Archive | Truth-out

How California’s Top-Two Primary Could Benefit Republicans

By Samantha Borek

California’s top-two primary system — technically known as an open blanket primary — is attracting national attention, thanks to fears that it could disadvantage Democrats in several House races in Southern California. And with Democrats keen on retaking the House, anything that might affect the margin of victory is cause for concern among progressive voters.

For California voters in the affected districts, it’s important to understand what’s at stake so they can vote strategically and encourage their family, friends and coworkers to do the same. For everyone else, it’s a lesson in unintended consequences.

In an open blanket primary, all candidates for a given race — such as a House seat — are listed together on the ballot, allowing voters of all political parties to vote for whoever they prefer. The top two vote-getters advance to the general election. In addition to California, Washington state and Nebraska also use this system.

Proponents say the top-two system allows voters to select the candidates they feel best represent them. But in a big field, it can result in a split vote that causes some unexpected consequences. For example, in 2016, the blanket primary system allowed two Democratic Senate candidates – Kamala Harris and Loretta Sanchez — to face off in the general election, effectively locking Republicans out.

This can be a problem when the ballot includes just a few people from one party, and a lot of candidates from another. Voters tend to stick to party lines, so their votes may splinter, making it impossible for any one candidate to get enough votes to claim second place. And some commentators claim that’s precisely the issue in California, where an optimistic “blue wave” has led large numbers of Democrats to file for candidacy — and left voters with a long list of …read more

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The United Nations Just Published a Scathing Indictment of US Poverty

By Anton Woronczuk

The United Nations has released a scathing report on poverty and inequality in the United States. The findings, which will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council on June 21, follow an official visit to the United States by Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, to investigate whether economic insecurity in the country undermines human rights.

The conclusions are damning. “The United States already leads the developed world in income and wealth inequality, and it is now moving full steam ahead to make itself even more unequal,” the report concludes. “High child and youth poverty rates perpetuate the intergenerational transmission of poverty very effectively, and ensure that the American dream is rapidly becoming the American illusion.”

The UN explicitly lays blame with the Trump administration for policies that actively increase poverty and inequality in the country. “The $1.5 trillion in tax cuts in December 2017 overwhelmingly benefited the wealthy and worsened inequality. The consequences of neglecting poverty and promoting inequality are clear,” it concludes. “The policies pursued over the past year seem deliberately designed to remove basic protections from the poorest, punish those who are not in employment and make even basic health care into a privilege to be earned rather than a right of citizenship.”

In December, Alston visited seven locations throughout the country—ranging from Los Angeles’s Skid Row neighborhood to rural Alabama, West Virginia, and Puerto Rico—to meet with people experiencing deep poverty, along with experts and civil society groups.

In an interview with TalkPoverty ahead of the release, Alston characterized the United States as an outlier among the developed world.

“If you said to most Americans, ‘Look at what country X does to its ethnic minority or to a particular religious minority’ … your average American with any knowledge of that situation is going to …read more

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Following Massive Layoffs, the Denver Post Is in Distress

By Jared

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Beyond Honey Bees: Wild Bees Are Also Key Pollinators, and Some Species Are Disappearing

By Anton Woronczuk

Declines in bee populations around the world have been widely reported over the past several decades. Much attention has focused on honey bees, which commercial beekeepers transport all over the United States to pollinate crops.

However, while honey bees are a vital part of our agricultural system, they are generally considered the chickens of the bee world – domesticated and highly managed for specific agricultural use. They are not native to North America and often can’t be used as a surrogate for understanding what is happening with native wild bees – the focus of my research.

There are about 5,000 native bee species in North America. Many have shown no evidence of decline, and some are thriving in highly urbanized areas. But other species, including some that were previously common, are becoming harder and harder to find. As scientists work to understand bee decline, it is important to identify the unique roles that native bees play, and to identify threats specific to them.

Efficient pollinators

One in every three bites of food we eat is made possible by bees. They pollinate almonds, apples, blueberries, squash, tomatoes and many other popular crops. They also pollinate alfalfa, which we feed to farm animals, so they support the meat component of our diet too.

We need bees for food security and to maintain healthy ecosystems. Bees pollinate flowering trees and wildflowers, which in turn provide food and homes for other animals and improve water, air and soil quality.

