Truthout Stories Sat, 30 Jul 2016 21:34:19 -0400 en-gb Stateless People: How Immigration Gaps Create Poverty in the US

Fresno, California --  They came to the United States in the 1970s and 1980s as child refugees, members of the Hmong minority in Laos fleeing that country's new communist government and persecution for helping the CIA in its covert war in Southeast Asia.

The United States held the promise of safety and a piece of the American dream.

Many of them chased that dream in California's Central Valley, slowly, sometimes painfully, building lives in a new country where their language and culture were virtually unknown. Largely from poor rural farming families, they often struggled to adjust to a dramatically different society, with few relevant skills and limited support. 

But, they went to school, got married, bought homes and had children. They built their new lives by working, finding jobs among the region's casinos, farms and health care providers.

Some among them also broke the law, committing crimes that ranged from robbery to assault. Like anyone else, they served their time or probation. But for some, the end of their time marked the beginning of a new ordeal.Since they were convicted of a felony, they lost their green card, which signifies not only their permanent resident status but their all-important license to live and work in America and access to the American dream itself.

They were caught in an unusual legal limbo, unlikely to be deported because the U.S. and Laos don't have a repatriation agreement, but also unable to fully participate in the economic life of the only country they had left. Today, they feel shoved aside, a forgotten part of a community that was already largely invisible -- the Hmong are one of the most isolated ethnic groups in the nation.

They are allowed to stay in the United States, but many feel like second-class citizens, says Dai Vang, 44, who lost his green card roughly 20 years ago after serving six years for robbery.

They were forgotten, even though they are in this country because their families helped the CIA fight its "Secret War" against communist forces in Laos and North Vietnam in the early 1970s. When the U.S. lost that war in 1973, Hmong families were targeted and persecuted for their collaboration. Many were forced to flee Laos.

In the 1970s and 1980s, waves of Hmong refugees arrived in America, sometimes after years hiding in the jungles of Southeast Asia and spending a decade in Thai refugee camps.

"Our green card is our freedom. We are still here. We are not illegal. But our rights were taken away from us," Vang, whose name was changed because he remains concerned about his safety, said. "It is the grass we walk on. It is the air we breathe."

They lost their green cards when they made the same mistake. They were convicted of a felony that violated U.S. immigration law and drew the attention of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The agency detained them, sometimes for years, and legally confiscated their physical green cards.

These refugees then faced deportation, even though that is unlikely with Laos. The entire process triggered the loss of their green card status.

They have not made another mistake in the years or decades since their convictions, they say, adding that they have paid their price to society. Since they have not been deported they simply want a chance to support their families and contribute to society. Instead, they live in a permanent state of disruption, unclear of their status and future. Without a green card and with a felony conviction, they have struggled to work. Some have managed to navigate the system of one-year work permits, while others have remained jobless, and on the fringe.

In a country of second chances, they barely got a first chance.

Regardless of what they did five, 10 or 20 years ago, making it harder to work does not help them, their families, or their communities, said Anoop Prasad, an attorney in the Immigrant Rights Program at the Asian Americans Advancing Justice's Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco.

"They are not going anywhere. Would you rather have them working?…Or, live on the margins?" Prasad said. "They are making it so difficult for these" people.

Their lives were already often difficult.

The Hmong remain one of the poorest ethnic groups in the nation. In Asia, they often live in mountainous areas in China, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar and Laos. Often isolated by language and poverty, their voices are rarely heard beyond their communities in the U.S., according to Kao Kalia Yang, author of "The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir."

They are a largely forgotten legacy of U.S. wars in Southeast Asia from 40 years ago, which sent them to a country where they have little leverage and power, Yang added.

"I don't think we have been heard," Yang said. "It is hard to just get to a place where others will listen."

The Hmong are struggling to be heard even though they came to the U.S. as veterans, though unofficial and unrecognized, of the "Secret War" the U.S. waged in Laos.

After arriving, many Hmong refugees had a hard time finding their place in their new country because they were placed in poor neighborhoods -- at 31 percent, Fresno's poverty rate is double the national rate -- with failing schools, few jobs, and little cultural and mental health support, Prasad said.

More than 50 percent of Hmong children live in poverty, the Center for American Progress reported last year.

Though the Central Valley is home to a well-known agricultural industry, parts of it rank as some of the poorest in the country.

In Fresno, Vang is among a handful of Hmong who shared their stories of losing green cards, though they say the issue extends deeper into their community. It's a community they were sent back to without the ability to support themselves and their families, according to Lue Yang, executive director of the Fresno Center for New Americans.

"This is not healthy," Yang said. "I cannot find jobs for them. I cannot find any support for them."

Their struggles show a side of U.S. immigration the public too rarely sees. Immigration is not always about undocumented or documented, borders and raids. It is also a system that cannot always react to the complexity of real lives, including ones disrupted by U.S. foreign policy.

Their stories are echoed, in many ways, by those of refugees from Cambodia and Vietnam, and the flood of children who fled chaos and violence in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras in recent years.

The U.S. immigration enforcement system may be designed to deal with drug and human smuggling, says Edgar Saldivar, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Texas, but not necessarily children escaping violence or Hmong refugees fleeing persecution.

In Limbo

Many evenings Blong Thao ends up at the same dusty park just outside downtown Fresno. Sometimes, he watches other Hmong men throw dice from their bright pink, blue and green stools in the corner of the park, other times a pick-up soccer game on the patchy grass field.

Often, though, he walks alone on a beaten track that rings the park because he wants to forget for a while. He wants to forget that he hasn't worked consistently in 10 years. He wants to forget he spent a month in jail and detention for reasons immigration officials never fully explained.

Thao winds up here after spending most of the day away from the cramped three-bedroom apartment he shares with his wife and four children. He stays away, in part, because he worries ICE agents could detain him again, like they did nine years ago when they took away his green card.

"The fear is with you every day and every night," said Thao, whose name was changed because he is concerned about his safety. "You don't know when they are going to pick you up."

It all began early one morning, when immigration agents arrested Thao outside his house and in front of his crying children and wife. Thao didn't understand why he was being detained, though he now suspects it was related to a decade-old felony conviction for assault.

Even though he had served his probation and kept out of trouble, he spent the next two weeks in the Bakersfield Jail, and then another two weeks in detention centers in Fort Worth and Dallas, Texas.

Then one day, he was suddenly released, he says, without a hearing, a clear explanation, his green card, other identification, or any money, in Dallas, a city he had never visited, and with no way to get home. A relative wired him money for a plane ticket, but ICE had to send an agent with him to the airport so he could clear security.

