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8.3 Billion Reasons to Break Free From Plastic

Ever since seeing the now famous YouTube clip of a sea turtle with a straw stuck in its nose, I?ve made an effort to avoid plastic straws. When I go grocery shopping I take my own bags and I also make a point of eschewing the single-use bags in the fresh produce section (much to the consternation of the person weighing my fruit and vegetables).

I try to buy things packaged in glass, I drink filtered tap water and wear flip-flops made from recycled rubber. There are plenty of zero-waste activists out there who make my efforts seem positively puny, but at least I?m doing something, right?

It?s better than doing nothing, sure, but when you consider that humans have created 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics since large-scale production of the synthetic materials began in the early 1950s, and most of it now resides in landfills or the natural environment, you realize its time to up your game.

I mean, it?s a little embarrassing to learn that Rwanda has banned plastic bags in their entirety and the campaign to eliminate plastic straws was started by a nine-year-old, when you?re still buying the occasional single-use plastic item just because it?s easier.

As if that wasn?t enough of a wakeup call, I then found out about Break Free From Plastic, a global movement on a mission to stop plastic pollution for good. With The Story of Stuff Project as one of their anchor organizations, members on almost every continent and the likes of Greenpeace joining forces with them, Break Free is fast becoming a force to be reckoned with.

All the Plastic Ever Made: Breaking Study Tallies 8.3 Billion Metric Tons

There?s literally a ton of plastic garbage for every person on earth. Think about that for a moment and then ruminate on this: of the 8.3 billion tons of plastic produced since the 1950s, over half of it was made between 2004 and now.

We all know that plastic is a problem, but whether it?s the desire for convenience, the fact that we?re lazy or that the problem just seems overwhelmingly large, we?re all acting as if nothing?s wrong. That has to change.

I caught up with Shilpi Chhotray, Senior Communications Officer at Break Free From Plastic to find out how. Her suggestions for effecting change at both a domestic and civic level are more than doable. Literally, we have no excuse not to implement them.

Shilpi isn?t just paying lip service to the movement either. She?s implemented these practices at her own company?Sumudra Skin + Sea?as well. She?started the?skincare line with an ?ocean-first? business model (Sumudra means ‘ocean’ in Sanskrit)?that uses?reusable glass containers?instead of plastic and edible-grade kelp as an ingredient source.

Photo Credit: Sumadra Skin + Sea

How did you come to be involved in the Break Free From Plastic movement?

I’ve been involved in ocean advocacy for a decade and became immersed in plastic waste issues a few years ago through my work in stakeholder engagement with an ocean plastic lens. I took a deep dive, if you will, on the major players (the companies creating it and the organizations fighting against it) and the key research around the issue during this time. In July 2017, I was recruited to take the role as a Senior Communications Officer to amplify the work of the organizations behind the movement.

We?re each drawn to the causes we support for different reasons. What prompted you to focus your efforts on ocean conservation?

It was a study abroad trip to Cairns, Australia, home to the Great Barrier Reef, when I was a college undergrad at Virginia Tech University. Being exposed to the human impacts on the environment, specifically the ocean, sparked a lifelong desire to protect our blue planet. I took my interest a step further and focused my efforts in graduate school on marine protected areas, or creating underwater national parks to safeguard earth’s most precious resources. After being introduced to the rocky intertidal ecosystem (and the magical world of seaweeds), I was inspired to study marine organisms through underwater exploration via scuba (and a human-powered submersible in a later position!).

The stats released in the latest study (8.3 billion tons of plastic produced since 1950) are overwhelming to say the very least. Is it really possible to turn the tide on plastic pollution?

And to add to that, only 9 percent has been recycled since, which sparks two major considerations not being discussed enough: first, the global north (US + Europe) export copious amounts of waste overseas and second, recycling is clearly not a viable solution to the plastic waste crisis.

It’s absolutely possible to turn the tide on plastic pollution and that’s what Break Free From Plastic is all about. By emphasizing source reduction and investing in zero waste solutions at the city-level, we can greatly combat plastic waste ending up in our ocean, roads and waterways.

For instance, one of our member organizations in the Philippines, Mother Earth Foundation, helps cities develop programs to manage their waste. In the city of San Fernando 75 percent of waste gets composted or recycled and they aim to hit 93 percent. Mother Earth’s President, Froilan Grate says, “If you truly want to stop ocean pollution, it starts on land, which means rethinking how we manage our waste.”

What do you say to the person on the street who thinks the problem is too big to fix?

