Feed aggregator

Seoul considers unilateral sanctions against North Korea

Top Reuters News - 19 hours 55 min ago
SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea is considering levying its own sanctions on North Korea as the isolated state ramps up tension with its missile and nuclear provocations, the South's vice foreign minister said on Wednesday, but no decision had been made yet.

Napalm Sticks to Kids

Counterpunch - 19 hours 57 min ago

Bombs Away: The purposeful killing of Vietnamese civilians,
Cambodian civilians, and Laotian civilians.

You do not bring the enemy to the peace table by just killing military combatants. You ultimately bring the enemy to the peace table by killing innocent civilians.

WHY?

Because, they are military targets.

The primary goal of the aggressor nation (The USA)is to break the will of the people, and its ability to defend its homeland. This strategy is as old as warfare itself.

Marine Corps basic training cadence chant during the Vietnam War:

Napalm Sticks To Kids

We shoot the sick, the young, the lame,
We do our best to maim,
Because the kills all count the same,
Napalm Sticks To Kids.
Napalm son is lots of fun,
Dropped in a bomb or shot from a gun,
It gets the gooks when on the run,
Napalm Sticks To Kids.
Drop some napalm on a farm,
It won’t do them any harm,
Just burn off their legs and arms,
Napalm Sticks To Kids.
Children sucking on a mother’s tit,
Wounded gooks down in a pit,
Dow Chemical doesn’t give a shit,
Napalm Sticks To Kids.

Millions and millions of Americans watching the  Burns/Novick Documentary on “The Vietnam War,” just don’t get the profound pathology of the LIE, and the horrifying conclusions it had on millions of people in Southeast Asia.

Because, they don’t see the deaths, especially the children as they are strung across the landscape of war like they were hanging from a clothes line.

They do not see the reality of war with all of their instincts. They do not see the human waste of children before
they are buried.

Their senses are not flooded with the sights and smells  of truth, as opposed to the sanitation of their own propaganda.

Whenever the truth threatens one’s core belief system, there is an urgent need to deny its reality.

It is not just the death of children that concern me, it is the “Look Away” mentality of Americans who pretend it doesn’t exist.

Only adults can prevent this, because children can’t comprehend what is coming.

As Kurt Vonnegut Jr. once wrote:

During the Vietnam War, every respectable artist in this country was against the war. We were all aimed in the same direction.

If you cannot comprehend the deaths of countless children in war, then there will be no adults left to save the innocent.

The Burns/Novick 18-hour Documentary conveniently left this out, because this would not coincide with their words in Episode 1.

The Vietnam War was begun in good faith by decent  people out of fateful misunderstandings, American over-confidence, and cold war miscalculation.

Pardon me, now we know why more Vietnam veterans  have committed suicide than were killed in Vietnam.

I will close from the book, Kill Anything That Moves, by Nick Turse. These are his words:

Densely populated coastal provinces like Quang Nam, Quang Ngai, and Binh Dinh, as well as the “Iron Triangle” region near Saigon, were among the most heavily bombed areas. The hardest hit was Quang Tri, the northernmost province in South Vietnam. The  province’s capital district, saturated with 3,000  bombs per square kilometer, was Vietnam’s single most devastated area. Only 11 of the province’s  3,500 villages went unbombed during the war.

Nick Turse goes on to further state in his book:

400,000 tons of Napalm was dropped in Southeast Asia. In July 1965, for instance, when Americans entered a  friendly village in Quang Ngai Province, they were confronted with the stench of burned bodies and the wailing of women. The explanation was simple: a South Vietnamese military outpost had been overrun, and airpower had been called in to deal with the problem. “When we are in a bind like we were here, we unload  on the whole area to try to save the situation. We usually kill more women and kids than we do Viet Cong, but the government troops just aren’t available to clean out the villages so this is the only answer,” a U.S. Air Force officer candidly remarked afterward. By the early 1970s, years before the war’s end, South Vietnam’s landscape was already pockmarked with an estimated 21 million bomb craters.

Kill anything that moves.

We shoot the sick, the young, the lame,
We do our best to maim,
Because the kills all count the same,
Napalm Sticks to Kids…

Israeli troops raid Palestinian media firms linked to Hamas

MiddleEasteye - 19 hours 58 min ago
Language Undefined

The media outlets were named as Palmedia, Ramsat and Transmedia

Iraqi army says it has achieved goals in Kirkuk operation

MiddleEasteye - 20 hours 47 min ago
Language Undefined

Iraqi Oil Ministry in discussion with BP to develop oil fields taken from Kurdish forces in Kirkuk

Fire hits Chevron refinery in Southern California

MarketWatch Market Pulse - 21 hours 21 min ago

Firefighters were battling a blaze late Tuesday at the Chevron refinery in El Segundo, Calif., according to the Southern California city's police department. "Fire departments are currently fighting a fire at the Chevron refinery. Residents in the nearby areas are advised to close their windows," El Segundo Police said in a Twitter post at about 11 p.m. Pacific Time on Tuesday, or 2 a.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday. The blaze was a "major fire," it was coming close to power lines, and firefighters were attempting to extinguish it with water and foam, a KTLA report said. Chevron's stock was roughly unchanged in premarket action.

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.

Defeat of Islamic State in Raqqa may herald wider struggle for U.S.

Top Reuters News - 21 hours 52 min ago
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The defeat of Islamic State in its de facto capital Raqqa may only be the start of a wider struggle by the United States to contain any insurgency launched by the militant group and to stabilize the region, as Washington grapples with defining a comprehensive strategy in Syria.

George Saunders' 'Lincoln in the Bardo' wins 2017 Man Booker prize

Top Reuters News - 22 hours 13 min ago
LONDON (Reuters) - American author George Saunders has won the 2017 Man Booker Prize, a high-profile literary award, for his first novel, "Lincoln in the Bardo," - a fictional account of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln burying his young son.

