Truthout Stories Sun, 25 Sep 2016 09:57:38 -0400 en-gb Will the Biggest Generation Seize the Day November 8?

Compared to Sen. Bernie Sanders, Trump and Clinton haven't had the easiest time connecting with millennials Compared to Sen. Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton haven't had the easiest time connecting with millennials (Photo: Theresa Thompson / Flickr)

To say the 2016 presidential election is full of surprises is an understatement, but the biggest surprise yet could be who turns out to be the kingmaker. In a race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump that's so close even Democratic vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine is refusing to forecast the outcome, the deciding votes could be in the hands of millennials.

Americans age 18-32 are now the largest living generation. But to be the game changers of this election, millennials have to show up at the polls. A just-issued report by Common Cause highlights the problem:

In every election, young Americans arguably have more at stake than any other group of citizens, simply because they have longer to live with the choices we all make. But throughout our history, including in every election since the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age to 18 in 1971, voter turnout among younger Americans has lagged well behind that in every other age group. Worse yet, with just a few exceptions, youth turnout has declined steadily.

It was considered a big deal when a bare majority of that age group -- 51 percent -- showed up at the polls for President Barack Obama's historic 2008 election. Four years later, slacker syndrome started to creep in: The percentage dropped to 45.

This year, however, the percentage of young voters showing up for the primaries was equal to or greater than in the 2008 nominating contests.

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

That's probably because, in the spring, a large percentage of millennials were "feeling the Bern." But compared to Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent whose insurgent bid for the Democratic nomination ultimately failed, Trump and Clinton haven't had the easiest time connecting with millennials -- at least, judging by what some from New York City are saying.

"I think I'm going to be moving out of the country to be honest with you," said Matthew Mateo, 19. He's not planning on participating in his first presidential election because he doesn't like the leading candidates. "If Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton become president then I'm going to be moving out regardless."

While Crystal Castillo, 24, is planning on voting, she's not too excited about her choices.

"I know I need to pick a lesser of two evils because either way it's going to be picked for me," she said.

So it seems that for some young voters, this election reminds them of one of their favorite TV shows, South Park, and the poorly choice school mascot contest. But there are others, running the gamut from Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) on the left to Eli Nachmany, recent past chairman of the College Republicans of New York, who beg to differ.

"Every election is not about four years, it's about the next 40 years," said Nachmany. "Because the policies that a president puts in place, the judge that a president appoints to the high courts -- these are things that will affect us, and if we don't have a say in the things that will affect us then essentially we're kicking the can down the road and letting other people whose interests may not align with ours make those decisions for us."

For a clearer example, just look across the pond. In June, in what was known as the Brexit vote, British citizens were asked to decide whether the United Kingdom should remain part of or break away from the European Union. Many young voters wanted the UK to remain, but a 52-48 percent vote in which there was a significant generation gap changed young citizens' futures. That led to "Bregret" among some young voters who expressed surprise at what their votes had wrought.

Are millennials in the US aware of the similarly very high stakes this November?

Nachmany worries about his cohorts' lack of knowledge of the issues.

"Usually you'll find that they don't understand that the people they're voting in are advocating for something that's against their economic interest," he said.

To counter this, the New York College Republicans offer an academic fellowship in which students write papers and publish research on policies the party and its candidates are tackling. This initiative gives college students the chance to explore whether the candidates for whom they advocate are pushing policies they can get behind.

Another opportunity Nachmany touts: the National Training and Simulation Association's annual Capitol Hill and Modeling & Simulation Expo, where electronic simulations are used to let users experience hypothetical situations that might confront law- and policymakers. "[It's] everything from simulating a response to a terror attack to help urban planning officials be more ready and prepared for that terror attack to performing a response to a natural disaster with just simple urban tools, and you can model that based on the resources available to you," Nachmany said.

Thomas Palumbo, vice president of New York's College Democrats, works on getting students more involved in political conversation by having them talk to candidates -- focusing on those whose campaigns don't always get a lot of media attention.

"We always talk about how the president is so important -- they are the most important politician in the country and obviously that's true, but there usually isn't that follow-up that 'oh but for most of your taxes or your roads or where you live, you should really be voting for your town councilperson, your city councilperson, your state senator,'" said Palumbo. "There's so many other elected officials who have more of an impact on people's day-to-day lives [and] you never hear about those elections."

Palumbo's Fordham University chapter of College Democrats is close to District 15's City Council office, where New York City Council member Ritchie Torres briefs students on the political scene.

At 28, Torres is the council's youngest member. He says he sees hope when it comes to millennials getting involved in politics.

"Millennials have a keen sense of what is ailing the world," Torres said. "And even though a millennial doesn't know the details of every policy prescription, there is a general sense of what is ailing society and what we need to do to fix it."

Knowing how to fix what's ailing the world means being informed, and young voters can suffer from an information gap: the lack of coverage of local elections in news media and lack of online resources in low-income communities. As a city council member for the Bronx, Torres is pinning his hopes on virtual democracy.

"Even though there are signs of civic decline in various parts of American life, I do see hope in social media and the ability of social media to empower the grass roots to the extent we never seen before," he said.

Apathy and lack of information isn't all that's hindering young voters from coming out.

For one thing, Election Day occurs on an inconvenient weekday when many people are at work, and young people, being the lowest on the totem poll, are likely to have the hardest time getting off or having time to commute while at school to the nearest polling center.

For another, there are legal hurdles, made steeper, Common Cause reports, by "laws being advanced almost exclusively by Republican lawmakers."

For instance, students who go to school in a different state from where they live need to apply for an absentee ballot. That said Michael McDonald, an associate professor of political science at the University of Florida, whose research focuses on turnout issues.  After registering to vote, the student then must fill out a request for an absentee ballot, send it to a designated state election official, wait for all the appropriate forms to get sent back, and then, finally cast a ballot.

Although students have the right to vote in their college towns, local officials have sometimes told them otherwise.

"That's kind of troubling when the barriers are already steep for young people to engage, and then we're adding additional burdens that make it even more difficult to engage in the process," said McDonald.

According to McDonald's research for his United States Election Project, the habitual voter falls under a specific profile.

"They tend to be older people, they tend to be better-educated people, wealthier people, whiter people," he said. "Younger people don't fit the profile of a habitual voter."

McDonald notes that young voters do better when they are in school.

"You'll actually find that college students vote at rates that look like people who are middle-aged," he said. "Where you have young people congregated, in easy-to-reach places for voter mobilization activities to happen you actually do see higher turnout levels than elsewhere."

Common Cause suggests a number of reforms to encourage younger voters to participate in democracy, including pre-registering 16- and 17-year-olds so they are added to the voter rolls automatically on their 18th birthdays; allowing registration portability, which would eliminate paperwork hassles for young voters who tend to move often; same-day voting registration; and convenient polling sites on university campuses for state and local elections.

In the end, new voting reforms can be in place, knowledge of the issues a click away on smart devices, but it's really up to millennials to weigh the costs of voting versus the costs of not doing so. If young voters don't think it's worth taking the time to get informed and show up at the polls, Sanders suggests: "Ask them how much they're going to leave school in debt with. Ask them about that."

News Sat, 24 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Charged With Being Alive: Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott

As violence against Black people at the hands of police continues to escalate, it's necessary to understand that the answer to the question of "why" lies in anti-Blackness. Calls for less lethal shootings, better training and cameras all miss the point. This is about anti-Blackness.

Protesters in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina, demonstrating on September 22, 2016 after the police killings of Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott.Protesters in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina, demonstrating on September 22, 2016, after the police killings of Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott. (Photo: Andy McMillan / New York Times)

Whenever someone is murdered by the police, the question of why quickly arises. The answer to that question is always intertwined with the race of the victim. In the United States, race is a decider. Your race can decide where you live; your race can decide how you eat; your race can decide what your values are; your race can decide what you did; and your race can decide that you're not worthy of being alive. It's unfair for something completely out of one's control to decide if one should live or die, but it does.

The extrajudicial killings of Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott are -- accurately, unfortunately -- described as "the latest" in the regular onslaught of violence against Black people. This violence, which has started to feel primordial through its regularity, is not simply a "senseless" fact of life. It is actually explainable. Black people in the United States are often charged with being alive and sentenced to death without a courtroom, because Blackness is rooted in associations that are contrary to living.

Therefore, the solution to this excruciatingly regular violence will not come without some upheaval. It's pointless to think that a society which has never been removed from its disdain for Black people will change overnight through the whims of politicians or piecemeal "reforms." Everything that's killing us is embedded into the culture that is American.

