Truthout Stories Wed, 10 Feb 2016 19:48:21 -0500 en-gb Sanders Win Reveals Deep Divide Between Voters and Democratic Party Leaders

For response to Tuesday's primary, we go to Manchester, New Hampshire, to speak with Arnie Arnesen, longtime radio and TV host in New Hampshire. She was the Democratic nominee for governor in 1992. Arnesen has known both Sanders and Clinton for about 25 years.


AMY GOODMAN: We're joined now by Arnie Arnesen, longtime radio and TV host in New Hampshire, Democratic nominee for governor in 1992. She ran for Congress in 1996. Before we talk about the Republican race, let's talk about this historic New Hampshire Democratic primary. You have Senator Bernie Sanders trouncing Hillary Clinton 60 to 38. He swept in every category - young people, independents, women. The only two categories he didn't sweep in were senior citizens and families that made more than $200,000 per year. Arnie Arnesen, the significance of this Sanders victory?

ARNIE ARNESEN: First of all, let's also remember that every newspaper in the state, basically, major newspaper, endorsed Hillary Clinton. Every major elected official endorsed Hillary Clinton. This is an earthshaking moment. It basically sends the message that the establishment is out of touch, that the leaders are out of touch, that there is a sense of frustration, that people feel not only that they're not being heard, Amy, but that the idea of incremental change doesn't fix it anymore.

And Bernie's message of campaign finance reform is not actually the term "campaign finance reform." You know what it is? It's code for Wall Street. That is the most important thing you need to know. That's what that's about. Since the economic meltdown of 2008, Americans are angry. Both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders tap into that anger. And not only do they tap into that anger, but they realize: Who got bailed out? They did. Who is still running in place? They are. What's happening with trade deals? Our jobs are going overseas.

It was an amazing turnout, especially in places like the North Country of New Hampshire, which are white, unemployed, for the most part, or underemployed workers, that Hillary Clinton used to get. That was a place that was a very safe place, in fact, for Republicans and conservatives. You saw enormous voter turnout in those places, with working people saying, "No, establishment, you haven't heard us. No, party structures, you haven't heard us. We are ready for the change that Bernie was talking about." And I just think, not only did it resonate, but it had to terrify the Democratic National Committee. They are out of touch, as well as their chosen leaders.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, Arnie Arnesen, you know both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Not only did she have all the establishment -


AMY GOODMAN: - figures in New Hampshire, but she had the endorsement of all the establishment figures in Vermont, as well - I mean, both the governor, Peter Shumlin -


AMY GOODMAN: - as well as senior Senator Patrick Leahy -


AMY GOODMAN: - of the former governor, Madeleine Kunin. And yet -


AMY GOODMAN: So, even in his home state - how long -

ARNIE ARNESEN: Let me just say something. Let me just say, Amy, those people endorsed at a very early stage in the campaign. If you look at when Shumlin made the decision, Pat Leahy - by the way, Congressman Peter Welch did not endorse anyone. I just want to make a point of reference here. But they endorsed very early, when they felt both comfortable and that Bernie would not gain the traction that they did. They're probably having a "come to Jesus" moment right now -

AMY GOODMAN: The former governor.

ARNIE ARNESEN: - when they're seeing what happened - the former governor. Go on.

AMY GOODMAN: I was just saying, of course, Howard Dean, as well, the former head of the DNC and former Vermont governor.

ARNIE ARNESEN: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. This is not surprising. This is about establishment politics. What Bernie Sanders showed - and, to some extent, even Donald Trump has shown - is that this is no longer a time for establishment politics, that there is a problem. There is a disconnect between what they do and what they think and what the American people are feeling. Bernie tapped into that, not just in New Hampshire, but around the country. And I think it really is not only a message of change, but it's a message of incrementalism that actually not only is not working, but - here's the most important thing: Do you know why we're doing this incremental change? Because when you see so much money in politics, what the money interests are doing are not only buying interest, but they are making sure they retard the change. They are holding back the change. That's what they want. They want to make sure it's little tiny steps that they direct. And Bernie says, "You know what? Those little tiny steps are not moving us in the right direction in a timely fashion. We must be nimble. We must move forward." You saw that with Bernie Sanders, and in an interesting way, kind of like Donald Trump, as well. They tap into that same vein and desire for something more important and moving us forward.

AMY GOODMAN: Both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton used their speeches last night to draw ideological distinctions between their two campaigns, including differences around the issue of campaign finance reform.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: What the American people are saying - and, by the way, I hear this not just from progressives, but from conservatives and from moderates - is that we can no longer continue to have a campaign finance system in which Wall Street and the billionaire class are able to buy elections. Americans - Americans, no matter what their political view may be, understand that that is not what democracy is about. That is what oligarchy is about. And we will not allow that to continue. I do not have a super PAC, and I do not want a super PAC.

HILLARY CLINTON: You've heard a lot about Washington and about Wall Street. Now, Senator Sanders and I both want to get secret, unaccountable money out of politics. And let's remember - let's remember, Citizens United, one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in our country's history, was actually a case about a right-wing attack on me and my campaign. A right-wing organization took aim at me and ended up damaging our entire democracy. So, yes, you're not going to find anybody more committed to aggressive campaign finance reform than me.

AMY GOODMAN: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders last night in New Hampshire giving their - well, in Hillary Clinton's case, her speech before she went on to South Carolina, her concession speech. And, of course, in Bernie Sanders' case, he trounced Clinton 60 to 38 percent. Arnie Arnesen with us, who is a former gubernatorial candidate in New Hampshire, longtime radio and TV host, speaking to us from Manchester. Arnie, talk about each of them personally, how you know them. You've known them for decades. And also address the -

ARNIE ARNESEN: I've known them for -

AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead.

ARNIE ARNESEN: Well, let me just say something. I'm so glad you gave that clip of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, because, in a way, contributions are about ownership. Let's remind everyone. And what Bernie said is, "I want to be owned by the American people. I wanted these to be little contributions. I want it to be the sense that you are all engaged, because you all have a piece of the action." What did Hillary Clinton say? Listen, Amy, she wants to get rid of that dark money, that transparent money. She doesn't want to get rid of the big contributions from Wall Street. She just wants to make sure that those big contributions, you actually have to make sure they're done in a transparent manner. But she still likes the contributions with commas in the checks. Notice what she said. Bernie talked about all of us, little contributions. What did Hillary do? She didn't say no to the big contributions. Just say no to the super PACs and the dark money? Well, there's more than a problem with the dark money. There's a problem with major people cutting big checks to basically control their access to politicians. Very different speech.

Yes, I know Bernie. Yes, I know Hillary. I used to be a radio talk show host in White River Junction, Vermont, when Bernie Sanders was the only congressman in Vermont. I have known him for 25 years. And we have been engaged on so many levels. And when I ran for governor and ran for Congress, it was the kind of agenda that a Bernie Sanders would be talking about. We're both progressive. We're both liberals. He might have been a democratic socialist, but you know what? We kind of walked on the same drumbeat. So we always would communicate.

Hillary Clinton, I have known since 1991. You know why? I ran for governor when Bill and Hillary were running as co-presidents, two for the price of one. I was the first woman to get the nomination for governor in New Hampshire history. Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton used to follow me into the rooms, Amy, because I got a bigger crowd, because they were the third-string Democrats that nobody expected to win the nomination. So, I know them. I've run with Clinton in '92. I ran with Clinton in '96.

And I'm going to tell you that it was always an interesting conversation when I was running. When I was running in 1992, Bill Clinton was running on a middle-class tax cut. Arnie Arnesen was running on tax reform and tax equity. He was encouraged not to stand next to me. In 1996, I'm running for Congress again, Bill Clinton is running. I'm running against the Defense of Marriage Act, something he had embraced. I ran against welfare reform, something he had embraced. So it's always been an interesting dynamic. I land when they're - when he's running for president. And yet, look at the difference. I end up, in an interesting way, not necessarily walking lockstep with Bill Clinton about the things that I think don't relate to the American people. And today, what you saw with Bernie Sanders last night is that a lot of things that Arnie Arnesen was saying in '92 and '96 is coming out of the mouth of this senator from Vermont - Vermont, the size of a suburb, that, you know, lives next door to New Hampshire, but New Hampshire knows nothing about Vermont. The only thing we know about is that we think we live in Massachusetts. So, it is a remarkable - it is remarkable, remarkable.

