News

Senate Confirms Kavanaugh to Supreme Court, Ending a Clash With Lasting Fallout

Citizens for Legitimate Government - Sat, 10/06/2018 - 20:48

Senate Confirms Kavanaugh to Supreme Court, Ending a Clash With Lasting Fallout | 06 Oct 2018 | A deeply divided Senate voted on Saturday to confirm Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, delivering a victory to President Trump and ending a rancorous Washington battle that began as a debate over ideology and jurisprudence and concluded with questions of sexual misconduct. Mr. Trump said Judge Kavanaugh would be quickly sworn in. "I applaud and congratulate the U.S. Senate for confirming our GREAT NOMINEE, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, to the United States Supreme Court," he wrote on Twitter. "Later today, I will sign his Commission of Appointment, and he will be officially sworn in. Very exciting!" The Senate vote was 50 to 48, almost entirely along party lines.

Categories: News

How Every Senator Voted on Kavanaugh's Confirmation

Citizens for Legitimate Government - Sat, 10/06/2018 - 20:44

How Every Senator Voted on Kavanaugh's Confirmation | 06 Oct 2018 | The Senate voted 50-48 on Saturday to confirm the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska announced that she would have voted no, but withdrew her vote as a courtesy to Senator Steve Daines of Montana. Mr. Daines, who would have voted yes, was attending his daughter's wedding. Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia was the only Democrat to vote yes. Here are the votes, by party.

Categories: News

Friend of Ford told FBI she was pressured into altering statement

Citizens for Legitimate Government - Sat, 10/06/2018 - 20:34

Friend of Ford told FBI she was pressured into altering statement | 05 Oct 2018 | A friend of Christine Blasey Ford told the FBI that allies of the college professor, who accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her, pressured her to revise her earlier statement that she knew nothing about the alleged incident, according to a report. Leland Keyser, who Ford has said was present at the house when she was assaulted in 1982, told investigators that retired FBI agent Monica McLean, a friend of Ford's, had urged her to clarify her statement, sources told the Wall Street Journal. Keyser, a classmate of Ford, originally wrote to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sept. 23 she "does not know Mr. Kavanaugh and she has no recollection of ever being at a party or gathering where he was present."

Categories: News

More than 300 protesters arrested as Kavanaugh demonstrations pack Capitol Hill

Citizens for Legitimate Government - Sat, 10/06/2018 - 20:20

More than 300 protesters arrested as Kavanaugh demonstrations pack Capitol Hill | 04 Oct 2018 | Nearly 300 protesters were arrested at a US Senate building on Thursday afternoon as crowds of activists descended on Capitol Hill while lawmakers reviewed the FBI’s report on the allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Protesters gathered in the Hart Senate Building atrium after US Capitol Police barricaded the front of the Capitol. In a statement, US Capitol Police communications director Eva Malecki said that at about 3:30 p.m., 293 people were arrested for unlawfully demonstrating.

Categories: News

Kavanaugh confirmed to Supreme Court after bitter fight, securing rightward shift

Citizens for Legitimate Government - Sat, 10/06/2018 - 20:15

Breaking: Kavanaugh confirmed to Supreme Court after bitter fight, securing rightward shift | 06 Oct 2018 | The Senate voted Saturday to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, marking the end to one of the most rancorous confirmation fights in modern times and securing a rightward shift on the nation's highest court. The chamber voted 50-48 to confirm Kavanaugh, mostly along party lines, after a weeklong FBI probe helped settle concerns among most wavering senators about the sexual assault allegations that nearly derailed his nomination and led to a dramatic second hearing. Saturday's roll call marked the tightest successful Supreme Court confirmation vote in over 100 years...Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. was the sole Democrat to vote "yes." Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, was a "no," but voted "present" as a courtesy to Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., who was attending his daughter's wedding in Montana.

Categories: News

Brett Kavanaugh confirmed to Supreme Court

Citizens for Legitimate Government - Sat, 10/06/2018 - 20:06

Breaking: Brett Kavanaugh confirmed to Supreme Court | 06 Oct 2018 | The Senate confirmed Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court Saturday afternoon, likely cementing a conservative majority on the court for a generation and bringing to an end months of bitter partisan feuding marked by shocking allegations of sexual assault and vehement and angry denials from the nominee. The final vote was interrupted several times by protesters as senators sat silent at their desks for the formal roll call vote. The confirmation marks a major victory for President Donald Trump, who will soon be able to take credit for appointing two conservative justices to the Supreme Court during his relatively brief time in office.

Categories: News

Downtown LA Hit With Outbreak of Flea-Borne Typhus

Citizens for Legitimate Government - Sat, 10/06/2018 - 20:00

Downtown LA Hit With Outbreak of Flea-Borne Typhus | 04 Oct 2018 | An outbreak of flea-borne typhus has hit downtown Los Angeles, the county Department of Public Health said Thursday. Health officials say they are investigating several cases of flea-borne typhus, a disease that infected fleas can spread to humans...In people, typhus can cause high fever, chills, headache, and rash. It is not transmitted from person to person and can be treated with antibiotics.

Categories: News

Protesters clash outside of swing vote senator offices in anticipation of Kavanaugh vote

Citizens for Legitimate Government - Sat, 10/06/2018 - 19:49

Protesters clash outside of swing vote senator offices in anticipation of Kavanaugh vote | 05 Oct 2018 | Protesters clashed outside the offices of key swing vote lawmakers after the Senate voted Friday to advance Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination. Demonstrations have swamped Capitol Hill throughout the Kavanaugh confirmation process. Key undecided senators -- as well as congressional leaders -- have been receiving the majority of the protests, in particular key remaining undecided senators Republican Susan Collins of Maine and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia...According to a Capitol Hill police officer, authorities are investigating a female protester allegedly assaulting a man outside Collins' office, and two people have been detained and are currently being questioned.

Categories: News

Energy Conservation Jobs Come to Coal Country

Truth Out - Sat, 10/06/2018 - 18:48

Like many men raised in eastern Kentucky, Frank Morris spent a chunk of his working life in the coal industry.

Raised in the city of Hazard, Morris did a little bit of everything, from shoveling belt to diesel mechanics.

“Back then, if you were going to pick to live around here and make good money, you either went into the coal business or you went into the medical field,” Morris said.

Like many others, however, Morris was laid off several years ago when the coal industry started contracting. Metallurgical coal, used for making steel, was waning as part of a regular global cycle, and steam coal, used to produce electricity, suffered a long-term decline as power utilities increasingly moved toward cheaper, cleaner-burning natural gas and renewable wind and solar energy.

Morris found a job at Walmart, but given the cost of child care, he realized he was actually losing money by working there. He tried being a stay-at-home dad, but he found himself yearning to contribute to his family’s financial well-being in a more tangible way, so he started taking small carpentry jobs. Morris had been doing that for a while when he heard about an internship for former coal miners.

The six-month internship with Mountain Association for Community Economic Development offered training in new energy efficiency professions, placement with a local employer, and the potential for longer-term employment after the job ended. Morris applied for the internship and was accepted, along with another ex-miner named Randall Howard. The two received hands-on training in conducting energy audits—learning how to use equipment such as infrared cameras, duct blasters, blower doors, and much more—and went to work at their respective jobs, Morris for the nonprofit Housing Development Alliance and Howard for Christian Outreach with Appalachian People, an affordable housing organization.

Today “things are a lot better for us,” Morris said. “We’re in a better position financially and with our home lives. I’m able to be home every day, most days, before 5 o’clock. That’s something I’ve never had before in my life.”

The money isn’t quite what he made working coal, but it’s a lot better than what he earned at Walmart. He’s also found a better work-life balance than either of those two previous jobs offered.