We created the problem in the first place so we can also fix it. We HAVE to fix it because we’ve already reached the tipping point of acceptable levels of plastic pollution. Microplastics (broken down from larger pieces of plastic) are literally everywhere, from fish to seabirds to our sources of drinking water, and even sea salt and beer.

Using a reusable bag and skipping the straw is good place to start, but it’s a terrible place to stop. My colleagues at SOSP for instance, encourage a culture of ?leveling up? by taking these practices to your communities ?your office, your child’s school, after school clubs and even your favorite caf?, to effect widespread change.

Where you go next is to engage at the civic level. Talk to the companies! If you don’t like the business practices, tag them on Facebook, write to them about your concerns. You can also write to city government officials to pass regulations…these are all important steps to effect systems change.

I love this quote from our Campaigns Director, Stiv Wilson: “Our consumer muscles have gotten really strong and our citizen muscles have gotten really weak. Not everyone is an activist, figure out where you can contribute and plug in.”

How can we as individuals make a difference? Can you offer some suggestions (small and big) of changes we can make in our daily lives?

It’s important to make smart purchasing decisions and avoid brands emphasizing a throw away lifestyle (single-use plastics). Break Free From Plastic member organizations in the Philippines recently conducted an 8-day coastal cleanup and brand audit in Freedom Island, a critical area for migratory birds, to identify the most polluting brands. Turns out, six international brands are responsible for roughly 54 percent of plastic packaging pollution found there.

Among them are corporate behemoths like Nestl?, Unilever?and Proctor & Gamble ?parent companies of the brands sitting in your kitchen and bathroom right now. Break Free From Plastic is encouraging anyone doing coastal cleanup activities to combine it with a brand audit, because coastal cleanup is simply not enough. For more information visit Plastic Polluters.org.

There are greener alternatives that are better for us and the planet. Personally, I’ve transitioned to shopping for groceries in bulk, buying less, and a lot of DIY. Even slowing down and dining in can help reduce single-use plastic waste, and it’s more fun too!

What is the one thing you?d really like people to understand about the negative impact of plastic that we might not already know?

Plastic pollution is not just an ocean issue, it’s a social justice issue impacting low income people of color who are often on the front-lines of the crisis fighting incineration (or burning of plastic waste) for the safety of their communities. Many of these communities are also in Asia and being blamed for the waste they didn’t create, the waste coming from the developed world.

At Break Free From Plastic we are shining a spotlight on innovative and scalable solutions created by our Asian colleagues, focusing on zero-waste cities and making sure the responsibility falls on the corporations accountable.

Was being a socially conscious brand on the cards from day one for Samudra Skin + Sea or did the brand?s ethos evolve over time?

Absolutely ?it’s a social venture. We have an ?ocean-first? business model, which means protection for the ocean is the foundation for all aspects of our methods and mission. For instance, we hand harvest the wild seaweed used in our products to ensure the regenerative properties of the plant continue to thrive for generations to come.

We have a zero-waste packaging model which means all of our products are encased in reusable glass jars with bamboo lids and/or compostable boxes certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Our soap bar in particular, created for hair and body, eliminates the need for bottled shampoos and conditioners. We strongly advocate a ?less is more? mentality and repurposing and reusing when possible.

Our mission includes partnering on marine conservation campaigns that benefit people and marine life. The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito and 5 Gyres (who is also a Break Free From Plastic movement member) are two fantastic organizations we work with to communicate efforts around ocean stewardship. Personal wellness and ecological integrity need to go hand-in-hand, and Samudra is bridging that gap.

With so many people doing what they can to effect positive change in the world, it?s hard to just sit back and pretend that plastic is someone else?s problem. It?s everyone?s problem. In my own life, I?m definitely going to try harder to reduce the amount of waste I generate. What about you? How will you #breakfreefromplastic?

Related Stories:

5 Human Habits Harmful to Ocean Health

How to Tell if Your Sunscreen is Damaging Coral Reefs
22 Freaky Facts About Plastic Pollution

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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8.3 Billion Reasons to Break Free From Plastic

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A New Wave of Left-Wing Militants Is Ready to Rumble in Portland—and Beyond

Mother Jones

One week after two men were stabbed to death while defending two girls from a racist and Islamophobic diatribe on a commuter train, Portland, Oregon, is bracing for more violence. On Sunday, over the mayor’s objection, a right-wing group will hold a pro-Trump “free speech rally,” while anti-fascist activists are preparing to protest the gathering.

It’s a pattern that has played out across the country since the election: Pro-Trump events from Pikeville, Kentucky, to Berkeley, California, attract white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and Klansmen along with other provocateurs from the so-called “alt-right.” And, predictably, “antifa” counterprotesters mask up to oppose them—often physically.

