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Beyond Fluorescent Bulbs: 4 Things Millennials Can Do To Fight Climate Change

Thu, 2018-04-19 15:07

About 252 million years ago, the Permian-Triassic extinction event killed “90 percent of the planet’s species,” according to National Geographic, and exterminated 96 percent of marine species. The culprit? Some scientists say runaway climate change played a role. Today, we once again stand on the brink of climate catastrophe, and it may pose a similar existential threat.

“Runaway” climate change refers to nonlinear warming, when a chain reaction of physical processes trigger and accelerate each other, making the Earth unbearably warm for most life. We are already seeing such feedback loops in action. For example, Arctic permafrost—frozen soil—has begun to melt, sending methane into the atmosphere, which makes the earth warmer, which melts more permafrost, which makes the Earth warmer, and so on.

We don’t know when these feedback loops will become unstoppable. James Hansen, one of the world’s foremost climate scientists, has suggested runaway climate change could induce what he calls “Venus syndrome” if we burn all of the earth’s available fossil fuels, making the planet about as uninhabitable as Venus. Other scientists find this unlikely, and argue that focusing on these worst-case scenarios is unhelpful. What is certain, however, is that even if we manage to avoid runaway climate change, we are already suffering the destabilizing impacts of existing climate disruption. And that will inevitably grow worse, regardless of our interventions.

The upshot, for millennials, is that we’ll spend our lives watching the Earth become less and less suitable for humans and many other life forms—and possibly for civilization as we know it. The next generation will witness even further risk of collapse. Perhaps Generation Z is a most apt name for them.

I recently wrote that climate change inspires resentment in millennials toward Baby Boomers, particularly those elite Boomers who bear the greatest responsibility for climate change, those who command a vast majority of the world’s capital and virtually all of the world’s political power. Those Boomers are most equipped to prevent climate change, but many stubbornly refuse to even acknowledge its existence. It seems unlikely they will suddenly change course and start doing something about the problem.

So it’s up to the young. The task before us will require the full attention of state force and economic production, deployed in coordination, to oversee the global energy transition required to avoid human extinction. This is an engineering and technical feat on a scale no humans have ever attempted; channeling the necessary resources into solving that technical problem is an administrative challenge on a scale no nations have ever endeavored. This blows America’s war mobilization or Europe’s postwar rebuilding out of the water.

The most critical challenge now confronting millennials and Gen Z, atomized, precarious and hopeless as we are, is how we seize power quickly enough to prevent runaway climate change from making earth unsuitable for civilization, or even human life.

Corporate media and neoliberal institutions have tried to convince people that the best way to confront global issues like climate change is through isolated personal actions like adopting new purchasing habits and lifestyles. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with going vegan, buying fluorescent bulbs or riding bicycles—in fact, they are probably good things to do regardless—these will not be sufficient to mitigate climate change. Only collective action can do that.

So what does that look like? Here are four actions we young people can take together, though it’s certainly not an exhaustive list.

First and most importantly, we must take control of the government, in whatever country we reside. In the United States, millennials must start running for office and winning, en masse. Many new candidates are running, but not nearly enough. There are good reasons we’re not, from economic insecurity to (justified) political cynicism. But some are eschewing public service out of banal selfishness, pursuing prestige careers in finance and consulting, or sexier jobs at Silicon Valley startups.

This must end if we’re going to survive. Apps won’t save us. Those of us who can, must get ourselves elected and make climate change central to our platforms. This means putting aggressive energy transition at the top of the policymaking agenda. Some of the most progressive candidates now have admirably given a 100 percent transition to renewables a place on their platforms. But 2050 is the deadline Sen. Bernie Sanders and others have set. This is woefully inadequate. The government must propel immediate, aggressive transition to 100 percent non-carbon energy not by 2050, but as soon as physically possible.

Carbon capture and sequestration will also likely be necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change. The market alone cannot deliver these engineering feats in time. At the rate of market-driven energy transition today, it will take 400 years to get where we need to be in ten or twenty, according to MIT Technology Review. Sufficient energy policy will be essential for survival, and millennials must develop and institutionalize that policy.

Second, millennials should help organize community renewable energy projects. These projects are popping up around the world in which neighborhoods, cities and organizations are building new renewable energy production that they own and govern. In Scotland, for example, some communities on the Isle of Skye and elsewhere have banded together to found nonprofits that raise funds for, oversee, and ultimately govern new wind farm projects, and then distribute revenues to those members who helped invest. Projects like this are up and running all over the United States, too. The small town of Northport, Mich., for example, has set a goal of 100 percent renewable electricity derived from locally owned wind and solar initiatives.

There are many benefits to organizing these kinds of groups. They provide civic organizations the means to bring disparate individuals together around a concrete project and forge social capital necessary for political change. They can give communities control of the means of their energy production, which is one of the most important ways of building democratic polities and free and fair economies. They can fund community renewal projects and social services for underserved people. They can undermine the centralizing impact of oil and gas production on wealth and power. Millennials who know Boomers with money and property—or who themselves have money or property—can begin the process of organizing their communities, whether apartment buildings, city blocks or suburbs, to go in together on building new solar and wind infrastructure.   

Third, millennials need to talk about climate and energy constantly. It’s hard to talk about; it’s daunting, depressing, sometimes boring, and technical. We have to learn a lot of new information to talk about it with fluency. But if we are going to get the people with power and money to care about this, going to get our friends to care about it, get our government to care about it, and our parents, grandparents and skeptical uncles to care about it, we have to talk about it. We have to educate others and make them know we want this prioritized. The fact that even young Republicans are vocal about climate change is good indication that this issue can unify our generation—our very lives are at stake. We need to have good faith discussions with each other about how to solve it, and extend those conversations to older folks who don’t believe or care that it’s happening.

Finally, we need to organize and commit to direct action. We need to scale up acts of courage and selflessness, and build communities of solidarity and mutual commitment in our universities, our workplaces, our churches and our families. Many activists, young and old, are putting their bodies in danger to prevent oil pipeline development around the world. Many students have won battles against their universities to divest endowment assets from fossil fuel development. A group of teens has waged a landmark climate change case against the government; a federal appeals court recently ruled in their favor, enabling the case to go to trial. Many other such cases are being tried around the world. These actions should be recognized for what they are: necessary and heroic.

But too few are currently engaged in this movement to sufficiently nudge carbon emission levels, or dislodge the immense power of the fossil fuel industry. These actions must scale up from the niches they currently inhabit to a mass movement.  Many, many more of us must refuse to participate in our own destruction. This is easier said than done; it requires unusual heroism on a generational scale. But if a critical mass of us fail to band together to force our institutions into immediate, dramatic change, we all may face disaster, and sooner than many dare imagine.

Yaser Murtaja Was Killed by Israel While Reporting From Gaza. His Death Is One of Many.

Wed, 2018-04-18 18:27

The last moments of Yaser Murtaja’s life were caught on camera, and the footage shows the 30 year old doing what he had dedicated his life to: journalism that chronicles reality in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip.

In a video clip posted by the Quds News Network, a Palestinian media outlet, Murtaja is shown using a video camera to capture a chaotic scene of Palestinian protesters, smoke from tires burning and people screaming. 

The next scene shows Murtaja, wearing a jacket with the words PRESS emblazoned on it, on the ground, bleeding. He would later die because of the Israeli-fired gunshot wound.

Murtaja was one of at least six Palestinian journalists shot by Israeli forces on April 6, while covering a protest in the Gaza Strip against Israel’s blockade and denial of Palestinian refugee rights. Israeli soldiers have shot and wounded at least 12 Palestinian journalists since March 30, when Palestinians started a mass protest encampment dubbed the “Great Return March” near Israel’s militarized barrier with Gaza. The march is named for the Palestinian demand that they be allowed to return to lands they and their families were expelled from in 1948—in what is now Israel.

Murtaja was the only Palestinian journalist killed by Israel that day, and his death set off widespread outrage among press freedom groups and human rights advocates.

“The Israeli government killing is a worrying sign. Not only are autocratic and barbaric non-state actors killing journalists, but a country that calls itself a democracy [is also killing journalists],” Sherif Mansour, the Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, told In These Times. “The attempts by Israeli officials to justify this killing is not just putting salt on the wound, but is trying to blur some of the lines that people are trying to establish about safety for journalists in armed conflict.”

But the killing of Murtaja was not an exceptional event. His death is indicative of Israel’s disregard for the rights of Palestinian journalists to do their jobs—and highlights Israel’s years-long pattern of killing Palestinian journalists and attacking Palestinian media institutions.

Palestine: Where journalists become targets

Gaza has borne the brunt of Israeli violence in recent years, experiencing three separate Israeli military operations that killed more than 3,700 people just in the past 11 years. And it is in Gaza, a coastal enclave under a devastating blockade by Israel and Egypt, where Israeli forces have opened fire on journalists the most. Since 1992, Israel has killed 15 journalists, most of them Palestinian, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Nine of those killed by Israeli fire were working in Gaza, and six were reporting in the occupied West Bank.

“Why are the Israelis using such excessive force against Palestinian civilians and against journalists in particular?” asked Rami Almeghari, an independent Palestinian journalist based in Gaza who has covered the Great Return March encampment. “This is an indication that Israelis under[value] the lives of Palestinians, even Palestinian journalists, and this is something that needs to be investigated by concerned international bodies.”

Almeghari told In These Times that while reporting on the current wave of protests in Gaza, he met a 19-year-old freelance photographer shot in the leg by Israeli soldiers, an injury that forced doctors to amputate the leg.

“He was lying on his abdomen when he got a gunshot into his leg while he was doing some freelance work,” said Almeghari. “Despite the fact that it was apparent that he was a photographer, Israeli forces shot him in the leg."

Almeghari added that Israeli targeting of Palestinian journalists may occur because the army wants to “blackout coverage on the ground”—an assertion that is not far-fetched. A recently disclosed Israeli military police investigation found that in 2012, Israeli commanders ordered soldiers to beat and arrest Palestinian journalists to disrupt coverage of anti-occupation protests in the West Bank. 

When confronted with outrage over firing on Palestinian journalists, Israeli authorities have turned to a well-worn justification: The journalists were members of Hamas, the armed Palestinian group that rules Gaza.

In the aftermath of Murtaja’s death, Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the Palestinian journalist was a captain in the Palestinian militant group. Lieberman offered no evidence for the assertion, and the U.S. State Department said that Murtaja received a USAID grant after being vetted in accordance with U.S. laws that prevent money from going to members of Hamas.

It wasn’t the first time Israel has used an alleged Hamas affiliation to deflect calls for accountability after the killing of a journalist. In 2012, during an Israeli assault on Gaza, an Israeli airstrike targeted and killed Mahmoud al-Kumi and Hussam Salama, two Palestinian cameramen driving in a car marked with the word “TV.” Because they worked for Al-Aqsa TV, the official Hamas television station, Israel said they were legitimate targets—an assertion rejected by Human Rights Watch, which said at the time that “Hamas-run media are protected from attack under the laws of war unless directly taking part in military operations.” The group found no evidence the cameramen played any part in fighting during the 2012 conflict.

“There is a pattern of improper response that basically tries to paint the person as a terrorist. We try to challenge the Israeli authorities on this,” said Mansour of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “Even being affiliated with a Hamas TV station is not enough to kill journalists.”

No press freedom under occupation 

Palestinian journalists working in the occupied West Bank must contend with their own unique challenges. In contemporary Gaza, Israel controls most of the borders and Gaza’s air and sea space but does not normally deploy soldiers within the strip. By contrast, Israeli soldiers are present deep into the occupied West Bank.

