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Corporate Crime

Fri, 2018-04-20 00:00

Dilma Rousseff: Lula's Imprisonment Is Part of a Coup Corroding Brazil's Democratic Institutions

Fri, 2018-04-20 00:00

Protests are continuing in Brazil over the imprisonment of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Two weeks ago, Lula began serving a 12-year prison sentence for a highly controversial corruption conviction. Lula had been the front-runner in this year's presidential election. His supporters say his jailing is a continuation of a coup that began in 2016, when his close ally, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached as president. Both Lula and Rousseff are members of the left-leaning Workers' Party, which has been credited with lifting tens of millions of Brazilians out of poverty since Lula was first elected in 2003. Last month, Lula spoke on Democracy Now! in one of his final TV interviews before being jailed. Earlier this week, Lula was dealt another setback when Brazil's Fourth Federal Regional Court denied Lula's latest appeal. Meanwhile, hundreds of Lula supporters have set up an encampment outside the prison where Lula is being held in the the southern city of Curitiba. We speak to former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. Her impeachment in 2016 ended nearly 14 years of rule by the Workers' Party. Rousseff is a former political prisoner who took part in the underground resistance to the US-backed Brazilian dictatorship in the 1960s. She was jailed from 1970 to 1972, during which time she was repeatedly tortured. She was elected president in 2010 and re-elected in 2014.


AMY GOODMAN: Protests are continuing in Brazil over the imprisonment of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Two weeks ago, Lula began serving a 12-year prison sentence for a highly controversial corruption conviction. Lula is the front-runner in this year's presidential election. His supporters say his jailing is a continuation of a coup that began in 2016 when his close ally, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached as president. Both Lula and Rousseff are members of the left-leaning Workers' Party, which has been credited with lifting tens of millions of Brazilians out of poverty since Lula was first elected in 2003.

Last month, Lula spoke on Democracy Now! in one of his final TV interviews before being jailed.

LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] We are awaiting the accusers, for the accusers to show at least some piece of evidence that indicates that I committed any crime during the period that I was in the presidency. Now, what is behind that is the attempt to criminalize my political party. What is behind that is the interest in a part of the political elite of Brazil, together with a part of the press, reinforced by the role of the judiciary, in preventing Lula from becoming a candidate in the 2018 elections.

AMY GOODMAN: You can go to to see the full hour with Lula.

Earlier this week, he was dealt another setback, when Brazil's Fourth Federal Regional Court denied his latest appeal. Meanwhile, hundreds of Lula supporters have set up an encampment outside the prison where he's being held in the southern city of Curitiba. On Thursday, the Argentine Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel traveled to the prison but was blocked from visiting Lula. Esquivel recently announced he would nominate Lula for the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in fighting poverty and economic inequality in Brazil. Esquivel spoke to supporters of Lula outside the prison.

ADOLFO PÉREZ ESQUIVEL: [translated] I think that today Brazil is in a state of exception. There was a coup d'état against President Dilma Rousseff, and now there's the entire campaign against President Lula. So we have to think: What type of democracy do we have, not only here in Brazil, but in all of Latin America? And we have to continue developing an international campaign until Lula recovers his freedom. Free Lula!

AMY GOODMAN: The Nobel Peace Prize winner Esquivel was speaking outside the Curitiba prison. Meanwhile, about a hundred members of the Homeless Workers' Movement and the People Without Fear briefly occupied the vacant beach apartment which is at the center of the Lula case. Lula was accused of receiving the apartment as a bribe, even though no documents have emerged actually linking the former president, Lula, to the apartment, which he never lived in. The protesters hung a banner reading, "If it's Lula's, then the people can stay here. If it isn't, why is he in jail?"

Well, earlier this week, I had a chance to interview former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. Her impeachment in 2016 ended nearly 14 years of rule by the Workers' Party. Rousseff is a former political prisoner who took part in the underground resistance to the US-backed Brazilian dictatorship in the 1960s. She was jailed and tortured from 1970 to 1972. She was elected president in 2010 and re-elected in 2014. I spoke to her while she was on a speaking tour in Berkeley, California. I began by asking her why she had come to the United States and about the political crisis in Brazil.

DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] It's a pleasure to be speaking with you on Democracy Now! once again. I'd like to say that the purpose of my trip to the United States and to Spain is to clarify and raise awareness, among people who live outside Brazil and everybody, that Brazil is suffering a new sort of coup d'état. This began with me in 2016, when I suffered an impeachment without having committed any high crime or misdemeanor. The truth be told, I find myself in a situation, and Brazil finds itself in a situation, in which there is a sort of legal protection, a legal cover, that is hiding acts of corruption, acts of corruption by all others. And it produces indictments against members of the Workers' Party and against President Lula. I suffered an impeachment. That impeachment was the opening act of the coup. I was impeached without committing any crime.

From there, the process has become much more radical. An agenda was adopted that was not approved in the elections, an agenda that is about curtailing the rights of the poorest and of workers, to destroy social policies [that] guaranteed that 36 million would be lifted out of poverty, that took Brazil off of the map of hunger of the U.N. So many gains that we saw in the last decade.

And what has happened? The coup mongers today do not have any political expression. They were condemned by the population. And so they don't have a relevant situation for the upcoming elections in 2018. What they have done, actually, is to open up a Pandora's box, a box of the monsters. And they took out of this box the extreme right, which today is represented by president candidate Captain Jair Bolsonaro, who on the day that my impeachment was voted on in the Lower House, he voted in favor of torture and a military dictatorship.

So what is the situation in Brazil? There is a strengthened far right, and the center right, in going along with the coup, has dissolved itself and has a minimal political expression today. They were our greatest adversaries in the last four presidential elections. Today, they're no longer politically significant, because not only did they help carry out the coup, but they were also discovered to be involved in situations of corruption. The Workers' Party and President Lula were to be destroyed. But they weren't. President Lula, from the beginning of last year, in every opinion poll, has twice as many votes as the candidate Captain Jair Bolsonaro. Lula has more than 30 percent, and Bolsonaro has less than 16 percent support. And there is not a center. The center gets 5 percent, 4 percent, sometimes 6 percent, of the support in the polls.

So why have they convicted Lula? The political reason is because if a coup d'état is carried out, if a president who is legitimately elected is removed, if a set of illegalities are carried out, including the coup, one cannot not allow the election of Lula to be closed off. So what do they do? They removed Lula from the presidential campaign, accusing Lula, falsely, of having committed a crime of corruption.

What is the crime of which they accuse Lula? They accuse Lula of committing a crime of passive corruption, which entails a 280-square-meter apartment or a home with three floors. They say that he committed a crime in order to receive that house. Now, Lula is not the owner of that house. He does not have possession of the house. He doesn't use the house. He has never been in that house.

So what we are seeing in Brazil is lawfare. The law is being used to destroy the citizen status of one's enemy. The enemy in this case is President Lula. That means that they're using the law and legal procedures to wage a political struggle and to engage in political persecution. In a way, it's very similar to what was done against me, because in the process of my impeachment, they said, "But we are following through on every single legal procedure," yet the accusations were unfounded. They accused me of engaging in acts that every president before me has carried out. They were not crimes when the other presidents engaged in such acts. And they weren't crimes when I took such action. They were provided for by the law.

Many have asked us, "Why don't you choose another candidate, since the polls show that a person supported by the Workers' Party and supported by Lula would be well positioned to run in the election?" Our answer is: because accepting this is accepting that Lula is guilty. And for us, it is more than proven that he is innocent. So, accepting that is accepting political persecution, and it would make it official.

They have taken Lula prisoner for two reasons. First, to make the argument that he can't be a candidate. But also for a very strong reason. That is, not to let him speak. And that is clear, in the very argument of the measure that requires that he begin serving the sentence immediately, because Lula today is in a situation in which he is being isolated. He is in a situation of solitary confinement.

I was a political prisoner during the military dictatorship that followed the military coup. At that time, no doubt, the situation was one of open violence. People were taken prisoner. They were killed. They were tortured. All rights were violated -- the right to freedom of expression, the right to freedom of the press, the right to organize. All of these rights were done away with.

In our current situation -- and this is typical of Latin America -- you have a coup that is not a military coup. It doesn't destroy the rights of everyone. It corrodes the institutions from within, as if it was a sort of parasite corroding democratic institutions. So, in this case, what are they doing with Lula? Lula can't speak. But we can speak for him. Brazil's democracy is being mitigated. It's being diminished.

What is our role, and why am I traveling, and why am I here in Berkeley? I went to Catalonia. I went to Madrid. I was already in the East Coast and some US universities. I have been in France and Germany. Why? Because we have to draw on all possible means to not allow this way of wounding democracy, which in our case is a fragile democracy. We emerged from the dictatorship in the 1980s, and Lula is an example of this phenomenon. Because they don't want Lula to speak. They want Lula to be isolated from the whole world at this time, because they see him as a representation of everything that turned back the coup in Brazil. Like any coup process, it cannot be sustained if it doesn't become radicalized, if it doesn't become deepened.

And so, it's a very risky situation for Brazil's democracy. Indeed, it goes to the very cornerstone of democracy, which is to say that the justice system must not be politicized. The justice system has to be absolutely neutral. And it has to enforce the law, not as a political instrument, but as an instrument for the truth expressed in the constitution.

AMY GOODMAN: Former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. She's now running for the Brazilian Senate. When we return, we'll speak with her about the rise of the far right in Brazil and the assassination of human rights activist Rio City Councilmember Marielle Franco. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: "Nothing Compares 2 U" by Prince, a studio recording from 1984, released for the first time this week. The song was made famous when Sinéad O'Connor covered it in 1990.

Earth Day 2018: Ending Plastic Pollution in the Oceans, Land and Our Bodies

Fri, 2018-04-20 00:00

This Sunday more than a billion people will celebrate Earth Day. This year's theme: ending plastic pollution by Earth Day 2020. Of the nearly 300 million tons of plastic sold each year, about 90 percent ends up in landfills, in the oceans -- and in our bodies. Part of the focus will be microplastics, those small bits of plastic that are seemingly everywhere. We speak to Marcus Eriksen of the 5 Gyres Institute, who has led 20 expeditions around the world to research plastic marine pollution, and Priscilla Villa of the #BreakFreeFromPlastics movement.


AMY GOODMAN: This Sunday more than a billion people will celebrate Earth Day. This year's theme: ending plastic pollution by Earth Day 2020. Of the nearly 300 million tons of plastic sold each year, about 90 percent ends up in landfills, in the oceans -- and in our bodies.

Well, our next guest is considered a leading expert on microplastics, those small bits of plastic that are seemingly everywhere. Marcus Eriksen has led 20 expeditions around the world to research plastic marine pollution. In 2008, he embarked on an 88-day journey from California to Hawaii on a raft built from 15,000 plastic bottles and recycled junk. Dr. Eriksen documented the journey in his book Junk Raft: An Ocean Voyage and a Rising Tide of Activism to Fight Plastic Pollution and on video.

MARCUS ERIKSEN: What you see here is a bunch of zooplankton and plastic. It's the same-size pieces we find inside the stomachs of these fish, the lanternfish, the myctophids. Now, you're here in the middle of nowhere, and you still find this trash. The human footprint is everywhere, everywhere you go. On top of mountains, the bottom of the ocean, evidence of us.

AMY GOODMAN: Five years earlier, Dr. Eriksen had rafted the Mississippi River and wrote about his experience as a marine in the 1991 Gulf War in the book My River Home. Eriksen's work on discovering plastic microbeads in the Great Lakes led to the federal Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015.

Well, Marcus Eriksen joins us now from Los Angeles. Welcome to Democracy Now!As we lead into Earth Day, first explain what microplastics are. Lay out the challenge to the world.

MARCUS ERIKSEN: So, microplastics are small, broken-down fragments from larger items. Those are your secondary microplastics, formed by things falling apart. For example, in the oceans, we often find bottles. Here's one bottle. You can see the edge is all bitten off. So, animals are tearing larger plastics into smaller bits. The sun breaks them down, makes them brittle. Waves then crush it. So what we're finding is, a lot of the trash that leaves their land, out to sea via our rivers, are beginning to form bigger items into smaller items that microplastic forms near shore. By the time I get to the middle of the ocean, I'm hardly finding any big items -- a few fishing buoys in nets -- but a smog a small particles everywhere.

AMY GOODMAN: So, explain these microplastic beads everywhere.

