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If Life Imitated Politics

Tue, 07/10/2018 - 13:51

The post If Life Imitated Politics appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

The Surveillance Economy and Its Discontents

Tue, 07/10/2018 - 13:48

In 2016, Amazon Web Services released Rekognition, a service that lets users analyze digital imagery in order to identify objects, including faces, based on a machine-learning algorithm.

The company has touted uses for this product that include identifying triggering content in images, determining emotions in an image, cashier-less grocery stores (which they have implemented in Amazon Go) — and, most worrisome, “public safety.”

The implications of this technology are eerily dystopian. The software is designed to identify up to 100 faces in an image or video, and can identify the emotions and actions of subjects. In the hands of the police, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or the National Security Agency (NSA), this poses an existential risk to privacy, oppressed groups, left organizations and any other targeted person.

And the unfortunate truth is that it is already being licensed to police departments. As an ACLU report reveals, police departments in Orlando, Florida, and Washington County, Oregon, are already using it. If legal restrictions are overcome, this could easily be licensed to a company like Axon to be used in police body cameras in numerous cities.

Even scarier, consider if ICE were able to license this technology. It could use it to hunt down any undocumented immigrant it has a photo of. Even worse, it could cross-list any photo to which it has access against a database of identification images — and mark anyone who isn’t in its system for tracking and detention.

The ACLU only listed agencies to which it submitted public records requests. Amazon Web Services (AWS) has specially tailored contracts for federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, the IRS, the US Air Force, the US Navy, and many others.

The truth is, we don’t know which of these groups might be using Rekognition. It took a year from when Orlando’s police department began using Rekognition before the ACLU found out through a public-records request.

This doesn’t even account for agencies like the CIA and NSA, which presumably would remain unreported if they were to use AWS technologies.

Given the NSA’s $10.8 billion budget in 2013 (its usually confidential budget was leaked for the year of 2013) and its primary function of surveillance, we might expect that it has either contracted Rekognition technology or built its own even better surveillance algorithms. And we might expect the deployment of similar technology by the CIA, with its leaked 2013 budget of $14.7 billion.

***

Where does this leave us? Are we doomed to a world dominated by a ubiquitous surveillance state that until a few years ago was beyond our wildest fears? Is privacy dead?

Machine learning has gone through astronomical growth over the last few years. From Google’s self-driving cars to medical research, machine learning has the potential for spectacular good. And while it remains largely a buzzword in society — to the extent it is even discussed — tech companies large and small are investing billions in it.

Interviewing people in the tech community, many tech workers were convinced that this technology is inevitable. If Amazon, Google, Facebook and others weren’t pushing it forward, other companies or the NSA would be. But this doesn’t justify the resignation that society will inevitably have indiscriminate surveillance.

Under capitalism, the government relies on the military-industrial complex to refine the means to exploit people at home and abroad. While the government would presumably continue to work on this technology in any case, contracting the work to private-sector corporations helps to secure the support of the richest people in our society, who ultimately have massive political influence over the government because of their wealth.

Therefore, examples such as Google employees’ victory in forcing the company not to renew its Maven contract with the defense department for drone technology should be viewed as a substantial victory. Similarly, boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) movements against Israel (and similar historical movements against South Africa) have the potential to destabilize oppressive states.

But this can be taken a step further. Military and security organizations don’t exist in a bubble. They depend on hundreds of thousands of workers. From electricians who wire up CIA buildings to coders who build surveillance software, we find laborers capable of literally shutting down the system when organized collectively.

And we’ve also seen individual attempts from the inside to reveal and destabilize the state’s undemocratic surveillance by the likes of Edward Snowden. While these actions are admirable and at least brought the issue to public light, they haven’t measurably slowed the trend towards increasing surveillance.

***

All this provides some insight into how workers at Amazon could respond to Rekognition.

Beyond achieving the temporary victory of stopping this one corporation’s licensing of surveillance technology (and thereby slowing down its spread), such struggles broaden awareness of the extent to which this technology is being applied and help to develop a working-class consciousness more aware of its own power in fighting back.

In doing so, tech workers’ struggles can contribute to a culture that is safer for government workers to fight back (just as protests in the US against the war in Vietnam preceded soldiers’ resistance against officers in Vietnam).

Unfortunately, the tech sector has scant history of labor organizing, which has only begun to change recently. Earlier this year, tech workers at Lanetix surprised many by voting to unionize. The company responded by firing its entire engineering staff. At other tech companies, this idea of unionizing is only a distant hope of labor organizers.

Part of the difficulty in organizing tech workers lies in the fact that most of society and a sizeable portion of the left do not view engineers as part of the working class.

But like the rest of the working class, tech workers sell their labor for a wage, and in exchange, produce a commodity, which their employers sells for a profit — i.e., more than the employer had to lay out for wages, raw materials and other costs — in contrast to those who receive a salary for managing others or who passively acquire income due to their existing ownership of wealth.

As in other industries, we observe that technology firms constantly seek to extract as much labor from employees as possible (by getting workers to put in as many hours as possible as efficiently as possible) while making costs as low as possible (by pushing down wages, benefits and working conditions).

While the level of education required and the scarcity of those seeking tech work means firms are compelled to offer higher salaries, tech workers are, like other workers, exploited in the production process.

There’s also a drive to de-skill tech work — just as has happened in other industries. Examples of this de-skilling include the simplification of coding languages, the standardization of coding practices, and the automation of software maintenance.

Although software coders may earn higher wages than many other workers, they still have the same relationship to the means of production, which implies a shared interest in fighting exploitation that will only become more pronounced as software production becomes further deskilled over time.

***

Thus, it’s reasonable to think that tech workers, given their incentive to fight back against their exploitation under capitalism, might even embrace the strike weapon. At this time, though, the strike seems distant from the current consciousness in tech.

Furthermore, generating labor struggle in response to Rekognition presents the added challenge of relating to a broader working-class and social concern, rather than a workplace issue. Broader community organizing, therefore, seems essential in sparking opposition to Amazon’s licensing of Rekognition.

Fortunately, this has already begun — witness the press conference about Rekognition outside of Amazon led by ACLU of Washington, Council on American-Islamic Relations WA, and several others. Community organizing in Washington County, Oregon, and Orlando against their police departments’ use of this technology could add helpful pressure.

Despite these challenges, some aspects of tech offer unique organizing advantages. Many tech companies originated in an economic situation that promised high profit margins, given the newness of products and the automation of services done via manual labor. These high profit margins implied a flexibility that allowed companies to achieve immense success without the bad PR that accompanies cutting corners.

This is emphasized by Google’s moto “Don’t be evil,” which it not-so-coincidentally abandoned in 2016. The idea of making lots of money while making the world a better place fused the counter-culture of the 1960s with a frontier business ethos that has been labeled “the Californian Ideology.”

However, as competition between tech companies increases and their profit margins decrease, the contradictions of this philosophy have come to the surface. Companies are being forced to choose between profits and morals, a choice that unsurprisingly favors the former.

Google’s don’t-be-evil mantra, though formally abandoned, was still enough to give employees leverage to challenge the military drone development in Project Maven. Google workers organized thousands of employees to express their anger at the project, and a dozen employees resigned over the issue.

In doing so, they were able to create enough bad PR for Google to force it to come to terms with this contradiction. Ultimately, Google had to cancel the drone contract. While this PR may seem insignificant — it seems unlikely that people are going to stop using Google search based on this — Google’s management has other concerns: in particular, employee recruitment and retention.

Many tech workers have invested themselves in the idea that their work should make the world a better place, and Google worried about losing talent if they didn’t address the outcry.

Analyzing the value of Google’s brand from an employee recruitment perspective is difficult to measure, but given that the Maven contract only promised Google $9 million per year, it is no surprise that they chose to abandon it rather than risk losing more employees over this issue.

***

The prospect for Amazon employees to scuttle Rekognition may not be as rosy. Google promoted itself as an ethical corporation; Amazon has never held itself up to such standards.

It has had its share of negative media coverage — from the New York Times coverage of its cutthroat corporate culture in corporate jobs to poor working conditions at Amazon warehouses. Amazon has similarly demonstrated steadfast resistance to union drives.

Related to this is the fact that a majority of Amazon’s 566,000 employees are not in corporate or software jobs, but instead working in warehouses and logistics. So the subset of Amazon employees who bought into this “Californian Ideology” is smaller than at Google. Lastly, in the retail market, the likes of Walmart set a low bar for Amazon to match in terms of labor standards.

Another source of added difficulty at Amazon is the sheer value of surveillance contracts with government agencies. The Rekognition website details prices ranging from $.0004 to $.001 per image processed (it is cheaper for larger contracts), and $.10 per minute of video processed for facial recognition purposes.

Considering the billions of images and billions of minutes of video that governments might eventually license for, the numbers quickly add up. Remembering the NSA’s multibillion-dollar budget, surveillance is big business. Forcing Amazon to cancel these contracts will require far more than it took to get Google to cancel their $9 million-per-year drone contract.

Finally, there’s the issue that Rekognition still isn’t familiar to many at Amazon. When I asked Amazon workers what they thought of Amazon’s licensing of Rekognition to police, the majority of Amazon employees said they had not heard of the service.

In an effort to spread knowledge of Rekognition and its risks, while simultaneously putting pressure on Amazon, employees began internally circulating a letter to Jeff Bezos modeled on the Google employees’ letter about Project Maven.

It remains to be seen how much traction this letter might get, but the fact that it’s now public knowledge that workers at Amazon have begun such a discussion is an encouraging sign about the future prospects for resistance by tech workers.

The post The Surveillance Economy and Its Discontents appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Memorial for Lynching Victims a First Step Toward Reconciliation

Tue, 07/10/2018 - 13:45

When she saw the name Ed Bracy on a placard in the The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, 68-year-old Sophia Bracy Harris felt goosebumps. “I just went frozen for a moment,” she recalls. This was the relative she remembers hearing about as a child growing up in Elmore County, just north of Montgomery, Alabama. The story goes, Ed Bracy was hanged for his work organizing tenant farmers in the mid-1930s.

“In that moment, I was aware that this was a family member, that this was a direct connection to me,” she says.

More than 4,000 African Americans were lynched from 1877 to 1950, giving rise to The Great Migration — as over 6 million African Americans left the South to resettle in the North and West. African Americans account for some 70 percent of recorded lynchings and nearly 80 percent of lynchings that occurred in the American South, according to the NAACP. The lynchings by White mobs instilled fear in Black communities, and that history continues to haunt African Americans today.

Built by the Equal Justice Initiative, a project founded by author and civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson, the Montgomery memorial is the first site to focus on the legacy of slavery and lynching. Alabama was one of the largest slave-owning states in the country. And as both the cradle of the Confederacy and the birthplace of the civil rights movement, the location is appropriate. Nearby is the indoor venue the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration. Both opened to the public earlier this year. And last month, EJI opened its bookstore and cafe with a reflection and sharing space for visitors.

African American history “casts a shadow across the American landscape,” Stevenson explained in a press statement. “This shadow cannot be lifted until we shine the light of truth on the destructive violence that shaped our nation, traumatized people of color, and compromised our commitment to the rule of law and to equal justice.”

It took over three years to create the $15 million project, which opened in April. With the museum drawing over 3,000 visitors a week, the city of Montgomery has already seen an economic impact since its opening. The museum and city officials expect the numbers to grow this summer.

Set on a 6-acre site with 800-foot monuments representing the counties and states where people were lynched, the memorial first greets visitors with images of barely clothed enslaved Africans in chains, followed by a history of slavery, lynching, and racial terror. The names of lynching victims are engraved on columns, some hanging from the ceiling, evoking Black bodies hanged from trees decades ago.

Bracy Harris was an adviser on the memorial’s planning. She lived through the segregated South, narrowly escaping the firebombing of her family home by the Ku Klux Klan when she was 16 years old. She and her siblings often feared for their lives while traveling back and forth to school given the frequency of racially motivated attacks.

A White bus driver who would often try to stop attacks from older White students on the journey home was her only positive interaction with a White person until she began to attend summer camps out of state and joined the multicultural coalitions organizing around civil rights.

“From day to day we didn’t know if we were going to be lynched on the way home,” Bracy Harris reflected. “He was the only White friend we thought we had. We sat at the front of the bus for protection, and you could tell that this man cared about our well-being.”

She never thought she’d see such a memorial in her lifetime, that there could be a place of reckoning for generations of racial trauma: the violent racism she faced as a child, the suffering endured by all those who came before her, and the promise of healing.

As intended, the memorial acts as a hub for truth-telling and reconciliation for Bracy Harris and countless others.

Andrea Rabinowitz, a 91-year-old Jewish New Yorker who grew up on the edge of Harlem, was with Bracy Harris when she discovered her uncle’s name in the exhibit. They have been friends for over 30 years. Though she says she can never fully grasp the historical pain of African Americans, her visit resonated deeply after a lifetime of civil rights activism.

“It brings up anger, sadness, fear, and all kinds of emotions … just overwhelming pathos,” she says.

Former CBS anchor-turned-sculptor Dana King was among the artists selected by Stevenson to contribute to the memorial. Her piece, “Guided by Justice,” pays tribute to the women of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Each of the three figures represents the possible range of a woman’s life: a young mother-to-be, an educator, and a wise elder. King sculpted the women in the likeness of her great-grandmother, a freed slave; her aunt, an educator in segregated South; and an unidentified woman, who she says is “very remarkable.”

“It was a way for me to honor them in a way that they had never been honored in life … it’s the most personal thing I’ve ever done,” King says. “As a sculptor you’re creating a visual that represents life. I want people to look at these sculptures and see their mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, and cousins.”

King says it is with the power and strength of the last line of the Maya Angelou poem “And Still I Rise” that she sculpted those pieces: “I am the dream and the hope of the slave.”

