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A World of Winless War: US Special Ops Forces Deployed to 137 Nations in 2017
June 26th, 2017, 05:58 AM

US Army pilots engage in a training exercise near Camp Buehring, Kuwait. (Photo: Sgt. Harley Jelis / US Army)US Army pilots engage in a training exercise near Camp Buehring, Kuwait, July 8, 2014. (Photo: Sgt. Harley Jelis / US Army)

The tabs on their shoulders read "Special Forces," "Ranger," "Airborne." And soon their guidon -- the "colors" of Company B, 3rd Battalion of the US Army's 7th Special Forces Group -- would be adorned with the "Bandera de Guerra," a Colombian combat decoration.

"Today we commemorate sixteen years of a permanent fight against drugs in a ceremony where all Colombians can recognize the special counternarcotic brigade's hard work against drug trafficking," said Army Colonel Walther Jimenez, the commander of the Colombian military's Special Anti-Drug Brigade, last December. America's most elite troops, the Special Operations forces (SOF), have worked with that Colombian unit since its creation in December 2000. Since 2014, four teams of Special Forces soldiers have intensely monitored the brigade. Now, they were being honored for it.

Part of a $10 billion counter-narcotics and counterterrorism program, conceived in the 1990s, special ops efforts in Colombia are a much ballyhooed American success story. A 2015 RAND Corporation study found that the program "represents an enduring SOF partnership effort that managed to help foster a relatively professional and capable special operations force." And for a time, coca production in that country plummeted. Indeed, this was the ultimate promise of America's "Plan Colombia" and efforts that followed from it. "Over the longer haul, we can expect to see more effective drug eradication and increased interdiction of illicit drug shipments," President Bill Clinton predicted in January 2000.

Today, however, more than 460,000 acres of the Colombian countryside are blanketed with coca plants, more than during the 1980s heyday of the infamous cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar. US cocaine overdose deaths are also at a 10-year high and first-time cocaine use among young adults has spiked 61% since 2013. "Recent findings suggest that cocaine use may be reemerging as a public health concern in the United States," wrote researchers from the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in a study published in December 2016 -- just after the Green Berets attended that ceremony in Colombia. Cocaine, the study's authors write, "may be making a comeback."

Colombia is hardly an anomaly when it comes to US special ops deployments -- or the results that flow from them. For all their abilities, tactical skills, training prowess, and battlefield accomplishments, the capacity of US Special Operations forces to achieve decisive and enduring successes -- strategic victories that serve US national interests -- have proved to be exceptionally limited, a reality laid bare from Afghanistan to Iraq, Yemen to the Philippines. 

The fault for this lies not with the troops themselves, but with a political and military establishment that often appears bereft of strategic vision and hasn't won a major war since the 1940s. Into this breach, elite US forces are deployed again and again. While special ops commanders may raise concerns about the tempo of operations and strains on the force, they have failed to grapple with larger questions about the raison d'être of SOF, while Washington's oversight establishment, notably the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, have consistently failed to so much as ask hard questions about the strategic utility of America's Special Operations forces.

Special Ops at War

"We operate and fight in every corner of the world," boasts General Raymond Thomas, the chief of US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM or SOCOM). "On a daily basis, we sustain a deployed or forward stationed force of approximately 8,000 across 80-plus countries. They are conducting the entire range of SOF missions in both combat and non-combat situations." Those numbers, however, only hint at the true size and scope of this global special ops effort. Last year, America's most elite forces conducted missions in 138 countries -- roughly 70% of the nations on the planet, according to figures supplied to TomDispatch by US Special Operations Command. Halfway through 2017, US commandos have already been deployed to an astonishing 137 countries, according to SOCOM spokesman Ken McGraw. 

Special Operations Command is tasked with carrying out 12 core missions, ranging from counterinsurgency and unconventional warfare to hostage rescue and countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Counterterrorism -- fighting what the command calls violent extremist organizations (VEOs) -- may, however, be what America's elite forces have become best known for in the post-9/11 era. "The threat posed by VEOs remains the highest priority for USSOCOM in both focus and effort," says Thomas.

"Special Operations Forces are the main effort, or major supporting effort for US VEO-focused operations in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, across the Sahel of Africa, the Philippines, and Central/South America -- essentially, everywhere Al Qaeda (AQ) and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are to be found..."

More special operators are deployed to the Middle East than to any other region. Significant numbers of them are advising Iraqi government forces and Iraqi Kurdish soldiers as well as Kurdish YPG (Popular Protection Unit) fighters and various ethnic Arab forces in Syria, according to Linda Robinson, a senior international policy analyst with the RAND Corporation who spent seven weeks in Iraq, Syria, and neighboring countries earlier this year. 

During a visit to Qayyarah, Iraq -- a staging area for the campaign to free Mosul, formerly Iraq's second largest city, from the control of Islamic State fighters -- Robinson "saw a recently installed US military medical unit and its ICU set up in tents on the base." In a type of mission seldom reported on, special ops surgeons, nurses, and other specialists put their skills to work on far-flung battlefields not only to save American lives, but to prop up allied proxy forces that have limited medical capabilities. For example, an Air Force Special Operations Surgical Team recently spent eight weeks deployed at an undisclosed location in the Iraq-Syria theater, treating 750 war-injured patients. Operating out of an abandoned one-story home within earshot of a battlefield, the specially trained airmen worked through a total of 19 mass casualty incidents and more than 400 individual gunshot or blast injuries.

When not saving lives in Iraq and Syria, elite US forces are frequently involved in efforts to take them. "US SOF are... being thrust into a new role of coordinating fire support," wrote Robinson. "This fire support is even more important to the Syrian Democratic Forces, a far more lightly armed irregular force which constitutes the major ground force fighting ISIS in Syria." In fact, a video shot earlier this year, analyzed by The Washington Post, shows special operators "acting as an observation element for what appears to be US airstrikes carried out by A-10 ground attack aircraft" to support Syrian Democratic Forces fighting for the town of Shadadi.

Africa now ranks second when it comes to the deployment of special operators thanks to the exponential growth in missions there in recent years. Just 3% of US commandos deployed overseas were sent to Africa in 2010. Now that number stands at more than 17%, according to SOCOM data. Last year, US Special Operations forces were deployed to 32 African nations, about 60% of the countries on the continent. As I recently reported at VICE News, at any given time, Navy SEALs, Green Berets, and other special operators are now conducting nearly 100 missions across 20 African countries.

In May, for instance, Navy SEALs were engaged in an "advise and assist operation" alongside members of Somalia's army and came under attack. SEAL Kyle Milliken was killed and two other US personnel were injured during a firefight that also, according to AFRICOM spokesperson Robyn Mack, left three al-Shabaab militants dead. US forces are also deployed in Libya to gather intelligence in order to carry out strikes of opportunity against Islamic State forces there. While operations in Central Africa against the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a brutal militia that has terrorized the region for decades, wound down recently, a US commando reportedly killed a member of the LRA as recently as April. 

Spring Training

What General Thomas calls "building partner nations' capacity" forms the backbone of the global activities of his command. Day in, day out, America's most elite troops carry out such training missions to sharpen their skills and those of their allies and of proxy forces across the planet. 

This January, for example, Green Berets and Japanese paratroopers carried out airborne training near Chiba, Japan. February saw Green Berets at Sanaa Training Center in northwest Syria advising recruits for the Manbij Military Council, a female fighting force of Kurds, Arabs, Christians, Turkmen, and Yazidis. In March, snowmobiling Green Berets joined local forces for cold-weather military drills in Lapland, Finland. That same month, special operators and more than 3,000 troops from Canada, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Kosovo, Latvia, Macedonia, the Netherlands, Slovenia, and the United Kingdom took part in tactical training in Germany.

In the waters off Kuwait, special operators joined elite forces from the Gulf Cooperation Council nations in conducting drills simulating a rapid response to the hijacking of an oil tanker. In April, special ops troops traveled to Serbia to train alongside a local special anti-terrorist unit. In May, members of Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Iraq carried out training exercises with Iraqi special operations forces near Baghdad. That same month, 7,200 military personnel, including US Air Force Special Tactics airmen, Italian special operations forces, members of host nation Jordan's Special Task Force, and troops from more than a dozen other nations took part in Exercise Eager Lion, practicing everything from assaulting compounds to cyber-defense. For their part, a group of SEALs conducted dive training alongside Greek special operations forces in Souda Bay, Greece, while others joined NATO troops in Germany as part of Exercise Saber Junction 17 for training in land operations, including mock "behind enemy lines missions" in a "simulated European village." 


"We have been at the forefront of national security operations for the past three decades, to include continuous combat over the past 15-and-a-half years," SOCOM's Thomas told the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities last month. "This historic period has been the backdrop for some of our greatest successes, as well as the source of our greatest challenge, which is the sustained readiness of this magnificent force." Yet, for all their magnificence and all those successes, for all the celebratory ceremonies they've attended, the wars, interventions, and other actions for which they've served as the tip of the American spear have largely foundered, floundered, or failed. 

After their initial tactical successes in Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, America's elite operators became victims of Washington's failure to declare victory and go home. As a result, for the last 15 years, US commandos have been raiding homes, calling in air strikes, training local forces, and waging a relentless battle against a growing list of terror groups in that country. For all their efforts, as well as those of their conventional military brethren and local Afghan allies, the war is now, according to the top US commander in the Middle East, a "stalemate." That's a polite way of saying what a recent report to Congress by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction found: districts that are contested or under "insurgent control or influence" have risen from an already remarkable 28% in 2015 to 40%.

The war in Afghanistan began with efforts to capture or kill al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Having failed in this post-9/11 mission, America's elite forces spun their wheels for the next decade when it came to his fate. Finally, in 2011, Navy SEALs cornered him in his long-time home in Pakistan and gunned him down. Ever since, special operators who carried out the mission and Washington power-players (not to mention Hollywood) have been touting this single tactical success.

In an Esquire interview, Robert O'Neill, the SEAL who put two bullets in bin Laden's head, confessed that he joined the Navy due to frustration over an early crush, a puppy-love pique. "That's the reason al-Qaeda has been decimated," he joked, "because she broke my fucking heart." But al-Qaeda was not decimated -- far from it according to Ali Soufan, a former FBI special agent and the author of Anatomy of Terror: From the Death of Bin Laden to the Rise of the Islamic State. As he recently observed, "Whereas on 9/11 al-Qaeda had a few hundred members, almost all of them based in a single country, today it enjoys multiple safe havens across the world." In fact, he points out, the terror group has gained strength since bin Laden's death.