China's Xi pledges to build 'modern socialist country'

Top Reuters News - 22 hours 19 min ago
BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese President Xi Jinping opened a critical Communist Party Congress on Wednesday with a pledge to build a "modern socialist country" that will never copy the political systems of others and will remain open to the world.

Pakistan blast kills at least six in southwestern city

Top Reuters News - 22 hours 36 min ago
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - An explosion ripped through a police truck on Wednesday to kill at least six people in Pakistan's southwestern city of Quetta, police said.

Why Are Women Prisoners Battling California Wildfires for as Little as $1 a Day?

Truth-Out - 23 hours 51 min ago

As raging wildfires in California scorch more than 200,000 acres -- roughly the size of New York City -- more than 11,000 firefighters are battling the blazes, and a number of them are prisoners, including many women inmates. We speak to Romarilyn Ralston with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners-Los Angeles Chapter, who is the program coordinator for Project Rebound at Cal State University. Romarilyn experienced 23 years of incarceration, and while she was incarcerated, she was a fire camp trainer and a clerk for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Reporter Jaime Lowe also joins us to discuss her New York Times Magazine report, "The Incarcerated Women Who Fight California's Wildfires."

Please check back later for full transcript.

Freed Puerto Rican Political Prisoner Oscar López Rivera on US Colonialism After Hurricane Maria

Truth-Out - 23 hours 51 min ago

One month after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, we hear from longtime Puerto Rican independence activist Oscar López Rivera, who was released in May and is now in San Juan to visit with community members affected by Hurricane Maria. Until earlier this year, Rivera had been in federal prison for 35 years -- much of the time in solitary confinement -- after he was convicted on federal charges of opposing U.S. authority over the island by force. President Obama commuted his sentence in January.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Steve Bannon's Armageddon

Truth-Out - 23 hours 51 min ago
Former adviser to Donald Trump and executive chairman of Breitbart News, Steve Bannon, speaks at a campaign event for Republican candidate for the US Senate in Alabama Roy Moore on September 25, 2017, in Fairhope, Alabama. (Photo: Scott Olson / Getty Images)   Support your favorite writers by making sure we can keep publishing them! Make a donation to Truthout to ensure independent journalism survives.

The Yellowstone caldera has a lot of people on edge this week, apparently for good reason. For those not in the know, a caldera is the depression left in the ground after a supervolcano erupts. Yellowstone did so about 630,000 years ago, and the violence of that mighty explosion -- the likes of which have never been seen by human eyes -- made that gorgeous national park what it is today.

If Yellowstone decides to erupt, well, buy canned goods. An eruption won't be the continent-obliterating event depicted in the disaster flick 2012 (I'm sure Woody Harrelson will be fine), but it would be quite completely bad. Every crop within 500 miles in all directions at least will be buried in ash, and the sky will be last-book-in-the-Bible black until a good, stiff breeze picks up the ejecta cloud and drags it out over the Atlantic.

The good folks at the United States Geological Survey tell us not to worry, but people are worried anyway. An eruption at the Yellowstone caldera would be preceded by one if not several earthquakes, and there have been something like 800 earthquakes around the caldera in the last couple of weeks. Lots of smart people are saying no big deal, but if you hear a loud thud from the upper left corner of Wyoming, don't say you weren't warned.

Lately, when I think of Yellowstone exploding, I think of former White House adviser Steve Bannon's nascent "revolution." Like the caldera, it'll be something else indeed. If he fails, he could unleash chaos. If he succeeds, the very survival of the nation could be cast into doubt.

Steve Bannon's curiously corkscrewed path through this life has been well-documented. His husbanding of the far-right racist, misogynist, Islamophobic "news" site Breitbart landed him on the Trump presidential campaign and put him in the White House as chief strategist for a small slice of time, but it is his gleeful wrecking ball enthusiasm that has him in the news lately.

"I want to bring everything crashing down," he told Ronald Radosh of The Daily Beast in August of last year, "and destroy all of today's establishment." The establishment he has his eyes set on today belongs, as it happens, to the Republican Party. At the Values Voter Summit last weekend, he whipped the crowd into a delirious froth at the prospect of running primary challenges at any GOP officeholder who draws his ire by not living up to his white supremacist standards. "This is not my war, this is our war," he declared. "And you all didn't start it, the establishment started it. I will tell you one thing -- you all are gonna finish it."

Republican Senators Mitch McConnell, Orrin Hatch, Bob Corker, John Barasso, Dean Heller and Deb Fischer all were splashed with Bannon's mark of Cain, worthy of being overthrown and tossed aside because, in some form or fashion, they displeased or defied the president. Few will shed tears if these loathsome establishment Republicans lose their seats; they have harmed the country beyond measure. Yet if Bannon gets his way, it's possible they will be replaced with Roy Moore clones seeking to unmake the country even as they pledge their loyalty to Trump. Either way, there's no cause for celebration in sight.

The details behind the infrastructure of this insurgency remain murky, but here's the grim part: Bannon has the perfect partner in Donald J. Trump, whether or not the two are seen actually working together. The president has been a demonstrable catastrophe in office, but don't tell him that. "I'm not going to blame myself," said Trump before a meeting with McConnell this week. "I'll be honest; they are not getting the job done."

Trump blames Congress. Bannon blames Congress. Congress is Republican to all intents and purposes, so it's war on the Republicans on two fronts, and hats over the windmill.

The reality of this is ruthless in its irony. This whole bent, benighted situation has come to a boil exactly and precisely because the Republican Party set it up to be this way over the long course of many deliberate years. They created this scenario, and then totally lost control of it.

