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Democratic Socialist Jovanka Beckles Could Upset Buffy ‘the Bernie Slayer’ Wicks in CA

October 18, 2018 - 8:57pm

When democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won the June 26 Democratic primary for New York’s 14th Congressional District, her election made national news, launching her into the spotlight as the new standard bearer for the Left in the electoral arena.

Since that victory, other open democratic socialists have won primaries across the country, including Rashida Tlaib in Michigan, Sarah Smith in Washington and Julia Salazar in New York City. This new class of left challengers may soon gain company from California’s Bay Area, where another democratic socialist, Jovanka Beckles, is running in a high-profile election for District 15 State Assembly.

The November 6 election pits Beckles, a Bernie Sanders supporter and former Richmond city council member who currently serves as the town’s vice mayor, up against Buffy Wicks, an Oakland resident, state director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and former adviser in the Obama White House.

Wicks, who during her time as a Clinton state director was referred to as “Buffy the Bernie Slayer” has also been endorsed by former President Obama. Beckles, meanwhile, has the support of Our Revolution, an offshoot of Sanders’ 2016 campaign. The race conjures obvious parallels to the 2016 Democratic presidential primary. But Beckles is quick to point out that it’s all about issues and policy, not re-litigating the past.

“We’re Democrats. We’re working people. We need to not allow others to separate [or] divide us,” Beckles tells In These Times. “For me, this is not about Hillary versus Bernie. This is about money and outside interests coming in and telling us what we need as opposed to allowing leaders, particularly leaders of color, to have to a seat at the table. This is about whether or not we are going to have a top-down kind of leadership versus a bottom-up leadership.”

For her part, Wicks is not ceding the ground of progressivism. She tells In These Times: “Fundamentally, I think we progressives need to stand up for what we believe in and be bold about that; not be afraid to stand up for progressive ideology [and] advocate for the things that we believe in. Now is the time for us to really dig into the progressive mantle and stand strong by those values.”

But Beckles, who came in second to Wicks in the June primary, has the backing of a number of high-profile progressive groups including the Working Families Party and the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), along with Our Revolution, more than a dozen environmental groups and over 20 labor unions.

Not everyone is on board. Ahead of the primary, East Bay Express, an Oakland based weekly newspaper, endorsed Buffy Wicks and Dan Kalb, claiming Beckles “had the fewest ideas for solving California's problems.”

Beckles, however, is not bothered by these criticisms. “I know that when you’re coming from a place of modern politics, I think it might be hard to give credit to someone who is being a revolutionary [and] being innovative,” she says. Indeed, Beckles is running on a solidly left-wing platform, including Medicare for All, universal affordable housing, a $20 statewide minimum wage, a 36-hour work week, free public college and a Green New Deal.

Born in Panama, Beckles moved to the Bay Area after college in 1989. Witnessing social injustice throughout her career as a mental health professional shaped her decision to get involved with local politics. She became the first openly lesbian member of Richmond City Council when she was elected in 2010. Her campaign was supported by Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA), a grassroots coalition most known for challenging Chevron’s oil refinery and holding the fossil-fuel giant accountable to the city’s residents. In retaliation for her role reigning in the power of Chevron, the corporation spent over $3 million in ads to defeat Beckles and other opponents during the 2014 election cycle.

During her time on the council, Beckles has supported minimum-wage increases, protections for renters and the “Ban the Box” ordinance, which provides formerly incarcerated people with more equal opportunities in employment and education. She has also worked to improve community relations with the Richmond Police Department, an entity she has openly criticized.

Beckles says she wants to gain a larger platform in order to support policies that will help California’s most marginalized communities. Richmond City Council’s progressive policies can only go so far without changes in state legislation. The city passed rent control in 2016, for example, but it faces limitations with current state laws.

Not surprisingly, housing has been one of the focal points of the primary election. Beckles was the only candidate who ran on repealing Costa-Hawkins, a 1994 law that restricts rent control in California. Skyrocketing rents are an issue plaguing the state, especially longtime residents in Richmond and Oakland who are being displaced by thousands of people who have been priced out of San Francisco over the last decade. Wicks, meanwhile, has called for reforming the law.

The question of whether or not to repeal Costa-Hawkins will be put to voters in November through the Proposition 10 ballot measure. If passed, Prop 10 would allow California cities like Richmond to pass rent control ordinances and expand them to single-family homes and new construction.

Beckles believes Wicks buys into the argument that repealing the law will make housing worse. But she doesn’t. “What it’s going to do is stop people, particularly people of color, poor working people, from being displaced,” says Beckles. “When you see people working 40 hours a week having to live in their cars, on the streets, or on the Berkeley Marina, that is a huge red flag. We are in a crisis. Reforming Costa-Hawkins is not going to end this crisis. Repealing it is.”

One of the challenges facing Beckles’ campaign is fundraising, since she does not accept corporate donations. Her largest campaign donations to date have come from labor groups, according to Berkeleyside.

“We’re not going to be able to raise as much money as the other candidate, taking money from the 1%,” she says. “When the greater class invests in a candidate, you better believe they are looking for a return on their investment. They are not investing in me. They are investing in my opponent, and they are doing that for a reason.”

So far, Wicks has raised $1.2 million, 73 percent of which is from in state. A website set up by East Bay DSA has tracked where her donations have come from. By contrast, Beckles has so far raised $381,500, 95 percent of which is from in state.

But with all the progressive energy behind Beckles, why was Wicks able to outperform her in the primary?

Steve Early, Richmond resident and author of Refinery Town: Big Oil, Big Money, and the Remaking of an American City, thinks he knows. “There’s certainly a type of Democratic Party voter in one of the more left-leaning districts in the state, who [is] probably more comfortable with a nice policy wonk, Obama administration alum like Buffy rather than somebody like Jovanka,” says Early.

Abigail Gutmann-Gonzalez, Vice Chair of the East Bay chapter of DSA, concurs. “Buffy Wicks is a democratic establishment insider. She knows what to say. She has the policy language down right,” she says.

With just a few weeks left before the election, Early, who followed Beckles’ previous campaigns, predicts Wicks’ big business donors will attempt to smear Beckles. And it wouldn’t surprise him if those whose financial interests were threatened by Beckles’ accomplishments in Richmond seize the opportunity to join in.

Richmond Mayor Tom Butt endorsed Wicks, which was not a complete surprise considering the tensions between him and Beckles. While he has spoken against some of the harassment thrown at Beckles over the years, he has made his disdain for her known through his online newsletter. On April 26, he wrote, “I cannot in good conscience recommend that anyone vote to send her to the California Assembly where she would most surely be an unmitigated disaster.”

Beckles says she sees why Butt would go with Wicks rather than supporting her, given that the two do not agree on most issues, including passing Proposition 10. “He puts profit over people, unlike me. I put people over profit,” she says.

Gutmann-Gonzalez notes that Beckles stood in solidarity with University of California workers (AFSCME Local 3299) during their strike in May. “She is standing up for the interests of working people,” Gutmann-Gonzalez says. Beckles, who is a member of East Bay DSA, was endorsed by the organization in 2017, and they have since supported her campaign with 250 volunteers.

Beckles has been gaining momentum and recently scored the endorsement of powerful House Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). Her supporters hope that her volunteer-powered campaign, progressive credentials and bold vision are enough to help put her over the top next month.

“Jovanka is a working Teamster,” says Early. “She used to come work in the streets. [She] was part of that, you know, radical group in Richmond that took on Chevron. You can look at the same record and, depending who you are, you get nervous or start cheering her on.”

Beckles’ politics are not the only significant factor in this election. “My perspective as a black woman on the Left is so important and valuable in this race,” Beckles says.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, current AD-15 Assemblyman Tony Thurmond is the only black representative of the Bay Area in state government. If Beckles doesn’t win in the race to replace him, a demographic that makes up seven percent of California’s population will not have a representative who looks like them.

“I think we [people of color] really need to be able to have a seat at the table if we are going to successfully create the kind of laws that benefit us, level the playing field, and bring about equity and justice for all,” Beckles says. 

Categories: Newswire

How Pro-War Democrats Use Russiagate To Bloat the Military—And Why That’s Dangerous

October 18, 2018 - 12:23pm

There is no doubt this moment calls for a powerful mobilization against the Trump administration and the ruling-class, white-supremacist interests it represents. But establishment Democrats' strategy of hitching their “resistance” campaign to Russiagate is misguided and dangerous. By demanding Trump prove he’s tough on Russia, the same Democrats who warn that Trump is dangerous and unhinged are asking him to oversee an even more bellicose foreign policy. The net effect has been to push the U.S. government to take a more confrontational stance toward Russia and other geopolitical foes and—ultimately—expand its military empire.

Whatever one thinks about the aims and scope of Russian interference, the evidence is undeniable: Democrats’ overwhelming focus on Russia has led directly to a significant—and measurable—military buildup. The $716 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2019 is massive, marking an $81 billion increase over 2017 (adjusted for inflation). The bill explicitly targets Russia and China. From the outset, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle cited the threat of Russian interference to argue in favor of the NDAA. Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, gushed, “This bill continues the absolutely critical work of pushing back against President Putin.” Smith, who earlier that month called for an impeachment investigation of Trump, appeared eager and willing to hand the president a giant check for war.

Bipartisan lawmakers handed a major victory to Trump by passing the defense bill, which includes $6.5 billion to fully fund the “European Deterrence Initiative” to build the military capabilities of European states near Russia. The legislation also instructs Secretary of Defense James Mattis to conduct a feasibility study on whether a “permanently stationed United States Army brigade combat team in Poland would enhance deterrence against Russian aggression.”

Most alarmingly, the NDAA earmarks $21.9 billion for nuclear weapons programs and $65 million to develop “a lowyield nuclear warhead for submarine-launched ballistic missiles.” This is another win for the Trump administration, which has called for more “flexible” and “loweryield” nuclear arms, largely to counter Russia. (The United States and Russia own over 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons.)

This confrontational positioning has ramifications far beyond Russia. In July 2017, for example, the House and Senate overwhelmingly voted in favor of bipartisan legislation that bundled sanctions against Russia with sanctions against Iran and North Korea—even at the risk of upending the nuclear deal with Iran. To justify this move, Democrats cited Russian interference in the 2016 elections. Sen. Dianne Feinstein told The Intercept, “I just looked at the sanctions, and it’s very hard, in view of what we know just happened in this last election, not to move ahead with [sanctions]."

Meanwhile, other election scandals, from voter suppression to the fact the electoral college overrode the popular vote, garner far less scrutiny and outrage. As for collusion with foreign governments, leaders of the “resistance” aren’t exactly lining up to examine evidence that Trump’s transition team colluded with the Israeli government to defend illegal settlements in Palestine.

The nonstop specter of Russian “active measures” has all but ended any discussion of post-Snowden reforms to curtail dragnet government surveillance. The threat of our permanent national security state was, for decades, something the Left cared about. Now the FBI and CIA, we’re told by some ostensibly left media, are our allies.

There may well be something to the Russian influence story and the Trump administration should, of course, be held to standards of utmost transparency on this and every other matter. But Democrats and their loyal pundits are pegging their anti-Trump strategy to Russiagate, and not to the multitude of other scandals, precisely because Russia is a historic geopolitical foe—a convenient bad guy that can be invoked to demand the heightened national security state many centrist Democrats were already calling for. Some of these resistance heroes, like Sens. Chuck Schumer and Feinstein, brought us the war in Iraq, the occupation of Afghanistan, the war on Yemen and the intervention in Libya.

At times, Trump indeed expresses a strange affection for Putin—an affection animated, at least in part, by a Steve Bannon-esque love of strong white men. But then he turns on a dime and threatens escalation against Russia and its allies. It’s a bankrupt politics to reflexively advocate the opposite of whatever Trump says; we must look beyond the inflammatory rhetoric and examine the material policies our government is implementing. A sober assessment reveals that heightened tensions with Russia are fueling a measurable U.S. military buildup backed by Republicans and Democrats. Within this tinderbox, the Left should reject any expansion of U.S. empire, and challenge any “resistance” campaign that pushes Trump toward militarization.

Categories: Newswire

Van Dyke’s Guilty Verdict Was Made Possible By Decades of Activism Against Racist Policing

October 17, 2018 - 6:55pm

On October 5, 2018, a Cook County jury comprised of one Black woman, three Latina women, an Asian man, and seven whites returned a verdict of guilty of second-degree murder against Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke. The jury also found Van Dyke guilty of 16 counts of aggravated battery — one for each of the 16 shots that Van Dyke fired into Laquan McDonald’s body over a 14-second period, all but two while he was writhing on the ground. The jury found that Van Dyke believed that he had the right to kill Laquan but that this belief was not reasonable, thereby convicting him on a charge of second-degree murder. The conviction carries a 4-to-20-year sentence with probation as an option. Meanwhile, each aggravated battery count — classified as aggrieved because the batteries were committed with a weapon — carries a 6-to-20-year non-probationable sentence. Hence, according to criminal defense experts, the most likely minimum sentence for Van Dyke would be 12 years, with a very unlikely maximum of 90 years.

The convictions were a victory for activists who waged the “Justice for Laquan” campaign in the streets and at the courthouse for nearly three years after the shocking video of police murder came to public light. Indeed, many Chicagoans applauded the verdict as just. However, the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), true to its racist history, called the trial a “sham” and a “disgusting charade,” and the verdict “shameful,” saying the jury was “duped into saving the asses of self-serving politicians at the expense of a dedicated public servant.” In the Southwest Side Mount Greenwood neighborhood, where many of Chicago’s white officers live, blue ribbons supporting the police were tied to almost every tree and light pole, and according to the Chicago Sun-Times, one resident went so far as to call Van Dyke a “political prisoner.”

The verdict was front-page news over the weekend, and the Chicago Sun-Times published an article claiming that “Van Dyke’s trial is now destined to be listed alongside other key Chicago police controversies, including the face-off with demonstrators outside the 1968 Democratic Demonstration, the 1969 police shooting of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, and decades of alleged torture committed by the so-called midnight crew overseen by Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge — who died during the first week of Van Dyke’s trial.”

I came to Chicago in the summer of 1968, a week after what the Kerner Commission called a “police riot,” and have been involved in the legal struggles that arose from the notorious events referenced by the Sun Times ever since. From that perspective, a deeper look into Chicago’s racist police history and its connection to the Laquan McDonald case is warranted.

The Murder of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark

On December 4, 1969, 14 heavily armed Chicago police officers assigned to the office of Cook County State’s Attorney Edward Hanrahan, conducted a murderous predawn raid on a West Side apartment where numerous Black Panther Party (BPP) members were staying. Firing more than 90 shots from shotguns, machine guns and pistols, the raiders murdered the 21-year-old chairman of the Black Panther Party, Fred Hampton, as he slept in his bed. They also killed Peoria BPP leader Mark Clark, and wounded several other Panthers. A massive police cover-up followed, as did outrage in the African American community. The cover-up featured blatantly false police reports, perjured testimony, fabricated ballistics reports, and a slanderous official publicity campaign. President Richard Nixon’s Justice Department, led by John Mitchell of Watergate infamy, investigated but refused to indict any of the police raiders or the prosecutors who planned and approved the raid, but renewed protests led to the appointment of a Cook County special prosecutor.

