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The 10 Most Contaminated Foods in Your Fridge You Need to Trash Right Now—and Healthier Alternatives

Wed, 2017-06-28 02:30
Reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals by replacing some of the toxic foods lurking in your fridge.

As ubiquitous as chemical contamination is in our environment, we often don’t think about our food supply as carrying a high chemical load. But it can—and does. Much of this is added through industrial farming methods, food processing and packaging. Not all of food contamination comes from these industrial activities, however, and awareness can go a long way toward protecting yourself and your family from exposure.

Fortunately, you can flip the switch to have a healthier diet to reduce your chemical exposure. Here are 10 of the most contaminated foods in your refrigerator that you should throw away right now—and healthy alternatives. 

1. Mustard

(image: Yuriy Golub/Shutterstock)

We all know the look of the plastic mustard squeeze bottle that is an iconic image of convenience food in the U.S., a mainstay of backyard barbeques and picnic tables. 

Also: Processed foods and drinks (including unexpected ones, such as cheap beer).

Chemicals of Concern: Food dyes, preservatives, chemicals to adjust textures, emulsifiers, natural and artificial flavorings, plasticizers.

The problem: Concerns include cancer, ADHD and gut-health disruption. Environmental Working Group has a thoughtful discussion of 12 harmful additives and how to avoid them.

Simple switch: Choose food and drinks without chemical additives. Look for artisan producers.

Tips: Shop at health food stores, read labels, call companies for ingredients when labels don’t list additives and eat real food.

2. Unfiltered and/or bottled water and drinks

(image: photo/Shutterstock)

Water is a solvent so it is especially important that we store it in inert containers such as glass or stainless steel.

Also: Juice, soda, other drinks stored in polycarbonate, other plastic, or aluminum cans (as in seltzer); unfiltered water.

Chemicals of concern: Packaging containing bisphenol-A (BPA) (polycarbonate), plastics, aluminum; ground water and municipal water contaminants; #1 Polyethylene terephthalate, PET or PETE (disposable soft drink, juice, water bottles; resins can contain flame retardants; aseptic packaging); #2 HDPE (cloudy milk and water jugs); resins can contain flame retardants, #3 PVC (some soft beverage bottles contain PVC); #7 Polycarbonate (a plastic that contains BPA).

The problem: Water and drinks can be contaminated from chemicals such as BPA leaching out from the packaging, causing endocrine disruption; long–lasting chemicals stored in fat; carcinogens. It is hard to imagine any groundwater system in the world that isn’t contaminated, and municipal water filters a range of chemicals but not all and includes additives. Filtering water is the safest approach.

Simple switch: Drink filtered water and natural drinks stored in glass.

Tip: Note that BPA-free bottles does not mean they are free from endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

3. Bagels

(image: Dariia Belkina/Shutterstock)

Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's popular Roundup herbicide, has contaminated a wide swath of the U.S. food supply.

Also: Bread and wheat cereal; GMO foods such as soy, corn, canola, alfalfa, dried legumes, sorghum, grains, and seeds.

Chemicals of concern: Glyphosate “Roundup Ready” herbicide.

The problem: Glyphosate has been reported in scientific reviews to have a negative impact on gut health and cause gluten intolerance and even celiac disease. In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, classified glyphosate as a "probable carcinogen." Many non-GMO grains, seeds and legumes receive a dose of Roundup immediately prior to harvest—a process know as desiccation.

Simple switch: Choose organic, non-GMO labeled foods.

Tips: Look for the “Non-GMO” label or make your bagels at home with organic ingredients.

4. Cheese in plastic packaging

(image: 54613/Shutterstock)

Plastic tends to migrate into fatty foods, especially hot fatty foods, leaching endocrine disruptors. 

Also: Other foods and leftovers packaged or stored in plastic, especially hot fatty foods (such as those heated in plastic a microwave)

Chemicals of concern: Leaching plasticizers such as phthalates and BPA; #1 Polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE) (disposable soft drink, juice, and water bottles; boil-in-a-bag foods, aseptic packaging); #2 High density polyethylene HDPE (tubs for butter and other dairy products); #3 polyvinyl chloride (PVC) (meat wrap, bottles for salad dressing); #4 low density polyethylene LDPE (cling wrap, sandwich bags, plastic squeeze bottles); #5 polypropylene (PP) (cloudy plastic water bottles; yogurt cups and tubs; food packaged hot, such as syrups; #6 polystyrene (PS) (disposable hot beverage cups and plates, clamshell take-out containers; egg cartons); #7 polycarbonate (hard plastic such as baby bottles, some reusable water bottles; stain-resistant food storage containers).

The problem: Almost all plastic products, including those advertised as "BPA-free," have been found to leach endocrine-disrupting chemicals, which are implicated in the precipitous rise in breast and prostate cancer as well as ADHD and other cognitive disorders.

Simple switch: Store in glass.

Tips: Make sure you don’t take cheese in plastic on picnics when the weather is warm. Stock up on glass food containers or stainless steel for children’s lunches and snacks when glass containers could be dangerous.

5. Take-out leftovers

(image: ThamKC/Shutterstock)

Many food wrappers and takeout containers have high resulting fluorine, an indicator of perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), a chemical similar to Teflon.

Also: Polystyrene, paper coated with Teflon-like chemicals, plastic containers.

Chemicals of concern: #6 polystyrene (PS) may leach styrene; plastic migration into food from plastic containers; PFC.

The problem: Endocrine-disrupting chemicals, industrial chemicals stored in fat, neurotoxic chemicals in polystyrene, Teflon-like chemicals that are long-lasting in the environment and our bodies.

Simple switch: Glass; food-grade butcher’s paper.

Tip: California is the first state to ban PFCs.

6. Spaghetti sauce cooked in aluminum/non-stick pans and/or from cans

(image: Hurst Photo/Shutterstock)

Chemicals from the pans you cook with can leach into your food. Acidic foods such as tomato sauce are especially prone to leach chemicals from pots and cans.

Also: Anything cooked in non-stick or aluminum pans, canned food.

Chemicals of concern: Aluminum, perfluorooctanic acid (PFOA), BPA and other plasticizers.

The problem: Aluminum and/or non-stick pan PFOA contamination migrating into food. PFOA is long lasting in the body and is a likely carcinogen and endocrine disruptor, plasticizers are widely known to be endocrine disruptors, aluminum can accumulate in the brain with unknown consequences.

Simple switch: Cook in inert pans/materials, such as glass, baked enamel and stainless steel.

Tip: Anodized aluminum cookware has placed a hard, non-reactive surface over the aluminum, blocking the leaching. Because a can’s label says it is BPA-free doesn’t mean the replaced plasticizer isn’t an endocrine disruptor.

7.  Swordfish

(image: Marina Onokhina/Shutterstock)

Ocean water carries a lot of toxic chemicals, including neurotoxic mercury, and they find their way into the bodies of fish. The more long-lived and high on the food chain, the more toxic the fish can be.  

Also: Shark, king mackerel, tilefish, northern pike, marlin, tuna, imported Mahi Mahi, Atlantic and Pacific cod, Atlantic halibut.

Chemicals of concern: Mercury, heavy metals.

The problem: Mercury and other heavy metals are highly toxic to the peripheral nervous system and have a negative effect on the digestive and immune system; they can cause heart problems.

Simple switch: Track the healthiest fish to eat at Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.

Tip: As coal-fired plants are being reduced in number, the amount of mercury found in tuna, for example, is dropping. Track the progress at seafoodwatch.org.

8.  Strawberries

(image: KatyaPulina/Shutterstock)

Heavy industrial farm spraying leaves residues on fruit and vegetables.

Also: Spinach, nectarines, apples, peaches, pears, grapes, cherries, celery, tomatoes, potatoes, and sweet bell and hot peppers. (This list is from the May 2017 “Dirty Dozen” report by the Environmental Working Group.)

Chemicals of concern: Pesticides, herbicides.

The problem: Neuorotoxic, carcinogenic.

Simple switch: Buy organic.

Tip: Buy foods from the list of the safest “Clean Fifteen” non-organic foods.

9.  Full-fat milk

(image: Dan Groy/Shutterstock)

Animals high on the food chain can have high concentrations of industrial chemicals stored in their fat. Humans are at the top of the food chain.

Also: Other foods high on the food chain, such as beef, pork, chicken, fish, and other dairy.

Chemicals of concern: PCBs (insulators and coolants), PBDEs (flame retardants), dioxin and DDT.

The problem: The chemicals are long-lasting in the environment and in our bodies. They can cause cancer, liver damage, birth defects, reproductive disorders and more, depending on the contaminant.

Simple switch: As often as you can, eat low on the food chain, such as organic produce, grains and legumes.

Tip: Prioritize a plant-based, low-fat diet.

10. Peeled garlic cloves from China

(image: Photographee.eu/Shutterstock)

While sometimes difficult to isolate, much produce from China is heavily contaminated with lead and other heavy metals.

Also: Other foods imported from China have a strong probability of lead and heavy metal contamination; even so-called “organic” foods imported from China deserve scrutiny.

Chemicals of concern: Heavy metals such as lead.

The problem: Lead is very neurotoxic and can lower the IQ, heavy metals can cause a host of health problems including to the heart.

Simple switch: Buy U.S.-grown organic produce.

Tip: Country of Origin labeling is complex. Check out this excellent overview from the American Frozen Food Institute.

Protecting your health and the health of your family from the chemical assault of industrialized agriculture and toxic food packaging can seem daunting. But if you follow these simple tips, you're well on your way to becoming more aware of what kinds of foods to stay away from, and what kinds to buy. You'll soon find that keeping the toxic stuff out of your kitchen and home will become second nature.

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Elizabeth Warren Issues a Bold New Rallying Cry for the Democratic Party

6 hours 15 min ago
The Massachusetts senator says the time has come to call for universal health care.

As the GOP attempts to slash medicaid and repeal Obamacare in Congress, Sen. Elizabeth Warren is barnstorming her state of Massachusetts, advocating a single payer system that should, in her mind, be wholly adopted by the Democratic Party.

“President Obama tried to move us forward with health-care coverage by using a conservative model that came from one of the conservative think tanks that had been advanced by a Republican governor in Massachusetts,” she told the Wall Street Journal in an interview last week. “Now it’s time for the next step. And the next step is single payer.”

Warren, a member of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, has been on a tour in conservative districts in Massachusetts, reaching out to working-class voters who abandoned her party in the last election.

In Lowell, Warren said there was significant support for raising the minimum wage, expanding Social Security, forgiving student loan debt and cracking down on the financial services industry, the Journal reported. She argued that Democrats would be better served by campaigning on the progressive agenda, distancing themselves as much as possible from the toxic Republican party.

“The progressive agenda is America’s agenda. It’s not like we’re trying to sell stuff that people don’t want,” Warren said. “It’s that we haven’t gotten up there and been as clear about our values as we should be, or as clear and concrete about how we’re going to get there.”

While Warren is advocating for a single payer system on a national scale, Democrats in California saw their trial balloon shot down last week when Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, a Democrat, killed a bill pushing a state-based single payer system.

The legislation passed in the California Senate in early June, but critics of the bill called it “woefully incomplete” and felt holes needed to be filled before moving forward with a single payer system.

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This Trump Lawyer's Business Dealings Are as Slimy as His Most Famous Client's

6 hours 21 min ago
A new report reveals Jay Sekulow used a Christian charity to steer more than $60 million to his family.

More than 15,000 Americans were losing their jobs each day in June 2009, as the US struggled to climb out of a painful recession following its worst financial crisis in decades.

