heart problems -- literally, a broken heart. Browder was the 16-year-old boy from the Bronx accused of stealing a backpack in 2010 who then spent three years in an adult prison, often in solitary, without being convicted. After he was released, he struggled with mental health and eventually took his own life.
In the interview, Erica discussed her own trauma of seeing her father, Eric Garner, killed by a New York police officer, her own health struggles, and the stress of fighting injustice since that summer day in July 2014.
"This thing, it beats you down," she said to podcast and YouTube show host Benjamin Dixon. "The system beats you down to where you can't win."
Erica shared that she felt her father's pain watching the viral video that shook the nation, showing New York police officer Dan Pantaleo putting her father in an illegal chokehold, killing him. "That same pain when he said he can't breath. That same pain when he said he was tired of being harassed" by police officers.
But the self-proclaimed daddy's girl, the oldest daughter of Eric Garner's children, stated emphatically, "It's hard, but you have to keep going. No matter how long it takes, we deserve justice, and I want to get justice for other people."
Erica was tireless in fighting for justice for her father, whose death was ruled a homicide, although no charges were brought against Pantaleo. She died fighting for police accountability and justice for others.
Like so many others', my social media feeds were flooded with the news of Erica's death on Saturday. People expressed their own pain, anger, frustration, and sadness.
But I had no words. I could barely make out my own emotions. I didn't want to jump on the bandwagon of quick sentiments. I didn't know Erica personally or professionally. I didn't follow her work. My reaction was similar to when I saw the "I can't breathe" video of her father's killing, similar to when I saw the killing of Philando Castile, the killing of Terence Crutcher, the killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice.
There was only numbness.
But now the tears won't stop. I can't breathe through the sobs.
I remember the fatal chokehold that took Erica's father's life. I remember the image of a Black child being gunned down by a police officer at the park. I remember the image of a Black driver being shot while reaching for his identification, his girlfriend screaming when he dies on camera, the sound of their 4-year-old daughter consoling her mother. "It's OK, Mommy, I'm right here with you." Pleading with her mom to stop "'cause I don't want you to get shooted."
I can't breathe through all this remembering.
My tears will not bring her back, and they will not get the justice that she fought for so personally and passionately. But maybe these tears, along with these words, can touch a few hearts.
And maybe many words and many tears can spark a lot of people -- tens of thousands, millions -- to join the movement to end the oppression of marginalized people in their communities.
And maybe those people will propose legislation that refuses to give police violence a pass, that fully prosecutes wrongful acts of policing. This is something the Movement for Black Lives has already begun.
And maybe out of that will come the Eric Garner Law or the Tamir Rice Law, or pick a name -- maybe just the Black Lives Matter Law, which sees to it that police officers are not allowed to just retire following an act of violence. Maybe this law will instead suspend them without pay during an investigation of a killing, a rape, harassment -- any form of police violence. Maybe this law will encourage just and appropriate charges. And maybe convictions, too.
And maybe all the programs that have been proposed to actually train police officers in implicit bias and de-escalation will be mandated for every policing agency in the smallest town to the largest city -- rural, urban, suburban, county, state, and federal.
I can't breathe through all these maybes.
Erica died fighting for justice. Like her father, her heart gave out from the task. She died seeing the person who killed her father not be held accountable for taking his life unjustly.
I do not want to die knowing that I said nothing. Did nothing, knowing that oppressed people every day are dying unjustly at the hands of police, moving along with my days numb, as if that is just the normal way things are. It is not normal.
So I will fight through the numbness and the tears, and offer my words.
Israeli soldiers ripped 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi out of her bed in the middle of the night, threw her into the back of a military jeep and locked her up in a small, cold prison isolation cell. And this week, the Israeli military court indicted Ahed on 12 charges.Did you know? Truthout is a nonprofit publication and the vast majority of our budget comes from reader donations. It's easy to support our work -- click here to get started.
Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi. (Photo: Haim Schwarczenberg)It's been called the "slap heard around the world." For wielding a bare handed slap, Israeli soldiers ripped 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi out of her bed in the middle of the night, threw her into the back of a military jeep and locked her up in a small, cold prison isolation cell. This week, the Israeli military court -- notorious for its 99.7 percent conviction rate -- indicted Ahed on twelve charges.
Israel claims Ahed is a violent and dangerous criminal. The crimes she is charged with, such as assault of a soldier, stone throwing and so-called incitement, could result in a lengthy prison sentence.
Before we consider whether Ahed deserves a life behind bars, we must first take a closer look at what is a criminal action and what is a life of enduring state violence. Is the criminal a 16-year-old girl who dares to raise her hand to a fully armed Israeli soldier or an ongoing illegal occupation that places soldiers in the lives of unarmed teenage girls.
In 2011, Ahed Tamimi was 10-years-old when Israeli soldiers arrested her father and charged him with the crime of organizing weekly demonstrations in their village to oppose the theft of its land for the benefit of a neighboring Israeli settlement. It would be 13 months before he was released and she would see her father again.
That same year, Israeli soldiers shot Mustafa Tamimi, Ahed's 28-year-old cousin, in the face with a high velocity tear gas canister. Half of Mustafa's face was destroyed. He passed away the next morning at the hospital.
The following year, when Ahed was 11 years old, Israeli soldiers shot her uncle, Rushdi Tamimi, in his lower back with live ammunition. The bullet lodged in his stomach and he died the next morning in the hospital.
Ahed was 13 when Israeli soldiers shot her mother, Nariman Tamimi, in the leg with a 22-caliber bullet. Ahed stood by, crying in the arms of her father, as her mother was placed in the back of an ambulance. Her mother had to rely on crutches for a number of years until she regained use of her legs.
These are only a few of the tragedies of violence that Ahed has witnessed and suffered as an adolescent and early teen growing up under Israel occupation. More of her cousins and brothers have been injured and served time in Israeli prisons than is simple to count.
Just before the "slap heard round the world" on December 15, 2017, Ahed's 14-year-old cousin, Mohammed Tamimi was hit directly in the face with a rubber coated steel bullet. During the incident, Israeli soldiers fired tear gas canisters at Ahed's house shattering many of its windows. They then stationed themselves in the yard of the house.
Mohammed was finally released from the hospital last week. Stitches and deep purple bruising cover the front of his face as he recovers.
Ahed Tamimi versus the Israeli army isn't the first time an abuser has cried victim. Blue Lives Matter claims police, not unarmed black men, who are systematically targeted and killed. President Trump threatens to sue the women who accuse him of sexual assault. Israel is notorious for claiming they are being oppressed by the people they hold hostage. In this case, they have taken aim at a 16-year old girl, claiming she, with her bare hand, is a larger than life threat to them and their first class military might. As Ahed's trial continues, we must remember whose who is the occupier and who is the occupied. With this in mind, we must demand freedom for Ahed and freedom for all of Palestine.
And understand why a 16-year-old girl would want to hit the police that are occupying her land and home and killing her family.
Congress has spent much of the year imagining more ways to hide the true funders of already murkily financed political advertising, even though the vast majority of their constituents -- across the political spectrum -- oppose dark money. That’s left the fight for transparency up to states and cities. And officials across the country have stepped up. Taken together, their efforts have formed a remarkable campaign to increase accountability from coast to coast.
In late November, a bipartisan group of Idaho lawmakers drafted a bill that would require spenders in local and state races to reveal more layers of funding and make public disclosures more frequently. If passed into law, the measure would require election advertisers to name their five biggest funders. If a funder were itself an organization that received contributions, that funder would have to disclose its top ten donors if it gave more than $1,000 in the crucial 15 days before an election. This multilayered disclosure would help reduce "gray money" -- money that is routed through tiers of groups to conceal its true origin and dodge oversight.
One Republican legislator lamented that, without reform, mailboxes and radio broadcasts in Idaho would be "brimming with ads paid for by a single deep-pocketed donor," displacing the kind of politics where candidates engage voters directly.
Like Idaho, more and more states and cities are moving to crack down on secret spending in elections -- which has surged in the wake of Citizens United and related court decisions -- while federal regulators remain mired in dysfunction. Without transparency, voters lack the information to fully evaluate political messages, and special interests can influence crucial electoral battles without public accountability. The stakes can be particularly high in state and local politics, because candidate elections and ballot referenda often determine policy outcomes with specific economic consequences.
This year, for instance, a pharmaceutical trade association poured nearly $60 million into a successful ad campaign in Ohio to defeat a ballot measure to cap drug prices. The group sent its money through a network of dark money groups, so that voters could not see who really stood to benefit from the messaging.
In September, California significantly boosted its already-tough transparency laws by passing the California DISCLOSE Act. Among other features, the law requires purchasers of more than $50,000 in print, television, radio, or online advertising to name their top sponsors in the ads themselves. To combat gray money, political action committees must reveal their original funders, not just the latest contributors in chains of many.
At the same time, the Denver City Council unanimously approved a new disclosure measure in the wake of costly past elections for mayor, City Council, and other city offices. The law mandates that independent spenders file public reports within two days of spending more than $1,000 on a campaign, disclosing anyone who gave more than $25 to the effort.
In New Mexico, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver pushed through stronger campaign finance disclosure rules that took effect in October. Perhaps most consequential, nonprofits, super PACs, and other organizations that spend significant amounts on political ads will now, using dedicated accounts for this spending, have to disclose anyone who contributed more than $200.
Some state action to counter dark money has taken the form of enforcement. The Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF) imposed its steepest-ever penalty in September -- $425,000 -- against a nonprofit that had failed to register as a PAC and thus avoided disclosure requirements, even though it engaged in political activity to influence votes on a ballot question concerning charter schools. That battle drew the largest barrage of campaign spending for a ballot question in state history. In requiring the nonprofit to register as a PAC and reveal its donors, the OCPF judged the group by its actions rather than by its technical label.
More plans to combat secret spending are brewing in other states. In Washington, the state House of Representatives passed a proposed law in March to treat nonprofit groups that spend in elections as a type of political committee subject to the same transparency requirements. Lawmakers next year are expected to resume consideration of this proposal along with a related measure in the state Senate that has bipartisan support. The Spokane City Council recently passed a bill mirroring these efforts at the local level.