MARCUS ERIKSEN: Well, the microbeads, that was a primary microplastic. They were designed to be small. And those are the ones that we saw in our facial scrubs and toothpaste. But Obama signed the Microbead-Free Waters Act in 2015. So, microbeads, we've been able to do away with, through some great campaigning. But the microplastics are just everything that breaks down into small particles. And we have found them in the middle of the oceans, all the five subtropical gyres, Antarctica, the Arctic. We have found them frozen in sea ice and the deep floor -- deep sea floor sediments. So the distribution has gone global of these small bits, like as big as a grain of rice or smaller. They're everywhere.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the impact of plastics on human beings, Marcus?

MARCUS ERIKSEN: On us, well, you can say it's twofold. One is the issue of plastics as waste, that contaminates other living things, including fish, that the world depends on. You know, I think one-sixth of the planet gets their protein from fish. And we're seeing this explosion, these clouds, this smog of microplastics, impacting the food chain. And the toxins that sticks to plastics are also polluting organisms in that food chain. But as a pre-consumer product, which you might grab off the shelf, we're still finding some synthetic chemistry in those, like bisphenol A and phthalates, that you don't want in your body or the bodies of your children. They're endocrine disruptors. They're carcinogenic. So there is the pre-consumer and the post-consumer impacts of throwaway plastics on human health.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to another clip from your documentary that you produced on the junk raft project.

MARCUS ERIKSEN: Two-fifths of the plastic made in the world come from the United States. There's a very huge corporate interest in maintaining production of plastics. This is what the ocean looks like 2,000 miles from the California coast. Now, this is roughly three football fields netted and consolidated into one jar. But keep in mind there are 9 million football fields of area in the North Pacific. And it all looks like this. So we can't mine this area with giant nets to clean this problem. The only fix is a cultural fix, by changing our use of plastics.

We decided, while we're at sea, to get the nation's attention by building a boat out of the same plastic trash we consume every day. So we built a boat out of 15,000 plastic bottles, old fishing nets to hold those bottles together, and 20 sailboat masts, an airplane wing to make a flat deck. We've had three high schools provide these bottles, help us make pontoons. It very quickly became a project much bigger than ourselves.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, there are so many directions to go in, but let me ask you about the efforts to get rid of BPA in plastic bottles and microbeads in beauty products. How pervasive is this?

MARCUS ERIKSEN: Well, I would step back and talk about the process. So, Frederick vom Saal is a colleague of mine who's been studying BPA in mice all his life. And he was finding that, you know, the BPA was actually leaching out of the containers where he had the mice living in. So he found that BPA was there. It's all around us. In adding machine tape, when you get a receipt, if it's wet, you might see a white residue on your hands. That's BPA. The plastic lining in metal cans, the reason why your can of beans doesn't rust from the inside is a thin layer of BPA. And in many children's toys, you find phthalates.

And talking with Dr. vom Saal, his science work, it was such a challenge to get that into the hands of producers and say, "OK, your science says it's a problem. Let's stop." Instead, it was a long, drawn-out fight to get phthalates, BPA out of water bottles, out of children's toys. And the fight continues to get them out of other areas where BPA gives us some exposure. So I think, you know, that was a challenge.

With microbeads, the same thing. But I can tell you, the science work that I did on microbeads in the Great Lakes, with Sam Mason, a colleague of mine, that was just the start. There was a huge coalition, organized by many colleagues and different organizations that do advocacy work, working together with the same kind of -- with the same science foundation. The information was there. We had the -- we had the videos and the photography to share of animal impacts by microbeads. Then we had sample legislation, and we had some champions in the White House. And within, you know, a couple years after publication, this massive coalition brought the bill to Obama's desk, and he signed it. And again, it's this long, drawn-out fight for things that are obviously wrong and need to be fixed.

AMY GOODMAN: From Seattle to Malibu, cities have banned certain plastics. The U.K. and Kenya, for example, have announced plans to ban some plastics countrywide. Talk about the efforts around the country and the world, and states also circumventing cities, trying to prevent them from banning plastics.

MARCUS ERIKSEN: Well, you know, it's really -- it's fabulous to see there's this movement growing around the world, the Break Free from Plastics movement. It established about a couple years ago. We now have over 1,060 organizations that have come under this values statement about single-use plastics. And they have no place in society because of the negative externalities. When I say "single-use," I mean it's the plastic bags, the bottles, the cup lids, the straws, the little plastic stir sticks -- these things that you use once and then throw away, but using a material designed to last forever. That is creating mountains of waste around the world. And you're seeing communities sort of rise up and say, "We're done with this, this linear system of companies making stuff, selling it and washing their hands clean of any responsibility for the stuff where it resides." When I go from island to island, you know, around the world on our sailing voyages, you see these mountainous landfills, sometimes next to the sea, and islands saying, "We don't know what to do with all of this stuff."

Now, I can talk about one of the challenges here in the United States. It's a concept called preemption. So, without preemption, for example, in states like California and a few across the country, grassroots movements, in city by city, can say, "We don't want plastic bags. We don't want plastic straws. The pollution is too burdensome. And we, as taxpayers, are tired of paying for cleanup." So, communities and grassroots movements are working, and they're succeeding, town by town. What preemption does, it's been an industry-sponsored bill that goes from state to state and tells the states to tell their cities that "You can't do that anymore. Any decision to ban bags has to come from state-level policy." It makes it illegal for grassroots movements in small towns to ban these single-use, throwaway, polluting products.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring in another guest. You mentioned the Break Free from Plastics coalition. Let's go to Houston, the -- what some call the Petro Metro, the petrochemical capital of the United States. Texas alone produces nearly three-quarters of the country's supply of one of the basic chemical building blocks for making plastics -- ethylene, much of which is derived from oil extracted through fracking. So, we're joined by Priscilla Villa, the South Texas organizer for Earthworks. She recently helped host the first US meeting of the Break Free from Plastics movement, that seeks to raise awareness about the link between plastics in our water and oceans and pollution from oil and gas extraction and refining related to plastics.

Priscilla, welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about what you're doing and the whole cycle, from oil fracking to plastics.

PRISCILLA VILLA: Hi, good morning. Thank you so much for having me.

So, the meeting that we had in Houston was the first US-based Break Free from Plastics meeting that we hosted alongside with t.e.j.a.s. One of the main reasons that we had this meeting was so that organizations who are working across the life cycle of plastics could really get together and talk about how we can support our work along this life cycle of plastics.

So the work that Earthworks specifically does, we focus on extraction and the issues that go along with fracking. So, when you're talking about a fracked well and/or fracking for oil and gas, one of the byproducts is a natural gas liquid called ethane. In order to -- so, ethane, in and of itself, is not necessarily useful. It's been considered a waste product. But in order to make it something, to turn it into plastics, you first have to crack it. So there are all these facilities along the Gulf and Pennsylvania that are called crackers. And so, these facilities crack ethane into ethylene. And then, ethylene -- you have these ethylene pellets that then get exported out and eventually turn into plastics. And those are the main building blocks, as you said, of plastics.

AMY GOODMAN: And Texas aiming to be the plastics capital, or Houston, of the country?

PRISCILLA VILLA: Well, the oil and gas industry is investing around $86 billion in over 280 infrastructure -- 280 facilities that would be turning ethane or ethylene into plastics. And a lot of the build-out is really being focused in the Gulf South, so in Texas -- Portland, Texas, for example, where Exxon is proposing to build the world's largest cracker facility. There are folks out there who are opposing that particular facility. And there's even more build-out for Houston, for example.

And one of the big issues there is that, considering the impacts and everything that came along with Hurricane Harvey, it's a vulnerable place to be building this kind of infrastructure, because you had incidents like the explosion at the Arkema plant, for example, that put a lot of people at risk. And not to mention the ongoing emissions that come from a lot of these facilities in the Gulf also contribute to bad air quality and bad health. So, more of these facilities mean more people are put at risk. So when we talk about plastics and pollution, we also need to be talking about the pollution that is tied to the production piece, in the very first stage of plastics.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we're going to have to leave it there now, but of course we'll continue to cover this. Again, Sunday is Earth Day, celebrated around the world. The theme now: end plastic pollution. Priscilla Villa, joining us from Houston, part of the Break Free from Plastics movement. And Marcus Eriksen, co-founder of 5 Gyres Institute.

That does it for our show. A fond farewell to Camille May Baker. We wish you the very best in what will clearly be a brilliant career.

Tonight, I'll be in Lincoln, Nebraska, at the Rococo Theatre, 8 p.m. Hope to see you there, celebrating KZUM's 40th anniversary. Saturday night, Democracy Now!'s Juan González will be speaking at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. And on Tuesday at noon, I'll be speaking in Teaneck, New Jersey, at the Puffin Cultural Forum. All welcome.

Democracy Now! accepting applications for our paid, year-long social media fellowship. Check out

Will Congress Write the President a Blank Check for War?

Fri, 2018-04-20 00:00

Hundreds of antiwar and social justice activists took to the streets in New York City to oppose endless wars and demonstrate against the US bombing of Syria on Apri 15, 2018. (Photo: Erik McGregor / Pacific Press / LightRocket via Getty Images)

Under the guise of fulfilling its constitutional power to authorize military force, Congress is poised to consider legislation that would give the president a blank check to make war, with no limits, in at least six countries and against several groups.

Hundreds of antiwar and social justice activists took to the streets in New York City to oppose endless wars and demonstrate against the US bombing of Syria on Apri 15, 2018. (Photo: Erik McGregor / Pacific Press / LightRocket via Getty Images)

If you're a fan of real journalism, now's the time to strengthen Truthout's mission. Help us keep publishing stories that expose government and corporate wrongdoing: Make a donation right now!

This coming Monday, April 23, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is set to review a bill that would virtually give President Donald J. Trump a blank check to wage war anywhere in the world any time he pleases.

The Constitution places the power to declare war exclusively in the hands of the Congress. However, for the past 75 years, Congress has allowed that power to drift toward the executive branch. 

The new bill, should it pass, would effectively make the transfer of the war power from Congress to the president complete. It is hard to imagine a worse time in American history for this to happen. 

Why Only Congress Has the Power to Declare War

The framers of the Constitution were well aware of the dangers of placing the power to declare war in the hands of the president. Delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention overwhelmingly rejected South Carolina delegate Pierce Butler's proposal that the president be given the power to start a war, according to James Madison's notes on the congressional debates. George Mason said he was "against giving the power of war to the executive" because the president "is not safely to be trusted with it.”

The framers of the Constitution therefore specified in Article I that only Congress has the power to declare war. Article II states, "The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States." Those articles, taken together, mean the president commands the armed forces once Congress authorizes war.

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

In spite of its exclusive constitutional power, Congress has not declared war since 1942. After that time, starting with President Truman, a series of US presidents committed American troops to hostilities around the world without waiting for Congress to act. Following the debacle in Vietnam, Congress enacted the War Powers Resolution in an effort to reclaim its constitutional authority to decide when and where the nation would go to war.

Congress has not declared war since 1942.

The War Powers Resolution allows the president to introduce US Armed Forces into hostilities or imminent hostilities only after Congress has declared war, or in "a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces," or when there is "specific statutory authorization," such as an Authorization for the Use of Military Force.

The 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for Use of Military Force

Congress enacted Authorizations for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) in 2001 and 2002, which were directed at al-Qaeda and Iraq, respectively. Although these authorizations were limited, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump have all used them to justify attacking or invading whatever country they wished.

In the 2001 AUMF, Congress authorized the president to use military force against individuals, groups and countries that were seen as having supported the 9/11 attacks. Congress rejected the Bush administration's request for open-ended military authority "to deter and preempt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States." 

Nevertheless, the 2001 AUMF has been used to justify at least 37 military operations in 14 countries, according to the Congressional Research Service. Many of them were unrelated to the 9/11 attacks.

Bush utilized the 2001 AUMF to invade Afghanistan and initiate the longest war in US history, which continues unabated. Obama relied on that AUMF to lead a NATO force into Libya and forcibly change its regime, creating a vacuum that ISIS moved in to fill. Obama invoked the same AUMF to carry out targeted killings with drones and manned bombers, killing untold numbers of civilians. And Trump is relying on that AUMF as justification for his drone strikes, which have killed thousands of civilians. 

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-California), the only member of Congress to vote against the 2001 AUMF, was prescient. In July 2017, Lee said, "I knew then it would provide a blank check to wage war anywhere, anytime, for any length by any president." Lee told Democracy Now! in 2016 that she knew the 2001 AUMF "was setting the stage and the foundation for perpetual war. And that is exactly what it has done."

The 2001 AUMF has been used to justify at least 37 military operations in 14 countries.

Congress granted Bush the 2002 AUMF specifically to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. Once that was accomplished, that license ended. So, the 2002 AUMF does not provide an ongoing legal basis for US to engage in military action.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) stated at an October 2017 hearing that the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs have now become "mere authorities of convenience for presidents to conduct military activities anywhere in the world," adding, "They should not be used as the legal justification for military activities around the world."

