Truthout Stories http://www.truth-out.org Fri, 29 Jul 2016 11:45:45 -0400 en-gb Kshama Sawant vs. Rebecca Traister on Clinton, Democratic Party and Possibility of a Female President http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37030-kshama-sawant-vs-rebecca-traister-on-clinton-democratic-party-and-possibility-of-a-female-president http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37030-kshama-sawant-vs-rebecca-traister-on-clinton-democratic-party-and-possibility-of-a-female-president

As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton makes history by becoming the first woman to accept a major-party presidential nomination, we speak with Rebecca Traister, writer-at-large for New York Magazine who has covered Clinton for a decade. Her most recent article is headlined "Hillary Is Poised to Make the 'Impossible Possible' -- For Herself and for Women in America." We are also joined by Kshama Sawant, a Socialist city councilmember in Seattle who helped win a $15/hour minimum wage for all workers in Seattle.

Please check back later for full transcript.

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News Fri, 29 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Patriot Games, From Watergate to Email Hacks http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/37029-patriot-games-from-watergate-to-email-hacks http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/37029-patriot-games-from-watergate-to-email-hacks

"Treason doth never prosper: what's the reason? Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason."

  -- Sir John Harington (1561-1612)

There has been a break-in at the Democratic National Committee. Documents were stolen with the apparent intention of manipulating the results of a presidential election.

Did this happen in 1972, at the Watergate complex, or in 2016, at 430 South Capitol Street Southeast? Was the break-in a physical burglary, or was it a digital theft? Were the apparent perpetrators naturalized Cubans, or were they Russians in the service of the SVR? To paraphrase Mark Twain, history never repeats itself exactly, but there are occasions when it rhymes.

The crucial difference between 1972 and 2016 is that in the former instance, there was no collusion between an American politician and a foreign state. In the present case, even if there is not (yet) any incontrovertible evidence of collusion, there is a serendipitous congruence of economic interests between Donald Trump and a foreign power, as well as the striking coincidence of his campaign manager, his top European foreign policy adviser and others associated with the candidate's campaign having economic or career ties with Russia.

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

The idea that a major-party candidate would conspire with a foreign power to influence a US election is an implausible hypothesis that the mainstream media may have difficulty reporting on, and not merely because of bias or caution, but because the public may not fully absorb it. As Marshall McLuhan observed, "Only the small secrets need to be protected. The large ones are kept secret by public incredulity." Or, unfortunately, indifference.

One secret that has been hiding in plain sight for almost 50 years also involves Richard Nixon, the author of the Watergate affair, but this time with the participation of a foreign government. The occasion was a closely fought 1968 election that hinged on the candidates' stance on the Vietnam War, and on the progress of the Paris peace talks.

The incumbent president, Lyndon Johnson, never did succeed in obtaining an agreement with the North Vietnamese on a bombing halt before the election, an achievement that would have favored the Democratic candidate, Hubert Humphrey. Instead, Nixon, claiming a "secret plan to end the war," narrowly defeated Humphrey and proceeded to continue pointless military involvement for his entire first term.

There have long been rumors that the Nixon campaign colluded with Anna Chennault, a stalwart of the old China lobby, to open a back channel between Nixon's campaign and the South Vietnamese government. Since that government already took a very hard line against North Vietnam (any peace agreement with the North would likely undercut the Saigon government's legitimacy), it would be more than willing to block agreement on a bombing halt. In the event, there was no agreement, and Nixon won a narrow victory.

Now, thanks to a remarkable book by Ken Hughes, we know that the rumor is actually incontestable fact. The author produces archival evidence from the Johnson presidential library, intercepts from the FBI and NSA and the Johnson tapes themselves to demonstrate not only that Nixon was conspiring with a foreign power to undermine US diplomacy (an act of treason on its face) but that Johnson knew it and concealed it -- which is why most Americans don't know it.

Why didn't Johnson blow the whistle, when he himself knew it was treason? One reason was the old chestnut of "sources and methods," meaning protecting the secrecy of the FBI and NSA intercepts. Another was the argument (which the proverbial man from Mars would find amazing) that the American people's naïve faith in their institutions and politicians had to be protected at all costs, even in the face of illegality and treason. The foremost advocate of this outrageous thesis was Johnson's defense secretary, Clark Clifford, a slippery Deep State operative who later came to grief himself over shady dealings with foreign entities.

But I suspect the foremost reason was Johnson himself. By that point, the strain of dealing with the Vietnam War had fatally warped his judgment. He became so obsessed with defending his (futile) Vietnam policy that he was willing to give Nixon (himself a hawk) a pass. By contrast, he had bullied his vice president, Humphrey, for so long that he had lost all respect for him. When Humphrey showed signs of deviating from the party line on Vietnam, Johnson took actions which, as Hughes shows us, objectively favored Nixon, and one may infer that Johnson secretly wanted Nixon to win. Hughes does not explicitly say that, but it is readily deduced from the tone of the transcripts that the author reproduces.

Nixon got away with treason and rigging an election. That makes the idiotic risks he took in Watergate far more understandable in retrospect. After all, he got away with it before.

Fast forwarding 48 years, the evidence is more tenuous. We know that Donald Trump has had extensive connections going back decades with Russia and Russia's oligarchs. From forensic evidence, the hack of the DNC appears to have been undertaken by elements of Russian intelligence. This allegation should not be surprising, because that's what foreign intelligence services do -- toward the end of my tenure on Capitol Hill, we were frequently warned about foreign governments engaging in phishing expeditions to hack our email accounts.

It may be that Trump's and the Russian government's financial interests are simply aligned by happenstance, with no overt collusion. Trump's financial ties would likely make him instinctively sympathetic to the Russian government's claims. Russia, for its part, would definitely like to see a US president elected who would reverse economic sanctions against the Kremlin.

The Republicans' 2016 campaign platform, however, is suggestive of something a little more intense. As a former political operative myself, I know that written platforms are largely a headache to candidates, who would prefer not to have them. But they are a bit more than symbolic nuisances: once written, they can become bludgeons in the hands of the opposing party, which will quote any infelicitously chosen plank loud and long during the general election campaign. Accordingly, the candidates' campaign personnel normally expend effort to make sure platforms are inoffensive mush.