In Arizona, some advocates are proposing a state constitutional amendment to require the disclosure of the "original source" of funds given to any group spending $10,000 or more to influence an election. Independent spenders themselves would have to trace the money given to them, uncover intermediary layers, and register the names and addresses of anyone giving more than $5,100.
If 2017 is any indication of what’s to come, 2018 promises to be a tougher year for deceptive political advertising in the states. This past year has shown us that though the federal government has been stagnant on reform, states can and should take the lead.
The people have spoken, and the people are pretty clear: They'd like to see less plastic in the world, from product packaging to food storage containers to components of toys. Yet, the oil industry is investing heavily in the development of new plastic production facilities, in a move that will increase global plastic production 40 percent over the next decade. What gives?
Because most plastics are produced with petroleum byproducts, the plastic business is a great way for companies like Exxon to diversify their production. Plastics manufacturing companies, meanwhile, can cut costs and continue to supply cheap plastic by owning fossil fuel companies -- quite the symbiotic relationship.
And there's another problem: Prices for raw petroleum products are falling, thanks to the explosion of the shale gas industry in the United States. Making more fossil fuels available at extremely low prices creates a pressure to use them, which is exactly what the industry wants. Over the years, these companies have replaced perfectly functional renewable products with plastics, locking in a market for a product we didn't need in the first place.
At the same time that many regions are working to crack down on plastic usage with efforts like plastic bag bans, requirements for biodegradable takeout containers and mandates for plastic reduction at government agencies, the industry is pumping out more and more plastic.
That's not just bad at the end of plastic's lifecycle, when it gets tossed in a landfill or sent to a recycling facility in an attempt to get another round of use at it. It's also bad at every step of the supply chain, where pollution ranges from the oil field to the factory to the fossil fuels used to transport plastics to their end destinations.
In essence, the oil industry wants to profit from the glut of cheap fuel it's created, so it's attempting to generate a market for more plastics -- even though we already produce more plastic every year than the combined weight of humanity on Earth.
Scientists are already warning that our plastic production and usage is unsustainable, so what kind of environmental crisis will result from ramping up production even more?
We already know that it can take hundreds of years for plastics to break down, so the introduction of innovative new plastics is not exactly heartening news. When plastics do break down, that doesn't resolve the problem. In the ocean -- where a lot of plastic ends up -- plastic products turn into small pieces of material that animals can ingest, and as the material degrades even further, it releases harmful chemical compounds.
The plastics industry knows this is a problem, but while they greenwash their annual reports, they're still pumping out plastic at a steadily increasing rate, and fighting regulatory attempts aimed at cutting down on waste generation. For them, encouraging sustainability is counter to their business model. After all, doing so would be an admission that plastics are dangerously unhealthy, and we should invest in eliminating them.
But some companies are exploring biodegradable alternatives. Numerous researchers are on the case, using a variety of products as feedstock for plastics that will break down in the right conditions. That said, it's important to note that they won't break down anywhere -- just try composting a cup made from corn plastic at home. The growth of such products indicates that it's possible to move away from plastic, and consumers are clearly interested in these alternatives.
So what can you do about our collective reliance on plastic? In addition to reducing plastic products you bring into your own home, you can reach out to local officials to ask them about ordinances to reduce or eliminate the uses of some plastics in your community. At work, you can push for biodegradeable and renewable alternatives to plastics. You can also encourage your federal elected officials to implement better regulations on the oil and gas industry, as well as more environmental protections to limit the exploitation of natural resources.
In addition to preserving nature for future generations, you'll help offset the availability of cheap oil and gas, pushing companies to rethink their business models.
North and South Korean Leaders Agree to Direct Negotiations as Trump Provokes Kim Jong-un on Twitter
President Trump tweets that his "nuclear button" is "much bigger & more powerful" than North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's. Meanwhile, North and South Korea have opened lines of communication, saying they are open to direct negotiations. We speak with Bruce Cumings, professor of history at the University of Chicago, author of North Korea: Another Country.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: We begin today's show with North Korea. President Trump took to Twitter this morning to take credit for renewed communications between North and South Korea. Trump tweeted, quote, "With all of the failed 'experts' weighing in, does anybody really believe that talks and dialogue would be going on between North and South Korea right now if I wasn't firm, strong and willing to commit our total 'might' against the North. Fools, but talks are a good thing!"
This comes after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ordered the reopening of a hotline with South Korea's leaders, bringing the biggest thaw in relations between the countries in two years. The overture came after South Korean President Moon Jae-in said he's open to talks with the North next week in the so-called truce village in the Demilitarized Zone.
Earlier this week, President Trump drew international attention when he tweeted a threat to North Korea that was steeped in sexual bravado, writing, quote, "North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the 'Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.' Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!" unquote. During a press conference on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders addressed questions about Trump's taunting of the North Korean leader.
PRESS SECRETARY SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: I don't think that it's taunting to stand up for the people of this country. I think what's dangerous is to ignore the continued threats. If the previous administration had done anything and dealt with North Korea, dealt with Iran, instead of sitting by and doing nothing, we wouldn't have to clean up their mess now.
REPORTER: But you acknowledge that it's a taunting tweet --
PRESS SECRETARY SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: Tamara. Sorry, I did call on her.
REPORTER: Sarah, it's a taunting tweet to say that he has a larger nuclear button than Kim Jong-un.
PRESS SECRETARY SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think it's just a fact.
AMY GOODMAN: Trump's tweet came after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un declared his nation a fully fledged nuclear power Monday, saying in a televised New Year's Day speech he was prepared to launch a nuclear attack against his enemies, including South Korea, Japan or the United States.
KIM JONG-UN: [translated] The entire United States is within range of our nuclear weapons, and a nuclear button is always on my desk. This is reality, not a threat.
AMY GOODMAN: Kim said North Korea would now focus on mass-producing nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles for operational deployment.
For more, we're joined in Chicago by Bruce Cumings, professor of history at the University of Chicago, author of several books on Korea, including Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History and North Korea: Another Country.
Professor Cumings, welcome back to Democracy Now! Why don't we start off with the breaking news this week of communications being opened between South and North Korea? What does this mean, and the possibility that as early as next week they will somehow meet at truce village in the Demilitarized Zone?
BRUCE CUMINGS: Well, it's very important, and particularly the tone of Kim Jong-un's statement, which was very conciliatory toward the South and was followed up by a high official who was even more conciliatory, talking about North Korea's hopes for the South Korean Winter Olympics going well. And, of course, Kim Jong-un offered to send a delegation to the Olympics. This is in great contrast to, for example, the 1988 Olympics, which the North Koreans tried to disrupt with terrorist attacks. So, it's a very good sign.
And I would add that Kim Jong-un did say he had a big button with a lot of nuclear weapons, but he very clearly said that North Korean nuclear weapons are for defensive purposes and would not be used unless North Korea was attacked. And secondly, he said something that North Korean officials have been saying for the last six months without a lot of attention. And that is words to the effect that their nuclear program is nearly completed, which would mean they don't have to test so much. They tested a great deal in 2017, particularly missiles, and then a very large H-bomb test last September. So, I think, on all three counts, this was generally a welcome statement, a conciliatory statement.
President Trump's tweet this morning is trying to take credit for these talks going forward. That's fine. The fact is, the Trump administration was very opposed to President Moon Jae-in of South Korea's proposals for talks. The North -- the Trump administration position is that there can be no talks until North Korea commits to denuclearization. That's their only hole card, so they're not going to do that before talks open. I would give a lot of credit to President Moon in Seoul for opening up these talks next January 9th, next week, in spite of tremendous opposition, not to mention almost daily provocations coming from President Trump.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And this morning, there was a call on that hotline. The South Koreans reached out to the North. Do we know anything about the content of that call?
BRUCE CUMINGS: No, I actually -- it was all I could do to get through The New York Times a bit before coming down here early in the morning, so I don't know what the content was. But that line was closed two years ago, in the context of then-South Korean President Park Geun-hye shutting down a very large industrial zone just across the DMZ in North Korea, the Kaesong Industrial Zone, where about 60,000 North Koreans were working for mostly South Korean firms. And it was the last and biggest fruit of really more than a decade of attempts at reconciliation between North and South. So I have hopes that not just this communication line, but that export zone will be reopened soon. I don't know that, but I hope it.
AMY GOODMAN: UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said Tuesday, North Korea might be preparing for another missile test, and warned such a move would necessitate tougher steps against Pyongyang.
NIKKI HALEY: As we hear reports that North Korea might be preparing for another missile test, I hope that does not happen. But if it does, we must bring even more measures to bear on the North Korean regime. The civilized world must remain united and vigilant against the rogue state's development of a nuclear arsenal. We will never accept a nuclear North Korea. … We won't take any of the talks seriously if they don't do something to ban all nuclear weapons in North Korea. We consider this to be a very reckless regime. We don't think we need a Band-Aid, and we don't think we need to smile and take a picture. We think that we need to have them stop nuclear weapons, and they need to stop it now. So, North Korea can talk with anyone they want, but the US. is not going to recognize it or acknowledge it, until they agree to ban the nuclear weapons that they have.
AMY GOODMAN: So, if you can respond to this, Bruce Cumings, and respond to the US. setting preconditions? But this is direct negotiations between South and North Korea. And then talk about the tweet of Trump talking about his button bigger than -- bigger than the North Korean leader's and also his taking credit for this coming together.
BRUCE CUMINGS: Well, I think you're right that this initiative came from the two Koreas. The US. wasn't involved, as far as we know, in this initiative. And the unfortunate fact is that not just the Trump administration, but many, many administrations, going back decades -- excuse me -- have not wanted the two Koreas to be alone together. They always want the US. in a supervisory role over South Korea. This morning, a high State Department official in the Obama administration was quoted as saying, "South Korea needs to be on a tight leash." That kind of condescending crap is just coming out of the mouths of a bipartisan coalition of American officials for a long, long time. President Moon is a very experienced politician. He was chief of staff to Roh Moo-hyun, who did the deepest reconciliation with North Korea when he was in office. And I think the US. should trust Moon Jae-in to conduct these talks and make whatever deals might be possible with North Korea.