At that 2017 hearing, Defense Secretary James Mattis and then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Trump had sufficient legal authority to kill people in any part of the world he desired. They cited the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs, as well as Article II of the Constitution. With an abundance of political caution, however, Mattis and Tillerson invited Congress to enact a new AUMF with no temporal or geographical limitations.

At his April 12 confirmation hearing, Mike Pompeo, Trump's nominee for Secretary of State, told Sen. Cory Booker that Trump had legal authority to bomb Syria without congressional approval. Pompeo testified, "I believe that he has the authority he needs to do that today. I don't believe we need a new AUMF for the president to engage in the activity you described."

The following day, the US, United Kingdom and France launched airstrikes in Syria. Like Trump's 2017 Syria bombing, they violated both US and international law. The Trump administration persists in its refusal to reveal the memo that purportedly explains its legal justification for the 2017 bombing of Syria.

Attempts in Congress to repeal and/or replace the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs have thus far been unsuccessful. But Mattis and Tillerson may now get their wish.

Authorization for the Use of Military Force of 2018

On April 16, 2018, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a new AUMF to replace the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) and Democratic committee member Tim Kaine (Virginia) sponsored the proposed legislation. Co-sponsors include Senators Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), Christopher Coons (D-Delaware), Todd Young (R-Indiana) and Bill Nelson (D-Florida).

The 2018 AUMF would authorize the president to use military force, with no limitations, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Libya and Somalia. It would also allow the president to take military action against al-Qaeda, ISIS and the Taliban, as well as their "associated forces" in any geographical location.

The 2002 AUMF does not provide an ongoing legal basis for US to engage in military action.

If the president wants to add countries or groups to his hit list, he must report to Congress. However, he can withhold whatever information he says is classified, as Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty & National Security Program at the NYU School of Law's Brennan Center for Justice, has noted.

And although the president cannot add nation-states to the list of countries he wants to attack, he could circumvent that limitation by claiming that terrorists are operating in a new country, or say a particular country is a state sponsor of terrorism, and he needs to use military force to fight terrorism.

The president must notify Congress within 48 hours of expanding his military operations into countries beyond the six listed in the AUMF or "new designated associated forces." If Congress doesn't object within 60 days, the president's expansion will stand. 

The new bill contains a presumption that the president can decide when and where to make war. The bill has no expiration date.

Alarmingly, the new bill contains a presumption that the president can decide when and where to make war. It would require affirmative action by two-thirds of both houses of Congress to prevent military action.

The bill has no expiration date. Every four years, the president would be required to send Congress a proposal to modify, repeal or maintain the authorization. But if Congress does not respond in 60 days, the AUMF would remain in force. Once again, it places the burden on Congress to take action. 

In light of Congress's failure to meaningfully object to presidential uses of military force, including most recently in Syria, a president should have no concern about congressional pushback. He could continue to make war with impunity, cashing the blank check Congress has provided him.

The proposed AUMF would violate the United Nations Charter. The charter requires that countries settle their disputes peacefully, and forbids the use of military force except when conducted in self-defense or with the blessing of the Security Council. The new AUMF would allow the president to attack or invade another country with no requirement that the attack or invasion be conducted in self-defense or with the council's permission. It would thus violate the charter.

What's Next? 

Corker has scheduled a committee hearing on the proposed legislation for Monday, April 23. But even if the bill passes out of committee, there is no guarantee it will get a hearing on the floor of the Senate or the House. Both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan have shown little appetite for allowing discussion of a new AUMF.

The 2001 and 2002 AUMFs should be repealed, and Congress should not give the president a new one. As George Mason sagely said, a president "is not safely to be trusted" with the power of war.

Showing "Total Disregard for Indigenous Rights and Public Wishes," Trump Moves to Open Alaska Wildlife Refuge to Drilling

Fri, 2018-04-20 00:00
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Demonstrating a "total disregard for Indigenous rights and public wishes," the Trump administration on Friday moved to expedite oil and gas exploration in previously protected lands in Alaska.

The Interior Department published a notice in the Federal Register announcing a public comment period and plans to draft an environmental impact statement for creating a leasing program for the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The filing follows legislation to enable the program that was tacked on to the tax law Republicans forced through Congress last year.

In response, critics who have spent several months fighting the drilling efforts expressed worries about how drilling will impact the region's native people as well as ANWR's wildlife; condemned the aggressive timeline for making leases available to fossil fuel companies; and vowed to file lawsuits.

Denouncing the "reckless dash to expedite drilling," Defenders of Wildlife president Jamie Rappaport Clark declared: "We will not stand by and watch them desecrate this pristine landscape. Drilling would threaten hundreds of species that depend on the coastal plain for survival. It would violate the rights of the Gwich'in people, and further exacerbate the increasing impacts of climate change."

The Gwich'in people -- an indigenous tribe that lives along the migratory route of the Porcupine River Caribou Herd in northern Alaska and Canada -- have long opposed drilling in the region.

In a statement posted to Facebook, Bernadette Dementieff, executive director of the Gwich'in Steering Committee, said: "The administration has made my people a target. We in turn give notice to those in power that the Gwich'in people will not be silent. We will not stand down."

"Protecting the coastal plain is protecting our identity, our human rights, and our culture," Dementieff added. "Those who attempt to exploit this sacred place have taken aim at our communities and human rights."

"This is a time to make a choice about what our country wants for our future -- the preservation of life, climate justice, and wild places for future generations, or a race to the bottom dominated by drilling and greed," said Alli Harvey, Alaska representative for Sierra Club's Our Wild America campaign. "We stand with the Gwich'in Nation as we fight for a better world, starting with safeguarding the Arctic Refuge."

In a letter (pdf) to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Thursday, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, and eight other Democrats reiterated their opposition to any drilling in ANWR and criticized the Trump administration's "needless haste."

"Attempting to rush the leasing process," they wrote, "is unnecessary, inappropriate, and likely will result in serious harm to one of our nation's last remaining truly wild areas."

Noting that "the goal of this timeline is to meet the purely political deadline of holding a lease sale within this presidential term," they concluded: "Playing politics with our nation's most important and irreplaceable public lands is irresponsible, and this effort is wholly incompatible with your responsibility to move forward in a way that is compatible with protecting the wilderness and wildlife values of the Refuge and the needs of the Gwich'in people."

Following Release of Memos, Trump and His GOP Call for Comey's Imprisonment

Fri, 2018-04-20 00:00

Former FBI Director James Comey testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on June 8, 2017. (Photo: Melina Mara / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

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If I had read this opening paragraph of a CNN story four years ago I would have assumed it was actually an excerpt from a bad movie script:

A week after the tell-all book from James Comey exploded onto the scene, President Donald Trump is telling aides and confidants something he rarely does: He's pleased at how Republicans and the White House led the charge to try and discredit the former FBI director.

Setting aside the ridiculous notion of Donald Trump being president, I would have said the stuff about the White House and Republicans openly celebrating a campaign to discredit an FBI director, much less a stalwart Republican like Comey, would be absurd and no one would believe it. They were the "law and order" party. They love FBI directors.

There's no need to belabor this little time-travel exercise. It's just that sometimes you have to acknowledge the strangeness of what's going on. This is just one small example, but it's a significant one. The president and his minions in the media and, more significantly, in the Congress are working overtime to discredit witnesses in a counterintelligence investigation involving ... the president. And they are bragging about their success to the news media.

On Thursday night the Department of Justice finally relented and released the long-sought "Comey memos," which the former FBI director had written to document his meetings with Trump and other members of the White House during those first few months of the Trump administration. Just like the infamous "Nunes memo," they are basically duds as far as new information is concerned. This should come as no surprise: Comey testified at length before Congress and wrote a book about all this that he's currently appearing on every TV show in the known world to promote. Apparently, Trump's allies hoped or believed these would prove Comey was lying and instead they have now proved to everyone that he wasn't. They're reduced to making absurd observations that Comey never once wrote that he "felt obstructed."

Still, it was a thrilling day for Trump. His Justice Department referred former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia for possible criminal charges. Finally, one of his perceived political enemies was getting what was coming to him.

McCabe was referred on the basis of the FBI inspector general's report finding that he had shown a "lack of candor" about an unauthorized leak to the Wall Street Journal confirming that the FBI was still investigating the Clinton Foundation. You'll recall that McCabe was fired in a highly unorthodox fashion for this infraction, just hours before he was to officially retire and weeks before the report was released in full.

According to former FBI counter-intelligence official Frank Figliuzzi, who recently discussed all this on MSNBC's "Deadline: White House," this referral is unusual:

If it is true that the charge that is being referred is for a lack of candor during an internal inquiry, I cannot recall that ever happening in my 25-year FBI career. I also headed the office of professional responsibility adjudication unit. I was the chief inspector of the FBI during my career and that's a new one on me. So, what I was thinking is that the referral would be for an unauthorized leak -- that McCabe actually conceded that he did allow his subordinates to talk to the media and disclosed the existence of a case. That sounded more prosecutable than lacking candor during an internal inquiry. I don't know if he was under oath or not, but nonetheless the remedy for that is termination not criminal referral. So I'm troubled by this, if the reporting is correct.

James Comey told Rachel Maddow on Thursday night that there were two people in the FBI who had authorization to provide such information to the media at the time: Himself and Andrew McCabe. So a criminal referral on that count would seem to be odd as well.

It appears that McCabe is facing potential criminal indictment for a so-called crime not easily found in the statute books ("lack of candor") or over a leak he was specifically authorized to make. This is not the end of this story.

According to the Washington Post, the president is not satisfied:

Trump also loudly and repeatedly complained to several advisers earlier this week that former FBI director James B. Comey, former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe and former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, among others, should be charged with crimes for misdeeds alleged by Republicans, the associates said.

Although White House officials said Thursday that Trump has not called Justice Department officials or taken any formal action, the persistent grousing has made some advisers anxious, according to two people close to the president.

He doesn't have to call Justice officials. They are well aware of his demand to lock up Hillary Clinton for crimes that exist only in his head, and he has said that McCabe is a criminal many times. Surely they read his Twitter feed:

The big questions in Comey's badly reviewed book aren't answered like, how come he gave up Classified Information (jail), why did he lie to Congress (jail), why did the DNC refuse to give Server to the FBI (why didn't they TAKE it), why the phony memos, McCabe's $700,000 & more?

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 15, 2018

The right-wing media, led by unofficial White House chief of staff Sean Hannity, have been calling for indictments of the president's enemies for months. Now he has some congressional back-up for this authoritarian command. Eleven members of the House have called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director Christopher Wray to launch criminal investigations into Clinton, Comey, former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, McCabe, former acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente and FBI employees Peter Strzok and Lisa Page for a variety of different and unaffiliated alleged crimes. If it weren't for the fact that McCabe has actually been referred for possible indictment already I'd say all of that was nuts.

I hate to give James Comey the last word, but this is what he said during an NPR interview this week after President Trump called for him to be sent to prison:

The president of the United States just said that a private citizen should be jailed. And I think the reaction of most of us was, "Meh, that's another one of those things." This is not normal. This is not OK. There's a danger that we will become numb to it, and we will stop noticing the threats to our norms. The threats to the rule of law and the threats most of all to the truth. And so the reason I'm talking in terms of morality is, those are the things that matter most to this country. And there's a great danger we'll be numbed into forgetting that, and then only a fool would be consoled by some policy victory.

Native Language Schools Are Taking Back Education

Fri, 2018-04-20 00:00

The United States Mint and leaders of the Wampanoag Tribe introduced the 2011 Native American $1 coin during a ceremony at Plimoth Plantation on March 25, 2011. (Photo: Jonathan Wiggs / The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

For more than 150 years, the Wôpanâak language was silent. With no fluent speakers alive, the language of the Mashpee Wampanoag people existed only in historical documents. It was by all measures extinct. But a recently established language school on the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe's reservation in Massachusetts is working to bring back the language.

The threat of extinction that faces the Wôpanâak language is not uncommon for indigenous languages in the United States. Calculated federal policy, not happenstance, led to the destruction of Native American languages such as Wôpanâak.

But today, Native language schools are working to change that by revitalizing languages that have been threatened with extinction.

In the 19th century, federal policy shifted from a policy of extermination and displacement to assimilation. The passage of the Civilization Fund Act in 1819 allocated federal funds directly to education for the purpose of assimilation, and that led to the formation of many government-run boarding schools. Boarding schools were not meant to educate, but to assimilate.

