Trump administration decision forces Haitian families to confront an uncertain future in the US

from November 22, 2017 at 12:33PM
President Donald Trump’s decision to end temporary protections for Haitian immigrants shocked recipients, many of whom are now faced with returning to a country they haven’t seen in years.

Read more at: Latest from The World and the GlobalPost

Facebook (Still) Letting Housing Advertisers Exclude Users by Race

from November 21, 2017 at 10:44AM

In February, Facebook said it would step up enforcement of its prohibition against discrimination in advertising for housing, employment or credit.

But our tests showed a significant lapse in the company’s monitoring of the rental market.

Last week, ProPublica bought dozens of rental housing ads on Facebook, but asked that they not be shown to certain categories of users, such as African Americans, mothers of high school kids, people interested in wheelchair ramps, Jews, expats from Argentina and Spanish speakers.

All of these groups are protected under the federal Fair Housing Act, which makes it illegal to publish any advertisement “with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.” Violators can face tens of thousands of dollars in fines.

Every single ad was approved within minutes.

The only ad that took longer than three minutes to be approved by Facebook sought to exclude potential renters “interested in Islam, Sunni Islam and Shia Islam.” It was approved after 22 minutes.

Under its own policies, Facebook should have flagged these ads, and prevented the posting of some of them. Its failure to do so revives questions about whether the company is in compliance with federal fair housing rules, as well as about its ability and commitment to police discriminatory advertising on the world’s largest social network.

Facebook’s advertising portal lets users choose their audiences based on specific traits, demographics and behavior profiles. Our ad for an apartment rental excluded African Americans, Asian Americans and Spanish-speaking Hispanic audiences. It was approved in under a minute.

Housing, employment and credit are the three areas in which federal law prohibits discriminatory ads. However, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — the agency responsible for enforcing fair housing laws — told us that it has closed an inquiry into Facebook’s advertising policies, reducing pressure on the company to address the issue. In a 2015 newspaper column, Ben Carson, now HUD secretary, criticized “government-engineered attempts to legislate racial equality” in housing.

Facebook’s failure to police discriminatory rental ads flies in the face of its promises in February that it would no longer approve ads for housing, employment or credit that targeted racial categories. For advertising aimed at audiences not selected by race, Facebook said it would require housing, employment and credit advertisers to “self-certify” that their ads were compliant with anti-discrimination laws.

Based on Facebook’s announcement, the ads purchased by ProPublica that were aimed at racial categories should have been rejected. The others should have prompted a screen to pop up asking for self-certification. We never encountered a self-certification screen, and none of our ads were rejected by Facebook.

“This was a failure in our enforcement and we’re disappointed that we fell short of our commitments,” Ami Vora, vice president of product management at Facebook, said in an emailed statement. “The rental housing ads purchased by ProPublica should have but did not trigger the extra review and certifications we put in place due to a technical failure.”

Vora added that Facebook’s anti-discrimination system had “successfully flagged millions of ads” in the credit, employment and housing categories and that Facebook will now begin requiring self-certification for ads in all categories that choose to exclude an audience segment. “Our systems continue to improve but we can do better,” Vora said.

About 37 percent of U.S. households rented in 2016, representing a 50-year high, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. On average, renters earn about half as much as homeowners, and the percentage of families with children that rent rather than buy has increased sharply in the past decade, the study said. Minority renters have long faced pervasive housing discrimination. A 2013 study by HUD found that real estate agents show more units to whites than to African Americans, Asians and Latinos.

Facebook has long been a popular destination for rental listings, on pages hosted by real estate brokers, property owners and building managers. Earlier this month, Facebook announced that it had added two large providers of rental listings to its Facebook Marketplace service. “Marketplace is a popular place for people to look for a home to rent,” Facebook product manager Bowen Pan said in a press release.

Facebook warns rental advertisers in its Marketplace section that “listings that discriminate against a protected class can be reported and will be removed from Facebook.”

Facebook’s anti-discrimination initiative was prompted by an article published last year by ProPublica. For that story, we bought a Facebook ad targeting house hunters. We were able to use Facebook’s features to block the ad from being shown to anyone with an “affinity” for African American, Asian American or Hispanic people. Our ability to narrow the audience based on race raised the question of whether such ads violated the Fair Housing Act.

After ProPublica’s article appeared in the fall of 2016, HUD, then under the Obama administration, began examining Facebook’s practices. Facebook then said it would build an automated system to spot ads that discriminate illegally. “We take these issues seriously,” Facebook Vice President Erin Egan wrote in a blog post. “Discriminatory advertising has no place on Facebook.”

In February, Facebook announced it had built its system and was rolling it out. The press lauded the announcement: “Facebook cracks down on ads that discriminate” was the Washington Post’s headline.

Facebook has been under fire for other aspects of its automated ad buying system as well. Two months ago, the company disclosed that it had discovered $100,000 worth of divisive political ads placed by “inauthentic” Russian accounts. And in September, ProPublica reported that Facebook’s ad targeting system allowed buyers to reach people who identified themselves as “Jew haters” and other anti-Semitic categories. Facebook pledged to remove the offending categories and to hire thousands more employees to enforce its ad policies.

“We’re adding additional layers of review where people use potentially sensitive categories for targeting,” Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch said during Senate testimony earlier this month.

