Wednesday, November 30, 2016

"Trump is anti-political correctness gone mad"--Moira Weigel

“…As the 1990s wore on, because multiculturalism was associated with globalization – the force that was taking away so many jobs traditionally held by white working-class people – attacking it allowed conservatives to displace responsibility for the hardship that many of their constituents were facing. It was not the slashing of social services, lowered taxes, union busting or outsourcing that was the cause of their problems. It was those foreign ‘others’.

“PC was a useful invention for the Republican right because it helped the movement to drive a wedge between working-class people and the Democrats who claimed to speak for them. ‘Political correctness’ became a term used to drum into the public imagination the idea that there was a deep divide between the ‘ordinary people’ and the ‘liberal elite,’ who sought to control the speech and thoughts of regular folk. Opposition to political correctness also became a way to rebrand racism in ways that were politically acceptable in the post-civil-rights era.

“Soon, Republican politicians were echoing on the national stage the message that had been product-tested in the academy. In May 1991, President George HW Bush gave a commencement speech at the University of Michigan. In it, he identified political correctness as a major danger to America. ‘Ironically, on the 200th anniversary of our Bill of Rights, we find free speech under assault throughout the United States,’ Bush said. ‘The notion of political correctness has ignited controversy across the land,’ but, he warned, ‘In their own Orwellian way, crusades that demand correct behavior crush diversity in the name of diversity.’

“…The climate of digital journalism and social media sharing enabled the anti-political-correctness (and anti-anti-political correctness) stories to spread even further and faster than they had in the 1990s. Anti-PC and anti-anti-PC stories come cheap: because they concern identity, they are something that any writer can have a take on, based on his or her experiences, whether or not he or she has the time or resources to report. They are also perfect clickbait. They inspire outrage, or outrage at the outrage of others.

“Meanwhile… Trump said that liberal media had the system ‘rigged.’ The anti-PC liberals were so focused on leftists on Twitter that for months they gravely underestimated the seriousness of the real threat to liberal discourse. It was not coming from women, people of colour, or queer people organizing for their civil rights, on campus or elsewhere. It was coming from @realdonaldtrump, neo-Nazis, and far-right websites such as Breitbart… 

“As a candidate, Trump inaugurated a new phase of anti-political-correctness. What was remarkable was just how many different ways Trump deployed this tactic to his advantage, both exploiting the tried-and-tested methods of the early 1990s and adding his own innovations.

“First, by talking incessantly about political correctness, Trump established the myth that he had dishonest and powerful enemies who wanted to prevent him from taking on the difficult challenges facing the nation. By claiming that he was being silenced, he created a drama in which he could play the hero. The notion that Trump was both persecuted and heroic was crucial to his emotional appeal. It allowed people who were struggling economically or angry about the way society was changing to see themselves in him, battling against a rigged system that made them feel powerless and devalued. At the same time, Trump’s swagger promised that they were strong and entitled to glory. They were great and would be great again.

“Second, Trump did not simply criticize the idea of political correctness – he actually said and did the kind of outrageous things that PC culture supposedly prohibited. The first wave of conservative critics of political correctness claimed they were defending the status quo, but Trump’s mission was to destroy it. 

“In 1991, when George HW Bush warned that political correctness was a threat to free speech, he did not choose to exercise his free speech rights by publicly mocking a man with a disability or characterizing Mexican immigrants as rapists. Trump did. Having elevated the powers of PC to mythic status, the draft-dodging billionaire, son of a slumlord, taunted the parents of a fallen soldier and claimed that his cruelty and malice was, in fact, courage.

“This willingness to be more outrageous than any previous candidate ensured non-stop media coverage, which in turn helped Trump attract supporters who agreed with what he was saying. We should not underestimate how many Trump supporters held views that were sexist, racist, Xenophobic and Islamophobic, and were thrilled to feel that he had given them permission to say so. It’s an old trick: the powerful encourage the less powerful to vent their rage against those who might have been their allies, and to delude themselves into thinking that they have been liberated. It costs the powerful nothing; it pays frightful dividends.

“Trump drew upon a classic element of anti-political-correctness by implying that while his opponents were operating according to a political agenda, he simply wanted to do what was sensible. He made numerous controversial policy proposals: deporting millions of undocumented immigrants, banning Muslims from entering the US, introducing stop-and-frisk policies that have been ruled unconstitutional. 

“But by responding to critics with the accusation that they were simply being politically correct, Trump attempted to place these proposals beyond the realm of politics altogether. Something political is something that reasonable people might disagree about. By using the adjective as a put-down, Trump pretended that he was acting on truths so obvious that they lay beyond dispute. ‘That’s just common sense.’