The post Memorial for Lynching Victims a First Step Toward Reconciliation appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Intentional Chaos: Trump and the Global NATO Alliance

Tue, 07/10/2018 - 13:37

As the world gears up for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit this week in Brussels and Donald Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin scheduled for July 16, there is uncertainty and anxiety across the world about the outcomes of these encounters. Will Trump swing his wrecking ball at NATO allies? Can he engage in serious negotiations with his Russian counterpart to extend the New START Treaty and save the increasingly endangered Intermediate Nuclear Forces Agreement, which ended the Cold War?

Contrary to popular opinion, NATO needs to be recognized as an imperial military alliance that includes a first-strike nuclear war fighting doctrine. Consistent with what Zbigniew Brzezinski later described as the geopolitical requirements for US domination of Eurasia, and thus the world, NATO’s first secretary general explained that the alliance’s purpose was to keep Germany down, Russia out and the US in. With the negotiation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 1987, the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the more publicly articulated rationale for the alliance — defending Western Europe against Soviet communism — had disappeared.

Rather than being retired and becoming a subject for historians of the Cold War, NATO was repurposed. Contrary to the 1991 US-Russia agreement that permitted German reunification on West German terms in exchange for the commitment not to move NATO a centimeter closer to Moscow, President Clinton launched NATO’s expansion to Russia’s borders. Then, with Russia at its military nadir and European integration moving forward, the 2010 Lisbon NATO summit transformed the alliance’s primary mission to focusing on “out-of-area operations”: Securing the free flow of minerals and money to the Global North became the NATO’s focus.

Following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s revitalization of autocratic — if corrupt — order in Russia, the Maidan protests and coup in Ukraine, and Russia’s annexation of Crimea and covert military intervention in Eastern Ukraine, NATO’s primary mission changed once again. Preparing for a possible great power war with Russia or China became the alliance’s priority. Beginning in 2016, NATO forces were dispatched to Poland and the Baltics, massive military exercises followed there, in the Black and Baltic Seas, and even in ostensibly neutral nations like Sweden. And NATO’s military ties with its “major non-alliance partner” Japan were deepened.

If we understand NATO to be an expression and instrument of US foreign and military policies, we need to pay close attention to the ambitions and policies of those who now set its policies.

The Trump Doctrine and Uncertainty in Brussels

Donald Trump, whose reign is increasingly and properly seen in the tradition of European fascism and early Nazi rule, was recently described in the pages of The New York Times as “trying to remake America … into a selfish, dishonest country, with no close friends, totally unpredictable, free of any commitment to enduring values, ready to stab any ally in the back …  if it doesn’t do our bidding and much more comfortable with mafia-like dictators than elected democrats.”

As we have seen from his insults to the leaders of the G7, his efforts to topple the Merkel government in Germany and the repeated shocks to Japan, Trump has made it clear that “America First” means that if the US is to have allies, they must accept their roles as the vassal states Brzezinski thought they should be, and that US commitments cannot be trusted.

John Feffer of Foreign Policy In Focus wrote that the “Trump doctrine” is not unilateralism but “unileaderism” which “strikes a chord with a segment of the American public. It’s not just the Russians who crave an ‘iron fist’ leader,” Feffer writes. “Tump’s tactics run afoul of the basic laws of geopolitics: identifying long term goals, developing corresponding strategies, and cultivating key allies to achieve those goals. The allies that Trump has cultivated — Poland, Hungary, Russia, North Korea, the Philippines — don’t advance any particular national security interests. They reflect only the personal preferences of Trump himself.”

Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic magazine polled White House staff to learn how those who are developing and implementing Trump’s foreign and military policies would name the Trump doctrine. The two most telling responses were: “Permanent destabilization creates American advantage,” and “We’re America, Bitch!”

This leads to uncertainty about how Trump, with National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at his side, will wield his “unileaderism” wrecking ball at the NATO summit. How will Trump reconcile his relationship with Putin with the agenda of the NATO summit, which will address, among other issues, the security threat posed by Russia? Even before the summit, Trump is demanding massive and unwanted increases in European military spending, saying that the current arrangements with the European allies are “no longer sustainable.”

The answer lies in the imperial systems built over generations. In his new book The World as It Is, Obama’s Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes explains one of the challenges facing any US president: From special operations warriors in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the delivery of warplanes around the world, the institutions of the national security state operate “on their own momentum — rooted in a vast complex of deployments, alliances, international agreements and budget decisions that could have been made a month, a year or decades ago…. Every agency has its own interests, which don’t change with the presidency.”

How should we understand NATO’s “out-of-area” operations and its globalization? Although they had precedents in the 1990s with the participation of seven NATO nations joining the US in its 1991 Gulf War, the no-fly zone and bombing of Bosnia and the 1994 creation of the Mediterranean Dialog, out-of-area operations began in full force with the 1998 Kosovo War against Serbia. As Michael J. Glennon wrote at the time, the US and NATO “with little discussion and less fanfare … effectively abandoned the old UN Charter rules that strictly limit international intervention in local conflicts … in favor of a vague new system that is much more tolerant of military intervention but has few hard and fast rules.”

In 2001, following the September 11 attacks, the administration of George W. Bush invoked NATO’s Article 5 of the NATO alliance, which made it the responsibility of all Alliance members to consider 9/11 an attack against their country, and to join the US in responding.

In his recent definitive history of the CIA and its war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Steve Coll writes that in addition to destroying al-Qaeda and the Taliban, “A secondary aim for the US in invoking Article 5, was to prove that the compact of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization … had meaning, and that N.A.T.O. could operate if necessary outside its defensive perimeter in the West.”

By 2002, the Bush administration concluded that, “There are no more threats to NATO from within Europe, but from a nexus of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.” Consequently, the administration pressed for the creation of a NATO “expeditionary force, a strike force, that can move fast.” And, by late 2003, with Kabul and other key Afghan population centers thought to be secure from enemy combatants, the UN authorized the gradual expansion of NATO’s mission. By 2006, with the Taliban again on the offensive, the entire country was a theater for NATO operations.

In 2011, driven by Hillary Clinton and Samantha Power, we witnessed NATO’s catastrophic war on Libya, and the rest is history.

NATO: The Global Alliance

How global is NATO? It spans the planet, providing the US with military allies, military bases for wars and military interventions from the Middle East and Africa to Latin America and East Asia, as well as ensuring markets for weapons sales and providing access to cutting edge technologies. In each case, deep geopolitical and military calculations have been involved in the invitations and decisions to collaborate with NATO. Not surprisingly, given its size and the competing ambitions of its elites — as we see today in Turkey’s flirtations with Russia and the pressure Trump claims to be placing on Pakistan — NATO partnerships come with inevitable contradictions.

In Europe, prospective future members of the alliance are members of the “Partnership for Peace” program. Countries in this program, which are first in line for full NATO membership and which are already deeply engaged with NATO militarily include Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Finland, Georgia and Ireland.

The Europe-Atlantic Partnership Council is a forum for dialogue and consultation, and provides the overall political framework for cooperation between NATO member states and 21 partner countries, and for a time included Russian participation.

Established in 2004, the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative engages four Gulf states to counter weapons of mass destruction, counterterrorism, training and education, participation in NATO exercises, promotion of military interoperability and disaster preparedness.

The Mediterranean Dialogue, established shortly after the first Gulf War, provides a framework for US and European military and diplomatic influence with seven Middle East and North African nations. The rationale for its creation, consultations and joint military exercises was “the understanding that security in the Mediterranean is vital to assure the security of Europe.”

And Partners Across the Globe, established at the 2010 NATO summit in Lisbon, brings together a disparate group of middle and lesser powers in the Asia-Pacific the Middle East and Latin America to extend NATO’s reach and capabilities. Global partners have fought in Afghanistan, joined anti-piracy campaigns, and collaborated in anti-terrorism, intelligence sharing and cyber defense efforts.

Colombia is NATO’s newest Global Partner and the first Global Partner in Latin America. It had earlier sent troops for training in Germany and Italy and dispatched troops to the Horn of Africa. By 2013, it had agreed “to cooperate in intelligence sharing, military-training exercises,” and in so-called humanitarian interventions.

Additionally, the United States recognizes 15 nations and Taiwan as Major Non-NATO Allies. While this status does not in all cases include mutual defense pacts, it provides military collaborations and financial support not available to other non-NATO states.

NATO’s expansion and the partnerships created in the post-Cold War era reinforce US and European ambitions and interests in the Global South. NATO’s expansion has included deployment of a multinational force in Romania to counter Russia along its eastern flank and to check a growing Russian presence in the Black Sea. Last year, NATO jets “confronted a plane carrying Russia’s defense minister in neutral airspace over the Baltic Sea.” This, of course, does not absolve Russia of its military provocations, which together with those of NATO and the US risk accidents and miscalculations that could escalate beyond control.

Where does this leave us? With untethered Trump now focused on his tête-à-tête with Vladimir Putin, which will likely overshadow the NATO summit, the centrifugal forces within the global alliance are at play, and anything seems possible.

The post Intentional Chaos: Trump and the Global NATO Alliance appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Media, Hardliners Play Up North Korean Nuclear “Deception” Claim

Tue, 07/10/2018 - 13:34

Just as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was about to leave for denuclearization negotiations in Pyongyang, a spate of media stories reported that North Korea is deceiving the Trump administration by seeking to hide some of its nuclear facilities.

Those stories suggest an effort by some Trump administration officials, led by National Security Adviser John Bolton, to derail the US-North Korea negotiations by pressuring Trump and Pompeo to embrace the narrative that Kim Jong Un is deceiving the US. Before becoming national security adviser, Bolton had made no secret of his opposition to any Trump effort to reach an agreement with North Korea.

On July 1, The New York Times reported a conflict between Bolton and Pompeo over the timetable for denuclearization. The story said Bolton was determined to limit the period during which North Korea would be required to substantially disarm to one year, while Pompeo had publicly suggested it could take the remainder of Trump’s first term.

That same day on “Face the Nation,” Bolton said Pompeo would be “discussing” with North Koreans “how to dismantle all of their [weapons of mass destruction] and ballistic missile programs in a year.” But Bolton made it clear that it would be based on a “full disclosure” by North Korea of all its activities and facilities.

Over the weekend, Pompeo presented a US demand to North Korean senior official Kim Yong Chol: A declaration by North Korea of all its nuclear- and missile-related activities before any other steps in the timetable for a denuclearization agreement.

In the 48 hours before Bolton’s “Face the Nation” appearance, however, both NBC News and The Washington Post reported that anonymous officials were touting an intelligence assessment as evidence of North Korean intention to deceive the administration by maintaining one or more covert enrichment facilities.

The timing of the two stories, appearing within hours on June 29 and 30, suggests that the decision to leak the intelligence assessment to the two news outlets was part of an effort to create pressure on Trump to integrate the narrative of deception by Kim Jong Un into his negotiating policy.

The NBC News story set the stage for such a narrative when it reported on June 29 that, “U.S. intelligence agencies believe that North Korea has increased its production of fuel for nuclear weapons at multiple secret sites in recent months — and that Kim Jong Un may try to hide those facilities as he seeks more concessions in nuclear talks with the Trump administration, U.S. officials told NBC News.”

The story quoted “one U.S. official briefed on the latest intelligence” as saying, “There is absolutely unequivocal evidence that they are trying to deceive the U.S.” NBC reporters cited “four other officials familiar with the intelligence assessment” as saying the assessment “concludes that there is more than one secret site” for enrichment.

The Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima and Joby Warrick reported on June 30 that the intelligence assessment in question had come from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). The assessment had concluded, as summarized by the Post, that “North Korean officials are exploring ways to deceive Washington about the number of warheads and missiles, and the types and numbers of facilities they have, believing that the United States is not aware of the full range of their activities.”

The DIA is known within intelligence circles for often taking hardline stances when it comes to assessing issues bearing on the interests of the US military. A former senior intelligence official with extensive experience dealing with DIA assessments told Truthout that the DIA “would tend to put a worse-case spin” on any analysis of North Korean intentions regarding information on its facilities “because of its military orientation.”

The Washington Post reporters seemed content to rely on the interpretation provided by four officials — presumably the same four from which NBC had gotten its picture of the report. But the Post story went even further than NBC, reporting that North Korea has “operated a secret underground uranium enrichment site known as Kangson.” The Post had already reported the alleged secret nuclear site in May 2018, based on a report by David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security and the assurances of three officials.

But the information in Albright’s May 25 report does not support the sensational claim of an unacknowledged enrichment site called “Kangson.” It shows that the allegation came several years ago from a North Korean defector who had said he “worked near the site,” clearly implying that he had never been inside it and could only infer its purpose.

Citing another major problem with the evidence, Albright wrote, “[S]ome aspects of the building are not consistent with a centrifuge plant.” Senior officials in at least one government don’t buy the idea that the facility is a centrifuge plant, according to Albright.

Albright explained that the key argument for the claim that the site is a covert enrichment facility is that there was no reason for North Korea to have waited until 2009 to begin work on the Yongbyon facility. But the North Korean regime had a compelling policy reason for waiting until 2009 to begin construction on the facility. From 2005 through 2008, North Korea was still hoping that the George W. Bush administration would negotiate and then carry out an agreement under which economic and political relations between the two governments would be normalized. Construction on the Yongbyon facility began only after the Bush administration had refused in late 2008 to go back to the original October 2007 agreement.

Albright noted in his report that other alleged covert enrichment facilities had been suggested to his organization, but that he viewed them as even “less credible than the information about Kangson.”

Joel Wit is the founder of 38 North and was deeply involved in the negotiation and implementation of the Agreed Framework accord with North Korea from 1993 through 2000. In a telephone briefing for reporters on July 9, Wit said of the leak of “deception” report, “It is not unreasonable to suspect that it could be a deliberate leak to upset the apple cart.”

