‘Potentially Seismic for Control of Congress’: Court Strikes Down North Carolina GOP’s Gerrymandered Map

“This is huge: NC is one of the most gerrymandered states in the country.” by Jake Johnson, Common Dreams October 29, 2019

Protesters attends a rally for “Fair Maps” on March 26, 2019 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

In a ruling that could have major implications for next year’s congressional elections, a North Carolina court late Monday struck down the state GOP’s 2020 legislative district map on the grounds that it was unlawfully gerrymandered to favor the Republican Party.

“Extreme partisan gerrymandering—namely redistricting plans that entrench politicians in power, that evince a fundamental distrust of voters by serving the self-interest of political parties over the public good, and that dilute and devalue votes of some citizens compared to others—is contrary to the fundamental right of North Carolina citizens to have elections conducted freely and honestly to ascertain, fairly and truthfully, the will of the people,” the three-judge panel wrote in its 20-page ruling (pdf).

Politico reporter Jake Sherman said the decision is “potentially seismic for control of Congress.”

Progressive advocacy groups and voting rights advocates celebrated the court’s ruling as a major victory for democracy.

“This is huge,” tweeted Stand Up America. “NC is one of the most gerrymandered states in the country.”

Echoing Stand Up, Mother Jones journalist Ari Berman called the court’s ruling a “big deal” and pointed to the significant advantage the Republican Party had under the gerrymandered map:

The North Carolina court’s ruling came months after the right-wing Supreme Court ruled in June that partisan gerrymandering is beyond the constitutional reach of federal courts, a decision voting rights advocates decried as an abdication of responsibility that could open the door to more extreme partisan gerrymandering in the future.

As HuffPost reported Monday, “despite that decision, the five-justice majority at the Supreme Court said that state courts and state constitutions may be able to act against gerrymandering.”

“Advocates now believe that bringing suits in state court may be the most effective legal strategy for combating gerrymandering,” HuffPost noted.Our work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. Feel free to republish and share widely.

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October 29, 2019 by Common Dreams

‘Children of the Financial Crash’—Demanding Bold Alternative—Credited for Global Uprising Against Neoliberalism and Austerity

“The whole political elite needs to change because the current system has done nothing for us,” one demonstrator against government corruption and high unemployement in Iraq said recently. byJulia Conley, staff writer

Demonstrators rally on October 25, 2019, in Santiago, Chile, during the eighth day of protests against President Sebastian Pinera’s government. Demands behind the protests include issues as health care, pension system, privatization of water, public transport, education, social mobility, and corruption. ” (Photo: Javier Barrera/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The demonstrations which have exploded in recent months around the world are focused on a number of issues, including climate inaction, economic crises, and government corruption—but the protests share at least one thing in common: they’re being led by young people who have spent the first two decades of the 21st century watching their governments prioritize corporate profits over the needs, rights, and futures of working people.

As Jack Shenker wrote in The Guardian on Tuesday, demonstrations in countries including Chile, Lebanon, Iraq, Haiti, Spain, Hong Kong, and Ecuador are being led by “the children of the financial crisis” of 2008, which came to a head in the U.S. with the Wall Street collapse and had long-term effects on economies around the world.

The young people demanding an end to austerity and the pressures of neoliberal capitalism have “come of age during the strange and febrile years after the collapse of a broken economic and political orthodoxy, and before its replacement has emerged,” wrote Shenker.

“One direct impact of the crash has been a rapid diminishment of opportunity for millions of young people in rich countries—who now regard precarious work and rising inequality as the norm,” he added. “All this has produced a generation charged with hopelessness and hope.”

“One direct impact of the crash has been a rapid diminishment of opportunity for millions of young people in rich countries—who now regard precarious work and rising inequality as the norm. All this has produced a generation charged with hopelessness and hope.”
—Jack Shenker, The Guardian
Young people are refusing to tolerate austerity measures in countries like Chile and Lebanon.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri was forced to resign Tuesday after two weeks of demonstrations that began earlier this month after the government announced new austerity measures, including a tax on WhatsApp calls.

Lebanon’s austerity plan came in reaction to an economic crisis marked by rising prices on goods and what protesters view as a raiding of public funds by government officials. The public quickly responded with the largest demonstrations in Lebanon in nearly 15 years. An estimated one million people marching to demand an entirely new political system—one focused on serving all Lebanese people and less concerned with sectarian divisions.

“The politicians told us that we hate each other, but we don’t. I’m from a specific sect. My friend is from a specific sect,” a 23-year-old protester told the New York Times last week. “But we’re all here together for our futures and our children’s futures.”

