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

In These Times - April 19, 2018 - 7:07pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Newswire

Desiree Linden Becomes First American Woman to Win Boston Marathon in Over Three Decades

Feminist Daily News - April 19, 2018 - 2:00pm
Desiree Linden won the women’s division of the Boston Marathon on Monday; the first American woman to win the race since 1985. It was a big day for American women, who claimed seven of the top eight spots in the race. The conditions were terrible  But Linden pushed her way through a powerful headwind and cold rain to triumph at the Boston Marathon- the first time a U.S. woman has won in 33 years. Linden was almost speechless as she crossed the finish line embracing her husband and coach. “It’s supposed to be hard,” Linden told reporters after the face, shivering with a wreath atop her head. “It’s good to get it done.” While her winning time of 2 hours, 39 minutes and 54 seconds isn’t her personal best, it was enough to bring her to victory given the poor weather conditions. In the 2011 Boston Marathon, Linden came in second, just two seconds behind winner Caroline Kilel. Linden is also a two-time Olympian medalist. Winning this years’ marathon has been a personal goal of Linden for years. Linden represented the United States at both the London 2012 and Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games. Related posts:
  1. Winter Olympics Kick Off with 109 Women Athletes Representing Team USA
Categories: Newswire

Students as Teachers: Facing the World Adults Are Wrecking

truthout - April 19, 2018 - 4:00am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A World of Technology-Adept Students

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

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

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

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

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

Asking the Big Questions at a Young Age

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Newswire

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

truthout - April 19, 2018 - 4:00am

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


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

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

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

LINDA VILLAROSA: Thank you so much.

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

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

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what "it" is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Newswire

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

truthout - April 19, 2018 - 4:00am

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Newswire

Firing Mueller

truthout - April 19, 2018 - 4:00am
Categories: Newswire

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

truthout - April 19, 2018 - 4:00am
With everything going on in the White House, the media must maintain relentless pressure on the Trump administration. Can you support Truthout in this endeavor? Click here to donate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Newswire

Island-Wide Blackout Deepens Puerto Rico Crisis

truthout - April 19, 2018 - 4:00am

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

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

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

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

— Eric Holthaus (@EricHolthaus) April 18, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) April 18, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Naomi Klein (@NaomiAKlein) April 18, 2018
Categories: Newswire

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

truthout - April 19, 2018 - 4:00am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Categories: Newswire

Remove Trump, Defang Pence: Impeachment Is the Way

truthout - April 19, 2018 - 4:00am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Categories: Newswire

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

truthout - April 19, 2018 - 4:00am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Categories: Newswire

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

In These Times - April 18, 2018 - 10:27pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Palestine: Where journalists become targets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No press freedom under occupation 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Newswire

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

In These Times - April 18, 2018 - 12:54pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Newswire

To Be a Survivor in a Nation of Embedded Racism: Black Lives Matter

truthout - April 18, 2018 - 4:00am

Vividly and trenchantly, Patrisse Khan-Cullors -- with the assistance of asha bendele -- draws on her personal experience to convey how Black communities are under systemic attack. In this excerpt of When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, she writes of a precarious life caught between the police, poverty and prejudice.

Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Khan-Cullors speaks to people gathered at Pershing Square in Los Angeles, California. People gathered to protest the death of a homeless man killed by police March 1, 2015. (Photo: Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

A compelling memoir from a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement. Get When They Call You a Terrorist now from Truthout. Click here now.

Vividly and trenchantly, Patrisse Khan-Cullors -- with the assistance of asha bendele -- draws on her personal experience to convey how Black communities are under systemic attack. In compelling prose, she makes a cogent case for why Black lives are under siege by a deeply embedded racism. The following is her introduction to When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir. She writes of a precarious life caught between the police, poverty and prejudice.


I write to keep in contact with our ancestors and to spread truth to people. —Sonia Sanchez

Days after the elections of 2016, asha sent me a link to a talk by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. We have to have hope, she says to me across 3,000 miles, she in Brooklyn, me in Los Angeles. We listen together as Dr. deGrasse Tyson explains that the very atoms and molecules in our bodies are traceable to the crucibles in the centers of stars that once upon a time exploded into gas clouds. And those gas clouds formed other stars and those stars possessed the divine-right mix of properties needed to create not only planets, including our own, but also people, including us, me and her. He is saying that not only are we in the universe, but that the universe is in us. He is saying that we, human beings, are literally made out of stardust.

And I know when I hear Dr. deGrasse Tyson say this that he is telling the truth because I have seen it since I was a child, the magic, the stardust we are, in the lives of the people I come from.

I watched it in the labor of my mother, a Jehovah's Witness and a woman who worked two and sometimes three jobs at a time, keeping other people's children, working the reception desks at gyms, telemarketing, doing anything and everything for 16 hours a day the whole of my childhood in the Van Nuys barrio where we lived. My mother, cocoa brown and smooth, disowned by her family for the children she had as a very young and unmarried woman. My mother, never giving up despite never making a living wage.

I saw it in the thin, brown face of my father, a boy out of Cajun country, a wounded healer, whose addictions were borne of a world that did not love him and told him so not once but constantly. My father, who always came back, who never stopped trying to be a version of himself there were no mirrors for.

And I knew it because I am the thirteenth-generation progeny of a people who survived the hulls of slave ships, survived the chains, the whips, the months laying in their own shit and piss. The human beings legislated as not human beings who watched their names, their languages, their Goddesses and Gods, the arc of their dances and beats of their songs, the majesty of their dreams, their very families snatched up and stolen, disassembled and discarded, and despite this built language and honored God and created movement and upheld love. What could they be but stardust, these people who refused to die, who refused to accept the idea that their lives did not matter, that their children's lives did not matter?

