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Updated: 1 hour 43 min ago

Will the Real Opioid Pushers Ever Be Punished?

Sat, 04/28/2018 - 04:00

"WE KNOW that pharmaceutical companies lied about the addictive impacts of opioids they manufactured. They knew how dangerous these products were but refused to tell doctors and patients. Yet, while some of these companies have made billions each year in profits, not one of them has been held fully accountable for its role in an epidemic that is killing tens of thousands of Americans every year."

Those were Sen. Bernie Sanders' words as he introduced legislation to pin responsibility for the opioid crisis on pharmaceutical companies and executives, and make them pay for it.

Finally, a U.S. politician has dared to suggest that the actual architects of the opioid epidemic -- who continue to rake in vast profits off the untold human misery they helped to engineer -- should be held accountable.

If passed, Sander's Opioid Crisis Accountability Act of 2018 would, among other things, ban marketing that suggests opioids are not addictive; curtail some opioid distribution; and require pharmaceutical companies that produce opioids to reimburse some of (the estimated $78 billion in annual costs associated with the crisis.

* * *

IF SUCH a law passed, it would be a welcome change from the current government response to the opioid epidemic -- which has mainly focused on increased policing and criminalization of low-level users and dealers, plus Trump's despicable suggestion that some opioid dealers should be given the death penalty.

Despite repeated pleas from public health experts, the Trump administration has dragged its heels on putting forward any substantial initiatives to help those suffering from opioid addiction.

In fact, it has put forward some proposals -- like limiting opioid prescriptions through Medicare and Medicaid -- that could actually make more people with a legitimate need for pain management turn to street-level opioids like heroin.

At the state and local levels, as many first responders and emergency rooms are finding themselves overwhelmed by the scale of the crisis, there are few answers on offer from politicians beyond the usual recycled "war on drugs" policies of the 1980s.

Meanwhile, the crisis continues to get worse.

Over two-thirds of the annual overdose deaths in the U.S. are due to opioids. With more than 42,000 cases in the U.S. in 2016, and even more in 2017 and 2018 -- annual opioid overdose deaths of Americans now outnumber those killed each year by breast cancer, by guns, in car accidents and all of the Americans killed during the Vietnam war.

* * *

UNDER SANDERS' proposed legislation, drug manufacturers in violation of the marketing provision of the law would be fined 25 percent of the profits from their opioid products.

Additionally, top drug company executives who were found to be in violation of the law could be held criminally liable -- facing a 10-year minimum prison sentence if their company has illegally contributed to the crisis and fines equal to their personal executive compensation.

These executives should be held accountable. The current opioid crisis was largely fueled by the pharmaceutical industry's drive for profits. In the case of Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, for example, the company may have fueled opioid addictions in the U.S. by deliberately downplaying the risk of addiction to doctors and offering false information about how long the drug remained effective.

In 2007, Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty to federal felony charges that the company misled regulators, doctors and patients about OxyContin's risk of addiction.

The company ultimately agreed to pay some $600 million in fines, with three Purdue executives paying an additional $34.5 million. It was one of the largest amounts paid by a drug company in such a case--but it represents a just drop in the bucket when compared to Purdue's profits from OxyContin.

Overall, Purdue--and the billionaire Sackler family that controls the company--raked in $31 billion in profits from OxyContin since beginning the company's heavy marketing push around the drug in 1999.

In that same time, some 200,000 people have died both from overdoses related to OxyContin and other prescription opioids. Plus there has been a large spike in the use of heroin and other street-level opioids that followed when patients who could no longer get prescriptions turned to street drugs.

Today, the Sacklers are known for their large charitable contributions to various colleges, museums and other institutions. But their "charity" is the product of tremendous human suffering.

As Mike Moore, a former Mississippi attorney general who is helping bring litigation against Purdue and other pharmaceutical firms, told Britain's Guardian newspaper in February: "Greed is the main thing. The market for OxyContin should have been much, much smaller, but they wanted to have a $10 billion drug and they didn't tell the truth about their product."

* * *

SO THESE companies and the executives who run them should be held responsible for the misery they've caused. But it's a near certainty that the legislation Sanders is sponsoring won't pass -- not only because of the current Republican control of both the U.S. House and Senate, but because of the enormous influence that the industry exerts on Republicans and Democrats through campaign contributions and lobbying.

According to the website, for the 2016 election cycle, the pharmaceutical industry gave over $62 million to both parties in the form of contributions from individuals connected to the industry, PACs and "soft" money -- 45 percent went to Democrats, while 54 percent went to Republicans.

In 2017, Purdue Pharma alone spent more than $900,000 in lobbying individual members of Congress.

Purdue actually ranks relatively low on the list in terms of the money it doles out. Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, another opioid manufacturer, spent nearly $5.6 million in lobbying in 2017, while Allergan plc spent more than $3 million.

But all that pales in comparison to the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America--the main industry lobbying group, which handed out nearly $26 million to various politicians in 2017.

Last year, Donald Trump's nominee to be the U.S. "drug czar" -- Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Tom Marino -- had to withdraw from consideration after an investigation by the Washington Post and 60 Minutes revealedWashington Post and 60 Minutes revealed found that legislation he sponsored in 2016 "effectively stripped the Drug Enforcement Administration of its most potent weapon against large drug companies suspected of spilling prescription narcotics onto the nation's streets."

According to the report, for years, Marino worked as the chief advocate to pass a law that:

was the crowning achievement of a multifaceted campaign by the drug industry to weaken aggressive DEA enforcement efforts against drug distribution companies that were supplying corrupt doctors and pharmacists who peddled narcotics to the black market. The industry worked behind the scenes with lobbyists and key members of Congress, pouring more than a million dollars into their election campaigns.

Not surprisingly, Mariano was one of those "key members of Congress" whose campaign coffers were well padded by the pharmaceutical industry. Of course, the overall amount the industry gave Marino pales in comparison to the amount it dished out to Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election cycle.

Clinton received $2.4 million from the industry -- compared to Trump's relatively paltry $343,000.

In announcing his legislation, Bernie Sanders said: "At a time when local, state and federal governments are spending many billions of dollars a year dealing with the impact of the opioid epidemic, we must hold the pharmaceutical companies and executives that created the crisis accountable."

Sanders is right. Unfortunately, the industry has bought and paid for enough politicians in both parties that Sanders won't win this battle -- not unless struggle from below grows strong enough to counteract the pressure on Washington from above.

Categories: News

Who Needs Sessions When You've Got Starbucks?

Fri, 04/27/2018 - 04:00
Categories: News

"You Really Should Resign": Lawmakers Slam EPA's Scott Pruitt Over Mounting Ethics Scandals

Fri, 04/27/2018 - 04:00

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt was grilled by lawmakers Thursday on Capitol Hill about a slew of scandals over his spending habits and ties to industry lobbyists. Pruitt faces more than a half-dozen investigations. Among the scandals: he paid only $50 a night to live in a Capitol Hill condo owned by the wife of a prominent Washington energy lobbyist whose firm represents a roster of fossil fuel companies. Pruitt had a $43,000 soundproof phone booth installed in his office, which a government watchdog says violated spending laws. Pruitt had the EPA spend $3 million on his security detail, including 18 full-time agents. Pruitt routinely travels first- or business-class; reportedly because Pruitt was confronted by economy-class customers angry over his policies. For more we speak with Emily Atkin, a staff writer at The New Republic. Her latest pieces include: "Scott Pruitt Is Forced to Confront Reality" and "The EPA Is Acting Like Big Tobacco." We also speak with Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: News

"Our Dreams Are Coming True": Peace Activists Celebrate as Korean Leaders Vow to Officially End War

Fri, 04/27/2018 - 04:00

 Korea Summit Press Pool / Getty Images) North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in pose for photographs after signing the Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula during the Inter-Korean Summit at the Peace House on April 27, 2018, in Panmunjom, South Korea. (Photo: Korea Summit Press Pool / Getty Images)

History has been made on the Korean peninsula today, as South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shook hands at the Demilitarized Zone between the two countries and pledged to work to denuclearize the peninsula and to declare the official end to the Korean War. Today's historic summit marks the first time a North Korean leader has ever set foot inside South Korea. During the meeting, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said "I came here to put an end to the history of confrontation." The North and South Korean leaders pledged to pursue talks with the United States aimed at negotiating a formal peace treaty to replace the uneasy 1953 armistice. For more we speak with Ann Wright, retired US Army Colonel and former State Department diplomat. She is a member of Women Cross DMZ, a group of international peacemakers who have been calling for an end to the Korean War.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: News

"What They Did to My Son Was Police Terrorism": Richard Risher's Mother Speaks Out

Fri, 04/27/2018 - 04:00

"This ain't no police brutality. What they did to my son was police terrorism. Murder. Brutality is what they do to parents after they kill your child," says Lisa Simpson, mother of Richard Risher, a Black teenager killed by the Los Angeles Police in 2016. Lisa, who has been fighting for justice and accountability since her son's death, speaks out about the criminal legal system that took her son's life.

 Val Lawless / Shutterstock; Edited: LW / TO)(Photo: Val Lawless / Shutterstock; Edited: LW / TO)

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Richard Risher was 18 years old when he was killed by Los Angeles police on July 25, 2016. His mother, Lisa Simpson, has been fighting on his behalf ever since.

"I've always been political," Lisa tells Truthout.

Easy to talk to and incredibly intelligent, Lisa speaks fiercely about her love for her son. She is also outspoken about her frustration with the judicial system and the United States government as a whole, saying that the criminal legal system at large pays no mind "when it comes to the police killing our sons."

Lisa is the mother of five children, and Richard was her middle child. He was born on April 29, 1998. 

"At 2 years old, he knew how to ride a bike with no training wheels. He loved to sing and dance, and he loved kids," says Lisa. "He wanted to play football, to go to college." 

In 2003, Lisa says she moved her children from Los Angeles to Apple Valley, California, a middle-class town in San Bernardino County about 90 miles outside of Los Angeles, with the hopes of giving her children a better life. However, Richard was forced to spend much of his childhood away from Apple Valley after becoming ensnared in the criminal legal system.

"He was in juvenile hall from the age of 12 to 17 for joyriding on a golf cart," Lisa says. 

Richard ran away from his placement in California and then left a second placement. As a result, he was moved to another youth placement, one of which held convicted murderers in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Lisa fought for her son even then, and had the judge who tried Richard's case, Joseph Lopez, removed from trying kids after she wrote a five-page deposition to the Bar Association. 

"He could never try a kid again, so what he did turn was made my son a warden of the court," Lisa explains. 

Still, Richard received all of his high school credits, but he had to finish his last three weeks of school. He turned 18 on April 29, 2016, and at the time was in Los Angeles to spend some time with his father. Richard had been there a few months but started to argue with his father.

"He went to LA before his birthday. His daddy called me to let me know they had got into it. Three days later, he was dead. He was killed on July 25, 2016. He was with his friend, hanging out with his friend," Lisa says.

Richard was in Nickerson Gardens, a public housing apartment complex located in Watts, Los Angeles. He was hanging out with his friends in a field when the police arrived, having been instructed in a roll call meeting the previous day to "monitor" the area for possible gang activity. 

"They were all in the mini field. The police rolled past, so they're still out there, still chilling," Lisa says, adding that the police "came from the back of the shed" and chased Richard.

Police allege that a back-and-forth exchange of gunfire occurred between Richard and the officers, leaving one police officer injured in the arm, but Lisa contests this account, arguing that her son was never involved in gangs and that he did not have a gun. 

The encounter ended with a police officer fatally shooting Richard.

The police did not immediately let Lisa know of the incident, Lisa says. One of her daughter's friends was the one to tell her. 

"They didn't let me see my son, [and] they never gave me a police report," Lisa says. "[Police] said my son's DNA is on the bottom of the clip of the gun, but not on the trigger. They did a gunpowder ballistic test on my son, but they never gave a report." 

One witness told Lisa that what alarmed him was that the police shot through his daughter's closet, which made Lisa think that the police were just shooting "military style," as she calls it. 

"Chasing him, shooting, never seen who he was. They shot him at the end of the projects," Lisa says, adding that a witness named Belinda who lived in the apartment complex told her that her son had no gun.

Lisa has been essentially unsupported in her quest for answers and justice for her beloved son. She says her lawyers have been inconsistent, and according to Lisa, they believe everything the police tell them without any investigation. She adds that she also hasn't found the kind of support she was hoping for from local activist groups, including Black Lives Matter Los Angeles.

"I'm tired of this whole system. Ain't no reforming this shit, you just need to abolish this shit," she says, arguing that the closing of schools, increasing prison population and police violence are all part of the unreformable system that killed her son. 

Lisa never liked the police, but obviously her feelings about them changed tremendously after her son was murdered by the cops. 

"They hit my baby so many times," she says, recounting what she says she heard personally from witnesses living in the complex. "When he fell, he broke his jaw. They ran past my son. They kicked him. They spit on him."

According to a statement from the chief of police, officers were in the area "conducting crime suppression" and were checking for "juvenile gang members hanging out," and looking to "enforce curfew violations."