The 24/7 presence of Israeli soldiers brings them into near-daily contact with Palestinian journalists. And the Israeli army has not hesitated to unleash ammunition and tear gas on Palestinian media workers.

“The Israeli army is deliberate and intentional in its targeting of journalists,” said Issam Al-Rimawi, a Palestinian photo-journalist, in an interview. “They do not want journalists to cover any form of Palestinian protest, not even peaceful demonstrations.”

Al-Rimawi would know. He has been hit by Israeli fire numerous times while covering demonstrations against Israel’s military occupation. In 2014, while photographing a protest near Israel’s Ofer military prison in the West Bank, an Israeli soldier shot him in the shoulder with a rubber-coated steel bullet, an incident that left him hospitalized. In February, Al-Rimawi was again shot by a rubber-coated bullet, this time in the hand.

But it’s not only Israeli fire that Palestinian journalists have to contend with. Israeli forces frequently raid Palestinian media institutions, seizing their computers and other equipment under the pretext of fighting “incitement” to violence. Israeli forces also frequently arrest Palestinian journalists.

By the end of 2017, Israeli forces were holding 22 Palestinian journalists in Israeli military jails—some of them detained without charge or trial. In February 2018, Israeli troops arrested Palestinian journalist Abdul Mohsen Shalaldeh.

In the wake of such arrests and military raids, press freedom groups frequently condemn Israeli practices that target Palestinian journalists. But the pressure these groups try to bring on Israel has had little impact on how Israel conducts itself.

This pattern of international condemnation followed by little change in Israeli military behavior is playing out right now, in the aftermath of the killing of Palestinian journalist Yasser Murtaja in Gaza.

One day after an Israeli soldier killed Murtaja, Christophe Deloire, the secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders, called for an “independent investigation leading to the conviction of those responsible for this crime against press freedom.”

But instead of promising to hold the soldier who killed Murtaja accountable, Israeli officials have sought to justify the killing, saying he was a member of Hamas, or that he was flying a drone that endangered Israeli soldiers. (No evidence has emerged for either assertion.) And on April 13, Israeli forces once again opened fire on a journalist in a press jacket, shooting the Palestinian photographer Ahmed Abu Hussein in his abdomen and critically wounding him.

This Israeli response makes it likely that nothing will be done to the soldier who killed Murtaja—making his death just the latest example of how Israeli soldiers kill Palestinian civilians and journalists with impunity.

The Zuckerberg Hearings Were a Show Trial, And Facebook’s Monopoly Remains Unthreatened

Wed, 2018-04-18 08:54

Last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress to address concerns about his company’s collection of personal user data. The appearance attracted a maelstrom of media coverage, as it was the first time the notoriously press-averse Zuckerberg has appeared in front of Congress.

Yet, as members of the public are increasingly questioning the monopolistic power that Facebook has amassed, Congress seems content to preserve the self-regulatory orthodoxy of the technology industry. As a for-profit operation that does not charge cash for basic use, the company is fundamentally predicated on harvesting user data for advertising purposes. Once the storm has cleared, Facebook will, in all likelihood, return to business as usual.

At the hearings, members of Congress claimed to have concerns about Facebook’s approach to generating profits. Silicon Valley Congressperson Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), for example, asked Zuckerberg if he is willing to change his business model “in the interest of protecting individual privacy.” And a number of other Democratic senators raised questions about the company’s scope and methods of data mining. Free-market champion Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), meanwhile, broached the subject of regulations for technology companies.

However, as journalist David Dayen cautioned in a report on the hearings, Congress appears unwilling to take forceful action. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) requested Zuckerberg’s assistance in drafting regulations. Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) warned, “If Facebook cannot fix the privacy violations, we are going to have to.,” This remark suggestings that technology companies should self-regulate by default, and positionings government as a reactive, laissez-faire force. Zuckerberg has also managed to ingratiate himself with some policymakers, earning compliments on his demeanor from the likes of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

Facebook, of course, likely has no intentions of changing its policies, and certainly won’t do so in any meaningful way if it’s expected to govern itself. The platform has already had numerous opportunities to change in response to public scandals. As ProPublica revealed in 2016, Facebook’s ad platforms have repeatedly allowed racial discrimination, violating the Fair Housing Act and Fair Employment Act. Now, the company seemingly encourages legal racially targeted ads through an advertising strategy with the deceptively benign name “lookalike.” Amid heightened anxieties over digital privacy, Facebook has been lobbying to adjust an Illinois piece of legislation to protect its ability to harvest biometric data without user notice or consent.

Congress is complicit in this track record. Lawmakers have effectively ignored Facebook’s years-long history of user privacy invasion and data exploitation. They’ve allowed Facebook’s aforementioned illegal ad platforms to digitally redline communities. (The Congressional Black Caucus intervened, but its attempts were soft and fruitless.) They’ve stood passively as Zuckerberg amassed billions of dollars, acquiring competitors and building charter schools, through the very practices they now condemn.

This anti-regulatory climate is rooted in decades of neoliberal policy, and also—most likely—in lawmakers’ personal stakes in Facebook’s success. Facebook has spent nearly $52 million on lobbying since 2009. Eshoo was the top recipient of Facebook contributions on the House commerce committee. Whitehouse, meanwhile, owns stock in Facebook, along with Reps. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) and Joseph P. Kennedy III (D-Mass.). Nearly 30 lawmakers in total are estimated to have invested in the company.

Facebook’s stakeholders, meanwhile, seem to be under the impression that the company is not in peril: After plummeting in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scare, Facebook’s stock began to recover at the beginning of the month and rose precipitously upon Zuckerberg’s testimony.

That so many conflicts of interest cloud the process of questioning Zuckerberg raises questions about any solutions he might offer. Though he’s been largely evasive and made no promises to Congress, Zuckerberg has claimed he’ll globally implement the European Union’s digital-privacy standards, which are far more stringent than those in the United States. Naturally, Zuckerberg has been miserly on details, and, under no legal pressure so far to enact such changes, has no conceivable incentive to do so.

What’s more, the bill—and the hearings—evoke last year’s wave of tension between Facebook and the federal government over Russian advertisements. As a result, Senators Mark Warner (D-Va.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) proposed the Honest Ads Act, which would require Facebook to maintain a public record of advertisers that had spent more than $500 during the previous year. Despite the flurry of handwringing over this issue, the legislation born of it asks virtually nothing of tech companies, save some small improvements to transparency that pose no challenge to its ad-targeting methods. Tellingly, Zuckerberg and other tech leaders now endorse the bill—an easy act of damage control that won't compromise their bottom lines.

Congress may take small steps towards curbing Facebook’s monopolistic control over user data and media consumption, starting with the CONSENT Act, which would require Facebook to obtain consent from users before using, sharing or selling any personal information—among other mandates. If Facebook’s abusive practices are to be put to an end, however, incremental tweaks won’t suffice. Facebook is a vehicle of surveillance capitalism and, even under increased scrutiny, will find ways to circumvent the constraints that may be placed upon it to serve its own ends.

If Facebook is to become a more ethical operation, aggressive action in the public interest must be taken, from prohibiting targeted advertising to—more sweepingly—redefining media like Facebook as a public good. For far too long, lawmakers have shirked these responsibilities, allowing Facebook to proceed with autonomy and impunity. At this point, we can’t afford to let them continue.

These Community Activists Won Bail Reform. Now They Have To Force Judges To Comply.

Tue, 2018-04-17 12:00

CHICAGO—Lavette Mayes remembers there were about 30 others lined up in a hallway, with their hands behind their back. One by one, they were brought before a judge. Mayes had been arrested in 2015 after an altercation with her 67-year-old mother-in-law that left both hospitalized.

Mayes, a 48-year-old mother of two whose marriage was unraveling, says she acted in self-defense.

“I’d never been arrested a day in my life. I’d only seen [bond court] on TV.”

Of her bond hearing, she says, “I was just shocked at the amount of time. It felt like I was at some kind of auction, it just went by so fast.”

Within 30 seconds she was ordered held on $250,000 detainer bond, which meant she had to pay 10 percent down— $25,000—to go home with electronic monitoring.

Unable to pay, Mayes spent the next 14 months in pretrial detention at Cook County Jail. Under the law, Mayes was presumed innocent. Yet while awaiting her day in court, she nearly lost her children in divorce proceedings, and her business, a schoolvan transport service, fell apart as her vans were repossessed. She also burned through her $10,000 in savings.

“It just took a huge toll on my family,” says Mayes.

After a long fight, Mayes’ bond payment was reduced to $9,500.

With assistance from the Chicago Community Bond Fund (CCBF), her family was able to pay it. She remained under house arrest until taking a plea deal Oct. 5, 2016. The CCBF raises money to pay bonds for those, such as Mayes, who can’t afford to. It’s one of 12 groups that make up the Coalition To End Money Bond, which formed in 2016 to address the systemic flaws in Cook County’s pretrial system. Cook County Jail holds approximately 7,500 people, more than 90 percent of whom are pretrial, far above the national average of 67 percent.

“We don’t want other families to go through this,” says Irene Romulo, an organizer with the coalition.

The coalition convinced the county’s Chief Circuit Court Judge Timothy Evans to order his judges to ensure “the defendant has the present ability to pay the amount necessary to secure his or her release on bail.”

“Defendants should not be sitting in jail awaiting trial simply because they lack the financial resources to secure their release,” Evans said. “If they are not deemed a danger to any person or the public, my order states that they will receive a bail they can afford.” The order went into effect Sept. 18, 2017.

The coalition had 70 volunteers attend bond court in August and September 2017, before and after the order’s implementation, diligently compiling data.

On February 27, they released their findings: Following Evans’ order, the rate of pretrial releases nearly doubled and the use of monetary bond dropped by half.

But the volunteers also noted a “lack of oversight and accountability,” and that some judges are still assigning high bails.

Another obstacle to reform is Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, who has said his staff is overwhelmed by the hundreds of “violent offenders” charged with gun crimes who have been released from his jail with electronic monitoring as a result of Evans’ order.

“Moving forward, my office will closely scrutinize all individuals who are assigned to[electronic monitoring] by carefully reviewing their charges and criminal histories,” Dart wrote. “Those who are deemed to be too high a security risk to be in the community will be referred back to the court for further evaluation.”

Now, some people are detained on “administrative review” even after bond payment. Dart is now subject to a federal class action lawsuit filed on behalf of these detainees February 26.

Ultimately, the coalition wants to see an end to money bond altogether.

Senate Democrats Offer Little-to-No Opposition to Trump’s Expansion of Syria Bombings

Mon, 2018-04-16 14:21

Senate Democrats and Independents are registering little opposition to President Donald Trump’s April 13 airstrikes on Syrian government targets, with 92 percent declining to strongly oppose the bombings on principle and just three voicing unequivocal objections to the strikes before they were carried out.

Where objections are raised by Democrats and Independents, they most frequently take the form of procedural and legal complaints, which fall short of making a judgement on whether the military intervention itself is good or bad.

The lack of dissent follows four years of congressional failure to stop—or even question—U.S. bombings in Iraq and Syria allegedly targeting ISIS and Al Nusra. Since 2014, a minimum of 6,259 civilians have been killed by U.S. coalition bombings in both countries, according to the British monitoring organization Airwars.

It is not immediately clear how many civilians were killed or wounded in the April 13 attack.

Just four out of 49 Democratic and Independent senators have expressed principled opposition to Trump’s bombing campaign: Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Markey only vocalized his opposition after the strikes took place, and Murphy simultaneously used one of his statements to signal support for the bombing campaign against ISIS. “Now is the time for the U.S. to complete our mission against ISIS inside Syria, and then pull back our military effort, and focus on participating in a diplomatic process by which this war can be brought to a conclusion,” Murphy said in a statement issued April 14.

