8 hours ago by
Facing intransigent Republican opposition, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, announced on Tuesday that he will delay a vote on his legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act, dealing President Trump an embarrassing setback on a key part of his agenda. Republican leaders had hoped to take a page from the playbook used to get a bill over the line in the House, appeasing the most conservative members of their conference while pressuring moderates to fall in line with fewer concessions. But as opposition mounted in both camps, even against a vote just to take up the bill, Mr. McConnell decided he would delay consideration until after the Senate’s weeklong July 4 recess. “We will not be on the bill this week, but we will still be working to get at least 50 people in a comfortable place,” Mr. McConnell said. That delay does not guarantee the senators will come together. Opposition groups will mount pressure campaigns on lawmakers in their home states, and policy divisions are deep. Negotiations on Tuesday that leaders hoped would move senators toward yes only exposed the fissures in the Republican Party. Conservatives were demanding that states be allowed to waive the Affordable Care Act’s prohibition on insurance companies charging sick people more for coverage and are asking for a more expansive waiver system for state regulators. They also wanted more money for tax-free health savings accounts to help people pay for private insurance. Senators from states that expanded the Medicaid program — and Senator Susan Collins — would not brook many of those changes, especially the measure to severely undermine protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions. They wanted more money for mental health benefits for people addicted to opioids and money for states to cover people left behind by the rollback of the Medicaid program in both the House and Senate versions. Three Republican senators — Ms. Collins, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin — had announced they would vote against the motion to begin debate that had been scheduled to hit the Senate floor on Wednesday, joining Senator Dean Heller of Nevada, who made the same pledge on Friday. A bevy of other senators from both flanks of the party seemed headed in the same direction if they did not see changes made to the Senate health care bill, leaving the measure in deep peril, since Republicans can only lose two votes from their own party. The release of a Congressional Budget Office evaluation on Monday did little to help leaders roll up votes from either side of the fence. The budget office said the Senate bill would leave 22 million more uninsured after 10 years, while sending out-of-pocket medical expenses skyrocketing for the working poor and those nearing retirement. The budget office did not provide conservatives with support for their demands either. The state waivers already in the Senate bill “would probably cause market instability in some areas” and “would have little effect on the number of people insured” by 2026, the analysis concluded. Adding still more waivers, including one that could allow insurers to price the sick out of the health care market, could deprive even more people of health care. Even before Mr. McConnell’s decision, White House officials had braced for the likelihood that the procedural vote would fail and that they would have to revisit the measure after the Fourth of July recess — when they hoped to be able to woo Mr. Johnson, who has been a surprisingly fierce critic of the bill from the right. The senator has repeatedly warned that this week is too soon to vote on the health care measure, as Republican senate leaders have insisted they need to do. Senator Susan Collins, center, said she would vote against the motion to begin debate scheduled to hit the Senate floor on Wednesday. Vice President Mike Pence, attended the Senate Republican lunch on Tuesday and then broke off for private meetings with Mr. Heller, a seemingly firm “no” and the first moderate Republican to break with Mr. McConnell over the bill, and Rob Portman of Ohio, who is feeling pressure from his state’s governor, John R. Kasich, to oppose the bill and defend Ohio’s Medicaid expansion. Mr. Portman was the subject of a spirited evaluation of his open criticism of the bill by Mr. McConnell, who was frustrated with the expansion-state senators who showed their hand early to other wavering colleagues, dooming the bill for now. Mr. McConnell was unhappy that Mr. Portman seemed to be abandoning his previous stance on fiscal rectitude by opposing Medicaid cuts in the bill. But the Ohio senator was getting it from both sides. Mr. Kasich appeared in Washington on Tuesday to sharply criticize the Senate bill. The governor said he was deeply concerned about millions of people losing coverage under the bill. “Who would lose this coverage?” Mr. Kasich said. “The mentally ill, the drug addicted, the chronically ill. I believe these are people that need to have coverage.” At the same news conference, Colorado’s Democratic governor, John W. Hickenlooper, said his state’s Republican senator, Cory Gardner, “understands the hardships and the difficulties in rural life.” “This bill would punish people in rural Colorado,” Mr. Hickenlooper said, raising the pressure. Doctors, hospitals and other health care provider groups came out strongly against the Senate bill, as did patient advocacy groups like the American Heart Association. But business groups were ramping up their support. In a letter on Tuesday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsed the Senate bill and urged senators to vote for it. The Senate bill “will repeal the most egregious taxes and mandates” of the Affordable Care Act, allowing employers to create more jobs, said Jack Howard, a senior vice president of the group. The bill, he noted, would repeal a tax on medical devices and eliminate penalties on large employers that do not offer coverage to employees. A separate letter expressing general support for the Senate’s efforts was sent by a coalition of 28 business and employer groups including the National Association of Home Builders, the National Restaurant Association and the National Retail Federation. But Senate conservatives found themselves squeezed between business sentiment and their conservative base. Club for Growth, an ardently conservative political action committee, came out strongly against the Senate measure on Tuesday. “The Club for Growth and the American people took Republicans in Congress at their word when they promised to repeal every word – ‘root and branch’ – of Obamacare and replace it with a patient-centered approach to health care,” the group’s president, David McIntosh, said in a statement. “Only in Washington does repeal translate to restore. Because that’s exactly what the Senate GOP healthcare bill does: it restores Obamacare.” Even the Trump administration is divided over what comes next, especially on the payment of subsidies to health insurance companies to compensate for reducing out-of-pocket costs for low-income people. Mr. Trump has threatened to withhold the monthly payments as a way to induce Democrats to bargain with him over the future of the Affordable Care Act. Administration officials said Mr. Trump did not want to make the payments if the Senate did not pass a health care bill this week. But they said Tom Price, the secretary of health and human services, had urged the White House not to cut off the payments abruptly. A federal judge has ruled that the payments are illegal because Congress never appropriated money for them, but that ruling is being appealed. Any interruption of the payments could have a dire destabilizing effect on markets, insurers say. Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina recently blamed the Trump administration’s mixed signals on the subsidy for most of its proposed 23 percent spike in premiums next year. Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, defended the administration’s position at his briefing on Friday. “If the president were to hypothetically say that he’s going to make the payments in perpetuity or for a year, I think that continues to prop up a failed system,” Mr. Spicer said. “It continues to do wrong by the American taxpayer. And it also doesn’t lend itself to the expediency that I think we want to — help get a new health care system in place.” source

14 hours ago by
