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A National Beautification Campaign Revitalized Communities in the '60s and Could Again Today

Sun, 12/31/2017 - 21:00

In the 1960s, Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson's campaign to protect the natural beauty of the United States united Americans during divisive times. The drums of war drowned out Johnson's efforts, but activists believe beauty can unite us again today.

Lady Bird Johnson and Stewart Udall in a raft on the Snake River. (Photo: LBJ Library)

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"If anything can save the world, I'd put my money on beauty," once declared Doug Tompkins, conservationist and founder of the global clothing giants, The North Face and Esprit. The beauty he meant was not the garments he sold, but the natural beauty of the Earth, and the beauty of well-designed human environments.  In this polarized time, can a campaign for beauty help bring Americans together? I think so.

Beauty was once very much a part of the American dialogue and tradition. It animated the paintings of the Hudson River School art movement; the urban parks of Frederick Law Olmsted; the Country Life vision of Liberty Hyde Bailey; the City Beautiful Movement and the urban dreams of Jane Addams, Lewis Mumford and Jane Jacobs; the presidential actions of Teddy Roosevelt and the passion of John Muir. President Franklin D. Roosevelt carried on the torch with his national restoration and public works programs, like the Civilian Conservation Corps and the arts and building projects of the Works Progress Administration. 

Yet somehow, beginning in the 1980s, even the environmental movement lost sight of beauty's appeal and the positive citizen energy it can generate. The movement has split into silos of resistance in opposition to an administration which seems determined to set back decades of progress and protection. But opposition alone cannot, in the end, inspire new progress. "Where there is no vision, the people perish," explains the Book of Proverbs.

A New Campaign

Together with others, I've started a campaign, And Beauty for All, to test the Tompkins hypothesis. Our tagline is: "Bringing Americans together and healing our wounds by embracing natural beauty and human design in ways that revitalize our communities and renew our environment."

It's not a new idea. Fifty years ago, Americans were engaged in a comprehensive program of national beautification that united much of Congress across partisan lines. Without it, the air in Los Angeles might be deadly today, the Cuyahoga River still flammable, our highways buried in litter and billboards, and large swaths of our landscape beyond repair. Many parts of the country still see such pollution and squalor, but we have made progress.

We changed things then. We can do it again. 

The Background

The 1960s were a tumultuous decade, rocked by struggles and shaped by the will and political acumen of then-President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Much of Johnson's memory is clouded by his disastrous and divisive failure: the war in Vietnam.

But Johnson's legacy includes flashes of nobility -- the Civil Rights Act, the War on Poverty, Head Start and Medicare. Under his watch, the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting were born. His environmental accomplishments include early versions of the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts, a Pesticide Control Act and a Wetlands Preservation Act.

Tucked away among these crusades, and now almost forgotten, was the dream he had hoped to be remembered for: A dream of a more beautiful United States which the world would respect, not for "the quantity of its goods," but for "the quality of its goals."

Johnson wished to unify the US -- polarized then as now, especially by race and inequality -- around stewardship of its immense beauty. And he was clear: The beautiful land he dreamed of was not meant to be a luxury for the fortunate, but a birthright for every American. We would do well to consider what he and his administration did then and how their vision might be fulfilled in our own time.

Lady Bird Johnson and Stewart Udall Point the Way Forward

Johnson's focus on quality of life was a part of his goal of a "Great Society," first revealed only six months into his first term in a May 22, 1964, commencement speech at the University of Michigan. I have written at length about that speech, which centered on three themes:

         1.) Ending the sin of segregation with a Civil Rights Act;

         2.) Reducing deprivation in the US with a War on Poverty; and

         3.) Moving beyond economic growth toward a different vision of progress. 

It was the first of a consistent set of messages that found their way into his speeches throughout his presidency.

Operating mostly behind the scenes to influence President Johnson was Interior Secretary Stewart Udall, a holdover from the Kennedy administration. Failing to move Kennedy towards a strong environmental strategy, he learned that he might reach Johnson through the president's wife, Lady Bird. Udall took the first lady on a Snake River rafting trip through the Grand Tetons in August 1964. During the trip, he convinced her of the necessity of strong new environmental protections.  

"Stewart Udall, who was an expert salesman, came to see me hoping to interest me in the field of conservation," Johnson explained in her oral history. "I decided, that's for me." What followed came to be known as the "beautification" campaign, a term she disliked. "We struggled to find something else but not successfully," she said, "so we stayed with the word." 

Her work began with an effort to beautify Washington, DC. Despite its iconic architecture, the nation's capital had long been an eyesore and an embarrassment when shown to foreign visitors. Lady Bird insisted that justice required beautification target the poorest, most neglected areas of the city and include cleaning up the polluted Potomac and Anacostia Rivers.

Launching the Campaign

President Johnson's State of the Union message in January 1965 was replete with admonishments that would be even more relevant today. "We do not intend to live in the midst of abundance, isolated from neighbors and nature, confined by blighted cities and bleak suburbs," he declared. "I propose that we launch a national effort to make the American city a better and more stimulating place to live," he told the assembled senators and representatives.

A few weeks later, on February 8, Johnson followed with a "Special Message to Congress on Conservation and Restoration of Natural Beauty." He began: "For centuries Americans have drawn strength and inspiration from the beauty of our country. It would be a neglectful generation indeed, indifferent alike to the judgment of history and the command of principle, which failed to preserve and extend such a heritage for its descendants." 

Johnson went on to talk of population growth "swallowing" natural beauty, urbanization crowding out nature and new technologies "menacing the world" with the waste they created. The problems, he argued, required a "new conservation" based not only on protection, but on "restoration and innovation." "Beauty," Johnson said, "must not be just a holiday treat, but a part of our daily life," and provide "equal access for rich and poor, Negro and white, city dweller and farmer."

The value of beauty did not "show up in the Gross National Product," Johnson warned, "but it is one of the most important components of our true national income, not to be left out because statisticians cannot calculate its worth." And while we wouldn't always agree about what most beautiful, he added, we all "know what is ugly."

A Comprehensive Program

At Lady Bird's urging, Johnson announced that he would convene a national conference on beauty at the White House later that year. It would address:

  • Jefferson, Johnson reminded Congress, had written that communities "should be planned with an eye to the effect made up on the human spirit by being continually surrounded with a maximum of beauty." Every aspect of urban planning, he said, should center on beauty and community. He proposed a major investment in open space to "create small parks, squares, pedestrian malls and playgrounds." 
  • The countryside. Johnson proposed a new Land and Water Conservation Fund (signed in 1965, it must be re-authorized by Congress by next September 30 or it will expire) and the acquisition of great areas of public land for national parks and monuments. He called for legislation to correct the "ugly scars" left by strip mining in Appalachia and elsewhere.
  • Rivers. Johnson demanded that we clean up polluted rivers and establish "a National Wild Rivers System."
  • Trails. "We can and should have an abundance of trails for walking, cycling and horseback riding in and close to our cities," Johnson declared. He recommended a national trails program and insisted that "we must have trails as well as highways."

Air pollution could no longer be tolerated, Johnson argued, adding with dismay that "the White House itself is being dirtied with soot from polluted air." He asked for new controls on solid waste and on pesticides. He suggested burying utility lines to beautify cities, and that a national tree-planting program be carried out at all government levels and by private groups as well.

It was an ambitious program. But step by step, aspects of it became law, if sometimes in watered-down form. The work was enhanced by the May 1965 White House Conference on Natural Beauty, led by Lady Bird and Laurence Rockefeller.  President Johnson let the nearly 1,000 attendees know that "it is the quality of our lives that is really at stake." 

"I know for many of you it was not easy to attend," Johnson said.  "Most of you are busy people with much to do. But there is nothing that is more important."

The delegates urged that "the beautification projects be undertaken particularly in blighted areas, in order to develop the spirit and the leadership which are vital to alleviating racial tension, poverty and the tragedies of dejected youth," and that "natural beauty be further emphasized as a focal point of rural area development, of poverty programs and of urban renewal."

The Billboard Battle

At Lady Bird's insistence, Lyndon Johnson took on the cause of eliminating billboards and auto junkyards from the Interstate Highway system and other major roads. But it was a tough battle: The billboard industry in those days had the kind of political clout that the NRA has now. Johnson won passage of the National Highway Beautification Act, but it was a compromise. He used its signing on October 22, 1965, to speak to his love for beauty:

And really, how do you measure the excitement and the happiness that comes to a boy from the old swimming hole in the happy days of yore, when I used to lean above it; the old sycamore, the baiting of a hook that is tossed into the stream to catch a wily fish, or looking at a graceful deer that leaps with hardly a quiver over a rock fence that was put down by some settler a hundred years or more ago?

We have placed a wall of civilization between us and the beauty of our land and of our countryside. In our eagerness to expand and to improve, we have relegated nature to a weekend role, and we have banished it from our daily lives…

A wall, he said, of billboards that must come down. Johnson was quick to admit that the bill was not all he and Lady Bird had hoped for. The billboard lobby had extracted its pound of flesh.

This bill does not represent everything that we wanted. It does not represent what we need. It does not represent what the national interest requires. But it is a first step, and there will be other steps … Beauty belongs to all the people. And so long as I am President, what has been divinely given by nature will not be taken recklessly away by man.

A year later, in 1966, Johnson established a cabinet-level agency, the President's Council on Recreation and Natural Beauty, to monitor the programs, though it was dismantled by Richard Nixon in 1969. And in December, Johnson announced that 1967 was to be the "Year of Youth for Natural Beauty and Conservation."

Of course, Johnson, Udall and Lady Bird did not do these things alone. They needed the bipartisan support of Congress and that support had to be won from below -- by the American people. Organizations like the Wilderness Society and the Sierra Club mobilized their members to support new national parks and wilderness areas as well as pollution controls. 

The War Drowns Out Beauty

In the summer of 1967, while the newly-emerging hippie "counterculture" was celebrating love and altered states in San Francisco, a large contingent of American young people convened at the White House for a Conference on Youth for Natural Beauty and Conservation. New programs put many of them to work in restoration activities, such as the planting of millions of trees.

That summer, I had no idea this was happening, even though I was working for Johnson's War on Poverty at the time. There was a reason for that: The war in Vietnam was sucking all the air out of the room. 

Still a blip on the radar when Johnson was re-elected, it had escalated sharply.  Like many of my generation, I saw no purpose to the war, which consumed resources that might otherwise fight poverty, and resulted in the deaths of people I knew and countless more Vietnamese, who had done nothing to us. As the body counts rose, the war made Johnson increasingly unpopular and his good work less visible. 

In early 1968, push came to shove. The Tet Offensive in February shocked many previously complacent or even war-supporting Americans. Sen. Eugene McCarthy, and then Bobby Kennedy, entered the primaries against Johnson. On March 31, Johnson announced that he would not run for re-election. Hope for an end to the war filled the air, only to succumb to despair, as first Martin Luther King Jr., and then Bobby Kennedy, fell to assassins' bullets. "In such an ugly time," folksinger Phil Ochs wrote then, "the true protest is beauty." In his own way, Johnson agreed. 

And his campaign for beauty would have one last hurrah.

Conservation's Grand Slam

It came on October 2, just a month before Nixon edged Humphrey in the presidential election, on a day when a far more newsworthy story rocked the world press. In Mexico City's Tlatelolco Plaza, army snipers opened fire on unarmed students who were protesting the upcoming Olympic Games. The death toll was in the hundreds. 

So once again, few of us were paying attention when Lyndon Johnson signed four bills -- "Conservation's Grand Slam" -- protecting the US's beauty: the Redwoods National Park, North Cascades National Park, Wild and Scenic Rivers and National Scenic Trails System Acts. 

"In the past 50 years," Johnson said as he affixed his signature to the bills, "we have learned -- all too slowly, I think -- to prize and to protect God's precious gifts." 

We forget these things to our peril -- beauty, especially, helped unite Americans after Kennedy's untimely death. It's time to try again. It may be tilting at windmills, but I don't think so. 

And Beauty for All Day

A new emphasis on beauty may be just what it takes to save the US -- to bring us together again, heal our wounds and lead us forward. I have discovered how beauty helped unite people of different beliefs in the small town of Nevada City, California, as they came together to save a beautiful river from destruction by a power dam, and learned that, while they often disagreed, they were not enemies and could respectfully work with each other for a better future.

We wish to build a new organization dedicated to bringing beauty to all Americans. We envision local chapters in every community. We want to establish partnerships with organizations ranging from garden clubs, to architectural associations, colleges, parks, faith communities, public agencies and health organizations, Native American tribes and the National League of Cities. We will celebrate And Beauty for All Day on October 2, 2018 (the 50th Anniversary of the signing of the Wild and Scenic Rivers, National Scenic Trails, Redwood National Park and North Cascades National Park acts) in communities and colleges throughout the country. 

There is an unfinished legacy here, the unfinished legacy of unsung heroes like Stewart Udall and Lady Bird; environmental pioneers from Muir to Leopold to Rachel Carson and David Brower, and the unfinished legacy of President Johnson himself.

For more information about the And Beauty for All campaign, go to www.andbeautyforall.org.

Categories: Latest News

Capturing the Causes and Impacts of Climate Change: 2017 in Photos

Sat, 12/30/2017 - 21:00

This year brought more super-sized storms due to global warming and more people taking to the streets in response to the political climate. This photo essay documents a range of issues related to climate change, from extreme weather enhanced by it to the expanding industrial landscape contributing to it.

A dance troop marches by Shell's Norco refinery during Norco, Louisiana's Christmas Parade. (All images © Julie Dermansky)

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The year 2017 was, in many ways, stormy. It brought more storms super-sized due to global warming and more people, including scientists, taking to the streets in response to the political climate.

This year for DeSmog I continued documenting a range of issues related to climate change, from extreme weather enhanced by it to the expanding industrial landscape contributing to it. 

This year I shot the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, a storm researchers have shown was intensified by climate change, and the protests of people determined to protect the environment -- a renewed movement kicked off with the Women's March in Washington, D.C., following Trump's inauguration. 

In the mix I captured moments in the battle against Energy Transfer Partners' Bayou Bridge pipeline, which only last week secured its last permit before construction can begin in Louisiana, and events in the ongoing struggle for clean air in the communities of Louisiana’s Cancer Alley. 

I've included photos taken in West Virginia and Ohio of coal power plants, a visual reminder of the need to transition to clean energy and the people living in the shadow of an industry in decline, despite President Trump's promise to revive it. Also in the mix you'll find documentation of the slow recovery for victims of last year's record-breaking floods in Louisiana.

In December thousands of scientists descended on New Orleans for the world's largest annual gathering of Earth and planetary scientists. While walking the halls of the convention center, I wondered if anyone had invited Louisiana's Democratic governor, John Bel Edwards, who has stated that he is unsure of humankind's role in climate change. At the conference, the researchers presenting their work made it clear to me that the debate over climate change has long since passed. For those who accept science, the debate has shifted to climate solutions. 

With a president and administration packed with climate deniers doubling down attacks against science, it was no wonder scientists themselves left their labs and took to the streets of Washington, D.C., this April to defend and celebrate the method and people exploring and explaining our world. And little surprise that we would see the largest ever march for climate action shortly thereafter. 

I look forward to contributing more photos and stories in 2018 here at DeSmog, an outlet that continually debunks misinformation on environmental issues. This mission feels more vital than ever for those who care about the preservation of the planet as we know it. 

