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President, known proponent of racist birther conspiracy, ‘honors’ MLK Day

Think Progress - 2 hours 16 min ago

President Donald Trump — who built his political career on the false claim that the nation’s first African-American president was born in Kenya and launched his presidential campaign by smearing immigrants — marked Martin Luther King Jr. Day with a two-minute visit to the civil-rights icon’s memorial.

Trump on Monday was joined by Vice President Mike Pence and David Bernhardt, acting secretary of the Interior, as he laid a wreath at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The entire trip, including the motorcade, took about fifteen minutes.

The unscheduled visit came after a tweet earlier that day, in which Trump wrote, “Today we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for standing up for the self-evident truth Americans hold so dear, that no matter what the color of our skin or the place of our birth, we are all created equal by God.”

Today we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for standing up for the self-evident truth Americans hold so dear, that no matter what the color of our skin or the place of our birth, we are all created equal by God. #MLKDay

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 21, 2019

Reacting to Trump’s tweet, Gary Orfield, co-director of The Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, told ThinkProgress: “Trump often tries to spin reality, but his tweet suggesting he affirms the ideals of Martin Luther King is truly incredible.

“He was elected in a racist campaign,” Orfield said, “and his administration has attacked civil rights in appointments, in regulation changes, in attacking affirmative action, in creating unspeakable conditions for refugee families, and turning the Supreme Court to the hard right.

Orfield said Trump’s statements and policies “have unleashed the demons of racial hate and encouraged white nationalists.”

“I was in the original March on Washington,” he said. “Those who believe in Dr. King’s vision of the ‘beloved community’ should be marching now because this administration is the most hostile we’ve experienced in a century.”

After years of advocating for his racist “birther” conspiracy, Trump announced his presidential candidacy in 2015 by declaring that Mexico was not “sending its best” to immigrate to the U.S.

“They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists,” he said at the time. “Some, I assume, are good people.”

Throughout both his campaign and his presidency, Trump has repeatedly doubled down on racist and anti-immigrant statements.

He repeatedly berated U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who presided over two lawsuits into the failed Trump University, and claimed he was biased due to his ethnicity. “I think it has to do with, perhaps, the fact that I’m very, very strong on the border — very, very strong on the border,” Trump told Fox News in February 2017. “He has been extremely hostile to me. Now, he is Hispanic, I believe.”

During his campaign, Trump marketed himself to African-American voters by asking, “What do you have to lose?” As president, he declared that there were some “very fine people” among the white nationalist protesters at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, and referred to Haiti, El Salvador and several African nations as “shithole countries.”

Two years after Trump asked black voters what they have to lose, the answer is clear: Plenty

In his defense of the border wall — a key campaign promise — Trump has repeatedly derided immigrants. Prior to the 2018 midterm elections, he released an ad claiming that convicted cop-killer Luis Bracamontes had illegally entered the country under the Democrats’ watch, when in reality he had entered in 2002 when George W. Bush was president.

His repeated focus on how “illegal immigrants” are committing more crimes is also false. The libertarian Cato Institute has found that immigrants commit crime at a disproportionately lower rate than naturalized citizens.

Meanwhile, the partial government shutdown — now the longest in U.S. history — has disproportionately impacted African Americans. As the Guardian noted, African Americans make up 12 percent of the U.S. population, but 18 percent of the federal workforce. The shutdown is also centered around a border wall, which, as ThinkProgress has previously noted, would do little to combat smuggling and only serve as red meat to Trump’s base.

“Donald Trump’s actions are shattering the ‘beloved community’ that Dr. King dreamed for our nation. If Trump and his administration truly wanted to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., they would stop their ongoing assault on our civil and human rights,” Vanita Gupta, president and chief executive of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, told ThinkProgress.

The irony, however, of presiding over all of this while simultaneously attempting to honor King was apparently lost on both Trump and Pence. In an interview with Fox News Sunday, Pence went so far as to liken Trump to King.

“[This] weekend we are remembering the life and the work of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.,” Pence said. “He inspired us to change through the legislative process, to become a more perfect union…that’s exactly what President Trump is calling on the Congress to do, come to the table in a spirit of good faith.”

The NAACP labeled the interview “an insult to Dr. King’s legacy.”

King’s son, Martin Luther King III, hit back.

“The vice president attempted to compare the president to Martin Luther King, Jr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a bridge builder, not a wall builder,” his son said. “Martin Luther King, Jr. would say, ‘Love, not hate, will make America great.'”

Categories: F. Left News

The global economy is slowing down, with help from the shutdown and Trump’s trade war

Think Progress - 4 hours 33 min ago

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has issued a dire forecast for global economic growth, pointing to declining momentum in the midst of trade tensions between the United States and China, along with the longest U.S. government shutdown in history.

Fears of a global recession are growing, seemingly exacerbated by both the ongoing shutdown in the United States and a trade war instigated by President Donald Trump. On Monday, the IMF revised its global growth estimates, projecting a 3.5 percent growth rate in 2019 and a 3.6 percent growth rate next year. This marks a 0.2 and 0.1 percent downgrade, the second downward revision in two months.

“After two years of solid expansion, the world economy is growing more slowly than expected and risks are rising,” said IMF head Christine Lagarde on January 21 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “But even as the economy continues to move ahead … it is facing significantly higher risks.”

Noting that “the balance of risks remains skewed to the downside,” the IMF forecast issued words of caution.

“Emerging market and developing economies have been tested by difficult external conditions over the past few months amid trade tensions, rising U.S. interest rates, dollar appreciation, capital outflows, and volatile oil prices,” the global money lender noted.

The IMF pointed to several reasons for the slowdown, including Brexit. Britain has thus far been unable to produce a clear plan for its exit from the European Union, something that could see the country and much of the world thrown into financial insecurity.

Another leading problem is the feud between the United States and China; the two world powers have exchanged barbs while escalating trade tariffs, which were the impetus for the last IMF downgrade in October.

These trade tensions have been met with problems posed by China’s own slowing economy. The country is seeing a much bigger than expected slowdown, sparking concerns that the world could be headed towards a significant period of global economic unrest.

Lagarde nonetheless moved to squash recession fears in Davos, appealing to world leaders to act calmly.

“Does that [the higher risks] mean a global recession is around the corner? No. But the risk of a sharper decline in global growth has certainly increased,” she said, noting that officials need to boost their economies’ resilience if a worldwide problem is to be avoided.

That may be a hard sell in the United States, where Trump has pushed an “America First” approach to global trade deals and other agreements. Last year, the president began ramping up tariffs, targeting both Europe and North America, along with China. That feud, which has eroded U.S. relations with many other countries, has also seen severe impacts in the United States.

As trade war rhetoric grows, Appalachia and the Heartland fear backlash

Many U.S. businesses have taken a direct hit as China has responded with tit-for-tat tariffs, in addition to bearing the cost of increasingly expensive Chinese-made products that cannot be easily mass-manufactured in the United States, like solar panels.

Farmers have also suffered as products like soybeans have come under fire, leaving them worried for their finances in an already-precarious and declining industry. And while the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was meant to help aid farmers hurt by the trade war with a $12 billion mitigation relief program, many say that money has been slow to arrive.

Last week, USDA announced that it would temporarily re-open around half of the Farm Service Agency despite the shutdown in order to help with existing farm loans in advance of planting season and seemingly to assist with tariff relief money. But a number of farmers say they have not received the relief money they need amidst the shutdown.

The impasse’s impact on the USDA and other agencies has worried not only farmers but also virtually every sector of the economy. A University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment survey released last Friday found that consumer confidence is currently at the lowest point it has been during Trump’s presidency, with the decline primarily “focused on prospects for the domestic economy.”

The survey cites the U.S. government shutdown and the impacts of the tariffs as key causes of concern, along with financial market instability, the global slowdown, and a “lack of clarity about monetary policies” from the U.S. government.

While these have all had a direct impact on the U.S. economy, the survey notes that their indirect effect is that half of all consumers see the issues as hindering the president’s ability to focus on economic growth.

Citing the shutdown at home, Trump is notably absent from Davos this year after a much-covered appearance in 2018 where the president marketed the country as a business leader. In his absence, speakers this year focused on the shutdown’s potential impacts on the U.S. economy, as well as the trade war.

Like other speakers, Gita Gopinath, the IMF’s head of research, cautioned in Davos that lawmakers need to “come together” to work on economic solutions, with an emphasis on China and the United States.

“Higher trade uncertainty will further dampen investment and disrupt global supply chains,” she said.

Categories: F. Left News

26 billionaires own as much wealth as half the world

Think Progress - 5 hours 3 min ago

A sobering new report by the charity Oxfam has laid bare the stunning levels of global wealth inequality.

