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How Trump's Medicaid Restrictions Will Stop People From Voting

Mon, 2018-02-19 00:00

(Photo: Andrew Cline /

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The Trump administration released its fiscal year 2019 budget, and it doubles down on what the administration has already been doing to undermine Medicaid -- including more than $300 billion in cuts to the program and a call to take health insurance from those who can't find a job.

Last month, the administration began testing these policies at the state level. On January 11th, the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) announced that states can now compel low-income people who rely on Medicaid to meet "work and community engagement requirements" in order to keep their health insurance. Within a day of making this announcement, CMS approved Kentucky's plan to implement such requirements. The plan strips Medicaid coverage from most adults who fail to comply, including those who do not complete paperwork on time or report "changes in circumstances" quickly enough.

All told, Gov. Matt Bevin's office estimates that around 350,000 Kentucky residents will be subject to the new requirements and 95,000 will likely lose their Medicaid benefits. But once those people are booted from the program, Kentucky is giving them a chance to get it back: through "a financial or health literacy course."

Of course, this is not the first time that Americans have been required to meet economic standards or pass a literacy test to exercise their rights. Discriminatorily applied literacy tests, known for their impossible difficulty, were administered by election officials who were given immense discretion over who to test, what to ask, and how to assess the answers when (mostly black) citizens attempted to vote. Similarly, extractive poll taxes disenfranchised poor black populations (and sometimes poor whites) from the end of the 19th century until the advent of the 24th Amendment (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965).

These methods were incredibly effective at preventing black people from voting. They led to dramatic drops in black voter registration in the South, and in the states that were the most egregious offenders -- like Louisiana -- black voter registration decreased by as much as 96 percent over an eight-year span.

Of course, the electoral arm of white supremacy in the postbellum era stretched well beyond such tools (and all the way to violent repression). Nevertheless, taxes and tests stand out as especially contemptible because they officially codified a logic of exclusion aimed at those presumed unworthy of American citizenship.

On the surface, Kentucky's new Medicaid rules don't look exactly like poll taxes or literacy tests. But there's an equivalent logic of exclusion that holds across both domains: Those who are unworthy -- either because of their race or due to their inability to access decent jobs -- are ousted. Their political and social rights (like the right to vote and the right to be healthy) are sacrificed on an altar built by those with power.

Since social rights like health care are connected to political rights like voting, undermining one deteriorates the other. When Medicaid recipients are made to jump through hoops to prove that they are worthy of health care, they quickly figure out where they stand in the American social hierarchy. And once that's clear, they have a diminished desire to participate in politics.

I know this because I spent years studying Medicaid and wrote a book about the politics surrounding it. I had in-depth conversations with people who use Medicaid; I observed  Facebook groups filled with Medicaid beneficiaries who readily recounted their experiences; I examined thousands of responses to large national surveys; and I scoured administrative records that detailed the actions that people with Medicaid took when they had scuffles with the government. I got to know some of the people who will find themselves at the losing end of the new Medicaid regulations, and I discovered how Medicaid shapes their political choices.

Take Angie, for example. Michigan's Medicaid program stripped her coverage for not completing paperwork that she never even received. After battling for several months with local bureaucrats, she finally got her benefits restored. But by then she knew who she was in the eyes of the government:

"It's like you are uneducated and you just want to get these free services and somehow you are inferior to other people if you receive those benefits … Once they hear Medicaid its 'oh, one of those people.'"

Alienated from the government, Angie stopped voting and trying to advocate for herself. "I don't do politics," she said. When we talked about why she wouldn't appeal devastating benefit cuts, she explained that she was a "nobody" and that the "powers that be" would not bend very far for her.

Angie was hardly alone. Ahmad fought back tears when he told me about the bureaucratic hurdles he faced after losing a limb in Iraq. Again and again he had to re-certify his enrollment, refile paperwork and find new medication when the old ones were no longer covered by Medicaid. He was clear on what this implied about his social status. "They treat us like we are stupid animals; like we don't know anything," he says. "I feel like I'm nothing, because when you are in Medicaid, they do whatever. You have to be on their rules."

Just as literacy tests were applied unfairly by the election officials who administered them, adding stipulations to Medicaid will create opportunities for racial inequity. Blacks and Latinos face more labor market discrimination, have a harder time finding quality child care, and -- because of biases in the justice system -- are more likely to have a criminal record. In the face of such barriers, work and health literacy requirements pose burdens that will fall disproportionately on people of color.

That brings us back to where we started. Both types of literacy testing are predicated on assumptions about who deserves access to fundamental social and political rights, like health care and voting. Both also reinforce racial and economic inequality, whether purposely or inadvertently. Most crucially, both lead to the erosion of democratic citizenship among Americans whose political power has long been systematically suppressed.

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"Violence Is in the DNA of American Society": Henry Giroux on Gun Violence and Administration Agendas

Mon, 2018-02-19 00:00

Donald Trump holds up a replica flintlock rifle awarded him by cadets during the Republican Society Patriot Dinner at the Citadel Military College on February 22, 2015, in Charleston, South Carolina. (Photo: Richard Ellis / Getty Images)

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How should we think about the recent gun violence in Parkland, Florida? How do we understand the ascent of Donald Trump as part of a longer trend? What does the coming administration portend? And what is the way forward? Allen Ruff is in conversation with radical social critic and educator Henry Giroux. In this interview, Giroux discusses his recent Truthout article, "The Ghost of Fascism in the Age of Trump," and how the corporate media influence US society. Giroux also argues that the US does not have a democracy in crisis, but rather a democracy that has disappeared.

To read more articles by Henry A. Giroux and other authors in the Public Intellectual Project, click here.

Below, Henry Giroux elabaorates:

In the face of the ongoing mass shootings of children -- from those killed at Columbine High School and Sandy Hook Elementary School to those killed last week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School -- it is not just the gunmen who have blood on their hands. The other culprits are the politicians bought off by the gun lobby, and a culture of violence that profits by militarizing everything and turning mass entertainment into a spectacle of violence.

But here is another example: "60 Minutes" ran a story on the push by the gun industries and others to get the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act passed in the Senate, having already passed through the House with Trump’s approval. "60 Minutes" ran the story as if there are just two sides and actually gave more time to the pro-gun types who believe that everybody in the US should have a concealed weapon and should be able to cross state lines and act with as little government interference as possible.

Shame on "60 Minutes." This is advocacy and complicity regardless of how you play it. This episode represented a new low for the media who buy into this nonsense. The notion of balance is no excuse for having blood on one's hands by advocating morally reprehensible and potentially violent behavior as if it were just another story line. This is a moralism soaked in blood and moral depravity. "Balance" is really code for being irresponsible in the face of a sordid, cruel, violent and morally reprehensible policy. Guns do not protect people; they simply say loud and clear that the only way to solve a problem and define your identity is through violence. Capitalism breeds incredible misery, evil, greed and violence in its single-minded pursuit of profits. In this case, it does so at the growing expense of the lives of children. We are in the midst of an authoritarian state that emboldens tyrants, politicians for hire and rewards a silence that translates into a murderous act of complicity.

Fortunately, young people are refusing to be silent about state violence, corporate violence and the growing culture of violence in the United States. They are standing up, making their voices heard and refusing to be written out of the discourse of democracy and social and racial justice. They are refusing the violence that accompanies a politics of disposability. They are refusing to be viewed as excess, collateral damage as a byproduct of the NRA and arms industries. The young people in Parkland, Florida, are saying "No" to being voiceless and "Yes" to undermining those cowardly politicians like Marco Rubio and Rick Scott who are lackeys of the gun industry and the NRA. They don't want prayers in the face of the ongoing mass shootings taking the lives of young people on a weekly basis. They want justice. Hopefully, we are in the midst of a generational revolt that is going to reclaim the promises of a radical democracy.

A Note to Media: Don't Tell Us Republicans Care About Deficits

Mon, 2018-02-19 00:00

Republicans do not act like people who are concerned about budget deficits. Given the opportunity, they pursue policies that increase budget deficits. This is not just true in the present; it was also true when George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan were in the White House.

President Donald Trump, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Vice President Mike Pence arrive to speak about newly passed tax reform legislation during an event December 20, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images)

Most Republicans in Congress, along with the Republican president, supported tax cuts and increased spending, consequently raising the projected deficits for 2018 and 2019 by nearly $380 billion a year. This is an increase of almost 2 percent of GDP -- roughly the size of the stimulus pushed through by Barack Obama at the trough of the recession in 2009. That's real money.

There are grounds on which the merits of the tax cuts can be debated, although it does seem hard to justify giving still more money to the country's richest people. There are also arguments for the spending -- although the increases for the military, which got the majority of the additional spending, may be hard to justify.

But one thing is not debatable. The Republicans who supported this tax cut and additional spending do not place a priority on deficit reduction and balanced budgets.

While this deduction should be obvious, sort of like Kim Jong-un not being a big promoter of human rights, many in the media feel the need to tell us the opposite. There is a never-ending flow of articles telling us about how Republicans feel the "urgency" to reduce the deficit, or that they are not concerned about deficits created by the tax cut because they "embrace" the belief that the tax cut will pay for itself with additional growth.

There is one point that should be very clear by now: Republicans do not act like people who are concerned about budget deficits. Given the opportunity, they pursue policies that increase budget deficits. This is not just true in the present; it was also true when George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan were in the White House.

In each case, Republican administrations had large tax cuts which substantially reduced government revenue. While they did push through some cuts to spending on the domestic side, their increased spending on the military was more than offsetting.

In the prior two cases, and now under Trump, we see a huge expansion of the deficit. This is not behavior that is consistent with being concerned about large budget deficits or committed to balanced budgets.

But in spite of consistently supporting measures that raise budget deficits, perhaps in their heart of hearts, the Republicans all believe in balanced budgets. The correct response is: Who cares?

After all, maybe Kim Jong-un really is a very strong believer in the importance of human rights, he just happens to head a totalitarian regime that imprisons and executes people for arbitrary reasons. In the effort to understand the conduct of Kim Jong-un and North Korea, his innermost views about the importance of human rights really don't matter.

This rule should be taught in Journalism 101: Reporters should not infer views or beliefs. Reporters don't know what people believe about deficits or anything else. They know what they say and do. Reporters should restrict their reporting to what they know.

This rule is especially crucial in the case of politicians. After all, it is the job of a politician to convince people that they agree with them, even when they don't. This is how successful politicians get elected.

The problem of reporters telling us about people's motives and actual beliefs goes well beyond telling us about Republican politicians' concerns over budget deficits. Reporters do this all the time when they clearly are not in a position to know people's thoughts. The case of Republican deficit hawks, who continually act in ways that lead to higher deficits, is just a particularly egregious example.

I and others have argued that concerns about budget deficits are hugely overblown. Over the last decade, Washington's excessive concern with deficits prevented an adequate stimulus that could have employed millions of additional workers. As a result, lives were ruined and we needlessly lost trillions of dollars of output that could have gone to better housing, health care and improving the environment.

Unfortunately, the harm from excessive focus on the deficit is little recognized due to the poor quality of reporting on the topic. It would be good if the corporate media would drop silly moralizing about lower deficits somehow being good. Part of that change would be to stop making up stories about Republicans' commitments to balanced budgets.

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"The US's Culture of Violence Contributes to the Sanctification of the Second Amendment": An Interview With Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

Mon, 2018-02-19 00:00

A gun display showing the Statue of Liberty holding a pistol is seen at a National Rifle Association outdoor sports trade show on February 10, 2017, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The Second Amendment was born of slave patrols and militia massacres of Indigenous people. (Photo: Dominick Reuter / AFP / Getty Images)

The Second Amendment had little utility while white supremacy reigned, says Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author of Loaded. It was only in the post-World War II era -- with the rise of the Black, Indigenous and Mexican freedom movements -- did white nationalists, including state and local officials, being using it as a legal tool to preserve or restore white dominance.

A gun display showing the Statue of Liberty holding a pistol is seen at a National Rifle Association outdoor sports trade show on February 10, 2017, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The Second Amendment was born of slave patrols and militia massacres of Indigenous people. (Photo: Dominick Reuter / AFP / Getty Images)

In Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz details the white supremacist background of the Second Amendment and the perennial NRA cry of gun rights. She reveals the irony of the gun lobby's equation of gun ownership with freedom. Guns, after all, she notes, were vital tools in the suppression and killing of the Indigenous population and Black people before the Bill of Rights was written. Get the book now with a donation to Truthout.

As far as guns are concerned, the word "freedom" represents the "right" of white gun-owners to preserve white nationalism. The Second Amendment is a product of white settler colonialism, says author Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz in this exclusive interview.

Mark Karlin: What is your response to the National Rifle Association's (NRA) perennial contention that freedom is ensured by gun ownership?

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz: Because the federal government, especially the judiciary in the beginning, was the conduit for civil rights reform victories, white nationalists, non-governmental organizations, as well as elected officials in the former Confederate states and in Indian Country west of the Mississippi adopted anti-federal government politics. The NRA was a part of that trajectory that sought to shrink federal government powers, again focusing on the Supreme Court, but increasingly dominating US Congress and the presidency. "Freedom" was and is the watchword for this white nationalist agenda: freedom from the federal government, which has led to the related neoliberal politics of privatization of public goods.

The culture of violence is inherent to colonialism of any type.

What do you think the United States would be like if the Second Amendment had never been included in the Bill of Rights?

Guessing at alternative outcomes to historical events is tricky. But I doubt that absence of the Second Amendment would have changed the course of US history, which is a history of inherently violent settler-colonialism and chattel slavery. The Second Amendment was the writing into constitutional law what already existed in the British colonies -- the use of citizens' militias to drive out Native people and appropriate their land, and for slave patrols. They would have continued [even] without the Second Amendment. As long as the US was totally a white-ruled republic, the Second Amendment was never at issue, and there were government (local, state, federal) regulations on firearms. However, as I argue in Loaded, with the post-World War II rise of the Black freedom movement, which spawned Native and Mexican civil rights movements, white power had to cede rights that had previously been possessed exclusively by the white majority. This, in turn, gave rise to white nationalist organizations, such as the John Birch Society and their affiliated armed Minutemen, among others. The NRA, pretty much a benign organization of recreational hunters and gun collectors (albeit predominately white), experienced a coup by a white nationalist group that seized leadership. Only in the 1990s did the Second Amendment become a legal weapon in the racist backlash to the freedom movements.

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. (Courtesy of City Light Books)

The Second Amendment was seized upon by white nationalists as a legal tool to preserve or restore white dominance.

What does the word "militia" mean in the context of the massacres and oppression of Indigenous Americans?

