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Updated: 5 hours 12 min ago

Beta Testing Fascism: How Online Culture Wars Created the Alt-Right

12 hours 21 min ago

Leftists who write thinkpieces or satires about the alt-right tend to produce more sensationalism than substance. Too often, satisfying but unhelpful insults like “anime Nazi dorks” and “neckbeard fedoras” stand in for analysis.

Rarely do we try to understand why someone who thinks of themself as a good person would want to join what amounts to the online youth wing of a global neofascist movement. Yet many have—especially, yes, young white men—and the reactionary wave continues to spread.

By contrast, in Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars From 4chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right, the Irish journalist Angela Nagle has made efforts not just to mock and condemn but to understand what’s driving the alt-right’s rise—and how the Left’s worse tendencies help it grow.

The new book is an expansion of Nagle’s reporting on the subject for American socialist magazines. Building on work by anthropologist Gabriella Coleman and essayist David Auerbach, Nagle traces the alt-right’s origins to the anonymous message boards, chat rooms, wikis and blogs that dominated cyberspace through the mid-2000s and early 2010s, before today’s public and interlinked social media accounts had reached their current level of dominance. Defined by total anonymity, fleeting interactions and information overload, these spaces fostered a milieu of digital pranksterism and sophisticated in-jokes centered on two core interests: celebrating geek culture and transgressing moral boundaries

This culture was a mess of contradictions. On the one hand, it was for a time a hotbed of principled leftist cyber-activism that culminated in endeavors such as the Anonymous movement and early Wikileaks. Though their methods were controversial, these “hacktivists” were key to exposing much Obama-era corporate and government wrongdoing. In April 2010, for example, Wikileaks released the Collateral Murder video of U.S. helicopters shooting a Reuters journalist and several civilians in Baghdad. The next year, hackers revealed that Bank of America—with help from the Department of Justice—had assembled a team of shadowy intelligence contractors to coordinate a campaign of disinformation and hacking against journalists and activists.

As Nagle sees it, this radical element has faded away, undermined not only by state spying and repression but also by the inherent limits of its leaderless structure and ideological vagueness.

What’s arisen in its place is something more toxic: a shallow online identity politics of both the Left and Right that Nagle calls “politics as culture war.”

The right-wing side grew out of forums like 4chan, where white and upper-middle-class teenagers, protected by screen names and driven by deep social alienation, could plot to ruin the lives of random strangers through harassment and the publication of personal information (known as doxxing) while cracking intentionally hyperbolic and supposedly ironic jokes on sexist, pedophiliac, anti-Semitic and racist themes. In these web communities, it’s intentionally ambiguous whether jokes like “Jews did 9/11” are supposed to be funny because they’re absurd or because they’re true. This proves a fruitful ambiguity for actual racists, as it helps them normalize and spread their beliefs.

It was the 2014 “Gamergate” controversy, Nagle explains, that turned this largely apolitical “culture of transgression” into a far-right cultural movement. When female video-game journalists such as Anita Sarkeesian took issue with sexism in the gaming world, offended male gamers unleashed a sustained campaign of harassment, doxxing, and rape and death threats against the critics. Like-minded young men (and some women) took note. Soon a decentralized coalition of rabid anti-feminists, white nationalists, “free-market” libertarians and even self-proclaimed monarchists had declared war on political correctness. The shared culture they developed, Nagle writes, was “characterized by a particularly dark preoccupation with thwarted or failed white Western masculinity as a grand metaphor.”

This primordial stew of proto-fascism is what came to be called the alt-right. After moving through its origins, Nagle spends the bulk of her book sketching its various component movements and their figureheads.

There’s the Manosphere, whose diverse collection of misogynists united in the belief that feminism has destroyed both the traditional family and their own sexual prospects. There’s Richard Spencer and his white nationalist brigade, who argue for the biological reality of race, the impossibility of a multicultural society, and the need for white ethnostates to defend the West from immigrants and Islam. There are carnival barkers like Milo Yiannopoulos, Gavin McInnes and Lauren Southern who manufacture whole media careers by baiting over-earnest progressives into shrill and predictable denunciations. And there’s the whole sad parade of self-help gurus, conspiracy theorists and supplement-peddling hucksters—think InfoWars.com owner Alex Jones—who have found a way to make a quick buck and a name for themselves in the alt-right digital ecosystem.

It all has the feel of a whirlwind tour—which isn’t always to the book’s benefit. Much of Kill All Normies is a series of anecdotes that doesn’t take the time to define its terms or give more than cursory summaries of its subjects. Often these anecdotes are illuminating in themselves, but readers who aren’t already familiar with the relevant subcultures and slang may struggle to keep up. (This improves in the last three chapters and conclusion, which stand on their own as analytic essays.)

Nagle is at her best when she moves past the fleeting scandals and fads of digital culture and cuts to the psychological roots of this new far-right cultural politics—particularly its anti-feminist core. With surprising sympathy, she outlines their “anxiety and anger about their low-ranking status” in the sexual hierarchy. She quotes “men’s rights activist” F. Roger Devlin, who argues that the freedom of women to choose sexual partners outside marriage and defy traditional gender roles has led to “promiscuity for the few” and “loneliness for the majority.”  Put bluntly, Devlin and his ilk believe women choose to hook up with elite men and leave the vast majority involuntarily celibate, or “incel.” Whether or not this argument holds, those lonely outcasts who see themselves as the victims of this narrative express their resentment at sexual rejection not only through trolling online but also by opposing women’s basic human rights and, in extreme cases, by committing sexually motivated murders as in the 2014 massacre near the University of California, Santa Barbara. Nagle concludes, convincingly, that this is “the central issue driving this kind of reactionary sexual politics, perhaps even the central personal motivation behind the entire turn to the far Right among young men.”

But Nagle argues these ideas gained currency as part of an online culture war—and every war has more than one side.

The alt-right’s mortal enemies came into their own at the microblogging service Tumblr, where other socially alienated teens constructed subcultures based around increasingly arcane racial, gender, sexual and other identities. Nagle argues—and I agree—that this supposedly liberal movement retreated into symbolic politics and a profoundly illiberal culture of virtue signaling, grievance and social authoritarianism.

Drawing on the work of the late writer Mark Fisher, Nagle defines “Tumblr-liberalism” (her term, though I think this underestimates the tendency’s reach into radical as well as liberal circles) by its intolerance of dissent: “The very idea of winning people over through ideas now seems to anguish, offend and enrage.” Instead, those who would express something different from the party line must be harassed or even denied a platform entirely.

Nagle catalogues many damning instances of this tendency using public humiliation, censorship, harassment and firings in order to promote and enforce its dogmas, both online and off. (In fact I’d argue the sheer breadth of her examples shows Tumblr liberalism is something that extends far beyond Tumblr and has deeper roots.) In one case, an “antiracist” Twitter user responds to the death of a six-year-old attacked by an alligator by mocking the “white male entitlement” of his parents; in another, anonymous students bring the academic Laura Kipnis before a Title IX court simply for writing an essay arguing love affairs between professors and their students don’t necessarily constitute an abuse of power.

The spread of “antifa” tactics among anarchists and liberals in the Trump era has seen no-platforming increasingly applied to the alt-right. But Tumblr liberals, it seems, more often than not target others on the Left, denying a platform to those guilty of thought-crime against various sacred cows. This trend continues, as evidenced by a recent scandal in which philosophers called on a feminist journal to retract an article that dared to engage seriously with the notion of Rachel Dolezal-style “transracialism.”

Nagle believes these Tumblr liberals have “made the Left a laughingstock for a whole new generation.” Though nominally opposed, Nagle argues, the alt-right and Tumblr liberalism feed off each other and form “essentially two rival wings of contemporary identity politics.” In the new culture wars between these two groups, the alt-right is able to claim the mantle of free speech and countercultural transgression that leftists once proudly boasted to represent, so that the Tumblr liberals are positioned as a sort of morality police—prudish, inquisitorial, and widely despised. This in turn has made being on the Right “something exciting, fun and courageous for the first time since … well, possibly ever.”

No doubt Nagle’s assault on identity politics will spark many necessary and overdue debates on the Left. Already this has been a key part of the book’s controversial reception. But what strikes me most is something else.

Though Kill All Normies is a fine piece of journalism and cultural criticism—the first serious popular study of its subject—I found as I read it that I kept coming up against the book's most important limitation. Nagle has a tendency to see the alt-right as essentially a pop-cultural phenomenon or social malaise to be diagnosed, not a political movement with ideas that must be refuted. As a result, the book leaves many urgent questions unanswered. Does the alt-right constitute a twenty-first century fascism? What kind of politics, ultimately, follows from their beliefs? What connection do they have to the xenophobic nationalism currently sweeping electoral politics across the industrialized world? Readers must look elsewhere for answers.

Furthermore, Nagle’s focus on minor Twitter celebrities means she neglects the more serious intellectuals in the movement—whether it’s the post-libertarian dreams of authoritarian city-states one finds in Nick Land and Mencius Moldbug, the corporatist nationalism of Michael Anton, or the biological racism and white supremacy of Steve Sailer and Richard Spencer. These writers make complicated arguments against democracy and for racial and sexual hierarchy rooted in historical analysis, evolutionary psychology, IQ testing and political theory. Even when ordinary alt-righters can’t recognize them by name, they are often regurgitating vulgarized versions of their ideas.

These ideas are refutable and the politics underlying them is horrific. But every time the Left refuses to even try countering them with our own, the alt-right’s portrait of us as dogmatists who can only confront their terrible truths with censorship and violence gains credibility. (And that portrait, as we’ve seen, is a key component of how they recruit.) Nagle would probably respond that the alt-right’s insipid Internet lunacy reveals it to be fundamentally unserious and not worth engaging intellectually. But today’s revived socialist movement, of which Nagle and I are both a part, is no less a product of social alienation and postmodern irony than the new fascism, nor does it lack its own Twitter bullshit. In a country that elected Trump, it’s worth taking seriously the appeal of both movements as attempts to escape the dead end of neoliberalism—one by expanding democracy, the other by doing away with it.

Still, Nagle’s book is a good start. What we get from it is a brief history and a portrait of the cultural logic that may breed tomorrow’s authoritarianism. Hopefully it is the first contribution of many to that part of the antifascist struggle that employs means other than fists and makeshift shields.

When Money Talks Too Much

12 hours 21 min ago

Four years ago, a leading French intellectual produced a wide-ranging study of wealth inequality that cleared away much of the confusion surrounding the steady financialization of the Western political economy. Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century laid bare the deep structural forces that have made our brave new neoliberal economic order so dangerously topheavy and unstable.

Now, another renowned French intellectual has stepped forward to publish a confounding, evidence-challenged account of economic life designed to calm the fears stirred up by any clear-eyed look at our jittery, unsettled globalized political economy. Pascal Bruckner, an all-purpose Parisian public intellectual in the vein of Alain de Botton, has produced a string of bestselling booklength essays on subjects such as “democratic melancholia” and the unattainability of happiness. Now, he professes to lay out The Wisdom of Money.

He means it, too. “It isn’t money that produces narcissism, the will to power, religious or political proselytizing, class inequalities or self-interested motives,” Bruckner pronounces. “The market enters our lives with our complicity, it doesn’t conquer our souls; they welcome it as a liberator.” Small wonder, then, that “it is wise to have money, and wise to reflect critically on it.”

If you’re thinking this is clearly not the sort of writer who’s ever found himself on the short end of a market transaction, you’re right. “I was spared the injury of poverty,” he says in his introduction. As he found his intellectual vocation, “I didn’t worry about money, certain that luck would always be generous to me.” And it seems luck did provide, in the form of book royalties.

As The Wisdom of Money goes on to traverse all spheres of human endeavor, from international relations to marriage and sex, Bruckner stoutly breaks down every question along these same basic structural lines: Economic thinkers and humorless ideologues may insist that money represents X-bad thing (social injustice, economic precarity, organized pillage of the public sphere), but from my wiser, more Olympian remove, I can confidently report it is but a passive vessel for all pre-existing features of the human experience, and in nearly every contentious sphere of debate, a positive virtue.

Bruckner lays out his case in a series of chapters taking aim at straw man indictments of the cash-nexus, e.g., “Money, the Ruler of the World?” “Has Sordid Calculation Killed Sublime Love?” and the mock-heroic “Getting Rich Is Not a Crime (and Falling Into Poverty Is Not a Virtue).” But when the argument descends to specific cases, Bruckner goes from irksomely smug to actively offensive.

In assessing the role of money in heterosexual intimate relations, for example, Bruckner, in the tradition of all-too-many French intellectuals, is dumbfoundingly sexist. “For a majority of women,” he maintains, citing zero evidence, “it is still men who have to pay the bill, even after ‘liberation,’ whereas many men consider it degrading when a woman pays.” Prenups for the alpha-male overclass are not a means of raw economic predation that benefits the richer contracting partner; no, they’re just yet another financial contrivance that “avoids confusions.” 

For all this ghastly faux-realism around matters of sex, Bruckner shows an eager deference to our plutocratic betters that’s downright sentimental. He cites with admiration Andrew Carnegie’s storied career as a philanthropist without mentioning his murderous breaking of the 1892 Homestead Steel Works strike. (Indeed, Bruckner barely mentions labor actions or labor organizing at all, only pausing to note that dissatisfied service workers, thanks to the market’s thoughtful ministrations, “can always leave.”)

Those who deride the character of the wealthy have simply forgotten their historic role: “In every age, the rich have incarnated and borne an exemplary art of living.” If they appropriate an outsize share of the world’s bounty, why that’s merely in line with their outsize virtue: “What does it matter that the rich are getting richer—it’s normal that those who take risks should be well remunerated—provided that others do better as well.”

That last rushed disclaimer, like virtually every claim in The Wisdom of Money, is acutely bereft of empiricism: Throughout the capitalist West, real wages have been stagnant for the middle class and in decline for the poor since the mid-1970s, while return on investment has widely outpaced more generalized economic growth—a crucial point decisively demonstrated in, yes, Capital in the Twenty-First Century.

Then again, Bruckner’s genre of morale-boosting capitalist agitprop doesn’t intend to mount credible empirical claims or spur us to serious reflection of any kind. No, the idea in The Wisdom of Money, as in its countless counterparts in the American marketplace of ideas, is to instill in its readers a soothing state of metaphysical complacency, wherein unencumbered avarice is nothing less than the fulfillment of a cosmic mission. And anyone who says otherwise is fomenting a “militant neopauperism” founded on “the prohibition on living better.” So yes: If Bruckner’s book can teach us anything, it’s that, as fathomlessly wise as our market may be, it will always make more room for unadulterated bullshit.

Okja: The Veggie-Prop Children’s Film You Really Need to See

Mon, 2017-06-26 23:42

For someone whose films are bursting with outrageous computer imagery, and whose sensibility could be characterized as hyperviolent satiric pulp, Korean director Bong Joon-ho sure is a gung-ho Captain Planet. His 2013 film Snowpiercer was a ludicrous parable about class warfare set on a giant train forever barreling around an ecologically devastated Earth. Before that, 2006’s The Host—possibly the best giant-rubber-monster movie ever made—generated its creature out of industrial pollution, the first sci-fi movie to explicitly villainize toxic dumping since Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster (1972). His new film, Okja, is essentially a “family film” that makes a scorched-earth case for vegetarianism.

Or, at least, against eating meat—which means, by definition, inflicting cruelty, misery and murder on an industrial scale. As always, Bong’s brushstroke is as wide as a barn: The film’s first blast is a publicity blitz around the cultivation of “super-pigs,” mutant porkers the size of two hippos, which are sent to farms around the world in a pilot program to establish a new and economical source of processable meat. Everyone has to wait ten years, we’re told by Tilda Swinton’s preening, haute-couture CEO, and then we’ll see if they “taste fucking good.”

Cut to 10 years later, to a mountainside in South Korea, where the titular super-pig—a vast, blubbery CGI that looks and behaves more like a swollen dog than a pig—cavorts in the verdant wilderness with Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun), a pubescent girl living with her grandfather. The girl and the pig are, reflexively, bonded partners for life, a trope YA fiction has been using, well, forever. Immediately we see Bong’s conflictive style—the film is an in-your-face hybrid, half Spielbergian kid-&-pet fable, half keening satire on commercial capitalism. He wants it both ways, often in a single scene, and sometimes he gets it, conflating absurd excess and pathos and making it sting your eyes.