According to the report, published Monday, billionaires have never had it better. The combined riches of the world’s 26 most wealthy billionaires equals $1.4 trillion — this is equal to the total wealth of the bottom 3.8 billion of the world’s population.

Billionaires have increased their wealth by 12 percent this year, the report states, while at the same time the wealth of the poorest half of the world has fallen by 11 percent.

This consolidation is happening at a rapid rate even for the billionaire class, which according to the report has doubled in size since the 2008 financial crisis. In 2016, 61 billionaires controlled half of the world’s wealth, then in 2017 that number was 43, before becoming 26 in 2018.

The U.S. is hardly exempt from the report. Not only are most of the billionaires in question American — Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates are together worth nearly $400 billion — but wealth in America is increasingly concentrated at the top.

In July a report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) revealed that in 2015 the top one percent of families took home an average of 26.3 times the amount the bottom 99 percent took.

The EPI report added that between 2009 and 2015, the income for the top one percent grew faster than everyone else’s in 43 states, as well as the District of Columbia. Despite President Donald Trump’s continued boasts of a soaring stock market, the EPI report revealed that median wages have grown only 0.2 percent in the last year.

Trump, for his part, has surrounded himself with these billionaires — both in the form of donors and advisors. In November 2017, for instance, leaked financial documents from the Bermuda-based law firm Appleby — dubbed the “Paradise Papers” — showed that Trump allies were using a network of tax havens to quietly stash their wealth offshore. They included the Koch Brothers, casino mogul Sheldon G. Adelson, New England Priots owner Robert Kraft, and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross.

In fairness to Trump, however, conservative and Republicans weren’t the only ones to have been revealed to be stashing their billions away from the pesky taxman. One of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chief fundraisers, for instance, was revealed to have managed a tax-avoidance scheme in the Cayman Islands. The private estate of the Queen of England, meanwhile, held $13 million worth of funds in an overseas territory where it paid zero corporation tax.

Given all of this, it’s easy to see why an idea like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-NY) proposal for a 70 percent marginal tax rate on the super wealthy would generate some unexpected popularity. When she initially proposed the idea in an interview with Anderson Cooper in early January, many scoffed at the notion. Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan said it was a “terrible idea” while the National Review ran a column warning “you can’t finance socialism” with it.

Among American voters, however, the idea proved remarkably popular. A poll earlier this week found that 59 percent of Americans supported the idea, including 71 percent of Democrats, 60 percent of Independents and 45 percent of Republicans.

Categories: F. Left News

Trump conflates global warming and weather despite dire climate impacts across the country

Think Progress - 6 hours 50 min ago

Despite a year of dire climate impacts across the United States, President Donald Trump once again conflated weather with climate change in a holiday weekend tweet, touting a debunked argument rebutting global warming by citing cold weather.

In an early morning tweet on Sunday, the president referenced a major cold front playing out across parts of the country, implying the frosty weather offered a rebuttal to the phenomenon of climate change — an incorrect claim he has repeated several times in the past whenever there has been a snow storm.

“Be careful and try staying in your house. Large parts of the Country are suffering from tremendous amounts of snow and near record setting cold,” wrote Trump. “Amazing how big this system is. Wouldn’t be bad to have a little of that good old fashioned Global Warming right now!”

Be careful and try staying in your house. Large parts of the Country are suffering from tremendous amounts of snow and near record setting cold. Amazing how big this system is. Wouldn’t be bad to have a little of that good old fashioned Global Warming right now!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 20, 2019

It is true that large swathes of the country are enduring bone-chilling temperatures right now. More than 100 million people are under winter weather alerts nationally. Those include warnings associated with Winter Storm Indra, which is bringing blankets of snow and ice as it moves from the Mountain West over across the Midwest and over to the east.

A polar vortex from the Arctic has also sent temperatures tumbling well below freezing in the Northeast, submerging the nation’s capital and surrounding areas into temperatures as low as -10 degrees Fahrenheit.

But climate refers to the extended behavior of the atmosphere, while weather itself is really just what happens in the atmosphere at any one moment in time. And weather experts say that the current bitterly cold scenario could actually be connected to warming in the Arctic.

Polar vortexes are increasingly becoming a seasonal tradition in the United States, as the circular wind bands break down and send cold air tumbling south. Some climate researchers have linked that uptick to rapidly-melting sea ice in the Arctic. When the ice absorbs extra heat from the sun, as is happening with greater frequency, hot spots and changes in the jet stream react with the bands of wind that typically keep cold weather locked in place up north. That helps the polar vortex to break — causing brutally cold air to descend on many parts of the world.

It is abnormally cold in the United States. That doesn’t disprove global warming.

The president has long denied the science on climate change. And this isn’t the first time that he has incorrectly conflated weather and climate change. Last winter during another cold spell, Trump similarly tweeted that “we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming.”

Climate science is accepted as fact by virtually all experts, but Trump has said he will withdraw the country from the Paris climate agreement and has overseen the mass-rollback of environmental safeguards meant to mitigate global warming. And while the president continues to confuse weather and climate change, the government’s own science has shown that climate change is in fact impacting the weather, in addition to sparking more extreme weather events.

Released last November, the Congressionally-mandated National Climate Assessment (NCA) found that climate impacts are already playing out across the country. Authored by hundreds of scientists, the report found an alarming uptick in natural disasters, including wildfires in the West and worsening hurricanes in the Southeast, among others, while the Northeast is seeing winters that come later and end earlier, as is the case this year.

Trump, however, has also downplayed the link between climate change and natural disasters, including taking aim multiple times at California’s struggles with worsening wildfires. Despite warnings from scientists that hotter weather is helping the naturally-occurring wildfires to worsen, Trump has instead pointed to forest management, arguing that West Coast officials are alone to blame for the problem.

Climate change will hit the most vulnerable first and hardest, major new government report finds

Worsening fires and more prevalent cold snaps aren’t the only looming problem for the country. The NCA also found that more rain is becoming a trend on the East Coast, exacerbating floods and wreaking havoc on infrastructure. Those findings came in lock-step with grim weather milestones — 2018 was the wettest year on record for a number of cities, including Baltimore and Philadelphia, along with Wilmington, North Carolina, which saw severe impacts from Hurricane Florence.

The mid-Atlantic and parts of the Southeast were the worst-hit by rain last year, and, so far, that trend is continuing into this year in some areas.

In Washington, D.C., where the president spends much of his time, more than 61 inches of rain fell last year, shattering the city’s record for wettest in history. And while it’s hard to connect any one weather event to climate change, the NCA found that the capital city is likely to see shorter winters, hotter summers, and increasing amounts of rain on a yearly basis.

Like much of the country, D.C. is beginning this week experiencing the fallout from the polar vortex. But according to the forecast, that won’t last long — by Wednesday, the city is projected to see more rain.

Categories: F. Left News

The migration system isn’t ready for Brexit – and EU citizens will suffer.

Red Pepper - 6 hours 50 min ago
Photo by Chris Bertram (Flickr)

Last year, a scandal concerning those who were part of the Windrush generation rocked British politics. In dozens of cases, friends and families were split up, arrested and held in detention centres. Some were even deported.

The actions prompted a debate around immigration policy and practices within the Home Office. But with a no-deal Brexit looming and the status of EU nationals becoming unclear, could another Windrush be in our future?

Last Tuesday, Theresa May faced a crushing defeat on her Brexit deal – and with it her plans for immigration, outlined in the White Paper. Figures released by the Office for National Statistics show the number of EU nationals coming to the UK has fallen. While thousands are deciding to return home.

Current EU free movement rules mean any EU citizen can live, work and settle in another EU country. And after Brexit, the EU Settlement Scheme is due to come into effect, meaning anyone who’s lived here as an EU citizen will be able to claim settled status.

But what will happen to those who don’t apply or who don’t know that they need to apply. Or, those who are children, have been in the country long-term or who already have their permanent residence documents? There is no information for these individuals.  

Even those who do get round to claiming settled status are not entirely protected. That’s because of the current limited timeframe to process their applications. Three million EU nationals currently live in the country. Thousands are choosing to apply for British Citizenship. Currently, the process of attaining British Citizenship if you’re an EU national is by having settled status for at least a year then applying for naturalisation. But since Brexit, processing times have become insufficient to handle them all. Cutbacks at the Home Office and a shutdown of regional processing centres continue to raise serious questions over the Government’s viability to handle applications.

The UK Visa and Immigration department is already running at full capacity. The Institute for Government report recently concluded that it would need to be boosted significantly if it was to be able to handle EU immigration on top of non-EU immigration. Evidence submitted to a Houses of Parliament committee found a number of problems with the consolidation of visa processing to Sheffield. This included incorrect requests for documents and settlement applications not being marked as complex. A Home Office worker recently acknowledged this and said they found it hard to get staff to work out of Sheffield. So, it begs the question: what makes us any more confident that the process will be up to scratch for EU nationals in the event we crash out of the EU?