The murder of Black people -- with or without supposed provocation -- is inextricably connected to and aligned with what is understood to be normal. Therefore, details of who, what, when, where and how often become irrelevant once Blackness is mentioned. The initial fresh announcements of new Black deaths are regularly welcomed and not necessarily mourned in many imaginations across Middle America.

There is just about nothing a Black person can do right to avoid dying if the state or its hands decide it should be so. This much was most recently shown when Tulsa, Oklahoma, police officer Betty Shelby decided to take the life of Terence Crutcher. Shelby's attorney, Scott Wood, has spoken publicly, describing her account of what happened. After stating that she gave numerous commands to this man who was having car troubles and claiming suspicion that Crutcher was possibly intoxicated or armed, she ultimately decided to kill him. She didn't decide he should be shot in the leg or that tasering him was enough, he needed to die according to this officer's reasoning.

Shelby was not alone in her decision; Crutcher's Blackness helped her make this final choice. Crutcher's race is one already associated with drugs, intoxication and weapons; he didn't actually have to be any of the things she imagined to be worthy of death just because.

The same applies to Keith Lamont Scott who was shot by a police officer in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 20. Scott may or may not have been armed, according to police statements. ABC News reported a comment on the possibility of a weapon at the scene: "Police Chief Kerr Putney said the footage he has reviewed does not provide definitive, visual evidence that would confirm that a person is pointing a gun."

"I did not see that in the videos that I reviewed," Putney said at a news conference on Thursday. "So what I can tell you, though, is when taken in the totality of all the other evidence, it supports what we've heard and the version of the truth that we gave about the circumstances that happened that led to the death of Mr. Scott."

While the police department is working to accommodate the Scott family's request to see the body-cam footage, Putney reiterated that he has no plans to publicly release the videos, arguing that it would "jeopardize the integrity of the investigation."

Yet again, uncertainty reigns, crowned by anti-Blackness. When all else fails and nothing is certain, it is a person's Blackness that determines the decision as to who will live and who will die. We should not lament Blackness as a cause of fatality, of course; rather, fatality is copied-and-pasted onto Black people's bodies from the TVs, phones and computer screens of a society driven by racist perceptions that have been recycled over the generations.

Here we can revisit James Baldwin's infamous question, "Who is the nigger?" A short clip of Baldwin pouring out his understanding of the "necessity" of what this country calls "the nigger" appears in the 1964 documentary film Take This Hammer. Here Baldwin deliberates on the word "nigger," as well as the charge of being considered such in everyday life. "What you were afraid of was not me. It has to be something else ... something you were afraid of -- you invested me with," Baldwin states. He ultimately concludes by explaining that racism is not our problem (though we bear the brunt of its violence) and closes saying, "So I give you your problem back. You're the nigger baby, it isn't me." Baldwin's eloquent explanation also applies here; our dying, our murders and our disposal have been far removed from us within a society that criminalizes our being alive. Unfortunately, Black people become seen as worth even less, based on gender, disability and impoverishment, among other things. This is the unbending truth of being Black in the USA, reinforced by statistical evidence, history and the observation of the willing.

Some have proposed that police simply need "sensitivity training" or "anti-racism training." But police do not need more "sensitivity" to understand what's glaringly obvious. It's not that police are insensitive to Black people or are not understanding; it's that perceptions of Blackness regularly cancel out understanding and sensitivity.

Transparency and cameras, too, can only do so much. Black America has been aware for centuries that police have been a threat to us, along with other white supremacist violence. It's naive to think that people's ability to watch killings or record them on video guarantees that the police will feel less sure of their impunity.

"Diversity" is no solution, either: Even if police were all Black or non-Black people of color, the problems ingrained in the lifeblood of a white supremacist society would not disappear.

Popular requests for Black people to be shot less lethally or to be treated the same as terror suspect Ahmad Khan Rahami often completely miss the point. This is about anti-Blackness, not better police work, not training, not cameras, not diversity.

Reforms like these -- adjustments to the existing system -- will not shift how Blackness is seen, perceived, responded to and attacked. This country is in dire need of a transformative and revolutionary reconceptualization of how we see and perceive Black people -- not just how we train police or what weapons we give them. The need to transform this country's poisonous outlook on Blackness stretches from the outermost peripheries of this empire to its innermost entrails.

When or if we start seeing a movement away from the anti-Black tendencies of the world we live in, things might begin to change. We should keep this in mind, amid the impending chaos of a new president -- and the hope that people will attach to their respective political choices. Change will not be delivered by the promises and posturing of those who must lie to be selected for office.

We can start with the realization of what Blackness is and what it means, going beyond trying to reason with oppressors who are determined to maintain their power. For Black people, this has nothing to do with us being careful, more obedient, or more attentive. Being Black rules out all reason, rules, regulations and laws.

It's crucial to comprehend this in the United States. Without a massive, structural transformation, Black people will continue to walk around expecting to possibly be killed for living.

News Sat, 24 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400
A Sad and Shabby Thing: Here Comes Debate #1

What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? Tomorrow night at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, what is likely to be a record television audience will have the chance to watch this particular physics conundrum play out in the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Donald Trump at the Republican debate at the Venetian in Las Vegas, Dec. 15, 2015. (Photo: Ruth Fremson / The New York Times)Donald Trump at the Republican debate at the Venetian in Las Vegas, December 15, 2015. (Photo: Ruth Fremson / The New York Times)

What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? The question has lingered since the 3rd century BC, when it was known in China as the "Spear and Shield Paradox." The ancient Greeks refashioned the question for their own purposes, describing a fox who cannot be caught versus a hound who never misses his prey. Zeus is said to have turned them both into stars because the question is unanswerable; an unstoppable force and an immoveable object cannot exist simultaneously.

Or can they? Tomorrow night at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, what is likely to be a record television audience will have the chance to watch this particular physics conundrum play out in the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Never before has the dichotomy between two candidates been so vividly on display.

On one side is Trump, the unstoppable force with several fraud accusations and a rape case chasing him, who says things on a daily basis that would make a rattlesnake puke, and yet he charges on. On the other side is Clinton, avatar of the Democratic establishment who has held every office except president and dog catcher, who has suffered her own torrent of scandals -- some real, most imagined -- without budging.

For more original Truthout election coverage, check out our election section, "Beyond the Sound Bites: Election 2016."

The days running up to the debate have seen a tsunami of predictions from the pundit classes, most of which are worthless. A few in the corporate "news" business, however, have had at least enough sense to state the obvious: Nobody but nobody has the faintest idea what will happen on Monday night once the balloon goes up. We are all in strange space with this thing; predicting what will happen is like trying to out-guess an earthquake. Like it or not, any attempts to do so will see the ground open up and swallow you whole.

That being said, there are a few things we can probably take for granted. Between her two presidential runs and her 2000 Senate campaign, candidate Clinton has stood under the hot lights of a televised debate nearly 40 times. She will not get spooked, at least not at first. Furthermore, she will be prepared with a million facts and figures at her disposal after spending weeks with her nose in the briefing books while doing debate prep with a stable of faux-Donalds, one for every version of Trump that might show up.

Therein lies the rub, yes? This little shindig is not your father's presidential debate. Donald Trump brings a number of variables to the podium the likes of which have never really seen before. Will he roll out his statesman veneer and try to hot-air his way through 90 minutes of close questioning? Or will he don his Godzilla suit and stomp around bellowing about cheatin' Hillary, "rapist" Mexicans, walls, banished Muslims, Obama's birth certificate and why The Washington Post got it all wrong about the fraud allegations against him?

If this were a boxing match and I were in Clinton's corner, I'd tell her to make him mad. Get under his skin, insult him, humiliate him, get the audience to laugh at him just once, and Mt. Coppertop will blow sky high. Demonstrate his incompetence with very simple questions -- "Mr. Trump, how many votes are needed to win a majority in the House of Representatives?" He won't know -- until his unsuitability for the office he seeks is painted on the walls. Trump's bottomless ego is his Achilles heel; that's why debate prep for him has consisted of walking over to Nathan's for a hot dog. He doesn't need any practice, he'll be the first to tell you. That arrogance, properly exploited, will be his undoing.