But not this time. Party activists, mainly from the religious right wing of the party that is not the core of the Trump movement, confected a 2016 platform whose social policy elements were so retrograde that they might have been crafted in 1690s Salem, or present-day Islamabad. Trump, the cosmopolitan libertine, did not care and did not lift a finger to change any of it, despite the fact that it will be a gift to the Clinton campaign in the two parties' competition for independent voters.

With one exception.

With respect to foreign policy, Trump's operatives pushed back hard against the GOP's tradition of an implacably militant stance in one particular: they forced the platform committee to drop any reference to arming Ukraine against Russia. Is it possible that a foreign entity did not understand the labyrinthine intricacies of American politics, and the fact that platforms are mainly campaign symbolism? Did somebody demand a guarantee in writing?

This could also explain why Trump has not released his tax returns -- something that every major-party candidate has done ever since Nixon gave the public a reason to demand such information. The common belief about Trump's refusal is that he is not as rich as he brags he is, that he is extremely stingy with charities or that he pays little or no personal income taxes. But would his returns also reveal business connections with Russian financial interests?

The ironies abound. Through the National Endowment for Democracy and the US Agency for International Development, the United States has meddled often enough in foreign elections. Are foreign governments with an axe to grind now turning the tables on us? We should take heed of our own behavior, even as we condemn presumed foreign interference in our own affairs.

It is also obvious that the US government cannot, even in its wildest dreams, pursue its Captain Ahab-like quest to fight a war on terror throughout the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa without maintaining tolerable relations with major powers like Russia. To fight the so-called "War on Terror" while ginning up Cold War 2.0 is irrational and dangerous, even if lucrative for the merchants of death who infest the Beltway policy process.

The sad irony is that the champion of a renewed détente should be Trump. It is said that a blind hog finds an occasional acorn, and so it is in this case. Nevertheless, we can declare that it should be the goal of US diplomacy to improve relations with virtually every country on the planet -- but that does not mean our leaders should come with financial strings attached to them that lead to a foreign capital.

The final irony is this: Why are the most annoyingly ostentatious patriots always the first ones to name their price? Nixon was the first president to wear an enameled flag pin on his lapel -- Nixon, who committed treason with a foreign government, compiled an enemies list and went on to subvert the Constitution. Now we have a candidate who says "America first," denounces whole groups of people for not being American enough and has suggestive financial connections with a foreign power.

Trump held a press conference in which he expressed a wish that Russia or China would "find" Hillary Clinton's missing emails from when she was secretary of state. His statement crosses the line from legitimate criticism of government policy to encouraging foreign powers -- meaning foreign espionage services -- to commit cybercrimes and spy against Americans. We shall see in the coming days how Trump's phalanx of Real Americans digests and rationalizes his outburst of subversion and quislingism.

History may not repeat itself, but the melody is close enough that we should be on our guard.

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Opinion Fri, 29 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Nose Holding Time http://www.truth-out.org/art/item/37028-nose-holding-time http://www.truth-out.org/art/item/37028-nose-holding-time ]]> Art Fri, 29 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400 Dangerous Liaisons: ChemChina's Bid for Syngenta http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37027-dangerous-liaisons-chemchina-s-bid-for-syngenta http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37027-dangerous-liaisons-chemchina-s-bid-for-syngenta

Protesters in Munich, Germany, demonstrate against patents on life companies such as Syngenta and Monsanto, January 20, 2016.Protesters in Munich, Germany, demonstrate against "patents on life" by companies such as Syngenta and Monsanto, January 20, 2016. (Photo: Michaela Handrek-Rehle / Campact)

We all love to hate Monsanto. We also know that Monsanto isn't the only poison-maker trying to pass itself off as a "farmer-friendly producer of food to feed the world."

Monsanto belongs to an exclusive club of dominant pesticide makers. That club, which includes Dow, Dupont, Bayer, Syngenta and BASF, is about to get a lot smaller. And a lot more dangerous.

Bayer has been trying for months to buy Monsanto. Dow and Dupont are in talks to merge. And Switzerland-based Syngenta may soon be owned by ChemChina.

It's bad enough that less than a dozen multinational corporations (including Monsanto, Dupont, Bayer and Syngenta) control nearly 70 percent of the global seed market. If these mergers and buyouts go through, that number will shrink even further.

The recent merger and acquisition in the seed and chemical (why are the words "seeds" and "chemicals" even uttered in the same breath?) signals trouble in the industry, a fact Bayer CEO Werner Baumann recently admitted. That's probably a good sign. 

But giving more control to even fewer corporations will definitely have a downside. Martha Rosenberg and Ronnie Cummins take a look at the proposed buyout of Syngenta by ChemChina.

Who Is Syngenta?

Switzerland-based Syngenta AG is best known for its top-selling herbicide, atrazine; for trying to fool the world into thinking its genetically engineered Golden Rice will save the world; and for taking out pollinators with its neonicotinoid pesticides.

The global agro-toxics corporation, which produces agrochemicals, seeds and GMOs, was formed in 2000, through the merger of Novartis Agribusiness and Zeneca Agrochemicals. The merger made Syngenta the world's largest crop chemical producer by 2014, and also a world market leader in seeds and biotechnology. 

Syngenta describes itself as an integrated "crop protection" business that sells herbicides, insecticides, fungicides and seed treatments (including bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides), and also a lawn and garden business that sells flowers, turf, landscape supplies and pesticides. 

Syngenta operates in 90 countries in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, North America, Latin America and in the Asia Pacific. In late 2015, Syngenta had a total market capitalization of $37 billion.

In 2014, Monsanto tried to acquire Syngenta, a clear rival, for a reported $40 billion. Syngenta rejected the offer, partly because Monsanto's behavior has made the Biotech Bully from St. Louis one of the most hated corporations on the planet. Less than two years later, Syngenta said "yes" to a similar offer from China National Chemical (also called ChemChina,) a state-owned enterprise (SOE), which offered to buy the Swiss agrochemical company for $43 billion.

ChemChina is an amalgam of chemical, oil processing, agrochemicals and tire and rubber Chinese firms that are largely in government hands

The deal is one of three potential mega-mergers in recent months of chemical-seed-biotech giants. The others being Bayer-Monsanto and Dow Chemical-Dupont. As we recently noted about the proposed purchase of Monsanto by Bayer, the consolidations signal that the industry is not doing well.