Around 50 activists protested across the street from the Hudson County jail this evening, calling for the county government to cancel their controversial 287g agreement with U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) after the death of Rolando Meza Espinoza. “No excuses for human rights abuses!” and “What do we want: justice! And when do we want it: Now!,” were just a few of the chants heard across the street from the Hudson County jail in Kearny tonight, recently renamed the Hudson County Corrections & Rehabilitation Center. Signs ranging from “Justice for Rolando” to “America’s Got Room Immigrants Welcome” set the tone before a roughly 30-minute program. On Tuesday, March 28th, Meza, 35, a Honduran native, got into a carpool with his construction colleagues to head to a job site in Redwood, Long Island in what seemed like just another routine day, according to his attorney Manuel Portela. “When he arrived to his construction job site at about 8:30 in the morning, Immigration Customs Enforcement agents were waiting, in a van, in a parking lot, nearby,” continued Portela, a founding partner of the New York City-based Portela Law Firm, P.C. He continued on by stating that ICE agents were looking for a Rolando Meza that received a 2005 order of deportation and was taller, with a darker complexion than Portela’s client, the attorney alleged. After being processed and finger printed in Manhattan, Meza was then transported to the Kearny jail the following day: March 29th. Despite trying to get Meza released from custody, ICE did not comply and Meza was eventually taken to the Jersey City Medical Center ICU on June 8th. On June 12th, seeking an update on his bond hearing, Portela was allegedly informed that Meza died from medical complications two days earlier, specifically due to internal bleeding and hemorrhagic shock. Given the recent incident, the 10th ICE detainee to die while in custody this year, Dina Mansour, the outreach coordinator for the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, called for specific actions from the county in reactions to Meza’s death. “We’re here today to demand justice for Rolando, but in addition to that, we’re hear to call on Hudson County to end their relationship with Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” Mansour stated. “We’re also hear today to ask for an independent oversight committee to oversee conditions and the things that are going on in the jail today. And we also demand a review of the contract of the medical service provider. An ICE spokesman told the New York Post that Meza was in the country illegally and was arrested as “as part of everyday, targeted enforcement operations.” Other activist groups with representatives in attendance included the American Friends Service Committee, the Bronx Defenders, Faith in NJ, the First Friends of NY/NJ, the Legal Aid Society and Make the Road NJ. A county spokesman could not be reached late Monday evening.   source

June 20, 2017 by
Before we can even process the acquittal of the murders of Philado Castile, we hear about another murder of a black person by the police occupation forces.  This time the victim, Charleena Lyles, is a black woman who was also five months pregnant. Again, there is anger, confusion and calls for justice from the black community of Seattle, where the latest killing took place. Many might remember that it was in Seattle where two members of the local black community attempted to call out the racist and hypocritical liberal white community during a visit by Bernie Sanders. The black activists were subsequently shouted down by a majority of Bernie’s supporters.  One of the issues that the activists wanted to raise was the repressive, heavy-handed tactics of the Seattle Police Department. Some have argued that this rash of killings of black people caught on video or reported by dozens of witnesses is nothing new, that the images of police chocking, shooting and beating poor black and working-class people is now more visible because of technological innovations that make it easier to capture these images. They are partially right. As an internal colony in what some refer to as a prison house of nations that characterizes the U.S. nation state, black communities are separated into enclaves of economic exploitation and social degradation by visible and often invisible social and economic processes. The police have played the role not of protectors of the unrealized human rights of black people but as occupation forces. In those occupied zones of repression, everyone knows that the police operate from a different script than the ones presented in the cop shows that permeate popular entertainment culture in the U.S. In those shows, the police are presented as heroic forces battling the forces of evil, which sometimes causes them to see the law and the rights of individuals as impediments. For many viewers, brutality and other practices is forgiven and even supported because the police are supposedly dealing with the evil irrational forces that lurk in the bowels of the barrios and ghettos in the imagination of the public. It was perfectly plausible for far too many white people in the U.S. that a wounded Mike Brown, already shot and running away from Darren Wilson, the cop who eventually murdered Michael, would then turn around and run back at Wilson, who claimed he had no other choice but to engulf Michael in a hail of bullets killing this “demon” as Wilson described him. And unfortunately, many whites will find a way to understand how Charleena, who called the police herself to report a burglary, would then find herself dead at the hands of the police she called. But the psychopathology of white supremacy is not the focus here. We have commented on that issue on numerous occasions. The concern is with some black people who have not grasped the new conditions that we find ourselves in—that black people don’t understand that there will never be justice as defined by the cessation of these kinds of killings.  Why? Because incarceration, police killings, beatings, charging our children as adults and locking them away for decades, all of these are inherent in the logic of repression that has always characterized the relationship between the U.S. racist settler-state and black people. In other words, if Black people really want this to stop we have to come to the difficult conclusion, for some, that the settler-colonial, capitalist, white supremacist state and society is the enemy of black people and most oppressed people in the world. Difficult for many because it means that Black people can no longer deny the fact that we are not equal members of this society, that we are seen as the enemy and that our lives, concerns, perspectives, history and desires for the future are of no concern to the rulers of this state and for vast numbers of ordinary whites. That is why Charleena Lyles joins Mike Brown, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, John Crawford and Philando Castile, just a few of the names of our people victimized in the prime of their lives by the protectors of white power wearing police uniforms. She will not be the last. The logic of neoliberal capitalism has transformed our communities and peoples into a sector of the U.S. population that is no longer needed. This new reality buttressed by white supremacist ideology that is unable to see the equal value of non-European (white) life has created a precarious situation for black people, more precarious, than any other period in U.S. history. African (Black) people are a peaceful people and believe in justice.  But there can be no peace without justice. For as long as our people are under attack, as long as our fundamental collective human rights are not recognized, as long as we don’t have the ability to determine our own collective fate, we will resist, we will fight, and we will create the conditions to make sure that the war being waged against us will not continue to be a one- sided conflict. The essence of the People(s)-Centered Human Rights framework is that the oppressed have a right to right to resist, the right to self-determination, and the right to use whatever means necessary to protect and realize their fundamental rights. Charleena, we will say your name and the names of all who have fallen as we deliver the final death-blow against this organized barbarism known as the U.S. source

June 20, 2017 by