Year after year, US special operators find themselves fighting new waves of militants across multiple continents, including entire terror groups that didn't exist on 9/11. All US forces killed in Afghanistan in 2017 have reportedly died battling an Islamic State franchise, which began operations there just two years ago. 

The US invasion of Iraq, to take another example, led to the meteoric rise of an al-Qaeda affiliate which, in turn, led the military's secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) -- the elite of America's special ops elite -- to create a veritable manhunting machine designed to kill its leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and take down the organization. As with bin Laden, special operators finally did find and eliminate Zarqawi, battering his organization in the process, but it was never wiped out. Left behind were battle-hardened elements that later formed the Islamic State and did what al-Qaeda never could: take and hold huge swaths of territory in two nations. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda's Syrian branch grew into a separate force of more than 20,000. 

In Yemen, after more than a decade of low-profile special ops engagement, that country teeters on the brink of collapse in the face of a US-backed Saudi war there. Continued US special ops missions in that country, recently on the rise, have seemingly done nothing to alter the situation. Similarly, in Somalia in the Horn of Africa, America's elite forces remain embroiled in an endless war against militants. 

In 2011, President Obama launched Operation Observant Compass, sending Special Operations forces to aid Central African proxies in an effort to capture or kill Joseph Kony and decimate his murderous Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), then estimated to number 150 to 300 armed fighters. After the better part of a decade and nearly $800 million spent, 150 US commandos were withdrawn this spring and US officials attended a ceremony to commemorate the end of the mission. Kony was, however, never captured or killed and the LRA is now estimated to number about 150 to 250 fighters, essentially the same size as when the operation began.

This string of futility extends to Asia as well. "US Special Forces have been providing support and assistance in the southern Philippines for many years, at the request of several different Filipino administrations," Emma Nagy, a spokesperson for the US embassy in Manilla, pointed out earlier this month. Indeed, a decade-plus-long special ops effort there has been hailed as a major success. Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines, wrote RAND analyst Linda Robinson late last year in the Pentagon journal Prism, "was aimed at enabling the Philippine security forces to combat transnational terrorist groups in the restive southern region of Mindanao." 

A 2016 RAND report co-authored by Robinson concluded that "the activities of the US SOF enabled the Philippine government to substantially reduce the transnational terrorist threat in the southern Philippines." This May, however, Islamist militants overran Marawi City, a major urban center on Mindanao. They have been holding on to parts of it for weeks despite a determined assault by Filipino troops backed by US Special Operations forces. In the process, large swaths of the city have been reduced to rubble.

Running on Empty

America's elite forces, General Thomas told members of Congress last month, "are fully committed to winning the current and future fights." In reality, though, from war to war, intervention to intervention, from the Anti-Drug Brigade ceremony in Florencia, Colombia, to the end-of-the-Kony-hunt observance in Obo in the Central African Republic, there is remarkably little evidence that even enduring efforts by Special Operations forces result in strategic victories or improved national security outcomes. And yet, despite such boots-on-the-ground realities, America's special ops forces and their missions only grow.

"We are... grateful for the support of Congress for the required resourcing that, in turn, has produced a SOCOM which is relevant to all the current and enduring threats facing the nation," Thomas told the Senate Armed Services Committee in May. Resourcing has, indeed, been readily available. SOCOM's annual budget has jumped from $3 billion in 2001 to more than $10 billion today. Oversight, however, has been seriously lacking. Not a single member of the House or Senate Armed Services Committees has questioned why, after more than 15 years of constant warfare, winning the "current fight" has proven so elusive. None of them has suggested that "support" from Congress ought to be reconsidered in the face of setbacks from Afghanistan to Iraq, Colombia to Central Africa, Yemen to the southern Philippines.

In the waning days of George W. Bush's administration, Special Operations forces were reportedly deployed to about 60 nations around the world. By 2011, under President Barack Obama, that number had swelled to 120. During this first half-year of the Trump administration, US commandos have already been sent to 137 countries, with elite troops now enmeshed in conflicts from Africa to Asia. "Most SOF units are employed to their sustainable limit," Thomas told members of the House Armed Services Committee last month. In fact, current and former members of the command have, for some time, been sounding the alarm about the level of strain on the force. 

These deployment levels and a lack of meaningful strategic results from them have not, however, led Washington to raise fundamental questions about the ways the US employs its elite forces, much less about SOCOM's raison d'être. "We are a command at war and will remain so for the foreseeable future," SOCOM's Thomas explained to the Senate Armed Services Committee. Not one member asked why or to what end.

Indian Prime Minister Modi Was Once Banned From Entering US; Today He Meets Trump
June 25th, 2017, 05:58 AM

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to meet with President Donald Trump in their first face-to-face meeting. The meeting comes as Lockheed Martin announced a deal to begin making F-16 fighter jets in India. Modi is part of a notorious gallery of strongmen that have swept into power across the globe. One of the key issues expected to come up during the meeting is the fate of the H-1B visa program, which permits thousands of Indian computer engineers to enter the United States each year. Trump signed an executive order in April to review the visa program. We speak with Mumbai-based Teesta Setalvad, a civil rights activist and journalist. We also speak with Prachi Patankar, cofounder of the South Asia Solidarity Initiative, based in New York.


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

AMY GOODMAN: President Trump is welcoming Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the White House for their first face-to-face meeting. Modi is head of the Hindu nationalist BJP party and has led India since 2014. Modi was once banned from the United States on charges he did not intervene in a massacre against Muslims in 2002 when he headed the Indian state of Gujarat.

The meeting comes just days after the White House announced a $2 billion deal to sell India 22 Guardian surveillance drones. The deal will help India expand its use of drones in occupied Kashmir as well as along the Pakistani border. In addition, Lockheed Martin has just announced a deal to begin making F-16 fighter jets in India.

Another top agenda item of today's Trump-Modi meeting is the future of the H-1B visa program, which thousands of Indian computer engineers use each year to come to the United States. In April, President Trump signed an executive order to review the visa program.

Many observers have compared Trump to Modi. In January, Steve Coll wrote in The New Yorker magazine, quote, Trump "will join Modi as the latest figure in the world's swelling ranks of populist-nationalist leaders, a gallery of strongmen in countries rich and poor, some more democratic and some less so, who govern partly through intimidation and a certain curated arbitrariness," unquote.

To talk more about today's meeting, we're joined by two guests. Teesta Setalvad is a civil rights activist and journalist based in Mumbai, India. She's the secretary of Citizens for Justice and Peace. And here in New York, Prachi Patankar, co-founder of the South Asia Solidarity Initiative.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Prachi, let's begin with you. Talk about the significance of this meeting today between Trump, the president of the United States, and Modi.

PRACHI PATANKAR: Well, I think, just like any of the other predecessors or of these leaders of these countries, the US and India, I imagine they'll talk about similar long-term issues like economic trade deals and nuclear deals. And I think, like you mentioned, they'll talk about the arms deal that they're about to sign. And, of course, given the latest pulling of -- from the climate deal that Trump saw, that they will talk that, as well.

But what differentiates these two leaders from the past leaders is that they are -- they come together as for their authoritarianism. Modi led the way a few years ago, coming into power led by a very much kind of fascistic and Hindu fundamentalist regime, followed by what he did in Gujarat. And I think that this is what brings them together.

Another thing that also brings them together is their kind of populist and symbolic rhetoric. So, Trump has the "Make America Great Again" symbolic idea that he campaigned on, but Modi also talks about making India. So they're both kind of these nationalists, keep jobs at home, talk about the economy in that way.

But what is happening within their home countries, as we know, in -- Modi announced, actually, on the US Election Day on November -- in November, the demonetization, the disastrous demonetization policy, which was -- had disastrous consequences for the poor and marginalized people of India, many of them farmers and Dalits, who are the most lowest rung of the caste society in India. And those people are, you know, resisting these policies, as we see in my home state. In Maharashtra, there was a farmer strike, because farmers have the -- face the brunt of these policies, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Let's go to Teesta Setalvad, a civil rights activist and -- who is based in Mumbai, and journalist. Prachi just mentioned Gujarat, but most people, I think, in the United States, and perhaps around the world, are not familiar with what she's referring to, and you're very involved with this issue. Can you talk about Modi's history?

TEESTA SETALVAD: Yeah, it's very important to understand Modi's history, particularly when we look at the meeting of Modi and Trump, because I think two large -- the two world's largest democracies, talking about the democratic will of the people, having come to power in a certain manner, and both representing a certain kind of majoritarianism.

Modi is different from Trump in the sense that I know that Trump's father had links with the Ku Klux Klan, different in a sense that Modi's grooming, political grooming, and entire growth has been with an organization called the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Now, people just know a little bit about this. There have been a lot of academic studies and a lot of real issues down at the ground when we had communal violence breaking out. The RSS is an outfit that is protofascist, that does not really believe in a constitutional democracy as India is now. So Modi, in a sense, is today a very popular leader, for sure, but he comes from the grooming of the RSS that believe in a supremacist India, that believes in differentials in citizenship.

So, the pogrom of 2002, which Prachi referred to, very rightly, was on Modi's watch. It was -- you know, it was poor governance, at best, and brutal, at worst. You have almost 2,000 Muslims' lives being killed in reprisal violence after a despicable burning of a coach, which was actually allowed to, in rhetorical terms, to be seen as if Hindu nationalists were being burned and attacked by Muslims in the city of Godhra. But for virtually seven months after that, you had reprisal violence and the state just looking on. Modi was chief minister then. And to date, he has not really apologized or even expressed regret for that massacre.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain how many people -- this was in 2002.

TEESTA SETALVAD: That's right.

AMY GOODMAN: With Modi at the -- as the kind of -- well, the equivalent of governor of Gujarat.

TEESTA SETALVAD: That's right.

AMY GOODMAN: How many people died? And then, what the US action was that followed, banning him from or refusing to give him a visa to the United States?

TEESTA SETALVAD: You see, this was a very, very successful campaign launched by Indians, expat Indians, based in the United States, who actually campaigned there on the issue of the 2002 massacre being a genocidal carnage, and argued that for a man who was chief minister of the state, he should not be allowed to visit the United States of America. And, therefore, the ban came through, and the ban was subsequently held, repeated even as he rose and became more and more powerful.