"The crop chemicals industry is bound to consolidate because target companies are spending too much on research and development for new products," admitted Monsanto's Chief Operating Officer Brett Begemann during its bid for Syngenta last year. "Pressures on the industry" are causing declining profits said Begemann. In fact, times have been so rough, last year the New York Times reported that Monsanto, "has been diversifying, emphasizing more conventional breeding and moving into new businesses, such as using microbes to control pests and offering digital data to help farmers manage their fields." 

In April, analysts were bearish about Syngenta stock because of "continuous weakening of crop protection business and insecticide sales."

While food safety and sustainability advocates oppose such vertically integrated models of patented seeds, fertilizers and pesticides for obvious reasons -- they lock in supply chains of harmful foods and chemicals that imperil the environment, humans and other animals -- the proposed buyout of Syngenta by a Chinese government-owned corporation raises a whole set of additional questions.  Specifically, a ChemChina purchase of Syngenta would be the biggest overseas Chinese acquisition in history, making China a multinational powerhouse in global agriculture in a way it has never been before. ChemChina's takeover of Syngenta dwarfs China's 2013 purchase of the U.S. factory farm meat giant Smithfield Foods for "only" $5 billion. 

US Producers Fear a China-Owned Syngenta

U.S. agribusiness and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) view a China-owned Syngenta as an economic threat to current U.S. imports to China and commodity prices. "Inconsistency" and policies "not based on science" may move China to block imports of U.S. bio- engineered crops, said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack recently. "I have a watchful eye on all of this and continue to be extremely concerned about the way in which biotechnology and innovation is being treated and impeded," he said.  

Vilsack is no doubt thinking of China's recent rejection of MIR 162 corn that U.S. farmers grew with Syngenta seeds, despite assurances from Syngenta that the seeds were pre-approved for China sales. Many lawsuits brought by U.S. producers have followed. Because of China's rejection of two types of Syngenta GMO corn -- Viptera and Duracade -- "exports of U.S. corn were down some 85 percent since 2013," says acomplaint filed by farmer Jon Dereadt in Illinois 2015. China also rejected crops grown by U.S. farmers from Monsanto seeds in 2013, provoking more lawsuits.

These multinational consolidations are also being criticized by many U.S. farmers. A pork producer in North Dakota wrote in a letter to the Grand Forks Herald, noting China's takeover of Smithfield Foods,  that "Shanghai Penguin Group of China has tried to buy the Kidman Ranch," and such consolidations are "good only for the one doing the consolidating, never for the consumer or for the family farms producing Herald readers' food."

Ohio Farmers Union President Joe Logan agreed, asking, "Where are the Teddy Roosevelts and the trust busters of today?" to put a stop to such ag consolidations.  "Enough is enough," he said.

Bad News for Syngenta's Flagship Atrazine?

Most people associate Syngenta with its top-selling herbicide atrazine, a hormone-disrupting chemical, banned in Europe, but still the second most-used chemical in U.S. agriculture, only behind Monsanto's glyphosate (Roundup). Atrazine is consistently one of the most frequently detected toxic crop chemicals in drinking water because of its wide use on Midwestern corn fields.

In response to organic and food safety advocates exposing the obvious health and environmental risks of Atrazine, Syngenta conducted shameless disinformation and smear campaigns against scientists reporting the dangers. In fact, Syngenta's PR team investigated the press and "spent millions to spin news coverage and public perceptions" about atrazine's safety, reported the Center for Media and Democracy. Syngenta especially tried to block citizen lawsuits to make Syngenta pay for removal of atrazine from drinking water systems.

In addition to viciously attacking the credibility of Dr. Tyrone Hayes, professor of Integrative Biology at University of California, Berkeley, whose research identified how atrazine demasculinizes and feminizes male frogs,  Syngenta planted ghost-written "scientific" papers by its paid operatives to make atrazine look safe. The company also  published a book in 2011 called "Scared to Death: How Chemophobia Threatens Public Health," which attacked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and "harmful, unnecessary regulation."

Syngenta's tactics didn't work. In June, the EPA announced that the amount of  atrazine being released into the environment in the U.S.  is likely harming most species of plants and animals, including mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles. 

"In the terrestrial environment, there are risk concerns for mammals, birds, reptiles, plants and plant communities across the country for many of the atrazine uses," concluded the 518 page report from the EPA. While corn growers and Syngenta quickly tried to discredit the report, the EPA assessment will, we hope, finally lead to tighter regulatory limits on the product.

Golden Rice Scam

One of the most audacious Syngenta ventures was Golden Rice, genetically modified to make pro-vitamin A in the endosperm and aggressively billed in 2000, as a cure for widespread vitamin A deficiency in developing countries. 

Created by Ingo Potrykus at the Institute of Plant Sciences in the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, and Peter Beyer at the University of Freiburg in 1999, the pair worked out a deal in which Syngenta could develop Golden Rice commercially, overseen by a "Humanitarian Board" which included Syngenta, the Rockefeller Foundation, USAID and public relations and marketing experts. 

Backers of the initiative to address world hunger with Golden Rice included the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, the European Community Biotech Programme, the Swiss Federal Office for Education and Science, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Helen Keller International. 

Also helping Golden Rice was the International Rice Research Institute led by Gerald Barry, previously Director of Research at Monsanto.

Condemnation of the GMO rice product was swift and widespread. Critics pointed out that it was absurd to offer Golden Rice as the cure for vitamin A deficiency when there are plenty of alternative, infinitely cheaper sources of vitamin A or pro-Vitamin A, including green vegetables and unpolished colored rice, especially black and purple varieties which would also add essential vitamins and minerals. 

Golden Rice critics also cited scientific evidence that Vitamin A uptake depends on dietary fats or oils, often lacking in the diets of poor people -- without those oils, GMO rice is useless as a source of Vitamin A.  And they pointed out that Golden Rice will exacerbate the industrial monocultures of the Green Revolution, which obliterate agricultural biodiversity and soil fertility, and result in ever-worsening mineral and micronutrient deficiencies in our food. These are the main causes of hunger and malnutrition in the Third World, said critics, along with poverty -- and these problems can't be solved with technology and GMOs.

The whole idea of GE seeds is to make money," said Sarojeni V. Rengam, executive director of Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP). "We want to send out a strong message to all those supporting the promotion of Golden Rice, especially donor organizations, that their money and efforts would be better spent on restoring natural and agricultural biodiversity rather than destroying it by promoting monoculture plantations and genetically engineered (GE) food crops."