MACED’s energy efficiency internship program is just one of many initiatives designed to retrain workers laid off during the cratering of the coal industry over the last decade. The coal industry has steadily declined since the 1950s, largely because of mechanization. With the advent of hydraulic fracturing technology in the 2000s leading to an abundance of natural gas, as well as federal regulations that resulted in the closure of older coal-fired power plants, the industry has collapsed in the last decade. Many companies went into bankruptcy or shuttered, resulting in mass layoffs and a ripple effect that’s spread to related businesses, such as railroads and equipment manufacturers.

According to a report produced by Kentucky state officials and reported in the Lexington Herald Leader, the number of coal jobs in 2013 had declined to 12,550—the lowest since the state started recording the figure in 1927. By August 2018, coal jobs had dropped even further to 6,238, according to the Kentucky Office of Energy Policy, which produces quarterly reports on the coal industry.

As a result, many coalfield communities have suffered economic distress and depopulation. Local and state officials have tried a number of approaches to reverse that trend, retraining miners for jobs in industries on the rise, such as computer coding and outdoor recreation.

MACED’s program, funded by a $2 million grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission, $100,000 from Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program Inc., and a $1 million match from MACED’s venture capital loan fund, is designed to build on related skills used in mining that can be adapted for energy efficiency, a growing sector. According to a study by E4TheFuture and Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), nearly 2.25 million Americans work in energy efficiency, including 24,579 people in Kentucky. That figure includes those who work with efficient appliances and lighting, heating and ventilation systems, building materials and insulation, energy audits, building certifications, and more. MACED saw the internship program as an opportunity to add to a growing field while also building local expertise.

“We thought, let’s see if we can develop some local champions who have technical skills,” said Chris Woolery, a program coordinator at MACED. “They can be advocates, they can be independent third-party experts, and they can connect folks to financing through various mechanisms. When I come to Hazard and talk about the gospel of energy efficiency, I’m not received the same way Frank Morris is when he speaks to his community. When Frank became the resident efficiency person at HDA [Housing Development Alliance], we immediately we saw the ripple effects.”

As the first two interns, Howard and Morris were both placed at affiliate organizations of the Appalachia Heat Squad, a collaborative program aimed at expanding access to energy efficient home improvements. They learned how to evaluate a home’s energy efficiency, how to identify and implement improvements, and how to educate homeowners about programs that could help them fund those investments. During their internships, Morris conducted 23 audits and 13 retrofits, while Howard did 22 audits and 5 retrofits.

“Energy efficiency is something that is especially needed in the coal regions,” Morris said. “Around here, electricity has always been cheap. Now we’re getting all these rate increases. That touches everybody—not just doctors and lawyers but grandmothers on fixed incomes, people who have to make a decision: ‘If I don’t pay my electrical bill they’ll cut my power off, but if I do, I might have to miss a few meals this month. Or do I really need my blood pressure medicine this month?’ It’s a hard decision.”

Instead of providing financial aid to pay those electric bills, the Heat Squad aims to fix the issue that’s causing the bills to be high, Morris said.

“Especially around here, housing stock is especially old,” Morris said. “And people living in mobile homes and double-wides can really benefit from this program.”

These energy efficiency programs carry additional possibilities for improving people’s lives. A five-year study of respiratory health in Letcher and Harlan counties found that people who lived in either a mobile home or public housing were twice as likely to have been diagnosed with asthma than people who lived in single-family housing.

The study, known as the Mountain Air Project, now in its second phase, involves prevention. Study participants who have been diagnosed with asthma and had symptoms within the past year meet four times with a trained nurse, and on the third visit, they receive a home assessment. In Harlan County, that’s conducted by Howard, one of the former MACED interns.

“He looks for sources of allergens and irritants in the home,” said Beverly May, a 28-year nurse pursuing a doctor of public health degree at the University of Kentucky, and who manages the Mountain Air Project.

She said Howard is “really brilliant in finding things that can cause trouble. He’s looking for leaks under the sink, pests that are hidden away in dark places you wouldn’t think to look, sources of mold around the outside of the house, water in the basement. Then he talks with the homeowner about what they can do to correct the situation.”

There’s often overlap between healthy homes and those that are energy efficient.

“If a home has cracks and crevices, the door isn’t properly sealed, the windows aren’t properly sealed, then not only does cold air come in during the winter, but there’s also the possibility for pests to come in,” May said. “If you can fix one problem, you might be fixing several problems.”

There are two main challenges. One is that people often feel uncomfortable letting strangers examine their homes, even for a beneficial reason. The other is that the repairs needed to fix problems sometimes outstrip the finances of homeowners. In both cases, Howard is well-positioned to help.

As a local, Howard can talk to homeowners to reassure them.

“I’ll try to connect with them in any way possible to try to ease their mind about letting me go through their home,” Howard said. “I try to show them I’m more of a friend than an enemy, that I’m there to help them. I live in the mountains myself. I guess they connect with me pretty good because I have lived in the past in some of the conditions that they live in. I’m open with them. I tell them I ain’t here to judge you because you’ve got clothes piled up in the corner or dirty dishes in the sink. That’s no concern to me unless there’s mold growing on it. I talk to them a little bit to show them I ain’t there to judge them.”

As for the financial piece, the mission of Howard’s employer, Christian Outreach with Appalachian People, is to build affordable rural housing and offer programs that can offset costs.

The results can make a big difference in a homeowner’s life. Howard describes one such rehabilitation project: “We went in, it didn’t have no insulation under the floor, and the roof was leaking. We put a new roof on, insulation under the floor, a new heat pump. I had to go back later to test everything out. I walked in and there’s an 80-year-old man. He stood up, walked over to me, and gave me a hug. He said, ‘We’ve been here 15 years and I’ve never been as comfortable as we are now. You’ve made this house better, so much more comfortable.’”

The homeowner’s electric bill was cut in half, Howard said.

MACED has now hired two more interns in Hazard for its second round of the program. Their focus is on commercial and industrial instead of residential projects. Because of economies of scale, Woolery said, businesses are often quicker to invest in energy efficiency projects than individual families, and there’s more immediate work available. MACED is hiring for three more internships as well: one doing commercial energy efficiency work in Paintsville, a second more focused on the marketing of energy efficiency and renewable energy in Berea, and a third trained for solar photovoltaic cell installation in Lexington.

Woolery hopes to push some of those interns toward the solar power, where there’s potentially even more opportunity.

“We’re just showing that there’s a ton of different ways we could diversify this economy,” Woolery said. “Knowing we don’t have access to any silver bullets, all we can do is shoot as many silver BBs as we can.”

The post Energy Conservation Jobs Come to Coal Country appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Jordan Peterson calls on Judge Kavanaugh to stand down if confirmed to the Supreme Court

Citizens for Legitimate Government - Sat, 10/06/2018 - 17:05

Jordan Peterson calls on Judge Kavanaugh to stand down if confirmed to the Supreme Court | 06 Oct 2018 | Canadian professor Jordan Peterson has called on Judge Kavanaugh to stand down if he is confirmed to the Supreme Court. Prof Peterson, whose views have received a mixture of praise and scorn, tweeted on Saturday that even if Judge Kavanaugh does receive the Senate's backing, he should stand down. In [a Twitter] thread, Prof Weinstein said any outcome of the Judge Kavanaugh confirmation was "unacceptable". While he disagreed with people being disgraced by accusations and not facts, he insisted Judge Kavanaugh had a limited point of view, was "the kind of adult that entitled punks grow into" and would undermine the Supreme Court's legitimacy...He later tweeted that he wasn't sure if Judge Kavanaugh standing down was the "right move", but it would allow a "less divisive" figure to gain the nomination.

