News

Dr. Robert Bullard: Houston's "Unrestrained Capitalism" Made Harvey "Catastrophe Waiting to Happen"

Truth Out - Tue, 08/29/2017 - 04:00

The death toll continues to rise as massive amounts of rain from Hurricane Harvey flood Houston and other parts of Texas and Louisiana. The Houston police and Coast Guard have rescued over 6,000 people from their homes, but many remain stranded. Meteorologists forecast another foot of rain could fall on the region in the coming days. While the National Hurricane Center is now calling Harvey the biggest rainstorm on record, scientists have been predicting for years that climate change would result in massive storms like Harvey. We speak with Dr. Robert Bullard, known as the "father of environmental justice." He is currently a distinguished professor at Texas Southern University. Dr. Bullard speaks to us from his home in Houston, which he needs to evacuate later this morning due to the rising Brazos River.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, Democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I'm Juan González. Welcome to all of our listeners and viewers around the country and around the world. The death toll is rising as massive amounts of rain from Hurricane Harvey continue to flood Houston and other parts of Texas and Louisiana. The Houston police and Coast Guard have rescued over 6,000 people from their homes, but many remain stranded. Meteorologists forecast another foot of rain could fall on the region in the coming days. Harvey, which is now a tropical storm, is heading back to the Gulf of Mexico and is expected to make landfall again on Wednesday.

AMY GOODMAN: So much rain has already fallen that the National Weather Service has had to add two new colors to its maps to indicate rainfall levels. Parts of Texas are expected to top 50 inches of rain. And the rivers keep rising. Southwest of Houston in Richmond, the Brazos River reached flood stage overnight at 45 feet, and the National Weather Service forecasts it will peak at 59 feet on Friday and remain over 50 feet through Sunday. Houston's KHOU described the epic amount of rain fall.

KHOU REPORTER: I want to show you what a meteorologist has done. There it is. The meteorologist calculates by the end of Wednesday, Harvey will have saturated all of Southeast Texas with enough water to fill all the NFL and college stadiums, all of those stadiums, more than 100 times. Think about that. More than 100 times. So so far, the meteorologist is saying 15 trillion gallons of rain has fallen on a large area and another 5 trillion or 6 trillion gallons forecast by the end of Wednesday.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The official death toll is 14, but authorities warn it could rise dramatically once the floodwaters recede. Six people from one family died after their van was swept away by floodwaters. Emergency shelters are approaching capacity.

RESIDENT: …crowded. But all they said that we are getting 800 more people. And it's like, what? Where are they going to put us all? You know, what about us from Corpus? What are we going to do? And FEMA is here right now, but the line is enormous. Yesterday we were in line for three hours and couldn't even see FEMA. So, I don't know what's going to happen. Buses just keep rolling in. And we need everybody's help.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Concern is also growing over the environmental impact of the storm. The Houston area is home to more than a dozen oil refineries. The group Air Alliance Houston is warning the shutdown of the petrochemical plants will send more than one million pounds of harmful pollution into the air. Residents of Houston's industrial communities are already reporting unbearable chemical-like smells coming from the many plants nearby. According to Bryan Parras, an activist at the environmental justice group t.e.j.a.s., "Fenceline communities can't leave or evacuate, so they are literally getting gassed by these chemicals." The communities closest to these sites in Houston are disproportionately low income and minority.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, a massive fuel storage tank at Kinder Morgan's Pasadena terminal began spilling after being toppled in the storm. The tank held 6.3 million gallons of gasoline, but it is unclear how much of that leaked. And in the city of La Porte, residents were asked to go to the nearest shelter, close doors and windows after a chemical spill was reported last night.

AMY GOODMAN: While the National Hurricane Center is now calling Harvey the biggest rainstorm on record, it has not come as a complete surprise. Scientists have been predicting for years climate change could result in massive storms like Harvey. Climate scientist Michael Mann wrote this: "Harvey was almost certainly more intense than it would have been in the absence of human-caused warming, which means stronger winds, more wind damage and a larger storm surge."

We go now to Houston to speak with Robert Bullard, known as the father of environmental justice, currently a Distinguished Professor at Texas Southern University. He's the former director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University. We are reaching Dr. Bullard from his home in Houston, which he needs to evacuate later this morning due to the rising Brazos River. Professor Bullard, thanks so much for being with us. Can you talk about the situation you are in and so many people in Houston are in right now? Describe the scene for us. And then how you relate it to your life's work, to the issue of climate change and environmental justice.

DR. ROBERT BULLARD: Well, good morning, and thanks for having me. Harvey and the aftermath, the flooding of Houston and the surrounding areas, it's of biblical proportions. This is a nightmare. And the images that you see on television and you hear the voices of people who have been just totally destroyed. And this is a situation where I think it's telling us that we have to change.

We have to change the way we do business and the way that we as humans interact with our environment.

And this is basically the situation where this storm, this flooding of this city, tells us that there is no place that is immune from devastation. I worked in New Orleans in the flooding after Katrina. New Orleans was only 500,000 people. Houston is 2.3 million people. And then you look at the surrounding areas. You're talking 5.5 or almost 6 million people. And so you talk about this devastation. It is historical proportions.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And Dr. Bullard, to what degree do you think unchecked development by Houston's officials over the past several decades has created an even worse possibility for calamity when a natural disaster like this hits?

DR. ROBERT BULLARD: Well, Houston is actually -- was a catastrophe waiting to happen, given the fact you have unrestrained capitalism, no zoning, laissez-faire regulations when it comes to control of the very industries that have created lots of problems when it comes to greenhouse gases and other industrial pollution. The impact that basically has been ignored for many years.

And so the fact that -- it is a disaster, but it is a very predictable disaster.

And those communities that historically have borne the burden of environmental pollution and contamination from these many industries at the same time are the very communities that are bearing disproportionally the burden of this flooding. So you get this pre-existing condition of inequality before the storm, and this inequality in terms of how people are able to address this disaster because of vulnerability. And I think what we have to do is, look at lessons -- well, not learn from Katrina in terms of the rebuilding, redevelopment and recovery.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: There has been quite a bit of second-guessing of Mayor Sylvester Turner's decision not to call for an evacuation of the city. I am wondering your take on that, especially given what happened with Hurricane -- was it Rita? -- a couple of years ago, when there was an evacuation effort made, but more people ended up dying -- about 100 people -- in the gridlock that occurred as people tried to leave a city as large as Houston.

DR. ROBERT BULLARD: Well, it is easy to second guess, but the fact is that trying to evacuate 2.3 million people on these highways is almost a task that is impossible. And so I don't think there was anything that you can say, "Well, why is it that the mayor and the county judge decided to go this way?" When you look at the problems of logistics and trying to move this many people on these highways getting out of the city, that probably was not a good choice to make.

So I think the decision to have people shelter in place -- and no one could predict what happened afterwards. So I think the best that we can do now, instead of pointing fingers, is pointing to solutions and pointing to ways that we can address the many problems and challenges that we face today. And having to evacuate and leave your home and go out there and not know what is ahead of you? You have your life, and I am blessed that -- when you see those images, you can see that this is pain.

And I think all governmental officials and governmental agencies and voluntary associations and civic groups and faith groups, we have to come together and make sure that we do what is right. Not what is politically expedient, but do what is right and make sure we build a just and healthy and sustainable city when we rebuild, and when we recover. It has to be just.

Categories: News

New Frontiers in Right-Wing Propaganda

Truth Out - Tue, 08/29/2017 - 04:00
Categories: News

How the Large-Scale Privatization of New Orleans' Schools Upholds Inequality

Truth Out - Tue, 08/29/2017 - 04:00

 Julie Dermansky)Cafeteria workers in New Orleans are working to organize a union in order to negotiate for better wages and working conditions with Volunteers of America, a wealthy Christian ministry contracting with local elementary schools to provide meals to students. From left to right: Damita Hall, Pamela Bourgois, Quintessa Dampeer and Debra Slaughter. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)

For the school cafeteria workers fighting for living wages and a union, the full-scale privatization of the New Orleans school system created a race to the bottom that robbed Black communities of well-paying jobs. For students and families, it created an academic race to the top that left disadvantaged students behind in a system based on markets and competition.

 Julie Dermansky)Cafeteria workers in New Orleans are working to organize a union in order to negotiate for better wages and working conditions with Volunteers of America, a wealthy Christian ministry contracting with local elementary schools to provide meals to students. From left to right: Damita Hall, Pamela Bourgois, Quintessa Dampeer and Debra Slaughter. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)

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It's the steamy first week of August in New Orleans, and a number of charter elementary schools are already welcoming students back from a brief summer vacation. I've volunteered to help make lunch. At 8 a.m. I arrive at a kitchen located in a revamped warehouse along the Mississippi River that once housed a cotton press dating back to the 19th century. I sign my name on a volunteer list, don a hair net and get to work. One of the women I'm working with adds a dash of seasoning to a mound of green beans, and we begin scooping servings into little trays already full of shepherd's pie. The meals are then trucked to school cafeterias, heated and served.

The school lunch service is called Fresh Food Factor, and pictures of children holding vegetables in a garden hang in its brightly lit office. The brochure says school administrators are under "increasing pressure" to cut costs, so the program provides a "viable alternative to the quick fix of processed foods" offered by other vendors. Some lower-income neighborhoods in New Orleans are considered food deserts due to a lack of affordable grocers, so serving healthy food in schools can provide kids with options that they may not always have at home.

Fresh Food Factor is run by the local chapter of Volunteers of America, a multimillion-dollar Christian ministry that runs halfway houses, shelters, food banks, drug treatment programs and housing projects nationwide, often with government funding. For right-wing champions of charter schools, such as Betsy DeVos, President Trump's controversial education secretary, Fresh Food Factor would be a shining example for the rest of the country: a religious group serving healthy meals at charter schools that chose to partner with a civic-minded contractor. Democrats would be happy to know that the food service helps schools comply with nutrition standards established by Michelle Obama -- standards that the Trump administration recently scaled back.

