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Unreality Distilled: The United States of Trump

Sat, 2017-10-21 00:00

President Donald Trump speaks with Governor Ricardo Rossello of Puerto Rico during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC on Thursday, October 19, 2017. (Photo: Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Sometimes I talk to the president of the United States in my head. It always starts the same way: Dude, let me get this straight. This time it's his Russia-FBI-DNC dossier theory, but really, it's about how he represents everything that has gone wrong. Donald Trump is exactly as strong as the lies that sustain him.

President Donald Trump speaks with Governor Ricardo Rossello of Puerto Rico during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC on Thursday, October 19, 2017. (Photo: Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Workers of firm involved with the discredited and Fake Dossier take the 5th. Who paid for it, Russia, the FBI or the Dems (or all)?

-- Donald J. Trump via Twitter, 19 October 2017, 7:56am

Sometimes I talk to the president of the United States in my head. It's weird, but I have to.

Dude, I say (I can hyperlink words when I talk to the president in my head). Dude, what? Really? It always begins this way. We've covered some serious ground, the president and I, over the 40 miles of bad road that has been the last two years of American politics. His attacks on Muslims and Mexicans, his marauding misogyny, the border wall, penis measuring during a nationally-televised debate, the bag of hammers he chose for his Cabinet, Russia Russia Russia, Puerto Rico, North Korea, his embrace of Nazis and Klansmen, the NFL, the families of fallen soldiers, meeting the president of the Virgin Islands, Comey, Clinton, Mueller, Obama and all his favorite people -- there isn't much we haven't discussed. It always starts the same way.

Work doesn't make money anymore. Money makes money. Money made by money made you.

Dude. Let me get this straight. You accused Russia, the Democratic Party and the Federal Bureau of Investigation of conspiring to confabulate a dossier filled with damaging information about you. These three entities, you claimed, came together in secret to undo you by creating a package of reports that include detailed descriptions of deep ties between you, your campaign and Russia … because Russia would enter into a plot that would expose their own clandestine operations, just to burn you? That's so them.

The FBI part is even more odd. You're comfortable accusing the law enforcement arm of the Justice Department of a vendetta against you? Of falsifying information to foment political change -- against you? The bureau has a sordid history, to be sure, but the targets of its sordidness are not powerful, wealthy, white men.

As for the Democrats, whatever dude. The scary freakin' Democrats did it. We're talking about the same party, right? The one that lost to you? You! They lost to you, Donald fa-chrissakes Trump. The Atlanta Falcons ain't got nothing on the Democratic Party when it comes to stalled momentum, chump mistakes and snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The Democrats are having trouble conspiring to put in a lunch order these days. Coming up with something this spectacularly hilarious isn't really in their wheelhouse.

It's all of a piece with you, isn't it. All that stuff about Obama bugging your tower was pretty spiffy but this one is special. This is you changing reality into unreality with your mighty foghorn of nonsense. The world says, "Wha? Huh? How can he say …?" and you smile, because they're talking about you again, and that's what matters.

You are certainly a man of the times, The Man, avatar of all that ails us. You are, among other things, the end product of a decades-debunked economic model that consigns a vast majority of Americans to poverty and stasis while lavishing trillions on the wealthy. This we call "trickle down," and we've waited half a century now for the rain that never comes.

Work doesn't make money anymore. Money makes money. Money made by money made you. From what I hear, the last person you trickled down on got a page in that famous dossier. The economic model has failed dramatically, but you couldn't care less. It did well by you, and that's the dot at the end of the line.

Reality TV star, right? Perfect. Just exactly right. Television, Edward Murrow's wires and lights in a box, will prove in time to be one of the greatest derangers of civilizations in the history of the planet. A spigot of fiction, fear, calamity, greed and deception flows daily from every screen, unmaking reality stitch by stitch. Many see themselves now not as who and what they truly are, but as how they are depicted in the box. That's where you came from, that land of bombast and lies, and it makes seamless sense. "Reality" TV, indeed.

You are made of everything that lays us low, and the sooner we dismantle all that, the sooner we dismantle you.

Not that you give a damn, but a lot of people are genuinely terrified right now. Pursuing your catastrophic brand of foreign policy with unstable nuclear nations is only slightly less smart than jumping into a shark tank with a pork chop tied around your neck. I know the folklore of noble American militarism by heart, too. Taking on the flag, the anthem and the football players was you rewriting reality, again, by swaddling yourself in that folklore. John Kelly helped tuck you in. It's the safest place there is in politics, and it only cost tens of trillions of dollars to make it happen. Meanwhile, the country you claim to lead is hiding under the bed.

And since we're on the topic of conspiracies, what about "Climate change is a Chinese hoax"? This past hurricane season must have put at least a small dent in your denialism, not that it's doing Puerto Rico any good. This is the stuff that is going to get us all killed. You have to know that, right? Of course you do. You're the guy who wanted to use his money, which was made by money, to build a wall around his golf course in Scotland to protect it from the rising seas.

You are the distilled essence of the age, a blurred orange watercolor that looks different every time the light changes. There is no substance to you, only menace and the same confused fiction that seeks to define and control this nation. Too many ignore or dismiss you as some sort of terrible mistake, a wrong turn down a blind driveway we can back out of, but that is not the truth of it. You were inevitable, a product of unreality many years in the making. If you didn't exist, someone would have made you up.

Tomorrow, you will wake up and tell another obvious lie, threaten someone else, let fly with that mighty foghorn of nonsense, but I've got the measure of you. You are made of everything that lays us low, and the sooner we dismantle all that, the sooner we dismantle you. You're exactly as strong as the lies that sustain you. There's an answer for that, too.

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Trump's Hatchet Man: John Kelly, Sgt. Johnson and the Big Lie

Sat, 2017-10-21 00:00

President Donald Trump (R) speaks to new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly after he was sworn in, in the Oval Office of the White House, July 31, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Mike Theiler-Pool / Getty Images)

Ever since Donald Trump was asked about his curious delay in commenting on the deaths of four servicemen in Niger and, instead of answering, began to brag about how he was the only president to call all the families of fallen soldiers, this ugly story has been festering. Once again, Trump's reflexive self-aggrandizement to cover up for his failures has gotten him into trouble.

First of all, other presidents have of course called families of the fallen and have made many other gestures of sympathy and care. It was a low blow to try to tar his predecessors as failing to honor the war dead. Needless to say, the moment he made the claim that he alone called all the families, reporters went out and started asking and it turned out he hadn't done that either.

After making that ignoble boast, Trump went on a radio show and said that someone should ask John Kelly, the former Marine general who is now his chief of staff, whether President Obama had called him after his son was killed in Afghanistan, which obviously meant that was where he'd heard that Obama fell down on the job. The White House later confirmed this.

Evidently, this spurred Trump to finally call Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, one of the soldiers killed in Niger, while she was on the way to meet the coffin at the airport. He behaved like a boor because he doesn't know how to act any other way. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., who was accompanying the family to carry out this terrible duty, complained publicly about Trump's insensitive comments which the fallen soldier's mother confirmed. Instead of taking the mature and dignified course and simply apologizing for being inartful with his words, President Trump called everyone a liar and sent out one of "his generals" to clean up his mess.

Kelly has a distinguished record in the Marine Corps and is himself a Gold Star father who lost a son in Afghanistan. I don't think anyone in the country disrespects either of those things. But he is no longer in uniform and has willingly become a partisan political player working for a contemptible leader. When he decided to use his stature and experience to bail out his boss for making a hash of what he calls a sacred issue on Thursday, he sold his own reputation cheaply.

He went before the press and confirmed that Obama hadn't called him, but said he didn't see this as a negative thing. He wondered how any president can properly express himself if he's never been through the ordeal of losing a child, trying to elicit sympathy for poor Donald Trump and the burden he bears. But most presidents read a book or two about former administrations, they reach out to the living ex-presidents for insight or they just generally give a damn about aspects of the job other than holding rallies and watching "Fox & Friends." But this is Trump: He doesn't read and he doesn't ask for or take advice. He's not like any other president in our history.

After delivering what seemed to be a sincere disquisition on the way members of the military and their families face this tragedy, Kelly abruptly went on the attack, accusing everyone but his boss of lowering the discourse and destroying everything that's traditionally sacred in our society.

Kelly said that women were formerly considered sacred and implied that Khizr and Ghazala Khan and his wife had degraded the sacredness of the Gold Star family by appearing at the Democratic convention, conveniently ignoring the fact that the man he's working for is an admitted sexual predator who mercilessly attacked that Gold Star family. (He didn't mention that POWs used to be held sacred as well, or that his boss says he "prefers people who aren't captured.")  He angrily decried the politicization of the war dead, although it was his own boss who politicized a simple question about a military mission that nobody wants to talk about by attacking his predecessors' approach to dealing with this sacred duty.

Then Kelly went for the jugular and brutally attacked Rep. Wilson for "eavesdropping" on the conversation between the president and Sgt. Johnson's wife. Apparently he hadn't bothered to read anything about the incident or he would have known that the call was on a speakerphone in the car and the exchange was confirmed by others who heard it. Had he looked into it, he would also have found out that Wilson, a former educator, is a good friend of the family and ran a program Johnson attended called the 5,000 Role Models of Excellence Project, for youths pursuing military careers.

Not that any of that matters. It was apparently decided in the White House ahead of time that the best way to protect the boss was to smear Rep. Wilson. Kelly carried out the order with relish, even though its premise was a lie.

Just like his boss, the president, Kelly never once uttered the name of Sgt. La David Johnson or his pregnant widow, Myeshia.

Much of the mainstream press was predictably breathless over Kelly's forceful performance. Interestingly, many of the military commentators were not as impressed, correctly observing that it was Trump and Kelly who were politicizing the fallen. And the president just kept going:

The Fake News is going crazy with wacky Congresswoman Wilson(D), who was SECRETLY on a very personal call, and gave a total lie on content!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 20, 2017

Chuck Todd said on "Meet the Press Daily" that people heard what they wanted to hear from the reports of Trump's calls, suggesting that if you liked Trump you understood his reported comment, "He knew what he signed up for," as a sign of empathy and caring. I have no doubt that's true. His fans always give him the benefit of the doubt. For the rest of us it's not that simple, since Trump is a compulsive liar who has never shown empathy toward anyone but himself. As George W. Bush famously said, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me ... won't get fooled again."

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With Gerrymandering, Republicans Have a Starting-Line Advantage of 10 Percent

Sat, 2017-10-21 00:00
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Janine Jackson: We are definitely in challenging times, but it's useful to remember that it isn't that Americans per se are opposed to gun control, human rights for LGBTQ people, or affordable healthcare. At the same time, it's painful to remember why it appears that we are. It's because, as a recent piece by Neal Gabler for reminds us, we don't have a working democracy where every voice is heard: A minority of people have outsized power.

One of the reasons for that is being considered right now in the Supreme Court. Recalled by many of us as an old-timey graphic in middle school textbooks, the term "gerrymander" refers to the drawing of political districts in such a way as to benefit a particular party. The case Gill v. Whitford is focused on Wisconsin, where in 2012 Republicans won just 48.6 percent of the statewide vote, but captured 60 out of 99 seats in the state assembly.

Here to help us see what's going on and what's at stake is Steven Rosenfeld. He covers national political issues for AlterNet, and he's author of a number of books, including the forthcoming Inside Job: How American Elections Are Still Rigged Against Voters. He joins us now by phone from San Francisco. Welcome to CounterSpin, Steven Rosenfeld.

Steven Rosenfeld: Thank you very much. I'm glad to be here.

Wisconsin is asking the Supreme Court to overturn a decision striking down the 2011 redistricting plan for the lower house of their state assembly. Can you remind us what happened in Wisconsin that led to this being the test case for this issue?

What happened was the Republicans, after they got completely trounced by Obama in 2008, saw a way back from political wilderness, as the cliche goes, and they realized that if they won enough seats in state legislatures in 2010 that they could draw the maps that would last this decade. So Karl Rove wrote about this in the Wall Street Journal, the Democrats from Nancy Pelosi to Obama completely ignored it, and then the Republicans went out with some of the nastiest political ads you could ever imagine at the local level, and they just emptied these legislatures out of long-time citizen legislators. They called women prostitutes, they called guys every kind of crook imaginable.

And then they drew the maps, and what they did was they drew maps segregating the reliable voters, their party's and the Democrats. They looked at who came out and voted for John McCain in 2008, which was a lousy year, and they made sure that in these districts, they would have at least 56 percent, sometimes not too much more than that, reliable Republican majorities. And they put the Democrats, they packed them into other districts where they would typically win with 65, 70, 75 percent of the vote. So that's how you end up getting these Republican supermajorities. It's how they control the US House, it's how they control all these states that you think should be purple, like Wisconsin or Georgia or North Carolina, but instead they're firmly, firmly red.

And it turns out that if you draw lines, political districts, using race, it's illegal under federal law -- with one exception, which is sort of affirmative action for minorities. But if you draw these lines using extreme partisanship, which is what the Republicans argue they did in Wisconsin, so far, in the Supreme Court, it's been legal; it has not been judged to be illegal. But Anthony Kennedy, in an earlier case, sort of hinted at, well, maybe we gotta take a look at this, because it's so unfair, and if you can come up with a formula for us to prove how unfair it is and how anti-democratic is, we may consider it.

Well, that is what the people in Wisconsin did; they came up with the formula. A lower federal court said, OK, we agree with you. The Republicans in Wisconsin said, uh, we are going to appeal, and that's what's brought us to the Supreme Court, where basically they're going to decide the rules that will either make our national politics fairer and more balanced, or continue being as extreme as they have been through the next decade, the decade of the 2020s, because redistricting is coming right around the corner.

The way of measuring it, that's been the sort of missing piece, that's the social science that Justice Roberts dismisses as "sociological gobbledygook"; he claimed during the arguing of this case that "the intelligent man on the street" would never understand how you could have a formula to figure out which votes were, quote unquote, "wasted."

Yeah. I should remind you that John Roberts also said, before Donald Trump's election campaign, that we were in a post-racial society and therefore we no longer needed the Voting Rights Act's enforcement provisions. And then within 24 hours of that Supreme Court decision in 2013, virtually every red state in the Old South passed voter ID laws, they got rid of same-day registration, they ended early voting. This is completely nuts.

Yeah. And it seems so disingenuous in the extreme to say, as Roberts also did, that the problem of gerrymandering should be fixed, he said through "democracy," by which he meant the normal political process. But this is the normal political process!

Yes, this is democracy, and it's not very democratic.


In fact, this is what people really don't understand. This is one of the biggest, most influential factors on why Democrats and progressives have not been winning. The Supreme Court had a decision, before Gorsuch was on it, that basically threw out North Carolina's racially motivated US House districts. And the numbers in it were that Republicans kept winning with 56 percent of the vote, and the Democrats and the few seats they held were like 69 and 70 percent. It's not democratic when you segregate voters. The language people use is, politicians shouldn't choose their voters.

But it's segregating voters, reliable voters, and it gives you a 6 percent head start. And then you have other things that academics have tracked. Strict voter ID peels off another 2 or 3 percent. And then pretty soon Republicans have a starting line advantage, before anybody knows who's running, of 10 percent. And for you to win elections by more than 10 percent, I mean, maybe we'll see that in 2018, but, gosh, it's so, so rare.

Well, this case, Gill v. Whitford, is talking about the Supreme Court's ability to shut down extreme cases, which we should note could theoretically be committed by either major party. But that's not really a system for going forward, it doesn't sound like.

Well, the Republicans in 2010, after they won political monopoly control in lots of states -- they targeted a dozen states, and these are the states that are always among the finalists in presidential elections. We're talking about Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Texas. And it's as if we have two entirely different countries and two entirely different sets of voting rules. We have blue state coastal America, where none of this stuff is happening. People almost don't understand how could this be happening, they can't relate to it in their experience. And then you have this red state set of rules.

And the Democrats are no angels; they had plenty of things that they did to stop Bernie Sanders in that presidential nominating contest. I'm not sure he would have won, but they sure made it harder. The Democrats who run California are not exactly angels, either. But they have done nothing on the level of a coordinated nationwide strategy to basically seize the House and seize these states.

And [Republicans] have done it, and it's held for every race, every election, every two-year cycle this decade. I mean, think of it. After 2010, the House, Republicans have held it. And all those states, all those states that filed those lawsuits against everything -- Obamacare, LGBT rights, affirmative action this, climate change that -- this is what's been the result.

And actually, it goes worse than that, because today in the House, things have been segregated to such an extreme amongst who votes, that you have the most extreme Republicans saying that, well, taking healthcare away for 20-something million people is not good enough; and Paul Ryan can't control them. This has created a downward spiral that's pulling us to the bottom.

