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Updated: 39 min 57 sec ago

Rumors of War: Mueller and Trump Prepare for Battle

Fri, 05/04/2018 - 21:00

Former FBI Director Robert Mueller, special counsel on the Russian investigation, leaves following a meeting with members of the US Senate Judiciary Committee at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on June 21, 2017. (Photo: SAUL LOEB / AFP / Getty Images)

The tone and tenor of the Mueller investigation has changed dramatically. His dangerous questions to Trump went public, Trump's lead attorney was bounced in favor of a lawyer with a taste for political combat, the Freedom Caucus made arrangements to impeach a Justice Department official, and Trump himself threatened to "get involved." Next stop: War.

Former FBI Director Robert Mueller, special counsel on the Russian investigation, leaves following a meeting with members of the US Senate Judiciary Committee at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on June 21, 2017. (Photo: SAUL LOEB / AFP / Getty Images)

Send lawyers, guns and money
The shit has hit the fan …

— Warren Zevon

The very first rule of any competent litigator is, "Never ask a question unless you already know the answer." One assumes Robert Mueller is as competent a litigator as they come in public service. If that is the case, last week's leak of some fourscore questions Mueller has for Trump would be enough to make anyone else in Trump's position run up a tree and hide.

In other words, to use an idiom made famous in The Godfather, Mueller and Trump are "going to the mattresses": They are preparing for war.

Yup. It's on, and no one is ready for it. We're all pretty beat up by now; the blinding, grinding havoc that is the Trump Syndicate's passage through history has left its mark on us all, and not for the good. Those who have been shouting, "This is not normal!" are beginning to get a little hoarse. It was inevitable; friction makes a callus.

All that is about to change, because "normal" is about to take a long walk off a short pier. No one has ever witnessed anything like what is about to happen. Richard Nixon, once he finally saw the writing on the wall, had the decency to quit. Donald Trump is no Nixon, and the cataclysm squatting just over the horizon will be, to use a gentle euphemism, unique.

Consider the battlefield as it stands.

1. The Mueller Questions: Mueller's questions for Trump contain a drumbeat of obstruction queries from beginning to end, and if Mueller already has the answers, he already has a case. He doesn't need to prove collusion if he can prove obstruction, and it certainly appears the Trump administration has been going out of its way to obstruct the collusion investigation.

There are plenty of collusion questions included, of course, along with some subtle questions with sharp teeth about family relations and money-laundering to boot. Cohen, Kushner, Stone, Flynn, Manafort, Comey: They're all in there. Legal logic dictates one must first plow through the alleged obstruction and discover its nature before taking on whatever the Trump Syndicate is trying to hide. If Mueller already knows the answers, Trump and his people have cause to be deeply, fearfully concerned.

2. Ty Cobb Out: Cobb, the lawyer with the Yosemite Sam moustache, has been abruptly shown the door. The administration tried to make it sound like a departure long expected, but the facts indicate Cobb got the here's-your-hat-what's-your-hurry because Trump wants a lawyer with a stronger taste for blood.

Enter new Trump attorney Emmet Flood, who once upon a time served as one of Bill Clinton's impeachment lawyers. Mr. Flood is well versed in hand-to-hand political and legal combat. "He jousted with Congress and an independent counsel during the Clinton administration," reports the New York Times. "As a White House lawyer during George W. Bush's second term, he helped fend off congressional investigations into the firing of federal prosecutors. And in private practice, he represented former Vice President Dick Cheney." That's quite a client list right there.

Mr. Flood believes Cobb and the tattered remnants of Trump's legal "team" have been far too conciliatory toward the special counsel's investigation to date, and he means to change that. The odds of Trump agreeing to an interview with Mueller are now so slim, it would get thrown off the big board at the MGM Grand even with a sucker at every table.

Ain't happening without a subpoena, and that subpoena will go all the way to the Supreme Court if issued. With Flood, everything from here on out will be a fight to the knife. To nick another line from The Godfather, Trump now has his wartime consigliere.

3. The Freedom Caucus Threatens Rosenstein with Impeachment: There have probably been stranger phenomena in politics than the House Freedom Caucus, but I can't think of them right now. They are the Tea Party's Alamo in Congress, the last bastion of that manufactured movement, and they still throw serious weight.

Their allegiances are as strange as their politics. It was the Freedom Caucus who blew up Trump's attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and they were on the verge of wrecking his tax bill before they were placated. Yet their core supporters are also Trump's seemingly uncrackable base, and they know where their bread is buttered.

Hence, this impeachment threat by the Caucus against DoJ Deputy Director Rod Rosenstein, who oversees Mueller's investigation. Rosenstein will not fire Mueller, so Rosenstein must be removed. On its own, the Freedom Caucus impeachment threat against Rosenstein is some pretty weak whiskey; the rest of Congress wants no part of it. It could make for some serious political pressure, however, if combined with a frontal attack against Rosenstein by Trump himself.

4. A Trump Intervention and the Pincer Move: The basis for the Freedom Caucus' impeachment threat is the fact that Rosenstein is refusing to do something the Justice Department has never, ever done before. A memo was drafted by the Justice Department outlining the scope of the Mueller investigation, the kind of boilerplate document done at the outset of every investigation it undertakes. The Caucus wants that memo, and its members are willing to impeach if they don't get it.

The thing is, the Department of Justice has never turned over such a memo, because it can't: It doesn't turn over strategy memos to the people it is currently investigating, and it is currently investigating the president. Rosenstein has made it abundantly clear that the Caucus can go pound sand; Rosenstein is not going to destroy the separation of powers and basic common sense to please the politics of some congressional wrecking crew.

The whole thing gets far more dicey if Trump follows through on his sweaty-toothed threat to "get involved." Taking to Twitter on Wednesday, he wrote, "A Rigged System -- They don't want to turn over Documents to Congress. What are they afraid of? Why so much redacting? Why such unequal 'justice?' At some point I will have no choice but to use the powers granted to the Presidency and get involved!"

My handy Trump-to-English dictionary translates that to mean "I will fire Rosenstein," even though all the flames of Hades will rise up to boil the marble tiles of the White House … maybe. Right? It's always "Maybe" around here thanks to heroes like Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham. They say all the right things about Trump "paying a price" for firing the deputy director if he actually does so, but I trust that about as far as I can spit a yak.

If Trump decides to move on Rosenstein, an impeachment push by the Freedom Caucus could provide just enough political cover to withstand the firestorm. This pincer move would provide the Republican jellyfish hive in Congress an excuse to let Trump be Trump … which, in this case, would mean the end of the Mueller investigation, the breaking of the Justice Department to Trump's will, and the final triumph of his Chaos Theory of Governing.

Ah, the endless possibilities of summer.

At this point, I'm still leaving Rudy, Stormy and the rest of that clown car off my main screen. It is entertaining as all get-out, don't get me wrong -- Giuliani's arsonist rampage through Trump's Cohen/Stormy legal strategy is the stuff political writers' dreams are made of -- and there are serious legal consequences for Trump if Cohen rolls on him, but the real business is what they're not talking about on the television.

The Mueller questions, attorney Cobb getting exchanged for infighter Flood, the Freedom Caucus' impeachment threat and the reality of Trump himself -- they're all coming together like a four-way train wreck happening at 5 miles per hour. That's the show, and it's just getting started.

There were dozens of oh-boy-here-we-go moments during Watergate that ultimately came to nothing before the deal finally went down. This may be one of those, but I don't think so. The pitch is different, the timbre more brittle, and the crystal is rattling on the shelf. This feels like something Archie Cox would easily recognize. This feels like war, and because it involves all that is Donald Trump, we've never seen anything like it before.

Buckle up.

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Categories: Latest News

Dahr Jamail: Billions of People Will Be Displaced by Sea Level Rise

Fri, 05/04/2018 - 21:00

Sea ice floats near the coast of West Antarctica as seen from a window of a NASA Operation IceBridge airplane on October 27, 2016 in-flight over Antarctica. (Photo: Mario Tama / Getty Images)

Janine Jackson: Antarctic glaciers are melting at dramatic rates, scientists are finding. Antarctica is of course a continent of ice, roughly twice the size of Australia. The retreat of its oceanfront glaciers raises serious concerns about the resulting rise in sea levels. The most severe projections of potential impact are almost impossible to grasp: billions of people displaced? coastal cities disappeared?

Yet the Washington Post was virtually alone among major outlets in reporting the latest findings. Corporate media have, in the main, stopped entertaining denial of human-driven climate disruption, but that's a long, long way from the serious and sustained attention that would be appropriate to the myriad phenomena involved, and it's categorically different than actually picking a side in the question of priority our guest's work invokes: planet or profit?

Dahr Jamail is staff reporter at Truthout. He's author of, most recently, The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. His new book, The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption, is forthcoming from New Press, and he is just lately recipient of the 2018 Izzy Award from the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, named for passionate, critical journalist I.F. Stone. He joins us now by phone from Port Townsend, Washington state. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Dahr Jamail.

Dahr Jamail: Thank you. Great to be with you.

There's more than one piece of relevant work here, of course. What is the research that you'd like to spotlight, and can you tell us, in layperson's terms, what this new research seems to show?

The most important study recently regarding the Antarctic and sea level rise was published in Science Advances on the 18th of this month, and the title of the study is "Freshening by Glacial Meltwater Enhances Melting of Ice Shelves and Reduces Formation of Antarctic Bottom WaterFreshening by Glacial Meltwater Enhances Melting of Ice Shelves and Reduces Formation of Antarctic Bottom Water."

So what this essentially means is that even in the Eastern Antarctic, there are glaciers that are melting that are actually freshening the ocean around them. So the freshwater of the ice melts, flows into the oceans, and then that is, in turn, blocking a process: that normally cold, salty ocean water is dense and heavy and sinks down to the bottom, where it forms what is known as the densest water on earth, because it's the coldest and the saltiest.

And so what's happening is that bottom water is stopping being formed, because of the melting of these coastal glaciers in two places of Antarctica: off the Western Antarctic coast, as well as the Totten Glacier, which is in Eastern Antarctica. And so these are the two fastest-melting regions of the ice continent.

So what this is causing, according to this study, is the cold surface water is no longer making its way all the way down into the depths, so it's not forming that deeper layer of water that can travel across areas where it normally would. And so what this essentially means is that these two regions of Antarctica's glaciers are now in a feedback loop where they are melting, it's causing this effect on the oceans, and then that's causing even more melting.

And so this is worrisome for numerous reasons. One, that for a long time, scientists believed that Antarctica, being the ice continent, would either not be dramatically impacted by human-caused climate disruption, or at least minimally. But now what this means is that at least 10 percent of Antarctica's coastal glaciers are now in full retreat, and because of this feedback loop, that retreat's only going to speed up, and ultimately this feedback loop will start happening on other glaciers in Antarctica as well.

