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Updated: 2 hours 26 min ago

Qatar Dust-Up Prompts Senator Corker to Restrict Future US Arms Deals

8 hours 8 min ago

Sen. Bob Corker wrote a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Monday informing the top diplomat that future weapons sales to Persian Gulf coast countries would face more restrictions. The missive arrived at the secretary's desk as the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf is dealing with a diplomatic crisis.

Sen. Bob Corker talks with reporters before attending the weekly Republican Senate caucus policy luncheon at the US Capitol, November 5, 2013 in Washington, DC. Senator Corker has informed the secretary of state that future weapons sales to Persian Gulf coast countries will face more restrictions. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

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Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) wrote a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Monday informing the top diplomat that future weapons sales to Persian Gulf coast countries would face more restrictions.

The missive arrived at the Secretary's desk as the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC) is dealing with a diplomatic crisis. Several of the council's members, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates, are posturing for conflict with fellow council member Qatar, over alleged support of terrorist groups.

"Before we provide any further clearances during the informal review period on sales of lethal military equipment to the GCC states, we need a better understanding of the path to resolve the current dispute and reunify the GCC," Corker said in his letter. He also said that the GCC "chose to devolve into conflict."

Last week, Saudi Arabia gave Qatar 10 days to comply with a list of demands. It included Qatar shutting down news broadcaster Al-Jazeera, severing ties with the Muslim Brotherhood political party, and distancing itself from Iran.

The Trump administration has presented contradictory responses to the burgeoning diplomatic dust-up. President Trump attempted to take credit for Gulf coast nations taking a more aggressive posture toward Qatar. Secretary Tillerson, meanwhile, called for a ratcheting down of hostilities, and has urged Saudi Arabia to show restraint.

As the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Corker could put a check on the administration's arms sales. The State Department must notify Capitol Hill of most foreign weapons deals of more than $1 million at least 30 days before export. During that review period, lawmakers could pass a resolution blocking the sale.

Although Corker tipped his hand on future arms sales, he has recently denied an opportunity to block prior military exports.

Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) tried last week to derail a $500 million weapons deal with Saudi Arabia over the Gulf monarchy's brutal bombing campaign in Yemen, where thousands of civilians have been killed. Riyadh stands accused of committing war crimes by indiscriminately targeting women and children in their aerial assaults.

The resolution failed, however, in 47-53 vote that saw five Democrats siding with mostly Republicans to defeat the measure, allowing the arms sales to go through. Sen. Corker was among those who voted down the resolution -- unmoved by allegations of Saudi war crimes.

"There is no classified intelligence that shows they have ever intentionally bombed civilians -- as a matter of fact, intelligence down there shows that they didn't," Corker said before the vote. He said that preventing the deal from going through would be akin to "cutting your nose off to spite your face."

Gorsuch Leans Far Right in Muslim Ban Case

18 hours 36 min ago

Although two federal courts of appeals halted Trump's Muslim Ban, the Supreme Court allowed part of the ban to go into effect pending the Court's decision on its legality next term. Not surprisingly, Neil Gorsuch, who previously defended torture and warrantless surveillance under Bush, was among the justices who dissented in favor of upholding Trump's ban without limitation.

Judge Neil Gorsuch testifies during second day of his Supreme Court confirmation hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill, March 21, 2017, in Washington, DC. The justice who favored torture and warrantless surveillance is also in favor of Trump's Muslim Ban. (Photo: Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

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The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the first major test of the scope of executive power to protect national security since Neil Gorsuch joined the Court as associate justice.

Monday morning, the high court announced it will determine the legality of Donald Trump's executive order establishing a Muslim travel ban when it reconvenes the first Monday in October.

In the meantime, the high court allowed parts of the ban to go into effect. Trump can now exclude foreign nationals who lack any bona fide relationship with a person or entity, such as a school, in the United States.

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

The high court's majority ruling was signed "per curiam" (by the court), meaning that no justice took responsibility for writing it. Three justices -- Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch -- dissented from the majority ruling, saying they would have upheld the exclusion of everyone covered by Trump's ban without limitation. Gorsuch's dissent, while perhaps not unexpected coming from a person who obediently defended torture, warrantless surveillance and runaway executive power under the Bush administration, portends a far-right tilt for the court's newest justice.

Trump's initial travel ban, issued by executive order on January 27, was subsequently struck down by lower courts. On March 6, Trump issued a second, slightly narrower executive order (EO). It said that nationals of six predominantly-Muslim countries "present heightened risks to the security of the United States" and some of those who have entered the US through the immigration system "have proved to be threats to our national security."

The EO directed that the entry of nationals from the six countries be "suspended for 90 days from the effective date" of the order, to give the administration time to establish "adequate standards … to prevent infiltration by foreign terrorists."

Two Appellate Courts Had Halted the Travel Ban

Two federal appellate courts stayed the implementation of the ban on travelers from the six Muslim-majority countries -- Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen -- but on different grounds.

In May, the Fourth Circuit ruled in a 10 to 3 decision that the ban on nationals from these countries violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause because it was motivated primarily by a desire to exclude Muslims from the United States, not by considerations of national security. The appellate court wrote that the EO "drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination," citing Trump's campaign statements calling for a "Muslim ban."

Trump "expressed anti-Muslim sentiment" during the presidential campaign, Chief Judge Roger L. Gregory wrote for the majority. It is entirely plausible, Gregory added, that the EO's "stated national security interest was provided in bad faith, as a pretext for its religious purpose."

The Ninth Circuit, on the other hand, didn't reach the constitutional issue. A unanimous three-judge panel concluded earlier this month that the ban on nationals from the six countries, the suspension of all refugee admissions for 120 days, and the cap of 50,000 on refugees for 2017 exceeded the president's authority under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

As the panel stated, "the [EO] does not provide a rationale explaining why permitting entry of nationals from the six designated countries under current protocols would be detrimental to the interests of the United States," which is what the INA requires before the president can "suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens" to the US.

Moreover, the panel wrote, the EO "does not tie these nationals in any way to terrorist organizations within the six designated countries" or "identify these nationals as contributors to active conflict or as those responsible for insecure country conditions. It does not provide any link between an individual's nationality and their propensity to commit terrorism or their inherent dangerousness."

"National security is not a 'talismanic incantation' that, once invoked, can support any and all exercise of executive power," the panel added.

The EO also runs afoul of an INA provision that prohibits discrimination in the issuance of immigrant visas "because of the person's race, sex, nationality, place of birth or place of residence," according to the panel.

The Supreme Court's Ruling

In its 13-page order on Monday, the Supreme Court stated, "An American individual or entity that has a bona fide relationship with a particular person seeking to enter the country as a refugee can legitimately claim concrete hardship if that person is excluded." As to those individuals, the Court left the appellate courts' injunctions against their exclusion in place.

Individuals with a "bona fide relationship" include those who have a "close familial relationship." Thus, "[a] foreign national who wishes to enter the United States to live with or visit a family member" cannot be excluded under the EO.

For entities, "the relationship must be formal, documented, and formed in the ordinary course, rather than for the purpose of evading the [EO]." Students from the designated countries who have been admitted to a US university have such a relationship. Workers who have accepted employment from a US company or a lecturer invited to address a US audience are also covered.

The Court directed the parties to address the issue of whether the challenges to the EO became moot on June 14, 2017, the end date of the EO's 90-day suspension period.

Thomas's dissent, joined by Alito and Gorsuch, concluded that the Trump administration "made a strong showing that it is likely to succeed on the merits" and that "failure to stay the injunctions will cause irreparable harm by interfering with 'its compelling need to provide for the Nation's security.'"

The dissenters feared "that the Court's remedy will prove unworkable" because government officials will have to decide whether those who seek to enter the US have sufficient connections to a person or entity in the US. "The compromise also will invite a flood of litigation until this case is finally resolved on the merits, as parties and courts struggle to determine what exactly constitutes a 'bona fide relationship,' who precisely has a 'credible claim' to that relationship, and whether the claimed relationship was formed 'simply to avoid'" the EO, Thomas wrote (quoting from the per curiam order).

This is precisely why the Court should've put a hold on the entire travel ban pending its decision on the merits next term.

The Case Will Test the Limits of Executive Power

This case sets the stage for a major ruling on the scope and limits of presidential power in the context of national security.

During the Bush administration, the high court told the executive he could not deny Guantánamo detainees their right to habeas corpus. But the Court held during the Obama administration that people could be charged with providing material support for terrorism even if one purpose of the charity to which they donated supported humanitarian work.

Gorsuch's joinder with Thomas and Alito in allowing Trump to fully implement his Muslim ban portends the new justice's strong deference to the executive.

When he worked in Bush's Justice Department, Gorsuch dutifully argued against Guantánamo detainees who sought to bring habeas corpus petitions to challenge their detention, opposed the Detainee Treatment Act's prohibition of cruel treatment, argued that "enhanced interrogation" (a euphemism for torture) works and defended Bush's warrantless surveillance program. At his confirmation hearing, Gorsuch said he was just following orders.

This case will reveal in more depth Gorsuch's willingness to unconditionally defer to the executive.

In three months, the justices will grapple with whether Trump's EO violates the First Amendment and/or the INA. And since US district court judges in New York and Massachusetts concluded it was likely that Trump's first EO violated due process and equal protection, the Court may also decide whether the second EO contravenes the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses.

It is also possible the Court will conclude the issue is moot, because the suspension on entry of travelers from the six Muslim-majority countries expired on June 14, 2017, by its own terms. On June 14, however, Trump amended his March 6 order to say that the ban would take effect after the lower court orders halting its implementation were lifted. That would mean the issue is still alive. We will see whether the Supreme Court decides the issue on its legal merits and defines the scope of executive power in national security matters, or dismisses the case as moot.

Meanwhile, we would do well to note the significance of Gorsuch's affirmation of unbridled executive power.

In Major Church-State Decision, Supreme Court Sides With Religious Institution

18 hours 36 min ago

On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that taxpayer-funded grants for playgrounds could not be denied to a church-run school in Missouri. In an oral dissent issued from the bench, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said, "This case is about nothing less than the relationship between religious institutions and the civil government -- that is, between church and state. The Court today profoundly changes that relationship by holding, for the first time, that the Constitution requires the government to provide public funds directly to a church." For more, we speak with Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor at Slate.com. She is their senior legal correspondent and Supreme Court reporter and the author of the recent piece, "Did the court just seriously wound the separation of church and state?"

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The Supreme Court also ruled on Monday that taxpayer-funded grants for playgrounds could not be denied to a church-run school in Missouri. In an oral dissent issued from the bench, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said, quote, "This case is about nothing less than the relationship between religious institutions and the civil government -- that is, between church and state. The Court today profoundly changes that relationship by holding, for the first time, that the Constitution requires the government to provide public funds directly to a church," unquote.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court also agreed Monday to hear the case of a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, citing his religious opposition. The appeal of the baker, Jack Phillips, opens up the door for the court to set precedent on whether businesses can deny people services because of their sexual orientation. David Mullins, who along with his partner Charlie Craig have sued the cake maker, said, quote, "This has always been about more than a cake. Businesses should not be allowed to violate the law and discriminate against us because of who we are and who we love," unquote.

We're still joined by Dahlia Lithwick of Slate.com and Vince Warren of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Dahlia, why don't you talk about these two cases? Start with the one they ruled on and Sonia Sotomayor's dissent.

DAHLIA LITHWICK: Amy, this is so important, because I think -- it is clear to me, at least -- that the next front in civil rights litigation in America is going to be this collision between religious dissenters -- we'll remember from Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters cases -- people who want to sort of end-run basic civil rights statutes based on their predicate belief that my religion prohibits me from being involved. And so we've seen a whole raft of cases -- florists who don't want to afford flowers to same-sex marriages, pharmacists who don't want to deliver birth control. And these -- all of these dissenters come into kind of a real profound clash with just basic civil rights statutes. And I think both the cases you've cited are an example of how this is going to be the new frontier, going forward. This is Sam Alito and Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas. This is really where their heart is right now.

So, the Trinity Lutheran decision that came down yesterday is such an important, I think, marker for where we are in terms of this so-called wall between church and state. Missouri has a state constitution that provides that we don't take taxpayer money and give it to churches. We don't give it to any churches. This goes beyond the federal constitutional law. And it basically says that the state should not be in the business of picking and choosing which churches it wants to subsidize, so no tax dollars at all go to any church. Trinity Lutheran operates a preschool and a school. It is an explicitly religious institution. And it wanted to be considered for a Missouri program that uses recycled tires to create playground materials, so that kids don't bump their heads when they fall off the swings. They were very, very high in standing in terms of their eligibility for this state program, and the state said, "We can't give this to you. We cannot give you access to a program that uses taxpayer funds to fund a church." And in a 7-to-2 decision yesterday, the Supreme Court said it's OK, they're eligible, and to discriminate against churches for this sort of program is in violation of their rights. So this really changes, I think, the baseline for what churches will be able to ask us to use with our taxpayer money.

And the reason it's important, I think, is because only two justices dissented. As you said, Sonia Sotomayor wrote a blistering dissent, saying this is a sea change from what we've provided before. And only Justice Ginsburg agreed with her. So, by a 7-to-2 margin now, I think we're looking at a whole new ballgame in terms of churches being able to say, "We want what everyone else is getting, and to fail to give that to us is a form of discrimination, religious discrimination, in and of itself."

AMY GOODMAN: So let me --

DAHLIA LITHWICK: I think it's a big deal.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me go to the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, who praised the Supreme Court's decision in the Trinity Lutheran case.

PRESS SECRETARY SEAN SPICER: The Supreme Court also today handed down its own decision in the Trinity Lutheran case. That was a 7-2 decision, which is a significant victory for religious liberty and an affirmation of First Amendment right of all Americans. The court recognized there's a clear difference between the government supporting a particular religion and the government simply treating all people the same, fairly, regardless of their religion. This ruling reaffirms that the government cannot discriminate against individuals or organizations simply because they or their members hold religious beliefs. The president believes that America is stronger when people of faith and their organizations can exercise their religion freely, and he's pleased with today's ruling.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was Sean Spicer. For those who watch Democracy Now! on television or online, we didn't have his image, because this was one of the days that the White House said that the media was not allowed to video the press briefing, so only got the audio. But, Dahlia Lithwick, your response?

DAHLIA LITHWICK: Well, I think it's really important to see that we have changed the standards in a deep way, and we have really said -- and this is so undergirding, as I said, this new revolution at the Supreme Court -- we have really said, you know, the real victims of discrimination in America, probably the only ones left, are the churches, and that we're going to level the playing field so that they can have access to the same programs as anyone else.

I will just say that it's very clear from the opinion itself -- they drop a footnote and say this only applies to rubber resurfacing in church playgrounds. This is not about, you know, whole-hog endorsing, giving churches anything that they want for any purpose. And so it may be of some limited precedential value, going forward. And Justice Breyer joined separately to say, "I want to be real clear: This is just about rubber stuff in playgrounds." So, there is some argument to be made that the court tried to cabin how far this will spread. But I think, as -- again, as a marker of the openness of this court to really allowing for funding of -- as Sotomayor says, "If you can fund the rubber stuff in playgrounds, why not the pews? Why not the stained-glass windows?" And I think she's pointing to a real trend we've seen in the last few years at the Supreme Court.

AMY GOODMAN: Could you also comment, Dahlia Lithwick, on the Supreme Court agreeing to hear the case of the Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, citing his religious opposition?

DAHLIA LITHWICK: Yeah, as I said, there have been a whole bunch of similar cases that the court has batted away, people who are saying, "Look, you know, I'm not discriminating against anyone. I have a deeply held religious conviction that precludes me from offering these services." The baker in question says he's a "cake artist," and this actually violates his free expression, to force him to produce a cake that is in tension with his own religious values. And he says, "Look, I don't, you know, cook with liquor, because that's against my values. I don't celebrate Halloween. That's against my religious values." So he's making this core argument that my religious dissent matters here. And as I said, we've seen pharmacists make the same arguments and florists make the same arguments.

The problem, Amy, is that states have antidiscrimination laws. Colorado is one of those states. The appeals court in Colorado said, "You can't get around our antidiscrimination laws by saying that you don't feel like baking for certain people because of your religion." And I really do think, when the court decided the Hobby Lobby case, when they kind of cracked open the door for religious dissenters to be able to do an end run around basic civil rights laws, they really opened a Pandora's box that is going to end up saying we will have such solicitude in this country for religious dissenters that nobody is going to have to serve anyone if they feel that their religious values are being undermined. And as I said, I think this is the new frontier, going forward. This is where we're going to see a lot of action, particularly with Neil Gorsuch now on the court.

GOP-Care Defended

18 hours 36 min ago

Senate GOP Health Care Bill Estimated to Kill 28,600 More in US Each Year and Drop 22 Million From Insurance

18 hours 36 min ago

Twenty-two million Americans would lose their health insurance under the Senate Republicans' healthcare bill over the next decade. That's according to the Congressional Budget Office, which released its assessment on Monday. Following the report, Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Rand Paul of Kentucky joined Senator Dean Heller of Nevada in pledging to vote against even debating their party's healthcare bill this week. Republican leaders had been pushing for a vote as early as today, ahead of the July 4 recess. On Monday, the American Medical Association came out against the Senate bill, writing in a letter to Senate leaders, "Medicine has long operated under the precept of Primum non nocere, or 'first, do no harm.' The draft legislation violates that standard on many levels." For more, we speak with Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, a professor at CUNY-Hunter College and a primary care physician. She is a lecturer at Harvard Medical School and the co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program.

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Twenty-two million Americans would lose their insurance under the Senate Republicans' healthcare bill just over the next decade. In addition, Medicaid would see a $772 billion cut over the next decade, while wealthy Americans would receive $541 billion in tax cuts. This is according to the Congressional Budget Office, which released its assessment of the Republican healthcare bill in the Senate Monday.

Following the release of the CBO report, Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Rand Paul of Kentucky joined Senator Dean Heller of Nevada in pledging to vote against even debating their party's healthcare bill this week. Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin has suggested he, too, would oppose voting on the bill. Republican leaders had been pushing for a vote this week, ahead of the July 4th recess.

