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Updated: 2 hours 6 min ago

“Punitive Discipline Policies Have Proven to Be Destructive to Children”

Sat, 09/15/2018 - 16:53

Janine Jackson: Nothing says America 2018 like a spate of stories on how back-to-school shopping includes bulletproof backpacks. Arming teachers and gearing kids up like commandos are presented as more-or-less reasonable responses to concerns about school safety.

Any violence in schools is too much, of course, but a conversation about school safety that’s focused on guns and bullets is a narrow and distorted conversation. Recasting our definition of a “safe school environment” could lead us in some very different directions.

Karen Dolan is director of the Criminalization of Race and Poverty Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, and co-author, with Ebony Slaughter-Johnson and Myacah Sampson, of the recent report Students Under Siege: How the School-to-Prison Pipeline, Poverty and Racism Endanger Our Schoolchildren. She joins us now by phone from Washington, DC. Welcome to CounterSpin, Karen Dolan.

Karen Dolan: Thank you, Janine. It’s a pleasure.

Take us through what you see as the most salient observations in this report. What were you looking at, and what did you find?

We were looking at the ways in which children can have the most support and the best chance at the best life. And while we are doing this work and this research, the Parkland shooting happened, of course, and it has been in the news a lot, gun violence and school shootings, which of course endanger our public school students. But at the same time, there’s a larger number of students, there’s millions of students, who are also being endangered simply by having their future cut short by excessive expulsions, suspensions, referrals to the criminal justice system, lack of proper supports in school for academics, for social and emotional learning, and for well-being.

And as we hear the discussions on the airwaves, as we read it in the newspaper, as you said, about going back to school, and the Education Department suggesting that we take money away from student supports and put them into arming teachers and putting more cops in the hallways, it’s really exactly the wrong thing that we should be doing. And what we would like to do is see the debate broaden into looking at safety measures in a deeper, more holistic way as our students return to school.

When you say it’s the wrong thing to do, or the wrong direction, that has to do with the impacts of these punitive, “get tough” school policies, that people often say are aimed at safety, but the fallout from them falls out in certain kinds of ways.

That’s right. The impacts can be very devastating and very long term. So you see everything from a child having one suspension doubling their chances of dropping out of high school, which will affect them for the rest of their lives, to schools that have these “school resource officers”—who are indeed law enforcement officers, armed—that these schools that have the presence of school resource officers have about a five-times-greater instance of referring children to the juvenile legal system. So these are very deep and lasting impacts on children for the rest of their lives, not to mention on their families and their communities at the time that it happens, and on the schools themselves.

Obviously the reason for the concern, the heart of it is, as you say, the impact on the lives and the education of kids, but I want to underscore that this report is about facts and not feelings. It draws on statistical data to tell a story of what’s going on, and the way these things actually affect folks.

That’s right. So all of the evidence, really, points to the ways in which students are harmed this way and their earning power and their graduation from school are negatively impacted, and we find that the children who are most affected are children that are from poor and low-income families, children with disabilities, black children, immigrant children, Latinx children, LGBTQ children. So children who already have had an historic marginalization in one way or another are feeling the impact even greater in schools that employ these kinds of tactics, and these kinds of punishments, that further put obstacles in their path of being able to have a safe childhood and thrive as an adult.

Nobody says, “We think black and brown and especially poor black and brown kids should just get used to being policed, being treated as potential criminals, ‘cause that’s how we view them.” You know, that’s not what they say. The claims are about safety and security, presumably as these relate positively to education. So it should matter if you can show that these practices do not, in fact, increase safety. That should have an impact. And for those who are not ideologically committed to punitive discipline, there are alternatives. What does the report have to say about other approaches to school safety?

That’s right. So there are alternatives that have been proven to be effective, whereas these other punitive discipline and zero tolerance policies have proven to be detrimental and destructive to children, not just the children who are being disciplined, but the whole community and the whole school. So on the other side, schools that undertake restorative justice practices, restorative practices in their classrooms or as a whole school, schools that are using social and emotional and academic development within their curriculum, or they’re looking at the whole child, they’re looking at the circumstances in a child’s community or a child’s family, they’re involving family, involving community, they’re involving the children in the way that they can best learn and best be supported. And looking at discipline, rather than retributive or punitive, looking at it as: A harm has happened; how do we restore that harm? How do we make our community whole again? And it still includes accountability, but what it does is it involves all of the stakeholders in the harm that has been done.

And this has been shown to vastly reduce recidivism, and to increase the satisfaction on the part of the person to whom harm has been done, and accountability on the part of the student who has done harm. So when you look at these holistically all together, and you look at the results, that they have a much more positive result, from A to Z. It’s almost impossible to see how anybody would disregard using these practices that are proven to be positive, versus the punitive, zero-tolerance discipline which has been proven to be detrimental.

This is a little bit outside the report, but I wonder if I could ask if you think Betsy DeVos, as secretary of Education, has she behaved in sort of the way you anticipated, in regard to this set of issues, and what do you think the impact of her tenure might be, or the direction that she’s pushing things, from the top down as secretary of Education?

I think she’s been an unmitigated failure with regard to protecting students. I have sat down with her, face to face, around some of the LGBTQ issues, and her department has rescinded most of the protections and guidances that have been put in place to address some of these issues that we know are issues. So the Education Department has declined to exercise oversight, and has made it clear that they won’t intervene when there are problems with discrimination and overly harsh punitive processes, and now have proposed to take funding from these very supports for children, and put them instead into purchasing guns for teachers who don’t want them.

Wow. Even when things don’t become law it sends a clear signal all the way down, don’t they, that folks respond to?

That’s right. There’s almost no recourse at the federal government right now.

Let me ask you what you see as media’s role here. Certainly sensationalist coverage of what school shootings do occur is not helpful, but in terms of the broader set of issues, are there things you’d like to see journalists digging into? Is there anything you’d like to see more of or less of on the part of media?

Yes, I’d certainly like to see them cover more things like what we’re talking about in this report. Cover more the positive results from social and emotional learning, from restorative justice. It’s happening in communities all across the country. Really talk about this when you’re talking about safety. Don’t just talk about the physical aspect of what is still a relatively rare occurrence, or mass shootings in schools, but really what’s happening on a broad scale around the country. What really endangers children in their day-to-day lives at school. I think that the media would do very well to take a look at that, and really report the facts of what’s happening.

And maybe step outside of casting it as some sort of partisan issue. You know, right wing thinks this, left wing thinks that and, so on. If you put kids—and actual facts—at the center of the conversation, it probably would change it.

Well that’s right. I don’t think that anybody, deep down, feels that the safety of our children is a partisan issue. It’s a matter of understanding what the word “safety” means in a holistic way for the well-being of our children and their future.

We’ve been speaking with Karen Dolan, director of the Criminalization of Race and Poverty Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. You can find the report, Students Under Siege, on their website Karen Dolan, thank you very much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

It’s my pleasure. Thank you.

The post “Punitive Discipline Policies Have Proven to Be Destructive to Children” appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Why We’re Voting “No” at UPS

Sat, 09/15/2018 - 15:56

UPS teamsters will decide the direction of their union beginning this week as ballots arrive in some 260,000 households to vote on a tentative five-year contract.

Workers have the choice to agree on concessions bargained by the James P. Hoffa administration in a tentative agreement or say “no” and demand the negotiating committee head back to the table.

In late May, the union held a strike authorization vote, something they didn’t do during negotiations for the last contract — and members responded by overwhelmingly approving the use of a strike. When the current contract expired on August 1, however, it was extended.

As has been the case too often in the past few decades, the union is opting for labor-management cooperation, rather than organizing members for strength and fighting back.

While there are a lot of reasons to vote “no,” such as the inclusion of excessive overtime in the form of 70-hour workweeks during peak season, and no additional protections against harassment by management, the biggest issues are the union’s abandonment of the fight for $15 an hour and their push for two-tier wages for drivers.

The fight for $15 started in 2012 on the heels of the Occupy Wall Street movement by fast-food workers tired of not making ends meet on minimum wage.

During negotiations over the last UPS Teamsters contract in 2013, rank-and-file members and labor activists called on Teamsters to advance the fight for $15. Instead, starting wages for part-timers stayed at $11 an hour for the life of the contract, and workers who started at the beginning of that contract have only topped out at $13.50.

Now, in 2018, the negotiating committee saw fit to agree to a starting wage of only $13, increasing each year, so that finally in 2021, starting pay for part-timers will be $15.

At this point, $13 is less than minimum wage is some cities. That $15 was barely a living wage in 2012, it’s not a living wage in most cities today, and it certainly won’t be a living wage in 2021.

The Teamsters have had two chances now to join broader forces in demanding living wages for the most vulnerable workers and have fallen far short each time.

* * *

At the same time that the tentative agreement fails to raise wages at the bottom to an adequate level, it creates a two-tier wage system for drivers that erodes pay standards at the top.

It’s bad enough that the last UPS contract established a grueling four-year wage progression for drivers, which meant temporary two-tier wages, but eventually all drivers would reach top pay.

The new contract, if passed, would create what are being called “combo-drivers” (because they would be inside part-time workers who could also be drivers when extra driving work is available) or “22.4 drivers” (after the article of the contract that they fall under).

But here’s the kicker: The company would be allowed to use 22.4 drivers for 25 percent of its driving workforce, and they would top out at $6 less per hour than regular full-time drivers for doing the same work. Nothing would stop the company from using these workers as full-time drivers despite the word “combo” in their job title.

The union is touting this as a victory, and indeed this was a proposal made by the union to address concerns by drivers about working excessive overtime and weekends (the contract would allow 22.4 drivers to work Saturdays andSundays).

Union negotiators and the company seem to be banking on the hope that current drivers only care about themselves — never mind that this simply shifts the burden of overtime and weekend work to different people and then pays them less for their efforts.

As a sizeable “vote no” push by the rank and file — spearheaded by a coalition of forces opposing the Hoffa administration called Teamsters United — has shown, many UPSers know how harmful this is to their co-workers, themselves, and their union.

It’s easy to see how two tiers erode solidarity by creating resentment between higher-seniority workers who are responsible for the contract, and newer workers doing the same job for less and feeling sold out.

At the same time, higher seniority workers end up with a target on their back for disciplinary action, since management would love to replace them with someone lower paid. The question is: Why are those instincts not shared by people at the top of the union who negotiated this contract?

Two-tier contracts aren’t new to unions. For decades now, workers in all sectors have been agreeing to them, from grocery to airlines to, most famously, autoworkers.

So if this contract passes, UPS workers will join a worsening trend that has been lowering standards one contract at a time. Instead, we need to say: “This stops here. Bring back the demand of equal pay for equal work as a union principle.”

* * *

The puzzling part is that many two-tier contracts at other companies were negotiated under duress, when a corporation had financial difficulty or threatened to move abroad. Many unions fought back at first, only to reverse themselves once the employer threatened layoffs or plant closures. These agreements have been seen as a desperate act to save jobs.

UPS, however, raked in $5 billion last year, and it obviously can’t move operations. It is still by far the largest package handling company in the country.

Still, union officials who are pushing a “yes” vote cite UPS’s stiff competition, especially from likes of Amazon, as reason to worry. They remind drivers of how little workers make at Amazon or even FedEx.

It used to be that union wages set the standard, and even nonunion labor would have to be paid close to union wages. But now, many Teamsters leaders have abandoned that idea and are arguing to lower union standards to more closely match the nonunion conditions and pay.

The trucking industry used to be dominated by the Teamsters and their National Master Freight contract, but after deregulation in the 1970s, Teamsters saw one union company after another fail, while nonunion competition took their place.

Union officials have taken the position that they must take pre-emptive action to save the largest private-sector union employer, and thus save the union. This is why, even though 93 percent of UPSers voted to authorize a strike, many in leadership positions are arguing that the union can’t afford to strike because the company would lose too much business.

In fact, those pushing for a “yes” vote have been telling people that if the contract is rejected, there will be a strike, using it as a threat against the membership.

First, it’s not true. Step one will be to simply renegotiate the tentative agreement. Second, the fact that UPS would lose business, and therefore profits, should be a threat against the company, not the union members.

The strike is a weapon that unions should use to show their strength and power, not something they should fear “as a last resort.” A strike is supposed to be bad for the company. That’s what makes them come crawling back, pleading with the workers to make profits for them again.

That’s what happened in 1997 when the company thought they could outlast a strike, only to realize public sympathy was with the workers and dollars were slipping away while packages stacked up.

Yes, there is more competition now for UPS, but that means the stakes are higher — for the company! Management can worry about staying in business. Unions should worry about maintaining quality living standards.

* * *

Many of the 93 percent who voted to strike would be willing to walk simply to demand UPS treat them with more dignity, and any increased benefit in the contract would be a bonus. Teamsters should be following the bravery of the ongoing teachers’ strike wave, not pursuing strategies that will weaken unions even further.

