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Demanding Renewables Not Pipelines, Environmentalists Are Heading to Albany

15 hours 45 min ago

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That's it, we're storming the castle. On April 23, thousands of New Yorkers are showing up at Gov. Andrew Cuomo's front door in Albany to demand genuine action on climate change. We're not going to bus up just to go "rah-rah-rah" on the steps of the statehouse for the press and going home. We have three specific demands: halt of all fracking infrastructure now, a just transition to 100 percent renewables, and make corporate polluters pay into a transition fund.

We will meet in Albany at noon, at the site of a proposed fracked-gas plant slated to power Empire State Plaza and hear from local residents on Sheridan Avenue. Then we will march to the Capitol building and peacefully walk through its doors.

How did we go from congratulating Gov. Cuomo for banning fracking, vetoing the Port Ambrose LNG terminal and stopping two pipelines to storming his castle?

Let's back up to January 2017, when Cuomo declared, "The state must double down by investing in the fight against dirty fossil fuels and fracked gas from neighboring states." This is precisely the kind of bold statement that continues to come from this administration sans action to make genuine, big-picture progress a reality.

Just four months later Cuomo appeased his fossil fuel donors by playing right into the industry narrative that fracked gas is a necessary bridge to a renewable economy. "I don't think you can get from here to there without using natural gas," he told the Buffalo News.

Record scratch! What happened to doubling down? Of course, we can start building a renewable energy future now without fracked gas. However, that will require a shake-up of our economic system, which feeds the power structure that supports Cuomo. In order to protect what's most important to him, his donors and his liberal voter base, he's opted to hide his contradictions in the closet.

Let's talk about what Cuomo's energy system of the future really looks like: Gas, gas and more gas. Fracked gas in regions that Cuomo deems sacrifice zones.

If we look at a map of the fracking infrastructure of New York State, it's clear that we have a fracked gas problem.

Transmission lines, frack waste dumps, storage and support infrastructure are expanding. All expansions must go through a state approval process. We're elated for the successes our environmental movement has had pushing the governor to halt specific projects, but had it not been for our work to mobilize constituents he considers crucial to his reelection, he would have approved all of them. He continues to ignore local communities working to protect their health, safety and democracy from the fossil fuel industry in regions of the state he deems disposable.

Cases in point:

  • In Orange County, N.Y., Competitive Power Ventures (CPV) is currently constructing a fracked gas plant built on bribes from his recently-convicted top aide and childhood friend, Joseph Percoco. This plant is situated near the most fertile farmland in the state adjacent to an environmental justice community and a Native-American burial ground, to cite only a few of the most heinous attributes of this project.

  • In Westchester County, due to immense public outcry, Cuomo finally mandated an independent risk assessment of the Spectra Energy-Enbridge Algonquin Pipeline that runs 105 feet from critical safety infrastructure at the decaying Indian Point nuclear power plant. It has been over two years and Cuomo continues to ignore local residents' requests to see the report, as well as pleas to shut down the pipeline for health and safety violations.

  • Cuomo's indifference to New Yorkers is echoed along the massive expansion of the Dominion pipeline that crosses nearly the entire state from the Southern Tier through Central New York and over to Dutchess County, where another power plant twice the size of CPV's called Cricket Valley will continue to lock New Yorkers into a future of fossil fuels.

  • Cuomo has proposed situating a fracked-gas power plant in Albany's Sheridan Hollow neighborhood, a predominantly African-American community, in order to power the complex of government buildings at Empire State Plaza nearby.

  • In New York City, gas boiler conversions are cheap and easy due to fossil fuel subsidies that disincentivize renewable options.

  • And even as we see offshore wind coming to our shores, the Williams Pipeline Company is aiming to snake its way back into the Rockaways.

How does Cuomo keep getting away with it?

To maintain his environmentalist facade, the governor launches flashy websites like rev.ny.gov. Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) is framed as a network of locally-owned renewable energy microgrids. Meanwhile, his policies drive capital to the same old power structure, creating another destructive pattern. If we are to genuinely shift the system onto a renewable economy, we should shift our system of investments into renewables instead of using our renewable tax dollars to fund the fossil fuels in secret. Cuomo's "Energy Czar," Richard Kauffman, a former chair at Goldman Sachs, revealed the administration's backstage reality in a February blog post, after New Yorkers, initially excited about the project, started asking why it was increasingly difficult to get renewable energy access.

"The goal of REV, and New York State energy policy in general, is not necessarily to make solar work for every customer right now," according to Kauffman. "The economics are not going to pencil out for every customer in every location in the state."

While Governor Cuomo aims at climate hero status by making popular statements and congratulates himself for defying President Trump by announcing he will stand by the (very low-bar) Paris Climate Accord, his administration is busy figuring out how to continue to support the corporations that create climate destruction. That sure doesn't sound like a reform of our energy system at all.

It is crucial that we come together on April 23 to force Cuomo and others playing decision-making roles in Albany to take climate change seriously. We will carry our demands on hand-crafted signs with drummers and trumpeters at our side. We know we can succeed here in New York because we have a track record building movements that shift popular consensus. Gov. Cuomo is up for reelection this year. Now is the time to fight for our entire region to push for the required action to protect our lives and build a future worth living.

The newspaper Naomi Klein calls "utterly unique," full of insightful dispatches from around the world, The Indypendent offers a fresh take on today's events.

Categories: News

Puerto Rico’s Slow-Going Recovery Means New Hardship for Dialysis Patients

15 hours 45 min ago
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Vieques, Puerto Rico -- As the cry of a rooster heralded the dawn, Joe Garcia, 41, pulled a vial of insulin from the fridge. He filled a syringe and wrapped it in aluminum foil in preparation for the long day ahead.

"I tell him that from here to there, that'll spoil," said his mother, Martina Collazo de Jesus, 63, watching the preparations under the fluorescent bulb lighting the family kitchen.

It is a gamble Garcia, who has both diabetes and kidney failure, has taken since Hurricane Maria slammed this Puerto Rican island just east of the main island. More than six months after the storm, Garcia and 13 other Vieques residents must still board a plane three days a week for kidney dialysis on Puerto Rico's main island.

Hurricane Maria totaled Vieques' hospital, which housed the island's only dialysis clinic.

That set off an ongoing crisis for patients with kidney failure such as Garcia -- who cannot survive without dialysis and for whom the thrice-weekly round trip to a dialysis center in Humacao on Puerto Rico's main island, including treatment, takes at least 12 hours.

When seriously ill patients like Garcia will again be able to access their lifesaving treatments in Vieques remains uncertain, as federal, local officials and nonprofit groups debate strategy and finances. No one knows when the hospital will be rebuilt, either. And the government and nonprofit organizations continue to punt the responsibility of paying for the flights.

"This is really hard," Garcia said, as he prepared for his long day of treatment. "I am crazy, crazy, crazy for them to build a clinic here in Vieques."

Who Plans, Who Pays?

Before Maria, Vieques, a sleepy island with about 9,300 people and miles of popular beaches along the Caribbean, once was home to a thriving tourism industry.

Since that September storm, residents have relied on generators for electricity, and tarps still serve as roofs for many houses.

The hurricane ravaged Garcia's home. It tossed the appliances and ripped the metal sheets off, leaving only the wood frame standing. He now lives next door with his mother. The tattoos on his left arm bear her nickname, Tati, alongside the names of his sister and daughter.

Before Garcia received the diagnosis of kidney failure 2½ years ago, he worked odd jobs, including as a handyman at a hotel and a manager in a car rental business.

With the hospital condemned due to storm damage, most medical services were transferred to a tented facility nearby. But dialysis cannot be performed in that setting, since the machines that filter impurities from patients' blood require a steady source of power and clean water.

Puerto Rican government officials have discussed various solutions for restoring dialysis services, including bringing in mobile clinics and finding another building.

Puerto Rico's health secretary, Dr. Rafael Rodríguez-Mercado, said in an interview last month in Washington, D.C., that the department is moving to bring in mobile dialysis units that should arrive within four to six weeks.

"I think this issue is a question of waiting for things to arrive, 'go with the flow,' and begin doing them," said Rodríguez-Mercado.

He also said the government is searching for buildings suitable to house temporary dialysis services in Vieques.

But three weeks later, patients are still taking flights. Luis Emanuelli, regional vice president of the national dialysis provider Fresenius Kidney Care, said he is aware of the plans for mobile dialysis clinics but is unaware of any timeline. Officials with Puerto Rico's Department of Health and local officials in Vieques did not respond to phone calls seeking information on the status of the dialysis units.

The health secretary and Vieques officials have disagreed about who is responsible for coordinating repairs of the ravaged hospital and its infrastructure -- each pointing to the other.

Héctor Ortiz Jiménez, the Vieques municipal secretary, said, "All decisions with respect to the hospital correspond to the Department of Health because that is already part of the agreement between the Department of Health and the Vieques municipality."

Meanwhile, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is collaborating with the territory's health department and the federal Department of Health and Human Services "to help identify costs for mobile or temporary units that are eligible reimbursement expenses," the agency said in an email.

It said officials hope to reconstruct buildings that "meet the needs of the community with resiliency for future disasters."

But the email added that "no long-term solution has been identified yet for any reimbursement costs for reconstruction."

Footing the Bill for Flights

Multiple groups have stepped up to help transport dialysis patients to a working facility. In the months following the hurricane, the responsibility of paying for this transportation has switched regularly between government and nonprofit organizations. These exchanges have at times left patients and the dialysis provider wondering where funds for the next flight would come from.

First, helicopters coordinated by the federal Department of Health and Human Services carried the Vieques residents to the main island for treatment.

In late October, the nonprofit organization ViequesLove began coordinating the flights, ultimately spending $9,000 in airfare, according to its founder.

Then Americares, a nonprofit international relief organization focused on health, began paying, ultimately spending $55,000 on flights. The Puerto Rican health department informed Americares that it would shoulder the travel costs for March.

"The most sustainable solution for patients in need of long-term care is to have the local health system coordinate," said Donna Porstner, director of media relations for the nonprofit.

But this month, a local nonprofit that specializes in kidney health, the Renal Council of Puerto Rico, has assumed that responsibility. It secured the funding from the foundation Unidos por Puerto Rico, according to the Renal Council's executive director, Ángela Díaz. She said she expects the money will cover transportation for the next five to six months.

The council also asked for funding to rent a building in Vieques that could be retrofitted into a dialysis clinic. The foundation has not made a final decision on that request because it is waiting for the various government agencies to come up with a plan to re-establish services, Díaz said.

"I'm Worried About These Patients"

Eight hours after getting up in Vieques, Garcia dozed in one of the pink reclining chairs lining the walls of the treatment room in Humacao, still only halfway through his four-hour dialysis treatment.

Tubes full of blood snaked from his left arm and funneled into the machine on his right side. The electronic screen showed an assortment of numbers reflecting blood pressure and the amount of dialysis fluid flowing through the filter. The tattoo of his mother's name on the same arm peeked out beneath the tangle of plastic.

Some patients from Vieques don't know how much longer they can take the journey for this treatment.

Beside Garcia sat Radamés Cabral Trinidad, 65, who has threatened to stop dialysis to protest the traveling and the lack of effort to provide local treatment. "I want to die," he said. "I want to die in Vieques."

José Lorenzo, director of operations of the clinic run by Fresenius Kidney Care, said he sympathizes with the Vieques residents' call to re-establish the clinic as soon as possible. "I'm worried about these patients," he said, noting the toll the grueling travel takes on their health.

It would be another four hours before Garcia pulled up to his mother's home, plopped his bag down and fixed a plate of leftover rice, exhausted. He took off his shirt and checked his blood pressure to make sure they were stable post-travel, post-treatment.

"I'm glad we made it," he said.

"Thank God," his mother replied.

Categories: News

The "Superpredator" Myth Was Discredited, but It Continues to Ruin Young Black Lives

15 hours 45 min ago
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Vincent Thompson was first arrested when he was 14. It was a Friday night and Thompson and some friends in his neighborhood in Hempstead, Long Island, had just come home from a party. They were clustered outside their buildings not yet ready to call it a night, when the police "rushed" the group, he said, and searched them. Thompson had just started selling crack, and the police found it. He was handcuffed and stuffed into the back of a police car. "It was my first time ever being in that position," Thompson recalls. "I was young."

He was released into his mother's custody, but placed on juvenile probation -- a label that would come to define his adolescence, as was the process of shuttling back and forth to court. By this point in his life, Thompson had already witnessed his older brother and sister get arrested; the images of them sitting in the back of a police car, handcuffed, were cemented in his conscience.

Thompson's home situation was loving. His mother was strong, stable and the sole provider for her three children. But the realities of the neighborhood were dominant. There were two constants for Thompson growing up in Hempstead: drugs and police. He described his community as swallowed by drugs. He often saw the buying and selling of it, but also a heavy, perpetual police presence. If a group of kids were hanging together outside, there was a significant possibility that they would be searched and harassed.

In the early 2000s when Thompson became a teenager, the "superpredator" myth was largely unquestioned. This was the theory that certain cohorts of young people in urban settings (and almost always black or Latino) are violent, terrifying and with "no conscience, no empathy," as Hillary Clinton famously said in 1996. Thompson experienced stop-and-frisk long before he even knew there was a name for it. And Thompson witnessed so many arrests, beyond his siblings, so many people leaving the neighborhood for stretches of time, so many people returning to the community, that incarceration became normalized.

The superpredator condemnation was conceived by John J. Dilulio Jr. in the mid-1990s. ''A new generation of street criminals is upon us -- the youngest, biggest and baddest generation any society has ever known," he said, and the term ushered in a methodology of putting violent teenagers in adult prisons with no thought given to intervention or rehabilitation. Dilulio's description of "brutally remorseless youngsters" won out against children's inexperience and suggestibility. William J. Bennett, with John P. Walter and Dilulio, penned "Body Count" in 1996 and promoted the theory that superpredators would skyrocket the level of teenage violence by the new millennium. But violent crime declined; what surged was the juvenile justice population.

The reality that the US has the highest prison population in the world is both devastating and well-known. The US also leads the world in youth incarceration. There are more than 850,000 juvenile arrests per year and nearly 50,000 young people sit in incarceration every day. And like the adult prison population, black and brown youths are disproportionately impacted. Black children are five times more likely to be held and detained than white children, according to data from the Department of Justice.

The superpredator theory has been disproved. Dilulio andClintonhaveapologized for propagating it. But the policies that followed and the effects of this thinking are still very much in place. In California, people from as young as 14 years old can be transferred to adult courts and tried and sentenced as such. It is a proposition still on the books from 2000. And California is not alone. In a new VICE documentary called "Raised in the System," it says, "There are up to 200,000 youth, tried, sentenced, or incarcerated as adults annually."

"That superpredator myth really scared generations," Bahiyyah Muhammad, assistant professor of criminology at Howard University, said. "That myth is continuing to go on, even in the midst of the apology for it."

The next year, Thompson was arrested again. This time, the police observed him making a drug sale. They chased him into his apartment and "put the guns to me and all that," he said. They thought he broke into someone's home. "I'm 15 years old," he added. For this charge, he spent 60 days in the Nassau County Juvenile Detention Center. Thompson's major takeaway from the center was, "it really got you ready for prison."

"They make very little even pretense at rehabilitation at this point anywhere," said WNYC reporter Kai Wright. He takes an in-depth look into the juvenile justice system in a new podcast series "Caught." He added, "Coming out of, again, the politics of the '90s ... it really started to crowd out the idea that we would be rehabilitating people instead of punishing them."