Sanders stands out for releasing a statement on April 11, well ahead of Trump’s bombings, in which he signaled his opposition to U.S. military escalation in general, although steered clear of specifics related to Syria. “We have been in Afghanistan for 17 years and Iraq for 15 years,” he said. “The result has been massive regional instability, terrible loss of life and a cost of trillions of dollars.”

Yet, 20 Senate Democrats expressed full-throated support for the bombings, without raising meaningful legal objections to the strikes. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who voted in 2002 to give George W. Bush the authority to invade Iraq, exemplifies how this camp is handwringing over Trump’s lack of strategy while still, ultimately, sending a pro-war message. Schumer declared on Friday, “A pinpointed, limited action to punish and hopefully deter Assad from doing this again is appropriate, but the administration has to be careful about not getting us into a greater and more involved war in Syria.” Meanwhile, Doug Jones (D-Ala.) said on April 14: “I fully support the President’s actions.” 

Perhaps most notable is the failure of many lawmakers to say anything at all about the bombings. Of Senate Democrats and Independents, 10 issued statements in which they dodged questions of substance but raised often vague procedural objections. And remarkably, five —Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.)—declined to comment at all on their official websites or social media accounts about the April 13 bombings.

Ten Democratic and Independent senators raised procedural or legal concerns while supporting military intervention on substance. Among them are rising stars in the so-called Democratic “resistance” to Trump—Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.)—both of whom aired concerns about the lack of authorization and legal rationale after the bombings had already taken place. While Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Dick Durbin(D-Ill.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) each failed to challenge the strikes on principle, they did write a joint letter to Trump raising legal concerns before the bombings occurred.

In contrast, members of the U.S. House of Representatives have issued slightly stronger joint letters. The Congressional Progressive Caucus released a statement on April 10 declaring, "Syria’s civil war continues to be a complex regional conflict, and it has become increasingly clear that U.S. military interventions will likely add to the mass suffering in Syria." And on April 13, a bipartisan group nearly 90 U.S. representatives released a letter calling on Trump to "consult and receive authorization from Conress before ordering additional use of U.S. military force in Syria."

Absent a strong push against war itself, however, it is unclear what impact legal objections will have, given that Congress has failed to rein in either former President Barack Obama or Trump for waging an open-ended war on ISIS without congressional approval.

The 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which green-lighted U.S. retaliation for the September 11 attacks, has since been invoked to justify at least 37 military actions in 14 countries: Afghanistan, Georgia, Yemen, Djibouti, Cuba, the Philippines, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Turkey and Syria. Scattered efforts by lawmakers to challenge these actions on the grounds that the AUMF is being broadly—and unlawfully—interpreted have made little progress.

At any point, lawmakers can invoke the 1973 War Powers Resolution to  attempt to force the Congress to halt U.S. intervention in Syria, as recently exemplified by the effort of Sens. Sanders and Mike Lee (R-Utah) to halt U.S. support for the Saudi-led war on Yemen. Emergency measures to prevent and stop U.S. wars are taking on new urgency now that John Bolton—who has called for U.S. military attacks against Iran and North Korea—is Trump’s new national security advisor. Given lawmakers’ overwhelming unwillingness to challenge the pro-war consensus, it appears that strong grassroots pressure will be required to stop any future military actions by the Trump administration.

In These Times evaluated statements by Democratic and Independent senators and classified them to the best of our ability, given the vagueness of many lawmakers' remarks.

West Virginia Showed How Necessary—And Difficult—Striking Is

Mon, 2018-04-16 12:00

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.VA.—After nine days of arriving at 7 a.m. to the picket lines, Emily Comer, a Spanish teacher at South Charleston High School, was “mentally and emotionally and physically exhausted.”

Word came on a Tuesday morning that a deal between the state and the striking public employees was imminent. Comer—sick in bed with a cold—got dressed and went to the Capitol atrium, thinking, “I cannot not be there.”

When Republican Gov. Jim Justice announced the state had agreed to a 5 percent raise, Comer recalls, “I was bawling. People were hugging each other and crying. People were singing ‘[Take Me Home] Country Roads.’”

From February 22 to March 6, West Virginia public employees—led by teachers and school support staff—held one of the biggest work actions in recent U.S. history, rebuffing austerity and, at points, even the wishes of their union leaders.

One trigger was rising healthcare costs. For teachers, the strength of their i nsu ra nce plan, administered by the Public Employee Insurance Agency (PEIA), served as a trade-off for the fourth-lowest teacher salaries in the nation. But over the last several years, public employees saw more and more of their paychecks diverted into health insurance costs.

Comer’s father was a state trooper, and she has been on PEIA her whole life. “It used to be great,” Comer says, “and still, compared to private health insurance, it is. It just keeps getting more expensive every year.”

Momentum for the strike began building in the fall, when the PEIA board of directors held a series of hearings around the state that drew raucous public commentary. Increasingly dissatisfied teachers flooded into a private Facebook page called “West Virginia Public Employees United.” At first, it was a place to vent. Soon, it became a hub for coordinating statewide actions like letter writing. Before long, public employees began tentatively discussing the possibility of a sustained statewide walkout.

“People were calling it ‘the S-word,’ ” Comer recalls. It was at a rally at the Capitol on Martin Luther King Day that she realized the S-word might become reality. West Virginia Education Association president Dale Lee took the mic and, Comer remembers, “He actually said the word: strike.”

The state legislators present looked alarmed, Comer recalls.

They had good reason. On February 2, teachers in three counties would stage a oneday walkout. By the end of the month, schools in all 55 counties were closed for the strike.

In Comer’s district, strikers were out at dawn holding signs along the highways. Then they’d head to the Capitol to chant and lobby legislators.

“I worked longer days on strike than we do at school,” Comer says. “It was exhilarating and exhausting. You start thinking, ‘Are we going to be out forever?’ But I knew that I was not about to give up and would have stayed out as long as needed.”

Three days in, Justice and union leaders announced a deal on a raise—but not on PEIA. Teachers rebelled, staying off the job in a wildcat strike.

The final deal looks an awful lot like victory: a 5 percent pay raise, as opposed to the 1 percent raise Justice had proposed before the strike, and the creation of a statewide task force to determine PEIA’s future.

How to fund PEIA will be hotly debated in the coming months by the task force, which is composed of union officials, policymakers and insurance industry reps. Teachers want a bigger severance tax on coal and natural gas companies. Conservative lawmakers are threatening to pull the funds from Medicaid.

“They’re trying to divide public employees against the rest of the working class,” Comer says of the lawmakers. “I just don’t think it’s going to work.”

Whatever happens, the West Virginia public employees have shaken up the nation. At press time, Oklahoma teachers were gearing up for their own strike. With the U.S. Supreme Court poised to make every state a socalled right-to-work state like West Virginia, public employees there have shown that a lack of formal recognition doesn’t mean a lack of power. 

The Race to Replace Paul Ryan Says Everything About Party Politics in 2018

Thu, 2018-04-12 16:26

The choice is not quite socialism or barbarism in the race for House representative in Wisconsin’s First Congressional District, but it’s looking awfully close.

Yesterday—following months of rumors—news broke that House speaker and P90X workout enthusiast Paul Ryan won’t seek re-election for the House seat he’s held for 20 years. The decision is a clear boon for Democratic challenger Randy Bryce, an ironworker and union organizer running as a progressive populist on a strong left platform, and whose entry into the race last summer may have helped prompt Ryan’s early retirement. Bryce has been endorsed by Bernie Sanders, Our Revolution, the Working Families Party and other progressive forces, and he has raised around $4.75 million since entering the race. Before going into the midterms in November, Bryce will have to win an August 14 primary against another progressive, Janesville teacher Cathy Myers, who has criticized national Democrats’ backing of her opponent.

Since Ryan’s announcement, the Cook Political Report has changed its prediction for the race from “solid Republican” to “lean Republican,” and polls could shift even farther in Democrats’ favor in the coming weeks.

With Ryan out, Paul Nehlen, an avowed white supremacist, is now the leading Republican in the race. (Another GOP candidate, Nick Polce, has also registered for the August primary, but has raised just $17,799 compared with Nehlan’s $160,000.) Nehlen’s recent exploits include getting kicked off of Twitter and PayPal for making inflammatory racist and anti-Semitic statements. He was even removed by Gab—an online haven for the alt-right—for doxxing an opponent alt-right troll. Nehlen is a strong supporter of Donald Trump and last year retweeted a tweet by fellow white nationalist Jason Kessler calling the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Va. an “incredible moment for white people who’ve had it up to here & aren’t going to take it anymore.” On former KKK grand wizard David Duke’s podcast, Nehlen contended that “Jews control the media.”

Asked about Nehlen’s campaign, Bryce tells In These Times that “it shows that we have a lot of work to do when someone like that is a potential nominee for a mainstream political party...The fact that he’s picking the Republican party to run in, I think that says a lot.”

Bryce—who, in 2011, organized to stop passage of Wisconsin’s infamous anti-union law Act 10—is running on a platform that includes instituting Medicare for all and a $15 minimum wage, abolishing ICE and putting in place a Green New Deal. Taken together, his agenda represents a kind of antithesis to the anti-union, Koch Brothers-backed Republicanism that has ruled Wisconsin politics for the last half-decade under Gov. Scott Walker. “Looking at the blue wave that's taken place throughout the country, it seems like they're really hard-up for credible candidates,” Bryce says of the GOP.

While Gov. Walker’s office did not respond to a request for comment, Wisconsin’s Republican Party has denounced Nehlen and appears to be scrambling to find a primary challenger to step in for Ryan in advance of the June 1 filing deadline. Wisconsin State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, State Senator David Craig and former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus have all been floated as possible candidates.

“It says all kinds of things,” Bryce adds of Nehlen’s candidacy, “especially in these days where we have somebody like Donald Trump who won’t speak out against an event taking place in Charlottesville and then travels over to Arizona to pardon [Sheriff Joe Arpaio] from criminal offences and then right after that goes after the DREAMers.”

As loathsome as Nehlen is, he may have been right about one thing in a recent statement to the Wisconsin State Journal: “I am a member of the Republican Party regardless of what their traitorous, spineless apparatchiks America First agenda ha[s] a place in the Republican Party.”

On the other side of the aisle, Wisconsin Democrats appear to have wind in their sails. In late March, a judge ordered that Walker must promptly hold special elections to fill vacant legislative seats, which could lead to more Democratic victories. Last week, liberal judge Rebecca Dallet was elected by a wide margin to the State Supreme court. In January, Democrat Patty Schachtner won a state senate seat that had been held by the Republican Party since 2000. Early this summer, the Supreme Court could decide whether to redraw the state’s heavily gerrymandered electoral map, which would give Democrats a much stronger shot at retaking the legislature in November.

Rep. Greta Neubauer—a progressive millennial representing Racine, the second largest city in Wisconsin’s First Congressional District—says: “Republicans are jumping ship. My read of Paul Ryan’s retirement is that he looked at the political climate, realized he could spend $25 million, lose to Randy Bryce and end his political career. He’d rather take a back seat, wait a couple of years and figure out what to do next.

“Everyone I talk to is feeling hopeful in a way that they have not in a long time,” she says. “Seats where Democrats have not run in many years are absolutely in play this year…more and more Republicans are realizing that the wave is coming and they don’t want to grapple with that.”

Bryce was similarly optimistic. “When we first got in and talked about repealing and replacing Paul Ryan, there were a few people that said it’s an impossible task,” he says. “Today we’re halfway there: we have the repeal part done, and now we need to replace him.”