"This ain't no police brutality. What they did to my son was police terrorism. Murder. Brutality is what they do to parents after they kill your child," Lisa says, adding that her youngest son, Lyndon, who is 9 years old, was particularly traumatized by the loss of his brother. 

Lyndon has even attended commission board meetings with Lisa because he says he wants to fight for his brother. He asked at one meeting, "Why did you officers kill my brother, and treat him like he was a dog?"

Lisa is about to put him in counseling because he has been bullied at school significantly following his brother's murder, after which he turned inward and became more sensitive and introverted.

She says she has found support from certain mothers in other cities, particularly Dorothy Holmes, the mother of Ronald (RonnieMan) Johnson, who was killed by the Chicago Police Department.

"We talk damn near everyday," Lisa says, adding that they talk about their fights, campaigns and memories of their sons. 

The two mothers also took part in an action this past February in Minnesota during the Super Bowl: Mothers of those slain by police rallied outside of the US Bank Stadium, focusing on race, police violence and the right to protest as a part of the national conversation around NFL player Colin Kaepernick taking a knee.

Lisa wants accountability and justice. 

"I got three names of three officers," she says, "but I can't put a face to any of their names. And there's a fourth officer, but he's confidential … he was out of his jurisdiction." 

"I've always been a fighter," Lisa says, adding that she has developed an encyclopedic knowledge of laws and statutes related to policing.

She is intent on continuing her struggle for justice on her son's behalf. 

"[I miss] being able to hold him and kiss him and love on him and shit," she says. "We were a real close family."

She's frequently traveling. On April 25, she had dinner with Mike Brown's parents in St. Louis to discuss coming together and organizing intentionally against the legal system. From May 4 to 6, she is traveling to Cincinnati to speak out for her son with the people from Take a Knee Nation in Minneapolis who organized the Super Bowl actions. Then from May 18 to May 20, she will travel to Miami to the Circle of Mothers event with Trayvon Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton. 

Categories: News

With Tax Scam Complete, GOP Caucus Unveils Budget Blueprint to Attack Safety Net

Fri, 04/27/2018 - 04:00

An ultraconservative Republican House caucus on Wednesday put forth its spending plan that represents a draconian wishlist of attacks on the social safety net and consumer and environmental protections while including a plan to further enrich the wealthy by making making permanent parts of the GOP tax plan.

The budget blueprint from the Republican Study Committee (RSC) -- and titled A Framework of Unified Conservatism -- says it "would take unprecedented steps to begin the deconstruction of the administrative state" and would cut $12.4 trillion over the next decade from federal spending.

Those cuts come from achieving what the document refers to as "long-time conservative priorities," but which represents the wholesale evisceration of public services and government programs designed to bolster the economy and serve the less fortunate.

Among the plan's numerous goals are the repeal of Obamacare and raising the eligibility age of  Medicare and Social Security benefits to age 70. It also seeks to weaken cost-of-living adjustments and increase premiums. It also calls for work requirements for "all federal benefit programs." The "reform" of safety net programs also includes capping federal funds for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and weakening school lunch subsidies.

The wealthy however, fare quite well in the plan. The individual income tax cuts in the Republican Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), which have an end date of 2027 and already disproportionately benefit the rich, would be made permanent.

The CFPB, the plan says, should be eliminated and the CHOICE Act, which critics warn would "eviscerate" consumer protections, should be passed.

The Clean Power Plan and Ozone rule should be blocked, the blueprint urges, and the federal government should be prevented from putting forth fracking regulations. At the same time, the plan calls for allowing the extraction of fossil fuels on any federal land within a state's borders.

And the Congressional Review Act (CRA) -- already being questionably used under Trump administration, should be expanded. "Namely, the CRA's expedited procedures should not be limited to the current 60-day window after an agency completes reporting of a rule," the documents reads. "At any time, Congress should be able to quickly nullify the regulations of which it disapproves."

The Hill reports, "It's unclear whether the RSC budget will get a House floor vote this year, especially if the Budget Committee does not produce its own budget."

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Categories: News

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson Offers Tenants Insults, Not Solutions

Fri, 04/27/2018 - 04:00

Seventy-five low-and moderate-income tenants and manufactured homeowners repeatedly disrupted Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson at a speech in Las Vegas on Wednesday, asking, "where will we go?"

Carson's response? Instead of offering solutions, he insulted poor tenants, saying "This is a perfect example of what happens when the swamp gets ahold of people."

The disruption took place on the same day as Secretary Carson announced that HUD wants the poor to pay higher rents for public housing, not receive credit for health and child care, and meet work requirements to keep their units.

Carson's proposals triple the rent for people on housing assistance and require that residents make the money to pay rent by at least 15 hours of work at the federal minimum wage level.

These changes will affect millions of individuals and families, and especially seniors and the poorest residents of public housing who are already ravaged by frozen budgets and budget cuts. The proposal will bring new burdens to the poorest and most vulnerable people -- many of whom may entirely lose the already-precarious roofs over their heads.

The activists confronted Secretary Carson inside the Manufactured Housing Institute's spring meeting in the Paris Hotel in Vegas, and held a press conference and rally outside.

Inside the room, low-income senior Jeliner Jordan was one of those to interrupt Carson's speech. She asked, "If you increase rents and cut the HUD budget, where will I live?"

"Trump's lackey Ben Carson demonstrated that he doesn't care about people like me who he is sworn to serve," said Jordan, a senior housing resident in Chicago and a grassroots leader with Jane Addams Senior Caucus and People's Action.

 "His words insulted me, and patronized all of us who struggle to pay our rent. His villainous policy proposal today just affirms what we already knew: Carson will continue putting people out of our homes and deepening the housing crisis that is devastating our communities."

"Today Ben Carson insulted us while telling the corporate investors in attendance that they should keep profiting off the housing crisis. Ben Carson's job is to help solve the housing crisis for people, not profiteers. We came to Las Vegas today to remind Secretary Carson to do his job," said Patricia Norberg, a manufactured homeowner from Delaware and a grassroots leader with MHAction. "Corporate and private equity investors associated with MHI say 'jump' and Carson says 'how high?' We've had enough."

"The nation's housing crisis has reached emergency levels. A person working a full time minimum wage job, can't afford a two-bedroom apartment in any county in the U.S. More than half of all Americans spend over 30 percent of their income on rent and utilities, and I'm one of them," said Kendra Moore, a Section 8 tenant in Los Angeles and a grassroots leader with POWER and People's Action.

"It is absolutely unthinkable that the Trump Administration's response to the crisis is to make things worse with draconian rent increases and work requirements. We insist that Congress reject the proposal and we demand a HUD that's fully funded to meet 100 percent of the real needs of American people."

"Carson is out of touch and patronizing. He thinks poverty is a state of mind. He needs to do his job and push for a massive reinvestment in community-owned and public housing. We need him to make a true commitment to alleviating the conditions of poverty and the dismantling of the racist structures embedded in our housing system," said Trenise Bryant from the Miami Workers Center and Homes for All. "And we, those who are directly impacted by the crisis and live with it every day, need to be at the center of the conversation and decisions made to solve it."

The group, representing a multiracial, multigenerational collection of housing justice organizations from across the country, demanded that Ben Carson turn his attention to the housing crisis that threatens them, their families, and millions of people in America every day.

The group told Carson to do his job to faithfully execute the mission of his department, and to advocate for a radical rethinking of the HUD budget to meet one hundred percent of our community's housing needs.

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Categories: News

Graduate Workers Strike at Columbia, 50 Years After '68 Occupation

Thu, 04/26/2018 - 04:00

Graduate students at the Columbia voted an overwhelming 93 percent in favor of authorizing a strike should the school continue its refusal to recognize their union and to negotiate with its democratically-elected bargaining committee. The administration refused and so, on April 24, graduate students refused to teach.

 Bettmann / Contributor / Getty Images)Columbia University seniors in cap and gown walk out on their graduation excercises at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine to join some 1,500 student and parent demonstrators on the streets outside on June 4, 1968, in New York City. (Photo: Bettmann / Contributor / Getty Images)

Fifty years after Columbia's revolt of 1968, when student activists occupied campus buildings in response to the university's plans to build a segregated gym in Morningside Park and its ties to the Vietnam War, the school is once again in the throes of a rebellion.

Graduate students at the Ivy League institution voted an overwhelming 93 percent in favor of authorizing a strike should Columbia continue its refusal to recognize their union and to negotiate with its democratically-elected bargaining committee. The administration refused and so, on April 24, graduate students refused to teach.

Students in union t-shirts sweatshirts -- Graduate Workers of Columbia, United Auto Workers Local 2110 (GWC-UAW) -- banged drums and carried signs that referenced the '68 protests as they formed a picket line in front of the steps of Low Library. They were joined by undergraduate allies, faculty, and administrative staff.

The strike is the culmination of years of campus labor organizing. In December 2016, the National Labor Review Board (NLRB) conducted an election on campus, and 72 percent of graduate workers voted to unionize, despite a vigorous anti-union campaign conducted by the administration and the best efforts of the anti-union law firm Proskauer Rose. After the NLRB certified the vote, Proskauer Rose filed exceptions calling into question the conduct of the election, which delayed the union's certification until December 2017, when those objections were dismissed in their entirety.

On January 30, Columbia formally refused to bargain with the newly-certified student worker union, citing their "…firm conviction that graduate assistants are not employees, and that the fundamental and essential purposes of graduate education would be ill-served by the intrusion of a third party between student and teacher."

Student organizers assert that despite the Columbia President Lee Bollinger's stated opposition to the policies of the Trump administration, Columbia's is waiting for the NLRB to be stacked with Trump appointees, in the hopes that the ruling recognizing graduate students as workers will be reversed.

Trevor Hull, a Ph.D. chemistry student and member of the union's bargaining committee, said this tactic won't work. The graduate workers union is here to say.

"Trump won't help you," Hull said, addressing Bollinger and the school administration.

The students formed a union because they want to improve their working conditions, Hull explained. In the chemistry lab where he performs research with toxic metals, the school's office of Environmental Health and Safety, the body responsible for minimizing health risks to researchers, has refused to fund blood poisoning tests for the lab workers.

Another goal of the graduate workers union is a "real recourse" for workplace sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment at Columbia University has been widely documented. Students are left with little recourse in a system where the student-advisor relationship is crucial to one's academic career, yet receives such little oversight. Professors who sexually harass their students are often quietly dismissed, stripped of their advisorships, but not their tenure. They remain employees of the university. A strong student union could help remedy this chronic imbalance of power.

"I'd like to not see any new stories in the New York Times about professors and sexual harassment", said Hull. "While many more stories go uncovered."

Olga Brudastova, a 6th-year civil engineering Ph.D. student who is also a member of the bargaining committee, said establishing a grievance procedure is an important issue for the union. Columbia's response to the issue of chronic late pay has been inadequate, Brudastova says. Rather than addressing the problem of graduate students receiving their pay sometimes months late, Columbia outsourced a late payment hotline to a third party. Issues like this could be definitively resolved with the help of a strong grad student union, she said.

Several days before the planned strike, the school's Provost, John Coatsworth, reiterated Columbia's intention to depend on the judicial system to reach a final decision, and "determine with finality if student teaching and research assistants are employees under federal labor law." But Brudastova insists that this is yet another excuse.

"If you ask them, they say student workers are not workers," Brudastova said. "But the real reason they will not negotiate is because of an unhealthy power dynamic in academia at large."

The strike at Columbia is the latest development in a nationwide flood of educational labor unrest that has included strikes by grade-school teachers in West Virginia, Kentucky and Oklahoma. Graduate workers across the country are increasingly feeling the pinch at schools that are more and more relying on their labor in place of hiring full-time, tenured professors. Student workers at the New School, New York University, the City University of New York and University of Massachusetts at Amherst are already unionized.. On April 20, Harvard graduate employees became the latest graduate workers to unionize.

The strike is planned to continue through the end of classes on April 30. Some faculty are expressing solidarity with the grad students by canceling classes that meet during the picketing hours, or by meeting off campus. In a university-wide email, Provost John Coatsworth said that thousands of students would be affected by a strike. However, a contingency plan has yet to be communicated. As teaching assistant office hours and meetings are canceled, many students wonder if their grades, coursework or graduation plans will be impacted. Columbia has not made any public statement in response to the strike and shows no signs of coming to the bargaining table. The university has threatened to pursue a court injunction against graduate student picket lines according to union representatives.

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

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Categories: News

Economic Update: Employees vs. Employers

Thu, 04/26/2018 - 04:00

This week's episode discusses the German workers who elect almost half of corporate boards of directors, major US corporations with negative tax rates, Kentucky governor maneuvers against black-lung victims, involuntary part-time employment, US evictions and dangerous long-term use of anti-depressants. Also included is a discussion of the economics of socialism and phony claims by state leaders that there's "no money."

