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Updated: 1 hour 48 min ago

Kavanaugh Is Confirmed. Only Mass Organizing Will Save Us Now.

Sun, 10/07/2018 - 15:47

There was a seeming furtiveness to the moment Brett Kavanaugh uttered the oath shortly after the confirmation vote on Saturday, a hasty sense of narrow escape. Kavanaugh was “promptly” sworn in, according to The New York Times, by Chief Justice Roberts and retired Justice Kennedy, during a private ceremony many marbled walls away from the protesters screaming their throats raw on the steps outside. When it was done, an accused perpetrator of sexual assault and confirmed serial liar had become the newest associate justice to the United States Supreme Court.

The president who nominated Brett Kavanaugh began his victory lap later that night in Topeka, Kansas, at a rally for Republican gubernatorial candidate and professional vote suppressor Kris Kobach, officially signing Kavanaugh’s judicial commission aboard Air Force One. Before yet another adoring crowd of supporters, Donald Trump gave voice to his vision of the future.

“You’re going to have other Supreme Court Justice places to be filled,” Trump told the delighted assemblage. “It could be three. It could even, before it could be a lot. And if you allow the wrong people to get into office, things could change. You don’t hand matches to an arsonist and you don’t give power to an angry leftwing mob, and that’s what they’ve become. The Democrats have become too extreme and too dangerous to govern.”

What a filthy piece of work this process was. Millions of sexual assault survivors saw their wounds simultaneously reopened and dismissed as the compelling testimony of Christine Blasey Ford was blown aside like so much dandelion fluff. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell praised the horrified outrage and pain caused by Kavanaugh’s nomination as “a great political gift.”

The FBI “investigation” into Ford’s allegations against Kavanaugh did not see fit to interview either Ford or Kavanaugh before submitting its report, willfully ignoring multiple other witnesses along the way. This disgraceful dereliction comes as no surprise to those who understand the FBI’s longstanding role as defender of the racist, sexist, timorous status quo. Still, it was galling to behold.

The speech delivered by Sen. Susan Collins of Maine on Friday afternoon was, in its own way, perhaps the worst moment of the entire ordeal. Collins, who fashions herself as a pro-choice Republican “moderate” with little evidence to support the label, embraced full-bore Trumpism like a rat seeking rescue in a rain barrel. “It wasn’t just a yes,” lamented the Boston Globe’s editorial board. “It was a hell yes.”

Collins’s remarks could have easily been drafted by Mitch McConnell himself, so deeply did she dive into McConnell’s oft-repeated colloquies on Kavanaugh’s virtues, temperament and status as victim. She showered praise on Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley shortly before he opined that there were no Republican women on the committee because they didn’t want to do the work. “The #MeToo movement is real,” she proclaimed in defense of her vote for an accused assaulter. It was almost overwhelming to behold.

A great many people will spend this day and the days to come feeling as hollowed out as the pumpkins dotting the doorsteps for Halloween, faces carved into frozen screams. Given the current right-wing makeup of the federal government, some terrible Federalist Society pocket Nazi was inevitably going to be confirmed after Kennedy stepped down … but the fact that it was this guy, when it didn’t have to be and only because McConnell had the power and the will to use it with such feckless abandon, will still be unacceptable when my little daughter has daughters of her own.

I am not going to try and blow any happy smoke over this. It is nothing more or less than a disaster for the people and a shouting victory for corporations, polluters, gun manufacturers, union busters, homophobes, sexists, anti-choice extremists, Trump’s legal standing and every misogynist who believes might makes right.

The calamity of Brett Kavanaugh is the latest, loudest battle in a larger war being fought between time and money. White Christian men under the banner of the Republican Party are fighting for the dominance of a shrinking faction in the face of a demographic tidal wave that is changing everything, but believe they can maintain their ascendancy with money in the guise of dark campaign financing and expensive disinformation outlets like Fox News.

For the moment they are correct, but moments pass. A fulcrum election looms, new Supreme Court vacancies are inevitable, and anything is possible in between. The Kavanaugh/Roberts/Alito/Gorsuch/Thomas majority is the fact of the present and will do unimaginable damage as it takes its star turn through history, but the only true constant is change. If you’re going to properly label the universe, author Frank Herbert reminds us, name it temporary.

Wresting power back from the right-wing forces that have taken control of the US government and courts will only be possible through mass participation, mass disobedience and the vote. There is, quite simply, no alternative.

In this moment, we must lay ourselves upon the gears and remember the words of progressive historian Howard Zinn: “It would be naïve to depend on the Supreme Court to defend the rights of poor people, women, people of color, dissenters of all kinds. Those rights only come alive when citizens organize, protest, demonstrate, strike, boycott, rebel, and violate the law in order to uphold justice.”

This, too, is fact.

The post Kavanaugh Is Confirmed. Only Mass Organizing Will Save Us Now. appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Violence Against Women Act at Risk of Lapsing

Sun, 10/07/2018 - 14:42

A landmark piece of federal legislation aimed at protecting women from violent crimes seems to be a low priority for the 115th Congress.

The Violence Against Women Act was included in a defense and health spending bill passed last month. However, it was only granted a short-term reauthorization until Dec. 7.

“It should absolutely be prioritized, Congress should be engaging in a real way with sexual assault advocates,” said Terri Poore, the policy director for the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence. “This extension is just kicking the can down the road till after the election.”

In 1994, then-Sen. Joe Biden drafted VAWA during the aftermath of the Anita Hill hearings. It passed both the Senate and the House of Representatives as a part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, and it was signed by President Bill Clinton.

The law set aside funding for investigations into violent crimes associated with domestic and sexual violence designed to end violence against women. VAWA also financed legal aid, funded shelters for victims, provided federal grants for advocacy groups helping domestic violence survivors and toughened federal charges for abusers.

In 1991, Hill alleged that then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her when they worked together at the United States Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Now, 27 years later, Brett Kavanaugh, who was recently confirmed to the Supreme Court, has faced allegations of sexual assault. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford alleged Kavanaugh assaulted her when they were teenagers in the early 1980s.

Biden, who is considering a bid for president in 2020, was criticized for how he handled the Hill and Thomas hearings when he was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. His role in the 1991 hearings has come under scrutiny again in the midst of Ford and Kavanaugh hearings.

Each time reauthorization nears, advocacy groups work together through the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence to do extensive outreach to learn what parts of VAWA are working and what needs improving. Updates are always necessary to ensure that the programs are effective, Poore said.

“We had been making progress with Congress on getting the reauthorization approved, so it’s pretty disappointing to just get this short-term extension,” Poore said.

That being said, Poore said she is hopeful that they will get the full reauthorization approved eventually. Demand for services like rape and sexual assault support has skyrocketed recently and the funding can’t meet those needs, she said.

Since 1994, the act was reauthorized in 2000, 2005 and 2013. The law expired for two years, from 2011 to 2013, when conservative Republicans objected to new provisions.

But, during that lapsed period, VAWA programs continued to receive funding, since the budgeting process for the relevant programs covered under the law is separate from reauthorization.

When VAWA was up for reauthorization in 2011, Republican lawmakers were against extending protections to immigrants, Native American women and the LGBTQ community.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) sponsored the expanded version, which was eventually passed in 2013. Senators Mike Crapo (R-ID), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) were among the Republicans who co-sponsored the bill, but it was met with resistance from a handful of notable Republican lawmakers.

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), who, at the time, was the senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was against the new provisions and offered a stripped-down version that failed in the Senate. Grassley accused the added provisions of being too political and losing focus on helping victims.

Of those in office in 2013 who are currently on the Senate Judiciary Committee, only the Democrats, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Crapo voted in favor of reauthorization.

In 1994, Grassley, the current chairman of the committee, and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), a committee member, also voted against the original legislation. Both senators were on the judiciary committee during the Hill and Thomas hearings in 1991. The other remaining members of the committee who were in office in 2013 voted against its reauthorization.

In 2012, Murkowski said the Republican Party was at risk of being painted as “antiwoman” if members didn’t support the legislation.

President Barack Obama signed the 2013 version. VAWA now grants temporary visas to undocumented immigrants who are victims of domestic violence, extends protections to Native American women and includes domestic violence cases for LGBTQ couples. The bill also expanded the definition of violence against women to include stalking.

Then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) was also against the 2013 reauthorization. He too said the new additions were more political than helpful. Earlier this year, Sessions, now attorney general, made it nearly impossible for asylum seekers who are victims of domestic violence to gain access to the US by citing fears of expanding existing definitions of asylum status to “private violence.”

The reauthorization of the 2013 version was the focus of heavy lobbying. Nearly 60 organizations funded lobbying efforts supporting or opposing the bill, including groups working on behalf of Native American tribes and immigrant rights associations.

This year’s version was a House bill sponsored by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX). Jackson Lee expanded the law to allow law enforcement officials to take weapons from domestic abusers who legally can’t own them. The new version also significantly increased funding for rape crisis centers.

Out of 173 cosponsors on the bill, not a single one is a Republican.

So far this year there haven’t been any reported lobbying efforts for reauthorization. The law expired Sept. 30 and will be at risk of lapsing again come December.

Last month, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi sent a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan expressing her anger at the temporary reauthorization.

“Republicans’ decision to include only a short-term VAWA reauthorization in the must-pass minibus spending bill is nothing short of an abdication of our responsibilities to women in our country,” Pelosi said.

The post Violence Against Women Act at Risk of Lapsing appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Friendship Alone Cannot Deradicalize Fascists

Sun, 10/07/2018 - 14:30

With the publication last week of journalist Eli Saslow’s new book, Rising Out of Hatred, which details how the son of KKK leader Don Black renounced white nationalism after becoming friends in college with Jewish students and others who questioned his views, discussions about how to deradicalize fascists are once again in the news.

While stories of transformation, such as the one documented by Saslow inspire optimism, it’s important for excitement about such victories not to bleed over into arguments about how anti-fascist energies are best spent through befriending Nazis in order to counter their violent bigotry.

While there is a place in this world for such a piecemeal effort to change the hearts and views of those on the far right, the problem with an overemphasis on such an approach is that it obscures the complex nature of how deradicalization is typically accomplished. Further, befriending members of the far right can lend them social clout and access to various spaces where they have the potential to cause significant harm.

Calls to befriend fascists rather than to forcibly contain their public presence tend to crop up in response to any new resurgence of anti-fascist mobilization. Conservative commentator Bethany Mandel’s op-ed in the Forward — titled “We Need to Start Befriending Neo-Nazis” and published in August 2017, mere days after the deadly “Unite the Right” white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia — is a prime example of this inclination.

In the essay, Mandel argued that “It’s time to admit that even in the wake of Charlottesville — especially in the wake of Charlottesville — the only way we’re going to get our country back is to change minds. This might mean we need to start befriending nazis.”

As evidence, Mandel cited three white nationalists who were deradicalized with the help of people who patiently worked with them to dismantle their bigotry. For example, he mentioned Daryl Davis, a musician known for forming long-term friendships with members of the Ku Klux Klan to try to persuade them to give up their bigotry. Davis, the subject of a recent documentary called Accidental Courtesy, claims that he has convinced 200 Klan members to leave the group. While it’s true that extremists can deradicalize with the help of others who push them to challenge their bigotry, having engaging and challenging conversations with a person does not necessarily equate to a friendship (whatever that concept means to a fascist), and friendship alone is not sufficient.

Let’s Not Underestimate the Difficulty of Neutralizing the Fascist Threat

The inordinate amount of hand-wringing attention the mainstream press has paid to fighting Nazis, coupled with the counteroffer of befriending Nazis as a solution to fascism, has resulted in a widespread misunderstanding of the broader anti-fascist project, and the scale of the fascist threat. Anti-fascist tactics are not, in fact, limited to the now famous punching of Nazis in the street but also involve organizing to inoculate communities against bigotry, mutual aid projects, occupations and picketing, doxxing fascists (collecting information such as place of employment and phone numbers and revealing it to the broader public), and general community defense against both civilian fascists and state abuses. These tactics, like all tactics, are limited, but have seen success.

One of the unfortunate outcomes of both portrayals that suggest anti-fascist activism only involves punching Nazis and of responses about how befriending Nazis is more helpful than physical confrontations is the notion that it is somehow easy to neutralize the fascist threat. If all it takes is “making friends” with violent people, or, alternatively punching them in the face, it sounds like a fascist-free world is easy to achieve. Our current political climate demonstrates this is anything but true.

The left and also some liberals have not taken kindly to the friendship theory of confronting fascism. Writer Quinn Norton was briefly hired then let go from a position with The New York Times this year after tweets came to light in which she spoke favorably of a now-notorious American neo-Nazi called “weev” (whose real name is Andrew Auernheimer). Norton had referred to Auernheimer as her “friend.” Auernheimer, who co-runs the Daily Stormer, a website that is massively popular with neo-Nazis, appears on white nationalist podcasts and incessantly calls for genocide against non-white people.

Despite all this, Norton found it appropriate to maintain a friendship with Auernheimer. “I have been friends with various neo-nazis in my time, yes” Norton tweeted when asked about her relationship with Auernheimer in 2014. “I have never agreed with them, and I’ve been clear on that.”

This latter statement in particular exemplifies a sort of “holier-than-thou” position that fascist-adjacent people sometimes deploy in order to skirt accountability for their relationships. In attempting to show that she, a good person, can be friends with a Nazi and still be good herself, Norton is also attempting to show that she is above the peskiness of partisan biases: the ultimate tolerant liberal.

However, other tweets where Norton used the n-word also recirculated amid the public outcry that accompanied her hiring at the Times, as did a 2013 Medium post where she called Nazi leader John Rabe her “personal patron saint of moral complexity.” Rabe was a leading figure in Nazi Germany, and also helped thousands of Chinese people avoid being killed during the Holocaust. That is, there are at least two Nazis about which Quinn has kind things to say. Still, Norton also claimed on Twitter in February amid all this backlash that on the rare occasions she still speaks to Auernheimer, she brings up “the racism” and attempts to address it with him.

Even if Auernheimer were open to leaving the Nazi movement, and even if Norton were herself a staunch anti-racist, it’s not only a matter of disagreeing “with the racism” when it comes to helping fascists change their ways. Indeed, if Norton had hoped to somehow neutralize Auernheimer’s hate or make the world safer via a friendship with Auernheimer, she failed spectacularly. Auernheimer is still a prominent player in the fascist scene and shows no sign of giving up on the movement any time soon.

This is in no small part because it’s actually quite difficult to deradicalize a neo-Nazi, and the process has to start with a genuine desire or need to change on the part of the fascist.