The Republican bill also faces major opposition from all Senate Democrats, a slew of governors from both parties, the majority of the healthcare industry, hospitals, doctors, nurses, patient advocacy groups, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, and even members of the far-right Koch brothers' political network, who claim the legislation is not sufficiently conservative.

This is Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders speaking Monday on the Senate floor.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Mr. President, today's Congressional Budget Office analysis of the Trump-McConnell healthcare bill gives us 22 million reasons why this legislation should not see the light of day. What CBO tells us, in truth, is that this bill really has nothing to do with healthcare. Rather, it is an enormous transfer of wealth from the sick, the elderly, the children, the disabled and the poor into the pockets of the wealthiest people in this country. Mr. President, according to CBO -- and that report just came out a few hours ago -- this bill would throw 22 million Americans off of health insurance, cut Medicaid by over $770 billion, defund Planned Parenthood and substantially increase premiums for older Americans. ... Mr. President, this, in fact, is a barbaric and immoral piece of legislation.

AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, the American Medical Association came out against the Senate bill. In a letter to Senate leaders, the AMA wrote, quote, "Medicine has long operated under the precept of Primum non nocere, or 'first, do no harm.' The draft legislation violates that standard on many levels," unquote.

Meanwhile, a stunning new study in the Annals of Internal Medicine is estimating some 28,600 people could die early deaths if they lose health insurance.

We're joined now by the author of the study, Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, professor at CUNY-Hunter College, primary care physician, lecturer at Harvard Medical School and co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

DR. STEFFIE WOOLHANDLER: My pleasure.

AMY GOODMAN: Tell us what you found.

DR. STEFFIE WOOLHANDLER: We reviewed the world's scientific literature on the relationship between health insurance and mortality. And there is really now a scientific consensus that being uninsured raises the death rates. It raises your death rates by between 3 and 29 percent. And the math on that is that if you take health insurance away from 22 million people, about 29,000 of them will die every year, annually, as a result. That's what we found by reviewing the literature. There was a similar review in New England Journal of Medicine. We punished our own study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, which is the official organ of the American College of Physicians, the nation's largest medical specialty society. So, being uninsured raises your death rate. That is established scientific consensus. And many of the Republicans have been trying to say, "Oh, you can take away health insurance from 22 million people, and nothing will happen." That's simply contradicted by the scientific consensus.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain how people die as a result.

DR. STEFFIE WOOLHANDLER: Well, people might have an acute illness, like major trauma. You get hit by a car, and you have to go to the hospital. If you're uninsured and you have major trauma, your death rates are higher. You might have an illness like breast cancer. If you're uninsured and you have breast cancer, your death rates are higher. But mostly this has to do with that routine medical care to treat high blood pressure, to treat diabetes, before they cause complications, and to prevent those serious complications and deaths. Seems like hypertension, high blood pressure, is probably the largest single contributor to deaths among uninsured people. You need to be taking medicines to control high blood pressure to prevent strokes and heart attacks and death.

AMY GOODMAN: So this number, 22 million people will lose their health insurance over the next 10 years, and then it only goes up from there.

DR. STEFFIE WOOLHANDLER: Well, according to the Congressional Budget Office, yes, it goes up from there, because the Medicaid cuts in the Senate bill are delayed, but then they're very, very deep. They're even deeper over the long run than what was in the House bill. So, Medicaid is going to be cut not just for poor people, but for people in nursing homes. You know, most people in a nursing home eventually have to rely on Medicaid to pay the bill, because nursing home care takes all your money, and you have to rely on Medicaid. If you have a disabled child, you have to rely on Medicaid. If you have a relative who has serious mental illness or substance abuse, they're going to be relying on Medicaid. So it takes money from all of these people, not just the folks who are poor now, to give this giant tax cut to the top 1 percent of taxpayers.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to a comment made by the Idaho Republican Congressman Raúl Labrador during a town hall meeting last month. He came under fire for his answer to this question from an audience member.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: You are mandating people on Medicaid accept dying. You are making a mandate that will kill people.

REP. RAÚL LABRADOR: No, no one wants anybody to die. You know, that line is so indefensible. Nobody dies because they don't have access to healthcare.

AMY GOODMAN: "Nobody dies because they don't have access to healthcare." Dr. Steffie Woolhandler?

DR. STEFFIE WOOLHANDLER: Well, Raúl Labrador said it. Senator Ted Cruz has said that. Marco Rubio has said that. Secretary Tom Price, the secretary of health and human services, has implied that, that you can be uninsured and nothing happens. That's simply not true. The science is showing us that if you lack health insurance, you don't get the care you need to stay healthy, and that people die earlier as a result. And I think it's a -- the Republicans recognize this is a very dangerous idea for them, that people are going to die because of their behavior. But that's what the scientific consensus is saying.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what has to happen now?

DR. STEFFIE WOOLHANDLER: Well, right now, the betting markets are saying it's 50/50 that this Senate bill will pass. So when something's 50/50, that means now is the time to mobilize. You know, you can call your senator. You can call your congressman. You can demonstrate. There's demonstrations all over the country about this bill. You can tweet about it. You can tell your friends about it. But now is the time to really get active on this issue.

We also need to be saying, "Let's move forward to single payer, that covers everyone, not backward through this repeal." You know, even under the Affordable Care Act, 28 million Americans have no health insurance. Many Americans are underinsured. They have insurance they can't afford to use because of gaps in their coverage, like copayments, deductibles and uncovered services. So we need to be fighting this Republican step backward, but also saying to our Democratic legislators, "We need to be moving forward to single payer," that will actually improve care for all Americans.

AMY GOODMAN: You were never an advocate of Obamacare. And now, what will happen? I mean, even if they don't vote on it, the gutting of the health insurance -- of health insurance today is, you know, moving full speed ahead. So what does it look like even if this bill doesn't move forward?

DR. STEFFIE WOOLHANDLER: Well, there's more support for the Medicare-for-all, single-payer idea than ever in history. Polls are showing 56 percent of the American people support the idea. The majority of House Democrats have endorsed the Conyers bill, HR 676, a Medicare-for-all bill. More than half of House Democrats have endorsed that bill, about 112. Senator Sanders is putting a bill into the Senate in July. So this is a great time for people to be saying, "We need to move forward from the ACA to single payer."

AMY GOODMAN: And what would Medicare for all look like?

DR. STEFFIE WOOLHANDLER: OK.

AMY GOODMAN: How would that happen?

DR. STEFFIE WOOLHANDLER: OK, well, it would be expanded and improved Medicare for all. You would get a Medicare card the day you were born, and have it your entire life. All medically necessary care would be covered by a tax-funded Medicare-for-all program, that's -- it would be a lot cheaper over the long run, because you save so much money on administrative costs. All that billing and insurance enrollment is extremely expensive in the United States, consuming 31 percent of total US health spending, according to our research that's appeared in New England Journal of Medicine. By going to a simple single-payer system, you could save about half of it, about $500 billion a year, which you could use to get to universal healthcare and to remove copayments and deductibles from people who now have them.

So, a single -- that's what's happened in other countries. Canada has a single-payer system -- doesn't work perfectly, but it does cover everyone. Scotland has a single-payer system. Much of Western Europe has single-payer systems. They cover everyone. They live two years longer. They pay less for healthcare than we do.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, now, this is important, because you talked about mortality, if this bill were to pass and become law, that close to 29,000 people a year could die, more Americans could die. What is our mortality rate with our insurance system compared to others?

DR. STEFFIE WOOLHANDLER: Well, Americans live two to three years shorter than people in Canada, just across the border, with very similar culture, very similar lifestyle, yet we live two years shorter. Similarly, we live about two years shorter than people in many Western European countries. And some of the studies we reviewed in our article actually look at the international evidence, which, again, is totally consistent with the idea that being uninsured is bad for your health, it can cause deaths, and that being fully covered for all medically necessary care, as would happen under Medicare for all, makes people healthier, and it prolongs their life.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to President Trump being interviewed recently by Peter Hegseth of "Fox & Friends."

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Because I want to see -- I want to see -- and I speak from the heart -- that's what I want to see. I want to see a bill with heart.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response?

DR. STEFFIE WOOLHANDLER: Well, Trumpcare has no heart whatsoever. The House bill was going to throw 23 million people off insurance. The Senate bill is going to throw 22 million off in 10 years but then keep throwing more off. You know, they're going to make health insurance worse for people with private coverage by getting rid of the rules about what has to be covered, so your private insurance will no longer have to cover maternity care. They're actually robbing money from the Medicare trust fund. They're taking $117 billion out of the Medicare trust fund, which pays for the health insurance when people turn 65. $117 billion is taken out of that trust fund to give tax cuts to the top 1 percent of taxpayers. That is not heart. That's the opposite of heart.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I thank you very much for being with us, Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, professor at CUNY-Hunter College here in New York, primary care physician, lecturer at Harvard Medical School, co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program. And we'll link to her report on the mortality that would be related to the Republican healthcare bill becoming law. Roughly 28,600 more Americans could die per year.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, a Supreme Court decision. Stay with us.

An Open Letter to the GOP: You Are Sentencing Me to Death

18 hours 36 min ago

Raul Carranza. (Courtesy of Raul Carranza)Dear GOP,

I am the one you are about to kill. Your obsession with dismantling our health care system by repealing and replacing Obamacare with your draconian abomination of a bill known as the American Health Care Act is the greatest existential threat I have ever faced.

I have a rare genetic mutation that presents itself as muscular dystrophy. I was 2 years old when the doctors diagnosed me and told my parents that I would be lucky to live past my teens. I’m 27 now and I have been able to live a full life.

It is thanks to programs like Medicaid that I have not only survived but thrived.

People with disabilities deserve to live. Should you vote for this bill, you are sentencing me to death.

Raul Carranza. (Courtesy of the author)Dear GOP,

I am the one you are about to kill. I am the one whose life you are about to destroy. Your obsession with dismantling our health care system by repealing and replacing Obamacare with your draconian abomination of a bill known as the American Health Care Act is the greatest existential threat I have ever faced.

I have a rare genetic mutation that presents itself as muscular dystrophy. I was 2 years old when the doctors diagnosed me and told my parents that I would be lucky to live past my teens. I'm 27 now and I have been able to live a full life -- thanks in part to the fact that my mom crossed the border to have me in order for me to be born a US citizen, just like my sister was. Now, that fact may make you angry, but think about this: My mom believed in America so much -- that I would have a better life here than I would in Mexico -- that when she went into labor, instead of going to the nearest hospital, she drove to the border crossing in San Ysidro and got in line with hundreds of other cars. I am lucky that she did, because it is thanks to programs like Medicaid (it goes by Medi-Cal in California) that I have not only survived but thrived. I wasn't always on Medicaid. My dad had a good job and we were able to afford Anthem/Blue Cross, but the older I got, the sicker I became. Hospital visits piled up, and I hit my lifetime limit well before high school.

My health took a sharp decline in middle school after I started having trouble swallowing. It wasn't long before I lost the ability to eat and weighed under 80 pounds. I needed a feeding tube and was lucky to survive the surgery to put it in. I was also lucky to have Medicaid. The program not only covered the surgery and hospital stay but also the formula and after-care supplies -- and it still does.

Not more than two years after my surgery, I was using a breathing machine full-time. My doctor didn't like my use of it because the machine was meant for sleep apnea, not to be used 24 hours a day. He wanted to put in a breathing tube because it was safer than wearing a mask all day, but I was 13 and I saw that breathing tube as the beginning of the end. One day, my family was in the kitchen, picking out which big screen TV they would get me for my birthday. This fact may make you feel like your brains will explode -- if I was on Medicaid, what business did my parents have buying me gifts? -- but I was a kid and I wanted a big screen TV. Having Medicaid meant that our family wasn't drowning in medical bills and they could afford birthday presents. But while they flipped through the catalog, the tube connected to my mask came undone.

My brother, who has the same disability, found me unconscious, blue, and with my eyes rolled into the back of my head. That is when the doctors finally put in the breathing tube. My pulmonologist was mad at my parents for not making the decision for me to have it put in earlier. They had it out in the hallway. Yet, giving me that autonomy allowed me to learn to take care of myself. I knew then that my decisions could mean the difference between life and death, so I needed to know my body better than anyone and make the right choices.

I spent two weeks in the hospital after the surgery and celebrated my 14th birthday in the playroom at Children's Hospital. My dad couldn't bring my birthday present. Instead, he found an Etch-a-Sketch and drew a big rectangle. I didn't get it. He shook it and wrote "BIG SCREEN TV."

Once again, Medicaid paid for the hospital stay and surgery. It paid for my new breathing machines -- one for my bedside and another for my wheelchair. It paid for rechargeable batteries that lasted eight hours. It paid for the supplies necessary to avoid infections and respiratory issues. Most importantly, it paid for nurses to help take care of me.

Adjusting wasn't easy, but I did. I was able to rely on Medicaid not just as a safety net, but as a springboard.

It was thanks to Medicaid that I was able to enroll in community college. It was thanks to Medicaid that I was able to transfer to a four-year college and live in the dorms with my peers, independent of my family. It was thanks to Medicaid that I was able to get my bachelor's degree in political science from one of the best universities in the country. And it's thanks to Medicaid that I'm starting law school in August.

I tell you this not to brag, but because I feel like I have to justify my life. I even hesitated to tell you that I got a TV for my 14th birthday. It's been 13 years since then and I still feel guilty about it. That's what's so screwed up: I have internalized your propaganda. I feel like I have to convince you that I deserve to live when it shouldn't matter if I have a degree or not.

People with disabilities deserve to live.

Too often, we use numbers and statistics to illustrate how inhumane your bill is. I am here to tell you that I am not a statistic. I have a name. I am Raul Carranza and I live in San Diego, California. And, should you vote for this bill, you are sentencing me to death.

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This Is a Piece I Would Write About How to Fight Trumpcare, if I Were Well Enough

18 hours 36 min ago

Health care activists hold headstones as they stage a die-in while protesting the Trumpcare bill on June 21, 2017, in San Francisco, California. (Photo: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

This is a piece I would write about health care, and how we can all fight Trumpcare, if I were well enough to do so. Those of you who know my work know that when my body fails me, I often turn to words, but today, as I try to organize against this bill, I find even words are a struggle, because I have so little strength.To those who don't know me or my situation, I think you'll find my story familiar: Even with insurance, I have fought like hell for what care I've received, and it hasn't been enough. My friends have crowd sourced care that should have been covered, and I face major delays in procedures that could help restore at least some of my mobility.

Amid my organizing efforts, and my desire to spout words of a defiance, I am frightened and deeply concerned, not only by the bill's contents, but also by the inadequate opposition Trumpcare has been met with. It seems this bill, and all its horrors, have faded into a background of horrors in the American psyche. That is a state of affairs that could likewise spell death for some of the most vulnerable among us, and I find that absolutely chilling.

If I could manage it, this would be another battlecry piece, filled with words I might yell through a bullhorn, if I could get my body into the streets, every day, as I feel this cause demands. But instead, I am writing this from bed, where I've spent the whole day, to tell you that I need your help. We the disabled, and other people who will be ground under by this bill -- including Medicaid recipients, who will see their benefits gutted over time -- need you. We only have three days. That's not a long time to commit your attention, so please do so. We have so many battles ahead, but this historically unprecedented attack on the US social safety net will do irrevocable damage to the lives of millions, and potentially shift the entire course of history against marginalized people in the US, in a way we have not yet seen in our lifetimes.

This piece is already longer than I thought it would be, as I expected to simply offer you a blank space, in brackets, that I would ask you to fill in your own spaces, on your own pages, in your own words, in talks with your senators, in the streets and in private conversations, with words taken from others, if necessary. But I feel so strongly, and so deeply worried, that I couldn't help but pen a plea as well.

As many of us have warned since the onset of Trumpism, they are coming for your neighbors. This is just one manifestation of a march to a much more terrifying place. As many of you know, Trump's Muslim ban was partially reinstated on Monday. After a long string of failures, Trump's agenda has found a second wind, and so must our movements. But for now, I am asking: Please act in solidarity, in whatever way you can, for the next few days. Your love and rage over the next three days could mean the world, and your anger after the fact won't save anyone.

Your disabled friends, and so many others, need your hearts and hands this week. Our lives and ability to live them depend on a broad network of solidarity, because we cannot do this without you. So please hold onto your values in this moment, and defend them, and us, with everything you have.

To those who are already doing all they can, I thank you, and I hope to hug you on the other side of this, and celebrate a much-needed victory against ableism and authoritarianism.

Author's note: If you live in Chicago, please join us today in Daley Plaza for a vigil for victims of health care neglect, past, present and future. I wasn't up for organizing this, but I am doing it anyway, because I feel the moment demands it, and I will deeply appreciate anyone else who extends themselves by attending, in spite of any obstacles they might face.

With Yemen Devastated, Time Is Running Out to Demand US Withdrawal

18 hours 36 min ago

Sana'a, Yemen, pictured in April, 2007. Saudi Arabia's war and blockade in Yemen would not be possible without US approval. (Photo: Richard Messenger / Flickr)

The development economist Amartya Sen famously asserted that famines do not occur in democracies. ''No famine has ever taken place in the history of the world in a functioning democracy,'' he wrote, because democratic governments ''have to win elections and face public criticism, and have strong incentive to undertake measures to avert famines and other catastrophes.''

Saudi Arabia's war and blockade in Yemen, which have pushed Yemen to the brink of famine and ignited the worst cholera outbreak in the world, pose a new test for Sen's assertion. Of course Saudi Arabia is not a democracy, but rather an absolute monarchy, and Yemen lacks a functioning democratic government capable of protecting its population from Saudi Arabia's war and blockade. But the United States is a democracy, and it is beyond reasonable dispute that Saudi Arabia's war and blockade in Yemen would not be possible without US approval.

On June 13, the US Senate took a "proxy vote" on US participation in the Saudi war and blockade in Yemen, when it narrowly failed (47-53) to support the Paul-Murphy-Franken of disapproval against part of Trump's Saudi arms deal. Two days later, the UN Security Council unanimously approved a statement calling for immediate cease-fire to save Yemen from cholera and famine. Yet the Saudi war continues, with US approval. Two days after the Security Council vote, at least 25 civilians were killed by a Saudi airstrike on a Yemeni market.