Thompson remembers that when he was incarcerated there, the detention center held about 60 young people from all over Long Island. But at least one-third were from his same neighborhood. That's because juvenile justice is local and incarceration overwhelmingly cripples distinct geographic areas, but research by Harvard sociologists shows that when law enforcement finds its focus, entire neighborhoods in major cities -- mostly poor, and black and brown -- can be swept up by the prosecutorial zeal.

When it comes to youth incarceration and one's ZIP code, "it's an immediate correlation," Muhammad said. "That really is the bread and butter of the entire juvenile justice system." Wright added, "The sorting of innocence from irredeemable guilt starts young. And more often than not, that stark divide depends on what you look like and where you live."

Researchers labeled areas with high concentration of crime and plagued by mass incarceration as "hot spots." Informally, they have been dubbed "'million-dollar blocks' to reflect that spending on incarceration was the predominant public sector investment in these neighborhoods," the American Prospect magazine reported.

This means mass incarceration can be totally invisible to some Americans or ever present for others. The same is true for youth incarceration. Muhammad says that like the criminal justice system, "the doors revolve" in the juvenile justice system and "the majority of people incarcerated have a juvenile record. So it's clear that there is this pathway." One common denominator is the lowest-performing schools -- those that are the most underfunded and underresourced -- are often in areas where incarceration rates are the highest.

Eighth grade was the last grade Thompson completed as a teenager. He started at Hempstead High School, but was kicked out for truancy, and was officially expelled his second year for the same thing. "I didn't need to be pushed out of school," he said. "I needed to be inside a school." Thompson felt his expulsion drove him right into the juvenile justice system.

It didn't help either that his high school already resembled a place of lockup. It had metal detectors; police patrolled the halls; status offenses, misbehavior or fistfights meant you could leave handcuffed in the back of a police car. Thompson thought school was supposed to be a "safe haven," but with his expulsion, his problems spiraled. "It doesn't help living in highly criminal areas and the school system just pushes you back into that area," he said.

The superpredator myth didn't just infect courtrooms. Schools became these militarized "zero-tolerance" zones, where childish behavior was criminalized, and schools, in specific underresourced neighborhoods, became gateways to youth incarceration. It is a phenomenon known as the school-to-prison pipeline.

Muhammad described the pipeline as:

Individuals in certain schools are being pushed out and being disciplined in a way that's very vicious, that's disrespectful and is a disregard for young black bodies within schools. You started to see metal detectors popping up in these different schools and it was connected to zip code. So if it was a zip code that was plagued by mass incarceration -- connected to the statistics that come out of the Bureau of Justice highlighting the different communities and city that individuals are returning home to -- their children started to get targeted within the schools that they are attending. And not reaching out to help them, but creating an environment where the school is almost just like prison.

In WNYC's "Caught," Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of a civil rights organization, explained that in schools, talking back became disorderly conduct; writing on desks became vandalism. In some states, schools have to alert the courts if a student is cutting class, and fights at school became felonies. So instead of providing social services in schools, children as young as elementary and secondary are facing draconian-style laws and are shifted into the juvenile justice system, which VICE estimates makes a young person 38 times more likely to enter the criminal justice system as an adult.

A horrific video surfaced from a South Carolina high school in 2015, when a school police officer wrapped his arm around a 16-year-old black girl's neck to forcibly remove her from her desk. The desk flipped over and he proceeded to drag her and throw her across the floor before arresting her. Classmates said the teenager used a cellphone in math class and then refused to leave the classroom. For this, she faced a misdemeanor charge for "disturbing schools." Wright worries that even as we are in a political moment where the school-to-prison pipeline is named and known, which he says is progress -- as a society, we have yet to wrestle with the long-term effects of these zero-tolerance policies.

With no school to attend, Thompson spent more time on the streets, more time selling drugs and more time face to face with what he says were "the hardships of the neighborhood." Thompson was arrested again for a drug sale at 17 and sent to Nassau County jail -- an adult jail, but he was housed in the adolescent block for one year. There, he turned 18 and got his GED. And five months after his release from jail, Thompson was arrested for manslaughter and sentenced to 12 years in prison.

"Very few people would look at this and say this works," Wright said of the juvenile justice system. "It is almost unanimous that this does not work. The debates are really about how much harm does it do." 

But something clicked for Thompson during his sentencing as a legal adult. He saw scores of young black men shuffling in and out of courtrooms and it amplified the way the system disregards young black bodies. To see his mother in tears at his sentencing was exemplary of the way the system crushes entire families. And to see the district attorney pine for a plea deal made clear the system's priority for a conviction over justice. Thompson said that if he didn't devise a plan for himself, the system had the possibility of determining the rest of his life. So education became his primary goal once he learned there was a possibility of getting a college degree while incarcerated. 

It is no accident. "The teenage brain is like a sports car," is the title of "Caught's" fifth episode. It follows the scientific brain research that demonstrates how teenagers are unpredictable and how brains do not mature fully until young people are in their 20s. (This adds to the long-established research of how most people age out of crime.)

In 2002, the Supreme Court deemed it unconstitutional to execute mentally disabled people, because they lack culpability, judgment and impulse control. Wright shows how this opened the door for lawyers to argue for the same treatment for youth -- that a teenager is just as impulsive as someone with intellectual disabilities.

In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional for a teenager under the age of 18 to be sentenced to death. Then, in 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that a juvenile could not be sentenced to life without parole for a non-homicidal crime. And in 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that a juvenile could not be sentenced to mandatory life without parole. (This does not bar life sentences for youth, just mandatory ones.)

"Brain science, and juvenile life without parole, I think that's a perfect example of where the conversation around youth incarceration and youth criminalization is driving us into a space to think newly about what is justice," Wright said. "We've done this before, because we've thought newly about what is justice and made it a more punitive and more avenging space. We can think newly about justice and make it more about reform."

Reforms are happening. In Tuledo, Ohio, the documentary "Raised in the System" shows how juvenile court administrator Deborah Hodges has diverted a significant portion of juvenile offenders from detention to a youth assessment center. The Annie E. Casey Foundation's Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative is another well-known project that reduces juvenile detention populations. What began as a pilot project in the 1990s is now present in 300 counties. And in Illinois, youth under 18 are no longer tried as adults, but now automatically sent to juvenile court. Other nationwide programs like Models for Change incorporate mental health and community-based alternatives to youth incarceration.

"There are efforts inside the system and around the system to figure out how can we put rehabilitation back on the table and find ways to intervene with mental health," Wright said. "They are swimming against the tide of what the system is built to do at this moment."

Muhammad says to upend the superpredator myth, what's needed is a cultural upheaval for how we treat juvenile offenders. She added that it is crucial to keep youth in their communities, to connect them with mental health and other social services, to include their families in the reentry process and to provide young people with employment. Beyond the structural reforms, Muhammad stresses that, most important, young people need to be listened to and forgiven.

Thompson served just under 10 years in Sing Sing, Attica, Coxsackie, Eastern and Wallkill Correctional Facility. He tried three different times to enter college programs, but either did not qualify or did not make the cut. "It's so hard to get into a college program inside prison, so it took me about eight years to qualify," he said. "It's highly competitive."

At Wallkill, Thompson was accepted into New York University's Prison Education Program and earned his associate's. Now free, Thompson is at NYU working toward his bachelor's in American Studies. In his spare time, he works with Just Leadership, an organization that empowers formerly incarcerated individuals and others most affected by incarceration to craft prison reform through policy. Thompson is helping to create a Just Leadership branch in his hometown, Long Island. For the long term, he plans to start his own organization, "to provide mentorship to the youth and the support that I felt I should have gotten at that age," he said.

"No longer is the criminal justice system swallowing the juvenile justice system," Muhammad said of the research and reform dedicated to youth incarceration. Formerly incarcerated individuals like Thompson are increasingly leaders in this work. And since the juvenile justice system is the starting point of criminalization and incarceration for so many adults in prison, juvenile justice reform is integral to repairing the criminal justice system.

A nationwide cultural shift is still needed, but "you're starting to see a drive for juvenile justice," Muhammad continued. "And by looking at these children, this is the way that we're beginning to free them. And I feel like it's allowing us to humanize these children that should have never been animalized or dehumanized in the first place."

Categories: News

A Year Later, Fewer Deportations in Cities That Adopted "Welcoming" Policies

15 hours 45 min ago

 John Moore / Getty Images)Demonstrators protest the deportation of undocumented immigrants on July 24, 2013, in New York City. (Photo: John Moore / Getty Images)

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A year after the Santa Fe City Council adopted in February 2017 a resolution strengthening its welcoming and non-discrimination policies toward immigrants, the federal government launched a series of audits demanding verification from local small businesses that their employees were eligible to work in the country. In response to this blitz, advocates and city officials held a press conference in early March calling out an attempt to disrupt business, wreak havoc, and create a culture of fear and panic.

"Today, children will wake up at home wondering if there will be a knock on their door; parents will go to work wondering if there will be a knock at the door of their place of employment; families will wonder if they'll have one more meal together," said then-Mayor Javier Gonzales, who, following President Trump's election, became an outspoken proponent of cities enacting sanctuary and non-discrimination policies. "That is not what our country has ever been about, but it is what this administration is trying to do by dividing our communities. All of us in our community know that one of the best values Santa Fe incorporates every day is the value of welcoming people."

And that value of welcoming is not just compassionate talk. There is proof that sanctuary policies are working, keeping residents safer than in places that collaborate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement tactics.

According to a new study from Pew Research Center, nationwide deportations made by ICE in 2017 increased 30 percent from the previous year. But these increases are not distributed evenly. In regions where city and state governments worked hand in hand with ICE, deportations have increased more than 75 percent. In regions where sanctuary policies are more prevalent, increases have remained relatively low.

Along with California, New Mexico has emerged as one of the most welcoming states for undocumented immigrants. And it's not just the capital, Santa Fe. Across the state, immigrant rights groups and faith communities are working alongside local governments in innovative ways to resist the Trump administration's deportation efforts. Not only have these efforts succeeded, but they have provided a blueprint for other towns, cities, and states to emulate.

* * *

Santa Fe adopted its first sanctuary resolution in 1999. It was a reaction to the new Illegal Immigration and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which threatened undocumented immigrants with lengthy bans. This first resolution was largely symbolic—a declaration of the city's values, stating only that the city would not use its own resources to aid federal immigration officials.

Nearly two decades later, following Trump's election and xenophobic rhetoric, city leaders and immigrant communities were activated once again.

Mayor Gonzales appeared on CNN, Fox News, NPR, and other news outlets just a week after the election explaining why Santa Fe would continue its welcoming policies toward immigrants and would resist any large-scale deportation efforts.

Somos un Pueblo Unido, a state-wide immigrant rights organization based in Santa Fe, held a meeting for its members a week following the election to provide a space for people both to express their fears and brainstorm ways of strengthening policies to better protect them. "What's great is that when you are membership-based, the solutions are so deeply rooted in the realities of lived experiences," says Marcela Diaz, Somos' executive director. She has been with the organization for 20 years and helped the city with the 1999 resolution.

Over the next three months, Somos un Pueblo Unido worked with city council members, the ACLU of New Mexico, and other stakeholders to create a legally defensible document that would provide meaningful protection for immigrant families. The new policies bar city employees from inquiring about or disclosing information about residents' immigration status, deny federal immigration agents access to non-public areas of city property, direct staff to improve language access on all government documents and programs, and mandate outreach to employers and community members to educate people on their civil rights and the city's new policies.

While these are considered sanctuary policies, over the course of the drafting process, the word "sanctuary" was removed from the resolution. There is no legal definition of sanctuary, and advocates reasoned that the word could become a lightning rod for the Trump administration.

Even so, when the council unanimously adopted the welcoming, non-discrimination resolution in February 2017, the room exploded in cheers and applause. Everyone seemed to feel the weight of the occasion. "As a native Santa Fean, I'm proud to be on the right side of history," said city councilor Renee Villarreal.

Unlike the resolution from 1999, this one wasn't merely a statement of values, but a prescription of policies for the city to implement.

As people celebrated, Diaz said, she was thinking about what lay ahead: "Our work begins now."

Over the past year the new policies have been put in place. There's still work to be done, Diaz said, especially in the realm of language access, but has not received any complaints from members about the city not living up to its stated values.

Additionally, Villarreal said the city will start to coordinate with the county, school district, and local community college to ensure each entity is working together in a complementary fashion.

The city and groups like Somos hold know-your-rights workshops. Significantly, many of these trainings are peer-to-peer and allow the kind of firsthand information sharing that attorneys cannot always provide.

"We do a lot of peer-to-peer because it's just different," said Diaz. "The difference is that there are some organizations and some attorneys -- and rightly so -- that say 'stay calm, don't run.' We know people that have run and have gotten away, so it's weird for us to say don't run."

Somos does work with attorneys and groups like the ACLU to offer legal advice. But because a lot of important information comes from other members as they encounter ICE and Border Patrol, peer-to-peer is often most effective. As Diaz explained, "We're not telling you to run -- we're just saying these are the consequences."

Because there is no playbook for the crackdown on undocumented immigrants currently taking place, Somos un Pueblo Unido has had to be nimble and adapt to shifting ICE tactics. Through its member network, the organization can quickly disseminate information efficiently when ICE agents enter a community.

When ICE began launching audits back in February, Somos and other organizations throughout the state were forced to act quickly. Two days after the press conference where Gonzales decried ICE's disruptive actions, Somos co-sponsored a know-your-rights workshop with the city, the Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association, and the Hispanic and Green Chambers of Commerce. The workshop was specifically designed for employers to learn what they are legally required to disclose during an I-9 audit and how they could best protect their employees. Despite just a couple days' notice, more than 50 businesses showed up.

"We're playing whack-a-mole," said Diaz, referring to the fast-paced, random nature at which they are encountering new threats. "But that's what sanctuary for us is—helping people understanding what's going on and sharing resources. All of the answers are not necessarily going to be there. We have to be nimble, we have to figure out how to attack each tactic as it comes."

Villarreal is also encouraged by the proactive way in which Santa Fe has faced these new threats head on. "It's a sign of the activism in New Mexico," she says. "That we have very strong immigrant rights organizations that work well with governments is a large reason why we've been successful.

Not all governments, however. Santa Fe's immigrant community knows to avoid the state probation office and opt to deal with any legal business at the county jail. Why? Even though Santa Fe County does not cooperate with ICE, the state of New Mexico under Republican Gov. Susana Martinez does.

* * *

To be clear, members of Somos un Pueblo Unido are in the thick of a battle against the federal government. For these people, wins can seem temporary, while losses last longer and are felt more acutely. They come in the form of people being deported and families being torn apart. Despite the difficulty in feeling successful, though, New Mexico has proved to be a national leader in resisting deportation.

According to Pew's analysis of data provided by ICE, 143,470 people were arrested during 2017, compared to 110,104 in 2016. (Trump's first year in office pales in comparison to the 297,898 arrests during President Obama's first year.)

ICE compiles its data based on 24 different regions that largely follow state boundaries. In 2017, Miami (which includes all of Florida), Dallas (which includes the northern half of Texas and Oklahoma) and St. Paul (which includes Minnesota, Iowa, the Dakotas, and Nebraska) saw the biggest jump in arrests made by ICE with increases of 76 percent, 71 percent, and 67 percent, respectively.

San Antonio (central-southern Texas), Houston (southeastern Texas) and San Francisco (Northern California, Hawaii and Guam) saw the lowest increases at 1 percent, 5 percent, and 9 percent, respectively. But those numbers can be misleading. In raw numbers, the Houston region saw the second highest number of deportations, and San Antonio ranked fifth.