"Vitamin A rice is a hoax, and will bring further dispute to plant genetic engineering where public relations exercises seem to have replaced science in promotion of untested, unproven and unnecessary technology," agreed Dr. Vandana Shiva. Since the daily average requirement of Vitamin A is 750 micrograms, and one serving contains 30g of rice "one family member would consume the entire family ration of 10 kg. from the PDS in 4 days to meet vitamin A needs through 'Golden rice.' This is a recipe for creating hunger and malnutrition, not solving it, Shiva said.
 
The website Food Freedom points out the similarities between Golden Rice to the "Sweet Potato Project," launched by USAID and Monsanto in 2011, used as a Trojan horse to penetrate Kenyan markets. "Once in place, these regulations open the door for the biotech industry to bring in commercial, patented GE crops...[raising] serious equity concerns for both farmers and national governments as they become beholden to biotech giants and lose their rights to save and exchange seed," according to the website.

Golden Rice could also be dangerous according to a number of scientists. The retinal it contains is reduced to retinol, or oxidized to retinoic acid which controls development of the nervous system, nerve differentiation and embryonic segmentation -- making it a potential contributor to birth defects said David Schubert at the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences La Jolla, California.

Sixteen years after its highly-publicized launch, even the scientific community has become skeptical of Golden Rice. "Heralded on the cover of Time magazine in 2000 as a genetically modified (GMO) crop with the potential to save millions of lives in the Third World, Golden Rice is still years away from field introduction and even then, may fall short of lofty health benefits still cited regularly by GMO advocates, suggests a new study," according to Science Daily.

Syngenta's Other Dangerous Products

Sadly, for consumers and the environment, atrazine and Golden Rice are not the only controversial products sold by Syngenta. U.S. and European farmers have brought lawsuits claiming that toxicity from Syngenta's GMO Bt 176 corn (which expresses an insecticidal Bt toxin derived from the bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis and a gene conferring resistance to glufosinate herbicide) has caused livestock deaths.

The charges originated with a German farmer who claimed his dairy cattle suffered mysterious illnesses and deaths after eating Bt 176. The farmer pointed to a feeding study allegedly commissioned by Syngenta that resulted in four cows dying in two days and abrupt discontinuation of the corn in dairy cow feed. Reports of similar deaths from Syngenta corn fed to livestock surfaced in the Philippines and India.

Like Bayer, Syngenta also makes neonicotinoid pesticides, a class of toxic chemicals responsible for the current bee genocide. Like Bayer, Syngenta is aggressively fighting regulation to phase out the dangerous chemicals. Syngenta's application for a neonicotinoid pesticide was not approved in the UK 2014, a victory for environmental and bee activists. 

Will the ChemChina-Syngenta Deal Go Through?

While the Global Capital website announced in June that ChemChina had procured its needed financing and the deal is "pretty much done," other sources remain skeptical.  

According to the Diplomat website, the ChemChina offer to Syngenta "has sent government regulators in a tizzy, bringing into the limelight a little known American regulatory body called the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). Operating under the auspices of the U.S. Treasury Department, the committee is authorized to investigate foreign capital transactions and assess their possible national security implications for the United States." A dealer breaker, says the Diplomat, could be how close some planned Syngenta's U.S. plants would be to military bases. 

In addition to CFIUS scrutiny, the deal must also be approved by the European Union's own regulatory body, the Directorate-General for Competition (DG COMP) of the European Commission, which could be tougher. In previous decisions, consolidations have been nixed by the body because the decision-making powers of Chinese companies in question were not "sufficiently autonomous from the Chinese state." ChemChina is state owned.

Still, questions about the ChemChina deal and Syngenta's history of unsafe products have not stopped the Swiss giant's new product lines or its U.S. approvals. In 2015, Syngenta rolled out its Acuron herbicide, Solatenol fungicide and Orondis fungicide and this year, California approved Syngenta insecticide Arilon.

The time has come for the Millions Against Monsanto movement and concerned consumers worldwide to state the obvious: Syngenta is just as bad as Monsanto. We need to boycott foods, seeds and garden supply products tainted with atrazine, neonics and GMOs whether or not Syngenta changes its name to ChemChina. Our health and the literal survival of our bees, butterflies and biodiversity depend upon consumers and farmers worldwide rejecting not only GMOs, but the entire degenerative system of industrial agriculture and factory farming.

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News Fri, 29 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Revealed: AARP Is Funding ALEC http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37026-revealed-aarp-is-funding-alec http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37026-revealed-aarp-is-funding-alec

AARP, the non-profit seniors organization that exists to promote the financial security, pensions and healthcare of those over 50, is secretly funding the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization whose bills have acted against the interests of ordinary Americans, including retirees and their families.

The Center for Media and Democracy has learned that AARP has recently joined ALEC, and that it is a named sponsor of the ALEC annual meeting taking place in Indianapolis, Indiana from July 27-29, 2016.

AARP isn't exactly hiding its new financial relationship with ALEC, at least to ALEC legislators. Its logo appears in the conference brochure (see here) and attendees at the conference were each provided with an AARP branded portable USB power pack as they registered for the event.

ALEC exists to help its corporate funders advance their lobbying agenda through pushing bills that ALEC peddles as national "model" legislation. As CMD has documented in numerous ways, ALEC is a pay-to-play operation.

Since CMD launched ALECexposed in 2011, more than 100 corporations have quit the group, with many echoing Eric Schmidt of Google who told NPR as his company quit ALEC: "I think the consensus within the company was that that was some sort of mistake and so we're trying to not do that in the future."

Here are just five (of the many) ways ALEC has acted against the interests of retirees and AARP members:

1) For more than a decade ALEC peddled a proposal to privatize key tax revenue for Social Security, which would undermine this crucial insurance program.

When it comes to social security, ALEC has cried wolf about the financial soundness of social security, proclaiming as recently as June 2016 that "leadership to reduce the debt must take place soon to prevent Social Security's insolvency in fewer than 20 years."

Such hyperbole is typical of ALEC, which fails to acknowledge that such "insolvency" could easily be fixed by lifting the Social Security Payroll tax earnings cap, currently set at $118,500.

ALEC's go-to solution to future potential shortfalls has been to privatize a portion of the tax revenue that would otherwise fund Social Security Insurance by putting it into private accounts.