Back in Fresno, he spent $2,000 on an immigration lawyer, who told him it would cost more than $10,000, which he didn't have, to work on securing his green card. He called ICE, but worried that if he went down to its office he could be arrested again.

"I don't go to ICE because I am scared they are going to grab me," said Thao, who says he failed one exam for U.S. citizenship, after studying for the wrong test, and never found time to try again amid the crush of work and raising a family.

Thao, who had worked since he washed dishes until 2 a.m. as a teenager, now couldn't support his family. He came to the U.S. as a teenager, leaving Laos, after his father worked for the CIA in its war against the communist forces that were taking over the country.

"Now, they took away everything, and you are living a nightmare," said Thao, who added that he felt safer hiding from government soldiers in the jungles of Laos than in Fresno today. "We have no rights at all…We have a broken dream."

A handful of members of Fresno's Hmong community tell similar stories, though they say the problem spreads far beyond them.

Dai Vang struggled to find work after spending about a decade in federal prison -- six years for burglary and another four years in an immigration detention facility. Once he was out, his parole officer took time and eventually helped him apply for one-year work permits that have allowed him to keep a steady job.

It would have been tough enough finding that job and building a life with a felony conviction, Vang says, but since he couldn't show potential employers a green card it was twice as hard. He has seen that stress break a lot of Hmong families.

"It was a hard road I took, worse than when I was incarcerated," Vang, who remains happily married and whose name also was changed for his safety, said. "It has been so long. I mean, if you can't deport us, give (us) our green cards."

Even though other Hmong are struggling without green cards in Fresno, and perhaps around the country, Vang says no one seems to care. They are a small slice of a relatively small ethnic group -- there were fewer than 300,000 Hmong Americans in 2013, according to the Center for American Progress.

"People don't care about our condition," Vang said. "It has been in the shadow too long."

Practical and Possible Solutions

In the current political climate, it is unlikely Congress would include help for Hmong refugees who lost their green cards in a broad immigration reform bill, according to the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center, a national organization that has offices in Washington, D.C. and Sacramento.

The center is working for a more targeted solution by raising awareness of the problems these and other refugees and immigrants face.

Congress could restore the discretion of immigration judges in cases where people have lost their green cards. Judges lost the ability to consider an individual's circumstances, such as those of the Hmong, when ruling on whether to take away a green card and deportation in the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility and the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty acts in 1996, said Mari Quenemoen, the center's director of communications.

Recently, though, more than 30 members of Congress co-sponsored a resolution that supports restoring this discretion, but it remains a long shot in the immediate future because of opposition among Republicans and some Democrats, she said.

"Why do they leave these people in limbo, with no green card?" said Quenemoen, referring to Hmong without green cards. "It is sort of a perpetual punishment the rest of their life."

Federal agencies and organizations could take smaller and practical steps that could help pull these Hmong men and women out of limbo, according to advocates.

The federal government, for example, could clarify regulations that govern the work status of refugees from Laos who have removal, or deportation, orders, but nowhere to go, they say.

"How should these people…be living?" Mee Moua, who is president and executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Asian Americans Advancing Justice's AAJC and Hmong, said. "I don't think anybody has really answered and answered it with clarity."

Advocacy groups and nonprofit organizations could offer more clinics that help refugees and immigrants navigate the nation's complex immigration laws. Hmong refugees who lost their green cards can apply for year-long work permits, advocates say. But it's a technical process, particularly for people who struggle with English. It's a lot easier to navigate with professional help, according to the Asian Americans Advancing Justice's Asian Law Caucus.

The caucus has held clinics but usually in larger cities, such as San Francisco. They could expand clinics to smaller cities, including those in the Central Valley, but that would require additional funding.

In Blong Thao's case, he could hire an immigration lawyer to explore whether he could get his case reopened and apply for a waiver that would get his green card back, though that is a long shot, according to the Immigrant Rights Program's Prasad.

For now, a more likely and limited solution is that he could apply for a one-year work permit, and receive help with that complicated process at a free clinic, though they are usually held in cities hours from Fresno.

Many of these targeted solutions also would require resources and coordination, and the Fresno Center for New Americans is working to connect with Asian Americans Advancing Justice -- Los Angeles and advocacy organizations in the Central Valley. The center is searching for a solution that respects the law and gives members of the community caught in this limbo a clear way to work, support their families and contribute to their communities.

Being stateless can lead people into poverty, and keep them there, because they struggle to secure the right to work, according to a 2011 report for the U.S. State Department.

"We cannot do it alone. We have to partner with many other agencies," said Lue Yang of the Fresno Center for New Americans.

Stuck in Limbo

Thao remains stuck in limbo.

Some days he visits his father's grave outside the city to talk with the man who helped the CIA in its "Secret War" 40 years ago, a decision that led his family to flee into the jungle, spend 14 years in refugee camps in Thailand, and eventually move to America. At the cemetery, Thao asks: "Why did you bring us here?"

"I told my dad it is all your fault. You joined the CIA," Thao said. "Now, you take us to the U.S. I can't support my life. I can't support my kids."

He wants something different for his four children. He wants them to have the opportunity to pursue the American dream, a dream integrally tied to the freedom to work.

It is an opportunity he has lost, at least for now.

Opinion Sat, 30 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Olympic Chefs Pledge to Salvage Unused Food and Feed the Hungry With It

Some of the big-name chefs cooking for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro are also activists for the hungry. Knowing full well there will be tremendous food waste at that massive event, the chefs plan to salvage as much as they can. With it, every night of the games, they will feed the hungry.

Each day, the food preparation staff for the Olympics will have to feed an incredible 60,000 meals to 18,000 athletes, coaches and other personnel. To do that, they need a specially built kitchen that will be as big as a football field. A whopping 460,000 lbs of food will be delivered every day. Meals will be prepared and served as Brazilian, Asian, Halal, Kosher, International and Pasta/Pizza buffets.

When each day concludes, invariably there will be a lot of leftovers. Instead of throwing it all away, chefs Massimo Bottura and David Hertz came up with a better idea. They believe they'll end up with about 12 tons of surplus food over the course of two weeks. They're going to use all that food to prepare 100 free meals a night for the nearby hungry.

Bottura and Hertz are world class chefs on a mission. Even before the 2016 Olympic Games, both sought ways to minimize food waste and feed the needy. In 2006, Hertz founded Gastromotiva, an organization that provides vocational kitchen training throughout Brazil and Latin America.