If I were in Trump's corner, I'd tell him to stick and move, stick and move, slip the jab and wait for the solid counterpunch. Don't be in the same place twice, pivot the questions to more comfortable ground, and whenever possible, throw Clinton off balance and disrupt her timing. Work the refs, call the moderators biased and unfair; most of these media people are jellyfish and will fold under such pressure (See: Matt Lauer). Clinton has never faced an opponent like you before. Use that to your advantage.

And fie to all that, because this is not a boxing match. This is not some light entertainment that ends without consequences for the lives of people throughout the US and the world. The first debate is the most important by far. In the balance stands presidential policy on immigration, foreign policy, the Supreme Court, women's rights, the environmental crisis and so much more. It is telling, then, that the whole thing is being offered up as some kind of half-assed American Gladiators knockoff, complete with neon lights and all the trimmings.

Strange days indeed. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are the most categorically disliked presidential candidates in history, and yet they're about to pull in a TV audience larger than the most-watched Super Bowl of all time. Why? Are the viewers looking for a good conversation on policy, a back-and-forth on racism, or a discourse on the importance of the Supreme Court? Of course not. They want the show they've been promised, complete with thrown chairs and blood on the mat. They want the gross spectacle of it all, and thanks to the coarse manipulations of the "news" media, that is exactly what they will get.

What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? Besides a loud noise and a sense of feeling cheaply bought in the aftermath, who is to say? All I know for sure is that it is a sad and shabby thing we have become as a nation when this is the best we can do in the search for a president. That, too, will be on display Monday night.

Opinion Sun, 25 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400
All Aboard Trump's Death Train ]]> (Khalil Bendib) Art Fri, 23 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400 "We No Longer Live in a Democracy": Henry Giroux on a United States at War With Itself

Do human relations boil down to competition, combat and promotion of one's self-interest?To transform our society into a democracy, we first have to dismantle the myth of democracy as currently defined. (Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

Do human relations boil down to competition, combat and promotion of one's self-interest? Henry Giroux offers an antidote to the TINA (there is no alternative) worldview and a democracy that has organized itself around war and its culture and language of injustice and cruelty.

Do human relations boil down to competition, combat and promotion of one's self-interest?To transform our society into a democracy, we first have to dismantle the myth of democracy as currently defined. (Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

Henry A. Giroux returns with another in-depth analysis of our most pressing problems. America at War With Itself explores the violence at work in the US from Donald Trump's campaign to the death of Sandra Bland, and argues that only through widespread social investment in democracy and education can the common good prevail. Order your copy today by making a donation to Truthout!

"Too many people today accept the notion that their fate is solely a matter of individual responsibility, irrespective of wider structural forces," writes cultural critic and theorist Henry A. Giroux, in his new book, America at War with Itself. "This much promoted ideology, favored by the rich, suggests that human relations boil down to competition and combat. People today are expected to inhabit a set of economic relations in which the only obligation is to fight for one's own self-interest." This troubling trend is not only profoundly anti-democratic, but also works to eliminate structural, systemic and social concerns from public discourse, creating what Giroux has described as "organized powerlessness."

In the following interview, Giroux -- a professor for scholarship in the public interest at McMaster University and a member of Truthout's board -- explains the background to the war metaphor and deconstructs its everyday use in the US. Finally, he evokes a politics of possibility which begins by making visible the linkages among a vast array of issues that undermine democracy.

Leslie Thatcher: Henry, could you give a brief list of the many ways America is at war with itself and the most recent battles or campaigns of that war?

Henry Giroux: FDR once said, "A nation that destroys its soil, destroys itself." This is happening in the United States in the most literal sense, given that our political and economic system are wedded to a market-driven system willing to destroy the planet, while relentlessly undermining those institutions that make a democracy possible. What this suggests and the book takes up in multiple ways is that the United States is at war with its own idealism, democratic institutions, the working and middle classes, minority youth, Muslims, immigrants and all of those populations considered disposable.

War has taken on an existential quality in that we are not simply at war; rather, as Étienne Balibar insists, "we are in war," inhabiting a war culture that touches every aspect of society. War is no longer an instrument to be used by political powers, but a form of rule, a general condition of the social order itself -- a permanent social relation and organizing principle that affects all aspects of the social order. In fact, the US has moved from a welfare state in the last forty years to a warfare state, and war has now become the foundation for politics, wedded to a misguided war on terror, the militarization of everyday life, and a culture of fear, which have become its most important regulative functions. Politics has become a comprehensive war machine that aggressively assaults anything that does not comply with its underlying economic, religious, educative and political fundamentalisms.

To read more articles by Henry A. Giroux and other authors in the Public Intellectual Project, click here.

As a comprehensive war machine, the United States operates in the service of a police state, violates civil liberties and has given rise to a military-industrial-surveillance complex that President Eisenhower could never have imagined. For instance, the largest part of the federal budget -- 600 billion dollars -- goes to the military. The US rings the earth with military bases, and the US military budget is larger than those of all other advanced industrial countries combined. And that doesn't count the money spent on the National Surveillance State and intelligence agencies.

War culture is everywhere and is used in the assault against women, especially around reproductive rights, with the closing down of abortion clinics and the working of various right-wing controlled states that have refused to buy into Medicaid.

There is also an ongoing war on youth, especially minority youth, who are under siege in their schools, which are modeled increasingly after prisons and too often have more security forces and police in them than teachers. One consequence is that often trivial infractions by students, such as violating a dress code, get them arrested and put into the school-to-prison pipeline. Too many youths today live in the shadow of fear, violence, poisoned water, poverty and racism.

War is being waged against minorities whose everyday behavior is being criminalized as they are subject to debtor prisons and an expansion of the incarceration state. At the same time, impoverished cities are turned into war zones. Weapons from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan are now given to police departments, increasing the possibility of their use on poor minority communities. The police are now defined as soldiers who view the public as enemies and use force and violence in ways today that were unthinkable just a generation ago. Every sphere of American life has been reduced to a police matter, while the military and police together are lauded in the media as the highest expressions of the nation's ideals.

Henry Giroux. (Photo: Tony Hoang)Henry Giroux. (Photo: Tony Hoang)

In addition, war culture arrogantly expresses its disdain for democracy by implementing laws to restrict voting rights, abolishing the social contract, undermining civic institutions, and exhibiting contempt for the common good, public employees, unions and public goods, such as schools. The war on poverty has become a war on the poor waged by policies that deprive the poor of public provisions, such as food stamps, quality health care and decent jobs.

War is also being waged against the middle and working classes as wealth and power are increasingly concentrated in the hands of the upper 1 percent. A war against all but the elite may perhaps be discerned in the connections between a corrupt capitalism that bails out Wall Street bankers and an economy that moves jobs overseas and forecloses on homes with zeal. War culture legitimates the building of private prisons in order to yield high returns and expand operations into a new market: caging immigrants.

A war against the citizenry is also evident in the enacting of laws that allow people to carry concealed weapons on college campuses and morally corrupt stand-your-ground laws that suggest individuals shoot first and ask questions later.

The rising culture of violence, repression and surveillance in the United States points to the dangerous transformation of American politics into a war machine, one that is reflected in many acts of domestic terrorism that plague society, and extend from the lead poisoning of millions of children and the transformation of urban centers into war zones to the militarization of public schools and the use of violence as the central tool in our society to solve all social problems.

This state of war at home and abroad needs to be understood as part of a more comprehensive politics of oppression and authoritarianism. For instance, there is a need to connect the dots between the NSA spying on millions of Americans, the labeling of mosques as "terrorist organizations," the demonization of Mexican immigrants, Muslims and protesters in the media and the crackdown on dissent throughout society as part of a broader politics of totalitarianism.

The term "war" is itself a form of public pedagogy. What does it teach? What kinds of subjects does it produce? What desires does it feed?

"War" suggests that the country's highest ideals are wedded to combat, militarization, the production of state violence, unchecked competition, a hyper form of masculinity and the notion that violence is the primary organizing principle of society.

What's interesting about the war metaphor is that it produces a language that celebrates what the US should be ashamed of, including the national surveillance state, the military-industrial complex, the war on whistleblowers, the never-ending spectacle of violence in popular culture and endless wars abroad. The vocabulary of war has become normalized and mobilizes certain desires, not only related to violence and social combat, but also in the creation of agents who act in the service of violence. Violence is not only normalized as the ultimate measure for solving problems, but also as a form of pleasure, especially with regard to the production of violent video games, films and even the saturation of violence in daily mainstream news. Violence saturates American life, as it has become cool to be cruel to people, to bully people and to be indifferent to the suffering of others. The ultimate act of pleasure is now served up in cinematically produced acts of extreme violence, produced both to numb the conscience and to up the pleasure quotient.

