Truth Out

Subscribe to Truth Out feed Truth Out
Fearless Independent Journalism
Updated: 4 hours 7 min ago

Low Wages Are Driving a Shortage of Elder and Disabled Care Providers

Mon, 07/02/2018 - 14:36

According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly 14 percent of Americans have developmental disabilities like Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy and autism. The rates of such disabilities are on a steady rise, and some members of these populations need services to develop skills, live independently and accomplish goals. California faces a severe shortage of direct service professionals who offer this assistance due to low wages, high costs of living and demanding working conditions. People like Alyssa Wade, 19, who works with developmentally disabled clients of Strategies to Empower People (STEP) in the Sacramento, Calif. area, are fighting back.

They’re demanding a wage increase that better reflects the demands of their jobs, for which many earn at or close to minimum wage. Their employers — both the disabled people they serve and the agencies they work with — are supporting them in this goal. “Direct-service employees are not minimum-wage employees,” says Barry Jardini, director of government affairs for the California Disability Services Association. “We find it offensive that we’re scrounging for scraps just to pay them minimum wage.”

This problem is not limited to California. Across the United States, a shortage of care providers is creating a crisis for elders and disabled people fighting to live in their own communities. Historically, conversations about pay and working conditions for caregivers have been fraught. When the Obama administration introduced tougher workplace protections in 2013, some disability organizations fought these improvements, arguing that it would make it harder to guarantee care. Their concerns were largely rooted in worries about the federal government’s failure to increase funding to cover the added costs, but they seemed to pit disabled people against workers.

“I don’t think it’s a reasonable position to, say, exempt us from minimum-wage laws, so that our employees don’t have to get the same sort of benefits. That’s problematic,” says Jardini. He’s closely involved with the labyrinthine fight to increase funding for disability services, protecting the interests of children and adults across the state.

A “Right” to Community-Based Care but a Shortage of People to Provide It

California’s landscape for developmental disability services is somewhat unique, thanks to the 1969 Lanterman Act. The act mandates developmentally disabled people’s right to live in their communities and receive supportive services—and is an explicit protection against institutionalization. Historically, many developmentally disabled people ended up in costly and isolating institutions when they could have been better served at home. On a federal level, the Americans with Disabilities Act has extended related protections, while 1999’s Olmstead also affirmed the right to live in a “least restrictive” environment. This isn’t just a civil rights issue: Home and community-based services are much less expensive than institutionalization.

The Lanterman Act is one reason Jacqueline and Jack Cohen were able to move to Southern California with their autistic daughter Tamara, who is now 39, when Jack got a job offer in the 1990s. During Tamara’s childhood, they had trouble accessing services in New York State, and felt California — where Tamara now lives independently in an apartment with the assistance of a live-in roommate and a coach who helps her on the job at Barnes and Noble and California Pizza Kitchen — would provide their daughter with a better quality of life. “She has quite a bit of support,” says Jacqueline, “because she cannot be by herself.” That support comes from people like Wade, who earns just $11.50 an hour for her work.

Across California, 21 regional centers work with local providers to serve 300,000 developmentally disabled people, with funding coming through the state’s general fund and pass-through Medicaid dollars. Despite the fact that the cost of doing business in California is rapidly increasing, rates for services like day programs and supported employment have remained largely frozen, creating significant challenges for local providers. The problem is even worse, Jardini says, for employees who have worked with disability organizations for five or ten years: Compaction is keeping their wages static, which can turn such jobs into dead ends.

Wade says she doesn’t fault STEP, and that the agency tries to increase pay where possible. “They’re really good at being open and clear” about the factors that influence their ability to pay, she says. Workers like her are also paid by In-Home Supportive Services, a statewide program that has its own onerous restrictions on hours and pay. The state, she says, can pay irregularly, which is frustrating for low-wage workers living on the margins. “It’s super hard for some people to keep track … when you’re looking at rent, student loans, this is where we lose a lot of staff,” says Wade.

With the state slow to increase reimbursement rates, providers are leaning more heavily on fundraising to meet their costs, says David Carucci, executive director of United Cerebral Palsy of San Diego County. When the state’s funding is insufficient to meet local minimum wage requirements, for example, organizations still have to pay their direct service providers the prevailing local minimum wage, and that requires them to make up the difference.

The High Cost of Low Wages

Low pay leads to lower standards, and high turnover, two things that aren’t good for employees, providers or their clients, note the Cohens, who express frustration with finding and retaining quality people to support their daughter. “I would say our turnover rate is around 35 to 40 percent,” explains Nancy Batterman, the CEO of E&CO, which provides services in San Diego, Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. In Silicon Valley, says Batterman, “we’re running about 20 to 30 open positions” because so few people are willing to work for minimum wage. E&CO relies heavily on college students like Wade, with more financial and schedule flexibility, to provide services.

Wade could be earning more elsewhere. “It’s the satisfaction you get from helping someone, helping them learn new things, supporting them in their lives. I wouldn’t take flipping a burger over that,” she says, adding that she’s troubled at the thought of leaving and disrupting the routine of the developmentally disabled woman she serves as a live-in roommate. Wade also works with her client’s sister, a woman who has medical needs and behavioral outbursts, and says it’s difficult for clients to adjust when their care providers rotate in and out of their lives. Sometimes, Wade says, people arrive on the job only to realize they’re not able to manage the behavioral, social, and medical needs of a client.

“Autistic adults don’t like changes in routine,” says Jack. “When people come and go, it’s a major adjustment.” Tamara, like Wade’s clients, needs to build and rebuild relationships with service providers over and over again.

When California announced its plans to increase the minimum wage to $15 statewide in a series of steps in 2016, disability services organizations hoped the state would be increasing their reimbursements to compensate. In fact, Batterman says, legislators suggested that was on the agenda. That didn’t happen; instead, a hard-fought budget increase in 2016 under ABX21 was almost immediately offset by the increase in the minimum wage, according to Jardini.

“We introduced a budget proposal to increase provider rates four percent, which would facilitate an increase in direct service professional wages,” says Jardini, but it hasn’t made it into the budget yet. Assemblyman Chris Holden has introduced a bill, AB 2623, to adjust provider rates, but this is his second go-round: The first try died in Senate committee after passing the Assembly.

Workers like Wade aren’t asking for much. “A good starting wage would be between $12.50 and $13,” she says. After a pause, she adds: “We’ve been paid so low for so long that any wage above or at [minimum wage] would be perfect.” Union workers in California think the state should do better, and are part of the Fight for $15 advocacy movement, pushing to ensure caregivers are included in California’s upcoming minimum wage increases.

California’s funding woes aren’t unique, and the state, like others, is also facing significant challenges as Congress debates the future of Medicaid. Forty percent of the state’s developmental disability support funding comes through the federal program. The institution of block granting or per capita caps could put developmental disability services organizations into competition with other community health entities, in a zero sum game.

Without an increase in rates, entities serving developmentally disabled Californians may need to start aggressively trimming their budgets, threatening the stability of services hundreds of thousands of people and their families have come to count on. This is something that troubles providers like E&CO — with California’s cost of living skyrocketing, the number of vacancies are growing. Nearly 50 years after the passage of the Lanterman Act, California is still struggling to live up to the promise of full inclusion for the developmental disability community. 

The post Low Wages Are Driving a Shortage of Elder and Disabled Care Providers appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Response to “Janus”: Take Their Intellectual “Property”

Mon, 07/02/2018 - 14:35

For the last four decades, the right has been actively working to rig the rules to undermine progressives both politically and economically. They aren’t just interested in winning an election; they want to destroy any basis for progressive change.

This is why they have been so intent on attacking unions. Unlike many centrist Democrats, the right realizes that the labor movement has been at the center of most progressive change in the last century. This is why Reagan made it a priority to weaken labor at the beginning of his administration.

In his first three months in office, he picked a fight with the conservative air traffic controllers’ union (one of the few which supported his election) and set a new trend in which employers fired rather than negotiated with striking workers. He then created a logjam at the National Labor Relations Board that made it virtually useless as a mechanism for protecting workers’ right to organize.

These policies, along with anti-labor, trade and monetary policies, were a punch in the gut of private sector unions. Over the next three decades, the unionization rate in the private sector fell from almost 20 percent to just 7 percent.

Since unionization rates in the public sector were little changed over this period, it was inevitable that the right would turn their focus to this bastion of support for progressive policy change. When Republicans gained control of historically progressive states like Wisconsin and Michigan, they quickly moved to weaken the public sector unions.

Now they are looking to do this on a national basis with the Janus ruling. Just to be clear, this has nothing to do with individual freedom. It is a question of whether workers can have a contract that imposes conditions on employment.

No one disputes that the employer can impose conditions on employment. For example, the court would have no problem if the state of California requires its employees to pay 5 percent of their wage to a health insurer of its choosing. If you don’t like that health insurer, the Republican justices say you should just work somewhere else.

What the Republican court said is that the workers can’t have a contract that puts a condition on employment by requiring a representation fee to the union that they have chosen to represent them. This has absolutely zero to do with individual rights; it is entirely about the court limiting the power of workers to sign effective contracts.

This is a big victory for the enemies of working people. We should certainly look to fight it directly, but we should also take a lesson from the bad guys: undermine their base of power.  

There are ways this can be done if we are creative. The Trump administration has given us a great opportunity with its trade war with China. One of the big issues it is fighting over is China’s alleged theft of US intellectual property.

While this is an area where the media have been chiming in support of the idea that we all have a stake in the intellectual property of Merck, Microsoft and Disney (go home team!), the reality is that the vast majority of us stand to benefit from China not respecting their claims. As any trade economist can tell you, if China doesn’t pay these companies what they think they are owed, American consumers will be able to save on goods and services produced in China. Why should US workers want to pay more money to make these huge companies richer?

Trump’s trade war gives workers a great opportunity to undermine one of the main mechanisms through which income has been redistributed upwards in the last four decades. Without patent and copyright protection on Microsoft’s software, Bill Gates would still be working for a living. Moreover, the rest of us would be saving hundreds of billions of dollars annually from cheap drugs, medical equipment and software. (Yes, we have to pay for innovation, but there are more efficient mechanisms that don’t redistribute as much money upwards, see Rigged, chapter 5.)

There are other ways in which we can look to weaken the economic power of labor’s enemies directly. For example, relatively progressive states can pass rules of corporate governance that make it more difficult for CEOs to take home paychecks in the tens of millions of dollars. They can also deny tax-exempt status to nonprofits that pay top management high six-figure or seven-figure salaries.

These and other proposals are discussed in more detail in my (free) book Rigged. The point is that we should be thinking of ways to take the battle to their home court and not continually playing defense. Reversing the ways in which they have rigged the market over the last four decades and taking away their money will not be easy, but it is the only reasonable route forward. If all our battles are defensive, then the only uncertainty is how much we lose.

The post Response to “Janus”: Take Their Intellectual “Property” appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Sea Turtles Offer Dire Warning of Oceans’ Crisis

Mon, 07/02/2018 - 14:13

Wallace Nichols, a marine biologist who has been studying sea turtles and plastic pollution in the oceans for nearly 25 years, is worried.

“It used to be that when we found a rare piece of plastic on a nesting beach or tangled around a turtle, we’d pick it up or remove it and all would be right in the world again,” he told Truthout. “But the problem steadily and steeply worsened to the point that now we can spend all day endeavoring to clean up the plastic in and on the same beaches, come back the next day and start all over again. Nearly all turtle necropsies produce internal plastics.”

Nichols, who is also a senior fellow at the Center for the Blue Economy and author of Blue Mind, says he used to try to estimate how many sea turtles were impacted by plastic pollution, but now the answer to him is simple: “All of them, 100 percent,” he said. “But that number should be ‘none of them,’ zero percent.”

Nichols believes sea turtles have become the poster species for what he calls the “runaway carbon economy.”

“We’re talking about animals that spend much of their lives in the wildest, most distant and uninhabited parts of the ocean, yet they still ingest and swim through plastic out there,” he said. “Then nesting beaches and even the sex ratios of baby sea turtles are impacted by climate change, and their feeding and nursery areas are being transformed. That’s a big wake-up call.”

But that is just the tip of the iceberg of other issues besetting Earth’s oceans, and all of them are cause for Nichols’s wake-up call.

Nichols believes, as he put it, “Our mismanagement of the carbon economy during the past century has put the ‘blue economy’ — one based on water and far more important to life on Earth — at risk.”

By “blue economy,” he is referencing a widely used term for the economic contribution of the oceans and coasts to the overall global economy, along with the imperative that humans address the sustainability of the oceans.

Nichols said that, taken together, human-caused climate disruption, plastic pollution, oil and fuel spills and leaks, and industrial agriculture have significantly altered life on our planet.

“Our lakes, rivers and oceans are downstream of all of these impacts,” he said. “The results are ocean warming and acidification, sea level rise, dead zones, beach closures, a biodiversity crisis, fisheries collapses, and of course, massive amounts of plastic pollution in places it should never be — such as the guts of sea turtles, birds and whales and mixed into beach sand, sea salt and food.”

“Literally Loaded From Throat to Anus With Plastic”

Jeffrey Seminoff is the leader of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s Marine Turtle Ecology and Assessment Program with the National Marine Fisheries Service.

He agrees with Nichols that marine debris like plastics are a huge problem, but added that microplastics are equally bad, given that they suppress immune systems of the marine life that ingests them, as well as causing physiological distress to wildlife. Seminoff also points to ocean acidification as another of his biggest concerns, along with, of course, anthropogenic climate disruption’s impact on the oceans.

However, to underscore his point on plastics, as well as Nichols’s concerns, Seminoff told Truthout that the day before we spoke, he had conducted a sea turtle necropsy.

“I’m training the Dutch deployment team that, this August, is going to work cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” Seminoff said. “One of the green sea turtles we just necropsied was literally loaded from throat to anus with plastic. I’ve never seen so much plastic in an animal before.”

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the largest accumulation of ocean plastic in the world, located between Hawaii and California. Recent estimates show that in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch alone (and there are at least four other massive oceanic garbage patches around the world), there are more than 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic, weighing an estimated 88,000 tons. That is the equivalent of 500 jumbo jets and includes a plastic count that is equivalent to 250 pieces of debris for every single human on Earth.

According to Seminoff, turtles are a close second to seabirds as the marine life most affected by plastic pollution, because any plastic they encounter they perceive as prey and eat it. Because of this, he said, “The ingestion component is particularly detrimental.”

Seminoff explained that while sea turtles are incredibly resilient animals, this also means that when we see impacts on them from all of these issues, “Once they start to suffer, as resilient as they are, it is a clear indicator of poor health of our ocean ecosystems.”

“Why do we want them to survive?” he asked. “Because if they don’t, other things simply won’t.”

When he lectures about sea turtles or marine mammals, he frames things in the ecological roles of these animals.

“It’s profound, in that they are keeping ecosystems in balance, and are playing [the role of] keystone species,” Seminoff said. “If you don’t have sea turtles in these coastal ecosystems, the ecosystems suffer, because [sea turtles] are incredibly important for the entire system to function in a healthy manner.”

Meanwhile, Jason Scorse, chair of the International Environmental Policy Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, where he is also the director of the Center for the Blue Economy, believes the two greatest threats to ocean ecosystems are acidification and commercial fishing.

“Acidification is undermining the entire ecological system, because if the pH gets low enough and these shelled and calcified creatures start dying off in large numbers, that sets in motion a huge cascade effect across the entire ocean system,” Scorse told Truthout. “This is the greatest concern of the scientists I know.”

Complete Dismantling “of any Ecosystem Structure”

Each of these experts has dire predictions of what will happen to the oceans (and humans) if the aforementioned crises continue along their current trajectory unchecked.

Nichols noted that he and his colleagues’ efforts to save sea turtles around the world have been quite successful.

“Thousands of organizations and legions of conservationists who care deeply have worked tirelessly to save sea turtles,” he said. “It gives me a lot of hope. But these larger existential issues are next level and will require our blue movement to step things up.”

About “these larger existential issues,” Nichols was frank.

“Rather than making predictions of what might come, it’s really about what’s happening already. Our predictions from 25 years ago are here, now. While we continue to work on solving the problems and fixing what’s broken, we are also adjusting to this new planet.” Nichols warned that he expects us to lose more life in the oceans, but believes we are obliged to continue to work, individually and collectively, toward a more sustainable economy.

Seminoff was stark in his assessment of what is to come without dramatic and immediate changes. “I see a complete dismantling of any ecosystem structure,” he said.

Seminoff used sea turtles to underscore his point. Given that they are a species whose sex is determined by temperature, feminization is a huge issue that is going to get even bigger.

“If sea turtles are having more and more females, populations are going to crash … they can’t be sustained with only one sex,” he said. “So that removes an important coastal ecosystem role they play [and] then they are no longer a keystone species keeping other species in check … like sponges overrunning reefs in the Caribbean, or sea grasses running out of control in the Pacific coast.”

Seminoff also cited the albatross.

“We lose them, the whole ecosystem function associated with nesting colonies crashes,” he said. “So, one by one, those structures start to erode away, and these are just a couple of examples.”

Seminoff pointed out how when one crisis impacts a species and we lose that species, unforeseen consequences of this could come back to haunt us.

“Take acidification, or the marine heat waves: You limit habitat of offshore species, really nuanced things like changes in abundance of sea jellies impacts leatherback turtles, then you have a trickle-down effect from there,” he said. “So, the issue is extremely multifaceted. Take any of these single issues and there will be a cascading effect in many unforeseen ways.”

Scorse was even more blunt. “It’s the Sixth Mass Extinction, and that is not debatable … it is simple math,” he said. “It’s not opinion.”

What Do We Do?

Five of the G7 nations recently agreed to an ocean plastics charter. The two countries that did not agree were Japan and the United States.

The charter proposed a lifecycle management approach toward plastics in the global economy, which includes making all plastics recyclable by 2030, among other issues.

However, the charter is non-binding.

Seminoff thinks we need to look seriously at offsetting carbon emissions, but admits this is a challenging goal to address internationally.

“Promoting sustainable fisheries and controlling the commercial fisheries is key,” he added. “At the individual level, the number of people we can enlist in helping with our own personal decisions as consumers can be a goal. Additionally, not using plastic and Styrofoam, and knowing where your fish come from, are helpful — along with remembering the importance of our individual actions.”

Scorse believes making a transition of our global food supply to being plant-based rather than animal-based is equal to or even more important than transitioning away from fossil fuels.

“Obviously, the move away from the fossil fuels is the key challenge to our times, but along with that is a move away from an animal-based food economy,” he said. “Even with Trump … these trends are not going to be stopped because they are grassroots movements and the economics is almost all going in one direction.”

Scorse believes that anyone keen to reduce their carbon footprint should understand that transitioning to a plant-based diet is the most impactful thing to do.

“From generating waste to ethics to [ocean] dead zones,” he said, “the best thing to do is to move to plant-based diets.”

As for Nichols, he believes that many, if not most, of the material solutions we need to fix these problems are already “on the shelves” right now.