A growing vote “no” movement led by Teamsters United has been giving voice to the UPSers who aren’t willing to give in to fear, and who want to stand up for themselves and the next generation of workers.

Members have been standing at the gates of their workplaces, handing out flyers, placing signs in their car windows and holding parking-lot rallies across the county to help organize a “no” vote.

Some have the backing of their local’s leadership, while some do it on their own and risk alienating their local leadership. Some locals were against the contract before negotiations finished because they already knew what was agreed on was a bad deal.

Some locals thought what they heard about the hybrid drivers and wage increases was good enough, until all the details were revealed and opposition mounted. So potential “yes” locals turned to firm “no” locals.

The outcome of the vote can’t be predicted. That’s why members are still organizing to turn out the vote. Both sides have been pushing their talking points hard through text messages, conference calls and YouTube videos, and debates on Facebook pages are heated.

The opposition to this contract is higher than it’s been since 1997. UPSers need to vote “no” and draw a line in the sand against two-tier wages and for a living wage. Big Brown only makes its billions of profits when Teamsters move packages.

The outcome of this contract is being closely watched by both labor activists and employers across the country. Will Teamsters continue a downward slide of union standards or will they vote “no”?

The post Why We’re Voting “No” at UPS appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

On 10th Anniversary of Crash, Warren Says: Break Up the Banks, Jail the Bankers

Sat, 09/15/2018 - 15:49

With Saturday marking the tenth anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the start of the worst financial meltdown since the Great Depression, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) declared Thursday night that the only way to avoid another crisis is to break up the Wall Street banks that caused it and hold wealthy executives accountable for their crimes.

“Oh, yeah. Give me a chance,” Warren said when asked by Andrew Sorkin of the New York Times if she still supports breaking up big banks, many of which are far larger than they were before the 2008 crash.

“We have got to change the rules,” Warren declared, highlighting her effort to implement a 21st century Glass-Steagall Act to separate commercial and investment banking. “This Congress rolling back regulations on the biggest financial institutions, rolling back regulations on Wall Street, this is absolutely the wrong direction for us to go.”

Asked if the United States is prepared for another crisis—which a bipartisan deregulatory measure passed in March makes far more likely—Warren responded: “No, not even close.”

In addition to pushing for stronger safeguards against big bank speculation, Warren also argued in a tweet on Thursday that “we need to start holding Wall Street executives accountable” if we are to avoid another crash.

Far from being held accountable for their actions, former Lehman Brothers executives and staffers are reportedly holding a ritzy tenth anniversary get-together on Saturday to celebrate the anniversary of their firm’s collapse.

“I introduced the Ending Too Big to Jail Act to force law-breaking bankers to trade in their pinstripe suits for orange jumpsuits,” Warren said, highlighting legislation she unveiled in March.

If we want to avoid another financial crisis, we need to start holding Wall Street executives accountable. I introduced the Ending Too Big to Jail Act to force law-breaking bankers to trade in their pinstripe suits for orange jumpsuits.

— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) September 13, 2018

Warren’s warning about the vulnerability of the American financial system and renewed call to break up the big banks were echoed by progressive commentators, lawmakers, and journalists ahead of the official tenth anniversary of the crisis—which, for most Americans, never actually ended.

The official statistics say that the financial crisis is behind us, but for most Americans it's not.

It’s time for statistics that do a better job of capturing the realities of modern American life, writes @dleonhardt ft. @hboushey

— Equitable Growth (@equitablegrowth) September 14, 2018

As Rolling Stone‘s Matt Taibbi noted in a crisis retrospective on Thursday, the overwhelmingly “poor, nonwhite, and elderly” victims of the crash have been neglected by much of the corporate press in favor of heroic-sounding narratives of bankers teaming up with regulators to save the financial system from total catastrophe.

“Persistent propaganda about what happened 10 years ago not only continues to warp news coverage, but contributed to a wide array of political consequences, including the election of Donald Trump,” Taibbi argued. “One of the main things the financial press missed in its countless crash post-mortems is that the subprime scam was significantly about race. In its particulars, it was really just a rehash of ancient race crimes like ‘contract selling,’ a predatory white-on-black home loan scam from the Jim Crow days.”

These scams ultimately had a disastrous impact on black families in the US, which lost an astonishing 50 percent of their overall wealth when the system came crashing down.

I don’t know. Only a very few people in the press, like @ddayen, spent significant time looking at the crisis from the point of view of real-world victims. So it remained an abstraction for many.

— Matt Taibbi (@mtaibbi) September 14, 2018

As The Week’s Ryan Cooper has argued, the meltdown was made worse by the fact that the Obama administration—which was stuffed with ex-bankers—deliberately chose to prioritize bailing out Wall Street over assisting homeowners who were devastated by the foreclosure crisis that continues in the present.

Thanks to the Obama administration’s bailouts and the Trump administration’s massive gifts to Wall Street in the form of tax cuts and deregulation, America’s five biggest banks—JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and Goldman Sachs—have raked in more than $583 billion in combined profits since the crisis, according to a new analysis by Public Citizen published this week.

In an op-ed for USA Today on Friday, Morris Pearl—former managing director of the financial firm BlackRock Investments and now chair of the Patriotic Millionaires—argued that by allowing Wall Street firms to continue to expand and engage in risky betting, the Trump administration is actively heightening the risk of another major crisis.

“In an effort to inflate profits for big banks, the Trump administration and Congress are setting us up for another crash,” Pearl concluded. “Without adequate regulation, there’s no world in which bankers voluntarily refrain from taking reckless bets again and again, until we’re right back where we were 10 years ago.”

The post On 10th Anniversary of Crash, Warren Says: Break Up the Banks, Jail the Bankers appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Trying To Protect Seniors, The Most Vulnerable, From Formidable Foe Florence

Sat, 09/15/2018 - 14:23

Perhaps no other population is as vulnerable during a hurricane as frail, older adults, especially those who are homebound or living in nursing homes. Before Hurricane Florence slammed the North Carolina coast Friday morning, health officials were already scrambling to keep older residents safe.

Seniors “are not only the most likely to die in hurricanes, but in wildfires and other disasters,” said Dr. Karen DeSalvo, a New Orleans native who served as health commissioner in that city after Hurricane Katrina and went on to be named acting assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services for the Obama administration. “The seniors always seem to bear a big brunt of the storms.”

Older people may have a harder time evacuating because they don’t have their own cars or are homebound, said Lauren Sauer, director of operations at the Johns Hopkins Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response in Baltimore.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, an analysis of 986 Louisiana residents who died showed the mean age of victims was 69 and nearly two-thirds were older than 65, DeSalvo said. The dead included 70 people who died in nursing facilities during the storm or just after the storm made landfall.

And last year, 12 residents overheated and died at a facility in Hollywood Hills, Florida, in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Irma, which knocked out the facility’s air conditioning and the temperature climbed to over 95 degrees. The tragedy led Florida to pass legislation requiring nursing homes and assisted living facilities to have backup generators capable of keeping residents cool.

“Unfortunately, the best wake-up call is when a tragedy occurs,” said Dara Lieberman, senior government relations manager at the Trust for America’s Health, a nonprofit. “Hopefully, nursing facilities and emergency managers paid attention to the loss of life in the long-term care facility in Florida last year and realize the risks they face by not preparing. Every facility should have a plan.”

Some studies suggest communities aren’t much better prepared than in the past, however.

A 2018 study from the National Academy of Sciences found that “we are only marginally more prepared to evacuate vulnerable populations now than we were during Hurricane Katrina,” Sauer said.

Deciding whether to stay or go can be more complicated than it sounds, said J.T. Clark of the Near Southwest Preparedness Alliance, a coalition of hospitals and other public health services in southwestern Virginia.

“There is a risk of moving people and there is a risk of staying in place, and you have to weigh those risks,” Clark said.

Evacuations pose a number of dangers for fragile patients, some of whom may need oxygen or intravenous medications, said Sauer. She pointed to a 2017 study that found a sharp increase in mortality among nursing home residents who evacuated because of an emergency, compared with those who sheltered in place.

She noted that leaving a facility is only part of the challenge; it can be equally difficult to find a safe place prepared to house evacuated nursing home residents for days at a time, she said. Clark said that nursing homes once commonly assumed they could simply transfer their residents to local hospitals. But that can impair a hospital’s ability to care for people who need emergency and urgent care, he said.

Many nursing homes in the Carolinas are evacuating residents to areas outside the storm’s direct path.

South Carolina had evacuated 32 nursing homes and assisted-living facilities by Wednesday afternoon, said Randy Lee, president of the South Carolina Health Care Association.

On the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Sentara Healthcare evacuated 65 residents from a nursing home in Currituck to the company’s medical centers in Hampton Roads, Virginia, spokesman Dale Gauding said.

Hurricane Florence poses risks beyond the coasts, however. Sentara also moved five intensive care patients out of a medical center on the Pasquotank River in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, because of the risk of flooding. Those patients also went to hospitals in Hampton Roads, Gauding said.

With Norfolk, Virginia, now expected to escape the brunt of the storm, the 88 residents at the Sentara Nursing Center there are sheltering in place, Gauding said.

Nursing homes in Charleston, South Carolina, complied with mandatory evacuation orders, said Kimberly Borts, director of communications and charitable giving for Bishop Gadsden retirement community on Charleston’s James Island.

She said the facility conducts annual evacuation drills to continually improve its capability to safely relocate residents and coordinate with the company that provides ambulances.

However, Hurricane Florence’s expected landfall caused a slight change in evacuation plans, which were to be completed by Monday, Borts said. The evacuation had to be delayed until Tuesday because the ambulances were diverted to Myrtle Beach, which remained in Hurricane Florence’s sights.

As of Wednesday afternoon, New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, NC, was directly in the storm’s path. But hospital officials view the building as strong enough to withstand the storm, said spokeswoman Carolyn Fisher. They were less confident about a building housing a skilled nursing facility in Pender County, NC, whose residents are being moved away from the hurricane’s projected course.

Senior citizens who live at home are also at risk, especially if they lose electricity.

More than 2.5 million Medicare recipients — including 204,000 people in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina — rely on home ventilators, oxygen concentrators, intravenous infusion pumps and other electrically powered devices, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The agency has created a tool called emPOWER 3.0 to help states check up on them.

Patients who lose electricity may need to go to their local emergency room to power their medical equipment, said Mary Blunt, senior vice president at Sentara Healthcare in Norfolk, VA, and interim president of Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. Patients with kidney failure also may need to receive dialysis at the ER if their regular dialysis center is closed, she said.

Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina will open emergency shelters for people with special medical needs. These facilities provide “limited support,” but not medical care, for people with special needs, according to the South Carolina Emergency Management Division. Residents must bring an adult caregiver to remain with them at all times, according to the South Carolina agency.

Residents should register for these shelters in advance, said DeSalvo, who said that getting people to go can be difficult.

“People do not want to leave their homes,” she said.

Bert Kilpatrick said she’s not concerned about Hurricane Florence and was planning to stay in her house on Charleston’s James Island, where she is just a stone’s throw from the Stono River, a huge tidal estuary that runs to the Atlantic Ocean.

“I’ve been here since 1949. I’m used to these hurricanes,” the 87-year-old said. “Me and my cat, Maybank, we’re staying.”

She even stayed during Hugo, a giant, Category 4 hurricane that devastated Charleston in September 1989. She worked at a downtown hospital then and was there when the storm hit; but her husband, who died recently, rode out Hugo in the house, which was undamaged except for one broken storm window.

Kilpatrick said that as far as she knows all of her nearby neighbors also were staying put. One of those, Patsy Cather, 75, said she and her husband, Joe, were planning to remain. “I’m staying here because he won’t leave.”

She said they might decide to leave later if the storm reports look worse for Charleston. “It’s a no-win situation. You leave, you stay safe; but your home may be gone.”

Databases and registries can help with another challenge: the aftermath of the storm.

“When the wind passes and the water starts going down, they really need to mine the data: Who has ambulatory challenges? Who’s on chemotherapy? Who’s got an opioid dependency?” DeSalvo said.

DeSalvo said she believes the states in the path of Hurricane Florence are in good hands.

“I think the good news is, for a state like South Carolina or North Carolina, they have strong, seasoned leadership in place who are capable of not only managing a complex logistical challenge, but who are good humans,” she said. “It takes both.”

KHN’s coverage related to aging and improving care of older adults is supported in part by The John A. Hartford Foundation.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

The post Trying To Protect Seniors, The Most Vulnerable, From Formidable Foe Florence appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Protesters Disrupting World Hindu Congress in Chicago Met With Violence

Sat, 09/15/2018 - 13:13

Using fake conference passes, six activists snuck into the main ballroom at the Westin Hotel in the Chicago suburb of Lombard, Illinois, on Friday, September 7. In the room were hundreds of attendees of the 2018 World Hindu Congress who were gathered to listen to a plenary panel that included Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a militant Hindu nationalist organization responsible for many harsh policies and acts of violence against India’s religious minorities.