As to Trump's tweet, like everything else, even the 17 inches of snow that Boston is going to get, that Trump essentially says, you know, it's his doing. No matter what it is, Donald Trump is snapping his fingers and making everything happen. But the hidden lining in that statement is that Trump supports the talks. He said right at the end that he supports the talks. Talks are good. I'm not a psychiatrist, and so I don't know why Donald Trump, throughout his campaign and as president, has constantly showed his Freudian insecurities about the size of his whatever. In this case, he's basically bringing Kim Jong-un up to his level or bringing himself down to Kim Jong-un's level, but, in any case, focusing attention on North Korea in a way that no previous president would ever do. It's childish, about a possible nuclear war that could literally destroy the planet. And I wish I knew what the North Koreans think of it, but I would guess that after all these months they're starting not to take him very seriously. Last summer, they were asking Republicans in Washington, you know, "What does Trump mean when he says 'fire and fury' or he's going to 'totally destroy' us?" Because in North Korea, every statement coming out of the government is carefully vetted, right up the line, whereas Trump isn't vetted at all. So, it's a dangerous situation, but it also demeans the United States and, as I said, brings Trump basically to Kim Jong-un's level.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, given the fact that Trump has been tweeting as much as he has, activists in San Francisco are questioning Twitter's enforcement of its policy against violent threats. After Trump used the platform to taunt North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, members of a group called Resistance SF projected an image on the outside of Twitter headquarters in San Francisco on Wednesday directed at the Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, which read, "@jack is #complicit." A spokesperson for Twitter said Trump did not violate its policy when the president boasted that his "nuclear button" was "bigger & more powerful" than Un's. Twitter's rules page reads, quote, "We consider violent threats to be explicit statements of one's intent to kill or inflict serious physical harm against another person. … Please note that wishing or hoping that someone experiences serious physical harm, making vague threats, or threatening less serious forms of physical harm would not fall under this specific policy," Twitter wrote. So, Bruce Cumings, can you respond to that and what you think, if anything, should be done to prevent Trump from escalating the situation between the US. and North Korea?
BRUCE CUMINGS: Well, his latest statements, the ones yesterday about how big his button was, might violate obscenity statutes. But certainly, his very bellicose statements last summer about totally destroying North Korea would seem to be outside Twitter's guidelines. North Korea was totally destroyed by the US. during the Korean War in a three-year air campaign that left almost nothing standing. And every North Korean is taught about this. They're very bitter about it. But what you can say to Trump is, we totally destroyed North Korea already and still didn't win the war. So, it's very irresponsible talk.
But I imagine just about everybody in the White House, including the custodians cleaning his bathrooms, would like to grab his Twitter and throw it as far -- his iPhone, and throw it as far away as they can, because he's unsettled relations with our friends and allies -- and our enemies -- time and time again. I mean, by lining up with the Iranian demonstrators against the ayatollahs, he puts them in a position where the ayatollahs can easily claim they're foreign agents. He blasted Pakistan for coddling terrorists and protecting them inside the country. Pakistan has been doing that for decades, and the US. has known all about it and has tolerated it for other reasons. So, he's basically a kind of wrecking crew. But in his case, the mallet or the wreck -- the wrecking crew is Twitter. I think we'd all be really happy if Twitter would just cut him off, but that's obviously not going to happen.
AMY GOODMAN: And we just have 30 seconds, but what could come of these direct talks between North and South Korea?
BRUCE CUMINGS: Well, I think it's very probable that a North Korean delegation will come to Pyeongchang for the Olympics that begin on February 9th, and that may include athletes who would participate in some non-official form. There were two North Korean skaters who qualified for the Olympics in Canada some weeks ago, but apparently the North Koreans didn't put in an application or failed to meet a deadline or something, so that they can't participate as Olympic athletes.
But I think it will be a time when the world can breathe a sigh of relief that at least there won't be missiles or vicious tweets going off during the Olympics and that it could be a start to things like reopening the Kaesong zone and just reducing the terrible tension that has been wracking the Korean Peninsula ever since Donald Trump was inaugurated.
AMY GOODMAN: Bruce Cumings, we want to thank you for being with us, professor of history at University of Chicago. Among his books, Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History and North Korea: Another Country.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, Norway says it's cutting off weapon sales to Saudi Arabia because of the US.-backed Saudi bombing campaign against Yemen. Stay with us.
Norway Halts Weapons Sales in Yemen War, Citing Humanitarian Crisis, as US and Britain Continue Supply
Norway's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Wednesday the country will stop supplying weapons and ammunition to the United Arab Emirates, citing "great concern" over the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. The UAE is part of the Saudi-led coalition that has been carrying out airstrikes in Yemen for nearly three years. Meanwhile, the US and Britain continue to supply the Saudis with billions of dollars' worth of weapons. The US also provides logistical military support to Saudi Arabia. The Saudi air campaign has killed more than 10,000 civilians in Yemen and displaced more than 3 million. More than 80 percent of Yemenis now lack food, fuel, water and access to healthcare. We speak with journalist Iona Craig, who was based in Sana'a from 2010 to 2015 as the Yemen correspondent for The Times of London. She was awarded the 2016 Orwell Prize for her reporting on Yemen.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I'm Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to Yemen. On Wednesday, Norway's Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the country will stop supplying weapons and ammunition to the United Arab Emirates, citing great concern over the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. The UAE is part of the Saudi-led coalition that has been carrying out airstrikes in Yemen for nearly three years. In 2016, Norway sold nearly $10 million worth of weapons to the UAE. Meanwhile, the US and Britain continue to supply the Saudis with billions of dollars' worth of weapons. The US also provides logistical military support to Saudi Arabia. The Saudi air campaign has killed more than 10,000 civilians in Yemen, which is the Arab world's poorest country, and displaced more than 3 million.
AMY GOODMAN: In December, Doctors Without Borders said it suspected an outbreak of diphtheria in the country for the first time since 1982, with 28 deaths reported since August. Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross says the number of suspected cholera cases in Yemen has reached 1 million, making it the worst cholera epidemic on record. And the United Nations is warning over 8 million people are a step away from famine. More than 80 percent of Yemenis now lack food, fuel, water and access to healthcare.
Well, recently Nermeen Shaikh and I sat down with the journalist Iona Craig, who was based in Sana'a from 2010 to '15 as the Yemen correspondent for The Times of London, awarded the 2016 Orwell Prize for her reporting on Yemen. I started by asking her what the world needs to know about the crisis in Yemen.
IONA CRAIG: I think it's really how man-made the humanitarian crisis is, the Saudi coalition's policy of not just blockading the country and restricting food imports -- and Yemen imports 90 percent of its food in peace time -- but it's also the bombing campaign, that I mentioned in that report for The Guardian, that has been used to systematically target Yemenis' ability to grow their own food or supply food for themselves. So, there is a clear pattern of a strategy to bomb farmland, to target the areas where farmers are trying to grow food, and, again, as well, targeting fishermen, where people have become increasingly reliant on, you know, fish and fishermen's supplies to feed themselves. And so, in that report, I spoke to fishermen on the Red Sea coast in Hudaydah, the head of the fishermen's union, and to farmers. And there has also been academic research done on the data of the airstrike campaign since 2015 that does show a pattern of the Saudi coalition apparently targeting Yemen's food supplies, its own farmers and fishermen, in order to prevent them from being able to provide food for themselves, in addition to this blockade. So this is what is so largely responsible for the humanitarian crisis that we're seeing now, with more than 8 million people facing famine, with hundreds of thousands of children now starving to death. And this has been a policy of the Saudi coalition, which is, of course, backed by Western nations, including the US And so, they are complicit in that. And it's mass starvation of 27 million people.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, let's go to a first-person account by a young woman living in Sana'a, the capital of Yemen. The 26-year-old goes by the pseudonym "Salma" to protect her identity, for fear for her safety. She spoke to PRI, The World, last week.
SALMA: We're just staying inside our houses, because you don't know if the airstrike's going to come or, like, Houthi is going to hit. It's like it's safer for you and your family to stay close to your house. Since 2011, we have this kind of ugly experience of lockdown in our houses for days and days. But this one is different. This one, it's like most of the people, they're just like -- they are sad. Really sad. Even myself. I have like -- since I was student, I have issues like with the old regime and, you know, the troubles in education and everything. But when Ali Saleh's got killed, I cried. Most of the people really cried, men and women. They feel like, you know, this man has been our leader for almost -- over 35 years. I am 26. I was born, and he's still -- like, you know, he was the president, until I finished the school, and he's still the president. We always look up to him, and he's our father, for my generation. But now, the thing that I noticed, and it's -- I don't know -- hurt me inside, for real, it's like people -- like, I don't know -- they lost hope. Ali Abdullah Saleh's death breaks every single one in the country, because they think there is no protection anymore.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: So that's a young woman who goes by the name "Salma," a 26-year-old, speaking from Sana'a, the capital of Yemen, speaking, of course, about former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. So, Iona, could you respond to what she said, in particular that his death, Saleh's death, "breaks every single one in the country, because they think there is no protection anymore"?
IONA CRAIG: I think everybody in Yemen, even those who hated Ali Abdullah Saleh, were shocked when he died, that it had happened at all, but also the way in which he died. I'm not sure everybody would hold that same voice. There are people, particularly in southern Yemen, who were very pleased to see Ali Abdullah Saleh go.
But I think everybody now -- there is mass uncertainty of what happens next. That's everybody's question, is: What happens now that Ali Abdullah Saleh is dead? And his political party appears to be crumbling, those who were still loyal to him, as well. And I think, particularly in Sana'a, people, over the last 10 days, are incredibly scared.
Trying to communicate with people there is very difficult. After Saleh's death, the Houthis cracked down on the internet. It's not possible to access social media -- Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp -- without a VPN. And so, people's ability to communicate with the outside world has been silenced. And even when you do -- when you are able to communicate with people, they're very scared. They don't want to talk about politics. They don't want to tell you about what's going on, because they fear that there will be reprisals and that the Houthis are going to be cracking down on anybody who shows still loyalty to Ali Abdullah Saleh.