Categories: News

Officials Literally “Blow Hot Air” to Mitigate Heat in Texas Prisons

Truth Out - Sat, 10/06/2018 - 16:26

As the summer comes to a close, prisoners across the state of Texas are breathing a sigh of relief. They finally get a reprieve from the extreme heat they have had to live with, day and night, for the past few months at 75 state-run prisons operated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) that lack air-conditioning in cellblocks.

Last summer, aging, heat-sensitive prisoners at the Wallace Pack Unit in Navasota, Texas, scored an unprecedented victory after a district judge ruled that forcing them to endure temperatures that regularly soar beyond 100 degrees constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

In their litigation, the prisoners cited 23 heat-related deaths that have occurred at department-run prisons since 1998 — 11 of those deaths occurring during a notorious heat wave in the summer of 2011. As Truthout has previously reported, staffers within the department’s Health Services Division tracked more than 200 heat-related illnesses in 2010 and 2011 across scores of units, but still neglected to introduce climate controls despite the widespread nature of the problem.

TDCJ has come under intensifying pressure since Judge Keith Ellison’s ruling, and this year, the department announced new procedures focused on preventing heat-related deaths and illnesses, including updated heat protocols and a new incident command system officials claim will ensure compliance. The new system is triggered by extreme heat warnings issued by the National Weather Service, according to a department spokesperson. Meanwhile, after shuffling more than 1,000 prisoners to air-conditioned jails and prisons, TDCJ installed temporary air-conditioning at Wallace Pack this year as they work to permanently air-condition the unit, pending legislative approval.

The department’s new policies build on its pre-existing heat mitigation measures, which were codified in 2016. The measures include providing prisoners with access to air-conditioned respite areas, cold showers, personal fans and extra ice water, and limiting outdoor work activity.

But several prisoners at department-run units in Texas wrote to Truthout over the summer to detail how the department’s heat mitigation measures aren’t being put into practice at some units. Even after the implementation of the department’s new incident command system and revised heat protocols, multiple prisoners said they were regularly denied access to respite areas and cool-down showers this summer, and alleged they were met with threats from prison guards when they asked for respite.

They also detailed uneven implementation of heat protocols, saying their units lacked ice water at times. They described faulty air-conditioning and ventilation systems, and said that the use of industrial and personal fans in cellblocks has been largely ineffectual during blazing temperatures.

Grievance complaints obtained by Truthout show prisoners have formally complained about a lack of staffing to ensure access to cool-down showers and respite areas for prisoners held in solitary confinement, otherwise known as administrative segregation (ad-seg); nonexistent or dirty ice water during extremely hot months; and indifference to a medical screening in which a prisoner was deemed heat sensitive.

One prisoner who says he was retaliated against because he asked for access to respite is Jason Walker, a prisoner at the Telford Unit in New Boston, Texas. In a letter, Walker described an incident in August in which he and another person were forced to stand in the heat on a sidewalk outside while waiting to enter the unit’s law library. After becoming heat exhausted, Walker says he asked to go to a respite area only 20 feet away but was denied. He then asked for the guard’s supervisor. “Instead of getting a supervisor,” he alleges, “I received threats of being handcuffed, gassed, beat up and thrown in lock up. I was told to stand in the heat or face punishment.”

Further, he elaborates in an article posted on the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee website,

“Efforts to coerce prisoners who request respite are widespread, and prisoners are often prevented from actually getting access to respite areas. Denied commissary purchases, threats of cell shakedowns, and disciplinary cases are the usual scare tactics. These methods have been very effective: prisoners are willing to sweat in the day room and suffer heat exhaustion rather than face cruel and unusual punishment. Indeed, this situation alone is cruel and unusual punishment.”

Walker also reported witnessing two prisoners who ended up in the unit’s infirmary in July for what was initially reported as “heat strokes.”

Further, prisoners held in solitary confinement at different units claimed that they have no realistic access to air-conditioned respite areas. “Never once in the 2 years ive been on [the Eastham Unit in Lovelady, Texas,] have i seen or heard of an Ad Seg inmate going to a Respite area. Sure, they have respite areas for population. But not for Ad-Seg. Not only do they not have the staff to escort us to wherever this would be, but there is no such area available to us,” wrote one prisoner there. He also claimed that administrative segregation prisoners do not receive cool-down showers and said he doesn’t drink the ice water because “it’s handled with absolutely no regards to sanitation,” and “put in big trash can size barrels with all amount of debris floating in it.” (Since the man wasn’t explicit in his letter about whether Truthout could use his name, it was withheld due to the potential for retaliation.)

At the McConnell Unit in Beeville, Texas, prisoner Keith Washington filed both a grievance and a lawsuit about a malfunctioning HVAC system. But senior US District Judge Hilda Tagle denied Washington’s request for an emergency preliminary injunction that would have forced TDCJ to fix what he says is an inoperable HVAC system in his section of administrative segregation.

“On several occasions I requested to be escorted to an air conditioned Respite Area and not one time was I afforded the opportunity,” Washington wrote Truthout. “I have a history of seizures which is worsened by the deadly extreme heat and both TDCJ and the University of Texas Medical Branch [which manages the department’s medical care] were well aware of the Risk to my health and safety by Forcing me to live in such a Super Heated environment.”

One of the department’s heat protocols involves medically examining prisoners to determine whether they have conditions or take medications that would make them particularly susceptible to heat. These “heat restrictions,” as they are called, are considered when officials make cell placement determinations. Washington alleged, however, that even though he was determined to be heat sensitive, he was not moved to another cell before a particularly extreme heat wave hit the unit on July 21 and 22 of this year.

“These people are not following their own policies. And if you speak up or challenge them in Federal Court they have a manifold of reprisals they use to shut you up and these Federal Judges continue to ignore all the Red FLAGS here inside TDCJ,” Washington wrote. “Now it’s cooling off, but next summer this HVAC system still won’t be fixed.”

Indeed, deliberate indifference to such red flags have led to deaths at Washington’s unit before. The family of Quintero Devale Jones, a former prisoner at McConnell, is pressing a wrongful death lawsuit after Jones died during a July 2015 heat wave when guards there confiscated his asthma inhaler and then ignored his cries for help. Jones was not the first heat death at McConnell though: At least three other prisoners died of heat stroke there, one in 2004 and two in 2011.

“We heard a lot about the difference between policy and practice during an interim hearing this summer and that’s exactly what we see with the heat policy,” said Jennifer Erschabek, executive director of the Texas Inmate Families Association. “They put out a good heat policy, and instruct their wardens and their officers to follow this, but sometimes, as it filters down through the ranks, it doesn’t always happen.” Threats and retaliation, she says, are a pervasive part of the prison system, and aren’t exclusive to requests for respite or cool-down showers.

In a statement to Truthout, TDCJ spokesperson Jeremy Desel reiterated what the department’s heat mitigation measures are, saying prisoners, including those in ad-seg, may request access to respite areas and cool-down showers at any time, even if they are not feeling ill.

Further, he countered the idea that medical screenings aren’t being taken seriously, telling Truthout that all TDCJ prisoners “have now been screened for their heat risk by medical professionals,” and that prisoners at the highest risk levels have been moved to air-conditioned units.

However, prisoners’ accounts of being denied respite persist in the face of these claims. And Lance Lowry, a corrections staffer who formerly headed the union that represents TDCJ guards, told Truthout that under the current system, in which ad-seg prisoners must be personally escorted to respite by guards, it is likely that some of those prisoners’ requests for respite will indeed be disregarded.

“If you have an entire administrative segregation block decide that they need some cold air all at one time, of course their outcries are going to be ignored,” Lowry said. “[TDCJ is] playing more of a PR stunt than anything else.”