“Governments can incentivize the transition, and at the very least, stop subsidizing outdated, destructive activities [like the oil industry],” he said. “In many parts of the world, we’d be smart to significantly back up from the water and create public ‘blue spaces.’ This will give more people access to the vast ‘blue mind’ public health benefits we get from spending time together by the water but mitigate costly losses that come with rising waters and flooding.”

In this way, Nichols sees the necessity of humans turning to the oceans for wisdom and solutions as key to the future.

“It turns out, sharing access to these water-based cognitive, emotional, psychological, social, physical and spiritual benefits is good for the blue economy,” he said. “We’ll all need that to maintain our mental health and creativity on a hotter, more anxious planet.”

The post Sea Turtles Offer Dire Warning of Oceans’ Crisis appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Meet the Activists Arrested for Opposing the Mountain Valley Pipeline

Mon, 07/02/2018 - 14:12

On April 11, high school English teacher Stephanie Stallings stood her ground with a group of protesters in opposition to the Mountain Valley Pipeline on the property of Mary Beth Coffey in Bent Mountain, Virginia. Under eminent domain, the pipeline is being constructed through Coffey’s property and that of several other landowners who oppose its construction.

Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC was conducting tree-cutting on the property at the time to clear a path for construction. According to Stallings, Roanoke County Police told protesters at the scene to move two tree-lengths away from a designated tree-cutting area, citing standards set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Stallings, one of the first Mountain Valley protesters to be arrested, refused to move.

“I felt this tiredness of being pushed around by these people who are breaking the laws consistently … that are in place to protect us, the land and the water,” Stallings told Truthout. “I didn’t want them to continue cutting the trees.”

She was arrested and charged on April 11 with interfering with property rights and transported 45-minutes away to the Roanoke County Jail. On June 6, the county prosecutor asked for a continuance to gather evidence, which would further delay the trial. The request was denied by Roanoke County Judge Jacqueline Talevi, and the charge against Stallings was dropped. Despite the judge’s decision, Virginia Commonwealth Prosecutor Randy Leach expressed his intent to continue pursuing the charge against her.

Another early arrest in the Mountain Valley Pipeline fight, that of Rafael Snell-Feikema, was recently thrown out in court after his defense attorneys argued that police lied about Feikema’s actions to warrant the arrest. In March, Feikema was charged with interfering with the use of a road, trail or gate, facing up to six months in jail and a $500 fine. Assistant US Attorney Stephen Pfleger, along with Feikema’s defense attorney, filed a motion to dismiss the charges, but no explanation was provided as to why the case was dropped.

Arrests of Mountain Valley Pipeline protesters have been a regular occurrence along the construction route of the pipeline since March 2018. Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC has cleared forest and begun construction of the $3.5 billion, 303-mile pipeline from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia, with a proposed 70-mile extension into North Carolina. The project is funded and operated by Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC and owned by EQT Midstream Partners, LP; NextEra US Gas Assets, LLC; Con Edison Transmission, Inc.; WGL Midstream; and RGC Midstream, LLC.

The natural gas pipeline will transport up to 2 billion cubic feet of fracked natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica Shale basins daily, according to EQT Midstream Partners spokesperson Natalie Cox.

Cox would not comment on the arrests, referring Truthout to law enforcement agencies in an email. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported on June 1 that Virginia’s anti-terrorism unit, the Virginia Fusion Center, is being used to monitor opponents to the pipeline. The center is coordinating information with local law enforcement and EQT Midstream Partners about many of the activists involved in tree-sits to try to halt or slow down tree-cutting for the pipeline construction.

According to the Roanoke Times, at least 20 people have been arrested in opposing the pipeline, though none of the charges have yet been successfully prosecuted. Public Information Officer for Roanoke County Amy Whittaker told Truthout in an email that six people have been charged within the county in regards to the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

“Obviously, they didn’t want me up there and I was arrested when I came down,” said Deckard, who only provided his first name because he fears further legal action against him. He occupied one of the last two tree platforms at Peters Mountain in Jefferson National Forest along West Virginia’s border. Deckard came down from the tree on June 1 and was charged with two misdemeanors: violating a national forest service closure order, effectively trespassing, and maintaining an illegal structure in a national forest.

“Like everyone else, I was a witness to the cruel injustices happening and I felt like I had to do something,” Deckard told Truthout. “I slowly got involved and eventually found myself in the tree, and am happy to be a part of this large resistance against the Mountain Valley Pipeline, [and] all pipelines and the struggles that exist to stop them.” His trial is scheduled to begin on August 8.

Another tree-sitter on Peters Mountain, Catherine “Fern” McDougal, was forcibly removed from her tree on June 1 by police. “It was more of a direct intervention than a protest. Direct action actually accomplishes something or stops something you would want to protest,” McDougal told Truthout.

She spent more than 10 days on a plywood platform in the tree that served as a blockade. “They had to bring in a rope expert and re-anchor the lines on the ground, and they moved a cherry picker around to extract me,” she said. McDougal was charged with four misdemeanor offenses: resisting arrest, blocking a forest service road, entering a forest service closure and maintaining an illegal structure in a national forest. She is due in court on July 26.

Several of the arrested pipeline opponents are landowners who have had trees cut on their property for pipeline construction after the government seized their land under eminent domain. Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC sued to invoke eminent domain for the proposed path of the pipeline, and a judge ruled in the company’s favor earlier this year to proceed with construction on the private property of nearly 300 landowners.

“When the pipeline feels their work is being impeded, they call the police. That’s what happened when Mary Beth Coffey and I were arrested on May 25,” said 70-year-old Jenny Chapman, who has lived on Bent Mountain in Virginia for 43 years. “We were, with full permission of our neighbors and friends, there to monitor the tree-cutting because we weren’t sure the trees were going to be cut in the right place. This property has a Native American burial mound on it, so we were there observing and hoping they wouldn’t cut into the burial mound. The police said we were too close to the work space, so we were charged.”

Rather than take the two grandmothers into the local magistrate to be booked in handcuffs, the officers on the scene gave them a citation to appear in court to face the charges. Coffey and Chapman’s trial is scheduled to begin on August 20.

Will Adams and Polly Branch were the first locals to be arrested in Franklin County, Virginia, just one day after Judge Elizabeth Dillon directed US Marshals to enforce a court order to prohibit any interference with tree-cutting.

“We were not planning on getting arrested or being contemptuous,” Adams told Truthout. They arrived at Four Corners Farm in Franklin County at 8:30 am on May 31 to monitor the tree-cutting. Currently residing in Montana, Adams grew up in the area and helped organize a festival to stop the pipeline last year in Roanoke, Virginia.

“As we were walking away, and [were] more than 100-feet away from the tree-cutting, they ran up the hill and arrested us,” Adams said. He and Branch were charged with failure to comply with an officer’s order. “There were no witnesses and we didn’t have any video. I think they took advantage of that fact.” Adams noted he was shackled at the feet and wrists, and claimed he was bound so tight that he couldn’t walk and it dug into his heel, causing it to bleed. Adams and Branch’s court date is scheduled for July 3.

On June 4, three protesters from Massachusetts took up a new form of civil disobedience to oppose the pipeline, chaining themselves to construction equipment in Monroe County, West Virginia.

“We’ve been struck by the sharp contrast between the region’s plush natural beauty and the ongoing grotesque destruction it faces,” the three protesters said in a statement. “We saw a chance to shut down work at the bore site on Route 219 and took it.”

The Mountain Valley Pipeline continues to cut trees along the pipeline route, with the most recent Federal Energy Regulatory Commission extension providing the company until July 31 to finish tree-cutting in Jefferson National Forest.

The post Meet the Activists Arrested for Opposing the Mountain Valley Pipeline appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

New York’s Suicide Prevention Program Is the First of Its Kind in the US

Sun, 07/01/2018 - 17:32

As the national debate on mental health continues after the suicides of fashion designer Kate Spade and television host and chef Anthony Bourdain earlier this month, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently announced the adoption of a cutting-edge program for those struggling with a history of suicide attempts.

Rates of death by suicide have been rising in nearly every state, according to the Centers for Disease Control, but the risk factors widely vary, from job loss to relationship stress. A host of risk factors such as depression or social isolation impact New York’s suicide rate. In New York City alone, suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds.

The Attempted Suicide Short Intervention Program, initially developed in Switzerland in 2013 at Bern University, is the first of its kind to be introduced in the United States. Made possible by a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association, the program has already found success in Finland, Sweden, and Lithuania. The initial study was promising: It reduced suicidal behavior by 80 percent and hospitalizations by 72 percent.

ASSIP involves three sessions. In the first meeting, the patient is recorded on video telling what researchers call the “narrative,” or the details of the patient’s suicide attempt and any relevant mental health history; the second involves the patient and doctor watching and discussing the recording and filling in gaps as needed; the third produces an individualized treatment plan with coping strategies. Following the last meeting, the doctor sends the patient a personalized handwritten letter every three months for a year, and one letter every six months in the second year. The letters strengthen the patient-doctor relationship and may reduce future suicide risk: In the two-year follow-up to the study, the group receiving letters made only five suicide attempts, compared to the control group, which made 41.

As one of three recipients of SAMHSA’s Zero Suicide model, New York state was awarded a $3 million grant to integrate suicide prevention in behavioral health care systems. 

Historically, behavioral health systems have been designed to treat conditions from anxiety and depression to schizophrenia but have lacked the comprehensive infrastructure to address suicide prevention. Furthermore, research has been underfunded. For example, in 2017 the federal government spent about $689 million on breast cancer research but only $35 million on suicide prevention, despite the latter exceeding the former by a few thousand more deaths a year.

Dr. Jay Carruthers, the director of the Suicide Prevention Office at the New York State Office of Mental Health, and a team of five other clinicians from the University of Rochester have already begun supervising ASSIP’s use in outpatient referrals, and will expand to hospitalized individuals as soon as possible. “Morally and financially, there’s just a lot of compelling reasons we should be looking at interventions like ASSIP to really provide additional support to individuals who have had more than one suicide attempt,” Carruthers says.

It’s the narrative-driven system that makes ASSIP unique, says Dr. Konrad Michel, who trained Carruthers and his colleagues. “When people tell their stories, there can be any number of reasons for their decision to attempt suicide. But once you listen, there’s always an explanation.” Research shows that sharing personal narratives is an important medical intervention: In a 2011 study measuring the impact of storytelling, patients with hypertension saw “substantial and significant improvements” to their health.

ASSIP has great potential for reducing repeated suicide attempts, but it’s not meant to replace the ongoing psychotherapy often necessary for those with prolonged and severe mental illness (although 54 percent of people who die by suicide do not have a known mental health condition). This makes establishing regular outpatient care—particularly with a trustworthy doctor—crucial.

Because ASSIP can reduce suicide attempts, it would theoretically also impact suicide-related expenses, like medical costs for individuals and families, lost income for families, and lost productivity for employers: Arecent study found that the average cost of one suicide was $1.3 million.

Although researchers are excited about the program’s potential, they acknowledge that the initial findings of the stand-alone study must be replicated elsewhere. And given ASSIP’s current successes in Europe, and interest in Australia and India, Michel feels “very confident” it will serve the people who need it most.

The post New York’s Suicide Prevention Program Is the First of Its Kind in the US appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Overly Bureaucratic Procedures and Long Waits Cuts Off Support to 22 Million Yemenis

Sun, 07/01/2018 - 17:12

As Yemen’s people struggle to survive amid what has been described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, the stranglehold by both government coalition forces and rebels over the country’s main ports of entry and distribution is cutting off a lifeline of support to 22 million people.

Amnesty International, in a report published on June 22 after seven months of extensive research, said that the Saudi-led government coalition are blocking the entrance of essential humanitarian aid, including food, fuel and medicines. And any distribution of this aid is slowed by Houthi rebels within the country.

“The core aspect highlighted by the report is that humanitarian aid finds it extremely difficult to reach destinations inside the country,” Riccardo Noury, communications director and spokesperson for Amnesty International in Italy, told IPS.

Aid workers described to Amnesty International the extent of delays, with one saying that it took up to two months to move supplies out of Sana’a, the country’s capital.

“The most difficult part was getting the aid out of the warehouse once it is in Yemen,” the aid worker was quoted as saying.

World’s Worst Humanitarian Crisis

Yemen’s war began after Houthi rebels took control of the country’s capital at the end of 2014, forcing the government to flee. In support of the government a coalition of states, led by Saudi Arabia, launched an offensive against the rebels. At least 10,000 Yemenis have been killed in almost three years of fighting, with the overall injured numbering 40,000.

The conflict has pushed Yemen, which was already known as the Middle East’s poorest country before 2014, to the verge of a total human, economic and social collapse.

Save the Children, an international non-governmental organisation that promotes human rights, estimates that 130 children in Yemen die every day from extreme hunger and disease.

It is estimated that three quarters of Yemen’s 27 million people are in need of assistance. A third require immediate relief to survive and more than half are food insecure – with almost 2 million children and one million pregnant or lactating women being acutely malnourished, the Amnesty International report said. About 8.4 million people face severe insecurity and are at risk of starvation, the report noted quoting figures from the World Food Programme and the United Nations Office of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA).

Overly Bureaucratic Procedures and Long Waits for Clearance

Amnesty International examined the role of the two major parties in the conflict. On the one hand there is a blockade imposed by the Saudi-led coalition on the country’s air, road and harbour ports, while and on the other hand the slow bureaucracy and corruption of Houthi rebels compromises the flow of aid within Yemen.

Last November, the Saudi-led coalition blocked all Yemen’s ports after rebels fired missiles on neighbouring Saudi Arabia. The ports where opened weeks later but only to allow humanitarian aid into the country.

“However, humanitarian aid alone is not sufficient to meet the needs of the Yemeni population, who also rely on commercial imports of essential goods such as fuel, food and medical supplies,” the Amnesty International report said. It noted the restriction on commercial imports “impacted Yemenis’ access to food and exacerbated existing food insecurity.”

Whereas prior to the blockade more than 96 percent of the country’s food requirements were being met, as of April, “food imports were half (51 percent) of the monthly national requirement.”

Exacerbating the matter is the fact that this year Yemen only received 53 percent of required aid funding. According to the Financial Tracking Service database, which tracks humanitarian aid flows in areas of crisis, in 2018 Yemen received only $1.6 billion against a request of $2.9 billion. According to UNOCHA, Saudi Arabia has donated over half a billion dollars towards this aid.

While humanitarian aid is allowed into the country, the government coalition forces are accused of forcing aid vessels to wait for coalition clearance before being allowed to proceed to anchorage. This leads “to excessive delays and unpredictability that have served to obstruct the delivery of essential goods and humanitarian aid.”

However, even when aid eventually enters Yemen, its distribution is hindered by rebel forces.

Houthi rebels have to approve authorisation of movement of aid in the country. It is meant to take, at the most, two days. But sometimes it can take up to five days because of a shortage of officials.

“However, [aid workers] complained that overly bureaucratic procedures have caused excessive delays. They gave the example of the fact that permits provided to humanitarian organisations confine authorisation for movement to the specific day, time, and geographic location that was mentioned in the application.”

The consequence is that if aid workers “are not able for some reason to proceed to the operation on that day [they] have to put a request for a new permit and wait again,” the report said.

Houthi forces have been accused of extortion and interference in the distribution of aid and of “using their influence to control the delivery of aid, to influence who receives aid, and in which areas, and which organisations deliver it.”

One aid official told Amnesty International that they were “often told by Houthi forces to hand over the aid and that they [Houthi forces] would distribute it.”

The delays by both sides is against international humanitarian law, said Noury.

“All warring parties must facilitate the rapid distribution of impartial humanitarian assistance to all civilians in need. They also must ensure freedom of movement for all humanitarian personnel,” he added.

Human Rights in Yemen

Noury expressed deep concern for the human rights situation in the country.

“First of all, you have all this situation linked to violations of international humanitarian law, that deals with the conflict itself. This is a very dirty conflict, in which warring parties have used arms that are forbidden by international law, such as cluster bombs. Then, you have the countless attacks against civilians that were committed by the Saudi-led coalition, and then, obviously the issue of humanitarian aid flows,” he said.

Noury stated his concern over the freedom of expression in Yemen as activists from local NGO, Mwatana for Human Rights, are being arrested by both Houthi rebels or Saudi forces as they attempt to impartially report on crimes perpetrated by both warring parties.

Amnesty International have called for the UN to “impose targeted sanctions against those responsible for obstructing humanitarian assistance and for committing other violations of international humanitarian law.”

It’s called on the government coalition forces and rebel forces to end delays and allow prompt delivery of aid and the allowance of commercial flights into the country.

Additional reporting by Nalisha Adams

The post Overly Bureaucratic Procedures and Long Waits Cuts Off Support to 22 Million Yemenis appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

How Far Can the Left Go in the Democratic Party?

Sun, 07/01/2018 - 16:06

No one predicted the stunning victory of a 28-year-old Latina socialist in a New York City primary election for Congress on Tuesday.

But in retrospect, this political bombshell is a sign of the times — especially the deep desire for an alternative to the meek and compromised Democratic Party leadership that usually goes unanswered.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won the primary vote against Joe Crowley, a 10-term member of the House of Representatives, where 97 percent of incumbents running for re-election won in 2016. The last time Crowley faced any primary opponent at all, Ocasio-Cortez was 13 years old.

Not only that, but Crowley is the fourth-most powerful Democrat in the House and was thought to be a possible future House Speaker. He had plenty of money: According to Politico, Crowley spent $1.1 million on his primary campaign between the beginning of April and June 6. Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign spent $128,140 in the same period.

One of the top national leaders of the Democratic Party was beaten decisively by a card-carrying member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).

Ocasio-Cortez sounded the Bernie Sanders-inspired themes like Medicare for All that some liberal Democrats, even presidential hopefuls, have adopted. But she went further, calling, for example, for the abolition of ICE — in pointed contrast to Sanders’ feeble refusal to do so.

The New York Times seemed astonished to point out in its post-election analysis that “[d]ays before the election, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez had unexpectedly left New York entirely to travel to Texas to protest the ongoing separation of children from their parents who crossed the border illegally.”

And it wasn’t even close: Ocasio-Cortez won by a 15 percentage point margin.

Even more revealing is the fact that Crowley — the powerful “Queens County Democratic Party boss,” as the media continuously referred to him on Wednesday — managed fewer than 12,000 votes in a congressional district with a population of 712,053 as of 2010. That’s a sign of the hollowness of the political status quo that also drove support for Ocasio-Cortez.

* * *

Ocasio-Cortez wasn’t the only progressive figure to triumph on Tuesday or in primaries earlier this year. For example, Ben Jealous, the former NAACP president, won the Democratic primary for the Maryland governor’s race with an anti-Trump message that went against the grain of the party establishment.

But Ocasio-Cortez’s victory rightly captured attention because of its historical significance. In a district where Republicans have no real chance in November, she is almost certain to break some barriers: the youngest woman elected to the House; one of the first young Latinas; the first member of a socialist organization in generations.