To see more stories like this, visit Economic Update: Your Weekly Dose of Revolutionary Economics

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Categories: News

ALEC Task Forces Gather in Grand Rapids to Draft Bills for Its Corporate Sponsors

Thu, 04/26/2018 - 04:00

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) will hold its annual Spring Task Force Summit on April 27 at the Amway Grand Plaza in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

There is no word yet on whether Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, a Michigander married to Amway heir Richard DeVos, will be joining the gathering at the swank four-star hotel as ALEC legislators and corporate lobbyists vote on cookie-cutter bills behind closed doors. ALEC has long embraced DeVos and her school privatization agenda, even though the failure of the charter school system she helped create in Michigan has been the topic of devastating reports in the New York Times and 60 Minutes.

Further education privatization is on the agenda in Grand Rapids along with measures to please fossil fuel companies, marijuana companies, and more.


While over 100 mainstream American companies have fled the controversial organization, a 2017 Annual Meeting registration list shows that ALEC is still chock full of fossil fuel companies.

Peabody Energy and Koch Industries serve on ALEC's Private Enterprise Advisory Council and ExxonMobil, Chevron, Duke Energy, Marathon Petroleum, the Edison Electric Institute, American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, American Gas Association, the Nuclear Energy Institute, and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association are ALEC members.

One piece of priority legislation for the companies is ALEC's Critical Infrastructure Protection Act. The bill, a punitive measure designed to frighten protestors with stiff penalties and discourage large-scale demonstrations like the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, was adopted by ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force in 2017. Similar bills have been signed into law in Oklahoma and Iowa and introduced in Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, and Ohio. Wyoming's bill passed the legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Matt Mead.

"Over the last couple of years, we've seen a number of powerful examples of people publicly coming together to raise their voices and push for change—from water protectors and their allies challenging pipeline construction near Standing Rock and elsewhere, to racial justice advocates taking to the streets to protest police shooting deaths," said Vera Eidelman, Legal Fellow with the ACLU's Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. "And yet, rather than respond to the protesters' substantive messages…many elected representatives are instead introducing bills that would label them 'terrorists' or 'saboteurs,' chill their speech, and discourage others from associating with them."

In Michigan, ALEC politicians will be asked to vote on new bills that advance the interests of the industry, including the Resolution Supporting States Ability to Permit and Regulate Oil and Gas Development on Federal Lands within their Borders and the Gas Tax Transparency Act.

The oil and gas permitting bill is the latest from ALEC in its push to hand over America's public lands to the fossil fuel companies that started almost 20 years ago. The latest resolution calls on Trump and Congress to hand over the power to regulate and permit fossil fuel development on public lands to the states, where the industry has its greatest power and influence over government.

The Gas Tax Transparency Act requires fuel tax stickers to be placed on gas pumps detailing state and federal taxes to promote "transparency." ALEC hopes that voters will be up in arms about the taxes and will pressure their representatives to lower them.

ALEC is for transparency only when it aids their benefactors. The organization is better known for its efforts to undermine reporting when it comes to campaigns and elections. ALEC is aggressively pushing a model resolutiondesigned to stop states and municipalities from requiring dark-money groups that spend millions to influence elections to disclose their donors, and has launched the misnamed Center to Protect Free Speech to lobby for it.


Ironically, while the ALEC energy task force is working hard to advance the polluter agenda, the ALEC education task force will discuss an education bill that promotes itself as a means to crack down on air pollution. The Environmentally Sustainable Charter School Admissions Act gives enrollment preference in charter schools to children who live near the school or if a parent works near the school in order to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution.

ALEC has worked hand-in-hand with the DeVos group, American Federation for Children to advance a "cash for kids" model of school privatization including dozens of bills promoting school vouchers. For decades, ALEC billed vouchers as a civil rights ticket for low-income kids, but then ALEC's Education Savings Account Act created a "universal" system that siphons off public education dollars to private school parents of any income. Now ALEC is entertaining a new bill, the Economic Development Zone ESA Act, to give preference to kids who live within economic development zones.

A series of recent studies have shown poor results for voucher programs. For instance, a major study of Louisiana's voucher program found that public elementary school students who started at the 50th percentile in math and then used a voucher to transfer to a private school dropped, on average, to the 26th percentile in just one school year. Martin West, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, said the negative effects in Louisiana were "as large as any I've seen" in the history of American education research.

The Amendments to the Great Schools Tax Credit Program Act would amend an earlier ALEC bill to correct a drafting error that apparently resulted in some corporations getting a tax benefit more than the amount of a scholarship donation.


In a rather surprising move, ALEC will be considering a legislative proposal for a Closed-Loop Payment Processing System for Marijuana Taxation and Sales. The bill would require a State Treasurer to devise a financial system that will put it in charge of processing all marijuana financial transactions in the state. Yes, it is true that some states are having issues processing medical marijuana related payments, but a state-sponsored financial monopoly? The whole idea seems counter to ALEC's usual stance on "free" markets.

The impetus for this bill may be from the fact that the multi billion-dollar cannabis industry is struggling to find financial partners with cannabis still being illegal at the federal level. The 2017 ALEC Annual Meeting in Denver saw a number of marijuana entities join up, including Weedmaps, a "Chairman Level" sponsor, the Marijuana Policy Project, and Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition.


In the era of Trump, the Koch machine, including ALEC, has fully embraced Trumpism. Shortly after the November 2016 election, ALEC's Executive Director Lisa Nelson told funders and members that she was thrilled to report that the Trump administration "does have the potential to be an ALEC administration. It is full of the people and ideas we've advanced since 1973…Now is our time. And ALEC is ready." Since then over 40 Koch political operatives have signed on to work for the the Trump White House and administration, according to a recent report by Public Citizen.

This week, as ALEC meets in Michigan, the Koch takeover of the administration will be the topic of floor speeches in the U.S. Senate and educational events. The Intercept exposed the Koch political network's secret laundry list of policy changes that it has pursued and won the administration, including the federal tax overhaul giving massive tax breaks for corporations and the rich that will balloon the deficit.

Resources: The list of ALEC legislative members can be accessed here and the list of ALEC corporate funders can be accessed here. Follow @ALECexposed.

Categories: News


Thu, 04/26/2018 - 04:00
Categories: News

Senior Democrat Caught on Tape Pressuring Progressive Congressional Candidate to Drop Out of Race

Thu, 04/26/2018 - 04:00

A new exposé by The Intercept confirms how powerful Democratic officials have worked to crush competitive progressive candidates in primaries around the country, choosing instead to back moderate, business-friendly candidates. This comes after President Obama used his farewell address to encourage Americans upset about the outcome of the 2016 election to take action by running for office themselves. We speak with Levi Tillemann, a Colorado man who heeded Obama's call and found himself disappointed by the process, after he was repeatedly pressured by powerful Democrats not to run. In fact, he recorded a conversation in which he was directly told to drop out of the Democratic primary for Colorado's sixth Congressional district by none other than the second-ranking House Democrat, Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland. We go to Denver to speak with Levi Tillemann, a candidate in Colorado's Democratic primary for the 6th Congressional District, which includes Denver. He is featured in the new exposé by Lee Fang, investigative journalist at The Intercept, "Secretly Taped Audio Reveals Democratic Official Pressuring Progressive to Bow Out of Election."

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: News

Supreme Court Appears Set to Uphold Trump's Travel Ban Targeting Muslim Nations

Thu, 04/26/2018 - 04:00

The US Supreme Court looks poised to uphold President Trump's travel ban, which blocks most people from seven countries -- including Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen -- from entering the United States. During oral arguments on Wednesday, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is often seen as a swing vote, appeared to side with the conservative wing of the court. US solicitor general Noel Francisco argued the travel restrictions were not a "so-called Muslim ban" and that the order fell within the president's executive authority. Francisco made the claim even though Trump campaigned for president calling for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States." Lower courts have repeatedly ruled against versions of Trump's travel ban, saying they were unconstitutional and in violation of federal immigration law. We are joined by Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU's national Immigrants' Rights Project, who presented the first challenge to President Trump's travel ban order last year, and Diala Shamas, a staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. She was in Djibouti last month speaking to Yemeni relatives of US citizens attempting to come to the United States under Trump's travel ban.


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

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And I'm Nermeen Shaikh. Welcome to our listeners and viewers around the country and around the world. The US Supreme Court appears poised to uphold President Trump's travel ban, which blocks most people from seven countries, including Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, from entering the United States. During oral arguments on Wednesday, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is often seen as a swing vote, appeared to side with the conservative wing of the court. US Solicitor General Noel Francisco argued the travel restrictions were not a "so-called Muslim ban," and that the order fell within the president's executive authority. Francisco made the claim even though Trump campaigned for president calling for "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States."

AMY GOODMAN: Lower courts have repeatedly ruled against versions of Trump's travel ban, saying they were unconstitutional and in violation of federal immigration law. Neal Katyal argued against the ban in the Supreme Court case, which was brought by the state of Hawaii. This is justice Samuel Alito questioning Katyal.

SUPREME COURT JUSTICE SAMUEL ALITO: Mr, Katyal, would any reasonable observer reading this proclamation, without taking into account statements, think that this was a Muslim ban? I mean there are -- I think there are 50 predominately Muslim countries in the world. Five countries, five predominately Muslim countries are on this list. The population of the predominately Muslim countries on this list make up about eight percent of the world's Muslim population. If you looked at the 10 countries with the most Muslims, exactly one, Iran, would be on that list of the top 10. So would a reasonable observer think this was a Muslim ban?

NEAL KATYAL: If it were just the text of the order alone, it might raise eyebrows for fit and other reasons that the briefs go into, but we wouldn't be here. We absolutely agree that it just -- it's the same test as in Lukumi and other cases. You have to look to all the circumstances around it that are said. The publicly available ones. And Justice Alito, the fact that the order only encompasses some Muslim countries, I don't think means it's not religious discrimination. For example, if I am an employer and I have 10 African Americans working for me, and I only fire two of them, I don't think -- and say, "Well, I've left the other eight in" -- I don't think anyone can say that is not discrimination.

SUPREME COURT JUSTICE SAMUEL ALITO: No, I understand that. And it is one of our fundamental values that there is religious freedom here for everybody, and that member -- adherents to every religion are entitled to equal treatment. My only point is that if you look at what was done, it does not look at all like a Muslim ban. There are other justifications that jump out as to why these particular countries were put on the list. So it seems to me the list creates a strong inference that this was not done for that invidious purpose.

AMY GOODMAN: Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito questioning Neal Katyal during oral arguments Wednesday on President Trump's travel ban. We are joined now by two guests.
Lee Gelernt is deputy director of the ACLU's national Immigrants' Rights Project. He presented the first challenge to President Trump's travel ban order last year. Diala Shamas is staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. She was in Djibouti last month speaking to many Yemeni relatives of US citizens attempting to come to the United States under Trump's travel ban. We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Lee, let's begin with you. You brought the first challenge in a Brooklyn court. You're watching this in Supreme Court. Explain what happened and what you think the outcome will be, based on the questions of the Supreme Court justices.

LEE GELERNT: I would hesitate to predict. I never predict. There was definitely some skepticism about our challenge. There was not a lot of talk about religious discrimination. Much less than I think maybe the public would have thought. I think the question I think that most people who are non-lawyers probably have is, we all understand what the president was doing. Why is there this restricted inquiry in court, where they're not taking into account all the president's statements, all the tweets?

And what the government has argued is, "Well, you shouldn't look at what someone says during the campaign." We will see whether the court looks at it. Most of the discussion centered on whether the president, regardless of religious discrimination, overstepped his authority that Congress has given him. And I think that is ultimately where the fight is going to be on the court. Did Congress give the president this type of authority to ban 150 million Muslims without serious justification?

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Alito, in the clip that we played, says that the ban only applies to five Muslim countries, and of course, there are many more than that, and therefore, it can't be read as a Muslim ban. So your response to that?

LEE GELERNT: I think the response given in court was correct. Well, what if you just had 10 African Americans working for you and those are the only people that you -- that you took three of them and fired them for no reason, and fired no white people? I think that is the correct response. You would still say there is discrimination going on. What we feel like is they added North Korea and they added Venezuela as window dressing.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to Justice Elena Kagan who questioned Solicitor General Noel Francisco.

SUPREME COURT JUSTICE ELENA KAGAN: This is a hypothetical that you've heard a variant of before -- that the government has, at any rate, but I want to give you. Let's say in some future time, a president gets elected who is a vehement anti-Semite and says all kinds of denigrating comments about Jews and provokes a lot of resentment and hatred over the course of a campaign and in his presidency, and in the course of that, asks his staff or his cabinet members to issue recommendations so that he can issue a proclamation of this kind, and they dot all the i's and they cross all the t's. And what emerges -- and again, in the context of this virulent anti-Semitism -- what emerges is a proclamation that says, "No one shall enter from Israel."


SUPREME COURT JUSTICE ELENA KAGAN: Do you say Mandel puts an end to judicial review of that set of facts?