Take a large voting block and steal from them reason, science and expertise in the name of nonsense economic theories and a narrow-minded Jesus who offers absolution for irresponsible hate. Inculcate them with abhorrence for immigrants and Black and Brown people after you send their jobs overseas for your profit, because they'll need someone to blame when the factories close down. Make facts frightening, a cozen meant to steal from them what little they have even as the voracious ocean laps at their shoeless toes.  Offer them enemies. Turn them loose.

That is the story of the Republican Party as brought to you by John Birch, first voiced in clarion call by Barry Goldwater in 1964, massaged into landslide victory by Nixon's brazenly racist "Southern Strategy" before being embraced and successfully marketed by Ronald Reagan. The rest is aftermath compounded by aftermath, resulting in a muscular voting bloc numbering in the millions which has gone from being "values voters" to Trump loyalists.

Steve Bannon and Donald Trump are opportunistic peas in a pod, the perfect symbiotic relationship. They are not publicly working together, but Bannon is firing up the only people Trump has left. They're both attacking the GOP leadership in Congress. They're both stoking the base for their own purposes. Bannon is using Trump, and Trump is all too happy to be used if it gets him in front of those cheering crowds. The two men seek approval from the exact same people. It isn't a spoken alliance, but there has been no public break between the two. Bannon is a Trump guy, using Trump for Bannon's sake.

Bannon is also a wrecker of the purest stripe, a white supremacist, an Islamophobic xenophobe, an anti-Semite, a racist and a misogynist pretending to be a cultural revolutionary. Trump, who shares many of these characteristics, mainly seeks cheering crowds. A rudderless GOP base makes for a perfect audience, and a better army. Bannon sets them up, Trump knocks them down, and the GOP establishment cowers in a corner dumbfounded at what they have wrought while still pining away for that billion-dollar tax cut their paymasters so desperately desire. It is the perfect storm.

This "revolution," like Trump's whole administration to date, is a scrambled and incoherent thing today. Let that caldera crack, however, and we will be presented with a scenario unprecedented in modern US politics. The best-case outcome -- Bannon and Trump cause the complete collapse of the GOP -- would still be extremely dangerous and deeply destabilizing. The two (and those who think like them) might well retain control over a segment of the populace capable of wreaking terrible havoc both in and out of politics.

Or they could win, and find themselves in control of a dreadnought party set to make total war on everyone who is not white hetero Christian, anyone who ever crossed them, anyone and everyone simply because they can. That party in charge of all three branches of government, with the looming ability to nominate several Supreme Court justices, would signal the end of the country once and for all.

"I want to bring everything crashing down," Bannon said. He is going to try, he is in the process of trying, and one way or another, you'll be able to see the smoke for miles around.

The Feds Spent Millions Seizing 5 Million Marijuana Plants in 2016, Did Not Solve Any Drug Problems

Truth-Out - 23 hours 51 min ago

(Photo: Rainer Vandalismus)

Even as he talks about declaring the opioid crisis a national emergency, Trump is actively seeking to cut Medicaid and undermine the Affordable Care Act, which extended access to addiction treatment for millions. It's time Congress acted to push government toward public health solutions for the US's drug problems rather than pouring money into failed law enforcement policies.

(Photo: Rainer Vandalismus)

Want to see more coverage of the issues that matter? Make a donation to Truthout to ensure that we can publish more original stories like this one.

Last year, the Drug Enforcement Agency's marijuana eradication program confiscated 5.3 million marijuana plants in operations nationwide, a 20 percent increase from the year before and by far the heaviest haul since President Obama's first term in office. The DEA pulled 3.5 million plants in California, more than any other state by a long shot, even as Californians voted to legalize cannabis for recreational use.

The DEA still spends millions of dollars every year aggressively searching rural communities for marijuana grown outside the law.

Most of the plants were confiscated from outdoor plots, and there's little doubt that expensive helicopter rides, tactical gear and backwoods excursions were needed to find them. Agents seized some $52 million in weed and assets, but that won't make much of a dent in a market worth $53 billion a year. Marijuana legalization has spread to states across the country and enjoys the support of a majority of voters. However, the DEA still spends millions of dollars every year aggressively searching rural communities for marijuana grown outside the law.

Now that marijuana is legal for recreational use in eight states and as a medicine in 29, the mass marijuana eradication program may seem like a drug war relic and a waste of taxpayer dollars. Yet the media hardly noticed when the DEA released the results of its 2016 eradication campaign earlier this month. Meanwhile, the DEA would soon be making headlines over another type of drug that authorities have spent decades trying to control: opioids.

The Washington Post and "60 Minutes" published a high-profile series of reports this week featuring Joseph Rannazzisi, a former DEA official. Rannazzisi blamed a law passed by Congress in 2016 for robbing his division of its best weapon for disrupting the supply of prescription painkillers fueling the nation's opioid woes. Fingers pointed at Rep. Tom Marino, a Pennsylvania Republican who championed the legislation despite opposition from the DEA and a spat with Rannazzisi, who resigned under pressure from Marino and other lawmakers.

Marino also happened to be President Trump's nominee for director of the National Office on Drug Control Policy, a position commonly known as "drug czar." Marino's nomination was already controversial, and Trump is currently under fire for doing little to address the opioid epidemic despite tough talk on the campaign trail. On Tuesday, Trump announced that Marino was withdrawing his nomination.

Rannazzisi, who is now a consultant for attorneys suing pharmaceutical companies over their role in the overdose epidemic, said the 2016 legislation made it harder for the DEA to justify crackdowns on companies distributing painkillers to areas where agents believe the drugs are diverted to people without prescriptions. The pharmaceutical industry pushed hard for the legislation and lined Marino's pockets with $100,000 in donations. The bill sailed through Congress and was signed by President Obama.