And so for sea level rise, we already know that the Arctic sea ice is dramatically melting, which is going to only intensify the melt rate in the Arctic. Of course, Greenland, we know, is melting at record rates as well. And so now with Antarctica -- save dramatic, dramatic changes in mitigation, in fossil fuel CO2 emissions across the planet, on a very, very abrupt timescale -- right now, at current trajectories, we are on course, at a minimum, to hit the worst-case projections of sea level rise, which, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is 8.5 feet by 2100. But these worst-case projections, unfortunately, keep being upgraded every time more and more reports, like the one we're discussing today, are being released.

In terms of attention to what is obviously an almost staggeringly important development, the New York Times had a big three-part photo piece last May, with really spectacular images of Antarctica, and a kind of virtual reality thing. At one point the piece said, if the sea level rise turns out to be as rapid as the worst-case projections, it could lead to "a catastrophe without parallel in the history of civilization."

And then, since then, and that's May of 2017, well, the Times hasn't really gone back to the story. Their recent Antarctica stories have been about penguins, you know. I just don't know that the attention is commensurate, and there's all kinds of reasons for that, and I'm going to ask you, but I just want to throw in: There's amount of coverage, and then I want to say a little thing about the tone of coverage, because within that same New York Times piece, in the Part One of it (it was three parts), it noted that US and British scientists were working to get better measurements in the main trouble spots, and then it added, "The effort could cost more than $25 million, and might not produce clearer answers about the fate of the ice until the early 2020s." And the next sentence is, "For scientists working in Antarctica, the situation has become a race against time."

Well, surely part of the reason we aren't running as fast as we might is the amount of coverage, or lack of it, and then this tone that, "Oh, it's expensive." I just wonder what you make in general, on this issue in particular, of the way media are covering it.

It is really shocking to me, and I think you really hit the nail on the head when you discussed the fact of the gravity of this crisis and the implications of this on the entirety of human civilization on the planet, not even to talk about other species. And one would think that that would demand a level of coverage that would be path-breaking, urgent and backed up by citing all of the scientific data that's being released at a fairly rapid pace right now, whether it's sea level rise, temperature-increase projections, what's happening to methane in the arctic, etc., etc.

For example, I would add another quote by Dr. Eric Rignot, a glaciologist with UC Irvine and NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, back in 2014, who said, "Today we present observational evidence" -- we're not talking about projections -- "observational evidence that a large sector of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has gone into irreversible retreat…. It has passed the point of no return." That was four years ago.

So the urgency is clear. Sea level-rise projections are being increased dramatically. We are talking, in the longer run, billions of people being displaced by sea level rise. Entire megacities on the coast, like New York and Tokyo, that are going to have to be relocated entirely, or completely abandoned to the sea.

And so with that being the context, the reportage of, "Oh, OK, well at least we're not giving the denialists coverage…."  We need to be reporting on specifically what is happening, what the projections are, and what this means, because pretending, "Oh, it's not that bad," or "We're still going to be able to mitigate it to the point where we're not going to have to relocate much of New York City," for example, it's just not honest coverage.

And the idea it could cost more than $25 million -- this particular project: $25 million is a pittance! They could have easily said it would cost "as little as $25 million." The idea that we should be thinking in terms of millions of dollars and what that might cost, rather than putting it in a context of what we stand to lose…

Or put it in the context of $25 million for more studies, compared to the Pentagon budget, which is roughly between $700 and $800 billion that we know of, not even talking about the black budget, which puts it up at well over a trillion dollars annually. And so if we need $25 million or $50 million or, you know, heaven forbid, a billion dollars for some more scientific studies, not even talking about mitigation and starting a planned relocation of people and transfer of infrastructure, that that conversation is not happening is just mind-boggling to me.

Because the reality is, for example, the US military, in their Quadrennial Defense Review Report, they are already acutely aware of this. They know that at least half of their naval bases, their bigger naval bases in the US on the coast, have to be relocated. They're watching the water come up to the docks and start to inundate infrastructure. So they're acutely aware of this, and yet the coverage, as you just cited, in the New York Times is not even coming close to keeping up with that.

We've been speaking with Dahr Jamail. You can follow his Climate Disruption Dispatches at Truthout.org, and his book, The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption, will be out soon from the New Press. Dahr Jamail, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

My pleasure. Great to be with you.

Categories: Latest News

Many of Hurricane Maria's Refugees Still Have No Place to Go

Fri, 05/04/2018 - 21:00

On the evening of April 18, the sun is just beginning to set over the Penn South complex in Chelsea as Andrea Tejada, Branda Suarez and Sofia Miranda walk into the colorful 17th-floor apartment of Lizette Colón, a counselor and union chapter chair at Hostos Community College in the Bronx.

The three women, who have been living without permanent housing since they left Puerto Rico after Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated the island last September, are preparing to speak outside City Hall the next day. The event was organized to protest the impending eviction of 83 Puerto Rican families on April 20, after the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) declined to renew housing assistance it distributed through its Temporary Shelter Assistance (TSA) program.

"I do not have a roof over my head. Not even here, not even in Puerto Rico," Tejada remarks in Spanish.

Their mood is brighter than would be expected. Earlier that afternoon, it had been rumored that the city would temporarily foot the bill for housing, preventing families from becoming homeless until the next TSA renewal deadline in May. But the three women and many of the 2,600 Puerto Rican hurricane refugees here still lack permanent housing and adequate help to navigate the welfare system, deal with language barriers and get psychological support.

They call it "the limbo," says Colón. On April 5, four months after their arrival in the city, Tejada and her four-year-old daughter, Jadieliz, were evicted from their hotel room and placed in the Bronx's PATH shelter, only to be later removed on the grounds that Tejada had to exhaust support from all other programs before she could enter the city shelter system.

"Already twice they have told me to pack because they would throw me out," Tejada says, through Ana Lopez, a professor of Latin American and Caribbean studies at Hostos who helped with translation that evening. "And my daughter says 'Mama, do I help you pack again? Are they going to kick us out?' And then she says, 'Imagine me, every time I put the card -- is it going to turn green? Is it going to stay red?'" The electronic key cards they use to get into their hotel room turn green to let them in and red if access is barred.

"They've had to navigate the whole welfare and public agency system here and they've been thrown from one agency to the other -- it's like ping-pong," Lopez, translating for Miranda, says. "And it is really exhausting."

"I spoke to someone from legal services that is servicing families in the Bronx," she adds. "And she said that the hotels get $8,000 a month for housing them. With $8,000 a month, these families can have permanent housing -- for less."

Currently in New York State there 157 families checked into hotels under FEMA's TSA program. Each family receives some money through public assistance and SNAP benefits. Sitting at Colón's kitchen table, Miranda says she receives $145 every two weeks for herself and her son. Suarez, who left two daughters behind in Puerto Rico in order to seek medical care for her 80-year-old grandmother, who suffers from dementia, says she gets $178 bi-weekly. According to FEMA spokesperson Daniel Llargues, any rental assistance families may be eligible for through FEMA's Individual Assistance program is based on a US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) assessment of market values in Puerto Rico, which likely would not cover the cost of rent in New York City.

The women have struggled to find a way to produce a stable income. Miranda is working as a home attendant, but had to cut her hours "because when she was working extra, she didn't qualify for the rest of the services," Colón says, translating what Miranda told her. "It's a catch-22. If you work, then you don't have the services. So she has opted out because she has a son in school."

"And Andrea, she has a daughter," she adds. "The daughter is in school, and she's trying to get a job. But then between all the things that you have to do with so many appointments, there's no way that you can keep a job. She has a bachelor's degree in criminal justice."

Living in hotel rooms also causes other problems. "They cannot cook, because they don't have a kitchen," Colón says. "So it's a catch-22 because the money doesn't last."

The regularly threatened housing-aid cutoffs hit women and children the hardest and show the government's disrespect for Puerto Ricans, argues Lopez. "In other states and even in New York, hurricane-disaster evacuees did not have a term limit in housing aid," she says. "They were put in a hotel until housed in permanent housing. No one was ever kicked out. So it appears Puerto Rico is not treated with same respect and dignity."

State Senator Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx) calls FEMA's decision to end TSA aid "the latest example of their inadequate and unacceptable response to this crisis."

Tejada struggled to find food in the months following the storm. Her apartment in San Juan was flooded and condemned for being unfit for human habitation, and power outages were frequent. The final straw was when her daughter saw three muggers kill an older man.

"The little one saw it from the balcony," she says, translated by Lopez. "They were on the balcony getting air, it was dark, and there was no electricity. She actually saw the man get killed in front of her. And she remembers."

The refugees got a temporary reprieve on April 20, when FEMA, responding to a request from Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Roselló, announced it would extend TSA funding to Puerto Rican families for another month.

Peter Gudaitis, executive director of New York Interfaith Disaster Services (NYDIS), argues that while it is legally the federal government's responsibility to assist evacuees, the city's response has also been inadequate. In February, it quietly closed the emergency service center at the Julia De Burgos Performance and Arts Center in East Harlem, which had been set up to help evacuees from Puerto Rico and other hurricane-devastated areas last September.

"People that chose to come to New York and are here in New York are New York City's problem, whether they get federal funding or not," Gudaitis says. "Because the alternative is just that they end up on the street or in the shelter system, or they have mentally ill children, or they're getting dumped on hospitals if they have medical problems and they can't pay their bills."

While organizations like NYDIS can help families move into apartments with rental deposits, furniture and transportation, applicants have to prove that they can afford to pay the rent before they can access those services, Gudaitis notes. And Puerto Rico has yet to be rebuilt, with another storm season coming in a few months.

"The governor of Puerto Rico says they want people to return to the island. Return to what exactly? A damaged home with no power, no access to water? A hospital that's two or three hours away that's barely functioning on generators still?" he says. "It's like sending people back to a war zone."

Miranda says she's not going back. "She said that in two months she was able to complete a home attendant course, she got certified and it is with a lot of pleasure that she will be taking care of the elderly," Lopez translates. "Here she says there is an assurance of electricity, water. She's going to continue to study. And her son is going to school and that's a sure thing -- in Puerto Rico the schools are closed. She feels she can reach certain goals here."

The newspaper Naomi Klein calls "utterly unique," full of insightful dispatches from around the world, The Indypendent offers a fresh take on today's events.

Categories: Latest News

The Economy Hasn't Recovered for Single Women

Fri, 05/04/2018 - 21:00
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For many Americans, the financial crisis that plunged the global economy into recession a decade ago may seem like a distant memory.

Household net worth -- the difference between assets and debts -- reached a record US$98.7 trillion in the last quarter of 2017, up from $56.2 trillion in 2008.

Yet net wealth, by itself, masks a lot of information that could signal troubling trends. For example, this measure doesn't tell us which households are getting richer. It also doesn't reveal how much borrowing is fueling these ostensibly swelling balance sheets.

More specifically, it doesn't show that for households headed by women, particularly poorer ones, the financial picture is still very cloudy. That's in part because, as my soon-to-be-published research shows, low-income single women borrowed a lot more than single men in the years leading up to the crisis. And their indebtedness relative to their income and wealth remains far more elevated than is the case for pretty much everyone else.

This is especially worrying because female-headed households are vulnerable to begin with -- and so are at risk again if another crisis looms on the horizon.

Why Debt Matters

To understand why debt is so integral to household financial health, it's helpful to look at what happened during the 2008 financial crisis.