And there has been a lot of talk of detentions in Sana'a over the last 10 days, since Saleh died, but it's unclear how many people have effectively disappeared into the prisons in Sana'a and how bad that crackdown is, because getting information out of Sana'a is so difficult because of the restrictions the Houthis have placed on internet access over the last 10 days. So, yes, people there are incredibly, incredibly scared and, you know, sort of holding their breath, really, of what's going to happen next in Yemen, after Saleh's death.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Iona, could you talk about, speaking of the Houthis, the fact that now the Trump administration says that they're going to share proof that Iran is arming the Houthi rebels? What are the implications of that? And why is the Trump administration making this claim now?
IONA CRAIG: Yeah, I think the most important of that is why. Why is the White House going to be showing this evidence? Why is Saudi Arabia not showing that evidence, or even the Yemeni government showing that evidence? And I think the concern is about the answer to that question. Is this going to be -- is this rhetoric and this narrative going to be used as some form of pretext for more US involvement in the war in Yemen to support any ground operations by the Saudi-led coalition?
There have been movements, since Saleh's death, on the Red Sea coast towards Hudaydah. A grand operation against Hudaydah port had been talked about for more than a year, but under the previous US administration, they had advised the Saudi-led coalition against that. And so, the concern is that this kind of rhetoric coming out of the White House may be used as some form of way to support the coalition in any upcoming ground offensive and to increase the US involvement in the war in Yemen.
And, of course, that then brings the prospect of escalation, because it's highly likely, if that did happen, that Iran would retaliate. They may not retaliate in Yemen. They could retaliate in Syria or Iran. And that, of course, brings the prospect of an almost proxy conflict then between the US and Iran.
So it's incredibly dangerous. And I think the timing of it now is also -- you know, it's dangerous for Yemen, in the sense that the aid agencies have warned, for a long time now, about the dangers of pushing militarily on Hudaydah, because they rely so heavily on the port to bring in aid to Yemenis at the moment, but the consequences could be far-reaching, you know, beyond the borders of Yemen and for the rest of the region, if this is going to be now used as some form of narrative for more US involvement in targeting the Houthis in Yemen, who Saudi Arabia, of course, see very much as a proxy for Iran.
It certainly seems to be that the Houthis have increased their capabilities on the weapons side. The Yemeni arsenal didn't contain ballistic missiles that could reach as far as Riyadh before the war. And all the indications are that they've received training and maybe military parts, as well, that have been shipped into or smuggled into Yemen in order for them to be able to modify the ballistic missiles that they did have, in order to fire them into Riyadh and, as they claim, as well, the Houthis have claimed, to fire towards the UAE, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: Iona Craig --
IONA CRAIG: So, yes, this kind of talk, it really points towards escalation, which could be incredibly dangerous for the region as a whole.
AMY GOODMAN: We only have 30 seconds, and Jared Kushner recently went, again, meeting with his dear friend in Saudi Arabia, Mohammad bin Salman. Thomas Friedman hailed him as a visionary, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. His role in what's happening here, and what you feel the US should be doing right now?
IONA CRAIG: I think the problem is now, it's with the US cozying up more to Saudi Arabia, being very much on side with the Saudi coalition, whilst being more hostile towards Iran, really means that the -- getting some kind of dialogue going on the war on Yemen to bring an end to the conflict is less and less likely. And actually, US actions at the moment are pointing towards a sort of never-ending conflict. Trying to find an end to the conflict becomes more difficult, and the US is actually making it more difficult by this kind of relationship, very close relationship, with Saudi Arabia, whilst being much more aggressive in their rhetoric towards Iran.
And that has a direct consequence on the civilian population now, who are literally starving to death in Yemen. And the US policies at the moment and their activities are making that worse for Yemenis on the ground, and will do, if they can't get to the point of some form of political discussion or a ceasefire to at least bring a halt to hostilities in some way. And so, yes, the US is actually making the situation worse in Yemen rather than better.
AMY GOODMAN: And the effect of cholera? How many people have cholera? And how is that affected by the Saudi -- US-backed Saudi bombing of Yemen?
IONA CRAIG: Well, the issue with cholera, actually, the numbers were improving, although they're expected to reach a million by the end of this year, with more than 2,000 people now having died from the disease. The bombing of the infrastructure, of water supplies, has had an impact on that -- on hospitals, the blockading of medical supplies, bringing them into the country, the blockading of water purification into the country. The aid agencies have been bringing in supplies for that. That all has an impact on the ability to help the cholera situation in Yemen.
But now you're seeing outbreak of more disease. We're hearing in the last few days about diphtheria in Yemen, which hadn't been recorded for decades in the country. And this is all because less than 50 percent of the country's medical facilities are now operating. And those that are operating, under massive strain, they can't get the supplies that they need. And the aid agencies can't bring in the help that they need to for those kind of situations.
So, yes, it's not just hunger. It's disease. And I think that's not just going to be restricted to cholera now, whilst the hospitals and medical centers in Yemen struggle to cope with, basically, the situation that they're in because of the conflict, because of the hospitals that have been bombed, because of medical facilities that have been put out of action because of the war. The healthcare system is basically collapsing in Yemen at the moment. And there's no way to rectify that if aid agencies can't get help in to them at the moment.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Iona, could you also explain, I mean, as far as this bombing campaign goes, who are the principal countries -- I mean, the US and the UK -- who are supplying arms to Saudi Arabia, and why there isn't more pressure on them, given the situation in Yemen, to cease all sales, or at least to limit them?
IONA CRAIG: Right. I mean, obviously, the primary weapon sales are coming -- or weapon arms sales are coming from the US to Saudi Arabia. Britain is also involved. Other European countries are also involved. Canada is also involved. I think it's very lucrative business for the US and the UK And particularly in the UK, as well, it's not just weapon sales, it's other investments from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries who are part of the coalition, particularly in the Brexit era, when the British government is going to be looking beyond Europe now for, you know, more investment in the country. So, it's about maintaining relationships that have a financial interest, ultimately.
And this has gone on despite clear evidence of violations of international humanitarian law that I've seen on the ground in Yemen, and that -- the evidence has been collected by human rights organizations. And that doesn't look like it's going to stop anytime soon. There have been ongoing calls, both in the US and the UK, for suspensions of weapon sales. There was a partial suspension of precision-guided weapons in the US a year ago, but that has since been lifted, and they are now selling precision-guided weapons back to the Saudis again. So, there are no indications that either government, the US or the UK, is going to change that policy anytime soon.
But it is a point of leverage, and they could use that in order to push for dialogue in this war. But it's not being used, and, obviously, the consequences of that are devastating for Yemenis.
AMY GOODMAN: And what does the Trump family gain by this very close relationship with Saudi Arabia? Not to diminish the Obama administration and the number of times he went to Saudi Arabia and what he had done. But clearly, you know, the first foreign trip President Trump took was too Saudi Arabia. Jared Kushner has been there a number of times, his closeness with the crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman. What do the Trumps gain?
IONA CRAIG: Again, this is a lot of -- you know, based on financial interests and economic interests. And this is the really disheartening thing about it, because that's at the expense of millions of Yemenis who are literally starving to death, that the interests of those people and the lives of those people is being -- is being seen as inferior to the economic interests of the US and the financial interests of the Trump administration.
So, yeah, it brings a lot of questions about just the moral compass, really, of societies and our governments, really, the US and the UK, in this, about the direction that this takes, because we are all now well aware of the humanitarian situation in Yemen right now and how many millions of people are suffering the situation of famine on the ground and the likely numbers of people who are going to starve to death, but yet our governments are still willing to hold very close relationships with Saudi Arabia and, for financial interests, maintain that relationship, at the cost of many hundreds of thousands of lives in Yemen.
AMY GOODMAN: Award-winning journalist Iona Craig has reported from Yemen for years, was the correspondent for The Times of London. This is Democracy Now! To see Part 1 of our discussion, you can go to democracynow.org.
When we come back, Columbia University has one, Hunter College has one, Rutgers University, New York University -- they all have Students for Justice in Palestine groups on campus. So why did Fordham say no? Stay with us.
This is a developing story and this post may be updated.
On the heels of a California law legalizing recreational marijuana use, which took effect Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is planning to rescind the federal policy that has enabled Americans to grow, sell, and use cannabis in places where it has been legalized, without federal intervention, the Associated Press reported Thursday.
"The move will leave it to US attorneys where pot is legal to decide whether to aggressively enforce federal marijuana law," the AP noted, a move that will likely "add to confusion about whether it's OK to grow, buy, or use marijuana in states where it's legal, since long-standing federal law prohibits it." The report cited anonymous sources with knowledge of the decision.
"RED ALERT!" the Drug Policy Alliance tweeted in response to the report. "This is not a drill. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is going after legalized marijuana."
In California -- which was the first state to legalize medical marijuana -- state officials have, according to the Los Angeles Times, "issued dozens of permits for retailers to begin recreational sales this week, expanding a market that is expected to grow to $7 billion annually by 2020."
California is the sixth state to introduce the sale of recreational cannabis, following Alaska, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. In response to ballot measures from the 2016 election, Maine and Massachusetts are expected to start sales later this year -- despite protest from state leaders like Maine Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who in November vetoed a law that would have regulated the state's marijuana sales.
Several states have passed legislation or ballot measures to relax statewide policies of marijuana use for medicinal and, increasingly, recreational purposes. The Marijuana Policy Project, which lobbies in favor of cannabis-friendly laws, tracks the state-by-state rules on its website:
Sessions is a long-time opponent of the nationwide push to legalize recreational and medicinal use of marijuana. Journalist and former lawyer Glenn Greenwald used the news to offer the analysis that "Conservatives' self-professed belief in federalism was always a huge fraud," tweeting:
Conservatives' self-professed belief in federalism was always a huge fraud. It never extended to any state policies that they disliked, and still doesn't: https://t.co/t3XHLN2tQb— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) January 4, 2018
He left Air Force Two behind and, unannounced, "shrouded in secrecy," flew on an unmarked C-17 transport plane into Bagram Air Base, the largest American garrison in Afghanistan. All news of his visit was embargoed until an hour before he was to depart the country.