It's no secret that Big Pharma spends more on lobbying than any other industry, or that pharmaceutical companies have profited from rising rates of opioid misuse over the past two decades. Democrats in Congress have already pounced on the news and are pushing for a repeal of Marino's 2016 legislation, but experts say lawmakers should be looking much deeper into the issue. The DEA has always sought to cut off access to drugs at their source, and if its marijuana and opioid campaigns are any evidence, those efforts have failed.

The DEA has been attacking the supply of illegal opioids for decades, but drugs continue to be readily available.

Sanho Tree, director of drug policy at the Institute for Policy Studies, said that opioids and addiction reflect complex social and public health challenges, but the DEA's answer has always been to get "a bigger hammer" because everything looks like a nail.  

"[DEA agents] only have a once-size-fits-all solution, which is 'how much more force do we have to assert [there to] get our results,'" Tree said in an interview.

Tree said the problem with the Washington Post's story is that it paints the DEA as a hero in the effort to combat opioid addiction, even as it's becoming increasingly clear that drug problems are not solved by relying on law enforcement to make arrests and cut off the supply. The DEA has been attacking the supply of illegal opioids -- and marijuana, for that matter -- for decades, but drugs continue to be readily available in every corner of the United States.

A community does not automatically recover from opioids simply because the DEA cuts a corrupt doctor or pharmacy off from a supplier. Opioid addiction often requires medical treatment, and when people with opioid disorders can no longer access prescription painkillers, they are likely to turn to dangerous street drugs like heroin and fentanyl, particularly in areas where painkillers created a black market in the first place, according to Tree.

"The simplistic DEA solution, which is just cut off the supply and prohibit use, is really shortsighted," Tree said. "But that's how they've always operated."

Tree said that solving the opioid problem requires taking a "cold hard look" at why so many people decide to self-medicate with painkillers in the first place. Many areas hard hit by opioid misuse lack economic opportunity and health care options.

"If you overlay a map where Trump did well, and where the opioid crisis is hitting hardest, there is a pretty stunning correlation," said Tree, adding that regions such as Appalachia that have suffered from declines in manufacturing tend to have high rates of opioid misuse. "Opioids are a very effective way of numbing your pain and reliving, if you will, your past days or better days."

Tree said public dollars should go to drug misuse treatment and prevention before anything else. With support from President Obama, Congress allocated nearly $1 billion in 2016 for combating the opioid epidemic over a two-year period, largely through grants to expand access to treatment and recovery services. The Trump administration is now in charge of handing out a large chunk of the money, even though its policy toward opioids is still taking shape.

Under pressure to respond to the criticism flying around his former drug czar nominee, Trump has promised to declare the opioid epidemic a "national emergency" and roll out policy objectives by next week. He has made similar promises in the past, but has so far failed to keep them.

As long as marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the DEA will fly helicopters across the countryside in search of secret plots.

Trump must also find someone to replace Marino and the chief of the DEA, who stepped down in September over disagreements with the White House. These picks could have lasting impacts on how the government responds to drugs, and the Trump administration has already indicated that it prefers an alarmingly authoritarian approach.

If the policies rolling out under Trump's attorney general, Jeff Sessions, are any indication, it appears that law enforcement will still have plenty of resources to continue waging a dangerous war on the supply chain. Trump has also supported large cuts to Medicaid and is working to undermine the Affordable Care Act, which expanded access to addiction treatment for millions of people.

Ultimately, it will take acts of Congress to defang the DEA and push the government toward public health solutions to the nation's drug dilemmas. As long as marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the DEA will fly helicopters across the countryside in search of secret plots, even in states where the drug is legal. As long as budgets are stretched to support the drug warriors in law enforcement, taxpayer dollars will go to making arrests instead of health care and economic initiatives that help people and communities stay healthy and whole.

"What does it take to build a healthy individual and healthy society?" Tree said. "That's the deeper question."

Trump's First DC Circuit Nominee Thinks Waterboarding Can Be Okay

Truth-Out - 23 hours 51 min ago

Gregory Katsas, nominee to be United States Circuit Judge for the District of Columbia Circuit, is sworn in during his confirmation hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, October 17, 2017. (Photo: Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call)

President Trump's first nominee to serve on the second most powerful federal court refused to unequivocally describe waterboarding as "torture."

Gregory Katsas -- picked to fill a vacancy on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals -- told Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Tuesday that the coercive technique was "likely torture, in many circumstances."

"I hesitate to answer the question in the abstract not knowing the circumstances or the nature of the program," Katsas told Durbin at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. He noted that waterboarding "has been abandoned."

Durbin shot back, claiming that it wasn't abstract and that the McCain Amendment, which was passed in 2006, expressly prohibited waterboarding.

President George W. Bush authorized the interrogation tactic, after launching the War on Terror, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The technique involves pouring water over a cloth placed on a blindfolded detainee's open mouth. It is designed to simulate drowning.

The so-called Senate Torture Report, overseen by Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), said in 2014 that the Bush waterboarding program "was physically harmful," and caused "convulsions and vomiting." One detainee was rendered "completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth."

"Internal CIA records describe the waterboarding of [alleged 9/11 mastermind] Khalid Shaykh Mohammad as evolving into a 'series of near drownings,'" the report also states.

Believing waterboarding was no longer up for legal discussion, Durbin asked Katsas: "Why is this still a matter in doubt?"

Katsas replied that the McCain Amendment didn't specifically bar waterboarding, but rather "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment."

"It clearly could be, no question about it," Katsas said, when asked if waterboarding was "cruel, inhuman or degrading."

Durbin said he was "surprised by the exchange."