On the other hand, ICE's El Paso region, which includes west Texas and all of New Mexico, saw a modest growth in the numbers of arrests at 12 percent. But in raw numbers, the region remains the third lowest of all ICE regions with only 1,892 arrests last year. That still ranks above Baltimore (1,666 arrests) and Buffalo, New York, (1,494 arrests), which both saw larger increases last year of 34 percent and 27 percent, respectively.

Considering that New Mexico is a border state, its ability to minimize the number of residents deported stands out.

An analysis conducted by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center provides useful context. Mapping every county across the country, ILRC created a 0-7 scale to determine the extent to which counties do or do not work with ICE with 0 representing the highest level of cooperation and 7 representing the lowest level of cooperation.

Counties with a rating of 0 either work closely with ICE or have entered formal agreements under which local law enforcement officers are essentially deputized as federal immigration agents. On the other side of the scale, counties with a rating of 6 or 7, like Santa Fe, have comprehensive "sanctuary" protections in place to block local resources from being used to aid ICE.

According to ILRC, California laws passed last year turned every county in California into a 6 or 7. Oregon and Vermont also stand out with pro-immigrant policies prevalent across each state. New Mexico is the only other state where most counties have policies that favor protecting immigrants. Of the state's 33 counties, 22 rank as a 4 or higher.

In a similar report, ILRC also looked at how county-level policies changed after Trump took office. In New Mexico, every county that ranked as a 4 or higher strengthened their policies over the past year. The same is true of every California county, along with many in Oregon. On the reverse side, counties in ICE-collaborative regions like Miami, St. Paul, and Buffalo largely decreased protections for immigrants, likely contributing the increased arrest rates.

* * *

While sanctuary policies can be credited for part of New Mexico's success, the state has also built a supportive culture around its immigrant communities. Nowhere is this more true than its second largest city, Las Cruces, which sits just 40 miles north of the Mexico border.

In response to raids in February 2017, NM CAFé (an acronym for Comunidades en Acción y de Fé), a faith-based community organization and affiliate of the PICO National Network, led a protest in downtown Las Cruces, blocking parts of Main Street for 45 minutes. The group was joined by local faith leaders, and the next day a group of eight state senators and local representatives signed a letter to Gov. Martinez calling on her to bar ICE from entering sensitive areas like schools, churches, hospitals, and courthouses to calm the sense of anxiety running through the community.

"We wanted to push back against this narrative that ICE just gets to come in our communities and kidnap people from their homes," said Johana Bencomo, a community organizer with CAFé. "We wanted to make sure it was something the community knew about."

In many communities, civil disobedience could be divisive. But in Las Cruces, it seems to be energizing. Anxiety persists, acknowledged Bencomo, but "it hasn't paralyzed people. If anything, it's woken up many other people."

Late last year, the city of Las Cruces adopted its own non-discrimination resolution.

CAFé also organized its members to pressure the state's two senators, Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, to vote against a Dreamers bill that included $25 billion in border security funds. In February, Udall and Heinrich joined California's Sen. Kamala Harris as the only dissenting votes. In addition to its policy work, CAFé embraces organizing strategies similar to Somos', such as holding know-your-rights workshops and teaching employers and employees what to expect from I-9 audits.

CAFé has also created a rapid response network that allows people to alert organizers when immigration raids are taking place. Staff and volunteers serve as operators, and once claims are verified, the organization can send email or text message blasts.

And when all else fails, CAFé turns to Father Tom Smith, director of the Holy Cross Retreat Center in Mesilla, just south of Las Cruces.

In May 2017, Father Smith took in Jorge Taborda as his first sanctuary case, although Smith prefers the term "Francisican hospitality." Taborda arrived with his 16-year-old son, who is a U.S. citizen, after his wife was deported to Colombia. And since October, Smith has taken in a second person, Lorena Rivera.

"We are called by the gospel and the scriptures to welcome the aliens, to care for those in need," Smith explained.

With room enough for only four people, Smith acknowledges that he alone cannot make a difference on a large scale. And while ICE has agreed not to enter sensitive areas like churches, if federal agents come with a search warrant, he cannot stop them. He said that his work is intended to "raise consciousness." He allows media access to both Taborda and Rivera and also brings in school groups to learn from their experiences. "They listen to their stories, and it helps change their opinion because they're hearing it directly from that person," Smith said.

"Father Tom has been a godsend to our community," Bencomo said. "He has shown the kind of boldness and courage our community members need."

"We are building a really strong counter-narrative that is only enhancing Las Cruces's culture," Bencomo affirmed.

* * *

Despite the work being done by New Mexico communities to keep their residents safe, the Trump administration is determined.

The Justice Department is suing California over its new laws that bar private employers as well as state and local jails from cooperating voluntarily with federal immigration officials. The federal government maintains it has complete authority over immigration issues.

In Texas, the state legislature passed a law banning sanctuary cities. An injunction had been granted, but a federal appeals court ruled in March that the law could take effect. The court battle will continue.

Meanwhile, construction of Trump's border wall is set to begin in New Mexico as well as parts of the Lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis authorized the federal government to pay for potential deployment of up to 4,000 National Guard troops for the border mission through September. Arizona and Texas have committed hundreds of troops so far. Many fear that the further militarization of the border will serve only to cast immigrants in a negative light.

* * *

With the national landscape more fraught than ever, immigrant rights groups in New Mexico are busy.

Somos un Pueblo Unido has helped facilitate meetings to bring community members together with the law enforcement community and recently conducted a training for 90 Farmington police officers on the benefits of not checking immigration status, which they have ceased doing. Somos was also involved in McKinley County's decision to cease its cooperation with ICE, and it helped dissuade Luna County, west of Las Cruces, from entering into a deputizing agreement with the agency. In Albuquerque, the election of a progressive mayor has meant a non-discrimination resolution in the state's largest city is making its way through the city council.

The thought of continuing at this pace for another three years of a Trump term is daunting, but Diaz is encouraged by the experiences of the past year. "What it takes is giving people the space to stand up for themselves."

Bencomo agreed. "I believe in the power of an organized community," she said. "I hope we can keep building power so that we can continue to protect more families."

Categories: News

In a Major Win for Airline Labor, Nearly 5,000 JetBlue Flight Attendants Just Voted to Unionize

15 hours 45 min ago

 Robert Alexander / Getty Images)A JetBlue passenger jet (Embraer 190) taxis at LaGuardia Airport in New York, New York. (Photo: Robert Alexander / Getty Images)

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On April 18, nearly 5,000 JetBlue Airways flight attendants voted to form a union, notching a major victory for organized labor. The employees voted 2,661 to 1,387 to join the Transport Workers Union (TWU), a labor group that represents rail and airline workers, among others, and is affiliated with the AFL-CIO.

Sean Doyle, Assistant Director of Organizing for the TWU, tells In These Times that the vote to unionize JetBlue is "probably one of the largest and most successful union campaigns that's happened in quite some time." Doyle sees a connection between the successful effort to organize JetBlue employees and the recent wave of strikes and walkouts, particularly among teachers in states like Oklahoma and West Virginia.

"You can see by the workers, the teachers and what they're doing that middle-class America has taken it on the chin long enough," Doyle says. "Workers are uniting to protect their interests, not only in their jobs, but also their families and their welfare." Although most workers at airlines such as Southwest are already unionized, Doyle believes JetBlue was hoping to block their employees' desire to organize and join the TWU.

"We don't do cold calls," Doyle wryly points out, noting that it was JetBlue flight attendants who sought his group's help, and not the other way around.

JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes said in a statement that, while his company does "respect the outcome of the election," they are also dismayed at the vote to unionize. The statement does not spell out JetBlue's reasons for resisting the flight attendants' efforts, although labor organizing is not a new issue for the airline. In 2014, the company's pilots 3,500 unionized with the Airline Pilots Association, yet they are reportedly still waiting to have their first contract ratified.

JetBlue flight attendants have been attempting to form a union since at least 2017, according to several news accounts from last year. From the New York Post to the New Republic, writers and industry observers have documented the brewing battle between the company's "in-flight crewmembers" and JetBlue management. An inflammatory message sent by JetBlue to its employees last year even went so far as to declare that the TWU was an "opportunistic and negative third party" determined to "generate negativity and drama."

JetBlue advised flight attendants that, if they found themselves being "harassed" by union organizers, to "Just Say No."

That message clearly did not work. The airline industry is extremely profitable, according to Ted Reed, who covers the business side of airlines for Forbes. In a February 2018 story, Reed noted that airlines scored a "record $25.6 billion in 2015 profits," and that JetBlue's value is estimated to be just north of $1 billion. Although airlines typically engage in profit sharing gestures with employees, according to Reed, that hasn't shielded the industry from remaining a "labor stronghold"—even in the era of right-to-work laws that seek to undermine union organizing.

Reed describes JetBlue as a "primary battleground" for union activity. In January 2018, just after the flight attendants won the right to hold a union vote from the National Mediation Board, JetBlue gave all of its employees a $1,000 bonus in what the company said was a nod to the new federal tax cuts signed into law in late 2017 by President Trump. If management's intention was to douse employees with a one-time bonus and hope that the union threat would go away, they were sorely mistaken.

Instead, according to Doyle, the tax cuts and one-time bonuses served as more evidence of runaway corporate greed. "These tax cuts were sold as being beneficial to the middle class," Doyle says, "but those at the top have made millions from them already." This point of view was echoed by a recent post from Matt Egan at CNN Money, which noted that the post-tax cut bonuses celebrated by Trump and his supporters are little in comparison to the windfall raining on "already-wealthy shareholders and CEOs."

In this climate, workers are "fighting for a seat at the table," Doyle insists. "JetBlue flight attendants want a legally binding contract so that they are no longer at-will employees. They want respect on the job and voice in their future." Some of the main points of contention appear to be health insurance coverage and the right to weigh in on company policies, such as work schedules.

In a video posted to a website created by pro-union JetBlue flight attendants, employees describe the working conditions they face. "We work in a petri dish," flight attendant Lyndi Howard says, while her colleagues note that health insurance premiums have more than doubled in recent years. "I want a proper grievance and arbitration process," flight attendant Vance Green says, explaining that he wants to make sure he can express his views without fear of reprisal.

Now, Green and the thousands of other flight attendants who keep JetBlue in the air have won the opportunity to negotiate their first contract with the airline's management team.

In a statement, John Samuelsen, president of TWU, called on JetBlue to quickly come to the table and negotiate a "fair and just contract with the workers they employ." If not, Samuelsen says, TWU is "prepared to engage in a fightback campaign that will continue until a contract is secured and Inflight Crewmembers are protected."

Categories: News

CIA Operative Who Tortured, Destroyed CIA Torture Tapes, and Now Wants To Lead CIA Was "Cleared," Says CIA

Sat, 04/21/2018 - 04:00

 Central Intelligence Agency)Gina Haspel, who was in charge of a black site in Thailand where torture occurred and ordered the destruction of CIA tapes of the human rights violations, has been nominated to become director of the spy agency. (Photo: Central Intelligence Agency)

In what critics are calling a bald attempt to help Trump's controversial pick to lead the CIA get through a very difficult confirmation process, the CIA on Friday released a previously classified memo in which Gina Haspel was "cleared" of any wrongdoing when she destroyed more than 90 videotapes of agency operatives torturing human beings.

According to the Associated Press, which first reported the story, the CIA on Friday "gave lawmakers a declassified memo Friday showing [Haspel] was cleared years ago of wrongdoing in the destruction of videotapes showing terror suspects being waterboarded after 9/11."

Written by then-acting deputy director of the CIA Mike Morrell, the eight-page memo, as the Washington Post reports, "does not weigh in on questions about Haspel's involvement in the use of brutal interrogation methods at a black-site facility she supervised in Thailand. The memo does suggest, however, that there was general CIA support for the destruction of the tapes at the time Haspel drafted the 2005 memo, as officials were still heavily influenced by the experience of fallout from the 2004 scandal involving the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq."

Sen. Diane Feinstein, Democrat of California and member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, responded by saying that the CIA's memo should be seen for what it is: an attempt by the agency to release information that makes Haspel look good while continuing to block the release of information that might serve to incriminate her or hurt her chances for confirmation.

"It's completely unacceptable for the CIA to declassify only material that's favorable to Gina Haspel while at the same time stonewalling our efforts to declassify all documents related her involvement in the torture program," Feinstein stated.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) indicated the memo will do nothing to lessen his concerns and actually raises new ones.

"Unfortunately, the Morell report is highly incomplete, raising far more questions about Ms. Haspel than it answers," Wyden said in a statement. "My concerns about Ms. Haspel are far broader than this episode or anything else that has appeared in the press."

Staff attorneys for the ACLU -- which for years has been fighting for the CIA, the White House, and Congress to come clean about the government's torture program -- said the agency's memo on Haspel is the very least of what should be disclosed:

 

Internal CIA probe by former acting CIA director clears CIA official of wrongdoing.

Amazing, the things that get declassified!

— Hina Shamsi (@HinaShamsi) April 20, 2018

Since you're in a declassifying mood, how about this? https://t.co/QzPYDBkIH7 https://t.co/FaC19vUKN8

— Ben Wizner (@benwizner) April 20, 2018

 

Pointing to the Washington Post's version of the CIA memo regarding Haspel, journalist Glenn Greenwald responded by saying: "One of the most damaging aspects of the Trump presidency is how it's trained millions of newly politically engaged people to view the CIA and its leaders as noble and heroic. It's one of the most evil agencies on the planet."

This week, The Daily Beast's Spencer Ackerman reported on how former CIA lawyer John Rizzo says that Haspel did, in fact, run the agency's black site in Thailand.

Rizzo's 2014 book, reports Ackerman, "indicated that Haspel was responsible for the incommunicado detention and torture not of two men, but of dozens, potentially. Former intelligence officials interviewed by The Daily Beast have portrayed Haspel's experience similarly."

 

Gina Haspel's nomination as CIA Director is no typical nomination. This is whether or not your senator chooses to reward someone who oversaw a torture program in one of America’s darkest chapters. #BlockHaspel https://t.co/qQYPgV49ix pic.twitter.com/OBhndEjPlW

— Win Without War (@WinWithoutWar) April 20, 2018

 

While human rights groups and progressives have been unified in the urgent effort to make sure Haspel's confirmation is defeated, even members of the national security establishment have been raising enormous concerns about Haspel.

"Try to get a job in a Fortune 500 company when you're known to have destroyed evidence," General Charles Krulak, a retired Marine Corps commandant and former member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told AP. "We can't have a public or private sector where we just say 'Well, I was just following orders.' Golly day! Do you want that person to be director of the CIA?"

And despite the best efforts by Trump allies and the CIA itself to get Haspel approved by the Senate, one unidentified former intelligence official critical of the CIA's torture program told Ackerman it would be a disaster.

"If Ms. Haspel is confirmed, it will send a terrible message to the world broadly, and to the officers of the CIA more superficially," the former official said. "The CIA, and its former officers, are pushing so hard for Ms. Haspel to be director because if she's confirmed, it essentially exonerates her, the CIA and all of these former senior CIA officials from their involvement in or their defense of the torture program."

But the advocacy group Win Without War made a succinct moral argument by putting it this way: "Torture was illegal and immoral after 9/11, and it still is now. Haspel should never be allowed to work for the American people again."