More than 16 years after an American invasion "liberated" Afghanistan, he was there to offer some good news to a US troop contingent once again on the rise. Before a 40-foot American flag, addressing 500 American troops, Vice President Mike Pence praised them as "the world's greatest force for good," boasted that American air strikes had recently been "dramatically increased," swore that their country was "here to stay," and insisted that "victory is closer than ever before." As an observer noted, however, the response of his audience was "subdued." ("Several troops stood with their arms crossed or their hands folded behind their backs and listened, but did not applaud.")
Think of this as but the latest episode in an upside down geopolitical fairy tale, a grim, rather than Grimm, story for our age that might begin: Once upon a time -- in October 2001, to be exact -- Washington launched its war on terror. There was then just one country targeted, the very one where, a little more than a decade earlier, the US had ended a long proxy waragainst the Soviet Union during which it had financed, armed, or backed an extreme set of Islamic fundamentalist groups, including a rich young Saudi by the name of Osama bin Laden.
By 2001, in the wake of that war, which helped send the Soviet Union down the path to implosion, Afghanistan was largely (but not completely) ruled by the Taliban. Osama bin Laden was there, too, with a relatively modest crew of cohorts. By early 2002, he had fled to Pakistan, leaving many of his companions dead and his organization, al-Qaeda, in a state of disarray. The Taliban, defeated, were pleading to be allowed to put down their arms and go back to their villages, an abortive process that Anand Gopal vividly described in his book, No Good Men Among the Living.
It was, it seemed, all over but the cheering and, of course, the planning for yet greater exploits across the region. The top officials in the administration of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were geopolitical dreamers of the first order who couldn't have had more expansive ideas about how to extend such success to -- as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld indicated only days after the 9/11 attacks -- terror or insurgent groups in more than 60 countries. It was a point President Bush would reemphasize nine months later in a triumphalist graduation speech at West Point. At that moment, the struggle they had quickly, if immodestly, dubbed the Global War on Terror was still a one-country affair. They were, however, already deep into preparations to extend it in ways more radical and devastating than they could ever have imagined with the invasion and occupation of Saddam Hussein's Iraq and the domination of the oil heartlands of the planet that they were sure would follow. (In a comment that caught the moment exactly, Newsweek quoted a British official "close to the Bush team" as saying, "Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran.")
So many years later, perhaps it won't surprise you -- as it probably wouldn't have surprised the hundreds of thousands of protesters who turned out in the streets of American cities and towns in early 2003 to oppose the invasion of Iraq -- that this was one of those stories to which the adage "be careful what you wish for" applies.Seeing War
And it's a tale that's not over yet. Not by a long shot. As a start, in the Trump era, the longest war in American history, the one in Afghanistan, is only getting longer. There are those US troop levels on the rise; those air strikes ramping up; the Taliban in control of significant sections of the country; an Islamic State-branded terror group spreading ever more successfully in its eastern regions; and, according to the latest report from the Pentagon, "more than 20 terrorist or insurgent groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan."
Think about that: 20 groups. In other words, so many years later, the war on terror should be seen as an endless exercise in the use of multiplication tables -- and not just in Afghanistan either. More than a decade and a half after an American president spoke of 60 or more countries as potential targets, thanks to the invaluable work of a single dedicated group, the Costs of War Project at Brown University's Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, we finally have a visual representation of the true extent of the war on terror. That we've had to wait so long should tell us something about the nature of this era of permanent war.
The US's war on terror across the globe (Source: the Costs of War Project).
The Costs of War Project has produced not just a map of the war on terror, 2015-2017 (released at TomDispatch with this article), but the first map of its kind ever. It offers an astounding vision of Washington's counterterror wars across the globe: their spread, the deployment of US forces, the expanding missions to train foreign counterterror forces, the American bases that make them possible, the drone and other air strikes that are essential to them, and the US combat troops helping to fight them. (Terror groups have, of course, morphed and expanded riotously as part and parcel of the same process.)
A glance at the map tells you that the war on terror, an increasingly complex set of intertwined conflicts, is now a remarkably global phenomenon. It stretches from the Philippines (with its own ISIS-branded group that just fought an almost five-month-long campaign that devastated Marawi, a city of 300,000) through South Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and deep into West Africa where, only recently, four Green Berets died in an ambush in Niger.
No less stunning are the number of countries Washington's war on terror has touched in some fashion. Once, of course, there was only one (or, if you want to include the United States, two). Now, the Costs of War Project identifies no less than 76 countries, 39% of those on the planet, as involved in that global conflict. That means places like Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya where US drone or other air strikes are the norm and US ground troops (often Special Operations forces) have been either directly or indirectly engaged in combat. It also means countries where US advisers are training local militaries or even militias in counterterror tactics and those with bases crucial to this expanding set of conflicts. As the map makes clear, these categories often overlap.
Who could be surprised that such a "war" has been eating American taxpayer dollars at a rate that should stagger the imagination in a country whose infrastructure is now visibly crumbling? In a separate study, released in November, the Costs of War Project estimated that the price tag on the war on terror (with some future expenses included) had already reached an astronomical $5.6 trillion. Only recently, however, President Trump, now escalating those conflicts, tweeted an even more staggering figure: "After having foolishly spent $7 trillion in the Middle East, it is time to start rebuilding our country!" (This figure, too, seems to have come in some fashion from the Costs of War estimate that "future interest payments on borrowing for the wars will likely add more than $7.9 trillion to the national debt" by mid-century.)
It couldn't have been a rarer comment from an American politician, as in these years assessments of both the monetary and human costs of war have largely been left to small groups of scholars and activists. The war on terror has, in fact, spread in the fashion today's map lays out with almost no serious debate in this country about its costs or results. If the document produced by the Costs of War project is, in fact, a map from hell, it is also, I believe, the first full-scale map of this war ever produced.
Think about that for a moment. For the last 16 years, we, the American people, funding this complex set of conflicts to the tune of trillions of dollars, have lacked a single map of the war Washington has been fighting. Not one. Yes, parts of that morphing, spreading set of conflicts have been somewhere in the news regularly, though seldom (except when there were "lone wolf" terror attacks in the United States or Western Europe) in the headlines. In all those years, however, no American could see an image of this strange, perpetual conflict whose end is nowhere in sight.
Part of this can be explained by the nature of that "war." There are no fronts, no armies advancing on Berlin, no armadas bearing down on the Japanese homeland. There hasn't been, as in Korea in the early 1950s, even a parallel to cross or fight your way back to. In this war, there have been no obvious retreats and, after the triumphal entry into Baghdad in 2003, few advances either.
It was hard even to map its component parts and when you did -- as in an August New York Times map of territories controlled by the Taliban in Afghanistan -- the imagery was complex and of limited impact. Generally, however, we, the people, have been demobilized in almost every imaginable way in these years, even when it comes to simply following the endless set of wars and conflicts that go under the rubric of the war on terror.Mapping 2018 and Beyond
Let me repeat this mantra: once, almost seventeen years ago, there was one; now, the count is 76 and rising. Meanwhile, great cities have been turned into rubble; tens of millions of human beings have been displaced from their homes; refugees by the millions continue to cross borders, unsettling ever more lands; terror groups have become brand names across significant parts of the planet; and our American world continues to be militarized.
This should be thought of as an entirely new kind of perpetual global war. So take one more look at that map. Click on it and then enlarge it to consider the map in full-screen mode. It's important to try to imagine what's been happening visually, since we're facing a new kind of disaster, a planetary militarization of a sort we've never truly seen before. No matter the "successes" in Washington's war, ranging from that invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 to the taking of Baghdad in 2003 to the recent destruction of the Islamic State's "caliphate" in Syria and Iraq (or most of it anyway, since at this moment American planes are still dropping bombs and firing missiles in parts of Syria), the conflicts only seem to morph and tumble on.
We are now in an era in which the US military is the leading edge -- often the only edge -- of what used to be called American "foreign policy" and the State Department is being radically downsized. American Special Operations forces were deployed to 149 countries in 2017 alone and the US has so many troops on so many bases in so many places on Earth that the Pentagon can't even account for the whereabouts of 44,000 of them. There may, in fact, be no way to truly map all of this, though the Costs of War Project's illustration is a triumph of what can be seen.
Looking into the future, let's pray for one thing: that the folks at that project have plenty of stamina, since it's a given that, in the Trump years (and possibly well beyond), the costs of war will only rise. The first Pentagon budget of the Trump era, passed with bipartisan unanimity by Congress and signed by the president, is a staggering $700 billion. Meanwhile, America's leading military men and the president, while escalating the country's conflicts from Niger to Yemen, Somalia to Afghanistan, seem eternally in search of yet more wars to launch.
Pointing to Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea, for instance, Marine Corps Commandant General Robert Neller recently told US troops in Norway to expect a "bigass fight" in the future, adding, "I hope I'm wrong, but there's a war coming." In December, National Security Adviser Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster similarly suggested that the possibility of a war (conceivably nuclear in nature) with Kim Jong-un's North Korea was "increasing every day." Meanwhile, in an administration packed with Iranophobes, President Trump seems to be preparing to tear up the Iran nuclear deal, possibly as early as this month.
In other words, in 2018 and beyond, maps of many creative kinds may be needed simply to begin to take in the latest in America's wars. Consider, for instance, a recent report in the New York Times that about 2,000 employees of the Department of Homeland Security are already "deployed to more than 70 countries around the world," largely to prevent terror attacks. And so it goes in the twenty-first century.
So welcome to 2018, another year of unending war, and while we're on the subject, a small warning to our leaders: given the last 16 years, be careful what you wish for.
