Truthout Stories Mon, 29 Aug 2016 12:16:16 -0400 en-gb Glenn Greenwald on Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's Impeachment

Embattled Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is slated to testify today at her impeachment trial -- a trial that many are calling a coup by her right-wing political rivals. Rousseff has denounced the proceedings and called for early elections to unite the country. Rousseff's impeachment stems from accusations she tampered with government accounts to hide a budget deficit. She was suspended earlier this year and has maintained her innocence, accusing her political opponents of spearheading the proceedings to shield themselves from prosecution and undo years of progressive policies. The Brazilian group Transparency Brazil says 60 percent of Brazilian lawmakers are currently under criminal investigation or have already been convicted of crimes ranging from corruption to election fraud. Rousseff's opponents now need 54 votes, or two-thirds of the 81-seat Senate, to convict her of violating budget laws. Her impeachment would end 13 years of left-wing Workers' Party rule in Brazil and bring to power interim President Michel Temer for the remaining two years of Rousseff's term. Temer is also deeply unpopular and currently under investigation himself, accused of receiving illegal campaign contributions linked to the state oil company Petrobras.


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

AMY GOODMAN: Embattled Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is slated to testify today at her impeachment trial -- a trial that many are calling a coup by her right-wing political rivals. Rousseff has denounced the proceedings and called for early elections to unite the country.

PRESIDENT DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] For that, we say that if the impeachment is confirmed, without proof of culpability, it will be a coup d'état. I give my full support of referendum, so people can decide to call for early elections and for political and electoral reform, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Dilma Rousseff's impeachment stems from accusations she tampered with government accounts to hide a budget deficit. She was suspended earlier this year, has maintained her innocence, accusing her political opponents of spearheading the proceedings to shield themselves from prosecution and undo years of progressive policies. The Brazilian group Transparency Brazil says 60 percent of Brazilian lawmakers are currently under criminal investigation or have already been convicted of crimes ranging from corruption to election fraud. On Saturday, Senator Paulo Paim of Rousseff's Workers' Party challenged the impeachment as an attack on the democratic right of the Brazilian people to choose their president.

SEN. PAULO PAIM: [translated] This impeachment process against the president is an attack on democracy, an attack on the president, an attack on the Brazilian people.

AMY GOODMAN: Dilma Rousseff's opponents now need 54 votes, or two-thirds of the 81-seat Senate, to convict her of violating budget laws. Her impeachment would end 13 years of the left-wing Workers' Party rule in Brazil and bring to power interim President Michel Temer for the remaining two years of Rousseff's term. Temer is also deeply unpopular and currently under investigation himself, accused of receiving illegal campaign contributions linked to the state oil company Petrobras.

Meanwhile, Rousseff's mentor, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, is also facing a rash of legal woes. Brazilian federal police are recommending corruption charges against him and his wife, Marisa Letícia. The police say the couple benefited from renovations to a seaside apartment made by a construction firm. The da Silvas deny owning the property, and their lawyer said Friday there's no evidence linking the couple to the apartment.

All this comes as Brazilians are battling an economic recession, a massive Zika outbreak and the aftermath of the 2016 Olympic Games. Both pro- and anti-impeachment protesters have gathered in Brazil's capital of Rio de Janeiro as the political future of Brazil lays in limbo.

For more, we go directly to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where we're joined by Glenn Greenwald, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. He recently helped launch The Intercept Brasil in Portuguese to cover Brazilian social and political news. Glenn Greenwald is also closely following the US presidential elections.

Glenn Greenwald, let's begin with what's happening in Brazil right now, and welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff.

GLENN GREENWALD: So, literally this very minute, at 9:00 a.m. local time, 8:00 Eastern, Dilma is arriving at the Senate, where she will confront her accusers, in essence, and give her final 30-minute speech as part of her impeachment trial. She doesn't need to do it; she chose to do it. And it's really quite a remarkable contrast with her former vice president, now the interim president, who's about to become the country's unelected president, Michel Temer. During the Olympics, Mr. Temer broke protocol by demanding that his name not be announced at the opening ceremony, because he was scared of being booed by the crowd. That's how unpopular and hated he is. And yet, when the crowd actually saw him, even without his being announced, they did boo him, quite viciously. And then he hid during the closing ceremony by skipping that. And while he's hiding, Dilma, who, of course, has a history as a fighter against this country's former military dictatorship, who went to prison over that, who endured years of torture while imprisoned as a political prisoner, chooses to go and confront her accusers face to face and will give what, by all accounts, will likely be a very strong and aggressive and defiant speech consistent with her character and her political persona.

And it's really quite remarkable, for so many reasons, including the fact that, as you said, the majority of the Senate, just as was true of the majority in the House that impeached her, the majority of the Senate sitting in judgment of her are people who themselves are extremely corrupt, if not outright criminals. They are either people who are convicted of crimes or who are under multiple investigations, including the president of the Senate, who in 2007 had to leave his position over a serious scandal involving lobbyist money to pay off his mistress, is now under multiple investigations, just like the president of the House that impeached her was found with millions of dollars in Swiss bank accounts hidden away. So you have a band of criminals removing this woman who became twice the elected president of her country, in a country that had never previously elected a woman, only 19, 20 months ago with 54 million votes. It's really extraordinary to watch it unfold, given what a young and vibrant democracy Brazil is and how this group of people in Brasília are literally trifling with the fundamentals of democracies before our eyes.

AMY GOODMAN: Let's turn to suspended President Dilma Rousseff in her own words this past May.

PRESIDENT DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] It isn't an impeachment; it's a coup. I did not commit high crimes and misdemeanors. There is no justification for an impeachment charge. I don't have bank accounts abroad. I never received bribes. I never condoned corruption. The trial against me is fragile, legally inconsistent, unjust, unleashed against an honest and innocent person. The greatest brutality that can be committed against any person is to punish them for a crime they did not commit. No injustice is more devastating than condemning an innocent. What is at stake is respect for the ballot box, the sovereign desires of the Brazilian people and the Constitution. What is at stake are the achievements of the last 13 years.

AMY GOODMAN: That is Dilma Rousseff speaking in May. She has been ousted, and she's being impeached today, where she is testifying on her own behalf. Glenn, explain exactly what she is accused of and then what this -- what the whole process will be, how long it will take and what this means for the country.

GLENN GREENWALD: So, the formal charge against her that they're using to justify impeachment in Portuguese is called pedaladas, which really means pedaling. It refers to a budgetary maneuver where the government borrows money from a state bank and then delays repayment in order to make it appear that the government owes less money. So she's essentially accused of using budgetary tricks to make the state of the government budget look better in order to win re-election -- something that when you talk to Europeans or Americans, they react with befuddlement that something like that could justify the removal of a democratically elected president, given that that's extremely common for political leaders around the world to do, and, in fact, prior Brazilian presidents have used this same -- this same method. And, in fact, when the House actually impeached her, as a lot of people watched around the world, one after the other stood up to justify their impeachment vote, and virtually none of them even referenced fleetingly this charge against her regarding these budgetary maneuvers, because it's so plainly not the reason she's being removed. That is the pretext for the reason that she's being removed.

The reason she's being removed is because she is an unpopular president. The economy of Brazil is weak and is -- a lot of people are suffering because of it. And as you indicated earlier in the opening package, the party to which she belongs, the Workers' Party, has been in power for 13 years, and the reason they've been in power for 13 years is because they've won four consecutive national elections. And there is no way that the opposition, which is composed of oligarchs and business interests and media barons and conservatives and uber-nationalists -- this opposition faction has concluded that they are incapable of defeating this party in the ballot box, meaning within the democratic process, and so they are opportunistically using her unpopularity and the serious mistakes she's made to remove her undemocratically.

And I think the most important thing to realize about this process, Brazilian media elites, who are almost uniformly behind impeachment, and have been from the beginning, constantly say, "Oh, look, in the United States you have impeachment; in Europe there's impeachment. This is a constitutional means of removing a president." But the big difference is that in the United States, if you impeach the president, if you had impeached Bill Clinton in 1997 or 1998, Al Gore would have become president, the Democratic Party would have continued to remain in power, and the agenda and ideology that the American people ratified would have been the same. In Brazil, it's exactly the opposite. The vice president, who has now become the interim president, who's about to become the president, is not part of the Workers' Party. He's part of the centrist party and has aligned himself with this right-wing party, the PSDB, that has continuously lost at the ballot box. Their candidates have been rejected. And yet, as a result of this impeachment process, the very party and the very ideology that the Brazilian people have over and over rejected, when asked to vote, when asked to consider their candidates, is now ascending to power. And their agenda of privatization and cutting social programs and keeping taxes low to benefit the oligarchs is now gradually being imposed, as is their foreign policy of moving away from BRICS and regional alliances, and becoming once again extremely subservient to the United States and to Wall Street and to international capital. And so, you can call it a coup, you can debate whether that word applies, but what it is is a complete reversal of democracy in a way that is ushering in an agenda that benefits a small number of people that the Brazilian citizens have never accepted and, in fact, have continuously rejected.

And the process now is that the Senate is nearing the end of its trial. It will likely vote within the next week to 10 days. There is almost no doubt that they have the votes in order to convict her. Already 52 senators have said they intend to vote yes, and only 54 are needed. And so, once this conviction happens, Dilma will be permanently removed from office, and the interim president, Michel Temer, will then serve out the remainder of her term through 2018, even though he is under far more investigation and implicated in far more corruption than she is, and even though the Supreme Court has said that you can't divide them when it comes to impeachment -- you have to essentially consider the impeachment of both, because they both participated in the same transactions. All of that law, all of those corruption issues are being completely ignored, for one reason and one reason only. And that is that the most powerful people in this country want this right-wing agenda. They know they can't make it happen through the ballot box, and so they're making it happen through brute force, which is exactly what's taking place.

AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald, earlier this year, you interviewed the former Brazilian president, Lula da Silva. Lula described the situation in Brazil as a coup.

LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] I'll tell you why it is a coup. It is a coup because while the Brazilian Constitution allows for impeachment, it's necessary for the person to have committed what we call high crimes and misdemeanors, and President Dilma did not commit a high crime nor misdemeanor. Therefore, what is happening is an attempt by some to take power by disrespecting the popular vote. That's why I think the impeachment is illegal. There is no high crime or misdemeanor. As a matter of fact, I believe that these people want to remove Dilma from office by disrespecting the law, carrying out, the way I see it, a political coup. That's what it is, a political coup.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that's former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Glenn Greenwald, explain what's happening to him right now, the most recent charges brought against him.

GLENN GREENWALD: So, Lula is involved in several very serious scandals, including allegations of criminality. The most recent case is one where the federal police, who investigated, have recommended that he be indicted on claims that he received many, many hundreds of thousands of dollars in improvements to a triplex apartment that the police say that he owned, and that this was intended to be a gift from a large construction giant here in Brazil that has been close to the Workers' Party, that has received a lot of contracts, lucrative contracts, from the Workers' Party, and that they claim is illegal, that he intended to hide these assets, that they were intended essentially to constitute bribes. He vehemently denies that he ever owned the apartment, that it's not -- that it's his. He has not been convicted. But those allegations should play themselves out. They should be investigated, and the process should be permitted to run its course.