As the winner of the super-pig promotional contest, Okja is whisked away suddenly (by a giggling animal-show celebrity host played with lunatic glee by Jake Gyllenhaal) for a gala presentation in New York, and then, we learn, to the slaughterhouse. A pissed-off Mija, in a tireless tradition of super-spunky tween heroines, decides to follow and bring him home. Her path is quickly crossed by a band of violence-adverse eco-terrorists, namely the Animal Liberation Front, led by teary-eyed near-maniac Paul Dano, who manage to shanghai Okja and Mija.

A great number of chases and computerized action chaos follows, as Okja blasts through a Seoul subway mall with fumbling cops and security teams in tow. Anyone familiar with Bong’s films will recognize the dialectic sensibility at work, and also the awkward humor. But where’s the bite? Fans of Memories of Murder (2003) and Mother (2009) will be pining with me for those films’ acidic nastiness, lyrical ambivalence and CGI-free scenery, and mourning how the Korean New Wave, of which Bong was an integral figure, devolved so quickly into a mini-Hollywood, complete with hard drives doing most of the heavy lifting.

To be fair, Okja herself is a lovely creation. But there’s little or no ambivalence in Bong’s film, although it does go properly dark as Okja is dragged into the heart of this near-future’s meat processing systems. The first affront for any audience member under 12 would be the non-explicit “forced mating” Okja endures in a holding cell, beneath a larger mutant pig. As a soju-drunk Gyllenhaal yowls in delight, the eco-terrorists watch on an illicit surveillance feed, and their traumatized reactions to the violation will, I think, echo those experienced by any kids lured by the cute mega-pet and hoping for a purely affirmative matinee glow.

But even our exposure to that scandalous moment is minimized, as Bong plays to every demographic. The passage of the film that lingers in the abattoir and stockyard, with glimpses of killed, skinned, butchered and rack-hung super-pigs, almost fulfills the aspects of Bong’s premise that doesn’t cater to little children. In the end, he might convert a few hot dog fans. But it’s hardly a pop-digital version of Georges Franju’s Blood of the Beasts (1949), which took no prisoners in showing how exactly the food we buy everyday is born out of cold-blooded agony and horror. Early in the film, Mija eats both fish and chicken dishes—is meat only murder when the animal is super-cute?

Okja, Pig in the City

Mon, 2017-06-26 23:42

For someone whose films are bursting with outrageous computer imagery, and whose sensibility could be characterized as hyperviolent satiric pulp, Korean director Bong Joon-ho sure is a gung-ho Captain Planet. His 2013 film Snowpiercer was a ludicrous parable about class warfare set on a giant train forever barreling around an ecologically devastated Earth. Before that, 2006’s The Host—possibly the best giant-rubber-monster movie ever made—generated its creature out of industrial pollution, the first sci-fi movie to explicitly villainize toxic dumping since Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster (1972). His new film, Okja, is essentially a “family film” that makes a scorched-earth case for vegetarianism.

Or, at least, against eating meat—which means, by definition, inflicting cruelty, misery and murder on an industrial scale. As always, Bong’s brushstroke is as wide as a barn: The film’s first blast is a publicity blitz around the cultivation of “super-pigs,” mutant porkers the size of two hippos, which are sent to farms around the world in a pilot program to establish a new and economical source of processable meat. Everyone has to wait ten years, we’re told by Tilda Swinton’s preening, haute-couture CEO, and then we’ll see if they “taste fucking good.”

Cut to 10 years later, to a mountainside in South Korea, where the titular super-pig—a vast, blubbery CGI that looks and behaves more like a swollen dog than a pig—cavorts in the verdant wilderness with Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun), a pubescent girl living with her grandfather. The girl and the pig are, reflexively, bonded partners for life, a trope YA fiction has been using, well, forever. Immediately we see Bong’s conflictive style—the film is an in-your-face hybrid, half Spielbergian kid-&-pet fable, half keening satire on commercial capitalism. He wants it both ways, often in a single scene, and sometimes he gets it, conflating absurd excess and pathos and making it sting your eyes.

As the winner of the super-pig promotional contest, Okja is whisked away suddenly (by a giggling animal-show celebrity host played with lunatic glee by Jake Gyllenhaal) for a gala presentation in New York, and then, we learn, to the slaughterhouse. A pissed-off Mija, in a tireless tradition of super-spunky tween heroines, decides to follow and bring him home. Her path is quickly crossed by a band of violence-adverse eco-terrorists, namely the Animal Liberation Front, led by teary-eyed near-maniac Paul Dano, who manage to shanghai Okja and Mija.

A great number of chases and computerized action chaos follows, as Okja blasts through a Seoul subway mall with fumbling cops and security teams in tow. Anyone familiar with Bong’s films will recognize the dialectic sensibility at work, and also the awkward humor. But where’s the bite? Fans of Memories of Murder (2003) and Mother (2009) will be pining with me for those films’ acidic nastiness, lyrical ambivalence and CGI-free scenery, and mourning how the Korean New Wave, of which Bong was an integral figure, devolved so quickly into a mini-Hollywood, complete with hard drives doing most of the heavy lifting.

To be fair, Okja herself is a lovely creation. But there’s little or no ambivalence in Bong’s film, although it does go properly dark as Okja is dragged into the heart of this near-future’s meat processing systems. The first affront for any audience member under 12 would be the non-explicit “forced mating” Okja endures in a holding cell, beneath a larger mutant pig. As a soju-drunk Gyllenhaal yowls in delight, the eco-terrorists watch on an illicit surveillance feed, and their traumatized reactions to the violation will, I think, echo those experienced by any kids lured by the cute mega-pet and hoping for a purely affirmative matinee glow.

But even our exposure to that scandalous moment is minimized, as Bong plays to every demographic. The passage of the film that lingers in the abattoir and stockyard, with glimpses of killed, skinned, butchered and rack-hung super-pigs, almost fulfills the aspects of Bong’s premise that doesn’t cater to little children. In the end, he might convert a few hot dog fans. But it’s hardly a pop-digital version of Georges Franju’s Blood of the Beasts (1949), which took no prisoners in showing how exactly the food we buy everyday is born out of cold-blooded agony and horror. Early in the film, Mija eats both fish and chicken dishes—is meat only murder when the animal is super-cute?

How Middle Schoolers Forced Their Administration to Stop Celebrating Indigenous Genocide

Mon, 2017-06-26 14:56

Crowds in New Orleans cheered recently when a handful of notorious Confederate monuments were purposefully toppled. New Orleans mayor, Mitch Landrieu, gained notoriety of his own for speaking out in favor of the removal of statues of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, among others. In support, Landrieu told a South Carolina newspaper that such monuments were not intended to be “historic or educational markers,” but were instead built “in celebration of” slavery and segregation.

Hundreds of miles away, at the other end of the Mississippi River, Minneapolis residents have been grappling with a traumatic history of their own: the little-acknowledged genocide of the area’s Native people, waged to usher in white settlers in the middle of the nineteenth century.

In early May of 2017, the Minneapolis park board voted unanimously to restore Lake Calhoun, one of the city’s most prominent lakes, to its original, Dakota name: Bde Maka Ska. Supporters of this name change have pointed out that Lake Calhoun was named after the early U.S. politician John C. Calhoun—a fervent defender of both slavery and President Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act.

Now, students at the city’s Ramsey Middle School have scored another victory: They have successfully lobbied to have their school’s name changed. Ramsey, built in 1931, was named after Alexander Ramsey, one of Minnesota’s first governors. Generations of school children have been taught to revere Ramsey as a frontier statesman who helped launch Minnesota. But the darker side of Ramsey’s actions are now also taught to students beginning in sixth grade, when they learn that the historical figure also led the push to eradicate Native Americans from the state he was trying to build.

Along with another much-lauded early Minnesotan, Henry Sibley, Ramsey was a central architect of fraudulent treaties with the Dakota tribes who had roamed freely over southern Minnesota long before settlers arrived. When factions of the Dakota resisted the starvation and devastation they were facing, thanks to unkept promises and the encroachment of settlers, Ramsey reportedly stated in 1862 that they “must be exterminated or forever driven from the borders of the state.” This led to the United States-Dakota War of 1862, which ended with the hanging of 38 Dakota warriors--an act that still stands as the largest mass execution in U.S. history.

Throughout this school year, Ramsey students have not only confronted the ugliness surrounding Alexander Ramsey’s actions, they have also led a campaign to rename their school after Alan Page, Minnesota’s first African-American Supreme Court justice. Through an Instagram account, community meetings and surveys, the students and their supporters pressed the Minneapolis school board to pass a resolution permitting the name change.

On June 13, at the final board meeting of the school year, they got their wish. District Superintendent Ed Graff, along with the nine board members, voiced approval for the change, citing both broad community support for the move as well as an acknowledgement that the “majority of the school community believes that a school name should be inspirational and welcoming to all students.” Justice Page Middle School will now stand on a leafy hill in south Minneapolis, close to the lake that will once again be known as Bde Maka Ska.

How Chicago’s Police Union Contract Ensures Abuses Remain in the Shadows

Mon, 2017-06-26 07:00

In April, Chicago police voted in a fiery new union president, Kevin Graham, who has vowed to fight the attacks of the “anti-police media.” Graham wasted no time in making his agenda clear. “We look forward to immediately preparing for the upcoming contract negotiations, fighting the anti-police movement in the city, and obtaining fair due process and discipline for our members,” he said in a statement following his victory.

The union contract between the city of Chicago and the 8,000-member Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) expires in June. Previous contract negotiations have taken place out of the public eye, but this year, a high-profile fight is brewing.

A February report from the Coalition for Police Contract Accountability (CPCA) observes that the city’s contract, as well as a separate agreement with the sergeants’ union, “make it too hard to identify police misconduct, and too easy for police officers to lie about and hide misconduct.” The coalition, which includes the ACLU of Illinois, Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100) and the Workers Center for Racial Justice, has identified 14 contract provisions it says impede investigations. One such provision allows police officers to wait 24 hours to give a statement after shooting someone. Another prohibits anonymous complaints against officers.

A few days before Graham’s election, at Occupy Palm Sunday, an annual gathering organized by Chicago churches, Drea Hall of CPCA read these contract provisions aloud to a palm-frond-waving crowd. The crowd chorused in response, “That ain’t right!”

“Now’s the time to put pressure on our mayor, to put pressure on our aldermen to do the right thing,” she said.

Activists aren’t alone in zeroing in on police union contracts as a roadblock to reform. A January Reuters investigation examined contracts in 82 cities and found a pattern of protections that create hurdles for citizens in reporting police abuse. Most contracts require destruction of police disciplinary records after a certain period. Nearly half allow officers to view the evidence against them before being questioned about alleged misconduct. Chicago’s FOP contract contains both of these provisions.

The city’s Police Accountability Task Force, commissioned by Mayor Rahm Emanuel after the release of graphic video showing the fatal police shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald, reported in April 2016 that collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) between police and the city had “turned the code of silence into official policy.” And in January, following a 13-month civil rights investigation, the Department of Justice (DOJ) concluded that Chicago police routinely use unreasonable force against civilians, particularly African Americans, and that “deficient” accountability systems aid and abet this behavior. The DOJ report specifically urged the city to “work with the unions to address certain CBA provisions.”

Prior to Donald Trump’s election, it was assumed that if the DOJ found a pattern of unlawful policing in Chicago, it would impose reforms via a court-monitored agreement. But that’s become unlikely, as both Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have pledged to scale back federal oversight of local law enforcement.

Absent help from the federal government, local reformers must now look to the city for leverage. Activists have allies on the City Council, where more than a dozen of the 50 aldermen have signed on to a resolution calling on Mayor Emanuel to endorse the CPCA’s 14 recommended reforms to the FOP contract. In April, Alderman and Black Caucus Chairman Roderick Sawyer said that his 18-member group would vote down any contract that fails to include these changes.

For progressives, this is tricky terrain. “There’s a slippery slope when you start beating up on unions,” says DeAngelo Bester, executive director of the Workers Center for Racial Justice. “No one wants to join that right-wing chorus …trying to destroy public bargaining.”

On the other hand, police unions are "separate from the larger labor movement,” he says. “These groups out there who go and endorse people like Donald Trump … who then goes and appoints people who are anti-union—I would say, let’s separate them.”

Bester says progressives should not work to undercut police wages and benefits, but go after provisions that allow police “to get away with murder.”

NO NAME, NO PROBLEM

One provision in particular has emerged as a likely sticking point in the upcoming negotiations. Of the U.S. cities with the five largest police forces, only Chicago restricts investigation of anonymous complaints. In fact, the FOP contract requires not just a name but a sworn affidavit. Many misconduct complaints begin with a letter or phone call; an investigator must then follow up with the complainant. But if the individual cannot be reached again, or does not want to provide a sworn statement, the investigation typically ends there: Accused officers are not even questioned. Another contract provision allows investigators to proceed without an affidavit in certain cases, but they have done so just 17 times in the last five years, out of tens of thousands of complaints, according to the DOJ report.

Detective Tracy Byerly, 44, works in the Chicago Police Department (CPD) unit devoted to the investigation of sex crimes against children. She has been the subject of just two misconduct complaints in her 20 years on the police force, both of which came with affidavits and neither of which resulted in disciplinary action. She supports the affidavit requirement. “In our legal system, you have the right to confront your accuser,” she says. “It’s the same thing for us.”

Advocates, however, say civilians reporting police misconduct have good reason not to want to be identified, let alone sign an affidavit. For one, doing so often requires an in-person meeting with an investigator, which can be intimidating and complicated to arrange.

“[The affidavit requirement] doesn’t sound like it’s unreasonable,” says Torreya Hamilton, an attorney who defended the city in police misconduct cases before opening her own firm to prosecute the same type of cases in 2006. “But they’ve created so many obstacles.… Sometimes the complainant simply can’t come in because they have work or didn’t have bus fare.”

Beyond logistical challenges, complainants may also fear reprisal from police. Contract rules require investigators to give the name of the complainant to the accused officer before questioning. And in cases of domestic abuse or sexual assault by police, victims may be ashamed or have a personal relationship with the offender.

The union declined to comment for this story. “The FOP does not want to negotiate through the media,” Vice President Martin Prieb wrote in an email to In These Times. But a February post on the blog of The Blue Voice, Graham’s campaign slate, says the FOP “will not surrender on affidavits,” calling the issue “non-negotiable.”

The FOP argues that affidavits are needed to prevent a deluge of false complaints. The low number of sustained complaints—those that investigators deem to be supported by enough evidence to justify discipline—could suggest that many misconduct allegations are already baseless. Between 2010 and 2014, investigators sustained just 11 percent of the 7,300 complaints received with signed affidavits.

A November 2016 study by Kyle Rozema and Max Schanzenbach of Northwestern University, however, found that the volume of civilian complaints against a Chicago police officer correlates with whether the officer will eventually be sued for misconduct, as well as the probability and size of a civil settlement. Unsworn civilian complaints were just as predictive as those with affidavits. “Civilian allegations, if properly managed, could play an important role in reducing police officer misconduct and costly civil liabilities,” the study concludes.

Between 2004 and 2014, the city spent more than $500 million in police misconduct lawsuits, according to an analysis by the Better Government Association. Meanwhile, about 40 percent of misconduct complaints are closed each year because they lack affidavits, according to the DOJ report. In These Times’ review suggests these unexamined complaints could have acted as warning signs.

Over the same 10-year period, the 50 most complained-about Chicago officers averaged 17 no-affidavit complaints each. Drawing on civilian complaint data released by the city in October 2016, as well as investigative files obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, In These Times identified at least a dozen cases in which police officers sued for alleged misconduct—including false arrests, warrantless searches and excessive use of force against civilians—had previously racked up multiple complaints describing similar types of behavior. But because these complaints lacked affidavits, they were never investigated.