Categories: News

If Cohen Flips on Trump, Let the Wild Rumpus Start

Sat, 04/21/2018 - 04:00

 Spencer Platt/Getty Images)President Donald Trump's long-time personal attorney Michael Cohen arrives at a New York court on April 16, 2018 in New York City. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Speculation has begun to grow that Michael Cohen, Trump's long-time personal attorney whose office and home were raided by the FBI, may agree to cooperate with Robert Mueller's investigation. If so, he could go down in history with Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano, the mobster whose testimony ultimately destroyed the Gotti crime family.

 Spencer Platt/Getty Images)President Donald Trump's long-time personal attorney Michael Cohen arrives at a New York court on April 16, 2018 in New York City. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The Schofield Kid: Yeah, well, I guess they had it coming.

William Munny: We all have it coming, Kid.

-- "Unforgiven"

When your current lawyer has his home and office plundered of all paperwork by FBI agents bearing judge-certified warrants, and your old lawyer tells you your current lawyer is almost certainly going to give you up to the feds to save himself, you are having a bad day.

This is precisely the predicament Mr. Trump finds himself in, according to his old attorney, Jay Goldberg, who represented Trump's interests for many years. In an interview with CBS News, Goldberg said he was all but certain Michael Cohen would flip under the intense legal pressure being brought to bear upon him.

In a comparison that should chill Trump to the bone, Goldberg likened Cohen to Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano, the notorious mobster whose eventual testimony and cooperation with federal authorities ultimately obliterated the John Gotti crime family.

"There is virtually no chance that Cohen would not try to win the affection and cooperation of the US Attorney," Goldberg told CBS, "and thus, he would like all other persons accused of crime, where the penalty is substantial, he would give support for the government's version of the facts."

Goldberg made similar statements in an earlier conversation with the Wall Street Journal, which reported, "Mr. Goldberg said he cautioned the president not to trust Mr. Cohen. On a scale of 100 to 1, where 100 is fully protecting the president, Mr. Cohen 'isn't even a 1,' he said he told Mr. Trump … 'Michael will never stand up [for you]' if charged by the government."

Alan Dershowitz, famed attorney and Trump's new bestie, is of a similar mind regarding Cohen. "That's what they'll threaten him with: life imprisonment," Dershowitz told Politico. "They're going to threaten him with a long prison term and try to turn him into a canary that sings."

Possible signs of a ripple effect from the Cohen raid are already beginning to show. Out of nowhere, the National Enquirer and its parent company American Media Inc. (AMI) reached a settlement with former Playboy model Karen McDougal in a long-running suit over the rights to her story of an affair with Donald Trump. 

Among the Cohen documents seized by the FBI were papers pertaining to AMI and the McDougal suit. "McDougal's lawsuit did not name Cohen as a defendant," reports the Washington Post, "but it did allege that Trump's personal lawyer colluded with AMI to effectively silence her by buying the rights to her story and then declining to run it."

The terms of the settlement were profoundly favorable to McDougal: She can talk all she wants now about what went down with The Donald a decade ago, and only has to share 10 percent of whatever profits she makes from the telling with AMI. Those seized documents may very well have proved her side of the story, prompting the settlement.

Cohen has also abruptly abandoned his own lawsuit against BuzzFeed and Fusion GPS. He brought suit against them after they published an unredacted version of the so-called "Steele Dossier," the explosive document that details Trump's alleged associations with shady Russian operators. That dossier also contained a description of the now-notorious "Pee Tapes" that allegedly show Trump asking prostitutes to urinate on a bed once shared by Barack and Michelle Obama.

No concrete reason was given for dropping the case. "Given the events that have unfolded," said Cohen's attorney David Schwartz, "and the time, attention, and resources needed to prosecute these matters, we have dismissed the matters, despite their merits." One can only assume that "the events that have unfolded" refers to the FBI's plundering of Cohen's client files.

So that's one Cohen cat out of the bag, and maybe another. How many more will follow?

It is not too far a stretch to imagine Donald Trump losing what remains of his tattered equilibrium as the legal footsteps march closer and closer to his door. Michael Cohen was Trump's personal attorney, privy to all the secrets of the realm. If Cohen does what many in Trump's orbit fear he will and takes whatever ride Mueller offers, the rain is going to come down hard and fast for all involved. Cohen was directly involved in the Trump Organization's international business dealings, and a fair portion of those dealings were with the kind of shady characters that make a prosecutor's mouth water.

Worst of all for Trump, a Cohen flip puts his kids on the firing line. "Cohen, Donald Jr. and Ivanka were essentially the Trump Organization's entire global development team when the company was shaking hands with questionable business partners around the world," reports Eric Lach of The New Yorker. "If Cohen were to cooperate with investigators, they would surely ask him about Trump's children." If all the rumors are true, nothing gets the bats in Trump's belfry more agitated than a perceived threat to his progeny.

Trump's ebbing fan base can rest easy, though. His legal team made a change, and former New York City mayor and terrible presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani has joined the cause. One can only imagine the fine legal prowess he will bring to the fray. I can hear him now, arguing with the judge: "Your Honor, I can only say that my client is a good man who was there on September 11 just like me, and we all know how bad September 11 was, because September 11 and September 11."

Michael Cohen has some serious thinking to do. At the moment, he is tied tight to the rails with the Mueller Express highballing down the track. His options are binary: Hop on board or get run over. If Robert Mueller shows him the evidence he has along with a list of all the others who have chosen to cooperate -- maybe Michael Flynn, maybe Paul Manafort, maybe who knows who else -- his decision gets a whole lot simpler. As Rick Wilson noted last week, "Trump isn't exactly known for paying his bills in the first place." Loyalty is what loyalty does.

We shall see. Get ready for a long, hot summer.

Categories: News

EPA Recommends Transitioning Away From Animal Testing

Sat, 04/21/2018 - 04:00

Good news from federal agencies can feel like a rarity these days, but this dispatch from the Environmental Protection Agency is an excellent reminder that staffers deep in the government are hard at work to build a better world. In draft guidance on skin allergy testing for pesticides and industrial chemicals, the EPA is encouraging researchers to move away from the use of animal models.

Such testing is legally required to determine the level of hazard that various industrial products pose. Scientists aim to determine if chemicals cause skin irritation and, if so, the severity of their effects. This allows agencies to determine whether a product is safe enough to be sold to consumers, or if it needs to come with special warning labels.

Historically, this process has involved exposing animals to the chemicals in question, relying primarily on guinea pigs and mice. As part of the research, the animals are killed and autopsied to examine the effects.

The Humane Society of the United States maintains that these methods really should be consigned to history -- and not just because they are cruel. Alternatives to animal testing actually appear to be more effective, which is a good reason to abandon these outdated practices.

The EPA estimates that about 10,000 animals are used in testing these products annually, thanks to stringent requirements. In order to validate results, researchers have to repeat tests multiple times in a controlled setting. This process doesn't just involve the use of many animals; it's also time consuming, with some testing taking several years and multiple generations of animals to complete. That, in turn, can make research very costly, presenting problems for the bottom lines of companies that want to control costs.

This move has been in the works for a while; federal agencies are notorious for taking a long time to develop and implement draft policies. It's a step in the right direction, though -- and one that may encourage people in the private sector to follow suit. The EPA is also working with other agencies, including internationally, to streamline testing requirements with the goal of reducing hiccups in the process. If testing requirements differ radically, it can be difficult for companies to bring products to market.

There's a growing body of evidence to support ditching animal testing in favor of humane alternatives, including cruelty, cost and ineffectiveness. This policy decision is just working on the right side of history -- and Congressional mandate. The Frank L. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act pushed for changes in animal testing requirements to improve the quality and safety of chemical testing.

Policies like this one can drive innovation. With federal agencies calling for viable alternatives, there's a reason to invest in developing new products and approaches that will yield accurate, fast, and cost-effective results. Making more options available creates more opportunities to go cruelty-free, whether a company is manufacturing agricultural chemicals or beauty products. Such developments can also be used for leverage by animal welfare activists to challenge corporations and the government on the continued use of animal testing.

TAKE ACTION!

Like other policy proposals, this one is open for public comment, and the EPA must consider feedback from members of the public before finalizing the rule. You have until June 9, 2018 to leave a comment on this policy proposal.

 

Categories: News

Why Black Stories Matter: They Build Empathy and Heal Trauma

Sat, 04/21/2018 - 04:00
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When she was growing up, Rachel Bailey was taught that only rich, self-indulgent White people suffered from mental health issues. Black people were supposed to be tougher. Although she remembers struggling with what was later diagnosed as bipolar disorder since she was 4 years old, it wasn't until age 34 that she began to seek treatment, checking herself into a psychiatric ward after a severe mental breakdown.

"People of other races, especially White people, they get to be crazy and have their reasons and their subtle shades of insanity," Bailey says. "It's unfair that you get to be insane in colorful ways and I just get to be nuts and go to jail and rot there."

Bailey was one of 11 Black performers who shared their stories in front of an audience of 600 people at TMI Project's inaugural #BlackStoriesMatter show in 2017.

Among the performers was Tina-Lynn Dickerson, who spoke about becoming homeless after being evicted from her home in the now gentrified Harlem neighborhood she grew up in, and Micah Blumenthal, who spoke about how the lack of meaningful Black characters in film affected him as a child.

TMI Project is a nonprofit based in Kingston, New York, that works to uplift the voices of underrepresented populations in the community by helping them share their stories publicly. This is done through monologue-writing workshops that, if the writer chooses, culminate in a performance in front of an audience.

The goal is to raise awareness about different social issues, give people new perspectives, and inspire people to take action, says Eva Tenuto, co-founder and executive director of TMI Project.

"There are often stories that, if you read a report or statistics about (them), you might not feel deeply impacted by," Tenuto says. "But when you hear one person tell their true, real experience about what they've lived through, it might alter your perception about a certain group of people."

In the past, TMI Project has collaborated with the local LGBTQ community, adults with mental health issues, people struggling with eating disorders, military veterans, incarcerated teen boys, survivors of domestic violence and assault, at-risk teens with psychiatric disorders, teen mothers, and cancer survivors.

TMI Project's most recent social justice effort is the #BlackStoriesMatter initiative, spearheaded by program director Tameka Ramsey, with the intent of addressing racism and inequality in the community and across the country.

Since the first performance in 2017, TMI Project has hosted another #BlackStoriesMatter workshop in partnership with The Slave Dwelling Project, during which, six Black writers participated in an overnight stay at a historic slave cellar in New Paltz to create a performance about their experience, titled "Reclaiming Our Time."

This April, TMI Project brought a #BlackStoriesMatter event to Bard College that featured a discussion panel of local activists, scholars, and artists about race and inclusion, in addition to story-telling performances. They are now working with a group of Black students at Kingston Public High School to create the first teen version of Black Stories Matter.

TMI Project also uses its website and YouTube channel to promote content from #BlackStoriesMatter. In 2019, Ramsey says, the initiative will relaunch with an event calendar full of workshops, performances, discussions and more.

"We believe that the telling of these stories will engender empathic pathways in the soul and in the heart, to change the way we deal with race in this country," Ramsey says.

The performances also affect the storytellers -- this was the case for Bailey, who found a sense of comfort with the audience members who related to her story. Bailey has participated in four TMI Project workshops.

"I get to share an experience and find out that it really is shared," Bailey says. "Afterward, when people come up to you and say 'I thought it was just me, too,' that's a connection you've forged."

In her #BlackStoriesMatter story, she talked about not fitting into the stereotypical idea of what it means to be Black, and the stigma around mental health issues that she faces as a Black person in America.

Bailey detailed a particular time in her life when she was having suicidal thoughts daily. Every day she went through so many roller coasters of emotion that by noon, her brain would feel completely fried, she says. At night, she'd go home and recharge just enough to repeat the process the next day.

"It's not 'You can't have your crazy,' it's 'We want to be allowed to have our crazy facets too,'" Bailey says. "It's not all drugs and slave narratives that drive people of color crazy -- some people have chemical imbalances, some people had awful childhoods -- there are reasons people are crazy and that doesn't change because of skin color."

Categories: News

Mexico in the Time of the Caravan

Sat, 04/21/2018 - 04:00
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Puebla, Mexico, 8 April 2018: An annual Easter march to shine a light on the plight of Central Americans living in a region with the highest murder rate in the world drew the attention of international aid groups, the United Nations … and the President of the United States. While the U.N. admonished the government of Mexico to provide safe conduct to the approximately 1,200 persons who crossed the southern border of their country, Donald Trump reacted with incommensurate fear, threatening to deploy National Guard troops to his own border, 1,200 miles (2,000 km) away.

The march, or caravan, is also known as the Via Crucis del Migrante (Migrant Stations of the Cross). A more-or-less yearly event, the caravan has been organized by Pueblo Sin Fronteras (People Without Borders), an NGO with a presence in Arizona, for over a decade. The original Via Crucis recalls the path Jesus Christ took to his execution according to the Christian religion: a fourteen-step journey that recounts the burdens, humiliations, consolations, torture and death he suffered, before being resurrected and ascending to heaven on what was to become Easter Sunday. In historically Catholic Central America, marking the Stations is a significant event.  

Usually numbering less than a hundred, Via Crucis del Migrante 2018 grew unexpectedly, according to organizer Irineo Mújica, though not unpredictably in retrospect. This year's caravan has a high number of Hondurans, reflecting that country's extreme levels of violence and deepening political crisis following a contested presidential election in November that resulted in widespread protests and "excessive use of force" in response.

The caravan is also mostly made up of women, children, unaccompanied minors and LGBTI persons, compelled to leave their homes but seeking the protection afforded by the organized march. According to Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), even hospitals in Honduras are dangerous for victims of gender-based violence because they cannot be guaranteed safety within. And the road through Mexico is fraught with danger for even the most able-bodied.  

Violence is the main factor pushing Central American emigration. A Canadian professor attending a conference on comparative education in Mexico City's historic centre says she no longer goes to El Salvador: "It's too dangerous." Discovery of trucks packed with Central Americans suffering and perishing from heat and thirst has become routine nowadays in Mexico, even occurring simultaneously with the march.  

After a stay in Oaxaca, a smaller number of people from the caravan reached the city of Puebla on Thursday, with plans to continue on to Mexico City over the weekend. Along the way, individuals may apply for asylum or connect with relatives in Mexico, or take advantage of 20-day transit visas to press on to the U.S. border and take their chances there.  

Roberto Campos, a taxi driver in Puebla, says Hondurans arrive to the city crammed into vans, and while they might make the trip physically, some of them don't survive it spiritually. "That's a Honduran, that's a Honduran," he said, pointing out an emaciated man crouched in the shade by the road, and then another man, barefoot and wandering aimlessly into the intersection. Roberto says he tries to give them food rather than cash to spend on beer.

Even though Puebla State is highly industrialized and home to Volkswagen and Audi, times are tough for its residents. "Our patrols drive Jettas. But the minimum wage is 88.36 pesos a day," explains Roberto, "and a cheap meal, nothing special, costs 150 pesos at least…. You can't have a rich government with a poor population."  

Still, Mexicans in Puebla do not appear to be distressed by the arrival of the Central American caravan in their city. While Trump grandstands and stokes racist fear, and Mexico's four presidential candidates declare a united front against U.S. retaliation, townspeople appear nonplussed. "They're not doing any harm," say University of Puebla students  Saúl y Jesús, who were interviewing tourists in the town square, the Zócalo, for a class project, as the caravan left Oaxaca for Puebla.

Two days later, as the migrants gathered nearby, Marta and her colleagues at the reception desk of the Casa de Oración San José insisted that the caravan was nothing to fear. "They come every year. They are believers."