I think that one really important thing to note is that a lot of people in Brazil, including people who have favored impeachment, including the nation's largest newspaper, Folha of São Paulo, have long said that you should remove Dilma, but you should also remove Temer and have new elections, which is the obvious thing to do. If the vice president and the president are both implicated in wrongdoing, if there's serious unpopularity that they both share, which they do, why let the people in Brasília, who are corrupt, choose the leader? Why not have new elections, as lots of people have called for? And the reason is, is that they're petrified that if they have new elections, the person who's going to win is Lula. He leads in all polls, when polls show -- when ask people who their preference is in new elections. They're also petrified that even if they wait until 2018, he'll run again. And so, there's a lot of people who believe that these investigations are about rendering him incapable of running, by charging him with crimes, by convicting him of something, not trying to put him in jail, just making it so that he can't become president again, so they don't go through this whole process of removing Dilma only to end up with Lula again.

But, you know, look, he's somebody who is involved in lots of possible scandals. And he's subject to the law like anybody else, and these processes should be allowed to take their course. The problem is that there are lots of people in Brasília who are also implicated in very serious corruption allegations, who are currently being protected in all sorts of ways by virtue of the fact that they hold political office, including people extremely close to the interim president himself. And one of the things that you played in that clip of my interview with Lula was him talking about how this is a coup. And only two months ago, there were recordings released, secret recordings that were made by a police informant with one of the closest senators to the current president, Temer, who was originally one of his ministers, who had to resign after this tape was revealed, in which he said that the reason that Dilma was being impeached and the motive for doing this was to shut down the investigation against the officeholders in Brasília, and that the Supreme Court and the media and the military of Brazil were all on board, that he had spoken to all of those institutions, and they were all on board. So, when you look at that tape, which, to me, is the most significant evidence about what's taking place in Brazil, you have the leading institutions of Brazil, including the court and the military, secretly conspiring to remove the elected president as a means of protecting all of the other officeholders in Brasília from ongoing corruption investigations. And I think that really bolsters the claim that Lula made in that interview, regardless of whether he's also guilty of wrongdoing.

News Mon, 29 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Donald Trump in the Bayou

(Photo: Jc. Winkler)(Photo: Jc. Winkler)

This essay has been adapted from Arlie Hochschild's new book, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right (The New Press), which will be published on September 6.

Sometimes you have to go a long, long way to discover truths that are distinctly close to home. Over the last five years, I've done just that -- left my home in iconically liberal Berkeley, California, and traveled to the bayous of Tea Party Louisiana to find another America that, as Donald Trump's presidential bid has made all too clear, couldn't be closer to home for us all. From those travels, let me offer a kind of real-life parable about a man I came to admire who sums up many of the contradictions of our distinctly Trumpian world.

So come along with me now, as I turn right on Gumbo Street, left on Jambalaya, pass Sauce Piquant Lane, and scattering a cluster of feral cats, park on Crawfish Street, opposite a yellow wooden home by the edge of waters issuing into Bayou Corne, Louisiana. The street is deserted, lawns are high, and branches of Satsuma and grapefruit trees hang low with unpicked fruit. Walking toward me along his driveway is Mike Schaff, a tall, powerfully built, balding man in an orange-and-red striped T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers. He's wearing tan-rimmed glasses and giving a friendly wave.

"Sorry about the grass," he says as we head inside. "I haven't kept things up." On the dining room table, he has set out coffee, cream, sugar, and a jar of homegrown peaches for me to take when I leave. Around the edges of the living and dining rooms are half-filled cardboard packing boxes. The living room carpet is rolled into a corner, revealing a thin, jagged crack across the floor. Mike opens the door of the kitchen to go into his garage. "My gas monitor is here," he explains. "The company drilled a hole in my garage to see if I had gas under it, and I do; twenty percent higher than normal. I get up nights to check it." As we sit down to coffee at the small dining room table, Mike says, "It'll be seven months this Monday and the last five have been the longest in my life."

After the disaster struck in August 2012, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal issued an emergency evacuation order to all 350 residents of Bayou Corne -- a community of homes facing a canal that flows into an exquisite bayou (a river through wetlands) with white egrets, ibis, and spoonbills soaring across the water. When I visited in March 2013, Mike was still living in his ruined home.

"I was just starting life with my new wife, but with the methane gas emissions all around us now, it's not safe. So my wife has moved back to Alexandria, a hundred and eighteen miles north, and commutes to her job from there. I see her on weekends. The grandkids don't come either, because what if someone lit a match? The house could blow up. I'm still here to guard the place against a break-in and to keep the other stayers company," he says, adding after a long pause, "Actually, I don't want to leave."

I had come to visit Mike Schaff because he seemed to embody an increasingly visible paradox that had brought me to this heartland of the American right. What would happen, I wondered, if a man who saw "big government" as the main enemy of local community, who felt a visceral dislike of government regulations and celebrated the free market, was suddenly faced with the ruin of his community at the hands of a private company? What if, beyond any doubt, that loss could have been prevented by government regulation?

Because in August 2012, exactly that catastrophe did indeed occur to Mike and his neighbors.

Like many of his conservative white Cajun Catholic neighbors, Mike was a strong Republican and an enthusiastic supporter of the Tea Party. He wanted to strip the federal government to the bone. In his ideal world, the Departments of Interior, Education, Health and Human Services, Social Security, and much of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would be gone; as for federal money to the states, much of that, too. The federal government provides 44% of Louisiana's state budget -- $2,400 per person per year -- partly for hurricane relief, which Mike welcomes, but partly for Medicaid and, as he explained, "Most recipients could work if they wanted to and honestly, they'd be better off."

Louisiana is a classic red state. In 2016, it's ranked the poorest in the nation and the worst as well in education, health, and the overall welfare of its people. It also has the second highest male incidence of cancer and is one of the country's most polluted states. But voters like Mike have twice elected Governor Bobby Jindal who, during his eight years in office, steadfastly refused Medicaid expansion, cut funding for higher education by 44%, and laid off staff in environmental protection. Since 1976, Louisiana has voted Republican in seven out of ten presidential elections and, according to a May 2016 poll, its residents favor Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton by 52% to 36%.

Mike was an intelligent, college-educated man with a sense of stewardship over the land and the waters he loved. Given the ominous crack in his floor and the gas monitor in his garage, could he, I wondered, finally welcome government as a source of help? And had the disaster he faced altered his views of the presidential candidates?

"Alka Seltzer" in the Rain Puddles

The first sign that something was wrong had been a tiny cluster of bubbles on the surface of Bayou Corne's waters, and then another. Had a gas pipe traversing the bottom of the bayou sprung a leak? A man from the local gas company came out to check and declared the pipes fine. At the time, Mike recalls, "We smelled oil, strong."

Soon after, he and his neighbors were startled when the earth began to shake. "I was walking in the house when I felt like I was either having a stroke or drunk, ten seconds," Mike recalls. "My balance went all to hell."

It was then that he noticed that crack in his living room floor and heard a sound like a thunderclap. A single mother of two living in a mobile home a mile from Bayou Corne thought her washing machine was on, and then remembered it had been broken for months. Lawns started to sag and tilt. Not far from Mike's home, the earth under the bayou started to tear open, and, as if someone had pulled the plug in a bathtub, the bayou began sucking down brush, water, and pine.

Majestic century-old cypress trees crashed in slow motion and disappeared into the gaping mouth of the sinkhole then forming. Two clean-up workers had cast out booms not far from the sinkhole to contain an area of water shiny with oil. To steady their boat, they tied it to a nearby tree, which then slid into the sinkhole, as did their boat, though both men were rescued.

In the following weeks, pristine swamp forest was replaced by oily sludge as the earth began to leak natural gas. "During a rain, the puddles would shine and bubble, like you'd dropped Alka Seltzer tablets in them," Mike said. Gradually, gassy sludge infiltrated the aquifer, threatening the local drinking water.

What had caused the sinkhole? The culprit was Texas Brine, a lightly regulated, Houston-based drilling company. It had drilled a hole 5,600 feet beneath the floor of Bayou Corne to mine intensely concentrated salt, which it sold to companies making chlorine. The drill accidently punctured one wall of an underlying geological formation called the Napoleon Salt Dome, three miles wide and a mile deep, sheathed in a layer of oil and natural gas. (One hundred twenty-six such domes lie under Louisiana's land and water and are often mined for brine, with toxic chemicals sometimes being stored in the resulting cavities.) When the drill accidentally pierced the side of a cavern inside the dome, the wall crumpled under the pressure of surrounding shale, sucking down everything above it.

The sinkhole grew. First, it was the size of one house lot, then five house lots, then the length of Crawfish Street. By 2016, it covered more than 37 acres. The pavement of the main road into and out of Bayou Corne began to sink, too. Levees along the bayou, originally built to contain rising waters in times of flood, also began to go down, threatening to extend the oily sludge over nearby grassland and forest. Meanwhile, shell-shocked evacuees doubled up with family members in spare rooms, campers, and motels, turning to each other for news of the expanding sinkhole.

Environmental Protection: Missing in Action

Mike backs his boat into the canal. I climb in. It sputters to life and putts out into the wider bayou. "Around here you pull up bass, catfish, white perch, crawfish, and sac-a-lait," he says, "at least we used to."

Mike was a water baby. He loved to fish and could describe the habits and shapes of a dozen kinds of local fish. He headed for the water as often as he could, although he got little time off. So "environment" wasn't simply a word to him; it was his passion, his comfort, his way of life.

Mike has long disliked the idea of a strong federal government because "people come to depend on it instead of on each other." He grew up in a close-knit community not far from Bayou Corne on the Armelise sugarcane plantation, the fifth of seven children of a plumber and a homemaker. As a boy, he tells me, "I went barefoot all summer, and used to shoot crows with my rifle, use the guts for fish bait." As an adult, he worked as an estimator, measuring and pricing materials used in constructing the gigantic platforms that house oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. As a child of the old South who grew to manhood in an era of big oil, he was for state's rights and wanted even state government kept to a minimum.

This, however, was the last situation he'd ever imagined being in. "We're a close community here. We leave our doors unlocked. We help each other rebuild levees during floods. You got the two-beer levee job, or the four-beer one." He laughs. "We love it here."

For a man who could lose himself for hours in his garage welding together parts of a two-seater Zenith 701 airplane from a kit, and who described himself as "to myself," he welcomed the easy sociability of Bayou Corne. It wasn't the simple absence of government Mike wanted; it was the feeling of being inside a warm, cooperative group. That's what he thought government replaced: community. And why pay heavy taxes to help the government rob you of what you most prize?