Among Gastromotiva's guiding principles are the goals of improving health and well-being by means of food safety and gastronomy as well as mobilizing society on issues of social responsibility through gastronomy.

Massimo Bottura owns the Italian restaurant currently sitting at number two on the list of the world's 50 best restaurants -- Osteria Francescana, a three Michelin star restaurant. Asserting that "cooking is a call to act," Bottura needed to do more. He therefore founded the non-profit Food For Soul.

Its aim is to promote social awareness about food waste and hunger by collaborating with chefs, artisans, food suppliers, artists, designers and institutions on a wide range of initiatives. Among its projects, Food for Soul has opened soup kitchens associated with major events like ExpoMilan 2015 to do exactly what will happen at the 2016 Olympic Games -- feed the hungry with food that would otherwise go to waste.

Watch Bottura discuss his Food for Soul initiative in this video:

Clearly, Hertz and Bottura can't use the athletes' dining areas for this purpose. Instead, the city of Rio took over an empty store on the Rua da Lapa and turned it into a community soup kitchen. The newly named ‎RefettoRio Gastromotiva will feed the needy during the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and then remain in place as a community center helping locals with food-related programs and classes.

This marvelous plan is a step in the right direction. The world wastes so much food that could be repurposed and used to feed people. Food is a precious resource, yet worldwide we waste an astounding 1.3 billion tons a year. In a world with 795 million undernourished people, that level of waste needs to stop.

These chefs will already have so much to do at the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and yet they insist on adding this terrific initiative to their busy days. That's dedication to a cause. We need more activists like this in the world. Let these fine gentlemen inspire you. Volunteer somewhere and find out if you're an activist at heart. Get out there and do good for others.

News Sat, 30 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
How Much Do Shady Financial Practices Cost You, Exactly?

The average household loses $100,000 to big financiers.(Photo: geralt / Pixabay)

The United States' financial system is broken for all but a few at the top -- that much is plain. The rest sense that we are stuck on the minus end of some great financial formula, but given the complexity and size of Big Finance, it's hard to pin down exactly why it happens and how it all adds up.

Enter economist Gerald Epstein of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He has dived in and crunched the numbers, and the results are eye-popping. Epstein and his colleague Juan Antonio Montecino look at exactly how families, taxpayers and businesses get ripped off by dubious financial activities and tally up the costs in a new paper for the Roosevelt Institute, "Overcharged: The High Cost of Finance." (The Institute for New Economic Thinking has also supported several papers by Epstein).

Epstein and Montecino report the grand total of the loss to Americans: 

We estimate that the financial system will impose an excess cost of as much as $22.7 trillion between 1990 and 2023, making finance in its current form a net drag on the American economy.

That is indeed a drag. 

The researchers look at three key areas, including the excessive profits nabbed by financiers; the price of diverting resources away from non-financial activities; and how much you lose from blow-ups like the 2008 financial crisis.

I asked Epstein how all this breaks down for an ordinary American employee, say, the manager at a retail store -- let's call her Jane. Epstein explained to me how bankers and financiers shrink her wallet as she goes about her normal activities.

See Jane Lose

Epstein begins with a few examples, such as late fees on credit cards. 

A late fee might be $30. Interest rates can go up as high as over 20 percent. Then there are the ATM fees which Jane may not see, and which Congress tried to limit with little success in Dodd-Frank. Consumer groups have also tried to limit bank and credit card fees, but also unsuccessfully because the bank lobby is so strong in protecting them. If Jane has an erroneous fee, good luck to her in getting that reimbursed.

If Jane is lucky enough to have some retirement savings, she is very possibly getting taken for a ride there, too. Epstein notes that if you have a 401(k) plan and your employer has hired an asset management firm to manage your funds, the costs are very high compared to index funds or low-cost managed funds. Often 2 percent is skimmed right there. 

"If Jane had put $10,000 into an index fund instead of an actively managed fund," he notes, "then after 30 years, she would have 44 percent higher wealth, and after 40 years, she would have 65 percent higher wealth. After 35 years or so, Jane loses half of the wealth that could have been hers without the high fees paid through actively managed funds."

An employee is often given the illusion of choice between different funds, but in reality they may all have high fees and do no better -- or even worse -- than the overall stock market. Even if Jane has the choice of an index fund, notes Epstein, she may still get swindled. If the employer has set things up with an asset manager, fees on index funds can still be higher than if you did it yourself.

What can Jane do? Can she educate herself on the intricacies of fee structures to avoid this pitfall? Good luck with that too, says Epstein.

"There's very little requirement that these asset managers provide real, clear, upfront information about the fees, about the returns relative to alternatives, and so on." He explains that managers and advisors typically don't even have fiduciary responsibility to Jane and her fellow employees. In other words, they aren't obligated to do what's in her best interest and they may well have conflicts of interest, luring people into investments that produce the biggest fees for themselves.

The asset management company, the broker, or the manager is richer; Jane is poorer.

Big Finance Family Values

Jane's whole family is going to pay heavily for all these overpayments, which, for poor families, include gouging by payday lenders and other predators. But there are hidden costs, too, which pile up from a financial system that is too big and attracts vast numbers of talented, smart people who want to get rich instead of teach, practice medicine or build things.

This bloated, inefficient financial system tends to lower economic growth -- Epstein reckons that between 1990 and 2005, the cost to the overall economy was between 2½ and 4 trillion. Americans have also paid because of the banking shenanigans which helped set off the 2008 financial crisis -- they may have lost their jobs or seen their wages reduced or their homes foreclosed. Many never regain their financial footing.

"If you add up all of these costs," says Epstein, "which we do in this report, you get a figure somewhere between 13 trillion and 23 trillion dollars. That comes out to between $40,000 and $70,000 for every man, woman and child in the U.S. from roughly 1990 to 2005." 

Jane's household lost $105,00 and $180,000. The typical household would have doubled its wealth in retirement if not for these costs. Frankly, these numbers are probably underestimated because of conservative estimates we used.

Epstein calls the whole process a "negative sum game ." This means that it costs people like Jane more than simply a dollar to transfer a dollar of wealth to financiers -- significantly more because of all the ways their destructive activities impact her, like reduced governments services due to a stagnant economy. "We actually pay five dollars for every extra dollar that ends up in the pockets of bankers," Epstein notes. "It drags down the economy as a whole."

Neoclassical economists love to talk about the efficiency of the market. But this is anything but efficient.