I would call "massacres and oppression of Indigenous Americans" a government policy of genocide, total war, total ethnic cleansing. The citizens' militias [were] one aspect of that policy; the other was the formal US Army and Marine Corps, which spent the first century of US independence carrying out this project. The role of settler-colonial landowners as voluntary militias in initiating massacres to drive Native communities out and seize their land was acted out as "individual rights." Inevitably, Native resistance led to settlers calling on the federal government to make all-out war; this happened time and again in the 100-year genocidal war across the continent.

Why was it so important to slave-owning states that the Second Amendment be included in the Bill of Rights?

The slave-owning colonies, particularly Virginia, were dominant in the secession movement. By the mid-1700s, the plantation agricultural system was agribusiness and made up the primary source of wealth in the new republic. There was no debate about including the individual right to bear arms and form militias in inscribing the Second Amendment among the first 10 amendments to the constitution, as these features already existed in the colonies. Colonial citizens' militias already existed, and by time of independence, the slave-owning colonial militias had been transformed into slave patrols.

Roosevelt's "wilderness" conservation project annexed dozens of Indigenous sacred sites calling the federal theft "national parks."

How does the Second Amendment contribute to the United States' culture of violence?

I would reverse that relationship to how the US culture of violence contributes to the sanctification of the Second Amendment. The culture of violence is inherent to colonialism of any type, and becomes homicidal with settler colonialism and the racial regime of African enslavement. In a way, the Second Amendment turned out to be a time bomb that had little meaning or utility while white supremacy reigned absolute; it was seized upon by white nationalists, including local and state officials, as a legal tool to preserve or restore white dominance.

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The Second Amendment is built upon a foundation of white supremacy.

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What is the real and symbolic significance of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge armed occupation in Oregon in 2016?

On January 2, 2016, armed men arrived at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon and began an occupation of the headquarters and surrounding territory for the next 40 days. In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt had carved out and appropriated most of Northern Paiute territory in Oregon -- territory that had been guaranteed to the Paiutes by treaty; this then became the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. It was a part of Roosevelt's "wilderness" conservation project that annexed dozens of Indigenous sacred sites, such as Yellowstone, Yosemite and [the] Grand Canyon, calling the federal theft "national parks."

All these sacred sites and "public" lands must be returned to the stewardship of the Native nations from whom they were illegally seized; none should be privatized.

Most Native land in the West was seized without the agreement of Native nations as "public domain," which, ever since, has been leased at minimal cost to corporations and individuals for private ranching, and to corporations for commercial mining, oil drilling and pipelines, and timber harvesting. The private exploitation of public lands is in addition to the vast privately-owned ranch lands grabbed by settler-ranchers under federal homesteading measures in the wake of the ethnic cleansing of Native communities by the US Army of the West. Wealthy cattle ranchers, like those who seized Malheur, have long been lobbying and clamoring for the federal public lands to be transferred to the states, which, unlike the federal government, can sell off land and privatize all of it. In light of Native peoples' demands for restitution of sacred sites and all federal- and state-held lands that were taken without treaties or agreements, this is a continuation of the Indian wars, fronted by ranching and fossil fuel resource interests, but made possible by the continuing US system of colonialism and a public blinded to its history. All these sacred sites and "public" lands must be returned to the stewardship of the Native nations from whom they were illegally seized; none should be privatized.

Why Are More Cities Divesting From Big Oil? It's Moral -- and Practical

Mon, 2018-02-19 00:00

Direct divestments and lawsuits that began on the West Coast are spreading, with New York being the latest city to pull its funding out of oil and coal. The global financial and insurance industries are starting to recognize that fossil fuel investments don't make moral or economic sense.

Thousands of New Yorkers came together for the #Sandy5 march on October 28, 2017, to commemorate the fifth anniversary of Superstorm Sandy. Participants demanded powerful climate action from New York's elected officials. (Photo: Erik McGregor / Pacific Press / LightRocket via Getty Images)

In January, New York City announced that it would both divest its $189 billion pension fund from fossil fuel companies and sue the world's five biggest oil companies for their contributions to catastrophic climate change. The city plans to move the $5 billion it now invests in fossil fuel companies into other investments within the next five years. The lawsuit, in turn, cites climate change-caused damage, such as flooding and erosion and future threats, and asks BP, ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Shell to pay for it.

This playbook was written on the West Coast. In September, San Francisco and Oakland filed separate lawsuits against the same five oil companies seeking payment for the construction of new seawalls and other infrastructure required to protect the cities from rising sea levels. Marin and San Mateo counties, and the city of Imperial Beach in San Diego County, sued dozens of fossil fuel firms, making similar arguments.

These actions are accelerating under the Trump administration's multipronged effort to undercut environmental protections and boost fossil fuel production and use, which would exacerbate climate change. States, cities, and the people retain considerable power to effectively challenge the administration's reckless quest to pump more and more greenhouse gas into the rapidly warming atmosphere.

They're using that power: Direct divestment programs and lawsuits are products of people power -- activists organizing in coalitions of aligned interest groups and working with like-minded elected officials -- and they are not the only tools available to us.

Activists around the world are effectively pressuring the fossil fuel industry by taking on the financial institutions that make pollution possible. In Europe and elsewhere, financial institutions and insurers are already disentangling from the fossil fuel industry. In Australia, for example, energy company Adani's proposed Carmichael coal mine, once slated to be the biggest coal mine in the world, is now imperiled after lenders around the world have ruled out participation. European insurance companies, including Axa, Zurich Insurance Group, and Munich Re, are planning to stop insuring new coal investments.

In North America, the divestment movement is led by Indigenous activist groups like Mazaska Talks and their allies. Inspired by the Standing Rock Sioux and their powerful protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), grassroots groups across the country sprang up last year to carry on the work of Standing Rock by targeting the banks that finance extreme fossil fuel infrastructure.

In Oakland, Defenders of Mother Earth-Huichin, an Indigenous-led coalition bearing the Ohlone name for the surrounding parts of the East Bay, successfully got amendments to local law enacted that require any financial institution seeking to provide banking services to the city to disclose whether it finances DAPL or other projects that violate Indigenous sovereignty. The changes also include required disclosures about financing of other fossil fuel infrastructure, and private prisons and detention centers. Allied groups in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle have won similar victories targeting the banks that back dangerously polluting fossil fuel projects, causing the banks to incur reputational damage and lose valuable municipal contracts.

The lawsuits brought by New York and others accuse the oil companies of creating a "public nuisance," the same tactic used by states in the 1990s to successfully extract significant settlements from tobacco companies. In these cases against Big Oil, the cities and counties contend that the oil companies created and contributed to global warming-induced sea level rise, and therefore should pay for the costs those cities have incurred and will continue to incur as they put adaptation measures in place.

These measures are extensive and costly; in San Francisco, short-term upgrades to the city's seawall are expected to cost more than $500 million, with long-term upgrades estimated to exceed $5 billion. Plans to protect the city's sewer system from sea level rise and associated shoreline erosion are estimated to cost an added $350 million. In Oakland, improvements to the dike protecting Oakland International Airport are estimated to cost $55 million.

Likewise, the complaint filed by New York draws on the city's detailed work on adaptation, including a $20 billion program to establish climate resiliency design guidelines for municipal infrastructure, and the Raised Shorelines Program, which will elevate shorelines to protect low-lying areas and is expected to cost $100 million for just the first nine out of 91 sites identified. New York City also is taking the oil companies to task for their contribution to rising global temperatures, which the city is fighting with public health initiatives such as Cool Neighborhoods NYC, a $100 million program to keep communities safe during periods of extreme heat.

Fossil fuel companies have been banned from Oakland's investment portfolio since 2014, and the city council has also called on CalPERS, which manages $326.4 billion in investments for state employees, and Oakland's public employee pension funds to divest. Across the Bay, the San Francisco Defund DAPL Coalition has been pushing officials to divest the San Francisco Employees' Retirement System (SFERS) from its $559 million in fossil fuel investments. The city's board of supervisors has repeatedly called on the pension fund to divest, and the late Mayor Ed Lee called for divestment in one of his last public statements before his sudden death in December 2017. In late January, the SFERS's board, spurred by grassroots energy and sustained pressure from the city, voted to begin a phased divestment of the fund's "riskiest dirtiest fossil fuel assets."

The global financial and insurance industries are starting to recognize that fossil fuel investments don't make moral or economic sense. The next step is to make this reality clear in the United States. The lawsuits brought by New York City, San Francisco, Oakland, and others signal to bank shareholders and management that fossil fuel firms bring with them significant litigation risks. Public divestment from these companies shows that public pension fund managers in the heart of Wall Street are now recognizing them as bad investments, dragged down by "stranded assets" in the form of fossil fuel reserves that cannot be tapped without causing catastrophic climate change. New York City's controller, Scott Stringer, cited the stranded assets argument in defending his decision, saying that "it would be irresponsible of us as fiduciaries" to avoid considering divestment.

Indeed, Stringer also noted that Bank of America's own analysts have predicted that global oil demand will peak by 2030, even as the bank is still financing DAPL and Keystone XL. Divesting our personal and public wealth from the banks that enable the fossil fuel industry, combined with direct divestment and lawsuits, can help bring pressure on banks to stop funding risky, money-losing fossil fuel projects. Climate change leaders in every community should use these tactics and every tool available to make these risks clear.

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Five Activism Suggestions That Worked: When Your Representatives Don't Listen

Mon, 2018-02-19 00:00
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Nearly every Friday since Trump took office, constituents of longtime Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) took time out of their busy lives to visit his Morristown, New Jersey office to encourage him to protect Obamacare, to vote no on a GOP tax plan, and most importantly, to hold a town hall meeting (which it seemed like he bent over backward to avoid). Members of this tireless group, NJ 11th for Change, a branch of the Indivisible movement, never did get that town hall, but their tenacity may have landed them something better: his retirement. 

Frelinghuysen, who served as the chair of the House Committee on Appropriations, announced recently that he would not seek reelection in New Jersey's 11th congressional district. He is the eighth long-serving Republican to call it quits in the lead-up to the 2018 midterm elections, and the second in the last week, after Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania. Unlike Meehan, and fellow retiree Blake Farenthold, sexual harassment allegations didn't push Frelinghuysen out the door. It was activism.

"Frelinghuysen won his last election by 19 points, but by this November, his race had been called a tossup," Elizabeth Juviler, a co-executive director of NJ 11th for Change, told AlterNet. "That was the power of people's voices in a classically democratic process. People spoke up, they were heard, and our institutions and government are changing as a result. It's a shame that Frelinghuysen refused to hear our voices until it was too late for him." 

The group started in 2016, and in January 2017, Fridays Without Frelinghuysen, as their visits to his office became known, gained the group so much notoriety that one of Juviler's fellow co-directors, Saily Avelenda, lost her job. Frelinghuysen himself sent an article about the group to the board of the bank where she was senior vice president and assistant general counsel. On the back, he wrote, "One of the ringleaders works at your bank!" Despite this setback, Avelenda told local paper the Morristown Green that Monday's announcement was a win "for all those people who stood in the rain, the cold, the crazy heat, every Friday."

Juviler spoke to AlterNet about her experiences as a new activist, and offered a few tips for sustainability and long-term success.

1. Have a clear mission and focus.

NJ 11th for Change's goal was to force Frelinghuysen to hold a town hall. 

Juviler says:

"I think the biggest tip is that we had a mission that was exciting and welcoming to a broad group of people, but laser-focused at the same time. We are nonpartisan. We are unaffiliated with any party, though eventually we were campaigning against Frelinghuysen.

"We have tried as hard as possible to maintain deeply supportive, friendly, forward-thinking culture within the group, particularly on our Facebook group, which is the main social hangout. There's no question we benefited from a targeted focus on congressional representation rather than getting too far off into any one issue. We were confident that so many other groups were active on issues and watching senators and involved with legislative policy within the state... that we could keep our tent wide and our path narrow."

2. Diversify your tactics.

While your mission should be crystal-clear, sometimes the methods you use to carry it out will have to change, and it's important to be flexible.

Juviler explains:

"In the beginning, Fridays [Without Frelinghuysen] provided a huge amount of energy and focus. People took time off work, issue groups gathered, civic groups gathered -- but when it became clear that Rodney would never meet with us, and when his votes consistently betrayed his district's interests, we moved on to other activities."

3. Be hyper-local.

There's a reason the Tea Party's damage to our democracy has been so long-lasting. When Obama was in office, they didn't just direct their ire at the president, but at all of their representatives. Tea Party groups went to town hall meetings (although Frelinghuysen didn't give constituents that opportunity).

Juviler says:

"We started town teams in most of the towns within the district, and both teams carried out all kinds of activities like tabling at farmers markets and street fairs, having issue educational meetings at the library, etc. These hyper-local groups are able to speak to their neighbors about the things our neighbors most care about in a way that resonates, and we found this extremely effective...

"We were local, visible, persistent and effective opposition to his status quo of entitled representation."

4. Do your research and learn your representative's history.

It will help you better plan your strategy and fight back against attacks. Juviler says NJ 11th for Change did this, "and he didn't know how to handle it."

Juviler recalls the ethics complaints filed after Frelinghuysen got Saily Avelenda fired:

"[I]t was not only a terrible error in strategy, but pretty terrible period....He really expected we would fade away, and when we didn't, he'd already dismissed us, refused to meet with us in such silly public ways. And meanwhile, his voting record [showed he was] beholden to Paul Ryan in obvious ways [that] went against most of his constituents' desires."

5. Don't forget to celebrate the small victories.

Juviler recalls:

"One of the most amazing moments was at the end of March [2017], when the AHCA was due for a vote on a Friday, but before noon Frelinghuysen had announced that he could not support the bill. We turned our regular Friday meeting with his staff into a celebration. It was the first big sense that we regular people could together make a big difference on our government."

As for next steps, Juviler says despite Frelinghuysen's resignation, the group's plans remain largely the same. Until he's gone, they will continue to be "focused on educating constituents about Rodney's record and how it affects them."

"There is still a lot of bad policy coming out us from Washington," she continued, "and we will see how Republican candidates lineup, if they have been silent about the despicable things that are happening to New Jersey and the country or if they have a backbone."

The group is also looking toward the midterm elections. NJ 11th for Change is so far declining to endorse anyone in the primaries, but noted, "We already have an excellent field of candidates. We still are working to get an excellent representative into Congress from the 11th District, one who will advocate for us, be responsive, transparent, and accountable. One hurdle is behind us, but the goal still lies ahead."

Trump Budget Would Undo Gains From Conservation Programs on Farms and Ranches

Mon, 2018-02-19 00:00
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Members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees are starting to shape the 2018 farm bill -- a comprehensive food and agriculture bill passed about every five years. Most observers associate the farm bill with food policy, but its conservation section is the single largest source of funding for soil, water and wildlife conservation on private land in the United States. 