The Complicated Process of Deradicalization

Contrary to popular belief, the process of deradicalization is long, complicated and very difficult work for all parties involved. Peter Simi, a professor of sociology at Chapman University who studies political extremists, says that “we have more to learn than we already know” about deradicalizing far-right extremists. Simi explains that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to helping Nazis leave the movement, but he emphasizes that a “combination of internal and external forces” are often required.

“Internal motivation is critical,” Simi says of the necessity of a desire to change. “Sometimes it’s not the storybook we want to hear, but [the motivation to leave] often comes when a person involved in this lifestyle is not having their needs met.” Bigoted people are often drawn to far-right movements in order to feel “involved in a family, a cause and excitement, you think it’s going to change the world,” Simi says, but after time, some will get burnt out on the “backstabbing and hypocrisy, and cheating with one another’s significant others” that is rife within fascist groups. When fascists decide they’ve had enough with these things and get some distance, Simi explains that they are then able to have “the breathing room to see not only was it not satisfying, but it’s wrong. And then there’s more fundamental changes in beliefs that happen later, but not initially.”

Simi also says that external pressure, such as losing a job, being exposed publicly as a fascist, or realizing they’re putting family in harm’s way because of their activities can push fascists to begin the deradicalization process. “They realize they’re sacrificing way too much,” he says. However, “For some people, that can also kind of seal the deal for lifetime, lifelong commitment. There’s a lot of contingencies; in some cases it works, in others quite the opposite. There’s no one model that’s going to work.” Simi also notes that there have been multiple cases where having a child prompts fascists to turn their lives around. In these instances, having a baby and the responsibilities that come with parenthood provide enough motivation for fascists to act in the best interests of their family’s safety and leave the movement.

For those with the energy, patience and knowledge, it is possible to help deradicalize Nazis, but they have to want it first.

Daryle Lamont Jenkins, executive director of the anti-fascist organization One People’s Project, regularly works with fascists who are ready to leave their hateful ways behind. Jenkins says he has an “open door policy” for fascists who want help getting out, “but they have to give us something in return.” Jenkins will be cordial to fascists to establish an initial rapport, he says, but he always requires that soon-to-be-defected fascists spill information about their comrades and work to undo the damage they’ve inflicted on society.

“My concern is the accountability for their actions being missed,” he says. “I think one of the things that makes it easy for me [to work with them], is they have to come to me. They have to be ready to give it up.”

Jenkins also notes that dealing with Nazis one-on-one during the deradicalization process is but one aspect of a much broader movement to resist and defeat fascism and support vulnerable communities.

Direct Confrontation and Exposing Fascists Is Also Necessary

There are times when anti-racist and anti-fascist activists find it necessary to directly confront fascists, particularly as a means of preventing them from assembling and organizing in public. In the internet age, doxxing — a tactic also employed by fascists so they can threaten and harass anti-fascists, anti-racists, journalists and other private citizens they perceive to be their enemies — has proven effective for anti-fascist activism.

When asked how concerned citizens can best expend their energy tackling fascism and racism today, Jenkins immediately called for more work to expose fascists’ identities publicly. “We need to know who it is that is involved with this nonsense,” Jenkins says. “Yes, they have the right to speak and live their lives to an extent, but the bottom line is that when they’re out, they’re harassing people and seeking to tear the fabric of society. They shouldn’t have the luxury of anonymity.” While exposing individual members of fascist groups may sound like it has a small impact, the consequences have the potential to be massive under the right circumstances. Jenkins provides the cases of Richard Spencer and Stephen Miller as an example.

“Several years ago [One People’s Project] caught on to Richard Spencer and tried to sound the alarm on him. But we missed his buddy Stephen Miller, who is now in the White House and is the architect of the child separation policy.” Had Miller been exposed and confronted sooner, it’s possible he wouldn’t have a prominent role in the federal government today.

While Miller wasn’t adequately exposed in time to prevent his political ascendance under Trump, other fascists who work for or with the government have recently been thrown into the spotlight, and in some cases, fired. Take, for example, Michael Miselis, a white supremacist who, until recently, worked for the aerospace and defense technology company Northrop Grumman Corporation. ProPublica published an article exposing Miselis as a participant in last summer’s “Unite the Right” rally and as an employee of Northrop Grumman, which is contracted to work with the Department of Defense. Following the report, Miselis was fired.

Of course, Miselis’s firing alone will not temper the violence the Department of Defense perpetuates with Northrop Grumman’s help. The military-industrial complex is a massive structure of oppression that cannot be brought down with the firing of one racist man. But it demonstrates that there can be consequences for far-right extremists, even those in positions of some power.

And while doxxing and exposing fascists may not necessarily help deradicalize them, as Simi notes, it’s important to bear in mind that deradicalization is not usually the intended result of anti-fascist tactics. Rather, the primary goal is to prevent fascists from causing harm and generally making public spaces unbearable to them so that they do not act on their beliefs. Just because a Nazi doesn’t leave the movement after getting fired doesn’t mean the tactics that led to their firing were a failure; it means they were successful in inflicting some sort of negative consequence for bigotry. Some anti-fascists, such as Jenkins, incorporate deradicalization into their activism.

Physical confrontations, research, doxxing and applying pressure so that fascists face consequences for their actions are all vital tactics in the anti-fascist arsenal. With the ideal outcome, these tactics help to deny fascists platforms to organize, propagandize and commit violence. Working with extreme bigots who are ready to change their ways can sometimes be effective, but forming simple friendships alone can’t accomplish that massive task. Nor can confronting the fascist threat be limited to any one tactic.

Ridding our communities of racism and fascism is a tall and difficult order. Many on the left embrace a diversity of tactics, believing that a number of different approaches can be useful. This is necessary when we’re confronting individuals and groups that identify as fascists, violent racists who don’t necessarily belong to the fascist eco-system and the systemic racism that dominates our political system. Only a broad movement that is vigilantly opposed to racism and inequality can overcome these threats. And while already vulnerable communities are under increased attack, perhaps it’s best to spend the most energy confronting fascists, rather than trying to make them our newest friends.

The post Friendship Alone Cannot Deradicalize Fascists appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Energy Conservation Jobs Come to Coal Country

Sat, 10/06/2018 - 18:48

Like many men raised in eastern Kentucky, Frank Morris spent a chunk of his working life in the coal industry.

Raised in the city of Hazard, Morris did a little bit of everything, from shoveling belt to diesel mechanics.

“Back then, if you were going to pick to live around here and make good money, you either went into the coal business or you went into the medical field,” Morris said.

Like many others, however, Morris was laid off several years ago when the coal industry started contracting. Metallurgical coal, used for making steel, was waning as part of a regular global cycle, and steam coal, used to produce electricity, suffered a long-term decline as power utilities increasingly moved toward cheaper, cleaner-burning natural gas and renewable wind and solar energy.

Morris found a job at Walmart, but given the cost of child care, he realized he was actually losing money by working there. He tried being a stay-at-home dad, but he found himself yearning to contribute to his family’s financial well-being in a more tangible way, so he started taking small carpentry jobs. Morris had been doing that for a while when he heard about an internship for former coal miners.

The six-month internship with Mountain Association for Community Economic Development offered training in new energy efficiency professions, placement with a local employer, and the potential for longer-term employment after the job ended. Morris applied for the internship and was accepted, along with another ex-miner named Randall Howard. The two received hands-on training in conducting energy audits—learning how to use equipment such as infrared cameras, duct blasters, blower doors, and much more—and went to work at their respective jobs, Morris for the nonprofit Housing Development Alliance and Howard for Christian Outreach with Appalachian People, an affordable housing organization.

Today “things are a lot better for us,” Morris said. “We’re in a better position financially and with our home lives. I’m able to be home every day, most days, before 5 o’clock. That’s something I’ve never had before in my life.”

The money isn’t quite what he made working coal, but it’s a lot better than what he earned at Walmart. He’s also found a better work-life balance than either of those two previous jobs offered.

MACED’s energy efficiency internship program is just one of many initiatives designed to retrain workers laid off during the cratering of the coal industry over the last decade. The coal industry has steadily declined since the 1950s, largely because of mechanization. With the advent of hydraulic fracturing technology in the 2000s leading to an abundance of natural gas, as well as federal regulations that resulted in the closure of older coal-fired power plants, the industry has collapsed in the last decade. Many companies went into bankruptcy or shuttered, resulting in mass layoffs and a ripple effect that’s spread to related businesses, such as railroads and equipment manufacturers.

According to a report produced by Kentucky state officials and reported in the Lexington Herald Leader, the number of coal jobs in 2013 had declined to 12,550—the lowest since the state started recording the figure in 1927. By August 2018, coal jobs had dropped even further to 6,238, according to the Kentucky Office of Energy Policy, which produces quarterly reports on the coal industry.

As a result, many coalfield communities have suffered economic distress and depopulation. Local and state officials have tried a number of approaches to reverse that trend, retraining miners for jobs in industries on the rise, such as computer coding and outdoor recreation.

MACED’s program, funded by a $2 million grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission, $100,000 from Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program Inc., and a $1 million match from MACED’s venture capital loan fund, is designed to build on related skills used in mining that can be adapted for energy efficiency, a growing sector. According to a study by E4TheFuture and Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), nearly 2.25 million Americans work in energy efficiency, including 24,579 people in Kentucky. That figure includes those who work with efficient appliances and lighting, heating and ventilation systems, building materials and insulation, energy audits, building certifications, and more. MACED saw the internship program as an opportunity to add to a growing field while also building local expertise.

“We thought, let’s see if we can develop some local champions who have technical skills,” said Chris Woolery, a program coordinator at MACED. “They can be advocates, they can be independent third-party experts, and they can connect folks to financing through various mechanisms. When I come to Hazard and talk about the gospel of energy efficiency, I’m not received the same way Frank Morris is when he speaks to his community. When Frank became the resident efficiency person at HDA [Housing Development Alliance], we immediately we saw the ripple effects.”

As the first two interns, Howard and Morris were both placed at affiliate organizations of the Appalachia Heat Squad, a collaborative program aimed at expanding access to energy efficient home improvements. They learned how to evaluate a home’s energy efficiency, how to identify and implement improvements, and how to educate homeowners about programs that could help them fund those investments. During their internships, Morris conducted 23 audits and 13 retrofits, while Howard did 22 audits and 5 retrofits.

“Energy efficiency is something that is especially needed in the coal regions,” Morris said. “Around here, electricity has always been cheap. Now we’re getting all these rate increases. That touches everybody—not just doctors and lawyers but grandmothers on fixed incomes, people who have to make a decision: ‘If I don’t pay my electrical bill they’ll cut my power off, but if I do, I might have to miss a few meals this month. Or do I really need my blood pressure medicine this month?’ It’s a hard decision.”

Instead of providing financial aid to pay those electric bills, the Heat Squad aims to fix the issue that’s causing the bills to be high, Morris said.

“Especially around here, housing stock is especially old,” Morris said. “And people living in mobile homes and double-wides can really benefit from this program.”

These energy efficiency programs carry additional possibilities for improving people’s lives. A five-year study of respiratory health in Letcher and Harlan counties found that people who lived in either a mobile home or public housing were twice as likely to have been diagnosed with asthma than people who lived in single-family housing.

The study, known as the Mountain Air Project, now in its second phase, involves prevention. Study participants who have been diagnosed with asthma and had symptoms within the past year meet four times with a trained nurse, and on the third visit, they receive a home assessment. In Harlan County, that’s conducted by Howard, one of the former MACED interns.

“He looks for sources of allergens and irritants in the home,” said Beverly May, a 28-year nurse pursuing a doctor of public health degree at the University of Kentucky, and who manages the Mountain Air Project.

She said Howard is “really brilliant in finding things that can cause trouble. He’s looking for leaks under the sink, pests that are hidden away in dark places you wouldn’t think to look, sources of mold around the outside of the house, water in the basement. Then he talks with the homeowner about what they can do to correct the situation.”

There’s often overlap between healthy homes and those that are energy efficient.

“If a home has cracks and crevices, the door isn’t properly sealed, the windows aren’t properly sealed, then not only does cold air come in during the winter, but there’s also the possibility for pests to come in,” May said. “If you can fix one problem, you might be fixing several problems.”

There are two main challenges. One is that people often feel uncomfortable letting strangers examine their homes, even for a beneficial reason. The other is that the repairs needed to fix problems sometimes outstrip the finances of homeowners. In both cases, Howard is well-positioned to help.

As a local, Howard can talk to homeowners to reassure them.

“I’ll try to connect with them in any way possible to try to ease their mind about letting me go through their home,” Howard said. “I try to show them I’m more of a friend than an enemy, that I’m there to help them. I live in the mountains myself. I guess they connect with me pretty good because I have lived in the past in some of the conditions that they live in. I’m open with them. I tell them I ain’t here to judge you because you’ve got clothes piled up in the corner or dirty dishes in the sink. That’s no concern to me unless there’s mold growing on it. I talk to them a little bit to show them I ain’t there to judge them.”

As for the financial piece, the mission of Howard’s employer, Christian Outreach with Appalachian People, is to build affordable rural housing and offer programs that can offset costs.

The results can make a big difference in a homeowner’s life. Howard describes one such rehabilitation project: “We went in, it didn’t have no insulation under the floor, and the roof was leaking. We put a new roof on, insulation under the floor, a new heat pump. I had to go back later to test everything out. I walked in and there’s an 80-year-old man. He stood up, walked over to me, and gave me a hug. He said, ‘We’ve been here 15 years and I’ve never been as comfortable as we are now. You’ve made this house better, so much more comfortable.’”

The homeowner’s electric bill was cut in half, Howard said.

MACED has now hired two more interns in Hazard for its second round of the program. Their focus is on commercial and industrial instead of residential projects. Because of economies of scale, Woolery said, businesses are often quicker to invest in energy efficiency projects than individual families, and there’s more immediate work available. MACED is hiring for three more internships as well: one doing commercial energy efficiency work in Paintsville, a second more focused on the marketing of energy efficiency and renewable energy in Berea, and a third trained for solar photovoltaic cell installation in Lexington.

Woolery hopes to push some of those interns toward the solar power, where there’s potentially even more opportunity.

“We’re just showing that there’s a ton of different ways we could diversify this economy,” Woolery said. “Knowing we don’t have access to any silver bullets, all we can do is shoot as many silver BBs as we can.”

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Categories: News

Officials Literally “Blow Hot Air” to Mitigate Heat in Texas Prisons

Sat, 10/06/2018 - 16:26

As the summer comes to a close, prisoners across the state of Texas are breathing a sigh of relief. They finally get a reprieve from the extreme heat they have had to live with, day and night, for the past few months at 75 state-run prisons operated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) that lack air-conditioning in cellblocks.

