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Trump and Sessions Just Jump-Started the War on Drugs That's Also a War on Immigrants

Truth-Out - Tue, 08/01/2017 - 00:00

The war on drugs has failed to deliver on its promises for 40 years, but it has filled US prisons beyond capacity and fueled violence in Latin America. Now in the face of calls to end it, Trump and his attorney general are trying to escalate the war on drugs by tying it to their war on immigrants.

President Donald Trump speaks at Suffolk Community College on July 28, 2017, in Brentwood, New York. Trump and his attorney general are escalating the war on drugs by tying it to their ongoing war on immigrants. (Photo: Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

Speaking before a large crowd of law enforcement officers on Long Island on Friday, President Trump invoked the MS-13 gang in yet another attempt to paint his administration's crackdown on immigrants as an effort to control gang violence. MS-13 is notorious for using brutal intimidation tactics to maintain control of illegal drug and smuggling markets from Long Island to Central America, and Trump seemed to know that the gang's sensational reputation could be used to scare people.

"They're animals," Trump said of MS-13. He also urged police not to be "too nice" when arresting suspects and boasted about deporting immigrants.

In 2016, violent crime rates remained near the bottom of a 30-year downward trend, with spikes in violence sequestered to a few individual cities. However, in the world according to Trump, violent crime is on the rise across the country, and gangs made up of immigrants and drug dealers are to blame. Never one to be deterred by hard data, Trump said on Friday that "American towns" must be "liberated" from the grips of criminals "one by one."

"Can you believe that I'm saying that?" Trump said. "I'm talking about liberating our towns. This is like I'd see in a movie: They're liberating the town, like in the old Wild West, right?"

Angie Junck, the supervising attorney at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, told Truthout that Trump continues to exploit tragedy in furthering his political agenda. Murders and disappearances do occur at the hands of gangs such as MS-13, but Trump's heavy-handed response does nothing to promote local solutions to the problem. Instead, it makes communities less safe: Many victims are the same people authorities want to deport.

"People are fearful to come out and speak with police, and that's what MS-13 and other gangs capitalize on," Junck said. "People want to get out of MS-13, but what are they going to do -- go to local law enforcement, who will turn them over and expose them so they can die in El Salvador?" 

For years, the war on drugs and the cartels that traffic in them has been criticized for filling US prisons to the brim and fueling horrific violence in Latin America, all while failing to reduce drug consumption at home. By criminalizing immigrants and framing its "law and order" agenda around the specter of violent international gangs, the Trump administration is threatening to repeat the same mistakes drug warriors have made for decades.

For example, Trump supports legislation in Congress known as Kate's Law, which enhances penalties for immigrants who illegally cross the border and have a criminal record in the US, even if that record is simply prior attempts to enter the country without permission. Critics say the legislation would cause the population of people held in privately run immigration jails to explode.

"The war on immigrants grew out of the war on drugs," Junck said.

Meanwhile, last week, the new Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety created by Trump and answering to Attorney General Jeff Sessions was expected to release recommendations for addressing violent crime. Civil rights and immigration reform groups, along with the growing legal marijuana industry, hoped the recommendations would provide insight into just how deep the Trump administration will dig into the war on drugs.

The recommendations never materialized, at least in public. Instead, Sessions said in a statement on Wednesday that the task force was providing him recommendations on a rolling basis, and that he would continue to review and act on them, suggesting that the task force has already shaped recent moves to reverse Obama-era policies that made moderate progress towards de-escalating the drug war.

The Justice Department did not respond to an inquiry from Truthout. Still, it's becoming increasingly clear in what direction the administration is heading.

Crafting a Crackdown Behind Closed Doors

Despite the president's angry outbursts over Sessions' decision to recuse himself from the investigation into the Trump campaign's ties with Russia, Sessions and the president are in lockstep when it comes to the war on drugs. Sessions traveled to El Salvador last week to congratulate his counterpart for arresting hundreds of alleged MS-13 members. Back at home, he has shown interest in sending federal officers to states where marijuana is legal, in search of violent, transnational crime rings that he suspects are diverting legal cannabis into the black market.

Again, there is no hard evidence that marijuana legalization drives violent crime rates; in fact, it may have the opposite effect in some areas. A recent study in The Economic Journal shows that crime rates near the southern border dropped after southwestern states legalized medical marijuana -- a sign that legalizing weed may actually hamper the same international cartel operations Trump and Sessions have pledged to fight.

Unfortunately for cannabis fans and the many thousands of people who are criminalized for using the drug, the attorney general has seriously outdated views on cannabis, which remains illegal under federal law. The legal marijuana industry has every reason to worry about a crackdown, and lawmakers from legal states are already taking action.

Last week, lawmakers in the Senate Appropriations Committee approved legislation that would prohibit federal funds from being used to prevent states from implementing their own medical marijuana laws, effectively barring the Justice Department from intervening unless there is a clear violation of state law.