Overall household debt grew dramatically in the early 2000s, driven in large part by the subprime mortgage boom. This borrowing eventually reached levels that proved to be unsustainable and, after interest rates began rising in 2004, forced millions into foreclosure.

While things have recovered, the significant gains in net worth are illusory, in part because they have gone disproportionately to the richest households. Moreover, they have been financed through a lot more borrowing.

Total household debt reached a record $13.15 trillion at the end of 2017, up about $2 trillion since the most recent trough in 2013. Nonhousing debt like credit cards and student loans made up most of the increase.

To understand why net worth is misleading, consider two households with identical net worth of $10,000: One has $15,000 of assets and $5,000 of debts, while the other has $10,000 of assets and no debts.

Whether the $5,000 turns out to be unsustainable or not depends on the household's ability to service the debt and pay down the principal. If its income becomes insufficient, the debt will accumulate, and eventually the family will have less and less money for the necessities of life -- as occurred during the financial crisis.

Sustainable debt can quickly become unsustainable if a household suffers what economists call a "shock," or any unexpected change to the family's ability to make ends meet, like losing a job or caring for a sick relative. And some households are more vulnerable, or financially fragile, than others.

Unpredictable shocks can push such households over the edge.

The Feminization of Poverty

Female household heads are particularly at risk to shocks because of their greater economic insecurity and may be more likely to use high-cost borrowing to make ends meet.

For a start, single women's median wealth is one-third that of single men. And single women -- mothers in particular -- have more frequent and longer poverty spells and higher unemployment rates than other households. They also experience high levels of economic risk from shocks such as divorce and unexpected care obligations. On top of all this, the social safety nets such as federal welfare programs that used to support female-headed households have been weakened.

Economists have also pointed to evidence of a "feminization of high-cost credit," particularly among women of color. That's because low-income single women's economic vulnerability and historically limited access to traditional credit products have made them targets for predatory subprime lending. In a 2006 sample of mortgage borrowers, more than half of mortgages owned by black single women were subprime, compared with 28 percent for non-Hispanic white single male borrowers.

Pushed Into the Red

My research, which will be published in the Forum for Social Economics, shows that female-headed households experienced a concerning increase in two major forms of borrowing leading up to the financial crisis: mortgage and educational debt.

Controlling for other household characteristics such as household size and marital status, I examined differences in the growth of average mortgage and student debt among single female- and male-headed households in three time periods: the late 1990s, the credit expansion of 2002 to 2007, and the post-crisis period of 2008 to 2013. I also compared differences between incomes below and above the median, which varied from $24,000 in 1995 to $35,000 in 2007.

My most significant finding is that average mortgage debt for households headed by lower-income unmarried, divorced or widowed women increased substantially during the credit expansion -- rising from about $9,800 to $16,600 after adjusting for other household characteristics -- while similar households led by single men showed no statistically significant change during the period. This gender gap persisted during the recovery; debt for men and women changed very little through 2013.

One explanation is that lenders saw poorer single women -- and women of color in particular -- as a largely untapped market in their rush to originate all the high-interest loans that they could. Other research has found that women were more likely than men to receive subprime mortgages.

In terms of student debt, I found that the average single woman borrowed an extra $2,000 or so during the lead-up to the crisis, compared with an increase of only $775 for men. This was particularly prevalent among younger single women. After the crisis, when many people went back to school because there were so few jobs, female-headed households increased their student debt by an additional $3,400 on average, while men borrowed an additional $2,800.

One reason for this is likely that single mothers are overrepresented at for-profit colleges, where students are three times more likely than their peers at nonprofit universities to hold costly private loans. Another is that more women were studying at college.

One important caveat to my data. My data show only averages over time, not how the fortunes of particular borrowers changed. In other words, I can only show trends, not whether individual households are in fact better or worse off than they were at different points in time.

Wealth and Financial Fragility

Of course, debt isn't always a bad thing. Many households use debt to acquire assets to improve their financial situation down the road.

Homeownership is an important way to build wealth, so it's not altogether a bad thing that a record share of unmarried women owned their own homes in 2006. Similarly, educational investments lead to long-run payoffs that far exceed tuition costs: Someone with a college degree is estimated to earn one and a half times as much as a high school graduate.

Still, there are good reasons to question whether all that pre-crisis borrowing really improved households' financial health. In my own research, I found that lower-income women's debt-to-wealth ratio doubled from the late 1990s to 2013. It turns out, the wealth created by the surge in female homeowners simply vanished when the housing bubble popped.

Today, as borrowing again crescendos, there are good reasons to worry that the next bursting of a debt-driven bubble is right around the corner. And when it happens, once again many low-income single women and their dependents will be among the worst hit.

Categories: Latest News

Corporations Should Have to Hear From Their Owners

Fri, 05/04/2018 - 21:00
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When we think about ways to pressure corporations to improve their practices, we may think of petitions, street demonstrations, boycotts, or social media campaigns. Yet there's another way that's been used effectively for decades.

It involves those who stand to gain from keeping companies healthy over the long term. It's called shareholder action.

Surprised?

Shareholders, who are part-owners of the companies in which they invest, can use their investor status to pressure companies to be better corporate citizens. You're a shareholder if you buy stock in a company.

While not usually in the limelight, people who care about the social and environmental impacts of the companies in which they invest have helped improve corporate conduct for decades.

Shareholders pressured companies to stop doing business with the Apartheid regime in South Africa. They've gotten many companies to ensure that women and people of color are in present in management and on corporate boards. And they've gotten companies to take action on climate change.

Shareholder action consists of several approaches. Investors meet with management, file resolutions that all shareholders get to vote on, and vote in support of resolutions on social, environmental, and sound corporate governance issues.

How do we know that shareholder action is effective?

For one thing, we see companies change practices and adopt new policies. For another, when conservative groups like the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable oppose corporate responsibility initiatives, you know they're having impact.

Indeed, corporate lobbyists are now working hard to undercut the shareholder resolution process.

For decades, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has given concerned investors a process to raise issues that might otherwise go unrecognized or ignored by company leaders. It's let shareholders request company reports on things like board diversity, labor conditions, human rights, environmental stewardship, and climate impacts.

Last November, corporate lobbyists scored a big win when the SEC gave companies more latitude to disregard shareholder proposals that companies claim are related to "ordinary business," as opposed to major policy issues. The SEC also said it would give more consideration to disallowing resolutions that pertain to less than 5 percent of a company's financial value.

Several hundred corporate responsibility resolutions are filed each year at publicly traded companies, most of which get voted on in the spring. The new SEC guidance came just prior to this year's springtime rush.

A worrisome example of the new trend was a recent resolution filed with the oil and gas company EOG Resources by Trillium Asset Management, on setting a carbon emissions goal. The SEC considered this micromanaging, even though there have been many similar resolutions at other companies.

We're now seeing companies pushing back against important resolutions by concerned investors -- and succeeding. Other goals that might get blocked include addressing discrimination and environmental sustainability.

A growing number of investors want to know about the broad range of corporate impacts their assets support. They also understand that attention to social and environmental issues makes companies competitive in the long run.

No company should refuse to explore investor concerns over such legitimate issues.

It's not acceptable to limit companies' concerns to short-term financial profitability. The well-being of people and the planet is a corporate and investor concern and responsibility. Smart shareholders and businesses know that.

The SEC would best serve our economic future by recognizing this as well.

Categories: Latest News

How Net Neutrality Can Survive the Trump Administration

Thu, 05/03/2018 - 21:00

Senate Democrats will move next week to force a vote on a resolution that would undo the Federal Communications Commission's decision in December to scrap its own net neutrality rules. Even if the resolution fails to pass, the political fight is just beginning. Net neutrality may be on life support, but it's not dead yet.

Protesters display signs at a rally to save net neutrality in San Francisco, California, on September 12, 2017. (Photo: Credo Action)

After becoming president, Donald Trump installed a Republican majority at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that has worked furiously to roll back a long list of consumer protections established under the Obama administration, including the 2015 Open Internet Order that set net neutrality rules for internet service providers.

Net neutrality is now on life support, but it's not dead yet.

Crucial portions of the FCC's December decision to scrap its own net neutrality rules are still under review at the Office of Budget and Management (OMB), and the order has yet to take full effect. In the meantime, digital rights advocates and Democrats in Congress are scrambling to give net neutrality a chance to survive the reign of Trump and Ajit Pai, Trump's pro-industry FCC commissioner.

Senate Democrats will file a petition on May 9 to force a vote on a resolution that would undo the FCC's net neutrality repeal under the Congressional Review Act (CRA). The rules prevent internet service providers (ISPs) like AT&T and Verizon from blocking access to legal websites and playing favorites with online content to maximize profits, but Pai replaced the regulations with much weaker provisions to be enforced by the Federal Trade Commission.

Democrats plan to hammer Republicans in the midterms for siding with Ajit Pai and the ISPs instead of consumers.

Under CRA rules, support from only 30 senators is needed to force a Senate vote on a resolution to reverse regulatory actions made by agencies like the FCC. With Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the Democrats have 50 votes in support of the resolution to restore net neutrality. 

If one more Republican defects or Sen. John McCain remains absent as he receives treatment for brain cancer, the Democrats will have the simple majority needed to pass the resolution.

"This senate vote will be the most important moment for net neutrality since the FCC repeal," said Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, one of several digital rights groups planning on online day of action in support of the Democratic petition on May 9. "Now is the time to fight." 

The Senate could approve the resolution by the end of the month and faces a June 12 deadline under the CRA. If successful, the resolution faces an uphill battle in the House, where Republicans could use their powerful majority to prevent a floor vote. Even if Democrats were to find enough Republicans to pass the resolution, President Trump would likely veto it.

Still, the resolution could force lawmakers to take a position on the issue, which is exactly what Democratic leaders want. The decision to kill net neutrality rules by the GOP majority at the FCC is very unpopular among voters -- including 75 percent of Republicans -- and Democrats plan to hammer Republicans in the midterms for siding with Pai and the ISPs instead of consumers.  

"Soon, the American people will know which side their member of Congress is on: fighting for big corporations and ISPs or defending small business owners, entrepreneurs, middle-class families, and everyday consumers," said Senate Democratic minority leader Chuck Schumer in a statement this week. 

Republicans could respond to the political pressure by pushing their own net neutrality proposals. As analysts have pointed out, Pai may have structured his repeal around the OMB review to prevent ISPs from operating in a virtually unregulated environment while Republican lawmakers craft legislation meant to ease public backlash. 

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) has introduced legislation that would create a weaker net neutrality regime than what was established by the FCC. Under Blackburn's proposal, ISPs would be barred from censoring and/or slowing online content, but they could extract lucrative fees from websites in exchange for priority loading speeds. The legislation would also preempt state and local efforts to protect net neutrality, which popped up nationwide in response to the FCC repeal.

Of course, such "paid prioritization" is not true net neutrality, and big content providers like Netflix could hand the extra costs down to their customers. Plus, Blackburn's bill would not restore the FCC's ability to regulate ISPs as "common carriers" and act as a powerful watchdog for consumers. 