AMY GOODMAN: Arnie, before we move on to the Republicans -


AMY GOODMAN: - I wanted to ask you about the issue of Hillary Clinton running to be the first woman president. This is an issue that is also very close to your heart.

ARNIE ARNESEN: Very, yeah. So, Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post -

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, she didn't take women -

ARNIE ARNESEN: Yeah, go on.

AMY GOODMAN: She didn't take the women category, and women under 30 voted for - in the primary, voted for Sanders, 70 percent for Sanders.

ARNIE ARNESEN: Right, right, right. So, there are two things that I need to talk about. One, the horrific thing that happened over the weekend with Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright, where they said stuff that was just so incredibly offensive and incredibly foolish. And, Amy, I tweeted out, as soon as I heard the comments by Steinem and Albright, I said, "Oh, my god, Hillary Clinton is bringing the worst out of the women I admire." That's what I tweeted.

And more important than that, it's not just the statements that were made that somehow were saying to women, "You have an obligation to vote for Hillary Clinton. This is your job." But I want to remind everyone, in the state of New Hampshire, where Hillary Clinton is running in the first primary, this is a state that has elected women to every single major political office in the state - governor, Congress, speaker of the House, president of the Senate, head of the New Hampshire Supreme Court. We have seen the good, the bad and the ugly of women. We now have experience with that. And that, in some ways, has been liberating. So, as we were being chastised to vote for Hillary Clinton, we now feel we can step back, we can say, "You know what? This is about the leader of the free world. This is about the leader of this country. What is wrong with the leadership we've elected in the past? Maybe it's time for new leadership. And new leadership is not a function of gender."

AMY GOODMAN: Just to clarify, Gloria Steinem has apologized for suggesting that young women - she was speaking with Bill Maher on his show - only support Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders because the boys are with Bernie. She's apologized for that.

ARNIE ARNESEN: I know. I'm grateful.

AMY GOODMAN: And former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has drawn attention for saying, "There is a special place in hell for women who don't help each other."

News Wed, 10 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
Primary Questions ]]> (Tom Tomorrow) Art Wed, 10 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500 Why a New Trade Deal Has Put Genetically Modified Crop Concerns in the Spotlight

(Photo: Biotech Crops via Shutterstock; Edited: LW / TO)Because most European Union members still oppose GMOs, it seems highly improbable that the US will be able to use the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations to force Europe to dramatically change its position. (Photo: Biotech Crops via Shutterstock; Edited: LW / TO)

Civil society groups have been voicing concerns about the upcoming Euro-American trade deal the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) since it was announced three years ago.

The list of worries includes companies being able to constrain public policy; the potential for weaker consumer and health and safety standards; and the secrecy around the negotiations. Genetically modified (GM) products are one subject on the table, since they fall within TTIP's broader remit to tackle areas where the US and EU approaches are furthest apart and have therefore been ignored by previous efforts to harmonise regulations. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the potential effect on how GM is regulated is of serious concern.

In the US, the share of GM crops, particularly maize and soybeans, has grown steadily over the years - even though support for the technology is not universal. The US has no specific legislation over GM crops, but approves them either through the Food and Drug Administration or via national environmental policy processes, depending on the variety and purpose.

Approvals use a science-based risk assessment, which focuses on whether scientists have identified sufficient risks to justify a ban. Although the federal authorities are the most important in this area, municipal authorities also have jurisdiction over GM to some extent, and some Californian municipalities have banned cultivation, for example. On the other hand, attempts at both federal and state level to force consumer products to carry GM labels have failed.

The European Approach

In the EU, applications to approve new crops go to the relevant member state and are then passed to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). The EFSA makes a recommendation to the European Commission (EC), which in turn makes a recommendation that is subject to a vote by the member states. These recommendations are based on the precautionary principle - meaning that approvals might be refused if the science is not sufficiently certain about the level of risk involved.

As things stand, only one GM crop has EU approval for cultivation. Imports of consumer products and animal feeds with GM ingredients are permitted, but they must be labelled if the GM content is above 0.9%; and non-GM foods and feeds can display labels signalling that they are GM free.

The reason why so few GM products are permitted is that strong opposition in some member states, including Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Poland and Italy, led the EC to suspend its approval processes in 1998. To get around this, new regulations introduced last April include opt-out measures so that even if a product is approved at EU level, individual member states can still decide not to allow cultivation or use the product in food or animal feeds in their national territory. This is designed to break the deadlock and allow more pro-GM areas like Spain, Portugal and the English part of the UK to take up these products.

These changes to the rules are linked to a World Trade Organisation (WTO) 2006 ruling against the EU's approach to granting GM approvals, following pressure from US farming groups and GM manufacturers. The WTO found that most EU member states were unduly slow to deal with approval applications for new GM crops and that a previous pan-EU moratorium on new applications contravened the rules of international trade.

Other US Trade Agreements

When it comes to predicting what TTIP could mean for the very different approaches to GM in the US and EU, people often look to the other ambitious US trade deal in the making, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which involves 11 other Pacific Rim countries. From the parts of TPP published so far, environmental groups like Ecowatch are concerned that the section on sanitary and phytosanitary standards could weaken national resolve to control GM through labelling.

Though it doesn't mention prevention of GM labelling as such, it includes commitments to prevent undue delays on imports of agricultural goods; to limit inspections; and accept that different systems can achieve the same outcome. Meanwhile, the sections on intellectual property include a 10-year data-exclusivity requirement for new agricultural chemical products. This appears to provide an additional economic incentive for GM producers to develop products and push for greater market share.

TPP also pushes for each country to recognise the other signatories' certification systems for organic products, which raises an analogy with the US-South Korea free-trade agreement of 2011. Following the agreement Korea was forced to adapt its zero tolerance against GM, which had previously meant that to be considered organic in that South Korea, products had to have a 100% guarantee that there was no GM contamination in them. Since certain non-GM organic products from the US could not give that 100% guarantee, they had not previously qualified as organic in Korea. The trade deal meant that if products were labelled organic in the US, they had to be accepted as organic in South Korea.

Because most EU members still oppose GM, it seems highly improbable that the US will be able use the TTIP negotiations to force Europe to dramatically change its position. But GM labelling, which is voluntary in the US, might be the area where the Americans try to exert the most pressure.

TTIP is no doubt generating heated debates behind closed doors. Because the final outcome will depend on trade-offs and linkages across the whole agreement, it is impossible to say how this will affect GM at this stage. And even once we have a published agreement, it will take years before we see how it is implemented and interpreted in practice - just like it will with TPP. All we can say is that it has the potential to have a substantial effect on current regulation. Many people are therefore watching developments closely.

The Conversation

Opinion Wed, 10 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
We Resist, We Survive: Leonard Peltier and Imprisoned Indians

A sign in support of Leonard Peltier is displayed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in a photo taken on March 28, 2009. (Photo: Karpov)A sign in support of Leonard Peltier is displayed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in a photo taken on March 28, 2009. (Photo: Karpov)

"Please don't let me die in prison…"

I set out to write something about Leonard Peltier and I didn't know where to start. But this plea, from Peltier himself, repeated by various people who have met or spoken with him is what stuck with me long after my research was finished. I cannot pretend to know the intonation of his voice or the level of emotion behind the statement but it struck me as something very human, to want to be free and not die a prisoner.

Leonard Peltier, a Chippewa-Lakota man, has been in prison for 40 years, incarcerated for the murder of two FBI agents in 1975. The case against him is shaky, that's the best way I can describe it, and it seems he is the victim of an overzealous prosecution during a period of time when being a Native activist was treated like an act of treason. Peltier's involvement with the American Indian Movement (AIM) made him a target, as it made several other Natives activists, their families and their children targets during the 1970s while AIM led a resistance against corrupt federal, state and local government policies.