The US House of Representatives -- historically more responsive to war-skeptic forces than the more reflexively pro-empire Senate -- has not voted on any aspect of US participation in Saudi Arabia's war and blockade since June 2016, when it narrowly failed (204-216) to approve the Rep. John Conyers amendment barring the transfer of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia. Since that time, the Senate has voted twice. A House vote on US support for Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen is long overdue.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is expected to be considered by the House on July 11. Depending on the actions in the House Rules Committee, amendments may be allowed to the NDAA or the Department of Defense Appropriation which would be a proxy votes on US participation in the Saudi war and blockade. Last year, the Representative Conyers' cluster bomb amendment was originally offered on NDAA but not allowed by Rules, then offered on Department of Defense Appropriations and allowed.

If the House Rules Committee does not allow such amendments -- or even if they do -- House members can force a vote on US participation on Saudi Arabia's war by invoking congressional war powers, since US participation has never been authorized by Congress. The last time such a vote happened in the House was during the unauthorized 2011 bombing of Libya. If July 28 is the last day before the House leaves for the August recess, then such a resolution should be introduced by July 17 at the latest in order to allow a vote to be forced before the House leaves town.

There is no guarantee that a House vote will end the war. If we win a House vote, it's possible, though not likely, that Trump would just ignore it. It's not likely that Trump would just ignore a House vote, particularly a vote invoking war powers, since even the existing level of pressure was sufficient to induce the Trump administration to vote for the UN cease-fire statement, although cease-fire is the opposite of the US policy actually being implemented. Ignoring such a House vote would have a real political cost. It's possible that the Trump administration is so attached to the Saudi war in Yemen that they are willing to sustain that cost. That's unknowable for us until we try. Our job is to keep increasing the political cost of the status quo until there is a cease-fire.

And, of course, it is quite possible that we will lose such a vote. On June 13 we narrowly lost a Senate vote. Last June we narrowly lost the House cluster bomb vote. There's no question that winning would be much, much better than losing. But in this case, losing would be much, much better than not fighting. Each fight increases pressure compared to no action, which is the relevant alternative. We know what the status quo path is: endless war, cholera and famine in Yemen. We have nothing to lose by forcing a floor vote, and a Yemen cease-fire to win.

You can urge your representative to demand a House vote on US participation in the Saudi war and blockade of Yemen here.

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The US at War Since 9/11: Reality or Reality TV?

18 hours 36 min ago

US Marines participate in a nonlethal weapons and tactics course, May 11, 2017, in Jordan. In our own country, we don't have to know that in US wars real people die. (Photo: Cpl. Travis Jordan / US Marine Corps)

The headlines arrive in my inbox day after day: "US-led airstrikes in Syria killed hundreds of civilians, UN panel says." "Pentagon wants to declare more parts of world as temporary battlefields." "The US was supposed to leave Afghanistan by 2017. Now it might take decades." There are so many wars and rumors of war involving our country these days that it starts to feel a little unreal, even for the most devoted of news watchers. And for many Americans, it's long been that way. For them, the meaning of war is closer to reality TV than it is to reality.

On a June day, you could, for instance, open The New York Times and read that "airstrikes by the American-led coalition against Islamic State targets have killed hundreds of civilians around Raqqa, the militant group's last Syrian stronghold, and left 160,000 people displaced." Or you could come across statistics two orders of magnitude larger in learning from a variety of sources that famine is stalking 17 million people in Yemen. That is the predictable result of a Saudi Arabian proxy war against Iran, a campaign supported by the US with weaponry and logistical assistance, in which, according to Human Rights Watch, the US may well be complicit in torture. You could contemplate the fact that in Iraq, a country the United States destabilized with its 2003 invasion and occupation, there are still at least three million internally displaced people, according to the UN High Commission for Refugees; or that more than 411,000 Iraqis remain displaced from their homes in Mosul alone since the Iraqi army launched a US-backed offensive to drive ISIS out of that city last October.

Yes, it's possible to click on those links or to catch so many other Internet or TV news reports about how such American or American-backed wars are damaging infrastructure, destroying entire health care systems, uprooting millions, and putting at risk the education of whole generations thousands of miles away. But none of it is real for most of us in this country.

How could it be real? Most of us no longer have any idea what war is like for the people who live through it. No major war has been fought on US territory since the Civil War ended in 1865, and the last people who remembered that terrible time died decades before the turn of this century. There is no one around to give us a taste of that reality -- except of course for the refugees that the Trump administration is now doing its best to keep out.

In addition, Americans who once were mobilized to support their country's wars in distant lands (remember Victory Gardens or war bond drives?) are simply told to carry on with their lives as if it were peacetime. And the possibility of going to war in an army of citizen draftees has long been put to rest by America's "all-volunteer" military.

As the US battlefield expands, the need becomes ever greater for people in this country to understand the reality of war, especially now that we have a president from the world of "reality" TV. During the second half of the twentieth century, Congress repeatedly ceded its constitutional power to declare war to successive executive administrations. At the moment, however, we have in Donald Trump a president who appears to be bored with those purloined powers (and with the very idea of civilian control over the military). In fact, our feckless commander-in-chief seems to be handing over directly to that military all power to decide when and where this country sends its troops or launches its missiles from drones.

Now that our democratic connection to the wars fought in our name has receded yet one more step from our real lives and any civilian role in war (except praising and thanking "the warriors") is fading into the history books, isn't it about time to ask some questions about the very nature of reality and of those wars?

War From the Civilian Point of View

We think of wars, reasonably enough, as primarily affecting the soldiers engaged in them. The young men and women who fight -- some as volunteers and some who choose military service over unemployment and poverty -- do sometimes die in "our" wars. And even if they survive, as we now know, their bodies and psyches often bear the lifelong scars of the experience.

Indeed, I've met some of these former soldiers in the college philosophy classes I teach. There was the erstwhile Army sniper who sat in the very back of the classroom, his left leg constantly bouncing up and down. The explosion of a roadside bomb had broken his back and left him in constant pain, but the greatest source of his suffering, as he told me, was the constant anxiety that forced him on many days to walk out halfway through the class. Then there was the young man who'd served in Baghdad and assured me, "If anyone fought in Afghanistan or Iraq, and they say they came back whole, they're either lying or they just haven't realized yet what happened to them."

And there were the young women who told the class that, in fear, they'd had to move out of their homes because their boyfriends came back from the wars as dangerous young men they no longer recognized. If we in this country know anything real about war, it's from people like these -- from members of the military or those close to them.

But we only get the most partial understanding of war from veterans and their families. In fact, most people affected by modern wars are not soldiers at all. Somewhere between 60 and 80 million people died during World War II, and more than 60% of them were civilians. They died as victims of the usual horrific acts of war, or outright war crimes, or crimes against humanity. A similar number succumbed to war-related disease and famine, including millions in places most Americans don't even think of as major sites of that war's horrors: China, India, French Indochina, and the Dutch East Indies. And, of course, close to six million Poles, most of them Jews, along with at least 16 million Soviet civilians died in the brutal Nazi invasion and attempted occupation of major parts of the Soviet Union.

And that hardly ends the tally of civilians devastated by that war. Another 60 million people became displaced or refugees in its wake, many forever torn from their homes.

So what is war like for the people who live where it happens? We can find out a reasonable amount about that if we want to. It's not hard to dig up personal accounts of such experiences in past wars. But what can we know about the civilians living through our country's current wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, or Yemen?  There, too, personal accounts are available, but you have to go searching. 

Certainly, it's possible, for instance, to learn something about the deaths of 200 people in a school hit by a single US airstrike in the Syrian city of Raqqa. But that can't make us feel the unendurable, inescapable pain of a human body being crushed in the collapse of that one school. It can't make us hear the screams at that moment or later smell the stench of the decomposing dead. You have to be there to know that reality.

Still, daily life in a country at war isn't all screams and stench. A lot of the time it's just ordinary existence, but experienced with a kind of double awareness.  On the one hand, you send your children to school, walk to the market to do your shopping, go out to your fields to plow or plant. On the other, you know that at any moment your ordinary life can be interrupted -- ended, in fact -- by forces over which you have no control.

That's what it was like for me during the months I spent, as my partner likes to say, trying to get myself killed in somebody else's country. In 1984, I worked for six months in the war zones of Nicaragua as a volunteer for Witness for Peace (WFP). In 1979, the Sandinista movement had led a national insurrection, overthrowing the US-backed dictator Anastasio Somoza. In response, the US had funded counterrevolutionaries, or "contras," who, by the time I arrived, had launched a major military campaign against the Sandinistas. Under CIA direction, they had adopted a military strategy of sabotaging government services, including rural health clinics, schools, and phone lines, and terrorizing the civilian population with murders, kidnappings, torture, and mutilation.

My job was simple: to visit the towns and villages that they had attacked and record the testimony of the survivors. In the process, for instance, I talked to a man whose son had been hacked into so many pieces he had to bury him in the field where he had been left. I met the children of a 70-year-old man a week after the contras flayed him alive, slicing the skin off his face. I talked to the mayor of a town in northern Nicaragua, whose parents were kidnapped and tortured to death by the contras.  

The original dream of WFP was somewhat more grandiose than collecting horror stories. American volunteers were to provide a "shield of love" for Nicaraguans threatened by the US-supported contras. The theory was that they might be less inclined to attack a town if they knew that US citizens were in the area, lest they bite the hand that was (however clandestinely) feeding them. In reality, the Sandinistas were unwilling to put guests like me at risk that way, and -- far from being a shield -- in times of danger we were sometimes an extra liability. In fact, the night the contras surrounded Jalapa, where I was staying for a few weeks, the town's mayor sent a couple of soldiers with guns to guard the house of "the American pacifists."  So much for who was shielding whom. (On that particular night, the Nicaraguan army confronted the contras before they made it to Jalapa. We could hear a battle in the distance, but it never threatened the town itself.)

All that day, we'd been digging to help build Jalapa's refugio, an underground shelter to protect children and old people in case of an aerial attack. Other town residents had been planting trees on the denuded hillsides where Somoza had allowed US and Canadian lumber companies to clear-cut old-growth forest. This was dangerous work; tree planters were favorite contra targets. But most people in town were simply going about their ordinary lives -- working in the market, washing clothes, fixing cars -- while the loudspeakers on the edge of town blared news about the latest contra kidnappings.  

This is what living in a war zone can be like: you plant trees that might take 20 years to mature, knowing at the same time that you might not survive the night.

Keep in mind that my experience was limited. I wasn't a Nicaraguan. I could leave whenever I chose. And after those six months, I did go home. The Nicaraguans were home. In addition, the scale of that war was modest compared to the present US wars across the Greater Middle East. And Nicaraguans were fortunate to escape some of the worst effects of a conflict fought in an agricultural society. So often, war makes planting and harvesting too dangerous to undertake and when the agricultural cycle is interrupted people begin to starve. In addition, it was short enough that, although the contras intentionally targeted schools and teachers, an entire generation did not lose their educations, as is happening now in parts of the Greater Middle East.

Many rural Nicaraguans lacked electricity and running water, so there was no great harm done when "se fue la luz" -- the electricity was cut off, as often happened when the contras attacked a power generator. Worse was when "se fue el agua" -- the water in people's homes or at communal pumps stopped running, often as a result of a contra attack on a pumping station or their destruction of water pipes. Still, for the most part, these were unpleasant inconveniences in a rural society where electricity and running water were not yet all that common, and where people knew how to make do without.

Imagine instead that you live (or lived) in a major Middle Eastern city -- say, Ramadi, Fallujah, Mosul, or Aleppo (all now partially or nearly totally reduced to rubble), or even a city like Baghdad that, despite constant suicide bombings, is still functioning.  Your life, of course, is organized around the modern infrastructure that brings light, power, and water into your home. In the United States, unless you live in Flint, Michigan, it's hard to grasp what it might be like not to have potable water dependably spilling out of the faucet.

Suppose you got up one morning and your phone hadn't charged overnight, the light switches had all stopped working, you couldn't toast your Pop-Tarts, and there was no hope of a cup of coffee, because there was no water. No water all that day, or the next day, or the one after. What would you do after the bottled water was gone from the stores? What would you do as you watched your kids grow weak from thirst? Where would you go, when you knew you would die if you remained in the familiar place that had so long been your home?  What, in fact, would you do if opposing armed forces (as in most of the cities mentioned above) fought it out in your very neighborhood?

Reality or Reality TV?

I've been teaching college students for over a decade. I now face students who have lived their entire conscious lives in a country we are told is "at war." They've never known anything else, since the moment in 2001 when George W. Bush declared a Global War on Terror. But their experience of this war, like my own, is less reality, and more reality TV. Their iPhones work; the water and light in their homes are fine; their screens are on day and night. No one bombs their neighborhoods. They have no citizenly duty to go into the military. Their lives are no different due to the "war" (or rather wars) their country is fighting in their name in distant lands.

Theirs, then, is the strangest of "wars," one without sacrifice. It lacks the ration books, the blackouts, the shortages my parents' generation experienced during World War II. It lacks the fear that an enemy army will land on our coasts or descend from our skies. None of us fears that war will take away our food, electricity, water, or most precious of all, our Wi-Fi. For us, if we think about them at all, that set of distant conflicts is only an endless make-believe war, one that might as well be taking place on another planet in another universe.

Of course, in a sense, it's inaccurate to say we've sacrificed nothing. The poorest among us have, in fact, sacrificed the most, living in a country willing to put almost any sum into the Pentagon and its wars, but "unable" to afford to provide the basic entitlements enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: life, food, clothing, housing, education, not to speak, these days, of infrastructure. What could a US government do for the health, education, and general wellbeing of its people, if it weren't devoting more than half the country's discretionary spending to the military?

There's something else we haven't had to sacrifice, though: peace of mind. We don't have to carry in our consciousness the effects of those wars on our soldiers, on our military adversaries, or on the millions of civilians whose bodies or lives have been mangled in them. Those effects have been largely airbrushed out of our mental portrait of a Pax Americana world. Our understanding of our country's endless wars has been sanitized, manipulated, and packaged for our consumption the way producers manipulate and package the relationships of participants on reality TV shows like "The Bachelor."

If Vietnam was the first televised war, then the 1991 Gulf War against Saddam Hussein's Iraq was the first video-game-style war. Who could forget the haunting green images of explosions over Baghdad on that first night (even if they've forgotten the 50 "decapitation" strikes against the Iraqi leadership that killed not one of them but dozens of civilians)? Who could forget the live broadcasts streamed from video cameras attached to "smart" bombs -- or the time two of them demolished what turned out to be a civilian air raid shelter, killing more than 200 people hiding inside? Who could forget those live reports from CNN that gave us the illusion that we were almost there ourselves and understood just what was seemingly unfolding before our eyes?

In fact, a University of Massachusetts study later found that "the more people watched TV during the Gulf crisis, the less they knew about the underlying issues, and the more likely they were to support the war." And even if we did understand the "underlying issues," did we understand what it's like to find yourself trapped under the rubble of your own house?

During almost 16 years of war since the attacks of 9/11, the mystification on the "home front" has only grown, as attention has wandered and some of our ongoing wars (as in Afghanistan) have been largely forgotten. Our enemies change regularly. Who even remembers al-Qaeda in Iraq or that it became the Islamic State? Who remembers when we were fighting the al-Qaeda-inspired al-Nusra Front (or even that we were ever fighting them) instead of welcoming its militants into an alliance against Bashir al-Assad in Syria? The enemies may rotate, but the wars only continue and spread.

Even as the number of our wars expands, however, they seem to grow less real to us here in the United States. So it becomes ever more important that we, in whose name those wars are being pursued, make the effort to grasp their grim reality. It's important to remind ourselves that war is the worst possible way of settling human disagreements, focused as it is upon injuring human flesh (and ravaging the basics of human life) until one side can no longer withstand the pain. Worse yet, as those almost 16 years since 9/11 show, our wars have caused endless pain and settled no disagreements at all.

In this country, we don't have to know that in American wars real people's bodies are torn apart, real people die, and real cities are turned to rubble. We can watch interviews with survivors of the latest airstrikes on the nightly news and then catch the latest episode of ersatz suffering on "Survivor." After a while, it becomes hard for many of us to tell (or even to care) which is real, and which is only reality TV.

Single-Payer Fight Moves to Massachusetts

18 hours 36 min ago

While Republicans in Washington try to take health care away from people, and a Democrat obstructs statewide single-payer in California, legislators in Massachusetts last week introduced single-payer legislation in both chambers of the state House. What makes this effort unique is the simultaneous introduction in both chambers of legislation to ensure health care cost control.

State Sen. Jamie Eldridge of Massachusetts speaks at a rally at the State House just before he introduces single-payer legislation. (Photo: Rebecca Klein / MassCare)

This piece is part of Fighting for Our Lives: The Movement for Medicare for All, a Truthout original series.

It has been a disappointing week for advocates of health care justice. 

As the GOP was working to take health care away from millions of Americans, news came that California's single-payer health care bill was shelved by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, provoking outrage among organizers and a strong condemnation from Sen. Bernie Sanders.

In Massachusetts, however, legislators and organizers are providing reason for hope that single-payer health care may in fact be possible at the state level. Last week, at a hearing before the state's committee on health care financing, single-payer legislation was introduced that would bring this important reform to the Bay State. State Sen. Jamie Eldridge and Rep. Denise Garlick issued bills in both chambers of the Massachusetts State House (S.619 and H.2987) that would create a single-payer system in Massachusetts. Of the dozens who testified, including experts, activists, nurses and organizers, all but one person -- a representative for the insurance industry -- supported the reform.

"There is real energy behind this issue both in Massachusetts and nationally," said Sen. Eldridge at a rally prior to the hearing, to loud applause. "The only way we can solve the issues of cost and of access is single-payer health care. We think Massachusetts should be a leader on this issue."