Finally we're recording this on October 5. Do you have any thoughts right now about how Gill v. Whitford is likely to play out?

Yeah, I do. I suspect that they're not going to touch it, which means the status quo will hold. And the reason I say that is because Kennedy, who is the swing vote, said or signed on to a dissent in the North Carolina case that came out and threw out their congressional House seats last spring. It was written by Alito, and it said that, odious as all this extreme partisanship is, it's part of human nature and part of politics, and it just comes with the turf, and we just can't and shouldn't touch it.

And I think that even though he was the one who invited the folks in Wisconsin to come up with a standard, that was several years ago, the most recent real clue we have from him is saying, well, I don't know, it just seems like it's just so much a part of human nature, and human nature is reflected in politics, we just got to live with the dark side. And I'm not optimistic.

We've been speaking with Steven Rosenfeld, journalist at and author of the forthcoming Inside Job: How American Elections Are Still Rigged Against Voters. Steven Rosenfeld, thank you for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

Well, thank you so much.

No Casting Couch for Low-Wage Women, but Lots of Sexual Harassment

Sat, 2017-10-21 00:00
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Sexual harassment doesn't happen just to glamorous women in glamorous industries. Since sexual harassment is about power, not sex, it's not surprising that low-wage women in lousy jobs get a lot of it.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says the restaurant industry is the largest source of sexual harassment claims. In a national survey of 4,300 restaurant workers by the worker center Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, more than one in 10 workers reported that they or a co-worker had experienced sexual harassment. ROC says even this creepy figure is likely an undercount.

Focus groups and interviews ROC conducted nationwide found sexual harassment an "accepted… part of the culture." One worker said, "It's inevitable. If it's not verbal assault, someone wants to rub up against you."

ROC reviewed four years of EEOC sexual harassment settlements and verdicts in the restaurant industry and found that cases were filed primarily against well-known chains, including McDonald's (the worst with 16 percent of the cases), KFC, Sonic, IHOP, Applebee's, Cracker Barrel, Ruby Tuesday, and Denny's.

Most often, workers were abused and harassed daily and faced some form of retaliation for complaining.

Labor Notes' Jenny Brown, who now works for National Women's Liberation, points out that the "dismal stats" for restaurant workers are connected to how they get paid: tips.

The Restaurant Opportunities Centers United notes, in a 2014 report, that "a majority-female workforce must please and curry favor with customers to earn a living." Men take advantage with harassing questions, gestures, groping, even stalking.

"Unfortunately, it's just become the societal norm, and we have all accepted it and we all hate it," a woman bartender told ROC.

Managers tend to side with the customers when workers complain. One server reported her boss's words: "Well, those people pay a lot of money for our services and, I mean, would it hurt to smile a little bit, be a little bit more friendly to them?"

In the Fields

One farmworker described the norm in the fields similarly to that in restaurants: "You allow it or they fire you." A 2010 study of farmworker women found 80 percent had experienced sexual harassment at work.

Farmworker women are especially vulnerable when they are employed and paid by individual crewleaders, who thus have tight control over their livelihoods.

Janitors are another low-paid case in point, as Sonia Singh wrote this year. They're predominantly female, often working late at night in isolated workplaces. The 2015 PBS documentary "Rape on the Night Shift" exposed how widespread and underreported sexual violence is for janitors.

In May 2016 United Service Workers West won a new master contract in California that requires sexual harassment training for supervisors and workers, and ensures that workers can make complaints to managers above their direct supervisors.

The union explored using a telenovela (soap opera) format for the training, which could be paused for participants to debrief on scenarios they'd just watched.

The union also worked with legislators to develop a statewide bill, the Property Services Worker Protection Act. The union got local mayors and unionized cleaning contractors to pledge support, and paid for "End Rape on the Night Shift" billboards in strategic locations.

When they still weren't clear that Governor Jerry Brown would sign the bill, rank-and-file organizers decided to stage a fast.

Twelve survivors of workplace sexual violence and harassment began their hunger strike in front of the state Capitol. Many of the women read out open letters to their attackers. Most had never shared their stories publicly before this campaign.

After the group had fasted for five days, Brown signed the law, which will take effect in 2019. It requires cleaning and security employers to train employees and managers on sexual violence and harassment.

In a Hotel Room

Perhaps the women workers most vulnerable to actual assault are hotel cleaners. Apparently male guests reason that if there's a woman in a bedroom, she must be available. Jenny Brown wrote, "Workers report that male customers expose themselves, attempt to buy sexual services, grab and grope them and, in some cases, attempt to rape them."

"Customers offer money for massage -- but they don't want massage, they want something else," said Elizabeth Moreno, an 18-year Chicago hotel worker. When she delivers room service items, male guests occasionally come to the door naked, she said.

The problem is so prevalent that hotel workers in Hawaii and San Francisco have resisted management efforts to make them wear skirts. Workers said the uniforms make them more vulnerable to groping in a job that requires bending over beds, tubs, and floors.

At the New York Sofitel, where Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the International Monetary Fund, assaulted a housekeeper in a $3,000-a-night room in 2011, management changed the skirt uniform to pants and tunic, according to a union representative.

Room attendants' safety is compromised by staff cuts that leave women isolated as they work. Some Hawaiian hotel workers on "turn down duty," which involves entering rooms in the evening to draw drapes and turn down covers, used to work in pairs. Now management is asking them to work alone, and they say it makes them feel unsafe.

In Chicago, workers have fought for the right to prop the hotel room door open with their supply cart while they clean. Some hotel managements said it was "unprofessional" or might allow theft of items from the room.

"When we're running water, we don't hear the guest come in," said Moreno. In her union hotel, a supervisor oversees room cleaning if a customer is present.

Management Laughs

After the Strauss-Kahn incident, the hotel workers union UNITE HERE held speak-outs in eight cities. "These customers think they can use us for anything they want, because we don't have the power that they have or the money that they have," said Yazmin Vazquez, a Chicago room attendant.

A 30-year hotel worker in Indianapolis, a "guest runner" on the evening shift, brought towels and shampoo to customers who requested them. She said that twice a week she confronted men who came to the door naked, propositioned her, or worse. Managers knew about this, she said, but most laughed it off.

Toronto hotel worker Andria Babbington also said managers laughed at her when she complained about a naked guest who asked to be tucked in.

"Hotels are complicit in a culture of silence," said Annemarie Strassel of UNITE HERE. "The premise is that the guest is always right."

Add in management's desire to please guests and sweep publicity-causing incidents under the rug, and many workers feel pressured to endure insults and assaults as a part of the job.

If workers do report a guest's behavior, the police are rarely called. "No matter what we say, the managers will always respect the guest," said Hortensia Valera at the Chicago speak-out.

Still, the police did arrest Strauss-Kahn (though charges were later dropped) and, soon after, the Egyptian banker Mahmoud Abdel-Salam Omar, whom a housekeeper had charged with a similar assault. Both the New York City housekeepers were union members.

Just as is happening today with the stream of reports on media mogul Harvey Weinstein, the publicity then made workers freer to talk about similar incidents.

Managements at both hotels said they would give workers panic buttons.

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Oklahomans Turn "Oilfield Prayer Day" Into a Protest Against Big Oil

Sat, 2017-10-21 00:00

"Pipelines are genocide!" and "Keep the frack out of my water" were just a few of the signs held by protesters at a rally in Oklahoma City on this month. Standing outside the building that houses the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, protesters rallied for nearly two hours to demand that the public utilities commission ban fracking and limit the damage of the fossil fuel industry.

The rally was set up to coincide with the one year anniversary of "Oilfield Prayer Day," a state-sanctioned event proclaimed by Gov. Mary Fallin in an effort to recognize, as she explained it, "the incredible economic, community and faith-based impact demonstrated across the state by oil and natural gas companies." Last year's celebration involved a prayer breakfast in Oklahoma City with more than 400 people in attendance, including Gov. Fallin, to support an industry suffering from low prices and mass layoffs.

Indigenous people and other local residents at this month's gathering said they weren't protesting prayer itself, but rather the harmful impacts of the fossil fuel industry. One such impact has been measured regularly by the state government itself. In 2010, the Oklahoma Geological Survey reported 41 earthquakes with a magnitude of 3 or greater in center and north-central Oklahoma. Five years later, the same region experienced 903 such earthquakes in a single year. According to the survey, they were "very likely triggered by the injection of produced water in [wastewater] disposal wells" used by oil and gas firms.

In addition to earthquakes, Oklahomans are regularly faced with oil and gas leaks. A few years ago, Oklahoma was second in the country for most spills. The state's drinking water is at risk of contamination from fracking, and polluted ecosystems can lead to dead wildlife. The latter issue led the Ponca tribe, an indigenous group near Ponca City, Oklahoma, to pass a moratorium on any future fossil fuel work near their lands.

"Tribal sovereignty is also being ignored for the sake of Big Oil," said Ashley Nicole McCray, a member of the Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma. "The Pawnee nation is one example of a tribe that has banned this sort of resource extraction from taking place on their lands, but this has been ignored by the state of Oklahoma. Last year, the Pawnee nation was hit hard by a 5.8 magnitude earthquake that destroyed much of the community."

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission, or OCC, is a three-person board that regulates industries such as oil and gas. The commission, as McCray noted, possesses "scientific information that shows the direct correlation between fracking and earthquakes," yet are not opposed to the presence of fracking companies.

"We want to not only draw attention to the purpose of the OCC for Oklahomans who were unaware of their purpose prior to this day, but also demand that they ban fracking statewide," she said.

Meanwhile, Casey Holcomb, a community organizer from Norman, Oklahoma, noted the importance of pressuring officials who can change the state's oil and gas policy.

"We're really tired of the earthquakes. We're tired of the negligence of the industry. We're tired of [oil and gas companies] bankrupting our state," Holcomb said.

He then pointed out the connection between the state's budget crisis and gross production taxes paid by the industry. The state's gross production tax used to be 7 percent -- until, in 2015, lawmakers temporarily lowered it to 2 percent, essentially as a tax cut for companies. Yet, some smaller producers actually favor a return to the old rate amid the state's monetary shortfall.

"We wouldn't be in this situation if the horizontal drillers paid their fair share," Holcomb said. "But they're not, and they're being subsidized by the taxpayers of Oklahoma. As a result, we have schools that are only open four days a week because they can't afford to pay the salaries of the teachers and overhead costs of the schools."

Oklahoma residents face additional barriers in curtailing the power of the oil and gas industry. For example, in 2015, some lawmakers drafted a bill barring local governments from banning fracking, while also establishing the OCC as the only entity allowed to regulate oil and gas firms. After lawmakers voted in favor of the measure, Gov. Fallin signed it into law.

"The single biggest issue that we are trying to convey to Oklahomans is that this is not an anti-fossil fuel movement," said Jonathan Bridgwater, the director of Sierra Club's Oklahoma chapter. "This is a pro-Oklahoma movement."

Activists in the state are emphasizing the failure of Oklahoma's politicians to advocate an economic system that does not rely on fossil fuels and instead focuses on other industries such as renewable energy.

"To sum it up, we completely see the state government of Oklahoma heading down a track that's going to turn Oklahoma into the next West Virginia, rather than turn it into, say, Texas or California," Bridgwater said.

Organizers are determined to pressure officials into changing their relationship with fossil fuel companies despite the crackdown they continue to face. Earlier this year, their efforts against the Diamond pipeline --  a nearly $900 million interstate venture -- were deemed "domestic terrorist threats" by the Department of Homeland Security. In addition, officials implemented a law on May 3 that penalizes citizens who protest "critical infrastructure," which are mainly oil and gas facilities.

"The situation in Oklahoma is tense to say the least," McCray explained. "Fighting against Big Oil -- which has had a huge hold over Oklahoma since the illegal inception of this so-called state -- is difficult for everyone, especially indigenous people."

Nicole wants the state to acknowledge and respect the federally-recognized tribes in Oklahoma. She recalled how former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, "repeatedly ignored tribal sovereignty to the benefit of Big Oil and the detriment of the people of the state of Oklahoma."

With Pruitt now heading the Environmental Protection Agency, McCray said, "It is vital that the rest of the nation look back to Oklahoma and see how our path has unfolded. What we have endured and what we continue to experience is a mere sample of what the rest of the nation is in for if something drastic doesn't happen now."

For now, Oklahoma activists are preparing and training for future actions. Right after the rally, some organizers headed nearly 20 miles east of Oklahoma City to attend the grand opening of the Good Hearted Peoples Camp, where residents are sharing strategies and experiences, while also getting some rest before continuing their actions against fossil fuels.

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The Balanced Budget

Fri, 2017-10-20 00:00

Immigrants Fleeing California Wildfires Find No Sanctuary, Fearing Deportation and Avoiding Shelters

Fri, 2017-10-20 00:00

As catastrophic wildfires in California kill at least 42 people and leave thousands of homes and businesses in ruins, many of the area's 20,000 undocumented immigrants have had no sanctuary from the flames, with some sleeping on beaches in order to avoid federal agents at shelters. This comes as far-right media outlets like Breitbart are falsely reporting that an undocumented immigrant was arrested in connection to the fires. Police said there is no indication the man had anything to do with the wildfires. We speak with Alegría De La Cruz, deputy county lawyer of Sonoma County, and Juan Hernandez, executive director of the La Luz Center in Sonoma, California.


AMY GOODMAN: We're broadcasting from the Community Media Center of Marin in San Rafael, California. Today is Community Media Day, which celebrates community media centers like this one around the country.

Here in California, catastrophic wildfires have killed at least 42 people and left thousands of homes and businesses in ruins. The fires are still burning across multiple counties near where we are broadcasting from. We're in Marin, close to Sonoma County, which some say has taken the brunt of the destruction, and is home to about 20,000 undocumented immigrants, who have had little sanctuary from the fires. Last week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, announced it would suspend non-criminal enforcement at shelters and evacuation centers here. But fear of deportation led some undocumented residents to set up camps on the beach or sleep in their cars, churches or other pop-up shelters in order to avoid federal agents. Some evacuees also face challenges returning to their homes because of police checkpoints.

Cal Fire is investigating the cause of the fires. Residents in Santa Rosa have sued the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, claiming the company's failure to maintain its power lines sparked the blazes. The night the fires began, there were multiple reports of downed power lines and exploding electrical transformers.

This comes as far-right media outlets like Breitbart falsely reported an undocumented immigrant was arrested in connection with starting the fire. Police say they did arrest 29-year-old Jesus Fabian Gonzalez, a homeless man who had started a fire to keep warm. Deputies extinguished the small fire before any firefighters arrived. This was after the fires had begun. But on Tuesday, Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano said there is, quote, "no indication that Gonzalez had anything to do with these fires and it appears highly unlikely."

On Wednesday, ICE's acting director, Thomas Homan, accused Sonoma County of being a, quote, "non-cooperative jurisdiction" that "has left their community vulnerable to dangerous individuals and preventable crimes," unquote. The Sonoma County sheriff issued a scathing response, calling ICE's statements inaccurate, inflammatory and damaging, and said, quote, "ICE attacked the Sheriff's Office in the midst of the largest natural disaster this county has ever experienced. … I hope to end this senseless public confrontation with these facts so that I may focus on the fire recovery," he said.

Meanwhile, the fires have also contributed to an affordable housing crisis, leaving thousands homeless in neighborhoods of California where rental prices were already sky high before the blazes.

For more, we're joined by two guests who work closely with the immigrant community here. Juan Hernandez III is executive director of the La Luz Center in Sonoma. And Alegría De La Cruz is chief deputy county counselor of Sonoma County, which is one of the main service providers for the large undocumented population.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Alegría De La Cruz, let's begin with you. You are the chief deputy county counselor of Sonoma County.

ALEGRÍA DE LA CRUZ: That's correct.

AMY GOODMAN: But also you have been appointed to communicate with the Spanish-speaking population here.

ALEGRÍA DE LA CRUZ: So, as chief deputy, I actually run an infrastructure group of about 11 lawyers who serve the county's departments that do important things like parks, water, roads, etc. And I've also been responsible for leading the county's efforts -- coordinating the county's efforts with regard to immigration service provision, as well as fundraising for legal service increase in capacity throughout the county.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what has just taken place, this attack by -- it is reminiscent of Puerto Rico in the midst of their catastrophe, President Trump attacking the San Juan mayor, who you usually saw on television with water up to her chest, holding a bullhorn, trying to evacuate people safely. And he attacked her. Now you have the head of ICE attacking Sonoma County and the sheriff, who is trying to deal with the fires.