Last summer, aging, heat-sensitive prisoners at the Wallace Pack Unit in Navasota, Texas, scored an unprecedented victory after a district judge ruled that forcing them to endure temperatures that regularly soar beyond 100 degrees constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

In their litigation, the prisoners cited 23 heat-related deaths that have occurred at department-run prisons since 1998 — 11 of those deaths occurring during a notorious heat wave in the summer of 2011. As Truthout has previously reported, staffers within the department’s Health Services Division tracked more than 200 heat-related illnesses in 2010 and 2011 across scores of units, but still neglected to introduce climate controls despite the widespread nature of the problem.

TDCJ has come under intensifying pressure since Judge Keith Ellison’s ruling, and this year, the department announced new procedures focused on preventing heat-related deaths and illnesses, including updated heat protocols and a new incident command system officials claim will ensure compliance. The new system is triggered by extreme heat warnings issued by the National Weather Service, according to a department spokesperson. Meanwhile, after shuffling more than 1,000 prisoners to air-conditioned jails and prisons, TDCJ installed temporary air-conditioning at Wallace Pack this year as they work to permanently air-condition the unit, pending legislative approval.

The department’s new policies build on its pre-existing heat mitigation measures, which were codified in 2016. The measures include providing prisoners with access to air-conditioned respite areas, cold showers, personal fans and extra ice water, and limiting outdoor work activity.

But several prisoners at department-run units in Texas wrote to Truthout over the summer to detail how the department’s heat mitigation measures aren’t being put into practice at some units. Even after the implementation of the department’s new incident command system and revised heat protocols, multiple prisoners said they were regularly denied access to respite areas and cool-down showers this summer, and alleged they were met with threats from prison guards when they asked for respite.

They also detailed uneven implementation of heat protocols, saying their units lacked ice water at times. They described faulty air-conditioning and ventilation systems, and said that the use of industrial and personal fans in cellblocks has been largely ineffectual during blazing temperatures.

Grievance complaints obtained by Truthout show prisoners have formally complained about a lack of staffing to ensure access to cool-down showers and respite areas for prisoners held in solitary confinement, otherwise known as administrative segregation (ad-seg); nonexistent or dirty ice water during extremely hot months; and indifference to a medical screening in which a prisoner was deemed heat sensitive.

One prisoner who says he was retaliated against because he asked for access to respite is Jason Walker, a prisoner at the Telford Unit in New Boston, Texas. In a letter, Walker described an incident in August in which he and another person were forced to stand in the heat on a sidewalk outside while waiting to enter the unit’s law library. After becoming heat exhausted, Walker says he asked to go to a respite area only 20 feet away but was denied. He then asked for the guard’s supervisor. “Instead of getting a supervisor,” he alleges, “I received threats of being handcuffed, gassed, beat up and thrown in lock up. I was told to stand in the heat or face punishment.”

Further, he elaborates in an article posted on the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee website,

“Efforts to coerce prisoners who request respite are widespread, and prisoners are often prevented from actually getting access to respite areas. Denied commissary purchases, threats of cell shakedowns, and disciplinary cases are the usual scare tactics. These methods have been very effective: prisoners are willing to sweat in the day room and suffer heat exhaustion rather than face cruel and unusual punishment. Indeed, this situation alone is cruel and unusual punishment.”

Walker also reported witnessing two prisoners who ended up in the unit’s infirmary in July for what was initially reported as “heat strokes.”

Further, prisoners held in solitary confinement at different units claimed that they have no realistic access to air-conditioned respite areas. “Never once in the 2 years ive been on [the Eastham Unit in Lovelady, Texas,] have i seen or heard of an Ad Seg inmate going to a Respite area. Sure, they have respite areas for population. But not for Ad-Seg. Not only do they not have the staff to escort us to wherever this would be, but there is no such area available to us,” wrote one prisoner there. He also claimed that administrative segregation prisoners do not receive cool-down showers and said he doesn’t drink the ice water because “it’s handled with absolutely no regards to sanitation,” and “put in big trash can size barrels with all amount of debris floating in it.” (Since the man wasn’t explicit in his letter about whether Truthout could use his name, it was withheld due to the potential for retaliation.)

At the McConnell Unit in Beeville, Texas, prisoner Keith Washington filed both a grievance and a lawsuit about a malfunctioning HVAC system. But senior US District Judge Hilda Tagle denied Washington’s request for an emergency preliminary injunction that would have forced TDCJ to fix what he says is an inoperable HVAC system in his section of administrative segregation.

“On several occasions I requested to be escorted to an air conditioned Respite Area and not one time was I afforded the opportunity,” Washington wrote Truthout. “I have a history of seizures which is worsened by the deadly extreme heat and both TDCJ and the University of Texas Medical Branch [which manages the department’s medical care] were well aware of the Risk to my health and safety by Forcing me to live in such a Super Heated environment.”

One of the department’s heat protocols involves medically examining prisoners to determine whether they have conditions or take medications that would make them particularly susceptible to heat. These “heat restrictions,” as they are called, are considered when officials make cell placement determinations. Washington alleged, however, that even though he was determined to be heat sensitive, he was not moved to another cell before a particularly extreme heat wave hit the unit on July 21 and 22 of this year.

“These people are not following their own policies. And if you speak up or challenge them in Federal Court they have a manifold of reprisals they use to shut you up and these Federal Judges continue to ignore all the Red FLAGS here inside TDCJ,” Washington wrote. “Now it’s cooling off, but next summer this HVAC system still won’t be fixed.”

Indeed, deliberate indifference to such red flags have led to deaths at Washington’s unit before. The family of Quintero Devale Jones, a former prisoner at McConnell, is pressing a wrongful death lawsuit after Jones died during a July 2015 heat wave when guards there confiscated his asthma inhaler and then ignored his cries for help. Jones was not the first heat death at McConnell though: At least three other prisoners died of heat stroke there, one in 2004 and two in 2011.

“We heard a lot about the difference between policy and practice during an interim hearing this summer and that’s exactly what we see with the heat policy,” said Jennifer Erschabek, executive director of the Texas Inmate Families Association. “They put out a good heat policy, and instruct their wardens and their officers to follow this, but sometimes, as it filters down through the ranks, it doesn’t always happen.” Threats and retaliation, she says, are a pervasive part of the prison system, and aren’t exclusive to requests for respite or cool-down showers.

In a statement to Truthout, TDCJ spokesperson Jeremy Desel reiterated what the department’s heat mitigation measures are, saying prisoners, including those in ad-seg, may request access to respite areas and cool-down showers at any time, even if they are not feeling ill.

Further, he countered the idea that medical screenings aren’t being taken seriously, telling Truthout that all TDCJ prisoners “have now been screened for their heat risk by medical professionals,” and that prisoners at the highest risk levels have been moved to air-conditioned units.

However, prisoners’ accounts of being denied respite persist in the face of these claims. And Lance Lowry, a corrections staffer who formerly headed the union that represents TDCJ guards, told Truthout that under the current system, in which ad-seg prisoners must be personally escorted to respite by guards, it is likely that some of those prisoners’ requests for respite will indeed be disregarded.

“If you have an entire administrative segregation block decide that they need some cold air all at one time, of course their outcries are going to be ignored,” Lowry said. “[TDCJ is] playing more of a PR stunt than anything else.”

He told Truthout he has witnessed prison guards, who wear heavy Kevlar vests while on duty, succumb to the heat inside cellblocks that he described as “hot boxes.” Further, he says, the use of large, industrial box fans isn’t effective in extreme temperatures. “These giants box fans are kind of like [the department’s] PR campaign: They’re just blowing hot air.”

Keith Cole, one of the lead plaintiffs in the class-action Pack lawsuit, put Lowry’s security concerns a different way when he spoke to Truthout last year, saying that, “If offenders started using respite on a large scale, let’s say … 20 percent of the inmates wanted to go to respite, that would pretty much shut down the day-to-day operations of this unit.” He went on to detail how, as a result, prison officials “find low-visibility ways to discourage offenders from using respite,” including performing rectal internal core temperature checks on prisoners who ask to go to respite.

In fact, the uneven implementation of heat mitigation measures has become so well known to attorneys with the National Lawyers Guild’s Prisoners’ Legal Advocacy Network that the organization plans to address the issue directly in a legal questionnaire they will send to about 100 state prisoners in the coming weeks. In fact, says PLAN Supervising Attorney Stanley Holdorf, in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey last year, the organization “was contacted by dozens of prisoners who independently reported the failure of TDCJ to implement its newly announced heat mitigation measures.”

Moreover, he told Truthout, the organization “has received credible reports and affidavits signed under penalty of perjury that TDCJ is not implementing this policy. Prisoners report losing consciousness and experiencing physical symptoms consistent with heat stroke on dates when they have been deprived cooling showers.”

Yet, in spite of 17 other lawsuits that have hit the department over the heat issue, TDCJ officials insist that the expenses associated with such an effort are too burdensome and that their heat mitigation efforts are sufficient.

While arguing against Wallace Pack prisoners’ federal lawsuit last year, the department obtained an expert who told the court that the cost of providing air-conditioning there would come to more than $20 million. During an August interim hearing at the Texas Capitol last summer, however, TDCJ Executive Director Bryan Collier revised the estimated cost to install permanent air-conditioning at the Wallace Pack Unit to about $4 million. The department spent nearly $7 million fighting the prisoners’ lawsuit.

Lowry says that what the department needs to do is simple. “Just ask the Legislature to allocate so much money every session to keep upgrading their facilities,” he said. “If [the department] would have taken the initiative back in 2012, 2013 and air-conditioned several facilities at a time every session, their name wouldn’t have been drug through the mud. It wasn’t that hard.”

During the committee hearing, Collier indicated that the department has asked the Legislature for $2 million to install air-conditioning at the Hodge Unit in East Texas that incarcerates developmentally disabled prisoners. For human rights advocates, though, the request is not nearly enough.

Meanwhile, as prisoners across Texas wait for the next legislative session to begin in January, they’ll have a new worry as fall fades to winter: broken or inadequate heating.

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Categories: News

Jury Finds Chicago Cop Guilty of Second-Degree Murder in Shooting of Black Teen

Sat, 10/06/2018 - 16:07

Activists and residents of Chicago chanted “Justice for Laquan” after a jury on Friday found a white police officer, Jason Van Dyke, guilty of second-degree murder for fatally shooting 17-year-old African-American Laquan McDonald 16 times on the evening of Oct. 20, 2014.

The Cook County jury also found Van Dyke guilty of all 16 counts of aggravated battery while finding him not guilty of official misconduct. Each aggravated battery count carries a sentence of six to 30 years, which he may be required to serve consecutively. As Van Dyke awaits sentencing, the jury’s decision was praised by local activists working to eradicate police brutality.

“It feels like a victory for Black Chicago,” community organizer Jedidiah Brown told reporters at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse shortly after the verdicts were read, according to the Chicago Tribune.

“This is the best moment as a Chicagoan that I’ve ever experienced in my life. This is my best experience as a Black man, as a Chicagoan, as an Illinoisan, and as a man in the United States of America. We never get justice,” Brown continued. “Today we got justice… Today, it looks like a new day in America.”

Too often, police officers have been acquitted for their role in the deaths of Black Americans. This has been especially true in Chicago, where officer Van Dyke was the first officer to face murder charges in more than 30 years, despite CPD’s [Chicago Police Department] long record of abuse and misconduct,” noted Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel at the NAACP.

“We hope that this verdict sends a clear message that police officers can no longer act with impunity against Black Americans,” Ifill said, “and that this new era of accountability inspires systematic police reform not only in Chicago, but throughout the United States.”

Micah Uetricht, managing editor of Jacobin Magazine, observed on Twitter, “Jason Van Dyke being found guilty of second-degree murder feels like a watershed moment in American history.”

Kristina Roth of Amnesty International declared in a statement, “This case underscores the desperate need for more stringent laws on use of lethal force.”

“Families and communities should not have to fear those that are sworn to protect them,” Roth added. “All states, including Illinois, must urgently bring laws and policies into compliance with international standards. It is long past time to hold police accountable for the use of lethal force.”

Noting that McDonald “was raised on streets covered in the blood of the generations before him who’ve been bludgeoned by economic, social, and racial injustice,” Chicago Teachers Union president Jesse Sharkey, in a statement, called his murder “one of the most shocking instances of brutality in the history of our city.”

“He deserved justice, and today’s verdict shows that the jury recognized his humanity and the tragedy that befell him,” Sharkey added. “Our city, however, is still suffering, and reeling from the tenure of a mayor who systematically closed schools, used public dollars to pay police settlements, and ultimately covered up Laquan’s murder for political and capital interests.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Police Department have been widely lambasted for their handling of the case. Local anti-violence activists have demanded the resignations of Emanuel and Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson.

Before the verdict was announced on Friday, some 4,000 extra police officers were scattered throughout the city in anticipation of demonstrations. The guilty verdicts were welcomed by activists and community members who gathered in the streets.

As the Chicago Sun-Times reports:

About 200 people crammed onto the sidewalk on the west side of City Hall, huddling around cell phones to listen as the verdict in the trial of Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke trial was announced.

Cries of elation and relief echoed down La Salle Street, followed soon by tears of joy.

Speaking to the assembled group on a megaphone, Frank Chapman, of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, said the groups who’d protested and rallied for change since the Laquan McDonald video was released still have work to do.

But for now, Chapman said, “We got something to celebrate.”

“This is the beginning, the beginning of changing that we’ve been needing in this city for a long, long time,” Chapman said.

Dash-cam footage of the murder that was described as “graphic,” “violent,” and “chilling,” was released in 2015, and was followed by a federal inquiry in the city’s broader policing practices. The video fueled public outrage and demands for justice.

The post Jury Finds Chicago Cop Guilty of Second-Degree Murder in Shooting of Black Teen appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Want to Help After a Disaster? Consider Waiting a Bit

Sat, 10/06/2018 - 15:46

What’s the best way to help disaster victims?

We agree with other disaster experts that cash is more helpful than mounds of clothing, diapers and other goods. Giving money limits waste and makes it easier to address local needs, among other reasons.

In addition, supporting recovery efforts tied to disasters that occurred a year ago or waiting to give can be the best way to go. Our independent research across several states and disasters, including Hurricane Harvey and the 9/11 terrorist attacks, indicates that needs are often as big or even greater long after a disaster than in its immediate aftermath.

What Aid Covers

Disasters engender large amounts of philanthropic support, partially due to media coverage. Yet most of this aid is given quickly and addresses immediate needs, as opposed to longer-term recovery and reconstruction efforts.