He told Truthout he has witnessed prison guards, who wear heavy Kevlar vests while on duty, succumb to the heat inside cellblocks that he described as “hot boxes.” Further, he says, the use of large, industrial box fans isn’t effective in extreme temperatures. “These giants box fans are kind of like [the department’s] PR campaign: They’re just blowing hot air.”

Keith Cole, one of the lead plaintiffs in the class-action Pack lawsuit, put Lowry’s security concerns a different way when he spoke to Truthout last year, saying that, “If offenders started using respite on a large scale, let’s say … 20 percent of the inmates wanted to go to respite, that would pretty much shut down the day-to-day operations of this unit.” He went on to detail how, as a result, prison officials “find low-visibility ways to discourage offenders from using respite,” including performing rectal internal core temperature checks on prisoners who ask to go to respite.

In fact, the uneven implementation of heat mitigation measures has become so well known to attorneys with the National Lawyers Guild’s Prisoners’ Legal Advocacy Network that the organization plans to address the issue directly in a legal questionnaire they will send to about 100 state prisoners in the coming weeks. In fact, says PLAN Supervising Attorney Stanley Holdorf, in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey last year, the organization “was contacted by dozens of prisoners who independently reported the failure of TDCJ to implement its newly announced heat mitigation measures.”

Moreover, he told Truthout, the organization “has received credible reports and affidavits signed under penalty of perjury that TDCJ is not implementing this policy. Prisoners report losing consciousness and experiencing physical symptoms consistent with heat stroke on dates when they have been deprived cooling showers.”

Yet, in spite of 17 other lawsuits that have hit the department over the heat issue, TDCJ officials insist that the expenses associated with such an effort are too burdensome and that their heat mitigation efforts are sufficient.

While arguing against Wallace Pack prisoners’ federal lawsuit last year, the department obtained an expert who told the court that the cost of providing air-conditioning there would come to more than $20 million. During an August interim hearing at the Texas Capitol last summer, however, TDCJ Executive Director Bryan Collier revised the estimated cost to install permanent air-conditioning at the Wallace Pack Unit to about $4 million. The department spent nearly $7 million fighting the prisoners’ lawsuit.

Lowry says that what the department needs to do is simple. “Just ask the Legislature to allocate so much money every session to keep upgrading their facilities,” he said. “If [the department] would have taken the initiative back in 2012, 2013 and air-conditioned several facilities at a time every session, their name wouldn’t have been drug through the mud. It wasn’t that hard.”

During the committee hearing, Collier indicated that the department has asked the Legislature for $2 million to install air-conditioning at the Hodge Unit in East Texas that incarcerates developmentally disabled prisoners. For human rights advocates, though, the request is not nearly enough.

Meanwhile, as prisoners across Texas wait for the next legislative session to begin in January, they’ll have a new worry as fall fades to winter: broken or inadequate heating.

The post Officials Literally “Blow Hot Air” to Mitigate Heat in Texas Prisons appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Jury Finds Chicago Cop Guilty of Second-Degree Murder in Shooting of Black Teen

Truth Out - Sat, 10/06/2018 - 16:07

Activists and residents of Chicago chanted “Justice for Laquan” after a jury on Friday found a white police officer, Jason Van Dyke, guilty of second-degree murder for fatally shooting 17-year-old African-American Laquan McDonald 16 times on the evening of Oct. 20, 2014.

The Cook County jury also found Van Dyke guilty of all 16 counts of aggravated battery while finding him not guilty of official misconduct. Each aggravated battery count carries a sentence of six to 30 years, which he may be required to serve consecutively. As Van Dyke awaits sentencing, the jury’s decision was praised by local activists working to eradicate police brutality.

“It feels like a victory for Black Chicago,” community organizer Jedidiah Brown told reporters at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse shortly after the verdicts were read, according to the Chicago Tribune.

“This is the best moment as a Chicagoan that I’ve ever experienced in my life. This is my best experience as a Black man, as a Chicagoan, as an Illinoisan, and as a man in the United States of America. We never get justice,” Brown continued. “Today we got justice… Today, it looks like a new day in America.”

Too often, police officers have been acquitted for their role in the deaths of Black Americans. This has been especially true in Chicago, where officer Van Dyke was the first officer to face murder charges in more than 30 years, despite CPD’s [Chicago Police Department] long record of abuse and misconduct,” noted Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel at the NAACP.

“We hope that this verdict sends a clear message that police officers can no longer act with impunity against Black Americans,” Ifill said, “and that this new era of accountability inspires systematic police reform not only in Chicago, but throughout the United States.”

Micah Uetricht, managing editor of Jacobin Magazine, observed on Twitter, “Jason Van Dyke being found guilty of second-degree murder feels like a watershed moment in American history.”

Kristina Roth of Amnesty International declared in a statement, “This case underscores the desperate need for more stringent laws on use of lethal force.”

“Families and communities should not have to fear those that are sworn to protect them,” Roth added. “All states, including Illinois, must urgently bring laws and policies into compliance with international standards. It is long past time to hold police accountable for the use of lethal force.”

Noting that McDonald “was raised on streets covered in the blood of the generations before him who’ve been bludgeoned by economic, social, and racial injustice,” Chicago Teachers Union president Jesse Sharkey, in a statement, called his murder “one of the most shocking instances of brutality in the history of our city.”

“He deserved justice, and today’s verdict shows that the jury recognized his humanity and the tragedy that befell him,” Sharkey added. “Our city, however, is still suffering, and reeling from the tenure of a mayor who systematically closed schools, used public dollars to pay police settlements, and ultimately covered up Laquan’s murder for political and capital interests.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Police Department have been widely lambasted for their handling of the case. Local anti-violence activists have demanded the resignations of Emanuel and Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson.

Before the verdict was announced on Friday, some 4,000 extra police officers were scattered throughout the city in anticipation of demonstrations. The guilty verdicts were welcomed by activists and community members who gathered in the streets.

As the Chicago Sun-Times reports:

About 200 people crammed onto the sidewalk on the west side of City Hall, huddling around cell phones to listen as the verdict in the trial of Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke trial was announced.

Cries of elation and relief echoed down La Salle Street, followed soon by tears of joy.

Speaking to the assembled group on a megaphone, Frank Chapman, of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, said the groups who’d protested and rallied for change since the Laquan McDonald video was released still have work to do.

But for now, Chapman said, “We got something to celebrate.”

“This is the beginning, the beginning of changing that we’ve been needing in this city for a long, long time,” Chapman said.

Dash-cam footage of the murder that was described as “graphic,” “violent,” and “chilling,” was released in 2015, and was followed by a federal inquiry in the city’s broader policing practices. The video fueled public outrage and demands for justice.

The post Jury Finds Chicago Cop Guilty of Second-Degree Murder in Shooting of Black Teen appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Want to Help After a Disaster? Consider Waiting a Bit

Truth Out - Sat, 10/06/2018 - 15:46

What’s the best way to help disaster victims?

We agree with other disaster experts that cash is more helpful than mounds of clothing, diapers and other goods. Giving money limits waste and makes it easier to address local needs, among other reasons.

In addition, supporting recovery efforts tied to disasters that occurred a year ago or waiting to give can be the best way to go. Our independent research across several states and disasters, including Hurricane Harvey and the 9/11 terrorist attacks, indicates that needs are often as big or even greater long after a disaster than in its immediate aftermath.

What Aid Covers

Disasters engender large amounts of philanthropic support, partially due to media coverage. Yet most of this aid is given quickly and addresses immediate needs, as opposed to longer-term recovery and reconstruction efforts.

Governmental and nongovernmental aid alike often cover relief efforts – that is, the shelter, food and health care needs of victims right after disasters. This initial funding may also pay the tab for repairing damaged infrastructure, like roads and utilities, which will meet some medium and long-term priorities.