SOLICITOR GENERAL NOEL FRANCISCO: No, Your Honor, I don't say Mandel puts an end to it, but I do say that in that context, Mandel would be the starting point of the analysis, because it does involve the exclusion of aliens, which is where Mandel applies. If his cabinet -- and this is a very tough hypothetical that we dealt with throughout -- but if his cabinet were to actually come to him and say, "Mr. President, there is honestly a national security risk here and you have to act," I think then that the president would be allowed to follow that advice, even if in his private heart of hearts, he also harbored animus.

AMY GOODMAN: So that was Elena Kagan questioning Solicitor General Noel Francisco. Diala Shamas, your response to this line of questions? If you just said, "No one from Israel can come in."

DIALA SHAMAS: I think what is obvious about that is that it's a hypothetical that really isn't so much a hypothetical, because if you just switched the Jewish identification with Muslim identifications, you have exactly what has happened here. Watching the solicitor general kind of waver a little bit in his response there I think really signals a level of discomfort that he had and that the government is going to ultimately be facing when it comes to the crux of the issue here, which is the issue of discrimination and the constitutionality of the ban.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Can you give us a sense, Diala, for the people who aren't quite aware of what the impact of this ban has been and will be in the event that it is kept in place? Who are the people who are most impacted? You were in Djibouti last month speaking to Yemenis. Can you talk about that as well as the other people who are included in this list? A hundred and fifty million.

DIALA SHAMAS: One of the reasons we went to Djibouti in the first place was in order to be able to go to where the impact was being experienced. So as you may recall, with the first executive order, people rushed to the airports, and the sense of chaos was very palpable right here in the US And the moment we sort of shifted to consular processing, where people who are no longer in mid-flight are being banned, but people who are applying for visas at consulates are banned, it's not as visible, and that makes it much more difficult to really understand the scope of the human impact that the ban has had.

And we felt it was really important to go to Djibouti, which is where many Yemeni applicants went to get their visas processed due to the fact that the consulate in Djibouti itself, the US Embassy in Yemen, closed down in 2015 due to the war in Yemen. So many of them had to travel, make a long and arduous journey to Djibouti, in order to finish processing their visa petitions, in order to rejoin their families. So most Yemenis are actually the direct relatives, usually children, spouses, of US citizens or US lawful permanent residents.

Many of them headed to Djibouti for their interviews either before the stay of the Supreme Court was -- the stay of the ban was lifted by the Supreme Court on December 4th, or afterwards to attend an interview. And then what happened was the moment the stay was lifted in December, they received en masse denials of their visa petitions. So families who had been there expecting to wait two, three weeks, pending processing of their visa petition, ended up being in Djibouti for six months, and some people we spoke with were there for two years.

AMY GOODMAN: And so many of them are American citizens who are trying to bring their families?

DIALA SHAMAS: Almost everyone we spoke with were US citizens and their non-citizen -- wives usually -- husbands, children, parents.

AMY GOODMAN: Or sick children. And that's the issue we want to go to right now.

Categories: News

"This Is on Trump": VA Pick Ronny Jackson Withdraws as Reports of Misconduct and Lack of Vetting Swirl

Thu, 04/26/2018 - 04:00

Facing a slew of explosive allegations regarding his conduct as White House physician and mounting questions about his lack of qualifications to run the government's second-largest agency, Dr. Ronny Jackson on Thursday withdrew his name from consideration as President Donald Trump's nominee to head the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

"The allegations against me are completely false and fabricated," Jackson said in a statement announcing his decision to withdraw, pointing to swirling claims of drunkenness on the job and excessive and inappropriate pill distribution.

While Jackson insisted that if the claims against him were true he "would not have been selected, promoted, and entrusted to serve in such a sensitive and important role as physician to three presidents over the past 12 years," many questioned whether the Trump administration properly vetted Jackson before nominating him to lead such a massive department.

As the New York Times notes, Trump chose Jackson to head up the VA out of "personal affinity," and as such he "did not undergo the kind of policy vetting that usually accompanies a nomination to a cabinet post."

The White House reportedly only began vetting Jackon after Trump had already named him to lead the VA.

Jackson is hardly the first Trump nominee to withdraw before even making it to the Senate confirmation hearing.

Trump's "prior nominees for labor secretary, Army secretary, and Navy secretary all withdrew last year after questions arose during their vetting process," the Washington Post observed.

Dr. Ronny Jackson is at least the 24th unsuccessful nominee to a Senate confirmable job under President Trump.

— Peter Alexander (@PeterAlexander) April 26, 2018

"Don't blame anyone but the Trump administration and their complete lack of professional vetting and experienced personnel. This is on Trump," argued Jon Wolfsthal, senior adviser to the anti-nuclear weapons group Global Zero.

With everything going on in the White House, the media must maintain relentless pressure on the Trump administration. Can you support Truthout in this endeavor? Click here to donate.
Categories: News

Trump's Attorney Michael Cohen to Plead the Fifth in Stormy Daniels Lawsuit

Thu, 04/26/2018 - 04:00

 Drew Angerer / Getty Images)Adult film actress Stormy Daniels exits the United States District Court Southern District of New York for a hearing related to Michael Cohen, President Trump's longtime personal attorney and confidante, April 16, 2018, in New York City. (Photo: Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

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Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's personal attorney, declared on Wednesday that he will invoke his Fifth Amendment right in a lawsuit filed by Stephanie Clifford.

Clifford, whose stage name is Stormy Daniels, was previously paid $130,000 by Michael Cohen in what she alleges was hush money intended to silence her from speaking out about an affair she had with Donald Trump in 2006.

Cohen's declaration reads:

  1. I have personal knowledge of the facts set forth herein, and if called and sworn as a witness, I could and would competently testify to the matters stated herein.

  2. On April 9, 2018, the Federal Bureau of Investigation executed three search warrants on my residence, office and hotel room, respectively, without any prior notice. During the corresponding raids, the FBI seized various electronic devices and documents in my possession, which contain information relating to the $130,000 payment to Plaintiff Stephanie Clifford at the center of this case, and my communications with counsel, Brent Blakely, relating to this action.

  3. Based upon the advice of counsel, I will assert my 5th amendment rights in connection with all proceedings in this case due to the ongoing criminal investigation by the FBI and US. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

  4. On April 10, 2018 I first realized that my Fifth Amendment rights would be implicated in this case, after I considered the events of April 9, 2018, described in the above paragraph 2. I declare under penalty of perjury under the laws of the United States of America that the foregoing is true and correct.

Michael Avenatti, Clifford's outspoken attorney, called the development "stunning" on Twitter.

"Never before in our nation's history has the attorney for the sitting President invoked the 5th [Amendment] in connection with issues surrounding the President," Avenatti tweeted. "It is [especially] stunning seeing as [Michael Cohen] served as the 'fixer' for Mr. Trump for over 10 yrs.#basta"

And yes, my record of prediction stays intact. We will keep shooting until we miss. #searchforthetruth #basta

— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) April 25, 2018

Given that the Fifth Amendment promises the right against "forced self-incrimination" (as Cornell Law scholars write), invoking it is often perceived by the public as an admission that there is something to hide. In 1990, after separating from first wife Ivana Trump, Trump himself invoked the Fifth to avoid answering a question during his divorce deposition.

Hypocritically, when a Hillary Clinton aide invoked the Fifth, Trump took the chance to lampoon them.

"The mob takes the Fifth," Trump said, according to AP News. "If you're innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?"

Perhaps Trump should ask the same question to Cohen.

Categories: News

Donald Trump and the Next Crash: Making the Fed an Instrument for Disaster

Thu, 04/26/2018 - 04:00

Donald J. Trump speaks during a State Dinner for French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron at the White House on April 24, 2018, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images)Donald J. Trump speaks during a State Dinner for French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron at the White House on April 24, 2018, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

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Warning: What you are about to read is not about Russia, the 2016 election, or the latest person to depart from the White House in a storm of tweets. It's the Beltway story hiding in plain sight with trillions of dollars in play and an economy to commandeer.

While we've been bombarded with a litany of scandals from the Oval Office and the Trump family, there's a crucial institution in Washington that few in the media seem to be paying attention to, even as President Trump quietly makes it his own. More obscure than the chambers of the Supreme Court, it's a place where he has already made substantial changes. I'm talking about the Federal Reserve. 

As the central bank of the United States, the "Fed" sets the financial tone for the global economy by manipulating interest rate levels. This impacts everyone, yet very few grasp the scope of its influence.

During times of relative economic calm, the Fed is regularly forgotten. But what history shows us is that having leaders who are primed to neglect Wall Street's misdoings often sets the scene for economic dangers to come. That's why nominees to the Fed are so crucial.

We have entered a landmark moment: no president since Woodrow Wilson (during whose administration the Federal Reserve was established) will have appointed as many board members to the Fed as Donald Trump. His fingerprints will, in other words, not just be on Supreme Court decisions, but no less significantly Fed policy-making for years to come -- even though, like that court, it occupies a mandated position of political independence.

The president's latest two nominees to that institution's Board of Governors exemplify this. He has nominated Richard Clarida, a former Treasury Department official from the days of President George W. Bush who later became a strategic adviser to investment goliath Pimco, to the Fed's second most important slot, while giving the nod to Michelle Bowman, a Kansas bank commissioner, to represent community banks on that same board.

Like many other entities in Washington, the Fed's Board of Governors has been operating with less than a full staff. If Clarida is approved, he will join Trump-appointed Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and incoming New York Federal Reserve Bank head John C. Williams -- the New York Fed generally exists in a mind meld with Wall Street -- as part of the most powerful trio at that institution.

Williams served as president of the San Francisco Fed. Under his watch, the third largest US bank, Wells Fargo, created about 3.5 million fake accounts, gave its CEO a whopping raise, and copped to a $1 billion fine for bilking its customers on auto and mortgage insurance contracts.

Not surprisingly, Wall Street has embraced Trump's new Fed line-up because its members are so favorably disposed to loosening restrictions on financial institutions of every sort.  Initially, the financial markets reflected concern that Chairman Powell might turn out to be a hawk on interest rates, meaning he'd raise them too quickly, but he's proved to be anything but.

As Trump stacks the deck in his favor, count on an economic impact that will be felt for years to come and could leave the world devastated. But rest assured, if the Fed can help Trump keep the stock market buoyant for a while by letting money stay cheap for Wall Street speculation and the dollar competitive for a trade war, it will.  

History Warns Us

At a time when inequality, economic hardship, and household and personal debt levels are escalating and wages are not, why should any of this matter to the rest of us? The answer is simple enough: because the Fed sets the level of interest rates and so the cost of money. This, in turn, indirectly impacts the value of the dollar, which means everything you buy.

Since the financial crisis, the Fed has kept the cost of borrowing money for banks at near zero percent interest. That allowed those banks to borrow money to buy their own stock (as did many corporations) to inflate their value but not, of course, the value of their service to Main Street.

When money is cheap because interest rates are low or near zero, the beneficiaries are those with the most direct access to it. That means, of course, that the biggest banks, members of the Fed since its inception, get the largest chunks of fabricated money and pay the least amount of interest for it.

Although during the election campaign of 2016 Trump chastised the Fed for its cheap-money policies, he's since evidently changed his mind (which is, of course, very Trumpian of him). That's because he knows that the lower the cost of money is, the easier it is for major companies to borrow it. Easy money means easy speculation for Wall Street and its main corporate clients, which sooner or later will be a threat to the rest of us. 

The era of trade wars, soaring stock markets, and Trump gaffes may feel like it's gone on forever. Don't forget, though, that there was a moment not so long ago when the same banking policies still reigning caused turmoil, ripping through the country and devouring the finances of so many. It's worth recalling for a moment what happened during the Great Meltdown of 2008, when unrestrained mega-banks ravaged the economy before being bailed out. In the midst of the current market ecstasy, it's an easy past to ignore. That's why Trump's takeover of the Fed and its impact on the financial system matters so much.

Let's recall that, on September 15, 2008, Lehman Brothers crashed. That bank, like Goldman Sachs a former employer of mine, had been around for more than 150 years. Its collapse was a key catalyst in a spiral of disaster that nearly decimated the world financial system. It wasn't the bankruptcy that did it, however, but the massive amount of money the surviving banks had already lent Lehman to buy the toxic assets they created.

Around the same time, Merrill Lynch, a competitor of Lehman's, was sold to Bank of America for $50 billion and American International Group (AIG) received $182 billion in government assistance. JPMorgan Chase had already bought Bear Stearns, which had crashed six months earlier, utilizing a $29 billion government and Federal Reserve security blanket in the process.

In the wake of Lehman's bankruptcy, $16 trillion in bailouts and other subsidies from the Federal Reserve and Congress were offered mostly to Wall Street's biggest banks. That flow of money allowed them to return from the edge of financial disaster. At the same time, it fueled the stock and bond markets, as untethered from economic realities as the hot air balloon in The Wizard of Oz.