Before Bhagwat began speaking, the activists disrupted the panel, chanting, “RSS turn around, we don’t want you in this town.”

The six activists, mostly young South Asian women, were immediately attacked by attendees and choked, kicked, punched and spat on as the entire crowd began their own coordinated chant of “Bharat Mata Ki Jai,” which means in Hindi, “Victory to Mother India.” The activists, many from upper-caste Hindu families, have chosen to remain anonymous in interviews with the press due to safety concerns.

“When we first walked in, I thought, ‘It’s just a bunch of aunties and uncles,’ and then those uncles and aunties turned into a mob and attacked us,” one activist said.

“They called me a ‘dirty Muslim’ and threatened death,” another protester said. “I had people who looked like aunties screaming, ‘Bitch, bitch, bitch,’ over and over again. One lady outside yelled she wished my mother was killed and I was never born.”

“Even when disrupting Donald Trump rallies, I’ve never had anyone put their hands on me like that, or respond with so much aggression, pushing and obscenities,” said one activist who was choked.

Two of the protesters were arrested for trespassing and disorderly conduct. One of the conference attendees was also arrested for battery.

The activists were protesting this year’s World Hindu Congress, a global gathering of Hindus. On the surface, the event appeared to be a fairly civil cultural and religious event, but the facade of peace and dialogue quickly unraveled. The violent response in the room mirrored the broader patterns of violence that the Hindu nationalist groups attending and organizing the conference perpetuate in India — one of the most diverse countries in the world — against Muslims, Sikhs, Dalits (Hindus in the lower part of India’s caste system) and other religious minorities. Also in attendance at the conference was Indian Vice President Venkaiah Naidu.

The groups’ ideology, known as Hindutva, believes that India should be a Hindu nation, and adherents often resort to violence to enact this vision. One of the largest organizations pushing this ideology is the RSS.

According to a report by the Coalition Against Genocide, the RSS was founded in 1925, and over the next several decades, produced several hundred affiliated organizations that are together referred to as the Sangh Parivar (or the Sangh family of organizations). “These include the Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP), its parliamentary front; the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, its cultural wing, and the Bajrang Dal, its goon squad, to name just a few,” the report notes. The BJP currently has a majority in the Indian government.

Many of these Indian organizations have counterparts in the US which helped organize the 2018 World Hindu Congress, such as the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh and Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America, whose members fund Hindutva activities in India.

Collectively, the Sangh Parivar have been responsible for the world’s largest military occupation in Kashmir, the desecration of mosques in India, discrimination against Sikhs, mobilizing mobs to beat and kill Muslims and Dalits, and recently, stripped the citizenship of 4 million Bengalis, most of whom are Muslims in the state of Assam.

Current Indian Prime Minister and RSS member Narendra Modi has also been accused of being complicit in the massacre of more than 1,000 Muslims in riots when he was chief minister of the state of Gujarat in 2002.

As the activists were removed from the ballroom by police, senior leader and former BJP lawmaker Vijay Jolly shouted, “We should have bashed them up,” according to The Hindu.

The World Hindu Congress denied this reporter a press pass to attend the conference and officials did not respond to requests for comment.

The six activists were members of Chicago South Asians for Justice and part of a coalition of South Asian-American organizations named the Alliance for Justice and Accountability (AJA), which coordinated several actions in addition to the disruption.

Avaaz, an online activist network, paid for an ad in the Chicago Tribune against the event and had a mobile advertisement van which read “Boycott World Hindu Congress” that drove around the hotel.

Sikhs, Muslims, Kashmiris and Hindus also mobilized their various communities for a protest outside the conference.

“The different groups of people coming together and having a recognition and compassion for everyone as well as a shared horror … I thought it was really amazing,” said an organizer with AJA who wished to remain anonymous due to harassment following the protest.

In addition, the coalition also pressured several US politicians to withdraw their participation in the event prior to the Congress.

Tulsi Gabbard, representative for Hawaii and first Hindu member of the US Congress, stepped down as honorary chair of the World Hindu Congress due to “ethical concerns and problems that surround my participating in any partisan Indian political event in America,” she said in a statement.

Ram Villivalam, who in January 2019 will be sworn in as the first South Asian-American member of the Illinois General Assembly, also refused to attend the Congress. “I do not support any group and/or an event arranged or led by organizations that intimidate minorities, incite discrimination and violence, commit acts of terror based on race or ethnic background, promote hate speech, and/or believe in faith based nationalism,” reads his statement. “As a Hindu American, I stand with my brothers and sisters in the Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Sikh, and other religious and ethnic minority communities against hate, discrimination, and persecution.”

Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar also declined his invitation and tweeted: “I’m a proud Hindu and the first Indian-American elected to Chicago City Council. I’m extremely disappointed and ashamed @WHCongress would invite speakers and organizations that promote discrimination, Islamaphobia, and Hindu nationalism. This is not who we are.” Pawar also expressed support for the protesters and tweeted that he was “disgusted” by the violent behavior of attendees.

A statement released by Chicago South Asians for Justice expressed gratefulness for the support from Pawar and other politicians, but also included in their demands that Pawar come out against the “Cop Academy” that has been proposed on Chicago’s West side. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been pushing for a $95 million police training compound in the majority-Black neighborhood of West Garfield Park that has been criticized by Black-led organizations, which argue that the area needs investment in education and mental health services instead. In May 2018, the Chicago City Council voted 39-2 to approve the purchase of land for the academy for $20 million. Pawar voted yes.

“If he [Pawar] claims to be a progressive Hindu, then that requires him to be in solidarity with other communities and challenge anti-Black violence as well,” one activist told Truthout.

Notably, despite the emails, meetings, calls and social media blasts from organizers, Raja Krishnamoorthi, who represents Illinois in the US House of Representatives, did not withdraw participation and gave a speech at the Congress, which took place in his district.

During his speech, Krishnamoorthi told the attendees, “I wanted to reaffirm the highest and only form of Hinduism that I’ve ever known and been taught — namely one that welcomes all people, embraces all people and accepts all people, regardless of their faith — including all my constituents. I reject all other forms.”

Despite Krishnamoorthi’s call for peace, activists are not pleased. “He can’t choose to go to this event and share space with folks like Bhagwat and top officials in the RSS and Indian government and think that that speech is enough,” one local activist said. “Him being there is condoning the event and condoning Hindutva violence.”

Following Krishnamoorthi’s appearance at the World Hindu Congress, the organization South Asian-Americans Leading Together (SAALT) rescinded the congressman’s invitation to their annual congressional briefing around the anniversary of 9/11, in which they invite lawmakers and organizations to speak on national security, detention, the Muslim Ban, and other discriminatory policies against Muslims, Arabs and South Asians.

Considering that Krishnamoorthi’s district has one of the highest concentrations of South Asian-Americans in the country, “We thought it was important to hear his perspective,” said SAALT Executive Director Suman Raghunathan. “We could not continue to have that invitation open to speak at our briefing, given the concerns that people have raised.”

“We are concerned about the increasing connections between the US anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim movements and those same ideas being manifested with the voices involved with the World Hindu Congress,” Raghunathan added.

“So many in the Indian diaspora community in the US are anti-Trump and against what he does, but in the same breath, they’re pro-Modi and think that the BJP have a different set of ideals,” an activist said. “In reality, we need to hold a mirror to ourselves and see that they [Modi and Trump] are cut from the same cloth.”

The post Protesters Disrupting World Hindu Congress in Chicago Met With Violence appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Ted Cruz Might Lose, and Other Giddy Tidbits From Election 2018

Sat, 09/15/2018 - 13:11

Ted Cruz might lose.

Walk that around on your tongue for a bit. Chew on it a minute and see how it tastes.

The deep-red state of Texas has not sent a Democrat to the Senate in 30 years and has not seen a Democrat win statewide office since 1994, but a former city councilman from El Paso named Beto O’Rourke is looking to make some new history, and he just might do it. O’Rourke, currently the Democratic representative for the state’s 16th congressional district, has been running an aggressive, unabashedly progressive campaign against incumbent Republican Ted Cruz in all 254 Texas counties, and the margin has become razor close.

The stench of panic permeating RNC headquarters is thicker than the fog beneath the Golden Gate Bridge. No lesser light than GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has sounded the alarm about this race to his colleagues and donors. GOP Sen. John Cornyn called the O’Rourke campaign “a serious threat,” and even Rick Tyler, Cruz’s former campaign strategist, is worried. “We’re not bluffing,” said Tyler on MSNBC, “this is real, and it is a serious threat.”

How is this brazen defiance of known political gravity even possible? First and foremost, Ted Cruz is about as popular as toenail fungus. His GOP colleagues all remember with grim clarity Cruz’s grandstanding anti-ACA “Green Eggs & Ham” filibuster debacle of 2013, when he comprehensively failed to understand the moral of a children’s story on live television. The main problem congressional Republicans have with Ted Cruz is the fact that he is a shameless self-promoting carny huckster just like they are, but he is wildly obvious about it, thus blowing their cover.

Time and again, when Cruz didn’t get what he wanted out of McConnell and the leadership, he would go rattle the cage of the bomb-throwers in the House Freedom Caucus and then return, with clever gimlet eyes downcast, and say “Gee, Mitch, looks like there’s trouble with the base.” Cruz is as subtle as a car accident in his quest for self-promotion. The other Republicans know this, and they despise him for it.

In a recent closed-door meeting with donors and party officials, Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney painted a dire portrait of Cruz’s re-election chances, stating Cruz might not be “likable” enough to win. Coming from Mulvaney, himself a graduate of the Tea Party Academy Class of 2010, the judgment had to sting. Cruz dismissed the federal budget director as “some political guy in Washington,” but you have to believe Mulvaney’s comments cut to the quick.

Which is why the narrow margin in Cruz’s re-election race is so joyfully amusing. Ol’ Ted has spent the last six years driving the Republican Party up the wall, and now he needs its help to survive. Under normal circumstances, the leadership would stand back and let Cruz fend for himself. It’s Texas, after all; what could go wrong? These, however, are not normal circumstances, and the most delicious part of all this is that McConnell needs Cruz as much as Cruz needs McConnell.

Cruz’s re-election has become central to the GOP’s increasingly desperate attempts to stave off total calamity and keep their slim Senate majority intact. What looked to be a safe bet six months ago has become a klaxon scream of panic as race after race grows tighter or even out of reach, and now Republican money and support has begun pouring into Texas to try and pull Cruz’s irons out of the fire.

Donald Trump himself — who nicknamed Cruz “Lyin’ Ted” in the 2016 primaries and all but accused his father of having a hand in the assassination of JFK — has endorsed Cruz and will soon headline a rally in Texas to try and bolster the campaign.

Ah, yes, the other factor — the giant orange elephant in the room, the Donnybrook himself — is not making life any easier for the likes of Cruz and McConnell. Picture in your mind a giant craps table with the entire Republican leadership surrounding it. In pursuit of a trillion-dollar tax giveaway for their wealthy donors and a pair of Supreme Court nominees, they placed all their 2018 political chips on the red felt square marked “Trump” and flung the dice. The dice bounced here, rattled there, banged the back rail … and came up snake eyes.

Donald Trump’s latest approval ratings are down to 36 percent, and that was before he claimed the 2,975 Americans killed in Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria existed only as a put-up job by Democrats to make him look bad. That was before Paul Manafort cut a deal with Robert Mueller to avoid another ruinous trial. That was before whatever he does today, and whatever he will do tomorrow.

By hitching its election wagon to Trump’s blinkered star, the GOP has fashioned itself as the last holdout of the “He’ll change” crowd, which mostly went extinct last year for lack of sustenance. He won’t change, they know it now, and they are stapled to that walking frenzy of a president all the way to the first Tuesday in November. “Ugly” doesn’t begin to explain the outlook. The Republican Party married a werewolf, and the moon is on the rise.

However, the low character of Ted Cruz and Donald Trump do not come close to explaining the success currently being enjoyed by Beto O’Rourke and candidates like him on all points on the national compass. Progressives in race after race are running as exactly who they are — progressives, with progressive platforms and policy proposals — and are finding success even in the unlikeliest of places.

Earlier this year, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a teacher and activist with no political experience, defeated 10-term congressman and Democratic Caucus Chair Joe Crowley by almost 15 points in New York’s 14th district. Ocasio-Cortez will face Republican nominee Anthony Pappas in the general election, and as Pappas is not actively campaigning, her victory is all but assured.