Despite the public's generosity toward the Central American migrants, official response has been mixed. While the United States flagrantly violates international law prohibiting non-refoulement, or the return of persons to countries where they are in danger, Mexico has quietly been repatriating Central Americans without regard to the credibility of their claims for asylum.

According to an Amnesty International report published in January, the Mexican government deported 80,353 immigrants in 2017. AI conducted a survey and found that the majority of Central American immigrants into Mexico interviewed said they were not informed of their right to request asylum, and qualified their treatment by Mexican authorities as "bad" or "very bad."

In July 2014, Mexico initiated its "Programa Frontera Sur" (Southern Border Program) in response to pressure from the Obama administration to stem the surge in unaccompanied Central American children traversing Mexico and applying for asylum in the U.S. Since then, according to Human Rights Watch, asylum has been granted to less than 1% of unaccompanied minors apprehended.

Why the focus on relatively small numbers of defenceless refugees by wealthier countries built upon immigration? Basilio Villagrón Pérez, who has been maintaining an encampment in front of the public prosecutor's office in Mexico City in honour of 43 missing teacher's college students from Ayotzinapa, explains it as "state terrorism against people who organize. The children of the indigenous and the campesinos are the most organized and always claim their rights in public protest."

In the case of the Via Crucis caravan, these people are claiming their right to move, to cross borders they did not make, to avoid violence, to seek a better life. In a world where big business can operate transnationally with ease but people cannot move even if they are in fear for their lives, we have to question what our priorities are. The caravan migrants refuse to beg, they are asserting their rights with dignity.

Categories: News

The Bayer-Monsanto Merger Is Bad News for the Planet

Fri, 04/20/2018 - 04:00
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Two new studies from Europe have found that the number of farm birds in France has crashed by a third in just 15 years, with some species being almost eradicated. The collapse in the bird population mirrors the discovery last October that over three quarters of all flying insects in Germany have vanished in just three decades. Insects are the staple food source of birds, the pollinators of fruits, and the aerators of the soil.

The chief suspect in this mass extinction is the aggressive use of neonicotinoid pesticides, particularly imidacloprid and clothianidin, both made by German-based chemical giant Bayer. These pesticides, along with toxic glyphosate herbicides (Roundup), have delivered a one-two punch against Monarch butterflies, honeybees and birds. But rather than banning these toxic chemicals, on March 21st the EU approved the $66 billion merger of Bayer and Monsanto, the US agribusiness giant producing Roundup and the genetically modified (GMO) seeds that have reduced seed diversity globally. The merger will make the Bayer-Monsanto conglomerate the largest seed and pesticide company in the world, giving it enormous power to control farm practices, putting private profits over the public interest.

As Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D.-Mass.) noted in a speech in December before the Open Markets Institute, massive companies are merging into huge market-dominating entities that invest a share of their profits in lobbying and financing political campaigns, shaping the political system to their own ends. She called on the Trump administration to veto the Bayer-Monsanto merger, which is still under antitrust scrutiny and has yet to be approved in the US.

A 2016 survey of Trump's voter base found that over half disapproved of the Monsanto/Bayer merger, fearing it would result in higher food prices and higher costs for farmers. Before 1990, there were 600 or more small independent seed businesses globally, many of them family owned. By 2009, only about 100 survived; and seed prices had more than doubled. But reining in these powerful conglomerates is more than just a question of economics. It may be a question of the survival of life on this planet.

While Bayer's neonicotinoid pesticides wipe out insects and birds, Monsanto's glyphosate has been linked to over 40 human diseasesincluding cancer. Its GMO seeds have been genetically modified to survive this toxic herbicide, but the plants absorb it into their tissues; and in the humans who eat them, glyphosate disrupts the endocrine system and the balance of gut bacteria, damages DNA and is a driver of cancerous mutations. Researchers summarizing a 2014 study of glyphosates in the Journal of Organic Systems linked them to the huge increase in chronic diseases in the United States, with the percentage of GMO corn and soy planted in the US showed highly significant correlations with hypertension, stroke, diabetes, obesity, lipoprotein metabolism disorder, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis, hepatitis C, end stage renal disease, acute kidney failure, cancers of the thyroid, liver, bladder, pancreas, kidney and myeloid leukaemia. But regulators have turned a blind eye, captured by corporate lobbyists and a political agenda that has more to do with power and control them protecting the health of the people.

The Trump administration has already approved a merger between former rivals Dow and DuPont, and has signed off on the takeover of Swiss pesticide giant Syngenta by ChemChina. If Monsanto/Bayer gets approved as well, just three corporations will dominate the majority of the world's seed and pesticide markets, giving them enormous power to continue poisoning the planet at the expense of its living inhabitants.

The Shady History of Bayer and the Petrochemical Cartel

To understand the magnitude of this threat, it is necessary to delve into some history. This is not the first time Monsanto and Bayer have joined forces. In both world wars, they made explosives and poisonous gases using shared technologies that they sold to both sides. After World War II, they united as MOBAY (MonsantoBayer) and supplied the ingredients for Agent Orange in the Vietnam War.

In fact corporate mergers and cartels have played a central role in Bayer's history. In 1904, it joined with German giants BASF and AGFA to form the first chemical cartel. After World War I, Germany's entire chemical industry was merged to become I.G. Farben. By the beginning of World War II, I.G. Farben was the largest industrial corporation in Europe, the largest chemical company in the world, and part of the most gigantic and powerful cartel in all history.

A cartel is a grouping of companies bound by agreements designed to restrict competition and keep prices high. The dark history of the I.G. Farben cartel was detailed in a 1974 book titled World Without Cancer by G. Edward Griffin, who also wrote the best-selling Creature from Jekyll Island on the shady history of the Federal Reserve. Griffin quoted from a book titled Treason's Peace by Howard Ambruster, an American chemical engineer who had studied the close relations between the German chemical trust and certain American corporations. Ambruster warned:

Farben is no mere industrial enterprise conducted by Germans for the extraction of profits at home and abroad. Rather, it is and must be recognized as a cabalistic organization which, through foreign subsidiaries and secret tie-ups, operates a far-flung and highly efficient espionage machine -- the ultimate purpose being world conquest ... and a world superstate directed by Farben.

The I.G. Farben cartel arose out of the international oil industry.  Coal tar or crude oil is the source material for most commercial chemical products, including those used in drugs and explosives.  I.G. Farben established cartel agreements with hundreds of American companies. They had little choice but to capitulate after the Rockefeller empire, represented by Standard Oil of New Jersey, had done so, since they could not hope to compete with the Rockefeller/I.G. combination.

The Rockefeller group's greatest influence was exerted through international finance and investment banking, putting them in control of a wide spectrum of industry. Their influence was particularly heavy in pharmaceuticals.  The directors of the American I.G. Chemical Company included Paul M. Warburg, brother of a director of the parent company in Germany and a chief architect of the Federal Reserve System.

The I.G. Farben cartel was technically disbanded at the Nuremberg War Trials following World War II, but in fact it merely split into three new companies -- Bayer, Hoescht and BASF -- which remain pharmaceutical giants today. In order to conceal its checkered history, Bayer orchestrated a merger with Monsanto in 1954, giving rise to the MOBAY Corporation. In 1964, the US Justice Department filed an antitrust lawsuit against MOBAY and insisted that it be broken up, but the companies continued to work together unofficially.

In Seeds of Destruction: The Hidden Agenda of Genetic Manipulation (2007), William Engdahl states that global food control and depopulation became US strategic policy under Rockefeller protégé Henry Kissinger, who was Secretary of State in the 1970s. Along with oil geopolitics, these policies were to be the new "solution" to the threats to US global power and continued US access to cheap raw materials from the developing world. "Control oil and you control nations," Kissinger notoriously declared. "Control food and you control the people."

Global food control has nearly been achieved, by reducing seed diversity and establishing proprietary control with GMO seeds distributed by only a few transnational corporations led by Monsanto; and by a massive taxpayer-subsidized propaganda campaign in support of GMO seeds and neurotoxic pesticides. A de facto cartel of giant chemical, drug, oil, banking and insurance companies connected by interlocking directorates reaps the profits at both ends, by waging a very lucrative pharmaceutical assault on the diseases created by their toxic agricultural chemicals.

Going Organic: The Russian Approach

In the end, the Green Revolution engineered by Henry Kissinger to control markets and ensure US economic dominance may be our nemesis. While the US struggles to maintain its hegemony by economic coercion and military force, Russia is winning the battle for the health of the people and the environment. Vladimir Putin has banned GMOs and has set out to make Russia the world's leading supplier of organic food.

Russian families are showing what can be done with permaculture methods on simple garden plots. In 2011, 40% of Russia's food was grown on dachasdachas (cottage gardens or allotments), predominantly organically. Dacha gardens produced over 80% of the country's fruit and berries, over 66% of the vegetables, almost 80% of the potatoes and nearly 50% of the nation's milk, much of it consumed raw. Russian author Vladimir Megre comments:

Essentially, what Russian gardeners do is demonstrate that gardeners can feed the world – and you do not need any GMOs, industrial farms, or any other technological gimmicks to guarantee everybody's got enough food to eat. Bear in mind that Russia only has 110 days of growing season per year -- so in the US, for example, gardeners' output could be substantially greater. Today, however, the area taken up by lawns in the US is two times greater than that of Russia's gardens -- and it produces nothing but a multi-billion-dollar lawn care industry.

In the US, only about 0.6 percent of the total agricultural area is devoted to organic farming. Most farmland is soaked in pesticides and herbicides. But the need for these toxic chemicals is a myth. In an October 2017 article in The Guardian, columnist George Monbiot cited studies showing that reducing the use of neonicotinoid pesticides actually increases production, because the pesticides harm or kill the pollinators on which crops depend. Rather than an international trade agreement that would enable giant transnational corporations to dictate to governments, he argues that we need a global treaty to regulate pesticides and require environmental impact assessments for farming. He writes:

Farmers and governments have been comprehensively conned by the global pesticide industry. It has ensured its products should not be properly regulated or even, in real-world conditions, properly assessed.... The profits of these companies depend on ecocide. Do we allow them to hold the world to ransom, or do we acknowledge that the survival of the living world is more important than returns to their shareholders?

President Trump has boasted of winning awards for environmental protection. If he is serious about protecting the environment, he needs to block the merger of Bayer and Monsanto, two agribusiness giants bent on destroying the ecosystem for private profit.

Categories: News

Corporate Crime

Fri, 04/20/2018 - 04:00
Categories: News

Dilma Rousseff: Lula's Imprisonment Is Part of a Coup Corroding Brazil's Democratic Institutions

Fri, 04/20/2018 - 04:00

Protests are continuing in Brazil over the imprisonment of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Two weeks ago, Lula began serving a 12-year prison sentence for a highly controversial corruption conviction. Lula had been the front-runner in this year's presidential election. His supporters say his jailing is a continuation of a coup that began in 2016, when his close ally, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached as president. Both Lula and Rousseff are members of the left-leaning Workers' Party, which has been credited with lifting tens of millions of Brazilians out of poverty since Lula was first elected in 2003. Last month, Lula spoke on Democracy Now! in one of his final TV interviews before being jailed. Earlier this week, Lula was dealt another setback when Brazil's Fourth Federal Regional Court denied Lula's latest appeal. Meanwhile, hundreds of Lula supporters have set up an encampment outside the prison where Lula is being held in the the southern city of Curitiba. We speak to former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. Her impeachment in 2016 ended nearly 14 years of rule by the Workers' Party. Rousseff is a former political prisoner who took part in the underground resistance to the US-backed Brazilian dictatorship in the 1960s. She was jailed from 1970 to 1972, during which time she was repeatedly tortured. She was elected president in 2010 and re-elected in 2014.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: Protests are continuing in Brazil over the imprisonment of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Two weeks ago, Lula began serving a 12-year prison sentence for a highly controversial corruption conviction. Lula is the front-runner in this year's presidential election. His supporters say his jailing is a continuation of a coup that began in 2016 when his close ally, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached as president. Both Lula and Rousseff are members of the left-leaning Workers' Party, which has been credited with lifting tens of millions of Brazilians out of poverty since Lula was first elected in 2003.

Last month, Lula spoke on Democracy Now! in one of his final TV interviews before being jailed.

LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] We are awaiting the accusers, for the accusers to show at least some piece of evidence that indicates that I committed any crime during the period that I was in the presidency. Now, what is behind that is the attempt to criminalize my political party. What is behind that is the interest in a part of the political elite of Brazil, together with a part of the press, reinforced by the role of the judiciary, in preventing Lula from becoming a candidate in the 2018 elections.

AMY GOODMAN: You can go to democracynow.org to see the full hour with Lula.

Earlier this week, he was dealt another setback, when Brazil's Fourth Federal Regional Court denied his latest appeal. Meanwhile, hundreds of Lula supporters have set up an encampment outside the prison where he's being held in the southern city of Curitiba. On Thursday, the Argentine Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel traveled to the prison but was blocked from visiting Lula. Esquivel recently announced he would nominate Lula for the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in fighting poverty and economic inequality in Brazil. Esquivel spoke to supporters of Lula outside the prison.

ADOLFO PÉREZ ESQUIVEL: [translated] I think that today Brazil is in a state of exception. There was a coup d'état against President Dilma Rousseff, and now there's the entire campaign against President Lula. So we have to think: What type of democracy do we have, not only here in Brazil, but in all of Latin America? And we have to continue developing an international campaign until Lula recovers his freedom. Free Lula!

AMY GOODMAN: The Nobel Peace Prize winner Esquivel was speaking outside the Curitiba prison. Meanwhile, about a hundred members of the Homeless Workers' Movement and the People Without Fear briefly occupied the vacant beach apartment which is at the center of the Lula case. Lula was accused of receiving the apartment as a bribe, even though no documents have emerged actually linking the former president, Lula, to the apartment, which he never lived in. The protesters hung a banner reading, "If it's Lula's, then the people can stay here. If it isn't, why is he in jail?"

Well, earlier this week, I had a chance to interview former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. Her impeachment in 2016 ended nearly 14 years of rule by the Workers' Party. Rousseff is a former political prisoner who took part in the underground resistance to the US-backed Brazilian dictatorship in the 1960s. She was jailed and tortured from 1970 to 1972. She was elected president in 2010 and re-elected in 2014. I spoke to her while she was on a speaking tour in Berkeley, California. I began by asking her why she had come to the United States and about the political crisis in Brazil.

DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] It's a pleasure to be speaking with you on Democracy Now! once again. I'd like to say that the purpose of my trip to the United States and to Spain is to clarify and raise awareness, among people who live outside Brazil and everybody, that Brazil is suffering a new sort of coup d'état. This began with me in 2016, when I suffered an impeachment without having committed any high crime or misdemeanor. The truth be told, I find myself in a situation, and Brazil finds itself in a situation, in which there is a sort of legal protection, a legal cover, that is hiding acts of corruption, acts of corruption by all others. And it produces indictments against members of the Workers' Party and against President Lula. I suffered an impeachment. That impeachment was the opening act of the coup. I was impeached without committing any crime.

From there, the process has become much more radical. An agenda was adopted that was not approved in the elections, an agenda that is about curtailing the rights of the poorest and of workers, to destroy social policies [that] guaranteed that 36 million would be lifted out of poverty, that took Brazil off of the map of hunger of the U.N. So many gains that we saw in the last decade.