“The most alarming part of this approach is what it implies about Trump’s attitude to politics more broadly. His contempt for political correctness looks a lot like contempt for politics itself. He does not talk about diplomacy; he talks about ‘deals.’ Debate and disagreement are central to politics, yet Trump has made clear that he has no time for these distractions. 

“To play the anti-political-correctness card in response to a legitimate question about policy is to shut down discussion in much the same way that opponents of political correctness have long accused liberals and leftists of doing. It is a way of sidestepping debate by declaring that the topic is so trivial or so contrary to common sense that it is pointless to discuss it. The impulse is authoritarian. And by presenting himself as the champion of common sense, Trump gives himself permission to bypass politics altogether.

“Now that he is president-elect, it is unclear whether Trump meant many of the things he said during his campaign. But, so far, he is fulfilling his pledge to fight political correctness. Last week, he told the New York Times that he was trying to build an administration filled with the ‘best people,’ though ‘Not necessarily people that will be the most politically correct people, because that hasn’t been working.’

“Trump has also continued to cry PC in response to criticism. When an interviewer from Politico asked a Trump transition team member why Trump was appointing so many lobbyists and political insiders, despite having pledged to ‘drain the swamp’ of them, the source said that ‘one of the most refreshing parts of … the whole Trump style is that he does not care about political correctness.’ Apparently it would have been politically correct to hold him to his campaign promises.

“As Trump prepares to enter the White House, many pundits have concluded that ‘political correctness’ fueled the populist backlash sweeping Europe and the US. The leaders of that backlash may say so. But the truth is the opposite: those leaders understood the power that anti-political-correctness has to rally a class of voters, largely white, who are disaffected with the status quo and resentful of shifting cultural and social norms. They were not reacting to the tyranny of political correctness, nor were they returning America to a previous phase of its history. They were not taking anything back. They were wielding anti-political-correctness as a weapon, using it to forge a new political landscape and a frightening future.

“The opponents of political correctness always said they were crusaders against authoritarianism. In fact, anti-PC has paved the way for the populist authoritarianism now spreading everywhere. Trump is anti-political correctness gone mad.”

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Pension Protection Act Failed to Strengthen Retirement Economic Security for Working Americans (from the National Institute on Retirement Security)

WASHINGTON, D.C., November 28, 2016 - A new issue brief finds that the Pension Protection Act of 2006 (PPA) has had the unintended consequence of worsening the nation's retirement crisis. The volatile and unworkable funding rules in the law left private sector employers less willing to continue offering defined benefit (DB) pension plans. The law also triggered more pension "freezes," leaving fewer Americans with pensions.

The research also finds that PPA resulted in more workers covered by defined contribution (DC) plans that used auto-enrollment in 401(k) accounts. But since enactment of the law, the overall number of households with retirement plans has declined from 55 percent in 2007 to 51 percent in 2013. Moreover, the typical automatic contribution rates to DC accounts are too low to provide adequate retirement savings for middle class Americans, and the most common investment default, target date funds, tend to have higher fees.

These findings are contained in a new issue brief from the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS), 10 Years After the Pension Protection Act: Effects on DB and DC Plans. The research brief analyzes the trends in both DB and DC retirement plans for private sector workers to assess the impacts of the legislation, and it is available here.

"If we learned anything from the recent elections, it's that Americans are beyond angry about their economic insecurity. Some 86 percent of Americans say the nation face a retirement crisis, and 87 percent say leaders in Washington just don't understand how hard it is to save for retirement. This retirement anxiety is a big part of the economic and political unrest the nation is facing," says Diane Oakley, NIRS executive director.   
"Our new issue brief confirms what we already know - Americans are not well prepared for retirement and the situation is worsening due to the unintended impact of the PPA. Instead of strengthening retirement security, the PPA has had the opposite impact. It's acted as pension poison," Oakley said.

She added, "If the new Congress and the President-elect are serious about addressing Americans' economic anxiety, a bold first step would be to make a long-term fix to the PPA funding rules. Americans have told us that the disappearance of pensions is killing the American dream. To stop further decline of pension availability, changes should be made to the PPA so that employers have better predictability and less volatility in the annual cost of funding pension plans. These changes should be permanent to give companies more control to budget for pension costs."