Bolton is known to be a master of bureaucratic political tactics to advance his policy agenda, and waged a highly successful campaign to kill the Agreed Framework negotiated with North Korea by the Clinton administration in 1994. And a key to Bolton’s success in such maneuvering was his cultivation of elements of the intelligence community. Bolton established personal relations with not only the senior officials of the various intelligence agencies, but also with some individual analysts. In mid-2002, he got hold of an assessment on North Korea’s shopping for large-scale centrifuge-related materials, which he used to pursue his attack on the Agreed Framework. Bolton later called it “the hammer I had been looking for to shatter the Agreed Framework.”

In mid-2004, his office leaked satellite images of sites at Iran’s Parchin military testing facility to ABC News with the suggestion that they showed that Iran had sites for nuclear weapons-related tests, generating a story about suspicious Iranian testing sites.

Bolton appears to be repeating that modus operandi since he entered the White House in April. Within weeks, someone leaked to Albright the latest intelligence assessment on the alleged secret enrichment facility, which in turn generated The Washington Post story in May. Just over a month later came the leak of the DIA assessment alleging a North Korean plan to deceive the United States.

The strategy of demanding that North Korea admit to secret nuclear sites, and when it refuses, demanding that negotiations be terminated, may appear to those with short memories as offering a good chance of political success. But this is not the first time US intelligence has become convinced that North Korea was maintaining a covert nuclear site, nor the first time that the US made a major issue of such a claim. It backfired on the Clinton administration when North Korea agreed to US inspections of one site in 1999 and 2000, for instance.

In mid-1998, satellite photographs and other intelligence led the Clinton administration to tell congressional leaders and the South Korean government privately that they were convinced that a site with tunnels carved into a mountain at Kumchang-ri was intended to house a new reactor and plutonium reprocessing center. But Pyongyang agreed to an inspection of the site — not once, but twice. The US inspections in June 1999 and again in May 2000 concluded that the purpose of the tunnel complex was to vent fumes from an underground uranium milling plant.

The post Media, Hardliners Play Up North Korean Nuclear “Deception” Claim appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Is It Time for Parents to Unionize?

Mon, 07/09/2018 - 16:11

Think of Alissa Quart’s new book, Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America, as “What to Expect When You’re Expecting Under Late Capitalism.” Of the more than 50,000 books listed on Amazon under “Parenting,” few engage as deeply with the economic pressures today’s parents must navigate: precarious work, a shortage of high-quality, affordable daycare and rising costs of living combined with stagnant wages.

Quart, the executive editor of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, also profiles efforts to improve the lives of parents and care workers –– and offers suggestions about what’s still to be done. She spoke with In These Times about the challenges of organizing parents, why we’re so attached to the fantasy of middle-class life and why she considers her book “radical self-help.”

In These Times: I’m interested in the theme of self-blame that runs through Squeezed. You write that after your daughter was born, and it became clear that you and your husband’s freelance earnings weren’t going to be enough to raise her, you began to blame yourself. Why did you have that reaction?

Alissa Quart: I think we have a tendency to blame ourselves, or we blame others. It’s binary. You can see that tendency in the way some disenfranchised groups now blame immigrants, say, and then on the other side, there’s a lot of rhetoric of self-punishment in American culture that you’re responsible for your own success and if you don’t make it then there’s something wrong with you.

The self-blame and guilt discourse comes from conservatives but it also emanates off of a certain kind of bootstrap self-help, like Lean In.  “Why aren’t you asking for a raise, why aren’t you earning more money, why aren’t you doing more for your child?” There’s a perfectionism that places a lot of pressure on parents.

What role do employers and the welfare state, such as it is, play in reinforcing parents’ tendency towards self-blame?

We don’t have the policies in place that make parenthood easier. You look at parental leave in all these other countries –– in Scandinavia, but even in a place like Canada. In Quebec, maternity leave insurance covers 18 weeks of paid leave, plus five weeks for the father, at 70 percent of the parent’s income. Daycare after that is $7 to $20 a day. You don’t have to go to Scandinavia, there are lots of examples. In South Africa, women pay less for a vaginal birth than they do in the United States.

As for employers, there’s still a lot of discrimination against pregnant women. The rate at which pregnancy discrimination cases are filed has increased. There are all kinds of ways in which employers make the experience of pregnancy and motherhood harder, like when women are not permitted to pump in a clean and private place at their place of work. They’re penalizing parents who are trying to do everything right and play by the rules.

And do you think these parents who try to do everything right and play by the rules are politicized by their experiences?

I would like that to be the case, but I feel like people turn it inward. As we’ve talked about, there’s a strong tendency to blame themselves. And there’s a well-behavedness among liberal, middle-class parents. These aren’t people who are necessarily accustomed to seeing themselves as precarious. Also, among mothers in particular, there can be a discomfort around advocating for themselves and making complaints.

They also have a tendency to relativize suffering, to say, “Well, think of all the people who have it worse than me.” But the middle class’s earnings, expenditures, and discomforts make it not what it once was, and make it a much more precarious place to be.

In the book, you focus on the struggles of middle-class parents. Why did you choose to frame the book that way, rather than focusing on parents who are members of the working poor?

To be fair, I include some members of the lower middle class or the working class. Some of them are aspiring to be middle class. Some are also in a symbiotic relationship with middle-class parents, like daycare owners or caregivers. I wanted to get at the way in which we are in our class positions like matryoshka dolls. There’s sort of a nesting doll effect. In terms of paid caregivers, for instance, the new anxiety and deprivation of the parents who use their services and their care work is affecting them directly.

In other words, I didn’t want the book to be just another one of those middle-class mums books that don’t look at, say, the care workers who are propping up the middle-class parents.

But yes, I focused on the middle class for the most part and the reason I did so was that it’s the class is always referred to politically as tumbling down or on shaky ground but the counters of that vulnerability, what it looks like up close, isn’t explored granularly. I wanted to do a deep dive into those stories. While the middle class is used as collateral in political campaigns, for instance, politicians aren’t really responding to their needs. After all, there’s so much challenging middle-class life, from the weakening of unions to the rising cost of healthcare and education. There are so many sops thrown to corporate interests––and that’s not just the Republicans, that’s both parties. The people who talk about the middle class aren’t upholding their interests in the legislature.

Parents aren’t generally unionized or part of collective organizations that are meant to advocate for them. What forms of collective organizing might be able to help parents?

I love that idea. The people in this book need that sort of thing. And there are plenty of examples of white collar organizing happening right now that I write about in Squeezed. One thing we’re doing with the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, the nonprofit I direct, is providing financial support to journalists, who were formerly middle-class. We have a Denver Post fund and a Gothamist fund set up to help employees of those companies, which have been destroyed by a hedge fund and a billionaire, Joe Ricketts.

There’s also a lot of organizing around adjuncts, people with PhDs who are precariously employed and may be earning poverty wages that I include in my book. It’s the result of the ways that middle-class people have become what I call the “middle precariat.” What it means to be part of the category of middle class has really changed. There’s been a shift in the imagination of what the middle class is. We think of it as a fixed sign, as a way of containing and satisfying aspiration. But the possibilities of middle-class life are different now. We need to make that mental shift. I think these white collar workers who are organizing, like adjuncts, made that shift because they had to.

Why do you think people are so attached to this vision of middle-class existence, which is historically very recent and was also always based upon the exclusion of many groups, including people of color and women?

I think it’s a fantasy space, in a weird way. It’s become synonymous with the American dream. People see it as a rung of the ladder at which a person is not overreaching –– you’re making it but in a pleasant way.

What are some of the challenges of organizing parents?

Some of it is time. You have lots of overwork, for instance, what I call the forever clock. It’s happening in lower-middle-class professions, like nurses’ aides and it has extended to middle class people who work in HR or IT or law. They’re working much more than they once did, and characters in the book have like two or three hours a week, not even, to be with their kids.

In other words, how would parents have time to even meet with other parents?

In addition, among women and mothers especially, there’s a lot of shame associated with struggling as a parent. It’s supposed to be something natural, and you’re supposed to be able to do this yourself. But many of the struggles parents have are around money, and having wealth and income is not some failure of natural instinct.

Also, I think the competition for good education pits people against one another. Good schools and good daycare are seen as a scarce resource you have to fight over. Indeed, the moments I found most moving while doing research for the book were the opposite of that –– people coming together and sharing resources. In the book, I talk about parents who are co-housing and co-parenting. But I want to say, I don’t recommend these alone as a broad social solution. After all, just taking care of ourselves is quietist. In the end, we need societal change.

Squeezed is a book about parents, and how they’re being threatened by stagnant wages, automation and all these other things. But in that way, it’s actually a book about all of us. What’s the relationship between parents’ struggles and everyone else’s struggles?

I think that’s true. I used to teach at the Columbia journalism school and I would tell my students that every book has to have a sentence that motivates it. I think mine has something to do with what happens when American capitalism hits family life, how it distorts it and how we overcome these distortions.

In the book, I’m really concerned with that and how to make that experience better for parents and kids.

My hook for this book was that it would speak to parents in a different way than most parenting books. It’s offering them a labor-focused account of parenthood. Most of the other parenting books don’t talk about the pressures of capitalism that now accompanies parenthood.

I see my book as self-help to get people to stop blaming themselves and start taking systematic action and to realize that the system is stacked against them in some ways.

Call it “radical self-help”.

The post Is It Time for Parents to Unionize? appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Human Rights Lawyer Jennifer Harbury on How Trump Is Punishing Cartels’ Victims

Mon, 07/09/2018 - 16:07

A federal judge will hold a hearing today on whether to delay Tuesday’s deadline that mandated the reunification of all children under the age of 5 whom the Trump administration separated from their parents at the border. The Trump administration is claiming it needs more time to match children with their parents, including at least 19 parents who have already been deported. The American Civil Liberties Union says less than half of separated children under the age of 5 will be reunited by the Tuesday deadline. As Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy crackdown continues, we speak with human rights lawyer Jennifer Harbury about how US foreign policy has led to the violence that Central Americans are fleeing, and what happens when people follow the US government’s instructions and attempt to apply for political asylum at a legal port of entry. Jennifer Harbury has lived in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas for more than 40 years. She works with people fleeing violence in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, and has been active in the response to the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: As we continue to look at President Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy at the US border, we turn now to Texas-based human rights lawyer Jennifer Harbury, who’s lived in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas for more than 40 years. Her husband, Efraín Bámaca Velásquez, a Mayan comandante, was disappeared after he was captured by the Guatemalan army in the ’80s. After a long protest campaign, Harbury found US involvement in the murder and cover-up of her husband. Now she continues to work with people fleeing violence in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, who have come to the United States seeking asylum, and makes connections between US foreign policy and people seeking political asylum in Central America.

We spoke just a week ago in Brownsville, Texas, when I met with her right there along the border. I started by asking her what happens when people follow the US government’s instructions and attempt to apply for political asylum at a legal port of entry.

JENNIFER HARBURY: We’re part of various treaties on refugees, and we executed those into our own domestic laws. It’s in there. And it says the person, under 8 USC. 1225, goes up to the port of entry, knocks on the door and literally says, “I’m in danger. I need to apply for asylum.” And as I said earlier, they then go to a credible fear interview and then to a detention center, initially, and they’ll be put in proceedings before an immigration judge. The way—the norm that has always been in place for either group of people, whether they went by the river or went across the bridge, is that if they’ve got perfectly good identification, they’ve never committed a crime, they’re not a threat to anyone, they’re just on the run from the cartels, and they have legal status relatives, citizen or LPR, who will take them in and sponsor them and pay all their expenses—

AMY GOODMAN: What does LPR mean?

JENNIFER HARBURY: Legal permanent resident. If they have all of that, then they have always been released. Now, since Trump came in—it had started declining even before Trump, but then it just took a bellyflop. And it’s part of the campaign of punishment, not of cartel people, but of the victims of the cartels. So if you go in and ask for asylum, pass your credible fear test, you’re detained. And the conditions are horrific. We had one woman who had had surgery to repair her pelvis, the one that was kidnapped. And they gave her such terribly—

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, the one who was kidnapped?

JENNIFER HARBURY: I had—as I had stated in our other segment, she had gone north with her 8-year-old daughter, fleeing the cartels. And as they neared Reynosa on the border, their van was pursued. And it flipped over and crashed. Her daughter was crushed to death, 8 years old. She suffered, the mother, a terrible fracture of her pelvis, her femur, her arm, and a big gash around her throat, where she went through the windshield. It could have taken her head off. She was several months in the hospital in Reynosa, hobbled across the bridge on a walker and told, last year, “We don’t do that anymore. Go away.” She went back and was kidnapped at the foot of the bridge. All—anyone looking like a refugee is going to be kidnapped, because the cartels have figured out you’ve got someone up north that loves you and is going to go find the money. That’s what happened.

We then were able to bring her across. She applied for what’s called parole, similar to bond, and was eligible. She had eligibility for two categories: severe medical condition plus many legal relatives eager to take her, and no criminal background. Denied. She was in there for close to a year. And the surgical site began to reopen, given the terrible conditions in—

AMY GOODMAN: In her abdomen.

JENNIFER HARBURY: In her hip.

AMY GOODMAN: Pelvis area.

JENNIFER HARBURY: In her hip—began to open again. And that requires immediate IV antibiotics. But they gave her such low—inadequate pills for antibiotics that she became resistant to all of them. Then the infection went into her thigh bone, and she basically was going septic. After a year, they kind of threw her at me, as she was in a wheelchair in horrible pain. I was able to get her to her relatives. She’s undergone three surgeries, and they didn’t have to amputate her leg. That’s how we’re treating the victims of the cartels.

AMY GOODMAN: Wait. To understand something, Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, said domestic violence and gang violence will no longer be accepted as grounds for political asylum. So, she would not be accepted under—

JENNIFER HARBURY: That’s correct. And a woman whose case I—whose children I represent in another case—this was back from ’09, but it’s a very typical case, actually, and it shows you what’s going to happen now. She had an extremely abusive partner, from Reynosa. They grew up almost next door to each other.

AMY GOODMAN: And this is just over the border in Mexico.