"There clearly is uncertainty in your answer," the liberal senator remarked.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who followed Durbin, was satisfied with Katsas' reply, seizing on the jurist's reluctance to comment "in the abstract."

"It's fair to say you'd look to whatever Congressional statutes spoke to the issue, and any federal and congressional definition of torture," Cruz said, echoing Katsas' claim that specifics matter.

The DC Circuit has unique oversight power. It is the only appellate court with nationwide jurisdiction, and it almost exclusively rules on federal agencies' activities.

While on the campaign trail last year, President Trump promised to bring back waterboarding "and a hell of a lot worse." Trump has since said he would defer to cabinet officials who have advised against such a move.

Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch was asked about the practice, during his confirmation hearing earlier this year. Gorsuch told the Senate Judiciary Committee that "no one is above the law -- including the President," when asked about Trump's campaign vow.

"[T]orture, as well as cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, is expressly prohibited by law," Gorsuch said in a questionnaire submitted to the committee. During his confirmation, Gorsuch also noted that the McCain Amendment outlawed waterboarding. Both Gorsuch and Katsas served in the Bush Administration at the Justice Department.

Another one of the President's more hardline campaign trail promises came up in an April confirmation hearing, when CIA General Counsel nominee Courney Elwood was asked about Trump's pledge "to take out their families," referring to civilians related to Islamic State fighters.

Elwood said such rules of engagement "would implicate a variety of laws" and that it would target "persons who are not otherwise lawful targets under existing law." But she did not state that the deliberate targeting of families was explicitly illegal.

"If confirmed, I will work to ensure that all activities of the CIA fully and faithfully comply with the Constitution and US law," she said.

With everything going on in the White House, the media must maintain relentless pressure on the Trump administration. Can you support Truthout in this endeavor? Click here to donate.

Maine Ballot Campaign Proposes Taxing the Wealthy to Pay for Universal Home Care

Truth-Out - 23 hours 51 min ago

Maine is developing a well-deserved reputation for cutting-edge progressive ballot initiatives. In 2016, voters approved proposals to raise the state's minimum wage, raise taxes on the wealthy to fund education, introduce ranked choice voting, and legalize marijuana.

The key force behind the state's progressive ballot initiatives, the Maine People's Alliance, has just launched a campaign to put another landmark issue on the 2018 ballot: universal home care for the elderly and disabled.

There's no question that such services are sorely needed -- particularly in Maine, the state with the country's highest median age. Caring for this rapidly aging population is extremely costly. The median annual cost for home care is now more than $50,000. That's about on par with Maine's median income for an entire household.

Medicare does not cover the costs of in-home care and Medicaid reimbursement rates are so low that employers have difficulty finding workers willing to do this tough work for the meager wages they offer.

Universal home care would be a huge relief for family members facing impossible choices between paying bills for basic needs versus covering the exorbitant cost of services for their loved ones.

The big question is: how to pay for it?

The Maine People's Alliance proposal would raise the needed $132 million through a payroll tax increase of 1.9 percent on annual salaries and wages over $127,000 and a 3.7 percent tax on investment income above that same threshold.

In part, these taxes are designed to address the unfairness of the current cap on income subject to Social Security tax. That cap is now about $127,000, and so people who earn $1 million or even $100 million a year contribute no more to the nation's pension fund than those making $127,001.

The ballot initiative proposal would also address the fact that in Maine, as in many other states, the wealthy pay a smaller share of their income on state and local taxes than low-income residents. Because of regressive sales and property taxes, Maine's top 1% of earners pay only 7.5 percent of their income in state and local taxes, compared to 9.4 percent for families in the bottom 20% of the income scale, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

Another innovative aspect of the Maine proposal is that it would be overseen by a board elected by home care services users and home care business owners and workers. It also stipulates that service providers receiving financing from the universal home care trust fund would be required to pay 77 percent of the money directly to workers. This measure is aimed at ensuring managers can't use public funds to reward themselves with outsized paychecks.

Maine's ballot campaign has drawn support from an array of national groups, including the Caring Across Generations campaign, which is co-led by Jobs With Justice and the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA).

NDWA Executive Director Ai-Jen Poo said in an interview that the Maine model could be a "blueprint for the nation" as we grapple with the aging of the US population. "Some call this demographic change a 'silver tsunami,'" Poo said. "At Caring Across Generations, we call it an 'elder boom' because of the opportunity it affords to fundamentally reform our care system in a way that's long overdue."

Earlier this year, the Caring Across Generations campaign had a major breakthrough in Hawaii, where state lawmakers approved the nation's first law to provide financial support to working family caregivers, no matter their income. "The Maine campaign for universal in-home care could be the next big thing in the care movement," Poo said.

One of the key long-term goals of the Caring Across Generations campaign is universal family care. Through a state-based social insurance fund, families would receive support not only for home care for the elderly, but also child care and paid family medical leave. According to the campaign website, "Our families deserve the care we need to live full and healthy lives, whether we're caring for an infant or child, a loved one with a disability, or an aging parent."

If Maine activists manage to get their universal home care proposal passed by voters in November 2018, it would be a significant step towards extending affordable caregiving across the age spectrum.

Far more people read Truthout than will ever donate -- but we rely on donations to keep our publication running strong. Support independent journalism by making a contribution now!

How to Say No to Amazon

Truth-Out - 23 hours 51 min ago

The contest to win Amazon's second headquarters is beginning to look uncannily like an episode of "The Bachelor." As the Oct. 19 deadline to submit proposals nears, mayors across North America are ardently wooing the retail and tech giant, with offerings ranging from video love notes to a giant saguaro cactus (one assumes that the traditional bouquet of roses would not have sufficed). Stonecrest, Georgia, has even offered Amazon its very own town.

