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"Cheated and Lied to": How Insurers and Manufacturers Mask the Truth About High Drug Prices

Mon, 2017-12-11 00:00

(Photo: AndrijTer / Getty Images)

Frustrated by the ever-increasing price of insulin, advocates for people living with diabetes decided to educate themselves about the pricing system for pharmaceuticals in order to hold the profiteers accountable. They discovered a complex and secretive system of kickbacks and backroom negotiations that have sent drug prices skyrocketing while manufacturers and insurers deflect the blame on each other.

(Photo: AndrijTer / Getty Images)

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Julia Boss's daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2015, just before her ninth birthday. Like many people who are self-employed, Boss purchased a health insurance plan through the federal marketplace with high out-of-pocket costs. Until she reached a $6,000 deductible, Boss paid $251 for a vial of insulin and $381 for a box of cartridges for an insulin injection pen that her daughter uses at school. Boss also paid $198 for emergency glucagon kits that could save her daughter's life should her blood sugar levels suddenly drop.

Boss had no choice but to pay huge costs to keep her daughter alive. Her story echoes many that have emerged in media coverage over the past year as public outcry grows over rising prescription drug prices. Notorious cases of price gouging by the likes of Valeant PharmaceuticalsMylan and Martin Shkreli have drawn plenty of media attention and left the public fuming, but greedy pharmaceutical executives are not the sole focus of Boss's frustration. Boss says insurance companies have been lying to her -- and the rest of us -- about drug prices, and she found herself paying more than her insurance plan does for insulin before hitting her deductible.

"[I feel] cheated and lied to, yes," Boss told Truthout. "Though devastated might be the best word."

When it comes to insulin and other pharmaceuticals, drug companies are not competing to offer consumers the lowest price, they are competing to offer benefit managers the highest rebate on list prices.

In 2016, Boss switched from a "bronze" to a "silver" insurance plan with a higher premium and lower deductibles, but drug companies had also raised the price of insulin and glucagon, so she still paid hundreds of dollars out of pocket each month until hitting a $4,100 maximum. After moving her family from Washington to Oregon, Boss briefly paid a $50 copay for insulin cartridges before her daughter developed an allergy to the product and was forced to switch to another brand that was not preferred by the insurance company.

"By then I had started to notice how uncomfortable the pharmacists looked when I picked up my daughter's prescriptions, and I had started following #insulin4all activists on Twitter -- people who have been working hard for years to bring public attention to insulin prices," Boss said. A storm was certainly brewing on social media, where diabetes patients were regularly posting pictures of their receipts from the pharmacy.

"I've seen [social media] posts from people who go to pick up insulin at the pharmacy, field the pharmacist's inevitable, 'you do know the price on this?' question, and then go out to cry in the car," Boss said. "Every one of those people feels cheated, especially when they know insulin prices have increased by over 1,000 percent in 20 years."

In November 2015, Boss founded the Type 1 Diabetes Defense Foundation (T1DF), a group determined to get to the bottom of high insulin prices and hold the profiteers accountable.

Secret Drug-Pricing Deals Keep Consumers in the Dark

Like other specialty drugs, insulin prices have risen dramatically in recent years and continue to go up like clockwork. For example, Eli Lilly and Co. raised the price of Humalog, a fast-acting form of insulin that Boss's daughter used before developing an allergy to it, from $2,657 per year to $9,172 from 2009 to 2017: a 345 percent increase. Along with competing insulin manufacturer Novo Nordisk, Eli Lilly raised the price of its flagship insulin product again this year, despite government investigations into pricing schemes and class-action lawsuits accusing the companies of price-fixing.

Why are insulin prices so high? Boss says that in order to answer this question, we must examine the relationship between drug manufacturers and insurance companies. There are actually two prices set for insulin and other specialty drugs: the "list price" put on the open market by manufacturers like Eli Lilly, and the "net price" insurance plans pay after extracting fees and hefty rebates from manufacturers. T1DF estimates these backroom deals cut between 50 to 75 percent off the list price of various insulin products, based on market reports and public statements by pharmaceutical companies. That means Boss's insurance plan was paying much less for insulin than Boss paid out of pocket before meeting her deductible.

This isn't just the case for insulin. Data compiled by the IQVIA Institute of Human Data Science shows that the net prices insurance companies pay for most drugs are increasing at much slower rates than the list prices that consumers without insurance (or consumers who haven't yet met a deductible) would pay out-of-pocket at the pharmacy.

Rebates lowering the net price of a drug much lower than its original list price are negotiated by companies called "pharmacy benefit managers," which oversee prescription drug plans for employers and insurers. Benefit managers like CVS Caremark and Express Scripts control the formularies, or lists of specific brand name and generic drugs, offered to members under insurance plans, so they can demand fees and deep rebates from manufacturers in exchange for access to millions of customers.

Pharmacy benefit mangers typically profit from a percentage of the rebates they pass on to insurers, and a lack of transparency in their pricing systems has generated controversy in recent years as observers raise questions about whether savings are actually passed on to patients that need them. The federal government and several states have launched investigations into deals struck between manufacturers and pharmacy benefit managers.

So, when it comes to insulin and other pharmaceuticals, drug companies are not competing to offer consumers the lowest price, according to TIDF. Instead, they are competing to offer benefit managers the highest rebate on list prices. The higher drug companies set their list prices, the higher the rebate they can offer benefit managers. This feedback loop explains why the price of insulin keeps going up even though the drug has been around for decades.

trio of lawsuits filed by T1DF earlier this year goes even further, alleging that manufacturers and pharmacy benefits managers acting on behalf of insurers have illegally conspired to use this "kickback scheme" to inflate the price of insulin, blood sugar test strips and emergency glucagon kits under secret agreements in order to maximize profits on both sides. Patients with high deductibles and copays are gouged as a result. A separate lawsuit alleging the insulin manufacturer Novo Nordisk misled investors about secret rebate deals with pharmacy benefit managers makes similar claims.

How Insurance Companies Mislead Their Customers

Drug manufacturers paid about $179 billion in rebates in 2016, with 30 percent going to government programs like Medicare and 50 percent used to place drugs on insurance formularies, according to analysts at Credit Suisse. Analysts estimate about 90 percent of the rebates secured for insurers by pharmacy benefit managers are "recycled" back into the system in order to reduce insurance premiums. However, the amount that actually trickles down to consumers is currently up for debate. Insurers often to use high list prices to calculate pharmacy benefits rather than the lower net prices secured with rebates. Meanwhile, the rebating system is pushing list prices of specialty drugs like insulin higher and higher.

Insurance plans with low copays and deductibles shield many people from ever-increasing drug prices, but people with no insurance or plans with high out-of-pocket costs like Julia Boss face excruciating prices when they go to the pharmacy. In fact, T1DF claims this system leaves some people living with diabetes and other chronic conditions paying more for drugs than insurance companies do -- even if they have insurance. Alex Azar, a former Eli Lilly executive and President's Trump's latest nominee for health secretary, admitted as much in a speech at the conservative Manhattan Institute last year.

Boss says insurance companies get away with this because price negotiations between manufacturers, benefit managers and insurers are done in secret, and insurance plans do not disclose the post-rebate "net price" they actually pay for drugs to their customers. Instead, when patients check their insurance drug benefits, they see drug prices that are much closer to the original list price that manufacturers start with before the backroom negotiations and rebates bring the net price down.

"In the current system, insurers are misleading all their customers, even those who don't pay based on list price," Boss says.

Under this system, Boss explains, both consumers with great insurance (low deductibles and copays) and those with barebones coverage see a higher drug price than their insurer actually pays when they check their benefits. Here's how Boss put it in an email to Truthout. Remember, the "list price" is the original cost of a drug set by manufacturers, and "net price" is the price insurers actually pay after secret rebates:

Imagine what would happen if insurers instead reported net cost to plan in that column (that's possibly $70 or less for a 10 ml vial of analog insulin with list price $270, based on current rebating estimates). The marketing executive would know her insulin prices aren't breaking the employer's bank, and would keep that in mind when she's asking for a raise. The Affordable Care Act-insured freelancer who's paying $270 for every vial of insulin that keeps her child alive would ask, "what in the world is happening to the other $200?" And the landscaping worker with no health insurance would ask why he's paying a $300 cash price for a life-saving medicine that costs insurers only $70.

This is particularly harmful for people with diabetes, and not just because some patients cannot afford drugs they need to survive. Under this system, it's easy for people to blame their co-workers with chronic conditions for driving up insurance prices for everyone else on an employer's plan, when in fact drug prices have been inflated by a secret system of kickbacks negotiated behind closed doors by wealthy corporations. This has also allowed conservatives to blame rising premiums under the Affordable Care Act on the same people who have been devastated by discriminatory drug pricing, according to T1DF.

Meanwhile, when people living with diabetes and other chronic illnesses cannot afford the medicines that keep them healthy, they are more likely to end up in the hospital with severe complications, driving up health care prices and premiums for everyone else.

The sheer opacity of the drug-pricing system allows all the players to deflect blame onto each other while protecting their individual profit margins. Pharmaceutical companies have received the most heat from lawmakers and the media, but they say they need to set high prices to pay for rebates negotiated by pharmacy benefit managers on behalf of insurance companies. Pharmacy benefit managers claim they save consumers billions, but last week the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry's main lobbying group released a report suggesting that insurance companies are not passing these savings on to their customers. Rebates and discounts have grown over the past decade, but workers with employer-sponsored coverage have seen out-of-pocket spending on deductibles and coinsurance rise by 230 percent and 89 percent, respectively.

When Truthout asked insurance industry group America's Health Insurance Plans about the report, spokeswoman Cathryn Donaldson pointed a finger back at manufacturers.

"The bottom line is, the original list price of a drug -- which for many drugs is set not by the market, but solely determined by the drug company -- drives the entire pricing process," Donaldson said. "And if the original list price is high, the final cost that a consumer pays will be high. It is that simple: The problem is the price."

The focus on rebates, Donaldson said, is a "deliberate tactic" to obscure more serious issues around transparency and lack of competition among drug companies. However, she did not address questions about the insurance industry's practice of reporting those high list prices to their own customers, even when insurers are not paying them.

Of course, the pricing scheme that drives up the price of insulin and other drugs is not the only reason why people in the United States pay some of the highest drug prices in the world. Pharmaceutical companies are always looking for ways to extend the life of their patents, and laws barring the re-importation of drugs prevent US customers from finding cheaper options in neighboring countries. Expect all of these issues -- including secret rebate negotiations -- to come up this week when the House Energy and Commerce Committee calls insurers, manufacturers and benefit managers into a hearing examining the drug supply chain. An emerging debate over proposed reforms aimed at increasing transparency in Medicare's drug program is also expected to thrust the issue into the limelight.

If policymakers do their homework, it may only be a matter of time before consumers learn the truth about high drug prices. 

Amid Worst Winter Wildfires in California History, Farmworkers Are Laboring in Hazardous Air

Mon, 2017-12-11 00:00

In California, drought-fueled wildfires raged toward Southern California's coastal cities over the weekend. The fires have scorched some 230,000 acres of land and forced nearly 200,000 people to evacuate. At least one woman has died so far. The wildfires are already the fifth largest on record in California history. Climate experts say the intensity of the winter blazes is linked to climate change. Authorities have warned residents to stay inside because of the dangerous air quality caused by smoke and carcinogenic ash from the fires. But a number of farms have stayed open, sparking concerns that farmworkers are laboring in hazardous conditions without proper equipment. Last week, volunteers handing out free protective masks to farmworkers say they were kicked off some farms, despite the fact that the pickers were asking for the safety equipment. For more, we speak with Lucas Zucker, who was evacuated last week due to the wildfires. Zucker is the policy and communications director for CAUSE -- Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy -- and he helped distribute respirator masks to farmworkers who had to continue working despite the hazardous air quality conditions. We also speak with Democratic California State Assemblymember Monique Limón, who represents Santa Barbara and Ventura County.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I'm Amy Goodman, as we turn to California, where drought-fueled wildfires raged toward Southern California's coastal cities over the weekend, the fires scorching 230,000 acres of land, forcing nearly 200,000 people to evacuate. At least one woman has died so far. The wildfire is the fifth largest on record so far in California history, the largest ever recorded in December. Climate experts say the intensity of the winter blazes is linked to climate change.

Authorities have warned residents to stay inside because of the dangerous air quality caused by smoke and carcinogenic ash from the fires. But a number of farms have stayed open, sparking concerns farmworkers are laboring in hazardous conditions without proper equipment. Last week, volunteers handing out free protective masks to farmworkers say they were kicked off some farms, despite the fact the pickers were asking for the safety equipment.

For more, we go now to Southern California, where we're joined by two guests. Via Democracy Now! video stream, Lucas Zucker, joining us from Ventura in Southern California, evacuated last week due to the wildfires. He's policy and communications director for CAUSE -- Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy -- helped distribute respirator masks to farmworkers who had to continue working despite the hazardous air quality conditions. By phone, we're joined by Democratic California State Assemblymember Monique Limón, who represents Santa Barbara and Ventura County.

State Assemblymember Limón, can you tell us what you are calling for right now?

ASSEMBLY MEMBER MONIQUE LIMÓN: So, in terms -- I mean, we have two areas where we are really focusing on: the fire itself, but also, in terms of the farmworkers, you know, we've had the ability to talk to Cal/OSHA, which is our department of employment and safety. We've also had the ability to talk with the Growers Association, and that has been particularly useful in making sure that we ensure that all of the farmers have information about how to keep workers safe during these conditions.

This is an emergency situation. And what concerns us is that in both Santa Barbara and Ventura County, not only have we had bad air quality, but the system in place to measure air quality has actually deemed it hazardous in certain parts of these counties. And so, it's been a very -- it's been very much part of our messaging to our entire community that air quality is so bad that it's considered hazardous in some areas, bad in others, and that we've needed to -- we've asked that people take care of their health. And so, when you have anyone who is working outside with conditions as the ones we have now --

AMY GOODMAN: Let me bring Lucas Zucker into this in the last 20 seconds. What have you found among the farmworkers? Fifteen seconds before end of show.

LUCAS ZUCKER: Sure, well, we found thousands of farmworkers out in the fields of Ventura County without the protective masks that they need. We've been mobilizing folks in the community out to talk to them. But, you know, workers are really faced with this horrific choice of either giving up the income they desperately need in a time like this or be out in conditions that are endangering their health and safety.

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to leave it there, but we're going to do Part 2, post it at Thank you so much, State Assemblymember Monique Limón and Lucas Zucker of CAUSE.

On Eve of Alabama Senate Election, a Look at Roy Moore's Racism, Homophobia and Religious Fanaticism

Mon, 2017-12-11 00:00

Democrat Doug Jones and Republican Roy Moore are locked in a tight and increasingly controversial race to fill the Alabama Senate seat left vacant by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The election is on Tuesday. A Democrat hasn't won a US Senate race in Alabama for 20 years. Polling shows the two candidates are neck and neck, despite Moore being accused by at least nine women of sexually harassing or assaulting them when they were teenagers. President Donald Trump has repeatedly endorsed Roy Moore, including on Friday, when he held a rally in Pensacola, Florida, which is 20 miles from the Alabama border and in the same media market as Mobile, Alabama. Roy Moore has had a long and highly controversial political career in Alabama that's been marked by racism, homophobia, Islamophobia and religious fanaticism. Over the weekend, the Doug Jones campaign orchestrated a massive get-out-the-vote effort, particularly targeting African-American voters. A number of prominent African-American politicians, including New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, Alabama Congressmember Terri Sewell and former Massachusetts Democratic Governor Deval Patrick, all campaigned for Jones over the weekend. For more, we speak with Peter Montgomery, senior fellow at People for the American Way. His most recent piece is headlined "There's More Than One Roy Moore Scandal."


AMY GOODMAN: We begin today's show in Alabama, where Democrat Doug Jones and Republican Roy Moore are locked in a tight and increasingly controversial race to fill the Alabama Senate seat left vacant by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The election is Tuesday. A Democrat hasn't won a US Senate race in Alabama for 20 years.

Polling shows the two candidates are neck and neck, despite Moore being accused by at least nine women of sexually harassing or assaulting them when they were teenagers. One of the women says Moore removed her shirt and pants, then touched her over her bra and underwear, when she was 14 years old. She says she recalls thinking, "I wanted it over with. I wanted out. Please just get this over with. Whatever this is, just get it over."

President Trump has repeatedly endorsed the accused child molester Roy Moore, including on Friday, when he held a rally in Pensacola, Florida, which is 20 miles from the Alabama border and in the same media market as Mobile, Alabama.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We want jobs, jobs, jobs. So get out and vote for Roy Moore. Do it. Do it.

AMY GOODMAN: That's President Trump speaking Friday. He has also recorded a robocall endorsing Roy Moore.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Hi. This is President Donald Trump, and I need Alabama to go vote for Roy Moore. It is so important. We're already making America great again. I'm going to make America safer and stronger and better than ever before. But we need that seat. We need Roy voting for us.

AMY GOODMAN: Roy Moore has had a long and highly controversial political career in Alabama that's been marked by racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, religious fanaticism. Judge Moore was twice ousted as Alabama's chief justice, first in 2003 for refusing to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building. After being re-elected, he was again ousted in 2016, for ordering his judges to defy the US Supreme Court's ruling legalizing marriage equality. He was a proponent of Trump's racist and discredited "birther" theory about President Obama. He's compared homosexuality to bestiality. He said Minnesota Congressmember Keith Ellison shouldn't have been allowed to be sworn into Congress using a Qur'an, which he compared to Mein Kampf.

In 2011, Roy Moore proposed eliminating all amendments after the 10th, which includes amendments prohibiting slavery and the amendments giving women and African Americans the right to vote. In September, when asked at a campaign rally when he thought America was last great, Moore said, quote, "I think it was great at the time when families were united -- even though we had slavery -- they cared for one another. … Our families were strong, our country had a direction."

Over the weekend, the Doug Jones campaign orchestrated a massive get-out-the-vote effort, particularly targeting African-American voters. A number of prominent African-American politicians, including New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, Alabama Congressmember Terri Sewell, former Massachusetts Democratic Governor Deval Patrick, all campaigned for Jones across the state of Alabama. Jones' campaign ads are also highlighting his history as a US attorney in the 1990s, when he prosecuted the Ku Klux Klan, the members who bombed 16th [Street] Baptist Church in Birmingham, killing four young girls.

On Sunday, Alabama Republican Senator Richard Shelby said he could not vote for his fellow Republican, Roy Moore.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: I couldn't vote for Roy Moore. I didn't vote for Roy Moore. … I understand where the president is coming from. I understand we would like to retain that seat in the US Senate. But I tell you what, I -- there's a time, it's -- we call it a tipping point. And I think so many accusations, so many cuts, so many drip, drip, drip, when it got to the 14-year-old's story, that was enough for me. I said, "I can't vote for Roy Moore."

AMY GOODMAN: That was Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, a Republican.

For more, we go to Washington, DC, where we're joined by Peter Montgomery, senior fellow at People for the American Way, his most recent piece headlined "There's More Than One Roy Moore Scandal."