But Jay Sekulow, who is now an attorney to Donald Trump, had a private jet to finance. His law firm was expecting a $3m payday. And six-figure contracts for members of his family needed to be taken care of.

Documents obtained by the Guardian show Sekulow that month approved plans to push poor and jobless people to donate money to his Christian nonprofit, which since 2000 has steered more than $60m to Sekulow, his family and their businesses.

Telemarketers for the nonprofit, Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism (Case), were instructed in contracts signed by Sekulow to urge people who pleaded poverty or said they were out of work to dig deep for a “sacrificial gift”.

“I can certainly understand how that would make it difficult for you to share a gift like that right now,” they told retirees who said they were on fixed incomes and had “no extra money” – before asking if they could spare “even $20 within the next three weeks”.

In addition to using tens of millions of dollars in donations to pay Sekulow, his wife, his sons, his brother, his sister-in-law, his niece and nephew and their firms, Case has also been used to provide a series of unusual loans and property deals to the Sekulow family.

Attorneys and other experts specialising in nonprofit law said the Sekulows risked violating a federal law against nonprofits paying excessive benefits to the people responsible for running them. Sekulow declined to detail how he ensured the payments were reasonable.

“This is all highly unusual, and it gives an appearance of conflicts of interest that any nonprofit should want to avoid,” said Daniel Borochoff, the president of CharityWatch, a Chicago-based group that monitors nonprofits.

Sekulow, 61, is the president of Case and the chief counsel of its sister organization, the American Center for Legal Justice (ACLJ). He has become one of Trump’s most vocal defenders since joining the team of attorneys representing the president amid investigations into possible ties between his campaign and Russia.

Sekulow did not respond to a series of detailed questions from the Guardian.

His spokesman, Gene Kapp, said in an emailed statement: “The financial arrangements between the ACLJ, Case and all related entities are regularly reviewed by outside independent compensation experts and have been determined to be reasonable. In addition, each entity has annual independent outside audits performed by certified public accounting firms. Further, the IRS has previously conducted audits of the ACLJ and Case and found them to be in full compliance of all applicable tax laws.”

Sekulow is an ally of the conservative televangelist Pat Robertson and made his name in Washington by fighting against abortion rights and efforts to legalise same-sex marriage. 

He founded Case in 1988 to build on a successful appearance at the US supreme court on behalf of the group Jews For Jesus, after an earlier career as a real estate attorney ended in bankruptcy and legal disputes. Sekulow has gone on to use Case as a platform for legal action to defend Christians against perceived encroachments on their rights.

Case raises tens of millions of dollars a year, much of it in small amounts from Christians who receive direct appeals for money over the telephone or in the mail. The telemarketing contracts obtained by the Guardian show how fundraisers were instructed by Sekulow to deliver bleak warnings about topics including abortion, Sharia law and Barack Obama.

“It’s time to let the president know that his vision of America is obscured and represents a dangerous threat to the Judea-Christian [sic] values that have been the cornerstone of our republic,” one script from 2015 said.

A 2013 script warned listeners that Obama’s signature healthcare law, the Affordable Care Act, promised to give Planned Parenthood federal funding to open abortion referral clinics “in your child’s or grandchild’s middle school or high school”.

Sekulow has assured supporters that his organization “does not charge” for its services. “We are dependent on God and the resources He provides through the gifts of people who share our vision,” he wrote in a letter sent to contributors.

For years, the nonprofits have made a notable amount of payments to Sekulow and his family, which were first reported by Law.com. Since 2000, a law firm co-owned by Sekulow, the Constitutional Litigation and Advocacy Group, has been paid more than $25m by the nonprofits for legal services. During the same period, Sekulow’s company Regency Productions, which produces his talk radio show, was paid $11.3m for production services.

Sekulow also personally received other compensation totalling $3.3m. Pam Sekulow, his wife, has been paid more than $1.2m in compensation for serving astreasurer and secretary of Case.

Sekulow’s brother, Gary, the chief operating officer of the nonprofits, has been paid $9.2m in salary and benefits by them since 2000. Gary Sekulow has stated in Internal Revenue Service (IRS) filings that he works 40 hours per week – the equivalent of a full-time job – for each of the nonprofits. Filers are told to specify if any of the hours were spent on work for “related organizations”. He does not.

Meanwhile, a company run by Gary’s wife, Kim Sekulow, has received $6.2m since 2000 in fees for media production services and for the lease of a private jet, which it owned jointly with Jay Sekulow’s company Regency Productions. The jet was made available for the use of Jay and Pam Sekulow, according to corporate filings.

Jay’s two sons, and Gary’s son and daughter, have also shared at least $1.7m in compensation for work done for the nonprofits since 2000.

Federal law bars insiders at a nonprofit from receiving “excess benefit”, which is defined as payment exceeding the fair market value for goods or services the insider provides. If the IRS finds that an excess benefit has been paid, the recipient may be fined 200% of the benefit’s value, and the nonprofit could be stripped of its valuable tax-exempt status.

“I can’t imagine this situation being acceptable,” said Arthur Rieman, managing attorney at the California-based Law Firm for Nonprofits. “That kind of money is practically unheard of in the nonprofit world, and these kinds of transactions I could never justify.”

The way Sekulow’s nonprofits are set up may obscure how much money goes to his family, according to some experts.

Most payments to the Sekulows are made via Case and listed in Case’s annual filings to the US government. But Case actually fundraises and does business using the name ACLJ. Any donors examining ACLJ filings to see how their money was spent will actually be looking at paperwork for a separate entity, which does not mention Case’s payments to the Sekulows.

“The organizations should be merged to avoid confusion,” said Borochoff of CharityWatch.

In addition to receiving payments for salaries and contracts, the Sekulows have also entered into a series of unusual financial agreements and property deals with their own nonprofits.

In one arrangement, Case paid a company owned by Jay Sekulow to sublet office space from 1998 to 2002. The location was not publicly identified but in corporate filings during that period both Case and the company cited the same suite in an industrial park in Lawrenceville, Georgia, as their headquarters.

Case said in a government filing that the sublet deal was “based on fair market rate”. The then owners of the building told the Guardian that Sekulow’s company paid them $7,700 per month to rent the space, totalling $462,000 for the entire five-year lease. But previously unreported Case accounts say the nonprofit paid Sekulow’s company more than $700,000 for the sublet, attributing some of this total to telephone and utility bills.

“They are asking for trouble, because it would be so easy for them to overpay for services and enrich the people involved,” said Borochoff. “It would be prudent for their own protection to have independent oversight.”

In another deal, Sekulow’s wife Pam, Case’s treasurer and secretary, bought a “retreat property” in North Carolina from Case in 1998 with help from a $245,000 loan out of the nonprofit’s funds. The Case board, controlled by her family, then decided to forgive $217,742 of what Pam owed and count this as compensation, the previously unreported accounts say.

Having taken control of the property, the Sekulows then remortgaged it at market value, and continue to own it today. Case said in the accounts that the house sale to Pam Sekulow “represented estimated fair market value”.

Case separately loaned Jay Sekulow $209,968 in 1999. Over the following years, the Case board voted to forgive $211,305 of the loan and interest payments – more than the original amount Sekulow had borrowed – and classify all this as compensation.

These forgiven loan repayments were detailed each year in Case’s audited accounts, but were usually not listed in its annual “form 990”, a disclosure document that all tax-exempt organizations must file to the IRS and which is more readily available to the public.

In 2004, the Case board also wrote off $769,143 that it was owed by Amerivision, an Oklahoma-based firm selling telephone services where Jay Sekulow was a director. Amerivision had recently declared bankruptcy. Despite suffering such a loss from the relationship, Case lent Amerivision another $187,500 in 2005. The Case board further agreed to accept “donated equipment” from a production company owned by Sekulow instead of the $43,402 that company owed the nonprofit.

The Sekulows also received assistance from Case in their accommodation. A townhouse in Washington bought by Case with $1.5m in contributions from its supporters has been used as a residence by Sekulow’s son Jordan, who is a director of the nonprofit. Jordan and his wife remain registered to vote at the property.

For several years, Case leased yet another property it owned to Jay Sekulow’s parents. Case accounts said Sekulow’s parents paid the nonprofit $1,550 per month to rent the unidentified house, based on an estimate of “fair market rates”.

Legal experts said the arrangements raised questions. “While I can’t comment on the specific legality here, there certainly does appear to be an unusual number of related-party transactions,” said Jeffrey Tenenbaum, a Washington-based attorney who represents nonprofits. “Generally speaking, that would usually create significant risk of private inurement and impermissible private benefit.”

Attorneys said that in anticipation of questions being raised by any potential IRS audit, Case should have retained documentation justifying their expenditures, such as salary surveys, property appraisals and competitive bids for contracts.

“$60m is a lot of money,” said Charles Bridgers, an Atlanta-based attorney practising in nonprofit law. “If the IRS did an audit, they’d want to understand what they based that value on. We need to understand whether it might have conferred an excess benefit.”

 

 

 

 

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The World's Confidence in the United States Has Plummeted Since Trump Took Office

7 hours 3 min ago
Poll finds nations now have more faith in Putin to "do the right thing regarding world affairs."

Over 70 percent of the world lacks confidence in President Donald Trump's leadership abilities, according to a recent Pew Research Poll survey, which cites declining trust in U.S. leadership "to do the right thing regarding world affairs" among longtime U.S. allies like Germany, France, Japan, Mexico, and Canada.

Only Russia and Israel have seen an increase in approval of U.S. leadership since Donald Trump took the reins from President Barack Obama in January. According to the survey, 53 percent of Russians and 57 percent of Israelis are confident in Donald Trump's ability to lead the world. 

But U.S. favorability elsewhere is bleak. Only 22 percent of respondents expressed confidence that Trump will "do the right thing regarding world affairs," while Putin received a 27 percent confidence rating.

Under Obama, over 92 percent of Germans expressed confidence in U.S. leadership. With Trump in office, that number has fallen to 11 percent. In Mexico, where U.S. presidents have typically vacillated in favorability, Donald Trump received a dismal 5 percent confidence rating. 

The United States' declining favorability is largely a byproduct of Donald Trump's policies, according to the survey. Seventy-six percent of the respondents opposed Trump's campaign promise to build a 1,954-mile wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, and 71 percent disagree with Trump's withdrawal from major international climate change agreements. Over half of respondents disagree with Trump's travel ban from Muslim-majority countries, as well as his withdrawal from major free trade agreements and the Iran nuclear deal. 

In a Pew survey at the end of his final term, President Obama received a 64 percent approval rating. 

The GOP Has a Sinister Solution to Finding the Votes They Need for Their Health Care Bill

8 hours 41 min ago
Mitch McConnell and the White House plan to offer Republican holdouts a smorgasbord of "side deals."

The bad news? The evaluation of the new Senate Republican health care bill by the Congressional Budget Office shows that 22 million people will lose their health care over the next decade, most of those in the next year. 

But there’s good news. Stripping Americans of their health care turns out to be more lucrative than expected. With the massive cuts to both individual subsidies and even more massive cuts to Medicaid, the Republicans looked into the bottom of the their plan and found some change left over.

Republicans in the White House and in Congress were pleasantly surprised that the bill included more savings than they expected — and are trying to figure out if they can dole it out for votes.

The Senate has about $188 billion to play with

$188 billion represents a fraction of the cost of the plan. It’s not enough to reverse the cuts to Medicaid. It’s not enough to reverse the increase in what individuals would pay. It’s not enough to stem the bleeding, figurative and literal, that the bill will create. But while it won’t buy Americans health care, it can buy Republicans some votes.