And what has happened? The coup mongers today do not have any political expression. They were condemned by the population. And so they don't have a relevant situation for the upcoming elections in 2018. What they have done, actually, is to open up a Pandora's box, a box of the monsters. And they took out of this box the extreme right, which today is represented by president candidate Captain Jair Bolsonaro, who on the day that my impeachment was voted on in the Lower House, he voted in favor of torture and a military dictatorship.

So what is the situation in Brazil? There is a strengthened far right, and the center right, in going along with the coup, has dissolved itself and has a minimal political expression today. They were our greatest adversaries in the last four presidential elections. Today, they're no longer politically significant, because not only did they help carry out the coup, but they were also discovered to be involved in situations of corruption. The Workers' Party and President Lula were to be destroyed. But they weren't. President Lula, from the beginning of last year, in every opinion poll, has twice as many votes as the candidate Captain Jair Bolsonaro. Lula has more than 30 percent, and Bolsonaro has less than 16 percent support. And there is not a center. The center gets 5 percent, 4 percent, sometimes 6 percent, of the support in the polls.

So why have they convicted Lula? The political reason is because if a coup d'état is carried out, if a president who is legitimately elected is removed, if a set of illegalities are carried out, including the coup, one cannot not allow the election of Lula to be closed off. So what do they do? They removed Lula from the presidential campaign, accusing Lula, falsely, of having committed a crime of corruption.

What is the crime of which they accuse Lula? They accuse Lula of committing a crime of passive corruption, which entails a 280-square-meter apartment or a home with three floors. They say that he committed a crime in order to receive that house. Now, Lula is not the owner of that house. He does not have possession of the house. He doesn't use the house. He has never been in that house.

So what we are seeing in Brazil is lawfare. The law is being used to destroy the citizen status of one's enemy. The enemy in this case is President Lula. That means that they're using the law and legal procedures to wage a political struggle and to engage in political persecution. In a way, it's very similar to what was done against me, because in the process of my impeachment, they said, "But we are following through on every single legal procedure," yet the accusations were unfounded. They accused me of engaging in acts that every president before me has carried out. They were not crimes when the other presidents engaged in such acts. And they weren't crimes when I took such action. They were provided for by the law.

Many have asked us, "Why don't you choose another candidate, since the polls show that a person supported by the Workers' Party and supported by Lula would be well positioned to run in the election?" Our answer is: because accepting this is accepting that Lula is guilty. And for us, it is more than proven that he is innocent. So, accepting that is accepting political persecution, and it would make it official.

They have taken Lula prisoner for two reasons. First, to make the argument that he can't be a candidate. But also for a very strong reason. That is, not to let him speak. And that is clear, in the very argument of the measure that requires that he begin serving the sentence immediately, because Lula today is in a situation in which he is being isolated. He is in a situation of solitary confinement.

I was a political prisoner during the military dictatorship that followed the military coup. At that time, no doubt, the situation was one of open violence. People were taken prisoner. They were killed. They were tortured. All rights were violated -- the right to freedom of expression, the right to freedom of the press, the right to organize. All of these rights were done away with.

In our current situation -- and this is typical of Latin America -- you have a coup that is not a military coup. It doesn't destroy the rights of everyone. It corrodes the institutions from within, as if it was a sort of parasite corroding democratic institutions. So, in this case, what are they doing with Lula? Lula can't speak. But we can speak for him. Brazil's democracy is being mitigated. It's being diminished.

What is our role, and why am I traveling, and why am I here in Berkeley? I went to Catalonia. I went to Madrid. I was already in the East Coast and some US universities. I have been in France and Germany. Why? Because we have to draw on all possible means to not allow this way of wounding democracy, which in our case is a fragile democracy. We emerged from the dictatorship in the 1980s, and Lula is an example of this phenomenon. Because they don't want Lula to speak. They want Lula to be isolated from the whole world at this time, because they see him as a representation of everything that turned back the coup in Brazil. Like any coup process, it cannot be sustained if it doesn't become radicalized, if it doesn't become deepened.

And so, it's a very risky situation for Brazil's democracy. Indeed, it goes to the very cornerstone of democracy, which is to say that the justice system must not be politicized. The justice system has to be absolutely neutral. And it has to enforce the law, not as a political instrument, but as an instrument for the truth expressed in the constitution.

AMY GOODMAN: Former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. She's now running for the Brazilian Senate. When we return, we'll speak with her about the rise of the far right in Brazil and the assassination of human rights activist Rio City Councilmember Marielle Franco. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: "Nothing Compares 2 U" by Prince, a studio recording from 1984, released for the first time this week. The song was made famous when Sinéad O'Connor covered it in 1990.

Categories: News

Earth Day 2018: Ending Plastic Pollution in the Oceans, Land and Our Bodies

Fri, 04/20/2018 - 04:00

This Sunday more than a billion people will celebrate Earth Day. This year's theme: ending plastic pollution by Earth Day 2020. Of the nearly 300 million tons of plastic sold each year, about 90 percent ends up in landfills, in the oceans -- and in our bodies. Part of the focus will be microplastics, those small bits of plastic that are seemingly everywhere. We speak to Marcus Eriksen of the 5 Gyres Institute, who has led 20 expeditions around the world to research plastic marine pollution, and Priscilla Villa of the #BreakFreeFromPlastics movement.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: This Sunday more than a billion people will celebrate Earth Day. This year's theme: ending plastic pollution by Earth Day 2020. Of the nearly 300 million tons of plastic sold each year, about 90 percent ends up in landfills, in the oceans -- and in our bodies.

Well, our next guest is considered a leading expert on microplastics, those small bits of plastic that are seemingly everywhere. Marcus Eriksen has led 20 expeditions around the world to research plastic marine pollution. In 2008, he embarked on an 88-day journey from California to Hawaii on a raft built from 15,000 plastic bottles and recycled junk. Dr. Eriksen documented the journey in his book Junk Raft: An Ocean Voyage and a Rising Tide of Activism to Fight Plastic Pollution and on video.

MARCUS ERIKSEN: What you see here is a bunch of zooplankton and plastic. It's the same-size pieces we find inside the stomachs of these fish, the lanternfish, the myctophids. Now, you're here in the middle of nowhere, and you still find this trash. The human footprint is everywhere, everywhere you go. On top of mountains, the bottom of the ocean, evidence of us.

AMY GOODMAN: Five years earlier, Dr. Eriksen had rafted the Mississippi River and wrote about his experience as a marine in the 1991 Gulf War in the book My River Home. Eriksen's work on discovering plastic microbeads in the Great Lakes led to the federal Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015.

Well, Marcus Eriksen joins us now from Los Angeles. Welcome to Democracy Now!As we lead into Earth Day, first explain what microplastics are. Lay out the challenge to the world.

MARCUS ERIKSEN: So, microplastics are small, broken-down fragments from larger items. Those are your secondary microplastics, formed by things falling apart. For example, in the oceans, we often find bottles. Here's one bottle. You can see the edge is all bitten off. So, animals are tearing larger plastics into smaller bits. The sun breaks them down, makes them brittle. Waves then crush it. So what we're finding is, a lot of the trash that leaves their land, out to sea via our rivers, are beginning to form bigger items into smaller items that microplastic forms near shore. By the time I get to the middle of the ocean, I'm hardly finding any big items -- a few fishing buoys in nets -- but a smog a small particles everywhere.

AMY GOODMAN: So, explain these microplastic beads everywhere.

MARCUS ERIKSEN: Well, the microbeads, that was a primary microplastic. They were designed to be small. And those are the ones that we saw in our facial scrubs and toothpaste. But Obama signed the Microbead-Free Waters Act in 2015. So, microbeads, we've been able to do away with, through some great campaigning. But the microplastics are just everything that breaks down into small particles. And we have found them in the middle of the oceans, all the five subtropical gyres, Antarctica, the Arctic. We have found them frozen in sea ice and the deep floor -- deep sea floor sediments. So the distribution has gone global of these small bits, like as big as a grain of rice or smaller. They're everywhere.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the impact of plastics on human beings, Marcus?

MARCUS ERIKSEN: On us, well, you can say it's twofold. One is the issue of plastics as waste, that contaminates other living things, including fish, that the world depends on. You know, I think one-sixth of the planet gets their protein from fish. And we're seeing this explosion, these clouds, this smog of microplastics, impacting the food chain. And the toxins that sticks to plastics are also polluting organisms in that food chain. But as a pre-consumer product, which you might grab off the shelf, we're still finding some synthetic chemistry in those, like bisphenol A and phthalates, that you don't want in your body or the bodies of your children. They're endocrine disruptors. They're carcinogenic. So there is the pre-consumer and the post-consumer impacts of throwaway plastics on human health.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to another clip from your documentary that you produced on the junk raft project.

MARCUS ERIKSEN: Two-fifths of the plastic made in the world come from the United States. There's a very huge corporate interest in maintaining production of plastics. This is what the ocean looks like 2,000 miles from the California coast. Now, this is roughly three football fields netted and consolidated into one jar. But keep in mind there are 9 million football fields of area in the North Pacific. And it all looks like this. So we can't mine this area with giant nets to clean this problem. The only fix is a cultural fix, by changing our use of plastics.

We decided, while we're at sea, to get the nation's attention by building a boat out of the same plastic trash we consume every day. So we built a boat out of 15,000 plastic bottles, old fishing nets to hold those bottles together, and 20 sailboat masts, an airplane wing to make a flat deck. We've had three high schools provide these bottles, help us make pontoons. It very quickly became a project much bigger than ourselves.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, there are so many directions to go in, but let me ask you about the efforts to get rid of BPA in plastic bottles and microbeads in beauty products. How pervasive is this?

MARCUS ERIKSEN: Well, I would step back and talk about the process. So, Frederick vom Saal is a colleague of mine who's been studying BPA in mice all his life. And he was finding that, you know, the BPA was actually leaching out of the containers where he had the mice living in. So he found that BPA was there. It's all around us. In adding machine tape, when you get a receipt, if it's wet, you might see a white residue on your hands. That's BPA. The plastic lining in metal cans, the reason why your can of beans doesn't rust from the inside is a thin layer of BPA. And in many children's toys, you find phthalates.

And talking with Dr. vom Saal, his science work, it was such a challenge to get that into the hands of producers and say, "OK, your science says it's a problem. Let's stop." Instead, it was a long, drawn-out fight to get phthalates, BPA out of water bottles, out of children's toys. And the fight continues to get them out of other areas where BPA gives us some exposure. So I think, you know, that was a challenge.

With microbeads, the same thing. But I can tell you, the science work that I did on microbeads in the Great Lakes, with Sam Mason, a colleague of mine, that was just the start. There was a huge coalition, organized by many colleagues and different organizations that do advocacy work, working together with the same kind of -- with the same science foundation. The information was there. We had the -- we had the videos and the photography to share of animal impacts by microbeads. Then we had sample legislation, and we had some champions in the White House. And within, you know, a couple years after publication, this massive coalition brought the bill to Obama's desk, and he signed it. And again, it's this long, drawn-out fight for things that are obviously wrong and need to be fixed.

AMY GOODMAN: From Seattle to Malibu, cities have banned certain plastics. The U.K. and Kenya, for example, have announced plans to ban some plastics countrywide. Talk about the efforts around the country and the world, and states also circumventing cities, trying to prevent them from banning plastics.

MARCUS ERIKSEN: Well, you know, it's really -- it's fabulous to see there's this movement growing around the world, the Break Free from Plastics movement. It established about a couple years ago. We now have over 1,060 organizations that have come under this values statement about single-use plastics. And they have no place in society because of the negative externalities. When I say "single-use," I mean it's the plastic bags, the bottles, the cup lids, the straws, the little plastic stir sticks -- these things that you use once and then throw away, but using a material designed to last forever. That is creating mountains of waste around the world. And you're seeing communities sort of rise up and say, "We're done with this, this linear system of companies making stuff, selling it and washing their hands clean of any responsibility for the stuff where it resides." When I go from island to island, you know, around the world on our sailing voyages, you see these mountainous landfills, sometimes next to the sea, and islands saying, "We don't know what to do with all of this stuff."

Now, I can talk about one of the challenges here in the United States. It's a concept called preemption. So, without preemption, for example, in states like California and a few across the country, grassroots movements, in city by city, can say, "We don't want plastic bags. We don't want plastic straws. The pollution is too burdensome. And we, as taxpayers, are tired of paying for cleanup." So, communities and grassroots movements are working, and they're succeeding, town by town. What preemption does, it's been an industry-sponsored bill that goes from state to state and tells the states to tell their cities that "You can't do that anymore. Any decision to ban bags has to come from state-level policy." It makes it illegal for grassroots movements in small towns to ban these single-use, throwaway, polluting products.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring in another guest. You mentioned the Break Free from Plastics coalition. Let's go to Houston, the -- what some call the Petro Metro, the petrochemical capital of the United States. Texas alone produces nearly three-quarters of the country's supply of one of the basic chemical building blocks for making plastics -- ethylene, much of which is derived from oil extracted through fracking. So, we're joined by Priscilla Villa, the South Texas organizer for Earthworks. She recently helped host the first US meeting of the Break Free from Plastics movement, that seeks to raise awareness about the link between plastics in our water and oceans and pollution from oil and gas extraction and refining related to plastics.

Priscilla, welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about what you're doing and the whole cycle, from oil fracking to plastics.

PRISCILLA VILLA: Hi, good morning. Thank you so much for having me.

So, the meeting that we had in Houston was the first US-based Break Free from Plastics meeting that we hosted alongside with t.e.j.a.s. One of the main reasons that we had this meeting was so that organizations who are working across the life cycle of plastics could really get together and talk about how we can support our work along this life cycle of plastics.

So the work that Earthworks specifically does, we focus on extraction and the issues that go along with fracking. So, when you're talking about a fracked well and/or fracking for oil and gas, one of the byproducts is a natural gas liquid called ethane. In order to -- so, ethane, in and of itself, is not necessarily useful. It's been considered a waste product. But in order to make it something, to turn it into plastics, you first have to crack it. So there are all these facilities along the Gulf and Pennsylvania that are called crackers. And so, these facilities crack ethane into ethylene. And then, ethylene -- you have these ethylene pellets that then get exported out and eventually turn into plastics. And those are the main building blocks, as you said, of plastics.

AMY GOODMAN: And Texas aiming to be the plastics capital, or Houston, of the country?

PRISCILLA VILLA: Well, the oil and gas industry is investing around $86 billion in over 280 infrastructure -- 280 facilities that would be turning ethane or ethylene into plastics. And a lot of the build-out is really being focused in the Gulf South, so in Texas -- Portland, Texas, for example, where Exxon is proposing to build the world's largest cracker facility. There are folks out there who are opposing that particular facility. And there's even more build-out for Houston, for example.

And one of the big issues there is that, considering the impacts and everything that came along with Hurricane Harvey, it's a vulnerable place to be building this kind of infrastructure, because you had incidents like the explosion at the Arkema plant, for example, that put a lot of people at risk. And not to mention the ongoing emissions that come from a lot of these facilities in the Gulf also contribute to bad air quality and bad health. So, more of these facilities mean more people are put at risk. So when we talk about plastics and pollution, we also need to be talking about the pollution that is tied to the production piece, in the very first stage of plastics.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we're going to have to leave it there now, but of course we'll continue to cover this. Again, Sunday is Earth Day, celebrated around the world. The theme now: end plastic pollution. Priscilla Villa, joining us from Houston, part of the Break Free from Plastics movement. And Marcus Eriksen, co-founder of 5 Gyres Institute.