Along with honey bees, wild bees are also vital for crop pollination. Research has shown that the presence of wild bees increases yields across many types of crops. They often are more efficient at pollinating crops native to North America than honey bees. For example, a honey bee would have to visit a blueberry flower four times to deposit the same amount …read more

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What Fossil Fuels and Factory Farms Have in Common

By Anton Woronczuk

In 2008, Cabot Oil and Gas started fracking operations in Dimock, Pennsylvania. It was around that time the community started noticing their water was turning brown and making people and animals sick. One woman’s water well exploded. Fracking had come to town.

It’s a familiar story in other rural communities—from Pennsylvania to Montana and Texas—where fracking has contaminated drinking water resources and emitted toxic air pollution associated with higher rates of asthma, birth defects, and cancer.

But the story is similar in other communities where fracking or other extreme fossil fuel extraction isn’t happening. Air and drinking water that’s been dangerously polluted from industrial operations affect communities across Iowa, including the state’s largest city, Des Moines. Polluting facilities are operating in Central Oregon, North Carolina,Wisconsin, and Maryland. None of those places are fracking, but they are host to another environmental hazard facing rural communities: factory farms.

Like the fossil fuel cartel, this highly consolidated industry prioritizes profits at the cost of our environment. Factory farms are an industrial model for producing animals for food where thousands of cows, pigs, or birds are raised in confinement in a small area. While farms can and do apply manure as a fertilizer to cropland, factory farms produce more manure than nearby fields can absorb, leading to runoff into surface waters and contaminants leaching into groundwater. And storing concentrated quantities of manure releases toxins like ammonia and hydrogen sulfide into the air, threatening nearby communities—and even leading to worker deaths. The nearly half a million dairy cows on factory farms in Tulare County, California, produce five times as much waste as the New York City metropolitan area and carries chemical additives and pathogens like E. coli, many of which are antibiotic resistant.

Factory farms are also an issue of environmental injustice. In North Carolina counties that contain …read more

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“Ludicrous”: Critics Slay Memo From Trump Lawyers Claiming President Above the Law

By Anton Woronczuk

Government watchdogs and legal experts called collective ‘bullshit’ against the legal team of President Donald Trump on Saturday after it emerged his lawyers had sent a memo to Special Counsel Robert Mueller claiming that the president cannot be charged with obstruction of justice because, as the government’s top executive, he has nearly unlimited authority over ongoing Department of Justice investigations and could also, if he desired, issue pardons for those found guilty of misdeeds or illegal behavior.

In what the Times characterized as a “brash assertion of presidential power,” the 20-page letter—dated Jan. 29, 2018—states:

It remains our position that the President’s actions here, by virtue of his position as the chief law enforcement officer, could neither constitutionally nor legally constitute obstruction because that would amount to him obstructing himself, and that he could if he wished, terminate the inquiry, or even exercise his power to pardon if he so desired.

According to the Times:

Mr. Trump’s lawyers fear that if he answers questions, either voluntarily or in front of a grand jury, he risks exposing himself to accusations of lying to investigators, a potential crime or impeachable offense.

Mr. Trump’s broad interpretation of executive authority is novel and is likely to be tested if a court battle ensues over whether he could be ordered to answer questions. It is unclear how that fight, should the case reach that point, would play out. A spokesman for Mr. Mueller declined to comment.

Posted online, the confidential memo sent to Mr. Mueller by Trump’s legal team can be read here.

Citing a recent 108-page legal paper produced for the Brookings Institute (see below), Noah Bookbinder, chairperson for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), pushed back hard against the the claim that the president cannot—based solely on his position of power—obstruct justice. …read more

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Noam Chomsky’s Political Analysis Comes to Life in Graphic Novel

By Anton Woronczuk

Jeffrey Wilson.
Jeffrey Wilson.
Seven Stories Press

You offer the Occupy movement as an example of the energy and impact that a group can have. Why did you decide to focus on Occupy?

The project was actually not intended as a book. I set out to interview Chomsky to use in a course I was teaching. This was early 2012 and I wanted to create a 10-page comic based on a short interview with Chomsky about the deeper social history, for lack of a better descriptor, of the Occupy Movement. I was interested to hear Chomsky discuss, for example, the roots of consensus-based decision-making. My own political activism started around 2000 with anti-racist organizing and working on my college campus with United Students Against Sweatshops, so I was familiar with processes like consensus, taken up during occupy. For many of my students, however, occupy was a very different type of political movement. During our conversations, issues like consensus became both a point of critique and curiosity. So, as a pedagogical resource, I wanted to create a short comic based on an interview with Chomsky to help my students delve deeper into questions they had about the movement.