Despite its parent organization's name, most Fresh Food Factor workers are not volunteers like me. Employees who cook in the warehouse kitchen or serve students in schools receive wages that start at $9 per hour. Some work full-time, but the food service relies on part-time workers and a smattering of volunteers to fill the gaps. Besides managers and truck drivers, most employees are women of color, the workers commonly called "lunch ladies" who are inseparable from mealtime in public schools. As we wrap dozens of veggie eggrolls in sheets of shiny foil, one part-time kitchen employee tells me that she is not scheduled for enough hours to make ends meet and is looking for additional work, a common story in a local economy built on tourism and low-wage service industry jobs.

Before Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans' school cafeteria workers and janitors were represented by the same union as teachers and enjoyed the same benefits, including paid vacation and time off during the summers, according to LaTanja Silvester, president of the local Service Employees International Union (SEIU) office. After the storm devastated the city, the state took over the school board and began an unprecedented experiment in school privatization, dismantling the teachers union and firing 7,000 school employees in the process, many of them Black women. Cafeteria workers now work for competing contractors that offer varying pay scales and benefits. Sometimes, benefits like paid sick days aren't offered at all.

"Volunteers of America advocates for alleviating poverty, when in fact the jobs they are providing at the Fresh Food Factor are actually poverty-wage jobs," Silvester told Truthout, adding that SEIU is currently working with employees seeking union representation despite "pushback" from Volunteers of America.

Pamela Bourgois and Damita Hall, Fresh Food Factor employees who serve lunch at Encore Academy, a local charter elementary school, told Truthout they were regularly expected to work off the clock for no additional pay until they began organizing a union and standing up for their rights on the job. Proper safety supplies such as arm-length oven mitts are not provided, leaving some workers to choose between paying for their own safety gear or burning themselves on hot trays. Only full-time managers and lead workers are offered health care benefits, and Bourgois says she has only received one raise in three years. Spokespeople for the New Orleans chapter did not provide a response to several inquiries from Truthout.

 Julie Dermansky) Encore Academy is the charter elementary school in New Orleans where Damita Hall and Pamela Bourgois work in the cafeteria. Under the charter system, students are not assigned to a school based on where they live. Instead, parents submit applications with a list of schools ranked from their top choice on down, aware that their child may not be admitted to the school they like best. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)

New Orleans charter schools hire food service contractors like Volunteers of America with money from state and federal school lunch programs because so many students qualify for the subsidies. In 2016, Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans received 59 percent of its $32 million in revenue from state and federal grants and contracts, according to an annual report released by the group. Nationally, Volunteers of America brought in nearly $312 million in total revenue last year.

 Julie Dermanksy)New Orleans cafeteria workers meet at the local union office. Some school employees work multiple jobs to make ends meet and have children and grandchildren attending charter schools. (Photo: Julie Dermanksy)

Hall says Volunteers of America has responded to their push for union representation with SEIU by hiring a lawyer and deploying other "intimidation tactics." She received a disciplinary write-up for "petty stuff" on the first day of school this year. Still, the women see their jobs as crucial for making sure students are able to learn in class -- something that's hard to do if you're feeling hungry. After all, their own children attended public schools in New Orleans, and now their grandchildren attend charter elementary schools.

"In our position, we know that we are very instrumental in the kids' daily process ... we should be treated better than this, more fairly and justly than what we are," Bourgois says.

***

Betsy DeVos, the wealthy charter school advocate who survived a razor-thin Senate confirmation vote to become US secretary of education earlier this year, has reignited a fierce national debate over school privatization. Now, all eyes are on New Orleans, where critics say the nation's most complete charter experiment is steeped in structural racism.

After the floods of Katrina were finally cleared, a state board elected by Louisiana's white majority took over the New Orleans school system from the local board elected by the city's Black majority. In the decade since, schools have closed, consolidated and been handed over to private companies and nonprofits. Now, 92 percent of New Orleans students are enrolled in schools run by charter boards, more than any other urban district in the country.

Test scores and graduation rates have markedly improved over the past decade in one of the nation's lowest-performing districts. However, rates of student achievement had nowhere to go but up, and researchers are hesitant to give school privatization full credit for improvements in performance. They say other factors, such as strong incentives to "teach to the test," a $1,000 increase in per pupil spending relative to other districts and the fact that some lower-income students did not return after being displaced by Katrina, must be considered before New Orleans schools are held up as a model for other systems.

At the same time, a federal lawsuit and a list of civil rights complaints have been filed on behalf of immigrant students, students of color and students with disabilities who were denied access to public education because schools have discriminatory enrollment and disciplinary policies, or are simply inaccessible. Many students travel across town to attend class, and schools buy ads on billboards and buses all over the city, while neighborhood schools are often neglected or abandoned. Schools in working-class Black areas are shuttered when students fail to perform on high-stakes standardized tests, leaving empty buildings where neighborhood institutions once stood.

"You label our schools as failing, when in fact it is the system that has failed us, because we never addressed [Brown v. Board of Education], we never made education equal," says Jitu Brown, national director of Journey4Justice Alliance, a coalition of groups from Black and Brown communities impacted by charter schools, including New Orleans.

 Mike Ludwig)Fencing blocks access to John McDonogh High School in New Orleans, which has been closed since 2014. Charter schools are shuttered when students fail to perform on high-stakes standardized tests, leaving empty buildings where neighborhood institutions once stood. Many students commute across town to attend class. (Photo: Mike Ludwig)

Brown says the Supreme Court's landmark 1954 decision may have ended the "separate but equal" doctrine of school segregation, but equality has yet to be realized. After convincing two Republican senators to flip and oppose DeVos, who was only confirmed after Vice President Mike Pence cast a tie-breaking vote, Brown and other organizers realized what was missing from the progressive education movement: multiracial coalitions led by the people of color who are impacted most. Activists are currently conducting an "equity assessment" of public schools nationwide to prove just that. The assessment is part of the #WeChoose campaign, a nationwide push for racial justice and sustainable community schools that grew out of efforts to block DeVos's nomination.

"Equity is not just funding," Brown tells Truthout. "It's about expectations, it's about curriculums and how discipline is administered, and we will demonstrate through this assessment that the issue is inequity. It's not bad teachers, it's not bad students from the inner city, it's not disinterested ghetto parents."

Brown says the movement is not railing against individual charter schools, unless they have discriminatory enrollment and disciplinary policies. Some charter schools do embrace progressive policies; for example, one New Orleans elementary school is committed to enrolling a student body that reflects the neighborhood around it, a working-class area with a mix of Black, white and Latino families. However, this diversity policy does not come without controversy and has made the school highly coveted among parents jostling for enrollment spots in a system based on market competition, making it difficult to get into.

"We don't have a problem with charter schools, we have a problem with the charter movement and charter market, which is concentrated in our communities," Brown says. "If charters were so great, white folks would have them, but they don't get charters. They get magnet schools and well-funded neighborhood schools."

Before Katrina, New Orleans schools were heavily segregated by wealth and income, and a recent Tulane University study found that the demographic breakdown of the city's elementary schools has not changed. There have been some changes in high schools, with segregation increasing for low-income students but decreasing for those with special needs. In New Orleans, students are not assigned to a school based on where they live. Instead, parents submit applications with a list of schools ranked from their top choice on down, aware that their child may not be admitted to the school they like best. Black students and activists criticize some charters for enrollment schemes and zero-tolerance disciplinary policies that favor white, abled and wealthier students while keeping -- or kicking -- others out. They say the idea of "school choice" promoted by DeVos is a myth.

Researchers have found that zero-tolerance discipline disproportionately impacts students on the margins, particularly children of color and children with "non-apparent" psychiatric and intellectual disabilities. Charters in cities like New Orleans are incentivized to enroll students who will improve the school's overall performance. Lower-performing students can become targets for punishments that ultimately do not correct behavior, but "reinforce toxic interactions and reproduce cycles of perceived misbehavior," according to the Ruderman Family Foundation. As punishment escalates, students are pushed out of school, where they are more likely to fall into the juvenile legal system and the school-to-prison pipeline.

The New Orleans system is now working toward "reunification" under one local board and says it is addressing concerns about admissions, suspensions and expulsions by centralizing procedures for some schools, but emotions remain raw. In June, the NAACP held a listening session in New Orleans that became increasingly heated as Black students and parents aired their frustrations about living in the petri dish of an unprecedented charter experiment. They lamented the inconsistent stream of teachers from other parts of the country brought in by Teach for America, the organization that has long been criticized for replacing local teachers with lightly trained outsiders who are disconnected from local culture. They questioned how working parents are supposed to stay involved in education when the schools their kids are admitted to are miles from home.

In an especially powerful moment, a group of young students took the microphone despite protests from moderators, declaring themselves experts in the subject of charter schools because they attend them day in and day out. "You don't attend the school, you're not there every day," one student said. "The Teach for America teachers don't care about us, charter schools don't care about us, and our futures are at stake."

The students were members of Rethink, a local group that empowers young people to have a voice in changing schools and other institutions. Rethink member Big Sister Love Rush, who recently graduated from a New Orleans high school at the top of her class, got involved after learning that her alma mater would be shutting down this year. After attending public meetings on charter controversies, Love Rush penned a blog post explaining how pro-charter forces take education "out of the hands of parents, like my mother" and give power to outsiders who "act like [students] have no expertise":

Through all these meetings I keep thinking, who is profiting? Who wins when my school is closed? Who succeeds when conversations about education don't include and aren't centered around students, families and teachers? Who benefits when groups are examining the damage of privatized schools on students without any plan on how to stop that damage? Who is aided when discussions become pep rallies? Who makes the money when schools become sites to make a profit?