ALEGRÍA DE LA CRUZ: It really calls into question the public safety issues that are raised by local governments in the face of such increased efforts in terms of immigration enforcement. Two weeks ago, we, like others throughout the county, were training immigrant communities on how to protect themselves from immigration enforcement, and warning people to make sure that before they open the door to somebody in uniform, that they saw a signed judicial warrant. And only 10, 11 days later, we're telling people, "Come on in for services, please. You're safe here." So the confusion and the conflict in people, and then their emotional state, especially in light of this extreme natural disaster and the hundreds and thousands of people that have been impacted by this, is very difficult for the community to kind of switch so quickly. And so, what we're seeing is tens of thousands of people not coming in to receive services, to which they are entitled to, and continuing to seek service outside of the institutions that are designed to serve them.

AMY GOODMAN: Where did immigrants go, Juan Hernandez?


AMY GOODMAN: Undocumented.

JUAN HERNANDEZ III: Yes. We had a large report that a lot of them have gone -- went to the coast. Doran Beach was one location that --

AMY GOODMAN: So they go to the ocean?

JUAN HERNANDEZ III: Yes. And a lot of it has to do with just -- just functional, right? It was cleaner air. They wanted to get out to cleaner air. But I think that one of the key things that people need to understand is that communication was down completely. You could not use your cellphone. Internet was down. So communication, in general, was very hard to connect with people -- English-speaking people, but, even worse, the Spanish-speaking people. So they had no way of communicating with anybody. All they saw was the fires coming down the hill.

AMY GOODMAN: And people run to the beach because they're afraid to go to the evacuation centers? They're heading to water?

JUAN HERNANDEZ III: Yes. So, what we saw was, again, the uncertainty of where to go. A lot of our families are disconnected from services. They're disconnected from media. They're disconnected. So the point was, is that they did the best they could to support their families.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Alegría De La Cruz, when people would knock on the door, they're afraid to open it.

ALEGRÍA DE LA CRUZ: And this is in the face of a disaster, where people are required and needing to evacuate in order to save their lives. So, the county made a huge effort to ensure that information was provided in Spanish language, both written and as well as throughout the Spanish-language media, really trying to send the message to folks that, "OK, we've now shifted, and now ICE has promised not to enforce immigration laws at these places of service provision. Please come. Please come and receive benefits for you and your family that you are legally entitled to." This is something that Sonoma County does on a regular basis as the largest service provider to the community. And so, being able to kind of shift and make sure that we're continuing to do that, in our capacity as the county service providers, wasn't necessarily far-fetched from what it is that we do every day for people.

AMY GOODMAN: So, respond to the head of ICE attacking your county, Sonoma County, where you are the chief deputy county counselor.

ALEGRÍA DE LA CRUZ: So, my office does represent the Sheriff's Office. And I just want to kind of elevate his comments and to really highlight the fact that, in the face of such disaster and such emergency, to then be responding to these kinds of attacks, I believe Sheriff Giordano said it beautifully, that these statements are inflammatory and incorrect, and making these kinds of statements at this time takes away all of the energy that we have to be fighting fires -- which are still burning -- making sure that people have services and are continuing to be safe in this time. And it makes things very difficult to increase service provision to communities that are already vulnerable and in need of services, to continue to make efforts to make sure that people understand coming into shelters, coming into the local assistance center, is safe, that we are there to make sure that people are receiving benefits that they need in order to recover and that the recovery effort is equitable. These are not benefits that people are applying for illegally in any way. These are benefits to which families are legally entitled. And to be able to come into the center to receive this assistance is something that every Sonoma County resident who has been impacted by the fires has the ability and the right to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you comment on Breitbart News and others -- but most importantly, the head of ICE, Homan -- picking this up and accusing an undocumented immigrant of starting the fires? What is your understanding of what happened here?

ALEGRÍA DE LA CRUZ: The fires are still under investigation. The cause of the fires are still under investigation. It is premature at this stage. And it's very clear from the investigation that was conducted with Mr. Gonzalez's arrest that the fires could not have been caused by his small fire, which he was arrested for in the valley of Sonoma just a few days ago, many days after the fires had already started.

AMY GOODMAN: Juan Hernandez, talk about the housing crisis and now people having jobs. I mean, we're here in San Rafael. It's, oh, 20, 40 miles from Santa Rosa, where you are from, both of you. You live about five blocks apart. I mean, the images we have seen of parts of Santa Rosa right now, it's a moonscape, this now-iconic picture of a mail carrier, a truck, going through a completely burned-out area. How many people -- what, about 100,000 people have been evacuated?

ALEGRÍA DE LA CRUZ: That's correct, over the -- over the course --


ALEGRÍA DE LA CRUZ: Over the course of the fires. We now understand that there are still 20,000 people who have been displaced, who continue to be displaced. At the height of the fires, there were 36 shelters operating throughout the county to help folks who had needed to be evacuated, either under advisory conditions or mandatorily in order to protect public safety.

AMY GOODMAN: The issue of affordable housing, Juan?

JUAN HERNANDEZ III: Yes. So, before the fire started, there was -- the biggest issue in our county was affordable housing. And I think, now, this has exacerbated the issue, and it's the number one issue in our county, is the housing. So now our people who have lost homes are competing with people that were looking for homes before. And so that's the number one issue that we're facing now.

AMY GOODMAN: So what do people do?

JUAN HERNANDEZ III: At this point, they're looking. They're weighing their options. We know that some of our families that have been affected have been moving in with other families. The biggest issues that we're seeing that have affected our vineyard workers, our restaurant workers, our landscapers and our hotels, the number one is that loss of jobs. A lot of our families that were working in these ranches, in these vineyards, and some of our families' moms who were working in these -- cleaning houses, they have lost their ability to earn a living.

The second thing is that because they haven't been working for at least a good amount of two weeks, they have no money. A lot of our families have been living paycheck to paycheck. And that has affected their ability to be able to get food. And so we're seeing just the basic needs of our families that are not being met. Sonoma Valley was -- the Springs area of Sonoma was really cut off from the rest of Santa Rosa. Highway 12 was closed. Glen Ellen, that area was closed. So the Springs area was really cut off from the rest of the county. And so we had a lot of families that could not leave. And so, La Luz was there, open, ready to serve these families who were not able to get out.

AMY GOODMAN: New York Times headline, "As Fires Move On, Wine Country Wonders Whether Immigrants Will, Too."

JUAN HERNANDEZ III: That's a big question. And it has to do really more so with the housing, the lack of housing, that will maybe force our families to move out of the area.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask -- oh, what were you going to say, Alegría?

ALEGRÍA DE LA CRUZ: I was going to say, the county and the nine cities within our jurisdiction have long been dedicated to finding creative solutions to our affordable housing challenges. And we continue to be dedicated to coordinating a visioning process that ensures that whatever rebuilding and reconstruction is done with equity front and center and with affordability, to really address the situation that we already were suffering and now has just been exacerbated by these fires.

AMY GOODMAN: Alegría, is Sonoma County a sanctuary county?

ALEGRÍA DE LA CRUZ: Sonoma County is not a sanctuary county. That phrase or that word is complicated. It means many things to many people. But our Board of Supervisors has long been leaders in this movement to make sure that, as a county, we are serving everybody who lives within our jurisdiction and making sure that folks have information and access to the people that represent them. So, this idea really was developed in a series of resolution that the Board of Supervisors undertook, starting really in January of this year, to make sure that folks in our community knew that the Board of Supervisors, and the county, as a whole, was there to serve them and that we were going to not only provide information in Spanish, but provide culturally competent information, and making sure that we were giving folks services and help and addressing their unique needs and their unique questions. Kind of mixed-status families have all kinds of complicated legal questions, and the legal resources available to folks in our county at low and no cost are very, very few. So the county has been working with a public-private partnership to ensure that we fundraise to increase the capacity of our nonprofit organizations to provide increased amounts of legal services, given the needs of our community.

AMY GOODMAN: And the significance of the ICE chief, Homan, saying that Sonoma County is non-cooperating? What does that mean?

ALEGRÍA DE LA CRUZ: Well, what Sonoma County does is follow the law. There was a decision in Miranda v. Clackamas County up in Oregon that sets forth a right to people to have their Fourth Amendment rights protected, and saying that ICE detainers -- basically, ICE sending a request to a local law enforcement agency to hold people after their time of their release -- is unconstitutional, that it actually requires a warrant to hold that person, and some probable cause in order to continue to detain them. So, Sonoma County, like many other jurisdictions throughout the Ninth Circuit, has followed that decision and has followed the law and respected people's constitutional rights. So, while we do follow also California Truth and Trust Act, as well as the upcoming SB 54, which is California's sanctuary act, that will start being implemented in January, Sonoma County is just making sure that it's following the law.

AMY GOODMAN: Will you lose federal funding?

ALEGRÍA DE LA CRUZ: We have actually been part of a number of legal challenges to the Trump administration's executive orders, led by many counties and cities throughout the country, to challenge the changes in policy that we allege are unconstitutional and threaten counties' basic access to funding for law enforcement. The kind of broad, unconstitutional reach of the administration's executive orders has threatened counties' basic ability to continue to receive federal funds, which make up a large amount of our budget to ensure that people continue to be served.

AMY GOODMAN: Both of you, a final message, especially to the undocumented community here, I mean, for people to understand, outside of this area, what is happening? Just talking to folks last night in San Francisco, they describe of the orange glow over San Francisco. Now, they weren't experiencing the fires. But the devastation that you're facing right now, fires still burning, though much more contained, the massive number of evacuees, the loss of people's homes, the loss of life, of course, the worst of all. But what message, in particular, do you have to the Latino and the undocumented communities? Juan?

JUAN HERNANDEZ III: So what I want to say is that this is not the first rodeo for the immigrant community being under attack either by our current president. We have been attacked since the creation of this country. So, we feel that this is a resilient community. The difference now is that there's people like Alegría who are working within the county office. There's executive directors, like myself, who are on the same page. And we're a resilient community, and we will be here to help our community to the end. At our community level, President Trump is irrelevant.

AMY GOODMAN: Last comment, Alegría?

ALEGRÍA DE LA CRUZ: We are here in a united front for our entire community. We are one community. This recovery effort is not going to happen unless we are united, unless the recovery effort is based on equity and ensuring that everybody has their piece of this important effort to make sure that Santa Rosa and Sonoma County become whole again.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being here. Alegría De La Cruz is chief deputy county counselor of Sonoma County -- hit so hard by these wildfires. And Juan Hernandez III, executive director of the La Luz Center in Santa Rosa.


AMY GOODMAN: In Sonoma County. This is Democracy Now!, When we come back, we'll speak with Max Moritz, a fire research scientist with the University of California. And then we'll speak with the heads of, the Indigenous Environmental Network and Rainforest Action Network about what they are doing now around the issues of climate change in this country and around the world. Stay with us. We're broadcasting from Northern California.


AMY GOODMAN: Chicano Batman, performing in the Democracy Now! studios their song "La Jura," "The Police," from their new album, Freedom is Free_. To see their full interview and performances on, you can go to

Major Victories for Climate Movement, but Global Chaos Grows: Roundtable With Leaders on What's Next

Fri, 2017-10-20 00:00

After a summer of extreme weather around the world, we host a roundtable discussion with environmental leaders on next steps: Lindsey Allen, executive director of the Rainforest Action Network; Dallas Goldtooth, an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network; and May Boeve, executive director of 350 Action, the political arm of the climate organization


AMY GOODMAN: We're broadcasting from the Community Media Center of Marin, here in San Rafael, California. Today is Community Media Day, which celebrates community media centers like this one around the country, so we are proud to broadcast from here to 1,400 public television and radio stations around the United States and around the world.

We end today's show with a roundtable discussion on what the environmental movement is focusing on now. We're joined by three guests. Lindsey Allen is executive director of the Rainforest Action Network. Dallas Goldtooth is an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network. And May Boeve is executive director of 350 Action, the political arm of the climate organization

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! May, I want to begin with you, because your family is from Sonoma. Talk about how you've been affected and what is doing right now.

MAY BOEVE: Well, thank you, Amy. And it's really nice to be here with this group this morning. And Sonoma is the place I love most in the world, and I honestly didn't think this kind of thing was ever going to happen there. And I think about climate disasters a lot. But I'm very happy that my family is safe. But they and a lot of other people in Sonoma, Santa Rosa and Napa have joined the growing community of people around the world who are living through the worst impacts of climate change. And we knew this would happen. We saw this coming. But our political system has been far too slow to respond. And again, I'm just very grateful that my family is OK, but I -- my heart really goes out to this place and this people, who shaped who I am.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, what is doing about climate change? What is the message? You just sent out an email a day or two ago, an urgent plea and demand.

MAY BOEVE: Well, the good news is, we know how to stop this problem. And we've known it for a long time, that this thing that's standing in the way of action on climate change isn't that we don't know what the solution is. We actually do know what the solution is, and we know exactly who's standing in the way, which is the fossil fuel sector. But community groups, on the ground, all over the world, have been effective at stopping coal projects, at stopping pipelines, at getting their communities to go 100 percent renewable energy. And we just need more of it. And that's what we're focused on across our global network. And we believe that this is what we need to do. We just have to do it quickly, because the impacts are happening in a cascade of speed.

AMY GOODMAN: Lindsey Allen, you just celebrated another year of Rainforest Action Network. Talk about what your group is doing, how it started and what it's focused on now, Rainforest Action Network.

LINDSEY ALLEN: Yes. We started 30 years ago looking at how we could ensure that consumers were having less of a negative impact on rainforests, even if they were removed and they weren't directly located there. So we found that Bank of America -- excuse me, that Burger King was leading to deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. People started showing up and protesting Burger King. They canceled --

AMY GOODMAN: Why Burger King?

LINDSEY ALLEN: Burger King was one of the companies -- when we followed the money, when we followed the products, we knew that beef from the Amazon rainforest was going into hamburgers. And so, people started protesting outside of Burger King.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, because the cattle in the rainforest --

LINDSEY ALLEN: Exactly. The cattle in the rainforest, in order to have areas to graze, they were clearing and burning rainforest. And the Amazon, as we know, it's the lungs of the Earth, so there's no reason to do that. That created our model, where we really challenged the role that companies are having on environment, on communities.

And now what we're really looking at is drawing the connection -- we work at this intersection between human rights, climate change and deforestation, because it's all connected. We know that deforestation leads to climate change. We know that forests can help us buffer against increased emissions that are coming from the burning of fossil fuels. And we also know that the burning and clearing of forests makes climate change worse.

So, we continue to follow the money. We have found that big banks are willing to finance 6 degrees of climate change. And we need them to be on a 1.5-degree trajectory for the world. So what we're seeing is, all around the world, people are going to banks and saying this is unacceptable. Just for the past couple years, we've been working with Friends of the Earth France and with a local group in the Gulf called Save the Rio Grande Valley from LNG. And they're working to stop the more than 60 liquefied natural gas export terminals that would allow fracked gas to make its way out of the US into global markets, to make climate change worse, to make community health worse where fracking is happening. When we partnered with them, we said, "Who are the banks that are financing these massive projects?" And we found that one of them was the largest bank in France, BNP Paribas.

So, actually, the morning that I woke last week to, you know, hearing all the alerts -- "Stay indoors, the smoke is terrible because of the fires around here" -- I also got an alert that said BNP was committing to the strongest fossil fuel policy we've seen from a big bank. They have cut ties with tar sands oil. They've cut ties with coal mining and coal power, with fracking and with the very fracked gas export terminals that we've been working on with partners in the Gulf Coast.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what BNP is.

LINDSEY ALLEN: BNP is the second-largest bank in Europe. It's called BNP Paribas. Locally, if you're familiar with Bank of the West, it's connected. BNP Paribas is their parent company. They're actually the eighth-largest bank in the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Dallas Goldtooth, you're with the Indigenous Environmental Network. You spent a lot of time in the last year at Standing Rock. As this year -- at this moment, we are seeing the largest number of hurricanes ever in recorded history in this country. I think the number is up to 10. The last one named was Ophelia, which hurtled the furthest east in the Atlantic than we'd ever seen, and hit Ireland. You were participating in the protests a year ago, warning about the catastrophic effects of climate change. You were participating in those protests at Standing Rock, North Dakota, where indigenous people and their non-Native allies are continuing to go to court for their protests.

DALLAS GOLDTOOTH: It's absurd that we're facing this time of extreme climate chaos -- you have fires, you have the hurricanes, you have flooding -- all across this world, and yet mainstream society, mainstream news is not making the connection between these extreme events and climate change. I think for those of us in many of the communities that the Indigenous Environmental Network works with, who are on the front lines of these fights, realize the extreme dangers of climate change because it's literally threatening the lives of a lot of indigenous people, forest-dependent peoples, ocean-dependent peoples.