Hampered by the chief judge of Cook County and a rigged grand jury, the special prosecutor was not able to obtain murder or attempted murder indictments, but rather only indictments for obstruction of justice against the raiders and State’s Attorney Hanrahan, who was running for re-election as Mayor Richard J. Daley and the Democratic machine’s chosen candidate. The case was assigned to a Democratic machine judge, and the raiders waived the jury and proceeded to trial before the judge. The special prosecutor rested his case the week before the 1972 election, and the judge dutifully granted a verdict for the defendants, thereby giving Hanrahan a clean record before the voters went to the polls. As was the case with the brutal police officers who victimized demonstrators and reporters at the Democratic National Convention, none of the perpetrators of the deadly violence went to jail. This reinforced the racist reality that Chicago police officers — acting with Cook County prosecutors, unblinkingly backed by the Police Union, and protected by Cook County judges and the police code of silence — could act with absolute impunity when it came to policing Chicago communities of color.

However, the mass movement in the African American community that had formed around the murders of Hampton and Clark returned its own verdict, voting Hanrahan out of office. Ten years later, this movement was largely responsible for electing Chicago’s first Black mayor, Harold Washington.

Jon Burge and Chicago Police Torture

Also, in 1972, Chicago police detective Jon Burge and his midnight crew of “asskickers” began a 20-year reign of terror in Chicago’s African American communities, torturing more than 125 people of color with electric shock, suffocation, mock executions, and other forms of racist brutality during interrogations. Prosecutors participated in the interrogations, falsely denied knowledge of the brutality, and used the confessions obtained to send the victims to prison and, in some cases, to death row. Ten years later, in 1982, the state’s attorney of Cook County, Richard M. Daley, who was Richard J. Daley’s son, was officially informed about the torture but chose to ignore it, leading to a second decade of torture and wrongful convictions. For their part, Cook County Judges uniformly rejected the mounting evidence of torture presented in their courtrooms.

In 1989, the cover-up was pierced, thanks in large part to a federal civil rights trial, an anonymous police source, and an investigative reporter. Activists led protests that compelled Burge’s firing in 1993, but no prosecutors, federal or Cook County, sought to prosecute Burge or his crew, and the police department and then Mayor Richard M. Daley suppressed, then rejected, an internal report that condemned the torture as “systematic.” Undeterred, the Fraternal Order of Police continued to defend Burge and his men and held them up as heroes.

The battle to expose the torture scandal and to seek justice for the victims continued, and nearly a decade later, in 2002, a Cook County special prosecutor was appointed, but he had close ties to the Daley machine. After a four-year investigation that cost Cook County taxpayers more than $7 million, the special prosecutor returned no indictments, instead releasing what was widely considered to be a whitewashed report.

Once again, the failure to indict occasioned outrage and disgust, so the Chicago City Council and the Cook County Board of Commissioners held highly publicized public hearings and issued resolutions calling for a federal investigation, a call that was underscored by similar findings made by the United Nations Committee Against Torture. This time the US Attorneys’ Office took heed, but the statute of limitations had long since expired on the torture itself. As a result, in October of 2008, the Feds indicted Burge for lying, under oath, about the torture that he had masterminded, and for obstruction of justice.

In front of a fair and impartial federal judge, Burge and his lawyers, who were paid handsomely by the Fraternal Order of Police, were forced to take their chances with a predominantly white federal jury. Five Black torture survivors powerfully told their stories, and were subjected to a transparently racist grilling by Burge’s lawyers. A Burge associate, testifying under a grant of immunity, demonstrated the power of the police code of silence by backing off from his prior grand jury testimony, in which he had admitted to witnessing Burge torturing one of his victims. Burge, sometimes tearful, denied everything from the stand.

Nonetheless, swayed by the enormity of the underlying torture, the jury convicted Burge of perjury and obstruction of justice in June of 2010. The following January, the judge, while condemning the police department, the state’s attorneys’ office, and the Cook County judiciary, sentenced Burge to four and a half years in the federal penitentiary. None of Burge’s confederates were ever prosecuted for their crimes.

Meanwhile, the struggle against torture continued. An intergenerational and interracial movement formed, and, largely as a result of its activism, the City of Chicago granted a historic package of reparations to the survivors.

Parallels to the McDonald Case

When we view the McDonald case through the lens of Chicago history, we can identify many parallels. We see outrageous and overtly racist police violence; a cover-up that is exposed despite the best efforts of the police involved; and the complicity of police superintendents, mayors, prosecutors and other high-ranking officials in the cover-up. We see the police code of silence reaching into the Burge and Van Dyke trials, with police partners and associates defying the prosecutors who granted them immunity in an attempt to aid their fellow officers. We see racism as the elephant in those court rooms, unspoken by the prosecutors, but fanned at every opportunity by the defense, which depicted the victims at every opportunity as subhuman monsters. We see a powerful and racist police union that has defended the indefensible for the past 50 years, exalting Burge and Van Dyke, paying for their defenses, and intimidating police witnesses in the courtroom when they are summoned to testify against their fellow officers.

But we also see that even a predominantly white jury can summon the courage to do the right thing, at least when the police crime is so enormous and the proof so clear as it is in the Burge and Van Dyke cases. Most importantly, we also see the power of public outrage, community activism and Black-led multiracial movements that march, demonstrate, disrupt and demand a seat at the table. These forces must continue to march forward, so long as the fundamentally racist criminal injustice system represses and incarcerates communities of color.

This story first appeared at Truthout.

Categories: Newswire

Why I’m Sick and Tired of Hearing About Russiagate

October 17, 2018 - 11:00am

I'm a recovering Russiagate addict. Not so long ago, I awaited the latest Russiagate tweet from Seth Abramson as eagerly as a new installment of Serial. These days, I roll my eyes and scroll on.

I’m not a skeptic. I don’t doubt that Russia hacked the Clinton campaign, trolled social media or attempted to access election machines. This is entirely consistent with what we know of Russia, which, according to a 2017 Newsweek investigation, hacked both the McCain and Obama campaigns in 2008 and has continued phishing attacks on U.S. officials and politicians ever since, accessing the Joint Chiefs of Staff email system in 2015. Nor is Russia a newcomer to online manipulation. A former employee of Russia’s “troll factory”—the Internet Research Center in St. Petersburg—told NPR of creating fake social media accounts in 2014 to sow discord in the United States.

Nor would I be surprised if Donald Trump made backroom deals with Russia. Trump has never met an oligarch he didn’t want to do business with, including one described by a U.S. diplomat as “notoriously corrupt, even for Azerbaijan.”

What I question is the proportion of Russiagate coverage and amount of hope that liberals vest in it. In July and August, the New York Times ran 16 front-page stories about Russia and Rachel Maddow discussed it in 30 episodes of her MSNBC show. The Times also ran a breathless 12-page special report in September that calls Russia’s 2016 cyber-meddling “unprecedented”—ignoring the many precedents. Much of this reporting focused on the minutiae of the Mueller investigation.

Ultimately, the front page of the Times is limited real estate, and devoting it to Russiagate sidelines other Trump administration scandals unfolding in real time. During July and August, the National Labor Relations Board laid plans to restrict union organizing, the Department of Defense successfully lobbied for a $716 billion budget, and the Office of Management and Budget moved to penalize immigrants who use welfare. None of these stories made the front page.

What also galls is that the media focus on Russian influence contains a whiff of self-absolution. Recall that, as of March 2016, the Trump campaign had received $1.9 billion in free press, according to media firm SMG Delta; the next-highest was Hillary Clinton at $746 million. Les Moonves, then-chief of CBS, joked that Trump’s candidacy “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” The campaign invested little in ground operations or advertising. Would it have taken off without the media’s help?

Of course, the media cannot be separated from its eager consumers. Many of us wish to wake up from the nightmare of November 2016. The Mueller investigation, with its Watergate parallels, seems to offer that hope.

But here lies another, subtler danger of Russiagate. The fantasy of Mueller as savior relies on an inherent faith in the system. The wheels of justice are turning; we need only sit back and wait, and the aberration will be corrected.

But what if 2016 was no aberration? What if something is rotten in U.S. democracy? One clear sign is the dismal voter participation: 56 percent in the presidential race, 10 to 30 points lower than recent turnouts in much of Europe. To isolate Russia’s influence is to ignore long-gathering storms: the Republican suppression of the vote; the Democratic establishment’s failure to field a candidate who could credibly speak to growing rage over inequality and endless war; the misogyny and xenophobia that Trump was able to exploit; and the widespread disillusionment with our political system that made voting for Trump—or staying home—an attractive “fuck you” move.

In an election decided by 77,744 votes in three states, almost anything can be said to have tipped it. Our democracy should be healthy enough to stand up to Russia’s predictable, often ham-handed meddling. (How much sway should a “Hillary is Satan” Facebook post really have over public discourse?) To properly inoculate ourselves may mean something indeed unprecedented: insistent organizing for transformational change, whether that’s the public financing of elections, the restructuring of our political system for real participatory democracy or the fundamental redistribution of wealth and power. One crucial piece of any of this is a responsible and responsive media.

Categories: Newswire

The U.S. and Saudi Arabia Have Been Getting Away With Murder for Years

October 16, 2018 - 7:46pm

March 2015 marked a decisive phase in what is now a more than three-year war in Yemen. Saudi Arabia, in coordination with members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, initiated a military operation against Yemen’s capital of Sana’a in an effort to dislodge any fragment of Houthi presence while also fomenting a tide of psychological warfare that would signal the ruthless course of action to come. Yemen’s infrastructure was so thoroughly upended by coalition attacks that within a year and a half of the initial salvo, the local population was struck by the worst cholera outbreak ever recorded in modern history. Today, with an aerial and naval blockade choking off aid supplies, the number of Yemenis who are entirely dependent on humanitarian assistance is over 22 million. The catastrophic impact on mental health in Yemen has resulted in psychological trauma, including a surge in suicide rates. Despite worldwide condemnation, U.S.-backed coalition airstrikes have continued—targeting hospitals, medical facilities, religious sites, and even gatherings of mourners.

While the media landscape is saturated with concern for the whereabouts and likely demise of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, whose reported disappearance has thrown the Kingdom’s advocacy campaign into overdrive, concern for Saudi Arabia's military offensive in Yemen has taken a backseat. Still, the bloodshed in Yemen has not abated for a moment, with American weapons lighting the way.

In August, after striking a school bus in Yemen’s Saada province—resulting in the deaths of 44 Yemeni children—the Saudi-led coalition apologized and admitted—to some extent—that “there were mistakes made in abiding by the rules of engagement.” This admission, while rare, was made in an effort to thwart international pressure against Saudi Arabia's military operations—a feeble exercise of propaganda that is inconsequential as its war machine rages on.

The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is a deliberate and orchestrated blaze fueled by petrodollars and the U.S. military. Without the profitable relationship that Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies have had with the United States, with exchanges of military packages crossing all partisan lines, what is unfolding in Yemen would not have been possible. The laser-guided bomb used in the school bus attack that drew, arguably, some of the most striking opprobrium against Saudi Arabia, was made by none other than U.S. weapons-manufacturer Lockheed Martin. In 2016, after the intentional bombing of a community hall in Sana’a filled with mourners, fragments of a 500-pound bomb produced by Raytheon were found amongst the debri. At the time, Human Rights Watch reported that “at least two air-dropped munitions penetrated the roof of the hall and detonated a few minutes apart.” At least 140 were killed, and 525 were injured.

While the response of the United States to the actions of Saudi Arabia, under this administration and those before it, has been confined to a mixture of either bureaucratic silence or mournful, yet deceptive neutrality, the government's material interests have been clear from the beginning: The road to war in Yemen is paved with U.S. munitions and direct military assistance. In the war on Yemen, coalition yets are refueled in the air by American planes and weapons provided by U.S. arms sales. A month after coalition strikes pounded a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital and destroyed a potato factory in 2016, then-President Obama stood before the United Nations General Assembly and stated that “[a]cross the region’s conflicts, we have to insist that all parties recognize a common humanity and that nations end proxy wars that fuel disorder.” This wasn't merely a display of imperial sanctimony but another show of American callousness; impenetrable, and unwavering.

The investigative authority of the Saudi-led military coalition—after tasking itself with probing the school bus attack in August—made an unambitious request in September that “coalition forces should initiate legal action” against those responsible. Pockmarks from air raids and cluster bombs—the latter of which are prohibited by the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which the United States and Saudi Arabia never signed—litter Yemen and further intensify conditions of human-made devastation. Saudi Arabia's “Decisive Storm” in Yemen is being fought by air, sea and land, with critical support from the United States, beyond simple logistics and weaponry. In May it was revealed that American Special Forces, which now operate in 70 percent of the world's countries, are assisting Saudi Arabia in a secret mission designed to help bring an end to the coalition's stalemate. In September, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo certified to Congress that “the governments of Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates are undertaking demonstrable actions to reduce the risk of harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure resulting from military operations of these governments.” Nearly one month later a coalition airstrike killed four civilians at a bee farm in al-Hudayda, Yemen’s fourth largest city.

Saudi Arabia and the United States are putting on a duplicitous show of regret and moderate assurance in order to undermine even the most short-lived occasions of public disapproval. Taking to The Washington Post, Chris Murphy, junior Democratic Senator for Connecticut and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, coupled his denunciation of Saudi Arabia's actions in Yemen with the argument that has been used time and time again to undermine criticism of the country's actions: that the Kingdom is “an important counterterrorism partner,” one whose relationship the United States should not abandon. And yet, there is no dog and pony show that can distract from the whole of these crimes, each one climbing in ferocity. The apologies and investigations buy time between military operations and a tightening blockade that threatens to further isolate Yemen and destroy whatever infrastructure remains. So long as the war continues, without material consequences for both Saudi Arabia and its allies, the propaganda efforts will follow.

Categories: Newswire

Trump’s Space Force Is No Joke

October 16, 2018 - 11:00am

In the rush to heap scorn upon the Trump administration, the president’s critics sometimes miss the forest for the trees. Such was the case in June when Donald Trump announced the creation of the socalled Space Force, a sixth branch of the U.S. military.

Critics mocked the idea as “ridiculous,” “stupid” and part of an “imaginary space war.” “There’s no threat in space! Who are we fighting?” asked Stephen Colbert. Vox wondered if the Space Force would carry lightsabers.

It was easy to miss that the idea is not uniquely Trumpian—and poses a real threat. For all intents and purposes, a space force already exists in the form of the Air Force Space Command (AFSPC), a 36,000-person division of the Air Force that’s been operating since 1982.

Where Trump’s proposal differs is that it forms an entirely new military branch devoted to space, something James Clay Moltz, associate professor at the Naval Postgraduate School and author of The Politics of Space, says is “largely unprecedented.”

According to Vice President Mike Pence, the Space Force would include a new centralized command structure for space operations that would take over satellite-based military tasks such as surveillance and navigation for ground troops, as well as monitoring and tracking missile launches, all currently performed by the AFSPC. It’ll also take charge of any offensive capabilities developed for space, such as anti-satellite weapons (ASATs), introduce an “elite group of joint war-fighters” to support the rest of the armed forces, and oversee a new agency dedicated to developing “cutting-edge warfighting capabilities” for space.

The proposal is viewed by the space-savvy in the military as “either unwise, unnecessary or premature,” Moltz says—and almost certainly expensive. It’s on the basis of its potential wastefulness and redundancy that critics such as Defense Secretary James Mattis, ex-astronauts Mark and Scott Kelly, Air Force secretary Heather Wilson and other members of the military have assailed the idea.