"We're not saying that there's no financial activity which is useful," Epstein emphasizes, "but we are saying that the kinds of finance that generate these high rents and these high profits, are also extremely damaging to all the Janes and Johns in our economy." He points out that these financial activities are a big engine of inequality: "The benefits are accruing to the one percent and the costs are hitting the 99 percent."

Taking Back the Economy

Can the excess costs of finance be reduced? Can the financial sector once again play a more productive role in society?

Epstein and Montecino say yes. "To accomplish this," they write, "we need three complementary approaches: improved financial regulation, building on what Dodd -Frank has already accomplished; a restructuring of the financial system to better serve the needs of our communities, small businesses, households, and public entities; and public financial alternatives, such as cooperative banks and specialized banks, to level the playing field."

"We know how do this," says Epstein. "In the past, we had strict regulations on banks by the New Deal coalition, but they fell apart in part because the bankers themselves were never happy with it. They did ok, but not so much better than, say manufacturers. They made respectable incomes, but not mega profits. So they pressed very hard to get rid of the restrictions, and they eventually got their way. By 1999, with the repeal of Glass-Steagall, it was a fait accompli."

Financiers and bankers still have enormous political power through the revolving door and they've managed to poke enormous holes in Dodd-Frank. In Epstein's view, the next president has to make breaking up the biggest banks a priority if the wild horses of finance are to be corralled. 

The banks are too big to fail, too big to manage, too big to jail. Our results suggest that they use subsidized government funds in the form of bailouts to do risky, destructive speculative activities. That's the number one priority. Number two is to bring the shadow banking system, which includes like hedge funds and private equity funds, under strict regulation, which they aren't now. Number three is to make the regime of regulation of derivatives much stronger.

Epstein is also keen on the idea of alternative financial institutions, such postal banks, which the U.S. Postal Service has been discussing bringing back (these banks existed in the 1930s and '40s). "That way," says Epstein, "people don't have to go to the pawnbroker for a credit card. We really need alternatives for all financial areas -- everything from mortgages to retirement investing."

The public option for finance is not yet being discussed among mainstream political candidates, but perhaps, like the public healthcare option, the time for taking it seriously is on the horizon.

Epstein adds that there is much more research that needs to be done by economists to study the myriad processes by which Americans are drawn into the financial web and the ways in which they are overcharged —a whole range of activities from student loans to debt collection. "We need to know more about how they affect us as individuals and collectively." 

News Sat, 30 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
The NYPD Is Already a Small Army -- Now It Is Hyping Terror Threats to Militarize Even More

This is part of a nationwide push to exploit the massacre at Orlando's Pulse LGBTQ nightclub and the killing of five Dallas police officers to ramp up the militarization and funding of their forces.The NYPD's effort is part of a nationwide push by police departments to exploit the massacre at Orlando's Pulse LGBTQ nightclub and the killing of five Dallas police officers to ramp up the militarization and funding of their forces. (Photo: Mike Tigas)

The NYPD is already the largest and most well-resourced police force in the United States, with more than 34,000 officers on its payroll and a budget that hovers over $5 billion annually.

But now, the New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and Mayor Bill de Blasio are invoking the specter of ISIS-style terror and the supposed "war on cops" to spend at least another $7.5 million on military-style gear.

Their effort is part of a nationwide push by police departments to exploit the massacre at Orlando's Pulse LGBTQ nightclub and the killing of five Dallas police officers to ramp up the militarization and funding of their forces. They do so as growing numbers take to the streets across the United States to charge that it is police who pose a threat to public safety, following the deadly cop shootings of black men Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

In a press statement released Monday, the NYPD directly referenced "instances of localized terror attacks, active shooter incidents, and even direct ambushes of police officers" in justifying the massive purchase.

"Twenty thousand ballistic helmets will be distributed to all uniformed members of the service assigned to patrol functions," the statement continued. "Additionally, six thousand heavy ballistic vests, which contain a front and rear level three panel, will be furnished in 3,000 vehicles assigned to patrol duties (two per vehicle)."

The purchases come on top of the more than $320 million that "has been secured to fund a broad spectrum of equipment and training since 2014, including: ballistic vests; helmets and vehicles; tactical escape hoods and belt-worn trauma kits; M4 rifles, OC spray and Tasers; smartphones and tablets; along with a host of training initiatives," according to NYPD News. The police-affiliated site states, "Much of this funding has been provided by City Hall, the City Council, the New York County District Attorney, among others."

International Business Times reporter Cristina Silva wrote Monday, "Some special units will also receive automatic long guns, more powerful pepper spray and Tasers." And indeed, guns are included among images of new equipment to be disbursed to the NYPD, in addition to the vests and helmets.

However, the NYPD refused to directly answer repeated requests from AlterNet for clarification on which pool of money will be used to purchase the guns, Tasers and chemical weapons.

The expenditures come on top of the at least $1.9 billion funneled into training and new equipment over the last three years, according to Bratton. Remarkably, the city is moving to purchase 6,000 ballistic vests after it already bough bullet-proof vests last year.

Meanwhile, the NYPD receives a windfall from the federal program known as Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) -- a "war on terror" creation that operates as a slush fund for the militarization of police forces nationwide.

"As the NYPD spends millions on military gear this week, it is key to remember that they're also the number one recipient of UASI funds, securing $178 million just last year," Skanda Kadirgamar, organizer for the War Resisters League, told AlterNet. "UASI funds police militarization trainings -- convincing cops there's a war against them, and compelling them to wage war on us. The NYPD and its team of NYC politicians are right on cue, as electoral candidates continue fueling fear and hate, and twisting tragic loss of life to their ends."

As for Bratton, he told reporters at a press conference on Monday, "You name it, we are buying it... There's not a police department in America that's spending as much money, as much thought and interest on this issue of officer safety."

Lumumba Bandele, a member of the New York organization Communities United for Police Reform, told AlterNet that such proclamations are alarming. "What do they think this is, shoe shopping?" Bandele asked. "The NYPD force is like a child who gets a new toy. Whenever they get new equipment, they can't wait to get out in the streets and test it. This makes it more likely that they will engage in high-risk activities, leading to greater loss of life, particularly for our community members."

"At this point," Bandele added "we've gone decades attempting to demilitarize the NYPD."

Mayor Bill de Blasio rallied behind Bratton. "Obviously all over the country people have been deeply trouble by the attack on our officers," he said. "We made this decision quickly in light of the challenges we face."