Sean Campbell, a white police officer working in the city’s Chicago Lawn district, has been named in four separate misconduct lawsuits that collectively cost the city of Chicago $96,000. In one 2015 case, Campbell and fellow officer Steven Sautkus were sued by Lashaun Duprey, a 20-year-old African American man who was a passenger in a car stopped on the Southwest Side of Chicago. The officers allegedly asked Duprey, “What are you monkeys doing around here?” before pulling him out of the car, punching him in the face and arresting him. Duprey’s family was unable to post bail, so he remained in jail for 10 days before the charges of resisting arrest and disobeying a police officer were dismissed. The city settled with Duprey for $30,000.

According to the suit, which is one of several that Torreya Hamilton’s firm has filed against Campbell, he “often makes racist comments during his arrests, suggesting that he has control over the people in the Eighth District, and that non-Caucasian people are not welcome.”

Another 2015 case named not only Sautkus and Campbell but Campbell’s wife, Emily, and brother, Michael, who are also Chicago police officers. Jonathan Guzman, an 18-year-old Latino man, accused the four officers of repeated harassment. Emily Campbell allegedly threatened Guzman with arrest in 2013 for passing out flyers for his grandfather’s landscaping business; Campbell’s relative owned a competing business. In another incident, Sautkus and Sean Campbell allegedly pulled Guzman over, planted marijuana on him, impounded his car and stole his iPhone. The case settled for $35,000.

Prior to these incidents, 16 complaints against Sean Campbell were closed because they lacked affidavits, including allegations of racial slurs, unnecessary physical contact and illegal arrest. Between 2000 and 2014, Campbell amassed 79 total complaints—among the highest of any CPD officer over that period. According to available data, Campbell has been disciplined just once, for an off-duty DUI. Attempts to reach Campbell for comment through the CPD, FOP and city attorneys were unsuccessful.

In March 2011, nine officers raided a South Side Chicago apartment in search of a 30-year-old black man suspected of possessing crack cocaine. Police instead found Estella Walker and Ray Robinson, a middle-aged black couple who had rented the apartment the month prior and were watching television with their 24-year-old son, Ray Robinson Jr., and a 39-year-old friend, George Graham. According to a lawsuit against the nine officers, police screamed obscenities at the confused residents, demanded to know where “the drugs” were and tore the apartment apart. They allegedly spit in a coffee maker, urinated on mail and assaulted the three men, but failed to find anything illegal. Later, the suit claims, a sergeant entered the apartment, looked around and told the officers present, “You fucked up another one.”

The case settled for $24,000 in May 2013. All nine officers had previous complaints related to illegal searches that were closed because they lacked affidavits. They have collectively been named in six suits that cost the city $170,000. The DOJ investigation found that, in most such lawsuits, “[the Independent Police Review Authority]’s parallel misconduct investigation was closed for lack of an affidavit,” meaning that officers were never disciplined, or even investigated, for the same incident that sparked lawsuits.

In at least one case, CPD apparently missed an opportunity to catch a sexual predator because of a closed misconduct complaint. On Oct. 23, 2013, a 21-year-old woman left her uncle, off-duty police officer Allen Hall, in the car with her 3-year-old daughter. When she returned, she noticed the toddler was now in the front seat and looked upset. Later that day, the child told her mother that Hall had forced her to fondle him.

The mother reported Hall to police detectives. A criminal investigation revealed that Hall had abused the mother, as well, when she was a teenager. Hall was arrested and pled guilty to molesting both the mother and her daughter. He was eventually sentenced to four years of probation, evading prison. The CPD put him on administrative duty until he retired in October 2014.

CPD records reveal that the department had been warned about Hall in April 2013, when, during a pre-employment polygraph test for the Cook County Sheriff’s Department, a job applicant disclosed that Hall had sexually assaulted her and at least two other victims years earlier. (The victims’ names were redacted from records provided to In These Times. Hall declined to comment through his attorney.)

These allegations were reported immediately to the Bureau of Internal Affairs, triggering a complaint file. But Hall was never questioned. The complaint was closed in August 2013—because it lacked a signed affidavit.

THE ORIGINS OF BLUE POWER

For one longtime observer of the FOP, the union’s role in pushing for restrictions to the civilian complaint process is not surprising. “They have always fallen on the side of support for wrongdoing,” says Howard Saffold, a U.S. Army vet and retired police officer who joined the CPD in 1965. “I’m talking about excessive force; I’m talking about racism. That’s what they’ve stood for as a union.”

Saffold was an early member of the Afro-American Patrolmen’s League (AAPL), an organization formed in 1968 to organize black officers around issues like discrimination in hiring and promotions. They also attempted to address police misconduct, implementing CPD’s first complaint system. But when Chicago police voted to join the FOP in 1980, the union quickly positioned itself against the racial justice agenda the AAPL was pioneering.

According to historian Megan Marie Adams, this opposition to civil rights was foundational for police unions. Until the mid-20th-century, police in Chicago were largely seen as enemies of organized labor, Adams writes in her 2012 doctoral dissertation. But by the end of the civil rights era, “police had become conversant in the language of minority rights and answered black power criticisms of the police by identifying themselves as a discriminated against group.” This period is also when police adopted the “blue power” slogan, an antecedent of today’s “Blue Lives Matter.”

Thanks in part to the FOP’s efforts, Illinois police even have their own “bill of rights,” one of 14 such laws nationwide. Passed in 1983, the state law enshrines many of the same protections contained in Chicago’s police union contract, including the affidavit requirement. That doesn’t negate Chicago activists’ campaign to reform the FOP contract: If the city successfully negotiates changes to the agreement, those would trump state law under Chicago’s “home rule” authority, according to Lindsay Miller, a staff attorney at the ACLU of Illinois. Efforts are also underway to abolish the state’s affidavit requirement.

In the meantime, DeAngelo Bester says his group is planning demonstrations targeting the mayor, the City Council and the FOP. Organizers have also been holding teach-ins about the police union contract. Because the provisions of the current agreement will stay in effect until a new one is ratified, Bester worries that the union could stall negotiations.

“They could be sitting around, saying, ‘Why don’t we wait until the energy around this dies down?’” Bester says. “That’s the biggest challenge.”

Janaé Bonsu, BYP100’s public policy chair, sees the contract fight as just one aspect of her organization’s long-term work to redirect public resources from policing to community-based services. She’s encouraged by the support from local aldermen but knows that activists still face an uphill battle.

“If politicians feel that their jobs are at stake, the power of that will sway their decision or stance,” Bonsu says. “I do trust the power of direct pressure and direct action.”

This story was supported by a grant from the Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting.

Sarah Cobarrubias, Timna Axel, Jeremy Borden, Joseph Bullington and Reuben Unrau also contributed reporting.

The Senate GOP Healthcare Bill Is Lethal for the Poor and Elderly. The Answer Is Medicare-for-All.

Fri, 2017-06-23 14:34

President Donald Trump’s long-promised repeal of Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act, edges closer to reality, as the Senate releases its secretly written version of the House’s American Health Care Act—the very bill that Trump first championed, then recently reportedly called “mean.” The Republican majority in the Senate is intent on passing the bill before the July Fourth holiday. Obamacare has led to tens of millions of Americans getting at least some health insurance, but it has problems of its own. Since health care represents one-sixth of the U.S. economy, the political debate between the very bad Republican bill and the less bad Obamacare may create an opening for the sensible solution enjoyed in just about every developed nation outside the US: single-payer health care.

Single-payer is already in practice in the U.S., and is immensely popular. It’s called Medicare, the taxpayer-funded program that guarantees health care for seniors and people with permanent disabilities. Public polling soon after World War II showed widespread support for the proposal; Medicare became law in 1965. Trump, in his notorious June 2015 campaign announcement in which he attacked Mexicans as “rapists,” also promised: “Save Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security without cuts. Have to do it.”

If the current bill continues on its trajectory and gets passed, Donald Trump will have to decide if he is going to break that promise. While the bill has to first pass the Senate and then go through a process in which the Senate and House bills are reconciled, it will, at the very least, massively cut Medicaid.

The reason why many opponents call Trumpcare “wealth care not health care” is the elimination of an Obamacare tax on the wealthiest Americans. They’ll get a tax cut, while tens of millions will lose insurance. Others will remain unable to afford it, or will be forced to buy hollow plans that offer minimal coverage, or plans with enormous deductibles and copays. People with so-called pre-existing conditions will find themselves virtually uninsurable in most states. A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that there are over 52 million non-elderly people with pre-existing conditions. Kaiser specifies “non-elderly,” as the elderly, covered by Medicare, can’t be excluded because of pre-existing conditions.

Currently, 57 million seniors and people with disabilities are on Medicare, out of a U.S. population of 320 million. There is no rational reason why Medicare couldn’t be expanded to cover all Americans, regardless of age, from birth to death. This is what single-payer health care advocates call “Medicare for All.”

Medicare for All would maintain the current system of private and nonprofit hospitals, doctor offices and all the other familiar aspects of the U.S. health system. The single most important difference is that health insurance companies as we know them would cease to exist. Insurance companies don’t actually deliver health care. They act as administrators, processing bills, making unconscionable profits off people’s pain and paying enormous executive salaries. The savings would be extraordinary, and the system would most likely be as popular as Medicare is today.

There are hopeful signs for single-payer. Representative John Conyers, the longest-serving member of Congress (he’s been in office since 1965, the year Medicare launched), has put forth H.R. 676, the Expanded & Improved Medicare for All Act. It currently has a remarkable 112 co-sponsors (all Democrats). Since the Republican majorities in both houses are unlikely to support this bill, activists are taking the fight to the states. The Healthy California Act, SB 562, would cover all residents of California, and has already passed the state Senate there. The Democratic-controlled Assembly is considering it now. In New York state, a similar bill has passed the Assembly and will be debated in the state Senate, where Republicans control the chamber by one vote.

Behind all the legislation is a diverse and growing grass-roots movement. National groups have been working on it for years, including Healthcare-NOW!, Physicians for a National Health Program and unions like National Nurses United. Statewide coalitions educate, organize, lobby and pressure lawmakers, and prominent politicians like Bernie Sanders rally the troops, building momentum.

Canada’s Medicare system, which covers all residents, started in the rural province of Saskatchewan and then went national. As Trumpcare versus Obamacare dominates the cable news channels, the unreported movement for single-payer health care grows. As with all great shifts in history, when the people lead, the leaders follow.

Reality TV’s Culture of Rape and Exploitation Extends Far Beyond The Bachelor

Thu, 2017-06-22 14:48

When I was living in London, I was invited to audition for “Big Brother,” that show about the slow and steady breakdown of your mental health charmingly named after the surveillance state in 1984. I’m slightly embarrassed to say I considered it for a minute. What stopped me was not that I wouldn’t be allowed to write or read, or that I might be forced to eat slop.

It was the rumor I had heard about contestants receiving six months of paid therapy after the show, because it was that traumatic. Six months that were often not enough to even begin undoing the damage of the 24/7 observation of a reality show.

As a porn performer, I’m pretty accustomed to people assuming that my job and workplace is unethical, emotionally damaging and morally corrupt. I’ve done a lot of research into the adult industry, and I’ve seen a lot of shit. Yet nothing prepared me for the world of reality television, a workplace that depends on riding the line between performance and the real world.

Reality television is booming, which isn’t surprising. It often costs far less to host a reality show than to have narrative programming. One thing that’s useful for keeping those costs low is that reality shows, while often nudged along and edited to create narrative arcs, don’t officially declare themselves as scripted. This means that writers aren’t paid for original content. Instead, “story editors” are uncredited, often go without union support or benefits and are paid far less for “sculpting” the reality show storylines.

Another money-saving measure is that reality show stars or contestants are often paid far less and receive less legal workplace protections than an actor. On top of that, not all reality shows pay for daily living expenses. The Real World, for example, only paid the rent and docked participants’ pay if they refused to do what producers told them to.

The question of producer coercion is a huge issue, one that has recently come to light around the Bachelor franchise. “Bachelor in Paradise” originally halted filming because of an accusation of sexual assault while under the influence between two of the contestants. I’m pretty late to the “Bachelor” game, considering I only started watching the franchise during the last couple of months. I started watching it out of morbid curiosity because of how frequently my Twitter was flooded with people, mostly women, commenting on the various storylines. But even in my brief sampling of this colosseum of heterosexual lust for sex and attention, I could tell that there was a huge problem with this reality show and consent culture.

“Bachelor in Paradise,” a show that revolves around getting a bunch of heterosexual folks drunk and encouraging them to awkwardly hook up to prevent being kicked off, seems like it’s always been a fertile ground for consent violations. The alcohol is free and plentiful, and sexual behavior is what can keep you in the camera’s spotlight—not only saving you from elimination, but ensuring you get that valuable screen time.

From the season I watched, I could name multiple instances where I would expect the intoxication levels of the couple to be considered legally problematic for consent. It made me wonder why the producers and crew, knowing that this was a festering petri dish of rape culture, would not have considered the legal repercussions of filming potential sexual assaults under the influence without intervening.

Especially concerning is the report that producers informed DeMario and Corinne that their storyline would involve hooking up. It seems coercive to inform participants who and how they are to romantically and sexually engage with each other in order to be part of the show. Is it possible in such a situation to give informed consent?

These developments raise questions about workplace protections for reality stars. Surely participants should, at the very least, feel physically safe, especially if their emotional breakdowns serve as fodder for viewers. Yet, physical and sexual assaults have long been an issue on the sets of these shows, with cases often brushed under the rug—and those involved silenced. Child labor laws have come up as well, without a definitive answer on whether reality television contestants are considered workers or something else.

This trend lays bare the biggest issue with the set of a reality television show as a workplace. In order to offer the sorts of protections exploited workers need for ethical and safety reasons, these shows would have to come clean about just how scripted they are. Would that lead to viewers being less intrigued?

Would that lead to producers and crew being held more accountable when something goes wrong as the people who directed the action?

It’s a tricky area, and one that is unlikely to find any clear solutions anytime soon. Perhaps we, the viewers, are too uncomfortable with the reflection we see in the mirror of reality television, wishing to think we would handle it better if we were in front of the camera. Deep down, I think we all know that there, but for the grace of temporary fame in exchange for our sanity, goes us.

New York Is on the Verge of Major Climate Action—But Centrist Democrats May Stand in the Way

Wed, 2017-06-21 19:30

The eight members of New York’s Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), may not be the first people you’d expect to sponsor a piece of landmark climate legislation. In the traditionally blue Empire State, the IDC caucuses with Republicans, allowing the state’s GOP to form a majority—all despite the fact that New Yorkers reliably elect a Democratic majority into their statehouse. The reason IDC members cite for the alliance is pragmatism, and a desire to make bipartisan action more possible. The reality, more often than not, is that they put a damper on progressive efforts.

That’s part of why their unanimous sponsorship of the Climate and Community Protection Act (CCPA)—a bill lauded as a model for other states hoping to defy Trump’s attacks on the environment—came as a surprise to Dan Sherrell. Sherrell is campaign coordinator for New York Renews, the coalition of more than 100 labor, community and environmental groups that drafted the CCPA and has attempted to get it passed through New York’s state legislature since just after the Paris Accord was agreed upon in late 2015.

After being introduced by non-IDC Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, the bill passed through that body by a wide margin on Monday night, after a short debate. In the senate, the CCPA’s fate rests with New York State Senator—and IDC member—Tony Avella, the bill’s lead sponsor who, alongside fellow sponsor and IDC member Jeff Klein, must now convince Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan to bring the bill to a vote in the chamber in order for it to get passed. Avella’s office did not respond to In These Times’ request for a comment on whether he would do this. Even though the IDC has endorsed the bill, New York Renews members fear Avella may continue stalling until the legislative session is slated to end today, extracting the good PR of having symbolically backed progressive legislative while doing relatively little to get it passed into law. Worryingly for the coalition, two IDC members earlier this week also voted to defund energy and environmental priorities that the CCPA would enshrine into law.

“The IDC has chosen to take leadership on the CCPA. We welcome them to the climate fight, and call on them to bring this bill to a vote,” Sherrell tells In These Times. “This could not be more crucial after Trump’s exit from the Paris Accord.”

As the prospects for climate action at the federal level grow increasingly bleak, the impact of states like New York—and bills like the CCPA—could extend well beyond their borders.