The same legislation has passed as an annual budget rider since 2014, but Sessions recently asked his former colleagues in the Senate to ditch it. However, many senators hail from one of the 29 states that has legalized medical weed, and advocates expect the legislation to pass. The vast majority of voters supports access to medical marijuana and oppose federal intervention in states where marijuana is legal.

Junck said advocates are pushing for similar legislation that would protect immigrants who use legal marijuana. Immigrants and their family members have reported that federal officers will use lawful marijuana use as an excuse for detaining and interrogating them about other matters.

"In regards to marijuana, Sessions said in April that he was surprised the people didn't like the idea of him cracking down on the states that have chosen to legalize," said Justin Strekal, the political director at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), in an email. "In response, Sessions now chooses to operate in secrecy. This is not how our system is supposed to work." 

Sessions' plans for addressing states where medical and recreational pot are legally regulated have been somewhat unclear due to the glaring discrepancy between state and federal laws. The task force's as-yet-unreleased recommendations -- along with analysis of apparent links between legal markets to violent crime (if any such links existed) -- were expected to shape the Justice Department's policies going forward.

In addition, immigration activists hoped to learn from the recommendations just how far Sessions would go to crack down on so-called sanctuary cities that refuse to participate in federal deportation efforts. The Justice Department began to answer that question last week with a memo informing city governments that they would not receive certain federal grants unless they give immigration agents access to their jails and notify them before releasing undocumented immigrants. Immigrant rights groups are expected to challenge the policy in court. 

Jump-Starting the War on Drugs

The Trump administration's moves toward revving up the drug war have alarmed advocates across the political spectrum. 

"Many of the [Justice] Department's recent policy changes have been solutions in search of a problem, and are only going to make our crime and mass incarceration problems worse," said Inimai Chettiar, director of the Brennan Center's Justice Program, which is calling on Sessions to publicly release the task force recommendations.

In recent weeks, Sessions has instructed prosecutors to pursue the harshest charges and sentences for drug offenses, reversing an Obama-era policy aimed at reducing incarceration rates. Sessions also reinstated a policy making it easer for local and state law enforcement to benefit from civil asset forfeiture, where officers seize property suspected of being connected to criminal activity, even if the owner has not been charged with a crime. The practice has been criticized on both the right and left, and there has been a bipartisan push for asset forfeiture reform in Congress and states across the country.

Strekal said Sessions's decision to receive the Task Force's recommendations behind closed doors only plays into the public's "growing anxiety" over his ability to run the Justice Department.

"We have already seen the Justice Department issue new guidelines to rev up charges against those suspected of drug-related crimes, pursue maximum sentences for those charges, and an escalation in the department's ability to utilize civil asset forfeiture to deprive those charged of their possessions," Strekal said. "Justice is not one sided. Unfortunately, this department is."

First launched by President Nixon 40 years ago, the war on drugs has failed to deliver on its promises, and instead has destroyed millions of lives. In recent years, a growing number of global leaders have called for an end to the drug war, and drug decriminalization is gaining ground in local jurisdictions at home and around the world. By tying the war on drugs to their ongoing war on immigrants, Trump and Sessions have made it clear that they are headed in the opposite direction.

Everyone Deserves Care: Insisting on Compassion in the Face of Congressional Cruelty

Truth-Out - Tue, 08/01/2017 - 00:00

The best measure of a society is its compassion, which is why our tax dollars should be going toward providing for the most vulnerable among us. In the wake of the congressional drama over Trumpcare, we should stop entertaining conversations about who is worthy of care and insist that health care be treated as a basic right.

The best measure of a society is its compassion. Our tax dollars should reflect that. (Photo: diego_cervo / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

This piece is part of Fighting for Our Lives: The Movement for Medicare for All, a Truthout original series.

When I heard that the Republican effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act didn't have enough votes, I thought that maybe my family could stop worrying about health care. The next day, my brother-in-law Bill, who relied completely on government assistance, died at age 75.

Developmentally disabled at birth and unable to work, my brother-in-law relied completely on Social Security, Medicare and California Medicaid for his support services that would be at risk with 35 percent cuts proposed to Medicaid. In addition to his physical disabilities, he faced many challenges from conditions including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, arthritis, Parkinson's disease and behavioral issues. After 25 years in a state developmental center, during the last 10 years of his life, he benefited from high quality care through a state-supported assisted living service in California that enabled him to receive care in his own apartment. He received assistance with showering and dressing, meal preparation, feeding and transportation; all of this was provided by a small team of people who liked Bill and appreciated his humanity.

Bill loved jokes; he liked to tease and be teased. He had a big heart and cared about his family and care providers. He liked watching old westerns, especially Hop-along Cassidy and the Lone Ranger, or listening to Patsy Cline, Connie Francis and other music that reminded him of his adolescence. He had a penchant for chocolate milkshakes, fruit smoothies and stuffed animals.