A similar story played out in the recent Democratic primary for the 5th district in Massachusetts, where Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley defeated another 10-term incumbent, Mike Capuano, in a historic victory. Pressley is currently running unopposed in the general election and, unless the creek rises, will be a member of the House of Representatives come January.

In Georgia, Stacey Abrams is seeking to become the first Black woman elected governor in the history of that state. She will face Trump clone Brian Kemp, who infamously claimed in a campaign ad that he owned a big truck “just in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take ‘em home myself,” in the general election. Polls show the race is a dead heat at 45 percent.

The other big southern-state governor’s race is in Florida, where progressive candidate Andrew Gillum will face another Trump clone, GOP Rep. Ron DeSantis, to replace Rick Scott. DeSantis made the race even more famous on the day Gillum won his primary by warning Florida voters his Black opponent would “monkey up” the economy, which inspired a flood of racist robocalls from white supremacists. The latest Florida Chamber of Commerce poll has Gillum leading DeSantis by four points.

The winds of change are blowing even here in granite-conservative New Hampshire, which since 2004 hasn’t been as reliably conservative as many previously assumed. In Concord’s Ward 8, a blue-collar neighborhood speckled with fast-food joints, long-time state representative and former city councilor Dick Patten was defeated in the Democratic primary by a 27-year-old former Afghan refugee named Safiya Wazir, who had never before run for office. Wazir won in a rout, 329 votes to 123.

On September 29, music legend Willy Nelson will headline a rally in Texas for Beto O’Rourke. In his entire career, Nelson has never once done a public concert for a political candidate. “My wife Annie and I have met and spoken with Beto and we share his concern for the direction things are headed,” said Nelson in a press release. “Beto embodies what is special about Texas, an energy and an integrity that is completely genuine.”

There’s something happening here, to quote another musician, and it ain’t all Trump. When progressives actually run as progressives, when voters are given candidates who have discarded the thoroughly discredited empty vessel that is tepid “third way” Republican-lite centrism and offer genuine and workable policy alternatives, those candidates do very, very well.

Even in Texas, where Ted Cruz might lose.

The post Ted Cruz Might Lose, and Other Giddy Tidbits From Election 2018 appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

John Bolton Escalates Blackmail to Shield US War Criminals

Fri, 09/14/2018 - 16:59

Once more, the United States is blackmailing countries that are parties to the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court (ICC). And National Security Adviser John Bolton is again leading the charge to shield US war criminals from accountability.

On September 10, Bolton told the right-wing Federalist Society that the United States would punish the ICC if it mounts a full investigation of Americans for war crimes committed in Afghanistan or of Israelis for human rights violations committed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

ICC Prosecutor Has “Reason to Believe” US Military Committed Torture

Last fall, Fatou Bensouda, chief prosecutor of the ICC, recommended to the court’s Pre-Trial Chamber that it open a full investigation into the possible commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by parties to the war in Afghanistan, including US persons.

In 2016, Bensouda’s preliminary examination found reason to believe, “at a minimum,” that members of the US military “subjected at least 61 detained persons to torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity,” and CIA personnel “subjected at least 27 detained persons to torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity and/or rape.”

Torture and inhuman treatment constitute war crimes under the Rome Statute.

Bensouda stated in her 2016 report:

The information available suggests that victims were deliberately subjected to physical and psychological violence, and that crimes were allegedly committed with particular cruelty and in a manner that debased the basic human dignity of the victims. The infliction of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” applied cumulatively and in combination with each other over a prolonged period of time, would have caused serious physical and psychological injury to the victims. Some victims reportedly exhibited psychological and behavioural issues, including hallucinations, paranoia, insomnia, and attempts at self-harm and self-mutilation.

Moreover, Bensouda concluded these actions were not isolated instances of misbehavior, noting:

The gravity of the alleged crimes is increased by the fact that they were reportedly committed pursuant to plans or policies approved at senior levels of the US government, following careful and extensive deliberations.

After Bensouda determined an official investigation was warranted, Bolton wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “The ICC constitutes a direct assault on the concept of national sovereignty, especially that of constitutional, representative governments like the United States.”

The countries of the world, including the United States, spent 50 years developing an international court to try genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression. However, in 1998, when the world’s countries voted on the Rome Statute to establish the court, the United States was one of only seven countries that voted against it. There are 123 member states that are parties to the Rome Statute.

The court entered into force in July 2002. Judges on the court are respected for their impartiality and they represent regional diversity.

Bolton, Trump Threaten Sanctions Against ICC if It Investigates Americans

The United States isn’t a party to the Rome Statute, but Afghanistan is. Therefore, the court could take jurisdiction over individuals who allegedly committed crimes in Afghanistan.

In one of his final acts as president, Bill Clinton signed the Rome Statute but recommended to incoming President George W. Bush that he not submit the treaty to the Senate for advice and consent to ratification. When a country signs a treaty, it indicates an intent to ratify — and become party to — the treaty.

Bush didn’t just refuse to send the Rome Statute to the Senate. Through then-Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs John Bolton, the Bush administration withdrew the US’s signature from the statute in May 2002. Bolton declared the unprecedented action “the happiest moment of my government service.”

Congress then enacted the American Service-Members’ Protection Act to prevent prosecution of US armed forces “to the maximum extent possible.” One clause, dubbed the “Hague Invasion Act,” authorized the use of force to extract any US or allied force detained by the ICC.

At Bolton’s behest, the Bush administration then extracted bilateral immunity agreements from 100 countries, in which the US government threatened to withhold foreign aid if they turned over US persons to the ICC.

Bolton told the Federalist Society that his mission to “prevent other countries from delivering US personnel to the ICC” was “one of my proudest achievements.”

Now the United States is escalating its threats against the ICC.

On September 10, the same day Bolton vilified the ICC before the Federalist Society, Donald Trump issued a statement saying that if the ICC formally opens an investigation, his administration would consider negotiating “even more binding, bilateral agreements to prohibit nations from surrendering United States persons to the ICC.” He threatened to ban “ICC judges and prosecutors from entering the United States, sanction their funds in the United States financial system, and, prosecute them in the United States criminal system,” as well as “taking steps in the United Nations Security Council to constrain the Court’s sweeping powers.”

In his address to the Federalist Society, Bolton called the ICC “illegitimate,” declaring, “We will not cooperate with the ICC. We will provide no assistance to the ICC. We will not join the ICC. We will let the ICC die on its own. After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us.”

The ICC Is a Court of Last Resort

Under the principle of “complementarity,” the ICC takes jurisdiction over a case only if the suspect’s home country has been unable or unwilling to effectively prosecute it.

If the United States had prosecuted individuals in the Bush administration for the commission of war crimes in Afghanistan, the ICC would not be examining the case. But shortly after taking office, Barack Obama said, “[G]enerally speaking, I’m more interested in looking forward than I am in looking backwards.”

Indeed, Bensouda noted, the Obama administration’s review was “limited to investigating whether any unauthorized interrogation techniques were used by CIA interrogators, and if so, whether such conduct could constitute violations of any applicable statutes.” She noted Obama Attorney General Eric Holder’s proclamation that his Justice Department “will not prosecute anyone who acted in good faith and within the scope of the legal guidance given by the Office of Legal Counsel [OLC] regarding the interrogation of detainees.”

But in the infamous “Torture Memos” that John Yoo wrote while working in Bush’s OLC, he defined torture much more narrowly than the law allows. And notwithstanding the Torture Convention’s unequivocal prohibition of torture, Yoo erroneously claimed that self-defense and national security are defenses that can be used to justify torture.

Holder limited his investigation to two of the most heinous instances of torture: the deaths of Gul Rahman and Manadel al-Jamadi. Ultimately, however, Holder’s Justice Department “determined that an expanded criminal investigation of the remaining matters is not warranted.”

Rahman froze to death in 2002 after he was stripped and shackled to a cold cement floor in the secret Afghan prison called the Salt Pit. Al-Jamadi died after being suspended from the ceiling by his wrists bound behind his back. Military police officer Tony Diaz, who witnessed al-Jamadi’s torture, said that blood gushed from al-Jamadi’s mouth like “a faucet had turned on” when he was lowered to the ground. A military autopsy determined al-Jamadi’s death was a homicide.

Nonetheless, Holder refused to prosecute those responsible for the torture and deaths of those two men.

In 2014, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released a 499-page executive summary of its 6,700-page classified torture report. It says that several detainees were waterboarded — one 183 times, another 83 times. It is well-established that waterboarding constitutes torture, which is a war crime.

The executive summary states that the CIA utilized “rectal feeding,” in which a mixture of pureed hummus, pasta and sauce, nuts and raisins was forced into the rectum of one detainee. “Rectal rehydration” was used to establish the interrogator’s “total control over the detainee.”

Other examples of “enhanced interrogation techniques” documented in the summary include slamming into walls, hanging from the ceiling, being kept in total darkness, being deprived of sleep — sometimes with forced standing — for up to seven-and-a-half days, being forced to stand on broken limbs for hours, being threatened with mock execution, being confined in a coffin-like box for 11 days, as well as being bathed in ice water and dressed in diapers. One detainee “literally looked like a dog that had been kenneled,” according to the report.

But those who perpetrated this torture and cruel treatment have not been held to account in a court of law. For that reason, Bensouda is recommending a full investigation by the ICC.

US Tries to Shield Israeli Leaders From War Crimes Liability

Besides endeavoring to protect Americans from accountability for war crimes, the Trump administration is also explicitly attempting to shield Israelis from war crimes liability.

The ICC prosecutor is conducting a preliminary investigation of war crimes committed in Gaza in 2014. She should expand it to include crimes committed by Israel during the 2018 Great March of Return, when it killed unarmed protesters week after week.

In his speech to the Federalist Society, Bolton criticized the possibility of an ICC investigation into alleged international crimes committed by Israelis in Gaza and the West Bank. He said, “We will not allow the ICC, or any other organization, to constrain Israel’s right to self-defense.”

As an occupying force, Israel does not have a right to self-defense against the occupied Palestinians. Moreover, self-defense is not a defense against the commission of torture, which is a war crime.

Bolton referred to Israel’s construction of illegal settlements as “housing projects” and stated that the US’s recent decision to close the Palestinian Liberation Office in Washington, DC, was partly due to the Palestine Liberation Organization’s pursuit of a criminal investigation at the ICC. Bolton stated, “If the court comes after us, Israel or other US allies, we will not sit quietly,” and he threatened retaliation.

“America’s Exceptionalism” Animates Bolton’s Assault on ICC

Bolton revealed that American exceptionalism motivated him to vilify the ICC. He wrote, “Proponents of global governance … know that America’s exceptionalism and commitment to its Constitution were among their biggest obstacles.”

Bensouda responded to Bolton’s Federalist Society speech, stating the ICC is “an independent and impartial judicial institution” based on the principle of complementarity. She stated, “The ICC, as a court of law, will continue to do its work undeterred, in accordance with those principles and the overarching idea of the rule of law.”

No one, even Americans and Israelis, enjoy impunity for the commission of war crimes. In spite of the Bolton-Trump assault on the ICC, its prosecutor promises to hold firm and do her job. Her efforts must be supported.

The post John Bolton Escalates Blackmail to Shield US War Criminals appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Name a More Iconic Duo

Fri, 09/14/2018 - 15:41

The post Name a More Iconic Duo appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Protesters Disrupt Gov. Jerry Brown’s San Francisco Climate Summit

Fri, 09/14/2018 - 15:31

As California Governor Jerry Brown’s Global Climate Action Summit kicked off Thursday, indigenous and climate justice activists blocked the main entrance in protest. While the protests took place outside the GCAS, Gov. Brown and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the UN special envoy for climate action, were inside. Protesters disrupted Bloomberg’s speech at the summit’s main plenary. Democracy Now! was there, in the streets and at the conference.

Please check back later for full transcript.

The post Protesters Disrupt Gov. Jerry Brown’s San Francisco Climate Summit appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Is Cap-and-Trade an Effective Tool to Limit Emissions or a License to Pollute?

Fri, 09/14/2018 - 15:31

Protesters disrupted the Global Climate Action Summit Thursday, criticizing California Governor Jerry Brown in part for his support for cap-and-trade. Cap-and-trade is a market-driven strategy in which governments cap emission levels, then allow companies to buy and sell permits to pollute. California has the most far-reaching cap and trade program in the United States. Last year Governor Brown signed an extension to the state’s cap and trade law which began under Republican governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Governor Brown has credited cap and trade with limiting the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, but the issue has split many environmental groups. We host a debate between Peter Miller, director of the western region climate and clean energy program for the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Eriel Deranger, founder and executive director of the group Indigenous Climate Action and a member of the Athabaskan Chippewa first nation.

Please check back later for full transcript.