After the White House announced it was withdrawing the United States from the climate treaty on June 1, attention has shifted increasingly to what cities and states can do to stem rising tides. New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo, California Gov. Jerry Brown and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee teamed up to create the United States Climate Alliance, now comprised of 13 states, that seeks to uphold the commitments laid out in the Paris Agreement through state-level policy.

The California legislature is pushing its own ambitious legislation, and is one of several Western states teaming up with Canadian provinces to collaborate on climate solutions. Many now see New York, and the CCPA in particular, as presenting the next opportunity for promising state-level action. As Sherrell puts it, New York can be a “beach head for climate progress in the next four years.” Heather McGhee, president of the left-leaning think tank Demos, and progressive economist Robert Reich have called the CCPA “the most progressive climate-equity policy we’ve seen.”

So what exactly is this policy? The CCPA would task state agencies with creating individualized plans to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, attempting to put some meat on the bones of Cuomo’s 2015 pledge to dramatically reduce emissions by 2050. The bill further stipulates that 40 percent of state energy funding be directed toward the low-income communities and communities of color most likely to be hit worst by climate impacts. The bill also requires that fair labor standards—including a prevailing wage—be enacted at all green projects receiving state funds. Such a transition, the bill’s backers argue, could create as many as 100,000 jobs statewide in the next several decades.

“New York Renews was co-founded by the environmental justice movement … after the People’s Climate March in 2014,” says Eddie Bautista, executive director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance. “It shouldn’t be a shock to anyone that justice and equity concerns are at the center of it. How could we possibly demonstrate leadership if we’re not incorporating what everyone now acknowledges to be the disproportionate impacts of climate change on communities of color?”

As Bryce Covert, drawing on a body of research, pointed out in The Nation last year, race is the most significant predictor of whether someone is likely to live near contaminated air, water or soil. Sixty-eight percent of African Americans nationwide live within 30 miles of a coal plant, and Black Los Angelenos are twice as likely to die during a heat wave as their white counterparts. And as Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy both showed, communities of color are more vulnerable to catastrophic damage from climate-fueled storms and the displacement that can follow them. By 2013, for instance, some 80 percent of residents who fled New Orleans’ predominately black Lower 9th Ward had not returned, and black residents were significantly less likely to return to the city in the year after the storm than non-black residents.

With its robust equity provisions, Bautista adds, the specific attention the CCPA pays to climate-impacted communities could be an example for other states. And the bill’s scale also shows that meaningful climate policy needn’t be kneecapped by Trump: “If a state as large and diverse as New York is willing to take this level of commitment, then surely the rest of the states could follow,” says Eddie Bautista, Executive Director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance. “If you cobble together enough city and states, then the federal withdrawal from Paris becomes less and less significant.”

But time is running out. NY Renews members and allies have flooded Avella’s office with calls, asking him to introduce the bill. Sherrell estimates from people who’ve told him about their calls to Albany that there have been around 500 so far, “but they’ve lost count,” he told me.

The CCPA has been in a similar spot before. It also passed through the Assembly in 2016 but never made it to the Senate. It was included in a version of the FY2018 budget debated this spring, though was nixed in the final budget Cuomo signed in April, after neither Cuomo nor the state senate made it a priority in their budget bills. But given the Trump administration, Bautista says, the stakes are higher this time. “It’s pretty hard to overestimate how important this moment is, particularly in light of the Paris withdrawal,” he says. “The only way that we’re going to be able to impede at least the worst of climate change is through a combination of local and state actions that fill the void left by the Trump-ocaplypse.”

This isn’t the first occasion progressives have had to be angry at the IDC. Ire against the caucus has been boiling since November’s election, and a number of state and national politicians—including Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN)—have called on the caucus to rejoin Democrats so that the party can claim a proper majority. Given New York is one of the country’s most deeply blue states, progressive leaders are eager to have it punch at or above its weight in opposing Trump.

As Alex Shepard and Clio Chang wrote for The New Republic, “The situation in Albany would be weird in any political environment, but it’s highly problematic in the Trump era, when proposed federal immigration and health care policies have made millions of New York’s residents vulnerable. A Democratic majority in the Senate could protect these people.”

All this puts Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo in an awkward position. He’s generally content to go along with the IDC, in large part because his own priorities tend to favor constrained budgets. He’s refused to actively urge them to rejoin Democrats (though he’s said it would be “optimal” if they did).

Yet in the months following Hillary Clinton’s trouncing in the general election, the centrist wing of the party he represents has never been weaker than it is now on the national stage. Members of the New York Renews coalition—generally closer to the Democrats’ Bernie Sanders wing—see the CCPA as a chance to hold his feet to a fire lit by progressive voters. IDC sponsorship of the bill could turn the CCPA into a politically easy opportunity to challenge Trump on the national stage—something he seems inclined to do, given the flurry of climate-related announcements he made in the days after the White House’s withdrawal from the Paris Accord. Despite this, he's remained quiet about the CCPA.

Regardless of what happens in the Senate this week, Bautista says shock waves from the bill are already being felt. In early June, Cuomo announced the creation of a task force on climate jobs along with several other measures seemingly inspired by the CCPA. Language from the bill, too—including the 40 percent investment provision—was lifted almost verbatim and included in the “100 by '50” Act introduced by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and others shortly before late April’s People’s Climate March, outlining a transition to 100 percent renewable energy usage by 2050. “This bill is just one of a variety of approaches that we’ll be advancing in the coming years,” Bautista says. Now, Avella and his caucus colleagues have to decide whether it will be allowed to move forward.

“The IDC was created as a way to get things done with the Republicans,” Bautista says of the bill’s still-uncertain prospects for passing through the legislature with bipartisan support. “So prove that it can!”

Defeating the Senate’s Trumpcare Bill Is a Life-or-Death Fight

Wed, 2017-06-21 19:19

Since election night 2016, the streets of the U.S. have rung with resistance. People all over the country have woken up with the conviction that they must do something to fight inequality in all its forms. But many are wondering what it is they can do. In this series, we'll be talking with experienced organizers, troublemakers, and thinkers who have been doing the hard work of fighting for a long time. They'll be sharing their insights on what works, what doesn't, and what has changed, and what is still the same.

Sarah Jaffe: Can you introduce yourself?

Autumn Zemke: I’m the Co-Chair of Northern Nevada Working Families Party and have been since November 8th. I live in Carson City.

Sarah: You had an action this weekend at your Senator Dean Heller’s office around the Republican healthcare bill. Tell us about it.

Autumn: We were planning on doing a sit-in but were only allowed to enter the building one person at a time. I went in with a group of three and we asked if we could go up together but were told, “No, no. Only one at a time.” This is in the federal building in Reno. I just said, “Well, what if we were men, lobbyists in nice suits? Then, would you say ‘Only one of us at a time?’ What if we were lobbyists coming to speak to our senator?”

Security couldn’t answer my question, but I was filming and was told by them that I was rude for trying to get an answer about that.

Sen. Heller really does limit access. He has only had one town hall in six years. So, he’s not very interested in what we have to say here in Nevada.

Sarah: Six years, that means he is coming up for re-election very soon.

Autumn: Very soon. His approval rating has really plummeted. Nevada is purplish/reddish/bluish. It is full of people who really are not partisan. I will be very surprised if he wins this election in November. I will be shocked, especially because he will be in public at some meeting and say one thing and then within hours tell another group something else. What I always find interesting about that is that in this day of technology, how can you still think you can get away with that and it won't be publicized?

Then, with Planned Parenthood and the Obamacare repeal, he has been saying that he was against it. A tweet from Gov. Sandoval says something like, “Dean Heller and I are working to stop the repeal.” I can’t remember the exact words. That is interesting because now you have a Republican governor who is against the repeal and for expanded Medicaid in Nevada.

When we were protesting at Sen. Heller’s office, one of the things that we discussed was the fact that the AB374 Medicaid-For-All bill was still sitting on the governor’s desk and he had until midnight to veto it. If he didn’t, it would have become law. Gov. Sandoval didn’t have to have his name on it, but he didn’t have to kill it either. I had real hopes for the fact that he would just let it go through. Then, shortly after we had left the senator’s office, we got word that the governor had vetoed it. Now, we are really in this place that saving the ACA is even more important.

I supported the Medicaid-For-All bill. I support a single payer system. I personally don’t have insurance, so last night was a devastating blow for me. But just because I don’t have insurance right now doesn’t mean that I am going to say, “Well, just let [the ACA] be repealed. Obamacare wasn’t good enough for me, so let’s just let 24 million people suffer. The 600,000 people on expanded Medicaid in Nevada, we don’t care about them because I personally don’t have insurance under that system.” That is not right. We really have to fight against the repeal, but we also have to talk about ideas like expanded Medicaid, like Medicare-For-All and what that truly would mean for this country.

Sarah: Tell us more about the Medicaid-For-All proposal in Nevada for people who don’t know about it.

Autumn: I understand that healthcare is complex and I am not an expert, but the way that I understood the bill is that it would mean that all Nevadans, all 2.9 million of us, would have been able to have the option to buy into the Medicaid system.

You wouldn’t be forced into the system and private insurance would still exist. Medicaid would just be on the exchange so people could buy into it. For those people who still qualify for Medicaid, they would get their Medicaid.

We have a doctor shortage whatever system you are looking at. Take family care, especially in places like Nevada which is very rural. You have Las Vegas, which is a population center, and Reno. We are growing a little bit. But the majority of Nevada is rural. Doctors don’t exist in rural Nevada anyway.

Sarah: Tell us a little bit more about what has been going on in Nevada since November, the work that you have been doing building the organization out there.

Autumn: I really want to focus on some positives right now. Nevada is an interesting state with our politics. Nevada went for Hillary Clinton and we formed Working Families thinking that Clinton would win. Then, she didn’t. So we have this other focus that we didn’t necessarily think we were going to have.

But through that focus, we have this amazing coalition of organizations that have come together and we meet regularly. We do actions together. It is Indivisible and Northern Nevada Marches Forward, Planned Parenthood, Progressive Democrats of America. We are all at the table together and we are holding strong. We support each other’s actions and we really push our members, and I think because we are such a strong coalition, that means something different than if we were each doing our own thing.

One of the first things we did was that we got wind of the fact that Senator Heller and Congressman Amodei were going to be the keynote speakers for the Carson City Chamber of Commerce. We, as a coalition, went together. I think there were close to 500 people there. We were able to turn people out and not only that, there were people who purchased tickets to be in the luncheon, people who had voted for Amodei and Heller, too. They were there holding them accountable.

That was the first time where Sen. Heller and Rep. Amodei were like, “No, we aren’t going to vote for the repeal.” Article after article [of the AHCAA] they responded, “No. No. No. We are not going to vote for this.” Then, we know what happened with Amodei (he voted for the bill in the House). They also addressed our joint legislature. They only meet every two years. They were in session and they addressed them, we showed up to hold Amodei accountable and to hold Heller accountable.

Then, every Tuesday since January 24th, people have shown up at the federal building in Reno where Sen. Heller’s office is for our Resist Trump Tuesdays. We don’t even have to advertise it anymore. People just know to show up and individually want to hold him accountable. I think that people are really angry. We are not just angry; we are really scared. Healthcare, being able to go to the doctor, it is our lives. This is how we continue to live. It can be really discouraging, but having the coalition does help because we can stand together.

Sarah: I have been talking to a lot of people who have been organizing around healthcare and it seems like an issue that breaks down a lot of walls for people. People find it easier to come together and talk about healthcare than some other issues.

Autumn: I also think that is an interesting point. I think when we really start talking about issues, in general, I think people are more closely aligned than not. When we get into cult of personality and politicians, that is where the breakdown really happens. But, on an individual level—my Republican family, if we talk about issues we can come together more easily than if we bring up a specific name.

I also have to say, my husband works for Medicaid in Nevada. Until he started working for Medicaid, I did not realize that people died because they didn’t have healthcare. There was such a disconnect between that reality. I am from Nevada. My family has lived in Nevada for 150 years. I always say that because there is this narrative like “Well, these progressive people are coming into our state from California or other places.” No. I am Nevadan. I am changing my state because it is my state.

We lived in Seattle and I never understood that people died because they didn’t have healthcare. Seattle is a pretty progressive place and, also, you have a medical school that is really good. People get taken care of. Not always, but more so. Then, moving down here, people are denied Medicaid for not being in a certain financial stratum. It doesn’t matter whether or not you have cancer or if you have diabetes or if you have any condition that is going to kill you. If you don’t fit those parameters, you find the cash or you die.

Then, there is this other assumption, “Well, if people need treatment, they just go to the emergency room.” That is not accurate. People who go to the emergency room, if you are having a heart attack, they perform life-saving measures and then you are in medical debt for the rest of your life. But, if you have a condition like diabetes or cancer or anything that needs treatment over a long period of time, you don’t live. They don’t treat you. They will stabilize you, but they are not giving you chemotherapy.

I think the American public needs that kind of realization, that kind of wake-up that I had, and I just happened to have it a little bit sooner than some people are coming to it. I think it is important for us to tell that story, “This person died.” There is this gentleman who I just came across on Twitter and he was trying to crowdfund his insulin. I think he was in Houston, Texas and he was big in the arts scene and comic book scene. This man actually died because he couldn’t do it.

We shouldn’t be crowdfunding healthcare. Not in the wealthiest country. It is insanity. Plus, it just doesn’t make financial sense. The reality is we have to hold Sen. Heller accountable. “Why would you do this? Why would you take healthcare away from us?” And hold them accountable to the fact that there is no financial reason for it.

I have to add, the reality is that the people who are in the 1% got there off the backs of our labor. It is not like we are trying to take something from them. They have that wealth because they have workers, they have employees, they have people that have lifted them up to this point of extreme wealth. They got there because they have companies where they have people working for them. That is our wealth. We helped make that wealth. Asking for healthcare shouldn’t be that big of a deal when we create the wealth as employees, as workers.

Sarah: Did you successfully get to say any of this to Dean Heller or his aide yesterday or did they just completely block you all out?

Autumn: People did go up. I always bring comment sheets with me. People brought those up. It was kind of interesting because the staff lingered, like not really engaged I would say, but lingering. Like we were going to do something. That’s just not how you treat your constituents. You engage them. It just wasn’t a dialogue. The security guard had a sheet with the law of why we weren’t being allowed to be let in, because we would disrupt or block the ingress and egress. The thing is, like my co-chair Drew List said, we had no plans of disrupting in that way. We just wanted to come in as a group, as a united front, and speak with our senator’s staff. That shouldn’t be a big deal. If we were a group of lobbyists, we would have been let in.

Sarah: What comes next? The bill is still secret. What are you planning for next steps?

Autumn: We have a week of actions planned. I think there is something going on almost every day between now and next weekend. We are going to continue trying to get through to Heller on the phone. A lot of us use Resistbot, where you text and it faxes your written comments, and then, continue to go in person. Then, we will see what he does.

But, even now, especially with the Medicare-For-All being vetoed, we just have to continue to hold our politicians in the state accountable, and long-term. Because if you vote to repeal our healthcare, there is so much going on that people kind of forget. We have a year and a half to get out the vote, to get Heller out if he is not listening to us. To continue to hold him accountable regardless of what happens with healthcare, because there are so many other things. But this is our focus right now.

I honestly think he will probably vote with his party. I really do. Statistically, he used to be a little bit more independent, but he now just votes along party line. He did for all Trump’s nominees. He has just gone along. But, I was really shocked about Amodei because he was so on the record [as being against the bill]. Long-term, we will continue to hold Heller accountable, especially during the August recess when he will be here in Nevada. The thing is, he has still yet to have a town hall in southern Nevada. He is from where I live and he owns a ranch out where my family has lived for over a hundred years.

I think he needs to look his constituents in the eyes. We want to force him in the north to really get down to Las Vegas and have a town hall down there, too. I think he is really scared.

We are just going to keep pushing, though. You see people kind of getting tired, but when it comes to the issues, I think some people are getting tired of the Trump/Russia stuff and really just want to focus on stuff that impacts everybody’s daily life, like healthcare.

Sarah: How can people keep up with you and with Working Families in Nevada?