After Stretch’s public statement, we wondered whether the ability to buy discriminatory housing ads had really been addressed. So we set out to buy an advertisement with the exact same targeting parameters as the ad we bought last year. The ad promoted a fictional apartment for rent and was targeted at people living in New York, ages 18–65, who were house hunting and likely to move. We asked Facebook not to show the ad to people categorized under the “multicultural affinity” of Hispanic, African American or Asian American.

(ProPublica generally forbids impersonation in news gathering. We felt in this instance that the public interest in Facebook’s ad system justified the brief posting of a fake ad for non-existent housing. We deleted each ad as soon as it was approved.)

The only changes from last year that we could identify in Facebook’s ad buying system was that the category called “Ethnic Affinity” had been renamed “Multicultural Affinity” and was no longer part of “Demographics.” It is now designated as part of “Behaviors.”

Our ad was approved within minutes.

Left: A screenshot of ad targeting categories ProPublica submitted and Facebook approved in 2016. Right: Categories ProPublica submitted and were approved in 2017, raising questions about what the social network has done to police discriminatory ads.

Then we decided to test whether we could purchase housing ads that discriminated against other protected categories of people under the Fair Housing Act.

We placed ads that sought to exclude members of as many of the protected categories as we could find in Facebook’s self-service advertising portal. In addition to those mentioned above, we bought ads that were blocked from being shown to “soccer moms,” people interested in American sign language, gay men and Christians.

We also tested whether it was possible to use geography as a way to target racial groups — a practice known as redlining. We bought a housing ad that targeted ZIP codes in Brooklyn whose residents are more than 50 percent non-Hispanic white people, according to the U.S. Census bureau. By definition, that meant the ad was not shown to Facebook users living in Brooklyn neighborhoods where minorities are a majority of the residents.

Facebook drew blue lines around our target neighborhoods and told us our “audience selection is great!” It approved the ad.

Read more at: ProPublica: Articles and Investigations

Roy Moore Proves the Moral Bankruptcy of the Religious Right

from November 15, 2017 at 07:29AM

(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Roy Moore speaks at a revival on November 14, 2017, in Jackson, Alabama.

He is a judge who was suspended from his position as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court for failing to uphold the Constitution of the United States. But that wasn’t enough to keep Roy Moore from winning the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. If anything, it was Moore’s defiance in the face of a federal court decision mandating that government officials issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples that won him the love of the Alabamians who turned out to vote for him.

Or maybe it was that time in 2003 when Moore lost his seat on the court for refusing to remove a 2.6-ton monument of the Ten Commandments from the courthouse—a monument whose placement Moore had overseen. Take that, First Amendment!

It’s been these kind of antics that have won Moore the admiration of self-described Christians on the right side of the political spectrum. And while the Ten Commandments forbid the coveting of one’s neighbor’s wife, they say nothing of the neighbor’s daughter. So while Republican leaders and elected officials slowly assemble in opposition to Moore’s candidacy in the December 12 special election, significant and politically active right-wing evangelical Christian leaders have either maintained silence or defended Moore in the wake of allegations that he assaulted two teenage girls when he was in his 30s, and pursued “relationships” with an additional three teenagers.

At the Values Voter Summit hosted last month by FRC Action, the political arm of the Family Research Council, Moore was presented as a star to a conference audience of right-wing Christian political activists, who cheered him with gusto. There he delivered a largely incoherent speech complaining of how America had lost its way. During a luncheon address to a smaller group earlier in the day, Moore called for the impeachment of the justices on the U.S. Supreme Court who wrote the majority opinion that legalized same-sex marriage, according to a report by Peter Montgomery of Right Wing Watch. In fact, Moore believes that sexual relations between consenting adults of the same sex should be illegal, according to Montgomery. But sexual relations between an adult man and a teenage girl, whether she’s reached the age of consent or not, well that’s apparently the way God intended things to be.

Although Moore denies the allegations made by five women over the last several days that he sought dates or sex from them when they were teenagers and he was a thirtysomething district attorney, in an interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News, Moore did not flat-out deny that he sought to date teenagers during that time in his life. He simply said that he “generally” didn’t seek such relationships. Now, even Hannity has revoked his support for Moore.

Yet not a peep has been heard from Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. Not a word about Moore appears in recent posts on either the Family Research Council or FRC Action websites, the latter of which still shows a press release announcing FRC Action’s endorsement of Moore. “These are challenging times and our nation is looking for bold leadership,” reads a quote from Perkins in the release. FRC Action PAC Vice President Jerry Boykin adds, “Judge Roy Moore has been a fearless champion of conservative values and a great friend to the Family Research Council. It is a true privilege to endorse him for the U.S. Senate. I have no doubt that Judge Moore will follow his conscience and not be swayed by political correctness or political expediency.”

On November 13, American Family Association official Sandy Rios defended Moore. Speaking on her radio program, Rios said, according to Right Wing Watch, “Honestly, do you think there’s a person alive on the planet—certainly, I’ll limit it a little bit, I will say any man listening to my voice—that doesn’t have something in his past, in his box of secrets, that he’s ashamed of sexually?” Rios asked. “Especially, let’s just say, beginning in the ’60s.”

And The Washington Post reports that in Alabama, state-level Republican officials are sticking with Moore, regardless of the call by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for Moore to exit the Senate race. Failing that, McConnell predicted that Moore would be expelled from the Senate if seated, a move that would require a two-thirds vote of the body.