Tribal communities continue to be haunted by this history. As of April, UNESCO's Atlas of the World's Endangered Languages listed 191 Native American languages as "in danger" in the United States. Of these, some languages are vulnerable -- meaning that children speak the language, but only in certain contexts -- to critically endangered -- meaning the youngest generation of speakers are elderly.

Today, the education system in the United States fails Native American students. Native students have the lowest high school graduation rate of any racial group nationally, according to the 2017 Condition of Education Report. And a 2010 report shows that in the 12 states with the highest Native American population, less than 50 percent of Native students graduate from high school per year.

By founding schools that teach in Native languages and center tribal history and beliefs, tribal language schools are taking education back into their own hands.

Mukayuhsak Weekuw: Reviving a Silent Language

On the Massachusetts coast just two hours south of Boston is Mukayuhsak Weekuw, a Wôpanâak language preschool and kindergarten founded in 2015. The school is working to revitalize the Wôpanâak language. As one of the first tribes to encounter colonists, the Mashpee Wampanoag faced nearly four centuries of violence and assimilation attempts; by the mid 19th century, the last fluent speakers of Wôpanâak had died.

In the 1990s, Wampanoag social worker Jessie Little Doe Baird began to work to bring the language back to her people. It began like this: More than 20 years ago, Baird had a series of dreams in which her ancestors spoke to her in Wôpanâak. She says they instructed her to ask her community whether they were ready to welcome the language home.

She listened, and in 1993 she sought the help of linguists and community elders to begin to revitalize the language -- elders like Helen Manning from the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe, with whom she would later co-found the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project.

Baird found a lot of resources. To translate the Bible, colonists had transcribed Wôpanâak to the Roman alphabet in the 1600s, which the Wampanoag used to write letters, wills, deeds, and petitions to the colonial government. With these texts, Baird and MIT linguist Kenneth Hale established rules for Wôpanâak orthography and grammar, and created a dictionary of 11,000 words.

In 2015, the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project was ready to open the Mukayuhsak Weekuw preschool. According to the school's Project Director Jennifer Weston, 10 students attended in the first year it opened, growing to 20 in the current school year. As part of the language program, parents or grandparents of students at the school are required to attend a weekly language class to ensure that the youth can continue speaking the language at home.

The curriculum is taught entirely in the Wôpanâak language, and it is also grounded in tribal history and connection to the land. "Our languages embody our ancestors' relationships to our homelands and to one another across millennia," Weston says. "They explain to us to the significance of all the places for our most important ceremonies and medicines. They tell us who we are and how to be good relatives."

In addition to language learning, the children also learn about gardening, hunting, and fishing. They practice tribal ceremonies, traditional food preservation, and traditional hunting and fishing practices. At Native American language schools like Mukayuhsak Weekuw, students experience their culture in the curriculum in a deeply personal and empowering way.

'Aha Pūnana Leo: Overcoming Policy Barriers

Considering the violent history of America's education system towards Native Americans, it is perhaps unsurprising that policy barriers continue to hinder contemporary language revitalization schools.

Federal policies are often misaligned with the reality of tribal communities and language revitalization schools. Leslie Harper, president of the advocacy group National Coalition of Native American Language Schools and Programs, says schools often risk losing funding because they lack qualified teachers who meet federal standards. But these standards are paternalistic, notes Harper, who says that fluent language teachers at Native schools are often trained outside of accredited teaching colleges, which don't offer relevant Native language teaching programs. These teaching colleges don't "respond to our needs for teachers in Indian communities," she says.

In Hawai'i, 'Aha Pūnana Leo schools have had some success in overcoming policy barriers like these. The schools have led the way for statewide and national policy change in Native language education.

When the first preschool was founded in 1984, activists estimated that fewer than 50 children spoke Hawaiian statewide. Today, 'Aha Pūnana Leo runs 21 language medium schools serving thousands of students throughout the state, from preschool through high school. Because of this success, emerging revitalization schools and researchers alike look to 'Aha Pūnana Leo as a model.

Nāmaka Rawlins is the director of strategic collaborations at 'Aha Pūnana Leo. Like Harper, she says that required academic credentialing burdened the language preschools, which relied on fluent elders. This became an issue in 2012 when kindergarten was made compulsory in Hawai'i, and teachers and directors of preschools were required to be accredited. But she, along with other Hawaiian language advocates, advocated for changes to these state regulations to exclude Hawaiian preschools from the requirement and instead accredit their own teachers as local, indigenous experts. And they succeeded. "We got a lot of flack from the preschool community," she says. "Today, we provide our own training and professional development."

One of the early successes of 'Aha Pūnana Leo was removing the ban on the use of Hawaiian language in schools, which had been illegal for nearly a century. Four years later, in 1990, the passage of the Native American Language Act affirmed that Native American children across the nation have the right to be educated, express themselves, and be assessed in their tribal language.

But according to Harper, progress still needs to be made before NALA is fully implemented by the Education Department. Since 2016, Native American language medium schools have been able to assess students in their language. This took years of advocacy by people like Harper, who served on the US Department of Education's Every Student Succeeds Act Implementation Committee and pushed for the change. 

While this is an important first step, Harper is concerned that because language medium school assessments must be peer reviewed, low capacity schools -- or those that lack the technical expertise of developing assessments that align with federal standards -- will be burdened. And the exemption doesn't apply to high schools.

Studies from multiple language revitalization schools have found that students who attend these schools have greater academic achievement than those who attend English-speaking schools, including scoring significantly higher on standardized tests. "We are beginning to see the long-term benefits of language revitalization and language-medium education in our kids," Harper says. "But the public education system and laws are still reticent about us developing programs of instruction for our students."

Looking Back, Looking Forward

A movement to revitalize tribal languages is underway. The success of 'Aha Pūnana Leo and promise of Mukayuhsak Weekuw are examples of communities taking education into their own hands. When Native American students are taught in their own language and culture, they succeed.

Weston says parents are eager for Mukayuhsak Weekuw to expand into an elementary school, and in fall 2018, the school will include first grade in addition to pre-school and kindergarten. It is a testament to the work and vision of the Wampanoag that just two decades ago, their language was silent, and today, they have a school that expands in size each year. "All of our tribal communities have the capacity to maintain and revitalize our mother tongues," Weston says -- no matter how daunting it may seem.

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Energy Transfer Partners Pipelines Leaked Hazardous Liquids Every 11 Days for 15 Years, on Average

Fri, 2018-04-20 00:00

According to a new report from environmental groups Greenpeace USA and the Waterkeeper Alliance, Dakota Access Pipeline builder Energy Transfer Partners has had spills amassing over 3.6 million gallons of hazardous liquids over the course of 15 years. The report also notes that the fossil fuel industry's record of spills has only gotten worse over time.

An aerial view shows a natural gas liquids pipeline under construction October 26, 2017, in Smith Township, Washington County, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images)

5,475 days, 527 pipeline spills: that's the math presented in a new report from environmental groups Greenpeace USA and the Waterkeeper Alliance examining pipelines involving Dakota Access builder Energy Transfer Partners (ETP). It's based on public data from 2002 to 2017.

All told, those leaks released 3.6 million gallons of hazardous liquids, including 2.8 million gallons of crude oil, according to data collected from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

That doesn't include an additional 2.4 million gallons of "drilling fluids, sediment, and industrial waste" leaked during ETP's construction of two pipelines in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan. Also left out: air pollution and leaks from natural gas pipelines, which were beyond the scope of the new report but which play a significant role in climate change and can cause explosions.

Across the entire industry, hazardous liquid pipelines spilled a total of 34.7 million gallons during the past decade, directly causing 16 deaths and $2.7 billion worth of damage. More than one in ten of those gallons came from ETP.

"That’s a red flag for a company that has an extensive network across the country and is building even more pipelines as we speak in Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and other states," said Greenpeace USA research lead Tim Donaghy, PhD. "ETP and Sunoco's track record of spills, including several striking examples of big spills, are indicators of a constant threat to communities and water. This could happen again to communities along the pipeline routes."

A Long List of Spills and Accidents

ETP spilled crude oil over 400 times, "refined petroleum products" such as gasoline 92 times, and other flammable or toxic fluids 27 times, the researchers found. And many of the spills involved large amounts of oil -- roughly one in four of ETP's pipeline oil spills involved 2,100 or more gallons of oil.

In one 2005 incident, 436,000 gallons of crude oil spewed from a tank farm into a Delaware River tributary outside Philadelphia. That same year, a pipeline built in the 1950s dumped enough oil into the Kentucky and Ohio river to leave a 17-mile oil slick. And in 2009, a Texas pipeline caught fire and leaked over 140,000 gallons near Colorado City, Texas.

Cleaning up those sorts of spills is no easy job. Out of 3.6 million gallons ETP spilled, almost half -- a total of more than 1.5 million gallons -- was never mopped up, the report found. In addition, the company caused $115 million in property damage, according to federal tallies.

Sunoco, which merged with ETP, is included in the report's analysis. In 2012, ETP first merged with Sunoco, formally absorbing pipeline-wing Sunoco Logistics Partners in 2017. The combined companies operate over 70,000 miles of USpipes. That's "nearly long enough to encircle the earth three times," the report notes.

The new report finds that ETP's pipelines have a somewhat higher-than-average rate of problems. Twelve percent of ETP's spills polluted water sources, finds the report, titled "Oil and Water: ETP and Sunoco's History of Pipeline Spills." That's compared against a 10 percent national average. And three out of eight incidents nationwide where PHMSA specifically noted harm to drinking water supplies involved ETP pipelines.

The pipeline industry's record has grown worse over time, the report notes, reaching a peak of 454 spills in 2015 before dropping "slightly" to 404 in 2017.

Bayou Bridge Pipeline

The company's controversial pipeline construction projects across the US include the Bayou Bridge pipeline that would tie in to the Dakota Access pipeline and carry oil from North Dakota's Bakken shale down to the Gulf of Mexico, the Mariner East 2 pipeline that will carry the plastic precursor ethane across Ohio and Pennsylvania to the Atlantic coast, and the 713-mile Rover pipeline, that will transport natural gas through Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, where millions of gallons of drilling fluid have spilled during construction.

The Bayou Bridge pipeline's route through wetlands and drinking water supplies for over 300,000 people has community and environmental advocates particularly concerned.

"Construction of the Bayou Bridge pipeline represents a high risk to hundreds of waterways across the entire state of Louisiana," said Waterkeeper Alliance Clean and Safe Energy Campaign Manager Donna Lisenby.

The new report warns that if ETP's track record remains unchanged, the Bayou Bridge pipeline will experience multiple spills of 2,100 gallons or more of hazardous materials after it's built. "Assuming the US system-wide rate for significant crude oil spills of 0.001 per year per mile, we estimate that the Bayou Bridge Pipeline would suffer eight significant spills during a 50-year nominal lifetime," the report concludes. Photographs of Bayou Bridge construction taken by photojournalist Julie Dermansky, who has reported on Bayou Bridge for DeSmog, are included in Greenpeace's report.

"We're not happy with Bayou Bridge because we know that Energy Transfer Partners is accident prone," said Harry Joseph, a pastor from St. James, Louisiana, where the Bayou Bridge pipeline will terminate. "We fear that something will happen in St. James -- it's just a matter of time because of ETP’s history. The company has had problems."

Sinkholes, Spills and Suing

Those fears will sound familiar to some Pennsylvanians living near the Mariner East 1 and 2 pipelines, where the new report tallied over a hundred "inadvertent releases" and accidents, some of which contaminated locals' water wells, polluted local trout streams, or even caused massive sinkholes to open up. One of those sinkholes erupted just 300 feet from railroad tracks where Amtrak trains and local commuter rail operates, prompting the state to issue an emergency shutdown.

Many living near Mariner East's path are concerned about the risk of more accidents. "This is an organic farm," West Cornwall farmer Phil Stober told ABC News, "and if it damages our groundwater, what recourse do we have?"

The company's most notoriously controversial project was, of course, the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL), where an encampment by people calling themselves "water protectors" in Standing Rock, North Dakota, drew national attention as law enforcement used attack dogs, tear gas, and high-pressure water cannons in subzero temperatures against Indigenous peoples and allies who opposed DAPL construction.

"We all recall the Dakota Access pipeline construction process because of the inspiring resistance from Indigenous communities that wanted to protect their water," said Greenpeace's Donaghy. "Those Water Protectors were right; that pipeline alone leaked four times in 2017."

An additional three incidents along the full stretch of the Dakota Access-Energy Transfers Crude Oil pipeline were also reported to federal authorities, including a roughly 5,000 gallon oil spill in Tennessee.

Other ETP pipeline construction projects that have had a lower national profile also caused major spills. The Permian IIExpress pipeline dumped 361,200 gallons of crude near Sweetwater, Texas, in the largest pipeline leak of 2016.