White House and Capitol Hill officials are exploring potential deals to divvy up billions of dollars to individual senators’ priorities in a wide-ranging bid to secure votes for the imperiled GOP health care bill.

That makes today officially “side deal Tuesday,” as Mitch McConnell goes from senator to senator, offering to sweeten the deal. Which means that Republicans are moving toward a place where the bill not only puts 22 million Americans lives on the line, it does it to buy a few Republican senators something nice.

$188 Billion is still quite a bit of money—enough to drop the healthcare bills of those 22 million who are expected to lose coverage by $850 a year for the next decade. But of course, stripping coverage from individuals is how the bill generated these “savings” in the first place, and the idea of ‘sweeting the pot’ for Americans affected by the Republican bill doesn’t seem to be one of the options.

Instead, Senators and McConnell are browsing a smorgasbord of possible goodies.

One Senate aide said that Tuesday would be "all about side deals," and another person familiar with the discussions said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had already begun talking about private deals.

"There's no one-size-fits all to getting these people on board," said one White House official. "Each of them want different things and we have to figure out if there is a path."

There are some Republicans who have already made their selections from the menu ...

Among the possible changes: More spending for health savings accounts to appease conservatives such as Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee, according to three people familiar with the matter, and some additional Medicaid and opioid spending for moderates.

But Cruz and Lee would vote for the bill even if it promised to kick 200 million Americans off of insurance. Especially if it promised to kick 200 million people off of insurance. The temptation to pair off this pair simply so you don’t have to listen to them may be high, but the bulk of those billions are sure to be dangled in a particular place …

White House officials said they were increasingly looking to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) — and if the two maintained their opposition, the bill was likely dead. Senate leadership has largely written off Paul, and a Trump outside group has begun attacking Heller, drawing some head-scratching from Senate aides.

Say … what if the government was to buy a lot of coal. A lot of coal. From Kentucky, of course, because that the best, and just pile it up somewhere in … hmm, a brand new storage facility in Nevada? A strategic coal reserve against the day when we might need to load up a lot of trains with a product no one needs.

No matter where it goes, the end result is that the bill will save nothing, but cost a lot for both the 22 million who lose health care and the many millions more who get worse, more expensive health care.

That probably sounds a lot better to Trump and other Republicans than securing the health of Americans.

 

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CNN Panel Turns Ugly When Robert Reich Calls Trumpcare Exactly What It Is

9 hours 16 min ago
"This Republican bill is not a healthcare bill — it’s a tax cut for the wealthy."

In a Monday night segment on Anderson Cooper 360, President Bill Clinton’s former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich got into it with President Donald Trump’s former economic adviser Stephen Moore over the harm that may be caused by the Obamacare repeal bill.

“This Republican bill is not a healthcare bill — it’s a tax cut for the wealthy,” Reich said halfway through the otherwise civil segment. It was then that all hell broke loose.

As Reich went on to explain that the Affordable Care Act is “unraveling” due to the Trump administration’s lack of assurances to the insurance industry and the GOP’s unwillingness to fix the “slightly broken” healthcare act currently in place, Moore just shook his head.

“We haven’t even talked about Medicaid,” Reich said as Cooper tried to mediate.

As they began discussing how Medicaid will function under the Affordable Health Care Act, Moore began the argument that the ACA “forces people” to buy packages they can’t afford — a concept that seemed to incense Reich.

As the two men argued economic theory and risk pools, Reich seemed fed up with Moore’s arguments about the mandatory enrollment aspect of the ACA.

“Oh, please. Steve Moore, you’re just blowing smoke,” Reich concluded. “We’ve talked about this for years, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Watch the entire segment below via CNN.

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Stephen Colbert Takes Down Trump's Maniacal New Attack on Obama

9 hours 27 min ago
The president will blame his predecessor for anything, even if it means contradicting himself.

"Late Show" host Stephen Colbert has returned from his heavily surveilled trip to Russia to a bevy of new Kremlin collusion revelations in the United States.

"It's important to keep your eye on a comedian while he is in Russia, you know, doing jokes," Colbert opened. "I could be giving state secrets to the Russians."

"Oh wait," he said, pausing. "Somebody's already got that covered."

According to a new report from the Washington Post, President Obama knew about Russian President Vladimir Putin's ordered interference in the 2016 election as early as August of that year, but neglected to decisive action, largely because he assumed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton would prevail.  

"Now reportedly Obama agonized over what to do," Colbert continued. "He even authorized the planting of cyber weapons, the digital equivalent of bombs."

But even the post-election sanctions Obama imposed after the election were largely symbolic.

"Of course, President Trump is a well-known 'Russia hacked the election' denier," the "Late Show" host reminded his audience. "So naturally when he saw this Washington Post story, his reaction was completely consistent with all his previous statements."

"I'm just kidding," Colbert added. Trump tweeted:

Just out: The Obama Administration knew far in advance of November 8th about election meddling by Russia. Did nothing about it. WHY?

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 24, 2017

"That's right, there was no Russian hacking, period, fake news. Wait, it was Obama's fault?" Colbert asked, as Trump. "Russia stole our election and Obama let it happen? Thanks, Obama. No, seriously, thanks Obama, I'm president now, thanks."

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WATCH: Florida Cop Makes up Law to Ticket Black Man for Walking Without Identification

9 hours 36 min ago
The video quickly went viral after it was posted to Facebook.

According to the Miami Herald, a police officer in Jacksonville, Florida incorrectly cited a law requiring identification for drivers when giving a ticket to a black man for jaywalking and for not having an ID on him, as shown in a viral video the man in question posted on social media.

The video posted by 21-year-old Devonte Shipman on June 20 shows Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Officer J.S. Bolen confronting Shipman for jaywalking.

“Miami Beach, 1962?” the Herald report asked. “No, Jacksonville, 2017.”

When Shipman asked the officer what he’d done wrong, the cop told him that he was fining him for jaywalking, which costs $65. Bolen then asked the young man for his ID, and when he told the officer he didn’t have it, Bolen “snapped.”

“That’s another infraction,” Bolen said. “In the state of Florida, you have to have an ID card on you identifying who you are or I can detain you for seven hours until I figure out who you are.”

According to the Herald, however, the officer got the law wrong — Florida Statute 322.15 requires licensed drivers to always have their licenses when driving and can incur a $136 fine if they do not, but no such law exists for walking without a license.

“Bolen also gave Shipman a citation for failing to obey a pedestrian control signal, another $62.50 fine,” the Herald noted.

Watch video of the altercation below, via Blacktivist and Devonte Shipman.

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As Recycling Declines and Centers Close, the Homeless Are Really Screwed

Mon, 2017-06-26 17:15
People who redeem recyclables as their source of income are in a difficult situation.

In 1948, Samuel Brannan ran through the streets of San Francisco, shouting “Gold! Gold from the American River!” To this day, California has maintained an almost-magical allure: the Golden State, a place where wealth seeps from the earth and lingers in the air, a promised land of economic prosperity. And so over the last two centuries, when times are tough, emigres have flocked to the fields of yellow poppies in search of gold hidden in the soil or jobs as fruit pickers and reprieve from the horrors of the Dust Bowl. But like the Rush of the 1840s and the rumors of economic mobility during Great Depression, California’s latest guarantee to those in need—earning money collecting recyclables—is falling short.

In 1986, California lawmakers passed Assembly Bill 2020, known as the Bottle Bill, to encourage recycling and reduce litter by offering monetary redemption values on beverage containers. Up until recently, the bill has been wildly successful. The state has become a leader of environmental policy with Californians redeeming over 85% of all containers within the Bottle Bill guidelines, an amount that equals 5 billion units annually and consists of 20% of all beverage recyclables in the entire country. And as an added positive, thousands of California’s homeless have earned a steady income by collecting cans, glass, and plastic bottles and exchanging them for cash.

“This is how I eat,” a 52-year-old named Johnson told KQED News outside of Our Planet, a recycling center in San Francisco. “It gets us lunch, cigarettes, coffee, cat food; the basic necessities. It’s better than nothing.”

The sun has not yet risen over the hills, but the pavement outside of Our Planet is already crowded with collectors. Clutching garbage bags and leaning on shopping carts heaped with cans, glass, and plastic bottles, the collectors will patiently wait until 7:30 when the center opens and they can trade their findings for what they need—the money that will allow them to survive.

Johnson’s partner, Jackie, explains that he often heads out to collect materials at 11pm and returns in the morning. Most homeless people who collect do so at night, scouring event venues and sorting through blue bins before heading to recycling centers at daybreak, carrying somewhere between 3 to 10 bins of recyclables. Ors Csaszar, the owner of Our Planet, estimates that an average person waiting in line earns anywhere from $15 to $35 per day. Other studies have shown that people living in homeless encampments in nearby Fremont, Oakland, and Union City can earn as much as $50 to $100 per day.

The lives of many homeless are entirely dependent on the operation of recycling centers. However, over the last two and half years, more than 20% of these centers have closed in California. In January 2016, a single company announced it would be closing a grand total of 191 centers. With fewer locations to buyback goods, total redemption payback throughout the state has decreased by $3 million per month.

In 2016, following the shutdown of Alliance Recycling Center, right across the bay in Oakland, 400 homeless and marginally housed people lost their only source of income. For years, Alliance was essential to the city, serving as a rare form of economy and organization for those who mostly live without it. Food Not Bombs and church groups often provided bagged lunches to frequenters of Alliance. Richard, an East Oakland resident, told the East Bay Express that there “ain’t no other recycling place like this one. It’s like a community.”

In the months following, the closure left many people displaced. Mike, who spent 19 years bringing recyclables to Alliance, told the Street Spirit that he plans to “go someplace else” because the other centers in area, all much smaller than Alliance, will not be able to handle an influx of traffic. To many, the closing of the center was a sure sign of the creeping force of gentrification.

The closing of recycling centers like Alliance has twofold significance. In addition to uprooting the homeless, the decline is indicative the decreasing value of the American recycling system as a whole. From as early as pre-school, Americans are taught the importance of recycling, its beneficial impact, and the potential environmental catastrophe that would occur without it. Recycling continues to be a popular topic of conversation among politicians and celebrities, pandering to the needs of supporters who want a relatively easy way to feel as though they are making a positive impact.

The California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (known as CalRecycle) reported that recycling throughout the state has dropped below 80% for the first time in nine years, a decline that is occurring throughout the country.

Despite the national obsession with recycling in both policy and public discussion, a variety of economic factors makes recycling difficult to maintain. The low cost of oil is incentivizing manufacturers to simply make new products rather than use recycled goods. Furthermore, a lot of American recycled materials have previously been shipped overseas. However, in 2013, China put restrictions on imported waste, limiting the demand for American recyclables. New developments in technology are also reducing the need for raw materials because packaging producers can make cans and bottles thinner than ever before.

Although long heralded as one solution to environmental degradation, recycling may not have as much of an impact as one might think. As John Tierney wrote in the New York Times, “the recycling movement is floundering, and its survival depends on continual subsidies, sermons and policing.” He explains that, in reality, recycling actually poses little positive environmental impact compared to other waste management processes. While he concedes that recycling offers benefits in reducing greenhouse gases, he clarifies that “once you exclude paper products and metals, the total annual savings in the United States from recycling everything else in municipal trash—plastics, glass, food, yard trimmings, textiles, rubber, leather—is only two-tenths of 1 percent of America’s carbon footprint.”

