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Updated: 1 hour 47 min ago

ICE Gave $185 Million Deal to Defense Contractor Under Investigation

Thu, 10/18/2018 - 14:33
This story was originally published by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news organization based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Learn more at revealnews.org and subscribe to the Reveal podcast, produced with PRX, at revealnews.org/podcast.

A private company in charge of transporting families separated at the US border earned a lucrative new contract from ICE while it was under investigation for housing immigrant children in vacant office buildings.

Records show that US Immigration and Customs Enforcement gave MVM Inc. a new contract worth nearly $200 million on July 20, just days after Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting found that the defense contractor held children overnight in two vacant office buildings in Phoenix.

Some children held overnight in the buildings – which had no kitchens, showers or yards – were among those separated from their families under President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy.

On July 11, ICE said its contract with MVM “does not allow for children to be in these facilities more than 24 hours.” The agency said it would be reviewing MVM.

But nine days later, it awarded MVM a new five-year contract worth $185 million for translation and interpretation services, records show.

ICE previously had given the contract to MVM two other times, but both times the contract was voided because of problems. In August 2017, when the company was first awarded, three other contractors protested, saying MVM could not fulfill the needed interpretation services. ICE modified the contract and awarded it to MVM again in June 2018. However, after another protest from competitors, ICE soon rescinded the contract because it gave MVM $10 million more than was called for in the bid.

The third time MVM received the contract came after ICE had launched its investigation into MVM’s office buildings. That bid is also under protest from another vendor that lost out.

In early July, Reveal discovered that MVM detained immigrant children in two office buildings in Phoenix, in possible violation of the company’s own policies. Neither office building was listed among shelters that are licensed to operate through the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement or on Arizona’s child care licensing website.

According to ICE, its transportation contract with MVM did not allow the private company to hold children overnight but allowed MVM to use its offices as “waiting areas” for children awaiting same-day transport.

Following Reveal’s investigation, MVM admitted to holding children overnight in at least one of the vacant offices.

In an email dated July 16, Jennifer Elzea, a spokeswoman for ICE, said the agency was “looking into whether anything occurred that was outside the realm of our contract” with MVM. Neither she nor the contractor would provide copies of the contract. ICE has denied Reveal’s Freedom of Information Act request to view the contracts.

In a follow-up email July 26, Elzea did not respond to questions regarding the most recent translation and interpretation contract with MVM, stating, “You are welcome to FOIA for any contract documents.” She did not respond to subsequent emails.

The Arizona Department of Health Services actively regulates other facilities in the state that are currently licensed. However, a July 12 letterfrom the department said it “does not have the authority or influence to compel the federal government to change their practices or initiate an investigation.”

In a Sept. 17 letter to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen and ICE Acting Director Ron Vitiello, US Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., requested “a thorough investigation of the treatment of unaccompanied children in MVM custody and suspend their contract pending the outcome of the investigation.”

MVM, founded by three former US Secret Service agents in the late 1970s, has supplied guards to CIA facilities in Iraq and the Guantanamo Bay Migrant Operations Center and provided protection to former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. One of its vice presidents is a former CIA special agent and former acting director of the US Marshals Service.

Records indicate that since 2014, the Virginia-based company has received contracts with ICE worth up to $248 million to transport children. Most recently, MVM has become the main transportation contractor under the federal government’s zero-tolerance border policy.

Arizona state Sen. Steve Farley, a Democrat, questioned the state’s lack of action in clamping down on MVM’s continuing business with ICE.

“Why aren’t you shutting them down? Children are at risk,” he said.

The post ICE Gave $185 Million Deal to Defense Contractor Under Investigation appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

This 2019 Peace Calendar Reminds Us That We Are Not Alone

Thu, 10/18/2018 - 14:10

As 2018 ends, it can be overwhelming (and even exhausting) to try to reflect on the events of the year. Donald Trump entered the second year of his presidency and continued his upheaval of the White House; the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre horrified us all and sparked a national movement; the US continued to aid and abet human rights abuses across the Middle East; millions more refugees fled their homes worldwide; and the climate crisis deepened. This and much more has had a traumatic effect on the global consciousness. And while each event may seem to crush us under its weight, there are moments of hope.

The 2019 Syracuse Cultural Workers’ Peace Calendar brings these moments to light. Each month reminds and educates us on the resistance that remains stalwart in the face of such tumultuous and uncertain times. The calendar has sought to do this for 48 years not just with powerful images, but also with inclusive, multicultural holidays, lunar cycles and 13 native moons.

Opening the year is a stunning photo from choreographer Camille Brown’s BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play. The performance interweaves original music and dance to tell the complex story of Black womanhood in the US, where so often Black women are portrayed as one-dimensional. The image is joyous and boundless as it begins the new year.

Other photographs and collages represent landmark events, such as the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots and the Palestinian Right of Return. A gorgeous illustration by Hal Cameron depicts an Indigenous elder passing language on to a child, reminding us that we must still fight against assimilation and colonization as the American holidays approach.

Bookending the calendar is a Syracuse Cultural Workers collage of an expansive tree, with vast networks of boughs and branches representing The Charter for Trees, Woods and People. As an initiative that began in 2015 in the United Kingdom, the charter seeks to unify more than 70 organizations and 300 local groups to protect plant life for the mutual benefit of humanity. The collage reminds us of the interconnectivity of all life on Earth – that peace means understanding and helping each other achieve it. Closing the calendar with this image illustrates the unity in all the images that came before it.

When finding peace seems fruitless, or it seems that power will never bend its ear to listen to our voices, we must remember that we are not alone. Collectively, our voices are heard and amplified by one another. We need only to look at a calendar and remind ourselves, with each passing day, that we are in this struggle together.

The post This 2019 Peace Calendar Reminds Us That We Are Not Alone appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Moving Toward Plutocracy: Bill Moyers Talks to Ben Fountain About the Trump Age

Thu, 10/18/2018 - 13:59

If you only have time for one political book this season, I have just the one for you: Ben Fountain’s Beautiful Country Burn Again. It’s the boldest, bravest and most bracing book about politics that I have read this year. Fountain has a solid following for his fiction. Both his novel, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk — which received the National Book Critics Circle Award — and his collection of short stories, Brief Encounters with Che Guevara, were best-sellers. In 2016 The Guardian asked him to cover the presidential election, a new experience for him. From the roadkill express of the Iowa caucuses to the spectacle of Donald Trump’s victory, he tracked the strange mutation of American politics that surely has George Orwell turning in his grave and our founding fathers wishing for a second chance. Here is a feast of sparkling prose, picturesque profiles, historical perspective, sharp insights, and eureka moments — Donald Trump taking down Senator Ted Cruz for the latter’s smarmy dismissal of “New York values,” for example. But here, too, is a finely spun analysis of how the two major parties lost their way, opening for an outlier like Trump the opportunity of a lifetime. Fountain has given us an original, informed and deeply felt take on the forces and stresses bearing down on America. He came up to New York from his home in Dallas recently, and I talked with him about Beautiful Country Burn Again. I have edited our exchanges for continuity and clarity.

Bill Moyers: There’s an emotional current running through your book that makes me want to know what you were feeling as you followed the candidates across the country in 2016.

Ben Fountain: I was feeling what I think a lot of Americans were feeling — equal parts confusion, frustration and anger, and at times hopefulness. But mostly confusion. Why were things happening the way they were? How did we get to this point? We were in uncharted waters. Donald Trump was doing and saying things no conventional candidate would have been able to get away with. So I had a lot of questions. And when The Guardian invited me to do a series on the election, I jumped at the opportunity. Now I had the excuse to dive as deeply as I could into the why of all this. Is this an aberration in American history and culture? Or is it the logical culmination of certain veins of American life?

I knew your work as a writer of fiction but was not aware of your interest in real-time politics. With this book you have reality reading like a good novel.

Well, I’ve just done what I’ve always tried to do in writing, and that is to be as disciplined and rigorous as I can in seeing the situation for what it is and finding the language to portray accurately what I’ve seen.

Were you entirely on unfamiliar ground as you started tracking the candidates?

When you launch into a book, you discover that you know things you didn’t know you knew. In a way, you’re digging into your own past, your own memories, your own experience. I come from a family that’s been involved in politics in North Carolina for several generations. My grandfather was in the state legislature. His brother was lieutenant governor. One of my cousins was in Congress for 30 years, and others were judges, county commissioners, and the like. Their wives were political wives, and they were at least as savvy as the men. So politics was in the air I breathed growing up.

Was there anything about national politics in 2016 that made you think of the politics you remembered in North Carolina?

The role played by religion in 2016 — the way it was used and abused to manipulate the electorate. And the role of money — especially money under the table, dark money. I call it black money (LAUGH). But like everything else now, politics on a national level has been blown up to cartoon proportions. The media show. The lights, bells and whistles. Highly refined professional expertise. The millions — I mean, billions — of dollars. It has exceeded human scale.

Why the title — Beautiful Country Burn Again?

I was reading excerpts from Joan Didion’s very fine book South and West and came across the line “Beautiful country burn again,” which I think she wrote in reference to that season’s wildfires in California, and it struck me as a kind of lament. And I thought, Oh, that’s it — that seems like the right title for a book about our current situation.Later I found out Didion had borrowed it from her fellow Californian Robinson Jeffers, from his poem “Apology for Bad Dreams”:

…Beautiful country burn again, Point Pinos down to the
Sur Rivers
Burn as before with bitter wonders, land and ocean and the
Carmel water.

Those words captured my mood, my feeling about what was happening in 2016. I felt that if America wasn’t yet literally burning, we might be on the cusp of its burning.

What made you think of fire as a metaphor for America today?

The partisan divide has become so stark, you can imagine a conflagration is coming. Working people and middle-class people in America are feeling more beleaguered than they have since the Great Depression. It’s harder to make ends meet. It’s much harder to get ahead and achieve some measure of financial security and psychological security. It used to be middle-class denoted a certain level of security. If you worked hard, played by the rules, applied your time and talents, then you could reasonably expect a decent living wage, educational opportunities for your kids, and a secure income in old age. That was the social contract. The last 25, 30 years, that social contract’s been shredded. The working and middle classes are working harder than ever and falling farther behind. Meanwhile, corporate profits soar, the stock market soars, and the one percent gets an ever-bigger slice of the pie. That’s not a situation that can be sustained long-term in a genuine democracy. Something’s got to give.

What Is Behind Trump’s Triumph?

You write of the election: “This wasn’t Democrats versus Republicans as much as the sad, psychotic, and vengeful in the national life producing a strange mutation, a creature comprised of degenerate political logic.” A Frankenstein?

Yes.

(Continues reading) “The logic of this politics requires ultimately that the monster turn on its maker. It would be hard to devise a more spectacular conflict than this high-functioning creature of American schizophrenia versus the very system that brought him to power.”

Yes. Trump was elected — whatever you want to say about Russian bots coming from St. Petersburg, or Russian operatives possibly colluding with his campaign, 63 million Americans voted for Trump. He was duly elected according to our system. He’s a creature of our electoral system and our politics. And by every indication so far, he certainly seems capable, certainly willing to do extreme damage to our constitutional system in order to stay in power.

How do you think that might play out?

Obviously if Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation is allowed to continue to its rightful end — if we learn Trump broke the law or there was collusion or some kind of conspiracy with foreign elements to influence the election — will he bow to the law or will he use all the power at his disposal to defy the law? And that’s the very essence of our constitutional system. As we know, the founders were suspicious of concentrations of power. Will this president take more than his constitutionally allotted share of power going forward? In other words, will he defy the law? And what will Congress do if he does? Congress isn’t even doing its basic job of routine oversight at this point. And if a criminal case arises from all this, and comes before the Supreme Court, will the Supreme Court rule according to the law or to partisan politics?

So, yes, I think Trump potentially represents an existential crisis to the constitutional order. We aren’t there yet, and we may not get there. But I do not see him going quietly. This guy fights like a Comanche when his power and privileges are challenged.

You make it clear in the book: Donald Trump did not come out of nowhere.

That’s right. He’s not an alien. He’s homegrown. American politics and culture produced him.

So you write: “The scorched-earth tactics of the campaign, the wholesale retreat into fantasy, the daily outbreaks of absurd and disturbed behaviors, it seemed the only proper way to view these was as symptoms of tremendous stress. [And] whatever the trajectory of the forces and stresses in play, it seemed certain Trump would deepen and accelerate their trajectory.” What were the sources of that “tremendous stress”?

First is something I indicated a moment ago: the tremendous disparity in income and wealth that’s come about in the past 40 years and the basic, pervasive sense that the system is not fair. Fundamental fairness has been lost. When Trump — and Bernie Sanders, for that matter — said, “The system is rigged,” that rang true for great numbers of Americans. It spoke to their absolutely legitimate sense of grievance. And when you speak a truth like that, and say it over and over with what seems like real sincerity, well, that’s powerful stuff in politics. Millions of Americans are living precarious lives, and they’re looking around for the reason.

Second, white America — mainstream white America — has had its way for most of the history of the United States. In the last 50 years, as we have all seen, things have begun to change. Powerful voices are setting the historical record straight, making clear the degree to which American prosperity has rested on the backs of people of color, and at their expense. Uncomfortable truths are being presented to mainstream white America, and that’s bound to present a challenge to some people’s identity and sense of personal integrity.

We’re finally scraping the whitewash off our mythologies, and that’s painful for those whose lives were framed by those mythologies.

Yes, the paradigm of what it means to be an American is changing, and it needs to change if we’re going to have a realistic idea of ourselves and our history. There’s the old paradigm of mythic whiteness — John Wayne, on his horse: the big white guy who tames the frontier. Well, the reality was — is — much more complex and problematic than that. But a lot of white folks have felt demeaned and put-upon, especially by so-called “elites” — educated opinion, the intellectuals, the scholars and writers who are bringing historical truths to light and insisting that they be reckoned with. Not only do a lot of white people feel threatened by this, they feel insulted, condemned. That’s a fraught psychological state to live in.

People want their John Wayne back.

Oh man, do they. I saw it everywhere on the campaign trail: Trump gave a huge swath of white America back to itself. Gave them psychological, emotional affirmation as an antidote for all the anxiety, all the resentment they’d been feeling. He told them: “You aren’t bad; you’re good. Actually, you are the real America.” That kind of affirmation is powerful medicine in politics.

The Ghost of George Wallace

Backlash thrives on it. Think of the backlash after the emancipation of the slaves. Demagogic politicians rallied a defeated and sullen South to put the chains back on black people — all those segregationist laws of Jim Crow. Lynching that continued into the 20th century. Statues erected to Confederate warriors to preserve the memory of the “Lost Cause.” And then the backlash in our time against the Supreme Court’s order to desegregate the schools, against passage by Congress of civil rights and voting rights legislation, against the struggle and victories of the civil rights movement. Whites fled to the suburbs, opened private religious schools, created federal housing policies that institutionalized segregation on economic grounds.

And you were around when George Wallace [governor of Alabama] ran for president on a blatantly racist platform: “Segregation now. Segregation tomorrow. Segregation forever.” Literally blocked the door to black students trying to enroll in the University of Alabama. He was a major force in mid-century American politics, and both parties had to figure out how to neutralize or even co-opt his considerable support.

George Wallace blocking the doors of the University of Alabama, June 11, 1963. (Library of Congress)

Wallace ran for president four times — someone called him “the most influential loser” of the century. The backlash he both fomented and exploited became the core of Richard Nixon’s Southern strategy in 1968, inviting disenchanted whites to make their new home in the Republican Party.

And then Trump comes along some 40 years after Wallace’s last campaign, and rides Wallace’s message all the way to the White House. Who would have thought he’d be the guy to take up Wallace’s legacy? A guy from up north, a classic “Yankee,” in Southern parlance, a loudmouthed, swaggering, abrasive New York City real estate tycoon. But somehow he took up Wallace’s “Lost Cause” and became a hero to the South. You and I remember that for generations, Southerners had it in for Yankees. One of the worst things you could say about someone in the South was “He’s a Yankee. Come down from up north.” But early in his candidacy, in August of 2015, this Yankee filled a football stadium in Mobile, Alabama, with 30,000 to 35,000 supporters. In August, in Alabama. Can you imagine what the temperature was like that day? (LAUGH) Yet 30,000 Southerners came out for Trump, the guy from Sodom and Gomorrah!

He had a message: “You were wronged. You were right. Let’s go back and make the South great again.”

Variations on themes from the past. You know I don’t like facile comparisons of Trump to certain historical figures, but sometimes the parallels are basically hitting you over your head, you just can’t ignore them. Look at the history, the psychological state of Germany that prepared the way for Hitler. Ever since losing World War I, Germans had walked around in something of a daze, asking each other, “Why did we lose? Were we weak? Or were we betrayed by our leaders?” There was this very real existential crisis in the German psyche. Then along comes this powerful, charismatic, spellbinding demagogue who told them: “You didn’t lose the war. You weren’t weak. Your leaders betrayed you. Real Germans are strong and good. And you are real Germans.”