Talk about Roy Moore, Peter Montgomery. You also wrote the piece, "Roy Moore: A History of Bigotry, Extremism and Contempt for the Rule of Law." But talk about the scandals around the former Alabama judge.

PETER MONTGOMERY: Well, your introduction did a great job outlining some of them. I think it's scandalous that we have the Republican Party and a president supporting someone for the Senate whose whole career has demonstrated such contempt for core constitutional principles and the rule of law. And that's before you consider the allegations that are made by a number of women about him preying on and molesting teenage girls. Roy Moore has a long record of violating court orders when he disagrees with them and when he thinks they violate his biblical worldview.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, you've done a comprehensive look at his history. Go back to the beginning and talk about what you know about Roy Moore.

PETER MONTGOMERY: Well, Roy Moore went to law school after he had gone to West Point and served in Vietnam. And after he got out of law school, he became an assistant district attorney, which is when he has allegedly involved in preying on teenage girls. And after that, he became a state judge in Etowah County, in the northeastern part of the state. And that's when he had his first big controversy over his misuse of the court to promote his religious beliefs. He hung a handmade plaque of the Ten Commandments in his courtroom, and he was beginning sessions with jurors with Christian prayers. And he was very explicit about the fact that others could join him in prayer, but only if they were Christians, because he wouldn't allow Muslims or Buddhists, because they don't worship the right god. And so there was a lot of controversy over that at the time. This is the late 1990s. And religious right leaders from around the country came and rallied around him. And he sort of used that at his -- as the launching point of his political career and his first run for chief justice, which he was elected in 2000.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about being removed from the bench, in both cases, and what that means for a chief justice to be removed from the Alabama bench.

PETER MONTGOMERY: Obviously, that's something very extraordinary. Here you have someone who is elected by the voters, who is the top judge in the state Supreme Court, and his fellow judges took steps to remove him for violating his professional responsibilities. The first time, he had, again, played on his support for the Ten Commandments and his desire to use the courts to promote his religious beliefs and his religious worldview. He had this huge Ten Commandments monument carved out of granite and brought into the state courthouse that he presided over. And when a federal -- when a court ordered him to remove that, he refused. And so, for defying the court order, he was removed by his fellow judges. And it's interesting that Moore loves to say that he is the victim of persecution by, you know, radical liberals and LGBT people, but he was removed by other state judges from Alabama, and I don't think that's a hotbed of left-wing radicalism.

Then, a decade after he was kicked out, he was elected again. And this time, he was challenged because he started to order lower judges in the state to ignore, first, in 2015, a federal judge, who ruled in favor of marriage equality in the state. And then, later, when the Supreme Court of the United States had the Obergefell decision, which endorsed marriage equality across the country, he again told judges that they should not follow that order. And that was crossing the line the second time. And he was suspended permanently from his job that time.

AMY GOODMAN: On the issue of homosexuality, Roy Moore has compared homosexuality to bestiality. Can you talk about President Trump's endorsement of Roy Moore? And did this surprise you, Peter Montgomery?

PETER MONTGOMERY: I'm not sure if there's anything President Trump can do anymore that surprises me. And it doesn't surprise me that he supported Roy Moore, because Roy Moore has praised President Trump, has positioned himself as someone who wants to help President Trump make America great again. And Trump wants his vote in the Senate. I do think that it's scandalous that the Republican Party has gone along with Trump and supported someone who is as extreme as Roy Moore is. And I think they really need to be held accountable for it.

On the issue of gay rights and LGBT people, Moore is utterly opposed to the core constitutional principle of equality under the law. And it's not just about opposition to gay marriage for him. He wants to make homosexuality criminal. He wants to go back to the days when being gay was, per se, a criminal act. And he has backed up that kind of thinking as a judge. He supported, in 2002, taking a child away from a woman because she was a lesbian. And he said that anybody who participates in such an inherently evil act as homosexuality is inherently an unfit parent. And that's pretty terrifying.

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this year, Roy Moore called for the removal of the judge who struck down Trump's ban on transgender people in the military, saying her decision was completely "ridiculous" and "a clear example of judicial activism." Moore's statement said, "Judge Kollar-Kotelly should be impeached by the House of Representatives for unlawful usurpation of power … Not only has she placed herself above the Constitution … but she has also interfered with the powers of the President as Commander in Chief of the armed forces."

PETER MONTGOMERY: Well, and that really takes us to another core constitutional principle, which is judicial independence and the rule of law. And Moore has no respect for judges who disagree with him. Obviously, the example you just cited is one. He also spoke at a religious right political conference earlier this year that I went to to hear him speak. And he said there that the Supreme Court justices who supported and ruled in favor of marriage equality should be impeached. And he vowed specifically that when he gets to the Senate, he will use his power as a senator to stop what he called the submission to the federal judiciary by the legislative branch. So, he clearly is no supporter of judicial independence, which is something that Americans have relied on to defend and uphold our rights.

AMY GOODMAN: In 2011, Roy Moore proposed eliminating all amendments after the 10th Amendment, which includes the amendments prohibiting slavery, the amendments giving women and African Americans the right to vote. He was speaking on a radio show.

AROOSTOOK WATCHMEN HOST: Actually, I would like to see an amendment that says all amendments after 10, all of --

ROY MOORE: Yes, that would eliminate many problems. You know, people don't understand how some of these amendments have completely tried to wreck the form of government that our forefathers intended.

AMY GOODMAN: Peter Montgomery, can you talk about this, eliminating everything after the 10th Amendment? And then, when asked by the only black member of an audience recently about when was America great -- you know, referring to "make America great again" -- he refers to slavery time.

PETER MONTGOMERY: Yeah, this really gets to a big-picture worldview on the fringes of the conservative movement that Roy Moore is deeply intertwined with, you know, this nostalgia for a constitutional order that is utterly grounded in states' rights, where the federal government has radically limited powers to interfere with what the states do and to protect individual civil rights. And Roy Moore is very tied up in that. It's connected to a radical Christian Reconstructionist theology that says the federal government has no role in education or care for the poor or feeding the hungry, that those are all jobs that God has reserved for the family and the church. So, it's really disturbing to hear Moore talk like that. But when you realize the worldview that he's coming from and that he has made his -- has been made very clear during his career that he embraces, it's not that surprising.

AMY GOODMAN: Roy Moore said, "I'm going to tell you about the only thing I know that the Islamic faith has done in this country is 9/11." He also said that the Qur'an -- Keith Ellison, the first Muslim member of Congress, should not be able to be sworn in on his holy book, on the Qur'an, comparing it to Mein Kampf.

PETER MONTGOMERY: Yeah, I think the whole episode with Keith Ellison should, in itself -- even if you ignore all the other things we've just talked about, all the other radicalism and extremism, the Keith Ellison episode itself should make him unfit and should, you know, shame every Republican who is now endorsing him. Here we had Keith Ellison, who was elected to serve in the Congress, and as a Muslim, he chose for his ceremonial swearing-in to use the Qur'an, the way most members of Congress, when they come in, they do a ceremonial swearing-in using the Bible. And, you know, Roy Moore just used that as an opportunity to display his raw religious bigotry and his belief that Christians in America are the real Americans. And he said that Congress should refuse to seat Moore -- I mean, should refuse to seat Keith Ellison, because he said that it's impossible for a Muslim to honestly swear an oath to uphold the Constitution. And that's -- it's so offensive, that I think, really, that, in itself, should be disqualifying.

AMY GOODMAN: Peter Montgomery, right now the race is too close to call. At Democracy Now!, we don't really rely on polls very much before, you know, the day of the election. Can you talk about the strategy of Doug Jones this weekend bringing in top African-American leaders to push hard to get the African-American vote out? It might simply be vote count being up, the issue in Alabama of voting polls being cut down under voter laws that have been increasingly restrictive.

PETER MONTGOMERY: Well, we certainly see that that's been one of the big-picture strategies from the Republican Party in recent years, particularly once the conservatives on the US Supreme Court gutted key provisions of the Voting Rights Act. So, voter suppression and laws that make it harder to vote are a huge concern. So I think that kind of concerted get out the vote and mobilizing is really important. And it's great that the party and the Doug Jones campaign was doing that.

I know Doug Jones has also been trying to build on the sentiments that were expressed by Richard Shelby in your introduction, among the Republicans who do not feel comfortable being represented by Roy Moore. And Doug Jones has run some ads featuring those Republicans to try to, I think, encourage Republicans who might cross over. So I think it's important that he's doing both those things, that he's appealing to Republicans who just can't go there with Roy Moore, but he's also really working hard to get out the Democratic vote, because that's really the only way Doug Jones has a chance to win.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, there was a Vice focus group. Frank Luntz interviewed some of Moore's supporters. One said, "Forty years ago in Alabama, there was a lot of mamas and daddies that would be thrilled that their 14-year-old was getting hit on by a district attorney." Another voter said the women's reputations were questionable at the time. Peter Montgomery, the allegations of sexual abuse and that Roy Moore is an accused pedophile?

PETER MONTGOMERY: Yeah, the focus group was really disturbing, for a number of reasons. And, you know, the one you mentioned, about someone saying, "Well, back then, it would have been OK," it's really stunning. You know, there's some really good work that's been done by religion scholars, including Julie Ingersoll, who's reported on the fact that within certain parts of the conservative Christian movement that focus on biblical patriarchy and female submission to men, this idea of older men marrying teenage girls is part of that subculture. You know, Phil Robertson from "Duck Dynasty," who's really become this big religious right and Republican Party activist, you know, he's basically said that girls should get married at 15 or 16, and that, you know, if they're young enough, then guys can be sure that they're pure for them and ready for them to sort of be handed over from their father to their new husband. So, that is a disturbing strain of conservative Christian subculture that Roy Moore is connected to.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you, Peter Montgomery, for joining us, senior fellow at People for the American Way. We will link to your pieces, the one, "There's More Than One Roy Moore Scandal," and your report on "Roy Moore: A History of Bigotry, Extremism and Contempt for the Rule of Law." The accused pedophile will run in a special election on Tuesday against Doug Jones for the US Senate seat that was vacated by Jeff Sessions, who became President Trump's attorney general. Of course, we'll be reporting on that tomorrow. And Richard Shelby -- the latest news -- the Alabama Republican senator, coming out against Roy Moore, saying he could not support him. President Trump, on the other hand, has made a robocall supporting Roy Moore, held a rally supporting Roy Moore in the Mobile, Alabama, media market this weekend, in Pensacola, Florida, supporting the accused pedophile.

This is Democracy Now! We'll be back in a minute in Jackson, Mississippi, where President Trump went to dedicate the opening of two new civil rights museums. Our guests didn't go to all the ceremonies, protesting President Trump's presence. But the museums themselves are quite remarkable, and we'll talk about civil rights history. Stay with us.

Mick Mulvaney and the Bad Actors Club

Mon, 2017-12-11 00:00

Congressman Mick Mulvaney speaks to supporters of Sen. Rand Paul at a meet and greet in Rock Hill, South Carolina, on September 23, 2015. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

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Most people have probably heard about Mick Mulvaney's seizure of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) as Donald Trump's appointed "acting director." They probably don't realize quite how outrageous this move is.

First, it is worth noting that Mulvaney openly holds the CFPB in contempt. When he was still in the House of Representatives, he referred to it as a "joke." Mulvaney has made it clear that he would be happier if the CFPB did not exist. Appointing him as acting director is a bit like selecting a hardcore atheist as the next pope.

It is also worth placing the CFPB in a larger economic context. The CFPB's general purpose is to protect people who are less financially sophisticated from predation by the financial industry. While it does perform this purpose, it also is working to make the financial industry more efficient, insofar as it succeeds in this effort.

Remember, the economic purpose of the financial industry is allocate credit to those who need it. In principle, we want to use as few resources as possible in this process. If we only need 1 million people rather than 2 million people to issue and service loans and perform other financial operations, then we have freed up a million people to work in health care, education or other productive sectors of the economy.

If financial corporations think they can make lots of money by writing deceptive contracts and abusive practices towards their customers, we know they will devote lots of resources to writing deceptive contracts and engaging in abusive practices. If the CFPB can shut down this avenue for making profits, then the people working in the financial sector will actually be focused on providing customers a service, rather than ripping them off. This is a gain to the economy as a whole.

Trump's decision to appoint Mulvaney was obviously intended to neuter the CFPB and reopen the door to all sorts of predatory practices. In carrying through this appointment, Trump was not only circumventing the order of succession laid out in the law creating the CFPB, he was also undermining the explicit intention of Congress for the CFPB to be an independent bureau.

No one disputes that President Trump has the right to appoint the replacement for outgoing director Richard Cordray. However the law is written so that he would have to nominate someone who would go through the Senate approval process. This means that Trump's candidate would have to make various disclosures and undergo questioning by members of the Senate.

Furthermore, once the nominee was approved by the Senate, he or she could only be removed for cause. Trump would not have the authority to remove his pick to the head the Bureau simply because he disapproved of their decisions in this capacity.

By contrast, Mulvaney has made no disclosures and was not subject to any questions from the Senate. He also has no independence from President Trump. He can be removed any day of the week for any reason. In fact, since Mulvaney's day job is running the Office of Management and Budget, where he also serves at the will of the president, he risks being fired from two jobs if he does anything that gets Donald Trump angry.

The use of an acting director, in this case, is not an accident. Cordray's plans to leave the CFPB before his term ends next summer were widely reported in the media. There is no reason that Trump could not have had a successor already selected whose name could be given to the Senate as soon as Cordray formally announced his resignation. Trump chose to go the Mulvaney acting director route precisely to circumvent this process.

Unfortunately, this is not the only case where Trump has appointed "acting" officials to head nominally independent agencies, thereby avoiding the constitutional requirement for the Senate to give its "advice and consent." Keith Norieka, a person who had a career in the financial industry, with no regulatory experience, served as acting comptroller of the currency for six months, just recently being replaced by Trump's nominee for this position.

Perhaps even more disconcerting is Trump's selection of David Kautter as acting director of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) when the term of the previous director ended November 13. Here also, there is no excuse for not having a nominee to submit to the Senate. The expiration of the IRS director's term is set in law, so Trump's team knew about this opening the day he was elected.

As is the case with Norieka, Kautter has no experience in enforcement. His background was in running tax avoidance scams at one of the country's largest accounting firms. And, this acting director of an ostensibly independent agency, like the other acting agency heads, can be fired by Trump any day of the week for any reason.

Congress could put a stop to this abuse of the authority to appoint "acting" heads of agencies and departments. There is not much ambiguity about the words "advice and consent," and there is neither with these and other acting appointees. But the Republicans in Congress don't really care much about the Constitution because right now, rich people need tax cuts.

As Mueller Closes in on Trump, the Right Pushes Back: Will He Be Fired?

Mon, 2017-12-11 00:00

Special Counsel Robert Mueller arrives at the US Capitol for closed meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, June 21, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images)

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., appeared on CNN on Sunday and laid out the state of the investigation into Russian collusion with the Trump campaign in stark, simple terms:

Here is what we know:

The Russians offered help.
The Campaign accepted help.
The Russians gave help.
The President made full use of that help.

That's pretty damning.

— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) December 10, 2017

It is. I would also add, as I wrote last week, that numerous members of the Trump transition team apparently knew that Michael Flynn told the Russian ambassador to tell his government not to react to the sanctions the Obama administration had just imposed upon them. That's damning too. The Russians were essentially told, "Don't worry, we'll make sure you aren't punished for helping us win the presidency."

Whether laws were broken, beyond the charges filed so far against four top Trump advisers, we don't yet know. But it's clear that special counsel Robert Mueller is pursuing leads in a number of directions, from possible financial crimes to obstruction of justice to conspiracy. With former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleading guilty to lying and agreeing to cooperate, this investigation has moved beyond the campaign to the transition and the White House. It's very serious.

And as anyone could have predicted, it was inevitable that the president's supporters in the media and the Republican Party would start to push back and try to delegitimize the investigation by attacking Mueller. This is the usual pattern in these presidential scandals.

Everyone in politics knows about the "Saturday Night Massacre" of 1973, when Richard Nixon demanded that Attorney General Elliot Richardson fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox, after the US Court of Appeals overruled the president's claim of executive privilege. Richardson refused and resigned, as did his deputy, William Ruckelshaus. It was left to Solicitor General Robert Bork, third in line at the Department of Justice, to do the deed. Ten months later Nixon was forced to resign in the face of certain impeachment. His successor, Gerald Ford, pardoned him shortly thereafter.

In the Iran-Contra scandal, the Republicans went after independent counsel Lawrence Walsh with everything they had, even granting immunity to the Reagan administration's henchman, Lt. Col. Oliver North, so he could arrogantly testify before the whole  country that he was proud to have broken the law on behalf of the United States of America. That investigation was finally ended when President George H.W. Bush preemptively pardoned former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and five other government officials on Christmas Eve 1992, as Bush was on his way out the door.

Democrats mercilessly battered conservative Republican judge Ken Starr, who was appointed independent counsel in the Whitewater investigation when his predecessor failed to turn up any crimes. This was a key to the Democrats' success in maintaining public opinion during the Lewinsky sex scandal, because it seemed that Starr had gone far afield from his original mandate to investigate an Arkansas real estate transaction from the 1980s.

So now we have Mueller, a former US attorney and the longest-serving FBI director after J. Edgar Hoover, investigating President Trump and the 2016 election. If it is true that Trump coordinated with the Russian government during the election and then obstructed justice to cover it up, it is the most serious presidential scandal in American history. Nixon horrifically abused his power, the Reagan administration defied the will of Congress and Bill Clinton lied about an extramarital affair.  This is of a different magnitude altogether.

The Republicans are obviously aware of the danger and are frantically circling the wagons. They spent months throwing various ideas at the wall, including the obscure (and largely fictitious) Uranium One scandal and other Clinton Foundation matters, in an attempt to force Mueller to resign on the grounds that he was FBI director at the time. Now they've finally settled on a grand unifying theory: the Justice Department, the FBI and the special counsel's office are all hopelessly corrupt and compromised due to their fealty to Hillary Clinton and hostility to Trump.

The theory goes like this: James Comey and his men covered up Hillary Clinton's crimes and Mueller and his team are now trying to railroad Trump. This thesis is based on the fact that an FBI agent who was involved in both cases sent some texts to his girlfriend which were allegedly anti-Trump. Muller fired him last summer and he was demoted to the bureau's human resources department.

Trump's most ardent media advocate, Sean Hannity, came out with guns blazing last week. He condemned Mueller's "partisan, extremely biased, hyper-partisan attack team" as "an utter disgrace." He said "they now pose a direct threat to you, the American people, and our American republic."

Fox legal analyst Gregg Jarrett said "I think we now know that the Mueller investigation is illegitimate and corrupt. And Mueller has been using the FBI as a political weapon. And the FBI has become America's secret police. Secret surveillance, wiretapping, intimidation, harassment and threats. It's like the old KGB that comes for you in the dark of the night banging through your door."

Here is Fox News' Jeanine Pirro over the weekend:

.@JudgeJeanine: "There have been times in our history where corruption and lawlessness were so pervasive, that examples had to be made. This is one of those times."

— Fox News (@FoxNews) December 10, 2017

Meanwhile, Trump's allies in Congress are also ratcheting up the crazy:

Was there collusion between DOJ and Fusion GPS to use Democratic funded dossier for political and legal purposes?