What we need to remember about Modi is that within a three -- or, within five years, he won two or three -- three successful elections in the state of Gujarat on the back of the massacre, which tells you something quite frightening about Indian democracy, and possibly all democracies, that we actually go on a -- we travel a very, very -- walk the razor's edge, if you like, that democracy is the will of the people, but the day democracy becomes the rule of the mob and mobocracy and majoritarianism, and you can actually whip up mob hysteria through an election process, which Modi has successfully done in 2002 itself, after the massacre, 2007 and then in 2012 again, that is what is a really worrying signal as far as Modi and Trump are concerned, because they represent, in a sense, the democratic will of the people, but they also represent subversion of democratic institutions, which are checks and balances to majoritarianism and supremacism within democracy.

AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Teesta Setalvad, a civil rights activist and journalist based in Mumbai, India -- we're speaking to her by Democracy Now! video stream in Mumbai -- and Prachi Patankar, who is here in New York, activist and educator, co-founder of South Asia Solidarity Initiative. Prachi, this $2 billion sale of Guardian drones, the significance of this? I know Modi is going next to Israel and was sort of playing both. In case he didn't -- things didn't go well here, he could get them perhaps from Israel. But talk about the significance of these drones. And then the F-16s being built in India?

PRACHI PATANKAR: Mm-hmm. I mean, I think this is not surprising. The US and India have had conversations and relationships around arms deals for almost a decade. And India is also talking with other countries, as you mentioned. But both of these countries have committed grave human rights violations in the places that they have gone to war or occupied. In the case of India, we have Kashmir, which is a place where Indian Army has around -- almost 600,000 troops placed there. And the escalation of human rights violations for the Kashmiri people, against the Kashmiri activists and human rights activists there, have been going up. And given that, this is a worrisome move. I also think that given the ongoing conflicts between Pakistan and India, Afghanistan being right there and Trump talking about increasing intervention in Afghanistan, I think what US is probably thinking is that they need an ally in the region, and India is one of those allies that they probably need.

AMY GOODMAN: And now Prime Minister Modi has come out in support of the climate accord --


AMY GOODMAN: -- is becoming a spokesperson around the world around that, and, of course, Donald Trump pulling out.

PRACHI PATANKAR: Mm-hmm, yeah. I mean, yes, I think Donald Trump pulling out of the climate deal is, I think, seen by the entire world as not necessarily a good thing, I think. So, Trump, and including China -- India, and including China, are, I think, seeing themselves as kind pushing that forward as countries taking a different kind of stand. But I would say, in terms of practice, what's happening within India and what Modi has been saying internally, he has been against -- he has denied climate change openly. He has been -- he has made anti-science remarks also in the past. So he certainly doesn't necessarily care about climate change. Within the policies, economic policies in India and development policies, he has been pushing for more fossil fuel extractions, more coal mining projects, and supporting companies that do that. And that has affected millions of people, who -- indigenous people within different places in India, whose lives will be tremendously impacted by Modi's development projects.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being on with us, and we will continue this discussion as we turn to Arundhati Roy, who is traveling through the United States. Prachi Patankar is activist and educator, co-founder of the South Asia Solidarity Initiative. And Teesta Setalvad is a civil rights activist and journalist based in Mumbai, India. This is Democracy Now! Arundhati Roy up next.

Sorry, Meals on Wheels, Our War Machine Is Hungry
June 25th, 2017, 05:58 AM

If you think we spend too much on our military as it is (more the next eight countries combined), you might be shocked to hear President Trump has asked for an increase in military spending by 10%, or $54 billion. Where is all this money going to come from? What will it be used for? Since Republicans are not known for wanting to raise taxes, the money has to come from cuts to other allocations in the budget.

On the chopping block are funds that would go to the Department of Education, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Health and Human Services and other federal programs -- agencies that serve the needs of the American public.

If Donald Trump really wants to take an "America First" approach, why is he slashing our domestic budget and putting money into a war machine that only continues to inflame tensions around the world? We engage in wars that never seem to end, our tax dollars are squandered, innocent lives are lost in the process and these military interventions are certainly not making us safer at home.

We are involved in military operations all over the world. Many of these conflicts are not easily summarized, but let's take a look at some of America's conflicts and where they stand, through the prism of this proposed military spending increase.


What did we get out of invading Iraq? Saddam Hussein is no longer in power. For that, we lost almost 4,500 American lives. Over 30,000 were wounded. We don't keep track of the Iraqis we killed, but there are estimates.

Major combat operations ended in 2011, but our service members still die there and the war rages on for the Iraqi people. Under Saddam Hussein's brutal regime, sectarian violence was minimized. When we removed him it exploded. The unintended consequence is that we unleashed sectarian violence.

Another unanticipated result of our invasion of Iraq was the creation of ISIS. It was at a US prison in Iraq called Camp Bucca where embittered Sunni prisoners, including Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, created ISIS. Now we are spending billions trying to defeat the very force we helped to create.


We invaded in late 2001 and are still there. It is America's longest war, and there is no end in sight. We removed the Taliban government, eventually killed Osama bin Laden -- found in "allied" Pakistan -- and set up a government that is at least officially friendly toward us. But there is now a resurgence of the Taliban.

For that, we lost 2,300 service members with about 17,600 wounded. It is not uncommon for our service members to be killed by Afghan soldiers who are supposed to be working with us. Again, this is all paid for by the United States taxpayer. The bill is about the shoot up even more, with the Trump administration sending another 4,000 troops to join in this endless war.


Syria has been reduced to ruins, not only by us but by Russia, ISIS, the Syrian government and other warring factions within and without. The Trump administration's recent cruise missile attack on Assad regime forces, followed by the shooting of a Syrian fighter jet and Iranian drones, puts the US military at even greater risk of direct confrontation not only with Assad but Iran and Russia. The number of Syrians killed, wounded and forced to flee their homes is astronomical, while the idea of a political solution seems more and more remote.

Lost Blood and Treasure

The National Priorities Project (NPP), using information obtained from the United States budget, has drawn some conclusions about how much we pay for these wars. We pay $615,482 per hour for ongoing operations against ISIS. Afghanistan costs us $4 million per hour (without counting the new troops being sent there). The remaining operations in Iraq cost us $117,000.00 per hour. NPP has concluded we pay $8.36 million per hour for all the wars since 2001.

What else could we do with all that money? The NPP illustrates how it could be spent to help our own people and our own economy:

• Millions of teachers could be hired.

• Millions of jobs could be created in poverty-stricken communities.

• Our ailing infrastructure could be remodeled and rebuilt.

• Scholarships could be funded for students who can't afford college.

• Our military veterans could receive the care they deserve.

The list goes on.

Americans are tired of war, yet Donald Trump's budget sends an unfortunate but clear message. He is willing to cut funds that help the poor, protect the environment, and promote the arts -- things that generally keep us happy and safe -- in order to fund a never-ending, ever-growing war machine. He's taking money from Meals on Wheels to buy billion-dollar bombers.

Fortunately, Trump's budget is only a request. Congress has to approve it. Even though the president enjoys a Republican-majority House and Senate, it does not mean his budget will go through. Members of Congress are under pressure from the administration, the Pentagon and the companies that profit from making weapons. But they are also receiving pressure from their constituents who are demanding that our money goes to community needs, not down a black hole of endless war. You can sign a petition to Congress here. Let's see who they listen to.

The newspaper Naomi Klein calls "utterly unique," full of insightful dispatches from around the world, The Indypendent offers a fresh take on today's events.

Climate Destabilization Is Causing Thousands of New Species Migrations: Plant, Animal, Insect, Bird
June 25th, 2017, 05:58 AM

A spate of new research studies has confirmed a disturbing pattern: climate disruption is confusing migratory birds, causing trees to relocate and allowing tropical diseases to spread northward. "Human society has yet to appreciate the implications of unprecedented species redistribution for life on Earth, including for human lives," states a study, "Divergence of Species Responses to Climate Change," published May 17, 2017, in Science Advances.

Imagine if you had to travel thousands of miles and arrive at a specific time each year, but you had no way of knowing the precise time you needed to get there. That's what it's like for many songbirds that migrate from Central and South America each spring to breeding grounds in the US and Canada. If they were to arrive too early, they wouldn't find food and could freeze to death. If they arrive late, the best nesting sites may be taken and there will be fewer opportunities to find a mate.

For countless generations, these birds have been able to rely on seasonal signals such as the length of daylight. That hasn't changed of course, but now, due to a rapidly changing climate, the conditions at their summer homes may not be what they've come to expect, according to another study published May 15 in Scientific Reports.

"We're seeing spring-like conditions well before birds arrive," said lead author Stephen Mayor, a postdoctoral researcher with the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida, in a press release. "The growing mismatch means fewer birds are likely to survive, reproduce and return the following year."

This groundbreaking study combined 12 years of NASA satellite imagery tracking the arrival of spring greenery, with citizen-collected science data extracted from eBird, which records more than 60 million observations a year. An online tool used by amateur and professional bird watchers, eBird is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society.

"It's powerful. Whether they know it or not, birders are helping scientists do their work, and they could end up helping birds in the process," stated study co-author Rob Guralnick, Associate Curator of Bioinformatics at the Florida Museum.

The researchers looked at 48 species of songbirds and found that the average gap between the onset of spring and the arrival of these birds has lengthened by half a day per year, or five days per decade. Nine of these species fell further behind, losing a full day or more per year. Those struggling most were great crested flycatchers (Myiarchus crinitus), indigo buntings (Passerina cyanea), scarlet tanagers (Piranga olivacea), rose-breasted grosbeaks (Pheucticus ludovicianus), eastern wood pewees (Contopus virens), yellow-billed cuckoos (Coccyzus americanus), northern parulas (Setophaga americana), blue-winged warblers (Vermivora cyanoptera) and Townsend's warblers (Setophaga townsendi).

"If anything could adapt to climate change, you'd think that birds that migrate thousands of miles could," Mayor said. And that may happen, but it will take many generations, as evolution selects for earlier-arriving birds. Adding to the complexity, these scientists also found that greening is beginning earlier in eastern forests and later in western forests in the US.

All this is happening while forest trees themselves are moving in response to a disrupted climate. Yet another corroborating study, led by Purdue University and published May 17, 2017, in Science Advances, looked at 86 species of trees in the US over three decades. Researchers found that 73 percent shifted westward and 62 percent shifted northward, including some species that moved simultaneously in both directions. Of course, the trees themselves don't move, but over time, the highest concentration for each species has been notably shifting.

The movement has thus far been greater in the westerly direction, equaling 50 feet per decade. Northward movement was measured at 36 feet per decade. The shifts are attributed to changes in precipitation and temperature -- both outcomes of climate destabilization.

