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DOJ Won Antitrust Victory by Arguing Publishing Merger Would Harm Top Authors

Sat, 11/26/2022 - 11:26

Antitrust is having a moment. From both the left and the right, politicians clamor for new tools and enforcement to maintain a spirit of competition in the U.S. economy. While many focus on Big Tech, one of the Biden administration’s first big swings in a more aggressive antitrust enforcement regime took aim at a decidedly un-techy industry: book publishing. In a sealed ruling issued on Oct. 31, a federal judge sided with the government and blocked the merger of Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster. While the country’s attention was focused on the midterm elections, Judge Florence Pan unsealed her full opinion. In it, she sided with the federal government’s persuasive and creative legal thinking, which focused on harms to an unusual victim: highly paid authors. Faced with this setback, the merger officially collapsed this week when Simon & Schuster’s owner decided not to appeal.

It’s worth focusing on how the government achieved this victory. The fact that it felt compelled to make such an atypical argument shows how the current legal regime forces regulators to hide the ball in terms of whom they’re really advocating for in the courtroom. This trend isn’t limited to publishing; it also arises in one of the biggest of Big Tech suits — the case against Google.

If you’ve watched the animated Netflix series “Bojack Horseman,” you may remember the recurring gag of the omnipresent mega corporation AOL-Time Warner-Pepsico-Viacom-Halliburton-Skynet-Toyota-Trader Joe’s (which adds Philip Morris-Disney-Fox-AT&T to the front of its name by the end of the show’s run). While it’s unclear whether anyone in the Biden administration is a fan of this gone-too-soon comedy, there’s no doubt that the administration is taking a hostile approach to the type of corporate consolidation embodied in that joke. Biden has empowered a new wave of antitrust enforcers to give teeth to his view that “[c]apitalism without competition isn’t capitalism; it’s exploitation.” Accordingly, Merrick Garland’s Justice Department is fighting mergers and acquisitions across the board, in industries ranging from hearing aids to airlines to virtual reality.

That fight came to book publishing when a real life mega-corporation, Paramount Global — parent company of CBS, MTV, Nickelodeon, Showtime, BET, Comedy Central, Paramount+ and more — sold one of its many subsidiaries. In a $2.2 billion deal, Simon & Schuster was acquired by Penguin Random House (itself the result of a massive 2013 merger). The resulting company would have controlled nearly 50% of the market for “anticipated top-selling books.” Or so the government said.

That qualification was key. Analyzing how much of a market a potential company would control begins with establishing the bounds of which types of transactions count and which don’t. This exercise in “market definition” is a key part of almost all antitrust lawsuits.

It might seem as if defining the market here would be simple. After all, the publishing industry orbits around a “Big Five” made up of Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Hachette Book Group and Macmillan. But defining the relevant market proved to be an area of high contention throughout the three-week trial.

Before getting into the government’s creative market definition, we’ll need a crash course in publishing. Publishers promote themselves as one-stop shops for authors looking to get their books onto shelves. They edit authors’ manuscripts, produce the physical books, design ads and book covers, handle publicity and marketing and much more. At the start of this process, publishers typically compensate authors for their work in the form of a lump-sum advance. As part of signing with a publisher, authors and their agents agree to a (typically standard) royalty rate for each book sale (e.g., if a book sells for $20 and the author’s royalty rate is 10%, they earn $2 per sale).

Authors will not earn any income beyond the advance, however, until the amount generated in royalties exceeds the advance the author was paid up front by the publisher. Think of this as repaying a loan: Only once the publisher has recouped the advance (a phenomenon called “earning out”) will the author receive any further payment for that book. If the book earns out, then the author is compensated with royalty payments which reflect a percentage of future sales. But that’s a big if — most published books don’t earn out, which means that for most authors, the advance is the only compensation they’ll see out of their book.

Worried about the publishers’ bottom line in all this? Don’t be. They start making profits far before a book earns out.

The Department of Justice argued that properly evaluating the negative effects of the merger required defining the affected market as author advances over $250,000; it was that section of the market, constituting the type of books that may get custom merch rollouts on debut, that the government alleged Penguin Random House Simon & Schuster (or whatever the Frankensteined creation would call itself) would dominate. Conversely, the publishers insisted that the DOJ had invented this category exclusively to prove its point. Wisely, Judge Pan found that the publishers displayed “excessive concern” with where the government wanted to set its threshold (i.e., the government set it either too high or too low), as opposed to fighting against the concept of anticipated top-selling books itself.

In focusing on highly paid authors, the DOJ bucked a typical antitrust trend. Many merger cases focus on resulting harms to consumers — typically higher prices. But experts believed that this merger would have been unlikely to raise the already high price of books. Focusing on author compensation allowed the DOJ to circumvent this problem. The government argued that authors would pocket smaller advances with only four publishers bidding on highly sought-after books instead of five. To prove its point, the DOJ had none other than Stephen King testify on its behalf (and, because he’s Stephen King, the publishers declined to cross-examine him, with one lawyer suggesting maybe they could instead grab coffee sometime).

Despite the courtroom drama and the clever lawyering, there’s something odd about the DOJ’s position — Stephen King, and other authors of his caliber, aren’t exactly helpless. The publishers seized on this weakness, arguing that these authors are “the elite of the elite” and the “least in need of protection by the antitrust laws.” In fact, at trial the publishers advanced their own narrative in which they themselves could be the victims of larger economic forces. The publishers touted their fears that blocking this merger might lead Paramount Global to sell Simon & Schuster to the financial bogeyman: private equity. Such an acquisition, they warned, could well result in Simon & Schuster being loaded with debt and gutted. Keeping her eyes on the ball, Judge Pan noted that such considerations were beyond the case immediately in front of her.

The government’s focus on highly paid authors is what sets this case apart from previous cases. As Judge Pan wrote in her opinion, much of the government’s case “sounds in ‘monopsony,’ a market condition where a buyer with too much market power can lower prices or otherwise harm sellers.” While less common, monopsony cases aren’t new to antitrust. Neither are cases focused on luxury markets. But what is new is a monopsony case focused on the highest-paid sellers. The closest analogue available for Judge Pan to cite was a case about two regional California movie theater chains, in which one chain amassed market power for “industry anticipated top-grossing films.” While the parallel between that market and a market of publisher-anticipated top-selling books is clear, the dynamic of whom would be harmed in the government’s publishing theory (i.e., rich authors, as opposed to the other movie chain) is novel.

There’s a parallel between this strategy and the strategy pursued by a coalition of state attorneys general (AGs) in their antitrust suit against Google. In that case, the state AGs alleged that Google uses its monopoly power in the online advertising market to extract higher fees from both the sellers of ads and the sellers of advertising space. (Feel free to melt your brain attempting to understand the byzantine system of ad tech that Texas maps out in its complaint.) But the crux of the argument isn’t so hard to follow — because it faces virtually no competition, Google is able to wring more money out of both advertisers and the companies that receive money from those advertisers to display their ads.

Like highly-paid authors, large publications like ESPN.com and large advertisers like Ford are not the most sympathetic victims. Things are even worse when the victims are ad exchange companies with names unknown to the public. Aware of these potential limits to public and judicial empathy, both lawsuits connect the harms alleged here to consumer welfare. The DOJ alleges that a smaller publishing world would lead to fewer and less diverse titles available for the reading public to consume. Similarly, the state AGs allege that Google’s siphoning of advertising money leads to fewer profitable online outlets and less relevant ads to consumers.

But reading the legal materials, it’s hard not to feel that these arguments are afterthoughts; consumer welfare occupied two out of 160 pages of the DOJ’s brief and three out of 130 pages of the state AGs’ brief. And in truth, they are afterthoughts. What’s really going on here is a fight against consolidation. The government believes that consumers will benefit if it wins this fight, but not in a way that legal analysis is well-suited to evaluate. This tension leaked into every aspect of the publishing trial. On the witness stand, Stephen King testified that the average full-time writer in 2018 earned an income below the federal poverty line. From the point of view of a trial about authors getting paid advances over $250,000, this statement is irrelevant. Yet it reveals why the government and King are in the courtroom at all.

President Biden has said he wants to prevent “bad mergers that lead to mass layoffs, higher prices, [and] fewer options for workers and consumers alike.” Mergers are often followed by layoffs, which often disproportionately affect people of color. Experts worried that the merger of Simon & Schuster and Penguin Random House would lead to fewer writers, agents and editors of color working — in an industry that’s already 76% white. Their fears are rooted in the existing disparity in author advances for white authors and authors of color, and the notion that having fewer decisionmakers will result in fewer non-white authors being published.

Yet the dominance of economic analysis in the antitrust legal system means that the government’s best approach to fighting this merger was to focus on Stephen King’s bottom line. To the extent that this is what the law demands, the government can and must continue to advance these clever arguments. While Penguin Random House had the appetite to appeal, Paramount did not. The conglomerate’s decision to abandon the deal demonstrates how the government can turn these massive mergers into a massive headache when it has the legal tools to win. As reformers consider what types of changes we can make to live in a society further from AOL-Time Warner-Pepsico-Viacom-Halliburton-Skynet-Toyota-Trader Joe’s than closer to it, they must take their cues from Judge Pan. Even as her opinion swelled with data from economic models and simulations, it never lost sight of the bigger picture: Economic analysis is an analytical tool, not the ultimate referee of the antitrust world.

Categories: World News

Oil Industry Lobbying Group Funded “Dark Money” Ads for Conservative Democrats

Sat, 11/26/2022 - 09:22
This article was produced by Sludge, an independent, ad-free investigative news site covering money in politics. Click here to support Sludge.

A “dark money” group that spent millions of dollars this year on ads supporting conservative Democrats, including Reps. Henry Cuellar and Kurt Schrader, was funded by oil and gas industry lobbying group the American Petroleum Institute, Sludge has discovered.

The American Petroleum Institute’s (API) 990 tax form for 2021 shows it paid more than $3.5 million to the Better Jobs Together Campaign, an opaque Virginia corporation that was formed in April 2021, for advocacy services it performed as an independent contractor. Better Jobs Together has spent more than $2.5 million according to AdImpact figures to run television ads that praise a handful of conservative congressional Democrats for policies that they say protect the climate and jobs. API did not respond to a request for comment.

Better Jobs Together’s ads do not explicitly endorse the candidates they praise, and the group does not report its activities to the Federal Election Commission. Federal campaign finance laws on “electioneering communications” allow groups to air political ads while avoiding disclosure as long as the ads do not explicitly say to elect or defeat a certain candidate, and are not shown within 30 days of an election.

The group’s ads praise Cuellar, Schrader, Rep. Vincente Gonzalez, Rep. Marc Veasey, Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, according to copies that can be viewed on its website. The bulk of Better Jobs Together’s spending went towards ads that praise Cuellar, on which they spent at least $1.4 million, according to AdImpact. Cuellar has been labeled “Big Oil’s favorite Democrat” for his tendency to cross the aisle and take votes aligned with Republicans and the fossil fuel industry. He has the worst environmental voting record of any House Democrat, according to the League of Conservation Voters’ scorecard.

The American Petroleum Institute’s 2021 990 shows it paid Better Jobs Together as an independent contractor.

This is the second election cycle in a row that Cuellar has been boosted by a dark money political group that Sludge later uncovered was funded by API. In the 2020 election cycle, a then-unknown group called American Workers for Progress spent more than $720,000 on pro-Cuellar ads and mailers and was later found by Sludge to have received $1.3 million from API in 2019. In both his 2020 and 2022 re-election campaigns, Cuellar was challenged in the Democratic primary by progressive candidate Jessica Cisneros, who is endorsed by left-leaning climate advocacy groups and supports a Green New Deal that includes investment in solar and wind infrastructure.

In June of last year, API hired Cuellar’s former chief of staff, Amy Travieso Loveng, to work on its federal lobbying staff. Loveng now works for oil company Oxy, short for Occidental, on government affairs, according to her LinkedIn.

API is the largest American lobbying group for the oil and gas industry, with annual revenues in 2021 of more than $228 million. Its dues-paying members include companies like ExxonMobil, Shell, and Chevron.

Better Jobs Together’s ads praise the conservative Democrats for supporting climate policies that they say are good for things like jobs and security, but in all the cases the policies are also supported by API as the group angles to embrace climate measures that would also perpetuate the use of fossil fuels. For example, in its Sinema ads, Better Jobs Together praises the senator’s work on a package of energy bills that included a bill she sponsored called the Launching Energy Advancement and Development through Innovations for Natural Gas Act that directs federal funding to natural gas carbon capture technology research. API’s climate action framework says the group plans include advocating for federal funding of carbon capture research and development.

A Better Jobs Together spot for Texas Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, founding chair of the Congressional Oil and Gas Caucus, cited statements he made at an API-sponsored event during 2020’s virtual Democratic National Convention arguing that natural gas is “vital” to a renewable-energy future. Recent blog posts from API have similarly touted natural gas as “essential.” Research by InfluenceMap has tracked the lobby group’s efforts since 2016 to obstruct climate policies that would reduce emissions in line with the Paris Agreement.

Against the idea of natural gas as a “bridge fuel” in a transition to renewables, research by advocacy group Oil Change International found that greenhouse gas emissions from already-operating fossil fuel sites is incompatible with the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit warming worldwide under 2 degrees Celsius. Another ad for Rep. Marc Veasy praises his introduction of a bill that would direct federal funds for infrastructure like pipelines for transporting captured carbon. API promoted carbon capture starting in 2006 as a method to enhance oil production.

As it unleashed a wave of political spending last year, becoming the dominant outside spender in the high-profile rematch between Cuellar and Cisneros, Better Jobs Together released virtually no information about its founders or its funders. The group listed an address on its incorporation papers in Arlington, Virginia that appears to be a mailbox at a Staples store. Its principal and treasurer is Rene Ramirez, founder of Texas-based consulting firm Pathfinder Public Affairs and a state lobbyist for dozens of corporate clients including pipeline firm Energy Transfer. The incorporator listed was Megan Troy, a D.C. attorney and former lobbyist with a specialty in telecom and regulatory policy. As of Aug. 31, Better Jobs Together is deemed inactive by the Virginia State Corporation Commission for not filing an annual report this year. Ramirez did not respond to a request for comment on API’s funding of Better Jobs Together.

Categories: World News

How Banks and Private Equity Cash In When Patients Can’t Pay Their Medical Bills

Sat, 11/26/2022 - 09:10

Patients at North Carolina-based Atrium Health get what looks like an enticing pitch when they go to the nonprofit hospital system’s website: a payment plan from lender AccessOne. The plans offer “easy ways to make monthly payments” on medical bills, the website says. You don’t need good credit to get a loan. Everyone is approved. Nothing is reported to credit agencies.

In Minnesota, Allina Health encourages its patients to sign up for an account with MedCredit Financial Services to “consolidate your health expenses.” In Southern California, Chino Valley Medical Center, part of the Prime Healthcare chain, touts “promotional financing options with the CareCredit credit card to help you get the care you need, when you need it.”

As Americans are overwhelmed with medical bills, patient financing is now a multibillion-dollar business, with private equity and big banks lined up to cash in when patients and their families can’t pay for care. By one estimate from research firm IBISWorld, profit margins top 29% in the patient financing industry, seven times what is considered a solid hospital margin.

Hospitals and other providers, which historically put their patients in interest-free payment plans, have welcomed the financing, signing contracts with lenders and enrolling patients in financing plans with rosy promises about convenient bills and easy payments.

For patients, the payment plans often mean something more ominous: yet more debt.

Millions of people are paying interest on these plans, on top of what they owe for medical or dental care, an investigation by KHN and NPR shows. Even with lower rates than a traditional credit card, the interest can add hundreds, even thousands of dollars to medical bills and ratchet up financial strains when patients are most vulnerable.

Robin Milcowitz, a Florida woman who found herself enrolled in an AccessOne loan at a Tampa hospital in 2018 after having a hysterectomy for ovarian cancer, said she was appalled by the financing arrangements.

“Hospitals have found yet another way to monetize our illnesses and our need for medical help,” said Milcowitz, a graphic designer. She was charged 11.5% interest — almost three times what she paid for a separate bank loan. “It’s immoral,” she said.

MedCredit’s loans to Allina patients come with 8% interest. Patients enrolled in a CareCredit card from Synchrony, the nation’s leading medical lender, face a nearly 27% interest rate if they fail to pay off their loan during a zero-interest promotional period. The high rate hits about 1 in 5 borrowers, according to the company.

For many patients, financing arrangements can be confusing, resulting in missed payments or higher interest rates than they anticipated. The loans can also deepen inequalities. Lower-income patients without the means to make large monthly payments can face higher interest rates, while wealthier patients able to shoulder bigger monthly bills can secure lower rates.

More fundamentally, pushing people into loans that threaten their financial health runs against medical providers’ first obligation to not harm their patients, said patient advocate Mark Rukavina, program director at the nonprofit Community Catalyst.

“We’re dealing with sick people, scared people, vulnerable people,” Rukavina said. “Dangling a financial services product in front of them when they’re concerned about their care doesn’t seem appropriate.”

Debt Upon Debt

Nationwide, about 50 million people — or 1 in 5 adults — are on a financing plan to pay off a medical or dental bill, according to a KFF poll conducted for this project. About a quarter of those borrowers are paying interest, the poll found.

Increasingly, those interest payments are going to financing companies that promise hospitals they will collect more of their medical bills in exchange for a cut.

Hospital officials defend these arrangements, citing the need to offset the cost of offering financing options to patients. Alan Wolf, a spokesperson for the University of North Carolina’s hospital system, said that the system, which reported $5.8 billion in patient revenue last year, had a “responsibility to remain financially stable to assure we can provide care to all regardless of ability to pay.” UNC Health, as it is known, has contracted since 2019 with AccessOne, a private equity-backed company that finances loans for scores of hospital systems across the country.