Beyond that, her success runs counter to the media’s conventional wisdom about this election cycle: that liberals and radicals inspired by Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential primary campaign may have energized the Democratic Party, but they aren’t winning elections.

There’s some truth to this. Before Tuesday, of 80 candidates endorsed by Sanders’ Our Revolution organization, fewer than half had won their primary contests. The party apparatus has been successful in a number of smear campaigns against progressive primary challengers.

Ocasio-Cortez’s left-wing campaign cut through that. In a campaign video that went viral on the internet, with more than half a million views, she said: “It’s time we acknowledge that not all Democrats are the same. That a Democrat who takes corporate money, profits off foreclosure, doesn’t live here, doesn’t send his kids to our schools, doesn’t drink our water or breathe our air cannot possibly represent us.”

Her victory reasserts the lesson of the 2016 election: that millions of people who loyally vote Democratic want an alternative to the conventional candidates they reluctantly cast a ballot for every two or four years.

Ocasio-Cortez has been especially effective in countering narratives that pit race against class. “I can’t name a single issue with roots in race that doesn’t have economic implications, and I cannot think of a single economic issue that doesn’t have racial implications,” she said. “The idea that we have to separate them out and choose one is a con.”

Don’t expect the Democratic honchoes who take the corporate money and all the rest to be convinced of any of this, of course.

They may have to accept that one of their favorites got taken down by a socialist upstart, but they won’t make it easy for Ocasio-Cortez to use a seat in Congress and prominence in the party to project a left-wing message that runs counter to what they stand for.

Thus, Ocasio-Cortez’s victory is significant for everyone on the left, including those, like us at Socialist Worker, who stand for an independent alternative outside the Democrats.

Her victory should inspire anyone who doesn’t buy the party line that a radical message will alienate people, rather than unite and galvanize them. Ocasio-Cortez proved that left-wing politics are a source of strength, not weakness.

And she showed that left-wing politics shouldn’t be limited to appealing for votes, but should embrace protest and activism outside the polling booths — as far outside them, in fact, as the detention facilities along the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas are from the 14th congressional district’s precincts in the Bronx and Queens.

* * *

But as significant as this victory is, the odds are still stacked against those, like Ocasio-Cortez, who hope to transform the Democratic Party — because the party establishment is dead set against being transformed. A case in point has been playing out this month.

After the 2016 election, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) established a “Unity Reform Commission” to supposedly heal the differences between Hillary Clinton supporters and Sanders supporters. But the DNC’s definition of “unity” is something out of George Orwell.

At its meeting in Providence, Rhode Island, in June, the commission wasn’t much interested in addressing the concerns of Sanders supporters, like the unfair superdelegate system. It was interested in drafting new rules to keep someone like Sanders from running.

According to a new requirement passed in Providence, candidates who would like to run in Democratic presidential primaries “shall affirm, in writing, to the National Chairperson of the Democratic National Committee that they: A) are a member of the Democratic Party; B) will accept the Democratic nomination; and C) will run and serve as a member of the Democratic Party.”

In other words, self-identified “democratic socialists” need not apply.

Maria Cardona, a veteran party strategist who worked for Clinton in 2016, explained that this was really all about “unity”: “It was done to ensure that the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party is actually a Democrat. The entire committee backed this. It was unanimous.”

So it turns out the “unity” commission did find unity — in opposition to interlopers trying to bring non-corporate-approved ideas into the party.

The DNC commission was so united that when a Sanders supporter turned up to observe the meeting, they accused her of being a spy…for the Russian government.

Selina Vickers, who traveled to Providence to attend the meeting on her own dime, told the Washington Post why she was there:

I was so frustrated with the superdelegate issue after the convention. Being able to go to the meetings and live-streaming them for others who can’t attend and talking to members about my concerns gives me a way to do something, rather than be at home, disconnected and powerless…I feel that my presence has a positive effect.

But DNC member Bob Mulholland had some less-than-positive feelings about Vickers’ presence in Providence: He accused her of working for a foreign government, like Russia.

* * *

Party leaders may have nice things to say about Ocasio-Cortez today, but their actions speak louder than words.

The party establishment tolerates left-wing outsiders — to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the circumstances — but it will do anything to maintain its iron grip on the party apparatus. This means making up the rules as they go along, and breaking them whenever it’s convenient.

Don’t forget the dirty tricks carried out against Sanders by Clinton allies in the supposedly neutral DNC. Or the tens of millions of dollars funneled to Clinton’s campaign through state parties, as the Las Vegas Review-Journal recently reported.

Sanders was a victim of the party machine during the primaries, but after Clinton won the nomination, he was one of the loudest voices calling for his supporters to quell their concerns and criticisms, and get behind a neoliberal, pro-corporate candidate they despised.

He has continued to call for progressives to work within the party to transform it, but his own actions this year have disappointed supporters.

There are reports of turmoil within Our Revolution itself, and local organizers say they are frustrated that the national organization has made decisions about what candidates to endorse without consulting them.

As for Sanders, he angered supporters with his refusal to the join the calls — popularized by people like Ocasio-Cortez, who he endorsed — to abolish ICE.

And in New York, where Cynthia Nixon is running for the party nomination for governor against incumbent and establishment mainstay Andrew Cuomo, Nixon has the endorsement of Our Revolution — but Sanders has failed to formally endorse the self-identified progressive challenger.

* * *

The discussion about Ocasio-Cortez — what led to her victory, what it says about the Democratic Party, whether the party can be a vehicle for DSA members like her, how much they can accomplish toward their socialist goals — should continue on the left. There is much more to be said.

One thing is certain: The reaction of the Democratic establishment may be mostly respectful now, but it won’t stay that way.

Party leaders are investing everything in a strategy of running to the center for the 2018 elections. Thanks to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s strategy of recruiting candidates that stand well to the right of most base voters, Ocasio-Cortez will be a radical exception — by a long ways — among 2018 Democratic House candidates.

There will be a lot of pressure put on Ocasio-Cortez to shift her message — and especially to blunt her criticisms of other Democrats, all in the name of “stopping the Republicans.”

The same tired arguments about not driving away swing voters or giving Republicans an opening will be the justification, and Democratic operatives have shown no shame about going after anyone who rocks the boat.

Ocasio-Cortez has given no indication that she will be intimidated or fall into line.

Her response to an overconfident Crowley — when he demanded to know during one debate whether she would endorse him in the general election — was a declaration of very different loyalties: Ocasio-Cortez told Crowley that she was accountable to social movements…and would have to get back to him with their decision.

The Democrats won’t let that be the end of the matter, of course. Especially after November, if she wins, the party leadership will have a lot of means to keep her lonely among fellow House Democrats, unable to project, or find allies for, her proposals. In the best of circumstances, she will be one person up against a big machine.

As Sanders himself acknowledged recently: “There is not a lot of love, frankly, for either the Democratic or Republican Party and many people are discouraged with both. They’re turning away from both.

“So I think it is not a bad idea to have somebody who says, ‘I understand that. I am an independent…I have had to run against Democrats. But I want you, as independents, to come into the Democratic primaries and transform the Democratic Party.’”

This is the call that Ocasio-Cortez answered with her campaign against Crowley, and her victory is a testament to the appeal of a left political alternative that speaks to the concerns of working-class America, not the demands of corporate sponsors.

People organizing in struggle to confront the ICE terror machine, the Supreme Court’s assault on civil liberties and public-sector unions, and the misery and violence of a system run in the interests of profit and power will hopefully feel greater confidence in working toward that alternative.

But the left must, at the same time, examine whether Sanders’ promise of transforming the Democratic Party is a way forward — and if not, how we can build an independent force inspired by the kind of socialist ideals that Ocasio-Cortez expressed.

The post How Far Can the Left Go in the Democratic Party? appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Immigrant Toddlers Ordered to Appear in Court Alone

Sun, 07/01/2018 - 15:40

As the White House faces court orders to reunite families separated at the border, immigrant children as young as 3 are being ordered into court for their own deportation proceedings, according to attorneys in Texas, California and Washington, D.C.

Requiring unaccompanied minors to go through deportation alone is not a new practice. But in the wake of the Trump administration’s controversial family separation policy, more young children — including toddlers — are being affected than in the past.

The 2,000-plus children will likely need to deal with court proceedings even as they grapple with the ongoing trauma of being taken from their parents.

“We were representing a 3-year-old in court recently who had been separated from the parents. And the child — in the middle of the hearing — started climbing up on the table,” said Lindsay Toczylowski, executive director of Immigrant Defenders Law Center in Los Angeles. “It really highlighted the absurdity of what we’re doing with these kids.”

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which oversees the deportations of unauthorized immigrants, did not respond to a request for comment.

Toczylowski said parents typically have been tried along with young children and have explained the often-violent circumstances that led them to seek asylum in the U.S.

The children being detained under the new “zero tolerance” policy, though, are facing immigration proceedings without mom or dad by their side.

“The parent might be the only one who knows why they fled from the home country, and the child is in a disadvantageous position to defend themselves,” Toczylowski said.

Meanwhile, the broader legal situation is in flux. A federal judge Tuesday night commanded the White House to reunify families within 14 days if the child is under 5 and 30 days if the child is older. The Justice Department has not indicated whether it will appeal. Attorneys who are involved in the cases said it’s unclear how the judge’s order will work in practice, and when and how it could take effect.

“We don’t know how the judge’s order is going to play out with reunification of children. What if parents have already been deported?” said Cynthia Milian, a Texas-based attorney at the Powers Law Group.

In the interim, she added, the implications for kids remain an urgent concern.

Given the trauma the children faced in their home country that spurred their families to flee and the pain of being separated from a parent, the expectation that children can mount a legal defense is “unconscionable,” said Dr. Benard Dreyer, director of the division of developmental-behavioral pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine.

“It’s certainly grossly inappropriate,” said Dreyer, who is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics advocacy committee. “I’m ashamed that we’re doing this.”

Leaders at three legal services organizations and a private firm confirmed that the children are being served with notices to appear in court. They are not entitled to an attorney but rather are given a list of legal services organizations that might help them.

Steve Lee, a UCLA child psychology professor, said expecting the children to advocate for themselves in court is an “incredibly misaligned expectation.”

“That couldn’t be any less developmentally appropriate,” he said, adding that some children may not be mature enough to verbalize a response.

More than 2,000 children who were separated from their parents at the border have been dispatched to the far corners of the nation to care facilities and foster homes.

Officials with the Department of Health and Human Services emphasized Tuesday that the agency is working to unify children with either a parent or a sponsor. But it did not provide a timeline for how long that would take.

“We are working across agencies for reunification of each child with [a] parent or family as soon as that is practical,” Jonathan White, HHS’ assistant secretary for preparedness and response, said in a media call.

HHS representatives said children in facilities run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement receive adequate care, including medical and mental health services, and at least two phone calls per week with family.

Yet children who are just arriving at care facilities are still not connected with their families, said Megan McKenna, a spokeswoman for Kids in Need of Defense. She said the children arrive at care facilities without a parent’s tracking number, and parents don’t tend to have their kids’ numbers.

After kids arrive in care facilities, HHS officials work on finding a “sponsor” to care for the child, such as a parent, guardian, family member or family friend. Historically, unaccompanied minors — who tended to be teens — found a sponsor in about a month and a half.

However, Rachel Prandini, a staff attorney with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, said finding a sponsor is more difficult now given recent fears that stepping forward to accept a child could trigger a sponsor’s deportation.

In April, HHS entered into an agreement with law enforcement officials that requires sponsors and adult family members to submit fingerprints and be subject to a thorough immigration and criminal background check.

HHS officials said the process is meant to protect the child.

Immigration lawyers from around the country have been flying into Texas to help represent children and families, said George Tzamaras, a spokesman for the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

It’s impossible to know how many children have begun deportation proceedings, Tzamaras said. “There have been reports of kids younger than 3 years old and others as old as 17.”

Ashley Tabaddor, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges and a jurist in Los Angeles, said that unaccompanied minor cases are heard on a special docket there. She said the judges who take the cases were trained during the last administration on children’s developmental stages, impulse control and making sure the proceedings are understandable to children.

She said in a statement that the court’s work is vital: “This is not traffic court. A mistake on an asylum case can result in jail, torture or a death sentence,” Tabaddor said. “We are a nation of laws. We value fairness, justice and transparency.”

She said children seeking asylum tend to make their case in a non-adversarial office setting with a hearing officer.

But that isn’t always the case, Prandini said. Lawyers might choose a strategy that requires more time in the courtroom.

“It’s difficult for adults at times. They go to court and they get nervous before a judge,” Milian said. “Now can you imagine a child having to go before a judge and just explain to them why they’re having to flee their country?”

Toczylowski said her organization is trying to help reunify the families so the children can be tried alongside the parents.

“The kids don’t understand the intricacies that are involved with deportation and immigration court,” she said. “They do understand that they have been separated from their parents, and the primary goal is to get back with people they love.”

KHN’s coverage of children’s health care issues is supported in part by the Heising-Simons Foundation.

The post Immigrant Toddlers Ordered to Appear in Court Alone appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Failed Economic Policies Drive Families to Seek Asylum at the Border

Sun, 07/01/2018 - 15:17

As a Mexican American and a father of two young children I am horrified to see the cruelty being inflicted on thousands of families that haven’t been as lucky as mine and have been separated at the US-Mexico border.

Feeling the heat from all sides, the president has reversed his separation policy and signed an executive order to keep families together.

But don’t be fooled. The administration’s immigration policy remains just as hateful — and hate-filled.

Families seeking asylum will still be detained and we still need to see how long it will take for families to reunite. But we also need to stop the creation of policies that steals people’s livelihoods — whether in Michigan or Michoacan, Mexico or Morazán in El Salvador.

These families are less lucky than mine, because I chose to migrate to the United States. Most of these families trying to cross by land do so because they have no choice. They have been forced to migrate from Mexico or Honduras or Guatemala or El Salvador or other countries.

These families have not chosen to come here because they like the USA lifestyle better than their own. These are families whose livelihoods have been destroyed by decades of failed economic policies led by the United States and the local elites of those countries, making their home countries dangerous and unlivable.

It is very unfortunate that rarely 2 & 2 are put together in the debates about migration. First, the US government created the conditions that lead to displacement and then it punishes those same families that have been displaced. Unfettered free trade agreements, along with privatization of public services, are at the center of the issue.

Today’s immigration crisis started 24 years ago with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which lowered Mexican tarrifs on agricultural imports, leading to a flood of cheap U.S. corn and other basic food staples into the Mexican economy that forced millions of small Mexican farmers out of the market.

Those farmers and their families had no choice but to migrate. This was the first big wave of migration from Mexico.

Then the same failed policies of destroying national small-scale production in favor of large corporate-led agricultural-exporting schemes were applied to Central American countries with the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) in 2006.

Failed economic policies have also plunged Mexico and Central America into dependence on extractive industries, like mining projects that push people off their lands.

Now those families fleeing deteroriating conditions and major new threats to the environment are being maliciously detained instead of being taking as refugees.

What we are seeing today at the border is the very small tip of an enormous iceberg that has been there beneath the surface for more than three decades.

We need to reunite the families immediately. But we also need trade agreements that put an end to the destructive race to the bottom and increase living standards of workers in the US, Mexico, Central America and throughout the world.

The governments of the United States, Mexico, and Central American countries need to confront the root causes of migration and allow migrants the basic rights afforded to them by international laws.

The post Failed Economic Policies Drive Families to Seek Asylum at the Border appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Puerto Ricans Battle Disaster Capitalism to Achieve Self-Determination

Sun, 07/01/2018 - 14:47

In 2007, Naomi Klein challenged the neoliberal notion of competitive economic growth in her book Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. In that book, she documents the economic forces that take advantage of catastrophes to institute corporate economies with the most minimal of regulations. “Disaster capitalism” is premised on radical laissez-faire goals that are essentially two-fold: 1) to achieve corporate privatization and windfall profits; and 2) to diminish the public commons and social safety nets through austerity.

Puerto Rico has always had a colonial relationship with the United States, since when it was acquired by the US as a territory in the Spanish-American War of 1898. However, in 1950, it became a commonwealth and since then it has been teetering between a colony, a state and independence, as far as holding plebiscites. Nonetheless, its relationship to the US remains essentially colonial in terms of its limited political power and its economic dependence on Congress, as well as US economic pressure and manipulation.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in the fall of 2017, the financial vultures moved in in full force. They are nicknamed “Puertopians” by Klein. Their goal, she explains in her new book, The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Rico Takes on the Disaster Capitalists, is to create a utopia for the super-rich at the expense of the island’s residents. “Rather than transforming [the] infrastructure so that it truly serves the public interest,” Klein writes, “they argue for selling it off at fire-sale prices.” As in other examples of disaster capitalism, the economic libertarian wants to squash a system “in which the wealth of the island is carefully managed by its people.”

The book consists of essays from The Intercept on Klein’s post-Maria travels to Puerto Rico. Hurricane Maria left a catastrophe as it lashed through Puerto Rico, but it also left the island as a target for the vulture capitalists. Invited to the island by a group dedicated to creating a sustainable society, Klein found the sides were drawn: the for-profit centralized exploiters vs. the advocates for a decentralized sustainable economy. She discovered a strong “desire for people to exercise collective sovereignty over their land, energy, food and water.” Aligned against that populist economic notion are forces determined to consolidate the economy in favor of the rich.

The Financial Oversight and Management Board was created by Congress in 2016 to oversee the reduction of more than $70 billion worth of debt in Puerto Rico. It consists of seven people with presidential appointments, but only one of them lives in Puerto Rico. The board has authority that supersedes the Puerto Rican State House, particularly on economic affairs and debt repayments. It has gained increased power to favor Wall Street, hedge funds and the super wealthy, and to impose austerity measures on the populace. Klein points out that those who live on the island do not have any representation in Congress and cannot vote for president unless they live on the mainland. The economic decisions are being made as they would be in a colonial relationship.

Unlike a state, Puerto Rico cannot declare bankruptcy. Instead, Congress and the Financial Oversight and Management Board treat the island like an experiment in Ayn Randian economics. The wealthy and corporations get huge tax breaks, plus vulture capitalism and privatization opportunities. The 3.5 million people of Puerto Rico get austerity.

When a disaster causes massive loss and upheaval, it creates new opportunities for vultures. In this case, it involves the status of the Puerto Rican water system post-Maria:

Previous attempts by Wall Street financiers and government officials to privatize Puerto Rico’s water system have produced “disastrous results,” but private equity vultures are exploiting the death and destruction caused by Hurricane Maria to plow ahead with yet another privatization effort — one that environmentalists warn could further imperil the island’s public water infrastructure.

“While the water system urgently needs repairs and upgrades following the destructive Hurricane Maria, privatization is not the answer,” declared Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter on Tuesday after Puerto Rico’s Public-Private Partnerships Authority officially kicked off the process of partially privatizing the Puerto Rico Aqueducts and Sewers Authority (PRASA), a government-owned entity responsible for water quality and management.