Such legislation would allow Republicans to say they support net neutrality in some for form, but voters probably won't like the fine print. At this point, Democrats have momentum and appear unwilling to compromise. 

Even if Pai's net neutrality repeal takes full effect before Congress agrees on a legislative replacement, it still faces a number of lawsuits from digital rights groups, state attorneys general and even smaller ISPs. A court injunction could keep the Obama-era rules on the books for months or longer. 

If Democrats regain control of Congress after the midterms -- or enough Republicans flip on the issue -- then Congress could pass legislation establishing new net neutrality rules while legal challenges wind through the courts. 

A bipartisan compromise on net neutrality legislation may not have the same regulatory teeth as the 2015 rules established by the FCC, but it would prompt a showdown with President Trump, who appointed Pai as FCC chairman to carry out his sweeping deregulatory agenda.

By then, Trump would be focused on re-election, and standing up for an industry that voters clearly do not trust could cause headaches for his campaign. Republican pollsters recently found that 75 percent of Trump supporters agree with the FCC's net neutrality rules when they understand what they are. 

If Trump runs for re-election and loses to a Democrat, then the FCC majority will turn blue and a new administration could begin the process of putting the net neutrality rules back into place -- if Congress has not done so already.

With all the political uncertainty and public discussion, it's unlikely ISPs will start violating net neutrality in major ways anytime soon, but that doesn't mean the policymakers, journalists and consumers should take their eyes off them for a minute.

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Categories: Latest News

Refugee Writers Ariel Dorfman and Viet Thanh Nguyen on Migration, US Wars and Resistance

Thu, 05/03/2018 - 21:00

As dozens of migrants from Central America remain camped out at the US-Mexico border attempting to seek asylum in the United States, we spend the hour with two of the nation's most celebrated writers, both refugees themselves. Viet Thanh Nguyen was born in Vietnam in 1971. After the fall of Saigon in 1975, he and his family fled to the United States. He is the author of three books, including The Sympathizer, which won the Pulitzer Prize, and he teaches at the University of Southern California. He is also the editor of a new collection titled The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives. We are also joined by the Chilean-American writer Ariel Dorfman, who has been described as one of the greatest Latin American novelists. Forty-five years ago, he fled Chile after a US-backed coup displaced President Salvador Allende. Dorfman had served as Allende's cultural adviser from 1970 to 1973. Living in exile, he became one of Gen. Augusto Pinochet's most vocal critics, as well as a celebrated playwright and novelist. Dorfman, who teaches at Duke University, has just published a new novel, Darwin's Ghosts, and a new collection of essays titled Homeland Security Ate My Speech. He also contributed an essay to "The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives."

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

An Insult to Mob Bosses

Thu, 05/03/2018 - 21:00
Categories: Latest News

Interior Secretary and Senator Lamar Alexander Propose Killing the Planet to Save National Parks

Thu, 05/03/2018 - 21:00

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke joined with US Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) to argue that the best way to fix the national parks is by pillaging public lands for fossil fuels.

Their CNN op-ed published Wednesday focuses on the $11.6 billion repair backlog the parks face -- "our parks are being loved to death," they write. They say revenue to address the infrastructure repairs can come through their proposed legislation, the National Park Restoration Act (S.2509). Lamar is the sponsor of the bipartisan legislation, which he introduced at the behest of Zinke, and as the Interior Department noted in a press release, it "follows the blueprint laid out in Secretary Zinke and President Trump's budget proposal, the Public Lands Infrastructure Fund.​"

As Zinke and Lamar, lay out:

These revenues will come from energy leases on all onshore and offshore sources of energy production on federal land: oil, gas, coal, renewables, and alternative energy. The fund would receive 50 percent of onshore and offshore revenues from energy production on federal lands over expected amounts that are not already allocated to other purposes.

Environmental groups have long cautioned against fueling the climate crisis with fossil fuel extraction on public lands -- producton Zinke is pushing to make easier

Responding to the joint op-ed, some on social media gave the Zinke-Alexander plan a resounding thumbs-down and pointed to the need to get off fossil fuels:

These two idiots plan to sell off the parks, pollute them from the inside while giving profits to their fossil fuel masters. This must be oppossed. #Resist #ImpeachTrump #VoteThemOut Zinke and Alexander: How to protect America's 'best idea' @CNN https://t.co/Baw0e9Vxzf

— Jerry McNutt (@Jerrymcnutt) May 2, 2018

Rather than listen to Zinke and Alexander's opinions in their article, I'll listen to scientists and their facts that climate change is real: we need to move away from burning fossil fuels and toward renewable energy. There has to be a better way to protect the parks!

— Suzwarto☕?? (@Suzwarto) May 2, 2018

According to Randi Spivak, the public lands program director for the Center for Biological Diversity, "there appears to be no limit to the fossil fuel industry's appetite for extraction and the Trump administration's willingness to bend over backward for these polluting companies." She also noted an analysis (pdf) from her group that "shows there's been no meaningful environmental review, disclosure of harms, or public engagement regarding nearly 200,000 acres of public lands in six Western states scheduled to be auctioned off during the first half of 2018."

As for the $18 billion the Zinke-pushed plan would supposedly would generate, that's "a fantasy number,” Aaron Weiss, media director for the Center for Western Priorities, told ThinkProgress. "The idea that you could spark a giant stampede of new production while oil prices are where they are today, it's just fantasy land.

Environmental groups including The Wilderness Society and National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) say that the infrastructure proposal put forth by Democrats is a far better option.

In the Democrat proposal, wrote NPCA's Ani Kame'enui, "None of these construction and maintenance projects would be paid for at the expense of public lands and waters. Instead, this plan funds infrastructure work by rolling back some of the controversial corporate tax cuts passed in December 2017. We don't need to sacrifice public lands and environmental protections to improve America's infrastructure."

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Categories: Latest News

Trump Disregards Caravan Migrants' Legal Right to Apply for Asylum

Thu, 05/03/2018 - 21:00

A prayer service is held for the group of Central American migrants at the San Ysidro border crossing while they wait to walk to the United States border and have their cases processed on April 30, 2018, in Tijuana, Mexico. (Photo: Carolyn Van Houten / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

After an arduous, month-long journey, a caravan of 300 asylum seekers from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala arrived at the Tijuana-San Ysidro border. They have a legal right to apply for asylum, but the Trump administration is trying to stop them.

A prayer service is held for the group of Central American migrants at the San Ysidro border crossing while they wait to walk to the United States border and have their cases processed on April 30, 2018, in Tijuana, Mexico. (Photo: Carolyn Van Houten / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The 300 asylum seekers who arrived at the US border on April 29 after a month-long, 2,000-mile journey have another grueling struggle ahead of them, according to the immigration attorneys who are donating their time to represent them.

More than three-quarters of asylum claims from Hondurans, Guatemalans and Salvadorans between 2012 and 2017 were denied, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, and this year's caravan of asylum seekers are facing a climate made even more hostile by the xenophobic Trump administration.

Once the asylum applicants -- who traveled in a caravan to the Tijuana-San Ysidro border from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala -- establish that they face a credible fear of persecution in their home countries, their ordeals are just beginning.

Los Angeles immigration attorney Colleen Flynn told Truthout that because of retaliation by the Trump administration, even those who establish "credible fear" could face years of detention.

"Some will bond out, but many others will be unable to raise the money for high bonds," Flynn said. "There is a possibility their kids will be taken away."

In the face of these fears, Flynn said, the asylum seekers she met in Tijuana are "incredibly resilient, incredibly hopeful, really brave."

Hundreds of supporters, many of whom had marched 150 miles from Los Angeles, gathered on the US side of the border in solidarity with the asylum seekers. It was "a really moving sight to see people coming together at the border," said Kath Rogers, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild's Los Angeles chapter.

When the asylum seekers arrived at the border, however, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers informed them that the port of entry was "at capacity" and repeated that mantra throughout the day. When Gilbert Saucedo, an attorney, human rights advocate and co-president of the LA chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, asked the CBP officers, "Is that what you were told to say?" they said "yes," Saucedo reported to Truthout. 

To read more stories like this, visit Human Rights and Global Wrongs.

Pueblo Sin Fronteras, a group that has accompanied migrants and refugees on their journeys for 15 years, took issue with the officers, saying in a statement: "Customs and Border Protection is the largest law enforcement agency in the country, and is able to detain, transport and incarcerate thousands of people in a day, but is pretending that they don't have the 'capacity' to accept 150 refugee parents and children whose arrival has been anticipated and communicated weeks in advance." 

The asylum seekers have a legal right to have their applications considered, and many of them have meritorious claims. Notwithstanding Trump's bloviating, CBP officers began slowly processing the asylum requests. By the end of the fifth day, roughly half of the caravan asylum seekers had been taken to San Diego for processing. 

Meanwhile, the remaining asylum seekers continue to wait. They are camping on the ground in unseasonably cool and drizzly weather. Mostly women and children, they are cold and hungry, despite some rations provided by their supporters.

"It just broke my heart to see them," Saucedo said. 

Flynn spoke of a group of women whose lives are endangered in their home countries because they are transgender. These women "really kept spirits up" among the asylum seekers, "singing, dancing, elevating the mood and keeping people's hopes alive."

Trump Administration Tries to Keep Asylum Seekers Out of US

Donald Trump tweeted on April 23 that he ordered the Department of Homeland Security "not to let these large Caravans of people into our Country," adding, "It is a disgrace." 

Unsurprisingly, Trump demonstrated no compassion for those who made the dangerous trip by bus, train and on foot to escape persecution in their home countries, referring to them as "this problem." On April 3, he tweeted, "The big Caravan of People from Honduras … had better be stopped before it gets there." The caravan asylum seekers were "openly defying our border," Trump tweeted on April 30, and wrote in a fundraising email to his supporters on April 26, "We need a strong, impenetrable WALL that will end this problem once and for all."

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi), ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, disagreed with Trump's assessment.

"It's overkill," Thompson told HuffPost. "You would have expected [Trump] to have been briefed by intelligence officers exactly who was headed this way … We know who they are. We know where they are. And we even know why they're coming. So to try to elevate this into some heightened sense of threat, it just didn't measure up."

Caravans of asylum seekers arrive at the US-Mexico border annually. But this year, Trump began his Twitter and verbal assaults on the caravan before it arrived in Tijuana. "Are you watching that mess that's going on right now with the caravan coming up?" he said at an April 29 rally in Michigan. "We have the worst laws anywhere in the world, we don't have borders." 

Michael Knowles, president of the asylum officers union, told The San Diego Union-Tribune, "If they're coming to seek asylum, they need to be given due process. We shouldn't be impeded from doing our job, and those applicants should not be impeded from having their cases heard." 

Trump betrayed his ignorance of US immigration law, tweeting, "These big flows of people are all trying to take advantage of DACA. They want in on the act!" In fact, the asylum seekers have nothing to do with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allowed immigrants brought to the US as children relief from deportation before Trump sought to end the program.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as contemptuous of immigrants as his boss, called the caravan "a deliberate attempt to undermine our laws and overwhelm our system." Sessions short-circuited immigration court policies, vacating a Board of Immigration Appeals decision that required immigration judges to provide asylum seekers with a full hearing. Now, thanks to Sessions, judges can deny applications without testimony from the asylum seeker. 