The Moore candidacy for Senate never was McConnell’s idea of a good move; in the primary, McConnell, like President Donald J. Trump, endorsed the incumbent Senator Luther Strange, who was appointed to the post when Sessions vacated his seat to join the Trump administration. But Stephen K. Bannon, the former Trump campaign CEO and White House strategist who now leads Breitbart News, saw the Moore candidacy as a tool in his proxy war against McConnell, whose Senate leadership Bannon told The New York Times he’d like to end. It’s all part of Bannon’s grand plan to wed Breitbart’s alt-right fan base to the religious right, according to reporter Sarah Posner, for maximum political effect.

If there were any doubt that religious-right leaders such as Perkins and Rios are more about the politics than Christian love, their respective silence on or defense of Moore lays that doubt to rest.

As Moore himself told the Values Voter Summit audience in a verse he penned himself, “You think that God’s not angry that our land’s a moral slum? How much longer will it be before his judgment comes?” 

Read more at: The American Prospect

Nebraska Approves Keystone XL Pipeline, But Fight Continues

from November 21, 2017 at 02:04AM

(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline demonstrate during rush hour in Omaha, Nebraska, on November 1, 2017.

On Monday, the Nebraska Public Service Commission voted to approve construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, thereby clearing the project’s last regulatory hurdle. The decision comes just days after an existing segment of the Keystone pipeline leaked 210,000 gallons of oil in Marshall County, South Dakota. Although former President Obama shelved Keystone XL following a massive public outcry in November 2015, President Trump has since revived it, throwing a critical environmental victory into serious doubt.

But even as state regulators green-light the pipeline, Keystone’s future remains far from certain. In approving the project, the commission altered its route to avoid Nebraska’s vulnerable Sandhills region. The decision could set TransCanada’s plans back months, or even years, as it must now secure easements with a new set of Nebraska landowners.

The company also faces a tough legal challenge in federal court. Within days of the pipeline’s federal approval in March, a half dozen environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council, sued the administration in federal court.

The groups allege that Trump’s decision violates federal law by relying on outdated environmental data and by arbitrarily rejecting a years-long decision-making process launched by the Obama administration. The lawsuits are likely to delay construction until the second half of 2019 at the earliest.

“These guys are playing fast and loose with our regulatory process,” Jamie Henn, a co-founder of the climate-action group, told me last month when I spoke to him about Keystone’s approval process. “It won’t hold up in court.”

The plaintiffs’ case appears strong. While Trump approved Keystone’s federal permit in March and handed off the final decision to regulators in Nebraska, the president’s order suffers from the administration’s typical regulatory sloppiness.

The approval relies on an environmental review that the Obama administration conducted nearly four years ago. At the time, regulators assumed that the pipeline would have little impact on carbon emissions, since high oil prices would lead to the speedy development of sources like Alberta’s tar sands. As long as oil prices stay above $75 a barrel, the State Department estimated, Keystone’s climate impacts would be minimal.

But prices haven’t been above $75 per barrel since 2014, meaning the climate impacts of Keystone’s 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil will likely be much greater. Prices have been so low that market analysts have begun to doubt whether TransCanada could even break even on the project, or whether tar sands production could actually still yield a profit. Even after winning federal approval this year, TransCanada executives told investors that dwindling demand puts put the project’s funding in serious jeopardy.

Trump’s reliance on the 2014 review also fails to consider significant new research on the environmental and health risks posed by projects like Keystone. Last year, the National Academy of Sciences concluded that the type of tar sands oil that Keystone pumps could make pipeline spills more dangerous, a reversal of an earlier finding. And a State Department report published earlier this year found that pipelines operating at lower capacity could make leaks more likely—meaning TransCanada’s difficulties finding buyers could make the project even more dangerous.  

Those risks were on full display last week, as TransCanada workers struggled to contain a 5,000-barrel tar sands leak in nearby South Dakota. Although the company says it has isolated the spill, environmental advocates argue that the incident illustrates that profound risks remain as the United States continues to expand its pipeline network. In 2010, a similar leak outside Marshall, Michigan, left drinking water sources contaminated for more than five years. Nationwide, pipeline accidents have increased by 60 percent since 2009.

For TransCanada, the road to Monday’s approval has been long and arduous. The company first proposed the pipeline nearly a decade ago, but massive public opposition has repeatedly derailed the project’s construction. An unprecedented five million Americans submitted comments during four public comment periods from 2012 to 2014, with the last coming in 2017. The vast majority of people who responded opposed construction.

Groups like organized grassroots opponents, who have turned out at more than 750 protests across the country since 2011. One such protest, a 2011 sit-in at the White House, represented one of the largest acts of civil disobedience in the United States in decades. “Keystone became a symbol of the types of choices that we were going to make,” said Henn.

By November 2015, the opposition to the project had become so fierce both inside and outside Washington that TransCanada abruptly suspended its federal permit application, fueling speculation that the company intended to wait for a Republican administration to review the project. Days later, the Obama administration officially rejected the permit. Obama declared, “America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change,” adding, “We’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground.”

Since Trump’s approval threw the final decision back to Nebraska, local opposition has become far more heated. In the weeks leading up to Monday’s vote, Bold Nebraska, a coalition of landowners, tribal leaders, and climate activists, ramped up canvassing efforts throughout the state. They targeted districts represented by the state public service commission’s five representatives, and also focused on TransCanada’s controversial use of eminent domain to secure land along the pipeline route. Unlike the State Department, the Nebraska PSC was barred by state law from considering a project’s environmental impacts.