Last August, ETP sued Greenpeace, BankTrack, and Earth First!, claiming that anti-pipeline advocates were engaged in racketeering against the firm and demanding $900 million in damages. Greenpeace is currently defending against those charges in court and argues that the case is what's known as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, or SLAPP suit, aimed at silencing discussion of harms caused by ETP. (This month, a federal judge effectively dropped Earth First! from that lawsuit, following arguments that Earth First! is a philosophy and not actually an organization. ETP had attempted to hold a magazine called Earth First! Journal liable as representing Earth First!) The lawsuit against Greenpeace is still ongoing.

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Economic Update: Why People Struggle With the System

Fri, 2018-04-20 00:00

This week's episode provides updates on the teachers' strikes, how capitalism abuses Facebook and how colleges reward privilege and reproduce it. We also discuss Shell Oil knowing for 50 years that fossil fuels contribute to global warming and how Sinclair Broadcasting traps its employees. Finally, we interview Rob Robinson on water as human right as opposed to a commodity for corporate profit.

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

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Who Will Be the Next GOP Speaker?

Fri, 2018-04-20 00:00

Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan finally admitted that the rumors were true, announcing his intention to step down at the end of the term and retire -- rather than run for reelection in the 2018 midterms. Ryan's decision means that even if the GOP does manage to hold onto a majority after the November election -- an outcome even more in doubt now than it was just weeks ago -- the party will be seeking a new speaker of the House when it reconvenes in 2019.

Or, if some GOP House members have their way, maybe even sooner.

With the party still reeling from Ryan's official announcement that he will be leaving DC, all ambitious House leaders are vying to take over the speakership -- becoming the third, or possibly even second, most powerful Republican in office. And it's a role that many are willing to do anything to win.

The leading contenders are Congressman Kevin Murphy of California and Congressman Steve Scalise of Louisiana, both staunch conservative leaders. Murphy has served as House majority leader since Eric Cantor lost his seat in a surprise upset in 2014, and already campaigned for the speakership when Ryan's predecessor, Ohio Republican John Boehner, was ousted. Scalise is just one step lower than McCarthy in the House GOP hierarchy, and he gained a great deal of admiration and esteem after being critically shot by gunman during a Congressional baseball game.

And they both have considerable baggage. The Denver Post reports:

In 2014, Scalise was discovered to have addressed a white-supremacist group in 2002 founded by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. Scalise apologized and said he'd been unaware of the group's racial views. McCarthy suggested in 2015 that a House committee probing the deadly 2012 raid on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya, had damaged Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's poll numbers, undermining GOP arguments that the investigation wasn't politically motivated. That raised questions about his ability as a communicator, a key for party leaders.

Both Murphy and Scalise are logical choices for a far-right successor. But would they be right-wing enough to appease everyone? Not a chance -- which is why Freedom Caucus leader and Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan has signaled his intention to run, too.

While Ryan has officially backed McCarthy as his favorite -- and even Scalise has agreed that the Californian would be a logical and acceptable replacement -- Jordan has made it clear that no one will simply be anointed and walk away with the position.

"There is no speaker's race right now. Paul Ryan is the speaker," Jordan said Friday, according to the Washington Post. "If and when there is, I've been urged by colleagues to consider that, and I am definitely open to that. Right now, though, the focus has got to be on the next six months, us keeping the majority."

There may not be a speaker's race right now, but not everyone thinks that's the way it should be. Politico reports:

Several allies to speaker hopeful Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the majority leader, say House Republicans need to be united heading into the midterms, and that a leadership race could split the conference. Other Republicans are questioning whether having a lame-duck speaker at the helm of the Republican Conference will hurt their fundraising. "We would have more success if there's no ambiguity as to what the leadership structure might look like," said Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.), one of McCarthy's closest allies, who is pushing for a vote to replace Ryan sooner rather than later. "Certainty is important. … From the conversations I've had, everybody wants our "A team" in place, our strongest team in place, so we have the strongest outcome going into the election cycle."

Was Ryan's decision to public support McCarthy as the next speaker just a ploy to keep McCarthy's faction from ousting him immediately from his leadership role? If so, that may be the most successful negotiation Ryan has managed in his entire tenure as Speaker.

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Students as Teachers: Facing the World Adults Are Wrecking

Thu, 2018-04-19 00:00

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student, Emma Gonzalez, center, stands next to Naomi Wadler, 11, of Alexandria, Virginia, right, near the conclusion of March for Our Lives on Saturday March 24, 2018, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Matt McClain / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

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During the first week of May 1963, more than 800 African-American students walked out of their classrooms and into the streets of Birmingham, Alabama, to call for an end to segregation. Despite frequent arrests and having dogs and high-pressure firehoses turned on them, they kept marching. Their determination and ceaseless bravery -- later called the Children's Crusade -- was captured in photographs and newspaper articles across the country. Through acts of peaceful and defiant civil disobedience, these students swayed public opinion in support of the civil rights movement.

Fast forward to March 24, 2018. Naomi Wadler, a fifth grader, is standing at a podium in front of hundreds of thousands of protesters at the March for Our Lives in Washington, DC. Young as she was, Wadler, who organized a walkout at her elementary school to honor the 17 victims of the Parkland massacre, delivered a searing and heartfelt speech about the countless gun-related deaths of African-American women in America. Her steely resolve and the power of her message brought me to tears. I wondered: Is this what it will take? Will a new generation of fearless student-leaders be the agents of change that America so desperately needs?

As a teacher, it took me a while to begin to see just what my students truly had in them. During my first two years of high school teaching, I'm not sure I loved or even liked my teenage students. If someone asked me about my job, I knew the right things to say -- working with teenagers was challenging yet inspiring -- but I didn't believe the lip service I was paying the profession. Much of my initial experience in the classroom was emotionally draining, engaged as I was in power struggles with those students, trying to assert my influence and control over them.

It seemed so clear to me then. I was their teacher; they were my students. So I set out to establish a dynamic of one-way respect. I would provide information; they would listen and absorb it. This top-down approach was the model I'd observed and experienced my entire life. Adults talk, kids listen. So it couldn't have been more unsettling to me when certain of those students -- by sheer force of spirit, will, or intelligence -- objected. They caused friction in my classroom and so I saw them as impediments to my work. When they protested by arguing with me or "talking back," I bristled and dug my heels in deeper. I resented them. They posed a continual threat to my ego and my position as the unassailable owner of the classroom stage.

Still, I knew something was wrong. In the quiet hours of the early morning I'd often wake up and feel a discomfort I can't describe. I'd run through exchanges from the previous day that left me wondering if I was doing more harm than good in that classroom. Yes, I continued to assert my right to the ownership of knowledge, but was I actually teaching anyone anything? I was -- I could feel it -- actively disregarding the emotional and intellectual capacities of my students, unwilling to see them as informed, competent, and worthy of being heard. I was, I realized, becoming the very kind of person I hated when I was in high school: the adult who demanded respect but gave none in return.

The best decision I ever made in a classroom was to start listening to my students.

As I slowly shifted the power structure in that room, my thinking about the way we look at youth and how we treat adolescents began to change, too. We ask teenagers to act like adults, but when they do, the response is often surprise followed by derision.

So it came as no real shock to me that, as soon as the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, started to talk back to the "adults in the room" -- the pundits, commentators, politicians, the National Rifle Association, members of other special interest groups, and even the president -- they were met, at least in certain quarters, with remarkable disdain. The collective cry from their opponents went something like this: there is no way a bunch of snot-nosed, lazy, know-nothing teenagers have the right to challenge the status quo. After all, what do they know, even if they did survive a massacre? Why would watching their friends and teachers die in the classrooms and hallways of their school give them any special knowledge or the right to speak out?

This nose-scrunching, finger-waving contempt for all things adolescent is a time-honored tradition. There's even a name for it: ephebiphobia, or fear of youth. The ancient Greek philosopher Plato was quoted as saying: "What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets, inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?"

And in some ways, Plato was right: the old should be fearful of the young. You see, the teenagers who marched after Parkland don't necessarily hate the world; they just hate the particular world we've built for them. They've watched as the rules of the status quo have been laid out for them, a status quo that seems to become grimmer, more restrictive, and more ludicrous by the week. Fight for an end to police violence against unarmed black civilians and you're a terrorist. Kneel during the National Anthem and you're un-American. Walk out of your school to force people to confront gun violence and you're not grateful for your education. In short, whatever the problems in our world and theirs, there is no correct way to protest them and no way to be heard. Not surprisingly, then, they've proceeded in the only way they know how: by forging new paths and ignoring what they've been told is immutable and impossible.

A World of Technology-Adept Students

In doing so, those students have a distinct advantage over their elders. Adolescents understand the optics of the future in a way that most of the rest of us don't. They've spent countless hours making YouTube and Snapchat videos and vlogging about their lives. They're digital natives with the astonishing confidence to navigate the gauntlet of talking heads, corporate news media sites, politicians, commentators, tweeting presidents, and anonymous trolls. They not only do it with remarkable conviction, but it seems to come naturally to them.

They've been raised not only to believe in themselves, but also to have faith that there's an audience online for those beliefs. No wonder Rush Limbaugh has taken to calling David Hogg, one of the most prominent of the Parkland student protesters, "Camera Hogg." No wonder many on the right have accused students like him of being "paid actors." Of course, Hogg isn't acting; he's simply a kid who has made practice perfect.

According to a 2017 American Time Use Study by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, American teenagers spend around 4.5 hours per day online, though that number may actually be low. In 2015, Common Sense Media conducted a study that found "American teenagers (13- to 18-year-olds) average about nine hours (8:56) of entertainment media use, excluding time spent at school or for homework." Two divergent paths emerge when considering such statistics. Follow one and the research supports the conclusion that excessive screen time has deleterious effects on the mental health and wellbeing of teenagers. Follow the other and you find those same teenagers so finely attuned and well adapted to the landscape of social media that they've become virtual masters of the craft.

Seventeen-year-old student activist David Hogg displayed exactly this mastery when he responded recently to Laura Ingraham of Fox News. She had attempted to publicly humiliate him by tweeting condescendingly about how he had been rejected by four California colleges. Hogg proved himself so much savvier than his famous foe when, instead of responding to Ingraham's mudslinging, he promptly tweeted for a boycott of her show's advertisers. More than a dozen of them quickly jumped ship, which was devastating for her. When she issued an anemic mea culpa, he responded on CNN by saying, "The apology... was kind of expected, especially after so many of her advertisers dropped out." In his measured appraisal of the situation lay a striking grasp of the established order. "I'm glad to see corporate America standing with me and the other students of Parkland and everybody else," he said, "because when we work together we can accomplish anything."

That exchange, a real-time adults vs. kids tweet war, had me riveted. The immediacy and efficacy of Hogg's actions seemed to shatter the well-established dynamics between old and young. Hogg not only showcased his understanding of the way things work in America as so much craftier than Ingraham's -- always go for the money -- but also utilized the most powerful tool at his disposal: a single well-aimed tweet meant to upend a seemingly bulletproof target. In doing so, he demonstrated that young people are now capable of speaking far more resonantly than their parents or grandparents could possibly have imagined. The question, of course, remains: Will the rest of us listen to them?

Asking the Big Questions at a Young Age

When focused through collective grief, anger, and urgency, the energy and passion that defines youth can be a powerful stimulus for change. The inherent ridiculousness of the argument against youth-led movements -- that students have no platform on which to stand -- pointedly overlooks the role of youth as catalysts for social transformation. From the Children's Crusade of the civil rights moment to the student protests of the Vietnam War, adolescents (and sometimes even children) have regularly been on the front lines of the fight for social change.

The argument against listening to children is often made by those who forget what it's like to be young. The daily lives of adolescents are, after all, deeply involved in thinking, assessing, analyzing, and evaluating. Nine months out of the year, whether they like it or not, they are actively engaged in education. By the time they graduate from high school -- assuming they've attended for an average of 6.5 hours per day, 172 days per year -- 18-year-olds in Oregon where I teach have spent somewhere around 14,690 hours in the classroom. It should come as no surprise then that, after so many years of being taught how to give speeches, make arguments in papers, support claims with evidence, and study the past, many teenagers are remarkably articulate and well-positioned to grasp the nature of the world they are about to enter. Whether they fully know it or not, they're regularly being forced to ask the "big" questions about a distinctly messy world and beginning to form their own life philosophies.

Yes, just as I felt in my first two years as a teacher, teenagers can be maddeningly self-absorbed. But (as must be increasingly obvious, post-Parkland) those on the threshold of adulthood can also be astute observers of the world around them -- sometimes strikingly more so than the adults who are supposed to provide them with so much wisdom. They're deeply passionate about the things they love and rightfully skeptical of the world they will inherit.