This retreat into barbarism is amplified by the neoliberal value of celebrating self-interest over attention to the needs of others. It gets worse. As Hannah Arendt once observed, war culture is part of a species of thoughtlessness that legitimates certain desires, values and identities that make people insensitive to the violence they see around them in everyday life. One can't have a democracy that organizes itself around war because war is the language of injustice -- it admits no compassion and revels in a culture of cruelty.

How does the reduction of life to quantitative data -- testing in schools, mandatory minimums in sentencing, return on investment -- feed into the cultural apparatuses producing a nation at war with itself?

This is the language of instrumental rationality gone berserk, one that strips communication of those issues, values and questions that cannot be resolved empirically. This national obsession with data is symbolic of the retreat from social and moral responsibility. A one-dimensional use of data erases the questions that matter the most: What gives life meaning? What is justice? What constitutes happiness? These things are all immeasurable by a retreat into the discourse of quantification. This type of positivism encourages a form of thoughtlessness, undermines critical agency, makes people more susceptible to violence and emotion rather than reason. Reducing everything to quantitative data creates a form of civic illiteracy, undercuts the ethical imagination, kills empathy and mutilates politics.

The obsession with data becomes a convenient tool for abdicating that which cannot be measured, thus removing from the public sphere those issues that raise serious questions that demand debate, informed judgment and thoughtfulness while taking seriously matters of historical consciousness, memory and context. Empiricism has always been comfortable with authoritarian societies, and has worked to reduce civic courage and agency to an instrumental logic that depoliticizes people by removing matters of social and political responsibility from ethical and political considerations.

America's obsession with metrics and quantitative data is a symptom of its pedagogy of oppression. Numerical values now drive teaching, reduce culture in the broadest sense to the culture of business and teach children that schools exist largely to produce conformity and kill the imagination. Leon Wieseltier is right in arguing that the unchecked celebration of metrics erases the distinction "between knowledge and information" and substitutes quantification for wisdom.

This is not to say that all data is worthless or that data gathering is entirely on the side of repression. However, the dominant celebration of data, metrics and quantification flattens the human experience, outsources judgement and distorts the complexity of the real world. The idolatry of the metric paradigm is politically and ethically enervating and cripples the human spirit.

As you have written and said often, the right takes the pedagogical function of the major cultural apparatuses seriously, while the left not so much. What do progressive forces lose when they abandon the field?

In ignoring the power of the pedagogical function of mainstream cultural apparatuses, many on the left have lost their ability to understand how domination and resistance work at the level of everyday life. The left has relied for too long on defining domination in strictly structural terms, especially with regard to economic structures. Many people on the left assume that the only form of domination is economic. What they ignore is that the crises of economics, history, politics and agency have not been matched by a crisis of ideas. They don't understand how much work is required to change consciousness or how central the issue of identification is to any viable notion of politics. People only respond to a politics that speaks to their condition. What the left has neglected is how matters of identification and the centrality of judgment, belief and persuasion are crucial to politics itself. The left underestimates the dimensions of struggle when it gives up on education as central to the very meaning of politics.

Truthout Progressive Pick

America at War With Itself

Henry A. Giroux examines the shift toward increasingly abusive forms of power in the United States.

Click here now to get the book!

The left appears to have little interest in addressing education as central to how people think and see things. Education can enable people to recognize that the problems they face in everyday life need a new language that speaks to those problems. What is particularly crucial here is the need to develop a politics in which pedagogy becomes central to enabling people to understand and translate how everyday troubles connect to wider structures.

What do you want people to take away from the book?

Certainly, it is crucial to educate people to recognize that American democracy is in crisis and that the forces that threaten it are powerful and must be made visible. In this case, we are talking about the merging of neoliberalism, institutionalized racism, militarization, racism, poverty, inequities in wealth and power and other issues that undermine democracy.

We no longer live in a democracy. The myth of democracy has to be dismantled. To understand that, we need to connect the dots and make often isolated forms of domination visible -- extending from the war on terror and the existence of massive inequalities in wealth and power to the rise of the mass incarceration state and the destruction of public and higher education. We have to make clear that decisions made by the state and corporations are not in the general interest. We must connect the war on Black youth to the war on workers and the war on the middle class, while exposing the workings of a system that extorts money, uses prison as a default welfare program and militarizes the police as a force for repression and domestic terrorism. We must learn how to translate individual problems into larger social issues, create a comprehensive politics and a third party with the aim not of reforming the system, but restructuring it. As Martin Luther King recognized at end of his life, the war at home and the war abroad cannot be separated. Such linkages remain crucial to the democratic project.

At another level, the book tries to illustrate how the forces of authoritarianism cannot be addressed by simply focusing on the rise of a demagogue such as Trump. It reveals how Trump and others are symptomatic of a much larger set of issues deeply embedded in the body politic. This means developing a wide-ranging and interconnected view of politics that brings together the various anti-democratic economic, religious, political, social and educational forces at work in producing the dark shadow of authoritarianism and the death of our democracy. Such a comprehensive politics demands not only a discourse of sustained critique, but also a type of resistance bound up with real possibilities of a politics aimed at reclaiming the ideals and promise of a real democracy.

Opinion Sun, 25 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Protests Over Tulsa and Charlotte Police Killings Stem From Economic Policies That Perpetuate Racism

The police killings of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Oklahoma, have drawn attention to policies backed by Republicans that have perpetuated racism and voter suppression, says our guest Rev. Dr. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP and Moral Mondays leader.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Speaking on Thursday, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said that because of the unrest in Charlotte, quote, "the country looks bad to the world." He again used the events to appeal to black voters.

DONALD TRUMP: The people who will suffer the most as a result of these riots are law-abiding African-American residents who live in these communities where the crime is so rampant. It's their jobs, housing markets, schools, economic conditions that will suffer. And the first duty of government is to protect their well-being and safety. We have to do that. There is no compassion in tolerating lawless conduct. Crime and violence is an attack on the poor and will never be accepted in a Trump administration. Never, ever. Our job -- thank you -- our job is not to make life more comfortable for the violent disruptor, but to make life more comfortable for the African-American parent trying to raise their kids in peace, to walk their children to school and to get their children great educations.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Well, for more, we're joined by the Reverend Dr. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP and Moral Monday leader.

And I wanted to ask you, the impact -- Trump, in his remarks, never mentions the violence being perpetrated on African Americans by some of these police officers. I'm wondering your sense of the impact of his words, because he's sounding more and more like a reversion back to Richard Nixon and "law and order" as his campaign theme for the presidency. His impact on the African-American community, especially on African-American youth, of Trump's words?

REV. WILLIAM BARBER: Well, you just hit the nail on the head. It's a hypocrisy, and it's revisionist history, and he's reaching back to the strategy that Kevin Phillips gave to Richard Nixon on how to hold onto the South and win the country. It's called the Southern strategy: use all kind of code words and misdirection. But it's full of hypocrisy, and it's full of untruthful things.

First of all, Donald Trump is running to be-divider-in-chief, suppressor-in-chief, hater-in-chief and reverser-in-chief. No matter what he says in his cute teleprompter speech, we have to remember what he said with his mouth, and, more importantly, his policies. Now, let's listen to what his policies are. First, he is for voter suppression. When the Supreme Court said that North Carolina had engaged in surgical racism against black people in voting laws, he came to North Carolina and said that that decision would open up fraud. He joined with those who perpetrated racism and surgical voter suppression. Number two, Donald Trump is for reversing Medicaid expansion, which would hurt 20 million Americans -- many, many, many white Americans, but 3 million African Americans alone. He is -- he believes that we have -- number three, he believes we have too high of a minimum wage and is not for living wages. There are 64 million Americans -- black, white and brown -- who make less than the living wage, and 54 percent are African-American. He is not for raising the living wage. He's for the proliferation of guns, the very cause of much of the violence in our community. He is for tax cuts on the wealthy and raising tax and fees on the poor and the working poor in ways that would take us back to the kind of recession policies that we saw under George Bush and the false notions of trickle-down. He is for the kind of policies that could possibly proliferate war, which will be negative to poor whites and blacks who end up fighting the wars often that rich people engage in. He is for taking money from public schools, which black, brown and poor white people need, and giving it to private schools that can segregate and that most black, brown and white people cannot go to. And so, over and over again, what he says on his teleprompter and what his policies actually show us are two different realities.