Proving Single-Payer Saves Lives -- and Money 

Massachusetts, of course, is not the first state to introduce this kind of legislation. What separates this effort from others, however, is that in addition to Eldridge's bill, another piece of legislation was introduced into both chambers at the hearing. Sen. Julian Cyr and Rep. Jennifer Benson introduced "An Act to Ensure Effective Health Care Cost Control" (S.610 and H.596) at the hearing as well. This is a unique approach that would require the state's nonpartisan Health Policy Commission, "an independent state agency," which "monitors the performance of the health care system," to measure the impact that single-payer would have on costs and delivery of care in Massachusetts.

This is not just another study, organizers say -- it would have real teeth. Under the proposal, if the commission finds savings from single-payer, which studies indicate would be significant, the legislature would "be mandated to act," as Ture Turnbull, director of the single-payer advocacy group MassCare, said in an interview with Truthout.

"Rather than just commission a study -- which inevitably gets attacked for being partisan or biased -- we have a quasi-public agency with no partisan affiliation measuring the impact," Turnbull said. "People always want to see the numbers, so here, let's show them the real numbers."

This novel approach could serve to undermine one of the biggest hurdles to single-payer legislation at any level: the accusation that it would cost taxpayers a large amount of money. This has proved to be difficult since it is true that a switch to Medicare for All would require significant new taxes. This fact has enabled the likes of the Koch Brothers, the health industry and even Hillary Clinton (as she campaigned against Sanders) to scare voters with misleading claims. However, as Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) documents, "No increase in total health spending is needed to finance single payer. The increase in taxes required to finance national health insurance would be fully offset by a reduction in out of pocket costs and premiums." 

Until advocates can successfully educate the public about the real impact of single-payer, the reform will remain elusive. The Cyr/Benson legislation aims to do this in a credible way. 

Why Massachusetts Should Lead on Single-Payer 

Massachusetts could be the ideal state to take the lead on single-payer, especially now that California's efforts have stalled. The state has a history of innovation at the state level, effectively implementing a version of Obamacare (Romneycare) four years ahead of the country. Years before the Affordable Care Act improved access for much of the country, Massachusetts insured 97 percent of its people, the best rate in the nation. Massachusetts is also a relatively large state, with a population of 6.6 million; it is the third most densely populated state in the country. If it were to implement single-payer, it would be able to do so on a scale that would demonstrate how this type of system can maximize savings. 

Further, as the outpouring of support at the hearing showed, the state is a hub of single-payer activity, and home to many prominent experts and activists working on the issue. Harvard's William Hsaio, who has designed or helped design universal systems in a dozen countries (and created three plans for Vermont), was among those who testified on the benefits of such a system. So did University of Massachusetts economist Gerald Friedman, who has studied the impacts of single-payer in numerous states, including Massachusetts. "We could lower health care spending by nearly 15 percent while improving access for all residents of the Commonwealth," he testified. "What are we waiting for?"

University of Massachusetts Economist Gerald Friedman illustrates how single-payer in Massachusetts would impact residents by income. This was submitted to the Massachusetts Joint Committee of Health Financing. (Photo: Gerald Friedman / Testimony to Mass Joint Committee on Health Financing)

The national advocacy group Healthcare-Now! is based in Boston and its executive director Benjamin Day testified as well. So, too, did Donna Kelly Williams, the president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA), one of three founding members of National Nurses United. Some of the most important research on single-payer has been done by those with local ties: Steffie Woolhandler and David Himmelstein, among the founders of PNHP, spent decades working out of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and some of the organization's crucial work has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine. 

Importantly, Massachusetts is a progressive state, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans 124-35 in the State House. While the current governor is a Republican, Democrats running for office have been increasingly supportive of single-payer. In 2014, Donald Berwick ran for governor using single-payer as his key issue and had an impressive second-place showing in the primary. Candidates for the next gubernatorial election are already emphasizing single-payer health care as a key issue. Bob Massie, a candidate for Governor in 2018, was also among those who testified in favor of the bills at the hearing.

Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Bob Massie testifies in favor of single-payer at a hearing at the Massachusetts State House. (Photo: Rebecca Klein / MassCare)

Lastly, Massachusetts has led the way on important issues in the past, beyond health care. For instance, the state was first to legalize gay marriage in 2004, before other states (and eventually the nation) caught up. Barack Obama didn't come out in favor of same-sex marriage until 2012. "Our state has taken the lead on key issues before," said one activist who testified to the committee. "It is time to do it again." 

The Lonely Voice of Opposition and the Shumlin Effect 

As noted, the hearing consisted of scores of people testifying, discussing virtually matters related to health care. Maia Olsen, an advocate from Boston, spoke about her life dealing with a chronic illness. Jordan Berg Powers, an advocate from Worcester, discussed racial disparities in the health system. "I know statistically I am likely to die younger than my white friends," he said.

John Berg Powers, an advocate from Worcester, testifies about racial disparities in the US health system to Massachusetts legislators at a hearing for single-payer health care. (Photo: Rebecca Klein / MassCare)

Every single person who spoke was in favor of the legislation, with one exception. The lone opponent of the legislation was Eric Linzer, an executive for Massachusetts Association of Health Plans, a lobbying group for the state's for-profit insurance companies. Armed with predictable falsehoods about the issue, his presence angered some in attendance so much that the chairman of the hearing heard an audible hissing and used his gavel to call for order in the chamber.

Linzer relied on tired old tropes about single-payer that have been perpetuated for years by opponents. Linzer took aim at waiting times in Canada, arguing falsely that they were a byproduct of its single-payer system. 

Most troubling, however, was his emphasis on failed efforts for single-payer in Vermont. As Truthout has previously documented, when Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin surrendered on health care he deflected blame, wrongly, on the costs of such a plan. By parroting false talking points, he provided fodder for the insurance lobby to use for many years. Indeed, while the legislators in attendance did not ask many questions, among the only questions asked was, "Why didn't it work in Vermont?" (For an answer to this question see Woolhandler and Himmelstein). 

"The way Shumlin handled it, he really set the whole movement back nationally," Friedman told Truthout.

Conservative opponents of Colorado Care used former Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin as one of the main reasons to oppose statewide single-payer in Colorado. This has become common among opponents of reform. (Credit: Coloradans for Coloradans screen shot / 6/26/17)

His words have since been used to argue against the policy in Colorado and California. It has been cited by establishment Democrats and their friends in the media to smear Bernie Sanders's plan for Medicare for All. And now Linzer is already using it as a chief talking point to try and take down the efforts in Massachusetts. It is a stunning turnaround for Shumlin who in 2009 won the support of the single-payer community when he ran commercials promising to create a "single-payer system to contain costs" as the first plank of his agenda. 

Why Statewide Efforts Keep Coming Short 

Shumlin's flip-flop on the economic impacts of single-payer are a key reason why Massachusetts introduced two pieces of legislation, not just one. The legislation that aims to measure the bill's impact on finances can serve to help settle the cost question, organizers hope. 

Indeed, when Colorado Care was defeated soundly by a ballot initiative in 2016, Dr. Don McCanne of PNHP observed that when it comes to single-payer, clarity is key. "If you find that you have to keep explaining what your proposal is, you haven't done enough, and your opponents can and will destroy your efforts with a few soundbites," he said. 

Of course, despite many reasons for hope that single-payer could become a reality in Massachusetts, the battle will likely be a long, difficult one. Should the legislation prompting the Health Policy Commission to measure single-payer savings become law, it would have the option to measure the savings for as long as three years. Or, Turnbull notes, they could study the policy going back three years, which could expedite the process. Or they could find some middle ground. In any event, even under the most optimistic of scenarios, single-payer becoming law in Massachusetts is a few years away. 

But if Massachusetts hopes to buck the trend of states trying and failing to pass a single-payer system, the work must continue today. There is reason for optimism. The national Medicare for All proposal, HR676, has a record 112 cosponsors in the US House of Representatives. The momentum behind Sanders -- now the most popular politician in the country -- has sparked a great deal of interest in the policy. Sanders has said he will introduce a bill into the Senate, though when this will happen is unclear. 

The ongoing Trumpcare efforts have reminded many Americans how awful it is to allow health care to be treated like a commodity. Searches for "Medicare for All" and "single-payer" spiked when Trumpcare had peak media attention. 

In a perfect world, the moral argument for single-payer would be enough to pass it, in Massachusetts and across the country. As images circulate of wheelchair users being physically removed by police while pleading with senators to spare Medicaid cuts, the moral imperative to save lives and minimize suffering has never been clearer. 

But this is far from a perfect world and, since single-payer is far more efficient than private health care, it makes sense to make a strong economic argument as well. The efforts in Massachusetts to emphasize both the economic and moral reasons for health care justice will be needed across the country if single-payer, at any level, is to become a reality.

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A World of Winless War: US Special Ops Forces Deployed to 137 Nations in 2017

Mon, 2017-06-26 11:51

US Army pilots engage in a training exercise near Camp Buehring, Kuwait, July 8, 2014. (Photo: Sgt. Harley Jelis / US Army)

The tabs on their shoulders read "Special Forces," "Ranger," "Airborne." And soon their guidon -- the "colors" of Company B, 3rd Battalion of the US Army's 7th Special Forces Group -- would be adorned with the "Bandera de Guerra," a Colombian combat decoration.

"Today we commemorate sixteen years of a permanent fight against drugs in a ceremony where all Colombians can recognize the special counternarcotic brigade's hard work against drug trafficking," said Army Colonel Walther Jimenez, the commander of the Colombian military's Special Anti-Drug Brigade, last December. America's most elite troops, the Special Operations forces (SOF), have worked with that Colombian unit since its creation in December 2000. Since 2014, four teams of Special Forces soldiers have intensely monitored the brigade. Now, they were being honored for it.

Part of a $10 billion counter-narcotics and counterterrorism program, conceived in the 1990s, special ops efforts in Colombia are a much ballyhooed American success story. A 2015 RAND Corporation study found that the program "represents an enduring SOF partnership effort that managed to help foster a relatively professional and capable special operations force." And for a time, coca production in that country plummeted. Indeed, this was the ultimate promise of America's "Plan Colombia" and efforts that followed from it. "Over the longer haul, we can expect to see more effective drug eradication and increased interdiction of illicit drug shipments," President Bill Clinton predicted in January 2000.

Today, however, more than 460,000 acres of the Colombian countryside are blanketed with coca plants, more than during the 1980s heyday of the infamous cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar. US cocaine overdose deaths are also at a 10-year high and first-time cocaine use among young adults has spiked 61% since 2013. "Recent findings suggest that cocaine use may be reemerging as a public health concern in the United States," wrote researchers from the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in a study published in December 2016 -- just after the Green Berets attended that ceremony in Colombia. Cocaine, the study's authors write, "may be making a comeback."

Colombia is hardly an anomaly when it comes to US special ops deployments -- or the results that flow from them. For all their abilities, tactical skills, training prowess, and battlefield accomplishments, the capacity of US Special Operations forces to achieve decisive and enduring successes -- strategic victories that serve US national interests -- have proved to be exceptionally limited, a reality laid bare from Afghanistan to Iraq, Yemen to the Philippines. 

The fault for this lies not with the troops themselves, but with a political and military establishment that often appears bereft of strategic vision and hasn't won a major war since the 1940s. Into this breach, elite US forces are deployed again and again. While special ops commanders may raise concerns about the tempo of operations and strains on the force, they have failed to grapple with larger questions about the raison d'être of SOF, while Washington's oversight establishment, notably the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, have consistently failed to so much as ask hard questions about the strategic utility of America's Special Operations forces.

Special Ops at War

"We operate and fight in every corner of the world," boasts General Raymond Thomas, the chief of US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM or SOCOM). "On a daily basis, we sustain a deployed or forward stationed force of approximately 8,000 across 80-plus countries. They are conducting the entire range of SOF missions in both combat and non-combat situations." Those numbers, however, only hint at the true size and scope of this global special ops effort. Last year, America's most elite forces conducted missions in 138 countries -- roughly 70% of the nations on the planet, according to figures supplied to TomDispatch by US Special Operations Command. Halfway through 2017, US commandos have already been deployed to an astonishing 137 countries, according to SOCOM spokesman Ken McGraw. 

Special Operations Command is tasked with carrying out 12 core missions, ranging from counterinsurgency and unconventional warfare to hostage rescue and countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Counterterrorism -- fighting what the command calls violent extremist organizations (VEOs) -- may, however, be what America's elite forces have become best known for in the post-9/11 era. "The threat posed by VEOs remains the highest priority for USSOCOM in both focus and effort," says Thomas.

"Special Operations Forces are the main effort, or major supporting effort for US VEO-focused operations in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, across the Sahel of Africa, the Philippines, and Central/South America -- essentially, everywhere Al Qaeda (AQ) and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are to be found..."

More special operators are deployed to the Middle East than to any other region. Significant numbers of them are advising Iraqi government forces and Iraqi Kurdish soldiers as well as Kurdish YPG (Popular Protection Unit) fighters and various ethnic Arab forces in Syria, according to Linda Robinson, a senior international policy analyst with the RAND Corporation who spent seven weeks in Iraq, Syria, and neighboring countries earlier this year. 

During a visit to Qayyarah, Iraq -- a staging area for the campaign to free Mosul, formerly Iraq's second largest city, from the control of Islamic State fighters -- Robinson "saw a recently installed US military medical unit and its ICU set up in tents on the base." In a type of mission seldom reported on, special ops surgeons, nurses, and other specialists put their skills to work on far-flung battlefields not only to save American lives, but to prop up allied proxy forces that have limited medical capabilities. For example, an Air Force Special Operations Surgical Team recently spent eight weeks deployed at an undisclosed location in the Iraq-Syria theater, treating 750 war-injured patients. Operating out of an abandoned one-story home within earshot of a battlefield, the specially trained airmen worked through a total of 19 mass casualty incidents and more than 400 individual gunshot or blast injuries.

When not saving lives in Iraq and Syria, elite US forces are frequently involved in efforts to take them. "US SOF are... being thrust into a new role of coordinating fire support," wrote Robinson. "This fire support is even more important to the Syrian Democratic Forces, a far more lightly armed irregular force which constitutes the major ground force fighting ISIS in Syria." In fact, a video shot earlier this year, analyzed by The Washington Post, shows special operators "acting as an observation element for what appears to be US airstrikes carried out by A-10 ground attack aircraft" to support Syrian Democratic Forces fighting for the town of Shadadi.

Africa now ranks second when it comes to the deployment of special operators thanks to the exponential growth in missions there in recent years. Just 3% of US commandos deployed overseas were sent to Africa in 2010. Now that number stands at more than 17%, according to SOCOM data. Last year, US Special Operations forces were deployed to 32 African nations, about 60% of the countries on the continent. As I recently reported at VICE News, at any given time, Navy SEALs, Green Berets, and other special operators are now conducting nearly 100 missions across 20 African countries.

In May, for instance, Navy SEALs were engaged in an "advise and assist operation" alongside members of Somalia's army and came under attack. SEAL Kyle Milliken was killed and two other US personnel were injured during a firefight that also, according to AFRICOM spokesperson Robyn Mack, left three al-Shabaab militants dead. US forces are also deployed in Libya to gather intelligence in order to carry out strikes of opportunity against Islamic State forces there. While operations in Central Africa against the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a brutal militia that has terrorized the region for decades, wound down recently, a US commando reportedly killed a member of the LRA as recently as April. 

Spring Training

What General Thomas calls "building partner nations' capacity" forms the backbone of the global activities of his command. Day in, day out, America's most elite troops carry out such training missions to sharpen their skills and those of their allies and of proxy forces across the planet. 

This January, for example, Green Berets and Japanese paratroopers carried out airborne training near Chiba, Japan. February saw Green Berets at Sanaa Training Center in northwest Syria advising recruits for the Manbij Military Council, a female fighting force of Kurds, Arabs, Christians, Turkmen, and Yazidis. In March, snowmobiling Green Berets joined local forces for cold-weather military drills in Lapland, Finland. That same month, special operators and more than 3,000 troops from Canada, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Kosovo, Latvia, Macedonia, the Netherlands, Slovenia, and the United Kingdom took part in tactical training in Germany.

In the waters off Kuwait, special operators joined elite forces from the Gulf Cooperation Council nations in conducting drills simulating a rapid response to the hijacking of an oil tanker. In April, special ops troops traveled to Serbia to train alongside a local special anti-terrorist unit. In May, members of Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Iraq carried out training exercises with Iraqi special operations forces near Baghdad. That same month, 7,200 military personnel, including US Air Force Special Tactics airmen, Italian special operations forces, members of host nation Jordan's Special Task Force, and troops from more than a dozen other nations took part in Exercise Eager Lion, practicing everything from assaulting compounds to cyber-defense. For their part, a group of SEALs conducted dive training alongside Greek special operations forces in Souda Bay, Greece, while others joined NATO troops in Germany as part of Exercise Saber Junction 17 for training in land operations, including mock "behind enemy lines missions" in a "simulated European village." 

#Winning

"We have been at the forefront of national security operations for the past three decades, to include continuous combat over the past 15-and-a-half years," SOCOM's Thomas told the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities last month. "This historic period has been the backdrop for some of our greatest successes, as well as the source of our greatest challenge, which is the sustained readiness of this magnificent force." Yet, for all their magnificence and all those successes, for all the celebratory ceremonies they've attended, the wars, interventions, and other actions for which they've served as the tip of the American spear have largely foundered, floundered, or failed. 

After their initial tactical successes in Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, America's elite operators became victims of Washington's failure to declare victory and go home. As a result, for the last 15 years, US commandos have been raiding homes, calling in air strikes, training local forces, and waging a relentless battle against a growing list of terror groups in that country. For all their efforts, as well as those of their conventional military brethren and local Afghan allies, the war is now, according to the top US commander in the Middle East, a "stalemate." That's a polite way of saying what a recent report to Congress by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction found: districts that are contested or under "insurgent control or influence" have risen from an already remarkable 28% in 2015 to 40%.

The war in Afghanistan began with efforts to capture or kill al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Having failed in this post-9/11 mission, America's elite forces spun their wheels for the next decade when it came to his fate. Finally, in 2011, Navy SEALs cornered him in his long-time home in Pakistan and gunned him down. Ever since, special operators who carried out the mission and Washington power-players (not to mention Hollywood) have been touting this single tactical success.