This partnership has had a substantial impact on patient debt, according to a KHN analysis of billing and contracting records obtained through public records requests.

UNC Health, which as a public university system touts its commitment “to serve the people of North Carolina,” had long offered payment plans without interest. And when AccessOne took over the loans in September 2019, most patients were in no-interest plans.

That has steadily shifted as new patients enrolled in one of AccessOne’s plans, several of which have variable interest rates that now charge 13%.

In February 2020, records show, just 9% of UNC patients in an AccessOne plan were in a loan with the highest interest rate. Two years later, 46% were in such a plan. Overall, at any given time more than 100,000 UNC Health patients finance through AccessOne.

The interest can pile on debt. Someone with a $7,000 hospital bill, for example, who enrolls in a five-year financing plan at 13% interest will pay at least $2,500 more to settle that debt.

Rukavina, the patient advocate, said adding this burden on patients makes little sense when medical debt is already creating so much hardship. “It may seem like a short-term solution, but it leads to longer-term problems,” he said. Health care debt has forced millions of Americans to cut back on food, give up their homes, and make other sacrifices, KHN found.

UNC Health disavowed responsibility for the additional debt, saying patients signed up for the higher-interest loans. “Any payment plans above zero-interest terms/conditions in place with AccessOne are in place at the request of the patient,” Wolf said in an email. UNC Health would only provide answers to written questions.

UNC Health’s patients aren’t the only ones getting routed into financing plans that require substantial interest payments.

At Atrium Health, a nonprofit system with roots as Charlotte’s public hospital that reported more than $7.5 billion in revenues last year, as many as half of patients enrolled in an AccessOne loan were in one of the company’s highest-interest plans, according to 2021 billing records analyzed by KHN.

At AU Health, Georgia’s main public university hospital system, billing records obtained by KHN show that two-thirds of patients on an AccessOne plan were paying the highest interest rate as of January.

‘Empathetic Patient Financing’

AccessOne chief executive Mark Spinner, who in an interview called his firm a “compassionate, empathetic patient financing company,” said the range of interest rates gives patients and medical systems valuable options. “By offering AccessOne, you’re creating a much safer, more mission-aligned way for consumers to pay and help them stay out of medical debt,” he said. “It’s an alternative to lawsuits, legal action, and things like that.”

AccessOne, which doesn’t buy patient debt from hospitals, doesn’t run credit checks on patients to qualify them for loans. Nor will the company report patients who default to credit bureaus. The company also frequently markets the availability of zero-interest loans.

Some patients do qualify for no-interest plans, particularly if they have very low incomes. But the loans aren’t always as generous as company and hospital officials say.

AccessOne borrowers who miss payments can have their accounts returned to the hospital, which can sue them, report them to credit bureaus, or subject them to other collection actions. UNC Health refers unpaid bills to the state revenue department, which can garnish patients’ tax refunds. Atrium’s collections policy allows the hospital system to sue patients.

Because AccessOne borrowers can get low interest rates by making larger monthly payments, this financing system can also deepen inequalities. Someone who can pay $292 a month on a $7,000 hospital bill, for example, could qualify for a two-year, interest-free plan. But a patient who can pay only $159 a month would have to take a five-year plan with 13% interest, according to AccessOne.

“I see wealthier families benefiting,” said one former AccessOne employee, who asked not to be identified because she still works in the financing industry. “Lower-income families that have hardship are likely to end up with a higher overall balance due to the interest.”

Andy Talford, who oversees patient financial services at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, said the hospital contracted with AccessOne to make it easier for patients to manage their medical bills. “Someone out there is helping them keep track of it,” he said.

But patients can get tripped up by the complexities of managing these plans, consumer advocates say. That’s what happened to Milcowitz, the graphic designer in Florida.

Milcowitz, 51, had set up a no-interest payment plan with Moffitt to pay off $3,000 she owed for her hysterectomy in 2017. When the medical center switched her account to AccessOne, however, she began receiving late notices, even as she kept making payments.

Only later did she figure out that AccessOne had set up two accounts, one for the cancer surgery and another for medical appointments. Her payments had been applied only to the surgery account, leaving the other past-due. She then got hit with higher interest rates. “It’s crazy,” she said.

Growing Business Opportunities

While financing plans may mean more headaches and more debt for patients, they’re proving profitable for lenders.

That’s drawn the interest of private equity firms, which have bought several patient financing companies in recent years. Since 2017, AccessOne’s majority owner has been private equity investor Frontier Capital.

Synchrony, which historically marketed its CareCredit cards in patient waiting rooms, is now also inking deals with medical systems to enroll patients in loans when they go online to pay bills.

“They’re like pilot fish eating off the back of the shark,” said Jonathan Bush, a founder of Athenahealth, a health technology company that has developed electronic medical records and billing systems.

As patient bills skyrocket, hospitals face mounting pressure to collect more, which can make financing arrangements seem appealing, industry experts say. But as health systems go into business with lenders, many are reluctant to share details. Only a handful of hospitals contacted by KHN agreed to be interviewed about their contracts and what they mean for patients.

Several public systems, including Atrium and UNC Health, disclosed information only after KHN submitted public records requests. Even then, the two systems redacted key details, including how much they pay AccessOne.

AU Health, which did not redact its contract, pays AccessOne a 6% “servicing fee” on each patient loan the company administers. But like Atrium and UNC Health, AU Health refused to provide any on-the-record interviews.

Other hospital systems were even less transparent. Mercyhealth, a nonprofit with hospitals and clinics in Illinois and Wisconsin that routes its patients to CareCredit, would not discuss its lending practices. “We do not have anyone available for this,” spokesperson Therese Michels said. Allina Health and Prime Healthcare also wouldn’t talk about their patient financing deals.

Bush said there’s a reason so few hospitals want to discuss their financing deals: They’re embarrassed. “It’s like they quietly write someone’s name on a piece of paper and slide it across the table,” he said. “They don’t want to be a part of it because they have in their institutional memory that they are supposed to look after patients’ best interests.”

Some Hospitals Choose Another Path

Not all hospitals expose their patients to extra costs to finance medical bills.

Lake Region Healthcare, a small nonprofit with hospitals and clinics in rural Minnesota that contracts with Missouri-based Commerce Bank, charges no interest or fees on payment plans. That’s a decision that spokesperson Katie Johnson said was made “for the benefit of our patients.”

Even some AccessOne clients such as the University of Kansas Health System shield patients from interest. But as providers look to boost their bottom lines, it’s unclear how long these protections will last. Colette Lasack, who oversees financing for the Kansas system, noted: “There’s a cost associated with that.”

Meanwhile, large national lenders such as Discover Financial Services are looking at the patient financing business.

“I’ve had to become more of a health care marketer,” said Matt Lattman, vice president for personal loans at Discover, which is pitching the loans to people with unexpected medical bills. “In a world where many people are ill prepared to cover their health care costs, the personal loan can provide an opportunity.”

About This Project

“Diagnosis: Debt” is a reporting partnership between KHN and NPR exploring the scale, impact, and causes of medical debt in America.

The series draws on the “KFF Health Care Debt Survey,” a poll designed and analyzed by public opinion researchers at KFF in collaboration with KHN journalists and editors. The survey was conducted Feb. 25 through March 20, 2022, online and via telephone, in English and Spanish, among a nationally representative sample of 2,375 U.S. adults, including 1,292 adults with current health care debt and 382 adults who had health care debt in the past five years. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points for the full sample and 3 percentage points for those with current debt. For results based on subgroups, the margin of sampling error may be higher.

Additional research was conducted by the Urban Institute, which analyzed credit bureau and other demographic data on poverty, race, and health status to explore where medical debt is concentrated in the U.S. and what factors are associated with high debt levels.

The JPMorgan Chase Institute analyzed records from a sampling of Chase credit card holders to look at how customers’ balances may be affected by major medical expenses.

Reporters from KHN and NPR also conducted hundreds of interviews with patients across the country; spoke with physicians, health industry leaders, consumer advocates, debt lawyers, and researchers; and reviewed scores of studies and surveys about medical debt.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.

Subscribe to KHN’s free Morning Briefing.

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Categories: World News

Three Palestinians Killed in 24 Hours in Israel’s “Operation Break the Wave”

Sat, 11/26/2022 - 08:44

On Thursday morning, November 24, Palestinians in the northern occupied West Bank city of Nablus bid farewell to Mohammad Hirzallah, 30, Mohammad Kishik, 22, and Ahmad Shehadeh, 16.

The three Palestinians died within 24 hours of one another, the result of Israel’s ongoing military campaign against armed Palestinian resistance in the West Bank, Operation Break the Wave.

On Tuesday evening, November 22, Israeli forces invaded Nablus City in order to escort a number of Israeli settlers into the Joseph’s Tomb area of the city, sparking confrontations in the area with Palestinian youth, as well as armed Palestinian resistance fighters.

According to Wafa News Agency, Israeli forces fired live ammunition, rubber bullets, tear gas, and sound grenades at Palestinians as they confronted the soldiers. Kishik was shot in the stomach on Tuesday night, and was declared dead by the Palestinian Ministry of Health on Wednesday night.

During the same Israeli raid, Ahmed Shehadeh, 16, was shot with a bullet to the heart. According to the health ministry, Shehadeh was injured shortly after midnight on Wednesday, and quickly succumbed to his wounds.

Neither Kishik or Shehadeh were reported to be part of the armed resistance groups who confronted Israeli forces during the raid.

Death of a Lion

On Wednesday evening, at Ramallah’s Istishari hospital, Mohammad Hirzallah succumbed to wounds he sustained during a military raid on Nablus earlier in July of this year.

Hirzallah, identified as a member of the Lion’s Den resistance group, was injured on July 24 while confronting Israeli forces invading the al-Yasmina neighborhood of the Old City of Nablus. Two Palestinian resistance fighters were killed during the military operation, Muhammad Azizi, 25, and Abdul Rahman Sobh, 28.

Just 16 days after Hirzallah sustained his injury, 18-year-old Ibrahim Al-Nabulsi, “the Lion of Nablus,” was extra-judicially assassinated by Israeli forces on August 9, sparking the growth of the armed resistance group. Al-Nabulsi was believed to have been the target of the July military operation where Hirzallah was injured.

Since the start of the year, when Israel first launched “Break the Wave,” the Israeli security apparatus has escalated its policy of extra-judicial killings and “liquidation”. As a result, more than 204 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank, Gaza, and historic Palestine since the start of the year.

Many of the Palestinians killed were non-combatants, and more than a quarter of those killed are children and minors.

Categories: World News

For-Profit Abortion Telemedicine Start-Ups Are Proliferating in the Wake of “Roe

Sat, 11/26/2022 - 07:11

In 2020, a federal judge ruled that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must suspend its requirement that patients pick up mifepristone, one of the pills used in medication abortion, in person. After some back-and-forth under the Trump administration, the FDA permanently repealed the rule, which had long been decried by medical experts as unnecessary, in 2021.

This opened the door for providers to send abortion pills by mail in all but the 19 states that outlaw provision of abortion via telemedicine. (Many of those same states now ban abortion entirely.) This regulation change, along with increased popular interest in abortion access following Roe’s overturn, has led to a proliferation of telemedicine companies offering abortion pills. Some of these companies are run by people with prior experience in abortion care and connections in the reproductive health, rights and justice movements; others are not. Regardless, some abortion access advocates are raising concerns about whether the rise of for-profit telemedicine companies is the best way to serve abortion seekers.

Ordering abortion pills online isn’t new. Prior to the pandemic, patients in the United States were only able to receive abortion pills through the mail legally in a handful of states as part of a study by Gynuity Health Projects.

Though many clinics across the country allowed patients to connect with abortion providers remotely, they still had to pick up their pills, and in some cases undergo tests, in person. However, even when there was a constitutional right to abortion, dwindling numbers of clinics meant that nearly one-fifth of abortion patients had to travel more than 50 miles each way to reach their nearest clinic. Abortion seekers in the U.S. are disproportionately likely to be poor or low income, to be people of color, and to already have at least one child. For many such people, a 100-mile round-trip journey simply isn’t possible for financial or logistical reasons. So for decades, people living along the U.S.-Mexico border have purchased misoprostol — a pill that can be used on its own or in combination with mifepristone to induce an abortion — in Mexico, where it is more readily available. And in recent years, they have increasingly purchased pills online.

In 2018, Dutch doctor Rebecca Gomperts, who made a name for herself providing abortions on a ship in international waters, launched Aid Access, a telemedicine service for U.S. users. Originally, abortion seekers would submit information to be reviewed by a doctor, and then pills were mailed to them from a pharmacy in India. That’s still how it works for people in states where abortion, or telemedicine abortion, is banned, but now that telemedicine abortion is legal in many U.S. states, Aid Access patients in those states are served by U.S.-based providers and pharmacies. Even before Aid Access, there were online pharmacies where people could order pills. But now, these mostly foreign pharmacies have largely been eclipsed by the rise of domestic telemedicine companies.

“The techbro-ification of abortion is coming. While I support more access, what this aspect will do is chase VC [venture capital] and profits in states where abortion is legally protected leaving hard, legally challenging work to indie clinics and activists of color serving people without capital,” tweeted Renee Bracey Sherman, longtime activist and founder of We Testify, an organization that aims to shift the way abortion is represented in the media by increasing representation of abortion storytellers, on October 26.

“My concern about anything related to abortion access is: who is it actually centering, and who is it for? Who is the end user and who is the one who is supposed to gain something from this?” Bracey Sherman told Truthout, elaborating on her tweet. “In a capitalist society, people invest in companies because they want to make money. And abortion is health care that people need to be able to participate in [within] society and survive and move forward with their lives. It’s so critical. But capitalism and health care can never coexist because in capitalism, there are always losers,” she said. Abortion care really isn’t profitable; many people seeking abortions are doing so because they can’t afford to have a child, or couldn’t afford contraception in the first place. Most abortion clinics barely scrape by, and though the overhead is much lower for telemedicine providers, it’s impossible not to wonder how, exactly, telemedicine companies think they can turn a big enough profit to satisfy investors.

“Capitalism and health care can never coexist because in capitalism, there are always losers.”

There are two abortion-focused start-ups currently raising venture capital funds: Hey Jane, which has raised $9.7 million to date, and Choix, which has raised $1 million and is currently crowdfunding up to $2.5 million in additional investment. Both companies are founded by clinicians with experience in abortion care, and both offer sliding scale rates. Hey Jane also accepts Aetna insurance in most states that it serves — a rarity among its competitors, because most telemedicine abortion companies are either too new to be accredited with insurance plans or haven’t opted to accept insurance. Choix, whose founder has said the company considered operating as a nonprofit but chose the start-up model in order to scale up operations more quickly, was a leader in advance provision of medication abortion, meaning that people can order pills to have on hand in case they become pregnant. Its current funding push is centered on Choix Travel, a business-to-business arm that will help companies arrange abortion care for employees in states where abortion is banned.

There’s no question that these companies are improving access to abortion — but only in a handful of states, where abortion is still legal. That is undoubtedly useful: If more people can get abortions via telemedicine in legal states (should that option appeal to them), there will be more appointments available at clinics for people traveling in from ban states. However, that creates a “two-tiered system,” said Bracey Sherman, where people in legal states have better access to abortion and people in ban states are left farther and farther behind, even at risk of being criminalized for obtaining abortion pills.

There are parallels, Bracey Sherman said, between the legal status of medication abortion and the legal status of marijuana. “People have been smoking weed forever. But in some states, it’s legal, and certain people get to profit off of that, all while Black and Brown people are still subject to criminalization,” she said. Referring back to the idea that there are “winners” and “losers” in capitalism, Bracey Sherman said, “The losers in this situation, it’s not just that they don’t get their abortions. It’s that they’re criminalized for doing so. And that’s what’s really, really scary.”

In addition to Hey Jane and Choix, there are numerous other telehealth-only abortion providers, including some nonprofits. Many brick-and-mortar clinics have also introduced telehealth options. Independent abortion clinics — meaning those not affiliated with Planned Parenthood — were among the first to embrace mailing pills to their patients once FDA rules allowed it. However, many in the field are wary of the way telemedicine is being marketed as the end-all solution to abortion access.

“When we champion telemedicine as the ultimate abortion solution, what are we saying to people in the 19 states where telemedicine is banned?”

“When we champion telemedicine as the ultimate abortion solution, what are we saying to people in the 19 states where telemedicine is banned? Or the folks whose personal choice and preference is surgical or in-person care?” Kenyetta Whitfield, digital communications manager at Abortion Care Network, the national organization for independent abortion providers, told Truthout. Whitfield added that there can never be such a thing as too much access to abortion, but urged people not to see telemedicine as a replacement for closing clinics.

“Once a community loses its clinic, it’s nearly impossible to reopen it — leaving permanent gaps in care. These gaps will fall hardest on people who already face disproportionate issues with access to health care,” said Whitfield. “People need community-based abortion clinics. We need telemedicine, as well as expanded access, which means protecting existing clinics and ensuring that in-person abortion care remains a possibility for all people.” Hey Jane and Choix are members of Abortion Care Network, as are several other telemedicine providers.

The telehealth boom also has some observers worried that new companies may be scaling up too quickly, at the cost of quality care. Though none would speak on the record, multiple sources with knowledge of patient experiences raised concerns about the services provided by one company in particular: Abortion Telemedicine. Founded in 2022 by Jayaram Brindala, a preventive and addiction medicine specialist who has held leadership roles within several health-tech companies, Abortion Telemedicine operates in 17 states — more than most other telemedicine providers — and prices its services at $145, $5 less than the standard Aid Access price of $150.

Abortion Telemedicine is an outlier in that it offers medication abortion through 13 weeks of pregnancy. While medication abortion is only FDA-approved up until 10 weeks, many providers use their own discretion to prescribe it up to 11 or 12 weeks. Medication abortion at 13 weeks can still be safe and effective, but is not common in the U.S.