Another study on vegetation migration was carried out by scientists at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville (UT), published May 8, 2017, in Science Daily. That research, like Purdue's analysis, found trees in the Rocky Mountains moving northward. "One general expectation is that tree ranges will gradually move toward higher elevations as mountain habitats get hotter," said Michael Van Nuland, the project's lead researcher and a doctoral student in UT's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. "It is easy to see the evidence with photographs that compare current and historical tree lines on mountainsides around the world. Most document that tree lines have ascended in the past century."

In Europe, 34 percent of timber forests will be suitable only for Mediterranean vegetation by 2100, according to the Purdue University study. Looking at the redistribution of species under climate disruption, the authors found many other changes coming. "For marine, freshwater, and terrestrial species alike, the first response to changing climate is often a shift in location, to stay within preferred environmental conditions," they wrote.

Of more than 4,000 species studied around the world, half are relocating, says National Geographic. In the Arctic, brown bears (Ursus arctos) are expanding their range northward, in some cases competing with and even mating with polar bears (Ursus maritimus). Beavers (Castor canadensis) have been found as far north as the coast of the Beaufort Sea. The list includes mammals, amphibians, fish and insects.

"Movement of mosquitoes in response to global warming is a threat to health in many countries through predicted increases in the number of known and potentially new diseases," states an additional report titled "Biodiversity Redistribution Under Climate Change: Impacts on Ecosystems and Human Well-Being," from an international team of 41 scientists, published March 31, 2017, in Science. The World Health Organization (WHO) counted 212 million new cases of malaria in 2015, primarily in Africa, Southeast Asia and the eastern Mediterranean. But climate change will allow the disease to spread to new areas, according to the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) Center for Science Education.

That will be a problem for health officials. "Climate-related transmission of malaria can result in epidemics due to lack of immunity among local residents and will challenge health systems at national and international scales, diverting public and private-sector resources from other uses," state the authors of the UCAR report.

Other insect-borne diseases are on the rise due to climate change as well. Of the approximately 3,500 species of mosquito around the world, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), only a hand-full carry and transmit the dreaded West Nile virus, dengue fever and the lesser-known Chikungunya. West Nile claimed 146 lives in the US in 2015 while an island-wide epidemic in Puerto Rico in 2007 tallied 10,000 cases. Black-legged ticks (Ixodes scapularis), which carry Lyme disease as well as other deadly pathogens, have spread to 41 states as the blood-sucking bugs enjoy warmer, shorter winters.

"The natural world is very complex," said the University of Florida's Stephen Mayor. "When you kick it with a big change by altering the climate, different parts of that natural world respond in different ways. We're just beginning to understand the consequences of this grand unnatural experiment."

Atop Maine's Bradbury Mountain, for the past 11 years, a lone volunteer spends his or her days from March 15 to May 15, scanning the skies for birds. It is often cold and windy into late April, sometimes requiring snowshoes to ascend the summit. From the rounded granite top of the mountain, the view extends outward to the ocean. It's the site of the northernmost hawk watch in the Eastern Flyway -- one of the major north-south routes for migratory birds in North America. Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus), bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) and broad-winged hawks (Buteo platypterus) can be seen and counted, soaring above the tall white pines and iconic sugar maple trees.

"It has not escaped our attention that they are recording increasing numbers of raptors while the more southern hawk watches are showing an opposite trend," stated the 2016 spring Eastern Flyway Report, published by the Hawk Migration Association of North America (HMANA). "This coupled with the dramatic decrease in more northern migrants such as the northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis), which are at 32 percent of historical values for the Eastern Flyway this year, leads us to consider if climate change is a potential factor."

On a positive note, citizen science is increasingly coupling with academics, scientists and government researchers from around the world to document the disruption to wildlife wrought by human-caused destabilization of the climate. These volunteers help to create a more scientifically complete picture of what is happening in the natural world. "It's like 'Silent Spring,' but with a more elusive culprit," added Mayor. "These are birds people are used to seeing and hearing in their backyards. They're part of the American landscape, part of our psyche. To imagine a future where they're much less common would be a real loss."

Waging Love to End Debt's Stranglehold
June 25th, 2017, 05:58 AM

Debt is an age-old means of shaming and controlling poor people. The practice is so commonplace, we hardly notice it.

For many, going into debt is the only way to get an education, buy a home, or survive a medical emergency. Shaking off that debt can be impossible for those living on low-wage and insecure jobs, and those targeted by predatory lending. Still, many accept the story that debt is their fault.

Citizens of cities and even countries are shamed for their debt, and blame is used by those instituting emergency management to justify loss of self-rule, privatization of public services, and extraction of community wealth.

At this year's Allied Media Conference in Detroit, Michigan, residents of the city and those of Puerto Rico gathered to compare notes on how debt and default have affected their regions. Both have experienced economic hardship, both are predominantly made up of people of color, and both are seeing debt used as an excuse for the selling off their common assets and to undermine their rights to self-governance.

In Detroit, the loss of industrial jobs to low-wage regions, coupled with federally subsidized white flight has left the city with the costs of operating urban services that benefit the entire region without the tax base needed to pay for them.

The 2008 financial crisis hit the city -- and its African American families in particular -- especially hard. Residents had been targeted for subprime mortgages, which accounted for 68 percent of all the city's mortgages in 2005, compared to 24 percent nationwide, reported the the Detroit News. Today, more than three quarters of foreclosed homes financed through subprime lenders are in poor condition or tax foreclosed.

Shifting control to emergency management has resulted in reduced essential services to those already harmed by predatory economics. School buildings are disintegrating. Residents had their water shut off. Streetlights were shut off.

In Puerto Rico, investors took advantage of the territorial government's high-yield, tax-exempt bonds. Wall Street reaped $900 million in fees from those bonds since 2000, Bloomberg News reported. Tax breaks for giant corporations attracted big players, until the incentives ran out and with them, the corporate jobs. One hundred and fifty schools were closed as a result of the crisis, and another 600 are on the chopping block. Puerto Rico has a poverty rate that is double that of Mississippi, the nation's poorest state, according to the US Census Bureau.

These neoliberal policies of privatization, extraction, corporate power, and austerity have undermined national economies in the Global South subjected to IMF and World Bank policies. Today, they are also being used on American and European communities.

Author and cognitive linguist George Lakoff describes two roles governments assume to maintain social control: the stern, punishing father, and the nurturing mother.

In today's context, the stern father metaphor takes the form of authoritarianism, fundamentalism, shame, and blame. As practiced by the corporate-friendly leadership of the Democratic Party, the nurturing mother placates the powerless with corporate bailouts and a tattered social safety net to allow for the continued extraction of a community's wealth.

Both of these parent-child metaphors are built on powerful -- usually white, male -- decision makers who are closely linked to corporate power and manage the affairs of a powerless citizenry. Neither offers a path to liberation.

Instead of either of these parent-child relationships, what we need are strong peer relationships, sisterhood, brotherhood, and solidarity. At the opening ceremony at the Allied Media Conference, activist, author, and doula Adrienne Maree Brown called on those gathered to "wage love."

Instead of using debt to punish communities of color and the poor and justify the selling off of community assets, instead of emergency powers that take away self-rule, we should invest in all communities and defend our civic and natural legacies for future generations of all races.

Those who gathered for the conference in Detroit showed what waging love looks like: supporting one another in rejecting second-class citizenship and in calling instead for government to serve the needs of their citizens and to invest in a future that will work for all people.

Jackson, Mississippi Mayor-Elect Chokwe Lumumba: I Plan to Build the "Most Radical City on the Planet"
June 25th, 2017, 05:58 AM

We end the show today in Jackson, Mississippi, where just one week from today social justice activist and attorney Chokwe Lumumba will be sworn is as the city's next mayor. He has vowed to make Jackson the "most radical city on the planet." He is the son of the city's former mayor, the late Chokwe Lumumba, who was once dubbed "America's most revolutionary mayor." We air the mayor-elect's speech at the People's Summit and speak to him in Jackson about his plans for the city and his father's legacy.


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

AMY GOODMAN: We end the show today in Jackson, Mississippi, where just one week from today social justice activist and attorney Chokwe Antar Lumumba will be sworn in as Jackson's next mayor. Earlier this month, Lumumba won the general election in a landslide, after handily winning a primary election in May. This is Chokwe Antar Lumumba celebrating his general election victory with supporters.


SUPPORTERS: Free the land!


SUPPORTERS: Free the land!


SUPPORTERS: Free the land!

MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: By any means necessary. I need you to stand strong as we go forward. There are people who doubt your resolve, doubt that this city can be everything that it will be. And so, you can't give up now. I say, when I become mayor, you become mayor. So that means y'all got some work to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Chokwe Lumumba is the son of the late Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, a longtime black nationalist organizer and attorney, dubbed "America's most revolutionary mayor" before his death in 2014. The 34-year-old Chokwe Antar Lumumba supports economic democracy, has proposed a civic incubator fund to support cooperative, member-owned businesses in Jackson. Shortly after his election, Lumumba was a featured speaker, just a few weeks ago, at the People's Summit in Chicago.

MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: I bring greetings from Jackson, Mississippi, where I have recently been named mayor-elect of Jackson, Mississippi. In this process, we defeated a field of 16 people. We were able to secure the general election with 94 percent of the vote. And more important than that, we did so on a people's platform, on a people's platform where, from the moment we announced, we did so saying that we were running on an agenda of social justice, of economic democracy and -- and working with people, making certain that people had a voice. And that's our story, and we're sticking to it.

As we look at the condition of our country, as we consider the fact that we're in Trump times, we have all kinds of questions of what that means. And when I've been confronted with the question of "How do you feel in Jackson, Mississippi, after the Trump election?" what I had to share with people is, after -- the Wednesday after the election, I woke up in Jackson, Mississippi. And what that means is, no matter whether our country has experienced great booms or busts, in Mississippi we've always been at the bottom. And so what that means is that we have to decide that we are going to rescue ourselves, that in places like Jackson, Mississippi, we won't allow it to become havens of oppression which endanger all of us.

So what happens in Jackson, Mississippi, impacts each and every one of us. And so we have to make the decision that we're going to start controlling the way electoral politics proceeds. And so we've made the decision that we're going to be the most radical city on the planet, that we're going to make certain -- that we're going to make certain that we change the whole scope of electoral politics. No longer will we allow an individual to step before us and tell us all of the great things that they're going to accomplish on our behalf, only to find that nothing in their past demonstrates a sincerity, a willingness or an ability to do so. What we must do -- what we must do in Jackson, Mississippi, in DC, in Maryland, in Gary, Indiana, in Chicago, Illinois, is we have to start drafting an agenda for ourselves, creating an agenda, creating what we want to see, and then we draft the leadership which represents our agenda.