Yet joining up with the well-established networks of antifascists and anarchists is a new generation of militant organizers. In Portland, Rose City Antifa’s coalition at this weekend’s pro-Trump rally will include the local chapter of Redneck Revolt, a national network whose outreach has targeted right-wing militia members.

Redneck Revolt is just one among a handful of left-wing groups that have pledged to resist emboldened white supremacists and right-wing extremists through “direct action” that sometimes goes beyond nonviolent protest—including picking up arms. Some see themselves as the heirs of ’60s radicals like the Black Panthers, while others look to the antifa movement for inspiration. Here are a few:

Bastards Motorcycle Club: A couple of years ago, South Carolinians Steven “Chavez” Parker and Joseph Guinn organized an anti-racist, LGBT-friendly motorcycle gang. Traditional biker clubs, Parker thought, “were all going to think one thing: ‘What a bunch of bastards.'” Since then, the Bastards Motorcycle Club has rolled up to oppose racist events across the South, sometimes armed and ready to rumble. April 2016 they joined a small army of counterprotesters at a rally of white supremacists in Stone Mountain, Georgia, home of a rock carving honoring the Confederacy. They’re now looking to set up new chapters—women need not apply. That’s “not the way things work,” says the group’s president, who insists on being called by his biker name, Gigolo.

By Any Means Necessary: BAMN formed in 1995 to fight California’s rollback of affirmative action. The group, which is led by civil rights lawyer Shanta Driver, has organized anti-Trump rallies and high school walkouts. But it also supports more aggressive tactics. “When we say ‘by any means necessary,’ we mean everything from doing legal cases to organizing more militant actions,” Driver says. “We are not people who believe, in situations where we’re under attack, that we should turn the other cheek.” Last June, BAMN teamed up with antifas to confront a small group of white nationalists marching outside California’s Capitol building in Sacramento. Anti-racist protesters, many in black clothing and masks, pelted marchers with water bottles and hit them with wooden bats. Several people from both camps were beaten or stabbed. “They are organizing to attack and kill us, so we have a right to self-defense,” BAMN activist Yvette Felarca told a TV crew. “Anyone who’s thinking about joining them, don’t. Because it’s not going to be a good day for you.”

Redneck Revolt: This network, largely made up of anarchists and libertarians, is focused on anti-racist organizing among the white working class. Inspired by the Young Patriots—white Appalachian activists who allied with the Black Panthers in the late 1960s—the group now claims chapters in more than 30 regions. Redneck Revolt’s members can speak to their neighbors more easily than ivory-tower liberals, says Lucas Kelly, a member of the Phoenix chapter. “‘Privilege’ means one thing to them. It means a different thing to working-class folks who put in 60, 80 hours a week to support their family.” The group also runs firearms trainings. Last December, Kelly’s chapter sent members to a gun show, where they handed out posters tagged with the slogan “Fighting Nazis Is an American Tradition: Stop the Alt-Right.”

Huey P. Newton Gun Club: After a white Dallas police officer killed an unarmed black man in 2013, community organizers Yafeuh Balogun and Babu Omowale launched the Huey P. Newton Gun Club, a coalition of black self-defense groups named after the co-founder of the Black Panthers. “We’re going to educate black, brown, and poor white people to arm up or at least get familiar with weapons,” Balogun says. “So if a situation does arise, if they feel threatened, at least they can defend themselves.” When an anti-Muslim group held an armed protest outside a Nation of Islam mosque in South Dallas in April 2016, armed Gun Club members showed up to counterprotest. Balogun says his group, which operates armed patrols in South Dallas, has drawn the attention of the FBI. But he also emphasizes that it’s not just about guns: “What we advise people is to not necessarily be so quick, so fast, to pick up arms.”

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A New Wave of Left-Wing Militants Is Ready to Rumble in Portland—and Beyond

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Iowa Just Showed Us What Defunding Planned Parenthood Under Trumpcare Would Look Like

Mother Jones

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In a harbinger of what’s to come if the Obamacare repeal bill becomes law, Planned Parenthood has announced that it will close four health clinics in Iowa next month that serve nearly 15,000 patients.

The move is a direct result of a defunding measure signed into law by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad last week that will go into effect on July 1. The new law rejects federal Medicaid dollars and replaces them with a state-run family planning program that will prohibit low-income patients from using their publicly funded insurance for care at providers, like Planned Parenthood, that also offer abortions.