In its "Resolution Urging Congress To Modernize the Social Security System With Personal Retirement Accounts (PRA's)," which corporate lobbyists voted on with legislators on its task force in secret in May 2000, ALEC claimed that "Social Security tax revenues alone will be insufficient to pay current benefits as early as the year 2015."

Yet as of 2016, despite these prognostications, social security remains healthy, solvent and wildly popular with the American public. It's no wonder that ALEC quietly has sought to distance itself from this long-standing "model" resolution by removing it from its website.

However, ALEC has done nothing to get that deeply flawed Resolution which was embraced by ALEC legislators revoked in state legislators. And ALEC has done nothing to educate its legislators that its privatization scheme for removing revenue streams from the Social Security trust fund was and remains a terrible idea.

Such privatization schemes have been promoted by ALEC's billionaire funders, the Koch Brothers. Charles Koch began attacking Social Security way back in the 1970s through his Cato Institute and David Koch ran on that policy in 1980. Koch-backed groups like ALEC have sought to privatize Social Security in a variety of ways.

ALEC has spread propaganda about Social Security to thousands of state legislators over several years, including through its proposal to take significant tax revenue out of the Social Security system as a guise to saving it, which would actually collapse the program.

But AARP is now funding ALEC.

2) ALEC has pushed bills that limit retirement security for public workers by attacking defined benefit pension plans in favor of riskier retirement options. 

Particularly, ALEC's "Defined Contribution Pension Reform Act" would push more workers away from negotiated retirement benefits to 401(k) plans that pose greater risks to pensioners' income security and can include more private fees to manage. Meanwhile, ALEC has assailed socially responsible investing efforts.

ALEC has used straw man arguments like claiming that the bankruptcy of Detroit was primarily caused by public pension insolvency and "should serve as a lesson" for lawmakers about pension agreements.

But as documented by DEMOS and others, "Detroit's bankruptcy was caused by a decrease in tax revenue due to a population decline and long-term unemployment, not an increase in the obligations to fund pensions."

As with its history of peddling of myths about Social Security along with its laughably inaccurate economic state "report cards," ALEC routinely uses bad math to shill for the agenda of its bankrollers, like the extremist billionaire Koch Brothers, an approach predicated on the organization's obedience to its pledge to never raise taxes, particularly on wealthy individuals and corporations (who not coincidentally fund ALEC).

3) ALEC has sought to amend the Constitution to pass a "Balanced Budget Amendment," which would destroy our economy and result in drastic cuts to discretionary government programs that help people's lives.

ALEC has dedicated significant resources to passing a Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA), peddling amendments, handbooks, and more to "educate" ALEC legislators.

As noted by CMD, the passage of such an amendment would constitute a massive threat to fiscal stability. Economists like Dean Baker warn that a balanced budget amendment would radically alter Social Security and Medicare, and would fundamentally limit the federal government's ability to respond to economic challenges and opportunities.

4)  ALEC bills would undermine Medicare and it continues to attack the Affordable Care Act, despite its protections for millions of Americans including Americans with pre-existing conditions, like AARP members who are not yet retirement age.

As noted by the healthcare industry whistleblower and CMD Fellow Wendell Potter in 2011, "ALEC has been at work for more than a decade on what amounts to a comprehensive wish list for insurers: from turning over the Medicare and Medicaid programs to them – assuring them a vast new stream of revenue – to letting insurers continue marketing substandard yet highly profitable policies while giving them protection from litigation."

5)  ALEC seeks to restrict limits on drug price gouging and aids its big donor, Big Pharma, in other ways.

Time and again, ALEC has supported model policies that benefit the bottom lines of pharmaceutical companies, like the organization's "Drug Liability Act," which would exempt drug makers from any punitive damages liability for the potential harms caused by their products if those products were previously approved by the Federal Food and Drug Administration.

Similarly, ALEC has opposed efforts to give Americans access to more affordable medications from Canada.

ALEC has even supported limits on non-pecuniary damages when a corporation is liable, meaning that someone who is retired and cannot show lost income can receive lesser damages for pain and suffering. ALEC's bill on this was applied by ALEC legislators in Wisconsin to lawsuits against nursing homes to limit their payouts to victims of nursing home neglect or mistreatment who prove that the skilled nursing industry's practices harmed them or their beloved parents or grandparents.

These are just a few of the many ways ALEC legislation hurts Americans, in addition to its legacy of making it harder for Americans to vote and thwarting efforts to address climate changes that are harming our planet and our families and future.

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News Fri, 29 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Both Parties Are Playing the Mexico Card http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37025-both-parties-are-playing-the-mexico-card http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37025-both-parties-are-playing-the-mexico-card

Surprisingly, Mexico has taken center stage in this year's U.S. presidential elections.

While it has been cast mainly as the villain, the unexpected spotlight has sent politicians and activists on both sides of the border seeking to get their message out. If they've learned anything from the Trump playbook in the past months, it's that negative attention is still free publicity.

The July 22 visit of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to Washington played up Mexico's role in U.S. electoral politics. Since Republican candidate Donald Trump first launched his peculiar brand of invective against Mexico and Mexican migrants, he and his party have been mining an unexpectedly rich vein of anti-Mexican racism and xenophobia in U.S. society. Meanwhile, Democrats and Latino rights organizations have been thrown into defensive mode.

Mexico as an election-year wedge issue was the unspoken theme of Obama and Peña Nieto's last meeting. In the joint press conference, The Donald was the elephant in the White House. Obama began with a direct reference to he-who-shall-not-be-named: "Let me start off by saying something that bears repeating, especially given some of the heated rhetoric that we sometimes hear: The United States values tremendously our enduring partnership with Mexico and our extraordinary ties of family and friendship with the Mexican people."

The meeting sought to remind the U.S. public that it's impossible to cut ties with Mexico -- whether by building a wall, deporting some 11 million mostly Mexican immigrants, or canceling trade agreements, all of which Trump has proposed.

It also sought to woo the Latino vote, which could make the difference in this year's elections -- a fact that both Obama and Hillary Clinton are well aware of.

For Peña Nieto, the visit offered an opportunity to score some foreign policy points just as he's he tanking domestically. The Mexican president's approval ratings have hit an all-time low at 29 percent. His government's involvement and cover-up in the case of the 43 disappeared students from Ayotzinapa, the restructuring of the education system that led to widespread protests from teachers and parents, the police killing of nine of those protesters, and the peso's freefall have left his presidency battered with two more years to go.