Washington, DC, January 20, 2017. A protester with DisruptJ20 holds a sign in support of climate science at a demonstration near the National Mall during the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States.

One woman's sign calls to "Save the EPA" during a rally before the Women's March on Washington the day after Trump's inauguration.

It was a full house at a permit hearing for the Bayou Bridge pipeline on January 12, 2017, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Former US Sen. Mary Landrieu, who testified on behalf of Energy Transfer Partners, was booed and heckled at a Bayou Bridge pipeline permit hearing. Someone from the crowd yelled: "You're a traitor!" Another shouted: "You used to work for us."

St. Joseph, Louisiana, resident Lee Richardson gets discolored water from his tap, which tested positive for lead.

St. Joseph resident Rudy Shorts fills her washing machine to see if the water is usable and opts not to use it, waiting for the contaminated municipal pipes to be replaced.

Environmental scientist Wilma Subra speaking during the ground-breaking ceremony for St. Joseph's new water system on March 6. Gov. John Bel Edwards also spoke, celebrating the project, but explaining that there isn't enough money to fix all the water systems in Louisiana that need to be updated.

Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy at a town hall in Metairie, Louisiana, where he misspoke about the major contributors to global warming.

Denka Performance Elastomer factory in LaPlace, Louisiana, where the EPA has issued a warning call about toxic chloroprene emissions in the air.

Opponents of the Bayou Bridge pipeline, a project proposed by Energy Transfer Partners that would be the tail end of the Dakota Access network, walk toward the entrance of Louisiana's environmental permit hearing on February 8.

Retired Major General James "Spider" Marks speaking at a Louisiana Department of Natural Resources public permit hearing for the Bayou Bridge pipeline in Napoleonville on February 9, 2017. Marks chairs the advisory board for TigerSwan, a private security firm employed by Energy Transfer Partners on behalf of the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota.

A fire raging on February 10, the day after an explosion at a Phillips 66 natural gas pipeline in Paradis, Louisiana.

View more photos from 2017 at DeSmogBlog.

Categories: Latest News

A Return to Debtors' Prisons: Jeff Sessions' War on the Poor

Sat, 12/30/2017 - 21:00

Attorney General Jeff Sessions listens during a news conference at the Justice Department November 29, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images)

One day after President Donald Trump invited Republican lawmakers to the White House to celebrate the historic tax cuts they passed for corporations and wealthy business leaders, his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, quietly reinstated a draconian policy that effectively serves as a regressive tax on America's poorest people.

A symbol of Victorian England's inequitable nature made infamous by Charles Dickens, debtors' prisons were banned in the United States in 1833. The Supreme Court has affirmed the unconstitutionality of jailing those too poor to pay debts on three different occasion in the last century, finding that the 14th Amendment prohibits incarceration for non-payment of exorbitant court-imposed fines or fees without an assessment of a person's ability to pay and alternatives for those who cannot. "Punishing a person for his poverty" is illegal, the Court said. Yet in recent years the modern-day equivalent of debtors' prisons have returned, as cities have grown to rely on a punishing regime of fines and fees imposed on their own residents as a major stream of revenue.

Routine traffic tickets or even overdue student loan payments can set off a cycle of debt that also includes the suspension of a driver's license or professional license and, in some cases, jail time. A suspended driver's license makes it nearly impossible to get to work. When a person can't pay, courts add more fines on top of the original. If those fees aren't paid, a jail sentence is imposed. Incarceration is also often meted out to low-income defendants facing misdemeanor charges who cannot afford to pay bond ahead of a court date. It should come as little surprise that the policing tactics that have been enacted to generate revenue through this debtors' system disproportionately impact people of color.

The protests in Ferguson, Missouri, following the shooting death of Michael Brown brought national scrutiny to the practice. Ferguson police sought to advance the "city's focus on revenue rather than ... public safety needs," an investigation by the Obama-era Department of Justice found. Ironically, the judge who most frequently sent Ferguson residents to overcrowded prisons for their petty fines not only personally benefited from the system — he moonlighted as a both a prosecutor and a private attorney when he was not sitting on the bench — but also owed more than $170,000 in unpaid taxes. A 2014 Washington Post investigation found that some towns in Missouri derived 40 percent or more of their annual revenue from the hefty fines and fees collected by municipal courts.

This routine incarceration of poor people attracted the attention of the Obama administration, which eventually issued a guidance advising courts across the United States against "slapping poor defendants with fines and fees to fill their jurisdictions' coffers." The March 2016 letter did not, however, threaten any specific enforcement action for those who ignored it.

Apparently less concerned with the plethora of jurisdictions effectively funding their operations on the backs of their poorest residents, Sessions explained that he sought to do away with "the long-standing abuse of issuing rules by simply publishing a letter or posting a web page." After ordering a reform task force to identify "existing guidance documents that go too far," the attorney general revoked more than two dozen such documents going back to 1975 on various topics, including a Reagan-era "industry circular" that stated it was illegal to ship certain guns across state line. He also issued a memo last month barring the Department of Justice from issuing nonbinding guidances.

"Congress has provided for a regulatory process in statute, and we are going to follow it," Sessions said in a statement. Most, but not all, of the guidances were enacted under the Obama administration.

Sessions' move, while little noticed in the mainstream press or by the public, has already proven unpopular.

"These monetary punishments do nothing to protect the community while placing an unfair and unjust burden on people of lesser means," wrote American Bar Association president Hilarie Bass in a statement.

"This latest action must be viewed alongside other actions taken by the attorney general to turn back the clock on civil rights compliance across the country," said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Other actions she cited included "abandoning use of consent decrees as a vehicle for promoting constitutional policing practices, reversing positions in pending civil rights cases and bringing federal civil rights enforcement to a virtual grinding halt."

The author of the Obama-era guidance on debtors' prisons, Lisa Foster, who served as director of the Office for Access to Justice at the DOJ, criticized Sessions' move. "The idea that the Department of Justice doesn't care about the United States Constitution in courts is so wrong, and really unfortunate. It is a message that should not be sent, and has practical implications," she told the Law&Crime blog.

But the letter's co-author, Vanita Gupta, who served as head of the Justice Department's civil rights division in the Obama administration, thinks Sessions is already too late to cause too much damage.

"The retraction of this guidance doesn't change the existing legal framework," she reminded The New York Times. "He can retract the guidance, but he can't change what the law says." Indeed, as the ACLU has noted:

Several weeks ago, a federal court ruled that New Orleans judges faced a conflict of interest in jailing poor people for unpaid fines because the judges control the money collected and rely on it for court funding. That same week, a federal court issued a preliminary injunction halting Michigan's system for suspending driver's licenses upon non-payment of traffic tickets due to constitutional concerns. And days later, the Mississippi Department of Public Safety agreed to reinstate the driver's licenses of all drivers whose licenses were suspended for non-payment of court fines and fees.

In Missouri, where the troubling resurgence of debtors' prisons first gained national attention, more than a dozen plaintiffs won a class action lawsuit filed against 13 St. Louis suburbs they accused of "conspiring" to "extort money" from poor African-American residents via traffic tickets in "a deliberate and coordinated scheme." Even in Sessions' home state of Alabama, a Republican state legislator has sponsored legislation that would do away with debtors' prison.

Fighting a losing battle seems to be Sessions' forte. Just this week, the attorney general traveled to three states to declare that a crime wave is sweeping the nation.

"Let's be frank, violent crime has been increasing in Milwaukee and throughout America and it's troubling," he said in Wisconsin. "As attorney general, I am committed to combating the surge in violent crime and supporting the work of our police officers," he said the same day in North Carolina.

But a report released Wednesday by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University's School of Law indicates that he rates for overall crime, violent crime and murder are all projected to drop in the 30 largest cities in 2017. Even according to statistics released by Sessions' own Justice Department in September, the violent crime rate remains at historically low levels.

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Categories: Latest News

Nation-State Hacking: 2017 in Review

Sat, 12/30/2017 - 21:00
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If 2016 was the year government hacking went mainstream, 2017 is the year government hacking played the Super Bowl halftime show. It's not Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear making headlines. This week, the Trump administration publicly attributed the WannaCry ransomware attack to the Lazarus Group, which allegedly works on behalf of the North Korean government. As a Presidential candidate, Donald Trump famously dismissed allegations that the Russian government broke into email accounts belonging to John Podesta and the Democratic National Committee, saying it could easily have been the work of a "400 lb hacker" or China. The public calling-out of North Korean hacking appears to signal a very different attitude towards attribution.

Lazarus Group may be hot right now, but Russian hacking has continued to make headlines. Shortly after the release of WannaCry, there came another wave of ransomware infections, Petya/NotPetya (or, this author's favorite name for the ransomware, "NyetYa"). Petya was hidden inside of a legitimate update to accounting software made by MeDoc, a Ukrainian company. For this reason and others, Petya was widely attributed to Russian actors and is thought to have primarily targeted Ukrainian companies, where MeDoc is commonly used. The use of ransomware as a wiper, a tool whose purpose is to render the computer unusable rather than to extort money from its owner, appears to be one of this year's big new innovations in the nation-state actors' playbook.

WannaCry and Petya both owe their effectiveness to a Microsoft Windows security vulnerability that had been found by the NSA and code named EternalBlue, which was stolen and released by a group calling themselves the Shadow Brokers. US agencies losing control of their hacking tools has been a recurring theme in 2017.  First companies, hospitals, and government agencies find themselves targeted by re-purposed NSA exploits that we all rushed to patch, then Wikileaks published Vault 7, a collection of CIA hacking tools that had been leaked to them, following it up with the publication of source code for tools in Vault 8. 

This year also saw developments from perennial bad actor Ethiopia. In December, Citizen Lab published a report documenting the Ethiopian government's ongoing efforts to spy on journalists and dissidents, this time with the help of software provided by Cyberbit, an Israeli company. The report also tracked Cyberbit as their salespeople demonstrated their surveillance product to governments including France, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, Rwanda, Serbia, and Nigeria. Other perennial bad actors also made a splash this year, including Vietnam, whose government was linked to Ocean Lotus, or APT 32 in a report from FireEye. The earliest known samples from this actor were found by EFF in 2014, when they were used to target our activists and researchers.

Any and all original material on the EFF website may be freely distributed at will under the Creative Commons Attribution License, unless otherwise noted. All material that is not original to EFF may require permission from the copyright holder to redistribute.

Categories: Latest News

Five Powerful Groups of Women to Celebrate This Year

Sat, 12/30/2017 - 21:00

While 2017 proved to be quite the dumpster fire -- from shady politicians to horrifying mass shootings -- there are still some silver linings to look back on with pride. This year, women organized harder than ever to push back against a toxic culture of masculinity.

So as the year comes to a close, it's time to acknowledge some of the women that made 2017 shine even through the darkest of clouds.

1. The Women's March Organizers 

We knew that 2017 would be a year like no other when the resistance started early -- the day after Republican President Donald Trump's inauguration. While the president swears that large crowds gathered to see him sworn in, they were absolutely pitiful in comparison to the hundreds of thousands who came out to march for women in DC and cities around the world.

But the Women's March co-chairs also worked to keep people organized and fighting throughout the year, too.

"Within a year we were able to have one of the most historic moments for women in US history, which was incredibly powerful," co-chair Tamika Mallory told Amsterdam News. "People didn't believe that we could keep the movement going from the march. We have been able to do that."

Now they're organizing to get people to the polls for the 2018 midterms, in hopes of bringing the power back to the people -- and out of the hands of corporations and the 1 percent.

2. The #MeToo Movement

The anti-sexual harassment/assault campaign has taken down some of the most powerful men in politics, entertainment, media and other industries, forcing men to finally examine their own role in propagating, colluding with or just ignoring -- and therefore condoning -- the growing rape culture in our country. From actress Rose McGowan to Congresswoman Jackie Speier, America is coming to terms with the idea that yes, all women experience harassment -- and, yes, all men play some role in maintaining the power structure that allows the abuse to go on in silence.

But that silence could be over for good. #MeToo was named "Time's Person of the Year," and the movement's founder -- activist Tarana Burke -- will be pressing the button to drop the ball in Times Square on New Year's Eve. Let's hope 2018 will be a year with less violence against women.

3. The "Die-In" Women

Republicans dominated the 2017 congressional session with their desperate attempts to repeal Obamacare.Much of their failure was due to public pressure from activists -- especially disability activists like Stephanie Woodward, Anita Cameron, Kat Perez and Carrie Ann Lucas -- who organized and participated in "die-ins" at congressional offices. But these protests to defend affordable, accessible health care weren't their only cause.

As Robyn Powell reports:

All the women Broadly spoke to were quick to point out that they're also committed to fighting against a wide range of issues not related to health care, such as police brutality against people of color, income inequality, and threats to reproductive rights and immigrant rights. And health care-related issues are not nearly all the problems that their demographic faces. Disabled women are paid just 73 cents on the dollar compared to non-disabled men. In 35 states, mothers are at risk of legally losing custody of their children simply because they are disabled. Moreover, women with disabilities face astonishingly high rates of sexual assault.

4. "Moms Demand Action"

The 2017 calendar year was rife with mass shootings, from Las Vegas to Texas. Yet not only is Congress refusing to pass sensible gun control laws, but they're also expanding gun rights so those with permits can take their own guns into states where concealed carry is forbidden. Following the five-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook school shooting earlier this month, Moms Demand Action continues to organize against the GOP and the NRA. The group aims to stop the violence that continues to claim innocent lives on a daily basis --especially given that a large portion of those victims are women.

5. Virginia's New Legislators 

If we learned nothing else from Virginia's 2017 elections, it's that no matter how red a district may appear, every seat must be challenged. And that's just what a number of progressives did -- many of them women. Now the state is just one vote away from Democratic control for the first time in years.

As local news station WTOP reported the day after the election:

In Northern Virginia, Democratic women ousted Republicans in seven races, including in the 13th District where local journalist Danica Roem made history as the first transgender person to be elected to a state legislature. In addition to Roem, other female winners Tuesday night will also make House history. Next year's House of Delegates will include the first Asian-American women and the first Latinas. And the overall number of women serving in the 100-member body will jump from 17 to 27 including four Republicans."

More female candidates are running for office than ever before, and women are swarming the polls to vote for them. It's a lesson we will hopefully take nationwide as the 2018 midterms approaches.

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Categories: Latest News

A New Year's Resolution: Time to Speak Up

Sat, 12/30/2017 - 21:00
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As we go into a new year, I have a resolution. I'm going to speak up more when men do things that make me uneasy.

Take the other day, for example.

I really like my neighbor. I also have no interest in dating him. It's nothing against him, really. But I don't know him well, and I'm not interested in dating anyone at the moment. (Men don't believe that when I say it, but it's true. And that isn't some female code for "try harder.")

I ran into my neighbor while coming home, and we stopped to chat. Before we parted, he touched the back of my neck and kind of massaged it for a second.

Not knowing what that meant, or what to do about it, I did nothing. I pretended it didn't happen. Denial works, right?

A few days later I ran into him again. Again we chatted, and he massaged my neck for a second or two again. What?

Seriously, I would never, ever do that to someone I wasn't dating. Why is he doing that?

He isn't being aggressive, exactly. My neck isn't an erogenous zone. He isn't doing anything else. And I want to be friends with this guy. He's a nice guy.

I don't look forward to the awkward conversation when I tell him to knock it off. I don't want to harm our friendship. That's why I've said nothing.