“Responsible, public control of the system is the best way to ensure that every person on the island has access to safe and affordable water and that PRASA operates in the service of the people, not in the service of profits,” Hauter added. “With the privatization of Puerto Rico’s water authority, we expect Wall Street profiteers and corporate water operators will seek to extract wealth without addressing the long-standing issues with the commonwealth’s water system.”

This, in essence, represents the onslaught of predators Puerto Rico faces on a number of fronts. The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), which is $9 billion in debt, is a prime target for privatization. Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, who is friendly with the powers in Washington, DC, and Wall Street, supports making the privatization move.

For those stalwarts promoting renewable energy, this presents a formidable obstacle, as Klein comments: “After all, private companies from Nevada to Florida have successfully pressured their state governments to put up roadblocks to renewables, since a market in which your customers are also your competitors (able to generate their own power and sell it back to the grid) is distinctly less profitable. Rosselló’s fiscal plan already floats the idea of a new tax that would penalize communities that set up their own renewable micro-grids.”

Installation of local solar energy offers an example of creating self-sufficiency on an island of abundant sun, symbolized by the work of a nearly 40-year-old organization, Casa Pueblo. Meanwhile, Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica de Puerto Rico “is a 28-year-old grassroots organization that works and promotes agroecology within the food sovereignty struggle.” It is focused on the work of creating a largely self-sustaining Puerto Rico, Klein details. In her excursions, she found other people and groups working to create an island that is sustainable from the bottom-up. In fact, during her stay in Puerto Rico, she was part of a gathering that formed the JuntaGente network to unite the various groups battling for a Puerto Rico that can decide its own destiny.

Even Klein, however, qualifies that “the trouble is that movements, unlike capital, tend to move slowly.” She also notes, “The tremendous impact of the storm has disassembled life for millions of people, making the reconstruction of the pre-storm, anti-austerity coalition a herculean challenge.” Klein is inspired, nonetheless, that in Puerto Rico, they “are not beginning to build this movement for self-determination” from scratch.

The harm done to Puerto Rico before and after Hurricane Maria has a long history, as Klein observes: “Colonialism itself is a social experiment, a multilayered system of explicit and implicit controls designed to strip colonized peoples of their culture, confidence, and power. With tools ranging from the brute military and police aggression used to put down strikes and rebellions, to a law that once banned the Puerto Rican flag, to the dictates handed down today by the unelected fiscal control board, residents … have been living under that web of control for centuries [including the years as a colony of Spain].”

Certainly, Donald Trump’s minimal assistance to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, as compared to his aid to communities hit by recent hurricanes on the mainland, embodies this colonial attitude. His contempt for the crushing needs of the island and whirlwind visit to San Juan in which he tossed out paper towels further emphasized his disdain — and racism.

There is a high-stakes conflict at play, Klein writes,

The Puertopians dream of a radical withdrawal into their privatized enclaves. [JuntaGente and its supporters] dream of a society with far deeper commitments and engagements — with each other, within communities, and with the natural systems whose health is a prerequisite for any kind of safe future …

For now, these diametrically opposed versions of utopia are advancing in their own parallel worlds, at their own speeds — one on the back of shocks, the other in spite of them.

Klein was clearly captivated by the long-term commitment and passion of Puerto Ricans who want to regain control over the island’s destiny. However, a vast powerful array of predators specializing in disaster capitalism are assembled against them.

Will the islanders defeat the odds of the “shock doctrine”?

The post Puerto Ricans Battle Disaster Capitalism to Achieve Self-Determination appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Tucson Skirts International Law in Refusing to Reinstate Mexican American Studies

Sun, 07/01/2018 - 14:38

The Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) school board recently defended its decision to not re-implement the highly successful Mexican American Studies (MAS) program after Arizona’s 2010 HB 2281 legislation essentially banned the subject from the district’s schools.

The majority of the board contends that the district’s new “Culturally Relevant Curriculum” (CRC), introduced after 2012, is essentially the same as the terminated Mexican American Studies curriculum.

Their argument, however, neglects the fact that A.Wallace Tashima, a US federal judge for the District of Arizona, found HB 2281 unconstitutional in 2017, ruling the legislation was motivated by racial animus when then-Gov. Jan Brewer signed it into law eight years ago. It also neglects the fact that State Superintendent Diane Douglas said that the state would abide by the decision. Despite this, TUSD officials still refuse to reintroduce Mexican American Studies.

As to the difference between programs, Tucson’s “Culturally Relevant Curriculum” was bureaucratically concocted, designed to avoid the penalties of HB 2281, whereas MAS is, in fact, its own discipline. Mexican American Studies is some 50 years old, and very much rooted in its community as a product of a civil, human and educational rights movement going back to the 1960s. That’s not to say that CRC is bad. Quite the contrary; it is very good, primarily because many of the former MAS educators are part of it. However, that is not what was fought for between 2006 and 2017.

Apparently, no one has been able to tell the board the difference between the two programs and explain the importance of Mexican American Studies to a community. Perhaps the answer can be found in Texas, where the School Board of Education unilaterally decided recently to change the name of “Mexican American Studies” to “Ethnic Studies: An Overview of Americans of Mexican Descent.”

However, following outcry by students, advocates and educators, the Texas board elected to rename the course “Ethnic Studies: Mexican American Studies.” The board acknowledged the importance of aligning the approved class with the MAS discipline that already exists at the university level.

Beyond the court victory and the Texas precedent, when we look at the numerous international treaties and conventions that affirm the right of Indigenous peoples to their own culture, history, identity, language and education, we can clearly see that peoples are not the property of nations. They have a right to self-identify, and not become culturally obscured.

This is a crucial part of the ethnic studies struggle in Arizona. The state objected to Mexican American Studies because it was teaching subjects that did not derive from Greco-Roman culture, and was purportedly outside of Western civilization. The response by the program’s supporters is that teaching Indigenous Maya-Nahua concepts is very much a part of the history of this continent, and relevant to Mexican American students in Arizona, many of whom are part of that thousands of years old maíz culture and who also have roots in the Sonoran Desert.

Liliana Patricia Saldaña, a professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, is part of the Texas ethnic studies struggle. “[It] sounds like Tucson is trying to make MAS irrelevant, whereas the program that was banned was rooted in Indigenous and decolonial epistemologies,” she said, adding that while some programs can be relevant, they can still, ultimately, be assimilationist. This has always been the prevalent aspect “in the culture of US schooling,” and not necessarily the goal of impacted communities.

Saldaña is spot on in taking the exact opposite position as that of the board, who appear not to be familiar with the discipline, the 2017 court decision, or international law. A careful reading of international law finds that HB 2281 was in violation of the following international treaties, conventions and declarations:

  • The 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights
  • The 1948 American Declaration of the Rights of Man
  • The 1960 Convention Against Discrimination in Education
  • The 1966 and 1976 International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights
  • The 1969 Organization of American States’ American Convention on Human Rights
  • The 1989 UN Convention on Rights of the Child
  • The 1990 International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families
  • The 1994 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
  • The 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

These treaties, conventions and declarations all affirm the right of all peoples to an education, and specifically, the right not to become culturally erased.

For instance, the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights, Article 26, Section 3, affirms that “parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.”

And from the 2007 UNDRIP, which the Tucson students invoked:

  • Article 8: Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture.
  • Article 13: Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons.

The attempt to prohibit the teaching of Mexican American Studies, and even changing its name, is nothing short of cultural genocide – which can also be categorized as forced assimilation.

To disregard a major court decision speaks volumes by a school board that operates as if Tucson were part of an apartheid state even though many of its students are Mexican American. Worse, to unilaterally decide to impose a program, or to change its name, is in complete violation of the spirit of said treaties, conventions and declarations, and completely immoral because it is contrary to the 2017 court decision against the state.

The post Tucson Skirts International Law in Refusing to Reinstate Mexican American Studies appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

In Upholding Muslim Ban, the Supreme Court Ignored International Law

Sun, 07/01/2018 - 14:25

The Supreme Court’s opinion in Trump v. Hawaii, affirming Donald Trump’s Muslim ban, allows the United States to act in flagrant violation of international law.

Under the guise of deferring to the president on matters of national security, the 5-4 majority disregarded a litany of Trump’s anti-Muslim statements and held that the ban does not violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which forbids the government from preferring one religion over another. Neither the majority nor the dissenting opinions even mentions the US’s legal obligations under international human rights law.

The travel ban violates two treaties to which the United States is a party: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. It also runs afoul of customary international law.

Both of these treaties and customary international law prohibit the government from discriminating on the basis of religion or national origin. Trump’s Muslim ban does both.

Trump v. Hawaii “signals strongly that international law in general, and international human rights law in particular, no longer binds the United States in federal courts,” Aaron Fellmeth, professor at Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, wrote in an email. “Fortunately, it does not squarely hold that, but the effect may prove to be the same. For now, the Supreme Court appears determined to be complicit in U.S. human rights violations and cannot be relied upon as a check on the Executive Branch.”

The case that the Supreme Court ruled on this week involved the legality of Trump’s third travel ban. Issued by Trump in a “Proclamation” on September 24, 2017, the third iteration of the ban restricts travel by most citizens of Libya, Syria, Iran, Yemen, Chad, Somalia and North Korea. The ban forbids everyone from Syria and North Korea from obtaining visas. Nationals from the other six countries have to undergo additional security checks. Iranian students are exempted from the ban. The ban also forbids Venezuelan government officials and their families from traveling to the US.

More than 150 million people, roughly 95 percent of them Muslim, are affected by the ban.

Two prior iterations of the ban restricted travel of citizens from only Muslim-majority countries. After federal courts struck them down, Trump cosmetically added Venezuela and North Korea to avoid charges of religious discrimination.

As Justice Sonya Sotomayor, joined by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, wrote in her dissent, “it is of no moment” that Trump included “minor restrictions” on North Korea and Venezuela – two non-Muslim-majority countries. Travel by North Korean nationals was already restricted and the ban only bars travel by Venezuelan officials and their families.

Court Did Not Address International Law Claims

All of the justices on the Supreme Court ignored significant international law arguments in their majority and dissenting opinions in spite of an amicus brief signed by 81 international law scholars, including this writer, and a dozen non-governmental organizations. The amicus brief drew attention to the travel ban’s violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, both of which the United States has ratified.

Ratification of a treaty not only makes the United States a party to that treaty, its provisions also become part of US domestic law under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, which says treaties “shall be the supreme law of the land.”

Customary international law arises from the general and consistent practice of states. It is part of federal common law and must be enforced in US courts, whether or not its provisions are enshrined in a ratified treaty. Courts have a duty to rein in federal executive action which conflicts with a ratified treaty.

In Trump v. Hawaii, the high court concluded that the ban did not violate the Immigration and Nationality Act. We argued in our amicus brief:

The Immigration and Nationality Act and other statutes must be read in harmony with these international legal obligations pursuant to the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution and long established principles of statutory construction requiring acts of Congress to be interpreted in a manner consistent with international law, whenever such a construction is reasonably possible.

But the Court did not construe the legality of the travel ban in light of US treaty obligations and customary international law.

The primary thrust of the ban is to prohibit Muslims from entering the United States and thus constitutes religious discrimination. By singling out specific countries for exclusion, the ban also makes a prohibited distinction on the basis of national origin.

Muslim Ban Violates International Covenant

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights prohibits distinctions based on religion or national origin, which have “the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by all persons, on an equal footing of human rights and fundamental freedoms,” the United Nation Human Rights Committee, which monitors compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, has said.

Although the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights does not generally “recognize a right of aliens to enter or reside in the territory of a State party …  in certain circumstances an alien may enjoy the protection of the Covenant even in relation to entry or residence, for example, when considerations of non-discrimination, prohibition of inhuman treatment and respect for family life arise,” the Human Rights Committee opined.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights prohibits discrimination against the family. “The family is the natural and fundamental group of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.” Immigrants and refugees flee their countries of origin and come to the United States to reunify with their families. The covenant protects them against discrimination based on religion or national origin. They need not be physically present in the United States to enjoy these protections.

The non-discrimination provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights also constitute customary international law. In 1948, the United States approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is part of customary international law. The declaration forbids discrimination based on religion or national origin, guarantees equal protection of the law, and shields family life against arbitrary interference.

Ban Violates Convention Against Discrimination

The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination also prohibits discrimination based on religion or national origin and doesn’t confine its non-discrimination provisions to citizens or resident noncitizens. While the convention “does not speak specifically to restrictions on entry of nonresident aliens,” our amicus brief states, “the general language of [the Convention Against Racial Discrimination] expresses a clear intention to eliminate discrimination based on race or national origin from all areas of government activity.”

States parties to the convention “shall not permit public authorities or public institutions, national or local, to promote or incite racial discrimination.” Parties are required to outlaw speech that stigmatizes or stereotypes noncitizens, immigrants, refugees and people seeking asylum.

Evidence of the Discriminatory Nature of the Travel Ban

Even though the Supreme Court majority held that the ban did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, much evidence exists to the contrary.

The Establishment Clause says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” That means “one religious denomination cannot be officially preferred over another,” according to Supreme Court case law.

After quoting a few of Trump’s anti-Muslim statements, Roberts noted, “the issue before us is not whether to denounce the statements” but rather “the significance of those statements in reviewing a Presidential directive, neutral on its face, addressing a matter within the core of executive responsibility.” Roberts added, “we must consider not only the statements of a particular President, but also the authority of the Presidency itself.”

Roberts wrote that the Court could consider the president’s statements “but will uphold the policy so long as it can reasonably be understood to result from a justification independent of unconstitutional grounds.” Courts must give great deference to the president in immigration matters and will uphold his policy if it has any legitimate purpose, Roberts noted. “The entry suspension has a legitimate grounding in national security concerns, quite apart from any religious hostility.” The text doesn’t specifically mention religion, so Roberts wrote it was “neutral on its face.”

Sotomayor spent seven of the 28 pages of her dissent listing more than a dozen statements by Trump denigrating Muslims. She cited the policy’s initial purpose as a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” in Trump’s words. But that policy “now masquerades behind a façade of national security concerns,” Sotomayor wrote.

She quoted a Trump adviser who said, “When [Donald Trump] first announced it, he said, ‘Muslim ban.’” Sotomayor also listed Trump’s declarations that “Islam hates us,” “we’re having problems with Muslims coming into the country,” and “Muslims do not respect us at all.”

Trump said President Franklin D. Roosevelt “did the same thing” with his internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, Sotomayor noted. Trump told a story about General John J. Pershing killing a large group of Muslim insurgents in the Philippines with bullets dipped in pig’s blood. When he issued his first ban, Trump explained that Christians would be given preference for entry as refugees into the United States. He also retweeted three anti-Muslim videos.

“Taking all the relevant evidence together,” Sotomayor wrote, “a reasonable observer would conclude that the Proclamation was driven primarily by anti-Muslim animus, rather than by the Government’s asserted national security justifications.” The Proclamation, she added, “is nothing more than a ‘religious gerrymander.'”

Looking Ahead

There is hope that the most abhorrent effects of this case can be mitigated. Yale law professor Harold Hongju Koh wrote on Scotusblog that transnational actors — including nation-states, international organizations, non-governmental organizations, multinational enterprises and private individuals — will invariably file litigation in international fora based on international law to lessen the impact of the ruling in Trump v. Hawaii:

[A]s they have done against other Trump policies, other transnational actors will invoke what I have called “transnational legal process” to contest and limit the impact of the court’s ruling. As they did after losing the Haitian interdiction case at the Supreme Court 25 years ago, litigants will surely seek out international fora to make arguments against the travel ban based on international law.

The Constitution’s Take Care Clause requires the president to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” Trump has a constitutional duty to comply with US legal obligations under both treaty and customary international law.

By enacting a travel ban aimed at excluding from the United States people from six Muslim-majority countries, Trump has violated both the Constitution and international law.

The post In Upholding Muslim Ban, the Supreme Court Ignored International Law appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Planned Parenthood’s Union Busting Could Have a Chilling Effect for Workers Everywhere

Sat, 06/30/2018 - 15:44

When Ashley Brink accepted a job at Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains (PPRM) in April 2016, she knew it would mean taking a $3 an hour pay cut. It also entailed relocating from Wichita, Kansas, among the cheapest U.S. cities to live in, to Denver, one of the most expensive. 

But Brink was passionate about Planned Parenthood’s mission. In 2013, she’d helped reopen Wichita’s sole abortion clinic, closed four years earlier following the murder of its doctor, George Tiller. After three years of working as the funding and patient coordinator for the small clinic—a job she says included everything from checking in patients to helping them secure funding to travel to Wichita for abortions—she was “ready for a new adventure” with an organization she admired.

As a traveling health center assistant for PPRM, Brink works at multiple clinics across three states. “I get to help so many different communities access healthcare,” she says. “Access is very important to me.”

So Brink was dismayed when, in May 2017, PPRM announced that it was closing six of its clinics, including one in Casper, Wyoming—Planned Parenthood’s only facility in the entire state.

That was the moment when Brink says she and many of her co-workers decided they needed a union. In December 2017, employees at 14 clinics in the metro Denver area voted to form one.

That made PPRM just the sixth local Planned Parenthood affiliate to unionize, out of more than 50 nationwide. In at least two of these cases, the local employer was accused of attempting to squelch worker organizing. But this year, PPRM went a step further when it appealed the union vote to the National Labor Relations Board, as previously reported by the Intercept. That’s left employees like Brink feeling “disheartened” as they wait for a decision that could also have broad implications for workers nationwide.

A small group of PPRM employees first began organizing in the fall of 2016. Their key issues included wages—according to the union, the median annual wage for PPRM employees is $35,000, which is at the low end of the median range for health workers given by the Bureau of Labor Statistics—high staff turnover and prohibitively high costs of adding family members to employee health insurance.

The clinic closures convinced other staff members that they needed a greater say in organizational decision-making. PPRM cited financial reasons for the move, including lower reimbursement rates for an expanding pool of patients on Medicaid. But health center workers weren’t consulted about which clinics would shutter or how their patients would be impacted, according to Brink.

“Closing rural clinics is one of the worst things we could be doing,” she says. “Patients kept asking us, ‘where am I gonna go?’ The people who made the decisions weren’t the ones who had to have those conversations.”

By August 2017, a majority of staff members in the Denver area, as well as the traveling team, had signed union cards with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 105. But Planned Parenthood CEO Vicki Cowart declined to meet with staff or grant voluntary recognition, according to the union. Over the next four months, staff members say they were subject to captive audience meetings and a flyer instructing staff to “be sure you have all the facts and vote no.” The flyer claimed, among other things, that a union would be “harmful to patients” and lead to “less flexible work hours.”

In December, Colorado employees voted 72 – 57 in favor of the union. But soon afterwards, PPRM announced that it was challenging the outcome, on the basis that the new union would exclude the organization’s further-flung clinics in Colorado, as well as those in New Mexico and Nevada.