The disconnect between students and school administrators can be traced back to the firing of 7,000 school employees after Katrina, a move that ripped members of the local community out of their educational institutions at a time when thousands of families had been displaced by a natural disaster. LaTanja Silvester at SEIU says that many food service workers and janitors eventually returned to their jobs, but wages and benefits now vary widely depending on where they work. Many teachers, however, were replaced by a younger, whiter set brought in from out of town through programs such as Teach for America.

Of the roughly 4,300 teachers dismissed after Katrina, 78 percent were woman and 71 percent were Black, according to the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans at Tulane University. About half of this workforce returned to education in the years following the storm, with 37 percent finding jobs in New Orleans and 18 percent working in surrounding areas. These numbers had dropped dramatically by 2013, when only 22 percent of pre-Katrina teachers were still employed in the city's public schools.

"It's the colonizing of our communities, where we have people running the quality-of-life institutions in our communities through the way they see us, through their lens," Brown says.

 Julie Dermansky)After Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005, the state dismissed thousands of New Orleans school employees and consolidated schools as it launched an unprecedented experiment in privatization. This school in New Orleans' Mid-City neighborhood has sat empty since the storm. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)

New Orleans is at the forefront of a troubling national trend. Brown points to the Albert Shanker Institute, which recently studied nine cities with charter schools in their systems and found that the share of Black teachers in the workforce had declined in every single one over the past decade. Rates varied widely, with Boston and Cleveland losing 1 percent of their Black teachers, while New Orleans and Washington, DC, lost 24 and 28 percent, respectively. Losses in the total numbers of Black teachers in the population were even greater, ranging from 15 percent in New York City to an alarming 62 percent in New Orleans. Seniority-based layoffs had little to do with these declines. Nationally, minority teachers are hired at higher rates than others, but they exit the profession at much higher rates as well.

"The lesson that is being taught all over the United States is that we are not fit to lead, and that is a result of policy," Brown says.

Black and Brown teachers are more motivated to work with disadvantaged students and hold higher academic expectations for them, which results in better grades and social growth among students, according to the Albert Shanker Institute's study. Students benefit from teachers of their own race or ethnicity, who can serve as role models and share knowledge about their heritage and culture, the study says.

Love Rush adds that the curriculum itself should also reflect the schools' populations. She writes that many students want curriculums that "represent us and people like us," and "that teaches us our true history and the role that it plays in our current lives." Rethink youth activists are currently campaigning to lower the voting age in New Orleans to 14 so students can have a voice in shaping local politics and the schools they attend.

"We can and will do it," Love Rush writes. "We will take our education in our own hands because we are the experts of our experience."

***

The mass teacher dismissal in New Orleans was reflective of a trend that reached far beyond the classroom. Thousands of jobs that supported Black middle-class people vanished at a time when residents were recovering from an unprecedented natural disaster. Some displaced families have still not returned to the city. In the years since, property values in New Orleans have skyrocketed and working-class neighborhoods have become hipster hotspots, putting increasing pressure on lower-income renters in a gentrifying city.

Brown says the gutting of the Black middle class -- and the deliberate minimizing of its political power -- is not germane to New Orleans, and many of the same cities that have seen a decline in Black teachers have also seen declines in the general Black population. When authorities divest from Black neighborhoods by shutting down their schools and busing children somewhere else, it could be a sign that property in the area may soon become a hot commodity. At a time when the nation is facing a resurgence of overt white supremacy, Brown points out the importance of simultaneously confronting more subtle manifestations of white supremacy.

"I'm a lot more concerned about the white supremacists that are sabotaging our children's education, that's white supremacy too," Brown says. "I'm concerned about the white supremacists that are sabotaging our housing so that we can't live in our neighborhoods, that's white supremacy too."

Back at the Fresh Food Factor kitchen, Volunteers of America's local "neighborhood development" corporation has established another project in a historic building adjacent to the warehouse where school lunches are prepared: 52 furnished loft apartments complete with a rooftop patio offering a view of the Mississippi River. With help from state and federal tax credits and community block grants, Volunteers of America built these lofts to serve "working households" by creating housing in "emerging neighborhoods" near employers and public transportation, according to the project's website.

A number of businesses and shops have sprung up in old warehouses and around a nearby Wal-Mart, and public transportation can deliver residents to the downtown business district within minutes. Volunteers of America offers half of the units at lower prices for residents making under $35,000 a year, but rent still ranges from $886 to $950 a month for those who qualify for the discount. With wages ranging from $9 to $14 an hour, kitchen staff would have to spend about 40 to 60 percent of their income to live in their employer's lofts next door to where they work. Even workers making as much as $34,000 would spend about 30 percent for a single-bedroom apartment, the threshold at which federal authorities consider a household "overburdened."

Volunteers of America has long been in the "affordable housing" business, using federal housing grants to construct residential buildings for lower-income, disabled and elderly people. The group's neighborhood development subsidiary in New Orleans, which was created specifically to replace housing post-Katrina, is a nonprofit that has its own for-profit subsidiary for building residences to rent out. Robert Silverman, a professor of urban planning at the University at Buffalo who focuses on the nonprofit sector, said for-profit spinoffs of nonprofit housing initiatives are becoming more common, but profit incentives also raise concerns about "mission drift."

Volunteers of America is considered a church, so it does not have to file federal tax returns, and it remains unclear how top administrators and property developers are paid for their work.

"It's kind of a new trend that has been bubbling up over the past six or seven years, where a nonprofit will have a for-profit subsidiary connected to it," Silverman told Truthout. "Different rules and tax laws apply to each, but they use it as another way to generate revenue [for the parent organization]."

In 2016, Silverman co-authored a study on affordable housing in several US cities with shrinking populations, including New Orleans. In general, affordable housing is not cited near "opportunity areas" as much as observers would like. Single workers and senior citizens tended to have an advantage, while single mothers with children were less likely to find housing near employers or top-performing schools. Volunteers of America and its subsidiaries run housing projects across New Orleans and southern Louisiana, and Silverman said it appears the group is trying to "hit" different income levels. The riverside lofts next to Fresh Food Factor are probably meant for teachers, police, government workers and others with moderate incomes, rather than the low-wage food service workers employed next door.

"The other side of it is, when the nonprofit starts dabbling in these for-profit ventures, it opens up arguments that can be made for why the people working for the nonprofit themselves should be given living wages," Silverman said.

Pamela Bourgois and Damita Hall just laugh when I tell them how much it would cost to rent a loft apartment next to the kitchen where their coworkers make the lunches they serve. That's what their employer considers "affordable housing?" LaTanja Silvester at SEIU, on the other hand, is frustrated. She's sick of seeing workers employed by one school contractor receiving a living wage under a union contract, while workers doing the exact same job for another school must take on additional work just to feed their kids. School privatization in New Orleans may have created a brutal race to the academic top for students, but Silvester says it also created "a race to the bottom."

"We have to be the city that revamped education and lifted kids out of poverty and provided a pathway for them to be gainfully employed in this country," Silvester said. "And we must take into account who is providing those services, and they are the mothers of the kids who attend those charter schools."

Categories: News

North Korea fires missile through Japan's airspace

Citizens for Legitimate Government - Tue, 08/29/2017 - 02:12

North Korea fires missile through Japan's airspace | 29 Aug 2017 | Pyongyang has launched a missile which, according to the Japanese and South Korean governments, passed through northern Japan's airspace. The Japanese government activated its J-Alert warning system after North Korea fired an unidentified missile early Tuesday morning. The North Korean missile passed over Japanese territory around 6:06am local time.

Categories: News

12 Years After Katrina, Hurricane Harvey Pummels Gulf Coast, Its Climate Science-Denying Politicians

deSmog - Tue, 08/29/2017 - 01:37
Debris from people's homes in the street sit across from Press Park, a housing project abandoned after Hurricane Katrina

As the remnants of Hurricane Harvey (now a tropical storm) continue to flood Houston — just days before the 12th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina — I visited Shannon Rainey, whose house was built on top of a Superfund site in the Upper Ninth Ward of New Orleans. Rainey is worried about family members in Houston. She knows all too well how long it can take to get back what is lost in a storm. “I still live with Katrina every day,” she told me.

New Orleans remains threatened by bands of rain extending from Harvey, causing many residents with fierce memories of Katrina to remain on edge.

var icx_publication_id = 14813; var icx_content_id = '12080'; [Reuse options] Click here for reuse options! Tags: Hurricanehurricane katrinaHurricane HarveyTed CruzU.S. Sen. John CornyntexasHouston
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Panama Papers a 'notable security success'

Global Muckracker - Tue, 08/29/2017 - 01:01
August 28, 2017, 8:15 pm The Panama Papers has been dubbed a 'notable security success' for its easy-to-use tools and firm security instructions.
Categories: News

Bill de Blasio may remove statue of Christopher Columbus in New York City

Citizens for Legitimate Government - Mon, 08/28/2017 - 23:42

Bill de Blasio may remove statue of Christopher Columbus in New York City --The statue, which is over 100 years old, sits atop is a traffic circle in Manhattan --Officers belonging to the NYPD Columbia Association oppose the statue's removal | 28 Aug 2017 | A statue honoring Italian explorer Christopher Columbus may soon be removed from Manhattan's Columbus Circle if the city's top elected official has his way.

Categories: News

Chemical leak emergency east of Houston as residents are urged to take cover and and remain indoors

Citizens for Legitimate Government - Mon, 08/28/2017 - 23:37

Breaking: Chemical leak emergency east of Houston as residents are urged to take cover and and remain indoors --Authorities in Texas are urging residents of two small coastal towns east of Houston to remain indoors --Residents are also being told to close all windows and doors | 28 Aug 2017 | Authorities in Texas are urging residents of two small coastal towns east of Houston to remain indoors due to a possible

Categories: News

Christiansburg, VA: Target Workers on Strike Day 5

It's Goin Down - Mon, 08/28/2017 - 23:05

The post Christiansburg, VA: Target Workers on Strike Day 5 appeared first on It's Going Down.