Last week, Hawaii passed a bill to explore a universal basic income for the state. The bill passed unanimously in both the houses of the state legislature. The move has received a lot of attention. State Rep. Chris Lee, who sponsored the bill, said, “I’m definitely glad to see a lot of people out there looking at this and asking the same questions.” The bill has two provisions: It asserts that all families in Hawaii are entitled to basic financial security and it establishes government offices to analyze the Hawaiian economy and other universal basic income programs and propose a pathway for Hawaii. The context articulated in the resolution is one where the automation of jobs has moved from the manufacturing sector to the services sector: “Self-driving Ubers are starting to replace taxis in some places; IBM’s Watson computer can provide basic legal advice faster and more accurately than a human lawyer; and self-checkout lines are replacing human cashiers at stores.” Rep. Lee said Hawaii has to consider this context because cost of living is very high there and residents often turn to side jobs in the service industry to make ends meet. “Universal Basic Income” by Ron Mader In fact, a joint study by Oxford University and the Oxford Martin School in 2013 found that over the next 20 years, “47 percent of jobs in the U.S. are ‘at risk’ of being automated.” Dr. Martin Osborne, one of the co-authors of the study’s report, said, “We identified several key bottlenecks currently preventing occupations being automated. As big data helps to overcome these obstacles, a great number of jobs will be put at risk.” Their research highlighted jobs in “transportation, logistics, as well as office and administrative support.” Finland began a two-year trial run in 2016 with 2,000 citizens who will each receive the equivalent of $587 a month, tax-free. The pilot is only for people already receiving an income subsidy or unemployment benefits. Incidental earnings, such as from odd jobs or self-employment, will not affect the UBI payment. The Netherlands also launched a two-year test this year with 250 Dutch citizens in Utrecht and nearby cities. The participants are placed in six different test groups receiving slightly different stipend amounts under slightly different conditions. One group will receive about $1,100 a month without obligation. Another test group has the option to receive an additional $150 at the end of the month for any volunteer service, and another will receive the $150 at the beginning of the month but would have to return it if they didn’t volunteer. The fourth test group is made up of welfare recipients who will simply continue receiving their benefit, but without any work requirements. A fifth has welfare recipients who expressed interest in the $1,100 but will instead continue to receive their standard benefit. Finally, the sixth group is a control group of welfare recipients who simply want to continue receiving their standard benefit. Loek Groot, an associate professor at the Utrecht University School of Economics, who is working on the program, notes, “The Netherlands’ current welfare system wastes too much money and doesn’t do enough to help its beneficiaries.” Further, “Human behavior is always unpredictable. We want to know what motivates people, what people respond to.” According to the online news outlet Futurism, which calls 2017 “The Year of UBI,” Germany also has a two-year UBI pilot, Canada and Uganda each plan to start one, and India is debating the merits. eBay founder Pierre Omidyar is currently financing a UBI experiment in Kenya. According to the Basic Income Earth Network, the idea of a minimum income first appeared in the 16th century; by the 19th century, the idea had evolved into unconditional basic income. In 1969, President Nixon proposed the Family Assistance Plan in the U.S. to replace the AFDC, the aid program to poor families, but it was eventually rejected. Opponents of UBI worry that it will make people lazy. But Sam Altman, the president of the incubator Y Combinator, which is funding research on inverse basic incomes, said, “Maybe 90 percent of people will go smoke pot and play video games. But if 10 percent of the people go create new products and services and new wealth, that’s a huge net win.”—Cyndi Suarez source

June 20, 2017 by
With just three scheduled days left in the legislative session and the corruption trial of several close associates of Governor Andrew Cuomo for their roles in a bid-rigging scandal scheduled to commence in October, the Legislature has yet to pass any meaningful legislation to prevent such abuses of the procurement process. State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has introduced a comprehensive bill to address the issue, which is the basis for a Senate bill sponsored by Senator John DeFrancisco, a Syracuse Republican, and sister legislation by Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo Democrat. The legislation would restore authority of the Comptroller to pre-audit all state contracts over $250,000, particularly for SUNY and CUNY affiliated non-profits, a power that was stripped in 2011. That year, Cuomo and legislative leaders (who are now headed to jail) said that the scaling back of oversight was necessary in order to expedite approval for the governor’s signature economic development initiatives. The idea that the Comptroller’s contract review slows down projects is misguided, according to budget watchdogs. The Comptroller has up to 30 days to approve a contract, but on average approves contracts within six days, according to April figures provided by DiNapoli’s office. The absence of an independent oversight body appears to have cleared the way for the massive $800 million bribery scheme that took down close Cuomo associate and friend Joe Percoco, as well as then-SUNY Polytechnic President Alain Kaloyeros, who Cuomo had heaped praise and responsibility on, and several major donors to Cuomo who were awarded large contracts. The alleged scheme was uncovered by the office of then-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. More recently, Bart Schwartz, head of Guidepost Solutions LLC, who was hired by Cuomo to probe the contracting process and what might have gone wrong, found significant flaws. In his review of the $417 million awarded to vendors at Buffalo’s SolarCity project and other upstate initiatives, he found that at least $49 million was awarded using a “sloppy process.” The Buffalo News first reported the details of Schwartz’s report, which the Cuomo administration had failed to make public, but was obtained through the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). Schwartz was paid as much as $1 million for his investigative work and the Cuomo administration has indicated that it accepted his recommendations for cleaning up contracting processes. While DeFrancisco’s bill has passed the Senate’s finance committee, and the Assembly on Wednesday tweaked its version of the bill to match the Senate’s, legislative leaders offered reserved endorsements of the legislation, and it has yet to be calendared for a floor vote in either house. Both Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie have said they support the restoration of pre-auditing powers to the comptroller’s office, but that they are working towards a “three-way agreement” with the governor before advancing the legislation, which is backed by good government groups and many rank-and-file lawmakers. Meanwhile, the governor has been defiant, saying that the powers should not be returned to the Comptroller. Instead, Cuomo in his 2017 policy book proposed expanding the oversight powers of the state inspector general to include procurement at CUNY and SUNY nonprofits, as well as new inspectors general, appointed by and reporting to the executive branch. In the aftermath of the scandal, Cuomo also vowed to create a chief procurement officer in the executive branch. “The proposed legislation does not address the issue and is both burdensome and duplicative,” said Cuomo’s counsel, Alphonso David, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “The vast majority of these contracts are subject to OSC [Office of the State Comptroller] post-award oversight and these measures only add significant delays and increase costs for New York taxpayers.” David’s statement highlights a key difference between the governor’s proposal and the “clean contracting” legislation backed by the comptroller and government reformers, which emphasizes prevention, making SUNY and CUNY projects subject to the same early scrutiny and standards as other state-funded projects, rather than after-the-fact oversight. “The governor's proposal utterly and totally misses the point because it creates addition inspector generals who