Truthout Stories http://www.truth-out.org Fri, 29 Jul 2016 13:46:33 -0400 en-gb Hillary Clinton and Her Hawks http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37033-hillary-clinton-and-her-hawks http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37033-hillary-clinton-and-her-hawks

As Hillary Clinton begins her final charge for the White House, her advisers are already recommending air strikes and other new military measures against the Assad regime in Syria.

The clear signals of Clinton's readiness to go to war appears to be aimed at influencing the course of the war in Syria as well as US policy over the remaining six months of the Obama administration. (She also may be hoping to corral the votes of Republican neoconservatives concerned about Donald Trump's "America First" foreign policy.)

Last month, the think tank run by Michele Flournoy, the former Defense Department official considered to be most likely to be Clinton's choice to be Secretary of Defense, explicitly called for "limited military strikes" against the Assad regime.

And earlier this month Leon Panetta, former Defense Secretary and CIA Director, who has been advising candidate Clinton, declared in an interview that the next president would have to increase the number of Special Forces and carry out air strikes to help "moderate" groups against President Bashal al-Assad. (When Panetta gave a belligerent speech at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday night, he was interrupted by chants from the delegates on the floor of "no more war!"

Flournoy co-founded the Center for New American Security (CNAS) in 2007 to promote support for US war policies in Iraq and Afghanistan, and then became Under Secretary of Defense for Policy in the Obama administration in 2009.

Flournoy left her Pentagon position in 2012 and returned to CNAS as Chief Executive Officer.  She has been described by ultimate insider journalist David Ignatius of the Washington Post, as being on a "short, short list" for the job Secretary of Defense in a Clinton administration.

Last month, CNAS published a report of a "Study Group" on military policy in Syria on the eve of the organization's annual conference.  Ostensibly focused on how to defeat the Islamic State, the report recommends new US military actions against the Assad regime.

Flournoy chaired the task force, along with CNAS president Richard Fontaine, and publicly embraced its main policy recommendation in remarks at the conference.

She called for "using limited military coercion" to help support the forces seeking to force President Assad from power, in part by creating a "no bombing" zone over those areas in which the opposition groups backed by the United States could operate safely.

In an interview with Defense One, Flournoy described the no-bomb zone as saying to the Russian and Syrian governments, "If you bomb the folks we support, we will retaliate using standoff means to destroy [Russian] proxy forces, or, in this case, Syrian assets."  That would "stop the bombing of certain civilian populations," Flournoy said.

In a letter to the editor of Defense One, Flournoy denied having advocated "putting US combat troops on the ground to take territory from Assad's forces or remove Assad from power," which she said the title and content of the article had suggested.

But she confirmed that she had argued that "the US should under some circumstances consider using limited military coercion – primarily trikes using standoff weapons – to retaliate against Syrian military targets" for attacks on civilian or opposition groups "and to set more favorable conditions on the ground for a negotiated political settlement."

Renaming a "No-Fly" Zone

The proposal for a "no bombing zone" has clearly replaced the "no fly zone," which Clinton has repeatedly supported in the past as the slogan to cover a much broader US military role in Syria.

Panetta served as Defense Secretary and CIA Director in the Obama administration when Clinton was Secretary of State, and was Clinton's ally on Syria policy. On July 17, he gave an interview to CBS News in which he called for steps that partly complemented and partly paralleled the recommendations in the CNAS paper.

"I think the likelihood is that the next president is gonna have to consider adding additional special forces on the ground," Panetta said, "to try to assist those moderate forces that are taking on ISIS and that are taking on Assad's forces."

Panetta was deliberately conflating two different issues in supporting more US Special Forces in Syria. The existing military mission for those forces is to support the anti-ISIS forces made up overwhelmingly of the Kurdish YPG and a few opposition groups.

Neither the Kurds nor the opposition groups the Special Forces are supporting are fighting against the Assad regime.  What Panetta presented as a need only for additional personnel is in fact a completely new US mission for Special Forces of putting military pressure on the Assad regime.

He also called for increasing "strikes" in order to "put increasing pressure on ISIS but also on Assad." That wording, which jibes with the Flournoy-CNAS recommendation, again conflates two entirely different strategic programs as a single program.

The Panetta ploys in confusing two separate policy issues reflects the reality that the majority of the American public strongly supports doing more militarily to defeat ISIS but has been opposed to US war against the government in Syria.

poll taken last spring showed 57 percent in favor of a more aggressive US military force against ISIS. The last time public opinion was surveyed on the issue of war against the Assad regime, however, was in September 2013, just as Congress was about to vote on authorizing such a strike.

At that time, 55 percent to 77 percent of those surveyed opposed the use of military force against the Syrian regime, depending on whether Congress voted to authorize such a strike or to oppose it.