This day has been as incredible as the last four, and in some ways more incredible than the others. Who would have thought with only an initial small amount of Target workers and supporters we could have had such strength to impact a major corporation’s behavior? As we woke up we found out from other workers that over the last two days the Target store has not reached its sales goals, showing the strength of the strike and the community boycott to support our strike. Not only this but the mere threat of a student boycott of Target’s “College Night” event was enough to cause the shuttle service from Virginia Tech campus to the Target store to be canceled.

Early reports from workers tonight indicate the event has been a flop. In summary we have been successfully able to 1) launch an internal Target investigation against boss Daniel Butler 2) pursue the filing of charges with the EEOC 3) find legal support to pursue legal action, if workers so choose 4) garner support from the major unions and local politicians 5) shut down the shuttle service between Virginia Tech and the Target store 6) enact an effective boycott and 7) flex our rights without Target retaliating on us workers (so far). None of these accomplishments are anything to scoff at. We did this with nothing but a shoestring budget and knowledge.

One thing we have debated is how long exactly we will go on strike. There is a real threat of being replaced the longer we stay on strike and we think it is critically important that we show our coworkers that not only can we go on strike, but that we also can return to work unscathed. This is why we have resolved to call off the strike and return to work tomorrow on Monday August 28th. We believe that we have already won our two demands, but they are both demands that take time to bear fruit. We’ve planted the seeds, they have sprouted, now we must cultivate them into maturity. Again, we cannot thank the community enough for standing up with us in our fight for justice. We will keep everyone posted with further results. We have no illusions Target will want to get rid of us for causing them such a headache, but we are in this for the long haul and this is moreso a beginning rather than an end. Stay tuned…

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Categories: News

I Can’t Stand the Rain: Report from Houston

It's Goin Down - Mon, 08/28/2017 - 22:14

The post I Can’t Stand the Rain: Report from Houston appeared first on It's Going Down.

“we ran into some good people. And some people who we know wouldn’t care for us if they had known we were revolutionaries.”

I can’t say that we did all we hoped we could do. We have only been out for less than twenty-four hours. And as I sit here in muddy jeans in this gas station typing this out while slamming down a greasy burrito, I feel inadequate with what we did and what we could’ve done. This feeling is the lowest of the low. But we got out; we ran into good people; and, maybe, we helped a little too.

It has been less than a month since our last revolutionary action. It seems as there’s always an opportunity to fight fascism or reach out to the alienated and marginalized people – especially these days. We had just finished composing ourselves from the DFW march against white supremacy and found ourselves racing to Houston to do what we can with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

Hey it's cool, Trump is coming to do a photo opt on Tuesday. pic.twitter.com/43CbB9QQCJ

— It's Going Down (@IGD_News) August 27, 2017

The comrades had heard the rain was bad, but when we heard that Houston was supposed to get double the rainfall the next night (images of old folks stuck in their homes flash in our heads), it was clear what we needed to do. One of us had a vest. We hit some places and snagged a little boat, lifejackets, lights, rope, and hitches. We didn’t know what we were doing, I’ll be honest. But, fuck it, we were doing it.

We hit the road. We didn’t have a lot of money. We weren’t really sure if we could even get in to help. We didn’t know if we could afford to come back. We have families, jobs, and obligations. And Houston isn’t exactly close. We didn’t know exactly how we could help – but none of that mattered. A person can come up with a million reasons to do nothing and only one big reason to get off your ass and do it anyway. The comrades seemed unmoved by the uncertainty and that was empowering to me.

We made our way down I-45 and it was raining off and on. We made it as far as The Woodlands before it was becoming evident of what was happening in the area. The state had mobilized trucks that were pushing through same time as us. Humvees, LMTV’s, marked government POV’s travelling in the rear. We had to make some route changes just to get into the city, but we arrived and it was dark everywhere. There were usually more lights, as you can imagine.

“The State was hardly present from what we could see. It was armies of good people helping because they could. Proof, if any was needed, that a State is not necessary to maintain our communities.”

We couldn’t make it all the way into the city center. So we started roaming around in neighborhoods. And after about an hour we started running into some people needing some form of help or another. Someone with a scratch; someone needs water; someone needed out. Now, we are not about to kiss and tell, that’s not our style, but we ran into some good people. And some people who we know wouldn’t care for us if they had known we were revolutionaries. And a lot of uniformed people. And that’s kind of where this picks up for us.

We saw a lot of volunteers out there. People just wanting to help. The State was hardly present from what we could see. It was armies of good people helping because they could. Even the uniformed people who had been working endlessly the past day and a half were not out there because of their uniforms or some State obligation, they were out there out of a sense to help – just like everyone else. Proof, if any was needed, that a State is not necessary to maintain our communities. In fact, the State itself was doing little to help the disadvantaged people. And you can bet your ass they weren’t hitting the poor areas first.

What kills us all is that as we heard businesses were opening up their property for the “new homeless.” The capitalists will get teary-eyed at the gesture. But what of the homeless prior to nature forcing the middle class out into the streets? What about the homeless after all this water dries up and insurance pays for new homes? Do people have short memories or will they have empathy for the disadvantaged people? I dare not dream.

The opening of businesses to the people is exactly what revolutionaries have been trying to do for as long as we can remember. The concept of private property kills en masse every day. But today, capitalists are abolishing private property, and everybody is loving it. The systems they fight aggressively to prohibit, they are using today and it’s sparking pride in their community and hope for people. Nothing new to those who understand revolutionary struggles though. Further, what is the State’s heavy equipment and aviation but permissions from above to open up their private property to the people. There’s no way to convey to the average person that we could all be in charge of our own lives if property was completely abolished – as they were witnessing. Would this gas station let a muddy person sit at this table if he was in need but there was no storm? Would a furniture store let in droves of homeless without a storm? Would helicopters rush people to the hospital without a storm? We all know the answers to these questions.

“The concept of private property kills en masse every day. But today, capitalists are abolishing private property, and everybody is loving it. The systems they fight aggressively to prohibit, they are using today and it’s sparking pride in their community and hope for people.”

Ultimately, the experience was eye-opening in the regard that we put in all we could and then some and still had little to no effect on that massive city. And, ultimately, the breakdown of society (not the suffering) we witnessed was beautiful because people came together. But it feels hopeless because some of these people will never see it this way. It will be just another event they can talk about in the future and not a window of opportunity to a new world. Nothing but black drops falling from a black sky into black water everywhere around us.

We still have work to do. Hit up the Houston Anarchist Black Cross. Send them your money, your volunteers, your material help. Solidarity forever.

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Categories: News

U.S. officials say 450,000 in Texas likely to seek disaster aid

Citizens for Legitimate Government - Mon, 08/28/2017 - 21:12

U.S. officials say 450,000 in Texas likely to seek disaster aid | 28 Aug 2017 | U.S. emergency management officials said on Monday they were expediting federal resources to Texas to help with rescue efforts after Hurricane Harvey swamped coastal areas of the state and forced 30,000 people to seek refuge in temporary shelters.

Categories: News

Dementia – Leaving No One Behind

Farm Wars - Mon, 08/28/2017 - 18:57
The link between the increased use of Glyphosate in our food and the rising tide of dementia cannot be simply dismissed. To do so is criminal.
Categories: News

Not All Anarchists Are Violent

Anarchist News - Mon, 08/28/2017 - 18:34

LETTER TO THE EDITOR

Regarding the Aug. 13 Metro article “For D.C. anarchists, chaos as protest”:

I suppose protests and violence make better copy than ideas, which is why anarchists appear in The Post only when they cause some measure of havoc. Readers might be surprised to learn that most anarchists have opposed violence. Two of history’s most famous anarchists, Leo Tolstoy and Mohandas Gandhi, were pacifists. William Godwin, the first person to espouse anarchism, taught that it must come about peacefully, through the moral improvement of all classes, capitalist and worker alike. Josiah Warren, America’s first anarchist, abhorred violence and thus opposed both slavery and the Civil War. The United States’ most famous anarchist, Benjamin Tucker, repeatedly condemned violence no matter its source, governments or other anarchists. Another American anarchist, Ammon Hennacy, so opposed violence that he suffered incarceration as a conscientious objector, and he worked as a day laborer in the 1940s and 1950s to prevent the U.S. government from withholding taxes from his wages to pay for war.

Anarchism has had its apostles of violence, as have Republicans, Democrats, monarchists and socialists. But in the main, anarchism has espoused and practiced peace.

from the washington post...

Tags: mainstream mediano threat over here officergandicategory: Other
Categories: News

Trump's Arpaio Pardon Signals to White Supremacists: "I've Got Your Back"

Truth Out - Mon, 08/28/2017 - 17:57

 Gage Skidmore)Sheriff Joe Arpaio speaks to supporters of Donald Trump at a rally in Phoenix, Arizona, June 18, 2016. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

Trump's pardon of former sheriff Joe Arpaio demonstrates beyond any doubt the contempt both men hold for the rule of law, while signaling Trump's continued allegiance to the racist and anti-immigrant elements of his right-wing base. The pardon also signals to anyone compelled to testify against Trump that they could receive pardons, too, if they refuse to cooperate and are held in contempt of court.

 Gage Skidmore)Sheriff Joe Arpaio speaks to supporters of Donald Trump at a rally in Phoenix, Arizona, June 18, 2016. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

On Friday, less than two weeks after refusing to unequivocally condemn the white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Donald Trump granted former Arizona Sheriff Joseph Arpaio a rare presidential pardon, calling the notorious racist an "American patriot." The pardon is noteworthy for many reasons.