And it's time for us to really wake up and really make some significant changes, that some of the other organizations here have talked about and the work the IEN does. And, you know, indigenous peoples have often been at the forefront of these struggles, not only just to protect the environment and protect the land, but to protect our right to have a sacred relationship with Mother Earth itself and to protect our right to self-determination. And, you know, whether you're talking about the hurricanes in the Gulf Coast or you're talking about sea level rise up in Alaska or you're even talking about pipelines or even the fires here in Northern California, it's oftentimes indigenous peoples in those communities, in those areas, who are also carrying a significant amount of weight.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the land we're on right now.

DALLAS GOLDTOOTH: Yeah, we're -- so, right now, we're in Marin, in Marin County. This is traditional Pomo and Miwok Territory lands, and Ohlone Tribes, as well. And just north of us, in Santa Rosa, California, which just got decimated by a massive fire, the Kashia Pomo Tribe is in that area. And a lot of tribal members themselves have been displaced from their own lands and their own territories because of fires.

You know, it's connected to people that are in the Gulf Coast who got hit by the hurricanes down, whether in Texas or in Louisiana, you know, feeling that same -- those same emotions and that same tragic -- the loss, and really saying, "This has to stop, but we don't know how to do it." And I think that that's where the organizations that we work with and the communities I work with, that are really raising the alarms about climate change, are essential. And I think that, you know, it goes without saying that oftentimes it's indigenous peoples and communities of color that carry the brunt of a lot of this climate chaos in a very unfair way.

AMY GOODMAN: When Hurricane Harvey had devastated Houston -- this was September 6th -- and Irma was hurtling toward the United States, already devastating parts of the Caribbean, President Trump went to Mandan, North Dakota, to give a speech. He stood in front of an oil refinery. He was down the road where hundreds of indigenous people had been jailed at the Mandan jail and gone through the Mandan courthouse. And he talked about -- well, he basically boasted about pulling the US out of the climate accord, and he talked about how proud he was that they greenlighted the Dakota Access pipeline and the Keystone XL pipeline. Where do the indigenous people who are going to court today stand in Mandan?

DALLAS GOLDTOOTH: Well, you know, what we saw in Standing Rock was the largest mobilization of indigenous resistance in living memory for a lot of our communities in North America. And, you know, we became, at some point, the camps -- the Oceti Sakowin Camps and the Sacred Stone Camps -- at one point, we were the sixth-largest city in North Dakota. And that's amazing to see the allyship in the people that came. And to this date, there have been over 700 arrests, including -- I know that you were also a part of that, the arrests, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: A year ago this week, the charges were dropped --


AMY GOODMAN:  -- as the Democracy Now! team went there on Labor Day to cover the protest, and I was arrested for our team filming.

DALLAS GOLDTOOTH: And I think that what we're seeing right now is, just yesterday, there was a really absurd conviction that happened, where, actually, they had to pull -- there are so many cases happening right in North Dakota, that they're actually pulling judges out of retirement to handle some of the caseload. And one of the judges, just yesterday, convicted two of our water protectors to some time in jail, even though the state, the prosecutors, asked for them not to be convicted. So, we're seeing an unfair court system in place in North Dakota that is persecuting water protectors, whose only reason for being there is to protect water and to protect indigenous communities' right to self-determine what happens to their lands and communities and bodies. And it's really absurd that we're in that position now. And it makes sense, because it's kind of this trickle down. If you have a tyrant in the White House who is blind, and who is willingly blind, to the effects of climate change and the effects that the fossil fuel industry has on the land, it's going to trickle down.

AMY GOODMAN: You're all involved in these bank protests. And I'm wondering, May, very quickly, in these last seconds we have left, where you're focusing now?

MAY BOEVE: In the banks work, we're still focused on fossil fuel divestment. We've seen $5 trillion in assets under management made fossil-free. We just had a huge divestment announcement from the Catholic Church, in a series of institutions, including where Pope Francis is from. So, the momentum is enormous. And the financial sector is very sensitive to this kind of pressure, so that's what I'm really glad we're working together on.

AMY GOODMAN: And the evidence of that, Lindsey?

LINDSEY ALLEN: Yeah, we're going after JPMorgan Chase. We know that they are the number one financier of the most extreme fossil fuels. Every year, we do a report card. Many big banks are decreasing their investments in fossil fuels, and they're increasing.

AMY GOODMAN: Dallas? Five seconds.

DALLAS GOLDTOOTH: And folks can be a part of this divestment campaign. On Monday, actually, there's going to Divest the Globe. They can go to You can check out IEN Earth's website for more information. But we're going a massive global divestment campaign that's ongoing.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we're going to leave it there. I want to thank you all for being with us. Lindsey Allen, executive director of Rainforest Action Network; Dallas Goldtooth, organizer with Indigenous Environmental Network; and May Boeve, executive director of 350 Action.

And that does it for our show. We broadcasted from San Rafael, California. I'll be speaking at Marin Center at the Bioneeers Conference tomorrow, 9:30 and 4:30. Today, Juan González speaks at noon at Princeton University.

Special thanks to our crew here at the Community Media Center of Marin: Damion Brown, Michael Eisenmenger, Jill Lessard, Megan Loretz, Ginger Souders-Mason.

Americans' Appetite for Cheap Meat Linked to Widespread Drinking Water Contamination

Fri, 2017-10-20 00:00

Agricultural pollution is contaminating drinking water supplies for millions of Americans with potentially dangerous chemicals, says a new report. Environmental groups blame the meat industry, which requires massive supplies of industrially grown corn and soy to raise cattle, and are putting pressure on large-scale meat producers to get their supply chains to clean up their acts.

(Photo: FP; Edited: LW / TO)

Scientists recently announced that the "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico, an area the size of New Jersey where oxygen levels are too low to sustain most forms of life, is larger than ever. For years, environmentalists have used annual surveys of the dead zone to bring attention to large amounts of agricultural pollution from the nation's breadbasket that flows down the Mississippi River and fuels oxygen-depleting algae blooms in the Gulf.   

This year, the message is hitting much closer to home, especially for those living near farmlands.

A new report from the Environmental Working Group shows that the agricultural pollution causing the dead zone is also contaminating drinking water supplies for millions of Americans with potentially dangerous chemicals. Environmental groups particularly blame large-scale meat production, which require huge supplies of industrially grown corn and soy to raise animals to satisfy the nation's appetite for cheap meat.

The US leads the world in meat production. One-third of all land in the continental US is used to grow feed and provide pasture for animals that will be killed for meat, according to the environmental group Mighty Earth. Now that agricultural pollution's impact on drinking water is coming into focus, meat producers such as Tyson Foods are under pressure to set standards that would require large farms in their supply chains to clean up their acts.  

"People just naturally pay more attention to the pollution issue in their own backyard than they do [to] pollution issues thousands of miles away," said Matt Rota, senior policy director at the Gulf Restoration Network, a group that works to reduce pollution in the Gulf South.

Chemicals called nitrates and other pollutants can contaminate drinking water sources when fertilizer and manure drain from poorly protected agricultural fields. Drinking water supplies for roughly 200 million Americans in 49 states have some level of nitrate contamination, but the highest levels are found in rural towns surrounded by industrial farms, according to the Environmental Working Group.

Runoff from farm fields finds its way from rural watersheds to the Gulf, providing nutrients for summertime algae blooms that force fish to migrate and kill off smaller creatures at the bottom of the food chain. The dead zone spanned 8,777 square miles off the coast of Louisiana and Texas when marine scientists measured it over the past summer.

Agricultural Pollution Is a Threat to Public Health

Nitrates are naturally found in soil and water, but high levels of exposure have been linked to birth defects, cancer and a dangerous condition known as blue baby syndrome in infants, which results from low levels of oxygen in the blood. Few water supplies in the US have levels of nitrates above the federal limit of 10 parts per million, which was set 25 years ago to prevent blue baby syndrome, but studies have found that the risk of cancer increases at levels as low as 5 parts per million.

Treating polluted water is expensive, and drinking water utilities often use chlorine and other disinfecting treatments when agricultural pollution contaminates sources of drinking water with manure and other pollutants. When these treatment chemicals interact with plant and animal waste, they create potentially dangerous byproducts such as trihalomethanes (THMs), a group of chemicals linked to liver, kidney and intestinal tumors in animals, according to the Environmental Working Group.

The EPA sets limits on the amount of THMs allowed in drinking water, but environmentalists say those limits were based on the technical feasibility of removing the chemicals, not concerns over their long-term toxicity. In 2010, state scientists in California estimated that levels 100 times lower the legal limit would pose a one-in-a-million lifetime risk of cancer.

Nationwide, water supplies in 1,647 communities, serving 4.4 million people, are contaminated with THMs in amounts at least 75 times higher than California's one-in-a-million cancer risk level. In 2014 and 2015, 411 of those communities had levels of THMs at or above the EPA's limits, and two-thirds were found in five states with high levels of agricultural pollution -- Louisiana, California, Oklahoma, Missouri and Texas. (You can find out if THMs and other pollutants are in your water supply using this database.)

Craig Cox, the Environmental Working Group's vice president for agriculture and natural resources, said farmers can take simple steps to reduce agricultural runoff, but too few farmers are taking action. Agricultural trade groups have considerable political clout in Washington, and farmers are exempt from many state and federal environmental regulations. A federal program pays billions of dollars a year to farmers that adopt conservation practices; however, that money does not always support the best pollution control methods.

"Decades of ill-conceived federal farm policy has been a driving factor in this situation we have today that puts millions of American families at risk of drinking tap water contaminated with these dangerous pollutants," Cox said in a statement.

Activists Target Meat Mega-Producers

Environmentalists in the Gulf spent years fighting for tougher regulation of industrial farming to protect waterways from runoff and ultimately reduce the size of the dead zone, even filing an unsuccessful lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for failing to act during the Obama administration. The EPA did introduce eight policy guidelines to help states reduce fertilizer pollution in 2011, but no states have implemented more than two of them because the program is largely voluntarily, according to the Mississippi River Collaborative.

Now that the Trump administration is in charge, prospects for establishing tougher standards are slim at best.

"I don't have a whole lot of confidence that the feds will be taking stronger steps to make sure that nitrogen pollution isn't getting into our drinking [water] supply," Rota told Truthout.  

Unable to change farming practices with regulation, activists are now focusing on brand-name companies that buy from industrial farms. Mighty Earth recently mapped high levels of nitrates in Midwestern waterways and found that supply chains for major meat companies were responsible for much of the fertilizer pollution. Tyson Foods, which produces roughly 20 percent of the country's meat supply through brands, such as Jimmy Dean, Hillshire Farms, Ball Park and Sara Lee, stood out from the rest, with major processing facilities in all five states that are top contributors to pollution in the Gulf.

Activists across the country are now calling on Tyson directly, demanding that the company pressure its subsidiaries and suppliers to clean up their acts. Audrey Beedle, a community organizer with the Clean It Up Tyson campaign in Louisiana, said that Tyson's new CEO has shown interest in sustainability, and activists see an opening to hold the company to task. Unlike individual farmers, large companies like Tyson are more responsive to pressure from consumers.

"They are a household name; everybody knows Tyson," Beedle said in an interview. "People want to know what's in their food. They are sick of unchecked corporations."

Activists say there are several methods farms can use to prevent agricultural runoff, including rotating crops with small grains, planting cover crops, optimizing fertilizer applications to prevent runoff and using conservation tillage practices. They are also calling for a moratorium on the further clearing of native prairie ecosystems for industrial farming.

Tyson, which runs meat packaging and processing plants, not farms, claims it's "misleading" to single out one company when water pollution is a problem across the agriculture industry. Nearly 40 percent of corn, for example, is grown to produce ethanol, not meat. In a statement to Truthout, Tyson said that real change on this issue requires "a broad coalition of stakeholders," and the company is working with trade associations and researchers to "promote continuous improvement in how we and our suppliers operate."

Rota said individual farmers generally don't want to cause problems in their own communities or downstream. He thinks they will do the right thing if they are provided with the right solutions and held accountable.

"Farmers aren't bad people, and I don't know of any farmer who goes out to say, 'I'm going to pollute other people's drinking water,'" Rota said. "But they are business people, and they need to be responsible for their businesses."

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Economic Update: Success of New York Worker Co-ops

Fri, 2017-10-20 00:00

This week's episode discusses the passage of California's Disclose Act; the untrustworthiness of Equifax, Yahoo and Johnson & Johnson; Washington suing big pharma for contributing to the opioid crisis; and socially destructive corporate behavior. This episode also includes an interview with Emma Yorra, a specialist in the development of worker co-ops.

To see more stories like this, visit Economic Update: Your Weekly Dose of Revolutionary Economics

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Wisconsin Governor Walker and His Appointees Push Policy to Punish Students Protesting Right-Wing Speech

Thu, 2017-10-19 00:00

In the latest attempt to silence protesters, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and his appointees on the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents are pushing a new policy that would suspend or expel students who protest right-wing speech on campus. Thomas Gunderson, an organizer for Our Wisconsin Revolution, discusses why the legislation lacks legitimacy. 

Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin speaks at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference on March 13, 2016, in National Harbor, Maryland. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

We're now several months into the Trump administration, and activists have scored some important victories in those months. Yet there is always more to be done, and for many people, the question of where to focus and how to help remains. In this series, we talk with organizers, agitators and educators, not only about how to resist, but how to build a better world. Today's interview is the 84th in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.

The battles over "free speech" on campus have loomed large in the era of Trump, with conservative provocateurs invited to campuses across the country only to claim that they are being silenced when students protest them. In one of the latest salvos in the battle to claim "freedom of speech" for the right wing, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and his allies are pushing a policy that would suspend or expel students for protesting in ways the university deems infringe on the free speech of another.

Today we bring you a conversation with Thomas Gunderson, an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and an organizer (both on and off campus) with Our Wisconsin Revolution. Gunderson is organizing against Gov. Walker's policy.

Sarah Jaffe: The University of Wisconsin and Scott Walker's appointees there made headlines again last week with some sort of "free speech" policy. Can you explain that?

Thomas Gunderson: The big issue with it is that it is complicated to explain. The moral of the story is that it essentially threatens to suspend and expel students who ... violate a new set of really obscure and vague policies that the Board of Regents will be proposing.

So, you don't know what the policies that you could potentially be already violating are?

Pretty much. That is the really scary part. They promote it as a bill that is done to protect "freedom of speech" and "freedom of expression" while the obscure language really just chills the student body ... many think that this is the real intention of it, given that, really, the only thing that is concrete about it is that students will be suspended and students will be expelled.

For disrupting speech, right?

Yes, or disrupting just ordinary activity. Whatever that could mean.

Was there a particular incident on the University of Wisconsin's campus that made this seem necessary to the regents, or is this sort of a response to the national feelings that everybody is having about campus free speech?

This is really just about having a corporately captured state legislature and now, at this point, Board of Regents in Wisconsin. The Board of Regents policy is the other side to the Campus Free Speech Act, which comes out of the Barry Goldwater Institute from Arizona, a hard-right libertarian-esque type of think tank.

What would that act do?

That was pretty much giving the Board of Regents the go-ahead to make a new set of policies regarding academic freedom and freedom of expression, which is also just a huge irony. In Wisconsin, they are acting as if the University of Wisconsin Madison Board of Regents has been a stalwart of academic freedom when it has recently removed tenure and made the university a more exclusive place by raising the price of it.

This is all happening in the context of ongoing changes and attacks on the university. Could you talk a little bit more about those over the last few years?

I think it was around two years ago that they made pretty sweeping changes to what was once really sound tenure protection at the university. It caused a huge backlash among faculty and there has been a huge problem with retention since, as well as rising prices. It has really been pretty much an all-out assault on what once made [the] University of Wisconsin system kind of special.

Yes, I remember when Walker tried to change the Wisconsin Idea. Can you explain to people what that is?

Yes. That was really a sneaky Walker move, where he tried to slide in language changing that the goal of the university wasn't to promote the sifting and winnowing [of] the pursuit of truth, and instead to ... saying that the university's goal is to apply a sound workforce for Wisconsin.

Walker's attacks on the university have gone back to when he was first elected, but also, the university has been the source of a lot of the protests against him, going back to the Teaching Assistants Association ... who started the Wisconsin Uprising back in 2011.


On the one hand, we have something very specific here with Walker's specific motivations toward the university system. On the other hand, we are seeing similar attacks on public universities around the country, and we are seeing this particular obsession with student protest being somehow antithetical to free speech nationally. I wonder if you could talk about where you see these attacks on the university and on free speech in the broader national context.

It is especially annoying that they are just trying to do this in the UW system right now, because just in the recent year they have politically attacked both professors and students. Members of the state legislature have openly attacked professors and students whose expression, whose free speech they have found disagreeable.

For anything like a "free speech" legislation to have any sort of legitimacy to it, the restrictions upon free speech have to necessarily be viewpoint and value-neutral restrictions. That this would be the case in the UW system at the current moment is just completely unrealistic. I think that is what has many students, at least in my circles, very concerned about this: that they will be people who are targeted. Particularly a lot of minority groups at the university, those that are here are really worried about it.

