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Lawmakers Are Using Trade Rules to Blacklist Critics of Israel — Sneaky TPP Fast Track Law Targets Israel's Critics

Legislation to fast track new trade pacts specifically targets supporters of the BDS movement against the Israeli occupation.
Photo by Kate Ausburn.
Photo by Kate Ausburn.
By Rachel Ida Buff
In 1952, Abner Green — leader of a civil rights group called the American Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born — served six months in prison for refusing to cooperate with federal investigators who were spying on progressive civil rights organizations.

A longtime anti-racist activist and advocate for the rights of immigrants, Green was sentenced under the McCarran Act of 1950, which created a “Subversive Activities Control Board” to scrutinize the activities of organizations and individuals suspected of association with communism.

When Green was released from jail, he found the supporting membership of the ACPFB greatly reduced. Many other civil rights organizations were forced to close their doors amid the chilling effects of McCarthyism.

In her acclaimed book, Eyes Off the Prize: The United Nations and the African American Struggle for Human Rights, 1944-1955, Carol Anderson traces the ways that anti-communists cast opponents of segregation as subversive. In order to survive in this climate, rights advocacy organizations were forced to adopt a civil rights, rather than human rights, framework. Anderson argues that the consequences of this shift ultimately undermined the impact of civil rights victories, allowing for the persistence of profound racial inequality long after the high water mark of the movement.

This Cold War shift finds many parallels in the contemporary debate over foreign policy and free trade. More than half a century after Green’s incarceration, public discussions about the relationship between the United States and Israel are impeded by allegations of bigotry and disloyalty. Supporters of the Israeli government in particular often equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, narrowing the possibilities for civil debate.

This narrowing particularly truncates progressive conversations around the global human rights activism represented by the movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) of Israel to protest its militaristic policies. Critics fume that the movement is anti-Semitic, much as FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover worried that Martin Luther King Jr.’s critique of racial segregation made him “anti-American.”

Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire GOP super donor and staunch supporter of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, recently launched a “Campus Maccabee” initiative to combat increased activism around the BDS movement on college campuses in the United States. He says it’s to protect Jewish students from anti-Semitism. But all students have the right to free speech, and advocacy and boycotting are constitutionally protected activities.

Legislative activism against BDS has a similarly chilling effect, both on civil liberties and on global movements for human rights. Hitching their political wagons to regressive “free trade” agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, uncritically pro-Israel lobbyists like AIPAC have taken aim against companies that comply with the global movement to boycott Israel and its illegal settlements in the West Bank by making trade contingent on opposition to BDS. This is a decidedly McCarthyist approach.

The “fast-track” Trade Promotion Authority bill recently debated in Congress contains provisions that would make discouraging BDS a central objective of U.S. trade policy. The bill includes language prohibiting “state-sponsored unsanctioned foreign boycotts against Israel or compliance with the Arab League Boycott of Israel by prospective trading partners.” Such proscriptions are likely to accompany any future version of the TPP and other pacts.

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Babies Are Dying in this Utah Town — When A Midwife Pointed At Fracking She Was Threatened With Death

Photo by danibabii08.
By Paul Solotaroff
Every night, Donna Young goes to bed with her pistol, a .45 Taurus Judge with laser attachment. Last fall, she says, someone stole onto her ranch to poison her livestock, or tried to; happily, her son found the d-CON wrapper and dumped all the feed from the troughs. Strangers phoned the house to wish her dead or run out of town on a rail. Local nurses and doctors went them one better, she says, warning pregnant women that Young's incompetence had killed babies and would surely kill theirs too, if given the chance.

"Before they started spreading their cheer about me, I usually had 18 to 25 clients a year, and a spotless reputation in the state," says Young, the primary midwife to service Vernal, Utah, a boom-and-bust town of 10,000 people in the heart of the fracked-gas gold rush of the Uintah Basin. A hundred and fifty miles of sparse blacktop east of Salt Lake City, Vernal has the feel of a slapdash suburb dropped randomly from outer space. Half of it is new and garishly built, the paint barely dry after a decade-long run of fresh-drilled wells and full employment. "Now, I'm down to four or five ladies, and don't know how I'll be able to feed my animals if things don't turn around quick."

Young, a fiftysomething, heart-faced woman with a story-time lilt of a voice, cuts a curious figure for a pariah. She's the mother of six, a grandmother of 14 and an object of reverence among the women she's helped, many of whom she's guided through three and four home births with blissfully short labors and zero pain meds. And the sin for which she's been punished with death threats and attacks on her reputation? Two years ago, she stumbled onto the truth that an alarming number of babies were dying in Vernal — at least 10 in 2013 alone, what seemed to her a shockingly high infant mortality rate for such a small town. That summer, she raised her hand and put the obvious question to Joe Shaffer, director of the TriCounty Health Department: Why are so many of our babies dying?

In most places, detecting a grave risk to children would inspire people to name a street for you. But in Vernal, a town literally built by oil, raising questions about the safety of fracking will brand you a traitor and a target. "Me and my kids are still cautious: If someone kicked in my front door tonight, it'd take an hour for the sheriff to get here," says Young, whose house on 60 acres is well out of town and a quarter-mile clear of her closest neighbor. "The first person they'd meet is me on the staircase, pointing that .45 dead at 'em. And I know how to use these things — I can nail a coyote in the pasture from 100 yards."

Prodded by Young and the concerns she pushed along, which made their way through channels to state officials, TriCounty Health announced a study in 2014 to assess Young's concerns over the infant mortality rate. But Young, backed up by experts in Salt Lake City, believed the study was designed to fail. She says that any serious inquiry would have started with Suspect One: the extraordinary levels of wintertime pollution plaguing the Basin since the vast new undertaking to frack the region's shale filled the air with toxins. The county merely counted up infant deaths and brushed aside the facts about Vernal air pollution: ozone readings that rivaled the worst days of summer in New York, Los Angeles or Salt Lake City; particulate matter as bad as Mexico City; and ground air fraught with carcinogenic gases like benzene, rogue emissions from oil and gas drilling. Indeed, pollution was so bad in this rural bowl that it broke new ground in climate science. For decades, experts believed that life-threatening smog occurred only in or near big cities. But the Basin, which is bound on all four sides by mountains, is a perfectly formed bowl for winter inversions, in which 20-below weather clamps down on the valley and is sealed there by warmer air above it. During those spells, when the haze is visible and the air in one's lungs is a cold chisel, the sun's rays reflect off the snow on the ground and cook the volatile gases into ozone. The worst such period in the Basin's recent history was the winter of 2012-13, when nearly all the Uintah mothers whose babies died were pregnant.

Other key information was available to TriCounty, including multiple recent studies that link mothers' exposure to toxic air with fetal disasters of all kinds, including stillbirths, birth defects and developmental syndromes. But four months after he announced the study, Shaffer retired as TriCounty's chief; six months later, the department's findings were released. The deaths were deemed "not statistically insignificant," Sam LeFevre, an epidemiologist with the Utah State Health Department who conducted the study for TriCounty, told an assembly of concerned Vernal citizens. When pressed on possible causes for the deaths, he suggested the health problems of mothers, citing smoking, diabetes and prenatal neglect among the Basin's residents. LeFevre made it clear he was sympathetic to the crowd's concerns. "I know what it's like to lose a pregnancy," he announced. "My wife's had eight, and only four live births."

Which raises a question you might ask in a state whose legislature is so rabid for oil and gas money that it set aside millions to sue the federal government for the right to drill near Moab and Desolation Canyon, some of the state's most sacrosanct places: How many dead infants does it take before you'll accept that there's a problem?

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