Netflix hasn't done a ten part documentary series on Peltier's case, but for the past 40 years many people have fought in the hopes of bringing to light the corrupt nature of his prosecution. Native people are reminded each time Peltier asks for clemency of the precarious nature of the justice system. It is what struck such a chord with audiences as they followed the saga of Steven Avery, a man who was wrongfully convicted, in Netflix's "Making a Murderer" series. What if the system can be easily manipulated by a select few in authority who just want you to be guilty? What if they lock you up and throw away the key?

How many letters will you write home that begin, "please don't let me die in prison"?

Leonard Peltier is also an artist, an author and a poet who in his 40 years in prison has had attempts on his life, developed diabetes, had a stroke and had surgery for an abdominal aortic aneurism. He is currently one of the longest serving political prisoners in the United States of America. There is a kind of sardonic symbolism in that one of the longest serving prisoners in the United States is Native American. Imprisonment is so intertwined with the settler colonial agenda that we as Native people have been treated as prisoners in our own lands. Missions, forts, reservations, boarding schools … they were all designed to imprison us.

Native people have been consistently and increasingly incarcerated since first invasion by western settlers. If they weren't killing us, they were imprisoning us. They said their punishments fit our crimes. Sometimes our crimes were things like standing around, going off the reservation, defending ourselves against sexual assault, hunting, fishing, or refusing to be removed from our homes. It very quickly became illegal just to be Indian. And for every new law that they passed in the name of justice, there was one more Indian incarcerated because while "the only good Indian is a dead Indian," if you can't kill him, then the only good Indian is an incarcerated Indian.

In 1883, a Lakota Sioux man named Crow Dog shot and killed another Native man named Spotted Tail. The tribe dealt with this incident through a system of settlement that was traditional to the tribal people. We didn't believe that prison was the answer, because we had complex systems of justice that valued balance in our communities. U.S. authorities could not believe that in this traditional system of justice there was no real "punishment" so they intervened, arrested and tried Crow Dog. They sentenced him to death. How interesting that their goal was two dead Indians, not just one. Crow Dog took his case all the way to the Supreme Court, and you know what the court said? "Get out of this Indian business, you guys. They have their own justice systems. They are sovereign nations." (Basically. You should read the whole case if you want to know what they said exactly.)

After that Congress made sure that Indians could no longer be in charge of justice systems when it came to what they called "major crimes" because it wasn't justice if Indians weren't going to jail or getting executed. And now Indians are sentenced to longer sentences than white people who commit the same crime, and according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, they are incarcerated at a rate 38 percent higher than the national average. Native men are incarcerated four times more than white men. Native women, six times more than white women. So the system is working because we are going to jail.

And it makes me wonder how many of these Native people write home or say silent prayers at night that begin "Please don't let me die in prison."

Leonard Peltier's case, however, has made international headlines, not because he is a Native man in prison, but because of the extraordinary circumstances surrounding his conviction. The trial was farcical and unsettling. It seemed like conviction of Peltier was to prove a point about punishing the American Indian Movement. For the last 40 years, Peltier has maintained his innocence and has had people working endlessly to free him. They began with requests for new trials. They highlighted the inconsistencies of the case. In 2009, he was denied parole. He has been denied clemency by multiple Presidents. Organizations like Amnesty International and the National Congress of American Indians have called for intervention in his case.

Last year, the Leonard Peltier "I Will" Clemency Campaign produced a series of videos in which human rights leaders, activists, celebrities and others asked for President Obama to offer clemency to Peltier. Peltier's lawyers think that clemency is his only option because at this point, he is not eligible for another parole hearing until 2024, when he will be 79 years old. Clemency is an opportunity to acknowledge the great price that Peltier has paid, the many years he has already served, and to treat him like a human being instead of just making an example out of him.

Peltier is considered by many a political prisoner because of his involvement with the American Indian Movement during the 1970s. If we think of the American Indian Movement as resisting occupation, as pushing back against the settler colonial desire to disappear, remove and destroy Native people then we must also remind ourselves that AIM was a group of human beings. Much of what people now know about AIM was because of the ever-present news cameras, hungry to build a narrative that would play well to national and international television audiences. Suddenly, Indians were on television.

They had dreams and songs, they had survived and resisted countless government programs meant to assimilate them, they were stronger together and they were willing to fight. And there were many real things at stake. There were communities desperate for help to fight corrupt government systems. There were Native people resisting continued policies meant to tear apart their families. There were demands to honor the treaties. There was increasing rates of homicide, cases that were going uninvestigated by the government. There was a movement to educate young Native people, to build Native run universities and cultural centers. There was the fight against termination and the fight for restoration of land. And behind all of that was a growing group of Native people, some coming in caravans, others hitchhiking or taking the bus, to find their way to each other, a mass of voices demanding a better future for Native nations. This is what the government at the time considered a threat, Native people who saw opportunities for sustainable, healthy futures through education and empowerment.

This is not to say that AIM was a perfect organization. We must, as generations looking back on how we can learn and grow from this movement, critique as well as support the actions of people during this period of time. There was a culture of misogyny and gender violence amongst AIM members. There was also the ever-present threat of FBI infiltrators and the paranoia of ever increasing numbers of informants in AIM ranks.

There was the murder of a young Native woman, Anna Mae Aquash, who was found buried on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. She was thirty years old with two young daughters. As we consider the lasting impact of this politicized time on Peltier's life, on the lives of countless others, we must also consider these many issues and demand justice not only for Peltier but also for Anna Mae, wrongfully incarcerated Native peoples all over the world, and missing and murdered Indigenous women. Peltier's very lengthy incarceration is just a part of this larger context of the continued injustices that are perpetrated against Native peoples because we resist and we survive.

In the end I am brought back home. I have been reminded over the past few days as I wrote this article that one of Leonard Peltier's children grew up in my hometown. I knew him for most of my young life and I remember once that my mother made him dance with me at a Pow Wow. I was really embarrassed, but he was pretty good at the two-step. Leonard Peltier, the father, rarely gets talked about. It could be because he didn't get much of a chance to be a father, or because his children don't seem to search out the spotlight very often. But, as much as he is a political prisoner, or even an incarcerated Native man, he is also a father.

And he is a son, an author, an activist, an artist, a human being and a poet.

We are not separate beings, you and I
We are different strands of the same being

You are me and I am you
and we are they and they are us

-Leonard Peltier

Opinion Wed, 10 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
Corporate Power Doesn't Always Win: Remembering the Free Trade Area of the Americas

In retrospect, it sounds like a dream come true: a mobilized population, intercontinental organizing, cooperative left-wing governments - all culminating in the downfall of a major corporate-friendly trade agreement that would have covered a large chunk of the global economy.

It wasn't just a dream. The proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, or FTAA - meant to span all of North and Latin America - went down in defeat in 2005.

Now, over a decade later, as we face two other upcoming trade deals - the Transpacific Partnership (TPP) uniting 12 Pacific Rim countries, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) connecting the United States and Europe - the FTAA victory has a lot to teach us about successful social movement strategies, and the challenges of building and sustaining power.

Not Just a Trade Deal

In 1994, Western hemisphere elites were riding high. The North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA - which stitched the United States, Canada, and Mexico into a trade bloc - had been signed in January. By December, delegates at the first Summit of the Americas came up with a new, even more ambitious plan.

Meeting in Miami, the presidents from 34 countries (every nation in the Americas except Cuba) resolved to create what U.S. president George H.W. Bush had envisioned in 1990 as a "free trade zone stretching from the port of Anchorage to the Tierra del Fuego." With a market of 800 million consumers and a GDP of $11.5 billion - 40 percent of the world's total at the time - the FTAA promised to become the largest free trade area in the world. Those assembled decided to begin negotiations in earnest, with the aim of making FTAA a reality by 2005.