After nearly tripling since the post-financial crisis spring of 2009, last year the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose magically again by nearly 24%. Why? Because despite all of his swamp-draining campaign talk, Trump embraced the exact same bank-coddling behavior as President Obama. He advocated the Fed's cheap-money policy and hired Steve Mnuchin, an ex-Goldman Sachs partner and Wall Street's special friend, as his Treasury secretary. He doubled down on rewarding ongoing malfeasance and fraud by promoting the deregulation of the banks, as if Wall Street's greed and high appetite for risk had vanished. 

Impending Signs of Crisis

A quarter of the way into 2018, shadows of 2008 are already emerging. Only two months ago, the Dow logged its worst single-day point decline in history before bouncing back with vigor. In the meantime, the country whose banks caused the last crisis faces record consumer and corporate debt levels and a vulnerable geopolitical global landscape.

True, the unemployment rate is significantly lower than it was at the height of the financial crisis, but for Main Street, growth hasn't been quite so apparent. About one in five US jobs still pays a median income below the federal poverty line. Median household income is only up 5.3% since 2008 and remains well below where it was in 1998, if you adjust for inflation. Workforce participation remains nearly as low as it's ever been. Meanwhile, the top 1% of American earners saw their incomes go up by leaps and bounds since the Fed started manufacturing money -- to more than 40 times that of the bottom 90%.

Just as before the 2007-2008 financial crisis, there's a scary level of confidence among politicians and regulators that neither the economy nor the banking sector could possibly go bust. Even the new Federal Reserve chair views the possible need for bailouts as a relic of a bygone time. As he said at his confirmation hearing, "Generally speaking I think the financial system is quite strong." When asked if there are any US banks that are still too big to fail, he responded, "I would say no to that."  

That's a pretty decisive statement, and not strikingly different from one outgoing Fed Chair Janet Yellen made last year. By extension, it means that Trump's new chairman supports laxer structures for the big banks and more cheap money, if needed, to help them. So watch out. 

When a crisis hits, liquidity dies, and banks close their doors to the public. Ultimately, the same formula for crisis will surely send Wall Street executives crawling back to the government for aid and then Donald Trump will find out what financial negligence truly is.

A Time of Crisis and Financial Collusion

As signs of crisis emerge, few in Washington have delved into how we can ensure that a systemic crash does not happen again. That's why I'll never forget the strange message I got one day. It was in the middle of May 2015, about a year after my book, All the Presidents' Bankers, had been published, when I received an email from the Federal Reserve. Every year, the Fed, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank hold an annual conference where the most elite central bankers from around the globe assemble. To my shock, since I hadn't exactly written in a kindly fashion about the Fed, I was being invited to speak at the opening session about why Wall Street wasn't helping Main Street.

Two months later, I found myself sitting in front of a room filled with central bankers from around the world, listening to Fed Chair Janet Yellen proclaim that the worst of the crisis and its causes were behind us. In response, the first thing I asked that distinguished crowd was this: "Do you want to know why big Wall Street banks aren't helping Main Street as much as they could?" The room was silent. I paused before answering, "Because you never required them to." 

I added, "The biggest six US banks have been rewarded with an endless supply of cheap money in bailouts and loans for their dangerous behavior. They have been given open access to these funds with no major consequences, and no rules on how they should utilize the Fed's largess to them to help the real economy. Why should you expect their benevolence?"

After I returned home, I became obsessed with uncovering just how the bailouts and loans of that moment were only the tip of an iceberg, the sort of berg that had once taken down the Titanic -- how that cheap money fabricated for Wall Street had been no isolated American incident.

What my research for my new book, Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged the World, revealed was how central bankers and massive financial institutions have worked together to manipulate global markets for the past decade. Major central banks gave themselves a blank check with which to resurrect problematic banks; purchase government, mortgage, and corporate bonds; and in some cases -- as in Japan and Switzerland -- stocks, too. They have not had to explain to the public where those funds were going or why. Instead, their policies have inflated asset bubbles, while coddling private banks and corporations under the guise of helping the real economy. 

The zero-interest-rate and bond-buying central bank policies prevailing in the US, Europe, and Japan have been part of a coordinated effort that has plastered over potential financial instability in the largest countries and in private banks. It has, in turn, created asset bubbles that could explode into an even greater crisis the next time around.

So, today, we stand near -- how near we don't yet know -- the edge of a dangerous financial precipice. The risks posed by the largest of the private banks still exist, only now they're even bigger than they were in 2007-2008 and operating in an arena of even more debt. In Donald Trump's America, what this means is that the same dangerous policies are still being promoted today. The difference now is that the president is appointing members to the Fed who will only increase the danger of those risks for years to come.

A crash could prove to be President Trump's worst legacy. Not only is he -- and the Fed he's helping to create -- not paying attention to the alarm bells (ignored by the last iteration of the Fed as well), but he's ensured that none of his appointees will either. After campaigning hard against the ills of global finance in the 2016 election campaign and promising a modern era Glass-Steagall Act to separate bank deposits from the more speculative activities on Wall Street, Trump's policy reversals and appointees leave our economy more exposed than ever. 

When politicians and regulators are asleep at the wheel, it's the rest of us who will suffer sooner or later. Because of the collusion that's gone on and continues to go on among the world's main central banks, that problem is now an international one.

Categories: News

White Supremacy and Capitalism Are Deeply Entangled With the Colonial Slave Trade

Thu, 04/26/2018 - 04:00

The United States may have declared its independence from Britain in 1776, but it was from England and other European powers that the breakaway colonies inherited an evil that was of fundamental significance to its future: slavery. In this excerpt of The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism, Gerald Horne describes how we are still experiencing that ruinous legacy.

 Mark Ralston / AFP / Getty Images)Marchers protest during the March Against Slavery to raise international awareness of migrants being abused and exploited, held in Los Angeles, California on January 27, 2018. (Photo: Mark Ralston / AFP / Getty Images)

By detailing the growth of the slave trade in the 17th century, Gerald Horne reveals how white supremacy, capitalism and the original sin of slavery in the Western Hemisphere became intertwined. Get The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism by clicking here now.

The United States may have declared its independence from Britain in 1776, but it was from England and other European powers that the breakaway colonies inherited an evil that was of fundamental significance to its future: slavery. By the time of the Revolutionary War, slavery, settler colonialism, white supremacy and capitalism were essential features of what would become the United States. We are still experiencing the ruinous legacy of that heritage today.

The following are excerpts from the introduction to The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism:

The years between 1603 and 1714 were perhaps the most decisive in English history. At the onset of the seventeenth century, the sceptered isle was a second-class power but the Great Britain that emerged by the beginning of the eighteenth century was, in many ways, the planet's reigning superpower. It then passed the baton to its revolting spawn, the United States, which has carried global dominance into the present century.

There are many reasons for this stunning turnabout. Yet any explanation that elides slavery, colonialism, and the shards of an emerging capitalism, along with their handmaiden -- white supremacy -- is deficient in explanatory power. From the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries nearly 13 million Africans were brutally snatched from their homelands, enslaved, and forced to toil for the greater good of European and Euro-American powers, London not least. Roughly two to four million Native Americans also were enslaved and traded by European settlers in the Americas, English and Scots not least.

From the advent of Columbus to the end of the nineteenth century, it is possible that five million indigenous Americans were enslaved. This form of slavery coexisted roughly with enslavement of Africans, leading to a catastrophic decline in the population of indigenes. In the Caribbean basin, the Gulf Coast, northern Mexico, and what is now the US Southwest, the decline in population during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was nothing short of catastrophic. Population may have fallen by up to 90 percent through devilish means including warfare, famine, and slavery, all with resultant epidemics. The majority of the enslaved were women and children, an obvious precursor, and trailblazer, for the sex trafficking of today. But for the massive revolt of the indigenous in 1680 in what is now New Mexico, the toll might have been much worse.

What is euphemistically referred to as "modernity" is marked with the indelible stain of slavery, white supremacy, and capitalism, with the bloody process of human bondage being the driving and animating force of this abject horror.

The United States is the inheritor of the munificent crimes of not only London but Madrid, too. When Hernando De Soto crossed what became known as the Mississippi River in the 1530s, he had in tow enslaved indigenes, as he helped to clear the land for what became the future's comfortable US suburbs.

Though disease spread by these interlopers is often trotted out to explain the spectacular downturn in the fortunes of indigenous Americans, genocide -- in virtually every meaning of the term, including volitional acts by invading settlers -- is the proximate cause of this towering mountain of cadavers. Thus, even when enslaved Africans chose suicide, which they were often forced to do, it would be folly to suggest that enslavers were guiltless.

But within that broad expanse of centuries, it is the seventeenth that stands out conspicuously as the takeoff for London's involvement in the nasty business of enslavement, which simultaneously delivered bounteous profits that set the stage for a racializing rationalization of inhumanity, while setting yet another stage for the takeoff of an enhanced capitalism. A recent study revealed that before 1581 there were no enslaved Africans brought to what was referred to as the "British Caribbean" and "Mainland North America." From 1581 to 1640 there were scores brought to each. But from 1641 to 1700, 15,000 Africans were brought to North America and 308,000 to the "British Caribbean." Similarly, trade from Dutch forts in Africa amounted to about 700 of the enslaved yearly between 1600 and 1644 but would increase sixfold by the late 1660s. Europeans generally enslaved some two million Africans during the seventeenth century, half of them from West Central Africa and most of the rest from the states abutting today's Ghana and the Bights of Benin and Biafra.

What is euphemistically referred to as "modernity" is marked with the indelible stain of what might be termed the Three Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Slavery, White Supremacy, and Capitalism, with the bloody process of human bondage being the driving and animating force of this abject horror. Decades ago, the Guyanese scholar Walter Rodney sketched adroitly "How Europe Underdeveloped Africa" and, correspondingly, how Western Europe was buoyed by dint of ravaging this beleaguered continent. The slave trade left the infirm and elderly behind -- and took the rest. Systems of agriculture, mining, production of metal, cotton, wood, straw, clay and leather goods, trade, transport, and governance that had evolved over centuries were wounded severely. Community was turned against community, neighbor against neighbor. Simultaneously, the agents of this apocalypse profited handsomely.

London was a prime beneficiary of this systemic cruelty. England had a 33 percent share of the slave trade in 1673 and 74 percent by 1683. Of that dreadful total, the Royal African Company, under the thumb of the Crown, held a hefty 90 percent share in 1690, but with deregulation and the entrance into this sinfully profitable market by freelance merchants, this total had shrunk to 8 percent by 1701. This political and economic victory over monarchy by merchants also undergirded the "popular" politics they represented, which eventuated in a republicanism that scored its paradigmatic triumph in 1776. As scholar William Pettigrew has argued forcefully, the African Slave Trade rested at the heart of what is still held dear in capitalist societies: free trade, anti-monarchism, and a racially sharpened and class-based democracy. To put it another way, the weakening of monarchy which was essential to the emerging republicanism was driven in no small way by the desire of certain merchants to weaken the monarch's hold over the lushly lucrative African Slave Trade.

As the filthy wealth generated by slavery and dispossession accelerated, capitalism and profit became the new god.

However, the surging merchants so essential to the fomenting of the so-called Glorious Revolution in 1688, which was a kind of Magna Carta for racialized bourgeois democracy, contained aching contradictions beyond the obvious of being immersed in flesh peddling. In order to undermine Madrid, London in the late sixteenth century commissioned pirates to hound the vessels groaning with wealth purloined from the Americas. These swashbucklers found sanctuary in Jamaica, particularly in 1655, a true turning point that marked the decline of the ousted Spanish Empire and the rise of its London-based counterpart. But this was just one more catastrophic success for the Crown as powerful colonists then began to undermine a proper colonialism by seeking to break the bonds of "imperial preference" and trade with any they so chose, including London's fiercest foes, thus setting the stage for 1776 and a profound loss for Great Britain. The contradictions did not end there as piracy not only facilitated the slave trade, particularly after London moved to crush it, but infused the capitalism that emerged in the republic with the ethos of the gangster.

Similarly, as the religious conflicts that animated the seventeenth century began to recede -- Christian vs. Muslim; Catholic vs. Protestant -- as the filthy wealth generated by slavery and dispossession accelerated, capitalism and profit became the new god, with its curia in the basilicas of Wall Street. This new religion had its own doctrine and theologies, with the logic of the market and its "efficient market theory" supplanting papal infallibility as the new North Star. Management theorists have sanctified capitalism in much the same way that clergymen of yore sanctified feudalism. Business schools are cathedrals of capitalism. Consultants are its traveling friars. Just as the clergy in the days of feudalism spoke in Latin to give their words an air of authority, the myrmidons of capitalism speak in a similarly indecipherable mumbo-jumbo. To this day, a Reformation -- akin to Martin Luther's of 1517 -- has been delayed in arrival.

Today's status quo represents a complex mélange of vestiges of slavery, capitalism, and the feudalism from which it emerged.

Actually, reducing the present to capitalism is somewhat misleading since today's status quo represents a complex mélange of vestiges of slavery -- the still exploited African population in the United States and elsewhere -- capitalism, and the feudalism from which it emerged.