Brazil's government this week announced a major shift away from its policy of building mega-dams in the Brazilian Amazon -- a strategy born during the country's military dictatorship and vigorously carried forward down to the present day. While environmentalists and Indigenous groups will likely celebrate, experts warn that many threats remain.Environmental activists hold banners during a demonstration, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on August 20, 2011, against the construction of Belo Monte dam at Xingu River, a tributary of the Amazon River in the northeastearn Brazilian state of Para. Belo Monte is planned to be the third largest hydroelectric plant in the world. The biggest banner reads "No to the new forest code." (Photo: YASUYOSHI CHIBA / AFP / Getty Images) Far more people read Truthout than will ever donate -- but we rely on donations to keep our publication running strong. Support independent journalism by making a contribution now!
In a surprise move, the Brazilian government has announced that the era of building big hydroelectric dams in the Amazon basin, long criticized by environmentalists and indigenous groups, is ending. "We are not prejudiced against big [hydroelectric] projects, but we have to respect the views of society, which views them with restrictions," Paulo Pedrosa, the Executive Secretary of the Ministry of Mines and Energy, told O Globo newspaper.
According to Pedrosa, Brazil has the potential to generate an additional 50 gigawatts of energy by 2050 through the building of new dams but, of this total, only 23 percent would not affect in some way indigenous land, quilombolas (communities set up by runaway slaves) and federally protected areas. The government, he says, doesn't have the stomach to take on the battles.
Pedrosa went on: "Nor are we disposed to take actions that mask the costs and the risks [of hydroelectric projects]." This statement seems to refer to the actions of previous governments, particularly under President Dilma Rousseff and the Workers' Party (PT), which made it difficult to evaluate the real expense and environmental impact of large dams, such as Belo Monte on the Xingu River. It was only after construction of this particular dam that the huge cost -- financial, social and environmental -- was fully revealed.
That's one reason such mega-projects began meeting with a rising storm of protest. For example, in 2016, after many indigenous demonstrations, the Rousseff administration suspended the building of a large dam on the Tapajós river -- São Luiz do Tapajós -- which would have flooded part of the Munduruku indigenous territory of Sawre-Muybu. However, because the government never officially cancelled the dam, Indians and environmentalists have long feared that the project could be relaunched at any moment by the Temer administration. However, according to O Globo, the Ministry of Mines and Energy has announced that it will "no longer fight for the [São Luiz do Tapajós] project."
"I don't think any more big hydro dams will be built," said Mauro Maura Severino, a lecturer in electric energy at the University of Brasilia. "Brazil should move towards clean energy, like solar and wind."
João Carlos Mello, from Thymos Energia, a consulting company, agreed: "The future lies with renewable energy, such as wind, and much smaller dams. The tendency will be to generate the energy much nearer to where it will be consumed."
While the Temer administration hasn't said so, experts say there is no doubt that hard economic realities played a chief role in the government's turnabout. In the past, the huge Brazilian development bank, BNDES (National Bank of Economic and Social Development), subsidized mega-dams to the tune of billions of dollars, funnelling the money through state companies, which became powerful as a result. For example, Eletrobrás, Latin America's biggest utility company, owns 49.98 percent of Belo Monte. Furnas, a regional power utility and Eletrobras subsidiary, owns 39 percent of the Santo Antônio hydroelectric project and, through its subsidiaries, 40 percent of the Jirau dams -- both large, controversial projects built on the Madeira River.
However, in August of last year Temer stunned the market by announcing the privatization of Eletrobras. Edvaldo Santana, the former director of ANEEL (the National Agency of Electric Energy), said: "The privatization of Eletrobrás is a relevant factor [in the change of policy regarding mega-dams]. Neither Belo Monte nor Santo Antônio nor Jirau would have existed -- or would have taken much longer to build -- without Eletrobras" and the infusion of cash from BNDES.
Brazil's political climate has also changed since the heyday of mega-dam construction under presidents Lula and Rousseff. By 2016, for example, when Mongabay wrote a series of articles about BNDES and its funding of the big Amazon dams, it could no longer find anyone -- not even an engineer or an energy expert -- willing to defend the Belo Monte dam. Although few were willing to speak on record then, many agreed that the only reason Belo Monte was built was because the PT government needed a big construction project by which the political party could pay back the big construction companies, like Odebrecht, for the huge sums in illegal electoral campaign contributions the firms had provided.
Such deals are no longer possible thanks to the far-reaching corruption scandal known as Lava-Jato (Car Wash) that ensnared a vast swath of Brazil's political and business elite, including top executives from major construction companies. Investigations are ongoing.
Back in 2016, Felício Pontes, a MPF Prosecutor in the state of Pará, told Mongabay: "The factor that explains the irrational option for hydroelectric stations in the Amazon is corruption… In other words, energy planning in Brazil is not treated as a strategic issue involving the future of the nation but, at least since the time of the military dictatorship, as a source of money for construction companies and politicians. I think that, until these questions are exposed and resolved, we will continue to have expensive and inefficient dams that have a serious social and environmental impact in Amazonia."
The government's hydroelectric dams policy change announced this week will surely be greeted as a hopeful sign by environmentalists and indigenous groups. But experts warn that a much bigger strategic policy shift is needed regarding infrastructure planning and agribusiness before the Amazon can be deemed safe from major deforestation.
Over the last 18 months, the bancada ruralista, the rural lobby in Congress, has won victory after victory, leading to policies meant to benefit agribusiness while threatening conservation units and indigenous territories. That drive seems likely to intensify in the months leading up to October's presidential election. There is, for example, still talk of a hugely environmentally harmful project that would turn the Tapajos river basin into an industrial waterway, with its tributaries and main stem dredged and rapids dynamited.
Hydroelectric dams have caused great damage to indigenous and traditional communities and the environment, but they are only one of many serious Amazon threats -- new roads, railways, waterways, mines and other infrastructure all result in great destruction. While the just-announced shift in hydropower policy is important, experts agree that major changes are needed before one can talk of a real conservation breakthrough in the Brazilian Amazon.
Was it just last week that Donald Trump was strutting confidently around the golf course at Mar-a-Lago, chatting incoherently with New York Times reporters about his big tax cut victory and assuring everyone that he had no worries about the Mueller investigation? He's was on top of the world. Then he went back to Washington and everything changed.
In the course of 24 hours Trump posted a dizzying number of provocative tweets that seemed to come out of nowhere. He jumped into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, called for the prosecution and imprisonment of a top aide to Hillary Clinton along with former FBI Director James Comey, rebuked Pakistan out of the blue, went after the New York Times' new publisher, and took credit for the fact that there were no American airplane crashes in 2016. And, as you may have heard, he got into a nuclear "button" measuring contest with Kim Jong-un:
North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 3, 2018
Trump suddenly seemed agitated and angry, looking for a fight. Word is that he was upset about his lawyers' shifting timelines for the Mueller case, but if he had a heads up about the firestorm that was about to hit the White House on Wednesday with the release of excerpts of Michael Wolff's book, Fire and Fury, it certainly didn't lift his mood.
The book features sensational observations by various players in the Trump administration ranging from crude, sexist comments by the president about women in the Trump orbit to the explosive charges by former campaign CEO and senior policy adviser Steve Bannon that animated the news all day on Wednesday.
Bannon had a lot to say to Wolff about everyone in the White House, which really shouldn't be all that surprising since he also spilled his guts to Joshua Green for his book Devil's Bargain and has often spoken frankly to Gabriel Sherman of Vanity Fair. He's a talker. In this book he says some things that were guaranteed to cause serious heartburn in the White House, not least of which is what he told Wolff sometime after the infamous Trump Tower meeting of June 2016 was revealed in the New York Times last summer:
The three senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the 25th floor -- with no lawyers. They didn't have any lawyers.
Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad shit, and I happen to think it's all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately.
Bannon goes on to say that such a treasonous meeting should have taken place away from Trump Tower with people who could provide deniability to the campaign, after which you'd launder the information through the media. He added, "The chance that Don Jr did not walk these jumos up to his father's office on the twenty-sixth floor is zero."
Notice that he said "the chance," which I take to mean that he doesn't know for a fact whether this happened, just that it's the way such things worked in the campaign.
It has always seemed unlikely that Donald Trump Jr. didn't tell his father about the meeting, particularly since candidate Trump gave a speech the next day in which he said, "I am going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week and we're going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons. I think you're going to find it very informative and very, very interesting." (He never delivered that speech and gave an anodyne foreign policy address instead.)
Trump was very unhappy with the Bannon quotes and released an angry statement saying that Bannon had "lost his mind" and was a liar. But keep in mind that Bannon told "60 Minutes" months ago that Trump's firing of Comey was "the biggest mistake in modern political history," so it's not as if this is the first time he's publicly condemned the president and members of his team. Perhaps saying that he thought Donald Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort committed treason by not notifying the FBI takes it to another level, but notions of Trump's tremendous "loyalty" to his family are overblown. (See this article in Vanity Fair about how Trump really treats Don Jr., if you doubt it.)
The real source of Trump's ire is likely something that hits him personally, which is truly the only thing he cares about. Bannon was quoted saying something else that plays into the current state of the Mueller investigation in a way that puts Trump in serious danger:
You realize where this is going. This is all about money laundering. Mueller chose [senior prosecutor Andrew] Weissman first and he is a money-laundering guy. Their path to f***ing Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr., and Jared Kushner. ... It's as plain as a hair on your face. It goes through Deutsche Bank and all the Kushner shit. The Kushner shit is greasy. They're going to go right through that. They're going to roll those ... guys up and say play me or trade me.
Bannon doesn't say that he knows anything specific, just that he's seeing what other close observers are seeing. But it's likely to make Trump see red to hear his former confidant and chief strategist chattering about this with such confidence, especially since the media then blared it all day long.
On Tuesday night, before Trump posted his weird tweet about his "yuge" nuclear button, the New York Times had published an op-ed by the proprietors of Fusion GPS, the research firm that originally hired former British spy Christopher Steele, to look into Trump's ties to Russia. In order to clear their reputation, which is being smeared daily by Trump partisans in Congress, the Fusion GPS owners asked that the House Intelligence Committee release the transcript of their testimony, in which they said under oath that they did not believe the Steele dossier was the genesis of the Russia investigation.