Additionally, while recycling seems as simple as separating certain materials from the trash and hauling a blue bin out to the curb once a week, the system is often misused. People think that their broken Christmas lights can be recycled come January. And when their rubber garden hose pops a leak in spring, they think that they can recycle that too. Or they might just be lazy. Nevertheless, contaminated recycling is causing its value to decrease rapidly. When recycling programs were first implemented 30 years ago, the value of the recovered materials was intended to make up for the cost of the sorting, shipping and processing. But because of the increase of recycled materials being tainted with food waste and mixed-in non-recyclable materials—even a broken glass bottle can ruin everything in an entire bin—the whole system is declining in value.

A study by Rob Taylor of the State Recycling Program in the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality reported that the average market value of a ton of mixed recycled materials fell from $180 in 2011 to just over $100 over the following six years. That loss of about $80 per ton of recycled materials—a year’s worth of plastic bottles alone accounts for 300,000 tons—can no longer be used to keep open recycling centers.

So what is to be done? With the limited success of recycling, how can consumers make an environmentally conscious decision when dispelling their waste?

Thomas C. Kinnaman, an economist at Bucknell University, has proposed subsidizing the recycling of some metals, and imposing a $15 tax per ton of trash. With that system, the tax would take care of the environmental costs and recycling overall would decrease immensely.

Mark Murray, executive director at Californians Against Waste and an advocate of recycling, has other ideas about how the problem might be fixed. However, he similarly calls for subsidies on recycling. By offering subsidies to recycling centers, they would be able to cover their costs and continue to give money to the homeless in exchange for recyclable goods. The only question is, would giving value to the recycling of only some metals, as suggested in Kinnaman’s plan, be enough to help the homeless?

Until California and states across the nation implement legislation and policy changes to keep recycling centers in business, it is unclear how the homeless will make do under the failing system.

Why Isn’t Big Pharma Paying for the Harm It Caused Like Big Tobacco?

Mon, 2017-06-26 16:15
They got their claws in the opioid crisis and are milking it for all it's worth.

Late last year, the Senate approved $1 billion of taxpayer money for “opioid prevention and treatment programs” as part of the 21st Century Cures Act. Yes, taxpayers are stuck paying for the opioid crisis which Big Pharma created for no other reason than to make more money.

Once upon a time, narcotics were limited to post-surgery, post-accident and cancer pain because they are addictive. But cagey Pharma marketers, assuming that both younger doctors and patients had forgotten why narcotics were so heavily restricted, spun the lie that the narcotics were not addictive per se—that addiction boiled down to the individual person. Right. They began marketing narcotics for everyday pain and the result is the opioid and heroin crisis we have now.

When Big Tobacco was busted for a similar scheme—lying to consumers that its products were neither addictive or deadly—it was forced to pay $206 billion in the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement. [executives are pictured before Congress in 1994) Provisions include paying states, in perpetuity, for some of the medical costs of people with smoking-related illnesses. Why are taxpayers paying for the similar, Pharma-caused scourge?

Because drug ads account for as much as 72 percent of TV commercials and almost all media companies allow drug company representatives to serve as board members, mainstream media enables the deadly deception and pretends the opioid crisis "just happened" like the Zika virus or influenza. Recently, the New York Times said the controversy swirling around the new mental health czar was whether the opioid crisis should be treated with "the medical model of psychiatry, which emphasizes drug and hospital treatment and which Dr. McCance-Katz [the new czar] has promoted” or “the so-called psychosocial, which puts more emphasis on community care and support from family and peers.”

Nope, New York Times. The issue is about Pharma money pure and simple. The “medical model of psychiatry” also known as “addiction medicine” is a big, second line business for Pharma. People who were totally normal until Pharma hooked them on narcotics by marketing opioids for everyday pain are now said to have the “psychiatric disease” of an “addiction disorder” and need to be treated with more lucrative Pharma drugs. Ka-ching.

To get an idea of how lucrative addiction medicine has become, Bain Capital paid $720 million for CRC Health in 2006 and resold it for $1.18 billion in 2014. The National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment (one Pharma drug marketed for addiction) unashamedly admits it is industry funded to “Educate the public about the disease of opioid addiction and the buprenorphine treatment option; [and] help reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with patients with addiction disorders.” Addiction medicine is so lucrative, Amazon may start acquiring addiction chains!

Pharma is so camped out in the opioid crisis, insurance companies will no longer reimburse rehab facilities unless they use an expensive drug to treat the “disease.” The message of peers, patient advocates and former addicts, on the other hand, who know that more drugs is not the answer to drugs and that peer support is 100 percent free, is lost in the greed scramble.

In covering Dr. McCance-Katz’s appointment, the Times cites her support from the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Is that a joke? Both the APA and NAMI are so steeped in Pharma money they were investigated by Congress.

When Big Tobacco said its products were neither addictive or deadly it was forced to pay $206 billion in the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement. Why are US taxpayers paying for Pharma’s similar deception?

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GOP Health Care Plan Crushes Working-Class Blacks and Whites, but Not the Middle-Class Whites Who Elected Trump

Mon, 2017-06-26 15:56
Contrary to the media narrative, wealthier whites, not poorer ones, formed the GOP’s 2016 voter base.

As the drama crests this week surrounding possible Senate passage of an extraordinarily punitive health care bill, we should ask, why is the GOP so heartless? Why are Republicans bent on cutting access to care for the most vulnerable people, especially the poor—including the white working-class voters who were said to be a pillar of Trump’s base?

After the election, many in mainstream and progressive media said that Trump’s base, and indeed the wave that lifted the GOP into its congressional majority today, were white working-class voters who abandoned Democrats en masse. The Atlantic heralded Trump’s “blue-collar” rise on “class, not ideology.” The AP pointed to “both parties’ working-class whites.” Thomas Frank—whose 2004 book, What’s the Matter With Kansas, traced the rise of white conservatives—described Trump’s base as mostly “working-class whites” worried about the economy.

It turns out that most of the Americans who helped elect Trump and the GOP are white, but they are not poor. In his crusade to dismantle Obamacare and cut Medicaid’s future appropriations by a quarter, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is not turning on his voters; according to recently released national survey data, those who voted for Trump and the GOP in 2016 are overwhelmingly white, yes; but the majority of them are not poor and not working class.

“A few weeks ago, the American National Election Study—the longest-running election survey in the United States—released its 2016 survey data. And it showed that in November 2016, the Trump coalition looked a lot like it did during the primaries,” blogged Duke University’s Nicholas Carnes and Vanderbilt University’s Noam Lupu for the Washington Post. “Trump’s voters weren’t overwhelmingly poor. In the general election, like the primary, about two-thirds of Trump supporters came from the better-off half of the economy.”

“In short, the narrative that attributes Trump’s victory to a ‘coalition of mostly blue-collar white and working-class voters’ just doesn’t square with the 2016 election data,” they said, explaining that most pollsters incorrectly assumed that the 70 percent of Americans who don’t have college degrees were working class and poorer—and many are not.

“Many analysts have argued that the partisan divide between more and less educated people is bigger than ever. During the general election, 69 percent of Trump voters in the election study didn’t have college degrees. Isn’t that evidence that the working class made up most of Trump’s base? The truth is more complicated: many of the voters without college educations who supported Trump were relatively affluent,” they wrote.

In the survival-of-the-fittest world of American capitalism and GOP politics, there’s no shortage of right-wingers bashing the poor, whether they are white or not. That mindset clearly has spilled over into those promoting the GOP’s health care bills, where a schism is emerging between the voters in the GOP's 2016 base and those McConnell's bill is targeting.

A typical example emerged this weekend on CBS-TV’s Face the Nation, where Ben Domenech, the Federalist’s founder and publisher, smeared Ohio’s Medicaid disability recipients as unworthy of public benefits.

“When Governor Kasich, you know, pushed for the Medicaid expansion in Ohio, he ended up having to throw 34,000 disabled people off of the program because it incentivized adding these working, able-bodied adults over people who actually were in the system who had disabilities or had other dependence,” he said, repeating the GOP's old trope of deadbeats on welfare.

There’s nothing new about this undercurrent in the GOP. Last year, writing in the National Review, Kevin D. Williamson went after poor whites (drawn to Trump) as people who could do the nation a favor by dying.

“The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die,” he wrote. “Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible. Forget all your cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap. Forget your sanctimony about struggling Rust Belt factory towns and your conspiracy theories about the wily Orientals stealing our jobs....The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles.”

How much of this attitude is reflected in the Republicans’ health care bills? The answer is plenty. The House-passed bill takes $820 billion out of future Medicaid appropriations over the next decade, rapidly phases out government subsidies for insurance premiums bought by individuals on government exchanges and deregulates insurance without any coverage requirements or price controls. While those policies will cause chaos across the economic spectrum, including the middle class, the poor are the hardest hit.

The Senate bill has even harsher elements than the House bill. It would cut Medicaid more by turning it into a rationed-care system where states receive grants, and adopt a stingy new formula for annual increases. Health policy experts have noted McConnell’s plan wants “lower-income people to pay more.” Its use of tax credits to offset premium increases and deductibles will be of little use to the working-class poor and lower-income seniors, a new analysis from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities found.

Just as mainstream media mischaracterized those who elected Trump and the GOP, it’s likely they are missing the same ingredient in who would be hurt most by the GOP's health care proposals: non-GOP voters. It’s not just blue states that would see the largest rollbacks—as they are the states that most aggressively embraced Obamacare and its expansion of Medicaid. It’s also poorer people, working-class whites and non-whites, who, as the American National Election Study notes, didn’t elect Trump and the GOP. 

Where McConnell’s plan is likely to fall off the rails is from the chaos it would bring to more middle-class and affluent whites—or red rural states like Alaska and Maine with high health care costs. That is, if his efforts to please corporate health care interests are seen as backfiring on Tea Partiers who infamously yelled, “Hands off my Medicare.” (Late Monday's release Congressional Budget Office analysis may provide that catalyst, projecting the Senate bill will leave 22 million Americans uninsured by 2026.)

But as policy experts dug into the Senate bill on Monday, their analyses seemed to confirm that McConnell’s bill wasn’t targeting his party’s better-off base. One newly discovered provision would lock out anyone who missed an insurance payment from buying a new policy for six months. One-third of those with pre-existing conditions had this coverage gap in the past two years, but they tend to be poorer. Another report found the bill could push seniors out of nursing homes paid by Medicaid, as a subsidy of Medicare. 

Those likely to be hardest hit include working-class whites, but they were not Trump's voters, the analysis by Duke University’s Nicholas Carnes and Vanderbilt University’s Noam Lupu underscored. “According to the [American National] Election study, white non-Hispanic voters without college degrees making below the median household income made up only 25 percent of Trump voters. That’s a far cry from the working class-fueled victory many journalists have imagined.”

No one ever accused McConnell of not knowing what he is doing.

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America in Crisis: Is a Second Civil War in the Making?

Mon, 2017-06-26 15:54
One of the most demoralizing things about America today is the feeling that we are separating into “two nations."

There is something about the behavior of Donald Trump in the White House that is almost hallucinatory. What is to be done about a president who seems impervious to normal standards of decency, who makes name-calling and ranting our new normal, and who gravitates toward extremists? There is beastiality in this that challenges the courage and imagination of ordinary people.

As to the people who voted for Trump, one can only wonder if they will ever come out of denial. How can they possibly enjoy a situation that makes us the laughing stock of the world? It is almost as if Trump’s supporters belong to a different nation altogether.

A different nation.

One of the most demoralizing things about America today is the feeling that we are separating into “two nations,” two estranged populations who regard one another with a hatred that defies conciliation.