“We need a whole new system, from scratch,” added another demonstrator.

A transportation fee hike was the catalyst for mass protests in Chile, where students and other young adults responded to the new fees with an organized fare evasion campaign.

Chile has the lowest salaries of any OECD country, and the new public transportation fees were announced as working people were facing difficulty affording basic living costs.

On Friday, a reported one million Chileans—over five percent of the country—demonstrated in Santiago.

As Common Dreams reported earlier this month, the peaceful demonstrations in Iraq, in which dozens of people have been killed by security forces, grew out of anger over rising unemployment, especially among young people, in a country where a majority of the population is under 30. 

“The whole political elite needs to change because the current system has done nothing for us,” one demonstrator told Al Jazeera.

Along with the global grassroots movement Extinction Rebellion, young activists including Swedish 16-year-old Greta Thunberg have spent more than a year mobilizing young adults in the fight against another casualty of neoliberalism: the accelerating climate crisis.

Climate action advocates are demanding world governments end support for fossil fuel companies whose carbon emissions are contributing to pollution and rising sea levels. Instead, protesters argue, governments should invest in renewable energy to rapidly bring climate-warming emissions to net zero and ensure that today’s young adults have a future.

Thunberg, a leader of the Fridays for Future school strike movement and last month’s Global Climate Strike, took world leaders to task at the U.N. recently for promoting “fairytales of eternal economic growth.”

In the U.S., the Sunrise Movement has pressured more than 100 members of Congress to back a Green New Deal to shift to renewable energy economy and provide green jobs for all Americans who want them.

Announcing plans for a nationwide climate strike in December on Monday, the Sunrise Movement slammed the U.S. government for “[selling] our futures to the highest bidder.”

“Our generation is saying enough,” the group tweeted. “We’re showing up louder and stronger than ever before to say that our futures will not be sacrificed for corporate money.”

Our work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. Feel free to republish and share widely.

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October 28, 2019byCommon Dreams

Corporate Influence Threatens Human Rights in Communities Nationwide

National network of cities files report to UN Human Rights body on corporate power and local human rights challenges.byJackie Smith

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Corporate-led development has contributed to spiraling housing costs and undermined people’s right to affordable and safe housing. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Corporate-led development has contributed to spiraling housing costs and undermined people’s right to affordable and safe housing. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

In 2017, Amazon launched an unprecedented inter-city competition to see which municipality could offer the most generous package of public subsidies, tax breaks, and other incentives in exchange for becoming host to the 2nd headquarters of one of the world’s richest corporations. The company just made another unprecedented—and equally outrageous—move as it spent $1.5 million on campaign contributions to shape local elections in its headquarter city of Seattle. Such actions have drawn scrutiny from growing numbers, as more Americans are recognizing the links between corporate influence and rising housing costs, inequality, and under-funded public budgets.

As presidential candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren put forward policy initiatives for new rules to rein in corporate influence, community leaders in cities across the country have filed a formal report entitled “The growth of corporate influence in sub-national political & legal institutions undermines U.S. compliance with international human rights obligations” to the United Nations. The report is part of the UN’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the United States’ human rights record, which invites stakeholder reports from community representatives to help UN officials and other world leaders evaluate performance reports supplied by the national government.

Recognizing that “human rights don’t trickle down,” activist groups around the country are rising up to become part of the solution to persistent gaps in human rights. The aim is to shift the focus of local and national government from the current priorities of corporate profits and economic growth to human rights and well-being.

More than a year of consultations among community-based organizers and municipal officials inform the stakeholder report. Cross-city conversations have revealed corporate practices as a common challenge, and the report links these to human rights deficiencies in the areas of democratic participation, affordable housing, privatization and the right to water, militarism and gun violence, environment and health, and racial equity. Report authors argue that routine operations of corporate entities prevent governments from doing a better job enforcing international human rights obligations. Poor regulation and enforcement as well as corporate corruption of local and national politics are cited as the leading causes of violations.

Some additional highlights from the report include:

At a time when many municipal budgets are seriously under-funded, officials in many cities offered billions of dollars of public subsidies to become host to Amazon’s 2nd headquarters. In most cases these bids were developed without meaningful public consultation and kept secret from the public, often in direct violation of open records laws. This is just the most visible example of large corporations effectively denying residents a voice in how their communities develop. 