JENNIFER HARBURY: Just over the river. And he beat her so often and then tried to burn the trailer they were living in, with her and the kids inside it, that she went to the police, got protective orders, and he got deported back to Reynosa and immediately joined the cartels. And all her relatives said, “He’s talking about how he’s going to murder you. He’s going to burn you. He’s driving around with the cartels with these heavy weapons. Don’t ever come back.”

She was stopped by police after her waitressing shift, and they said, you know, faulty brake light or something—a very typical excuse—and was immediately turned over to Border Patrol, with all of her friends screaming, “Don’t send her back! She won’t survive the week.” She was begging and crying. Before the courts were even open and before she could contact any lawyer, just at dawn, she was forced back across the bridge into Reynosa. And five days later, they found her incinerated. And her children have to live with that. There was a child that was 10, that is suicidal, off and on. And that’s our fault.

AMY GOODMAN: In the case of the woman that you describe called Laura, who was forced back—

JENNIFER HARBURY: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: We had Sarah Stillman on, who did a piece for The New Yorkerabout this.

JENNIFER HARBURY: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: She told the Border Patrol agent, “You are sending me straight to the slaughterhouse.” And she said that her deportation—she said to him, “My death will be on your hands.” She turned to Agent Garza and said, “When I am found dead, it will be on your conscience.”

JENNIFER HARBURY: That’s exactly what she said. And that was confirmed by two people who were deported with her. They were picked up with her in her car. They all went across the bridge together. And they all said the same thing. She was weeping and crying, desperate. You know—

AMY GOODMAN: And where was she found?

JENNIFER HARBURY: In Reynosa, in an incinerated car, just down near the river. The first—the second day, he found out she was there, and managed to—he rammed her car, because she was trying to find a coyote—

AMY GOODMAN: Her husband.

JENNIFER HARBURY: —to rush her across. And it’s $1,500 to get a—to pay the cartels for permission to cross. So her family was rounding up nickels and dimes, dollars, anything they could find. She went down to make arrangements, and he rammed her car, dragged her out of the car in front of her small child and nearly—and bit her ear off, basically. And her cousin, who is a very feisty woman, hit him with a log, and they escaped. And a few days after that, she was found unidentifiable. At first they didn’t know if the cadaver was male or female. But they all—the family immediately recognized the mark of the car. She had been strangled partially and burned. The cause of death was strangulation and burns. And she was tied to the steering wheel.

AMY GOODMAN: So, explain what you’re doing, how you’re fighting back.

JENNIFER HARBURY: Well, on many different fronts, right? For one thing, I want to make sure people make it to the door of the port of entry to ask for asylum. First they were all turned away last year. Then the American Immigration Council filed a class action, and then they stopped turning people away, you know, at least if they were with somebody else. They started doing that again just about a month ago, almost unilaterally across the United States border, just about every crossing.

In Reynosa and Roma, very close to here, something almost worse was happening. The refugee moms with their babies, and men who were terrified, and dads with their kids, came to the bridges, and they were told, “We’re full. Sit on the bridge and wait your turn.” And it’s—of course they’re full, because people are illegally being denied parole and bond once they’re taken into the system. So, some of them are in there for two years, two-and-a-half years, year and a half. And so, of course, you know, the places are full. But Border Patrol made all of those families—30 to 50 people, I counted—sit on the bridge, some of them 10 days, in Roma 16 days. It was 100 degrees out back then, and the heat factor—heat index was 108. Border Patrol agents would not let them sit in the Progreso waiting room, which holds a hundred people, is air-conditioned and has bathrooms. The people sitting on the bridge were not allowed to use the bathrooms. They had to go to a duty-free store, as long as it was open, until nightfall, and then I guess they used coffee cans. Church people, civilians from both sides of the river, we started running to those bridges with water, with Pedialyte, with Pampers, with extra clothes, trying to help them. And then, suddenly, they were gone, after Senator Merkley’s experience down here, having the police called on him because he wanted to check on the welfare of the children that were separated.

So, then what happened is Border Patrol stood at the middle of the bridge, three men across, big husky men usually, to make sure they had “papers,” quote-unquote, before they would be allowed onto the US half of the bridge. And if they had entered illegally into Mexico, didn’t have transit visas, or their transit visas had been stolen, they would call Mexican immigration and make them come up the bridge, grab the people and drag them back into Mexico to either jail or deport them.

So word went out about that really fast, and everybody ran to the coyotes to get across the river. Well, kids drown all the time in the river. You know, not long ago, a woman with two small children and an infant was on one of those rafts going across, and the 3-year-old fell in, and she couldn’t save them with the baby in her arms. So she was begging the coyote to stop. He wouldn’t. The child drowned. So we’ve driven them into the arms of these ruthless traffickers. A lot of the coyotes are now in Reynosa at least, selling people to the cartels. That way they have no cost, pure profit, and they get another tip from the cartels themselves. So we force them into danger.

And if they manage to get over here, now we punish them again by taking their kids away. If they go legally across the bridge, they face long-term detention in hideous prison-like conditions. And the truth is, it’s intended to force them to give up their claims for asylum, to which they are legally entitled to hearing in front of a judge, and just say, “OK, I don’t want asylum, after all. I’m going home.” One kid that we had was 18. His eldest brother was badly murdered, axe-murdered by the local cartels. The second brother fled to the United States and was deported back and killed shortly thereafter. The 18-year-old was turned away with his parents at the bridge several times, finally got across, and, after a year in prison-like conditions, said, “I can’t take it. I’m just going to go home. I’ll just try to survive.” And he went home. Another man with a bullet hole in his stomach went home.

And that’s what this administration wants. We want to drive them home. We’ll take your kids. We’ll imprison you for years. We’ll make you sit on the bridge and die of heat stroke. Whatever we’ve got to do, we’re going to drive you home.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain to someone like the former Houston police officer that we flew on a plane with yesterday coming here to Brownsville, who was asking, “Why should these illegal immigrants be allowed into our country?”

JENNIFER HARBURY: Well, I’ve said before, reason number one, we’re all human beings. We’re supposed to take care of each other. Jordan has something like 600,000 refugees in a population of 9 million. Now, that puts us to shame. Quite apart from the moral and ethical issues and our own heritage as Americans—my father arrived at Ellis Island when he was 11. I mean, this is who we are.

Quite aside from our national identity, our government helped to create the cartels. Most of the heads of the cartels are former military intelligence leaders who were trained in the United States, armed by the United States, worked carefully with the United States during the genocide era, as documented in the United Nations Truth Commission report. And as I said earlier, President Clinton ended up issuing an apology to the people of Guatemala. But we basically created this cadre of people and worked with them ’til the end of the genocide, which left 200,000 people murdered, not killed in the crossfire, and 660 Mayan villages wiped off the map. Those people, who are—

AMY GOODMAN: And you’re just talking about in Guatemala alone.

JENNIFER HARBURY: Guatemala alone. Those people, after the war ended, were looking around for something profitable. Most of them were already in the drug trade. Colonel Alpirez, Julio Roberto Alpirez, who was my husband—one of my husband’s torturers, was being paid for the information he gave about Everardo while he was torturing him. He got $44,000 from the CIA at a remote jungle base not long after a specific torture session. After the disclosures happened, he was flown to the United States, despite the fact that he was not eligible for any kind of visa, and lived with his entire family for 10 years not far from the CIA.

The post Human Rights Lawyer Jennifer Harbury on How Trump Is Punishing Cartels’ Victims appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

From CIA-Backed Wars to Cartel Violence: Inside the Roots of the Refugee Crisis

Mon, 07/09/2018 - 16:06

Across the United States, thousands of migrant children remain detained alone after the Trump administration forcibly separated them from their parents at the border. Yet, despite the news about the United States’ human rights abuses of migrants, asylum seekers keep risking the dangerous journey to the United States. Texas-based human rights lawyer Jennifer Harbury has lived in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas for more than 40 years and has long worked with people fleeing violence in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. She also knows intimately the US roots of this conflict. Her husband, Efraín Bámaca Velásquez, was a Mayan comandante and guerrilla who was disappeared after he was captured by the US-backed Guatemalan army in the 1980s. After a long campaign, she found there was US involvement in the cover-up of her husband’s murder and torture. We speak with Jennifer Harbury in Brownsville, Texas, about this history and this US involvement in today’s conflicts in Central America.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: I want you to tell that story of Everardo, of Efraín Bámaca Velásquez, your husband, for especially young people who maybe weren’t even born at that time. But to understand the roots of the violence today, talk about what happened. Your campaigning for him was, you know, one of the remarkable moments of protest, in your protest and also what you found out.

JENNIFER HARBURY: Well, as you said earlier, he was a Mayan Indian campesino. He had grown up starving. He was involved in the—what I call the Mayan resistance movement, which was part of the URNG resistance forces during the massacre campaign, etc., etc. He was captured alive. He was one of their highest-ranking officials, and he was captured alive on March the 12th, 1992, by the military. And they realized who he was and how much valuable intelligence he had. So, instead of—instead of killing him outright, which is what they did with 99.9 percent of the prisoners of war, they kept him alive, with the help of physicians, while they tortured him long term, with the goal of breaking him for his information. And I’m pretty sure, from the evidence I have in the CIAfiles, that he survived two-and-a-half to three years of torture at the hands of the military intelligence people. That team of his torturers, including the former president of Guatemala, they were all intelligence paid officials for the military who were also working for the CIA.

And I set out to search for him as soon as he disappeared, because we weren’t convinced he’d been killed in combat. The army faked his death to better take advantage of his intelligence. They didn’t want Amnesty—Amnesty to be crying out, or the U.N. interfering, or the Inter-American Commission.

AMY GOODMAN: And didn’t you even go to a military base, where they said, “This is the coffin that Everardo was in”?

JENNIFER HARBURY: I went to a military base, where they said he might be buried under the base, along with between 500 to 2,000 other people. I’m pretty sure that’s not where he is. But they faked his death. They told us he was in an unmarked grave in Retalhuleu. And at the same time, about a week after he disappeared, they sent a memo to both the White House and the State Department saying, “Oh, the army just captured Bámaca alive. He’s a very, very important catch. They’re going to fake his death, so they can better take advantage of his information and so that they can torture him.” That was six days after he was picked up. I ended up on a long series of hunger strikes, three total, one of them for 32 days in front of the palace down there.

AMY GOODMAN: Back with human rights attorney Jennifer Harbury on her husband’s death, in 20 seconds.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: We return to our conversation with immigration lawyer Jennifer Harbury when I was in Brownsville, Texas, last week, where she represents people seeking political asylum in the US I played for her a clip of the documentary Dirty Secrets: Jennifer, Everardo & the CIA in Guatemala, a film about the murder of her husband, the Mayan guerrilla and comandante Efraín Bámaca Velásquez in the ’80s.

JENNIFER HARBURY: I want to save my husband’s life. I’m not going to allow him to be tortured for two-and-a-half years in a secret army prison and then shot to death or assassinated as if he was some kind of garbage. I’d rather die. I would literally rather die. And I’m prepared to do so if I have to.

I want people to understand what it means to have someone disappeared in their family. And I want people to understand what that whole system of terror against a civilian population is about.

When you’re looking for someone you care about, you know, you don’t sleep anymore. You just stop sleeping. You wonder every single minute, you know, “Am I fighting hard enough? Are they shooting him right now? You know, are they burning him right now? Are they pulling his fingernails out right now? You know, maybe I should be trying harder. Maybe I should be fighting harder.”

AMY GOODMAN: That’s a clip from Dirty Secrets: Jennifer, Everardo & the CIA in Guatemala. This is when you were on hunger strike in Guatemala City outside the US Embassy there?

JENNIFER HARBURY: The very first hunger strike was in front of the Politécnica, close to the US Embassy, but it’s their army intelligence building. And it looks like the Wicked Witch of the West castle, with cannons and machine gun turrets. That was seven days. The second one, that appears in this clip, was in front of the National Palace, the government seat, and that was 32 days, water only. And then the very last one was in Washington, because they weren’t assisting me. And that lasted 12 days, before the disclosures came out, with Congressman Torricelli, that my husband had indeed been killed by military intelligence officials, who were also working as paid informants of the CIA.

AMY GOODMAN: And link that to what we’re seeing today. So, that was the violence of the 1980s, the US-backed death squads in Guatemala. You really helped to expose this through your own personal experience. How does that relate to people coming over the border in the United States?

JENNIFER HARBURY: Well, let’s take the example of Julio Roberto Alpirez, the colonel, right? He was witnessed torturing my husband in person. He’s also known by the CIA to have helped murder Michael DeVine, a US citizen innkeeper in Guatemala. There are also plenty of CIA files that say he excelled in his task of liquidating not only the guerrillas but all of their sympathizers—in other words, villagers—in the Highlands during the worst of the campaign, and that he was somewhat brutal and not well liked by his fellow military.

So, start with that person as an example. He received $44,000 shortly after he, in person, tortured my husband. He injected him with an unknown substance, out of a cylinder of gas, that made his body swell enormously, so badly that one arm and leg were bandaged because they had hemorrhaged, and he was bending over the torture table. Torricelli named him as one of those people. DEA records show that he’s also on the DEA corrupt officer list. He’s known to be a drug runner, a cartel leader. What did they do when the disclosures were made by Torricelli? The CIA protected him. He’s their asset. They sent him and his whole family to Washington, where he lived happily for 10 years in secret, not far from the CIA. When I found out, so that I would go file a Torture Victims Protection Act case on him, the CIA notified him and immediately sent him back to Guatemala so that he could avoid any consequences. And the DEA is not allowed to take him down, because he’s a CIA asset and partner for many, many years, and that’s forbidden.