“What is happening in Iowa is what we could see across the country if Congress passes this dangerous law to defund Planned Parenthood,” said Dr. Raegan McDonald-Mosley, chief medical officer at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a statement. “This is hardest on people who already face barriers to accessing health care—especially people of color, young people, people with low to moderate incomes, and people who live in rural areas.”

The defunding measure enacted by Iowa is similar to the one attached to the Obamacare repeal bill, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), that passed the House earlier this month and must now head to the Senate. That proposal would undo a federal statute that allows Medicaid patients to use their coverage broadly, prohibiting states from excluding abortion providers in doling out Medicaid reimbursements for nonabortion care. (The Hyde Amendment prohibits the use of federal Medicaid funds for most abortions.) Iowa’s new law rejects federal Medicaid funding and replaces it with state money so as not to run afoul of this federal requirement.

A number of other states have attempted to exclude abortion providers from their Medicaid programs, but only Texas has ever done so successfully, doing in 2011 exactly what Iowa did last week. Texas’ state-funded program promised to maintain the same level of care for patients without Planned Parenthood, through community health clinics, federally qualified health centers, and more. In reality, there was a significant drop in care for low-income patients: A number of clinics closed. Other health centers attempted to step in, but nearly 26,000 fewer women received reproductive health care. Medicaid contraception claims declined by 35 percent, suggesting that fewer low-income women were obtaining contraceptive care. There was also an increase in childbirths among women receiving Medicaid who’d previously received contraception from Planned Parenthood clinics. The areas that saw the largest drops in women served were those where Planned Parenthood clinics had to close.

The Iowa counties that will be losing Planned Parenthood clinics are poised for a similar decline in access to care: In three out of the four counties with health centers closing—Burlington, Keokuk, and Sioux City—Planned Parenthood served at least 80 percent of the family planning patients using publicly funded insurance, according to 2015 data.

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Iowa Just Showed Us What Defunding Planned Parenthood Under Trumpcare Would Look Like

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United Airlines Lost a Billion Dollars This Morning

Mother Jones

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The most important story of the past 24 hours—by a mile—is the guy who was dragged off an overbooked United flight yesterday by a security team. The details are still a little sketchy, but the YouTube video is awesome and the guy has an actual scratch on his face. The Chicago PD officer who dragged off the passenger has been suspended, and United’s president has apologized. Luckily for social media, he apologized in kind of a ham-handed way that gave the incident a whole new cycle of snark on Twitter. So far President Trump hasn’t weighed in, but give him time. He might get bored and decide later today to nationalize UAL.

In the meantime, Felix Salmon wants us to believe that this hasn’t hurt United’s stock price. Hah! What a corporate shill he is. Behold the chart below:

That’s about $1 billion in market cap right there. This is the power of Twitter and Facebook, my friends.

On the bright side for UAL, this will probably last only a day or so, sort of like Donald Trump’s random taunts at companies he doesn’t like. Tomorrow some other airline will do something outrageous and we’ll all vow never to fly them ever again. I’m pretty sure most of us have vowed never to fly every airline at some point or another, but since they all suck we don’t have much choice, do we? And they all overbook. And they all ferry their crews around on their own planes. And they all call security if a passenger won’t follow crew orders. This particular passenger just fought back a little more intensely than most. And people with cell phones were around.

Bad luck for United. Really, it could have happened to any of the fine holding companies that control the surly skies of America these days.

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United Airlines Lost a Billion Dollars This Morning

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Martin Luther King Jr.’s Daughter Slams Pepsi Protest Ad in One Tweet

Mother Jones

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Bernice King, the daughter of legendary civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., has added her voice to the criticism sparked by Pepsi’s controversial protest ad.

The commercial, which was released Tuesday as a two-and-a-half minute video, depicted reality TV star and model Kendall Jenner walking through a demonstration. As police stare down the protesters, Jenner approaches one of the officers to hand him a Pepsi. The gesture appears to defuse tensions, which prompts cheers from the protesters.

The ad quickly became the target of derision, with many calling it “tone-deaf.” Critics also argued Pepsi was co-opting the imagery of recent minority-led protest movements for profit. On Twitter, people pointed out that the scene of Jenner handing a Pepsi to an officer closely resembled a widely-shared photo of a Black Lives Matter protester being arrested during a 2016 protest in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

On Wednesday, King took to Twitter to share her thoughts about the controversy, posting a photo of her father being pushed back by police officers during a protest. In a particularly cringeworthy bit of timing, the Pepsi ad’s Tuesday release came on the same day of the 49th anniversary of King’s assassination in Memphis, Tennessee:

In a statement Wednesday, Pepsi announced the ad would be pulled immediately.