Our foreparents imagined our families out of whole cloth. They imagined each individual one of us. They imagined me. They had to. It is the only way I am here, today, a mother and a wife, a community organizer and Queer, an artist and a dreamer learning to find hope while navigating the shadows of hell even as I know it might have been otherwise.

I was not expected or encouraged to survive. My brothers and little sister, my family -- the one I was born into and the one I created -- were not expected to survive. We lived a precarious life on the tightrope of poverty bordered at each end with the politics of personal responsibility that Black pastors and then the first Black president preached -- they preached that more than they preached a commitment to collective responsibility.

They preached it more than they preached about what it meant to be the world's wealthiest nation and yet the place with extraordinary unemployment, an extraordinary lack of livable wages and an extraordinary disruption of basic opportunity.

And they preached that more than they preached about America having 5 percent of the world's population but 25 percent of its prison population, a population which for a long time included my disabled brother and gentle father who never raised a hand to another human being. And a prison population that, with extraordinary deliberation, today excludes the man who shot and killed a 17-year-old boy who was carrying Skittles and iced tea.

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There was a petition that was drafted and circulated all the way to the White House. It said we were terrorists. We, who in response to the killing of that child, said Black Lives Matter. The document gained traction during the first week of July 2016 after a week of protests against the back-to-back police killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in Minneapolis. At the end of that week, on July 7, in Dallas, Texas, a sniper opened fire during a Black Lives Matter protest that was populated with mothers and fathers who brought their children along to proclaim: We have a right to live.

The sniper, identified as 25-year-old Micah Johnson, an Army reservist home from Afghanistan, holed up in a building on the campus of El Centro College after killing five police officers and wounding eleven others, including two protesters. And in the early morning hours of July 8, 2016, he became the first individual ever to be blown up by local law enforcement. They used a military-grade bomb against Micah Johnson and programmed a robot to deliver it to him. No jury, no trial. No patience like the patience shown the killers who gunned down nine worshippers in Charleston, or moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado.

Of course, we will never know what his motivations really were and we will never know if he was mentally unstable. We will only know for sure that the single organization to which he ever belonged was the U.S. Army. And we will remember that the white men who were mass killers, in Aurora and Charleston, were taken alive and one was fed fast food on the way to jail. We will remember that most of the cops who are killed in this nation are killed by white men who are taken alive.

And we will experience all the ways the ghost of Micah Johnson will be weaponized against Black Lives Matter, will be weaponized against me, a tactic from the way back that has continuously been used against people who challenge white supremacy. We will remember that Nelson Mandela remained on the FBI's list of terrorists until 2008.

Even still, the accusation of being a terrorist is devastating, and I allow myself space to cry quietly as I lie in bed on a Sunday morning listening to a red-faced, hysterical Rudolph Giuliani spit lies about us three days after Dallas.

Like many of the people who embody our movement, I have lived my life between the twin terrors of poverty and the police. Coming of age in the drug war climate that was ratcheted up by Ronald Reagan and then Bill Clinton, the neighborhood where I lived and loved and the neighborhoods where many of the members of Black Lives Matter have lived and loved were designated war zones and the enemy was us.

The fact that more white people have always used and sold drugs than Black and Brown people and yet when we close our eyes and think of a drug seller or user the face most of us see is Black or Brown tells you what you need to know if you cannot readily imagine how someone can be doing no harm and yet be harassed by police. Literally breathing while Black became cause for arrest -- or worse.

I carry the memory of living under that terror -- the terror of knowing that I, or any member of my family, could be killed with impunity -- in my blood, my bones, in every step I take.

And yet I was called a terrorist.

The members of our movement are called terrorists.

We -- me, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi -- the three women who founded Black Lives Matter, are called terrorists.

We, the people.

We are not terrorists.

I am not a terrorist.

I am Patrisse Marie Khan-Cullors Brignac.

I am a survivor.

I am stardust.

Copyright (2017) by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bendele. Not to be reproduced without permission of the publisher, St. Martin's Press.

Categories: Newswire

Activists Observe Inaugural Black Maternal Health Week

Feminist Daily News - April 17, 2018 - 8:33pm
On April 11, the Black Mama’s Matter Alliance launched the inaugural Black Maternal Health Week  (April 11-17) to promote awareness about the high mortality rate for Black mothers in the United States. According to the Black Mama’s Matter Alliance, the events of the inaugural Black Maternal Health Week “serve to amplify the voices of Black mamas and center the values and traditions of the reproductive and birth justice movements. Activities during BMHW are rooted in human rights, reproductive justice, and birth justice frameworks.” Activists wrote articles, launched digital campaigns, hosted webinars, held movie screenings, and facilitated community discussions in several states to bring attention to the dangerous health crisis that impacts Black mothers and their children, families, and communities. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Black mothers die at more than 3 times the rate of white mothers due to pregnancy related conditions and complications nationally. In Texas, the state Maternal Mortality Task Force found that while Black women only account for 11.4% of all births, Black women constituted 28.4% of maternal deaths in the state. In New York City, Black mothers are 12 times more likely to die than their white counterparts. Black maternal mortality gained media attention after […] Related posts:
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Categories: Newswire

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

In These Times - April 17, 2018 - 4:00pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Newswire

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

In These Times - April 16, 2018 - 6:21pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Newswire

West Virginia Showed How Necessary—And Difficult—Striking Is

In These Times - April 16, 2018 - 4:00pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The state legislators present looked alarmed, Comer recalls.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Newswire

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

In These Times - April 12, 2018 - 8:26pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Newswire
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