And he's not talking to black people. If you listen to him or some of his campaign people, this is the narrative. And it's a shrewd and sinister narrative out of the Southern strategy. "Black people will not let us help them," he's saying, "will not trust us," the very people who since 1968 and the Southern strategy have been against everything that benefited the progression of black people. Number two, "Black people are their own problem. They are their own problem." And number three, "Black people are the cause of your problems," saying that to white people, "particularly in all of the money we've had to spend on welfare," which, in fact, most of the welfare is actually used by black people -- white people -- Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and social safety net. It is a hypocritical argument, and it is a dangerous argument and is a sinister argument, because it is not a serious conversation about race and racial disparity.

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Barber, I wanted to play for you the comment of Republican Congressmember Robert Pittenger, whose district includes parts of Charlotte, who said demonstrators were upset because, unlike North Carolina's white residents, the African Americans are not successful. He made these comments on BBC.

JAMES O'BRIEN: With respect, Congressman, I don't think the people on the streets last night and the night before were protesting against Lyndon B. Johnson's almost half-a-century-old policies. What is their grievance, in their mind?

REP. ROBERT PITTENGER: Well, no, the grievance in their mind is that they -- the animus, the anger. They hate white people because white people are successful and they're not. I mean, yes, it is. It is a welfare state. We have -- we have spent trillions of dollars on welfare. But we've put people in bondage so that they can't be all that they're capable of being.

AMY GOODMAN: Hours later, Congressman Pittenger apologized in several posts on Twitter, saying his anguish about what was happening in Charlotte prompted him to respond to a question, quote, "in a way that I regret." But I'm wondering if you could respond to this. And also, talk about North Carolina, your state. I mean, right now, people are voting for president, is that right? Or people are engaged in early voting. But first respond to Congressman Pittenger.

REV. WILLIAM BARBER: Well, he had to say he regretted, and what he really probably regrets is the first part of what he said. See, in this white Southern strategy, you're not supposed to say, "They hate us because we're successful." You're not supposed to be that overt in your racism. You're simply supposed to say "welfare state" as a code word for racism. You're supposed to say "tax cuts" or "entitlement programs," that we need to get rid of, as code words. He blew the code, and he was out in the open.

Because what he said -- racism, as you know, is not rooted in fact; it's rooted in fear. It's not rooted in truthfulness; it's rooted in foolishness. His history is wrong. We know that the Great Society programs, many of them work, especially for white people. Many of the programs now that he and others demean are the very programs that helped lift many whites, particularly in the South and in other areas, out of poverty.

We know, when you look at that particular congressperson and look at his record, if we -- if the country follows his voting record, we would have less voting rights, because he has refused to sign on to restoring the Voting Rights Act. We'd have less healthcare, less wages. We would have less love and less mercy.

And many of the very people that are hurt by the policies he promote are white. We have 1.9 million poor people in North Carolina. The majority of them are white. Three hundred and forty-six thousand of the 500,000 people being denied Medicaid expansion are white. What he and others are afraid of is what we've seen in the Moral Monday movement and what I'm seeing as I'm going around the country in "The Revival: Time for a Moral Revolution": black and white and Latino people coming together and forming fusion coalitions and understanding that all of this divisive rhetoric and these divisive policies and this white Southern strategy was designed to keep the very people apart from each other that need to be allies, who need to change this country. You know, lastly, Amy, if you look at the stats on Politico, PolitiFact, the majority of the states that -- counties -- are the poorest are those that have states that are so-called -- led by so-called red states or people who claim to be Republican. The very policies that they promote hurt the people that they sell this false narrative.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Reverend Barber, we've been talking about the situation in Charlotte, but I'd like to also bring in what's happened in Tulsa, where police officer Betty Shelby has been booked at the local county jail and released on $50,000 bond. On Thursday, Shelby was charged with felony manslaughter in the fatal shooting of Terence Crutcher. The criminal complaint says Shelby's, quote, "fear resulted in her unreasonable actions which led her to shooting." She is accused of, quote, "unlawfully and unnecessarily" shooting Crutcher after he did not comply with her "lawful orders." If convicted, Shelby faces four years to life in prison. Could you talk about the difference between what happened in the situation in Tulsa versus what's happened so far in Charlotte, and what you would hope to happen in Charlotte?

REV. WILLIAM BARBER: Well, first of all, you did not have the context like you've had in North Carolina in the kind of regressive, violent policy attacks that we've seen over the last three years by this governor. So there's already a lot of unrest, hurt and pain in North Carolina. You know, we even have been a state that has launched the worst attack on the LGBTQ community, the living wage, people fighting for living wage, and even persons who wanted employment discrimination in the state courts. You also have in North Carolina a state that's had the highest number of African Americans exonerated from death row in the last 10 years of any state in the country. You also have a state where we have innumerous people who are incarcerated -- African Americans -- for crimes they did not commit, and the governor has refused to pardon them. In fact, I have a press conference about two of them this morning. You also have a place where the crime lab was found to -- abused over 200 cases, and people have -- in terms of the way they dealt with DNA evidence. You also have a city where you had Jonathan Ferrell, and, even though someone was indicted, it ended up with a hung jury, and people said a hung jury was a spoken jury, when we know that's not true. A hung jury is a hung jury.

So, you have to understand all of that, the context of all of that, all of the attacks on the poor, all of the attacks on healthcare and voting rights. And then you drop this situation in. And unlike Tulsa, where they had transparency, and they now have an indictment, we've actually had -- we've not had transparency, and we've found out more and more evidence that points against the police narrative -- which also proves something, too, that black people, as you said, are not just against cops or against white cops, because in this situation the chief is black and the alleged shooter is black. Black people are saying, whatever it is, we want transparency. And it's not just black people; it's black and white people saying it together. We want transparency. And that is the number one problem here in Charlotte. There was not transparency. And the police overreacted, did not listen to the community leaders that were on the ground, and exacerbated a problem that did not have to go this way.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain the governor of North Carolina, your state, the stance he has taken right now, where you see things going, his relationship with the governor -- with the mayor of Charlotte? She did impose a curfew but said they wouldn't enforce it if people were peaceful. And the people were peaceful.


AMY GOODMAN: Explain who gives the governor his power, and the movement that you've been leading, the Moral Mondays movement, and the effect you think it's had.

REV. WILLIAM BARBER: Well, you know, supposedly, the people give the governor the power. But let's look at the governor's rhetoric, because my deep suspicion is there is some pushing around all of this to try to create some political movement, because, you know, he's in trouble. So, my understanding from the clergy is that there wasn't even a great desire by the City Council and other persons to create the emergency -- state of emergency in the first place. Remember, we're in a state -- and God knows we are against any form of violence. Those officers that were hurt the first night, the young man that was killed, and we don't know how he was killed -- we do know that we have a lot of conflicting accounts of that. But, Amy, we understand the governor pushed for this emergency piece. Now, we're in a state where we -- for instance, UNC wins the championship, and we've seen cars overturned, bonfires started in the middle of the street, and we don't have an emergency state. In fact, they open up the burn unit. So, how do you move from 99.9 percent of the protesters doing the right thing, a few dozen doing the wrong thing, and suddenly there's an emergency state in a city that's already prepared to handle even a presidential convention? That's number one.

Number two, this curfew, we don't know where it came from and what pressures were put on to have the curfew, and we saw that it was totally unnecessary. And the police and the community leaders could have handled legitimate discontent and anger and nonviolent justice protest.

Lastly, this governor has been a source of division throughout the country and here in North Carolina. And he actually has lied. And I don't normally say that like that. But I heard him the other night say on CNN -- he claimed his love for Dr. King, which all people -- which they tend to run to every time people express legitimate discontent. Well, remember, Dr. King was called a militant. He said that he respected nonviolent protesters. Well, we protested for 21 weeks, were arrested, and he never met with us. He has refused to meet with clergy. As late as two weeks ago, clergy of all different faiths attempted to just deliver a moral declaration of values to his office, and they would not receive it. So, this governor is saying one thing for a political reason, but the political reality is something very different. He, like Donald Trump, has been a divider. He has helped to stir more division. He has dishonored the nonviolent tradition and now does not really have the credibility to challenge what's going on, even in terms of the violence, because he has passed policies that has cost people their lives. You know, when a state denies 500,000 people Medicaid simply because they don't like a black man in the White House, that means about a thousand to 1,500 people die every year, which means somewhere upwards of 5,000 people in North Carolina have died since this governor and Legislature has denied Medicaid expansion.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you, Reverend Barber, for joining us. I also wanted to point out the lawyer for the Scott family, Justin Bamberg, is a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives, also represented Alton Sterling's family in Baton Rouge, African-American man gunned down by police, as well as another Mr. Scott, Walter Scott. People may remember in North Charleston, South Carolina, Walter Scott gunned down by a police officer after the officer stopped him for a taillight being out. We'll --

REV. WILLIAM BARBER: Yeah, Amy, if you would, I know you've got to run, but please -- as people said, this man was not even the suspect. And also remember, the Walter Scott case, there was a plant. There was a plant, shown on the video. We are convinced that if this video was about a citizen shooting a cop and it showed it clearly, that the video would be out. And if the video was conclusive, it would be out. Something is wrong in the reason why they will not release that video, and we need to listen to the experts and the family and have it released.