Donald Trump used the same psychology, and he coupled it with one of the oldest plays in the American power-grab book — blatant racism. Well, often blatant, usually thinly veiled, but everybody knew what he was talking about. Trump was only slightly less open in his racist rhetoric than Wallace.

J.R. Comes Home

So he’s less an aberration than a culmination —

— Of a certain strand of American life, yes. Well, several strands. We can’t discount the con man strand, for one. I found myself wondering how many tricks Trump poached from J.R. Ewing [the star of the TV series Dallas in the ’70s, played by Larry Hagman]. The creators of that hit saga had intended for J.R.’s “good” brother Bobby to be the star, but J.R. — a snake and bastard who cheated on his wife — stole the show. The man truly did not give a shit about anyone else. Yet the audience took to the villain — loved him. You can imagine Donald Trump watching J.R. and thinking, I can work with this. Just be myself. People loved J.R. not in spite of his nastiness and greed but because of it.

Donald Trump plays Donald Trump. And the applause meter goes bonkers. Being nakedly who he is — and winning — seemed to liberate him in his own mind from the contempt shown him by Manhattan snobs. He could be — to use your term — the “consummate New York asshole” and still win primaries. Still win the nomination. Still win the presidency. Why mask his real nature behind good manners when meanness pays off? Take that, Goldman Sachs!

What’s incredible is that this “consummate New York asshole” became the hero of the heartland. Southerners, Midwesterners, rural Westerners, they felt something genuine in Trump. He was giving them easy-to-digest explanations for why they felt so bad and beleaguered, why they’d been falling behind economically for years. Cultural explanations, in addition to the “system is rigged” line. He never missed a chance to rail on “political correctness,” and he loaded up that phrase with a tremendous amount of baggage — university professors, policy wonks, people of color, Black Lives Matter, Hollywood, eastern liberals, and so on. A real grab bag of bogeymen who’d been tearing down the “real” America for the past 20 or 30 years. And of course Hillary Clinton got lumped in there as well, and you could feel the anger and resentment toward her that Trump was able to channel. Those chants of “Lock her up!” — he was doing some powerful cheerleading there.

And the crowd roars back — in your words — “like Romans watching lions sink their teeth into Christian flesh.” You say this may be the most powerful medicine in politics, the leader who delivers a man to his natural self.

And his supporters loved him for it. There was tremendous confusion and angst coming to a boil in America by 2015, 2016, and Trump tapped into it with amazing instincts. The way he spoke to it, harnessed it, that became the most important thing about him. Anybody who cared to look could see he was the most blatant kind of phony in so many respects. Talked family values, quoted the Bible, all that, and he’d made his career as one of the most flamboyant libertines of our time. Divorces and affairs that were front-page news. His use and abuse of women. Genius business guy, but then there were all those bankruptcies in his past, all the partners and employees he’d left high and dry, and that $900 million loss he took on his taxes one year. Big on the military, but he ran as hard as he could from the Vietnam War. Big patriot who loves Vladimir Putin — how do you explain that? And he held himself out as a champion of working people, but he was offering nothing concrete that would really help working people in terms of wages and unions and secure, affordable healthcare.

And none of this was hidden.

It was all right out there — right in our faces, so to speak. And people, a critical mass of the American people, bought it. It makes you wonder about the state of our collective psyche, how easily we’re taken in when we’re hearing what we want to hear. Classic con man dynamic, that’s definitely at work here. But the bond he created with people at his rallies had a lot more to do with emotion and raw attraction than anything that might be called rational thought. He came across as authentic in spite of all the obvious contradictions in himself. He could brag and spew insults and swear and spout the most outrageous sorts of lies; they gave him a pass on it. It made him seem real. This wasn’t politics as usual, and what a huge relief that was for millions of people. Politics as usual the last 20 or 30 years certainly hadn’t done them much good, but here was a guy who seemed to be offering something different.

Yet 63 million people voted for him.

Yes. Yes. He certainly managed to convince millions of people that he really does care about them. And apparently they very much wanted to believe. They focused on the things that gave them a reason to believe and let everything else fall to the wayside.

There’s something else at work here — what you call the Fantasy Industrial Complex, the FIC. You say it “challenges our grasp of reality as nothing ever has.”

BEN FOUNTAIN: Well, (SIGH) humans have always had a talent for fantasy and escape —

BILL MOYERS: — And a talent for distraction.

BEN FOUNTAIN: Yes. To daydream, imagine, and these days to project ourselves inside the fantasy lifestyle we see in all the advertisements and commercial propaganda touting expensive fashions, homes, resorts — all that. But I’m convinced that all these screens that surround us everywhere going 24/7 with movies, TV, internet, email, texts, tweets, news, ads, celebrities, politics and all the rest, I think the overall effect is that it numbs us out and dumbs down. It’s always been hard enough for humans to grasp reality as it is, but with the Fantasy Industrial Complex saturating our lives it’s harder than ever for us to see and understand the world as it actually is. Facts, lies, fantasy, reality — it’s all the same to the maestro of our mighty Fantasy Industrial Complex. Where does one begin and the other end?

Yeats got it right: “We had fed the heart on fantasies / The heart’s grown brutal from the fare.”

That says it all. Well, Yeats had the modern age vibed out before anyone else, didn’t he. Fantasy has become the air we breathe. And when the FIC kicks into high gear, with all the corporate power that’s behind it, all those resources and money, all that brainpower, it takes a supreme effort of will on the individual’s part to distinguish advertising and propaganda from facts, from the truth of a situation.

You said in The Guardian recently that Trump’s presidency has been pretty much what you expected: loud, boastful, bullying, reckless, ruder than the worst-bred minor royalty, tetchy as a wolverine in heat. But the main thing to note, you wrote, is the very most main thing: He’s still going.

Yeah, no matter what his opponents throw at him, he just keeps rolling. They go high, they go low, nothing works. He’s a kind of new breed of political Superman; he eats kryptonite for breakfast and just gets stronger.

He’s brought the Republican Party to its knees. And he owns it now. Lock, stock and barrel.

So much of the news coverage portrayed his campaign as a challenge to the establishment of the Republican Party, the way the Republican Party had conducted itself the last 50 years. But, come on, he was simply doing the same thing, talking the same game Republicans have been doing for years, but he did it better. He’s absolutely a virtuoso of the politics of paranoia and racism, cultural resentment, xenophobia, misogyny and all the rest that the GOP has prospered on for the past 50 years.

What IS a New Democrat?

Yet he would have lost, I’ll wager, if the Democrats had kept their house in order and their priorities straight. Your take on how both parties paved the way for Trump is tough and true, but your account of how the Democrats piled on the people they once represented is one for the ages, in no small part because of your eye for details. Your chapter “Hillary Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” is wicked in its particulars. You might have painted a big mural on the wall — and there is an impressive scope to your story — but it’s the pimples of guilt that are most revealing. Like how establishment Democrats, seeing Republicans raise so much money from the oligarchs, set out to tap into the loot by developing close relationships with big donors and big business. For one thing, they organized an outfit called the Democratic Leadership Council [DLC] with an “executive council” that included corporate behemoths such as ARCO, Chevron, Merck, DuPont, Microsoft, Philip Morris, Koch Industries. Among the trustees would eventually be the longtime chief political operative for Charles and David Koch. His nickname was “the Pirate.” I might think you had made that up if I hadn’t seen note 11, page 255.

Thank you. But let me make this point: In one sense the so-called New Democrats of the Clinton years were traditional Democrats in that they were still strong for civil rights, for cultural diversity, sensitive to sexual orientation and ethnicity. But in terms of rock-bottom economics, of all those people really hurt, even ruined, under globalization and the reckless financialization of the American economy, establishment Democrats became more and more like Republicans: They stopped making the case for government. Republicans were perfectly happy to wage class war against the constituencies Democrats nominally represent. Democrats didn’t exactly become pacifists, but — well, let me put it this way: Those eight years of Bill Clinton’s New Democrats served the party’s traditional constituency of the working class, the middle class, minorities, the poor and immigrants about as well as the second coming of Herbert Hoover.

One might say Democrats pulled up their roots on Main Street and repotted them on Wall Street, where Hillary Clinton plucked plenty of posies before and during the 2016 campaign.

Just as Bill Clinton left office in January 2001, Hillary arrived in the Senate to continue the work. She continued to be a star speaker at DLC events — even led its American Dream Initiative, which called for a strict pay-as-you-go budget process in Washington.

Watching her campaign in 2016, what was your impression?

Well, I was constantly reminded — her campaign made sure of that — that she’s done a lot of very good, genuinely good things for people. Starting with her early working life, she was a trench warrior on behalf of progressive politics. She was one of those young women who went out and knocked on doors to register voters in South Texas. She did advocacy for juveniles in South Carolina’s prison system. She went looking for underprivileged kids in Boston, trying to get them into the school system. That is not showboat work. That is work that comes from the heart. But (SIGH) you have to balance all those good works with the overriding fact that she has consistently aligned herself with big money, big corporations, big banks. And you have to lay the increasing economic insecurity of working and middle-class people to that same corporate elite. She didn’t understood why people might resent her earning millions of dollars for speaking to Wall Street firms. In her book What Happened, she said she never thought people would think that she would “sell out” a lifetime of principle and advocacy by making speeches for the one percent. But what she failed to see was that people viewed those speeches not as Hillary “selling out” but as Hillary doing business as usual. She was prospering — obscenely — in a morally bankrupt system that she played a large and active role in creating.

In the middle of the campaign, you pause and reflect on Memorial Day celebrations in a chapter of the book called “Doing the Chickenhawk with Trump.” You have a very moving meditation in the book on Memorial Day celebrations and what politicians say on such occasions. You express your disgust with talking fast and loose in a time of endless war, and what you write is a beautiful reflection on the sacrifice and suffering of our fighting men and women. You invoke one of my favorite all-time journalists, the eccentric and brilliant Ambrose Bierce, who survived some of the worst of the slaughter in the Civil War only to have his skull broken “like a walnut” by a sniper’s ball, and lived to write about combat with horrifying honesty. You quote Ernest Hemingway’s contempt for cant in A Farewell to Arms. You take on the warmongering of Washington’s armchair warriors — some by name — who loosely suggest sending 50,000 American troops to Syria. And you pour boiling water on politicians who have never seen war up close but orate on Memorial Day as if they had repulsed the enemy single-handedly. And during the campaign when Trump, asked in one debate what he would do about Syria, replies that he would “listen to the generals,” you fume: “Screw that. How about we listen to the sergeants, lieutenants, and captains who wore those boots on the ground the past fifteen years. The ones who’ve left the military, who are free to speak their minds and have no stake in the business-as-usual business of American war.”

Well, it’s one of the most profane aspects of our public life, the way the military gets used and abused by politicians to show how tough and patriotic they (the politicians) are, and a lot of these same politicians ran as hard from the military as they could when they were young. The hypocrisy is mind-bending; it’s more a form of schizophrenia than hypocrisy, and Trump is one of the worst offenders. And we get it every Memorial Day: politicians making speeches about courage and country and “the supreme sacrifice” — it’s so hollow it makes you want to puke. I mean, who gave our politicians permission to speak for the violently dead, as I call them in the book? I think we’d do a lot better — have a better chance of understanding ourselves and our history and our wars — if we make the politicians shut up for that one day, at least, and look to writers and poets who experienced war firsthand, then devoted heart and soul to finding the correct words, the true words, for describing the reality of their war. Put aside the fantasy and try for reality, at least on that day. That day of all days.

Is It a Plutocracy Yet?

I must say, you found some of the correct words to sum up the state of our democracy today. You’ve also been searching for “the correct and true words” to describe the state of our democracy today. I sense you want to be honest and call it what it is: a plutocracy.

I think if we aren’t there, we’re very close. Certainly the scale of money in our politics now, especially after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, is astonishing. It’s an ocean of black money floating out there, and they have blocked us from even knowing where it comes from. Certain organizations no longer have to reveal the identity of their donors. How do we ever know who’s giving all this money, who are the politicians working for? There’s no accountability without knowing who’s paying the bills. And where does this leave the everyday citizen?

Since the conservative Supreme Court declared money to be speech, without money they’re left speechless. And unrepresented.

Because these donors score big on the policy outcomes they want. They have access. Influence. They have a lot of money to put behind candidates of their choice, and they have a lot of money to throw against candidates they oppose. For me, the American identity is at its core a political identity, one based on the foundational principle of equality. But for the principle to be fulfilled, to be the lived reality of the country, requires equal citizenship stature for all. Equality before the law, in other words; the laws of the land as established and revised by genuinely representative government — not a government responsive mainly to donors. Equality is the foundational, guiding principle of the United States, and it’s right there in the Declaration of Independence. So how equal can citizens be if they’re not making enough to support a family, despite working two or three jobs, and with so little time to devote to civic and political duties? This is the reality. Does that citizen have equal stature with the CEO of a Fortune 500 company? With Sheldon Adelson? Of course not.

Your chapter “The Long Good Deal” prompts the question: Are the assumptions of hypercapitalism — what we’re experiencing today — compatible with democracy?

I think there is always going to be, at best, a real tension there. Can democracy thrive alongside a freewheeling capitalist economic system? Or will these great concentrations of power and wealth overwhelm democracy by virtue of their enormous power and influence?

Trump was right: The system is rigged. Big money, cartels and conglomerates, big media, huge investment banks, giant hedge funds, billionaires — these control so much of what goes on in this country. Ordinary Americans no longer have much agency over their lives. Oh, they can still vote, still say what they want to say, get together to protest. But the real power is somewhere else: Follow the money.

All you have to do is look at recent history. Start before the crash of 2007–2008. At, say, the deregulation of banks and banking that began under Ronald Reagan, with Democratic support. For 50 years since the Great Depression, there had been no major upheavals in American finance — from the early 1930s to the late 1980s. That was a testament to the soundness of the New Deal structure of banking and finance regulation that Franklin Roosevelt ushered in back in the 1930s — those safeguards that prevented reckless speculation by banks and Wall Street really worked. The 1980s came, and Washington took apart the regulatory structure of the savings and loan industry. Congress passed new rules that made it okay for the S&Ls to invest depositors’ money in very risky endeavors. Guess what? By the end of the decade, there was no savings and loan industry. It had freewheeled itself into oblivion. Boomed and busted all in the space of about six years. Taxpayers were out billions of dollars to make up for the loss.

That should have been a signal to us that the laws and regulations developed under the New Deal worked. They served a real purpose, and they were successful for over a half century in protecting taxpayers and depositors and the stability of the banking system. But under Reagan, deregulation became the mantra. For both parties, it should be noted. Deregulation continued into the 21st century as investment banks and commercial banks made tremendous amounts of money on high-flying speculation. Then we get to 2007–2008 and boom! The crash. The capitalists went too far, as capitalists will always do if they’re left to their own devices. The result? The worst financial crisis, the worst recession, since the Great Depression, and the global financial system was almost destroyed. Yet within a year or two the banks were doing great again, the bankers were pulling down huge bonuses again, while working people were still trying to climb out of the wreckage. So in 2016 Trump and Bernie Sanders were telling the truth: The system is rigged.

You write that Lincoln in the Civil War and Roosevelt in the economic crash of the 1930s had the vision and strength of will to lead the country out of two incarnations of hell. Will we be that lucky next time?

I hope we don’t get there. But if corporate power is allowed to operate unchecked, it will always go too far. The capitalists will overreach, and there will be blowback. History shows us that plainly enough. So I fear we’re due soon for an existential crisis. I think the plutocracy has so much power at this point that nothing short of a major upheaval is going to change things. If anything is going to change, pretty much everything is going to have to change at the same time, much like Roosevelt with the New Deal. There were tremendous changes wrought then in American society in what was a bloodless revolution. And that’s one of the miracles of the New Deal, that it was in fact a bloodless revolution. And, by the way, it saved capitalism. One example: FDR didn’t nationalize the banks; he gave them a holiday. And New Deal initiatives produced much of the infrastructure that we rely on to this day: the roads, waterways, bridges, sewers and water mains, courthouses, libraries and power grids. You could say that the New Deal was so successful that it’s become invisible. So many of the things we take for granted — from electricity to roads to the internet to the technology in our computers and cell phones — had their origins in the philosophy and framework of the New Deal.

Today, corporate power and concentrations of wealth have such a hold over our economic system that for the country to wrest some of that power from them, it can’t be incremental. It will take a political revolution.

“A Deep and Mighty Transformation”

James Baldwin saw a “deep and mighty transformation” as the country’s only hope. At the beginning of your book, you remind us that twice before in our history, the United States has been faced with a crisis so severe it was forced to reinvent itself to survive: First was the struggle over slavery, culminating in the Civil War, and second was the Great Depression, which as you just said led to President Roosevelt’s New Deal and the establishment of America as a social-democratic state. Now you argue that we may be facing a third existential crisis, one that will require a “burning” of the old order as America attempts to remake itself. I failed to mention at the start of this interview that the subtitle of Beautiful Country Burn Again is Democracy, Rebellion, and Revolution. Is that what you foresee — and can we get such change peacefully?