But the truth is, this was how it started with the first man who sexually assaulted me back in college. It started out with just some unwanted touching. In that case, he held my hand.

There were more red flags with the guy in college. I'd yank my hand away, he'd take it again. Rinse, repeat.

Ultimately that escalated to an actual assault.

The perpetrator is now a pediatric neurologist. With the #MeToo movement, I've considered telling his employer. But is it worth ruining someone's career because he assaulted me nearly two decades ago? I don't know.

But I do know I'm going to have to speak up to my neck-rubbing neighbor.

Most men aren't rapists. But when women don't tell men that their behavior makes women uncomfortable, the sad truth is that men may think what they've done is okay -- even though it's positive consent they should be looking for.

Why don't we speak up? Often men become defensive. Some think that they're the arbiters of whether they've made us feel uncomfortable or unsafe. That's ridiculous. If a woman says she feels uncomfortable, then that's how she feels.

I know I'm not the only woman who will start speaking out more, but men need to listen when we do.

And please, guys, be more conscious of your actions. Don't call a woman you aren't dating names like "sweetie." And don't assume we want any touch other than a handshake -- even when we're too uncomfortable to say otherwise.

And when we do tell you what we don't like, listen. If you feel yourself getting defensive, work through your feelings, and then listen. Don't verbally attack someone for having the courage to tell you the truth.

Stop using your sexual conquest of women as a measure of your manhood. Women are people, not objects. The only "game" you need is to act like a human being and treat us like humans too.

Categories: Latest News

Ten Amazing Social Movement Struggles in 2017 That Give Us Reason to Hope

Fri, 12/29/2017 - 21:00

The bad news streaming through our media in 2017 has been relentless. However it doesn't tell the full story. Beyond the headlines, there have been countless amazing social movement struggles in different regions of the world that deserve to be celebrated. Here are ten stories showing that people power works:

1. El Salvador Bans Mining

In a classic David and Goliath tale, this small Central American state took on a Canadian transnational corporation to become the first country in the world to ban metals mining. Farmer communities led the struggle when they came together in 2004 to save the Lempa River watershed. They built a national coalition in the face of massive repression (including the assassination of several activists), formed alliances internationally, took on the Canadian corporation OceanaGold and finally secured a mining ban in March 2017.

 2. #MeToo Campaign Challenges Impunity for Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment has been a constant reality for women everywhere for generations, but in 2017 the wall of impunity was breached – suddenly and powerfully. Revelations of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein's repeated sexual abuses prompted 1.7 million #metoo tweets in 85 countries, encouraging women in every walk of life to come forward publicly to denounce sexual harassment. Many men have been forced to resign from positions of power and influence, and there seems to be finally a consensus that sexual harassment must stop. This shift is not an accident or the credit of a few journalists, but the result of decades of tireless campaigning by women's organizations worldwide fighting for equality.

3. French Law on Multinationals

At a time when corporate power has become seemingly impregnable, French campaigners showed that transnational corporations can be defeated. In a four-year-long campaign, they mobilized for a new law, approved in March 2017, which recognizes the responsibility of parent companies for human rights violations committed by subsidiaries, subcontractors and providers. The law was passed in the face of considerable corporate opposition and is a major step forward in the fight against impunity of transnational corporations, addressing the legal complexity of their supply chains that has made it so difficult for affected communities to get justice. The law has also given a boost to ongoing efforts to create an international binding treaty on transnationals at the United Nations.

4. Privatization Is Being Rolled Back, Community by Community

After many years of failed privatization projects, communities worldwide are successfully fighting off privatization and bringing privatized services back under public control. In 2017 in Cali, Colombia, a public sector workers union succeeded in defeating the proposed privatization of the municipal-owned telecommunications company, and then set up a public-public partnership (PuP) with a Uruguayan national public enterprise to improve the service. In another case, Indonesia's Supreme Court ruled this year that privatisation of water is a violation of human rights and annulled an agreement between Jakarta's city-owned water operator, PAM Jaya, and two private companies. More than 835 communities worldwide have brought their public services back under public control in recent years.

5. Trump's Agenda Faces Massive Popular Resistance

Donald Trump's election was one of the most disturbing nights in modern memory, but it hasn't gone so well for him since. From the Women's March during his very first day of office, Trump's presidency has faced unprecedented popular resistance. In the first week, his blanket ban on Muslims from six nations was met with spontaneous protests at more than 20 major international airports across the U.S. and has since been blocked repeatedly by the courts, though it is now being temporarily enacted. Popular movements involved in fighting white supremacy, corporate greed and militarism have reported a massive surge in engagement and support. Meanwhile, a sustained movement organized by citizens nationwide helped prevent the GOP from rolling back Obamacare, and a young, progressive electoral movement is strengthening ahead of 2018 midterms.

6. Gambian Autocrat Overthrown

Military leader Yahya Jammeh, who ruled Gambia with an iron fist for 22 years, was forced to step down at the beginning of 2017 after losing the 2016 election. Jammeh predicted he would rule for a billion years, but young Gambians came out in large numbers and used social media to mobilize votes for his opponent, Adama Barrow. Jammeh tried to overrule the election results, but fierce opposition from trade unions, professional associations and pressure from outside states forced Jammeh to relinquish power.

7. Almost Two-Thirds of Australian Voters Say Yes to Marriage Equality

Australia became the 25th country to legally embrace marriage equality in 2017 after voters overwhelmingly voted in favor of changing the definition of marriage to include same sex relationships in an advisory referendum. Australia's parliament then approved a bill almost unanimously. Popular and legal support for gay rights may seem unsurprising now, but it is worth remembering that just 20 years ago, there was not one nation that treated same sex relationships equally to heterosexual ones.

8. Farmer Rebellion in India

In November, tens of thousands of peasants and rural laborers from 20 states, representing more than 180 peasant organizations, gathered in Delhi for an unprecedented show of strength against the reactionary Modi government. Facing rising production costs, increased droughts and falling incomes, the farmers demanded debt relief, better prices and effective crop insurance schemes. While the government did not immediately respond to their key demands, the united platform is likely to have a growing impact as farmers take the campaign across the country in 2018 and 2019.

9. Guatemala Rises Up Against Institutionalized Corruption

Since 2015, a series of mass protests against corruption have rocked Guatemala. These came to a head in September 2017 when President Jimmy Morales attempted to expel a Colombian investigator with the U.N.-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala. Indigenous communities have played a leading role in the protests and are also engaged in an ongoing fight with Congress to approve a constitution that recognizes greater indigenous autonomy. In October, a national strike led by a coalition of social movements in 20 cities demanded the resignation of Morales in addition to calling for land reform and nationalization of the energy sector.

10. Rise of Momentum and Transformation of UK Labour Party

In 2017, a grassroots campaign that had first mobilized behind the left candidate Jeremy Corbyn to make him leader of the Labour Party, again showed its power when it substantially increased Labour's vote in the General Election, almost ending the ruling party's majority. The movement, called Momentum, made up of 30,000 active members, showed how an organized grassroots operation could defy rightwing mass media and win seats. The movement has made the Labour Party the biggest membership party in Europe, with a platform committed to bringing privatized services back under public ownership, abolishing university tuition fees and ending fracking. Momentum is now widely recognized as the most vibrant element of the party.

These stories and others are taken from a recap of the year by Transnational Institute, a progressive research institute committed to building a just, democratic and sustainable world.

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Categories: Latest News

The Year of the Personnel Blunder

Fri, 12/29/2017 - 21:00
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It's hard to remember now, but for nearly the first four months of Donald Trump's presidency, there were several stories contesting for predominance. There was the repeal of Obamacare, the Muslim travel ban, the unprecedented conflicts of interest, and even the attacks on "fake news."

But that all changed May 9th in what may one day be seen as one of the biggest personnel blunders in American history: Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey.

Since then, trying to keep up with all the news in the wake of Comey's firing -- the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election, Comey's congressional testimony about Trump asking the FBI Director to publicly clear him and to drop the investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, the indictments of Paul Manafort and his aide, Rick Gates, and the guilty pleas of George Papadopoulos and Flynn, has been a bit like trying to sip water from a fire hose.

Rather than a simple chronology of the year's events, which relies on the reader to make connections between disparate elements, the following is a thematic review of the Russia probe, enabling the reader to more clearly understand the contours of the landscape.

Justice as Personal Privilege

James Comey learned he was out of a job while speaking to FBI agents in Los Angeles. As he stood at the lectern, a television behind him flashed the news he had been dismissed. He thought it was a joke at first. It wasn't. 

The firing touched off a sequence of events that for a moment seemed as if they might threaten the Trump presidency, and in fact, they may still,

To some, Comey's firing appeared as a desperate final act by Trump, scrambling to derail a criminal and civil investigation into his associates, his business, his family, and even himself. It immediately raised the prospect that the president had obstructed justice -- that he was perverting the fair and dispassionate rule of law to protect his own interests.  

It didn't help matters when evidence quickly emerged that Trump had a sense of entitlement when it came to federal law enforcement.

For instance, the day after Comey's dismissal, Trump held a meeting in the Oval Office with Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, and its then-Ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, who, it seemed, had met with almost every senior official of Trump's campaign. As if these two sophisticated operatives had spent the last 24 hours in a cave, Trump told his guests, "I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That's taken off."

He followed that up with an interview with NBC News' Lester Holt. Donald Trump --  Donald Trump  -- first called Comey a "showboat" and a "grandstander." Then he added, "I was going to fire Comey knowing there was no good time to do it. And in fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself -- I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story." 

In June, Comey told his side of the story in testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. It all started over dinner in the White House Green Room seven days after Trump took office, the former FBI Director began. Comey was a reluctant diner, especially when the president told him the dinner would only include the two of them. "My instincts told me that the one-on-one setting, and the pretense that this was our first discussion about my position, meant the dinner was, at least in part, an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship. That concerned me greatly…"

His reservations were justified. Trump laid it on the line: "I need loyalty, I expect loyalty."

On Valentine's Day, the President again drew Comey into a private conversation, this time to discuss the fate of his recently fired National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn. "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go," Trump said, according to Comey. The FBI Director provided no assurances.

Yet by the time Comey described these overtures, Trump' s impulsive firing of Comey had only put him deeper in the hole. At least when he was appointed Special Counsel after Comey's firing, former FBI Director Robert Mueller was universally hailed as the perfect person to lead the probe into "any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and any matters that…may arise…directly from the investigation."

But Mueller's selection did not temper the President's inclination to view the Justice Department as his personal fiefdom. It only ratcheted up his anger that the rule of law was not bending to his will.

In July, Trump went on a stunning three-day tantrum against his own Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, who long before Comey was fired, recused himself from Russia-related matters. Sessions' correct decision not to control the Russia investigation, which, in part, led to Mueller's appointment, infuriated Trump. "Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else," Trump told the New York Times.

A day later, he chastised him in a tweet: "Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are E-mails & DNC server) & Intel leakers!" Trump's orders to the Justice Department were clear: investigate my defeated political opponent. Sessions obligingly threw his boss a bone when he announced that he had ordered prosecutors to look into Clinton's potential crimes.

Yet, Trump remains incapable or unwilling to comprehend that the Justice Department is not his personal bludgeon. "The saddest thing is that because I'm the President of the United States, I am not supposed to be involved with the Justice Department," Trump lamented in a November radio interview. "I am not supposed to be involved with the FBI."

Trump's statement could be taken as relatively benign were it not for the fact that he soon revealed his motive "to be involved" with law enforcement. "[W]hy aren't they going after Hillary Clinton with her emails and with her, the dossier?," Trump asked, referring to a dossier about Trump and Russia paid for by a law firm on behalf Clinton's campaign and the Democratic National Committee. "I'm very unhappy with it that the Justice Department isn't going … I am not supposed to be doing the kind of things that I would love to be doing. And I am very frustrated by it."

At year's end, there were a flurry of reports that Trump was preparing to fire Mueller, But Trump himself, as well as his White House lawyers, flatly denied a dismissal was in the offing.

As is so often in the case with Trump, what may be true in late December, may no longer be true six weeks or six months from now. For Trump, the fair administration justice is a matter of his personal needs. He is willing to use every bit of presidential power -- soft and hard -- to twist it his way.

President Obama was fond of quoting Martin Luther King, Jr.'s adage: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." Today's president is attempting to create new rules of geometry: "The arc of justice bends for Trump."

Enter the Russians Part I

In 2017, the colorful characters got the attention. The voting machines got short shrift.

By mid-2016, state election officials knew there had been efforts to penetrate voting systems. Evidence was mounting that Russian actors were attempting to access voter registration systems in several states. But voters were confidently assured that all was well. The vote counting machines were almost all air-gapped, meaning they were not connected to any network from which they could manipulated. Hacking the vote count was virtually impossible, we were told.

In early January, the nation's intelligence agencies bluntly reported: "Russian intelligence accessed elements of multiple state or local electoral boards. Since early 2014, Russian intelligence has researched US electoral processes and related technology and equipment." However, the agencies asserted that the efforts did not affect systems involved in vote tallying.

In May, the plot thickened. That month the National Security Agency (NSA) completed a classified report on the extent of the effort to interfere with the vote. The report was leaked to the Intercept in June. It demonstrated that Russian efforts to infiltrate voting systems had homed in on voter registration systems.  

One company, VR Systems, which provides voter registration look-up tools, enabling people to vote on Election Day, was penetrated by Russian operatives in 2016. VR Systems had contracts in eight states: California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, New York, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.

In September, The New York Times sent reporters to Durham, North Carolina, a swing state that used VR Systems, and found lingering questions about the 2016 election. Ballots may have been counted accurately, but voters were deterred: some were turned away from the polls due to registration problems, others were sent to the wrong polling stations, or told they had already voted. "It felt like tampering, or some kind of cyberattack," Susan Greenhalgh, a troubleshooter at a non-partisan election monitoring group, recalled about the calls she received from Durham on Election Day.  

The Times found that VR Systems was not the only vendor hit by Russian hackers. They found two more, raising the total to 39 states.

Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security announced in June  that it had evidence 21 states had been targeted by the Russians. Yet, it took DHS until September to call the 21 states to inform them of Russia's efforts. As the year drew to a close, barely anything had been done to deal with the problem. In December, Homeland Security announced the creation of an information sharing council. And a bipartisan group of Senators announced a plan to introduce legislation to help states enhance security against cyberattacks.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported: "One former senior US official expressed concern that the Russians now have three years to build on their knowledge of US voting systems before the next presidential election, and there is every reason to believe they will use what they have learned in future attacks."

And where was presidential leaderhip on this issue? Nowhere to be found. Trump essentially ignored the unanimous concern of the intelligence community about Russian hacking. Instead, in May, he unveiled the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. The panel was the fulfillment of both a cherished fetish and fantasy by some conservatives: that there is widespread in-person voting fraud. Trump himself has fallen for this myth, claiming variously that he would have won the popular vote were it not for voter fraud, and that he would have won New Hampshire had not "thousands" of people been "brought in on buses" from Massachusetts to vote illegally in the Granite State.

Enter the Russians Part II

Machines may be necessary to run election systems, but our brains make the decisions. And those decisions are based on what information our brains receive. And in 2016, Russia attempted to further pollute a political discourse that was already polarized and fetid.

2016 was the year of email hacks and leaks. That was the year candidate Trump declared "I love Wikileaks," and he called upon Russia to hack former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: "Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing."