Governmental and nongovernmental aid alike often cover relief efforts – that is, the shelter, food and health care needs of victims right after disasters. This initial funding may also pay the tab for repairing damaged infrastructure, like roads and utilities, which will meet some medium and long-term priorities.

However, people whose homes are destroyed or badly damaged by disasters as a result of disasters often contend with red tape and inadequate funding and can remain displaced long after major disasters.

The reasons for this problem are clear.

Affordable housing, whether rented or owned, is scarce and underfunded across the nation. Flood insurance only covers a small minority of homeowners. In most cases, homeowners and rental insurance policies do not go far enough to address all post-disaster needs. And the federal government provides little help for people to repair housing following emergencies.

Consider the situation in La Grange, Texas, a town of fewer than 5,000 people. While there is no full count of exactly how many local residents still lack housing, about 25 families are still living there in trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency more than a year after Hurricane Harvey destroyed their homes. Many others in that community remain in hotels or are staying with friends and relatives.

The local long-term recovery organizations that help households in places like La Grange rebuild with donated supplies and volunteer labor must keep recruiting volunteers and seeking funds for years after disasters.

Mobile homes in La Grange, Texas, after Hurricane Harvey. Michelle Annette Meyer, CC BY-NC-SA Setting Priorities

Disasters also expose many inequities. Those who remain in need for years to come were likely to have been facing economic hardship beforehand. That was the case in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and New York City following Superstorm Sandy.

Despite the inevitable long-term needs, even foundations – organizations that aspire to make their giving strategic – too often focus on short-term disaster relief.

The largest 1,000 foundations together gave only 5 percent of their overall disaster-related funding specifically to reconstruction and recovery, about US$7 million, in 2015, according to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, a nonprofit that tracks this data.

After disasters, nonprofits and donors alike should begin to think about the affected communities’ long-term needs. It is hard to reserve funds for later use in the midst of a crisis, but some nonprofits have done that.

For instance, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the New York Community Trust and the United Way of New York City formed the September 11th Fund to support the victims of the attacks. Its leaders knew that needs would be greater in the second and third years after the attacks, so they set money aside to disburse later.

What Can You Do?

Donors can give to nonprofits immediately after disasters that are bound to be involved in recovery efforts in the long run, such as community foundations and the local chapters of large national nonprofits.

Giving not just in the wake of disasters but also on the anniversaries of prior ones can make a big difference. At that point, the media will be reporting on how much progress has been made, as happened on the first anniversary of Hurricane Maria.

And by then you can vet the efforts of different charities by consulting their annual reports to see what they have accomplished so far. Many local long-term recovery organizations will share or post their financial information online, such as the Bastrop County Long Term Recovery Team, which rebuilt homes for underinsured survivors of Texas wildfires and floods.

Donating long after disasters addresses major unmet needs. It also gives you the chance to get more reliable information about how your gift will be used.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The post Want to Help After a Disaster? Consider Waiting a Bit appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

In the Race to End Hunger and Mitigate Climate Change, We Must Look to the Soil

Sat, 10/06/2018 - 14:27

Recently, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO) Director-General José Graziano da Silva urged countries, scientists, policymakers and stakeholders invested in building an equitable, sustainable, and thriving planet to pay attention to the soil. He further noted that the future of the planet depends on how healthy the soils of today are.

I agree. In the race to beat food insecurity, achieve zero hunger, and address climate change, we must pay attention to the soil. The importance of soil cannot be overstated. Healthy soils underpin agriculture and sustainable food systems.

But there is more to healthy soils. They can deliver many other benefits.

First, healthy soils can help address and mitigate climate change through storing soil carbon. Research studies have shown that healthy soils hold more carbon and these reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50-80 percent.

At the same time, research studies and reports have shown that soils that are rich in organic carbon can deliver many benefits, including increasing crop yields, soil water holding capacity and storage. Plants can use stored water in periods when water is scarce.

Secondly, healthy soils make it possible for the inhabitants of the soils —soil microorganisms — to continue playing their roles. Unseen to the naked eye, tiny soil microorganisms that include bacteria and fungi are hard at work, helping plants to grow better while keeping our soils healthy, which ultimately allows farmers to grow food amidst a changing climate.

Further, these microorganisms deliver other benefits including helping plants to tolerate climate change induced extremities including drought. These microbes can also help plants to fend off and suppress insect pests, including invasive pests and other that have become a force to reckon with in the developing countries. Thriving and functioning soil microbes can be key to revolutionising agriculture.

Thirdly, taking care of the soil and keeping them healthy, ensures that farmers around the word build resilient ecosystems that can bounce back from extremities that come along with a changing climate.

However, even with all these benefits that come along when soils healthy, around the world, a third of our soils are degraded.

In 2015, the UN launched the International Year of Soils and highlighted the extent with which soils were degraded worldwide. Since then, countries, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and many other stakeholders have stepped up to the challenge. They are paying attention to soils.

Ethiopia launched a countrywide initiative to map the health and status of Ethiopian soils which has allowed farmers to reap the many benefits that can come when soils are healthy including increased crop yields. Because of paying attention to soil health, Ethiopia is slowly transforming agriculture, and paving way for its citizens to become food secure.

In addition, in early June, the FAO together with the Global Soil Partnership launched the Afrisoils programme, with a goal to reduce soil degradation by 25 percent in the coming decade in 47 African countries.

Moreover, because soil health is not only an African problem, developed countries are stepping up.

In the United States, the Soil Health Institute continues to coordinate and support soil stewardship and the advancement of soil health. The US Department of Agriculture offers tips, guidelines and many resources that can be useful to stakeholders and governments and farmers that want to help restore the health of their soils. Advocacy groups like Soil4Climate continue to advocate for soil restoration as a climate solution.

This must continue.

But, as Africa and the many stakeholders look to the future and pay attention to soils, what are some of the areas and innovations surrounding soils that are likely going to pay off?

Innovations surrounding beneficial soil microbes. When beneficial soil microbes are happy, healthy, and plentiful in the soils, the nutrients are available to roots, plants grow big, insects are repelled and farmers ultimately reap the benefits—a plentiful harvest.

We must ensure that products and solutions that spin off from beneficial soils microbes are affordable, especially so to the over 500 million smallholder farmers, who live on less than a dollar a day.

Innovations surrounding soil heath diagnostic kits that help farmers to rapidly and precisely determine the health of the soils will be a win-win for all.

As shown in Ethiopia, where knowing the status of the heath of the soils has resulted into the doubling of farmer’s productivity and improving soil health these innovations can be a game changer in the race to beat food insecurity across Africa.

Translating innovations into products and solutions requires funding. Luckily, innovators, researchers, NGO’s and for profit companies thinking of making this happen can apply for funding through FoodShot Global’s Innovating Soil 3.0 challenge.

This unique investment platform catalysing groundbreaking innovation to cultivate a healthy, sustainable and equitable food system will be offering a combination of equity and debt funding to innovative businesses and a groundbreaker prize of more than $500,000 to researchers, social entrepreneurs and advocates taking bold “moonshots for better food.”

These cash prizes will allow winners to translate bold ideas that utilize the latest in technology, science and engineering into solutions that address the soil health crisis.

To reap the many benefits that come along with healthy soils, the right interventions and innovations to improve soil health must be funded, rolled out and scaled up. Healthy soils are the foundational base that will enable countries to achieve the UN sustainable development goals. In the race to achieve these goals, we must pay attention to the soil. Time is ripe.

The post In the Race to End Hunger and Mitigate Climate Change, We Must Look to the Soil appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Election Landslide Raises Hopes for Mexican Labor

Sat, 10/06/2018 - 14:23
This article was originally published at Labor Notes.

The landslide victory of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (“AMLO”) in the Mexican presidential election in July has raised workers’ hopes for a revitalized and democratized labor movement.

Independent unions have formed a new federation. They hope to win progressive labor law reform and finally end the reign of corrupt, pro-employer unions.

The coalition led by AMLO’s National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) won not only the presidency but also the majority in both houses of the Mexican congress. Till now, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) had dominated Mexican politics for decades.

The pro-employer unions that make up Mexico’s main labor federation, the Congress of Labor (CT), especially the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM), have historically been part of the PRI’s popular base. Top union leaders were nominated as the party’s senators and congresspersons.

“Protection Unions”

The CT unions are the largest in Mexico, representing around 10 percent of the formal workforce, though they have been in decline in recent years. These unions were enthusiastic cooperators in the low-wage neoliberal economic strategy adopted by the Mexican political and economic elite in the 1990s— including signing on to NAFTA. Their plan was to grow the Mexican economy by attracting US and Canadian investors with cheap labor.

The CT unions have supported the government’s low-wage development strategy by signing sweetheart “protection contracts” with employers before any workers are hired. They use their relationships with employers and with the Mexican federal and state governments to prevent any real negotiations or strikes.

The absence of authentic worker representation in most sectors has kept Mexican workers’ wages low and even declining in real terms over the past decade. Meanwhile CT union leaders have grown incredibly wealthy through their corrupt alliances with employers and government.

Other practitioners of protection unionism are the “gangster unions” of the industrial belt surrounding Mexico City and the employer-controlled “white unions” of Monterrey, a center of industrial growth.

Underdog Unions

In 1997, several unions broke with this trend and established a federation of independent and democratic unions, the National Union of Workers (UNT). Among them were the unions of telephone workers, social security workers, university workers, and Volkswagen workers.

The UNT has supported labor law reform, pushing for secret-ballot union representation elections, a public registry of union contracts, and workers’ right to vote on strikes and contract ratifications.

However, the UNT has remained a loose grouping unable to seriously challenge the domination of the corrupt CT unions.

Other unions broke with the CT but remained independent, notably the National Mineworkers and Metalworkers Union (Los Mineros). After a mining disaster in 2006 cost the lives of 65 miners, the union waged a bitter campaign against Mexico’s most powerful mining and rail conglomerate, Grupo México.

The company and the government then brought false charges of corruption against the union’s leader, Napoleon Gómez Urrutia, leading to his 12-year exile in Canada. There he was supported by the United Steelworkers, with whom Los Mineros have an affiliation agreement.

Now Gómez Urrutia has been elected senator on MORENA’s ticket and has returned to Mexico to take his seat—giving the independent labor movement a powerful voice in the Senate.

Disastrous Policies

The neoliberal economic model enshrined in NAFTA has been a disaster for the Mexican people. The rural economy collapsed, forcing millions to emigrate to the cities, the northern border, or the US.

Wages declined in both domestic industries and maquiladora (export) factories. Corruption and violence grew to unprecedented levels.

Little wonder then that the Mexican people defied the political establishment and media to vote for AMLO and MORENA, who have promised to end corruption and violence and to institute a transformation that puts poor and working people first.

As his Secretary of Labor, AMLO has appointed Luisa María Alcalde, a 31-year-old former federal legislator with close ties to the independent labor movement.

Alcalde has pledged to increase the minimum wage (currently $4.57 a day) and to work to pass labor legislation to outlaw protection contracts and implement much of the independent labor movement’s agenda.

In 2017, Mexico passed a reform of the labor provisions of the Mexican Constitution, under pressure from the Obama administration. The motive was to comply with International Labor Organization rulings against protection unionism in order to gain entry to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The reform calls for the elimination of the corrupt tripartite labor boards now dominated by the CT unions and employers, and for the establishment of independent labor boards as part of the judiciary.

However, the secondary legislation necessary to implement these reforms has yet to be passed.

An Independent Federation

In July the three most important independent Mexican auto unions—at Volkswagen and Audi in Puebla, and Nissan in Morelos—announced they were joining with independent unions in auto parts, rubber, and aerospace to form a new industrial federation.

The Volkswagen, Audi, and Nissan unions are single-factory unions, each with several thousand members. The new federation aims to influence labor law reform and to bolster the growth of independent and democratic unions in the auto industry.

This is an important development. Auto, auto parts, tires, and aerospace together make up one of the biggest and most advanced industrial sectors of the Mexican economy. There are around 85,000 workers in the country’s auto assembly plants and as many as 850,000 in parts and component suppliers.

The newly formed Independent Union of Goodyear Workers (SINTG) is a part of the new federation. Workers struck for a day at Goodyear’s six-month-old factory in San Luis Potosí in April to protest poor wages, benefits, and working conditions negotiated behind their backs in a protection contract signed in 2015, two years before the factory opened.

“We’ve never seen these so-called [union] representatives,” operator Francisco Javier Cuestas told global union federation IndustriALL. “They don’t know the first thing about us. Because we have nobody to speak for us, the company gets away with paying very low wages—less than a dollar and a half per hour—for what is very dangerous and difficult work.”

In July Goodyear fired 50 workers, allegedly in retaliation for forming an independent union.

Many of the unions in the new federation have gone through similar struggles. The federation is organizing solidarity support for the Goodyear workers for what is likely to be a long fight.

Fighting Hard

The role of the Volkswagen workers union (SITIAVW) in the new federation is important, given the union’s militant history and the fact that the Puebla plant is the largest manufacturing complex in Mexico.

Originally VW workers were forced to join a protection union established before the plant opened its doors. But they fought for decades against the corrupt CTM, and ultimately established their independence. The union requires secret-ballot votes for leadership, strike authorization, and contract ratification. It has waged militant strikes and negotiated the best wages and benefits in Mexico’s manufacturing sector.

Also important are Los Mineros, whose jurisdiction includes aerospace and auto parts. The union has aided efforts to form independent unions at auto parts manufacturers like Johnson Controls and PKC, and has won representation at a Bombardier subway car plant in Hidalgo.

One of the weaknesses of Mexico’s independent labor movement is that many of the unions are confined to single employers or single factories. In this new federation, the unions are joining together to influence national politics and to confront the auto industry, including its parts and component suppliers, with a united voice and the power of thousands of workers.

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Categories: News

Breaking with Wall Street: Los Angeles Puts It to the Voters

Sat, 10/06/2018 - 14:17

Wall Street owns the country. That was the opening line of a fiery speech by populist leader Mary Ellen Lease in 1890. Franklin Roosevelt said it again in a letter to Colonel House in 1933, and Sen. Dick Durbin was still saying it in 2009. “The banks – hard to believe in a time when we’re facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created – are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill,” Durbin said in an interview. “And they frankly own the place.”

Wall Street banks triggered a credit crisis in 2008-09 that wiped out over $19 trillion in household wealth, turned some 10 million families out of their homes, and cost almost 9 million jobs in the US alone; yet the banks were bailed out without penalty, while defrauded homebuyers were left without recourse or compensation. The banks made a killing on interest rate swaps with cities and states across the country, after a compliant and accommodating Federal Reserve dropped interest rates nearly to zero. Attempts to renegotiate these deals have failed.