Autumn: We are on Facebook. We are right now Carson City Working Families Party, we're merging into Northern Nevada. Then, on Twitter it is @CCWFP. Then, I really recommend, too, going to the Working Families Party national organization and seeing what we as a national organization have to offer.

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

Ossoff’s Loss Is Further Proof: Democrats’ Path to Power Is Through Moving Left, Not Center

Wed, 2017-06-21 14:04

Republicans love to point to their success at the ballot box as proof of their vitality. A party that controls a majority of statehouses and the U.S. Congress, along with the Supreme Court and the presidency, must have the most popular ideas. Right?

So the theory goes. And there was more evidence for it on Tuesday, as Republican Karen Handel beat Democrat Jon Ossoff in the special election for Georgia’s 6th District.

For a party that’s so successful, though, the GOP sure doesn’t have much confidence in its policies. Hunkered down in a closed-off D.C. office building, Republican senators are now working out the finer points of their plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, keeping the details secret because “we’re not stupid,” as one staffer said. They can hide, but they can’t run. They know, as we all know, the reckoning that awaits when the truth—about the plan’s cuts to Medicaid programs and big tax cuts for the wealthy—is revealed.

It’s the same story on nearly any issue you can name: the GOP agenda is toxic. As I’ve noted before, a national consensus has emerged around a remarkably left-leaning set of policies. Even the once-radical idea of single-payer healthcare is now mainstream, as is the idea of roughly doubling the federal minimum wage. At least 58 percent of Americans also support abortion rights, unions, action on climate change, more investment in renewable energy, higher taxes on the wealthy, free child care, legalized marijuana and stricter limits on campaign spending.

There is a reason, in other words, that Bernie Sanders is the most popular politician in America. These are the kind of policies he consistently talks about and is pushing for. There’s a reason that Donald Trump, when he wasn’t being racist on the campaign trail, talked a good populist game on economics, promising universal health care and a trillion dollars worth of spending on infrastructure. These are very popular ideas.

But they aren’t Republican ideas. Nor is it clear that the party actually has any ideas. Handel’s campaign in Georgia was no exception. Its theme boiled down to a slightly more polished version of, “You ain’t from round these parts, are ya?” As an ad by Handel’s campaign put it, not very subtly, “He’s just not one of us.” It wasn’t exactly clear what that meant since Ossoff was in fact born in Atlanta and graduated from a high school there, before earning degrees from Georgetown and the London School of Economics.

But it was clear enough. One of Handel’s lines of attack tried to paint Ossoff as sympathizing with Islamic terrorists since his film production company has done business with Al Jazeera. (PolitiFact rated the ad “mostly false” because of its unfair characterization of Al Jazeera.) Other areas where Ossoff isn’t “one of us” were taxes, abortion and Obamacare, all of which Handel opposes and wants to cut or abolish. That’s a playbook right out of 2004. It still works, clearly, at least in some districts.

But would it have worked against a more robust and full-throated progressive campaign, versus the bland and vague center-left approach taken by Ossoff, who couldn’t bring himself to support single-payer healthcare or higher taxes on the rich, but did produce campaign ads stressing the need to reduce the deficit? We’ll never know for certain the answer to that question. But here are few things we do know.

We know that the most consequential midterm election in many decades will happen in November 2018. Democrats and many progressives invested a lot in the Ossoff race, with the hope of sending a message to Trump and the GOP and building momentum for 2018. The result is disappointing, but the only thing Democrats can do is learn from it.

We know, too, that Handel closed ground on Ossoff in the final week of the race by attacking him for campaign donations he took in from people outside of Georgia. The strategy was totally hypocritical—Handel raked in millions from PACs outside the state—but it caught Ossoff flat-footed. The charge stuck in part because he had already been painted as an outsider. But there’s a broader takeaway.

Democratic politicians need to work for reforms that eliminate corporate PAC money in politics. Until that happens, they need to make the sources of their opponents’ funding a central issue. That assumes, of course, that Democrats aren’t taking such funds themselves—a huge assumption.

As long as Democrats’ rely on corporate support and backing from super-rich donors, they will open themselves up to this very same line of attack from their opponents, as hypocritical as it may be. Which means that organizations like Brand New Congress, which is running candidates who agree not to accept donations from corporate PACs, are on to something.

As noted, we know the popularity of left-leaning policies—and the unpopularity of the GOP’s agenda—when voters actually hear about them.  

Finally, we know that parties don’t always grow or decline in a linear fashion. So much happens under the radar, and an organization can be simultaneously thriving and dying. Consider the case of Blockbuster Video, which ruled the rental market in the mid-2000s but was forced into bankruptcy by 2010, never able to adapt to the new era of streaming video.

Recent days have provided evidence that the GOP is much like Blockbuster circa the mid-2000s—thriving yet dying, winning elections but incapable of adapting to popular opinions, wholly unable to come up with new ideas or even make public policy in public. This is not the playbook for an ascendant party, but one stuck in its ways that cannot chart a path forward.  

And the Democrats? They can hardly be described as thriving. Yet there is a clearly marked and well-known path to new life for the party: embrace and run on a bold, progressive agenda. Recruit candidates who will be trustworthy messengers, refusing to tack to the center or rely on corporate support. The election results in Georgia showed why that path is the right one. Now it’s up to the Democratic Party to take it.

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay: Examining Britain’s Populist Revolt

Wed, 2017-06-21 06:00

There was once, apparently, a golden age of unity and consensus in British society. It corresponded—roughly and fancifully—to the heyday of the Empire, and preceded, by a few happy years, our joining what was then the European Economic Community in 1973. Now, according to former Financial Times journalist David Goodhart in The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics, British society is worryingly split. Not by class or income, but by education and mobility. He divides us into “Anywheres” and “Somewheres,” and claims that he began as the first, but is now sympathetic to the second. 

Anywheres are characterised by the length of time they’ve spent in school and their consequent ease with being “abroad.” Somewheres, by contrast, left school without qualifications, have a limited experience of other places and people, and fear change. 

These camps are, of course, mapped onto the Brexit split, and Goodhart also suggests that some such division might explain the rise of Trump and of so-called populism in continental Europe. 

Goodhart is determined to believe that many Somewheres voted for Brexit out of “common sense” and not racism, and that these “decent” people have been patronised and misunderstood. The Anywheres rule the land and ignore the needs and interests of the Somewheres, who are the majority, by refusing “to accommodate moderate national feeling,” cynically promoting multiculturalism and looking down on women who don’t work outside the home. Most of them have been, in his view, Labour voters. Oddly missing are the leaders of the Brexit movement: the Tory politicians, almost all of whom are university educated. 

Goodhart’s villains are the Labour Government Anywheres, who, beginning in 2004, let in a million Central and Eastern European workers. He worries that so many immigrants will fail to assimilate. He blames left-wing councils that busied themselves with “cordoning off minorities in their own districts with their own leaders and social centres,” while schools encouraged immigrant children to wear national dress and speak their mother tongues at home. (And so they should, by the way, bilingualism being an indubitably good thing.) In short, the Anywheres continued “the colonial heritage with a smiley face pasted on.” This is clever, subversive and unfair. At the very end of his book, and circumspectly, Goodhart congratulates Theresa May on getting things right. He is a lot less neutral than he pretends. 

One thread runs through the book that is worth considering. When I was at Cambridge in 1952, fewer than 4 percent of young people went to university. Today the figure is about 50 percent, and the majority are women. This has brought about significant changes; not least, a preponderance of relatively well-off families in which both parents are professionals, and who tend to be less religious, less traditional, and more accepting of homosexuality and foreigners. More important, perhaps, is that having a degree has become key to finding work. And that, combined with a huge reduction in manufacturing jobs and a failure on the part of a whole string of governments to strengthen technical education and support a robust apprenticeship system, puts the non-graduate section of the population at a disadvantage we’d not have thought inevitable in my youth. 

However, I’m still not comfortable in Goodhart’s Anywhere camp. I don’t recognise a shared politics or experience or even voting history with more than a few others there. I do understand the fury that made people vote us out of Europe, though I wish they hadn’t. 

Goodhart’s is a disembodied voice, one that disavows its own ideological roots and its visceral hostilities. He is right to make much of the Labour Party’s failure to keep the loyalty of working-class voters. That doesn’t mean that Conservative governments making the poor poorer and the rich richer is less cynical and dishonest than the Left’s record, or that we should stop resisting policies that dissolve the welfare state, increase inequality and legitimise chauvinism. It’s possible to feel relief as well as envy that France, at least, has refused the proposals of Marine Le Pen.

The Return of Nunsploitation

Tue, 2017-06-20 15:41

Of recent trends in American indie filmmaking, few are as endearing as the hipster penchant for yesteryear modes and genres. If Quentin Tarantino’s tributes to the grindhouse films of the ’70s and ’80s marked this tendency’s first wave, then today we are seeing the second wave, with millennial filmmakers homaging all sorts of half-forgotten psychotronic junk (more often than not, simple slasher films). But 39-year-old Jeff Baena’s The Little Hours is among the first reimaginings, comic or otherwise, of what’s known as “nunsploitation.” Oh yes, there is such a thing, deep in the bowels of movie history: a ’70s sub-subgenre of softcore Italian and French pulp fashioned from Catholic taboo and fetishism, featuring nude, sex-starved nuns, often whipped by sadistic lesbian superiors. 

Baena even crafted his credits to look like something that would front a disreputable drive-in movie circa 1973, all cheesy typeface and tone-deaf design. But his movie isn’t quite a spoof—it’s an adaptation of a story from Boccaccio’s The Decameron (third day, first story), and for a while, a faithful one. In Boccaccio, a young man opportunely obtains a handyman job at a nunnery by pretending he’s deaf and dumb; in short order, the nuns take turns exploiting him for sex, until he’s the stud for the entire convent. Baena’s ironically Americanized version is more complex and filled with TV-comedy vets: The handyman, Masetto (Dave Franco), begins as the servant, and boy toy, of a manor’s lady (a hilarious Lauren Weedman), whose cuckold husband is played by Nick Offerman with his customary plumminess. Caught with his pants down, Masetto flees and is taken in by the local convent’s priest ( John C. Reilly), both of them agreeing on the deaf/dumb ruse. 

The nuns are a tough lot, spitting “fucks” and bantering in contemporary argot as though they were in a Richard Linklater comedy about sorority girls. Aubrey Plaza (also a co-producer) is a selfish misanthrope; Alison Brie is a spoiled merchant’s daughter waiting for her father (Paul Reiser) to earn her dowry and free her; Kate Micucci is a nebbishy and sexually impressionable misfit. Molly Shannon is the helpless mother superior (unlike in Boccaccio, she does not partake of Masetto), and Fred Armisen shows up late as a church functionary, aghast at the litany of offenses the sisters have tallied up. Sometimes the movie threatens to feel like a reunion of three or four different TV shows, except for the remarkable faith kept with its classical source. 

It’s a small, fun, feather-light concoction, too minor to be anything but a Netflix hit, but that’s fine. Expectations should be as modest as they’d be for a summer cocktail. A whiff of Monty Python can be detected, but one could say the same of Game of Thrones. Baena goes for a balance between laughs and story, and the matter-of-fact mixture of 14th-century plot-stuff, 20th-century genre hooey, and 21st-century comic cadences is seamless and funny and even sensible, translating Boccaccio’s raunchy humor into contemporary rhythms. (The less-than-memorable title refers to the “Little Hours of the Virgin” prayer litany recited by medieval nuns, unreferenced in the film.) The comic highlights are almost all purely textural, incongruous little line readings rather than overt jokes, with the very American accents (in an Italian convent) giving the film juice as a kind of running gag. When Jemima Kirke shows up burbling Britishness, she’s accused of sounding out of place. 

The upshot, however, is less a free-for-all gagfest, the kind of thing the Apatow school might deliver, and more something with an inner life of its own. Micucci’s entire career, including this film, is merely a one-note homely girl schtick, but everyone else is quietly, subtly on the mark. (Molly Shannon should be in everything.) The uncluttered simplicity of the shooting, and the grounding offered by Boccaccio, is nothing if not refreshing. 

That’s even before the witches’ coven is revealed, dancing naked around a midnight bonfire (not in Boccaccio), or before one nun is scandalously revealed to be Jewish, or before the late-night partying detours toward casual gay encounters and psych-out belladonna imbibement. Goofy as it is, Baena’s film has a lovable humility to it. It doesn’t try to be the definitive anything, even as it stands as arguably the savviest Decameron adaptation ever made. 

How Black Communities Across the Country Are Retaking Land and Demanding Reparations

Tue, 2017-06-20 15:01

Juneteenth is not a federal holiday—but it should be. It is the day that the news of emancipation reached the last group of enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, months after the Emancipation Proclamation and even the official end of the Civil War. To mark the day, and its unfulfilled promises, a group of organizers planned a day of action: reclaiming vacant land—40 acres in 40 cities, to be precise. From Atlanta to Oakland, Chicago to New Orleans, anchored by the BlackOUT Collective and Movement Generation, black people claimed and held land, taking space to have community dinners, put vacant spaces back into the commons and challenge gentrification—as well as amplify the demand for reparations. Chinyere Tutashinda of the BlackOUT Collective told me about the plan.

 

Chinyere Tutashinda: My name is Chinyere Tutashinda. I am the Co-Director of the BlackOUT Collective.

Sarah Jaffe: Monday was Juneteenth. For people who don’t know what that is. Can you tell us, first of all, the history of the day and why it is important to mark it with action?

Chinyere: Juneteenth is a very interesting and sad story all wrapped in one. It actually celebrates and commemorates the day when a group of enslaved Black folks in Texas found out about the Emancipation Proclamation and learned that slavery was officially over in their area and they could be a part of the Union army. This happened months after the Proclamation was declared. That happened in February, and in June they found out that they were actually free. It celebrates and commemorates the day of freedom. Also, the reason is that it wasn’t to the benefit of those who enslaved a group to actually communicate this. So, it took months and months of networks of enslaved folks to be able to get that message to them. Juneteenth is the day that commemorates that.

Sarah: Tell us about the actions that are taking place and the significance of the plan that you guys went forward with.

Chinyere: The BlackOUT Collective, in collaboration with Movement Generation, began having conversations. Movement Generation approached us and said we decided to really structure and shift some of our work to focus on Black liberation, and what does that look like? As a group that is primarily rooted in direct action, we really wanted to jump on the opportunity to expand our work a little bit further and play around with what these long-term and protracted actions look like. We have a relationship, one, with the land and then, two, really thinking about conversations around Black liberation tied to land and to reparations. Knowing that if we are talking about freedom in this country, then we also need to be having a real, concrete discussions about what's owed to people who have a history of enslavement.

Sarah: Talk a little bit more about the actions and the places where these are taking place.

Chinyere: It is a bit of a long project, actually. We have been working with groups in about 12 cities across the country to develop a politic around it, to really think about what their relationship to the land is, what their relationship to the community is, and then where it makes sense for their local spaces.

Then, we put out a call to action about a month ago inviting people to join us in this project. Actions are going to take place across the country in a variety of different ways. Some people are looking at long-term occupations and creating community spaces. Some are just day-long actions where people are holding conversations about reparations, land and Black liberation and how all three of those are tied together. They'll be different, but the goal is to be able to take up space, build communities, and be in right relationship with each other and with the community at large.

Sarah: There were a few spaces held like this last summer in Chicago and in Los Angeles.

Chinyere: There were. We helped with the freedom actions last summer that were in response to the murder of Alton Sterling. Out of that, one of the actions was Freedom Square in Chicago that was held by folks from Black Youth Project 100 and a bunch of other different organizations that really played around with “What does it mean to hold space?” And they did so at a place where Black people had been tortured and imprisoned. So, people have been playing around with it. I know the Los Angeles Black Lives Matter chapter last summer also did occupations and held theirs really long with the Freedom Now actions.

Sarah: Tell me about the importance of holding the space and of talking about reparations. During a time when Donald Trump is president, it can seem like everything is short-term resistance. Talk about doing radical actions and making radical demands in this moment.