But there’s a much bigger debate to be had. International conflict in space is no longer a plotline ripped from a sci-fi paperback. A space war is becoming more and more likely. 

THE GEOPOLITICS OF SPACE

U.S. military dominance in space is really about maintaining military dominance back on Earth. Space infrastructure, particularly satellites, is key to the U.S. military’s global reach, servicing everything from navigation to weapons targeting to communications. A 2018 report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) trumpets: “Space capabilities enable the American way of warfare.”

The global space arms race began with the Cold War, when both the United States and the USSR began testing ground-based anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons. Reagan’s Air Force became the first to test one on a spacecraft, destroying an old observation satellite in 1985. (Reagan also, infamously, attempted to put in place the so-called “Star Wars” program, which would have used spacebased lasers to shoot down incoming Soviet nuclear warheads.)

The 1990 Gulf War—known now as the first “space war”—made U.S. empire and satellites inseparable. With 24-hour satellite support, U.S. forces could not only communicate across broad channels, but map out terrain, observe and predict enemy actions, and use new guided, “smart” weapons that were, in theory, less indiscriminate. Satellites make today’s drone warfare possible.

While the United States and Russia have adhered to what Laura Grego, senior scientist in the Global Security Program of the Union of Concerned Scientists, calls an “unofficial moratorium” on stationing dedicated weapons in space (as opposed to ground-based systems that target spacecraft), the United States—and, increasingly, its rivals—continue to invest in other forms of space militarization.

The United States leads the way in satellite capacity and space military technology, and has opposed past demilitarization efforts. In 2006, the George W. Bush administration blocked a UN resolution on arms control in space, issuing a National Space Policy that pledged to resist “new legal regimes or other restrictions,” including arms control agreements, on U.S. use of space. In response to this and other steps by the United States, other countries have moved to shore up their own space capabilities.

China tested an ASAT in 2007, and both it and Russia have increasingly invested in counter-space capabilities, such as ASAT technology and jamming GPS receivers. China and Russia’s advances left Washington spooked. In 2014, the Pentagon invested an extra $2 billion into classified offensive space programs. In 2015, the “emerging threats” of Russia and China were used to justify a $3 billion add-on for national security space capabilities, as officials openly talked about fighting a war in space.

We’re still a long way, however, from ray guns and X-wing dogfights. While in-orbit ASAT weapons exist, for the time being any space conflict would be fought from the Earth. For example, all three countries have capacity to disrupt enemy satellites by jamming them with their own, or to hack into a satellite’s ground operation.

But increased reliance on satellites for warfare— not to mention everyday life—opens up “a critical vulnerability,” warns the CSIS. Space infrastructure is fragile, vulnerable to hacking and able to be brought down by other spacecraft intentionally ramming into it, by ground-based ASAT missiles or even by loose pieces of debris.

Because space is unfamiliar terrain, nations don’t know how to interpret others’ behavior. According to Cassandra Steer, an independent consultant on space security and former executive director of the McGill University Centre for Research on Air and Space Law, when the United States and its allies have run war games centered on space, they can quickly escalate to nuclear war. 

“If one major power thinks the other is about to take out its satellites, it could take reciprocal action, or even launch a conventional or nuclear attack,” says William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy.

And as space becomes increasingly cluttered with spacecraft, the chance of accidental calamity increases. Pentagon officials warn that space is becoming increasingly crowded. The U.S. alone operates 859 government and commercial satellites, nearly one in five of which are military.

For the first time, two satellites collided in February 2009, producing a “debris cloud” that added to the approximately 500,000 pieces of debris currently in orbit, threatening to tear through spacecraft and add yet more debris to this total. The destruction of spacecraft by ASAT tests, too, adds to the debris.

The more debris in orbit, the greater the threat to the nonmilitary use of space that makes modern life possible. Traffic lights, banking systems, telephones, the internet, plane travel—all rely on satellites whose destruction could suddenly leave us in the dark.

“If we have no information and we’re in a blackout, people hit the panic button,” Steer says. “And that may mean an actual weapons button.”

BACK TO EARTH

Given these dangers, many diplomats and activists are pushing to declare space a weapon-free global commons. But there’s been little movement on any legally binding agreement. Although “weapons of mass destruction” have been banned in space since the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, international regulation is sparse.

In 2008, Russia and China put forward a draft treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space (PPWT), which lacked a specific verification regime and included a carve-out for the kind of ground-based ASAT weapons both countries had been testing. Still, flawed as it was, Project Ploughshares called the PPWT “undoubtedly the most substantive effort thus far” to make weapon-free space a matter of international law. The United States, however, said it couldn’t support such a “fundamentally flawed” proposal.

Many analysts say a treaty is unlikely in the near future, and look to other avenues of demilitarization. 

A more realistic solution, Steer says, is non-binding instruments like guidelines that regulate conduct in space, which can work due to political buy-in and reciprocity. These norms might include, for example, best practices on approaching another country’s spacecraft.

The United States could be amenable to such agreements. John Hyten, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command and a proponent of the Space Force, has urged the creation of “international norms of behavior in space.”

“Very few military off icers are enthusiastic about weaponizing space,” James Moltz says. “That said, many in the military are skeptical that war and weapons can be kept from space forever.”

SPACE PROFITEERS

The deeply vested interests involved—interests that have the ear of U.S. politicians—also make it difficult to roll back or halt the militarization of space.

The National Space Council, a group of cabinet members who shape U.S. space policy, has a “users’ advisory group” whose members include the CEOs of Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman and other corporations.

The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), a trade group that counts these and other companies as members, funded the 2018 CSIS report calling for government investment in national security space assets, and has called for greater national security investment in space at the annual Space Symposium.

The Symposium, now in its 34th year, embodies the close ties between industry and government on space policy. Co-sponsored by the AIA and its defense contractor members, the Symposium provides an opportunity for industry to network with representatives of think tanks and educational institutions, foreign leaders, and military, national security and other government officials.

This year’s event in April saw speeches from Vice President Mike Pence, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, U.S. senators and Air Force officials. The current AFSPC commander, Lee Levy, declared that plans for warfighting in space were no longer simply a discussion, and that the U.S. military needed to “gain and maintain space superiority.” 

Industry influence extends to the politicians who advocate further space militarization. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), reportedly instrumental in selling Trump on the Space Force, has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the defense industry. Reps. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) and Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), both big boosters of a more aggressive space policy, represent districts populated by the defense industry and have raked in similarly large donations.

The Space Force contributes to this build-up, further entrenching militarization and feeding money to defense contractors. “President Trump’s enthusiasm for the Space Force,” Hartung says, “creates a danger that existing norms, like keeping weapons out of space, are more likely to be set aside.” He says the resulting space arms race “could spark a general war.” 

Yet before efforts to rein in weaponization can gain momentum, public awareness must be raised, a task made harder by widespread media derision of Trump’s Space Force proposal. Conflict in space is a clear and present danger. We need to take it seriously.

Categories: Newswire

To Address the Climate Crisis, We Must Completely Rethink How We Produce and Consume Food

October 15, 2018 - 9:06pm

The clock on climate upheaval is ticking fast with little time to lose, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made frighteningly clear last week. “Limiting global warming to 1.5ºC would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society,” the October 8 report warned. Yet just one month earlier, the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) brushed over what may be the most critical “aspect of society,” making only marginal mention of the crisis’s top cause.

Tucked away in a pastry-laden conference room in a downtown San Francisco office building, a “high-level roundtable” of international leaders discussed something pivotal to the fate of the planet yet sidelined by the summit: food and agriculture.

Led by New Zealand’s ambassador to the United States, Tim Groser, and top representatives from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Resources Institute and others, the roundtable posed the challenge, “How can we make agricultural climate action more attractive?”

Food and agriculture represents the single-biggest producer of greenhouse gas emissions—at between 19 and 29 percent including associated deforestation, more than any other sector in the global economy. Yet, “agriculture is always the last at the party,” noted Groser, former chair of the World Trade Organization agriculture negotiations process, during the roundtable. Other GCAS panels explored issues of deforestation, land use and food production systems—but these pivotal issues were largely absent from the summit’s main stage events, and were barely mentioned in the protests and teach-ins surrounding the summit.

The roundtable, hosted by the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, featured a dissonant blend of urgency and lack of clarity: There was no consensus around how to rapidly reduce food’s greenhouse gas emissions, which stem chiefly from industrial agriculture’s removal of forests and other carbon sinks, alongside ballooning meat and dairy production. Livestock production alone spews 14.5 percent of all the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

A failing food system

“The way we produce food is failing us,” said Zitouni Ould Dada, deputy director of the UN FAO’s climate and environment division, in an interview after the event. “The whole system of land use has to change. We need to produce food with the land we have.”

    The roundtable raised a host of food and climate crises and challenges:

  • In a survey of 174 countries by the World Resources Institute, just nine had targets for reducing methane emissions from their food production.

  • Despite heaps of evidence showing industrial livestock is a top climate threat, global meat and dairy production and consumption continue to soar.

  • Massive food waste is a major hunger and climate problem: according to the UN FAO, a full one-third of all food is wasted or lost, and “if food wastage were a country, it would be the third largest emitting country in the world.”

As the FAO’s Dada explained, “We are trying to get production to shift toward efficiency because we know there is so much food wastage, from the time you sow the food to the time you have it on your plate,” including long-distance transportation, storage and processing. “Instead of producing more, we can produce more efficiently.”

The roundtable clarified a key dilemma: with nations dependent on trade, exports and economic development to maintain economic growth—and that growth invariably spurring greater meat consumption—how can countries fill their economic coffers while slashing food-related emissions?

As the world’s top exporter of goat and sheep meat, and a major beef producer, New Zealand illustrates this tension between trade and emissions reduction. The far-flung island nation faces a “very acute problem when it comes to our emissions program,” Groser acknowledged.

But, with global meat consumption rising and livestock’s climate hoof-print clear, how would top beef exporters reduce their climate harm while maintaining income for those nations and their farmers? When this reporter posed the question to the roundtable, Groser dodged the core challenge of production and consumption. “Production is not the problem,” he responded. “The problem is the how, the sustainability of production.”

While debate persists between better meat and no meat, more sustainable ranching has been on the rise, including grass-fed, smaller-scale and rotational grazing systems. Scientists and activists continue to debate the emissions reductions and carbon storage potential of these alternatives, but there is little question that producing and consuming less livestock would reduce food’s climate impact.  

Unfortunately, the big picture of meat and dairy is grim. Global per capita meat consumption continues to rise (with the United States and other industrial “developed” nations leading the way)—and with it comes climate-wrecking deforestation, along with methane and nitrous oxide emissions.

When asked about using national policy such as subsidies or other incentives to propel more sustainable food production, the roundtable offered meager response. Groser said there are efforts in that direction, but he stressed the contradiction of governments trying to price carbon in the marketplace while also subsidizing carbon production.

For Groser, the dilemma exemplifies “the enormous sensitivity of agriculture” in climate reduction, particularly for nations that rely on agriculture and exports to survive. According to the EPA, agriculture comprises 9 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions—though given farming’s relatively small chunk of the U..S economy, “it is a disproportionately GHG-intensive activity,” the USDA Economic Research Service has noted. New Zealand, meanwhile, generates half of its emissions from agriculture, Ireland 30 percent, France 20 percent, and Uruguay around 80 percent, according to Groser. “There’s no incentive structure for anyone to worry about agriculture other than France, Ireland and New Zealand.”

Like the summit itself, the roundtable focused far more on market-driven approaches than on how governments can regulate or fundamentally change the market systems that require relentless growth and profits. Gail Work, CEO of One Earth Ventures, touted lab research suggesting “we can increase the size of cows and the volume of milk while reducing pollution.” Manish Bapna, executive vice president of the World Resources Institute, emphasized using “market forces” to sway corporate supply chains to address deforestation—but, he added, “what we’ve seen is not nearly enough progress.” Any notion of the public sector spurring or supporting more rapid change was missing from the roundtable conversation.

As the latest IPCC report spells out, aggressively tackling the climate crisis would have “clear benefits to people and natural ecosystems,” and “could go hand in hand with ensuring a more sustainable and equitable society.” While given short shrift by the climate summit and the movement  protests surrounding it, critical efforts are afoot to shrink food’s outsized role in climate change. From institutions such as schools and hospitals reducing their meat consumption, to global farmer movements pushing agroecology farming systems that boost resiliency while reducing emissions, there are signs of hope.

The chief question is whether this progress can be radically and rapidly expanded.  For that to happen, the issue must be more heartily embraced by high-profile climate summits, world governments and the climate movement, as a central component of both the crisis and its solutions.

Categories: Newswire

The Case For Giving Every American $25 “Democracy Vouchers” For Every Election

October 12, 2018 - 7:56pm

With the November midterms just weeks away, more and more media outlets and liberal pundits are predicting huge electoral gains for Democrats.

While much reporting has focused on the potential of such a “blue wave” to flip control of Congress, another less covered aspect of this Democratic insurgency is the ever-growing list of candidates refusing to accept corporate money.

In fact, almost 200 candidates across the country—including high profile names such as Democratic Senate challenger Beto O’Rourke in Texas, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—have taken some version of a no-corporate-money pledge.

These pledges all speak to the festering anger citizens feel toward our broken campaign finance system.

But while refusing individual corporate donations is laudable, it’s not enough. Individual actions will not change structural pressures that distort our public policy. And they do not make the current donor class any less powerful or break down the barriers women and people of color face when running for office.

Rather, clean campaign finance pledges are merely the gateway to real structural reform. To turn these pledges into concrete progressive action, we should heed the words of Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig: “Their words mean nothing unless they have a plan to fix this democracy. First.”

If they are serious about changing the status quo, candidates who refuse corporate money must also act immediately to overhaul our campaign finance system.

Undeniably, achieving such systemic reform presents challenges. Over the past forty years, starting with Buckley v. Valeo (1976)—a case striking down candidate spending caps and independent expenditure limits—the Supreme Court has shackled our ability to regulate political spending. With Brett Kavanaugh now on the bench, a deluge of litigation will likely further restrict our ability to rein in big money in politics.

The good news is that we don’t actually have to limit spending to fix our democracy. Rather, we can lift up the voices of non-wealthy Americans to match the influence of current donors through public financing for congressional and state elections.

While largely overlooked, there are numerous public financing models in cities and states across the country. The United States even has a public financing system for presidential elections—one that helped foster healthy political competition during the 1970s and 1980s. The program, never adequately updated, became obsolete with the rising cost of elections, culminating in 2012, when, for the first time, neither major party presidential candidate used the system in the general election.

Campaign finance reform advocates have long focused on two systems of public financing. The first is modeled after a program in New York City, which matches small-dollar constituent donations to participating candidates at a rate of 6-to-1. This system boosts the power of small money, giving donors of all backgrounds a greater voice in our democracy.

The second system, based off of an existing one in Maine, is full public financing of elections. Under this program, once a candidate raises a specified small dollar contribution from a select number of constituents, the state will provide a grant to fund a candidate’s entire campaign. Participating in this program is optional, but once candidates take public money, they can no longer accept any private money.

These programs have operated with success. Candidates in states with full public financing spend less time fundraising and more time with their constituents. Moreover, under public financing systems, there is more candidate and donor diversity. The impact of small donors is also increased.