At a distance, we see a sign nailed to the gray trunk of a Tupelo tree: "DANGER, KEEP OUT, HIGHLY FLAMMABLE GAS." Around it in the water are concentric circles of bubbles, scuttling outward like small bugs. "Methane," says Mike, matter-of-factly.

By mid-2013, officials had declared Bayou Corne a "sacrifice zone" and most of the 350 residents had fled. A small group of "stayers" like Mike were now criticized by the "leavers" who feared their presence suggested to Texas Brine that "it wasn't so bad," and so might lower the price the refugees could set for their suffering.

Everyone knew that the company's drill had caused the sinkhole, but that didn't settle the question of blame. To begin with, Texas Brine blamed Mother Nature, claiming (falsely) that earthquakes were natural in the area. Then it blamed its insurers and the company from which it rented space in the dome. 

Both those who stayed and those who left were mostly angry at "the government." For one thing, Governor Bobby Jindal had waited seven months before visiting the victims. And why was his first visit so delayed, he was asked, and why was it announced so abruptly on the morning of a mid-week day when most sinkhole refugees were at work?

Like so many of his neighbors, Mike Schaff had twice voted for Bobby Jindal and, as someone who had worked in oil all his life, approved the governor's $1.6 billion tax incentive program to lure more of that industry to the state. For three years, it was impossible to tell whether the oil companies had paid a penny to Louisiana since, under Jindal, the job of auditing their payments had been handed over to the Office of Mineral Resources, which has close ties to the industry and between 2010 and 2013 performed no audits at all.

In Louisiana, on-the-books environmental regulations were laxly enforced by conservative state legislators many of whom were oilmen or, like Governor Jindal, took donations from Big Energy. An eye-opening 2003 report from the Inspector General of the EPA ranked Louisiana last in its region when it came to implementing federal environmental mandates. Louisiana's database on hazardous waste facilities was error-ridden. The state's Department of Environmental Quality (a title missing the word "protection") did not know if many of the companies it was supposed to monitor were "in compliance." Its agents had failed to inspect many plants and even when it did find companies not in compliance with state regulations, it neglected to levy or collect penalties.

The Inspector General was "unable to fully assure the public that Louisiana was operating programs in a way that effectively protects human health and the environment." According to the state's own website, 89,787 permits to deposit waste or do other things that affected the environment were requested between January 1967 and July 2015. Of these, only 60 -- or .07% -- were denied.

The Redder the State, the More the Toxic Waste

Louisiana was, it turned out, in good company. A 2012 study by sociologist Arthur O'Connor showed that residents of red states suffer higher rates of industrial pollution than those of blue states. Voters in the 22 states that went Republican in the five presidential elections between 1992 and 2008 live in more polluted environments. And what was true for Red States generally and Louisiana in particular was true for Mike himself. Looking into exposure to toxic waste, my research assistant Rebecca Elliot and I discovered that people who believe Americans "worry too much about the environment," and that the US already "does enough" to protect that environment were likely to be living in zip codes with high rates of pollution. As a Tea Party member enmeshed in the Bayou Corne sinkhole disaster, Mike was just an exaggerated version of a haunting national story.

Mike wanted to live in a nearly total free-market society. In a way Louisiana already was exactly that. Government was barely present at all. But how, I wondered, did Mike reconcile his deep love of, and desire to protect, Bayou Corne with his strong dislike of government regulation? As it happened, he did what most of us tend to do when we face a powerful conflict. He jerrybuilt a new world out of desperate beliefs, becoming what he termed a "Tea Party conservationist."

Seated at his dining room table surrounded by cardboard boxes filled with his belongings, he composed letter after letter of complaint to members of the Louisiana legislature, demanding that they force companies like Texas Brine to pay victims in a timely way, that they not permit storage of hazardous waste in precarious waterways, or again permit drilling in Lake Peigneur, which had suffered a devastating drilling accident in 1980. By August of 2015, he had written 50 of them to state and federal officials. "This is the closest I've come to being a tree-hugger," he said. "Ninety-nine percent of the environmentalists I meet are liberal. But I've had to do something. This bayou will never be the same."

As we putted around the bayou, I asked, "What has the federal government done for you that you feel grateful for?"

He paused.

"Hurricane relief," he finally responded.

He paused again. "The I-10...," he added, referring to a federally funded freeway.

Another long pause. "Okay, unemployment insurance." (He had once briefly been on it.)

I ask about the Food and Drug Administration inspectors who check the safety of our food.

"Yeah, that too."

The military in which he'd enlisted?

"Yeah, okay." 

"Do you know anyone who receives federal government benefits?"

"Oh sure," he answers. "And I don't blame them. Most people I know use available government programs, since they paid for part of them. If the programs are there, why not use them?"

And then the conversation continued about how we don't need government for this, for that, or for the other thing.

Mike and his wife had recently moved from their ruined home near the sinkhole into a large fixer-upper on a canal flowing into Lake Verret, some 15 miles south of Bayou Corne. At nights, he can hear the two-toned calls of tree frogs and toads. He had jacked up the living room floor, redone the bedroom molding, put in a new deck, and set up his airplane-building kit in the garage. A recent tornado had ripped the American flag from a pole on that garage, although it hadn't harmed the Confederate flag hanging from the porch of his neighbor. 

His new home lies near the entrance to the spillway of the magnificent Atchafalaya Basin, an 800,000-acre National Wildlife Refuge -- the largest bottomland hardwood swamp in the country -- overseen, in part, by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. On my last visit, he took me in his flatboat to fish for perch, pointing out a bald eagle on the bare branch of a tall cypress. "I've gone from the frying pan to the fire," he explained. "They are disposing of millions of gallons of fracking waste -- the industry calls it 'produced water' -- right here in the Basin. It can contain methanol, chloride, sulphates, and radium. And they're importing it from Pennsylvania and other fracking sites to go into an injection well near here. Salt can corrode the casing of those wells, and it's not far from our aquifer."

A Sinkhole of Pride

Mike loves the waters of Louisiana more than anything in the world. A vote for Hillary Clinton would protect the Clean Water Act, secure the EPA, and ensure that government would continue to act as a counterbalance to the Texas Brines of the nation. But there was one thing more important to Mike than clean water: pride in his people.

He had struggled hard to climb out of the world of a poor plumber's fifth son, to make it to a salary of $70,000 a year with a company that built oil rigs, to a third and at-last-right wife, and to a home he loved that was now wrecked. At the entrance gate to the middle class, he felt he'd been slapped in the face. For progressive movements from the 1960s on -- in support of blacks, women, sexual minorities, immigrants, refugees -- the federal government was, he believed, a giant ticket-dispensing machine in an era in which the economy was visiting on middle-class and blue-collar white men the sorts of punishment once more commonly reserved for blacks. Democrats were, he was convinced, continuing to make the government into an instrument of his own marginalization -- and media liberals were now ridiculing people like him as ignorant, backward rednecks. Culturally, demographically, economically, and now environmentally, he felt ever more like a stranger in his own land.

It mattered little to him that Donald Trump would not reduce the big government he so fervently wanted cut, or that The Donald was soft on the pro-life, pro-marriage positions he valued, or that he hadn't uttered a peep about the national debt. None of it mattered because Trump, he felt, would switch off that marginalization machine and restore the honor of his kind of people, of himself. Mike knew that liberals favored care for the environment far more than Republicans, Tea Partiers, or Donald Trump. Yet, despite his lost home in a despoiled land, like others of his older white neighbors back at the Bayou and here in the Basin, Mike was foursquare for Trump; that's how deeply his pride was injured and a measure of just how much that injury galled him.

What would Trump do to prevent another calamity like Bayou Corne with its methane-drenched mud, its lost forest, its dead fish? He has been vague on many of the policies he might pursue as president, but on one thing he was clear: he would abolish the Environmental Protection Agency.

Opinion Mon, 29 Aug 2016 11:54:32 -0400
Is Donald Trump a Sign That Fascism Is on the Rise in the US?

Wednesday afternoon Donald Trump held a campaign rally at the Tampa Fairgrounds, his forth in Tampa since the start of his campaign. Although Donald Trump's three previous rallies in Tampa have been peaceful -- at least one was marked by a shouting match between his supporters and his opponents. At other Trump rallies across the country there have been several incidents of violence. Trump himself has suggested several times that violence is a way to deal with protestors or others with whom he and his supporters disagree. On Radioactivity Wednesday, our guest Henry A. Giroux,  McMaster University Professor for Scholarship in the Public Interest, says that Trump's call to respond to dissent with violence is encouraging an atmosphere of "Neo-facism."

Giroux  is  The Paulo Freire Distinguished Scholar in Critical Pedagogy. He also is a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Ryerson University. His most recent books include The Violence of Organized Forgetting, Dangerous Thinking in the Age of the New Authoritarianism, and  coauthored with Brad Evans, Disposable Futures: The Seduction of Violence in the Age of Spectacle. Giroux is also a member of Truthout's Board of Directors. He has a new book out called is America at War with Itself?

News Mon, 29 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Don't Underestimate How Much Steve Bannon Can Damage Hillary Clinton

Trump presidential campaign Cep, Steve Bannon. (Photo: Karl Heubaum)Trump presidential campaign CEO, Steve Bannon. (Photo: Karl Heubaum)Working in the film business, I briefly met the Donald Trump Republican presidential campaign's new CEO, Steve Bannon, during the 1990s when he was a Hollywood investment banker. As one producer whom Bannon helped raise capital for told me, even back then he was an angry, racist, egregiously aggressive, and inappropriately temperamental character.

Bannon was also whip smart with a sophisticated understanding of how the media works.

Inside the liberal bubble, Democrats may be taking Bannon's appointment to help run Trump's campaign as a something of a joke. But, at their peril, they underestimate Bannon's ability to harm Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee.

Bannon was one of the early Harvard MBA-type financial pirates who realized that Wall Street money could be tapped to finance film and television, often with disastrous results for the investors but with great results for the Hollywood studios and the financial engineers like Bannon who brokered the deals.

In the late '80s-early '90s, Wall Street discovered that intellectual property like movies and television and the companies that owned them could be bought, sold and traded just like hard assets such as real estate and commodities. Bannon engineered some of those transactions, first as a specialist at Goldman Sachs, then at his own boutique investment bank Bannon & Co., and briefly in partnership with a volatile manager Jeff Kwatinetz (whose first claim to fame was discovering the heavy metal band Korn and managing The Backstreet Boys).

Bannon was tough and merciless. It was Bannon who personally stuck the shiv in the heart of former superagent and Disney President Michael Ovitz, effectively ending the career of the man who had been known as the most powerful person in Hollywood.

After being fired by Disney, Ovitz set out to create a powerful new entertainment company called the American Management Group, with clients like Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz, in which Ovitz invested over $100 million of his own money. (I remember visiting AMG's new offices, the most expensive and lavish in Beverly Hills, with millions of dollars in art by the likes of Mark Rothko and Jasper Johns adorning the walls.) But AMG was an abject failure, bleeding millions of dollars a month, while Ovitz desperately sought a buyer. Finally, the only available buyer was Kwatinetz and Bannon.