However, people whose homes are destroyed or badly damaged by disasters as a result of disasters often contend with red tape and inadequate funding and can remain displaced long after major disasters.

The reasons for this problem are clear.

Affordable housing, whether rented or owned, is scarce and underfunded across the nation. Flood insurance only covers a small minority of homeowners. In most cases, homeowners and rental insurance policies do not go far enough to address all post-disaster needs. And the federal government provides little help for people to repair housing following emergencies.

Consider the situation in La Grange, Texas, a town of fewer than 5,000 people. While there is no full count of exactly how many local residents still lack housing, about 25 families are still living there in trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency more than a year after Hurricane Harvey destroyed their homes. Many others in that community remain in hotels or are staying with friends and relatives.

The local long-term recovery organizations that help households in places like La Grange rebuild with donated supplies and volunteer labor must keep recruiting volunteers and seeking funds for years after disasters.

Mobile homes in La Grange, Texas, after Hurricane Harvey. Michelle Annette Meyer, CC BY-NC-SA Setting Priorities

Disasters also expose many inequities. Those who remain in need for years to come were likely to have been facing economic hardship beforehand. That was the case in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and New York City following Superstorm Sandy.

Despite the inevitable long-term needs, even foundations – organizations that aspire to make their giving strategic – too often focus on short-term disaster relief.

The largest 1,000 foundations together gave only 5 percent of their overall disaster-related funding specifically to reconstruction and recovery, about US$7 million, in 2015, according to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, a nonprofit that tracks this data.

After disasters, nonprofits and donors alike should begin to think about the affected communities’ long-term needs. It is hard to reserve funds for later use in the midst of a crisis, but some nonprofits have done that.

For instance, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the New York Community Trust and the United Way of New York City formed the September 11th Fund to support the victims of the attacks. Its leaders knew that needs would be greater in the second and third years after the attacks, so they set money aside to disburse later.

What Can You Do?

Donors can give to nonprofits immediately after disasters that are bound to be involved in recovery efforts in the long run, such as community foundations and the local chapters of large national nonprofits.

Giving not just in the wake of disasters but also on the anniversaries of prior ones can make a big difference. At that point, the media will be reporting on how much progress has been made, as happened on the first anniversary of Hurricane Maria.

And by then you can vet the efforts of different charities by consulting their annual reports to see what they have accomplished so far. Many local long-term recovery organizations will share or post their financial information online, such as the Bastrop County Long Term Recovery Team, which rebuilt homes for underinsured survivors of Texas wildfires and floods.

Donating long after disasters addresses major unmet needs. It also gives you the chance to get more reliable information about how your gift will be used.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The post Want to Help After a Disaster? Consider Waiting a Bit appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

In the Race to End Hunger and Mitigate Climate Change, We Must Look to the Soil

Truth Out - Sat, 10/06/2018 - 14:27

Recently, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO) Director-General José Graziano da Silva urged countries, scientists, policymakers and stakeholders invested in building an equitable, sustainable, and thriving planet to pay attention to the soil. He further noted that the future of the planet depends on how healthy the soils of today are.

I agree. In the race to beat food insecurity, achieve zero hunger, and address climate change, we must pay attention to the soil. The importance of soil cannot be overstated. Healthy soils underpin agriculture and sustainable food systems.

But there is more to healthy soils. They can deliver many other benefits.

First, healthy soils can help address and mitigate climate change through storing soil carbon. Research studies have shown that healthy soils hold more carbon and these reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50-80 percent.

At the same time, research studies and reports have shown that soils that are rich in organic carbon can deliver many benefits, including increasing crop yields, soil water holding capacity and storage. Plants can use stored water in periods when water is scarce.

Secondly, healthy soils make it possible for the inhabitants of the soils —soil microorganisms — to continue playing their roles. Unseen to the naked eye, tiny soil microorganisms that include bacteria and fungi are hard at work, helping plants to grow better while keeping our soils healthy, which ultimately allows farmers to grow food amidst a changing climate.

Further, these microorganisms deliver other benefits including helping plants to tolerate climate change induced extremities including drought. These microbes can also help plants to fend off and suppress insect pests, including invasive pests and other that have become a force to reckon with in the developing countries. Thriving and functioning soil microbes can be key to revolutionising agriculture.

Thirdly, taking care of the soil and keeping them healthy, ensures that farmers around the word build resilient ecosystems that can bounce back from extremities that come along with a changing climate.

However, even with all these benefits that come along when soils healthy, around the world, a third of our soils are degraded.

In 2015, the UN launched the International Year of Soils and highlighted the extent with which soils were degraded worldwide. Since then, countries, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and many other stakeholders have stepped up to the challenge. They are paying attention to soils.

Ethiopia launched a countrywide initiative to map the health and status of Ethiopian soils which has allowed farmers to reap the many benefits that can come when soils are healthy including increased crop yields. Because of paying attention to soil health, Ethiopia is slowly transforming agriculture, and paving way for its citizens to become food secure.

In addition, in early June, the FAO together with the Global Soil Partnership launched the Afrisoils programme, with a goal to reduce soil degradation by 25 percent in the coming decade in 47 African countries.

Moreover, because soil health is not only an African problem, developed countries are stepping up.

In the United States, the Soil Health Institute continues to coordinate and support soil stewardship and the advancement of soil health. The US Department of Agriculture offers tips, guidelines and many resources that can be useful to stakeholders and governments and farmers that want to help restore the health of their soils. Advocacy groups like Soil4Climate continue to advocate for soil restoration as a climate solution.

This must continue.

But, as Africa and the many stakeholders look to the future and pay attention to soils, what are some of the areas and innovations surrounding soils that are likely going to pay off?

Innovations surrounding beneficial soil microbes. When beneficial soil microbes are happy, healthy, and plentiful in the soils, the nutrients are available to roots, plants grow big, insects are repelled and farmers ultimately reap the benefits—a plentiful harvest.

We must ensure that products and solutions that spin off from beneficial soils microbes are affordable, especially so to the over 500 million smallholder farmers, who live on less than a dollar a day.

Innovations surrounding soil heath diagnostic kits that help farmers to rapidly and precisely determine the health of the soils will be a win-win for all.

As shown in Ethiopia, where knowing the status of the heath of the soils has resulted into the doubling of farmer’s productivity and improving soil health these innovations can be a game changer in the race to beat food insecurity across Africa.

Translating innovations into products and solutions requires funding. Luckily, innovators, researchers, NGO’s and for profit companies thinking of making this happen can apply for funding through FoodShot Global’s Innovating Soil 3.0 challenge.

This unique investment platform catalysing groundbreaking innovation to cultivate a healthy, sustainable and equitable food system will be offering a combination of equity and debt funding to innovative businesses and a groundbreaker prize of more than $500,000 to researchers, social entrepreneurs and advocates taking bold “moonshots for better food.”

These cash prizes will allow winners to translate bold ideas that utilize the latest in technology, science and engineering into solutions that address the soil health crisis.

To reap the many benefits that come along with healthy soils, the right interventions and innovations to improve soil health must be funded, rolled out and scaled up. Healthy soils are the foundational base that will enable countries to achieve the UN sustainable development goals. In the race to achieve these goals, we must pay attention to the soil. Time is ripe.

The post In the Race to End Hunger and Mitigate Climate Change, We Must Look to the Soil appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Election Landslide Raises Hopes for Mexican Labor

Truth Out - Sat, 10/06/2018 - 14:23
This article was originally published at Labor Notes.

The landslide victory of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (“AMLO”) in the Mexican presidential election in July has raised workers’ hopes for a revitalized and democratized labor movement.

Independent unions have formed a new federation. They hope to win progressive labor law reform and finally end the reign of corrupt, pro-employer unions.