What’s most exciting for reform advocates is that, as of 2017, a new public financing system has been added to our toolkit. And it has game-changing potential.

In 2015, Seattle voters approved a first-of-its-kind public financing system that gives every city resident four $25 vouchers, or, “Democracy Dollars,” that can be allocated to qualifying municipal candidates. To ensure maximum participation, every registered voter is mailed the vouchers. (Non-registered, eligible voters can apply for a voucher.)

Unlike matching funds, democracy vouchers require no out-of-pocket donation. Therefore, anyone, regardless of wealth, can participate. This is a radical expansion of political inclusion.

And while modest political giving may seem routine or inconsequential, it can have profound implications for how citizens connect to our political institutions—and to society as a whole.

“The Democracy Voucher program made me feel like becoming visible in our local democracy,” Susan Russell, an affordable housing advocate and formerly homeless Seattle resident, explained to Washington Can, a Washington-based community organization. “It made [me] feel like I was valued. I got to donate to a candidate who made clear my voice mattered. It was huge. These vouchers gave me a voice.”

In early 2017, Jon Grant, a candidate for the Seattle City Council who lost in the general election, helped enroll members of the city’s homeless population in the program. In March of that year, he explained in a press release: “Seattle has been particularly cruel to its homeless community members by constantly sweeping encampments. If the homeless were brought into the political process and could access democracy vouchers to fund candidates who fight for their interests Seattle might start taking a more compassionate approach.” Homeless donors, among others, helped the Grant campaign raise $300,000 in vouchers over the course of the campaign.  

The voucher experiment is still young—we only have data from one election cycle—and there is clearly room for improvement, but the early results speak for themselves.

In the first year of the program, the total number of donors approximately tripled from 2013. Nearly 90 percent of voucher users were new local election donors and low- or moderate-income voters and voters under age thirty were better represented among voucher users than cash donors.

Voucher-collecting candidates also raised a much higher percentage of their overall funds from constituents than their non-voucher and pre-voucher counterparts. Moreover, evidence shows that vouchers encouraged more candidates to run.

Following Seattle’s success, the concept of vouchers is starting to spread. The New York City Council is considering supplementing its public financing program with vouchers. And the cities of Austin, Texas and Albuquerque, New Mexico are also examining the idea.

In New Hampshire, campaign finance reform advocates have launched a campaign to implement "Democracy Dollars" for state elections. The New Hampshire legislature failed to pass such a system in 2017, but Olivia Zink, executive director of Open Democracy, a non-partisan, pro-democracy organization, explains to In These Times that, “We feel optimistic about our changes in the upcoming year.”

On the national level, California Rep. Ro Khanna has endorsed implementing vouchers for U.S. Congressional elections.

Ultimately, whether it’s vouchers, matching funds or full funding, a commitment to public financing is far more significant—in terms of lasting, systemic change and breaking down barriers—than any individual campaign’s refusal to accept corporate PAC money.

Railing against the current campaign finance system is just the first step for candidates who believe our electoral system is fundamentally broken. To change the status quo, candidates must pair their condemnation with concrete policy solutions. And while many Democratic challengers seem to now understand this reality, we must continue to hold their feet to the fire—for only such systemic reform can help revive American democracy.

Categories: Newswire

The Discourse on Palestine Is Shifting. Will Concrete Policy Changes Follow?

October 11, 2018 - 6:47pm

Even as Washington churned through a miasma of Brett Kavanaugh lies and horror, a different kind of history was being written more than a thousand miles west. For all who doubted whether the public and political discourse on Palestine and Israel has changed at all, the keynote speakers at the national conference of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights in St. Paul, Minnesota proved them wrong.

Certainly, much of the conversation is still dangerously one-sided, too often uncritically supportive of Israel. U.S. policy has gotten worse, much worse, in the last two years. And we know that U.S. democracy is so flawed, so broken, that changing public opinion does not guarantee a shift in actual political decision-making.

But there can be no question that, as Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) and Rev. William Barber II of the Poor People's Campaign demonstrated unequivocally, dramatic shifts are underway in public engagement on the issue, from movements to the media to policymakers. Those changes are simultaneously creating and reflecting a new political moment, in which variants of the struggle for Palestinian rights are finding center stage in a widening range of organizations and movements.

In that basement hotel ballroom, though, there was still uncertainty when Rep. McCollum rose to speak. She outlined Israel's new "nation-state" law. Most of the audience was already familiar with the law, and how it had turned the country’s longstanding discriminatory practices designed to privilege Jews and disempower Palestinians, into an official component of Israel's Basic Law: the equivalent of a constitutional amendment. But would she say the whole truth? Four or five hundred people were sitting on the edge of their chairs.

“The world has a name for the form of government that is codified in the Nation-State Law," she said. "It is called ‘apartheid.’” There was a collective gasp, and the audience, many in tears, leaped to their feet in a massive ovation.

Identifying Israel’s practices as apartheid isn’t new, and in most parts of the world it isn’t controversial or even particularly noteworthy—it’s simply an accurate description. But in the context of the United States, and especially in the context of the U.S. Congress, describing Israel with that term has long assumed to be political suicide. Rep. McCollum recognized it was not – and she repeatedly invoked her district constituents who, she said, “expect me to fight for progressive values, human rights and policies that respect and elevate our shared human dignity. I am representative, a reflection of the people who elect me. So, my work to promote peace, attack poverty, defend the rights of children and stand in solidarity with the oppressed, including the Palestinian people, is because I have the support of my wonderful constituents.” That strong local support has had her back as Rep. McCollum has taken the initiative, the only member of Congress so far, to introduce legislation directly supporting Palestinian rights. Now strengthened by 29 co-sponsors, H.R. 4391 opposes any use of U.S. military aid to support Israel's brutal juvenile military detention system used against Palestinian children.

After calling out Israeli apartheid, Rep. McCollum still wasn't done. She made the same links to broader movements that so many activists have been focused on, urging participants to "think about a few of the destructive, dangerous policies advanced by this president: a Muslim ban; a separation wall with Mexico; immigrant family separation and child detention; rejecting refugees; the only nation in the world to withdraw from the Paris Climate agreement; reneging on the Iran nuclear deal; cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans while sabotaging healthcare for the neediest Americans. Is it any wonder that Benjamin Netanyahu knows he has a 'green light' to advance 'apartheid' inside Israel and endlessly expand settlements? Or, for Israeli security forces to massacre of scores of unarmed protesters in Gaza with complete impunity?"

The day before, there had already been another breakthrough. The Rev. Dr. William Barber, head of Repairers of the Breach and co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, spoke to the conference’s opening session. "Apartheid is apartheid is apartheid," he thundered. And then Barber went on to remind the audience, "Historically, it is important for us to remember that one path regarding the Zionist project in Palestine was a colonialist project from the beginning. Theodor Herzl – the founder of modern Zionism – knew that his proposal for a modern nation state for Jewish people was a colonialist project, and he pitched it to Britain’s great colonialist, Cecil Rhodes, as just that. It was never just purely about righting the terrible wrongs of the Holocaust. But for him it was about expanding a global empire."

Barber isn’t running for office, of course. But he plays an influential role among a broad range of people and movements nationally, and was just granted a MacArthur “Genius” award. Given his important voice, acknowledging Zionism's and Israel’s origins as rooted in colonialism represents a major breakthrough.

Of course, these two speeches, these two exemplars of serious discourse shift on Palestinian rights and the Israel-Palestine conflict, did not emerge out of thin air. Years of activist work including public, institutional and congressional advocacy, and a growing presence of Palestinian voices in the mainstream media, created the conditions for such shifts. That work is also reflected in the recognition of the legitimacy of Palestinian rights by new and much broader political forces.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has challenged universities, corporations, major church denominations and cultural centers to respond to U.S. and their own institutional complicity with Israeli violations of international law and human rights. The U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights endorsed the Policy Platform of the Movement for Black Lives, and its work with Black community organizations has connected many member groups of the U.S. Campaign coalition to new alliances focusing on ending police and other state violence. Those include the Jewish Voice for Peace-initiated Deadly Exchange campaign, which mobilizes community groups to stop local U.S. law enforcement agencies from sending police to be trained by the Israeli military and national police. The Palestine contingent at the giant immigrant rights march in August, focusing on the children separated from their families at the southern U.S. border, carried U.S. Campaign signs reading, “From Palestine to Mexico, All the Walls Have Got to Go!” And the work of the Institute for Middle East Understanding shows up daily in the huge increase in Palestinian voices and analysis supporting Palestinian rights in the pages and on the airwaves of mainstream as well as progressive and alternative media.

It's all having a huge impact. The pace of transformation of public discourse is unprecedented in the last 25 years or more. While media shifts are slower, political movement slower still, and real policy changes so far non-existent, the overall effect is unmistakable. But there's plenty of work ahead. It remains a challenge to take advantage of this political moment and reach out to these broader sectors of society newly open to hearing, accepting, and eventually mobilizing to support Palestinian rights and equality for all. It will not be easy to maintain the strong solidarity work with the most progressive and left sectors of communities of color and movements fighting for immigrants, environmental justice, women and LGBTQ rights, against racism, for Native justice and more—all while reaching out to more mainstream organizations.

But we've never had a moment like this in which to try. As Rev. Barber said near the end of his speech in Minnesota, "In this moment when Trumpvangelicals have linked up with Zionist extremists and the corporate fascism of white nationalists around the world, it may seem like this Campaign’s goal of Palestinian rights is at a low point. But I stopped by today to say that, in an unexpected way, our present troubles may increase, intensify and embolden agitation for Palestinian rights and for all human rights. Indeed, this is what we are seeing, as people who have been fighting in our silos link up across issues and recognize the intersectionality of our campaigns. The same corporate interests that used white nationalism to put Trump in the White House, and leaned into Zionist extremism to move the U.S. Embassy to Tel Aviv, also want to cut taxes for corporations, deregulate, ignore climate science, take away healthcare, deny living wages, cut the social safety net and give more and more money to the U.S. military. But here’s the good news: There are far more of us than there are of them. And, God have mercy, even some of them have joined us when we’ve come together in truth and love and mercy."

A lot of work ahead indeed.

Full disclosure: the writer works closely with Rev. Barber and the Poor People's Campaign; she is a co-founder of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights and serves on the national board of Jewish Voice for Peace.

Categories: Newswire

Socialist Foreign Policy Must Center Climate Change

October 10, 2018 - 10:40pm

As midterm elections loom, suddenly everyone is formulating a foreign policy for the Left. On August 9, Phyllis Bennis put forward “A Bold Foreign Policy Platform for the New Wave of Left Lawmakers,” for In These Times; on September 4, in Foreign Affairs, Daniel Nexon called for “a new progressive internationalism.” On September 13, Bernie Sanders wrote in the Guardian that we need an “international progressive movement” to combat a rapidly coalescing “new authoritarian axis.” His motion was seconded by Yanis Varoufakis.

And it didn’t end there. Soon joining the call for a new progressive foreign policy were Daniel Bessner in the New York Times, Katrina vanden Heuvel in the Washington Post and more. All these pieces addressed traditional foreign policy questions and what progressives should pressure the U.S. government to do.

This piece is about something different: not primarily what candidates or the state should do but what we in the socialist movement should do, with or without state power—and how we can update our approach for the 21st century. (I am using socialist as a catchall term for all the anarchists, labor organizers, municipalists, feminists, anti-racists, gender activists and other progressives who make up our still-amorphous movement.)

Four New Developments

Let’s begin with one of Phyllis Bennis’ formulations for candidates: “A progressive foreign policy must reject U.S. military and economic domination and instead be grounded in global cooperation, human rights, respect for international law and privileging diplomacy over war.”

I agree with everything in this sentence, but have a problem with a paradigm that is so timeless. Add another sentence on denuclearization, demilitarization and conversion to a peace economy, and we could be back in the peace movement of the seventies. But our lives in the 21st century will be shaped by at least four new developments—including, most urgently, climate change—and these must fundamentally affect our foreign policy.

1. Climate change has already put the survival of many species and low-lying regions at risk, and made the future of human civilization an open question. It has endangered people’s livelihoods all over the world—livelihoods which, in many cases, were already compromised by neoliberal globalization. At the same time, the physical security of some of these same communities is threatened by wars, authoritarian governments and fundamentalist movements. Facing so many dangers, many see no choice but flight. This means the coming period will be a time of unprecedented migrations. The walls being thrown up to exclude migrants have already produced the most severe human rights crisis since World War II.

For decades, U.S. foreign policy has been based in part on gaining and keeping access to fossil fuels. In order to keep things sweet with the Saudis, the United States has turned a blind eye to their funding al Qaeda, and educating extremists throughout the world. The United States sees them as allies against Iran, and continues to supply them with weapons and political support even as they devastate Yemen.

Socialists must insist that the U.S. end its dependence on fossil fuels, rather than making this dependence the basis of foreign policy. We must also insist that the U.S. hold to and strengthen agreements that will maximize the chances of saving life on this planet. We ourselves and civil society at large must develop our own domestic and cross-border instruments to police such agreements, as is already happening spontaneously with anti-extraction movements. The global movement against fracking has mobilized activists all around the world and mounted a still-ongoing transnational campaign against the Keystone Pipeline led by indigenous groups in the United States and Canada.

2. Globalism. We now live in a fully globalized world economy, characterized by the interpenetration of economic regions, the rule of finance capital and the concentration of wealth in a very few hands. Globalism weakens the ability of individual states to control their own economies; as living conditions in these states decline and the people become restive, their elites reach for authoritarian methods of social control, making possible new alliances between old-style feudal authoritarians and neofascist politicians. It’s reminiscent of Germany in 1933, when General von Hindenberg, President of the Weimar Republic, appointed Adolf Hitler his Chancellor, paving the way for his ascent.

We must directly confront not only the consequences of globalism but the ideology behind it, which Varoufakis describes as “the false promise that everyone can become better off as long as we submit to commodification.” It has long been a staple of U.S. foreign policy to make the world safe for business on the unspoken assumption that what’s good for business is good for everyone. In the period of globalism, this belief became dogma and an almost-religious belief in market fundamentalism was promoted by both Democrats and Republicans until Bernie came along; as socialists, we have to continue to expose this belief-system as a fraud that will never contribute to world peace, sustainability, or real economic development.

3. The rise of a neofascist international.  The right-wing parties and racist popular movements of today are internationally connected. Steve Bannon attends meetings of the European right; Putin supports their parties; Russian disinformation channels publicize their views. And, as Bernie Sanders points out, they have common sources of funding: “The Mercer family, for example, supporters of the infamous Cambridge Analytica, have been key backers of Trump and of Breitbart News, which operates in Europe, the United States and Israel to advance the same anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim agenda. Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson gives generously to rightwing causes in both the United States and Israel, promoting a shared agenda of intolerance and illiberalism in both countries.”

While these neofascist movements and parties are organizing at a time of economic uncertainty, their principal appeal is to cultural prejudices, framed as “us and them” and “order and disorder.” And their method is violence. All those people different from “us” must be pushed out, eliminated, killed, to make the world orderly again. A socialist foreign policy must strongly oppose racist and nativist politics and movements, and stand for the rights of political, economic and climate refugees; we must fight the idea that nations are meant to be homogenous, and strive for increasingly open borders rather than walls.