One of my fondest memories is when Bill saved up his spending money to buy a small stuffed bunny for our youngest granddaughter, then three years old. He beamed when he gave it to her. She squealed with joy and hugged it close.

Some days Bill spent hours saying, "I'm sorry" over and over again. He may have been remembering mistakes made and things he had done wrong, but mostly I believe he was just apologizing for being different from other people in our family.

He also worried about who would take care of him. My father-in-law died 25 years ago, a few years after I met Bill. At that time, my husband assumed responsibility for Bill's care and took it seriously -- he visited him monthly, wrote to him every day they were not together, and coordinated larger family visits that included Bill's nieces, nephew and grandniece.

Yet, Bill worried about who would take care of him if something happened to his older brother. So, when I visited, we assured him that I was the back-up plan. He still worried.

Although the latest attempt to repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act failed, I remain most concerned about the fundamental divisions about what kind of society we want. Please, no more talk about who is deserving of care or how much care they deserve. No more arguing about why people should care about people outside of their immediate family. I want a society where housing, food, clothing and health care are basic rights available to everyone. Not everyone has family around to watch out for them and safeguard their care. I want my tax dollars to provide for the most vulnerable members of society -- the young, the old, people with disabilities, people who are sick -- precisely because I think that the best measure of a society is its compassion.

Is Capitalism in Crisis? Latest Trends of a System Run Amok

Truth-Out - Tue, 08/01/2017 - 00:00

Capitalism has always been a highly irrational socioeconomic system, but the constant drive for accumulation has especially run amok in the age of high finance, privatization and globalization. (Image: Pixabay; Edited: JR / TO)

Political polarization is to be expected after a long-lasting structural crisis of capitalism, says David Kotz, author of The Rise and Fall of Neoliberal Capitalism. What remains to be seen is whether the polarization of the current moment will lead to a right-wing nationalist statist regime, a progressive reform of capitalism, or a transition beyond capitalism to socialism.

Capitalism has always been a highly irrational socioeconomic system, but the constant drive for accumulation has especially run amok in the age of high finance, privatization and globalization. (Image: Pixabay; Edited: JR / TO)

In a new book of interviews with C.J. Polychroniou, Noam Chomsky discusses capitalism, US imperialism, Black Lives Matter, the refugee crisis and cracks in the European Union, the dysfunctional US electoral system, the climate crisis and why he chooses Optimism Over Despair. Get the book and support the publication of more stories like this by donating to Truthout!

Having survived the financial meltdown of 2008, corporate capitalism and the financial masters of the universe have made a triumphant return to their "business as usual" approach: They are now savoring a new era of wealth, even as the rest of the population continues to struggle with income stagnation, job insecurity and unemployment.

This travesty was made possible in large part by the massive US government bailout plan that essentially rescued major banks and financial institutions from bankruptcy with taxpayer money (the total commitment on the part of the government to the bank bailout plan was over $16 trillion). In the meantime, corporate capitalism has continued running recklessly to the precipice with regard to the environment, as profits take precedence not only over people but over the sustainability of the planet itself.

Capitalism has always been a highly irrational socioeconomic system, but the constant drive for accumulation has especially run amok in the age of high finance, privatization and globalization.

Today, the question that should haunt progressive-minded and radical scholars and activists alike is whether capitalism itself is in crisis, given that the latest trends in the system are working perfectly well for global corporations and the rich, producing new levels of wealth and increasing inequality. For insights into the above questions, I interviewed David M. Kotz, professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and author of The Rise and Fall of Neoliberal Capitalism (Harvard University Press, 2015).

C.J. Polychroniou: David, corporate capitalism and the masters of the universe have bounced back quite nicely from the global financial crisis of 2008. Is this an indication of the system's resilience, or do we need to think about larger considerations, such as the trajectory of the class struggle in the contemporary world, the role of ideology and the power of the state?

David M. Kotz: The severe phase of the economic and financial crisis ended in the summer of 2009. By then the banks had been bailed out and the Great Recession ended, as production stopped falling and began to rise in North America and Europe. As you say, since then profits have recovered quite well. However, normal capitalist economic expansion has not resumed, but instead, global capitalism has been stuck in stagnation.

Stagnation means no economic growth or very slow economic growth. Stagnation has afflicted most of the developed countries since 2010, with some countries, such as Greece, still in a severe depression. US GDP growth has averaged only 2.1 percent per year since the bottom of the Great Recession in 2009. That is by far the slowest expansion following a recession since the end of World War II. Even mainstream economists, such as Lawrence Summers and Paul Krugman, have recognized that the economy is stuck in a severe stagnation.

In the US, the official unemployment rate has fallen to a low level, but that is due to millions of people being dropped from the official labor force as a result of giving up looking for work after finding none for a long period. Most of the new jobs pay low wages and provide little or no job security. Meanwhile, the rich continue to get still richer.