That does it for our show. A fond farewell to Camille May Baker. We wish you the very best in what will clearly be a brilliant career.

Tonight, I'll be in Lincoln, Nebraska, at the Rococo Theatre, 8 p.m. Hope to see you there, celebrating KZUM's 40th anniversary. Saturday night, Democracy Now!'s Juan González will be speaking at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. And on Tuesday at noon, I'll be speaking in Teaneck, New Jersey, at the Puffin Cultural Forum. All welcome.

Democracy Now! accepting applications for our paid, year-long social media fellowship. Check out democracynow.org.

Categories: News

Will Congress Write the President a Blank Check for War?

Fri, 04/20/2018 - 04:00

 Erik McGregor / Pacific Press / LightRocket via Getty Images)Hundreds of antiwar and social justice activists took to the streets in New York City to oppose endless wars and demonstrate against the US bombing of Syria on Apri 15, 2018. (Photo: Erik McGregor / Pacific Press / LightRocket via Getty Images)

Under the guise of fulfilling its constitutional power to authorize military force, Congress is poised to consider legislation that would give the president a blank check to make war, with no limits, in at least six countries and against several groups.

 Erik McGregor / Pacific Press / LightRocket via Getty Images)Hundreds of antiwar and social justice activists took to the streets in New York City to oppose endless wars and demonstrate against the US bombing of Syria on Apri 15, 2018. (Photo: Erik McGregor / Pacific Press / LightRocket via Getty Images)

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This coming Monday, April 23, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is set to review a bill that would virtually give President Donald J. Trump a blank check to wage war anywhere in the world any time he pleases.

The Constitution places the power to declare war exclusively in the hands of the Congress. However, for the past 75 years, Congress has allowed that power to drift toward the executive branch. 

The new bill, should it pass, would effectively make the transfer of the war power from Congress to the president complete. It is hard to imagine a worse time in American history for this to happen. 

Why Only Congress Has the Power to Declare War

The framers of the Constitution were well aware of the dangers of placing the power to declare war in the hands of the president. Delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention overwhelmingly rejected South Carolina delegate Pierce Butler's proposal that the president be given the power to start a war, according to James Madison's notes on the congressional debates. George Mason said he was "against giving the power of war to the executive" because the president "is not safely to be trusted with it.”

The framers of the Constitution therefore specified in Article I that only Congress has the power to declare war. Article II states, "The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States." Those articles, taken together, mean the president commands the armed forces once Congress authorizes war.

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

In spite of its exclusive constitutional power, Congress has not declared war since 1942. After that time, starting with President Truman, a series of US presidents committed American troops to hostilities around the world without waiting for Congress to act. Following the debacle in Vietnam, Congress enacted the War Powers Resolution in an effort to reclaim its constitutional authority to decide when and where the nation would go to war.

Congress has not declared war since 1942.

The War Powers Resolution allows the president to introduce US Armed Forces into hostilities or imminent hostilities only after Congress has declared war, or in "a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces," or when there is "specific statutory authorization," such as an Authorization for the Use of Military Force.

The 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for Use of Military Force

Congress enacted Authorizations for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) in 2001 and 2002, which were directed at al-Qaeda and Iraq, respectively. Although these authorizations were limited, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump have all used them to justify attacking or invading whatever country they wished.

In the 2001 AUMF, Congress authorized the president to use military force against individuals, groups and countries that were seen as having supported the 9/11 attacks. Congress rejected the Bush administration's request for open-ended military authority "to deter and preempt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States." 

Nevertheless, the 2001 AUMF has been used to justify at least 37 military operations in 14 countries, according to the Congressional Research Service. Many of them were unrelated to the 9/11 attacks.

Bush utilized the 2001 AUMF to invade Afghanistan and initiate the longest war in US history, which continues unabated. Obama relied on that AUMF to lead a NATO force into Libya and forcibly change its regime, creating a vacuum that ISIS moved in to fill. Obama invoked the same AUMF to carry out targeted killings with drones and manned bombers, killing untold numbers of civilians. And Trump is relying on that AUMF as justification for his drone strikes, which have killed thousands of civilians. 

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-California), the only member of Congress to vote against the 2001 AUMF, was prescient. In July 2017, Lee said, "I knew then it would provide a blank check to wage war anywhere, anytime, for any length by any president." Lee told Democracy Now! in 2016 that she knew the 2001 AUMF "was setting the stage and the foundation for perpetual war. And that is exactly what it has done."

The 2001 AUMF has been used to justify at least 37 military operations in 14 countries.

Congress granted Bush the 2002 AUMF specifically to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. Once that was accomplished, that license ended. So, the 2002 AUMF does not provide an ongoing legal basis for US to engage in military action.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) stated at an October 2017 hearing that the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs have now become "mere authorities of convenience for presidents to conduct military activities anywhere in the world," adding, "They should not be used as the legal justification for military activities around the world."

At that 2017 hearing, Defense Secretary James Mattis and then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Trump had sufficient legal authority to kill people in any part of the world he desired. They cited the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs, as well as Article II of the Constitution. With an abundance of political caution, however, Mattis and Tillerson invited Congress to enact a new AUMF with no temporal or geographical limitations.

At his April 12 confirmation hearing, Mike Pompeo, Trump's nominee for Secretary of State, told Sen. Cory Booker that Trump had legal authority to bomb Syria without congressional approval. Pompeo testified, "I believe that he has the authority he needs to do that today. I don't believe we need a new AUMF for the president to engage in the activity you described."

The following day, the US, United Kingdom and France launched airstrikes in Syria. Like Trump's 2017 Syria bombing, they violated both US and international law. The Trump administration persists in its refusal to reveal the memo that purportedly explains its legal justification for the 2017 bombing of Syria.

Attempts in Congress to repeal and/or replace the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs have thus far been unsuccessful. But Mattis and Tillerson may now get their wish.

Authorization for the Use of Military Force of 2018

On April 16, 2018, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a new AUMF to replace the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) and Democratic committee member Tim Kaine (Virginia) sponsored the proposed legislation. Co-sponsors include Senators Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), Christopher Coons (D-Delaware), Todd Young (R-Indiana) and Bill Nelson (D-Florida).

The 2018 AUMF would authorize the president to use military force, with no limitations, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Libya and Somalia. It would also allow the president to take military action against al-Qaeda, ISIS and the Taliban, as well as their "associated forces" in any geographical location.

The 2002 AUMF does not provide an ongoing legal basis for US to engage in military action.

If the president wants to add countries or groups to his hit list, he must report to Congress. However, he can withhold whatever information he says is classified, as Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty & National Security Program at the NYU School of Law's Brennan Center for Justice, has noted.

And although the president cannot add nation-states to the list of countries he wants to attack, he could circumvent that limitation by claiming that terrorists are operating in a new country, or say a particular country is a state sponsor of terrorism, and he needs to use military force to fight terrorism.

The president must notify Congress within 48 hours of expanding his military operations into countries beyond the six listed in the AUMF or "new designated associated forces." If Congress doesn't object within 60 days, the president's expansion will stand. 

The new bill contains a presumption that the president can decide when and where to make war. The bill has no expiration date.

Alarmingly, the new bill contains a presumption that the president can decide when and where to make war. It would require affirmative action by two-thirds of both houses of Congress to prevent military action.

The bill has no expiration date. Every four years, the president would be required to send Congress a proposal to modify, repeal or maintain the authorization. But if Congress does not respond in 60 days, the AUMF would remain in force. Once again, it places the burden on Congress to take action. 

In light of Congress's failure to meaningfully object to presidential uses of military force, including most recently in Syria, a president should have no concern about congressional pushback. He could continue to make war with impunity, cashing the blank check Congress has provided him.

The proposed AUMF would violate the United Nations Charter. The charter requires that countries settle their disputes peacefully, and forbids the use of military force except when conducted in self-defense or with the blessing of the Security Council. The new AUMF would allow the president to attack or invade another country with no requirement that the attack or invasion be conducted in self-defense or with the council's permission. It would thus violate the charter.

What's Next? 

Corker has scheduled a committee hearing on the proposed legislation for Monday, April 23. But even if the bill passes out of committee, there is no guarantee it will get a hearing on the floor of the Senate or the House. Both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan have shown little appetite for allowing discussion of a new AUMF.

The 2001 and 2002 AUMFs should be repealed, and Congress should not give the president a new one. As George Mason sagely said, a president "is not safely to be trusted" with the power of war.

Categories: News

Showing "Total Disregard for Indigenous Rights and Public Wishes," Trump Moves to Open Alaska Wildlife Refuge to Drilling

Fri, 04/20/2018 - 04:00
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Demonstrating a "total disregard for Indigenous rights and public wishes," the Trump administration on Friday moved to expedite oil and gas exploration in previously protected lands in Alaska.

The Interior Department published a notice in the Federal Register announcing a public comment period and plans to draft an environmental impact statement for creating a leasing program for the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The filing follows legislation to enable the program that was tacked on to the tax law Republicans forced through Congress last year.

In response, critics who have spent several months fighting the drilling efforts expressed worries about how drilling will impact the region's native people as well as ANWR's wildlife; condemned the aggressive timeline for making leases available to fossil fuel companies; and vowed to file lawsuits.

Denouncing the "reckless dash to expedite drilling," Defenders of Wildlife president Jamie Rappaport Clark declared: "We will not stand by and watch them desecrate this pristine landscape. Drilling would threaten hundreds of species that depend on the coastal plain for survival. It would violate the rights of the Gwich'in people, and further exacerbate the increasing impacts of climate change."

The Gwich'in people -- an indigenous tribe that lives along the migratory route of the Porcupine River Caribou Herd in northern Alaska and Canada -- have long opposed drilling in the region.

In a statement posted to Facebook, Bernadette Dementieff, executive director of the Gwich'in Steering Committee, said: "The administration has made my people a target. We in turn give notice to those in power that the Gwich'in people will not be silent. We will not stand down."

"Protecting the coastal plain is protecting our identity, our human rights, and our culture," Dementieff added. "Those who attempt to exploit this sacred place have taken aim at our communities and human rights."

"This is a time to make a choice about what our country wants for our future -- the preservation of life, climate justice, and wild places for future generations, or a race to the bottom dominated by drilling and greed," said Alli Harvey, Alaska representative for Sierra Club's Our Wild America campaign. "We stand with the Gwich'in Nation as we fight for a better world, starting with safeguarding the Arctic Refuge."

In a letter (pdf) to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Thursday, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, and eight other Democrats reiterated their opposition to any drilling in ANWR and criticized the Trump administration's "needless haste."

"Attempting to rush the leasing process," they wrote, "is unnecessary, inappropriate, and likely will result in serious harm to one of our nation's last remaining truly wild areas."

Noting that "the goal of this timeline is to meet the purely political deadline of holding a lease sale within this presidential term," they concluded: "Playing politics with our nation's most important and irreplaceable public lands is irresponsible, and this effort is wholly incompatible with your responsibility to move forward in a way that is compatible with protecting the wilderness and wildlife values of the Refuge and the needs of the Gwich'in people."

Categories: News

Following Release of Memos, Trump and His GOP Call for Comey's Imprisonment

Fri, 04/20/2018 - 04:00

 Melina Mara / The Washington Post via Getty Images)Former FBI Director James Comey testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on June 8, 2017. (Photo: Melina Mara / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

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If I had read this opening paragraph of a CNN story four years ago I would have assumed it was actually an excerpt from a bad movie script:

A week after the tell-all book from James Comey exploded onto the scene, President Donald Trump is telling aides and confidants something he rarely does: He's pleased at how Republicans and the White House led the charge to try and discredit the former FBI director.

Setting aside the ridiculous notion of Donald Trump being president, I would have said the stuff about the White House and Republicans openly celebrating a campaign to discredit an FBI director, much less a stalwart Republican like Comey, would be absurd and no one would believe it. They were the "law and order" party. They love FBI directors.

There's no need to belabor this little time-travel exercise. It's just that sometimes you have to acknowledge the strangeness of what's going on. This is just one small example, but it's a significant one. The president and his minions in the media and, more significantly, in the Congress are working overtime to discredit witnesses in a counterintelligence investigation involving ... the president. And they are bragging about their success to the news media.

On Thursday night the Department of Justice finally relented and released the long-sought "Comey memos," which the former FBI director had written to document his meetings with Trump and other members of the White House during those first few months of the Trump administration. Just like the infamous "Nunes memo," they are basically duds as far as new information is concerned. This should come as no surprise: Comey testified at length before Congress and wrote a book about all this that he's currently appearing on every TV show in the known world to promote. Apparently, Trump's allies hoped or believed these would prove Comey was lying and instead they have now proved to everyone that he wasn't. They're reduced to making absurd observations that Comey never once wrote that he "felt obstructed."

Still, it was a thrilling day for Trump. His Justice Department referred former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia for possible criminal charges. Finally, one of his perceived political enemies was getting what was coming to him.

McCabe was referred on the basis of the FBI inspector general's report finding that he had shown a "lack of candor" about an unauthorized leak to the Wall Street Journal confirming that the FBI was still investigating the Clinton Foundation. You'll recall that McCabe was fired in a highly unorthodox fashion for this infraction, just hours before he was to officially retire and weeks before the report was released in full.

According to former FBI counter-intelligence official Frank Figliuzzi, who recently discussed all this on MSNBC's "Deadline: White House," this referral is unusual:

If it is true that the charge that is being referred is for a lack of candor during an internal inquiry, I cannot recall that ever happening in my 25-year FBI career. I also headed the office of professional responsibility adjudication unit. I was the chief inspector of the FBI during my career and that's a new one on me. So, what I was thinking is that the referral would be for an unauthorized leak -- that McCabe actually conceded that he did allow his subordinates to talk to the media and disclosed the existence of a case. That sounded more prosecutable than lacking candor during an internal inquiry. I don't know if he was under oath or not, but nonetheless the remedy for that is termination not criminal referral. So I'm troubled by this, if the reporting is correct.

James Comey told Rachel Maddow on Thursday night that there were two people in the FBI who had authorization to provide such information to the media at the time: Himself and Andrew McCabe. So a criminal referral on that count would seem to be odd as well.

It appears that McCabe is facing potential criminal indictment for a so-called crime not easily found in the statute books ("lack of candor") or over a leak he was specifically authorized to make. This is not the end of this story.

According to the Washington Post, the president is not satisfied:

Trump also loudly and repeatedly complained to several advisers earlier this week that former FBI director James B. Comey, former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe and former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, among others, should be charged with crimes for misdeeds alleged by Republicans, the associates said.

Although White House officials said Thursday that Trump has not called Justice Department officials or taken any formal action, the persistent grousing has made some advisers anxious, according to two people close to the president.

He doesn't have to call Justice officials. They are well aware of his demand to lock up Hillary Clinton for crimes that exist only in his head, and he has said that McCabe is a criminal many times. Surely they read his Twitter feed:

The big questions in Comey's badly reviewed book aren't answered like, how come he gave up Classified Information (jail), why did he lie to Congress (jail), why did the DNC refuse to give Server to the FBI (why didn't they TAKE it), why the phony memos, McCabe's $700,000 & more?

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 15, 2018

The right-wing media, led by unofficial White House chief of staff Sean Hannity, have been calling for indictments of the president's enemies for months. Now he has some congressional back-up for this authoritarian command. Eleven members of the House have called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director Christopher Wray to launch criminal investigations into Clinton, Comey, former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, McCabe, former acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente and FBI employees Peter Strzok and Lisa Page for a variety of different and unaffiliated alleged crimes. If it weren't for the fact that McCabe has actually been referred for possible indictment already I'd say all of that was nuts.