The key findings of this issue brief are:
  • For DB pension plans, an unintended consequence of the PPA has emerged in that employers are less and less willing to sponsor these plans. And, more employers have frozen existing plans.
    • Fewer and fewer employees are covered by traditional DB plans. This decades-long trend was accelerated by PPA's increased funding requirements. The PPA's move to a mark-to-market basis for funding has increased the plans' volatility, thereby increasing the plans' costs.
    • Congress has implemented several "stop-gap" measures to address pension cost and volatility, but this temporary relief has not changed the behavior of employers, who continue to freeze and close their plans.
  • DC plans with automatic enrollment have seen some increased participation, but the overall changes are not enough to ensure adequate retirement security for most workers. Contribution rates are far too low, and perhaps even lower than they would be without auto-enrollment.
    • The share of working-age households covered by any retirement plan fell from a high of 57.6 percent in 2001 to 51.3 percent in 2013.
    • Contribution rates in automatic enrollment plans tend to be low-by design-and perhaps even lower than they would be otherwise. Even participants who increase their rates over time through auto-escalation features may not end up accumulating enough to ensure an adequate retirement income.
    • Target date funds-the most common investment choice for those who are automatically enrolled-often have higher fees and a wide variance in risk exposure.
    • Employers that have replaced frozen DB plans with higher contributions to a DC plan contribute less to overall retirement than they did when they maintained the DB plan, which undermines retirement security.
The National Institute on Retirement Security is a non-profit, non-partisan organization established to contribute to informed policymaking by fostering a deep understanding of the value of retirement security to employees, employers and the economy as a whole. Located in Washington, D.C., NIRS' diverse membership includes financial services firms, employee benefit plans, trade associations, and other retirement service providers. More information is available at Follow NIRS on Twitter @nirsonline.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Standing Rock Sioux Tribe calls on President Obama again to deny easement and honor treaty

Cannon Ball, N.D. The following statement from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s Chairman, Dave Archambault II, is quoted in full:

“[November 26th] we were notified by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that on December 5th, they will close all lands north of the Cannonball River, which is where Oceti Sakowin camp is located. The letter states that the lands will be closed to public access for safety concerns, and that they will allow for a ‘free speech zone’ south of the Cannonball River on Army Corps lands.

“Our Tribe is deeply disappointed in this decision by the United States, but our resolve to protect our water is stronger than ever. We ask that all everyone who can appeal to President Obama and the Army Corps of Engineers to consider the future of our people and rescind all permits and deny the easement to cross the Missouri River just north of our Reservation and straight through our treaty lands.

“When Dakota Access Pipeline chose this route, they did not consider our strong opposition. Our concerns were clearly articulated directly to them in a meeting on September 30, 2014. We have released that audio recording from our council meeting where DAPL and the ND Public Service Commission came to us with this route. We ask that the United States stop the pipeline and move it outside our treaty lands.

“It is both unfortunate and ironic that this announcement comes the day after this country celebrates Thanksgiving – a historic exchange of goodwill between Native Americans and the first immigrants from Europe. Although the news is saddening, it is not at all surprising given the last 500 years of the treatment of our people. We have suffered much, but we still have hope that the President will act on his commitment to close the chapter of broken promises to our people and especially our children.”


Pipeline Executives Serve Standing Rock Protesters a Crop Dusting For Thanksgiving:

“Candida Savage KingBird, who posted news of crop-dusting of the Standing Rock encampment in a personal video was shot November 20th by police guarding the Dakota Access Pipeline, with a blue-point rubber bullet, damaging her ribs.  Kingbird, who posted the following video, said, ‘Thankfully no one died last night but they could have. There was bloodshed, tears, and prayer.’  She was luckier than Sophia Wilansky from New York, whose arm was nearly amputated after either a Molotov cocktail or a grenade was thrown into the crowd on Sunday night.   More than two dozen were sent to hospital when 400 protesters clashed with police.

“[According to PBS Newshour], the escalating violence against the protesters includes fire hoses in freezing temperatures and tear gas, non-lethal bullets and mace. According to The Guardian, eye-witness Kingbird charges that the encampment was crop-dusted on the night of November 13th by chartered planes flying illegally over federal tribal land with their lights off.   

“Since 2009, the EPA regulations clearly state, ‘Any spray pesticides manufactured or labeled as of January 2012 and for sale in the U.S. must display the warning on its label: Do not apply this product in a manner that results in spray (or dust) drift that harms people or any other non-target organisms or sites.’  

“Sr. Armando Elenes, a Vice President of the United Farm Workers in California, [said] in an interview that while they had investigated incidents of workers who have been exposed to pesticides due to crop dusting or from pesticide drift incidents, ‘of course it is illegal to do it.’  …[C]all it sick, deranged, inhuman, reprehensible, and a couple of dozen other things…

On December 4, hundreds of veterans plan to ‘deploy’ to Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota to join in protest against the planned Dakota Access Pipeline.

“The event, Veterans Stand for Standing Rock, is a call for veterans to ‘assemble as a peaceful, unarmed militia’ to ‘defend the water protectors from assault and intimidation at the hands of the militarized police force and DAPL security.’ The organizers hope to prevent progress on the construction of the pipeline as well as draw national attention to the cause.