In Los Angeles, the City Council was forced to reduce the city’s budget by 19 percent following the banking crisis, slashing essential services, while Wall Street has not budged on the $4.9 million it claims annually from the city on its swaps. Wall Street banks are now collecting more from Los Angeles just in fees than it has available to fix its ailing roads.

Local governments have been in bondage to Wall Street ever since the 19th century, despite multiple efforts to rein them in. Regulation has not worked. To break free, we need to divest our public funds from these banks and move them into our own publicly-owned banks.

Los Angeles Asks the Voters

Some cities and states have already moved forward with feasibility studies and business plans for forming their own banks. But the city of Los Angeles faces a barrier to entry that other cities don’t have. In 1913, the same year the Federal Reserve was formed to backstop the private banking industry, the city amended its charter to state that it had all the powers of a municipal corporation, “with the provision added that the city shall not engage in any purely commercial or industrial enterprise not now engaged in, except on the approval of the majority of electors voting thereon at an election.”

Under this provision, voter approval would apparently not be necessary for a city-owned bank that limited itself to taking the city’s deposits and refinancing municipal bonds as they came due, since that sort of bank would not be a “purely commercial or industrial enterprise” but would simply be a public utility that made more efficient use of public funds. But voter approval would evidently be required to allow the city to explore how public banks can benefit local economic development, rather than just finance public projects.

The L.A. City Council could have relied on this 1913 charter amendment to say “no” to the dynamic local movement led by millennial activists to divest from Wall Street and create a city-owned bank. But the City Council chose instead to jump that hurdle by putting the matter to the voters. In July 2018, it put Charter Amendment B on the November ballot. A “yes” vote will allow the creation of a city-owned bank that can partner with local banks to provide low-cost credit for the community, following the steller precedent of the century-old Bank of North Dakota, currently the nation’s only state-owned bank. By cutting out Wall Street middlemen, the Bank of North Dakota has been able to make below-market credit available to local businesses, farmers, and students while still being more profitable than some of Wall Street’s largest banks. Following that model would have substantial upside for both the small business and the local banking communities in Los Angeles.

Rebutting the Opposition

On September 20th, the Los Angeles Times editorial board threw cold water on this effort, calling the amendment “half-baked” and “ill-conceived” and recommending a “no” vote. It is contended here that not only was the measure well conceived but that L.A. City Council President Herb Wesson has shown visionary leadership in recognizing its revolutionary potential. He sees the need to declare our independence from Wall Street. He has said that the country looks to California to lead, and that Los Angeles needs to lead California. The people deserve it, and the millennials whose future is in the balance have demanded it. The City Council recognizes that it’s going to be an uphill battle. Charter Amendment B just asks the voters, “Do you want us to proceed?” It is just an invitation to begin a dialogue, one on creating a new kind of bank geared to serving the people rather than Wall Street.

Amendment B does not give the City Council a blank check to create whatever bank it likes. It just jumps the first of many legal hurdles to obtaining a bank charter. The California Department of Business Oversight (DBO) will have the last word, and it grants bank charters only to applicants that are properly capitalized, collateralized, and protected against risk. Public banking experts have talked to the DBO at length and understand these requirements; and a detailed summary of a model business plan has been prepared, to be posted shortly.

The Times editorial board erroneously compares the failed Los Angeles Community Development Bank, which was founded in 1992 and was insolvent a decade later. That institution was not a true bank and did not have to meet the DBO’s stringent requirements for a bank charter. It was an unregulated, non-depository, nonprofit loan and equity fund, capitalized with funds that were basically a handout from the federal government to pacify the restless inner city after riots broke out in 1992; and its creation was actually supported by the L.A. Times.

The Times also erroneously cites a 2011 report by the Boston Federal Reserve, contending that a Massachusetts state-owned bank would require $3.6 billion in capitalization. That prohibitive sum is regularly cited by critics bent on shutting down the debate, without looking at the very questionable way in which it was derived. The Boston authors began with the $2 million used in 1919 to capitalize the Bank of North Dakota; multiplied that number up for inflation; multiplied it up again for the increase in GDP over a century; and multiplied it up again for the larger population of Massachusetts. This dubious triple-counting is cited as serious research, although economic growth and population size have nothing to do with how capital requirements are determined.

Bank capital is simply the money that is invested in a bank to leverage loans. The capital needed is based on the size of the loan portfolio. At a 10 percent capital requirement, $100 million is sufficient to capitalize $1 billion in loans, which would be plenty for a startup bank designed to prove the model. That sum is already more than three times the loan portfolio of the California Infrastructure and Development Bank, which makes below-market loans on behalf of the State. As profits increase the bank’s capital, more loans can be added. Bank capitalization is not an expenditure but an investment, which can come from existing pools of unused funds or from a bond issue to be repaid from the bank’s own profits.

Deposits will be needed to balance a $1 billion loan portfolio, but Los Angeles easily has them – now sitting in Wall Street banks having no fiduciary obligation to reinvest them in Los Angeles. The city’s latest Comprehensive Annual Financial Report shows a Government Net Position of over $8 billion in Cash and Investments (liquid assets), plus proprietary, fiduciary and other liquid funds. According to a 2014 study published by the Fix LA Coalition:

Together, the City of Los Angeles, its airport, seaport, utilities and pension funds control $106 billion that flows through financial institutions in the form of assets, payments and debt issuance. Wall Street profits from each of these flows of money not only through the multiple fees it charges, but also by lending or leveraging the city’s deposited funds and by structuring deals in unnecessarily complex ways that generate significant commissions.

Despite having slashed spending in the wake of revenue losses from the Wall Street-engineered financial crisis, Los Angeles is still being crushed by Wall Street financial fees, to the tune of nearly $300 million just in 2014. The savings in fees alone from cutting out Wall Street middlemen could thus be considerable, and substantially more could be saved in interest payments. These savings could then be applied to other city needs, including for affordable housing, transportation, schools, and other infrastructure.

In 2017, Los Angeles paid $1.1 billion in interest to bondholders, constituting the wealthiest 5% of the population. Refinancing that debt at just 1% below its current rate could save up to 25% on the cost of infrastructure, half the cost of which is typically financing. Consider, for example, Proposition 68, a water bond passed by California voters last summer. Although it was billed as a $4 billion bond, the total outlay over 40 years at 4 percent will actually be $8 billion. Refinancing the bond at 3 percent (the below-market rate charged by the California Infrastructure and Development Bank) would save taxpayers nearly $2 billion on the overall cost of the bond.

Finding the Political Will

The numbers are there to support the case for a city-owned bank, but a critical ingredient in effecting revolutionary change is finding the political will. Being first in any innovation is always the hardest. Reasons can easily be found for saying “no.” What is visionary and revolutionary is to say, “Yes, we can do this.”

As California goes, so goes the nation, and legislators around the country are watching to see how it goes in Los Angeles. Rather than criticism, Council President Wesson deserves high praise, for stepping forth in the face of predictable pushback and daunting legal hurdles to lead the country in breaking free from our centuries-old subjugation to Wall Street exploitation.

The post Breaking with Wall Street: Los Angeles Puts It to the Voters appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Waiting for Iceland’s Brave Stance Against Neoliberalism, 10 Years Later

Sat, 10/06/2018 - 13:50

Iceland is supposed to be the one that got it right. When the global financial crisis battered the country last decade, it was reported that Icelanders reacted by successfully challenging neoliberal convention.

“When everyone else bailed out the bankers and made the public pay the price, Iceland let the banks go bust and actually expanded its social safety net,” Paul Krugman wrote for The New York Times in 2011. Vox’s Matt Yglesias offered similar commentary in 2015. “Instead of embracing the orthodoxy of bank bailouts, austerity, and low inflation,” he wrote, “Iceland did just the opposite.”

Admittedly, the narrative of Iceland as a brave, iconoclastic nation is compelling, and it has kernels of truth. Thousands of Icelanders took to the streets immediately after the crash, eventually forcing their right-wing government to resign. Icelandic officials also managed to punish malfeasant bankers, giving 36 of them a total of 96 years in prison for collapse-related misdeeds. But this is where the boldness begins and ends.

The left-wing coalition that came to power after the protest movement ended up governing as a dutiful technocracy. It slashed social spending to mollify international creditors and the International Monetary Fund, while sheepishly claiming to have increased welfare expenditures as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) between 2007-2011 — a sleight of hand glossing over the sharp decrease in GDP after the crash. By the government’s own measure, calculated in absolute terms, it cut welfare spending by 22 percent, even if it didn’t want to own the policy. If this isn’t austerity, nothing is.

To say that Iceland “let the banks go bust” or that it “rejected the orthodoxy of bailouts” is also a gross oversimplification. The fiscal cost of saving the country’s banks, including its Central Bank, has been estimated to be equal to 36 percent of GDP. And while the government nationalized the country’s main three commercial banks’ domestic operations amid the crisis, it sold off two of them to creditors of the failed firms within months of the crash, with a generous public subsidy, of course.

The third bank that remained nationalized, Landsbanki, served no social purpose, either. As noted in a 2012 ruling by a European trade dispute panel: “the [new] banks from their creation in October 2008 operated as commercial entities without any involvement from the State … in essence, there was business as usual from day one.”

Unsurprisingly, the number of Icelandic families dependent on loans shot up between 2008 and 2010 — by 44 percent. The metric has not declined even as the crash itself has increasingly become a distant memory, suggesting a new generation of Icelanders is growing up mired in a cycle of debt, despite the country’s supposed bravery in the face of neoliberalism. Stagflation-like conditions set the stage for this trend, with wages stagnant and price increases in the double-digits for months after the collapse.

Some of this nuance may have been lost in commentary because Iceland recovered from the 2008 crisis much more rapidly than other European countries. But even this can be attributed to factors that have nothing to do with any sort of bold plan executed by the post-crisis government. Iceland’s Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that a certain class of indexed loans had been made illegally, granting significant debt relief. The country’s longtime refusal to adopt the euro also gave the country’s export sectors a boost after the crisis, thanks to devaluation. Moreover, basic macroeconomic statistics on unemployment and GDP growth fail to adequately convey the damage done by the crisis: Between 2009-2012, Iceland lost about 2.5 percent of its population to net migration, according to government statistics.

Little changed after the collapse. In the first scheduled post-crisis election in 2013, Icelanders voted to return a right-wing coalition to power, even though it consisted of the parties most responsible for the bubble and the collapse. The right had rebranded as “populists,” making hay of the left’s deference to norms.

“Both of the [winning] parties were more outspoken towards creditors of the failed banks than the outgoing government, and their rhetoric harsher,” said an analysis published by one of the Icelandic banks after the 2013 election. The memo noted how one of the losing incumbent parties “frequently testified to the creditors’ constitutional rights.” The right, meanwhile, promised an unrealistic windfall in the form of a 20-percent write-down for all indebted homeowners. This should sound vaguely familiar to anyone who followed US and UK right-wing politics in 2016, and all the fantastic promises they yielded.

As anyone familiar with the Panama Papers might recall, this right-wing coalition didn’t finish its term in office. Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson was forced to resign in April 2016 after the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists revealed he and his wife held assets in an offshore tax haven. Rapid-response protests played a role, as they had after the 2008 collapse. But, again, the grip of conservative forces remained strong. Subsequent elections elevated Bjarni Benediktsson, the leader of the junior coalition partner in Gunnlaugsson’s government, to the senior role—despite the fact that he, too, had been caught squirreling assets abroad, as reported in The Panama Papers.

Appropriately, Benediktsson’s time as prime minister was short-lived. His coalition government also collapsed in scandal after his father asked the Interior Ministry to use its pardon power to clear the name of a convicted child abuser. But he still remains in government as finance minister, serving once again as junior partner–this time, to a Left-Green Movement that has seen its support wither after entering into a coalition with Benediktsson’s Independence Party.

Fortunately, not all is lost from the years after the crisis, when it was believed Iceland could forge a path divergent from neoliberalism. After the collapse, there emerged a movement to draft a new constitution with the help of a random cross-section of society and an elected constitutional council. Though it was abandoned by the post-crisis left-wing coalition at a crucial time, the framework still exists. It calls for new labor rights, more public involvement in natural resource ownership and vestiges of direct democracy. The draft amendments are there, published online, for anyone who wishes to attempt to implement them. (Amending the Icelandic Constitution requires parliamentary approval in two consecutive legislative sessions.) Perhaps a critical mass might form behind the initiative once again if, as feared by some, Icelandic investors repeated the mistakes of last decade by staking too much on a single industry: this time, the country’s booming tourism sector. The initial constitutional reform effort was spearheaded in the wake of 2008, after all, and garnered support from the left-wing coalition parties, even if they abandoned the movement when it mattered.

Still, the strength of political inertia in Iceland can’t be overstated, as is the case with the entrenchment of elites everywhere. For example, then-Prime Minister Geir Haarde announced 10 years ago today that the country had gone bankrupt, concluding a televised speech with the declaration, “God bless Iceland.” Panic ensued, as Icelandic commentators noted. A special parliamentary inquiry into the collapse would later recommend that Haarde and other leaders face criminal negligence charges —for failing to act for months as the banking system teetered. Ultimately, Haarde never faced any penalties. Today, he serves in one of the more important roles in the government, as the country’s Ambassador to the United States.

God bless Iceland, indeed.

The post Waiting for Iceland’s Brave Stance Against Neoliberalism, 10 Years Later appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Unemployment Level Falls Again, But So Do Work Hours and Weekly Pay

Fri, 10/05/2018 - 15:50

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the unemployment rate fell to 3.7 percent in September, the lowest rate since it hit 3.5 percent in December of 1969. BLS reported some slowing of job growth for the month as the establishment survey showed a gain of 134,000 jobs. This figure may have been somewhat reduced by the hurricane hitting the Carolinas. The job growth numbers for July and August were revised up by 87,000, bringing the three-month average to 190,000.

Among the big gainers in this report were white women (20 years old and older), who had a 0.4 percentage point decline in their unemployment rate to 2.8 percent, the lowest on record. Black teens had a drop of 0.8 percentage points in their unemployment rate to 19.3 percent, also the lowest on record.

By education level, less-educated workers appear to have been the biggest gainers. The unemployment rate for workers with less than a high school degree or just a high school degree fell by 0.2 percentage points, while the unemployment rate for workers with some college fell by 0.3 percentage points. The unemployment rate for college grads fell by just 0.1 percentage points. College grads, unlike those with generally less education, are one of the few groups with an unemployment rate that is higher than its prerecession level.