Tulsa, Oklahoma's, offer is in keeping with what many cities appear to be saying: "Whatever it takes." By dangling 50,000 new jobs and $5 billion in economic investment, Amazon's "HQ2" is expected to draw over a hundred proposals, despite a price tag likely to exceed $3 billion.

However, several cities are opting out. In a Wall Street Journal editorial, San Jose, California, Mayor Sam Liccardo calls incentives a "bad deal for taxpayers," noting that often their expense is not recouped by the revenues they generate. The state of Minnesota plans to bid, but Governor Mark Dayton is reluctant to offer up much more than the Twin Cities' strong local workforce. Officials in Toronto also plan to promote the city's existing assets rather than giving cash, noting that subsidizing Amazon would be unfair to businesses that have set up shop without incentives.

For cities doing their homework, this question is at the forefront: Are giant subsidies the best and highest use of economic development dollars?

Good Jobs First, the nation's leading watchdog on corporate subsidies, estimates that state and local governments spend $70 billion a year on cash handouts and tax abatements, mostly to big businesses. It's an inefficient investment. Their report Smart Skills versus Mindless Megadeals finds that small business cluster development initiatives, workforce development programs, and entrepreneurial assistance create jobs at a fraction of the cost of giant subsidies, and that the economic returns of those initiatives remain in communities even if one company departs.

Multiple studies have shown that economic growth and stability are highly correlated with the presence of many small, entrepreneurial employers, not a few big ones, and one study from Economic Development Quarterly said the presence of large nonlocal businesses had a negative effect on incomes.

Job growth comes primarily from start-up and small businesses. Areas that have more small, locally owned businesses see greater per-capita income growth than those with a few large entities, and locally owned, privately held firms recirculate two to three times more money back into local economies and contribute more taxes than non-locals.

Chicago is considered to be one of the top contenders for Amazon, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel has gathered a committee of 600 business and civic leaders to assemble the incentive package. But we know that these deals are inefficient. A 2017 Illinois Economic Policy Institute study found that if the state and its cities had directed their $288.5 million in average annual business subsidies to local initiatives such as infrastructure and education, Illinois would have created or saved more than nine times as many jobs.

Those jobs would also have been more secure. Having lured Boeing's headquarters with a $60 million relocation package, Chicago is well aware that businesses that chase incentives are not stable tenants. Washington state had previously given Boeing nearly $12 billion in subsidies, but that didn't stop the company from moving away and pulling 1,000 jobs from Seattle.

Perhaps the most important consideration is who benefits from economic development. Amazon's presence in Seattle has spurred some of the highest housing costs in the world. Rather than getting dazzled by the prospect of a "win," cities would do well do ask "for whom?" Will the investment improve the lives of people who live there now? In Chicago, the highest need isn't high-paying tech jobs, it's economic opportunities for the 27 percent of residents living in poverty, and serious investment in public schools to retain residents across all economic strata.

We know how to do economic development well. Let's hope that cities run the numbers before committing billions of dollars to a deal that may offer high-publicity bragging rights but little else.

Truthout takes zero advertising money -- instead we rely on readers to sustain our site. Will you join the thousands of people who fund our work? Make a donation by clicking here!

What the "Fearless Girl" Statue and Harvey Weinstein Have in Common

Truth-Out - 23 hours 51 min ago
The stories at Truthout equip ordinary people with the facts and resources to create extraordinary change. Support this vital work by making a tax-deductible donation now!

In March of this year, State Street Global Advisors unveiled the "Fearless Girl," a statue of a little girl installed to face Wall Street's famous "Charging Bull" statue. Her defiance was aimed at financial culture's historical exclusion of women in the financial industry, especially in leadership positions. 

In early October, its parent company, State Street Corporation, quietly settled allegations that it had been paying female employees less than their male counterparts, agreeing to award US$5 million in back pay.

Then, a week later, a series of explosive articles revealed that Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein may have engaged in a decades-long pattern of abusing and harassing women. Weinstein, the reports noted, had been a prominent donor to causes that address gender inequality, especially in the entertainment industry.

In both cases, a public-facing feminism ended up essentially serving as a front, a superficial sheen that distracted from systemic sexism. What does feminism mean if it functions as an alibi for structural discrimination? And how powerful are the forces that oppose it? 

Popular Feminism and Popular Misogyny

Together, these two stories tell an even bigger tale of a national dynamic that I call "popular feminism" and "popular misogyny."

Popular feminism refers to a sort of mainstream, corporate-friendly feminism. It announces itself on self-help blogs that implore women to "be confident in the workplace" and on aspirational Tumblr pages that remind women that they are beautiful despite societal norms that tell them that they're not. In this way, popular feminism is "safe" -- it implicitly encourages more women to work within a system that is already designed to devalue (and underpay) the labor of women. 

Like popular feminism, popular misogyny is expressed and practiced on multiple media platforms. Yet its primary goal is to dehumanize and devalue women. 

Every time feminism gains broad traction -- that is, every time it spills beyond niche feminist enclaves -- the forces of the status quo lash back. Skirmishes ensue between those determined to change the normal state of things and those determined to maintain it, who frame the challenges to the status quo as a set of risks that must be contained. 

This happened with suffrage and abolition. More recently, it happened to the women who sought to assert themselves within the male-dominated world of video games (the "Gamergate" controversy). 

We also see this dynamic in the stories of the Fearless Girl and Harvey Weinstein. 

A Sanitized Version of Feminism

The "Fearless Girl" statue was installed in the middle of the night in lower Manhattan on March 7, 2017, on the eve of International Women's Day. 

It faced the well-known "Charging Bull" statue, which, since 1987, has been a global symbol of Wall Street. The bull was intended to be a sign of American "virility and courage" -- an "antidote," in the artist's words, for the stock market crash of 1986. The bull's allusions to manliness and a strong sex drive continue to be acknowledged in the popular tourist practice of taking a picture next to (or touching) the bull's huge testicles.