First, it demonstrates Trump's utter disdain for the rule of law. US District Judge Susan Bolton convicted Arpaio of criminal contempt for showing "flagrant disregard" of a 2011 court order that he cease racial profiling. Nevertheless, for 18 months, Arpaio, who called himself "America's toughest sheriff," continued his racist practice of detaining Latinos without reasonable suspicion. "The fact that Arpaio is quite literally convicted of being in criminal contempt of the courts is a big selling point for a president who has evinced nothing but contempt for the judicial branch since before he took office," Dahlia Lithwick wrote at Salon.

Second, the pardon sends a clear message to Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn and anyone else whom special counsel Robert Mueller subpoenas to testify in his Russia investigation. Trump could pardon them, too, if they refuse to cooperate and are held in contempt of court. No need to make a deal and testify against the president or his family members in order to receive lenient treatment.

To read more stories like this, visit Human Rights and Global Wrongs.

Third, the pardon telegraphs to Trump's right-wing base that he's still pursuing their racist, anti-immigrant agenda even though presidential advisors Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, both widely associated with white nationalism, have left the White House. "The white supremacists, Neo-Nazis and others the president excused heard his endorsement of racist and illegal policing loud and clear yet again," Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, stated.

Trump and Arpaio share the same values. Both men are racist to the core. Neither has any respect for the law.

Perhaps most significant is what the pardon says about the president. It demonstrates beyond doubt that Trump and Arpaio share the same values. Both men are racist to the core. Neither has any respect for the law. And both retaliate against those who criticize their actions. Like Trump, Arpaio attacked judges who ruled against him.

Both Trump and Arpaio championed the "birther movement."

The editorial board of the Arizona Republic wrote, "By pardoning Arpaio, Trump made it clear that institutional racism is not just OK with him. It is a goal." The pardon "elevates Arpaio once again to the pantheon of those who see institutional racism as something that made America great."

"Pattern or Practice of Unconstitutional Policing"

After a comprehensive investigation, the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division concluded in a 2011 report that Arpaio's Sheriff's Department in Maricopa County, Arizona, engaged in a "pattern or practice of unconstitutional policing." The 22-page report  documented the use of excessive force, routine punishment for detainees who didn't speak English, a "wall of distrust" between officers and Latino residents, and "a chronic culture of disregard for basic legal and constitutional obligations."

The report came to the following conclusions:

* Latino drivers in Maricopa County were four to nine times more likely to be stopped than similarly situated non-Latino drivers.

* Roughly one-fifth of the stops of Latino drivers were conducted without probable cause or reasonable suspicion, in violation of the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.

* Under Arpaio's leadership, deputy sheriffs treated Latinos "as if they [were] all undocumented, regardless of whether a legitimate factual basis [existed] to suspect" they were illegally present in the US.

* Arpaio's office "engaged in a pattern or practice of retaliating against individuals for exercising their First Amendment right to free speech." People who mounted peaceful protests against the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office were illegally arrested.

Cruel and Sadistic Practices

For many years, Arpaio, who served as Maricopa County Sheriff for 24 years, housed detainees in what he called his personal "concentration camp," an outdoor jail in Phoenix. Temperatures reached 145 degrees in the camp, causing shoes to melt. In order to humiliate people incarcerated in the jail, Arpaio made them wear striped uniforms and pink underwear. They were forced to work on chain gangs.

A federal appeals court ruled that Arpaio's deputies unlawfully withheld adequate food and maintained dangerously high temperatures. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals determined those practices violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments.

The Justice Department report found that Arpaio's deputy struck a Latino man with his patrol car, "pinning D.D. under the vehicle and dragging him for more than ten feet," causing serious injury, including broken bones. Another deputy forcibly removed a Latino man from his car, "twisting his arm, head, and neck and causing E.E. to fall and hit his face on the pavement."

Nathan Robinson, writing for Current Affairs, documented the beating and tasering of a man with schizophrenia. Arpaio's deputies "dragged Atencio's unconscious body back to his cell, where he was stripped naked and left on the floor." He never regained consciousness. Another man died after deputies beat and suffocated him in a "restraint chair." The families of these men received settlements of $8 million and $1 million, respectively.

The Phoenix New Times tweeted:

"Prisoners there died at an alarming rate, often without explanation."

"One of [Arpaio's] jailers nearly broke the neck of a paraplegic guy who had the temerity to ask for a catheter."

"By 2015, [Arpaio's] fondness for racial profiling had cost the county more than $44 million [in settlements of lawsuits against the office]."

Opposition to the Pardon

Civil liberties organizations have lined up to denounce Friday's pardon.

Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF, wrote on HuffPost that Trump's pardon of Arpaio "is both a slap in the face to the thousands of Latinos who were racially profiled in Arizona and an unbridled rejection of the role of our federal courts to curb unconstitutional behavior."

The pardon imperils people of color, said Janet Murguia, president of UnidosUS. "Every person of color in this nation has been put in harm's way because of this action and that is unconscionable," she noted.

National Lawyers Guild President Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan stated, "This act of pardon is not one of mercy, but an act of aggression, signaling to all that Arpaio's policies of terrorizing and condoning violence against Latinos and immigrants will not only be tolerated, but encouraged."

Some leading Republicans, including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) and Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), also criticized the pardon.

"The president has the authority to make this pardon," McCain observed, "but doing so at this time undermines his claim for the respect of the rule of law as Mr. Arpaio has shown no remorse for his actions."

Ryan said, "Law enforcement officials have a special responsibility to respect the rights of everyone in the United States. We should not allow anyone to believe that responsibility is diminished by this pardon."

Trump has suggested that police officers effectuating arrests should bang suspects' heads against police car doors, which would violate the Fourth Amendment. The conservative Washington Examiner editorialized that the pardon demonstrates "once again Trump really means 'busting heads' when he says 'law and order'.... But 'law and order,' if the words have any meaning, has to apply to government actors as well. Lawless sheriffs promote disorder, and that's what Arpaio did to get himself convicted."

Three days before issuing the pardon, Trump telegraphed his intention to a gaggle of supporters at the Phoenix Convention Center. When he asked the crowd, "Was Sheriff Joe convicted for doing his job?" they applauded.

Arpaio was not convicted for doing his job. He was convicted for violating the law he was sworn to uphold. Trump, a soulmate of the racist, sadistic Arpaio, pardoned him for shamelessly breaking the law.

Alejandra Gomez, co-executive director of Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA), said, "Arpaio built his work on terror and fear.... Arpaio built the foundation for Trump's agenda."

Categories: News

TFSRadio: Interview with Elisa of São Paulo Indymedia (ARadio Berlin) plus announcements

Anarchist News - Mon, 08/28/2017 - 17:39
aradio.blogsport.de

Download This Episode

Interview with São Paulo member of Indymedia
This week on The Final Straw, we're featuring an interview produced by comrades from Anarchistisches Radio Berlin with Elisa. Elisa has been involved in the anarchist movement for a long time and is one of the co-founders of the Brazilian Indymedia. Which in turn is one of the earliest counter information projects using the name and mode of Indymedia. In the conversation they talk about the political developments in Brazil of the last years as well as how the autonomous movements have been reacting to them. More audio from A-Radio Berlin can be found at aradio.blogsport.de. A-Radio Berlin is a member of the International Anarchist Radio Network that produces B(A)D News: Angry Voices from Around The World, a monthly English-language bulletin from many radio projects around the world.

This conversation we're airing was recorded in July of 2017. We air this audio in the wake of the German government raiding and shutting down the website, linksunten.indymedia.org, allegedly for being infrastructure used in the organizing of the G20 Hamburg protests and other mass mobilizations and direct actions. Autonomous media is super important, and we suggest you check out the crimethinc article on the subject.

On the subject of autonomous and anarchist media initiatives, A-Radio Berlin is also a member of the Channel Zero Network of English-language anarchist radio and podcast projects. Along these lines, we also want to share the following jingle for Rustbelt Abolition Radio, another member of CZN. Check out our 24/7 audio stream at channelzeronetwork.com
Stay Safe Berkley!
Firstly, much love and solidarity to those fighting nazis in Berkley today. We are thinking of you here. Stay safe out there!
Benefit for grand jury resistor Katie Yow
On Tuesday August 29th at the Double Crown there will be a benefit show, bbq, and cake auction for grand jury resistor Katie Yow! BBQ sandwiches start at 6pm, with vegan and non vegan options for all you cats, with a cake auction to follow! Then music will commence with Bob Boob, Nomadic War Machine, Wyatt Yurth and the Gold Standard, Snake Musk, and Darien! All proceeds will benefit our brave comrade fighting state oppression and putting her safety and freedom on the line by doing so.
Comedy Show to benefit J20 Arrestees
And also, because Asheville loves a benefit show, there will be a night of laughs and comedy at the Mothlight on Monday September 4th at 9pm!

This event is described as:

"An evening of comedy by some of #Asheville's leading comedians: Minori Hinds, Kelly Morgan, Moira Goree & Dana Williams!

9pm, Labor Day 2017 at The Mothlight in West Asheville

The proceeds will go to help cover legal and travel costs for defendants from the mass arrest at the protests against Donald Trumps inauguration in Washington D.C. on January 20, 2017. More info on the case at http://defendj20resistance.org/"

This is hosted by Asheville's own Blue Ridge Anarchist Black Cross, and to see the facebook event you can go to the beast itself.

Also, Sunday, September 3rd at 5pm at Firestorm, BR(A)BC will host it's monthly Prisoner Letter Writing Night.

Joshua Zero Cartrette post release fundraiser
Here is an announcement on behalf of Joshua Zero Cartrette, who is an incarcerated member of IWOC and an anarchist. From his support page:

"After years of struggling behind bars for prison abolition and against white supremacy Joshua Zero Cartrette will be returning to the community sometime in the next few weeks! But the struggle continues! Let’s make sure our comrade who has been so important in the fight against white supremacy and the prison industrial complex in Oregon has the chance they deserve to build a life beyond prison walls!