Rebellion happens in the streets — barricades, protests, uprisings, all of that. I think revolution takes place first in the mind, with ideas, vision and imagination. Oppressive and manipulative power structures try to limit our imaginations as to what is possible. And I think the American imagination has been stunted the last 40 years by a very aggressive sales program on behalf of free-market fundamentalism and hard-core capitalism. So part of the revolution, a good part, has to happen up here, where we think and imagine. We have to realize there are alternatives, that it wasn’t always this way and it doesn’t have to be this way.

Thank you, Ben Fountain.

Glad to be here.

The post Moving Toward Plutocracy: Bill Moyers Talks to Ben Fountain About the Trump Age appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

The Proud Boys Have Revived Far-Right Gang Terror With GOP Support

Thu, 10/18/2018 - 13:56

Shaky video footage of screaming “alt-right” members has become so familiar at this point that journalist Sandi Bachom’s video footage of a group of Proud Boys’ violent assault in New York City last week might easily have been ignored as it surfaced. Instead, it has gone viral in what has become another flashpoint in recent white supremacist street violence.

The Proud Boys, a far-right street gang known for their public displays of violence, are seen running to surround counterprotesters on the ground. They hit and kick people, letting their friends edge into the crowd so they can get their pummeling in, all against a flurry of homophobic slurs. “Kick this motherfucker” and “Are you brave now, faggot?” can be heard as they kick a crouched person desperately trying to block what might have become lethal blows. As they start to dissipate, one Proud Boy calls out “Uhuru,” a Swahili resistance word that means “freedom” that has been appropriated by the group in a mocking tone.

Bachom captured the video while following the group down the street as they carried on screaming and insulting their victims, anticipating what was likely to come next after having observed the group’s actions across the US for two years now.

“They were like frat boys, yelling and taunting people,” Bachom told Truthout, recalling how the event brought back memories of the violent, far-right “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where she was seriously injured during melees with white nationalists brandishing poles and shields. “They were just roaming the streets, and the cops were alongside of them. They had a police escort.”

Inciting Violence

The attack that occurred on October 12 came just after the Metropolitan Republican Club hosted an appearance of Proud Boys co-founder Gavin McInnes at their Manhattan clubhouse. McInnes has become a controversial figure after leaving Vice Media to write for white-nationalist publications, like VDare and American Renaissance, and to host a talk show that features white nationalists like Jared Taylor, founder and editor of American Renaissance. As the “alt-right” came into full swing, McInnes hung on the edge of the movement, forming the Proud Boys as a multiracial, far-right crew at the same time as open racialists were mixing with Trumpians.

As the larger “alt-right” fizzled, losing almost all its online platforms after Charlottesville, the Proud Boys managed to grow, in part, because it was no longer restricted to white men. The group’s politics are a confusing mix of civic nationalism, what they call “Western chauvinism“; anti-immigrant extremism; conservative traditionalism; and the veneration of violence as a key component of both masculinity and “Western pride.” This has led to more than two years of confrontations in spaces occupied by leftists across the country, where Proud Boys have continually attacked them in gang-style roundups.

McInnes’s speeches have long been protested. For instance, last year, student groups chased him out of the halls of New York University in one high-profile incident. This year, the night before McInnes’s event at the Republican Club, anarchist symbols were spray painted onto the building. A note was also left, reading, “The Metropolitan Republican Club chose to invite a hipster-fascist clown to dance for them, content to revel in their treachery against humanity.”

McInnes’s talk was on far-right Japanese murderer Otoya Yamaguchi, who stabbed socialist leader Inejiro Asanuma to death in 1960 with a sword. McInnes had promised on social media to re-enact the killing, calling it “inspirational.” Protesters gathered outside the venue, decrying the New York Republican Party leadership’s willingness to allow the Proud Boys in as a part of an acceptable range of discourse.

The Proud Boys, not willing to be one-upped by opponents, responded with aggression, singling out protesters for pointed attacks. McInnes, meanwhile, got out of his car to raise a sword into the air in a clear message to his supporters: The left must be dealt with through violent means – even political assassination.

On October 12, near Third Avenue and 83rd Street, more than a dozen Proud Boys caught up with protesters and unleashed such a display of violence that they didn’t even attempt to hide from the several onlookers and journalists who were shooting photos and videos, demonstrating the brazenness for which the group has become notorious.

This pattern has only intensified as Proud Boy chapters continue to crop up across the country. In Portland, Oregon, the group has become associated with Patriot Prayer, another far-right Trumpian organization with open white nationalists in their ranks. Patriot Prayer members have forced themselves into liberal cities, and once there, link up with Proud Boys who confront counterprotesters and residents with guerilla-style attacks.

In Portland, this has resulted in dozens of clashes, including several where Proud Boys have come prepared with body armor, intentionally rushing counterprotesters and leaving them hospitalized. The violence has spilled over into the larger community, as the gang has made a habit of going into spaces where they might encounter any opposition at all and using even the smallest protest against them as a signal to strike with impunity.

The “New” Street Violence

For places like Portland, Chicago, Minneapolis-St. Paul and other cities, the Proud Boys’ violent pattern rings familiar. In the 1980s and early 1990s, neo-Nazi skinhead gangs claimed entire neighborhoods as their turf, controlling music venues, bars and street corners. The skinhead gang phenomenon grew in the wake of de-industrialization and an effort by the white power movement to create a new line of recruits with a militant attitude ready to engage in “lone wolf” violence. They recruited among the most disaffected areas of the white working class. While their violence was distinct, these gangs signaled where the fascist movement was at the time: alienated but still violent.

Today, the far right has become more complicated, convoluted and disparate than it once was, but has a clearer path to power. The “alt-right” created, first, an intellectual veneer, and then a cultural space for far-right ideas. Far-right populist movements, including the Proud Boys, carved out a large space in the world of trollish blogs that flourished after Trump’s election.

Today, it is not uncommon for far-righters to create a multiracial subculture, even if it seems antithetical to their actual political goals. The rightward wave across US and Europe has allowed for anti-immigrant, anti-liberal and reactionary politics to be shared in a temporary alliance. While hardcore white nationalists will never cross the racial aisle, there remains a large periphery around them who will, making it much easier to grow right-wing populism’s political game while using the cover of plausible deniability for the racism of the far right.

In this new world, we have seen a dramatic shrinking of the neo-Nazi skinhead phenomenon. In Portland, Oregon, the 1988 killing of Ethiopian student Mulugeta Seraw by members of East Side White Pride brought a lawsuit by the Southern Poverty Law Center against White Aryan Resistance, a white-power organization that had been propping up the violent growth of skinhead gangs. The lawsuit, along with anti-fascists’ years of political organizing in its aftermath, proved a critical blow against the movement.

Another factor that led to the skinheads’ decline was the inherent instability inside of the white power community that left many members in jail, out of work or dead. Skinhead organizations were founded entirely on street violence, and while the impulse toward male rage built on resentment still churns, today’s white supremacists have easier outlets than completely dropping out of society, as required by the neo-Nazi movement.

The Proud Boys, with their focus on camaraderie and strengthening male identity through violence, appears to fill the same void while dropping some of the previous barriers to entry so that more men feel comfortable in joining in to the group’s culture of violence. Now the pace of Proud Boys attacks is speeding up, showing a clear pattern of targeting marginalized communities, the larger left and anyone who refuses to give them open access to any space they choose.

Ready to Fight

The Proud Boys have been open about their motivations. In New York, a video posted presumably by a member of the Proud Boys in advance of McInnes’s speech, shows members admitting that they wanted to attack the protesters who were chanting across the street. “I want to go over there and instigate it, but the cops are here so we’ll be nice,” says a man behind the camera. He gets into a physical confrontation with a protester seconds later.

After McInnes’s speech let out, about 30 Proud Boys streamed out of the venue single-file, with bystanders reporting that they seemed drunk and amped-up by talk of the murder of Asanuma. “They wanted to do harm,” Bachom said. “They were an angry mob. They were a gang.” One video shows the Proud Boys taunting protesters as they left along with a police escort leading them away down the street, who then witness the attack. The video continues with the group mocking their victims, and posing for a group photo while flashing a hand signal that many claim is a code for “white power.”

Three fascist skinhead gang members, including Joe Bola and Dennis Davila of the ultra-violent 211 Bootboys crew, were caught joining the fight. Davila is best known for running the hate-music clearinghouse United Riot Records, which publishes compilations from the neo-Nazi skinhead festival “Oi!fest.” The third skinhead in the street fight goes by “Irv,” who often runs with a largely Latino skinhead crew who previously participated in the clashes at Charlottesville. His gang is another testament to the kinds of tacitly multiracial alliances in the skinhead world that target gender minorities, immigrants and Muslims. McInnis himself has been photographed with Bola, suggesting that the collaboration between the Proud Boys and Bola’s far-right skinhead gang is likely more than coincidence.

“They were hyped-the-fuck-up to begin with,” says freelance photojournalist Shay Horse, who caught photos of the attack and the later shot of the Proud Boys flashing hand gestures. “It wouldn’t shock me if we find out about more attacks that happened later in that evening.”

While the Proud Boys’ violence was pronounced and shocking, the mainstream right wing paid it little mind. Fox News ran a report focusing exclusively on the vandalism that occurred the night before while airing footage of McInnes brandishing a sword at protesters but providing no context. New York Republican Party Chairman Edward Cox blamed the violence on the Democratic Party, saying, “Democrats need to cease inciting these attacks,” and alleging some connection between anarchist protesters and the Democratic National Committee. His comments only further extend the GOP’s cover for the street gang.

While the injuries from Proud Boys’ attacks are entirely visible and well-documented, conservatives have become entrenched in a heated contest of victim-blaming counterprotesters. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio have called for video of the incident to be reviewed and for potential prosecutions of Proud Boys based on video evidence. Mayor de Blasio recently tweeted, “Hate is never welcome in NYC and we will punish those responsible.”

Portland Patriots

The following day after the assault in New York, a separate Proud Boy chapter joined Patriot Prayer in a flash-mob-style action in downtown Portland, Oregon, attempting to subvert local police accountability actions organized by Don’t Shoot PDX. In a suddenly announced rally and march that brought out 40-odd participants, including both suited Proud Boys and flag-waving conservatives, they demanded that Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler step down for what they allege is soft-peddled policing around protesters in the city.

Proud Boys began attacking counterprotesters quickly after taking the streets. Video of the event later showed mass brawls interlaced with police pepper spray. Patriot Prayer members wielded clubs, making contact with protesters being thrown to the ground in what could accurately be called a gang beating, as counter-demonstrators curled themselves into the fetal position while Proud Boys surrounded and stomped them. In the world of the neo-Nazi skinhead gangs, this would have been called a “boot party”; for the Proud Boys, it has been labeled “self-defense.”

“What you saw in NYC was just a warm-up for [that day] in Portland,” said journalist Mike Bivins, whose videos provide a close-up view of the barrage. At one point, the police began a late-stage intervention, firing pepper balls into the crowd while four Proud Boys were doubling down on a trapped anti-fascist protester.

Gangland

The Proud Boys’ violence reflects both a tone shift in US conservatism and their own importance in the world of street fighting, taking on the mantle that was carried by far more publicly reviled organizations like Volksfront and the Hammerskin nation. While the attacks from Proud Boy gang members have not turned into fatalities yet, there has been a steady pattern of escalation and an internal culture of denial when it comes to the consequences of their incitements.

“All we needed for one gun to go off…. It would have been a bloodbath. That’s what I am afraid is coming,” Bachon says, echoing a common feeling about what could be next if Proud Boy tactics intensify.

While other white supremacist groups have dissipated somewhat after Charlottesville, the Proud Boys are steadily absorbing angry recruits looking for a “fight club” aimed at the marginalized.

While continuing to foster relationships with more traditional fascist skinhead gangs and new white nationalist crews like the Rise Above Movement, the Proud Boys have been given a pass by most law enforcement institutions. The soft approach taken by police to the Proud Boys — in comparison to how they have treated counterprotesters in Portland and at the recent “Unite the Right 2” event in Washington, DC — reveals law enforcement’s belief that the gang poses little threat, and has left many wondering where to turn.

Those involved in last week’s attack were identified quickly, both by law enforcement and anti-fascist organizers, and the NYPD said they were set to charge nine of the Proud Boys involved. As of Monday, three arrests have been made.

While the marginalization of white power gangs has helped leftist activists target and eliminate many of them over time, the cover supplied by the more mainstream conservative right may actually undermine efforts to secure communities against Proud Boy incursions and to halt their attacks before they begin to engender a body count.

The post The Proud Boys Have Revived Far-Right Gang Terror With GOP Support appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Illinois Prisons Sued for Unconstitutional Ban on LGBTQ Literature

Thu, 10/18/2018 - 13:52

The Uptown People’s Law Center and the MacArthur Justice Center is filing a lawsuit today that alleges Illinois prisons are censoring correspondence and publications that have been mailed to prisoners by Black and Pink, a prisoners’ rights organization focused on supporting incarcerated LGBTQ and HIV-positive people.

Jason Lydon founded Black and Pink in 2005 after his own incarceration and was the national director of the group until 2017. “Prisoners are entitled to communication with people on the outside and are entitled to knowledge and stories that validate their humanity,” Lydon told Truthout. “This lawsuit is about ensuring that.”

Black and Pink, which seeks the abolition of the prison system, produces several publications for prisoners featuring writing and artwork by incarcerated people. Nationally, Black and Pink distributes a monthly newsletter to tens of thousands of prisoners; in Illinois, there are hundreds of subscribers.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the Chicago chapter of Black and Pink, alleges that Black and Pink publications and correspondence — including its Stop Solitary Zine, introductory letters, chapter updates, newsletters, and birthday and holiday cards — have been banned from several Illinois prisons since at least 2016. Lindsey Hess, the media administrator for the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC), stated in an email to Truthout that “the publication has not been banned at any IDOC facilities.” It’s not clear which publication Hess was referring to, and further communication to the IDOC had not been responded to at the time of publication.

“Prison is isolating in general,” said Alan Mills, the executive director of the Uptown People’s Law Center. This isolation, which is particularly acute for LGBTQ prisoners, Mills says, is why it’s critical that Black and Pink “be able to communicate with people inside who desperately need that support.”

The censorship of Black and Pink in Illinois prisons has taken several forms, according to the lawsuit. Items from the organization have been marked “Return to sender, unable to forward,” “Contraband,” “Black & Pink-Banned Correspondence” or “Correspondence not approved.”

“Getting mail from people shows [that] someone on the outside is paying attention to what is going on,” said Kim Sammons, a volunteer with Black and Pink Chicago. “Prisons do a lot of work to dehumanize people. Any kind of connection is important.”

The lawsuit alleges that Western Illinois and Danville facilities informed prisoners a holiday chapter mailing, which included holiday cards, was rejected by stating: “We are discouraging communication between our prisoners and the Pink & Black [sic] organization, so we cannot allow the receiving of more propaganda.”

According to the lawsuit, people incarcerated at several prisons — including Western Illinois, Centralia, Danville, Decatur, Dixon and Big Muddy River — were told: “The [Stop] Solitary Zine promotes violence with strong language and strange artwork found on several pages. If we suspect that mail being sent to prisoners is encouraging any sort of rebellious attitude, we must keep that mail from them.”

The censorship, Mills said, has been “totally random,” as Black and Pink publications have been banned at some prisons in Illinois but not at others.

This is far from the first time LGBTQ publications have been censored in prisons. In 2016, the ACLU of Kentucky demanded that the Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex end its ban on publications that “promote homosexuality.” In response, the Department of Corrections rescinded the ban.

“To us, it was just a very clear First Amendment violation,” said Amber Duke, communications director for the ACLU of Kentucky. Duke said the organization first learned of the policy when prisoners reported that their issues of LGBTQ publications like Out and The Advocate were being confiscated when they arrived in the mail.

A 2015 national survey of more than 1,000 prisoners conducted by Black and Pink found that just 20 percent of prisoners reported having access to “LGBT affirming books.” Of the respondents to the survey, 65 percent identified as LGBTQ before their incarceration.

While prisoners’ First Amendment rights are limited, they are “not annihilated,” explained David Fathi, director of the ACLU National Prison Project.

“The most clearly prohibited government misconduct under the First Amendment is viewpoint discrimination, which is suppressing literature or advocacy or speech because the government doesn’t like the point of view that’s being expressed,” said Fathi. “That’s something the government can virtually never do. To the extent that prisons are suppressing LGBT advocacy materials, that is presumptively unconstitutional.”

Targeting publications like those produced by Black and Pink is indicative of the broader experience of LGBTQ prisoners who experience higher rates of sexual violence, harassment and solitary confinement, according to Naomi Goldberg, policy director of Movement Advancement Project, a think tank that works to advance equality for LGBTQ people. Of the respondents to Black and Pink’s survey, 85 percent reported being held in solitary confinement.