According to Vanity Fair, Bannon went alone to see Ovitz and offered him $5 million, none in cash. After a moment of silence, Ovitz told Bannon, "If I didn't know you personally, I'd throw you out of the room." But out of options, Ovitz ended up selling to Kwatinetz and Bannon's company, effectively ending Ovitz's legendary Hollywood career. (Remember that, Hillary.)

Bannon's smartest (or luckiest) deal was brokering the sale of Rob Reiner's company, Castle Rock Entertainment, to Ted Turner. In lieu of part of its brokerage fee, Bannon & Co. agreed to take a piece of the future syndication revenues from five TV shows, one of which turned out to be "Seinfeld." The rest is history.

The Seinfeld royalties freed Bannon (with a reported net worth of $41 million) from needing to work for a living, allowing him to try his hand at producing (including the Sean Penn-directed "Indian Runner" and a number of right-wing documentaries) and then to throw himself into extremist and racist alt-right politics.

He invested $1 million in a laudatory film about Sarah Palin and became a close confidante. He then attached himself to Andrew Breitbart and took over Breitbart News after Andrew Breitbart's sudden death at 43, moving the already far-right website closer to the openly white nationalist alt-right. There he became a major advocate for Trump before being tapped to help run his campaign.

But Bannon's real danger doesn't come so much from his work with Breitbart News, which plays mostly to the angry, racist white base. It comes more from the Bannon-funded Government Accountability Institute, a research institute staffed with some very smart and talented investigative journalists, data scientists and lawyers.

GAI's staff does intensive and deep investigative research digging up hard-to-find, but well-documented dirt on major politicians and then feeding it to the mainstream media to disseminate to the general public.

Among other things, its staff has developed protocols to access the so-called "deep web," which consists of a lot of old or useless information and information in foreign languages which don't show up in traditional web searches, but often contains otherwise undiscoverable and sometimes scandalous information which Bannon then feeds to the mainstream media.

For example, Bannon is responsible for uncovering former liberal New York congressman Anthony Weiner (husband of Hillary Clinton's personal aide Huma Abedin) tweeting photos of his crotch to various women. Bannon hired trackers to follow Weiner's Twitter account 24 hours a day until they eventually uncovered the infamous crotch shots. They released them to the mass media, effectively ending Weiner's political career. (Remember that, Hillary.)

Bannon's mantra for GAI is "Facts get shares, opinions get shrugs." GAI's strategy is to feed damaging, fact-based stories that will get headlines in the mainstream media and change mass perceptions. According to Bloomberg, "GAI has collaborated with such mainstream media outlets as Newsweek, ABC News, and CBS's "60 Minutes" on stories ranging from insider trading in Congress to credit card fraud among presidential campaigns. It's essentially a mining operation for political scoops."

One of Bannon's key insights is that economic imperatives have caused mainstream media outlets to drastically cut back budgets for investigative reporting. "The modern economics of the newsroom don't support big investigative reporting staffs," says Bannon. "You wouldn't get a Watergate, a Pentagon Papers today, because nobody can afford to let a reporter spend seven months on a story. We can. We're working as a support function."

So GAI's strategy is to spend weeks and months doing the fact-based research that investigative reporters in the mainstream media no longer have the resources to do, creating a compelling story line, and then feeding the story to investigative reporters who, whatever their personal political views, are anxious in their professional capacity to jump on. As a key GAI staffer says, "We're not going public until we have something so tantalizing that any editor at a serious publication would be an idiot to pass it up and give a competitor a scoop."

It's likely no accident that in the week since Bannon officially joined the Trump campaign, media attention has shifted from focusing primarily on Trump's gaffes to potential corrupting contributions to the Clinton Foundation in exchange for access to Secretary of State Clinton.

GAI's biggest, and most effective project has been to uncover the nexus between Bill and Hillary's paid speeches, contributions to the Clinton Foundation by corrupt oligarchs and billionaires, and access to the State Department by donors. The research culminated in the book "Clinton Cash" by Peter Schweitzer, president of GAI, and published by mainstream publisher Harpers.

The back cover of "Clinton Cash" summarizes its premise:

"The Clintons typically blur the lines between politics, philanthropy, and business. Consider the following: Bill flies into a Third World country where he spends time in the company of a businessman. A deal is struck. Soon after, enormous contributions are made to the Clinton Foundation, while Bill is commissioned to deliver a series of highly paid speeches. Some of these deals require approval or review by the US government and fall within the purview of a powerful senator and secretary of state. Often the people involved are characters of the kind that an American ex-president (or the spouse of a sitting senator, secretary of state, or presidential candidate) should have nothing to do with."

Bannon and Schweitzer have so far failed to prove any explicit quid pro quo. But they're highly successful at making the nexus between the Clinton Foundation, Bill and Hillary Clinton's paid speeches, and special access for donors feel dirty and unseemly.

Before and after its publication, "Clinton Cash" got considerable play in the mainstream media. The New York Times ran a front-page story with the headline, "Cash Flowed to Clinton Foundation Amid Russian Uranium Deal," drawing on research from "Clinton Cash."

In an op-ed piece in The Washington Post, Larry Lessig, Harvard Law professor and progressive crusader against money in politics concluded, "On any fair reading, the pattern that Schweitzer has charged is corruption." And it seems that Bannon and Schweitzer have more damaging research on the Clintons that they will drip out through the campaign. Schweitzer has warned that more emails are coming showing Clinton's State Department doing favors for foreign oligarchs.

Bannon's strategy may not be enough to win the White House for Trump. But it will almost certainly do further damage to Clinton. Voters already think Clinton is less trustworthy than Trump. According to a recent Quinnipiac poll, 53 percent of likely voters say Trump is not honest (with 42 percent saying he is honest). But a huge 66 percent of voters say Clinton is not honest, compared to 29 percent who say she is.

Bannon's work for Trump could drive Clinton's honesty score even lower. Clinton's core strategy has been to disqualify Trump as a potential president and commander-in-chief among a majority of voters. Bannon's strategy is to do the same for Clinton.

Faced with a choice between two presidential candidates whom a large swath of voters find untrustworthy and distasteful, Trump's outrageousness may still enable Clinton to grind out a victory from a sullen electorate. But it's going to get even uglier. And even if Clinton wins, popular distrust could harm her ability to govern.

In that context, it would be a huge mistake for Democrats and the Clinton campaign to underestimate Steve Bannon.

Opinion Mon, 29 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Investing in the Care Economy: Domestic Workers in California Hope for Overtime Pay

 Aleks Zeygerman comforts his mother Nelli Leventon during a visit in New York, June 3, 2013. (Photo: Michael Nagle / The New York Times) Aleks Zeygerman comforts his mother Nelli Leventon during a visit in New York, June 3, 2013. (Photo: Michael Nagle / The New York Times)

California's SB 1015 attempts to permanently protect domestic workers who have historically been excluded from overtime pay. But where does that leave disabled people who need home care but often are themselves low-income? San Francisco's new Support at Home initiative offers one solution.

 Aleks Zeygerman comforts his mother Nelli Leventon during a visit in New York, June 3, 2013. (Photo: Michael Nagle / The New York Times) Aleks Zeygerman comforts his mother Nelli Leventon during a visit in New York, June 3, 2013. (Photo: Michael Nagle / The New York Times)

Nikki Brown-Booker, 49, was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis as a child. Today, she uses a wheelchair and she employs domestic workers who help her get dressed, prepare her meals, clean her home and drive her to her work as a Bay Area nonprofit executive.

Brown-Booker is also a vocal supporter of California Senate Bill 1015, a bill that would make permanent a 2013 California law that requires her to pay domestic workers overtime -- a protection from which home care workers have historically been excluded.

"I support this legislation, and we need to move it forward," Brown-Booker told Truthout.

And the legislation is indeed moving forward: On August 18, SB 1015 passed the California state assembly. The bill, sponsored by State Sen. Connie Leyva (D-Chino), now heads to the desk of California's democratic governor, Jerry Brown. The law provides even more protections than new federal regulations that also ensure domestic workers are eligible to earn overtime.

Yet, some organizations who advocate for people with disabilities are opposing SB 1015 -- and their opposition has influenced Governor Brown's decision to veto past attempts in California to secure domestic workers' overtime protections. These disability rights advocates, including Disability Rights California, argue that requiring overtime pay will cause challenges for people with disabilities -- many of whom, like domestic workers, are historically low-income or vulnerable to poverty and may not be able to afford to pay overtime. Indeed, people who identify as having disabilities are twice as likely to be poor as those who do not.

At its core, this opposition to overtime protections for domestic workers reveals the need for greater public investment in care work generally, so that care workers are paid well and those who need care are not economically challenged by hiring domestic workers. Indeed, there is overlap between these communities, as some domestic workers are living with disabilities and are elderly, too. Greater public investment can help all of these communities.

Changes in state law (like the recent victory of SB 1015) are critical to establish baseline protections for domestic workers who have been historically excluded from laws like the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The sector of domestic work is still rife with exploitation, abuse and wage theft. Case in point as to why this legislation is necessary is the story of Etelvina Lopez, 34, who cleans houses in Oakland, California. She often worked 7:30 am to 5 pm, five days per week, and she was paid $150 per week by the woman who employed her. Lopez is raising two daughters on her own.

"I was robbed by my employers," Lopez told Truthout. "And I do not want to continue as a fooled worker." Lopez is active in Mujeres Unidas y Activas (MUA), an Oakland-based worker center that focuses on know-your-rights trainings to empower workers like Lopez. MUA also advocates for legislation like SB 1015.

The domestic work sector has been largely unregulated, which has created room for exploitation like that experienced by Lopez. The vast majority of domestic workers are women. Many are women of color who are raising children or providing care for members of their families, in addition to their paid work.

While advocates wait to see if Gov. Brown will sign this state legislation, a small local San Francisco program is beginning to model what greater public investment in the care economy can look like. Support at Home is a new San Francisco initiative that will provide subsidies for people who need care and are lower-income yet still earn too much to qualify for existing state programs. A requirement of any person who receives these subsidies is that they must pay a living wage (approximately $15 per hour), as well as receive educational materials about being a fair employer.

The need for such public investment is clear. A Support at Home fact sheet, developed by Senior and Disability Action, states that in San Francisco, "An estimated 14,419 seniors (called "upper poor") do not qualify for [existing state programs] but do not have enough income to afford private home care.... Many adults with disabilities cannot accept good jobs because they would lose [Medicaid benefits] and cannot afford privately-paid support."

The fact sheet also points out that private home care through an agency can cost $25,236 per year in San Francisco, and hiring an individual provider averages $11,784 per year. The average cost of living for a senior in San Francisco is $29,896. Adding the cost of home care to this average, the typical senior would need an annual of income of at least $41,680-$55,132 to afford home care, and more for those with greater needs. An estimated 1,400 middle-income seniors and people with disabilities have difficulty dressing or bathing and could potentially benefit from assistance.