But now as the state’s decision threatens to undo one of the most important environmental victories in recent memory, advocates vow to press on. “By pushing Keystone XL onto a new route, the commission all but guaranteed more delays and hurdles for TransCanada to work through,” said Executive Director May Boeve in a statement Monday. “This fight is far from over.”  

Read more at: The American Prospect

Undocumented Communities Devastated By Calif. Wildfires Are Now Being Left Out of Federal Relief

from November 14, 2017 at 11:46AM

Grassroots fundraising efforts aim to prevent undocumented immigrants from slipping through the cracks.

Deprived of these services as a result of their citizenship status, undocumented immigrants are rendered vulnerable to extreme, protracted scarcity.

Since early October, fires in Northern California have ravaged tens of thousands of acres of land. While now contained, the infernos have introduced a number of grave repercussions, compromising access to food, water, housing and jobs.

The ruination has impacted countless residents, but the Bay Area’s undocumented population suffers uniquely dire consequences.

At the time of the fires, the region’s Napa County was home to approximately 15,500 undocumented immigrants. Roughly 28,000 undocumented immigrants live in the neighboring county of Sonoma, another area profoundly impacted by the wreckage.

These numbers, however, may soon be in flux. Aggravating the losses they’ve brooked, undocumented communities in Northern California are debarred from some of the most crucial forms of federal aid in the wake of disaster, including that from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and disaster unemployment assistance.

Depending on a number of factors, FEMA-eligible survivors may be entitled to assistance with obtaining and financing various necessities—such as employment, housing, food and medical care. Similarly, disaster unemployment assistance, while limited and often insufficient, mitigates the financial aftermath of job loss for those who qualify. Deprived of these services as a result of their citizenship status, undocumented immigrants are rendered vulnerable to extreme, protracted scarcity.

Ineligible for government aid, undocumented Sonoma County resident Agustín Aguilera approached a credit union relief fund and the Red Cross for financial assistance shortly after losing his home, car and belongings. At the time of the interview, Aguilera hadn’t yet received approval from the credit union, and the Red Cross was providing housing assistance but not funds, he said. (The Red Cross told In These Times that, while it offered aid with food, shelter, and other needs beginning October 8, it didn’t provide funding for survivors until approximately October 21.) In the meantime, Aguilera and his family have primarily relied on the largesse of their community, receiving emotional and material support from friends whose homes have remained intact.

“The only support I’ve been having right now is [from] some of my friends,” Aguilera told In These Times. “They have been able to help us out with clothing and some food and a little bit of everything. That’s the only support that we’ve been getting.”

To address the needs of people who share Aguilera’s plight, Sonoma County organization UndocuFund was conceived days after the fires began as an alternative fundraising resource. In partnership with local nonprofits like La Luz Center and North Bay Organizing Project, UndocuFund had raised over $930,000 by the beginning of November, according to coordinator Omar Medina.

Such assistance is proving vital, as undocumented residents scramble for places to live amid threats of displacement from their neighborhoods. Many have seen their homes reduced to ash. The prospect of securing a new living space is tenuous for workers who are statistically likely to make low wages in the already-exorbitant and competitive housing market of Sonoma County—an increasingly unaffordable location whose median income reaches north of $64,000.

“The majority [of undocumented immigrants in the area] are already low-income,” Medina said. “In terms of competing for new places for those that have been completely displaced, they don’t have that money to make a deposit on a new spot.”

In the city of Santa Rosa, conditions are particularly grim. Vacancy rates in the rental housing market are a mere 3.2 percent, according to estimates from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Worse, “there was no type of eviction protections, no type of rent control,” said Medina. Local hostility to such regulations came to the fore when a measure to institute rent control and just-cause protections for evictions in Santa Rosa failed earlier this year. “If you lost your spot, or maybe you had a good, reasonable, let’s say $1,200 rent, now you’re moving into the regular market, where the average before the fire for a two-bedroom was around $1,900 a month,” said Medina. “Now, the prices have gone up significantly.”

Such circumstances are compounded by the loss of jobs for large numbers of undocumented workers who, according to Medina, provide labor paid by the hour or day, such as cleaning services, farming or construction. With the destruction of hotels and houses, and the desiccation of arable land for Sonoma and Napa vineyards and marijuana farms, job opportunities have shriveled.

Aguilera was one such laborer; the havoc wreaked by the fires forced him into unemployment for several weeks. “I do construction for a living, so a couple of the jobs that my company had were affected by the fires, too,” Aguilera said. “I wasn’t able to work until now…Several of my friends lost their house and lost their job, too.”

In addition to a lack of financial security, a language barrier exists for those undocumented survivors who aren’t comfortable communicating in English, further obscuring the process of navigating governmental structures. Though Sonoma County government has improved its bilingual presence in recent weeks through minor efforts such as a Spanish-English texting service, the area retains a reputation for sub-optimal service to Spanish speakers, Medina said.

Exacerbating these challenges is an even more exigent peril: law enforcement. Initially, Medina said, local relief shelters were riddled with police, along with the National Guard, creating a predatory environment for beleaguered undocumented communities and deterring them from receiving desperately needed aid. (Heightening dismay, FEMA is a division of the Department of Homeland Security.)