In an Esquire interview, Robert O'Neill, the SEAL who put two bullets in bin Laden's head, confessed that he joined the Navy due to frustration over an early crush, a puppy-love pique. "That's the reason al-Qaeda has been decimated," he joked, "because she broke my fucking heart." But al-Qaeda was not decimated -- far from it according to Ali Soufan, a former FBI special agent and the author of Anatomy of Terror: From the Death of Bin Laden to the Rise of the Islamic State. As he recently observed, "Whereas on 9/11 al-Qaeda had a few hundred members, almost all of them based in a single country, today it enjoys multiple safe havens across the world." In fact, he points out, the terror group has gained strength since bin Laden's death.

Year after year, US special operators find themselves fighting new waves of militants across multiple continents, including entire terror groups that didn't exist on 9/11. All US forces killed in Afghanistan in 2017 have reportedly died battling an Islamic State franchise, which began operations there just two years ago. 

The US invasion of Iraq, to take another example, led to the meteoric rise of an al-Qaeda affiliate which, in turn, led the military's secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) -- the elite of America's special ops elite -- to create a veritable manhunting machine designed to kill its leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and take down the organization. As with bin Laden, special operators finally did find and eliminate Zarqawi, battering his organization in the process, but it was never wiped out. Left behind were battle-hardened elements that later formed the Islamic State and did what al-Qaeda never could: take and hold huge swaths of territory in two nations. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda's Syrian branch grew into a separate force of more than 20,000. 

In Yemen, after more than a decade of low-profile special ops engagement, that country teeters on the brink of collapse in the face of a US-backed Saudi war there. Continued US special ops missions in that country, recently on the rise, have seemingly done nothing to alter the situation. Similarly, in Somalia in the Horn of Africa, America's elite forces remain embroiled in an endless war against militants. 

In 2011, President Obama launched Operation Observant Compass, sending Special Operations forces to aid Central African proxies in an effort to capture or kill Joseph Kony and decimate his murderous Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), then estimated to number 150 to 300 armed fighters. After the better part of a decade and nearly $800 million spent, 150 US commandos were withdrawn this spring and US officials attended a ceremony to commemorate the end of the mission. Kony was, however, never captured or killed and the LRA is now estimated to number about 150 to 250 fighters, essentially the same size as when the operation began.

This string of futility extends to Asia as well. "US Special Forces have been providing support and assistance in the southern Philippines for many years, at the request of several different Filipino administrations," Emma Nagy, a spokesperson for the US embassy in Manilla, pointed out earlier this month. Indeed, a decade-plus-long special ops effort there has been hailed as a major success. Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines, wrote RAND analyst Linda Robinson late last year in the Pentagon journal Prism, "was aimed at enabling the Philippine security forces to combat transnational terrorist groups in the restive southern region of Mindanao." 

A 2016 RAND report co-authored by Robinson concluded that "the activities of the US SOF enabled the Philippine government to substantially reduce the transnational terrorist threat in the southern Philippines." This May, however, Islamist militants overran Marawi City, a major urban center on Mindanao. They have been holding on to parts of it for weeks despite a determined assault by Filipino troops backed by US Special Operations forces. In the process, large swaths of the city have been reduced to rubble.

Running on Empty

America's elite forces, General Thomas told members of Congress last month, "are fully committed to winning the current and future fights." In reality, though, from war to war, intervention to intervention, from the Anti-Drug Brigade ceremony in Florencia, Colombia, to the end-of-the-Kony-hunt observance in Obo in the Central African Republic, there is remarkably little evidence that even enduring efforts by Special Operations forces result in strategic victories or improved national security outcomes. And yet, despite such boots-on-the-ground realities, America's special ops forces and their missions only grow.

"We are... grateful for the support of Congress for the required resourcing that, in turn, has produced a SOCOM which is relevant to all the current and enduring threats facing the nation," Thomas told the Senate Armed Services Committee in May. Resourcing has, indeed, been readily available. SOCOM's annual budget has jumped from $3 billion in 2001 to more than $10 billion today. Oversight, however, has been seriously lacking. Not a single member of the House or Senate Armed Services Committees has questioned why, after more than 15 years of constant warfare, winning the "current fight" has proven so elusive. None of them has suggested that "support" from Congress ought to be reconsidered in the face of setbacks from Afghanistan to Iraq, Colombia to Central Africa, Yemen to the southern Philippines.

In the waning days of George W. Bush's administration, Special Operations forces were reportedly deployed to about 60 nations around the world. By 2011, under President Barack Obama, that number had swelled to 120. During this first half-year of the Trump administration, US commandos have already been sent to 137 countries, with elite troops now enmeshed in conflicts from Africa to Asia. "Most SOF units are employed to their sustainable limit," Thomas told members of the House Armed Services Committee last month. In fact, current and former members of the command have, for some time, been sounding the alarm about the level of strain on the force. 

These deployment levels and a lack of meaningful strategic results from them have not, however, led Washington to raise fundamental questions about the ways the US employs its elite forces, much less about SOCOM's raison d'être. "We are a command at war and will remain so for the foreseeable future," SOCOM's Thomas explained to the Senate Armed Services Committee. Not one member asked why or to what end.

Jackson, Mississippi Mayor-Elect Chokwe Lumumba: I Plan to Build the "Most Radical City on the Planet"

Mon, 2017-06-26 00:00

We end the show today in Jackson, Mississippi, where just one week from today social justice activist and attorney Chokwe Lumumba will be sworn is as the city's next mayor. He has vowed to make Jackson the "most radical city on the planet." He is the son of the city's former mayor, the late Chokwe Lumumba, who was once dubbed "America's most revolutionary mayor." We air the mayor-elect's speech at the People's Summit and speak to him in Jackson about his plans for the city and his father's legacy.

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We end the show today in Jackson, Mississippi, where just one week from today social justice activist and attorney Chokwe Antar Lumumba will be sworn in as Jackson's next mayor. Earlier this month, Lumumba won the general election in a landslide, after handily winning a primary election in May. This is Chokwe Antar Lumumba celebrating his general election victory with supporters.

MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: Free the land!

SUPPORTERS: Free the land!

MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: Free the land!

SUPPORTERS: Free the land!

MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: Free the land!

SUPPORTERS: Free the land!

MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: By any means necessary. I need you to stand strong as we go forward. There are people who doubt your resolve, doubt that this city can be everything that it will be. And so, you can't give up now. I say, when I become mayor, you become mayor. So that means y'all got some work to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Chokwe Lumumba is the son of the late Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, a longtime black nationalist organizer and attorney, dubbed "America's most revolutionary mayor" before his death in 2014. The 34-year-old Chokwe Antar Lumumba supports economic democracy, has proposed a civic incubator fund to support cooperative, member-owned businesses in Jackson. Shortly after his election, Lumumba was a featured speaker, just a few weeks ago, at the People's Summit in Chicago.

MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: I bring greetings from Jackson, Mississippi, where I have recently been named mayor-elect of Jackson, Mississippi. In this process, we defeated a field of 16 people. We were able to secure the general election with 94 percent of the vote. And more important than that, we did so on a people's platform, on a people's platform where, from the moment we announced, we did so saying that we were running on an agenda of social justice, of economic democracy and -- and working with people, making certain that people had a voice. And that's our story, and we're sticking to it.

As we look at the condition of our country, as we consider the fact that we're in Trump times, we have all kinds of questions of what that means. And when I've been confronted with the question of "How do you feel in Jackson, Mississippi, after the Trump election?" what I had to share with people is, after -- the Wednesday after the election, I woke up in Jackson, Mississippi. And what that means is, no matter whether our country has experienced great booms or busts, in Mississippi we've always been at the bottom. And so what that means is that we have to decide that we are going to rescue ourselves, that in places like Jackson, Mississippi, we won't allow it to become havens of oppression which endanger all of us.

So what happens in Jackson, Mississippi, impacts each and every one of us. And so we have to make the decision that we're going to start controlling the way electoral politics proceeds. And so we've made the decision that we're going to be the most radical city on the planet, that we're going to make certain -- that we're going to make certain that we change the whole scope of electoral politics. No longer will we allow an individual to step before us and tell us all of the great things that they're going to accomplish on our behalf, only to find that nothing in their past demonstrates a sincerity, a willingness or an ability to do so. What we must do -- what we must do in Jackson, Mississippi, in DC, in Maryland, in Gary, Indiana, in Chicago, Illinois, is we have to start drafting an agenda for ourselves, creating an agenda, creating what we want to see, and then we draft the leadership which represents our agenda.

And so, we're excited about this energy which is surfacing, but it is time that we concretize it, that we take it from the mystical, from the mysterious, and put it into action and see what we can demonstrate when progressive people come together and have a plan and decide how we're going to change the very scope of this world.

And so, we have to come to the same understanding that Martin Luther King came to in his last days. Martin had a conversation with Harry Belafonte not long before he died. And what Martin told Harry, he said, "Listen, Harry, we're going to win this integration struggle. But I'm beginning to wonder. I'm beginning to wonder if we're not integrating into a burning house." He said, "I see a system which is abusing labor and abusing working people." And he said, "I'm worried about integrating into a house that looks like that." He said, "If people can't be fed, if people can't take care of their families, then it is useless to walk Mississippi roads together."

And so, ultimately, it becomes greater than a question of color and more a question of ideas and what are the best ideas and what are the worst ideas. And what the worst ideas are, is that you can be oppressive to anyone. And so, we now demand -- we now demand that our leadership looks at how we include the people's voice in the process, and that we have a -- we have two choices. We have a choice of economics by the people and for the people or economics by a few people for themselves. And so, we're demanding, right now, right now, that we begin to rescue ourselves. Right now, as my comrade said, we have nothing to lose but our chains. Thank you so much.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Jackson, Mississippi, Mayor-elect Chokwe Antar Lumumba speaking earlier this month at the People's Summit in Chicago. Well, he joins us now live from Jackson, Mississippi.

Mayor-elect Lumumba, welcome to Democracy Now!

MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: Thank you so much, Amy. I'm happy to be on your program with you today.

AMY GOODMAN: So, one week from today, you're going to be sworn in as the next mayor of Jackson, Mississippi. Talk about your plans, what are your -- going to be your first actions in office.

MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: Well, Amy, we're putting together -- we have a transition team that's in place right now and looking at the issues which Jackson is facing, making certain that we don't make plans just off conjecture, but a fact-based analysis of where we find our city, and bringing together not only people who have the acumen and ability and skill to do the job, but people who have a passion, a passion which goes beyond just the way we see electoral politics, but a passion to change people's lives. And part of that process is putting together a budget. Shortly after we take office, we have to pass a budget. And so, it's important that we have the right people in place.

One of the symbolic measures that we're going to take immediately as we take office is a citywide cleanup. It's more than just, you know, taking care of the aesthetic appeal of our city. It's about unifying the city. It's about bringing people from all areas of the city together and taking a collective interest in how our city looks. You know, I hearken back to the words of my mother: "If you don't care for your house, no one else will." And so, we're going to take those easy first steps, that is symbolic of where we're going and the direction we're headed in collectively.

AMY GOODMAN: You referred your mother. Can you talk about the origins of your name, Chokwe, Chokwe Antar Lumumba?

MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: Amy, I couldn't hear you. My earpiece slipped out for a moment.

AMY GOODMAN: Oh. Can you talk about the --

MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: Can you please repeat that question?

AMY GOODMAN: -- the origins of your name, Chokwe Antar Lumumba?

MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: So, my father changed his name when he was in law school, and accepted a name that he believed to be more culturally identifiable. Chokwe is the name of a tribe in the Angola region, a tribe that was resistant to the slave trade. The name Chokwe means "hunter." Antar is the name of a historic poet and warrior who died while saving a woman from drowning. And Antar means "poet" and "warrior." Lumumba, given that name from our namesake, Patrice Lumumba, the former prime minister of the Congo. And Lumumba means "gifted."

AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about -- I mean, your rise to the -- to becoming mayor of Jackson is very interesting, because the incumbent mayor, Tony Yarber, won the special election against you in 2014, the race that determined who would finish your father's term after he died in office. Your thoughts about losing to him then but defeating him in this race? What changed?

MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: Well, you know, as I've shared with many people, hindsight is 20/20. And I'm actually grateful that we lost the election in 2014, not because the sincerity was not there, not because we don't believe we could have done a good job, but we've been able to, you know, appreciate far more that's going on with the city of Jackson, and I've been able to appreciate more within myself. You know, people have to remember, in 2014, not only did I bury my father in a two-month time span and then enter into an election, my wife was pregnant with our first child. And so there was a world of change. You had a first-time candidate, who had not run for junior class president, much less mayor of a city. And so, we've been able to, you know, gather more information and position ourselves better. And so everything happens in a perfect timing. And so, we're happy where we find ourselves at this time, to move forward the agenda that my father embarked on, an agenda of a people's platform, one that was not only, you know, symbolic of his work in his short term as mayor, but symbolic of his work, a lifetime of work, that he subscribed to and also ultimately dedicated his family toward.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to your father, Chokwe Lumumba. In June 2013, I interviewed him just after he was elected mayor.

MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE LUMUMBA: There are some people historically who have always tried to separate the populations and to have a certain portion of the population oppress the rest of the population. We're not going to tolerate that. We're going to move ahead. We're going to let everyone participate in this movement forward. We're going to invite everyone to participate in this movement forward. And we have formed like a people's assembly, that's key to what we've done here, where we have -- every three months, the population can come out and participate in an open forum to say what's on their mind.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Chokwe Lumumba in 2013, when he was mayor-elect, in the very same studio that you, Mayor-elect Lumumba, are sitting in right now. In that speech we just played that you gave at the People's Summit, where I first met you just a few weeks ago, in Chicago, you said, "We're going to be the most radical city on the planet." What does that look like?

MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: It looks like a plan where we, you know, change the way we view electoral politics. You know, in that speech, I spoke about not accepting someone's agenda for our lives, but creating one ourselves. So, giving people more control of their governance is what that looks like. It's an inclusive process. Sometimes when we use the word "radical," people find themselves in fear and question whether they're a part of that radical agenda. And that's exactly our plan, is to incorporate more people, giving people voice who have not had it. That is a shift from what we've seen in traditional politics. It's usually the lay of the land is given to those who are most privileged. And so, we're trying to incorporate more people in the process, give voice to the voiceless.

And it starts with identifying, you know, the areas of greatest need. We need to show our workers, our city workers, and, you know, even the unionized work that we need -- we need to show people dignity and respect in their jobs and also see the economic benefit of it. You know, Jackson is like many cities: It does not have a problem producing wealth; it has a problem maintaining wealth. And so, if you put more money in the people's hands that live and work here, you stand a greater chance of receiving it back. And so we're also going to look at practical solutions to our problems. It is about forming relationships. It is about operational unity and making certain that you can work with people who may historically find themselves on the opposite end of a struggle that you may be engaged in, such as the state, such as, you know, a Trump administration. And so you want to identify your common ends and see how you exploit those common goals in order to arrive at the solutions that benefit us all. But it's also about how you take -- make better use of the resources you have. What we look at as --

AMY GOODMAN: Mayor-elect, I'm going to interrupt just because we only have a minute --

MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: -- and I want to ask, Jackson drew a lot of attention earlier this year, when Daniela Vargas, who is a 22-year-old undocumented immigrant, was arrested by ICE after she had just held a news conference. Her pending application for renewal of DACA status, it was pending. Is Jackson going to be a sanctuary city?

MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: Jackson is going to be a city which protects human rights for human beings. I don't care whether your ancestors arrived on the Mayflower or whether you joined us more recently, you deserve the same protections and respect in this city. And so, I find -- we find ourselves in interesting times, where the word "sanctuary" becomes a negative phrase. I'm proud of the work my father did in order to secure an anti-racial-profiling ordinance in the city, and we will continue to protect everyone who lives within our city, and make sure that they're not harassed.

AMY GOODMAN: And the issue of police accountability? In the last weeks, we have seen two police officers acquitted or cases with mistrials around the killing of African-American motorists. Your thoughts?

MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: I think we have a criminal justice system in our country which is entirely out of hand. You know, it's the largest business going. And the fact that we've made the criminal justice system into more of an industry, it provides or creates a culture that allows for people to be harassed, killed and shuffled in like cattle.

AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds.

MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: And so, that encourages an environment of police brutality. And so, what we want to do is be ahead of the curve in the city of Jackson. We want to see programs which --

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to have to leave it there.

MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: -- which deal with community sensitivity.

AMY GOODMAN: I thank you so much, and we'll cover your -- the day you become mayor.

Indian Prime Minister Modi Was Once Banned From Entering US; Today He Meets Trump

Mon, 2017-06-26 00:00

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to meet with President Donald Trump in their first face-to-face meeting. The meeting comes as Lockheed Martin announced a deal to begin making F-16 fighter jets in India. Modi is part of a notorious gallery of strongmen that have swept into power across the globe. One of the key issues expected to come up during the meeting is the fate of the H-1B visa program, which permits thousands of Indian computer engineers to enter the United States each year. Trump signed an executive order in April to review the visa program. We speak with Mumbai-based Teesta Setalvad, a civil rights activist and journalist. We also speak with Prachi Patankar, cofounder of the South Asia Solidarity Initiative, based in New York.

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: President Trump is welcoming Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the White House for their first face-to-face meeting. Modi is head of the Hindu nationalist BJP party and has led India since 2014. Modi was once banned from the United States on charges he did not intervene in a massacre against Muslims in 2002 when he headed the Indian state of Gujarat.

The meeting comes just days after the White House announced a $2 billion deal to sell India 22 Guardian surveillance drones. The deal will help India expand its use of drones in occupied Kashmir as well as along the Pakistani border. In addition, Lockheed Martin has just announced a deal to begin making F-16 fighter jets in India.

Another top agenda item of today's Trump-Modi meeting is the future of the H-1B visa program, which thousands of Indian computer engineers use each year to come to the United States. In April, President Trump signed an executive order to review the visa program.

Many observers have compared Trump to Modi. In January, Steve Coll wrote in The New Yorker magazine, quote, Trump "will join Modi as the latest figure in the world's swelling ranks of populist-nationalist leaders, a gallery of strongmen in countries rich and poor, some more democratic and some less so, who govern partly through intimidation and a certain curated arbitrariness," unquote.