In the moment of Trump, Wisconsin, of course, has been living with Scott Walker for a while now, so you have seen a lot of the things that are now being moved to the national level there.

Right. Just another really bizzarro quintessential timing thing of it is that as we speak, UW Madison is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the student Vietnam protests here on campus. If these policies were around then, those students wouldn't have only been pepper-sprayed, but they also would have been possibly getting suspended or expelled or worse.

Since we are talking about this and the work that people are doing on campus being potentially under threat, talk about what Our Wisconsin Revolution has been doing on campus.

At the moment, there [have] been a lot of op-eds written. We are trying to really just bring awareness that this happened on Friday the 6th [of October]. We also have a petition circulating that everyone is welcome to sign, saying they support the students and their right to freedom of expression and speech, and the language of this legislation is too vague and we believe will be used to target already marginalized students. We are, hopefully, going to build up some student awareness and, hopefully, be able to make something happen when the Board of Regents is actually at the University of Wisconsin Madison in these coming weeks, because they have not banned protests quite yet.

When did Our Wisconsin Revolution get started and when did the campus branch get started?

Our Wisconsin Revolution is fairly new. It is the state affiliate of Our Revolution. It arose in Wisconsin over this past summer, in June. I was able to attend the convention where we elected our board and made plans to get a Dane County and Madison chapter officially affiliated. Being that Our Wisconsin Revolution started in the summer, this is Our Wisconsin Revolution's student chapter's first semester. There has been a lot of energy around it, just because at this point, we have taken the [Bernie] Sanders vision and really tried to apply it to Madison, which has meant opposition to a new jail that the county board has been trying to build, and really building membership and awareness at this point.

Going forward, do you have anything coming up with Our Revolution on or off campus that people should know about?

We don't have a specific event planned at the moment, but the third Thursdays of every month we have a social mixer with the Democratic Socialists of America and that is always a great time. People should come to our general assembly meetings on the fourth Thursday.

How can people keep up with you online?

We have Facebook pages for both the student chapter and the state affiliate and county affiliate. Also, we have a webpage, as well:

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What Breitbart's Email Leaks Mean for Public Perception of the "Alt-Right"

Thu, 2017-10-19 00:00

BuzzFeed's leak of Breitbart's emails are not a revelation but confirmation that Milo Yiannopoulos, Steve Bannon and their supporters were not only in cahoots with white supremacists, they were aware of the violence they were stoking. While the leaks have widened the rift that developed between the Breitbart gang and the "alt-right" in the wake of Charlottesville, they likely will not unseat Breitbart from electoral politics without massive public pressure from anti-fascist movements.

Far-right British commentator Milo Yiannopoulos is escorted from Sproul Plaza at the UC Berkeley campus after a speech. (Photo: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)   Exposing the wrongdoing of those in power has never been more important. Support Truthout's independent, investigative journalism by making a donation!

The celebrity of Milo Yiannopoulos has always been a balance between career-end charades and headline-grabbing stunts. While tabloids were still fawning over his wedding photos, especially on the race of his new husband, BuzzFeed was preparing a feature that further demolished his defenses against allegations of white nationalism. In the story published on October 5, Joseph Bernstein unveiled what was apparently years of private emails and Breitbart memos that outlined the far-right publication's relationship with open white nationalists, including Yiannopoulos's clear reliance on them. What this revealed was how Yiannopoulos's celebrity became a tool by which Stephen Bannon engaged in an information war to "defend the West."

While the term "alt-right" was roundly used to describe Yiannopoulos as he railed against Black Lives Matter and feminism, it was always a bit misapplied. The "alt-right" has always meant white nationalism, though in a dressed-up form that would rather cite esoteric German philosophers than David Duke. Yiannopoulos, a queer Jew, did not fit that bill, and while he enjoyed denouncing Muslims and immigrants, he did not meet the ideological litmus test that white nationalists like Richard Spencer or Jared Taylor might.

Instead, Yiannopoulos led what is now called the "alt-light," a slightly more moderate sphere of angry far-right populists that have helped to mainstream "alt-right" memes and talking points without committing to their more shocking political fantasies. People like Anne Coulter, Lauren Southern, Gavin McInnes, Rebel Media and, of course, Breitbart, are all figures in this canon, and Yiannopoulos was simply their loudest and most prolific icon. Gaining fame by leading the misogynist troll army during Gamergate, Yiannopoulos was ported over the pond to work at Breitbart as a tech editor, but it was his pithy blogs going after Breitbart's favorite targets that garnered his celebrity. In 2015 and 2016, Yiannopoulos mingled with white nationalism, bringing people like male tribalist Jack Donovan onto his podcast and writing his much-cited outline of the "alt-right" for Breitbart.

What has allowed for Breitbart's and Yiannopoulos's success has always been plausible deniability. Yiannopoulos can say almost the same things as the "alt-right," but then ducks away from accusations since he effectively refused to take the final rhetorical step: He wasn't talking about people of color or women per se, just these particular people. This has been a known strategy for years as Breitbart replaced Fox News as the radical right organ of news. The email leaks show that Breitbart's connections to white supremacists were real.

In email after email, Yiannopoulos's directives came down from Bannon, who excoriated Yiannopoulos anytime he refused to hone in specifically on Muslims and those "we are in an existential war" against. Yiannopoulos, for his part, made friends with the white nationalists early on, especially with Weev, the famous troll known for his vulgar neo-Nazism and work with The Daily Stormer. Yiannopoulos's articles were shaped and edited by Devin Saucier of American Renaissance, the most prominent white nationalist organization in the country that focuses much of its time on trying to prove race differences in intelligence. Other "alt-right" figures did direct edits on stories, and far-right Breitbart investors like Rebekah Mercer of the Mercer Family Foundation filtered stories to Yiannopoulos through Bannon. While Yiannopoulos played the innocent dupe to the racism of the "alt-right," in email after email, according to BuzzFeed News, he not only understood its racism full well, but it appeared as though he and Bannon reveled in it and used Breitbart as a well-coded tool to stoke those racist feelings in readers.

The relationships of tech impresario Peter Thiel and Bannon and the Neoreactionary movement -- specifically race and IQ proponent Curtis Yarvin -- was again made explicit, but this inspired few surprises. Yarvin became famous under the pen name Mencius Moldbug, and wrote a blog outlining his opposition to equality, democracy and social progress. Moldbug's ideas have had major currency in Silicon Valley, and Thiel, as a major right-wing tech figure, was able to shelter himself from direct connections with Yarvin until the report was released.

Most damning of all, however, is likely the clip of Yiannopoulos's April 2016 Texas karaoke event, where "alt-right" leaders threw up "sieg heils," and Richard Spencer laughed in the audience. The private event was not open to the media, and presumably Milo had no intention of revealing his open admiration of the "alt-right" shown at the bar. Mike "Enoch" Peinovich, the host of the white nationalist troll-podcast The Daily Shoah, described on his show his own relationship with Yiannopoulos after the fact, admitting he was also at this karaoke event and that they had exchanged contact information.

What is more shocking, however, is the relationship that Yiannopoulos and Breitbart maintained with journalists at mainstream publications. Mitchell Sunderland at Vice's women's platform Broadly sent one email telling Yiannopoulos to go after the "fat feminist" Lindy West, a woman who has seen some of the most aggressive sexist harassment in the post-Gamergate internet. The undercurrent here is that Yiannopoulos's brand of reactionary abuse was a popular pastime for people in the media, and his antics created more clickbait stories for even leftist publications to lap up.

There have been few believers in the "alt-light" claims of anti-racism, or of Bannon's arms-length relationship with Neoreaction and the "alt-right," and that is the dark spot that BuzzFeed's info dump really elucidates. With such a massive leak as this, with such damning evidence, one could easily expect that the result would be firings (Vice did fire Mitchell Sunderland for his correspondence with Yiannopoulos), denouncements and social exorcisms. What is more shocking, in a sense, is that none of that will result because all of this is simply a confirmation for what has been both publicly known and privately accepted. That Breitbart is a tool for the development of white nationalism, that people like Bannon and Yiannopoulos know full well the type of violence they are stoking, and that backers like the Mercers and Thiel are allying with a revolutionary white supremacist movement is not particularly striking. Instead, we simply have the map laid out, our educated assumptions made transparent.

The recent fragmentation of the "alt-right," which really started with schisms in the days after Trump's victory, hit a fever pitch after Charlottesville. The effect of the social shift and the subsequent online platform denial the "alt-right" faced, as well as the betrayals that Yiannopoulos has brought on the "alt-right," has given him no quarter in the wake of this revelation. Yiannopoulos went as far as to go on social media to declare that it was an "alt-right" plot to reveal this information. "I am told a figure on the Right paid one of Richard Spencer's nutty goons $10,000 for this video," Yiannopoulos wrote on Instagram, with little evidence of this transaction. "I have been and am a steadfast supporter of Jews and Israel. I disavow white nationalism and I disavow racism and I always have." Figures like Paul Joseph Watson of Infowars have picked up on Yiannopoulos's allegations, pushing a conspiracy theory that establishment journalists colluded with white nationalists to bring down Yiannopoulos.

Spencer, for his part, has continued his anti-Yiannopoulos campaign on social media and podcasts, repudiating a figure he once celebrated. Around the troll-sphere of the "alt-right," Yiannopoulos's response to the revelations and his inability to take ownership for his racist protocols has further demonized him. The former alliance between the "alt-right" and the "alt-light" has been delivered a heavy blow, and no amount of revelations of previous collaboration is going to resurrect their Trumpian beast. Instead, this has the ability to permanently sever any future connections, and for "alt-light" figures who attempt to co-opt the energy of white nationalists, it will act as a warning about the potentially public nature of that friendship.

Revelations like this could cause Thiel and the Mercers to try and back away from their public associations with white nationalist people and movements, but if what we already know about them was not enough for them to go dormant, this is likely not dangerous enough either. It is unclear how Breitbart will respond, if the network will use this as an opportunity to clear its ranks, or to simply ignore the allegations and press forward with its mission. The only thing that forces these connections to dissolve is massive public pressure -- the kind that only organized movements with clear goals can grasp. All of these figures have been the target of anti-fascists over the past 18 months, and that is not likely to abate, but it will require larger coalitions of stakeholders to permanently unseat Breitbart's place in the American electorate.

Trump's Latest Muslim Ban Is Defeated Again in Court

Thu, 2017-10-19 00:00

President Trump's latest attempt to bar some citizens of eight Muslim majority countries from entering the US suffers a second defeat, as another federal judge rules that the latest policy is unconstitutional. We speak with Baher Azmy, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.


NERMEEN SHAIKH: President Trump's latest attempt to bar some citizens of eight countries from entering the US has suffered a second federal court defeat. On Wednesday, US District Judge Theodore Chuang of Maryland ruled Trump's own words helped convince the judge that the latest policy is, quote, "an inextricable re-animation of the twice-enjoined Muslim ban" and is likely to be found unconstitutional.

This comes after a federal judge in Hawaii blocked most of the latest version of a travel ban on Tuesday, just hours before it was set to take effect. US District Judge Derrick Watson had previously blocked plans by the administration to ban refugees and travelers from six Muslim-majority nations. This week, he ruled the latest ban, quote, "plainly discriminates based on nationality" in violation of the law as well as, quote, "the founding principles of this Nation."

AMY GOODMAN: The revised ban removed Sudan from the original list and added the countries of Chad and North Korea and some government officials from Venezuela. The new order also includes restrictions on citizens from Iraq, as well as all citizens of Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Somalia. Both the Maryland and Hawaii orders will allow a ban on some North Koreans and Venezuelans to go into effect. The Supreme Court was scheduled to hear arguments this month on an earlier version of a travel ban, but canceled the hearing after Trump issued new restrictions. The White House has vowed to appeal the latest ruling.

For more, we're joined by Baher Azmy, who is legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Baher.

BAHER AZMY: Hi, Amy and Nermeen.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what just took place, a Maryland court ruling after the Hawaii judge ruled.

BAHER AZMY: Yes. So, this is the third iteration of the Muslim ban, which attempts to clothe the previous versions, that were just very facially, obviously directed at nationality, with some legal pretense. The previous versions simply banned all individuals from these eight countries. This version had a purportedly neutral rationale -- that is, these are countries who insufficiently -- share insufficient security information with the United States. But these two courts saw through that rationale and agreed that the threat of discrimination from the first to the second to the third is still intact.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, let's go to Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaking on Wednesday. He defended this third travel ban of the Trump administration.

ATTORNEY GENERAL JEFF SESSIONS: The Department of Justice is resolutely focused on dealing with the terrorism threats that we face. They are real. The military tells us they can expect not a reduction after ISIS is defeated, but maybe even an increase in attacks. The president's executive order is an important step to ensuring that we know who is coming into our country. It's a lawful, necessary order that we are proud to defend. And indeed, most may not know, the Supreme Court has already vacated one court's injunction against that order. And we are confident we'll prevail, as time goes by, in the Supreme Court.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So that's Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaking Wednesday in defense of this ban.

BAHER AZMY: Yeah, I mean, it's as if -- imagine Orval Faubus, the segregationist governor of Alabama [sic], bans all black applicants to the University of Arkansas -- sorry, Arkansas. And then that gets struck down by the courts, and he next decides to ban all applicants from 10 high schools to the University of Arkansas, nine of them happen to be all-black high schools. No court would accept that as reasonable or nondiscriminatory. And that's what we have in the case of this latest version of the Muslim ban.

AMY GOODMAN: So, explain what happens now, with these two federal courts, one in Hawaii -- and I couldn't help think about Hawaii being one of the judges that struck down the ban, because of what Jeff Sessions famously said on a right-wing radio show: "How is it possible that a man on an island in the Pacific can stop the president of the United States?"

BAHER AZMY: Yeah, which speaks to the general insufficient regard that Jeff Sessions and the Trump administration have for democracy and constitutional principles. So, no doubt the government will attempt to appeal these injunctions, but the courts of appeals governing both of these district courts have previously upheld the prior injunctions, so they probably won't have much success in the court of appeals and will ultimately seek review in the Supreme Court.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: But the justification, of course, that the Department of Justice has given is that the countries now listed on the ban are listed because an extensive intelligence-sharing evaluation that the US undertook in all of these different countries concluded that these countries don't have sufficient restrictions in place, and that's why the countries were selected, so, in fact, it has nothing to do with Muslims or anybody else.

BAHER AZMY: Yeah, that's the justification, but I think it speaks to the lack of credibility that this administration has. I mean, had this been enacted by the Bush administration or the Clinton administration, given the traditional deference courts give to executive branch officials in the context of immigration, you'd expect courts would step back. But this is just utterly implausible as a national security justification, given the way it simply reanimates the prior obvious discriminatory actions the government took, and given the sort of lack of a sufficient national security rationale once you scratch below the service. I mean, we already investigate these countries. It's not like there aren't national security protocols in place when someone applies for a student visa from Iran. So, it's simply a reanimation and speaks to the lack of credibility that this administration has in the realm of constitutional law.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to another issue, but it deals with refugees, a federal judge on Wednesday ordering the US government to allow an undocumented immigrant teenager in custody in Texas to have an abortion. The judge said she was, quote, "astounded" that the Trump administration was trying to block the procedure. The ACLU, which filed the lawsuit on the teenager's behalf, said the 17-year-old girl, who's living unaccompanied in a refugee resettlement shelter in Texas, had been granted permission from a judge to terminate her pregnancy, but officials with the Department of Health and Human Services and other agencies refused to transport her to a women's health clinic for an abortion. The Justice Department, which is defending the Health and Human Services Department, has not commented on whether it will appeal the ruling.

BAHER AZMY: Yeah. I mean, this is a remarkable action that the government took, and it reflects kind of three undemocratic strands or reactionary strands of the Trump administration: first, the de facto attempt to block a court order by not allowing this young woman to access what the court authorized her to access, by not letting her out of the jail; second, a deep antipathy to migrants and undocumented migrants or refugees; and third, this sort of reactionary pro-life cast that they want to enforce. They do not want to, in their view, aid and abet one's constitutional rights. And this is Jeff Sessions at work in all three dimensions.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, before we conclude, Baher, I wanted to ask you about what -- because everybody has pointed to the fact that both the Hawaii and the Maryland ruling, the injunctions placed on Trump's third version of the travel ban, are, number one, partial bans, and that they're quite distinct from one another. So what are the differences between them? And what do they still allow to go into effect? Is it just that it will apply to citizens of North Korea -- officials from Venezuela and citizens of North Korea?