The Legal Right to Apply for Asylum 

The 1951 Refugee Convention requires the United States to accept and consider asylum applications. Applicants must show they are unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.

Once an applicant demonstrates a credible fear of persecution, which can be shown by evidence of past persecution, he or she must establish that fear stemmed from the applicant's membership in a particular social group or political opinion. These are the two categories that cover most of the caravan asylum seekers, immigration attorney Helen Sklar, a member of the LA chapter executive board of the National Lawyers Guild, told Truthout.

"Membership in a particular social group" requires that members of the group share a "common, immutable" trait that is "so fundamental to the identity or conscience of the member that he or she should not be required to change it."

The roughly 35 transgender women on the caravan will likely apply for asylum based on membership in the particular social group of being transgender, Sklar explained.

"Political opinion" is the category that applies to many of the asylum seekers, particularly those fleeing violence in Honduras. Most people in the caravan came from Honduras.

Sklar interviewed one asylum seeker who was subjected to persecution by the current Honduran regime because of her opposition to government policies. She reported being threatened and beaten at an anti-government demonstration. 

US policy, particularly during the Obama administration, helped create the conditions that caused the asylum seekers to undertake their long and perilous journey north. In 2009, the US government supported a coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya and made conditions nearly unbearable for many Hondurans.

As Pamela Spees, senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, wrote

Honduras has been declared the most dangerous country in the world for land rights and environmental activists... It's not surprising then that the rising and pervasive violence and deep economic insecurity in Honduras and the region has resulted in unprecedented numbers of refugees and migrants fleeing to seek safety and security. 

Sklar, who is one of about a dozen attorneys who have been helping the asylum seekers without remuneration, criticized the Trump administration for suggesting that the asylum seekers' motives are not legitimate.

"Who would undertake such hardship without a compelling need to find safety?" Sklar asked.

Trump's Racist, Nativist Immigration Policy

Trump's verbal attacks on the asylum seekers did not occur in a vacuum. From instituting the Muslim Ban to attempting to end the DACA program, he has consistently appealed to his base by pursuing racist, nativist immigration policies. 

Late last year, the Trump administration stopped accepting applications for a program that allowed people from Central America legally residing in the United States to bring their children here. As a result, 3,800 people -- primarily children -- who were being processed under that program are stranded in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Trump has also drastically reduced the admission of refugees into the US and deployed National Guard troops to the border. 

If he had his way, Trump would build a border wall and end the practice of family migration and the diversity visa lottery system. He would also halt the policy of releasing undocumented immigrants with notices to appear in court (a practice that he describes using the dehumanizing language of "catch and release"), opting instead to detain or deport them. 

At his April 29 Michigan rally, Trump threatened to shut down the country if his wall did not get built.

"We need security. We need the wall … if we don't get border security, we'll have no choice. We'll close down the country," Trump declared. 

Meanwhile, the asylum seekers brace for the next stage of their long struggle. "Our trip isn't over," 17-year-old Jose Coello from Honduras said as he walked into the United States from Tijuana on May 2. "This is just the next step."

Categories: Latest News

Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani Plot Their Last Big Heist

Thu, 05/03/2018 - 21:00

Rudy Giuliani walks to a vehicle after a meeting at the clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in Bedminster Township, New Jersey on Sunday, November 20, 2016. (Photo: Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

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Rudy Giuliani, President Trump's new personal lawyer, went on Sean Hannity's show and "Fox & Friends" this week, giving dense and baffling interviews about his client's legal issues that nearly blew up the capital. And nobody in the White House except for the president knew he was going to do it. Evidently, Giuliani and Trump cooked this strategy up all by themselves, bringing to mind one of those movies where the aging crooks sit in the diner and plan their last big heist, which. naturally enough, goes terribly wrong because their skills aren't as sharp as they used to be.

You'll recall that at one time it was assumed that Giuliani would be in the cabinet, perhaps as attorney general. But gossip at the time held that Trump noticed that Giuliani was dozing off in meetings and didn't think he was sharp enough for a big job. So he put him in charge of some cyber-security program, which Giuliani promised to get right on as soon as he figured out how to set the clock on his brand new VCR. That was the last we heard about it.

Indeed, the former New York mayor and prosecutor hasn't been heard from much at all during this presidency until Trump decided to bring him on as one of his personal lawyers in the Russia probe. It's clear that these two guys are happy to be back in the saddle doing what they do best: Working the tabloid media to get their names in the papers. The problem is that this particular talent is irrelevant at best, and likely counterproductive, when it comes to the problem they face today.

In a nutshell, Giuliani confirmed that Trump had paid the Stormy Daniels hush money by "funneling" it through Cohen's law firm in the form of monthly retainers paid out over the course of 2017 -- while Trump was president, mind you -- in the amount of $470,000. Giuliani explained that this covered the Daniels payment and that Cohen would "get a little profit" and some money to pay taxes. Giuliani further claimed that this was entirely personal and Trump knew nothing about it until after the raid on Cohen's office, thus explaining why he had denied paying Daniels when asked about it on Air Force One a few weeks ago.

The upshot seems to be that Trump routinely "funnels" large sums of money to Cohen to use as a slush fund to pay off people as necessary. Giuliani says that many wealthy people have such an arrangement and it's all perfectly legal and had nothing to do with the presidential campaign. Essentially, it's all just part of the Witch Hunt! Giuliani also suggested that Attorney General Jeff Sessions should "step in" and put a stop to the Cohen probe immediately, as if that would settle it.

One of the main problems with this story is that it involves Donald Trump, who personally signed every check for the Trump Organization even during the 2016 campaign and believed he could continue to do so as president. He has never left a nickel on the sidewalk. It is not credible that he gave Michael Cohen almost half a million dollars a year to "fix" things for him, with no questions asked.

Furthermore, nobody has exactly nailed down where Cohen got the original $130,000 to pay Daniels (which was later allegedly paid back by Trump through these "monthly retainers.") Cohen has claimed that he took out a home equity loan through his bank, and if he did that he must have lied about it. It seems unlikely that he told the lender he needed some temporary cash to pay off a porn star on someone else's behalf. If he did lie to the bank about the purpose of the loan, that is a crime. What makes this more curious still is that Cohen is clearly a wealthy man and presumably could lay his hands on that amount of money without much trouble. That's just one of the many mysteries that presumably will be unraveled in due course.

The most common assumption among the political analysts has been that Giuliani and Trump are trying to finesse the campaign finance issue for both Cohen and the president. That may be true, but if so it represents a failure to grasp the bigger picture. It seems highly improbable that the FBI and the US attorney in New York were able to persuade a judge to issue search warrants for the president's lawyer, as they did, if all they were searching for was a single improper campaign contribution.

No, the likeliest scenario is that Giuliani and Trump were sitting around in the Oval brainstorming about the best way to keep Cohen from flipping, and this is what they came up with. The president's good friend David Pecker had thrown Cohen to the wolves on the front page of the National Enquirer and Giuliani probably convinced Trump that they needed to do a little fence-mending. This is definitely not the kind of strategy you'd talk about with your real lawyers or the White House communications shop.

MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace spoke with sources close to Trump who said that the dynamic duo's "ultimate goal, ultimate prize is to provide some cover, politically, legally, psychically, cosmically, emotionally for Michael Cohen." The Washington Post's Ashley Parker reported on Wallace's show that there were three camps in the White House on this subject. The first camp thinks the two duffers were chewing the fat and just decided to "do something" and there really wasn't much of a strategy at all. Another camp believes the Cohen campaign finance story was the real motivation. Then there's the third camp, which suggests that all this is really about Trump's emotional needs:

All along, the president has craved someone out there being aggressive and it's sort of the emotional strategy and emotional response that the president desires. It may not be great politically and it may create a lot of headaches for his staff but it's nice to have someone finally out there defending him and it sort of scratches that itch that he has and often exhibits on Twitter.

I suspect that last has a great deal to do with it. But that doesn't mean Giuliani and Trump aren't trying to respond to a very serious problem. According to an unnamed source quoted by Josh Marshall in Talking Points Memo, who identifies himself or herself as "steeped in anti-corruption enforcement," this little scam about Cohen's "retainer" speaks to a system for getting money to people "while insulating and giving deniability to the ultimate payor of the bribe." Using a "dirty lawyer as a bagman provides a number of advantages," the source explains. Bribe or blackmail money can be laundered as "legal services" and businesses can write them off as expenses, which would be tax evasion. Needless to say, attorney-client privilege provides the perfect mechanism to conceal such an illegal arrangement.

Rudy Giuliani was once the New York US attorney himself, so he must know this could be a red flag for criminal behavior. But he's deep into Trump's alternate reality today. They are two of a kind, close in age, scrappy New Yorkers who have become vulnerable to paranoia and conspiracy theories in their later years. They are both clearly in over their heads but are too egotistical to admit it. Giuliani's display this week could be a lethal blow to this White House.

Categories: Latest News

Unemployment Rate Falls to 3.9 Percent, but Wage Growth Remains Weak

Thu, 05/03/2018 - 21:00
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The unemployment rate fell to 3.9 percent in April, the lowest rate since 2000. It has only been below this level for one month in the last 45 years. However, in spite of the drop in unemployment, other aspects of the report were less encouraging. Most importantly, wage growth remains weak. The average hourly wage increased by just 4 cents in April, bringing the year-over-year increase to 2.6 percent. There is no evidence of acceleration.

The drop in the unemployment rate was also due to the reported drop in labor force participation, the second consecutive drop, not an increase in employment in the household survey. There was also a drop in the percentage of unemployment attributable to voluntary quits. The 12.7 percent share is still near the high for this recovery, but well below the rates of 14 percent or more seen in 2000. This suggests that, in spite of the low unemployment rate, workers are still not confident about their labor market prospects.

Categories: Latest News

End of the Gig Economy? Don't Read Too Much Into a California Court Ruling

Thu, 05/03/2018 - 21:00

A recent California Supreme Court ruling is being hailed as a "game changer" for the gig economy.

That's because the court adopted a more streamlined test for deciding whether a worker is an independent contractor or an employee. Gig economy companies, like Uber and Lyft, overwhelmingly classify their workers as independent contractors. As a result, they don't comply with basic employment laws, like minimum wage and workers' compensation insurance.

If courts decide these workers are misclassified and actually meet the legal test for employee status, gig companies can be on the hook for back pay or unpaid insurance premiums, as well as penalties for past noncompliance.

So does this mark a turning point for the gig economy? Maybe not.

A New Test for Gig Workers

In the decision, Dynamex Operations West Inc. v. Superior Court, the justices adopted a much simpler test than California has applied in the past. The new test asks three questions: Is the worker free from the company's control? Is the worker performing a core business function of the company? And does the worker have his or her own independent business?