Not all of the news in the household survey was positive. While the employment rate (EPOP) for prime-age women (ages 25 to 54) edged up slightly to 72.9 percent, tying its recovery high hit in July, the EPOP for prime-age men dropped 0.1 percentage points to 85.9 percent, 0.5 percentage points below the peak reached in February.

There was also a rise in involuntary part-time employment of 263,000, while voluntary part-time fell by 317,000. However, these numbers are erratic and the rise in involuntary part-time may be partly due to the hurricane.

Another disturbing item in the report was a drop of 1.8 percentage points in the share of unemployment due to voluntary job leavers. The 12.2 percent September rate is the lowest since February. The duration measures of unemployment also all showed increases in the month, with average duration increasing by 1.4 weeks to 24.0 weeks, the longest period since March.

On the establishment side, job growth was strong in the goods producing sectors but very weak in the service sector. Construction added 23,000 jobs in September, a bit less than its average of 26,300 over the last year. Manufacturing added 18,000 jobs, while mining and logging added 5,000 jobs. Coal mining, however, lost 300 jobs. Employment in the coal industry is now 200 jobs below its year-ago levels.

While employment growth was strong in these sectors, it was accompanied by a drop in hours. As a result, the index of aggregate hours fell in both construction and manufacturing, as did average weekly pay.

On the service side, retail lost 20,000 jobs in September, while restaurants lost 18,200. Both drops could have been affected by the hurricane, which likely disrupted hiring in these high turnover sectors. Health care added 25,700 jobs for the month, almost exactly in line with its average for the last year. State education added 21,200, an extraordinary gain, since employment had been virtually flat over the prior year, although this may be partly a problem in seasonal adjustment.

The movie industry lost 300 jobs in September. Employment in the sector is 7,900 below its year-ago level and 29,300 below the peak hit in October of 2016.

In spite of the unusually low unemployment rate there is little evidence of wage acceleration. The year-over-year increase in the average hourly wage was 2.8 percent, that is down from 2.9 percent in last month’s data. However, the annualized increase in the average for the last three months (July, August, September) compared with the prior three months (April, May, June) is 3.4 percent.

By industry, the strongest wage growth is in the low-paying restaurant sector, which has seen a 4.3 percent increase in the average hourly wage for production and nonsupervisory workers over the last year. While this likely reflects, in part, the tightening of the labor market, it also is partly due to increases in the minimum wage in many states and cities.

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On the whole, this is a healthy report with some notable anomalies, like the fall in the percentage of unemployment due to quits and the drop in hours. The lack of acceleration in wage growth suggests that the labor market can continue to tighten further.

The post Unemployment Level Falls Again, But So Do Work Hours and Weekly Pay appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Glenn Greenwald on the Possible Election of a Far-Right Demagogue in Brazil

Fri, 10/05/2018 - 15:43

Voters in Brazil head to the polls on Sunday in an election that could reshape the political landscape of South America. Polls show the current frontrunner is the far-right Jair Bolsonaro, a former army officer who has openly praised Brazil’s military dictatorship, which lasted from 1964 to 1985. Bolsonaro has a long history of making racist, misogynistic and homophobic comments, and has risen in the polls since September 8 when he was stabbed while campaigning. His campaign directly benefited from the jailing of former President Lula Inácio da Silva in April, who had been leading in all presidential polls before being forced to drop out of the race. Lula’s hand-picked successor, Fernando Haddad, is currently placing second in most polls. We speak with Glenn Greenwald, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and one of the founding editors of the Intercept. He has been covering the election from Rio de Janeiro.

Please check back later for full transcript.

The post Glenn Greenwald on the Possible Election of a Far-Right Demagogue in Brazil appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Inside the Mass Movement Against Brett Kavanaugh

Fri, 10/05/2018 - 15:35
UPDATE, October 5, 11:04 a.m.: In a procedural vote, the US Senate on Friday advanced Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination in a 51 to 49 vote. Sen. Lisa Murkowksi (R-AK) was the lone Republican to vote no, while Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) voted yes.

“I don’t care how many members they chase, how many people they harass here in the halls,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a floor speech Wednesday. “We will not be intimidated by these people.”

The “they” McConnell referenced are those who have descended on Capitol Hill over the past month to protest the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court. Progressive groups have organized rallies and vigils in Washington, DC, and around the United States opposing the nomination. But two groups, Women’s March and the Center for Popular Democracy Action (CPD), have used more aggressive tactics, culminating with Ana Maria Archila confronting Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) in an elevator on live TV.

That moment, which helped prompt Flake to pause the nomination process to allow a one-week FBI investigation, was the result of months of work. According to Women’s March co-founder Linda Sarsour, the two groups started working closely together to plan a protest of President Trumps’ so-called zero-tolerance immigration policy in June, bringing several thousand women to the Hart Senate office building in Washington, DC. “The intention around that first action was: We wanted to take white women from this idea of marching to more high-impact direct action,” Sarsour said in an interview with Rewire.News.

Plans to protest Kavanaugh began in early July, according to CPD national field organizer Darius Gordon. They began running actions immediately after Kavanaugh was announced as the nominee. “We knew that Kavanaugh was coming in to meet with senators around his confirmation, so our first action was actually bird-dogging, and we got about 70 folks to participate in civil disobedience that day and got his meetings pushed back and canceled that day.”

Bird-dogging is a term used by activists to describe a planned confrontation with an elected or government official, such as Archila’s elevator confrontation with Flake — who will vote to confirm Kavanaugh to the Court.

There’s a process to successful bird-dogging, Gordon says. “It’s having someone who you can find their schedule — of like an elected official that you’re trying to reach — then getting your friends or colleagues together, understanding their different tasks. So who’s asking the questions, who’s going to tell their stories, who’s filming also. Just have a plan [for] when this person’s spotted, and that’s when you snap into action and just go for it.”

The groups’ first major salvo came on September 4, the day the Kavanaugh hearings began. Women in the gallery began speaking against the nomination while being dragged out of the hearing room by Capitol Police. “At the time I don’t think the American people really understood the dire situation we were in with Kavanaugh,” said Sarsour. “Next thing you know, you watched women stand up sharing messages and getting dragged out by Capitol Police. So then people all of a sudden were like, ‘What’s going on here?’ The media immediately reframed. It wasn’t just about Brett Kavanaugh, it was about the women who were opposed to Brett Kavanaugh.”

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) called the disruptions “hysteria,” a term with misogynistic roots. “The right likes politicizing our movements. We are not politicizing our movements, we are politicized,” said Sarsour. “I think women are inherently political and that’s the problem. When they see women protesting, just the idea of protesting for them becomes, ‘Well you have a political agenda.’ Because our bodies are inherently political.”

Thousands of hours of planning and preparation went into pulling off the protests against the man who could cast the deciding vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. Organizers slept on the sidewalk the night before the first hearing, just to ensure they would be able to attend. “What I would love for people to know is that this has required a lot of human resources, a lot of financial resources, and a lot of commitment from people who are exhausted,” said Sarsour. “It’s been really challenging, there’s been a lot of tears, a lot of crying.”

The protests on the Hill took a turn when Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual assault allegation came to light. “What changed [when Dr. Ford came forward] is that it became a lot more personal. First you’re like organizing as an activist and an organizer and you have this tunnel vision, like there’s [a] campaign that you have to win. But I think when Dr. Ford came out, it opened the floodgates for people to now take this as a personal fight,” said Sarsour, who added that every time a survivor told their story this week, the crowd would respond with, “We believe you.”

For Sarsour, Ford’s allegations became a chance to conduct a conversation about sexual assault. “We saw that this was an opportunity to not only stop the nomination of someone who is conservative and anti-women, but it was actually an opportunity, once and for all, for us to have a high level conversation about believing survivors. Christine Ford gave us that opportunity,” she said.

The crowds in Hart suddenly got bigger and more passionate, with large, seemingly spontaneous actions breaking out in the hallways and offices of key senators. Senators eventually called in Capitol Police escorts to avoid face time with protestors.

That has been inspiring for Gordon, who has done organizing work since 2013. “I think we’ve had some great days where I think our tactics have gotten through to folks … these last two actions in terms of the bird-dogging have gotten days of traction,” he said, referring to Archila confronting Flake and a couple videos from this week showing CPD activists questioning senators at the airport. “Another victory is honestly the folks who are coming out. Every day there are new faces; there are new folks showing up feeling emboldened to tell their story.”

Growing those numbers will only help, since the organizations keep detailed records for future use, Sarsour said. The information they gathered helped them decide to charter a bus of protestors to DC from Philadelphia and helped manage resources to fly in people from Maine or Alaska, two key states in the confirmation fight.

Both Women’s March and CPD have faced intense criticism along the way. The conservative National Review wrote about them, casting suspicion on the groups for their ties to billionaire Democratic donor George Soros, the ever-present bogeyman for the right.

It’s a charge Gordon takes with a grain of salt. “We are civil people. We do not want to block hallways but will if we have to. But to get arrested over and over again for just wanting to talk and hear our voices is something that I think is just a little bit ludicrous,” he said. “The fact is that we’re not being heard and so we have to escalate this tactic, but the result is that we are getting through. To those critics and those folks who are just voicing their opinion, you can go ahead and voice it but we’re going to keep continuing to do these tactics, because we’re getting through.”

The post Inside the Mass Movement Against Brett Kavanaugh appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Nobel Peace Prize Goes to Campaigners Against Sexual Violence as a Weapon

Fri, 10/05/2018 - 15:21

Two influential figures in the fight against sexual violence as a weapon of war were chosen as 2018’s recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday.

Dr. Denis Mukwege was recognized for treating victims of rape, while Nadia Murad, a Yazidi woman who has spoken out about being held as a sex slave by ISIS, was awarded the prize for her work as a human rights campaigner following her experience.

“Both laureates have made a crucial contribution to focusing attention on, and combating, such war crimes,” said Berit Reiss-Andersen, chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. “Denis Mukwege is the helper who has devoted his life to defending these victims. Nadia Murad is the witness who tells of the abuses perpetrated against herself and others. Each of them in their own way has helped to give greater visibility to wartime sexual violence, so that the perpetrators can be held accountable for their actions.”

Mukwege opened a clinic two decades ago in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), with the goal of treating women who had been subjected to sexual violence during armed conflicts. Since then, he has treated thousands of women who have been raped during war, and has spoken publicly about such abuses as an international affliction.

“It’s not a women question; it’s a humanity question, and men have to take responsibility to end it,” Dr. Mukwege said in one interview. “It’s not an Africa problem. In Bosnia, Syria, Liberia, Colombia, you have the same thing.”

According to the New York Times, Mukwege has continued his advocacy even after facing threats to his safety. Following his impassioned speech at the United Nations in 2012 in which he condemned the Congolese government and other nations for standing by as women faced sexual violence during the country’s civil wars, armed men entered his home, took his children hostage, and attempted to shoot him. After two months in exile, Mukwege returned to his work.

Mukwege has been joined in the fight against sexual violence in recent years by Murad, who has spoken out about her own experience being captured from her home in northern Iraq, along with thousands of other Yazidi women and girls, by ISIS in 2014.

Both laureates have “put their personal security at risk by courageously combating war crimes and seeking justice for the victims,” Reiss-Andersen said when announcing the award.

Since escaping, Murad has demanded that international leaders acknowledge and fight against the abuse of women like her, speaking to the United Nations Security Council, the US House of Representatives, the British House of Commons, and the US State Department — which recognized the genocide of the Yazidi people following her appeal.

“I want to be the last girl in the world with a story like mine,” Murad wrote in her autobiography last year.

The post Nobel Peace Prize Goes to Campaigners Against Sexual Violence as a Weapon appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Students Are Paying More at Public Colleges and Getting Less in Return

Fri, 10/05/2018 - 13:50

Despite a recovering economy, students and families in most states are paying more for tuition at state-funded colleges and universities than they were 10 years ago, and some schools are still grappling with funding cuts handed down during the toughest years of the recession.

Low-income students and students of color who are increasingly populating college campuses are particularly feeling the squeeze as support services that make higher education more accessible end up on the chopping block.

A decade since the Great Recession hit, overall state funding for two- and four-year colleges during the 2017-2018 school year was more than $7 billion below its 2008 level when adjusted for inflation, according to a new report from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

States have started to reinvest in higher education as the economy recovers, but spending on public colleges and universities still remains below historic levels. In 31 states, per-student funding actually fell between the 2017 and 2018 school years, and per-student funding fell in 15 of these states during the 2015-2016 school year, according to the report.

“At the same time that more and more students are attending colleges, it coincides with divestment at state level,” said Michael Mitchell, a co-author of the report, during a call with reporters this week.

Republican Austerity Hits Higher Education

Of the 49 states that Mitchell examined, 45 are spending less on higher public education per student than they were in 2008. State spending per student dropped an average of $1,409, or 16 percent, when adjusted for inflation. In nine states, per-student spending fell by 30 percent from 2008 to 2018. Only California, Wyoming, Hawaii and North Dakota are spending more per student now than before the recession hit.

States and, to a lesser extent, local governments provide just over half of the funding for public colleges and universities, according to Mitchell. He said state governments made deep cuts to higher education as the recession set in, forcing school administrators to make their own cuts to staffing, facilities and programming — and raise tuition for students.

Annual tuition at four-year public colleges has risen by $2,651 over the past decade, or about 36 percent, according to the report. Tuition at four-year public schools has doubled in Louisiana, and in six other states – Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia and Hawaii – tuition increased by more than 60 percent over the same period of time.

Josh Bivens, a research director at the Economic Policy Institute, said recovery from the Great Recession is marked by more austerity than any other recovery since World War II, particularly at the state and local level. The recession did decrease tax revenues, but Republican takeovers of state legislatures since the Tea Party wave of 2010 also had an impact as lawmakers pursued tax cuts and other fiscally conservative politics. Today, Republicans enjoy majority control of 31 state legislatures nationwide, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“You see it clear in the data that states that flipped from blue to red or [already] had Republican control in 2010 had more cuts,” Bivens said in an interview with Truthout.

Much like marked increases in insurance premiums and out-of-pocket health care spending, the rising cost of public education is further evidence that working people have not felt the full benefits of economic recovery. Over the past two decades, the price of attending a four-year college or university has grown much faster than median income, accelerating a long-term trend of colleges becoming less affordable as public schools shift costs to students, according to Mitchell.

Mitchell said the federal government put a dent in this problem during the recession when larger numbers of students who could not find jobs due to high unemployment became eligible for Pell grants, but that spending did not fully compensate for increases in tuition and cost of living.

“Over a longer period of time, the Pell grant is not doing a great job of tracking with tuition,” Mitchell said.