A Middle America You’ll Never See in the Coastal Media

Thu, 2018-04-12 10:34

I first came across John Porcellino’s self-published King-Cat Comics, and so many like them, in the 1990s as I was sifting through micro-comics, zines and chapbooks in bookstores in places like Lawrence, Kansas. The settings of his comics are where I spent my youth, from rural Kansas to Denver through Iowa and up to Chicago. And the stories echo my memories—driving aimlessly through flat prairie land blasting punk music, eating bad white-people Midwestern tacos and playing darts with eccentric old men in dive bars lit up with Christmas lights. These were not stories I read much in books, or saw on the television.

Middle America remains disconnected from the culture at large, ignored by mass media except when coastal reporters drop in to interview a Trump voter or a white nationalist. It sometimes seems the only rural Americans on the internet are those whose job it is to explain rural America back to the rest of the world, a la Hillbilly Elegy and The View from Flyover Country.

The comics in John Porcellino’s new collection, From Lone Mountain, are the kind of quiet, finely observed stories that capture the pace and quality of life in Middle America. The stories are short—often only a page—and concern the mundane goingson and mild anxieties of a white, married Midwestern man. He interacts with his cat or notices an anthill on a walk. They are emotional without dipping into sentimentality or tweeness. A Zen quality pervades both the observations and the artistic style, mostly line drawings, simple and direct.

We meet figures like Square-Head John, a southern Colorado man who is tremendously good at the arcade claw game, the one where you try to win stuffed animals by grabbing onto them with a mechanized claw. Through the year he fills a room in his house with the toys, from one wall to another, before bagging them up to donate at Christmas. The vignette is short and mentioned as a small part of another story about a road trip, but figures like John are sketched out so masterfully by Porcellino that they stick in the mind.

From Lone Mountain made me nostalgic, and not only for being 19 with dyed pink hair in Lawrence. Porcellino’s comics made me miss what we lost when the independent publishing scene that flourished in the 1980s and 1990s gave way to the internet. The web promised to be a democratizing force, decentralizing media attention—and hence power—from the usual elites and allowing us to hear from marginalized voices the world over. And the early days of the internet did resemble zine culture. Writers, artists and nerds took to the web to create stimulatingly ugly sites, to write and publish their diaries, to explore their passions.

Once people realized they could make money from the internet, things changed. Today, the most popular creators on the internet are exactly the same people who we hear from in traditional media: white men and women, located on the coasts, well-educated, and affiliated with power centers like universities and media conglomerates.

Social media has also fragmented audiences and shortened attention spans. Rather than spending time on one creator, we scroll past dozens, only pausing if someone says something shocking or salacious.

Porcellino’s quiet stories about working-class white men would not translate well into an internet culture that runs on outrage and spectacle. I am grateful I can simply enjoy the story of Square-Head John without knowing who he voted for.

As starkly beautiful as Porcellino’s stories can be, they do sometimes come up short. They are populated almost exclusively with white men. He writes about his girlfriend and then wife, Misun, as his great love, but she rarely shows up as a fullfledged character. (In one of the few stories where she appears at length, she nags him to deal with a bug in the house.) These are stories from his personal experience, and he is a mostly apolitical white man. His working-class experiences make no mention of unions or solidarity, and his road trips through the Midwest don’t lead him to encounter anyone of a different race. The zine and indie comic culture was not a meritocracy, either, and these self-centered white male creators like Porcellino or Jeffrey Brown, another Midwestern cartoonist, always did get more attention than more radical counterparts, like punk feminist Julie Doucet, poverty and single motherhood chronicler Ariel Gore or the political and queer Osa Atoe.

Zines do still exist, although the places that used to sell them, independent bookstores and record shops, have disappeared from the landscape, pushed out by chains which were then pushed out by the internet. Ironically, and tragically, the easiest place to find them is online, lessening the pleasure of the aimless search and unintentional discovery. Yet zines remain a space for the untold stories and unheard voices that fill our nation, providing respite from the noisy, angry internet and the insulated mass media. Sometimes it is good simply to be reminded that they exist.

After U of Chicago Cop Shoots Undergrad, Students Say It’s Time to Defund and Disarm Campus Police

Wed, 2018-04-11 16:55

A frigid wind cut through the crowd gathered last Friday at the University of Chicago where nearly 200 people chanted “No Justice, No Peace! No racist police!” The rally, which made its way across campus, was organized by UChicago United, a coalition of multicultural student organizations formed to make the university more inclusive of students from marginalized backgrounds. The students gathered to demand the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD) be disarmed after one of its officers shot Charles Thomas last week, while he was experiencing a mental health crisis.

“This campus is notorious for its poor handling of mental health, especially when it’s causing a lot of these issues due to the high stress environment,” Daniel Lastres, a student at the university and Thomas’ roommate, told In These Times. “He’s not the first student to have suffered injury at someone else’s hands as a result of mental health problems that have occurred on this campus. And frankly, there’s been long-standing calls to demand adequate funding for student counseling services that have not been acknowledged or acted on.” 

Lastres said students only get a handful of appointments with “woefully understaffed” campus counselling services before being asked to go seek help elsewhere. According to protesters, in a vacuum of support, police make mental health crises even more dangerous.

In video released by the university, armed UCPD officers are seen driving their patrol vehicle up to 21-year-old Thomas, who was in an alley in the 5300 block of South Kimbark Avenue, around 10:15 p.m. The police say they were responding to a call of a burglary in progress.

It appears at least one officer knew Thomas was in the grips of a mental health crisis. Body and dash camera footage of the April 3 shooting released by the university show an unidentified officer in the lead police vehicle responding to the call. “He’s a mental,” the officer said, before exiting the vehicle to confront Thomas. 

Police shot Thomas, who is biracial, in the shoulder, breaking his shoulder blade. After being shot, he was chained to his hospital bed put under private guard, with only his mother allowed to visit him at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Lastres says.

Kathleen Thomas, Charles’ mother, told Chicago Maroon that she believes her son was having some sort of psychiatric or manic episode. She explained that her family has a history of bipolar disorder but added that she hadn’t experienced any of the behavior her son displayed on the police footage the night he was shot. 

Guy Emerson Mount, one of Thomas’ professors, told In These Timesthat the shooting of his student is symptomatic of the broader institutional problems inherent in current policing and criminal legal systems. 

“We live in a punitive justice system … that says property is more important than people,” he said. “And that the duty of the state is to protect property, and human beings are in many ways secondary to that.”

Page May, the founder of Assata's Daughters and who used to live in Hyde Park, told In These Timesthat when the UCPD arrests, stops or searches people, these measures have no basis in real campus safety. She recalled one instance when a group of 12-year-olds was enjoying the day in Hyde Park because of its public green spaces and UCPD officers stopped and started arresting them. 

“These kids were 12-years-old. I couldn’t believe it,” said May. 

In May’s view, UCPD seems to be more focused on prioritizing the university’s real estate investments as it continues to expand its campus into Chicago’s Black Belt. 

After shooting Thomas, the Chicago Police Department (CPD) charged him with aggravated assault of a police officer with a weapon, two counts of criminal damage to property and two misdemeanor counts of criminal damage to property. Thomas’ bond was set at $15,000 and he was ordered held on electronic monitoring on April 5. 

"The charges filed against the student were filed by the Chicago Police Department. CPD is the agency who is leading the investigation," Marielle Sainvilus, a spokesperson for the university, told In These Times.

In a statement, CPD said its officers are “conducting the underlying criminal investigation” while the university is “handling the administrative use of force investigation.”

The university released a statement saying that representatives at its offices of Campus and Student Life and the Student Counseling Service are “always available to meet with student groups to discuss their questions, concerns, and ways of enhancing counseling and health services.” The university claims about 85 percent of its armed police have received 40 hours of Crisis Intervention Training, including the officer who shot Thomas on April 3.

But some are not reassured by police training. “When you’re talking about training, please just stop,” said May. “When they are shooting you 20 fucking times, or eight, or six times—that’s nothing you can train people out of. That’s rage. That is being anti-Black. You don’t train racism out of people.”

UChicago United released a list of demands that include the disarmament of the UCPD, a reduction of its patrol jurisdiction, the creation of an elected Independent Review Committee and that UCPD comply with the Freedom of Information Act, among other things. 

“This was not an isolated incident,” said Alyssa Rodriguez, a student at the university and one of the rally organizers. “UCPD has a long history of harassing, assaulting, and endangering students of color and Black communities. At the same time, both UChicago and the city of Chicago refuse to invest in mental health resources.”

Trump Doesn’t Care About Civilian Deaths. Just Look at Yemen.

Wed, 2018-04-11 13:32

As President Donald Trump threatens to open a dangerous new front in the war on Syria, citing Bashar al-Assad’s human rights abuses, the United States is actively supporting Saudi Arabia in unleashing profound human rights abuses on Yemen.

Yemen has been under attack by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and a coalition of various countries since March 26, 2015. The coalition is supported by the United Kingdom and the United States, with both countries providing hundreds of billions in weapons sales, targeting and logistical support, and in the case of the United States, mid-air refueling of jets. Yemeni civilians, on the other hand, are defenseless against this barrage of foreign attackers. 

The war has claimed the lives of at least 10,000 Yemeni civilians due to violent attacks, and has led to the deaths of at least 113,000 children who have died from hunger and preventable diseases such as cholera since 2016. In a country that used to import 90 percent of its food and was already water-stressed, the impact of the land, sea and air blockade imposed by the coalition has been devastating. Today, 22.2 million Yemenis are in need of humanitarian aid and 17.8 million require emergency food assistance.

But figures and statistics do not capture the everyday struggles of Yemenis. These are the personal stories of five families who are living through “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.”

Mohammad Lutf, an engineer by training, lives with his wife, two boys and two pet rabbits in Sana’a. He sent In These Timesa picture of his son petting both rabbits, a tender moment captured against the landscape of war. After losing his income, Mohammad began freelancing as a technical consultant. With Yemenis living in the dark for nearly the entire duration of the war, the country has experienced a solar revolution, thereby enabling engineers like Mohammad to acquire occasional work through humanitarian organizations working in Yemen, supervising the installation of water supplies and solar-powered pumps.

Maha Nagi, a master of business administration (MBA) student, tells In These Times she enjoys reading Khaled Hosseini books “too much.” She recalls that her happiest memories are those spent with friends. Her worst experience over the past three years involves the explosion of Faj Attan, where a weapons depot was struck by the U.S.-backed coalition in the first months of the war. The impact of the explosion shook the ground beneath her and broke all windows: She thought “it was the end,” she explains. But it wasn’t the end for Maha. She found work in the humanitarian sector, providing emergency support for those who need it most. 

While millions of Yemenis are displaced internally, some, like Akram Saleh, have found their way to Malaysia. Forced by his father to leave the country to pursue his MBA, Akram describes his life before the war as “beautiful.” He used to enjoy traveling to different provinces and recalls the “priceless moments” when he would come home from university to sit down for a meal with his parents and siblings. But for Akram, “everything changed when the war began.” He struggles with being away from his family: “How can I leave my family while they’re under air strikes, war, and blockade?” Despite these feelings of guilt, he hopes that one day, he will be able to make positive contributions to Yemen, benefiting his country from skills he has learned abroad. When he returns, however, Akram will find himself rebuilding, rather than building, his beloved Yemen.