Those who bear the brunt of this abuse are people of color who are disproportionately represented in the prison system, notes Goldberg, who is the author of “Unjust: How the Broken Criminal Justice System Fails LGBT People of Color.”

“[Censorship] is one data point of many around the harassment and discrimination [LGBTQ prisoners] experience,” Goldberg told Truthout. “Just as staying connected to family and friends is really important for people who are incarcerated, staying connected to a community is really important.”

Building community to combat the isolation imposed upon LGBTQ and HIV-positive prisoners, Lydon says, is at the core of Black and Pink’s mission.

“[Black and Pink] is a reminder that they’re cared for,” said Lydon. “It’s a reminder to everybody that they’re not forgotten.”

The post Illinois Prisons Sued for Unconstitutional Ban on LGBTQ Literature appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

The Complex and Frustrating Reality of Recycling Plastic

Wed, 10/17/2018 - 15:58

Global consumers now use a million plastic bottles every minute, 91 percent of which are not recycled. Our growing consumption of single-use plastic is evident in the form of ever-expanding landfills, as well as pollution on our sidewalks, along roadways and in natural ecosystems. Plastic that is littered or blown out of waste bins makes its way into storm drains, streams and rivers. Ultimately, up to 8 million metric tons of it enter the world’s oceans every year.

Scientists aren’t sure how long it takes for plastic to fully biodegrade—estimates range from 450 years to never, National Geographic reported in its June issue, which is devoted to the mounting plastic pollution problem. But we know enough to know that the staggering 9.2 billion metric tons of plastic produced since the 1950s isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. At this rate, our oceans will contain more plastic than fish by 2050.

Many now consider ocean plastic pollution an existential threat on par with climate change, but it seems like it should be an easy one to fix. Plastic is recyclable, after all, so why can’t we just recycle it? It turns out it’s not as simple as it sounds.

Around two-thirds of the plastic that enters the ocean from rivers is carried by only 20 waterways—the majority of which are on the Asian continent, where access to waste collection and recycling is often limited. Even in countries with established waste management infrastructure, the picture remains bleak: Less than 10 percent of the plastic used in the United States is recycled, according to the most recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data. Figures improve for select plastic materials—for example, around 30 percent of polyethylene terephthalate, commonly used to package household staples like bottled beverages, condiments and personal care products, is recycled—but even these rates remain woefully out of balance with our increasing reliance on single-use plastic.

To make matters worse, fluctuating demand for recycled material and consumer confusion about what is recyclable make it harder for US collection programs to remain economical. If nothing changes, municipal recycling programs across the country may be forced to scale back or even shut down—hastening our collision course with a new paradigm defined by toxic seas.

This grim reality begs the question: How can developing markets—which now produce roughly half of the world’s plastic—hope to establish effective recycling infrastructures if countries like the US are still unable to get it right? What’s holding us back from recycling more plastic, and what can we do to save our oceans before it’s too late?

The Cost of Confusion

For decades, PR campaigns and public service announcements touted the ease of recycling. “Just move your hand over a few inches,” spokesman after spokesman said, “and throw that plastic, metal or paper into the recycling bin instead of the trash.”

Our oceans will contain more plastic than fish by 2050.

The reality of recycling is far more complicated—even in nations like the US, where curbside programs have steadily proliferated since 1980. Neighboring communities can have vastly different recycling programs, and educational campaigns that hinge on industry jargon often do little to ease confusion for residents.

“Most people have the attitude that if they just put it in the blue bin, it will get taken away and somebody will figure out what to do with it, but putting something in the blue bin and actually recycling it are two very different things,” said David Biderman, CEO and executive director of the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA).

Motivated by good intentions, people throw everything from plastic shopping bags to garden hoses into their curbside carts. According to Biderman, on average, 10 to 15 percent of the material sent to US recycling centers is not recyclable, and it eventually makes its way to local landfills. “You may divert material on the front end, but it’s still going to a landfill in the back end,” Biderman said. “Meanwhile, someone is getting paid to do that processing.”

The results of widespread confusion can be prohibitively expensive for municipalities—and wasted work time is only the tip of the iceberg. Materials like those aforementioned bags and hoses can become tangled in sorting machinery, causing plants to shut down the processing line while workers remove obstructions by hand. If miscellaneous materials are not sorted out, or if containers are contaminated by food waste residue, the quality of the bulk scrap drops—and so does the price it will fetch on the open market.

Less than 10 percent of the plastic used in the United States is recycled.

The landscape is complicated even further by the wide variety of plastics now used to package foods, beverages and other household goods. Packaging manufacturers increasingly favor more lightweight plastics, which carry their own benefits. Namely, opting for lighter-weight packaging means a manufacturer uses less plastic and can ship more product in a smaller amount of space, cutting down on transportation-related emissions. But lightweight plastics are often not recyclable, even though they appear to be, and more of them are entering the recycling stream.

“The goal of a recycling program is to generate saleable material. Paper, plastic and metal can only be sold into the marketplace if it satisfies certain standards, and one of those standards is that it not contain other material,” Biderman said. “When the stream becomes contaminated, the material may not be able to be sold, or it will be sold at a lower price—which makes recycling programs less effective and efficient if they’re not breaking even or making money.”

“On the Brink of Disaster”

On a partly cloudy afternoon in May, recycling haulers and processors from across California converged on the Capitol building to warn lawmakers about a “recycling crisis.” US recyclers process around 66 million tons of material every year, a third of which is exported. Until recently, China was the largest purchaser of bulk plastic, paper and other recyclable materials leaving the United States, but new regulations have recycling programs “on the brink of disaster,” the haulers said.

At the start of this year, in an attempt to reduce local environmental problems associated with handling over 45 million tons of foreign waste annually, China imposed what some call an impossible purity standard on imported recyclables. Mixed paper and plastics found to have more than 0.50 percent foreign material by weight are rejected, and barges are forced to return to the United States or ship their load to other ports, mostly elsewhere in Asia, where they are sold at a lower price.

Relatively low oil prices make it cheaper to produce plastic from virgin material, further decreasing demand for recycled feedstocks.

“We have a major challenge right now, because the largest export market for American recyclables has basically been shut off,” Biderman said. “India, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia have ramped up some of their imports of American recyclables, but it’s still less than half of what China was taking.”

This shift comes as relatively low oil prices make it cheaper to produce plastic from virgin material, further decreasing demand for recycled feedstocks. “Plastic prices are down across the board,” Biderman told us. “Material is moving in most instances, but it’s moving at very low prices.”

California haulers are pushing for dramatic policy changes to help them adapt and told lawmakers they must do more to educate consumers about what is recyclable, but they aren’t the only ones feeling the pinch. At the start of May, Portland, Oregon, was forced to raise its waste-hauling rates for the first time in five years as it struggles to find new buyers for bulk plastic and other materials.

Portland haulers transport recyclables to regional depots, where they are sorted, baled and prepared for export. In years past, the modest fees they received helped to offset hauling costs for residents, but falling prices are leaving haulers in the red. “It hinges on the broader lack of recycling markets,” Bruce Walker, Portland’s solid waste and recycling program manager, said of the rate increase.

“The contamination issue is not solely responsible—there’s a vast oversupply [of recyclables] in the US right now, so if you’re looking at supply and demand, that contributes to lower prices—but contamination certainly plays a role,” Walker said. “Residents can help the program by keeping non-recyclable materials out, but it’s difficult to get that message across with so many very similar types of plastics that enter the household.”

The Role of Corporations

In the United States, the cost of recycling plastic and other household waste falls on cities—and their taxpayers. But as municipal programs seek new buyers for bulk scrap, many wonder whether the companies that produce single-use packaging should bear more responsibility for recycling it. “For too long, packaging companies have been externalizing the costs of their packaging on local governments,” said Biderman. “They’re changing how they package material and expecting local governments to pick up the tab for it.”

“For too long, packaging companies have been externalizing the costs of their packaging on local governments.”

Walker agreed, underscoring the power of US companies to take the financial heat off municipal recycling programs. “If American manufacturers and brand owners were willing to package products using recycled materials, we would be in a much better situation. Unfortunately, those commitments aren’t readily apparent.”

That’s beginning to change, albeit slowly. Launched in 2003, The Recycling Partnership uses funding from companies like PepsiCo and Starbucks to improve municipal recycling infrastructure. It tests contamination reduction and other best practices in the field with partner cities, such as Atlanta, Chicago and Denver, and makes them available to communities across the country. Last year, it joined the Association of Plastic Recyclers to get companies more actively involved. Their campaign, dubbed Recycling Demand Champions, asks companies to recognize that their demand for recycled plastic is vital to the health of US recycling programs and calls on them to purchase more of the material.

Top brands like Target, Procter & Gamble, Campbell Soup Co. and Coca-Cola signed on to the initiative and pledged to use more recycled plastic, primarily to replace virgin material in industrial items like trash cans, pallets and tote boxes. This type of application is typical for plastic; unlike other materials such as aluminum and glass, plastic is downcycled far more often than it’s used for new bottles or other containers. So, while initiatives like this one can help recyclers make ends meet and ensure less plastic goes to landfill, they do little to stem the demand for virgin plastic in packaging.

Some companies are going even further. French bottled water giant Evian, for example, plans to use 100 percent recycled plastic bottles by 2025—one of the most aggressive corporate goals on record. Meanwhile, others are looking beyond plastic for products and packaging. UK supermarket chain Iceland will become the world’s first supermarket to eliminate single-use plastic in its branded products within five years. Home-delivery startup ThreeMain says its cleaning products—packaged in aluminum bottles—will eliminate more than 80 percent of the plastic associated with home cleaning. Even toy company Lego may start making its iconic building blocks from sugarcane instead of plastic.

This is all positive, but businesses can do more—and their stakeholders are letting them know it. In response to mounting protest from NGOs, Coca-Cola pledged to “collect and recycle 100 percent of its packaging” by 2030, though Greenpeace says the company is still “dodging the main issue” of its increasing plastic use and pledged to keep the pressure on. Earlier this year, a group of 25 institutional investors with a combined $1 trillion in assets called plastic pollution a clear corporate brand risk and said they will engage consumer goods companies to fight the problem—beginning with PepsiCo, Nestle, Procter & Gamble and Unilever. Shareholder pressure also swayed McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts to move away from polystyrene cups. In announcing victory in the foam cup fight, the shareholder advocacy nonprofit As You Sow declared, “Shareholders [are] stopping the flow of plastics at the source: giant global corporations.”

What You Can Do

Cities across the country are taking action to clean up their recycling streams and preserve the viability of their programs. California instituted a statewide ban on plastic carryout bags in 2016, and cities from Chicago and Boston to Austin, Texas, have their own bag bans on the books. A handful of cities, including Portland, Minneapolis and Washington, DC, ban foam takeout containers. New York City may soon be the latest to ban plastic drinking straws, joining the likes of Seattle, Miami Beach and Malibu, California.

As with any other issue, citizens who are concerned about plastic waste and recycling can contact their representatives and voice support for similar legislation, although bans alone can’t solve the problem. “How many items are we going to have to ban?” Walker asked rhetorically. “That’s not a comprehensive approach either … though in my opinion there needs to be some consideration in other cities with respect to these items that pose problems to the recycling system.”

A massive problem like plastic pollution requires a multi-pronged approach that includes source reduction, reuse and recycling.

Even if you feel you know what is recyclable in your community, take the time to visit your local recycling program’s website and review the list of accepted materials. Make sure all recyclable materials are clean and dry before placing them in the bin to avoid contributing to contamination. For materials that are not accepted curbside, use third-party searches like Earth911 or RecycleNation to find drop-off or mail-back recycling options near you.

If your community has yet to establish a curbside program—or if you live, work or attend school at complexes that do not provide recycling—step up to make your voice heard. Connect with the waste management companies that service your area and contact your political representatives, as well as your local solid waste services director and staff, advised Jon Johnston, a retired EPA program leader who now sits on the board of the environmental nonprofit Keep America Beautiful.

Beyond a push for legislation, the plastic problem calls for individuals to take personal ownership of how they contribute. “Single-use plastics are a convenience, but at a resource cost,” said Lucas Mariacher, zero waste coordinator for the city of Phoenix. “The goal should always be to minimize waste disposal by reducing resource consumption [and] reusing resources. Recycling should really be the last resort.”

The Bottom Line

Is recycling enough to stem the tide of plastic entering our oceans? Not by a long shot, but a massive problem like plastic pollution requires a multi-pronged approach that includes source reduction, reuse and recycling—and we need everyone from governments and companies to individuals in the game.

“I would caution you against expecting or wishing that there be a recycling market for everything,” said Robert Reed, spokesperson for San Francisco’s recycling and compost collection company, Recology. “The consistent advice from environmentalists is ‘refuse’ single-use plastics. Refuse plastic straws. Carry a metal water bottle and refuse plastic water bottles … Refuse is the new R word.”

This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The post The Complex and Frustrating Reality of Recycling Plastic appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

As US-Backed War in Yemen Raged, UAE Hired US Mercenaries to Kill Yemeni Leaders

Wed, 10/17/2018 - 15:53

A shocking new investigation has revealed that the United Arab Emirates hired U.S. mercenaries to carry out assassinations of political and clerical leaders in Yemen. The former elite U.S. special operations fighters were paid to take part in missions to kill those deemed to be “terrorists” by the UAE. The UAE worked with the U.S. company Spear Operations Group, founded by an Israeli-American man named Abraham Golan, who told BuzzFeed, “There was a targeted assassination program in Yemen. I was running it.” The group’s first target in Yemen was a local leader of al-Islah, a political party whose members include Nobel Peace Prize laureate Tawakel Karman. We speak with journalist Aram Roston of BuzzFeed News, who broke the story. His new piece is titled “A Middle East Monarchy Hired American Ex-Soldiers To Kill Its Political Enemies. This Could Be The Future Of War.”

Please check back later for full transcript.

The post As US-Backed War in Yemen Raged, UAE Hired US Mercenaries to Kill Yemeni Leaders appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Georgia’s First Black Gubernatorial Nominee Faces Massive Voter Suppression

Wed, 10/17/2018 - 15:52

With the midterm elections just three weeks away, voting rights advocates are accusing Republican officials in several states of orchestrating a campaign of voter suppression targeting people of color. In Georgia, the Democratic candidate for governor, Stacey Abrams, is calling on her Republican opponent, Brian Kemp, to step down as secretary of state for placing 53,000 voter applications on hold. Seventy percent of the applicants are African-American. Abrams has accused Kemp of using the state’s “exact match” system to disenfranchise voters. With exact match, even a minor discrepancy in a voter’s registration and their official ID could bar them from casting a ballot. We speak with Carol Anderson, chair of the Department of African American Studies at Emory University in Atlanta. She is author of the new book One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy.

Transcript

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: With the midterm elections just three weeks away, voting rights advocates are accusing Republican officials in several states of orchestrating a campaign of voter suppression targeting people of color. In Georgia, the Democratic candidate for governor, Stacey Abrams, who could become the first black woman governor in the country, is calling on her Republican opponent, Brian Kemp, to step down as secretary of state for placing 53,000 voter applications on hold, 70 percent of them African-American. Stacey Abrams, along with several civil rights groups, have accused Kemp of using the state’s “exact match” system to disenfranchise voters. With exact match, even a minor discrepancy in a voter’s registration and their official ID could bar them from casting a ballot. This is Stacey Abrams speaking to CNN on Sunday.

STACEY ABRAMS: You have 53,000 people who are being forced to go through unnecessary hurdles to prove their bona fides. But the second is that you have 159 counties, thousands of volunteer and paid poll workers, who are going to be asked to substantially verify that these IDs are sufficient, and the challenge is this is a subjective standard. … Voting should not be a question of trust on the part of voters, whether they can trust the system. And right now he is eroding the public trust in the system, because 53,000 people have been told, “You may be able to vote; you may not. It’s up to you to prove it.” … I would say that we have known since 2016 that the “exact match” system has a disproportionate effect on people of color and on women. He was sued for this exact problem. He was forced to restore 33,000 illegally canceled registrations. And he turned around and got the state Legislature to pass a law to allow him to make the same mistake again.

AMY GOODMAN: In other news from Georgia, election officials in Gwinnett County outside Atlanta have rejected far more absentee ballots than any other county in the state, with nearly one out of 10 mail-in ballots thrown out. The move has alarmed voting rights groups, who note more than 60 percent of Gwinnett County’s residents are Latino, black or Asian.

For more on voter suppression in Georgia, we’re joined by Carol Anderson, chair of the African American Studies Department at Emory University in Atlanta, author of the new book One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy. Her previous books include White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, which won the 2017 National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Professor Anderson. So, talk about this latest controversy. People are already voting in Georgia right now. What’s at stake? Well, the Democratic candidate, Stacey Abrams, could be the first African-American woman governor in U.S. history. Talk about what Brian Kemp, the secretary of state, Republican candidate running against her, has done with these 53,000 voter forms.