are appointed by the governor,” said John Kaehny, executive director of the government reform group ReInvent Albany. “The problem...was bid-rigging; the state contracts were rigged to favor one vendor over the others, and that could have been prevented by independent, pre-contract review.” Representatives from the Reinvent Albany, New York Public Interest Group, League of Women Voters, and Citizens Budget Commission gathered at the Capitol this past Wednesday, with the blessing of other government reform groups, to call on Albany to pass the legislation -- with or without the governor’s support. “If lawmakers are at all serious about addressing the problems that happened with last year’s bid-rigging scandal they need to support prevention of these crime -- and that means independent pre-contract review,” said Kaehny. They noted that the Legislature is granted power to enact legislation without the governor’s support, first by passing it through both houses. If Cuomo does not then sign or veto the bill, it would automatically become law in 10 days. If the governor vetoes it, the Legislature could independently reconvene to override his veto. More than a majority, two-thirds of each house, must vote in favor in order pass legislation rejected by the governor. As a result, veto overrides are rare; the last time the Legislature successfully overrode a gubernatorial veto was in 2006, during a tumultuous budget negotiation that took place during the last year of Governor George Pataki’s final term, when legislative leaders went to bat over a property tax rebate and cuts to state university funding.  Among those who floated the idea of the Legislature passing the bill without the governor’s support is Senator DeFrancisco, who expressed frustration the procurement reform legislation was not calendared earlier. “I try to advocate for it all the time. I know the governor is apoplectic against it and he’d rather have an inspector general that he can control,” DeFrancisco told reporters at the Capitol on June 12. “Hopefully reason will prevail.” When asked to elaborate on the problems with the governor’s proposal, DeFrancisco said, “What he wanted in the budget was to have an independent inspector general, appointed by him to review his contracts. I don’t think you have to be a lawyer, you just have to be somewhat sane to realize that that’s not a check and balance on anybody. He doesn’t want to lose that control and have that oversight. There’s no other logic why he wouldn’t do it.” Speaker Heastie, in an interview with Gotham Gazette, remained coy about the possibility of passing the legislation and reconvening to override a potential gubernatorial veto. "Those are always options, that are there but again you are asking me what you are going to do on failure, I don’t like to report on failure,“ he said, adding that there is always “the summer” and “next session” to pass legislation. “The end of session is a deadline, but it’s not the end of the world if there is ever a need for us to do anything legislatively. We said we’ll come back if the actions in Washington dictate us to come back,” he said. “If we have to come back, the members will come back." Majority Leader Flanagan expressed only slightly more enthusiasm about the idea of procurement reform. Calling the oversight measure “extraordinarily important,” Flanagan said, “I expect we will have procurement reform before the end of the session, whether it’s [legislation proposed by] Senator DeFrancisco or a variation of that bill, I expect we will move in that direction.” The bill has widespread support in the Legislature; minority leaders say they also support the comptroller-backed proposal, which also ends contracting for non-academic purposes by state-controlled non-profit organizations, and transfers all economic development awards to the the Empire State Development Corporation. However, Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) Leader Senator Jeff Klein struck a different tone Thursday, saying he opposed DeFrancisco’s legislation. The IDC and GOP have a power-sharing alliance in the Senate. Klein said he intends to introduce a new bill this week, which instead of restoring the comptroller’s powers would appoint an independent investigator to look at claims of misconduct. When pressed, he did not clarify how this proposal differed from the governor’s proposal. “Right now the power of the comptroller is post-audit -- so what I would assume is if there is any problem in the procurement process, you’d be able to spot any problem post-audit. Then why would you need to have pre-audit ability?” said Klein. “I think what we need is a downright investigator -- someone who has the power to investigate the contracting process as it moves forward, to make sure there’s no favoritism, to make sure there’s no bribery.” This past week, the bill’s Assembly sponsor, Peoples-Stokes, also expressed second thoughts about how the legislation could slow the approval for contracts for minority- and women-owned businesses that are awarded grants by the state’s Empire State Development Corporation, or impact healthcare organizations like Roswell Park Cancer Institute, a public not-for-profit that would be subject to increased scrutiny. “The last thing we want is processes to slow down their ability to grow...At first blush, it seems like great legislation, when you delve in there’s some things that need to be tweaked,” said Peoples-Stokes. “I’m grateful there’s some lawyers and a team around here that can help me straighten something out. I think what happened in 2011, that maybe we should takes some looks at, but all these other things.” Earlier this year, a month after talks of a long-awaited pay raise for lawmakers turned sour, legislative leaders seemed ready to take a different approach than they are now, vowing to stand up to the executive branch. In January, during his remarks on opening day of the 2017 session, Flanagan urged his fellow lawmakers to stand up to the governor over the economic development programs, which were marred by the alleged bid-rigging scandal and other accountability problems. Urging his fellow legislators to “ask tough questions” on the progress of economic initiatives like Start-Up NY and Regional Economic Development Councils, Flanagan cited the Legislature’s power as a check on the governor. “It’s very simple, the legislative power of the state is vested in the Senate and the Assembly,” Flanagan said in January. “Not the attorney general, not the controller, and not the governor.” In the budget deal passed in April, Cuomo’s signature economic development and infrastructure programs were fully-funded and no new oversight measures were passed. Another bill, sponsored by Senator Thomas Croci, a Long Island Republican, would create a searchable “database of deals,” cataloguing all businesses that have been awarded state subsidies -- a system in place in six other states -- has made no headway in the Senate or Assembly. source

June 20, 2017 by
President Donald Trump has asked Cuba to return American fugitive Assata Shakur to the United States, but a top Cuban official has said that the country's government has no plans to. "I can say it is off the table," Gustavo Machin, deputy director for American affairs at the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, reportedly told Yahoo News. Assata Shakur was a member of the Black Panther Party in the 1960s and 1970s, and was convicted in 1977 of murdering a police officer. Many believe Shakur was targeted and framed by COINTELPRO, an FBI-sanctioned program that was used to neutralize people and organizations involved in the Civil Rights Movement (among others). Shakur served six and a half years in prison before escaping in 1979 and fleeing to Cuba, where she received political asylum from Fidel Castro. She has lived in Cuba ever since, and remains on the FBI's most wanted fugitives list, with a $2 million bounty. Artists like The Roots, Jay Z, and Common, who has a song titled "A Song For Assata," have all mentioned or paid homage to her legacy in their music. Last week, President Donald Trump revealed plans to cancel policy from the Obama Adminstration that eased longstanding tensions between America and Cuba. He then called for Cuba to "return the fugitives from American justice, including the return of the cop killer Joanne Chesimard," referring to Shakur by her former name. Machin said Cuba has no plans to return her to the U.S., because its government believes that she was unjustly imprisoned in the first place. “There are very serious doubts about that case," Machin said. "We consider that a politically motivated case against that lady." source  