4. A new paradigm for social justice. After 1989, most leftists saw that neither 20th-century state socialism nor the era’s national liberation movements were leading in the right direction, for both had proven disastrous for human rights. But slogans like “another world is possible,” didn’t get us very far. Today, a new and as yet mostly uncoordinated movement—reaching from the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico, to municipalists in cities like Barcelona and Jackson, Miss., to the “democratic confederalists” of Rojava, the autonomous majority-Kurdish region of Syria—is working out in practice what 21st century socialism could look like.

Their paradigm begins with bottom-up local democracy and an aversion to statism. It fully integrates women into governance structures and makes their liberation central to its idea of revolution. Pluralistic and secular, it emphasizes ecology, sustainability and economic cooperation. A socialist foreign policy must make solidarity with these fragile and beleaguered movements central to its strategy.

Keeping these four 21th century conditions in mind—climate change, globalism, the rise of a neofascist international and a new paradigm for social justice—let us turn to the principles that inform a socialist foreign policy.

Socialist principles and foreign policy

A number of  principles are basic to a socialist foreign policy. Relations between countries and peoples should be based on equality and fairness, not exploitation, racism or bullying. States and peoples should work out their differences through negotiations, not violence. Global problems should be addressed multilaterally.

It is a problem that the UN and other multilateral institutions are bureaucratic, weak and subject to blackmail by rich and powerful states. The solution is not to withdraw from these institutions but to insist on transparency and give them more money and more teeth. For starters, the United States should join the International Criminal Court rather than threaten to arrest its personnel.

In addition, since these institutions represent states, many of which are authoritarian, we socialists—independent of our own state—must develop relationships with democratic and oppositional movements in other states, rather than try to do everything through UN mechanisms. As we develop such autonomous networks, we will find ways to pressure the state-based system from below.

The defense of human rights is fundamental to our project, although people on the Left have not always recognized this and some still don’t. This skepticism goes back to the Cold War, when individual rights of free expression and assembly were invoked by the West against the Soviet bloc. The hard Left was often ready enough to dismiss the importance of these rights; I have heard more than one leftist (mis)quote Stalin to the effect that you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.

Other leftists, more sensitive to democracy, remember how the language of human rights was used to justify the disastrous war in Iraq and military intervention in Libya, with no thought about what would come after and no ability to shape the chaos that emerged. As Aziz Rana points out, both Democrats and Republicans have long invoked human rights to argue for “the necessity of American international police power.”

But despite such misuse, the principles laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—including the right to education, housing, unionization, freedom of movement and expression, free choice of a spouse, and even national liberation—provide a foundation on which we can stand to reach for, in Marx’s words, “the free development of each.”

While these general principles are well and good, when we get down to the practical level and look at a real-life problem like the civil war in Syria, things get more complicated. On the one hand, we have a dictatorship and a civil war that has destroyed the country, piled corpses to the rafters, and created millions of refugees. It is reasonable to fear that US involvement might make things worse. On the other hand, we have Rojava, a pluralistic, feminist, ecologically minded bottom-up democracy trying to survive and grow under extremely hostile conditions. How does Rojava fit into a 21st century socialist foreign policy?

Bennis takes the position—a popular one on the Left— that no arms should be provided to Middle Eastern states and nonstate actors. This was Obama’s position in the early days of the Syrian civil war, when the civil opposition was begging for weapons and he feared they would, as some put it, “fall into the wrong hands.” Bennis makes no exception for the largely Kurdish region of Syria called Rojava, the one place in the region that mandates religious and ethnic pluralism, enforces equal rights for women, strives for environmental sustainability, and is building a cooperative economy. Rojava has needed U.S. military support to survive: It was attacked by ISIS in 2012 and by Turkey in 2018, and is now being threatened by Assad, Turkey, and Turkish-funded jihadis. To deny them arms and support is to say, essentially, tough luck.

I believe that a socialist foreign policy must be based on international solidarity. We cannot abandon progressive enclaves surrounded by jihadis and fascist states that want to destroy them. Not only do people in Rojava and those still active in the Syrian civil opposition share our values and work for the same goals we do, but they have been trying out grassroots democratic ways of organizing society that will provide us all with precious experiental data. From any foreign policy point of view, their idea that Syria should become a secular federalist state with a weak central government and considerable local autonomy is the best blueprint yet for many ethnically and religious mixed societies in the Middle East. For all these reasons, I believe the United States should continue to arm the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, give them air support against Turkey, Assad and jihadis, and insist that representatives of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria—the official name for Rojava—be at the table in peace negotiations.

As we rebuild the Left in the United States, we should be in close communication with people in Rojava, Chiapas, Barcelona and other places that are experimenting with new forms of direct democracy, not only in order to support them but also to learn what has worked and what has not in various contexts. Ways to show solidarity with Rojava, for instance, could include informing ourselves; going there to help, like people in the Internationalist Commune; giving money; supporting their tree-planting campaign to restore sustainability to devastated agricultural land; and doing advocacy for continued U.S. aid, like the Emergency Committee for Rojava (of which I am a member). Rojava is of critical importance because it is positioned at the intersection of many of the coming century's themes: A war made worse by drought, a constellation of authoritarian far-right enemies, a radical experiment in building an egalitarian and ecologically sustainable society amid climate change.

Some progressives will disagree with the idea that U.S. progressives should support Rojava. They see the United States as the source of all evil, and believe the U.S. must be quarantined to avoid harming others. The extreme version of this viewpoint even supports Assad and Putin, foolishly believing that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." These socialists are, as Sri Lanken feminist and human rights campaigner Rohini Hensman says in Indefensible, her important new book, “unable to deal with complexity, including the possibility that there may be more than one oppressor in a particular situation; for them, ‘the West’ has to be the only oppressor in all situations.”

In fact, the days when the United States was the only world super-power are over and the U.S. simply does not have the money or troops to engage in massive or widespread military interventions, nor would such a policy have popular support. As Phyllis Bennis puts it, “U.S. global domination is actually shrinking,” and the United States is a “waning power,” though still a very dangerous one.

The outlook critiqued by Hensman can only be called imperial narcissism, a perceptual disorder found in those who cannot pull their eyes away from their own reflection in the mirror. What would happen if the United States abandoned the Kurds and withdrew from Syria? Would Syria then be at peace? Would its civilians be safer? Or would the region become even more of a killing field for Russia, Iran, Turkey, Assad and assorted jihadis? To imperial narcissists, these questions don’t matter; their only interest is self-purification. Calls for solidarity from progressives in other countries are not their concern. As Michael Walzer wrote in 2017, “comrades abroad who ask for help are a nuisance; they interfere with our self-absorption.”

Other progressives fear that support for any of the parties at war in Syria will put the United States on a slippery slope toward further escalation leading to a full-scale invasion. The war in Iraq was a terrible lesson in the human costs of such interventions, particularly to the people living in the country being “saved.” And some of our leaders continue to think the United States has a divine right to do whatever it wants anywhere in the world. For this reason, the U.S. military absolutely needs to be restrained and closely scrutinized by Congress.

But this restraint should not mean a complete retreat from international responsibilities, including the much derided and sometimes misused “responsibility to protect.” If there had been a recognized “responsibility to protect” during World War II, my mother’s family in Latvia might have survived. But a powerful isolationist movement in the late 1930s pushed for the United States to stay out of “the mess in Europe.” So the United States stood back as Germany invaded Poland; we also failed to do anything to save the European Jews.

Was that good foreign policy? I don’t think so. Entering the war against fascism was the right thing to do, just as it was right for the international Left in the late 1930s to mobilize material aid and send volunteers to fight in the Spanish Civil War. And today’s political climate is too much like that of the 1930s for comfort.

There are no dogmatic one-size-fits-all anti-imperialist slogans that can help us thread our way through the complexities of the current international situation. We live in a time of economic crisis, increasing polarization, and the growth of right-wing movements. We have two adversaries: the globalists who have looted the world, and a growing axis of fascists and fundamentalists. Sometimes these adversaries collude and sometimes they collide. The international situation is complex, shifting, and not easily reduced to either left-wing or right-wing formulae. A socialist foreign policy must be based on close study of the particulars of each situation and a sense of what will bring us together against both our adversaries. And the solutions we find must also address climate change

Climate change as the catalyst

In their recent linked statements in the Guardian, Bernie Sanders and Yanis Varoufakis called for a new international alliance to fight both globalism and the growing neofascist axis. U.S. socialists should go beyond this state-based vision to develop their own independent relationships with progressive movements and parties in other countries. It is critically important that these relationships be shaped by the central issue of climate change.

Our adversaries have one big thing in common: Both face the prospect of a destroyed planet with equanimity. On one side, neofascists and fundamentalists look forward to an Armageddon in which they will be raptured up to heaven, or a weakened West that can be conquered by a new Caliphate, or a string of survivalist enclaves sorted by race. Unlike them, the globalist rich are willing to address climate change, though not very fast or energetically. If that approach doesn’t work out, they plan to retreat into underground bunkers or set up gated communities in space with Elon Musk, leaving the rest of us on an unlivable planet.

Anyone who thinks a destroyed planet is acceptable is the enemy not only of progressives but of all humanity, and it is our job to point this out. Climate change is an issue we can use to unite people against fascists and neoliberals, and create multilateral, cross-border movements. It provides a framework in which socialists can bring together domestic and foreign policy, the ideological and the practical, the personal and the political, and engage in open debate with all those who don’t care. Naomi Klein lays out this vision in her book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate:

 Any attempt to rise to the climate challenge will be fruitless unless it is understood as part of a much broader battle of worldviews, a process of rebuilding and reinventing the very idea of the collective, the communal, the commons, the civil and the civic after so many decades of attack and neglect. Because what is overwhelming about the climate challenge is that it requires breaking so many rules at once—rules written into national laws and trade agreements, as well as powerful unwritten rules that tell us that no government can increase taxes and stay in power, or say no to major investments no matter how damaging, or plan to gradually contract those parts of our economies that endanger us all. And yet each of those rules emerged out of the same, coherent worldview. If that worldview is delegitimized, then all of the rules within it become much weaker and more vulnerable.

This is why climate change must be at the center of any socialist foreign policy and why ideological struggle is the order of the day. It is also why we must defend those few and fragile systems that are trying to find democratic, sustainable ways for people to live, like those of the Zapatistas and the people of Rojava. Their communities sit at the crossroads where socialist foreign policy and climate change meet.

Categories: Newswire

Electronic Monitoring Isn’t Helping People on Parole, It’s Sending Them Back to Prison

October 10, 2018 - 6:00pm

A recent report by the Center for Media Justice and the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center found that electronic monitoring is harmful to previously-incarcerated individuals on parole and increases their chances of being re-incarcerated. The report reveals that electronic monitoring “limits the freedom and potential success of people on parole,” does not save money and lacks consistent rules and regulations. Furthermore, the report argues that there is little evidence supporting the effectiveness of electronic monitors, and that such devices can be used to broaden the scope of the surveillance state and act as an extension of mass incarceration.

The report, called “No More Shackles,” is part of the Center for Media Justice’s #NoDigitalPrisons campaign, and cites a comprehensive list of reasons why electronic monitoring should be banned.

“Number one, it doesn’t save the state money; it costs money,” says James Kilgore, lead co-author of the report and co-director of FirstFollowers Re-Entry Program, an organization that provides services and guidance to people impacted by the criminal justice system. “Number two, [monitors are] extending someone’s sentence who’s already done time. The third point that’s really crucial is there’s no research that shows that it does anything positive.”

Electronic monitors are ankle devices placed on individuals who are recently out of prison and on parole. Some come equipped with Global Positioning System (GPS) capabilities, while others operate using radio frequency systems.

The monitors come with a long list of conditions, largely set by a parole officer, that the individual must follow or risk further incarceration. Often, people aren’t aware of the full constraints of their parole and there’s no clear framework of penalties for an offense, the report says. Some people have reported more than 70 conditions on their parole. 

The more parole conditions there are, the more likely an individual is to be sent back to prison. In 1999, parole violations accounted for more than a third of prison admissions (compared to just 17 percent in 1980, before electronic monitoring was widely used). In 2017, the Marshall Project found that 42 state prison systems reported 61,250 people in prison for parole violations. Many of these re-entries can be blamed on technical violations––non-criminal actions, such as missing a scheduled meeting with a parole officer or failing to report a change in address.

“Those of us who have been to prison call it a ‘set-up’” Kilgore says. “There’s certain rules and certain programs that are a set up for you to fail, and electronic monitoring is one of those … it’s really easy to do something wrong.”

Electronic monitoring also creates a significant burden on the individual’s finances and personal relationships, says Kilgore. The individual must pay money to wear the ankle devices—sometimes up to $35 dollars a day, Kilgore says. In some places, like Richland County, South Carolina, if you can’t pay you may be sent back to jail. The monitors make it difficult for people to hold down jobs or run errands for their families, as many are not allowed to leave their homes for more than a few hours a week. Family members are often subjected to random searches by law enforcement, and if another family member is also on parole, they may not be allowed to stay in the same home, the report states. According to a survey by the Department of Justice, 89 percent of parole officers felt that people wearing the monitors experienced a change in relationships with their significant others due to electronic monitoring, and 43 percent of people wearing the monitors felt that relationships with their partners were negatively affected.

The Department of Corrections believed electronic monitoring would save money by freeing up jail space. (In Illinois, for example, it costs $105 a day to house someone in prison.) But electronic monitors are expensive to implement and maintain. Either the state Department of Corrections or Federal Bureau of Prisons must pay for the technology and hire additional parole officers to oversee those wearing electronic monitors, to make sure they are not violating their “geofenced exclusion zones” (areas where people on parole are not allowed to go). Not to mention, some individuals take off their monitors and lose them. In La Crosse County, Wisconsin, 84 monitors were lost within a two-year span. Each device costs $800 to make and there is over $35,000 worth of missing devices. Because electronic monitoring varies so much from state to state, it’s hard to track how much the government is spending, but La Crosse County is losing money. There, individuals serving a sentence are required to pay $12 a day for their monitors, but in 2016 Justice Support Services only collected 44 percent of what was due––that’s $77,299 of $175,475, Government Technology reports.

The monitors often have faulty equipment, too. The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism reported that one individual’s electronic monitor triggered 206 “No GPS” signals within one year. On another occasion, one person’s electronic monitor started flashing incorrectly, indicating that he was out of range, when he was actually in his own home.

The GPS capabilities in some electronic monitors make the devices tools for surveillance as well. The report lists three private companies that provide data and tracking services to the government—Satellite Tracking of People, Sentinel Offender Services and Attenti—but it’s not clear how that data is being used after it’s sent to parole officers. Kilgore fears that data can be used to further oversee and punish people on parole. For example, The National Review reports that law enforcement can “geomap” crimes in the area and determine if an individual was near or at the crime scene at the time of the crime. Those on parole fear they will be penalized just for being near crimes they did not commit.

The report also discusses the possibility of “E-Gentrification”: geofenced exclusion zones programmed into electronic monitors that restrict movement based on demographics like income, citizenship status and criminal background. “Location monitoring offers the possibility of linking GPS to massive databases of undesirables, a virtual no-fly list for gentrified spaces,” Kilgore writes. Zones like these could severely limit an individual’s accessibility to jobs, healthcare and education, making it harder for them to re-enter society.