This test strikes at the heart of the gig economy, a system built on providing workers on demand for all sorts of tasks, whether it be picking you up, assembling furniture or delivering a new toaster or a burrito. The services that gig workers perform are core to the each company's business, making it much harder for the companies to defend their decision under this streamlined test.

But plaintiff's lawyers shouldn't sharpen their pencils just yet. That's because gig economy companies have what amounts a "get out of jail" free card -- arbitration agreements containing class action waivers.

"Get Out of Jail" Free

Put simply, companies can force workers to sign agreements that they will only pursue their legal rights through arbitration -- and not in courts. These agreements can also waive a worker's right to bring any class or collective claims against the company.

A lot of legal claims are not economically viable unless they are brought as class actions. The amount of money at stake is not enough to make it worth a lawyer's time, unless you group everyone's claims together. This is especially true of lawsuits involving wage and hour violations -- like failure to pay minimum wage or overtime.

study I completed with law student Bridget Schaaff found that these waivers are very common in the gig economy. For 2016, around 70 percent of the contracts we reviewed contained arbitration agreements with class action waivers. This likely underestimates the proportion of workers subject to these waivers, because it was the larger, most established gig companies that tended to use them.

Gig companies are unlikely to change their practices without the threat of class actions. Although state agencies can help by stepping up enforcement, it's ultimately up to Congress to take away the "get out of jail" free card. And that would mean amending the Federal Arbitration Act.

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Police Shot Another Black Woman in Need of Mental Health Support. It's Time for Change

Thu, 05/03/2018 - 21:00

Last weekend, two police officers in Georgia killed Somali refugee Shukri Ali Said after her family called 911 seeking mental health assistance. People with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed during a police encounter than people without mental illness. Solutions for this crisis are being found at the community level.

An activist displays a sign during the BYP100 #DecriminalizeBlack protest on December 21, 2014, in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo: Sarah Ji)

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On April 28, two police officers in Georgia killed 36-year-old Somali refugee Shukri Ali Said after her family called 911 seeking mental health assistance.

Many publicly condemned the shooting, suggesting bias against her Muslim identity may have played a role. The Georgia Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is leading a civil rights investigation against the police officers.

"It is possible that law enforcement failed to properly de-escalate conflict with a woman they knew to be mentally ill," CAIR-Georgia director Edward Ahmed Mitchell said in a statement issued on behalf of Said's family. Said, who had been diagnosed as bipolar, was allegedly refusing to drop a knife when the police opened fire.

"It is also possible that law enforcement reacted differently to Shukri, a Somali-American woman who was reportedly wearing a hijab and a dress at the time of the shooting, than they would have reacted to another individual," Mitchell added.

Political activist Linda Sarsour, who co-chaired the 2017 Women's March, wrote on Facebook: "I am sad. I am outraged. I am mourning. I am helpless. Every damn day. Black bodies on our streets. We cannot be silent. We cannot be numb. We have to remind ourselves that while this happens too often - it's NOT RIGHT."

Said's death shines a spotlight on a critically overlooked reality that often contributes to cases of police brutality: the way in which law enforcement officers have become front line responders to those experiencing a mental health crisis.

People with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed during a police encounter.

According to a 2015 report by the Treatment Advocacy Center, people with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed during a police encounter than people without mental illness, and about one in four fatal law enforcement encounters involves an individual with serious mental illness. These are jarring statistics, serving to illustrate a much bigger problem: the failure of the US health care system to offer adequate mental health care both in everyday moments and in moments of crisis.

More than half a million people with serious mental health issues do not receive the care they need due to a variety of barriers, most significantly of which is accessibility. As states and hospitals have cut back on funding for community mental health services, access to treatment has either declined or become unaffordable. Those who are unable to find mental health treatment are likely to end up in jail or prison.

Those who are unable to find mental health treatment are likely to end up in jail or prison.

Two million individuals living with mental illness are placed in jails each year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. People with mental illness are typically introduced into the criminal legal system through minor offenses such as jaywalking or disorderly conduct. Not all those who end up in jail or prison leave with a criminal record, but those that do have a harder time finding a job that could provide them with the necessary health care benefits to access mental health care treatment. As a result, they find themselves either homeless, in emergency rooms or back in the prison system once again. People with mental illness have high rates of recidivism.

Shockingly, Los Angeles County Jail, Rikers Island Jail in New York City and Cook County Jail in Chicago serve as the three largest psychiatric institutions in the US. For many, prisons may be their first or last resort for care. Some purposefully enter the criminal legal system in order to receive mental health care.

Community organizers around the US are developing alternative emergency first-response models and training that minimize the role of the police. In Eugene, Oregon, White Bird Clinic in collaboration with the City and Eugene Police Department have developed the Crisis Assistant Helping Out on the Streets (CAHOOTS) program, which is a mobile crisis intervention service that responds to non-criminal social welfare emergencies, such as mental health crises, non-criminal substance and drug abuse, and poverty-related issues. The program has found a lot of success in reducing police involvement and helps residents by providing counseling services, mediating disputes and transporting people to social services.

Los Angeles County Jail, Rikers Island Jail and Cook County Jail serve as the three largest psychiatric institutions in the US.

Meanwhile, in Oakland, California, Critical Resistance, an organization working to abolish prisons, has launched the Oakland Power Project. The project provides training to community members so they have the power to intervene in health care emergencies in place of the police. These alternative emergency first-response initiatives provide excellent blueprints for cities to adapt and expand upon to break the link between policing and mental health care that can often be fatal.

Instead, emphasis has increasingly been to provide law enforcement officers with training to deescalate crisis situations with people with mental illness. However, that is not enough. If we want to avoid another death like Said's, we need to start paying attention to the ways the health care system closely interacts with the criminal legal system and invest greater resources into preventative community-based models of mental health care.

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Trump Plan to Raise Minimum Rents Would Put Nearly a Million Children at Risk of Homelessness

Thu, 05/03/2018 - 21:00

Rental assistance programs are designed to help low-income families rent decent housing at an affordable cost. However, under President Trump's proposal to raise rents by up to $1,800 a year, the poorest households receiving federal rental assistance would face eviction, hardship and homelessness.

The Henry Rutgers Houses, a public housing development built and maintained by the New York City Housing Authority, stand in in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, April 26, 2018, in New York City. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson has proposed changes to federal housing subsidies, potentially tripling rent for some households and making it easier for housing authorities to impose work requirements. (Photo: Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

Under President Trump's proposal to raise rents by up to $1,800 a year on the poorest households receiving federal rental assistance  -- virtually all of which have annual incomes of less than $7,000 -- roughly 1.7 million people (including nearly 1 million children) would face eviction, hardship, and homelessness.

The proposal would raise rents on people receiving rental assistance from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in several different ways. One is by raising the "minimum rent" for assisted households. Currently, assisted households generally must pay 30 percent of their income for rent. Public housing agencies, however, may require households to pay a minimum rent of up to $50 per month, and households in Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance pay a minimum rent of $25 per month -- even if that exceeds 30 percent of their income. The Trump proposal would raise the monthly minimum rent for any household with an adult younger than 65 who is not considered disabled to at least $152 and make it mandatory. That would triple the rent for affected households now paying a $50 minimum. (The proposal would set the minimum rent at $50 for households where all members are 65 or older or have a disability, including in the supportive housing programs for the elderly and people with disabilities, which now have no minimum rent.)

The $152 minimum rent proposal would affect only the poorest people receiving federal rental assistance, raising rents on some 1.7 million people, including 970,000 children. The number of children in severe poverty has grown substantially since the mid-90s, in part because the safety net's erosion for families with children has left many such families with little or no income when they're jobless. Many of the other affected adults have been homeless or may have physical or mental health conditions, or limited education, that make it difficult to find or sustain employment.

The typical affected household is a mother with two children with an annual income of $2,400 -- just $200 per month. After paying rent under this proposal, the family would have only $48 for necessities like clothing, personal care items, diapers, or school supplies, as well as food or medical needs that aren't met by other assistance.

While affected families may be eligible for hardship exemptions from having to pay the higher minimum rent, very few assisted families receive such exemptions in practice. Households have to request an exemption, but eligible households may not know that exemptions are available or how to apply if the housing agency doesn't adequately publicize the policy. There's little reason to expect that to change under a higher minimum rent policy, as HUD has not complied with a 2016 congressional directive to certify that existing protections are being enforced.

A $152 mandatory minimum rent would put the lowest-income families and individuals at risk of eviction and even homelessness, which is particularly harmful to children. Rental assistance programs are designed to help low-income families rent decent housing at an affordable cost. This proposal does the exact opposite by raising the rent on the most vulnerable HUD-assisted households.

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Detained and Then Deported: US Human Rights Lawyers Barred From Entry Into Israel

Wed, 05/02/2018 - 21:00

Two US human rights lawyers were detained Sunday for 14 hours at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport before being deported back to the United States. Columbia University's Katherine Franke and Center for Constitutional Rights executive director Vincent Warren were repeatedly questioned about their associations with groups critical of Israel. They were part of a delegation of American civil rights activists heading to Israel and Palestine to learn about the human rights situation and meet with local activists. They arrived back in New York City early Monday. This comes just days after Israeli soldiers shot and killed three Palestinian protesters and wounded hundreds more on Friday, when the soldiers and snipers opened fire during the Palestinians' weekly nonviolent protest near the Gaza border. On Saturday, a fourth protester died after succumbing to his wounds. The nonviolent protests demanding the right for Palestinian refugees to return to their land began on March 30. Since then, the Israeli military has killed at least 42 Palestinians, including two journalists, and injured thousands more. For more, we speak with Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Katherine Franke, professor of law, gender and sexuality studies at Columbia University.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, we turn now to Israel, where two US human rights lawyers were detained Sunday for 14 hours at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport, before being deported back to the United States. Columbia University's Katherine Franke and Center for Constitutional Rights president Vince Warren were repeatedly questioned about their associations with groups critical of Israel. They were part of a delegation of American civil rights activists heading to Israel to learn about the human rights situation and meet with local activists. They arrived back in New York City early Monday.

Earlier this year, Israel published a blacklist of 20 different organizations worldwide whose members are being banned from entering the country over their groups' support for BDS, the nonviolent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel over its treatment of Palestinians. Among the groups whose members are banned from entering Israel are Jewish Voice for Peace, National Students for Justice in Palestine, the American Friends Service Committee, American Muslims for Palestine, CodePink and the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, as well as Palestinian solidarity groups in France, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Britain, Chile and South Africa.

AMY GOODMAN: This comes just days after Israeli soldiers shot and killed three Palestinian protesters and wounded hundreds more on Friday, when the soldiers and snipers opened fire during the Palestinians' weekly nonviolent protest near the Gaza border. On Saturday, a fourth protester died after succumbing to his wounds. The nonviolent protest demanding the right for Palestinian refugees to return to their land began on March 30th. Since then, the Israeli military has killed at least 42 Palestinians, including two journalists, and injured thousands more. No Israeli soldiers or civilians have been injured in the nonviolent protests. Israel's bloody crackdown has sparked international condemnation.