June 19, 2017 by
Is your God dead? I don’t mean the God of the philosophers or the scholars, but, as Blaise Pascal said, the “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob.” With no disrespect, I hope the question comes as a jolt. And without being outraged or quick to accuse me of “blasphemy,” know, too, that I am a hopeful monotheist. I might even be called a Christian, only I continue, every day of my life, to fail. Friedrich Nietzsche’s observation weighs heavily on me: “There was only one Christian and he died on the cross.” Call me a failed and broken Christian, but a Christian nevertheless. So, is your God dead? Have you buried God in the majestic, ornamental tombs of your churches, synagogues and mosques? Perhaps prosperity theology, boisterous, formalistic and mechanical prayer rituals, and skillful oratory have hastened the need for a eulogy. Perhaps by remaining in your “holy” places, you have sacrificed looking in the face of your neighbor on the street. You know the one: the one who smells “bad” because she hasn’t bathed in days; the one who carries her home on her body; the one who begs. Surely you’ve seen that “unholy” face. I’ve seen you suddenly look away, making sure not to make eye contact with the “unclean.” Perhaps you’re preoccupied with texting, consumed by a work or family matter. Then again, perhaps it’s prayer time and you need to face east, or perhaps you’re too focused on holy communion as you make your way to church. Your refusal to stop, to linger, to look into her eyes, has already done its damage. Your body has already left a mark in its absence, in its fleeing the scene. My hands are also dirty; I’m guilty of missing the opportunity to recognize something of the divine in the face of the Other on the street. I’m pretty sure I looked away when I caught a glimpse of a homeless man approaching the other day. How different is this from those who walked by the beaten and abandoned man in the parable of the good Samaritan? I failed to see the homeless man as a neighbor. When we turn away like this we behave as if our bodies had boundaries, as if our skin truly separated us from the Other. But what if, as I would argue, our bodies don’t have strict edges? What if we could develop a new way of seeing the body that reveals that we are always already touching, that we are inextricably linked to a larger institutional and social body that binds us all? In meditating on these questions, I have found that the prophetic voice of Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972), a Polish-born Jewish-American rabbi and activist, can help us toward an answer. Heschel, who studied in Germany with Martin Buber, and later became a close friend of Martin Luther King Jr., warned frequently of the dangers of theological and religious shallowness, of our tendency to “worry more about the purity of dogma than about the integrity of love.” Heschel cautions against “an outward compliance with ritual laws, strict observance mingled with dishonesty, the pedantic performance of rituals as a form of opportunism.” And while there are many who worship in churches, synagogues and mosques, who understand that religious truth must be lived, who make a point of looking into the eyes of the woman on the street and show her mercy, too many of us refuse to look, to stop. As the religious scholar Elisabeth T. Vasko writes, “to be human is to be a person in relation.” And it is this social and existential relationality that ties you to, and implicates you in, the life of that destitute woman. Heschel writes, “How dare we come before God with our prayers when we commit atrocities against the one image we have of the divine: human beings?” If there is a shred of life left in your God, full resuscitation might begin with remaining in the presence of that suffering face. If your God is dead, the possibility for a resurrection might be found in attending to the pain and sorrow of that image of the divine there on the street. AS A YOUNG BOY, the idea of exempting no one from redemption tested my mother, who was a Baptist. One night I asked her if I could pray for the Devil. Strange, I admit. My mother eventually said yes. So there I was on my knees, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. God bless my mother, my sister and my friends. And God bless the Devil.” My older son recently brought to my attention a Mark Twain quote: “Who in 18 centuries has had the common humanity to pray for the one sinner that needed it most … ?” Well, there I was as a little boy doing just that. Beyond boyhood now, and thinking of evil in a less personified way, I no longer pray for the Devil. The more important point here is that we need a paradigm shift in how we lay claim to our religious identities. Why not claim those that are suffused with compassion, a shared reality of suffering together, in which your pain is my pain? Indeed, King wrote in his letter from the Birmingham jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Heschel suggests that we should be mortified by the inadequacy and superficiality of our anguish when we witness the suffering of others, the sort of anguish that should make us weep until our eyes are red and swollen and bring sleepless nights and agonizing days. He writes, “We are a generation that has lost the capacity for outrage.” I have been troubled by the lack of religious and theological outrage against national and global poverty, white racism and supremacism, sexism, classism, homophobia, bullying, building walls, “alternative facts,” visa/immigration bans and xenophobia. Heschel reminds us that when we establish a way of life predicated upon a lie, “the world can turn into a nightmare.” He makes it clear that the Holocaust did not emerge suddenly. “It was in the making for several generations. It had its origin in a lie: that the Jew was responsible for all social ills, for all personal frustrations. Decimate the Jews and all problems would be solved.” Those signs are here, too. Jewish people I’ve met, whose parents escaped Hitler’s tyranny, have shared with me their parents’ sense of deep alarm under the Trump administration. “Make America Great Again” is a call for law and order buttressed by a white nativist ideology. The lie on which the Holocaust began is still with us. Anti-Semitism is on the rise. So is the belief that Black pathology is eroding America from within. Black people are told that we live in poverty. That our schools are no good. And we have no jobs. In addition, if we just build a wall, so this divisive logic goes, more of our problems will dissipate. After all, it is Mexicans, we are told, who are bringing drugs, crimes and rapists. “Any god who is mine but not yours, any god concerned with me but not with you, is an idol,” Heschel writes. Think of segregated white churches during Jim Crow, or the many churches today, in our “post-racial” moment, that continue to be de facto segregated every Sunday morning. Think, too, of the blood that has been spilled in the name of the God we claim as our own. You have all heard the underpinnings of this idolatry: “God Bless America,” which I see as the words of a bankrupt neoliberal theology. In fact, there is something profane in that statement, which worships and calls upon a God that blesses America only. If there are any blessings to be had, the request, surely, mustn’t be partisan. At least in Christianity, Judaism and Islam, it is believed that human beings were created in the image of God. Not just the faithful of these religions, but all humans: Syrian refugees, whom our current administration have deemed threats, were created in the image of God. Kim Jong-un, Vladimir Putin, members of the Ku Klux Klan and Bashar al-Assad all were created in the image of God. So even as we ask God to bless America, surely we must ask God to bless those whom we have deemed threats or enemies. Our blessings must be scattered across the entire world, inclusive of all of humanity. RECENTLY, TRUMP, SPEAKING at Liberty University, said to a graduating class of future evangelical leaders, “In America, we don’t worship government, we worship God.” The students applauded and cheered. If what Trump said was true, then why didn’t the students turn their backs to him, to protest the contradiction between the poisonous effects of his white nativism, extreme divisiveness and his “theology”? Unless, of course, Liberty University’s God is clad in a profane