The Center for Media Justice’s #NoDigitalPrisons campaign aims to abolish electronic monitoring. In the first quarter of 2019, they plan on leading a series of public forums in Illinois. Organizers hope this report will encourage lawmakers to create and pass an Illinois bill banning the use of electronic monitors for parole.

Categories: Newswire

These Activists Say Sabotaging Pipelines Is Legally Justified Because Humanity Hangs in the Balance

October 8, 2018 - 5:54pm

This article originally appeared in Common Dreams

Three activists whose landmark trial is set to begin in Minnesota state court on Monday for their 2016 multi-state #ShutItDown action—which temporarily disabled all tar sands pipelines crossing the U.S.-Canada border—will argue the action was necessary because of the threat that fossil fuels pose to the planet.

Rejecting a challenge from state prosecutors in April, an appeals court ruled that the "valve turners" can present a "necessity defense"—and bring in top climate experts to testify. In June, the Minnesota Supreme Court denied prosecutors' petition to appeal that ruling.

The necessity defense "is a plea that, yes technically we committed a crime, but we did it to prevent a greater harm," explained Annette Klapstein, a retired attorney from the Seattle area and one of the valve turners on trial.

"We cannot work through our political system, because its values are nothing but profit," she told The Nation. "We live in an oligarchy, not a democracy."

"It's very much in the interest of the capitalist political system to make us feel powerless, to make us feel that we can't do anything," she added, but "ultimately, they cannot win if we do not consent. If we really withdraw our consent, if we really go out there and sit down in front of the machine, eventually they can no longer operate it. And at this point, that is our only option."

Klapstein and Emily Nesbitt Johnston are facing felony charges under Minnesota law for shutting down Enbridge Energy's Line 4 and Line 67. While Benjamin Joldersma, who assisted them, also faces charges in the case, the state has dropped trespassing charges against videographer Steve Liptay.

The Nation reports that Princeton political scientist Martin Gilens and Harvard Law School's Lawrence Lessig are among the expert witnesses slated to testify. Dr. James Hansen, a former NASA scientist who has been called "the father of modern climate change awareness," and 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben will also testify in case, according to the activist group Climate Direct Action.

"These people deserve our respect and support," McKibben said on Twitter about the valve turners in Minnesota on Friday.

This will be the first of the valve turner cases where those on trial can present a necessity defense, as judges in three states have barred fellow activists from doing so. In Washington, Ken Ward was found guilty of second degree burglary after his first trial ended with a hung jury. The judge used a "first-time offender waiver" to sentence him to two days in jail, which was fulfilled by time in custody after he was arrested for the 2016 action.

In North Dakota, Michael Foster was convicted of two felonies and a misdemeanor, and sentenced to three years in prison, though he only served six months and was released in August. Sam Jessup, who livestreamed Foster's action, was convicted of a felony and a misdemeanor, and received a two-year deferred sentence with supervised probation. In Montana, Leonard Higgins was found guilty of a felony and misdemeanor. He received a three-year deferred sentence.

Categories: Newswire

The Philippine President Is Waging a Ruthless War on Drugs—And the U.S. Is Complicit

October 8, 2018 - 5:07pm

Many Americans have heard about Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte’s horrendous war on drugs, which has resulted in thousands of deaths of mostly poor people, including at least one as young as 17. 

But the Duterte regime has also committed a host of other grave human rights violations with support from the U.S. government, as we heard at the International People’s Tribunal on the Philippines held in Brussels on September 18 and 19, for which I served as a member of the jury. The case was brought by the Filipino people against Duterte and Trump, among other defendants. 

Given the overwhelming impunity in the Philippines, made worse by U.S. support, human rights activists are pursuing other routes to hold perpetrators accountable. To help give voice to the survivors, the tribunal was convened by human rights, peace, justice, faith and legal groups.  

The complainants presented, either in person or through video, 31 witnesses including directly-impacted people and experts.

Extra-judicial killings and martial law 

Duterte’s War on Drugs carried out by the Philippine National Police, which Duterte instigated through issuance of a police memorandum to “neutralize” or kill suspected drug users, has resulted in the deaths of at least 4,410 persons in police operations, with independent sources putting it at 23,000, per the verdict of the International People’s Tribunal. Duterte has even compared himself to Hitler and said that he would be happy to slaughter drug users in the millions.  

But extra-judicial killings have not been limited to those suspected of using or dealing drugs. The forces of Duterte have also summarily killed human rights defenders and those in the Philippine civil society who have criticized the government. As of June 2018, 169 leaders of the progressive movement had been victims of extrajudicial-killings and an additional 509 political prisoners were illegally jailed and subjected to trumped-up criminal charges, according to the verdict of the International People’s Tribunal.

Duterte has enabled the military to carry out bombings and widespread abuses against the Filipino people, including during the military invasion of Marawi. The bombings and armed interventions damaged infrastructure, including 37 mosques, 12,000 homes and 22 private schools, as was cited in the verdict of the International People’s Tribunal. 

Duterte’s enforcement of Martial Law in Mindanao has led to the killing and displacement of scores of people, as well as abuses by the armed forces, such as capricious arrests and imprisonment. The crackdown has targeted the mostly Muslim communities in Marawi through clamping down on their religious rights. The Writ of Habeas Corpus was suspended and still remains so.  

Targeting of human rights advocates 

Duterte rules by fear and impunity. He has assailed any entities that could serve as a watchdog, such as press and human rights organizations. The police and security apparatus have a free hand in committing crimes as they know that they can get away with it. 

Duterte viciously attacked Maria Lourdes Sereno, the first woman chief justice of the Philippines, and orchestrated her removal from the Supreme Court. 

Furthermore, human rights observers are increasingly prevented from entering. Just one example is Professor Gill Boehringer, an 84 year old with dual citizenship in the United States and Australia. He is a long-time human rights advocate in the Philippines who was deported in August after being told that he was among those blacklisted, allegedly for joining protest actions and fact finding missions in the Philippines. 

Duterte has also intensified his attacks on lawyers, resulting in the murder thus far of 10 prosecutors, 21 lawyers and three judges.  Directing his attacks to those who handle drug cases, Duterte has repeatedly threatened them with being next in this campaign of extra-judicial killings. 

U.S. and Israeli support for state repression 

The U.S. and Israeli governments aid and abet these human rights violations.  

The U.S. military has had a presence in the Philippines for a long time and, as stated by the witnesses at the tribunal, is obsessed with maintaining its colonial domination. In the Indo-Pacific region, the Philippines is among the largest recipients of U.S. military aid, likely driven by the American desire to contain the influence of China. U.S. Special Forces remotely man drones, and they provided intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support in the devastating invasion of Mindanao. 

Trump has approved of the methods used by Duterte in the drug war and has continuously supported cracking down on those who speak up against U.S. imperialist aims.

But the United States is not alone. Britain, meanwhile, sold surveillance equipment to Duterte in the midst of his brutal war on drugs. And Duterte recently took a trip to Israel to purchase weapons.

Need for Accountability

The tribunal found Trump, Duterte and other defendants guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other grave human rights violations—and called for accountability and reparations for the population whose rights have been violated. The verdict states that “the focus here is on human rights: their open disregard and denial by the U.S.-backed regime of Defendant Duterte has produced a tragic scenario of intolerable violence, impunity, and state terror, which must be immediately exposed not only to be condemned, but to require an immediate awareness by the peoples of the world and intervention by the responsible actors of international law.”

A complaint against Duterte has been filed with the International Criminal Court by Philippines-based organizations and is pending. Duterte has threatened to arrest the ICC prosecutor, reminiscent of the way U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton has threatened to prosecute the ICC judges.

The U.S. Congress also needs to cut aid to the Philippines military. The Leahy law prohibits the U.S. Department of State and Department of Defense from “using funds for assistance to units of foreign security forces where there is credible information implicating that unit in the commission of gross violations of human rights.” It is high time that the Leahy law was abided by and Trump and the U.S. government were held accountable for their facilitation of grave human rights violations against the Filipino people.

Categories: Newswire

F*ck Columbus: Let’s Honor the Indigenous Communities Leading the Way on Climate Justice

October 8, 2018 - 3:57pm

When Christopher Columbus landed on Turtle Island, which we now call North America, he brought with him a goal of making profit—of taking from the land and people to create commerce. Today, approximately 526 years later, that same pillaging continues to drive our planet further into the climate crisis and lead us into ecological collapse. Instead of honoring the violent colonization Columbus represents, we should use this day to call for truth and reconciliation—and honor the Indigenous communities at the forefront of efforts to heal the long-lasting environmental harm Columbus and his ilk have wrought.

Settler colonialism has exacerbated climate change and made Indigenous communities sacrifice zones to this crisis. As we honor the truth of how this country was founded and continues to exploit Indigenous lands and territories, we must also recognize that climate change disproportionately impacts the Indigenous and Native peoples who are least responsible for this crisis.

Climate change is just another symptom of colonization. First, our lands were stolen from us or we were forcibly moved from our original territories and placed into reservations. Then, those stolen lands were turned into toxic places for resource extraction. In Navajo Nation, you have uranium mining and coal plants that continue to cause disease. In Oklahoma, near Ponca territory, you have fracking that has disturbed the earth so deeply that earthquakes are happening more often and stronger. In California and Washington, home to dozens of tribes, dams have destroyed salmon runs to the point that salmon no longer exist in rivers. So, beyond destroying the ecological balance of these places, these projects and industries also pollute and emit carbon into the atmosphere, therefore contributing to climate change. Not only are Indigenous Peoples bearing the brunt of climate change, but it’s through the colonization of our lands and of our people that climate change is being exacerbated

We have to recognize that restoring relationships between non-native and native peoples goes beyond just replacing the name of a day on the calendar: It means really acknowledging how colonization has and continues to  impact native and indigenous peoples, especially when it comes to climate change. And it requires acknowledging that Indigenous communities are promoting and creating the most innovative and the most efficient solutions to the climate and ecological crisis we are in.

At this time, governments and corporations are looking to the carbon market system as the best solution to climate change, so they are creating mechanisms such as carbon pricing, carbon trading, carbon taxes and REDD+. However, these false solutions only allow big polluters to continue to extract and pollute by buying credits to become “carbon neutral.”

This past September, California Governor Jerry Brown hosted the Global Climate Action Summit, where he and his Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force promoted these carbon market systems. In response, Indigenous Peoples from across the world also convened in San Francisco for the Solidarity to Solutions Week of Action, to demand an end to climate capitalism—and an investment in real solutions, starting with keeping oil in the ground.

To continue the momentum that was started to resist these false solutions, the Indigenous Environmental Network, where I work, and its allies from across the world have launched the #SkyProtector campaign. Just as there are #WaterProtectors who defend water from pipelines and the fossil fuel industry, we are now seeing a rise of #SkyProtectors who are protecting the climate from false solutions. To drive that emerging movement, IEN and the Climate Justice Alliance have created a Carbon Pricing Report to educate Indigenous communities about the carbon market system and how it impacts us. 

For Indigenous communities, education and making the language around climate change accessible are critical to building our movement for climate justice. Many of our communities are rural and have limited access to wifi and technology. Therefore when it comes to carbon markets, or helping communities understand how the changes they are seeing in their territories are connected to decisions being made by governments, we need people who are able to meet communities where they are at. That is why Indigenous Climate Action is a leader in climate justice work with Indigenous communities. Founded only three years ago, ICA is Canada’s premier Indigenous-led climate justice organization that prioritizes Indigenous knowledge as the true solution to climate change. Through training camps in rural communities, toolkits designed to make information accessible to many generations and a forthcoming podcast, ICA is building a climate justice framework that centers and affirms Indigenous knowledge.

At its core, Indigenous Peoples Day is about truth and reconciliation, which is a process of restorative justice to reveal and confront the wrongdoings of a government and to take action to heal relations between oppressors and the oppressed. Across the world, countries like South Africa, Chile, and Canada have undergone truth and reconciliation processes. While these processes are nowhere near perfect or complete, they exist. Until very recently, the United States has failed to initiate a real process of truth and reconciliation between the U.S. Government and Indigenous or Native Peoples. In 2012, the first ever government-sanctioned truth and reconciliation commission was developed in Maine to listen to testimonies of Indigenous peoples who were forced into foster care by U.S. government agents. This story is explored in the groundbreaking film, Dawnland.

While our so-called leaders continue to ignore Indigenous rights, continue to break treaties, and continue to drive us into further ecological collapse, we the people can take initiative to understand how colonization continues and how we can build right relationship with Native and Indigenous Peoples. And we need only to look at the most urgent issue of our time, climate change, to see how colonization is still playing out, who is impacted the most and who is bringing the true solutions to the table.

Categories: Newswire

Cook County Jail Is on Lockdown Over Van Dyke Verdict—And Activists Are Furious

October 5, 2018 - 11:33pm

Cook County Jail, one of the largest in the country, confirmed to In These Times that it has placed all of its divisions on lockdown in response to the verdict in the trial of Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke. On Friday afternoon, Van Dyke was found guilty of second-degree murder for killing black 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.

During lockdowns, people are largely confined to their cells and denied basic programs, from outdoor recreation to visits from loved ones. Authorities claimed, without presenting evidence, that the crackdown on the roughly 6,000 people incarcerated in the jail was necessary to make the jail “stable.” But this justification was blasted by local activists, who say people already incarcerated should not be further punished because a police officer is going to jail. “This is a violation of human rights—it’s targeting, retaliatory and shows the frustration of the criminal justice system that’s not used to being held accountable,” Maria Hernandez, an organizer with Black Lives Matter-Chicago, tells  In These Times, adding: “This is about them seeing our people as animals.”

Hesna Bokoum, an organizer with SOUL - Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation, was similarly incredulous. “These people are being punished because a cop is going to jail?” she told In These Times. “It doesn’t make sense.”

Cara Smith, chief policy officer for Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart, tells In These Times, “The lockdown was planned to commence with the verdict, and will likely be lifted tomorrow morning.”

“There is no programming, we are trying to keep the compound as stable as possible,” she says. “There will be nothing other than emergency movement."

But Alan Mills, executive director of Uptown People’s Law Center, which represents people incarcerated all over Illinois, rejected Smith’s rationale for the lockdown.

“This is part of the demonization of anyone who’s charged with committing a crime,” he continues. “These people haven’t been convicted.”

Mills stresses the brutality and isolation of lockdown: “Everything is limited,” he says. “Family visits don’t happen, lawyers aren’t allowed to visit, no movement for counseling, medical, outside for out of cell time. You just sit inside of tiny cells staring at the wall all day long.”

According to a new report from the Chicago Community Bond Fund, at least 2,700 people are currently incarcerated in Cook County jail because they are too poor to post bond. (Full disclosure: This writer volunteers with the Bond Fund.) The study also found that 74 percent of people locked up are Black, even though just 24 percent of Cook County residents are Black.

The lockdown on this disproportionately Black population coincides with an explosive verdict that has thrown racial injustice in Chicago into sharp relief. In 2014, Van Dyke killed McDonald with 16 gunshots as the teenager walked away from him. The Chicago Police Department (CPD), along with the administration of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, face numerous accusations of a cover up for withholding a dashcam video of the shooting for 13 months. Public outrage prompted Obama’s Department of Justice to investigate the CPD—and to conclude that the department has a pattern of “unreasonable killings” and racist harassment.