“You have these shelters where there’s military-uniformed folks. There’s law enforcement all over,” recounted Medina, who said he witnessed such a scene in Santa Rosa. “You’ve got all these Homeland Security cars around, people with Homeland Security outfits all over the place. Think about that view from an undocumented perspective.”

Recently, county officials have sought to dispel rumors of immigration crackdowns, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has stated that it would suspend its activity at shelters. But Medina argued the time frame remains vague. “Now that we’re a couple weeks out, we don’t know if [the ICE ban] is still in effect or what that means,” Medina said.

Amid fears the fires will continue to uproot undocumented immigrants and other marginalized communities, Medina emphasized the urgency of organizing to protect those who rank among the area’s most vulnerable populations.

“The community that I know, the diversity within it, is in danger of being lost through housing and displacement,” said Medina. “Immigrants and people of color, low-income folks, are most likely to be displaced, further decreasing the diversity of the community that we have here right now.”

Julianne Tveten writes about the intersection of the technology industry and socioeconomic issues. Her work has appeared in Current Affairs, The Outline, Motherboard, and Hazlitt, among others.

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Read more at: In These Times

As the J20 Trial Begins, We Must Not Allow Trump to Imprison Dissenters When They Are Needed Most

from November 21, 2017 at 08:48AM

Editor’s Note: On Inauguration Day, thousands of people took to the streets of Washington, D.C. to participate in a “Disrupt J20” coordinated day of direct actions, blockades and protests against the incoming Trump administration. One part of this mobilization—the anti-capitalist, anti-fascist contingent—was targeted by a heavy police crackdown, and more than 200 people in or near this demonstration were surrounded and arrested. Now, more than 190 of the people caught in this sweep face rolling trials, with the first kicking off this week as supporters flood the courtroom. The majority of defendants are fighting heavy charges and up to 60 years in prison at the hands of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, which answers directly to Jeff Sessions’ Department of Justice. Often vilified in the press, J20 defendants have had few public platforms to share their experiences on Inauguration Day—and describe what motivated them to take action.

Not even a year into the Trump presidency, our social and political fabric seems to be unraveling. Wild fires have ravaged northern California, and record-breaking storms have barraged parts of the Gulf Coast and Caribbean regions. Swastika-wearing white supremacists marched through the streets of Charlottesville, and mass deportations are tearing communities apart. This is the terrifying future promised by Trump that motivated me to join others in protest on the streets of Washington, D.C. on Inauguration Day.

In response to protest during the inauguration, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) used chemical and projectile weapons to attack dissidents—in line with the MPD’s  history of mishandling protest. Police directed abuse at children, the elderly and disabled people.  The reaction was so violent that the Washington, D.C. Mayor’s Office of Police Complaints accused police of using excessive force and recommended an independent investigation, which is currently in its early stages.

After assaulting people on the streets with chemical weapons and stinger grenades, the police kettled more than 230 people. This drag-net style of arrest indiscriminately sweeps up large portions of marches and subjects those it catches to arrest—often initiating lengthy, resource-draining court processes. Despite widespread condemnation of this tactic, kettling has become an all-too-common police method for suppressing protest. We see these police actions, also recently used in St. Louis, as an effort to get large numbers of dissidents off the streets and into the court room so they can no longer resist.

Those of us kettled on Inauguration Day were forced to stand outside in the cold and deprived of food, water, medical treatment and bathrooms. As if that weren’t bad enough, the U.S. Attorney’s Office charged us all with the same blanket eight felonies that carry a sentence of up to 70 years if convicted. We believe this was an attempt by the prosecution to scare defendants into accepting pleas. As trials drew closer, some charges were lowered or dropped. But I am one of nearly 200 people preparing for a trial where I will face six felony charges and up to 60 years in prison for resisting the Trump regime. 

We are not alone. Other activists from across the country are also facing repression for resisting the Trump administration and the racist legacies it supports. Hundreds of protesters in Durham, Santa Fe, Philadelphia, St. Louis, St. Paul, Chicago, Standing Rock and beyond have been criminally charged for their resistance.

The march on Inauguration Day was to be the antithesis of all that Trump stands for—a level of opposition that the administration finds intolerable. We and other dissidents come from communities that Trump has already denigrated and harmed. The violent fascism and bigotry that accompanied Trump’s rise to power poses a threat to us all. The last year has proven that the government will do little to stop his administration from devastating and harming marginalized communities.

The only thing that can really protect us is a robust and pervasive culture of resistance. Yet, the Trump administration is treating our acts of self-defense and opposition as more of a threat than real acts of white supremacist terrorism, such as those seen in Charlottesville  and Gainesville.

Unlike some of the “alt-right” groups that organize so-called “free speech” rallies that afford opportunities to attack vulnerable communities, anti-capitalist and anti-fascist organizers don’t spend our weekends training at paramilitary camps. Our movements are vilified in the press and targeted by police, but we’re your friends, your neighbors and your family members. Some of us in the movement are first responders, nurses, water protectors, teachers, students and parents. Some of us are in our early 20s, and some of us are old enough to be grandparents. Our movements are comprised of everyday people who refuse to let our friends and loved ones suffer and live in fear.

When we’re not out marching in the streets, we spend our time setting up food shares, founding libraries, providing healthcare and sometimes even filling potholes when the state fails to do so. While Trump ignores climate change and those it harms, our movements are providing autonomous disaster relief in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. After U.S. Customs and Border Protection checked people’s immigration papers as they fled Hurricane Harvey in Texas, and arrested undocumented parents while they awaited their child’s surgery, our movements are helping protect those targeted by ICE raids and held for years in detention centers.