In response to a list of questions e-mailed by In These Times, PPRM provided a statement that reads, in part

Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains values the choice of every single employee impacted by the important decision to form a union. Over the past year, SEIU Local 105 worked to organize only 14 of our 24 health centers (14 of 18 in Colorado, 0 of 4 in New Mexico, and 0 of 2 in Southern Nevada). During this time, we communicated repeatedly our belief that all workers should have their voices heard, urging SEIU to include all health center staff in any proposed bargaining unit. 

Amanda Martin, a health center assistant in the organization’s Littleton, Colorado clinic, calls this argument “disingenuous.” The NLRB’s regional director initially approved a bargaining unit comprised solely of Colorado clinics because of the difficulty of organizing across state lines. But if PPRM wanted to include all of their employees in decision-making, “they don’t need the NLRB to direct them to do that,” says Martin, who is also an elected member of the staff’s union bargaining team. “They’re looking to make us start all over.”

PPRM is being represented by Fisher Phillips, a law firm that advertises “union avoidance” among its services. Forcing unions to organize larger numbers of workers, across sprawling geographic areas, isolated worksites or occupational differences, is one such “avoidance” strategy that the firm has utilized successfully in previous cases involving employers with multiple worksites. While including all workers of a given employer may make for a stronger bargaining unit, if successful, it also sets up a bar that many union organizing efforts cannot clear initially. Thus, cases concerning the appropriate make-up of union bargaining units have for years been hotly contested before the NLRB.

In December 2017, a Republican-controlled NLRB overturned a key Obama-era decision that made it easier for workers to organize so-called micro-units within a specific department or job classification. If Planned Parenthood prevails, the precedent could set up another hurdle for worker organizing within large or geographically disparate employers.

In April, Trump labor board appointees Marvin Kaplan and Bill Emanuel sided with Planned Parenthood, allowing its appeal to go forward. The case will now be heard by the full five-member board.

In her dissent to the decision, Obama board appointee Lauren McFerran cited a potential chilling effect on worker organizing. “The Employer’s sole proposed unit here was employer-wide and included its Las Vegas, Nevada facilities, which are over 700 miles distant from the Denver metropolitan area that is at the core of the directed unit,” she wrote. “In many, if not most, instances, such daunting geographic barriers could be prohibitive to employees’ right to choose and engage in collective bargaining.

Stephanie Felix-Sowy, healthcare organizing Director at SEIU Local 105, also stresses that the case could have substantial collateral damage. “If this conservative board rules against the workers, which they likely will, it could set a dangerous precedent,” she says. “A precedent that workers can only organize if they have the resources to organize an entire company and the ability to cross many state lines.”

Martin, Brink and other PPRM staff are still hoping to convince their employer to drop the appeal. They’ve received high-profile support from Colorado legislative and gubernatorial candidates, as well as current state lawmakers.

“Nobody has more skin in the game than those of us who work in the clinic,” says Martin. “We’re not organizing in a way that would be harmful for the organization. But there is a way to support both reproductive rights and labor rights, including those of the employees that work at Planned Parenthood. We don’t see these as separate things.”

The post Planned Parenthood’s Union Busting Could Have a Chilling Effect for Workers Everywhere appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Unions Have Been Down Before, History Shows How They Can Come Back

Sat, 06/30/2018 - 15:28

The Janus decision by the US Supreme Court on Wednesday was another blow to the labor movement. It creates a financial incentive for public sector union members to leave the union while continuing their job.

Ever since the beginning of the 1980s clamp-down on the US left, signaled by President Ronald Reagan’s firing of the air traffic controllers to end their strike, the labor movement has been besieged by what billionaire Warren Buffett described in the New York Times as a class war started by his class. It’s not the first time this has happened in U.S. history.

Labor organized strongly and successfully in the period before World War I, so much so that the 1 percent led a fierce push-back in the 1920s that substantially lowered union membership. While touring for my book “Viking Economics” last year, some people told me we can’t get the Nordic model in the United States because the labor movement has been in decline, not realizing that labor has a history of ups and downs in this country. The 1930s became a period of tremendous union growth, so much so that progressive movements were able to achieve victories almost impossible to imagine in the 1920s.

Two ways we can honor unions at this time of trial are to ask others to join union picket lines and to learn from their innovations and successes for whatever campaigns we are committed to today. According to labor historian Sidney Fine, the union breakthrough in Detroit and Flint, Michigan, was “the most significant American labor conflict in the twentieth century.”

In some ways the struggle was more strategically sophisticated than many campaigns are today, which is why it offers important lessons on tactics, racism, using the spectrum of allies and sequencing the focus of organizing.

Labor Matches Innovative Tactics to Target in Giant Victory

Americans fell in love with the automobile in the 1920s. Factories in Michigan needed to grow rapidly to meet the demand. At the same time, black people from the South were making “the Great Migration” to northern cities, joining a flow into the workforce from Europe.

The auto industry was a giant in the U.S. economy and determined not to accept trade unions. Its influence on governments, both local and national, meant that law enforcement could be used to back up its network of private detectives and spies.

Early attempts to unionize failed, since the usual tactic — workers refusing to go to work and picketing the factory gates to keep out replacement workers — was broken by arrests and violence.

The United Mine Workers of America, or UMWA, moved into Michigan to give it a try. That union had already made great progress in another industry defended by violence: coal mining. The UMWA set up what became the United Auto Workers, or UAW.

However, automobile manufacturers had a back-up defense against attempts at unionization: racism. The largest of them, General Motors, hired only white workers for skilled jobs. That meant unemployed black workers would be easy to recruit as replacement workers in case of a strike, setting up race against race to divert attention from their common enemy, the economic elite. With both violence and racism on their side, how could the auto manufacturers lose?

Meeting in living rooms with the comparatively few black GM workers in Flint, UAW organizers told them the union would oppose Jim Crow, just as the Mineworkers had done in Birmingham, when they organized the steel industry there. To tackle GM as a whole, however, they would be publicly organizing the white workers.

While the slow, painstaking work of organizing continued, word arrived in spring 1936 about the French trying a different kind of strike. Instead of leaving their jobs and going home, almost 2 million workers were occupying their factories. This reduced the threat of replacement workers, who could simply be locked out by the occupation.

Flint workers decided to try it, calling it the sit-downs. Their families and friends mobilized to bring in food and supplies — no one knew how long the occupations would continue.

The GM executives refused to negotiate with the union, asking local political leaders (who they controlled) to use the police to expel the workers. GM also went to state court to get an injunction on the grounds that the workers were occupying private property.

After the workers repelled local police who tried to enter one of the factories, a state court passed an injunction against the sit-downs. That move added to GM’s pressure on the governor to intervene, using the National Guard.

The workers sent a message to the governor that the use of force would mean “a blood bath of unarmed workers” for which the governor would be responsible. They put him in a dilemma: follow the law as interpreted by the state court, with violent repression, or keep his reputation as a humane governor.

The governor stalled while making a decision. The occupiers understood the dynamics influencing his decision. According to Fine, “Though many workers saw GM as a mortal enemy and were inclined to inflict any available punishment on the company, an anti-sabotage committee prevented any significant injury to the machinery, the tools and the inventory stockpiles … they did not loot the captured management offices; they used seat padding as beds but did not keep the padding for permanent use.”

Since the governor was forced by the court’s decision to at least send the National Guard to Flint, he gave it the mission to prevent violence — including protecting the strikers from attacks by outside forces — and appointed, as commander, an officer he knew had a cool head and was less likely to use violence than the guard’s regular commander. The governor then pushed GM to negotiate with the UAW and get a settlement.

General Motors, the largest automaker, finally gave in.

With Racism, Strategy Means That Sequencing Matters

As in chess, or any game, being strategic includes estimating which move is best to take first, second and so on. Often we choose a smaller target then proceed to a larger, more powerful one. The reality of racism actually suggested the reverse order of sequencing in the auto union struggle, for a couple of reasons. This may be hard to grasp in today’s demand heard among activists for intersectionality as a moral, rather than strategic, stand. History helps us out here.

When the union took on the Ford Motor Company, taking advantage of the momentum from its victory with GM, it met a workforce with more black workers. That’s because Henry Ford saw an opportunity to hire black workers who would, given prevailing discrimination, be grateful for the job and, therefore, also loyal to his company and hostile to unionization.

Ford reinforced the loyalty by making many of the hires through referrals from black ministers, to whose churches Ford gave contributions. The result was that, by the onset of World War II, 12 percent of the Ford workforce was black.

Because UAW organizers chose the GM fight first, they gained credibility for tackling the mixed-race situation at Ford. Most Ford workers could see that being a union member would give more protection and a more promising economic future than not having a union. On the other hand, black autoworkers had experienced plenty of white racism and had little reason to expect a union to be any different.

When the UAW was formed the United Mine Workers was a consciously anti-racist union that, among other things, developed leadership skills in black workers and gave them leadership spots. Further, UAW knew that Ford would use divide-and-conquer tactics in order to keep the union out, in this case dividing blacks and whites.

Because of their principled anti-racism and understanding that success depended on unity, UAW organizers knew they had to somehow unite workers across racial lines. They developed a two-pronged recruitment strategy. Organizers recruited black members secretly to get some momentum before the issue became an open fight. And they invested in seemingly endless one-on-one encounters to convince white workers that, however strongly they might be prejudiced, they would need to contain it, instead of acting on it, for the sake of unity in the struggle.

It worked. Ford capitulated, the plants became union and the workers had their first experience of a degree of economic justice.

The bottom line was that the UAW was unwilling to let the racism of white workers prevent organizing at Ford. There were ongoing tensions between whites and blacks, some racially tinged physical fights, and initially a lower percentage of blacks than whites joined the union.

Nevertheless, the UAW became an interracial union. That doesn’t mean the UAW was free of prejudice and discrimination. But despite its flaws, it managed to be an instrument for economic justice for many black workers and also became a progressive force for equality on the national scene for decades after its founding.

A Lesson for Today: Dealing With Racism

UAW’s success in building an interracial union in the 1930s gives considerable grounds for hope for movement-builders today. The discouraged among us who think we should aim low and resign ourselves to incrementalist steps because racism will prevent large gains are wrong.

Instead, we need to learn from what worked for UAW and the mine workers back in the day. They did not focus on attitude, “unlearning prejudice,” or the psychology of individual change. They focused on struggling together for a win on justice issues that matter deeply to many people, regardless of race. We have many issues like this today: health care, low wages, poor public schooling, gun violence, wars without end, climate disasters, poor housing – I could go on and on.

For at least 50 years, academic race relations studies have found that when people of different races are placed together in equal-status situations (affordable housing, a good school, a work team, a military unit, a sports team, or performance group), white people experience prejudice reduction. Here again the strategic question of sequencing comes up: Will we make more progress by first waging the cultural fight about white supremacy or first changing the “facts on the ground” as people live their lives? Sometimes both can be done simultaneously, but sometimes we need to make choices, which is what strategy is about.

In other words, we could argue strategically that if the energy now going into white people probing their psychological depths to ferret out racism were instead focused through campaigns on changing the major policies that sustain institutional racism, it’s more likely that racism would take a major hit.

White people especially need to remember that the UAW gained credibility among black workers at Ford by the white workers’ success in taking on GM. In other words, white people who want people of color to see them as champions of racial equality can earn that trust by demonstrating their chops — by initiating direct action campaigns whose demands will improve the lives of actual people of color who are most hurt by injustice.

Another huge lesson from the Flint workers teach us the power that comes from self-discipline. Their choice to leave intact the plants they occupied limited the range of options the powerholders could use against the workers. General Motors wanted the governor to intervene violently and suppress the workers. But GM needed the auto workers to damage property in order to justify that level of force. The workers, by practicing discipline, prevented GM from getting its way.

Importing a tactic from another movement, in France, required thoughtfulness about how to adapt it to a new environment, analyzing how it would play out in the mind of the target/powerholders and those who could influence the outcome of the struggle. The more we learn about other movements’ successes, the more we learn about strategic choices for today.

The post Unions Have Been Down Before, History Shows How They Can Come Back appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Can Trump Turn Back the Clock on Inequality?

Sat, 06/30/2018 - 15:04

“As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology.” These were the words of candidate Donald Trump’s at the 2016 Republican National Convention, referencing the horrifying shooting massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, the month before.

Leaving aside the blatant racism and Islamophobia of his statement, the past year has shown that Trump’s promise couldn’t be further from the truth.

Trump’s first year in office has been a political roller coaster, with a seemingly never-ending barrage of attacks against workers, the oppressed and the planet, punctuated by spontaneous explosions of protest and resistance.

And at a time when public opinion has largely shifted in solidarity with demands for LGBTQ equality, the Trump administration is carrying out policies that threaten to turn back the clock on the rights that have been won and whip up hatred and suspicion that has fueled his bigoted right-wing base of support.

Given the whirlwind of attack coming down from the Trump administration, it’s useful to take stock of the past year and evaluate the landscape of LGBTQ rights under Trump, the response from established LGBTQ political organizations and the possibilities for potential resistance.

* * *

From attacks against trans people to the defense of “religious liberties,” the Trump administration has made it a point to target the oppressed and vulnerable, and stand up for bigotry and discrimination.

Last summer, in a series of classic Trump tweets, the president announced that he would be reinstating the military’s ban on transgender people serving in the military, bogusly claiming the military couldn’t afford the high rate of health care costs.

Never mind, of course, the high costs of building the world’s largest nuclear arsenal and military juggernaut. The administration has continued to defend the ban as it has made its way through the courts.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rescinded Obama-era guidelines requiring schools provide basic civil rights protections to transgender students. In the context of a school system where trans students are regularly bullied and harassed and already experience disproportionally higher levels of depression and suicide, this decision will have extremely harmful consequences.

Trump has stacked the court system with judicial nominees who are openly and vehemently opposed to LGBTQ rights.

The Justice Department rescinded an Obama-era federal memo declaring trans people are protected under civil rights laws and has come out in support of anti-trans “bathroom bill” legislation. The bigoted right has taken this as a green light to go on the offensive, using the guise of “religious liberties” and “bathroom bills” to chip away at established civil rights protections across the country at the local, state and federal level.

In 2017, 16 states introduced legislation restrict trans people’s right to use the bathroom of their choice, six states attempted to repeal LGBT anti-discrimination laws, and 14 states attempted to remove protections for transgender students.

While the anti-LGBT right hasn’t always been successful, it’s clear that they feel a new wind of confidence in their sails with Trump in White House.

The administration has provided a set of “religious liberties” guidelines to federal agencies asking them to respect “religious-liberty protections” in all levels of the federal government. The Department of Health and Human Services also created a new agency, the “Division of Consciousness and Religious Freedom” to ensure that the “religious liberties” of providers aren’t violated.

We should be clear, these decisions have nothing to do with protecting religious liberties and everything to do with establishing the right of bigots to practice discrimination and hate.

In the recent Supreme Court case Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the administration argued and the court ruled in favor of the cake shop’s right to discriminate against a same sex couple. Although the ruling was limited and not the wholesale victory the right wing was hoping for, it sets a dangerous precedent for future cases and gives further confidence to opponents of equality.

Without any explanation, the administration fired the entire Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS in December — and refused to recognize LGBTQ Pride Month in June.

* * *

The administration’s attacks keep coming, even though there’s been a major shift in the level of cultural acceptance and legal equality in the past decade for LGBTQ people.

At the same time, however, the situation for the most vulnerable queer and trans people, particularly those at the intersections of race, class, gender and sexual oppression, remains extremely precarious and in a state of social crisis.

Nothing demonstrates this more starkly than the level of violence endured by trans women of color. In 2017, 28 transgender people, overwhelming trans women of color, were murdered. Trans women of color make up 67 percent of homicides against the LGBTQ community and have a life expectancy rate of 35 years.

As a report detailing the simultaneous layers of structural oppression and their effects explains:

While the details of these cases differ, it is clear that fatal violence disproportionately affects transgender women of color, and that the intersections of racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia conspire to deprive them of employment, housing, health care and other necessities, barriers that make them vulnerable.

The picture for young queer people, especially trans youth, is equally disturbing. Although schools should be a safe place for students from the oppression and discrimination of society, too often they are not.

In a recent study, 82 percent of trans youth reported feeling unsafe at school, 44 percent experienced physical abuse, and 67 percent were bullied by their peers. The emotional and psychological toll social and family rejection can take on LGBTQ youth can be traumatizing and have dangerous consequences.

Lesbian, gay and bisexual youth contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of their straight peers, and more than 40 percent of transgender adults report having attempted suicide.

Of the more than 1.7 million homeless youth in the U.S., 40 percent identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer, and almost all report rejection from family, community and/or peers as the primary reason for being forced onto the streets.

On top of this, organizations that provide services to vulnerable and at risk LGBTQ youth, which are already underfunded and lack adequate resources to tackle the array of problems at hand, face a bipartisan austerity regime that will make life even harder for those that need the most support.

* * *

After losing the battle over marriage equality, the right wing is trying to regain ideological ground by whipping up moral panic and reframing the fight for LGBTQ equality as an issue of “religious liberties.”

While public opinion still stands firmly on the side of equality and many of the right’s efforts have gone down in defeat or been tied up in the courts, having an open bigot in the White House has given them increased confidence and limited victories.

In this context, it’s no exaggeration to say that the Trump administration and the Religious Right have blood on their hands.

These aren’t simply abstract policy debates but real attacks against LGBTQ people that jeopardize the victories our side has fought for and won, attempt to re-legitimize a climate of homophobia and transphobia and have damaging material impacts, especially on the lives of the most vulnerable queer and trans people.

The Trump regime is waging an offensive that calls for an all-out response. Instead, we’ve been left with a response from established LGBT organizations and the Democratic Party that has been underwhelming at best, or passive at worst.

Mainstream LGBT groups have continued to place all their faith, and millions of dollars, in the Democratic Party, pursuing a strategy of lobbying and campaigning for “pro-equality” candidates.

To the extent that these groups have called for protests in the past year, it’s been as window dressing for an electoral strategy that has garnered minimal results. Beside a few talking points, the Democrats have spent most their obsessing over the newest development in the Russiagate scandal or simply waiting for the mid-term elections.

But our rights can’t wait until 2018 or 2020, and if history has shown us one thing, it’s that ordinary people can’t depend on the Democratic Party to save us.

* * *

Contrary to conventional wisdom, Barack Obama and the Democratic Party didn’t bring us marriage equality or the seismic shift in public opinion over the past decade — struggle did.

Not even a decade ago, the entire political establishment opposed same-sex marriage. It was a divisive wedge issue with little possibility of becoming a reality in the near future.

But over the course of time, a mass movement of ordinary people who refused to accept the limits of mainstream politics and took matters into their own hands — by organizing protests and sit-ins, publishing op-eds, marching on Washington, filing lawsuits and much more — battled their way to victory.

In turn, politicians and judges were forced to change their tune, including the Democratic Party, in order catch up with the wave of change.