The massive purchase comes amid growing outcry at the department's aggressive and racially discriminatory policing, including Stop-and-frisk policies that overwhelmingly target black and Latino people, as well as law enforcement repression of Black Lives Matter protests, in which the movement is treated like a terrorist threat.

Bratton, one of the most powerful police figures in the country, has used the specter of terrorism to press for expanded police powers, including access to phone data and ongoing, massive law enforcement deployments throughout New York.

His administration has recently fallen under criticism for aggressive raids targeting public housing communities across the city, during which one man plunged to his death in April.

"People are screaming at the top of their lungs that police are part of the problem," Josmar Trujillo, a writer and grassroots organizer with New Yorkers Against Bratton, told AlterNet. "We literally have to get arrested and throw our bodies into the street to even be noticed."

The NYPD announcement immediately followed a nationwide surge of protests, organized by the Movement for Black Lives, under the banner of "Freedom Now." Police killings of black people in 2015 outnumbered lynchings of African Americans during the worst year of Jim Crow. At least 1,146 people total were killed by police that year, according to the Guardian, in what is likely a conservative estimate due to the underreporting of law enforcement killings.

"Regular people can't get resources, can't get money for communities and schools," Trujillo said. "Police can stomp their feet and get what they want. Police get everything they want, even though they are part of the problem."

News Sat, 30 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
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.

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

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

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.

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


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, We are "Breaking with Convention: War, Peace and the Presidency." I'm Amy Goodman. We're broadcasting from the Democratic National Convention here in Philadelphia, where former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made history by becoming the first woman to accept a major-party presidential nomination.

HILLARY CLINTON: I believe 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, if necessary, we will pass a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. I believe American corporations that have gotten so much from our country should be just as patriotic in return. Many of them are, but too many aren't. It's wrong to take tax breaks with one hand and give out pink slips with the other. And I believe Wall Street can never, ever be allowed to wreck Main Street again.

And I believe in science. I believe climate change is real and that we can save our planet while creating millions of good-paying clean energy jobs.

I believe that when we have millions of hard-working immigrants contributing to our economy, it would be self-defeating and inhumane to try to kick them out. Comprehensive immigration reform will grow our economy and keep families together, and it's the right thing to do.

So, whatever party you belong to or if you belong to no party at all, if you share these beliefs, this is your campaign.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the historic nomination of Hillary Clinton, we're joined now by two guests. Rebecca Traister is writer-at-large for New York Magazinewho's written about Hillary Clinton for a decade, her most recent article headlined "Hillary Is Poised to Make the 'Impossible Possible' -- for Herself and for Women in America." She's the author of All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation. We're also joined by Kshama Sawant, a Socialist city councilmember of Seattle. She helped win a $15-an-hour minimum wage for all workers in Seattle.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Rebecca, let's begin with you. You were on the floor of the convention last night when Hillary Clinton gave that speech. Your reaction?

REBECCA TRAISTER: Well, I was listening -- from the floor, it was hard to tell how it was going over. I mean, there was -- because there were protesters, I had -- I could hear the protesters. I was watching what was happening. I was paying attention. I wasn't -- I wasn't as focused on the speech and how it was being received. I was very aware of the sort of theatrical tensions within the room, everybody trying to drown each other out. And so -- and as somebody who's written about Hillary Clinton for a very long time and knows that these moments, these big speech moments where she's supposed to give some kind of speech that inspires and unites, don't always go very well for her -- this is not -- this is not her forte as a politician -- you know, I wasn't quite sure.

Overnight, I've read some of the reactions, and it seems to me that it has been much better received than many speeches that Hillary gives. In part, I think it had a lot of the marks of Bernie Sanders on it. I mean, one of the things that surprised me as I was listening to it is the time that she spent talking about Bernie and his supporters in warm ways, I'm sure ways that were not necessarily persuasive to those who were objecting, and that you heard so much about -- I mean, you heard -- you saw in that speech the product of what this primary process has done with regard to Hillary's candidacy. Walking into this election cycle as somebody who's written about Hillary, has had a lot of ambivalence about her tendencies to move toward the center, you know, a year and a half ago, I could have imagined a very different convention speech in which Hillary Clinton gets the nomination. And I think that the role that the Bernie left has played -- not just Bernie Sanders himself, but his supporters -- but, you know, the fact that there were protesters in there has moved Hillary Clinton in ways that, as somebody who has always been to the left of her ideologically, I'm very grateful for. And I think that you did see the marks of that in that speech. And we have a different candidate for president than we would have, had we not had this primary process.

AMY GOODMAN: Kshama Sawant, the message throughout this week, and your response to Hillary Clinton, the first woman to be nominated by a major party to be president of the United States?

KSHAMA SAWANT: Well, as a Socialist and a feminist myself and as a woman and a woman of color, I have no question in my mind that in order to make social change, it is absolutely critical that women, people of color, all the members of the oppressed communities under capitalism, be on the forefront of struggle. But I think the identity of the person we are talking about, the leading people, is -- are much less important. Their identities are much less important. What's far more critical is where they stand.

So, if you look at the significance of her being the first female nominee, I understand the appeal of that, I'm sympathetic to that. But here's what I would say. I actually -- you know, all throughout this campaign season, I was reminded of a show -- an episode that you played, Amy, in 2008, when you had Melissa Harris-Perry and Gloria Steinem debating, and Gloria was saying, "Well, if you're a woman, you need to vote for Hillary Clinton," and Melissa was saying, "Well, if you're a person of color, you need to vote for Obama." And I was sitting there watching as a woman of color, saying neither of these candidates represent my interests as a woman of color. And the reason I say that is it has less to do with their identity and far more to do with the interests they represent.

At the end of the day, we don't -- I don't think the debate is about her speech skills and all of that. It's more the fact that she is a dogged representative of Wall Street and Wall Street interests, and her entire party, the Democratic Party, and the establishment that controls it, is a representative of Wall Street interests. And yes, there are differences between Republicans and Democrats, but that is one thing they agree on, that they are primarily advocates for Wall Street. And Hillary Clinton is well on her way to be the international emissary for the fracking industry, which is so dangerous, so much so that she has refused to really, you know, even accept that this is going to be a huge problem in terms of climate change.