“Meantime, the lame-duck administration is doing nothing to stop the escalating violence, in spite of President Obama’s statement that ‘there is an obligation for protesters to be peaceful, and there is an obligation for authorities to show restraint...’

“As Buffy St. Marie posted on her Facebook page:  ‘Those heroes on the Standing Rock reservation have peacefully stood up to police dogs, pepper spray and militarized tanks and SWAT teams. It’s time that everyone else joined in.’ Bill McKibben writes in The New York Times Opinion Section:  ‘It is time for you to step up and end the escalating violence.’

Timeline:  The International Business Times published this complete timeline of the Standing Rock/DAPL showdown [November 23rd]: 

“December 2014: Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners applied for a permit to build a pipeline from North Dakota’s Bakken shale fields down south to Iowa. The proposed pipeline, a $3.7 billion, 1,172-mile endeavor capable of transporting 570,000 barrels a day, begins a year of public hearings.

“January 2016: Regulators in North Dakota approved the pipeline unanimously in spite of landowners alleging that representatives of the Dakota Access project had used strong arm tactics (including an Iowa property owner who said the oil company representatives had offered a prostitute to convince him).

“April 29, 2016: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers encountered near unanimous opposition to the pipeline during a meeting for Native Americans.

“July 26, 2016: As the Democratic National Convention was being held across the country in Philadelphia, most of the final permits needed to construct the pipeline were approved by the U.S. government. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved 200 water crossings for the pipeline and three easements (as in, the right for someone to use someone else’s property) for the pipeline. The easements included crossings at the Mississippi River, Lake Sakakawea and at Lake Oahe, a sacred site for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. The easements would need to be approved by federal regulators and Congress before work could begin.

“July 27, 2016: The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed suit against federal regulators saying that a potential spill would threaten tribal drinking water and that the pipeline threatens sacred tribal land in violation of the National Historic Preservation Act and other laws.

“Aug. 24, 2016: A federal judge heard arguments from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe lawyers, federal lawyers and Dakota Access lawyers. Standing Rock Sioux argued that they were not afforded the opportunity to comment on the pipeline route while the federal government said that that opportunity had been afforded to them. Outside of the courthouse in Washington, D.C., a rally featuring celebrities like Susan Sarandon and Shailene Woodley supported the tribe. At least 20 people had been arrested by this point at protests in North Dakota.

“Sept. 3, 2016: The protests in North Dakota turned violent when a private security company hired by the pipeline let dogs loose on protesters. North Dakota Gov. Terry Brandstad said he would authorize State Patrol to make arrests at the site where hundreds of people had shown up to camp.

“Sept. 9, 2016: The U.S. district judge ruled against the Standing Sioux Tribe in the morning but said that one particular area was barred from construction. Later that day, the federal government makes the surprise announcement that it was voluntarily halting work on the project.

“Sept. 10, 2016: An arrest warrant was issued for Amy Goodman, a journalist with Democracy Now who had been covering the protests. The previous week, Goodman and her team had been at the protests and filmed security forces using dogs against protesters and spraying them with pepper spray. That report went viral and was picked up by several major cable news channels.

“Sept. 13, 2016: The CEO of Dakota Access assured employees in a letter, also obtained by the media, that they were committed to building the pipeline. The company had reportedly spent over a billion dollars on equipment. Protesters had damaged some of that equipment.

“Oct. 9, 2016: The U.S. District Court of Appeals removed an injunction on private lands allowing for the pipeline to continue there. The federal government voluntary halt remains in place for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Land nearby.

“Oct. 11, 2016: Activists disrupted the flow of millions of gallons of oil running between Canada in the U.S. The activists cut padlocks and chains to go into remote oil flow stations. There was no long term damage, activists said they had studied how to shut off the valves safely but the oil industry said that subsequent pressure buildup could have led to environmental damage from the shut offs.

“Oct. 17, 2016: A North Dakota judge rejected charges against Amy Goodman.

“Nov. 9, 2016: After the surprise presidential victory of Donald Trump, activists and tribal leaders expressed hope that President Barack Obama would kill the pipeline indefinitely. The pipeline developers had noted that they had finished construction up to the land where federal regulators had denied access. Analysts said that the pipeline was more likely than not to be finished eventually.

“Nov. 20, 2016: Police blasted nearly 400 protesters with water jets and chemical sprays in freezing cold temperatures and peppered them with rubber bullets.

“Nov. 23, 2016: Protesters and the oil company argued over what exactly happened at the Nov. 20 protests after one protester was hit by an explosion, tearing apart her arm and exposing bone. The protester, a 21-year-old woman from New York, was initially facing amputation but that appeared less and less likely as she retrieved treatment.”