CAROL ANDERSON: And so, he has—what they say is—put it in pending status, so that they’re basically suspended. They’re in a kind of election limbo, where they haven’t been automatically put on the voter registration rolls. And exact match is exactly as pernicious and malicious as Stacey Abrams has said, as the courts have said, because what it does is it looks at minor things. So, if you’ve got a hyphen in your name when you filled out your voter registration card, but, say, your driver’s license doesn’t have the hyphen there—Garcia-Marquez with a hyphen, Garcia Marquez without the hyphen—then that registration is kicked out and is put in this kind of limbo status. And because things like a hyphen or an accent mark or a “Y” instead of an “I”—those kinds of things immediately begin to go after the names for African Americans, for Hispanics and for Asians. This is why you’re seeing that kind of disproportionate elimination of these registration cards. It’s as pernicious as Kris Kobach’s Crosscheck.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And this whole issue of having one of the candidates for the seat also be in charge of overseeing the election process, could you talk about that, as well?

CAROL ANDERSON: Yes. And so, imagine this: You’re playing a game where you’re trying to win, but you’re also the referee, and so you get to choose when a foul has been called. Anybody would look at that and say, “Wait a minute. That game is skewed.” And that’s what’s happening here. Integrity would require Brian Kemp to recuse himself, to step down as secretary of state in this kind of high-profile election. Instead, he has not.

And so we see things going on, like prior to this we had the trying to shut down the polling places in majority African-American counties or counties that had sizable black populations, so like in Randolph County, where one of Kemp’s allies tried to—you know, recommended that seven of nine polling stations shut down before the general election. I mean, that kind of interference, that kind of skewed decision-making, is what Stacey Abrams is talking about when she says that it is calling into question the legitimacy of the election. It is calling into question the legitimacy of our electoral processes. And so, as secretary of state, that is the bedrock foundation of his role, is to ensure the integrity of the election process. Kemp sitting on top of this one undermines that.

AMY GOODMAN: Brian Kemp, the secretary state and the Republican candidate for governor, tweeted Sunday, “My opponent is unapologetically extreme. She’s banking on illegal immigrants to secure victory for her at the ballot box.” Professor Anderson?

CAROL ANDERSON: Yes. And so, that is—Kemp is so much like Kris Kobach out of Kansas. You know, Kobach has been riding that lie of noncitizens voting en masse, skewing the elections in Kansas, and only he can block them. And by raising the flag of “illegal” immigrants, it is playing to a racist trope that’s in the body politic that these immigrants are going to somehow steal our elections. But he cannot point to—the same way that Kris Kobach could not point to all of these illegal immigrants. It is a fiction. It is a lie. It is a myth that is being used to stir up fear and to justify the kind of unwarranted voter suppression techniques that these secretaries of state, like Brian Kemp and Kris Kobach, are using.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’d like to go back to this whole issue of the closing of polling places. Most people really don’t pay attention to what happens in polling places other than theirs. And could you talk about the impact on voter turnout of sudden either closings of voting places or shifting of voting places from one location to another just before an election?

CAROL ANDERSON: Oh, absolutely. So, one of the things to pay attention to is that after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act with the Shelby County v. Holder decision in 2013, by the time we got to the 2016 election, states that had been under preclearance—and that is where because of their history of racial discrimination at the polls, they had to have all of their voting rights—voting changes approved by the Department of Justice—after the voting rights was gutted, 868 polling places were shut down by the time we got to the 2016 election. Brian Kemp has been responsible for 214 of those polling places being shut down.

What the research shows is that for every tenth of a mile that a polling place is removed from the African-American community, black voter turnout goes down by 0.5 percent. So the more you move these polling places, the further and further, the more and more you’re able to depress the black voter turnout. So we had an instance in Sparta where, under the guise of being fiscally responsible, they were going to consolidate the polling stations. Well, when they consolidated the polling stations, the one for the black community—and I can say the black community because we do have residential segregation in the United States—so, for the one in the black community, that one was moved 17 miles away.

Now, think about that for trying to vote. And what we also know is that many in the African-American community do not have private cars. They don’t have personal transportation, so they have to rely upon public transportation. So when you move a polling place further and further away from the black community, by that very moment, that very instance is designed to depress the black voter turnout.

AMY GOODMAN: In June, Democracy Now! spoke with Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate for governor in Georgia.

STACEY ABRAMS: Secretary Kemp has unfortunately built a very strong record of voter suppression. And, yes, he and I have—we’ve conflicted a number of times. And I think I’m very—well, I don’t think, I know—I’m very proud of our record of beating him, of forcing him to restore the canceled registrations of thousands, of compelling his office to do the right thing when it comes to voter registration. But also, I think it’s a challenging conversation to have, both with Secretary Kemp and with Lieutenant Governor Cagle, because rather than focusing on how we move the state forward, they have both focused, unfortunately, on this quieter form of bigotry, of how they want to harm communities and hold us back

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Stacey Abrams speaking on Democracy Now! about her opponent, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp and Georgia Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle. I also wanted to turn to the Republican Senator David Perdue of Georgia, who was captured on video Saturday as he snatched a cellphone out of the hands of a constituent who asked about Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp, who Perdue was stumping for. Senator Perdue was on the campus of Georgia Tech in Atlanta when a student tried to ask him about his endorsement.

STUDENT: Hey, so, how can you endorse a candidate that’s going to—

SEN. DAVID PURDUE: No, I’m not doing that. I’m not doing it.

STUDENT: You stole my property. You stole my property. Give me my phone back, Senator. Give me my—

SEN. DAVID PURDUE: All right, you wanted a picture? You wanted a picture? I’m going to give it to you.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Perdue returned the phone after the student demanded it back. On Sunday, Perdue’s office called the incident a misunderstanding, saying the senator thought the student wanted to take a selfie with him. Professor Anderson, if you could comment on this? And as we wrap up this discussion about Georgia, who is voting right now? I mean, in some states, there’s no voting taking place, but what’s happening in Georgia?

CAROL ANDERSON: So, first, on Senator Perdue. You know, remember, Senator Perdue is the one who opened one of those Christian breakfasts by praying for Obama’s death, by saying, you know, “May your life be ended short—” You know, quoting a psalms. And, you know, “May your wife be left a widow and your children homeless and beggards.” So, this is Senator David Perdue.

And Stacey Abrams is actually right that the language that we’re getting from Brian Kemp and Casey Cagle has been the language of fear, has been the language of stoking racial animosity, racial anxiety and bigotry. And so, they’re selling fear as their component for why they should be in office.

And so, what we’re seeing right now is that we have early voting going on. And I’m not sure how brisk it has been yet, but I know that the grassroots organizations have been very active in getting people registered to vote, getting people out to vote. And because Stacey Abrams has a message of hope, has a message of how do we build Georgia for all of us, that is in fact stoking the fear on the side of the Republicans, because the demographics are changing so much in Georgia that the vote for African Americans, Asians and Latinos has to be stuffed down, because the message that Brian Kemp and the Republicans are bringing aren’t messages that resonate with that population, because those populations are in fact targeted by their message.

AMY GOODMAN: Carol Anderson, chair of the African American Studies Department at Emory University, author of, well, most recently, One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy. We’ll be back with her and other guests in a moment.

The post Georgia’s First Black Gubernatorial Nominee Faces Massive Voter Suppression appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Flint Legionnaires’ Disease Survivors Speak Out: “Every Day Is a Challenge”

Wed, 10/17/2018 - 15:22

Jassmine McBride’s mother calls her “a miracle.”

The 30-year-old woman is among the 90 or so residents of Flint, Michigan, who survived Legionnaires’ disease, a potentially deadly lung infection. And while the news focused mainly on the ones who died, families like the McBrides now feel lost and forgotten.

Forgotten is how many residents said they feel four-and-a-half years after Flint’s lead-tainted water crisis began, and six months after Republican Gov. Rick Snyder declared the water safe and stopped distributing free bottled water to people who have no trust in their government.

“It hurts. It really does hurt that you have people with that much power not even seem like they care,” Jassmine said last week about politicians who claim all is fine in Flint. “You can still smell the water. It’s still affecting people. We still bathe or brush our teeth with bottled water. It’s just hard, it really is, to have none of those people come around and say they are sorry.”

She sat in a chair on the porch, a blanket tucked around her. She’s tired all the time. She has lesions on her face and neck, tubes coming out of her, and she can barely walk without crutches. She wonders if she will ever lead a normal life.

How Did It Happen?

Jassmine was 26 when she was diagnosed in August 2014 with Legionnaires’ disease, a potentially fatal type of pneumonia. This was at the height of the water crisis in the “Vehicle City,” once the prosperous birthplace of General Motors, but which has struggled with poverty and pollution since GM left. The Snyder administration hushed up the public health crisis for months while lead-tainted water slowly poisoned the city’s 100,000 residents, who are largely poor or Black.

The city was under state control in April 2014 when Snyder’s administration switched the water source from Lake Huron to the highly corrosive Flint River, while failing to add anti-corrosive agents to treat the water in order to save about $2 million a year. Poor corrosion control allowed lead to leach from older pipes, and a lack of chlorine disinfectant and high levels of iron increased the likelihood of legionella bacteria growth, Michigan Radio reported.

In 2014 and 2015, Genesee County saw the largest outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in at least a decade. After reports of high lead levels and public outcry, Snyder switched Flint’s water source back to Detroit’s in October 2015.

Jassmine has diabetes and went for a checkup at the McLaren Flint Hospital, where they found her iron and oxygen levels low. They admitted her in August 2014, but her health rapidly deteriorated.

“I was in Lansing when they called me from the hospital and said, ‘We don’t have time, do we have permission to resuscitate her?’” her mother Jacqueline McBride, 49, told reporters last week in Flint.

Jassmine almost died. She said she doesn’t recall much from that time, “being on life support and all,” but said she was shocked when she regained consciousness in October and found she had been hospitalized for more than two months. “I never even heard of Legionnaires.’ ‘What’s that?’ I said.”

Legionella and Denials

Legionnaires’ disease is a severe form of pneumonia caused by a waterborne bacteria called Legionella pneumophila. The bacteria exists naturally in freshwater systems but becomes a problem when it is can grow and multiply. Warm water with depleted levels of disinfectant foster that growth, and people get sick by inhaling mist or vapor from contaminated water systems. That’s how the McBrides thinks Jassmine contracted it.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has repeatedly blamed McLaren, saying that most of the reported legionella cases originated in the hospital. Officials from the hospital group slammed that report, calling it erroneous and an effort by the state to shift blame for the water crisis, Michigan Radio reported.

The disease is on the rise in the United States, and the Flint outbreak is the third largest outbreak in US history, with at least 87 people infected and 12 dead over two years, Science magazine reported.

A February report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences estimated that 80 percent of Legionnaires’ cases during the outbreak can be attributed to the change in Flint’s water supply — a claim that the state health department has disputed.

It’s still unclear how many people actually contracted Legionnaires’ disease at the time, since the symptoms mirror pneumonia. Reports indicate a dramatic increase in pneumonia deaths in Genesee County since the 2014 switch. A recent Frontline investigation suggests that some of the 119 deaths from pneumonia during the time the city relied on Flint River water should likely be attributed to Legionnaires’ disease.

Michael Moore’s documentary on the water crisis claims county officials were told to falsify blood lead test results, and records indicates the county failed to connect 85 percent of lead-poisoned children with follow-up care, according to MLive.

“A Scary Transition”

Once a happy, active woman who loved shrimp and potatoes, sang in church, and enjoyed dancing, Jassmine became bedridden. She spent two months sedated in the intensive care unit as doctors tried to control the infection. She started physical therapy in October 2014 and was in-and-out of the hospital until December, learning how to do basic things like eat and walk with tubes coming out of her.

“You don’t really think about those things until you lose them. It was a real challenge to learn to breathe on your own and do dialysis, which wipes you out,” Jassmine said. “Even with the breathing machine, I felt I couldn’t breathe. I was afraid to lie down. It was a scary transition.”

She used to drink gallons of water a day before she fell ill. Because of water retention and bloating issues, she was forced to cut down to two bottles a day. Dialysis gets rid of excess fluid and waste in the body, but it is nowhere near as effective as healthy kidneys. In the later stages of chronic kidney disease, normal amounts of fluid can build up in the body and become dangerous. Going over the recommended fluid allowance can cause swelling, increase blood pressure, and make breathing difficult.

Jassmine broke her ankle and said it never healed right; it still hurts to walk. “Every day is a challenge,” she said.

Four years later, every day is still a challenge for the mother and daughter who live in a small yellow house in Flint’s blighted north side, which is dotted with overgrown yards and abandoned homes. Like countless others in Flint, they struggle to pay their high water bills and escalating medical bills.

Jassmine uses crutches but struggles to walk more than a few yards, and uses an oxygen tank because her lungs were permanently damaged. She requires dialysis three times a week, a process that she described as long and exhausting. She cannot attend college but is trying to take online classes.

Her mother said she never gave up hope, not even when doctors warned that Jassmine might not make it. She know her daughter was lucky to come home — after all, she said, 12 of the Flint residents who contracted Legionnaires’ did not.

Where Is Justice?

More than a dozen state and city officials face criminal charges for failing to alert the public about the risks of legionella until well after the outbreak had subsided.

Among them is Nick Lyon, the former Michigan health director, who is being tried for involuntary manslaughter in connection with the Legionnaires’ deaths and denies criminal wrongdoing.

To add insult to injury, the state’s top medical officer, Dr. Eden Wells, was just awarded the highest individual honor given by the local public health community in Michigan despite facing involuntary manslaughter and other charges related to the Flint water crisis.

The state continues to fail Flint residents, many of whom say they have no trust in government. Snyder not only stopped the free bottled water distribution in April but allowed Swiss conglomerate Nestlé to nearly double the amount of water it pumps from a spring in the north of the state to 400 gallons per minute for a paltry annual fee of $200. Nestlé is continuing to provide free bottles of water to Flint residents until December.

Meanwhile, the Genesee County Health Department now has the authority to investigate and address the legionella cases in Flint. Pamela Pugh, who has been serving in the new position of chief public health advisor for the past two years, told Rewire.News that it has been a challenge; she has been barred from attending some state meetings.

“Mayor [Karen] Weaver and the administration recognizes that our residents still live with the devastation of what has happened and fear of the unknown impacts. There is no safe level of lead to consume and very little information on the impact of the biological pathogens they were exposed to, so those that were exposed, are left wondering what this means for themselves and their children,” she said in an email.

The mayor agrees there is work to be done, although the quality of water has improved since she declared a public health emergency in December 2015. The city continues to replace affected lead pipes, and Weaver continues to call for bottled water availability and properly installed filters in Flint homes.

“Mayor Weaver maintains that Flint residents did not cause the man-made water disaster, therefore adequate resources should continue being provided until the problem is fixed and all the lead and galvanized pipes have been replaced and interior plumbing and fixtures are replaced,” Pugh said.

The city is continuing to work to address Flint’s decades-old water concerns and improve communications with residents, she added.

The US Conference of Mayors meets in Flint on Friday to discuss ways to combat the water crisis, according to news reports. Tech billionaire Elon Musk has announced a $480,350 donation to pay for ultraviolet filtration systems in all 12 Flint school buildings and the district’s administration building by January 2019.

Meanwhile, the McBrides remain strong in their faith and are determined to beat the odds. They don’t wish anyone ill, but they are amazed that no one from Flint or the state has ever reached out to help them. (When asked why the McBride family has not heard from the city, Pugh said it’s “highly likely” that the city has not been given access to the McBrides’ information. Snyder’s office did not respond for comment.) What’s hardest for Jassmine are the continued denials of wrongdoing on TV, even as 15 city and state officials face trials.

Snyder’s term is up this year, and Flint residents said they don’t have much faith in the two longtime state government officials vying for his seat: Democrat Gretchen Whitmer of Lansing and the Republican state Attorney General Bill Schuette.

Both have talked about the importance of providing safe water to Flint, but residents there are fed up with promises and lies. Flint residents also worry about new water problems they have heard about, including PFAS contamination in the Flint River, which was discovered before 2014 but covered up by the state, as MLive reported.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of manmade chemicals that don’t break down and can lead to adverse human health effects, according to the EPA.

But the Flint water crisis continues to be a talking point for politicians vying for power. Whitmer says she has a plan to invest $3 billion in a Rebuild Michigan Bank to expedite the replacement of lead pipes across the state, and she wants to restore bottled water for Flint residents. Schuette did not respond to emails seeking comment. Some residents claim he was among the officials who ignored the water crisis and has a history of ignoring complaints from the people of Flint.

Asked whether they plan to vote in November, the McBrides responded with an emphatic “Yes.”