But you look at the whole spectrum of issues. A lot of people think that, well, it's a woman leader, and this is going to be important. But, look, she was on the board of Wal-Mart for six years. Wal-Mart is the world's biggest purveyor of poverty wages. And who do you think it affects? It affects women at the very bottom. You heard from the woman, the poignant story of the woman -- I saw her last night at the protest -- who said that because welfare was destroyed under Bill Clinton, she -- her mother had to become a sex worker. Hillary Clinton was not an innocent bystander when welfare was dismantled. She actually played an active political role alongside Bill Clinton and the new Democrats. Now, as a feminist, I would have loved for her to have played an active role to shore up welfare, to make sure that women's living standards could have been improved. Unfortunately for us, she's playing a very active role as a woman, but as a defender of Wall Street. So we really need to get outside of that. And if people are looking for a woman to support, think about Jill Stein.

AMY GOODMAN: Rebecca Traister?

REBECCA TRAISTER: Well, there are a lot of parts of what you just said. I'm in agreement with you about parts of it. I'm very -- I am also interested in getting money out of politics. I don't think that's the only issue that's at stake here. I think that there's a degree to which -- and as somebody who has written about my ambivalence and criticism of Hillary Clinton on some of these counts, I think that -- I'm glad that you and her other critics are making these points very, very loudly. I don't think those are the only issues at stake, though. I don't think that her -- what you see as her role as an emissary of Wall Street is where these questions end, and that voting for Jill Stein is a solution that works, either in terms of feminism or in terms of addressing the issues that you care so passionately about. Jill Stein is not going to win the presidency. And the person who would win the presidency, if Hillary Clinton is stopped -- and I understand the impulse to stop her -- is Donald Trump. And so, when it comes to issues of fracking, of Wall Street, of paid leave, of subsidized child care, of protecting what social programs we have in place now and shoring up social programs in the future and not seeing them destroyed, in terms of immigration reform, I think there are all those issues on the table. I am not sure that the feminist choice is supporting a woman who has -- who offers very little threat of actually winning.

I would also say, with regard to welfare reform, which is policy that I abhor and loathe and was critical of and horrified by at the time, I think it's extremely fair to criticize the public statements that Hillary Clinton made in support of it, but I also think it's really important to contextualize what her actual role in it was. She was not in elected office -- and I'm not excusing her. She made statements in support of it. However, you have to understand and consider the fact that she was under enormous pressure as the wife. She wasn't in elected office. She was playing the wife. She was a controversial wife. She was widely seen, incorrectly, as a radical left force within that White House in that era, and there was tremendous pressure on her to be supporting her husband, which ties into all kinds of old, you know, assumptions about wifeliness and the role that first ladies are supposed to play. Yes, it is absolutely fair to criticize the statements she made in support of welfare reform, to look critically at what role she played. There are all kinds of different stories about how she was trying to exert influence over that legislation as it was happening. But I don't think that asking Hillary Clinton to pay the bill for welfare reform and for the crime bill in a way that members, including Joe Biden, including John Kerry, who was a nominee -- the idea that this bill is being handed to Hillary Clinton, who was not in elected office, but was in this ceremonial position during those years, is the way to productively, critically address the ravages of welfare reform.

AMY GOODMAN: Kshama Sawant?

KSHAMA SAWANT: Well, I don't agree that she was in any ceremonial position. She was playing an active political role. But we don't need to quibble over those details. Hillary Clinton has been long enough in politics that she has her own independent track record, as secretary of state, as a warmonger and as a lobbyist-in-chief for big business and for multibillionaire interests. I don't see how we can, in any honesty, expect a woman who takes, you know, a quarter of a million dollars for every speech that she makes to Goldman Sachs, you know, who has been a rapacious factor in the global economic crisis, as somebody who will represent the interests of ordinary people. But I think, you know, again, we need to move away from an individualized and personalized narrative of politics to the larger context in which all of this is happening. The real problem here is not just her, but the fact that the Democratic Party and the establishment that controls it has a long track record of a systematic betrayal of the interests of working people and, you know, not to mention war abroad.

So, I think that when people are worried about Trump, it's absolutely legitimate. I am horrified. I find Trump's agenda of misogyny, bigotry, hatred and anti-immigrant hysteria absolutely stomach-turning. But if we are to actually defeat the phenomenon of Trump, then we have to look at Trump, the Trump phenomenon, not as something that happened just out of nowhere, out of thin air, but understand that the Trump phenomenon is a product of the fact that both the establishment parties, Republicans and Democrat, have moved to the right over the last several decades. And similarly, when the tea party in the Republican right made gains in 2010, that was not because Americans suddenly woke up and went right-wing. That was because millions of people were dejected and angry at Obama's corporate bailouts, and they were so disappointed and betrayed. And what's striking about that election is that it had historically the lowest voter turnout since the Second World War. What does this tell us? This tells us that there's a huge chasm between where the establishment stands, and the establishment parties, and ordinary Americans. And the reason Trump finds an echo is not because millions of people are racist. It's because millions of people are looking for an alternative. They're grasping for an alternative to corporate politics.

So the question really is this: How can -- if we want to defeat Trump, then the bigger question is: How will we defeat Trump and avoid building an ongoing basis for the right wing? And the reason the right wing finds an echo is because the left has failed to build so far. And this year, if we don't talk about concrete left politics, through the Jill Stein campaign, then we are going to leave the field open for Trump. Trump and the Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson are going to have a monopoly over millions of disenchanted voters.

AMY GOODMAN: Rebecca Traister?

REBECCA TRAISTER: Well, I want to -- I'm curious about this. So, do you think that encouraging people to vote for Jill Stein is going to defeat Trump? I mean, what do you actually envision happening, if you're -- if the idea is more of us should be voting for Jill Stein because we're dissatisfied with Hillary Clinton?

KSHAMA SAWANT: Well, first of all, it's a problem to look at presidential election years as something that's in a -- you know, it's in its own box, and then everything else is disconnected. That's not how it works.


KSHAMA SAWANT: And in reality, everything in history points towards the fact that building mass movements on the ground are absolutely critical in order to make social change. And those mass movements actually die a sorry death as long as we don't build independent of those mass movements. The reason we succeeded in winning $15 an hour, because I and Socialist Alternative ran our campaign in defiance of the Democratic Party establishment in Seattle, and we fought for 15. Do you think the Democrats led on it or even supported it? No. They were dragged along and were forced to vote on it, because the vast majority of people in Seattle built our movement on the streets and forced them for it. And that's the example of what we're talking about.

And what's at stake is not whether Jill Stein is going to win or not. The fact is this: If on November 6th we have a very strong vote -- a million and a half, 2 million, 3 million votes for Jill Stein -- that will make this movement that we're building sit up, ordinary people sit up, the people who are going to make change sit up and take notice that it is possible to build an independent party of the 99 percent, which is the real goal we need to go towards.