There are plenty of divisions in our polity that will never vanish completely, divisions we have lived with for years. Not the least of them is the perfectly normal division that results from our two-party system. But there was something quite different in 2016 as the “blue state” Americans and “red state” Americans assailed one another. There was something very different as, according to many accounts, the candidacy of Trump led to family break-ups and divorces. There was something about the election of 2016 that cut like a knife.

It transcended other sorts of divisions, even those of ideology and religion.

For instance, one of the stunning facts about the last election was the way that so many Christian evangelicals voted for a candidate who demonstrated scorn for some of their values. Of course, the phenomenon of “holding one’s nose” and voting for the lesser of two evils is not unusual. But if the content of much of the on-line support for Donald Trump is to be taken seriously, something more indicative was happening. “Lock her up,” was the chant at the Trump rallies as Hillary Clinton was vilified for the mistake of using the wrong email server. “A basket of deplorables,” was Clinton’s characterization of 50% of Trump’s supporters. Granted, there were issues at stake: Clinton did make admitted mistakes that had legal implications, and some of Trump’s supporters, such as the “alt-right” neo-Nazis, must indeed be held by all decent people to be deplorable.

But this was not an election in which such issues could be argued out on rational grounds. Abetted by the out-of-control technologies of social media, analysis for a great many people was impossible, unnecessary, and an afterthought. What seemed to matter above all else was the rush of immediate gratification, the rush of expressing one’s hatred for the likes of . . . them.

How did we get to this point?

One of the most important causes of our deep division is the rise of the radical right. Once before, in the McCarthy era, this group became very powerful — until their power was reduced by the moderate and popular policies of Dwight D. Eisenhower. After the candidacy of Barry Goldwater crashed and burned in 1964, the Republicans reassembled as a party containing a considerable amount of ideological diversity.

Something comparable happened at the other end of the spectrum, in the days when the radical left surged forward in the late 1960s under the banner of groups like the S.D.S., the Weathermen, and the “Symbionese Liberation Army.” But the New Left never controlled the Democratic Party as the radical right had taken brief but unmistakable control of the Republican Party in 1964.

In any case, the surges of extremism on the right and left were short-lived. Both parties by the 1970s encompassed a spectrum of voters and leaders who ran the gamut from “conservative” to “moderate” to “liberal.” And within each one of those ideological labels could be found a welter of people who agreed with one another on some things while disagreeing on others. But this situation has changed.

The Democratic Party by the time of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama had stabilized as a force for moderation with a slightly leftward tilt. But beginning with the Reagan presidency, Republicans lurched insistently rightward to the point where the party was veritably transformed within one generation by the radical right. Republicans today who believe in compromise and consensus — the values of Dwight D. Eisenhower, surely — no longer recognize their party. When one recalls the Republican liberals of the 1960s — Jacob Javits, Nelson Rockefeller, John Lindsay — it is impossible to find their counterparts now. Liberals and moderates have been driven out of the party or else reduced to a state of powerlessness as the shrill and fanatical forces of the right have taken over. Trump’s most powerful rival for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 was Ted Cruz. The days when the Republicans could nominate people like John McCain and Mitt Romney appear to be — at least temporarily — over.

Putting aside for a moment the policy agenda of the radical right, there is one thing about these people that is terribly clear: they are haters. Their agenda is to dominate, to persecute, to revel in others’ degradation. They smile when they hear that undocumented immigrants who have married, had children, and started businesses here in America are being deported. They like to hear such things, it makes them happy. There is an insensate cruelty in the radical right, a cruelty that poisons their minds. These people are looking for victims, especially those who are helpless.

They “take no prisoners.” They will never give ground or say “enough.” They seek not only to defeat liberalism but to destroy a fabric of enlightened compromises that Republican moderates have built.

And so it was that in 2013, Steve Bannon, now a key adviser to Trump, said he wanted “to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.” So the Trump administration undercuts federal efforts that command overwhelming support. Agencies such as the EPA and NIH are under attack. Meanwhile, in states where they now possess both the legislature and the governorship, Republicans are planning to ram through some of the most extreme parts of the radical right’s agenda, to try to ban abortions with no exceptions whatsoever — even in cases of incest or rape — and to protect the “right” of psychotics to obtain deadly weapons whenever they feel the itch to kill.

And at the national level, they continue a slow but incessant campaign to undercut Social Security and Medicare in hopes of privatizing one or both of those systems sometime in the future.

In short, the radical right has been tearing this nation apart, and they have no intention of stopping. The Republican Party has been taken over by people who would, if they could, force America’s majority — the majority who voted for Hillary Clinton — into a way of life they find abhorrent.

But let’s be fair. One has to acknowledge that some of Trump’s supporters, especially Christian evangelicals, feel as if they have been subjected to the treatment just described: they believe that they have been forced to go along with a way of life that they reject. Indeed, people on both sides of this culture war believe that their opposite numbers are people who “don’t understand what America is all about.”

If this isn’t a formula for civil war, what is? Granted, the opposite sides in our first civil war were aligned geographically by states. And with all due respect to the importance of the “blue state/red state division,” a struggle for control is going on right now in a great many states, and the outcome cannot be predicted.

But if the California situation is indicative, we may be in trouble. On the one hand is the left-of-center effort to detach California from the nation through secession. On the other hand, a right-of-center counterattack seeks to split California in two. In both cases, people feel that their entire way of life is in jeopardy. In the meantime, Eisenhower’s “middle way” is in ruins.

We are in trouble.

 

 

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Here Are 5 Things You Should Know About the Trial for America's 'Toughest Sheriff' Joe Arpaio

Mon, 2017-06-26 15:49
He could end up in jail for six months unless Trump pardons him.

Former “toughest sheriff” Joe Arpaio is set to begin his criminal contempt trial in federal court Monday. Heading into the week-long event, here are five things you should know as we’re watching it unfold.

1. Arpaio is being charged with criminal contempt — not the abuse of prisoners or for his immigration policies.

Federal prosecutors charged then Sheriff Arpaio alleging he violated a US District Court Judge Murray Snow’s order in a racial profiling case. At the time, the judge directed him to stop arresting suspected “unauthorized” immigrants saying the local sheriff’s department didn’t have the authority to enforce federal immigration laws. Arpaio allegedly ignored the judge and continued to arrest people for 18 months.

Snow concluded that Arpaio purposely ignored his orders to keep up his hard immigration stance going into his 2012 election. Arpaio went on to win that race but lost in 2016 after spending most of his election advising Donald Trump on immigration policies. He blamed former President Barack Obama for the loss, claiming Obama ordered the Justice Department to announce the charges shortly before Election Day.

2. Arpaio has already admitted he’s guilty.

After the charges, Arpaio’s legal team begged for more time and requested multiple delays to buy even more time. As part of one of the motions, Arpaio’s counsel claimed that the Sheriff was “coerced” into a confession that he committed civil contempt because he thought that it would prevent him from being charged criminally.

“Defendants acknowledge and appreciate that they have violated the Court’s orders and that there are consequences for these violations,” the statement from Arpaio’s attorneys read.

The confession didn’t stop federal prosecutors from charging him with criminal contempt.

3. Arpaio had a hard time keeping an attorney.

Working for Arpaio can’t be easy. It’s unclear if his either Arpaio or his legal team was involved in his confession but not long after, Arpaio’s lawyer quit for ethical reasons.

Mere weeks before his trial, Mel McDonald filed a brief with the court saying that under “good cause” and under ethical rules, his resignation from the case is “mandatory.”

4. Arpaio continues to cost taxpayers a fortune.

While working for him was probably a challenge, it seemed to be a lucrative one. The contempt violation concluded with a judge being forced to create a taxpayer-funded account that compensates Latinos who have been illegally detained by the Maricopa Sheriff’s Department while he was violating the order for 18 months. As of April, $1 million was set aside for the account.

For his legal problems alone, Arpaio was expected to spend as much as $72 million in legal fees all paid for by taxpayer dollars.

Arpaio lost in November in part, due to conservative Trump voters who were sick of the costs the notorious sheriff was racking up. According to a December report from Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting, in precincts that leaned Democratically Arpaio earned about the same percentage of votes that Donald Trump did. But in heavy GOP areas, Trump voters were unwilling to also support his friend. Arpaio earned 49.3 percent where Trump scored 54.3 percent of the vote.

The thinking is that conservatives want to lower taxes and less money being spent by the government in general. Arpaio’s legal problems violate that principle.

5. Arpaio could end up in jail for six months unless Trump pardons him.

Arpaio was already found in civil contempt but the penalty for criminal contempt, if Arpaio is found guilty, is six months in jail. It isn’t known which jail it would be and if he would encounter some of the people he put behind bars. Many Latino gangs are operating in prisons, including the MS-13, the Mexican Mafia and La Nuestra. They might not take kindly to Arpaio. That could put Arpaio in a position where he might have to be put in solitary confinement for his own protection.

However, Arpaio became friends with Trump over the years as the two attacked former President Barack Obama, claiming his birth certificate was a forgery, Obama was born in Kenya and thus, was an illegitimate president. Trump was ultimately forced to acknowledge that Obama was born in the U.S. Trump hasn’t weighed in on the case, much less said whether he would pardon Arpaio to prevent him from serving jail time.

 

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Settlements: The Real Story

Mon, 2017-06-26 14:38
Fifty years after the Six-Day War, a mistaken account of how settlement began still plagues Israeli politics.

It’s go back 50 years, to mid-July 1967: A jeep arrives at an abandoned Syrian army base in the Golan Heights. A man jumps out. He’s 24, a shepherd from a determinedly secular, left-wing kibbutz in the Galilee. Feeling adventurous, he has joined a group that will establish a new kibbutz in the Heights, part of the territory that Israel conquered a month before.

He’s the first to arrive—which also makes him the first Israeli settler in occupied territory.

So began the Great Entanglement. Today more than 600,000 Israelis live in land conquered in June 1967 in six days of fighting with Egypt, Jordan, and Syria.

The victory created a temporary military occupation and the potential for Israel to negotiate for peace from a position of strength. It’s the settlement enterprise that has chained Israel to occupied territory. It’s settlement that creates a two-tier legal and political regime in the West Bank—Israelis living with the rights of citizens; Palestinians without those rights. It’s settlement that steadily undercuts Israel’s status as a democracy.

Outside of declaring its independence in 1948, starting to settle its citizens in the occupied territories may be the most consequential act in Israel’s history.

The founding of the kibbutz in the Golan Heights makes clear a fundamental fact about the settlement project: It began as an initiative of the left-of-center, secular political forces that dominated Israel in 1967, and later accelerated as a project of the mostly secular right-wing forces that have held power for most of the years since 1977.

There was no ceremony on July 16, 1967, no press release, no media coverage. The moment of beginning went unreported then—and it is still almost entirely absent from the popularly accepted history of settlement, as told in Israel and as reflected in foreign news coverage. This isn’t just an academic dispute: This mis-telling of history warps debate in Israel, and perhaps beyond, about making peace with the Palestinians.

 

IF YOU'D LIKE TO get the classic, inaccurate Israeli narrative of settlement in two hours, watch The Settlers, a documentary released this past year in time for the 50th anniversary of the 1967 war.

The film tells us, correctly, that the “joy of victory ... consumed many Israelis” after the Six-Day War. But from there on, The Settlers focuses on the young followers of Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook, the charismatic teacher of a nationalist theology. Kook’s students believed he had prophesied the conquests in a speech he gave a short time before the war, and they saw settling the “liberated territories” as a divine imperative.