Support at Home has received $1.65 million in funding from the City and County of San Francisco. This funding is expected to support care for up to 240 people. The program will launch in 2017.

"Support at Home will ensure people get support they need, and also make it sustainable for domestic workers. We're really interested in continuing to work on this and replicate it nationally," Lindsay Imai Hong, the Bay Area organizer of Hand in Hand, the Domestic Employers Association, told Truthout. Hand in Hand is a national organization of people who employ domestic workers and who also advocate for domestic workers' rights.

Jessica Lehman, executive director of Senior Disability Action, has been instrumental in launching Support at Home. "We know that people around California and the US are interested in looking to expand or replicate the program," Lehman told Truthout. "We need to continue to include more poor people in [larger] government-funded programs like In Home Supportive Services (IHSS), but this program is a creative way to provide a little bit of support to the many people who can afford to put some money into home care but need some extra help."

A wide range of workers' rights and disability rights groups in San Francisco are backing this initiative, including Jobs With Justice, La Colectiva, Caring Across Generations, Mujeres Unidas y Activas, the Independent Living Resource Center and the IHSS Public Authority.

Support at Home is an important step in the right direction. Despite the need for heightened public investment, the opposite has been occurring in recent decades. In their 2012 book Caring for America: Home Health Workers in the Shadow of the Welfare State, scholars Eileen Boris and Jennifer Klein, note that "Starting in the 1970s, government boosted a for-profit industry in home care services, opening new conflicts over public funding and the responsibility of the state.... Given public ambivalence over paying for social services for the poor and people of color, especially for labor that many believed should be freely given by wives, mothers and daughters, home care illuminates the continual renegotiation of the terms, funding and institutional structures of federal governance."

Boris and Klein note that beginning in the 1970s and 80s, "states turned more to outsourcing and the reclassification of attendants as independent providers. Over the years, the work became harder, but fiscal pressures squeezed the workforce."

"State funded programs allow people to remain at home with dignity, which cannot occur through the exploitation of those who provide care," Boris, who is Hull Professor of Feminist Studies at UC Santa Barbara, told Truthout. "Only through decent work can we obtain the kind of aid that those who require personal attendants and home care workers deserve. The real conflict of interest is between politicians who refuse to fund such programs and those who benefit from them, workers and consumers alike."

Support At Home is an important new dimension to the domestic workers' movement, which has successfully advocated for the enactment of state legislation. Since 2013, four more states have codified protections for domestic workers: Massachusetts in 2014, Connecticut and Oregon in 2015, and Illinois in 2016. Most critically, new federal regulations were approved in 2013 to finally include domestic workers within the overtime provisions of the FLSA.

Domestic workers themselves, particularly women of color, have been instrumental in advocating for SB 1015. For example, Myrla Baldonado, a former domestic worker who is now an organizer with the Pilipino Worker Center (PWC), has been organizing trips for domestic workers to advocate for the bill in Sacramento, California's capital. One trip in March included more than 70 workers, employers and allies who successfully reached over 25 legislative offices -- including every member of the Senate Labor Committee. Advocates featured the powerful testimonies of PWC caregivers and employers. Their advocacy earned the support of the key leaders of the Asian Pacific Islander (API), Black and Latino Caucuses, according to Baldonado.

"Our advocacy in Sacramento helps convey the powerful stories of the benefit of the overtime law to the workers [and] the families that employ them," Baldonado said.

Plus, new local programs like Support at Home reflect the potential for the movement for domestic workers' rights to foster cultural and social transformation in very concrete ways, beyond just legislation. Hand in Hand has also secured signatures from 150,000 employers of domestic workers in California for the Fair Care Pledge, a document that urges people who employ domestic workers to pay $15 per hour plus overtime, set clear expectations in the employment relationship, and provide paid time off.

As a recipient of care, Brown-Booker is optimistic about the future of the domestic workers' movement.

"Even though there's been opposition [to SB1015], there's been awareness built on both the part of the employer and employee -- there is more empathy for each other," Brown-Booker told Truthout. "It's important to remember that this movement is really all of us against a bigger system."

News Mon, 29 Aug 2016 10:29:04 -0400
Did President Obama Threaten National Security in Negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership?

President Barack Obama discusses the Trans-Pacific Partnership with diplomats at The White house in Washington, D.C, on November 13, 2015. As both presidential candidates campaign against it, the White House is negotiating with Republicans in Congress to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the largest regional trade agreement ever. From left: former Secretaries of State Colin Powell, James Baker, Obama and Madeleine Albright. (Zach Gibson / The New York Times)President Obama discusses the Trans-Pacific Partnership with diplomats at the White House in Washington, DC, on November 13, 2015. As both presidential candidates campaign against it, the White House is negotiating with Republicans in Congress to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the largest regional trade agreement ever. (Zach Gibson / The New York Times)

The latest line from proponents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) implies that President Obama threatened long-standing national security relationships in his negotiating of the TPP. These proponents are not pushing the economic merits of the TPP, but rather arguing that its rejection by Congress would jeopardize longstanding ties between the United States and Asia. The claim is that if Congress is not prepared to approve the TPP, then countries like Japan and South Korea will no longer be able to rely on defense commitments that have been in place for more than half a century.

As Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, commented on a trip to Washington:

“It [rejecting the TPP] hurts your relationship with Japan, your security agreements with Japan, … And the Japanese, living in an uncertain world, depending on an American nuclear umbrella, will have to say: On trade, the Americans could not follow through; if it's life and death, whom do I have to depend upon?”

Other proponents of the TPP have made similar comments. The idea is that if the US won't follow through on a trade pact that is has spent almost eight years negotiating, then how can it be counted on to honor its defense commitments to the countries of the region.

If this claim is taken at face value, it implies that President Obama was unbelievably irresponsible in negotiating the TPP. He knew that many aspects of the deal would be highly controversial. For example, the deal includes no enforceable provisions to prevent the sort of currency management by China and other countries that have been the major cause of the country's $500 billion (2.8 percent of GDP) annual trade deficit.

The deal also includes provisions that make patent and copyright protection longer and stronger. These provisions will lead to higher prices for prescription drugs and other protected items in other countries, and possibly the United States as well. In addition, more money for the drug companies and entertainment industry in royalties means that our trading partners will have less money to spend on US manufactured goods.

In addition, the TPP provides for the creation of investor-state dispute settlement tribunals -- extra-judicial bodies that give special privileges to foreign investors -- including foreign subsidies of US corporations. These tribunals will be able to override US laws at all levels of government.

For these and other reasons, President Obama surely knew that the TPP would be highly controversial when it was debated before Congress. Is it really plausible that he did not make it clear to our negotiating partners that he couldn't guarantee approval of the final agreement?  

The proponents of the TPP would have us believe that President Obama told our trading partners that approval of the TPP was a slam dunk. That they could count on congressional approval in the same way that they could count on Congress to honor its military commitments in the region. That one doesn't sound very likely.

In the lack of plausibility department we are also asked to believe that the governments in the region are incredibly ignorant about the state of US politics. The TPP has been a hot item for debate long before Congress voted to grant fast-track authority in the summer of 2015. It has continued to be a major issue in the presidential primaries of both parties. Is it plausible that the staffs of the Japanese, Vietnamese and other embassies of the TPP countries somehow missed these debates or failed to report back to their governments on how contentious the pact is?

That one hardly passes the laugh test. Surely these embassies are staffed by competent and intelligent people. It is precisely their job to follow debates like the one on the TPP and to report back to their governments. While the governments of the other countries in the TPP may be disappointed by the decision of Congress not to approve the pact, it is inconceivable that they would be surprised by it.

There is an alternative hypothesis that makes far more sense. The Obama administration, along with other supporters of the TPP, doesn't feel it can sell the deal based on its merits as an economic pact. Therefore they are inventing a national security rationale for the TPP that does not exist. It's not a pretty story, but as they say in Washington: You throw it against the wall and see what sticks.

Opinion Mon, 29 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Anarchists and the Rise of the Welfare State

Between the 1930s and the 1950s, anarchists overwhelmingly viewed the New Deal, and more generally the rise of the Keynesian welfare state, as a sophisticated form of co-optation that represented a severe setback for the labor movement and, hence, for social anarchism.

Anarchist protesters gather at a rally held in Seattle, Washington, on May 1, 2015. (Photo: Adam Cohn)Anarchist protesters gather at a rally held in Seattle, Washington, on May 1, 2015. (Photo: Adam Cohn)

This article is excerpted from Unruly Equality: US Anarchism in the 20th Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2016).

Also see: "Unruly Equality": A Brief History of Anarchism

During the presidential campaign of 1931, the patrician Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt instilled hope in a deeply shaken electorate by claiming "the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid" deserved a "new deal." During his famous first hundred days in office, Roosevelt proposed a flurry of new programs and policy changes aimed at reversing the downward spiral of the domestic economy, then already in its third year.

US anarchists approached the New Deal with their typical skepticism toward government initiatives heightened by suspicions stemming from the manipulative ways in which Mussolini and Hitler had recently ascended to power. In the April 1933 issue of the insurrectionary anarchist newspaper Man!, editor Marcus Graham dubbed FDR's approach a "new hoax" and reminded readers that they could expect nothing from government but "deceit and treachery." He took particular umbrage with the Civilian Conservation Corps, the first experiment with a work-relief program, in which young men would be paid a modest wage to develop natural resources under the auspices of the War Department. "What this dastardly scheme really implies isn't hard to guess," Graham wrote. "It will be used for a two-fold purpose: first, to further lower the workers' wage scale; second to have a standing army ready to drown in blood any uprising that appears now so imminent." By August, Graham had concluded that the New Deal was a plot to introduce "American Fascism" under the guise of assisting the unemployed.

In early articles on the subject, contributors to the anarcho-syndicalist journal Vanguard focused more attention on Roosevelt's National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) but arrived at similarly pessimistic conclusions. The act suspended antitrust laws and created boards to establish "industrial codes" with the intention of raising commodity prices by limiting competition. It also affirmed the right to organize, called for labor to be represented on its industrial boards, and set a minimum wage and maximum hours for participating corporations. Writing in May 1933, Mark Schmidt critiqued the "rigging and freezing up of prices" that the NIRA's industrial codes attempted, and predicted that the NIRA would dangerously increase the government's role in labor conflicts. "Democracy will become attenuated to the vanishing point, the powerful trusts merging with bureaucratic State apparatus, the workers' organizations deprived of any right to strike and act independently, 'coordinated' with the State…. This is the trend toward Fascism." Melchior Steele, a contributor to Man!, likewise believed that with the government acting as "a party to contracts," strikes would amount to "rebellion against the government," further disinclining patriotic workers from taking part.