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Dr. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, Moral Mondays leader. His most recent book, Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement. Thanks so much for joining us from North Carolina.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, a fiery session of the US Senate. It was the Senate Banking Committee, and it was Senator Warren of Massachusetts grilling the CEO of Wells Fargo. Why were over 5,000 low-level employees fired, she asked, and not him? Stay with us.

News Fri, 23 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400
A Great Month for Impunity in US Courts

Children being treated for cholera with intravenous fluids at a clinic in Mirebalais, Haiti, where the cholera epidemic began, on Feb. 5, 2012. For several years, evidence of the United Nations' guilt has been overwhelming. (Photo: Damon Winter / The New York Times) Children being treated for cholera with intravenous fluids at a clinic in Mirebalais, Haiti, where the cholera epidemic began. For several years, evidence of the United Nations' guilt has been overwhelming. (Photo: Damon Winter / The New York Times)

What would happen to someone who killed ten thousand of the wealthiest people in the United States through some act of gross negligence? Or what if somebody doused the neighborhoods of the wealthiest 0.003 percent with billions of gallons of toxic waste? Do you think that in either of these two wildly hypothetical cases the perpetrators would be able to work the US legal system to stay out of prison?

As crazy as these questions are, asking them is essential to assessing two US court rulings that were upheld on appeal in August.

On August 18th, the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York upheld a lower court ruling that denied compensation to thousands of Haitian victims of the lethal negligence of UN troops. In 2010, UN troops discharged raw sewage into a river that caused a cholera outbreak that has now killed over 10,000 people. For several years, evidence of the UN's guilt has been overwhelming. A 2011 study by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said UN troops were the likely cause of the epidemic. A day after the appeals court shielded the UN, a leaked report emerged in which a UN Special Rapporteur (Philip Alston) noted that scientific evidence of UN guilt was "overwhelming." However, backed completely by the Obama administration (whose lawyers represented the UN in court) the UN was let off the hook by a very dubious technical argument that it had legal immunity. Alston's leaked report said it found the UN's argument to be "legally indefensible." The argument would surely have been disregarded (quite angrily) by US judges if the victims were among the wealthiest in the world, not the poorest people within poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

It will be considered a major achievement if the UN can be pressured, someday, into providing reasonable compensation to the families of the cholera victims. Prison terms are not even being pursued for the UN officials responsible. As I explained in more detail here, grave crimes perpetrated by the UN troops in Haiti are not limited to the negligence that caused the cholera epidemic. UN troops have been stationed in Haiti since 2004 to consolidate a coup directly perpetrated by the Bush administration against Haiti's democratically elected government. As Jake Johnson explained here, the US government, in collaboration with the OAS bureaucracy, thoroughly corrupted Haiti's 2010 presidential election. Since 2015, the Obama administration has been pressuring Haiti, with less success than in 2010 so far, to accept fraudulent elections again. UN troops have provided muscle and political cover for US government's ongoing assault on democracy and human rights in Haiti. For that very reason, UN officials have little to fear from US courts.

On August 9, the same appeals court that allowed the UN to evade responsibility for killing 10,000 Haitians, upheld a ruling that shielded Chevron, a US$200 billion a year corporation, from paying US$9 billion in compensation awarded by Ecuador's Supreme Court in 2013 to victims of pollution in Ecuador's amazon. From 1964-1992, 16 billion gallons of waste had been dumped on the land of the poorest people in Ecuador. The legal battle began in New York in 1993, but Chevron successfully fought to have it moved to Ecuador where it felt confident of receiving even more lenient treatment than in the United States, especially if a US jury (which Chevron has never faced in this case) were to have passed judgment on what was done in the Ecuadorean Amazon.

A few years after Chevron succeeded in getting (guess who?) judges from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York to send the lawsuit back to Ecuador, the political situation in Ecuador changed drastically. Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa first took office in 2007. Under Correa, voters elected a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution which was then ratified in a referendum. Ecuadorean voters, also through a referendum, ratified reform of the judiciary. The corporate-friendly judicial climate to which Chevron had grown accustomed in Ecuador came to an end.

Chevron returned to US courts arguing not only that a provincial court ruling against it in Ecuador was won by fraud, but that Ecuador's entire judiciary was now incapable of settling the dispute. Ecuador's judiciary was disparaged to get out of a promise Chevron made to the Second Circuit Appeals Court in 2002 to honor Ecuadorean jurisdiction which Chevron had demanded. In 2014, a US district court obligingly concluded that Ecuador "does not provide impartial tribunals or procedures compatible with due process in cases of this nature." The reasons offered for the conclusion were pitiful as I explain here. The Second Circuit Appeals Court, though it upheld the district court ruling, completely sidestepped the indictment of Ecuador's entire judiciary by saying "we do not reach any contentions as to the Ecuadorean judiciary in general." Instead, technical grounds were given to let Chevron shop around for the judiciary it wanted whenever it wanted.

A similar pattern emerges with other rulings that went to extreme lengths to enable corporate criminality abroad. High level courts simply polish up the justifications for corporate impunity provided by lower courts. For example, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2009 that international human rights law is not sufficiently "specific, universal, and obligatory" for corporations to ever have to worry about it under the US Alien Tort Statute. This was the basis for dismissing a case brought against Royal Dutch Shell for aiding the Nigerian government supress protestors through torture, rape and murder. The US Supreme Court upheld the ruling on different grounds: "extraterritoriality" -- thereby maintaining corporate impunity in the case but without resorting to the more unhinged arguments championed by Jose Cabranes, a judge on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. In August, Cabranes was also one of the judges who shielded the UN from any legal consequences for killing thousands of Haitians. In 2003, Cabranes was one of the judges for Second Circuit Court of Appeals who argued that a US corporation could not be sued by Peruvian miners who suffered severe lung disease because it was wrong to claim that under "customary international law" there is any such thing as the "right to life" or "right to health."

Hopefully, the United States will avoid an era of Donald Trump appointed judges, but it should be noted that some of the judges (Jose Cabranes, Lewis Kaplan) responsible for the outrageous rulings described above were appointed by Bill Clinton. An era of nasty judicial extremism would get worse under Trump, but it long predates his success as a presidential candidate.

Opinion Sun, 25 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Pressure Mounts Against Aging Enbridge Oil and Gas Pipeline Through Great Lakes

The aging Line 5 pipelines lie west of the Mackinac Bridge. A single oil spill could impact more than 150 miles of coastline.The aging Line 5 pipelines lie west of the Mackinac Bridge. A single oil spill could impact more than 150 miles of coastline. (Photo: Tyler Wilson / Flickr)Public pressure is mounting to decommission two 63-year-old underwater pipelines that rest in an environmentally sensitive waterway between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.

About 540,000 barrels of oil and liquid natural gas flow daily through the 20-inch pipelines, called Line 5, which lie in an exposed trench on the public bottomlands of the Mackinac Straits west of the Mackinac Bridge.

Built in 1953, Line 5 is now owned by the Alberta, Canada-based petroleum company Enbridge, Inc. Many fear the aging pipeline is an accident waiting to happen, with recent modeling showing a single oil spill could impact more than 150 miles of coastline.

Enbridge has been boasting about the findings of a state pipeline safety task force report released a little over a year ago that found no signs of internal or external corrosion on Line 5.

Critical Gaps

What the company doesn't say is that even the authors of the report aren't convinced of its validity, due to "gaps" in information provided by Enbridge on its own pipelines.

"Substantial questions remain and can only be resolved by full disclosure of additional information, and rigorous, independent review by qualified experts," the 2015 report reads.

In a press conference following the release of the report, Michigan's Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette and Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) director Dan Wyant said Enbridge had not been forthcoming about the methods of pipeline integrity inspections performed by its contractors.