More importantly, they also wrote that they had alerted the Intelligence Committee that it should look into Deutsche Bank, adding that they had found "widespread evidence that Mr. Trump and his organization had worked with a wide array of dubious Russians in arrangements that often raised questions about money laundering."
No doubt Trump did not enjoy hearing the words of his former close associate Steve Bannon echoing those claims all over television the next day. Bannon was right, after all. Mueller did choose the money-laundering expert Andrew Weissman for a reason, and Trump undoubtedly knows it. Until now the president has been hoping that the investigation would wind up quickly without getting into all those unpleasant financial questions from his past. That hope is fading and he's getting very worried.
While the popular view of academia as the vanguard of intellectual leftism has some merit, this perception hides the fact that openly fascist views and their holders have always been associated with higher learning. In fact, fascism in academic thinking is nothing new, both in Europe and in the US, and without a conscious response, it is bound to grow and metastasize unchallenged.
Vice Media cofounder and conservative speaker Gavin McInnes reads a speech written by Ann Coulter to a crowd during a conservative rally in Berkeley, California, on April 27, 2017. (Photo: JOSH EDELSON / AFP / Getty Images)This Truthout original was only possible because of our readers' ongoing support. Can you make a monthly donation to ensure we can publish more like it? Click here to give.
Even in the world of academia, a punchy headline can be everything.
As subaltern analysis heads from the margins to the center of critical discourse, the kind of post-colonialism that was previously centered on a college campus has been popularized across the left. Within a popular culture shifting to decolonization ideas, someone at the Third World Quarterly likely knew a title like "The Case for Colonialism" was going to gain some traction. The paper, penned by controversial Portland State University faculty member Bruce Gilley, argued that Western colonial expansion into the Global South, specifically Africa, was a net positive, and that the 20th century liberation struggles were a catastrophe that should be reversed. Ignoring the mountains of scholarship that outlines the brutal cruelty of colonial exploitation, slavery and genocide, Gilley has taken an avenue that is popular amongst the academic segment of the radical right: transvaluation. With a mind towards defending white settler colonialism, Gilley did not deny the tragedies, he just decided they were worth it.
While it was shocking to many that a respected Routledge-published journal like Third World Quarterly would publish something so bizarrely angled, there is a precedent for this type of academic literature. While the academy is often viewed as the vanguard of intellectual leftism (a claim that has some merit), this perception hides the fact that far-right -- and often openly fascist -- political actors also have found a place in the classroom.Racial Science
In the wake of World War II, and the advancements in the physical and social sciences, the idea of race as a meaningful category had not only been largely abolished, but the cruel consequences of racial pseudo-science were undeniable. This did not completely end this false scholarship, however, but it forced a certain coded language that justified racist thinking while abandoning the cultural baggage that open racialism often carries.
Started in 1937 when "racial hygiene" was still a popular concept, the Pioneer Fund was created by industrialist Wickliffe Draper to support scientific research that validated ideas on eugenics, racial segregation and immigration restriction. Their journal, the Mankind Quarterly, has been publishing this race-related research for decades now, and their grants continue to climb off their hefty endowment. In the 1960s, education psychologist Arthur Jensen made a name for himself by arguing racial differences in the capacity of young children to learn, with the term "Jensenism" being coined for his line of thinking. The Jensenist argument was that IQ was largely heritable, and that certain genes found in particular populations were correlative to higher IQs. It was exactly this "hereditarian" concept that drove Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray's 1994 touchstone The Bell Curve, which mined Pioneer Fund research to support a radically anti-egalitarian vision of human intellect and wealth acquisition.
Evolutionary psychology was plagued by figures like these for decades, constructing the notion that human beings evolved into hierarchical social divisions, and that their abilities were fixed rather than socially malleable. J. Philippe Rushton became one of the most controversial figures in his field when he openly argued for racial differences in innate IQ, using "twin studies" to try and prove that IQ was highly heritable and, therefore, if he could find Black populations with low IQs, they would likewise be deficient as a group. He went on to argue bizarre theories, like Black people have a high predilection for aggression because of their dark skin color, and that penis size is correlative to IQ. Today, scientists like Richard Lynn continue to argue strict racial hierarchies using this logic, arguing that nations have developed more or less wealthy not because of colonial expansion and access to resources, but because of brain size and natural intelligence.The Population Bomb
In the same vein of coded language, "population" has been doubly loaded to try and strike at liberal sentiments about the environment for radically illiberal conclusions. The fear of population growth is stationed in modernity by environmental movements that rightly see increased industrialism, development and civilizational expansion as potential for violence on the planet. In the 1970s, we began seeing books looking at the "population bomb," the coming expansion in world populations that would overwhelm the Earth's carrying capacity. While this could theoretically have a neutral tone, a large portion of the authors stoking population fears set their eyes on the "Third World," countries still in the process of development and whose cultural features were looked down on by wealthy white nations.
Many radical environmentalists from movements like Earth First! went in the direction of the population restriction, with people like Dave Foreman settling in with anti-immigrant groups like Californians for Population Stabilization. The argument first sees non-white immigration as problematic for the sustainability of environmental reserves, suggesting that non-white people are less capable of sustaining the environment and, second, blaming the conditions of many highly polluted nations on their people rather than economic conditions.
Inside of the academy, many of these ideas flourished, so much so that when white nationalists took over the journal Population and Environment, few made headlines. From 1989 to 1999, the journal was edited by Virginia Abernethy, one of the most public white separatists in the country. Abernethy focused her career as a sociologist on "population politics," using coded language about "fertility rates" to argue for both the restriction of non-white populations and for white social control. She served on the board of the white nationalist American Freedom Party, serving as their vice-presidential candidate in the 2012 election. Her main political work seemed to be in Arizona working on the anti-immigration Proposition 200 with Protect Arizona Now.
Kevin MacDonald, who would also join the board of the American Freedom Party, took up where Abernethy left off and edited Population and Environment from 1999 to 2004. MacDonald rocked evolutionary psychology when he released a series of books arguing that Jews used a "group evolutionary strategy" to infiltrate world systems to destabilize and attack white Western civilization. He has since become a prime figure in the world of white nationalism and the "alt-right," editing the Occidental Observer and becoming a rabid advocate of "white identity." Today, Population and Environment seems to have been taken back from its racialist contingent and appears to have no white nationalist content.Deus Vult
The world of medieval studies has not been the ripest for controversy historically, largely because its discoveries are often arcane to the general public. The slow progression of the far-right into this world would not have seemed obvious a few years ago, as few see the connection between the "Fuhrer" principle in Eurocentric fascism and the romanticism that some have for a pre-democratic era of European history. Medieval iconography has been a part of fascist movements since interwar Europe, in which fascists try to find heroic images of warriors beset on all sides by invaders who are not like themselves. Over the past several decades, medieval studies has been a stalwart against many deconstructivist trends in academia, focusing heavily on traditional analysis that sees medieval Europe as a place of chivalry, honor and identity.Many fascist ideologues abandoned orthodox fascist organizing in favor of cultural struggle as a necessary precondition for politics.
Over the past several years, as the "alt-right" and "identitarian" strains of white nationalism developed, an obsession with medievalist scholarship abounded. In the circles that celebrated pre-Christian European paganism as a way of essentializing spirituality into race, there was a heavy focus on the social and religious structures that made up Europe. As "traditionalist" forms of Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity gained some traction, veneration of medieval Christian institutions, long thought to be an ugly history laced with repression and witch burnings, found an appeal. Some medieval studies professors were even making their way into open romantic nationalism, with white nationalist cultural journals like Mjolnir appearing under the pseudo-anonymous tutelage of a medieval history academic.
These issues came to a head when the 2017 International Medieval Congress took place and a discussion on "otherness" in the Middle Ages was run by a panel of all white men. After a joke about its monoracial nature, the discussion about the lack of diversity in the discipline and its Eurocentric focus began. The singular lens of the Middle Ages that sees the era as exclusively white and Christian has attracted some from the far right to these departments, which further influences the direction of the scholarship. The presentation of the Middle Ages as a monoracial set of glorious empires is ahistorical: It erases both the horrors of the dominant powers and the actual multicultural diversity that was explicit even in those periods. This is especially true given the late development of race as an essential concept, birthing out of "pre-Adamic" theories about non-white people that did not dominate until after the feudal periods were largely over.Meta-Academics
The primary arguments that are made from far-right scholars honing in on particular disciplines is that their work is intellectual and for inquiry, not politics. This is essentially the "apolitical" argument that fascist cultural figures have made since the Second World War, where the traditional model of fascist party violence was proven a losing formula. Instead, many fascist ideologues abandoned orthodox fascist organizing in favor of cultural struggle as a necessary precondition for politics. This model was coined by French fascist academic Alain de Benoist, who labeled them "Gramscians of the right" after the imprisoned Marxist Antonio Gramsci, who theorized a cultural revolution on the left. De Benoist and his Nouvelle Droite movement looked at reshaping cultural attitudes to make their ethnic politics possible in the future, forcing the white public to see themselves and their society differently so they would be able to shift the Overton Window. For many artists and musicians on the right, this meant developing genres like neofolk as a vessel for romantic nationalism and the veneration of a mythological European past -- one that could fill them with the motivating emotions that drive separatist political movements.
This shift was a focus on "metapolitics," the cultural modalities that are pre-political in orientation, and the academy is a perfect fit for this strategy of influence. Inside the hard sciences, focusing on items like IQ difference can reframe cultural and economic explanations for IQ scores to ones of fixed essential categories, re-establishing the idea that humans are unequal and that races are biologically defined and profoundly different. In the population restrictionist sector, this has been to reframe legitimate fears about climate change and ecological catastrophe to cast blame on poor communities of color, shifting views of "universal human rights" to instead seeing people as suspect and expendable. Medievalism also presents its own pathway to fascist metapolitics, using a mythological reading of Europe's past as a model for a racialized authoritarian dystopia that creates strictly regulated vertical caste systems. While each of these disciplines is radically different, the motivation that pushed certain far-right people into the classroom was that they found some tract in the study that validated their baser instincts, whether it meant blaming people of color or resurrecting a warrior past that never truly was.