The post Is Cap-and-Trade an Effective Tool to Limit Emissions or a License to Pollute? appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Corporate Lobbyists Will Ensure Canada Will Be Part of Trump’s New NAFTA

Fri, 09/14/2018 - 15:28

The announcement last month that the US and Mexico had reached an agreement to replace NAFTA without Canada surprised trade experts around the globe. A deadline of Aug. 31 was set for the Canadians to join or be left out in the cold – and hit with fresh tariffs.

The news was stunning because negotiators for all three countries had been trying to hammer out a new accord for over a year, ever since President Donald Trump followed through on his campaign threat to demand the North American Free Trade Agreement be scrapped or replaced.

After the arbitrary deadline passed without any concessions from the Canadians, let alone a finalized deal, Trump once again threatened to exclude Canada from the new NAFTA via Twitter.

There is no political necessity to keep Canada in the new NAFTA deal. If we don’t make a fair deal for the US after decades of abuse, Canada will be out. Congress should not interfere w/ these negotiations or I will simply terminate NAFTA entirely & we will be far better off…

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 1, 2018

While his blustering included a threat to end NAFTA entirely, it is all bark and no bite. What trade scholars like me know is that Trump does not have the upper hand in these negotiations.

Interest groups on both sides of the border will ensure that Canada is in the deal – and legally, it would be cumbersome to do a deal that excludes the Canadians.

Interest Groups Usually Win

In his tweets, Trump claimed that there was “no political necessity to keep Canada in the new NAFTA deal.” However, Canada does not seem to be feeling any sense of impending doom – and for good reason.

After Trump’s threats, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said a compromise “will hinge on whether there is ultimately a good deal for Canada. No NAFTA deal is better than a bad NAFTA deal.”

In my own research I’ve studied how interest groups influence trade policy, specifically in World Trade Organization dispute initiation and litigation. My work illustrates how countries depend upon industry interest groups – and in some cases, companies themselves – to help shape trade policy.

This research borrows from the work of Princeton politics professor Andrew Moravcsik, who theorized that countries – especially democratic ones – primarily represent the preferences of domestic interest groups when engaged in international negotiations, and will rarely kowtow to the desires of trading partners.

In other words, governments want to stay in power and get re-elected. They need votes and campaign contributions to meet that goal, and corporate and industry interest groups can provide both.

That’s why Trudeau continues to stand firm that any deal with the US and Mexico protect Canadian middle class jobs by protecting domestic dairy and poultry production and why he insists a so-called cultural exemption that safeguards domestic television and radio from takeovers by US media conglomerates be included in the new NAFTA.

Trudeau and his team of negotiators are not going to sing to the tune of Trump’s tweets. Rather, they’re following the standard political economist playbook: protect those industries and sectors that can help carry Trudeau to another win in the federal elections 13 months from now.

Americans First

On the other side of the table, there’s Trump.

He professes to have American interests at heart in his hard-line handling of Canada in these ongoing NAFTA negotiations. And he has framed NAFTA as a disaster and an agreement that has brought “the US … decades of abuse” at the hands of Canada.

What Trump hesitates to acknowledge is the interdependence between the US and Canadian economies. Both countries need each other.

Canada is the United States’ second-largest trading partner, with US$673 billion in total goods and services crossing the border in 2017. The US Department of Commerce estimates that exports to Canada support over 1.5 million jobs, heavily concentrated in border states that went for Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

Take the automobile industry as an example: If Canada was left out of NAFTA, car prices could rise in the US due to proposed new tariffs on Canadian autos. And Canadians are already discussing a boycott of American goods if negotiations turn sour, which could also lead to a decline in the sales of American cars.

If consumers in Canada and other countries are buying fewer American cars as a result of these trade disputes, that could lead to layoffs. The possible downward spiral that could result has both the auto industry and labor unions concerned about a NAFTA with no Canada.

And it’s not just cars. If Canada is kicked out of the new NAFTA, Americans would see a number of industries negatively affected, from oil production to retail stores to tourism as Canadians will choose to buy more domestic products to avoid American ones.

Basically, a NAFTA without Canada is a lose-lose situation for all involved. And while Trump may be willing to ignore the wishes of some interest groups since he has two years before he faces re-election, most lawmakers in Congress don’t have that luxury as the midterms fast approach.

It’s hard for me to imagine that Congress would support a NAFTA minus Canada, regardless of who controls the House in January 2019.

Three Is Not a Crowd

The idea of throwing NAFTA out all together is, in my view, ludicrous, as industry on both sides of the border will not stand for it and Congress will not support it.

Trump is also legally restricted. While he has been granted fast-track authority by Congress to renegotiate NAFTA, this only allows Trump to ask lawmakers to approve a deal, by an up or down vote, that includes all three countries. If the current negotiations fail and Trump presents Congress with a trade deal with Mexico alone, the process will be slow and could be held up significantly – especially if there’s a change in control of the House.

Considering manufacturing interests were pro-NAFTA in 1994 and continues to derive benefits from the treaty today, North Americans can expect whatever replaces that deal to continue with Canada well into the future regardless of how long these negotiations take.

The post Corporate Lobbyists Will Ensure Canada Will Be Part of Trump’s New NAFTA appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Unionized Judges and Public Defenders Demand Due Process for Immigrants

Fri, 09/14/2018 - 15:21

Why have New York City public defenders been walking out of the courts in the middle of the day to hold spirited demonstrations in support of their clients?

The outcry began last November when Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were reported to lurk in the vicinity of the courts, targeting people as they entered or exited court proceedings.

Legal Aid client Genaro Rojas Hernandez was meeting with his lawyer in Brooklyn when ICE agents grabbed him.

The arrest sparked an impromptu walkout by dozens of Legal Aid Society’s public defenders, members of Auto Workers (UAW) Local 2325, to demand that the state agency that runs the courts must stop cooperating with ICE.

Legal and immigrant rights advocates have continued the fight ever since. Two hundred lawyers and allies rallied in March, insisting that ICE presence in public courts can intimidate and prevent New Yorkers from showing up to proceedings and thus interfere with equal access to adequate representation.


The protesters also shed a spotlight on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, questioning whether New York was really a “sanctuary city.”

A sanctuary city sounds like it would mean refusing to let ICE detain undocumented immigrants. But in many cities, it only means that ICE presence is regulated and limited.

New York has continued to share enforcement databases, leading to targeted enforcement. ICE is prohibited to carry out these detentions in “sensitive” public areas such as schools and hospitals, a practice widely seen in post-Trump enforcement.

Athena Bernkopf, a paralegal at Legal Aid and 1199SEIU member, called on de Blasio, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and the state’s Chief Judge Janet Difiore to “implement policies that put this commitment into practice and not only words.”

Assembly-Line Justice

Meanwhile another union, the National Association of Immigration Judges, has openly criticized the Department of Justice under Attorney General Jeff Sessions for interfering with the independence of the courts. The union is bringing a grievance after Philadelphia-based immigration judge Steven A. Morley was removed from a case because he had not followed the administration’s preferred method of a quick deportation order.

This incident highlights how the Trump administration is targeting judges who do not follow the agenda of rapid deportations. The implications of this grievance are vast—its resolution would affect judicial independence throughout the entire immigration court system.

Another point of concern is that effective October 1, 2018, immigration judges will be subjected to performance metrics that include quotas for case completions. These quotas would drastically limit time and quality, leading to “assembly line justice.”

If the zero tolerance policy were fully applied, immigration courts would collapse due to the vast number of cases scheduled and the limited number of judge staffing.

An example of these ramifications of zero tolerance can be seen on the United States-Mexico border, such as in Texas, where judges are being video-conferenced in from across the country due to an overwhelming caseload.

Widespread Fear

New York’s statewide ICE Out of the Courts Coalition is composed of around 100 organizations, including unions, community groups, advocacy groups, law schools, civil rights and liberties groups, and legal service organizations.

Members of the coalition have documented a 1,200 percent increase in courthouse arrests from 2016 to 2017. And this year the pace of arrests is already higher than in 2017.

The coalition sent out an “ICE in NYS Courts” survey to advocates and legal service providers throughout the state. Around 225 advocates and attorneys from 31 counties in New York State participated.

The key findings were troubling:

  • Three out of four legal service providers said their immigrant clients had expressed fear of going to court because of ICE
  • 67 percent of those who worked with survivors of violence said they had clients who decided not to seek help from the courts due to fear of ICE
  • 37 percent had worked with immigrants who have failed to pursue an order of protection due to fear of ICE

The coalition has endorsed a state assembly bill, the Protect Our Courts Act, which would require federal immigration agents to present sufficient evidence to a federal judge before making an arrest in the court that would result in detention and deportation proceedings. The federal judge would have to authorize such an arrest before it occurs. In addition, the bill would require New York’s office of court administration to create and implement procedures for reviewing judicial warrants and court orders.

Free Pablo

Besides ICE out of the courts, rank-and-file members of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys (ALAA, UAW Local 2325), and 1199SEIU, which represents Legal Aid paralegals and social workers, have continued our organizing in support of targeted immigrants.

We were involved in the recent campaign that stopped the deportation of Pablo Villavicencio, an undocumented immigrant who was detained by ICE while delivering pizza to the Fort Hamilton Military Base in Brooklyn.

Villavicencio’s detention sparked public outrage. Local city council members and the governor offered assistance. His family’s story garnered front-page coverage in all the New York papers.

A team from the Legal Aid Society was able to win Villavicencio a stay of removal, and filed a habeas corpus petition to have him released from detention. The day of the hearing, our unions joined with other groups to organize a rally and press conference.

ALAA and 1199 got involved in the Villavicencio case in a very direct way, helping create the campaign to “Free Pablo” along with community activists. The ALAA provided the space for organizing meetings along with acquiring official release time from work for union members at Legal Aid to participate in the rally day of Villavicencio’s court date.

The case also became a chance for members of the two unions in our workplace to organize together, and to learn organizing skills that we could use in future labor fights.

Unions Step Up

The role of our unions in this fight is a new development. Nonprofits often dominate activism for immigrants’ rights.

But “these issues that deeply affect us and that are also workers’ issues,” said Legal Aid attorney Evelyn Malave. “Pablo was at work when this happened to him.”

Legal Aid workers’ public role in his case reflects our growing understanding that it’s not enough to fight deportations solely through litigation and prosecutorial discretion, which gives judges the authority to close deportation cases based on a particular situations.

Long-lasting change, especially under the Trump administration, will require mass mobilization, publicity, workplace action, and an unwavering commitment to due process for all immigrants, regardless of past criminal backgrounds who also are entitled to due process.

“I think my role as a union member is to organize my sisters and brothers to take action,” Malave said, “to leverage the power of the collective structure that we already have in place to make change happen.”

New book from Labor Notes: Secrets of a Successful Organizer is a step-by-step guide to building power on the job. “Full of so many creative examples and powerful rank-and-file stories, it makes you want to dive right in.” Buy one today, only $15.

The post Unionized Judges and Public Defenders Demand Due Process for Immigrants appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Bernie Sanders Calls for a New International Left

Fri, 09/14/2018 - 15:19

I wrote earlier in the week about Steve Bannon’s ties to far-right politicians in Europe. In fact, Bannon is in Italy right now schmoozing with his newest political ally, Matteo Salvini, who’s the interior minister and leads the country’s nationalist, anti-immigrant party. The New York Times describes Salvini as “the most powerful figure in Italy’s new populist government.” He’s an emerging far-right superstar known for his puckish habit of owning the libs by quoting Benito Mussolini.

According to the Times, Salvini has signed on to Bannon’s new so-called organization, “The Movement” in order to “help bring about a continent-wide populist takeover during European Parliamentary elections next spring.” Bannon will offer a meeting space and supposed expertise in various aspects of campaigning for far-right populist leaders. (Apparently, his three months of experience working for Donald Trump in the flukiest presidential election in US history qualifies him as a political guru.)

Salvini has other things in common with Trump and the Republicans besides Steve Bannon. He and his party are being investigated by government prosecutors for allegedly stealing tens of millions of euros. (Funny how all these “populists” are always stealing money with both hands.) Just to make things even more interesting, Buzzfeed report that Salvini’s close aide, Gianluca Savoini, “has links to mercenaries fighting alongside pro-Russian and neo-Nazi militias in Ukraine.” Savoini himself is the leader of a pro-Russia “cultural organization” which Buzzfeed’s research showed has disseminated pro-Kremlin propaganda. He has been pushing hard to remove Italian sanctions against Russia. What a small world.

Evidently, Salvini has recently met with Hungary’s nationalist anti-immigrant prime minister Viktor Orbán, who is also interested in joining up with Bannon’s new movement. Banding together to defeat liberals across the continent is a curious form of nationalism but that seems to be the plan.