Enbridge says it continually monitors metal loss, cracks, and pipeline movements, and in some cases sends divers to visually inspect the pipelines.

The company maintains the pipelines could operate safely for another half-century, though it acknowledges that a heavy crust of invasive mussels cover parts of the pipelines.

Environmental groups claim these invasive species are likely corroding the pipeline coating.

Line 5's Days Numbered

Enbridge has been trying to assure the public through a series of barbeques and community gatherings that Line 5 is completely safe.

Schuette said in 2015 that Line 5's days "are numbered," and that the pipeline would never be built today under modern environmental standards. Gov. Rick Snyder promised to address recommendations included in the report quickly.

But critics say the state has been anything but quick to respond to the concerns about Line 5. A pair of independent studies that could lead to recommendations on Line 5's future are planned but won't be completed until mid-to-late 2017.

"The state has been studying (Line 5) since 2014, using data from the company," Sierra Club's Michigan Chapter Chair, David Holtz, tells DeSmog. 

Holtz says an independent third party assessment of Line 5 would probably refute the company's claims that everything is fine.

"There is no real deadline for the state to do anything and no political will to confront the oil industry," Holtz says.

Environmental lawyers say the governor and the attorney general have the authority to decommission the pipeline at any time as part of the 1953 easement agreement that granted the original owner of Line 5, Lakehead Pipe Line Partners, the right to occupy the bottomlands.

Liz Kirkwood, an environmental attorney and director of the Traverse City-based nonprofit Flow for Water, tells DeSmog that Michigan faces all of the risks from Line 5 and gets almost none of the benefit.

She said, "The state of Michigan agreed to never allow private interests to pollute public trust waters. Michigan has a heavy burden here because 20 percent of the world's fresh water is in lakes bordering the state."

Dire Straits

Concerns were galvanized earlier this year when University of Michigan computer modeling was released showing that 152 miles of shoreline on Lakes Huron and Michigan were at risk from a single Line 5 oil spill.

Environmentalists and citizens in the region bring up the company's 2010 pipeline break -- the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history -- as an example of what could happen.

In July, Enbridge agreed to pay $177 million, including $61 million in penalties, as part of a consent decree with the U.S. government tied to the company's 2010 pipeline rupture near Marshall, Michigan. The spill affected nearly 40 miles of the Kalamazoo River. Enbridge did not admit negligence in the rupture.

In a poll released by the National Wildlife Foundation in May, nearly two-thirds of Michiganders said companies should not be allowed to operate pipelines running under the Great Lakes.

A majority of Michigan's 12 federally recognized Native American tribes have passed resolutions opposing Line 5, and the Chairman of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians said Line 5 threatens the sovereign rights of tribal members to fish the lakes.

More than 50 municipalities across Michigan -- liberal, conservative, and everything in-between -- have passed resolutions calling for all pipelines operating in the Straits of Mackinac to be shut down.

Calls For Risk Reduction

On September 14, the Oil & Water Don't Mix campaign sent a letter to Michigan's Pipeline Safety Advisory Board co-chairs Heidi Grether and Valerie Brader, urging the panel to endorse four actions before an independent study commences. Their requests were to:   

  • Require Enbridge to shut down the flow of oil in Line 5 in the Straits during the winter months, when ice and strong currents make oil capture nearly impossible.
  • Investigate at least eight alleged violations by Enbridge of easement requirements for operating Line 5 in the Straits, including pipeline corrosion.
  • Require Enbridge to hire an independent contractor to evaluate Line 5 before installing anchors that would keep the pipeline from popping out of its trench.
  • Have the Michigan DEQ conduct a full environmental review of Line 5 under the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act before issuing a permit to Enbridge to install 18 additional pipeline anchors.

Those recommendations were brought up by board member Craig Hupp of Grosse Pointe when the Pipeline Safety Advisory Board met on Monday night, September 19.

But according to the Environmental Council's spokesperson Andy McGlashen, most of the two-hour meeting was spent discussing how to ease public fears about the difficulty of cleaning up oil spills in the winter and just paid "lip service" to the recommendations. "The board basically said they didn't have the technical expertise to evaluate those recommendations," McGlashen told DeSmog, adding that the board adjourned without a plan to find technical experts or take any action before its next meeting on December 12. 

Enbridge, like other companies operating pipelines, has pointed out that the alternative ways of moving oil -- by rail and by truck -- are even less safe, and that decommissioning Line 5 would ultimately increase the risk of oil spills or explosions.

Holtz tells DeSmog he thinks the company's line of reasoning is bogus, saying, "There are other pipelines in the region that aren't under water. Line 5 is just a shortcut. Line 5 is Enbridge's problem. It shouldn't be Michigan's problem."

News Sun, 25 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Boehner Joins the Not-Quite-a-Lobbyist Ranks

Count former House Speaker John Boehner as the latest not-quite-a-lobbyist.

For nearly a decade, the number of registered lobbyists has slipped each year. This summer, the figure finally dipped below 10,000 -- the lowest it's been since the Center for Responsive Politics began keeping track in 1998. And that drop in lobbyists has been accompanied by a dropoff in revenue, painting a numerical picture of an industry seemingly in pronounced decline.

But the numbers ignore the hearty portion of Washington's influence industry engaged in what's sometimes referred to as "shadow lobbying," unreported to the agencies that gather quarterly filings from those trying to bend federal policy in their clients' favor.

That's where, from all appearances, Boehner -- who's barred from having lobbying contacts with his former colleagues until he's been out of office a year -- could be a great fit.

Lobbying giant Squire Patton Boggs, currently the sixth highest-earning lobbying firm in the nation with over $9 million in billings in the first half of this year, announced this week that Boehner will be joining the firm as a strategic adviser on global business development in the public sector. After representing Ohio for almost a quarter century, the last four of those as speaker, Boehner resigned from the House last October after struggling to resolve conflicts between conservative and centrist elements of his Republican party.

From Riches to … Less Obvious Riches

Lobbying was very much a growth industry in the early years of the millennium -- revenue doubled from 1998 to 2007, and the number of registered lobbyists grew more than 40 percent. But 2008 brought a reversal that has only continued: The most recent count puts the number at just over 9,700, compared to the 2007 peak of more than 14,800. Revenue topped out at $3.5 billion in 2010, while the 2015 figure was $3.2 million. The trend line for 2016 points to another modest decrease by year's end.

What happened?

The recession and its aftermath are typically blamed, bringing tighter wallets all around. Another factor often mentioned is worsened congressional gridlock -- if bills are less likely to be passed, organizations may not invest in trying to make that happen. 

But many experts insist there's not less lobbying going on. It's just that much of it is unreported. 

Increased regulation is one reason. In 2007 -- the year the number of registered lobbyists peaked -- Congress passed the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, which required lobbyists to disclose far more information about their work and included measures to slow the "revolving door" between government and the influence industry.

The legal definition of "lobbyist" remained the same: An individual must register if more than 20 percent of his/her working time is spent advocating to government officials; other guidelines exist around income and contacts with executive and legislative branch personnel. But with a new disclosure regime, and new sanctions for violators, some lobbyists began claiming their work did not meet the threshhold and unregistered.

Until HLOGA passed, "there was no downside to being a registered lobbyist -- the best practice was to err on the side of over-registration," said Caleb Burns, a partner specializing in lobbying law at the Washington law firm Wiley Rein. "Being a lobbyist now has serious potential legal consequences."

President Barack Obama clamped down further. In his first full day in office, Obama signed two executive orders and three presidential directives curbing the work that former lobbyists could do in his administration -- including on federal advisory boards and commissions, areas previously open to those in the influence game.

The orders "had a chilling effect" on the industry, said Paul Miller, president of the National Institute for Lobbying and Ethics. "It caused people to think, 'I've got to find a way around this.'"

Thus the proliferation of the shadow lobbyist. People who have unregistered in each year since 2007 include those whose jobs have changed, or those who might not have needed to register in the first place but were playing it safe. But they also include those who do their fair share of lobbying work, but classify it as something different.

A 2013 study by found that more than 46 percent of lobbyists who were registered in 2011 but not 2012 were still with the same employer, suggesting that they were continuing to contribute to lobbying efforts while avoiding the reporting limits. Industry leaders suspect this has become increasingly common in recent years.

And some, including former lawmakers, don't have to unregister, since they never registered to begin with.