While incarcerated, Josh was an active member of the IWW’s Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) and the founding member of the Anarchist Black Cross Oregon Prison Chapter.

Over the years Josh encouraged dozens of Prisoners around the state of Oregon to contribute to the Oregon Prisoner Forum – a monthly newsletter that circulates articles and information from incarcerated peoples – which he also founded. (Read about that here). Josh also became an outspoken anti-racist and spent years mentoring incarcerated youth to escape the trappings of the white supremacist movement. For his organizing, he was repeatedly targeted by organized white supremacist gangs with death threats, forcing him to spend much of his time in protected custody.

Across the state Josh was able to form several study groups that provided both basic civil rights education as well as more in-depth political analysis for prisoners. Josh’s educational work has empowered prisoners from across the state to take steps towards self advocacy and to take a stand to improve the deplorable conditions they are subjected to – the 2016 prisoner work strike at Deer Ridge Correctional Institution being just one example (read more here).

On September 9th 2016 prisoners across the country self-organized to take a historic stand against prison slavery and its continuation of institutionalized white supremacy and genocide. Oregon joined other states across the country in the wave of resistance that worked its way into institution after institution.

As a result of the subsequent wave of repression across the country, Josh was subjected to over 6 months of solitary confinement (a punitive practice considered across the world to be a form of torture) when prison officials found him to be working to “orchestrate Oregon prison inmates to become involved in a massive prison work stoppage in all institutions” where the “purpose of these prison work stoppage was to shut down the daily operations of the institutions based on the inmate’s perception that institutions utilize inmate labor for capitalist needs”. (See Joshes Report back and the ODOC official Misconduct Report here)

White supremacists openly organize, fascist violence creeps back into the commonplace and the reactionaries are all abuzz – in this age, we have an obligation to support those who contest the fascist creep in the belly of the beast, where it festers and finds its most fertile recruiting grounds. Not only does the prison industrial complex act not only as a coercive and disciplinary institution created to enact and “legitimize” violence against marginalized communities, it serves as an incubation chamber for supremacist ideology and street violence by routinely allowing open white supremacist gangs to promote their toxic ideas, thus recruit more henchman and build lucrative criminal syndicate networks – within and outside its walls.

The severity of racism in Oregon prisons was expressed by the all afrikan revolutionary Rashid Johnson while incarcerated in Oregon in 2011,

“while the mainstream postures to project racism as a thing of the past, its rabid forms persist. Which I found upon my imprisonment in Oregon, where in contrast to most everywhere else in Amerika, the prison population is overwhelmingly white and thus feels no compulsion to conceal its bigotry. Security in numbers.

…despite the delusions of many, is the level of civilization in Amerika, which one sees reflected in Oregon prisons, where a rabid racist culture parades openly stripped of pretense and lying in wait for the moment it can be given free violent expression.”

To bring down the walls of racism and fascism we must begin by bringing down the prison walls.

Anti-racists and anti-fascists have an obligation to support those on the inside –the ones engaged in a life or death battle against these forces – and to welcome back our comrades when they re-enter our communities.

Support your fellow worker, fellow anti-racist, anti-capitalist and anarchist Joshua Ames Cartrette! We are asking folks across the country to consider throwing a benefit show or a letter writing night to incarcerated anti-racists and to donate some funds to Josh’s re-entry. Help him get his life off the ground once again and continue the work that he once began in prison.

The funds will be used to help josh find a new place to live and with all of the associated move in costs and to provide him time to look for work and to recover from the traumatic experience of incarceration."

Please check out his support page here!

Playlist here

Tags: The Final Strawpodcastweekly podcastARadio BerlinRadiobrazilSao Pauloindymediacategory: Projects
Categories: News

Germany, in a First, Shuts Down Left-Wing Extremist Website

Anarchist News - Mon, 08/28/2017 - 16:17

From The New York Times

BERLIN — An influential website linked to violence at the Group of 20 summit meeting in Hamburg last month has been ordered to shut down, in the first such move against left-wing extremists in the country, officials in Germany said Friday.

Thomas de Maizière, the interior minister, said that the unrest in Hamburg, during which more than 20,000 police officers were deployed and more than 400 people arrested or detained, had been stirred up on the website and showed the “serious consequences” of left-wing extremism.

“The prelude to the G-20 summit in Hamburg was not the only time that violent actions and attacks on infrastructural facilities were mobilized on linksunten.indymedia,” he said, referring to the website.

The Interior Ministry said the website was the “most influential online platform for vicious left-wing extremists in Germany,” and noted that it had been used for years to spread criminal content and to incite violence.

The right to demonstrate peacefully is enshrined in the Basic Law, Germany’s 1949 Constitution, but the authorities have taken action against hate speech and incitements to violence. In June, officers raided the homes of 36 people accused of hateful postings on social media. And in January 2016, the Interior Ministry ordered a ban on a right-wing website, “Altermedia Deutschland.”

Linksunten.indymedia, founded in 2008, billed itself as “a weapon in the social struggle” and said it was a “decentrally organized global network of social movements.” The ministry was able to move against the website because it viewed those running it as an “association,” and under German law, those can be blocked for extremist activity. The platform was not accessible on Friday, and the ministry said that its goal was to shut the site permanently.

Raids in the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg were conducted in the early hours of Friday against several leading members and supporters of the website, the ministry said in a statement.

In Hamburg last month, about 500 police officers and an unknown number of protesters were wounded in clashes. The ministry said that the website had referred to police officers as “pigs” and “murderers,” and had featured instructions for creating Molotov cocktails.

A spokeswoman for the political party The Left, Ulla Jelpke, told the newspaper Die Welt that the ban was an “illegitimate act of censorship” and an “arbitrary limitation of freedom of expression and freedom of the press.”

Tags: counter-infoindy mediagermanyg20the stateMSMcategory: International
Categories: News

SHAME & SHAMING

Grassroots Economic Survival - Mon, 08/28/2017 - 14:33

If there is anything human I would label “evil,” it is shame, with guilt being a close second. Both are at the heart of moral righteousness.

Saïd Sayrafiezadeh, a half Iranian and half Jewish woman, shares a story about herself that shows how insidious shaming is. When she was 8 a white rural father ridiculed her name at a family dinner, driving her to flee the table in tears. At 9 she teamed up with two white girls to “gleefully mock” a Middle Eastern boy student for his name and foreign accent. Eventually he fled the classroom in tears. Then, in spite of her own experience, she blocked all her teacher’s efforts to get her to see how mean her behavior was. In retrospect, she explained why it in all its simplicity:

I was propelled by something far more fundamental and intoxicating and disturbing, something that could not be argued away with the use of reason: It had felt good. (Emphasis added.)

Wow! Not unusual though. Our craving to feel okay about ourselves and accepted is really powerful. Being shamed we feel it as abuse, but then we turn it on ourselves as well. Then, to escape our self-shaming we turn that onto others. Eating our own tail.

Brené Brown has intensely researched shame, vulnerability, and feelings of connection and disconnection for years. She defines shame “as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.” She goes on: 

I don’t believe shame is helpful or productive. In fact, I think shame is much more likely to be the source of destructive, hurtful behavior than the solution or cure. I think the fear of disconnection can make us dangerous.

So shaming—this everyday thing that goes on everywhere—seeks to destroy someone else’s sense of worthiness as human being and sense of belonging. Actually, it can go further: rendering them worthy of abuse, exclusion, and oppression. Even much further: actually exterminating them.

I wonder a lot about how much identity politics of any kind involves this shaming business.

And then there is a wonderful story of Derek Black. It shows, as does Ms. Sayrafiezadeh act of sharing her story, that we aren’t just trapped in shame and shaming. He was born into the white nationalist movement and became a well-known child organizer for it. His father founded and still runs the web site Stormfront, a white supremacist Web forum used to help organize their Charlottesville demonstration. Several years ago fellow students at his college found out about him and began posting comments on a college forum. He was never attacked or challenged. In fact, one exchange among them came up with the idea of inviting him to respond, to hear what he had to say. He didn’t take up the offer at the time, but as things evolved he eventually accepted an invitation to Shabbat meals a Jewish student regularly hosted once a week. The relationship building that followed was an important part of his complete transition out of the white nationalist movement. After Charlottesville he wrote an op-ed very critical of Trump and condemning the neo-Nazi demonstrations. However, he did it from a nuanced perspective to the whole complexity of issues that was utterly free of any moral righteousness.

The political is personal. Deeply personal. The old adage holds true here: we must become the change we want to bring to the world.

But how?

 

I also wonder about how much righteousness I might be bringing to the writing these blogs.

 

 

Regions: United StatesRegular Contributors: Michael JohnsonMovements & Struggles: Environmental JusticeFeminism & Gender JusticeImmigrant JusticeNative Justice & SovereigntyQueer & Trans LiberationRacial Justice
Categories: News

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: A Government Agency for Promoting Growth

Truth Out - Mon, 08/28/2017 - 14:31

 Sezeryadigar /  iStock / Getty Images Plus)(Photo: Sezeryadigar / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) was set up in the wake of the financial crisis to prevent against the sorts of abuses we witnessed from the mortgage industry during the housing bubble years. The idea was that consumers should not have to worry about buying financial products that jeopardize their financial security, as turned out to be the case with many of the mortgages sold during the bubble years. The CFPB would limit the types of products that could be sold and the ways in which they could be marketed to protect consumers.

This was generally seen as an effort to ensure fairness. Most people are not very educated about financial matters. That is not an indictment of their intelligence; it's just recognition of the fact that they have jobs and lives. Those who don't work in finance or a related industry have little reason to become an expert on the industry's products.