So there are many high-level cartel people who engaged in genocide and daily acts of torture, who now are the heads of cartels. The terrifying Zeta gang, for example, was out of Guatemala and formed by military leaders. It’s also composed of many collaborators in the military still and by different police people. So these cartels are fantastically armed and trained to carry out village-by-village massacres, let alone bending people to their will. They’re terrifying. I mean, some women from the Río Negro massacre, back in 1980, were not long ago found in the city dump with their teeth pulled out and their breasts and hands amputated. And those kinds of mutilations, we remember. Those are those military people. These are not street gangs. These are not kids. These are not people we have no idea who they are. The head of the Salvatrucha gang was just discovered to be a military leader in Guatemala who had been working in the anti-gang unit hand in glove with US military people. They really didn’t know?

AMY GOODMAN: So, that takes us to MS-13, to another country—that’s El Salvador—who President Trump says he is protecting us from the gang, the MS-13 gangs in Salvador. How does that relate to what you’re talking about in Guatemala?

JENNIFER HARBURY: Well, of course, the MS-13 had a lot of its roots in the United States, and then those people were deported back to Salvador. There’s a whole lot of history where actually that—that happened in the United States, just as these military intelligence people that went back down there. Those people are firmly entrenched. And then the US is not so much going after them as they are the victims of those people, the people running up here—the woman with two small children on her back, barefoot; the 15-year-old who’s seven months pregnant from a gang rape; the man, the young man, 20 years old, with 17 bullets through his legs, that could show me the scars.

A 20-year-old who fled north after the second time the gangs told him they would kill him and the people close to him if he didn’t join, he’s cannon fodder at that age. And he said, “No,” again, took his wife and baby, and fled north, called his mom to say, “I’m coming back for the rest of you. I’m coming right now.” The day after he left, the gangs had bludgeoned his mother and younger brother to death and had gang-raped his 12-year-old sister, who was in a mental hospital, unable to speak. That young man has been sent back to Salvador.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to the Zetas and their connection to Special Forces, to training. The Zetas—a 2009 US diplomatic cable that was published by WikiLeaks shows at least one Zeta, former infantry lieutenant named Rogelio Lopez, trained at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

JENNIFER HARBURY: Well, many people, such as Julio Roberto Alpirez, who I keep mentioning because he’s such a template, right? Many of them were trained at the School of the Americas, in torture and kidnapping techniques, and they used them. And then, when the war was over, they kept using them in the same way. And if we would release the files on the human rights violations and massacres committed by all of those people, then the war crimes claims that are—that people are valiantly trying to bring in Central America, something could be done. Those people could be put in prison, and then maybe we would have a lessening of the terror that’s being used to drive people north in order to more easily run the drug cartels.

AMY GOODMAN: Where are the Zetas based?

JENNIFER HARBURY: Well, they were up here for quite a while, near Reynosa. They came originally out of Guatemala and southern Mexico. They were up here and owned the riverfront here for quite a while. They were pushed out a few years ago by the Golfo cartel. But in Reynosa now, they captured the—the army had captured the highest-level person, and they’ve captured or killed several lower-level ones. So that’s fractured, and the Zetas are coming back. And they’re all fighting each other, and they’re fighting the Mexican Army and the Mexican marines. So there’s nonstop shootouts.

Anyone that’s deported to Reynosa, they’re lucky if they can get off the bridge without being immediately grabbed, because they know they’ll have someone up north. People struggling north, you know, with their babies and stuff, they’re lucky if they don’t get trafficked and grabbed. It’s completely unsafe in Reynosa.

And the Zetas are clearly trying to come back, because a group of people recently paid off the correct cartel, what’s left of the Golfo, got to mid-river and were shot to death, with no explanation. And that’s almost for sure the Zetas coming back, saying, “Oh, you paid the wrong guys.”

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Jennifer Harbury, the well-known human rights activist and attorney. And she is also well known now all over the country for having gotten the news organization ProPublica the tape of children, babies, infants, toddlers, children of tender age, crying out for their parents, saying, “Mama,” “Papi.” Let’s go to that clip.

CHILD:[crying] Papá! Papá! Papá! Papá! Papá! Papá!

AMY GOODMAN:So, Jennifer Harbury, you’re the person who got this audiotape out. Describe how this happened.

JENNIFER HARBURY:Well, the true hero, of course, is the whistleblower. And he was present in the building nearby to these children, who had just been separated from their parents recently and who were just crying desperately and in fear, the way you just heard. That whistleblower brought the tape to me, and we discussed the legal issues and stuff. And the whistleblower authorized me to get it through to the press, which is what we did.

AMY GOODMAN:Do you know—can you tell us what detention center it’s from?

JENNIFERHARBURY:I’d best not.

AMY GOODMAN:And how old the children were?

JENNIFER HARBURY:The children that you hear weeping would have been possibly as young as 3, up to 6 or 7. And in the background, not weeping, are some older children that are still minors.

AMY GOODMAN:And one child who keeps on repeating the phone number of her aunt.

JENNIFER HARBURY:Remarkable.

AMY GOODMAN:Has she been reunited with her family?

JENNIFER HARBURY:I don’t think she has yet. I may be wrong on that, but I believe she’s still trying to get reunited with her family.

AMY GOODMAN:Even though her mother has called up and said that “This is my daughter,” and her aunt has confirmed that that is her number?

JENNIFER HARBURY:Even with that. And—

AMY GOODMAN:So a judge in San Diego has just ruled that these children must be reunited with their parents—under 5 in 14 days, all children in 30 days. So, what’s going to happen? Is this possible?

JENNIFER HARBURY: It’s possible, if they really want to put the time and attention into it that they must. The problem, of course, is that so many people withinICEand Border Patrol feel that these refugees are just kind of trash and should not be coming to our country in the first place, that things can’t be that bad back home, even though you can read that they have the highest murder rates in the world. So, I’m not sure how much—how hard they’re going to try. There can be spelling mistakes in a name. And, of course, in most of Central America, instead of saying June the 10th, 1984, they’re going to say 10th June, 1984, so that can be transposed sometimes, making it harder to find the person. But if they want to find the parents, of course they can. And if they want to release them immediately, of course they can. They always used to.

AMY GOODMAN:So, as we sit here, a major protest about to take place right behind us at the federal courthouse, a courthouse you know well, right here in Brownsville.

JENNIFER HARBURY: Yes.

AMYGOODMAN: What message do you have for people across the country?

JENNIFER HARBURY: I think first we have to wake up and understand the basic flaw in the administration’s argument that they’re protecting us from cartels and terrorists and so forth. The people we are punishing are moms, kids, fathers, young teenagers that don’t want to be trafficked, young men that are saying, “No, I won’t work with the cartels.” They’re running for their lives. If the cartels wanted to send people to cross the river, as I said earlier, they can—they can buy the airport. They have bought several police units in Texas already. They can buy real—

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean?

JENNIFER HARBURY: Well, a whole elite piece of our—of the police force here, not long ago, was found out to have been working with the cartels. That was very—

AMY GOODMAN: Here in Brownsville.

JENNIFER HARBURY: Not in Brownsville, up towards McAllen, in Hidalgo County. And it’s inevitable, with that kind of money. They have no need to send a desperate person who speaks no English, in raggedy clothing, to try to swim the river. They don’t need that. They just buy the passports. They buy the visas that are legitimate. And they can do whatever they want. So, we need to understand the difference.

Once we understand the difference, I think it becomes very clear what we have to do: protect the refugees. Protect them. Don’t leave them on the bridge to go into heat stroke. Don’t leave them to miscarry a child after you’ve been gang-raped. I mean, what are we thinking that we would declare war and bring down total abuse on people that have just run for their lives?

AMY GOODMAN: In the countries they’re mainly running from—Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala—

JENNIFER HARBURY: And much of Mexico.

AMY GOODMAN: And Mexico.

JENNIFER HARBURY: Much of Mexico, and also parts of Africa—not the cartels there, but genocide and anti-gay stuff.

AMY GOODMAN: In places like Honduras, where the US—back to when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, the US supported a coup in Honduras. And then, even the Organization of American States saying the last election was not legitimate, the US continues to support that government. How does that link, what’s happening there, to the violence there?

JENNIFER HARBURY: We keep supporting our military allies. It was President Otto Pérez Molina in Guatemala, was one of the intelligence leaders responsible for my husband’s three years of torture. And they knew that when he was running for office, and the State Department still covered for him, saying he was a reformist, for example. But what we’re doing is we’re—through our intelligence agencies, we’re still giving massive support and protection to keep these military units in place and in total power over each of these countries, so that they’ll do what we want with their countries. And in return, we cast a blind eye. Well, they set up these hideous drug-running cartels that are chasing these people up here and which eventually are going to land right here. And there already are signs of that in Texas. And if we haven’t done our part to put those people in prison by releasing our files and halting military support for them, through elections and otherwise, then we’re going to get what we deserve.

AMY GOODMAN: Human rights attorney Jennifer Harbury. I spoke to her on the border in Brownsville, Texas, last week. This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman.

The post From CIA-Backed Wars to Cartel Violence: Inside the Roots of the Refugee Crisis appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Defense Contractor Detained Migrant Kids in Vacant Phoenix Office Building

Mon, 07/09/2018 - 16:01

A major US defense contractor quietly detained dozens of immigrant children inside a vacant Phoenix office building with dark windows, no kitchen and only a few toilets during three weeks of the Trump administration’s family separation effort, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting has learned.

Videos shot by an alarmed neighbor show children dressed in sweatsuits being led – one so young she was carried – into the 3,200-square-foot building in early June. The building is not licensed by Arizona to hold children, and the contractor, MVM Inc., has claimed publicly that it does not operate “shelters or any other type of housing” for children.

Defending the administration’s policy to separate families at the border in a May interview with NPR, White House chief of staff John Kelly promised: “The children will be taken care of – put into foster care or whatever.”

Whether or not these children were taken from their parents, that “whatever” for them was the vacant building tucked away in a midtown Phoenix neighborhood. It is not listed among shelters operating through the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement or on the state child care licensing website.

There are new cameras on the building, extra locks on the doors and a paper shredder bin directly outside the building’s side door. Neighbor Lianna Dunlap’s videos show workers pulling up in white vans and leading dazed children into the building. When she asked questions, she said the workers responded with silence or terse answers.

“There’s been times where I drive by and I just start crying because, you know, it’s right behind my house,” said Dunlap, her voice wavering. “I don’t know and I think that’s the worst part – not knowing what’s actually going on in there and just hoping that they’re OK.”

The building was leased in March by MVM, a Virginia-based defense contractor that has received contracts worth up to $248 million to transport immigrant children since 2014, records show. The company, which once provided guards for CIA facilities in Iraq, was founded by three former Secret Service agents. One of its vice presidents is a former CIA special agent and former acting director of the US Marshals Service.

Company President and CEO Kevin Marquez signed a five-year lease for the building March 9, one month before US Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the new “zero tolerance” immigration policy. Reveal has confirmed that the lease says the building is not allowed to be used for sleeping or cooking and can be used only for “general business office purposes.” It also prohibits tenants from making “disturbing noises,” including whistling and singing, that would “interfere with occupants of this or neighboring buildings.”

When Reveal asked MVM about the Phoenix office building, the company initially pointed to its earlier statement that it does not operate housing for immigrant children. After learning that neighbors had recorded video of children entering the building, an MVM spokesperson said the building “is not a shelter or a child care facility. … It’s a temporary holding place” for children being flown out of the Phoenix airport to other locations.

Asked whether the children were kept there overnight, the spokesperson said the building is intended to hold them for a few hours before flights but was unsure how long children actually ended up staying.

An inflatable mattress, a box marked “baby shampoo,” a medication schedule and other items spotted inside the building last week indicate that children could have been held there for an extended period. Dunlap and other neighbors say they never saw the children taken outside to play. They watched as pallets of water and boxes of food were brought in.

Three weeks later, the neighbors say they saw five unmarked white vans that hold about 12 passengers each pull up to take children away. It was June 22, two days after Trump signed an executive order to end his administration’s policy of separating families.

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed to Reveal that it had entered into a contract with MVM. ICE spokeswoman Jennifer Elzea said the company “is authorized to use their office spaces as waiting areas for minors awaiting same-day transportation between US Customs and Border Protection custody and US Health and Human Services custody.”

Transporting “Humans”

Dunlap, a 25-year-old teaching assistant for children with autism, lives next door to the office building. When she saw vanloads of dark-haired kids speaking Spanish being ushered out of vans and into the previously vacant building for a second day in early June, she grabbed her cellphone and started recording.

“That’s when I was like, ‘OK, they’re definitely doing something they shouldn’t be doing,’ ” Dunlap said. “It looked very secretive.”

At first, Dunlap worried that the children were being trafficked. Then, as news of the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy began to spread, she thought they could be among the thousands taken from their parents at the border.

Other neighbors became aware of the situation as well. And they, too, were upset.

Kristen Brown, a behavioral therapist who lives next to Dunlap with her 2-year-old son, was concerned about the lack of space and facilities for children inside the MVM office building.

“My kid has the ability to run around and play, and there are 40 kids in that place that I don’t know what you’re doing with,” she recalled telling one on-site worker. “That, as a mom, it doesn’t feel right.”

Dunlap said she never saw any children leave the building until nearly three weeks after they arrived. When Dunlap tried to take video of that departure, she said workers spotted her watching from her kitchen window and blocked her view with vehicles. She said she watched children’s feet as they filed out of the building.

That’s when Dunlap and her husband, Juan Carlos Larios, confronted the adults, one of whom suggested they could call police. So they did.

Phoenix police Sgt. Vince Lewis, public information officer for the department, told Reveal that when police arrived at the building, “ICE confirmed that it (MVM) was contracted to perform that transport.”

Since dozens of children were removed from the office building two weeks ago, the neighbors have observed more deliveries of water and quizzed workers about what’s going on. Dunlap says one worker told her that they were fixing the air conditioning.

With temperatures in Phoenix hitting 111 degrees in June, Dunlap said she hoped the air conditioning was working when the children were inside.

Brown asked a worker what kind of business the employees were conducting. The business of transportation, she was told.