"There's a very easy way to define yourself as a strategic adviser or someone else who, quote, 'doesn't lobby'… and get away with this," said James Thurber, founder and former director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University. He cited what is frequently referred to as the Daschle loophole, named for former South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle (D), who lost his re-election bid in 2004 and pushed through the revolving door to become a "senior policy adviser" at the law and lobbying giant Alston & Bird. After holding similar titles at several other firms and doing work that looked and sounded much like lobbying over more than a decade, Daschle recently registered as a lobbyist for the first time.

Then there are those who aren't simply traditional "walk the halls" lobbyists who deliberately maneuver around reporting thresholds, but also people taking advantage of the ways in which technology has opened up the influence industry, Miller noted. Advocating for legislation via electronic communications, think tank support, social media and survey research often overlaps signficantly with old-school lobbying -- and much, if not most, of that goes unreported.

"There are too many people doing this job and not registering," Miller said.

Using a broad definition of shadow lobbying that includes the above activities, "there can be maybe twice or three times" the industry-reported 2015 revenue of $3.2 billion, Thurber said. 

Boehner won't be the only former lawmaker at Squire Patton Boggs, whose extensive client list includes firms ranging from Airbus and Amazon to Wake Forest University and Walton Enterprises: Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) and former Sen. John Breaux (D-LA) have been there since 2005 and 2010, respectively; they are both registered lobbyists. Boehner's former top advisors David Schnittger and Natasha Hammond are there, as well, as "senior policy advisers."

Boehner's new employment was announced just days after tobacco giant Reynolds American announced he'd be joining its board.

Patton Boggs, which was among the top three earners in the industry every year from 1998 until its 2014 merger with Squire Sanders, has long been a K Street revolving door hub, boasting a big concentration of former occupants of congressional office buildings. And it's no surprise to see that firm or others snatch up newly available former lawmakers, who can command the highest billing rates when clients ask for their help. Of the 75 House members and senators who left the Hill at the end of the 113th Congress, at least 48.8 percent went to work for lobbying firms.

What's Ahead

Many are trying to anticipate how the next president will interact with the industry -- particularly whether or not she/he will keep Obama's restrictions, and how much their repeal might actually matter. Obama has issued waivers to allow certain former lobbyists to take positions, so it's not as though the revolving door was slammed shut.

A new president trying to staff an administration from a limited pool of qualified individuals might not want to deal with the restrictions, which have unquestionably complicated the process. The head of the nonprofit helping the presidential transition process has urged Obama to rescind the provisions himself to remove the burden from his successor.

Donald Trump's views on the issue remain muddy, although some of his campaign staffers, like Paul Manafort, his campaign chairman, certainly have worked in the influence industry. But there has been "a decent amount of speculation" in the lobbying world that a Clinton presidency would bring a repeal, Burns said. Clinton, after all, is staffed by people with strong connections to the industry -- such as her campaign chair, John Podesta, who helped found one of Washington's top lobbying firms. His brother, Tony, still is chairman of the Podesta Group and has bundled funds for Clinton.

Still, even if the next administration proves kinder to lobbyists, it's not necessarily likely that many will come out of the shadows, said Wright Andrews, a lawyer-lobbyist of nearly four decades who is best known for representing the subprime mortgage industry in the early 2000s. 

"That's the way the game is played, unfortunately," Andrews said.

News Sat, 24 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400
The State of the US on Wealth Inequality

The release of the 2015 poverty and income data was met with enthusiasm from most media. However, the rich are still getting richer and the rest are getting poorer since the late-1970s as the top one percent of families have been steadily accumulating a larger share of the nation's wealth.

(Photo: Quinn Dombrowski; Edited: LW / TO)(Photo: Quinn Dombrowski; Edited: LW / TO)

At one of the many high-dollar fundraisers Hillary Clinton held during the month of August, a personal-check donation of $100,000 would get an attendee a photo with Hillary, according to a recent New York Times article. Rubbing shoulders with the likes of Paul McCartney at a waterfront Hampton's estate fund-raiser, Hillary "joined in a sing-a-long finale to 'Hey Jude'."

The release this past week of the 2015 poverty and income data was met with enthusiasm -- witness headlines such as the one in the New York Times, "The Economic Expansion is Helping the Middle Class, Finally" or the conclusion of Matthew Yglesias on the Vox website that "the bottom line of all of this is that as good as the 2015 census report was, the reality is probably even better. . . the data shows pretty clearly that despite those problems, we are currently living through the best of times."

The report was certainly good news. But as other commentators observed, incomes have yet to return to the levels they were at the onset of the Great Recession in 2007. Moreover, although everyone enjoyed rising incomes in 2015, the income inequality gap did not narrow. And, as Eduardo Porter points out in the New York Times, with the economic expansion "getting long in the tooth. ... the punch bowl may well be taken away again before the party really gets going."

As I wrote at Jewish Currents last week, income inequality is approaching historic highs. Yet, as skewed as income inequality is, wealth inequality is more concentrated and deepening.

Drawing on the work of the Berkeley economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, I have created the following five charts that show not only substantial growth in wealth inequality, but an even more lopsided distribution than that for income inequality.

The rich get richer, the rest get poorer: Since the late-1970s, the top one percent of families have been steadily accumulating a larger share of the nation's wealth (total assets people own net of their debts), recessions notwithstanding. In 2012 (the most recent available data), the top one percent of families (1.6 million families, each with at least $4 million in assets in 2012) held about 42 percent of all the wealth. Although still below the 1928 peak of 51 percent, the growth has been spectacular, almost doubling in close to 40 years.

As large as income inequality is, the 42 percent wealth share held by the top one percent of families far surpasses the 22 percent income share held by the top one percent in the income distribution (see my Jewish Currents article).

By contrast, the share of wealth held by the bottom 90 percent (almost 145 million families) has been depleting steadily, falling from a high of 36.4 percent in 1984 to 22.8 percent in 2012. The income share of the bottom 90 percent is less, but still severely, skewed, standing at almost 50 percent in 2012.

Wealth and Income Share of the Top 1%, 1913-2012

(Source: The World Wealth and Income Database and Gabriel Zucman)(Source: The World Wealth and Income Database and Gabriel Zucman)

Wealth and Income Share of the Bottom 90 Percent, 1913-2012

(Source: The World Wealth and Income Database and Gabriel Zucman)(Source: The World Wealth and Income Database and Gabriel Zucman)

The rich are entrenching their wealth.

The wealthy are growing their wealth by more than their income as they pull even further away from the bottom 90 percent. Since 1979, the real average wealth of the top one percent of families has grown 245 percent -- from 4 million dollars, on average, to almost 14 million dollars (in 2010 dollars) per family. Over the same period, the income growth of the top one percent of families, although impressive, has not been as spectacular, increasing by 178 percent.

The real average wealth of the bottom 90 percent, by contrast, fell dramatically after the Great Recession, plummeting from the 118 percent growth mark reached in 2006 to a 40 percent increase in 2012. The real average wealth of the bottom 90 percent of families, which was $60,000 (2010 dollars) in 1979, rose to a peak of $130,000 in 2006, before falling to almost $84,000 in 2012. Over the same 1979 to 2012 period, the bottom 90 percent of families also saw their real average incomes decline by 9 percent.

Change in Real Average Wealth and Income of the Top 1% Since 1979

(Source: The World Wealth and Income Database and Gabriel Zucman)(Source: The World Wealth and Income Database and Gabriel Zucman)

Change in Real Average Wealth and Income of the Bottom 90 Percent Since 1979

(Source: The World Wealth and Income Database and Gabriel Zucman)(Source: The World Wealth and Income Database and Gabriel Zucman)

The dramatic increase in wealth inequality is also illustrated by the stunning growth in the ratio of wealth held by the top one percent to the bottom 90 percent of families. In 1979 the real average wealth held by the top one percent was 67 times larger than the bottom 90 percent. By 2012, this ratio had increased to 165 times, while the disparity in real average income between the top one percent and the bottom 90 percent expanded from 14-to-1 to 42-to-1.

Wealth and Income Ratios of the Top 1% to the Bottom 90 Percent, 1979-2012

(Source: The World Wealth and Income Database and Gabriel Zucman)(Source: The World Wealth and Income Database and Gabriel Zucman)

Although the reduction in poverty and the increase in incomes should be welcomed, it should not distract from the tremendous wealth and income inequality that still exists and continues to deepen. As Bill Moyers points out: "an ugly truth about America: inequality matters." Quoting Louis Brandeis, he writes: "we may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."

News Fri, 23 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400