To talk more about today's meeting, we're joined by two guests. Teesta Setalvad is a civil rights activist and journalist based in Mumbai, India. She's the secretary of Citizens for Justice and Peace. And here in New York, Prachi Patankar, co-founder of the South Asia Solidarity Initiative.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Prachi, let's begin with you. Talk about the significance of this meeting today between Trump, the president of the United States, and Modi.

PRACHI PATANKAR: Well, I think, just like any of the other predecessors or of these leaders of these countries, the US and India, I imagine they'll talk about similar long-term issues like economic trade deals and nuclear deals. And I think, like you mentioned, they'll talk about the arms deal that they're about to sign. And, of course, given the latest pulling of -- from the climate deal that Trump saw, that they will talk that, as well.

But what differentiates these two leaders from the past leaders is that they are -- they come together as for their authoritarianism. Modi led the way a few years ago, coming into power led by a very much kind of fascistic and Hindu fundamentalist regime, followed by what he did in Gujarat. And I think that this is what brings them together.

Another thing that also brings them together is their kind of populist and symbolic rhetoric. So, Trump has the "Make America Great Again" symbolic idea that he campaigned on, but Modi also talks about making India. So they're both kind of these nationalists, keep jobs at home, talk about the economy in that way.

But what is happening within their home countries, as we know, in -- Modi announced, actually, on the US Election Day on November -- in November, the demonetization, the disastrous demonetization policy, which was -- had disastrous consequences for the poor and marginalized people of India, many of them farmers and Dalits, who are the most lowest rung of the caste society in India. And those people are, you know, resisting these policies, as we see in my home state. In Maharashtra, there was a farmer strike, because farmers have the -- face the brunt of these policies, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Let's go to Teesta Setalvad, a civil rights activist and -- who is based in Mumbai, and journalist. Prachi just mentioned Gujarat, but most people, I think, in the United States, and perhaps around the world, are not familiar with what she's referring to, and you're very involved with this issue. Can you talk about Modi's history?

TEESTA SETALVAD: Yeah, it's very important to understand Modi's history, particularly when we look at the meeting of Modi and Trump, because I think two large -- the two world's largest democracies, talking about the democratic will of the people, having come to power in a certain manner, and both representing a certain kind of majoritarianism.

Modi is different from Trump in the sense that I know that Trump's father had links with the Ku Klux Klan, different in a sense that Modi's grooming, political grooming, and entire growth has been with an organization called the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Now, people just know a little bit about this. There have been a lot of academic studies and a lot of real issues down at the ground when we had communal violence breaking out. The RSS is an outfit that is protofascist, that does not really believe in a constitutional democracy as India is now. So Modi, in a sense, is today a very popular leader, for sure, but he comes from the grooming of the RSS that believe in a supremacist India, that believes in differentials in citizenship.

So, the pogrom of 2002, which Prachi referred to, very rightly, was on Modi's watch. It was -- you know, it was poor governance, at best, and brutal, at worst. You have almost 2,000 Muslims' lives being killed in reprisal violence after a despicable burning of a coach, which was actually allowed to, in rhetorical terms, to be seen as if Hindu nationalists were being burned and attacked by Muslims in the city of Godhra. But for virtually seven months after that, you had reprisal violence and the state just looking on. Modi was chief minister then. And to date, he has not really apologized or even expressed regret for that massacre.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain how many people -- this was in 2002.

TEESTA SETALVAD: That's right.

AMY GOODMAN: With Modi at the -- as the kind of -- well, the equivalent of governor of Gujarat.

TEESTA SETALVAD: That's right.

AMY GOODMAN: How many people died? And then, what the US action was that followed, banning him from or refusing to give him a visa to the United States?

TEESTA SETALVAD: You see, this was a very, very successful campaign launched by Indians, expat Indians, based in the United States, who actually campaigned there on the issue of the 2002 massacre being a genocidal carnage, and argued that for a man who was chief minister of the state, he should not be allowed to visit the United States of America. And, therefore, the ban came through, and the ban was subsequently held, repeated even as he rose and became more and more powerful.

What we need to remember about Modi is that within a three -- or, within five years, he won two or three -- three successful elections in the state of Gujarat on the back of the massacre, which tells you something quite frightening about Indian democracy, and possibly all democracies, that we actually go on a -- we travel a very, very -- walk the razor's edge, if you like, that democracy is the will of the people, but the day democracy becomes the rule of the mob and mobocracy and majoritarianism, and you can actually whip up mob hysteria through an election process, which Modi has successfully done in 2002 itself, after the massacre, 2007 and then in 2012 again, that is what is a really worrying signal as far as Modi and Trump are concerned, because they represent, in a sense, the democratic will of the people, but they also represent subversion of democratic institutions, which are checks and balances to majoritarianism and supremacism within democracy.

AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Teesta Setalvad, a civil rights activist and journalist based in Mumbai, India -- we're speaking to her by Democracy Now! video stream in Mumbai -- and Prachi Patankar, who is here in New York, activist and educator, co-founder of South Asia Solidarity Initiative. Prachi, this $2 billion sale of Guardian drones, the significance of this? I know Modi is going next to Israel and was sort of playing both. In case he didn't -- things didn't go well here, he could get them perhaps from Israel. But talk about the significance of these drones. And then the F-16s being built in India?

PRACHI PATANKAR: Mm-hmm. I mean, I think this is not surprising. The US and India have had conversations and relationships around arms deals for almost a decade. And India is also talking with other countries, as you mentioned. But both of these countries have committed grave human rights violations in the places that they have gone to war or occupied. In the case of India, we have Kashmir, which is a place where Indian Army has around -- almost 600,000 troops placed there. And the escalation of human rights violations for the Kashmiri people, against the Kashmiri activists and human rights activists there, have been going up. And given that, this is a worrisome move. I also think that given the ongoing conflicts between Pakistan and India, Afghanistan being right there and Trump talking about increasing intervention in Afghanistan, I think what US is probably thinking is that they need an ally in the region, and India is one of those allies that they probably need.

AMY GOODMAN: And now Prime Minister Modi has come out in support of the climate accord --

PRACHI PATANKAR: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: -- is becoming a spokesperson around the world around that, and, of course, Donald Trump pulling out.

PRACHI PATANKAR: Mm-hmm, yeah. I mean, yes, I think Donald Trump pulling out of the climate deal is, I think, seen by the entire world as not necessarily a good thing, I think. So, Trump, and including China -- India, and including China, are, I think, seeing themselves as kind pushing that forward as countries taking a different kind of stand. But I would say, in terms of practice, what's happening within India and what Modi has been saying internally, he has been against -- he has denied climate change openly. He has been -- he has made anti-science remarks also in the past. So he certainly doesn't necessarily care about climate change. Within the policies, economic policies in India and development policies, he has been pushing for more fossil fuel extractions, more coal mining projects, and supporting companies that do that. And that has affected millions of people, who -- indigenous people within different places in India, whose lives will be tremendously impacted by Modi's development projects.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being on with us, and we will continue this discussion as we turn to Arundhati Roy, who is traveling through the United States. Prachi Patankar is activist and educator, co-founder of the South Asia Solidarity Initiative. And Teesta Setalvad is a civil rights activist and journalist based in Mumbai, India. This is Democracy Now! Arundhati Roy up next.

Sorry, Meals on Wheels, Our War Machine Is Hungry

Mon, 2017-06-26 00:00

If you think we spend too much on our military as it is (more the next eight countries combined), you might be shocked to hear President Trump has asked for an increase in military spending by 10%, or $54 billion. Where is all this money going to come from? What will it be used for? Since Republicans are not known for wanting to raise taxes, the money has to come from cuts to other allocations in the budget.

On the chopping block are funds that would go to the Department of Education, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Health and Human Services and other federal programs -- agencies that serve the needs of the American public.

If Donald Trump really wants to take an "America First" approach, why is he slashing our domestic budget and putting money into a war machine that only continues to inflame tensions around the world? We engage in wars that never seem to end, our tax dollars are squandered, innocent lives are lost in the process and these military interventions are certainly not making us safer at home.

We are involved in military operations all over the world. Many of these conflicts are not easily summarized, but let's take a look at some of America's conflicts and where they stand, through the prism of this proposed military spending increase.

Iraq

What did we get out of invading Iraq? Saddam Hussein is no longer in power. For that, we lost almost 4,500 American lives. Over 30,000 were wounded. We don't keep track of the Iraqis we killed, but there are estimates.

Major combat operations ended in 2011, but our service members still die there and the war rages on for the Iraqi people. Under Saddam Hussein's brutal regime, sectarian violence was minimized. When we removed him it exploded. The unintended consequence is that we unleashed sectarian violence.

Another unanticipated result of our invasion of Iraq was the creation of ISIS. It was at a US prison in Iraq called Camp Bucca where embittered Sunni prisoners, including Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, created ISIS. Now we are spending billions trying to defeat the very force we helped to create.

Afghanistan

We invaded in late 2001 and are still there. It is America's longest war, and there is no end in sight. We removed the Taliban government, eventually killed Osama bin Laden -- found in "allied" Pakistan -- and set up a government that is at least officially friendly toward us. But there is now a resurgence of the Taliban.

For that, we lost 2,300 service members with about 17,600 wounded. It is not uncommon for our service members to be killed by Afghan soldiers who are supposed to be working with us. Again, this is all paid for by the United States taxpayer. The bill is about the shoot up even more, with the Trump administration sending another 4,000 troops to join in this endless war.

Syria

Syria has been reduced to ruins, not only by us but by Russia, ISIS, the Syrian government and other warring factions within and without. The Trump administration's recent cruise missile attack on Assad regime forces, followed by the shooting of a Syrian fighter jet and Iranian drones, puts the US military at even greater risk of direct confrontation not only with Assad but Iran and Russia. The number of Syrians killed, wounded and forced to flee their homes is astronomical, while the idea of a political solution seems more and more remote.

Lost Blood and Treasure

The National Priorities Project (NPP), using information obtained from the United States budget, has drawn some conclusions about how much we pay for these wars. We pay $615,482 per hour for ongoing operations against ISIS. Afghanistan costs us $4 million per hour (without counting the new troops being sent there). The remaining operations in Iraq cost us $117,000.00 per hour. NPP has concluded we pay $8.36 million per hour for all the wars since 2001.

What else could we do with all that money? The NPP illustrates how it could be spent to help our own people and our own economy:

• Millions of teachers could be hired.

• Millions of jobs could be created in poverty-stricken communities.

• Our ailing infrastructure could be remodeled and rebuilt.

• Scholarships could be funded for students who can't afford college.

• Our military veterans could receive the care they deserve.

The list goes on.

Americans are tired of war, yet Donald Trump's budget sends an unfortunate but clear message. He is willing to cut funds that help the poor, protect the environment, and promote the arts -- things that generally keep us happy and safe -- in order to fund a never-ending, ever-growing war machine. He's taking money from Meals on Wheels to buy billion-dollar bombers.

Fortunately, Trump's budget is only a request. Congress has to approve it. Even though the president enjoys a Republican-majority House and Senate, it does not mean his budget will go through. Members of Congress are under pressure from the administration, the Pentagon and the companies that profit from making weapons. But they are also receiving pressure from their constituents who are demanding that our money goes to community needs, not down a black hole of endless war. You can sign a petition to Congress here. Let's see who they listen to.

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

Climate Destabilization Is Causing Thousands of New Species Migrations: Plant, Animal, Insect, Bird

Mon, 2017-06-26 00:00

A spate of new research studies has confirmed a disturbing pattern: climate disruption is confusing migratory birds, causing trees to relocate and allowing tropical diseases to spread northward. "Human society has yet to appreciate the implications of unprecedented species redistribution for life on Earth, including for human lives," states a study, "Divergence of Species Responses to Climate Change," published May 17, 2017, in Science Advances.

Imagine if you had to travel thousands of miles and arrive at a specific time each year, but you had no way of knowing the precise time you needed to get there. That's what it's like for many songbirds that migrate from Central and South America each spring to breeding grounds in the US and Canada. If they were to arrive too early, they wouldn't find food and could freeze to death. If they arrive late, the best nesting sites may be taken and there will be fewer opportunities to find a mate.

For countless generations, these birds have been able to rely on seasonal signals such as the length of daylight. That hasn't changed of course, but now, due to a rapidly changing climate, the conditions at their summer homes may not be what they've come to expect, according to another study published May 15 in Scientific Reports.

"We're seeing spring-like conditions well before birds arrive," said lead author Stephen Mayor, a postdoctoral researcher with the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida, in a press release. "The growing mismatch means fewer birds are likely to survive, reproduce and return the following year."

This groundbreaking study combined 12 years of NASA satellite imagery tracking the arrival of spring greenery, with citizen-collected science data extracted from eBird, which records more than 60 million observations a year. An online tool used by amateur and professional bird watchers, eBird is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society.

"It's powerful. Whether they know it or not, birders are helping scientists do their work, and they could end up helping birds in the process," stated study co-author Rob Guralnick, Associate Curator of Bioinformatics at the Florida Museum.

The researchers looked at 48 species of songbirds and found that the average gap between the onset of spring and the arrival of these birds has lengthened by half a day per year, or five days per decade. Nine of these species fell further behind, losing a full day or more per year. Those struggling most were great crested flycatchers (Myiarchus crinitus), indigo buntings (Passerina cyanea), scarlet tanagers (Piranga olivacea), rose-breasted grosbeaks (Pheucticus ludovicianus), eastern wood pewees (Contopus virens), yellow-billed cuckoos (Coccyzus americanus), northern parulas (Setophaga americana), blue-winged warblers (Vermivora cyanoptera) and Townsend's warblers (Setophaga townsendi).

"If anything could adapt to climate change, you'd think that birds that migrate thousands of miles could," Mayor said. And that may happen, but it will take many generations, as evolution selects for earlier-arriving birds. Adding to the complexity, these scientists also found that greening is beginning earlier in eastern forests and later in western forests in the US.

All this is happening while forest trees themselves are moving in response to a disrupted climate. Yet another corroborating study, led by Purdue University and published May 17, 2017, in Science Advances, looked at 86 species of trees in the US over three decades. Researchers found that 73 percent shifted westward and 62 percent shifted northward, including some species that moved simultaneously in both directions. Of course, the trees themselves don't move, but over time, the highest concentration for each species has been notably shifting.

The movement has thus far been greater in the westerly direction, equaling 50 feet per decade. Northward movement was measured at 36 feet per decade. The shifts are attributed to changes in precipitation and temperature -- both outcomes of climate destabilization.

Another study on vegetation migration was carried out by scientists at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville (UT), published May 8, 2017, in Science Daily. That research, like Purdue's analysis, found trees in the Rocky Mountains moving northward. "One general expectation is that tree ranges will gradually move toward higher elevations as mountain habitats get hotter," said Michael Van Nuland, the project's lead researcher and a doctoral student in UT's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. "It is easy to see the evidence with photographs that compare current and historical tree lines on mountainsides around the world. Most document that tree lines have ascended in the past century."

In Europe, 34 percent of timber forests will be suitable only for Mediterranean vegetation by 2100, according to the Purdue University study. Looking at the redistribution of species under climate disruption, the authors found many other changes coming. "For marine, freshwater, and terrestrial species alike, the first response to changing climate is often a shift in location, to stay within preferred environmental conditions," they wrote.

Of more than 4,000 species studied around the world, half are relocating, says National Geographic. In the Arctic, brown bears (Ursus arctos) are expanding their range northward, in some cases competing with and even mating with polar bears (Ursus maritimus). Beavers (Castor canadensis) have been found as far north as the coast of the Beaufort Sea. The list includes mammals, amphibians, fish and insects.

"Movement of mosquitoes in response to global warming is a threat to health in many countries through predicted increases in the number of known and potentially new diseases," states an additional report titled "Biodiversity Redistribution Under Climate Change: Impacts on Ecosystems and Human Well-Being," from an international team of 41 scientists, published March 31, 2017, in Science. The World Health Organization (WHO) counted 212 million new cases of malaria in 2015, primarily in Africa, Southeast Asia and the eastern Mediterranean. But climate change will allow the disease to spread to new areas, according to the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) Center for Science Education.

That will be a problem for health officials. "Climate-related transmission of malaria can result in epidemics due to lack of immunity among local residents and will challenge health systems at national and international scales, diverting public and private-sector resources from other uses," state the authors of the UCAR report.

Other insect-borne diseases are on the rise due to climate change as well. Of the approximately 3,500 species of mosquito around the world, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), only a hand-full carry and transmit the dreaded West Nile virus, dengue fever and the lesser-known Chikungunya. West Nile claimed 146 lives in the US in 2015 while an island-wide epidemic in Puerto Rico in 2007 tallied 10,000 cases. Black-legged ticks (Ixodes scapularis), which carry Lyme disease as well as other deadly pathogens, have spread to 41 states as the blood-sucking bugs enjoy warmer, shorter winters.

"The natural world is very complex," said the University of Florida's Stephen Mayor. "When you kick it with a big change by altering the climate, different parts of that natural world respond in different ways. We're just beginning to understand the consequences of this grand unnatural experiment."

Atop Maine's Bradbury Mountain, for the past 11 years, a lone volunteer spends his or her days from March 15 to May 15, scanning the skies for birds. It is often cold and windy into late April, sometimes requiring snowshoes to ascend the summit. From the rounded granite top of the mountain, the view extends outward to the ocean. It's the site of the northernmost hawk watch in the Eastern Flyway -- one of the major north-south routes for migratory birds in North America. Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus), bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) and broad-winged hawks (Buteo platypterus) can be seen and counted, soaring above the tall white pines and iconic sugar maple trees.

"It has not escaped our attention that they are recording increasing numbers of raptors while the more southern hawk watches are showing an opposite trend," stated the 2016 spring Eastern Flyway Report, published by the Hawk Migration Association of North America (HMANA). "This coupled with the dramatic decrease in more northern migrants such as the northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis), which are at 32 percent of historical values for the Eastern Flyway this year, leads us to consider if climate change is a potential factor."