Farm bill conservation programs provide about US$5.8 billion yearly for activities such as restoring wildlife habitat and using sustainable farming practices. These programs affect about 50 million acres of land nationwide. They conserve millions of acres of wildlife habitat and provide ecological services such as improved water quality, erosion control and enhanced soil health that are worth billions of dollars. 

Sixty percent of US land is privately owned, and it contains a disproportionately high share of habitat for threatened and endangered species. This means that to conserve land and wildlife, it is critical to work with private landowners, particularly farmers and ranchers. Farm bill conservation programs provide cost shares, financial incentives and technical assistance to farmers and other private landowners who voluntarily undertake conservation efforts on their land. 

President Donald Trump's 2019 budget request would slash funding for farm bill conservation programs by about $13 billion over 10 years, on top of cuts already sustained in the 2014 farm bill. In a recent study, we found that it is highly uncertain whether the benefits these programs have produced will be maintained if they are cut further.

Funding Cuts and Future Prospects

Conservation on private land produces tangible benefits for wildlifewater qualityerosion control and floodwater storage. The public value of these improvements extends far beyond the boundaries of any individual landowner's property. 

Studies have shown that farmers appreciate the direct benefits they receive from participating in these programs, such as more productive soil and better hunting and wildlife viewing on their lands. Conservation programs can also provide farmers with an important and stable income source during crop price downturns.

Congress made substantial cuts in farm bill conservation programs in 2014 – the first reductions since the conservation title of the bill was created in 1985. In total, the 2014 farm bill reduced conservation spending by 6.4 percent, or about $3.97 billion over 10 years.

These cuts reduced the number of farmers who were able to enroll in the programs. For example, the Conservation Reserve Program pays farmers to take environmentally sensitive land out of agricultural production and convert cropland into ecologically beneficial grasses. In 2016, due to budget cuts, it accepted just 22 percent of acres that farmers offered for enrollment. 

The Conservation Stewardship Program, which focuses on working lands in agricultural production, offers farmers financial incentives and technical advice for conservation measures such as cover crops or efficient irrigation systems. In 2015 USDA funded only 27 percent of CSP applications. 

The Trump administration's proposed cuts have drawn criticism from conservation groups and farmers. Meanwhile, these programs appear to have bipartisan support in Congress. 

In a June 2017 hearing, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, said: 

"I've heard repeatedly from farmers and ranchers about the importance of these programs, how they successfully incentivize farmers to take conservation to the next level, and the need for continued federal investment in these critical programs."

In October 2017, Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, introduced a bipartisan bill to strengthen the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which fosters private-public partnerships in regions of high conservation priority. The Trump administration has proposed to eliminate this program, along with the Conservation Stewardship Program. 

Funding will be tight for the 2018 farm bill, as USDA has acknowledged. A set of guiding principles the department released on Jan. 24 pledged to provide "a fiscally responsible Farm Bill that reflects the Administration's budget goals." Congress will soon face funding decisions that will have critical implications for conservation outcomes and landowners.

Without Funding, Fewer Farmers Will Conserve

Further budget cuts in farm bill conservation programs would undermine environmental protection in multiple ways. Less land and wildlife would be protected, and fewer farmers would be able to enroll in these programs. Moreover, as our study concluded, landowners are unlikely to continue their conservation efforts when payments end.

Federal agencies and environmental organizations generally would like to see owners keep up conservation practices even when they no longer receive federal incentives. We call this phenomenon "persistence." Designing incentives so that they produce lasting behavior changes is a challenge in many fields, including agricultural conservation.

Our search of relevant scientific publications found very limited research on landowner behavior after incentive program contracts end. What research has been done indicates that persistence is highly variable and often does not occur. 

Studies have found that after contracts expire, the percentage of landowners who continue conservation management can range from 31 to 85 percent. Persistence also depends on the practices landowners are required to perform. Structural actions like planting trees are more likely to have lasting effects than measures that landowners need to perform frequently and may abandon, such as treating invasive plants with herbicides.

Little is known about why landowners do or do not persist with conservation behaviors after incentive programs end. But we have identified several mechanisms that could support persistence behavior. 

As landowners participate in conservation programs, they might develop positive views of conservation. They also may continue to use conservation practices because they want to be perceived as good land stewards. Practices that involve repeated action, such as moving cattle for prescribed grazing, might become habits. Finally, landowners with sufficient financial and technical resources are more likely to persist with conservation behaviors.

Long-Term Costs of Defunding Conservation Programs

Our research shows that it is hard to predict how farmers and ranchers will respond if they are unable to re-enroll in farm bill conservation programs. Some might continue with conservation management, but it is likely that many landowners would resume farming formerly protected land or abandon conservation practices. 

To promote conservation more effectively over time, it would make sense to consider farm bill policy changes such as issuing longer-duration contracts and designing post-contract transitions that encourage continued conservation. Further budget cuts will only reduce future conservation on private land, and could undo much of the good that these programs have already achieved.

Disclosure statement: Ashley Dayer's research program at Virginia Tech receives research funding from USDA Farm Service Agency and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Seth Lutter's Masters research at Virginia Tech was funded in part by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Racist Preconceptions and an Ongoing Cover-Up Mark the Attica Rebellion's Legacy

Sun, 2018-02-18 00:00

Attica is a powerful reminder that people living behind bars are human beings, says Heather Ann Thompson, author of Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy. Thompson discusses the causes and consequences of the Attica rebellion and the extent of the cover-up that continues to this day.

Video grab of prisoners being rounded up after the four-day uprising at Attica Prison. (Photo: Henry Groskinsky / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images)

In September 1971, prisoners at the Attica Correctional Facility in upstate New York rose up and seized control of the prison to draw the world's attention to the terrible conditions they endured. But the state's bloody retaking of the prison, and the blame placed on prisoners for the death toll that ensued, paved the way for today's repressive mass incarceration apparatus. Get the true story of Attica in Heather Ann Thompson's gripping, award-winning book Blood in the Water. Order it by donating to Truthout today!

The reality of what happened at Attica in 1971 has long been suppressed, with an entirely fictional narrative -- in which violent prisoners cut the throats of hostages and mutilated their bodies -- taking precedence over the truth. In fact, the state of New York was responsible for ending negotiations and assaulting the prison with overwhelming force, knowing that this could and would end in the death and injury of the state's own employees. Thirty-nine people -- prisoners and hostages -- died as a result of shots fired by heavily armed troopers and correction officers, over a hundred more were wounded, and surviving prisoners were beaten, tortured and humiliated.

The Attica uprising itself inspired incarcerated people and others to keep struggling even in the face of overwhelming odds, but the backlash -- fueled by misinformation and racist preconceptions -- was used to justify repressive "law and order" policies and the further dehumanization of prisoners. As we once again face a racist backlash to anti-racist organizing, Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy is an essential and timely book. Michelle Alexander calls it "a true gift to the written history of civil rights and racial justice struggles in America."

Heather Ann Thompson. (Photo: Graham MacIndoe)Truthout spoke with historian and author Heather Ann Thompson about the causes and consequences of the Attica rebellion, the historic legal defense campaign fought by the Attica Brothers Legal Defense Fund (ABLD), and the extent to which authorities continue to cover up the truth to this day.

Joe Macaré: Could you start by telling people a little bit about the lead-up to the uprising at Attica? What were conditions like, not just in Attica but also in other New York State prisons?

Heather Ann Thompson: One of the ways to really begin to understand Attica is to go back to 1970. On the one hand, around the country there was a lot of optimism that things were getting much better in prisons -- in fact, that we were moving away from prisons toward community corrections. Certainly, in the body public there were a lot of folks who were against the death penalty and really thought that prisoners certainly deserved basic human rights.

The prisons were lagging behind all of that. The conditions were terrible. We know a lot about how bad Southern prisons were in this time, but we don't really know how bad Northern prisons were -- and they were horrendous. They were racially segregated usually; certainly, Black and Brown prisoners experienced much more abuse from guards. At places like Attica, they were being fed on a terrible diet, but also a very meager diet, on 63 cents a day -- well below what they needed to survive. The sanitary conditions were terrible.

It's in that environment, of both optimism from the outside but also the reality of terrible conditions on the inside, that prisoners began to ask for basic human rights. The key is to understand that they were quite hopeful. They wrote letters to state senators and the commissioner of corrections, and despite the fact that the prisoners were very politically motivated, very activist in many ways, they hoped to get these basic needs met kind of through the system, without a lot of horror and drama.

The state of New York had always planned on retaking this prison with force.

The problem was that the state of New York ignored those needs, and so places -- not just Attica but many prisons -- erupt because the sheer frustration of, for example, not having more than one square of toilet paper a day, is really politicizing to the folks on the inside. It really makes them understand that they are more humane than their captors.

In the case of Attica, the actual rebellion begins because of what is, in many senses, a completely accidental series of events. But the fact that it becomes such an articulate rebellion is down to how much this had been discussed in the months and years preceding Attica.

It's very striking in the book that that moment when the rebellion began was based on misunderstanding and chance, and initially was something very spontaneous. The structure and the political demands were something that certain prisoners had to impose on that chaos. Can you talk a little about what happened there and that process?

On the morning that we will now mark as the beginning of the Attica uprising, prison management had made a decision essentially to retaliate against a particular company of prisoners for some upheaval the night before by locking the doors to the recreation yard that they normally would have gone out of in this one tunnel.

The problem was, as was typical with management, they also ignored the concerns of the guards who worked there. They didn't tell them what was going on, they didn't tell the prisoners what was going on. In that very tense environment, everyone panicked and sheer chaos ensued. In that moment of chaos -- where everyone is backing away from each other and trying to arm themselves with anything they can find, fearing that something bad is about to happen on the part of prison management -- a gate comes open. That is why the chaos escalates. The entire prison is soon overrun by people trying to hide and seek safety, but in that chaos, a lot of people get hurt. It is nothing short of a riot by all definitions.

No one felt the need to corroborate this story, because it made ultimate sense to them.

But as you note, what is really incredible is the way in which the folks who had been having really intense discussions in the yard leading up to that -- about the importance of articulating prisoner rights and the importance of bringing the world's attention to what really goes on behind bars -- their cooler heads prevail. They manage to move everyone into the one yard, out in the open, and that's when the real rebellion begins. Folks elect officials to speak for them out of each cell block, they bring in observers, and they set up a medical tent and a food distribution area.

All of that was down to the fact that there had been so much discussion about the fact that, as L.D. Barkley said: "We are men! We are not beasts." It was this moment when everyone realized, Look, we're in charge for a moment, let's bring in the media, let's bring the state to the table and let's ask for -- again, this is key -- basic, basic human rights.

When it comes to the state's disastrous decision to send in state troopers and to assault the prison, to what extent was that a tactical error, and to what extent do you see this as ideologically driven? Had Gov. Nelson Rockefeller in particular decided to respond with a show of force, believing that whether or not the hostages were saved was an acceptable loss?

That's a great question, because my thinking when I went into the project was that there were numerable regrettable decisions made, and I certainly think that's the way most people have understood this event. That ultimately, the fact that this uprising ends with state troopers and guards shooting and killing 39 men -- hostages and prisoners alike -- all of that was down to a series of regrettable decisions, starting with sending in the state troopers.... That if they just would have waited a few more days, this could have been avoided.

The thing is, in the course of doing this book, which took 13 years, I was able to find documents that persuaded me that this was absolutely not a series of regrettable decisions. In fact, the state of New York had always planned on retaking this prison with force. In fact, what delayed it, if nothing else, was the fact that there were these observers inside, including a US congressman and numerous other elected officials.... It was also not accidental that they had the New York State Troopers take the prison, not the National Guard -- and not just the New York State Troopers, but the lowest-ranking troop battalions end up being in charge.

I now understand that that's in part because Rockefeller was intensely politically ambitious. He was determined to show his own party that he was as "tough on crime" as Richard Nixon, who he very much envied being in the White House. There was just no way that he was going to let this thing end with the prisoners coming out victorious.

Once I identified who was in charge and what the decisions were that were being made, it was pretty clear to me that while it remains the truth that it was totally avoidable -- there were a million things they could have done differently -- that they had no intention of doing things differently.

Untruths circulated in the immediate aftermath of that retaking, particularly the story that it was the prisoners who had killed hostages by cutting their throats. Reading the book, this seemed to me a pretty bold invention on the part of the state. Could you comment on how deliberate that piece of misinformation was and the impact that it had?

The book puts more emphasis on the impact than the intentionality, and that's because I'm actually not persuaded that the commissioner of corrections and the PR guy that step out in front of the prison and tell the world that the prisoners have killed the hostages -- that fateful lie -- I'm not persuaded that they did that knowing for a fact that the prisoners had not killed the hostages. I say that because, of course, in the chaos on the ground, rumors fly, god knows what happened, all people see is the carnage.

Even if the activists prevent the worst that the state might do left unchecked, it is nevertheless carceral, it is nevertheless inherently racist and inherently oppressive.

But here's the key: Those officials and the reporters who placed that story on the front page of The New York Times, intentionally or not, completely corroborated their own racial imagination. It completely made sense to them that prisoners, when given half the chance, would not just slash the throats of guards, but that they would castrate one of them and so forth. This fits their own preconceived and deeply held racial imagination. In that sense, I don't think it's intentional, but I think it's deeply illuminating ... how no one felt the need to corroborate this story, because it made ultimate sense to them. So, perhaps not intentional, but deeply, deeply disturbing.

The impact was profound. The story went out on the front page of The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and perhaps most importantly, out over the AP wire, which meant the front page of every small-town newspaper in [the US], virtually. It profoundly sours many people who had, maybe grudgingly, come along to the idea that prisoners are people and the civil rights movement is necessary. In a blink of an eye, for those people -- we're not talking about the committed activists who had always believed, but the broader public who had come around to that idea -- this was horrific. This persuaded them that in fact, civil rights are bankrupt, that prisoners are, in fact, "animals."

I argue in the book that while there is a glimpse of reforms that come after Attica, that if we really want to understand this punitive, punitive ethos that helps to build the world's largest carceral apparatus, we need to look to Attica.... Those lies had a profound impact on the nation.

Part of the book is a courtroom story, the tale of a legal battle. In terms of the fight in which the ABLD and others were engaged, what light does that shed on the possibilities and also the problems of using the courts as a tool to get justice for people who've been victims of state violence?

The middle third of the book is really about the extraordinary legal defense effort that is launched on behalf of the Attica brothers to make sure that they're not railroaded for all of the violence that goes down at Attica in the days of the retaking and after. It's a moment that I know law students read about, because it's this remarkable case study in the power of public defenders, the power of grassroots legal activism.

On the one hand, I think what it shows is that we completely underestimate that power. When folks with legal training work with grassroots activists, their power is profound. They can, in fact, bring the state to its knees. In Attica, in countless of those cases, they do exactly that. So, I love that that story is out there for us to reckon with.