To a great extent, 2017 was the year the press and social media began to grapple with the fallout from the mistakes of the previous year. For instance, Thomas Patterson, a professor at Harvard's Kennedy's School, did an extensive content analysis of 2016 prediential election coverage. "Were the allegations surrounding Clinton of the same order of magnitude as those surrounding Trump?" he asked. "It's a question that political reporters made no serious effort to answer during the 2016 campaign."

For the press, which eagerly gobbled up every Wikileak and hacked email from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) or John Podesta, Clinton's campaign manager, the reckoning has been scattershot. Protected by the First Amendment, there is virtually no way to hold newspaper editors to public account in either a congressional hearing or in court. Whatever thinking has been done on the press's role has occurred behind closed doors or in occasional opinion pieces.

But in July, one former DNC staffer and two Democratic donors sued Trump adviser Roger Stone and Donald Trump's presidential campaign for conspiring in the DNC leaks imbroglio and violating the trio's privacy rights. As the case proceeds, we may get a rare peek into just how Russian hacking shaped democracy.

In October, months of congressional and media pressure on the social media companies finally began to yield some information. Facebook disclosed that a Russian troll farm had spent $100,000 to place election ads. It was a drop in the bucket of the world of political advertising, but the messages still reached more than 10 million. But Russia's social media efforts went far beyond just buying ads.

In appearances before Congressional committees, the general counsels of Facebook, Twitter, and Google tried to explain how they fell prey to Russian interference. Before the hearing, Facebook disclosed that multiple Russian-backed accounts sowed dissension and anger on the platform -- reaching 126 million Americans. Twitter found more than 2,700 Russian-linked accounts regularly Tweeting about American politics. And it found more than 36,000 bot accounts that generated more than 288 million views. Google's YouTube hosted 1,000 videos linked to Russian provocateurs.

Yet, even with these disclosures, the companies offered no assurance that their toll was complete. "Do you believe that any of your companies have identified the full scope of Russian active measures?" Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) asked. "I have to say no," Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch answered.

Reminded they were American companies trying to withstand concerted manipulation by a hostile foreign power, the company representatives at first seemed startled and then retreated to promises to take the matter seriously.

Meanwhile, Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), John McCain (R-AZ), and Warner introduced legislation that would require social media political ads have the same sort of disclosure about who their financial backing as is the case for television spots now.

OK, OK. It's Not "Collusion." But It Sure Was Something

On December 15, as he prepared to board a helicopter, Trump managed to assert that there was no collusion between him and Russia five times in one minute:

There is absolutely no collusion. That has been proven. When you look at the committees, whether it's the Senate or the House, everybody -- my worst enemies, they walk out, they say, "There is no collusion but we'll continue to look."  They're spending millions and millions of dollars.

There is absolutely no collusion.  I didn't make a phone call to Russia.  I have nothing to do with Russia.  Everybody knows it.  That was a Democrat hoax.  It was an excuse for losing the election, and it should have never been this way, where they spent all these millions of dollars.

So now even the Democrats admit there's no collusion.  There is no collusion -- that's it. (emphasis added)

That word: collusion. Let's skip it.

Even if Trump and his associates did not "collude" with Russian actors during the 2016 election, one indisputable theme emerges: Russia engaged in a systematic, multi-year, multi-channel effort to cultivate a relationship with Trump world. The effort began long before Trump announced his candidacy and continued after he won the election.

But there's more. As three former CIA and FBI employees put it in Just Security:

There is no question that Russia made multiple, unprecedented attempts to penetrate a US presidential campaign, that its approaches were not rebuffed, and that its contacts were sensitive enough that everyone, to a person, has concealed them. These facts might never be adjudicated inside a courtroom -- they may not even be illegal -- but they present a clear and present national security threat that we cannot ignore.

2017 was the year when many of the Russian contacts with the Trump campaign and his associates began to surface. There were so many of them that a Wikipedia page is devoted to keeping track of them.

Less than a week after Trump was sworn in as President, his acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, warned the White House that Trump's National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, could be subject to Russian blackmail because he lied to White House officials about his contacts with the Russians..

As the story and details of Flynn's Russian contacts began dribbling out in February,  pressure mounted. Flynn was fired. But his expulsion did not end the matter.

First, Attorney General Sessions was implicated. In March, he was forced to recuse himself from all matters involving Russia and the election when it was revealed that he had not only failed to disclose several contacts with Russian diplomats on his security clearance form, but he had also given inaccurate answers about those contacts during his Senate confirmation hearing.

Then, the President's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, came under scrutiny. In March, the first of several interactions between Kushner and Russian operatives was reported in the press. This time it was a meeting between Kushner and the head of Russia's state owned development bank. 

And in May, multiple newspapers reported that Kushner had suggested a harebrained scheme to create a "secret" communications channel between the Trump transition and the Russian government from the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C..

In July, it was Donald Trump, Jr.'s  turn. He confirmed that in June 2016 he had a meeting with , Natalia Veselnitskaya, a lawyer with ties to the Russian government, in his Trump Tower office. Among those present were Kushner and Trump's campaign chairman at the time, Paul Manafort. According to Trump Jr. he had been promised that Veselnitskaya,would come bearing gifts: dirt on Hillary Clinton.

The meeting yielded nothing of value to either side. But according to Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, who spent 26 years working as an intelligence officer, the meeting "bears all the hallmarks of a professionally planned, carefully orchestrated intelligence soft pitch designed to gauge receptivity, while leaving room for plausible deniability in case the approach is rejected."

The drip-drip of Trump campaign/Russia contacts continued. When the Special Counsel brought its first set of indictments in October, a whole new set of interactions were revealed. New names from the Trump campaign came to the fore: George Papadopoulos and Carter Page. Both men revealed more meetings and engagement with Russian actors.

No one knows yet whether the Trump campaign colluded with a foreign government to alter the course of the presidential election. Does it matter?

And Then There Was One

Special Counsel Mueller has a lot of power, but he can only do one thing: pursue criminal penalties.

He cannot revise the Foreign Agents Registration Act, change campaign laws for online advertising disclosure, hold social media companies to account, fund programs to harden state election systems from attack, revise computer crime and hacking laws, or fund counter-intelligence programs. Only Congress can.

When the year began, at least four congressional committees were conducting some form of investigation into Russian efforts to undermine our democratic institutions. At the year's end, only one, the Senate Intelligence Committee, seemed to be semi-functional, and even it is grossly under-resourced.

The other three committee investigations devolved into various levels of incapacity.

The first two committees to crack were on the House side. The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence's work was almost immediately thrown into turmoil when its chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) was forced to step away from the investigation while facing an ethics inquiry for improperly disclosing classified information.

Then Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, resigned his seat and turned the investigation over to a member who decided to close off the committee's inquiries.

On the Senate side, the Senate Judiciary Committee continued to plow away. It did so without any additional resources or staff, but still conducted interviews, gathered evidence, and held hearings. In late October, though, the bipartisan consensus  between the Committee's leaders shattered. The Committee's chairman and ranking member began sending separate letters of inquiry. And in December, the chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), denounced Democrats for being unwilling to investigate alleged misdeeds by President Obama and Hillary Clinton. "If Democrats are unwilling to ask hard questions and force answers from their own political allies, then there simply is no way to move forward together in good faith," he said.

Now, only one Committee, Senate Intelligence, is still fully engaged in investigating the integrity of the election system. And even so, it is doing so in ways that limit its effectiveness, often holding closed hearings in secrecy and rarely releasing material to the public.

Forecast for 2018 Slow Burn or Clash of the Titans?

As 2017 progressed, it became clearer that there will be an inevitable showdown between Trump and Mueller. Many expect a spectacular blow up: a firing (Mueller's) or a very high level indictment (Kushner's or even the President's).

There is no predicting, but I foresee more of the same, steady, mid-grade warfare. Trump and his allies will continue to try to undermine the credibility of the special counsel. They will seize every opportunity to tar his reputation and work. And they will gut out whatever indictments may or may not be brought. If President Bill Clinton could make it through the Kenneth Starr investigation and impeachment, then Trump likely believes he can do the same.

Mueller, meanwhile, will continue his tantalizing silence. Garbo-esque, we will not hear him utter a word, unless in court or when he wraps up his investigation and issues a final report.

The Russians Can't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow

Any way you look at it, Russia's 2016 election interference worked beyond their wildest dreams. Confidence in democratic institutions -- including Presidential approval --  is at an all-time low. They have more than met their objective of sowing discord and doubt.

But why stop? There are crucial mid-term elections in November, and some prognosticators believe party control of one -- or even both -- chambers of Congress could change. And the Russians know the nation has done little to protect against the next attack.  seen that the nation has done very little to prepare for the next round.

With a major congressional election coming up, tensions will run high. Our elected officials have done almost nothing to reassure voters that the election systems are being improved and protected. Indeed, the President's Election Integrity Commission seems dedicated to ginning up fear of fraud rather than solving problems.

Congress Plays Ostrich

Three out of four congressional investigations are effectively gutted. Indeed, three are now pivoting to revisit old Clinton scandals. The last committee standing, Senate Intelligence, is under enormous pressure to wrap it up. It will, and we won't miss it that much since so much of its work has been behind closed doors.

Senators and Representatives, panicking about the upcoming election, will return to their states and districts as often as possible. Russia is not a good story. They will be working overtime to find a new narrative. They want to put 2017 behind them. The only drawback to that approach is that major, unsolved problems have a nasty habit of popping up when you least expect them. 

Categories: Latest News

"The Ignorance Is Astounding": Citing Cold Weather, Trump Says US "Could Use a Little Bit of Global Warming"

Fri, 12/29/2017 - 21:00

Around 1000 people gathered in downtown Minneapolis to challenge the policies of Republican President Donald Trump on April 29, 2017. (Photo: Fibonacci Blue)

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"This is what happens when you try to run the country without a science adviser."

So wrote meteorologist Eric Holthaus after President Donald Trump, citing the bitter cold currently gripping the eastern US, suggested in a Thursday night tweet, "Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old global warming that our country, but not other countries, was going to pay TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS to protect against."

In the East, it could be the COLDEST New Year’s Eve on record. Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming that our Country, but not other countries, was going to pay TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS to protect against. Bundle up!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 29, 2017

In addition to demonstrating that he is unaware of the distinction between weather and climate, Trump also appeared to be referencing his decision to withdraw the US from the Paris climate accord—a move environmentalists slammed as "stupid and reckless."

Such recklessness has characterized much of Trump's approach to the environment -- both globally and in the US -- throughout his first year in office.

As the ranks of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continue to be filled with climate deniers and Big Oil favorites, the agency's chief, Scott Pruitt, is moving at breakneck speed to dismantle even the most basic protections against environmental degradation -- opening the door to both short-term and long-term catastrophes in a bid to reward the fossil fuel industry.

Furthermore, the GOP's $1.5 trillion tax bill Trump signed into law last Friday opens Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling, a decision characterized by Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune as "a gift to corporate polluters and a means to pay off these tax cuts for the rich."

Trump's tweet Thursday night sparked a flurry of reaction from climate experts and analysts, but it wasn't the first time Trump has used cold weather to suggest that the citizens of the world should welcome the climate crisis.

It's really cold outside, they are calling it a major freeze, weeks ahead of normal. Man, we could use a big fat dose of global warming!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 19, 2015

Holthaus concluded that "as twisted and wrong" as these tweets are, they are "exactly what resonates with his base. Poking fun at existential global problems in the sickest, most selfish way possible."

Others echoed Holthaus on Thursday, calling Trump's scientific ignorance a serious danger to future generations.

Please let someone preserve this tweet forever so that future generations at least know why the American government didn’t take action to deal with the climate change crisis that now afflicts them https://t.co/FyV2dlbNzE

— David Sirota (@davidsirota) December 29, 2017

This is what we’re up against. He is dismantling our most critical environmental and public health protections, while also spreading misinformation.

Help us fight this madness. https://t.co/A9H8Xy8dxL https://t.co/3h6gvambd5

— NRDC ? (@NRDC) December 29, 2017

The ignorance is astounding. https://t.co/V5yo7N4TQX

— Atom Araullo (@atomaraullo) December 29, 2017

In 2017, there were about three record high temperatures in the US for every record low temperature. Weather is not the same as climate. The president should be able to understand that. It isn't hard. https://t.co/piwHcvZWbH https://t.co/7EFkR5SmUN

— Rep. Pramila Jayapal (@RepJayapal) December 29, 2017
Categories: Latest News

Climate Change 2017: What Happened and What It Means

Fri, 12/29/2017 - 21:00

The Thomas Fire, viewed from Via Real, just east of Lambert Road and the Bella Vista Polo Club, in Summerland, California, on December 11, 2017. (Photo: Doc Searls)

Before Trump, the best-case scenario of emissions reductions allowed for significantly more than 2 degrees Celsius of warming. With dangerously extreme weather happening more and more frequently, and with abrupt changes plausibly already begun, now is not the time to be backpedaling climate policy.

The Thomas Fire, viewed from Via Real, just east of Lambert Road and the Bella Vista Polo Club, in Summerland, California, on December 11, 2017. (Photo: Doc Searls)

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How many more billions of dollars in damages will it take? How many more lives? It's obvious; all the climate extremes we have been experiencing lately are indeed caused by climate change. Our climate is already far too dangerous. Scientists have been warning us for 30 years, but still they can't say for sure.

This is because scientists tell us things in terms of certainty, and this is where we get the oft-heard statement, "We can't tell if this event was caused by climate change or not." Almost nothing is certain, especially rapidly changing climate extremes, because it takes time to develop certainty about the weather.

Scientists speak in terms of certainty -- probabilistic, scientific certainty. A little warming doesn't result in a little more extreme weather; it results in a lot more. Who is going to protect us from climate change?

Donald Trump and his climate-science-denying administration certainly will not. They are repealing the Clean Power Plan, which are the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) landmark pollution rules designed to limit carbon dioxide emissions from large sources such as power plants. They reversed the Obama administration's rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline. They shut down the EPA's climate change website in April, and when it returned in July, it was half-missing. Trump also cancelled the Climate Action Plan, dropped climate change from the list of national security threats and revoked Federal Emergency Management Agency flood risk standards accounting for sea level rise with federal infrastructure projects. 

The administration has abandoned the most important climate treaty in the world, the Paris Agreement, but they still wanted to sit at the table and develop the rules at the 23rd Conference of Parties (COP23) to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change recently held in Bonn, Germany. The US delegation at COP23 asked Peabody Coal to explain how "clean coal" could slow climate change.

They have reversed Obama's ban on offshore oil exploration and are stonewalling rules for the first vehicle fuel economy standards implemented in 40 years (by Obama). Trump's EPA director Scott Pruitt sued the agency four times when he was the Oklahoma attorney general to block the Clean Power Plan, and once against methane emissions rules. Trump has scrubbed increased methane and volatile organic carbon reporting standards that began under Obama. Trump also appointed ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state.

Unfortunately, new record-breaking science has made at least as much noise as Trump.

Hurricane Harvey, a 25,000-Year Storm

Hurricane Harvey brought record setting rainfall to Texas between August 23 and 28. The most recorded rainfall was 50 inches, but more than 24 inches was recorded over more than 15,000 square miles, which is 30 times greater than the previous records.

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has done some advanced modeling and found that "human induced climate change likely increased the chances of ... Hurricane Harvey in the affected areas of Houston by a factor of at least 3.5 [350 percent]." The best estimate of how much Harvey would have rained in our old climate was 36 inches, not the 50 inches recorded -- a 38 percent increase because of climate change.