Mohammed Bahjooj lives with his wife and 6 children in Al-Jawf, a province south of Saudi Arabia and east of Sa’dah, one of Yemen’s most targeted provinces. He has a Bachelor’s degree in English and has worked as a supervisor of English educators in the Ministry of Education. Like other civil servants, he has not received a salary in years, and at times he is unable to provide food and medicine for his family. He has sought employment in the humanitarian sector, sending his resumes to countless organizations in hopes of providing for his family while assisting others, but his quest has not been successful. His eldest son, Mazen, the son of an educator, was forced to drop out of school in order to help with odd jobs that keep the family afloat. He joins nearly half a million other Yemeni children who have faced a similar fate since 2015. 

When one of his children gets ill, Mohammed resorts to temporary measures such as purchasing pain killers, as he cannot afford private hospitals, and public hospitals in his area are barely functional due to the blockade. “We cannot travel or move beyond our area due to daily airstrikes that spare no one,” Mohammed notes. “The war and the blockade have destroyed everything that is beautiful” and “have turned Yemenis’ lives into a living hell,” he tells In These Times. His most painful experiences include not being able to explain to his young son why he can’t purchase a bicycle, and asking his daughter if she would accept a kiss on the cheek instead of a gift for earning top grades in her school. Despite their difficulties, Mohammed remains faithful that the oppression will soon end.

Ammar Al-Harazi is a computer scientist who lives with his wife and two daughters in Sana’a. Prior to the war, he was a lecturer and visiting faculty member at various private universities and institutes in Sana’a, as well as a freelancer in internet technologies and website design and development. That changed overnight. He and fellow university lecturers were told that their work would be suspended until further notice. His business also suffered. “Overnight, I became jobless and suddenly I had no other alternative income,” he says. Living on his minimal savings wasn’t enough, so he sold belongings, furniture and his wife’s jewelry to make ends meet. But Ammar soon adjusted; using resources available online, he taught himself how to design, set up, and build solar energy power systems for homes and businesses. He tells In These Times, “The income was not much, but it was better than nothing.” He also resumed work as a visiting university lecturer, though his work there is inconsistent and he cannot depend on it as his sole source of income. He recently joined a local, startup non-governmental organization, where he works with “talented and determined people whose main goal is to support the affected.”

Though he says he tries very hard to remain strong and “keep my chin up” for the sake of his daughters, the toll of the war has taken a physical and mental toll on Ammar. He finds himself depressed and uninterested in hobbies he once enjoyed, such as reading. Reflecting on the past three years, he says he has aged rapidly, “and with all of the grey hair which found its way to my hair and beard, I now look 10 years older. We lost track of date and time and life has started to carelessly pass us by.” His happiest and saddest memories during the war are intertwined: He describes being happy when seeing his wife and children safe after every air bombardment, and he also describes the agony he feels when his kids are terrified while trying to seek cover during air raids. But “the saddest of all” is knowing that people are killed after each attack. 

Even in times of war, Yemenis have proven that compassion remains their most striking quality. They have either sought or currently work in the humanitarian sector, and despite the overwhelming challenges, they remain hopeful for a better future. Ammar comforts his daughters by telling them “tomorrow will be a better day,” and for the sake of 27 million men, women, and children whose plight is often only reflected in numbers, the international community must work to ensure tomorrow is, indeed, a better day.

Tariffs Aren’t the Best Way To Protect U.S. Steelworkers. Global Solidarity Is.

Tue, 2018-04-10 20:37

The enthusiasm with which the AFL-CIO and United Steelworkers (USW) greeted Trump’s announcement of a global tariff on steel and aluminum exports raises significant questions about the U.S. labor movement’s commitment to international solidarity.

The USW has a strong record of internationalism. Not only does the USW represent workers in Canada, like many U.S. unions, but it has long supported Los Mineros—one of only a small handful of militant, independent trade unions in Mexico—and has discussed the possibility of a merger.

The USW was also the first U.S.-based trade union to make the jump to Europe, in 2008, forming a transatlantic organization with UNITE, the largest trade union in Britain and Ireland. And through international campaigns in collaboration with global union federations (GUFs) like IndustriALL, which bring together trade unions from around the world, the USW has built strong relationships from Germany to Brazil.

Trump’s tariffs initially targeted all of these countries—and yet the USW and AFL-CIO embraced the plan (though the USW did call to omit Canada). Their global allies were not pleased. The Canadian union Unifor issued a strongly worded statement arguing that the AFL-CIO’s position sold out the Canadian members of its affiliate unions. UNITE and Germany’s IG Metall issued anti-tariff statements as well. Brazil’s major trade union federations mounted a significant show of opposition with a joint statement and street protests.

From the perspective of workers in the Global South, Trump’s steel tariffs reflected the actions of a powerful, wealthy country seeking to maintain its wealth and power at the expense of poor countries. Blue-collar workers in the Global North, who often enjoy wages and benefits far superior to those of the United States, believe the United States is already undercutting their markets with its anti-union environment.

Eventually, Trump exempted Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, South Korea and the member countries of the European Union. But the USW’s initial reaction may have undermined decades of global coalition-building work that is far more essential than tariffs in the long term.

The USW provides vital support to trade unionists working under incredibly adverse conditions, directly supporting allies in Mexico, Liberia and Colombia, and participating in GUF campaigns to pressure multinationals to sign global agreements on labor standards.

But the USW’s international work also benefits its U.S. members. During the Ravenswood aluminum plant dispute in the 1990s and subsequent disputes with Bridgestone/Firestone and Ameristeel/Geraud, trade unionists from Europe to Latin America to Asia pressured these multinational corporations to help win strong agreements for the USW. In recent years, the USW has effectively used global agreements negotiated by IndustriALL to help resolve domestic contract disputes.

Protectionist policies undermine this tradition of solidarity by falsely pushing a narrative that “fair competition” will raise labor standards. In fact, markets have never been truly open. The United States has always practiced selective protectionism—for example, of the corn industry, which led to the widespread immiseration of Mexican corn farmers after NAFTA—not to mention myriad other forms of control exerted over countries in the Global South, from withholding development aid to loan conditionalities.

Tariffs will do nothing to improve labor rights or working conditions for workers in China, and may perversely result in a greater squeeze on labor as exporters look to cut costs.

And if foreign workers were to be laid off or squeezed as a result of the tariffs, how likely will they be to stand in solidarity with us in the future?

Trade unions should think carefully about opportunistically reverting to nationalism when political openings arise. As the United Electrical union put it, “American workers need … a trade and industrial policy that is based on international cooperation, respect for workers’ rights and environmental sustainability—one that raises living standards for workers across industries and across borders through investment in infrastructure, jobs and social programs.”

A Pro-Union Case for Steel Tariffs

Tue, 2018-04-10 20:34

A great wailing and gnashing of teeth arose across the land after the Trump administration announced its plan to place tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on imported aluminum.

House Speaker Paul Ryan claimed the moderately sized tariffs on two metals would reverse the economic boon he thinks will surely be created by the tax breaks his party gave to corporations and the rich. The good times would be over. Kaput!

This drama comes from a politician who proposed a border adjustment tax on all imports, not just two metals, that would have cost American consumers $1 trillion. This hysteria comes from corporations that use steel and aluminum and are apparently just fine with Chinese trade violations completely killing off American producers.

The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates the cost of the tariffs to the U.S. economy at $9 billion, which is a fraction of 1 percent of the nation’s GDP, and a fraction of the cost of Ryan’s border adjustment tax.

The beverage industry went crazy anyway. Coors, for example, claimed the tariffs would cost jobs across the beer industry and “American consumers will suffer.”

Here’s what Coors calls suffering: a penny price hike. There is about three cents’ worth of aluminum in a beer can. A 10 percent tariff on aluminum could increase the price of an entire six-pack of Coors by not quite two cents.

Frankly, an extra penny or two doesn’t sound like real suffering. It’s not clear just how many football fans would forgo the six-pack for Sunday’s game because of that extra penny. It’s not clear just how many beer industry jobs will really be lost.

The additional cost to a new car, which contains much more steel and aluminum, would be more significant. A senior economist at Cox Automotive estimated it at $200.

But that’s only if American aluminum and steel companies raise their prices by 10 and 25 percent, respectively. They are not subject to the tariffs, so they don’t have to.

The tariff proposal wasn’t sudden or out of the blue. It came after the president announced last April that the Commerce Department would evaluate whether the damage done to the American steel and aluminum industries by bad trade practices endangered national security. Commerce told the president in January that it did. And it recommended remediation through tariffs, import limits or both.

China is massively overproducing these metals at massively subsidized mills. It then dumps its excess aluminum and steel on the world market at super-discounted prices. The United States, in conjunction with European allies and others, has repeatedly over the past decade negotiated with China to stop defying the rules it agreed to abide by when it gained entrance to the World Trade Organization in 2001. China repeatedly has said it would. And then it doesn’t.

Repeatedly, the Chinese have, instead, continued running dangerous and environmentally toxic mills and constructed new ones, further increasing overcapacity. In 2016, for example, China increased its steel-making capacity by 36.5 million tons. That is almost half the U.S. output for 2016.

This has killed American mills, thrown tens of thousands out of work and devastated mill towns. Steel employment in the United States has declined 35 percent since 2000, with 14,500 workers losing their jobs between January of 2015 and June of 2016. The plummet in aluminum employment was even steeper, with 58 percent of jobs lost between 2013 and 2016.

In 2000, 105 companies produced raw steel at 144 U.S. locations. Now, 38 companies forge at 93 locations. Over the past six years, six aluminum smelters closed permanently. Just five remain, with only two operating at full capacity. And only one of those produces the high-purity aluminum required for defense aerospace needs.

The declines in U.S. steel and aluminum production occurred despite increased domestic demand for both. In 2016, the United States imported five times as much primary aluminum as it made.

Most of the aluminum imported into the United States comes from Canada, a country that respects trade regulations and operates a market economy, just like the United States. So Trump was right to exclude Canada from the tariffs.

To see real suffering, Coors might take a look at unemployed aluminum and steel workers and their crumbling communities. U.S. Steel, Republic Steel and Century Aluminum have announced that the tariffs will enable them to reopen closed mills and rehire as many as 1,700 workers. Unlike Coors, conservative commentators and Paul Ryan, most Americans are willing to pay the extra penny per six-pack.

How Tariffs Are Playing Into Trump’s Xenophobic Agenda

Tue, 2018-04-10 20:10

In early March, President Trump announced steel tariffs as part of a protectionist, anti-China economic strategy. More recently, Trump escalated to target $60 billion of imports from the Chinese tech industry with additional tariffs. Some progressives are supportive of these tariffs on the grounds that they protect workers in the United States. For example, United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard argues that steel tariffs may give a badly needed boost to employment in the steel industry and the communities that depend on it. Nonetheless, it is strategically disastrous to offer support to Trump’s tariffs, and the strategy that underlies them.

Progressives cannot compete with the Right on protectionism. In 2016 Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders attempted to make use of anti-China rhetoric, but Trump outdid them with ease. Polling of voters in both major parties’ 2016 primaries showed that only Trump had a base that strongly supported protectionism. Protectionism plays much better to the Right, where it is a core principle that foreigners are competitors and threats.

Because of these undertones, protectionism can inadvertently promote xenophobia. It is all too short a road from treating Asian industry as a threat to treating Asian people as a threat. Trump already started down this road by proposing restrictions on visas for people from China as part of his “trade” fight, while Chris Wray, Trump’s FBI Director, recently all but admitted that he is racially profiling Chinese-Americans and Chinese immigrants in investigations of “economic espionage.” History shows that this can escalate to violent extremes. In 1982, resentment against the Japanese auto industry contributed to the murder of Chinese-American Vincent Chin in a Detroit suburb. He was killed by an auto plant superintendent and a laid-off autoworker who declared, "It's because of you little motherfuckers that we're out of work."