Asking them to accept the depressing realities of the society we're bequeathing to them without expecting them to respond, let alone protest, is tantamount to teaching without listening. My students know that the loan debt for their college-age equivalents already stands at $1.3 trillion and is only likely to get worse. It's a subject that comes up in class all the time. So most of them already grasp their fate in our world as it is. They ask me how they're supposed to pay for college without incurring lifelong, crippling debt, and I can't give them a reasonable answer. But of course they don't really expect me to.

They've been told that the richest 20% of Americans hold 84% of the nation's wealth while the bottom 40% of Americans have less than 1%. They can see those vast wealth disparities for themselves in their lives, in their classrooms. They know that this country is over-weaponized and that neither "hunting" nor the "Second Amendment" can account for it. They've grappled with the terrifying reality that they could be gunned down in their own school, at the movies, at a concert, or even outside their homes. When we practice active-shooter drills in the classroom, all those fears are only confirmed. They see that adults can't protect them and draw the necessary conclusions. So when they disrespect institutions, rules, beliefs, and traditions that look like relics from a past that has wantonly jeopardized their future, and when they disrespect the adults who seem to uphold those traditions, shouldn't we take notice and listen?

Here's one thing that shouldn't surprise anyone. Teachers, exposed daily to these very teens, have been among the first to collectively follow them out of the classrooms and into the streets. The teacher strikes and walkouts in Oklahoma, Kentucky, and West Virginia indicate that support for grassroots movements is building and that adults are, in their own ways, beginning to stand with and support the young.

Those teachers, often in the streets without the support and assistance of their unions (when they even have them), have opted instead to harness the energy and momentum behind the current youth-led activism and the tools available to them on social media to make their demands heard. Noah Karvelis, a new teacher in Arizona, caught the essence of the present situation when he described his colleagues as being, "primed for activism by their anger over the election of President Trump, his appointment of Betsy DeVos as education secretary, and even their own students' participation in anti-gun protests after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida."

Ultimately, the teachers are demanding changes that will benefit not just them but their students. Still, their detractors have opted to respond to their strikes and walkouts by shaming the teachers and reducing their calls for funding and support to so many petty complaints. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin even compared striking teachers in her state to a teenager who "wants a better car." In doing so, she highlighted one thing: the greatest insult you can hurl at teachers these days is to compare them to their students.

Teenagers can indeed be infuriating. They can be rude, naïve, and short sighted, but so can adults. Dismissing adolescents for the fact of their youth and denying them the right to be heard just makes the rest of us look ever more like the enemy. All I can say in response is that this teacher is standing firmly with her students and the hundreds of thousands of others who are collectively demanding a voice.

Stunning Investigation Confirms Black Mothers and Babies in the US Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis

Thu, 2018-04-19 00:00

Tuesday marked the end of the inaugural Black Maternal Health Week, a campaign founded and led by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance. The effort was launched to build awareness and activism around the state of black maternal health in the US. The United States ranks 32 out of the 35 wealthiest nations in infant mortality. Black infants are now more than twice as likely to die as white infants, a disparity greater than existed in 1850, 15 years before slavery ended. Each year, an estimated 700 to 900 maternal deaths occur in the US, which is one of only 13 countries in the world where the rate of maternal mortality is worse than it was 25 years ago. And according to the Centers for Disease Control, black women are three to four times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes as their white counterparts. These statistics were reported in a powerful new investigation in the New York Times Magazine, "Why America's Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis." Even more shocking is that, according to the report and contrary to widely accepted research, education and income offer little protection. The answer to the disparity in death rates has everything to do with the lived experience of being a black woman in America. We speak to New York Times Magazine contributing writer Linda Villarosa, who directs the journalism program at the City College of New York.


AMY GOODMAN: Here on Democracy Now!, I'm Amy Goodman with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Tuesday marked the end of the inaugural Black Maternal Health Week, a campaign founded and led by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance. The effort was launched to build awareness and activism around the state of black maternal health in the US Here are a few sobering statistics that underscore the need for such a campaign. The United States ranks 32nd out of the 35 wealthiest nations in infant mortality. Black infants are now more than twice as likely to die as white infants, a disparity greater than existed in 1850, 15 years before slavery ended. Each year, an estimated 700 to 900 maternal deaths occur in the US, which is one of only 13 countries in the world where the rate of maternal mortality is worse than it was 25 years ago. And, according to the Centers for Disease Control, black women are three to four times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes as their white counterparts.

AMY GOODMAN: Black women and babies make up a significant number of cases of infant and maternal mortality in the United States. These statistics were reported in a powerful new investigation in The New York Times Magazine called "Why America's Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis." Even more shocking is that, according to the report and contrary to widely accepted research, education and income offer little protection. The answer to the disparity in death rates has everything to do with the lived experience of being a black woman in America, says our guest, journalist and New York Times Magazine contributing writer Linda Villarosa. She directs the journalism program at the City College of New York. Welcome to Democracy Now! It's great to have you with us.

LINDA VILLAROSA: Thank you so much.

AMY GOODMAN: A really powerful piece. Why are America's black mothers and babies in a life or death situation today?

LINDA VILLAROSA: Well, when you go through the research -- and I'm very interested in data and research -- first, you have to look at all of the things that it is not. So you start to think, well, is it because black women are not taking care of themselves? But then there are studies that say, "Oh, even when prenatal care is the same, then still black women have low birth weight babies." Then it's sort of like, well, is there some kind of gene? Is there a genetic component? Then there are studies that say "No, actually." Because when African immigrants and Caribbean immigrants come here, their babies are equal to white babies in size. But after a generation, then they start to look like African American babies, even when they are from the poorest countries. So after a while, it starts to just say, "Well, actually there is something else going on that has to do with being a black woman in America."

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what "it" is.

LINDA VILLAROSA: It is race and racism. So it's in two ways. One is just the lived experience of what happens to black women in the country has a physiological effect. There's a wonderful researcher in the University of Michigan who coined the term "weathering." I love the term because it is very poetic. So its says it's like the weathering of a rock by the ocean. But it is also like the -- weathering a storm, by a house, because it also speaks to resilience and resistance. But there's a physiological effect.

So if you are stressed out -- and I don't mean, "Oh, I'm so stressed out" -- the "lean in" kind of stressed out -- but repeated insults to your psyche over and over and over again, it revs up your system so that it actually starts to wear you down. The internal systems of your body. So that's part one of this, is the lived experience of being a black woman in America.

The second is the way black women are treated in the health care system. And I say black women, but I mean black people. And this has been something studied ad nauseam. I've read so many studies my eyeballs want to fall out, but it's hard to get this across. A lot of people will say,"Oh, the Tuskegee experiment. That is what it is about." And I said, "The Tuskegee experiment was years ago. We're talking about people who are being mistreated, ill treated right now."

If you combine the two and you take a woman who is essentially having a stress test to her body, which is pregnancy and childbirth, and you put her in this volatile situation where she is weathered and worn down by repeated insults, and then she is in a system that maybe is not out for her best interest, you get a volatile mix.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And that would explain why neither education nor income substantially impacts maternal health.

LINDA VILLAROSA: I think what really explains it is -- what really puts it into stark focus is what happened to Serena Williams. So Serena Williams had her baby in September.
And after the baby was born, she started complaining about having shortness of breath. She had a history of pulmonary embolisms, which is a blood clot in the lungs. So, she was ignored, and her concerns were not taken seriously, and it led to a crisis. Presumably, this is one of the richest women in the world, and one of the most proactive and one of the most powerful. But still, her legitimate concerns were ignored at a hospital.

AMY GOODMAN: And she told the nurse exactly what she needed. She knew what she had. She said she needed a CT scan with contrast and IV heparin, a blood thinner, right away. The nurse thought her pain medicine might be making her confused. She insisted. Soon enough a doctor was performing an ultrasound on her legs. And you have the ultrasound revealing nothing, so they sent for a CT. Sure enough, several small blood clots had settled in her lungs. She was right. Minutes later she had the drip. And she said, "I was like 'Listen to Dr. Williams.'"

LINDA VILLAROSA: Yes. Please. The owner of your own body, that you know best.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: In your piece, you also talk about your own experience. Could you tell us what happened in your case?

LINDA VILLAROSA: What was interesting for me is I had read a study about college-educated women who have more -- the higher rate of infant mortality, 75 percent related to low birth weight. So I'm thinking, "OK." I didn't believe it at first, because I was still under the assumption that this was strictly a problem of poor women. Which is wrong and terrible, but I still thought, "Well, OK, I see this." But then when I got pregnant, I ended up -- my baby was not progressing -- was not large enough, given her gestational age.

So my wonderful gynecologist said, "You need to go on bed rest and you need to go to a specialist."

So I went to the specialist, and the specialist was grilling me with all kinds of, "Do you use cocaine? Do you drink? Do you…?" And I'm the health editor of Essencemagazine, so I am super into health, I'm very into fitness, I am trying to be a role model for good health and take care myself and my baby. So I was really insulted. "Do You have all of these different kinds of illnesses?" I'm, like, "No, I am fine."

Then I looked up what I had, called intrauterine growth restriction, and it is something that is associated with women who are not taking care of themselves, smoking, drinking, using drugs, or ill. And so I thought, "What is wrong with me?" It turned out my baby was better not inside of me but on the outside, so I had her induced right at term. She was low birth weight. Low birth weight is 5.5 pounds. She was four pounds, 13 ounces.

She is fine now. She's a healthy, smart, athletic college student. But I thought, is this because of my lived experience of being a black woman in America?

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to do part two of this discussion, and we're going to post it online at Linda Villarosa directs the journalism program at City College of New York. Contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine. We will link to her piece "Why America's Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis." That does it for our show.

Rashid Khalidi: Ending the Proxy Wars in Syria Is Key to De-escalating Deadly Conflict

Thu, 2018-04-19 00:00

Columbia professor Rashid Khalidi discusses how the war in Syria in has become a proxy war with a number of nations involved, including Russia, Iran, the United States, Israel, Turkey and the Gulf States.


NERMEEN SHAIKH: Rashid, let's bring you in. First, do you agree with what Moazzam said about what needs to happen? First, your response to the US, British, and French strikes, and then what you think needs to happen.

RASHID KHALIDI: I think the important thing that needs to happen is that this is a civil war and a proxy war, and the most -- exactly as Moazzam Begg said, the most lethal part of it is the proxy war by these air forces. Whether we're talking about the United States, Turkey, Emirates, Saudi Arabia and so forth on one side, or whether we're talking about Russia and Iran on the other side, the only way to deal with this is to both address the political issues and get a proper regime in Syria in the place of the Assad regime. And most importantly, to end this external intervention.

And that's going to require a completely different approach, not just by the United States, by a large number of countries, the Gulf countries and Turkey and other countries that are up to their ears in intervention in Syria. The Syrian War was not just a civil war. It was like the Lebanese war. It's like what's going on in Yemen and Libya. It's also a proxy war, where major powers -- Saudi Arabia or the Emirates, the United States, Britain, France, Russia, Iran -- are up to their ears in intervention.

And as Moazzam Begg said, correctly, the most lethal part of that intervention is by air forces. In my view, it is not just a matter of a no-fly zone. It's a matter of figuring out a way to deescalate this conflict, get these external powers out, and have a proper political process whereby this atrocious regime can be replaced. One of the other problems is, it is not just the millions of people who are refugees and who are terrified of going back because they are afraid of the regime; there are millions of people on the other side who are terrified of the opposition. So a political process is not going to be an easy business, but that is where we should be focusing.

AMY GOODMAN: And your response to the debate over the authorization for use of military force, the AUMF that's going to be taking place in the Senate in the next few days?

RASHID KHALIDI: Any obstruction to the untrammeled power of an imperial executive in this country is, in my view, a good thing. I think the debate might lead to approval of the use of force. I think the president should be restricted as much as possible. The United States is fighting wars all over the world, in countries where I cannot see any possible interest for the United States or for world peace. As Moazzam Begg has said, killing people because that is what happens in aerial bombardment. I was in Beirut in 1982. You bomb buildings, you kill people, whatever your target is, whatever your objective is.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I want to ask about what US interests in Syria are. There is an article that was published earlier this week in The Boston Globe by Stephen Kinzer who writes, quote, "The specter of a peaceful and prosperous Syria under Assad's leadership terrifies them." That is, American military and security advisors. "They believe that until Assad is gone, it is in America's interest to keep Syria divided, unstable and impoverished…According to the logic behind American strategy in the Middle East -- and the rest of the world -- one of our principal goals should be to prevent peace or prosperity from breaking out in countries whose governments are unfriendly to us." So from what we know, Rashid, do you think that that is a determinant of US policy in Syria? And if so, is it likely to change? What interest does the US have in Syria?