Changing Demographics on Campus

The cost of going to college is consuming a larger portion of household income, particularly for students and families of color who already face structural barriers to education and employment — but increasingly make up the student population on public campuses.

When the recession hit, the average cost of in-state tuition at public four-year colleges was about 14 percent of the median household income, and now it’s up 16.5 percent, according to Mitchell’s report. In 2017, the average cost of tuition and fees comprised 20 percent or more of the median household income of Latinx families in 22 states and Black families in 33 states.

This creates additional hurdles for students aspiring to a college degree, particularly if they don’t have counselors or parents who attended college for help with navigating the financial aid process, Mitchell said. It can also cause students to prioritize working jobs over studying or taking time off from school to work and save money, increasing the risk that they might not graduate.

Angela Hanks, an expert on post-secondary education at the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), said that failing to return public higher education funding to pre-recession levels essentially eliminates any progress states have made in expanding access to college for low-income students.

“This is the difference between being able to go and not being able to go [to college] for low-income students,” Hanks said in an interview.

Hanks said educators should pay attention because student demographics have changed considerably over the past two decades, and in many areas, policies and programs at public colleges are still catching up. From 1996 to 2010, the number of Black students enrolled in higher education jumped 72 percent, and the number of Latinx students skyrocketed by 240 percent, according to a recent CLASP report.

Only about a third of students at public colleges fit the description of a white, middle class 18- to 22-year-old who can depend on their parents. In fact, nearly 50 percent of students are living on their own and do not receive support from their parents, according to CLASP. More than half are considered lower-income, and about a third live below the federal poverty line. Many juggle school with work and raising a family.

Hanks said the students often have thousands of dollars worth of unmet needs, even after receiving financial aid to help pay for tuition. The cost of food, transpiration, housing and childcare can add up fast. On-campus support services such as tutoring and childcare help them say in school and excel, and advocates are now working to help schools put such services at the core of their academic philosophy.

However, Mitchell said schools across the country have cut funding for support services as they absorbed budget cuts during the recession, and in many states, lawmakers have failed to adequately reinvest in higher education.

“If students have to take on additional work to afford the cost of college, it can be a hindrance to putting the time into studying and obtaining your degree, and create a problem for whether or not a student graduates,” Mitchell said.

Fewer graduates means more workers saddled with debt and without a useful degree. This leaves communities with fewer skilled workers who can attract higher paid employers — and exacerbates inequality. If states are investing in an economic future by providing public education, then policymakers should spend the money necessary to make a return on the investment.

“[Education] is a public good, and states have made some level of agreement that this is something they want to invest in, so doing that in such a way to make it accessible to low-income students is critical,” Hanks said.

The post Students Are Paying More at Public Colleges and Getting Less in Return appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

I Don’t Smell Anything

Fri, 10/05/2018 - 13:43

The post I Don’t Smell Anything appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

South Carolina Still Grappling With Historic Flooding From Florence

Fri, 10/05/2018 - 13:37

South Carolina was spared the worst of Hurricane Florence’s fury when the storm made landfall in North Carolina on September 14, but did not escape its catastrophic impacts. Nearly two weeks later, the state was still contending with historic flooding.

Flooded house in Socastee, South Carolina.Flooded house in Socastee, South Carolina.Julie Dermansky for DeSmogBlog

Florence lingered over the Carolinas, dumping more than 30 inches of rain in some areas. Five rivers and the IntraCoastal Waterway crested several feet above major flood stage, resulting in flooding that will last for weeks to come in parts of South Carolina. Cities and towns on its northern coast are experiencing the worst of it, where standing water remains in buildings along the Intracoastal Waterway and near riverbanks deep into the Carolinas.

Flooded mobile home in Bucksport, South Carolina.Flooded mobile home in Bucksport, South Carolina.Julie Dermansky for DeSmogBlogPine Grove Baptist Church in Brittons Neck, South Carolina.Pine Grove Baptist Church in Brittons Neck, South Carolina.Julie Dermansky for DeSmogBlog

Jane and Chris Ochsenbein, owners of Gator Bait Adventure Tours in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, took me on a kayak tour of flooded areas 10 days after the storm hit the coast.

On September 26, we met up with April O’Leary, a program officer for Winyah Rivers Foundation and the Waccamaw Riverkeeper program, in Conway, a city about 15 miles from South Carolina’s coast.

Chris Ochsenbein pulling a kayak into floodwater in Conway, South Carolina’s Sherwood neighborhood.Chris Ochsenbein pulling a kayak into floodwater in Conway, South Carolina’s Sherwood neighborhood.Julie Dermansky for DeSmogBlogApril O’Leary, in front of her flooded home in Conway, South Carolina, on September 26.April O’Leary, in front of her flooded home in Conway, South Carolina, on September 26.Julie Dermansky for DeSmogBlog

We paddled our way to her home in Conway’s Sherwood neighborhood the day that the Waccamaw River crested, reaching 21.16 feet, 7 feet over major flood stage. O’Leary later told me that level set a new record by more than three feet. The previous record, 17.89 feet, was set following Hurricane Matthew just two years earlier.

The streets were quiet. Everyone had evacuated before the flooding became too dangerous, as far as O’Leary knows. The only people we crossed paths with were checking their homes like she was.

Flooded home in Conway, South Carolina.Flooded home in Conway, South Carolina.Julie Dermansky for DeSmogBlogLion sculpture in front of a flooded home in Conway, South Carolina.Lion sculpture in front of a flooded home in Conway, South Carolina.Julie Dermansky for DeSmogBlog

I first met O’Leary and the Ochsenbeins in 2016 after Hurricane Matthew’s floodwaters affected areas along the Waccamaw River and Intracoastal Waterway, but that storm didn’t come close to flooding O’Leary’s home. With Florence, however, she finds herself in a new dual role: explaining to the media the environmental issues that affect the Winyah rivers basin, and dealing with being a flood victim herself.

The day before I caught up with O’Leary, she was featured on a local news program as she rescued monarch butterflies from her home in laundry baskets. She plans to care for them, and then release them in a nearby flood-free area where there are plenty of flowers.

The Ochsenbeins described living through Florence’s aftermath as being in the middle of a slow-motion disaster. Their home is on high ground in Socastee, just west of Myrtle Beach, and didn’t flood. But many of their friends’ and neighbors’ homes did. They have been posting videos of the area on Facebook while monitoring the floodwaters and helping others by lending them kayaks to reach their homes and assess the damage.

Fire ants on a post in Florence’s floodwaters.Fire ants on a post in Florence’s floodwaters.Julie Dermansky for DeSmogBlogSpiders on a house just above the flood line in Socastee, South Carolina.Spiders on a house just above the flood line in Socastee, South Carolina.Julie Dermansky for DeSmogBlog

“[President] Trump visited Conway while embankments and aqua dams were frantically being installed to shore up the coal ash ponds that were the biggest threat to our community,” Jane Ochsenbein told me. It bothered her that Trump didn’t acknowledge the coal industry’s threat to the area, and only a few days after, he went to Wheeling, West Virginia (her husband Chris’s hometown), to promote coal and push for the rollback of regulations there.

“It’s a hopeless feeling when your public officials deny science and the extensive costs that go along with that denial,” Jane said. “Failing to deal with climate change is already costing lives.” She is disheartened by having a president who promotes fossil fuels, and local officials who continue to ignore flood maps while allowing new developments in wetlands. “Failing to plan is going to cost more lives and property,” she said. “We have to do better, from regulating industries to eliminate their waste and disposing of it properly, to stopping developments in high-risk flood areas.”

The Ochsenbeins see the writing on the wall. Three times in the last four years they have had to close their business for extended periods of time due to historic flooding. Though they love the area where they have lived and built their company over the last 20 years, they are considering relocating to higher ground.

“We might move to the mountains near Asheville,” Jane said. I asked about the massive fires there last year. “No place is safe from climate change, but the risk of fire in the mountains is not as bad as what we are dealing with now.”

The Trump administration recently acknowledged that temperatures will indeed continue to rise with increased greenhouse gas emissions. In its latest environmental impact assessment justifying Trump’s proposed pause to vehicle fuel efficiency standards, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) predicted that by 2100 the planet is on track to warm by 7 degrees Fahrenheit. Climate scientists have warned that temperature change would be catastrophic.

Instead of outright denying climate change, this draft statement accepts it as a given that can’t be stopped. The NHTSA document says that Obama’s earlier plan to improve fuel efficiency for cars and light trucks built after 2020 would not make a significant dent in global emissions and therefore in projected warming.

Michael MacCracken, a former senior scientist at the US Global Change Research Program for almost a decade, told the Washington Post: “The amazing thing is that they’re saying human activities are going to lead to this rise of carbon dioxide that is disastrous for the environment and society. And then they’re saying they’re not going to do anything about it.”

Trinity United Methodist Church, in Conway, South Carolina, in floodwaters. President Trump visited the church before Conway’s Sherwood neighborhood flooded.Trinity United Methodist Church, in Conway, South Carolina, in floodwaters. President Trump visited the church before Conway’s Sherwood neighborhood flooded.Julie Dermansky for DeSmogBlog

April O’Leary had a chance to meet President Trump when he visited Conway the week before the floodwaters arrived in the city. Her husband Patrick O’Leary, an airport deputy fire chief, led Trump on a tour of the same neighborhood we kayaked through. However, April doesn’t support Trump’s environmental policies and chose to stay away.

“Consoling communities by ignoring the impacts of climate change ensures these complex issues will never be resolved,” O’Leary told me. “It’s our responsibility to future generations to reconcile with the evidence and truth. The greatest threat to our rivers, water resources, and clean drinking water is thinking that it’s someone else’s problem.”

When we were done kayaking in the Sherwood neighborhood, we wiped ourselves down with antibacterial cleanser to prevent infections from possible inadvertent contact with the floodwater. Shortly after, we found out that millions of gallons of raw wastewater from a Conway sewage plant were released into the Waccamaw River earlier that day.

Jane (right) and Chris Ochsenbein in polluted floodwater in Bucksport, South Carolina.Jane (right) and Chris Ochsenbein in polluted floodwater in Bucksport, South Carolina.Julie Dermansky for DeSmogBlog

Spills like that are why the Ochsenbeins are keeping their business closed for now. Though there are no set pollution standards that regulate their tour guide operations to keep them or anyone else from using the area’s waterway, they don’t plan to start up their business again until the water’s bacteria levels are safe. Florence’s floodwaters have been contaminated by a range of hazardous and unhealthy materials common after floods: untreated sewage, oil and gas from flooded cars, and the added danger of waste from industrial hog and poultry farms.

On the bright side, the Ochsenbeins likely don’t have to worry about coal ash in the floodwaters around them since the nearby Granger storage pond wasn’t breached. North Carolina, however, wasn’t so lucky. The bulk of the coal ash from breached ponds there were washed into the Cape Fear watershed, just north of the Winyah Bay basin.

The post South Carolina Still Grappling With Historic Flooding From Florence appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

With Primaries Over, Advocates Fight to Keep Single-Payer in Spotlight

Fri, 10/05/2018 - 13:27

The 2018 primary was a historic election for the movement for Medicare for All, which continues to ascend into heights that seemed unimaginable just a few years ago. Advocates of the policy face a challenge as they pivot to the general election: How to keep the issue central to the midterms.

In the last few years the momentum for Medicare for All, a “single-payer,” publicly financed plan for universal coverage, has been undeniable. In 2016, the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign helped bring the policy into the national debate. In 2017, RoseAnn DeMoro of National Nurses United said 2017 was “the summer for single-payer.” She was pointing to the record-setting support for the House version of Medicare for All (H.R.676) and the introduction of Sanders’s Medicare for All bill (S.1804) in the Senate.

As important as those two years were, however, the 2018 primary has also been a pivotal moment in the fight for single-payer. More candidates who supported single-payer ran (and won) for office — up and down the ballots — than they have in at least a generation.

“This has been an unprecedented election season for the single-payer movement, and it definitely shows that the ground has shifted on this issue,” said Benjamin Day, director of the single-payer advocacy group Healthcare-NOW, in an interview with Truthout. “The country is already there … the role of grassroots organizations like ours is just to close the democracy gap at this point and get Congress moving.”

The momentum is serious enough for the major industry stakeholders (pharma, the insurance industry, medical associations, hospitals, device manufacturers) to create an entire organization, the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, devoted to keeping the issue from becoming the consensus among Democrats.

But a consensus appears to be forming — at least in the House, where 123 of 194 Democrats support Medicare for All, as well as among voters of all ideological stripes. As the primary season was winding down, a Reuters/Ipsos poll was released showing record support for Medicare for All: 70 percent of the public, 85 percent of Democrats and a stunning 52 percent of Republicans. Even 60 percent of industry executives think single-payer would have a positive effect.

Other events have also galvanized the movement. Advocates hope that the Medicare for All Caucus, a coalition of House members whose purpose is to pursue and study the policy that was formed this summer, can be a vehicle to move H.R.676 through the House. The new caucus, Day says, is “already one of the largest caucuses in the House, is a major development, and will be the group bringing pressure from the inside.”

The primary was an ideal setting to have a debate about single-payer. The general election setting is tricky.

There are also important new leaders who have yet to get national attention in the campaign, Day said. “To me, the more emblematic (but less publicized) primary campaign was Michigan’s 9th Congressional district,” said Day. In this race Andy Levin is expected to win the general election on a campaign supporting single-payer. His father, Rep. Sandy Levin, who has a powerful perch on the Ways and Means committee, has never supported this kind of reform in more than 30 years in Congress. Young people are far more supportive of Medicare for All than their elders, so this reflects a generational shift in more ways than one.

Indeed, Levin’s likely victory in the general election (his district is extremely blue) counters a flawed media narrative that single-payer can only win on the coasts. “I feel like we’re really trying to launch a whole response to 2016, a new politics of solidarity,” Levin said, after winning his primary on August 6. “People are so sick of all the fussing, and they want a strong vision of America where we have health care for everybody.”

Down-Ballot Shakeup in New York Is a Boon for Single-Payer

The dominant media in the United States have long been hostile to single-payer, treating it as a pipe dream and often citing its costs and not its savings. This has not changed since the issue has penetrated mainstream debate. For instance, media outlets would highlight supporters of single-payer who lost state-wide races — such as Cynthia Nixon in New York, or Abdul El-Sayed in Michigan — and portray their losses as evidence that Medicare for All is a losing issue.

These reports overlooked many successes further down the ballot. In fact, the New York Primary may turn out to be an extremely important development for single-payer. In New York, the chair of the health committee in the Democratic-controlled State Assembly, Richard Gottfried, has passed a single-payer bill many times in the Assembly over the years (the New York Health Act, or A05062).