The CFPB is intended to make sure that these people don't get ripped off by those who are experts in finance. This sounds like a basic issue of fairness, but it also helps to promote economic growth. The effect of the CFPB on boosting growth is too little appreciated even by those who strongly support the Bureau.

Take the recent decision by the CFPB to ban clauses in financial industry contracts that mandated arbitration and prohibited lawsuits. Richard Cordray, the head of the CFPB, defended his decision by saying that the ruling may cost the industry $1 billion a year, while their profits last year were $171 billion.

While the $1 billion may be small compared with the industry's profits, it is important to understand where this $1 billion is coming from. If we accept that this rule will effectively be limiting the industry's ability to "rip-off" their customers, then the $1 billion in reduced profits is about putting $1 billion in consumers' pockets that never should have been taken away in the first place.

The notion of "rip-off" here is a term in a contract that a consumer may agree to because they don't understand it. For example, some credit cards have very punitive late charges which their customers may only first realize when they face them. If they understood that the card imposed large charges, they never would have signed up for it.

If the issuers of a credit card know that they will be able to get away with exorbitant late charges if they can find ways to conceal them from their customers, they will have a powerful incentive to find ways to hide the charges in their contract. This means employers and possible psychologists and other experts in order to best design a deceptive contract.

However, if they know that they will never be able to get away with charging excessive fees -- for example if they know that the CFPB would rule against them and make them refund excessive charges -- then they don't have incentive to develop deceptive contracts in the first place. They wouldn't spend the money on the lawyers and other experts to conceal terms in the contract.

This is not only good for consumers; it is good for the economy. We want the financial industry to be devoting resources to finding better ways to serve consumers in order to win business away from competitors, not to figuring out more ways to rip them off. The CFPB should reduce the incentives in the rip-off direction.

This is also a benefit to consumers, not only in getting money back if they have been taken, but in reducing the need to scrutinize the terms of a contract. We don't want someone buying a house to have to carefully read through hundreds of pages of a mortgage contract. They should be able to know the main terms in a page or two and have the rest of the contract in a standard form that they can be assured does not contain surprises.

It would be a needless waste of people's time if everyone had to read through all the terms of every contract they signed. The CFPB can save consumers a huge amount of time by effectively examining the terms for them and providing a seal of approval.

By acting as neutral party that ensures the quality of contracts and stands in the way of bad contracts being issued, the CFPB should lead to a more efficient financial sector. Fewer resources will be wasted by businesses trying to rip people off and less time will be needed by customers to avoid being ripped off. For this reason, contrary to the claims of critics, the CFPB should boost, rather than reduce, economic growth.

Categories: News

What the Abolition of the British Slave Trade Can Teach Us About Free Speech

Truth Out - Mon, 08/28/2017 - 14:24

In the face of intense racist violence, does it really make sense to debate over abstract notions of free speech? Those who fetishize the virtues of parliamentary debate should keep in mind that it was not the erudition of the wealthy do-gooders that ended the British slave trade but the organizing efforts of the enslaved and formerly enslaved Africans themselves who rebelled and rioted.

 National Museum of American History)(Photo: National Museum of American History)

Adam Hochschild's bestselling 2005 book, Bury the Chains, describes the great debate in the British parliament regarding the abolition of the slave trade (not of slavery itself) in April 1792. It's a historical moment that has fascinating relevance for the debates over "free speech" in the US today.

While the Abolitionist campaign had been active and remarkably popular in England for about five years prior to the debate, and while an unprecedented 390,000 Britons had signed petitions to the Parliament in favor of abolition, the pro-slavery forces spent the equivalent of millions of dollars to flood the field with advertising, lobbyists and essayists defending their source of wealth. Unlike the white abolitionists, who were mostly religious dissenters and tradespeople, the pro-slavery forces, made up of the rich and aristocrats, had vastly more access to parliamentarians through private clubs and elite social space, which they used to bribe and cajole votes. Recall that there was no universal suffrage in Britain at this time, and only male property owners (i.e., elites) could vote for or sit in the House of Commons.

Meanwhile, in spite of the fact that formerly enslaved Africans and their families -- including the great Olaudah Equiano -- were crucial protagonists and intellectual and moral leaders in the abolition struggle in Britain, and the only ones with first-hand knowledge of the experience of slavery, they were only allowed to watch the parliamentary proceedings, not participate. They had to trust white aristocrats and politicians to speak for them.

Further, white abolitionist campaigners who had traveled the length and breadth of Britain at their own expense over the prior few years had routinely had their lives threatened as they sought to investigate and have public meetings about slavery. They were harassed, attacked and defamed in the press. Their lives were threatened.

When the debate came it was organized along the rules of 18th-century English parliamentary discourse, the ironclad and esoteric norms of which would have been familiar only to those who had elite educations. In spite of the fabled anti-slavery aristocrat William Wilberforce's stunning oration and that of other abolitionist-friendly parliamentarians, many slave owners or their agents in parliament also spoke in defense of their horrific privileges.

Let us recall that these men were either personally responsible for, or directly benefited from, a system that normalized slavery -- one of the most heinous crimes in human history. It bears repeating that it included the destruction of whole African civilizations to liquidate their people into enslavable bodies; the horror of the Middle Passage where at least a fifth of all enslaved Africans, packed thickly in the dark, perished or fell ill on those stormy seas and were thrown overboard, dead and alive; the selling of human beings at slave markets and auctions like chattel, including the forced separation of families; the deadly exploitation of slave labor which led to a life expectancy on most plantations of less than 35; the completely normalized, everyday use of torture, including whippings, beatings, sadistic experiments and gory public executions, such as flogging to death, burial alive and burning at the stake; the systematic and arbitrary use of rape both for the pleasure of slavers and to reproduce the next generation of enslavable bodies; and the attempted destruction of what small forms of community and solidarity enslaved people were able to create through divide-and-conquer techniques.

The press and the parliamentarians of the day heralded the passionate civility of the abolition debate in 1792 as evidence of Britain's moral superiority in the defense of free speech and gentlemanly conduct, especially in contrast to the ongoing French Revolution. The debate ended in victory for an amendment to the motion for abolition proposed by home secretary Henry Dundas (after whom towns and streets are still named): a gradual approach where the trade would be phased out over the next decade. The watered-down bill was sent to the House of Lords where it was nixed. Slavery would not be outlawed in the British Empire until decades later, in 1833 (thereafter enslaved people became "apprentices") and slave owners were collectively compensated the princely sum of £20 million for their pains. Formerly enslaved people got nothing.

When we discuss freedom of speech, we all too often inherit the idea that we should model ourselves after those highly educated, well-dressed, erudite and allegedly sober men on the floor of the House of Commons, who, in spite of the charged nature of the content, stayed through the night to debate and consider. The dominant notion of "campus free speech" evokes images of the packed halls at Cambridge or Oxford where clean-scrubbed young men, future parliamentarians (and slave-owners), battle with wits for the ears and minds of their colleagues.

Yet what of the white abolitionists sitting in the gallery who had sacrificed their lives, their wealth and their time for their hopeless cause, forced to listen to the pompous, bought-off aristocrats and sneering slavers spew lies and patent propaganda? What of those abolitionists beaten on the docks of Liverpool, Bristol or London for speaking out?

And what, indeed, of Equiano and the other Black abolitionist leaders whose fingernails must have shredded their own palms as they listened to the civil discourse of the men who had themselves murdered and raped other human beings whom they claimed to own, or who had licensed and profited from that work done by others? How must they have felt, these Black abolitionists who were barred from speaking at all, who had to listen to their stories and their ideas and their research and their monumental pain expressed in dulcet tones by wealthy white do-gooders eager, in spite of their conviction, not to offend or upset the uncomfortable centrists, the "swing voters" of Parliament who held the lives of hundreds of thousands in their well-fed hands? These Black abolitionists must have known that, even if successful, their own labors would be erased and forgotten by the tides of white history, a history that would lionize the Wilberforces and largely ignore the Equianos.

Could any of us, today, have blamed any one of them for barring the doors and lighting the parliament house on fire? Or for at least screaming in rage at the absurd spectacle below? They chose not to.

And how much has changed?

We are discussing today whether or not Nazis and white supremacists should be allowed to speak publicly, to rally in the streets, and to be taken seriously in the media and on campuses. There are plenty of liberal white people who have developed sophisticated arguments for why they should be allowed to do so, or at least why they ought not to be stopped. We are told that limiting freedom of speech is a slippery slope, that once it is undermined in one instance it is weakened in all instances. We are told that giving any attention to these heinous views and people only encourages them. We are told that the future of our civilization depends on civil debate, even with uncivil actors. We are told that their racist ideas are so ludicrous that they will fall like dominoes if vigorously and publicly refuted in debate. We are told that shutting them down is not strategic -- though we are rarely informed what, if any, strategy is in play.

These are all arguments from the proverbial "floor" of parliament. Regardless of their content, they reinforce the authority of the parliament as the only legitimate realm of discussion and decision-making. Yet the irony was, as the later history of abolition proved, the laws of parliament have always been full of loopholes to be abused by the powerful. And as we have learned, even once slavery was abolished, Britain continued to profit from and manage a vast racist empire, even unto the present day when British corporations and financial interests control huge swaths of the rest of the world's wealth.

The view of this "debate" and of free speech from the gallery is much different, then and now.

Many people today can imagine how those who watched silently from the gallery of the Parliament felt because they endure an analogous experience every day in this racist society, still. And still they bite their tongues as the would-be parliamentarians demand a "civil" debate about the very possibility of their freedom and safety. Meanwhile, scholars and writers who publicly decry racism are still subject to death threats and abuse, threats which are made more credible by increasingly well-organized far-right ideologues emboldened by their public notoriety.