Yet, upon transcribing the interview, I quickly realized enough material existed for an entire book. For example, when I asked him about the history of Occupy, he responded by discussing human nature. Typically, during a Chomsky interview, these types of comments are simply glossed over. But this discussion about human nature is really important and signals a core philosophical position held by Chomsky. Part of the work I’ve done in the book is to expand upon these complexities and provide depth. I believe this makes the comic an important contribution to the Chomsky interview literature.

What are some ways that Chomsky and you see that a capitalist society tries to mold the individual to keep groups from creating change?

Alienation is a key concept here, and while not specifically taken up as a term in the book, nevertheless still underlines much of our conversation. Chomsky at one point reflects on the ways consumerism works to mold individuals. He discusses how our society is geared toward individuals creating meaning in their lives through the consumption of products. This impacts the possibility for change, as it directs peoples’ energies toward obtaining things rather than building communities based around ideas of mutual aid and solidarity.

What did Chomsky mean when he said Social Security is based on solidarity?

For Chomsky, I believe, Social Security functions as a kind of intergenerational solidarity. It is one way we as a society come together to care for each other. In the book, Chomsky makes the point that Social Security is under attack for this very reason and not for any fiscal problem as often claimed by market fundamentalists. He makes a similar point about the hysteria in the US around paying taxes. In a similar way to Solidarity Security, paying taxes could be viewed as society coming together to fund projects the population cares about. And yet it is quite the opposite.

What is Chomsky’s view on student debt?

In a candid scene from the book, I reveal that my partner and I are nearly a quarter of a million dollars in debt from school loans. Chomsky bluntly says, “You are slaves and it’s for the rest of your life.” Here, I believe he means that the work, time and energy it will take for us to shed those loans functions to limit what we can do with our lives. An interview included in the book with Professor George Caffentzis develops this point. He details how student loans have the effect of limiting political organizing while students are in school and also curtails one’s options after graduation. If a student is saddled with significant debt, Caffentzis remarked during our conversation, they are more likely to shelve political organizing or ideals they held in college in order to pursue a job. In many ways, both Caffentzis and Chomsky detail the ways student loan debt in a capitalist society works to discipline students in a variety of ways.

What do Mario Savio and the Sproul Plaza protests at Berkeley in the ’60s represent to Chomsky?

During the interview, Chomsky and I discussed the importance of public meeting spaces. In fact, this is a central theme of the book. Chomsky and other interviewees note that Occupy was important, in part, because it allowed people a physical meeting space in which they could come together and discuss issues that concerned them. In the interview, Chomsky said, “You don’t have Sproul Plaza,” and then went on to discuss how the geography of universities changed specifically to limit meeting space. Here he meant that big open areas on college campuses were changed to limit the possibility of large protests. It was a very interesting comment, but I was left wondering what he meant by “you don’t have Sproul Plaza.” I used that single statement to then go back and do research to tell a little bit of the history of Sproul Plaza, which includes Savio’s famous and inspiring speech.

The post

What was the importance of the Occupy Movement? What lessons does it hold for future activism? What is the importance of solidarity movements? Truthout interviewed Jeffrey Wilson about the answers to these questions that he learned from Noam Chomsky.

Mark Karlin: In your conversation with Noam Chomsky, there seemed to be a great deal of emphasis on the importance of group activism. Why is this so important?

Jeff Wilson: Coming together through activism is one way to imagine and experiment with creating a better future. The Occupy Wall Street Movement is one example we explore in the book. Chomsky begins by discussing aspects of mutual aid and solidarity he views as present within certain formations in Occupy. For instance, during the interview he specifically takes note of the organizing work done within The People’s Library, which was a part of the larger New York City occupation. With that discussion in mind, I went back and interviewed some of the librarians involved in Occupy. Here they offer important insights about what it means to practice mutual aid and solidarity and the necessity of a physical space for groups to come together to work against alienation. It’s important to note that the librarians interviewed offer the reader a critical take on Occupy, one that recognizes its potential, but also its significant shortcomings. Including these stories reflects a central structure or theme of the book, and one I believe aligns with Chomsky’s insistence that the voices of everyday people matter. This comic book is not simply Chomsky talking about activism; I worked to bring in the voices and perspectives of those at the center of movements …read more

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Bernie Sanders Seems Busier Pursuing Progressive Laws Than the Presidency

By Anton Woronczuk

As volunteer for Bernie Sanders’s 2016 primary campaign, I’ve always been puzzled why he had not begun courting those 712 Democratic superdelegates for the nominating convention back in 2014. That voting bloc of party luminaries — Congress members, former presidents and congressional party leaders — was set up in 1984, supposedly to honor the distinguished, but essentially to ensure “losers” never blocked the pre-ordained presidential choice. It’s a key bloc.