“Pepsi was trying to project a global a message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly, we missed the mark, and we apologize…We are pulling the content and halting any further rollout. We also apologize for putting Kendall Jenner in this position.”

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Martin Luther King Jr.’s Daughter Slams Pepsi Protest Ad in One Tweet

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Goldman Sachs Has Been Very Good to Trump’s Top Economic Adviser

Mother Jones

During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump the tycoon railed against big banks, claimed he cared passionately about the little guy, and vowed to make the economy work for struggling middle-class Americans. But after winning, he placed the American economy in the hands of Gary Cohn, the chief operating officer and president of Goldman Sachs. In January, Trump named Cohn chairman of the National Economic Council, the president’s top financial and economic whizzes. Cohn would be the highest authority on the economy within the White House. He quit his Goldman Sachs gig, but he left with an estimated $285 million severance package and agreed to sell a $16 million-stake in the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China.

Cohn certainly lives in a different economic reality than most Americans, and thanks to financial disclosure forms released on Friday night by the White House—which cover 180 of its officials and staffers and detail their finances when they arrived at the White House—the public can see just how different.

In 2015 and 2016, according to the form for Cohn, he earned between $39 million and $45 million from Goldman Sachs. This includes salary ($1.8 million last year), annual $5.4 million cash bonuses, and tens of millions of dollars in stock options, dividends, and interest. This doesn’t count what he brought in via various Goldman Sachs-operated retirement accounts. Nor does it take into account the money he pocketed from his sprawling brokerage accounts, which included Goldman Sachs investment funds. Cohn also had millions invested in hedge funds, real estate properties around the country, and numerous companies, including that Chinese bank, a high-end cosmetic retailer, and multiple medical technology firms. All told, it appears Cohn earned as much as $75 million last year.

Cohn is not the only Goldman alum to join the Trump administration. Steve Mnuchin, Trump’s Treasury secretary, worked at Goldman for years, and last month Trump hired another former Goldman Sachs top executive to be Mnuchin’s No. 2 at Treasury. The bank has been wildly successful over the last two decades, but it also has become a symbol of Wall Street’s excesses. It played a key role in the 2008 financial crash that led to a nationwide economic meltdown. During the campaign, Hillary Clinton was slammed repeatedly—by both her Democratic challenger Bernie Sanders and Trump—for giving paid speeches to Goldman executives. And before he wrapped up the GOP nomination, Trump attacked Republican rival Ted Cruz, pointing out that Cruz’s wife worked at Goldman Sachs and that he had received a loan from the firm.

Cohn’s full financial disclosure can be found below.

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Gary Cohn Financial Disclosure (PDF)

Gary Cohn Financial Disclosure (Text)

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Goldman Sachs Has Been Very Good to Trump’s Top Economic Adviser

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The Republican Health Care Bill Is In Deep Trouble

Mother Jones

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Jonathan Chait has a question:

No, no, no, no, no! Remember when we thought it might be better if Donald Trump won the Republican primary because Hillary Clinton would be sure to beat him? Then James Comey came along.

Shit happens, people, and there’s no predicting it. I doubt that the Republican bill can pass the Senate, but it might. The only thing we should care about is taking every possible opportunity to stop it, whenever and wherever we have a chance. Period.

(Besides, I doubt that voting for this bill will do much harm to Republicans when the midterms roll around. That’s still 20 months away, and besides, at least the yes voters can say they did everything they could to repeal Obamacare but leadership screwed it up.)

And speaking of the Republican bill, apparently the whip count really is falling short. So now the vote has been postponed to Friday. Maybe. It all depends on whether Paul Ryan and Donald Trump can figure out something else to capitulate on in order to win the votes of the crackpots in the Freedom Caucus.

Oh, and one more thing: CBO has rescored the bill. The original version reduced the deficit by $337 billion. The new one reduces it by only $150 billion. But that’s already out of date. They’ll have to score it again after Ryan and Trump finish negotiating with the conservatives. But it’s worth noting that Ryan doesn’t have a lot of headroom left if he also needs to negotiate with moderates who want a slightly less brutal program. Another $150 billion and the bill won’t reduce the deficit anymore. And if it doesn’t reduce the deficit, it can’t be passed under reconciliation.

But wait! One final thing: earlier I noted that the Republican bill is allowed to repeal only the elements of Obamacare that directly affect the budget. So if Republicans try to add provisions that repeal, say, essential benefits or pre-existing conditions, the Senate parliamentarian is likely to rule that they have to be jettisoned. However, as the presiding officer of the Senate, VP Mike Pence has the final word on this. He could just declare the parliamentarian wrong and allow the vote to go forward.