Despite the strain these politically motivated charges put on defendants and our communities, those of us directly impacted by this case are doing all we can to support and protect each other.

We cannot rely on the state to protect us or meet our needs—a reality routinely confirmed by the actions of the Trump administration. Our hope for a better world lies with each other. As people across the country and world work to confront fascism and bigotry, communities in resistance will continue to face escalating violence and repression. It is essential that people continue to resist—and give voice and power to a future in which we not only survive but truly thrive. If we fail to ensure our livelihood and our dignity, the government and the alt-right will continue to marginalize and target us.

Now is a time to build our collective defense against the political repression and violence of the Trump administration and its tacit support for white supremacy. We ask those who truly desire a free and egalitarian society to stand with J20 defendants and other activists. Help us fight these charges, so we can all continue to stand against bigotry and defend each other.

Read more at: In These Times

How SWAT Team Expos Are Militarizing Police Departments Across the Country

from November 22, 2017 at 10:02AM

Instead of disaster preparedness and storm relief, resources are being funneled into violent police trainings and arms exchanges.

Instead of solutions to, or preparation for, the many crises we face, we continue to see resources poured into police militarization across the country, making escalated policing the only resource for emergencies, instead of firefighters, mental health workers and relief agencies.

Last week, the Florida SWAT Association hosted the “35th Annual SWAT Round-Up International Competition and Vendor Trade Show” in Orlando. The event brought together law enforcement and military personnel from around the world to compete against each other, train in new tactics and technologies, and buy new weapons from arms dealers. At a time when Florida residents are acutely aware of the need for climate disaster and emergency preparedness, this use of resources to further escalate policing tactics is not only wasteful, but demonstrates the increasingly dangerous power of defense industry “solutions.”

As a national organizer for the War Resisters League’s “No SWAT Zone” campaign, I know firsthand that communities around the country are concerned about the dangerous effect such police militarization gatherings have on all policing. Last week’s SWAT Round-Up schedule included competition days between participating SWAT teams, vendor expos featuring ballistic weapons for purchase, workshops and competition exercises. Weapons exhibitors included teargas giant The Safariland Group, Smith and Wesson guns, and Lenco armored vehicles. Also present were companies that self-identify as “philosophy” or “lifestyle” brands, aiming “to better our brotherhood first and foremost.” Among them is SWAT LIFE: Brothers for Adversity, a company that celebrates and promotes warrior mentalities. Civilian and hiking companies such as VISTA outdoors, Timberland and Benchmade Knife Company were also present at the expo, exemplifying the seeping of militarism into everyday life.  

Most conference and competition participants hailed from police departments in southern and central Florida, but they also came from across the state and country. Last year’s SWAT Round-Up featured national winners from Texas to California. Alameda County Sheriff Marcus Cox won the distinction of 12th best “Super SWAT” cop. SWAT officers from Hungary, Brazil, Sweden and Jamaica also competed last year—a reminder that these U.S.-based trainings and expos facilitate the exchange of tactics and arms across national borders. This year, representatives from the United Arab Emirates attended, in order to “see how other people are doing,” in the words of Col. Masoud Alhammad.

SWAT Round-Up also offered educational trainings—most of which inevitably escalate police interactions via militarized equipment, technologies and mentalities. Of the 13 workshops advertised for the week, not one featured de-escalation tactics for responding officers. One workshop, “What SWAT Must Do Today,” focused on damage control, advertising itself as training officers in “how to survive the media, the U.S. Department of Justice-Civil Rights section and your local critics.”

SWAT Round-Up did not return a request for comment.

From years of organizing against SWAT trainings and weapons expos like SWAT Round-Up across the country, I have seen time and again that such trainings rely heavily on cultural norms of hypermasculinity and white-supremacy. Trainings reproduce battlefield mentalities, whether it’s racist stereotypes used in training curricula, an “us versus them” narrative about cops and civilians, or the idea that military weapons are the go-to solution for complicated situations like mental health crises.

As police budgets increase nationally, and the 1033 military-weapons transfer program that was formerly blocked by Obama is reinstated under Trump, this country is experiencing an increase in domestic militarization. This development is paired with a steep uptick in the intensity of U.S. bombings in an expanding number of countries, from Yemen to Afghanistan. SWAT trainings and war weapons expos such as SWAT Round-Up happen across the country all year long, often hosted by statewide or national Tactical Officer Associations.

Additionally, tactical trainings are often funded by Department of Homeland Security’s Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) grant program, a $630 million grant for the federal year of 2018. In 2017, UASI allocated $5.3 million to Miami and Fort Lauderdale and $2.8 million to Tampa Bay for training and infrastructure in counter-terrorism efforts.

One training federally funded by the UASI program is Urban Shield—one of the largest SWAT training exercises in the world—hosted every year in the Bay Area. UASI’s funding requires a “nexus to terrorism,” meaning that police forces participating in UASI programs acquire highly militarized weapons, tactics and technologies that are geared toward counterterrorism—but are primarily used in everyday policing against Black, Latinx and poor communities.