Corporate-led development has contributed to spiraling housing costs and undermined people’s right to affordable and safe housing. At the same time, the long-term trend of reduced corporate tax rates has deprived governments of revenues needed to maintain public infrastructures and ensure universal access to basic needs. The global housing crisis contributes to worldwide poverty and displacement that is especially harmful for groups protected under human rights law, including low-income people, people of African descent, and those with disabilities. 

Privatization of public utilities has also limited people’s access to clean and affordable water, and restrictions on the internationally recognized human right to water disproportionately impact African American residents. Other issues cited in the report included the inequitable distribution of environmental hazards, racial discrimination and equity, and gun violence. Many of these issues arise from the lack of effective regulation on corporate practices, which has worsened with Trump administration rollbacks of protections for civil and political rights, the environment, and consumers.

The experiences documented in a range of cities—including Washington, DC, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Detroit, among others—reveal patterns of violations of a considerable body of national and international laws and standards detailed in the document. For instance, the United States is a party to the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination, which requires national efforts to eliminate systemic disparities based on race. Often local officials are not aware of their legal obligations under this and other international human rights conventions, despite the obligation of national leaders to educate and inform sub-national officials and the general public.

A Focus on Solutions

The UPR process designed to engage a variety of stakeholders in efforts to find solutions, and the report makes a number of recommendations for improving national policies affecting municipalities’ ability to carry out human rights obligations. It cites a U.S. Conference of Mayors 2017 Resolution to move federal tax dollars “from militarism to human and environmental needs” in calling on the U.S. government to provide municipalities with the resources they need to ensure that all residents’ rights are protected. 

It also calls on the U.S. government to support international efforts to hold corporations accountable to international human rights standards, including the draft treaty to regulate the activities of transnational corporations. The size and scale of today’s multinational corporations make it impossible for most national governments—much less local ones—to monitor and enforce regulations. Local communities need greater national and international enforcement of existing regulations. 

Concerted action at the national level is needed to counter racism and xenophobia and to promote a culture that supports human rights and democratic values. The extreme polarization encouraged by Trump’s rhetoric and xenophobic policies undermines social cohesion and fuels conflict in local settings, undermining efforts of local governments to manage the variety of other challenges they face, such as ageing urban infrastructures, economic globalization, and threats from climate change.  

The U.S. Human Rights Cities Alliance is working to raise consciousness about these issues and to advance the stakeholder report’s recommendations. Between now and the UN Human Rights Council’s formal review of the United States record in May of 2020, local and national consultations will help develop and share strategies for realizing human rights in our communities and cities, seeking to change policy discourse to make human rights the overriding focus and goal of public policy. 

Jackie Smith

Jackie Smith is professor of sociology at the University of Pittsburgh and editor of the Journal of World-Systems Research. She is author or editor of numerous books and articles on global organizing and social change, including Social Movements and World-System TransformationSocial Movements in the World-System: the Politics of Crisis and Transformation, and Social Movements for Global Democracy. She helps coordinate Pittsburgh’s Human Rights City Alliance and is a member of the steering committee of the US Human Rights Network’s Human Rights Cities Alliance.Our work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. Feel free to republish and share widely.

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Tuesday, October 29, 2019byCommon Dreams

Leaked Audio of Payday Loan Executive Bragging About White House Access Reveals ‘Quid Pro Quo’ Top Trump Donors Enjoy

“The president pledged to drain the swamp, instead it appears he’s catering to the alligators.”byJake Johnson, staff writer

 5 Comments

Exterior view of a Payday Loan Store in downtown Chicago, Illinois, 2019. (Photo: Interim Archives/Getty Images)

Offering what one observer called “a crystal clear picture of how money buys influence in U.S. politics,” leaked audio obtained Tuesday by consumer watchdog group Allied Progress showed executives from some of the largest payday lenders in the U.S. boasting about how they have used campaign donations to purchase access to President Donald Trump’s White House.

One of the audio clips posted online by Allied Progress features Advance Financial founder and CEO Michael Hodges explaining how his donations to Trump’s presidential campaign have given him the power to contact the White House about desired policy changes.

“It’s not surprising payday lenders are exploiting President Trump’s fondness for quid pro quos, because it clearly works.”
—Derek Martin, Allied Progress

“When you go and speak to the administration through the campaign, they will listen,” said Hodges. “For example, I’ve gone to [Republican National Committee Chairwoman] Ronna McDaniel and said, ‘Ronna, I need help on something,’ she’s been able to call over to the White House and say, ‘Hey, we have one of our large givers. They need an audience. They want, they need to be heard. And you need to listen to them.'”