According to Hernandez, “The fight for justice for Laquan is not just about putting Van Dyke in jail—it’s about setting free people held in jail, people who are prisoners in their own community, people who are wrongfully convicted, people held without bail before the trial. This is about ending criminalization of our people.”

“This is the dawn of a new Chicago,” Hernandez adds, “where we have reclaimed our dignity and our humanity and we expect nothing less for any of us.”

Categories: Newswire

‘This Is Historic’: Why the Van Dyke Guilty Verdict Is a Victory For the Movement For Black Lives

October 5, 2018 - 9:02pm

Chicago has long been a city on the brink. Decades of racial stratification, disinvestment, segregation and endemic poverty have left large swaths of the population struggling to survive, while new development has disproportionately favored wealthier residents.

The communities left behind by this process are largely Black and Brown, while the beneficiaries are primarily white. Such a system of racial inequity is upheld by a police force that has long been known for both its brutality and racism.

Today, that system of policing was put on trial. Chicago Police Department (CPD) officer Jason Van Dyke was found guilty of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery for killing Black teenager Laquan McDonald in 2014. Following a 3-week trial, the jury announced its decision on Friday, capturing the rapt attention of Chicagoans across the city.

The killing of McDonald catapulted into national headlines after the release of a video showing Van Dyke unloading 16 gunshots into the 17-year-old on a Southwest Side street. After Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s reelection in 2015, allegations surfaced that the video had been suppressed ahead of that year’s mayoral contest, and Emanuel, along with the CPD, was accused by racial justice organizers of overseeing a cover-up.

In the aftermath of the video’s release, activists staged massive protests across the city, shutting down major business districts and thoroughfares. Soon after, then-Police Chief Garry McCarthy was fired by Mayor Emanuel. And later, States’ Attorney Anita Alvarez lost a high-profile election to reformer Kim Foxx. Last month, Emanuel announced that he will not be seeking re-election for a third term, meaning that the three most prominent officials associated with the alleged cover-up will soon no longer sit in their previous positions of power.  

Now that Van Dyke has been found guilty, many organizers in the city are taking the verdict as a call to action—and an opportunity to show their opposition to a policing organization that systematically devalues the lives of Black and Brown residents.

I spoke with Aislinn Pulley, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Chicago, about why she sees the verdict as a victory, how she thinks the movement will respond, what it says about Chicago’s policing system and more.   

What’s your reaction to the verdict?

AP: This is historic. This is a historic moment for the city. It’s a historic moment for this country. And this is the culmination of organizing by thousands and thousands of people, including families who have been at the front lines, demanding justice for their children, their family members and their loved ones who have been killed by police that have received zero accountability.

So, this is the first step in reversing and putting a stop to the continued systemic impunity that has reigned supreme in this city and in this country.

Are you satisfied with how the jury ruled?

AP: It should have been first-degree murder, so I’m not going to say I’m satisfied 100 percent. But this is a win. This is definitely a win.

What does the trial itself says about our justice system and how black youth are treated versus police officers?

AP: The trial was a perfect snapshot of the dehumanization that is standard in policing of urban poor black youth. Laquan McDonald was born into the system—he was a foster kid. He had to exist within a city that has divested from black children, from the closing of 50 Chicago public schools—at the time the largest school closing in U.S. history—to the closing of half of the city’s mental health centers, to the closing of affordable housing. These are the conditions that McDonald lived under, with the CPD functioning as an occupying force.

Jason Van Dyke’s narrative of Laquan McDonald as needing to be caged; his defense attorney’s reference to Laquan as a “monster”; Van Dyke’s claim that McDonald’s eyes were bugging out—it’s the same superhuman, animalistic narrative that Darren Wilson in Ferguson gave of Mike Brown. That is how the police operate—as if they’re having to herd animals in a zoo. They do not see our humanity. And so the trial exposed that. It exposed what we have lived with as normal for all of our lives here in Chicago.

How did the role of economic inequality play into this case, and in general to policing in Chicago?

AP: Capitalism set the conditions for everything that happened. In Chicago, instead of funding schools, instead of funding healthcare, instead of funding the things that we need to survive, and become a thriving and healthy community, we have been divested from. And that’s part of the neoliberal project that has been hegemonic since the 1970s.

The War on Drugs and mass incarceration involved militarizing police forces. The results are disastrous. It’s human rights violation after human rights violation. It’s creating an environment of extreme hostility and terror. John Burge tortured over 100 Black and Latino men, women and children. But he is only one person.

We know that there are other Burges. We know that Glenn Evans right now has two pending cases against him regarding excessive force and torture. We know that Homan Square still exists right now where 7,000 people were disappeared. These conditions exist as a result of capitalism, as a result of the refusal to invest in the people and as a result of prioritizing business at the expense of our lives.

How do you think the killing of Laquan McDonald fits into the broader system of institutional racism?

AP: We know that Laquan was in a mental health crisis. And instead of living in a city where he could have received the treatment that he needed, those mental health clinics were closed, the schools where there could have been a counselor who could have intervened and helped him were closed. He was in a mental health crisis and doing what people do when they don’t have resources. He’s self-medicating. And instead of a mental health crisis professional being called, which is what we need, the police were called.

And what is an armed individual going to do when a person is in a mental health crisis? That absolutely is anathema to giving him the care that they need. So instead of there being an intervention and providing him with the healthcare that he needed, he was seen as a threat to society and was murdered.

How do you expect movement organizers to respond to this verdict?

AP: We have to move forward. This is not over. There has to be full accountability. Rahm Emanuel hid the video. He should be held accountable for that. The former superintendent of police, Garry McCarthy, was complicit in that hiding. Every single alderperson who voted to approve that payout and cover-up is complicit and needs to be held accountable. We have an aldermanic election coming up, they need to be voted out.

We know that although this is one officer that has been charged, we still have Homan Square, we still have Glenn Evans, we still have the countless unnamed Burges that exist. We still have a city budget that prioritizes policing over everything else, where 40 percent of the budget is allocated to policing. So we are far from done. This is the beginning and we should use this momentum to keep going forward.

What do you think would bring justice for Laquan McDonald and all the victims of police brutality in Chicago?

Real justice is having zero police killings. That’s justice. Real justice is no more Laquan McDonalds, no more Mike Browns, no more Rekia Boyds.

Do you see the movement for community control of the police fitting into that vision?

AP: Yes. CPAC (Civilian Police Accountability Council) requires extreme divestment in policing and a redistribution of power. It requires the empowerment of the people and of the community to take control over who is allowed to patrol our neighborhoods—and how. And it empowers us to be the ultimate arbiters of determining what kind of police force we want and we need. If we can turn what we currently have into something that could actually help people in crisis, then that’s what we should do. CPAC enables the community, it enables the people to have that power.

Are you hopeful for the future of seeing real racial justice in Chicago?

AP: I’m always hopeful. I think as fighters, as organizers, that’s why you’re organizing, that’s why you’re fighting. You believe that there is an alternative. So, yes I’m always hopeful.

What message do you want young organizers to take from this verdict?

AP: I want them to take this as evidence that when you fight and you organize, you win. And that this is one small step towards police and prison abolition and one small step toward eradicating the system of police impunity that we have. And in order to achieve what we really want, which is no more Laquans, we have to keep fighting.        

Categories: Newswire

How Saudi Money Keeps the U.S. at War in Yemen

October 4, 2018 - 4:57pm

It was May 2017. The Saudis were growing increasingly nervous. For more than two years they had been relying heavily on U.S. military support and bombs to defeat Houthi rebels in Yemen. Now, the Senate was considering a bipartisan resolution to cut off military aid and halt a big sale of American-made bombs to Saudi Arabia. Fortunately for them, despite mounting evidence that the U.S.-backed, supplied, and fueled air campaign in Yemen was targeting civilians, the Saudi government turned out to have just the weapon needed to keep those bombs and other kinds of aid coming their way: an army of lobbyists.

That year, their forces in Washington included members of more than two dozen lobbying and public relations firms. Key among them was Marc Lampkin, managing partner of the Washington office of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck (BHFS), a company that would be paid nearly half a million dollars by the Saudi government in 2017. Records from the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) show that Lampkin contacted Senate offices more than 20 times about that resolution, speaking, for instance, with the legislative director for Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) on May 16, 2017. Perhaps coincidentally, Lampkin reported making a $2,000 contribution to the senator’s political action committee that very day. On June 13th, along with a majority of his fellow senators, Scott voted to allow the Saudis to get their bombs. A year later, the type of bomb authorized in that sale has reportedly been used in air strikes that have killed civilians in Yemen.

Little wonder that, for this and his other lobbying work, Lampkin earned a spot on the “Top Lobbyists 2017: Hired Guns” list compiled by the Washington publication the Hill.

Lampkin’s story was anything but exceptional when it comes to lobbyists working on behalf of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It was, in fact, very much the norm. The Saudi government has hired lobbyists in profusion and they, in turn, have effectively helped convince members of Congress and the president to ignore blatant human rights violations and civilian casualties in Yemen. According to a forthcoming report by the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative program, which I direct, at the Center for International Policy, registered foreign agents working on behalf of interests in Saudi Arabia contacted Congressional representatives, the White House, the media, and figures at influential think tanks more than 2,500 times in 2017 alone. In the process, they also managed to contribute nearly $400,000 to the political coffers of senators and House members as they urged them to support the Saudis. Some of those contributions, like Lampkin’s, were given on the same day the requests were made to support those arms sales.

The role of Marc Lampkin is just a tiny sub-plot in the expansive and ongoing story of Saudi money in Washington. Think of it as a striking tale of pay-to-play politics that will undoubtedly be revving up again in the coming weeks as the Saudi lobby works to block new Congressional efforts to end U.S. involvement in the disastrous war in Yemen.

A Lobby to Contend With

The roots of that lobby’s rise to prominence in Washington lie in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. As you may remember, with 15 of those 19 suicidal hijackers being citizens of Saudi Arabia, it was hardly surprising that American public opinion had soured on the Kingdom. In response, the worried Saudi royals spent around $100 million over the next decade to improve such public perceptions and retain their influence in the U.S. capital. That lobbying facelift proved a success until, in 2015, relations soured with the Obama administration over the Iran nuclear deal. Once Donald Trump won the presidency, however, the Saudis saw an unparalleled opportunity and launched the equivalent of a full-court press, an aggressive campaign to woo the newly elected president and the Republican-led Congress, which, of course, cost real money.

As a result, the growth of Saudi lobbying operations would prove extraordinary. In 2016, according to FARA records, they reported spending just under $10 million on lobbying firms; in 2017, that number had nearly tripled to $27.3 million. And that’s just a baseline figure for a far larger operation to buy influence in Washington, since it doesn’t include considerable sums given to elite universities or think tanks like the Arab Gulf States Institute, the Middle East Institute, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (to mention just a few of them).

This meteoric rise in spending allowed the Saudis to dramatically increase the number of lobbyists representing their interests on both sides of the aisle. Before President Trump even took office, the Saudi government signed a deal with the McKeon Group, a lobbying firm headed by Howard “Buck” McKeon, the recently retired Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. His firm also represents Lockheed Martin, one of the top providers of military equipment to the Kingdom. On the Democratic side, the Saudis inked a $140,000-per-month deal with the Podesta Group, headed by Tony Podesta, whose brother John, a long-time Democratic Party operative, was the former chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Tony Podesta later dissolved his firm and has allegedly been investigated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller for serving as an unregistered foreign agent.

And keep in mind that all this new firepower was added to an already formidable arsenal of lobbying outfits and influential power brokers, including former Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, who, according to Lee Fang of the Intercept, was “deeply involved in the [Trump] White House hiring process,” and former Senator Norm Colemanchairman of the pro-Republican Super PAC American Action Network. All told, during 2017, Saudi Arabia inked 45 different contracts with FARA-registered firms and more than 100 individuals registered as Saudi foreign agents in the U.S. They proved to be extremely busy. Such activity reveals a clear pattern: Saudi foreign agents are working tirelessly to shape perceptions of that country, its royals, its policies, and especially its grim war in Yemen, while simultaneously working to keep U.S. weapons and military support flowing into the Kingdom.

While the term “foreign agent” is often used as a synonym for lobbyist, part of the work performed by the Kingdom’s paid representatives here resembles public relations activity far more than straightforward lobbying. For example, in 2017, Saudi foreign agents reported contacting media outlets more than 500 times, including significant outreach to national ones like the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and PBS, which has aired multiple documentaries about the Kingdom. Also included, however, were smaller papers like the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and more specialized outlets, even ESPN, in hopes of encouraging positive stories.

The Kingdom’s image in the U.S. clearly concerned those agents. Still, the lion’s share of their activity was focused on security issues of importance to that country’s royals. For example, Saudi agents contacted officials at the State Department, which oversees most commercial arms transfers and sales, nearly 100 times in 2017, according to FARA filings. Above all, however, their focus was on Congress, especially members with seniority on key committees. As a result, at some point between late 2016 and the end of 2017, Saudi lobbyists contacted more than 200 of them, including every single Senator.

The ones most often dealt with were, not surprisingly, those with the greatest leverage over U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia. For example, the office of Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who sits on both the appropriations and armed services committees, was the most contacted, while that of Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) was the top Democratic one. (He sits on the appropriations and foreign relations committees.)

Following the Money from Saudi Arabia to Campaign Coffers

Just as there’s a clear pattern when it comes to contacting congressional representatives who might help their Saudi clients, so there’s a clear pattern to the lobbying money flowing to those same members of Congress.

The FARA documents that record all foreign-agent political activity also list campaign contributions reported by those agents. Just as we did for political activities, the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative program conducted an analysis of all campaign contributions reported in those 2017 filings by firms that represented Saudi interests. And here’s what we found: more than a third of the members of Congress contacted by such a firm also received a campaign contribution from a foreign agent at that firm. In total, according to their 2017 FARA filings, foreign agents at firms representing Saudi clients made $390,496 in campaign contributions to congressional figures they, or another agent at their firm, contacted on behalf of their Saudi clients.

This flow of money is best exemplified by the 11 separate occasions we uncovered in which a firm reported contacting a congressional representative on behalf of Saudi clients on the same day someone at the same firm made a campaign contribution to the same senator or House member. In other words, there are 10 other cases just like Marc Lampkin’s, involving foreign agents at Squire Patton Boggs, DLA Piper, and Hogan Lovells. For instance, Hogan Lovells reported meeting with Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) on behalf of the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia on April 26, 2017, and that day an agent at the firm made a $2,700 contribution to “Bob Corker for Senate 2018.” (Corker would later decide not to seek reelection.)

While some might argue that contributions like these look a lot like bribery, they turn out to be perfectly legal. No law bars such an act, and while it’s true that foreign nationals and foreign governments are prohibited from making contributions to political campaigns, there’s a simple work-around for that, one the Saudis obviously made use of big time. Any foreign power hoping to line the pockets of American politicians just has to hire a local lobbyist to do it for them.

As Jimmy Williams, a former lobbyist, wrote: “Today, most lobbyists are engaged in a system of bribery, but it’s the legal kind.”

The Saudi Lobby Today

Fast forward to late 2018 and that very same lobby is now fighting vigorously to defeat a House measure that would end U.S. support for the Saudi war in Yemen. They’re flooding congressional offices with their requests, in effect asking Congress to ignore the more than 10,000 civilians who have died in Yemen, the U.S. bombs that have been the cause of many of those deaths, and a civil war that has led to a resurgence of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP. They’ll probably mention Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent “certification” that the Saudis are now supposedly taking the necessary steps to prevent more civilian casualties there.