In actuality, a quite different scenario played out. Firms stridently resisted the NIRA's prolabor planks, refusing to abide by them and challenging their constitutionality in court. The president of the United Mine Workers, John L. Lewis, meanwhile publicly explained the new policy as a mandate from the president for workers to join unions as a means of combating the Depression. They responded enthusiastically, joining unions by the hundreds of thousands. The largest strike wave since the end of the Red Scare broke out the next year, as workers throughout the country fought to enact and defend via direct action the new labor rights that Congress had declared but had done little to enforce. As Staughton Lynd and other historians have demonstrated, the labor upsurge of the early 1930s was driven by local unions that mobilized entire communities, frequently bridging racial and gender divides. Following the lead of former Wobblies and other radicals, many adopted democratic decision-making procedures and militant tactics to ward off strikebreaking police and replacement workers. Yet self-identified anarchists do not appear to have played significant roles.

Having grown disheartened by the labor movement and distanced from less radical workers during the 1920s, anarchists often viewed the new unionism with jaundiced eyes. During the summer of 1934, to cite one example, communist longshoremen in California organized some 130,000 San Franciscans to halt work for four days in support of striking dockworkers. Marcus Graham dismissed the event's significance, telling readers of Man!, "There was no General Strike in San Francisco worthy of the name." Though Graham lauded the rank-and-file workers who had walked off the job, they had, to his mind, been betrayed in a predictable fashion by "despicable and treasonous" union spokesmen who had curtailed the strike. He could only hope the workers had learned their lesson: "never again to entrust their struggles in the hands of leaders." Though the critique of overly conciliatory representatives had merits, the pessimistic and critical commentary issued by anarchists in the 1930s won them few new blue-collar supporters, given that they offered no organizational alternative.

Although the Supreme Court eventually ruled that the NIRA's industrial boards were an unconstitutional interference with private business, the 1935 National Labor Relations Act bolstered the standing of unions. It declared collective bargaining not only legal but also a social good, and it established a government-monitored procedure by which a majority vote established a union as the sole representative of the entire workforce of a facility. (New Deal politicians believed government backing would make it easier for workers to organize and command wage hikes. This would increase their purchasing power, redistributing wealth and reducing the threat of overproduction that had catalyzed the crisis in the first place.) Bolstered by the new law, but faced with continuing employer recalcitrance, unionists launched major organizing drives among semiskilled workers in the steel, mining, automobile, and other industries that had become the centerpiece of the American economy.

Much of this organizing occurred under the auspices of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), a new umbrella organization that broke away from the AFL in 1935. Like the IWW, the new CIO unions sought to organize industrially -- uniting every worker in a given field of production, regardless of skill level and race. Unlike with the IWW, the abolition of capitalism was not a goal, and internal union democracy was not a priority. Indeed, John L. Lewis and other CIO leaders "preferred to act as labor generals who led their troops in battle, not as temporarily elected representatives who reflected the wishes of the ranks."

To the publishers of Vanguard, the CIO was barely distinguishable from the AFL, an object of anarchist disdain since 1886. "A new unionism will not spring up as a result of those puny efforts," an October 1936 editorial assured readers. "The militancy of the great mass of unorganized workers will be stifled from the very beginning and whatever may be accomplished ... will be distorted by the monstrous centralization of power in the hands of an irresponsible bureaucracy." The CIO did quickly move to consolidate many of the local unions formed in the early 1930s, and Vanguard was perceptive in anticipating the autocratic grip Lewis would exercise over the organization.

Yet the group misjudged the potential for a new, militant unionism to arise in the 1930s. The next years saw the invention of the mass sit-down strike in Akron, Ohio, and Flint, Michigan. Union membership grew by 5 million over the course of the decade, raising the percentage of the organized workforce from 7.5 to 19.2. Moreover, the CIO actively organized African American industrial workers and built multiracial locals with the intent of breaking the color line that still characterized many AFL unions.

In the wake of these advances, Vanguard published more nuanced considerations of the emerging social order. Contributor Joseph Zack argued in 1937 that the United States was becoming a "State Capitalist" system. Responding to the crisis features of traditional capitalism evidenced by the Depression, the government would henceforth take on "regulation of wages, prices, working hours, of 'social security' legislation and monetary manipulation" -- in short, "the superstructural manipulation of capitalism for the purpose of defending its base." In Zack's view, the farsighted capitalists who favored this method of stabilizing the system could only overcome the resistance of traditionalist elites through the mobilization of working people. Roosevelt embraced the CIO to this end. In turn, Zack felt, "the aim of the C.I.O. leaders is to get an expanded, well implemented and regimented N.R.A. [National Recovery Act], in the operation of which the new union bureaucracy will be the important and well paid servants of the new capitalism." Zack lauded the sit-down strike as a powerful new weapon developed by militant rank-and-filers, one that gave them greater leverage not only against their employers but also vis-à-vis the union bureaucracy. The sit-down strike, he concluded, "promises to be as much of a fighting instrument on the part of labor as the system of state capitalism is for the capitalist."

Vanguard's developing perspective anticipated many points later elaborated by C. Wright Mills, C.L.R. James, and other influential critics of mid-twentieth century unionism. Yet it may also have reinforced the anarchists' sense of paralysis. While hundreds of communists and socialists took up organizing responsibilities in the new CIO unions during the 1930s and 1940s, attempting to radicalize them in the process, anarchists largely continued to sit on the sidelines.

What, then, did anarchists suggest that those impoverished by the Depression do? Here the factions split in predictable ways. By late 1935, the Vanguard Group's Abe Bluestein could acknowledge that "Roosevelt's New Deal has lifted this country from the low depths of March, 1933." He felt its effects personally, as his wife, Selma, a painter, had taken a position with the Works Progress Administration. Nonetheless, Bluestein issued a pamphlet arguing that too many people remained unemployed, while those working for New Deal agencies remained scandalously underpaid. Reiterating that a complete solution required revolution, Bluestein nevertheless proposed a program to fight "for some measure of security from starvation." First, workers should demand "prevailing wages" for the unemployed and publicly employed, paid for by "the wealthy." Next, they needed to "get back into industry" by fighting for shorter hours with no reduction of pay, as a means to spread out the work. Winning these reforms, he believed, required the courage to break the law: "Let the unemployed show a little more respect for their persons and a lot less for private property, and the government and the wealthy will also begin to fear and respect their strength." With little fanfare, then, a cofounder of the Vanguard Group acknowledged that despite a half decade of Depression, the final break with capitalism wasn't imminent and the federal government now represented a legitimate target from which anarchists might wring concessions, assuming they did so using disruptive direct-action tactics rather than elections and lobbying.

To Marcus Graham, who anticipated the arguments of late-twentieth century anarcho-primitivists, however, "getting back into industry" was precisely the wrong approach. In late 1934, he wrote, "As it appears to me, the gravest of danger for mankind lies in the continued immense growth of industrialization of life to the point where the individual loses more and more of his significance as a self-reliant, self-creative and self-ingenuitive [sic] human being." Moreover, Graham believed the Depression was rooted in overproduction occasioned by industry's adoption of new technologies. With other countries following suit, the United States could not rely on expanded foreign markets to pull it out of the slump. War, he presciently asserted, would be the only way to eliminate oversupply and reverse the trend. For all of these reasons, Graham insisted, "the decentralization of every centralized power and activity is the only safe assurance for the building up of a true and free society." To that end, in 1932 he urged an Austin, Texas, audience not to wait for federal assistance but to seize uncultivated land with the aim of supporting themselves. In Memphis, he was even more direct: "Abandon the cities; leave them as monuments to the folly of man." It is impossible to know how many people -- if any -- took this advice. Any who did would have been forced to learn the rudiments of homesteading during one of the most severe droughts in the nation's history -- one that sent thousands of "Okies" and other dust bowl residents fleeing to California.

Between the 1930s and the 1950s, anarchists overwhelmingly viewed the New Deal, and more generally the rise of the Keynesian welfare state, as a sophisticated form of co-optation that represented a severe setback for the labor movement and, hence, for social anarchism. This interpretation was essentially built into their bedrock belief that political states can do no good for ordinary people. Worries about the depoliticizing potential of state income supports were not unwarranted. Yet this perspective naturalized the outcomes of Keynesianism in two troubling respects. First, it discounted the pressure labor and radical movements had exerted on elites in order to win unemployment insurance, overtime pay, and other gains, reinforcing gloomy assessments of the midcentury labor movement. Thirty years later, however, the Diggers, Murray Bookchin, and other anarchists claimed that new utopian possibilities arose from the unprecedented growth of first-world economies. They assumed this "postscarcity" condition would continue indefinitely, as it appeared to be an outgrowth of technological developments as capitalism ran its course, rather than (at least partly) a politically imposed division of wealth. For this reason, few anarchists saw the gains won by workers in the 1930s as vulnerable, or even as "their" gains to defend when the business class launched a concerted attack against them in the 1970s. Like many other progressive and radical forces, they were caught off guard by the onset of neoliberalism.

Opinion Mon, 29 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400
War Not Over: US Occupation Is Still Poisoning Iraq's Children

After years and countless lives lost, the US government is refusing to fully acknowledge the health crisis its burn pits in Iraq have unleashed upon the US service members exposed to airborne contaminants, even after the VA was ordered by Congress last year to establish a registry for those who have suffered ill health as a result. But when it comes to the long-term hazards of burn pits, bombings, bullets and chemical weapons upon the people of Iraq, whose exposure is exponentially greater and continues to the present day, such recognition is virtually non-existent.

In fact, if it were not for the crusading work of environmental toxicologist Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, key information about the environmental legacy of the US occupation of Iraq would be completely lost to US scholarship. Earlier this month, Savabiesfahani released a troubling new study, which unearths further evidence that air pollution directly tied to war is poisoning the most vulnerable members of Iraqi society: children.

Published in the journal Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, the investigation evaluated "elemental bio-imaging of trace elements in deciduous teeth of children with birth defects from Iraq," the report states. These teeth were then compared with "healthy and naturally shed teeth from Lebanon and Iran." According to Savabiesfahani's published findings, "Lead (Pb) was highest in teeth from children with birth defects who donated their teeth from Basra." In fact, she writes, "Two Iraqi teeth had four times more Pb, and one tooth had as much as 50 times more Pb than samples from Lebanon and Iran."

"What we saw in these baby teeth is that children had very high levels of lead," Savabiesfahani, who won the 2015 Rachel Carson prize for her work on the environmental legacy of war in the Middle East, explained to AlterNet. "If children have this much lead in their teeth there is probably a whole lot of lead in their bones."

As Flint, Michigan emergency revealed, lead poisoning poses a severe hazard to public health. This fact is acknowledged by the World Health Organization, which notes, "Young children are particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of lead and can suffer profound and permanent adverse health effects, particularly affecting the development of the brain and nervous system. Lead also causes long-term harm in adults, including increased risk of high blood pressure and kidney damage. Exposure of pregnant women to high levels of lead can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth and low birth weight, as well as minor malformations."