Having seen the problems with NAFTA - which included major labor dislocations and new legal mechanisms that undermined all manner of consumer and environmental protections - civil society organizations were concerned. As they began to get access to draft chapters of the FTAA, their analyses pointed to grave implications for food security, the availability of medicines, water, and basic services, and access to scientific knowledge itself.

One of the biggest concerns was the investment chapter of the FTAA. Just like NAFTA's Chapter 11, it granted expansive new rights to foreign investors, which they could enforce through the now-infamous Investor-State Dispute Settlement Mechanism (ISDS). That system allows corporations to bypass national courts and sue countries directly in private international arbitration tribunals when they feel that their investments - and profits - are being affected by a public policy. Social organizations considered this a direct attack on sovereignty and democracy.

Controversy over ISDS bolstered the popular perception that this was not an agreement for trade or integration based on the common good, but rather an expansionist project into Latin America - with its huge consumer market and immense natural resources - based on the commercial and corporate interests of the United States.

The consequent mobilization against the deal was enormous and decisive. At the fourth Summit of the Americas, held in Mar del Plata, Argentina in November 2005 - the very year in which the FTAA was supposed to be inaugurated - the proposed trade deal was pronounced dead.

Defeating the FTAA

While the social organizations' analysis of the proposed trade agreement might have been on point, it's a big leap from robust critique to outright victory. What strategies did social movements use?

The first was to construct a diverse yet united movement with a common goal. Building on the experience and the networks created through U.S., Mexican, and Canadian organizing against NAFTA, the movement began to coalesce during the late 1990s into the Hemispheric Social Alliance, or HSA. The alliance united diverse sectors - including indigenous, labor, student, environmental, and women's movements, as well as sympathetic NGOs and others - from across North and Latin America.

Among the HSA's most important activities were People's Summits, scheduled to coincide with rounds of FTAA negotiations. These were popular assemblies where discussion could happen and strategic lines of struggle could be defined. The summits pushed the movement to develop a common agenda and construct a common language. According to participants, one very important decision was to concentrate on what members found agreement on, and leave areas of disagreement open for discussion. The summits were also moments for filling the streets of the host cities with debate and color - and for dialogue with local people about the ways in which the FTAA was going to affect their lives.

By closely examining the impact of prior trade agreements such as NAFTA, and the drafts of the proposed FTAA text, the HSA grounded its opposition to the deal in high quality analysis. But in order to persuade the public, this had to be accompanied by effective campaign messaging. "No to the FTAA!! Yes to Life!! Another America is Possible!!" became ubiquitous across the region - from the banners displayed in demonstrations to buttons, hats, and pamphlets distributed in the streets.

Also important was the ability of the alliance to propose alternatives. The movement wasn't opposed to the integration of the Americas. Rather, underlying the "Alternative for the Americas" proposal was a vision for an alternative to neoliberal integration based on principles of democracy, sovereignty, social wellbeing, equality, and sustainability.

A final key factor in defeating the FTAA was the ability to build on alliances with leftist governments in the region and bring them into the opposition camp. Leaders with critical viewpoints toward "free trade" and many with close ties to social movements were coming to power in Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, and Venezuela. " It is often assumed that it was the progressive governments which defeated the FTAA," notes Alberto Arroyo from the Mexican Free Trade Action Network. But the truth is that it was the movements that brought these governments to power, and later the movements were able to show these new governments the seriousness of what was happening."

By 2005, the regional balance of power had shifted, and progressive governments - in response to sustained social movement pressure - were changing their positions. Despite the efforts of President George W. Bush to resuscitate the agreement in Argentina, the summit that year marked the death knell for the FTAA. The social movements had won a major victory and celebrations took over the streets.

There was plenty for the social movements to rejoice about. But organizers were neglecting at their peril the scope of challenges to come.

Corporate Interests Regroup

It didn't take long to see that corporations and free-trade oriented governments had designed a new way to expand the system.

Undaunted by the setback, corporate interests shifted strategies, moving ahead with bilateral and other multilateral free trade agreements, or FTAs. For example, the United States signed FTAs with Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Panama, as well as with a bloc of Central American countries and the Dominican Republic (DR-CAFTA). Similarly, the EU signed an FTA with Mexico in 2000. Then, after its failure to negotiate a free trade agreement with the Andean Community of Nations, it signed FTAs with Colombia and Peru.

Initially, only the countries most open to neoliberal economics - Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Central American nations - agreed to this new wave of FTAs. In contrast, those countries where leftist governments had maintained close alliances with social movements in the fight against FTAA - Venezuela and MERCOSUR nations such as Argentina and Brazil - stayed away.

But over time, even those latter countries have begun to accede to corporate power. Strikingly, Ecuador - formerly a very vocal critic - joined Colombia and Peru's FTA with Europe. Brazil - the one country in Latin America that for years had avoided entering bilateral trade agreements - signed an FTA with Mexico, and is moving toward others. MERCOSUR (consisting of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela) and Brazil are negotiating a free trade accord with the European Union.

Enrique Daza from the Colombian Free Trade Action Network notes a slow but steady strategy on the part of corporations: "They have an agenda that is not maximalist… they are willing to take gradual steps to slowly implement their policy."

Opportunities for corporations emerge in particular when social movements lose their strength.

After the Victory, the Decline

With all of these free trade agreements being signed across the region, it's worth asking: What happened to the social movement that only a short while earlier had defeated the FTAA?

The movement's inability to stay united and independent from leftist governments post-FTAA worked against it. In 2004, Cuba and Venezuela spearheaded the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA). Not only did ALBA's vision grow out of HSA proposals, but it established a Social Movements Council as the "principle mechanism that facilitates integration and direct social participation."

As HSA turned toward supporting this grouping of "pink tide" governments, it lost some of its critical edge. In the words of Arroyo, "remaining silent in order not to weaken governments in relation to domestic right-wing groups was a mistake." Lamenting that "losing autonomy weakens the movement for the next stage of struggle," he observes, "at the end of the day the subjects of change are the people, not the governments."

Having lost both its international unity and its independence from left-wing Latin American governments, the movement was prepared neither for the corporate counteroffensive nor for sustaining itself during periods of decline.

Lessons for Current Struggles

By 2016 it's become clear that big inter-regional agreements - combined with new bilateral trade and investment deals - are the most prominent way to write the rules of the global trade system in the 21st century. What the United States and Europe couldn't do within the World Trade Organization or with the failed Multilateral Agreement on Investment in the 1990s, they're doing country by country, region by region.

Now comes the real moon shot. If the TPP and TTIP are fully implemented, they would cover 60 percent of global GDP and 75 percent of global trade, as the Transnational Institute's Susan George indicates.

A cohesive trans-continental social movement like the kind that coalesced around the FTAA is unlikely to form again. But current movements fighting trade agreements can draw important lessons from the anti-FTAA movement. As we engage in these struggles, what does the successful FTAA campaign tell us about how to build power in our respective domestic contexts?

One lesson is to harness the power of groups that are already mobilized. The FTAA effort effectively drew on Latin Americans' anger and frustration following years of structural adjustment, austerity, privatizations, and deregulation, and built on a growing anti-imperialist consciousness. It was able to channel the energies of the groups already mobilized on these issues into the FTAA campaign.

Although today's political context is very different, connecting our analysis and messaging on the TPP to the concerns of current movements in the TPP countries will help to maximize our power. Examples include the labor movement working on issues of inequality, jobs, and the minimum wage; groups mobilized on issues of digital privacy in the wake of the NSA scandal; student movements in Chile, Mexico, and the United States; and the environmental movement mobilized around the Keystone XL pipeline and fracking in the United States, tar sands in Canada, nuclear power in Japan, coal campaigning in Australia, and climate change everywhere.

Another related lesson is the importance of making the abstract concrete. The FTAA campaign effectively connected analysis of hard-to-understand and seemingly irrelevant aspects of the draft texts - such as investor-state dispute procedures - with specific concerns of different domestic sectors.