REBECCA TRAISTER: Well, first of all, I want to say I agree with you completely about your point about presidential politics being in this box, and this is the only time we come and focus on it, and it's a real mistake, it's absolutely detrimental to the way that the system works, and that this is still a time we can get people to tune in and feel strongly about it. That is, in fact, precisely why I, who agreed with his politics very strongly, had doubts about Bernie Sanders from a practical perspective as the nominee, because I worried that putting somebody -- because I -- I agree that individual ascension to the top or leadership positions within parties that have not shifted all the way down the ranks gave me tremendous anxiety that it would hurt a movement to the left to put a left candidate at the top with a recalcitrant Congress, recalcitrant state and local governments, and that in fact the move to the left had to be from the bottom up.

So, I just want to say that I absolutely agree with you. However, what we are now heading into -- and this is why I wanted to understand. Are you envisioning the push for Stein as being big enough that it gets people to pay attention, but not big enough that it damages Hillary Clinton's prospects? Because while I agree with you that this shouldn't just be about individual stories, and it's not just about Hillary Clinton, it's part of larger systems, the reality is, in November, there is going to be an election, and one person is going to win it. And even if we understand that this is about larger systems, that one person is going to gain a certain amount of control over systems, including the Supreme Court, that's going to make decisions over the course -- you know, that are going to affect a generation or two.

And so, I think there's -- while I agree with you wholeheartedly that we should be looking at this more holistically and systemically, and talking about how the fight for $15 and the activist work on the ground that is being done around paid leave, paid sick days, these things that none of the presidential candidates have really been on the ground with, none of them, including Hillary Clinton, including Bernie Sanders -- you know, obviously, not Donald Trump or the Republicans -- we absolutely need to move those activists into politics and up the pipeline, but we also can't fool ourselves that the individual questions of who's going to win the presidency in November are meaningless. They're going to carry meaning and weight and realities for millions of Americans.

KSHAMA SAWANT: Well, those of us who are talking about building an independent party for the 99 percent, we take the question of the presidential elections absolutely seriously. I don't -- I am not saying that it is meaningless. But here's the question I would like to ask: If the Democratic Party establishment, the Democratic National Committee, was -- had as its first priority to defeat Trump -- I have no doubt that they want to defeat Trump, but if that was their topmost priority, then why did they not do everything in their power to promote the one candidate who, through many, many polls, was indicated to have been a really prominent, a very powerful voice against Trump and having the real possibility of winning against Trump? And, obviously, I'm talking about Bernie Sanders. Instead, what the Democratic National Committee has done is use every dirty trick in the book to stymie his campaign.

And the reason Bernie did not succeed the Democratic -- in winning the Democratic nomination is not because the Democratic base didn't support him. I mean, he has electrified an entire base of tens of millions of people. The reason he didn't win the nomination is not because of recalcitrant Congress, it's because of a recalcitrant Democratic Party establishment, for whom, although defeating Trump is the priority, a bigger priority for the Democratic Party establishment is to defeat the agenda of working people to really fight for the massive social change, because the interests of ordinary working people and the interests of Wall Street are diametrically opposite. The interests of Wall Street are completely antagonistic to the interests of ordinary working people. So as long as we tie ourselves -- forget about individuals. As long as we tie ourselves to a party that is tied to Wall Street, our movements will reach a graveyard in the Democratic Party.

AMY GOODMAN: Let's break, and then we're going to come back to this discussion. And thank you very much, because I warned you before the show, no soundbites. And you've taken me at my word. I want to thank Kshama Sawant -- she'll be back in one minute -- who is a Socialist city councilmember in Seattle. She spearheaded the movement for $15 an hour, and they won. Rebecca Traister is with us. She's a writer-at-large for New York Magazine, just wrote, somehow, between yesterday and today, a major piece on the significance of Hillary Clinton as the first woman to be nominated by a major party for president of the United States. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: That's Michael Franti singing "Listener Supported." This isDemocracy Now!,, our two-week special, "Breaking with Convention: War, Peace and the Presidency." I'm Amy Goodman. We're broadcasting from the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Actually, we're broadcasting from PhillyCAM, which is Philadephia's public access TV station. And for those who haven't gotten a chance to see our break, go to it at and see what the folks here are doing, people making their own media.

We're talking about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton making history by becoming the first woman to accept a major-party presidential nomination. Our guests are Rebecca Traister, writer-at-large for New York Magazine. She's written about Hillary Clinton for a decade, her most recent article headlined "Hillary Is Poised to Make the 'Impossible Possible' -- for Herself and for Women in America." She's the author of All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation. And we're joined by Kshama Sawant, who is a Socialist city councilmember in Seattle, Washington. She helped win, spearhead the $15-an-hour minimum wage for all workers in Seattle.

Well, we left it at Kshama talking about how you won that victory and how the Democratic Party was allied against you. And you talked about if the Democratic Party was serious about taking on Donald Trump, which it sounds both of you women seriously are interested in, that they would not have fought so hard to undermine Bernie Sanders. Rebecca Traister, can you respond to that?

REBECCA TRAISTER: Well, you know --

AMY GOODMAN: That he was the best candidate, you said, and that the polls indicated --

KSHAMA SAWANT: The polls said that.

AMY GOODMAN:  -- he was the one who could beat Donald Trump. Now, the polls do show -- and right now, I'm sure, new polls will be coming out now; after a convention, you get that convention bump -- that he is ahead in most polls that are being taken right now.

REBECCA TRAISTER: Yeah. Yeah, I know. I'm terrified. I don't think that Bernie Sanders -- I mean, and this is my guess. We're all guessing counterfactually at this point. I mean, I'm not --

AMY GOODMAN: Why are you so concerned about Donald Trump?

REBECCA TRAISTER: Because look at the amount of support he has behind him. I mean, he is channeling something. And whether it's what Kshama says -- I mean, I think it's a combination of many factors, that it's this sense of dissatisfaction with the establishment, that it is an understanding and a feeling on the right that what we have is not working, and they're searching anywhere for alternatives, and they've, on the right, got their hands on this particularly ghoulish one. I also think that it has -- I also think that simultaneously it's tied to all kinds of racial and gendered, xenophobic resentments, and that that's empowering a lot of it. I think that we are still in the midst of major ruptures and shifts in this country about the kinds of people who can have power, the kinds of people who can be sitting here having these kinds of conversations and having an impact on elections, and that there are all kinds of resentments at work, you know, and that as powering -- and that's powerful. It could be -- it could --

AMY GOODMAN: So, what about the point that --


AMY GOODMAN:  -- if the Democratic Party wanted to actually beat him?