The coalition led by AMLO’s National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) won not only the presidency but also the majority in both houses of the Mexican congress. Till now, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) had dominated Mexican politics for decades.

The pro-employer unions that make up Mexico’s main labor federation, the Congress of Labor (CT), especially the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM), have historically been part of the PRI’s popular base. Top union leaders were nominated as the party’s senators and congresspersons.

“Protection Unions”

The CT unions are the largest in Mexico, representing around 10 percent of the formal workforce, though they have been in decline in recent years. These unions were enthusiastic cooperators in the low-wage neoliberal economic strategy adopted by the Mexican political and economic elite in the 1990s— including signing on to NAFTA. Their plan was to grow the Mexican economy by attracting US and Canadian investors with cheap labor.

The CT unions have supported the government’s low-wage development strategy by signing sweetheart “protection contracts” with employers before any workers are hired. They use their relationships with employers and with the Mexican federal and state governments to prevent any real negotiations or strikes.

The absence of authentic worker representation in most sectors has kept Mexican workers’ wages low and even declining in real terms over the past decade. Meanwhile CT union leaders have grown incredibly wealthy through their corrupt alliances with employers and government.

Other practitioners of protection unionism are the “gangster unions” of the industrial belt surrounding Mexico City and the employer-controlled “white unions” of Monterrey, a center of industrial growth.

Underdog Unions

In 1997, several unions broke with this trend and established a federation of independent and democratic unions, the National Union of Workers (UNT). Among them were the unions of telephone workers, social security workers, university workers, and Volkswagen workers.

The UNT has supported labor law reform, pushing for secret-ballot union representation elections, a public registry of union contracts, and workers’ right to vote on strikes and contract ratifications.

However, the UNT has remained a loose grouping unable to seriously challenge the domination of the corrupt CT unions.

Other unions broke with the CT but remained independent, notably the National Mineworkers and Metalworkers Union (Los Mineros). After a mining disaster in 2006 cost the lives of 65 miners, the union waged a bitter campaign against Mexico’s most powerful mining and rail conglomerate, Grupo México.

The company and the government then brought false charges of corruption against the union’s leader, Napoleon Gómez Urrutia, leading to his 12-year exile in Canada. There he was supported by the United Steelworkers, with whom Los Mineros have an affiliation agreement.

Now Gómez Urrutia has been elected senator on MORENA’s ticket and has returned to Mexico to take his seat—giving the independent labor movement a powerful voice in the Senate.

Disastrous Policies

The neoliberal economic model enshrined in NAFTA has been a disaster for the Mexican people. The rural economy collapsed, forcing millions to emigrate to the cities, the northern border, or the US.

Wages declined in both domestic industries and maquiladora (export) factories. Corruption and violence grew to unprecedented levels.

Little wonder then that the Mexican people defied the political establishment and media to vote for AMLO and MORENA, who have promised to end corruption and violence and to institute a transformation that puts poor and working people first.

As his Secretary of Labor, AMLO has appointed Luisa María Alcalde, a 31-year-old former federal legislator with close ties to the independent labor movement.

Alcalde has pledged to increase the minimum wage (currently $4.57 a day) and to work to pass labor legislation to outlaw protection contracts and implement much of the independent labor movement’s agenda.

In 2017, Mexico passed a reform of the labor provisions of the Mexican Constitution, under pressure from the Obama administration. The motive was to comply with International Labor Organization rulings against protection unionism in order to gain entry to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The reform calls for the elimination of the corrupt tripartite labor boards now dominated by the CT unions and employers, and for the establishment of independent labor boards as part of the judiciary.

However, the secondary legislation necessary to implement these reforms has yet to be passed.

An Independent Federation

In July the three most important independent Mexican auto unions—at Volkswagen and Audi in Puebla, and Nissan in Morelos—announced they were joining with independent unions in auto parts, rubber, and aerospace to form a new industrial federation.

The Volkswagen, Audi, and Nissan unions are single-factory unions, each with several thousand members. The new federation aims to influence labor law reform and to bolster the growth of independent and democratic unions in the auto industry.

This is an important development. Auto, auto parts, tires, and aerospace together make up one of the biggest and most advanced industrial sectors of the Mexican economy. There are around 85,000 workers in the country’s auto assembly plants and as many as 850,000 in parts and component suppliers.

The newly formed Independent Union of Goodyear Workers (SINTG) is a part of the new federation. Workers struck for a day at Goodyear’s six-month-old factory in San Luis Potosí in April to protest poor wages, benefits, and working conditions negotiated behind their backs in a protection contract signed in 2015, two years before the factory opened.

“We’ve never seen these so-called [union] representatives,” operator Francisco Javier Cuestas told global union federation IndustriALL. “They don’t know the first thing about us. Because we have nobody to speak for us, the company gets away with paying very low wages—less than a dollar and a half per hour—for what is very dangerous and difficult work.”

In July Goodyear fired 50 workers, allegedly in retaliation for forming an independent union.

Many of the unions in the new federation have gone through similar struggles. The federation is organizing solidarity support for the Goodyear workers for what is likely to be a long fight.

Fighting Hard

The role of the Volkswagen workers union (SITIAVW) in the new federation is important, given the union’s militant history and the fact that the Puebla plant is the largest manufacturing complex in Mexico.

Originally VW workers were forced to join a protection union established before the plant opened its doors. But they fought for decades against the corrupt CTM, and ultimately established their independence. The union requires secret-ballot votes for leadership, strike authorization, and contract ratification. It has waged militant strikes and negotiated the best wages and benefits in Mexico’s manufacturing sector.

Also important are Los Mineros, whose jurisdiction includes aerospace and auto parts. The union has aided efforts to form independent unions at auto parts manufacturers like Johnson Controls and PKC, and has won representation at a Bombardier subway car plant in Hidalgo.

One of the weaknesses of Mexico’s independent labor movement is that many of the unions are confined to single employers or single factories. In this new federation, the unions are joining together to influence national politics and to confront the auto industry, including its parts and component suppliers, with a united voice and the power of thousands of workers.

New book from Labor Notes: Secrets of a Successful Organizer is a step-by-step guide to building power on the job. “Full of so many creative examples and powerful rank-and-file stories, it makes you want to dive right in.” Buy one today, only $15.

The post Election Landslide Raises Hopes for Mexican Labor appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Breaking with Wall Street: Los Angeles Puts It to the Voters

Truth Out - Sat, 10/06/2018 - 14:17

Wall Street owns the country. That was the opening line of a fiery speech by populist leader Mary Ellen Lease in 1890. Franklin Roosevelt said it again in a letter to Colonel House in 1933, and Sen. Dick Durbin was still saying it in 2009. “The banks – hard to believe in a time when we’re facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created – are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill,” Durbin said in an interview. “And they frankly own the place.”

Wall Street banks triggered a credit crisis in 2008-09 that wiped out over $19 trillion in household wealth, turned some 10 million families out of their homes, and cost almost 9 million jobs in the US alone; yet the banks were bailed out without penalty, while defrauded homebuyers were left without recourse or compensation. The banks made a killing on interest rate swaps with cities and states across the country, after a compliant and accommodating Federal Reserve dropped interest rates nearly to zero. Attempts to renegotiate these deals have failed.

In Los Angeles, the City Council was forced to reduce the city’s budget by 19 percent following the banking crisis, slashing essential services, while Wall Street has not budged on the $4.9 million it claims annually from the city on its swaps. Wall Street banks are now collecting more from Los Angeles just in fees than it has available to fix its ailing roads.

Local governments have been in bondage to Wall Street ever since the 19th century, despite multiple efforts to rein them in. Regulation has not worked. To break free, we need to divest our public funds from these banks and move them into our own publicly-owned banks.