Initially, Abortion Telemedicine was listed on Plan C, a site that connects users with telemedicine abortion services and vetted online pharmacies. However, the listing was removed in late September, reposted in early October, and removed again in mid-October. Plan C co-director and co-founder Elisa Wells confirmed that Abortion Telemedicine was previously listed on the site but declined to give further specifics. “In general, in our ‘telehealth’ section, we list licensed U.S. telehealth providers and companies who request to be listed and who provide reliable, quality services in compliance with U.S. regulations,” she told Truthout.

“Once a community loses its clinic, it’s nearly impossible to reopen it — leaving permanent gaps in care.”

Brindala, Abortion Telemedicine’s founder, said that his company opted out of Plan C’s listings until further notice after being added and removed twice, and claimed that Plan C’s concerns stemmed from a single error made by one provider. “We might have had one case with insufficient patient instructions, but we have gone to great lengths to add systems and processes to account for a one-time human error from one provider,” he told Truthout. Brindala also provided Truthout with a list of Abortion Telemedicine’s clinicians and their National Provider Identifier numbers to verify that they do all have active licenses. Brindala added that he started Abortion Telemedicine using his own money. The company is “close to break-even,” he said, and has not sought outside funding.

I Need an A, another directory site, lists Abortion Telemedicine with a disclaimer: “This provider is very new to the abortion space and began building their business in May 2022. We’ve gotten reports that their medical advice isn’t always in line with standard U.S. abortion care. As such, we recommend reaching out to the M+A Hotline if you choose this provider and have medical questions.”

A representative for I Need an A told Truthout that it lists all members of the National Abortion Federation (NAF), a professional organization for abortion providers, and includes additional context such as this where necessary. Sources said that concerns about Abortion Telemedicine have been reported to NAF.

“The fall of Roe has created an unprecedented abortion access landscape with new sets of challenges, some of which telemedicine is uniquely positioned to address. We have been expanding our membership to include telehealth providers and Abortion Telemedicine is one of NAF’s newer members. As the abortion access landscape continues to shift and telemedicine becomes more central to people’s ability to access critical abortion care, we want to ensure providers like Abortion Telemedicine have access to the training, resources, and community of practice the NAF network can offer them so they can provide the highest quality care,” Melissa Fowler, NAF’s chief program officer, said in a statement to Truthout.

“What is really challenging is that Black and Brown leaders and organizers on the ground, and abortion providers of color on the ground, are not getting that funding.”

Abortion Telemedicine also links to a site called Abortion Compare, which ranks several abortion telemedicine services, placing Abortion Telemedicine first. Abortioncompare.com was registered on September 30, 2022, a few days after Plan C initially removed Abortion Telemedicine’s listing on its site. An email to Abortion Compare went unanswered, and Brindala did not respond to questions about whether Abortion Telemedicine owns or operates the other site.

It’s not just telehealth services: dozens of businesses, nonprofits and other initiatives run by newcomers have sprung up since the leak of the Supreme Court’s draft opinion in Dobbs, leaving those who have been deeply invested in abortion access and reproductive justice work for many years feeling frustrated.

“It’s really difficult, to be honest. It’s really difficult to see that organizations that started in 2022 can already hire staff for salaries that are higher than what my organizational budget has been for the last several years,” said Bracey Sherman. “I’m glad to see that people are interested in investing in abortion access. But what is really challenging is that Black and Brown leaders and organizers on the ground, and abortion providers of color on the ground, are not getting that funding. It’s recreating the same problems that we’ve always dealt with.”

Categories: World News

Congress Has One Last Chance to Turn the Tide of the Overdose Crisis

Sat, 11/26/2022 - 06:52

The current Congress has one last chance to pass legislation that would lift a major barrier to opioid addiction medication and potentially turn the tide of the drug overdose crisis.

The Mainstreaming Addiction Treatment (MAT) Act would deregulate buprenorphine, a gold standard medication for treating opioid addiction and preventing overdose. Harm reduction activists, physicians and a litany of medical associations have spent years pushing Congress and consecutive presidential administrations to nix the so-called X-waiver, which doctors are required to obtain from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in order to prescribe buprenorphine.

Rates of fatal drug overdose were already on the rise when the COVID-19 hit and isolated drug users from friends, family and the limited number of doctors who have an X-waiver to prescribe buprenorphine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found massive racial disparities in the fatal overdose data from 2020, particularly in areas with high levels of income inequality. Researchers concluded that yearslong efforts to expand access to buprenorphine were more likely to benefit white people than Black, Brown and Indigenous people.

From 2019 to 2020, overdose deaths among white people grew by 22 percent after slowing in recent years, while overdose deaths among Black and Indigenous Americans exploded at roughly twice that rate — an increase of 44 percent and 39 percent, respectively. In 2021, drug-related deaths topped 100,000 annually, the highest level ever recorded, according to the CDC.

Now, physicians and activists are scrambling to pass the MAT Act in the Senate, where the bill has languished after passing with broad bipartisan support in the House as part of a broader mental health reform package. Advocates say the Senate’s end-of-the-year vote on omnibus federal spending legislation is the last chance the Senate has to pass the MAT Act before the current Congress expires.

Passing the MAT Act is an #ACEPAdvocacy priority and we’re working to make it happen. This thread is spot-on in explaining why removing these barriers to care is so important. https://t.co/VtmWbhau7b

— Emergency Physicians (@EmergencyDocs) November 18, 2022

At least 543 organizations endorse the MAT Act, including a long list of major medical associations ranging from the American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology to the American Academy of Pediatrics. In a letter to Senate leadership currently circulating among physicians, medical professionals call the bill a “bipartisan solution to overdose crisis.”

“Buprenorphine is considered a gold standard of care for opioid use disorder because it prevents overdoses, reduces use of opioids like fentanyl, and helps individuals achieve recovery,” the doctors wrote. “But due to outdated federal rules that prevent health care providers from prescribing buprenorphine, only about 1 in 10 people with opioid use disorder receive medications for the condition.”

With such a broad bipartisan and medical consensus on buprenorphine, observers say it’s only a matter of time before the X-waiver is lifted entirely. After appearing to drag its feet, the Biden administration issued new rules allowing certain providers to work around the X-waiver and prescribe buprenorphine to patients in need, but regulators say permanently stripping the red tape from the books would require and act of Congress.

Law enforcement is also resistant to change after orchestration a nationwide crackdown on prescription opioids that failed to reduce overdose deaths. Courts have ruled that the DEA wrongly targeted doctors and pharmacists for providing buprenorphine, and jails and prisons resisted dispensing the drug to incarcerated people, who are extreme risk of fatal overdose after being caged and forced into withdrawal.

National Institute on Drug Abuse Director Nora Volkow recently said “there’s absolutely no reason” why primary care providers shouldn’t prescribe methadone, the other gold standard for treating opioid addiction. Currently, methadone is more highly regulated than buprenorphine, with patients required to visit specialized clinics where they are put under extreme surveillance. Methadone and buprenorphine are both technically opioids, but no other painkiller is regulated like this — one reason why there is a longstanding stigma among potential prescribers.

“We have a pretty powerful health structure in the United States and we should optimize it in order to be able to maximize access to treatment for people with substance use disorders or other conditions and that includes the use of methadone,” Volkow told the STAT Summit last week.

Categories: World News

Greta Thunberg Joins 630+ Young People in Climate Lawsuit Against Sweden

Fri, 11/25/2022 - 09:08

Climate leader Greta Thunberg was among 636 young adults and children who submitted a class-action lawsuit against the Swedish government at a district court in Stockholm on Friday, arguing that the country’s right-wing leaders are failing to obey the Swedish constitution as they continue allowing planet-heating fossil fuel extraction.

About 2,000 people marched through Stockholm on Friday at the 223rd “school strike” against climate inaction — part of the global Fridays for Future movement Thunberg began in 2018 with a one-person protest outside Swedish Parliament.

Thunberg and her fellow plaintiffs symbolically delivered their lawsuit to the district court, following an earlier official filing by Aurora, the organization leading the suit.

“Today on Black Friday is the perfect day to sue the state over its insufficient climate policies,” Thunberg tweeted, referring to the holiday shopping day that originated in the U.S. “So that’s what we did.See you in court!”

School strike week 223. Today we are 636 young people in @auroramalet who are suing the Swedish state for insufficient climate action. Therefore we now marched from the parliament to the court.#FridaysForFuture #ClimateStrike #Aurora #ClimateTrials #UprootTheSystem @auroramalet pic.twitter.com/gatAMGPzcp

— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) November 25, 2022

Sweden adopted a law in 2017 requiring the government to draw down its fossil fuel emissions to net-zero by 2045, but Statistics Sweden reported earlier this year that greenhouse gas emissions increased by 3% in 2021 compared to the previous year, driven by the transport sector.

The right-wing government that took power last month after September’s elections has proposed a budget for 2023 which would further increase emissions. It also eliminated the Ministry of Environment, which left climate action advocates expecting “huge cuts in green funding leading to a devastating impact on climate policies.”

“The Swedish state fails to meet the constitutional requirement to promote sustainable development leading to a good environment for present and future generations,” Aurora said in a statement Friday.

Ida Edling, a member of the organization, told Agence France Presse that the lawsuit is the first “large-scale case in the Swedish legal system.”

The lawsuit demands that the government take its “fair share” of global action to help limit planetary heating to 1.5°C above preindustrial temperatures, in line with the Paris climate agreement.

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) said in a report last month that there is currently “no credible pathway to 1.5°C in place” as governments continue to support fossil fuel extraction.

“If we win, there will be a verdict that says the Swedish state is required to do its share of the global measures needed for the world to meet the 1.5° target,” Edling told Al Jazeera.

On Friday, some of the plaintiffs carried a sign reading, “Now we sue the state” at the march through Stockholm.

2000 marscherar i Stockholm till stöd för de över 600 ungdomar som idag stämmer staten för att de inte behandlar klimatkrisen som en kris.#Aurora #UprootTheSystem #ClimateTrials pic.twitter.com/of7w7oo9eb

— Auroramålet (@auroramalet) November 25, 2022

The plaintiffs are the latest climate campaigners to use the legal system to force policymakers to heed the warnings of energy experts and climate scientists.

The Supreme Court of the Netherlands ruled in 2019 that the government must cut the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions by 25%.

Another case brought by six Portuguese youths is pending in the European Court of Human Rights, where the plaintiffs argued 33 countries, including Sweden, have violated human rights by failing to mitigate the climate emergency.

Categories: World News

One Day of Warren Buffett Wealth Gains Could Cover Rail Workers’ Paid Sick Leave

Fri, 11/25/2022 - 08:52

Billionaire Warren Buffett, one of the wealthiest men in the world and the CEO of BNSF Railway’s parent company, saw his wealth jump by nearly $1.4 billion in a single day earlier this week, a sum that could easily fund 15 days of paid sick leave for every rail worker in the United States.

BNSF is one of the major railroad giants refusing to budge in contract negotiations with rail unions as they fight for 15 days of paid sick leave. Under a White House-brokered contract that major rail unions have recently voted to reject, rail workers would not receive a single paid sick day.

A nationwide rail strike or lockout with major implications for the U.S. economy could begin as soon as December 9 if rail companies and unions don’t reach a contract deal.

“In one day, Mr. Buffett made twice as much money as it would cost to guarantee 15 paid sick days a year to every rail worker in America,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) tweeted Wednesday. “The greed of the rail industry must end.”

Warren Gunnels, Sanders’ staff director, reiterated that message Thursday, writing, “Can’t stop thinking about how Warren Buffett, the owner of BNSF Rail, made more money in one day than it would cost to guarantee 15 paid sick days to rail workers.”

“Buffett could avert a rail strike today by giving workers what they need: paid sick days,” Gunnels added. “That’s how you give thanks.”

Rail companies have estimated that it would cost roughly $688 million a year to provide 15 days of paid sick leave to rail employees, who work long and erratic hours and are often expected to be on call 24 hours a day. To make matters worse, rail companies’ attendance policies punish workers for calling out sick or taking a day off to see the doctor.

“Buffett’s BNSF, for example, has started using a convoluted system called ‘Hi-Viz’ under which workers start with a point balance then lose points if they’re unavailable to work because they’re sick, have a family emergency, or other reasons,” Mother Jones reported in September. “If their balance hits zero, they get a 10-day suspension, and a 20-day suspension if it happens again. Reaching zero for the third time in a two-year period means getting fired.”

BNSF has urged Congress to intervene and force rail workers to accept a contract with no paid sick days, something Senate Republicans tried to do via the unanimous consent process in mid-September. Sanders, the chair of the Senate Budget Committee, blocked the GOP legislation, allowing the collective bargaining process to continue.

With the possibility of a nationwide strike growing after the largest union of rail workers in the U.S. voted to reject the White House-brokered contract deal earlier this week, Congress is once again facing calls from the hugely profitable railroad industry to get involved.

“Rail union leaders are increasingly grim that they’ll be able to reach a contract agreement with freight carriers before Congress has to step in,” Politico reported earlier this week. “Michael Baldwin, president of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, said Tuesday there had been no progress ‘whatsoever’ at the bargaining table since that union rejected its tentative agreement on October 26. Union officials have been meeting daily with the railroads over Zoom this week, but Baldwin said discussions typically last only 15 minutes and not much is accomplished.”

Jeremy Ferguson, president of the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers, said in a statement earlier this week that “the ball is now in the railroads’ court.”

“They can settle this at the bargaining table,” Ferguson added. “But, the railroad executives who constantly complain about government interference and regularly bad-mouth regulators and Congress now want Congress to do the bargaining for them.”

Categories: World News

“You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train”: Remembering Howard Zinn at 100

Fri, 11/25/2022 - 08:30

In a special broadcast, we remember the legendary historian, author, professor, playwright and activist Howard Zinn, who was born 100 years ago this August. Zinn was a regular guest on Democracy Now!, from the start of the program in 1996 up until his death in 2010 at age 87. After witnessing the horrors of World War II as a bombardier, Zinn became a peace and justice activist who picketed with his students at Spelman College during the civil rights movement and joined in actions such as opposing the Vietnam War. He later spoke out against the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. “I believe neutrality is impossible, because the world is already moving in certain directions. Wars are going on. Children are starving,” Zinn said in a 2005 interview. “To be neutral … is to collaborate with whatever is going on, to allow it to happen.”

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue with our Zinntennial, celebrating the life and legacy of the late Howard Zinn, born 100 years ago, in 1922. Howard Zinn was a regular guest on Democracy Now!, from the time we went on the air in 1996 up until his death. In 2005, he joined us in our firehouse studio at DCTV, Downtown Community Television, in Lower Manhattan.

AMY GOODMAN: It is great to have you with us.

HOWARD ZINN: Well, it’s nice of you to invite me. I was worried.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, you just came from Bedford Hills Correctional Facility?

HOWARD ZINN: Well, actually, yesterday afternoon I spoke at the Bedford Hills, euphemistically called, Correctional Facility — they hardly correct anything, but — spoke to prisoners there, women prisoners, mostly prisoners of color. I spoke to them yesterday afternoon before I gave this talk last night at Manhattanville College.

AMY GOODMAN: And what did you talk about with the women?

HOWARD ZINN: Well, they had been using my book. They have classes. They’re using my book, A People’s History of the United States. And I talked to them about history, about doing history, about why I did history the way I did, why I did unneutral history and how I came to do it. And I told them something about my life, and, of course, I always like to talk about that, you know.

And then they asked a lot of questions, a very lively, enthusiastic, excited group. I mean, if every teacher in the country had a class like that, you know, they would be inspired. And it’s wonderful — and I’ve always found this to be true — wonderful and always amazing when you talk to prisoners, who should be the last ones to be up and optimistic and in good spirits, but it’s always there. It’s actually encouraging, you know, and, of course, troubling to know that these people, these remarkable people, are being kept in prison, you know, very often, most of the time, for nonviolent crimes, and kept there for long periods of time. It’s a sort of sad commentary on American society that we have people in Washington who are free, and these people are in prison.

AMY GOODMAN: You talked about being a teacher, but, Howard Zinn, the places you were — where you did teach — well, Spelman, you were fired, and Boston University, you were almost fired.

HOWARD ZINN: Oh, are you trying to make me out as a troublemaker?

AMY GOODMAN: What happened to you at Spelman?

HOWARD ZINN: At Spelman, I got involved with my students in the actions that were going on in the South, the sit-ins, the demonstrations, the picket lines. I was supporting my students. And this was the first Black president of Spelman College, a very conservative institution. He wasn’t happy about me joining the students in all of these things, wasn’t happy about a lot of things that they did. But he couldn’t do anything about it. But when I — the students came back from, you might say, from jail and then rebelled against the campus regulations and the restrictions on them, and I supported them, that was too much.

AMY GOODMAN: During the civil rights years?

HOWARD ZINN: This was — yeah, these were during the civil rights years. And so, you know, he was very unhappy with the fact that I was supporting the students who were rebelling against the paternalism and the authoritarianism on that campus.

AMY GOODMAN: They were women students?

HOWARD ZINN: Yeah, these were Black women students. And, you know, the movement brought them out of this little sort of convent-like atmosphere of Spelman College and out into the world.

AMY GOODMAN: The author Alice Walker was one of those students?

HOWARD ZINN: Yeah, Alice Walker was one of my students. Marian Wright Edelman, the head of the Children’s Defense Fund now in Washington, she was one of my students. I’m very proud of those students I had at Spelman. And yeah, Marian Wright Edelman was in jail, and Alice Walker was in jail. And yeah, it was a great moment.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, Boston University was many years later. Why did you almost get thrown out of there?