On a positive note, citizen science is increasingly coupling with academics, scientists and government researchers from around the world to document the disruption to wildlife wrought by human-caused destabilization of the climate. These volunteers help to create a more scientifically complete picture of what is happening in the natural world. "It's like 'Silent Spring,' but with a more elusive culprit," added Mayor. "These are birds people are used to seeing and hearing in their backyards. They're part of the American landscape, part of our psyche. To imagine a future where they're much less common would be a real loss."

Waging Love to End Debt's Stranglehold

Mon, 2017-06-26 00:00

Debt is an age-old means of shaming and controlling poor people. The practice is so commonplace, we hardly notice it.

For many, going into debt is the only way to get an education, buy a home, or survive a medical emergency. Shaking off that debt can be impossible for those living on low-wage and insecure jobs, and those targeted by predatory lending. Still, many accept the story that debt is their fault.

Citizens of cities and even countries are shamed for their debt, and blame is used by those instituting emergency management to justify loss of self-rule, privatization of public services, and extraction of community wealth.

At this year's Allied Media Conference in Detroit, Michigan, residents of the city and those of Puerto Rico gathered to compare notes on how debt and default have affected their regions. Both have experienced economic hardship, both are predominantly made up of people of color, and both are seeing debt used as an excuse for the selling off their common assets and to undermine their rights to self-governance.

In Detroit, the loss of industrial jobs to low-wage regions, coupled with federally subsidized white flight has left the city with the costs of operating urban services that benefit the entire region without the tax base needed to pay for them.

The 2008 financial crisis hit the city -- and its African American families in particular -- especially hard. Residents had been targeted for subprime mortgages, which accounted for 68 percent of all the city's mortgages in 2005, compared to 24 percent nationwide, reported the the Detroit News. Today, more than three quarters of foreclosed homes financed through subprime lenders are in poor condition or tax foreclosed.

Shifting control to emergency management has resulted in reduced essential services to those already harmed by predatory economics. School buildings are disintegrating. Residents had their water shut off. Streetlights were shut off.

In Puerto Rico, investors took advantage of the territorial government's high-yield, tax-exempt bonds. Wall Street reaped $900 million in fees from those bonds since 2000, Bloomberg News reported. Tax breaks for giant corporations attracted big players, until the incentives ran out and with them, the corporate jobs. One hundred and fifty schools were closed as a result of the crisis, and another 600 are on the chopping block. Puerto Rico has a poverty rate that is double that of Mississippi, the nation's poorest state, according to the US Census Bureau.

These neoliberal policies of privatization, extraction, corporate power, and austerity have undermined national economies in the Global South subjected to IMF and World Bank policies. Today, they are also being used on American and European communities.

Author and cognitive linguist George Lakoff describes two roles governments assume to maintain social control: the stern, punishing father, and the nurturing mother.

In today's context, the stern father metaphor takes the form of authoritarianism, fundamentalism, shame, and blame. As practiced by the corporate-friendly leadership of the Democratic Party, the nurturing mother placates the powerless with corporate bailouts and a tattered social safety net to allow for the continued extraction of a community's wealth.

Both of these parent-child metaphors are built on powerful -- usually white, male -- decision makers who are closely linked to corporate power and manage the affairs of a powerless citizenry. Neither offers a path to liberation.

Instead of either of these parent-child relationships, what we need are strong peer relationships, sisterhood, brotherhood, and solidarity. At the opening ceremony at the Allied Media Conference, activist, author, and doula Adrienne Maree Brown called on those gathered to "wage love."

Instead of using debt to punish communities of color and the poor and justify the selling off of community assets, instead of emergency powers that take away self-rule, we should invest in all communities and defend our civic and natural legacies for future generations of all races.

Those who gathered for the conference in Detroit showed what waging love looks like: supporting one another in rejecting second-class citizenship and in calling instead for government to serve the needs of their citizens and to invest in a future that will work for all people.

What Happens When the Federal Government Eliminates Health Coverage?

Mon, 2017-06-26 00:00

A patient is examined at a practice in Taylorsville, Kentucky, January 15, 2014. President Trump has repeatedly threatened to cut off the federal funding that makes the Affordable Care Act's cost-sharing reductions work for insurers and patients. (Photo: Luke Sharrett / The New York Times)

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After much secrecy and no public deliberation, Senate Republicans finalized release their "draft" repeal and replace bill for the Affordable Care Act on June 22. Unquestionably, the released "draft" will not be the final version.

Amendments and a potential, albeit not necessary, conference committee are likely to make some adjustments. However, both the House version -- American Health Care Act (AHCA) -- and the Senate's Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) will significantly reduce coverage for millions of Americans and reshape insurance for virtually everyone. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is expected to provide final numbers early the week of June 26.

If successful, the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act would be in rare company. Even though the US has been slower than any other Western country to develop a safety net, the US has rarely taken back benefits once they have been bestowed on its citizenry. Indeed, only a small number of significant cases come to mind.

My academic work has analyzed the evolution of the American health care system including those rare instances. I believe historical precedents can provide insights for the current debate.

Providing Help to Mothers and Infants

The first major federal grant program for health purposes was also the first one to quickly be eliminated. The program was authorized under the Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infancy Protection Act of 1921. It provided the equivalent of US$20 million a year in today's dollars to states in order to pay for the needs of women and young children.

Sheppard-Towner, which provided funding to improve health care services for mothers and infants, was enacted after a long debate in Congress amid accusations of socialism and promiscuity. Interestingly enough, the act may have passed only due to pressure from newly voting-eligible women.

Overall, the program was responsible for more than 3 million home visits, close to 200,000 child health conferences and more than 22 million pieces of health education literature distributed. It also helped to establish 3,000 permanent health clinics serving 700,000 expectant mothers and more than 4 million babies.

The program continued until 1929, when Congress, under pressure from the American Medical Association, the Catholic Church and the Daughters of the American Revolution, terminated the program. Without federal support, a majority of states either eliminated the programs or only provided nominal funding. Fortunately for America's children and mothers, the Social Security Amendment of 1935 reestablished much of the original funding and expanded it over time.

Helping US Farmers During the New Deal

America's next major program confronted a similar fate. To address the challenges of rural America during the Great Depression, the federal government developed a variety of insurance and health care programs that offered extensive and comprehensive services to millions of farm workers, migrants and farmers.

Some of these programs provided subsidies to farmers to form more than 1,200 insurance cooperatives nationwide. At times, the federal government's Farm Security Administaton (FSA)'s Farm Security Administaton (FSA) provided extensive services directly to migrant farm workers through medical assistance on agricultural trains, mobile and roving clinics, migratory labor camps that included health centers staffed with qualified providers, full-service hospitals and Agricultural Workers Health Associations (AWHA).

In all cases, services were generally comprehensive and included ordinary medical care, emergency surgery and hospitalization, maternal and infant care, prescription drugs and dental care.

Although these services were accepted during wartime, the American Medical Association and the Farm Bureau opposed them, which ultimately led to their demise shortly after World War II. Millions of farmers lost their insurance.

Medicaid in the 1980s

Perhaps the most indicative expectations on what will happen in case congressional Republicans are able to pass their proposal hails from the Medicaid program itself.

In the early 1980s, Medicaid underwent a series of cuts and reductions leading to the first contracting in the program's history. These involved both a reduction in federal funding and in eligibility, and an increase in state flexibility to run the program, as do the Republican proposals in Congress.

The cuts pale in comparison to those currently proposed by both the Senate and House. Nonetheless, the results was the first slowing of the Medicaid growth rate. However, this came at a steep cost for many Americans in the form of a significant reduction in enrollment, benefits and access even during a recessionary period.

Protecting the US's Seniors

The 1980s also saw the creation and quick demise of another health care program. The Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act of 1988 sought to fill in the gaps of the original Medicare program for America's seniors. Specifically, it sought to provide them with protection from major medical costs and offer them a prescription drug benefit for the first time.

Similarly to the Affordable Care Act, the law had a redistributive foundation by requiring richer seniors to contribute more than poorer individuals. Also, similarly to the Affordable Care Act, it phased in benefits over a period of time.

Congress, confronted by affluent seniors who would have shouldered much of the financial burden of the program, quickly repealed much of the law before its provisions came into effect.

It took more than a decade to provide America's seniors with a prescription drug benefit through Medicare Part D, while only limited steps have been taken to protect seniors from major medical losses.

A Serious Setback Looming?

While a latecomer, the United States has inched closer to the development of a comprehensive welfare state when it comes to health care. While the development has been incomplete, health benefits, once granted, have rarely been revoked except in those few cases described above.

The consequences of those rare cases are nonetheless instructive. States were unable to continue the program without federal support or offer a valid replacement. Indeed, the programs quickly faded away. With them, millions of Americans lost access to health care.

In all three previous cases, the federal government eventually renewed its financial support. However, at times it took time for a replacement program to emerge.

The current changes proposed by congressional Republicans, particularly to the Medicaid program, are tremendously more consequential than anything we have previously experienced.

Indeed, in scale and extent, the proposed changes are unprecedented and would significantly roll back, likely for the foreseeable future, America's safety net.

Myths of Job-Killing Robots Obscure Real Causes of Inequality

Mon, 2017-06-26 00:00

Robotic arms work on a Jeep Grand Cherokee at the Chrysler Jefferson North assembly plant in Detroit, May 29, 2013. (Photo: Fabrizio Costantini / The New York Times)

It's rare that a day goes by when there is not some major story of workers losing jobs to self-driving cars and trucks or robots stocking supermarket store shelves or dishing out fast-food hamburgers. The specifics may differ, but the story is the same; new technology will lead to mass unemployment. The frequency of these stories is truly striking for the simple reason that it so obviously not true.

The story of mass displacement of workers by robots is a story of rapid productivity growth. Robots are supposed to be doing the work formerly done by people. This means that we should be seeing far more output for each hour of human labor. This is something we can easily check, since the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) puts out data on productivity growth every quarter.

Rather than going through the roof as the robot story would imply, productivity growth has fallen through the floor. It's averaged just 1.2 percent annually in the last 10 years and 0.6 percent in the last five years. By comparison, productivity growth averaged 3 percent in both the decade from 1995 to 2005 and the long Golden Age from 1947 to 1973.

It's possible to point to many great advances in technology. It's also possible in future years that innovations like driverless cars will lead to mass displacement of workers, but to date the data are very clear: this mass displacement is not happening. Insofar as people are seeing job opportunities disappear, it is due to factors other than robots.

It actually would be a good thing if we did see more rapid productivity growth. The period from 1947 to 1973 was a period of low unemployment and rapid wage growth. Workers were able to capture the benefits of rapid productivity growth in higher pay.

There was a similar story with at least the first half of the 1995 to 2005 productivity uptick. In the late 1990s, unemployment rates fell to levels that many economists did not think would be possible without triggering spiraling inflation. (It didn't.) In addition, workers at the middle and the bottom of the wage ladder saw sustained real wage growth for the only time in the last four decades. This period of prosperity ended when the stock market crash brought on the 2001 recession, from which the labor market recovered slowly, but few economists would see the productivity boom of this decade as being a negative from the standpoint of workers.

If the productivity story is unambiguous -- there is no mass displacement due to robots -- there are some who argue that robots are still leading to a redistribution from workers to the people who own the robots. In other words, there is something about the nature of robot technology that affects the labor market differently than other labor saving technologies.

While this argument is highly dubious on its face, it is worth looking more closely at what it implies. "Owning" a robot is not a technological relationship. Robots would not be expensive because of the materials and labor that go into assembling them.

If we just considered the cost of physically producing robots, they should be cheap. We should all be able to buy a robot for a few hundred dollars that would cook our food, clean our house, mow our lawns, and do all sorts of other tasks that are time-consuming, unpleasant and often involve substantial expenses. In this case, robots should be leading to rapid increases in real wages and living standards.

However, if robots are expensive and therefore redistributing large amounts of money from ordinary workers to the people who own robots, it is because of the patent and copyright monopolies associated with building robots. But these monopolies have nothing to do with the technology; these are incentives the government gives to support innovation. In other words, the length and strength of patents and copyrights are determined by public policy.

If these protections were leading to upward redistribution it would indicate that we have made patent and copyright protection too long and/or too strong. This is especially true if we aren't seeing much payoff in the form of higher productivity growth. Robots don't provide an alternative to the explanations for inequality that attribute it to deliberate policy choices. On more careful examination, the robot story ends up being just one more policy-based explanation like trade, the weakening of labor unions, declining minimum wages and contractionary macroeconomic policy.

The robot story is likely attractive to many people since it appears to pin the blame for inequality on the natural development of technology. This undoubtedly explains why we hear it so frequently even though there is zero evidence to support it. Maybe if the proponents understood their own argument better they would stop repeating it.

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Women in California's Largest Immigrant Prison Hold Hunger Strike

Mon, 2017-06-26 00:00

On June 14, 33 women who have been detained and incarcerated by ICE in California's Adelanto Detention Facility launched a hunger strike. They were protesting the poor conditions at the facility as well as the policies that were keeping them away from their children and loved ones. The facility is the largest private immigration detention facility in the US.

(Photo: Pixabay)

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On June 14, 33 women who have been detained and incarcerated by ICE in California's Adelanto Detention Facility launched a hunger strike. They were protesting the poor conditions at the facility as well as the policies that were keeping them away from their children and loved ones.

The Adelanto Detention Facility, with a capacity of 1,940, is the largest private immigration detention facility in the United States. Run by the GEO Group, ICE pays $111 per person per day for the first 975 detainees, thus guaranteeing GEO a minimum of $40 million each year. If more than 975 people are detained inside Adelanto, the daily rate drops to less than $50 per day.

Immigrant rights organizations, such as Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement, or CIVIC, and Detention Watch Network, have sharply criticized Adelanto for its widespread and systemic abuses towards immigrants in custody.

Since March 2017, three people have died at Adelanto. Others have reported medical neglect and, on at least one occasion, being punished for seeking medical care. Norma Gutierrez, one of the women on hunger strike has suffered multiple strokes during her incarceration at Adelanto. Instead of receiving proper medical care, she was placed in solitary confinement. Such medical neglect is not new; Human Rights Watch found that Adelanto has had ongoing failures in providing medical care to detainees, including extended delays in responding to medical requests, overmedication of people with mental disabilities, the use of shackles during psychiatric appointments, a lack of continuity of care for those with chronic conditions, delayed or denied care for people whose removal seems to be imminent, and denial of care or misdiagnoses for people with serious conditions or diseases.

Among the women's demands were better medical care, respectful treatment by prison staff, an end to ICE's unreasonably high bonds, and reunification with their children and families. According to Christina Mansfield, co-founder and co-executive director of CIVIC, many of the women had been detained for over six months by that point. "We want them to speak to us like we are humans, not animals. We don't want to be disrespected and cursed at," Sara Salcido, one of the women on hunger strike, told Mansfield.

This is not the first hunger strike in Adelanto this month. The week before, nine men launched a hunger strike protesting these same conditions. They had arrived with a refugee caravan from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala claiming asylum at the US border. Instead, they were detained and sent to Adelanto.

On Monday, June 12, they refused to return to their assigned beds for count, a practice in prisons, jails and immigrant detention centers in which all movement stops while each and every person is counted. But that morning, the nine men locked arms; in response, guards pepper sprayed them and put them in isolation. Advocates said that guards also physically beat the men, a claim that ICE officials disputed in an email statement, saying that the guards "applied the necessary degree of force to extract the resisting detainees from the residence unit and transfer them to a restricted housing area." Shortly after, six of those men began refusing food.

The men issued nine demands: a fair bond for all detainees, political asylum, new uniforms -- especially new underwear -- instead of clothes previously worn by other people, more time for religious services, paperwork provided in their own languages, 24-hour access to clean water, better food, and an end to throwing away their belongings. They also demanded that they be released on their own recognizance rather than remain detained for their inability to pay bond.

The women were aware of the men's actions, Mansfield said. Hoping to avoid similar forms of retaliation, they asked that their names be made public.

That Wednesday morning, as 33 women refused to eat breakfast, Mansfield received another call from inside. According to the women calling her, guards had threatened the women with pepper spray, solitary confinement and confiscation of their belongings if they continued to refuse food.

However, that afternoon, 20 of the women, all of whom had been unsuccessfully seeking health care, were taken to see medical staff. Jail staff also agreed to treat the women with respect, including respecting their religious freedom. However, ICE officials told the women that they have no control over the bonds. In reality, however, the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE, has the authority to grant conditional parole and release a person on their own recognizance rather than set bond.

By dinner that evening, the women had ended the hunger strike.

In the limited communication Mansfield has received since, none of the women have reported retaliation. But that doesn't mean that Adelanto staff and GEO administrators are not on the alert and ready to quash any future signs of activism or solidarity.

On June 20, one week after the women's hunger strike and two weeks after the men's, CIVIC and over 60 faith leaders and attorneys boarded a bus to head to Adelanto, 85 miles outside of Los Angeles, to visit the people detained inside. Upon disembarking, the group held a five-minute interfaith prayer outside the facility. In response, GEO staff not only denied the visitors entrance, but also placed the entire facility on lockdown and kicked out the attorneys and family members who were already inside waiting to visit.

Though ICE's federal standards mandate that detention facilities provide 24-hour access for attorneys to visit their clients, Christina Fialho, an attorney as well as CIVIC's other co-founder and co-executive director, was denied visits with 14 of her clients despite having received prior approval from ICE. Other attorneys were denied entry as well, including those who had not come or were not affiliated with the bus from Los Angeles.

"When we see abuse in detention, it is our moral obligation to speak up and stand in solidarity with our friends in detention," Fialho stated. "By denying us access after a peaceful and short prayer, ICE has tried to make us choose between our First Amendment rights and visiting our friends and clients in immigration detention. This is not a choice our government can legally ask us to make."

Thinking Dangerously: The Role of Higher Education in Authoritarian Times

Mon, 2017-06-26 00:00

Protesters display signs at the National Day of Public Education demonstration against rising tuition costs at the University of Minnesota, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 24, 2014. (Photo: Fibonacci Blue)

In authoritarian societies, where education is viewed as a threat, it is imperative to teach students to think dangerously and to develop a vision of society that connects private troubles to broader public issues. The fight for the rights of educators and education is central to politics because without a formative culture of questioning by informed citizens, we lose the foundation for a working democracy.