Los Angeles Asks the Voters

Some cities and states have already moved forward with feasibility studies and business plans for forming their own banks. But the city of Los Angeles faces a barrier to entry that other cities don’t have. In 1913, the same year the Federal Reserve was formed to backstop the private banking industry, the city amended its charter to state that it had all the powers of a municipal corporation, “with the provision added that the city shall not engage in any purely commercial or industrial enterprise not now engaged in, except on the approval of the majority of electors voting thereon at an election.”

Under this provision, voter approval would apparently not be necessary for a city-owned bank that limited itself to taking the city’s deposits and refinancing municipal bonds as they came due, since that sort of bank would not be a “purely commercial or industrial enterprise” but would simply be a public utility that made more efficient use of public funds. But voter approval would evidently be required to allow the city to explore how public banks can benefit local economic development, rather than just finance public projects.

The L.A. City Council could have relied on this 1913 charter amendment to say “no” to the dynamic local movement led by millennial activists to divest from Wall Street and create a city-owned bank. But the City Council chose instead to jump that hurdle by putting the matter to the voters. In July 2018, it put Charter Amendment B on the November ballot. A “yes” vote will allow the creation of a city-owned bank that can partner with local banks to provide low-cost credit for the community, following the steller precedent of the century-old Bank of North Dakota, currently the nation’s only state-owned bank. By cutting out Wall Street middlemen, the Bank of North Dakota has been able to make below-market credit available to local businesses, farmers, and students while still being more profitable than some of Wall Street’s largest banks. Following that model would have substantial upside for both the small business and the local banking communities in Los Angeles.

Rebutting the Opposition

On September 20th, the Los Angeles Times editorial board threw cold water on this effort, calling the amendment “half-baked” and “ill-conceived” and recommending a “no” vote. It is contended here that not only was the measure well conceived but that L.A. City Council President Herb Wesson has shown visionary leadership in recognizing its revolutionary potential. He sees the need to declare our independence from Wall Street. He has said that the country looks to California to lead, and that Los Angeles needs to lead California. The people deserve it, and the millennials whose future is in the balance have demanded it. The City Council recognizes that it’s going to be an uphill battle. Charter Amendment B just asks the voters, “Do you want us to proceed?” It is just an invitation to begin a dialogue, one on creating a new kind of bank geared to serving the people rather than Wall Street.

Amendment B does not give the City Council a blank check to create whatever bank it likes. It just jumps the first of many legal hurdles to obtaining a bank charter. The California Department of Business Oversight (DBO) will have the last word, and it grants bank charters only to applicants that are properly capitalized, collateralized, and protected against risk. Public banking experts have talked to the DBO at length and understand these requirements; and a detailed summary of a model business plan has been prepared, to be posted shortly.

The Times editorial board erroneously compares the failed Los Angeles Community Development Bank, which was founded in 1992 and was insolvent a decade later. That institution was not a true bank and did not have to meet the DBO’s stringent requirements for a bank charter. It was an unregulated, non-depository, nonprofit loan and equity fund, capitalized with funds that were basically a handout from the federal government to pacify the restless inner city after riots broke out in 1992; and its creation was actually supported by the L.A. Times.

The Times also erroneously cites a 2011 report by the Boston Federal Reserve, contending that a Massachusetts state-owned bank would require $3.6 billion in capitalization. That prohibitive sum is regularly cited by critics bent on shutting down the debate, without looking at the very questionable way in which it was derived. The Boston authors began with the $2 million used in 1919 to capitalize the Bank of North Dakota; multiplied that number up for inflation; multiplied it up again for the increase in GDP over a century; and multiplied it up again for the larger population of Massachusetts. This dubious triple-counting is cited as serious research, although economic growth and population size have nothing to do with how capital requirements are determined.

Bank capital is simply the money that is invested in a bank to leverage loans. The capital needed is based on the size of the loan portfolio. At a 10 percent capital requirement, $100 million is sufficient to capitalize $1 billion in loans, which would be plenty for a startup bank designed to prove the model. That sum is already more than three times the loan portfolio of the California Infrastructure and Development Bank, which makes below-market loans on behalf of the State. As profits increase the bank’s capital, more loans can be added. Bank capitalization is not an expenditure but an investment, which can come from existing pools of unused funds or from a bond issue to be repaid from the bank’s own profits.

Deposits will be needed to balance a $1 billion loan portfolio, but Los Angeles easily has them – now sitting in Wall Street banks having no fiduciary obligation to reinvest them in Los Angeles. The city’s latest Comprehensive Annual Financial Report shows a Government Net Position of over $8 billion in Cash and Investments (liquid assets), plus proprietary, fiduciary and other liquid funds. According to a 2014 study published by the Fix LA Coalition:

Together, the City of Los Angeles, its airport, seaport, utilities and pension funds control $106 billion that flows through financial institutions in the form of assets, payments and debt issuance. Wall Street profits from each of these flows of money not only through the multiple fees it charges, but also by lending or leveraging the city’s deposited funds and by structuring deals in unnecessarily complex ways that generate significant commissions.

Despite having slashed spending in the wake of revenue losses from the Wall Street-engineered financial crisis, Los Angeles is still being crushed by Wall Street financial fees, to the tune of nearly $300 million just in 2014. The savings in fees alone from cutting out Wall Street middlemen could thus be considerable, and substantially more could be saved in interest payments. These savings could then be applied to other city needs, including for affordable housing, transportation, schools, and other infrastructure.

In 2017, Los Angeles paid $1.1 billion in interest to bondholders, constituting the wealthiest 5% of the population. Refinancing that debt at just 1% below its current rate could save up to 25% on the cost of infrastructure, half the cost of which is typically financing. Consider, for example, Proposition 68, a water bond passed by California voters last summer. Although it was billed as a $4 billion bond, the total outlay over 40 years at 4 percent will actually be $8 billion. Refinancing the bond at 3 percent (the below-market rate charged by the California Infrastructure and Development Bank) would save taxpayers nearly $2 billion on the overall cost of the bond.

Finding the Political Will

The numbers are there to support the case for a city-owned bank, but a critical ingredient in effecting revolutionary change is finding the political will. Being first in any innovation is always the hardest. Reasons can easily be found for saying “no.” What is visionary and revolutionary is to say, “Yes, we can do this.”

As California goes, so goes the nation, and legislators around the country are watching to see how it goes in Los Angeles. Rather than criticism, Council President Wesson deserves high praise, for stepping forth in the face of predictable pushback and daunting legal hurdles to lead the country in breaking free from our centuries-old subjugation to Wall Street exploitation.

The post Breaking with Wall Street: Los Angeles Puts It to the Voters appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Waiting for Iceland’s Brave Stance Against Neoliberalism, 10 Years Later

Truth Out - Sat, 10/06/2018 - 13:50

Iceland is supposed to be the one that got it right. When the global financial crisis battered the country last decade, it was reported that Icelanders reacted by successfully challenging neoliberal convention.

“When everyone else bailed out the bankers and made the public pay the price, Iceland let the banks go bust and actually expanded its social safety net,” Paul Krugman wrote for The New York Times in 2011. Vox’s Matt Yglesias offered similar commentary in 2015. “Instead of embracing the orthodoxy of bank bailouts, austerity, and low inflation,” he wrote, “Iceland did just the opposite.”

Admittedly, the narrative of Iceland as a brave, iconoclastic nation is compelling, and it has kernels of truth. Thousands of Icelanders took to the streets immediately after the crash, eventually forcing their right-wing government to resign. Icelandic officials also managed to punish malfeasant bankers, giving 36 of them a total of 96 years in prison for collapse-related misdeeds. But this is where the boldness begins and ends.