The post Flint Legionnaires’ Disease Survivors Speak Out: “Every Day Is a Challenge” appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Energy Transfer Partners’ Security Team Sinks Water Protectors’ Boats

Wed, 10/17/2018 - 15:16

Monday morning, an Energy Transfer Partners security team sank two boats carrying approximately 15 water protectors and members of the media at a Bayou Bridge Pipeline construction site.

A press release from the L’eau Est La Vie Camp of water protectors about the incident stated that the security boat “passed by at an aggressive speed” and “intentionally” caused a large wake that “swamped and eventually sunk the boats” carrying media and water protectors.

While people could have easily drowned in the incident, they luckily managed to swim to shore, where they were assisted by a local fisherman.

The water protectors and media members who were with them, including a documentary film crew, were legally observing the Bayou Bridge Pipeline construction site (which is being challenged in court), where ETP was preparing to horizontally drill underneath a waterway.

ETP hired the mercenary company TigerSwan to attack water protectors at Standing Rock. ETP’s henchmen there used water cannons, mace, attack dogs, rubber bullets and concussion grenades, and held water protectors in dog kennel cages.

ETP’s actions in the Atchafalaya River Basin, as well as inaction by state officials in Louisiana, continue to be criticized by water protectors and their supporters, who cite illegal operations, and harsh and sometimes life-threatening actions being taken by ETP to protect its commercial interests.

Truthout previously reported how water protectors at the Bayou Bridge Pipeline site have been charged with felonies.

The pipeline is seen by most locals as illegal because ETP, using the method of expropriation, a legal tactic very similar to eminent domain, has claimed the pipeline is in the “public’s interest.” Eminent domain is when a government (or its agent) can expropriate private property for public use, usually (but not always) with a payment of compensation.

The 163-mile-long Bayou Bridge Pipeline crosses southern Louisiana, from Lake Charles, near the Texas border, all the way east to St. James, on the banks of the Mississippi River.

The Bayou Bridge pipeline is the end of a vast pipeline network carrying crude oil that will transport Bakken oil from North Dakota to the Gulf Coast, most likely for export.

Truthout previously reported on ETP’s Trans-Pecos pipeline, which is being used to transport natural gas from fracking into Mexico, where it is transported to the coast, then on to Asia, where it fetches a higher price.

ETP, like the rest of the fossil fuel industry and the politicians who represent them, advertises that oil and gas exploitation in the US is for domestic use.

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Categories: News

Trump Complains Saudi Crown Prince Is Deemed “Guilty Until Proven Innocent”

Wed, 10/17/2018 - 14:25

As a new flurry of evidence from the Turkish government established direct ties between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and those who allegedly carried out the gruesome murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, US President Donald Trump continued “groveling” at the feet of the murderous kingdom Tuesday night by claiming that the Saudis have been deemed “guilty until proven innocent” just like newly confirmed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was credibly accused of sexual assault.

“I think we have to find out what happened first,” Trump told the Associated Press in an interview just hours after Al Jazeera reported more “shocking” details of Khashoggi’s torture and assassination inside Saudi Arabia’s Turkish embassy. “Here we go again with, you know, you’re guilty until proven innocent. I don’t like that. We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh and he was innocent all the way as far as I’m concerned.”

Completely ignoring the rapidly growing body of evidence implicating the Saudis in Khashoggi’s murder, Trump went on to say that King Salaman “just sounded to me like he felt like he did not do it.”

“I spoke to the crown prince, so you have that. He said he and his father knew nothing about it. And that was very important,” Trump continued. “And I spoke to him with [Secretary of State] Mike Pompeo there. And the crown prince. I spoke to the king yesterday, the crown prince, today wanting to know what was going on, what was happening, and he said very strongly that he and his father knew nothing about it.”

Responding to Trump’s invocation of the “Kavanaugh defense” on behalf of the Saudi regime — which came shortly after the president dutifully echoed the kingdom’s denials on Twitter — Jeet Heer of the New Republicquipped that “Trump is right in thinking that Brett Kavanaugh and Mohammed bin Salman are likely equally innocent.”

Despite Trump’s best efforts to run interference for the Saudis, evidence directly implicating the kingdom’s leadership in the torture and killing of Khashoggi two weeks ago in Istanbul continued to emerge Tuesday night, when the New York Times” confirmed independently that at least nine of 15 suspects identified by Turkish authorities worked for the Saudi security services, military or other government ministries.”

“One of the suspects identified by Turkey in the disappearance of the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi was a frequent companion of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — seen disembarking from airplanes with him in Paris and Madrid and photographed standing guard during his visits this year to Houston, Boston, and the United Nations,” the Times reported. “Three others are linked by witnesses and other records to the Saudi crown prince’s security detail.”

In its report, the Times published photographs of diplomat Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb and others allegedly involved in Khashoggi’s murder.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow featured the photos from the Times report in a segment Tuesday night:

“There is not a doubt in my mind that US intelligence knows exactly what the Saudis did to Jamal Khashoggi,” Ploughshares Fund president Joe Cirincione wrote on Twitter in response to the Times report. “Trump is covering for MbS, lying consistently and repeatedly about his involvement. Pompeo’s smile-filled meetings are a disgrace.”

The post Trump Complains Saudi Crown Prince Is Deemed “Guilty Until Proven Innocent” appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

In Unusual Move, Republican Party Begins to Pull Money From Incumbent Races

Wed, 10/17/2018 - 14:20

It’s less than a month until the midterm elections and major Republican campaign funders are performing financial triage on certain congressional races.

Two major sources of conservative support, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) and the Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF), have started to pull advertising funding for Republican candidates who seem to have a slim chance of winning their competitive races.

“This is crunch time, obviously,” said Dr. Steven Billet, a professor at American University who specializes in campaign finance. “If it looks like someone is not going to pull through, they basically throw in the towel and start pulling money and use it in other races where it may be more likely to produce a winner.”

Democrats are currently forecasted to take the majority in the House of Representatives, while Republicans are expected to maintain control of the Senate, according to recent polling from FiveThirtyEight.

While this is a normal practice as election day nears, it signals that Republican groups are scrambling to move funds to districts where their dollars will count more — even though many of the abandoned campaigns are in Republican-leaning districts.

“It’s highly unusual for the party to pull money from an incumbent,” Billet said. “Incumbents generally have a better advantage in subsequent elections, but this is one where they may not. That makes it doubly unusual for them to be pulling money from these races.”

Meanwhile, Democratic funding has yet to abandon any races in Democrat-leaning districts. Democratic candidates have been polling well and raising lots of money, Billet said.

CLF, a super PAC backed by major Republican donors, is spending far more this election cycle than the NRCC. CLF is relatively new to conservative political funding. When it formed in 2012, it only spent money on a handful of races.

So far this cycle, CLF spent $87 million on 51 races, averaging $1.7 million spent per race. Meanwhile, the NRCC spent $47.4 million on 33 races.

This is dramatically different from the groups’ spending just two years ago. The NRCC more than doubled CLF in 2016, doling out $39.7 million to CLF’s $14.3 million.

On the other side, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has spent nearly the same amount as the NRCC. So far, DCCC spent $60.4 million on 53 races, which is more than what the committee spent in 2016.

“People are making tough decisions now when resources are extra tight,” Billet said. “They have to do it now to make sure that the money they shift around has an impact. [Republicans] are really concerned, maybe close to desperate to hang on to the majority in the House.”

The NRCC and CLF did not respond to requests to comment.

How do the parties and their funders decide when to jump ship? They not only look at polling numbers, but also demographic groups to understand how they’ll likely perform, Billet said.

Republicans are cutting ties in districts with soon-to-be empty seats. In Arizona’s 2nd District, Lea Marquez Peterson is running to fill the seat formerly held by Rep. Martha McSally, who is running for Sen. Jeff Flake’s Senate spot. The NRCC reportedly cut a string of TV ads for Marquez Peterson on Wednesday.

Seth Grossman is running for the vacant seat in New Jersey’s 2nd District, but he has received no support from the NRCC and CLF. Grossman lost the NRCC’s endorsement after sharing racist social media posts earlier this year.

There are a number of incumbents who sit in Republican-leaning districts in suburban areas. The NRCC and CLF pulled ads for Reps. Kevin Yoder (Kan. 3), Michael Bishop (Mich. 8) and Michael Coffman (Colo. 6), all of whom represent traditionally Republican suburbs.

Since 2016, many suburban Republican voters started supporting Democratic candidates, which is one reason Republican funders are taking away support for these districts, Billet said.

In a Kansas City suburb, Yoder faces Sharice Davids, a Democrat rising star who is an ex-MMA fighter and would be the first lesbian Native American in Congress. While the NRCC canceled a $1.2 million ad buy for Yoder, CLF has reportedly not given up on him.

CLF spent $2.5 million so far on Yoder’s behalf and has another $750,000 worth of ads slated for the final weeks before the election.

In Michigan, CLF canceled a $2.1 million ad buy for Bishop’s re-election. Bishop’s opponent, Elissa Slotkin, continues to receive significant support from major Democratic funders.

Bishop easily won his re-election in 2016, and his Detroit suburb district voted heavily in favor of both Trump in 2016 and Mitt Romney four years earlier.

CLF also cancelled ads in Colorado for Coffman, where the super PAC set aside $1 million in advertisements. Coffman is running against Democrat Jason Crow.

Republicans have started to lose hope for Rep. Barbara Comstock of Virginia’s 10th District, who is considered one of the most vulnerable House Republicans this election cycle. However, the NRCC claimed they still intended to spend millions on her re-election, according to the New York Times.

Rep. Rod Blum, in Iowa’s 1st District, didn’t have much support in the first place for his re-election, and major funders have yet to buy TV ads for the incumbent, according to an analysis by the Des Moines Register.

Blum, also facing an ethics investigation, is being significantly outspent by major Democratic funders as they pour money into Abby Finkenauer’s campaign, the Democratic challenger.

In some of California’s reddest districts, CLF passed over ad buys for threatened incumbents Mimi Walters (Calif. 45) and Dana Rohrabacher (Calif. 48).

The super PAC pledged to spend $12 million on TV ads for Southern California House candidates, including an additional $5 million on ads for Los Angeles broadcast stations. Walters and Rohrabacher will not receive any of that money, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Walters is running against Democrat Katie Porter, and Harley Rouda is the Democratic nominee challenging Rohrabacher.

California’s 49th District seat is open, and Republican candidate Diane Harkey has received little support from the NRCC and CLF. Mike Levin is the Democratic candidate.

Some of the abandoned candidates are running in newly-redrawn Pennsylvania districts, which were reconfigured earlier this year after the state’s Supreme Court determined the district map to be unconstitutional.

Rep. Keith Rothfus is another vulnerable House Republican up for re-election. The NRCC canceled September ad buys for the candidate, but they didn’t cut a series of October ad purchases.

In the newly-redistricted state, Rothfus, who formerly represented Pennsylvania’s 12th District, is running against Democratic incumbent Rep. Conor Lamb, from Pennsylvania’s old 18th District. The two are vying for the new 17th District seat.

Two other Pennsylvania candidates are without support in two newly redrawn districts: Pearl Kim in Pennsylvania’s new 5th District and Greg McCauley in the state’s new 6th District.

In Pennsylvania’s 7th District, The NRCC originally had a $1.5 million ad buy for Marty Nothstein slated for October, but the committee has since pulled the funding. Northstein is facing allegations of sexual misconduct and was placed on unpaid leave from his job as director of a cycling center. Nothstein is running against Democrat Susan Wild.

Last week, he filed a lawsuit against the cycling center and the northeastern Pennsylvania newspaper, The Morning Call, which reported on the sexual misconduct investigation. Northstein has strongly denied the allegations, and he claims they are an orchestrated political hit job between his former workplace and the Call.

The post In Unusual Move, Republican Party Begins to Pull Money From Incumbent Races appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Prince of Fraud

Wed, 10/17/2018 - 14:10

The post Prince of Fraud appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Technology Access Gap Leaves Millions of Students Struggling to Keep Up

Wed, 10/17/2018 - 13:46

Twenty-one-year-old Mirka Mendez, a petroleum engineering student at the University of Texas-Austin (UT), has a deep understanding of the US’s technology gap. Without easy access to the internet while in high school, she often had to leave home at 4 a.m. and sit on a bench outside her school so that she could use the building’s hotspots to do research, study or write papers before the opening bell.

“There was no internet where I was staying,” explained Mendez, who left Ciudad Juarez, Mexico — alone — in 2012. She was 15 and planned to live with relatives who had agreed to let her stay with them for $300 a month. It was her dream, she says, to study in the United States. Almost immediately, however, she realized that the arrangement was fraught. “Sometimes I walked to the public library three miles away,” she told Truthout. “I would stay until it closed and then walk back home.”

Despite the personal and academic difficulties she faced, Mendez always completed assignments and graduated high school in 2015 with a 3.7 GPA. Since arriving at UT, things have improved, she said. Nonetheless, she concedes that students in straits similar to hers often fall through the cracks and leave high school without a diploma, let alone enrolling in college.

Students Are Set Back Without In-Home Internet Access

A 2017 survey of more than 400,000 K-12 students, teachers, librarians and school administrators conducted by Project Tomorrow, a California nonprofit dedicated to educational equity, found that lack of in-home internet access is an enormous problem for students in all 50 states. This has been corroborated by researchers at Pew Research who discovered that 17.5 percent of school children in grades 6 to 12 have ongoing difficulties completing school work due to a lack of internet access.

The situation is especially bad in rural school districts. Some allow students to come to school early and stay late, and some have installed Wi-Fi on school buses. Despite this, more than a quarter of respondents told interviewers that they spend part of each day doing homework in coffee shops or fast food restaurants.

Academic difficulties are clearly compounded by the fact that broadband access is now essential for all students. This is not new. The Federal Communication Commission’s Broadband Task Force sounded the alarm almost a decade ago, in 2009, when they found that approximately 70 percent of teachers assigned homework that required internet use, whether to submit assignments, utilize bulletin boards, take practice quizzes, share documents for group projects, do research, check grades, or communicate with teachers or peers.

Needless to say, not having access to in-home, high-speed internet puts 5 million US households with school-aged children at a huge disadvantage. Worse, this completely ignores the fact that, even in homes with internet service, numerous family members may have to share one device.

Julie Evans, the CEO of Project Tomorrow, is focused on promoting the equitable distribution of technology and, simultaneously, making sure that teachers are equipped to use this technology in the classroom. “Educational equity is an important social justice issue,” she says. At the same time, she is aware that in-home internet access is just one piece of a far more complex array of concerns impacting how students are educated and supported in their learning.

“There are innumerable issues that have to do with how we use resources within schools,” Evans continues. Parents, she says, are often driven crazy by how much tech use varies from class to class, teacher to teacher. “Some teachers show students virtual experiments, Skype or Facetime with professionals, or have students create a blog. Other teachers don’t incorporate technology into their teaching at all, as if they don’t recognize its importance. This means that apart from in-home access, students are not being introduced to technology in an even way,” Evans says.

She believes that aspiring teachers must be prepared to use technological tools regardless of whether they’re teaching algebra, European history, physics or something else. That said, she admits that there are no one-size-fits-all strategies for making this happen.

Multiple Strategies Utilized

In the rural Southern Columbia School district in Pennsylvania, between 22 and 23 percent of the district’s 1,400 students receive free or reduced-cost meals, meaning that they come from families with incomes between $32,630 and $46,435 for a household of four. “Some students are impoverished and do not have access to broadband,” Paul Caputo, superintendent of the district, says. “Plus, in more rural areas, cell access is troublesome. Service is spotty and there are pockets where there is no service at all. On the plus side, these areas are fewer and fewer, but some still exist.”

District schools, he explains, are now fully wired, and thanks to various federal grants, have been able to “shift how we teach to include technology.”

In addition, Caputo told Truthout that not only are schools being kept open for expanded morning, evening and weekend hours, but every student in grades 7 to 12 has also been issued a computer. This technology was paid for by the sale of the district’s bus fleet several years back. “We realized we could not sustain our own transportation system so we sold our buses for $460,000 and earmarked $250,000 for tech implementation. We bought laptops which have been issued to more than 600 students.” The laptops are turned in at the end of each year, or if a student moves away, and the district currently outsources bus service for the students who need it.

Utilizing SmartBuses

The much larger Merced Union High School District in California’s San Joaquin Valley — with more than 10,000 students, 64 percent of whom are eligible for free or reduced-cost meals — did something different. After recognizing that many students spend an hour or more on the bus traveling to and from school, they equipped the buses with Wi-Fi so that assignments might be completed in transit. The use of Wi-Fi equipped SmartBuses has spread, and they are presently in use in numerous districts throughout the country.

Still, the more than 1.3 million public school students who are homeless, and the more than 400,000 living in foster care often face monumental hurdles in getting schoolwork done in a timely and thorough manner.

Barbara Duffield, executive director of SchoolHouse Connection, a Washington, DC-based advocacy group that addresses the educational needs of homeless youth, outlined the deficits.