Zack Beauchamp of Vox got a first-hand look at this new movement when he went to Hungary to check out the Orbán government. His report is chilling. He describes an authoritarian state with border fences, byzantine bureaucracy designed to thwart democratic governance, a stifled press overwhelmed with government propaganda and a kleptocratic economy. He dubs it “soft fascism,” which sounds better than it actually is:

[A] political system that aims to stamp out dissent and seize control of every major aspect of a country’s political and social life, without needing to resort to “hard” measures like banning elections and building up a police state.

He observes how this provides a model for the US, not by dramatically imposing dictatorial rule but rather through “a series of changes to electoral rules and laws imposed over time that might individually be defensible but in combination with corruption and demagogic populism creates a new system — one that appears democratic but functionally is not.”

Bannon has said that Orbán, who has been in office since 2010, was “Trump before Trump.”

Bannon thinks he’s smarter than everybody else and often tries to co-opt the populist left into his warped vision. He told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria last June that he believes he can peel off at least 25 percent of Bernie Sanders’ followers to form a nationalist governing majority. Just last week, he warned progressives that the establishment would obstruct their agenda if a Democrat won the White House, just as he believes it is staging a “coup” against Donald Trump.

I suspect many members of the American left have been looking for their leaders to speak out on this. On Thursday, Sen. Bernie Sanders came through with a searing op-ed in the Guardian condemning this far-right movement and calling it out for the serious threat it is. He calls it “a global struggle taking place of enormous consequence. Nothing less than the future of the planet – economically, socially and environmentally – is at stake … we are seeing the rise of a new authoritarian axis.”

Sanders didn’t use the term “axis” by accident. He writes:

While these regimes may differ in some respects, they share key attributes: hostility toward democratic norms, antagonism toward a free press, intolerance toward ethnic and religious minorities, and a belief that government should benefit their own selfish financial interests. … This trend certainly did not begin with Trump, but there’s no question that authoritarian leaders around the world have drawn inspiration from the fact that the leader of the world’s oldest and most powerful democracy seems to delight in shattering democratic norms.

It is extremely important that one of the most important leaders of the American left puts this is such stark and evocative terms. He calls out the corrupt, authoritarian leadership of Russia, Saudi Arabia, Hungary, China and more and makes the connections among them clear, calling them part of a “common front” sharing tactics and even some of the same mega-rich funders.

Sanders doesn’t offer specific policies to combat this threat, beyond his social-democratic economic agenda and standard non-interventionist philosophy but that’s not the important part. He is issuing a wake-up call to the American left:

In order to effectively combat the rise of the international authoritarian axis, we need an international progressive movement that mobilizes behind a vision of shared prosperity, security and dignity for all people, and that addresses the massive global inequality that exists, not only in wealth but in political power.

Such a movement must be willing to think creatively and boldly about the world that we would like to see. While the authoritarian axis is committed to tearing down a post-second world war global order that they see as limiting their access to power and wealth, it is not enough for us to simply defend that order as it exists now.

We must look honestly at how that order has failed to deliver on many of its promises, and how authoritarians have adeptly exploited those failures in order to build support for their agenda. We must take the opportunity to reconceptualize a genuinely progressive global order based on human solidarity, an order that recognizes that every person on this planet shares a common humanity, that we all want our children to grow up healthy, to have a good education, have decent jobs, drink clean water, breathe clean air and live in peace.

Neither the American left nor the international left is buying into Bannon and company’s cramped, ugly, Hobbesian worldview and it never will. The right-wing racists and nationalists are on their own.

The post Bernie Sanders Calls for a New International Left appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Cuomo Defeats Nixon, but Progressives Crush Democrats in New York

Fri, 09/14/2018 - 14:40

Though New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo overcame progressive challenger Cynthia Nixon in Thursday night’s gubernatorial primary, he is likely to face a fundamentally transformed state legislature when he returns to office after many of his fellow GOP-collaborating corporate Democrats were trounced by bold left-wing insurgents.

For years, the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) — a powerful group of New York state senators — caucused with the New York GOP and effectively handed Republicans a majority in the legislature, allowing them to kill progressive legislation.

On Thursday, “invigorated” progressive New Yorkers turned out in record numbers and delivered a major rebuke to this group of deep-pocketed “turncoat” Democrats by upsetting six of the eight IDC members — victories that could help shift the balance of power in Albany to the left.

“If this doesn’t prove that political currency is people over money, I do not know what does,” declared Alessandra Biaggi, a progressive lawyer who toppled prominent state Sen. Jeffrey Klein, former head of the IDC. “We have now cut the head off the IDC snake.”

“The IDC was the vehicle Andrew Cuomo used for eight years to keep Republicans in power. Today, we changed Albany forever,” added Bill Lipton, director of the New York Working Families Party. “He’s going to return to an Albany he doesn’t recognize, where he’s no longer the center of debate. He’s going to have to respond to us.”

While Nixon, attorney general candidate Zephyr Teachout, and lieutenant governor candidate Jumaane Williams — a trio that was viewed as a progressive slate — were all defeated Thursday night, they were credited with driving voter enthusiasm and turnout down the ballot and helping to knock off establishment incumbents.

“This is an incredible moment for progressives, but it’s not just a moment — it’s a movement, and this movement is only growing stronger,” Nixon wrote on Twitter following her loss. “Thank you all for believing and fighting and leaving it all on the field. We started something here in New York, and it doesn’t end today. This is just the beginning. And I know that together, we will win this fight.”

So Cuomo wins, but the state is unrecognizable from when he first took over, and that’s thanks to a progressive movement that has:
1. Crushed his little IDC, so Dems can actually accomplish things in Albany
2. Pulled Cuomo left
3. Extracted a promise he won’t run for president…

— Ryan Grim (@ryangrim) September 14, 2018

It’s a very, very big deal that Dem insurgents are going to knock off six or seven state senators. Cuomo is the headline, but the caucus that kept the GOP in control of the state senate has been decapitated. #NYPrimary

— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) September 14, 2018

In addition to ousting six IDC members in the New York state Senate, the progressive movement also propelled 27-year-old democratic socialist Julia Salazar to victory over corporate Democratic Sen. Martin Dilan, who was not an IDC member but was drowning in cash from the real estate industry.

Salazar — who ran on a platform of combating homelessness in New York and guaranteeing healthcare to all as a right — overcame both a massive fundraising disadvantage and a vile right-wing smear campaign that outed her as a survivor of sexual assault just days before Thursday’s election.

“This is a victory for workers,” Salazar told supporters after her upset win Thursday night. “This is a victory for all of you, who every day have knocked on doors and have had meaningful conversations with our neighbors about these issues.”

Tonight’s victory is not about me.

Tonight’s victory is about New Yorkers coming together and choosing to fight against rising rents and homelessness in our communities.

Together, we will build a better New York.#NY4TheMany

— Julia Salazar for State Senate (@SalazarSenate18) September 14, 2018

In a statement on Thursday, the New York City chapter of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) celebrated the victories of Salazar and other down-ballot progressives as further evidence that New Yorkers “are ready for bold, visionary leadership and will no longer tolerate candidates who are in the pockets of corporations and billionaires.”

“This primary was about the movement of socialists, tenants, immigrants, and working New Yorkers who are ready for a change in Albany,” Bianca Cunningham, co-chair of New York City DSA, said in a statement. “We are excited to hit the ground running with new leadership in Albany to make the priorities of working people a reality.”

The post Cuomo Defeats Nixon, but Progressives Crush Democrats in New York appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Voters Have to Remain Vigilant to Make Sure They Are on the Rolls

Fri, 09/14/2018 - 14:29
Janine Jackson interviewed John Powers about voter suppression for the August 31, 2018, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

Janine Jackson: So many reporters swarmed into the town of Cuthbert, Georgia, a county attorney told Rolling Stone’s Jamil Smith, “it filled up the Econo Lodge.” The subject of the media scrum — which, it should be noted, followed community outcry — was a political consultant’s plan to shut down seven of nine polling places, in an overwhelmingly black and low-income county, on the pretense that they were inaccessible to people with disabilities, a concern he appears only to have developed after Stacey Abrams, a black woman, was nominated for governor.

The Board of Elections of Randolph County voted down the outrageous proposal. But for many, the hamfisted maneuver stands as a warning of how far — and how low — some will go when trying to suppress the votes of the black, brown and poor. With critical elections on the horizon, there’s never been greater need for scrutiny of the voting process in this country, and the efforts to disconnect it from anything like real democracy. John Powers is counsel in the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. He joins us now by phone from Atlanta. Welcome to CounterSpin, John Powers.

John Powers: Thank you for having me on.

Well, the Georgia shenanigans have their particulars: It wasn’t an official who tried it, but this consultant that the county brought in and has since fired, and the Board of Elections voted it down following normal procedures. It was never a done deal. But I have to believe that the outcry and the spotlight were salutary, even if it overwhelmed this town, for exposing voter suppression, which can take many different forms, can’t it? It’s not just as simple, always, as shutting down polling places.

That’s right. The voting process in the United States is a lengthy one, of course. You have to register. You have to figure out what voting precinct and polling place you’re in, assuming that your registration application is actually approved by the Board of Elections. Then you have to decide to vote, either by absentee ballot or early voting in person at a location, or on Election Day. And the sad truth is that there are jurisdictions around the country that have made it more difficult for people to vote at each and every stage of that process.

I want to draw you out on one particular aspect of this. So someone who hasn’t voted in a while, because they haven’t been moved to, or because their situation meant that they couldn’t, but now they want to vote, and they find they’ve been erased from the rolls. Can you explain purges?

One thing that a lot of voters aren’t aware of, with respect to their registration status, is that it’s not necessarily permanent. If someone voted, say, for former President Obama in 2008 or 2012, and hasn’t voted since then, they may no longer be on the list, even if they haven’t moved from their house since then. The Supreme Court decided in the Ohio case, Husted, that a voter can be placed in an inactive status and then ultimately removed, just for not having voted in the past number of election cycles. So voters have to remain vigilant to make sure that they are on the list, and may have to take additional steps, even though they haven’t done anything to take themselves off the list, if they haven’t voted in a while.

It seems anti-democratic on its face — you haven’t voted, so you can’t — but I understand that these purges are also flawed in practice.

There’s a lot of problems with how these systems are set up. For example, a Board of Elections can flag someone to be purged if mail sent to them is returned as undeliverable by the Postal Service, or if the Board of Elections receives other information indicating that the voter may have moved, even though that’s not actually true. The Board of Elections will send you a little postcard that looks like a piece of junk mail. If you don’t fill out that piece of mail and return it, the Board of Elections takes that as you admitting that you no longer reside at that jurisdiction, and then you can be removed within a couple of election cycles. And most people don’t realize that notice means that, and therefore they don’t fill it out, which is why so many folks get removed improperly on the basis that they moved.

I understand that these purges are increasing lately; I think there’s new research from Brennan that suggests that. Can you explain briefly what things like this have to do with Shelby County v. Holder, the 2013 Supreme Court decision; a lot of this is connected, one way or another, with that ruling, isn’t it?

It is. In 2013, the Supreme Court rendered an extremely important opinion in Shelby County v. Holder, which lifted many jurisdictions across the country from having to submit changes to their voting practices and procedures for what was called pre-clearance, or review by the Department of Justice. And that pre-clearance process forced jurisdictions to be really careful about the voting changes they enacted and submitted for review, because they were prohibited from adopting changes that either had a discriminatory effect on minority voters, or were adopted for the purpose of making it more difficult for minority voters to cast a ballot.

And what we’ve seen since the Shelby County v. Holder decision is that jurisdictions no longer being monitored, and having to submit things for review, have said, “OK, now we’re free, we can do whatever we want,” and that places an extreme burden on local voters and nonprofits to challenge things at the local level, and if necessary bring lawsuits. Meaning that things that before could have easily been stopped in their tracks by DoJ at the outset now get through, and it requires — you know, for example, in Georgia there are 159 counties — it’s hard for community activists to stay engaged and fight in every single county in a state, let alone the entire country.

And I would just point out, states weren’t chosen randomly to have to pre-clear their election laws. They were particularly those places that had a history of racial discrimination, right?

That’s exactly right. The states subject to Section 5 pre-clearance had been chosen for that specifically because they had a track record of discrimination, leading to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in the first place. And what we’ve seen is that since Shelby County, it is these states where we’ve seen the number of problematic voting changes increase rapidly in recent years. You could go through a laundry list of voting precinct consolidations, purges of voters, enacting very draconian exact-match registration requirements — where people get booted off the rolls for having a hyphen in their voter registration application but not on their driver’s license — as well as proof-of-citizenship requirements. There’s a number of different barriers that have been erected that make it more difficult for minority voters to have an equal say in the political process.

Let me read you a quote. The New York Times, in reporting on the Supreme Court’s upholding of the Ohio Republicans’ plans on purging, the Times called it

a vivid reminder that measures placing obstacles between people seeking to vote and their ability to cast ballots, including cutbacks on early voting, elimination of same-day registration and tough voter ID laws, present dueling visions of democracy. Republicans have pushed for such restrictions, arguing without evidence that they are needed to combat what they say is widespread voter fraud. Democrats have pushed back, countering that efforts are part of an attempt to suppress voting by Democratic constituencies, particularly minorities.