Chinyere: There has been a huge upheaval in this country around the results of the election and people going, “What to do?” and “What does it mean?” and all of this stuff. You have hundreds of thousands of newly activated people, but it is really critical that even in this moment, we continue to remember that the struggle is long and that it is one that requires us to not only react to things that are happening, coming down from the federal government or local government or state government. It also requires us to really think about how we are in relationships with each other, with the land around us, rooted in an understanding of the history of oppression in this country. This is one of the reasons why this action, in particular, is not just about the current moment, but it is rooted in history and rooted in land.

Sarah: Tell us a little bit about the BlackOUT Collective, where that came from and the work you have been doing over the recent years.

Chinyere: We started in 2014, literally in front of the Ferguson Police Department, from a group of trainers. Some trainers from the Ruckus Society, which is a non-violent direct action training group, and some trainers with the Center for Story-based Strategy. We were sitting there and, as we were trying to come together as a group of Black trainers, realizing that we'd reached out to a lot of people we knew who had done direct actions, but there weren’t that many who identified themselves as direct action trainers as Black people. We wanted to shift that. We wanted that to grow. We wanted that to change drastically. As Black people, we have been using direct action tactics for hundreds of years fighting for our own liberation.

So, we started there and have continued to grow. We trained, over the course of two-and-a-half years, almost a thousand Black people in direct action tactics. We are slowly growing and building our network through our action practitioners and are going to have our first all-Black practitioner camp and visioning session this summer. We have also worked really closely with leadership positions within the Movement for Black Lives. So, a lot of the national calls to action, we have been supporting locally and nationally. That is a little bit about who we are.

Sarah: We talked about the need to keep making forward-looking demands, but what do you think has changed in terms of the Movement for Black Lives in a world where Trump is president?

Chinyere: There are a lot of people who are out on the streets. I think there is a lot of interest and a lot of people who have been newly politicized and woken up to the fact that now Trump is our president. This is not new for us, because a lot of folks, particularly those in the South, have been living under conditions very similar to the ones that Trump is trying to enact nationally.

People have been really focusing on strengthening their organizing, strengthening their base building and trying to build and do strategy in different ways. People are noticing there are less people on the streets, but they are not necessarily less people in our organizations or less people doing local work. As people are building and are slowly growing, the work that you will see come into fruition in the next year or so.

Sarah: It is interesting to me that the first round of these global uprisings was really outside of organizations. With the Movement for Black Lives, we have really seen the growth of these organizations that have been around now for several years. I wonder if you could talk about the challenges and the successes of building these organizations that have lasted.

Chinyere: I think it is both/and. I would say that there are a lot of new organizations that sprung up in the last couple of years, and then there are a lot of baby organizations that started a few years before, say 2014, and were in their growing phases and since then have really blossomed and have been nourished in their organizing the last few years. But, it is a struggle. There is a struggle in teaching people who are newly politicized—and even for those who have been organizing for a really long time.

There is a lot of excitement in really thinking about new ways to organize ourselves, new ways to continue to absorb the new people who are interested and excited and want to be involved. I think that is happening. There has been a lot of action on the street. There is also a lot of action that is happening in buildings and in classrooms and in meetings as people are really growing through organizing strategies and new ways to be in community with one another.

Sarah: You made a point about people having been living under governments like Trump and that, particularly for Black people, Trump may have not have been as much of a surprise as he was for some other folks in this country. I'm thinking about this in connection with the fact that we are often disconnected from our history in this country, which is why I wanted to start out by asking you to tell people what Juneteenth is. I would love for you to talk about the importance of knowing the history of struggle in this country, which isn’t taught to us in school, and why that is important to understand the politics we are dealing with today.

Chinyere: I think that it is important. One, if we don’t know history, we will very often think that what is happening now just all of a sudden happened. We also, especially as oppressed people, will take in the story that we are continuously told around individualism, around meritocracy, and believe that you are where you are or your people are because of something that you personally did right or that you didn’t do wrong and not understanding that there are systems at play, that there is a long history of oppression in this country, that things are set up intentionally to work a certain way.

So, unless we really study and take time to study history, then it is very easy to become divorced from that and it is very easy to individualize it and to take that in.

Sarah: How can people keep up with you and the BlackOUT Collective and find out more information on the Juneteenth actions?

Chinyere: There are a couple of ways. We have our website, BlackOUTCollective.org. We also are on social media. So, Twitter @blackoutcollect, on Facebook the BlackOUT Collective. If you are interested in learning more about the Black Land and Liberation Initiative, they can follow us at blacklandandliberation.org/, as well as on social media.

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

Trump’s Dangerous Love Affair With the Saudi Royal Family

Tue, 2017-06-20 13:57

This post first appeared at TomDispatch.

At this point, it’s no great surprise when Donald Trump walks away from past statements in service to some impulse of the moment. Nowhere, however, has such a shift been more extreme or its potential consequences more dangerous than in his sudden love affair with the Saudi royal family. It could in the end destabilize the Middle East in ways not seen in our lifetimes (which, given the growing chaos in the region, is no small thing to say).

Trump’s newfound ardor for the Saudi regime is a far cry from his past positions, including his campaign season assertion that the Saudis were behind the 9/11 attacks and complaints, as recently as this April, that the United States was losing a “tremendous amount of money” defending the kingdom. That was yet another example of the sort of bad deal that President Trump was going to set right as part of his “America First” foreign policy.

Given this background, it came as a surprise to pundits, politicians and foreign policy experts alike when the president chose Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, as the very first stop on his very first overseas trip. This was clearly meant to underscore the importance his administration was suddenly placing on the need to bolster the long-standing U.S.-Saudi alliance.

Mindful of Trump’s vanity, the Saudi government rolled out the red carpet for our narcissist-in-chief, lining the streets for miles with alternating U.S. and Saudi flags, huge images of which were projected onto the Ritz Carlton hotel where Trump was staying. (Before his arrival, in a sign of the psychological astuteness of his Saudi hosts, the hotel projected a five-story-high image of Trump himself onto its façade, pairing it with a similarly huge and flattering photo of the country’s ruler, King Salman.) His hosts also put up billboards with pictures of Trump and Salman over the slogan “together we prevail.” What exactly the two countries were to prevail against was left open to interpretation. It is, however, unlikely that the Saudis were thinking about Trump’s much-denounced enemy, ISIS—given that Saudi planes, deep into a war in neighboring Yemen, have rarely joined Washington’s air war against that outfit. More likely, what they had in mind was their country’s bitter regional rival Iran.

The agenda planned for Trump’s stay included an anti-terrorism summit attended by 50 leaders from Arab and Muslim nations, a concert by country singer Toby Keith and an exhibition game by the Harlem Globetrotters. Then there were the strange touches like President Trump, King Salman and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi laying hands on a futuristically glowing orb—images of which then circled the planet—in a ceremony inaugurating a new Global Center for Combatting Extremist Ideology, and Trump’s awkward participation in an all-male sword dance.

Unsurprisingly enough, the president was pleased with the spectacle staged in his honor, saying of the anti-terrorism summit in one of his many signature flights of hyperbole, “There has never been anything like it before, and perhaps there never will be again.”

Here, however, is a statement that shouldn’t qualify as hyperbole: never have such preparations for a presidential visit paid such quick dividends. On arriving home, Trump jumped at the chance to embrace a fierce Saudi attempt to blockade and isolate its tiny neighbor Qatar, the policies of whose emir have long irritated them. The Saudis claimed to be focused on that country’s alleged role in financing terrorist groups in the region (a category they themselves fit into remarkably well). More likely, however, the royal family wanted to bring Qatar to heel after it failed to jump enthusiastically onto the Saudi-led anti-Iranian bandwagon.

Trump, who clearly knew nothing about the subject, accepted the Saudi move with alacrity and at face value. In his normal fashion, he even tried to take credit for it, tweeting, “During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar—look!” And according to Trump, the historic impact of his travels hardly stopped there. As he also tweeted: “So good to see Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries paying off … Perhaps it will be the beginning of the end of the horror of terrorism.” 

Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution hit the nail on the head when he commented that “the Saudis played Donald Trump like a fiddle. He unwittingly encouraged their worst instincts toward their neighbors.” The New York Times captured one likely impact of the Saudi move against Qatar when it reported, “Analysts said Mr. Trump’s public support for Saudi Arabia … sent a chill through other Gulf States, including Oman and Kuwait, for fear that any country that defies the Saudis or the United Arab Emirates could face ostracism as Qatar has.”

And then came Trump...

And what precisely are the Saudis’ instincts toward their neighbors? The leaders in Riyadh, led by King Salman’s 31-year-old son, Saudi Defense Minister and deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, are taking the gloves off in an increasingly aggressive bid for regional dominance aimed at isolating Iran. The defense minister and potential future leader of the kingdom, whose policies have been described as reckless and impulsive, underscored the new, harsher line on Iran in an interview with Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV in which he said, “We will not wait until the battle is in Saudi Arabia, but we will work so the battle is there in Iran.”

The opening salvo in Saudi Arabia’s anti-Iran campaign came in March 2015, when a Saudi-led coalition, including smaller Gulf petro-states (Qatar among them) and Egypt, intervened militarily in a chaotic situation in Yemen in an effort to reinstall Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi as the president of that country. They clearly expected a quick victory over their ill-armed enemies and yet, more than two years later, in a war that has grown ever harsher, they have in fact achieved little. Hadi, a pro-Saudi leader, had served as that country’s interim president under an agreement that, in the wake of the Arab Spring in 2012, ousted longstanding Yemeni autocrat Ali Abdullah Saleh. In January 2015, Hadi himself was deposed by an alliance of Houthi rebels and remnants of forces loyal to former president Saleh.

The Saudis—now joined by Trump and his foreign policy team—have characterized the conflict as a war to blunt Iranian influence and the Houthi rebels have been cast as the vassals of Tehran. In reality, they have longstanding political and economic grievances that predate the current conflict and they would undoubtedly be fighting at this moment with or without support from Iran. As Middle Eastern expert Thomas Juneau recently noted in the Washington Post, “Tehran’s support for the Houthis is limited, and its influence in Yemen is marginal. It is simply inaccurate to claim that the Houthis are Iranian proxies.”

The Saudi-Emirati intervention in Yemen has had disastrous results. Thousands of civilians have been killed in an indiscriminate bombing campaign that has targeted hospitals, marketplaces, civilian neighborhoods and even a funeral, in actions that Congressman Ted Lieu (D-CA) has said “look like war crimes.” The Saudi bombing campaign has, in addition, been enabled by Washington, which has supplied the kingdom with bombs, including cluster munitions and aircraft, while providing aerial refueling services to Saudi planes to ensure longer missions and the ability to hit more targets. It has also shared intelligence on targeting in Yemen.

The destruction of that country’s port facilities and the imposition of a naval blockade have had an even more devastating effect, radically reducing the ability of aid groups to get food, medicine and other essential supplies into a country now suffering from a major outbreak of cholera and on the brink of a massive famine. This situation will only be made worse if the coalition tries to retake the port of Hodeidah, the entry point for most of the humanitarian aid still getting into Yemen. Not only has the U.S.-backed Saudi war sparked a humanitarian crisis, but it has inadvertently strengthened al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has increased its influence in Yemen while the Saudi- and Houthi-led coalitions are busy fighting each other.

Trump’s all-in support for the Saudis in its war doesn’t, in fact, come out of the blue. Despite some internal divisions over the wisdom of doing so, the Obama administration also supported the Saudi war effort in a major way. This was part of an attempt to reassure the royals that the United States was still on their side and would not tilt towards Iran in the wake of an agreement to cap and reverse that country’s nuclear program.

It was only after concerted pressure from Congress and a coalition of peace, human rights and humanitarian aid groups that the Obama administration finally took a concrete, if limited, step to express opposition to the Saudi targeting of civilians in Yemen. In a December 2016 decision, it suspended a sale of laser-guided bombs and other precision-guided munitions to their military. The move outraged the Saudis, but proved at best a halfway measure as the refueling of Saudi aircraft continued, and none of rest of the record $115 billion in U.S. weaponry offered to that country during the Obama years was affected.

And then came Trump. His administration has doubled down on the Saudi war in Yemen by lifting the suspension of the bomb deal, despite the objections of a Senate coalition led by Chris Murphy (D-CT), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Al Franken (D-MN) that recently mustered an unprecedented 47 votes against Trump’s offer of precision-guided bombs to Riyadh. Defense Secretary James Mattis has advocated yet more vigorous support for the Saudi-led intervention, including additional planning assistance and yet more intelligence sharing—but not, for the moment, the introduction of U.S. troops. Although the Trump foreign policy team has refused to endorse a proposal by the United Arab Emirates, one of the Saudi coalition members, to attack the port at Hodeidah, it’s not clear if that will hold.

A parade for an American President?

In addition to Trump’s kind words on Twitter, the clearest sign of his administration’s uncritical support for the Saudi regime has been the offer of an astounding $110 billion worth of arms to the kingdom, a sum almost equal to the record levels reached during all eight years of the Obama administration. (This may, of course, have been part of the point, showing that President Trump could make a bigger, better deal than that slacker Obama, while supporting what he described as "jobs, jobs, jobs" in the United States.)

Like all things Trumpian, however, that $110 billion figure proved to be an exaggeration. Tens of billions of dollars worth of arms included in the package had already been promised under Obama, and tens of billions more represent promises that, experts suspect, are unlikely to be kept. But that still leaves a huge package, one that, according to the Pentagon, will include more than 100,000 bombs of the sort that can be used in the Yemen war, should the Saudis choose to do so. All that being said, the most important aspect of the deal may be political—Trump’s way of telling “my friend King Salman,” as he now calls him, that the United States is firmly in his camp. And this is, in fact, the most troubling development of all.

It’s bad enough that the Obama administration allowed itself to be dragged into an ill-conceived, counterproductive, and regionally destabilizing war in Yemen. Trump’s uncritical support of Saudi foreign policy could have even more dangerous consequences. The Saudis are more intent than Trump’s own advisers (distinctly a crew of Iranophobes) on ratcheting up tensions with Iran. It’s no small thing, for instance, that Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who has asserted that Iran is “the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East,” and who advocated U.S. military attacks on that country during his tenure as head of the U.S. Central Command, looks sober-minded compared to the Saudi royals.

If there is even a glimmer of hope in the situation, it might lie in the efforts of both Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to walk back the president’s full-throated support for a Saudi confrontation with Qatar. Tillerson, for instance, has attempted to pursue an effort to mediate the Saudi-Qatari dispute and has called for a “calm and thoughtful dialogue.” Similarly, on the same day as Trump tweeted in support of the Saudis, the Pentagon issued a statement praising Qatar’s “enduring commitment to regional security.” This is hardly surprising given the roughly 10,000 troops the U.S. has at al-Udeid air base in Doha, its capital, and the key role that base plays in Washington’s war on terror in the region. It is the largest American base in the Middle East and the forward headquarters of U.S. Central Command, as well as a primary staging area for the U.S. war on ISIS. The administration's confusion regarding how to deal with Qatar was further underscored when Mattis and Qatari Defense Minister Khalid Al-Attiyah signed a $12 billion deal for up to 36 Boeing F-15 combat aircraft, barely a week after President Trump had implied that Qatar was the world capital of terrorist financing.

In a further possible counter to Trump’s aggressive stance, Secretary of Defense Mattis has suggested that perhaps it’s time to pursue a diplomatic settlement of the war in Yemen. In April, he told reporters that, “in regards to the Saudi and Emirati campaign in Yemen, our goal, ladies and gentleman, is for that crisis down there, that ongoing fight, [to] be put in front of a U.N.-brokered negotiating team and try to resolve this politically as soon as possible.” Mattis went on to decry the number of civilians being killed, stating that the war there “has simply got to be brought to an end.”

It remains to be seen whether Tillerson’s and Mattis’s conciliatory words are hints of a possible foot on the brake in the Trump administration when it comes to building momentum for what could, in the end, be a U.S. military strike against Iran, egged on by Donald Trump’s good friends in Saudi Arabia. As Ali Vaez of the International Crisis Group has noted, if the U.S. ends up going to war against Iran, it would “make the Afghan and Iraqi conflicts look like a walk in the park.”