We need to know the answer to those questions.

— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) December 8, 2017

I will be challenging Rs and Ds on Senate Judiciary Committee to support a Special Counsel to investigate ALL THINGS 2016 -- not just Trump and Russia.

— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) December 8, 2017

People wonder why Graham has suddenly become such an obsequious Trump lapdog. My suspicion is that Graham thinks he can distract Trump from doing something that will totally destroy his presidency with Clinton bait and unctuous flattery. It won't work, of course.

Trump's allies in the House have escalated their attacks as well, notably Rep. Matt Gaetz and Rep. Ron DeSantis, a pair of Florida Republicans Trump huddled with aboard Air Force One on his way to the Roy Moore rally in Pensacola last Friday night. DeSantis has been pushing legislation to cut off Mueller's funding and Gaetz has said that America is "at risk of a coup" from Mueller, and has introduced a resolution calling for him to be fired.

All of this, from the right-wing media to the GOP Congress, is designed to push Trump to fire Mueller -- and if that fails to discredit Mueller's findings among their followers, as Paul Waldman argues here. But considering the history of partisan attacks on special prosecutors and independent counsels, this can hardly come as a surprise to Mueller and his team. Mueller has been in high levels of government for many years; he's not a political naif. He undoubtedly knew this was coming.

We don't know whether or not Mueller has laid enough landmines to protect his investigation, although there are some indications that he's made the effort. But if Trump's rhetoric on Friday night is any indication, when he called the system "rigged" and "sick," we may be about to find out.

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Trump Takes a Stand on Corruption -- by Withdrawing the US From Anti-Corruption Pact

Mon, 2017-12-11 00:00
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The degree of corruption displayed by the Trump administration is on a scale that is hard to keep track of, and hits so close to home that we often forget about the wider global implications of having an incompetent, at best, and more likely a traitorous "president." As many of us have realized since Day 1, the antics of the Distractor-in-Chief have served as excellent cover for his real agenda: covertly implementing pro-corporate policies.

In this vein, another international issue that flew under the radar recently was the withdrawal of the US last month from the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) as an implementing country. Through President Barack Obama, the US joined the "Anti-Corruption Pact," as it has been called, in 2011.

Now, Trump's hasty decision to pull out sends an unmistakable signal: corruption is tolerated if it helps line corporate pockets. According to Trump and lots of Republicans, anything regulating business is bad, even transparency. But the reality is that removing the US from EITI benefits no one.

Launched in 2002 by then UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, EITI helps address the systemic corruption in countries whose GDP relies primarily on resource extraction. More than 52 countries across the world have joined the pact, which imposes international standards on business transparency so as to hinder illicit payments such as bribes or other forms of corruption. The basic idea of the Anti-Corruption Pact is simple: if extractive firms and corporations are forced to publicly disclose their contributions to government, then citizens can hold them accountable. The agreement is designed to help countries avoid the perils of the so-called "resource curse" often faced by undeveloped, resource-rich nations.

It's little surprise that the countries that have benefited from the EITI regulations are among the poorest and most corrupt in the world, for example, Ghana and Azerbaijan.

The Chairman of the initiative, Fredrik Reinfeldt, responded to Trump's decision in a prepared statement, saying, "This is a disappointing, backwards step. The EITI is making important gains in global efforts to address corruption and illicit financial flows." Some have interpreted the US withdrawal from the EITI as part of the country's indiscriminate and large-scale gutting of regulations, treaties and international agreements. But there is also concern that the Trump administration is giving extractive industries too much control over their own regulations.

In a resignation letter written by a Department of Interior official-turned-whistleblower, Joel Clement stated: "Secretary Zinke: It is well known that you, Secretary David Burnhardt, and President Trump are shackled to special interests such as oil, gas, and mining." In light of the recent news, the fact that Interior Secretary Zinke oversees the Department of Natural Resources Revenue is indeed troubling.

During his time in Congress, Zinke, then a representative from Montana, consistently voted and legislated in favor of extractive industries. Watchdog groups have raised concerns about contributions Zinke received from those industries, totaling at least $345,000 since 2003. Other members of the Trump administration also have ties to extraction industries, notably Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil.

It's no secret that the "fox guarding the henhouse" approach has typified the Trump administration's approach to governance from the start. And given Trump's long history of favoring Big Oil and non-renewable resources, protecting oil companies from having to declare foreign payments on their taxes may now be at the root of the US's withdrawal from the EITI.

The Department of Natural Resources Extraction contends that the EITI didn't take account of the complex US legal framework, explaining that laws such as the Trade Secrets Act prevent the US from participating. The department put forward industry research -- which was itself funded by the extractive industry -- arguing that there is no clear relationship between "good governance" and the EITI.

However, even this research has acknowledged that the pact may ultimately prove effective in some countries. Meanwhile, other research has shown that although the EITI doesn't have a clearly positive effect on the rule of law and control of corruption, it has had a positive effect on government effectiveness, economic development and regulatory quality.

The specious argument made by Big Oil is that the EITI isn't 100 percent successful in eradicating corruption, therefore we shouldn't engage in it at all. However, none of the research shows that the EITI does any demonstrable harm or provides a justifiable reason not to participate. The real reason for US withdrawal from the EITI, it seems, is so that the extraction industry can hide its contributions to foreign governments, including bribes.

Strangely, Exxon itself last month came out in support for the EITI, saying it will voluntarily participate in the pact despite the US's withdrawal. This draws into question the real motives behind Trump's move to bring down 15 years of anti-corruption negotiations. Is it solely for corporate interests? Or perhaps it is just another example of Trump's hatred of anything Obama touched, and succeeded in accomplishing.

The decision to pull the US out of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative may not affect our everyday lives as Americans. But it destroys hope for reform in the world's darkest corners, and further damages America's credibility as an international mediator or fair player on the world stage. While the country's withdrawal from the global Anti-Corruption Pact may have slipped through the autumn news cycle, it will have repercussions on international relations for decades to come.

Henry A. Giroux on Developing a Language of Liberation for Radical Transformation

Sun, 2017-12-10 00:00

At the moment, people in the US are enduring a numbing assault from an authoritarianism brought to full fruition under Donald Trump. However, a galvanizing hope can shape a new vision and activism that will be transformative in the battle against an oppressive capitalism, says author and scholar Henry A. Giroux, who talked to Truthout about his new book, The Public in Peril.

Hundreds of University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee students protest a Trump campaign rally on their campus, January 1, 2014. Protests by young people could become illegal in the future, according to Henry A. Giroux. (Image: Joe Brusky / Flickr)

What are the longer-term trends that gave rise to the presidency of Donald Trump? What will be the national and global impacts? And what do we need to do to resist? Henry A. Giroux tackles these questions in The Public in Peril: Trump and the Menace of American Authoritarianism. "This courageous and timely book is the first and best book on Trump's neo-fascism in the making," says Cornel West. To order your copy, click here and make a tax-deductible donation to Truthout now!

Confronted with the rise of an authoritarian society affecting all institutions and individuals, there is a need for resistance based on radical transformation, says Henry A. Giroux in this interview about The Public in Peril. This resistance is embodied in mass action and a vision to achieve the hope of a life beyond capitalism.

Mark Karlin: What is the impact of domestic terrorism and authoritarianism on young people?

Henry A. Giroux: Under the authoritarian reign of Donald Trump, finance capitalism now drives politics, governance and policy in unprecedented ways and is more than willing to sacrifice the future of young people for short-term political and economic gains, regardless of the talk in the mainstream media about the need to not burden future generations with heavy tuition debt and a future of low-wage jobs. American society has declared war on its children, offering a disturbing index of a social order in the midst of a deep moral and political crisis. Too many young people today live in an era of foreclosed hope, an era in which it is difficult either to imagine a life beyond the tenets of a market-driven society or to transcend the fear that any attempt to do so can only result in a more dreadful nightmare.

Young people are not only written out of the future ... but are now considered a threat to the future.

Youth today are not only plagued by the fragility and uncertainty of the present, they are, as the late Zygmunt Bauman has argued, "the first post war generation facing the prospect of downward mobility [in which the] plight of the outcast stretches to embrace a generation as a whole." It is little wonder that "these youngsters are called Generation Zero: A generation with Zero opportunities, Zero future," and Zero expectations. Youth have become the new precariat, whose future has been sacrificed to the commands of capital and the financial elite. Moreover, as the social state is decimated, youth, especially those marginalized by race and class, are also subject to the dictates of the punishing state. Not only is their behavior being criminalized in the schools and on the streets, they are also subject to repressive forms of legislation aimed at removing crucial social provisions. At the same time, undocumented immigrant youth called Dreamers, brought to the United States by their parents as children, are now being threatened by legislation designed to expel them from the United States, the only home they have known since early childhood.

Henry A. Giroux. (Photo: Courtesy of the author)

Beyond exposing the moral depravity of a society that fails to provide for its youth, the symbolic and real violence waged against many young people bespeaks to nothing less than a perverse collective death-wish -- especially visible when youth protest their conditions. We live in an era in which there is near zero tolerance for peaceful demonstrations on the part of young and a willingness by the government to overlook the crimes of bankers, hedge fund managers, and other members of the corporate elite who steal untold amounts of wealth, affecting the lives of millions. How else to explain the fact that at least 25 states are sponsoring legislation that would make perfectly legal forms of protest a crime that carries a huge fine or subjects young people to possible felony charges?

The Trump administration needs education to fail because it fears the possibility of educated citizens developing the capacities necessary to meet the challenges of authoritarianism.

If youth were once the repository of society's dreams, that is no longer true. Increasingly, young people are viewed as a public disorder, a dream now turned into a nightmare. Many youth live in a post-9/11 social order that positions them as a prime target of its governing through [the] crime complex. This is made obvious by the many "get tough" policies that now render young people as criminals, while depriving them of basic health care, education and social services. Punishment and fear have replaced compassion and social responsibility as the most important modalities for mediating the relationship of youth to the larger social order, all too evident by the upsurge of zero tolerance laws along with the expanding reach of the punishing state. When the criminalization of social problems becomes a mode of governance and war its default strategy, youth are reduced to soldiers or targets -- not social investments. Young people are not only written out of the future ... but are now considered a threat to the future. Too many youth are now removed from any discourse about democracy and increasingly fall prey to what I call the "war on youth." The war on youth can best be understood through two concepts: the soft war and the hard war, [both] of which have been intensified under Trump's presidency.

The soft war involves the temptation and manufactured seductions of desire, and refers to the unyielding depoliticization and commodification of youth, waged through the unrelenting expansion of a global market society. Partnered with a massive advertising machinery, the soft war targets all children and youth, treating them as yet another "market" to be commodified and exploited, and conscripting them into the system through relentless attempts to create a new generation of hyper-consumers. In this instance, young people are not only viewed as consumers but also as embodied brands. Caught in the intrusive new technologies of advertising and public relations, there is no space for young people to be free of the commercial carpet-bombing they are forced to endure. Hence, their subjectivity, desires and ways of relating to others are endlessly commodified so that their presence in the world is marked by the fact that they are either selling a product (which they inhabit) or buying one. The soft war is rooted in neoliberal disimagination zones, which makes it more difficult for young people to find public spheres where they can locate themselves and translate metaphors of hope into meaningful action. The dystopian dreamscapes that make up a neoliberal society are built on the promises of uncomplicated consumption, an assumption that is both dehumanizing and central to the war waged by an authoritarian society on critical agency, the radical imagination, and visions of a more just society. Agency and self-renewal are increasingly limited to a sphere of raw consumption and change to the empty vocabulary of fashion and lifestyles. In a society of mass consumption, shallowness becomes a strength and the mythology of American innocence becomes a blinding storm.

Under Donald Trump, the ideology and violence associated with white supremacy has been moved from the margins to the center of power in the United States.

The hard war is about coercion and is a more serious and dangerous development for young people, especially those who are marginalized by their ethnicity, race and class. The hard war refers to the harshest elements of a growing youth-crime-control complex that operates through a logic of punishment, surveillance and repression. The young people targeted by its punitive measures are often poor minority youth who are considered failed consumers and who can only afford to live on the margins of a commercial culture that excludes anyone who lacks money, resources and leisure time to spare. Or they are youth considered uneducable and unemployable, therefore troublesome. The imprint of the youth-crime-control complex can be traced to the increasingly popular practice of organizing schools through disciplinary practices that subject students to constant surveillance through high-tech security devices while imposing on them harsh, and often thoughtless, zero-tolerance policies that closely resemble measures used currently by the criminal [legal] system. In this instance, poor and minority youth become objects of a new mode of governance based on decisions made by a visionless managerial elite. Punished if they don't show up at school, and punished even if they do attend school, many of these students are funneled into what has been ominously called the "school-to-prison pipeline." If middle- and upper-class kids are subject to the seductions of market-driven public relations, working class youth are caught in the crosshairs between the arousal of commercial desire and the harsh impositions of securitization, surveillance and policing.

How does neoliberalism affect higher education?

Higher education in our politically desperate age is threatened by a legacy that it does not dare to name and that legacy with its eerie resonance with an authoritarian past asserts itself, in part, with the claim that education is failing and democracy is an excess. The Trump administration needs education to fail in a very particular way, because it fears the possibility of educated citizens developing the capacities, intellectual and ethical, necessary to meet the challenges of authoritarianism. Hostile to its role as a public good and democratic sphere, it is attempting to reshape education according to the market-driven logic of neoliberalism with its emphasis on privatization, commodification, deregulation, fear and managerialism. Under neoliberalism, the market becomes a template for all of social life and not just the economy. Commercial values are the only values that matter, and the only stories that matter are written in the language of finance, profit and the economy. Under such circumstances, higher education is threatened for its potential role as a public sphere capable of educating students as informed, critical thinkers capable of not only holding power accountable but also fulfilling the role of critical agents who can act against injustice and resist diverse forms of oppression. The criminogenic machinery of power has now reached the highest levels of the US government, and in doing so, it is changing not just the language of educational reform, but also making it difficult for faculty and students to resist their own erasure from modes of self-governance and a critical education.

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

The killing of people abroad based on race is paralleled by (and connected with) the killing of Black people at home.

New forms of exclusion, unbridled commodification, and exclusion rooted in a retreat from ethics, the social imagination, and democracy itself weakens the role higher education might take in an age of increasing tyranny. Against the force of a highly militarized mode of casino capitalism in which violence is at the center of power, higher education is being weakened in its ability to resist the authoritarian machinery of social death now shaping American society. Neoliberalism views higher education in strictly economic terms and rejects any notion of higher education as a democratic public sphere -- as a space in which education enables students to be critical thinkers, learn how to take risks, hold power accountable, and develop a sense of moral and political agency through which they learn to respect the rights and perspectives of others. Under the regime of neoliberalism in the United States and in many other countries, many of the problems facing higher education can be linked to eviscerated funding models, the domination of these institutions by market mechanisms, the rise of for-profit colleges, the rise of charter schools, the intrusion of the national security state, and the slow demise of faculty self-governance, all of which make a mockery of the meaning and mission of the university as a democratic public sphere. With the onslaught of neoliberal austerity measures, the mission of higher education has been transformed from educating citizens to training students for the workforce. Students are viewed as clients and customers, and the culture of business replaces any vestige of democratic governance. At the same time, faculty are reduced to degrading labor practices and part-time contracts, administrators are reduced to a visionless managerial class, the college and university presidents inhabit the role of CEOs.

Rather than enlarge the moral imagination and critical capacities of students, too many universities are now wedded to producing would-be hedge fund managers and depoliticized workers, and creating modes of education that promote a "technically trained docility." Strapped for money and increasingly defined in the language of corporate culture, many universities are now driven principally by vocational, military and economic considerations while increasingly removing academic knowledge production from democratic values and projects. The ideals of higher education as a place to think, to promote critical dialogue and teach students to cultivate their ethical relation with others are viewed as a threat to neoliberal modes of governance. At the same time, education is seen by the apostles of market fundamentalism as a space for producing profits and educating a supine and fearful labor force that will exhibit the obedience demanded by the corporate order. The modern loss of faith in the marriage of education and democracy needs to be reclaimed, but that will only happen if the long legacy of struggle over education is once again brought to life as part of a more comprehensive understanding of education as being central to politics, and learning as a vital component of social change.

What has been the impact of the political triumph of white supremacism and racial cleansing?

Under Donald Trump, the ideology and violence associated with white supremacy has been moved from the margins to the center of power in the United States. Trump not only courts the favor of white supremacists, neo-Nazis, militiamen and other right-wing racist groups, he panders to them as central elements of his base. How else to explain his racist travel bans, his unremitting attacks on Black athletes and his constant equating of Black communities with the culture of violence and criminality? Or, for that matter, Trump's ramping up of the police state and his ongoing assertion that his presidency strongly endorses a platform of law and order. The current mobilization of fear and moral panics has its roots in and feeds off of a legacy of white supremacy that is used to divert anger over dire economic and political conditions into the diversionary cesspool of racial hatred. It might be best to understand Trump's racism as part of a broader movement of white supremacy across the globe, with its attack on immigrants and its emulation of fascist ideology and social relations. Throughout Europe, fascism and white supremacy in their diverse forms are on the rise. In Greece, France, Poland, Austria and Germany, among other nations, right-wing extremists have used the hateful discourse of racism, xenophobia and white nationalism to demonize immigrants and undermine democratic modes of rule and policies.

Much of the right-wing, racist rhetoric coming out of these countries mimics what Trump and his followers are saying in the United States. One outcome is that the public spheres that produce a critically engaged citizenry and make a democracy possible are under siege and in rapid retreat. Economic stagnation, massive inequality, the rise of religious fundamentalism and growing forms of ultra-nationalism now aim to put democratic nations to rest. Echoes of the right-wing movements in Europe have come home with a vengeance. Demagogues wrapped in xenophobia, white supremacy and the false appeal to a lost past echo a brutally familiar fascism, with slogans similar to Donald Trump's call to "Make America Great Again" and "Make America Safe Again."

Fascism in its various forms is about social and racial cleansing.

Trump's insistence on racial profiling echoes increasing calls among European right-wing extremists to legitimate a police state where refugees and others are viewed as a threat, unwanted and disposable. How else to explain Trump's insistence on reintroducing nationwide "stop and frisk policies" after the demonstrations in Charlottesville, North Carolina over the police killing of an African American, Keith Lamont Scott, in September of 2016? Trump willingly reproduces similar right-wing ideologies such as those condemning and demonizing Syrian and other immigrants trying to reach Europe. He does so by producing panic-ridden taunts, tweets and executive orders whose aim is to generate mass anxiety and legitimate policies that mimic forms of ethnic and social cleansing. Trump joins a growing global movement of racial exclusion, one that is on the march spewing hatred, embracing forms of anti-Semitism, white supremacy and a deep-seated disdain for any form of justice on the side of democracy.