theological whiteness. When they were applauding Trump, the students were not applauding a prophetic visionary but someone with a dangerous Pharaonic mentality, one who is intemperate, self-indulgent, power hungry, unpredictable and narcissistic. Remember that the applause was for someone who refuses to take the nuclear option off the table, who said that global warming was a hoax and has now pulled out of the Paris climate agreement, who said of ISIS that he would “bomb the shit out of ’em.” The graduating students at Liberty University should have been told, as Heschel wrote, that “the age of moral mediocrity and complacency has run out. This is a time for radical commitment, for radical action.” Heschel, in a speech on religion and race, reminded us of the persistence of autocratic power when he stated that “Pharaoh is not ready to capitulate. The exodus began but it is far from having been completed.” That exodus, originating with Moses and the emancipation of the Jews, as Heschel suggests, is eternal, and signifies the march toward not just an outward physical emancipation but a spiritual one — one that demands fierce self-reflection. I take it that for Heschel, all of the oppressed of the world are in need of an exodus. In another work Heschel later wrote, “One’s integrity must constantly be examined.” Bob Marley, in his song “Exodus,” says, “Open your eyes and look within. Are you satisfied with the life you’re living?” Some voices refuse to let us rest. King had such a voice, and so did Socrates. AND WHAT HAVE WE SEEN? I am pretty sure that no contemporary Christians have seen God, no contemporary religious Jews have seen Yahweh and no contemporary Muslims have seen Allah — certainly not face to face. Yet all of us have seen the aftermath of murdered children from war-torn countries, their fragile bodies covered with blood. I am haunted by the little body of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi who lay dead and face down in 2015 on a Turkish beach after his family fled violence in Syria. I continue to be haunted by the murder of an unarmed Trayvon Martin in 2012. Hundreds of thousands of children around the world are suffering. We all have known about the cruel and despicable violence toward transgender individuals. We know about the magnitude of human trafficking, the magnitude of poverty, and the sickness of hatred. Vasko writes, “Through lamentation, voice is given to pain.” Yet our lamenting, our mourning for those who suffer, is far too short-lived. And our charity to those who wail in the night only temporarily eases their pain. According to Heschel, “one may be decent and sinister, pious and sinful.” We easily forget the weight of human suffering, the agony. Heschel asks, “If all agony were kept alive in memory, if all turmoil were told, who could endure tranquillity?” Heschel and Vasko help to remind us that we ought to be suspicious of our tranquillity. In fact, I would ask, what if that tranquillity, that peace of mind, rests on the rotting corpses beneath our feet? What if as we pray and rejoice in our churches, synagogues and mosques, we are throwing handfuls of dirt on God’s casket? After all, prayer and rejoicing can also function as forms of narcissism, as ways to drown out the screams of the poor, the oppressed. In a story shared by Heschel’s daughter, Susannah, she writes that he found praying during the Vietnam War impossible, but necessary to demonstrate. “Whenever I open my prayer book,” he told a journalist, “I see before me images of children burning from napalm.” Heschel writes, “The prophet’s word is a scream in the night.” I wait to be awakened by that scream. I have not yet heard it. It is that scream, that deep existential lament, that will awaken us to the ways we are guilty of claiming to “love God” while forgetting the poor, refusing the refugee, building walls, banning the stranger, and praying and worshiping in insular and segregated “sacred” spaces filled with racism, sexism, patriarchy, xenophobia, homophobia and indifference. WE HAVE FAILED TO DEEPEN our collective responsibility. Some of us will never do so. What would the world look like if believers from every major religion in every country, state, city and village, shut down the entire world for just a day? What would America look like, on that day, if we who call ourselves believers, decided to weep together, hold hands together, commit together to eradicate injustice? We might then permanently unlock our sacred doors, take a real step beyond our sanctimoniousness, and see one another face to face. I await the day, perhaps soon, when those who believe in the “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob” will lock arms and march on Washington, refusing to live any longer under the weight of so much inhumanity. Perhaps it is time for a collective demonstration of the faithful to delay going to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, to leave the pews in churches and pray one fewer time a day. None of us is innocent. “Above all, the prophets remind us of the moral state of a people,” Heschel reminds us. “Few are guilty, but all are responsible.” In 1968, in conversation with King, Heschel asked, “Where does God dwell in America today?” I ask myself this question today. But I do not find the answer. Heschel also asks, “Where does moral religious leadership in America come from today?” I look, but I have not seen it. Perhaps, like Diogenes the Cynic, you’ll find me carrying a lamp in the daytime. But instead of looking for an honest man, I will be looking through the catacombs of your own making, asking, “Is your God dead?” source

June 19, 2017 by
The “takes” you’ll read about the special election in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District on Tuesday night are probably going to be dumb. A close outcome in either direction would be consistent with what we know about the political environment. So if either Democrat Jon Ossoff or Republican Karen Handel wins narrowly, it will be portrayed as a more important predictive signal than it really is. A blowout result would be a bigger deal. But even then, Georgia 6 is a slightly unusual district, and the election would be one data point among many. Georgia isn’t even the only special election on Tuesday; South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District is holding one also. Here’s the thing, though: Sometimes dumb things matter if everyone agrees that they matter. Congressional Republicans could use a signal of any kind right now to coordinate their strategy around two vexing issues: first, their health care bill, and second, their behavior toward President Trump and the investigations surrounding him. Whatever direction Republicans take on these questions, they will find some degree of strength in numbers. Republicans would probably be less afraid of publicly rebuking Trump, for instance — and becoming the subject of a @realDonaldTrump tweetstorm or Trump-backed primary challenge — if other GOPers were doing the same. Democrat Jon Ossoff campaigns for Georgia’s 6th Congressional District in Chamblee in June. Ossoff is running in a special election against Republican Karen Handel. Joe Raedle / Getty Images The Georgia 6 outcome might trigger some herd behavior among Republicans, therefore, changing the political environment in the weeks and months ahead. A loss for Handel would probably be interpreted by the GOP as a sign that the status quo wasn’t working. If even a few members of Congress began taking the exit ramp on Trump and the American Health Care Act, a number of others might follow. A win, conversely, would have a morale-boosting effect; Republicans would probably tell themselves that they could preserve their congressional majorities by turning out their base, even if some swing voters had abandoned them. Georgia 6 is a tough district to diagnose because its politics in presidential elections shifted a lot from 2012 to 2016. In 2012, the district went for Mitt Romney by 23 percentage points in an election that then-President Barack Obama won by 4 points nationally. That made it 27 points more Republican than the country as a whole. In 2016, by contrast, it chose Trump over Hillary Clinton by only 1.5 points in an election where Clinton won the popular vote by about 2 points nationally. Therefore, it was only 3 to 4 points more Republican than the national average. If one uses the 2016 presidential election as a benchmark, this is a race that Democrats should be winning. They currently lead in the generic congressional ballot