HOWARD ZINN: Why did I almost get thrown out of Boston University? We had a strike. Faculty went on strike. Secretaries went on strike. They settled with the faculty after what was a successful strike, but not with the secretaries. And so, I and some other faculty refused to cross the secretaries’ picket line. And five of us who refused to do that were threatened with firing, even though all of us had tenure. And so it was a long struggle, but we won.

AMY GOODMAN: Going back before both of your tenures as professor, you were a bombardier in World War II.

HOWARD ZINN: That’s true, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: And you talk about your final bombing run, not over Japan, not over Germany, but over France.

HOWARD ZINN: Yeah. Well, we thought our bombing missions were over. The war was about to come to an end. This was in April of 1945. You may remember the war ended in early May 1945. This was a few weeks before the war was going to be over, and everybody knew it was going to be over, and our armies were past France into Germany, but there was a little pocket of German soldiers hanging around this little town of Royan on the Atlantic coast of France, and the Air Force decided to bomb them — 1,200 heavy bombers, and I was in one of them, flew over this little town of Royan and dropped napalm — first use of napalm in the European theater.

And we don’t know how many people we killed, how many people were terribly burned as a result of what we did. But I did it, like most soldiers do, unthinkingly, mechanically, thinking we’re on the right side, they’re on the wrong side, and therefore we can do whatever we want, and it’s OK. And only afterward, only really after the war, did I — when I was reading about Hiroshima from John Hersey and reading the stories of the survivors of Hiroshima and what they went through, only then did I begin to think about the human effects of bombing. Only then did I begin to think about what it meant to human beings on the ground when bombs were dropped on them, because as a bombardier, I was flying at 30,000 feet, six miles high, couldn’t hear screams, couldn’t see blood. And this is modern warfare.

In modern warfare, soldiers fire, they drop bombs, and they have no notion, really, of what is happening to the human beings that they’re firing on. Everything is done at a distance. This enables terrible atrocities to take place. And I think, reflecting back on that bombing raid, and thinking of that in Hiroshima and all the other raids on civilian cities and the killing of huge numbers of civilians in German and Japanese cities, the killing of 100,000 people in Tokyo in one night of firebombing, all of that made me realize war, even so-called good wars against fascism, like World War II, wars don’t solve any fundamental problems, and they always poison everybody on both sides. They poison the minds and souls of everybody on both sides. We’re seeing that now in Iraq, where the minds of our soldiers are being poisoned by being an occupying army in a land where they are not wanted. And the results are terrible.

AMY GOODMAN: You learned you dropped napalm on this French village?

HOWARD ZINN: Well, we didn’t — actually didn’t know what it was. They said, “Oh, you’re not going to have the usually 500-pound demolition bombs. You’re going to carry one — you’re going to carry 30 100-pound canisters of jellied gasoline.” We had no idea what that was, but it was napalm.

AMY GOODMAN: You went to that village later?

HOWARD ZINN: Later, I went, yeah. Later, I visited that village, about 10 years after the war. And I went to the library, which had been destroyed and which was now rebuilt, and I dug out records of the survivors and what they had written about the bombing. And I wrote a kind of essay about the bombing of Royan, which appears — where does it appear? — it appears in my book The Zinn Reader and also in my book The Politics of History. But it was — for me, it was a very important experience, a very great sobering lesson about so-called good wars.

AMY GOODMAN: You learned when you were there on the ground many years later who had died?

HOWARD ZINN: Well, I — you know, I spoke to people who had survived that and whose family members had died. And they were very bitter about the bombing. And, you know, they attributed it to all sorts of things, the desire to try out a new weapon. It’s amazing how many things are done in a war just to try out new weapons. You know, maybe one of the reasons for dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were to see what this does to human beings. Human beings become sacrifices in the desire to develop new military technology. And I think that was one of those instances.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to historian Howard Zinn, here in our firehouse studio in Chinatown, just blocks from where the towers of the World Trade Center once stood. You went to Vietnam, to North Vietnam, with Dan Berrigan?

HOWARD ZINN: Yeah, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Why?

HOWARD ZINN: Why? Well, this was early 1968. This was the time of the Tet Offensive, also the time of the Tet holiday, the Vietnamese holiday. And the North Vietnamese decided they wanted to release the first three airmen prisoners who had been shot down over North Vietnam. And they wanted to release them in the custody of not the American government, but the peace movement. So Daniel Berrigan, poet, priest, whom I had never met before, he and I traveled together to Hanoi, to North Vietnam, to pick up these three American airmen who were being released by the North Vietnamese.

And then we spent some time in Hanoi and in the surrounding area, visited bombed-out areas, visited little villages that had been jet bombed in the middle of the night, a million miles from any possible military target. And that — we were being bombed — Vietnam was being bombed every night. Every day we were going into air raid shelters. Every night Daniel Berrigan would write a poem about what had happened that day. And, you know —

AMY GOODMAN: What do you say to those, then and now, before the invasion, who would go to Iraq, those who went to North Vietnam, when they would be called traitors, giving comfort to the enemy?

HOWARD ZINN: You mean Americans who went to North Vietnam? You mean like Jane Fonda and so many others who went to North Vietnam?

AMY GOODMAN: And Iraq before. I mean even people like Congressmember McDermott of Seattle, reporters saying that they should resign.

HOWARD ZINN: Oh, people have gone to Iraq. And, I mean, what about — you know, there’s people in Voices in the Wilderness, Americans who went to Iraq and violating the U.S. sanctions, bringing food and medicine, you know. And the whole business of being traitors, you know, I think there’s a whole — there’s somehow some wrongheaded notion of what treason is and what patriotism is, and there’s some notion that if you disobey the orders of your government or the laws of your government, you’re being treasonous. But I believe the government is being treasonous and the government is being unpatriotic when the government violates the fundamental rights of human beings, when the government invades another country, a country that has not attacked it, a country that has not threatened it. When our government invades another country and drops bombs and kills huge numbers of people, and then Americans have the guts to go to that country and bring people food and medicine or go to see what is going on, as many Americans did when they went to Vietnam, I think these are the most patriotic Americans.

And, you know, if you define patriotism as obedience to the government, then you are, I think, following a kind of totalitarian principle, because that’s the principle of a totalitarian state, that you do what the government tells you to do. And democracy means that the government is an instrument of the people. This is the Declaration of Independence. Governments are artificial entities set up in order to preserve the rights, equal right to life, liberty, pursuit of happiness of people. When the government violates those rights, it is the duty of people to defy that government. That is patriotism.

AMY GOODMAN: Howard Zinn, you called your autobiography You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train. Why?

HOWARD ZINN: Well, it came from — I stole it from myself. That is, I used to say that to my classes at the beginning of every class. I wanted to be honest with them about the fact that they were not entering a class where the teacher would be neutral. It was not going to be a class where the teacher spent a half a year or year with the students, and they would have no idea where the teacher stood on the important issues. This is not going to be a neutral class, I said. I don’t believe in neutrality. I believe neutrality is impossible, because the world is already moving in certain directions. Wars are going on. Children are starving. And to be neutral, to pretend to neutrality, to not take a stand in a situation like that, is to collaborate with whatever is going on, to allow it to happen. I did not want to be a collaborator with what was happening. I wanted to enter into history. I wanted to play a role. I wanted my students to play a role. I wanted us to intercede. I wanted my history to intercede and to take a stand on behalf of peace, on behalf of a racial equality or sexual equality. And so I wanted my students to know that right from the beginning, know you can’t be neutral on a moving train.

AMY GOODMAN: Were your surprised by the election of President Bush, November 2004?

HOWARD ZINN: A little. A little. That is, I thought that maybe by then, perhaps there would be enough understanding about the deception, the hypocrisy of the U.S. government, just enough to dethrone Bush, but I say only a little surprised, because on the other hand, I knew that John Kerry was not the candidate to represent the feelings of the American people. By then, by the time of the election, at least half of the American people were already against the war. And now they faced an election where 100% of the candidates were for the war. And so, they had nobody to vote for. And so, with nobody to vote for, with no real alternative, of course, 40% of the voting population did not vote.

And people ought to remember this. You know, Bush did not win overwhelmingly. You know, he won by one or two percentage points. And if you consider how many people voted for him against the voting population, you know, he got, you know, maybe 30% of the voting population. But it was a commentary on the pitiful showing of the Democratic Party, its failure to be a true opposition party in this country, and I think maybe a wake-up call to Americans to try to create a new political alternative to a political system that is really a one-party system, and it is quite corrupt.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Howard Zinn in our firehouse studio in 2005. The legendary historian, writer, professor, playwright and activist was born 100 years ago, in 1922. On October 21st, 2001, Howard Zinn gave a major address at the University of Vermont in Burlington. It was just over a month after the 9/11 attacks and two weeks after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, beginning what became the longest war in U.S. history. U.S. troops remained until August 2021. Today the Taliban are back in power. This is Howard Zinn in 2001.

HOWARD ZINN: If you think what we’re doing in Afghanistan is not very much, you know, consider that there are hundreds of thousands of people in Afghanistan who are fleeing the cities and towns in which they live. Have you seen the pictures of Afghan refugees? It started as soon as Bush promised to bomb, because there are certain American promises they can count on, you see, and that’s one of them. And the refugees immediately began moving. And so you see the pictures of these families with all their possessions, or as many of their possessions they carry on the backs and their wagons, and their kids, and hundreds of thousands of them. So this isn’t a small thing. This isn’t just, “Oh, we’re killing a few people, and that’s a price we’re willing to pay.” We are terrorizing Afghanistan. I’m not exaggerating.

The people who are — the people who are in Kabul — the people who are in Kabul — the people who are in Kabul and people in other places in Afghanistan have to live with the fear of these bombs. Have you lived under bombs? Do you know what it’s — can you imagine what it’s like? And you’re in a very backward, technologically — right? — undeveloped country, and there are these monster machines coming over with this ferocious noise and the lights and the flashing and the explosions. And it’s — yes, we’re terrorizing people in Afghanistan. And it’s not — it’s not right to respond to the fact that we have been terrorized, as we have, not right to respond to that by terrorizing other people. Absolutely wrong, you see. You know.

And furthermore, it’s not going to help. And you could say, “Well, maybe it may be worth doing, because this will end terrorism.” I mean, how much common sense does it take to know that you cannot end terrorism by indiscriminately just throwing bombs on Afghanistan. And then, of course, you get reports: “We have now destroyed three of their camps. We’ve destroyed four” — who are you kidding? How many hours does it take to set up a training camp? How easy it is to move from one place to another?

I mean, the history of bombing is mostly a history of futility. Yes, really. You know, there’s a book that came out recently called A History of Bombing. A History of Bombing. I was a bombardier. And, sure, the technology has improved, although it was claimed — even then, it was claimed our bombs are smart, because we’re using this special bombsight, this Norden bombsight. People really believed that. Even we believed that, we who were using the bombsight, because we would bomb at 11,000 feet or 4,000 feet, and we got pretty close to the target. But then, when we flew on missions, we were bombing at 30,000 feet, and the bombs went all over the place and killed an awful lot of people, all sorts of people. You know, didn’t matter.

I say it didn’t matter, because these people were ciphers. Who were these people? I didn’t even see them. You bomb, you bomb another country, you don’t see these people. You’re bombing from high altitudes. You know, our planes are bombing at high altitudes because they want to escape anti-aircraft fire, right? No, you don’t see anything on the ground. You see flashes, and you see explosions and may take pictures, but you don’t — you don’t hear screams. You don’t see blood. You don’t see severed limbs. You don’t see any of that.

We saw that in New York. We saw those scenes in New York. They horrified us. We saw people in panic, running, running from that — those explosions, that enormous pile of debris, you know, and we were horrified. These were real people to us. But then, if we bomb other countries, those people are not real to us.

One of the things I thought of after I got over my initial horror at what happened in New York, I thought, “Hey, that’s what it must have been like when I was bombing in Europe.” That’s what it must have been like, and I didn’t even know it, because these people were ciphers to me, you see. And then I thought, “Maybe to these terrorists, that’s what it is for them.” Oh, 6,000 human beings. You know, no, they have a mission. They have a goal. No. They’re not — they’re not human beings to terrorists. And people in other parts of the world have not been human beings to us.

If there’s anything we might get out of this experience, it’s that we might take that horror that we have felt looking at those scenes in New York, and compassion that we have felt for the people who endured this and their families, and extend this to people in other parts of the world who have been enduring this — enduring this for a very long time. And that does mean — that does mean examining the United States and our policies.

You know, if you — because, you know, when you do that, when you suggest that, say, “You know what? I think maybe we ought to look at ourselves and our policies,” people say, “Oh, you’re justifying what happened.” No, no, absolutely not. To explain is not to justify. But if you don’t want to explain anything, you will never learn anything. So you have to — you have to understand, you have to explain, without justifying.

And you have to look — yes, you have to dig down and see if you can figure out what is at the root of this terrorism, because there is something at the root besides, you know, irrational, murderous feeling. And, yes, this was murderous, fanatical feeling. But these were not simply madmen, who just — you know, there are people, like, who just go berserk and kill everybody in sight, right? We know that, because we’ve seen that in our country, when somebody just — you know, something goes haywire in them, and they just go wild. And they — no, it’s not that. Terrorism is not that sort of thing. There’s something underneath that, you know, that fanaticism, which may have a core of truth to it. That is, there’s something in the core of belief of these terrorists which may also be at the core of belief of millions of other people in the world who are not terrorists, who are angry at American policy but who are not fanatic enough to go and kill Americans because they’re angry at our policy, but who are capable of doing that if they are even more aroused, and even if we begin even doing more things to anger them. There’s an — you might say there’s a reservoir of possible terrorists among all those people in the world who have suffered as a result of U.S, foreign policy.

Now, I don’t know if you think I’m exaggerating when I say there are millions of people in the world who have suffered as a result of U.S. foreign policy. But, yes, there are. And Bush, at a recent press conference, said something like, “I don’t understand why these people hate us.” No, I don’t — you know, said, “We are good.” That’s what he said. “We are good.” You know, look at me. I’m good. You know. Well, sometimes the United States is good. Yes, there are a lot of good things about the United States. And yes, there are times when the United States is good. And then there are times, unfortunately many times, too many times, when the United States has been bad, evil really, and has carried out policies that have resulted in the deaths of, yes, millions of people.

AMY GOODMAN: Howard Zinn, speaking in October 2001, just two weeks after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan. We’ll hear more from Professor Zinn after this break.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue our Zinntennial, as we continue to remember the legendary historian Howard Zinn 100 years after his birth in 1922. In 2006, we featured a speech Professor Zinn delivered in Madison, Wisconsin, as he received the Haven Center’s Award for Lifetime Contribution to Critical Scholarship. His lecture was titled “The Uses of History and the War on Terrorism.”

HOWARD ZINN: I was talking to my barber the other day, because we always discuss world politics. And he’s totally politically unpredictable, as most barbers are, you see. He said, “Howard,” he said, “you know, you and I disagree on many things, but on one thing we agree: War solves nothing.” And I thought, “Yeah.” It’s not hard for people to grasp that.

And there again, history is useful. We’ve had a history of war after war after war after war. What have they solved? What have they done? Even World War II, the “good war,” the war in which I volunteered, the war in which I dropped bombs, the war after which, you know, I received a letter from General Marshall, general of generals, a letter addressed personally to me, and to 16 million others, in which he said, “We’ve won the war. It will be a new world.” Well, of course, it wasn’t a new world. It hasn’t been a new world, war after war after war.

There are certain — I came out of that war, the war in which I had volunteered, the war in which I was an enthusiastic bombardier, I came out of that war with certain ideas, which just developed gradually at the end of the war, ideas about war. One, that war corrupts everybody who engages in it. War poisons everybody who engages in it. You start off as the good guys, as we did in World War II. They’re the bad guys. They’re the fascists. What could be worse? So they’re the bad guys, we’re the good guys. And as the war goes on, the good guys begin behaving like the bad guys. You can trace this back to the Peloponnesian War. You can trace it back to the good guy, the Athenians, and the bad guys, the Spartans. And after a while, the Athenians become ruthless and cruel, like the Spartans.

And we did that in World War II. We, after Hitler committed his atrocities, we committed our atrocities — you know, our killing of 600,000 civilians in Japan, our killing of probably an equal number of civilians in Germany. These, they weren’t Hitler, they weren’t Tojo. They weren’t — no, they were just ordinary people, like we are ordinary people living in a country that is a marauding country, and they were living in countries that were marauding countries, and they were caught up in whatever it was and afraid to speak up. And I don’t know, I came to the conclusion, yes, war poisons everybody.

And war — this is an important thing to keep in mind, that when you go to war against a tyrant — and this was one of the claims: “Oh, we’re going to get rid of Saddam Hussein,” which was, of course, nonsense. They didn’t — did our government care that Saddam Hussein tyrannized his own people? We helped him tyrannize his people. We helped him gas the Kurds. We helped him accumulate weapons of mass destruction, really.

But when you go to war against a tyrant, the people you kill in the war are the victims of the tyrant. The people we killed in Germany were the victims of Hitler. The people we killed in Japan were the victims of the Japan Imperial Army, you know. And the people who die in wars are more and more and more people who are not in the military. You may know this about the different ratio of civilian-to-military deaths in war, how in World War I, 10 military dead for one civilian dead; in World War II, it was 50-50, half military, half civilian; in Vietnam, it was 70% civilian and 30% military; and in the wars since then, it’s 80% and 85% civilian.

I became friends a few years ago with an Italian war surgeon named Gino Strada. He spent 10 years, 15 years doing surgery on war victims all over the world. And he wrote a book about it, Green Parrots: Diary of a War Surgeon. He said in all the patients that he operated on in Iraq and Afghanistan and everywhere, 85% of them were civilians, one-third of them, children. If you understand, and if people understand, and if you spread the word of this understanding, that whatever is told to you about war and how we must go to war, and whatever the threat is or whatever the goal is — a democracy or liberty — it will always be a war against children. They’re the ones who will die in large numbers.