“Transporting what?” Brown asked.

“Humans,” the worker replied.

We’re Not “Housing” Kids, MVM Says

MVM was awarded an $8 million five-year contract in 2017 to “maintain readiness” and provide “emergency support services” to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the agency in charge of  housing unaccompanied immigrant children in shelters and other facilities across the country.

A statement posted on the company’s website June 18 states: “MVM has tremendous empathy for the families and children arriving at the US border. … The current services MVM provides consist of transporting undocumented families and unaccompanied children to Department of Health and Human Services designated facilities – we have not and currently do not operate shelters or any other type of housing for minors.”

By the time that statement was posted, MVM had signed the lease for the Phoenix office building and begun taking children there.

ICE’s Elzea also said the office is not an overnight housing facility: “The offices are outfitted to provide minors awaiting same-day transport with a more comfortable and private atmosphere than they might otherwise have at a public transportation hub.”

But even shorter-term accommodations for children could trigger a different requirement: licensing by the state of Arizona.

The office building is not licensed as a child care facility, according to Chris Minnick, a spokesman for the Arizona Health Services Department. Licenses are required for any place “where children are unaccompanied by a parent or guardian on a regular basis for periods of less than 24 hours a day other than the child’s home,” he said.

When told that ICE claims children are being held in the building for at least several hours before boarding flights, Minnick said: “I’m not on the legal side of this, but from what I understand, that would fall under that definition.”

Minnick said the department had no complaints on file for operation of an unlicensed child care facility at that address. But a license would require qualified staff, outdoor play areas, age-appropriate toys, smoke detectors, a food establishment permit and other government health and safety inspections.

Whether a facility must be licensed is a determination made by the state health department. State law requires facilities found to be operating without a license to shut down within 10 days of receiving notice or face criminal prosecution. Operating without a child care license is a misdemeanor in Arizona.

The MVM spokesperson would not answer questions about whether the Phoenix office building should be licensed as a child care center. The spokesperson also would not say how many other facilities like it the company operates nationwide. Elzea, the ICE spokeswoman, also would not estimate how many temporary detention facilities for children operate nationwide under agency contracts with MVM or other companies.

Neighbor Kristen Brown says a worker told her that the company has another location, but she said the worker would not share its address for fear of losing her job. The worker indicated that children would be returning to the Phoenix office building near Brown’s house.

Brown said she has been upset by news of children “being ripped away from their parents” at the border, but watching immigrant children being shuffled into the office next door “is a whole new level of upsetting.”

MVM came under fire recently after it posted jobs for “bilingual youth care workers” at the height of the controversy over family separation.

Today, the company’s website states: “At the direction of the company’s leadership, we have removed job postings related to readiness operations under the current zero tolerance policy.”

But part-time MVM job opportunities for Phoenix-based bilingual travel youth care workers remain active. “You will make it your mission to provide humble care and service to unaccompanied children and teens, while you are accompanying them on domestic flights and via ground transportation to shelters all over the country,” the posting reads.

MVM is among a handful of large defense contractors that operate in a lucrative, shadowy business in which former intelligence officers could be vying for private security jobs or running prisons in war zones one day and managing transportation for immigrant children the next.

The company’s employees have provided protection for former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the Guantanamo Bay Migrant Operations Center. According to federal records, MVM is listed as a “Hispanic American Owned Business,” a designation that can give potential contractors a leg up in the bidding process.

The company has been awarded contracts worth $1.5 billion since 2007 from government clients including law enforcement agencies such as ICE, the US Marshals Service and the Drug Enforcement Administration; the National Institutes of Health; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; and the Smithsonian Institution.

While it has kept a lower profile than some defense contractors, MVM has not escaped controversy. Lawsuits have alleged gender discrimination and national origin discrimination. In August 2008, the CIA curtailed its contract with MVM after the company failed to provide a sufficient number of armed guards.

The post Defense Contractor Detained Migrant Kids in Vacant Phoenix Office Building appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Less Than Half of Kids Ripped From Parents Will Be Reunited Before Deadline

Mon, 07/09/2018 - 16:00

Forcing families that have already suffered the immense trauma of being wrenched apart and jailed separately for weeks to wait even longer before they are reunited, the Trump administration is on pace to unify less than half of detained children under five years old with their parents before Tuesday’s court-imposed deadline, the ACLU said late Sunday.

“It’s extremely disappointing that the Trump administration looks like it will fail to reunite even half the children under five with their parent,” ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt told the Associated Press. “These kids have already suffered so much because of this policy, and every extra day apart just adds to that pain.”

As Common Dreams reported, a federal judge ruled late last month that the Trump administration must reunite children under the age of five within 14 days and all of the nearly 3,000 children it separated from their parents within 30 days.

Last Friday, the Trump administration complained that the deadline imposed by a federal judge was too “extreme” and could not be met. The judge didn’t buy this argument, and the ACLU denounced the Trump administration’s efforts to push back the deadline as a shameful attempt to “further prolong the suffering of these families.”

In a series of tweets responding to the Trump White House’s complaints about the “extreme” deadline, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) noted that what is truly extreme is the administration’s inhumane family separation policy that made such a court-ordered deadline necessary.

“It is disgraceful that the Trump administration had no plan to reunite children after tearing them away from their parents, and it is even more disgraceful that they are now trying to delay the court-ordered deadline for doing so,” Cummings wrote on Twitter. “This is a cruel and harmful policy that was aggravated by the Administration’s lack of basic humanity in thinking ahead of time about how it would bring these families back together.”

The post Less Than Half of Kids Ripped From Parents Will Be Reunited Before Deadline appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Kentucky Governor Retaliates Against Poor After Court Rejects Medicaid Changes

Mon, 07/09/2018 - 15:21

GOP cruelty is not new, but it seems to be reaching new depths. Case in point: In Kentucky, Gov. Matt Bevin is now using the lives of Medicaid patients like pieces on a chessboard in an act of revenge and political spectacle.

Governor Bevin’s administration announced that he would deprive Medicaid patients of dental and vision benefits, effective immediately. This unilateral (and some say illegal) maneuver impacts 460,000 people in Kentucky. This occurred just hours after a federal court stopped his Kentucky Health plan, which would throw people off Medicaid with work requirements, deductibles and other administrative and economic obstacles.

The case in question is Stewart v. Azar. Through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Trump administration announced new guidelines in January to remake the program in the GOP’s image. His administration told the states they could implement work requirements and many other “community engagement” policies. These approaches have nothing to do with providing care, and everything to do with gutting the rolls. They would fundamentally change Medicaid, turning a program aimed at helping the deserving poor into a program that disciplines them for being poor in the first place.

On June 29, Federal Judge James E. Boasberg of the DC circuit, rejected Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) approval of Kentucky’s plan, setting a precedent that puts similar proposals in at least 10 other states in jeopardy. It was also just in the nick of time: A mere 36 hours before Kentucky Health would’ve been in effect.

It is an embarrassing defeat for Governor Bevin, who eagerly volunteered Kentucky to be the first state to approve work requirements. He did so with frightening vigor, approvingly saying this was “the biggest change to entitlements in 25 years.” His Kentucky Health plan, Truthout has reported, added many other changes to the program, including new deductibles, cuts to transportation services, ending retroactive coverage, health literacy exams and more.

Hours after Judge Boasberg’s opinion was rendered, Governor Bevin had what Topher Spiro called his “Trumpian Tantrum” and made the aforementioned cuts. A federal judge didn’t let him punish poor people, so he did so unilaterally and with seemingly no consideration for the law whatsoever.

“The word that came to my mind when I heard what the governor was doing was ‘spiteful’,” said Emily Beauregard, the executive director of Kentucky Voices for Health. “It seems to best describe what is going on here.”

Chaos in Kentucky on a Monday Morning

Governor Bevin’s actions were so unusual that advocates and lawyers were wrestling with how to respond. “It was surprising. We weren’t entirely sure how to move forward. There is process to change Medicaid and that process is not followed,” Beauregard said. “There was no notice, no time for public comment, no interaction with the federal government…. He just did it.”

“A lot of people claim Matt Bevin hates the poor, but I think it’s worse than that. I think he may just feel no emotion for them at all.”

As a result, there was bedlam in Kentucky on Monday morning, the first business day after the cuts were announced. Local organizers say Medicaid patients showed up to appointments, some scheduled months ago, only to be turned away by (often confused) providers. Calls by Truthout to providers confirmed that they were already turning away patients who are impacted by the decision.

“It can be hard to get an appointment for these services already since many providers don’t accept Medicaid patients,” said Cara Stewart, health law fellow at the Kentucky Equal Justice Center. “I spoke with one provider who said 17 of their 18 appointments [that] Monday were Medicaid patients. It is chaos. Nobody knows what is going on.”

While political and legal counter strategies are being considered, Kentucky Voices for Health is also trying to engage in harm reduction, arguing that Governor Bevin’s revenge plot will not survive judicial scrutiny and providers will be reimbursed with Medicaid rates.

The governor’s theatrics will almost assuredly end up in court, but even if a judge rules Governor Bevin’s plan is illegal, irreparable harm will likely have already been caused. Governor Bevin is putting his own people at risk and, advocates argue, should be held account if his action is determined to be unlawful.

“Bevin makes his political decisions through the mentality of a child. He couldn’t have what he wanted so he is now punishing innocent people for it,” said Tajah McQueen, an activist and member of the progressive organization Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, in an interview with Truthout. “I wish he would sit down and talk to the communities that are being hit directly by this…. But [for Governor Bevin], it’s never been about the people.”

While the Bevin administration claims, without evidence, that the Stewart ruling forced the cuts, this is disputed by legal experts and the text of Boasberg’s 60-page decision.

“The Court therefore believes that preserving the status quo — including Plaintiffs’ continuity of coverage — is appropriate,” Boasberg wrote on page 57. Clearly, continuity of coverage has not been maintained.

“There was nothing in the June 29 court ruling that called for Gov. Bevin to do what he has done,” said Jeremy Leaning, communications director for the National Health Law Program. “Indeed, the court in this case protected coverage of all Medicaid beneficiaries in Kentucky. The governor [needs to] walk back this vindictive approach.” The Law Program is among several national groups that took Trump’s HHS to court over the approval of the Kentucky plan. The Kentucky Equal Justice Center and Southern Poverty Law Center were also part of the lawsuit.

National Implications of the Court Ruling

Despite Governor Bevin’s vindictive approach, the opinion rendered last month is an important and under-reported victory for health advocates and anyone who thinks human beings ought to be treated with dignity.

“This is a victory for the people of Kentucky who rely on Medicaid for life-saving health care,” said Frederick Isasi, executive director of Families USA. “Governor Bevin’s illegal proposal that was approved by the Trump administration was misguided and ill-informed…. Let’s stop perpetuating stereotypes and stop trying to take health care away from families.”

Kentucky residents also praised the ruling. “I am extremely happy about the outcome of this ruling,” McQueen said. “Health care is a basic human right and no one should have to do anything to prove that they are worthy of receiving it.”

Boasberg’s opinion was a harsh rebuke of the Trump administration’s welfare reform efforts and of their legal defense. The Judge ruled that HHS Secretary Alex Azar “never adequately considered” if the changes “help the state furnish medical assistance to its citizens, a central objective of Medicaid.” Since the plan does not help furnish medical assistance — the state estimated 95,000 people would lose insurance — it is hard to know how any reasonable judge could claim it meets that standard.

“We thought that his opinion was a strong opinion. We are thrilled the judge saw through this very thin case the state had made,” Beauregard told Truthout. “He really took the public comments of Kentuckians into account.”

In his ruling, Boasberg wrote: “As required, HHS provided a 30-day public notice and comment period regarding the proposed program. The vast majority of those comments voiced concerns that [Kentucky Health] would ‘significantly reduce low-income people’s participation in health coverage programs.'”

While the ruling did not comment on the merits of other state proposals, legal advocates said the ruling could give pause to some efforts in the other states who are seeking or had approved waivers for these policies. Litigation is being considered in other states trying to implement the policy, such as Arkansas, Indiana and New Hampshire.

“This ruling will, I think, be an important precedent if other plans go to court,” Leaning said.

Should these changes to Medicaid be stopped, it will be an important act of defense by organizers. Policies based on the false notion that poor adults are lazy and don’t want to work have long been proposed by the GOP. They successfully implemented similar requirements to food and cash assistance in 1996, which progressives argue has been a failure.

“Since 1996, the share of single mothers with neither income nor cash benefits has risen from 12 to 20 percent. Meanwhile, the number of families in deep poverty has grown from 2.7 million to 3 million,” wrote Bryce Covert in The Nation.

Adding such policies to Medicaid would turn the policy from one aimed at furnishing care to people into a program that disciplines them, using the threat of stripping their insurance as a carrot to punish them. This kind of social welfare policy is what Yale’s Theodore Marmor, professor emeritus for political science, describes as “behaviorism,” where the objective is to change behavior, rather than provide help.

The Role of Obamacare in the Ruling

Interestingly, the judge cited the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as one reason Governor Bevin cannot target a certain adult population to make cuts, in this case childless adults under 65. The decision reads:

While the “original program was designed to cover medical services for four particular categories of the needy: the disabled, the blind, the elderly, and needy families with dependent children,” the Affordable Care Act … “transformed” Medicaid “into a program to meet the health care needs of the entire nonelderly population with income below 133 percent of the poverty level.”

Even while the ACA’s efficacy is being undermined by Trump and the Republicans, and even though it has many flaws, its broadening of the language to protect non-elderly adults under Medicaid may well be the program’s most important contribution. It also may turn out to be the key reason Trump’s workfare efforts are never implemented. This is important since Trump is so enthused about these policies that he made an executive order to extend work requirement standards across the federal government.