Now that the final text of the TPP is available, there's an urgent need to do the same.

That means, for example, communicating to public health advocacy groups and health professionals' organizations about how intellectual property provisions and extended patent protections for pharmaceuticals will affect access to medicines. It means making it much clearer for the environmental movement how energy and climate legislation - such as restrictions on fracking, coal, and nuclear power - could be undermined by investor-state lawsuits, like the $15 billion suit just launched against the US government for blocking the Keystone XL pipeline. And it means showing small and medium-sized business associations how restrictions on procurement will prevent governments from favouring local producers.


ISDS was a key issue in provoking outright rejection of the FTAA. Now, over ten years later, we have much more evidence to demonstrate, in very concrete ways, the risk that this system represents for a wide array of urgent public issues. With the high profile of the ISDS issue in Europe currently, there is a multitude of quality, accessible campaign materials that can be used to this end - including a diverse array of voices, from conservative think tanks to trade unionists, joined in unlikely alliance against it.

Finally, we should note the importance of creating alternative proposals. The anti-FTAA campaign was very clear that they were not against the integration of the Americas. Rather, they proposed a different kind of integration that was not based on the interests of corporate profits, unhindered competition, and a race to the bottom.

While regional integration in Latin America has been slow, if the FTAA had been signed it may well have made these initiatives impossible, as regional economies would have been pulled even more tightly into Washington's orbit. Obama was quite explicit about his intention to re-write the rules for international trade in these new deals. Highlighting the geo-strategic implications of the TPP, including the potential impact on alternative regional integration processes in Asia and Latin America, may also give us some leverage at the domestic level.

The FTAA campaign undoubtedly holds valuable lessons for our current efforts. However, what happened in Latin America subsequently - when corporate power regrouped and went on the counterattack in the face of a weakened civil society - tells us something even more important about the nature of the challenge we face.

Even if we defeat the TPP, challenging corporate power is like playing whack-a-mole: it will find other ways to expand. So while we fight our local battles, and continue building a globalized movement of local struggles, we mustn't lose sight of this bigger question about how we dismantle corporate power. The calls for a restructured, fairer global economy are growing louder by the day. While we have our mallets poised and ready, we also need to continue planning how to put the mole out of action for good.

News Wed, 10 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
Broken Promises: Smaller Middle Class Has Less Room for Families

After Gabriel Cardenas graduated from high school, he seemed on track to join America's middle class. He worked at Google in Silicon Valley, enrolled in classes at San Jose's Evergreen Valley College and took a second job.

But seven years after graduation, Cardenas is no closer to a middle class that has been shrinking for decades. Instead, his career reflects a common storyline in the modern economy. Cardenas was not an employee at the high-tech firm. Instead, he worked there as a contractor, spending his days unloading crates of bottled water, pet food and other goods for the company's new delivery service, Google Express.

He has not earned a college degree either, since he could only afford to take a few community college courses on the $17 an hour he earned as a contractor at Google. When Cardenas turned 25, he moved back home.

Cardenas isn't alone. Last year, the middle class shrunk to its lowest share of the U.S. population in four decades, with only 50 percent of Americans living in middle-income homes, down from 61 percent in 1971, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center, "The American Middle Class Is Losing Ground."

While the middle class was shrinking, two other segments of the American population were growing: the poorest and the wealthiest. Last year, 20 percent of U.S. adults were on the lowest rung of the economic ladder, earning less than half of the national median income or roughly $31,000 or less in 2014, an increase from 16 percent in 1971, Pew researchers reported. In 2015, 9 percent of Americans were at the top, they earned three times the median or more than $188,000 for a family of three, up from 4 percent in 1971.

Cardenas represents a new face of the nation's full-time workers, people who find themselves in low-paying jobs and left out of the shrinking middle class. In the Google warehouse, Cardenas worked alongside biologists and electrical engineers fresh from college who couldn't find other jobs during the sometimes anemic recovery from the Great Recession.

"There is a big lack of hope. I don't think people actually see themselves owning a house, owning much," said Cardenas, now 27, who says he was recently fired after a successful union organizing campaign at his warehouse. "There is not a path to have stability, to save up and actually be middle class."

Losing Faith in the American Dream

The decline of the middle class suggests a growing disconnect in the U.S., where fewer people feel they belong to, or have a chance to join, what has been the nation's economic and cultural bedrock. "The shift out of the middle reveals that a deeper polarization is underway in the American economy," according to the Pew Research report.

The report confirms what many struggling families have felt for years: The American Dream is moving further out of their reach. In 2014, only 64 percent of people had faith in that dream, the lowest level in about two decades, according to a poll and report by The New York Times.

Both that faith and the middle class itself are being eroded by a complex storm of changes within the nation's economy, education system and public policies. While the U.S. economy is growing again, for example, too much of that growth is in low-wage and part-time jobs, according to Kyra Greene, a research and policy analyst at the San Diego-based Center on Policy Initiatives.

San Diego's economy relies heavily on low-paying jobs in the tourism industry - hotels and restaurants - while the city's cost of living ranks among the highest in the nation, Greene says.

The collapse of housing markets during the last recession also delivered a body blow to the financial security of middle and lower-income families. Falling home values robbed many middle-class families of their primary savings, home equity they could have tapped to weather tough times, Greene added.

"They were hit especially hard," said Gabriela Sandoval, director of research and chief economic security officer at the Insight Center for Community Economy Development. "A lot of wealth was lost because of the housing crisis."

As families fell from the middle class, the public safety net that caught struggling households in the past - subsidized housing, public assistance, unemployment aid, public health care and food stamps - was fraying, according to Deborah Scott, executive director of Georgia STAND-UP, an Atlanta-based alliance of leaders that focuses on economic development.

"The services available (today) are not adequate to meet the needs of the communities in crisis. The safety net of good social services, good public policy and basic human services has gaping holes that can't be filled without a comprehensive approach," Scott said.

Meanwhile, the soaring cost of a college degree has pushed one of the more reliable tools to gain access to the middle class out of reach for many and saddled others with crushing debt.

"In states like California, all the things that we saw that were important to building a healthy middle class in this country are moving in the wrong direction," Greene said.

Together, all of these changes help explain why a different analysis by The Pew Charitable Trusts found that those who are born in the bottom or the top of the U.S. economy are likely to stay there.

Signs of Progress

As the nation's middle class shrunk, however, hopeful signs emerged in two arenas where progress had also stalled: organized labor and the minimum wage.

The ranks of union workers have been thinning since the middle of the last century, when a union job was often a reliable path to economic security. In 2014, only 11 percent of U.S. workers belonged to a union, down sharply from 20 percent in 1983, according to the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In the tech industry, however, unions have secured a few impressive wins lately.

Last year, bus drivers who ferry Apple, Yahoo, and eBay employees around Silicon Valley overwhelmingly voted to join Teamsters Local 853. Their first contract raised wages for drivers from $18 an hour to between $24 and $32 an hour and included paid sick leave, vacation time, holidays and overtime pay, according to Tracy Kelley, one of the drivers who helped lead the organizing campaign.

Yahoo, Apple and the other companies deserve some credit for that contract because "they are the ones who stepped up to the plate to pay the extra money," Kelley said.

Perhaps the most encouraging sign the middle class could grow again is the broad success of local efforts to raise the minimum wage. Even as the federal minimum wage has remained stuck at $7.25, at least 52 cities, counties, and states, from Los Angeles, Calif. to Birmingham, Ala., have raised minimum wages since 2003, according to RaisetheMinimumWage, a project by the National Employment Law Project.

Raising a local minimum wage to $10 or even $15 an hour will not necessarily move a family into the ranks of the middle class, which the Pew Research report defined as households earning between two-thirds and double the national median, between $42,000 and $126,000 a year in 2014 dollars for a family of three.

But, the success of the campaign to raise the minimum wage has tremendous value and could have a "trickle-up" effect as well. The campaign not only raises the pay floor, advocates say, it opens up larger questions about what people need and should earn in the modern economy.