The “first settler”—according to the film, apparently quoting earlier versions of the same story—was Hanan Porat, a student of Kook. In late September 1967, Porat led an Orthodox group to settle between Hebron and Bethlehem in the West Bank. They reestablished Kfar Etzion, a religious kibbutz that had fallen to Arab forces on the eve of Israel’s independence. In the film’s portrayal—again, echoing many others—Prime Minister Levi Eshkol was reluctant to allow the project, but approved it when he learned that the settlers had loaded trucks with supplies and planned to go ahead regardless of what he said.

From that opening, the film’s narrative skips ahead to the spring of 1968, when another Kook follower, Rabbi Moshe Levinger, brought a group of religious nationalists to settle in the Palestinian city of Hebron, again overcoming resistance from a weak Israeli government. The chapter after that is set in 1975: The new Gush Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful) movement, led by Porat, Levinger, and others, led illegal settlement attempts near the village of Sebastia in the northern West Bank. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Defense Minister Shimon Peres folded under their pressure and allowed a small group of settlers to remain. Many thousands of Gush Emunim supporters would follow in the years to come, establishing dozens of settlements.

A strange irony of this origin tale is that it recasts some of the icons of Israeli toughness—such as Rabin, Golda Meir, and Moshe Dayan—as nebbishes who cede policy to a fringe group of extremists.

The Settlers, a two-hour film, pauses briefly to tell us about the Allon Plan, the postwar strategy put forward by Labor politician Yigal Allon. The plan called for building Israeli settlements in the sparsely populated area along the Jordan River, while refraining from settling in the more heavily populated mountains of the West Bank. Another brief interlude in the film is devoted to Israelis who move to the West Bank for reasons of comfort rather than ideology. In settlements, they can afford homes much larger than what their money would buy inside the Green Line, the pre-1967 border.

Overwhelmingly, though, the film pictures settlers as religious nationalists, from Porat to today’s far-right extremists. All this fits Israeli popular perceptions. In media debate, “settler” is practically a synonym for Orthodox nationalist. For years, I’ve given a one-question history test to well-informed Israelis, asking them what the first settlement was. With few exceptions, their answer is Kfar Etzion, Hebron, or Sebastia.

The problem with this account is that it mistakes the supporting actors for the stars. Religious nationalists have played a key role in the settlement saga—but as the fractious clients of Israel’s major parties, Labor and the Likud. Those parties, and their leaders, are the main characters in the drama.

Take that first kibbutz in the Golan Heights. Its founders were followers of Yitzhak Tabenkin, the octogenarian ideologue of the Ahdut Ha’avodah (Unity of Labor) Party, then an important faction of the Zionist left. Tabenkin saw rural communes, kibbutzim, as the means to build socialism from the bottom up. Tabenkin also saw the Jewish homeland—the Land of Israel—as extending well beyond the borders of pre-1948 Mandatory Palestine, which were the invention of European imperialists. The narrower borders of independent Israel were even less satisfying. The fighting had barely ended in June 1967 when Tabenkin began urging massive settlement in the newly conquered land.

One of Tabenkin’s disciples was Yigal Allon. After the war, Allon stunned his comrades when he proposed giving up the most populated parts of the West Bank. Allon thought this was necessary to avoid turning Israel into a binational state. At the same time, as a minister in Eshkol’s government, he aggressively pushed for settlement in areas he wanted to keep. He channeled ministry funds to the Golan kibbutz, and pushed for settlement in Hebron.

Allon’s lifelong rival, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, advocated building Israeli towns in precisely the land that Allon wanted to relinquish. He proposed giving West Bank Arabs limited autonomy, or creating an Israeli-Jordanian condominium in that territory. Either way, the goal was to maintain overall Israeli rule and allow settlement without giving citizenship to the Palestinians living there. Dayan’s younger ally, Shimon Peres, held those ideas as well.

Eshkol himself had two immediate priorities after the war in 1967: building Jewish neighborhoods in annexed East Jerusalem, and returning Jews to the handful of spots in the West Bank where they had lived before 1948, including Kfar Etzion. Porat and his religious nationalist friends weren’t overcoming Eshkol’s resistance; they were providing him with the warm bodies needed to carry out his goals.

Early in 1968, three left-of-center parties merged, bringing Eshkol, Allon, and Dayan all into the new Labor Party. The arguments within the party, and within the government it led, were over where to build settlements in occupied territory, not whether to do so. Eshkol, for the most part, agreed with Allon’s strategy. So did his Labor successors as prime minister, Golda Meir and Yitzhak Rabin.

Religious nationalists were just one source of recruits for settlement. The partnership between them and the government was sometimes strained by a public dispute—again, over where to settle. That’s what happened at Sebastia. One reason that Rabin compromised with Gush Emunim is that his own party was in danger of splitting. The Peres faction was closer to Gush Emunim than to Rabin.

In the big picture, though, settlement was a government project. The Allon Plan wasn’t a sidelight; it was Labor governments’ blueprint for settlement-building.

The clash over where to settle had an element of the absurd. Allon was convinced it was possible to reach peace with Jordan on the basis of his map. The religious nationalists wanted to prevent such an agreement by settling in areas that the government seemed willing to give up. Allon’s confidence remained completely undented by his 1968 contacts with Jordan’s King Hussein, the Arab leader most eager to make peace. At a secret meeting with the king in London, Allon presented his maps. Hussein rejected Allon’s idea and, to leave no doubt, followed up with a position paper saying that the proposal was “wholly unacceptable.”

That exchange has defined the real parameters of Israeli-Arab peace contacts ever since. The 1967 war convinced most Arab leaders—some immediately, some later—that Israel’s existence and its pre-1967 borders had to be accepted. King Hussein’s position that any border changes had to be based on a one-to-one exchange of land later became a principle in Israeli--Palestinian negotiations. Under those parameters, Labor’s settlements along the Jordan River were just as much a barrier to peace as Gush Emunim’s settlements elsewhere.

By the time Labor lost power to the Likud in 1977, it had established close to 80 settlements in the West Bank, Gaza, Sinai, and the Golan. The Likud built on that foundation, but built much faster. Its map, drawn by Ariel Sharon, deliberately created bands of settlements between Palestinian cities. The result was that Palestinians lived in enclaves surrounded by settlements.

The Likud used two different kinds of settlements to draw Israelis into the West Bank. One was small, members-only communities, many of them deep in occupied territory. These attracted the Orthodox nationalists who fit the public stereotype of settlers. The other was larger settlements with a classic suburban appeal: A young family could get more home for less money.

The “quality of life” suburbanites can’t be squeezed into the standard settler stereotype. Many are secular. Some are ultra-Orthodox Jews, who don’t buy into the theology of religious nationalism. But with large families and small budgets, they find the cheap housing in settlements irresistible. The two largest settlements are ultra-Orthodox, and account for nearly a fifth of all settlers. For that matter, one-third of all Israelis in occupied territory live in the Jewish neighborhoods of annexed East Jerusalem. In mainstream Israeli discourse, they are almost never referred to as settlers.

What all these people have in common is that they live where they do because of fifty years of government policy.

 

GIVEN THE FACTS, WHAT explains the staying power of the classic narrative of settlement as a religious project?

For one thing, first impressions have staying power. In this case, the first impressions were formed by news coverage in the early months and years of settlement. And the government then tried its best to minimize coverage.

The ruling parties of the Zionist left had a tradition going back to pre-independence days of quietly “establishing facts.” When it came to settlement, Labor’s motto could have been “Speak little and carry a big hoe.” Yisrael Galili, the settlement czar under prime ministers Meir and Rabin, was particularly obsessed with secrecy.

Being in power made acting quietly easier, especially in an era when the Israeli press was much tamer than it is today. Much of the account I’ve given here of Labor’s settlement effort is based on internal government documents that remained classified for 30 years or more. Hanan Porat, the supposed “first settler,” sincerely believed that he’d forced Eshkol’s hand, but wasn’t privy to the prime minister’s office files.

In contrast to the Labor governments, the young religious activists loved publicity and the glory of being rebels. They happily told their version of events. While researching settlement history, I found that most published accounts of the founding of Kfar Etzion could be traced back to Porat and a couple of his activist colleagues.

Quite naturally, confrontations drew media coverage. So the face-off at Sebastia between Gush Emunim and the Rabin government filled the Israeli press in December 1975. Government settlement efforts elsewhere got less attention.

Another factor: The Kulturkampf between ideological secularism and Orthodoxy has always been an intensely emotional feature of Israeli politics. There’s a tendency to map the debate about settlement onto the religious-secular divide. This makes the political picture simpler—and deceptive. The original Labor advocates of settlement fade from sight. Even Likud leaders such as Sharon and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu become enigmas.

There are also valid reasons for paying particular attention to religious settlers today, as long as you don’t ignore the rest. The extremists who have engaged in violence against Palestinians come from the religious camp. And if there is a peace agreement, the most extreme religious settlers pose the greatest risk of violent resistance to evacuation.

 

ONE DUBIOUS ASSUMPTION that pervades Israeli politics, especially the center and center-left of the spectrum, is that the religious settlements would have to go in a two-state agreement with the Palestinians, while quality-of-life settlements, at least those in large “settlement blocs,” could stay put. After all, those settlement blocs are simply too big to evacuate, and don’t intrude too deeply into the West Bank. The reasoning here is that territorial concessions by the Palestinians, or territorial exchanges, would allow Israel to keep those blocs.

By this logic, the religious settlements are the obstacle to peace; the “consensus” settlement blocs are not.

It’s true that small religious settlements are scattered throughout the West Bank, far from the pre-1967 border. They stand in the way of any imaginable peace agreement. But what about the “quality of life” town of Ariel, home to 19,000 Israelis and the anchor of one of those supposed blocs? For Israel to hold Ariel would mean annexing a finger of territory sticking deep into the West Bank. The town of Ma’ale Adumim, east of Jerusalem, has over 37,000 residents and is the core of another such bloc. But connecting it to Israel would mean annexing more land and creating another finger of territory that practically divides the West Bank in two.

The distinction between religious settlements and settlement blocs, then, repeats the error built into the Israeli political debate during the first years of the occupation. Back then, the self-deception was that Allon Plan settlements posed no impediment to peace. Jordan would just have to accept that Israel would keep parts of the West Bank. Now the myth is that Israel will be able to keep the blocs—which means annexing pieces of land outside its pre-1967 borders.

In reality, no one knows which settlements, if any, Israel would be able to retain under a peace agreement. Judging from the brief periods of serious final-status talks over the years, the baseline for new Israeli-Palestinian negotiations will be the Green Line. Negotiations could lead to small exchanges, with Israel giving up bits of its pre-1967 territory in return for equal-sized bits of the West Bank. But even if that happens, the amount of land involved, and the number of settlements saved, is certain to fall far short of the expectations created by the talk of keeping the settlement blocs.

The narrative that focuses exclusively on religious settlement is more than an academic error. It stands in the way of Israel coming to terms with what happened in 1967 and after: Settling Israelis in occupied territory wasn’t imposed by a radical fringe. It was a national policy, for which the country’s major political camps—Labor as much as the Likud—share responsibility.

Even worse, the distorted telling of the past continues to distract attention from the hard political reality of today: Any home, built in any settlement, makes it harder to negotiate peace. It’s one more knot in the Great Entanglement.  

 

 

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Legalizing Marijuana Dramatically Reduces Traffic Stop Searches

Mon, 2017-06-26 14:36
When weed is legal, cops have one less reason to search. That's one less opportunity for a potentially lethal confrontation.