So, war — well, Einstein said this after World War I. He said, “War cannot be humanized. It can only be abolished.” War has to be abolished, you know. And it’s — I know it’s a long shot. I understand that. But you have to — when something’s a long shot, but it has to be done, you have to start doing it. Just as the ending of slavery in this country in the 1830s was a really long shot, but people stuck at it, and it took 30 years, but slavery was done away with. And we can see this again and again. So, we have a job to do. We have lots of things to do.

One of the things we can learn from history is that history is not only a history of things inflicted on us by the powers that be. History is also a history of resistance. It’s a history of people who endure tyranny for decades, but who ultimately rise up and overthrow the dictator. We’ve seen this in country after country, surprise after surprise. Rulers who seem to have total control, they suddenly wake up one day, and there are a million people in the streets, and they pack up and leave. This has happened in the Philippines, in Yemen, all over, in Nepal. Million people in the streets, and then the ruler has to get out of the way. So, this is what we’re aiming for in this country.

Everything we do is important. Every little thing we do, every picket line we walk on, every letter we write, every act of civil disobedience we engage in, any recruiter that we talk to, any parent that we talk to, any GI that we talk to, any young person that we talk to, anything we do in class, outside of class, everything we do in the direction of a different world is important, even though at the moment they seem futile, because that’s how change comes about. Change comes about when millions of people do little things, which at certain points in history come together, and then something good and something important happens.

Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Legendary historian Howard Zinn, speaking in 2006. Well, three years later, in May of 2009, just a year before he died, Professor Zinn joined us in the Democracy Now! studio as he launched the paperback edition of A Young People’s History of the United States. I asked him if he thought his retelling of history about Columbus and other traditional heroes was suitable for children.

HOWARD ZINN: It’s true that people have asked that question again and again. You know, should we tell kids that Columbus, whom they have been told was a great hero, that Columbus mutilated Indians and kidnapped them and killed them in pursuit of gold? Should we tell people that Theodore Roosevelt, who is held up as one of our great presidents, was really a warmonger who loved military exploits and who congratulated an American general who committed a massacre in the Philippines? Should we tell young people that?

And I think the answer is: We should be honest with young people; we should not deceive them. We should be honest about the history of our country. And we should be not only taking down the traditional heroes, like Andrew Jackson and Theodore Roosevelt, but we should be giving young people an alternate set of heroes.

Instead of Theodore Roosevelt, tell them about Mark Twain. Mark Twain — well, Mark Twain, everybody learns about as the author of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, but when we go to school, we don’t learn about Mark Twain as the vice president of the Anti-Imperialist League. We aren’t told that Mark Twain denounced Theodore Roosevelt for approving this massacre in the Philippines. No.

We want to give young people ideal figures like Helen Keller. And I remember learning about Helen Keller. Everybody learns about Helen Keller, you know, a disabled person who overcame her handicaps and became famous. But people don’t learn in school and young people don’t learn in school what we want them to learn when we do books like A Young People’s History of the United States, that Helen Keller was a socialist. She was a labor organizer. She refused to cross a picket line that was picketing a theater showing a play about her.

And so, there are these alternate heroes in American history. There’s Fannie Lou Hamer and Bob Moses. There are the heroes of the civil rights movement. There are a lot of people who are obscure, who are not known. We have — in this Young People’s History, we have a young hero who was sitting on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, refused to leave the front of the bus. And that was before Rosa Parks. I mean, Rosa Parks is justifiably famous for refusing to leave her seat, and she got arrested, and that was the beginning of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and really the beginning of a great movement in the South. But this 15-year-old girl did it first. And so, we have a lot of — we are trying to bring a lot of these obscure people back into the forefront of our attention and inspire young people to say, “This is the way to live.”

AMY GOODMAN: Howard Zinn in the Democracy Now! studio in 2009 as he launched the paperback edition of A Young People’s History of the United States. He died unexpectedly the next year, in January of 2010. We end today’s show with one of Howard Zinn’s last public appearances. He spoke in November 2009 at Boston University.

HOWARD ZINN: When I was discharged from the Army, from the Air Force, I got a letter from General Marshall. He was the general of generals. He was sending a letter, not a personal letter to me — “Dear Howie…” No. A letter that was sent to 16 million men who had served in the Armed Forces, some women, too. And the letter was something like this: “We’ve won the war. Congratulations for your service. It will be a new world.” It wasn’t a new world. And we know it hasn’t been a new world since World War II. War after war after war after war, and 50 million people were dead in that war to end all wars, to end fascism and dictatorship and militarism. No.

So, yes, I came to a conclusion that war cannot be tolerated, no matter what we’re told. And if we think that there are good wars and that, therefore, well, maybe this is a good war, I wanted to examine the so-called good wars, the holy wars, and — yeah, and take a good look at them and think again about the phenomenon of war and come to the conclusion, well, yes, war cannot be tolerated, no matter what we’re told, no matter what tyrant exists, what border has been crossed, what aggression has taken place. It’s not that we’re going to be passive in the face of tyranny or aggression, no, but we’ll find ways other than war to deal with whatever problems we have, because war is inevitably — inevitably — the indiscriminate massive killing of huge numbers of people. And children are a good part of those people. Every war is a war against children.

So it’s not just getting rid of Saddam Hussein, if we think about it. Well, we got rid of Saddam Hussein. In the course of it, we killed huge numbers of people who had been victims of Saddam Hussein. When you fight a war against a tyrant, who do you kill? You kill the victims of the tyrant. Anyway, all this — all this was simply to make us think again about war and to think, you know, we’re at war now, right? In Iraq, in Afghanistan and sort of in Pakistan, since we’re sending rockets over there and killing innocent people in Pakistan. And so, we should not accept that.

We should look for a peace movement to join. Really, look for some peace organization to join. It will look small at first, and pitiful and helpless, but that’s how movements start. That’s how the movement against the Vietnam War started. It started with handfuls of people who thought they were helpless, thought they were powerless. But remember, this power of the people on top depends on the obedience of the people below. When people stop obeying, they have no power. When workers go on strike, huge corporations lose their power. When consumers boycott, huge business establishments have to give in. When soldiers refuse to fight, as so many soldiers did in Vietnam, so many deserters, so many fraggings, acts of violence by enlisted men against officers in Vietnam, B-52 pilots refusing to fly bombing missions anymore, war can’t go on. When enough soldiers refuse, the government has to decide we can’t continue. So, yes, people have the power. If they begin to organize, if they protest, if they create a strong enough movement, they can change things. That’s all I want to say.

AMY GOODMAN: Historian Howard Zinn, speaking in 2009, just months before his death. Northwestern professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor has written, “We need Howard Zinn now more than ever. Not for the sake of romance or to construct another hero in history. We need his insights, his politics, and his commitment to the struggle for a better world.”

And that does it for our Zinntennial celebrating the historian Howard Zinn, born 100 years ago, in 1922. Special thanks to Mike Burke, Neil Shibata and Brendan Allen. Democracy Now! is produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud and Mary Conlon. Our executive director is Julie Crosby. Special thanks to Becca Staley, Jon Randolph, Paul Powell, Mike Di Filippo, Miguel Nogueira, Hugh Gran, Denis Moynihan, David Prude and Dennis McCormick. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

Categories: World News

US Ranks Last Among Peer Nations for COVID-19 Mortality: Study

Fri, 11/25/2022 - 07:39

American citizens pride themselves for living in a country that most of them believe is superlative — freest, most powerful, most entrepreneurial. Yet despite the spheres where it has high standing, the United States ranks dismally among its peer nations when it comes to deaths from COVID-19. “Dismal” might not be a strong enough adjective, actually: the U.S. ranked dead last among its peer nations, with the most deaths per capita.

The data comes from a new study published in the medical journal JAMA, which also analyzed state-by-state vaccination and public health data. Alarmingly, researchers noted that if every state in the United States had the same vaccination rates as those states with the highest vaccination rates, more than 100,000 lives would have been saved.

Led by researchers from the Brown University School of Public Health and the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, the JAMA study compared data on vaccinations and COVID-19 mortality in 2021 and 2022 between the United States and the 20 other most populous countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Not surprisingly, the per capita death rate was higher in America than any of those other 20 countries during the delta and omicron waves in 2021 and 2022, with America accumulating 370,298 COVID-19 fatalities in total.

Yet the data was particularly illuminating when the authors compared the ten US states with the highest vaccination rates with those that had the lowest vaccination rates.

According to the JAMA study, the per capita rate of COVID-19 deaths in the 10 states with the highest vaccination rates (73%) was 75 deaths out of every 100,000 people. By contrast, the 10 states with the lowest rates of vaccination (52%) had a per capita death rate of 146 out of 100,000 people.

But on an international scale, the numbers looked bad, too. The 10 most vaccinated states had an excess all-cause mortality rate that was equal to or less than that of several other OECD countries (including Denmark, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria and Finland). The phrase “all-cause mortality rate” refers to the total death rate, based on all causes of death, within a total population for a given period of time. That number is meaningful because many deaths that were, on paper, from other causes were indirectly caused by COVID-19.

“From June 27, 2021, to March 26, 2022, the US would have averted 122,304 deaths if COVID-19 mortality matched that of the 10 most-vaccinated states and 266,700 deaths if US excess all-cause mortality rate matched that of the 10 most-vaccinated states,” the authors conclude. “If the US matched the rates of other peer countries, averted deaths would have been substantially higher in most cases (range, 154,622 – 357,899 for COVID-19 mortality; 209,924 – 465,747 for all-cause mortality).”

This means that, if the 10 states which had the fewest number of vaccinated citizens had been inoculated at the rates of the 10 states with the highest percentage of vaccinated citizens, roughly 122,000 people who died of COVID-19 during the nine-month period covered by the study would have lived instead. Similarly, if throughout the United States the total amount of excess deaths from all causes had been the same as in the 10 most highly-vaccinated states, more than 266,000 deaths would have been avoided.

The United States’ dismal public health ratings owe a debt to the haze of vaccine misinformation that pervades the United States, and which has become dogma among some right-wing politicians who have encouraged the spread of public health misinformation for political gain. Although anti-vaccine conspiracy theories became increasingly popular due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they long preceded it. In 1998, soon-to-be-discredited doctor Andrew Wakefield published a case series which claimed that the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR vaccine) was linked to the development of autistic traits in young people. A panic ensued until it became clear that Wakefield’s paper was riddled with problems: It had no data about the MMR vaccine, included speculative conclusions, only reviewed a small sample of patients and used a poorly-designed experimental model. It later came out that Wakefield also had financial conflicts of interest which he had not disclosed when publishing the study.

Anti-vaccine ideas became more prevalent in the 2020s after the COVID-19 pandemic reached the United States. Popular podcaster Joe Rogan touted supposed COVID-19 treatments that did not work, such as the horse de-wormer ivermectin. Rogan’s ideas spread thanks to other anti-vaccine celebrities such as quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

There is no scientific evidence indicating that purported COVID-19 treatments like hydroxychloroquine, ivermectin, vitamin C and vitamin D are effective in stopping COVID-19 infections. While monoclonal antibodies can be effective, and Paxlovid works well, both are second-line defenses that are much more likely to be given to the unvaccinated when they contract the virus, as unvaccinated persons typically have far worse outcomes if and when they contract COVID-19.

Categories: World News

New Report Details How Coal Plants Are Polluting Water and Getting Away With It

Fri, 11/25/2022 - 07:24

PITTSBURGH — The site of a former coal-fired power plant northwest of Pittsburgh is leaking coal ash and poisoning surrounding groundwater, according to a new report.

Coal ash, the material left behind after coal is burned, contains harmful substances like arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, lithium, mercury and uranium, among others. Exposure is linked to health effects like cancer, damage to the thyroid, liver and kidneys, and neurodevelopmental problems in children.

Although coal consumption has declined across the U.S., the power industry continues to generate about 70 million tons of coal ash annually, and after 100 years of burning coal, U.S. power plants have generated about five billion tons of coal ash.

The new report, published by the environmental law advocacy groups Environmental Integrity Project and EarthJustice, found that 91% of U.S. coal-fired plants have ash landfills or waste ponds that are leaking toxic chemicals and heavy metals into surrounding groundwater at levels that threaten streams, rivers and drinking water aquifers. It also found that many coal plant owners manipulate data or incorrectly claim exemptions to regulations to avoid having to clean up contamination.

“Coal plants are polluting the nation’s water illegally and getting away with it,” Lisa Evans, a senior attorney at Earthjustice and coauthor of the report, said during a news briefing. “At least 91% of them are poisoning our water with hazardous toxics and doing little or nothing to address it. This is illegal.”

The report ranks the top 10 worst contaminated coal ash sites in the country. GenOn’s New Castle Generating Plant, about 46 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, ranks sixth on the list. Groundwater near the site contains arsenic levels 372 times higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s, or EPA’s, safety threshold, and lithium levels 54 times higher.

Arsenic exposure is linked to multiple forms of cancer, neurological impairments in children and skin conditions. Lithium exposure is linked to kidney and neurological damage, decreased thyroid function and birth defects. The GenOn plant sits along the Beaver River, which feeds into the Ohio River, which, in turn, provides drinking water to more than five million people.

“In addition to the Ohio River being an important source of drinking water to many Americans, people in the region also love to fish, swim and boat out in these waters,” Zach Barber, a community organizer with environmental advocacy group PennEnvironment, who was not involved with the report, told EHN. “This pollution poses real risks that are not being taken seriously by these companies or our regulators.”

The GenOn site, which has approximately 50 acres of coal ash landfill containing about three million tons of ash, is the only location in Pennsylvania to make the report’s top 10 list. It follows coal ash dumps in Texas, Nevada, North Carolina and Wyoming (two sites), and ranks worse than sites in Maryland, Mississippi, Utah and Tennessee. The most polluted site in the nation is the San Miguel Electric Plant south of San Antonio, Texas. The report, an update to a 2019 report on coal ash sites, also details groundwater contamination at 292 additional coal plants in 43 states.

“Coal ash waste is causing widespread water contamination that threatens drinking water supplies and the environment,” Lisa Evans, senior attorney at Earthjustice, said in a statement. “In every state where coal is burned, power companies are violating federal health protections.”

Manipulating Data to Hide Poisonous Pollution

In 2015, in response to nearly 160 cases of water contamination and several catastrophic coal ash spills, the EPA established the first-ever regulations governing coal ash disposal collectively referred to as the Coal Ash Rule.

The rule required sites disposing of coal ash to post groundwater monitoring reports on their websites. There’s no federal database of these notices, so the authors of the report collected and analyzed the data to create their own. They concluded that many power companies are illegally manipulating data and monitoring to avoid cleanup requirements.

Companies are supposed to collect samples from clean background wells that aren’t near coal ash disposal sites to compare against wells on site. But they found that companies often chose previously contaminated sites to use as background wells, making it harder to find evidence of coal ash pollution. Many plants also leave large parts of a disposal area unmonitored, use inappropriate statistical methods to hide patterns of contamination, and falsely attribute the contamination to another source, according to the report.

“Coal plant owners are deliberately employing tricks to hide coal ash pollution,” Evans said. “People live next to these ponds. People drink the groundwater. Families use the lakes and streams next to these ponds. Leaving ash will make people sick and harm the water they depend on…but pennies over people has always been the norm where coal ash is concerned.”

Some plant owners, including the owners of GenOn’s former New Castle Plant, say the sites were already contaminated before they arrived, so they shouldn’t be responsible for cleanup, according to the report. GenOn’s New Castle Plant landfill was built on top of an 80-year-old, 120-acre ash pond, and the company is only claiming responsibility for a small part of the landfill, according to the document.

“GenOn must apply the Rule to the landfill as a whole,” the report concludes. “This approach is not only legally required, but also common sense – there is no way to restore groundwater at the site without addressing all of the coal ash known to be buried there.”

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) spokesperson Jamar Thrasher told EHN the agency supports the EPA’s enforcement of the Coal Ash Rule by checking compliance with reporting requirements and deadlines for closure or upgrades. In 2020, the DEP issued a Notice of Violation for groundwater contamination and asked GenOn to address it. The company agreed, and remediation is underway, according to Thrasher, who said the cleanup plan recommends two more years of groundwater monitoring to determine whether the cleanup measures taken so far have been effective.

GenOn did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It isn’t the only company avoiding responsibility: The report found that at nearly half of the plants causing contamination, owners are not planning any cleanup, and most have denied responsibility. Of the plants that have agreed cleanup is necessary, only a handful have cleanup plans in place, and most lack clear timelines and fall short of federal standards.

The report also notes that most coal plants are located in or near environmental justice communities (communities that are primarily made up of low-income residents and/or people of color), and that 70% of coal ash ponds that are dangerously close to groundwater are located in communities that are primarily Black or brown.

How Can We Fix This?

Both state agencies and the EPA have authority to enforce the Coal Ash Rule. In a few states, state regulatory agencies are actively working to enforce the rule, according to Evans, while other states rely on the EPA.

The new report recommends a number of solutions, including increased federal oversight to stop coal companies from manipulating data and improperly claiming exemptions, implementing enforceable cleanup schedules, closing loopholes for sites that are no longer operational, requiring testing of drinking water near coal ash dumps and banning dangerous re-use of coal ash (such as using it as a soil substitute).

“The first place to start is enforcing the rules we already have on the books,” Barber said. “But the only way to completely protect people from the health harms of coal is to leave it in the ground and switch to cleaner, renewable sources of energy.”

Categories: World News

If DeSantis Wins 2024 Primary, It’s the Trump Nightmare With a Different Name

Fri, 11/25/2022 - 07:08

Most of the results are in from the 2022 midterm election, and the much-hyped “red wave” and the potential for Republican domination in Congress never materialized. But one Republican outperformed most of his party this cycle, winning reelection in a landslide: Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida.