I hate to give James Comey the last word, but this is what he said during an NPR interview this week after President Trump called for him to be sent to prison:

The president of the United States just said that a private citizen should be jailed. And I think the reaction of most of us was, "Meh, that's another one of those things." This is not normal. This is not OK. There's a danger that we will become numb to it, and we will stop noticing the threats to our norms. The threats to the rule of law and the threats most of all to the truth. And so the reason I'm talking in terms of morality is, those are the things that matter most to this country. And there's a great danger we'll be numbed into forgetting that, and then only a fool would be consoled by some policy victory.

Categories: News

Native Language Schools Are Taking Back Education

Fri, 04/20/2018 - 04:00

 Jonathan Wiggs / The Boston Globe via Getty Images)The United States Mint and leaders of the Wampanoag Tribe introduced the 2011 Native American $1 coin during a ceremony at Plimoth Plantation on March 25, 2011. (Photo: Jonathan Wiggs / The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

For more than 150 years, the Wôpanâak language was silent. With no fluent speakers alive, the language of the Mashpee Wampanoag people existed only in historical documents. It was by all measures extinct. But a recently established language school on the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe's reservation in Massachusetts is working to bring back the language.

The threat of extinction that faces the Wôpanâak language is not uncommon for indigenous languages in the United States. Calculated federal policy, not happenstance, led to the destruction of Native American languages such as Wôpanâak.

But today, Native language schools are working to change that by revitalizing languages that have been threatened with extinction.

In the 19th century, federal policy shifted from a policy of extermination and displacement to assimilation. The passage of the Civilization Fund Act in 1819 allocated federal funds directly to education for the purpose of assimilation, and that led to the formation of many government-run boarding schools. Boarding schools were not meant to educate, but to assimilate.

Tribal communities continue to be haunted by this history. As of April, UNESCO's Atlas of the World's Endangered Languages listed 191 Native American languages as "in danger" in the United States. Of these, some languages are vulnerable -- meaning that children speak the language, but only in certain contexts -- to critically endangered -- meaning the youngest generation of speakers are elderly.

Today, the education system in the United States fails Native American students. Native students have the lowest high school graduation rate of any racial group nationally, according to the 2017 Condition of Education Report. And a 2010 report shows that in the 12 states with the highest Native American population, less than 50 percent of Native students graduate from high school per year.

By founding schools that teach in Native languages and center tribal history and beliefs, tribal language schools are taking education back into their own hands.

Mukayuhsak Weekuw: Reviving a Silent Language

On the Massachusetts coast just two hours south of Boston is Mukayuhsak Weekuw, a Wôpanâak language preschool and kindergarten founded in 2015. The school is working to revitalize the Wôpanâak language. As one of the first tribes to encounter colonists, the Mashpee Wampanoag faced nearly four centuries of violence and assimilation attempts; by the mid 19th century, the last fluent speakers of Wôpanâak had died.

In the 1990s, Wampanoag social worker Jessie Little Doe Baird began to work to bring the language back to her people. It began like this: More than 20 years ago, Baird had a series of dreams in which her ancestors spoke to her in Wôpanâak. She says they instructed her to ask her community whether they were ready to welcome the language home.

She listened, and in 1993 she sought the help of linguists and community elders to begin to revitalize the language -- elders like Helen Manning from the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe, with whom she would later co-found the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project.

Baird found a lot of resources. To translate the Bible, colonists had transcribed Wôpanâak to the Roman alphabet in the 1600s, which the Wampanoag used to write letters, wills, deeds, and petitions to the colonial government. With these texts, Baird and MIT linguist Kenneth Hale established rules for Wôpanâak orthography and grammar, and created a dictionary of 11,000 words.

In 2015, the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project was ready to open the Mukayuhsak Weekuw preschool. According to the school's Project Director Jennifer Weston, 10 students attended in the first year it opened, growing to 20 in the current school year. As part of the language program, parents or grandparents of students at the school are required to attend a weekly language class to ensure that the youth can continue speaking the language at home.

The curriculum is taught entirely in the Wôpanâak language, and it is also grounded in tribal history and connection to the land. "Our languages embody our ancestors' relationships to our homelands and to one another across millennia," Weston says. "They explain to us to the significance of all the places for our most important ceremonies and medicines. They tell us who we are and how to be good relatives."

In addition to language learning, the children also learn about gardening, hunting, and fishing. They practice tribal ceremonies, traditional food preservation, and traditional hunting and fishing practices. At Native American language schools like Mukayuhsak Weekuw, students experience their culture in the curriculum in a deeply personal and empowering way.

'Aha Pūnana Leo: Overcoming Policy Barriers

Considering the violent history of America's education system towards Native Americans, it is perhaps unsurprising that policy barriers continue to hinder contemporary language revitalization schools.

Federal policies are often misaligned with the reality of tribal communities and language revitalization schools. Leslie Harper, president of the advocacy group National Coalition of Native American Language Schools and Programs, says schools often risk losing funding because they lack qualified teachers who meet federal standards. But these standards are paternalistic, notes Harper, who says that fluent language teachers at Native schools are often trained outside of accredited teaching colleges, which don't offer relevant Native language teaching programs. These teaching colleges don't "respond to our needs for teachers in Indian communities," she says.

In Hawai'i, 'Aha Pūnana Leo schools have had some success in overcoming policy barriers like these. The schools have led the way for statewide and national policy change in Native language education.

When the first preschool was founded in 1984, activists estimated that fewer than 50 children spoke Hawaiian statewide. Today, 'Aha Pūnana Leo runs 21 language medium schools serving thousands of students throughout the state, from preschool through high school. Because of this success, emerging revitalization schools and researchers alike look to 'Aha Pūnana Leo as a model.

Nāmaka Rawlins is the director of strategic collaborations at 'Aha Pūnana Leo. Like Harper, she says that required academic credentialing burdened the language preschools, which relied on fluent elders. This became an issue in 2012 when kindergarten was made compulsory in Hawai'i, and teachers and directors of preschools were required to be accredited. But she, along with other Hawaiian language advocates, advocated for changes to these state regulations to exclude Hawaiian preschools from the requirement and instead accredit their own teachers as local, indigenous experts. And they succeeded. "We got a lot of flack from the preschool community," she says. "Today, we provide our own training and professional development."

One of the early successes of 'Aha Pūnana Leo was removing the ban on the use of Hawaiian language in schools, which had been illegal for nearly a century. Four years later, in 1990, the passage of the Native American Language Act affirmed that Native American children across the nation have the right to be educated, express themselves, and be assessed in their tribal language.

But according to Harper, progress still needs to be made before NALA is fully implemented by the Education Department. Since 2016, Native American language medium schools have been able to assess students in their language. This took years of advocacy by people like Harper, who served on the US Department of Education's Every Student Succeeds Act Implementation Committee and pushed for the change. 

While this is an important first step, Harper is concerned that because language medium school assessments must be peer reviewed, low capacity schools -- or those that lack the technical expertise of developing assessments that align with federal standards -- will be burdened. And the exemption doesn't apply to high schools.

Studies from multiple language revitalization schools have found that students who attend these schools have greater academic achievement than those who attend English-speaking schools, including scoring significantly higher on standardized tests. "We are beginning to see the long-term benefits of language revitalization and language-medium education in our kids," Harper says. "But the public education system and laws are still reticent about us developing programs of instruction for our students."

Looking Back, Looking Forward

A movement to revitalize tribal languages is underway. The success of 'Aha Pūnana Leo and promise of Mukayuhsak Weekuw are examples of communities taking education into their own hands. When Native American students are taught in their own language and culture, they succeed.

Weston says parents are eager for Mukayuhsak Weekuw to expand into an elementary school, and in fall 2018, the school will include first grade in addition to pre-school and kindergarten. It is a testament to the work and vision of the Wampanoag that just two decades ago, their language was silent, and today, they have a school that expands in size each year. "All of our tribal communities have the capacity to maintain and revitalize our mother tongues," Weston says -- no matter how daunting it may seem.

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Energy Transfer Partners Pipelines Leaked Hazardous Liquids Every 11 Days for 15 Years, on Average

Fri, 04/20/2018 - 04:00

According to a new report from Greenpeace USA and the Waterkeeper Alliance, Energy Transfer Partners -- the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline -- has spilled over 3.6 million gallons of hazardous liquids over the course of fifteen years. The report also notes that the fossil fuel industry's record of spills has only gotten worse over time.

 Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images)An aerial view shows a natural gas liquids pipeline under construction October 26, 2017, in Smith Township, Washington County, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images)

5,475 days, 527 pipeline spills: that's the math presented in a new report from environmental groups Greenpeace USA and the Waterkeeper Alliance examining pipelines involving Dakota Access builder Energy Transfer Partners (ETP). It's based on public data from 2002 to 2017.

All told, those leaks released 3.6 million gallons of hazardous liquids, including 2.8 million gallons of crude oil, according to data collected from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

That doesn't include an additional 2.4 million gallons of "drilling fluids, sediment, and industrial waste" leaked during ETP's construction of two pipelines in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan. Also left out: air pollution and leaks from natural gas pipelines, which were beyond the scope of the new report but which play a significant role in climate change and can cause explosions.

Across the entire industry, hazardous liquid pipelines spilled a total of 34.7 million gallons during the past decade, directly causing 16 deaths and $2.7 billion worth of damage. More than one in ten of those gallons came from ETP.

"That’s a red flag for a company that has an extensive network across the country and is building even more pipelines as we speak in Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and other states," said Greenpeace USA research lead Tim Donaghy, PhD. "ETP and Sunoco's track record of spills, including several striking examples of big spills, are indicators of a constant threat to communities and water. This could happen again to communities along the pipeline routes."

A Long List of Spills and Accidents

ETP spilled crude oil over 400 times, "refined petroleum products" such as gasoline 92 times, and other flammable or toxic fluids 27 times, the researchers found. And many of the spills involved large amounts of oil -- roughly one in four of ETP's pipeline oil spills involved 2,100 or more gallons of oil.

In one 2005 incident, 436,000 gallons of crude oil spewed from a tank farm into a Delaware River tributary outside Philadelphia. That same year, a pipeline built in the 1950s dumped enough oil into the Kentucky and Ohio river to leave a 17-mile oil slick. And in 2009, a Texas pipeline caught fire and leaked over 140,000 gallons near Colorado City, Texas.

Cleaning up those sorts of spills is no easy job. Out of 3.6 million gallons ETP spilled, almost half -- a total of more than 1.5 million gallons -- was never mopped up, the report found. In addition, the company caused $115 million in property damage, according to federal tallies.

Sunoco, which merged with ETP, is included in the report's analysis. In 2012, ETP first merged with Sunoco, formally absorbing pipeline-wing Sunoco Logistics Partners in 2017. The combined companies operate over 70,000 miles of USpipes. That's "nearly long enough to encircle the earth three times," the report notes.

The new report finds that ETP's pipelines have a somewhat higher-than-average rate of problems. Twelve percent of ETP's spills polluted water sources, finds the report, titled "Oil and Water: ETP and Sunoco's History of Pipeline Spills." That's compared against a 10 percent national average. And three out of eight incidents nationwide where PHMSA specifically noted harm to drinking water supplies involved ETP pipelines.

The pipeline industry's record has grown worse over time, the report notes, reaching a peak of 454 spills in 2015 before dropping "slightly" to 404 in 2017.

Bayou Bridge Pipeline

The company's controversial pipeline construction projects across the US include the Bayou Bridge pipeline that would tie in to the Dakota Access pipeline and carry oil from North Dakota's Bakken shale down to the Gulf of Mexico, the Mariner East 2 pipeline that will carry the plastic precursor ethane across Ohio and Pennsylvania to the Atlantic coast, and the 713-mile Rover pipeline, that will transport natural gas through Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, where millions of gallons of drilling fluid have spilled during construction.

The Bayou Bridge pipeline's route through wetlands and drinking water supplies for over 300,000 people has community and environmental advocates particularly concerned.

"Construction of the Bayou Bridge pipeline represents a high risk to hundreds of waterways across the entire state of Louisiana," said Waterkeeper Alliance Clean and Safe Energy Campaign Manager Donna Lisenby.

The new report warns that if ETP's track record remains unchanged, the Bayou Bridge pipeline will experience multiple spills of 2,100 gallons or more of hazardous materials after it's built. "Assuming the US system-wide rate for significant crude oil spills of 0.001 per year per mile, we estimate that the Bayou Bridge Pipeline would suffer eight significant spills during a 50-year nominal lifetime," the report concludes. Photographs of Bayou Bridge construction taken by photojournalist Julie Dermansky, who has reported on Bayou Bridge for DeSmog, are included in Greenpeace's report.

"We're not happy with Bayou Bridge because we know that Energy Transfer Partners is accident prone," said Harry Joseph, a pastor from St. James, Louisiana, where the Bayou Bridge pipeline will terminate. "We fear that something will happen in St. James -- it's just a matter of time because of ETP’s history. The company has had problems."

Sinkholes, Spills and Suing

Those fears will sound familiar to some Pennsylvanians living near the Mariner East 1 and 2 pipelines, where the new report tallied over a hundred "inadvertent releases" and accidents, some of which contaminated locals' water wells, polluted local trout streams, or even caused massive sinkholes to open up. One of those sinkholes erupted just 300 feet from railroad tracks where Amtrak trains and local commuter rail operates, prompting the state to issue an emergency shutdown.

Many living near Mariner East's path are concerned about the risk of more accidents. "This is an organic farm," West Cornwall farmer Phil Stober told ABC News, "and if it damages our groundwater, what recourse do we have?"

The company's most notoriously controversial project was, of course, the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL), where an encampment by people calling themselves "water protectors" in Standing Rock, North Dakota, drew national attention as law enforcement used attack dogs, tear gas, and high-pressure water cannons in subzero temperatures against Indigenous peoples and allies who opposed DAPL construction.

"We all recall the Dakota Access pipeline construction process because of the inspiring resistance from Indigenous communities that wanted to protect their water," said Greenpeace's Donaghy. "Those Water Protectors were right; that pipeline alone leaked four times in 2017."

An additional three incidents along the full stretch of the Dakota Access-Energy Transfers Crude Oil pipeline were also reported to federal authorities, including a roughly 5,000 gallon oil spill in Tennessee.

Other ETP pipeline construction projects that have had a lower national profile also caused major spills. The Permian IIExpress pipeline dumped 361,200 gallons of crude near Sweetwater, Texas, in the largest pipeline leak of 2016.

Last August, ETP sued Greenpeace, BankTrack, and Earth First!, claiming that anti-pipeline advocates were engaged in racketeering against the firm and demanding $900 million in damages. Greenpeace is currently defending against those charges in court and argues that the case is what's known as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, or SLAPP suit, aimed at silencing discussion of harms caused by ETP. (This month, a federal judge effectively dropped Earth First! from that lawsuit, following arguments that Earth First! is a philosophy and not actually an organization. ETP had attempted to hold a magazine called Earth First! Journal liable as representing Earth First!) The lawsuit against Greenpeace is still ongoing.

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Economic Update: Why People Struggle With the System

Fri, 04/20/2018 - 04:00

This week's episode provides updates on the teachers' strikes, how capitalism abuses Facebook and how colleges reward privilege and reproduce it. We also discuss Shell Oil knowing for 50 years that fossil fuels contribute to global warming and how Sinclair Broadcasting traps its employees. Finally, we interview Rob Robinson on water as human right as opposed to a commodity for corporate profit.

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