In states where marijuana has been legalized, traffic stops resulting in searches by state police are down dramatically, according to a new analysis from the Marshall Project and the Center for Investigative Reporting.

With marijuana possession being legal, police in legal states can no longer assume criminal activity merely because of the presence of pot, which would have given them probable cause to conduct a search. And that means fewer interactions between drivers and police, reducing the prospect of dangerous—or even deadly—clashes.

But even though the number of searches dropped for all racial groups, black and brown drivers are still being subjected to searches at a higher rate than whites, the study found. And because the report only studied state police (Highway Patrol) stops, not stops by local law enforcement, which patrols urban areas with higher minority population concentrations, it may understate the racial disparity in traffic stop searches.

The report is based on an analysis of data from researchers at Stanford University, who released a report this week studying some 60 million state patrol stops in 31 states between 2011 and 2015, the most thorough look yet at national traffic stop data. The results from the legal pot states of Colorado and Washington are striking.

In Colorado, the number of traffic stop searches dropped by nearly two-thirds for whites, 58% for Hispanics, and nearly half for blacks. In Washington, the search rate dropped by about 25% for whites and Hispanics, and 34% for African Americans.

Still, racial disparities in search rates persisted in both states. In Colorado, the search rate for black drivers was 3.3 times that for whites, and the rate for Hispanic drivers was 2.7 times that for whites. In Washington, blacks were twice as likely to be searched as whites, while the search rate for Hispanics was 1.7 times that of whites.

The traffic stop search data parallels what happened with marijuana arrests in legal states. In Colorado, for instance, a 2016 Department of Public Safety report found that while the number of pot arrests dropped by nearly half after legalization, the arrest rate for blacks was still nearly three times that of whites.

"Legalizing marijuana is not going to solve racial disparities," said Mark Silverstein, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado. "We need to do a lot more before we get at that."

But legalizing marijuana does reduce the number of traffic stop searches, and given the fraught relationship between police and the citizenry, especially communities of color, that is a good thing in itself. 

 

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Can Tiny Qatar Keep Defying Its Powerful Neighbors? It May Be up to Washington

Mon, 2017-06-26 14:04
Apart from President Trump’s tweet burst, the U.S. government has given diplomatic breathing room to Qatar.

The recent decision by half the nations in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and a few other countries to isolate fellow member Qatar came as a surprise to many – though perhaps it shouldn’t have.

Essentially, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt severed all ties over Qatar’s positive opinion about Iran and support for Islamist groups like Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. Besides cutting those ties, one of their demands also included putting curbs on the Al-Jazeera media network, which is based in Qatar’s capital of Doha and is partially funded by its ruling family.

The diplomatic and security ramifications have so far taken center stage, with most Western nations, including the U.S., and countries in the region calling for a negotiated resolution to avoid further escalation. Yet the dispute that led to the recent outburst has been lingering for years – and erupted in a similar if smaller kerfuffle in 2014 – which begs the following questions:

What exactly has allowed Qatar to defy its more powerful GCC neighbors for so long? And what (or who) could possibly change that?

Flouting its neighbors’ demands

Qatar is the second-smallest country in the GCC with a national population of just 243,000. That swells to almost 2.4 million when you include expatriates, yet it’s still just a fraction of Saudi Arabia’s 31 million total population or the UAE’s 8 million.

It also has the smallest military, at just 12,000 soldiers, compared with Saudi Arabia’s 227,000.

Despite this large gap in population and military power, Qatar has long ignored the complaints of its stronger neighbors over its foreign policy positions that on some issues are diametrically opposed to theirs.

There’s essentially one reason Qatar can afford to do this: the American security umbrella, which includes basing some 11,000 U.S. military personnel in Doha – the largest deployment in the region – as well as hosting the U.S. Combined Air Operations Center, which oversees air power in 20 countries.

Like the other GCC countries, Qatar has a bilateral security arrangement with the U.S., and it hosts the United States’ largest military base in the region. The U.S. military protection not only shields Qatar against military threats from outside the region but empowers it to stand up to its larger GCC allies when it chooses to do so.

Qatar is not the only GCC member that takes advantage of U.S. military protection in this manner. Bahrain has also defied other GCC members on occasions. In 2005, this tiny island of one million and home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet upset Saudi Arabia when it signed a bilateral free trade agreement with the U.S., which violated the GCC common tariff regulations. In a sign of America’s pull in such disputes, it was Saudi Arabia that ultimately backed down.

Consequently, as long as Qatar remains under U.S. military protection, Saudi Arabia and the UAE can not resort to military options and have to limit their campaign to diplomatic and economic pressure. In other words, bilateral security relations with the U.S. serves as an equalizer in interactions among GCC countries regardless of their size.

How long can Qatar hold out?

A secure and protected Qatar can afford to remain defiant in the face of economic isolation from its neighbors as long as it can tolerate the economic and financial costs. While these costs are hardly trivial, Qatar, as the richest country in the world on a per capita basis, can probably afford to ride them out for some time.

In terms of imports, Qatar’s reliance on other GCC countries and Egypt is relatively modest and easily substitutable. The main immediate impact of the severing of ties was a disruption of food imports from Saudi Arabia, but Qatar managed to quickly switch to air shipments from Iran and Turkey – notably more expensive than ground shipments via Saudi border.

Qatar’s dependence on these neighbors for exports is even less. In 2015, only 4.6 percent of Qatar’s US$80 billion worth of exports went to the UAE, while just 1 percent flowed to Saudi Arabia.

A key reason for so little trade between countries in the GCC is that their primary exports (oil and gas products) and imports (food and industrial products) are very similar.

So all in all, economic disengagement from the UAE and Saudi Arabia will disrupt about 13 percent of Qatar’s commodity imports and 5.6 percent of its exports (trade with Bahrain and Egypt is insigificant).

Qatar also has financial and commercial investment links with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain. By one account, 300 Saudi businesses are active in Qatar with investments worth $13.3 billion, as well as 1,075 UAE companies. The same report estimated 4,200 Qatari businesses were engaged in the UAE in 2016.

While disruption of these business activities will also be costly for Qatar, the value of these investments is only a small share of its financial and commercial capital. Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, for example, is estimated at $335 billion.

Beyond U.S. protection, the relatively small size of trade and investment links with Saudi Arabia and the UAE is what gives Qatar little immediate incentive to concede to their demands, even as it hopes to avoid escalation.

US still holds the key

So while Qatar’s economy is under some stress, its substantial financial resources as well as diplomatic and economic support from several countries including Turkey, Iran, Kuwait and Oman give it quite a bit of breathing room.

But in the end, it all comes down to its security patron, the U.S., and President Donald Trump, who in a tweet praised and even seemed to claim credit for the move by Saudi Arabia and the other countries.

During my recent trip to the Middle East, I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar - look!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 6, 2017

Afterwards, officials at the State and Defense departments expressed a more neutral position toward this dispute and called for a negotiated resolution, as some diplomats acknowledged Qatar’s efforts to prevent financial support for terror groups.

So if Qatar ends up making any major concessions, it will most likely be a response to demands from the United States, on whom Qatar depends for its security. A few years ago, Qatar’s former ruler Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani put that dependence this way: Without the Americans, “my Arab brothers would invade me.”

And in a sign that the U.S. commitment to Qatar remains solid, the Pentagon just announced a $12 billion deal to sell as many as 36 F-15 jets to its ally.

In other words, apart from President Trump’s tweet burst, the U.S. government has given diplomatic breathing room to Qatar. But if the United States calls for significant concessions, it is unlikely that Qatar will risk its military protection by saying no.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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More Than 100 Federal Agencies Fail to Report Hate Crimes to the FBI’s National Database

Mon, 2017-06-26 13:35
The gaps in data damage efforts to understand the nature and scope of violence driven by racial and religious hatred.

In violation of a longstanding legal mandate, scores of federal law enforcement agencies are failing to submit statistics to the FBI's national hate crimes database, ProPublica has learned.

The lack of participation by federal law enforcement represents a significant and largely unknown flaw in the database, which is supposed to be the nation's most comprehensive source of information on hate crimes. The database is maintained by the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Division, which uses it to tabulate the number of alleged hate crimes occurring around the nation each year.

The FBI has identified at least 120 federal agencies that aren't uploading information to the database, according to Amy Blasher, a unit chief at the CJIS division, an arm of the bureau that is overseeing the modernization of its information systems.

The federal government operates a vast array of law enforcement agencies — ranging from Customs and Border Protection to the Drug Enforcement Administration to the Amtrak Police — employing more than 120,000 law enforcement officers with arrest powers. The FBI would not say which agencies have declined to participate in the program, but the bureau's annual tally of hate crimes statistics does not include any offenses handled by federal law enforcement. Indeed, the problem is so widespread that the FBI itself isn't submitting the hate crimes it investigates to its own database.

"We truly don't understand what's happening with crime in the U.S. without the federal component," Blasher said in an interview.

At present, the bulk of the information in the database is supplied by state and local police departments. In 2015, the database tracked more than 5,580 alleged hate crime incidents, including 257 targeting Muslims, an upward surge of 67 percent from the previous year. (The bureau hasn't released 2016 or 2017 statistics yet.)

But it's long been clear that hundreds of local police departments don't send data to the FBI, and so given the added lack of participation by federal law enforcement, the true numbers for 2015 are likely to be significantly higher.

A federal law, the 1988 Uniform Federal Crime Reporting Act, requires all U.S. government law enforcement agencies to send a wide variety of crime data to the FBI. Two years later, after the passage of another law, the bureau began collecting data about "crimes that manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity." That was later expanded to include gender and gender identity.

The federal agencies that are not submitting data are violating the law, Blasher told us. She said she's in contact with about 20 agencies and is hopeful that some will start participating, but added that there is no firm timeline for that to happen.

"Honestly, we don't know how long it will take,"Blasher said of the effort to get federal agencies on board.

The issue goes far beyond hate crimes — federal agencies are failing to report a whole range of crime statistics, Blasher conceded. But hate crimes, and the lack of reliable data concerning them, have been of intense interest amid the country's highly polarized and volatile political environment.

ProPublica contacted several federal agencies seeking an explanation. A spokesperson for the Army's Criminal Investigation Command, which handles close to 50,000 offenses annually, said the service is adhering to Defense Department rules regarding crime data and is using a digital crime tracking system linked to the FBI's database. But the Army declined to say whether its statistics are actually being sent to the FBI, referring that question up the chain of command to the Department of Defense.

In 2014, an internal probe conducted by Defense Department investigators found that the "DoD is not reporting criminal incident data to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for inclusion in the annual Uniform Crime Reports."

ProPublica contacted the Defense Department for clarification, and shared with a department spokesman a copy of the 2014 reports acknowledging the failure to send data to the FBI.

"We have no additional information at this time," said Christopher Sherwood, the spokesman.

Federal agencies are hardly the only ones to skip out on reporting hate crimes. An Associated Press investigation last year found at least 2,700 city police and county sheriff's departments that repeatedly failed to report hate crimes to the FBI.

In the case of the FBI itself, Blasher said the issue is largely technological: Agents have long collected huge amounts of information about alleged hate crimes, but don't have a digital system to easily input that information to the database, which is administered by staff at an FBI complex in Clarksburg, West Virginia.

Since Blasher began pushing to modernize the FBI's data systems, the bureau has made some progress. It began compiling some limited hate crimes statistics for 2014 and 2015, though that information didn't go into the national hate crimes database.

In Washington, lawmakers were surprised to learn about the failure by federal agencies to abide by the law.