“Most are focused on the needs of adults, not kids, and some require you to be out of the building during the day. The current federal push is to get single adults into permanent or supportive housing…. These policies typically do not take children’s academic needs into account,” Duffield told Truthout. “This is a glaring example of federal failure, since we know that the lack of computer and internet access contributes to the high dropout rates of poor and homeless kids. I’ve seen kids get discouraged when they are belittled by a teacher for not turning in work on time. They’re also typically embarrassed to disclose that they are homeless.”

Emotional Toll Is Enormous

Ed Vere, an Urban Studies major at Wheaton College, remembers this discomfort well. Vere came to the US from the Philippines in 2012, at age 14. After family members told him that he could no longer stay in their Illinois home, he lived with a variety of people and spent several years couch-hopping. “I told my teachers that I did not have access to the internet at home and, if I knew I’d be late with an assignment, would ask if I could turn it in after the due date. Some were gracious, but others said I should have planned ahead or not procrastinated. It made me feel really depressed and suicidal,” he recalls.

Vere now lives on the Wheaton campus and, like Mirka Mendez, says being in college has given his life needed stability. “I even have fast Wi-Fi in my bedroom,” he says. Looking back, though, he believes that his high school teachers should have been better attuned to his despair. “I excelled in school because I channeled all of my energy and emotions there. I appeared fine because my grades were not red flags to my teachers, counselors or coaches. However, mental health is invisible, and mine was falling apart. The red flags were subtle. Saying I did not have Wi-Fi was the only warning I could muster.”

Bobbie Jones, homeless liaison and grant administrator of the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District in Harris County, Texas, never wants another student to go through what Vere experienced. This is why her district has opted to use Title 1 money — a grant allocated through legislation authorized by 2001’s No Child Left Behind Act — to provide the District’s 450 homeless students with laptops and hotspots, a wireless local area network that will provide them with an internet connection and private network access from any location. Although the program is still in the planning stages, Jones expects it to roll out in January 2019. “Many homeless students have difficulty completing homework, and it is not always possible for them to stay late at school,” says Jones. “There are real gaps in academic achievement for homeless students, and we hope this will lead to improved grades and better achievement overall.”

Money, of course, is paramount, and although most school districts now have internet in school buildings, they continue to scrounge for funds to provide laptops, iPads and hotspots to students, or expand access in other ways. Several for-profit groups — Kajeet is among the best known — have jumped into the fray, and while corporate and foundation money is sometimes available to schools or school districts, it does not come close to meeting the need.

That’s where the federal government comes in — or should come in. Not surprisingly, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has not uttered a word about technological inequality since assuming the Department of Education helm in the winter of 2017. For its part, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has several programs that provide assistance to both individuals and districts. According to Mark Wigfield, deputy director of the FCC Office of Media Relations, the E-Rate program has, since 1997, provided money to public schools and libraries to connect to the internet and upgrade services as needed. The amount allocated is tied to poverty rates in a particular area; last year $3.3 billion was expended. E-Rate is administered by the Universal Service Fund; its revenue is raised by a consumer tax on telephone service.

Although smaller, the LifeLine Program provides a $9.25 per month subsidy toward the phone or internet service of more than 13 million low-income people. According to Mother Jones, LifeLine is on the chopping block, but, to date, no pronouncements have been made about the FCC’s intentions.

The stakes of this — as well as of the larger effort to make sure that every student has 24/7 internet access — are enormous, and growing. Harvard Professor of Education Chris Dede, in the introduction to Closing the Homework Gap by Daniel J.W. Neal, lays it out clearly and succinctly:

If equivalent broadband access outside of school is not addressed, then teachers are hampered in using powerful forms of digital learning. Either they must privilege some students at the expense of others, or they must forego effective, technology-based instructional strategies that could help all students. The fundamental issue is whether we limit learning to the school place and the school day, or instead make learning life-wide.

The post Technology Access Gap Leaves Millions of Students Struggling to Keep Up appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

North Carolina Ballot Initiative Would Enshrine Tax Cuts for the Rich

Tue, 10/16/2018 - 21:03
This article was published by TalkPoverty.org.

North Carolina Republicans have been on a mission over the last few years to remove every shred of progressivity from their state’s income tax. They’ve largely succeeded, passing several rounds of tax cuts since 2013 that, among other changes, turned the income tax from one with a progressive structure into a flat tax.

So now it’s time for the coup de grace: An amendment enshrining those tax breaks for the state’s wealthiest residents into the state constitution.

In November, North Carolina residents will be voting on a ballot initiative that would amend the state’s constitution to cap its income tax at 7 percent, down from a current cap of 10 percent. Considering that North Carolina’s income tax currently tops out at 5.499 percent, and is scheduled to fall further to 5.25 percent next year, that may not seem like a big deal. But it is.

First, the background. The change to a flat tax helped those at the top of the income scale, who saw their rates drop the most. Along with a host of other tax cutting measures, including a corporate income tax reduction, it cost the state a big chunk of money.

“Since 2012, when Republicans took full control of the legislature and governorship for the first time in modern history, they’ve been on a tax cutting rampage,” said Meg Wiehe, a North Carolina native and deputy director of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. “The state will be about $3.6 billion shorter in revenue than it would have been otherwise, which is a pretty significant difference in a state with a general fund of just around $21 billion.”

By pushing a cap on the income tax into the Constitution, lawmakers hope to lock those reductions in, making future legislators go through the same long amendment process in order to raise taxes or add progressivity back into the code. (Amendments to the North Carolina constitution are placed on the ballot via a three-fifths vote of both houses in the state legislature and require approval by voters, whereas legislation can be passed by a simple majority of lawmakers.)

As recently as 2013, the top income tax rate in North Carolina was 7.75 percent, so it’s not out of the question that lawmakers would want to implement an increase from today’s levels. Even setting the cap at 7 percent was a compromise of sorts among the Tar Heel State’s Republicans: Many wanted to cap the income tax at its current level, or even below that, forcing a constitutionally-mandated tax reduction.

A cap poses several problems, in addition to the simple unfairness of leaving such a low tax rate on the wealthy in a state where more than 100 percent of the income gains since 2009 have gone to the richest 1 percent of the population (meaning those at the other end of the income spectrum actually lost ground). For starters, it could undermine important state investments, as Alexandra Forter Sirota, director at the North Carolina Justice Center’s Budget and Tax Center, explained.

“To maintain current service levels for our population, we won’t have enough revenue under our tax code in 2019,” she said. “So they’ll have to either cut services or raise revenue or some combination of both.” And those cuts tend to fall disproportionately on low-income communities and people of color, she said, as will potential revenue raisers if the state has to resort to fees or sales taxes in lieu of being able to raise income taxes.

Already, that dynamic has been evident in the state. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted recently, spending on public colleges in North Carolina is still nearly 20 percent below where it was before the 2008 recession. Previous rounds of tax cutting have made it so that North Carolina can’t raise K-12 education funding, which is already among the lowest in the nation.

This problem will be magnified when another economic downturn inevitably comes. “There have been key times even in recent history when the state, in an emergency situation, has relied on the wealthiest taxpayers to pay more to help ensure that critical services don’t have to be deeply cut,” explained Wiehe. “Future lawmakers who maybe would prefer to use the income tax as their tool wouldn’t have that available to them.”

Case in point, the state enacted a temporary top tax rate of 8.25 percent on the state’s richest residents in response to the Great Recession – helping to preserve funding for public schools and public health programs like the Children’s Health Insurance Program – a move which would be rendered much more difficult if lawmakers needed to spend time getting voters to approve a new amendment.

North Carolina has been a political battleground in recent years, the quintessential “purple” state that is home to the weekly Moral Mondays march, but with a state legislature controlled by conservatives. In addition to the tax cap, voters there will be assessing amendments that would restrict voting rights and remove some of the (currently Democratic) governor’s powers. Locking in tax cuts for the wealthy fits right in.

According to a recent Elon University poll, 56 percent of North Carolinians support the tax cap amendment as written, with 15 percent opposing it. However, after being provided an explanation that includes the amendment’s possible adverse effects, the gap falls to 45-27. That has Sirota optimistic that voters grasp what’s at stake.

“I think that North Carolinians are incredibly smart about this issue right now,” said Sirota. “They understand that since 2013 the vast majority have not seen a big difference in their taxes, but they have seen their communities struggle with having to figure out how to meet needs.”

The post North Carolina Ballot Initiative Would Enshrine Tax Cuts for the Rich appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Citizen and Legislative Efforts to Reform Redistricting in 2018

Tue, 10/16/2018 - 14:18

Grassroots and advocacy groups around the country are working to curb gerrymandering – the manipulation of voting districts to favor or disfavor one group of voters over another or to protect incumbents. Similar grassroots efforts in recent years led to the successful implementation of independent commissions in Arizona and California.

24 states have a ballot initiative process that allows citizens to propose a law or constitutional amendment, either to the legislature or directly to voters. Other states only allow the legislature to amend the constitution or pass laws, meaning, in these states, that citizens must persuade their legislature to pass reforms.

A round-up of the latest news on key citizen-driven and legislative efforts to reform the redistricting process.

Ballot Initiatives

Michigan

A ballot initiative that would create an independent citizens’ redistricting commission to draw the state’s political boundaries, proposed by Voters Not Politicians (VNP), will go before voters on the November 2018 ballot. Voters Not Politicians founder Katie Fahey hopes a nonpartisan commission will remove politics from the redistricting process, and create a system that “represents voters instead of politicians.”

The group submitted nearly 450,000 signatures to the Michigan Board of State Canvassers in December 2017, overwhelmingly surpassing the amount necessary to place a question before Michigan voters on the ballot in 2018 (315,654).

At the beginning of June, a three-judge panel at the Michigan Court of Appeals ordered for VNP’s measure to be placed on the November ballot, unanimously rejecting a challenge that contended the initiative is too expansive for a constitutional amendment and does not list all to the sections that would be abrogated. The challengers appealed the decision to the Michigan Supreme Court. Learn more about the lawsuit here.

On June 20, the Board of State Canvassers approved putting the proposal on the November ballot in a 3-0 vote.

On July 31, the Michigan Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s decision, allowing the proposal to be voted on in November.

Learn more about the proposal here.

Utah

Organizers have gathered enough signatures to put a proposal that would change Utah’s redistricting process before voters in November.

Better Boundaries, the ballot proposal organized by the bipartisan group, Utahns for Responsive Government, would create a seven-member advisory redistricting commission to advise Utah lawmakers on the redistricting process beginning in 2021. The commissioners, who would be appointed by the governor and legislative leaders, would be required to follow ranked-order criteria to draw the state’s congressional and legislative districts, which would include preserving communities of interest and neighborhoods together. The proposal would also prohibit the commission and the legislature from considering partisan political data unless necessary to comply with other redistricting criteria.

The lieutenant governor certified the group’s signatures in early June.

Learn more about the proposal here.

Missouri

Clean Missouri is campaigning for a constitutional amendment on the 2018 ballot that would mandate the use of a new statistical model for redistricting. The amendment also would give a nonpartisan state demographer responsibility for drawing state legislative lines for state apportionment commissions. If voters approve the measure, Missouri would be one of the first states in the nation to require a statistical test to measure partisan fairness in the redistricting process.

The coalition submitted almost 347,000 signatures in May, exceeding the minimum 160,199 signatures it needs for the initiative to appear on the November ballot.

On August 2, the Secretary of State certified the initiative to appear on the November ballot as Amendment 1.

On September 14, the Cole County Circuit Court struck the initiative from the ballot, citing the state constitution’s single-subject rule for constitutional amendments and the initiative’s proposed changes to more than one branch of government. On September 21, the Court of Appeals for the Western District of Missouri reversed that decision, restoring the initiative to the ballot.

Learn more about the proposal here.

Arkansas

In late May, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge certified the ballot title for a proposal to revise the state’s redistricting process, clearing the way for the petitioners to collect signatures.

Currently, an apportionment board consisting of the governor, secretary of state, and attorney general draws Arkansas’ state legislative districts while the legislature draws congressional districts. The proposed constitutional amendment would replace the existing process with a seven-member citizens commission that would draw both congressional and state legislative districts. The commission would consist of two Democrats, two Republicans, and three individuals unaffiliated with any political party. The proposal also prohibits drawing districts for partisan advantage or to harm the voting strength of minority groups.

Supporters will need to collect 84,859 signatures to submit to the secretary of state by July 6 for the initiative to appear on the November ballot. The secretary of state must certify the ballot issues for the election by August 23.

Oklahoma

Represent Oklahoma, a nonpartisan citizens group, is seeking a state constitutional change that would transfer redistricting duties from the legislature to an independent, nonpartisan commission. According to the group’s website, the proposal would provide clear criteria such as ensuring common communities are intact and prohibits drawing districts with partisan motivations. It would also require consensus from each party represented for a plan to pass.

The group hopes to implement a new process before the next redistricting cycle in 2021.

Legislative Efforts

Colorado

In early May, Colorado lawmakers approved two measures that would create a twelve-member redistricting commission with an equal number of Democrats, Republicans, and unaffiliated voters to draw the state’s congressional and state legislative districts. A supermajority of eight members, including at least two unaffiliated members, would be required to approve a map. Cosponsor State Sen. Stephen Fenberg stated, “This makes sure Democrats and Republicans can’t collude and draw maps that are equally good for the parties but bad for unaffiliated voters.” Both of the bipartisan resolutions passed through the legislature unanimously.

Two citizen coalitions – Fair Districts Colorado and People Not Politicians – that previously filed ballot measures implementing similar citizens redistricting commission, are now supporting and campaigning for the new measure, known as Fair Maps Colorado. The proposal will go before voters on the November ballot.

Learn more about the congressional proposal here.

Learn more about the state legislative proposal here.

Ohio

In May 2018, Ohio voters overwhelming passed a ballot proposal that requires bipartisan cooperation in the legislature’s map drawing process for congressional districts.

State Issue 1 is a proposed constitutional amendment that would keep the legislature in charge of drawing congressional maps, but, will restrict politicians’ ability to manipulate district lines for partisan advantage. The proposal would require support from both parties to ensure a map has bipartisan approval and sets new rules for map drawing that were previously absent, such as ensuring districts are compact and rules for preserving cities, townships and municipal corporations in the same district. If the legislature fails to pass a map with bipartisan support, the state’s seven-member redistricting commission would have the opportunity to draw a map. If the commission fails to pass a map with bipartisan approval, the legislature would have a second chance to pass a map, but would be subject to strict rules if it cannot garner significant bipartisan support.

The final amendment was a compromise between Democrats, Republicans, and Fair Districts = Fair Elections, a nonpartisan coalition who prepared a ballot proposal that would have added congressional maps to the state redistricting commission’s duties. The new process will begin in 2021.

Pennsylvania

Fair Districts PA, a coalition seeking to reform redistricting in Pennsylvania, is working to amend the state constitution to give an independent redistricting commission responsibility for drawing congressional and state legislative boundaries. The organization supports HB 2402 which would create an eleven-member commission composed of members of the two largest political parties and third-party or unaffiliated voters. The bill would also require the commission to hold at least six public hearings and would mandate that at least seven members – including commissioners from each political caucus – vote to approve a final plan.

To be enacted, this constitutional amendment must pass the state legislature in both the 2017-18 and 2018-19 legislative sessions and the voters must vote to approve it in 2020. While the Pennsylvania General Assembly is out of session until September, citizens have called on Governor Tom Wolf to convene a special session on redistricting reform this summer.

Virginia

OneVirginia2021 launched March Forth, a ten-month campaign to build momentum for a constitutional amendment to end gerrymandering in Virginia before voters in 2020. Advocates plan to organize Virginia residents to urge state legislators to enact reform during the 2019 legislative session.

To get a constitutional amendment on the ballot before the next round of redistricting, the General Assembly must pass identical resolutions in consecutive sessions in 2019 and 2020.

The post Citizen and Legislative Efforts to Reform Redistricting in 2018 appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Chicago Teamsters Consider Peak Season Strike at UPS

Tue, 10/16/2018 - 14:13

If UPS keeps stonewalling in upcoming bargaining, members of Chicago-area Teamsters Local 705 will take a strike vote in early November, for a possible walkout the week after Thanksgiving. That’s peak season at UPS.

Stewards greeted this morning’s announcement from Secretary-Treasurer Juan Campos, the union’s principal officer, with “lots of rounds of applause,” said bargaining team member and UPS feeder driver Dave Bernt.

There’s one bargaining session left, October 25-26, and Bernt said the union is approaching it in good faith.

“But if the company continues doing what they did in negotiations the last times we met, which was basically just stall and do nothing, that’s the direction we’re going to move,” he said. “We’ll actually try to use our leverage, unlike the IBT.”

Getting as far as a strike vote doesn’t necessarily mean a strike is likely. Chicago UPSers authorized a strike in 2008, but didn’t walk out.

To get UPS off the dime, Local 705 would need to show that members are ready to act on the threat. A general membership meeting is set for October 21.

Labor Notes has reached out to Campos for comment and will update this story when we hear back.