It also reflects a growing realization that many U.S. workers have not seen real raises in years - a typical worker's hourly wages and compensation have been stagnant since 1979, with the exception of the late 1990s, the Economic Policy Institute reported last year.

"We are in what I would call a wages moment. People are recognizing that we have wage stagnation," said Lawrence Mishel, president of the Washington, D.C.-based institute.

In California's Silicon Valley, the idea that many low-wage jobs should pay more is at the heart of a three-point strategy from Silicon Valley Rising, a coalition, and led by Working Partnerships USA to shore up and then expand the middle class. This year, the plan from the San Jose-based community organization includes:

- Launch campaigns to organize contract workers in growing industries, such as bus drivers.

- Push to raise minimum wages and job standards, in more cities. In Silicon Valley, 11 cities have either considered or will consider raising basic wages this year.

- Expand affordable housing, including rent-controlled and subsidized housing, and support policies that prevent displacement of workers living in Santa Clara County.

For some, the campaigns to raise minimum wages, organizing wins and initiatives to broaden subsidized housing are a solid step to stopping the erosion of the middle class. In San Jose, for example, Gabriel Cardenas wants to see greater investment in public schools, stronger laws that support collective bargaining and free community college.

Political engagement and community organizing are important keys to making these changes and expanding the middle class, adds Georgia STAND-UP's Scott.

"We need to keep making sure people participate in the political process and understand the connection between good public policy and the quality of their lives," she said.

News Wed, 10 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
The Kochs Are Ghostwriting the United States' Story

(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)Progressives need to fight back with their own "metanarrative" against the tall tales of the right wing. (Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)Gather round for the word of the day: metanarrative. Definitions vary but let's say it's one big narrative that connects the meaning of events to a belief thought to be an essential truth, the storytelling equivalent of the unified field theory in physics.

Now use it to define what's being done to America today - our Big Story. Journalist and activist Naomi Klein did just that a couple of weeks ago when she and I talked at Finger Lakes Community College in upstate New York about the Koch brothers' resistance to the reality of climate change.

"…The Charles Koch metanarrative - and he's said it explicitly - is that he is challenging collectivism, he is challenging the idea that when people get together they can do good," she said. "And he is putting forward the worldview that we're all very familiar with that if you free the individual to pursue their self-interest that will actually benefit the majority. So you need to attack everything that is collective, whether it's labor rights or whether it's public health care or whether it's regulatory action. All of this falls under the metanarrative of an attack on collectivism."

In other words, Koch and his brother David and the extraordinary machine they have built in cahoots with fellow billionaires and others, have spent hundreds and hundreds of millions to get their way - "the great wealth grab" in the words of Richard Eskow - all part of one long story told in pursuit of a specific end: to make the needs of the very, very few our nation's top priority and to thwart or destroy any group effort among the poor and middle class to do or say otherwise.

To see more stories like this, visit Moyers & Company at Truthout.

The Kochs have spun their tale with a singular, laser-like focus, carefully taking their time to make sure they get it right. Jane Mayer, author of Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, recently wrote in Politico Magazine that

"Charles Koch might claim that his entry into politics is new, but from its secrecy to its methods of courting donors and recruiting students, the blueprint for the vast and powerful Koch donor network that we see today was drafted four decades ago."

Mayer reviewed papers - including one written by Charles Koch himself - presented at a Koch-sponsored Center for Libertarian Studies conference in 1976 and concludes, "…It's not hard to recognize the Koch political movement we see today-a vast and complex network of donors, think tanks and academic programs largely cloaked in secrecy and presented as philanthropy, leaving almost no money trail that the public can trace. And it's these techniques Charles first championed decades ago that helped build his political faction-one so powerful that it turned fringe ideas William F. Buckley once dismissed as 'Anarcho-Totalitarianism' into a private political machine that grew to rival the Republican Party itself."

And so we see their creation of ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council posing as a non-profit while entertaining state legislators and plying them with templates for laws that favor restrictions on voter eligibility, public sector unions and the minimum wage while supporting freedom for the gun lobby and deregulation. The Kochs shower cash on candidates and elected officials who do the bidding of the right, fund programs at historically black colleges and universities that preach free-market economics and deregulation, bankroll the Libre Initiative that hands out holiday turkeys and Easter baskets to Latino families while, in its own words, "informing the U.S. Hispanic community about the benefits of a constitutionally limited government, property rights, rule of law, sound money supply and free enterprise through a variety of community events, research and policy initiatives that protect our economic freedom."

As Naomi Klein said during our conversation, "The Koch brothers set out to change the values, to change the core ideas that people believed in. And there is no progressive equivalent of taking ideas seriously." She then asked, "So what is the progressive metanarrative? Who funds it? Who is working on changing ideas that can say, 'Actually, when we pool our resources, when we work together, we can do more and better than when we only act as individuals.' I don't think we value that."

In fact, there is a progressive metanarrative, one that needs to be valued and not obscured by arguments over who is or is not sufficiently progressive or who did what to whom and when. The metanarrative's lead has been buried in divisiveness, by trolling from every side and by despicable, old-fashioned redbaiting. What's more, goals and purposes have been diffused with a scattershot approach when we should be vectoring in on what really counts.

The progressive metanarrative is the opposite of the fight against collectivism: it's the struggle against inequality. The Harvard Gazette reports, "Though the wealthiest 20 percent earned nearly half of all wages in 2014, they have more than 80 percent of the wealth. The wealth of the poorest 20 percent, as measured by net worth, is actually negative. If they sell all they own, they'll still be in debt."

Labor organizer and Harvard Kennedy School lecturer Marshall Ganz tells the Gazette, "I think the galloping inequality in this country results from poor political choices. There was nothing inevitable, nothing global. We made a series of political choices… that set us on this path." He continues, "Inequality, it's not just about wealth, it's about power. It isn't just that somebody has some yachts, it's the effect on democracy… I think we're in a really scary place."

But it's not a place from which escape is impossible. To make our metanarrative come true, we must embrace both community and government that effectively can protect and provide for all. In a 2014 article at the Ideas.TED website, philosopher T.M. Scanlon wrote,

"No one has reason to accept a scheme of cooperation that places their lives under the control of others, that deprives them of meaningful political participation, that deprives their children of the opportunity to qualify for better jobs, and that deprives them of a share of the wealth they help to produce… The holdings of the rich are not legitimate if they are acquired through competition from which others are excluded, and made possible by laws that are shaped by the rich for the benefit of the rich. In these ways, economic inequality can undermine the conditions of its own legitimacy."

And so it can, if progressives work together, mobilize, dare to take risks and keep the faith in the face of cynicism and weary resignation. Such a metanarrative could have a different - and happy - ending.

Opinion Wed, 10 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
Sanders and Trump Steamroll the Establishment in New Hampshire

New Hampshire resoundingly rejected the two major party's mainstream candidates in its presidential primary Tuesday, with Bernie Sanders decisively beating Hillary Clinton on the Democratic ticket and Donald Trump overwhelming a pack of governors and U.S. senators who cannot seem to stop him.

Sanders' 21-point victory over Clinton, though not unexpected after surging in recent polls, was a monumental achievement for a candidate who started out with less than 5 percent of the vote (trailing by 44 percent at one point last year) and calling for a revolution to fundamentally address economic and political inequality.

"We won because we harnessed the energy and the excitement that the Democratic Party will need to succeed in November," Sanders said. "What the people here have said is that given the enormous crises facing our country, it is just too late for the same old, same old establishment politics and establishment economics: the people want real change."

"What the American people are saying," he continued - "and by the way, I hear this not just from progressives, but from conservatives and from moderates - is that we can no longer continue to have a campaign finance system in which Wall Street and the billionaire class are allowed to buy elections. Americans, no matter what their political view may be, understand that that is not what democracy is about. That is what oligarchy is about!"

But Sanders was not the only candidate striking populist notes. In her concession speech, Clinton spoke passionately about tackling much the same agenda as Sanders - not just economic and social justice, but taking on Wall Street and campaign finance reform.