by about 7 percentage points, which ought to be enough for Ossoff to overcome the district’s modest GOP lean from 2016. By contrast, if one takes 2012 as the benchmark in the district, then even coming within single digits of Handel would represent a massive overperformance for Ossoff. FiveThirtyEight’s usual procedure — what has produced the best predictions in past elections — is to combine the past two presidential cycles in a 3-1 ratio. That is to say, we’d take three parts from 2016, when the district was only slightly red-leaning, and one part from 2012, when it overwhelmingly backed Romney. By that formula, Georgia 6 is 9.5 points more Republican than the country as a whole. According to the generic ballot, the current political environment isn’t quite Democratic enough to overcome a 9.5-point deficit, so you’d expect Handel to win, although narrowly. (The table here describes a number of methods for projecting the Georgia 6 result, which I’ll explain further below. The one I just mentioned — taking a blend of recent presidential results and adjusting it based on the generic ballot — is the third in the table.) GENERIC BALLOT METHODS PROJECTION 2016 presidential result + generic ballot Ossoff +3.3 2012 presidential result + generic ballot Handel +20.3 Blend* of past presidential results + generic ballot Handel +2.6 2016 congressional result** + generic ballot Handel +7.8 SPECIAL ELECTION RESULTS SO FAR METHODS PROJECTION 2016 presidential result + special election results so far Ossoff +11.9 2012 presidential result + special election results so far Handel +11.7 Blend of past presidential results + special election results so far Ossoff +6.0 2016 congressional result + special election results so far Ossoff +0.8 FIRST-ROUND VOTE METHODS PROJECTION Aggregate party margin in first round Handel +2.1 Aggregate party margin in first round + shift in generic ballot since first round Ossoff +1.1 Aggregate party margin in first round + top-two margin in first round Ossoff +4.8 Aggregate party margin in first round + top-two margin in first round + blend of past presidential results Handel +0.4 Aggregate party margin in first round + top-two margin in first round + blend of past presidential results + generic ballot Ossoff +3.3 POLLING METHODS PROJECTION Average of recent polls*** Ossoff +2.4 It’s hard to know how Georgia 6 “should” go * The blend of past presidential results uses a 3:1 ratio of results from the 2016 and 2012 presidential elections ** The 2016 congressional result is adjusted for former Rep. Tom Price’s incumbency advantage *** Recent polls include those from Trafalgar Group, Opinion Savvy, SurveyUSA, Landmark Communications and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Given that this is an election to Congress, one could also look at past congressional results for guidance. In 2016, the Republican incumbent Tom Price, who vacated the seat to become Trump’s secretary of Health and Human Services, won the district by 23 percentage points. This was somewhat less than his 32-point margin in 2014 and his 29-point margin in 2012, but it nevertheless suggested that the district was still quite red. Republican representatives such as Price had a significant incumbency advantage in 2016, as incumbents almost always do — even in supposedly anti-establishment environments. But even if you adjust for that advantage, the Republican lean of the district is about 15 points, still too much for Ossoff to overcome given the generic ballot. In fact, coming within several points of Handel would count as a good result for him given Price’s performance. One could argue, however, that the standard for Democratic success should not be based on the generic ballot, but instead their results in special elections so far this year. By our method of benchmarking special elections, these have been very good for Democrats and are consistent with a political climate in which Democrats would win the national House vote by about 15 points. That makes for a big difference. With a 7-point win in the House popular vote, as the generic ballot shows, Democrats would be only about even money to take over the House next year, given the way the vote is distributed among districts. With a 15-point win, they’d be all but assured of doing so — in fact, they’d probably have a massive wave election on the scale of 1994 or 2010, with lots of Republicans in supposedly safe districts being caught in the undertow. If Democrats are to keep pace with their special election results so far, then Ossoff probably should be winning the race, not just coming close — and Georgia 6 should be the election where Democrats go from “moral victories” to actual wins. Another set of benchmarking methods involves extrapolating from the first-round vote in Georgia on April 18. In that election, multiple candidates from both parties were on the ballot. Ossoff got by far the most votes with 48 percent, with Handel finishing in a distant second at 20 percent to claim the other runoff spot. However, the Republican candidates combined got about 51 percent of the vote, compared to 49 percent for Ossoff and other Democrats together. Methods that factor in these results generally suggest a close race, but perhaps with Ossoff as a slight favorite. One of these methods, for instance, takes into account that while Republicans narrowly won the aggregate vote on April 18, the political climate has become somewhat more Democratic since then, perhaps just enough for Ossoff to win by a point or two. Finally, there’s the polling, which shows Ossoff ahead by a not-very-safe margin of about 2 percentage points. You’d rather be 2 points ahead than 2 points behind, however. So there are a lot of rather different, but nevertheless entirely reasonable, ways to interpret what might constitute a good or bad result for the parties on Tuesday. If either Handel or Ossoff wins by more than about 5 percentage points — which is entirely possible given the historic (in)accuracy of special election polls — you can dispense with some of the subtlety in interpreting the results, especially if the South Carolina outcome tells a similar story.1 Otherwise, Tuesday’s results probably ought to be interpreted with a fair amount of caution — and they probably won’t be. As I said, however, the vote comes at a critical time for Republicans — and extracting any signal at all from Georgia might be enough to influence their behavior. Republicans really are in a pickle on health care. The AHCA is so unpopular that they’d have been better off politically letting it die back in March, at least in my view. But I don’t have a vote in Congress and Republicans do, and they’ve tallied the costs and benefits differently, given that the bill has already passed the House and is very much alive in the Senate. The central political argument Republicans have advanced on behalf of the bill is that failing to pass it would constitute a broken promise to repeal Obamacare, demotivating the GOP base. That argument will lose credibility if a Democrat wins in a traditionally Republican district despite what looks as though it will be high turnout. There are also some tentative signs of congressional Republicans breaking with Trump, at least when it comes to matters related to Russia. Two weeks ago, former FBI Director James Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Directors of other intelligence agencies and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have also recently testified before the committee. Then last week, the Senate overwhelmingly (by a 97-2 margin) approved a package of sanctions against Russia despite the White House’s objections to them. Those are serious, tangible steps for a Congress that had often moved in lockstep with Trump until the last few weeks. As is the case with health care, Republicans don’t have an obviously correct strategy for handling Trump. Pulling the rug out from under him could create a vicious cycle in which Trump’s approval rating continues to decline and even some fairly partisan Republican voters begin to disapprove of his performance. But polls suggest that Trump is already quite unpopular with swing voters (and that his base has already shrunk), which might suggest that it’s smart for Republicans in competitive seats to rebuke Trump before matters get even worse. In either case, the narrative that emerges from the Georgia 6 runoff will lack nuance and will oversimplify complex evidence. While special elections overall are a reasonably useful indicator in forecasting upcoming midterms, their power comes in numbers. A half-dozen special elections taken together are a useful sign; any one of them is less so. But we’re at a moment when Republicans have a lot of decisions to make now, and the story they tell themselves about the political environment matters as much as the reality of it. The narrative will probably be dumb, but it might matter all the same. source