The long-lasting stagnation has brought stagnating wages and worsening job opportunities. This creates a severe problem for capitalism, even with rising corporate profits and growing wealth for the top 1 percent. This problem has an ideological and a political dimension. While capitalism always brings a high degree of inequality, it is tolerable for those holding the short end of the stick as long as living standards are rising and job opportunities are good for most people. A long period of stagnation delegitimizes the existing system. As growing numbers of people turn against "the system" and the elites who run it, a political crisis develops. The bourgeois democracy that normally acts to stabilize capitalism turns into a source of instability, as anti-establishment parties and candidates start winning elections.

What do you consider to be the latest and most critical trends in the workings of capitalism in the 21st century?

Not only has capitalism failed to bring economic progress in this century, it has brought worsening conditions for the majority. The reason for this is rooted in the transformation of capitalism around 1980, when the post-World War II "regulated capitalism" was rapidly replaced by "neoliberal capitalism." Regulated capitalism arose mainly because of the serious challenge to capitalism from socialist and communist movements around the world and from the Communist Party-ruled states after World War II. The new regulated capitalism was based on capital-labor compromise. It led to the construction of welfare states, state regulation of business, and trade union-led rising wages and more stable jobs for working people.

In the 1970s, regulated capitalism entered a period of economic crisis indicated by a long decline in the rate of profit in the US and Western Europe. The capitalist classes of the developed countries responded by abandoning the capital-labor compromise, attacking the trade union movement, lifting state regulation of business and banking, and making drastic cuts in the welfare state and in the various forms of social provision. This gave us the neoliberal form of capitalism.

The neoliberal transformation resolved the economic crisis of the 1970s from the viewpoint of capital, as profits began to rise again. That transformation freed the banks from state regulation, setting off the process of financialization. It rewrote the rules of the global system, promoting an increasingly globally integrated world economy.

Every form of capitalism eventually enters a phase of structural crisis, and in 2008 the superficial stability of neoliberal capitalism gave way to severe economic and financial crisis.

Neoliberal capitalism gave rise to some 25 years of relatively stable economic conditions after 1980, although economic growth was slower than it had been in the preceding period. Capitalists became much richer, but the promised benefits for the majority never emerged. After 1980, working people's wages and job conditions steadily worsened through 2007. However, as long as the economy expanded at a reasonable rate, it was difficult to challenge neoliberalism. Every form of capitalism eventually enters a phase of structural crisis, and in 2008 the superficial stability of neoliberal capitalism gave way to severe economic and financial crisis, followed by stagnation.

We live in the age of the financialization of the planet, in which financial institutions and markets are expanding. In what ways does financialization increase capitalism's inherent tendencies toward economic dependence, inequality and exploitation?

Starting in the late 1980s, a trend of financialization began, meaning a growing role for financial markets, financial institutions and financial motives in the economy. This is not the first period of financialization in capitalist history -- financialization also developed in the late 19th century and in the 1920s. It is an inherent tendency in capitalism, which is released in periods of loose regulation of the financial sector, but it has been halted and even reversed when the state or other institutions have intervened to block or reverse it, as occurred after 1900 and again after the 1930s. Contemporary financialization is a product of deregulation of the financial sector along with the effects of neoliberal ideology and other features of neoliberalism.

Since 2008 the trend in financialization has been mixed. There is an ongoing political struggle over financial regulation in the US. The giant banks have so far faced some restrictions on their ability to engage in highly risky and predatory activities, although other financial institutions continue to pursue such activities. Some major nonfinancial corporations, such as General Electric, have abandoned their financial divisions to concentrate on manufacturing and other non-financial activities.

Whether financialized or not, capitalism itself brings rising exploitation and worsening inequality, unless it is restrained by states, trade unions and other institutions. The financialization of capitalism accentuates the tendency toward rising inequality by promoting new forms of profit-making and generating huge fortunes for unproductive actors, as we have seen in recent decades. The most important determinant of the trend in inequality is the relative power of capital versus labor. The neoliberal transformation of capitalism empowered capital and weakened labor, which has enabled employers to drive down wages while CEO salaries skyrocketed.

If the degree of financialization stops growing or even declines, inequality would not decline as long as capitalism retains its neoliberal form. Only in a closely regulated form of capitalism, based on capital-labor compromise, has inequality actually declined, as in the post-World War II decades.

Do you think that income and wealth inequality levels pose a legitimization crisis for capitalism in the 21st century? I ask this question in light of the rise and decline of the Occupy movement and other recent efforts to steer contemporary societies toward a more rational and humane social order.

Growing oppression and suffering has made millions of people receptive to the socialist critique of capitalism.

There is indeed a legitimization crisis for the dominant world system at this time, as discussed above. However, there is a political and ideological struggle over how to define the dominant system and the direction of change that is needed. Leftists and socialists understand that the dominant world system is capitalism, and they have targeted the 1 percent, that is, the capitalists. This was evident in the Occupy Movement and other left-wing upsurges around the world since 2010-2011. The growing oppression and suffering has made millions of people, especially the young, receptive to the socialist critique of capitalism.