In fact, in a period when the turmoil has only risen in much of the rest of the Greater Middle East, the Saudi Arabian peninsula remained relatively stable, at least until the Saudi-led coalition drastically escalated the civil war in Yemen. The new, more aggressive course being pursued against the royal family in Qatar and in relation to Iran could, however, make matters much worse, and fast. Given the situation in the region today, including the spread of terror movements and failing states, the thought that Saudi Arabia itself might be destabilized (and Iran with it) should be daunting indeed, though not perhaps for Donald Trump.

So far, through a combination of internal repression and generous social benefits to its citizens—a form of political bribery designed to buy loyalty—the Saudi royal family has managed to avoid the fate of other regional autocrats driven from power. But with low oil prices and a costly war in Yemen, the regime is being forced to reduce the social spending that has helped cement its hold on power. It’s possible that further military adventures, coupled with a backlash against its repressive policies, could break what analysts Sarah Chayes and Alex de Waal have described as the current regime’s “brittle hold on power.” In other words, what a time for the Trump administration to offer its all-in support for the plans of an aggressive yet fragile regime whose reckless policies could even spark a regional war.

Maybe it’s time for opponents of a stepped-up U.S. military role in the Middle East to throw Donald Trump a big, glitzy parade aimed at boosting his ego and dampening his enthusiasm for the Saudi Royal family. It might not change his policies, but at least it would get his attention.

Shutting Out the Public from the Senate Healthcare Bill Isn’t Just Antidemocratic: It’s Deadly.

Tue, 2017-06-20 10:32

A secretive Senate working group is closing in on a bill to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system by gutting Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act (ACA). With Republican leaders tight-lipped, the details of what’s in the bill remain a matter of speculation.

The closed-door deliberations by this all-male cabal of Republican senators are antidemocratic to the point of parody, but the stakes are dangerously high. Healthcare is not just one sixth of the U.S. economy: It is critical to people’s wellbeing and very survival.

These draconian policies would never pass through an accountable, participatory public process. By fast-tracking this bill with no transparency or public hearings, and perhaps as little as a handful of days for any public response, they are threatening tens of thousands of people’s lives.

How many lives could be at stake? If the Senate bill cuts 23 million people off of Medicaid and ACA insurance plans as the Congressional Budget Office calculated the House healthcare bill would, estimates suggest that somewhere between 17,000 and 44,000 people would die every year.

Skeptics may quibble that these estimates lean high, but does the precise figure matter? How many lives would it be acceptable for Republicans’ healthcare cuts to take?

Widespread suffering borne unevenly

Death by a thousand Republican cuts would hit people of every race and every gender in every state. Even people with comfortable incomes and comprehensive employer-sponsored insurance are just one illness, divorce or job loss away from danger. Yet the harm of the Senate bill would overwhelmingly fall on poor people, sick people, older people, women and people of color.

Senate Republicans’ plans would do incredible harm to poor and working-class people by slashing Medicaid and ACA subsidies in order to fund an enormous redistribution of resources up the income ladder. These funding cuts, along with deregulation of private insurance, would exacerbate the existing failures of the insurance market by raising people’s premiums and out-of-pocket costs, limiting coverage and leaving many uninsured entirely. All this would especially hurt the very people who most need care: people with serious illnesses and chronic conditions, as well as older people.

Women and people of color are disproportionately poor and thus more likely to be hurt by cuts to Medicaid and ACA subsidies. Women are impoverished by wage inequality, part-time jobs that don’t provide health benefits and lack of payment for domestic work. They would also be hurt by Republican plans to defund Planned Parenthood. Black and Brown communities are kept poor by racial inequities in public health, criminalization, education, hiring, housing, banking, and other arenas, and would thus be especially hard hit. At the same time, because more white people rely on Medicaid and ACA subsidies than people of any other racial or ethnic group, huge numbers of poor and working-class white people would be hard-hit too.

Illnesses and deaths ripple out too, taking an emotional and financial toll on entire families. The communities that Senate Republicans are targeting have the least resources to cope with the loss of a wage earner, caregiver or loved one.

Death by unnatural causes

Preventable deaths are not a natural disaster. They are produced by policy choices and are, by definition, totally avoidable.

The root of the problem is the way the U.S. healthcare system prices and pays for healthcare. Other wealthy countries guarantee healthcare to everyone as a fundamental human right by controlling healthcare prices and levying taxes to pay for healthcare as a public good. But in the U.S. healthcare system, insurance, hospital and drug corporations are allowed to set healthcare prices virtually without limit, and the private insurance system allocates healthcare not to those who need it, but to those who can afford to pay.

This pay-for-access healthcare market puts up cost barriers that force an enormous number of people to forego needed care. According to a survey by The Commonwealth Fund, even after the coverage gains of the Affordable Care Act, 63 million people (one in three adults under 65) skip doctors’ visits, prescriptions and other needed care because they can’t afford the costs. All these people suffer, and a portion die. The Senate bill would force this needless misery on millions more.

It’s not hard to see why costs create a barrier to care. In some cases, the ACA allows insurance companies to charge deductibles of over $14,000. Out-of-pocket costs that high prevent even middle-class people from going to the doctor and filling prescriptions. And if Senate Republicans have their way, deductibles could rise much higher.

For poor people, the cost barriers are even worse. Working a low-wage job and struggling to pay for rent, transportation, food, utilities and other necessities means that even a $20 copay can be prohibitively expensive.

Market-based healthcare pricing is especially cruel to poor people, but it hurts us all. People in the United States pay far more for healthcare than any other nation. We have the worst health performance in the industrialized world. And by dividing us into categories and forcing us into isolated struggles for survival rather than uniting us around our shared needs and values, the health insurance market frays our democracy.

Ultimately the only way to remove cost barriers and to stop forcing people to die tragically preventable deaths is by moving from private, for-profit insurance to a universal, publicly financed, single-payer insurance system. In the meantime, Senate Republicans must be stopped. Our lives depend on it.

Greek Squatters Transformed a Deserted Hotel Into a Sanctuary for Refugees. Now, They Face Eviction.

Tue, 2017-06-20 06:00

For six years, Athens’ City Plaza hotel sat deserted, a casualty of the European financial crisis. Today, the seven-story building is again bustling with occupants—but not the business travelers who once frequented it. Instead, the hotel is home to hundreds of refugees who have fled to Greece from countries such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s the largest of a dozen previously abandoned buildings in Athens that activists have occupied and repurposed as havens for migrants facing increasingly hostile circumstances. 

Activists with the Solidarity Initiative for Political and Economic Refugees, an umbrella of groups attempting a bottom-up response to the refugee crisis, first took over the shuttered hotel in April 2016. Since then, City Plaza has housed some 1,500 refugees and migrants; it can house 400 at a time and rarely has vacancies. The hotel is at the center of a deepening intersection between the political tradition of squatting, which has deep roots in Greece, and the growing refugee solidarity movement. 

The clean, modern hotel—built in 2004 to accommodate tourists visiting Athens for the summer Olympics—looks nothing like a stereotypical refugee camp. Residents stay in furnished rooms equipped with private bathrooms and balconies. Volunteer lawyers help asylum seekers with their cases, and nurses and doctors visit the squat to perform checkups. 

Residents and volunteers gather in the lobby of the former City Plaza hotel. (Nick Paleologos​)

Refugees in NGO- and government-run camps often have little control over the essentials of their lives. They may be housed in tents with strangers or subjected to long food queues each day. One of the Greek squatting movement’s aims is to provide refugees with greater autonomy. The migrant “guests” of the City Plaza hotel also collectively play the role of manager, tending to day-to-day operations such as food preparation, security and running the café. All decisions—from how to resist unjust migration policies to what to make for dinner—are made by consensus. 

These conditions contrast starkly with those in the nearby Elliniko refugee camp, where an abandoned airport terminal and two deserted Olympic stadiums house hundreds of refugees. Clusters of tents, separated from each other only by curtains and sheets, line the airport’s domestic arrivals corridor. Illnesses spread rapidly because of the overcrowding, and basic healthcare and other services are limited. 

“A lot of women [who are] pregnant [bear children] in the tent,” says Elliniko resident Masoud Qahar, 40, who fled his native Afghanistan after receiving death threats from the Taliban. 

After living in the Elliniko camp for more than a year, Qahar grew angry with the decrepit conditions and, with the help of local solidarity activists, organized a mass protest during a visit from Greek Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas in February. 

Masoud Qahar, 40, an Afghan refugee living in Greece. (Nick Paleologos​)

Hamed Ganji, 26, also lived in Elliniko for three months last year. Born in Iran to a family of Afghan refugees, Ganji grew up with the daily hardships of life as an undocumented refugee in Tehran—including the risks of summary deportation to Afghanistan and forcible conscription into the armed services. He left in 2014, traveling across heavily policed borders, mountains, land and sea to reach Europe, and eventually making his way to Athens. 

But upon arriving, he found only “a shit life” in the Elliniko camp, he says. The tents were overcrowded, and sectarian and ethnic tensions between residents sometimes turned to violence. Now living in City Plaza, he still longs for a home of his own. But “Elliniko [is] like hell, and here’s like paradise” in comparison, he says. He hopes either to obtain asylum, which would allow him to remain in Greece, or to be permitted to move elsewhere in Europe.

Hamed Ganji, 26, says the squat at City Plaza is “paradise” compared to life in a refugee camp. (Nick Paleologos)

Syriza cracks down on squats

Though activists say City Plaza is a lifeline for refugees, squats across Greece are under threat from an unlikely source: the left-wing Syriza government. 

The January 2015 victory of Syriza, a party formed from a coalition of smaller left parties and organizations, breathed life into radical movements across Europe and stoked hopes for an alternative to the European Union’s neoliberal program. Upon taking power, Syriza promised a radical overhaul of the country’s immigration policies. In addition to granting citizenship to migrants born in the country, the new government pledged to shut down immigrant detention centers on the Greek islands, where thousands of new refugees were stopped after arriving from Turkey each day. 

Instead, the government has built more detention centers on the islands and fast-tracked deportations of rejected asylum seekers. In March 2016 several Balkan countries closed their borders with Greece, leaving more than 50,000 migrants trapped inside the country. The same month, the E.U. reached an agreement with Turkey: Now, refugees who arrive in Greece without permission are deported back to Turkey to apply for asylum. Under increasing pressure from the E.U. to comply with this deal, the Syriza-led government abandoned its earlier promises. 

Seraphim Seferiades, a professor of politics at the Panteion University, argues that Syriza has “capitulated” to the E.U.’s neoliberal program, including its refugee policies. “What has remained of the old Syriza is precisely nominal gestures here and there,” he argues. 

By attempting to maintain their traditional left-wing base while also appealing to centrists and even the Right, Syriza is “playing a balancing game like all old-fashioned social democrats used to do,” he says, Seferiades. “They are trying to … promote this old-fashioned law-and-order agenda.”

This about-face has provoked widespread anger. The Syriza-led government took a hands-off approach toward squats initially. But government officials have more recently called for refugees and migrants to be confined to state-sanctioned camps. The mayor of Athens, Giorgos Kaminis, has called on the government to empty all the squats.

Before sunrise on March 13, Greek police raided a pair of squats in Athens—one that provided housing for refugees and another that was inhabited by anarchist activists. About 200 people were detained for several hours. 

City Plaza residents worry they could be next. The hotel owner, who shuttered the business in 2010 and left the building standing vacant, has stated in Greek-language media that she is working with authorities to have the residents evicted as soon as possible. There have reportedly been court rulings allowing for the eviction of three squats in central Athens: City Plaza, Papouchadiko and Zoodochou Pigis 119.

On June 23, City Plaza residents and volunteers plan to protest against the impending evictions. A petition to the Greek government says City Plaza offers refugees "the kind of life not possible in the formal camps and detention centers."

Sitting in the hotel’s former accounting office, Nasim Lomani, a 36-year-old member of the Solidarity Initiative who came to Greece nearly two decades ago after fleeing his native Afghanistan, argues that City Plaza’s fate is tied to that of squats and asylum seekers throughout the country. 

When raiding other squats, armed police have evicted residents forcibly. Lomani hopes that such a standoff will not take place at City Plaza, as about half of residents are children and several pregnant women also reside there. 

Yet “we are preparing for [self] defense,” he says. “Our demand is to close the camps [and] to treat people in a much different way.” 

The Greek Ministry of Migration did not respond to several requests to comment on living conditions in refugee camps or the ongoing efforts to evict squatters. Mayor Kaminis told the New York Times in May that the squats compromised “the quality of life of the refugees.”

Refugees living in the hotel sit and stand on their balconies. (Nick Paleologos)

“We are not afraid” 

The Solidarity Initiative’s Ilias Chronopoulos says that each day, the hotel receives dozens of visitors seeking to learn about its model. 

“City Plaza is the biggest refugee accommodation project,” explains Chronopoulos. If its residents are forced to leave, it will demoralize the movement by showing “that [the government and police] are in charge and they can enforce their policies.” 

He says that City Plaza activists and residents will continue their project, holding protests and open assemblies to show “that we are not afraid.” 

Ultimately, the refugee solidarity movement is calling for the closure of state-run camps and access to the national healthcare, education and welfare systems. Given that Athens alone has thousands of uninhabited buildings, Chronopoulos argues, there’s no need to segregate refugees and migrants in remote camps. 

With Greece in the throes of deepening austerity, the idea of spending state money on refugees is controversial. But the movement has found support in unlikely places. In April, City Plaza activists launched a new campaign aimed at building a direct connection between the squat movement and the struggles of working Greeks: a fundraiser for former hotel employees who lost their jobs when the hotel shut down and were denied severance by the owner. In the reception area, a letter from former employees, expressing support for the refugees and the squat, now hangs on the wall.

This show of solidarity means much to Hamed Ganji, who says that while conditions in the hotel aren’t perfect, it’s become his home. 

“I didn’t choose my country,” he says. “I just came here for a life.” 

“I Question America”: On Juneteenth, Remembering Fannie Lou Hamer’s Testimony About Racist Brutality

Mon, 2017-06-19 15:37

This Juneteenth, the unofficial holiday marking the abolition of slavery, people across the country are taking action to reclaim vacant spaces for Black communities. Many are also mobilizing in the streets to express their outrage at the acquittal of the police officer who killed Philando Castile in Minnesota and the police killing of Charleena Lyles, a pregnant, Black mother, at her Seattle apartment on June 18.

We mark this holiday by reprinting the testimony of Fannie Lou Hamer, delivered nearly 53 years ago to the Credentials Committee of the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. A co-founder and organizer with the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Hamer shared with the committee her direct experience of racist violence and voter suppression.

The former sharecropper’s attempts to persuade the Democratic Party establishment to reject the segregationist Mississippi Democratic Party were not immediately successful. However, her leadership played a pivotal role in building the Black Freedom Movement and drawing nationwide attention to brutal, racist violence.

Hamer’s warnings about the suppression of the Black vote, as well as the rise of vigilante, racist violence and law-enforcement repression, prove prescient for our current moment. As we celebrate the official end of slavery in the United States, Hamer’s fight for true emancipation continues.

Mr. Chairman, and to the Credentials Committee, my name is Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer, and I live at 626 East Lafayette Street, Ruleville, Mississippi, Sunflower County, the home of Senator James O. Eastland, and Senator Stennis.

It was the 31st of August in 1962 that 18 of us traveled twenty-six miles to the county courthouse in Indianola to try to register to become first-class citizens. We was met in Indianola by policemen, Highway Patrolmen, and they only allowed two of us in to take the literacy test at the time. After we had taken this test and started back to Ruleville, we was held up by the City Police and the State Highway Patrolmen and carried back to Indianola where the bus driver was charged that day with driving a bus the wrong color.

After we paid the fine among us, we continued on to Ruleville, and Reverend Jeff Sunny carried me four miles in the rural area where I had worked as a timekeeper and sharecropper for eighteen years. I was met there by my children, who told me the plantation owner was angry because I had gone down—tried to register. 

After they told me, my husband came, and said the plantation owner was raising Cain because I had tried to register. And before he quit talking the plantation owner came and said, "Fannie Lou, do you know—did Pap tell you what I said?"

And I said, "Yes, sir."

He said, "Well I mean that." 