If the Home Office is struggling, then it might have been for some time. Since 2010, the number of EU nationals being held in detention centres has increased fivefold. At Larne House in Northern Ireland, one in four of those detained in the first half of 2018 were EU nationals. These are people who – under EU rules themselves – have the right to live, work and study in any other member state. Article 28 of the Citizens Directive 2004 states that EU citizens can only be deported from another member state for reasons of public policy or national security. Norotiously, concerns for individual rights have made little dent in May’s migration policy.

This situation makes clear the dire state of our migration services for non-EU nationals – who have for years suffered these kinds of setbacks without a similar public uproar. Migrants from outside the EU have been facing down the hostile environment, hounded by ‘Go Home’ vans, left without housing or medical treatment. (It should be said that this is less of an issue for the white Canadian and US migrants who are among the most likely to actually overstay their visas.) They have been obliged to shell out in some cases many thousands of pounds for the privilege of citizenship – a set of basic protections beyond the reach of many working people.

And it’s only set to get worse as the UK leaves the EU. With cutbacks, under-resourcing, little political will to look out for the wellbeing of migrants, and a system already creaking under the pressure, thousands will face uncertainty, if not life-altering legal and carceral consequences. Theresa May wants to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands but has no clear outline on how she will do it. EU citizens are currently in a precarious position. They face uncertainties surrounding their homes, jobs and future. How do we want to be seen as a nation – as open and compassionate – or closed and forlorn?

Jack Gevertz is a political commentator for the Immigration Advice Service, a country-wide organisation of immigration lawyers which provides Brexit, EU settlement and citizenship advice.

Categories: F. Left News

Svend Robinson returns to politics with plans to tackle climate change, housing affordability and Big Pharma

Rabble - 7 hours 4 min ago
January 21, 2019Politics in CanadaSvend Robinson returns to politics with plans to tackle climate change, housing affordability and Big PharmaVeteran NDP MP Svend Robinson marked his return to Canadian politics Saturday, taking the nomination to run in B.C. riding in next federal election.CA
Categories: F. Left News

Svend Robinson returns to politics with plans to tackle climate change, housing affordability and Big Pharma

Rabble - 7 hours 13 min ago
Alex Cosh

The Burnaby North—Seymour NDP Riding Association acclaimed former MP and veteran progressive Svend Robinson on Saturday as its candidate for the federal election.

Addressing a packed room of activists and constituents at the Confederation Seniors Centre in north Burnaby, Robinson, who represented various federal ridings in Burnaby from 1979 until 2004, said he was returning to public life to fight climate change and the housing affordability crisis.

“I am running to put climate change and global warming at the top of our political agenda, and to demand that we mobilize the same way we mobilize nationally to fight a war,” Robinson said. “It means we must listen to and respect the voices of indigenous leaders, both hereditary and elected councils.”

Robinson spoke of the need for a “massive transition to green energy and green jobs,” and said “the market has failed” at delivering affordable housing for working-class families.

“I am running to call for a massive program of non-profit, non-market housing construction: energy efficient and affordable,” he explained.

“We need to transform our economic system, to put people and the environment before profit,” he summarized with thunderous applause from the room.

During his speech, Robinson also stressed his lifelong commitments to fighting anti-Semitism, standing in solidarity with the people in Palestine, and supporting the right to medically-assisted dying.

Also speaking at the event, scientist and activist David Suzuki criticized the Liberal government’s failure to deliver on its promises to alter the environmentally destructive course of the Stephen Harper era, and called for transformative policies to meet the challenges set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2018 report.

“We’ve got to shut down the industry of fossil fuels: this is the challenge of our time,” Suzuki said, before praising Robinson’s commitment to putting “principle over party politics.”

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, who also attended the event, reiterated Robinson’s call to fight climate change “in a bold way.”

Peter Julian, the MP for New Westminster—Burnaby, said Robinson will make an “extraordinary MP,” and called for a government “investing in people, not corporate tax cuts.”

Speaking to rabble after his nomination, Robinson said the next election would be a matter of “life or death” in tackling climate change and economic inequality, but said he believes the left is energized and capable of pushing back against climate reactionaries and right-wing xenophobia.

“As we look around at growing inequality, the rise in racism and attacks on migrants, the rise of appalling leaders like Bolsanaro in Brazil, Trump in the U.S., and Orbán in Hungary, this is a time when we have to push back,” he explained.

“We’ve got to do it in away that working people can relate to,” he added.

According to Robinson, a proposal that has resonated particularly well with constituents and activists has been his call to establish a publicly-owned pharmaceutical company.

“I’ve had a number of people emailing me saying they’re very excited about that idea,” Robinson explained.

“I think it has huge potential. Canada should be a global leader in recognizing that access to medicine is a fundamental human right. We should recognize that this is an area in which the public sector can play an incredibly valuable role: taking on Big Pharma head on,” he said.

After stepping aside from politics in 2004, Robinson spent a decade working on health issues in Switzerland where he said he witnessed first hand the destructive impact of private pharmaceutical corporations.

“Big Pharma, globally, has one fundamental objective, and that’s maximizing global profit,” he said. “That means they don’t give a damn about the diseases of the poor.”

While Robinson said he would fully support the implementation of a universal pharmaceutical coverage plan, he argued this policy doesn’t go far enough.

“That policy alone, to some extent, is a gift to pharmaceutical companies, because they’re going to make a lot of bucks form it,” he explained.

The first openly gay MP in Canadian history, Robinson also stressed his ongoing support for LGBTI causes.

“We’ve made incredible progress,” he explained, “but there are outstanding issues that we have to address.”

“There’s the continuing concern of high levels of suicide and homelessness among young LGBTI people,” he said.

“The other issue is the blood ban, which remains in force despite the Liberals’ promise to get rid of it,” he added.

Although Robinson faces a formidable challenge in flipping the Burnaby North—Seymour riding from Liberal incumbent Terry Beech, the NDP candidate’s bold policies and reputation as a dedicated MP are sure to tighten the race come the general election this fall.


Alex Cosh is a journalist and PhD student based in Powell River, B.C. His work has appeared on PressProgress, Left Foot Forward and in several local publications in B.C.

Photo: Kim Elliott/


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Categories: F. Left News

Longest government shutdown in history causes record number of TSA workers to stay home

Think Progress - 7 hours 33 min ago

As the longest government shutdown in U.S. history ticks on, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is slowly starting to crumble.

The absence rate for TSA employees this weekend increased to a record-breaking eight percent, compared to 7.5 percent last week and just three percent this time last year, according to the Washington Post. The absences particularly impacted large hubs in Chicago, New York, Atlanta and Miami. Baltimore Washington International Airport also suffered some sever staff shortages this weekend.

In order to keep lines moving at airports, TSA has dipped into its National Deployment Force (NDF) pool, which is normally used to help out with major events such as the Superbowl.

TSA is also doing its utmost to ensure that the public does not know the true extent of how the shutdown is affecting the agency’s ability to perform its job. In an email sent Friday obtained by CNN, the agency’s deputy assistant administrator for public affairs Jim Gregory laid out a series of talking points on how to handle inquiries about the scale of the shutdown.

“Do not offer specific call out data at your airport,” the email reads. “You can say you have experienced higher numbers of call outs but in partnership with the airport and airlines you are able to manage people and resources to ensure effective security is always maintained.”

While TSA offers national data, it does not offer details for specific airports owing to “security concerns.” This means that there could be significant variation at airports that push some higher than the eight percent absence rate recorded nationwide.

The absences have, however, trickled down to travelers, who have been forced to wait in line for much longer than normal to get through security. TSA has consistently maintained that it is screening the vast majority of passengers in 30 minutes or less, but the ebbs and flows of airports during the shutdown has meant that some have been in scenarios where they’ve been severely understaffed.

Last week, for instance, multiple security lanes at Atlanta’s Hartfield-Jackson International Airport were closed; wait times to pass through security lasted more than an hour and multiple flights were canceled. TSA is also expecting an influx of visitors into Atlanta for the Superbowl on February 3rd.

The continued lack of funding for TSA has also meant some workers have decided to simply quit outright, according to Hydrick Thomas, head of the American Federation of Government Employees’ TSA Council.

“Some of them have already quit and many are considering quitting the federal workforce because of this shutdown,” he said in a statement. “The loss of officers, while we’re already shorthanded, will create a massive security risk for American travelers since we don’t have enough trainees in the pipeline or the ability to process new hires.”

It’s not just TSA employees that have been struggling as the government shutdown enters its 30th day.

FBI field offices in Newark, Dallas, New Jersey and Washington are also establishing, or plan to establish, food banks for agents, who are also considered essential employees and must work through the shutdown. Because of security considerations FBI agents are usually prohibited from taking a second job, but according to CNN there has been a sharp surge in the number of agents and workers looking for additional employment.