BAHER AZMY: Yeah, I mean, I think -- in short, I think they're far more similar than they are different. Both allow the restrictions to remain in place on North Korea and Venezuela, because those weren't meaningful restrictions anyway. The Maryland ruling is a bit narrower, because it only protects those who, quote, "have bona fide connections to the United States," so those with -- who are applying for visas to the United States who may have existing connections to the United States. And the Hawaii one applies more broadly to anyone who seeks to enter the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we're going to leave it there, but of course continue to follow this all. Baher Azmy, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Guantánamo Prisoners on Hunger Strike Say Guards Threatened to Kill Them by Stopping Force-Feeding

Thu, 2017-10-19 00:00

Guantánamo Bay detainees who are on hunger strike have accused officials of a sudden change in practice that could result in them starving to death, as doctors threaten to stop force-feeding them and are no longer monitoring their medical condition. We speak with Clive Stafford Smith of Reprieve, which represents eight of the 41 Guantánamo detainees. Reprieve is urging supporters to join a solidarity hunger strike with the detainees. Among those participating are British Labour Party MP Tom Watson, Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters, comedian Sara Pascoe, director Mark Rylance and French-born actress Caroline Lagerfelt.


AMY GOODMAN: That's Roger Waters performing, here at Democracy Now!, "We Shall Overcome," accompanied by the high school student Alexander Rohatyn on his cello. Waters led the Countdown to Close Guantánamo campaign on behalf of prisoners at the US naval base in Cuba. This is Democracy Now! I'm Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to Guantánamo, where hunger-striking prisoners say US military officials have threatened to stop force-feeding them and are denying them basic medical care, in a move the prisoners and their lawyers say threatens to kill them. In an op-ed for The Guardian, hunger-striking Guantánamo Bay prisoner Khalid Qassim writes, quote, "They have decided to leave us to waste away and die instead. … Now as each night comes, I wonder if I will wake up in the morning. When will my organs fail? When will my heart stop? I am slowly slipping away and no one notices," end-quote.

Qassim has been in prison for 15 years without being charged with a crime, and writes that a hunger strike was, quote, "the only peaceful way I thought I could protest." He is one of 41 men remaining in Guantánamo. Ten were charged or convicted before a commission, but the rest are being held in indefinite wartime detention without trial.

AMY GOODMAN: Human rights lawyers have long opposed force-feeding in Guantánamo, saying the brutal way it's implemented is akin to torture. But those same lawyers say they oppose the sudden suspension of feedings and basic medical care, since their clients' health is precariously declining and such care may mean the difference between life and death.

The international legal charity Reprieve is now calling on supporters to join a solidarity hunger strike with the prisoners. Among those who have heeded the call are British Labour Party MP Tom Watson, Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters, comedian Sara Pascoe, actor David Morrissey, director and actor Mark Rylance and French-born actress Caroline Lagerfelt.

For more, we go to London, where we're joined by human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, founder and director of the international legal charity Reprieve, which represents eight Guantánamo prisoners.

Clive Stafford Smith, welcome to Democracy Now! Why don't you lay out what's happening? What people may remember during the Obama years is the force-feeding that prisoners called inhumane. They called it torture. Now explain what's happening.

CLIVE STAFFORD SMITH: I will. And good morning to everyone. Back under President Obama, we had force-feeding, which -- there's a large swath of the medical community that says that that's unethical per se. But the way it was done and is done in Guantánamo Bay is gratuitously painful. General Bantz Craddock said in The New York Times that they were making it "inconvenient" -- his word -- by making it more painful.

Well, just recently, starting on September the 20th, we learned that President Trump's team down there have added a pernicious twist. So what they're doing now is they've stopped force-feeding the prisoners, for now, and they've said to the prisoners that the prisoners can go forward and they can starve themselves, until their organs fail, until they get serious mental illness, until they go blind. And at that point, they're going to start force-feeding them again to stop them from actually dying. So they wait until they're half-dead, and then keep them half-alive and then keep them forever, at the cost of $11.8 million per prisoner, in Guantánamo Bay.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: What's the justification for that? I mean, why do this to them now?

CLIVE STAFFORD SMITH: Well, the reason behind this, I'm afraid, is they're trying to coerce the prisoners out of their peaceful protest. And, you know, this is just wrong. Imran Khan, the well-known Pakistan politician, who is a strong supporter of Ahmed Rabbani, one of my clients, has written in The Washington Post today that there's a long tradition that we, as Americans, have fro peaceful protest. And the idea that the Trump administration would try to bully these guys, who have been on hunger strike for four years asking for just one thing -- you know, give me freedom, or give me a fair trial -- that they should use this sort of medical malpractice to bully people out of it is just disgusting.

AMY GOODMAN: So, tell us the story of your clients, Ahmed Rabbani and Khalid Qassim if you can quickly tell us, to give us a sense of who are these 41 men who remain languishing at this US prison in Cuba.

CLIVE STAFFORD SMITH: So, there are 41 people, at a cost of $500 million, that could be well spent on something else. Of those, 15 of them are potentially going to have some form of trial, fair or unfair, in Guantánamo Bay. And the rest are forever prisoners who aren't going anywhere. And some of them, instead of being high-value detainees, are, by definition, low-value or no-value detainees.

Let me just tell you about Ahmed Rabbani. Ahmed -- and this is all corroborated in the Senate CIAtorture report. Ahmed was originally sold to the US for a bounty by the ISI, who said he was a really bad dude called Hassan Ghul. When they got him, Ahmed said, "No, I'm not. I'm a taxi driver from Karachi." And indeed, in the Senate report, it says, "You know, this is what he says. We don't believe him." He then spent 545 days in the dark prisons of the CIA torture process, including being exposed to strappado, an old torture that was done by the Spanish Inquisition. And, you know, what did they get for that? Absolutely nothing, except they abused this poor guy beyond measure. He was then taken to Guantánamo Bay, where he patiently waited for his release back to his wife and son, who was only 19 months at the time he was detained. And then, after losing patience, in 2013, he decided, "What can I do?" He went on a hunger strike. He did that, and then he was force-fed. And he's been force-fed for four years. And I've seen him down there. He is now 92 pounds, if you can believe it. He is just a shadow of his former self. And there he is.

And Khalid [Qassim], in some ways, is even worse. Khalid, you know, I've known him for some years. He is absolutely nobody. I hate to say that. It sounds, you know, like I'm disparaging him. I'm not. But he is absolutely nobody, from Yemen, and yet he's still in Guantánamo also.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, you say that Ahmed Rabbani now weighs 92 pounds. So at what point will he start being force-fed again? Because the idea is, as you pointed out earlier, that they don't actually want these people to die.

CLIVE STAFFORD SMITH: Well, that's a good question, because if you look at the medical literature, when you get under 30 -- you know, 30 percent below your normal body weight, that's when you're in real danger of dying. And he's now 33 percent below his normal body weight, and there wasn't much of him to begin with. So he is in real danger.

I spoke with him yesterday in a legal phone call, this privileged call I had with him, and he's not sounding good. And indeed there's a whole syndrome, a medical syndrome, of hunger strikers. When you lose thiamine, you begin to get psychotic. You begin to get to where you can't make voluntary and competent decisions. And what I'm afraid -- I mean, none of these guys want to die. They just want justice. But what I'm afraid, with Ahmed, is he's getting beyond the point where he can make sensible decisions, and he just might end up doing something really stupid and ending up dying down there.

AMY GOODMAN: You're calling on supporters to join in a solidarity hunger strike. Are you doing this? Can you talk about what you're calling on supporters to do and what you're calling on the Trump administration to do right now?

CLIVE STAFFORD SMITH: Sure. Well, look, let me first say I don't want any of you to hurt yourself medically, and perhaps you shouldn't be quite as stupid as I am sometimes. I did five days of a solidarity hunger strike, just because I think it's really important when I talk to my clients that I can say, you know, "We will take on your protest for now. I just want you guys to eat a little bit to keep yourself alive, while we sue to stop this nonsense." And we did sue this week, and I hope to goodness the judge is going order the government to behave themselves properly.

Now, in terms of what we want, if I may, I've got some notes from yesterday. And, you know, this is the message that Ahmed Rabbani has for President Trump. This is a quote: "What is the benefit of keeping this place open? They're spending over $500 million a year on this place. They could have saved the money, sent us away, whatever, and not have this headache. Show mercy, President Trump, if there is any in your heart. Use the money to give to your soldiers, your people, not wasting it here. Help the poor people. Help the needy in the US You've got fires in California, hurricanes. Use the money for that." Really, look, either just set them free, or do what we've done in America for the last 200 years, which is give them a trial. And I would love to have that trial. I don't think the government would. And then we'd get them out.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Clive Stafford Smith, we want to thank you so much for being with us, human rights lawyer, director of Reprieve, which represents eight Guantánamo prisoners.

That does it for our show. Juan González will be speaking at Princeton today at noon. I'll be speaking on Saturday in California. We'll be broadcasting from Marin on Friday.


Man From The Past

Thu, 2017-10-19 00:00

Trump's Game Plan: Racism and Violence as Decoys

Thu, 2017-10-19 00:00
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Millions of football fans must have felt grateful to President Trump for provoking the entire National Football League into a goal line stand last month. The sight of hundreds of players on the sidelines, arms linked with coaches and owners during the playing of the national anthem, not only soothed fears that a disrupted season lay in the NFL's future, but gave those fans tacit permission to keep on enjoying the games without being too disturbed about brain trauma on the field, collusion in the front office, or demands for racial justice.

Once again, Trump had made it all about Trump, then quickly blitzed on to fresh outrages.

Had anything really happened?


One long-time national sports conscience, Richard Lapchick, director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports, declared that Sunday, September 24th, was "the most important sports day since [Muhammad] Ali decided not to fight in Vietnam." From it, he foresaw the possibility of a civic conversation emerging that would create "unity in our communities."

On the other hand, could that Sunday of Accord have actually been no more than a Hail Mary pass designed to briefly shore up a vulnerable sport? Could that show of NFL unity have helped to block growing concerns that, amid a blizzard of negative news and views, pro football was beginning to fade as America's most popular spectator sport?

In other words, could Donald Trump have saved professional football? Give him credit for this: he certainly spun a mild demonstration against racism into a flagrant case of disrespect for the flag, the military, our wars, patriotism, the nation, and above all else, of course, Donald J. Trump. With his usual skill, he then reshaped that sizzling package into yet another set of presidential pep rallies for his own fans, that much-invoked "base." In the process, he also helped highlight the Jock Spring that had stirred last year when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first refused to stand for the anthem. Though it seemed to fade after the initial blast of publicity, it was revitalized last month when the president labeled any football player who knelt or sat or stayed in the locker room during the playing of the pre-game anthem a "son of a bitch," the same term he used last year to describe the killer in the Orlando nightclub massacre.

Trump's slur clearly resonated with the resentment many everyday white male sports fans often seem to have when it comes to bigger, younger, better-paid African-Americans who don't appear grateful enough for the chance to live out their daydreams. Keep in mind that the NFL, like the National Basketball Association, is a predominately black league. Major League Baseball, on the other hand, has a relatively small percentage of African-American players, although many Latinos and Asians. (Only one active baseball player, Oakland's Bruce Maxwell, an African American, has taken a knee.)

The Coming of the Jock Spring

When it comes to racism and professional sports, the arc from Muhammad Ali's refusal to be inducted into the Army on April 28, 1967, to Lapchick's next most important sports day is a distinctly interrupted story. In that long-gone year, the Olympic Project for Human Rights, led by a San Jose State sociology professor, Harry Edwards, staged protests against racism. Among their demands was that Ali, the heavyweight champion, be allowed to fight again, since every American boxing commission had by then refused to license him and his passport had been taken away. Those protests culminated in an enduring image of resistance: African-American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos thrusting black-gloved fists into the air from the medal stand of the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.

The Empire immediately struck back (as it would do 50 years later to Colin Kaepernick). Smith and Carlos were thrown off the U.S. team and hustled out of Mexico. They spent years as jobless heroes. Ali himself would not be allowed to return to the ring for another three years. The boundaries of the power of athletes to express themselves politically were now set. The O.J. Simpson and Michael Jordan generations of black sports stars would remain determinedly apolitical, concentrated on pleasing the white men who controlled their endorsement contracts. The most revolutionary movement in sports in those years came from women tennis players, led by Billie Jean King, who fought for equal economic rights and an end to the tyranny and corruption of what passed for amateurism (still widely practiced in college sports today).

The Jedi returned in 2016 when, after a week of Black Lives Matter demonstrations and a lone gunman's attack that left five Dallas police officers dead, basketball stars Carmello Anthony, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Paul exhorted their fellow athletes at an ESPN awards gala to speak up, oppose racial profiling, and use their influence to renounce all violence. As James said at the time, "The four of us we cannot ignore the realities of the current state of America. The events of the past week have put a spotlight on the injustice, distrust, and anger that plague so many of us. The system is broken. But the problems are not new, the violence is not new, and the racial divide definitely is not new. But the urgency for change is at an all time high."

It briefly seemed as if a Jock Spring might indeed be stirring and it seemed fitting as well that it would start in basketball, where international stars with guaranteed contracts in a relatively liberal league had some clout. But there would be no meaningful follow-up until, on August 26, 2016, in a more conservative and controlled sport, Kaepernick sat down during the national anthem before a pre-season game. It was one of the most vivid image of American resistance to racism since Smith and Carlos. He was Rosa Parks with a helmet. At some point, someone finally noted the link that connected Kaepernick to Smith and Carlos: Harry Edwards, the now-retired Berkeley sociology professor, was a 49ers team adviser.

As the season progressed, Kaepernick regularly dropped to his right knee because, he said, he refused "to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color." He later referred specifically to the shooting deaths of unarmed black men by white police officers.

Then-candidate Trump's immediate response was: "I think it's a terrible thing, and you know, maybe he should find a country that works better for him. Let him try -- it won't happen."

It took the rest of the season, but another link between 1968 and 2016 became apparent: Kaepernick would be shoved out of the game and left a jobless hero to some (and an ungrateful turncoat to others). By season's end, he had become a free agent and Trump, of course, had become president. In a move that could only please the new president, the NFL owners apparently colluded in informally banning Kaepernick from the game. A healthy, 29-year-old with Super Bowl experience, he hasn't been hired since, not even as a backup quarterback. The rationales have included claims that he's lost his skills or doesn't fit into existing offensive schemes. They ring hollow when you compare his supposedly degraded abilities to those of some of the lesser talents who take the field every week.

Even if there was a billionaire team owner whose politics were sympathetic, it seems clear that Kaepernick was simply not considered worth the trouble in Donald Trump's America. Owners of sports teams are dependent not only on fan support but on media and political complicity to sell tickets and to strong-arm cities into financing their stadiums. Being perceived as soft on "unpatriotic" black athletes could damage their relationships with their own mostly conservative base.

Nevertheless, the blooming of a Jock Spring looked even more likely this season as other athletes stepped up and dropped down. Kaepernick was unsigned but stars like Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch, and Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins kept the protest alive. One of Jenkins' teammates, Chris Long, who is white, even stood beside him, a hand supportively on his shoulder. After the game, he told reporters, "I think it's a good time for people that look like me to be here for people that are fighting for equality." 

There even seemed to be a spring awakening in the grandstands and living rooms of America. Some fans questioned the morality of finding pleasure in the deadly head-banging of black guys killing themselves for the entertainment of white guys, even as others began to complain, in a Trumpian fashion, about the intrusion of social issues into what had been considered their sanctuary from real life. There was concern, too, that politics, which they had been told has no place in sports, would upset the personal dynamics within their favorite teams. Coaches have always emphasized the need for "unit cohesion" -- the same catchphrase the military used in the past when it was still trying to keep either blacks, women, or gays out of the line-up.

Trump Takes the Field

And then, of course, President Trump strode onto the field. Not only did he put those uppity black "son of a bitch" players in their place, but he impugned their manhood by saying that there wasn't enough violence in the game. He similarly dissed the owners and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, daring them to fire any player who refused to stand for the anthem and later tried to go after them where it hurts, tweeting, "Why is the NFL getting massive tax breaks while at the same time disrespecting our Anthem, Flag and Country? Change tax law!" (This was, however, a ludicrous claim, since only the NFL's headquarters, a non-profit corporation, qualified for such exemptions and the league had waived that right several years ago for public relations reasons.) 

As a result, pro football's arm-linking response seemed, at the time, like an attempt to redeem itself to its fandom. It would, however, turn out to be a gesture that signified nothing more than a hollow pageant of pragmatic unity. To survive, in other words, the league reacted not with a show of force, but with a photo op that they thought might be reassuring to fans and advertisers alike.

That Sunday of Accord was kicked off by Pakistani-born Shahid Khan of the Jacksonville Jaguars, the league's first non-white majority owner and one of at least six owners who had donated a million dollars or more to Trump's campaign. His team was playing the Baltimore Ravens in London as part of a plan to bolster pro football by globalizing it and it was there, thanks to the time difference, that he became the first owner to stand entwined with his players. 