And like in Flint, the epidemic of lead poisoning in Iraq was human-made. Savabieasfahani, who is based close to Flint in Ann Arbor, told AlterNet that the "major environmental disruption in the Middle East has been the massive war events There is no other impact as enormous as this. Iraq has had a number of major pollutants released in it since 2003, and this lead, I suspect, is coming from aerial bombardments. While there may have already been lead in the environment, bombings raise the background levels of lead to the point that it impacts the health of children on a large scale."

Her report notes that, in war zones, "the explosion of bombs, bullets, and other ammunition releases multiple neurotoxicants into the environment. The Middle East is currently the site of heavy environmental disruption by massive bombardments. A very large number of US military bases, which release highly toxic environmental contaminants, have also been erected since 2003."

"Our hypothesis that increased war activity coincides with increased metal levels in deciduous teeth is confirmed by this research," Savabieasfahani concludes.

Savabieasfahani is not the first to document the environmental poisoning by the US occupation of Iraq; numerous civil society organizations in the country, including the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq and the Federation of Workers' Councils and Unions in Iraq have long sounded the alarm. Iraqi organizations, along with US-based anti-war organizations, have long demanded US reparations, in light of the lasting harm done by American intervention, dating back to the 1991 Gulf War.

Yet, a scholarly report published last year by Eric Bonds, assistant professor of sociology at University of Mary Washington, found that mainstream media outlets have systematically ignored the impact of burn pits in both Iraq and Afghanistan on civilians nearby, instead focusing nearly exclusively on the health effects for US military service members and veterans.

According to Savabieasfahani, her own colleagues shoulder much of the blame. "As a public health researcher, I feel like my colleagues have seriously failed to save people's lives. They have shied away from holding administrations responsible for massive environmental damage to the planet. War is a public health issue. War is a global issue."

"The situation is not hopeless," she emphasized." There is a lot we can do. Wealthier countries that perpetuate this kind of environmental disaster should be held accountable. The US and UK have done enormous environmental damage to the Middle East, and I think they should clean up this damage."

News Mon, 29 Aug 2016 10:06:16 -0400
Ohio Residents Clash With State and County Government in Fight to Ban Fracking Via the Ballot

A 2012 anti-fracking protest in Ohio.A 2012 anti-fracking protest in Ohio. (Photo: Josh Lopez /

For years, local Ohioans have been told by courts and elected officials that they have no control over fracking -- "it is a matter of state law."

However, groups of determined residents are refusing to accept this argument, taking steps to establish local democratic control over what they see as vital societal questions of health, safety, and planetary survival. But not without resistance from their own governments.

In recent years, Ohio has seen fracking-induced earthquakes, contaminated waterways, and new proposals for natural gas pipelines and compressor stations, all amidst the accelerating march of climate change. Together, these events have brought the fight against fracking to a fever pitch for the Buckeye State.  

Fed up, residents have taken to the local ballot initiative process -- by which citizens write, petition for, and vote on legislation -- to propose "Community Bill of Rights" ordinances to ban fracking, injection wells, and associated infrastructure for natural gas production and transportation. Their efforst are part of a growing nationwide Community Rights movement

This summer, citizens of Medina, Portage, Athens, and Meigs counties collected signatures for county-wide ballot initiatives that would establish new county charters and enshrine rights to local democratic control over fossil fuel development. All four gathered enough signatures to get on their respective November ballots. Normally, that would be enough. But not in Ohio, where Secretary of State and gubernatorial hopeful Jon Husted has done everything he can to stymie the movement's use of direct democracy.

It is a rematch from last year, which ended in the Ohio Supreme Court pulling three county-wide initiatives -- in Medina, Fulton, and Athens counties -- from their ballots, just weeks before the November 2015 elections.

The court battle came after Husted claimed "unfettered authority" to determine the legality of local initiatives, before they go to a vote. Though his power grab was struck down by the court, Husted won the case on a technicality, and no votes were cast. The court ruled that the county initiatives failed to define a new "form of government," a requirement for new county charters, which all the initiatives proposed.

Making Adjustments for 2016

This year, petitioners fine-tuned their initiatives to insure they would satisfy the "form of government" requirement; though they argue the requirement is being politically applied. Nonetheless, petitioners updated their initiatives, going so far as to detail how county coroners will be compensated under the new charters.

With Husted's power to remove local ballot initiatives squashed, he has turned to organizing county boards of elections -- appointed by Husted himself -- to do his bidding. The links between Husted, the boards of elections, and the industry are clear. In Meigs county, for example, one member of the board of elections is Ohio Gas Association President Jimmy Stewart, and in March 2016, the Ohio Oil and Gas Association hosted a fundraiser for Husted.

In July, the county boards of elections in Meigs, Portage, and Athens all voted 4-0 to pull their measures from the ballot. The boards of elections say the measures are invalid because they do not delineate every single duty of all county officers. In Medina -- where a local judge and prosecutor have cautiously resisted the NEXUS natural gas pipeline and a gas compressor station -- the board split 2-2. The decision was then put to Husted, who broke the tie in favor of the fossil fuel industry.

Petitioners in all four counties are filing appeals. "It's a form of voter suppression," said Tish O'Dell of the Ohio Community Rights Network, who has worked with Ohio communities since 2012 to propose and pass similar measures.

Meigs, Portage, and Athens petitioners have filed protests against their boards of elections, but like Medina's tie breaker vote, their protests will be sent to Husted's desk. If and when he denies them, petitioners say they will appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court. Medina's appeal of Husted's tie-breaking vote will head straight to the Ohio Supreme Court.

Husted is doing his best to expand on the 2015 Ohio Supreme Court decision, which recognized an "alternative basis for invalidating [ ] charter petitions." Namely, via the "form of government" requirement. Upon closer look, however, it appears that a basic assumption underpinning the tactic is flawed.

In 2015 the court clarified that Husted and boards of elections have no authority to rule on the legality or constitutionality of petitions. The basis of Husted's argument is that the "form of government" question is an administrative one, not a legal one. But the requirement comes from the Ohio Constitution; ruling on it requires interpreting the constitution.

Athens County's own county prosecutor pointed this out in a letter to his board of elections, advising them to place their initiative on the ballot. "It is the Judicial Branch and not the Executive Branch that is to interpret issues of Constitutionality," the prosecutor writes. "The Board [of Elections] should perform a ministerial function and allow the initiative process to take place if the number of signatures required are valid and properly presented." Instead, the Athens County Board of Elections invalidated the initiative because it "relies on the [Ohio] Revised Code to determine qualifications and salaries of elected officials."

Democracy at Stake

In his tie-breaking decision for Medina, Husted points to the only other Ohio county charters that were passed via the initiative process -- in Summit and Cuyahoga counties -- as positive examples of how the 2016 measures should be written. 

Husted's office declined to comment on how the Summit and Cuyahoga initiatives satisfied the "form of government" requirement and what distinguishes them from those being proposed for the November 2016 election. "It would be inappropriate to offer additional comment while the matter is pending before our office," wrote an Ohio Secretary of State spokesperson in an email.

In their appeals, the petitioners argue that the Summit and Cuyahoga examples actually support their argument. In protest, the petitioners point out that the Ohio County Commissioners Handbook "notes that neither Summit County nor Cuyahoga County…have followed" the form of government requirement.

Ohio's county boards of elections and Secretary of State give no guidance for petitioners on how they can satisfy this "form of government" standard. When queried by DeSmog, the Secretary of State's office gave no comment on this. As a result, petitioners are left guessing and the democratic process held hostage by the personal interpretations of boards of elections and the Secretary of State.

Climate at Stake

Meanwhile, climate change is accelerating by leaps and bounds. Anthrax bacteria are being liberated by thawing permafrost, Lake Erie is warming, melting glaciers could release Cold War-era toxic waste buried beneath Greenland's ice, the Zika virus has hit the United States, ecosystems are becoming unbound, and the sea continues to rise.

But for the oil and gas industry, millions of dollars are at stake in this local ballot battleground. The anti-fracking ballot initiatives would have immediate impacts not only on extraction and injection of fracking waste, but on large infrastructure projects -- like the NEXUS pipeline, which is slated to carry fracked gas across Ohio but is seeing opposition from local residents who are holding up the project. According to NEXUS court documents, for every month of delay, the pipeline project loses $17 million. In Medina, the project is a year behind schedule.

The pipeline, which proposes to pump 1.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas through Ohio each day, has been met with opposition again and again. Defiant private property owners and county prosecutors and judges have postponed land surveying, jeopardizing NEXUS's permit application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The last thing the pipeline's owner, Spectra Energy, needs is a legal fight against a new county charter. For Spectra, the drawn-out nature of the democratic process currently at play in Ohio is a liability.

Regardless of the accuracy of their legal arguments, the actions of Ohio Secretary of State Husted and the boards of elections have already affected that process.

Every day the measures are caught up in court is a day of full-out campaigning lost. Among the uncertainty, petitioners continue to campaign as though the measures will be voted on this fall. And if they are refused the ballot, Ohio petitioners say they will try again next year. And the year after that. And the one after that.

News Sun, 28 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400
"Necessary Trouble" and a Long, Hard Struggle: Talking Movements With Sarah Jaffe

Perhaps the most essential book of the year, Sarah Jaffe's Necessary Trouble provides an extensive and vivid overview of organizers and movements from the 2008 financial crisis onwards and the connections between them, along with a nuanced historical summary of the issues at hand.

Sarah Jaffe. (Photo: Julieta Salgado)Sarah Jaffe. (Photo: Julieta Salgado)What connects the recent movements that have shaken the foundations of US inequality? In her acclaimed book Necessary Trouble: Americans in Revolt, Sarah Jaffe introduces us to the people making trouble from Wisconsin to Ferguson, from Occupy Wall Street to Moral Mondays. Click here to order what Robin D.G. Kelley calls "The most compelling social and political portrait of our age."

Sarah Jaffe's Necessary Trouble is one of the most essential books of the year -- an extensive, vivid overview of "trouble-making" organizers and movements from the 2008 financial crisis until, if not quite today, then the moment the book went to press. Each chapter not only covers a movement or group of campaigns, but also provides a concise but nuanced historical summary of the issues at hand.

It's a book that feels "necessary" indeed, almost overdue. Whether we realized it or not, we have been in need of a book that traces the connections between the Wisconsin Capitol occupation and the campaigns waged by Walmart and fast-food workers, that looks honestly at what the Tea Party has had both in common and in conflict with protesters at Occupy Wall Street and in Ferguson, and that gives due credit to Moral Mondays and Black Lives Matter.

And we have been in need of someone like Jaffe to do it, someone who understands intersectionality and class struggle, who resists simplistic narratives and avoids backseat organizing or condescending lectures about strategy, instead largely letting the people who made these movements happen tell their own stories. She spoke to Truthout about some of the issues raised in Necessary Trouble including racism, horizontalism, and why climate change is a class issue.

Joe Macaré: Necessary Trouble is in many ways an optimistic book, one that on the whole celebrates a range of movements and campaigns. Was that a conscious choice or did you just find more to uplift than to critique?