Meanwhile, employees at federal prisons are also logging double shifts, and even in some cases using medical or maintenance employees to work as guards to help supplement low staffing numbers. According to the New York Times this led some inmates at New York’s Metropolitan Correction Center to go on hunger strike last week, as staffing shortages had forced the jail to cancel family visits for a second week.

Categories: F. Left News

What Europe wants

Red Pepper - 8 hours 1 min ago
Mariano Rajoy, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron. Photo by La Moncloa – Gobierno de España (Flickr)

Since the Brexit vote, the sustained unity of the EU27 over its attitude to the withdrawal of the UK has been in some contrast with profound uncertainty and change in national politics across Europe. The Catalonia crisis of 2017, the far-right’s ascendancy in Austria and Italy, the AfD’s electoral gains in Germany and weakening of Merkel, the incapacity of Macron to quell the Gilets Jaunes, or the backlash against Tsipras over the Macedonia name agreement… all these national issues point to the increasing political fragmentation of the continent. National institutions increasingly struggle to maintain governmental control. European decision-making on migration, eurozone reform, external policy towards Russia, Ukraine, the USA or Iran, has also been either blocked or based on very minimal agreement. But none of this has translated itself into divisions between the EU27 when it comes to Brexit. Quite the opposite: Brexit has been a politically useful reminder of fundamental common interests amongst the states of the EU27.

European nations are united in prioritising protecting citizens’ rights, ensuring the UK pays what it owes to the Union when it leaves, and ensuring no hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are all topics of evident common interest to all Europeans, as is providing for a ‘transition period’ during which the UK-EU relations change and a new relationship is established. In contrast to the hateful attacks against Europeans in the UK, anti-British sentiment hasn’t reared its head as a significant factor in the negotiations. The ruling impulse is a pragmatic one – to protect the union, and its three million of currently living in the UK. 

The success of the Commission – which it is not modest about congratulating itself on – has been to keep all negotiations focused on these ‘withdrawal’ issues, and away from questions of the future relationship where different countries will have different priorities, and any consensus is likely to fragment. European leaders have, somewhat cynically continued to complain that the UK does not say ‘what it wants’ the future relationship to be, whilst simultaneously limiting negotiations exclusively to withdrawal issues.

But what happens if the outcome of these withdrawal negotiations fails? It’s clear for a long while that the negotiated deal has precious little support in the House of Commons – but we’re no closer to an answer to this key question. The Commission and EU27 have offered the predicatble response of ‘there is no alternative’. They have simply reminded the UK that,on the 29th March, the UK will leave the EU with or without a deal  – unless the Article 50 process is extended by unanimous consent of the members of the council, or the UK government withdraws its Article 50 letter.

The Commission is currently ramping up its preparations for no-deal Brexit, partly under pressure from panicking national capitals. A no-deal scenario will unquestionably be much more punishing for the UK than for the EU27. If it were to happen several European leaders – most publicly Emmanuel Macron – have calculated that the UK would have to negotiate a treaty with the EU from an exceptionally weak position, in the greatest possible urgency, in order to keep airplanes flying, supermarket shelves stocked and medicines available. What’s more, the UK in such a scenario would again need to negotiate with the EU27 all together (the EU has exclusive competence over trade deals) and not with 27 national capitals.

Still, there is nothing the EU prizes more than orderliness, and with good reason: the success of the EU has been to bring legal certainty to international relations between European countries. This legal certainty and predictability is the bedrock on which businesses and citizens conduct their activity and live their lives across borders, much of the time not having to ask questions about the possibility of diverging laws or discrimination against them in favour of nationals. A no-deal Brexit would potentially challenge this foundational certainty, not least because it would create immediately problems at the Irish border, and therefore bring uncertainty inside and across EU27 territory. There is reason for prudent Europeans to be wary of what might happen to the unity of the EU27 in such circumstances, and not to fall into a hubristic trap of seeing chaos restricted to the UK side, particularly if the chaos coincides with the European election period in which nationalists across the continent will be looking for ways of whipping up anti-systemic sentiment in favour of their racist and authoritarian policies.

It’s likely the EU27 would agree to extend the Article 50 procedure by some months; it can be extended until 1st July without causing legal problems concerning UK participation in the May EU elections. But there’s no enthusiasm at this prospect, given that it seems unlikely a majority for the current deal will emerge, even with a few month’s grace. Whilst the Labour party proposes a permanent customs union which would reduce somewhat the Irish border problem (although not solve it), many other EU capitals see such a halfway house for the UK – subject to the EU’s rules but not shaping them – as both an irrational surrender of sovereignty and as an unwieldy for the Union in the long term, and so struggle to take it seriously as a proposal.

There is no secret that most other European leaders would be delighted for the UK to stay in the European Union, and feel deeply uncomfortable about the whole process. If there were a real prospect of a new referendum with the option to remain, the European Council would almost certainly extend the Article 50 period to accommodate for it  – but if there were no option to remain, it is less clear this extension would be granted. With a British prime minister implacably opposed to the idea, and having watched the chaotic spectacle British debate for the past two years, there is justified scepticism that a clear demand for a new referendum might come in the next two months. If it does, the new question posed to the European Council will be whether it can offer anything in terms of a better deal than the status-quo if the UK remains.

Last time around the ’emergency brake’ on mobile EU citizens coming to the UK which Cameron secured from the Council did nothing but officially sanction the lies that EU migration to the UK is somehow endangering it, and thereby fuel xenophobic manipulation of these facts. So lessons need to be learned on all sides. The remain campaign will need to learn from the abject failure of the first referendum, and EU 27 would need to take a serious look at its offer to show if and how the ‘remain and reform’ option favoured by many is a viable option. In a year when many EU politicians will be looking at their own electoral survival, this may be a big ask: but it’s also perhaps the only way of ensuring stability for the European project as a whole, as it faces international and domestic challenges from all sides.

Categories: F. Left News

Future for New York family of four uncertain after husband is deported

Think Progress - 9 hours 2 min ago

NEW YORK, NEW YORK — Katherine Hadjimichael’s voice broke as she stood beside her daughter Frances Joseph at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) field office in Lower Manhattan last month.

“This is my daughter,” she pleaded with the clerk on the other side of a glass pane, tears rattling her composure. “She has two kids who are now without their father.”

In July 2017, Joseph, then pregnant with her second child, was headed with her husband Llukan Buta and their firstborn daughter to a regularly scheduled check-in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Like many of the appointments he had attended with ICE since he was placed on supervised release in 2012, Buta expected nothing more than a routine hello and goodbye. When they arrived at the field office, ICE employees ushered Buta upstairs, preventing Joseph from accompanying her husband as she had done on prior check-ins.

“We got there and out of nowhere they separate the spouse,” Joseph told ThinkProgress. “They never did that before. They always took us into the room together.”

Agents only relented when Buta insisted on bringing his nearly two-year-old daughter Valentina alongside him. Joseph was told to bide her time in a waiting area on a different floor.

“Valentina was with Llukan because she wanted to be with her father,” she recalled. “They said to him, ‘What did you bring your daughter for? Do you think we’re going to feel sorry for you?’”

The next time Joseph saw her husband he was behind bars in ICE detention, awaiting deportation to Albania, a country his family fled when he was a child — and one he hadn’t seen for more than half his life.

In 1998, 11-year-old Buta was brought to the United States by his parents, Albanian migrants seeking refuge from civil war that was unraveling the Baltics. The Buta family applied for asylum soon after arriving only to have their claim denied by an immigration judge in 2000. It was then that an order of deportation was issued for Buta and his family, though they were allowed to remain in the country as they appealed their case.

During this time, Buta dropped out of high school and worked various jobs to help his mother pay the bills. When his parents divorced and his father left the family, Buta’s mother became the sole caretaker for Buta and his sister.

“What did you bring your daughter for? Do you think we’re going to feel sorry for you?”

“My mom was working two jobs to support the both of us,” he told ThinkProgress via phone from Albania. “My mom stayed to raise us [so we could have] a better life.”

In 2002, the Board of Immigration Appeals declined to overturn the asylum judge’s ruling, leaving the family with few, if any, options to delay the order of deportation as they contemplated what to do next. After a series of unsuccessful attempts to have his case reopened, then-18 year-old, Buta faced the real prospect of having to return to a country he only knew from childhood.

A family torn apart

It was in 2014 that Joseph and Buta first met. As she tells it, they first caught each other’s eye when Buta’s friend approached her and her friends at Astoria Park, inviting them to hang out one day at the beach. Buta never showed, but he arranged for everyone to meet again soon. At a breakfast gathering shortly afterward, Joseph and Buta began their courtship.