GOP, Motives and the Plight of the Poor

Governor Bevin’s petty response helps demonstrate his true motives, critics say, and his contempt or indifference to the plight of the poor. This enables him to propose these policies without concern for how it impacts others. In fact, since he announced the cuts, a common critique of the governor on social media was that he has “hatred for the poor.” Some, however, have an even more chilling interpretation of Governor Bevin’s disregard for the victims of his own policies.

“A lot of people claim Matt Bevin hates the poor, but I think it’s worse than that. I think he may just feel no emotion for them at all,” said Christian Lauritzen, a recent high school graduate from Lexington.

When you view GOP health policy through this lens it makes it easier to understand how they can support such unimaginably cruel reforms. This is the same political party that were drinking at a party on Capitol Hill to celebrate the House passing a bill that, according to the Congressional Budget Office, would throw 23 million Americans off insurance. At its lowest point, Trumpcare had just 12 percent support, yet the GOP pressed on anyway.

It appears many GOP power brokers simply do not care about Medicaid patients and what will happen to them when they are deprived of coverage. Understanding the depth of this cruelty may be the lasting lesson of the current Medicaid battles in Kentucky and beyond. It should also drive the resistance to these regressive, inhumane policies.

The post Kentucky Governor Retaliates Against Poor After Court Rejects Medicaid Changes appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

A Public Bank for Los Angeles? City Council Puts It to the Voters.

Mon, 07/09/2018 - 14:45

Voters in Los Angeles will be the first in the country to weigh in on a public banking mandate, after the City Council agreed on June 29th to put a measure on the November ballot that would allow the city to form its own bank. The charter for the nation’s second-largest city currently prohibits the creation of industrial or commercial enterprises by the city without voter approval. The measure, introduced by City Council President Herb Wesson, would allow the city to create a public bank, although state and federal law hurdles would still need to be cleared.

The bank is expected to save the city millions, if not billions, of dollars in Wall Street fees and interest paid to bondholders, while injecting new money into the local economy, generating jobs and expanding the tax base. It could respond to the needs of its residents by reinvesting in low-income housing, critical infrastructure projects, and clean energy, as well as serving as a depository for the cannabis industry.

The push for a publicly-owned bank comes amid ongoing concerns involving the massive amounts of cash generated by the cannabis business, which was legalized by Proposition 64 in 2016. Wesson has said that cannabis has “kind of percolated to the top” of the public bank push, “but it’s not what’s driving” it, citing affordable housing and other key issues; and that a public bank should be pursued even if it cannot be used by the cannabis industry. However, the prospect of millions of dollars in tax revenue is an obvious draw. Los Angeles is the largest cannabis market in the state, with Mayor Eric Garcetti estimating that it would bring in $30 million in taxes for the city.

Bypassing the Fed

State Board of Equalization Member Fiona Ma, who is running for state treasurer, says California’s homegrown $8-20 billion cannabis industry is still operating mostly in cash almost 2 years after state legalization, with the majority of businesses operating in the black market without paying taxes. This is in large part because federal law denies them access to the banking system, forcing them to deal only in cash and causing logistical nightmares when paying taxes and transferring money.

Cannabis is still a forbidden Schedule 1 drug under federal law, and the Federal Reserve has refused to give a master account to banks taking cannabis cash. Without a master account, they cannot access Fedwire transfer services, essentially shutting them out of the banking business.

In a surprise move in early June, President Donald Trump announced that he “probably will end up supporting” legislation to let states set their own cannabis policy. But Ma says that while that is good news, California cannot wait on the federal government. She and State Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Los Angeles) have brought Senate Bill 930, which would allow state-chartered banks and financial institutions to apply for a special cannabis banking license to accept clients, after a rigorous process that follows regulations from the US Treasury Department. The bill cleared a major legislative hurdle on May 30th when it passed on the Senate Floor.

SB 930 focuses on California state-chartered banks, which unlike federally-chartered banks can operate under a closed loop system with private deposit insurance. As Ma explained in a May 17 article in The Sacramento Bee:

There are two types of banks – those with federal charters, and banks with California charters. Because cannabis is still considered a Schedule 1 narcotic, we cannot touch federal banking wires. We want state-chartered banks that are protected, regulated and certified under California law, and not required to be under the FDIC.

State income taxes, sales taxes, unemployment, workers’ compensation and property taxes could all be paid through a closed-loop system that takes in revenue from the cannabis industry, but is apart from the federal banking system. . . . Cannabis businesses could be part of a cashless system similar to Apple Pay, and their money would be insured by a state-licensed institution.

That is a pretty revolutionary idea – a closed-loop California banking system that is independent of the Federal Reserve and the federal system. SB 930 would bypass the Feds only for cannabis cash, and the bill strictly limits what the checks issued by these “pot banks” can be used for. But the prospects it opens up are interesting. California is now the fifth largest economy in the world, with 39 million people. It has the resources for its own cashless “CalPay” or CalCoin” system that could bypass the federal system altogether.

The Bank of North Dakota, currently the nation’s only state-owned depository bank, has been called a “mini-Fed” for that state. The Bank of North Dakota partners with local banks to make below-market loans for community purposes, including 2 percent loans for local infrastructure, while at the same time turning a tidy profit for the state. In 2017, it recorded its 14th consecutive year of record profits, with $145.3 million in net earnings and a return on the state’s investment of 17 percent. California, with more than 50 times North Dakota’s population, could use its own mini-Fed as well.

Growing Support for Public Banks

It is significant that the proposal for a closed-loop California system is not coming from academics without political clout. Fiona Ma is slated to become state treasurer, having won the primary election in June by a landslide; and the current state treasurer John Chiang has been exploring the possibility of a public bank that could take cannabis cash for over a year. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the front runner for governor, has also called for the creation of a public bank. These are not armchair theoreticians but the people who make political decisions for the state, and they have substantial popular support.

Public bank advocacy groups from cities across California have joined to form the California Public Banking Alliance, a coalition to advance legislation that would facilitate the formation of municipal banks statewide under a special state charter. A press release by Public Bank Los Angeles, one of its founding advocacy groups, notes that 15 pieces of legislation for public banks are being explored across the nation through municipal committees and state legislators, with over three dozen public banking movements building in cities and states across the country. San Francisco has created a 16-person Municipal Bank Feasibility Task Force; Seattle and Washington DC have separately earmarked $100,000 for public banking feasibility studies; and Washington State legislators have added nearly a half million dollars to their budget to produce a business plan for a public depository bank. New Jersey state legislators, with the backing of Governor Phil Murphy, have introduced a bill to form a state-owned bank; and GOP and Democratic lawmakers in Michigan have filed a bipartisan bill to create one in that state.

Cities and states are seeking ways to better leverage taxpayer dollars and reinvest them in the needs of local communities. Public banking serves that purpose, providing local determination and the opportunity for socially and environmentally responsible lending and investments. The City Council of Los Angeles is now taking it to the voters; and where California goes, the nation may well follow.

The post A Public Bank for Los Angeles? City Council Puts It to the Voters. appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

In Louisiana’s Vanishing Wetlands, a Promise of Ecotourism That Locals Say Reeks

Mon, 07/09/2018 - 14:40

Manchac, Louisiana, is located on a narrow strip of land between two brackish lakes, surrounded by cypress trees and abundant wildlife. About 43 miles northwest of New Orleans, Manchac’s picturesque wetlands — like the rest of Louisiana’s coast — are endangered, with their latest threat, according to some, coming from a resort-style development marketed as “ecotourism” and local economic savior.

What could be wrong with building a hotel and housing development for 2,000 people in environmentally sensitive wetlands, which by their very nature, are located in a flood zone?

“Everything,” Kim Coates, founder of “Save Our Manchac,” a concerned citizens group, told me recently. She was giving me a tour of the area where developers want to build the $90 million residential project on land controlled by Port Manchac.

Terry Jones, a principal investor and spokesperson for the proposed development, The Village at Port Manchac, refers to the project as a “nature-based community.” His description of it includes around 100 single-family homes with boat slips, between 400 and 500 cabins, condominiums and apartments, and a hotel on the land controlled by the Port. There will also be a boardwalk lined with restaurants and a sandy cove for swimming, according to a model of the development released by the developers.

Nature (and Human) Based Risk

But critics point out a range of reasons situating a large residential development at Port Manchac is not the best, or safest, idea, including burdens on community resources and threats from natural disasters. Only one road would lead in and out of the development. That road, like the one to the Port itself, could easily be closed off due to an accident at the port, a derailed train, or local flooding, which has happened more than once in the past decade.

A mock-up of the proposed housing development and resort, which potential developers call The Village at Port Manchac.A mock-up of the proposed housing development and resort, which potential developers call The Village at Port Manchac.Julie Dermansky / DeSmogEntrance to Port Manchac.Entrance to Port Manchac.Julie Dermansky / DeSmog

If the road leading to the development is closed off, potentially thousands of people who buy into the project would need to be evacuated by boat or helicopter. Both are dangerous options during storms and other extreme weather events, which are predicted to increase in Louisiana due to climate change.

Though many politicians in Louisiana, including Gov. John Bel Edwards, say they are unsure how much human activities are responsible for climate change, climate scientists are much more certain. For example, the American Meteorological Society’s 2016 “State of the Climate” report, released last year, offers the first examples of extreme weather events not possible in a preindustrial climate.

“If we agree to this, we are agreeing to putting people in harm’s way, both newcomers that would buy in, and our first responders,” Coates said. She brought me to the site of the proposed development, so I could get an idea of how hard it would be to evacuate 2,000 people if the only road in to the development became impassible. To evacuate would require an approximately 14 mile boat ride along winding bayous behind the port to reach the main road.

A sailboat damaged on a windy day tied up at a boat launch next to the fire department in Manchac.A sailboat damaged on a windy day tied up at a boat launch next to the fire department in Manchac.Julie Dermansky / DeSmog

Coates took me on that trip. Tied down near the boat launch was a sailboat damaged by strong winds passing through just a few days before. “This is a beautiful area,” Coates said, “but it is inhospitable. There are alligators, water moccasins, and mosquitoes.” Furthermore, the area is prone to tidal surges and high winds and is in a designated flood zone.

Manchac, a small unincorporated community in Tangipahoa Parish, has approximately 100 full-time residents. Most of the buildings in the swamp are fishing camps. Though they may look like houses, they are actually seasonal “fishing camps,” a term common in Louisiana’s wetlands. It is rare anyone would stay in one of the fishing camps during a storm, due to the dual threats of flooding and storm surge.

Fishing camps in Manchac near the proposed development, The Village at Port Manchac.Fishing camps in Manchac near the proposed development, The Village at Port Manchac.Julie Dermansky / DeSmog

“This is greenwashing at its worst,” Coates said. “They can’t brainwash us to think it is a green project just because they are throwing the word ‘ecotourism’ around.”

Coates is not alone in her criticism of the planned development. About 100 people, including locals and representatives from environmental groups, turned out for a June 26 meeting to discuss the proposed development project at Port Manchac. Many were already members of the Save Our Manchac coalition, which Coates started when the area was threatened by a proposed battery component manufacturing plant earlier this year.

The group was able to sway the Port to terminate a lease agreement made with Syrah Technologies, an Australian company that planned to refine graphite into a component for lithium ion batteries.

Along the 14-mile-long evacuation route those escaping a residential development at Port Manchac would need to travel by boat.Along the 14-mile-long evacuation route those escaping a residential development at Port Manchac would need to travel by boat.Julie Dermansky / DeSmog Community Voices

At the June meeting, speakers touched on issues they said match the so-called “7 sins of greenwashing” described by TerraChoice Environmental Marketing Inc. They include the sin of hidden trade-off, sin of no proof, sin of vagueness, sin of irrelevance, sin of lesser of two evils, sin of fibbing, and sin of worshipping false labels.

Ed Bodker, an environmental activist and retired Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development program manager, warned the development would destroy at least 100 acres of wetlands, further degrading the coastline along the two lakes on either side of Manchac, Lake Maurepas and Lake Pontchartrain. “To build a new community in a storm surge area, it just doesn’t make any sense,” Bodker said. “It puts people and wetlands in jeopardy.”

Bodker also brought up how this project could threaten coastal restoration efforts already underway in the area. He thinks it is ill-advised for the Port to consider any project that would interfere with current endeavors to restore them.

Many at the meeting expressed frustration that the Port is considering a project that would inevitably lead to more coastal erosion when Louisiana has estimated it already needs $50 billion to fund the state’s coastal restoration master plan.

Packed house at a Save our Manchac coalition meeting at the Ponchatoula fire station on June 26.Packed house at a Save Our Manchac coalition meeting at the Ponchatoula fire station on June 26.Julie Dermansky / DeSmogBald cypress trees along a path in the Joyce Wildlife Management Area near Manchac.Bald cypress trees along a path in the Joyce Wildlife Management Area near Manchac.Julie Dermansky / DeSmog

Manchac is next to two protected wildlife management areas and is already a tourist destination. The location is popular for fishing and boating, making it a good place for potential ecotourism opportunities, but ones with a lighter, less permanent footprint on the already impermanent land. Even if The Village at Port Manchac development is never built, coastal erosion will remain a concern. Under a worst-case scenario model from the state, without restoration, the land slated for development could be underwater within 50 years.

Virgil Allen, a former Tangipahoa Parish Schools superintendent, said the school system can’t handle the large number of new students a large residential development like that would bring to the already crowded local schools.

And John Hoover, a crab fisherman, explained how nutrient runoff from the housing project could further disrupt the area crabbing industry.

George Coxen, Port Manchac’s fire chief, said his volunteer department isn’t prepared to protect a development like the one proposed. He said the developers asked him what he would need, but he can’t say exactly until he knows more about the plans. However, to start with, Coxen says he would need a new fire station to house a ladder truck. A new ladder truck alone will cost at least $1.2 million.

An Uncertain Future

Retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, founder of the Green Army, a coalition of environmental groups and concerned citizens fighting against pollution, came to support Save Our Manchac. “You don’t have an organized planning and zoning board,” Honoré said, calling it a “big scam” plaguing many of Louisiana’s rural communities. When it comes to building in flood zones, he agrees with Bodker. “Building developments in flood zones makes no sense,” Honoré said.