State-manufactured lawlessness has become normalized and extends from the ongoing and often brutalizing, and sometimes lethal, police violence against Black people and other vulnerable groups to a criminogenic market-based system run by a financial elite that strips everyone but the upper 1 percent of a future by stealing not only their possessions but also by condemning them to a life in which the only available option is to fall back on one's individual resources in order to barely survive. At the national level, lawlessness now drives a militarized foreign policy intent on assassinating alleged enemies rather than using traditional forms of interrogation, arrest and conviction. The killing of people abroad based on race is paralleled by (and connected with) the killing of Black people at home. Trump is now a major player in shaping a world that has become a battlefield driven by racism and a stark celebration of apocalyptic nationalism -- a zone of social abandonment where lethal violence replaces the protocols of justice, civil rights and democracy.

Fear is the reigning ideology, and war its operative mode of action, pitting different groups against each other, shutting down the possibilities of shared responsibilities, and legitimating the growth of a paramilitary police force that kills Black people with impunity. State-manufactured fear offers up new forms of domestic terrorism embodied in the rise of a surveillance state while providing a powerful platform for militarizing many aspects of society. One result is that [the US] has become a warrior society in which the state and civil society are organized through the practice of violence. One consequence is that Trump's white supremacist attitudes have emboldened violence against minorities ... and has given new life to neo-Nazi groups throughout the United States. As the culture of fear is racialized, compassion gives way to suspicion and a demonstration of revulsion accorded to those others who are demonized as monsters, criminals, or even worse, bloodthirsty terrorists. Under such circumstance, the bonds of trust dissolve, while hating the other becomes normalized and lawlessness is elevated to a matter of common sense.

Hannah Arendt once wrote that terror was the essence of totalitarianism. She was right, and we are now witnessing the dystopian visions of the new authoritarians who trade in terror, fear, hatred, demonization, violence and racism. Trump and his neo-Nazi bulldogs are no longer on the fringe of political life and they have no interests in instilling values that will "make America great" (code for white). On the contrary, they are deeply concerned with creating expanding constellations of force and fear, while inculcating convictions that will destroy the ability to form the formative cultures that make a democracy possible. Fascism in its various forms is about social and racial cleansing, and its end point is the prison, gated communities, walls and all the murderous detritus that accompanies the discourse of national greatness and racial purity. This will be Trump's legacy.

What is the impact of a war culture on society?

War culture has been transformed in American culture -- moving from a source of alarm to a celebrated source of pride and national identity. War has been redefined in the United States in the age of global neoliberal capitalism. No longer defined exclusively as a military issue, it has replaced democratic idealism and expanded its boundaries, shaping all aspects of society. Evidence of a war culture can be seen in the war on civil liberties, youth, voting rights, civic institutions, the poor, immigrants, Muslims and poor Black communities. The distinction between war and peace, the military and civil society, soldiers and the police, criminal behavior and military transgression, internal and external security, and violence and entertainment are collapsing.

As violence and politics merge to produce an accelerating and lethal mix of bloodshed, pain, suffering, grief and death, the US has morphed into a war culture and reached a point where politics becomes an extension of war and war culture the foundation for politics itself. The violence produced by a war culture has become a defining feature of American society, providing a common ground for the production of violence at home and abroad. Militarism now pervades American society and increasingly organizes civil society mostly for the production of violence. Entrenched militarism now exercises a powerful influence on schools, an expanding police state, airports, a ballooning military budget and a foreign policy saturated in war and violence. Even universities are now intimately linked through research with the military.

What Steve Martinot calls a "political culture of hyper punitiveness" serves not only to legitimate a neoliberal culture in which cruelty is viewed as virtue, but also a racist system of mass incarceration that functions as a default welfare program and the chief mechanism to "institutionalize obedience." It should come as no surprise that many states, including California, spend more on prison construction than on higher education. The police state increasingly targets poor people of color, turning their neighborhoods into war zones, all the while serving a corporate state that has no concern whatsoever for the social costs inflicted on millions because of its predatory policies and practices.

At a policy level, a defense and arms industry fuels violence abroad, while domestically, a toxic gun culture profits from the endless maiming and deaths of individuals at home. Similarly, a militaristic foreign policy has its domestic counterpart in the growth of a carceral state used to enforce a hyped-up brand of domestic terrorism, especially against Black youth and various emerging protest movements in the United States. At the current moment, the United States is circling the globe with air bases and using its military power to bully and threaten other nations. War culture is the new normal, especially under Trump, and is sustained by media apparatuses that spectacularize the violence of a war culture while turning it into the defining feature of mass entertainment. At the same time, the extreme violence produced by a gun culture no longer becomes a source of alarm but is privileged as a source of profit for arms manufactures and the entertainment industries which extend from Hollywood films to the selling of violent video games to teenagers.

The US has morphed into a war culture and reached a point where politics becomes an extension of war and war culture the foundation for politics itself.

Americans are terrified by the threat of terrorism and its ensuing violence; yet, they are more than willing to protect laws that privilege the largely unchecked circulation of guns and the toxic militarized culture of violence that amounts to "58 people who die a day because of firearms." Moreover, as the important distinctions between war and civil society collapse, contemporary institutions become more militarized. For instance, the prison becomes a model for other institutions in which the boundaries disappear between the innocent and guilty, and public safety is defined increasingly as a police matter. At the same time, policies are militarized so as to suggest that state violence is the most important way to address an increasing range of problems extending from drug addiction and homelessness to school truancy. The police are militarized and now function as soldiers; students are viewed as criminals; and cities are transformed into combat zones. Under a war culture, neoliberal society not only creates numerous spaces of repression, insecurity and violence, it also functions as a kind of delegated vigilantism policing both bodies of the Other and boundaries of thought, while limiting questions that can be raised about the use of power in the United States and its role in expanding the reach of a punishing state and domestic violence.        

What do you recommend to instill courage in people who are dismayed and dejected in an age of full-blown state violence?

It is easy to despair in times of tyranny, but it is much more productive to be politically and morally outraged and to draw upon such anger as a source of hope and action. Without hope, even in the most dire of times, there is no possibility for resistance, dissent and struggle. A critical consciousness is the prerequisite for informed agency and hope is the basis for individual and collective resistance. Moreover, when combined with collective action, hope translates into a dynamic sense of possibility, enabling one to join with others for the long haul of fighting systemic forms of domination. Courage in the face of tyranny is a necessity and not an option, and we can learn both from the past and the present about resistance movements and the power of civic courage and collective struggle, and how such modes of resistance are emerging among a number of groups across a wide variety of landscapes. What is crucial is the need not to face such struggles alone, not allow ourselves to feel defeated in our isolation, and to refuse a crippling neoliberal survival-of-the-fittest ethos that dominates everyday relations.

Radical politics begins when one refuses to face one's fate alone, learns about the workings and mechanisms of power, and rejects the dominant mantra of social isolation. There is strength in numbers. One of the most important things we can do to sustain a sense of courage and dignity is to imagine a new social order. That is, we must constantly work to revive the radical imagination by talking with others in order to rethink politics anew, imagine what a new politics and society would look like, one that is fundamentally anti-capitalist, and dedicated to creating the conditions for new democratic political and social formations. This suggests contending with and struggling against the forces that gave rise to Trump, particularly those that suggest that totalitarian forms are still with us. Rethinking politics anew also suggests the possibility of building broad-based alliances in order to create a robust economic and political agenda that connects democracy with a serious effort to interrogate the sources and structures of inequality, racism and authoritarianism that now plague the United States. This points to opening up new lines of understanding, dialogue and radical empathy. It means, as the philosopher George Yancy suggests, "learning how to love with courage." A nonviolent movement for democratic socialism does not need vanguards, political purity or the seductions of ideological orthodoxy. On the contrary, it needs a politics without guarantees, one that is open to new ideas, self-reflection and understanding. Instead of ideologies of certainty, unchecked moralism and a politics of shaming, we need to understand the conditions that make it possible for people to internalize forms of domination, and that means interrogating forgotten histories and existing pedagogies of oppression. Recent polls indicate that two-thirds of Americans say this is the lowest point in American politics that they can recall. Such despair offers the possibility of a pedagogical intervention, one that provides a political opening to create a massive movement for resistance in the United States.

Rebecca Solnit has rightly argued that while we live in an age of despair, hope is a gift that we cannot surrender because it amplifies the power of alternative visions, offers up stories in which we can imagine the unimaginable, enables people to "move from depression to outrage," and positions people to take seriously what they are for and what they are against. This suggests trying to understand how the very processes of learning constitute the political mechanisms through which identities -- individual and collective -- are shaped, desired, mobilized and take on the worldly practices of autonomy, self-reflection and self-determination as part of a larger struggle for economic and social justice. 

How do we develop a new "language of liberation"?

First, it is crucial to develop a language in which it becomes possible to both imagine a future much different from the present. Second, it is crucial to develop a discourse of critique and possibility that refuses both to normalize existing relations of domination and control, and rejects the notion that capitalism and democracy are viewed as synonymous. It would be wise to heed the words of National Book Award winner Ursula K. Le Guin when she says, "We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable -- but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings." Third, it is imperative to reject the notion that all problems are individual issues and can only be solved as a matter of individual action and responsibility. All three of these assumptions serve to depoliticize people and erase both what it means to make power visible and to organize collectively to address such problems. Fourth, there is a need, I believe, for a discourse that is historical, relational and comprehensive. Memory matters both in terms of reclaiming lost narratives of struggle and for assessing visions, strategies and tactics that still hold enormous possibilities in the present.

Developing a relational discourse means connecting the dots around issues that are often viewed in isolated terms. For instance, one cannot study the attack on public schools and higher education as sutured internal issues that focus exclusively on the teaching methods and strategies. What is needed are analyses that link such attacks to the broader issue of inequality, the dynamics of casino capitalism and the pervasive racism active in promoting new forms of segregation both within and outside of schools. A comprehensive politics is one that does at least two things. On the one hand, it tries to understand a plethora of problems, from massive poverty to the despoiling of the planet, within a broader understanding of politics. That is, it connects the dots among diverse forms of oppression. In this instance, the focus is on the totality of politics, one that focuses on the power relations of global capitalism, the rise of illiberal democracy, the archives of authoritarianism and the rise of financial capital. A totalizing view of oppression allows the development of a language that is capable of making visible the ideological and structural forces of the new forms of domination at work in the United States and across the globe. On the other hand, such a comprehensive understanding of politics makes it possible to bring together a range of crucial issues and movements so as to expand the range of oppressions, while at the same time, providing a common ground for these diverse groups to be able to work together in the interest of the common good and a broad struggle for democratic socialism.

Finally, any viable language of emancipation needs to develop a discourse of educated hope. Naming what is wrong in a society is important, but it is not enough, because such criticism can sometimes be overpowering and lead to a paralyzing despair or, even worse, a crippling cynicism. Hope speaks to imagining a life beyond capitalism, and combines a realistic sense of limits with a lofty vision of demanding the impossible. As Ariel Dorfman has argued, progressives need a language that is missing from our political vocabulary, one that insists that "alternative worlds are possible, that they are within reach if we're courageous enough, and smart enough, and daring enough to take control of our own lives." Reason, justice and change cannot blossom without hope because educated hope taps into our deepest experiences and longing for a life of dignity with others, a life in which it becomes possible to imagine a future that does not mimic the present.

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I am not referring to a romanticized and empty notion of hope, but to a notion of informed hope that faces the concrete obstacles and realities of domination, [that] continues the ongoing task of realizing a future in which matters of justice, equality, freedom and joy matter. Casino capitalism is a toxin that has created a predatory class of unethical zombies -- who are producing dead zones of the imagination and massive ecologies of immiseration that even Orwell could not have envisioned, while waging a fierce fight against the possibilities of a democratic future. The time has come to develop a political language in which civic values, social responsibility and the institutions that support them become central to invigorating and fortifying a new era of civic imagination, a renewed sense of social agency and an impassioned international social movement with a vision, organization and set of strategies to challenge the neoliberal nightmare engulfing the planet. Such a strategy would have to revive the radical imagination and the task of thinking about a future without capitalism and oppression, launch a comprehensive education program to provide alternative narratives, memories and histories that enable the capacities for informed judgment, ethical responsibilities and civic courage, and last but not least, create those alternative public spheres where a new conversation can be opened up about the creation of a new progressive and socialist political formation. As Marx said, there is nothing to lose but our chains.

Trump's Assault on National Monuments, in the Name of "Jobs," Should Not Be Believed

Sun, 2017-12-10 00:00

In shrinking Utah's two prized national monuments Trump not only ignored the 80 percent negative comments received in the review process, he never consulted the Native American tribes whose land and heritage will be most impacted. Moreover, opening up the land to ranching, fracking and mining will not only not generate enough jobs, it will destroy existing jobs in the eco-tourism industry.

Thousands of people converged on the steps of Utah's State Capital building to protest President Trump's plan to shrink protected areas across the country. Two of those areas are both in Utah -- Bears Ears and the Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monuments. (Photo: Michael Nigro / Pacific Press / LightRocket via Getty Images)

In a landmark proclamation on December 4, President Trump slashed the size of Utah's Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by 85 percent and 46 percent, respectively. This, in spite of the fact that 80 percent of commenters solicited in the review process opposed shrinkage, sparking a dearth of outrage at the intractability with which one man can impose his will upon public land.

Unlike previous uses of the Antiquities Act, Trump has given no credence to the public will with respect to his decision. He did not even consult with Native American tribes, even though it is their heritage that hangs in the balance. He ignored the comments solicited in the review process, and he bypassed the local eco-tourism industry, which is now in full-scale uproar.

Trump defended his decision by saying, "I called all of my friends in Utah and asked them ... they said this would be incredible for our country." Said "friends" included Craig Uden, president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, who stands to make millions from the opening of previously protected lands to cattle grazing, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, who has received more than $470,000 from oil, gas and coal interests since 2012 , both of whom have thanked President Trump fawningly for his largesse.

But thanks have not come from the people of Utah. Thousands filled the streets of Salt Lake City on Monday, December 4, 2017, telling the president, "Keep your tiny hands off our public lands," and waving banners that read, "We stand on stolen land." Navajo President Russell Begaye condemned the shrinkage as the latest in a series of dispossessions that have cost "millions of acres of my people's land." Conservationists have joined the tribes in suing Trump for the proclamations.

The people of Utah are well aware of the capital intensity of the fracking, mining and cattle industries that will crowd out eco-tourism over the next few years. They know that fracking, for instance, creates a pitiful 6.5 jobs per $1 million invested in the industry. They have no illusions about the fact that Native Americans, who make up 70 percent of the people in poverty in San Juan County, Utah, will be the last hired for and the first fired. The people of Utah, and indeed of this nation, know precisely where the resource rents engendered by these proclamations will go: to the yacht purchases of cattlemen, the clubbing carouses of frackers and the first-class tickets of senators headed to scenic natural wonders that have yet to be eviscerated.

Sadly, cynical privatizations of public lands are a well-worn motif. The English Enclosure Acts of the 17th century, ostensibly a technocratic fix for inefficacious farming practices, was in fact a fire-sale of commonly-owned land, that enriched landowners at the expense of the dispossessed peasantry. Indonesia's President Suharto (in)famously amassed an egregious $15-35 billion by selling off "protected forests" ad libitum to cronies, friends and family members. And Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz notes that in the case of Russia, natural resources that would have provided income for future generations, were sold for a pittance to enrich a few dissolute oligarchs in the present: "Before, [they] could only steal the annual flow ... [but if they] privatized, [they could] sell the present discounted value ... going for the next ump-teen years into the future."

The danger posed by such sleights of hand cannot be understated in the era of climate change. A 2005 study found that "current annual rates of tropical deforestation from Brazil and Indonesia alone would equal four-fifths of the emissions reductions gained by implementing the Kyoto Protocol in its first commitment period." Selling off protected lands to logging interests has done immense environmental harm, and Trump's shrinkage of National Monuments threatens to do the same.

His proclamations have opened the door to cattle ranchers, who intend to move in with the greatest expediency. The belches and burps of our four-legged friends are responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all cars, trucks, ships, planes and trains combined. Meanwhile, methane -- the primary emission of concern to the climate -- is 23 times more potent than C02. 

Neither are mining or fracking conducive to a livable planet for future generations. Fracking's record is well known, with groundwater contaminationmethane leaks and greenhouse gas emissions being staples of its climate change rap-sheet. Mining stakes its claim as one of the least climate-friendly human activities on the planet with acid mine drainage, waste disposal and particulate expulsion. And both industries are colossal downgrades from the queen of climate friendly industries; eco-tourism.  

The real threat -- and indeed insult, as Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez put it -- manifest in the Trump proclamations is one of cynicism being played on credulity. The Trump administration is trying to disguise clientelism as "populism" by dangling the specter of "distant bureaucrats" and the carrot of mining jobs in front of the American people. The manifestation of such a state of affairs in the 21st century US would not only be a disastrous setback in the political evolution of humankind, but could very well turn climate change from "the biggest collective action problem in history" to "the last collective action problem in human history."

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GOP Tax Plan Is Igniting a Movement for a Moral Economy

Sun, 2017-12-10 00:00

If you're expecting a gift card from your boss as an end-of-year bonus, enjoy it this year because you probably won't get one in 2018.

The Senate tax bill would ban such rewards. Why? Republican lawmakers are determined to prevent ordinary workers from pocketing a $25 or $50 gift card without reporting it as taxable income.

Meanwhile, these same politicians are planning to dole out billions of dollars in tax breaks to the very wealthiest Americans. For example, they're planning to gut or entirely eliminate the estate tax, a curb on extreme wealth concentration that currently applies only to fortunes worth more than $11 million per couple.

Republican Senator Chuck Grassley explained the reasoning: "Not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing, as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it's on booze or women or movies."

Republicans are using this prejudice against working people to justify a massive giveaway to wealthy political donors. While giving the rich and big corporations huge tax breaks, the Republican tax plan would raise taxes on 87 million middle-class families, throw 13 million people off health insurance, and cut Medicare by $400 billion.

This moral abomination is already igniting a firestorm across the country. Over the past two weeks, protests have erupted at 50 universities and in least 100 cities, while nearly 50 people have been arrested on Capitol Hill.

And whether or not President Trump achieves his goal of signing this tax deal into law by the end of the year, this fight is just beginning.

On December 4, prominent faith leaders announced plans for one of the largest waves of civil disobedience in US history. Dubbed the "Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival," this effort will mark the 50th anniversary of a similar initiative in 1968 that was undercut by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.

The campaign co-chairs, the Rev. Liz Theoharis and the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, are determined to pick up the baton from King and other 1960s leaders. They've called the Republican tax plan "an act of gross violence against America's poor." But this is just one of the motivations.

"We are witnessing an emboldened attack on the poor and an exacerbation of systemic racism, ecological devastation, and the war economy that demands a response," Rev. Barber said.

new Institute for Policy Studies report I edited reveals that conditions in each of these areas have worsened since 1968 by many measures. The documents the increased number of Americans below the poverty line, the acceleration of economic inequality, and the emergence of new forms of voter suppression laws and mass incarceration that further entrench systemic racism. It highlights the growing imbalance in government spending on the military relative to social programs, and the intensification of racial and income disparities in access to clean air and water.

Starting next spring, the Poor People's Campaign aims to bring tens of thousands of poor and disenfranchised people, clergy, and other moral leaders to rallies at statehouses in at least 25 states, leading up to a major demonstration at the US Capitol on June 21.