What they’re not likely to mention is that his decision was reportedly driven by the head of the legislative affairs team at the State Department who just happens to be a former foreign agent with BGR Government Affairs, one of 35 FARA registrants working for Saudi Arabia at this moment. Such lobbyists and publicists are using the deep pockets of the Saudi royals to spread their propaganda, highlighting the charitable work that government is doing in Yemen. What they fail to emphasize, of course, are the Saudi blockade of the country and the American-backed, armed, and fueled air strikes that are killing civilians at weddingsfuneralsschool bus trips, and other civilian events. All of this is, in addition, helping to create a grotesque famine, a potential disaster of the most extreme sort and the very reason such humanitarian assistance is needed.

In the end, even if the facts aren’t on their side, the dollars are. Since September 2001, that reality has proven remarkably convincing in Washington, as copious dollars flowed from Saudi Arabia to U.S. military contractors (who are making billions selling weapons to that country), to lobbying firms, and via those firms directly into Congressional coffers.

Is this really how U.S. foreign policy should be determined?

This article first appeard in TomDispatch.

Categories: Newswire

Jerry Brown Didn’t Invite Grassroots Activists to His Climate Summit—They Came Anyway

October 4, 2018 - 4:00pm

SAN FRANCISCO—In the early morning on September 13, a few hundred demonstrators blocked an entrance to the massive conference center where the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) was getting underway. Within this crowd of protesters, pulsing with music and speeches, a small handful of people locked their arms together in pipes; some encased them in empty oil barrels. The message to outgoing California Gov. Jerry Brown—the host of the summit, eager to cement his legacy as a climate champion—was clear: Approving over 20,000 permits for new oil and gas wells is no way to be a climate champion.

GCAS was intended as a place for state and local governments and corporations to showcase their climate commitments. The youth, indigenous, and climate and environmental justice groups gathered that morning were largely excluded from official programming. So, they created their own.

Flanking the summit were massive, raucous demonstrations and counter-events, drawing attention to the local impacts of corporate polluters and promoting alternatives. A short train ride away from GCAS, after all, lie a string of refineries and the people who live in neighboring communities are well acquainted with their effects.

“I see Chevron from my house every single day,” says Pennie Opal Plant, a co-founder of Idle No More SF Bay. “We suffer from chronic sinus infections and throat problems. I’m really worried about my grandson getting asthma.” Asthma rates near her home are well above the national average. “Jerry Brown is getting ready to leap off into the world stage as a self-proclaimed climate hero, while he has allowed 17 percent more offshore drilling.”

Events kicked off the Saturday before the Summit, with the 30,000-strong Rise for Climate Jobs and Justice march. Led by indigenous and Bay Area environmental justice groups, some creative marchers farther back affixed a papier-mâché likeness of Brown’s head to a mock oil derrick. Splayed out in tents around historic La Raza Park a few days later, presenters from around the Bay and the world shared strategies to build workable climate solutions like sustainable, affordable housing and community-owned solar arrays. The dance troupe Xiuhcoatl Danza Azteca performed a closing prayer and dance to cap off the day’s events—a far cry from GCAS’s keynotes, cocktail hours and catered lunches.

Dawn Phillips is a longtime organizer based in the East Bay and the executive director of the Right to the City Alliance, a national network that works at the intersection of housing and climate justice in rapidly gentrifying real estate markets. He spoke with In These Times as the September 13 blockade was winding down, the center buzzing with delegates and a considerable number of police. Phillips and a few other movement leaders had gotten credentials to be inside.

“What’s happening inside GCAS versus what’s happening outside is a very dramatic juxtaposition of values, of vision and of resourcing,” Phillips says. “Inside GCAS ... you can just see how much money has been spent in creating this sterile, militarized environment where there are almost as many security and law enforcement representatives as there are delegates.”

“It’s a trade show of false solutions,” he adds. As he and other organizers explained at various events throughout the week, the real solutions—unlike the market-based measures, such as carbon trading, that dominated the summit agenda—are simple: Cut off emissions at their source—such as drill sites and refineries—and democratize the energy system.

About an hour after we speak, Phillips and fellow organizers put their credentials to work, shouting down the opening keynote from billionaire former New York City Mayor (and rumored 2020 Democratic presidential candidate) Michael Bloomberg. It was one of the rare moments when the outside summit leaked into the official one.

Categories: Newswire

Brett Kavanaugh Is Rape Culture Personified

October 4, 2018 - 3:05pm

Everything about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week screamed of righteous indignation over being forced to answer for allegations that he may not be as stainless as his most ardent supporters have avowed. Judge Kavanaugh didn’t just dismiss the claims of his accuser Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, he did everything in his power to portray himself as the victim of a “nefarious plot” that has nearly destroyed his family.

Standing on the precipice of becoming one of the nine most consequential people in all of American jurisprudence—where he could cast the deciding vote on everything from abortion rights to affirmative action—Kavanaugh insisted upon his innocence, and repeatedly lied in the process.

And as more information has come out about President Trump’s current Supreme Court nominee, it’s increasingly clear that, whether or not you believe Ford’s claims of sexual assault are true, Kavanaugh is a human emissary for our country’s perverse disease of rape culture.

Broadly defined, rape culture is the normalization of sexual violence due to debased attitudes toward sexuality and gender in our society. When it comes to Kavanaugh, his actions have shown that he is on a ruthless hunt for power—and is willing to throw women under the bus along the way. He has been repeatedly dishonest under oath, abandoning credibility. He has been complicit in plots to undercut and dehumanize his female accusers. And he's operated within a class of wealthy white men protected by a patriarchal system that shields them from recrimination. His acts fit into a clear pattern of rape culture.  

Brett Kavanaugh faces multiple accusations of sexual assault. Ford claims he pinned her down while thrusting himself onto her with his hand over her mouth, to the point she thought she might die. Deborah Ramirez claims he laughingly shoved his penis into her face in a college dorm while another man told her to “kiss it.” Julie Swetnick claims Kavanaugh participated in gang rapes at parties while a student at Georgetown Preparatory School, and at one such party she herself was raped after being drugged.

These claims are shocking only insofar as they are being leveled against a nominee to the highest court in the land. Taken on their own, however, they are all too normal. Nearly one in four women in higher education has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape over the course of her college career. Of those attempts, less than 5 percent are ever reported to law enforcement. And one feature of a large proportion of these acts of sexual assault is the presence of high levels of alcohol use.

Throughout the Senate hearing, Kavanaugh repeatedly sought to downplay his drinking habits while in college. But according to former Yale classmate Chad Ludington, that is a “blatant mischaracterization.” In a public statement, Ludington said that “in denying the possibility that he ever blacked out from drinking, and in downplaying the degree and frequency of his drinking, Brett has not told the truth.”

Ludington isn’t alone: Numerous other classmates describe Kavanaugh as being an excessive drinker in college. While these claims offer no proof that he engaged in the acts he’s charged with, they do cast enormous doubt upon the judge’s credibility and honesty. If he is lying to cover up his alcohol abuse while a teenager, who’s to say he isn’t also lying about alleged sexual assault during the same time period?

Drinking isn’t the only area where Kavanaugh has not told the truth. He claimed that all of the witnesses to the alleged assault of Dr. Ford said: “it didn’t happen.” That’s simply not true. Mark Judge, who Ford said was present during her assault—and who the FBI has investigated—said he didn’t “recall” the event, not that it didn’t happen. Two other witnesses, Leland Ingham Keyser and Patrick J. Smyth, also said they didn’t remember the night in question, rather than denying the assault took place. And Keyser actually said she “believes Dr. Ford's account.”

Kavanaugh also testified that he had heard nothing about Ramirez’s accusations until they were published in the New Yorker last week. That claim appears to be falling apart in the face of the release of text messages that indicate both the judge and his staff were aware of the allegations months before the New Yorker article came out. The texts also show that Kavanaugh’s team had been plotting ways to undercut Ramirez’s story. This distortion points to a craven quest for power by Kavanaugh, which he was willing to fully discredit a former classmate and lie under oath in order to pursue.    

Some of the most disturbing lies pertain to the casual use by Kavanaugh and his peers of language that dehumanizes women. In his Georgetown Prep yearbook, Kavanaugh and a number of his fellow football players used the term “Renate Alumni” to refer to classmate Renate Dolphin, an apparent reference to having had sex with her. Kavanaugh denied this during the hearing, claiming instead it was a term of endearment and belonging. Dolphin, however, sees it another way, calling the yearbook entries “horrible, hurtful and simply untrue.”

Kavanaugh similarly misrepresented other terms used in the yearbook. He said that the “Devil’s Triangle” was a drinking game when it is commonly known as a reference to sex between three people. And he said “Boofing” was a reference to flatulence rather than anal sex, which was how the term was customarily used in the 1980s.     

Sen. Jeff Flake, who demanded that the FBI conduct an investigation into the claims of assault against Kavanaugh as a precursor to his nomination being sent to the Senate floor for a vote, said on 60 Minutes last week that if the judge was found to have been lying, then his nomination would be “over.” Even Lindsay Graham, a die-hard Kavanaugh supporter, said in 1999 that if a judge commits perjury, that’s grounds for immediate impeachment.  

Whether or not the FBI concludes it from their brief investigation, there are reams of evidence showing that, even under oath, Kavanaugh has not been telling the truth. That should be enough to not only sink his nomination but to have him disbarred. Yet, throughout his life, Brett Kavanaugh has benefited from a system that sanctions lying and puts the conquest of power and personal prestige above all else.  

Kavanaugh comes from a world of privilege—of prep schools and post-game keggers, of boys’ clubs and secrets kept under all circumstances if it means protecting your inner circle and those you hold in esteem. These are also the ingredients that produce an incredibly dangerous climate for women, as well as LGBTQ communities.

One in three college men say that they would rape if they knew they could get away with it (though they would prefer not to call it “rape”). While that figure should be shocking, it’s too often accepted as a natural outgrowth of our “hyper-sexualized” society. In practice, that means that sexual assault of women becomes deeply normalized, and reporting it becomes more of a risk for the accuser than the accused.

Despite Trump’s statement that if the allegations by Ford are true then she would have filed a police report “immediately,” taking such a step against a powerful figure like Kavanaugh—both then and now—would always be a risk. Today, after testifying before the Senate and having her life propelled into the public eye, Ford is regularly receiving death threats and has had to move away from her family home in California.

Kavanaugh’s adherence to a culture of male protection and a patriarchal code of conduct may have been instilled in Georgetown Prep, but it continues through to today. It’s the same code that Kavanaugh followed while defending torture being carried out under top officials in the Bush administration. And it’s the same code that was put on full display when a lawyer close to the White House told Politico that, “If somebody can be brought down by accusations like this, then you, me, every man certainly should be worried. We can all be accused of something.”

Under this reasoning, it’s Ford who has transgressed by voicing her charge, not Kavanaugh. And it’s this same reasoning that has allowed men to feel entitled to women’s bodies—and to the upper echelons of power—regardless of any obstacles that may stand in their way. 

At a time when more and more women are speaking out about endemic sexual abuse, Kavanaugh’s nomination serves as a funereal reminder that rape culture is still pervasive. If there was ever a time for our elected officials to come together to reject that enduring disorder—and hold its adherents to account—it’s now.

Categories: Newswire

Climate Change Is Already a Public Health Crisis—Just Look at Puerto Rico

October 3, 2018 - 7:52pm

As Puerto Rico marked the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria, with its communities still hobbled by catastrophic damage and lack of access to basic services like electricity and healthcare, Hurricane Florence hovered over the Carolinas, wreaking extra havoc due to slower storm movement.

Thanks to climate change, storm systems like Florence are staying for longer in one geographic area, dealing even further damage to already-suffering communities. The health consequences have been deadly, and for poorer communities, even deadlier.

This is the new reality: Natural disasters like hurricanes are increasing in intensity thanks to global warming and rising sea levels, and they have even more potential to harm the communities they hit.

We know how much natural disasters can harm communities. New Orleans still feels the impact of Hurricane Katrina over a decade later. Communities are still recovering from Sandy, Harvey and other catastrophic storms that tore through neighborhoods and devastated already underserved, underprivileged and vulnerable families.

We often talk about the aftermath of hurricanes in terms of economic plight, lack of access to food and clean water, harrowing scenes of towns under water and homes completely gutted or reduced to rubble. We need to talk more about the impact of climate-fueled natural disasters on people’s health. What will the increased intensity of natural disasters due to climate change mean for low-income and underprivileged communities?

All too often, affected communities face more than one disaster, sometimes with little-to-no time to recover. For children, the elderly, and people with pre-existing conditions, the consequences of even just one disaster can be particularly deadly. Take the harrowing story of a man whose wife experienced complications after surgery during Hurricane Harvey and was unable to get life-saving help. Or a woman’s story about the terrible consequences of being poor and living in public housing when a natural disaster strikes. 

Consider how many American communities are located in high-risk, flood-prone, fire-prone or otherwise vulnerable areas, and already face limited access to health and medical resources. Weather-related disasters exacerbate problems with accessing health services, particularly emergency services. Floods, for instance, can cause drownings and physical injuries and heighten the risk of water-borne diseases. They can also turn mild health scares into life-threatening emergencies when access to supplies of daily necessities like insulin, oxygen tanks or heart medicine becomes impossible.

Studies have documented how living in poverty or being a poor person of color can exacerbate medical conditions like diabetes or cancer and impact access to healthcare and treatment. Add to that the complications of getting access to a doctor or clinic or emergency room during a storm, and the risk grows exponentially.

Thanks to climate change, natural disasters are claiming even more lives — and poorer neighborhoods are disproportionately paying the price. Recently, a study by the George Washington University Milken Institute of Public Health noted the extent to which low-income residents in poorer areas of Puerto Rico were disproportionately at risk of health complications or death during Hurricane Maria.

According to a report by the World Health Organization, “Rising sea levels and increasingly extreme weather events will destroy homes, medical facilities and other essential services. More than half of the world's population lives within 60 km of the sea. People may be forced to move, which in turn heightens the risk of a range of health effects, from mental disorders to communicable diseases.”

Around the world, health organizations are already seeing a drastic rise in the number of “climate refugees,” people who are displaced by the effects of climate change on their communities. Imagine what it’s like for people in similarly desperate situations who can’t even evacuate because they can’t afford to.

We'd like to think that this is a problem for other countries, but our fellow Americans are facing this head on. Right now, displaced Puerto Rican families are still stuck in temporary housing situations in Florida and other states. Many of them have been kicked out of hotels by FEMA, and many are struggling to find new jobs and places to stay. Back in Puerto Rico, the notorious blue tarp canvasses still cover homes, and repairs to utility outages are still slow. Hospitals still report incredible shortages of resources.  

Climate change is not going away, and the natural disasters that hit are going to get worse and worse. There will be more Marias and Harveys and Katrinas. People’s health is at stake, and we need to address the health crisis that is already emerging. Better funding for disaster preparedness resources at the federal and state level will be critical, and so, too, will be expanding access to healthcare in the poorest communities, so when disaster strikes, it’s easier to save lives in the communities that are inevitably hit the hardest.

Categories: Newswire