Corporate media have been, I think, increasingly willing to say, as the Times does here, that claims of voter fraud are unsubstantiated. But to present the idea that they represent voter suppression as a counter to that, as if it were equally groundless and partisan, to call them “dueling visions,” I think is journalistic malpractice, frankly. What are your thoughts, finally, on what responsible reporting on voting, on these important voting issues, would include? What would you like to see from media?

That’s a very good question. You’re absolutely correct that the media has played a game of false equivalence when it comes to reporting on the battle for voting rights in America. The simple fact is that jurisdictions that have wanted to disenfranchise voters have been raising the specter of voter fraud for more than 100 years now. Tools like the literacy test, grandfather clauses, poll taxes, were justified on the grounds of protecting the integrity of the ballot box and preventing voter fraud, and these rationales are just as specious now as they were back then.

There’ve been exhaustive studies in Texas and Georgia and North Carolina, where government officials have spent large numbers of taxpayer dollars hunting for voter fraud, and they simply can’t find it. You either see no criminal charges or convictions whatsoever, or the criminalization of innocent behavior, in which poor voters, who are not aware of the significance of their actions, end of getting prosecuted for making innocent mistakes. So that’s what you have on one side of the ledger.

On the other side, you see the enactment of legislation and pursuing practices — whether it’s strict voter ID, proof-of-citizenship requirements, exact-match voter registration verification procedures, the use of Crosscheck between the various states, reducing the number of early voting locations and Election Day polling locations — a whole panoply of practices that have had tangible, measurable effects in terms of reducing the number of people who have been able to participate in the political process.

And, of course, creating these burdens has the most significant impact on our country’s most vulnerable citizens, who happen to generally be those from a lower socioeconomic status and education level and income level, and who have greater burdens in their lives that make it more difficult to jump through the extra hoops that have been placed in front of them. And to say that the thousands of voters who have been disenfranchised — or, when it comes to gerrymandering and redistricting, whose actual votes mean less, because they’ve been placed into cracked or packed districts — to put that on an equal footing with so-called ballot integrity in preventing voter fraud is a grievous mistake, and hopefully going forward, the media will look at the hard science and data, and be more willing to call out attempts at voter suppression for what they really are.

We’ve been speaking with John Powers, counsel in the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. You can find their work online at John Powers, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

Thank you for having me.

The post Voters Have to Remain Vigilant to Make Sure They Are on the Rolls appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

How Nike Uses Liberal Multiculturalism to Hide Abuse

Fri, 09/14/2018 - 14:08

“If people say your dreams are crazy…” an unseen man says in the new Nike ad. On screen, a child wrestler with a leg amputation goes for the win, a Muslim woman boxes and a refugee scores for the national team. “Good,” the voice says. “Stay that way.”

The ad cuts to Colin Kaepernick, the NFL quarterback blacklisted for kneeling during the national anthem to protest the police killings of unarmed Black people. It is a breathtaking moment. It is also a liberal alibi for massive, ongoing harm.

Behind the Nike swoosh is the struggle of a million workers who stitch Nike shoes and gear. They are part of the 70 million-strong global garment industry workforce, fighting for better pay and conditions even as their jobs are automated. When we buy Nike’s seemingly rebellious liberalism, we buy into reformist politics that excludes their dream, which is to earn a living wage.

Express Yourself

“Yo man, your Jordans are fucked up,” the friend taunted Buggin Out, whose Nikes were scuffed by a passerby. Everyone in the theater laughed. It was 1989 and we sat spellbound by Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing because the scene reflected our lives. People took their shoes way too seriously. It was why I never wore Nikes. I had friends who were robbed at gunpoint and walked home in socks.

Why the violence? It’s not just a ’90s thing. It happens now. The answer: People hunger for status. They stare at athletes and celebrities, who float in a world of wealth. Stars wear nice clothes and glittering watches. They drive cars like spaceships on wheels. If we can’t be them, we can at least wear what they wear and borrow the décor of their lifestyles.

Since the 1920s advertising revolution, capitalism has sold commodities by associating them with an identity. Edward Bernays, “the father of public relations,” began this with World War I propaganda and then sold his “psychological warfare” to American companies. He framed their products not as things to answer needs but as symbols to satisfy desires. He wrote in his 1928 book Propaganda, “A thing may be desired not for its intrinsic worth or usefulness, but because [a person] has unconsciously come to see in it a symbol.”

Advertising sold people symbols like instant food, which signified modern convenience, or soap “scientifically” guaranteed to kill germs. Each generation found its desire for safety or upward mobility or rebellion quickly commodified. In the television series Mad Men, 1960s ad executive Don Draper’s meditation led to the “I Like to Buy the World a Coke” commercial. A Coke is just corn syrup and water in a bottle, but in the alchemy of advertising, it was reborn as a symbol of the Hippie Counter Culture.

Six decades after the release of Bernays’s book, Nike tapped into his propaganda model for its 1988 Just Do It campaign. It made sneakers into symbols of American independence. The first ad showed an 80-year-old man cheerfully jogging the Golden Gate Bridge. Nike sold an athletic Horatio Alger story where normal people lift themselves up with extreme effort. The human spirit shined through sweat-soaked faces.

Three decades later, Nike relaunched the Just Do It campaign. Today, capitalism is global and it must respond to the collective desire of an audience beyond America. Again, Nike tapped into the Horatio Alger lift-yourself-up mythos, but now the achievement is not just athletic prowess but a multicultural liberalism. In Nike’s new ad, refugees become national superstars. A young woman is both homecoming queen and football player. A young Black girl from Compton reigns supreme in tennis. Finally, Colin Kaepernick looks into the camera and poof, Nike becomes a symbol of justice.

Yet it isn’t. Take a look at the label. You can read where the factories are located. They are where a struggle involving millions of people won’t be made into any commercial.

Behind the Swoosh

Indonesia. Vietnam. Honduras. I thumbed through labels at Macy’s. Every shoe had a Nike swoosh. Every shirt had a number like Michael Jordan’s 23 or a famous American face on the front. Yet when I looked inside, the labels all pointed back to Global South nations.

Nike sells rebellion to Global North consumers through the faces of well-paid celebrities on its apparel while its goods are made primarily by people in the Global South who barely eke out a living. When they fight for better wages or working conditions, their heroism does not make them eligible to become rebels, mythologized in Nike’s ads.

Nike is a criminal enterprise. Capitalism is a system of theft and Nike is a near-perfect model of it. Phil Knight, the founder and CEO has a net worth of nearly $35 billion. Jordan earned $100 million from Nike and other deals. Lebron James signed a lifetime deal with Nike worth over a billion. Now Kaepernick is next in line for more ads, a sneaker line and jerseys — all of which will add up to a pretty penny.

Where does this vast sum of money come from? Nike is a corporate vacuum sucking up the surplus value from workers. It has a million laborers, mostly women, in 42 nations, including Indonesia, Vietnam and Bangladesh. Each country gets paid its own rate. Workers line up in rows near conveyor belts or sewing machines for long hours. In Indonesia, the assemblers get paid $3.50 per day. In Vietnam, they are paid around $42 a week or $171 per month.

The workers receive anything close to the product’s final value. When a Nike sneaker is put on the store shelf, it gets a near 43 percent retail markup and consumers in the Global North buy it for nearly a $100. Our money goes to store employees, managers, regional managers, the CEO, celebrity advertising and the accounts of stockholders. The workers — mainly women in the Global South — who are exposed to toxic chemicals, faint from heat, forced to work overtime and whose wages are sometimes stolen — never see that much-needed money.

This system has many apologists, including among liberals. The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristoff infamously wrote a series of articles saying in essence, sweatshops are good. “People always ask me: But would you want to work in a sweatshop,” he wrote in a 2009 Op-Ed, “No, of course not. But I would want even less to pull a rickshaw. In the hierarchy of jobs in poor countries, sweltering at a sewing machine isn’t the bottom.”

He is right in the short term, but his limited, liberal imagination doesn’t see the longer trajectory of capitalism. Nike already has enough money to raise the pay of workers to more than a living wage. Instead, it chose to move out of nations with rising wage demands like China to go to Vietnam, where labor is cheaper.

Meanwhile, new 3D printing technology is making fully automated factories possible. Sweatshops could become obsolete — along with the workers who currently depend on them for survival. Against this, people protest. They fight to keep the jobs they have. In Indonesia, demonstrations against Nike cutting orders were held in 2007. One sign read, “Nike is a Blood Sucking Vampire.” In July 2017, workers and students held a Global Day of Action Against Nike after a watchdog group, Workers Rights Consortium, got inside a Nike plant in Hansae, Vietnam, and found wage theft, padlocked doors and workers fainting from heat.

In San Pedro Sula, Honduras, the SITRASTAR union protested outside of the Nike factory and store after the company stopped production at their factory. More than 350 union members were jobless. “If there is no peace for us,” union leader Waldin Reyes shouted, “Let there be no peace for them.”

It shows the double bind of Global South workers. They have to fight for higher pay and humane conditions and fight to keep the sweatshops. Without them, they’d plummet into severe poverty.

Unlike the customers buying Nike for an imaginary status of rebellion, here are people fighting for a very real goal: survival.

The People’s Shoe

“Don’t believe you have to be like anybody,” Kaepernick says in the ad, “To be somebody.” We see a brain tumor survivor who ran the Ironman race and Lebron opening a new school. Each mini-story is a triumph over great odds. Kaepernick’s soulful stare sells the ad because he sacrificed his career to silently protest innocent Black people being killed by the state.

It worked. Once more, Americans line up to buy Nike’s symbolic rebellion. Sales spiked after the new ad. It makes me uneasy. In the ’90s, impressionable youth bought Nikes because they represented athletic glory and status. Now I fear some will buy them because they’re convinced by Nike’s suggestion that they represent the struggle against anti-Black police violence.

Too often, they can’t afford the sneakers. Nike’s CEO and the stockholders are at the center of a vast money vacuum. They exploit low-wage workers at the factory floor and exploit customers, many of whom are youth of color, who are desperate to buy meaning for their lives.

Imagine a different ad. One where a union leader like Waldin Reyes smiles on screen and proudly holds up The People’s Shoe, a sneaker line made by a worker’s cooperative. No billion-dollar CEO. No billion-dollar celebrities. Instead the workers wave to the camera as they leave the shop early to see their children. The camera follows one woman to her brightly lit home. Her clothes are drying on the line as her family sits at a long table, laughing and eating. She takes a People’s Shoe, shows it to the camera and says, “Just Organize.”

The post How Nike Uses Liberal Multiculturalism to Hide Abuse appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Yellowstone Grizzly Bears Spared From Hunters as Court Decides Their Fate

Fri, 09/14/2018 - 14:02

Yellowstone National Park’s grizzly bears are safe from hunters for another two weeks while a federal judge decides their fate.

Grizzly bears in the lower 48 states are considered an endangered species that qualify for special federal protections, but the Trump administration stripped the grizzly population in and around Yellowstone of its endangered species status last year.

This opened the door for state agencies to plan grizzly bear hunts, and earlier this year, officials in Wyoming and Idaho voted to allow hunters to shoot and kill up to 23 grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park.

Conservation groups and nine Native tribes intervened with lawsuits challenging the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to remove endangered species protections for the bear population in and around Yellowstone, and a federal court in Missoula, Montana, heard oral arguments in the case on August 30, just two days before the first grizzly bear hunt in 40 years was scheduled to commence.

The court did not issue a ruling that day, so conservation attorneys requested the judge issue an injunction to prevent hunters from killing bears before a decision was made. The court quickly issued an injunction blocking the hunt and agreed to extend it for another two weeks on Thursday while it reaches a final ruling, providing a temporary victory for the bears and their supporters.

“We’re grateful that grizzly bears are not going to be shot under the authority of a rule that we strongly believe is illegal,” said Tim Preso, an attorney with Earthjustice, the environmental law organization that filed the lawsuit and requested the injunction.

In its order extending the injunction, the court says “serious questions” remain about whether the US Fish and Wildlife Service complied with the Administrative Procedures Act and the Endangered Species Act when it delisted the Yellowstone grizzly bears. As Truthout has reported, the courts have repeatedly rejected attempts by the Trump administration to hastily roll back regulations and environmental protections.

Grizzly bears have made a comeback in the Yellowstone region, where the population has grown from 136 when the bears were originally listed as endangered in 1975 to about 690 today, according to the National Park Service.