While Republicans may succeed in scoring a short-term win for the political donor class, their tax plan is sparking a new moral movement that will lift up the millions of Americans living in poverty and build power for transformational change.

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Amid Travel Ban, Refugee Women Cope With Trauma and Stress Through Drum Circles

Sun, 2017-12-10 00:00
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More than three dozen women and children sit in a circle inside the conference room of a public library in El Cajon, California, each holding a hand drum on their laps. No one is speaking.

I stand in the center and ask who in this group of Afghan, Iraqi, and Syrian women has suffered loss. Several hands go up. I then ask: "Who would like to volunteer to express their feeling of loss, using the drum as their voice?"

Sahad Alboshokaf, a 44-year-old Iraqi woman, wearing a grey tunic and a hijab, raises her hand. She closes her eyes and begins tapping her drum, tentatively at first and then with deliberate purpose. The rest of us listen and then join in, blending our beats to match the rhythm of her lead. Soon the room is filled with the reassuring sound of our collective beat.

Alboshokaf, like the rest of us in the room, is a refugee -- part of a unique refugee-led drum circle designed to help new arrivals not only cope with stress in their lives, but integrate into new homes in this country.

Adding to their anxiety has been the Trump administration's attempts this year to ban travel from predominantly Muslim countries, where many of these women still have family. It has made them feel targeted. A US Supreme Court ruling Monday allowing the administration to fully enforce visa restrictions for people from six countries -- Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen -- means the wait for some of them to reunite with loved ones may have grown even more uncertain.

The drum sessions create an atmosphere of belonging and put us in rhythm with each other. The drums become our voice. Studies have shown that recreational music-making in general and group drumming in particular can decrease stress and change the genomic stress marker. Drumming has the "therapeutic potential" to relax tension and soothe emotional wounds.

Many, if not all the refugees in our drum circle suffer some form of PTSD or depression. All together, we speak four different languages and dialects. Transcending those barriers, drumming gives us an avenue for self-expression. After each woman has "spoken" her feelings through her music -- desperation, frustration, happiness, fear -- the rest of the circle provides verbal feedback and insight into what we heard in her beat.

The drum circle arose organically as a way to address the psychological needs of newly arriving refugees in the San Diego area, which has the largest concentration of Syrian and Iraqi refugees in the US While there has been an outpouring of local support for their material needs, "what we need is ongoing services to help the refugees find their way," said Dalia Alzendi, founder of Bridge, a local nonprofit specializing in psychosocial integration for refugees.

The idea for the circle is the outgrowth of a unique Colorado-based nonprofit called Musical Ambassadors of Peace. MAP ambassadors study the indigenous songs and music of countries that receive unfavorable media coverage in the US and Europe and then use that music to build cross-cultural bridges between the people of those countries and people in the US

Its co-founders, Cameron Powers and Kristina Sophia, have been utilizing music's transformative power for two decades and can perform songs in 13 different languages. Shortly after the American-led invasion of Iraq, the two traveled to Baghdad and, armed with only an oud and Iraqi love songs, began playing and singing in the streets. The Iraqi people, who up to that point had mostly encountered only US military personnel and contractors, were seeing a different side of America.

They saw their trips to different countries as a form of musical mission work. "We call ourselves reverse missionaries because our job is to listen, not to preach," Sophia says. Now the group has several musical ambassadors from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. Their motto: Healing the world through music.

Earlier this year, MAP set out to provide an ongoing music-centered service for US refugees, many of them from countries the group has visited. As a refugee from Iran, I knew I wanted to become a MAP ambassador and took a workshop to become a HealthRhythms facilitator.

Now, alongside another refugee, Dilkhwaz Ahmed, an Iraqi who founded the nonprofit License to Freedom, I co-facilitate the San Diego area drum circle. How ironic that Ahmed and I both were children on the opposite sides of the Iran–Iraq war of the 1980s, with different languages but similar experiences. Now we are not only friends, but allies in the mission to help fellow refugees succeed. We drum twice a month and hope to increase it to once a week next year.

Originally, Ahmed, who also translates my English instructions for the circle's Arabic-speaking members, had reserved the library space so that refugee women and children could meet a few times a month to talk and do arts and crafts. That meeting morphed into the drum sessions.

After Alboshokaf is done drumming, I ask her if she feels heard by us. "I do," she replies, in Arabic. "Do I have your permission to ask everyone what they heard in your beat?" I ask. She nods.

"Desperation," a middle-aged woman in a striped sweater says. "Hopelessness," a young Syrian woman chimes in.

Naturally. Alboshokaf says later that she still feels the loss of her father and two brothers, who were executed by Saddam Hussein. She lives with her two teenage sons, anxious for the day her husband will join them here. But because of restrictions imposed on refugee visas by the Trump administration, she's lost hope that it will be anytime soon. Music helps her express these feelings of loss, frustration, and confusion in a nonthreatening way.

I ask the group if anyone else has felt loss and found a way to transform their feelings. Nahidah, a hijabi woman with a bright smile, begins drumming a whimsical beat. We all follow and the mood of the room shifts to one of playfulness. I ask Nahidah about her experience with transforming loss. "Happiness is always just a step away. It's good to mourn, but laughter waits for you," she says.

Often, these sessions bring me back to my time when I first arrived in the US as a 14-year-old refugee and stumbled across my first drumming circle. I was living in Austin, Texas, and the group of hippies my friend and I found in a park were quite different from the refugees I work with now.

But the impact of their music was no less impactful. Like a moth drawn to the flame, I made my way to the middle of the circle and began dancing until I was drenched in sweat. My friend wasn't surprised. She had seen me dance spontaneously whenever I heard music. In fact, for my first few years in America, I listened to music incessantly and sought out every opportunity to dance because in Iran, the county I escaped from, music and dancing were illegal.

I ask if anyone else in the circle would like to drum their feeling. Nasima Hossaini, a dignified young Afghan woman, raises her hand. Hossaini looks to me for permission and then begins beating the drum with explosive fury, changing the mood of the room yet again. Reinforcing her feeling, we all join her beat for several minutes. She later recounts her experience as an Afghan refugee in Iran, where she encountered prejudice on a daily basis. After the US invasion of Afghanistan, she returned home, where, to her dismay, she came across more prejudice for belonging to the Hazara ethnic minority. This sense of not-belonging has injured her far worse than the trauma of war.

One by one, women come forth to drum their feelings with the group -- a woman who lost her favorite cousin to a car explosion; an overwhelmed single mother who's worried about her autistic child. Soon the bounds of language and otherness dissolve and our hearts open up to the rhythmic telling of one story after another. One of those was Ahlam Salem's, an Iraqi woman who afterward shared the harrowing details of being kidnapped, tortured, and raped for eight days. She had been on a bus in Baghdad heading home when armed men stormed the bus at a bus stop and took her to an unknown location. Salem is still dealing with the aftermath, but she feels strong and wants to let other women in similar situations know that they don't have to identify with their trauma. "We are much more than that," she says in Arabic. She is hopeful and wants to advocate for women's rights. "The drumming makes me feel more relaxed and confident," she adds.

As we begin to wrap up, 8-year-old Yousif Mikaeel raises his hand and asks, "Can I drum my feeling?" Children know they're part of this community and want to participate. Several people praise Mikaeel for his courage, and he begins. He drums an anxious beat and the rest of us follow along for a while. A young woman volunteers to help transition the beat of fear to a more hopeful one and Mikaeel, and the rest of us, follows her lead.

By the end of the session, we are all giddy with a sense of camaraderie. And as we pack away the instruments, many of the women explain how these sessions help them navigate the language barrier, culture shock, and the stress of finding their way in a different culture and country. "Our gathering helps me immensely," Alboshokaf says as she walks out with her younger boy. "I feel the stress dissolve in the sounds of our rhythm. I feel calm and more able to deal with my life."

The Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen Is Very Much the Result of a US-Saudi War

Sun, 2017-12-10 00:00

A boy walks on rubble of Yemen's State Satellite Television Station after it was targeted by airstrikes of the Saudi-led coalition on December 09, 2017 in Sana'a, Yemen. At least four journalists were killed by airstrikes hit the Yemen's State Satellite Television Station. (Photo: Mohammed Hamoud / Getty Images)

Janine Jackson: The enormity of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen is staggering. At least 10,000 people have died in the last two years of Saudi war in the country, already among the poorest in the region. The UN says Yemen faces the worst famine the world has seen for decades, with at least 7 million people in need of immediate food aid. More than a half million children suffer from severe acute malnutrition, and millions more lack access to any healthcare at all. This while Yemen faces an outbreak of cholera that's being called possibly the worst in history.

Yet Americans have heard little about what's happening in Yemen, and still less about how it relates to us. Shireen Al-Adeimi is a doctoral candidate and instructor at Harvard University, working to bring attention to the crisis. She joins us now by phone. Welcome to CounterSpin, Shireen Al-Adeimi.

Shireen Al-Adeimi: Thanks for having me.

It has been noted that US media are doing really very little, particularly television, on the ongoing disaster in Yemen. One outlet that did, CBS's 60 Minutes, reported compellingly, and under difficult journalistic conditions, about the famine and the bombing victims, and they indicated the Saudis as aggressors. But despite being a US program aimed at a US audience, 60 Minutes said not one word about US involvement, leaving the impression of a regional conflict, fitted into this familiar, reductive "Sunni versus Shia" framework. What would you have Americans understand about this country's role in the Yemen crisis?

Thanks for bringing up the CBS report, because that was a huge disappointment. It was just one opportunity for a mainstream audience in the US to learn, for the first time, perhaps, what is going on in Yemen, and what our role is especially. But it was quickly, like you said, characterized as a Sunni/Shia conflict, which is far from the truth. And not once was it mentioned that the US is, in fact, very much involved in Yemen, and has been from the onset of the war.

So when the Saudis decided to attack Yemen in March 2015, the Americans, under Obama's administration, were right there along with them in the command room, helping them with targeting practice, helping them with logistics and training. The US military refuels Saudi jets midair as they're bombing. And so we have been heavily involved, we've continued to be involved under Trump's administration, and this is, of course, in addition to the billions in weapons sales that have occurred over the past couple of years.

There also is the role that the US plays in shielding Saudi Arabia at the UN, isn't there?

Exactly. Over and over, the UN has failed to really take any decisive stance against Saudi Arabia. In fact, there have been some really outrageous moves. For example, they've been allowed to investigate their own crimes in Yemen, and of course they come out, months later, saying that they were cleared. So it's just been an absurd game that they're playing in the UN, and people's lives are at stake here. And we've been shielding them from any independent investigation.

The latest headlines are about an easing of the Saudi blockade, with some food and vaccines coming through, but we're told not really to take that as a sign of real easing of the hardship there.

Not at all. So it's trickling in; whatever aid is coming right now is trickling in. And like you mentioned, 7 million people are in desperate need of that aid. You know, they need it immediately. But then you also have 20 million people who need food who can't afford what little food remains in the country. And so we don't only need aid coming in, but we need trade. And in fact we can't be begging the Saudi-led coalition to make these positions and [allow them] to hold an entire country hostage and to use starvation as a war tactic. In fact, we should be demanding that they end this intervention in Yemen, so that people can go back to their lives, and try to rebuild and deal with their internal conflicts.

The New York Times had a piece on November 22 that talked about how this isn't any sort of natural disaster. It used the phrases "when food is a weapon," "when disease is no accident," and "when civilians are targeted." And it even noted:

United Nations experts have warned that some of the actions carried out by the warring parties, the Saudi-led coalition and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, could amount to crimes against humanity because of their systematic and widespread execution.

Still, that seems to me to be, at most, talking about the US pressing the Saudis, and not about US citizens pressing their own lawmakers here.

Exactly. This is presented as an equivalent war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and again it couldn't be further from the truth. There's very little evidence that Iran is involved at all in Yemen. And the way Yemenis see it is that this is very much a US/Saudi war on Yemen, with the help of other regional powers. And so to characterize this as something that's just happening over there in a foreign land, and we're trying to put an end to it, that's really not the case. We are at the center of this, and if our citizens don't really know our involvement, then there's no hope for us to be politically involved to try to push our elected officials to do something about our role in Yemen.

We have of course Donald Trump bragging about $110 billion of arm sales to Saudi Arabia, which the best thing you can say is that he's probably lying about that amount. But at the same time, the House of Representatives, they passed this resolution stating that US military assistance to Saudi Arabia in the war in Yemen is not authorized under this authorization for use of military force, this post-9/11 legislation. Now, it's nonbinding, it doesn't actually stop the support, but it does acknowledge the US role. How meaningful do you think that resolution is?

So the problem with that resolution is that it was a compromise resolution. The previous resolution was House Concurrent Resolution 81, which actually called for the US to stop helping Saudi Arabia in any way, shape or form. And that was proposed by Congressman Ro Khanna in California. Basically he had invoked the War Powers Resolution, which meant that it had to go to vote, and they had to debate it in the House. But it was quickly stripped of its privileged status, and they had to negotiate this compromise bill that was, like you said, nonbinding. And, yes, it acknowledged that this war is unauthorized, but it doesn't mean anything for US involvement in Yemen; nothing changes. We continue helping the Saudis without any repercussions.

And am I right that there is nothing in the Senate that's comparable?

There's nothing in the Senate right now. There are a couple of senators who've been vocal against this, so Sen. Chris Murphy, for example. We need senators to introduce legislation that would extricate the US from the war on Yemen.

I read some of the comments after your appearance on the Real News, and one of them said, well, yes, you've outlined the suffering in Yemen, but what about the root causes? And what I hear in that is a suggestion that there could be some political or strategic consideration that would somehow make 7 million starving people make sense.

Of course the US has interests in the region. Yemen is at a strategic location at the Red Sea and it's at the Bab al Mandab Strait, and there's some oil barrels that go through there every day; not many in the grand scheme of things, but still, the US has interests there. And Saudi Arabia, of course, has always wanted to maintain control in Yemen, and they've been involved in Yemen's various wars and internal politics over the years.

But this comes down to this alliance between Saudi Arabia and the United States that we refuse to even reconsider given the tremendous humanitarian impact in Yemen. This is not just, as I think the Saudis had imagined, a war that was going to end in a couple of weeks, where they were going to come bomb, and leave, and things were going to go back to normal for them. They didn't anticipate that this was going to drag on for two years and eight months now.

So we should be reconsidering our help with the Saudis. We're not just selling weapons; like you said, we're so involved in many ways. And every ten minutes, a child is dying, 130 children are dying every single day. Sixty-three thousand children died last year, 50,000 more died this year. So the numbers are incredible, and the suffering is just horrendous. At what point do we stop and say, well, maybe we should reconsider this alliance, because it's not helping anyone?

To the extent that that 60 Minutes segment referenced a US role, it was by spotlighting the American who heads the UN's World Food Program. So if anything, we're sort of the heroes of the piece. I have a concern that even as headlines come in about people dying, about cholera, that Americans will then talk about the need for the US to "take action," you know, as if we weren't taking action now. So to be clear, if the US were to cut off the refueling and the targeting aid and the shielding at the UN, it would change the situation here?

Absolutely. Yemenis are not asking the US to come and save them from Saudi Arabia. We have to be very clear about that. We're not asking for intervention. We're asking for them to stop this intervention, to remove themselves from this conflict, to stop interfering in the politics of Yemen and causing this egregious humanitarian suffering by helping the Saudis at all these levels.

And so if the US were to stop, like you said, refueling, shielding the UN -- there are even reports that they're helping impose the blockade -- if we stop all of this, then there's no way that the Saudis can continue this war much longer, because they're so incredibly dependent on the US's support.

So if people are looking for something to do right now, in response to this information, what would you recommend?

I'd recommend that people call their senators and their congressmen, email them, visit their local offices, and really urge them to introduce or support legislation like House Concurrent Resolution 81, that really pushes the US to stop its support of the Saudi Arabians in their war against Yemen.

We've been speaking with Shireen Al-Adeimi. Her October article, "Only Americans Can Stop America's War on Yemen," can be found on Common Dreams. Shireen Al-Adeimi, thank you very much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

Thank you so much for having me.

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The Most Dire Climate Change Predictions Are Also the Most Accurate, Warns New Study

Sun, 2017-12-10 00:00

A resident packs her car as the Thomas Fire approaches the town of La Conchita early on December 7, 2017. A new study suggests that the planet is far likelier to become four degrees Celsius warmer by 2100 than previously thought. (Photo: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

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Climate change is occurring at a faster rate than has previously been predicted, according to a new study which suggests that the most extreme estimates of the effects of global warming are likelier than more optimistic predictions.

With the current level of greenhouse gas emissions remaining steady, researchers say, there is a 93 percent chance that the planet will be more than four degrees Celsius warmer than it is now by 2100. Earlier estimates held that there was about a 62 percent chance of this level of warming.

An earth that's four degrees warmer than it is today would bring severe prolonged heat waves and would likely eliminate coral reefs and small islands as a result of sea levels rising.

The study, published in Nature and completed by Patrick Brown and Ken Caldeira at the Carnegie Institution for Science, suggests that the world's "carbon budget" is smaller than has previously been thought and that carbon emissions must go down faster than previous studies have found.

The Paris Agreement on climate change, reached in 2015 by nearly 200 countries, holds that the governments must do their part to keep the earth from warming more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels—but according to Brown and Caldeira, the possibility that this goal is achievable is overly ambitious.

As Professor Mark Maslin, a climatologist at University College London, told the Independent in response to the study, "To achieve these targets the climate negotiations must ensure that the global emissions-cuts start as planned in 2020 and continue every single year thereafter."

Brown and Caldeira examined climate change models that have been used to predict the future of the planet based on its atmospheric conditions and compared them with recent satellite images of the atmosphere. The models that gave the most accurate predictions tended to show more warming of the planet in the future compared to those with more optimistic estimates.

"The basic idea is that we have a range of projections on future warming that came from these climate models, and for scientific interest and political interest, we wanted to narrow this range," said Brown. "We find that the models that do the best at simulating the recent past project more warming."

The researchers say their findings challenge the objections climate change deniers have put forth regarding the climate models that are used to predict global warming. Some have argued that since not all of the models have the same predictions, the science of climate change is up for debate.

"This study undermines that logic," Brown told the MIT Technology Review. "There are problems with climate models, but the ones that are most accurate are the ones that produce the most warming in the future."

On social media, observers highlighted the urgency of the study and called for an end to right-wing denials of climate science.

Yup, climate science is biased - it has consistently underestimated the risks. Time to wake up people! #climatechange

— Eric Beinhocker (@EricBeinhocker) December 7, 2017

Oh dear, 93% chance that global warming will exceed 4C by end of century! We need to act fast rather than just continuing ignoring it. #ClimateChange #GlobalWarming

— Laurie Ison (@Laurie_Ison) December 7, 2017

Every time scientists re-evaluate #globalwarming, things are worse than their previous worst case scenarios. Yet #Trump wants to help out one of his donors by allowing him to restart his old outdated coal-powered power plants.