Moreover, underdevelopment, particularly in Africa, is not only a product of the depopulation of the halest and heartiest delivered by the ignominious slave trade. It is the almost casual destruction of Africa, as when Vasco da Gama whimsically bombarded Mogadishu in the late fifteenth century -- then continued his rapacious journey -- followed shortly thereafter by one of his comrades leaving in his wake a trail of blood along the Swahili coast, not to mention the brutal reconfiguration of what is now Eritrea, leaving tensions and contradictions that have yet to be resolved.

Like a seesaw, as London rose Africa and the Americas fell. As one scholar put it, "the industrial revolution in England and the cotton plantation in the South were part of the same set of facts." (The only friendly amendment to this aphorism would be to include the 17th century so-called "sugar boom" as an antecedent of both.) More to the point, as yet another wise writer put it, "without English capitalism there probably would have been no capitalis[t] system of any kind." As early as 1663, an observer in Surinam noticed that "Negroes [are] the strength and sinews of the Western world." The enslaved, a peculiar form of capital encased in labor, represented simultaneously the barbarism of the emerging capitalism, along with its productive force.

The continent that was compelled to contribute to this process (those now known as "African-American") arguably has yet to recover from the slave trade and the concomitant colonialism that accelerated in the seventeenth century, which in turn has marked this population wickedly with the stain of slavery. Surely, if one seeks to understand how and why it is that so many Africans reside in North America speaking a language with roots in Western Europe, an intimate understanding of the seventeenth century is a requisite.

Enslaved Africans constituted two-thirds of the total migration into the Americas between 1600 and 1700. These forced migrants can be viewed, metaphorically and actually, as currency, helping to enrich certain Englishmen, aiding their nation's rise from second-class status to global empire. Their arrival in the Americas represented a horrific leap for constructions of "race" that can be said to precede this bloody century....

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This desensitizing is also revealed by the depredations of the English Civil War and the Thirty Years' War, which had sent many fleeing to North America in the first place. Those who witnessed mass rape and beheadings were hardly well placed to display humanitarianism, especially toward Native Americans and Africans, which incipient racialization was placing beyond the pale in any case. Moreover, helping to propel migration to the wilds of North America was the felt need to elude the distinct possibility of enslavement by Muslims. When New England settlers began to sell Native Americans into Turkish slave markets, it can be seen as not only a way to execute "ethnic cleansing" while clearing a tidy profit but also to sate the seemingly vast appetite overseas for the enslaved....

In sum, the seventeenth century is critical to comprehension of the rise of capitalism and the companion rise of London, then New York. Spain and the Netherlands weakened each other, creating an opening for England, which was able to establish a toehold in what is now Virginia in the early seventeenth century. Buoyed by the wealth brought by dispossession, merchants and nascent capitalists, particularly in New England, backed Oliver Cromwell as the monarchy was symbolically and actually beheaded in the 1640s. The end of the Thirty Years' War in 1648 allowed Europeans to concentrate more pointedly on Africa and the Americas. By 1654 the Dutch were driven from Brazil by returning Portuguese and fleeing alongside them were some from the Iberian Jewish community, who had invested heavily in sugar and slaves. They were then welcomed into Jamaica, which in 1655 had been taken from Spain by Cromwell's forces. By 1660 a royal restoration of sorts had taken place, and arguably the monarchy, playing second fiddle to the rising merchants and capitalists, was already on a glide path to the figurehead status it enjoys today. The Caribbean venture led to a sugar boom and still vaster wealth that was then used in 1664 to attack the Dutch on the mainland, with Manhattan and many of what are now the US Mid-Atlantic States falling. This opened up more land to be stocked with enslaved Africans, particularly in what is now New York City. By 1672 the slave trade was systematized in the Royal African Company under the Crown. By 1683 the Ottoman Turks were halted at the gates of Vienna, providing more breathing space for Western Europeans, allowing them to turn more fully toward plundering Africa and the Americas. Then in 1688, the "Glorious Revolution" marked the deregulation of the slave trade and even more enrichment for merchants -- and the dawning of an apocalypse for Africans and the indigenous.

As one considers the many crimes committed in the name of slavery, white supremacy, and capitalism, what might be most shocking is how these bloody felonies have been rationalized, even justified -- even by some who consider themselves to be "radical." The by-product was supposedly an advancement of the productive forces or the flowering of bourgeois liberties, which even today many of African and indigenous descent in North America hardly enjoy, notably in due process of law before being executed by an officer of the state. This rationalization of crime makes it all the more difficult to overcome the odious legacy of tragic events of recent centuries. But what is similarly revealing is that those who heartily castigate and declaim the crimes of socialism, a system that led directly to the liberation of millions of Africans and "darker peoples" from the domination of the routinely praised North Atlantic powers, lose all sense of proportion when they simultaneously downplay and warp what was required to build the United States and "modernism" and a supposed "democracy."

Future historians may very well conclude that an explanation for this abject hypocrisy is that too many could not see beyond the deliverance of poorer Europeans from the barbarism they endured on their home continent to a sympathy with those victimized in the process. Ultimately they could not overcome the poisonous snare of white supremacy. That is, the seeds of the fiasco of an election in November 2016 in the United States, where the less affluent of European descent, including more than half of the women of this group, found their tribune in a vulgar billionaire, has roots in the cross-class coalition that spearheaded colonial settlement in the seventeenth century at the expense of the indigenous and enslaved Africans.

In other words, it is not premature to contemplate life after capitalism in what is now the United States, the disastrous result of November 2016 notwithstanding. When this monumental task is undertaken, however, never to be forgotten is that those who were victimized in the first instance -- enslaved Africans and the indigenous -- need to be compensated and made whole (somehow) as this elongated process unfolds.

This is a book about the events in the seventeenth century that led to the creation of what is now called the modern and advanced world. It concerns the roots of slavery, white supremacy, and the ultimate expression of the two: capitalism. These events mostly unfold on the eastern seaboard of North America, the Caribbean, Africa, and what is now Great Britain. Though the mode in these pages is decidedly historical, I am seeking to shed light on the contemporary moment, wherein it appears that these malevolent forces have received a new lease on life.

Copyright (2018) by Gerald Horne. Not to be republished without permission of the publisher, Monthly Review Press.

Categories: News

Scott Pruitt Is Killing Us

Thu, 04/26/2018 - 04:00

 Jason Andrew / Getty Images)Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks to the press at a news conference at the Environmental Protection Agency on April 2, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Jason Andrew / Getty Images)

Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt, who first gained Donald Trump's attention by devoting his life to the utter destruction of the EPA for the benefit of his friends in the fossil fuel industry, has turned that agency into a three-letter wrecking ball. He wholeheartedly believes that his agency's role is to serve polluters and big business, but he is also in service to Trump, who titters with glee every time some Obama-era protection is erased.

You have to see it all in order to really encompass it, and this isn't even all of it. What began with a headline in November of 2016 -- "Trump Wins" -- quickly accelerated into a headlong windsprint toward our collective doom:

Scott Pruitt Confirmed as EPA Chief, Washington Post, 02/17/2017

"Science" Scrubbed From EPA's Mission Statement, New Republic, 03/07/2017

EPA Chief Downplays Role Played by Carbon Dioxide in Climate Change, CNBC, 03/09/2017

Dakota Access Pipeline Prepared for Use,, 03/27/2017

Obama Administration Climate Actions Undone by Executive Order, White House, 03/28/2017

Keystone XL Pipeline Approved, Truthout, 03/31/2017

Pruitt Calls for Exit From Paris Agreement, ThinkProgress, 4/14/2017

Trump Signs Order to Vastly Expand Offshore Oil Drilling, Facing South, 04/19/2017

EPA Scrubs Climate Change Website, EPA, 04/28/2017

EPA Dismisses Science Advisors, The Atlantic, 05/05/2017

US Pulls Out of Paris Climate Agreement, Truthout, 06/01/2017

Report: EPA Enforcement Lags Under Trump, Environmental Integrity Project, 08/10/2017

Trump Revokes Flood Standards Accounting for Sea-Level Rise, White House, 08/15/2017

Mining Health Study Halted; Climate Advisory Panel Disbanded, National Geographic, 08/22/2017

Trump EPA Poised to Scrap Clean Power Plan, Truthout, 10/10/2017

Trump Drops Climate Change From List of National Security Threats, White House, 12/18/2017

EPA Loosens Regulations on Toxic Air Pollution, EPA, 01/25/2018

Trump Proposes Cuts to Climate and Clean-Energy Programs, White House, 02/12/2018

FEMA Expels "Climate Change" From Strategic Plan, NPR, 03/16/2018

EPA Starts Rollback of Car Emission Standards, DeSmogBlog, 04/08/2018

Pruitt Unveils Controversial "Transparency" Rule Limiting What Research EPA Can Use, Washington Post, 04/24/2018

That last one is a real doozy: "A chorus of scientists and public health groups warn that the rule would effectively block the EPA from relying on long-standing, landmark studies on the harmful effects of air pollution and pesticide exposure," reports the Post. In short, Pruitt is attacking basic science itself. Some of these reports used the personal medical data of patients, and so were not made public. This kind of data was previously used to link leaded gasoline to neurological disorders and air pollution deaths. This kind of data, in other words, saved many lives. This decision, like many others Pruitt has made, will eventually come with a body count.

Anthropogenic climate change is fact, according to the US National Academy of Sciences and the UK's Royal Society's most recent report. It bluntly explains the evidence "that the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have increased and are still increasing rapidly, that climate change is occurring, and that most of the recent change is almost certainly due to emissions of greenhouse gases caused by human activities." It does not get any more straightforward than that, and anyone trying to tell you different is probably getting paid to do so.

The so-called Butterfly Effect is very much involved in the matter of climate change. Thanks to the vagaries of planetary ecology, a smokestack spitting poison in Shenzhen, China, has a direct effect on Nebraska, and vice versa. According to a large study performed by The Lancet, some nine million people a year die as an immediate result of pollution. The World Health Organization predicts 5,000,000 deaths due to climate change between the years 2020 and 2050.

Those numbers are almost certainly underestimated, because this beast feeds on itself. Climate change causes pollution -- see Puerto Rico and Houston after the last hurricane season -- and pollution causes climate change. Combine that with the global climate refugee crises to come and a dwindling supply of clean drinking water, and we are presented with the potential for a planetary scourging the likes of which have not been seen since the time of the dinosaurs.

We can't go much further in this without noting for posterity that Scott Pruitt appears to be a damn crook. The man must believe he is the Treasury Secretary, because he sure as hell thinks he has keys to the vault. Hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on first-class and military flights, useless sound-proof telephones, non-approved pay raises for friendly staffers, a security detail to rival the president's, and never mind the sweetheart apartment deals with lobbyists and their spouses. The fact that he is seemingly stealing from us while killing us truly makes him the perfect Trump Cabinet Secretary.

He is killing us, too. All of us. This is no longer a theoretical exercise. This is right now:

In tests conducted in late 2017, one in three coal-fired power plants nationwide detected "statistically significant" amounts of contaminants, including harmful chemicals like arsenic, in the groundwater around their facilities.

This information, which utility companies had to post on their websites in March, became public for the first time under an Obama-era environmental rule regulating coal ash, the waste generated from burning coal.

But now, just as residents are getting their first indication of whether neighboring plants might pose a threat, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is advancing a proposal to amend the rule, giving states the authority to lessen consequences and weaken requirements for polluting power plants.

All this is happening for one reason alone: Scott Pruitt and his benefactor Donald Trump are helping the fossil fuel industry perform one last massive act of profit-taking before the ocean comes and brines the whole business out of existence. This is The Last Grab, and the EPA is making it as easy as possible.

Scott Pruitt's obvious disdain for the rules of his office would require his removal even if he were the most eco-friendly EPA head in the history of the agency. That he is literally and deliberately dumping oil, toxic gas and coal ash on the planet as a favor to his energy industry pals makes the necessity of his removal an immediate thing. So long as Trump keeps protecting him, however, Scott Pruitt is safe as kittens.

In a just world, there would be actual legal consequences for Pruitt's behavior. This is not as farfetched as it sounds: Chevron, Shell, ExxonMobil and several other oil giants are currently being sued in federal court for their role in causing the climate crisis. Chevron's attorneys went so far as to admit, in open court, that the company accepts the reality of climate change as established fact.

If Chevron can be brought to the bar for crimes against the environment, why not Scott Pruitt?

Exposing the wrongdoing of those in power has never been more important. Support Truthout's independent, investigative journalism by making a donation!
Categories: News

Twenty-Five Years After the Lucasville Uprising, Its Survivors Are Leading a New Prison Resistance Movement

Thu, 04/26/2018 - 04:00

This month marks the 25th anniversary of the Lucasville Uprising, the longest prison revolt involving fatalities to occur in the history of the United States. Survivors of this 11-day prison takeover are still fighting for basic human rights behind bars -- and still meeting state repression, now that prison strikes are regularly coordinated beyond any individual prison's walls.