The fascist creep into academia is not a recent development, especially for Europeans, but without a conscious response it will only metastasize unchallenged. The strain of thinking that goes along with these far-right interpretations is fundamentally pseudo-intellectualism: They make spurious claims without meeting the burden of proof, choosing ideology over evidence. The counter to this is, in part, to reinforce the factual consensus while also undoing their argumentation by taking those disciplines further into critical analysis. The European Middle Ages was hardly a bastion of "Ethnostates," and was instead much more multiracial than many have imagined. At the same time, the reality of those monarchies was brutal feudal enslavement, a fact that is erased in the reconstruction of these empires in the imaginations of white nationalists. Overpopulation may be an issue in some areas of environmental preservation, but that comes from the overproduction wrought in capitalism, not in the families surviving on few resources in the Global South. If population is a concern, then the proven solution is to increase access to education for women and marginalized members of the community, not closing the border and scapegoating the most vulnerable. The ability of fascists to reframe the academic discourse in these disciplines comes from the absence of these facts being disseminated and made useful in political and social work, the disconnect that academia often has from real world application.The Battle Over Ideas
The threat presented by fascist ideologues hijacking academic courses is more than just the dissolution of facts, it's the weaponization of educational authority to push their own political vision. Fascist public speech is not just discourse, it is the use of demonstrably untrue narratives under the guise of intellectual rigor in an attempt at expanding a nationalist project. As organizations like Vanguard America, Identity Evropa and the Traditionalist Worker Party double down on campus recruitment, this only becomes more critical as academics who mobilize these distortions are opening up the space for an explosion of racialist activism.
As "The Case for Colonialism" created a public backlash, 15 members of the editorial board of the Third World Quarterly stepped down in protest of the article's publication. Though the Editor-in-Chief Shahid Qadir insisted that the article had been through a double-blind peer-review process, it was later discovered that it had been rejected by reviewers and the board members who requested copies were not given them. Gilley officially requested to have the article withdrawn as public pressure for him to be fired mounted, though he later rescinded this request and declared that he wanted the article to remain. Gilley's public CV was updated on September 25, well after the controversy had begun, where he placed "The Case for Colonialism" at the top of his list of peer-reviewed articles. While Gilley may leave academia for a cushy life at a conservative think tank, it will be campus anti-racist organizations that will really determine whether or not the Portland State University community will be supportive of work that voluntarily erases the genocide of colonialism in favor of a white supremacist vision of history.
If it feels like you and the people you know have no say over what happens in Washington, DC, that's not an illusion. Research shows that ordinary people have close to zero influence on policymaking at the federal level while wealthy individuals and business-controlled interest groups hold substantial sway, according to an analysis published in Perspectives on Politics.
No wonder Americans are frustrated.
Two-thirds are dissatisfied with the direction of the country, according to Pew Research Center data. Almost as many feel that they are losing more than winning on the issues that matter to them.
We need stricter gun laws, say 62 percent of Americans in a Morning Consult poll, and 78 percent support mandatory licensing. Yet action is stalled.
More needs to be done about climate change, say 64 percent of US voters, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll. Seventy-five percent want to see carbon regulated as a pollutant. But federal policy is moving in the opposite direction.
We want government to be accountable to us, but here's the rub. We don't have the power to limit campaign spending -- which 78 percent of Americans favor -- according to a New York Times/CBS News Poll -- or enact other policies that would make elected officials responsive to We the People instead of the big money interests.
So-called populists like Donald Trump tap into the frustration, and some -- with a tolerance (or enthusiasm) for White supremacy -- voted for him. But, with generals and Wall Street executives in the White House, the interests of ordinary people remain firmly outside decision-making circles. So how do we break through?
Two years ago, I took a road trip through 18 states, interviewing people about how they were making change. I visited struggling communities in the Rust Belt, Appalachia, Indian reservations, and the South, and everywhere I found people who were reimagining and rebuilding their communities, and feeling their power.
The people I visited were partnering up -- immigrants and long-time residents, Black youth and elders, union workers and faith leaders -- to make change where they live. They were blocking coal and gas projects and producing radio programs and theater productions that reflected a new story of what their communities value.
At the local level, government is more responsive. Seattle enacted a $15 minimum wage. California is moving forward on a climate policy that will adhere to the Paris Accord, with or without federal government involvement. Texas is closing eight prisons in six years, according to the Dallas News.
One of my co-workers at PeoplesHub, Melissa Rosario, lives in Puerto Rico and told me this story of a day following the hurricane. An elderly woman who lived alone was trapped when a sheet metal roof blew off an adjacent building and blocked the entrance to her home. A group of around 10 showed up to help. The woman laughed when she saw them. The helpers had nothing but a few hand tools and seemed unlikely to succeed, and neighbors advised them to wait for some big machinery. But together, they moved the debris. Then the neighbors brought over food and drink, and powerlessness turned to celebration.
Local power is by nature grounded -- in ourselves, our values, and our family; in our community and culture; and in our ecological home. Archimedes said, "Give me a place to stand, and I can move the Earth." When we have a strong and connected community, we have that place to stand.
And local power brings out joy. When people remove debris after a hurricane or give blood after a mass shooting, it makes them feel better.
Instead of getting burned out, frustrated, and isolated, when we gather, we get energized. The joy generated in those gatherings sustains and empowers us, and builds understanding across divides. And that local power, combined with the local power in other communities, is a foundation for changing things, nationally and globally.
Two years ago this December, Donald Trump issued his now infamous statement: "Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what the hell is going on."
Nearly a year into his presidency, Trump has sought to put three different Muslim bans into place, with the last now making its way through the courts.
In a December 4 ruling, the Supreme Court decided to allow Muslim ban 3.0 to be implemented while challenges to its constitutionality make their way through the lower courts. In this, the Supreme Court overturned appellate courts' earlier decisions to halt its implementation during the appeal process.
To be clear, this decision was not based on the merits of the case or the ban's constitutionality. Nonetheless, for many Muslims, it indicates that institutionalized Islamophobia isn't going anywhere anytime soon. In the context of a president and administration that has repeatedly stoked anti-Muslim sentiments, this latest act of state violence is depressingly unsurprising.
Unlike earlier versions of the ban, which initially imposed three-month restrictions on six or seven Muslim-majority countries, version 3.0 indefinitely targets nationals from eight countries. Syrian and Somali nationals are being banned altogether, while nationals from Iran, Libya, Yemen and Chad face a range of restrictions and barriers to entry.
North Korea and Venezuela are also included in the latest ban, as a fig leaf to cover Trump's expressed intention to target Muslims' entry to the United States in arguments before the courts.
In the case of the previous bans, the time limits meant that when they reached the Supreme Court, they were essentially moot -- no longer in effect. However, because of Muslim ban 3.0's indefinite nature, it virtually ensures that the court will eventually have to rule on the merits of the ban. Its next action may depend on what happens in the 4th and 9th Circuit courts, which are weighing the constitutionality of the ban.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court's decision to let the ban go forward will certainly embolden Trump and his base of supporters, who believe that that Muslims are essentially terrorists until proven otherwise.
For instance, it took only hours after Akayed Ullah, a Muslim immigrant from Bangladesh, attempted to bomb New York's Port Authority bus station before White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders called for dramatically tightening immigration rules. "The president's policy calls for an end to chain migration," she said, "which is what this individual came to the United States through. And if his policy had been in place, then that attacker would not have been allowed to come in the country."
And it wasn't so long ago that Trump re-tweeted inflammatory anti-Muslim propaganda from the British right-wing group Britain First. When British Prime Minister Theresa May protested those tweets, Trump responded by questioning her ability to deal with extremists. Trump bleated that she should "focus on the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom. We are doing just fine!"
In short, Trump responded by criminalizing the British Muslim community. Huckabee Sanders later credited the president with "elevating the conversation" around Islam and terrorism, even while acknowledging that videos of alleged Muslim violence in the tweets may have been fake.
And a week earlier, when ISIS killed over 300 Egyptians in a mosque bombing in Sinai, Trump tweeted to heighten domestic fears of terrorism. "We have to get TOUGHER AND SMARTER than ever before, and we will. Need the WALL, need the BAN!" he tweeted.
In other words, he sought to position acts of terrorism by Muslims as proof of the entire group's propensity to commit acts of violence -- even though all 300-plus victims were Muslims as well, and even though Egypt (whose military dictator Trump warmly welcomed to the White House earlier this year) isn't even on the list of banned countries.
In each of these cases, the White House has demonized the global Muslim community to justify extreme measures against them. By positing Muslims as a threat to the safety and security of the United States -- even when they're the victims of a terrorist attack -- Trump builds support for the idea that restricting Muslim rights will always be the solution.
If the 4th and 9th Circuit courts deem the ban unconstitutional, Trump will almost certainly challenge the ruling. In the meantime, Muslims will continue to face the challenge of being at the forefront of court decisions and the court of public opinion. What happens next will define the course of the legal system when it comes to Muslims in the Trump era of the War on Terror.Ready to make a difference? Help Truthout provide a platform for exposing injustice and inspiring action. Click here to make a one-time or monthly donation.
Erica Garner Was "Unbought and Unbossed" in Push for Justice After Her Father Died in NYPD Chokehold
We remember Black Lives Matter activist Erica Garner, who died Saturday after she fell into a coma following an asthma-induced heart attack. She was just 27 years old. Erica helped lead the struggle for justice for her father, Eric Garner, who was killed when police officers in Staten Island wrestled him to the ground, pinned him down and applied a fatal chokehold in 2014. His final words were "I can't breathe," which he repeated 11 times. In August, Erica gave birth to her second child, a boy named after her late father. Doctors say the pregnancy strained her heart. We feature Erica in her own words on Democracy Now!, and we speak with two people who were close to her: The Intercept's Shaun King and The Root's Kirsten West Savali, whose piece is headlined "Erica Garner: 'I'm in This Fight Forever.'"
Please check back later for full transcript.