But what justification would he offer? As it happens, Republicans already have one handy. Last year, a number of them made the argument that the “direct effect” rule should be applied to the whole bill, not to its individual parts. In other words, Obamacare can be repealed completely because Obamacare as a whole directly affects the budget. If Republicans go down this road, that’s what you’re likely to hear.

However, my guess is that if Pence does this, he’ll lose a whole bunch of votes from moderate senators who won’t be a party to something that effectively kills the filibuster. So it probably can’t pass the Senate either way.

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The Republican Health Care Bill Is In Deep Trouble

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Trump’s Doubts and Ignorance on Nuclear Treaty Worry Experts

Mother Jones

President Donald Trump’s apparent ignorance and skepticism of a key nuclear arms reduction treaty between the US and Russia have nuclear arms experts concerned about the country’s vulnerability on one of its most important national security issues.

According to a report Thursday from Reuters, when Russian President Vladimir Putin brought up the 2010 New START treaty on a recent call with Trump, the American president had to ask his aides what the treaty was. He then expressed doubts to Putin about extending the treaty, according to the report, and called it a bad deal.

“The Reuters report…suggests that he’s extremely ill-informed about the most serious foreign policy, national security issues a president needs to know,” says Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, a nonpartisan organization focused on arms control policy. “His cluelessness is dangerous in the sense that if he doesn’t understand the risks of nuclear weapons and commonsense measures to reduce the risks, he is, and the nation is, vulnerable to missteps.”

According to Reuters, during Trump’s first call with Putin as president on January 28, Trump denounced New START as a bad deal for the United States and had to “ask his aides in an aside what the treaty was.” The White House didn’t comment for the story and referred Reuters to the public readout of the call, which makes no mention of discussions about nuclear weapons policy. White House press secretary Sean Spicer wouldn’t comment on the story during Thursday’s public press briefing and said the readout was the only resource the administration would make available.

The treaty, negotiated by President Barack Obama and then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, was ratified by the US Senate by a vote of 71 to 26. Kimball says that’s because it was seen as a key step toward reducing both nations’ deployed nuclear stockpiles and included monitoring of both sides. “So in a time of tension with Russia,” he says, “this provides transparency and predictability, and it means that neither side can vastly increase their nuclear arsenals, which were already far larger than any reasonable measure would suggest they need to be.”

Kimball adds that the opposition to the treaty when it was signed in 2010 seemed to revolve around the perception that the deal allowed Russia to deploy nuclear weapons at a greater rate than the United States and wouldn’t allow the United States to modernize its nuclear arsenal. He points out that a Pentagon review of the US nuclear arsenal found that the country could further reduce its stockpile by up to one-third without affecting US nuclear capability, so the idea that nuclear capability is somehow hampered by New START is not accurate.

Joe Cirincione, president of Ploughshares Fund, a nuclear arms reduction advocacy organization, says in an email that Trump’s opposition to the deal seems to be political and could ultimately damage US national interests.

“The treaty had the overwhelming support of America’s military, intelligence, and national security leaders,” Cirincione says. “The fact that Donald Trump seems to be taking his nuclear policy advice from far-right ideologues who opposed the pact should be deeply troubling to every citizen…He seems unable to set aside his peculiar personal prejudices from his own strategic goal of improving relations with Russia. He is tripping up his own agenda.”

Kimball says the Reuters report suggests that Trump is not prepared to handle the complexities of nuclear policy. “This is the guy who now has a military officer shadowing him everywhere he goes,” he says, “carrying a 45-pound black briefcase that can be used by the president to transmit the launch codes to strategic command in Omaha to launch as many as 900 nuclear warheads in under 10 minutes, and no one has to agree with Mr. Trump about doing that. He has an incredibly awesome, almost sole authority to launch these weapons. He holds the fate of the planet in his hands, or in the briefcase that follows him everywhere, and this report today, it’s incredibly disturbing because it suggests that he is clueless about this important nuclear risk reduction agreement and does not have a clear strategy for further reduce risks with Russia and other countries.”

He also said that any attempts to brush this report off as just another odd statement out of the White House would be missing the bigger picture.

“This is not a 6 a.m. tweet in response to a cable news show,” Kimball says. “This is a complex conversation with the president of Russia, and he’s speaking about an extremely important treaty governing US and Russian nuclear forces. This is not your usual daily White House unusual statement. This one’s a little different.”