As Mohamed Shehk, a member of the Stop Urban Shield Coalition in the Bay Area, put it to In These Times, “The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office hosts Urban Shield, and numerous Bay Area jurisdictions participate. Many of these cities and counties, including Alameda County, San Francisco, and Berkeley have committed themselves to be ‘sanctuaries’ in resistance to the new administration—a commitment that is made essentially meaningless when they simultaneously participate in Urban Shield, a program that mirrors Trump’s own law-and-order, xenophobic and militaristic vision for society.”

Instead of solutions to, or preparation for, the many crises we face, we continue to see resources poured into police militarization across the country, making escalated policing the only resource for emergencies, instead of firefighters, mental health workers and relief agencies. SWAT trainings and expos like SWAT Round-Up help drive the warrior mentality underlying police murders and aggression, and they expand the power of the global arms trade in our local communities. Floridians have an opportunity to join with people across the country in speaking out against this phenomenon—and to demand resources be put where they are most needed: schools, affordable housing, mental health resources and climate change preparation.

As War Resisters League member Ana Conner of Polk County puts it, “The only way to stop prioritizing war profiteering over human needs is to build power across communities facing militarism, whether that looks like police with tanks or an occupying army. Shifting resources away from SWAT competitions and towards storm preparedness is a good place to start.” 

Tara Tabassi is the National Organizer with War Resisters League in New York City. Besides dismantling the arms trade and police militarization one weapons expo at a time, Tara believes in the power of community gardens, healing with plant medicine and telling stories through graphic illustration.

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McConnell-allied nonprofit received millions from Rove-linked group in 2016; neither disclosed donors

from November 17, 2017 at 06:46AM

One of the most active political organizations in the 2016 election cycle wasn’t a political organization at all. It was a nonprofit allied with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that received all of its money from anonymous donors and hardly reported any of its political spending to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

Known as One Nation, it drew from a war chest that swelled with seven- and eight-figure checks from a few secret donors and spent tens of millions of dollars not on employees — it has none — or social welfare programs — it didn’t really have those either — but on expensive ad campaigns to help Republicans keep their majority in the Senate.

Form 990 annual tax filings obtained by The Center for Responsive Politics show that One Nation spent nearly $73 million in 2015 and 2016, and at least $40 million was spent assisting Republicans’ successful campaign to hold their majority in the Senate.

Social welfare organizations, such as One Nation, are supposed to have social welfare as their primary purpose — hence the name “social welfare organization” — but the IRS has never defined what “primary purpose” actually means. As a result, it is generally interpreted to be less than 50 percent of overall spending. One Nation’s $40 million of election-related spending could put it well over the 50 percent mark, at a minimum, potentially jeopardizing its tax-exempt status, if the IRS decides to scrutinize the group’s activities.

The only known donor to One Nation, according to a separate tax return obtained by The Center for Responsive Politics, was Crossroads GPS, another social welfare organization that is run by the same people who run One Nation and which, like One Nation, doesn’t have to disclose its donors.

Ground support for Senate Republicans

The number of ads One Nation bought for 2016 Senate elections ranked 27th on a list of top 50 outside groups over a cumulative 16-year period, according to a joint report published last year by the Wesleyan Media Project and CRP. That is, in a single year, One Nation beat out groups that had been buying ads for years, even decades, including super PACs, which exist solely for political purposes.

In addition to its direct ad buys, One Nation also channeled $21.7 million into the coffers of the Senate Leadership Fund (SLF), making it the biggest donor to the super PAC. SLF shares an office and staff with One Nation.

In addition to its TV ads and super PAC contributions, the group’s then-spokesman Ian Prior told CRP in an email last year that what the group didn’t spend on issue ads and direct political ads — a balance more than $11.6 million — went toward “non-television issue advocacy.” He didn’t clarify what that was specifically.

Non-broadcast ads — whether they are mailers or digital ads on the internet — generally don’t have to be reported to the FEC, unless they make direct appeals to support or oppose candidates, meaning that One Nation could have sent “issue” mailers or bought digital ads close to any election without reporting the spending. For example, in September and October, when the FEC’s reporting window had opened, One Nation was still adding positive issue ads, cheering on Senator Burr and others, but none of the ads were reported to the FEC — either because they were only meant for Youtube, and therefore cost nothing to place, or they were part of a costly digital ad campaign that the FEC simply doesn’t require groups like One Nation to report.

“With all due respect to what Ian [Prior] has said, the 990 statements speak for themselves,” Chris Pack, the group’s new spokesman, said in an email when asked about the totals Prior provided. “They are filed by calendar year. Those have been submitted as fact.”

Asked if One Nation disputed the amounts Prior provided last year, Pack reiterated that “the 990 forms, which are broken down by year, speak for themselves.”

In its 990, One Nation only counted its direct political appeals — the $3.4 million it reported to the FEC — and its SLF donations as political spending, arriving at a total of $25.1 million in “political campaign activity expenditures.”

The IRS is unlikely to challenge that narrative in any way, since the agency rarely takes the time to conduct a thorough audit of a particular group’s finances. Furthermore, since One Nation is not actually a new group, but an old group that was taken over by new people, the IRS has already approved its application for tax-exempt status.

If the IRS did audit One Nation’s activities, it would find that One Nation spent tens of millions on “grassroots advocacy” in states with tight Senate races during periods when such ads did not have to be reported to the FEC, and that the subjects of those ads, or their opponents, often became the targets of direct appeals for support or opposition once the FEC’s reporting window opened. It’s a strategy many “dark money” groups use to maximize political impact while reporting as little spending as possible.