And so, we're excited about this energy which is surfacing, but it is time that we concretize it, that we take it from the mystical, from the mysterious, and put it into action and see what we can demonstrate when progressive people come together and have a plan and decide how we're going to change the very scope of this world.

And so, we have to come to the same understanding that Martin Luther King came to in his last days. Martin had a conversation with Harry Belafonte not long before he died. And what Martin told Harry, he said, "Listen, Harry, we're going to win this integration struggle. But I'm beginning to wonder. I'm beginning to wonder if we're not integrating into a burning house." He said, "I see a system which is abusing labor and abusing working people." And he said, "I'm worried about integrating into a house that looks like that." He said, "If people can't be fed, if people can't take care of their families, then it is useless to walk Mississippi roads together."

And so, ultimately, it becomes greater than a question of color and more a question of ideas and what are the best ideas and what are the worst ideas. And what the worst ideas are, is that you can be oppressive to anyone. And so, we now demand -- we now demand that our leadership looks at how we include the people's voice in the process, and that we have a -- we have two choices. We have a choice of economics by the people and for the people or economics by a few people for themselves. And so, we're demanding, right now, right now, that we begin to rescue ourselves. Right now, as my comrade said, we have nothing to lose but our chains. Thank you so much.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Jackson, Mississippi, Mayor-elect Chokwe Antar Lumumba speaking earlier this month at the People's Summit in Chicago. Well, he joins us now live from Jackson, Mississippi.

Mayor-elect Lumumba, welcome to Democracy Now!

MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: Thank you so much, Amy. I'm happy to be on your program with you today.

AMY GOODMAN: So, one week from today, you're going to be sworn in as the next mayor of Jackson, Mississippi. Talk about your plans, what are your -- going to be your first actions in office.

MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: Well, Amy, we're putting together -- we have a transition team that's in place right now and looking at the issues which Jackson is facing, making certain that we don't make plans just off conjecture, but a fact-based analysis of where we find our city, and bringing together not only people who have the acumen and ability and skill to do the job, but people who have a passion, a passion which goes beyond just the way we see electoral politics, but a passion to change people's lives. And part of that process is putting together a budget. Shortly after we take office, we have to pass a budget. And so, it's important that we have the right people in place.

One of the symbolic measures that we're going to take immediately as we take office is a citywide cleanup. It's more than just, you know, taking care of the aesthetic appeal of our city. It's about unifying the city. It's about bringing people from all areas of the city together and taking a collective interest in how our city looks. You know, I hearken back to the words of my mother: "If you don't care for your house, no one else will." And so, we're going to take those easy first steps, that is symbolic of where we're going and the direction we're headed in collectively.

AMY GOODMAN: You referred your mother. Can you talk about the origins of your name, Chokwe, Chokwe Antar Lumumba?

MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: Amy, I couldn't hear you. My earpiece slipped out for a moment.

AMY GOODMAN: Oh. Can you talk about the --

MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: Can you please repeat that question?

AMY GOODMAN: -- the origins of your name, Chokwe Antar Lumumba?

MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: So, my father changed his name when he was in law school, and accepted a name that he believed to be more culturally identifiable. Chokwe is the name of a tribe in the Angola region, a tribe that was resistant to the slave trade. The name Chokwe means "hunter." Antar is the name of a historic poet and warrior who died while saving a woman from drowning. And Antar means "poet" and "warrior." Lumumba, given that name from our namesake, Patrice Lumumba, the former prime minister of the Congo. And Lumumba means "gifted."

AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about -- I mean, your rise to the -- to becoming mayor of Jackson is very interesting, because the incumbent mayor, Tony Yarber, won the special election against you in 2014, the race that determined who would finish your father's term after he died in office. Your thoughts about losing to him then but defeating him in this race? What changed?

MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: Well, you know, as I've shared with many people, hindsight is 20/20. And I'm actually grateful that we lost the election in 2014, not because the sincerity was not there, not because we don't believe we could have done a good job, but we've been able to, you know, appreciate far more that's going on with the city of Jackson, and I've been able to appreciate more within myself. You know, people have to remember, in 2014, not only did I bury my father in a two-month time span and then enter into an election, my wife was pregnant with our first child. And so there was a world of change. You had a first-time candidate, who had not run for junior class president, much less mayor of a city. And so, we've been able to, you know, gather more information and position ourselves better. And so everything happens in a perfect timing. And so, we're happy where we find ourselves at this time, to move forward the agenda that my father embarked on, an agenda of a people's platform, one that was not only, you know, symbolic of his work in his short term as mayor, but symbolic of his work, a lifetime of work, that he subscribed to and also ultimately dedicated his family toward.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to your father, Chokwe Lumumba. In June 2013, I interviewed him just after he was elected mayor.

MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE LUMUMBA: There are some people historically who have always tried to separate the populations and to have a certain portion of the population oppress the rest of the population. We're not going to tolerate that. We're going to move ahead. We're going to let everyone participate in this movement forward. We're going to invite everyone to participate in this movement forward. And we have formed like a people's assembly, that's key to what we've done here, where we have -- every three months, the population can come out and participate in an open forum to say what's on their mind.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Chokwe Lumumba in 2013, when he was mayor-elect, in the very same studio that you, Mayor-elect Lumumba, are sitting in right now. In that speech we just played that you gave at the People's Summit, where I first met you just a few weeks ago, in Chicago, you said, "We're going to be the most radical city on the planet." What does that look like?

MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: It looks like a plan where we, you know, change the way we view electoral politics. You know, in that speech, I spoke about not accepting someone's agenda for our lives, but creating one ourselves. So, giving people more control of their governance is what that looks like. It's an inclusive process. Sometimes when we use the word "radical," people find themselves in fear and question whether they're a part of that radical agenda. And that's exactly our plan, is to incorporate more people, giving people voice who have not had it. That is a shift from what we've seen in traditional politics. It's usually the lay of the land is given to those who are most privileged. And so, we're trying to incorporate more people in the process, give voice to the voiceless.

And it starts with identifying, you know, the areas of greatest need. We need to show our workers, our city workers, and, you know, even the unionized work that we need -- we need to show people dignity and respect in their jobs and also see the economic benefit of it. You know, Jackson is like many cities: It does not have a problem producing wealth; it has a problem maintaining wealth. And so, if you put more money in the people's hands that live and work here, you stand a greater chance of receiving it back. And so we're also going to look at practical solutions to our problems. It is about forming relationships. It is about operational unity and making certain that you can work with people who may historically find themselves on the opposite end of a struggle that you may be engaged in, such as the state, such as, you know, a Trump administration. And so you want to identify your common ends and see how you exploit those common goals in order to arrive at the solutions that benefit us all. But it's also about how you take -- make better use of the resources you have. What we look at as --

AMY GOODMAN: Mayor-elect, I'm going to interrupt just because we only have a minute --


AMY GOODMAN: -- and I want to ask, Jackson drew a lot of attention earlier this year, when Daniela Vargas, who is a 22-year-old undocumented immigrant, was arrested by ICE after she had just held a news conference. Her pending application for renewal of DACA status, it was pending. Is Jackson going to be a sanctuary city?

MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: Jackson is going to be a city which protects human rights for human beings. I don't care whether your ancestors arrived on the Mayflower or whether you joined us more recently, you deserve the same protections and respect in this city. And so, I find -- we find ourselves in interesting times, where the word "sanctuary" becomes a negative phrase. I'm proud of the work my father did in order to secure an anti-racial-profiling ordinance in the city, and we will continue to protect everyone who lives within our city, and make sure that they're not harassed.

AMY GOODMAN: And the issue of police accountability? In the last weeks, we have seen two police officers acquitted or cases with mistrials around the killing of African-American motorists. Your thoughts?

MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: I think we have a criminal justice system in our country which is entirely out of hand. You know, it's the largest business going. And the fact that we've made the criminal justice system into more of an industry, it provides or creates a culture that allows for people to be harassed, killed and shuffled in like cattle.

AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds.

MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: And so, that encourages an environment of police brutality. And so, what we want to do is be ahead of the curve in the city of Jackson. We want to see programs which --

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to have to leave it there.

MAYOR-ELECT CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: -- which deal with community sensitivity.

AMY GOODMAN: I thank you so much, and we'll cover your -- the day you become mayor.

What Happens When the Federal Government Eliminates Health Coverage?
June 25th, 2017, 05:58 AM

A patient is examined at a practice in Taylorsville, Kentucky, January 15, 2014. President Donald Trump has repeatedly threatened to cut off the federal funding that makes the Affordable Care Act's cost-sharing reductions work for insurers and patients. (Photo: Luke Sharrett / The New York Times)A patient is examined at a practice in Taylorsville, Kentucky, January 15, 2014. President Trump has repeatedly threatened to cut off the federal funding that makes the Affordable Care Act's cost-sharing reductions work for insurers and patients. (Photo: Luke Sharrett / The New York Times)

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

After much secrecy and no public deliberation, Senate Republicans finalized release their "draft" repeal and replace bill for the Affordable Care Act on June 22. Unquestionably, the released "draft" will not be the final version.

Amendments and a potential, albeit not necessary, conference committee are likely to make some adjustments. However, both the House version -- American Health Care Act (AHCA) -- and the Senate's Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) will significantly reduce coverage for millions of Americans and reshape insurance for virtually everyone. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is expected to provide final numbers early the week of June 26.

If successful, the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act would be in rare company. Even though the US has been slower than any other Western country to develop a safety net, the US has rarely taken back benefits once they have been bestowed on its citizenry. Indeed, only a small number of significant cases come to mind.

My academic work has analyzed the evolution of the American health care system including those rare instances. I believe historical precedents can provide insights for the current debate.

Providing Help to Mothers and Infants

The first major federal grant program for health purposes was also the first one to quickly be eliminated. The program was authorized under the Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infancy Protection Act of 1921. It provided the equivalent of US$20 million a year in today's dollars to states in order to pay for the needs of women and young children.

Sheppard-Towner, which provided funding to improve health care services for mothers and infants, was enacted after a long debate in Congress amid accusations of socialism and promiscuity. Interestingly enough, the act may have passed only due to pressure from newly voting-eligible women.

Overall, the program was responsible for more than 3 million home visits, close to 200,000 child health conferences and more than 22 million pieces of health education literature distributed. It also helped to establish 3,000 permanent health clinics serving 700,000 expectant mothers and more than 4 million babies.