Peña Nieto first saw Trump's virulent anti-Mexicanism as a way to unite the country around something that wasn't opposition to his presidency. Now, with the Republican candidate looking like a possible winner, he backed off earlier criticisms (saying his comparison of Trump's tone to Mussolini and Hitler was taken out of context) and repeatedly stated his willingness to work with whomever the U.S. public elects.

Of course, he has no choice. As the presidents pointed out, $1.5 billion in trade and investment cross the border every day. The two countries need each other, but Mexico's dependency on the U.S. is particularly notorious.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is the main reason. Like leap year, NAFTA pops up every four years -- when U.S. presidential candidates scramble to disassociate themselves from it.

NAFTA is especially toxic in critical blue-collar states, and there's no getting around the fact that the agreement has been a disaster for U.S. workers. Although Trump portrays it as Mexico "winning," it also hurt Mexicans, sending migration rates soaring in the early 1990s as small farmers were displaced en masse. Obama sunk Hillary Clinton's boat in 2008 in part based on the Clintons' support of NAFTA. As president, though, he turned around and promoted an expanded versión -- the regional Trans-Pacific partnership, or TPP. Now the TPP may be on the ropes, as both Trump and Clinton have stated they oppose it. Trump has gone further, openly calling for renegotiation or cancellation of NAFTA.

At the press conference, the presidents walked a fine line between defending the trade relationship and avoiding providing fodder for the Trump fire. When Peña Nieto praised twenty years of NAFTA and plugged the Trans-Pacific Partnership as a continuation of that policy, Obama jumped in, stating, "We've learned from our experience in NAFTA what's worked and what hasn't." He assured listeners that "a number of the provisions inside of the Trans-Pacific Partnership address some previous criticisms of NAFTA."

Their united front on the issue became another opportunity to take a shot at the Trump platform: "Global integration is a fact," Obama stated. "We're not going to be able to build a wall around that."

The presidents also made common cause on immigration, again with an anti-Trump subtext. Obama reiterated his commitment to comprehensive immigration reform, rebutting the Trump image of an unprecedented immigrant "invasion" by pointing out that rates of undocumented immigration were much higher during the Reagan and Bush administrations. For his part, Peña Nieto thanked the Obama administration for supporting the "35 million people of Mexican origin living in the U.S." -- a figure that highlights the Latino vote and changing demographics, but strikes fear in the hearts of Trump supporters.

One more point completed the Obama-Peña appeal to U.S. voters -- a pledge to fight the heroin epidemic, which is a major campaign issue in some regions. "I applaud President Peña Nieto's commitment to combating organized crime and for developing a new plan to curb poppy cultivation and heroin production," Obama noted. They announced the creation of a high-level task force focused on heroin production and trafficking.

In the end, the mutual back-patting may not have done much to advance either president's goals or stop the Trump momentum. Mexican Americans are not necessarily big Peña Nieto fans, and the nod of support to measures like the TPP and oil privatization could create distance rather than rapport with post-NAFTA economic migrants. The omission of human rights on the bilateral agenda alienates young Mexican Americans protesting Mexican government repression, and neither president seems to recognize growing skepticism around the joint drug war, which has dramatically increased violence in Mexico and driven hundreds to seek asylum in the United States.

The point is that that binational relationship is complicated. But when politics gets this polarized -- and ominously visceral -- real solutions vanish. The reality of the relationship today is neither the glowing scenario of the presidential summits or the doomsday scenario of the Trump camp. There's a lot that needs to be fixed in U.S.-Mexico relations. But building border walls, spewing hate speech, and destroying migrant families won't fix it.

Donald Trump is now leading in the polls. A Trump presidency would have grave repercussions for U.S. foreign policy throughout the world. But nowhere will it be more damaging than in the country that would be physically cut off by the new Imperial Walled Nation of the United States of America: Mexico.

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News Fri, 29 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Yo, Texas: Protecting Transgender Rights Is Not Dangerous, but Discrimination Is http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37024-yo-texas-protecting-transgender-rights-is-not-dangerous-but-discrimination-is http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37024-yo-texas-protecting-transgender-rights-is-not-dangerous-but-discrimination-is

Washington and 12 other states have filed an amicus brief opposing a Texas-led lawsuit against the federal directive on transgender rights to bathroom access, calling it discriminatory and based on unfounded safety concerns.

Safety concerns are unfounded, says a 13-state amicus brief against the Texas challenge to bathroom access.Safety concerns are unfounded, says a 13-state amicus brief against the Texas challenge to bathroom access. (Photo: hermitsmoores / Flickr)

A dozen states and the District of Columbia have a message for Texas: The sky does not fall when policy makers seek protections for transgender people.

In an amicus brief filed with a federal court in Texas on Wednesday, the attorneys general of 12 states and the District of Columbia, led by Attorney General Bob Ferguson of Washington, came out swinging against a Texas-led lawsuit challenging the Obama administration's May 2016 guidance directing public schools to protect the civil rights of transgender students, including their right to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their gender.

Texas and 10 other states filed a lawsuit against the guidance soon after, claiming that school districts that choose not to comply with the guidance could lose federal funding under Title IX, the federal statute that protects against gender discrimination in public schools. The Education and Justice Departments have released guidance saying that Title IX protects against discrimination based on both biological sex and gender identity, a move that opponents say circumvents Congress.

The states, which include Oklahoma, Louisiana, Wisconsin and several others with socially conservative administrations, have asked a federal court in Wichita Falls, Texas to issue an injunction against the Obama administration that would block the federal government from issuing guidelines that prohibit employers and school districts from discriminating against transgender people, particularly when it comes to using the bathroom.

Washington and the other states filing the amicus brief in opposition to the request for an injunction have all instituted explicit protections for transgender people or modified anti-discrimination laws to include "gender identity." They argue that their experience shows that Texas and its allies have no grounds to continue policies that allow discrimination against people on the basis of gender identity.

"We are clear that our experience [has been] a positive one, and I think the court can benefit from our perspective," Ferguson told reporters on Wednesday. In a statement, he called the Texas lawsuit "just another example of the discrimination that transgender individuals experience" and denounced it as an attempt to "hide behind unfounded safety concerns."