The problem for advocates is that in the State Senate, a group of conservative Democrats, calling themselves the Independent Democratic Caucus (IDC), created a majority government by caucusing with Republicans. As a result, the Republicans have not put the issue up for a vote, even though a majority of the Senate has cosponsored the senate version of Gottfried’s bill.

But due to pressure from the left, the Independent Democratic Caucus dissolved in April. Six of their eight incumbents lost last week to progressive challengers and Democrats are widely expected to control both chambers after the election. If they do, and if current supporters don’t back out, the math suggests the bill should be able to pass both houses and at least make it to Cuomo’s desk.

“Support is growing with the public. In the State Senate, we now have 31 cosponsors – one vote shy of a majority. The Democratic Primary results will raise the energy level, and I expect even more support after the November election,” Assemblyman Gottfried told Truthout. “I look forward to working with a progressive, Democratic Senate majority – including bill sponsor Senator Gustavo Rivera, ranking member on the Senate Health Committee – to pass the bill in both Houses.”

Senator Rivera tells Truthout he is excited at the possibility of a Democratic-controlled State House, so they can pass the NY Health Act. He said he would meet with Gottfried to update and improve the bill prior to the next session.

“If we do the work, there is a good chance we can control the Senate and I will be chair of the health committee. It being my bill, you can bet I would work with [Gottfried] to pass a bill and get it signed by the governor,” Senator Rivera told Truthout in an interview.

Meanwhile this year, a much-anticipated RAND study was released on the law and found it to be viable — as did a 2015 study from liberal economist Gerald Friedman, which showed it would result in considerable savings in overall health spending in New York, especially those with lower incomes.

Organizers are acting with purpose, sensing this could be an early stage of the fight for health care as a human right.

“The authors estimate that total health care spending under the New York Health Act (NYHA) could be slightly lower than spending under the status quo,” the RAND study, titled “An Assessment of the New York Health Act,” concluded. “Spending would be similar in 2022 and 3 percent lower by 2031, with the ten-year cumulative net savings being about 2 percent, if administrative costs and growth in provider payment rates are reduced,” the report found.

Cuomo only grudgingly offered qualified support for single-payer for the first time in 2017. He supports the concept on the federal level but has not given a public statement on the NY Health Act.

The prospect of the Senate changing hands, as well as the release of the RAND study, has led to a flurry of activity by opponents of single-payer in the state, in both the health and finance industries. These interests formed a coalition and a website called “Realities of Single-Payer.” devoted to trying to counter the NY Health Act and spin the RAND study, organizers tell Truthout.

“The insurance industry seems to know that it is possible to flip the Senate, and that’s why they have launched an opposition group spouting lies and misinformation about the impact of single-payer health care in New York,” Robbins said.

This is not unlike the approach of the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, but it differs in that it is aimed at stopping single-payer at the state level.

“Until political power shifts in D.C., New York has the opportunity to lead the way by pursuing universal, public health care, which will protect residents from the assault on health care from the Trump administration,” Robbins said.

Single-Payer as a Referendum on Trump and GOP

Robbins’s framing of single-payer as an antidote to GOP attacks is one that could help keep the single-payer discussion alive in the coming months. Trumpcare scared America to its core. At one point, a Senate version of Trumpcare that would throw 23 million off insurance polled at 12 percent support. Further, Trump’s director of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, has said the Trump administration won’t approve any state single-payer plans.

Contempt for Trump is, like support for the single-payer movement itself, moving to new heights, and single-payer is the kind of policy that would most protect the public from GOP ideologues and industry power brokers who are constantly trying to put their hands in the public’s pocket. If advocates can successfully portray the policy as a direct antidote to Trump’s attacks on the public’s health care, it could intensify or widen its level of support.

Many have cited the Trumpcare efforts as a potential watershed moment in the push for a national health system. As Sarah Jones wrote in The New Republic:

This latest example of its resilience represents a turning point, if Democrats choose to seize the opportunity…. Now is the time for the Democratic Party to begin building a proposal for a single-payer health care system.

GOP Attacks on Single-Payer

Jones is right to qualify her assessment with “If Democrats choose to seize the opportunity.” Democrats have a long history of squandering, not seizing, opportunities. But while some Democrats are wary of running on single-payer, Republicans are raising the issue to try and portray the party as being in favor of socialized medicine. For instance, Ohio gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray refused to support single-payer in his successful campaign against Dennis Kucinich, a long-time supporter of the policy. This has not stopped Cordray’s GOP opponents, however, from being attacked for it. “He owes voters a clear answer: does he support imposing a Single-Payer healthcare system on Ohio?” asks an attack ad from the Republican Governors Association.

This is where the party is very much divided. Cordray is following the Third Way/DCCC playbook and avoiding the issue. Others want to have this debate — and this includes several gubernatorial candidates who are seeking reform at the state level as well.

“Governors who enthusiastically support single-payer health care are the key for Medicare for All legislation to ever advance at the state level, but they’ve been like unicorns in recent decades — more rumor than reality,” Day said. “This year we saw high-profile gubernatorial candidates running on Medicare for All across the country, and quite a few of them winning their primaries in California, Colorado, Maryland and Massachusetts. There is no question that the window for state single-payer legislation is opening wider, just as momentum is building in Congress.”

It is all part of a stunning revival of a policy that could save thousands of lives and incalculable suffering each year. Organizers are acting with purpose, sensing this could be an early stage of the fight for health care as a human right.

“I believe we have a duty to create a world in which health care [is] accessible to everyone, and with the political will created by a grassroots movement making the demand, it is immensely possible,” Robbins said.

The post With Primaries Over, Advocates Fight to Keep Single-Payer in Spotlight appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Antibiotics Still Used Excessively on US Farms Despite Superbug Crisis

Fri, 10/05/2018 - 13:24

Antibiotics crucial to human medicine are still being used in “unacceptable” quantities on US livestock farms, despite rules brought in last year intended to curb their use and combat the spread of deadly superbugs.

Tests on thousands of meat samples carried out by the US Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) show that farm animals are still being dosed with powerful antibiotics classified as “critically important” to human health. The widespread use of such drugs on livestock is one of the key drivers of antibiotic resistance, a growing public health crisis.

Regulations were brought in by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in January 2017 which banned the use of antibiotics on livestock without a prescription from a vet and made it illegal to use the drugs solely to make animals fatter, which for years had been a common practice on industrial farms.

The new rules aimed to curtail the overuse of antibiotics and make sure they were only used when medically necessary. However the tests on livestock slaughtered at dozens of US meat packing plants – including some operated by major processors such as Tyson, Cargill and JBS – found “critical” antibiotics still in use in many meat supply chains. There had been no reduction in the number of antibiotics found in samples from the year before the regulations came into effect.

Analysis by the Bureau also shows how a loophole means US farmers can still use many antibiotics targeted by the ban in much the same way today as they could beforehand, including drugs previously used for growth promotion.

The findings indicate that more needs to be done to combat antibiotic overuse on farms, according to critics.

Responding to the findings, meat industry representatives said it was impossible to make meaningful conclusions about antibiotic use on the farms from the data in question. The samples only indicated the presence of antibiotics, they pointed out, with no information about why they were administered. Sometimes it was necessary to use critical antibiotics, they said, and all drugs used were approved for use in animals by the FDA.

Tyson told the Bureau: “We’ve held meetings with livestock farmers and ranchers on antibiotic stewardship and funded research on removing antibiotics important to humans from cattle production. We also continue to explore new ways to engage farmers, ranchers and others in the discussion about alternatives to antibiotics that are also important to humans.” The other companies did not respond.

“Critically Important” Medicines

FSIS records spanning a four year period between 2013 and 2017 detail the results of the official chemical residue testing programme at US meat plants, in which 180,000 samples per year were analysed for any substances which could potentially be harmful to human health.

The data, obtained by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the Guardian, shows 13 separate antibiotics classed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as being “critically important” to human medicine are still being used in meat supply chains.

Of these, nine are classified as being “highest priority critically important”. WHO recently warned that this class of antibiotics are so essential to human medicine that they should no longer be used in livestock farming. These antibiotics are often “the last line, or one of limited treatments, available to treat serious bacterial infections in humans,” the organisation said.

Using and overusing antibiotics enables bacteria to develop resistance to them, meaning the drugs will no longer work to treat infections. Antibiotic resistance is one of the gravest public health threats facing the world, estimated to kill 23,000 Americans each year, and 700,000 people around the world. (For comparison, about 40,000 people were killed in car accidents in the U.S. in 2017).

The FSIS data also showed that there had been no reduction in the number of antibiotics turning up during testing. In 2016, the year before the restrictions came into force, the number of residues of “highest priority critically important” antibiotics was 363. The number actually increased in 2017 (after the new restrictions) to 461.

More than 150 individual meat processors were found to have at least one “critically important” antibiotic in use within their supply chains. A total of 47 had five or more “critically important” antibiotics in their supply chains, and 18 had nine or more “critically important” antibiotics in their supply chains.

Medical experts and pressure groups said the findings showed how much more needed to be done, including meat companies pressuring farms they source from to reduce antibiotic use. The FSIS figures are not a comprehensive picture of antibiotic use on US farms but are a snapshot showing which drugs are used in specific supply chains.

“It is absolutely crucial that these practices end,” said Dr Thomas Van Boeckel, a scientist at Swiss university ETH Zurich who has mapped the use of antibiotics in animals globally. It was “not acceptable” that some company supply chains were found to be using multiple critically important antibiotics, he stressed.

“When meat producers misuse antibiotics important to human medicine, especially those that are considered critically important, resistant bacteria can rapidly multiply, spread off the farm, and potentially infect people with dangerous illness,” said Matt Wellington, antibiotics campaign director of the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). “If we lose these life-saving antibiotics, we lose the foundations of our modern medical system.”

The data was obtained by Sarah Sorscher of the Center for Science in the Public Interest who says: “The current regulations prohibit antibiotics for use for growth promotion, but don’t do a lot to address other types of inappropriate antibiotics use. It’s hard to track how or why antibiotics are being used, and that leaves consumers with a lot of questions.”

Growth Promotion or Disease Prevention?

Antibiotics have historically been used in industrial farming in a widespread way for various purposes, routinely included in animal feed or water. Crowded and sometimes insanitary conditions provide the conditions for diseases to flourish; as well as treating infections if and when they occur, antibiotics administered continuously can prevent these infections from taking hold. Giving animals small regular doses of antibiotics can also make them grow fatter quicker – a practice termed “growth promotion” – by creating certain conditions within the body that optimise weight gain.

The use of antibiotics to help fatten animals was banned as part of the new regulations. Many were removed from the market in response. But others simply removed the words “growth promotion” from their labels. There are a total of 31 antibiotics formerly marketed as growth promoters still on sale for use on farms today.

There is no clear line between growth promotion and disease prevention – in fact it is precisely because they prevent certain diseases that some antibiotics are able to stimulate growth. That means those particular antibiotics need restrictions on how long they can be administered for, say experts – something which the 2017 regulations did not cover.

While most antibiotics do have restrictions on how long they should be used for – from a few days to a few weeks – drugs used to treat certain diseases have no restrictions. Our investigation established that the majority of the 31 antibiotics formerly used as growth promoters can be used to treat those particular diseases. Critics say the current FDA regulations still allow farmers to administer antibiotics continuously to farm animals.

“Unfortunately, many of the same antibiotic medications that were long used for the purposes of growth promotion are still available on the market today under labels of disease prevention,” said Dr Matthew Ferreira, a veterinarian and public health expert from the University of Chicago. “This loophole means that the same drugs that were used as growth promoters can still be routinely administered to large numbers of healthy animals at low doses.”

Senator Elizabeth Warren has petitioned the FDA to close this loophole and introduced the Strengthening Antibiotic Oversight Act earlier this year. Commenting on the Bureau’s findings, Senator Warren said: “Serious gaps remain in the FDA’s oversight of antibiotics in animals, including the lack of limits on durations of use for many medically important antibiotics. I’ve called for the FDA to increase their oversight of medically important antibiotics in food producing animals, and was glad to see them recently commit to establishing appropriate durations of use.”

Meat producers warn stricter rules could endanger animal welfare. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association told the FDA: “The arbitrary assignment of antimicrobial use durations without reasonable alternatives… presents a threat to animal health that is not acceptable.”

Tiffany Lee, a North American Meat Institute (NAMI) vet, said they would not prescribe drugs without good cause. “Veterinarians know the difference between growth promotion and antibiotics for disease prevention, and they understand that they are prescribing these antibiotics for disease prevention,” she said.

The Chain of Resistance

The fact that very small doses of antibiotics stimulate growth in animals was discovered by chance by researchers in the 1940s. It soon began to be exploited. As farming became increasingly industrialised, routine use of antibiotics not just to promote growth but also to prevent disease became standard practice around the world.

Over the decades the amount of antibiotics used on animals came to vastly outstrip the amount used on humans. But the widespread use and misuse of antibiotics – on both animals and humans – came at a cost. Bacteria evolved to develop resistance to the drugs that are attacking them – the more antibiotics are used, the more resistance will rise.

Without effective antibiotics, infections like sepsis or food poisoning can kill, and routine medical procedures which rely on antibiotics to prevent infection – like Caesarean sections, chemotherapy and joint replacements – become very risky.

The growing antibiotic resistance crisis led to countries around the world taking action. Many governments are now trying to reduce antibiotic use as much and as quickly as possible.

The 2017 FDA regulations bring the US in line with rules the European Union has had in place for years; the use of antibiotics as growth promoters was banned inside the EU in 2006 but it took years to effectively reduce the use of these drugs.

When effective action has been taken to closely control our most important antibiotics, there has been an immediate public health benefit. For instance, the UK poultry industry body banned the use of cephalasporins, an antibiotic used to treat serious infections in humans, on its farms in 2012. Since then, the proportion of E coli bacteria resistant to this antibiotic found in British chicken has reduced from 65% to 10%, according to recent figures published by the Food Standards Agency.

A study published by the campaign group Alliance to Save our Antibiotics earlier this year estimated that US farm animals are dosed with five times as many antibiotics as farm animals in the UK. The US meat industry points out that all drugs are FDA-approved and insists they are being used appropriately. “Antibiotic residues are extremely rare and meat is safe. To make any other sweeping public health conclusions from the residue testing data is inappropriate and irresponsible,” said a NAMI spokesperson.

The FDA is planning to release data on pharmaceutical sales for animal antibiotics for 2017 this December, which will give more indication as to how well the new regulations are working.

The post Antibiotics Still Used Excessively on US Farms Despite Superbug Crisis appeared first on Truthout.

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