“I knew he had an order of supervision. I didn’t know that he also had [an order of] deportation on his back,” Joseph said. “I was pissed. I was upset. I kind of resent him for a lot of things he didn’t inform me on.”

The deportation has exacted a heavy toll on Buta. He despairs at having missed the birth of Isabella, his second daughter, and for not being able to provide for his family. “I was crying [and had] depression,” Buta confessed. “You think about committing suicide.”

Buta's daughters, Valentina and Isabella. (Photo Courtesy of Frances Joseph)

The consequences, both financial and emotional, of Buta being absent are dire for Joseph, who is also battling multiple sclerosis. While she recently started a new treatment that keeps most of her symptoms in check, the stress not only exacerbates the exhaustion and weakness that accompany the disease, but it also imperils her ability to raise two young kids on her own.

“Just fatigue, everyday fatigue,” Joseph said. “I haven’t had any inflammations. I think that’s also because [this new] treatment keeps [the MS] asleep. As far as tiredness, fatigue? Every day. I could sleep at any moment. I could just knock out.”

Joseph has had to turn to public assistance for help paying the bills. The irony of the situation is not lost on her, as she administered public benefits for New York City before going on medical leave to care for her newborn children. The couple’s legal consultant, Zachary Slapsys, finds the deportation especially hypocritical considering the Trump administration’s dubious crackdown on the use of government assistance by immigrants.

“They were nowhere near public assistance when [Buta] was here,” Slapsys told ThinkProgress. “He was working at a family-owned business lawfully, paying taxes. Because of his financial and practical support to the family, she was able to work with her medical condition. She could balance that because they were a family and they functioned together. If you leave him in Albania, then you’re adding another [U.S. citizen to public assistance].”

Buta spent the majority of his life putting down roots in the Queens community from which he was torn. In 2012, after years of uncertainty, supervised release with ICE granted him some measure of lawful presence. During this time, he obtained a GED at LaGuardia Community College and worked diligently at his mother’s Greek bakery.

When he first caught Joseph’s eye at Astoria Park in 2014, Buta charmed his way into a fast courtship that quickly snowballed into a full-fledged romance. After many months of dating, pregnancy catalyzed their decision to make formal what was already true for them. Soon after Valentina’s birth, the pair went to city hall and got married.

(Photo courtesy of Frances Joseph)

Buta continued to build out a life for himself and his family under supervised release, which enabled him to get a work permit, pay taxes, and continue employment at the bakery. The couple moved into the basement apartment of a townhouse owned by Joseph’s mother, who lived upstairs and received rent from Buta that went toward the monthly mortgage payments.

In 2017, Buta felt it was time to obtain a more permanent immigration status. He was an ideal candidate for a marriage-based green card, which provides lawful permanent residency to spouses of U.S. citizens. These applications are largely routine – hundreds of thousands of spouses are admitted under this program every year – as long as the applicant has a genuine familial connection to the United States, which Buta undoubtedly does.

Before applying for a green card, he had to file what’s known as an I-130, essentially a document certifying that his marriage is authentic. USCIS, the immigration and citizenship agency, reviews and signs off on these documents so they can be used as a basis for a subsequent green card application. For spouses with children and a marriage predating the application by years, the process should be little more than a formality, according to Slapsys.

Buta filed the I-130 and accompanying paperwork on July 11, 2017. On July 25, exactly two weeks after taking his first steps toward permanent residency, Buta was taken from his wife and daughter during the routine ICE check-in and deported to Albania.

“Immigration normally, before this administration, would at least keep a deportation on hold until [the I-130] was resolved,” Slapsys said. “Knowing that he had that pending, they deported him anyway. It’s almost like there’s no respect for their own process.”

Everyone’s a priority

ICE deports tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants every year, and a deportation in a case like Buta’s, especially under the Trump administration, is always possible. In fiscal year 2017, ICE executed orders of removal on 81,603 undocumented immigrants. The overwhelming majority — 83 percent — of those deported had prior criminal convictions, according to ICE data. Individuals who have committed crimes have historically been the primary focus for ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations, though immigration lawyers have begun to see a shift in the way non-criminals are prioritized for deportation.

“The policies of this administration are very clear and straightforward. They are not hiding what they’re doing. They’re saying, ‘We want to deport everyone,’” Slapsys argued. “People with no crimes, with U.S.-citizen family, with ties to this country, basically people we want here, they weren’t priorities. Now they are because everyone’s a priority.”

During the Obama administration, then-assistant secretary of ICE John Morton issued a memorandum overhauling the way ICE treated undocumented immigrants in the midst of obtaining legal status. The 2010 memo directed the agency to drop removal proceedings against immigrants otherwise prone to deportation if they had applications pending before USCIS that would provide them lawful status. This policy change followed a 2009 report which found 17,000 deportation proceedings where the immigrant had a pending I-130 petition.

Sui Chung, vice chair of the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s National ICE Committee, noted that while relief from removal in these circumstances was no guarantee under the Obama administration, “at least there was nuance.”

“If there was a pathway or a means [toward legal status,] then they would permit that opportunity to work it out,” she said. “So long as people didn’t have serious crimes, they were allowing people to work it out.”

 ICE did not return ThinkProgress’ request for comment.

“I was crying [and had] depression … You think about committing suicide.”

The problem of Buta’s I-130 application has spiraled out of control since his removal. The average processing time for I-130 forms was a little over seven months in 2017, when Buta’s application was filed. For the specific processing center where Buta’s I-130 was sent for adjudication, the majority of cases are resolved within eight months. As of January 2019, Buta and his family have been waiting 18 months for USCIS to approve their application. (USCIS did not respond to a request for comment.)

The harm done at this point may prove difficult, if not impossible, to undo. When ICE decided to deport Buta while he was in the midst of obtaining permanent legal status, the removal automatically added a 10-year bar on his readmission into the United States. To be eligible to reunite with his family, Buta must first apply to waive the 10-year penalty on the grounds that his absence has caused his family undue hardship.

The most Slapsys and Joseph can do in the meantime is request meeting after meeting with immigration agents in New York, appealing to their humanity in order to hurry along approval of the I-130. Scrawled at the bottom of a piece of paper handed to agents during one such meeting is the following plea:

“Please expedite interview. Beneficiary/husband has been deported to Albania and I-130 adjudication is necessary to file the hardship waiver. U.S. [citizen] wife has two small children and suffers from MS. Thank you.”

Asher Stockler is a freelance reporter and researcher currently residing in New York.

Categories: F. Left News

Two years after Trump asked black voters what they have to lose, the answer is clear: Plenty

Think Progress - 10 hours 2 min ago

In a largely overlooked August 18, 2016 speech, then-GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump extemporaneously cited a litany of problems plaguing black Americans.

Speaking broadly, as if to encompass nearly every black person in the nation, Trump rattled off a list of shopworn stereotypes on black pathology. He asserted that nearly all black people live in poverty, have horrible educations, lack adequate housing and suffer “crime at levels that nobody has seen.”

Trump explained to his audience of nearly all-white supporters in North Carolina that this was the fault of black voters’ steadfast political allegiance to Democratic politicians and policies of dependence.

And turning to squarely face reporters’ cameras, Trump declared for the first time in his campaign that only he could make life better for African Americans. He then asked for their votes with a haunting and memorable question.

“What the hell do you have to lose?” Trump asked black voters, who for the most part couldn’t be found in that night’s crowd. “Give me a chance. I’ll straighten it out. I’ll straighten it out. What do you have to lose?”

The crowd cheered like crazy, and Trump beamed with smug satisfaction at the ovation. He loved the reaction so much that he repeated the line the next night, at a campaign stop in Michigan, where national news outlets took note and began to widely report Trump’s challenge to black voters.

The sudden media attention only encouraged him to ask the question yet again the following night at a rally in Virginia, and then two days later at a rally in Ohio, where he included Latino voters in his “nothing to lose” pitch. By this time, the question was a practiced riff that whipped his MAGA-hat wearing adorers into a frenzy.

Now, two years into his disastrous presidency, black Americans have the same answer as when Trump initially asked the question: Plenty.

The Trump administration’s damage to black America is evident by its promulgation of policies that are blissfully ignorant of their disparate impact on communities of color. These include:

  • Damnable retrenchments in fair housing access at the Department of Housing and Urban Development
  • Revitalizing the so-call “war on drugs” and ramping up mass incarceration polices under former Attorney General Jeff Session’s Department of Justice
  • Overlooking black Americans’ wealth gap, even as the economy expands and unemployment is at historic lows
  • Budget cuts of more than $200 billion over the coming decade in the Supplemental Nutrition Program (or SNAP) for Women, Infants and Children, which disproportionately will increase hunger or food insecurity among black Americans.
DETROIT, MI - SEPTEMBER 3: People march in protest against then- Republican Presidential Nominee Donald Trump. CREDIT: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images


But the real and true answer to Trump’s campaign question lies less in official policies and more in a climate of cultural change encouraged by a president who enjoys trafficking in racist tropes to bolster his appeal among a backward-looking segment of white America.