The plaintiffs argue that an injunction is needed because school districts will either lose Title IX funding or be forced to spend a considerable amount of money remodeling bathrooms to accommodate transgender students. Moreover, the plaintiffs, which include rural school districts in Texas and Arizona, also reference concerns over "safety" and "sex crimes" in school bathrooms, perpetuating hateful myths about transgender people -- particularly transgender women -- that have been debunked many times over.

However, the states opposed to the injunction point out that schools are not actually required to build "single user" restrooms to accommodate transgender students and quell the concerns of parents. The experience of school districts in more progressive states shows such measures are unnecessary. Public schools in Los Angeles, for example, report that they have had "no issues, problems or lawsuits" since instituting a 2004 policy that allows transgender students to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender.

Nearly 20 states offer protections for transgender people in one way or another, and none of the states have experienced an increase in sexual violence since instituting the policies -- some as far back as 25 years ago, according to the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women, an organization that represents shelters and crisis centers in 43 states.

"We've protected gay and transgender people from discrimination in Washington for 10 years, with no increase in public safety incidents as a result," said former Snohomish County Sherriff John Lovick, who is quoted in the amicus brief opposing the injunction request.

Ferguson and his allies argue that Texas does not face "irreparable injury" if its schools comply with the federal guidance, rather it's the transgender individuals -- who already face high rates of violence -- who are likely to be harmed by continued discrimination in schools, which causes "stigma, isolation and exclusion."

The plaintiffs have no real data to back up their claims, which are more likely based in "negative attitudes, misunderstandings or misplaced fear about transgender people," says Ferguson.

The federal court in Wichita Falls has a history of siding with Texas in its challenges against federal policies and some observers expect that the case will eventually end up in the US Supreme Court.

The states that joined Washington in filing the brief supporting transgender rights are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont and the District of Columbia.

Plaintiffs supporting Texas' case are Alabama, Arizona, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Maine, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Utah and Georgia.

Arkansas, Kansas, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota and Wyoming filed a similar lawsuit challenging the Obama administration's transgender guidance earlier this month.

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News Fri, 29 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Economic Update: Economic Crisis, Fascism and History http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37023-economic-update-economic-crisis-fascism-and-history http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37023-economic-update-economic-crisis-fascism-and-history

This episode discusses inequality in India's, the poverty in Philidelphia behind the DNC's front, new union initiatives, Starbuck's profiteering and the gutting of the federal estate tax. We also interview Adam Hochschild on the economic crisis, fascism and Spain's civil war.

To see more stories like this, visit Economic Update: Your Weekly Dose of Revolutionary Economics

To listen in live on Saturdays at noon, visit WBAI's Live Stream

Economic Update is in partnership with Truthout.org

Your radio station needs Economic Update! If you are a radio station, check this out. If you want to hear Economic Update on your favorite local station, send them this.

Visit Professor Wolff's social movement project, democracyatwork.info.

Permission to reprint Professor Wolff's writing and videos is granted on an individual basis. Please contact profwolff@rdwolff.com to request permission. We reserve the right to refuse or rescind permission at any time.

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News Fri, 29 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Trump Gets His Talking Points From White Supremacist Twitter Accounts http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/37022-trump-gets-his-talking-points-from-white-supremacist-twitter-accounts http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/37022-trump-gets-his-talking-points-from-white-supremacist-twitter-accounts

2016.7.28.DT.Trump.mainDonald Trump in Reno, Nevada, January 10, 2016. (Photo: Darron Birgenheier / Flickr)Donald Trump's call on Russia to hack and release Hillary Clinton's deleted emails was one of the stranger moments in what's been one of the stranger campaigns in US history.

It was a sign that Trump is either stupid or trying to join the Ronald Reagan/Richard Nixon club of Republicans who have betrayed their country to get elected president.

But as bizarre as it was, Trump's "Russian request" wasn't the most interesting part of his press conference yesterday in Tampa, Florida -- that came when he accused Vladimir Putin of calling President Obama "the N-Word."

See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.

He said, "Putin has said things over the last year that are really bad things, okay? He mentioned the N-word one time. I was shocked to hear him mention the N-word. You know what the N-word is, right? He mentioned it. I was shocked."

So, there is almost zero chance that what Trump said happened actually happened.

As Robert Mackey points out in The Intercept, it's never been reported in any reputable news outlet anywhere the world, and since Trump himself admits that he's never met Putin, there's no chance the Russian President said it to him in private.

So if Trump didn't hear Putin calling President Obama the N-word himself, and didn't read about him saying it in a newspaper, where did he get the idea that it happened (assuming, of course, that he's not just making this all up for show)?

Well, as Robert Mackey goes on to explain in his Intercept piece, right-wing racists on Twitter have been daydreaming for years about the idea that Putin calls President Obama the N-word.

For example, one Twitter user who goes by the name "Craig-infidel" and calls himself an "Arch-conservative" tweeted back in July, 2013, "I'll bet you a dollar to a donut that Putin uses the "N" word when talking about Obama!"

Another Twitter user named Jasper Mallis sent out a similar tweet in 2014, quoting the hard-right website Free Republic as saying, "'I bet that Putin and his advisers use the N word constantly when discussing how to deal with Obama.'"

In other words, unless Trump simply pulled this line out of his backside, he got it from reading Twitter -- and believing everything he reads!

This actually isn't the first time Trump has drawn inspiration from neo-Nazis and racists on Twitter.

Just a few weeks ago, he sent out and then quickly deleted a tweet with an image of Hillary Clinton in front of a background of dollar bills and what appeared to be a Star of David. Mic.com later traced that image to a neo-Nazi message board.

A few months before that, Trump retweeted a graphic that claimed that 81 percent of murdered white people are killed by Black people. The person who originally tweeted that graphic was a neo-Nazi whose Twitter account featured a Swastika avatar and openly praised Hitler.

Obviously, Twitter can be a confusing place. Everyone tweets irresponsible things now and then.

But with Trump, these mistakes aren't really mistakes -- they're a feature, not a bug, of his candidacy.

This is scientific fact. One recent study by the social media analytics company Little Bird found that over the course of just one week in January, "62 percent of the people Trump retweeted also followed white supremacist accounts."

In other words, neo-Nazis really like Donald Trump, and he likes them back.

This is unsettling enough already, but what's really scary is that if yesterday's N-word comments are any indication, the relationship between Trump and his neo-Nazi Twitter followers could be more than just one of mutual flattery.