Lest we forget, the British did not "free the slaves." Enslaved Africans abolished slavery through rebellion, riots, subversion and conspiracy. They also, in the acts of people like Equiano, used diplomacy, writing, lobbying and political organizing. The white abolitionists simply caught up to the facts on the ground that were being actively changed by the direct action of enslaved people.

When we assess the question of free speech and anti-fascist action, we need to remember that those of us who have inherited the privileges and perspectives of whiteness have been trained not to see what is obvious to many others. The fetishization of the abstract notion of free speech as an unassailable virtue must be complicated by the real histories of struggles for collective liberation.

Categories: News

"They're Hollowing Out Rural Communities": Why We Need to Oppose Corporate Consolidation

Truth Out - Mon, 08/28/2017 - 14:18

Austin Frerick, who recently announced his candidacy for Iowa's 3rd congressional district Democratic primary, has made it a central point of his campaign to prevent monopolies from forming. Frerick, 27, a former economist at the Department of Treasury, is part of a wave of younger progressives running for office as progressive Democrats.

 Volker Hartmann / Getty Images)The logo of German chemicals giant Bayer stands over the company's factory and site of its corporate headquarters on June 2, 2016, in Leverkusen, Germany. Bayer is seeking to acquire US company Monsanto. (Photo: Volker Hartmann / Getty Images)

Across all financial sectors -- whether it's telecommunications, energy, transportation, tech or agriculture -- the largest multinational corporations are actively seeking to consolidate their global power by acquiring their competition. "Merger mania," as it's known on Wall Street, is not a new development, rather a perennial economic phenomenon. But while lucrative for a company's shareholders and CEOs, history has shown us time and time again that unopposed monopolies are almost always bad for society-at-large.

On the farm front, as we've discussed on numerous occasions, last September Monsanto announced its intention to merge with Bayer in a $66 billion deal. If the merger goes through, Monsanto-Bayer would dominate the chemical and seed markets alongside Dow-DuPont and Syngenta-ChemChina -- the four other global agriculture and chemical giants expected to merge by the end of the year. As a result, American farmers, who have seen seed prices rise and incomes fall within the last decade, would face yet higher prices and less choice. While farmers continue to speak out against the deal, many incumbent politicians remain silent.

But Austin Frerick, who recently announced his candidacy for Iowa's 3rd congressional district Democratic primary, has made it a central point of his campaign to prevent these monopolies from forming. Frerick, 27, a former economist at the Department of Treasury, is part of a wave of younger progressives running for office as progressive Democrats. He sees anti-trust issues as part and parcel of a progressive political agenda. Frerick also supports single-payer healthcare, a $15 minimum wage, reproductive rights, campaign finance reform and a universal higher education system. RAITT spoke with Frerick about Monsanto, corporate charity and rural communities.   

Rural America In These Times: You recently penned an op-ed against the Monsanto-Bayer merger. What has the response been like so far? And what does it mean for a Democrat to be making a call to stop it?

Austin Frerick: I was shocked by how positive the response to the piece was. People are happy I'm speaking up. But we've seen this show before. Chuck Grassley has been a senator for 30 years, and while he has questioned mergers, including between Monsanto and Bayer -- but they keep happening! Just from the Democratic standpoint, people are very impressed, and I think they get caught off guard by that: Here's a Democrat who's actually going to speak to Big Ag?

A lot of people that live in rural communities feel disrespected. I didn't realize how much statistics and math go into farming. A lot of this stuff can get very complicated very quick, but there needs to be a willingness to learn. I'm a young man, but I love it, and farmers love it when I'm like, 'I don't know, tell me more. I have a base knowledge but I would like to know more.'

How has your time working at the Treasury influenced your campaign/your call against agribusiness consolidation?

When I was working in the tax policy department at the Treasury, I did a research project on pharmaceutical charity. As it turns out, eight pharmaceutical companies do a quarter of corporate charity. Why? In a paper I wrote on Hepatitis C, I basically argued that Milton Friedman was right -- that feels kind of funny to say -- when he famously said that corporate social responsibility is usually a cloak for other actions.

Hepatitis C meds cost $80,000. So what pharma did is they created all these independent charities that will pay your co-pay -- 5 percent of the $80,000, or $4,000. So they'll donate $4,000 per person to these charities -- and then they get a tax deduction for that charity work and hide that money away in Ireland. It's comically corrupt.

My final paper for the Treasury was about monopolies. We kept noticing more and more risk-free returns -- basically, in a perfect market, if everyone makes a profit, someone loses money. It should be zero-sum, but we saw all this "extra return," which is essentially monopoly profits. You might expect that in the pharmaceutical industry -- where you research a drug and you get a ten-year monopoly -- but we were seeing it everywhere. And you'd think the barriers to entry to make crackers shouldn't be that high, but you're seeing companies that make high monopoly profits. Honestly, it was curiosity about that that led me here. Now, there's just an illusion of choice.  When you walk into a mall and you see Sunglass Hut, LensCrafters, Pearle Vision, Target Optical, Sears Optical -- it's all one company. They're just hitting different social classes with the same product.

How does corporate charity play out on the ground with companies like Monsanto or other major sellers?

It's all PR. When a company does millions of dollars in business a year, giving out a thousand-dollar check is a nice symbolic gesture. For example, I wrote my undergraduate thesis on slaughterhouses in Iowa. There's a lot of poverty in the smaller communities where these slaughterhouses are, to the point where people can't afford housing. But the superintendents and mayors I spoke with were telling me how excited they were that Tyson gave them free hot dogs for a back-to-school grill out. Wouldn't it be better if they could just pay the people more?

It's great that they're handing out grants, but they're also hollowing out these communities. In Iowa, we've seen half of our seed co-ops close in the last decade. This land is the most productive economically it's ever been, but the communities are thriving the least they've ever thrived.

And these communities also bear the brunt of environmental harms perpetrated by big ag. Nitrate runoff and the Clean Water Act has been a big topic in Iowa in recent years.

Oh, yeah. My partner is from the East Coast, and he pointed out to me that growing up, it's very normal in Iowa in the springtime for them to shut down certain beaches, state parks. The nitrates are too high, and you can't go in the water. It's kinda screwy that it's so normal in the culture that you just accept that.

You make a lot of comparisons with the early 20th century, when Roosevelt was "trust-busting," and with the 1980s, when the most recent farm crisis hit. In what way are the struggles farmers facing today unique?

What's scary about the farm crisis, if it's going to be a farm crisis, is that it's a different type. The last one was driven by interest rates. At this point, I think the Fed is purposely keeping them low for political reasons. They're afraid. We're having all of this conflict [recently] in Charlottesville, when the economy's growing. Imagine what happens when the growth rate is at negative 3 percent. It's incredibly scary that social stability is being incorporated into Fed policy.

We're going to have a record soybean yield, and corn's already glutted. And in Iowa, somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of corn goes to ethanol, but it seems like battery technology is quickly moving along. So what happens when cars move to batteries? Where does that 30-to-40 percent go? I haven't had these kinds of conversations yet.

And when three companies effectively dominate a market, you just can't organize their places of employment because they can outspend you, and shutting down one plant means nothing to them. I see old-fashioned Teddy Roosevelt-style trust-busting going hand-in-hand with unionization -- you bust and then organize.

In 2015, Monsanto and DuPont brands still dominated the market for both corn and soybeans. For corn, one share point equals 350,000 units (bags of seed). In soybeans, one share point equals 830,000 units. These estimates are based on 31,400 and 140,000 plant populations, respectively. (Source: verdantpartners.com)

When we talk about a farm crisis, what we're really talking about a rural community crisis. The thing I'm talking the most about is the child poverty -- and child poverty grows in times of economic growth in this country. The poorest parts of Iowa are these small little towns.  

Welfare reform is a big thing of mine, but we failed with welfare reform. Block granting does not work.  I worked on this when I was at the Congressional Research Service. Every state is supposed to regularly convene a panel of poverty experts to rethink how they're going to spend their money. When I first started working for the Congressional Research Service, I had to pull the plans for from each state. Last time Iowa's panel met? 1996.

Tom Harkin has this great saying: Society is about the lost, the lonely and the left behind. And what does that say when we're just letting more and more fall behind? When you fund programs through block grants, what you're really saying is, you're cutting services to the disabled and to kids with medical conditions, and you're letting more kids starve. We're better than this.

On a lighter note, you have a pretty great list of heroes on your Twitter bio: Jane Addams, Tom Harkin, Rupaul and Thurman Arnold. Would you talk a little bit about what two of them mean to you?

One of my heroes is Tom Harkin. Some forget he was a big human rights person, but he fought for a lot of the Affordable Care Act. He worked to subsidize produce so that students could get free fruit in the morning. And he designed these bills to be funded for the long-term -- with permanent, rather than appropriated, funds -- so that Congress couldn't cut these programs. People don't realize a lot of these things until they dive in.

But I also love RuPaul. I met an old gay farm couple the other day in southern Iowa and it's a personal thing of mine -- I'm a young gay man. Gayness in American society is portrayed as an urban phenomenon, so it's really interesting to see it play out in rural spaces. So I just love the show. It celebrates an art form that a lot of people view negatively. It's a celebration of difference. I think it will have a lingering impact in our society.

So you spend a lot of time talking about Roosevelt. But, preventing the Monsanto-Bayer merger aside, there is a crossover between Sanders' 2016 presidential campaign and your own. To what extent did that period influence your plans for your campaign and/or your views?

Senator Sanders just raised my expectations. He taught me that health care is a right. He made that into a value statement. He expanded the realm of possibilities. 

We're on the cusp of a big progressive moment, but I don't think we can get there without tackling these economic giants. You can pass rules, but when companies like Monsanto have these market shares, they can buy up political influence. We've seen this already under the Obama administration. They had good intentions -- but if you don't get at the root cause, these companies are going to be able to eventually buy off the system, and the momentum will be lost. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. And I think this is the perfect moment for that.

Categories: News

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