However, various extreme right-wing groups have also ridden the wave of anger at the discredited ruling class, with greater success than the left at this time. The right-wing response has taken the form of right-wing repressive nationalism, which targets an ill-defined "elite," which it promises to replace. Right-wing nationalism blames the problems of ordinary people on religious, ethnic and national minorities…. It portrays the ruling elite as weak-kneed "liberals" who are afraid to confront the scapegoated groups. It offers a strongman ruler who will vanquish the scapegoated groups and restore an imagined past glory of the nation.

The recent trend of political polarization is not surprising in a period of long-lasting structural crisis of capitalism that takes the form of stagnation. Such a crisis can be resolved in only three ways: One, the emergence of a right-wing nationalist statist regime; two, a period of progressive reform of capitalism based on capital-labor compromise; three, a transition beyond capitalism to socialism.

The last stagnation of capitalism, in the 1920s, gave rise to all three directions of change. Right wing nationalist regimes in the form of fascism arose in Germany, Italy, Spain and Japan. Progressive reform of capitalism took place in France, Scandinavia and the US -- and after World War II throughout Western Europe. And a state socialist regime was consolidated in the USSR and new ones arose in East-Central Europe and Asia.

Today, the labor and socialist movements are historically weak. This increases the likelihood of the rise of right-wing nationalist regimes. The Trump presidency is an example. Some view the Trump presidency as one more neoliberal, finance-backed regime, but in my view, this is not the case….

If the labor and socialist movements can grow sufficiently -- which is possible under the current conditions of delegitimized capitalism -- then the other two directions of change become possible. The growing mass support for Jeremy Corbyn in Britain and for Bernie Sanders in the US illustrates the possibility of a shift toward at least progressive reform of capitalism in the short run and, in the longer run, for socialist transition to eventually move onto the political agenda. Thus, this period holds great dangers, as well as great opportunities, for the left and for social and economic progress.

In discussions among economists today, the economic and social devastation experienced by so many communities here and around the world is attributed either to automation or trade policy and their impact on employment. Is automation or trade policy the real issue, or capitalism itself?

Neither automation nor trade policy is by itself the root of the trends that have wreaked so much destruction on working people and their communities. Capitalism always brings technological change, and the long-run trend in capitalism has been toward increasing global economic interactions. However, in some periods the regulation of capitalism has held the most destructive tendencies at bay by limiting inequality and creating new good jobs that replace those lost to automation and trade. Labor productivity rose faster under postwar regulated capitalism and global trade and investment grew rapidly, but at the same time, a large part of the working class held stable jobs with rising wages in that period, resulting from the power of labor in that form of capitalism.

Under neoliberal capitalism, so far technological change has been slower than it was under regulated capitalism, measured by the growth in labor productivity, while global economic integration has accelerated. The negative results for working people come from the overwhelming power of capital in this period, which has enabled the capitalists to seize all of the benefits of increased labor productivity, while the largely unregulated global marketplace forces workers of all countries to compete with one another.

Thus, the real cause of the current high level of suffering is neoliberal capitalism. While regulated capitalism is less oppressive to working people, it is a highly contradictory form of capitalism that is bound to be eventually dismantled by the capitalists. Like every form of capitalism, it is based on exploitation of labor, as well as generating many related problems, such as imperialism and the destruction of the natural environment.

Do you foresee capitalism's unquestionable ingenuity eventually providing a solution to climate change, or is the planet doomed without a transition to an economic system that is based on sustainable growth and socialist economics?

There is a sharp debate on the left about whether irreversible global climate change can be averted within capitalism or only through a transition to a post-capitalist system. Those arguing for the former position stress the likelihood that capitalism will not be superseded in time to avert disastrous consequences from rising temperatures, while claiming that strong state action based on popular mobilization can do the job through some combination of incentives and penalties for corporations. They further argue that the promotion of investment in sustainable technologies within capitalism can provide a path to economic progress for working people while containing the rise in global temperatures.

Those who believe climate disaster cannot be averted under capitalism argue that the profitability of the very technologies that are causing global climate change is bound to prevent timely action, as capital uses its power to protect its profits. They claim that neither incentives nor penalties can be effective when confronted with the huge profits to be made by capitalist firms from the use of the atmosphere as a free waste disposal system.

The advantages of a socialist planned economy for overcoming the threat of disastrous global climate change are undeniable. Socially owned enterprises operating in a planned economy could be instructed to pursue climate sustainability as the number one priority, which would be far more effective than trying to restrain profit-seeking enterprises from doing what is most profitable for them.

Stopping the rise in temperatures short of a tipping point requires a rapid restructuring of the transportation, power and productions systems of the world economy, and economic planning is the best way, and possibly the only way, to carry out such a task. Few economists remember that after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, the US government, facing the need to rapidly restructure the peace-time economy to a war economy, suspended the market for the duration and set up a system of central planning. The results were highly successful, soon producing the ships, planes, tanks and other weapons -- and food and clothing -- needed to win the war, while incidentally finally bringing the Great Depression to an end.