— TruthBwana (@TruthBwana) December 7, 2017

We Will Not Be Your Disposable Labor: Graduate Student Workers' Fight Goes Beyond the GOP Assault

Sat, 2017-12-09 00:00

Contingent labor is in every stratum of the university today and graduate students are just one part of it, so campus organizing needs to have a "social movement" rather than a paycheck-oriented focus, says Tom DePaola, a graduate student worker at the University of Southern California. DePaola was among the people arrested at Speaker Paul Ryan's office for protesting the proposed tax on tuition waivers.

Tom DePaola and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) demonstrate in front of Paul Ryan's office on December 5, 2017, to protest a proposed tax on tuition waivers. (Photo courtesy of SEIU Faculty Forward)

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Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. We're now nearly a year 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 98th in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.

Today we bring you a conversation with Tom DePaola, a third-year Ph.D. student graduate worker at the University of Southern California's Rossier School of Education. DePaola studies urban education policy and academic labor in universities.

Sarah Jaffe: We are talking today because you were one of several people protesting in Paul Ryan's office [Tuesday] over the tax bill and what it would do to graduate student workers like yourself. First of all, tell us about the action yesterday -- what ended up happening? Any reaction from Paul Ryan?

Tom DePaola: We were hoping against hope that Paul Ryan would actually sit down with us and hear our quite reasonable concerns. He didn't and that was no surprise, but we decided to do everything we could to elevate this issue and make our voices heard anyway. For several of us, that included taking arrests and that was something that we were happy to do.

We came together really quickly and with a lot of support from SEIU [Service Employees International Union]. We felt very protected. They had really fantastic lawyers standing by that were ready to pounce if anything went awry. We had hoped that there would be more time to tell some of our stories using the people's mic and to get some more said before they started hauling us off. Unfortunately, it didn't pan out that way. I think I was basically one of the only persons who got to do that.

If we are getting taxed as though we make close to six figures, then that is going to be a way of just forcing us out of school altogether.

We showed up and there was some press. We did some interviews. We were a little thrown off at first, because it was clear there were two cops for every one of us in the hallway. They were quite an intimidating presence. For many of us, this is definitely the first action of this gravity that we were undergoing, and the first time many of us were taking arrest.... Several of us flew 3,000 miles to get arrested, essentially. [Laughs] But I think it was worth it.

I believe the Senate version that they passed did not actually have the grad student tax, but the House version did. Is that correct?

That is right, but who knows what is going to come out of reconciliation. I am sure a lot of the senators who voted on the Senate version had no idea what was in it ... I am sure that the talk was, "Don't worry. We will fix it once we go back to the House." There were contradicting measures in both bills. Some of those things bought us some time. They were clearly in a hurry, and for good reason.

The more that people look into either version of the bill, the scarier it starts to look. The tuition waiver was a big issue for me and for many of my colleagues, because you can't tax money as income that one never sees. We make barely enough to get by in an expensive city like L.A., where those of us from USC were coming from. We get enough to pay rent and try to eat regularly. That is about all we can hope for. If we are getting taxed as though we make close to six figures, then that is going to be a way of just forcing us out of school altogether....

Even if we are getting educational benefits from this work, we are still paid employees and have a right to have a structural voice in our workplace.

We are all sitting on lots of student debt already. We are certainly not going to take out additional loans that are literally going into the pockets of donors to people like Paul Ryan to pay taxes. That feels just outrageous. If we have to go down there and get arrested to make that point, then we will, and we did....

Talk a little bit more about the union organizing campaign, because one of the big challenges that graduate student workers have in organizing is that the university tries to claim that you are not working.

The last time that graduate workers had the right to unionize was just the short window from 2000 to 2003/4. During that time, there was obviously a lot of energy around the country. Many schools found that graduate workers were unionizing and then once their status [as workers] was revoked, many schools tore up those agreements.

There was this question of primary status. What they had argued over for forever was, "Are we primarily students to earn educational benefits from our work at the university?" or "Are we primarily employees being paid a wage to perform a service?" That is why there has been all of this flip-flopping, depending on what administration was in power at the national level and who they were appointing to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The key difference with the most recent decision in 2016 by the NLRB was that they said, quite correctly, that it doesn't matter what the primary relationship is, you can be both. Being both doesn't negate your rights in either sphere.

Even if we are getting educational benefits from this work, we are still paid employees and have a right to have a structural voice in our workplace. That was a really key distinction in the most recent turn. It remains to be seen what difference it will make in the event that Donald Trump's NLRB decides to come in and mess with our status again. We know that universities ... are waiting and hoping for this administration to swoop in and save them from the horrors of having to negotiate with their own workforce over working conditions.

It should give us a bit of hope, even in these sorts of dark times, that collective power is something that we can wield in nearly any context.

It seems sort of silly because there is a lot of empirical research that shows, in fact, having a unionized graduate workforce is not going to affect the quality of student/faculty relationships, which is a claim that is often made. There is research that shows it doesn't impact the bottom line. These are always the things that they level in the fear-mongering campaigns that tend to come out of these battles. As we organize, we are trying to be cognizant of the tactics that will be used and the ways that these tactics are being used uniformly across the country. We see that largely, these institutions are hiring the same law firms. They are spending millions of dollars to obtain legal help to fight us when we are no threat to their bottom line. Which should indicate it is not actually about bottom lines; it is about power.

The other important piece is that in 2004, when all of these institutions tore up their previous agreements, that only galvanized some unions further. So NYU's graduate union, through sheer militancy, managed to get voluntary recognition some years later from the university just to keep them from drawing all this bad attention. That was key, because eventually in 2016, the Columbia decision was able to cite NYU as evidence that, in fact, all of these concerns that the universities like to put out there of how unions will negatively affect them are unfounded. It should give us a bit of hope, even in these sorts of dark times, that collective power is something that we can wield in nearly any context.

It doesn't mean that it is equivalent to not [having] a legal status. It certainly isn't. If Right to Work passes, that would be incredibly tragic and make things immensely more difficult. But at the same time, there is no reason to feel like we are on the path to certain defeat. I have never been so heartened to see so many people trying to genuinely organize and figure out how to wield power together....

How have the universities reacted to the fact that this tax bill would potentially tax grad student tuition waivers as income?

I think that they are nervous. Not because of ... overt sympathy toward their workers, but because we are, relatively speaking, cheap labor for them, and if they remove the ability to have this cheap labor force doing a lot of their instructional labor, doing a lot of their research labor, we know it's likely to get much more expensive for them to fulfill these needs.... It seems like there are grant eligibilities tied up in the problem, and that is partially why there has to be tuition charged and waived, but nothing ever changes hands. No one is paying tuition and then paying it back. It is all on paper. Which makes it all the more absurd that they would tax this fictive income.

As long as there is an army of disposable labor running the university, you are never going to be safe.

But they are also scared about their endowments.... Universities -- particularly elite universities ... they are in this position where they are deeply dependent on the current administration and their insidious tactics in order to be able to keep these democratic movements at bay and ultimately wash their hands of it. In the event that the NLRB is able to step in on their behalf, they can say, "Oh, well, we would have negotiated in good faith, of course, but this wasn't up to us." It is all connected.

Ultimately, we have to try to democratize these institutions.... I see tenured professors lamenting the loss of academic freedom, and I want to just shake them and be like, "Where do you think it came from? If you want academic freedom, if you want those threats to go away, then you should be aggressively trying to organize your colleagues and advocating for your students who are also employees, to have a voice." We can only protect that sort of thing together. As long as there is an army of disposable labor running the university, you are never going to be safe. That seems like a really basic lesson that a lot of these older tenured professors just haven't learned somehow....

I feel like it is up to us to show them how to do that. I hope that we can, because I don't think that there is an intrinsically hostile relationship between a unionized graduate worker body and the faculty. We, in many ways, want the same thing. We all want a strong university, a robust and democratic space of scholarly inquiry. The only way we are going to have that is if we combine our forces.

This is another side issue, but unionization is not just about graduate workers, it is not just about adjuncts. They may be the ones that get talked about most, but what we call contingent academic labor is in every stratum of the university today. People who end up graduating with Ph.D.s and then doing post-docs for a decade, desperately trying to get a permanent position in the academy and never doing it, getting cycled out altogether. You have contract researchers that are doing lots of work, bringing in tons of grant money, who are also precariously employed. And, of course, the wealth of non-academic labor that keeps things moving smoothly at all levels, from office clerical workers and office staff, all the way to maintenance staff and food service workers. It used to be the case that maintenance workers [and] food service workers had the full benefits of being university employees. Their children could have tuition breaks, they had access to all sorts of benefits. Now, increasingly, it is just contracted out to some third party who brings on temporary workers who are probably scheduled 19 hours a week so they don't have to pay them their wages in benefits.

Republican donors are pouring money into student elections because it is much cheaper than congressional elections and these are future generations of leaders.

This is about more than just the graduate student workers, it is about more than just the instructional labor. If we want a university that lives up to any kind of ideal as a university, we are going to have to build it the hard way together. It has never really existed. The university that we want has yet to come into being. That is the crucial thing to keep in mind.... The truth is, universities aren't these passive victims of corporatization.... They are actively trying to interface with the market as much as possible and those incentives are really firmly in place.

It is important that without balancing out the relationships in the workplace and actually giving the workforce a structural voice, it doesn't matter how much money there is; we will never have that kind of academic ideal where people can pursue the life of the mind. Right now, that is a myth.

I think this is much bigger than just the tax bill. It is much bigger than just graduate students. I try to keep that in mind, because in past iterations of the labor movement in the US, I think that there were a lot of fatal mistakes made when we may have pivoted too hard to bread-and-butter issues as opposed to what we might call "social movement unionism," where we are all advocating for each other, we are all standing up for each other....

We, students, the workers themselves, we have to come together to protect each other because really that is all we have. The university isn't going to protect us... None of us have the time to take days to fly down to Paul Ryan's office to get arrested. But at the same time, we are not going to step aside while folks come in and just try to rip our careers out from underneath us....

The right wing is obsessed with the university as a place where the left has power.... There's an article where a conservative economist basically admitted that they are targeting grad students in this bill not because it raises a bunch of money, but because it targets the left. I wonder if you could talk about that particular obsession with the campus as the "place of the left" and what that means in this moment.

I think it is deeply disingenuous for them to pretend that this is about closing holes in the budget. Ultimately ... there is no way that this education would continue to be tenable if we were responsible for a tax burden like this. Honestly, even without that, with changes to health care and all sorts of other things, we walk a very fine line. I think we could see a massive exodus [of graduate students] from universities. I think that is what excites people like Paul Ryan far more than the prospect of us paying a higher share of taxes, because there is obviously a lot of energy being put into these really insidious kinds of legislative moves. To the extent that they see universities as bastions of critical thinking and, yes, of essentially leftism, this is one response to that.

Another is ... the extent to which Republican donors are pouring money into college campuses in really sketchy ways. Opening research centers funded by the Koch brothers and pouring money into student elections because it is much cheaper than congressional elections and you are talking about future generations of leaders....

They want to fuel these tensions on campus because it creates fodder for them to further delegitimize ... scholarship, in general. I think we are living in dangerous times where we have to be very, very careful and thoughtful about how it is that we defend ourselves and how it is that we try to secure a future for any of us, for academic inquiry, for empirical knowledge. I have no doubt that they would much rather shut down a lot of these places, where people can start to question the hypocrisy coming from the right....

How can people keep up with you and whatever else you are doing to resist this?

I am part of what we call USC Forward.... Anyone that wants to look at our particular campaign, we are, but it is part of a much broader campaign by SEIU called Faculty Forward. They have been organizing contingent instructors for a long time. I encourage any graduate students who are listening, I am sure that there is something happening on your campus related to this. You should seek out those folks, because there are people trying to organize right now. We need to figure out how to wield power together and show solidarity to one another, because the university can only function because we do our work. That comes with tremendous power, and it is right now latent and we need to realize it.

NOTE: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Interviews for Resistance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assistance from Laura Feuillebois and support from the Nation Institute. It is also available as a podcast on iTunes. Not to be reprinted without permission.

Here's the Teacher-Friendly Antidote to Heartland Institute's Anti-Science School Propaganda

Sat, 2017-12-09 00:00

On a Monday morning at the end of October, Rob Ross asked a group of earth scientists and educators a question: How many of them had received copies of the Heartland Institute book Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming?

You could feel an immediate sense of frustration in the air. Roughly half of them raised their hands. The Heartland Institute is a Chicago-based think tank that rejects the scientific consensus that humans are changing the climate and has received funding from the conservative billionaire Koch brothers and fossil fuel industry.

In March, it mailed, unsolicited, a 135-page book and accompanying DVD to tens of thousands of science teachers at public high schools across the US, with plans to keep that up until the report was in the hands of every last one.

While it received swift backlash -- including from Democratic senators, Heartland's most recent effort (though not its first) to spread climate science denial in public schools had a somewhat fortuitous timing. Ross and his colleagues at the Paleontological Research Institution were putting the finishing touches on their own book for science educators, The Teacher-Friendly Guide to Climate Change.

We "had it mostly done when we learned about the Heartland Institute's project to distribute misinformation" to teachers across the country, Ross told DeSmog. He recalls finding out about Heartland's teacher mailing either through Facebook or the news. It caused an immediate stir among the community of earth science educators.

"At first, we were, of course, incredibly alarmed but our second thought was, 'Well, OK, we have a product to counter it,'" said Ross, who was one of The Teacher-Friendly Guide's editors.

"This gave us a really strong motivation to get the book in the hands of as many teachers as possible across the country."

Don Duggan-Haas, who also contributed to the guide, says their team felt compelled to respond more directly to Heartland's misinformation but in a way that wouldn't delay their own publishing date.

The Teacher-Friendly Guide already had 11 chapters covering everything from the evidence and causes of climate change to the obstacles in addressing and reasons for teaching it. Adding a final chapter, written by Alexandra Moore, in the form of frequently asked questions (FAQ) seemed like the best approach.

Taking on Heartland Institute Myths

While they don't explicitly mention the Heartland teacher mailing in the FAQ, Duggan-Haas pointed out, "The first question of the FAQ chapter is 'Is there a consensus among climate scientists that global warming is occurring and that humans are the cause?'"

The title of the Heartland book, of course, was Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming.

"That's a pretty direct response to the theme of their publication," he said.

In keeping with best practices for science communication, Duggan-Haas said they didn't want to trigger the "backfire effect," a phenomenon that may occur when trying to correct misinformation.

"We're trying to avoid restating the myth in a way that would reinforce it," he said.

Ross agreed: "We did not dwell on the Heartland Institute, even in the FAQ, but we did try to make sure we addressed some of the most important points that the Heartland Institute was making in their propaganda."

In its FAQ, the Paleontological Research Institution's teacher guide answers 18 questions touching on common climate science denier points, including why we can trust the proven reliability of computer climate models and why humans, rather than natural variation or the sun, are the most likely explanation for observed global warming.

One of the questions, "Are people who are arguing that global warming is happening being alarmists?" is a likely reference to the derogatory term, "alarmist," frequently used by the Heartland Institute and other climate denier organizations.

Heartland and NIPCC Called Out

While The Teacher-Friendly Guide doesn't mention the Heartland Institute's propaganda sent to teachers, it does call out the science-denying think tank by name. Question 16 in the FAQ reads like this: "Climate websites refer to both the IPCC and, more recently, the NIPCC. What is the difference between these two organizations?"

The former, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), consists of thousands of climate scientists and was created by the United Nations. It has reviewed more than 9,000 scientific publications and released five reports on the state of climate change science, written by 500 lead authors and checked by 2,000 outside scientists.

But the NIPCC, the "Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change," is a product of the Heartland Institute and regularly directs criticisms at the IPCC reports.

The Teacher-Friendly Guide goes on to describe Heartland and the NIPCC:

"The 'Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change' is sponsored by the Heartland Institute, a US-based conservative think tank best known for fighting government regulation of the tobacco and fossil fuel industries. Heartland has campaigned to downplay threats posed by second-hand smoke, acid rain, and ozone depletion, as well as against the Endangered Species Act. The Heartland NIPCC also issues periodic reports, timed to coincide with the release of IPCC assessment reports and formatted to look like them. NIPCC reports are authored by fewer than 50 individuals and the most recent report cites only 72 papers, mostly written by the NIPCC authors."

The National Center for Science Education handily debunks the NIPCC  -- and so has DeSmog.

Correcting the Record With More Mail for Teachers

Published in May, The Teacher-Friendly Guide to Climate Change has its work cut out for it. Ross says their plan is "to send a guide to every high school in the country with CDs for every teacher in the high school."

And they're crowdfunding to raise more money, on top of their original National Science Foundation grant, in order to pull that off.

But Heartland reports that it has delivered its publication to "more than 300,000 K-12 and college-level teachers all across America."

And while Duggan-Haas says his earth science teacher colleagues did not fall for it -- and even discussed plans for using it in lessons on detecting biased publications -- he acknowledged that American science teachers, generally and unsurprisingly, reflect the knowledge and attitudes of the broader American public on climate change.

Still, six months after the first release of The Teacher-Friendly Guide to Climate Change, it seems to be in high demand: the paperback version ($25 each) has already run out but will be available again in early December. But anyone can access a free PDF of The Teacher Friendly Guide online right now.

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These Nazis Just Want to Be Your Neighbors

Sat, 2017-12-09 00:00

Tony Hovater could be a case study for "The Banality of Evil: 2017 Hipster Edition."

At least, that's how reporter Richard Fausset seemed bound and determined to portray him in a recent New York Times profile of the neo-Nazi.

After it was published, Fausset's piece caused a huge outcry. It's pretty easy to see why.

Fausset spends much of the profile "humanizing" Hovater and his wife, presenting them as a perfectly normal couple...except, oh yeah, for the fact that Hovater's a Hitler-loving neo-Nazi who in 2015 co-founded the Traditionalist Worker Party.

Members of this fascist organization have repeatedly engaged in violence and provocative actions, including during the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where numerous anti-racist activists were injured and Heather Heyer was killed earlier this year.

Lines from the Times piece -- like "Weddings are hard enough to plan for when your fiancé is not an avowed white nationalist" -- along with references to Hovater's cats, his wedding registry and his "polite and low-key" demeanor angered many readers.

Fausset wrote that Hovater is a big Seinfeld fan who supposedly "prefers to spread the gospel of white nationalism with satire." The article compares his embrace of fascism to a "hipster's" love of heavy metal and remarks on Hovater's "Midwestern manners" that would "please anyone's mother" (as long as your mother isn't Jewish or Black or any other group targeted by Hovater and his neo-Nazi buddies).


After the outcry that greeted the story, the New York Times took the unusual step of having its National Editor Marc Lacey as well as the reporter Fausset respond in print. The Times also removed a link in the original story to swastika armbands for sale on the Traditionalist Worker Party website.

Lacey and Fausset "regretted" that the story offended so many people -- but said that, especially after the violence in Charlottesville, the issue of the growth of the far right in America is a complex one, with no simple answers.

"Sometimes all we can bring you is the words of the police spokesman, the suspect's picture from a high school yearbook, the acrid stench of the burned woods," Fausset noted in poetic prose -- while misusing a reference to a song by the punk band the Minutemen. "Sometimes a soul, and its shape, remain obscure to both writer and reader."

Except there's not a lot that's "obscure" about the Traditionalist Worker Party -- whose stock-in-trade is scapegoating Jews, minorities, liberals and anti-racists.