"It's fascinating and very disturbing," said Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., who said he wanted to speak about the matter with the FBI's government affairs team. He wants to see federal agencies "reporting hate crimes as soon as possible."

Beyer and other lawmakers have been working in recent years to improve the numbers of local police agencies participating in voluntary hate crime reporting efforts. Bills pending in Congress would give out grants to police forces to upgrade their computer systems; in exchange, the departments would begin uploading hate crime data to the FBI.

Beyer, who is sponsoring the House bill, titled the National Opposition to Hate, Assault, and Threats to Equality Act, said he would consider drafting new legislation to improve hate crimes reporting by federal agencies, or try to build such a provision into the appropriations bill.

"The federal government needs to lead by example. It's not easy to ask local and state governments to submit their data if these 120 federal agencies aren't even submitting hate crimes data to the database," Beyer said.

In the Senate, Democrat Al Franken of Minnesota said the federal agencies need to do better. "I've long urged the FBI and the Department of Justice to improve the tracking and reporting of hate crimes by state and local law enforcement agencies," Franken told ProPublica. "But in order to make sure we understand the full scope of the problem, the federal government must also do its part to ensure that we have accurate and trustworthy data."

Virginia's Barbara Comstock, a House Republican who authored a resolution in April urging the "Department of Justice (DOJ) and other federal agencies to work to improve the reporting of hate crimes," did not respond to requests for comment.

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Cops Killing Blacks Has Come to Be Expected

Mon, 2017-06-26 13:22
The law seems to operate on behalf of police officers rather than the people they are sworn to serve.

A police officer kills a black person in a show of excessive force and is then acquitted of all charges in a court of law. This sequence of events has played out time and again. It happened twice last week, when a mistrial was declared in the case of Cincinnati officer Ray Tensing accused of fatally shooting Sam DuBose during a traffic stop, and when Milwaukee officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown was acquitted of fatally shooting Sylville Smith. It happened again on June 16, when Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted of all charges for fatally shooting Philando Castile in his car last July, with his girlfriend and her young daughter witnesses to his death.

The outcome of these cases, coupled with the studies showing that only a minuscule number of cops have been charged for killing another person, suggests that the law seems to operate on behalf of police officers—who are readily equipped with guns and the strength of police union contracts—rather than the people they are sworn to serve. It also seems like just about any justification can strengthen an officer’s case in a trial. Officer Yanez testified that he “feared for his life” because he smelled marijuana in Castile’s car during the encounter, never mind the fact that Castile was complying with the officer throughout the traffic stop.

In an op-ed for the New York Times, Ibram X. Kendi says it all comes down to the fact that it is black death that matters. “It matters to the life of America, by which I mean the blood flow of ideas that give life to Americans’ perception of their nation,” he writes.

“In these high-profile cases, it is not just police officers who are on trial,” Kendi writes. “America is on trial. Either these deaths are justified, and therefore America is just, or these deaths are unjustified, and America is unjust.”

It is not just jurors and prosecutors who have supported the actions of law enforcement over the lives of the people who have died by their hands—most Americans feel positively about the police and this country’s criminal justice system. According to the Pew Research Center, 50 percent of white people feel blacks and whites are treated equally by the police. In contrast, only 16 percent of black people felt this way, with 84 percent saying black people are treated less fairly than white people. Within the court system, 43 percent of white people believe black people are treated less fairly than whites, compared to 75 percent of black people who believe this statement.

The survey also revealed disparities in how black people and white people think about achieving racial equality. About 38 percent of white people think the U.S. has made the changes needed to make black people equal to whites, while only 8 percent of black people believe this.

Kendi argues that these stark contrasts about race and race relations are rooted in the American falsehood that this country is post-racial, that it has solved its race problem. This echoes similar points made by James Baldwin in the film “I Am Not Your Negro,” the belief that Americans deal with race by believing in a dream and thinking that they are not responsible for racism or racist attacks.

But time after time, Kendi points out, white Americans have actually contributed to the systemic oppression of black people by justifying and enabling state-sanctioned discrimination. There was the defense of slavery as a “positive good” or a “tool to civilize.” The 1900s saw the defense of separate but equal under Jim Crow laws, and later there was the victim-blaming of rioters who marched for their civil rights.

Landmark advances in equality for black people were fiercely met with racist and oppressive backlash from white Americans to stop justice in its tracks. The ending of slavery via the Emancipation Proclamation was met with the convict-leasing system and black codes that ensnared many free blacks into another form of slavery through forced labor. Thousands of lynchings were employed by the KKK following the end of the Civil War to uphold white supremacy and terrorize black people. After the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act in the 1960s, America’s prison population skyrocketed into the millions, making the U.S. the country with the highest rate of incarceration in the world. The Republicans’ Southern Strategy also helped to exacerbate white fears of black people through dog-whistle politics. It’s no surprise that the so-called war on drugs waged by Nixon and subsequent presidents incarcerated black people at alarmingly high rates.

Kendi adds that the constant vilification of black people allows many Americans to hold onto the myth of a post-racial America: “Black people were violent, not the slaveholder, not the lyncher, not the cop,” he writes.

“This is not just the America people perceive,” he continues. “This is the America people seem to love. And they are going to defend their beloved America against all those nasty charges of racism. People seem determined to exonerate the police officer because they are determined to exonerate America.”

For any true change and justice to occur, Kendi says, Americans must confront the reality of racism head first and kill the post-racial myth, for “black people and the post-racial myth cannot both live in the United States of America.”

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Seymour Hersh Casts Doubt on Reported Syrian Gas Attack

Mon, 2017-06-26 13:08
Claims Trump ignored U.S. intelligence reports of a conventional attack while ordering meaningless military action.

The U.S. cruise missile attack on a Syrian air base, in retaliation for what the White House said was a deadly nerve agent attack carried out by the Syrian government, proved to be a rare moment of glory in Donald Trump’s embattled presidency. The president basked in praise from usually critical Democrats and news organizations.

Yet behind the scenes, U.S. military and intelligence officials doubted that the Syrians had used chemical weapons, according to investigative reporter Seymour Hersh.

Trump was “warned by the U.S. intelligence community that it had found no evidence that the Syrians had used a chemical weapon,” Hersh writes on the German news site Die Welt.

"Some American military and intelligence officials were especially distressed by the president's determination to ignore the evidence. 'None of this makes any sense,' one officer told colleagues upon learning of the decision to bomb. 'We KNOW that there was no chemical attack ... the Russians are furious. Claiming we have the real intel and know the truth ... I guess it didn't matter whether we elected Clinton or Trump.'"

Anonymous Source

The source for much of Hersh’s story is anonymous. He is described as “a senior adviser to the American intelligence community, who has served in senior positions in the Defense Department and Central Intelligence Agency.”

The source’s description of divisions within Trump’s national security advisers conflicts with previous news accounts that depicted the president and his military and intelligence advisers as united in the belief that Syrian forces had used sarin gas, which is banned under international law.

"U.S. intelligence agencies quickly identified the source of the attack and the chemical agent used," reported USA Today. "'That confidence level has just continued to grow in the hours and days since the attack,' national security adviser H.R. McMaster said."

If accurate, Hersh’s article renews doubts about the attack first raised by MIT professor Theodore Postol. In a series of blog posts about video from the scene of the attack, Postol argued that the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun had suffered conventional, not chemical, attack.

In Hersh’s account, Trump was persuaded by social media images of victims who seemed to show the signs of a chemical attack. Members of his national security team were not convinced the images were proof of a chemical attack, according to Hersh.

Hersh cites transcripts of a U.S.-Russian “deconfliction” communications channel that he says shows the alleged chemical attack was actually a conventional attack on a warehouse used by al-Qaeda militants. Following standard procedures, the Russians notified the U.S. in advance of the planned Syrian attack and the U.S. commanders had no objection, Hersh reports.

The victims seen on social media were actually suffering from the effects of breathing in chemicals dispersed into the air by the bombing of the al-Qaeda warehouse, according to Hersh:

"A Bomb Damage Assessment (BDA) by the U.S. military later determined that the heat and force of the 500-pound Syrian bomb triggered a series of secondary explosions that could have generated a huge toxic cloud that began to spread over the town, formed by the release of the fertilizers, disinfectants and other goods stored in the basement, its effect magnified by the dense morning air, which trapped the fumes close to the ground."

A team from the doctor’s group Médecins Sans Frontières treated victims from Khan Sheikhoun and reported that “eight patients showed symptoms—including constricted pupils, muscle spasms and involuntary defecation—which are consistent with exposure to a neurotoxic agent such as sarin gas or similar compounds.”

Hersh's claim that chemical weapons were not used in the attack conflicts with the findings of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the French government.

An OPCW report dated May 19 analyzed samples from the site. Signs of sarin or sarin-like substances were detected in many samples, as well as sarin degradation products, and at least two samples that state sarin itself was detected, according to the OPCW.

The OPCW's fact-finding mission is seeking to visit Khan Sheikhoun as part of its investigation.

'Fireworks Display'

Hersh portrays Trump as determined to act in the absence of corroborating evidence that Assad had used sarin on his own people. Among the four policy options he was presented, Trump chose to bomb an airfield in Syria, but only after alerting the Russians (and through them, the Syrians) to avoid too many casualties.

On April 6, U.S. commanders fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian base, a show of force Hersh depicts as meaningless:

“Most of the important personnel and operational fighter planes had been flown to nearby bases hours before the raid began. The two runways and parking places for aircraft, which had also been targeted, were repaired and back in operation within eight hours or so. All in all, it was little more than an expensive fireworks display.”

But the attack yielded political benefits for Trump. Speaking on CNN, Fareed Zakaria said, “I think Donald Trump became president of the United States.” A review of the top 100 American newspapers showed that 39 of them published editorials supporting the bombing in its aftermath, including the New York TimesWashington Post and Wall Street Journal.

Hersh’s anonymous source expects more such incidents:

“'The Salafists and jihadists got everything they wanted out of their hyped-up Syrian nerve gas ploy,' the senior adviser to the U.S. intelligence community told me, referring to the flareup of tensions between Syria, Russia and America. 'The issue is, what if there’s another false flag sarin attack credited to hated Syria? Trump has upped the ante and painted himself into a corner with his decision to bomb. And do not think these guys are not planning the next faked attack. Trump will have no choice but to bomb again, and harder. He’s incapable of saying he made a mistake.'”

But whether Hersh's anonymous source is right is still open to question.

Would You Believe It? TSA Is Requiring You to Pull Out Every Piece of Paper in Your Bags

Mon, 2017-06-26 11:49
The ACLU believes the policy likely violates passengers' First Amendment rights.

The Transportation Safety Administration is considering implementing a new national policy that would require passengers to remove books from their bags at airport checkpoints, like they do laptops. And given the administration's reputation for religious profiling, the procedure could be used to violate passengers' First Amendment rights. 

“[B]ooks raise very special privacy issues,” Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union, wrote in response. “There is a long history of special legal protection for the privacy of one’s reading habits in the United States, not only through numerous Supreme Court and other court decisions, but also through state laws that criminalize the violation of public library reading privacy or require a warrant to obtain book sales, rental, or lending records.”

One week after implementing a restriction on large electronic devices, Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly previewed changes travelers may experience going into the summer.

"We're going to raise the bar for, generally speaking, aviation security, much higher than it is now," Kelly told "Fox News Sunday" host  Chris Wallace on May 28.  

Books aren't the only items being targeted. The new policy applies to all paper products, and has been introduced in two states—Missouri and California—since May.

So far, it's proven disastrous for an industry already under heavy scrutiny.

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