June 19, 2017 by
The National Security Agency is amongst the most secretive of the US’ intelligence agencies. It employs genius-level coders and mathematicians in order to break codes, gather information on adversaries, and defend the country against digital threats. Unsurprisingly, the NSA has always to preferred to work in the dark. But ever since the Snowden leaks in 2013, the organization has gradually increased its public presence. A few years ago, it opened a Twitter account (in fact, it was the first profile Edward Snowden followed when he joined in 2015). And now, it’s opened a Github account, and has shared several interesting code repositories under the NSA Technology Transfer Program (TTP).  So far, it lists 32 different projects, although some of these are ‘coming soon.’ Many aren’t new, either, and have been available for some time. SELinux (Security-Enhanced Linux) for example, has been part of the Linux kernel for years. I’m not surprised the NSA’s taken this move. For starters, there’s a long and proud tradition of technologies making their way from defense and intelligence environments to the general public. The internet is a brilliant example of that. And engaging with techies via Github is a great way to sanitize its image, and potentially recruit talent. You can check out the NSA’s page here. source

June 18, 2017 by
The World Bank’s relationship with US president Donald Trump has raised concerns about its political neutrality in recent weeks, but a larger and potentially much more important shift in how the Bank operates is underway. The World Bank is reinventing itself, from a lender for major development projects, to a broker for private sector investment. In April 2017, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim outlined his vision in a speech given at the London School of Economics. He argued that development finance needs to fundamentally change in speed and scale, growing from billions of dollars in development aid to trillions in investment. Kim said that there are significant financial resources readily available, literally trillions of dollars “sitting on the side-lines” on capital markets, generating little in the way of returns, particularly compared to what they could make if invested in developing countries. Private investors’ lack of knowledge about these countries, and their tendency to remain generally risk-averse, mean that these funds remain largely untapped. New role In Kim’s view, the World Bank should therefore be a broker between the private sector and developing countries. Its future top priority should not be to lend money, but to “systematically de-risk” development projects and entire developing countries. To do that, it will promote policies that make countries and projects attractive for private investment. Kim hopes that this will enable private sector financing, while at the same time benefiting poor countries and their populations. In his view, the bank would mediate between the interests of a global market system, developing country governments, and people in poverty. Kim provides several examples of this catalytic role: the bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) enabled private sector involvement in building and managing Jordan’s Queen Alia International Airport; the IFC and the bank’s investment guarantee agency MIGA helped privatise Turkey’s energy sector; and the IFC’s new risk mitigation program covers private sector investment risk with public money. As a broker, the World Bank thus provides a mixture of services that range from investment and insurance to business advice and policy lobbying. Magic money tree? Alex Proimos/Flickr, CC BY-NC Power shifts Kim’s vision would shift power away from the traditional lending arms of World Bank operations, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and International Development Association (IDA), and towards the private sector arm of the bank, the IFC. The IBRD, formed in 1948, provides loans and advice to middle-income and low-income countries which are deemed creditworthy. These loans are profitable, even if the IBRD does not work to maximise its income but aims instead to foster global socioeconomic development. The IBRD is largely financed via capital contributions it receives from its 188 member states as well as via the issuance of World Bank bonds. In 2016 it disbursed US$22.5 billion (almost half of World Bank Group disbursements overall). The IDA was created in 1960 and provides low-interest loans and grants to the world’s poorest countries. It is funded by so-called “replenishments”, or donor commitments, generally every three years. Broadly speaking, it does not make a profit, but works mostly towards the goals of poverty alleviation and economic growth. In 2016 it disbursed US$13.2 billion (slightly over a quarter of group disbursements). The IFC, created in 1956, aims to foster private sector involvement in development projects around the globe. In 2016 its disbursements amounted to US$10.0 billion (one-fifth of group disbursements). Its work has been severely criticised by activists, academics and civil society organisations. They argue for example that the IFC has exacerbated inequality in health and famously, concerns persist about the fallout from its attempts at water privatisation. Carrying the can? Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade/Flickr, CC BY The rise of private finance The role of investment broker makes sense from the World Bank’s own perspective, if we take into account the larger political economy context of development. Low and middle-income countries have become less reliant on World Bank lending, given increasingly attractive alternative sources of financing; the current US and UK administrations favour trade and business over development aid, and private finance has in past decades rapidly outgrown other parts of economic activity. The World Bank therefore risks becoming irrelevant unless it reacts to these trends. Moreover, since its founding articles of agreement define the bank as an institution that facilitates private sector investment, its role as a finance broker does correspond to its core mandate. However, making the private sector its first port of call may fit less well with the goal of making development work for the world’s poorest people. Two major concerns are worth highlighting. First, why exactly should assessment of the value and effectiveness of development activities primarily be made with reference to their profitability for the private sector? As French economist Thomas Piketty has shown, when left to its own devices the rising power of private capital markets is a force for, rather than against, income and wealth inequality. Surely, the most important question to ask is thus whether the private sector does enough for people living in poverty or in highly unequal societies, rather than vice versa. Second, what makes this renewed turn towards private sector solutions so much more promising today than during previous decades when Kim himself had vigorously criticised them? In his LSE speech, he remarked that the bank has learned from past mistakes. Yet, “de-risking” entire countries for private sector investors is likely to include policies such as strict inflation controls, large-scale privatisations, rapid trade liberalisation and strong government cutbacks on social spending. These have in the past made World Bank lending activities notoriously destructive for developing countries. In Bolivia, for example, structural adjustment policies imposed as part of World Bank lending conditions from 1985, led not only to a rise in unemployment and a reduction in public revenues, but eventually to countrywide riots over water privatisation and resulting price hikes. Even if we leave aside concerns over the financial transparency of the corporations which will be involved, the bank’s changing role reflects a worrying shift in how the development sector operates more widely. There may well be vast amounts of capital waiting in the wings, but putting development work in the service of private capital creates a new risk altogether – that of people in poverty being pushed out of sight. source