"People have every right to be angry," Clinton said, "but they're also hungry - they're hungry for solutions. What are we going to do? And that is the fight that we are taking to the country. What is the best way to change people's lives, so we can all grow together? Who is the best changemaker? And here's what I promise: I will work harder than anyone to actually make the changes that make your lives better."

That question, who is the best change agent, will surely be a centerpiece of Clinton's campaign as she moves on to the next states. But she also sounded different, not talking about fine-print solutions but speaking emotionally while saying she knows how best to take on Republicans.  

"In this campaign, you've heard a lot about Washington and about Wall Street," she said. "Now Sen. Sanders and I both want to get secret, unaccountable money out of politics. And let's remember, Citizens United, one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in our country's history, was actually a case about about a right-wing attack on me and my campaign.… So yes, you're not going to find anybody more committed to aggressive campaign reform than me."  

Whether Clinton and her team will seriously embrace the core economic message that the Sanders campaign has been riding on - inequality, health care and reining in Wall Street - remains to be seen. Clinton also acknowledged in her speech that she is not winning among the vast majority of younger voters, who are drawn to Sanders, and said she would try to win their support. And early in Sanders' victory speech, he signaled the possibility he might come up short in the nomination contest, saying it was critical that all Democrats were united in the fall, "because the right-wing Republicans we oppose must not be allowed to regain the presidency."

Republican Quagmire Deepens

Trump's victory was also not surprising given his months-long lead in the polls. But after placing second after Ted Cruz in ultra-religious Iowa, Trump won across all Republican demographics in the media's New Hampshire exit polls, including among more highly educated voters, one of the demographics Trump wasn't supposed to win. Even though he won with 35 percent of the vote, that shows his base of support is widening, which is more than disconcerting to the GOP's Washington-based establishment.

Traditionally, outsider candidates split a small slice of a party's electorate and remain in the single digits while a more mainstream presidential candidate draws increasing support as the nominating season unfolds. But exactly the opposite is happening in 2016 for the Republicans, as their pack of governors and U.S. senators hover in the teens or less, percentage-wise, and will soon have to decide if they will stay in the race. 

As it stands, the GOP frontrunners are the party's outsiders, Trump and Ted Cruz, who won Iowa's caucuses. The second-place New Hampshire winner, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, roughly garnered one in six votes, 16 percent, which will boost his campaign as the next contests appear in Nevada and South Carolina. Kasich raised a fraction of the other establishment candidates, but rose in the polls on a very positive message and an impressive TV debate performance. Cruz, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio gathered 11.5 percent, 11.2 percent and 10.4 percent, respectively, with about three-quarters of precincts reporting.

Trump's victory speech also struck populist notes, but of a decisively right-wing nature except for his attack on the money, power and influence of special-interest lobbyists. But that didn't stop Trump from going after Sanders, after congratulating him on his victory.

"First of all, congratulations to Bernie; in all fairness, we have to congratulate him," he said. "We may not like it. But I heard part of Bernie's speech. He wants to give away our country, folks. He wants to give away - we're not going to let it happen. We're not going to let it happen. I don't know where it's going with Bernie. We wish him a lot of luck."

"But we are going to make America great again," he continued, "but we are going to do it the old-fashioned way. We're going to beat China, Japan. We're going to beat Mexico in trade. We're going to beat all of these countries that are taking so much of our money away from us on a daily basis. It's not going to happen anymore."        

Then Trump congratulated himself for not relying on fundraising from wealthy donors and lobbyists, saying, much like Sanders and Clinton, that those fixtures of the political culture are inherently corrupt and anti-democratic.

"I think one of the things that really caught on - it's very important - self-funding my campaign," he said. "This is on both sides, the Republican side, the Democratic side, money pouring into [negative] commercials. These are special interests, folks. These are lobbyists. There are people that don't necessarily love our country. They don't have the best interests of our country at heart. We're not going to let it happen. We have to do something about it."    

Sanders doesn't have a super PAC, which would allow donors to flout legal loopholes to get around individual campaign contribution caps and give millions. He said he has more than 1 million donors who have given 3.7 million times, averaging $27.

As the race continues to its next stage, the candidates' focuses will all shift to demonstrate that they have broad support that can translate into a winning candidacy in the fall. On the Democratic side, Sanders will try to demonstrate that a U.S. senator from a nearly all-white state can win sizeable votes from African Americans in South Carolina and Latinos in Nevada. In contrast, Clinton will try to demonstrate that those slices of the party's base that have historically supported her in the past are still with her. All eyes will be on turnout.

On the Republican side, the contest gets trickier. In South Carolina, there's a sizeable evangelical population that's akin to Iowa, which appears to favor Ted Cruz. And in Nevada, Trump, whose fortune comes in part from the casino business, is a well-known figure, especially in Las Vegas.

News Wed, 10 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
This Bill Would Force Large Corporations to Pay a Fine if They Don't Pay Workers a Living Wage

Interior of WalMart department store in Mohegan Lake, New York on February 2, 2010. (Photo via Shutterstock)If implemented, the Responsible Business Act would incrementally raise the minimum wage that large employers are required to pay employees to avoid fees. (Photo: vvoe /

A group of Chicago-area progressive groups and unions are backing a bill that would punish large companies who don't pay their workers a living wage.

The Responsible Business Act would charge corporations who employ more than 750 Cook County workers at less than $15 per hour fees for paying what advocates call poverty-level wages. Since it was introduced in October last year, the act has gained the support of unions and grassroots organizations fighting for economic justice.

Two actions in support of the proposed Responsible Business Act (RBA) took place in Cook County on Monday, February 1. In Chicago's Uptown neighborhood, Organizing Neighborhoods for Equality: Northside, or ONE Northside, led a teach-in at their offices and canvassed outside of corporate stores. Supporters of the RBA including IIRON and the Reclaim Campaign held an action at a Walmart store in suburban Bedford Park, just outside the city limits.

The RBA is a county-level act and is sponsored by Commissioner Robert Steele of the Cook County Board of Commissioners. It currently has three co-sponsors: Joan Patricia Murphy, Luis Arroyo, Jr. and Jerry Butler; organizers say they also have two commitments to vote "yes" from Jesus "Chuy" Garcia and Larry Suffredin. Three more commissioners need to support the act in order for it to pass through the 17-member board. Monday's actions called on 11th District Commissioner John Daley and 10th District Commissioner Bridget Gainer to back the bill.

At the canvassing event organized by ONE Northside, supporters of the RBA called for Gainer to co-sponsor the proposal. They engaged pedestrians outside of Target, Starbucks and McDonald's - all corporations that would potentially be affected by the RBA.

"The CEOs of these big corporations continue to make massive profits while the workers, who are responsible for the functioning of the corporations, are forced to rely on public services to survive off their poverty wages," said Eugene Lim, a member of the group's Workers' Rights Team.

Commissioner Gainer did not respond to a request for comment.

The Responsible Business Act would give corporations with over 750 employees a choice: either raise their employees' wages to a living wage - determined by Cook County Chief Financial Officer Ivan Samstein at $14.57 per hour without benefits and $11.66 per hour with benefits - or pay a $750 fee for each dollar paid below the hourly living wage per employee.

For example, a corporation where 100 workers earn $13.57 per hour (one dollar below the living wage of $14.57 per hour) would have the choice of raising their hourly wage by $1 for each worker, or paying a fee of $75,000 ($1 times 100 workers, times the $750 fine). This fee is designed to supplement the housing and childcare assistance, Medicaid costs and other services out of reach for workers earning poverty wages. The fees would be earmarked specifically for public assistance programs and distributed by the county.

Seventy-five percent of the revenue would be placed into a newly established Family Sustainability Fund, 20 percent would go to pre-existing health care spending and the remainder would be spent on administrative costs. A nine-person commission would advise the Cook County Board of Commissioners on allocation of the collected funds.