RASHID KHALIDI: I hate to say this, but I really think American policy in Syria has been totally incoherent. It has had some of the effect that Stephen Kinzer talks about, but I don't think that was the result of serious planning. I think that it has been, frankly, one of the most disgraceful episodes in American history, the way the United States has treated Syria.

But that's actually true of Yemen. It's actually true of Libya. The United States has not acted in any way responsibly. These are conflicts that really should be brought to an end, and which the United States is feeding. In the case of Syria, obviously it is participating. In the case of Yemen, the United States is arming the Saudis and their allies who are causing one of the greatest humanitarian disasters outside of Syria in the region.

So I would say that the effect is actually as Stephen has said. We have four completely dysfunctional -- three and a half completely dysfunctional countries in this region, largely as a result of external intervention -- Libya, Yemen, Syria and to a certain extent, Iraq. All of these are places where the United States and its allies and other foreign powers have meddled, and they have created an absolutely unholy mess.

Firing Mueller

Thu, 2018-04-19 00:00

Trump's Allies Are Threatening Rod Rosenstein With Impeachment if He Doesn't Cooperate

Thu, 2018-04-19 00:00
With everything going on in the White House, the media must maintain relentless pressure on the Trump administration. Can you support Truthout in this endeavor? Click here to donate.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein continued to face pressure from President Donald Trump's allies this week, according to the Washington Post, as Republicans in Congress try to undermine the special counsel's Russia investigation.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), two of the president's allies on Capitol Hill, are pushing for Rosenstein to turn over documents related to the investigation, the Post found. According to the report, the lawmakers are even threatening to impeach Rosenstein if he does not comply. 

"Impeachment" itself may be an empty threat. Two-thirds of Senate would have to vote in favor of removing Rosenstein from office, and any effort would likely face blowback from Democrats and Republicans in the chamber.

It would also be unnecessary: If even a halfway-compelling article of impeachment could be drafted in the House of Representatives, the president could just fire Rosenstein instead.

However, the lawmakers are also reportedly considering holding Rosenstein in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over the documents. This might serve as political cover for Trump to fire Rosenstein.

Since Rosenstein oversees special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the president and his associates, GOP lawmakers likely perceive him as a serious threat to their ability to govern. Demonstrating their power over him -- even if it's mostly for show -- could be designed to send a message to him and anyone else investigating Trump that Congress has the president's back.

The effort also falls in line with the Republican's attempts to muddy the water around the investigation. If they can imply or suggest that Rosenstein, Mueller, James Comey, all the other investigators are somehow corrupt or duplicitous, it will weaken any impact that the special counsel's final report could have.

At the same time, all the effort Republicans are putting in to fighting the investigation suggests that they're deeply afraid Mueller might discover something exceptionally damaging about the president.

Island-Wide Blackout Deepens Puerto Rico Crisis

Thu, 2018-04-19 00:00

View of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, on April 18, 2018, as a major failure knocked out the electricity in Puerto Rico, leaving the entire island without power nearly seven months after Hurricane Maria destroyed the electrical grid. It was the second widespread failure in less than a week, underscoring just how fragile Puerto Rico's electricity remains since the storm. (Photo: Jose Jimenez / Getty Images)

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After struggling for nearly seven months to rebuild Puerto Rico's power grid, which was destroyed by Hurricane Maria, the US territory experienced an island-wide blackout on Wednesday -- its first since the storm struck last September.

As meteorologist Eric Holthaus put it, "This is still a humanitarian emergency."

Puerto Rico, Day 210:
—The entire island (>3,000,000 people) is w/o power for the first time since Hurricane Maria struck
—More than 10k people still w/o clean water, >100k continuously w/o power since the hurricane
—This is still a humanitarian emergency

— Eric Holthaus (@EricHolthaus) April 18, 2018

Officials told The Associated Press that "an excavator accidentally downed a transmission line" and "it could take 24 to 36 hours to fully restore power to more than 1.4 million customers." The blackout is just the latest in a series of power outages that residents have endured since the storm hit, including one last week that left about 840,000 people in the dark.

Responding to the incident on Twitter, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) targeted the Trump administration's recovery efforts post-Maria -- which have been widely denounced as inadequate -- while Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called for a broader government investment to repair the island's power system.

It’s shameful, and a total failure of governance by the Trump White House, that the people of Puerto Rico are still dealing with an unstable and unreliable power grid almost 7 months after Hurricane Maria.

— Rep. Keith Ellison (@keithellison) April 18, 2018

We are the wealthiest country in the world. Our full resources must be brought to fix not just this blackout, but the ongoing outages that have left hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans without power since Hurricane Maria.

— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) April 18, 2018

Sanders is among those who have advocated for rebuilding the grid to rely on renewable forms of energy as well as sweeping loan forgiveness for Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), which even before the storm was plagued by outdated infrastructure and massive amounts of debt.

Wednesday's blackout, as the AP noted, "occurred as Puerto Rico legislators debate a bill that would privatize the island's power company, which is $14 billion in debt and relies on infrastructure nearly three times older than the industry average."

The privatization plan, announced by the governor earlier this year, has been met with contempt among local leaders and residents.

Writing for The Intercept last month, Naomi Klein explained that based on Puerto Ricans' past experiences with private telephone companies and water treatment systems, many fear "that if PREPA is privatized, the Puerto Rican government will lose an important source of revenue, while getting stiffed with the utility's multibillion-dollar debt."

"They also fear that electricity rates will stay high," she wrote, "and that poor and remote regions where people are less able to pay could well lose access to the grid altogether."

The privatization fears are accompanied by critiques of controversial repair work by government contractors such as Whitefish and Fluor following the hurricane.

The people of #PuertoRico are in the dark again. They deserve so much better than this. And no accountability for contractors like Fluor, which was paid $830-million to "rebuild" the grid. They've already returned to Texas...

— Naomi Klein (@NaomiAKlein) April 18, 2018

Congress Urged to Cut Medicare Payments to Many Stand-Alone Emergency Rooms

Thu, 2018-04-19 00:00

The woman arrived at the emergency department gasping for air, her severe emphysema causing such shortness of breath that the physician who examined her put her on a ventilator immediately to help her breathe.

The patient lived across the street from the emergency department in suburban Denver, said Dr. David Friedenson, who cared for her that day a few years ago. The facility wasn't physically located at a hospital but was affiliated with North Suburban Medical Center several miles away.

Free-standing emergency departments have been cropping up in recent years and now number more than 500, according to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC), which reports to Congress. Often touted as more convenient, less crowded alternatives to hospitals, they often attract suburban walk-in patients with good insurance whose medical problems are less acute than those who visit an emergency room located in a hospital.

If a recent MedPAC proposal is adopted, however, some providers predict that these free-standing facilities could become scarcer. Propelling the effort are concerns that MedPAC's payment for services at these facilities is higher than it should be since the patients who visit them are sometimes not as severely injured or ill as those at on-campus facilities.

The proposal would reduce Medicare payment rates by 30 percent for some services at hospital-affiliated free-standing emergency departments that are located within 6 miles of an on-campus hospital emergency department.

"There has been a growth in free-standing emergency departments in urban areas that does not seem to be addressing any particular access need for emergency care," said James Mathews, executive director of MedPAC. The convenience of a neighborhood emergency department may even induce demand, he said, calling it an "if you build it, they will come" effect.

Emergency care is more expensive than a visit to a primary care doctor or urgent care center, in part because emergency departments have to be on standby 24/7, with expensive equipment and personnel ready to handle serious car accidents, gunshot wounds and other trauma cases. Even though free-standing emergency departments have lower standby costs than hospital-based facilities, they typically receive the same Medicare rate for emergency services. The Medicare "facility fee" payments, which include some ancillary lab and imaging services but not reimbursement to physicians, are designed to help defray hospitals' overhead costs.

The proposal would affect only payments for Medicare beneficiaries. But private insurers often consider Medicare payment policies when setting their rules.

According to a MedPAC analysis of five markets -- Charlotte, N.C.; Cincinnati; Dallas; Denver; and Jacksonville, Fla. --  75 percent of the free-standing facilities were located within 6 miles of a hospital with an emergency department. The average drive time to the nearest hospital was 10 minutes.

Overall, the number of outpatient emergency department visits by Medicare beneficiaries increased 13.6 percent per capita from 2010 to 2015, compared with a 3.5 percent growth in physician visits, according to MedPAC. (The reported data doesn't distinguish between conventional and free-standing emergency facility visits.)

"I think [the MedPAC proposal] is a move in the right direction," said Dr. Renee Hsia, a professor of emergency medicine and health policy at the University of California-San Francisco who has written about free-standing emergency departments. "We have to understand there are limited resources, and the fixed costs for stand-alone EDs are lower."

Hospital representatives say the proposal could cause some free-standing emergency departments to close their doors.

"We are deeply concerned that MedPAC's recommendation has the potential to reduce patient access to care, particularly in vulnerable communities, following a year in which hospital EDs responded to record-setting natural disasters and flu infections," Joanna Hiatt Kim, vice president for payment policy at the American Hospital Association, said in a statement.

Independent free-standing emergency departments that are not affiliated with a hospital would not be affected by the MedPAC proposal. These facilities, which make up about a third of all free-standing emergency facilities, aren't clinically integrated with a hospital and can't participate in the Medicare program.

The MedPAC proposal will be included in the group's report to Congress in June.

Even though stand-alone emergency facilities might not routinely treat patients with serious trauma, they can provide lifesaving care, proponents say.

Friedenson said that for his emphysema patient, avoiding the 15- to 20-minute drive to the main hospital made a critical difference.

"By stopping at our emergency department, I truly think her life was saved," he said.

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Remove Trump, Defang Pence: Impeachment Is the Way

Thu, 2018-04-19 00:00

Palestinians walk on a poster bearing images of Donald Trump and his deputy Mike Pence during a demonstration at the al-Quds Open University in Dura village on the outskirts of the West Bank town of Hebron on December 13, 2017. (Photo: Hazem Bader / AFP / Getty Images)

As matters currently stand, the odds of Donald Trump being impeached by this Congress are so profoundly minute, they defy even the existence of mathematics. There are no numbers -- here, there or anywhere -- that say such a thing is remotely possible. The federal government is rendered powerless by its own inadequacies; after giving a trillion dollars to rich people, there isn't much else the Republicans in the majority can do, so they are content to hunker in the bunker and see what November brings. Open support for impeachment, even among Democrats, is so gossamer right now that it doesn't cast a shadow in the high noon sun.

Rather than wallow in the riptides of the stormy present, cast your mind forward to the possibilities of the New Year. Imagine Trump -- mired in scandal and in a permanent state of full-throttle temper tantrum -- spending the summer and fall taking a lead pipe to any hopes the GOP had of retaining a majority in either chamber. The House and Senate are lost in a November bloodbath, the House by historic margins and the Senate by a nose. Finally, like the tolling of a funeral bell, the Mueller Report is made public after the special counsel finishes his investigation.

Maybe it's obstruction of justice. Maybe it's collusion with a foreign power to interfere with an election. Maybe it's money laundering. Maybe it's all of these and worse. Come January, a new Democratic Congress with the Mueller Report in hand will almost certainly have the necessary voltage to zap Donald Trump out of his current government sinecure and send him home to Trump Tower to watch his empire fall. As Paul Waldman recently explained in The Washington Post, "He may well be the single most corrupt major business figure in the United States of America." That corruption did not evaporate once he took the oath of office, but stuck fast to him like a kale fart in a hot car.

They will have the goods on Trump, I am mortally sure. Will they act?

For good reason, the very existence of Vice President Mike Pence is enough to derail any serious discussion of the impeachment of Donald Trump. As it stands, the man certainly serves as a potent insurance policy against Article II, Section 4.

When conversations turn to Trump's impeachment, LGBTQ activists and others have rightly raised an alarm about the acute dangers they would face from a President Pence. He could, with the right allies in Congress, push for a "religious objections" bill that legalizes discrimination against LGBTQ citizens, as he did while governor of Indiana. He might push for a bill requiring people who have abortions to hold funerals for the fetus, as he did in 2016. He might sign a bill requiring people seeking abortions to undergo two invasive trans-vaginal ultrasound procedures, as he did in 2013.