Now, as arguably the only big Republican winner of the 2022 midterms, DeSantis has been floated as the Republican star, the 2024 presidential candidate that can save the party from Donald Trump’s unpopularity. His candidacy has been deemed “inevitable” by The Washington Post, and “the hottest thing going in the Republican Party,” according to CNN. The prevailing theme seems to be, finally, a “normal” Republican frontrunner again!

There’s just one problem: DeSantis is no “moderate.” He is brash, bigoted, and wields the rhetoric of populism as a cudgel to reify white, patriarchal, heteronormative power. He may be an alternative to Trump for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, but he is alternative in name only.

Take abortion, for instance. While DeSantis didn’t totally ban abortion, he just signed a 15-week ban into law — a draconian, extremist position that endangers the health and lives of the most marginalized. Florida doesn’t allow Medicaid funding for abortion care. It remains one of the few states left in the Southeast where abortion is legal at all; neighboring states like Alabama and Georgia have abortion bans on the books (though Georgia’s was recently blocked by a federal judge). This puts inordinate pressure on the capacity of Florida abortion clinics, which means booked-up schedules and fewer available appointments for abortion seekers. A 15-week abortion ban imposes a strict time limit on an already time-sensitive procedure.

Florida has other restrictions on abortion –– it bans state Medicaid and Affordable Care Act coverage of abortion care, and has a mandatory 24-hour waiting period, which forces patients to come to the clinic twice before an abortion can be performed. Coupled with the onslaught of patients coming from states where abortion is already banned, it could push some patients, especially low-income folks who need to raise the funds to pay for an abortion, past the 15-week cut-off.

DeSantis’s abortion policy isn’t “moderate,” and neither is his approach to much else. After all, this is the man who rammed through the “Don’t Say Gay” bill that, just months ago, was decried as “dangerous” and “wrong” across outlets like Healthline and NBC News. He directed the state medical board to ban gender-affirming health care for trans youth, banned trans girls from participating on sex-segregated sports teams, and has engaged in egregious voter suppression efforts, arresting 20 formerly incarcerated people in one day who were granted the right to vote in a 2018 state referendum. Moreover, he signed a law that banned state university professors from talking about racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression and discrimination, a law so horrific that the U.S. district judge who blocked it called it “positively dystopian.” Now, because he won big in a state racked with gerrymandering while the rest of his party seemed to flounder at the polls elsewhere, he gets to be the torchbearer for a more “moderate” Republican party.

If DeSantis is what passes for moderate today in the U.S., then moderate is just another word for oppression.

We’ve heard this tune before. In 2000, George W. Bush ran as a “compassionate conservative,” framing himself as an outsider with a different approach to conservatism. Instead, he led the country into two major tragic wars that would long outlast his administration, tried (unsuccessfully) to gut Social Security, and in 2004, ran on banning same-sex marriage.

There is nothing moderate about arresting marginalized people for voting, or endangering the lives of pregnant people, trans youth, Black and Brown people. If DeSantis is what passes for moderate today in the U.S., then moderate is just another word for oppression, masking itself as reasonable political discourse. But for a party that has staked its legacy on a twice-impeached con man and his army of election-deniers and conspiracy theorists, openly harming anyone who isn’t a white, straight, cisgender man, it’s par for the course.

Gov. Ron DeSantis may very well win the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. And if he does, the legitimacy granted to him by pundits and the media alike, framing his as a more reasonable option to Donald Trump, could help him win election. And the suffering of the marginalized will be a feature, not a bug.

Categories: World News

Rent Is Too Damned High: US Tenants Mobilize to Demand Rent Controls

Fri, 11/25/2022 - 07:01

When the African American Research Collaborative surveyed a cross section of Florida voters earlier this fall, more than 25 percent of those questioned reported that they had experienced homelessness — doubling up with family or friends or living in a car, shelter, storage shed or motel — at some point in the last few years.

This came as no surprise to Sheena D. Rolle, senior director of strategy at Florida Rising, an organization that formed in 2021 from a merger between the New Florida Majority and Organize Florida. The goal of the group, according to its website, is to “win elections, change laws and create a state where everyone can be safe, happy, healthy and whole.”

Permanently affordable housing is, of course, key to achieving this outcome. “Winning rent controls is a nonpartisan issue across Florida,” Rolle told Truthout. “Regardless of age, race, gender or home ownership status, support for rent protections is nearly universal, and we see people moving toward an ideology of housing as a human right, a value.” This, she says, confirms the findings of the African American Research Collaborative. “People recognize how normalized homelessness has become. Most people know someone who works full-time but does not earn enough to pay rent and is living in a U-Haul, a storage facility, or a car parked in the Starbucks parking lot.”

And it’s not just Florida. Tenant activists and housing justice organizers in every part of the country are mobilizing in response to an unprecedented increase in the cost of rental housing, a spike that threatens approximately 3.6 million tenants with eviction each year if they fall behind on payments.

The reason is obvious: the rent is simply too damned high.

According to statista.com, a company that monitors business trends, as of February 2022, the average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the U.S. was $1,295, up from $1,100 one year earlier.

Even more outrageous, online rental marketplace rent.com notes that 19 states saw average rents rise by more than 10 percent, and two — Florida and South Dakota — saw what the real estate industry calls “registered rent growth” that exceeded 20 percent between October 2021 and October 2022.

Rolle knows that reversing this trend and winning protections against landlord price gouging will be a long process and will require a multiplicity of tactics and strategies, from electing tenant-friendly lawmakers, to enacting robust regulations to cap rents and lease renewal increases, to providing free legal counsel to low-income tenants at risk of eviction.

Tenant activists and housing justice organizers in every part of the country are mobilizing in response to an unprecedented increase in the cost of rental housing.

In many cities and towns, these efforts are already playing out. While some housing activists are working to push the White House to issue executive orders to regulate rents in federally managed housing, others are working to upend statewide bans on municipal rent controls, rules that bar local lawmakers from limiting the amount a landlord can charge when a tenant enters into a rental agreement or renews a lease. At present, 37 states have this type of restriction on the books. Meanwhile, 182 municipalities now have some form of rent control in place, and tenants and housing justice proponents are working hard to expand that number by pushing progressive city and state lawmakers to introduce pro-tenant measures.

What’s more, in some areas, voters in the November midterms had a chance to weigh in on ballot measures that support rent regulation. In Pasadena, California, for one, voters approved an initiative to limit rent increases to 75 percent of the Consumer Price Index and barred landlords from evicting tenants without good cause. Even more impressive, renters in Kingston, New York, voted to reduce rents by 15 percent.

Regardless of approach, they have their work cut out for them. Despite widespread public support for their efforts, the fight to expand tenant protections faces both legislative roadblocks and fierce, deep-pocketed landlord opposition. Thanks to groups including RealPage, a big tech firm that sells software to property owners and managers, the real estate lobby has poured tens of thousands of dollars into campaigns to stop pro-tenant ballot initiatives and defeat pro-tenant candidates, most prominently in California. Activists there report that since 2018, real estate interests have spent an estimated $1 million to defeat two propositions sponsored by Housing is a Human Right and its parent organization, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Both would have ended statewide restrictions on rent controls.

Similarly, the pro-landlord National Multifamily Housing Council has continually lambasted rent controls, telling the public that such laws cause more harm than good. “Rather than improving the availability of affordable housing, rent control laws exacerbate shortages and cause existing buildings to deteriorate,” their website states.

Housing justice activists call this hogwash and blame landlord greed for poor building maintenance and a lull in new affordable housing construction.

But even when rent controls are won, tenants can continue to face economic difficulties.

Take Oregon. In 2019, Oregon enacted statewide rent control when it passed Senate Bill 608. Loren Naldoza, policy and communications manager at Neighborhood Partnerships, the organizational convenor of the Oregon Housing Alliance, explains that the law allows landlords to raise rents by 7 percent a year plus the rate of inflation. “Normally, inflation is not something we worry very much about, but this year has not been normal,” Naldoza told Truthout. “Because of record-high inflation, rent increases for 2023 will be capped at 14.6 percent, which is a huge issue for many Oregonians. For folks who are already severely rent burdened, already paying more than 30 percent of their income for rent, this is effectively a notice of eviction.”

“We’re going to have to fight like tigers, but we’re also going to have to learn how to stay close to each other as neighbors. It’s going to be that brutal.”

This jarring reality, he says, has pushed Neighborhood Partnerships to facilitate conversations between people who live in so-called affordable housing — residents of public housing as well as those who have Section 8 vouchers or other housing subsidies — and state lawmakers to ensure that legislators understand the impact of rent increases on the state’s poorest residents and will do something to help them.

“More than 100 million people live at or below [200 percent of] the federal poverty line,” Jasmine Rangel, senior housing associate at PolicyLink, a national research and action institute working to advance racial and economic equity, told Truthout. “Homeowners with a 30-year fixed mortgage rate essentially have price controls on their housing. Tenants do not have this kind of predictability and can’t easily plan for their future in the communities they call home.”

Ballot initiatives like the one passed in Oregon in 2019, she says, have traditionally been seen as an effective way to regulate the cost of rental housing, but because these measures do not include a rent rollback, they can be of limited long-term usefulness to those with the lowest incomes.

“Many people are one crisis away from being unable to pay rent,” Rangel says. “An unexpected car repair or medical bill can put them in a tight financial spot. When people are evicted, it’s almost always for less than a month’s rent, caused by an emergency they did not foresee. When people know that their rent cannot go up at their landlord’s whim, they’re better able to plan their finances and try to save for an emergency.”

But even the best-laid plans sometimes come to naught, something voters in St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota, discovered in 2021 when they voted to restrict landlords from imposing rent increases of more than 3 percent in any 12-month period. Despite the electoral mandate, within a year of passage, the largely conservative city councils in both cities overrode the vote and gutted the protections.

Joe Hesla, a member of the coordinating committee of Minneapolis United for Rent Control told Truthout that while housing activists are continuing to push for strong rent protections in the Twin Cities, the City of Minneapolis has commissioned a Housing/Rent Stabilization Work Group that is expected to issue policy recommendations sometime in December. “We are confident that they will either make weak recommendations or write nothing at all,” he says. “We know that 56 percent of African Americans in the city are rent burdened and pay way more than 30 percent of their income on rent, but every renter is in the crosshairs. If you do not own a house — and most people in the city do not — you are at risk.”

Hesla anticipates a protracted struggle to enact meaningful rent protections not only in Minnesota but throughout the country. “We’re going to have to fight like tigers,” he says, “but we’re also going to have to learn how to stay close to each other as neighbors. It’s going to be that brutal.”

Categories: World News

Poor People’s Campaign Mobilizing Low-Income Voters Ahead of Georgia Runoff

Thu, 11/24/2022 - 09:49

Economic justice advocates in Georgia are mobilizing ahead of next month’s runoff U.S. Senate election in the state, working to convince low-income residents who lack access to healthcare and living wages to back Democratic Sen. Rev. Raphael Warnock.

The Georgia Poor People’s Campaign announced late Wednesday that it is launching a statewide canvassing, text-banking, and social media campaign to reach out to millions of Georgia voters who are low-income, calling the push their “If We Ever Needed To Vote, We Sure Do Need To Vote Now Tour.”

“It ain’t over yet, and every vote must be cast to count,” said the group.

Join us this Sunday in Columbus, starting at 10am and Monday in Atlanta, starting at 7pm – two events, one message. It ain’t over yet, and every vote must be cast to count.#Georgia #voteearly pic.twitter.com/x66IT6E14L

— Georgia Poor People’s Campaign (@GeorgiaPPC) November 24, 2022

On Sunday, November 27, Poor People’s Campaign co-chair Rev. Dr. William Barber II will begin the campaign at a worship service at St. Mary’s Road United Methodist Church in Columbus, Georgia, followed by a rally on Monday at Cascade United Methodist Church in Atlanta.

The campaign is launching more than a week before Georgia voters are scheduled to head to the polls on December 6 for a runoff election between Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker, a former professional football player who has helped spread conspiracy theories and lies about the results of the 2020 election and supports a nationwide abortion ban — despite having allegedly pressured at least two women to get abortions in the past.

“Persons impacted by low wages, voter suppression, and denial of healthcare” will join Barber in making a “call to action” at the rally, appealing to people across the state who would be particularly harmed by Republican Party proposals like its plan to cut Social Security and Medicare.

Georgia has the fourth-highest number of people who are uninsured, with more than 1.2 million residents lacking health coverage. Nearly two million people — 47% of the workforce — earn less than $15 per hour. A Georgia resident would have to work 93 hours per week on average to afford a two-bedroom apartment if they were working at the federal minimum wage.

On Wednesday, consumer advocate Ralph Nader wrote at Common Dreams that Warnock must reach out to his state’s low-wealth residents in order to hold on to his Senate seat.

“Warnock has spent $20 million on TV ads charging that Walker has neither the competence nor the character to be a U.S. senator,” wrote Nader. “Reaching saturation, spending more on what people have heard and seen ad infinitum generates diminishing returns and increases voter irritation. ‘What else is new?’ many must be wondering.”

Instead, he wrote, Democrats in the state should advise voters of the economic stakes of the runoff:

1. For the hundreds of thousands of low-income Georgia workers: “Go vote for a $15 federal minimum wage, it’s long overdue and you’ve earned it.”

2. For many low-income workers: “Go vote for getting Medicaid from available federal funds blocked by Republican politicians.”

3. Vote to preserve and expand Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Washington’s Republicans, led by Walker backer, superrich former corporate crook Sen. Rick Scott, who wants to sunset these and other essential people-protection laws long on the books.

At the Georgia Poor People’s Campaign events this coming week, “speakers will emphasize to all Georgians — especially poor and low-wealth voters — that their votes will make a difference.”

The runoff follows the November 8 midterm election, in which neither Warnock nor Walker secured more than 50% of the vote.

Earlier this week, the national Poor People’s Campaign also launched a text-banking push targeting Georgia voters.

Categories: World News

Experts Say Judge Cannon’s Pro-Trump Order Is Doomed After “Hostile” Hearing

Thu, 11/24/2022 - 09:17

A federal appeals court appears likely to shut down the special master review of secret government documents seized from former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence.

Earlier this year, U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, who was appointed by Trump in 2020, sided with the former president to appoint a special master to comb through the documents for potentially privileged information, selecting longtime federal Judge Raymond Dearie from a list proposed by Trump’s attorneys. Legal experts have repeatedly questioned Cannon’s intervention in the case, especially after she overruled Dearie on key issues as he pressed Trump’s attorneys to provide evidence backing their arguments.

During a tense 40-minute hearing in Atlanta, a three-member panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals appeared likely to side with the Justice Department’s appeal that Cannon erred in appointing a special master in the first place, according to The New York Times.

The panel in their questions expressed concern that Cannon had “acted without precedent” by ordering the review and had “overstepped by inserting herself into the case” and trying to prevent the government from using the seized documents in its investigation, the outlet reported. Two of the judges were fellow Trump appointees.

Lawyers for the DOJ argued that there was no precedent for Cannon to interfere in a case where no charges had been filed and that she should never have gotten involved in the first place because there is no evidence the August search of Mar-a-Lago was unlawful.

Judge Andrew Brasher, a Trump appointee, pressed Trump attorney James Trusty to cite a “single decision by a federal court other than this one” that had issued a similar ruling. Trusty tried to sidestep the question, arguing that the “raid” on Trump’s property was itself unprecedented, before Judge Britt Grant, another Trump appointee, called him out for describing a lawful search as a “raid.”

“None of the judges asked any skeptical questions of the Justice Department,” the Times report added.

Brasher and Grant were previously on a different three-judge panel that unanimously overturned part of Cannon’s order barring the FBI from reviewing about 100 documents marked classified in their investigation, siding with the DOJ’s argument that she abused her authority and never had jurisdiction in the first place. The Supreme Court later rejected Trump’s appeal of the ruling.

Trump and his lawyers have made a series of dubious claims to defend the documents found at Mar-a-Lago, arguing at various times that some were his personal property and at others that he had declassified the documents before leaving office. Trump and his attorneys have also stoked baseless claims that the FBI may have “planted” evidence during the search. They have provided no evidence when pressed on the claims by Dearie.

At one point in Tuesday’s hearing, Chief Judge William Pryor, a George W. Bush appointee, questioned why Trump’s lawyers had asked for a special master in the first place without establishing that the search was illegal.

“If you can’t establish that it was unlawful,” he said, “then what are we doing here?”

Trusty during the hearing claimed that the warrant itself was a “general warrant” that was too broad.

“It seems to be a new argument,” Pryor responded. “This really has been shifting sands of the arguments.”

Legal experts roundly predicted a quick decision against Trump in the case that would end the special master review and give the DOJ access to thousands of documents seized from Mar-a-Lago.

“It is apparent that the Court of Appeals is hostile to Trump’s position and likely to side with the DOJ,” tweeted former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti.

“This really looks to be on fast track for reversal,” agreed former U.S. Attorney Harry Litman, adding that it was “very satisfying to hear the 11th circuit – in the persons of two Trump judges and another Republican – basically demolish every one of Cannon’s completely lunatic reasons for inserting herself in the case in bizarre and unprecedented ways to Trump’s advantage.”

Put another way, wrote Cal Berkeley Law Prof. Orin Kerr, “the judges on the panel responded to Trump’s arguments exactly like you would expect them to respond to the same arguments made by anyone else not named Trump.”

Harvard Law Prof. Laurence Tribe predicted a 3-0 ruling from the court.

“Goodbye Cannon,” he wrote.

Categories: World News

As Settler Colonialism and Genocide Continue, So Too Does Indigenous Resistance

Thu, 11/24/2022 - 08:52

Lakota historian Nick Estes talks about Thanksgiving and his book “Our History Is the Future,” and the historic fight against the Dakota Access pipeline at Standing Rock. “This history … is a continuing history of genocide, of settler colonialism and, basically, the founding myths of this country,” says Estes, who is a co-founder of the Indigenous resistance group The Red Nation and a citizen of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe.