The serious threat to civilization from looming global climate change gives one more reason for the need to replace capitalism with socialism.

Socialism has many advantages over any form of capitalism. I believe the serious threat to civilization from looming global climate change gives one more reason for the need to replace capitalism with socialism. The building of a strong socialist movement, in this time of opportunity for the left, is an urgent priority. It is essential if we are to defeat the threat of right wing nationalism. It is the only way to build a sustainable economy for the long run.

At the same time, socialists are obligated to contribute to the solution of urgent social problems while we are working for the replacement of capitalism. It is primarily through the process of mass struggles for reform that people are radicalized and come to realize the need for system change. We should support all reforms that can slow the rise in global temperatures, even if only for a time. It is possible to build a movement to replace capitalism and at the same time engage in the struggle to pull capitalism away from the global temperature tipping point.

This Anti-BDS Bill Is an Assault on Free Speech

Truth-Out - Tue, 08/01/2017 - 00:00

Hypocrisy among the American political class is not all that unusual, but sometimes the naked expression of it takes on shocking proportions.

Proposed federal legislation known as the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, which attempts to criminalize the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign for Palestinian rights, is a perfect example.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recently issued a letter urging the 46 US senators -- 32 Republicans and 14 Democrats -- who have co-signed the Senate version of the bill, S. 720, to reconsider their support. A similar House measure has support from 185 Republicans and 64 Democrats.

According to the statement:

Under the bill, only a person whose lack of business ties to Israel is politically motivated would be subject to fines and imprisonment -- even though there are many others who engage in the very same behavior. In short, the bill would punish businesses and individuals based solely on their point of view. Such a penalty is in direct violation of the First Amendment...

By penalizing those who support international boycotts of Israel, S. 720 seeks only to punish the exercise of constitutional rights.


If passed, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act would have chilling implications not only for supporters of Palestine, but also anyone who cares about the right to dissent in the Trump era. The bill not only exposes the hypocrisy of politicians who trumpet the right to free speech while they pass legislation to undermine it, but it also should serve as a cautionary tale for how the issue of "free speech" can be weaponized in ways that target dissenters while defending corporate power and apartheid states.

Apartheid Israel, for example, regularly violates the right to free speech, academic freedom, the right to a fair trial, indeed the very right to life of Palestinians living under its settler-colonial regime.

Thus, it's no surprise that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the fiercely pro-Israel lobbying group, helped draft the bill and considers its passage a top priority for 2017.

The bill seeks to amend two pieces of legislation -- the Export Administration Act of 1979 and the Export-Import Bank Act of 1945.

While these two laws currently criminalize compliance with the Arab League boycott of Israel, the newly proposed legislation seeks to expand their scope to include other "international boycotts of Israel," such as those that originate in the European Union or the United Nations, though the bill's main target is the BDS movement.

If passed, the felony charges associated with the previous bills would apply in relation to BDS, exposing "perpetrators" to a jaw-dropping minimum civil penalty of $250,000 and a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison.

While Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank are illegal according to the Fourth Geneva Convention, the proposed legislation does not differentiate between boycotts that target Israel as a whole from those that specifically target settlement production -- causing even J Street, a pro-Israel advocacy organization openly hostile to BDS, to come out against the bill.

As Dylan Williams of J Street wrote:

This bill could give Attorney General Jeff Sessions the power to prosecute any American who chooses not to buy settlement products for a felony offense. That kind of authority should not be given to any administration, let alone one that has engaged in extreme rhetoric against political opponents, including threats to 'lock [them] up.'


It should be noted that this bill and others like it that attempt to criminalize BDS have nothing to do with stopping anti-Semitism.

As Ryan Grim, Washington bureau chief for The Intercept, said on Democracy Now! in response to Sen. Chuck Schumer's claim that BDS is "veiled anti-Semitism":

The irony here is that [this bill] doesn't criminalize all boycotts of Israel. So if you are a neo-Nazi group, and you are driven by explicit anti-Semitism, and you call for a boycott of Israel, you would not fall under this statute. Only if you're supporting BDS through the EU or through the UN from a pro-Palestinian perspective would the precise same action then be criminalized. And for the ACLU, that is the definition of a First Amendment violation, because the same act becomes criminalized only based on your political motivation for carrying out that act.

But besides the conflation of Zionism and anti-Semitism, this bill also exposes the hypocrisy of politicians and other mainstream institutions, such as college campuses and the mainstream media, which have recently championed the First Amendment when it comes to defending the right of racists to speak and mobilize, yet casually dismiss the right to free speech when it comes to advocacy on behalf of Palestinian rights.