REBECCA TRAISTER: Well, I was not persuaded that Bernie Sanders -- I know he polled very well, but he also hadn't had any negative ads run against him. He didn't have a single negative ad run against him. There's the incredible --

AMY GOODMAN: And hardly any media also covering him, although toward the end --

KSHAMA SAWANT: Well, the media tore him apart, especially in the New York state primaries, where he had -- first, there was a media blackout, and then there was a vicious series of attacks on him. So I don't really agree factually about the fact that he wasn't attacked in the media. And in reality, the reason he didn't win the nomination is because the Democratic Party did not want him to win the nomination. And it's not just about the polls. It's not just about the polls that indicated that he would have made a better candidate against Trump. It's about the actual politics, I mean, the political substance of Clinton and Trump.

I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that there is a difference between Clinton and Trump. And as I said, I find Trump's agenda stomach-turning. But the reason Trump gets an echo is because people look at somebody like Clinton, and they see, correctly, her as an epitome of the establishment. Unfortunately for us, Trump is now, as you said, ghoulishly, but he is disingenuously posing as an outsider to the establishment, even though we all know he is very much an insider. He's a multibillionaire. He represents the same interests of Wall Street that Hillary Clinton represents. The contrast between them is so little. That's why you're seeing this difficulty. So, in reality, if Hillary Clinton is not doing well against Trump, it's because there is not enough of a contrast. The reason Trump is making gains is because you don't have a real left to counter him.

REBECCA TRAISTER: I really disagree that the contrast between them is so little. I think the contrast between them is vast. I mean, I just -- I understand that you're saying there's a difference, but I think it's just not true that that difference is slim.

KSHAMA SAWANT: Well, no, I mean, I completely agree that they are different, but if you look at the actual realities on the ground, the people who are drawn towards Trump, I don't agree -- I mean, if the narrative that people are presenting is that millions of Americans have suddenly become racists and misogynists and hateful, I don't agree with that. I mean, yes, there are complexities, obviously. But the reason he's -- the vast majority of his echo is because there are millions of people around this nation who are looking for an alternative to corporate America. And look at the state of Michigan, for example. One of the reasons Bernie and Donald Trump did well is because there was huge anger in the Midwest against NAFTA, and there is fear about the TPP.

So, let's talk about the real political substance. We agree that there's a difference, but I think -- I think what's missing here is the fact that this is a false choice. Yes, we agree there's a difference between Clinton and Trump, but offering those two as choices and say, "Pick one," is a false choice for America. You know, you have America, which is the wealthiest country in the history of humanity, and poverty is skyrocketing. The vast majority of people cannot even weather a $1,000 unexpected financial bill. So, you know, we're talking about people who are struggling to maintain a foothold into survival. Who is going to represent them? And we have to start somewhere. And we can't make this false argument that it's about this presidential election, because if it was about the presidential election, then why don't we have the strongest candidate against Trump? We don't have it, because the establishment does not believe in promoting that agenda.

REBECCA TRAISTER: I want to go back to your argument that the DNC rigged this, basically. I mean, you didn't use the word "rigged," so I don't want to put a word in your mouth. But --

KSHAMA SAWANT: Well, they rigged it. You can say that.

REBECCA TRAISTER: OK, OK, all right. It's interesting looking at all the emails that were hacked and that have been released. And one of the things that struck me is that, of course, there was the horrendous sort of discussion of using Bernie's faith against him. You know, it was very obvious that people within the DNC didn't like Bernie Sanders. It doesn't come as a huge surprise to me. I think the DNC was not operating well throughout this -- throughout this primary season. But what I didn't find, actually, was any evidence that there was any systemic rigging. I mean, Hillary Clinton won millions of more votes than Bernie Sanders over the course of these primaries. And there -- yeah, there are all kinds of arguments about why and whether it should have gone that way. But, to me, there is -- I have found no persuasive evidence.

I found evidence that people in the DNC did not like Bernie, that people in the party did not like Bernie. He hadn't -- you know, he recently joined the party. That's very true, and I understand why it's troublesome. But I haven't seen any evidence that the process itself was rigged or that there was any actual -- they couldn't -- they didn't get it -- there was nothing in all those emails about what they were going to do to stop this guy, who, yes, they were saying they didn't like, but I think the idea that the DNC, a rather ineffectual organization, had an impact on what was a democratic -- a deeply flawed process, that I wish we did differently in this country -- but she won. By a lot.

KSHAMA SAWANT: I think -- I think that if you are having your ear to the ground and listening to the millions of people, and not just the people outside -- I mean, I'm not a member of the Democratic Party. You don't have to take it from me. Take it from the 700 to 1,000 delegates of the Democratic Party that walked out on Wednesday. These are people, ordinary activists, of the Democratic Party, who have put their blood, sweat and tears into building the party because they're fighting for social change. And for decades, they've wanted to believe that this party represents them. And they walked out because they don't see this party as representing them.

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to have to leave it there, but, of course, this conversation will continue, and I hope you'll both come back with us to continue talking about this as we carry on covering this election through November, and, of course, the issues well beyond. That does it for the show. Rebecca Traister and Kshama Sawant, thank you so much for joining us. I want to say special thanks to our crew here at PhillyCAM.

RUBY BECKETT: I'm Ruby Beckett.

ANIS TAYLOR: Anis Taylor.

JENNIFER BURTON: Jennifer Burton.

JIHAD ALI: Jihad Ali.

CONNIE KOMM: Connie Komm [phon.]

PETE CELONA: Pete Celona.

DONALD BUTLER: Donald Butler.

JOSE HERNANDEZ: Jose Hernandez.

LAURA DEUTCH: Laura Deutch.

ANDREA SPRUILL: Andrea Spruill.

DAN HOITO: Dan Hoito [phon.].

RYAN SAUNDERS: Ryan Saunders.

KYSHA WOODS: Kysha Woods.

GRETJEN CLAUSING: Gretjen Clausing. And this is PhillyCAM.

AMY GOODMAN: That's the crew from PhillyCAM. I'll be doing a report back from the conventions in two talks: tonight in Provincetown, Massachusetts, Provincetown Town Hall, and tomorrow night at Martha's Vineyard at Old Whaling Church. Check

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

Opinion Fri, 29 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Nose Holding Time ]]> Art Fri, 29 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400