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: In this special broadcast, we begin the show with the Indigenous scholar and activist Nick Estes. He’s co-founder of the Indigenous resistance group The Red Nation and a citizen of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe. His books include Our History Is the Future, which tells the history of Indigenous resistance over two centuries, offering a road map for collective liberation and a guide to fighting life-threatening climate change. Estes centers this history in the historic fight against the Dakota Access pipeline at Standing Rock. I asked him to talk about the two Thanksgiving stories he writes about at the beginning of his book.

NICK ESTES: So, the first Thanksgiving story is — begins with the Pequot massacre by members of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which really marks sort of — in my opinion, marks sort of the mythology of the United States as a settler-colonial country founded on sort of genocide to create, ironically, peace. And then I begin with another story of a prayer march that we led in the Bismarck mall in Bismarck, North Dakota, to kind of bring attention to the Standing Rock struggle during a Black Friday shopping event, which was met by police armed with AR-15s, who then began punching and kicking water protectors who were holding a prayer in the Bismarck mall.

And I thought it was a really kind of jarring sort of contrast between, you know, the past and the present, to say that while there are sort of differences between the massacre of Pequots in Massachusetts to the contemporary sort of fight against an oil pipeline, nonetheless, you know, Bismarck, North Dakota, is a 90% white community that originally the Dakota Access pipeline was supposed to go upriver from, but then was rerouted downriver to disproportionately affect the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. And “disproportionate” is the language that the Army Corps of Engineers used, as if there’s ever a proportionate risk to environmental issues and water contamination. So, at this particular moment, there weren’t any actions that were happening in the camps, and it was largely at a standstill. And I think that Thanksgiving weekend, there was an Unthanksgiving feast that was held in the camps, and it was actually the highest point of the camps themselves, in the sense that there were the most sort of water protectors had showed up. So, I thought it was a good kind of contrast to show that this history, you know, is a continuing history of genocide, of settler colonialism and, basically, the founding myths of this country.

AMY GOODMAN: Your book’s last words are, “[W]e are challenged not just to imagine, but to demand the emancipation of earth from capital. For the earth to live, capitalism must die.” Explain.

NICK ESTES: So, that line is part of this longer section on liberation. And I think when we think about climate change, oftentimes the question of climate change really centers on market-driven solutions, such as, you know, green capitalism, and how do we create markets that sort of incentivize transition to sustainable economies, right? And I think, really, what we’re kind of like beating around the bush is, is that it’s the system of capitalism that led us into this economic crisis to begin with. It’s the sort of designation of certain populations in certain territories as disposable, that has led us into our current epoch of global climate change. And so, when we talk about who’s going to bear the most burden when we transition, you know, out of the carbon economy, it most likely is going to be those populations that have historically been colonized, you know.

And, you know, what’s happening in southeast Africa is a perfect example of why we need to transition away from not just the carbon economy, but capitalist economies in general, because if we look at the history of how Africa has been a resource colony for Europe and for North America, we can look internally in the United States and understand that Indigenous nations continue to serve as resource colonies for the United States, whether it’s the Navajo Nation, where I’m living right now, that is producing oil and coal to generate electricity for the Southwest region, or whether it’s the Fort Berthold Reservation up in North Dakota, that is, you know, ground zero for oil and gas development in the Bakken region. We have to understand that Indigenous nations have largely been turned into resource colonies and sites of sacrifice for not just the United States, but for the oil and gas industry.

And so we need to not just think beyond climate change and putting carbon into the atmosphere, but we actually need to think about the system, the social system — right? — that created those conditions in the first place. And so, capitalism is fundamentally a social relation. It’s a profit-driven system, whereas Indigenous sort of ways of relating is one about reciprocity and a mutual sort of respect, not just with the human, but also with the nonhuman world. And we’re undergoing, you know, the sixth mass — sixth massive extinction event, which is caused by not just climate change, but is caused by capitalist sort of systems and the profit-driven sort of motive of our current economic and social system.

AMY GOODMAN: Nick Estes, you focus on seven historical moments of resistance in your new book, Our History Is the Future. You say they form a historical road map for collective liberation. How did you choose these histories? Just quickly take us through them.

NICK ESTES: Sure. So, I begin at the camps. I begin in the present, you know, at Standing Rock. And then I go to the fur trade with the first U.S. invasion, which was Lewis and Clark, who came through — who trespassed through our territory and were stopped by our leadership. And then I go through the Indian Wars of the 19th century and the buffalo genocide. And then I go into talking about the damming of the Missouri River in the mid-20th century, and then looking at Red Power in the 1960s and in the 1970s and how all of these Indigenous people, who were relocated because their lands were flooded by these dams, eventually found themselves and created sort of the modern Indigenous movement, known as Red Power, and then looking — going back and ending actually at Standing Rock in 1974, with the creation of the International Indian Treaty Council, which really coalesced these generations of Indigenous resistance and took the treaties, the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, to the world and to the United Nations. And to do that, they looked to Palestinians, they looked to the South African anti-apartheid movement, who provided the mechanisms for recognition of Indigenous rights at the United Nations. And that all resulted, over four decades, in the touchstone document, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was passed by the U.N. in 2007.

And so, in many ways, when we look at Standing Rock, and we look at — if we go down flag row and we see the hundreds of tribal nation flags that were represented in 2016 and 2017, we also saw the Palestinian flag that was there, kind of hearkening back to that international solidarity with movements of the Global South, and specifically our Palestinian relatives, who, you know, today are still facing — much like us, are still facing the brunt and the brutality of settler colonialism, whether it’s, you know, the United States recognizing the annexation of the Golan Heights or whether it’s, you know, here in North America and the continued dispossession of Indigenous territory and rights. We can see that settler colonialism in Israel — or, in Palestine, is really an extension of settler colonialism in North America.

And so — and then I end, you know, with — back at the camps and looking at how these camps really provided — you know, I actually look at a physical map that was handed out to water protectors who came to the camp. And on that map there was, you know, where to find food, where to find the clinics — right? — and where to find the security, and all the camps that were represented at Standing Rock. And, to me, that provided, you know, a kind of interesting parallel to the world that surrounded the camps, which was 90 — you know, some 92 different law enforcement jurisdictions. You had the North Dakota National Guard, the world of cops, the world of the militarized sort of police state. And in the camps themselves you had sort of the primordial sort of beginnings of what a world premised on Indigenous justice might look like. And in that world, you know, everyone got free food. There was a place for everyone. You know, the housing, obviously, was transient housing and teepees and things like that, but then also there was health clinics to provide healthcare, alternative forms of healthcare, to everyone. And so, if we look at that, it’s housing, education — all for free, right? — a strong sense of community. And for a short time, there was free education at the camps, right? Those are things that most poor communities in the United States don’t have access to, and especially reservation communities.

But given the opportunity to create a new world in that camp, centered on Indigenous justice and treaty rights, society organized itself according to need and not to profit. And so, where there was, you know, the world of settlers, settler colonialism, that surrounded us, there was the world of Indigenous justice that existed for a brief moment in time. And in that world, instead of doing to settler society what they did to us — genociding, removing, excluding — there’s a capaciousness to Indigenous resistance movements that welcomes in non-Indigenous peoples into our struggle, because that’s our primary strength, is one of relationality, one of making kin, right?

AMY GOODMAN: Nick Estes, Indigenous scholar and activist, speaking in 2019. His books include Our History Is the Future. He’s co-founder of the Indigenous resistance group The Red Nation and a citizen of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe.

When we come back, Dr. Gabor Maté on The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness, and Healing in a Toxic Culture.

Categories: World News

Ticketmaster Has Driven Swifties Into the Anti-Monopoly Movement

Thu, 11/24/2022 - 08:31

The anti-monopoly movement is having a moment. Gone are the days of associating evil market dominance with Standard Oil or Carnegie Steel, Bill Gates’ petulance during deposition, or how it feels to desperately mortgage Marvin Gardens because you landed at the hotel on Park Place.

As now-Federal Trade Commission (FTC) chair Lina Khan asserted five years ago in her seminal work, “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox,” our government’s outdated enforcement standards “fail[ed] to register” monopolistic harm. Since then, millions more Americans have been awakened to the sinister power of monopolies in our economy – and the exciting political opportunities to rein them in.

Last week, legions of new anti-monopolists were born. They have enormous potential to change the game: shrewd social media skills, undying loyalty, and encyclopedic knowledge. They’re Taylor Swift’s superfans – and they just might be the reason that the government breaks up Ticketmaster.

The Swifties – as Swift’s stans are affectionately nicknamed – experienced the destructive power of the live event and ticketing monopoly firsthand. Hoping to procure pre-sale tickets to their favorite pop star’s upcoming tour, millions of fans waited in endless e-queues, only to be hit with sky-high ticket prices and exorbitant fees – if they were able to snag a ticket at all.

“Ticket prices may fluctuate, upon demand, at any time,” read an ominous warning on the Ticketmaster website. And they did: Due to their “dynamic pricing” system, which vaults ticket costs to a maximum market rate, fans reported buying tickets for thousands upon thousands of dollars, not including hefty fees, and prices spiked even higher on the secondary resale market. On StubHub, for example, ticket listings reached upwards of $95,000.

Finally, Ticketmaster threw in the towel and canceled subsequent presale windows. Their site crashed thousands of times. It was absolute mayhem – and fans had no other option but to endure it, the kind of undignified customer experience caused only by an unchecked monopoly.

Ultimately, the Swifties got results.

Hours after Taylor Swift released a statement, apologizing to the fans for the bungled presale and chastising Ticketmaster for incapably handling demand, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced it has launched an investigation of Live Nation Entertainment’s abuse of market power. While their work wasn’t prompted by Swift, reported David McCabe and Ben Sisario in the New York Times, Swifties’ wave of discontent was overwhelming enough to warrant the Department’s public disclosure. Immediately, the company bragging about a record-smashing 2022 (“benefitting” from “fee bearing tickets”) saw its stock plummet.

@yuriroho on TikTok@yuriroho on TikTok

How did we get here? When it comes to antitrust issues, the American government has essentially been asleep at the wheel, allowing Ticketmaster’s monopoly to crush its competition for over a decade.

As Chokepoint Capitalism author Cory Doctorow explained to More Perfect Union, Ticketmaster’s dominant control of the live show ticketing market had a natural customer in Live Nation’s concert promoting business, which managed an impressive portfolio of major artists and live music venues.

In 2010, the two entities merged into Live Nation Entertainment to suppress their rivalry – a process waved through by the Obama administration’s consolidation-friendly Department of Justice. The company was subject to a relatively weak consent decree, which asked the merged companies to not use their live venue dominance to expand their ticketing capacity. But it’s been easy to intimidate their naysayers and flout guidelines ever since.

Put simply, the merger created a monster, subordinating all parties in the live event life cycle from ticket acquisition to performance.

“Ticketmaster bullies venues into not working with their competitors,” concluded Doctorow. “They bully smaller artists by denying them management. They bully big artists by controlling their ticket prices and letting their fans down. And they bully their customers into paying exorbitant prices for tickets, not only by enabling resellers but by collecting massive fees on every ticket those resellers sell.”

Even Swift, an aspiring billionaire and private jet power-user, has no choice but to bend the knee to the ticketing monopoly, often an exclusive partner at her massive preferred venues.

NEW: Ticketmaster is destroying live music.

Their scam fees now cost as much as 78% of a ticket. They control the events, the venues, even the artists.

There’s a movement pushing the Justice Department to take on their monopoly. @Doctorow breaks it down. pic.twitter.com/Ai0AwuVJQX

— More Perfect Union (@MorePerfectUS) October 19, 2022

Greg Maffei, chairman of the monopoly’s parent group – and head of Liberty Media, a media conglomerate with Republican ties – blamed the service’s lag time on Taylor’s popularity. “Ticketmaster will twist any situation to protect its market power over live events,” noted the American Economic Liberties Project. (It’s time to mention that Maffei took home $47 million from Liberty Media in 2021, and is personally worth hundreds of millions like Swift herself.)

Soaring ticket prices are not entirely the artist’s fault for their popularity. Even as Taylor Swift’s music is of the money-printing, monocultural variety – incentivizing “dynamic pricing” to the highest degree – she’s still a worker, exploited by and beholden to an overarching system. As Live Nation and Ticketmaster can force artists to work with them and make a killing on their sale and resale fees, less popular or well resourced artists are uniquely harmed by the business model without other streams of income.

“Corporations are extracting the maximum capital from artists’ labor, and they’re not sharing it anymore,” said Doctorow.

Ticketmaster’s unsustainable market dominance has long been understood. Well before the Taylor Swift fiasco, a coalition of research organizations and artists collectives launched the Break Up Ticketmaster campaign – asking the DOJ to “investigate and unwind” the live events monopoly. The campaign quickly gained ground, generating tens of thousands of signatures on an advocacy letter.

Pro-breakup legislators also harnessed the news cycle, calling on the Department of Justice to investigate the abusive ticketing monopoly.

“Consumers deserve better than this anti-hero behavior,” tweeted Senator Richard Blumenthal, punning off a song from Swift’s latest album, Midnights.

And on MSNBC, Senate Antitrust Committee chair Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) promised a Senate hearing on Ticketmaster’s market power and insufficient consent decree in the coming year. She expressed political interest in “put[ting] the Taylor Swift fans right on antitrust,” as their ticketing experience was “a story of a monopoly gone wild.” Her bills with Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Mike Lee (R-UT) aim to facilitate antitrust enforcement with new filing, funding, and state empowerment rules.

State lawmakers, too, seized the opportunity to criticize consolidation. After all, Swifties are spread across the country and party lines. The Attorney General of Tennessee – home to the “angriest Swifties” – opened an investigation into Ticketmaster’s misconduct. And in New York, state Senator Mike Gianaris called attention to his 21st Century Anti-Trust Act, which would “hold [Ticketmaster] accountable for manipulating the ticket market to bleed concert-goers.”

For his part, President Biden recently directed his administration to “reduce or eliminate” junk fees like Ticketmasters’ infamous extra charges, which sometimes total up to 78 percent of the cost of a ticket. And he’s appointed a passel of pioneering antitrust enforcers – like New Brandeisian icon and FTC chair Lina Khan, DOJ Antitrust lead Jonathan Kanter, and former economic advisor Tim Wu – who are dedicated to bucking Robert Bork’s inert “consumer welfare standard,” overhauling the state’s merger guidelines, and appropriately disciplining monopolistic harm in the contemporary economy. Biden also signed a robust competition-oriented executive order in his first months in the Oval Office.

The President’s paradigm shift comes not a moment too soon. Monopolies aren’t just disfiguring our economy or our political processes. They are capable of stripping everything for parts – even our arts and culture, cornerstones of democratic society that should be unequivocally protected from the incursions of greedy corporations.

Swifties understand this. And they experience the villainy of monopolies across the board – through the high price of a tight seat on a plane home from college, in the improbability of a solid career in journalism, in their skyrocketing monthly rent, or in the marginalization of their small e-commerce business.

So, present day monopolists, steel yourselves and remember: When you provoke a superfan, they’ll come for you.

Categories: World News

The Violence Queer and Trans People Face Is State-Sanctioned

Thu, 11/24/2022 - 07:40
This story was originally published at Prism.

On Transgender Day of Remembrance, queer and trans communities were already in mourning. Many of us were marking the day by echoing the names of those who were taken from their kin, their friends, and their (chosen) families. We also woke up to mourn another atrocity — five people were killed, and another 18 were injured when a gunman opened fire inside an LGBTQIA+ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Club Q, the 20-year-old nightclub described by the owner and patrons as a haven of both joy and safety for LGBTQIA+ locals in the mostly-conservative Colorado Springs area, is now the site of yet another mass murder in the U.S. The shooting compounds the already-devastating harms committed against queer and trans folks across the nation. While the identities of the victims have yet to be confirmed, reports already state that before the authorities arrived, patrons of Club Q subdued the gunman, who has since been arrested and charged with five counts of bias-motivated crime.

The political environment that led up to this latest attack against LGBTQIA+ folks is yet another reminder that political rhetoric demonizing our communities has real and fatal consequences. Transphobic and homophobic violence is a fire stoked by the white supremacist, Christian-fascist right. Conservative forces are inciting violence against queer and trans communities through hate-filled speech; they threaten to legislate us out of existence and to erase us from schools, libraries, and all public spheres because our mere existence and visibility are direct threats to the ever-fragile white nationalist cis hetero patriarchy. Elected officials and their many foot soldiers use fear and hatred to maintain power here and across borders.

By June 2022, over 160 anti-LGBTQIA+ bills were introduced in state legislatures across the U.S., but it doesn’t end there. Politicians like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis also stoke and incite violence against LGBTQIA+ people, focusing specifically on queer and trans children and their families. This is the kind of state-sanctioned violence that emboldens civilians to walk into our safe spaces with a rifle and kill our kin. The same hatred invites far-right movements and groups to attack drag queen story hour at bookstores and libraries, and threaten hospitals that provide gender-affirming care. The violence is relentless, and our grief compounds before we’ve even had the time to heal from our other losses.

But how do we combat the current systems that enable these murders? Ending state-sanctioned violence and the criminalization of queer and trans folks requires the safety and protection of our most vulnerable through police and prison abolition. Protecting and ensuring bodily autonomy, safety, and access to reproductive care and justice requires more than lukewarm promises around election seasons. The freedom to survive and thrive requires the dismantling of the white supremacist cis-hetero patriarchy and its insidious and oppressive structures, and they require action. While we mourn, we must also lend our support to those who lost their kin.