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Trump’s Doubts and Ignorance on Nuclear Treaty Worry Experts

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"Immoral," "Stupid," and "Counterproductive": National Security Experts Slam Trump’s "Muslim Ban"

Mother Jones

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Despite a decade of working to help America in Iraq, Hameed Khalid Darweesh was welcomed to the United States with handcuffs. Darweesh had received a special immigrant visa on January 20 for his work as a contractor, engineer, and interpreter for the Army’s 101st Airborne Division in Baghdad and Mosul. But when he arrived at New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport on Friday night, he was among the refugees detained upon arrival in the wake of President Donald Trump’s latest executive order.

On Friday afternoon, Trump banned refugees from Syria indefinitely, suspended all refugee resettlement to the United States for 120 days, denied entry to citizens of seven predominantly Muslim nations (Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen), and reduced the number of refugees to be resettled this year by more than half. After nearly 19 hours of detention and a lawsuit filed on his behalf, Darweesh was released on Saturday. Countless others remain stuck in limbo.

While Trump’s executive order claims to be in the interest of “protecting the nation,” experts in national security and counterterrorism who spoke with Mother Jones argue that it poses potentially disastrous immediate and long-term security threats to the nation and US personnel overseas.

“Not only is it immoral and stupid, it’s also counterproductive,” says Patrick Skinner, a former CIA counterterrorism case officer who now works at the Soufan Group, a security consulting firm. “We’ve got military, intelligence, and diplomatic personnel on the ground right now in Syria, Libya, and Iraq who are working side by side with the people, embedded in combat, and training and advising. At no time in the US’s history have we depended more on local—and I mean local—partnerships for counterterrorism. We need people in Al Bab, Syria; we depend on people in a certain part of eastern Mosul, Iraq; in Cert, Libya. At the exact moment we need them most, we’re telling these people, ‘Get screwed.'”

Kirk W. Johnson, who spent a year on the reconstruction in Fallujah in Iraq with the US Agency for International Development (USAID), echoes Skinner’s fears: “This will have immediate national security implications, in that we are not going to be able to recruit people to help us right now, and people are not going to step forward to help us in any future wars if this is our stance.”

The US-led war on ISIS is but one front in a constellation of fights against extremist groups that could be hampered by Trump’s decision. “The US is officially banning people in these countries at the same time we’re trying to build up local support to fight ISIS,” Skinner says. “It takes a long time to build trust with these people. This is like the Abu Ghraib thing. You have to start over, say, ‘Okay, starting now, trust me.’ How many times can you get away with that?” It also sends a message that groups like the so-called Islamic State can exploit. Elizabeth Goitein, the codirector of the Brennan Center’s Liberty & National Security Program, says, “The message this projects is that America sees Muslims as a threat—not specific actors who are intent on committing terrorist acts. The message that America really is at war with Islam will be ISIS’s best friend.”

BuzzFeed reporters Mike Giglio and Munzer Al-Awad spoke with five current or former ISIS fighters who cited Trump’s divisiveness as a factor that will weaken America. They added that his rhetoric against Muslims will help them reinforce their narrative that America and the West are fighting not just terrorism, but Islam itself. “Trump will shorten the time it takes for us to achieve our goals,” said one.

Meanwhile, the very allies who have operated alongside US personnel in war zones for years—contractors and translators like Darweesh—are once again being abandoned. For the past decade, Johnson has been leading an effort to resettle Iraqi allies, many of whom, he says, face torture, kidnapping, and death after collaborating with American soldiers. It all started in 2006 when he heard from an Iraqi USAID colleague who’d been identified by a militia. The militia left a severed pig’s head on his door step, along with a message saying that it would be his head next. Despite his years of helping the United States, the US government offered no help, and he had to flee the country with his wife.

Johnson discovered that there was no mechanism in place to help US allies like his colleague, and he began a personal crusade to change that. Since then, through legislation and a special immigrant visa platform, Johnson’s efforts have helped thousands reach the United States, but the process is cumbersome, long, and often too late for the people who need it most. Johnson speaks of interpreters “who were having legs shot off, cut off, their wives raped, their children abducted.” Some of his colleagues were even killed. And though Johnson has been critical of the process for years, now he’s in the “awkward position” of defending it, because it was at least better than shutting those allies out as a matter of policy.

Skinner, Johnson, and Goitein all point out that the executive order reads as if whoever wrote it had no understanding of, or done any work with, US refugee admissions programs. Indeed, a senior Department of Homeland Security official reportedly told NBC News that career State Department and DHS officials had no input in the order, saying, “Nobody has any idea what is going on.” Johnson says, “It reads as though 9/11 happened yesterday, and that 9/11 was carried out by refugees, which it wasn’t, and it creates a series of policy prescriptions to solve a problem that doesn’t exist, as if the stringent measures that have been put in place over the past 15 years to screen refugees don’t exist.”