Hell yes, there is good reason for concern, and even fear. Pence is the kind of Christian evangelical zealot who would have been right at home putting "pagan" villages to the sword and torch a thousand years ago. His misogyny and homophobia are the stuff of nightmares. He is, very quietly, a darling of the right-wing moneyed elite and speaks their language fluently. Worse, as a former governor and member of the House, Pence actually knows how government works. He does not regularly dismember fellow Republicans in public, and he could easily build coalitions with the worst elements in Congress. With his knowledge and their help, they could pass legislation hateful enough to frighten the Freedom statue off the Capitol Dome.

That is now, today, tomorrow, next week and every week until November. My kid will still be eating her Halloween candy when the midterm deal goes down, and if the numbers hold or get worse for Republicans, it's going to be a whole different conversation at this year's Thanksgiving table. Sure, Pence is terrifying on a number of levels, but if the cookie crumbles just so in November, the beast will be without teeth.

There is ample precedent to support this presumption, in the guise of former President Gerald R. Ford. No historical comparison is seamless, of course, but the example of Ford is highly instructive.

After Richard Nixon resigned the presidency and fled back to California, Ford pardoned him. A few days later, he unveiled a program of conditional amnesty for Vietnam draft evaders. A year later, he presided over the US military's final, staggering exit from that war; Operation Frequent Wind was a frantic evacuation that saw helicopter gunships shoved over the sides of aircraft carriers and into the sea to make room for more refugees. Amazingly enough, Ford got Justice John Paul Stevens onto the Supreme Court. He was shot at more often than any president since George Washington.

That's pretty much it. Gerald Ford's presidential library is one room with a magazine rack and some mints in a dish. Ford didn't do nothing, but he didn't do much. Why?

There are several reasons. The long agony of Watergate, culminating in the concussion of Nixon's resignation, left the nation and the government so exhausted as to be effectively rendered powerless. With only a few scant accomplishments and no signature legislation to his name, Ford spent much of his time in office as an animated placeholder while the country tried to come to grips with what had just happened to it. Moreover, the Democrats in Congress -- cat-wary after Watergate -- watched him like a hawk. Everyone just waited for 1976, when a peanut farmer came along and sent this accidental president back home to Michigan.

As stated, no historical analogy is seamless. Ford was appointed, not elected, and the Congress of that day had yet to be infected by the rancid teachings of Supply Side Jesus. That being said, the similarities and probabilities are too obvious to ignore. If the impeachment of Donald Trump were successfully undertaken in 2019 or even 2020, the aftermath would find Mike Pence frozen like an ant in amber.

The ultimate removal of Trump would be preceded by a massive political upheaval that would leave the Republican Party on fire from stem to stern. The executive branch would be shattered and splattered, cornered into virtual immobility under the Say-No-to-Everything sway of a Democratic majority … if that Democratic majority decides to show up. Everything on the table this time, Nancy. Keep your powder dry long enough and it turns to dust.

If the proper circumstances combine to allow the removal of Donald Trump from office, President Pence will become a cipher until an election comes along to remove him. He is neither smart enough nor strong enough to overcome the forces of history that will be sluicing through the cracks in his walls. He will be a man-suit stuffed with straw. He will be nothing, and then he, too, will be gone.

So let's do this. Climb on the 'Peach Train. If you happen to believe there will soon be sufficient evidence to justify the removal of this catastrophe president, don't let Pence chase you off. He might be scary today, but if voters pull his fangs come November, it will get really interesting around here.

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Lawmakers Want the EPA to Ignore Impacts of Pesticides on Endangered Species

Thu, 2018-04-19 00:00

According to the latest push by House Republicans, pesticides -- all of them -- are so safe there's no longer any need to bother asking experts to determine their harm to our most endangered species before approving them.

It's not true, of course -- not even vaguely. It's such an outrageously anti-science statement it's laughable.

But not surprisingly, that's what pesticide makers like Dow Chemical would have us believe.

And now that's what Republicans in Congress would have us believe.

This week some of the biggest agriculture and pesticide players in Washington, D.C. -- including Croplife and Dow Chemical -- succeeded in getting Republicans to include a rider in the 2018 Farm Bill that would exempt the Environmental Protection Agency's pesticide-registration program from the most important parts of the Endangered Species Act: The provisions requiring that a pesticide's harm to endangered species be assessed and addressed before it can be approved, and the provisions that prohibit a pesticide's killing of endangered species.

That's right: If the rider remains in place, consideration for impacts on endangered species would be written out of the process of registering pesticides.

Shortly after President Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt took power last year, they made it clear how little they cared about science, public health and wildlife when Pruitt reversed an EPA plan to ban Dow's chlorpyrifos from use on crops, despite troves of evidence showing that this chemical causes brain damage in children and is likely to harm imperiled species.

The troth of evidence against chlorpyrifos was so compelling that prior to Trump taking office, the EPA had found that the chemical harmed 97 percent of the nation's 1,800 endangered plants and animals.

The evidence of risk was overwhelming. Hence the EPA's plan to ban it.

But then Dow donated $1 million to Trump's inaugural fund, and the EPA simply walked away from years of research.

And now, Dow and friends are getting even more bang for their buck -- this time with House Republicans who don't seem to care how many species they drive extinct. 

It seems like Dow has really been cashing in on its D.C. spending spree over the past six years, during which the company has donated $11 million to congressional campaigns and political action committees and spent an additional $75 million lobbying Congress. 

It would be hard to overstate the dangers of this Farm Bill rider. If we don't stop it, it could not only directly fuel the extinction of many of our most endangered plants and animals -- it could eliminate one of the most important shields we have to protect all species, including humans, against highly toxic pesticides poisoning the waterways and landscapes we all depend on.

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Sinclair Has Thrived for So Long Under the Radar

Wed, 2018-04-18 10:27

Janine Jackson: The viral video of dozens of local newscasters from around the country, reciting identical scripts about "fake news," is the definition of painful irony. But what Sinclair Broadcast Group, the parent company that forced the broadcasters to parrot the words, is doing, and wants to do, is no laughing matter. Sinclair's been largely under the radar til now, though known to some as the owner that forced its stations to run a pseudo-documentary hit piece on John Kerry days before the 2004 election. The chain's Washington bureau chief resisted, told the Baltimore Sun, "I couldn't be part of this special and call it news, when what it is is political propaganda," and was promptly fired.

So what does it mean that Sinclair may acquire a station in your town next? Our next guest has been immersed in things Sinclair. Pam Vogel is a research fellow at Media Matters. She joins us by phone from Washington, DC. Welcome to CounterSpin, Pam Vogel.

Pam Vogel: Thanks for having me on.

Let's start with that video that Deadspin cut together. It's chilling in its content. People who obviously don't have any control over what they're saying, talking about "free speech" and "mind control," you know? Someone said that it looks like "hostage video," and in a way, it almost is. People need their jobs, after all. The "must-run" is a significant part of the Sinclair way, isn't it?

Yes, and this sort of scripted segment that's read by local anchors isn't necessarily typical for Sinclair. It's a little bit of an escalation, which I think is maybe why some folks are so riled up when they see this video. It does feel very eerie and disingenuous. But in addition to a sort of scripted segment like the one in that video, Sinclair regularly mandates that all of its local TV news stations run certain types of segments that they produce nationally at their headquarters near us here in DC.

So those types of must-run segments are more regularly produced. There's one called Bottom Line with Boris, and that is featuring a man named Boris Epshteyn, who used to be a Trump aide. He was hired by Sinclair a little bit after he left the White House, and his commentary segments are produced, pretty much every weekday there's a new one. They're pretty short, about 90 seconds, two minutes. And it's pretty predictable. So I watch all of them as they come out, and I already know what's going to be in them, for the most part. It's always either in agreement with President Trump, or a defense of something that Trump has done, or in a few cases -- including yesterday -- a defense of Sinclair itself, or a defense of Epshteyn's commentary segment.

And the second must-run that they typically are mandating that their stations air is called Terrorism Alert Desk. Those also are relatively short segments. They're produced about every other day, there's a new one, and those are sort of quick-hit, vague headline-reading of stories that they have determined are about terrorism. And I watched a year of those segments. And some of the things that we sort of pulled away in analysis of those segments were that they weren't very informative for viewers, but the repetition aspect of reading vague headlines about things like terror-related arrests, where we never get any follow-up information, a focus overall on terror associated with Islam -- taken all together like that, it really just serves to gin up xenophobia in local news audiences.

So I think when we talk about that context, and some of the other must-run segments Sinclair's doing, the idea of having local anchors decry "one-sided and biased news" feels even more ironic.

Really, it takes it over the top. And it's two things, because it's the content, and then it's the nature of it being must-run. There was a guy who worked briefly at a Sinclair station named Aaron Weiss, who wrote a piece for Huffington Post, and he recounted a conference call of news directors. When someone asked if they could ever run local commentary during newscasts, the answer was a firm "no." So the threat of Sinclair, the concern, is not just that it's right-wing, it's what they mean for the localism of local news, as well, isn't it?

Yes. There's a recent study out of Emory University, where the authors found that a small group of stations last year was acquired by Sinclair, and when those stations saw the transfer in ownership, that was pretty much immediately accompanied by a change in the types of news that those stations covered. So they began to cover more national stories at the expense of local stories.

Yeah, I saw that Emory research, and I thought it was interesting that they found more national politics, as opposed to local, and a slant to the right, and then they note that the results suggest a substantial "supply-side" role in these trends toward nationalization and polarization of politics news. In other words, the changes weren't responsive to viewers' tastes changing. They really just came from the ownership changing.

And this is something to keep in mind when we're talking about Sinclair, too, because they're in the middle of trying to finalize an acquisition of more media stations across the country: 42 more local TV stations, some in the largest media markets -- New York, Chicago, LA -- where they don't really currently have any stations that they control, whether it's through ownership or through operating them solely, which is part of Sinclair's MO. But this speaks to their efforts to consolidate, and they view it as a win for innovation.

But what really happens is that they're free to minimize the resources that stations need, which, again, takes away from the localism. And it can be also kind of creepy, in a way that's a little bit similar to the way that these local anchors were mandated to read those scripts. We're seeing other instances already with Sinclair stations where they're using the same local anchors broadcasting from one station in one state, and they're actually narrating nightly news segments in other states.

So it's not even really local at all at this point, and this is in a time in which local news resources are already shrinking, or already have been dwindling.

Exactly. So to be clear, in that sort of arrangement they still have some local reporters that are in the community. But the anchors at the desk are in a completely different state. So they're basically making the argument -- through the way that they're allocating those resources -- that the anchors don't matter. It just seems like overall a kind of lack of respect for journalistic integrity, for their employees.

Absolutely. Well, I did read that David Smith, the chairman of Sinclair, has quipped that Sinclair is "forever expanding, like the universe." That doesn't sound good. You just hinted toward it: They are trying now to have a huge acquisition, or an acquisition that would get them into the three biggest markets in the country. So what's in between them and that right now?

Yeah. The acquisition is waiting final approval from the FCC and from the Department of Justice, on antitrust grounds, and it's pretty much expected that both of those entities will approve the deal. They're obviously pretty aligned with the Trump administration, and President Trump has vocalized his support for Sinclair in two tweets in the last couple of days. So I don't think we're going to see any pushback there.

But one thing that is interesting is that the FCC is actually under an internal investigation right now, because they've made so many moves, regulatory and deregulatory, in the last year since they acquired a Republican majority on that commission, because of the Trump administration, to make things easier for Sinclair to see that deal through. They reinstated some outdated, wonky math for calculating ownership caps, that basically is allowing Sinclair to own an unprecedented number of stations, and reach up to 72 percent of US television households, which is completely unheard of, and wouldn't have been possible before the FCC was under Republican control.

I want to be clear: It's not like there's a Sinclair network, and that if you don't want it, you can avoid it, you know? That's part of the problem, is that there's kind of a labeling issue, as well, isn't there?

Yes, absolutely. If you're tuning in to cable news -- Fox, MSNBC, CNN -- you sort of know what you're tuning in to. You're signing up for something specific, whether it's news delivered with a particular perspective, whether it's commentators that have a national profile, and so you might know already what their background is and their approach. But with Sinclair, you don't have that same expectation. So if you're turning to your local nightly news, you might see that it's called ABC 6 or CBS 12, but you don't see a Sinclair logo anywhere on your screen.

The good news is, it's relatively easy to find out who owns your station. And that's exactly what Sinclair doesn't want folks to do. They have thrived for so long under the radar. So I think now that people are becoming aware of what they've been up to, it's important to keep that drumbeat going, and to take a little bit of time to just know who owns your station, because they're not making it very clear.

We've been speaking with Pam Vogel. She's research fellow at Media Matters. They're online at Pam Vogel, thank you so much for joining us today on CounterSpin.

Thank you.

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