But it's also the case -- and this is perhaps a separate conversation -- that even if they keep the state at bay, and even if they prevent the worst that the state might do left unchecked, it still remains the carceral apparatus. While perhaps it can be softened, it can be mitigated, it can be reformed, it can be made more livable, it is nevertheless carceral, it is nevertheless inherently racist and inherently oppressive.

Attica is a powerful reminder that people living behind bars are human beings and that is no less true today than it was in 1971.

So, I think there's two questions and I don't think they should necessarily be conflated. One is: Does the legal profession have an obligation to (and an impact on) the real lived lives of the people on the inside? The answer is absolutely yes. Attica teaches us that lawyers can't go at it alone, and folks in the community can't go at it alone, but combined, they're profoundly powerful. That's separate from: Can the system be made fully human? I think the answer to that is no.

In the process of writing the book, to what extent did you discover that the cover-up, the attempt to obscure the truth of what happened at Attica, is in fact still ongoing?

Most of the parties are no longer with us -- although some of the lawyers are still alive -- so I've gotten a lot of questions about: Why in the world are the documents still almost impossible to get? Why are the archives still not fully open?

The answer is complicated. I think that on the one hand, the state police remain committed to shutting down access. They know that there's no statute of limitations on murder, that plenty of people were murdered at Attica, and they imagine that that puts them at risk. I happen to believe that there is no prosecutor who will take this case now, and in fact, the cover-up that was launched for so many decades very much destroyed the chain of evidence. So, I think that their fears are ill-founded, but I think that they remain. In that sense, the cover-up continues, because the state police still block access to those records.

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It's harder to explain why the state officials don't just open the records. I think in part that's just the way bureaucracy works. No state official ... wants to be the guy that opens up Pandora's Box. They probably don't really know what's in there, they don't really know what the risks are, but they certainly don't want to be the guy who opens the can of worms.

The fact that we know what we know in the book -- and this should scare all of us -- was largely by happenstance. I found some of the most illuminative records to indicate the depth of the cover-up and to name some of the shooters, but the fact that that happened was not because the state revealed the records and not because they're sitting somewhere that anyone can find. It was a series of accidents that led to them, and that's alarming. So, in that sense the cover-up is still alive!

Finally, what is Attica's legacy in terms of organizing and resistance within prisons -- most recently in Florida with Operation PUSH?

Attica is a powerful reminder that people living behind bars are human beings and that is no less true today than it was in 1971. Prisons across the country are erupting today because we, as a nation, have failed to grasp this basic fact, and indeed, have made conditions even more unbearable. If folks on the outside stand up with those on the inside -- like those who have launched Operation PUSH -- all manners of abuse can finally be stopped.

"Pro-Immigrant" Liberalism and Capitalist Exploitation: Why Corporate Democrats Do Not Support Immigrant Justice

Sun, 2018-02-18 00:00

Rep. Luis Gutierrez and Rep. Kyrsten Sinema pose for photos with immigration reform activists after a discussion on immigration reform October 23, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. With the fate of DACA up in the air, Democrats have been relatively silent on the plight of nearly 10 million other undocumented immigrants. (Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images)

The immigration debate, which teeters between racist vitriol from the right-wing and pro-immigrant discourse from corporate liberals and multicultural elites, deliberately ignores the fundamental issue of exploitation under a capitalist system. Immigrant workers are, above all, a means to turn a profit for both those in the detention and deportation business as well as industries that thrive on cheap labor.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez and Rep. Kyrsten Sinema pose for photos with immigration reform activists after a discussion on immigration reform October 23, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. With the fate of DACA up in the air, Democrats have been relatively silent on the plight of nearly 10 million other undocumented immigrants. (Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images)

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"Liberal academics are busy supporting the DREAM Act or whatever helps them avoid being called racist."

This is how a member of Chicago's Moratorium on Deportations Campaign expressed her frustration at the lack of critical analysis surrounding the "comprehensive immigration reform" bill that had just passed the Democratic-led Senate in June 2013.

It's not hard to understand why: The legislation included $46 billion to further militarize the border with Mexico -- already guarded by nearly 20,000 Border Patrol agents, dozens of drones and 700 miles of border walls. This bill included a version of the DREAM Act, as well as a permanently temporary legal status for 5 million other undocumented immigrants, masquerading as a so-called "pathway to citizenship."

Today, President Trump's knack for throwing around demeaning and racist epithets and bringing official US government discourse in line with its corporate-backed policy in countries such as Haiti and El Salvador has liberals across the country and blogosphere up in arms. Paul A. Kramer has rightfully exposed the short-sightedness of this hand-wringing. He underscores the racist undertones that have long subtended official US immigration policy, and prods us to ask some very important questions:

To what extent are the countries of the global north implicated in forces that prevent people in the global south from surviving and thriving where they are? In what ways do restrictive immigration policies heighten the exploitation of workers? How does the fear of deportation make migrant workers easier to discipline, hurt and rob? In what ways does mass migration from the poorer parts of the earth to centers of wealth and power reflect the larger problem of global inequality?

The real challenge lies in answering these questions in a way that does not amount to a mere restatement of their premises accompanied with an ever-growing sense of moral indignation. It is absolutely vital to denounce the brutal legacy of colonialist plunder that set the capitalist system in motion over 500 years ago, but it must not be forgotten that the nation-states forged in the fire of colonialist violence have always been fraught with their own internal power struggles.

A concrete analysis of the explosive contradictions of contemporary capitalist globalization demonstrates that neither Trump's explicitly racist vitriol nor the paternalistic "pro-immigrant" discourse of corporate liberals and the multicultural elite challenges the structures allowing for the exploitation and oppression of immigrants and migrant workers.

This is not to say that there is no difference between the two. Quite the contrary, it is highly illuminating to consider the relationship between such apparently divergent rhetorical strategies and the material interests of specific groups of capitalists and their forms of profit-making. This will make it easier for the grassroots struggle for migrant and immigrant justice to clearly discern the true colors of the corporate, Democrat-led anti-Trump "resistance," and adopt a genuinely progressive platform.

The Political Economy of Anti-Immigrant Discourse

The radical social scientist Immanuel Wallerstein argues that the underlying tension between the formally universalistic ideology undergirding bourgeois democracy and the undeniably racist and sexist manner in which this political system actually functions is a reflection of the contradictory needs of capital accumulation. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels famously proclaimed that "the need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe," but what it produces above all are  its own grave-diggers in the form of "free" workers who must sell their labor power on the market. In the United States, the capitalist class quickly learned to keep the working class internally fractured by creating relatively privileged strata of (largely white male) workers alongside groups of particularly tractable workers whose "cheapened" labor power is rendered so disposable that its owners might even be expelled during times of economic crisis.

This deliberately reductionist framework has the merit of refusing to naturalize racist oppression and rhetoric as a mere manifestation of racism, as if this latter phenomenon did not in turn need to be explained. Its haphazard application can certainly lead to simplistic analyses, but this model may also serve as a fruitful backdrop to a deeper analysis of the present moment.

The strongest social base for the intensely racist discourse in currency today is arguably those capitalists who are invested in the business of immigrant detention and deportation. This is not because they are morally depraved, but because their ability to earn a profit is literally dependent on an endless supply of highly racialized and deportable bodies. They are painfully aware, and they use their considerable social power to shift public discourse in order to serve their own interests.

Activists and scholars have done an excellent job exposing the collusion of corporate executives and state legislators with ties to the private prison industry and the much larger "immigrant industrial complex." These lawmakers have passed extremely repressive anti-immigrant laws such as Arizona's infamous SB 1070 and Alabama's HB 56. From the buses used to transport immigrant detainees, to the corporations that provide woefully inadequate but highly lucrative medical services to them, and the phone companies that charge them $4 a minute, many seemingly innocuous sectors of the economy profit handsomely from this loathsome state of affairs.

This is indeed morally outrageous. Yet, it is not indicative of a crisis of individual morals, so much as a structural crisis of the global capitalist system that reduces human beings to the commodities they either produce, consume, or -- in the case of their labor power -- are forced to sell.

As William Robinson has argued, militarized accumulation -- whether it takes the form of constructing border walls and prisons or hiring and arming paramilitary-style organizations such as the Border Patrol or Immigration and Customs Enforcement -- responds to this crisis in two crucial ways. First, it provides outlets to capital at a time when many other opportunities for productive investment have dried up. What is more, the systematic repression of racialized surplus populations is clearly an attempt to keep a lid on growing discontent among the most socially marginalized, who come to serve as scapegoats for the system's growing instability.

Immigrant workers have indeed grown increasingly organized in recent years, demonstrating that they are unafraid to withhold their labor power as a means of demanding justice. Precisely because they are some of the most highly exploited and legally vulnerable workers, they have not been rendered totally superfluous to global capital. Since the "immigrant industrial complex" treats immigrant bodies as raw materials in the production process, it actually poses a threat to other capitalists who seek to extract surplus value from them.

Quite simply, the detention of immigrants removes their labor power from the (non-prison) labor market. This is a fundamental contradiction, and the contemporary debate around immigration politics must be properly placed within this context.

Corporate Liberals to the Rescue?

In the face of intensified deportation campaigns, the liberal wing of the US-based transnational capitalist class -- including the CEOs of Silicon Valley giants such as Google, Apple and Facebook -- is even more willing than usual to put forward a seemingly progressive and even explicitly anti-racist discourse. Many top executives are immigrants themselves. They call for immigrant families to be kept together, and they will decry the most egregious cases of abuse of immigrant workers.

Denunciations of xenophobia and hate that are not simultaneously buttressed by an anti-capitalist critique practically invite co-optation by the multicultural corporate elite.

Yet when Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella advocates for the "right use" of the H-1B "guest-worker" program, he is calling for the utilization of "high-skill labor" to promote "American competitiveness," not challenging the highly precarious existence of the program's participants. He doesn't seem very concerned about the working conditions of the thousands of "unskilled" and low-wage immigrant workers who ensure that the "campuses" of these global corporations run smoothly, and must dispose of the toxic chemicals produced by this supposedly "eco-friendly" industry on a daily basis. Those who provide the vital labor sustaining the lifestyles of the industry's more affluent workers -- such as gardening, child care, cleaning, repair work and food service -- are hardly better off.

Billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates know that they are utterly dependent on immigrant labor. With this in mind, they have funded organizations such as in order to push for a "comprehensive immigration reform" along the lines of the Senate's 2013 bill. With a team comprising former congressional staffers, campaign managers and NGO professionals, uses online advocacy and local chapters in order to "mobilize the tech community to support policies that keep the American Dream achievable in the 21st century." The organization recognizes that "human ability provides the foundation for everything" the tech community does, and laments that $37 million is lost each day as a result of the country's "broken immigration system."

If it is true, then the "tech community" has its own formula for converting immigrants into dollar signs, and is shrewd enough to appropriate rhetorical themes that one often hears in more community-based organizing. Attempting to put a human face to those dollar signs -- rather than more dollars in the pockets of those humans -- it encourages immigrants to share their stories and demonstrate that "real lives hang in the balance." This lays bare an unfortunate but unavoidable fact: Moral pleas and strident denunciations of xenophobia and hate that are not simultaneously buttressed by an anti-capitalist critique practically invite co-optation by the multicultural corporate elite.

All social justice movements must be resolutely committed to an anti-racist politics, but turning "colorblind" ideology on its head by pointing out the ubiquity of "race" and denouncing all manifestations of racism is no substitute for the development of a long-term strategy grounded in a structural analysis of how the unequal and thoroughly racist class relations of global capitalist society are continually reproduced. This is not an easy task, but with an openly racist president in the White House, it acquires a new sense of urgency.

A Truly Progressive Platform

I have argued elsewhere that the three apparently antagonistic aspects of official US immigration policy -- mass detentions and deportations, a qualitatively new stage of border militarization, and attempts to pass a so-called "comprehensive immigration reform" -- lay the groundwork for a system of immigrant labor control anchored in "liminal legality." In short, recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protective Status -- as well as certain agricultural workers -- would most likely receive some sort of preferential treatment in any future "reform" bill. Yet the essentially temporary nature of those pseudo-legal statuses would be quietly smuggled into a deceptively definitive, decades-long "pathway to citizenship," as well as an expanded and revamped "guest-worker" program.

A truly anti-racist and progressive response would insist on the full and immediate "legalization" for all, while striving to abolish the exclusionary nature of national citizenship itself.

When Rep. Luis Gutiérrez attempts to claim the moral high ground from the Trump administration by tweeting that "$25 billion [for border security] as ransom for Dreamers with cuts to legal immigration and increases to deportations doesn't pass the laugh test," he is being dishonest. In fact, the "immigrant rights champion" vigorously supported a bill passed by the Democratic-led Senate in 2013 that allocated nearly double that amount of money for "border security," while also increasing funding to the deportation apparatus and making similar cuts to "legal" immigration.  

The point is not that Trump and Gutiérrez are hypocrites, but that they embody the contradictions built into the global capitalist system. They will continue to use Dreamers as a "bargaining chip" because of their structural role in upholding such a profoundly unequal social order, which cannot be effectively challenged by appealing to the moral sense of its most powerful guardians.

The White House has vocalized its "support" for Dreamers, but with the fate of DACA up in the air, Democrats have been relatively silent regarding the plight of the nearly 10 million other undocumented immigrants in the country -- let alone the hundreds of thousands of "guest workers" and the millions of "legal" immigrants struggling to make ends meet on a daily basis.

This only reinforces the "good immigrant/bad immigrant" divide that undocumented youth themselves have been tirelessly repudiating for years. Worse still, it will make the eventual inclusion of an interminable "pathway to citizenship" seem like a victory wrested from the jaws of xenophobic reaction. In reality, it is an insidious bid by capital to assert greater control over a highly precarious, mobile and increasingly active undocumented population.

The incredible amount of anti-deportation organizing around the country shines a beacon of light during these dark times. However, corporate liberals will seek to harness this grassroots energy by essentially insisting that "good immigrants" have the right to stay and be super-exploited as a legally vulnerable workforce. A truly anti-racist and progressive response, in contrast, would insist on the full and immediate "legalization" for all, while striving to abolish the exclusionary nature of national citizenship itself, and dismantle the walls that uphold it.

Liberal politicians can -- and must -- be pushed further to the left. Nonetheless, their hands are tied by the constitutionally enshrined rights of capitalist private property, so the struggle for true migrant and immigrant justice must ultimately serve as a key plank in a larger, mass-based movement to abolish this historically-transient form of social power.

As Long as Rights Are Trampled, There Will Be Forced Migration

Sun, 2018-02-18 00:00
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Jorge García is no "bad hombre." Before being deported to Mexico in mid-January, he was a hard-working, tax-paying landscaper in Michigan. He's also a husband and father -- although now an absent one.