It now looks like Trump could actually believe what those neo-Nazis think.

This is absolutely terrifying.

Here we have a candidate for the most powerful political office in the world openly flirting with the darkest fringes of the far-right.

And even if Trump doesn't believe what these people think, he's bringing their ideas out in the open by tweeting memes and giving them shout-outs in press conferences.

He's not making America great again; he's making US white supremacy acceptable again.

Trump is a racist and a crypto-fascist, and the many of the people who actually are paying attention to his policies and still support him are even worse.

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Opinion Thu, 28 Jul 2016 17:13:59 -0400
Rep. Keith Ellison: DNC Sanders Protestors Are "Actually Helping Us" http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37021-rep-keith-ellison-dnc-sanders-protestors-are-actually-helping-us http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37021-rep-keith-ellison-dnc-sanders-protestors-are-actually-helping-us

Bernie supporters raise their signs at the Democratic National Convention, July 25, 2016. In a week when Democrats focused on the national election, progressives emphasized the need for local organizing.Bernie supporters raise their signs at the Democratic National Convention, July 25, 2016. In a week when Democrats focused on the national election, progressives emphasized the need for local organizing. (Photo: Myles Bess / Youth Radio)

There is a growing recognition on the left that an election is only one of many avenues for change-making. The organizing work taking place at the community-level -- wholly outside the DNC hall -- has the greater power to push a progressive agenda.

Bernie supporters raise their signs at the Democratic National Convention, July 25, 2016. In a week when Democrats focused on the national election, progressives emphasized the need for local organizing.Bernie supporters raise their signs at the Democratic National Convention, July 25, 2016. In a week when Democrats focused on the national election, progressives emphasized the need for local organizing. (Photo: Myles Bess / Youth Radio)

Democrats in Philadelphia have spent this week reckoning with powerful divisions within their party, most visibly from Bernie Sanders delegates attempting to push the party to the left. The big question of the week is: what will the movement inspired by Sanders look like now that Hillary Clinton has secured the nomination?

On Tuesday, a small group of elected officials from around the country gathered at the Ethical Humanist Society of Philadelphia. The meeting was hosted by four leadership organizations, including Local Progress, a coalition of local officials organized around pushing progressive legislation at the local level. The theme of the morning was Local Progress' organizing principle: Regardless of what goes on at the federal level, municipalities have tremendous power to make meaningful change.

"All politics really is local," Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison told the group. "When people think about politics, they generally don't think about Washington, D.C. They think about downtown." That's important for local elected officials, he argued, because they have an opportunity to harness the energy of grassroots community organizers and use it for leverage to create meaningful legislative change.

The Bernie protesters making their presence known this week, Ellison argued, should not be seen as a problem by members of the Democratic Party. "They're actually helping us," he argued. "The change that they are demanding and giving energy to, you can give voice to."

During a week where every ounce of political energy is focused on the presidential election, Local Progress posits that the work done on school boards and city councils can both counter regressive federal policy and also influence it from the left. "We were founded on the belief that, when action and policy move at the local level, it can change the politics," Sarah Johnson, co-director of Local Progress, told Truthout. "It changes the national environment, what's acceptable to talk about."

At the same time, the Sanders campaign and its aftermath show the impact that a national campaign can have on state and local legislatures. Christian Bowe, a member of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), says that in his home state of New Jersey, the battle for raising the minimum wage for fast food workers has been undeniably influenced by Sanders' campaign. "That's legislation that, if Bernie was not running, wouldn't have gone through either of the state legislatures," Bowe says. He also credits Fight for 15's victory in New York. "Once New York passed it, that put a lot of pressure on Democrats in New Jersey."

For DSA, says Bowe, the end of the Sanders campaign is a critical moment for organizing. "[Sanders] is definitely not a 'cult of personality' thing. We're backing any kind of labor struggle really strongly."

Mindy Isser, an organizer born and raised in Philadelphia, also spoke about the importance of labor organizing in the wake of the Democratic primary. "To build off the Sanders campaign, to build off the movement that we've been seeing everywhere, we need our unions to be more left-wing and we need rank-and-file members to be politicized," says Isser. She works on campaigns around public education and housing, and while she thinks that a progressive councilmember like Philadelphia's Helen Gym is a positive development for the city's politics, it's not nearly enough. She speaks of the importance of not only running more left-leaning candidates, but also "moving powerful people more left" after they take office.

Maintaining that pressure from the left after a candidate is elected can be the bigger challenge -- the Local Progress meeting was making apparent. The type of mutually beneficial relationship between community groups and elected officials described by Local Progress was at play in the elections of both New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, whose campaigns capitalized on widespread sentiment against Stop and Frisk. The opposition to Stop and Frisk had been cultivated for years by community groups organizing against racist policing. But in the moments before Mark-Viverito addressed the crowd, those same groups took to Twitter to criticize her. Mark-Viverito recently derailed the Right to Know Act -- a police reform measure that would require police to identify themselves during stops -- by making what The New York Times called a "backroom deal" with the NYPD. Tweets tagging Local Progress and #DemsinPhilly implored Mark-Viverito to pass the bill.

"It's good to be skeptical of local elected officials," says Joe Dinkin, the national communications director for the Working Families Party. "That's the only way we can hold them accountable."

This week has seen a lot of cynicism and frustration with the electoral process, especially for people to the left of the Democratic party. But, says Dinkin, organizing around elections still matters, "for people who believe that democracy can be about making policies that actually improve people's lives and address inequities, and that government can be a tool for good... we have to use all the democratic tools at our disposal to push them in the right direction."

The election of a figure like de Blasio at the local level, and the success of Sanders at a national level, gives visibility to the progressive base in this country.

"Maybe the most important thing the Sanders campaign accomplished was proving that there is actually a huge constituency in America for a much bolder policy agenda than we often get to hear in mainstream politics," says Dinkin.

Meanwhile, Ellison pointed out, it's important to remember that -- even though election years tend to cast all politics as electoral politics -- elections are one of many avenues for change-making.

"Holding elected office is not the only way to make justice," Representative Ellison reminded the crowd at Local Progress. "Martin Luther King, Jr. never held office. My man Van Jones never held public office. It's not the only way to make change. But we know that it's a way to make change." As progressives move forward from the DNC, it's a good reminder that, often, the work taking place wholly outside of the convention hall has the greatest power to make change on the ground.

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News Fri, 29 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400