For example, One Nation began running ads supporting Missouri Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) as far back as October of 2015. But once the FEC’s reporting window opened, One Nation began directly challenging Democrats, including Blunt’s opponent Jason Kander (D-Mo.), who was hit with $478,342 in negative ads in the final weeks of the election. Blunt went on to win re-election.

Another notable discrepancy is that Prior wasn’t even including One Nation’s super PAC donations as part of the group’s political activity. Since a super PAC is, by definition, a political entity, the contributions would likely raise One Nation’s potential political spending to over $61 million, which was more than 80 percent of the group’s overall spending over two years.

Lots of money, no disclosure

In 2016, One Nation got most of its money from 13 anonymous donors giving more than $1 million. Three of those donors gave more than $10 million. The largest was $18.2 million. This is building off the previous year when the group received 61 percent of its funding from just four anonymous donors giving $1 million or more.

The identity of the second largest donor, who gave $11.9 million, is revealed in another tax return obtained by The Center for Responsive Politics. The source was Crossroads GPS, the once-powerful political behemoth whose creation was spearheaded by Karl Rove. The donation accounted for nearly 74 percent of Crossroads GPS’ spending in 2016.

Steven Law, president of Crossroads GPS, is also president of One Nation, and the treasurer of both organizations is Caleb Crosby.

Law and Crosby also run the Senate Leadership Fund, and all three groups operate out of the same office.

But knowing that Crossroads GPS was the source of one of One Nation’s largest grants does little to help us understand what prominent corporation or wealthy individual might have provided the funds, because Crossroads GPS, like One Nation, does not have to disclose donors.

Crossroads GPS received most of its funding in 2016 from just three donors: Two who gave $5 million and one who gave $2 million.

The post McConnell-allied nonprofit received millions from Rove-linked group in 2016; neither disclosed donors appeared first on OpenSecrets Blog.

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CIA Director Contradicts Trump, ‘Stands By’ Russian Interference Assessment

from November 11, 2017 at 01:49PM

After President Donald Trump again cast doubt on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election on Saturday, Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo issued a statement contradicting the commander-in-chief’s remarks.

“The Director stands by and has always stood by the January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment entitled: Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections,” a CIA spokesperson told CNN. “The intelligence assessment with regard to Russian election meddling has not changed.”

Trump suggested that the assessment was not so definitive, telling reporters accompanying him to an economic summit in Vietnam that Russian President Vladimir Putin said “he absolutely did not meddle in our election.”

“Every time he sees me, he said: ‘I didn’t do that.’ And I believe, I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it,” Trump said after holding brief meetings with Putin on the sidelines of the summit.

The President also lashed at the leaders of U.S. intelligence agencies, as he has in the past. Trump dismissed the former heads of those agencies, which concluded that Russia intervened in the presidential race to swing it in his favor, as “political hacks.”

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60,000 People Join Far-Right March On Poland’s Independence Day

from November 11, 2017 at 01:19PM

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Tens of thousands of nationalists marched in a demonstration organized by far-right groups in Warsaw Saturday, as Poles celebrated their country’s Independence Day.

The far-right march was one of many events marking Poland’s rebirth as a nation in 1918 after being wiped off the map for 123 years. Earlier in the day, President Andrzej Duda presided over state ceremonies also attended by European Union president Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister.

But the march has become the largest Independence Day event in recent years, overshadowing official state observances and other patriotic events. Some participants expressed sympathy for xenophobic or white supremacist ideas, with one banner reading, “White Europe of brotherly nations.”

Participants marched under the slogan “We Want God,” words from an old Polish religious song that President Donald Trump quoted from during a visit to Warsaw earlier this year. Speakers spoke of standing against liberals and defending Christian values.

Many carried the national white-and-red flag as others set off flares and firecrackers, filling the air with red smoke. Some also carried banners depicting a falanga, a far-right symbol dating to the 1930s.

Police estimated that 60,000 people took part, and said there were no reports of violence. Many were young men, some with their faces covered or with beer bottles in hand, but families and older Poles also participated.

The march has become one of the largest such demonstration in Europe, and on Saturday it drew far-right leaders from elsewhere in Europe, including Tommy Robinson from Britain and Roberto Fiore from Italy.

State broadcaster TVP, which reflects the conservative government’s line, called it a “great march of patriots,” and in its broadcasts described the event as one that drew mostly regular Poles expressing their love of Polands, not extremists.

“It was a beautiful sight,” Interior Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said. “We are proud that so many Poles have decided to take part in a celebration connected to the Independence Day holiday.”

A smaller counter-protest by an anti-fascist movement also took place. Organizers kept the two groups apart to prevent violence.

Independence Day marks Poland regaining its sovereignty at the end of World War I after being partitioned and ruled since the late 18th century by Russia, Prussia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Duda oversaw ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, walking past a military guard before the raising of the flags and cannon salutes. After delivering a speech he took part in a wreath-laying ceremony, kneeling and crossing himself at the monument to all unknown soldiers killed fighting for the country.

Tusk, who attended at Duda’s invitation, also paid his respects at the monument.
Ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski noted that Poland has not always been fully independent since 1918, a reference to Germany’s occupation during World War II and the decades spent under Moscow’s direction during the Cold War.

Still, he said: “The Polish state was internationally recognized the whole time and that is a great achievement.”

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