Protesters display signs at the National Day of Public Education demonstration against rising tuition costs at the University of Minnesota, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 24, 2014. (Photo: Fibonacci Blue)

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What happens to democracy when the president of the United States labels critical media outlets as "enemies of the people" and disparages the search for truth with the blanket term "fake news"? What happens to democracy when individuals and groups are demonized on the basis of their religion? What happens to a society when critical thinking becomes an object of contempt? What happens to a social order ruled by an economics of contempt that blames the poor for their condition and subjects them to a culture of shaming? What happens to a polity when it retreats into private silos and becomes indifferent to the use of language deployed in the service of a panicked rage -- language that stokes anger but ignores issues that matter? What happens to a social order when it treats millions of undocumented immigrants as disposable, potential terrorists and "criminals"? What happens to a country when the presiding principles of its society are violence and ignorance?

What happens is that democracy withers and dies, both as an ideal and as a reality.

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

In the present moment, it becomes particularly important for educators and concerned citizens all over the world to protect and enlarge the critical formative educational cultures and public spheres that make democracy possible. Alternative newspapers, progressive media, screen culture, online media and other educational sites and spaces in which public pedagogies are produced constitute the political and educational elements of a vibrant, critical formative culture within a wide range of public spheres. Critical formative cultures are crucial in producing the knowledge, values, social relations and visions that help nurture and sustain the possibility to think critically, engage in political dissent, organize collectively and inhabit public spaces in which alternative and critical theories can be developed.

At the core of thinking dangerously is the recognition that education is central to politics and that a democracy cannot survive without informed citizens.

Authoritarian societies do more than censor; they punish those who engage in what might be called dangerous thinking. At the core of thinking dangerously is the recognition that education is central to politics and that a democracy cannot survive without informed citizens. Critical and dangerous thinking is the precondition for nurturing the ethical imagination that enables engaged citizens to learn how to govern rather than be governed. Thinking with courage is fundamental to a notion of civic literacy that views knowledge as central to the pursuit of economic and political justice. Such thinking incorporates a set of values that enables a polity to deal critically with the use and effects of power, particularly through a developed sense of compassion for others and the planet. Thinking dangerously is the basis for a formative and educational culture of questioning that takes seriously how imagination is key to the practice of freedom. Thinking dangerously is not only the cornerstone of critical agency and engaged citizenship, it's also the foundation for a working democracy.

Education and the Struggle for Liberation

Any viable attempt at developing a democratic politics must begin to address the role of education and civic literacy as central to politics itself. Education is also vital to the creation of individuals capable of becoming critical social agents willing to struggle against injustices and develop the institutions that are crucial to the functioning of a substantive democracy. One way to begin such a project is to address the meaning and role of higher education (and education in general) as part of the broader struggle for freedom.

The reach of education extends from schools to diverse cultural apparatuses, such as the mainstream media, alternative screen cultures and the expanding digital screen culture. Far more than a teaching method, education is a moral and political practice actively involved not only in the production of knowledge, skills and values but also in the construction of identities, modes of identification, and forms of individual and social agency. Accordingly, education is at the heart of any understanding of politics and the ideological scaffolding of those framing mechanisms that mediate our everyday lives.

Across the globe, the forces of free-market fundamentalism are using the educational system to reproduce a culture of privatization, deregulation and commercialization while waging an assault on the historically guaranteed social provisions and civil rights provided by the welfare state, higher education, unions, reproductive rights and civil liberties. All the while, these forces are undercutting public faith in the defining institutions of democracy.

This grim reality was described by Axel Honneth in his book Pathologies of Reason as a "failed sociality" characteristic of an increasing number of societies in which democracy is waning -- a failure in the power of the civic imagination, political will and open democracy. It is also part of a politics that strips the social of any democratic ideals and undermines any understanding of education as a public good and pedagogy as an empowering practice: a practice that can act directly upon the conditions that bear down on our lives in order to change them when necessary.

As Chandra Mohanty points out:

At its most ambitious, [critical] pedagogy is an attempt to get students to think critically about their place in relation to the knowledge they gain and to transform their world view fundamentally by taking the politics of knowledge seriously. It is a pedagogy that attempts to link knowledge, social responsibility, and collective struggle. And it does so by emphasizing the risks that education involves, the struggles for institutional change, and the strategies for challenging forms of domination and by creating more equitable and just public spheres within and outside of educational institutions.

At its core, critical pedagogy raises issues of how education might be understood as a moral and political practice, and not simply a technical one. At stake here is the issue of meaning and purpose in which educators put into place the pedagogical conditions for creating a public sphere of citizens who are able to exercise power over their own lives. Critical pedagogy is organized around the struggle over agency, values and social relations within diverse contexts, resources and histories. Its aim is producing students who can think critically, be considerate of others, take risks, think dangerously and imagine a future that extends and deepens what it means to be an engaged citizen capable of living in a substantive democracy.

What work do educators have to do to create the economic, political and ethical conditions necessary to endow young people and the general public with the capacities to think, question, doubt, imagine the unimaginable and defend education as essential for inspiring and energizing the citizens necessary for the existence of a robust democracy? This is a particularly important issue at a time when higher education is being defunded and students are being punished with huge tuition hikes and financial debts, while being subjected to a pedagogy of repression that has taken hold under the banner of reactionary and oppressive educational reforms pushed by right-wing billionaires and hedge fund managers. Addressing education as a democratic public sphere is also crucial as a theoretical tool and political resource for fighting against neoliberal modes of governance that have reduced faculty all over the United States to adjuncts and part-time workers with few or no benefits. These workers bear the brunt of a labor process that is as exploitative as it is disempowering.

Educators Need a New Language for the Current Era

Given the crisis of education, agency and memory that haunts the current historical conjuncture, educators need a new language for addressing the changing contexts of a world in which an unprecedented convergence of resources -- financial, cultural, political, economic, scientific, military and technological -- is increasingly used to exercise powerful and diverse forms of control and domination. Such a language needs to be self-reflective and directive without being dogmatic, and needs to recognize that pedagogy is always political because it is connected to the acquisition of agency. In this instance, making the pedagogical more political means being vigilant about what Gary Olson and Lynn Worsham describe as "that very moment in which identities are being produced and groups are being constituted, or objects are being created." At the same time it means educators need to be attentive to those practices in which critical modes of agency and particular identities are being denied.

In part, this suggests developing educational practices that not only inspire and energize people but are also capable of challenging the growing number of anti-democratic practices and policies under the global tyranny of casino capitalism. Such a vision demands that we imagine a life beyond a social order immersed in massive inequality, endless assaults on the environment, and the elevation of war and militarization to the highest and most sanctified national ideals. Under such circumstances, education becomes more than an obsession with accountability schemes and the bearer of an audit culture (a culture characterized by a call to be objective and an unbridled emphasis on empiricism). Audit cultures support conservative educational policies driven by market values and an unreflective immersion in the crude rationality of a data-obsessed market-driven society; as such, they are at odds with any viable notion of a democratically inspired education and critical pedagogy. In addition, viewing public and higher education as democratic public spheres necessitates rejecting the notion that they should be reduced to sites for training students for the workforce -- a reductive vision now being imposed on public education by high-tech companies such as Facebook, Netflix and Google, which want to encourage what they call the entrepreneurial mission of education, which is code for collapsing education into training.

Education can all too easily become a form of symbolic and intellectual violence that assaults rather than educates. Examples of such violence can be seen in the forms of an audit culture and empirically-driven teaching that dominates higher education. These educational projects amount to pedagogies of repression and serve primarily to numb the mind and produce what might be called dead zones of the imagination. These are pedagogies that are largely disciplinary and have little regard for contexts, history, making knowledge meaningful, or expanding what it means for students to be critically engaged agents. Of course, the ongoing corporatization of the university is driven by modes of assessment that often undercut teacher autonomy and treat knowledge as a commodity and students as customers, imposing brutalizing structures of governance on higher education. Under such circumstances, education defaults on its democratic obligations and becomes a tool of control and powerlessness, thereby deadening the imagination.

The fundamental challenge facing educators within the current age of an emerging authoritarianism worldwide is to create those public spaces for students to address how knowledge is related to the power of both self-definition and social agency. In part, this suggests providing students with the skills, ideas, values and authority necessary for them not only to be well-informed and knowledgeable across a number of traditions and disciplines, but also to be able to invest in the reality of a substantive democracy. In this context, students learn to recognize anti-democratic forms of power. They also learn to fight deeply rooted injustices in a society and world founded on systemic economic, racial and gendered inequalities.

Education in this sense speaks to the recognition that any pedagogical practice presupposes some notion of the future, prioritizes some forms of identification over others and values some modes of knowing over others. (Think about how business schools are held in high esteem while schools of education are often disparaged.) Moreover, such an education does not offer guarantees. Instead, it recognizes that its own policies, ideology and values are grounded in particular modes of authority, values and ethical principles that must be constantly debated for the ways in which they both open up and close down democratic relations, values and identities.

The notion of a neutral, objective education is an oxymoron. Education and pedagogy do not exist outside of ideology, values and politics. Ethics, when it comes to education, demand an openness to the other, a willingness to engage a "politics of possibility" through a continual critical engagement with texts, images, events and other registers of meaning as they are transformed into pedagogical practices both within and outside of the classroom. Education is never innocent: It is always implicated in relations of power and specific visions of the present and future. This suggests the need for educators to rethink the cultural and ideological baggage they bring to each educational encounter. It also highlights the necessity of making educators ethically and politically accountable and self-reflective for the stories they produce, the claims they make upon public memory, and the images of the future they deem legitimate. Education in this sense is not an antidote to politics, nor is it a nostalgic yearning for a better time or for some "inconceivably alternative future." Instead, it is what Terry Eagleton describes in his book The Idea of Culture as an "attempt to find a bridge between the present and future in those forces within the present which are potentially able to transform it."

One of the most serious challenges facing administrators, faculty and students in colleges and universities is the task of developing a discourse of both critique and possibility. This means developing discourses and pedagogical practices that connect reading the word with reading the world, and doing so in ways that enhance the capacities of young people to be critical agents and engaged citizens.

Reviving the Social Imagination

Educators, students and others concerned about the fate of higher education need to mount a spirited attack against the managerial takeover of the university that began in the late 1970s with the emergence of a market-driven ideology, what can be called neoliberalism, which argues that market principles should govern not just the economy but all of social life, including education. Central to such a recognition is the need to struggle against a university system developed around the reduction in faculty and student power, the replacement of a culture of cooperation and collegiality with a shark-like culture of competition, the rise of an audit culture that has produced a very limited notion of regulation and evaluation, and the narrow and harmful view that students are clients and colleges "should operate more like private firms than public institutions, with an onus on income generation," as Australian scholar Richard Hill puts it in his Arena article "Against the Neoliberal University." In addition, there is an urgent need for guarantees of full-time employment and protections for faculty while viewing knowledge as a public asset and the university as a public good.

In any democratic society, education should be viewed as a right, not an entitlement. Educators need to produce a national conversation in which higher education can be defended as a public good.

With these issues in mind, let me conclude by pointing to six further considerations for change.

First, there is a need for what can be called a revival of the social imagination and the defense of the public good, especially in regard to higher education, in order to reclaim its egalitarian and democratic impulses. This revival would be part of a larger project to, as Stanley Aronowitz writes in Tikkun, "reinvent democracy in the wake of the evidence that, at the national level, there is no democracy -- if by 'democracy' we mean effective popular participation in the crucial decisions affecting the community." One step in this direction would be for young people, intellectuals, scholars and others to go on the offensive against what Gene R. Nichol has described as the conservative-led campaign "to end higher education's democratizing influence on the nation." Higher education should be harnessed neither to the demands of the warfare state nor to the instrumental needs of corporations. Clearly, in any democratic society, education should be viewed as a right, not an entitlement. Educators need to produce a national conversation in which higher education can be defended as a public good and the classroom as a site of engaged inquiry and critical thinking, a site that makes a claim on the radical imagination and builds a sense of civic courage. At the same time, the discourse on defining higher education as a democratic public sphere would provide the platform for moving on to the larger issue of developing a social movement in defense of public goods.

Second, I believe that educators need to consider defining pedagogy, if not education itself, as central to producing those democratic public spheres that foster an informed citizenry. Pedagogically, this points to modes of teaching and learning capable of enacting and sustaining a culture of questioning, and enabling the advancement of what Kristen Case calls "moments of classroom grace." Moments of grace in this context are understood as moments that enable a classroom to become a place to think critically, ask troubling questions and take risks, even though that may mean transgressing established norms and bureaucratic procedures.

Pedagogies of classroom grace should provide the conditions for students and others to reflect critically on commonsense understandings of the world and begin to question their own sense of agency, relationships to others, and relationships to the larger world. This can be linked to broader pedagogical imperatives that ask why we have wars, massive inequality, and a surveillance state. There is also the issue of how everything has become commodified, along with the withering of a politics of translation that prevents the collapse of the public into the private. This is not merely a methodical consideration but also a moral and political practice because it presupposes the development of critically engaged students who can imagine a future in which justice, equality, freedom and democracy matter.

Such pedagogical practices are rich with possibilities for understanding the classroom as a space that ruptures, engages, unsettles and inspires. Education as democratic public space cannot exist under modes of governance dominated by a business model, especially one that subjects faculty to a Walmart model of labor relations designed "to reduce labor costs and to increase labor servility," as Noam Chomsky writes. In the US, over 70 percent of faculty occupy nontenured and part-time positions, many without benefits and with salaries so low that they qualify for food stamps. Faculty need to be given more security, full-time jobs, autonomy and the support they need to function as professionals. While many other countries do not emulate this model of faculty servility, it is part of a neoliberal legacy that is increasingly gaining traction across the globe.

Third, educators need to develop a comprehensive educational program that would include teaching students how to live in a world marked by multiple overlapping modes of literacy extending from print to visual culture and screen cultures. What is crucial to recognize here is that it is not enough to teach students to be able to interrogate critically screen culture and other forms of aural, video and visual representation. They must also learn how to be cultural producers. This suggests developing alternative public spheres, such as online journals, television shows, newspapers, zines and any other platform in which different modes of representation can be developed. Such tasks can be done by mobilizing the technological resources and platforms that many students are already familiar with.

Teaching cultural production also means working with one foot in existing cultural apparatuses in order to promote unorthodox ideas and views that would challenge the affective and ideological spaces produced by the financial elite who control the commanding institutions of public pedagogy in North America. What is often lost by many educators and progressives is that popular culture is a powerful form of education for many young people, and yet it is rarely addressed as a serious source of knowledge. As Stanley Aronowitz has observed in his book Against Schooling, "theorists and researchers need to link their knowledge of popular culture, and culture in the anthropological sense -- that is, everyday life, with the politics of education."

Fourth, academics, students, community activists, young people and parents must engage in an ongoing struggle for the right of students to be given a free formidable and critical education not dominated by corporate values, and for young people to have a say in the shaping of their education and what it means to expand and deepen the practice of freedom and democracy. College and university education, if taken seriously as a public good, should be virtually tuition-free, at least for the poor, and utterly affordable for everyone else. This is not a radical demand; countries such as Germany, France, Norway, Finland and Brazil already provide this service for young people.

Accessibility to higher education is especially crucial at a time when young people have been left out of the discourse of democracy. They often lack jobs, a decent education, hope and any semblance of a future better than the one their parents inherited. Facing what Richard Sennett calls the "specter of uselessness," they are a reminder of how finance capital has abandoned any viable vision of the future, including one that would support future generations. This is a mode of politics and capital that eats its own children and throws their fate to the vagaries of the market. The ecology of finance capital only believes in short-term investments because they provide quick returns. Under such circumstances, young people who need long-term investments are considered a liability.

Fifth, educators need to enable students to develop a comprehensive vision of society that extends beyond single issues. It is only through an understanding of the wider relations and connections of power that young people and others can overcome uninformed practice, isolated struggles, and modes of singular politics that become insular and self-sabotaging. In short, moving beyond a single-issue orientation means developing modes of analyses that connect the dots historically and relationally. It also means developing a more comprehensive vision of politics and change. The key here is the notion of translation -- that is, the need to translate private troubles into broader public issues.

Sixth, another serious challenge facing educators who believe that colleges and universities should function as democratic public spheres is the task of developing a discourse of both critique and possibility, or what I have called a discourse of educated hope. In taking up this project, educators and others should attempt to create the conditions that give students the opportunity to become critical and engaged citizens who have the knowledge and courage to struggle in order to make desolation and cynicism unconvincing and hope practical. Critique is crucial to break the hold of commonsense assumptions that legitimate a wide range of injustices. But critique is not enough. Without a simultaneous discourse of hope, it can lead to an immobilizing despair or, even worse, a pernicious cynicism. Reason, justice and change cannot blossom without hope. Hope speaks to imagining a life beyond capitalism, and combines a realistic sense of limits with a lofty vision of demanding the impossible. Educated hope taps into our deepest experiences and longing for a life of dignity with others, a life in which it becomes possible to imagine a future that does not mimic the present. I am not referring to a romanticized and empty notion of hope, but to a notion of informed hope that faces the concrete obstacles and realities of domination but continues the ongoing task of what Andrew Benjamin describes as "holding the present open and thus unfinished."

 The discourse of possibility looks for productive solutions and is crucial in defending those public spheres in which civic values, public scholarship and social engagement allow for a more imaginative grasp of a future that takes seriously the demands of justice, equity and civic courage. Democracy should encourage, even require, a way of thinking critically about education -- one that connects equity to excellence, learning to ethics, and agency to the imperatives of social responsibility and the public good.

History is open. It is time to think otherwise in order to act otherwise.

My friend, the late Howard Zinn, rightly insisted that hope is the willingness "to hold out, even in times of pessimism, the possibility of surprise." To add to this eloquent plea, I would say that history is open. It is time to think otherwise in order to act otherwise, especially if as educators we want to imagine and fight for alternative futures and horizons of possibility.

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