There are some challenges with this Berkeley work. One is that the authors compared total storm rainfall from Harvey to record events from 1950 to 2017. This means the researchers compared Harvey to the recent past, when increases in extreme rainfall have already occurred. What this means is that big storms have increased even more than if, say, the researchers had compared today to the period 1930 to 1950. It's nuanced, but it's meaningful.

Houston rainfall has increased a lot since 1950. John Nielsen-Gammon, who is Texas state climatologist, says that extreme flooding has doubled in Houston during the last 30 years. Nielsen-Gammon compares the last 30 years to the previous 30 years. But extremes really didn't start becoming so much more extreme until, at the most, 10 years ago.

Widespread reporting said that Harvey was a 1-in-1,000-year flood event (a 1,000-year storm is a storm that happens on average every 1,000 years) based on rates of rainfall. A meteorological engineering company called MetStat specializes in these types of extreme rainfall frequency analyses and analyzed the entire storm. It found that across the 15,000 square miles of southeast Texas that received greater than 24 inches of rain, making Harvey a 25,000-year storm.

Fire! California Burns

Southern California Wildfires on October 25, 2017. (Photo: NASA)

Record drought, record rains, record fires: It's the extremes that matter in any climate. We can tell that these new California fire extremes do not belong in our old climate because of their record nature of their size and impacts. There have been almost 10,000 structures destroyed with 40 deaths in the California fires, according to Calfire.gov. This is more than twice as many structures burned and lives lost as in the previous record outbreak. Furthermore, December is the rainy season in California.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says that the period of 2011 through 2015 in California was the driest four consecutive years since record-keeping began. The California Department of Water Resources said that average rainfall across California in the water year of September 2016 through August 2017, was the wettest water year in half of California and second wettest in the other half. What is causing all of this?

The Jet Stream and Extremes

Why are all these extremes happening? One of the reasons is "Arctic amplification." As the Arctic warms, more snow melts. When snow melts, earth, plants, rock and water absorb up to 90 percent of the sun's rays and turn them into heat. Ice and snow reflect up to 90 percent of the sun's energy harmlessly back into space, so decreased ice and snow cover due to rising temperatures in the Arctic only accelerate climate change.

This Arctic amplification affects the way the jet stream behaves. It makes the jet stream loops larger and move more slowly west to east. Because the jet stream pushes (or pulls) weather systems west to east around the planet, the slower west-east movement allows weather systems to stall out, and this increases impacts. Rainfall events "train" over the same area increasing flooding; droughts are longer.

The lead scientist who developed the famous "hockey stick" temperature graph (which shows little change in temperature for thousands of years in the past, until the last 100 years) has released some new research looking at Arctic amplification that corroborates previous studies that show warming messes with the jet stream.  This new work makes the science even more clear that global warming increases weather extremes.

Lava Mountain Fire, Teton National Forest. (Photo: Bruce Melton)

Western North American Wildfire

It's not just California. Wildfires have increased area burned and intensity across the Western US. Only 2015 had more area burned in the US than did 2017. The following are some forest fire statistics from 2016 that bear repeating: Sierra Nevada Research Institute's Anthony Westerling found that wildfire season in the western US has increased by over 60 percent since the 1970s, from 138 days to 222 days, because of earlier onset of spring. The average burn time of a wildfire has increased nearly 800 percent, from six days to 52 days, because of deeper drying from earlier snowmelt. Burned area increased an astonishing 1,271 percent. Human-caused ignition has played a very small role in increasing wildfire trends. Westerling also notes that, "Given projections for further drying within the region due to human-induced warming, this study underlines the potential for further increases in wildfire activity."

Extreme Precipitation

The National Climate Assessment says extreme precipitation has increased in intensity and frequency over most of the US, with the Northeast leading the way. Importantly, clusters of extreme warm season thunderstorms are more numerous and deliver greater amounts of rainfall. Extremes and rainfall totals are expected to continue to increase.

The latest high resolution modeling on these most extreme weather events out of the National Center for Atmospheric Research says they will triple by end of century. The US will see a 15 to 40 percent increase in maximum precipitation rates in certain regions, with up to 80 percent increase in the total precipitation volume. Area covered by each individual storm increases roughly by a factor of two. These researchers also say extreme storms with a precipitation rate in excess of 3.5 inches per hour will increase in the central US by 380 percent by the end of the century. The highest increases occur in Canada and the US Northeast, where rainfall rates in excess of 3 inches per hour, as the authors state, "are almost unrepresented in the current climate and become frequent in the future."  

Very Large Negative Emissions

Extreme weather events have already increased to dangerous levels because we have delayed climate action for nearly 30 years. Further warming increases extremes nonlinearly. In other words, a little more warming creates a lot more extremes.

Scientists are now evaluating additional "negative emissions" required to prevent even greater warming. These negative emissions are in addition to the best-case scenario of the Paris Climate Accord, which calls for 80 percent emissions reductions by 2050 and net zero emissions by 2080. (Net zero is any combination of emissions reductions, energy infrastructure decarbonization and negative emissions, where the net annual emissions of carbon dioxide are zero.)

James Hansen, the 32-year director of the US government's climate modeling agency, the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, reveals the quantity of negative emissions required to meet a 350 parts per million (ppm) CO2 goal of about 1 degree Celsius warming by 2100, where the temperature rise mid-century -- before it begins to fall -- is less than 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

To do this, Hansen says that we must use strategies to reduce already emitted carbon dioxide that remains in our sky, whether it is through plants, forests, agricultural techniques or removing CO2 directly from the air. The quantity of negative emissions required is between 7 and 32 gigatons of carbon dioxide annually through 2100, depending on whether our emissions reductions rate is zero (where emissions stay the same as today) or 6 percent per year, which is about double the Paris Accord. Today, we emit about 40 gigatons of carbon dioxide every year.

National Climate Assessment: There Is a Significant Possibility for Unanticipated Changes

Unless we reduce already observed warming with negative emissions, we can expect these unanticipated changes that the National Academy of Sciences note in the National Climate Assessment. What the Fourth National Climate Assessment reports is unfortunately predictable: Climate change is worse than it was supposed to be because we have delayed action and previous projections have turned out to be understated.

According to the report, the likely human contribution to warming is 92-123 percent of the observed climate warming from 1951-2010. In other words, humans have caused more warming than has been measured. This is possible because global cooling pollutants (sulfates or smog) from burning fossil fuels have masked warming that should have occurred. This masking happens because smog reflects sunlight harmlessly back into space without warming Earth. 

Maybe the most important thing in the assessment, though, is excerpted below from the final chapter of the Executive Summary:

There is significant potential for humanity's effect on the planet to result in unanticipated surprises and a broad consensus that the further and faster the Earth system is pushed towards warming, the greater the risk of such surprises.

There are at least two types of potential surprises: compound events, where multiple extreme climate events occur simultaneously or sequentially (creating greater overall impact), and critical threshold or tipping point events, where some threshold is crossed in the climate system). The probability of such surprises -- some of which may be abrupt and/or irreversible increases as the influence of human activities on the climate system increases.

Positive feedbacks (self-reinforcing cycles) within the climate system have the potential to accelerate human-induced climate change and even shift the Earth's climate system. ...

Three record setting droughts in 2005, 2010 and 2016, each more extreme than the previous, have flipped the Amazon from a carbon sink to a carbon source. (Photo: Bruce Melton)

Third 100-Year-Plus Drought in Amazonia in 12 Years: The Amazon Flips From Sink to Source

Unanticipated surprises are already underway. Three 100-year-plus droughts in the Amazon in 12 years have taken their toll. Along with continual human-created ecological compromise and climate warming, fires and forest mortality from drought have overwhelmed the capacity of the Amazon to absorb carbon dioxide.

The telling part of this research from the University of Connecticut, funded by the National Science Foundation, is that in the past, sea surface temperatures in the Pacific have been well correlated to drought, including the two 100-year-plus events in 2005 and 2010. In 2016, the drought exceeded modeling extremes and the authors believe warming, deforestation and drought mortality are to blame. These quotes from the study tell the story:

"In 2005, a severe drought in the Amazon, categorized as a 100-year event, caused record-breaking annual wild fires and carbon emissions, leading to the first ever negative annual carbon balance recorded for the rainforest."

"Five years later, a stronger and more destructive drought hit Amazonia in 2010 and the recorded rainforest carbon balance was negative for the second time."

"Here, we show that the severity of the 2015-2016 drought is unprecedented based on multiple precipitation products (since 1900.)"

Sea Level Rise Scenarios Start to Catch Up With Prehistory

The NOAA's new sea level rise report has revealed some truly meaningful realities of future impacts. With just a nine-inch rise in sea level projected by 2030, NOAA advisories for coastal flooding capable of causing "significant risks to life and property" could occur 25 times more often. This is very significant sounding on its own, but what exactly does it mean?

According to the report, flooding that we would expect to happen on average every five years (three feet) will happen every two months. This means that what would previously have been categorized as 100-year floods (13 feet) will be expected to happen every four years. And remember, this is with just nine inches of sea level rise and it is projected to happen by 2030.

Here again, Earth systems cause the increases to be exponential. In other words, a little bit of rise creates a very large amount of impact. It's not the average that is important, it is the extremes.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) goes further with NOAA's new projections. Their new report, based on NOAA's work, defines the increase of chronic flooding of 25 times greater than today, as an amount of flooding that causes "resources abandonment." This is the point that people begin to simply walk away from their homes and businesses. The UCS says this will happen to nearly 170 coastal US communities within 12 years, and under the worst-case scenario, in about 670 coastal US communities by the end of the century.

Wind scoured blue ice in Greenland: Katabatic winds, or gravity-driven monster winds up to 150 mph sustained, can literally blow the ice away. Just off screen, a nuntak, or mountain island in the ice sheet, deflects winds in this area to create ice scour that reveals ancient blue ice.  (Photo: Bruce Melton)

Ice Loss During Antarctic Cold Reversal May Spell Trouble for West Antarctic Ice Sheet Collapse

Where do these nine inches of sea level rise come from? The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says two feet by 2100. The IPCC though, does not include abrupt sea level rise from ice sheet collapse. The latest research on ice sheet collapse from Australia shows 52 feet of sea level rise occurred in 400 years, 14,500 years ago with ocean conditions similar to today. We were coming out of the last ice age then, but then, the increasing rate of warming was far less than today.

Our climate's most meaningful and common temperature changes are classified as abrupt changes in climate science. Twenty-three of them occurred in our last 100,000-year-long ice age. They mostly happened with global temperature change of 9 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit and 25 degrees Fahrenheit or more in Greenland.

The biggest was caused by melt from the massive Laurentide ice sheet that covered the northern half of North America at the end of the last ice age, beginning about 18,000 years ago. The ice was a mile deep over what is now New York City, with an epicenter two miles high over Hudson Bay. The melt formed a giant lake over south-central Canada. About 14,600 years ago, it became so large that it broke through the lobe of ice that carved out the Great Lakes, and its outflow changed from the Mississippi River Basin to the St. Laurence, and then to the North Atlantic via New Newfoundland.

The massive influx of freshwater melt, being lighter than salt water, floated on the North Atlantic and shut down the Gulf Stream. This stopped the northward flow of warm water from the South Atlantic and plummeted our planet back into deep ice age cold. But under-ice melt continued. Some research says that parts of Greenland ice sheet and Antarctica collapsed and raised sea level 65 feet in as little as 200 years.

Iceberg remnants from the Greenland Ice Sheet and the Ilulissat Hospital, west coast of Greenland. (Photo: Bruce Melton)

Today, Greenland melt has created a massive pool of buoyant fresh melt water in the North Atlantic east of Newfoundland. The pool has reduced flow in the Gulf Stream 40 percent since the mid-2000s.

Enter Chris Fogwill and a team of 21 researchers from Australia to the UK. This team has created a half mile-long "horizontal ice core" from the Ronne Ice Shelf in West Antarctica. Fogwill says gravity-driven Antarctic winds have so scoured the ice over 50 miles, that surface sampling allowed the team to look at 5,000 years of ancient ice. (The British Antarctic Survey says these gravity-driven winds can reach 200 mph.)

They found this area lost 2,000 feet in elevation during the abrupt cold reversal 18,000 years ago. Their unexpected results reveal that the return of glacial temperatures cooled surface waters, but not deeper waters, which remained warm, melting the underside of the ice.

Today, we see the same cool surface/warm deep setup. The trigger 18,000 years ago was the melting of the Laurentide ice sheet. Today, it's the West Antarctic ice sheet. Both were/are marine ice sheets, inherently unstable because their ice is grounded on the ocean floor thousands of feet below sea level.

The cool surface water in the North Atlantic today is melt from increased ice discharge in Greenland. The cooler water, just like in North Atlantic Gulf Stream shutdowns in prehistory, prevents surface water from mixing with deeper water. The researchers tell us that current projections of sea level rise "do not fully include ice-sheet-ocean dynamic feedbacks." These feedbacks "are believed to have triggered rapid continental ice-sheet retreat and driven periods of abrupt sea-level rise during the geological past."  

Summary: Resist the Trump Administration

The bottom line is that climate change, because of delayed action, is happening faster and more extremely than projected. Before Trump, the best-case scenario of emissions reductions allowed for significantly more than 2 degrees Celsius of warming. With dangerously extreme weather happening more and more frequently, and with abrupt changes plausibly already begun, now is not the time to be backpedaling climate policy.

Climate scientists warned us that our task would be more difficult the longer we delayed. The difficulty has now arrived and even further delay is real. The great risk is that a little more warming will not create a small increase in additional extremes. It is entirely plausible that a little more warming will cross thresholds and create nonlinearly more extreme events that are literally unrecoverable, if we do not reduce warming sooner rather than later.

Categories: Latest News

More Days of Rage to Come, but at What Cost?

Fri, 12/29/2017 - 06:09

Weekly protests are continuing in the occupied Palestinian territories, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, in response to US President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, with no sign of "surrender." Will such demonstrations be effective in provoking a backlash against the United States, or even in reversing Trump's decision? Some Palestinians in Gaza say the protests aren't worth the risk they pose.

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Weekly protests are continuing in the occupied Palestinian territories, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, in response to US President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, with no sign of "surrender." The death toll has reached 12 -- with most occurring in the Gaza Strip, where a caustic pall from burning tires hangs perpetually in the air. Meanwhile, amidst the chaos and rage, hopes for reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, the two main Palestinian factions, are flagging as attention wanes.

In an attempt to ramp up the pressure on US and international leaders, Fatah officials are calling for protests every day this week, both along the Gaza and Israeli border and at West Bank checkpoints. And all of the political factions have united in urging Palestinians everywhere to make this Friday (January 29) the largest "day of rage."

Will such demonstrations be effective in provoking a backlash against the United States, or even in reversing Trump's decision? Some Palestinians in Gaza say the protests aren't worth the risk they pose.

Ahmed Abu Hatel, a 22-year old student at al-Azhar University, is staying away from the protests because, "despite being peaceful, Israeli forces can become violent at any time. I am the only son in my family, and my parents are old. If I died, who would take care of them?"

Instead, he said, there are safer ways to express the people's anger and frustration. "You can write, for example, a poem about how we feel about Jerusalem, or make a YouTube video." One example of protesting through poems and other forms of the written word is We Are Not Numbers, a Gaza-based youth storytelling project whose writers have written a number of poems and narratives expressing their passion for Jerusalem; they are published on the project's website and shared widely through social media.