The history of the LGBTQ movement shows us that there’s nothing inevitable about progress and it most certainly isn’t handed down from benevolent politicians. It wasn’t the Democrats that threw the first brick at Stonewall and launched the Gay Liberation Movement that permanently changed the course of history.

It wasn’t a politician who in the face of the AIDS crisis built ACT UP and saved future generations from the horror of seeing half your friends die while the government sat by and did nothing. It wasn’t the president who brought us marriage equality; it was a mass movement of ordinary people who knew that freedom and equality were worth fighting for.

Even in the darkest times and against seemingly insurmountable odds, people have stood together, fought back and won. That is the history of the queer movement.

We stand on the collective shoulders of countless giants whose names we’ll never know. Pride was a riot, and it’s time that we continue the resistance — not by waiting on the Democrats to save us but by taking action, fighting for it ourselves and demanding the full equality, justice and, ultimately, liberation, that we deserve.

The post Can Trump Turn Back the Clock on Inequality? appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

FDA Repays Industry by Rushing Risky Drugs to Market

Sat, 06/30/2018 - 14:58

Nuplazid, a drug for hallucinations and delusions associated with Parkinson’s disease, failed two clinical trials. In a third trial, under a revised standard for measuring its effect, it showed minimal benefit. Overall, more patients died or had serious side effects on Nuplazid than after receiving no treatment.

Patients on Uloric, a gout drug, suffered more heart attacks, strokes and heart failure in two out of three trials than did their counterparts on standard or no medication.

Nevertheless, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved both of these drugs — with a deadly aftermath. Uloric’s manufacturer reported last November that patients on the drug were 34 percent more likely to die from heart disease than people taking an alternative gout medication. And since the FDA fast-tracked approval of Nuplazid and it went on the market in 2016 at a price of $24,000 a year, there have been 6,800 reports of adverse events for patients on the drug, including 887 deaths as of this past March 31.

The FDA is increasingly green-lighting expensive drugs despite dangerous or little-known side effects and inconclusive evidence that they curb or cure disease. Once widely assailed for moving slowly, today the FDA reviews and approves drugs faster than any other regulatory agency in the world. Between 2011 and 2015, the FDA reviewed new drug applications more than 60 days faster on average than did the European Medicines Agency.

Europe has also rejected drugs for which the FDA accelerated approval, such as Folotyn, which treats a rare form of blood cancer. European authorities cited “insufficient” evidence of health gains from Folotyn, which shrinks some tumors but hasn’t been shown to extend lives. It costs more than $92,000 for a seven-week course of treatment, according to research firm SSR Health.

As patients (or their insurers) shell out tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for unproven drugs, manufacturers reap a windfall. For them, expedited approval can mean not only sped-up sales but also — if the drug is intended to treat a rare disease or serve a neglected population — FDA incentives worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

“Instead of a regulator and a regulated industry, we now have a partnership,” said Dr. Michael Carome, director of the health research group for the nonprofit advocacy organization Public Citizen, and a former U.S. Department of Health and Human Services official. “That relationship has tilted the agency away from a public health perspective to an industry friendly perspective.”

While the FDA over the past three decades has implemented at least four major routes to faster approvals — the current commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, is easing even more drugs’ path to market. The FDA okayed 46 “novel” drugs — whose chemical structure hadn’t been previously approved — in 2017, the most in at least 15 years. At the same time, it’s rejecting fewer medications. In 2017, the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research denied 19.7 percent of all applications for new drugs, biologics, and efficacy supplements, down from a 2010 peak of 59.2 percent, according to agency data.

President Trump has encouraged Gottlieb to give patients faster access to drugs. “You’re bringing that down, right?” Trump asked the commissioner at a May 30 event, referring to the time it takes to bring drugs to market. “You have a lot of good things in the wings that, frankly, if you moved them up, a lot of people would have a great shot.”

Faster reviews mean that the FDA often approves drugs despite limited information. It channels more and more experimental treatments, including Nuplazid, into expedited reviews that require only one clinical trial to show a benefit to patients, instead of the traditional two.

The FDA also increasingly allows drugmakers to claim success in trials based on proxy measurements — such as shrunken tumors — instead of clinical outcomes like survival rates or cures, which take more time to evaluate. In return for accelerated approval, drug companies commit to researching how well their drugs work after going on the market. But these post-marketing studies can take 10 years or longer to complete, leaving patients and doctors with lingering questions about safety and benefit.

“Clearly, accelerated approval has greater uncertainty,” Dr. Janet Woodcock, head of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in an interview. When only a single trial is used for approval, “in some cases, there may be more uncertainty about safety findings or with the magnitude of effectiveness.”

She attributed the increased use of expedited pathways to more drugmakers developing treatments for rare diseases, “where there’s unmet need, and where the patient population and providers are eager to accept more uncertainty.”

The FDA’s growing emphasis on speed has come at the urging of both patient advocacy groups and industry, which began in 1992 to contribute to the salaries of the agency’s drug reviewers in exchange for time limits on reviews. In 2017, pharma paid 75 percent — or $905 million — of the agency’s scientific review budgets for branded and generic drugs, compared to 27 percent in 1993.

“The virginity was lost in ’92,” said Dr. Jerry Avorn, a professor at Harvard Medical School. “Once you have that paying relationship, it creates a dynamic that’s not a healthy one.”

Industry also sways the FDA through a less direct financial route. Many of the physicians, caregivers, and other witnesses before FDA advisory panels that evaluate drugs receive consulting fees, expense payments, or other remuneration from pharma companies.

“You know who never shows up at the [advisory committee]? The people who died in the trial,” lamented one former FDA staffer, who asked not to be named because he still works in the field. “Nobody is talking for them.”

The drug industry’s lobbying group, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, continues to push for ever-faster approvals. In a policy memo on its website, PhRMA warns of “needless delays in drug review and approval that lead to longer development times, missed opportunities, higher drug development costs and delays in treatments reaching patients.”

The agency has internalized decades of criticism that painted it as an obstacle to innovation, said Daniel Carpenter, a professor of government at Harvard and author of a 2010 book on pharmaceutical regulation at the FDA. “They now have a built-in fear of over-regulation that’s set in over the last 20 years.”

To be sure, nobody wants the FDA to drag out drug reviews unnecessarily, and even critics acknowledge that there’s no easy way for the agency to strike the perfect balance between sufficient speed and ample information, particularly when patients have no other treatments available, or are terminally ill.

FDA Is Approving More New Drugs and Rejecting Fewer Overall

Loading…

Sources: Center for Drug Evaluation and Research; Credit: Riley Wong

“I think it’s reasonable to move drugs faster particularly in the case where you’re dealing with an extremely promising new product which treats a serious or life-threatening disease,” said Dr. Aaron Kesselheim, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School. “The key, though, when you do that is that you’ve got to make sure you closely follow the drug in a thoughtful way and unfortunately, too often we don’t do that in the U.S.”

Gregg Gonsalves used to be a member of ACT UP, the HIV advocacy group that tried to take over the FDA’s headquarters in Rockville, Maryland, in 1988, accusing the agency of holding back cures. While he didn’t storm the FDA building, Gonsalves participated in other protests that led the FDA to accelerate approvals. Now an assistant professor of epidemiology at Yale School of Public Health, he said he fears HIV activists “opened a Pandora’s box” that the industry and anti-regulation think tanks pounced on.

“We were desperate. We naively had the idea that there were hundreds of drugs behind a velvet curtain at the FDA being held back from us,” he said. “Thirty years of our rash thinking has led us to a place where we know less and less about the drugs that we pay more and more for.”

After thalidomide, taken by pregnant women to prevent nausea, caused thousands of babies in the early 1960s to be born with stunted limbs, Congress entrusted the FDA with ensuring that drugs going on the market were both safe and effective, based on “substantial evidence” from multiple trials.

Assembling this evidence has traditionally required three stages of clinical trials; the first in a small cohort of healthy volunteers to determine a safe dosage; the second to assess the drug’s efficacy and side effects; and then, if results are positive, two larger trials to confirm the benefit and monitor for safety issues. An FDA team of in-house reviewers is then assigned to analyze the results and decide whether the agency should approve the drug. If reviewers want more input, the agency can convene an advisory committee of outside experts.

As the FDA’s responsibilities expanded in the 1970s, review times began to lag, reaching more than 35 months on average in 1979. The AIDS crisis followed soon thereafter, prompting complaints from Gonsalves and other activists. Their protests spurred the Prescription Drug User Fee Act in 1992, which established industry fees to fund FDA staff salaries. In return, the FDA promised to review drugs within 12 months for normal applications, and 6 months for priority cases.

The more that the FDA relied on industry fees to pay for drug reviews, the more it showed an inclination towards approval, former employees say.

“You don’t survive as a senior official at the FDA unless you’re pro-industry,” said Dr. Thomas Marciniak. A former FDA medical team leader, and a longtime outspoken critic of how drug companies handle clinical trials, Marciniak retired in 2014. “The FDA has to pay attention to what Congress tells them to do, and the industry will lobby to get somebody else in there if they don’t like you.”

Staffers know “you don’t get promoted unless you’re pro-industry,” he added.

This tilt is reflected in what senior officials choose to highlight. The agency’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research gives internal awards to review teams each year, according to Marciniak and the former FDA employee who requested anonymity. Both said they had never seen an award granted to a team that rejected a drug application. The FDA did not respond to ProPublica’s request for a list of award winners.

Higher-ups would also send congratulatory emails to medical review teams when a drug was approved. “Nobody gets congratulated for turning a drug down, but you get seriously questioned,” said the former staffer, adding that the agency’s attitude is, “Keep Congress off your back and make your life easier.”

Dr. Peter Lurie, a former associate commissioner who left the FDA in 2017, recalled that John Jenkins, director of the agency’s Office of New Drugs from 2002 to 2017, gave an annual speech to employees, summing up the year’s accomplishments. Jenkins would talk “about how many approvals were done and how fast they were, but there was nothing in there saying, we kept five bad drugs off the market,” said Lurie, now president of the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, D.C. Jenkins declined to comment.

“I personally have no interest in pressuring people to approve things that shouldn’t be approved — the actual person who would be accountable would be me,” Woodcock said. She added that the FDA’s “accountability to the public far outweighs pressure we might feel otherwise.”

Congress has authorized one initiative after another to expedite drug approvals. In 1988, it created “fast track” regulations. In 1992, the user fee law formalized “accelerated approval” and “priority review.” When the law was reauthorized in 1997, the goal for review times was lowered from a year to 10 months. In 2012, Congress added the designation, “breakthrough therapy,” enabling the FDA to waive normal procedures for drugs that showed substantial improvement over available treatments.

“Those multiple pathways were initially designed to be the exception to the rule, and now the exceptions are swallowing the rule,” Kesselheim said.

Sixty-eight percent of novel drugs approved by the FDA between 2014 and 2016 qualified for one or more of these accelerated pathways, Kesselheim and his colleagues have found. Once described by Rachel Sherman, now FDA principal deputy commissioner, as a program for “knock your socks off, home run” treatments, the “breakthrough therapy” label was doled out to 28 percent of drugs approved from 2014 to 2016.

Nuplazid was one of them. It was created in 2001 by a chemist at Acadia Pharmaceuticals, a small biotech firm in San Diego. Eight years later, in the first of two Phase 3 trials, it failed to prove its benefit over a placebo.

The company, which had no approved drugs and hence no revenue stream, halted the second trial, but wasn’t ready to give up. Acadia executives told investors that the trials failed because the placebo patients had a larger-than-expected improvement. They asked the FDA for permission to revise the scale used to measure benefit, arguing that the original scale, which was traditionally used for schizophrenia assessments, wasn’t appropriate for patients with Parkinson’s-related psychosis. The agency agreed to this new scale, which had never been used in a study for drug approval.

Since there were no treatments approved for Parkinson’s-related psychosis, the FDA also granted Acadia’s request for the breakthrough therapy designation, and agreed that Nuplazid needed only one positive Phase 3 trial, instead of two, for approval.

In 2012, Acadia finally got the positive trial results it had hoped for. In a study of 199 patients, Nuplazid showed a small but statistically significant advantage over a placebo.

FDA medical reviewer Dr. Paul Andreason was skeptical. Analyzing all of Nuplazid’s trial results, he found that you would need to treat 91 patients for seven to receive the full benefit. Five of the 91 would suffer “serious adverse events,” including one death. He recommended against approval, citing “an unacceptably increased, drug-related, safety risk of mortality and serious morbidity.”

The FDA convened an advisory committee to help it decide. Fifteen members of the public testified at its hearing. Three were physicians who were paid consultants for Acadia. Four worked with Parkinson’s advocacy organizations funded by Acadia. The company paid for the travel of three other witnesses who were relatives of Parkinson’s patients, and made videos shown to the committee of two other caregivers. Two speakers, the daughter and grand-daughter of a woman who suffered from Parkinson’s, said they had no financial relationship with Acadia. However, the granddaughter is now a paid “brand ambassador” for Nuplazid. All begged the FDA to approve Nuplazid.

“Acadia or its consultants interacted with some of the potential speakers to facilitate logistics and reimburse for travel, as is common practice,” Acadia spokeswoman Elena Ridloff said in an email. “…All speakers presented their own experience in their own words.”

The only speaker who urged the FDA to reject the drug was a scientist at the National Center for Health Research who has never had any financial relationship with Acadia.

The witnesses’ pleas affected the panel members, who voted 12-2 to recommend accelerated approval. “If there were a safe and effective alternative on the market, I would not have voted yes,” said Almut Winterstein, a professor of pharmaceutical outcomes and policy at the University of Florida. “But I think that, in particular, the public hearing today was very compelling. There clearly is a need.”

Dr. Mitchell Mathis, director of the FDA’s division of psychiatry products, sided with the advisory panel, overruling Andreason. “Even this small mean improvement in a disabling condition without an approved treatment is meaningful,” Mathis wrote, adding that its safety profile was no worse than other antipsychotics on the market. Like other antipsychotics, Nuplazid carries a warning on the label of increased deaths in elderly patients with dementia-related psychosis. Since Nuplazid’s approval in 2016, Acadia has raised its price twice, and it now costs more than $33,000 a year.

As Nuplazid began to reach patients, reports of adverse events poured in. While it’s impossible to ascertain whether the treatment was responsible for them, the sheer numbers, including the 887 deaths, are “mind boggling,” said Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Center for Health Research.

In more than 400 instances, Nuplazid was associated with worsening hallucinations — one of the very symptoms it was supposed to treat.

That’s what happened to Terrence Miller, a former Hewlett Packard and Sun Microsystems employee who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in the early 1990s. About five years ago, Miller began to experience mild hallucinations, such as seeing cats and dogs in his home in Menlo Park, California. At the time, he realized that the animals weren’t real, and the visions didn’t bother him, so he didn’t take any medication for them. But two years later, after surgery for a hip injury, the hallucinations worsened.

“He was convinced that he hadn’t had the surgery yet and people were going to harvest his organs,” recalled his wife, Denise Sullivan. “He’d see spaceships outside the window and they had to call security to help restrain him.”

In 2016, Dr. Salima Brillman prescribed Nuplazid. Miller tried Nuplazid twice, for a few months each time. His hallucinations became darker. “I’d say, ‘Who are you talking to?’ and he said, ‘They’re telling me to do bad stuff,’” Sullivan said. Afraid “he might hurt me because of what his evil ‘friends’ were telling him,” Sullivan, who was paying more than $1,000 a month for the drug out of her own pocket, then stopped the treatment.

What Sullivan and Miller didn’t know is that Brillman earned $14,497 in consulting fees from Acadia in 2016, ranking as the company’s seventh highest paid doctor, government records show. The top five prescribers of Nuplazid in Medicare, the government’s health program for the elderly, all received payments from Acadia. Dr. David Kreitzman of Commack, New York, prescribed the most: $123,294 worth of Nuplazid for 18 patients in 2016, according to data company CareSet. He was paid $14,203 in consulting fees.

Brillman and Kreitzman didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.

Miller’s new doctor switched him onto Seroquel, an old drug long used off-label for Parkinson’s-related psychosis. With it, he’s sleeping better and the hallucinations, while remaining, have become more benign again, Sullivan said. Patients like Miller, whose hallucinations worsen, may not have been on Nuplazid for long enough, said Ridloff, the Acadia spokeswoman.

The 887 reported deaths of Nuplazid patients may be an undercount. A nurse in Kansas, who specializes in dementia care, said a resident in one of the facilities she worked at had no history of cardiac issues, yet died from congestive heart failure within a month of starting on Nuplazid. The nurse requested anonymity because she continues to work in nursing care facilities.

“We questioned the ordering physician whether this should be reported to the FDA in relation to Nuplazid and he said, ‘Oh no, the drug rep said this couldn’t have happened because of Nuplazid,’ and it was never reported,” she said.

Acadia’s Ridloff said such behavior by a sales representative would be “absolutely not consistent with our protocols, policies and procedures.”

She said that deaths are to be expected among patients who are elderly and in an advanced stage of Parkinson’s, and that Nuplazid does not increase the risk of mortality.

“Acadia’s top priority has been, and continues to be, patient safety,” she said. “We carefully monitor and analyze safety reports from clinical studies and post-marketing reporting to ensure the ongoing safety of Nuplazid. Based on the totality of available information, Acadia is confident in Nuplazid’s efficacy and safety profile.”

After a CNN report in April about adverse events related to Nuplazid prompted lawmakers to question the FDA, Gottlieb said he would “take another look at the drug.” Agency spokeswoman Sandy Walsh confirmed that that an evaluation is ongoing, and the FDA “may issue additional communications as appropriate.”

Nuplazid isn’t the only drug approved by an FDA senior official against the advice of lower-level staffers. In 2016, internal reviewers and an advisory committee called for rejecting a drug for a rare muscular disease called Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Only 12 patients participated in the single trial that compared the drug, Exondys 51, with a placebo. Trial results showed that Exondys 51 produced a small amount of dystrophin, a protein Duchenne patients lack. But the company didn’t show that the protein increase translated into clinical benefits, like helping patients walk.

Woodcock approved the drug. Internal FDA documents later revealed that she was concerned about the solvency of the drugmaker, Sarepta Therapeutics in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A memo by the FDA’s acting chief scientist recounted Woodcock saying that Sarepta “needed to be capitalized” and might go under if Exondys 51 were rejected. Exondys 51 went on the market with a price tag of $300,000 a year.

“We don’t look at a company and say they’ll have a lower standard because they’re poor, but we’re trying to recognize that, small or large, companies will never work on developing a drug if they won’t make a profit,” said Woodcock. “Our job is to work with the field, and with the firms to try and find a path forward,” especially on rare diseases where a large trial is impractical, she said.

Last month, the European Medicines Agency’s advisory committee recommended rejection of Exondys 51’s application, saying “further data were needed to show … lasting benefits relevant to the patient.”

Sarepta is asking the committee to reconsider, the company said in a June press release.