Its members are open admirers of Hitler. In Hovater's case, he claims the Holocaust was "overblown." Proof? None -- Hovater simply claims in the Times profile that "Heinrich Himmler wanted to exterminate groups like Slavs and homosexuals, [while] Hitler 'was a lot more kind of chill on those subjects.'" The murder of 6 million Jews doesn't come up.

Hovater never comes out and says he's for gassing Jews or lynching Blacks. He just claims that it's common sense that white people are suffering because Blacks and other minorities receive special treatment and Jews control the media and financial system.

Fausset writes that Hovater is "adamant that the races are probably better off separated, but he insists he is not racist." Neither he nor his editor bother to ask how both things can be true. In fact, the Times profile is striking for how derelict it is in compelling Hovater to answer any serious follow-up questions or even noting where he ducks them.


Fausset notes that Hovater was on the scene during the far right's rampage in Charlottesville in August, but he never talks to anyone who witnessed the deadly violence of the Traditionalist Worker Party and their neo-Nazi brethren.

Members of the group have not been shy about their role. After the killing of Heather Heyer, Matt Parrot, a member of the affiliated Traditionalist Youth Network, proudly talked about how the group helped escalate the violence at the city's Emancipation Park: "With a full-throated rebel yell, the League [of the South] broke through the wall of degenerates [anti-racist protesters] and TradWorker managed to enter the Lee Park venue itself while they were largely still reeling."

Matthew Heimbach, another co-founder of the party, is also quoted in the profile of Hovater about the need for the group to recruit "more families. We need to be able to just be normal."

Heimbach was also in Charlottesville, where, dressed in a black shirt and German-style military helmet, he repeatedly urged the group's supporters to push through the ranks of the anti-racists.

After Heyer's death, Heimbach told the New York Times that the day was a rousing success: "We achieved all of our objectives...We asserted ourselves as the voice of white America." Fausset noted that, on social media, Hovater's takaway from Charlottesville was similar: "We made history. Hail victory."

"Our reporter and his editors agonized over the tone and content of the article," Timeseditor Marc Lacey wrote in his defense of the piece. But they didn't agonize the way Heather Heyer's mother has.

On the same day that Heyer was killed, an African American protester named DeAndre Harris was brutally beaten in a parking garage by a mob of white supremacists, leaving him with a spinal injury and a head laceration that required 10 stitches. Video of the attack showed at least one man, Jacob Scott Goodwin, was wearing a Traditionalist Worker Party pin.

It's a safe bet that DeAndre Harris has a different view of the Hovater's "Midwestern manners."


In one especially thorough takedown of the profile of Hovater that circulated online, one commenter pointed out how the Times gave "a racist an unchallenged platform," while failing to talk to civil rights organizations or even ask follow-up questions, like about the ideology of the Traditionalist Worker Party.

Even a cursory Internet search would have turned up reams of information about the party, its Holocaust denial and connections to other neo-fascist groups and the violence and bigotry of its leading figures.

Thus, the Times didn't see fit to mention that Heimbach advocates an America in which homosexuality and interracial marriage are illegal. Those who are gay or in favor of interracial marriage should be sent to re-education camps, he has said. "In any healthy society [gays] would be dragged off to therapy to help you cope with your mental illness, not given glitter and assless chaps to parade down the street."

The group uses language calculated to appeal to the political polarization in the U.S. and economically struggling white workers in particular. This includes ostensibly anti-capitalist and pro-environment rhetoric.

While the Times noted that the party is attempting to recruit on campuses, it didn't say what that means. How do the students at Murray State University feel, for example, after the Traditionalist Worker Party reserved a table in September and posted flyers that talked about "fighting to take back our communities"?

And what about the multiracial residents of Sacramento, where last year some 30 members of the Traditionalist Worker Party engaged in a violent confrontation with anti-fascist counterprotesters that left 10 people injured, some seriously? After the violence, one neo-Nazi bragged that anti-fascists "got one of our[s] but we got six of theirs."


Despite claiming to seek an understanding of Hovater's motives, the Times article doesn't attempt to show the impact of a fascist group on the people who suffer real abuse and injury as a result of its organizing.

Not DeAndre Harris, injured in Charlottesville; not the members of Congregation Beth Israel, the city's sole synagogue, who were forced to flee when the neo-Nazis marched in front, chanting "Sieg heil" ("Hail victory"); not the many more people beyond Charlottsville who today feel unsafe on their campuses and in their communities because of the Traditionalist Worker Party.

Presenting a Nazi as the mild-mannered "boy next door" who cares deeply about his community is nothing new. Racism is American as apple pie in a country built on the enslavement of Blacks, and the attempt by white supremacists to normalize their hate is a longstanding tradition of America's far right.

Particularly in its modern incarnation, the Klan has mixed racist terrorism with more benign activities in an attempt to gain a larger foothold in political and social life. David Duke, a former Grand Dragon of the KKK in Louisiana, built a political career on trying to get the Klan "out of the cow pasture and into the hotel meeting rooms."

After Charlottesville, a series of anti-racist mobilizations against planned far-right rallies from Boston to Berkeley, California, helped drain some of the wind from the sails of the fascists. Even so, they have been given a boost by the current occupant of the White House who, as Matthew Heimbach noted back in 2015, "is blowing the dog whistle for white racial interests harder than any other candidate."

Just last week, Trump re-tweeted false and virulently racist and Islamophobic videos from a far-right group, Britain First -- an action that various administration officials then defended.

With this kind of racist "fake news" being circulated by the current occupant of the White House, it puts a premium on journalists doing a better job of exposing the far right -- and on all of us building opposition in our workplaces, campuses and communities.

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New Conservative Argument: Climate Change Is So Awesome, You Guys

Sat, 2017-12-09 00:00

(Photo: Chase Dekker Wild-Life Images / Getty Images)

This masterpiece of unintended satire has opened a window into our future. These people will fight as hard as they can to get what they want -- which is the loot, always the loot, the loot every single time – until the time comes when they sound foolish even to themselves. When that happens, they will turn on a dime.

(Photo: Chase Dekker Wild-Life Images / Getty Images)

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In my worst post-apocalyptic imaginings, there is a place in my mind where a ravenous sea has encroached over every surface, ankle to knee to thigh to belly to throat. On a lone and desolate promontory clings one last living human who shrieks into the maelstrom a final defiance even as the pitiless rain clogs his throat: "In the church of climate alarmism, there may be no heresy more dangerous than the idea that the world will benefit from warming."

His name is Jeff.

Not "may benefit," mind you. "Will benefit." The power of positive thinking meets the end of everything. And in conservative circles, many of the denials that climate disruption is really happening are now being seamlessly replaced with guarantees of coming greatness.

It gets better.

"Polar melting may cause dislocation for those who live in low-lying coastal areas, but it will also lead to safe commercial shipping in formerly inhospitable northern seas," says Jeff Jacoby in his Boston Globe article titled, "There Are Benefits to Climate Change."

Istanbul. San Francisco. Helsinki. Philadelphia. Dublin. New Orleans. Venice. Perth. Bangkok. Edinburgh. Honolulu. New York. Oslo. Lisbon. Los Angeles. San Diego. Hong Kong. Miami. Tokyo. Sydney. Washington. Copenhagen. Vancouver. Barcelona. Mumbai. Nagoya. Tampa. Shenzen. Guayaquil. Khulna. Palembang. Tampa. Kochi. Abidjan. Boston. "

Low-lying coastal areas, all.

Cities, housing hundreds of millions of people, home to countless architectural wonders, each in itself a living history in mortar and stone and stucco and steel, wreathed in treasure and art of infinite value and absolutely, positively not waterproofed … all happy fodder before the prospect of new commercial shipping lanes.

One must ask: Shipping to whom? From where? All the places to park the ships will be underwater. When all those cities fall to the sea, there will be no commerce because civilization itself will be crumbling. In its stead, there will be starving wet survivors on the run to high ground and Jeff Jacoby's boats happily puttering along plying their wares to people who died below the water line before the good news about climate change could properly cheer them.

"Shifts in climate are like shifts in the economy," writes Jeff, as if he has seen such seismic shifts before. "They invariably spell good news for some and bad news for others." According to him, all the new warm weather will keep people from freezing to death, which is a good thing.

Yet Jacoby somehow missed the explosion of diseases that will come with widespread excessive heat. He missed the massive ecological die-offs on land and in the ocean that will be caused by high heat. He missed the crop disasters that will be caused by high heat. He missed the population displacement that will make our current refugee crisis seem like a longer than usual walk in the park by comparison. And then there is the methane bomb waiting to detonate once the northern permafrost finally melts from all this fortunate heat.

"The effects of climate change," concludes Jacoby, "range from the obvious (lower heating bills) to the subtle (more habitat for moose and endangered sharks). Territory formerly deemed too forbiddingly cold will grow more temperate -- and valuable. Delicacies from lobster to blueberries may become more plentiful. Bottom line? Global warming will bring gains as well as losses, upsides no less than downsides. Climate science isn't a good-and-evil morality tale. Climate discourse shouldn't be either."

There it is, folks. The bridge from climate change denial to acceptance, long deemed unpassable, has been traversed by none other than Boston's own mini-Rush Limbaugh. Mr. Jacoby has dutifully hauled water for every bad conservative idea since the Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act, but here, he is road-testing what to do when denial and obfuscation are no longer viable tactics. It's as if he's deploying an evil version of the "Stages of Grief." Last comes acceptance … but with a catch.

One can go on only so long denying the obvious before something has to give. Here, Jacoby accepts the premise that climate change is upon us, but rather than face the grim and dangerous reality of it, he chooses instead to look on the bright side. Sure, Republicans colluded with the energy industry for decades to deny the threat of climate change so their friends could get rich and now we're all going to suffer for it, but blueberries! Heat bills! Lobster, so you can pretend to be rich!

Jacoby and other conservatives  who now accept climate change have opened a window into our future. He and the people he represents will fight as hard as they can to get what they want -- which is the loot, always the loot, the loot every single time -- until the moment comes when they sound foolish even to themselves. When that happens, they will turn on a dime and begin talking up the advantages to be found in the disasters they have created. Jacoby shows them the way by moving from "it's not real" to "no big deal" in one sideways shuffle, locating the financial upside – valuable new land! – and managing to sound scolding all at once.

When the harrowing effects of the GOP tax plan begin bleeding all over Main Street, when the true nature of Donald Trump's relationship with Russia is revealed, when the attacks on Medicare and Social Security wreak havoc on the lives of elderly Americans, when all the lies no longer have a place to hide, this will be the new gospel, preached from the promontory by the likes of Jeff and his friends.

God help us all.

Lawmakers Demand Transparency and Restrictions on FBI Spying Powers

Sat, 2017-12-09 00:00

Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act sunsets in three weeks. The statute's expiration could curtail the ability of intelligence and law enforcement agencies to conduct powerful forms of surveillance. (Photo: krblokhin / Getty Images)

The Director of the FBI defended the continued use of a controversial spying authority that expires at the end of the year.

But, in an appearance on Capitol Hill Thursday, Christopher Wray was met with demands that the Bureau act more transparently about how it uses spying tools before any authorities are extended.

Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act sunsets in three weeks. The statute's expiration could curtail the ability of intelligence and law enforcement agencies to conduct powerful forms of surveillance.

"I would implore the committee and the congress not to begin rebuilding the wall that existed before 9/11," Wray told members of the House Judiciary Committee during Thursday's oversight hearing.

Constitutional concerns surround Section 702, following the revelations of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

In 2013, Snowden disclosed that programs like PRISM and activities such as "upstream" collection -- both justified under Section 702 for the purpose of foreign surveillance -- result in the seizure of massive amounts of data belonging to American citizens.

Snowden further revealed that government investigators can search those databases, rife with Americans' communications, without a warrant.

That activity, known as the "backdoor search" loophole, has prompted lawmakers to call for changes to 702 that ensure US citizens aren't subject to warrantless government searches.

Reauthorization legislation unveiled by the committee in October purportedly works to create a distinction between counter-terror and domestic crime investigation. It would require agents to obtain a warrant before reading the contents of Americans' communications sucked up into FISA databases.

"We've protected the FBI's ability to access the database for the purpose of query," the committee's Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said. "But then if you're going to take it further and read the contents of that email…if you're solving a domestic crime, then I think you need to respect the civil liberties of American citizens and get a warrant."

At least one Republican lawmaker on the panel said he would withhold his support for extending Section 702 until the FBI is more open with the committee about how it uses the spying powers on American citizens.

"So you have this database that's supposed to go after the bad guys," Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) said during Thursday's hearing. "But inadvertently you pick up all this information on Americans who have nothing to do with terrorists."

Poe wanted to know how many times the FBI has searched FISA databases for information belonging to US citizens. Wray alleged that he didn't have that answer.

"I hope you can provide us that information before we reauthorize FISA, otherwise I'm going to vote against FISA," Poe threatened, receiving the backing of the committee's chairman.

"This is a reasonable request by the gentleman from Texas," Rep. Goodlatte said. "It has been made in varying forms by this committee in a bipartisan way in the past, and we have not yet received the answers to those questions."

"We have a very nice SCIF where this can all be discussed in a classified setting," Goodlatte added.

The committee, however, is unlikely to receive a satisfactory answer from the FBI. Senators have long been requesting similar information about the 702 database from intelligence agencies.

Specifically, requests to know how many Americans are subject to inadvertent collection under 702 have been rebuffed. Responses to these inquiries have also been less than forthcoming.

During a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in June, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coates claimed under oath that it would be "infeasible to generate an exact, accurate, meaningful, and responsive methodology that can count how often a US person's communications may be incidentally collected under Section 702."

Lawmakers have previously used the 2013 Snowden leaks to bring about surveillance reforms.

In 2015, the looming expiration of a separate authority -- Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act -- compelled lawmakers to enact reforms on the government's bulk telephony metadata collection program.

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A Dubious Arrest, a Compromised Prosecutor, a Tainted Plea: How One Murder Case Exposes the System

Sat, 2017-12-09 00:00

Demetrius Smith's troubling ordeal is a road map of nearly every way the justice system breaks down -- and how easily a cascade of bad outcomes can be triggered by one small miscarriage of justice. (Photo: StefanieKaufmann)

The case of Demetrius Smith reads like a preposterous legal thriller: dubious arrests, two lying sex workers, prosecutorial fouls and a judge who backpedaled out of a deal.

It also delivers a primer on why defendants often agree to virtually inescapable plea deals for crimes they didn't commit.

ProPublica has spent the past year exploring wrongful convictions and the tools prosecutors use to avoid admitting mistakes, including an arcane deal known as an Alford plea that allows defendants to maintain their innocence while still pleading guilty. Earlier this year, we examined a dozen such cases in Baltimore.

Smith's troubling ordeal, Alford plea included, is a road map of nearly every way the justice system breaks down -- and how easily a cascade of bad outcomes can be triggered by one small miscarriage of justice. For Smith, a young black man in Baltimore, it started with a questionable collar. Nine years later he's still struggling to clear his name.  

The Arrest

Smith's saga began in the summer of 2008 in the low-income, high-crime neighborhood in southwest Baltimore where he lived. A man named Robert Long had been shot twice in the head execution-style that March. Long was a cooperating witness in a police investigation, and the killing had all the makings of a hit.

A man and a female sex worker both claimed to have seen the murder and fingered Smith. At the time, Smith was 25 and had a record of minor drug and assault offenses. When he was arrested about three months after the murder, Smith was adamant that he had nothing to do with it.

At this point, the justice system appeared to work as it should. Smith had a bail hearing before a judge who said the prosecution's evidence was nothing more than "skeletal allegations." In a rare move for a murder case, Baltimore District Judge Nathan Braverman released Smith on $350,000 bond.

"It was probably the thinnest case I'd ever seen," Braverman, now retired, said recently. Smith's alleged crimes were the most heinous of the cases before him that day, he said, but Smith was the only one granted bail -- a sign of how weak the evidence was.

But what should have been the first step in freeing Smith from a misguided murder charge instead further ensnared him. Braverman's bail decision drew sharp public criticism, and Smith was soon back in the sights of the same detective who investigated the murder.

About a month later, Detective Charles Bealefeld arrested Smith again, this time for allegedly shooting a man in the leg during a late-night robbery. Bealefeld, the brother of the then-police commissioner, wrote in his report that "word on the street" was that Smith was the assailant.

Smith lived near the victim and told police he knew the victim's parents well enough to call them by nicknames. But the victim never named Smith or described his assailant as someone he'd seen before. He said only that a black male in his 20s shot him. Later that night at the hospital, the victim identified Smith from a photo array. Bealefeld then found a second witness, another sex worker, who he said also picked Smith out of an array.

At this point, Smith was convinced Bealefeld was targeting him. He told his lawyers that the detective had admitted during the arrest that he knew Smith didn't do it. Bealefeld left the Baltimore police in 2008 amid a federal investigation into a racial incident in the department in which he was named publicly by a city councilman and local media. He declined to comment. Bealefeld is now an officer with the Annapolis Police Department.

After Smith's second arrest, the head of the police union told the local press that it proved Braverman had been reckless in releasing Smith. "It's frustrating to police officers who did the hard work to get this guy charged," the union head said, calling for the judge to be banned from presiding over bail hearings.

The Trial

Smith was jailed until his murder trial 18 months later, and unwaveringly maintained his innocence. The cases against him were remarkably similar: The prosecution relied almost exclusively on eyewitness testimony -- and in each case a key witness was a sex worker.

In January 2010, Smith went on trial for Long's murder. Prosecutor Rich Gibson, a six-year veteran of the Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office, hung his case on the testimony of the man who'd first identified Smith as the killer. The witness claimed he'd not only seen the murder from a nearby pay phone, but knew why it was done. Long, he said, had stolen drugs from Smith. Gibson ran with that theory, building Smith's history of minor offenses into a story of a neighborhood kingpin slaughtering the victim to send a message about what happens to those who steal from him.

What Gibson didn't tell the jury was that the witness was an informant for the police whose assistance on multiple cases had repeatedly kept him out of trouble. The witness only told police he'd seen the murder after he was arrested on an unrelated charge, according to police files. And, court records show, the witness had a clear understanding that any breaks he got for his testimony would best be hidden from the defense. At one point, he even wrote the judge in his case directly to ask for a sentence modification for his participation in Smith's murder trial, saying "as you already know, the detective nor the state's attorney can contact me about my matter because that would be promising me something for my testimony."

Even more troubling, there was evidence that the witness wasn't at the scene of the murder at all. Baltimore has cameras panning much of the city 24 hours a day, and the murder was caught on tape. The shooter couldn't be seen, but what was clear is that no one was at the pay phone at the time of the shooting, said Michele Nethercott, the head of the Innocence Project Clinic at the University of Baltimore Law School. The sex worker who also said she witnessed the murder wasn't on the video either, Nethercott said. It's unclear why the video footage wasn't addressed in detail at Smith's trial. Gibson declined to comment about his actions in the case.

The jury found Smith guilty. When he was sentenced to life plus 18 years, Smith told the judge, "They know I didn't do this."

That conviction did more than send Smith to prison. It pushed him into choices he never would have made.