Said, "If you don't go down and withdraw your registration, you will have to leave." Said, "Then if you go down and withdraw," said, "you still might have to go because we're not ready for that in Mississippi." 

And I addressed him and told him and said, "I didn't try to register for you. I tried to register for myself."

I had to leave that same night.

On the 10th of September 1962, 16 bullets was fired into the home of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Tucker for me. That same night two girls were shot in Ruleville, Mississippi. Also, Mr. Joe McDonald's house was shot in.

And June the 9th, 1963, I had attended a voter registration workshop; was returning back to Mississippi. Ten of us was traveling by the Continental Trailway bus. When we got to Winona, Mississippi, which is Montgomery County, four of the people got off to use the washroom, and two of the people—to use the restaurant—two of the people wanted to use the washroom.

The four people that had gone in to use the restaurant was ordered out. During this time I was on the bus. But when I looked through the window and saw they had rushed out I got off of the bus to see what had happened. And one of the ladies said, "It was a State Highway Patrolman and a Chief of Police ordered us out."

I got back on the bus and one of the persons had used the washroom got back on the bus, too.

As soon as I was seated on the bus, I saw when they began to get the five people in a highway patrolman's car. I stepped off of the bus to see what was happening and somebody screamed from the car that the five workers was in and said, "Get that one there." And when I went to get in the car, when the man told me I was under arrest, he kicked me.

I was carried to the county jail and put in the booking room. They left some of the people in the booking room and began to place us in cells. I was placed in a cell with a young woman called Miss Ivesta Simpson. After I was placed in the cell I began to hear sounds of licks and screams. I could hear the sounds of licks and horrible screams. And I could hear somebody say, "Can you say, 'yes, sir,' nigger? Can you say 'yes, sir'?"

And they would say other horrible names. 

She would say, "Yes, I can say 'yes, sir.'"

"So, well, say it."

She said, "I don't know you well enough."

They beat her, I don't know how long. And after a while she began to pray, and asked God to have mercy on those people.

And it wasn't too long before three white men came to my cell. One of these men was a State Highway Patrolman and he asked me where I was from. And I told him Ruleville. He said, "We are going to check this." And they left my cell and it wasn't too long before they came back. He said, "You are from Ruleville all right," and he used a curse word. And he said, "We're going to make you wish you was dead."

I was carried out of that cell into another cell where they had two Negro prisoners. The State Highway Patrolmen ordered the first Negro to take the blackjack. The first Negro prisoner ordered me, by orders from the State Highway Patrolman, for me to lay down on a bunk bed on my face. And I laid on my face, the first Negro began to beat me. 

And I was beat by the first Negro until he was exhausted. I was holding my hands behind me at that time on my left side, because I suffered from polio when I was six years old.

After the first Negro had beat until he was exhausted, the State Highway Patrolman ordered the second Negro to take the blackjack.

The second Negro began to beat and I began to work my feet, and the State Highway Patrolman ordered the first Negro who had beat to sit on my feet -- to keep me from working my feet. I began to scream and one white man got up and began to beat me in my head and tell me to hush.

One white man—my dress had worked up high—he walked over and pulled my dress. I pulled my dress down and he pulled my dress back up.

I was in jail when Medgar Evers was murdered.

All of this is on account of we want to register, to become first-class citizens. And if the Freedom Democratic Party is not seated now, I question America. Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, where we have to sleep with our telephones off of the hooks because our lives be threatened daily, because we want to live as decent human beings, in America?

Thank you.

The Fight Against the California Democratic Establishment Has Only Just Begun

Mon, 2017-06-19 14:06

Kimberly Ellis ran for chair of the California Democratic Party at the party’s state convention in May. She lost by an official count of 62 votes, out of about 3,000 cast, but Ellis and her supporters have disputed and challenged the results, and she has refused to concede. Her opponent, Eric Bauman, is a longtime insider in the state’s Democratic Party. Ellis was the executive director of Emerge California—an organization devoted to increasing the participation of women in politics—before entering the race.

At the People’s Summit in Chicago on June 10, Ellis spoke briefly at a session devoted to “transforming the Democratic Party,” noting that “the race for party chair was really about the heart and soul of the Democratic Party. It was a campaign to redefine what it means to be a Democrat.”

Ellis spoke with In These Times at the Summit about the last month’s contest and her vision for the party.

Theo Anderson: What are your takeaways from the experience of running for state chair?

Kimberly Ellis: Well, I think it underscores the truth that change—big change—is hard, and it doesn’t come overnight. It’s hard-fought. And I think that this is just part of a bigger movement—revolution—to really change how we do politics in this country. And it has also been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, getting to travel all across the state and meet the incredible people who live in California, who are the activists and the heart and soul of this party. We want a party that is rooted in people, that is about justice and fairness and equity for everybody at every level. So it’s a continuum. This is part of a continuum of movement for real change in our party.

Theo: On platform issues, in California at least, the party is pretty much on the same page about a $15 minimum wage and single-payer healthcare, things like that. But what’s being contested is the process. That’s true in California but also in Massachusetts recently, which had a big battle. The platform was very progressive, but the party’s just not very transparent.

Kimberly: It’s easy to agree—in theory and in words—with a platform that is incredibly progressive. It’s another thing to actually agree with a platform based on your votes. And I think that’s where we see the most discrepancies and disconnect. And it’s one of the reasons why I talked about wanting to do away with automatic endorsements of incumbents. Incumbents should be required to come and stand in front of endorsing bodies. I wanted to work with partner organizations like the Courage Campaign, which puts out a report card that shows how our elected Democrats voted. And I thought that they should have to come in and stand on their record, and defend their record, and not be automatically endorsed.

One of the things I talked about was flattening out the hierarchy of the party and sharing power, as opposed to collapsing and consolidating power into the hands of the few. We saw that those in power are not as open to the idea of sharing power and democratizing the Democratic Party. This continues to be a movement towards forcing power, those who are in power and those who wield power, to share that power in order to empower grassroots activists.

Theo: People can see how it’s revolutionary, on the platform side, to call for a $15 minimum wage. It doesn’t seem that revolutionary, actually, but in the U.S. context it is pretty revolutionary. But I think people have a harder time grasping why it matters that the leadership is democratically elected, and how that sort of filters through the party.

Kimberly: One of the questions I would get a lot on the campaign trail was the difference between me and my opponent. So I talked a lot about, in terms of policy, we actually have a lot of the same positions and stances. The difference really was in terms of vision and how we would wield power. And so I talked a lot about changing the way the party operated and the way it did business. The way it’s currently structured, the California Democratic Party spends a lot of money on highly paid consultants, and on media ad-buys.

Theo: Your opponent was a consultant, right? Or has a consulting firm?

Kimberly: A consulting business, yes. And so, I talked about shifting and deploying those resources differently. Instead of consultants, instead of spending money on commercials and mail, I wanted to invest that money in people and grooming the next generation of community organizers. I wanted to have a permanent, paid field team at the California Democratic Party that would organize all across the state—not just a couple months before the election, but 365 days a year—around issues that were important to us.

The chair of the party gets discretion in how a lot of that money is spent. And I wanted to spend that money differently, wanted to invest that money in people. I wanted to change the way they develop the members of the standing committees. So, under the current structure the chair gets to appoint every single member, every single chair, every single co-chair of every single standing committee. I wanted to change that up, I wanted to democratize that, so the chair would have a percentage that she would appoint, and the rest would be open to the delegates to vote, to the caucuses to vote, to just shore it up—again, sharing that power in different ways.

And I wanted to open up different membership categories. So, we talk a lot about being a party that supports young people and supports millennials. I wanted to add a new category of delegates that was specifically for 13- through 19-year-olds, that really brought them in to the decision-making table. The biggest difference was in how we viewed the party moving forward. I viewed it as a party that didn’t just talk about our values, but lived our values in everything that we did. That we are moving with an eye toward making sure that historically underrepresented communities—people of color, women, millennials, native communities, LGBT communities—really had a seat at the table.

Theo: Conservatives look to Texas as their shining star. And I think progressives right now are looking to California as a kind of a hope, because of its size and cultural influence. Should we be hopeful or despairing, or somewhere in between, about what’s going on in California.

Kimberly: Yeah, I think we should be hopeful. I’m ever the optimist. One of the things I talked about on the campaign trail is not being afraid to ruffle feathers and to make people uncomfortable. And that’s what’s going on, and it continues to go on—even beyond this election. And that, I think, gives me hope that people are not backing down, that people are not afraid, that people are going to call for the truth. As long as we continue to do that, I think California will continue to be the progressive flag-bearer.

I would get pushback from elected officials who said that California was the beacon—that our legislative chambers were Democratic, that all of our constitutional officers were Democrats, that our governor was a Democrat. They asked me, ‘What more work is there to be done?’ And I said, “You know, that’s really not the attitude that I want my Democratic elected officials to have.” Because there are certainly many areas that need to be improved. And we should always have the mantra that we don’t stop fighting until there is fairness and justice and equity for everyone.

Theo: What did your motto, “unbought and unbossed,” mean to you? Why did you choose that?

Kimberly: I tell the story about how I first sort of caught the bug, if you will, and it was in third grade. I had to give a report, and I did it on Shirley Chisholm (an African-American U.S. representative from Brooklyn who ran for president in 1972). And learned about her and her life, and I grew up wanting to be just like her.

The more we thought about the campaign and got into it, the more that really resonated. The truth of the matter is, there were a lot of deals and offers that were made along the way—even up to and after the convention. And it really just sort of reaffirmed for me that standing in truth and standing for justice and for what’s right isn’t always the easiest thing to do, but for me it’s always the right thing to do. And so for me the “unbought and unbossed” means that you are a truth-seeker and a freedom fighter and a justice warrior, and you won’t stop until that is actualized for everybody.

Theo: Your experience in helping cultivate women for a greater role of politics—what did you learn from it, and how did it inform your campaign?

Kimberly: I learned that even here in big, blue, progressive California, there’s still a lot of work to be done, there are still many more hurdles for women to get over, and the playing field is not fair. You know, it got even harder when you started adding layers—women of color, mothers, LGBT women, single women. The more layers you added on, the harder it was. And I think it just sort of taught me that fighting for women’s political equity and women having a seat at the table was important work. It made me really proud of the work that I accomplished even in terms of getting more women, women of color, into the political bike lane.

Theo: Your base was a lot of Our Revolution people—Bernie Sanders people. But I understand there was a lot of crossover. Hillary Clinton supporters supported you as well.

Kimberly: Just a couple of days ago, in an op-ed in one of the newspapers in California, it was painted as Bernie versus Hillary. I think one of the most beautiful things that came out of the campaign was the bringing together of those two universes, to get behind a movement for a bigger, better, bolder Democratic Party. Most people know that I was a Hillary supporter myself, and so we were able to facilitate those hard conversations throughout the course of the campaign—of what is meant to see one another, to hear one another, and to come together to work for a greater good. And it also demonstrated the true unity that the party continues to call for. We demonstrated that in this campaign, and that’s what I was hoping to bring to this party. 

Theo: And what brought in the Sanders people was your commitment to reforming the Democratic Party?

Kimberly: Absolutely. And also, I was that person who was not afraid to call out the discrepancies where our party said one thing and did another, and to talk about the experiences that they had during the primary, at the [Democratic National Committee] convention. I wasn’t afraid to call a foul on the play, and say that there was a thumb on a scale, there was a lot of behind-the-scenes things going on, and that’s not okay.

Theo: Do you know what you’ll do to contribute to the party now?

Kimberly: You know, we submitted our formal challenge to the compliance review commission, which is the commission that will be ruling on our challenge. We don’t have a lot of confidence that we will get a fair adjudication out of that body. All six of them who comprise the body are supporters of my opponent. They all voted for my opponent. And so, we definitely have some concerns about the personal conflicts of interest that are inherent in the makeup of that. That said, we have said that we are leaving all of our options on the table. We will not stop fighting for truth until all of our options are exhausted. At this point, that’s what I’m focused on. And until we get to the end of the road, that’s what it looks like.

Armed U.S. Agents Just Raided a Humanitarian Aid Center in the Arizona Borderlands

Fri, 2017-06-16 19:26

Thirty heavily armed U.S. border patrol agents flanked by at least 15 vehicles and a helicopter overhead invaded an Arizona humanitarian aid camp near the Mexican border on Thursday and arrested four people while they were receiving medical care, aid workers report. As temperatures climbed over 100 degrees, the raid severely hampered the operations of the humanitarian group No More Deaths/No Más Muertes. The organization's Arivaca camp—which provides emergency food, water and medical care to people crossing the Sonoran Desert—was transformed into a honeypot for deportation authorities.

U.S. agents’ targeting of humanitarian operations puts lives at risk in a border region already in the grips of a crisis of mass deaths and disappearances. While not the first raid endured by No More Deaths, Thursday’s invasion is unprecedented in scale, say volunteers, marking a dangerous escalation under a presidential administration that rose to power on a tide of white-supremacist incitement.

In this interview, Julia Milan, a Tucson-based volunteer with No More Deaths, tells of how border patrol stalked and surveilled the camp before launching the invasion. “Our ability to administer aid has been entirely compromised,” she warns.

Sarah Lazare: Tell me about who you are and what happened on Thursday.

Julia Milan: We provide humanitarian aid and medical care to those who have become injured and exhausted. We provide aid to people crossing, including food and blankets, as well as medical care to those who need it.

The attack was precipitated by agents coming at roughly 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon saying they had been tracking four people for about 18 miles, and they were going to pursue warrants to enter our structures. The camp is on private property, so a warrant is needed. It took them two days to obtain a warrant. The camp was entirely surrounded by border patrol agents. During the two days, the temperatures rose well above 100 degrees. Border patrol established a mobile checkpoint at the gate of the camp where agents asked people entering and exiting about their citizenship status. This made it impossible for anyone seeking aid or emergency medical care to enter the camp. It impeded our administration of care 100 percent.

A warrant was served last night, at which point 30 armed agents entered the camp in 15 vehicles, two [all-terrain vehicles] and one helicopter. They entered the camp and searched tents, where they found four patients receiving medical care at that time. They then apprehended those four individuals.

They said they had been following those individuals for 18 miles. A big question we are asking is, why did they not apprehend them during those 18 miles but instead wait until they reached the camp? This was a pointed attack on a humanitarian aid station.

At this point, our work is incredibly compromised. They are using our aid station as a trap, in direct violation of international humanitarian law.

Sarah: Your organization recently released a report on the crisis of missing persons and deaths in the borderlands, at the hands of U.S. border patrol. Can you explain how this latest raid will impact this death toll?

Julia: There are some border patrol strategies that have been documented. One is “prevention through deterrence,” in which a border wall is built in places where it is easier and safer to cross. In parts of the desert that are deadly or difficult to cross, and more remote, there is often no border wall or just barbed wire. This is often in the most dangerous parts of the desert.

They also use a tactic called “chase and scatter.” Agents will see a group crossing and use a helicopter to [create a cloud of dust]. Agents who use chase and scatter often will not actually apprehend the people. Individuals become isolated and separated from their groups. Often, they drop their packs or any food or water they might have had. Those individuals are left in the desert without any life-saving tools.

Our organization aims to end death and suffering in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. Our aid is a response to life-threatening injury that people face. Our organization’s humanitarian aid efforts are being directly targeted by border patrol, and they are not allowing us to provide critical care. More than 6,000 individual remains have been found near the U.S.-Mexico border since 1998. That’s estimated to represent roughly half of the people actually killed.

Our ability to administer aid has been entirely compromised in a week that is projected [to approach] 115-degree weather.

Sarah: Have you noticed a changed under the administration of Donald Trump?

Julia: We have been raided several times before, but this type of raid is entirely unprecedented in terms of the number of personnel and use of a warrant. This is the second raid in two weeks, and there has been a documented increase in border patrol surveillance and harassment since Trump. That's something we were all bracing for, but the reality of the political climate is making it impossible for us to give care where care is needed.

We have been offering aid on the U.S.-Mexico border since 2004. Desert aid workers include dedicated legal and medical professionals. We undergo training before we go into the field. We are a pretty diverse group. Many of us have a degree of healthcare experience. We have been giving aid over a decade. That this is happening now is indicative of the political climate.

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