The left-wing coalition that came to power after the protest movement ended up governing as a dutiful technocracy. It slashed social spending to mollify international creditors and the International Monetary Fund, while sheepishly claiming to have increased welfare expenditures as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) between 2007-2011 — a sleight of hand glossing over the sharp decrease in GDP after the crash. By the government’s own measure, calculated in absolute terms, it cut welfare spending by 22 percent, even if it didn’t want to own the policy. If this isn’t austerity, nothing is.

To say that Iceland “let the banks go bust” or that it “rejected the orthodoxy of bailouts” is also a gross oversimplification. The fiscal cost of saving the country’s banks, including its Central Bank, has been estimated to be equal to 36 percent of GDP. And while the government nationalized the country’s main three commercial banks’ domestic operations amid the crisis, it sold off two of them to creditors of the failed firms within months of the crash, with a generous public subsidy, of course.

The third bank that remained nationalized, Landsbanki, served no social purpose, either. As noted in a 2012 ruling by a European trade dispute panel: “the [new] banks from their creation in October 2008 operated as commercial entities without any involvement from the State … in essence, there was business as usual from day one.”

Unsurprisingly, the number of Icelandic families dependent on loans shot up between 2008 and 2010 — by 44 percent. The metric has not declined even as the crash itself has increasingly become a distant memory, suggesting a new generation of Icelanders is growing up mired in a cycle of debt, despite the country’s supposed bravery in the face of neoliberalism. Stagflation-like conditions set the stage for this trend, with wages stagnant and price increases in the double-digits for months after the collapse.

Some of this nuance may have been lost in commentary because Iceland recovered from the 2008 crisis much more rapidly than other European countries. But even this can be attributed to factors that have nothing to do with any sort of bold plan executed by the post-crisis government. Iceland’s Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that a certain class of indexed loans had been made illegally, granting significant debt relief. The country’s longtime refusal to adopt the euro also gave the country’s export sectors a boost after the crisis, thanks to devaluation. Moreover, basic macroeconomic statistics on unemployment and GDP growth fail to adequately convey the damage done by the crisis: Between 2009-2012, Iceland lost about 2.5 percent of its population to net migration, according to government statistics.

Little changed after the collapse. In the first scheduled post-crisis election in 2013, Icelanders voted to return a right-wing coalition to power, even though it consisted of the parties most responsible for the bubble and the collapse. The right had rebranded as “populists,” making hay of the left’s deference to norms.

“Both of the [winning] parties were more outspoken towards creditors of the failed banks than the outgoing government, and their rhetoric harsher,” said an analysis published by one of the Icelandic banks after the 2013 election. The memo noted how one of the losing incumbent parties “frequently testified to the creditors’ constitutional rights.” The right, meanwhile, promised an unrealistic windfall in the form of a 20-percent write-down for all indebted homeowners. This should sound vaguely familiar to anyone who followed US and UK right-wing politics in 2016, and all the fantastic promises they yielded.

As anyone familiar with the Panama Papers might recall, this right-wing coalition didn’t finish its term in office. Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson was forced to resign in April 2016 after the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists revealed he and his wife held assets in an offshore tax haven. Rapid-response protests played a role, as they had after the 2008 collapse. But, again, the grip of conservative forces remained strong. Subsequent elections elevated Bjarni Benediktsson, the leader of the junior coalition partner in Gunnlaugsson’s government, to the senior role—despite the fact that he, too, had been caught squirreling assets abroad, as reported in The Panama Papers.

Appropriately, Benediktsson’s time as prime minister was short-lived. His coalition government also collapsed in scandal after his father asked the Interior Ministry to use its pardon power to clear the name of a convicted child abuser. But he still remains in government as finance minister, serving once again as junior partner–this time, to a Left-Green Movement that has seen its support wither after entering into a coalition with Benediktsson’s Independence Party.

Fortunately, not all is lost from the years after the crisis, when it was believed Iceland could forge a path divergent from neoliberalism. After the collapse, there emerged a movement to draft a new constitution with the help of a random cross-section of society and an elected constitutional council. Though it was abandoned by the post-crisis left-wing coalition at a crucial time, the framework still exists. It calls for new labor rights, more public involvement in natural resource ownership and vestiges of direct democracy. The draft amendments are there, published online, for anyone who wishes to attempt to implement them. (Amending the Icelandic Constitution requires parliamentary approval in two consecutive legislative sessions.) Perhaps a critical mass might form behind the initiative once again if, as feared by some, Icelandic investors repeated the mistakes of last decade by staking too much on a single industry: this time, the country’s booming tourism sector. The initial constitutional reform effort was spearheaded in the wake of 2008, after all, and garnered support from the left-wing coalition parties, even if they abandoned the movement when it mattered.

Still, the strength of political inertia in Iceland can’t be overstated, as is the case with the entrenchment of elites everywhere. For example, then-Prime Minister Geir Haarde announced 10 years ago today that the country had gone bankrupt, concluding a televised speech with the declaration, “God bless Iceland.” Panic ensued, as Icelandic commentators noted. A special parliamentary inquiry into the collapse would later recommend that Haarde and other leaders face criminal negligence charges —for failing to act for months as the banking system teetered. Ultimately, Haarde never faced any penalties. Today, he serves in one of the more important roles in the government, as the country’s Ambassador to the United States.

God bless Iceland, indeed.

The post Waiting for Iceland’s Brave Stance Against Neoliberalism, 10 Years Later appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Politics and Politicians Were BANNED in this Mexican Town in 2011. They Haven’t Had a Major Crime Since.

The Organic Prepper - Sat, 10/06/2018 - 12:07
by Daisy Luther photo credit: kinoluiggi

As violent crime overtakes Mexico, one small town seems to have things figured out. They discovered that the root of all their problems was … Read the rest

The post Politics and Politicians Were BANNED in this Mexican Town in 2011. They Haven’t Had a Major Crime Since. appeared first on The Organic Prepper.

Categories: News

Despite Trump, More Signs Coal Power’s Future Actually Looks Terrible in the US

deSmog - Sat, 10/06/2018 - 10:10
Read time: 6 minsDemolition of Richborough Power Station in the UK

In August, President Donald Trump told a rally in West Virginia: “We are back. The coal industry is back.” And to be sure, Trump keeps trying to revive the dying U.S. industry by doing things like relaxing pollution rules for coal power plants, pushing initiatives to keep failing coal plants open, and nominating a pro-coal candidate as a federal energy regulator.

Despite all that, however, the outlook for coal, especially in the U.S., is actually pretty terrible, and reminders of this just keep coming.

Tags: coal powerSunflower Electric Power CorporationTrump Administrationholcomb coal plantDepartment of Energy
Categories: News

Emergent Goods Autumn 2018 Update: Next Phases

It's Goin Down - Sat, 10/06/2018 - 07:42

The post Emergent Goods Autumn 2018 Update: Next Phases appeared first on It's Going Down.

Emergent Goods is an anti-capitalist and anti-authoritarian production and distribution project hoping to sell books, shirts, stickers, and more to build autonomous infrastructure and radical potential. See our initial announcement here and our previous major updates including our collaborations here and here.

We at Emergent Goods are taking our next steps. We have taken our fund-raiser down, because we now have enough capacity to start peddling goods and using that money for future production runs and of course to give funds to other autonomous projects. Our comrades have made a wonderful space that has enough production capacity for us to make shirts and books at. We’ve also lined up a temporary online store that will launch after our next run of production. We’re also working super rad tech-savvy folks locally to work on a more final, on point, and permanent website down the line as well as some on point social media which should actualize sometime after winter.

For questions, comments, or concerns hit us up at: emergentgoods[at]protonmail[dot]com

See you at the Seattle Anarchist Book Fair!

Categories: News

Pages