The program continued until 1929, when Congress, under pressure from the American Medical Association, the Catholic Church and the Daughters of the American Revolution, terminated the program. Without federal support, a majority of states either eliminated the programs or only provided nominal funding. Fortunately for America's children and mothers, the Social Security Amendment of 1935 reestablished much of the original funding and expanded it over time.

Helping US Farmers During the New Deal

America's next major program confronted a similar fate. To address the challenges of rural America during the Great Depression, the federal government developed a variety of insurance and health care programs that offered extensive and comprehensive services to millions of farm workers, migrants and farmers.

Some of these programs provided subsidies to farmers to form more than 1,200 insurance cooperatives nationwide. At times, the federal government's Farm Security Administaton (FSA)'s Farm Security Administaton (FSA) provided extensive services directly to migrant farm workers through medical assistance on agricultural trains, mobile and roving clinics, migratory labor camps that included health centers staffed with qualified providers, full-service hospitals and Agricultural Workers Health Associations (AWHA).

In all cases, services were generally comprehensive and included ordinary medical care, emergency surgery and hospitalization, maternal and infant care, prescription drugs and dental care.

Although these services were accepted during wartime, the American Medical Association and the Farm Bureau opposed them, which ultimately led to their demise shortly after World War II. Millions of farmers lost their insurance.

Medicaid in the 1980s

Perhaps the most indicative expectations on what will happen in case congressional Republicans are able to pass their proposal hails from the Medicaid program itself.

In the early 1980s, Medicaid underwent a series of cuts and reductions leading to the first contracting in the program's history. These involved both a reduction in federal funding and in eligibility, and an increase in state flexibility to run the program, as do the Republican proposals in Congress.

The cuts pale in comparison to those currently proposed by both the Senate and House. Nonetheless, the results was the first slowing of the Medicaid growth rate. However, this came at a steep cost for many Americans in the form of a significant reduction in enrollment, benefits and access even during a recessionary period.

Protecting the US's Seniors

The 1980s also saw the creation and quick demise of another health care program. The Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act of 1988 sought to fill in the gaps of the original Medicare program for America's seniors. Specifically, it sought to provide them with protection from major medical costs and offer them a prescription drug benefit for the first time.

Similarly to the Affordable Care Act, the law had a redistributive foundation by requiring richer seniors to contribute more than poorer individuals. Also, similarly to the Affordable Care Act, it phased in benefits over a period of time.

Congress, confronted by affluent seniors who would have shouldered much of the financial burden of the program, quickly repealed much of the law before its provisions came into effect.

It took more than a decade to provide America's seniors with a prescription drug benefit through Medicare Part D, while only limited steps have been taken to protect seniors from major medical losses.

A Serious Setback Looming?

While a latecomer, the United States has inched closer to the development of a comprehensive welfare state when it comes to health care. While the development has been incomplete, health benefits, once granted, have rarely been revoked except in those few cases described above.

The consequences of those rare cases are nonetheless instructive. States were unable to continue the program without federal support or offer a valid replacement. Indeed, the programs quickly faded away. With them, millions of Americans lost access to health care.

In all three previous cases, the federal government eventually renewed its financial support. However, at times it took time for a replacement program to emerge.

The current changes proposed by congressional Republicans, particularly to the Medicaid program, are tremendously more consequential than anything we have previously experienced.

Indeed, in scale and extent, the proposed changes are unprecedented and would significantly roll back, likely for the foreseeable future, America's safety net.

The Conversation

Myths of Job-Killing Robots Obscure Real Causes of Inequality
June 25th, 2017, 05:58 AM

Robotic arms work on a Jeep Grand Cherokee at the Chrysler Jefferson North assembly plant in Detroit, May 29, 2013. (Photo: Fabrizio Costantini / The New York Times)Robotic arms work on a Jeep Grand Cherokee at the Chrysler Jefferson North assembly plant in Detroit, May 29, 2013. (Photo: Fabrizio Costantini / The New York Times)

It's rare that a day goes by when there is not some major story of workers losing jobs to self-driving cars and trucks or robots stocking supermarket store shelves or dishing out fast-food hamburgers. The specifics may differ, but the story is the same; new technology will lead to mass unemployment. The frequency of these stories is truly striking for the simple reason that it so obviously not true.

The story of mass displacement of workers by robots is a story of rapid productivity growth. Robots are supposed to be doing the work formerly done by people. This means that we should be seeing far more output for each hour of human labor. This is something we can easily check, since the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) puts out data on productivity growth every quarter.

Rather than going through the roof as the robot story would imply, productivity growth has fallen through the floor. It's averaged just 1.2 percent annually in the last 10 years and 0.6 percent in the last five years. By comparison, productivity growth averaged 3 percent in both the decade from 1995 to 2005 and the long Golden Age from 1947 to 1973.

It's possible to point to many great advances in technology. It's also possible in future years that innovations like driverless cars will lead to mass displacement of workers, but to date the data are very clear: this mass displacement is not happening. Insofar as people are seeing job opportunities disappear, it is due to factors other than robots.

It actually would be a good thing if we did see more rapid productivity growth. The period from 1947 to 1973 was a period of low unemployment and rapid wage growth. Workers were able to capture the benefits of rapid productivity growth in higher pay.

There was a similar story with at least the first half of the 1995 to 2005 productivity uptick. In the late 1990s, unemployment rates fell to levels that many economists did not think would be possible without triggering spiraling inflation. (It didn't.) In addition, workers at the middle and the bottom of the wage ladder saw sustained real wage growth for the only time in the last four decades. This period of prosperity ended when the stock market crash brought on the 2001 recession, from which the labor market recovered slowly, but few economists would see the productivity boom of this decade as being a negative from the standpoint of workers.

If the productivity story is unambiguous -- there is no mass displacement due to robots -- there are some who argue that robots are still leading to a redistribution from workers to the people who own the robots. In other words, there is something about the nature of robot technology that affects the labor market differently than other labor saving technologies.

While this argument is highly dubious on its face, it is worth looking more closely at what it implies. "Owning" a robot is not a technological relationship. Robots would not be expensive because of the materials and labor that go into assembling them.

If we just considered the cost of physically producing robots, they should be cheap. We should all be able to buy a robot for a few hundred dollars that would cook our food, clean our house, mow our lawns, and do all sorts of other tasks that are time-consuming, unpleasant and often involve substantial expenses. In this case, robots should be leading to rapid increases in real wages and living standards.

However, if robots are expensive and therefore redistributing large amounts of money from ordinary workers to the people who own robots, it is because of the patent and copyright monopolies associated with building robots. But these monopolies have nothing to do with the technology; these are incentives the government gives to support innovation. In other words, the length and strength of patents and copyrights are determined by public policy.

If these protections were leading to upward redistribution it would indicate that we have made patent and copyright protection too long and/or too strong. This is especially true if we aren't seeing much payoff in the form of higher productivity growth. Robots don't provide an alternative to the explanations for inequality that attribute it to deliberate policy choices. On more careful examination, the robot story ends up being just one more policy-based explanation like trade, the weakening of labor unions, declining minimum wages and contractionary macroeconomic policy.

The robot story is likely attractive to many people since it appears to pin the blame for inequality on the natural development of technology. This undoubtedly explains why we hear it so frequently even though there is zero evidence to support it. Maybe if the proponents understood their own argument better they would stop repeating it.

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Women in California's Largest Immigrant Prison Hold Hunger Strike
June 25th, 2017, 05:58 AM

On June 14, 33 women who have been detained and incarcerated by ICE in California's Adelanto Detention Facility launched a hunger strike. They were protesting the poor conditions at the facility as well as the policies that were keeping them away from their children and loved ones. The facility is the largest private immigration detention facility in the US.

(Photo: Pixabay)(Photo: Pixabay)

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On June 14, 33 women who have been detained and incarcerated by ICE in California's Adelanto Detention Facility launched a hunger strike. They were protesting the poor conditions at the facility as well as the policies that were keeping them away from their children and loved ones.

The Adelanto Detention Facility, with a capacity of 1,940, is the largest private immigration detention facility in the United States. Run by the GEO Group, ICE pays $111 per person per day for the first 975 detainees, thus guaranteeing GEO a minimum of $40 million each year. If more than 975 people are detained inside Adelanto, the daily rate drops to less than $50 per day.

Immigrant rights organizations, such as Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement, or CIVIC, and Detention Watch Network, have sharply criticized Adelanto for its widespread and systemic abuses towards immigrants in custody.

Since March 2017, three people have died at Adelanto. Others have reported medical neglect and, on at least one occasion, being punished for seeking medical care. Norma Gutierrez, one of the women on hunger strike has suffered multiple strokes during her incarceration at Adelanto. Instead of receiving proper medical care, she was placed in solitary confinement. Such medical neglect is not new; Human Rights Watch found that Adelanto has had ongoing failures in providing medical care to detainees, including extended delays in responding to medical requests, overmedication of people with mental disabilities, the use of shackles during psychiatric appointments, a lack of continuity of care for those with chronic conditions, delayed or denied care for people whose removal seems to be imminent, and denial of care or misdiagnoses for people with serious conditions or diseases.

Among the women's demands were better medical care, respectful treatment by prison staff, an end to ICE's unreasonably high bonds, and reunification with their children and families. According to Christina Mansfield, co-founder and co-executive director of CIVIC, many of the women had been detained for over six months by that point. "We want them to speak to us like we are humans, not animals. We don't want to be disrespected and cursed at," Sara Salcido, one of the women on hunger strike, told Mansfield.

This is not the first hunger strike in Adelanto this month. The week before, nine men launched a hunger strike protesting these same conditions. They had arrived with a refugee caravan from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala claiming asylum at the US border. Instead, they were detained and sent to Adelanto.

On Monday, June 12, they refused to return to their assigned beds for count, a practice in prisons, jails and immigrant detention centers in which all movement stops while each and every person is counted. But that morning, the nine men locked arms; in response, guards pepper sprayed them and put them in isolation. Advocates said that guards also physically beat the men, a claim that ICE officials disputed in an email statement, saying that the guards "applied the necessary degree of force to extract the resisting detainees from the residence unit and transfer them to a restricted housing area." Shortly after, six of those men began refusing food.

The men issued nine demands: a fair bond for all detainees, political asylum, new uniforms -- especially new underwear -- instead of clothes previously worn by other people, more time for religious services, paperwork provided in their own languages, 24-hour access to clean water, better food, and an end to throwing away their belongings. They also demanded that they be released on their own recognizance rather than remain detained for their inability to pay bond.