For example, while there have been dozens of articles about the new "free speech wars" at the University of California-Berkeley after students protested right-wing speakers Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos, there has been only a faint whisper about the egregious free-speech violations embedded in the Israel Anti-Boycott Act.

The bill also exposes the hypocrisy of politicians who boast about their free-speech credentials, yet turn a blind eye to the denial of free speech to pro-Palestine activists.

As Josh Israel noted at Think Progress, just three years ago, in considering an amendment that would have overturned Citizens United, several senators who are co-sponsors of the anti-BDS bill objected strongly on the basis of the free speech rights -- of corporations.

"Could we really have entered a world so extreme that our common ground no longer even includes the First Amendment of the Constitution?" said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in a floor speech at that time.

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) also waxed eloquently about how the cause of democracy is served by enshrining the right of corporations to buy and sell politicians like so many talking billboards:

In our system of government, all voices have the right to be heard. The First Amendment gives them that right... We have a system that allows all voices to be heard, even those that oppose the majority. That is not antithetical to democracy; it is the essence of democracy. So it is time, it seems to me, to stop pretending that allowing more voices to be heard somehow poses a danger just because we don't like what they are saying.


Both Cruz and Roberts have co-signed the anti-BDS bill, illustrating how these politicians will use the First Amendment to stand up for corporate rights to buy elections, but when it comes to Israel they are all too happy to sign off on legislation that could imprison activists in the US for decades simply due to their political beliefs.

Perhaps more counterintuitive is the support of liberal Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) for the anti-BDS bill.

Wyden is known for speaking out against the National Security Agency for violating American citizens' right to not be spied on as well as being a staunch proponent of net neutrality.

Furthermore, in late May, Wyden stood up for the right of neo-Nazis to hold a demonstration in Portland, Oregon, back in June when he opposed Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler's problematic plea to the federal government to revoke their permit.

"The First Amendment cuts both ways, that's why it's so special," Wyden told the media. "The challenge is going to be for the officials in our community to find ways to deal with [the growth and confidence of the right] that don't, in effect, set aside the Constitution."

Yet Wyden is one of many Democratic backers of the anti-BDS bill, illustrating the all-too-familiar bipartisan "Palestine exception" when it comes to free speech for pro-Palestine activists.


In addition to speaking out and organizing against the passage of the anti-BDS bill, we should take its proposal as a stark reminder of the potential danger posed by liberals and progressives who call on the state or university administrators to ban hate speech or far-right mobilizations.

Such calls to ban right-wing speech do more to embolden the right by allowing them to play the victim than it does to weaken their forces.

Furthermore, because the definition of what constitutes "hate speech" is made by politicians, such calls end up legitimating their power when their use of such bans invariably end up getting aimed at left-wing dissenters who pose a much greater threat to their interests than right-wing ones.

Take Steven Salaita, the professor who lost his job at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for his vocal support for Palestine during Israel's 2014 bombing of Gaza.

Salaita recently announced he is leaving academia because, despite having done nothing illegal and despite being a respected academic, pro-Israel forces have undermined his ability to secure a teaching job on four continents. Salaita is only one of several scholars targeted for speaking out against racism, sexism and imperialism since Trump's election.

Back at UC Berkeley just last fall, the administration suspended a student-led class on Palestine titled "Palestine: A Settler-Colonial Analysis" due to its political content.

These are just the tip of the iceberg of a fierce campaign to silence the speech of students, professors and activists who speak out about Palestine and challenge Israel's human rights abuses.

Our side must not only continue to stand up for Palestine, but also continue to defend free speech at every turn. That right is not only one we have historically fought for and defended, but one we will need at every step in the fight for our freedom, which itself will be linked to freedom and justice for Palestine.

John Monroe and Mukund Rathi contributed to this article.

U.S. embassy in Moscow says locked out of diplomatic property

Reuters US Politics - Mon, 07/31/2017 - 23:51
MOSCOW (Reuters) - The U.S. embassy in Moscow accused Russian authorities on Monday of barring diplomatic staff from a property on the outskirts of Moscow, after having earlier agreed to grant access until midday on Tuesday for them to retrieve belongings.

Trump dictated misleading statement on son's meeting with Russian: Washington Post

Reuters US Politics - Mon, 07/31/2017 - 21:57
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump dictated a statement, later shown to be misleading, in which his son Donald Trump Jr. said a meeting he had with a Russian lawyer in June 2016 was not related to his father's presidential campaign, the Washington Post reported on Monday.

Trump dictated misleading statement on son's meeting with Russian: report

MarketWatch Market Pulse - Mon, 07/31/2017 - 21:24

President Donald Trump personally dictated a misleading statement earlier this month about his son's meeting with a Russian lawyer in June 2016, the Washington Post reported late Monday, which could place the president and some of his top advisers in legal jeopardy. The statement, written while Trump was flying home from the G-20 summit in Germany in early July, said the meeting between the lawyer and Donald Trump Jr. was about Russian adoptions. Days later, Trump Jr. admitted the meeting was in fact regarding an offer of damaging information on Hillary Clinton. While not illegal in itself, the Post said some of Trump's advisers worry the misleading statement could be used as evidence of obstruction in special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian election meddling, and could expose Trump to accusations of a coverup.