On the surface, the appearance of a statue that appears to directly challenge the bull is a striking symbol of empowerment.

But let's not forget that "Fearless Girl" was intended as an advertisement. State Street's new index fund sought to signal itself as a collection of "gender-diverse" companies, meaning that they have a higher percentage of women among their senior leadership than most global investment companies. (Its NASDAQ ticker symbol is "SHE.")

To be clear: I believe it is important to praise those companies that hire women in leadership. It is equally important to have women directors behind the camera in the entertainment industries. 

At the same time, the recognition of gender inequality in leadership positions is a familiar trope of popular feminism. The remedy is thought to be simple: Have more women "sit at the table." This is Weinstein's brand of "feminism" as well: to talk about the importance of hiring more female directors or giving more opportunities to female actors.

But where are the results? Why is it that, despite widespread acknowledgment of gender and racial exclusion in the technology industries, women and people of color remain in the vast minority? Why is it that, despite Harvey Weinstein's vocal support for feminist causes, just 4 percent of directors of the 100 top-grossing films between 2007 and 2016 were female?

Harvey Weinstein's public support of gender issues in Hollywood and of female politicians easily gained traction and praise. But in reality, it could have worked to distract people from his behavior and a culture of sexual assault and gender discrimination that undergirds Hollywood. 

Popular Misogyny Takes Aim

What does the "Fearless Girl" distract us from? 

The plaque below the statue originally read, "Know the power of women in leadership. SHE makes a difference." (The plaque has since been removed and replaced.) 

The presumption here is that putting more women in leadership positions is a catch-all solution to gender inequality. But what if it's simply a statement about women becoming better workers? 

The artist, Kristen Visbal, admitted that the artwork isn't meant to alienate, but to accommodate. 

"I made sure to keep her features soft," she explained. "She's not defiant, she's brave, proud and strong, not belligerent." (This is one way that popular feminism transfigures other feminist movements, which, historically, have been mobilized by defiance and belligerence, while directly confronting patriarchy.)

Yet the accommodating tone didn't matter to the forces of misogyny.

Even the suggestion that women should participate more visibly within capitalism -- an economic system that depends, after all, on a gendered division of labor -- incurred a misogynistic backlash. 

The creator of the Charging Bull, Arturo Di Modica, has asked for the Fearless Girl to be removed, claiming that she was "attacking the bull" and that he objected to her "political messaging" (as if symbolizing capitalist America's resilience was somehow not political). 

Other reactions were more pronounced than Di Modica's. Alongside hundreds of photos and selfies of girls and women with Fearless Girl, pictures also circulated in social media featuring men simulating sex with the statue. In May 2017 another artist, Alex Gardega, installed a statue of his own: "Pissing Pug," a small dog urinating on "Fearless Girl." 

Even a "soft" corporate feminism poses a threat to masculinity -- so much so that it becomes a target of degradation and sexual violence. 

Apparently, the Fearless Girl injures masculinity simply by existing in the first place.

The Perils of Popular Feminism

The pervasiveness of popular misogyny can appear in subtler ways, whether it's political campaigns centered on taking away reproductive rights for women, or denying women and girls opportunities in the workplace. 

Others join "Pissing Pug" in the not-so-subtle category, like Weinstein's alleged tactics of forcing women to perform sexual acts in order to earn his approval. 

The years-long silence of Weinstein's many female accusers -- or of the many men and women who were aware of what was happening -- is all, in my view, about the power of popular misogyny. Women are rarely believed when they report sexual assault, while public shaming can ensure that future opportunities to do so can dry up. 

In the aftermath, misogynistic backlash has already emerged. Those who came forward are being questioned about what they were wearing and why they let themselves be alone with him -- how they "invited" the assault.

Harvey Weinstein is only the latest in a list of powerful men who have been exposed this year alone: Bill CosbyRoger AilesBill O'Reilly and, of course, Donald Trump

But while popular misogyny can silence in very visible ways, popular feminism can also work to silence dissent. Through building statues, appointing a woman to the board of a company and paying celebrity feminist spokespeople, this soft, corporate version of feminism signals that by being accommodating and safe, the problem will go away. 

Popular feminism might dispense a vision of progress. But don't let it distract from the structural gendered violence that persists, unabated, in so many aspects of American society.

Trump and Netanyahu Walk in Lockstep on Iran

Truth-Out - 23 hours 51 min ago

In spite of the fact that the UN International Atomic Energy Agency has certified eight times that Iran is meeting its obligations under the nuclear deal, Trump refused to certify Iran was in compliance, and he has decided the Iran deal is not in the United States' national security interests. Meanwhile, Trump is heavily influenced by Israel's government.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with President Donald Trump prior to the President's departure from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv on May 23, 2017, in Jerusalem, Israel. (Photo: Kobi Gideon / GPO via Getty Images)

During his presidential campaign and throughout his nine-month presidency, Donald Trump has been fixated on ending the Iran nuclear deal, which he called "one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into."

Under the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran agreed to curtail its nuclear program and in return, it received billions of dollars of relief from punishing sanctions.

Iran has allowed 24-hour inspections by officials from the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). "Iran has gotten rid of all of its highly enriched uranium," Jessica T. Mathews wrote in the New York Review of Books. "It has also eliminated 99 percent of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium.... All enrichment has been shut down at the once-secret, fortified, underground facility at Fordow ... Iran has disabled and poured concrete into the core of its plutonium reactor -- thus shutting down the plutonium as well as the uranium route to nuclear weapons. It has provided adequate answers to the IAEA's long-standing list of questions regarding past weapons-related activities."