The debate over Exondys 51 centered on the value of a so-called surrogate endpoint, a biological or chemical measure that serves as a proxy for whether the drug actually treats or cures the disease. Surrogate measures speed drug development because they’re easier and quicker to measure than patient outcomes.

Some surrogate measures are well-established. Lowering cholesterol has been proven repeatedly to help reduce heart attacks and strokes. But others aren’t, like how much dystrophin needs to be produced to help Duchenne patients, raising concerns that drugs may be approved despite uncertain benefits.

The jury is still out on two other drugs, Folotyn and Sirturo, which received expedited approval based on surrogate measurements. There’s no proof that Folotyn helps patients with a rare cancer — peripheral T-cell lymphoma — live longer, while Sirturo, an antibiotic for multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis, has potentially fatal side-effects. Yet since both drugs were aimed at small or under-served populations, the FDA rewarded their manufacturers with valuable perquisites.

In a clinical trial, Folotyn reduced tumors in 29 of 107 patients, but the shrinkage lasted longer than 14 weeks in only 13 people. Since everyone in the study got Folotyn, it wasn’t apparent whether the drug would help patients do better than a placebo or another drug. Meanwhile, 44 percent of participants in the trial suffered serious side effects, including sores in mucous membranes, including in the mouth, lips and digestive tract, and low levels of blood cells that help with clotting. One patient died after being hospitalized with sores and low white blood-cell counts.

While tumor shrinkage is a commonly used surrogate measurement in cancer trials, it often has a low correlation with longer life expectancy, according to a 2015 study. “I would say to a patient, this drug may be more likely to shrink a tumor either partially or even completely, but that may in fact be a pyrrhic victory if it doesn’t help you live better or longer,” said Mikkael Sekeres, director of the leukemia program at the Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center, who voted against approving Folotyn at the FDA’s advisory panel discussion in 2009. He was out-voted 10 to four. Three years later, the European Medicines Agency rejected the drug.

Because peripheral T-cell lymphoma only affects about 9,000 Americans each year, the FDA designated Folotyn as an “orphan” drug, giving its manufacturer, Allos Therapeutics, tax incentives and at least two extra years of patent exclusivity. Nevada-based Spectrum Pharmaceuticals acquired Allos in 2012. At more than $92,000 per course of treatment, Folotyn is Spectrum’s top-selling product, earning $43 million in 2017.

Dr. Eric Jacobsen, clinical director of the adult lymphoma program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, has become disillusioned with Folotyn since he helped Allos run the original trial. “Enthusiasm for the drug has waned,” he said. “It’s been on the market for a long time, and there’s no additional data suggesting benefit.” He now prescribes other options first, particularly because of the mouth sores Folotyn can cause, which make it painful to eat or drink.

The FDA approved Sirturo in 2012 without requiring Johnson & Johnson, the manufacturer, to demonstrate that patients on the drug were cured of tuberculosis. Instead, Johnson & Johnson only had to show that the treatment, when added to a traditional drug regimen, killed bacteria in the sputum faster than did the regimen alone. Sirturo was successful by that measure, but 10 patients who took it died, five times as many as the two in the group on placebo.

Dean Follmann, a biostatistics expert at the National Institutes of Health, voted as an FDA advisory committee member to approve Sirturo but wrestled with how to read the sputum data in light of the higher death rate: “The drug could be so toxic that it kills bacteria faster, but it also kills people faster.”

The imbalance in deaths during the trial “was a safety signal” that led the FDA to require “its most serious warning in product labeling,” known as a boxed warning, said agency spokeswoman Walsh. The packaging, she added, specified that Sirturo “should only be used for patients for whom an effective TB regimen cannot otherwise be provided. Thus, current labeling provides for a safe and effective use.”

Under a 2007 provision in the user-fee law, aimed at spurring treatments for developing nations, Sirturo’s approval qualified Johnson & Johnson for a voucher given to manufacturers who successfully get a tropical disease drug to market. The voucher can be used in the future, for any drug, to claim priority review – within six months instead of the usual 10. Time is money in the drug industry, and beating your competitor to market can be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Vouchers may also be sold to other drugmakers, and have garnered up to $350 million. Sarepta received a voucher under a similar program for pediatric rare diseases when the FDA approved Exondys 51.

In South Africa, where Sirturo is mainly used, the drug is seen as a helpful option for highly drug-resistant patients. A study at one South African hospital by Dr. Keertan Dheda found that 45 out of 68 patients who took Sirturo were cured, as against 27 out of 204 before the drug was available. That doesn’t rule out the possibility that Sirturo may be killing a small subset of patients, said Dheda, but the risk is “very minor compared to the disease itself.”

Adrian Thomas, Johnson & Johnson’s vice president of global public health, said in an interview that observational results since the drug went on the market make him “much more confident that there is no more unexplained imbalance in mortality” and that the “benefit/risk in drug-resistant tuberculosis is incredibly reasonable when you don’t have other treatment choices.”

Still, the World Health Organization said in a 2016 report that the “quality of evidence remains very low” regarding Sirturo. “There is still some residual uncertainty for mortality,” the group said, and “specific harms” to the respiratory system “continue to be observed.”

While the FDA expedites drug approvals, it’s content to wait a decade or more for the post-marketing studies that manufacturers agree to do. Definitive answers about Sirturo are likely to be lacking until 2022, when Johnson & Johnson is expected to finish its study, a full decade after the drug was approved. Studies of Nuplazid and Folotyn aren’t expected until 2021. Spectrum has missed two FDA deadlines for post-marketing studies on Folotyn. Spectrum spokeswoman Ashley Winters declined comment.

Post-marketing studies often take far longer to complete than pre-approval trials, in part because it’s harder to recruit patients to risk being given a placebo when the drug is readily available on the market. Plus, since the drug is already on the market, the manufacturer no longer has a financial incentive to study its impact— and stands to lose money if the results are negative. Of post-marketing studies agreed to by manufacturers in 2009 and 2010, 20 percent had not started five years later, and another 25 percent were still ongoing.

And, despite taking so long, most post-marketing studies of drugs approved on the basis of surrogate measures rely on proxy criteria again rather than examining clinical effects on patients’ health or lifespans. In fact, Folotyn’s post-marketing trials will measure what’s known as “progression-free survival,” or the time it takes before tumors start growing again, but not whether patients live longer.

Proving that a drug extends survival is especially hard in cancer trials because patients don’t want to stay in a trial if their disease gets worse, or may want to add another experimental treatment. “In cancer, we’re probably not going to get a clean answer,” Woodcock said. Instead, the best evidence that cancer drugs are effective would be an increase in national survival rates over time, she said.

By law, the FDA has the authority to issue fines or even pull a drug off the market if a drugmaker doesn’t meet its post-marketing requirements. Yet the agency has never fined a company for missing a deadline, according to Woodcock.

“We would consider fines if we thought companies were simply dragging their feet, but we would have the burden to show they really weren’t trying, and it’d be an administrative thing that companies could contest,” said Woodcock.

Even when post-marketing studies belatedly confirm that drugs are dangerous, the agency doesn’t always pull them off the market. Consider Uloric, the gout treatment. Even though it consistently lowered uric acid blood levels, the FDA rejected it in 2005 and again in 2006, because trials linked it to cardiovascular problems. But a third study by the manufacturer, Takeda Pharmaceutical of Osaka, Japan, didn’t raise the same alarms. So the agency decided in 2009 to let the drug on the market, while asking Takeda for a post-marketing study of 6,000 patients to clarify the drug’s cardiovascular effects.

Takeda took more than eight years to complete the study. It found that patients on Uloric had a 22 percent higher risk of death from any cause and a 34 percent higher risk of heart-related deaths than patients taking allopurinol, a generic alternative. The FDA issued a public alert in November 2017, sharing the results of the trial, but left Uloric on the market.

Public Citizen has warned patients to stop taking Uloric. “There is no justification for using it,” said Carome. “If the results of the most recent study had been available prior to FDA approval, the FDA likely would have rejected the drug.”

FDA spokeswoman Walsh said it is “conducting a comprehensive evaluation of this safety issue and will update the public when we have new information.”

Takeda is working with the FDA to “conduct a comprehensive review,” spokeswoman Kara Hoeger said in an email. The company wants to ensure that “physicians have comprehensive and accurate information to make educated treatment decisions.” Thomas Moore, senior scientist of drug safety and policy at the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, warned that future post-marketing findings on Nuplazid could be similarly bleak. Uloric “is the story of [Nuplazid] but a few years down the pike,” he said.

Nevertheless, FDA Commissioner Gottlieb is forging ahead with more shortcuts. In May, he announced plans to approve gene therapies for hemophilia based on whether they increased the level of clotting proteins, without waiting for evidence of reduced bleeding.

Two years ago, a prescient Dr. Ellis Unger, FDA’s Director of the Office of Drug Evaluation, had warned against precisely this initiative. After Woodcock approved Exondys 51 in 2016, Unger wrote, “A gene therapy designed to produce a missing clotting factor could receive accelerated approval on the basis of a tiny yet inconsequential change in levels of the factor…The precedent set here could lead to the approval of drugs for rare diseases without substantial evidence of effectiveness.”

Gottlieb seems less worried than Unger.

“For some of these products, there’s going to be some uncertainty, even at the time of approval,” Gottlieb said when announcing the plan. “These products are initially being aimed at devastating diseases, many of which are fatal and lack available therapy. In these settings, we’ve traditionally been willing to accept more uncertainty to facilitate timely access to promising therapies.”

His decision pleased investors. That day, while biotechnology stocks overall fell, shares of hemophilia gene therapy manufacturers rose.

The post FDA Repays Industry by Rushing Risky Drugs to Market appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Ocasio-Cortez Explains What a “Moral” Economy Would Look Like

Sat, 06/30/2018 - 14:50

Since Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s stunning primary win over Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday, interest in democratic socialism—the label Ocasio-Cortez unabashedly uses to describe her platform and political outlook—has surged exponentially, prompting corporate TV networks to feature segments on the term and driving a record-breaking membership boost for the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).

Since Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s stunning primary win over Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday, interest in democratic socialism—the label Ocasio-Cortez unabashedly uses to describe her platform and political outlook—has surged exponentially, prompting corporate TV networks to feature segments on the term and driving a record-breaking membership boost for the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).

Watch:

While democratic socialism may not be an “easy term” for Republicans and corporate Democrats, a large percentage of Americans appear to have no problem with the label.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—who has self-identified as a democratic socialist for decades—is by far the most popular politician in the country, and polls have shown that Democratic voters prefer socialism over capitalism.

In an attempted takedown of Ocasio-Cortez’s ambitious progressive agenda, Fox Newshost Sean Hannity inadvertantly demonstrated why many Americans view democratic socialism favorably, particularly during a time of staggering inequality, soaring healthcare costs, environmental degradation, and falling wages.

“Many are hailing Cortez as a rising star on the political landscape, but in reality, her views, her policy positions are actually downright scary… Look very carefully,” Hannity ominously warned in a Wednesday night segment. “This is the future, this is the modern Democratic Party.”

The camera then proceeded to show a list of widely popular proposals like Medicare for All as well as basic, humane principles like “Women’s Rights” and “Support Seniors.”

As Vice summarized, “Sean Hannity accidentally made a great argument for socialism.”

Comrade @SeanHannity brings our message to the masses. ✊ pic.twitter.com/fkKI6BscjL

— Jacobin (@jacobinmag) June 28, 2018

The post Ocasio-Cortez Explains What a “Moral” Economy Would Look Like appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

EU’s Debt Deal Is “Kiss of Death” for Greece

Sat, 06/30/2018 - 13:58

After eight long and extremely painful years of austerity due to gigantic rescue packages that were accompanied by brutal neoliberal measures, in Athens, the “leftist” government of Alexis Tsipras has announced that the era of austerity is now over thanks to the conclusion of a debt agreement with European creditors.

In the early hours of June 22, a so-called “historic” deal on debt relief was reached at a meeting of Eurozone finance ministers after it was assessed that Greece had successfully completed its European Stability Mechanism program, and that there was no need for a follow-up program.

The idea that Greece’s bailout programs can be considered a success adds a new twist to the government’s Orwellian doublespeak, given the fact that the country has experienced the biggest economic crisis in postwar Europe, with its gross domestic product (GDP) having shrunk by about a quarter, and reporting the highest unemployment rate (currently standing at 20.1 percent) of all European Union (EU) states.

On top of that, the ratio of the country’s public debt to gross GDP has risen from 127 percent in 2009 to about 180 percent, a development which has essentially turned Greece into a debt colony, leading to pressing demands that all valuable public assets be sold — including airports, railways, ports, sewerage systems, and gas and energy resources. Indeed, since the start of the bailout programs, Greek governments have been trying hard to outdo one another on the privatization front in order to satisfy the demands of the official creditors, the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Still, the current pseudo-leftist Syriza government has proven to be the most servile of Greek governments to creditors.

Arguments for privatization aside, the deadly combination of higher debt and declining GDP had most economists convinced quite early on that austerity was killing Greece’s economy, and that a debt write-off would be at some point absolutely necessary for medium- and long-term recovery. However, Germany and its northern European allies had diametrically opposed this idea, insisting on even stronger doses of austerity, while balking at the prospect of a debt write-off.

At the same time, the idea of Greece exiting the euro was also an anathema to Germany and the eurocrats in Brussels. Keeping Greece in the Eurozone — even while its economy and society were going to bleed to death as a result of harsh austerity measures — was deemed absolutely imperative for the very survival of the euro, and for ensuring that all previous debts to European banks were going to be repaid. Indeed, it was these concerns that led to the bailouts in the first place — not the duty or obligation of helping out a member of the European family bounce back from a financial crisis that had been caused, to a large extent, by the highly flawed nature of the architectural design of the European Monetary Union itself.

The idea of restructuring Greece’s huge debt pile, which kept on getting bigger with every passing year of austerity and neoliberal reforms, never went away, especially since the IMF never got tired of telling the Europeans that the country’s debt level was unsustainable. Indeed, the IMF refused to join the third bailout until debt relief was put on the table.

Afraid of going alone with its neoliberal experiment and neocolonial attitudes toward Greece, European officials kept hinting on various occasions that a time may come when debt relief for Greece could become a topic of negotiations. However, it seems that the last elections in Germany may have been a turning point in that direction, particularly with Wolfgang Schäuble having been forced to relinquish his role as Germany’s finance minister for that of speaker of the Bundestag. 

In contrast to Tsipras’s outrageous claim that the debt deal represents a “historic” agreement, in that it allows Greece to become a “normal country” once again, the measures agreed on to make Greece’s debt sustainable will doom the country into becoming a permanent semi-peripheral debt colony of the EU. The deal simply pushes the debt into the very distant future, and locks society into a state of perpetual austerity by requiring that the government run exceedingly large primary budget surpluses. The deal is not a cause of celebration for Greece but, rather, a kiss of death.

First, it grants Greece a 10-year extension on some pressing loan maturities and provides extra funds to the government in the sum of 15 billion euros in order to boost its cash reserves. In other words, no debt write-off of any kind, with the total amount of debt remaining around 180 percent, but simply making the next generation responsible for the repayment of a sizeable chunk of debt. This decision is supposed to enhance Greece’s financial credibility and allow the country to return to private markets for its future borrowing needs.

The debt agreement also compels Greece to run primary budget surpluses of 3.5 percent until 2022, and then by about 2.2 percent until 2060. This means, then, that Greece will be in a state of severe austerity for the next 40 years. In fact, the demand that Greece runs a primary budget surplus of 3.5 percent until 2022 means that the doses of austerity will have to be increased substantially in the years ahead.  This is especially the case since there is interest involved on the repayment of the loans, which means that the actual fiscal surplus is even bigger.

Indeed, when we take into account interest payments on debt, even at the rate of 1 percent until 2022, the overall fiscal surplus demanded from Greece as part of the so-called “historic” debt deal jumps to around 5.3 percent of the GDP through 2022. But even after 2020, the annual fiscal surplus demanded from 2023-2060 (assuming that the interest rate remains at 1 percent, although it will probably be higher) will be a minimum of 4 percent of GDP. (I am obliged to the economist Robert Pollin at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst for pointing out this important detail regarding the impact of interest rates on the actual primary budget surplus.)

At this point, with primary budget surpluses running in the range of 5.3 percent (until 2022) and even 4 percent (from 2023-2060), “severe” is not the right word to describe the level of austerity that will need to be enforced on the Greek population. A more apt term is “brutal” austerity, and such large primary surpluses inevitably bring to mind the condition of Germany at the end of World War I, when the country was forced to run similarly large surpluses in order to finance the reparations demanded by The Treaty of Versailles in 1919. Of course, what happened afterward is now common knowledge — except, apparently, among the German political class and the eurocrats in Brussels.

The debt deal for Greece is indeed a turning point: It marks the death of any prospect or hope for economic recovery and a return to normalcy. Only more difficult times lie ahead.

The post EU’s Debt Deal Is “Kiss of Death” for Greece appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

“Bring the War Home”: A Timely Investigation of the White Power Movement

Sat, 06/30/2018 - 13:45

Kathleen Belew’s Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America is an unquestionably powerful, well-researched and must-read addition to the post-2016 upsurge in analysis and investigation of the foundations of modern fascism. Anyone seeking to understand the origins of the modern far right in the US should include this work at the top of their reading list.

The backbone of Belew’s argument is that the roots of the modern white power movement, as it is understood today, can be found in a myth that emerged in the US right in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. This story claims the US lost the war because of betrayal at home by incompetent, unpatriotic politicians, as well as the “traitorous” antiwar movement which was widely claimed to be riddled with communist agents. This narrative eerily parallels the claims made by German fascists to explain defeat in the First World War, which adherents to this myth used to scapegoat Jews and leftist Germans, and recruit disaffected veterans to their cause. This argument is not new, having been previously suggested in Alexander Reid Ross’s Against the Fascist Creep and other anti-fascist works.

But what sets Belew’s work apart from previous discussions of this theory is how she marshals impressive evidence for how central this myth was for the far right during the 1970s and 1980s. She goes beyond drawing parallels between the embittered veterans and militia participants with post-World War I German Freikorps soldiers by showing how the experiences of white power Vietnam veterans defined the movement they built.

What puts the meat on Bring the War Home is Belew’s in-depth, original research. As she describes in the introductory chapter, her information was drawn from a wide variety of difficult-to-access and, at times, unreliable sources. She uses everything from the fragmented, scattered archives of white power groups to law enforcement records and press publications. Moreover, she freely admits that some of these sources, particularly those drawn from white power groups, are unreliable, and goes to great lengths to illustrate the flaws in their claims. It’s this combination of multiple perspectives that make Belew’s argument a thorough, persuasive analysis of an often poorly understood movement.

Belew organizes Bring the War Home into three main parts. These sections are arranged chronologically, while the chapters in each discuss specific themes, developments and changes in the white power movement.