In no small measure, Trump’s successful run to the White House is a reaction to eight years of the nation’s highest office being held by a black man, President Barack Obama. It’s no accident that Trump and his Cabinet have sought — with mixed success — to overturn as many Obama-era policies as possible.

If black Americans have any saving grace from the daily deluge of Trump’s attacks on their interests, it rests in the awareness that more harm hasn’t been done, largely because of the governing ineptitude of the administration and the White House’s preoccupation with self-survival in a toxic environment of criminal and ethical probes.

Still, Trump has successfully fouled the national air by loosening the restraints on civil discourse.

When the president can say or do racists things with impunity, it gives license to those who share those beliefs to follow suit. So when Trump mocks Chinese business people with broken, pidgin English or contorts ridicule a disabled reporter, or says calls kneeling professional athletes “sons of bitches,” Trump grants permission to his supporters to utter similar slights and act out their own racial fantasies.

In the two years of the Trump administration, these fantasies have had disturbing — and sometimes dangerous — consequences on black Americans. Numerous incidents, often captured on cell phone cameras and posted on social media sites, have occurred with such regularity and frequency that they are given nicknames to distinguish one from another:

  • Golfcart Gail” called the police on a black man cheering on his son’s soccer team
  • Apartment Patty” blocked her black neighbor from entering their building.
  • Cornerstore Caroline” called the police after she alleged that a 9-year-old black boy sexually assaulted her in a neighborhood store when his backpack accidentally brushed against her butt.
  • SouthPark Susan,” a drunk 51-year-old white woman, asks two black women if they live in their a Charlotte, North Carolina apartment complex and, at one point, threatens to pull a gun on them

As Rich Barlow, a contributor to WBUR 90.9, a Boston-area National Public Radio station, noted in a recent commentary, “The most depressing thing to me is not Trump, but the millions who share his fear of those who don’t look like them,” he said. “[B]y 2016, police killings of African Americans, the Black Lives Matter movement, and Trump’s racist, anti-immigrant barking made race even more salient to many voters.”

Barlow accurately observes that “an avalanche of other evidence proves that the Trump movement runs on racial fumes,” noting for example:

A survey done almost a year into Trump’s presidency found that when a black man asked Trump supporters’ help with a housing assistance plan, he reaped more anger toward the policy than when a white solicitor approached them. The black man also was more likely to hear Trumpeters blame beneficiaries of the program for their problems.


[A] study published during the 2016 race found that “reminding white Americans high in ethnic identification that non-white racial groups will outnumber whites in the United States by 2042 caused them to become more concerned about the declining status and influence of white Americans as a group … and caused them to report increased support for Trump and anti-immigrant policies, as well as greater opposition to political correctness.

Long before he announced his run for the White House, black Americans knew better than to trust Trump or imagine that he cared about their interests. His history of racist behavior as a private citizen and businessman wasn’t a secret.

Trump fanned the flames of racial resentment when black and Latino teens were arrested in the “Central Park jogger” attack. He bought $85,000 in full-page newspaper ads advocating, in capital letters, “BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE!” The text of Trump’s ad objected to then-Mayor Ed Koch’s plea for peace: Koch stated that “hate and rancor should be removed from our hearts. I do not think so.”

And of course, few black Americans can forget or forgive Trump’s efforts in 2011, to publicize a noxious conspiracy theory suggesting that Obama was not an American citizen, and therefore unfit to be president. The so-called “birther” idea was publicly discredited as false and was seen widely as a racially charged insult. Trump, however, has yet to acknowledge culpability or to apologize.

Trump’s “what do you have to lose?” gambit failed to move the needle of black public opinion on the president.

“I hear him not talking to black people, but talking to white people about black people so they will think he cares about black people,” Alexis Scott, a former publisher of The Atlanta Daily World, a black-owned newspaper, told The New York Times in response to Trump’s campaign outreach to black voters. “The real thing that he’s trying to do is to try to protect some of the white vote by suggesting to them that he cares.”

Trump’s presidential campaign, in fact, was a cavalcade of racism’s greatest hits intended to amuse and delight a subset of white American voters, beginning with the escalator ride that led to his opening campaign proposals to ban Muslims from entering the country and defaming Mexicans as “rapists” and “criminals.”

At a campaign stop in Redding, California, Trump spied the rare appearance of a black man in his crowd, pointing the hapless fellow and saying, “Oh, look at my African-American over here! Look at him. Are you the greatest?”

Such odious and offensive displays of racism, like the question itself — “what the hell do you have to lose?” –  were aimed to appeal to white Trump voters, not to be taken as a serious quest for their support.

To black Americans, meanwhile, the racist messaging from the White House to white America represents the greatest loss of all.

Categories: F. Left News

What does Brexit mean for migrants?

Red Pepper - 11 hours 23 min ago
Photo by Darren Johnson / iDJ Photography (Flickr)

Two and a half years since the momentous referendum, we are no closer to knowing the end result. Hard Brexit, customs union, Norway plus, a second referendum; all options have their advocates and staunch opponents, with each side waiting for the others to blink.

Unlike two or three years ago, today’s debates are dominated by questions of trade and electoral strategy. Discussion of Britain’s immigration policy, at the forefront of the referendum campaign, has taken a back seat. For many of us, it’s a relief: we remember all too well the sheer nastiness of 2016, with Vote Leave posters mirroring Nazi propaganda and anti-migrant newspaper headlines translating into a wave of hate crime.

However, while the rhetoric may have cooled down, the potential consequences of Brexiteer policies haven’t changed. Millions of migrants are holding our breath, still waiting to find out if, and to what extent, Britain will raise its borders.

If everything goes to Theresa May’s plan and a deal is approved that respects her “red lines,” freedom of movement will end. The system set to replace it, as outlined in the Immigration White Paper, amounts to a levelling down of rights. The headline policy is a salary threshold of £30.000 for prospective immigrants from the EU – which already applies to non-European migrants who come to the UK on a “skilled workers” visa.

It’s hard to find a rational justification for this proposal. The government’s own MAC report showed that the impact of immigration on jobs and wages has been minimal, and the effect of public services largely positive. It can only be explained as pandering to xenophobia and discriminatory ideas about “deserving” and “undeserving” migrants – at the expense of us all.

The restriction would exclude teachers, care workers and countless other migrant workers who keep essential services running. Moreover, the threshold would mean free movement for a wealthier few and a hostile environment for the many. Disproportionately affected would be BAME migrants, statistically paid less than their white counterparts – such as the many Latin American workers who arrive in the UK on Spanish and Portuguese passports.

Contrary to the popular argument, including on the left, that a skills-based immigration system could be fairer for migrants from outside the EU, the Government’s white paper insists on highly racialised distinctions between ‘safe’ (that is, predominantly white) and ‘unsafe’ countries in terms of potential for mass migration. Rather than an attempt to balance the UK’s treatment of predominantly BAME people from outside the EU, what this policy proposal does is facilitate the movement of wealthy and white people.

While the White Paper has generated plenty of opposition, it is telling that the focus has been on the unreasonably high income threshold for skilled workers and not on the appalling conditions outlined for ‘unskilled’ ones. Currently, one in five social care workers is born outside the UK, and in London that figure is three in five. Sectors where pay is low and conditions allow exploitation, would see workers on the most restrictive visa regime, making them third-class citizens without much chance for workplace organising within the a year allowed by the proposed scheme.

Contrary to May’s empty promises that nothing would change for those already here, ending free movement would inevitably have implications for Europeans who built their lives in the UK. The planned “settled status” scheme for EU nationals sounds like a recipe for another immigration scandal.

As the system will need to process around 3.7 million people in a short period of time, the government has decided on an almost completely digital route. Naturally, this creates problems for the most vulnerable among migrants: the elderly, the poor, the disabled, those with little digital skills or sufficient knowledge of English. Even those who manage to procure an Android phone to download the app, go through the process and pay the required £65, wouldn’t have their status guaranteed. Grandparents who have moved to the UK to provide childcare support and have therefore never needed to seek employment, precariously employed workers who get paid cash in hand and those without proper rental contracts are among migrants most likely to have their applications rejected.

Officially, the Government says it expects a 100% success rate in terms of app registrations (whether it has a target for people being denied their applications remains unknown.) However, recent examples of similar schemes – the US Deferred Action for Childhood and the 2005 foreign workers registration amnesty in Spain – have achieved a rate of between 50 and 75 percent. If the same happens in the UK, it can mean hundreds of thousands of EU migrants becoming “illegal” overnight. Knowing the system was designed by the same government responsible for Windrush and thousands of unlawful benefit sanctions doesn’t fill us with confidence.