There are funds available to provide support; here are a few that have been verified:

Because our existence is endlessly politicized, targeted by state forces, and legislated against, the murders of our kin are inherently political. Those who no longer want us to exist are counting on our anguish to subdue us, but justice demands that our grief, our sadness, and our righteous anger fuel us to organize, commune, and fight for the living.

Prism is an independent and nonprofit newsroom led by journalists of color. We report from the ground up and at the intersections of injustice.

Categories: World News

We Are Running Out of Time to Use Failing Strategies Against the Climate Crisis

Thu, 11/24/2022 - 06:25

Scientists, politicians and oil companies have been aware of the connection between fossil fuel production, ecocide and climate crisis for more than 70 years. Yet, in 2021, the world broke a record for carbon dioxide emissions.

If the systems created by the wealthy could meaningfully address the crisis, they would have by now. Many of us feel immobilized, increasingly cognizant of this grim reality, but are unsure of where else to channel our energy. In his new book, The Solutions are Already Here: Strategies for Ecological Revolution From Below, Peter Gelderloos offers a robust critique of governmental and market solutions claiming to address ecocide and contrasts them with a litany of examples of bottom-up solutions that have actually managed to slow the necropolitical gears making life on this planet uninhabitable. He encourages people who care for the environment to imagine and create their own dynamic, contextualized ecosystems of revolt, outside of electoral channels and situated within their territories.

Gelderloos is also honest about the obstacles that horizontal, insurgent movements so often face, from political repression to co-optation to power grabs to interpersonal strife. “This is still a battle that pits David Against Goliath,” he writes, “and if we were to approach this ecological crisis as though it were a wager in a casino — as the economists do, for example — then our money would be more wisely placed backing the forces of the apocalypse.” But, he adds, “this motley network of underdogs is our best hope.” In this interview, Gelderloos discusses his critiques of the Green New Deal, the connection between colonialism and ecocide, and the importance of concepts like autonomy and solidarity for informing our struggles for a better world.

Ella Fassler: In your book, you argue colonialism and states, not “human activity,” are the root causes of the climate crisis. Can you break that down for us? What’s the connection between hierarchy and climate crisis?

Peter Gelderloos: Humans have been around for 300,000 years. Human groups have had a learning process adapting to new habitats as we’ve moved around the globe, but if destroying the environment were an innate consequence of human society, we never would have survived as a species. Pinning the blame on agriculture is also simplistic, given the huge diversity of ways human societies have found to feed themselves and also exist as a responsible part of their local ecosystems.

There is, however, one configuration of human society that, in every instance we know of, has caused their local ecosystems to collapse, usually in the form of deforestation and soil depletion. That configuration is the state, or hierarchies that are very far along the continuum toward becoming states. By their very nature, states are exploitative, war-making institutions that view their subjects — human and nonhuman alike — as resources to be dominated.

By their very nature, states are exploitative, war-making institutions that view their subjects — human and nonhuman alike — as resources to be dominated.

The states that certain popular authors have named as examples of supposedly ecological states tend to practice something like feudalism, which is actually a dual power system in which autonomous commoners (and not state administrations) are in charge of most interactions with the rest of the ecosystem.

As for an ecological collapse on a planetary scale, that only ever became conceivable when the state institutions developed in Europe were forcibly imposed on the rest of the world through colonialism. That was not a voluntary process. And it needs to be viewed as an ongoing process because all of us, everywhere around the world, are still forced to live our lives in the confines defined by capitalist institutions and state structures developed by those colonial powers and their heirs like the U.S.

You explain that policy solutions like the Green New Deal require an increase in deficit spending, which doesn’t lead to economic collapse so long as governments service interest payments. But governments can only service these payments if their economies and GDPs keep growing, which is impossible on, and destructive to, a planet with finite resources, an argument I had never explicitly considered. Why else are top-down solutions like the Green New Deal, even those that center racial and economic justice, wholly inadequate — and as you put it, unrealistic, for addressing the climate crisis?

The Green New Deal is great for capitalism. It is a proposal designed to save capitalism from its own excesses, from the crisis that capitalism has created. In that way it is very similar to its namesake, FDR’s New Deal, which was implemented not to save the working class from capitalism but to save capitalism from the revolutionary movements of a discontented working class.

The Green New Deal ensures new growth for capitalism at a time when capitalism has been floundering for decades to create real growth. It encourages highly destructive mining projects and massive energy infrastructure so that the wealthy can get even wealthier off of electric cars and other false solutions, while Indigenous lands are being stolen in one of the largest land grabs since Columbus for industrial wind parks, lithium mines, copper mines, and other extractive projects.

The Green New Deal encourages highly destructive mining projects and massive energy infrastructure.

The Green New Deal is the best hope for the survival of capitalism, not for the survival of the planet.

If the Green New Deal isn’t our magic bullet, what are some general solutions and one or two particular movements that give you hope and inspire you?

There’s this anxiety for creating a unified plan to solve this whole problem for the entire planet/society/economy. But that’s the exact kind of thinking that got us into this mess, and anyone who has experienced bureaucracy knows that the people at the top with the plans are the ones with the least idea of what’s actually happening on the ground.

In fact, real intelligence is decentralized, localized, contextual. Liberated communities, liberated ecosystems will know better than anyone else what they need to adapt and heal. Liberated communities networking can share knowledge and resources on a planetary scale. This is already happening, but the NGOs and experts ignore it while governments are busy calling it “terrorism” and trying to stamp it out.

From Standing Rock to the movement to save the Atlanta Forest to the ZAD (Zone à Défendre, or Zone to Defend) in France, struggles against wind farms in Oaxaca and against the petroleum industry in the Niger Delta, these movements are already powerful, they’re already global, they’re already learning from each other. They just need more support, and they need people to stop lending their attention, their credulity, their resources, and their patience to the institutions responsible for ecocide or for making a buck peddling false solutions to it.

There seems to be a bit of a contradiction between being opposed to “converting” people to a particular way of thinking, while also recognizing that many of our revolutionary horizons aren’t realized because repressive mechanisms are able to turn the public and perhaps some well-intentioned organizers against the most “radical” elements of a movement. How do you grapple with this contradiction?

Autonomy and solidarity are useful concepts, because they mean everyone gets to define their own needs, everyone gets to define their own struggle for freedom and a dignified survival, as long as they don’t make freedom or survival impossible for someone else. If you come from a different tradition of struggle or if you put more weight on linguistic freedom or on certain organizational methods or on the food culture your people have practiced in that territory for thousands of years, that’s okay. But if your version of freedom requires Venezuela and Nigeria to be smothered by a petroleum economy, I’m sorry, you’re not a part of our family.

Anyone who has experienced bureaucracy knows that the people at the top with the plans are the ones with the least idea of what’s actually happening on the ground.

These are very sensible ideas that clearly elucidate the best possible way for an entire world of very different communities to get along. People can usually understand this concept and support it as a shared framework really quickly. Until they realize it means states are not compatible with this best possible world. Until they realize it means their political party doesn’t get to draft a blueprint for the entire species, and by extension the rest of the natural world.

And historically, when push comes to shove, the left has always chosen blueprints over solidarity. They say it’s pragmatic. Well, in the last 50 years, the amount of conservation area managed by pragmatic NGOs and pragmatic government programs has increased 500 percent, yet in the same time, animal populations have plummeted by 70 percent.

As I document in my book, police agencies and corporate security consultants are charged with surveilling and disrupting movements to save the planet, specifically identifying pragmatic activists and organizations as the most naïve, the easiest to manipulate, and therefore a key point to pressure in order to divide the movement. So maybe it’s high time we stopped listening to pragmatists?

Some readers may not be ideologically or ethically opposed to lawbreaking or direct action in the face of the climate crisis, but feel like they aren’t in a place where they can risk jail time or criminal charges. What advice would you give them?

It is so important to break with this frontline mentality that only certain ways of participating in struggle are valuable or worthy of being celebrated. Every bit as much as we need people who face off with cops or sabotage the megaprojects and economic systems killing us, we need people bringing real practices of transformative justice to our communities and movements. We need movement historians helping us remember where we came from so we don’t have to start from scratch every 10 years. We need people supporting those who are in prison, people who are depressed, people with health problems. We need gardeners. We need healers. We need people who can build and repair the machines we actually need for a dignified survival.

Categories: World News

Thanksgiving Can Never Be Redeemed From Its Colonial Past. Let’s Abolish It.

Thu, 11/24/2022 - 06:22

Decolonization — the act of rejecting colonial oppression — requires the abolition of that which is harmful. Decolonization is not reform nor recuperation. It involves concrete material actions, such as rematriation of lands and getting rid of oppressive colonial structures and creating something else from (or despite) the ashes of what needs to be destroyed for Indigenous, Black, Brown, queer, disabled, and all “othered” life to regenerate.

Ashes are complicated. Depending on what was burned and how, ashes can be sacred, healing, clarifying and protecting. Fire is a strong part of many Indigenous cultures and land relations. Fire can be care and responsibility. Some ashes can act as fertilizers, while others are toxic and deadly. The life-threatening impacts of burning toxins reminds us that some things, such as fossil fuels, should have been left in the ground or never been used in the first place. The possibility of regeneration from the ashes really depends upon the character and quality of what was burned. This is a caution that reforms and repurposes can continue to emit the same toxicity they seek to address.

Given the genocidal origins of Thanksgiving, it is common for Indigenous folks to refer to it as “Thanks-Taking” or “No Thanks Day,” and many of us feel that the only way to decolonize this holiday is to abolish it.

Thanksgiving is based on a collage of colonial origin stories, religious mythology, regional approaches, commercial marketing and family traditions. The mosaic nature of its formation in our social worlds and interpersonal lives makes it a difficult thing to define and taboo to criticize. People tend to take critiques of the historical and legal facts of the holiday personally, even if no personal attack occurs.

Over the last few decades, the commercial sphere has moved away from overtly racist representations of the holiday — such as fake Indian head dresses, paper Indian decorations and offensive caricatures of Indigenous peoples.

These things have been replaced by cultural and ecological appropriations of Indigenous foods, spirituality and Indigenous life-ways that serve to link settlers to the lands they occupy. The holiday has been commercially and spiritually recuperated into a sanitized focus on community, family, nature and gratitude exemplified by cute little pumpkins and cornucopia baskets reminding us to be “grateful” in an attempt to unmoor the holiday from its colonial past.

This spiritual and ecological appropriation leaves no room for Indigenous critique or provocations such as refusal, abolition and decolonization. It also silences critiques of the capitalist exploitation that intensifies on this holiday, as essential and service workers are excluded from time off and brutalized by the consumerism of Black Friday, while being told not to organize because they won’t get others’ support for workers’ rights demands that would “ruin” a middle-class holiday.

Thanksgiving is horror because it is an awkward real-life representation of the unrepresentable: that settlers are glad — in fact, grateful — that Indigenous peoples are dead.

The sanitization of the holiday also suppresses critiques from Indigenous peoples who are shamed for expressing rage and horror about repackaged versions of Thanksgiving and cast as “Debbie Downers” raining on a holiday that most claim isn’t about our oppression anymore, but is instead supposed to be about concepts dear to Indigenous spiritualities, such as community, traditional foods and gratitude.

Thanksgiving Is Inextricable From the Grammar of Colonial Violence

Surviving the genocide of colonial conquest is the common grammar shared across many Indigenous, Black and Brown communities, and an annual scene revealing these structures of feeling is the Thanksgiving dinner table.

Grammar is the structural constraints of what can be written or said, the laws of what can be expressed and how. Cultures create grammars of obvious and hidden rules about what can be talked about and how, defining what is acceptable and what is considered rude or ridiculous. How people negotiate national holidays — these annual occasions on which many (but not all) people are given time off from work — reveals the grammar behind the social fabric that a nation tries to weave.

Thanksgiving is woven explicitly with the grammar of colonialism and genocide, even if most of us want to avoid that historical design of the holiday. Sitting in that feeling of avoidance raises the question of whether it’s possible to decolonize Thanksgiving.

The social media discourse on Thanksgiving is very narrow in scope. Today some will share exposés of the disturbing historical and legal origins of the holiday, which was nationalized by Abraham Lincoln to unite forces fighting over slavery during the Civil War at the same time he was leading a war against the Sioux peoples. Some will share strategies for dealing with or holding boundaries against being forced to sit at a table with toxic relatives and in-laws. Some will share entertainment guides for sports and gangster movie marathons, while others share suggestions for recuperation of the holiday by disassociating it from its gruesome roots. Others will urge each other to resist consumerism by giving back, or engaging in acts of charity or solidarity. And some will share reminders that many Indigenous people do not celebrate the holiday and, in fact, find it offensive. Alternative activities for Indigenous peoples include National Day of Mourning vigils, intertribal gatherings, resistance ceremonies, and just being home with loved ones and elders for a day because many have the day off from work. But there is very little space to question whether we should be engaging the horror of this holiday at all.

Your Gratitude Is Terrorizing

Horror movies that use the trope of the vengeful Indigenous dead have long asked if this country’s colonial legacy has built nothing more than a haunted house waiting to explode. But the genre also offers us more nuanced lenses to question the world around us.

Thanksgiving makes the contextual anxiety of colonial and racial terror visible via never-ending, inescapable microaggressions and gaslighting.

The threat of sudden catastrophe is terrifying, but nothing is more horrific than everyday, bucolic terror. The terror that you cannot name because it is so common, so mundane, so uneventful. The genre of found-footage horror, exemplified by films like The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield, excels in the mixture of documentary reality articulated to creative narratives that blur the lines between fact and fiction, giving us the sense of witnessing and becoming part of a true story. Good horror works the mind over till we question and fear the darkness around us. Dystopian science fiction and fantasy functions in a similar way, showing us the horror of a world that we are already in or heading toward.

Thanksgiving marks a moment of horror-film-made-reality when genocide’s afterlife manifests through disquieting scenes of everyday habits and interactions. For the victims of settler colonialism and enslavement, the normalization of celebrating genocide masks a profound terror lurking underneath the joyously grateful exterior promoted by mainstream society.

The feeling of terror separates one from their surroundings; it moves you out of an imagined reality and into a place where what is real is not what it seems. Horror is an othering experience.

In a society founded upon genocide and slavery, where much of the structure of violent racism, heteropatriarchy and environmental extraction has not shifted, everyday real life is terror for many Black, Indigenous and Brown people. Holidays such as Thanksgiving or Columbus Day, where colonial conquest formed by slavery and genocide are overtly celebrated, are moments that reveal this often invisibilized experience of unease and lack of safety.

Thanksgiving is horror because it is an awkward real-life representation of the unrepresentable: that settlers are glad — in fact, grateful — that Indigenous peoples are dead. It is reinforced by the real-life terror of racist police brutality, the epidemic of murdered and missing Indigenous women and Two-Spirit relatives, and violence against Black lives, migrant children stolen and locked in cages, and the existential fear many Black, Indigenous, and people of color feel on a daily basis for doing things as basic as eating a hamburger or going to Walmart.

It is impossible to escape the feelings of ultimate dread the holiday creates as it normalizes settler gratitude. Horror is the mode of thinking and feeling through fear, anxiety, shock, disgust and trauma. The genre of horror is popular in part because it’s a space where the connections between heart, mind and body are often most clear — we can feel how fear and dread viscerally change our physiology, how we think and feel through our bodies when a cold chill runs through our spine, our hairs stand on end, our pulse races and the pit of our stomach drops. Horror also attunes us to our intuition and sixth senses, to what we know and feel but have been gaslit for insisting is real.

For a lot of Indigenous, Black and Brown folks, Thanksgiving makes the contextual anxiety of colonial and racial terror visible via never-ending, inescapable microaggressions and gaslighting. Thanksgiving, especially as it becomes more and more centered on tropes of gratitude that silence dissent, is a unique form of cultural horror that feels like walking through a Jordan Peele movie every year and functions to silence justified rage and radical possibilities in multiple ways.

Thanksgiving is loaded with assumptions of settler innocence that works to absolve colonial society from both historical responsibility and accountability for prevention of future genocide. The deeply emotional and personalized reaction some people have against critiquing the holiday is a manifestation of how the trope of settler innocence has been internalized. For those of us who question celebrating genocide, there is a constant dread of that awkward and cringing moment when someone will respond that “they don’t really get into the whole pilgrim and Indian thing,” or “our holiday is not really about that,” and gaslight us while ignoring that there is a very clear reason why the government and your job give you two days off in November, because this is neither a national shopping day nor a national park hiking day. It is Thanksgiving, and that does have historical significance.

It doesn’t matter that your own Thanksgiving actions are focused on something else — football, shopping, watching Godfather marathons, hiking, thanking your friends and family, praying over food, trying to connect with land, getting drunk and eating pie, etc.

By doing anything at all that could be co-opted into the larger framework of Thanksgiving on the dates set aside by state and capital to do so, we end up unfortunately participating in it.

The terrorizing tension between gratitude, togetherness and historical death bound together through the framing of this holiday reminds us of how the horrors of our historical past were legalized, accepted and legitimized by people who were probably considered to be very nice, normal and spiritual by their friends and families. By doing anything at all that could be co-opted into the larger framework of Thanksgiving on the dates set aside by state and capital to do so, we end up unfortunately participating in it.

All of us, regardless of background, should be horrified by genocide, as much as we would be of other facts that we don’t shut down discourse on through self-indulgent projections of innocence, like the world being round despite the fact that some insist is not so. We should all be enraged.

The need for collective rest is critical, and we should demand more time off from work to be together. But let’s also reject celebrating genocide or conflating our rare access to collective down time with racist histories. No task, no recipe for solidarity or action could absolve genocide. It is unforgivable. There is just the need to sit with the uncomfortable and awful, and the resolve to end it rather than perpetuate it. Sometimes we need to remind each other not to sit down at a table built to harm us or walk into the dark cellar alone. Take a lesson from the movies, and fight back against the zombie apocalypse. Abolish racist and violent things. Refuse Thanksgiving.

Categories: World News

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