Sarah Jaffe: This is a book with an overarching argument about this historical moment more than a book meant to be a deep dive into any particular movement. If I had 100,000 words to delve into Occupy Wall Street or Moral Mondays or any one in particular I might have spent more time diving into critiques of particular aspects of each one, but that just wasn't the book I was writing.

"Trying to understand why people feel a certain way isn't trying to excuse them. It's part of the job of journalism."

I don't think I'm uncritical or cheerleading in this book, yet I am optimistic. I remember the 1990s, the early 2000s, the things you just couldn't say in polite company. The world is a different place now. Things are still hard, people are still struggling, but people are fighting and that is, as Jane McAlevey says, the best news I've had in a long, long time.

The Tea Party are a fascinating presence in your book: You treat their initial anger at the financial system in good faith, but you're clear about the racism that quickly became prominent and how the politicians, who were elected in their name, acted. What can we learn from the Tea Party's story?

There's a tendency lately to treat racism as either/or, as something that only bad people are, rather than something that is a quality of the society we live in that none of us can escape. That doesn't mean we can't fight it, but it means that it's something we all have to grapple with, not just the people who like Donald Trump.

So I think people can be racist and be advocating policies that I think are wrong and harmful and also be angry at many of the same things I'm angry at. We can never convince those people that progressive policies are better if all we do is wag our fingers piously and call them names. Trying to understand why people feel a certain way isn't trying to excuse them. It's part of the job of journalism.

The politicians who call themselves Tea Partiers are largely opportunists who saw a chance to hitch themselves to something that looked like a rising star. The wealthy ideologues who dump money into elections were doing that already and had been for decades. Your average Tea Party protester wasn't calling for privatizing Social Security. Opportunist politicians and billionaires who claim to come bearing gifts aren't just a problem on the Right, and I think the biggest lesson we can take from the Tea Party is to be wary of them.

You also show how white people's reluctance to acknowledge racism as an issue has caused setbacks, from labor's Operation Dixie to Oath Keeper groups that split over whether or not to show solidarity with Black protesters in Ferguson. What have been the hallmarks of movements and campaigns where solidarity across racial lines has been possible?

My favorite example is in Robin D.G. Kelley's Hammer and Hoe, a book everyone should read about the Communist Party in Alabama during the Depression years. The Communist Party had a lot of problems in the US, but what it did in the South, particularly, was take the struggles of Black workers and Black sharecroppers as key to the class struggle it wanted to wage in the US. So the Communist Party in Alabama was made up of those workers, and they fought against lynching and police violence and false arrests alongside labor struggles for fair wages and equal treatment and inclusion for Black workers in unions. That wasn't a sideline struggle, it was the struggle.

"If there isn't just one leader, then it's harder for things to fizzle if something happens to one person."

I was saying that we tend to personalize racism. We think of racism as people who say racist things or join racist groups or show up at a Trump rally with a sign saying "Build the Wall." We don't think of racism as where houses are built, what kind of a mortgage you get and what kind of air you breathe. We spend a lot of time trying to cleanse ourselves from the original sin of racism rather than trying to come up with ways to fight to change the systems that maintain it.

You identify many of the movements in the book as having a "horizontal" structure, to one extent or another, almost to a defining extent. "Horizontalism" has not been without its critics, but what are the advantages it has given these movements?

Horizontalism, I think, in this moment, is a response to a deeply hierarchical society in which people feel taken advantage of by and failed by elites. Chris Hayes wrote about this period as the "Twilight of the Elites." If our ideas about meritocracy are wrong, if the people in power have proven themselves catastrophically unworthy of that power -- the financial crisis being the latest, biggest example -- then maybe we need some new structures.

But it's been hard to implement. In practice, a handful of people tend to get anointed leaders of the movement by the media, whether they in fact are or are just really good at getting themselves interviewed. Reporters tend to move in packs and so once one outlet calls someone a leader, everyone else will rush to follow -- not even always in bad faith, but because they are busy and very few people get the luxury of being social movement beat reporters.

Consensus process, particularly 100 percent consensus, is unwieldy and most groups seem to have scrapped it after Occupy. Watching the different organizations of the Movement for Black Lives experiment with organizational forms is really fascinating, but I don't know that anyone has "solved" the problems yet.

I think horizontalism and the viral character of these movements -- their tendency to spread across the country and the world very quickly -- go hand in hand. If you don't have to wait for the leader to come to your city and start a protest, you can just plan one, call one and connect to people online to get them to turn out. If there isn't just one leader, then it's harder for things to fizzle if something happens to one person; which is a real concern, as we're starting to see activists brought up on harsh charges and facing serious sentences.

"We don't really know the shape of things while we're in them."

One movement that is less horizontal featured in a chapter of the book is Moral Mondays. What's exciting and worth emulating about Moral Mondays?

As a feminist and someone who came of age politically in the 1990s -- peak culture wars -- I'm really fascinated by a movement calling itself "moral" that embraces queer and trans rights and abortion rights as issues. I also appreciate the southern-ness of Moral Mondays, since there's an annoying tendency, particularly in the Northeast, to disparage the South and make jokes about letting it secede every time some reactionary policy happens in the South. Ignoring the reactionary policies being implemented in the North and West Coasts, of course.

Moral Mondays has been emulated not just in the South but in Illinois and New York, where people have felt a real connection to the idea that they can make demands that are not just based on the law or the constitution but based on a real idea of justice and right.

The question of whether -- and how -- to engage with electoral politics is one with which various movements in the book wrestle. What has the Bernie Sanders campaign shown about the opportunities and limits of movement engagement with elections?

It's certainly the question on everyone's mind these days, I think. I'm writing to you on the train to Seattle right now, so heading for Kshama Sawant country, and I don't think there's any doubt that her election has had an impact on that city.

"The struggle is long and hard and successes are signposts along the way."

I grappled with the question of elections the most -- really trying to answer it -- in the chapter that groups the Wisconsin movement and the Chicago teachers together, because both of those had an unsuccessful move into electoral politics. I posited in that chapter that we would need to see candidates with more of a grounding in the movement in order to have movement electoral successes.

Since then, we've seen the #ByeAnita campaign in Chicago and the parallel campaign in Cleveland to get rid of Timothy McGinty, and both of these were basically run without endorsing their opponents, which is really interesting. The Teaching Assistants Association in Wisconsin tried to do the same -- endorsing Scott Walker's ouster without endorsing Tom Barrett, the Democrat running against him -- with less luck.

As far as Sanders goes, in the last week I've had several conversations with people who are really grappling with where to go next after Bernie's ultimately unsuccessful bid to be the Democratic nominee. There is no doubt that people were really drawn into something there that felt real and important and new to them, and I don't think that energy just disappears. The question of where it goes is going to be one I'll have my eye on for the next couple of years, for certain.

If electoral campaigns are not necessarily the end goal, are there better metrics to assess the success of movements? Is it turning out big crowds, passing legislation, providing direct aid to people, or something else?

"Success" is such an interesting question. Pretty much everyone, at the time I was pitching this book to publishers, thought that Occupy was a "failure." By the same metric people think Bernie Sanders is a failure. I think both of those assumptions are wrong.

I think it was my friend Jesse Myerson who said a few years ago that we don't call the Civil Rights movement the bus boycott movement. Montague Simmons of the Organization for Black Struggle in St. Louis said "It's not 1964, it's 1954." We don't really know the shape of things while we're in them. Writing this book gave me the opportunity at some points to reflect back a few years and in others, I really had to struggle to figure out a place to stop, a way to evaluate, because things were and are so very much in flux.

"The same wealthy class that exploits our labor and fraudulently forecloses on our homes has also destroyed the climate."

But in terms of the demands of these movements, we really see what I think of as a range of demands, sometimes for one very particular immediate thing -- vote out Anita Alvarez, fire Bill Bratton, raise the minimum wage to $15 -- and then something medium-term -- a union contract for fast-food workers, say, or closing a prison or a jail -- and then the ultimate goal, something like abolishing police, abolishing capitalism. So do you evaluate the movement based on the immediate goal, the medium-term one, or are you totally disingenuous and do you say "Well Occupy didn't create the revolution so it was garbage?" The struggle is long and hard and successes are signposts along the way, often toward an ultimate goal that I hear many people saying they know they won't be around to see.

Right now we're seeing the return of camps as a tactic, this time used by Black-led movements against police violence: Freedom Square in Chicago, Abolition Square in New York City, and the (recently evicted) #DecolonizeLACityHall. Why do you think tents have gone up again and what are the advantages of an "occupation"?

I just wrote a long piece about this so I'll just say briefly that I think at a time when public space is more and more scarce, privatization reigns and social institutions like labor unions are in decline, the fact that people come together to hold a space to be political in public together is really meaningful. Like horizontalism, it seems to illustrate the desires that protesters have for a society that feels more equal and more connected.

The book points out several examples of how organizers identified connections between different issues and used those to bring in new people and find new targets for actions. Which connection of overlapping or intersecting issues do you think is most exciting and important right now?

I can't say enough times that the Vision for Black Lives document is an amazing piece of work that everyone should read and engage with.

It almost feels like it misses the point to pick out a particular connection, because the point is that these things all overlap. But one of my favorite bits in the book is Mychal Johnson from South Bronx Unite, an environmental justice organization in New York, who notes that Eric Garner, who was choked to death by a police officer on Staten Island, grew up in a heavily polluted area and suffered from asthma. The South Bronx too has the highest asthma rates in the country and when fighting the location of yet another polluting business in their community, South Bronx Unite used the slogan #WeCantBreathe, citing Garner's last words and noting that the people who are the first victims of environmental degradation are usually Black and Latinx people, in whose communities trash dumps and factories and hazardous waste are situated. Inequality, he said, is in the air we breathe. That same community flooded during Hurricane Sandy, with that polluted water flooding back onto their streets.

You describe climate change in the book as "the ultimate intersectional issue" -- can you say a little about what that means?

(Image: Nation Books)(Image: Nation Books)When I proposed this book, climate change wasn't a chapter. I realized very quickly that it needed to be and eventually I realized that it needed to go last, because it sums things up in a way. The same wealthy class that exploits our labor, sells us bad mortgages and fraudulently forecloses on our homes has also destroyed the climate. Those people are not going to be the ones who suffer the most for it, because they have the money to get out of the way of the disaster.

I went to college in New Orleans. I was gone by Hurricane Katrina and I remember watching it on TV and wondering what had happened to my neighbors and my friends -- this was before you could mark yourself "safe" on Facebook -- and remembering an old rumor that the city had rigged the levees to blow in the Lower Ninth Ward in the case of a storm like this one. Not true, but a fairly good metaphor for how things happened. The working-class Black people who mostly lived in that neighborhood were the ones who suffered the most. An unequal society will not deal with tragedies and crises equally, so to fight climate catastrophe we need to change the relations of power that we live under.

Opinion Sun, 28 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400