Johnson, exasperated at the thought of US allies being turned away by the very country they spent years helping, adds, “These people who are directly and immediately impacted by this have done more to help our country than just about every breathing American has—especially the president. Shame is not a strong enough word for today. This is a disgraceful moment.”

Originally posted here: 

"Immoral," "Stupid," and "Counterproductive": National Security Experts Slam Trump’s "Muslim Ban"

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A Stray Email Exposes a Prison Company’s Rebranding Efforts

Mother Jones

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CoreCivic, the private prison company formerly known as the Corrections Corporation of America, has been working with a communications firm that boasts an “aggressive media strategy” for countering investigative journalists. CoreCivic apparently retained the Alexandria, Virginia-based firm to manage its reputation following the publication of a Mother Jones story in which I detailed my four months working as a corrections officer at a CoreCivic-operated prison in Louisiana.

The prison company’s connection to the PR firm came to light through a recent email sent by CoreCivic spokesperson Jonathan Burns to Hillenby chief operating officer Katie Lilley. Burns copied Texas Public Radio reporter Aaron Schrank on the email, presumably unintentionally. Schrank forwarded the email to me. The email suggests that Hillenby has been assisting CoreCivic in developing its public response to my reporting.

A two-page set of talking points, titled “Get the Facts on Mother Jonesâ&#128;¨,” were attached to the message. Burns said he wanted to have the talking points, which CoreCivic originally issued last summer, “handy” during a “Metro Commission meeting,” and asked Lilley if she could have it “CoreCivic-ified first,” referring to the company’s recent decision to change its name and logo. The meeting Burns mentioned may be a reference to a meeting in Nashville, where CoreCivic is based and where it has a contract to run the Metro-Davidson County Detention Facility.

The talking points label me as an “activist reporter” who sought to “force onto Mother Jones readers a rehashed and predetermined premise instead of a factual and informed story.” The document focuses largely on the fact that I sought employment as a prison guard rather than simply interviewing CoreCivic about their company. It accuses me of having “jeopardized the safety and security” of the prison and its employees by writing about the things I had witnessed and experienced there, rather than reporting them to my supervising officer. The memo also criticizes me for neglecting to speak “to a person supportive of our company and the solutions we provide.” CoreCivic declined multiple interview requests while I was reporting my article. I also sent the company more than 150 questions seeking responses and further information.

CoreCivic and Hillenby’s executives did not respond to requests to comment for this article.

It’s unclear what, if any, steps Hillenby has taken to help rebrand CoreCivic. On its website, Hillenby doesn’t name many of its clients and describes its campaigns in general terms. The firm claims it has successfully curtailed the publication of investigative reports “with every national television network, investigative cable news programs and several other print, digital and broadcast outlets, including hardline activist media.” For example, it claims that its “aggressive media strategy” succeeded in pushing an investigative report by an unnamed broadcast company to be “indefinitely delayed” and “likely dropped.” The firm says it helps companies “incorporate certain language” in their correspondence with investigative reporters to “introduce the concept of legal risk.”

The PR firm’s top executives, Rob Hoppin and Katie Lilley, previously worked at Edelman, one of the world’s largest PR firms. Edelman has used controversial strategies while performing corporate facelifts. In 2006, it created Working Families for Walmart, a supposedly grassroots group of Walmart supporters. Its blog posts turned out to have been written by Edelman employees. Edelman also helped organize “Wal-Marting Across America,” a blog written by a road-tripping couple who recorded their overwhelmingly positive interactions with Walmart employees. Edelman flew the couple to Las Vegas and furnished them with a mint-green RV adorned with the Working Families for Walmart logo. It’s unclear if Hoppin and Lilley worked on those campaigns, though both were on Edelman’s Walmart account at the time, according to their online bios.

A few weeks after I stopped working at the prison, in early 2015, CoreCivic notified the Louisiana Department of Corrections that it planned to terminate its contract to operate the facility, which had been set to expire in 2020. According to DOC documents, the state had asked CoreCivic to address numerous issues at the prison involving security, staffing levels, training, programming for inmates, and a bonus paid to Winn’s warden that “causes neglect of basic needs.” Shortly following the publication of my article last June, the Justice Department announced it would phase out its use of private prisons.

Originally from – 

A Stray Email Exposes a Prison Company’s Rebranding Efforts

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