Salwa Mohammed, a 31-year-old activist working with a media-production company, agreed with abu Hatel. "The Israeli occupation doesn't differentiate between those protesting peacefully and others." She cited the example of Ibrahim abu Thraya, a 29-year-old paraplegic who was shot in the head and killed by Israeli soldiers just for waving the Palestinian flag during a protest two weeks ago. And yet Israeli officials say they investigated the incident and found "no moral or professional failures" by its soldiers.

Mohammed added that Palestinians cannot withstand a new conflict with Israel.

"What is happening now could start a new war," she cautioned. "And for what? Even if Trump withdraws his decision, the Israeli government will do its best to make Jerusalem the Israeli capital."

Akram Attalah, a political analyst based in Gaza, reinforced Mohammed's opinion. "We all know the American administration will back Israel in any new war from now on. And if another war is launched, Jerusalem would be forgotten. The war would end with a truce, and meanwhile Jerusalem would become Israel's capital while everyone is focused elsewhere."

What would be most effective, Attalah said, is an unarmed intifada, like the First Intifada in the 1980s. "Throwing rockets from the Gaza Strip toward Israel might ignite a new war that would abort the peaceful marches in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The factions need to think carefully about this."

Another consequence of the current protests is a lack of attention to the reconciliation process that had been launched between the rival Palestinian political parties, Hamas and Fatah. Hamas leader Yehia Senwar recently said the reconciliation "is collapsing and needs to be rescued." The government of Egypt has said it remains committed to assuring the process stays on track, and will use the distraction caused by the protests to work behind the scenes.

Gaza-based writer Essam Shawer, who writes for Palestine newspaper, says allowing the reconciliation to falter would be a mistake, since ending the division would strengthen the Palestinian leadership so it could better face down US President Trump.

"After Trump's decision, the Palestinian Authority is without a key supporter, and it needs the reconciliation to face the challenge," he warned.

However, although more talks took place in Cairo December 27, and the official report is that "the obstacles are being worked on," most Gazans think the reconciliation is doomed.

Categories: Latest News

Concerns Raised About $1 Billion Facial Scan Program With High Error Rate at Nine US Airports

Thu, 12/28/2017 - 21:00

This month, Senators Mike Lee, a Republican, and Edward Markey, a Democrat, called for a halt to the expansion of a $1 billion airport facial scanning program that the Department of Homeland Security uses to identify travelers on some flights that depart from nine US airports: Boston, Las Vegas, Miami, New York's John F. Kennedy, Washington Dulles, both Houston airports, Chicago O'Hare and Atlanta. Congress has approved the program for use on non-US citizens but never expressly authorized its use on Americans. The senators also asked DHS to provide data about the accuracy of the scans and cited a study by the Center on Privacy and Technology that said the technology had high error rates and was subject to bias, because the scans often fail to properly identify women and African Americans. We speak with Ron Nixon, homeland security correspondent for The New York Times.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: Ron, I want to ask about another article you wrote, during this busy travel season. This month, Senators Mike Lee, Republican, Ed Markey, Democrat, called for a halt to the expansion of a $1 billion airport facial scanning program that the Department of Homeland Security uses to identify travelers on some flights that depart from nine US airports: Boston, Las Vegas, Miami, New York's JFK, Washington Dulles, both Houston airports, Chicago O'Hare and Atlanta. Congress has approved the program for use on non-US citizens but never expressly authorized its use on Americans. In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, the senators asked for a, quote, "explanation for why DHS believes it has the authority to proceed."

The senators also asked DHS to provide data about the accuracy of the scans, and cited a study by the Center on Privacy and Technology, that you reported on, which said the technology has high error rates and is subject to bias, because the scans often fail to properly identify women and African Americans. You cite Harrison Rudolph, an associate at the center and an author of the report, saying, quote, "It's telling that D.H.S. cannot identify a single benefit actually resulting from airport face scans at the departure gate."

So, explain what they are, what people experience at some of these airports, like JFKor the Houston airports.

RON NIXON: So, this program is something that has actually been law since 1996, when Congress authorized an entry-exit program. And it took on new meaning after 9/11, because two of the 9/11 hijackers overstayed their visa. So this program is to identify when people leave this country. There has been an issue with visa overstays, the people who come here and overstay their visa. And actually, most of the people who are undocumented in the country now are actually people who overstayed their visas. But because of the 9/11 hijackers and potential threats that way, Congress has authorized this program to be able to track when people leave. So, you get your visa. You come here. They track when you come. Now they know that you're gone.

So, the issue that the center pointed out is that the facial scans that they use are also being used on Americans. And this was supposed to identify foreign nationals who are leaving, to make sure that they, again, don't overstay their visas. The issue that CBP says is, "Well, you can't separate out Americans from other people when they're getting on a plane, and you do want to verify that they are indeed Americans." But the information that -- according to Customs and Border Protection, the information that they collect is used differently for Americans than it is for foreign nationals. They're saying that once they actually identify that you are American, then that's the end of it. They don't keep any additional data on you. But what the center says in their report that you reference is that, well, Congress never authorized them to actually do facial scanning of American citizens, and there has not been a -- they have not gone through a rulemaking process laying out what they do with this data or -- and that's the real issue there, that there has not been any rulemaking on this. So, they don't know what CBP actually does with this information that they collect.

AMY GOODMAN: An executive order, you report, signed in January by President Trump, calls for homeland security officials to speed up the deployment of the biometric systems at the airports. What rights do people have? And explain exactly what they look like, these biometric kind of -- the system.

RON NIXON: Sure.

AMY GOODMAN: Can they say no?

RON NIXON: Well, so, right now, what CBP, Customs and Border Protection, says that you have the right to opt out, that you can actually say, "Well, I don't want to -- I don't want to do this type of scan," and then they will just physically look at your documents and try and verify your identity another way. What the center is saying is that, well, that's not explicit, that they don't tell you that, "Hey, you can opt out." They simply put things on their website, or they will hand people these cards, but it's not explicit saying that you can opt out.

And in terms of what they look like, some of them are simply -- it's a kiosk that is -- you walk up to. You put your documents down. It scans the documents. And it snaps a photo of you, and it matches it against information that CBP has of people on that flight. The other method is that there are hand-held devices where CBPcustoms officers will stand there and gather biometrics. And some airlines who are partnering with them are building it into -- so, when you walk up to have your ticket scanned to get on a plane, it simply snaps the photo of you there and matches it against the photos that CBP has, to, again, authenticate who you are, because the CBP contention is that biometrics information can't be faked the way that physical paper documents can.

AMY GOODMAN: Ron Nixon, I want to thank you for being with us, New York Timeshomeland security correspondent, based in Washington, DC We'll link to your pieces, "Homeland Security Goes Abroad. Not Everyone Is Grateful," as well as your piece, "Facial Scans at US Airports Violate Americans' Privacy, Report Says."

When we come back, we'll play more of our interview with Emilio Gutiérrez Soto. He's a Mexican journalist who's been jailed at a detention center in El Paso with his son Oscar. He says if he's deported to Mexico, he will be killed. Then we will talk with the Committee to Protect Journalists about the number of journalists and media workers who have been killed and imprisoned around the world this year. Stay with us.

Categories: Latest News

As Trump Attacks Media With "Fake News" Claims, a Record 262 Reporters Are Jailed, 46 Killed in 2017

Thu, 12/28/2017 - 21:00

The Committee to Protect Journalists has published its 25th annual survey of journalists killed and jailed around the world. This year, the list of those killed included 42 journalists and four media workers. A record 262 journalists were imprisoned around the world, with Turkey, China and Egypt topping the list for the second year in a row. Mexico reached an historic high in journalists killed this year, and the country leads the world in journalists killed in a non-conflict zone. This comes as President Donald Trump has waged a relentless campaign to discredit journalists in the United States, often with rhetoric that could potentially incite his followers to violence. We speak with María Salazar-Ferro, the director of the Emergencies Department of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: We end today's show with the 25th annual survey from the Committee to Protect Journalists of journalists killed and jailed around the world. This year, the list of those killed includes 46 journalists and media workers, some covering wars, others murdered in retaliation for their reporting, another 20 killed in circumstances CPJ cannot confirm were related to their work; a record 262 journalists imprisoned around the world, with Turkey, China and Egypt topping the list for the second year in a row. Few, if any, of the murders are solved. This comes as President Trump has waged a relentless campaign to discredit journalists in the United States, often with rhetoric that could potentially incite his followers to violence.

For more, we're joined by María Salazar-Ferro, who is the director of the Committee to Protect Journalists Emergencies Department.

María, welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about what you found. And also, coming out of this interview around Emilio Gutiérrez, the journalist imprisoned in a US jail, can you talk about the dangers Mexican journalists face?

MARÍA SALAZAR-FERRO: Absolutely. There was a record amount of journalists imprisoned this year -- 262, as you said -- around the world. The top three jailers of journalists account for more than half of those journalists. And about three-quarters of journalists in prison around the world are behind bars on anti-state charges, such as terrorism. Interestingly, we noted this year that there is a spike in charges of false news in countries, again -- in some of the top countries, like Turkey, China and Egypt.

AMY GOODMAN: In those three top countries -- Egypt, China, Turkey -- when you talk about -- you're talking about fake news. This is something that President Trump has been pushing around the United States, charging the media with putting it out.

MARÍA SALAZAR-FERRO: Exactly. Last year, we had documented nine cases. This year, we documented 21 around the world on this charge. And, you know, we're talking about authoritarian governments, but they are holding onto any kind of a reason to imprison journalists. And this kind of rhetoric coming out of President Trump can embolden them, in terms of jailing journalists who are critical of their governments.

AMY GOODMAN: In May, award-winning Mexican reporter Javier Valdez was assassinated, dragged out of his car, shot 12 times, less than a block from his office. The killing of Valdez sparked widespread outrage across Mexico. Multiple Mexican digital media outlets went on a 24-hour strike, refusing to publish anything but a black banner with the names of the journalists assassinated in Mexico at the time. This is a clip of Valdez's 2011 speech, when he came here to New York to receive the International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists.

JAVIER VALDEZ: [translated] I have been a journalist these past 21 years, and never before have I suffered or enjoyed it this intensely, nor with so many dangers. In Culiacán, in the state of Sinaloa, Mexico, it is dangerous to be alive. And to do journalism is to tread an invisible line drawn by the bad guys, who are in drug trafficking and in the government, in a field strewn with explosives. This is what most of the country is living through. One must protect oneself from everything and everyone. And there do not seem to be options or salvation, and often there is no one to turn to.

AMY GOODMAN: That's the award-winning Mexican reporter Javier Valdez. In May, he was gunned down. María?

MARÍA SALAZAR-FERRO: This was a particularly brutal killing and one that touched us personally. As you just saw, Javier was -- he received our award, but he was a personal friend of a lot of -- a lot of CPJ's staff. And it was just heartbreaking. I had personally been in touch with him right before this happened.

And I think Javier's case really shows the degree to which Mexican journalists are vulnerable. I mean, this guy was a renowned investigative journalist, and he really thought that his work and his position kind of protected him. But it didn't. His reporting put him in more danger, and there was not enough done to protect him.

He was one of six journalists we documented having been targeted in Mexico this year. Mexico is interesting because we noted a decrease in the targeting of journalists, the direct targeting of journalists, in retaliation for their work this year, but -- around the world, we saw a decrease. Not so in Mexico. In Mexico, it continued to happen.

AMY GOODMAN: Burma, two Reuters reporters just detained, who could face up to 14 years in prison for allegedly violating the country's Official Secrets Act?

MARÍA SALAZAR-FERRO: That's right. That's a colonial law that is still in the books. They were reporting on the Rohingya crisis and are being accused of having illegally obtained information from police. They face up to 14 years in prison. And like most of what we're seeing around the world, they're being punished and silenced for reporting on something critical.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the impunity governments feel? What happens to governments where journalists are killed? What do governments do in Turkey, in China? I mean, these are the governments that are imprisoning them.

MARÍA SALAZAR-FERRO: Right. So, there are -- there's China, Turkey, Egypt --

AMY GOODMAN: Egypt.

MARÍA SALAZAR-FERRO: -- that are imprisoning journalists, but there's also -- that's one problem. Then there's a second really large problem around the world in terms of being able to do your work as a journalist, and that's impunity in killings of journalists. That's a problem that we've seen in Mexico continue throughout the last decade. When a government does not punish, does not go after the killers of journalists, this just emboldens more attacks and more killings of journalists.

AMY GOODMAN: What are you calling for at CPJ?

MARÍA SALAZAR-FERRO: In terms of impunity? You know, we're calling the international community to shed a light on this. And we're calling on governments, like the government of Mexico, to investigate and punish those who are killing journalists.

AMY GOODMAN: And, overall, these two reports -- one on arrests, one on killings -- what do you, overall, hope to accomplish?

MARÍA SALAZAR-FERRO: You know, we really think that the international community and pressure, international pressure, is one of the best weapons we have to protect journalists. We are calling on the international community to pressure governments, like the Turkish government, like the Chinese government, to release journalists, and to call on Mexican authorities to investigate, and protect journalists who are doing their job.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you so much for being with us, María Salazar-Ferro, director of the Committee to Protect Journalists Emergencies Department.

And that does it for our show. Democracy Now! now accepting applications for our paid, year-long news fellowship. Details at democracynow.org.

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Hurricane #MeToo

Thu, 12/28/2017 - 21:00
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#GOPTaxScam Equals a Big Win for Investors in Mass Incarceration

Thu, 12/28/2017 - 21:00

(Photo: Clemens v. Vogelsang)

In these troubling and surreal times, honest journalism is more important than ever. Help us keep real news flowing: Make a donation to Truthout today.

Investors in the private prison industry in the US will see major tax cuts under the new Republican tax law, making the unpopular law beneficial for those who count on the country's mass incarceration crisis for financial gain.

Investments in for-profit prisons will go from 39.6 to 29.6 percent, thanks to the industry's classification within the tax code.

In a move critics including Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) have called "unjust" and "unfair," private prison corporations including CoreCivic (formerly the Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA) and the Geo Group have been structured as "real estate investment trusts" since 2013. The companies have argued that by housing inmates for the government, they operate in the same way as any company that charges a tenant rent. The restructuring has allowed the companies to pay far less than the corporate tax rate they paid prior to 2013, and now those who own private prison shares will benefit as well.

"It's going to be great for the investors, banks and hedge funds that...are dependent on increased incarceration and criminalization," Jamie Trinkle of the racial and economic justice coalition Enlace, told the Guardian.

Investors in the $4 billion industry can expect to see an additional $50 million in earnings from dividends in 2018, according to the Guardian.

Private prisons have found an ally in President Donald Trump and his administration, following efforts by President Barack Obama to phase out the use of for-profit detention facilities. The Geo Group hosted its annual leadership conference at one of the president's golf clubs shortly before being awarded a government contract to run an immigration detention center.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions also quickly reversed Obama's directive to move away from the use of for-profit prisons, arguing that doing so would impair the government's "ability to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system." Critics have pointed to reports like one released in 2016 by the Justice Department's own Office of the Inspector General, which found that private prisons are far less safe than those run by the government.