To read more stories like this, visit Human Rights and Global Wrongs.

Yukiya Amano, director general of IAEA, refuted Trump's allegation that Iran had kept IAEA weapons inspectors from entering military bases. Amano said, "So far, IAEA has had access to all locations it needed to visit. At present, Iran is subject to the world's most robust nuclear verification regime."

But in spite of the fact that the IAEA has affirmed eight times -- most recently in August -- that Iran is meeting its obligations under the deal, Trump refused to certify Iran was in compliance and he decided the deal is not in the US national security interests.

The US Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act requires the president to determine every 90 days whether Iran remains compliant with the JCPOA and whether the agreement still serves US interests. Trump reluctantly certified Iran's compliance in April and July. But on October 13, to the consternation of his secretary of state, secretary of defense, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he refused to certify Iran's compliance with the deal.

France, Britain, Russia, China, Germany, the United States and Iran are parties to the historic agreement. After Trump's October 13 announcement, the leaders of Britain, France and Germany said in a joint statement that retaining the Iran deal "is in our shared national security interest." They stated, "The nuclear deal was the culmination of thirteen years of diplomacy and was a major step towards ensuring that Iran's nuclear program is not diverted for military purposes."

Trump Walks in Lockstep With Netanyahu

Trump walks in lockstep with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has consistently opposed the Iran deal. The Christian Zionists, who await Christ's second coming in Israel constitute a significant portion of Trump's base.

After his election but before inauguration, Trump inserted himself into US foreign policy by criticizing Barack Obama for refusing to veto a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel's illegal settlement-building.

In 2015, before the US joined the JCPOA, Netanyahu staged an end-run around then-President Obama and directly addressed the US Congress, prevailing upon them to oppose the deal. "That deal will not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons," Netanyahu told Congress. "It would all but guarantee that Iran gets those weapons -- lots of them."

Netanyahu was thrilled with Trump's refusal to recertify Iran's compliance with the JCPOA. "It's a very brave decision, and I think it's the right decision for the world," Netanyahu said on CBS's "Face the Nation." The American Israel Public Affairs Committee also heralded Trump's attack on the JCPOA.

The White House fact sheet outlining Trump's new Iran policy accuses Iran of "unrelenting hostility to Israel." In his speech announcing his refusal to recertify Iran's compliance with the deal, Trump stated that Iran "remains the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism, and provides assistance to al Qaeda, the Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terrorist networks."

In fact, Iran and al Qaeda, representing different sects of Islam, are sworn enemies. And after JCPOA was agreed upon in 2015, Noam Chomsky wrote in TomDispatch:

Other concerns about the Iranian threat include its role as "the world's leading supporter of terrorism," which primarily refers to its support for Hezbollah and Hamas. Both of those movements emerged in resistance to US-backed Israeli violence and aggression, which vastly exceeds anything attributed to these villains, let alone the normal practice of the hegemonic power whose global drone assassination campaign alone dominates (and helps to foster) international terrorism.          

Trump's refusal to recertify Iran's compliance with the JCPOA came one day after the US announced it would withdraw from the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The United States accused UNESCO -- which promotes worldwide literacy, clean water, women's equality, cultural heritage and sex education -- of "anti-Israel bias." Israel said it would pull out of UNESCO as well.

UNESCO incurred the wrath of Israel and the United States in July when it declared the core of Hebron, a city in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, an endangered Palestinian World Heritage site. In 2011, UNESCO was the first UN agency to allow Palestine to become a member, which led to Palestine's upgraded legal status at the General Assembly the following year.

In 2015, UNESCO passed a resolution "strongly" condemning "Israeli aggressions and illegal measures against the freedom of worship and Muslims' access to their holy site." The resolution condemned the "continuous negative impact of the Israeli military confrontations" in Gaza as well.

October 12 was also the day that Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, which control Gaza and the West Bank respectively, announced they were forming a unity government. Netanyahu opposes Palestinian unity. Iran is the only major power in the Middle East calling for the creation of a Palestinian state.

"President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu are united in a shared agenda of escalation with Iran, with the goal of enabling increased US and Israeli military aggression," Jewish Voice for Peace wrote in a statement. "Trump's hypocrisy is evident when he talks about caring about everyday Iranians, yet continually tries to ban them from entering the US."

Trump Punts to Congress

After he drove a stake through the heart of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and later, the Affordable Care Act, Trump punted those issues to Congress to clean up the messes he made. On October 13, he followed suit with JCPOA.

Trump did not urge Congress to reinstate sanctions on Iran, which would completely scuttle the JCPOA. But he placed the onus on Congress to add new terms not covered by the JCPOA, including sunset clauses and ballistic missiles.

If Congress fails to so act, Trump threatened that "the agreement will be terminated ... and our participation can be canceled by me, as president, at any time."

In order to enact Trump's requested legislation, GOP senators would have to muster 60 votes, including eight Democrats, which is unlikely.

Former Secretary of State John Kerry, who spearheaded US diplomacy with Iran, called Trump's decision "a reckless abandonment of facts in favor of ego and ideology from a president who would rather play a high-stakes game of chicken with Congress and with Iran than admit that the nuclear agreement is working."

"Breaking the Iran agreement would not only free Iran from limits placed on its nuclear program," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) said, "it would irreparably harm America's ability to negotiate future nonproliferation agreements. Why would any country in the world sign such an agreement with the United States if they knew that a reckless president might simply discard that agreement a few years later?"

This is particularly disturbing in light of the volatile standoff between the United States and nuclear-armed North Korea.

Iran's compliance with the JCPOA has made the world a safer place. We must apply pressure on both Congress and the White House to retain the Iran deal.

Truthout won't back down from taking Trump and his cronies to task. Click here to support journalism that holds those in power accountable!

Pages