An alternative outcome of the Brexit process, championed by Owen Jones among others, would be a version of soft Brexit, known as a Norway or “Norway plus” deal. In this scenario, freedom of movement with Europe would be kept in return for membership of the single market. However, a this kind of arrangement would allow Britain to introduce controls in a situation of “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties.”

A soft Brexit would be significantly less damaging than leaving the single market: it would preserve the rights of migrants living in the UK and, in normal circumstances, leave the borders open to Europeans regardless of income. However, this option would make Britain a rule taker – bound by most of the EU’s laws but with little say over them. For those of us with a vision to transform Europe, including tearing down its external borders, democratic representation and the ability to work with progressives within the EU is not something to give up lightly.

Finally, a possible scenario is Brexit not happening at all. A public vote with an option to remain wouldn’t come without risks. Some legitimately fear that a fresh referendum campaign would give fuel and platforms to the darkest of forces unleashed in 2016. The left would have to be ready for a serious fightback.

It certainly doesn’t help that many leading People’s Vote campaigners avoid talking about immigration altogether, or discuss it purely in economic terms. Some, like Femi Oluwole, have even called for a stricter application of the EU’s rules which technically guarantee free movement for those who exercise their treaty rights: work or study in their country of destination. This approach is a dead end: deporting unemployed people will neither reverse the damage done by decades of neoliberalism, nor help combat the xenophobia that fuelled the Leave vote.

If a new referendum happens, the Remain campaign needs to be unashamedly pro-migrant. Staying in the EU wouldn’t, by itself, undo the hostile environment, stop deportation charter flights or close down detention centres. However, a successful campaign to stay in Europe, with anti-racist and anti-border politics at its heart, could shift attitudes and give momentum to more progressive reforms.

It’s disappointing that migrant voices have largely been left out of the conversation, including on the left. Watching the Brexit debate taking place within Labour, primarily focused on electoral calculation, one can easily forget the people whose rights are at stake. Conceding on free movement means accepting migrants as collateral damage in the pursuit of power.

Categories: F. Left News

Delhi’s urban development planning runs counter to grand objectives of the Smart City Mission

Counterview - Sun, 01/20/2019 - 23:43
Manju Menon and Kanchi Kohli* This week, two big cases, both against “government housing” projects of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs and implemented by NBCC, a public sector corporation under the ministry, will be heard in the Delhi high court. The NBCC’s “model” East Kidwai Nagar (EKN) project is in the docks for … More Delhi’s urban development planning runs counter to grand objectives of the Smart City Mission
Categories: F. Left News

Why expansion avenues for the twin cities of Hyderabad-Secunderabad are quite limited

Counterview - Sun, 01/20/2019 - 23:26
By Mohan Guruswamy* Hyderabad is the 24th largest city in the world with a population of 5.3 million and a population density of 9100 per sq.kms. Bombay and Calcutta on the other hand have population densities that are almost thrice as much as Hyderabad’s. Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad are in the same population density bandwidth. … More Why expansion avenues for the twin cities of Hyderabad-Secunderabad are quite limited
Categories: F. Left News

Elvis impersonator lawmaker targets Indiana transgender students with ‘bathroom bill’

Think Progress - Sun, 01/20/2019 - 11:18

Rep. Bruce Borders (R), an Indiana state lawmaker known for his Elvis Presley impersonation has introduced a bill targeting transgender students for discrimination.

House Bill 1525 mirrors “bathroom bills” that have been proposed in various states in recent years. If passed, it would dictate that students in Indiana’s public and charter schools could only use restrooms that match their “biological sex,” which the bill clarifies would be “determined by an individual’s chromosomes and identified at birth by the individual’s anatomy.”

Similar to a bill also introduced this year in South Dakota, Borders’ bill would likewise prohibit transgender students from participating in any athletic programs in accordance with their gender identity.

As advocates have pointed out in previous fights over legislation targeting transgender students, such mandated discrimination would endanger their mental health and severely limit their access to education.

Moreover, Borders’ bill directly violates a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which tossed out a Wisconsin school’s discriminatory policies. The trans student in that case, Ash Whitaker, was prohibited from using the boys’ restrooms, forced instead to use single-stall restrooms so far from his classes that he couldn’t actually access it and still get to class on time.

“[H]e was faced with the unenviable choice,” the Court wrote, “between using a bathroom that would further stigmatize him and cause him to miss class time, or avoid use of the bathroom altogether at the expense of his health.”

The Court, which presides over Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana, rejected the arguments that transgender people pose any threat when they use restrooms. That appears to be exactly the reasoning behind Borders’ new bill.

The Indiana Liberty Coalition, a conservative advocacy organization, praised Borders this week for introducing the legislation. “Today, Rep. Borders stood up for Hoosier children in the classroom, student privacy and Hoosier families,” the group proclaimed.

While Borders has not spoken publicly about his new bill, he has previously attempted to discriminate against transgender people. In 2017, he introduced a different bill that would have prohibited transgender people from updating their birth certificates to reflect their gender identity. Very few states have such strict limitations on birth certificate updates, and a federal court overturned one of those laws in Idaho last year. Only Kansas, Ohio, and Tennessee still prohibit updates, and legal challenges are already underway in Kansas.

Borders’ bill was quashed in committee by other Republican lawmakers. He claimed that he attempted to erase transgender people’s identities because, “I just respect accuracy in all legal records.”

Borders also previously opposed LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections, expressing concern that they might infringe on people’s religious beliefs.

Indiana is infamous for passing a “religious freedom” bill in 2015, signed into law by then-Gov. Mike Pence (R), that gave business owners a license to discriminate against LGBTQ customers.

After national outcry, lawmakers adjusted the bill to make sure it couldn’t be used to justify discrimination. The state has since tried to rehabilitate its bigoted reputation, but that hasn’t stopped conservative lawmakers from introducing other discriminatory bills.

Borders is known throughout the state for his Elvis impersonation, which he has been performing for over 40 years.

He said recently he may propose a resolution this year honoring Elvis, who performed his last concert before his death in Indiana.


Categories: F. Left News

30 days into the shutdown, furloughed workers face mounting financial pressure

Think Progress - Sun, 01/20/2019 - 10:41

Furloughed workers in food lines, another airport security checkpoint closure, and renewed calls for direct action as a deal from the White House gets rejected.

Welcome to day 30 of the government shutdown.

As one airport security officer told BBC News on Sunday, “It’s scary, I don’t know how long we’ll last and I don’t know how bad it’ll get before it’ll get better.”

It’s a fair summation of what workers — those furloughed by the shutdown and those who have had to work without pay — are facing, as the longest work-stoppage of its kind stretches on, with no certain end in sight.

In televised remarks Saturday, President Donald Trump floated a wan compromise to end the impasse, in which he’d trade a three-year reprieve for immigrants living in the United States under two programs that give them the right to live here temporarily — DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and TPS (Temporary Protective Status) —  in exchange for $5.7 billion in border wall funding. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) pre-empted Trump’s remarks by calling the deal “a non-starter.”

The shutdown began in late December, when Trump vetoed a short-term funding bill, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) whipped his GOP caucus to support. The bill passed the Senate unanimously, but the president pulled the rug out from under his own party’s feet by withdrawing his support for it.

Ironically, as the New York Times reported earlier this month, “immigration hard-liners do not regard the wall as their highest priority and fear that Mr. Trump’s preoccupation with it will prompt him to cut a deal that trades a relatively ineffectual measure for major concessions on immigration.” This highlights how difficult it is to haggle over border wall funding when the purpose of the wall is not to be built, but to serve as a vehicle for continual anti-immigrant sentiment.

The media is overlooking the purpose of Trump’s border wall

But as the back-and-forth between lawmakers drags on, workers affected by the federal closure continue to bear the brunt of the president’s decision to “own the shutdown” and nix December’s agreed-to deal to keep the government funded.

As the Huffington Post reported, officials at Thurgood Marshall Airport in Baltimore, Maryland were forced to close one of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints due to “excessive call-outs,” which are becoming something of a mainstay for air travelers as the shutdown wends on. TSA workers, deemed essential employees, have been working without pay since the shutdown began.

In a statement released Saturday, the TSA noted that the agency has “experienced a national rate of 7 percent of unscheduled absences compared to a 3 percent rate one year ago,” and that “many employees are reporting that they are not able to report to work due to financial limitations.”

Meanwhile, in Washington, DC-Metropolitan area, furloughed workers continue to deal with food insecurity as local food banks struggle to pick up the slack. As the Washington Post reported on Saturday, one such food bank set up in the parking lot of a Giant Food in Northern Virginia drew thirty furloughed workers, who waited more than an hour in the cold. As one woman told a food bank volunteer, “For many, many years, I sent in donations to the Capital Area Food Bank…This is the first time I’ve had to ask for help.”