Many deportees -- most, like García, good people -- return to countries they no longer know, some of them unable to speak the language. Others are thrust into life-threatening situations. Families and communities fracture; some deportees die.

In 2008, Laura was an undocumented Mexican mother of three living in Texas. Actually, she did have one US "paper" -- a protection order issued against her violent ex-husband, who'd subsequently been deported. He said he'd kill her if she returned to Mexico.

The following year, Laura was detained after a traffic stop. She told the police officer, and later a Border Patrol agent, her very reasonable fears. But reportedly she was pressured into signing a "voluntary return." Her ex kept his word, within days of her deportation back to Mexico.

It's an ongoing debate: What do US citizens owe undocumented immigrants, if anything? Do DACA "Dreamers" deserve special consideration? Should TPS recipients lose their "temporary protected states" if the conditions in their home countries are still dangerous? What if sending them home would rupture families or disrupt the US economy?

What have immigrants brought to our country -- what strengths and gifts, and what liabilities?

We want to add this critical question: How has US foreign policy affected their countries? Refugees walk hot desert miles, ride atop trains, and entrust themselves to smugglers for a chance at a safer, less desperate life. Has our country helped create the extreme conditions these migrants are fleeing?

We believe the US training of Latin American militaries has contributed mightily to this exodus, with the School of the Americas (SOA) being a prime example. The SOA was established in 1946 to train Latin American military personnel. By 2000, it had instructed more than 60,000 soldiers in combat, counterinsurgency, psychological operations, and more.

Although the SOA claimed its training upheld democratic values, human rights reports told a different story. In 2001 -- following a public, editorial, and congressional outcry -- the SOA was "closed" and rebranded as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC).

Then and Now

Without question, democracy and human rights are still under siege in many Latin American countries. Rural communities, often Indigenous, are jeopardized when their lands look promising to outsiders for business ventures -- in logging, mining, hydropower, tourism, or agribusiness.

Consider, for example, Honduras -- the Central American nation that jt reinaugurated conservative President Juan Orlando Hernández, the declared winner of a fiercely disputed November 26 election. The OAS's call for an electoral re-do was rejected, and thousands of protesters filled the streets of Tegucigalpa during the January 27th ceremony.

The election drama takes place against a backdrop of violence against human rights defenders.

Indigeno feminist and environmentalist Berta Cáceres cofounded the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) in 1993. In recent years, COPINH has opposed the building of the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam, which was begun in violation of the Lenca people's rights and threatens their water and livelihood. They've fought the dam in court and blockaded access roads.

Cáceres succeeded in drawing international scrutiny to the controversial project; it stumbled in 2013 when a builder and a funder withdrew. In 2015, she won the Goldman Environmental Prize for bravely "protecting vulnerable people and ecosystems." She'd received many death threats.

Gunmen killed Cáceres in her home the following year.

Berta was not alone in her courage. According to Global Witness's January 2017 report: "123 land and environmental activists have been murdered in Honduras since the 2009 coup." LGBTQ persons and journalists and human rights defenders suffer repression, too.

Notably, SOA graduates Gen. Romeo Vásquez Velásquez and Gen. Luis Javier Prince Suazo figured prominently in removing President Manuel Zelaya in 2009. Coup-makers accused Zelaya of trying to change the constitution, but he'd already angered the elite by raising the minimum wage, advocating land reform, and offering myriad forms of assistance to the poor.

His reforms were going in the right direction for most Hondurans. According to researchers Jake Johnston and Stephan Lefebvre at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, during Zelaya's brief tenure, "Poverty and extreme poverty rates decreased by 7.7 and 20.9 percent respectively." After his ouster, those rates rebounded.

In early September 2010, the post-coup government granted 41 dam concessions -- many of them in territories belonging to Indigenous people, without the prior, "good faith" consultation that is their right. Agua Zarca is one.

The grim reality: Governments and their militaries, often trained and subsidized by the United States, have skewed the distribution of wealth and power in many Latin American nations.

According to figures at the Security Assistance Monitor, Honduras received over $100 million in US "security aid" from 2009 to 2017. Then, two days after the flawed Honduran presidential election in November -- defying fact and reason -- the US State Department certified that the Honduran government supports human rights, making it eligible for more aid.

The Committee of Families of the Detained and Disappeared of Honduras (COFADEH) reports that at least 30 people have been killed since the November election -- most of them opponents of President Hernández, and most killed by the military police.

But Honduras's democratic opposition is not going away. COPINH has called "for a deepening of national mobilization against fraud and dictatorship. The more they repress, the more we struggle and organize."

Hondurans in the US

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reported in 2016 that "more families and unaccompanied children are fleeing poverty and violence in Central America" and trying to reach the United States. This isn't surprising, given the profit- and military-driven upheavals mentioned above.

Natural upheavals have forced migration, too, including Hurricane Mitch in the autumn of 1998 and earthquakes in El Salvador in 2001. Hundreds of thousands of Central Americans sought refuge in the United States after those events, qualifying for Temporary Protected Status.

Now, under the Trump administration, DHS has set January 5, 2019 and September 9, 2019 deadlines for Nicaraguans and Salvadorans, respectively, who must transition out of their TPS by then.

Meanwhile, officials are still deliberating the fate of Honduran TPS holders, claiming they lack "definitive information regarding conditions on the ground compared to pre-Hurricane Mitch." Hondurans could find their TPS ending on July 5, 2018, or possibly extended.

An observation regarding those elive "conditions on the ground": The ability of the majority of Hondurans to recover from Mitch, even 20 years later, is inseparable from the economic justice issues we've touched upon. And those, in turn, depend upon recovering real democracy in Honduras.

Into the Future

So what's next?

SOA Watch encourages actions in solidarity with the people of Honduras. Activists have rallied around a bill called the Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act, which seeks "to withhold US funds from Honduran police and military in the name of human rights."

Other policies that might help include a "clean" DREAM Act -- one that will not make life more dangerous and difficult for immigrants who aren't Dreamers.

Our country has played an often disastrous, deadly role in Latin America. We can just begin to make amends to our southern neighbors by showing refugees respect, hospitality, and security.

Ultimately, reducing the flow of refugees requires a just foreign policy, one that values people -- and what Cáceres called "our Mother Earth" -- over profits. You can be sure: As long as rights are trampled, voices are silenced, and lives are cut short -- there will be forced migration.

Even at great risk. Even without parents. Even with a wall.

Caribbean Residents See Climate Change as a Severe Threat but Most Americans Don't -- Here's Why

Sun, 2018-02-18 00:00
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During the 2017 Atlantic basin hurricane season, six major storms -- all of which were Category 3 or higher -- produced devastating human, material and financial devastation across the southern United States and the Caribbean.

Last year's above-average storm activity was foreseeable. Hurricane intensity ticked up in 2016 and scientists have predicted this trend will hold as global temperatures continue to rise.

Though people in the US and the Caribbean share this increasing vulnerability to hurricanes, they hold very different opinions about the severity of climate change. According to results from the latest Vanderbilt University AmericasBarometer survey, a strong majority of Caribbean residents perceive climate change as a "very serious" problem. In contrast, just 44 percent of the US public does.

Why the difference of opinion? Our research identifies two key factors: politics and risk perception.

Climate Change Is a Partisan Issue in the US

The AmericasBarometer is a biennial survey conducted by Vanderbilt University's Latin American Public Opinion Project. The latest round was conducted between 2016 and 2017 in 29 countries across the Americas.

The 10 Caribbean countries surveyed include Haiti, Dominica and Barbuda, all hit hard by hurricanes in recent years. The survey found that between 56 percent and 79 percent of respondents in the Caribbean believe that climate change is a very serious problem for their country.

Things look different in the United States, where the AmericasBarometer survey affirms prior research demonstrating that climate change is a partisan issue. More than three-quarters of individuals on the liberal side of the political spectrum reported that climate change is a very serious problem.

Less than 20 percent of those with conservative leanings expressed the same degree of concern.

This pattern holds even when we control for age, education, income, gender and perceptions of disaster risk.

In the Caribbean, political leanings are far less consequential to people's views of climate change. The AmericasBarometer survey asked respondents in the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica to place themselves on a scale that runs from the political left to the right. We found no significant differences in opinions about climate change from people with different political views.

One explanation for why the Caribbean public demonstrates more of a consensus on climate change, then, is simply that the issue is not politicized in that region. People of all ideological bents agree that, in the Caribbean, climate change poses a very serious problem.

Just How Dangerous Is Climate Change?

People's perceptions of their vulnerability to climate change-related dangers may also explain diverging views on the issue.

The AmericasBarometer asked respondents in both the Caribbean and the United States to assess the odds that they or a family member would be killed or seriously harmed by a natural disaster in the next 25 years.

In both places, those who feel most vulnerable to disasters more often report that climate change is a "very serious" problem. This relationship holds even when accounting for age, education, wealth, urban residence and gender.

Overall, though, in the US people feel less exposed to hurricanes and other disasters than their Caribbean counterparts. In fact, most members of the US public believe that personal harm from a future disaster is either "not likely at all" or "unlikely."

Most people in the Caribbean, on the other hand, say it is "somewhat likely" or "very likely."

These notable differences may be due to geography. Because the Caribbean region is comprised of islands, a higher proportion of communities there are coastal. This, in turn, can increase the impact that storms have on residents.

Climate Change and Hurricanes

Some scientific consensus exists that climate change can be blamed, at least in part, for the hundreds of casualties and more than US $400 billion in damage that storms brought to the US and the Caribbean in 2017.

Scientific models indicate that the Earth's warming climate is likely to shape future storm activity in the Atlantic basin. Scientists are not sure, however, exactly how this will manifest itself in future hurricane seasons. Some researchers suggest that warmer temperatures increase storm probability. Others restrict the effects to storm intensity.

The 2018 hurricane season is just a few months away. Our research reveals that with politics removed and risk perceptions elevated, people in the Caribbean are bracing for whatever comes quite differently than their US counterparts.

Disclosure statement: Elizabeth J. Zechmeister directs Vanderbilt's Latin American Public Opinion Project. In that capacity, her work has been supported by USAID, the Inter-American Development Bank, United Nations Development Programme and Open Society Foundations. Opinions expressed in this article belong to the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the AmericasBarometer project or its funders.

Nine Months Out, Midterm Campaigns Are Already Heating Up

Sun, 2018-02-18 00:00

The midterms are less than nine months away, and the stakes couldn't be higher. Democrats believe that giving the GOP another two years in power could be catastrophic, especially since it implies tacit support of their agenda. Republicans, meanwhile, hope that if they can hold onto their majorities -- or even potentially grow into a super majority in the Senate -- they will be able to continue their far-right policies without concerns for retribution from voters.

No wonder both parties are already bringing out the big guns.

For the Democrats, that means enlisting former President Barack Obama. Many hope that his popularity and grassroots movement building will strike a nostalgic note with voters who were better off two years ago than they are today -- voters who didn't have to worry about losing their health insurance, seeing family members deported or fearing that their schools, businesses and communities will be decimated under the continuing threat of the Trump administration.

According to the Associated Press, the new Obama-led campaign will work specifically on races that could be key to the upcoming redistricting process -- a major concern for progressives who saw their government representation shrink, despite growing popular support, due to the massive gerrymandering of districts in GOP-controlled state legislatures.

"In 2011, Republicans created gerrymandered districts that locked themselves into power and shut out voters from the electoral process," announced former US Attorney General Eric Holder, who will be leading the initiative backed by President Obama. "By focusing on these state and local races, we can ensure Democrats who will fight for fairness have a seat at the table when new maps are drawn in 2021."

The group is targeting nine gubernatorial races, 18 legislative chambers, two ballot initiatives and two down-ballot races in eleven different states, and they will continue to watch eight other states to see if they should be added to the target list, according to the AP. The initial investment is "millions of dollars."

The GOP won't be sitting on its thumbs, either, and Republicans will be coordinating their efforts with actual sitting administration members -- something normally considered to be breaking the fine line between governing and campaigning.

The Hill announced that a number of President Donald Trump's senior advisors will break precedent to bring separate cell phones inside the White House in order to allow them to do political and campaign work while performing their administrative duties:

The move is designed to allow top aides to coordinate political activities with the RNC without breaking federal ethics and record-keeping laws or the White House's recent ban on personal devices in the West Wing. The official told The Hill that the phones will be "heavily regulated" in order to "ensure we are not using official devices for political purposes and to ensure that we are doing this above board."

While, technically, White House officials are allowed to do a small bit of campaigning, the Hatch Act limits these activities and restricts actively coordinating and campaigning on behalf of candidates. That legislation has already been mostly ignored, as President Trump continues to turn every public event into a campaign rally. In Ohio, for instance, a rally promoting his tax package turned into a musing on how Republicans will do in 2018 -- and then again in 2020 -- and what can be done to keep the president in office.

Of course, it's no surprise that the GOP may be getting scared. Winning the House has gone from a pipe dream to a potential reality for Democrats. Although there are a few Democrats in vulnerable conservative districts stepping down -- most recently Minnesota Democratic Congressman Rick Nolan, who comes from a predominately red rural district -- the number of Republicans retiring far outnumbers them. And Democrats are challenging a vast number of sitting GOP incumbents, too.

According to the Washington Post, there are now so many seats in play in 2018 that if the Democrats just win their own seats back, as well as the toss-up races, they would win the majority by one seat. Meanwhile, the Senate is looking even closer to changing party hands, as Democrats hold a massive fundraising advantage over their Republican counterparts.

A lot can change in nine months, and given that the primaries are months away, we may not even know the official match-ups for many of these seats. Regardless, things continue to look up for Democrats. No wonder the White House is so scared.

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For People of Color, Banks Are Shutting the Door to Homeownership

Sun, 2018-02-18 00:00

(Photo: Billion Photos / Shutterstock)

Fifty years after the federal Fair Housing Act banned racial discrimination in lending, African Americans and Latinos continue to be routinely denied conventional mortgage loans at rates far higher than their white counterparts.

This modern-day redlining persisted in 61 metro areas even when controlling for applicants' income, loan amount and neighborhood, according to a mountain of Home Mortgage Disclosure Act records analyzed by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting.

The yearlong analysis, based on 31 million records, relied on techniques used by leading academics, the Federal Reserve and Department of Justice to identify lending disparities.

It found a pattern of troubling denials for people of color across the country, including in major metropolitan areas such as Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia, St. Louis and San Antonio. African Americans faced the most resistance in Southern cities -- Mobile, Alabama; Greenville, North Carolina; and Gainesville, Florida -- and Latinos in Iowa City, Iowa.

No matter their location, loan applicants told similar stories, describing an uphill battle with loan officers who they said seemed to be fishing for a reason to say no.