“Part I: Formation” covers the Vietnam War origins of the modern white power movement’s leaders in the wake of the downfall of the civil rights era KKK [Ku Klux Klan]. Here, she clearly illustrates how the military experiences of reactionary veterans, both from Vietnam and mercenary work in Central America and Rhodesia, formed the core of their organizing and rhetoric. This is the period when The Turner Diaries, a work with enduring influence on the white power movement to the present day, was written and around which veteran-trained white power paramilitaries were organized on a platform of anti-communist action. The Turner Diaries is critical as it both is used as a tract for dispensing ideology and serving as a stealth how-to manual for waging race war. As Belew notes, it is one of the most popular texts for the American far right.

“Part II: The War Comes Home” is when Belew demonstrates a sharp break that has shaped the US far right to the present day. In this segment, which covers actions throughout the 1980s, she shows how the white power movement shifted from being agents of the conservative status quo to declaring war on the US government in the name of the white race. Belew shows how this period inspired influential KKK paramilitary organizer Louis Beam to develop his system of “leaderless resistance.” This approach was modelled on The Turner Diaries. Under leaderless resistance, above-ground groups engaged in open political work while below-ground cells of paramilitaries engaged in acts of terrorism. Organizers could freely incite hate crimes while retaining a degree of plausible deniability, allowing them to escape legal consequences and remain active. This model was meant to preserve the movement while carrying out their goals by other means. Belew also shows how white power advocates actively recruited soldiers, stole military equipment and worked to infiltrate the armed forces.

“Part III: Apocalypse” is the climax of the work, culminating in the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995. Here, Belew shows how the previous work of the white power movement led to this moment, along with how it began branching out into other elements of the US right through the militia movement and evangelical Christianity. She also shows how the shift to these subcultures was part of a strategy to remain relevant in a post-Cold War world, reinforcing the white power movement’s opportunism and their close ties to the broader US right. In Belew’s analysis, the shift from anti-communism to anti-government activity was made possible by the broader rhetoric of US conservatism.

Bring the War Home provides clear examples of how the far right has adapted and developed, and the relevance of the events of the ’70s and ’80s to understanding the present day “alt-right.” Belew shows the strategies of the white right of the ’70s and ’80s are at work in the present day. The combination of above-ground agitators and recruiters, referred to as “legals” in The Turner Diaries, and underground militants engaging in violent action remains true today. Current examples of above-ground agitators include Joey Gibson and Patriot Prayer, Counter Currents Publishing, Gavin McInnes, Richard Spencer and Augustus Invictus. Underground elements, ranging from lone actors like Dylann Roof to violent groups like the Atomwaffen Division, the Proud Boys and the Rise Above Movement, are increasingly active, focusing on implementing white power through bloody violence.

The white right also laid the groundwork for using “code-switching,” appropriating elements of conservative and left-wing discourse and developing dog-whistle tactics during this period. Belew points to examples during the ’80s and ’90s in which the white right actively infiltrated the militia movement and grassroots conservatism through co-opting the language of smaller government, anti-immigration, gun rights and defending “traditional values.” Similar inroads were also made to co-opt elements of the left, including the antiwar movement, environmentalism through overpopulation, globalization and weaving veiled anti-Semitic language into critiques of international capitalism. All of these acts of discursive infiltration were achieved using coded language which, on its surface, did not appear bigoted while opening space for white power politics.

All of these methods are widely used in the present day by the modern far right. Belew’s analysis further illustrates the need to confront deeper root causes, build radical alternatives to the status quo and confront elements of the US right that continue to enable the white power movement to thrive. Though Bring the War Home doesn’t engage in full-throated systemic critique, it provides more than enough concrete examples and evidence for those seeking to make such a case.

The post “Bring the War Home”: A Timely Investigation of the White Power Movement appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Students Push for Restorative Approaches to Campus Sexual Assault

Sat, 06/30/2018 - 13:26

In the early 2000s, Suzy Exposito was a busy, ambitious art student at The New School in New York City. She was always hustling. She had a full schedule of classes, worked multiple jobs and was also involved in extracurricular activities, including organizing as an anti-rape activist with her school’s feminist collective. It was this work in particular that made her experience with campus sexual assault feel that much worse.

Dishonor RollThe first time it happened she was 19. The perpetrator was her boyfriend at the time. Exposito was a resident assistant (RA) in the dorm, which was where the assault occurred, so she confided in two of her fellow RAs about what happened. “They instantly told me that I didn’t really have any kind of case,” Exposito says, because the accused was her boyfriend, and she had invited him over. She characterized their dismissiveness as “typical victim-blaming shit.”

From a prior experience helping another student navigate having a stalker, Exposito knew that if she reported what happened to the school, it would refer her to the local police precinct. The New School’s sexual misconduct policy at the time was basically nonexistent — which was unfortunately not that uncommon. A 2005 Department of Justice report on college sexual assault found that “many schools either do not have a sexual assault response policy or could not provide it for the study.”

So Exposito decided not to report the assault. She broke up with her boyfriend and dealt with the situation largely by ignoring him. But, a year later, when she was assaulted again, this time by the captain of her debate team, she knew she wanted to hold the man who assaulted her accountable.

It happened after a late-night party with her teammates from the debate team. The students decided to crash in one room. As they were accustomed to being on the road together while competing in tournaments, Exposito thought nothing of it. But when she was sleeping, her team captain groped her. The incident was witnessed by a few of her teammates who were still awake, one of whom told the captain to stop.

Afterward, Exposito decided to hold an accountability process, albeit one without the school’s input. She had been learning about restorative justice and thought some sort of face-to-face process might be her best option. She had a meeting with her teammates to discuss what happened then met one-on-one with the accused. While there was no facilitator involved, Exposito says she was forthright about how his actions harmed her. “I was like, ‘You can’t violate me and go on with your life like this,'” she says. “He knew that I wasn’t going to go away silent about it.”

As part of the accountability process, Exposito suggested that he seek rehab for substance abuse and use affirmative consent going forward. While she says he apologized and agreed with her summation, his behavior did not change. She quit the team along with some of her other teammates, but he stayed on. Exposito wasn’t entirely happy with this outcome, and says if she could do it again she would seek a facilitator for the accountability process. Still, she says, “I felt like it was the best thing I could have done given the circumstances.”

A Survivor-Centered Approach

Exposito’s meetings with her teammates and with the team captain who harmed her came out of her desire to adopt an approach loosely based around restorative justice principles. As summed up by Tikkun Magazine, “​Our criminal justice system asks these three questions: What law was broken? Who broke it? What punishment is warranted?” In contrast, “Restorative justice asks an entirely different set of questions: Who was harmed? What are the needs and responsibilities of all affected? How do all affected parties together address needs and repair them?”

As a process that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by a wrongdoing, restorative justice can involve restorative circles or conferences, wherein community members who have been affected by the harm have an open dialogue with each other and with the person who perpetrated the harm.

With more support, the process that Exposito initiated could have taken a more structured form, such as longer-term, facilitated restorative process.

David Karp, a Skidmore University sociology professor and co-founder of Promoting Restorative Initiatives for Sexual Misconduct (PRISM), has been studying restorative justice for almost 20 years. He describes it as a process that creates a space for the accused to hear the complainant’s experience and respond in a meaningful way. “A restorative justice process is really trying to get at this fundamental question: What are the conditions in which it’s possible for someone to take responsibility for the harm that they’ve caused?” Karp says.

Karp and his colleague Kaaren Williamson started PRISM with the intention of supporting campuses that are trying to incorporate restorative approaches into their schools’ sexual misconduct policies. Karp says that traditional disciplinary approaches are by nature adversarial. Colleges, in an attempt to follow federal guidelines, are primarily concerned with determining whether the accused student has violated campus policy. They are tasked with looking for evidence and determining the appropriate punishment. Traditional approaches generally do not center the survivor’s needs, nor do they offer the alleged perpetrator a process by which they might change themselves and repair the harm they have caused.

“Most survivors want more than anything else some real acknowledgement of the harm that was caused them,” Karp says. “And some assurance that this person understands this well enough that they won’t do it again to anybody else. And what they get, through a formal hearing process, is denial or even a retrenchment into a belief that they’re not responsible, that they’ve done nothing wrong.”

Though restorative justice has become a more mainstream idea in recent years, it has a long history of use within Indigenous communities, where there is a focus on healing in the aftermath of harm, and a desire to reintegrate the offender into the community. This focus is the throughline that extends to activists advocating for restorative or transformative justice in prison abolition work. Some states that have offered restorative justice for offenders as an alternative to the traditional legal justice system have proven their effectiveness through low recidivism rates. The quickly spreading interest in the option of restorative justice in the aftermath of a sexual assault can be traced to the longtime application of it in the context of prison abolition.

Since PRISM began about three years ago, Karp says he has seen interest in restorative justice grow exponentially. In a 2016 report, the group noted that three US schools — Skidmore College, the University of San Diego and the University of Michigan — “clearly articulate the role of [restorative justice] in their student conduct policies,” while Michigan State University, Swarthmore College and the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill introduced language “that supports restorative responses.”

The restorative options actually offered at each school vary widely. At UC San Diego, employees in the Student Life and Residence Life departments are trained as restorative justice facilitators, and offer dialoguing circles and restorative conferencing to students, staff and faculty. The University of Michigan offers a range of what it calls “adaptable conflict resolutions.” Trained university staff can facilitate restorative justice circles or students can choose a facilitated dialogue. Similarly, Michigan State employs restorative justice principles in all of its conflict resolution services and explicitly offers restorative conferencing and peace circles. Its website does not stipulate what resolutions are available for certain types of misconduct.

Language at some of the other schools is decidedly more vague. Skidmore writes that “restorative justice guides much of the conduct philosophy” and that faculty and staff “are trained in restorative practices,” but it is unclear what student misconduct violations can actually be remedied through such practices, or what those practices are. Swarthmore is similarly vague, noting that “appropriate forms of restorative justice” can potentially be used as a remedy in sexual misconduct cases. The UNC website has no mention of restorative justice options, and the school’s Title IX office did not respond to requests for information.

Moreover, while these schools may include alternative approaches in their policies, that doesn’t always translate to students’ actual experiences with reporting sexual misconduct.

Swarthmore Students Fight for Title IX Reform

In December of 2017, a senior at Swarthmore College published an anonymous letter in a student-run publication detailing her experience with what she referred to as the school’s “broken” Title IX system. The student, who later identified herself as Makayla Portley, wrote at length about the administration’s lack of communication, the frustration of having her case handled by a changing roster of staff members, the school’s violation of its own 60-day investigation timeline and, ultimately, how the entire process retraumatized her.

“I am angry that we were promised a system that would support us and that ultimately, this promise was a lie,” Portley wrote.

The article caused a stir on campus, bringing to light the fact that the school was leaving many students dissatisfied with its handling of sexual assault cases. This wasn’t a new problem for Swarthmore. In 2013, a group of students filed a federal complaint with the US Department of Education, alleging the school created a “hostile environment” on campus that dissuaded students from reporting sexual assault. That complaint led the administration to overhaul its approach to Title IX complaints, including hiring a full-time Title IX coordinator, Kaaren Williamson. She joined the Swarthmore staff in 2014, a year before PRISM was officially launched.

Over the course of Portley’s adjudication process, however, Williamson and another colleague in her office left their positions. The vacancies made the resolution process that much more difficult for survivors, resulting in prolonged delays, interruptions in the investigations and other missteps.

Portley’s experience resonated deeply with Lydia Koku, a senior in the middle of her own Title IX adjudication process. “I caught wind of that article on the day that it came out, and I felt a variety of ways,” Koku says. “I didn’t feel as alone as I’d felt because there was somebody who had outlined the exact same harm that I had endured throughout my process.”

Koku had been assaulted by her then-partner at the beginning of the school year. She chose the school’s traditional, disciplinary-based adjudication process after feeling dissatisfied using the school’s alternative resolution process, called Intimate Partners for Peace, after a previous incident. Swarthmore’s website does claim restorative justice is an option under its “remedies-based resolution,” but Koku says nothing resembling restorative justice was offered to her.

She filed her complaint in September 2017, but the investigation lasted well over the school’s stated commitment to resolve cases within 60 days. “When I came back from winter break in the spring, my case had been finalized,” she says. “I received my outcome towards the end of January, beginning of February. I was not satisfied with it, and I wanted to mobilize.”

“When I think about and dream about what our campus culture could look like, I see transformative justice as the ultimate response to the inequities we face when attempting to address harm.”

Koku wrote her own op-ed in the student paper, outlining her adjudication experience, and including a call for anyone interested in working to fix the Title IX process to be in touch. She was overwhelmed by the response she got. From that call to action grew Organizing for Survivors (O4S), a core group of students who held community forums and meetings throughout the semester to hash out concerns about Title IX. They ultimately drafted a list of demands for the administration.

Included in their demands is a call for the school in general, as well as specific school administrators, to admit to the harm they have caused “in the name of restorative justice and accountability.” They ask that all staff involved in the Title IX process issue a public letter “acknowledging this harm and committing to immediate transformation of the structures that have created it.” In an interview published in Voices, a Swarthmore student publication, an O4S core member says that the group envisions a “new system of Title IX … where transformative justice is the core.” In the same interview, Koku expands on this idea, saying, “When I think about and dream about what our campus culture could look like, I see transformative justice as the ultimate response to the inequities we face when attempting to address harm. I read that transformative justice differs from restorative justice in that it calls into question whether healing and justice can truly occur in contexts where structural inequality is upheld. The main goal of transformative justice is to address harm on the micro level while simultaneously addressing and shifting the power structures that create and sustain the perpetuation of violence.”

The group wanted to center their demands around a vision of transformative justice because it felt like the best way to “capture and center the most marginalized,” Koku says. Though campus administrators have sat down with O4S to address their concerns, the group says most of their demands are as yet unmet. (One administrator, Dean of Students Liz Braun, did resign following a nine-day sit-in at her office, although she did not cite O4S as a reason for her leaving.) Koku and several of the other O4S core members graduated in the spring, but Koku hopes that members still on campus this fall are able to play a role in training the new violence prevention educator and advocate and the new Title IX coordinator. Swarthmore administrators did not respond to requests for comment.

“I hope that the desire to push for change does not stop,” Koku says. “Although we have made a lot of progress this year, I think that what’s going to be important for next year is really pushing the institution to begin to think about what we find acceptable. Because we can’t be an institution that promotes social justice values, we can’t be an institution that constantly claims to be fighting against inequality, and also to support nonviolent peaceful protest — when we can’t even identify what we find acceptable and what we don’t find acceptable for ourselves.”

Restorative Justice and Student-Driven Changes

While O4S has not yet seen the transformative changes at Swarthmore that they are asking for, historically, student-led movements for Title IX reform have had success. It is perhaps not surprising that transformative change tends to be driven by students, whose interests by default differ from those of university administrators. Of the schools Truthout spoke with that offer alternative resolutions to the formal complaint procedure, most report that student survivors drove the change to more flexible options. Jordan Draper, a Title IX coordinator and the interim dean of students at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ), began drafting an alternative resolution process in 2017, after several students reported incidents of sexual misconduct but declined to move forward with the traditional investigation process. “They just thought it was an overwhelming process, having to share their story multiple times, and weren’t sure that they wanted to go that route,” she says.

She invited these students, along with peer educators from the schools’ Anti-Violence Initiatives Office, to participate in putting together a slate of alternative options for student survivors. TCNJ’s Title IX policy, which went into effect in October 2017, now offers students three options: an administrative hearing, an investigatory model and an alternative resolution model.

“Alternative resolution is a voluntary process that allows the Respondent to accept responsibility for their behavior,” the policy reads. Both students must voluntarily choose the alternative resolution process in order to move forward. Once that happens, they can elect to have a face-to-face formal restorative conference with a trained facilitator (which involves both parties and possibly other community members), an informal restorative conference (where a campus official meets separately with both parties), and an informal restorative statement, which is similar to a victim impact statement.

The resolution agreement that comes out of an alternative resolution process can also incorporate workshops on consent or alcohol consumption, counseling, community service, regular check-ins with the Title IX coordinator, and no-contact directives between the students. According to Draper, so far this school year, seven students have inquired into the alternative resolution process, and three have fully completed it.

“We want to be creative about the different types of educational activities or responses in the agreement if we want to craft something that’s going to be meaningful in repairing the harm,” Draper says. Each agreement is individualized to the student who experienced the harm, and is based on conversations about the incident and what the student’s desired outcome is. “Having more options and more choices makes students more comfortable to utilize the process,” Draper adds. “Really what we’re trying to do is create a situation where more people feel comfortable coming forward, and feel comfortable getting the type of validity they need, so that there’s a healing that feels appropriate for them.”

“Transformative change tends to be driven by students, whose interests by default differ from those of university administrators.”

This survivor-focused approach is one reason why it was so crucial for Draper to involve previously harmed students in the process of crafting the new Title IX policy. “I talked to them about what I was creating with the alternative resolution, asked them what they thought, and asked them if they would have participated had this been an option last year,” Draper says. “All of them said ‘yes.'”

The University of Michigan has one of the longest-running restorative justice-inspired programs in the country. It began offering a process based on restorative principles for instances of student misconduct in 2007. In 2013, a restorative process was sanctioned for use in cases of gender-based misconduct, but just this year the practice expanded to sexual assault cases. Carrie Landrum, the assistant director of the Office of Student Conflict Resolution at the school, says that prior to this year, she can recall many student survivors requesting restorative processes.

Landrum affirms Karp’s observation that most survivors primarily want acknowledgement from the offender of the harm caused and an assurance that they won’t repeat the wrongdoing. “They want assurance that the person will never hurt another person in the same way again,” Landrum says. She notes that a face-to-face restorative justice approach is often an effective learning experience for the accused student. “I have actually seen from my process a face-to-face encounter is more likely to get somebody to understand the impact of their action than a third party disciplinary process because they don’t actually get to see the impact,” she says.

Though data on informal resolutions for the current school year are not yet available, since July 2013, the process was used to resolve only two incidents of sexual misconduct. These numbers are perhaps not that surprising — after all cultural notions of justice have long been framed around the concept of punishment. Still attitudes are changing. In 2017, an American Bar Association task force endorsed restorative justice for campus sexual misconduct cases. “I think that there’s been a significant shift in terms of the resistance to the idea,” Karp says.

Exposito also helped drive changes to her school’s Title IX policy. After her assault, she interned with Students Active for Ending Rape, where she compiled a database of campus sexual assault policies across the country. Taking from the best policies at other schools, Exposito and her fellow New School Feminist Collective members drafted a comprehensive campus sexual assault policy for their school, which was implemented the year after she graduated. The policy includes an explicit definition of consent and protection against retaliation, and also precludes past sexual history from being considered in the investigation. While the policy is largely focused on disciplinary sanctions, it also allows survivors the option not to pursue that route, offering alternative accommodations such as a change of classes or housing assignment, or a no-contact order against the accused.

“It was a big victory for us, and for me personally,” she says. “I just don’t think that the worst should have to happen before we have a sensible policy.”

The post Students Push for Restorative Approaches to Campus Sexual Assault appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Pages