Ultimately, progressives need to think beyond the debate around tariffs. Since the tariffs are meant to create jobs, this is an opportunity to counter with our own job creation program. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrad (D-N.Y.), considered an early frontrunner in the 2020 Democratic primaries, recently came out in support of a federal jobs guarantee, an idea that is gaining momentum. This program could be underwritten by massive investment in public works. For example, a “Green New Deal” to build clean energy infrastructure would both combat climate change and create jobs in the steel industry.

In addition to domestic programs, we need a progressive approach to the global economy. Too much of the debate around Trump’s tariffs has remained stuck in a false choice between anti-China protectionism and “free trade” neoliberalism. Both are dead ends.

The alternative is to reach across borders and form a global progressive alliance to confront multinational corporate power and create a more egalitarian global economy. Many U.S. progressives are unaware that there are progressive and working-class forces in China with whom we could ally ourselves. Chinese workers have been striking in huge numbers, making China the world epicenter of wildcat strikes. Meanwhile, activists and artists agitate for feminism and migrant rights, young workers develop Marxist critiques of Chinese society, and students organize in solidarity with workers. Worker unrest has also touched China’s own “Rust Belt” in the northeast region of the country, where hundreds of thousands of steelworkers are losing their jobs due to global overcapacity, just as has happened here.

Workers and progressives in China and the United States face shared problems, and we have a shared interest in creating a new global economic system that works better for all poor and working people. This new global economy could include a global minimum wage system, the right to collective bargaining, and a regime of corporate accountability that holds companies responsible for violations of labor standards anywhere in their global supply chains. These reforms would greatly benefit workers in China and other low-income countries. Corporations would lose the ability to force U.S. workers into competition with workers who are much worse off, improving the status and power of workers here as well. Combined with a federal job guarantee, this is our best path forward.

The need for progressive internationalism goes beyond economic issues. Not only Trump, but also mainstream Republicans and Democrats are committed to containing the rising power of China in order to maintain the United State’s status as the world’s sole superpower. We should be braced for political leaders to stoke nationalist sentiments in order to build popular support for escalating confrontations, from tariffs to immigration restrictions to militarism. In order to escape this nationalist abyss, we must unite with likeminded people in China around a shared internationalist vision. It is therefore urgent that we set aside protectionism, which promotes the counterproductive narrative that Chinese workers are our competitors, rather than our potential comrades.

From Harriet Tubman to Black Panther

Tue, 2018-04-10 12:00

Raymond A. Thomas has been working on the art soon to be featured in Hero•ism, an exhibit at Gallery Guichard on Chicago’s South Side, for almost two years. His timing couldn’t have been better, as the new film Black Panther has put Black heroism in the spotlight to a degree rarely seen. In These Times spoke to Thomas, former art director at Ebony and former interim art director at In These Times.

What does “hero” mean to you?

For me, a hero is someone devoted to truth, courage and conviction, and someone who has a profound love for the people. I tried to speak on heroicness as a sense of community, people who strive to better our situation.

How does gender play into your art?

I was raised by strong, powerful Black women and so the piece, “1000 More,” is a celebration of women. They were powerful liberators as well. Who was more powerful than Harriet Tubman, Storm, Pam Grier or Angela Davis?

What do you hope viewers take away from your art?

It’s about celebrating the triumphs and tears of the African-American experience while also exposing the symptoms and situations that have perpetuated and continue to perpetuate evil and misrepresentation. I’m always hoping that my art is something that people can use to revisualize themselves. It’s about creating something that’s against the onslaught of lies and that reaffirms the humanity of my people.

It’s like in Black Panther. A young child, or anyone, can be inspired by that.

My piece works well with the whole idea of the film and the subtext of African Americans, Africa and armed revolution. I applaud Marvel for giving the filmmaker the latitude for his craft—the intricacies of culture, all those nuances and having women in these powerful roles. I was amazed that I was watching a Disney film

Bombs Aren’t the Answer: A Case for Vigorous Diplomacy in Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen

Tue, 2018-04-10 11:35

The United States has intervened militarily in civil wars in Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen to defeat Al Qaeda, associate America with a democratic “Arab Spring” and support the ambitions of friendly Middle Eastern governments. Yet little progress towards these objectives has occurred, partly because American policies were misplaced. Central Al Qaeda has long been located in Pakistan, not Afghanistan, and the Arab Spring proved ephemeral. Meanwhile, intervention has damaged many fundamental American interests. It has strained relationships with U.S. partners, stoked interstate tensions, threatened to plunge the U.S. into new military commitments, burdened America’s complex relationship with Russia, contributed to tremendous losses of human life and aggravated U.S. budgetary deficits.

What to do? Critics of the Obama administration’s “weakness” have urged the United States to double down on its use of force. Though wary of domestic political constraints on further American casualties, the Trump administration has ventured partway in this direction. In Afghanistan, it added a few thousand troops to the 11,000 already present, loosened constraints on American military operations and suspended security assistance to Pakistan over its failure to crack down on Taliban sanctuaries. In Syria, it reportedly ended major CIA covert military assistance to “moderate” rebels, but, after helping subdue the Islamic State in Northern Syria, maintains 2,000 U.S. troops and considerable air power in the region as “leverage” against the Bashar al-Assad regime and Iran. In Yemen, it has escalated military support—arms sales, intelligence and refueling of military aircraft—to the Saudi-led coalition defending the displaced government against Houthi rebels.

Nevertheless, no amount of politically permissible U.S. military escalation will rescue failing U.S. policies. Local U.S. clients suffer from political and military dysfunctions that cannot be alleviated by outside economic and military aid. At the same time, their opponents have been supplied by Pakistan, Lebanese Hezbollah, Iran and Russia with enough resources to avert defeat and even gain ground.

A more promising route to protect America’s political and humanitarian interests exists, but you will not hear much about it from the executive branch, Congressional foreign policy leaders, prominent Washington think tanks and mainstream media. It is to pursue an end to these wars through mediated, compromise political settlements based on ground-level realities—leavened with as much justice and accountability as can be achieved.

Does this sound naïve? It is what the United States did in helping to resolve seven civil wars (in three of which the U.S. military had been involved) between 1990 and 2005 in Bosnia, Burundi, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of the Congo (an interstate as well as intrastate conflict), El Salvador, Mozambique and Sudan. This was an era when the Cold War ran down, enabling U.S. political and opinion leaders to address these conflicts forthrightly. Today, their vision is clouded by fearful overreactions to international terrorism and Iran’s regional rivalries. Still, from 1990–2013 a larger percentage of civil wars were resolved by negotiated settlements than by military victories.

The seven wars endured from four to twenty-two years (four lasted at least eight years). Individually, they resulted in anywhere from tens of thousands to, in Congo’s case, 3.5 million military and civilian deaths. But once serious peace talks began, six of the negotiations were completed in less than three years. Every one of these accords was achieved through external mediation among the parties to the conflict. As former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere told me in 1997, after having led the effort in Burundi for two years, “One thing I know, they can’t do it on their own.”

Each conflict attracted a prime mediator—a regional organization, the U.N., the U.S., even a lay Catholic group—assisted by other governments.] Deploying professional mediator skills and wielding diplomatic carrots and sticks, they helped the parties—and their external supporters—fashion often ingenious political compromises.

All of the peace accords served U.S. foreign policy interests by replacing violent conflicts in sensitive regions with sustainable political arrangements. Certainly, there have been problems in the conceptualization and implementation of many of these settlements, and those in Burundi and Congo are now under strain, but none have broken down into renewed war.

Yet this history is rarely considered, even by progressive leaders, when confronting present-day conflicts. A September 2017 report on Syria policy by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum illustrates the shallowness of contemporary discussion.

The study explored whether the Obama administration had “missed opportunities” to reduce civilian deaths and atrocities in Syria, concluding that any politically feasible intensification of military action would have proved ineffective. Yet it failed to evaluate missed diplomatic opportunities to move the bloody conflict toward a compromise political settlement, thereby accepting the human consequences of the Obama administration’s deployment of large-scale “covert” force to promote regime change. One explanation for this stunning omission is that the report only explored options that were “prominent in the debate” or “seriously considered” by policy makers. That speaks volumes about the blinders surrounding public conversation about American policy options toward foreign civil wars.

There have been no real political negotiations to end the civil wars in Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen, although some mediators have stepped forward. Considering America’s military and political role in these conflicts, its failure to catalyze, participate in or assist any third-party mediation beyond preliminary talks has been quite consequential. It has not, as in earlier conflicts, elevated peacemaking to a priority, and the political solutions it has proposed have more often than not been divorced from political realities.

Certainly, it would not be easy for the United States to help mediate settlements of these three wars. “Hardliners” on both sides of the conflicts, the multiplicity of opposition forces, sectarianism and competing foreign interventions all stand in the way. Moreover, U.S. policy makers fear that their political opponents would accuse them of “giving in” to Russia, Iran or “terrorists.”

Nevertheless, similar constraints were overcome in past mediations. Hard-liners roiled the negotiations in Bosnia, Burundi and El Salvador. In Cambodia, the agreement was imposed upon the resistant parties by their external sponsors. In Bosnia, Cambodia, Burundi and Congo, multiple armed movements were eventually integrated into the settlements. Heritages of genocide and politicide were transcended in Bosnia, Cambodia and, to a lesser extent, Congo and Sudan. Rival foreign powers worked together on behalf of common interests in Cambodia, Congo and Burundi. And U.S. Presidents and Congressional leaders exerted political leadership to overcome serious domestic resistance to the settlements in Bosnia, Cambodia and El Salvador.

A look at peacemaking efforts in the ongoing civil wars casts light on the role the United States could play in promoting negotiated settlements.

Afghanistan: The Never-Ending War

According to Afghanistan expert Barnett Rubin, the “peace process” in Afghanistan has been “a history of mistrust, missed opportunities and power plays.” While both the long-running military stalemate and the lead combatants’ recurrent expressions of interest in a political solution suggest a possible “ripeness for resolution,” no prime mediator has emerged and no serious negotiations have occurred.

A major complication has been that Pakistan—simultaneously the Taliban’s major military supporter and the principal base for the U.S. military campaign—has sometimes opposed negotiations or tried to manipulate the autonomy-seeking Taliban. The United States has not been sufficiently forceful in advocating for a mediated solution. In early 2009, the Taliban signaled the incoming Obama administration that it was interested in talking with the United States—which it considered its real foe—about a settlement. The late Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, aspired to replicate his successful mediation in Bosnia by bringing together the combatants and involving Pakistan, Iran, India and Saudi Arabia. However, his campaign was stalled by the White House, which focused on a military surge and worried about domestic political reaction to any appearance of “softness.”

It was not until 2013-14 that the U.S. and the Taliban agreed to the establishment of a Taliban office in Qatar and a prisoner exchange. But since then there have been only a misfired Pakistan-Afghan Government-Taliban meeting in 2015 and two Afghan Government-Taliban meetings in September–October 2016.(A spring 2016 meeting had been canceled by the Taliban after its leader was killed in Pakistan by a U.S. drone strike. Some U.S. officials wanted to spare him because he had authorized preliminary talks, but they were overruled).

Like the early Obama administration, the Trump team began by ramping up—though far more modestly—military action. Following a major Taliban terrorist bombing in January, the president declared, “We don’t want to talk with the Taliban. There may be a time, but it’s going to be a long time.” That is a recipe for endless war.

A better course would be to pursue Holbrooke’s idea of a mediated compromise, led by a relatively neutral sponsor like the United Nations or a South Asian regional grouping.