"I had a fair amount of savings and still had so much trouble just left and right," said Rachelle Faroul, a 33-year-old black woman who was rejected twice by lenders when she tried to buy a brick row house close to Malcolm X Park in Philadelphia, where Reveal found African Americans were 2.7 times as likely as whites to be denied a conventional mortgage.

The analysis -- independently reviewed and confirmed by The Associated Press -- showed black applicants were turned away at significantly higher rates than whites in 48 cities, Latinos in 25, Asians in nine and Native Americans in three. In Washington, DC, the nation's capital, Reveal found all four groups were significantly more likely to be denied a home loan than whites.

"It's not acceptable from the standpoint of what we want as a nation: to make sure that everyone shares in economic prosperity," said Thomas Curry, who served as America's top bank regulator, the comptroller of the currency, from 2012 until he stepped down in May.

Yet Curry's agency was part of the problem, deeming 99 percent of banks satisfactory or outstanding based on inspections administered under the Community Reinvestment Act, a 40-year-old law designed to reverse rampant redlining. And the Justice Department has sued only a handful of financial institutions for failing to lend to people of color in the decade since the housing bust. Curry argued that the law shares part of the blame; it needs to be updated and strengthened.

"The Community Reinvestment Act has aged a lot in 40 years," he said.

Since Curry departed nine months ago, the Trump administration has gone the other way, weakening the standards banks must meet to pass a Community Reinvestment Act exam. During President Donald Trump's first year in office, the Justice Department did not sue a single lender for racial discrimination.

The disproportionate denials and limited anti-discrimination enforcement help explain why the homeownership gap between whites and African Americans, which had been shrinking since the 1970s, has exploded since the housing bust. It is now wider than it was during the Jim Crow era.

This gap has far-reaching consequences. In the United States, "wealth and financial stability are inextricably linked to housing opportunity and homeownership," said Lisa Rice, executive vice president of the National Fair Housing Alliance, an advocacy group. "For a typical family, the largest share of their wealth emanates from homeownership and home equity."

The latest figures from the US Census Bureau show the median net worth for an African American family is $9,000, compared with $132,000 for a white family. Latino families did not fare much better at $12,000.

What Lenders Keep Secret

Lenders and their trade organizations do not dispute the fact that they turn away people of color at rates far greater than whites. But they maintain that the disparity can be explained by factors the industry has fought to keep hidden, including the prospective borrowers' credit history and overall debt-to-income ratio. They singled out the three-digit credit score -- which banks use to determine whether a borrower is likely to repay a loan -- as especially important in lending decisions.

"While quite informative regarding the state of the lending market," the records analyzed by Reveal do "not include sufficient data to make a determination regarding fair lending," the Mortgage Bankers Association's chief economist, Mike Fratantoni, said in a statement.

The American Bankers Association said the lack of federal enforcement proves discrimination is not rampant, and individual lenders told Reveal that they had hired outside auditing firms, which found they treated loan applicants fairly regardless of race.

"We are committed to fair lending and continually review our compliance programs to ensure that all loan applicants are receiving fair treatment," Boston-based Santander Bank said in a statement.

New Jersey-based TD Bank, which denied a higher proportion of black and Latino applicants than any other major lender, said it "makes credit decisions based on each customer's credit profile, not on factors such as race or ethnicity."

Reveal's analysis included all records publicly available under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, covering nearly every time an American tried to buy a home with a conventional mortgage in 2015 and 2016. It controlled for nine economic and social factors, including an applicant's income, the amount of the loan, the ratio of the size of the loan to the applicant's income and the type of lender, as well as the racial makeup and median income of the neighborhood where the person wanted to buy property.

Credit score was not included because that information is not publicly available. That's because lenders have deflected attempts to force them to report that data to the government, arguing it would not be useful in identifying discrimination.

In an April policy paper, the American Bankers Association said reporting credit scores would be expensive and "cloud any focus" the disclosure law has in identifying discrimination. America's largest bank, JPMorgan Chase & Co., has argued that the data should remain closed off even to academics, citing privacy concerns.

At the same time, studies have found proprietary credit score algorithms to have a discriminatory impact on borrowers of color.

The "decades-old credit scoring model" currently used "does not take into account consumer data on rent, utility, and cell phone bill payments," Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina wrote in August, when he unveiled a bill to require the federal government to vet credit standards used for residential mortgages. "This exclusion disproportionately hurts African-Americans, Latinos, and young people who are otherwise creditworthy."

A Case Study: Philadelphia

Philadelphia was one of the largest cities in America where African Americans were disproportionately turned away when they tried to buy a home. About the same number of African Americans and non-Hispanic whites live in the City of Brotherly Love, but the data showed whites received 10 times as many conventional mortgage loans in 2015 and 2016.

Banks also focused on serving the white parts of town, placing nearly three-quarters of their branches in white-majority neighborhoods. Reveal's analysis also showed that the greater the number of African Americans or Latinos in a neighborhood, the more likely a loan application would be denied there -- even after accounting for income and other factors.

When Faroul applied for a loan in April 2016, she thought she was an ideal candidate. She holds a degree from Northwestern University, had a good credit score and estimates she was making $60,000 a year while teaching computer programming as a contractor for Rutgers University. Still, her initial loan application was denied by Philadelphia Mortgage Advisors, an independent broker that made nearly 90 percent of its loans to whites in 2015 and 2016.

"I'm sorry," broker Angela Tobin wrote to Faroul in an email. Faroul's contract income wasn't consistent enough, she said. So Faroul got a full-time job at the University of Pennsylvania managing a million-dollar grant.

But that still wasn't enough. When she tried again a year later, this time at Santander Bank, a Spanish firm with US headquarters in Boston, the process dragged on for months. Her loan officer kept asking for new information, she said -- or sometimes the same information again.

By this time, Faroul had been trying to get a mortgage for over a year, and the process itself was damaging her credit. Every time a lender pulls a hard inquiry on a credit report, the score goes down to guard against people who are trying to take on a lot of debt.

"They had done so many hard pulls that my credit score had dropped to 635," she said.

Then, an unpaid $284 electric bill appeared on Faroul's credit report. It was for an apartment she didn't live in anymore. She paid the bill right away, but the bank said it couldn't move forward.

Civil rights groups and real estate professionals said Faroul's experience follows a familiar pattern of discrimination by banks and mortgage lenders that has kept people of color from building wealth.

"It's one thing after another. It's like pulling layers off an onion," said Arlene Wayns-Thomas, president of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers, which represents African American real estate professionals.

Wayns-Thomas, who has been selling real estate for 30 years, said her black clients are treated differently by lenders.

"They may not like what happened between the last time you were working on this particular job to this one. They may see there was a gap," she said. "I have seen situations where they've asked people for the children's birth records."

"The things that happen behind the scenes is what's disturbing," she said.

A Change of Tune From Lenders

For Faroul, things suddenly took a turn for the better after her partner, Hanako Franz, agreed to sign on to her loan application. At the time, Franz -- who is half white, half Japanese -- was working part time for a grocery store. Her most recent pay stub showed she was making $144.65 every two weeks. Faroul was paying for her health insurance.

The loan officer had "completely stopped answering Rachelle's phone calls, just ignored all of them," said Franz, 32. "And then I called, and he answered almost immediately. And is so friendly."

A few weeks later, the couple got the loan from Santander and bought a three-bedroom fixer-upper. But Faroul remains bitter.

"It was humiliating," she said. "I was made to feel like nothing that I was contributing was of value, like I didn't matter."

Contacted by Reveal, the lenders defended their records. Tobin, who turned down Faroul on her first application, said race played no role in the rejection.

"That's not what happened," she said and abruptly hung up. A statement followed from Philadelphia Mortgage Advisors' chief operating officer, Jill Quinn.

"We treat every applicant equally," the statement said, "and promote homeownership throughout our entire lending area."

Faroul's loan officer at Santander, Dennis McNichol, referred Reveal to the company's public affairs wing, which issued a statement: "While we are sympathetic with her situation, … we are confident that the loan application was managed fairly."

Reveal's analysis of lending data shows that nationally, Santander turned away African American homebuyers at nearly three times the rate of white ones. The company did not address that disparity in its statement but said it was more likely to grant a loan application from an African American borrower than five of its competitors.

Redlining History Repeating

Lending patterns in Philadelphia today resemble redlining maps drawn across the country by government officials in the 1930s, when lending discrimination was legal.

Back then, surveyors with the federal Home Owners' Loan Corporation drew lines on maps and colored some neighborhoods red, deeming them "hazardous" for bank lending. Leading causes of risk, according to government officials, included the presence of African Americans or immigrants.

This practice has been outlawed for half a century. And for the last 40 years, banks have had a legal obligation under the Community Reinvestment Act to solicit clients -- borrowers and depositors -- from all segments of their communities.

But in many places, the law hasn't made much difference. When you combine home purchase loans, refinancing and home equity lines of credit, banks were more likely to deny a conventional loan application than grant it in more than 40 percent of Philadelphia. People of color were the majority in nearly all those neighborhoods.

"You're killing us here," said Cindy Bass, a member of the Philadelphia City Council, who worked for a mortgage company before entering politics. The data shows banks have frozen out borrowers in much of her district -- including Nicetown, a North Philadelphia neighborhood where boarded-up row houses dot the landscape.

"We need dollars. We need investment," Bass said, "like every neighborhood needs investment."

Nicetown is among the neighborhoods redlined in the 1930s. In his assessment, government surveyor W.R. Hutzel said the hazardous neighborhood had some positives, including "new industry -- good transportation" and a high school. On the other hand, he wrote, it had a "heavy concentration of negro."

Today, the economic recovery largely has bypassed Nicetown. Blight is a major concern. Some of the vacant homes, empty for years, have attracted squatters. Although it's just a few blocks from Temple University Hospital, banks and mortgage brokers largely stay away. Lenders have been particularly stingy when it comes to home improvement loans. From 2012 to 2016, they made 67 home improvement loans here and denied 315.

"It creates this cycle where properties fall into dilapidation for a long period of time," said contractor Eric Marsh Sr., 48, whose family has lived in Nicetown for three generations.

Marsh started his own construction business "because I saw dilapidation and empty houses," he said, and wanted to help. But because banks rarely lend here, there's no capital to improve the neighborhood. So Marsh gets most of his jobs in more affluent sections near the center of town.

"I was wondering why people weren't purchasing these houses or renovating them," he said. "As I've gotten older and talked to people, I've found out that a big part of it is the lack of lending in neighborhoods like this."

"It's Like a Glass Ceiling"

It's not only historically redlined areas that suffer from a lack of credit. Some neighborhoods that were predominantly African American decades ago have since gentrified and are now majority white. Today, they benefit from a large number of home mortgages from banks.

Other neighborhoods that experienced white flight after World War II have become home to a substantial black middle class. And in those neighborhoods, banks are more likely to turn away borrowers.

Four miles from Nicetown, toward the suburbs near the Awbury Arboretum, the homes of Germantown are set back from the street behind garden patios and beautiful stone facades.

This area wasn't redlined in the 1930s. Government officials colored it green -- "the best" -- and blue, which meant "still desirable," and told banks to lend here. Back then, most residents of Germantown were white.

Today, this part of Philadelphia is majority African American, and the homes are occupied by middle-class workers -- teachers, nurses and union craftsmen. Yet in every year from 2012 to 2016, banks denied more conventional loans of all types than they made in Germantown.

"It's like a glass ceiling," said Angela McIver, CEO of the Fair Housing Rights Center in Southeastern Pennsylvania. "OK, we'll allow you to go this far, but … you're not going to go any further."

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Trump's $4.4 Trillion Butcher's Bill

Sat, 2018-02-17 00:00

Trump's budget proposal would be paid for on the backs of children, poor people, the elderly and the disabled, with a couple hundred billion left over for the Pentagon. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

The grinding cruelty that is our daily meat and mead was crystallized in a document put forth on Monday by the White House. Trump and his people called it a budget plan, but in reality, it was a $4.4 trillion wish list of all the malice and greed at the necrotic heart of the modern Republican experience.

Trump's budget proposal would be paid for on the backs of children, poor people, the elderly and the disabled, with a couple hundred billion left over for the Pentagon. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

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"The test of a first-rate intelligence," said F. Scott Fitzgerald, "is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." I like to think I'm a decently smart guy, but I may just be fooling myself if ol' Fitz has it right, because I am absolutely up against the ragged edge of that premise.

I believe, in the main, that people are inherently good and will do the right thing when called upon, and I have ample examples to buttress that belief. I also believe this country is a thresher of souls, an abattoir of feral greed where no low is too low if cash or status is on the line, and I have ample examples of this, as well. Both ideas are true, and are true at the same time, clanging together in my head like kitchen pots in an earthquake. Reconciling them -- hell, even coexisting with them -- has begun to hedge the impossible.

Why? Money. Filthy lucre. The loot.

We live in an age of elaborate cruelty. It is a new experience for some and a terrible old story for others: Fate has teeth these days. You don't just get sick; your tap water gives you cancer from the coal slurry in the river and then the utility company jacks up your rates. You don't just get screwed; you wither like a drought vine because the insurance company won't cover the treatment you need to survive. You don't just die; you get shot in your own algebra class, and before the echo fades, the president of the United States scolds the country about how it all could have been avoided without ever once mentioning guns.

Why? Money. Filthy lucre. The loot.

The tap water made you sick because the local chemical companies that won't let you unionize poisoned the river to maximize profits, because their well-funded friends in Washington obliterated environmental protections to help them wring a few more coppers out of the tired, stinking ground.

The insurance company screwed you because health care in the US is a multibillion-dollar for-profit industry, and healing you dings its bottom line a microfraction of a percent. Some insurance companies don't even bother to look at your medical records before showing you the door.

You got shot in school -- the 29th mass shooting in 45 days of 2018 and the 239th school shooting since the massacre at Sandy Hook -- because the National Rifle Association has its financial fangs buried deep in the necks of virtually every Republican and far too many Democrats in Congress. When Donald Trump failed to mention guns after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, this week, it wasn't an oversight. He was following orders.


It is a call for acts of brutality against fellow citizens that are breathtaking.

The grinding cruelty that is our daily meat and mead was crystallized in a document put forth on Monday by the White House. Trump and his people called it a budget plan, but in reality, it was a $4.4 trillion butcher's bill, a wish list of all the malice and greed at the necrotic heart of the modern Republican experience.

Under normal circumstances, no one takes these documents seriously in any real legislative sense; like the presidential platform, they are declarations of intent filled mostly with DOA intentions. However, these are not normal circumstances, and Trump's budget proposal is a fearsome glimpse into the minds of some genuinely dangerous people. It is a call for acts of brutality against fellow citizens that are breathtaking. A few of them, if inflicted upon a foreign country, might be considered war crimes.