The women were aware of the men's actions, Mansfield said. Hoping to avoid similar forms of retaliation, they asked that their names be made public.

That Wednesday morning, as 33 women refused to eat breakfast, Mansfield received another call from inside. According to the women calling her, guards had threatened the women with pepper spray, solitary confinement and confiscation of their belongings if they continued to refuse food.

However, that afternoon, 20 of the women, all of whom had been unsuccessfully seeking health care, were taken to see medical staff. Jail staff also agreed to treat the women with respect, including respecting their religious freedom. However, ICE officials told the women that they have no control over the bonds. In reality, however, the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE, has the authority to grant conditional parole and release a person on their own recognizance rather than set bond.

By dinner that evening, the women had ended the hunger strike.

In the limited communication Mansfield has received since, none of the women have reported retaliation. But that doesn't mean that Adelanto staff and GEO administrators are not on the alert and ready to quash any future signs of activism or solidarity.

On June 20, one week after the women's hunger strike and two weeks after the men's, CIVIC and over 60 faith leaders and attorneys boarded a bus to head to Adelanto, 85 miles outside of Los Angeles, to visit the people detained inside. Upon disembarking, the group held a five-minute interfaith prayer outside the facility. In response, GEO staff not only denied the visitors entrance, but also placed the entire facility on lockdown and kicked out the attorneys and family members who were already inside waiting to visit.

Though ICE's federal standards mandate that detention facilities provide 24-hour access for attorneys to visit their clients, Christina Fialho, an attorney as well as CIVIC's other co-founder and co-executive director, was denied visits with 14 of her clients despite having received prior approval from ICE. Other attorneys were denied entry as well, including those who had not come or were not affiliated with the bus from Los Angeles.

"When we see abuse in detention, it is our moral obligation to speak up and stand in solidarity with our friends in detention," Fialho stated. "By denying us access after a peaceful and short prayer, ICE has tried to make us choose between our First Amendment rights and visiting our friends and clients in immigration detention. This is not a choice our government can legally ask us to make."

Thinking Dangerously: The Role of Higher Education in Authoritarian Times
June 25th, 2017, 05:58 AM

Demonstrators display signs at the National Day of Public Education demonstration against rising tuition costs at the Univeersity of Minnesota, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 24, 2014. (Photo: Fibonacci Blue)Protesters display signs at the National Day of Public Education demonstration against rising tuition costs at the University of Minnesota, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 24, 2014. (Photo: Fibonacci Blue)

In authoritarian societies, where education is viewed as a threat, it is imperative to teach students to think dangerously and to develop a vision of society that connects private troubles to broader public issues. The fight for the rights of educators and education is central to politics because without a formative culture of questioning by informed citizens, we lose the foundation for a working democracy.

Demonstrators display signs at the National Day of Public Education demonstration against rising tuition costs at the Univeersity of Minnesota, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 24, 2014. (Photo: Fibonacci Blue)Protesters display signs at the National Day of Public Education demonstration against rising tuition costs at the University of Minnesota, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 24, 2014. (Photo: Fibonacci Blue)

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What happens to democracy when the president of the United States labels critical media outlets as "enemies of the people" and disparages the search for truth with the blanket term "fake news"? What happens to democracy when individuals and groups are demonized on the basis of their religion? What happens to a society when critical thinking becomes an object of contempt? What happens to a social order ruled by an economics of contempt that blames the poor for their condition and subjects them to a culture of shaming? What happens to a polity when it retreats into private silos and becomes indifferent to the use of language deployed in the service of a panicked rage -- language that stokes anger but ignores issues that matter? What happens to a social order when it treats millions of undocumented immigrants as disposable, potential terrorists and "criminals"? What happens to a country when the presiding principles of its society are violence and ignorance?

What happens is that democracy withers and dies, both as an ideal and as a reality.

To read more articles by Henry A. Giroux and other authors in the Public Intellectual Project, click here.

In the present moment, it becomes particularly important for educators and concerned citizens all over the world to protect and enlarge the critical formative educational cultures and public spheres that make democracy possible. Alternative newspapers, progressive media, screen culture, online media and other educational sites and spaces in which public pedagogies are produced constitute the political and educational elements of a vibrant, critical formative culture within a wide range of public spheres. Critical formative cultures are crucial in producing the knowledge, values, social relations and visions that help nurture and sustain the possibility to think critically, engage in political dissent, organize collectively and inhabit public spaces in which alternative and critical theories can be developed.

At the core of thinking dangerously is the recognition that education is central to politics and that a democracy cannot survive without informed citizens.

Authoritarian societies do more than censor; they punish those who engage in what might be called dangerous thinking. At the core of thinking dangerously is the recognition that education is central to politics and that a democracy cannot survive without informed citizens. Critical and dangerous thinking is the precondition for nurturing the ethical imagination that enables engaged citizens to learn how to govern rather than be governed. Thinking with courage is fundamental to a notion of civic literacy that views knowledge as central to the pursuit of economic and political justice. Such thinking incorporates a set of values that enables a polity to deal critically with the use and effects of power, particularly through a developed sense of compassion for others and the planet. Thinking dangerously is the basis for a formative and educational culture of questioning that takes seriously how imagination is key to the practice of freedom. Thinking dangerously is not only the cornerstone of critical agency and engaged citizenship, it's also the foundation for a working democracy.

Education and the Struggle for Liberation

Any viable attempt at developing a democratic politics must begin to address the role of education and civic literacy as central to politics itself. Education is also vital to the creation of individuals capable of becoming critical social agents willing to struggle against injustices and develop the institutions that are crucial to the functioning of a substantive democracy. One way to begin such a project is to address the meaning and role of higher education (and education in general) as part of the broader struggle for freedom.

The reach of education extends from schools to diverse cultural apparatuses, such as the mainstream media, alternative screen cultures and the expanding digital screen culture. Far more than a teaching method, education is a moral and political practice actively involved not only in the production of knowledge, skills and values but also in the construction of identities, modes of identification, and forms of individual and social agency. Accordingly, education is at the heart of any understanding of politics and the ideological scaffolding of those framing mechanisms that mediate our everyday lives.

Across the globe, the forces of free-market fundamentalism are using the educational system to reproduce a culture of privatization, deregulation and commercialization while waging an assault on the historically guaranteed social provisions and civil rights provided by the welfare state, higher education, unions, reproductive rights and civil liberties. All the while, these forces are undercutting public faith in the defining institutions of democracy.

This grim reality was described by Axel Honneth in his book Pathologies of Reason as a "failed sociality" characteristic of an increasing number of societies in which democracy is waning -- a failure in the power of the civic imagination, political will and open democracy. It is also part of a politics that strips the social of any democratic ideals and undermines any understanding of education as a public good and pedagogy as an empowering practice: a practice that can act directly upon the conditions that bear down on our lives in order to change them when necessary.

As Chandra Mohanty points out:

At its most ambitious, [critical] pedagogy is an attempt to get students to think critically about their place in relation to the knowledge they gain and to transform their world view fundamentally by taking the politics of knowledge seriously. It is a pedagogy that attempts to link knowledge, social responsibility, and collective struggle. And it does so by emphasizing the risks that education involves, the struggles for institutional change, and the strategies for challenging forms of domination and by creating more equitable and just public spheres within and outside of educational institutions.

At its core, critical pedagogy raises issues of how education might be understood as a moral and political practice, and not simply a technical one. At stake here is the issue of meaning and purpose in which educators put into place the pedagogical conditions for creating a public sphere of citizens who are able to exercise power over their own lives. Critical pedagogy is organized around the struggle over agency, values and social relations within diverse contexts, resources and histories. Its aim is producing students who can think critically, be considerate of others, take risks, think dangerously and imagine a future that extends and deepens what it means to be an engaged citizen capable of living in a substantive democracy.

What work do educators have to do to create the economic, political and ethical conditions necessary to endow young people and the general public with the capacities to think, question, doubt, imagine the unimaginable and defend education as essential for inspiring and energizing the citizens necessary for the existence of a robust democracy? This is a particularly important issue at a time when higher education is being defunded and students are being punished with huge tuition hikes and financial debts, while being subjected to a pedagogy of repression that has taken hold under the banner of reactionary and oppressive educational reforms pushed by right-wing billionaires and hedge fund managers. Addressing education as a democratic public sphere is also crucial as a theoretical tool and political resource for fighting against neoliberal modes of governance that have reduced faculty all over the United States to adjuncts and part-time workers with few or no benefits. These workers bear the brunt of a labor process that is as exploitative as it is disempowering.

Educators Need a New Language for the Current Era

Given the crisis of education, agency and memory that haunts the current historical conjuncture, educators need a new language for addressing the changing contexts of a world in which an unprecedented convergence of resources -- financial, cultural, political, economic, scientific, military and technological -- is increasingly used to exercise powerful and diverse forms of control and domination. Such a language needs to be self-reflective and directive without being dogmatic, and needs to recognize that pedagogy is always political because it is connected to the acquisition of agency. In this instance, making the pedagogical more political means being vigilant about what Gary Olson and Lynn Worsham describe as "that very moment in which identities are being produced and groups are being constituted, or objects are being created." At the same time it means educators need to be attentive to those practices in which critical modes of agency and particular identities are being denied.

In part, this suggests developing educational practices that not only inspire and energize people but are also capable of challenging the growing number of anti-democratic practices and policies under the global tyranny of casino capitalism. Such a vision demands that we imagine a life beyond a social order immersed in massive inequality, endless assaults on the environment, and the elevation of war and militarization to the highest and most sanctified national ideals. Under such circumstances, education becomes more than an obsession with accountability schemes and the bearer of an audit culture (a culture characterized by a call to be objective and an unbridled emphasis on empiricism). Audit cultures support conservative educational policies driven by market values and an unreflective immersion in the crude rationality of a data-obsessed market-driven society; as such, they are at odds with any viable notion of a democratically inspired education and critical pedagogy. In addition, viewing public and higher education as democratic public spheres necessitates rejecting the notion that they should be reduced to sites for training students for the workforce -- a reductive vision now being imposed on public education by high-tech companies such as Facebook, Netflix and Google, which want to encourage what they call the entrepreneurial mission of education, which is code for collapsing education into training.