Syria: An Incoherent Policy

The war in Syria was stalemated from 2013 to 2016, but the warring parties failed to notice this because they were repeatedly able to summon additional support from foreign backers. In the last year, Russian military intervention has shifted the balance toward the regime. Yet it is far from certain that the Assad regime will soon be able to regain lasting control of certain key areas, or avoid a draining insurgency. Furthermore, the regime continues to face various military threats from Israel and Turkey and remains vulnerable to oft-promised reductions in Russian assistance.

Although the growing military presence of at least six foreign powers (Russia, Iran, Lebanese Hezbollah, the United States, Turkey and Israel) in Syria complicates the mediator’s task, it also creates new leverage for peacemaking. The intervenors possess common interests in fostering a political solution that satisfies their most basic regional concerns while reducing Islamic extremism, preventing military confrontations that might escalate out of control and conserving military and economic resources.  

Unlike Afghanistan, the Syrian conflict has attracted a number of mediators since 2012, most importantly the United Nations, backed by U.S. and Russian-led international groupings including the combatants’ Middle Eastern supporters. Since 2016 U.N. Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura has convened nine rounds of intra-Syrian talks with meager results: agreement on a rudimentary 12-point agenda and reception of legal and technical advice from outside specialists. But, de Mistura laments, real political dialogue has not even begun.

Factors that account for this abortive process include the obduracy of the Syrian regime, which regards the opposition represented as “terrorists”; the opposition’s divisions and insistence on Assad’s immediate political demise; and the passions provoked by the increasingly sectarian carnage.

A less visible obstacle has been the weak, disunited and sometimes ill-conceived performance of the international sponsors, which include the Syrian fighters’ backers. U.N. mediators have publicly complained that they have failed to concert and mobilize sufficient leverage on the contending parties.

In addition, the sponsors’ general prescriptions have been flawed. For example, in 2015, the U.N. Security Council issued a new call for the establishment of “credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance” within six months and elections under a new constitution within 18 months. This was an impossible calendar given the complexity of the Syrian conflict and the length of time necessary to simply negotiate settlements in recent civil wars.

The Obama administration bears some responsibility. For years, it veered back and forth between military escalation and diplomatic negotiations, never developing a coherent approach towards achieving its objectives. Its fixation with excluding Assad from a prospective transitional government was unrealistic and inhibited cooperation with Assad’s external supporters. Its refusal to accept one of them, Iran, as a participant in international meetings on Syria until late 2015 was also counterproductive. By administration’s end, prospects of a negotiated peace had only worsened.

The Trump team apparently dismantled the CIA’s paramilitary operation but said it was maintaining U.S. forces in Northern Syria to complete ISIS’s destruction, oppose Iranian influence and encourage “post-Assad leadership.” Unlike his predecessors Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, recently-fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson maintained that the United States was now relying on a Russian-backed, U.N.-sponsored democratic election to displace Assad, and acknowledged this would “take time.” Despite President Trump’s new vow to withdraw U.S. troops within several months, U.S. airpower remains in the region, as does the danger of confrontations between foreign powers in the Syrian conflict that could draw the U.S. in. Witness the war clouds rising after the latest alleged Syrian Government chemical attack on civilians. Now is the time for America to collaborate with these players—both unruly allies and perceived adversaries—to help the U.N. mediator push the internal parties towards realistic compromises.

Yemen: Led by a Client

The shortest-running of these wars (three years), the Yemeni conflict appears stalemated. The U.N. mediator arranged the first face-to-face meeting of the displaced Yemeni government and Houthi-led rebels in December 2015. Agreements were reached regarding a cease-fire, humanitarian assistance and release of prisoners. The parties continued to pursue these subjects in three subsequent rounds of meetings between April and August 2016, but no progress was made towards a political solution. In the end, the frustrated mediator decided to present a “roadmap” for the establishment of a national unity government and security arrangements. But the parties were inflexible, leading the mediator to suspend the talks. While the humanitarian crisis has deepened dramatically, there have been no further meetings in the succeeding 18 months.

Given its critical military support for the Saudi-led coalition backing the government (Iran provides more modest military aid to the Houthis), the United States has considerable leverage to promote a political compromise. Yet neither the Obama nor the Trump administration has tried to use it. Once again, the best U.S. alternative is to support the U.N. mediation, working with the internal parties, Saudi Arabia and Iran to foster a political settlement.

Time To Act

Some Americans might blanch at striving for compromises with “adversaries” like Russia and Iran, much less “unreliable” partners like Pakistan. But U.S. relations with these countries are complex, and common interests have often generated cooperation. Russia invaded Ukraine and conducted information warfare against the United States, but supported America in post-9/11 Afghanistan, the Iran nuclear deal and the battle against ISIS in Syria. It has floated ideas about a political compromise in Syria that have discomfited Syrian President Assad. And while Iran has worked to expand its regional influence in Syria and Yemen, it collaborated with the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, negotiated constraints on its nuclear program and combatted ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Its involvement in Yemen has been purposely limited. The challenge for U.S. policy makers is to persuade other powers that they have no more reason than America to prolong these wasting, risky wars since their most basic geopolitical interests can be satisfied within negotiated settlements.

While one might expect liberal Democrats in Congress, media and civic groups to take the lead in pushing for political negotiations to end these bloody struggles, that has not generally been the case. It is well past time for progressives to broaden the public conversation surrounding all three wars, making the argument for a serious and patient pursuit of political solutions. Concerned citizens should support relevant congressional legislation such as recent efforts to curb arms sales and invoke the War Powers Act in Yemen. But they should also go beyond these negative initiatives to advocate positive political solutions—which have the additional virtue of being more politically palatable. As congressional and presidential elections approach, they should insist that their preferred candidates embrace the path toward peace.

It’s John Bolton’s First Day in the White House. We Must Stop Him From Escalating War in Syria.

Mon, 2018-04-09 14:44

Today, fanatic war proponent John Bolton is taking office as President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser—and it comes at a perilous moment for international security. The volatile situation in Syria significantly raises the danger of a major intensification of direct U.S. military involvement. Over the weekend, the opposition's extremist Jaish al-Islam group reached a deal with the government to leave its territory, paving the way for the Damascus regime to reclaim control over Douma, the last opposition-held area in the capital's suburbs. Following Saturday’s alleged deadly chemical attack on civilians, which Trump immediately blamed on Assad backed by Russia and Iran, Trump said his administration is considering military retaliation, which could come within 24 hours. Early Monday morning saw air strikes on a Syrian military base, possibly carried out by Israel, further escalating the danger of an intensified conflict.

Bolton is a longtime hawk who disparages diplomacy, disdains the United Nations and defends the violation of international law. He recently called for a first-strike attack on North Korea and for abandoning the Iran nuclear deal and replacing diplomatic efforts with amilitary attack, if not all-out war. The current escalation in Syria, including the reprise of chemical weapons allegations (there has still been no confirmation from the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons regarding what caused the casualties, let alone who was responsible for using them), raises the political stakes and threatens the possibility of new wars.

Trump has suggested that he will hold both Iran and Russia responsible for the alleged Syrian government role in the chemical weapons attack, which gives Bolton an immediate Day One project: to endorse any reckless military move the president might choose, regardless of its deadly consequences. When Bolton first made the outrageous claim nearly 25 years ago that “there is no such thing as the United Nations,” it was shocking. But at that time he was cooling his heels at a right-wing think tank, and he had little power to do anything except talk. That's not true any longer. His op-eds in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal calling for new wars are now the words of the man who has the first and last words to whisper in this president's ear.That's a terrifying reality for Syrians, Iranians, Koreans and many others around the world. It should also be a terrifying reality for us.

Bolton starts today, with no Senate confirmation required. But his war-mongering, torture-backing collaborators—Mike Pompeo, nominated for Secretary of State, and Gina Haspel, nominated for CIA director)—do need confirmation. These hearings should be turned into forums on the threats of war and—crucially—the complete lack of congressional authorization and hence illegality of the Fcurrent U.S. direct involvement in the Yemen war, or any new threatened war in Iran or North Korea. That also means pushing back against the idea that U.S. air strikes and drone attacks are somehow legal. They are not. And claiming those attacks are revenge for alleged chemical weapons does not make them legal either. Period, full stop.

Some members of Congress argue that the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), passed in the days after September 11, 2001 to justify war against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, somehow legalizes war across the Middle East and beyond against organizations that did not even exist when the AUMF was passed. That authorization has been used to justify U.S. strikes against alleged ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq, with large numbers of civilians paying the price. But, so far at least, no one argues that that 17-year-old authority somehow makes it legal for the U.S. to launch direct strikes, meaning going to war, against the Syrian government.

This current situation underscores the danger of that could result from pressuring Trump to show he is tough on Russia—pressure that is coming from some on the right, as well as some on the Democratic Party and the progressive side of the anti-Trump mobilizations. There's little doubt that Russia tried to influence U.S. elections—much as the United States has done for years in countries around the world. Investigating that effort remains important. However, the Russian effort pales before the huge attack on our democracy caused by racist voter suppression, which has a far greater and far more devastating impact on our elections and our democracy than anything dreamed up in Moscow or anywhere else. Escalating legitimate criticism of Russian election meddling efforts to the level of Cold War-style rhetoric we are hearing today raises the threat of U.S. military action against Russia to increasingly dangerous levels. Now we are seeing what might happen when Trump responds to mounting pressure to prove that he too can be confrontational towards Russia and its allies. And it's very dangerous.

Even “limited” military engagements such as a no-fly zone, which some Syrians facing devastating bombing campaigns by the regime have understandably have called for, never stay limited. Back in 2011, when the U.S. was debating establishing a no-fly zone over Libya ostensibly to protect civilians, it was then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates who said, “Let’s just call a spade a spade. A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses. That’s the way you do a no-fly zone. And then you can fly planes around the country and not worry about our guys being shot down. But that’s the way it starts.” And we know what happened in Libya–protecting civilians was not the result. Syria’s air defenses, backed by Russia, are far more robust than Libya’s ever were. 

A U.S. war against Syria would also be a war against Syria's allies, Iran and Russia. Such a war—with or without Washington's allies Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the UAE and more—has the potential to escalate into full-scale global war. A war between the two largest nuclear weapons powers, the United States and Russia, might not turn into a nuclear war. But it might.

According to the British monitoring agency Airwars, U.S.-led coalition airstrikes have already killed between 3,640 and 5,637 Syrian civilians since the U.S. began bombing Syria in 2014. If none of the apocalyptic scenarios of regional war come true, an escalated U.S. war in Syria will still kill even more Syrians every day.  

Moving to stop a new front in the war now is more urgent than ever—before any of those scenarios come to pass.

A shorter version of this article appeared on Common Dreams.

Ta-Nehisi Coates Made the Case for Reparations—Here’s Who Is Making the Plan

Mon, 2018-04-09 12:00

rep • a • ra • tions


1. The act of making amends

2. A policy to compensate an oppressed people for historic wrongs


Many U.S. acts of violence have spurred calls for reparations, from the colonization of the Americas to the invasion of Iraq. In 1988, the U.S. government gave Japanese-American survivors of World War II internment camps a check for $20,000 each. But here we’ll focus on Black Americans, for whom reparations are most often discussed, for centuries of enslavement, Jim Crow, segregation, redlining and mass incarceration, among other wrongs.


Maybe. But many leading reparations scholars think the process should be more complex. Duke professor William A. Darity Jr., for instance, points out that, given most businesses are white-owned, the checks may just further increase wealth disparities. He thinks reparations money could instead fund institution building that supports “economic improvement within the black community.” The Southern Reparations Loan Fund (SRLF) puts that theory into practice by investing in cooperative businesses owned by Black and other marginalized groups.

The Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) platform has a broader vision: free college for all, a guaranteed minimum income for Black people, comprehensive Black history in school curricula and more. Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Khan-Cullors is fond of saying any reparations package should also include a therapist.


Well, yes, there’s been some foot-dragging. Former U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. introduced a bill each year for almost 30 years simply calling for a commission to look into the idea. It’s never reached a vote. In the meantime, SRLF and other groups are moving forward on a smaller scale. Many of M4BL’s proposals require only local or state action.

On the Left, some reparations skeptics believe a race-blind economic platform can best boost the poor of all races. Many reparations advocates support a similar plan, and some of their demands (e.g., free college) would help everyone. But many also believe the playing field cannot be leveled—and the past cannot be reconciled— without addressing the specific harms to Black communities. “What I’m talking about is more than recompense,” wrote Ta-Nehisi Coates in his blockbuster 2014 Atlantic piece on reparations. “What is needed is a healing of the American psyche.” 

An Ode to Sharp-Tongued Women, From Dorothy Parker to Susan Sontag

Mon, 2018-04-09 11:53

Mary McCarthy could command a room. “She stood in what I later recognized as a characteristic stance, right foot forward and balanced on a high heel,” recalled poet Eileen Simpson of the time they met. “In one hand she held a cigarette, in the other a martini.”

There are moments like this, where a writer makes an impression, throughout Michelle Dean’s Sharp, a collective biography of women, like McCarthy, “who made an art of having an opinion.” Even private moments seem designed to impress, like Susan Sontag’s recollection that, while she was writing her first novel, her 10-year-old son, David Rieff, would “stand by her and light her cigarettes as she typed.”

Throughout Sharp, we witness enough timely encounters with editors and friendships forged from critical reviews to show just how dependent on relationships these women’s work was. But to have an opinion is to stake out ground, to stand apart. Dean argues that the writers she profiles, from Dorothy Parker and Rebecca West to Nora Ephron and Janet Malcolm, saw themselves as outsiders and wielded their wit—the “sharpness” of the book’s title—against a world that often had no place for them.

Fittingly, she begins with Dorothy Parker, whose witticisms set the standard for outlasting their targets, as when she wrote of the then-prime minister’s wife and socialite, “The affair between Margot Asquith and Margot Asquith will live as one of the prettiest love stories in all literature.”

The chapters are artfully interwoven through the connections these women had to each other: as readers and critics of one another’s work, rivals, mentors, influences. Renata Adler, for a time, was even engaged to McCarthy’s son. The women were at times also friends, although rarely without ambivalence, and not as much as a reader may hope.

Dean roots for her subjects to come together, noting, for example, that “[Pauline] Kael and [Joan] Didion never gave up the grudge and became friends. … This was a shame. The pair could have commiserated on more subjects than just the matter of Woody Allen.” (Both had dissented from the accolades surrounding Manhattan, one of many sacred cows Dean’s women take delight in skewering. Kael and Didion were also known for disliking The Sound of Music.) A shame but not a surprise, given that Didion had said Kael’s criticism had “a kind of petit-pointon-Kleenex effect which rarely stands much scrutiny.”

The costs of sharpness were real: Along with ruptured friendships, several of the women Dean profiles faced lawsuits for their words. Many struggled internally with the limits of sharpness, moving from criticism and polemic to artistic creation: Sontag yearned for her novels and films to be as well received as her essays, Adler dedicated a decade to novels and Didion pursued screenwriting.

Dean’s book comes at a time of renewed attention to the history of feminism, and the most fascinating parts of the book deal with the complicated relationship these women bore to the movement. In a society in which women’s talents and ambitions are met with hostility, individual achievement feels like feminist rebellion, yet feminism, like all social movements, demands solidarity and collectivity. (There is a fascinating companion book to be written about writers who navigated this while being “inside” the movement, writers like Adrienne Rich, Alix Kates Shulman and Kate Millett, all of whom appear in passing in Sharp as foils or critical targets.)

All these women fought sexism, but, by and large, did not identify with the feminist movement. Some, like Hannah Arendt, saw the whole question as beneath them; others, like Didion, turned their sharpness on the movement in their writing; while others, like Sontag, expressed both sympathy and skepticism. Ephron embraced a role as a feminist writer, but here, too, there is ambivalence: “She knew she was supposed to count [feminist authors’] good intentions into the final critical calculus, of course: ‘This is what’s known in the women’s movement as sisterhood, and it is good politics, I suppose, but it is not good criticism.’ ”

Yet the pull of collectivity persists throughout the book, as will the desire of many readers to see these women as feminist role models. Dean notes with sympathy that “it’s not considered very sisterly to believe one stands out from the pack,” and makes clear how the specter of the “exceptional woman” shaped these lives. Rivalry abounded. The contrast with Rich, who wrote that an authentic life depends on doing away with the sense of one’s uniqueness, could hardly be more striking.

Yet even Sontag, who is perhaps the most associated with her celebrity image, struggled to be part of something larger than New York’s various intellectual cliques. She wrote movingly of the genuine solidarity she found between revolutionary comrades on her visit to Vietnam, however unfamiliar it was to her experience and sensibility. Reporting from El Salvador, Didion wonders about how to get out of her own way, feeling the insufficiency of her irony in the face of suffering.

Perhaps surprisingly, Parker, the most famous embodiment of sharpness, felt the pull of the collective as deeply as any of Dean’s subjects. The fight against the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti pushed her to activism on behalf of the anti-fascist struggle, unions and civil rights, and she left her estate to the NAACP. For Parker, being part of something bigger also meant setting aside the wit that made her famous. As she would reflect in the New Masses: “I heard someone say, and so I said it too, that ridicule is the most effective weapon. I don’t suppose I ever really believed it, but it was easy and comforting, and so I said it. Well, now I know. I know there are things that never have been funny, and never will be. And I know that ridicule maybe a shield, but it is not a weapon.” 

Barbara Ehrenreich Calls BS on the Immortality Industry

Thu, 2018-04-05 13:26

In her new book, Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying and Our Illusion of Control, Barbara Ehrenreich reminds us that once we are over 70 we are “old enough to die” and should not make strenuous or unseemly efforts to stay alive. As a young woman, she wanted to be a scientist and wrote her Ph.D. about certain cells that are, apparently, vital to the immune system. Macrophages, she tells us: help sculpt the embryo into a human fetus; they defend the body against microbial invasions; they participate in the process of antigen presentation; they keep the body clear of dead and damaged cells. On the destructive side, they participate in the growth and spread of tumors; they launch the catastrophe of inflammaging; they are frontline killers in autoimmune diseases.

The central chapters of this alarmingly persuasive book enlarge knowledgeably and imaginatively on this news of cellular treachery and its implications. Our bodies are, it seems, sites of permanently warring factions of cells, wayward and possessed—as it were—with minds of their own. They “lunge” and “devour” one another and simply make mistakes, so that our minds and bodies are never to be relied upon to silkily and systematically function. After a certain point, therefore, Ehrenreich insists, we should stop supposing that we can control these cells or the diseases they inflict on us, let alone our ageing. She is “giving up on preventive care,” on tests and monitoring, and she advises us to do the same.

However, the book is not concerned solely with the inevitable depredations of old age. Its scepticism addresses a good deal of what goes on these days within conventional medical practice as well as alongside it. We have been seduced into beliefs that our bodies are our responsibility, that mind controls matter, to such an extent that conventional as well as “alternative” therapies have developed elaborate rituals that often exceed the so-called “primitive” healing rituals we are inclined to mock as magic in parts of the world unconquered by Western medicine. She focuses on some of the rituals surrounding childbirth, such as shaving pubic hair and (I might add) supplying miniature swimming pools. Are white coats and all the versions of “imaging” our mysterious innards really essential to our health and our knowledge about ourselves and our bodies? Do we, as patients, cling to the trappings of modern medicine as evidence that we are being taken seriously?

We are bombarded with questions and warnings about diet and drink and smoking, and ordered to exercise, though not to excess. If we have high blood pressure or “bad” cholesterol it is almost certainly our fault. If we are fat we may not deserve medical treatment at all. Even cancer may be caused, we’re sometimes told, by unwarranted tension and our response to the stresses of contemporary life. The warnings change with the times, but they are always admonishing as well as contradictory. Our duty to our bodies may be thought of as an aspect of Western individualism, and respect for the reality and sanctity of the self.

Ehrenreich takes us on a complex journey through competing theories, which now, and in the past, adjudicated the mind/body relation. They have been philosophical and religious and may nowadays be psychoanalytical. She introduces us to a world of mass-market apps, with names like Simply Being and Buddhify, that promote “positive thinking” and “mindfulness”—mindfulness being only a recent example of dozens of profitable scams that offer to improve our minds and enable them to control our erring bodies.

We are also expected to make sense of statistics that seem to defy our experience. We “know,” for instance, that smoking can cause lung cancer, yet of the 15 or so people I know who have lung cancer or have died of it, only one ever smoked. As Ehrenreich points out, “a 2015 study found that the average adult attention span had shrunk from 12 seconds a dozen years ago to eight seconds, which is shorter than the attention of a goldfish.” What should we make of that as a “fact”?

I don’t suppose Ehrenreich will give up entirely on prevention, and nor will I. She still goes to the gym and I go to the swimming pool. I swallow quite a lot of pills and put drops in my eyes, and I have just acquired a noisy hearing aid I usually leave at home.

I am even older than Ehrenreich, and though in pretty good health, am assailed by the illnesses and deaths of friends who are my age or younger. A dear old friend died a week ago, peacefully, awake and aware and 86, but angry that she’d wasted a precious last year of her life feeling tired and sad from her treatment, which had completely failed to stop her lung cancer spreading to most of her major organs. She accepted her inevitable death with grace and serenity, but regretted that treatment. Ehrenreich would have encouraged her to refuse to have anything to do with it.

I’m fond of the no-doubt unreliable statistic I read somewhere that most of us can look forward to living for about 10 years longer than our parents, but that we can also look forward to spending the equivalent of about eight of those years in hospitals or doctors’ waiting rooms. If anything, Ehrenreich shows that things are even worse in the United States than they are here in Britain. The U.K. National Health Service is a good deal less profligate with its testing and monitoring than the U.S. medical profession and its insurance companies. But here, too, we can feel both despised and bullied by the medical profession, and bamboozled by its predictions and statistics.

It seems that staying alive and young and active has become a duty and a responsibility each of us ignores at our peril. We may be rewarded with the occasional “wonderful for her age” and punished with contempt for our lethargy, obesity, flabby limbs and muddleheadedness. So how should we live well through all these extra years? Ehrenreich writes books and travels. She “keeps busy”— that awful phrase so often used to mask our uselessness and downgrade our occupations. That said, for many people of our age, those doctor or hospital appointments may be the only dates in their diaries. They may feel at times that their very existence is a burden to their families and friends and, nowadays, to the state. They are often made to feel that they are using up valuable natural and social resources the young could do with, and to no avail. Yet they are discouraged from ending their lives, would find it difficult, and may not wish to do so anyway.

We’re often told to face up to the reality of death, yet no one is quite able to tell us how to. Imagining the world without us in it is beyond most of us, and Ehrenreich admits to its fundamental impossibility. And she’s not encouraging us to welcome death, let alone the possibly disagreeable experiences that may precede it. She does tell us, though—and I doubt this would be prescribed by our National Health Service—about a drug called psilocybin, which dissolves fear, even the fear of death. I’ll go for that.