We're joined now by the two, I guess you could say, deportees. Vince Warren and Katherine Franke are here in our New York studio. Vince Warren, who was leading the delegation, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. And Katherine Franke is a professor of law, gender and sexuality studies at Columbia University. She's faculty director of the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project and a member of the executive committee of the Center for Palestine Studies.

We welcome you both back to Democracy Now! Vince, what happened? When did you fly into Israel?

VINCENT WARREN: We flew in Saturday evening. And we had a delegation of folks that were coming with us. And having done this before, getting into Israel --

AMY GOODMAN: You did this just a few years ago?

VINCENT WARREN: We did this first in 2016, where we actually brought legal academics and other folks that were in the legal field. This delegation was actually about black and brown thought leaders and civil rights leaders in the communities, people that had worked on Dakota Access pipeline, people that had been key in Ferguson and taken that fight to Geneva, folks that have been doing work in the South. So, we flew out on Saturday evening, and we arrived in Tel Aviv on Sunday morning. And Sunday morning, that's when we found out, as we got the delegates through, that we found out that Katherine and I had been singled out to be detained.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Katherine, you were the first to be detained and questioned. Tell us what happened.

KATHERINE FRANKE: Well, the curious thing is, is that Vince and I had already been cleared through immigration, and we were waiting on the other side for the rest of the delegates to come through. And an immigration official comes out and drags the two of us back in. And at that point, I was interrogated for over an hour by the Israeli immigration officials, where they screamed at me, "You're lying! You're here to promote BDS in Palestine." And I said, "I'm not," which is -- it's kind of ludicrous. You don't promote BDS in Palestine.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain BDS, very quickly.

KATHERINE FRANKE: The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is a movement that's grown from civil society actors in Palestine to the rest of the world as a form of action to protest the human rights violations of the -- committed by the Israeli government. So BDS takes place elsewhere, not in Palestine.

But in any event, that's not what the delegation was about. We were there to witness and testify to the kinds of human rights violations we were seeing there, not to engage in any BDS-related activity.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, they actually showed you, on a cellphone, some right-wing site about you?

KATHERINE FRANKE: They did. They did. After he said, "Aren't you here to promote BDS in Palestine?" and I said, "Absolutely not," he held up his phone, where they had googled me. And there are these right-wing trolling sites that have all sorts of false things that say I'm committed to the destruction of Israel, I'm anti-Semitic, I hate Jews, I want to kill Jews. None of that is true. And he said, "See! You're lying! You're lying to me because you're here to promote BDS in Palestine!" And I said, "I'm absolutely not here to do that. We're here as tourists" -- political tourists, to be sure, but tourists. And at that point, two other guys started yelling at me that I was a liar and that they were going to deport me and ban me permanently, for life, from entering Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: So, how long were you held for?

KATHERINE FRANKE: Fourteen hours.

AMY GOODMAN: How long were you questioned?

KATHERINE FRANKE: About an hour.

AMY GOODMAN: Of that time.

KATHERINE FRANKE: Mm-hmm.

AMY GOODMAN: And did they tell you then, "We are deporting you"?

KATHERINE FRANKE: He said he was deporting me. And then, later, he came back out and said, "Well, if you tell me more about your delegation and about the other people in the delegation" -- basically give them intelligence about the other people in the delegation -- "I'll think about not deporting you." And I said, "I've told you the truth about everything." And then he started in again about how I was lying.

VINCENT WARREN: And that's actually where my interrogation picked up, because after they interrogated Katherine, they pointed to Katherine and said, "Why are you traveling with someone who's the head of the BDS movement in the United States?" which is -- you know, it's ridiculous. But then they also were asking me a lot of questions about who was on the delegation, where were they going, that sort of thing. So they were really trolling for information. And part of the thing that's important is that, in these spaces, you really shouldn't and can't give information about where the delegation is going, because we want to keep those people safe, and we want them -- and as well as the people that they're visiting with. And, you know, there are 20 or 30 different organizations, both Palestinian and Israeli, that they were looking at.

They moved us to a secure detention area. We were separated. I was taken in a van to a cell, an immigration detention cell, where I was held for about four-and-a-half hours in that cell, before Katherine and I were reunited. Interestingly enough, virtually everybody in that cell other than myself was Ukrainian and Russian. And so, my Russian is not that good, so I didn't really communicate, other than in sign language, but I communicated enough to know that some of those folks had been there for three days and didn't know when they were going to be going home. And so, my takeaway from this was, this is the type of things that people trying to immigrate into a country like Israel or the United States have to deal with all the time. And as horrible as it was to be there for a number of hours and to be questioned, we have to be mindful that in the immigration fights this is happening to people all over the place. This is not a sort of a temporary transaction. This is a real incursion, I think, into liberty and dignity, just for people who want to be able to transit and to live their lives.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in terms of your deportation, did it get any coverage in the Israeli press at all?

VINCENT WARREN: Well, we're getting inquiries now from the Israeli press, and so I think they're interested in, I guess, hearing our side of the story. I'm sure some of them already have their side of the story. But we're starting to get inquiries into that, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: And how are you -- are you planning to challenge this deportation?

VINCENT WARREN: Well, we're looking into it, because it was -- as Katherine mentioned, it was totally untrue. It was based on all of these lies and conclusions. So, we -- I think we're looking into what we can do about that.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: It also, though, Katherine, does seem to signal the increasing desperation of the Israeli government in trying to stop the BDS movement, doesn't it, to some degree?

KATHERINE FRANKE: Well, they pride themselves as being, supposedly, the only democracy in the Middle East. But they're a democracy, supposedly, that represses free speech within Israel itself, within the West Bank, and punishes civil rights defenders or human rights defenders like ourselves, by not letting us come and witness what's going on there. That, to me, doesn't sound like a democracy.

You know, the curious thing is, as we're sitting in detention, and, actually, while I was being interrogated, the president of Columbia University walked right by us. He was leaving the country while we were in the airport. He didn't know we were there, so it's not that he shunned me in any way. But Columbia University is planning on or thinking about opening up a global center in Tel Aviv -- a center that faculty and students at Columbia University cannot visit, myself most prominently now. Part of why I was in --

AMY GOODMAN: This is Lee Bollinger, walked by?

KATHERINE FRANKE: Lee Bollinger.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you able to say hello to him? Did you see him?

KATHERINE FRANKE: No, I didn't see him. I heard about it afterwards, when I got home, that he was traveling through the airport the same time we were there. I would like to think that Lee would have reached out, had he known I was there.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: "That's one of my employees."

KATHERINE FRANKE: Yeah. He's a -- he's a good person.

But part of what I had planned to do while I was in Israel was visit with graduate students, both in Haifa and in Ramallah, who actually can't come to Columbia right now to work with me, because they can't get -- the one in Ramallah cannot get a permit --

AMY GOODMAN: In the West Bank.

KATHERINE FRANKE:  -- from the Israelis to visit the United States. And so, I can't work with my own graduate students because of this ban and because of the enormous travel restrictions that are placed on Palestinians.

AMY GOODMAN: So, in January, Israel published a list of 20 international groups, many of them affiliated with the BDS movement, that are banned from entering the country. Israel's Minister of Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan, whose office published the list, said that the list signaled that Israel has shifted, quote, "from defense to offense." He went on to say, "Boycott organizations need to know that Israel will act against them and will not allow [them] to enter its territory in order to harm its citizens." Professor Franke, can you respond?

KATHERINE FRANKE: Well, the curious thing is, in deciding about who they ought to let in and who they shouldn't let in and what their security interests are, the security personnel of the Israeli government have assigned to private, right-wing, unreliable trolls the job of deciding who is a security risk and who isn't. That's the folks that they googled when they held up the phone to me and said, "Look, you're committed to the destruction of the state of Israel." Right? So, it's actually a kind of hack way to be doing their own security project, by allowing these websites to decide who to admit and who not to admit. But it's quite clear that they are very worried about a peaceful mode of resistance, which is the boycott movement, and they've really ratcheted up the ways in which they're excluding people from entering.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Vince, I wanted to ask you. Interestingly, those who remember the boycott and divestment movement against the South African white minority regime, even the South African government didn't go to this kind of extreme for people who were opposed to its policies.

VINCENT WARREN: No, that's definitely true. I really cut my political teeth in college, and I was one of the leaders in my college to get the school to divest from, you know, holdings in South Africa. But you're right. I mean, the political situation was a little bit different, because there was also not only a divestment movement, but there was also -- people were not traveling to the country, at least officially, to get in. I'm sure that if they had been, that the South African government might have taken this role.

But what is interesting about Israel is that it is a fluid situation. I think it has also captured the international attention the way that South Africa has. And I think the big challenge now in the information age, which we didn't have back in 1980-something, is how do we stay in touch and support the work that's happening on the ground from a place like the United States, which would include also working, in country, with students and with activists, to make sure that, if nothing else, the actual stories get out to the international community.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, we're talking about a moment now of severe crisis, not that in recent years it hasn't been, but in Gaza. Since March 30th, this massive, nonviolent, ongoing protest at the wall between Israel and Gaza, nonviolent protesters gunned down by the Israeli military, more than 40 of them at this point, two journalists, Palestinian journalists, as we described the picture of -- showing the picture of one of them with a very clear "PRESS" sign on him, these protests continuing up through May 15th, the 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel, what Palestinians call the Nakba, when they were, so many, hundreds of thousands of them, were expelled. Were you planning to go to Gaza?

VINCENT WARREN: No, we were not planning to go to Gaza, and mostly because you can't get into Gaza, number one. Number two, that these -- the delegation were people that had not been to the region before, mostly, and so we were looking primarily to have them interact with folks in Israel and in the West Bank, but outside of Gaza.

But I will say that it is an absolute crisis that's going on. And even -- even in places like the West Bank and in parts of Jerusalem, which doesn't even approach the horror that's happening in Gaza, it is an extraordinary situation. This would have been my second time going. And I have to say, the first time that I went, I was expecting really bad things, but I was not prepared -- I was not prepared for the level of structural targeting and racial profiling that is happening in that region. It is mind-boggling. And that's why we were trying to bring people to the delegation, because people need to see this for themselves. They can't read about it on Facebook. They can't look at these websites that are characterizing it. They have to see for themselves.

AMY GOODMAN: And certainly, it's astounding the lack of coverage of what's happening in Gaza right now by the corporate media here in the United States.

KATHERINE FRANKE: It is astounding, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there. Vince Warren, head of the Center for Constitutional Rights; Katherine Franke, professor at Columbia University, law professor. That does it for our show. Both deported from Israel this weekend.

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Puerto Rico Needs Help: Unelected Fiscal Board Pushes Austerity as Island Continues Slow Recovery

Wed, 05/02/2018 - 21:00

It's been almost eight months since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, and at least 30,000 homes in Puerto Rico still lack power. As anti-austerity protests hit San Juan, we speak to Giovanni Roberto, director of the Center for Political Development in Puerto Rico.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: Well, from those streets to our New York studio, we're joined by Giovanni Roberto. He's director of the Center for Political Development in Puerto Rico, an umbrella organization that sets up community kitchens after Hurricane Maria and now has 10 mutual aid centers throughout the island. He's on tour now to raise awareness and meet with members of the Puerto Rican diaspora.