Such non-interference in party rules might have been Sanders’s decision to not be pushy with the party he’d just joined. But that was then. This is now, when he’s a trusted public figure and has even increased his ranking as the US’s most popular politician. Many Sanders supporters have assumed he’s going to make another run for the presidency.

That view has been reinforced by his being on the road continuously, pitching his progressive agenda on talk shows and at rallies: 28 states, six in these last few weeks — five in Trump states — and most recently, in Texas and Arizona. He’s now campaigning for re-election as Vermont’s US senator.

Sanders and key advisers met in January to talk about 2020, but we’ve yet to hear results. Nor has he issued a “call-to-campaign” to those supporters in progressive movements after he lost the 2016 Democratic nomination. Only a few months remain until the 2020 primary season begins. Meanwhile, uneasy leaders of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) are still waiting for him to turn over his invaluable email lists of supporters.

In tracing his actions since 2016, it’s difficult not to conclude that he’s working harder on voter pressure to get new and progressive Democrats in Congress to pass those planks into law, despite monumental opposition from Democratic Party leaders, rather than making another exhausting and expensive run for president.

Using Truman’s Whistle-Stop Tactic for Progressive Bills

Because Sanders …read more

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Deportation Looms for 9,000 Nepali Immigrants Displaced by Devastating Earthquake

By Merula Furtado

The Trump administration’s decision to revoke the temporary protected immigration status of immigrants from Nepal will take effect this June, leaving roughly 9,000 Nepali immigrants in the US facing deportation and an end to their ability to support relatives in Nepal through remittances.

Rajesh, a Nepali immigrant who has been working in the US under temporary protected status and sending money back to Nepal for the last few years to support two girls, told Truthout that his house in Nepal was damaged as a result of the earthquake.

“I was injured [in the earthquake] and my house is still damaged,” Rajesh told Truthout, asking that his last name not be used for fear of being targeted. “It’s very difficult to find a job there. There are so many people there with problems.”

On April 26, Nepal became the fifth country to have its citizens lose their temporary protected status (TPS) in the United States when it was terminated by the Trump administration. Temporary protected status is a federal program established under the Immigration Act of 1990. It allows people to stay in the United States and work if they’re unable to return to their country safely as a result of an armed conflict, natural disaster or other temporary conditions.

The Obama administration designated Nepal for temporary protected status in June 2015, two months after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit the country, killing 9,000 people, leaving almost 22,000 injured and destroying over half a million homes. The temporary immigration status had been extended a number of times since the decision. In terminating temporary protected status for Nepal, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen declared that the country had recuperated over the last few years.

“Since the 2015 earthquake, conditions in Nepal …read more

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How the NFL Players’ Union Can Block the League’s New Ban on Protests

By Anton Woronczuk

On August 26, 2016, then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the National Anthem, triggering a national debate around First Amendment rights of speech and issues of racial injustice.

The very next day, the National Football League (NFL) and the 49ers issued separate statements about the incident, and NFL Players Association (NFLPA) executive director DeMaurice Smith did an in-depth interview with The Nation’s sports editor Dave Zirin.

“Players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the National Anthem,” the NFL said, echoing existing policy in the NFL game operations manual. The 49ers emphasized that “respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose to participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.”

Smith’s interview responses generally supported freedom of expression and unequivocally backed Kaepernick. “There is never going to be a day where this union is going to sit back idly and allow anybody to trample our players’ rights,” he said.

More than a year later, President Donald Trump launched a scathing attack on protesting players and demanded they be fired. The NFL and the union responded immediately in the players’ defense. Trump continued to denounce the protests for weeks and called on football fans to boycott games. Dallas Cowboys team owner Jerry Jones threatened to bench protesting players after consulting with Trump.

The controversy spurred the NFLPA’s October 9 statement on player’s constitutional rights. Two days later, the league and the union issued a joint statement confirming that there was no change in policy around protests. On October 17, a much publicized meeting of the NFL and NFLPA resulted in an agreement “to review and discuss plans to utilize our platform to promote equality and effectuate positive change.” No player would be disciplined …read more

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