The Plea

A year after his murder trial in February 2011, Gibson offered Smith a plea deal on the still pending charges for the shooting. Smith, proclaiming his innocence, reluctantly agreed. The system had failed him so badly once, he felt like he was "in a no-win situation," Smith told the court.

The deal Smith made is known an as Alford plea. It allows a defendant to say for the record that he's innocent of the crime but believes the state has enough evidence to convict him. Still, Smith railed against a central piece of Gibson's evidence -- that the victim had identified Smith from a photo array. That didn't make any sense, Smith told the judge, since the victim "was my neighbor. He didn't say 'my neighbor did it.' He didn't say, 'Well that guy across the street did it.'"

Under the plea, Smith would serve 10 years concurrently with his life sentence. But Smith was worried about what would happen when he was exonerated, which Smith fervently believed would happen eventually. If he was no longer serving a life sentence, he didn't want to be stuck serving the 10 years for another crime he didn't commit. So, he wanted his plea deal to have an escape hatch: He must be allowed the chance to get out of the 10-year sentence if he was found innocent of the murder.

Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry Williams called the deal "strange," but agreed that under those circumstances Smith could come back to his courtroom to revisit the plea. Gibson also agreed, according to a transcript, and that unlike most plea deals he would allow Williams full discretion.

The agreement was also laid out the next day by Smith's public defender in a court filing. It said that although Williams made no promises about what his ruling would be, the judge would nevertheless be the one to "determine whether to change the sentence" and "the assistant state's attorney agreed not to oppose the judge's ruling."

"I'm copping out to something I didn't do," Smith said at the hearing. "I just want to get it over with."

The Exoneration

Astonishingly, mere months later in the spring of 2011, Smith's stubborn faith seemed validated.

During a related investigation, the U.S. attorney's office in Maryland had turned up Long's real killer and informed Baltimore prosecutors that they had the wrong man. Federal agents quickly unraveled the case against Smith. It wasn't about drugs, as Gibson had argued. Instead, the victim, Long, had been killed in a murder-for-hire plot to keep him from testifying about crimes committed by his boss. Long had also specifically warned the Baltimore authorities not to include his lawyer in a meeting about cooperating because the lawyer worked for his boss. But they did it anyway. Six days after police searched his boss' home based on Long's information, Long was dead.

At Smith's murder trial, however, Detective Steve Hohman had testified that there was no reason to investigate Long's boss. He left out that police had done several interviews with Long's associates that pointed to the boss as a suspect, Long's family had told them that the boss threatened to kill Long days before his death, and the police had requested the boss' phone records. But that information wasn't turned over to Smith's defense, a violation of Smith's constitutional rights. Gibson told the jury that "no stone was left unturned."

Federal agents also discovered that the sex worker who'd identified Smith had been six miles away receiving methadone treatment around the time of the murder. She recanted her statement, telling federal investigators that Hohman had yelled, banged the table and generally pressured her into her testimony. (By this time, the state's other key witness, who supposedly saw Smith from a pay phone, was dead.)

Hohman has since been promoted, and the Baltimore Police Department said it stands by its investigation.

Gibson and the state's attorney's office continued to insist to Smith's lawyers that Smith had been justly prosecuted, according to Smith's public defender and Nethercott, the innocence lawyer who later took up Smith's case.

A year and a half went by while Smith remained locked up, serving a life sentence for a murder someone else had committed. Under pressure from federal prosecutors, the state finally and quietly dropped the case against Smith in August 2012.

"What was driving this case really was the U.S. attorney," Nethercott said recently. The federal government was about to indict and prosecute another person "while Demetrius was sitting there serving life on a theory that was completely different."

Rod Rosenstein, the top federal prosecutor in Maryland at the time and now the deputy attorney general of the United States, announced that the federal case had "resulted in the exoneration of an innocent man and the conviction of the real killer."

No such declaration came from Baltimore prosecutors.

"What they were not willing to do," Nethercott said, "was to say: 'We clearly made a mistake.'"

Their error didn't just damage Smith. Braverman, the judge who'd scoffed at the prosecution's case, had been shortlisted to move up to the circuit court at the time of the bail hearing, according to The Baltimore Sun, but he wasn't selected. After Smith's case, the local press closely covered Braverman's subsequent bail decisions. There was no follow-up acknowledgement from the police or others that his instincts had been right about Smith.

And even though Smith was cleared of Long's murder, he was still in maximum security prison in Hagerstown, Maryland, serving his 10-year sentence for the robbery shooting.

The Half Measure

In May 2013, as promised, Smith went back before the judge to revisit the terms of that deal. By this time, he'd been in prison for nearly five years.

The case was now being handled by Tony Gioia, then head of the state's attorney's conviction integrity unit. Gioia made no mention of Smith's innocence on the murder charge, telling the judge that the prosecution had "moved to vacate the murder conviction for a Brady violation" by the original prosecutor, Gibson. Brady refers to the 1963 Supreme Court ruling that said prosecutors must turn over evidence of innocence to the defense for a trial to be fair.

Gioia said he'd reviewed the police documents about the shooting, and had "some issues about the facts." He agreed to modify Smith's sentence to time served and release him immediately on three years' probation. Smith was free.

But on paper he was still a convicted felon for the shooting, limiting his ability to get a lease and a job -- he had three offers revoked after a background check. Smith wanted a clean record and to be completely free of the system that had now eaten up nearly a decade of his life.

In the four years since his release, damning new evidence had emerged that echoed the murder case. The sex worker recanted her statement implicating Smith and said she'd been coerced into identifying Smith by Bealefeld, the detective who investigated both of Smith's cases.

The night of the shooting, the sex worker had told police she heard gunshots and saw a man she'd been with earlier flee the scene. Bealefeld, she said, showed her an array of photos and repeatedly pointed to a picture of Smith, saying "That's him, isn't it?" When she continually denied that Smith was the man she saw, Bealefeld threatened to arrest her.

"I was afraid I'd be locked up, and so I finally signed the array as he had directed me," she said in an affidavit in June 2013.

But the new evidence had come too late. Maryland gives defendants a special path to challenge their conviction with new evidence of innocence, but those who take plea deals are barred. Smith's Alford plea meant he couldn't get the conviction vacated.

He had one last option: Ask Judge Williams to modify his plea deal again.

The Final Attempt

With the help of new pro bono lawyers, Smith filed a motion to change his sentence for the shooting from "time-served" to "probation before judgement," which means a judge withholds finding a defendant guilty so long as the defendant successfully completes a period of probation. Since Smith had finished his three years of probation, the change would essentially wipe the conviction off his record.

On July 28, Smith walked back into Williams' courtroom in a light blue blazer with hope that the judge would finally end his ordeal.

When Smith's case was called, a familiar face stood up for the prosecution. Gibson, the original prosecutor, was back and he told the judge he opposed any changes.

"What's your basis for saying 'no'?" Williams asked him. "You acknowledge" that on the murder charge "he was exonerated; is that correct?"

"The State acknowledges," Gibson responded, "that -- that after the case was tried, and the defendant was convicted of murder, and after the -- the Court of Appeals affirmed that conviction, my office, after discussions with federal authorities, chose to vacate that conviction to allow the federal prosecution to go forward the way they envisioned it."

Williams looked taken aback. "So, you're stating in open court that your office isn't saying that he wasn't guilty. You just did it for other reasons?"

Gibson offered only a vague reply, and Williams kept pressing him, at one point interjecting with exasperation that "it's a simple question."

In all, Gibson evaded the question five times before Williams abruptly stopped and ruled that Smith's original guilty plea was a binding plea -- meaning that the only way it could be changed was with the support of the prosecutor.

That contradicted how both the judge and the prosecutor had defined the plea six and a half years earlier. At the time in 2011, Gibson said that the terms of the deal meant Smith could "come back and put it before the judge and the judge can do whatever he's going to do with it."

And Williams had specifically noted the plea meant that the prosecution was "giving up the right to say to this court, 'Judge, you cannot change it.' He now has acknowledged that. ... It will be up to me to make a decision."

But now, for reasons he didn't explain, Williams said, "I have not the authority ... despite what I would, what I may or may not want to do it's irrelevant."

"Motion is denied."

Smith's lawyer, Adam Braskich, jumped up to argue that was incorrect, but the judge cut him off with a curt "thank you."

In the hallway outside the court, Smith shook his head, not entirely surprised. His gold teeth flashed through a smile. "It is what it is," he said. "You keep fighting."

Braskich and Smith's other lawyer, Barry Pollack, thought it was clear the judge had the legal authority to change Smith's sentence.

"After being wrongfully convicted of murder and then convicted for an assault he didn't commit, Demetrius served five years in prison," Pollack said. "He should not also be saddled with a felony conviction. We didn't think a fresh start was too much to ask, and we're disappointed that Demetrius still can't put this behind him."

Williams declined to comment on his ruling.

The next possible step is to apply for a rare pardon from the governor.

Like Gibson -- who's running for state's attorney one jurisdiction over in Howard County, Maryland -- the current Baltimore City state's attorney, Marilyn Mosby, won't say whether her office believes Smith is innocent of the murder, or the shooting. Spokeswoman Melba Sanders provided a short, written statement that said the office couldn't comment on the review process that led the prior administration to vacate Smith's murder conviction, but "we respect their decision."

If any case should cause prosecutors to concede mistakes, Nethercott said, it's Smith's. "What's so striking about Demetrius' case is there are very few times when you come in with an innocence claim that's supported, endorsed and proven by the Unites States government," she said. "If that doesn't move people, it's hard to see what would."

How to Help My Daughter Face Climate Change With an Open Heart

Sat, 2017-12-09 00:00

What happens to a child's psyche as they gradually absorb the knowledge that our planet is warming at a terrifying rate and to an unimaginably dangerous degree, then quietly observe the adults in their life, particularly those most responsible for caring for and protecting them, doing the very things that are causing the emergency?

A firefighter battles a wildfire as it burns along a hillside near homes in Santa Paula, California, on December 5, 2017. (Photo: RINGO CHIU / AFP / Getty Images)

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You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

~Kahlil Gibran

When the wildfires were still raging in California, my 12-year-old daughter and I rode Amtrak north from Oakland to Sacramento. Nearing Berkeley, we caught our first glimpse of the gray-brown wall of smoke issuing in from Sonoma, Napa, Lake, Mendocino, Butte, and Solano counties. After riding 10 or so miles further on, the illusion of the wall suddenly dissipated, and we found ourselves speeding along in a fog of fine ash, our train blanketed in its opaque haze.

Gazing into the smoke, my daughter seated beside me, I considered the stark difference our awareness of global warming created between my childhood and hers. And I felt a deep anxiety stir in my belly.

What happens to a child's psyche, I asked myself, as she gradually absorbs the knowledge that our planet is warming at a terrifying rate and to an unimaginably dangerous degree, then quietly observes the adults in her life, particularly those most responsible for caring for and protecting her, doing the very things that are causing the emergency? What happens as she observes the mundane spectrum of everyday life in the United States amid climate chaos: as dad pulls the car up to the pump, as mom comes home from the airport after a business trip, as the family sits down to another meat and factory farm-based dinner, iPhones at the ready and the thermostat cranked to 70?

I turned my gaze from the smoke and looked again at the book in my lap, Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution, by climate scientist Peter Kalmus. The page I had been reading would eventually lead to here: "Few people respond to facts… While intellect certainly plays a role, it's a rather small one. Our dire ecological crisis calls us to go deeper."


In his famous meditation on children, Kahlil Gibran likens parents to the bows of the divine archer, from which children, like arrows, are sent forth into the mystery of their own souls and futures. The beloved bow, Gibran attests, sends the arrow swift and far, by bending to the archer's strength, while at the same time remaining stable. Such flexible stability is what I long to achieve as a parent -- a certain rootedness and strength of purpose, mediated by gentleness. It's what I believe I need if I'm going to accompany my daughter as she learns to face the coming storms -- and fires -- with her eyes and heart open.

So it is that I'm gravitating toward the solace and instruction of other dads these days, the more humble and down-to-earth the better. Kalmus, father of two young sons, is one such dad.

"At first, we didn't know what we were doing. It was reasonable for us to start burning fossil fuels," Kalmus says early on in Being the Change. "However, now we do know what we're doing."

It's an exquisitely sane point of departure for the author's first book, which reads as an openhearted letter to anyone deeply concerned about global warming and at all cognizant of how quickly the climate change clock is ticking. Being the Change details Kalmus' process of bringing his daily life into alignment with his conscience -- a process that carries some very welcome side effects: namely, a carbon footprint weighing in at one-tenth the US average, greater happiness, and deepened connections with loved ones and life itself.

As a climate expert utterly in the know about humanity's devastating impact on the health of the biosphere (see Chapter 3), and with as clear a picture as can be had about where our civilization's carbon addiction is leading (see Chapter 4), Kalmus eventually proves no match for the cognitive dissonance he experiences because of his own outsized carbon footprint. His chosen response is refreshingly straightforward: "If fossil fuels cause global warming, and I don't want global warming," he writes, "then I should reduce my fossil fuel use."

Although there's zero evidence that Gandhi ever wrote or uttered the most popular phrase attributed to him -- "Be the change you wish to see in the world" -- the sentiment is distinctly Gandhian. Finding congruence between our deepest convictions and our outward behavior, according to this adage, is the true measure of our genuine happiness, and of our contribution to the world. It's an old and simple idea: When it comes to social change, how we live our lives is of paramount importance. In India, Gandhi captured the heart of a massive social movement with his own rendering of this basic philosophy. "Nobility of soul," he summarized in a letter to his cousin, "consists in realizing that you are yourself India. In your emancipation is the emancipation of India. All else is make believe."

What makes Being the Change important is not Kalmus' restatement of this age-old tenet, but his plainspoken description of putting it into concrete practice. He offers thorough, humbly stated guidance on establishing new daily practices which, step by step, can break a person free from the carbon-heavy status quo. What's more, through his inspiring and often funny anecdotes about his homespun experiments aimed at paring down -- things like bicycling , growing food, meditating, embracing a vegetarian diet, and renouncing air travel -- Kalmus illustrates that overcoming our addiction to fossil fuels isn't a path of puritanical self-mortification. Rather, low-energy living (low-energy being Kalmus' corrective for green, because of its insidious consumerist implications) can be a deeply satisfying adventure, calling for equal parts creativity and fun.

Boiled down, the path Kalmus advocates is based on two simple and, if we're open to them, life-changing premises.

The first is that burning fossil fuel causes harm. According to Kalmus, this harm will last for around 100,000 years -- 10 million years if we count reduced biodiversity (and why shouldn't we?). The reason he has taken what to many people looks like radical steps to avoid burning fossil fuel is that he doesn't like causing harm. This connection is obvious intellectually, but most people, and society, have not taken this in deeply enough to change their actions to any significant degree. Kalmus, the dad, however, feels this connection in his gut. "Burning fossil fuels should be unacceptable socially," he says, "the way physical assault is unacceptable. The harm it does is less immediate, but just as real." Who could argue that future generations -- likely our own children and grandchildren -- as they suffer the consequences of our negligence, will see this as plainly as we see the immorality of chattel slavery today.

The second basic premise of Being the Change is that burning less fossil fuel makes for a happier life. Despite every message to the contrary trumpeted by our consumption-driven society, this appears to be the normal experience of those following similar paths, not the exception.

On these two premises rests a path of radical personal transformation with deep implications for the collective. "Using less energy at the global scale would reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, and serve as a bridge to a future without fossil fuels," Kalmus says. "Using less energy in our individual lives," he further (and to my mind most importantly) asserts, "would equip us with the mindset, skills, and the systems we'll need in this post-fossil-fuel world."


Returning my gaze to the smoke, it occurred to me: As soon as the wildfires ran their deadly course, clean up, then construction, would immediately follow. The set would be quickly and efficiently reconstructed according to the same basic blueprint used before. And the reconstruction would undoubtedly be touted as evidence of inspiring community-resiliency, and probably of a certain American spirit, rugged and purportedly unique to us.

It occurred to me also, holding Being the Change in my hands on that smoke-immersed train with my beloved child beside me, that Peter Kalmus has provided us with a different blueprint, and he's shown through his own experimentation that we have the capacity to choose it, and to use it. On the cusp of climate catastrophe, we are neither choiceless nor powerless.

At bottom, I read Being the Change as the testament of a father trying to do right by his kids -- a testament that leaves me with a much different set of questions about the psychic wellness of our children: In the face of the climate emergency, what would it do to their psyches to see us, their parents and other adult caregivers, pouring our hearts into the work of personal and societal transformation, on behalf of people we will never meet? On behalf of all other living beings, the rivers and trees and soil? What if our children saw us respond to this crisis with maturity, sanity, and integrity? With the flexible stability of Gibran's bow? What would it do to them, for them, if we came into resonance with our own souls?

Man Denied Marriage License by Kim Davis Will Try to Unseat Her in 2018

Fri, 2017-12-08 00:00

Local elections are heating up, including one for Rowan county clerk in Kentucky. The position, currently held by gay marriage opponent Kim Davis, is being challenged by one of the men to whom she denied a marriage license in 2015. This continues a trend of everyday people defiantly challenging incumbents with whom they have personal scores to settle, which began in the Virginia elections this November.

David Ermold formally announced his plans to run against Davis Wednesday, and submitted the documents directly to Davis.

Ermold, a professor and activist, married David Moore in 2015, despite Davis' attempts to block the couple's marriage. Though the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that same-sex marriage was protected under law, Ermold and Moore's attempts to get a marriage license were denied multiple times. Davis' refusal to sign the license drew national attention to the enforcement of Supreme Court decisions on a local level, as well as the ongoing struggle for LGBTQ equality against the religious right.

Kim Davis is seeking re-election (she changed parties and is now a Republican) and has stayed busy since 2015, including her brief time in jail after refusing to grant the marriage licenses, and a recent trip to Romania to speak out against gay marriage.

Ermold is one of four Democratic candidates looking to obtain the nomination and run in 2018. There was attention paid to his speculative run in November, especially on Twitter after he shared content about his run and also tweeted:

According to his website, Ermold's platform is based on leadership, fairness and responsibility, and he's focused on issues relating to voting accessibility and the fact that the "county clerk's office has been in the hands of the same family for almost 35 years." As the Lexington Herald Leader reported, Davis previously worked for her mother while she was county clerk, and Davis' son is also employed in the office.

Ermold said in a statement, "We must recommit ourselves to embracing the diversity within our community, and we must stand strong against those who have turned their backs on our people to pursue the divisive agenda of outside politicians and organizations."

One of the bright spots of 2017 politics has been local elections in which people are standing up to those who oppose their values. This includes women who have won races against GOP members who opposed the Women's March and reproductive justice, like Ashley Bennett who unseated Atlantic County Freeholder John Carman. Carman shared a sexist meme on Facebook about the Women's March early in 2017, and this, plus Carman's failure to apologize at a meeting, pushed Bennett to run. In Virginia's state legislature race, Danica Roem, a transgender woman, won against incumbent Bob Marshall, a leader of Virginia's discriminatory bathroom bill.

It'll be a long road to election day 2018 for David Ermold, especially in a county Trump won with more than 50 percent of the vote. However, as Ermold told Newsweek, "I just cannot sit by and just let her take that seat without a fight."