However, grizzly population growth has tapered off over the past decade, and bears are facing the loss of two important food sources — whitebark pine seeds and cutthroat trout — due in large part to climate disruption, according to Earthjustice. Conservationists warn that grizzlies across the lower 48 have lost 99 percent of their original habitat to development and are at less than 5 percent of their historic population, so taking grizzlies from the Yellowstone area out of the gene pool could threaten the greater population.

Still, the revival of the grizzly bear population in the Yellowstone region has hunting and gun-rights groups such as the National Rifle Association chomping at the bit. They argue the grizzly’s comeback has been a success, and the expanding population has frustrated ranchers. Hunting, they argue, is a conservation tool for thinning bear populations where predators and humans share territory, and fees paid by hunters to wildlife agencies have helped finance the bears’ comeback.

About 7,000 people entered a lottery to win licenses to shoot 23 bears in Idaho and Wyoming. Preso suspects most of them want to kill bears simply to mount them as trophies, and winning the right to do so in Yellowstone would set a precedent for future battles between conservationists and hunters.

“I don’t think very many people are eating grizzly bears,” Preso said.

The Trump administration decision to delist the Yellowstone bears as endangered thus transferred management authority from federal to state officials — part of a larger trend of the federal government relinquishing control over Western lands to state authorities, according to Preso. This has accelerated under Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a Trump appointee from Montana.

Earlier this week, Zinke released a sweeping memo initiating a massive transfer of authority over federal lands from federal agencies to state wildlife management and game offices.

The memo directs state agencies to identify federal conservation rules that should be rolled back to reflect weaker state standards. This would put any federal wildlife protection not required by law on a path to being repealed, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), an environmental watchdog group representing Interior Department employees and other government workers.

For example, the Trump administration recently moved to reconsider federal hunting restrictions in parks and wildlife refuges in Alaska in favor of state rules that would allow hunters to shoot swimming caribou from motor boats and kill bear and wolf pups in their dens, according to PEER.

PEER President Jeff Ruch said most state wildlife and game agencies get their revenues from hunting and fishing licenses, so Zinke’s order would tip the political scales in favor of hunters.

“This across-the-board abandonment of federal fish and wildlife safeguards is rooted in an ideological stance unsupported by any factual analysis,” Ruch said in a statement. “Federal parks, preserves, and refuges have a mission to protect biodiversity and should not be reduced to game farms.”

The post Yellowstone Grizzly Bears Spared From Hunters as Court Decides Their Fate appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Confirmation Hearing Highlights

Thu, 09/13/2018 - 16:39

The post Confirmation Hearing Highlights appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Hurricane Florence Could Blast Billions of Gallons of Hog Feces Into Waterways

Thu, 09/13/2018 - 15:42

In North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia, millions of residents are bracing for the arrival of Hurricane Florence, which meteorologists are warning could unleash life-threatening storm surges and historic flooding across a wide swath of the East Coast. Even if the storm weakens, experts warn Hurricane Florence could kill thousands of farm animals and trigger catastrophic waste spills from sewage treatment plants, hog waste lagoons and chicken farms. Many of the factory hog farms in North Carolina store their waste by spraying it on nearby fields and neighborhoods, or by depositing it in lagoons that can overflow during hurricanes, causing the toxic pig manure to pour into nearby waterways. We speak with Naeema Muhammad organizing co-director for the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network and Will Hendrick, staff attorney with the Waterkeeper Alliance.


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

We are broadcasting from San Francisco, the site of the Global Climate Action Summit. In North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia, millions of residents are bracing for the arrival of Hurricane Florence, which meteorologists are warning could unleash life-threatening storm surges and historic flooding across a wide swath of the East Coast. This is North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper.

GOV. ROY COOPER: This monster of a storm is not one to ride out. When you’re looking at a storm surge of this magnitude, where the National Weather Service says that the damage is going to be unbelievable and that they cannot emphasize it enough, we know that that’s a message that we should listen to.

AMY GOODMAN: North Carolina is preparing for the climate-change-supercharged storm six years after passing legislation prohibiting state and local agencies from making planning decisions based on the latest climate science about sea level rise. Now the state is facing the threat of a life-threatening storm surge, which could cause billions of dollars in damages, even if the storm weakens.

Experts warn Hurricane Florence could kill thousands of farm animals and trigger catastrophic waste spills from sewage treatment plants, hog waste lagoons and chicken farms. The state’s billion-dollar pork industry is primarily clustered in the eastern part of the state, directly in the line of the storm. Many of the factory hog farms in North Carolina store their waste by spraying it on nearby fields and neighborhoods or by depositing it in lagoons that can overflow during hurricanes, causing the toxic pig manure to pour into nearby waterways.

In 1999, Hurricane Floyd dropped nearly two feet of rain on North Carolina, flooding the waste lagoons and sending the waste downstream to coastal estuaries, where it boosted nitrogen and phosphorous levels and caused algae blooms and fish kills. Meanwhile, Inside Climate News has published a map showing 24 toxic coal ash containment ponds in the path of Hurricane Florence that may flood in the extreme rainfall.

For more, we are going to North Carolina where we are joined by two guests. Will Hendrick is a staff attorney with the Waterkeeper Alliance and manager of the organization’s North Carolina “Pure Farms, Pure Waters” campaign. And Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, where he works on protecting rivers, streams, groundwater and drinking water sources from coal ash, including after a North Carolina facility owned by Duke Energy spilled 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River in 2014.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! I wanted to begin with Will. Will, if you could start off by talking about exactly what is happening with all of these animal corporate factory farms and what is being threatened?

WILL HENDRICK: Right now this storm is hurtling towards the epicenter of animal agriculture in North Carolina. And as you mentioned, the vast majority of these factory hog farms utilize what is called a lagoon and spray field system to manage their waste.

In reality, even on the best day, the surrounding communities live under constant threat of an environmental catastrophe. But that threat is significantly exacerbated with the level of rainfall and the height of winds that we are expecting as a result of this storm.

And currently, although the industry is feverishly working to remove animals from the coastal plain, the waste is remaining. Many of the operators are furiously drawing down those lagoons by spraying, even in violation of their permit, after the National Weather Service has issued warnings prohibiting it.

And we know, based on past experience, most recently with Matthew, that as these rainfall events result in flooding, which may take days to manifest, that the facilities are inherently threatened, especially those that are in the 100-year floodplain. There are still 62 of these factory swine operations storing more than 200 million gallons of animal waste generated each year in the 100-year floodplain, and so the threat is significant, and it won’t solely manifest as a result of these initial impacts, but could worsen as floodwaters rise.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn now to Naeema Muhammad, organizing company-director for the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network. She appeared on Democracy Now! last year talking about how hog waste impacts the residents of Eastern North Carolina.

NAEEMA MUHAMMAD: The spray is the animal waste that comes out of — the hogs are kept in tin metal housing, and they have slats in the floor where whatever — whenever they go to the bathroom or abort baby piglets or whatever happens with them, it falls through the slats in the floor and is piped out. There are pipes running underneath the ground, and the waste is piped out into the open-air lagoon and there are all kinds of chemicals. And this urine and fecal matter produces methane, ammonia gases and so you can smell it. And what people say is it smells like rotten eggs, sometimes rotten collard greens or it’s just a terrible smell. And they have been forced out of their wells because they were seeing remnants of the waste in their well waters by the coloring and the odors coming out of their well water.

AMY GOODMAN: Naeema Muhammad, North Carolina Environmental Justice Network, is now joining us on the phone. We spoke last year when we were in North Carolina. Naeema, Welcome to Democracy Now! If you can describe the situation right now and what you are most concerned about? Are you in Greenville right now?

NAEEMA MUHAMMAD: No, I’m not. I’m en route to Greenville.

AMY GOODMAN: So in the car. Tell us about what’s happening and your concerns this year,

NAEEMA MUHAMMAD: Our concerns right now with this upcoming hurricane is the number of lagoons and the number of hog houses that are located in the community where people are living and unable to get out of the way of harm. If this storm comes and it’s as bad as they are predicting — we learned from hurricane Floyd in 1999 what happens with these animals and these lagoons when we get a lot of rain and get the hurricanes. Everything is toppled over and dumped out into the environment and into the rivers and streams and just running through the communities, so you have all of this — nothing but feces and urine in the waterways, and dead animals.

If anybody could pull up the pictures from Hurricane Floyd, you would see the number of dead animals that wound up in our waterways. And to this day, we don’t — I don’t know, and I have been listening and wondering and looking and trying to hear — what did they do with all of those animals and how did they clean up our waterways after all that much urine and feces was dumped into it as a result of the storm? So that’s a concern that we would experience that again.

But the biggest concern is the people that’s in harm’s way and unable to get out the way. And even in the counties that they’re located, there is no real infrastructure in place for moving people in disastrous situations, so the local government really don’t have the whereabouts or the means to assist and accommodate people at this point, and that is a real disaster in itself.

As I was waiting to talk to y’all this morning, I thought about my friend Rick Dove from the Waterkeeper Alliance, how he has said so many times, “They don’t have to fix this, but Mother Nature will take care of it.” And that’s exactly what we are seeing. And he was saying that long before Hurricane Floyd came. And we saw it then, we saw it at Matthew and we will probably see it again if this storm does anything near what they said it would do.

It doesn’t take a whole lot of rain around those lagoons to create problems. The sad part about having to deal with this stuff is that it doesn’t have to be this way. It does not have to be this way, if somebody in this state would have the backbone to make Smithfield put that superior technology on the ground, instead of bailing them out by encouraging them to attack the people that’s suffering.

AMY GOODMAN: Naeema Muhammad, you are an environmental leader in North Carolina with the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network. Has the state gotten in touch with you, because you reach out to so many people? Have they prepared appropriately?

NAEEMA MUHAMMAD: No, nobody has reached out to us at any level — not on the state, not on the local nor the federal level, to ask what can they do, or, “Here is what we have. This is how you can use it.” We have had none of that take place.

AMY GOODMAN: I also think people, when they hear this — I mean, this is outside the storm — what you’ve been dealing with in your communities, particularly communities of color, where you have this waste, fecal matter, sprayed into your communities — many people will not be able to believe this. Explain how that happens and what you have been subjected to.

NAEEMA MUHAMMAD: What happens is you have these lagoons — and I always tell people we’re not talking about that blue lagoon that Brooke Shields was hanging in. We’re talking about a lagoon that’s nothing but a hole that was dug in the ground and they are housing all of the urine and feces from the hogs that’s kept in those houses that they use to grow the animals.

So the waste is sitting out in these open-air lagoons. They have a certain level that they can reach before they stand the possibility of overflowing out of — the waste stands the possibility of overflowing out of the lagoons. And if that happens, that is a violation. So in order to prevent those violations, when the lagoons begin to fill up, the contract growers, on their operations, they then spray the waste out onto the crops around the areas as fertilizer to prevent the lagoons from overflowing.

The problem with that is that is just nothing but pure feces and urine that they are irrigating into the air, and it is making people sick. You hear people talk about how nauseated they get, throwing up. The air smells so bad you can barely breathe. You can’t go out. You don’t want to be outside. You can go outside, but you don’t want to be out there in those conditions. So it’s just a real problem.

But I was thinking this morning, the shame of this all is that the contract grower is in a fix as well, because Smithfield, who is pocketing all of the money from these operations, won’t do the right thing by the people that live around these animals. They don’t do the right thing by the contract growers. And so they are in a fix and a Catch-22. Smithfield owns everything — the hogs, the trucks, the feed, everything except the waste. The waste belongs to that grower who is not being paid enough to do anything different from what they are doing.

But Smithfield is pocketing billions of dollars in profit every year and can do something about it, but they won’t, because in a capitalist society, your goal is profit over people. You don’t care about what happens to anybody else as long as you get your dollar bill. And that is what they’re doing, and nobody is making them do it any different, to clean up a big problem.

AMY GOODMAN: You are referring to Smithfield Foods. I think it has something like a 973,000-square-foot meat processing plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina, reported in 2000 to be the world’s largest, processing something like 32,000 pigs a day.

Just drive carefully, Naeema Muhammad, as you make your way to Greenville. We will be in touch with you again. Thank you so much for being with us, North Carolina Environmental Justice Network leader. We will continue to talk about what is happening there after this break.

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Categories: News

Bill McKibben to Jerry Brown: We Must Keep the Oil in the Soil

Thu, 09/13/2018 - 15:42

Governors, mayors and policy makers from around the world are gathering this week for the Global Climate Action Summit. The conference was organized by California Governor Jerry Brown. The conference begins today just days after Brown signed a new law to shift California to 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2045. While Brown is hailed as a climate hero, he has been widely criticized by many climate justice activists who are planning to protest outside the opening of today’s conference. We speak to Bill McKibben, the co-founder of His latest piece for the Nation is titled Jerry Brown’s Climate Legacy Is Still Being Decided.”

Please check back later for full transcript.

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Categories: News