The NFL is, in fact, moving toward the end of a 10-year collective bargaining agreement with those same players. It ends after the 2020 season, already sure to be a politically charged year. This will be the first agreement since the full impact of the league's betrayal of those same players -- its willingness to ignore the widespread brain injuries the sport causes participants -- became well documented in the groundbreaking reporting of the New York Times's Alan Schwarz and then the book and the film League of Denial.

The latest revelations of the link between playing pro football and brain injuries put the NFL in the same league with those other classic civic criminals, the tobacco companies and the Big Oil promoters of climate change denial, not to mention a sycophantic media that offered years of cover for all the deniers by creating a false balance in its reporting and claiming a lack of definitive scientific evidence.

Still, the NFL's biggest concern is undoubtedly the potential drying up of its player and fan pipelines, which has already begun (and to which the president has been lending a distinctly helping hand when, at least, it comes to his base and the league's fan base). Despite attempts to create safer practice models and tackling techniques for the sport, there has been a distinct drop in youth football participation in recent years as evidence mounts that early play leads to harm.

Prominent players and former players have even declared that they would not allow their sons to play or recommend the sport to other children. As former Pittsburgh Steeler quarterback and Fox NFL Sunday broadcaster Terry Bradshaw put it, "If I had a son today, and I would say this to all our audience and our viewers out there, I would not let him play football." After 20 years at ESPN, former player Ed Cunningham even quit broadcasting because of his concerns about traumatic brain injuries. "I can no longer be in that cheerleader's spot," he said.

The Sundays since that day of linked arms have offered anything but conclusive evidence as to who's really winning the hearts and minds of football fans and Americans more generally, but if a guess had to be made, so far the embattled Donald Trump has proven to be the provisional winner. He's used it to rally his base (and Republicans more generally), while the protests have continued, but at a diminished level, and the owners have begun slipping away from the sidelines and returning to their luxury boxes. Having had their moment of symbolism with their players, they now seem to be preparing for another kind of symbolism entirely. In their fashion, they are reportedly getting ready to lock arms with Donald Trump by threatening either to bench any players who kneel for the anthem or possibly change league rules to make standing mandatory

And yet, as far as we can tell, the fans have not been heeding Trump's directive to "leave the stadium. I guarantee things will stop. Things will stop. Just pick up and leave. Pick up and leave. Not the same game anymore, anyway."

Oh wait, one fan actually did.

On Sunday, October 8th, Vice President Pence walked out of Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis after about 20 members of the San Francisco 49ers took a knee during the anthem. Supposedly there for a ceremony honoring retired Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, he had flown in (and would fly out) at taxpayer's expense (chalk up a quick $242,500) and, reportedly at the president's bidding, he was clearly planning to walk out as soon as a knee hit the ground. (A protest was, of course, guaranteed since it was Kaepernick's former team on the field.) The VP was, it seems, running a play for the Coach-in-Chief.

Soon after, in a letter to owners, Commissioner Goodell supported standing for the anthem, while one of the most powerful owners, Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys, threatened to bench any player who did not do so.

The players had yet to come together in any meaningful way either as free men or as mercenary gladiators. A journeyman veteran, DeAngelo Hall of the Washington Redskins, spoke openly about his concerns for personal financial security, while Russell Okun of the Los Angeles Chargers published an open letter calling on the players to address inequality together.

Then, a seeming turnover. Kaepernick filed a grievance against the NFL, charging own collusion against his employment. A few days later, the owners voted, at least for the moment, not to penalize players who refused to stand for the anthem, prompting a protesting tweet -- "Total disrespect for our great country!" -- from Trump.

So even as the Sunday of Accord became a distant dream, the reality of a Jock Spring was still spiraling in the air. Would it lead to a score by progressive players, would it be intercepted by Trump? Would America -- sports fans and a-sportuals alike -- come to understand that the issue was more than a political football? Would they grasp that it was a locker-room lesson in how kneeling for principle could be a man's way of finally standing up?

The Power of Stories: Why We Need More Than Facts to Win

Thu, 2017-10-19 00:00

In this Progressive Pick excerpt from Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis, George Monbiot examines the power of stories, as what he calls "the means by which we navigate the world." Those who tell the stories wield the power. How do stories undermine facts, values and beliefs? "If stories reflected the values most people profess -- democracy, independence, industrial 'progress' -- the rebels would be the heroes," writes Monbiot.

Powerful stories like the Narnia series move us to cheer the triumph of values that contradict our own. (Photo: Manuka / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

The idea that human nature is inherently competitive and individualistic isn't just harmful, argues George Monbiot in his new book. It's also contradicted by psychology, neuroscience and evolutionary biology. Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis provides a compelling argument for how we can reorganize our world for the better from the bottom up. Order it today by donating to Truthout!

In this excerpt from Out of the Wreckage, George Monbiot talks about the power of stories. Stories are the tool we use to make sense of the world: We will only be able to supplant the story of neoliberalism, which has shaped the outlook of so many minds, with a compelling new story. 

You cannot take away someone's story without giving them a new one. It is not enough to challenge an old narrative, however outdated and discredited it may be. Change happens only when you replace it with another. When we develop the right story, and learn how to tell it, it will infect the minds of people across the political spectrum. Those who tell the stories run the world.

The old world, which once looked stable, even immutable, is collapsing. A new era has begun, loaded with hazard if we fail to respond, charged with promise if we seize the moment. Whether the systems that emerge from this rupture are better or worse than the current dispensation depends on our ability to tell a new story, a story that learns from the past, places us in the present and guides the future.

Stories are the means by which we navigate the world. They allow us to interpret its complex and contradictory signals. We all possess a narrative instinct: an innate disposition to listen for an account of who we are and where we stand. In his illuminating book Don't Even Think About It, George Marshall explains that "stories perform a fundamental cognitive function: they are the means by which the Emotional Brain makes sense of the information collected by the Rational Brain. People may hold information in the form of data and figures, but their beliefs about it are held entirely in the form of stories."

When we encounter a complex issue and try to understand it, what we look for is not consistent and reliable facts but a consistent and comprehensible story. When we ask ourselves whether something "makes sense," the "sense" we seek is not rationality, as scientists and philosophers perceive it, but narrative fidelity. Does what we are hearing reflect the way we expect humans and the world to behave? Does it hang together? Does it progress as stories should progress?

Drawing on experimental work, Marshall shows that, even when people have been told something is fictitious, they will cling to it if it makes a good story and they have heard it often enough. Attempts to refute such stories tend only to reinforce them, as the disproof constitutes another iteration of the narrative. When we argue, "It's not true that a shadowy clique of American politicians orchestrated the attack on the World Trade Centre," those who believe the false account hear that "a shadowy clique of American politicians orchestrated the attack on the World Trade Centre." The phrase "It's not true that" carries less weight than the familiar narrative to which it is attached.

A string of facts, however well attested, has no power to correct or dislodge a powerful story. The only response it is likely to provoke is indignation: people often angrily deny facts that clash with the narrative 'truth' established in their minds.

The only thing that can displace a story is a story. Effective stories tend to possess a number of common elements. They are easy to understand. They can be briefly summarised and quickly memorised. They are internally consistent. They concern particular characters or groups. There is a direct connection between cause and effect. They describe progress -- from a beginning through a middle to an end. The end resolves the situation encountered at the beginning, with a conclusion that is positive and inspiring.

Certain stories are repeated across history and through different cultures. For example, the story of the hero setting out on a quest, encountering great hazard (often in the form of a monster), conquering it in the face of overwhelming odds, and gaining prestige, power or insight is common to cultures all over the world, some of which had no possible contact with each other. Ulysses, Beowulf, Sinbad, Sigurd, Cú Chulainn, Arjuna, St George, Lạc Long Quân and Glooskap are all variants of this universal hero. Our minds appear to be attuned not only to stories in general, but to particular stories that follow consistent patterns.

In politics, there is a recurring story that captures our attention. It goes like this:

Disorder afflicts the land, caused by powerful and nefarious forces working against the interests of humanity. The hero -- who might be one person or a group of people -- revolts against this disorder, fights the nefarious forces, overcomes them despite great odds and restores order.

Stories that follow this pattern can be so powerful that they sweep all before them: even our fundamental values. For example, two of the world's best-loved and most abiding narratives -- The Lord of the Rings and the Narnia series -- invoke values that were familiar in the Middle Ages but are generally considered repulsive today. Disorder in these stories is characterised by the usurpation of rightful kings or their rightful heirs; justice and order rely on their restoration. We find ourselves cheering the resumption of autocracy, the destruction of industry and even, in the case of Narnia, the triumph of divine right over secular power.

Truthout Progressive Pick

How can we create a new "politics of belonging" to radically reorganize our world?

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If these stories reflected the values most people profess -- democracy, independence, industrial 'progress' -- the rebels would be the heroes and the hereditary rulers the villains. We overlook the conflict with our own priorities because the stories resonate so powerfully with the narrative structure for which our minds are prepared. Facts, evidence, values, beliefs: stories conquer all. 

Copyright (2017) by George Monbiot. Not to be reprinted without permission of the publisher, Verso Books.

Mnuchin Gives Away the Game: "It's Very Hard Not to Give Tax Cuts to the Wealthy"

Thu, 2017-10-19 00:00

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks to members of the White House press corps during a daily briefing at the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House August 25, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images)

For weeks President Donald Trump and the Republican Party have been peddling the demonstrable lie that their tax proposals are primarily geared toward helping the middle class, not the wealthiest Americans. But in an interview with Politico's Ben White published Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin gave away the game, admitting: "It's very hard not to give tax cuts to the wealthy."

The math, given how much you are collecting, is just hard to do," the treasury secretary added.

But as The Huffington Post's Arthur Delaney notes, the math is not hard at all. In fact, the White House's own tax framework, released last month, had a useful suggestion: add in a higher top marginal rate.

"An additional top rate may apply to the highest-income taxpayers to ensure that the reformed tax code is at least as progressive as the existing tax code and does not shift the tax burden from high-income to lower- and middle-income taxpayers," the framework says.

When asked about Mnuchin's comments during Wednesday's press briefing, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders didn't deny that the rich would benefit enormously from Trump's tax plan. Instead, she claimed that cutting taxes for the middle class remains "the focus and the priority."

Mnuchin's comments came as the Senate debates a GOP-crafted budget proposal that Republicans need to pass in order to pave the way for a tax plan that non-partisan analyses have shown would almost solely benefit the top one percent, while increasing taxes on some low-income and middle class families.

On social media, critics mocked Mnuchin's claim, suggesting that it exposes the tax "scam" Trump and the GOP are attempting to ram through Congress -- despite the fact that an of Americans disapprove of the plan.

"It's very hard not to, so I guess we'll just have to do it exclusively"

— Fight For 15 (@fightfor15) October 18, 2017

And there you have it:

Steven Mnuchin admits "It's very hard not to give tax cuts to the wealthy."

— Tax March (@taxmarch) October 18, 2017

Guy who wrote Trump's tax plan says that the laws of math basically forced him to give rich people a huge cut

— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) October 18, 2017

Mnuchin says it’s hard to avoid cutting taxes for the very wealthy (such as Trump)

— Citizens for Ethics (@CREWcrew) October 18, 2017 In times of great injustice, independent media is crucial to fighting back against misinformation. Support grassroots journalism: Make a donation to Truthout.

Our Summer of Fire and the Fires to Come

Thu, 2017-10-19 00:00

A helicopter prepares to drop water on a fire that threatened the Oakmont community along Highway 12 in Santa Rosa, California, on October 13, 2017. (Photo: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Out-of-control wildfires have devastated the Western US this year, causing not only immediate deaths and untold property damage, but dangerous levels of smoke pollution and long-term health effects. The impact of wildfires on human health and ecosystems will keep rising, unless serious and emergency measures are taken to counter climate change and its effects.

A helicopter prepares to drop water on a fire that threatened the Oakmont community along Highway 12 in Santa Rosa, California, on October 13, 2017. (Photo: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Explosive wildfires have raged in Northern California over the last two weeks. Forty-one people are dead, and at least 6,700 structures have been destroyed, making these the most destructive fires in the state's history. Parts of the city of Santa Rosa have burned to the ground. Extremely hot and dry conditions, continuing impacts of the state's drought, and high winds combined to create fires so fast-moving, many residents were forced to flee for their lives with only minutes notice. Tens of thousands have been forced to evacuate. In the last several days, better weather has been helping firefighters fight the blazes, though many are still continuing. Air quality in the region has been called the worst in recorded history due to wildfire smoke.

The fires in Northern California come after a summer of infernos and smoke spanning the West.

It began in Seattle on August 1, 2017. Coming out of work that day, I looked around to try to fathom why the entire atmosphere was thick with haze. Maybe the city's smog had suddenly become abominably worse for unexplainable reasons? Looking around, I noticed it was smoke that lay everywhere. It filled my throat and lungs. The world seemed suddenly wrong, without sense.

These days, and especially this summer, living on Earth feels like existing in dread of the next environmental apocalypse. That day, it felt like it had arrived.

That night, I heard the news. Smoke from wildfires in British Columbia was blanketing the area.

For the next two weeks, it was hard to take a breath outside. The air was acrid, lung-burning. The blue, fresh summer skies Seattle is known for were extinguished. Being outside felt like walking in a stagnant, dead, smoky bubble. The sun and moon eerily appeared through a deep haze, orange or blood red. It was like living in an alternate universe. The smoke returned throughout August and early September.

The Seattle Times said that the region's "natural air conditioning," marine air blown by winds from the west, had broken down. Air quality levels in August plunged so severely, at times Seattle and Portland had air quality worse than Beijing. Elderly people, children and those with compromised respiratory systems were warned to avoid going outside. The general population was told to avoid strenuous outdoor exercise.

I was happy to get out of town on August 11 to head for the Oregon coast and hiking in the Redwoods in Northern California. I looked forward to being able to breathe fresh air again. But it became clear the smoke went way beyond Washington State. As we drove into Eugene, giant plumes of white smoke billowed out of the Willamette National Forest to the east. Further south, more clouds filled the sky from the North Umpqua complex fire. Driving down Highway 101, we came to Brookings on the Pacific coast at the southern tip of Oregon. Smoke choked the town. A fire up the Chetco River had just "blown up" and was spreading in all directions. A few days later, we heard that people were being evacuated immediately due to the fires' rapid spread, in certain spots all the way down to the ocean.

Arriving in Redwood National Park, we were amazed to see the skies there clouded with smoke. In the late afternoon in the Tall Trees Redwood Grove, rays of sunlight angling through smoke and off the trees turned the grove a beautiful but surreal red. Coming home in late August, Oregon was smothered in smoke far thicker than it had been in Seattle, from the southern border almost to the northern. It was hard to imagine people having to try to live and function every day in this.

Summer of Heat and Western Fire

This summer, Seattle broke records for the driest in recorded history, the most consecutive days without rain -- 55 -- and also tied for the warmest summer on record.

Similar conditions were present throughout the West. High-pressure systems repeatedly set up and refused to budge along the north Pacific coast or slightly onshore, and blocked any developing weather systems from the west. After weeks without rain, forest brush and understory that had grown thick after an unusually wet winter withered and dried to a crisp. It was like jet fuel awaiting a match. It was only a matter of time until lightning strikes from dry storms, as well as humans, set things alight.

Scorched by record temperatures, British Columbia (BC) went up in flames in July. Fires raged all summer and 1.2 million hectares burned -- the equivalent of 4,680 square miles -- an area almost as large as the state of Connecticut. The area burned exceeded the yearly average of area burned in BC from 2006-16 by almost 10 times.

In Oregon this summer, a Rhode Island-sized area went up in flames. The Chetco Bar Fire scorched old-growth redwoods in a protected grove at the northern edge of the Redwoods range, severely burning 25 percent of the trees. Another major fire was one along the Columbia River Gorge in northeast Oregon. Started by fireworks on September 2, the fire was fanned by extreme heat and easterly winds. It exploded. Dozens of hikers were forced to hike for their lives to escape. Embers crossed the Columbia River and set off new fires in Washington.

In late August and September, offshore winds created by high pressure inland pulled in more smoke to the Seattle area, now from Washington's own wildfires. Ash fell from the sky, reminding people of the volcanic explosions from Mt. St. Helens in 1980.

Health Impacts of Wildfire Smoke

The smoke didn't just make life miserable at times this summer for the millions of people throughout the West; it was downright unhealthy.

Joshua Benditt, a pulmonologist with the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, said he was getting many calls from his patients with lung problems due to the wildfire smoke. Benditt said the poor quality of air from the smoke meant, "It's very difficult for patients with asthma or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), and even some other kinds of lung diseases. It's quite irritating to them and it can cause coughing and wheezing and actually even respiratory failure."