 Eugene Garcia / AFP / Getty Images)Police officers patrol the outer perimeter of the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility April 12, 1993, after a prisoner uprising on April 11, 1993. (Photo: Eugene Garcia / AFP / Getty Images)

This month marks the 25th anniversary of the Lucasville Uprising, the longest prison revolt involving fatalities to occur in the history of the United States. Survivors of this 11-day prisoner takeover of the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility (SOCF) have been active and inspiring participants in the present movement for prisoners' rights, gaining attention that was unavailable to them in 1993. In light of the growing momentum in prisoner uprisings, including the recent South Carolina prison riot that was the deadliest in the past 25 years, the Lucasville Uprising offers timely lessons on the interplay between repressive state forces and prisoner-led movements.

The Lucasville Uprising often gets lost in the retelling of prison rebellions because it occurred during the prison boom, a period of accelerating mass incarceration during which the widespread use of "three strikes" policies began, long-term solitary confinement grew into Supermax prisons, and prison construction and expansion skyrocketed.

Dan Berger and Toussaint Losier describe these years, from 1980 to 1998, in their new book Rethinking the American Prison Movement as a "largely bleak period for the prison movement ... splintering the elements that had made [it] a potent force," while prison rebels "found it more difficult to sustain the broad coalition that had been a key part of earlier phases of the movement." Unlike Attica and other uprisings occurring during the civil rights era, or the present wave of prison strikes, the state's narrative about Lucasville as a "dangerous riot" dominated coverage, overshadowing the political nature of the uprising and the prisoner's legitimate grievances. Lucasville survivors continue to struggle against this shadow today.

The Takeover at Lucasville

The first wave of prisoner-led resistance actions occurred during the civil rights era of the 1960s and 1970s. The 1971 Attica Uprising is perhaps the most well-known of those rebellions, often remembered for the scale and sheer horror of its final day. After four days of protest, state and local police forces retook the prison, fatally shooting 29 prisoners and 10 guards and staffers while wounding more than 100.

The Lucasville Uprising came after the end of the civil rights era of prisoner resistance, when uprisings, occupations and sustained stand-offs with the authorities were common, yet before the contemporary prisoner-led movement that has emphasized coordinated actions across prisons.

The uprising resulted from the imposition of repressive policies in the facility, dubbed "Operation Shakedown" by SOCF Warden Arthur Tate. This series of changes encouraged snitching, saw forced rivals cell together, strictly enforced arbitrary rules and tolerated zero dissent or complaints. This turned SOCF into a powder keg of simmering violence. When a group of Muslim prisoners took a stand for their religious freedom, this powder keg exploded. Prisoners attacked guards, unlocked doors and expanded the protest into an entire cellblock occupation and hostage situation.

Eleven days later, nine prisoners and one guard had been killed, but prisoner leaders managed to get the state to accept to a list of 21 demands in exchange for a peaceful surrender rather than repeating the National Guard raid that caused so much bloodshed at Attica. Instead, the state's revenge came after the surrender. Ohio indicted more than 40 prisoners, destroyed the bulk of physical evidence, and bribed or threatened some prisoners into testifying against those who led the negotiations, clearly violating the conditions of surrender they had agreed to. Five men were sentenced to death, and dozens more to long sentences -- mostly on the basis of informant testimony, often before biased juries in communities that are economically dependent on prison jobs.

Ohio also overhauled its prison system and implemented highly controlled prison settings, a trend occurring throughout the US in the mid- and late-1990s. Officials advocated for the construction of Ohio State Penitentiary, a new Supermax prison outside of Youngstown, as a direct result of the Lucasville Uprising, where many of those convicted of uprising-related charges have now spent decades in solitary. In Ohio and elsewhere, prison regimes adopted long-term solitary confinement as a means to isolate prisoner leaders and quell any attempts at coordinated resistance.

Starting in 2010, prisoners disrupted that trend by organizing a resurgent wave of resistance actions across the US, despite their highly controlled environments, shutting down prisons and coordinating massive protests across Georgia, followed by California and Alabama, and then a nationwide strike on the 45th anniversary of the Attica Uprising on September 9, 2016. Since 2016, we've seen a continual increase in coordinated protests, uprisings and national calls to action that show no sign of stopping. A new era of prisoner resistance has begun, and the survivors of the Lucasville Uprising continue to play a major role.

Lucasville Survivors Continue to Resist

Less than a month after the 2010 work stoppages in Georgia, three Lucasville survivors on death row -- Imam Siddique Hasan, Jason Robb and Keith LaMar -- started a hunger strike at Ohio State Penitentiary to protest their convictions and the inhumane conditions of their incarceration. These three prisoners had each spent 19 years in solitary confinement at that point, with no human contact, no access to legal resources and few opportunities to communicate with each other or the outside world.

The 13-day hunger strike was remarkable because they won. They successfully leveraged media attention and support, including the backing of Staughton and Alice Lynd. These renowned activist-lawyers and historians helped prisoners sue the Ohio State Penitentiary years prior, filed appeals for George Skatzes, another Lucasville death row prisoner, and wrote a compelling history of Lucasville. At the time, the Lynds were also in communication with prisoners resisting solitary confinement at the Pelican Bay Secure Housing Unit (SHU) in California. Hearing of the solidarity both during the 1993 uprising, in the Georgia work-stoppage and in this successful Supermax hunger strike, a core group of Pelican Bay SHU prisoners were inspired to start the first California hunger strike six months later.

The Lucasville survivors continued to struggle, engaging in multiple hunger strikes between 2011 and 2016, consistently defending and expanding the concessions they'd won during the first hunger strike. Whenever a hunger strike or work stoppage occurred elsewhere, the Lucasville survivors and their outside supporters would discuss it and try to reach out to the participants. Imam Hasan encouraged his supporters to push for national coordination at every opportunity, often finding other prisoners who were talking about the same thing. In 2015, after connecting with Free Alabama Movement prisoners, outside support networks grew strong enough to make that coordination a reality. Prisoners chose September 9 as a national day of action and put the call together as rebellions and strikes in Alabama and Texas demonstrated their timeliness.

Media Attention

In contemporary prison rebellions, one of the oft-stated goals for prisoner organizers is to gain greater attention from the media, especially in mainstream outlets. Because prisons are purposefully hidden from public view, and the punishments inside obscured by administrators, prison rebels understand the virtues of employing a "strategy of visibility," to highlight their grievances and/or demands, according to Dan Berger's 2014 book, Captive Nation: Black Prison Organizing in the Civil Rights Era. Imprisoned organizers use a variety of tactics to express their political voices and create alternative civic spaces to combat the extreme social and physical isolation embedded in current prison regimes.

"It starts with the people's support," Greg Curry, another Lucasville Uprising survivor, said over the phone, "and then the media amplifies the people's support. I think the internet and the people's support is the biggest thing, they allow us to be heard. And if not heard, at least allowed to be in a situation where we can't be ignored."

In the current wave of struggle, contraband cell phones and independent media have played major roles, allowing prisoners to release videos and statements depicting both the terrible conditions they endure and the acts of resistance in which they engage. Lacking this technology in 1993, Lucasville rebels had to use other innovative methods of communication.

The planned Muslim protest strategy at Lucasville was to barricade one cell pod and demand access to media outlets to air their grievances and bring more oversight from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction's (ODRC) central office. When this action spontaneously expanded to the taking of a full cellblock and nine hostages, the prisoners' desire for media attention shifted from an objective of the protest to a defense tactic.

Recognizing that coverage would prevent the Ohio National Guard from coming in shooting, the prisoners tried to communicate with reporters directly. They hung sheets out of the windows, came into the yard with an enormous white flag and rigged up loudspeakers. The state responded first by using helicopters to cover the prisoners' voices, then by cutting electricity and water to the occupied block. It wasn't until the body of correctional officer Robert Vallandingham appeared on the yard that the state accepted negotiating with the prisoners.

Through negotiations and the one-by-one release of additional hostages, the Lucasville prisoners won access to a news reporter, who would enter the facility to take statements and describe the situation. Later, they would also negotiate access to public radio and television addresses. This process allowed the prisoners to both disseminate their 21 demands, many of which were that the ODRC simply follow its own rules. The negotiations additionally exposed the prison to several embarrassments, including one hostage guard converting to Islam during the uprising -- a Black man who worked at this white-staffed, rural southern Ohio prison and who went on to publicly criticize the administration.

Unfortunately, these remarkable events didn't gain much exposure from the media establishment, which remained largely unsympathetic to prisoners' concerns and well-being. It wasn't until D. Jones's Shadow of Lucasville documentary film came out 20 years later that the uprising received the kind of multimedia exposure that our current media environment would have produced immediately. Instead, mid-'90s news outlets eagerly released unconfirmed reports of "bodies stacking up" in a bloody race war that prison authorities had expected, but that prisoner leaders actually mitigated. After the rebellion was over, this media establishment helped Ohio galvanize public outrage about the 10 deaths, particularly around the fatality of officer Vallandingham, creating a new spectacle to obscure the picture of SOCF that prisoner negotiators had exposed.

This experience helped Lucasville prisoners understand the complex relationship between mainstream, alternative and social media platforms, despite their decades of restricted access to most forms of media. Independent media coverage of the prison strike announcement and the concurrent actions in the South soon generated enough attention that mainstream media outlets were compelled to cover the story.

Since the 2016 nationally coordinated work stoppages, the alternative media landscape has grown and/or expanded to include more coverage of prison struggles and abolitionism. By strategically using these platforms, Lucasville survivors and others have been able to reach mainstream outlets even 25 years after the uprising to voice the injustices found in Ohio prisons and beyond. The more that prison rebels link their own struggles to different examples of oppression and resistance, the less able prison authorities are to dismiss or frame prison rebellions as anomalies.

Negotiating Demands

Prisoner-led movements are often faced with the challenge of issuing demands and holding the authorities to concessions. In Lucasville, the prisoners negotiated through the fences during the standoff, with the help of trusted civil rights attorney Niki Schwartz. They got the state to accept a 21-point agreement to reform the system and peacefully conclude the uprising -- an agreement that prison authorities promptly violated, eroding their credibility and any motivation for peaceful resolutions to future disturbances. Upset by how he was manipulated by the state and the injustices faced by the prisoner survivors, Schwartz continues to advocate for them to this day.

Negotiation with unreliable and dishonest prison officials continues to obstruct progress of the prisoner-led movement today. In 2011, California strikers in Pelican Bay ended their first hunger strike when the state promised reform and conceded a few minor demands as a gesture of good faith. Prisoners had to resume and expand the strike repeatedly over the next two years because prison officials didn't follow through, eventually leading to the 30,000 participant rolling hunger strike from July to September of 2013. Two people died on hunger strike, pressuring California prison officials' to fulfill their promises. The much larger and longer wave of hunger strikes ended not with concessions by the prison authorities, but with the prisoners winning a lawsuit. The limited gains of this lawsuit were significantly eroded within the first year.

Lucasville prisoners found themselves in a similar situation in 2013. Hasan, LaMar, Robb and Curry went on a hunger strike demanding access to on-camera interviews with media in coordination with the 20th anniversary Re-Examining Lucasville Conference. When the ACLU offered to file a lawsuit, the prisoners, like those in California, ended their hunger strike, moving their protest into the courts. The ACLU has backed out of the case after further review, but independent pro-bono attorneys continue to pursue it.

In Ohio, California and elsewhere, prisoners continue to struggle with a lack of good options when their reasonable humanitarian demands are stonewalled by prison officials. From 2011 to the present day, Lucasville prisoners have adopted a long view of struggle. By using numerous hunger strikes and rallying committed support, they've gained concessions from officials in writing, which they must defend through persistent daily interactions with staff. These imprisoned rebels have charted a course to attain gradual and progressive victories, which connects them with humanity, but they have yet to win anything like justice or basic human rights.

In a phone call with the Truthout, Robb describes this process as a long fight to assert prisoners' basic humanity:

For people to actually see us for who we really are, and us being ourselves ... that's the power. Take away that stigma and disinformation ... because we've been able to do that, [we have] changed things. I understand why it's frustrating. It's aggravating. You have to be comfortable with who you are and realize what you are able to live with and not live with. ... Are you willing to die to be treated like a human being? I am. In a heartbeat. By any means.

State Retaliation

As described above, the state of Ohio broke the peace agreement and went after negotiators. While Schwartz recruited the best possible lawyers, the state used underhanded means to remove them. Informants were recruited and Anthony Lavelle, the prisoner Staughton Lynd believes was most likely to have actually killed the guard, testified against the other prisoner leaders. This is how prosecutors secured their death penalty convictions despite, as prosecutor Daniel Hogan later admitted in an interview with D. Jones, that we may never "know who hands-on killed the Corrections Officer Vallandingham." There is a massive amount of carefully presented evidence to suggest the re-opening of these cases.