Hodges said the Trump White House “has been helpful on this particular rule that we’re working on right now,” apparently referring to an Obama-era Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) regulation designed to prevent consumers from falling into debt traps due to high-interest loans.

The CFPB, run by Trump appointee Kathy Kraninger, took the first steps toward scrapping the rule in February. Allied Progress said “the payday industry will reap over $7 billion every year in fees from the most vulnerable communities in the United States” if the CFPB succeeds in killing the regulation.

Listen to Hodges’ remarks, which came during a September 24 webinar with a group of payday lending executives:

Max Wood of Borrow Smart Compliance, a consultant for the payday industry, said during the webinar that “the needle moved in our favor” after Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election.

“President Trump is really the backstop,” said Wood.

In a statement Tuesday, Allied Progress director Derek Martin said the recordings represent “the worst of Washington, D.C.—wealthy executives buying off politicians so they can keep their predatory business model intact.”

“It’s not surprising payday lenders are exploiting President Trump’s fondness for quid pro quos, because it clearly works,” added Martin. “The president and his team at the CFPB have no good reason to push millions more people towards 400 percent interest loans and the payday debt trap. They’re acting solely on the millions of bad reasons payday lenders keep contributing to his campaign, and the industry clearly feels emboldened by that.”

“The president pledged to drain the swamp, instead it appears he’s catering to the alligators,” Martin said.Our work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. Feel free to republish and share widely.

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Greening Governance: Toxic Air: The Challenge of Ozone Pollution

October 30, 2019
12:30 PM – 2:00 PM EDTWashington, DC

Join leading air pollution experts for a conversation on the challenges of reducing ozone pollution.

Join the conversation: #GreeningGovernance#airpollution#ozone#ozonepollution

Surface ozone is a dangerous climate and air pollutant, damaging human health, ecosystems, crops and other plants, and contributing significantly to global warming. Ozone is created when gases released by cars, electric utilities, landfills, biomass fires, agriculture and industrial processes, among other sources, react with each other and sunlight. In 2017 alone, it contributed to 500,000 deaths globally, and as many as 23 million emergency room visits in 2015. It also substantially damages crop yields, with annual losses reaching up to 227 metric tons.

Controlling ozone is a significant governance challenge requiring a comprehensive, inclusive pollution management approach that involves strong enforcement of clean air laws, robust air pollution monitoring, and an emission inventory that can accurately identify sources of pollution. Controlling pollution requires implementation of a wide range of sector-specific control strategies.

This seminar will focus on comprehensive airshed strategies currently being used to control ozone around the world, as well as the social implications of air pollution management. It will highlight the importance of coordinated, multipollutant management across airshed regions and the critical role that governments, civil society, and citizen actors play.

This seminar is the first in a series exploring air pollutant challenges and the implications of a multi-pollutant approach to air pollution reduction.

Speakers

  • Beatriz CárdenasDirector Air Quality Program, WRI Mexico
  • Susan AnenbergAssociate Professor, Milken Institute School of Public Health, George Washington University
  • Terry KeatingSenior Scientist, Office of Research and Development, Environmental Protection Agency
  • Moderated by: Jessica SeddonDirector Of Integrated Urban Strategy, WRI Ross Center For Sustainable Cities

About the Series

WRI’s Greening Governance Seminar Series bridges the divide between the governance and environmental communities to identify solutions that benefit people and the planet.

  • Why do some environmental policies succeed in one country but fail in another?
  • What will it take to transform the Paris Agreement’s ambitious commitments into actionable policies?
  • How can decision-makers engage a range of stakeholders, from average citizens to Fortune 500 companies, to build support for policies that protect natural resources and the communities that depend on them?
  • How can governments sustain this environmental action across election cycles?
  • Many of the answers to these questions are, at heart, issues of governance.

Increasing public participation in environmental decision-making can deepen civil society’s commitment to climate change mitigation and yield more equitable, effective policies. Enhancing government transparency equips communities with the information that they need to engage in these policy-making processes. Strengthening accountability frameworks helps ensure that governments make progress on their Paris Agreement emissions reduction targets. In short, good governance can improve climate and environmental outcomes.

Yet the governance and climate communities continue to work in silos, conducting research and implementing programs that remain largely divorced from one another.

WRI’s Greening Governance Seminar Series seeks to bridge this divide by bringing together leading experts from both fields to discuss the intersection of their work, the most pressing environmental governance issues at hand, and solutions that benefit people and the planet.