As financial pressure on furloughed workers mounts, there are increasing calls for direct action to force an end to the impasse.

Saturday morning, Splinter News published an anonymous editorial from two employees of the federal government, imploring those who have had to remain on the job without pay to stage a work stoppage of their own.

“This farce has continued long enough,” they wrote, “The indignities to both the federal workforce and the American public should never have been allowed to go this far. It is time for federal workers to organize and strike the government.”

“If you’re an “essential” federal employee reading this, join your union today, and call in sick as soon as possible,” they added. This strategy for ending the shutdown was suggested earlier this week by The American Prospect’s Joseph McCartin, who wrote:

A wave of illness among federal workers would not be an act of selfishness, but a patriotic gesture in defense of the common good and in solidarity with less fortunate workers.  By falling ill, federal employees would be standing up not only for their furloughed colleagues but for suffering contract workers, including janitors, cafeteria workers, and others with low wages, who will get no back pay when this crisis ends.

Of course, as the shutdown continues, the financial impact will continue to spill into other sectors of the economy, including small businesses. Such a sick-out would be a powerful act of solidarity with numerous private sector workers, who also are feeling the clamps of the shutdown.

Categories: F. Left News

Native elder recounts viral confrontation with ‘ugly, ugly’ MAGA students

Think Progress - Sun, 01/20/2019 - 10:00

Native American tribal elder and Vietnam war veteran Nathan Phillips on Sunday recounted the events leading up to a tense standoff last week with an “ugly mob” of young Catholic students wearing MAGA hats, video of which has gone viral.

According to Phillips, the high school students had just completed their participation in the anti-choice March for Life in Washington, D.C., and had confronted a small group of Black Hebrew Israelites who were proselytizing nearby.

Over the course of an hour, the student group kept growing, until it numbered into thd hundreds, Phillips explained to MSNBC’s A.M. Joy.

“They surrounded these black kids, these black guys — taunting them and throwing racial taunts back and forth,” he said.

“First they came, there were about six of them. They went away. They came back with about 20. They went away, came back with about 60. They surrounded these black kids, black guys,” Phillips recounted.

“Taunting them — racial taunts back and forth. We were just at the sidelines watching this. This is about an hour. Then they went away. The 60 came back, 100, maybe 200 of them. They were just a big mob. Just ugly, ugly mob.”

Phillips said he worried that the high school students might actually violently attack the Black Hebrew group. The viral moment with the smirking student arose after he chose to insert himself between the growing confrontation.

“So when I started singing our songs, our prayers to God, that drum is an instrument we use to communicate to God,” he said.

“So when I started the drum beat it was in my mind that, ‘God, look at us here now, you know? I’m praying, God.’ We’re at the end of our indigenous people’s March and we want to end this in a good way. Look at my America. Look at my black and white brothers tearing at each other. We’re at a point where you can’t stand by and watch this.”

“If you’re an American and you see America getting torn apart, being burned down — you gotta do something. You gotta stop it.”

The Indigenous Peoples Movement, which organized Friday’s march, called the confrontation “emblematic of our discourse in Trump’s America.”

Many have pointed out that it has become a common phenomenon for white Trump supporters to harass marginalized people simply by chanting his slogans, as these students did yelling “Build that Wall.”

As Phillips pointed out in a separate interview, indigenous people lived in North America for hundreds of years with no walls at all.

Many of the students were seen wearing clothing that identified them as attending Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, Kentucky. School officials and the Catholic Diocese of Covington released a joint statement Saturday condemning the students’ behavior. They promised to investigate the incident and “take appropriate action, up to and including expulsion.”

Phillips stopped short of agreeing that the students should be expelled, but did say that the chaperones should be fired for allowing such behavior.

Categories: F. Left News

Native elder recounts viral confrontation with ‘ugly, ugly’ MAGA students

Think Progress - Sun, 01/20/2019 - 10:00

Native American tribal elder and Vietnam war veteran Nathan Phillips on Sunday recounted the events leading up to a tense standoff last week with an “ugly mob” of young Catholic students wearing MAGA hats, video of which has gone viral.

According to Phillips, the high school students had just completed their participation in the anti-choice March for Life in Washington, D.C., and had confronted a small group of Black Hebrew Israelites who were proselytizing nearby.

Over the course of an hour, the student group kept growing, until it numbered into thd hundreds, Phillips explained to MSNBC’s A.M. Joy.

“They surrounded these black kids, these black guys — taunting them and throwing racial taunts back and forth,” he said.

“First they came, there were about six of them. They went away. They came back with about 20. They went away, came back with about 60. They surrounded these black kids, black guys,” Phillips recounted.

“Taunting them — racial taunts back and forth. We were just at the sidelines watching this. This is about an hour. Then they went away. The 60 came back, 100, maybe 200 of them. They were just a big mob. Just ugly, ugly mob.”

Phillips said he worried that the high school students might actually violently attack the Black Hebrew group. The viral moment with the smirking student arose after he chose to insert himself between the growing confrontation.

“So when I started singing our songs, our prayers to God, that drum is an instrument we use to communicate to God,” he said.

“So when I started the drum beat it was in my mind that, ‘God, look at us here now, you know? I’m praying, God.’ We’re at the end of our indigenous people’s March and we want to end this in a good way. Look at my America. Look at my black and white brothers tearing at each other. We’re at a point where you can’t stand by and watch this.”

“If you’re an American and you see America getting torn apart, being burned down — you gotta do something. You gotta stop it.”

The Indigenous Peoples Movement, which organized Friday’s march, called the confrontation “emblematic of our discourse in Trump’s America.”

Many have pointed out that it has become a common phenomenon for white Trump supporters to harass marginalized people simply by chanting his slogans, as these students did yelling “Build that Wall.”

As Phillips pointed out in a separate interview, indigenous people lived in North America for hundreds of years with no walls at all.

Many of the students were seen wearing clothing that identified them as attending Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, Kentucky. School officials and the Catholic Diocese of Covington released a joint statement Saturday condemning the students’ behavior. They promised to investigate the incident and “take appropriate action, up to and including expulsion.”

Phillips stopped short of agreeing that the students should be expelled, but did say that the chaperones should be fired for allowing such behavior.

Categories: F. Left News

Pence reassures conservatives that Trump’s ‘compromise’ is as weak as Democrats say it is

Think Progress - Sun, 01/20/2019 - 08:41

In a somewhat combative interview Sunday morning, Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace repeatedly pressed Vice President Mike Pence on the Trump administration’s refusal to end the government shutdown before negotiating with lawmakers on border security.

When Wallace challenged President Trump’s new ‘compromise’ from the right, Pence all but admitted there’s basically nothing new on the table.

Wallace noted that anti-immigration hardliners like Ann Coulter had attacked the president’s proposal Saturday for offering “amnesty” to some immigrant groups, including “Dreamers” — people who were brought to the U.S. as children who’d previously been protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program — and those with Temporary Protective Status (TPS).

Pence responded by reassuring such conservative detractors that what was added to the new proposal was quite the nothingburger, downplaying both the number of immigrants impacted and the significance of the offer.

“The president has said we will support temporary relief for three years for DACA recipients and those who are in temporary protected status,” Pence explained.

“This is not amnesty; there’s no pathway to citizenship. There’s no permanent status here at all, which is what ‘amnesty’ contemplates. What this is, is a good faith effort to address the issue, bring relief to DACA recipients.”

The only reason DACA recipients need relief is because Trump himself ended DACA a year and a half ago, throwing the fate of some 800,000 Dreamers into limbo. Offering to give them a meager three years of protection after previously abandoning them entirely is hardly praise-worthy.

And that’s exactly why Democratic lawmakers rejected the deal before Trump even had the opportunity to make his Saturday afternoon speech. Calling the proposal a “non-starter,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) pointed out that it “does not include the permanent solution for the Dreamers and TPS recipients that our country needs and supports.”

Pence may have thought he was shoring up his base, but in doing so he was basically admitting that Democrats were correct about how little was added to the negotiations.

Moreover, it shines all the more light on the way Trump is holding thousands of workers hostage by refusing to end the shutdown until he gets his way.

Categories: F. Left News

CIC appointments: Glaring bias of Search and Selection Committees in favour of civil servants

Counterview - Sun, 01/20/2019 - 07:55
By Venkatesh Nayak* The dawn of 2019 saw the filling up of five vacancies in the Central Information Commission (CIC). Serving Information Commissioner, Shri Sudhir Bhargava was appointed Chief Information Commissioner.  Four retired civil servants were appointed Information Commissioners. The Gazette notifications of these appointments were published on 1st January, 2019. Two days ago, the nodal department … More CIC appointments: Glaring bias of Search and Selection Committees in favour of civil servants
Categories: F. Left News