They've also urged companies to divest from the for-profit incarceration industry as a way of limiting private prisons' power. Enlace has targeted investors in CoreCivic and Geo Group, successfully pressuring cities, universities, and financial institutions to end their investment in the businesses and their major lenders.

On social media, critics denounced reports of even more profits for those who have a stake in mass incarceration.

Just in case you needed one more reason to find the GOP tax bill abhorrent, investors in private prisons are set to collect millions of dollars from it. https://t.co/TOYxpNZpZf

— Clint Smith (@ClintSmithIII) December 28, 2017

No shareholder or corporate executive should be making money from putting other people in jail. We have to end the use of private prisons in the United States.

— Ro Khanna (@RoKhanna) December 27, 2017
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Trump's "America First" Security Strategy Imperils the US

Thu, 12/28/2017 - 21:00

President Trump walks to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House December 21, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: RENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP / Getty Images)

The theme of Donald Trump's new National Security Strategy is "America First." But it will make the US more unpopular and vulnerable to external threats. It is incumbent on us all to continue and escalate our resistance to the Trump regime. The future of the United States and indeed, the world, depends on it.

President Trump walks to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House December 21, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: RENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP / Getty Images)

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Last week, with great fanfare, Donald Trump rolled out his new National Security Strategy (NSS). Its guiding theme is "America First." An analysis of the 55-page document, however, reveals a program that renders the United States more unpopular and vulnerable to external threats.

Trump's plan takes Barack Obama's policy of "American exceptionalism" to a new level. In his speech accompanying the NSS's release, Trump stated, "America has been among the greatest forces for peace and justice in the history of the world."

Yet Trump has not only continued but also escalated the Bush-Obama wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, dropped Tomahawk missiles on Syria, threatened North Korea and Iran, intensified airstrikes against Muslim countries, and fanned the flames of conflict in the Middle East.

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

Trump's NSS stresses military might but makes scant reference to diplomacy. His administration is building 10 new aircraft carriers worth $13 billion each as a counterweight to China, and expanding the US nuclear weapons program to the tune of $1 trillion over the next 30 years.

Nuclear weapons are "the foundation of our strategy to preserve peace and stability by deterring aggression against the United States, our allies, and our partners," according to the NSS. But Trump has dangerously escalated tensions with North Korea, providing that country with increasing incentives to develop nuclear weapons that reach around the world.

And by refusing to recertify Iran's compliance with the nuclear agreement, in spite of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency's finding to the contrary, Trump is further imperiling peace.

The NSS's brief mention of working with international organizations is belied by the Trump administration's abiding contempt for the United Nations. The UN Charter was created in 1945 by the countries of the world to collectively restore and maintain international peace and security.

As with Trump's domestic program, the NSS makes no pretense of concern for human rights in other countries. This is evidenced in practice by Trump's unwavering support for Israel's brutal occupation of Palestinian lands, including, most recently, his declaration that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. The NSS accurately states, "for generations the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has been understood as the prime irritant preventing peace and prosperity in the region."

But the NSS minimizes Israel's central responsibility for the conflict, stating, "the threats from radical jihadist terrorist organizations and the threat from Iran are creating the realization that Israel is not the cause of the region's problems."

In defiance of nearly all other nations, Trump's Jerusalem declaration endangers world peace. Indeed, last week, the UN Security Council voted 14-1, with a US veto, to condemn Trump's characterization of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. And in a rarely used procedure called Uniting for Peace (UFP), the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly followed suit. UFP allows the General Assembly to take measures to restore international peace and security when the Security Council is unable or unwilling to act. By utilizing UFP, which requires a two-thirds vote, this resolution has greater force than other General Assembly decisions. The International Court of Justice upheld the legality of UFP in its 1962 advisory opinion.

Richard Falk, former UN Special Rapporteur for Palestinian Human Rights, told Truthout that, "What is already evident on the basis of [Trump's Jerusalem] decision itself is the severe damage done to the global and regional leadership reputation of the United States."

While setting forth the goal of being an "energy-dominant nation," the NSS gives short shrift to "the importance of environmental stewardship." Obama's 2015 NSS, on the other hand, correctly stated that climate change was an "urgent and growing threat to our national security." Yet Trump's NSS does not recognize the threat of climate change. And in spite of increasingly extreme and unseasonal weather events such as recent hurricanes and wildfires, Trump has alarmingly and irresponsibly pulled out of the Paris climate accord.

The four pillars of the NSS, according to Trump, are protecting the US homeland, promoting US prosperity, achieving peace through strength and advancing US influence in the world. 

Pillar I: Protect the Homeland

The NSS singles out unauthorized immigration as a threat to the homeland, but also implicitly attacks authorized immigration as well. It states that residency and citizenship decisions "should be based on individuals' merits and their ability to positively contribute to US society, rather than chance or extended family connections." This policy leads to the separation of families and makes us no safer.

Pillar I stresses securing our borders "through the construction of a border wall," embodying Trump's campaign mantra. There is no evidence that an expensive border wall will secure US borders or make us safer.

"The United States rejects bigotry and oppression," according to Pillar I. Yet Trump has instituted three iterations of a Muslim ban, which would exclude from the United States immigrants from six Muslim-majority countries, as well as North Korea and Venezuela.

The Trump administration has also drastically cut back on accepting refugees from Syria, whose people are suffering from a prolonged, tragic civil war.

Pillar I pledges the US government will "help communities recover and rebuild" after natural and other disasters. Yet Trump has failed to meaningfully respond to the devastation wrought by the recent hurricane in Puerto Rico, which is part of the United States.

Pillar II: Promote American Prosperity

One subsection of Pillar II, called "Reduce the Debt Through Fiscal Responsibility," cites "modernizing our tax system" as a way to "make the existing debt more serviceable." Ironically, at Trump's urging, the GOP-controlled Congress passed a radical tax overhaul that will reportedly add $1.5 trillion (or more) to the debt in the next 10 years. This is the height of irresponsibility.

Moreover, the United Nations has just conducted an investigation of extreme poverty in the United States, with disturbing results. It concluded that the prevalence of poverty and inequality "are shockingly at odds with the [US's] immense wealth and its founding commitment to human rights." The report documented a rise in poverty that disproportionately affects women and people of color as well as many white Americans. Homelessness, police surveillance, criminalization of poverty and unsafe sanitary practices were also flagged as problems.

Yet documentation of poverty in the United States is conspicuously absent from Trump's NSS. In fact, Pillar II cites "unnecessary regulations" as problematic. Deregulation serves the interest of the wealthy. Since he took office, Trump has eliminated hundreds of regulations that protect health, safety and workers.

Pillar III: Preserve Peace Through Strength

This pillar identifies China, Russia, Iran, North Korea and jihadist terrorist groups as "actively competing against the United States and our allies and partners." It stresses diplomacy "short of military involvement" as "indispensable." Yet Trump castigated Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for pursuing diplomacy with North Korea while escalating the war of words and pushing punishing sanctions against that emerging nuclear power. Although Pillar III pays lip service to the "law of armed conflict," Trump's actions have violated those rules.

Pillar IV: Advance American Influence

Pillar IV states, "Around the world, nations and individuals admire what America stands for. We treat people equally and value and uphold the rule of law." But since taking office, Trump has celebrated white supremacists, pardoned racist Sheriff Joe Arpaio and ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. He has also consistently violated US and international law.

The United States sells weapons and provides military advisers to Saudi Arabia, which enables the Saudis' illegal bombing and medical/food/fuel blockade of Yemen, the poorest Arab country. This has resulted in famine and an outbreak of cholera affecting millions of Yemenis, particularly children. California Democratic Representatives Ted Lieu and Ro Khanna both warned that such actions expose US officials to criminal liability for aiding and abetting Saudi war crimes in Yemen.

This pillar admits that the UN "can help contribute to solving many of the complex problems in the world." It emphasizes that the "United States supports the peaceful resolution of disputes under international law." Yet the administration reacted to the Security Council and General Assembly's rejections of Trump's Jerusalem-as-capital-of-Israel declaration by threatening countries that voted against it with loss of foreign aid. Moreover, Trump threatened to cut off funding to the UN itself, the most significant peacekeeping organization in the world.

Resist Trump's Agenda

Increasing disillusionment with Trump's policies and, most recently, his unpopular new tax bill, may lead to the loss of a Republican majority in one or both houses of Congress in the 2018 midterm elections. It is incumbent on us all to continue and escalate our resistance to the Trump regime. The future of the United States and indeed, the world, depends on it.

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Doing Less With Less: Mental Health Care in Mississippi

Thu, 12/28/2017 - 21:00

The state of mental health care in Mississippi has been in freefall for years. As a consequence of the ripple effects of the financial crisis, Mississippi saw its state support for mental health care slashed by $42 million from 2009 to 2011, roughly 15 percent of the Department of Mental Health's budget. The cuts continued in 2017 and the consequences of a refusal to fund adequate mental health care are showing up throughout state-funded institutions. 

A national recession. Years of state budgets cuts. It's no surprise requests for mental health resources for prisoners are routinely rejected in Mississippi. (Image: Lauren Walker / Truthout)

The state of mental health care in Mississippi has been in freefall for years.

As a consequence of the ripple effects of the financial crisis, Mississippi saw its state support for mental health care slashed by $42 million from 2009 to 2011, roughly 15 percent of the Department of Mental Health's budget.

The state, which had 1,156 psychiatric beds in 2010, has just 486 today.

In 2016, after years of failing to heed warnings from federal prosecutors, Mississippi was sued by the U.S. Department of Justice for failing to deliver adequate care to its residents.

The cutbacks in funding, however, have only continued, with another $14 million of cuts coming in 2017, amounting to another 6 percent of the Department of Mental Health's budget.

The consequences have been grim: Just last month, Mental Health America, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving mental health services, issued a state-by-state scorecard for mental health care. Mississippi ranked last in access to care.

Amid such a wholesale evisceration of mental health care, no one in Mississippi is surprised that requests for money to address the state's backlog of prisoners awaiting basic mental health evaluations have been routinely denied or ignored. Those prisoners may be legally innocent; they may have waited for months, even years, for an evaluation involving their competency to stand trial. But they are not a priority.

The forensic unit at the state hospital where those evaluations take place had 35 total beds in the 1980s, 15 for pretrial evaluations. The number haven't changed since, despite repeated requests from the officials at the Department of Mental Health for money to expand the number of beds to 60 and improve the building's safety.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, the state's top law enforcement official, took a shot at trying to change things. On Feb. 5, 2015, Hood wrote a letter to the governor. He recommended spending $15 million to remake and expand the forensics unit.

"We currently have a dire problem in our criminal justice system," Hood wrote.

The proposal went nowhere. Just as others like it had before.

Today, Hood, who is considering a run for governor, said he expects Mississippi's health care failings, including the forensic unit, will be the target of another lawsuit. A court will step in, Hood said, and likely a federal one.

It's been a familiar experience for the state Department of Mental Health.

In 2010, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law sued, alleging that Mississippi's mentally ill children were unnecessarily institutionalized and didn't have access to care in their community. The lead plaintiff was a 17-year-old boy who had undergone five hospitalizations, and spent time in 10 group homes and five residential treatment facilities. The suit was settled last summer when the last remaining plaintiff moved from a state hospital into a community setting.

In December 2011, the Department of Justice announced the results of its own investigation into Mississippi's mental health care system. It did not like what it found. In a letter, the DOJ warned Mississippi that it violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by over-institutionalizing adults with mental illness.  A DOJ findings letter accused Mississippi of badly serving its population and relying on models that would barely have been considered modern 50 years ago. The DOJ found that Mississippi spent more money proportionally on institutions and less on community care than any other state.

In one survey of the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield in 2014, the Department of Justice found that 55 percent of the 206 adults in shorter-term care had been admitted two or more times before. Just over 11 percent had 10 prior admissions. One man, a 27-year-old, according to the DOJ, had over 22 prior admissions.

The DOJ had come after other states over the same issues. Delaware had received a similar letter in 2010 and settled in 2011, entering into a five-year agreement that resulted in mobile crisis teams, more housing for the mentally ill, a 24-hour crisis hotline and a reduction in inpatient stays. Georgia got its letter in 2009 and fought what became a $200 million lawsuit before settling. Mississippi negotiated for five years before the DOJ finally sued in 2016. Mississippi has decided to fight the suit.

A number of state lawmakers say all budget decisions are ultimately made by the governor, lieutenant governor and Speaker of the House. Gov. Phil Bryant's spokespeople ignored multiple requests for comment. Requests for comment made to the offices of the lieutenant governor and the Speaker of the House were declined.

"Nobody thinks about mental health until they have a family member in need," said Jay Hughes, a Democratic state representative who has made mental health a priority. He said the governor and legislative leaders didn't "give a rat's ass."

The consequences of a refusal to fund adequate mental health care can be quantified at Whitfield, the once formidable state hospital just outside Jackson. Gone is the community services division; the 29-bed acute medical psychiatric service unit, which provided services to people with severe mental disorders who needed close monitoring; the 42-bed male chemical dependency unit, which treated men with substance abuse disorders. (The state announced recently that it will reinstate 25 of the 42 beds.)

In addition to the state institutions, Mississippi has a network of regional mental health and crisis centers that offer people emergency services and outpatient therapy. But they, too, are cash-strapped and can't keep up with an increased demand.

The Department of Mental Health is governed by the Board of Mental Health. The board has nine members, appointed in staggered terms by the governor and confirmed by the senate. The board appoints the agency's executive director. But while the board is able to set policy, they are entirely dependent on the legislature for funding.

"They're a punching bag," Tom Miles, a Democratic state representative, said of the Department of Mental Health.

The budget cuts last year forced the mental health department to shed 650 jobs. Many of the employees left, including those who work directly with patients, make about $8 per hour. The turnover rate as of 2017, according to Robert Landrum, chair of the state board of mental health, is 48 percent.

Landrum knows this intimately. He has a son in one of Mississippi's mental health facilities. When a direct care worker leaves, his son spirals for days, Landrum said. One day, his son's dorm supervisor was gone. Two days later, Landrum saw her at McDonald's, working as a chef supervisor.

"She said, 'I just can make more money at McDonald's,'" Landrum said at a legislative luncheon this year.

Lee Anne Livingston Palmer also sees the problems firsthand. She's the chancery clerk of Scott County, Mississippi, and part of her job involves overseeing involuntary commitments to mental facilities. She sees people cycle back and forth past her desk who are released out of an institution without any transitional care and then lose the ability to function without structure. She wishes there were better community resources or group homes to ease the transition.

"I'm here to tell you, there are some folks that really need that life-long stabilization," Palmer said. "They need that life-long care, because they cannot function in society on their own. They won't take their medicines. They'll end up getting hurt themselves."

Or hurting others.

Tyler Haire, who waited four years in the Calhoun County jail for a psychiatric evaluation after stabbing his father's girlfriend, had spent many of his first 16 years in need of care he never got.

The scorecard done by Mental Health America this fall found that just over 11 percent of youngsters in Mississippi suffering from severe depression receive any form of care. In Minnesota, the highest-ranked state in the category, 40 percent of youngsters do.

Reb McMichael has run the forensic unit at Whitfield since 1990. Several years ago, at a panel discussion at the University of Mississippi, he spoke bluntly about the state's vulnerability to violence in the face of such scarce mental health care.

"I don't know quite how to get at the cost of not providing the treatment people need, but I can tell you it's tremendous," McMichael said. "One dead child. One dead grandmother. And it happens all the time."