Monday morning's South Side action took place at the Walmart store at 7050 S. Cicero Avenue. About 50 people, including low-wage workers, students and members of IIRON, Reclaim Campaign, the Bridgeport Alliance and National Nurses United were present. At 11 A.M., the protesters entered Walmart, carrying signs and chanting "Hey you, millionaires, pay your fair share!"

Gianna Chacon is an undergraduate at Roosevelt University. She says her $10 per hour retail job at Marshalls isn't enough to cover her living expenses. "These companies can afford to pay us enough to live on, but instead they choose to squeeze their workers and make a few million more," she told the crowd.
The group brought with them a 3' x 5' invoice for what they say is the $33 million owed by Walmart to workers and taxpayers. The number is an estimate of the amount of taxpayer money that goes to supporting Walmart employees to provide essential services that they are unable to afford. According to a study by the Center for Urban Economic Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), the Responsible Business Act would affect 67 employers in Cook County and raise the wages of over 16,000 workers. The average increase would be $7.11 per hour, per worker.

Yamara Ayala, a mother of two and a home care aide for her father, said at Monday's action that she has high hopes for the Responsible Business Act. "I'm hoping it does go forward because it will help so many families. … None of us are getting our fair share, and that's what we're fighting for."

Monday's South Side action was one of the first to target 11th District Commissioner John Daley, who has yet to pledge support for the Responsible Business Act. Tom Gaulke, a leader with IIRON and the Bridgeport Alliance, addressed Daley during the action: "You have the power to help us make large corporations like Walmart pay their fair share to workers and pay their fair share to our communities."

Commissioner Daley did not respond to a request for comment.

If implemented, the act would incrementally raise the minimum wage that large employers are required to pay employees to avoid fees. The rate would increase by $1.35 per year, from the current minimum of $8.25 in Cook County, to a high of $15.00 over five years. The UIC study found that the Act could raise up to $500 million during the four year phase-in, and $200 million after it is fully implemented.

Emiliano Vera, a Northwestern University undergraduate and a low-wage worker himself, said at Monday's action that "We need to speak up to challenge that blatant lie [that low wage work is justified], and tell the story that the real culprits are the corporations that refuse to pay a living wage."

News Wed, 10 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
Struggling for Asylum, Refugees Face Bulldozers and Riot Police in Calais, France

Home to people from Afghanistan, Sudan, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere, the "Jungle" of Calais, France, is one of the biggest refugee and migrant camps in Western Europe. While the French and British governments work to deter and contain camp residents, many are seeking asylum in Europe.


Bordering the English Channel, on the outskirts of the French town of Calais, an estimated 5,000 men, women and children live in a sea of tents and shelters sprawling across the former dumping ground of an industrial plant. The described area is home to one of the biggest refugee and migrant camps in Western Europe, and is populated by communities from Afghanistan, Chad, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, Kurdistan, Libya, Pakistan, Palestine, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and other nations.

The "Jungle" refugee camp in Calais, France, in September 2015. (Photo: Peter Blodau)The "Jungle" refugee camp in Calais, France, in September 2015. (Photo: Peter Blodau)

The camp, known today as "the Jungle," has been active in various formations and sizes near Calais since 2001. And, as The Intercept reported in December 2015,the French and British governments' approach to the informal settlement has included pouring "millions of dollars into extra riot police, tear gas canisters, dogs, fences, infrared cameras, floodlights, and batons" to deter Jungle residents, "while neglecting to supply adequate meals, sanitation, running water, housing, medical support, or clothing."

The countering of governmental hostilities toward the camp hasn't come from the UN, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Oxfam, Save the Children, Red Cross or most other major aid agencies, but rather from grassroots organizations like L'Auberge des Migrants and Help Refugees, as well as independent volunteers (see "Caravans for Calais") from across Europe.

In sum, the Jungle is haunted by a shameful imbalance of power: Volunteers unload food parcels inside the camp while "a bunch of migrants" queue, and since the powers that be prioritize containment and deterrence, French police officers armed with riot-control weapons watch them in the distance.

Bulldozing a Sea of Homes

In mid-January, the French government issued an ultimatum to Jungle residents: Bulldozers will level a third of the makeshift encampment and thereafter, the evictees are to be relocated to a neighboring purpose-built facility.

Feeling unheard - residents told the Guardian that the new site "resembles a prison and contains no communal areas" - camp leaders quickly released an announcement of their own: "We, the united people of the Jungle, Calais, respectfully decline the demands of the French government with regards to reducing the size of the Jungle. We have decided to remain where we are and will peacefully resist the government's plans to destroy our homes."

Despite protests, bulldozers guided by riot police moved in on January 18. "In our view, it's not in the interest of the refugees," said Tanya Freedman of Help Refugees, "because communities are being split apart."

Evidently, the calls of the united people are known, but the powers that be continue to prioritize containment and deterrence.

A double-fenced road near the refugee camp. (Photo: Peter Blodau)A double-fenced road near the refugee camp. (Photo: Peter Blodau)

In our recent essay, "A Sea of Tents Surrounds Me" for the Los Angeles Review of Books, we described the logic behind most residents' stay in the camp:

Proximity is the Jungle's promise: that is, the chance of illegal entry into England via the Channel Tunnel or port of Calais, for the sake of a future spent with family, friends, jobs, asylum, or the English language. But the camp's promise is also that living there is the lesser of two struggles: that coming under the teargas fire of the French police beyond Jungle limits or being detained for hiding among the crates within cargo trucks set to cross the Channel is less severe than, say, facing an Islamic State siege or a bombing campaign by the Syrians, the Russians, or the American-led coalition at home.

In other words, "It's the logic of life against the logic of the state," according to one of our friends Jean Colombain, who is an archivist and French citizen with Lebanese parentage.

Carrying the Load of "No Money, No Future"

In Carry That Load, which was filmed by Blodau in the fall of 2015, we allude to the ongoing escape of thousands of people living in the Jungle - not to mention the hundreds of thousands more across Europe - from the perils of poverty, abusive regimes, proxy war, continuous war, climate change and the refugee camps themselves.

The stories of two Jungle residents in particular, Salah from Rojava (Western Kurdistan) and Abdo from Darfur, Sudan, inspired our correlation between the double-fenced road passing alongside the camp and the makeshift place of worship left behind. In the quotations that follow, which we previously shared in our essay in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Abdo conveys the psychological and spiritual loads that he carries, and Salah details the occasion in which a transport load might one day carry him.

Salah (center) with friends from Rojava. (Photo: Peter Blodau)Salah (center) with friends from Rojava. (Photo: Peter Blodau)

Salah: "I was an English teacher in Kobani, but I had to leave because of the fighting. I went to Greece by boat and then by train to Hungary. I ended up in Germany but my family is in England and I speak English well, so that's why I'm here now. I still can't believe I'm living in a tent with no money. A sea of tents surrounds me."

Accordingly, he relates another one of his escapes, this time from the Jungle itself:

I tried to get to the fences of the [Eurotunnel terminal]. We walked from the camp and through Calais. On our way we saw the trucks that get unloaded at the trains. We had a pair of fence cutters with us to make a hole. There are old holes that don't get closed up, so we looked for those too. We waited for it to get dark. There were police and dogs on both sides of the fence that weren't leaving, though. We went back to the camp and would try another day.

Abdo outside his current home. (Photo: Peter Blodau)Abdo outside his current home. (Photo: Peter Blodau)

Abdo: "I have no money, no future. Reading [the Qur'an] gives me peace ... it takes me away from here."

Hearing the Calls of the United People

With degrading politics both at home and away, the Jungle residents have been left with few answers, turning mainly to prayer and further smuggling. As for the French government, clearing the ground (and consequently splitting communities apart) has topped its agenda, which essentially carries forward a cruel history of control spreading over a number of continents for centuries.

Carry That Load was written and produced by Elle Kurancid, and uses video footage shot by Peter Blodau, who interviewed and sketched portraits of Abdo, Salah and over two dozen Jungle residents in August and September 2015.

News Wed, 10 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500