Shaping the Debate

It is highly unusual, if not unprecedented, for figures known to be close to a presidential candidate to make public recommendations for new and broader war abroad. The fact that such explicit plans for military strikes against the Assad regime were aired so openly soon after Clinton had clinched the Democratic nomination suggests that Clinton had encouraged Flournoy and Panetta to do so.

The rationale for doing so is evidently not to strengthen her public support at home but to shape the policy decisions made by the Obama administration and the coalition of external supporters of the armed opposition to Assad.

Obama's refusal to threaten to use military force on behalf of the anti-Assad forces or to step up military assistance to them has provoked a series of leaks to the news media by unnamed officials – primarily from the Defense Department – criticizing Obama's willingness to cooperate with Russia in seeking a Syrian ceasefire and political settlement as "naïve."

The news of Clinton's advisers calling openly for military measures signals to those critics in the administration to continue to push for a more aggressive policy on the premise that she will do just that as president.

Even more important to Clinton and close associates, however, is the hope of encouraging Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which have been supporting the armed opposition to Assad, to persist in and even intensify their efforts in the face of the prospect of US-Russian cooperation in Syria.

Even before the recommendations were revealed, specialists on Syria in Washington think tanks were already observing signs that Saudi and Qatari policymakers were waiting for the Obama administration to end in the hope that Clinton would be elected and take a more activist role in the war against Assad.

The new Prime Minister of Turkey, Binali Yildirim, however, made a statement on July 13 suggesting that Turkish President Recep Yayyip Erdogan may be considering a deal with Russia and the Assad regime at the expense of both Syrian Kurds and the anti-Assad opposition.

That certainly would have alarmed Clinton's advisers, and four days later, Panetta made his comments on network television about what "the next president" would have to do in Syria.

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News Fri, 29 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Clinton's DNC Speech Lays Out a Progressive Agenda; Is It Too Little, Too Late? http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37032-clinton-s-dnc-speech-lays-out-a-progressive-agenda-is-it-too-little-too-late http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37032-clinton-s-dnc-speech-lays-out-a-progressive-agenda-is-it-too-little-too-late

Hillary Clinton accepts the Democratic presidential nomination on stage during the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 28, 2016. (Photo: Sam Hodgson / The New York Times)Hillary Clinton accepts the Democratic presidential nomination on stage during the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 28, 2016. (Photo: Sam Hodgson / The New York Times)

Hillary Clinton made history in more ways than one in Philadelphia.

By Tuesday, she was the first woman nominated by a major political party. On Wednesday, President Obama wholeheartedly passed her the leadership baton. Before she took the stage Thursday, mainstream media was calling the Democratic National Convention a great success, while the TV ratings at the DNC have exceeded the GOP's overall. And then Clinton gave a poised and clear-eyed speech accepting the nomination and presenting a very progressive agenda.

And, in a manner unmatched by any previous speaker on the previous three nights, Clinton thanked Sanders for his campaign, thanked his supporters for their energy, and invited them to join her to win the White House and make their agenda a reality.

"I want to thank Bernie Sanders," she said. "Bernie, your campaign inspired millions of Americans, particularly the young people who threw their hearts and souls into our primary. You've put economic and social justice issues front and center, where they belong."

"And to all of your supporters here and around the country: I want you to know, I've heard you," she continued. "Your cause is our cause. Our country needs your ideas, energy, and passion. That's the only way we can turn our progressive platform into real change for America. We wrote it together -- now let's go out there and make it happen together."

Sanders supporters did not respond with wild cheers. But that's to be expected, not just because the leader of the revolution they believed in didn't win. But because even as she laid out an agenda that shared many of their goals, one far more progressive than what Obama campaigned on or hoped for, many weren't ready to take her at her word.

That's because the convention was not welcoming for the representatives of the largest grassroots insurgency in the party's history since Rev. Jesse Jackson's 1988 bid -- and this one is quite a bit bigger. It may seem small to step back from Clinton's agenda spanning the social and economic justice spectrum, her trashing Donald Trump with poise and wit and barbs, and her sincere-sounding an invitation for all to join her revolution.

But for most of the 1,900 Sanders delegates in Philadelphia, the convention was a turbulent and trying affair. It began with DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz being forced to resign a day before it opened, after WikiLeaks posted emails of aides plotting against Sanders, but then she was rewarded with a top appointment to the Clinton campaign. That didn't just affirm their suspicions about DNC bias, but it more ominously signaled that the party and Clinton campaign didn't care about them. And it set a tone that many Sanders delegates felt all week here.

All week long there were petty slights, from turning off the lights above their California delegation when they vocally protested, to yanking a Sanders delegate's credentials after she apparently refused to read a nominating script they drafted for her. "It's just stupid as hell. What the DNC is doing is sabotaging this election," said Danny Fetonte, a retired union organizer and delegate from Austin, Texas. "It makes it harder for us who are trying to convince those Bernie people to come along [and support Clinton]."