Giovanni, welcome to Democracy Now!

GIOVANNI ROBERTO: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: It's great to have you with us.

GIOVANNI ROBERTO: Thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: It must be very odd for you to be here in New York when this mass protest took place in Puerto Rico.

GIOVANNI ROBERTO: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: But explain what you're confronting now. I mean, we're talking Hurricane Maria more than six months ago, but you had another mass blackout in Puerto Rico just in the last weeks.

GIOVANNI ROBERTO: Yeah, exactly. And we are probably facing the new season of hurricanes, so we have an unstable situation in Puerto Rico, as you say, a lot of people still without energy and basic needs. So, from part of the mutual aid center, we are trying to get ready our centers, to be solar panels, to have water, to get ready, because what we see now is that the crisis is going to increase. What the board is doing is going to increase the crisis. And Maria gave us a glimpse of what is going to look like Puerto Rico in the next few years.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, when you mentioned what the board is doing, there's been very little attention here in the US media about the oversight control board. There was more attention to the impact of the hurricane. But the board now is facing the fact that even the governor of Puerto Rico and most of the Legislature now is in open rebellion against its demands. Could you talk about that? Because the governor, Ricky Rosselló, originally was supportive of the board coming in, but now he's saying, "You're acting illegally. I'm opposed to the pension cuts." Could you talk about that?

GIOVANNI ROBERTO: Yeah. Well, that's what he said. But, actually, what he's doing is not different from what the board is doing. Because they know that the people are in need, and the politicians need, you know, some support by the people. But when you see the actual act that they're sending to the Congress or to the local representatives, they're sending really similar kind of law. So, what we are expecting -- you know, the privatization of schools, the privatization of the energy and the cutting in labor rights -- are going to put people in more need. So that's why we are here in the United States, making people here aware of what's happening in Puerto Rico, you know, because international press disappeared now from Puerto Rico, but people are still in need a lot there.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what about the -- what about the austerity measures that are being implemented? How many schools now have been closed again, after several hundred were closed previously?

GIOVANNI ROBERTO: Yeah. We have to remember that Puerto Rico has been in a recession, a crisis, since 2006. So, these austerity measures have been being implemented in Puerto Rico for the last 10 years to 12. In the last five years, more than 500 schools have been shut down. This year, they're trying to shut down 283 schools. They're saying that it's because there is a depopulation of the island, but if you shut down most of the schools, mainly elementary schools, you're pushing people out of Puerto Rico. So that's the main reason. You know, people are being pushed out of Puerto Rico because of the austerity measures. And they have already cut the pensions of teachers and other workers, public workers, in Puerto Rico. So they're pushing people to poverty.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about this latest news of a number of unions in Puerto Rico and other groups suing the federal control board over the US territory's finances? They are saying that it should be declared unconstitutional, this coming after the board approved these fiscal plans with new austerity measures that the governor has refused to implement?

GIOVANNI ROBERTO: Yeah, because the retired people have rights. You know, they worked their whole life, 30 years or plus, because they were expecting to retire and to have, you know, rights. So, they're changing that. It's a contract between workers and the government, and that contract, they cannot change it. You know, it's illegal. It's unconstitutional. And I hope the courts can attend the case.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what about the resistance? Obviously, after -- especially after Hurricane Maria, there was the development of all of these grassroots efforts of people helping themselves. Could you talk your organization's work with these mutual groups at the neighborhood and local level?

GIOVANNI ROBERTO: Yeah. Even before Maria, we had Irma, too. And people know from the reaction and from what the government has abandoned the people, that there's no other way to get out of the crisis but to act ourselves.

AMY GOODMAN: Hurricane Irma devastated Puerto Rico, as well?

GIOVANNI ROBERTO: Yeah, devastated a part. It actually awake -- it awake a lot of the people. It didn't devastate the island, but we were more ready. Because of Irma, we were more ready to Maria. So, across the island, you know, thousands of people were acting by themselves, organizing community. We, in Caguas, we started a mutual aid center, and we started a discussion with other activists throughout the island that we should do organizing on a grassroots level with the mutual aid principles and philosophy of helping the people, but also ask people to help themselves. We don't want to do charity, because we know charity transmits passive attitude in people. A lot of the government, what they do is, you know, they throw food for a week, and then they disappear. We want a long-term change in Puerto Rico, so we need long-term organizations in Puerto Rico, too.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, the only blackout in world history bigger than Puerto Rico's is the one that came after Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines in 2013. About 6.1 billion hours of power were lost after that massive storm. And, Juan, you just gave a major speech on Puerto Rico and follow this very closely. We're talking about so many months, well over half a year. What do you think is most important to understand about what's happened in Puerto Rico right now and how the island is going to come out of this? We just had this hour discussion on the Bitcoin industry moving in.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I mean, to me, the key thing to understand is not only that Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States, but it is now a colony for which the United States has no interest in. It can't make money out of the colony the way it used to. I mean, it can still make finances, financial money, Wall Street money, Bitcoin money, but it's no longer the cheap labor resource it used to be. It's no longer the extractive industry that it used to be. And it's no longer the military bastion that the United States needed during the Cold War. So you have a situation where you've got this strange situation of you're holding a colony, you really don't want the colony, but you don't know what to do with it. And that's, I think, the problem that Congress is facing, and then, of course, that the Puerto Rican people have to deal with the fact that they're still a US territory, but they're not being treated anywhere near how other US citizens are. And that's the big dilemma of how to move forward. And you don't want the people of the island to determine their own destiny, but you also don't want to assume responsibility for holding it captive.

AMY GOODMAN: And I assume Trump doesn't want the massive number, the hundreds of thousands, of Puerto Ricans moving from the island, where they can't vote for president, to moving to the continental United States, where they can -- for example, in Florida -- changing the demographics of places like Florida, because they would most likely vote Democrat.

GIOVANNI ROBERTO: Yeah.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, I'm interested, Giovanni, where you think things go from here, because for a while there wasn't a sign of massive resistance to what was going on. Now, with this May Day protest and others, you're beginning to see people getting their second breath and beginning to organize again. Where do you think it goes from here?

GIOVANNI ROBERTO: Yeah, I think we are going to see in the next week a couple of struggles, especially in teachers. They are going to face, and they are going to strike against, the privatization of schools. And I think that might help to increase confidence in people. You know, after the traumatic situation like the disaster after Maria, it was hard to talk to people about struggling, about striking, about protesting. But now that things have passed, and months and months after Maria we see the situation in the same level, I think more people are going to be willing to protest and to be out there striking and other things.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, talking about determining the politics of the continental United States, the conservative Republican governor of Florida, where so many hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans are going, has just said he supports making Puerto Rico the nation's 51st state. He said the United States should "respect the will of the people of Puerto Rico." It sounds like he understands they're going to be voting in the next election, where, I believe, he's running for Senate. Is that right?

GIOVANNI ROBERTO: There's a lot of politicians in the US paying attention now to Puerto Rico. I think Cuomo was in Puerto Rico within the last weekend.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I think it's his third or fourth trip that he's made there, yes.

GIOVANNI ROBERTO: Yeah. So, they're paying attention to the Puerto Ricans now. And they don't want the people to be in Puerto Rico, but they want Puerto Rico for them. They want the place, the land.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we'll continue to cover this issue, of course. Giovanni, you mentioned teachers, and we're going to move on to what's happening with teachers in Arizona right now, tens of thousands continuing to protest. Giovanni Roberto is director of the Center for Political Development in Puerto Rico, an umbrella organization that set up community kitchens after Hurricane Maria and now has 10 mutual aid centers throughout the island, on tour now to raise awareness and meet with members of the Puerto Rican diaspora. When we were just recently in Puerto Rico, one of the things we saw in the midst of the devastation is that the mutual aid groups, even -- well, much more so than FEMA, were the ones that were there for the people, that people were depending on.

GIOVANNI ROBERTO: Yeah, and depending on people's support from the States, from the diaspora, which is really important for us, people-to-people support.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Giovanni, thanks so much.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, teachers strike in Arizona. Stay with us.

Categories: Latest News

Fox and Friends

Wed, 05/02/2018 - 21:00
Categories: Latest News

Economic Adviser to the Sanders 2016 Campaign Debunks Budget Deficit Myths

Wed, 05/02/2018 - 21:00
Nonprofit, independent news outlets like Truthout are critical to countering the mainstream media narrative. Help get the real stories out by supporting Truthout with a tax-deductible donation.

"Left Out," a podcast produced by Paul Sliker, Dante Dallavalle and Michael Palmieri, creates in-depth conversations with the most interesting political thinkers, heterodox economists and organizers on the Left. Follow "Left Out" on Twitter: @leftoutpodcast

Stephanie Kelton is a leading American economist and a professor of public policy and Economics at Stony Brook University. Kelton was chief economist on the US Senate Budget Committee and economic adviser to the Bernie Sanders 2016 presidential campaign. She's most known for being a pioneer of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT).

In this episode, Professor Kelton debunks budget deficit and government spending myths, and explains why understanding how our monetary system works is crucial to making the political and economic case for important programs like universal health care, free public higher education, infrastructure investment, and more.

We also explore some current economic issues, including how we might be able to cancel all public and private student debt in the US, and lastly the role and challenges of women in economics.

Categories: Latest News

UN Chief Implores Trump to Maintain "Important Diplomatic Victory" and Stay in Iran Nuclear Deal

Wed, 05/02/2018 - 21:00

UN secretary generalAntónio Guterres speaks at the 64th executive committee meeting of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on September 30, 2013, in Geneva, Switzerland. (Photo: UNHCR Photo Unit; Edited: LW / TO)

The United Nations secretary general added his voice on Thursday to the international call urging President Donald Trump to maintain the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, days before the president is expected to announce his decision on the agreement.

"I believe the [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)] was an important diplomatic victory and I think it will be important to preserve it, but I also believe there are areas in which it will be very important to have a meaningful dialogue because I see the region in a very dangerous position," António Guterres told BBC Radio 4.

Guterres added that the risks of a confrontation between Israel and Iran are real, and said, "We need to do everything to avoid those risks."

The secretary general's statement comes after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appealed directly to Trump, in a televised presentation and an appearance on Fox & Friends, to pull out of the deal, in which Iran agreed to permit regular inspections of its nuclear sites in exchange for loosened sanctions.

Trump has claimed the deal is a "major embarrassment" to the US despite widespread agreement among global leaders and arms control experts that the deal offers the best chance to restrain Iran's nuclear activities and to work towards friendly international relations with the country.

International investigators have repeatedly declared that Iran has been in compliance with the agreement since it was reached three years ago and Iran has stated repeatedly -- both before the deal was signed and currently -- that is has no intentions of desire to have a nuclear weapons program.

"If one day there is a better agreement to replace it it's fine, but we should not scrap it unless we have a good alternative," Guterres said.

As Trump's May 12 deadline for deciding whether to scrap the deal approaches, his negative view of the JCPOA has left him alienated in the US as well as in the international community. A Morning Consult poll released on Wednesday found that 56 percent of respondents support staying in the deal.

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