Private, for-profit health care companies have moved in to fill the void in other states that have scaled back their mental health services. But that has occasionally resulted in scandal: A Buzzfeed News investigation has exposed abuse after abuse by Universal Health Services, the nation's largest for-profit psychiatry chain. UHS has disputed Buzzfeed's findings.

Mississippi has its share of private operators, offering both inpatient and outpatient mental health care (Universal Health Services has four treatment facilities in Mississippi). The government itself contracts with private psychiatrists and psychologists to work at its institutions.

One of its larger forays into private contracting ended in turmoil. When Mississippi State Hospital closed its community arm in 2014, it contracted with a private health-care group named Guided Steps to help deal with patients. A legislative review board found that the private company managed to lose track of patients entirely.

"I remain wary of private, for-profit organizations," McMichael, chief of the forensics unit, wrote in an exchange of letters he had with the state mental health board. "But anything that might take some of these folks off of our plate would be worth looking into."

For now, Whitfield appears to be making do with the scant resources it has. It is offering free forensic training for Mississippi psychologists to expand the universe of people equipped to conduct competency exams. It is also helping with a pilot project with one of the state's regional mental health centers to provide jail inmates education in the basics of the judicial process.

The Department of Mental Health, for its part, no longer has any illusions about asking for added money. It has asked for flat funding in the 2019 fiscal year.

"That's a change and for them to come in and say we just need level funding when they've never done that," said Eugene Clark, a Republican state senator who chairs the appropriations committee. "Let's be realistic and say, 'Gee, it'd be a win if we don't get cut again.' Of course, everybody stood up and clapped when they said that."

Despite the department's modest request, the legislators tasked with drawing up budget recommendations nonetheless have suggested another $3 million cut for mental health in the upcoming year.

Categories: Latest News

San Francisco Is Designing a Plaza to Encourage Civic Activism and Protest

Thu, 12/28/2017 - 21:00

In San Francisco's famous Castro neighborhood, the plan is to redesign the public space above the Castro Muni Metro station -- called the Harvey Milk Plaza -- into an arena for staging rallies, peaceful assembly, street demonstration, protests and candle light vigils. This move to encourage public assembly is in contrast to a trend where state and local governments have stifled civil protests in recent years. 

The proposed redesign of the Harvey Milk Plaza aims to create a public space that enables -- rather than deters -- peaceful assembly. (Photo: James Carnes)

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In San Francisco's famous Castro neighborhood, the plan is to redesign the public space above the Castro Muni Metro station -- called the Harvey Milk Plaza -- into an arena for staging rallies, peaceful assembly, street demonstration, protests and candle light vigils. The plan's aim is to turn the Harvey Milk Plaza into a public square that encourages political activism and provides a "soapbox for many," according to The Architect's Newspaper.  

"We're trying to create a great urban transit center and a place where people can gather and express their opinions, protest, mourn, or celebrate," said Andrea Aiello. Aiello is the president of Friends of Harvey Milk, a community group that helped organize the international competition to redesign Harvey Milk Plaza. The Friends also helped gauge community support before selecting the winning design by local architecture firm Perkins Eastman. Aiello added that the new square would be a place "where people can come, learn, and be in the place where [Harvey Milk] stood as he spread his message of hope and inclusion." 

This move to encourage public assembly is in contrast to a trend where state and local governments -- through militarized law enforcement and legislation -- have stifled civil protests in recent years. In fact, in July 2016, UN Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai conducted an official trip to the United States and released a report the following year detailing an "increasingly hostile legal environment for peaceful protesters in some states."

The report cites as signs of a weakening of democracy the hostile response to a non-violent Black Lives Matter protest movement and an increasing corporate power in United States that actively discourages unionization. Kiai said, "It is at times like these when robust promotion of assembly and association rights are needed most."

This makes this San Francisco's neighborhood action stand out. The proposed redesign of the Harvey Milk Plaza aims to create a public space that enables -- rather than deters -- peaceful assembly.

Public protests in the streetscape, from the Boston Tea Party that sparked the American Revolution to the March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King gave his "I Have a Dream" speech, have helped shaped American principles, says Aaron Huey, founder and creative director of Amplifier, a Seattle-based civic arts organization.

"We do our work with our voices and songs, with marching feet, and with our hearts; and we have to use those tools to own every inch of daylight," said Huey, as he reflected on the role art and architecture have on freedom of speech, the right to assemble, civic discourse, and democracy.

Amplifier produced the "We the People" poster campaign featuring Muslim, Latino, and African-American women cloaked in stars and stripes. The posters sparked a national dialogue about American identity and became an essential part of the counter protests at the presidential inauguration and Women's March last January.

"Our visual landscape … is owned by whoever can pay the highest price, so grassroots movements don't often have any of that space. We want to fill that space with images and messages that wake people up," Huey said.

Currently, a giant rainbow flag soars above the Harvey Milk Plaza, marking it as sacred ground for LGBTQ civil rights history, but pavement and pedestrian areas around the plaza are better known for awkward stairs, unpaved grounds, and water drainage issues.

The new square -- projected to unveil in 2020 in tandem with improved accessibility of the station -- will feature ramped amphitheater steps that begin at the plaza's grounds and rise before flattening into a large central stage. From there, a second story of steps rise, creating a seating gallery for spectators to look down to the central stage. Signage will provide a timeline of key moments in the Castro community's march toward LGBTQ and civil rights. And LED candles will mimic the candlelight of the public remembrance vigils that have historically been held in the plaza.

Although community planners anticipate city zoning requirements and engineering limitations to force some revisions to the proposed design, Aiello says that the design will remain true to the overall intent to create a space that encourages public assembly.

There's already a history of civic assembly in Harvey Milk plaza. In the 1970s, Harvey Milk used his nearby camera store and the plaza as a campaign headquarters for his neighborhood activism to promote civil rights.

Milk once said, "You've got to keep electing gay people ... to know there is better hope for tomorrow. Not only for gays, but for blacks, Asians, the disabled, our senior citizens and us. Without hope, we give up."

In 1978, Milk advocated for an ordinance that protected gays from being fired for their orientations. Months later, he and then-San Francisco mayor George Moscone were assassinated. On November 27, the night of the assassination, more than 25,000 people gathered in the plaza for a candlelight vigil that has continued each November since then. And in 1985, the plaza was named after Harvey Milk.

Aiello said Milk and Mascone's legacy of LGBTQ activism lives on in modern-day community leaders who have stepped up. She says the public square redesign will help these leaders spread Milk's message across the city by providing them a place and a platform to organize.

"We're hoping with the reimagined Harvey Milk Plaza, it will inspire people to continue to work toward justice, inclusion, and equality as they remember Harvey's messages that hope is really important," she said.

This story was funded in part by a grant from the Surdna Foundation. 

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Your To-Do Guide for Winning the 2018 Midterms

Thu, 12/28/2017 - 21:00
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The year is wrapping up, and that means that we are on the brink of ringing in 2018 -- and midterm elections. Many have pegged this upcoming run to the polls as a major opportunity for progressives to wrestle government control from Republicans. Sure, we still have months to go before the election, but now is the time to start planning for victory in November.

Here is your step-by-step to-do list to ensure that you're ready for the next election.

1. Double Check That You Are Registered

Obviously it's important to ensure your voter registration if you have moved since the last election, gotten married or otherwise changed your name or location since the last time you cast a ballot. But it might not hurt to check regardless, especially if you live in a state that is big on purging voter rolls and marking people inactive if they go even one election without voting.

Here's a place that will help you double-check your registration, but be sure you do it early. Lots of states close registration a month or earlier before a primary or general election.

2. Find Out Your Primary/Caucus Date

The Senate upset in Alabama was stunning, but lets be honest, it probably wouldn't have happened if Luther Strange had received the GOP nomination instead of Roy Moore. In many places, voting in a primary or caucus to pick a nominee is as important as voting in the general. We can't win races without the right candidates on the ballot, so go make your vote count there, too.

3. Learn Which Races Are Happening

Obviously your House member will be up for reelection, but who else is on the ticket? Are you in one of the states with a senator up for reelection? Or is it a governor year? Maybe a special election to finish a term of a politician who resigned mid-year? Get a list together early so you can follow the candidates, and keep updating it -- you never know what races may suddenly end up on the 2018 ballot.

Also, don't forget your local races -- state House and Senate, city council and board races. Local government determine how and if schools get funded, health care is expanded, sanctuary cities are created and anti-discrimination bills are passed. All politics is local.

4. Find a Race  -- and Commit to It

Want to finally see your corrupt congressman replaced? Or a woman in the governor's mansion? Maybe it's time to get that person who keeps pushing creationism off the school board? If a cause really matters to you, pick one race to be your focus -- and do whatever you can to make that one end in victory. Volunteer, knock on doors, shuttle voters to the polls, host a fundraiser or sport a lawn sign. If every person commits to the cycle, we can flip seats left and right.

5. Considering Running for Office

Don't see a candidate that you can support with all of your heart? Maybe that means you need to run!

It's still very early and lots of incumbents don't have challengers yet. Even if you live in the reddest of red districts, every incumbent Republican needs a challenger. And even if you don't win the race, you'll be getting your own issues into the arena, finding fellow activists and forcing a candidate to use resources to battle you, leaving fewer funds for more competitive races.

6. Donate Money

Campaigns are expensive, and lots of new politicians are hitting the scene who don't have extensive political backgrounds for networking or personal wealth to draw from. If you have money to spare, be sure to invest in candidates that aren't only progressive, but also come from underrepresented communities in politics: women, LGBT activists, people of color, the disabled, young adults and recent immigrants. Congress is predominately male, predominately white and oh-so-very Christian -- none of which represents the current face of the U.S.

Here are a few resources to check out:

The Collective PAC

Run for Something

Breakthrough Fund

SwingLeft

7. Read. Write. Comment. Talk

Be an informed voter and an informed advocate. Read all news sources, both to know the truth and what the other side is alleging. Send letters to the editors or comment on friends' social media if they are spreading mistruths. Write editorials about the issues and the candidates best set to address them. Talk to your friends, your neighbors and your family about who you are supporting and why. Every vote matters, and you can be a one-person canvassing campaign all on your own.

8. Vote

Nothing matters in the end, though, except whether or not you turn out on election day. Vote for the best candidate -- yes, even if that means “the lesser of two evils.” As we learned from 2016, protest votes hurt -- they harm immigrants, minorities, women, the environment, the country and democracy itself. If you can't bring yourself to commit to any other action on the list, voting is the one thing you absolutely must do if we are to take back the power.

Categories: Latest News

Vet Them Now or Vet Them Later

Thu, 12/28/2017 - 06:06
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One of the few "successes" of the Trump administration has been the rapid pace of nominations to the federal bench. When Trump took office last January, there were more than 100 judicial vacancies, including one on the Supreme Court. As of early November, Trump had put forward 58 names to fill those slots, including 18 for the federal appellate courts. Although Republicans are generally more invested in the ideology of the courts than Democrats, to some, Trump is mounting nothing less than a complete a makeover of the federal courts. 

And that's just the way some conservatives want it. Carrie Severino, policy director of the conservative Judicial Crisis Network told The Daily Signal, "President Trump and his allies in the Senate campaigned on the promise to remake our federal courts…" 

Republicans tend to go for ideological extremes in their nominees. While Democrats tend to steer toward the middle of the road. Think plain vanilla Merrick Garland as President Obama's last Supreme Court nominee and the norms GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell broke to thwart his nomination, and then going on to change Senate rules to win confirmation of Trump's more ideologically extreme choice of Neil Gorsuch. 

The Senate is also toying with the idea of getting rid of blue slips, a traditional process where the home Senator of a judicial nominee can raise an objection to a nomination. If blue slips go, then packing the courts with Trump nominees could move at warp speed. 

As of this writing, the Senate has confirmed one Supreme Court justice, 12 nominees to the federal appellate courts, and six nominees to the federal district courts. According to Axios, a dozen confirmations to the federal circuit courts is a record for a first-year president. 

Abandoning the practice of past presidents, Trump has refused to submit his nominees to the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary for evaluation before they are announced. Perhaps it is merely pique, but a majority of the 15-member panel has found nearly 8 percent of his nominees "not qualified." This frequency of "not qualified" ratings is no small thing. In the 27 years ending in 2016, in both Democratic and Republican administrations, a majority of the panel only found less than one percent (0.7 percent) of nominees "not qualified." 

Indeed, some of the Trump's selections seem like peculiar picks for the federal judiciary. For instance, it is positively painful to watch this video of Matthew Peterson, currently a member of the Federal Election Commission, reveal how little he knows about litigation during questioning by Sen. John Kennedy, a Republican from Louisiana. Peterson withdrew his nomination to the Washington, DC federal district court the next day. 

Then there were the curious nominations of Brett Talley and Jeff Mateer. Talley, 36, who had practiced law for all of three years and never tried a case, sought a lifetime appointment to the federal district court in the Middle District of Alabama. And the ABA did not pull its punches with this one. The panel unanimously found him unqualified. 

If that weren't bad enough, Talley's nomination was also complicated by the fact that he is married to Ann Donaldson, the chief of staff to the White House counsel Donald McGahn. Donaldson is a witness in Robert Mueller's investigation into the firing of the FBI Director James Comey. The nomination of Donaldson's husband to the federal bench at least raised the question of whether the White House was trying to tamper with a witness. 

After Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa) announced "he would advise the White House not to proceed" with the nomination, Talley withdrew. The same fate befell Mateer, who was tapped for a judgeship in the federal district court in the Eastern District of Texas. 

Mateer's problem wasn't a lack of experience, he's currently first assistant attorney general of Texas, but his on-the-record statements that were deemed too extreme even by GOP standards. In 2015, when he was general counsel of the First Liberty Institute, Mateer said that transgender children are proof "Satan's plan is working." He also predicted that the legalization of same-sex marriage would lead to "disgusting" forms of matrimony. "I submit to you that there'll be no line there," Mateer remarked. "Why couldn't four 4 people wanna get married? Why not one man and three women? Or three women and one man?" These sort of comments do not demonstrate what is commonly known as "judicial temperament." 

If Trump persists in nominating such a ragtag bunch of federal jurists, keep an eye on them. If they disgrace themselves on the bench, they could be impeached. Lately, impeachment has been thought of as a possible response to Mueller's investigation of Trump. At the moment, however, presidential impeachment seems remote. A GOP-controlled House would be unlikely to pass articles of impeachment, and a GOP-controlled Senate would be even less likely to convict. 

And while it's true the Congress tried only once to remove a Supreme Court Justice, the unsuccessful impeachment of Samuel Chase in 1805, there actually is a fairly extensive record of lawmakers forcing lower court judges from the bench. Since 1803, 15 federal judges have been impeached. Eight were convicted by the Senate, four were acquitted, and three resigned before trial. Put another way, a judge's chances of survival once they are impeached by the House is only about 26 percent. 

The most recent impeachment was in 2010 for G. Thomas Porteous, Jr., a judge in the Eastern District of Louisiana. Among other things, Porteous was accused of accepting cash and favors from lawyers who appeared before him. The Senate convicted him on four articles of impeachment and he left the bench. 

Admittedly, 15 judicial impeachments in 215 years make them a relatively rare occurrence. But if Trump persists in nominating unsuitable people, and the Senate persists in the confirming them, then the vetting that should have been done on the front end, may end up being done on the back end through impeachment.

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