Here, it's just business.

If Trump and his friends ever got their way and this nightmare document became law, Social Security Block Grants would be eliminated. More than $300 billion would be cut from Medicaid. A combined $423 billion would be cut from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Disability programs would be cut by $72 billion. In total, the document details $1.7 trillion in cuts to social services and the safety net.

Funny, that. The gigantic tax cut they just passed cost $1.5 trillion, with most of it going to rich people and massive corporations. Trump's FY2019 budget pays for that in total on the backs of children, poor people, the elderly and the disabled, with a couple hundred billion left over for the Pentagon, which didn't ask for it and doesn't need it.

Something this vicious should come with its own string section.

More than 40 million people depend on SNAP benefits, most of them children. More than 4 million more depend on TANF, most of them children. Trump's solution? A Blue Apron-style "American Harvest Box" containing little to no nutritional value and no choice involved. You don't get to pick what you eat, they tell you what you're eating. According to CNN:

To start, nothing in the box is actually recently harvested -- the proposal includes zero fresh fruits and vegetables and no fresh meat, fish, or poultry. Instead, the "homegrown" food the poor would get in their box would include processed cereals and canned sodium-saturated goods.

And unlike Blue Apron, where consumers get to choose their meals, the Trump plan would simply send poor people a sad box of bland, repetitive basics. Currently, SNAP benefits are loaded onto a card, and recipients can decide for themselves what to purchase. Now, the government would do much of the deciding.

Let's recall here that Michelle Obama couldn't even promote healthier school lunches without right-wing outcry about the nanny state; when Trump literally wants the government to select, box up and deliver food of questionable nutrition for the poor, we hear agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue praising the plan as "a bold, innovative approach."

Elaborate, truly theatrical cruelty: Something this vicious should come with its own string section. Except it's not real, right? They can't possibly pass something like this, can they? Maybe not, but they are sure as hell going to try for some of it at least. They run the entire federal government, and they're beginning to figure that out … and in the end, it's all about the loot.

Thoughts and prayers don't appear to be getting the job done.

People are good, and all this is happening. Two opposing thoughts in all our heads at the same time.

We seem to have lost our ability to function amid all this winning. Thoughts and prayers don't appear to be getting the job done. How bad does it have to get? I don't see the bottom yet, but I see an awful lot of bodies piled up along the way down.

GOP Takes Another Step to Control Federal Courts

Sat, 2018-02-17 00:00

Sen. Charles Grassley leaves the office of Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn on January 23, 2018. (Photo: Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call)

Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans ended a century-old tradition Thursday that will accelerate the appointment of right-wing federal judges in purple and blue states, where they will preside over thousands of cases that will never reach the Supreme Court.

The move, led by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley of Iowa, was the most egregious partisan intervention in the judiciary since Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked 2016 hearings on President Obama's final Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, which would have given the court a center-left majority. (After the 2016 election, conservative Neil Gorsuch was appointed and confirmed.)

"Michael Brennan gets voted out of Senate Judiciary Committee along party lines despite fact that he refused to acknowledge implicit racial bias in the justice system," tweeted Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and former head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division under President Obama. "Grassley kills the blue slip tradition with this vote. Brennan voted out over objection of a home-state senator."

"Chuck Grassley's blue slip policy blocked three of Obama's African American circuit noms. But now he's changed his policy to ram through two of Trump's white circuit noms, inc Michael Brennan," tweeted Christopher Kang, who served in the Obama White House Counsel's Office for more than four years and was in charge of its judicial nomination process.

These comments underscored that Republicans under President Trump are packing the federal courts with right-wing nominees, many of whom are not qualified to hold these lifetime posts. The public often underestimates the power of federal judges, especially at the appellate level. While the Supreme Court gets about 7,000 appeals annually and hears between 100-150 cases, federal appeals courts receive upwards of 60,000 appeals annually and are often the final arbiter of justice in America.

What transpired Thursday was both procedural and political. On procedure, the Republican Judiciary Committee chairman overrode an objection by Michael Brennan's home-state senator, Democrat Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, who didn't return a so-called blue slip, in effect, putting Brennan's nomination on hold.  

"This is a 100-year-old tradition. It's not an official policy. It's not a rule, but it has been a tradition," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, protesting Grassley's decision to override Baldwin and vote on Brennan's nomination, which moved to the Senate on a party-line vote. "Since its inception, no Democratic chair of the Judiciary Committee has ever held a hearing for a judicial nominee over the objection of a Republican senator. That's fact and it's history."

But Grassley's decision is also extremely political. Not only does it show that Republicans will dispense with any rule or tradition that stands between them and exerting political power, it also shows that the GOP is eager to foist extremist judges on purple and blue states.

"Today's vote… shows just how far Chuck Grassley is willing to go to cripple the system of checks and balances designed to protect our federal courts and our liberty," said Marge Baker, People for the American Way executive vice president. "His decision to move forward on the Brennan nomination over the objection of a home state senator sends a clear signal that the Trump administration can run roughshod over individual senators when it comes to judicial nominations. Donald Trump and [White House Counsel] Don McGahn have repeatedly nominated unqualified political cronies and narrow-minded elitists to critical seats on the federal bench."

Baker is referring to several Trump nominees whose controversial pasts forced them to withdraw from the process. But Feinstein, in remarks last December, also noted Republicans were ramming nominees through the process to pack the federal courts with unqualified right-wingers.

"The speed at which these judges are being rammed through the process is stunning," she said. "We're already seeing the ramifications. Just yesterday the White House announced that two of its nominees would not be moving forward. One nominee, Brett Talley, had already been voted out of the Judiciary Committee, but we learned of troubling undisclosed information while he was pending on the floor…"

"Republicans refused to advance seven circuit court nominees last year, but now we're speeding through the process to fill those seats with conservative judges," Feinstein said. "Fairness aside, we should all be concerned that we're giving lifetime appointments to potentially unqualified nominees."

How unqualified is Brennan? Consider this exchange between Brennan and Democratic New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, in which Brennan dodged Booker's questions about racial bias in the federal justice system.

Sen. Booker: You're aware that African Americans are stopped more than whites for drug searches, that there's no difference between blacks and whites who are using drugs or dealing drugs, but they're 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for it. You're aware of the data, I imagine, that says African Americans are more likely to get mandatory minimum sentences for the same crimes. You're probably aware that African Americans are more likely to serve more time for similar crimes. Do you think explicit racial just exists in the Justice system as you know it?

Michael Brennan: One of the things I can say, Senator, is I want to put my pro bono [volunteer] efforts into --

Sen. Booker: I'm not asking about you specifically, sir. I'm asking do you think racial bias exists in the criminal justice system?

Michael Brennan: I can't be in a position, Senator, under the Canons of Ethics, of taking positions until I would --   

Sen. Booker: Sir, sir. I'm sorry. The data, the evidence, is profound. I've had Republican nominees, Democratic nominees, FBI leaders in hearings I've had, simply point to the fact that in the United States of America, implicit racial bias impacts the criminal justice system. And you have no opinion, whether, on the facts, or no assessment, on whether racial bias exists in the American criminal justice system?

Michael Brennan: I try to put my time and effort into those areas where it's most, where I think it would have an impact. For example, for the Federal Defenders Office in Wisconsin.

Sen. Booker: That's not the question I'm asking, sir. I'm asking, yes or no, do you think racial bias, implicit racial bias, exists in the criminal justice system. Yes or no?

Michael Brennan: I would indicate Senator, absolutely, if I could take a look at all those statistics and studies that you looked at, that I would be able, be in a position to offer an opinion.   

Sen. Booker: And you haven't? You're a judge in the United States of America and you have not looked at issues of race or sentencing in the criminal justice system? 

Grassley cut off Booker from asking further questions.

As the Leadership Conference tweeted a short while later, "The Senate Judiciary Committee, on a party-line vote, just advanced the nomination of Michael Brennan to the 7th Circuit. This marks a dangerous surrender to Trump and represents Chuck Grassley's breathtaking hypocrisy on blue slips."

But more is at stake than Grassley's hypocrisy. The Republicans are engaged in a massive right-wing court-packing scheme that will last for decades -- long after the Senate's current Republican majority is gone. This is one of the Trump administration's most potentially damaging legacies.

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Department of Education Will No Longer Protect Trans Students Denied Bathroom Access

Fri, 2018-02-16 00:00

The Department of Education has announced that it no longer intends to pursue civil rights complaints filed by transgender students who are denied access to appropriate restrooms.

The agency, headed by Trump appointee Betsy DeVos, argues that gender identity is not covered by Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education facilities that receive public funding. But this interpretation runs contrary to the beliefs of many trans people, as well as legal scholars and several courts.

And this isn't the first time that the Department of Education has denied trans people of all ages their full civil rights, and compromise their ability to participate freely in society. Such efforts are particularly worrisome to a generation of trans kids who grew up during the Obama administration, when progress on their rights was moving forward.

The fixation on trans people and bathrooms is, quite frankly, puzzling to most of us -- really, all we want to do is pee. But since the issue keeps coming up in the form of bathroom bills and cases like this one, it's worth taking a closer look.

When trans men and women transition, they usually want to use the accommodations that align with their gender -- whether those be specifically gendered restrooms or all-gender facilities -- for a variety of reasons, ranging from personal safety to inclusion.

Some people seem convinced that allowing trans people to use the bathroom is "dangerous," and they use harmful rhetoric to suggest that women's bathrooms are particularly vulnerable to "men in dresses" who lurk within and prey on cis women and children. This couldn't be further from the truth: Trans women are women, not men in dresses, and rapists and child molesters aren't stopped by a sign that says "cis women only."

But we do know that trans people are at very high risk of being harassed -- and sometimes assaulted -- in bathrooms. Nine percent of respondents to a Williams Institute survey in 2013 said they had been assaulted in the bathroom, and most had been harassed. Making a big production out of who is using a restroom can make it much more dangerous. Some trans people opt to avoid public restrooms -- partially or totally -- because they feel unsafe.

If you've ever held it through the end of a movie or because your plane is about to land, you know how uncomfortable it is to need to use the restroom and not be able to. Now imagine being a 16-year-old kid who needs to pee in first period, but can't, because there's no accessible restroom. Should you try to hold it all day? Go home early?

A number of survey respondents reported health problems, including bladder and kidney infections, caused by trying to avoid the bathroom. Others deliberately withheld fluids, which can be very dangerous. Six percent had visited doctors with problems caused by restroom avoidance.

Trans people deserve to be able to use the bathroom like anyone else. If schools have problems with assault or harassment in restrooms, they need to address a culture problem -- one that doesn't lie with trans students. Most reasonable users of public restrooms want to get in, do their business and get out. They're not peeping under stall doors or grabbing people's genitals.

The Department of Education has just advised trans students that their safety isn't important, opening up the door to further harassment. The change in policy has also signaled to the trans community at large that the entities charged with protecting us will no longer come to our defense.

Florida Shooter Had Record of Death Threats, Violence Against Women, Racist Statements

Fri, 2018-02-16 00:00

Seventeen people were killed and at least 15 other people were wounded Wednesday at the Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County, Florida, in one of the deadliest school shootings in US history. More evidence has emerged showing that the gunman, a 19-year-old former student named Nikolas Cruz, shared a common trait with many other men who have carried out mass shootings: He had a record of abusing and threatening women. On Thursday, a white nationalist hate group called the Republic of Florida Militia also claimed the gunman was a member who had trained with the militia, but the group's leader later walked back the claim. Former classmates of Cruz did describe him as politically extreme and espousing racist beliefs. For more, we speak with George Ciccariello-Maher, a visiting scholar at the Hemispheric Institute at New York University and the author of Decolonizing Dialectics, and Trevor Aaronson, executive director and co-founder of the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting and a contributing writer to The Intercept.


AMY GOODMAN: On Thursday, the FBI confirmed it had received a tip about someone who went by the name Nikolas Cruz online. That's Nikolas spelled with a K, N-I-K-O-L-A-S, an unusual spelling. The FBI was notified by a YouTube user after Cruz left a threatening comment on a video. This is FBI Special Agent Robert Lasky.

ROBERT LASKY: In 2017, the FBI received information about a comment made on a YouTube channel. The comment simply said, "I'm going to be a professional school shooter." No other information was included with that comment which would indicate a time, location or the true identity of the person who made the comment. The FBI conducted database reviews, checks, but was unable to further identify the person who actually made the comment.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, more evidence has emerged showing the Florida school gunman, Nikolas Cruz, shared a common trait with many other men who have carried out mass shootings: He had a record of abusing and threatening women. One student told The New York Times Nikolas Cruz was abusive towards his ex-girlfriend, was expelled after getting in a fight with her new boyfriend. Another student told The New York Times he had been close friends with Cruz but cut him off after he started going after and threatening a female friend of his. And Cruz's former math teacher told the Times he was taken with another student to the point of stalking her.

Fellow students also said Cruz was known for holding extreme political views. On Thursday, a white nationalist hate group called the Republic of Florida Militia claimed the gunman was a member who had trained with the militia, but the group's leader later walked back that claim. The former classmates of Cruz did describe him as politically extreme. A 17-year-old junior named Ocean Parodie told The Daily Beast Cruz -- quote, "For example, he would degrade Islamic people as terrorists and bombers. I've seen him wear a Trump hat." Cruz once posted a photograph on Instagram wearing a mask and a red "Make America Great Again" hat. CNN also aired footage of a shirtless Cruz wearing the same hat, shooting a gun in his backyard, that was taken by a next-door neighbor. A 16-year-old junior, Josh Charo, who was in JROTC with Cruz -- that's the military training program for high school kids -- said Cruz often expressed racist beliefs. Charo told The Daily Beast, "He would always talk about how he felt whites were a bit higher than everyone. He'd be like, 'My people are over here industrializing the world and starting new things, while your people [meaning blacks and Latinos] are just taking up space.'" In a comment he posted to a YouTube video, Nikolas Cruz also singled out anti-fascist protesters, known as Antifa, to threaten mass murder. His comment read, "Im going watch them sheep fall f -- antifa i wish to kill as many as i can."

Well, we're joined right now by two guests. In Philadelphia, George Ciccariello-Maher is with us, visiting scholar at the Hemispheric Institute at New York University, author of Decolonizing Dialectics. And Trevor Aaronson is with us from Florida, the executive director and co-founder of the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit journalism organization, also a contributing writer to The Intercept.

Trevor, let's begin with you. What needs to be understood right now about what took place in Florida?

TREVOR AARONSON: [inaudible] that we'd be having much more of today, if Nikolas Cruz's name was Mohammed Mohammed, would be, you know: What was the FBI's intelligence failure in this? I mean, if you consider the media response and the public outcry following Omar Mateen's shooting in Orlando, the large question was: How did we miss this? How did the FBI miss this?