Two-Tier Won’t Fly

Local 705 represents 8,500 Chicago-area UPS workers. They have their own contract — that is, they’re not included in the national master agreement that covers 243,000 UPS Teamsters.

This means Chicago Teamsters could push for different terms with UPS — though in the past, aside from a unique grievance procedure, the local contract has tended to follow the national pattern on most major issues.

What the company has proposed so far is similar to the national tentative agreement, Bernt said. Among the sticking points is UPS’s demand for a lower-paid second tier of delivery drivers. “We’re not interested in that,” he said.

Local 705 also wants a $15-an-hour starting rate for part-timers, along with catch-up raises for existing part-timers. “That’s another issue we’re going to take a stand on,” Bernt said. “We’re not going to put up with this $13 crap.”

The Chicago union is also pushing to improve health care, especially for retirees, and to increase pensions substantially.

National Deal in Limbo

The Chicago and national agreements with UPS both expired July 31. Since then Local 705’s contract with UPS has been extended.

If the bargaining goes poorly, the union would rescind the extension, which would allow it to strike 30 days later.

The national tentative agreement is in limbo after UPSers voted it down, 54 to 46 percent. Package Division Director Denis Taylor announced that he considers the pact ratified under a constitutional loophole, but also that he plans to return to the table with the company.

UPS workers around the country had organized a grassroots vote-no movement, backed by Teamsters for a Democratic Union. The biggest complaints included the new low-paid tier of drivers, the inadequate raises for part-timers, and that the deal did nothing substantial to address workers’ other big concerns: excessive forced overtime, technological surveillance, and harassment by supervisors.

Time to Get Real

The last time Local 705 UPSers walked out was in the great national UPS strike of 1997. (The strike lasted two extra days in Chicago.)

This year, Teamsters around the country voted in June to authorize a strike, but union brass took no steps to mount a serious strike threat against the company. Instead the possibility was used as a bludgeon against members; the union deluged UPSers with mailers warning that voting “no” would mean “you run the risk of a work stoppage without further review by the members.”

UPS is forecasting $6 billion in profit this year.

“We’re sending them the message that it’s time to negotiate the real issues,” Bernt said. “The members know that UPS is making a lot of money, and they want to get what’s owed them.”

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Categories: News

A Taxing Day at the Polls

Tue, 10/16/2018 - 14:06

The post A Taxing Day at the Polls appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Despite Lingering Land Dispute, Bayou Bridge Pipeline Is Nearly Complete

Tue, 10/16/2018 - 14:06

High water in Louisiana’s Atchafalaya Basin and direct actions against the Bayou Bridge pipeline threaten to further delay work on the pipeline. However, it likely will be finished before the company’s pending legal challenges, including its most recent one over illegal construction, are settled.

The163-mile-long pipeline spans southern Louisiana from Lake Charles, near the Texas border, to St. James, on the banks of the Mississippi River. The Bayou Bridge pipeline is the tail end of a crude oil pipeline network that will transport Bakken oil from North Dakota to the Gulf Coast, likely for export.

Currently, the pipeline is 86 percent done and will be completed this year, according to Alexis Daniel, spokeswoman for Energy Transfer Partners, the pipeline’s primary owner.

On October 8, I traveled by boat with Dean Wilson, the executive director of the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, a conservation group, to check on progress as the pipeline is constructed across the country’s largest river swamp. We found the water in the Atchafalaya Basin about three and a half feet higher than normal, which, Wilson said, could complicate the installation process.

Wilson also found potential code violations, including navigable waterways now blocked and unbroken stretches of trenched dirt piles, known as spoil banks, longer than 500 feet. “There should be a cut in the spoil bank every 500 feet,” Wilson said, and the opening should be 50 feet wide, to keep water flow in the basin unhindered. Many of the cuts we saw appeared considerably smaller.

Spoil bank blocking Bayou Set in Louisiana’s Atchafalaya Basin.Spoil bank blocking Bayou Set in Louisiana’s Atchafalaya Basin.Julie Dermansky for DeSmogOngoing pipeline construction work in the Atchafalaya Basin despite high water.Ongoing pipeline construction work in the Atchafalaya Basin despite high water.Julie Dermansky for DeSmog

We found the entrance to Bayou Set, a small natural bayou connected to the pipeline channel, completely closed off by a wall of dirt. Wilson worries that if the entrance is not restored before the pipeline construction is complete — and crews and equipment are still around — the bayou could be closed off for good. And it likely isn’t the only natural bayou cut off by the pipeline channel.

Wilson will report the issue to the US Army Corps of Engineers, which has the authority to enforce regulations. Though what he found is against the rules, there isn’t much enforcement by any regulatory authority going on in the basin, he said.

Landowners Challenge Construction on Their Land

The latest legal challenge facing the pipeline company, Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC (BBP), was launched at the end of July by Atchafalaya Basinkeeper and a lawyer with Loyola University, which filed suit on behalf of three landowners with a shared interest in a 38-acre parcel of land in the basin. They sought an injunction to stop the construction, alleging that the company illegally trespassed and began work without formally expropriating the land, despite being unable to reach agreements with all of the landowners.

The company argued it did its due diligence to obtain all necessary permission and had in fact gained it from hundreds of others that also have a stake in the same parcel, denying BBP did anything wrong. However, it filed expropriation papers the same day their challenge was made, to enable the company to legally take the land. The Center for Constitutional Rights then joined the legal team in order to fight BBP‘s expropriation attempt.

The landowners — brother and sister Peter and Katherine Aaslestad and Theda Larson Wright — join a growing list of landowners across the country who are standing up to pipeline companies trying to seize private land in the current rush to build oil and gas pipelines.

In the weeks that followed the injunction request, members of the L’eau Est La Vie protest camp, opponents of the pipeline known as “water protectors,” set up a campsite on the 38-acre parcel with permission from some of the landowners. Their goal was to stop the installation. About a dozen of them have been charged with felonies under a new Louisiana law enacted in August that makes interfering with “critical infrastructure” like pipelines a federal crime.

On September 10, right before the injunction hearing over the disputed parcel in the basin, BBP agreed to a settlement in which they would halt construction until after an expropriation hearing. It was deemed a victory that both pipeline opponents and environmentalists were quick to celebrate.

Not long after the hearing, I went with Wilson to see how much work had been completed on the disputed land. We found the pipeline completely buried beneath the easement and I sent the Aaslestads photos.

Though initially both elated that construction on their land had been halted, they said my photos showing the pipeline already in the ground made the victory feel hollow, since the work on their land was all but complete when the company agreed to stop working there.

Dean Wilson on the pipeline easement crossing the disputed land in the Atchafalaya Basin.Dean Wilson on the pipeline easement crossing the disputed land in the Atchafalaya Basin.Julie Dermansky for DeSmog

Katherine Aaslestad told me she felt sickened by what the photos confirmed. “This is a miscarriage of justice. The wrong people were arrested,” she told me by phone. “The BBP employees and private security were the real trespassers and should have been arrested, not the water protectors who are genuinely acting for the public good and had been invited to be on the property by a co-owner.”

But lead attorney Pam Spees of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who is working on the case with Misha Mitchell, an attorney with the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, doesn’t see the victory as hollow at all. Both see BBP’s agreement to stop work on the land until the expropriation process is over as an admission of its previous failure to obtain proper permission.

In the “Public Interest”?

When BBP filed to expropriate the land on September 12, the landowners filed a counter suit challenging the premise that the pipeline is in the public interest, which gives the company the ability to use eminent domain to seize the land

The landowners’ suit alleges that the pipeline offers no public benefit and instead goes against public interests, citing the extensive spill and leak record of Energy Transfer Partners and its affiliates. It also maintains that pipelines have contributed to Louisiana’s coastal erosion crisis and to a reliance on fossil fuels which has exacerbated climate change.

“The destruction of wetlands as a natural buffer to hurricanes and flooding has led to tragic losses in recent years,” Katherine Aaslestad said. “I lost my uncle during Hurricane Katrina and in his memory want to stop the devastation of southern Louisiana.”

With the hearing date set for November 27, Spees sees Energy Transfer Partners’ recently announced partnership with the New Orleans Saints football team as a move to greenwash the company’s reputation. “It is a transparent public relations ploy,” she said.

Katherine Aaslestad agrees. “I know how much football means to Louisianans,” she told me. “Anything that legitimizes them [ETP] in the eyes of average people, makes stopping them or calling them to task even harder. It is like living in a dystopian novel — at least the first chapters.”

Dean Wilson with an old growth cypress tree in the Atchafalaya Basin on May 31, 2018.Dean Wilson with an old growth cypress tree in the Atchafalaya Basin on May 31, 2018.Julie Dermansky for DeSmogLocation where in May Wilson had stood next to an old growth cypress tree, showing pipeline construction work on October 9, 2018.Location where in May Wilson had stood next to an old growth cypress tree, showing pipeline construction work on October 9, 2018.Julie Dermansky for DeSmog

The post Despite Lingering Land Dispute, Bayou Bridge Pipeline Is Nearly Complete appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Will Trump’s Policies Wreak Havoc on the US and Global Economies?

Tue, 10/16/2018 - 13:50

With the midterm elections rapidly approaching, many Americans will start thinking more and more about the economy before they decide how to cast their votes. In this context, Trump’s claim that the US economy under his administration is the “greatest in history” needs to be thoroughly and critically examined in order to separate facts from myths. How much of the ongoing “recovery” is being felt by average American workers? And what about Trump’s escalating trade war with China, which is already beginning to impact American consumers and various US manufacturers, while making European firms nervous? In this exclusive interview, Gerald Epstein, professor of economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, clears the air on several myths and misconceptions about the developments that Trump has tried to frame as an “economic miracle.”

C.J. Polychroniou: Trump likes to boast about an economic revival of historic proportions under his administration, which includes a strong labor market, a robust stock market, and a 4 percent GDP rate. What are the facts and myths about Trump’s alleged economic miracle? Give us the full story.

Gerald Epstein: Trump is a gross exaggerator who loves to construct stories. When it comes to his claims about an economic miracle under way during his administration, I think my friend and colleague John Miller in the economics department at Wheaton College put it best in a September 30 presentation at the University of Massachusetts Amherst: “Compared to the standard of U.S. economic performance since 1948, we have been living through an economic expansion that has been historically long, historically slow, and that has done historically little to improve the lot of most people.”

It is safe to say, as Miller and many other economists show, slashing corporate taxes has not generated an investment boom or a stock market boom. Data show that during the second quarter of 2018, housing investment continued to go down, and spending on new equipment, the largest component of investment, grew only half as quickly as it had at the end of 2017, prior to the tax cut. As the data discussed by Josh Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute show, business investment in structures such as office buildings and factories did increase far more quickly than before the tax cut, but most of that went into oil and gas drilling which resulted from higher world energy prices.

As Bill Lazonick, an economist at the University of Massachusetts Lowell has pointed out, slashing corporate taxes has created a torrent of stock buybacks that is on track to reach $800 billion by year’s end.

What’s the explanation for S&P 500 and Dow setting all-time records under Trump, and what impact do stock market trends have on the life and well-being of average Americans?

It is true that the stock market has increased since Trump was elected, but it has been on an upswing since the recession bottomed out in 2009. In fact, stock prices (the S&P 500 adjusted for inflation) increased just 2.1 percent from Jan. 1 to Sept. 1, 2018 — far slower than earlier in the expansion, and the near double-digit increase during the 1990s expansion.

Only in the third week of September did the S&P 500 Stock Index and the Dow Jones Index finally top their January 2018 highs.

Still, it is clear that since Trump was elected, financial investors have been quite happy and optimistic. The Republican agenda of tax cuts and deregulation have significantly increased corporate profits and the expectations of further corporate profits, and these drive up stock prices.

But most stocks are owned by the very wealthy. According to Edward Wolff, the richest 10 percent of the population own close to 90 percent of all stocks. So when the stock market goes up in value, it is the already very rich that mostly benefit.

Now some of this could trickle down as investment and jobs but this appears to be rather limited. As I mentioned earlier, we are not seeing much of an increase in investment in factories and equipment as a result of the tax cuts and corresponding increase in the value of the stock market. It is true that when the stock market goes up substantially it can increase the consumption of those that own stocks and some of that can trickle down when increases in consumer demand boost the economy. But here the question is the size of the impact — which is modest at best — and the impact on wages.

Up until now, this increase in consumption and decline in unemployment has not led to much in the way of increased wages, when the uptick in inflation is taken into account. People’s paychecks might be a bit bigger but so is the cost of living. So, the economy seems to still be largely stuck in a period of stagnant inflation-adjusted wages, which has been plaguing us for more than 40 years. The Trump economy has yet to break free of that swamp.

The reasons for this seem myriad: a major one is the reduced bargaining power of workers due to a 40-year political assault on unions and workers’ bargaining rights. A second is related to appearance of other global trade powers like China on the scene and the response of American capitalists and politicians to that crucial structural shift.

Trump has made the reduction of the trade deficit one of his central goals, which partly explains his gambles with trade wars, tariffs and protectionism and his so-called “America First” policies. Yet, the US trade deficit, ironically enough, has widened considerably (especially with China) under the Trump administration. Is the increase in the trade deficit a direct result of the trade war?

No. The increase in the trade deficit is mostly due to the fact the US economy has been continuing to grow and recently picked up speed. Any growing economy will increase imports; if exports are not leading the growth — which they are not in the US and haven’t been for several decades — then the trade deficit is almost certain to grow. But what it does show is that Trump’s trade policy has not reversed the secular dependence of the US on trade deficits, which has been increasing in the last 40 years or so.

Just recently, numerous US manufacturing companies testified how Trump’s trade wars and tariff policies will increase both the cost of production and the cost of imports, cause layoffs and devastate lives, while failing to improve competition or spur additional growth. Given all this, what’s the real purpose behind the trade war with China, and will tariffs boomerang on workers in the US and the global economy?

Trump believes that he can win political support from his base by bashing foreigners and “others” — be they Mexican and South American citizens, Muslims, African Americans and women, even if his policies hurt his base in economic terms. He is specializing in a type of [white nationalist] “identity politics” and is very good at manipulating people. For the rich, he delivers the goods…. He believes he can get away with this even if he hurts his base economically. He believes he can put lipstick on trade deal pigs and his base will buy it. Perhaps he is right. We will see.

So, yes: the trade war he has started might sound good to his base, but is likely to hurt many of them, as Canada, Europe and China are smart when they retaliate, knowing fully well that they will harm his base.

So part of his goal is to fire up his base by being tough on the foreigners. But the fight with China is much more than that. Trump has decided that the US is in a power struggle with China for global dominance. He is not the first US capitalist politician to believe that. US strategists have talked about making a pivot to China for more than a decade now. Trump has decided to lurch toward China.

His trade deals, such as the new NAFTA, contain sections which require that Canada and Mexico notify the US if they are going to make any trade deals with China; and there are various elements in them that attempt to discourage such deals with China. So this is all part of the attempt to create a new cold war with China.

Cold Wars are useful for capitalists. They can justify massive military expenditure; they can justify patriotism and squashing dissent; they can justify loyalty to the strong leader.

Another reason why Trump is pursuing these policies is that they can split the labor movement and the Democrats. When Steve Bannon was on his way out of the Trump administration, he contacted Robert Kuttner of the American Prospect and said he wanted to form a left/right coalition over trade. He and Trump have been partly successful in this. The United Steelworkers Union has supported his tariffs on steel. Much — but not all — of organized labor has offered tentative support for Trump’s new NAFTA, even though there are very few positive features for labor in the agreement.

The new NAFTA also has a lot of very negative features, including the undermining of environmental regulations, the increase of patent protections, limitations on the ability to restrict pharmaceutical prices and other consumer-gouging provisions.

As a result, even labor unions and groups like Public Citizen have been reluctant to endorse it fully yet.

Do you have any predictions about how the story of Trump’s trade war against China and his overall economic policies will end?

Overall, Trump’s policies will prove to be extremely disruptive. The trading system will develop many cracks, the supply chains of trade will get mucked up, and the expansionary wave coming from the tax cuts will fade out with nothing left but deficits and bloated capitalists to show for it. But this will not necessarily mean political trouble for Trump and the Republicans. For that to happen, the Democrats and the left have to not only make clear what are all the problems in Trump’s and the Republicans’ economic charades, but have to promote their alternatives relentlessly, and in a unified fashion. The left has developed a strong set of policies that can address the ills facing the majority of US residents — single payer health care, raising the minimum wage, a Green New Deal, breaking up Wall Street banks and promoting financial alternatives, tax increases on the wealthy, real infrastructure investment, affordable and improved education, and a peace-oriented foreign policy. This is a winning agenda. If economists, policy makers and activists can continue to develop this program and promote it relentlessly, then when the Trump economy falls apart, it is the left that can win with a viable program that can truly work for the many.

The post Will Trump’s Policies Wreak Havoc on the US and Global Economies? appeared first on Truthout.

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