Education can all too easily become a form of symbolic and intellectual violence that assaults rather than educates. Examples of such violence can be seen in the forms of an audit culture and empirically-driven teaching that dominates higher education. These educational projects amount to pedagogies of repression and serve primarily to numb the mind and produce what might be called dead zones of the imagination. These are pedagogies that are largely disciplinary and have little regard for contexts, history, making knowledge meaningful, or expanding what it means for students to be critically engaged agents. Of course, the ongoing corporatization of the university is driven by modes of assessment that often undercut teacher autonomy and treat knowledge as a commodity and students as customers, imposing brutalizing structures of governance on higher education. Under such circumstances, education defaults on its democratic obligations and becomes a tool of control and powerlessness, thereby deadening the imagination.

The fundamental challenge facing educators within the current age of an emerging authoritarianism worldwide is to create those public spaces for students to address how knowledge is related to the power of both self-definition and social agency. In part, this suggests providing students with the skills, ideas, values and authority necessary for them not only to be well-informed and knowledgeable across a number of traditions and disciplines, but also to be able to invest in the reality of a substantive democracy. In this context, students learn to recognize anti-democratic forms of power. They also learn to fight deeply rooted injustices in a society and world founded on systemic economic, racial and gendered inequalities.

Education in this sense speaks to the recognition that any pedagogical practice presupposes some notion of the future, prioritizes some forms of identification over others and values some modes of knowing over others. (Think about how business schools are held in high esteem while schools of education are often disparaged.) Moreover, such an education does not offer guarantees. Instead, it recognizes that its own policies, ideology and values are grounded in particular modes of authority, values and ethical principles that must be constantly debated for the ways in which they both open up and close down democratic relations, values and identities.

The notion of a neutral, objective education is an oxymoron. Education and pedagogy do not exist outside of ideology, values and politics. Ethics, when it comes to education, demand an openness to the other, a willingness to engage a "politics of possibility" through a continual critical engagement with texts, images, events and other registers of meaning as they are transformed into pedagogical practices both within and outside of the classroom. Education is never innocent: It is always implicated in relations of power and specific visions of the present and future. This suggests the need for educators to rethink the cultural and ideological baggage they bring to each educational encounter. It also highlights the necessity of making educators ethically and politically accountable and self-reflective for the stories they produce, the claims they make upon public memory, and the images of the future they deem legitimate. Education in this sense is not an antidote to politics, nor is it a nostalgic yearning for a better time or for some "inconceivably alternative future." Instead, it is what Terry Eagleton describes in his book The Idea of Culture as an "attempt to find a bridge between the present and future in those forces within the present which are potentially able to transform it."

One of the most serious challenges facing administrators, faculty and students in colleges and universities is the task of developing a discourse of both critique and possibility. This means developing discourses and pedagogical practices that connect reading the word with reading the world, and doing so in ways that enhance the capacities of young people to be critical agents and engaged citizens.

Reviving the Social Imagination

Educators, students and others concerned about the fate of higher education need to mount a spirited attack against the managerial takeover of the university that began in the late 1970s with the emergence of a market-driven ideology, what can be called neoliberalism, which argues that market principles should govern not just the economy but all of social life, including education. Central to such a recognition is the need to struggle against a university system developed around the reduction in faculty and student power, the replacement of a culture of cooperation and collegiality with a shark-like culture of competition, the rise of an audit culture that has produced a very limited notion of regulation and evaluation, and the narrow and harmful view that students are clients and colleges "should operate more like private firms than public institutions, with an onus on income generation," as Australian scholar Richard Hill puts it in his Arena article "Against the Neoliberal University." In addition, there is an urgent need for guarantees of full-time employment and protections for faculty while viewing knowledge as a public asset and the university as a public good.

In any democratic society, education should be viewed as a right, not an entitlement. Educators need to produce a national conversation in which higher education can be defended as a public good.

With these issues in mind, let me conclude by pointing to six further considerations for change.

First, there is a need for what can be called a revival of the social imagination and the defense of the public good, especially in regard to higher education, in order to reclaim its egalitarian and democratic impulses. This revival would be part of a larger project to, as Stanley Aronowitz writes in Tikkun, "reinvent democracy in the wake of the evidence that, at the national level, there is no democracy -- if by 'democracy' we mean effective popular participation in the crucial decisions affecting the community." One step in this direction would be for young people, intellectuals, scholars and others to go on the offensive against what Gene R. Nichol has described as the conservative-led campaign "to end higher education's democratizing influence on the nation." Higher education should be harnessed neither to the demands of the warfare state nor to the instrumental needs of corporations. Clearly, in any democratic society, education should be viewed as a right, not an entitlement. Educators need to produce a national conversation in which higher education can be defended as a public good and the classroom as a site of engaged inquiry and critical thinking, a site that makes a claim on the radical imagination and builds a sense of civic courage. At the same time, the discourse on defining higher education as a democratic public sphere would provide the platform for moving on to the larger issue of developing a social movement in defense of public goods.

Second, I believe that educators need to consider defining pedagogy, if not education itself, as central to producing those democratic public spheres that foster an informed citizenry. Pedagogically, this points to modes of teaching and learning capable of enacting and sustaining a culture of questioning, and enabling the advancement of what Kristen Case calls "moments of classroom grace." Moments of grace in this context are understood as moments that enable a classroom to become a place to think critically, ask troubling questions and take risks, even though that may mean transgressing established norms and bureaucratic procedures.

Pedagogies of classroom grace should provide the conditions for students and others to reflect critically on commonsense understandings of the world and begin to question their own sense of agency, relationships to others, and relationships to the larger world. This can be linked to broader pedagogical imperatives that ask why we have wars, massive inequality, and a surveillance state. There is also the issue of how everything has become commodified, along with the withering of a politics of translation that prevents the collapse of the public into the private. This is not merely a methodical consideration but also a moral and political practice because it presupposes the development of critically engaged students who can imagine a future in which justice, equality, freedom and democracy matter.

Such pedagogical practices are rich with possibilities for understanding the classroom as a space that ruptures, engages, unsettles and inspires. Education as democratic public space cannot exist under modes of governance dominated by a business model, especially one that subjects faculty to a Walmart model of labor relations designed "to reduce labor costs and to increase labor servility," as Noam Chomsky writes. In the US, over 70 percent of faculty occupy nontenured and part-time positions, many without benefits and with salaries so low that they qualify for food stamps. Faculty need to be given more security, full-time jobs, autonomy and the support they need to function as professionals. While many other countries do not emulate this model of faculty servility, it is part of a neoliberal legacy that is increasingly gaining traction across the globe.

Third, educators need to develop a comprehensive educational program that would include teaching students how to live in a world marked by multiple overlapping modes of literacy extending from print to visual culture and screen cultures. What is crucial to recognize here is that it is not enough to teach students to be able to interrogate critically screen culture and other forms of aural, video and visual representation. They must also learn how to be cultural producers. This suggests developing alternative public spheres, such as online journals, television shows, newspapers, zines and any other platform in which different modes of representation can be developed. Such tasks can be done by mobilizing the technological resources and platforms that many students are already familiar with.

Teaching cultural production also means working with one foot in existing cultural apparatuses in order to promote unorthodox ideas and views that would challenge the affective and ideological spaces produced by the financial elite who control the commanding institutions of public pedagogy in North America. What is often lost by many educators and progressives is that popular culture is a powerful form of education for many young people, and yet it is rarely addressed as a serious source of knowledge. As Stanley Aronowitz has observed in his book Against Schooling, "theorists and researchers need to link their knowledge of popular culture, and culture in the anthropological sense -- that is, everyday life, with the politics of education."

Fourth, academics, students, community activists, young people and parents must engage in an ongoing struggle for the right of students to be given a free formidable and critical education not dominated by corporate values, and for young people to have a say in the shaping of their education and what it means to expand and deepen the practice of freedom and democracy. College and university education, if taken seriously as a public good, should be virtually tuition-free, at least for the poor, and utterly affordable for everyone else. This is not a radical demand; countries such as Germany, France, Norway, Finland and Brazil already provide this service for young people.

Accessibility to higher education is especially crucial at a time when young people have been left out of the discourse of democracy. They often lack jobs, a decent education, hope and any semblance of a future better than the one their parents inherited. Facing what Richard Sennett calls the "specter of uselessness," they are a reminder of how finance capital has abandoned any viable vision of the future, including one that would support future generations. This is a mode of politics and capital that eats its own children and throws their fate to the vagaries of the market. The ecology of finance capital only believes in short-term investments because they provide quick returns. Under such circumstances, young people who need long-term investments are considered a liability.

Fifth, educators need to enable students to develop a comprehensive vision of society that extends beyond single issues. It is only through an understanding of the wider relations and connections of power that young people and others can overcome uninformed practice, isolated struggles, and modes of singular politics that become insular and self-sabotaging. In short, moving beyond a single-issue orientation means developing modes of analyses that connect the dots historically and relationally. It also means developing a more comprehensive vision of politics and change. The key here is the notion of translation -- that is, the need to translate private troubles into broader public issues.

Sixth, another serious challenge facing educators who believe that colleges and universities should function as democratic public spheres is the task of developing a discourse of both critique and possibility, or what I have called a discourse of educated hope. In taking up this project, educators and others should attempt to create the conditions that give students the opportunity to become critical and engaged citizens who have the knowledge and courage to struggle in order to make desolation and cynicism unconvincing and hope practical. Critique is crucial to break the hold of commonsense assumptions that legitimate a wide range of injustices. But critique is not enough. Without a simultaneous discourse of hope, it can lead to an immobilizing despair or, even worse, a pernicious cynicism. Reason, justice and change cannot blossom without hope. Hope speaks to imagining a life beyond capitalism, and combines a realistic sense of limits with a lofty vision of demanding the impossible. Educated hope taps into our deepest experiences and longing for a life of dignity with others, a life in which it becomes possible to imagine a future that does not mimic the present. I am not referring to a romanticized and empty notion of hope, but to a notion of informed hope that faces the concrete obstacles and realities of domination but continues the ongoing task of what Andrew Benjamin describes as "holding the present open and thus unfinished."

 The discourse of possibility looks for productive solutions and is crucial in defending those public spheres in which civic values, public scholarship and social engagement allow for a more imaginative grasp of a future that takes seriously the demands of justice, equity and civic courage. Democracy should encourage, even require, a way of thinking critically about education -- one that connects equity to excellence, learning to ethics, and agency to the imperatives of social responsibility and the public good.

History is open. It is time to think otherwise in order to act otherwise.

My friend, the late Howard Zinn, rightly insisted that hope is the willingness "to hold out, even in times of pessimism, the possibility of surprise." To add to this eloquent plea, I would say that history is open. It is time to think otherwise in order to act otherwise, especially if as educators we want to imagine and fight for alternative futures and horizons of possibility.