And I think what you're seeing is that the FBI has the mechanisms, through processes called threat assessments, to conduct wide-ranging investigations for people who may pose a threat to people or public safety, and that in Omar Mateen's case, we saw two of those conducted for -- you know, the basis being someone had mentioned to the FBI that Omar Mateen knew the Boston Marathon bombers, and that justified an investigation where the FBI interviewed Mateen, looked through his records.

By contrast, here in Nikolas Cruz's case, he posted on YouTube, making threatening statements. Given the unusual spelling of his first name, given that he used his real name on the social media comments, you know, it's a little bit hard to believe that the FBI did not have an opportunity to dig up some information in records, including gun purchase records, that would have been able to at least give them some reason to continue that investigation.

And so, I think what we're seeing here is really a question of what did the FBI know and whether they should have pursued this more aggressively. You know, I think what we know from previous investigations, that if they believed that Nikolas Cruz was, you know, involved in kind of radical ideologies involving Islam, such as ISIS or al-Qaeda, we would have seen a much more vigorous investigation than what we've seen so far, based on what the FBI has come forward with on its investigation of Nikolas Cruz.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, the suspect, Nikolas Cruz, reportedly commented on YouTube, "I'm going to be a professional school shooter," again, with his name, with the spelling of his name. And between 2010 and now, the local police visited him, according to CNN, 39 times, his family, for domestic violence or a mentally ill individual at his house. His neighbors talk about how the police were always coming there. There is a serious -- and yet, FBI said, you know, "We can't begin to find something like this."

TREVOR AARONSON: Yeah, I think it's important to remember that, you know, post-9/11, the government created a number of entities, or beefed up a number of entities, that would have allowed for the greater sharing of information and intelligence from police agencies to federal law enforcement. A big part of that is the creation of joint terrorism task forces around the country. And one of the largest of those in the nation is in South Florida, and that facilitates the sharing of information, intelligence, from local police to federal law enforcement.

And the way the system is supposed to work -- I mean, this system was designed, in large part, to find the next 9/11 attackers, so to speak. But it's also designed to find people like Nikolas Cruz, who, you know, pose a significant threat to public safety. And the way the system is supposed to work is that by identifying threats, such as the YouTube comment he made, in his own name, you know, not using an alias and seemingly not using a VPN to shield his IP address, that type of tip should have been processed through something like a JTTF, that may have unearthed the police visits in his home in Broward County.

You know, I think it's important to recognize that, obviously, it's easy to play Monday morning quarterback here and say, "Here's what the FBI missed." But I also think it's important to point out that this is really the FBI's job, that post-9/11 its primary purpose has been to find threats before they happen. And that doesn't just involve people who are inspired by ISIS and al-Qaeda. It also involves people who are inspired by other radical ideologies, or, you know, frankly, who are, as Donald Trump pointed out, mentally ill. I mean, the goal is, no matter what the ideology or the purpose, that if someone poses a significant threat, these information-sharing processes are supposed to be able to help the FBI identify the person before they commit their crime.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn for a moment to a guest we had on recently. Shortly after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, that was in June 2016, not so far away from where the Parkland shooting has just happened, Democracy Now! spoke to Soraya Chemaly, and I asked her about this often-overlooked connection between domestic violence and mass shootings.

SORAYA CHEMALY: You see repeatedly in these cases of mass violence, particularly where four or more people are killed, that the perpetrator had a history of attacking an intimate partner, a parent. It happened in the Boston massacre. It happened in Sandy Hook. And so, for many of us, you kind of just wait for this information to come to the surface. And we wonder: Why is it that this kind of behavior isn't seen as an essential element to understanding lethality in public violence? …

If you have a person living in your community that is violently abusive towards his family, that is a concern for the broader community. In this case in Orlando, which is often the case, there seems to be no report made to the police, which means that we're inhibited as a society from taking further action. So, he, for example, was completely able to go and legally get guns. We have a federal law that should have prohibited that, if, for example, he had had a restraining order. But more than 50 states actually do not have laws that support that.

AMY GOODMAN: So that's journalist Soraya Chemaly. And again, just to reiterate, one student told The New York Times Nikolas Cruz was abusive towards his ex-girlfriend, was expelled after getting in a fight with her new boyfriend. Another student told the Times he had been close friends with Cruz but cut him off after he started going after and threatening a female friend of his. A math teacher said he was bothering another female student to the point of stalking her. George Ciccariello-Maher, respond to this.

GEORGE CICCARIELLO-MAHER: [inaudible] whatsoever. And, you know, this shooter, who is apparently a white supremacist, is also and has also been violent toward women in his life. This is something that we have known. This is not a surprise. These things go hand in hand, because white supremacy and patriarchy are violent structures of power that, when frustrated, lead to violent conclusions. And yet, when we say this over and over again in the media, it's treated as if it's the first time anyone has ever heard it. And all of the data and all the information that we have out there has everything, you know, to tell us that this is actually accurate. And, you know, this is what was said after the Las Vegas -- after the Las Vegas shooting, when it came out that the shooter had been, in public, violently aggressive toward his own partner. And it happens repeatedly in cases like this. And it's really frustrating to have to say over and over again, you know, that this correlation exists, that violence toward women, in this case, also violence toward animals, this sort of violent outlet of aggression across this person's life, has something to do with feelings of dominance that are also expressed in what is apparently white supremacist ideology, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, this issue of the connection to white supremacy, let me go back to Trevor, then to George. Trevor Aaronson, this issue of the link of a person from a Florida white supremacist group saying that Nikolas Cruz trained with them, but now walking it back?

TREVOR AARONSON: Yeah, so, initially, we had a number of reports, that were first initiated by some research that was done by the Anti-Defamation League, that linked Nikolas Cruz to a group based in Tallahassee called the Republic of Florida, which is a white nationalist group that says it's trying to bring about, you know, a white-only state of Florida. And what the leader of that group said, Jacob Jered, was that Nikolas Cruz had trained with them and was a member of their group. And, in fact, in a subsequent interview with The Daily Beast, Jacob Jered said that they had actually purchased a weapon for him and had trained with him in Tallahassee, as well.

Later, on Gab, which is a Twitter-like social media platform that was set up to provide a home for white supremacists who had been kicked off Twitter for their odious views, Jacob -- I'm sorry, Jacob Jered, the leader of the Republic of Florida, walked that back and basically said, "Oh, you know, we have a number of people named Nikolas, and I got confused."

And so, it's hard to know if Jacob Jered was just using this tragedy as a way of, you know, getting his organization's name out there. And if that's the case, you know, it certainly worked. Or, you know, it's also possible that Nikolas Cruz did have some white supremacist views. The sourcing on that is a little bit shaky right now, and it's hard to know. I mean, based on some of the comments that he made against Antifa, for example, I mean, certainly there was some political ideology on the right, but at the same time it's is a little bit unclear, I think, whether he was indeed a part of a white supremacist group or identified with a white supremacist ideology.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, you have his friends saying he was Islamophobic, he was saying whites were superior to blacks and Latinos. And then, continuing on this issue of the connection between this kind of racism and his misogyny.

TREVOR AARONSON: Yeah. I mean, getting back to the point I was making earlier about how, you know, the FBI's threat assessment system is designed to establish these kind of warning signs and piece them together and put together a profile of who might be dangerous, and then allocate resources accordingly, whether that's dropping by Nikolas Cruz's house to interview him and maybe scaring him straight or to, you know, build a case to put together a file that might give you reason to suspect that he could be dangerous in the future. But, you know, certainly, the comments that he made on YouTube and certainly the kind of racist comments that he had made or -- you know, a threat assessment, for example, could involve the interviewing of students, of friends, and that's the type of process that would unearth the things that the media has since unearthed, which is that Nikolas Cruz seemed to have some right-wing beliefs that may have bordered on violence. And, you know, had the FBI investigated this, as you see them investigate cases of possible Islamic extremism, I think it's a fair argument to make that what the FBIwould have known about Nikolas Cruz would have been much more significant than what it did when the shootings happened, which was basically that the FBI has admitted to knowing very little, if anything, about Nikolas Cruz at the time of the attack.

AMY GOODMAN: The issue of Nikolas Cruz being involved with JROTC, with Junior ROTC, George Ciccariello-Maher, if you could talk abut your concerns about this? Also one of the young women who was killed was also a member of JROTC.

GEORGE CICCARIELLO-MAHER: I think we should, you know, be very attentive to all of these factors. It's difficult to draw out of his involvement in what is, you know, a very widespread military training program. We should, of course, however, be aware that these are -- you know, these are military training programs for a U.S. government that's involved in mass violence abroad. And we shouldn't always be surprised to see that violence brought home.

I think we should focus very sharply in this case, though, on this question of white supremacist organizing. I know there are a lot of details going back and forth about it. I wouldn't be surprised that the -- you know, the founder of this white nationalist organization is walking it back out of fear of the scrutiny that he's going to receive. As I understand it, it was also confirmed by ABC via several classmates that he had been involved in this group. And I think we need to be aware of the fact that the last year has seen a dramatic uptick in open white supremacist, white nationalist violence. We know that these are violent organizations. We know that they're breeding violence. We've seen it in Charlottesville. We've seen it when Milo's supporters have opened fire, you know, on others. And supporters of Richard Spencer have encouraged violence at protests.

And we need to -- you know, at the same time, we're told that these are just ideas in the great marketplace of ideas to be debated and discussed. But what we need to realize is that you don't discuss white supremacy. You don't debate it. You destroy it. You out-organize it. And that's something that we need to be doing on a much broader level, while we're trying to grapple with what's gone on in this instance, because we see people being radicalized.

Of course, if they were, you know, Muslim, they would be -- you know, the question of where were they radicalized has become a bit of a meme, and yet we don't ask this question when it comes to these radicalized white youth, who are -- you know, who are involved in this mass violence, who are in discussion groups. This is the second -- if this is true about his white supremacist ties, this is the second "alt-right" school shooting in two months, the last one in New Mexico by someone who was actively involved in The Daily Stormer, one of the most violent right-wing, anti-Semitic websites on the far right. And this association is direct, and yet we had Trump eliminating almost all oversight of, you know, scrutiny toward white supremacist groups. Even Obama had been cutting that funding. And so, we know that the government is not -- has no interest in prosecuting and undermining white supremacist organizations, and that organizations on the ground are going to need to do that themselves.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we're going to leave it there. I want to thank you both for being with us, Trevor Aaronson, for joining us from St. Petersburg, with the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting and The Intercept; George Ciccariello-Maher, visiting scholar at the Hemispheric Institute at New York University, speaking to us from Philadelphia.

Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa's New President, Known for Moving Profits to Offshore Tax Havens

Fri, 2018-02-16 00:00

African National Congress leader Cyril Ramaphosa has been confirmed as the new president of South Africa, after the former leader, Jacob Zuma, resigned from office abruptly on Wednesday night amid a series of corruption scandals. Ramaphosa once led the National Union of Mineworkers under apartheid in the 1980s. He later built a business empire that encompassed mining interests -- including the Marikana platinum mine, where police killed 34 workers during a strike in 2012. Ramaphosa is now one of Africa's wealthiest men, with a net worth of about $450 million. Now, activists are talking about Ramaphosa's ties to tax havens during his time in the corporate sector. We go to Johannesburg to speak with activist Koketso Moeti, founder of the community advocacy organization Her recent piece for News24 is headlined "The rich can't steal, right?"


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. We end today’s show in South Africa. African National Congress leader Cyril Ramaphosa has been confirmed as the new president of South Africa, sworn in after the former leader, President Jacob Zuma, resigned this week from office abruptly amidst a series of corruption scandals.

For more, we go to Johannesburg, South Africa, to speak with Koketso Moeti, founder of, a community advocacy organization. Her recent piece for News24 headlined “The rich can’t steal, right?”

Can you talk about what has happened today -- actually, what has happened this week, Koketso? And welcome to Democracy Now! Zuma stepping down and Cyril Ramaphosa becoming president.

KOKETSO MOETI: Yes. Thank you. So, President Jacob Zuma stepped down after a lot of pressure coming from within the party and the country at large. So there’s a bit of extensive negotiations between the newly elected leadership of the African National Congress, after which he was expected to step down. He seemed -- in the early days, he seemed to be a bit defiant. But the following day, he stepped down, when it was known that the motion of no confidence, which was filed by an opposition party, would be passing through Parliament.

AMY GOODMAN: The new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, once led the National Union of Mineworkers during apartheid in the '80s, a famous anti-apartheid leader. He would later build a business empire that included mining interests, including the Marikana platinum mine, where police killed 34 workers during a strike in 2012. Now Ramaphosa is one of Africa's wealthiest men, with a net worth of nearly what? Half a billion dollars. Can you talk about who he is?

KOKETSO MOETI: Yeah. So, Cyril Ramaphosa, part of the anti-apartheid movement, a strong leader in the ANC, a long tradition of trade unionism, he stepped down from formal politics in the early '90s. And since then, he's been involved in the corporate sector. During his time there, in the corporate sector, there’s been a bit of a series of scandals that have happened. And it’s an interesting pattern of behavior.

So, what we have is, in 2012, he was on the Lonmin board of directors. And during this time, there was an explosive report that was received -- that was released by the Alternative Information and Development Centre, that found that Lonmin could have, in fact, afforded a living wage for the mine workers who were brutally gunned down, if they had not been shifting profits. So there was a strong allegation of profit shifting. And then an investigative journalism organization called amaBhungane did an investigation in 2015, where they found that during the years that Cyril Ramaphosa was the chairperson of the MTN board, MTN had been shifting billions in profit from the continent to outside. And then we saw, much more recently, in the Paradise Papers leak, that Shanduka, a company which Cyril Ramaphosa founded in 2001, was also named as shifting --

AMY GOODMAN: Koketso, we just have 10 seconds.

KOKETSO MOETI:  -- as shifting profits from the country. So there is a pattern of behavior.

AMY GOODMAN: So, are you concerned about what this means for South Africa, in our last five seconds?

KOKETSO MOETI: Completely, completely. I think we should be deeply concerned, and we should be just as vigilant as we were in the time that we had President Jacob Zuma, if not more so. The moment that we [inaudible], although Zuma has stepped down, should not force -- should not see civic movements [inaudible] --

AMY GOODMAN: Koketso Moeti, I want to thank you for being with us, founder of I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.


Beholder in Chief

Fri, 2018-02-16 00:00

Economic Update: Capitalism Scapegoats the Government for All Its Problems

Fri, 2018-02-16 00:00

This week's episode discusses how the fishing industry is self-destructing, how malls mirror US capitalism, how the UK is renationalizing, the upcoming spikes in interest rates and how tax cuts hurt the public. The show also includes an interview with lifelong unionist Charles Fabian on the decline and potential of the US labor movement.

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