Market Pulse Stories are Rapid-fire, short news bursts on stocks and markets as they move. Visit MarketWatch.com for more information on this news.

Trump dictated misleading statement on son's meeting with Russian: Washington Post

Top Reuters News - Mon, 07/31/2017 - 21:09
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump dictated a statement, later shown to be misleading, in which his son Donald Trump Jr. said a meeting he had with a Russian lawyer in June 2016 was not related to his father's presidential campaign, the Washington Post reported on Monday.

Connecticut lawmakers approve labor pact with pension concessions

Reuters US Politics - Mon, 07/31/2017 - 19:59
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Connecticut lawmakers narrowly approved a new labor contract with public employees on Monday that is expected to save the state at least $1.2 billion - largely through pension concessions - and could clear the way for lawmakers to agree on a past due budget.

Trump aims at insurers in battle over healthcare subsidies

Top Reuters News - Mon, 07/31/2017 - 19:58
WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump took aim at insurers on Monday in an escalating threat to cut the healthcare subsidy payments that make Obamacare plans affordable, after repeatedly urging Republican senators to keep working to undo his Democratic predecessor's healthcare law.

Bitcoin technology faces split, may create clone virtual currency

Top Reuters News - Mon, 07/31/2017 - 19:43
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Bitcoin's underlying software code could be split on Tuesday to create a clone called "Bitcoin Cash," potentially providing a windfall for holders of the digital currency.

Trump’s pick for faith envoy Sam Brownback riles Muslims

MiddleEasteye - Mon, 07/31/2017 - 18:31
Language Undefined

Trump’s pick to fight religious abuse overseas may not be even-handed in matters of faith

Trump administration reaches deal with Texas counties on immigration

Reuters US Politics - Mon, 07/31/2017 - 18:09
GRAPEVINE, Texas (Reuters) - U.S. immigration authorities signed deals on Monday with 18 of Texas' 254 counties to expand a program that allows jailers at local sheriffs' offices to cooperate with federal authorities in immigration enforcement.

U.S. Silica Holdings shares slump after results miss Street view

MarketWatch Market Pulse - Mon, 07/31/2017 - 18:07

U.S. Silica Holdings Inc. shares dropped in the extended session Monday after the oil and gas industry silica supplier's quarterly results fell short of Wall Street expectations. U.S. Silica shares dropped 7.5% to $26.95 after hours. The company reported second-quarter net income of $29.5 million, or 36 cents a share, compared with a loss of $11.8 million, or 19 cents a share, in the year-ago period. Adjusted earnings were 38 cents a share. Revenue rose to $290.5 million from $117 million in the year-ago period. Analysts surveyed by FactSet had estimated 39 cents a share on revenue of $316.4 million.

Market Pulse Stories are Rapid-fire, short news bursts on stocks and markets as they move. Visit MarketWatch.com for more information on this news.

U.S. targets Venezuelan President Maduro for sanctions

Top Reuters News - Mon, 07/31/2017 - 18:05
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government slapped sanctions on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Monday, the Trump's administration's toughest move so far against his government in response to Sunday's election of a legislative superbody Washington denounced as a "sham" vote.

Trump studying executive action on healthcare, senator Rand Paul says

Top Reuters News - Mon, 07/31/2017 - 18:04
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senator Rand Paul said he spoke to President Donald Trump by phone about healthcare reform on Monday and told the president he thought Trump had the authority to create associations that would allow organizations to offer group health insurance plans.

Trump studying executive action on healthcare, senator Rand Paul says

Reuters US Politics - Mon, 07/31/2017 - 18:04
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senator Rand Paul said he spoke to President Donald Trump by phone about healthcare reform on Monday and told the president he thought Trump had the authority to create associations that would allow organizations to offer group health insurance plans.

Chicago projects shrinking budget gaps in 2017 and 2018

Reuters US Politics - Mon, 07/31/2017 - 18:00
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Chicago will continue to shrink its structural budget deficit in 2017 and 2018, but faces new pension funding pressures starting in 2020, according to a financial analysis released by the city on Monday.

Republicans want tech input on U.S. net neutrality legislation

Reuters US Politics - Mon, 07/31/2017 - 17:56
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. congressional committee on Monday asked for input from Google parent Alphabet Inc , Facebook Inc , Comcast Corp , Amazon.com Inc and other major companies on a proposed rewrite of rules governing consumer internet access, according to an email reviewed by Reuters.

Several aid groups reject Italy's new rules for migrant rescues

MiddleEasteye - Mon, 07/31/2017 - 17:46
Language Undefined

MSF and other NGOs called for more clarity on the rules and took issue with a clause requiring police officers on board rescue ships