But it wasn't just the DNC that was squandering the chance to turn a page with Sanders delegates, who are the messengers to the party's progressive base. Clinton delegates, beyond the party apparatus, could have reached out but mostly did not. As state after state announced it delegate counts, the speeches -- in some states Sanders won big -- did not mention that. "It didn't reflect the voters on the ground whatsoever," said Karen Bernal, a California delegation leader. "It spat in their faces. There was no reflection of their voices whatsoever."

That smoldering attitude was part of the backdrop to Clinton's speech Thursday, which was the last opportunity in the convention to change hearts and minds inside the party and across America. On TV, Clinton delegates waved "stronger together" posters, but on the floor their delegations more often than not were like ships in the night passing at uncomfortably close range. It was a strange dichotomy that lasted for days, creating a mood that didn't really break until Clinton herself spoke on Thursday.

"Democrats are the party of working people," she said at one point, then raising many issues that Sanders campaign on. "I believe that our economy isn't working the way it should because our democracy isn't working the way it should. That's why we need to appoint Supreme Court justices who will get money out of politics and expand voting rights, not restrict them. And we'll pass a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United!"

She didn't stop there. "And I believe Wall Street can never, ever be allowed to wreck Main Street again," she said. "I believe in science," she continued, to laughs. "I believe that climate change is real and that we can save our planet while creating millions of good-paying clean energy jobs… Whatever party you belong to, or if you belong to no party at all, if you share these beliefs, this is your campaign."

"If you believe that we should say 'no' to unfair trade deals," Clinton continued, citing perhaps the hottest-button issue for Sanders delegates, opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, "join us."  And then she mentioned Sanders again by name and a key issue, college affordability.

"Bernie Sanders and I will work together to make college tuition-free for the middle class and debt-free for all! We will also liberate millions of people who already have student debt," she said. "It's just not right that Donald Trump can ignore his debts, but students and families can't refinance theirs."  

And as she closed, she once again implored everyone who shares these goals to join her campaign. "I know that at a time when so much seems to be pulling us apart, it can be hard to imagine how we'll ever pull together again. But I'm here to tell you tonight -- progress is possible."

Those were some of the most forward and direct appeals during the convention to the people who responded to Sanders' call for a political revolution. Before the speech, it was common to hear delegates say they planned to go home and get involved in local politics. Whether Clinton's invitation is too little, too late, remains to be seen.

It was, however, the most appreciated words spoken to the Sanders delegation all week.

Watch Clinton's nomination acceptance speech:

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News Fri, 29 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
"Eat, Pray, Starve": Greg Grandin on Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton and the US Role in Honduras http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37031-eat-pray-starve-greg-grandin-on-tim-kaine-hillary-clinton-and-the-us-role-in-honduras http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37031-eat-pray-starve-greg-grandin-on-tim-kaine-hillary-clinton-and-the-us-role-in-honduras

On Wednesday night, Hillary Clinton's running mate, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, delivered a prime-time speech in which he spoke about the nine months he spent with Jesuit missionaries in Honduras in 1980. To talk more about the significance of Tim Kaine's time in Honduras, we speak with Greg Grandin, professor of Latin American history at New York University. His most recent article for The Nation is headlined "Eat, Pray, Starve: What Tim Kaine Didn't Learn During His Time in Honduras."

Please check back later for full transcript.

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News Fri, 29 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Kshama Sawant vs. Rebecca Traister on Clinton, Democratic Party and Possibility of a Female President http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37030-kshama-sawant-vs-rebecca-traister-on-clinton-democratic-party-and-possibility-of-a-female-president http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37030-kshama-sawant-vs-rebecca-traister-on-clinton-democratic-party-and-possibility-of-a-female-president

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

Please check back later for full transcript.

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

"Treason doth never prosper: what's the reason? Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason."—Sir John Harington (1561-1612)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With one exception.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Is Syngenta?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

US Producers Fear a China-Owned Syngenta

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

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

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

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

Bad News for Syngenta's Flagship Atrazine?

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

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

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

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

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

Golden Rice Scam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Syngenta's Other Dangerous Products

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

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

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

Will the ChemChina-Syngenta Deal Go Through?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Members of AARP, the advocacy group for older Americans, listen as Congressional Democrats speak at a rally in Washington on Tuesday, July 15, 2008. AARP isn't exactly hiding its new financial relationship with ALEC. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski / The New York Times)Members of AARP, the advocacy group for older Americans, listen as Congressional Democrats speak at a rally in Washington on Tuesday, July 15, 2008. AARP isn't exactly hiding its new financial relationship with ALEC. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski / The New York Times)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But AARP is now funding ALEC.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thirteen states have filed an amicus brief against the Texas challenge to bathroom access. Thirteen states have filed an amicus brief against the Texas challenge to bathroom access. (Photo: hermitsmoores / Flickr)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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