For example, despite faulty informant testimony and manufactured evidence against death row Lucasville prisoner Keith LaMar, the courts denied him the same access to re-examine evidence that had been granted other Lucasville defendants, and rejected his appeal in the midst of the 2011 hunger strike. LaMar's words about the strike were being published online nationally at the time, leading supporters to suspect the decision was a form of retaliation. In a later hearing, a judge said LaMar's claim that the evidence against him was provided by informants who were coached and bribed with extra privileges was "meritless."

Hasan and the prisoner negotiators were careful to protect themselves. In a personal correspondence, Hasan said,

We know that throughout the history of prisoner uprisings, the prison authorities get very upset. They become very vindictive and they throw their own playbook out of the window. ... The prison authorities want to become the judge, the jury and the executioner themselves. So they jump on people, they kill people, they come up with excuses and they try to make false justifications as to why prisoners are injured. So we wanted religious leaders and the media to witness it so that we did not have to worry about being assaulted during the initial stages of surrender. In addition to that, we wanted people to be given medical treatment, because then you would have photos of how people were, most of them didn't have their faces busted or severe injuries. So if something happened to them after the fact, then it would be safe to say it was a result of retaliation.

Curry, Lamar and the hundreds of prisoners who surrendered on the yard the first night of the uprising had a different experience, even though they were outside when the uprising started. "We were ordered to line up and march into K-block's gym," LaMar describes in his book Condemned, "Where we were stripped naked and forced, with our hands now fastened behind our backs, to sit on the cold floor like animals." Later they were moved in groups of 10, still naked, into cells designed for one person and deprived of food for at least 24 hours. In that cell, William Bowling killed Dennis Weaver in a fight over sandwiches when food was finally delivered. LaMar's non-cooperation with investigators about this murder is what led to his targeting by prosecutors and death penalty conviction before an all-white jury.

Like LaMar, Curry was on the yard when the uprising started and surrendered the first night, but having refused to cooperate with investigators, he was likewise targeted. At a trial full of informant testimony and outright lies by prosecutors, the jury gave him life without parole instead of the death penalty. So guards set out to finish what the prosecutors were unable to do, promptly attacking Curry with harassment and confinement in a "sweatbox" cell with no ventilation, food or air conditioning for an extended period of time. Curry attributes this retaliation to the state's desire to obliterate any sign of rebellion.

Lessons of Violence

Lucasville teaches us to expect the criminal legal system to work hand-in-hand with correctional officers' drive for revenge against prison rebels. Laws exist for purposes entirely unrelated to justice, and the utmost attention must be paid to the aftermath of any prisoner resistance action. For example, 16 prisoners were indicted for the single murder at Vaughn Correctional Center after the brief takeover in February 2017.

Nowadays, Hasan and Jason stress the use of nonviolent tactics, hoping that appearing sympathetic to liberal publics will protect prisoner rebels from retaliation, but this hasn't always proven to be true. Nonviolent marchers at Kinross Correctional Facility in Michigan report being hit with tear gas canisters point blank and hogtied in the rain for hours after their September 9 demonstration. Cesar DeLeon and LaRon McKinley were force-fed for more than seven months to break their hunger strike in Wisconsin. Kelvin Stevenson was nearly beaten to death with a hammer for participation in the nonviolent Georgia work stoppage. Countless other prisoners across the country have been transferred to the torture of long-term solitary confinement, deprived of food and harassed in forms more diverse than we can recount here. These are just the stories that escape correctional facilities and public records embargoes.

The survivors of Lucasville recognize that what matters most is the court of public opinion, which compels them to struggle for access to media, public support and widespread attention. Organizations such as the Anarchist Black Cross and the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee exist to support prisoners facing repression, amplify prisoners' voices and get their stories to the media. By building networks of support that focus on challenging state repression behind bars, supporters can help buffer against retaliation and reduce the legal consequences that prisoners face by participating in the movement.

These efforts at outside support are essential both to counter dominant prison narratives that demonize prisoners and to protect and encourage further resistance. In Imam Hasan's words,

The fear that the prison authorities [put] into prisoners is preventing them from standing up and rising up to bring about corrective changes. Some people don't want to get involved because they understand the retaliation.... They might get abused, assaulted, beat with hammers, choked out, some prisoners get choked to death -- many things might happen. [For us,] the shift came about because people had the utmost respect for those involved in Lucasville, [knowing] we were ready to stand up and to take the necessary chances to bring about revolutionary changes. Lucasville rocked the state of Ohio, [causing] people throughout the state to take a serious look at the kinds of deprivations that prisoners are experiencing.

To contact the Lucasville survivors:

Keith Lamar #317-117
Jason Robb #308-919
Siddique Abdullah Hasan # R 130-559
Greg Curry # 213-159

878 Coitvsille Hubbard Road
Youngstown, OH 44505

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Categories: News

Meet the Music Teacher Who Helped Organize the Arizona Teacher Strike

Thu, 04/26/2018 - 04:00

"What we really have is an education crisis," says Noah Karvelis, an Arizona elementary school teacher who started the group behind today's statewide teachers' walkout. Karvelis explains why teachers are still striking despite promises from the governor for better wages, and how the struggle in Arizona advances the nationwide movement for justly paid teachers and fully funded public schools.

Noah Karvelis speaks during the #RedForEd strike in Arizona, April 25, 2017. (Photo: Arizona Education Association)Noah Karvelis speaks during the #RedForEd strike in Arizona, April 25, 2017. (Photo: Arizona Education Association)

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Also See: Arizona Educators Stage First Statewide Walkout as Teacher Revolt Grows

Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. We're now more than a year into the Trump administration, and activists have scored some important victories in those months. Yet there is always more to be done, and for many people, the question of where to focus and how to help remains. In this series, we talk with organizers, agitators and educators not only about how to resist but also about how to build a better world. Today's interview is the 119th in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.

Today we bring you a conversation with Noah Karvelis, a music teacher in Phoenix and an organizer with Arizona Educators United. Karvelis discusses how teachers in Arizona came to vote on a strike and why educators are rejecting empty promises from the governor about raises and instead pushing forward for their students and colleagues.

Sarah Jaffe: The strike deadline is for Thursday. Let's go back a little bit. Tell me about the beginning of the movement that has led to this strike vote.

Noah Karvelis: This all really started from just one day wearing red shirts on the same day. That was March 7. We started there and we realized that there was a ton of energy surrounding this around the education community and the community at large, too, here in Phoenix and all across the state. What we ultimately did was we decided that we needed to get together and continue moving this forward and now this is where we are six or seven weeks after.

Tell us about the issues in Arizona. People are familiar with the underfunding of public schools writ large, but what are the specifics in Arizona that people are really upset about?

Some of the biggest things are … we have had just massive cuts to education. Billion-dollar cuts to education that have continued on for years and years -- about 10 years now. That is one of the most frustrating things that affect all aspects of our schools.

A lot of our kids here in Arizona don't have textbooks that they need to be successful. [The textbooks] stop at President George W. Bush, for example. They don't have working desks and a lot of the classes don't have paper towels and just the bare necessities that you need for a classroom.

What is happening is we have an entire generation of Arizona citizens who haven't been given a chance at academic success. It has been thrown away by the state, any chance that they had of academic success. Which is incredibly maddening, especially as an educator. So what happens, in addition to that, is educators are working in just really bad, bad situations.

Then, on top of that, they are getting underpaid. We have the worst pay in the nation for elementary school teachers and we have the second-to-worst pay in the nation for high school teachers. What we really have is an education crisis because our students don't have the resources that they need to be successful, our teachers don't have the resources they need to be successful or to even stay in the job, and our public school infrastructure is crumbling on top of it and we are haemorrhaging teachers.

What has been really interesting about these various teacher movements has been the statewide nature of them. Can you tell us a little bit about organizing across the state of Arizona? It is a pretty spread out state …

It is.

What are some of the challenges and the things that have worked out surprisingly well about that whole process?

One of the things that has worked out surprisingly well is that we have social media which really keeps us in the loop and it is a powerful, powerful organizing tool, especially on a large scale like this. A … lot of the state is rural, a lot of the state is Native American reservations. So having those resources to be able to get in touch with people all across the state has proved to be vital. That has really helped us stay in the loop and keep people involved. Everybody across the state is really … they are fed up with this situation, so they are ready to go as soon as you get them plugged in, for the most part. So once we have been able to contact them and bring them in, we have been successful. It has been challenging at times, but as the movement has grown, it has really been a successful thing.

Arizona Educators United. Tell me about that. How long has that been an organization? How did that get started?

It is really not an organization. It has become an organization now, but in truth, it is a Facebook group that started around the start of March ... It was started by myself and a couple other educators who said, "We have got to get organized. We have got to figure out what we are doing here and how we are going to make a change and somebody needs to bring that change. Let's start a group and let's see what happens." Now, here we are.

What has the relationship been between the Facebook page and the existing unions?

It has been fantastic. The unions really let the Facebook page on Educators United and the leaders there stay out in front of this thing and keep driving it forward. I think that has been the power of it. It is a grassroots, educator-led movement, and the union has been incredibly respectful of that and they realize that there is a lot of power in that and they let us stay in that spot.

But, while we do that, they are offering us a ton -- I mean, decades and decades -- of resources and insight and infrastructure. Anything we really need, they lent to us, and they let us stay at the forefront of the decisions and the charge here and it has proven to be a really powerful partnership, especially in a "right-to-work" state.

Exactly. And Arizona, besides just being a "right-to-work" state has had some attacks on public sector unions in recent years, as well.


It has been an interesting late winter and early spring for teachers. What was it like watching things start to heat up in West Virginia, and then being part of this as it spread across the country?

It is incredibly empowering to see that, to see what happened in West Virginia, especially with the results. They stood together, they stood in solidarity and they brought the change that they needed. That is incredibly powerful to see, and I think every teacher around the nation … looked at their classroom and said, "Hey, that could be us. Why can't it be us right now? We deserve better, as well."

That is what happened in Arizona and it has been incredible to be involved in that in even a small way. It is an incredible, incredible thing that has happened across this state and, as you mentioned, across this nation. It really is a nationwide movement now, and so it has been empowering to be a part of that and to see that there really is power in the people.

The governor of Arizona has already made noises about, finally, getting teachers a raise, but you took a strike vote anyway. Tell us about both what you heard from the governor, and why continue to consider a strike?

Well, first of all, the governor hasn't passed anything. This isn't legislation. It is basically just a flyer with some goals on it right now. That is what he has put forth. That is beyond the consideration of what is actually in the proposal. What is in the proposal is problematic, as well. There is no sustainable funding source. So we are really only looking at a one-time thing here and we are beyond Band-Aids like that. We are in a state of crisis. We are haemorrhaging teachers. We don't have proper infrastructure. We don't have proper resources. We can't just have a one-time 9 percent raise. That doesn't fix the problem.

It doesn't do enough for our kids and colleagues, and that is the bottom line. On top of it, without that revenue source, we can't continually bring money into our system. That is a huge problem for us and the raises that he has proposed -- they don't touch our demand of 20 percent, he says that he'll get there, but again, without those sustainable funding sources, it is an empty promise. And there is nothing in it for our students. It is not going to increase or move the needle on our funding. It doesn't do enough for our kids and colleagues, and it doesn’t have a sustainable funding source. Right now, it is just words on paper. There is no legislation. So we pursued it and we have continued to escalate our actions because we need change.

Talk about what a sustainable funding source would be.

You can look at other states that have done similar things here. There have been sales taxes, income taxes, all sorts of different things have been proposed. I personally have issues with a sales tax because it is a regressive tax and it disproportionately affects the communities we are fighting for, like working-class folks, like teachers and our students and a lot of our families. So I do have some issues personally with that, but it is certainly better than a one-time raise, which he has proposed right now and nothing sustainable. We can look at the example of other states, and one thing that makes a lot of sense to be personally is the income tax where we have corporations and millionaires pay their fair share. 

What else should people know about what is going on in Arizona, both as part of the nationwide movement and what is specific to Arizona?

They should know that one of the biggest things here … each state that has been involved in these sorts of battles has had certain things that really define what they are doing.

I think two things really define our battle. It is the relationship with the unions, and it has been incredibly powerful and it has been incredibly productive to have educators stay at the front and be assisted with the union. We have touched on that.

The other piece that I think is really important is that our students are at the forefront of it. A 20 percent raise gets a lot of eyes opened, it gets a lot of focus, but that is not what we are really fighting for. We are fighting for our students. That is one of the reasons why we rejected this proposal. It doesn't do enough for our students and it doesn't do enough for our colleagues who are left out of those raises. That is one of the big things that is unique to Arizona -- it is the student focus and the focus on the entire school. It is not just classroom teachers. We need to see raises for bus drivers, we need to see raises for the cafeteria staff, we need to see raises for the people who are working in the front office. All across the board, these people are incredibly underpaid in Arizona and they deserve a voice, as well.

How can people keep up with you and with the strike?

They can keep up with us on and get all your info right there. You can follow me, personally, on Twitter: @Noah_Karvelis.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Interviews for Resistance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assistance from Laura Feuillebois and support from the Nation Institute. It is also available as a podcast on iTunes. Not to be reprinted without permission.

Categories: News