Bonnie Henry, a deputy provincial health officer in BC, told the Vancouver Sun in August that emergency calls and hospital visits had increased 20 to 50 percent among people with respiratory and other health conditions.

In the inland regions closer to the fires, the air was worse than on the coast. Sarah Coefield, an air quality specialist with the Missoula City-County Health Department, described how desperate the situation was becoming for people in Seeley Lake, Montana where elderly, children and sick people were choking on smoke.

These types of conditions existed to varying degrees for weeks throughout the West. Air quality values ranged from "unhealthy for sensitive groups" to "very unhealthy" and worse. In early September in Spokane, Washington, air quality reached hazardous levels for several days.

satellite image from NASA on September 5 showed smoke being blown across the US by the jet stream. NASA said, "Smoke from wildfires can be very dangerous. A 2017 Georgia Tech study showed the smoke from wildfires spew methanol, benzene, ozone and other noxious chemicals into the atmosphere." This study directly measured the amount of emissions from several Western wildfires of some of these potentially dangerous gases, as well as particulate matter pollution that is a mix of microscopic solids and liquid droplets. The study found that the particulate pollution from wildfires, already known to be a large source of particulate pollution in the West, was actually three times worse than previously thought.

A 2016 study, called a "Critical Review of Health Impacts of Wildfire Smoke Exposure" found that globally, the estimated premature mortality caused by wildfire smoke is 339,000 people yearly. High levels of particulate matter in the air from wildfire smoke have led to increases in deaths in Malaysia, Russia and Australia. The study drew a clear connection between wildfire smoke exposure and increased morbidity for people with asthma, COPD and general respiratory problems.

The Georgia Tech study cites other scientific studies that have linked particulate matter (PM) from wildfires to increased respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. While more research is required to fully resolve the whole picture of health impacts of PM in humans, the health impacts from fire smoke is clearly cause for real concern, when literally millions of people are living for weeks at a time in regions choked with wildfire smoke.

Climate Change and Increasing Forest Fires

Wildfires have been a natural occurrence in the history of forests over many, many millennia. In many ways, fires have played a crucial role in helping regulate and regenerate the health of the forest. Natural variation in weather patterns is one factor in creating conditions for wildfires. But what has been happening over the last several decades is far from normal.

Mike Flannigan, director of the Western Partnership for Wildland Fire Service at the University of Alberta, says the "evidence is becoming more and more overwhelming" of the link between climate change and increasing fires globally. The length of fire seasons worldwide increased by 19 percent from 1978 to 2013, due to longer periods of warm and dry weather in a quarter of the world's forests. While the pattern is not uniform, various parts of the world are seeing clear changes over the last decades, according to Flannigan, including Alaska, Siberia, the boreal forests of Canada and elsewhere.

In the Western US, the length of the wildfire season has increased from five months long in the 1970s, to seven months today with 2015 being the worst wildfire season in the West on record as tracked by the National Interagency Fire Center, with over 10 million acres burned. As of October 15, the amount of land burned in 2017 would rank third highest. According to the EPA, of the 10 years with the largest acreage burned, nine have occurred since 2000.

In the Pacific Northwest as a whole, temperatures have risen 1.5°F since 1920. Extremely warm temperatures and drought mix with historically low amounts of winter snowpack to create conditions setting the table for fire.

The connection of climate change and a warming planet to increasing forest fires isn't just confirmed by observational statistics. Scientific studies have started quantifying the contributions of a warmer planet to increasing fires. A 2016 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences demonstrated that over half of the increases in "fuel aridity" (metrics that measure the degree of lack of moisture in fuels) since the 1970s, and a doubling of the amount of forest area burned since 1984 were due to human-caused climate change. A 2017 study in the same journal concluded global warming was responsible for increasing the severity and probability of the hottest monthly and daily events in 80 percent of the globe that they were able to study.

In a sense, the relationship isn't rocket science, but it is basic science. Warming temperatures means warmer air, and warmer air holds more moisture, sucking it out of plants and trees making them drier and more likely to ignite and readily burn. When this happens over whole regions of millions of acres, these conditions predispose regions to burn more readily. When the warmth and dryness lasts for longer periods of time, the time when wildfires happen also lengthens.

There are other ways in which climate change is contributing to increasing fires in the West. Lightning strikes are increased by warmer temperatures. It's estimated that for every degree Celsius of warming, strikes increase by about 12 percent.

Furthermore, bark beetle infestation of forests is spreading northward and to higher elevations throughout the West as the planet warms. As winters become warmer and spring comes earlier, conditions for beetle survival increases. Drought-induced stress severely weakens trees' ability to fend off beetles. Beetles interfere with a tree's nutrient delivery and this can kill trees, providing more raw fuel for fires. The beetle infestation has killed tens of millions of acres of forest in North America, and is the largest known insect infestation in North American history.

Human-caused activity is contributing in other ways to forest changes and fire increases.

Forest and other natural habitat continues to be eaten up by new housing and sprawl, driven by the inability of capitalism to restrict development and protect natural areas. Forest Service policy over many years has been to suppress fires, and this has contributed to a build-up of large amounts of fuel on public lands. As human habitation continues to encroach on forests, more fires are sparked. The US Forest Service is also increasingly pushed to try to fight fires to protect houses and towns, in some cases further adding to build-up of fuel. Many foresters are advocating that more scientific criteria be used to differentiate when and which fires should be fought, and which should be allowed to burn up accumulated fuel and return the forests to a more natural fire cycle.

The 2017 Fires and the Larger Picture of a Changing Climate

The smoke and fires this summer were a wake-up call about how quickly things can change in the natural environment and how large the stakes are. But is this devastating summer just the beginning of much worse things to come? And if this is the harbinger of the future, what will this mean for the health of humans and ecosystems?

This summer has been one of truly devastating "natural" disasters overall. Intriguing and important scientific debates emerged from this hurricane season, including over whether global warming was causing more extreme and long-lasting weather events, such as Hurricane Harvey's stall over Houston that caused record rainfalls.

Jennifer Francis, a research professor at Rutgers University, has been studying the relation between the warming of the Arctic, the loss of sea ice and changes that are being observed in weather patterns in the Northern hemisphere, particularly at certain times of the year.

She has advanced a theory that the warming of the Arctic is causing the jet stream to wobble at certain times, creating big waves that draw warmer air up into the Arctic from the southern latitudes. Francis believes that with these big waves, which have been observed, the jet stream is also weakened in its flow from west to east. The jet stream then becomes more susceptible to any obstacles in its path -- physical ones, such as mountain ranges, but also areas of warm temperature, for example. The weakened, wavy jet stream leads to weather patterns that are more persistent. The main cause of this phenomenon is the way in which global warming is occurring more rapidly in the Arctic, lessening the temperature difference between the Artic, and the mid-latitudes.

These phenomena are also further warming the Arctic and melting more sea ice via a number of feedback loops.

Truthout asked Francis via email if this Arctic warming may also be responsible for hot, dry weather patterns that have occurred more frequently in the West over the last several years in summer, contributing to such massive wildfires.

She replied, "There are several new papers that connect Arctic warming and sea-ice loss in the Pacific sector of the Arctic with a strengthened Pacific ridge in the jet stream (large northward bulge), but the mechanism is not simple."

"It appears that there are two factors that need to happen simultaneously to create the strong, persistent ridge that has been so prevalent in recent years along the western coast of North America. One factor is the natural occurrence of a ridge in this location, owing usually to warmer-than-normal ocean temperatures along the west coast -- e.g., a pattern known as a positive Pacific Decadal Oscillation. If there is also substantial ice loss/warming in the Pacific Arctic sector, that ridge tends to be strengthened, which makes it more persistent. This favors the conditions conducive to wild fires: dry and hot."

This link is alluring, if not yet definitively proven. Truthout also spoke with Nick Bond, research meteorologist with the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean at the University of Washington. He said that the weather pattern we saw on the west coast this summer with the persistent ridge of high pressure was very unusual, but, "There's plenty of internal variability in the system -- I'm kind of reluctant, one particular weird year, to ascribe too much to that, but on the other hand, this weather we're having, is the kind of weather we expect to be more common in future decades ... in the long term maybe this is something we better get used to."

So, whether this summer's pattern of persistent high-pressure ridges and abnormally hot, dry weather is already a result of climate change enhancing natural variation, or if it's a harbinger of what's to come, these are important things to watch. Regardless, it's clear that the West, along with the planet, is warming overall, and that this is contributing to the conditions leading to larger wildfires right now. The impact of increasing wildfires on people's health and ecosystems will keep rising, unless serious and emergency measures are taken to counter climate change and its effects.

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In the US, Debtors' Prisons Are Alive and Well

Thu, 2017-10-19 00:00
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Officially, the United States ended debtors' prisons in 1833. Unofficially, as we saw in the Justice Department's report on racially biased policing in Ferguson, there is a system of fines and fees for minor crimes that often result in jail time for the poor, mostly black citizens who cannot afford to pay them.

To provide more context on the issue, I talked with Peter Edelman, Georgetown University law professor and former staffer for Robert F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton, about his new book Not a Crime to be Poor: The Criminalization of Poverty in America.

Rebecca Vallas: So, just to start off, what got you interested in writing this book?

Peter Edelman: I'd been working on poverty issues for long time, and I thought I'd kind of seen everything. But when it came out that Ferguson's budget was based on hauling everybody into court and whacking them with these huge fines and fees, it got me interested. I realized this is really something that people need to know more about than they do.

Part of what you did to research for the book was to speak with an array of lawyers who represent clients facing these problems. (In full disclosure, I'm one of those people you spoke with in my capacity as a recovering legal aid lawyer who used to represent these clients.) Would you mind sharing one of the client stories that came up in your research?

Absolutely. Vera Cheeks, who's a resident of Bainbridge, Georgia, was pulled over and ticketed for rolling through a stop sign. The judge hit her with a $135 fine -- which in this business is a relatively small one -- and ordered her to pay in full immediately. She told him she was unemployed and caring for her terminally ill father and had no money.

The judge said he would give her three months of "probation" to pay up, and he sent to her a room behind the courtroom where Cheeks says, "There was a real big lady, and there were cells on both sides of the room and there was a parade of people paying money to the lady. They were all black. It was like the twilight zone, totally mind-boggling."

The woman said Cheeks now owed $267; the fine, plus $105 for the for-profit probation people, and $27 for the Georgia Victims Emergency Fund. The woman put a paper in front of Cheeks and told her to sign it. Cheeks said she would not. The woman said, "You're refusing to sign the paper? I'm going to tell the judge and put you in jail for five days." Cheeks still refused and finally the woman demanded $50 or else Cheeks would go to jail right then. Cheeks' fiancé, who was at the courthouse, raised the money by pawning her engagement ring and a lawn implement.

She avoided jail, but Cheeks remained at risk of being locked up if she was late with even one payment.

You mentioned that this practice first drew serious national attention after the killing of Michael Brown in 2014, which cast eyes, nationally, on Ferguson. But not only was this not a new phenomenon, it has not been restricted to Ferguson. I personally saw something very similar play out in Philadelphia when I was still working in legal aid. What's the story behind the rise of fines and fees? You've put a face on the issue for us, but what's driving what has really become a national trend?

Well, you could say Grover Norquist. It's the anti-tax rebellion that goes back quite a bit in the past, certainly a couple decades or more. Municipalities just didn't get the money they needed to run their government, so they turned to going after people who were essentially defenseless because there aren't anywhere near the number of lawyers that we need. And then you get added to that the broken windows.

You're referring to broken windows policing.

Yes, absolutely. There was this belief that if we brought people in on junky little stuff, that would clean up the city. The big source of it that they use around the country is driver's license suspensions. In California, for example, 4 million people just a couple years back had lost their licenses. They didn't actually throw them in jails, like they do in many, many other places in the country. But they could take it out of their paycheck or their tax return. And so California was making billions of dollars going after these people.

And they don't take away the driver's license only for something you did when you're driving. They do it for a lot of different things.

People may be most familiar with traffic violations, but your book looks at a whole other range of types of fines and fees that states and localities are now leveeing on people, largely black and brown, largely low-income populations, some of which are particularly shocking. For example, you expose in your book that in 43 states people are actually charged for exercising their right to counsel if they need a public defender.

That shocked me. It was a terrific study done by Joe Shapiro of NPR. It doesn't compute, right? If you're low-income and charged with a crime, you're supposed to get a lawyer. And 43 states are charging money for it.

Well, you're a recovering lawyer, too. How is this not unconstitutional?

Well, it is. But it's got a combination of weasel language in the Supreme Court case, and it's also so prevalent you would need the legislature to fix it and they want the money. And to sue in each instance is just very difficult, so there it is. The judge says, "Looks like you got a nice tattoo on your arm there, so you must have the money to pay for the lawyer or pay for the fine," or, "You've got these fancy shoes and so you're able to pay."

Wrapped up in this is effectively a vicious cycle. The people that you're profiling in this book begin without having actually committed any crime, and it never ends just because they are poor and can't afford to get out from under a debt.

Well, this raises money bail, because it's a major player in all of this. So, as you said, someone who's innocent, but has allegedly done some very small-potato thing. Nonetheless, bail is set at $500 or $1,000, and they don't have it and they can't get it. So how do they get out of jail? They plead guilty even though they're not. Then they get a payment plan. And then they can't pay it.

At that point, when they haven't paid it and they have pleaded guilty, it's a whole new violation. They owe the criminal debt; they didn't pay so they're back in jail again. There's another bail deal. There's more money that they owe. It goes on and on and on.

I think it's helpful sometimes to put concrete examples to "small potatoes offenses." Things like laws against public urination. There is also a different kind of subset of what I think of as the criminalization of survival, where we criminalize the types of behaviors that people need to engage in to scrape by. This is one of the stories I shared with you for your book -- one of my own clients had sold blood platelets to a blood bank to supplement her family's income from food stamps and disability benefits, because it wasn't enough to live on. She ended up being charged with what's known in public assistance jargon as an IPV, an intentional program violation, which can itself bring criminal penalties.

Yes, it's not just the fines and fees and the money bail. There's issues with vagrancy and you can't sleep in a car and you can't sleep standing up and you can't sleep lying down. Instead of having mental health services and housing to help people, they just tell them to get out of town. There's a man in Sacramento who I talk about who had mental health issues. He was arrested 190 times.

190 times. So, we've talked about a lot, but I'm curious what shocked you the most in doing research for this book.

The one that really got me are chronic nuisance ordinances. For example, say a woman calls 911 to get protection from domestic violence. If it happens two or three times, the police have been given the power to say to the landlord, "This woman is a chronic nuisance, and you have to evict her." And it's just totally shocking.

Now the good news is the ACLU in various parts of the country has found or been found by the person who has been hurt in this way, and won lawsuits. In Pennsylvania, both the local town and the whole state changed their laws.

I mean it sounds like common sense that a domestic violence survivor shouldn't be punished for experiencing domestic violence. It is sort of astounding to think that litigation could be necessary to make that the law of the land.

It's stunning.

Your book argues powerfully that we need to be addressing these problems. But we also can't miss the fact that addressing these problems is part of a larger anti-poverty agenda.

That's the last third of the book. It is about seven places that I visited and met the people doing the work. They're organizers and they're people who help families in a variety of ways, whether it's early childhood or mental health support or the Promise Neighborhoods that President Obama started.

If we're serious, we certainly have to have de-carceration. And Lenore Anderson in California with Prop 47, they've done the best job in the country and they're the first ones to tell you that it's not going to work if people get out but they're homeless or they can't find a job. They're going to be back in. So, one way to look at it is it's not going to work if we don't actually attack poverty itself.

There's obviously a lot at stake under the current administration. There is a lot of real fear on the part of communities as well as advocates working on these issues who had been seeing a tremendous amount of bipartisan agreement and momentum up until the election when it came to criminal justice reform, and obviously now there's not a lot of hope on that front at the federal level. But it sounds like you're arguing for there being a lot to be done at the state and local level in the meantime.

The action is heavily, mostly at the state and local level. Some of the things are suing in federal court and when you get up to the Supreme Court if you don't have the five votes then that way of doing it doesn't work. But that's going and meanwhile all of these things that are happening at the local and state level and that's now for example the chief justices and chief judges of all of the state systems as a group are strongly speaking about the fines and fees and not that long ago, ten years or so, they were talking about how "what a nice thing it is that we were getting money." And then somebody said, "Wait a minute, that's not right."

This interview was conducted for Off-Kilter and aired as part of a complete episode on August 13. It was edited for length and clarity.

This interview was conducted for Off-Kilter and aired as part of a complete episode on August 13. It was edited for length and clarity.


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