Margie Vicknair-Pray, spokesperson for the Delta Chapter of the Sierra Club, concurred.

“We live in a state where the developers set the rules — if there are no regulations, they do things the cheapest way they can,” she said during the meeting. Both she and Honoré encouraged everyone to remain politically active. “Politicians hear from lobbyists daily. How often do they hear from you?”

“We are so used to the abundance of seafood and being able to go out your back door, basically, and then throw a line out and catch something to eat,” Pray said at the meeting. But, “we are getting to the point where we are not going to be able to catch the seafood we are used to.”

Still, efforts by Save Our Manchac could already be affecting the trajectory of this proposed project.

Manchac’s Port Commissioners have a July 10 vote scheduled on whether to give the developers 18 months to develop feasibility studies, but that vote may be called off. Save Our Manchac found documents that question the Port Commission’s authority to permit a residential development in the area. The commission is currently reviewing the matter and may delay the vote or cancel it entirely.

A dragonfly at the Joyce Wildlife Management Area.A dragonfly at the Joyce Wildlife Management Area.Julie Dermansky / DeSmogThe landscape characteristic of Port Manchac.The landscape characteristic of Port Manchac.Julie Dermansky / DeSmog

The post In Louisiana’s Vanishing Wetlands, a Promise of Ecotourism That Locals Say Reeks appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

US White Nationalist Movement Is Attempting to Build International Allies

Mon, 07/09/2018 - 14:22

The last year has been a reality check for the white nationalist movement in the US after riding high through its infiltration of the Trumpian Republicans. Nonetheless, the movement is regrouping and even attempting to reach out to international allies.

An open fascist movement in the US had not seen such heights in decades. Last year’s bloody “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, for instance, was the largest white supremacist rally of its kind in the country in at least a generation. But the fallout came hard and swift as the nation refused to give the white nationalist movement a pass as its ranks grew. While the aftermath of Charlottesville hit the “alt-right” and internet-focused neo-Nazis especially hard by universally “de-platforming” them, other parts of their movement had seen their communications shut down steadily over the preceding years.

One example is the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), a white nationalist organization that saw a dramatic decline after mass-murderer Dylann Roof cited the group as his prime inspiration for his attack on a historically Black church in Charleston, South Carolina. The CCC, as well as the rest of the “alt-right” with which it is allied, had built their base on conferences that allowed them to share their ideas and form an internal community.

As their movement gained steam, they began taking the next step: moving into public actions and recruitment. Ultimately, though, the backlash they received has forced them to start over, and thus, re-engage in the kinds of conferences that had served them well for years. Now, they are consolidating such efforts as a means to reclaim an aboveground white supremacist movement.

Coming Together

Over the weekend of June 15-17, the American Freedom Party and the CCC hosted a joint conference at the Montgomery Bell State Park, just outside of Nashville, Tennessee. The park has caused controversy over the past several years for hosting the far-right American Renaissance’s annual conference, a “race realist” event that brings together white nationalists to discuss pseudo-scientific topics like “racial differences in intelligence.” Because it is a state-owned public facility, officials have been less responsive to protesters asking them to cancel the event. The June conference was titled “Nationalist Solutions,” and brought together well-known figures from the US’s far right and international fascist party leaders from countries well beyond Europe.

The CCC was built in the 1980s by Gordon Lee Baum, a former organizer from the pro-segregationist White Citizens’ Councils. The councils were “above ground” community organizations that fought integration and Black voting rights, and often used economic pressure tactics like calling in mortgages or creating threatening mobs to push back on Black activism. Baum fashioned the new council organization to prop up far-right causes in the US South, focusing primarily on reviving a nostalgia and romanticism for the antebellum period and support for racial apartheid. Along with organizations like the League of the South, the CCC fostered a neo-Confederate perspective that maintains the Civil War as a “war of Northern aggression,” and argues for Southern autonomy.

Unlike other radical nationalist organizations, the CCC had a great amount of participation from Republican politicians: Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee spoke at a CCC conference in 1993, former Rep. Bob Barr gave the keynote address in 1998 and former Sen. Trent Lott joined CCC events on five separate occasions. In between 2000 and 2004, 38 public officials attended a CCC event, and the organization had many local politicians and judges throughout the US South as active members. This included former Georgia Gov. Lester Maddox and former Louisiana Rep. John Rarick, as well as a 2009 appearance by Republican Mississippi State Sen. Lydia Chassaniol.

The branding of the CCC was meant to disguise its white nationalist politics, including its defenses of slavery and Jim Crow. The organization ran ads on Christian radio stations in the South saying that miscegenation was against “God’s chosen order,” and the organization’s website often refers to racial pseudo-science. Well-known white nationalists like American Renaissance’s Jared Taylor sat on the group’s board of directors, and the CCC’s newspaper, the Citizens Informer, was edited by paleoconservative-turned-fascist Sam Francis. They focused most of their content on the concept of “Black-on-white crime,” using manipulated statistics to argue that people of color have a particular genetic propensity for crime. It was this propaganda that fueled Roof’s attack in Charleston: In his manifesto, Roof noted that the CCC’s website motivated him in the attacks by presenting a desperate situation of racial conflict.

The American Freedom Party

The American Freedom Party (AFP) was formed originally as the American Third Position Party in October of 2009. “Third positionism” is a trend in fascist politics that attempts to bring in certain left-wing critiques and tactics into a larger nationalist framework, such as a criticism of global capitalism.

The California neo-Nazi skinhead gang Freedom 14 originally started what became AFP as the Golden State Party, but the gang later named white nationalist attorney and activist William Johnson as chairman. Johnson was known for being the author of the proposed Pace Amendment, which would deny citizenship to non-white people in the US.

The Party eventually changed its name to AFP when Johnson saw some traction for his talking points at Tea Party events. The AFP’s positions focused primarily on opposing immigration and affirmative action, preserving economic protectionism and were to the right of Pat Buchanan’s nationalist views. The AFP began to run presidential candidates in multiple states, including running former filmmaker Merlin Miller on an anti-immigration platform in 2012.

AFP’s board and conferences have been a “who’s who” of the racialist movement at different times, inviting well-known leaders like the Traditionalist Worker Party’s Matt Heimbach, and other various skinhead gangs and “alt-right” leaders. Much of their broader presence has been run by Jamie Kelso, who had previously worked for former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke and as the administrator for the notorious Stormfront web forum.

The June lineup of the AFP and CCC’s combined conference brought the leadership of the US’s white supremacist movement into one location — and consolidation is a major part of their strategy toward rebuilding.

American Renaissance’s Taylor addressed the crowd, high from his recent court victory securing his ability to sue Twitter for denying him his “free speech” rights. Taylor is best known for running American Renaissance since the early 1990s, focusing on dissident academics to speak on racial issues and building an “intellectual” core within his movement. James Edwards, host of the white nationalist AM talk radio show, “The Political Cesspool,” also took the stage, reflecting his own Southern nationalist perspective. Edwards is on the board of both the CCC and the AFP, and has served as a motivating voice in their movement for years.

Kevin MacDonald presented himself as one of the conference’s more bizarre figures, a person who has used his past as an academic to become a leading voice for the “alt-right.” MacDonald wrote a series of books in which he argued that Judaism is a “group evolutionary strategy” to outcompete non-Jews for resources, and that Jews do this with their “high ethnocentrism and verbal IQ,” and by destabilizing Western identity and nations. His anti-Semitism is matched by Michael Hill, the virulently racist leader of the nationalist League of the South, who also made an appearance. Fellow academic white nationalist and former AFP vice presidential candidate Virginia Abernethy was also featured. Her work on “overpopulation” as a driving force for immigration restriction has proven popular among her racist base.

Adding to the lineup was former Louisiana state legislator and Klan grand wizard Duke, a celebrity in this crowd for his years of racist and anti-Semitic activism. While Duke makes up an old guard of the movement, he has transitioned into the “alt-right” pretty well through his mastery of podcasting and social media trolling. His Saturday evening address focused on the “Jewish Question,” a slightly coded phrase for his intense anti-Semitic conspiracy theorizing. That Klan theme was extended by the inclusion of Rachel Pendergraft, a Klan organizer who is the daughter of well-known racialist pastor Thomas Robb.

Going International

As the white nationalist movement heads back to its basics, it is also refocusing on engaging international movements for nationalism, which have seen steady growth over the past several years. In much of the world, far-right and populist political parties, such as the British National Party or Golden Dawn in Greece, have been the centers of fascist activism.

Conferences like the AFP and CCC’s in June have served as a way of connecting the US white supremacist movement to more successful allies in other countries, and to bolster alliances that will help them build into an international fascist force.

This latest conference’s itinerary, though, included a seemingly strange organization: the Japan First Party. White nationalists often praise the racism and ethnocentrism of Japanese society, showing sympathy with the long history of Japanese nationalism tracing back to imperial Japan’s National Shinto, a racialized and nationalistic interpretation of Japan’s indigenous religious tradition. Some white supremacists often consider Japanese people higher in their racial taxonomy than other ethnicities, and justify this hierarchy with pseudo-science about intelligence. Japan First Party leader Makoto Sakurai, who spoke at the conference, is well-known for his anti-Korean and anti-Chinese racism, and white nationalists in the US believe they can build their movement by connecting with non-white racial nationalists. Since this party is Japanese, and therefore more appealing to white nationalists than Black nationalists like Louis Farrakhan, connecting with Sakurai gives them a key opportunity to build up the idea of racial nationalism broadly. American white nationalists seem to believe that if they can support the idea of nationalism for all races, it will make their own racial nationalism more palatable and less likely to gain opposition. Likewise, if non-white racial nationalists gain power, they may believe it could curb emigration to the US and confront “globalism” in terms of international trade and cultural orientation.

The conference was also joined by the European Knights Templar International, which was formed by activists from the British National Party, a fascist party that dominated the far-right in Britain for decades. Their focus, like Germany’s far-right PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West) or Britain’s English Defense League, has been on demonizing Muslims and portraying refugee resettlement as an invading force bent on taking over white society. This is not the first time that European nationalist parties have attended conferences in the same network as Nationalist Solutions. Party leaders from Estonia, Britain, France and other areas across Europe regularly come out to the leading white nationalist conference, American Renaissance, to serve as a way to bridge the two movements and to provide an example of what an organized political party with nationalist impulses would look like.

Lastly, Dominic Lüthard from the Swiss Nationalist Party was also a featured speaker, a choice that shows a certain aspiration for modeling the US’s fascist movement after European political players. This shows a willingness to come together on issues of non-white (specifically Muslim) immigration, and to play on reactionary fears about “Muslim rape gangs” as a way of creating a common narrative between the two continents. With the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) child detainment policy creating a firestorm in the US, the white nationalist movement desperately needs to consolidate its narrative to continue pushing the Overton Window.

Looking to the Future

Although the conference claims it drew in a larger crowd of about 200 people, those numbers, which could be inflated, still reflect the movement’s weakness after a tumultuous year. This would be comparable to the National Policy Institute’s “alt-right” conference in 2016, which was a particular high-water mark for the movement. Organizers were publicly displaying their contingents rather than hiding behind the security of private conferences as was the case only months ago. Yet, for all the exposure they have had over the past five years, they have still wound up back where they started.

The conference’s remote location and support from state officials was effective in keeping counter-protests small. Jam City Antifa organized protests at the venue, as well as organizing a separate protest against the appearance of AFP vice presidential candidate Abernethy at Vanderbilt University.

Ultimately, though, the event’s attempt at reclaiming the presentation of academic legitimacy was necessary as a way of insulating it from the slew of “alt-right” murders and violence that have taken place, even though the groups involved included open neo-Nazis and Klan members. Likewise, the event also avoided many of the people best known with the “alt-right,” including Richard Spencer, attempting to move beyond his monopoly as a public representative of the movement.

While the white supremacists’ numbers were not tiny, the conference no longer reflects a movement that is reaching out to new recruits and building up a base in any significant way. Instead, their hyper-consolidation is simply an attempt at staying relevant and functional while facing attacks on all sides.

Conference organizers promised to bring attendees’ energy to protest a Gay Pride event in Knoxville, Tennessee, the following weekend. About a dozen protesters showed up to the Pride event, and one white nationalist, Kynan Dutton, was arrested for assault. Dutton’s attendance of the Nationalist Solutions conference cannot be confirmed, but he was a prominent member of the National Socialist Movement and caused controversy in 2013 for joining neo-Nazi Craig Cobb in his attempt to take over the town of Leith, North Dakota.

The post US White Nationalist Movement Is Attempting to Build International Allies appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Six Lies on Trade

Mon, 07/09/2018 - 14:19

After 500 days of Donald Trump’s presidency, it is clear that any relationship between his statements and the truth are purely coincidental. He even boasts about his lack of interest in the truth, touting the fact that he had no idea what our trade deficit was with Canada when he confronted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over our “$100 billion trade deficit.” (The actual figure is around $20 billion.)

But Donald Trump’s contempt for the truth should not cause the rest of us to become liars also. In fact, it is more important than ever that progressives ground arguments in reality.

This is especially the case with trade, where lying was standard fare long before Donald Trump entered politics. Here are six common lies which deserve major pushback any time they appear. 

1. Everyone Gains From Trade

This is not even the textbook story. The textbook tells us there are winners and losers. In the standard story, the winners gain more than the losers lose. This means that the winners could compensate the losers so that everyone is better off. In the real world, this compensation never takes place, so the losers just lose.

If this is hard to understand, suppose we arranged for 300,000 highly qualified doctors from other countries to start practicing in the United States. This influx would probably lower our doctors’ pay by around $100,000 a year each to roughly European levels. This would save us close to $100 billion annually ($700 per family) on health care costs. That’s a big gain to the rest of us, but a big loss to US doctors. That’s basically the story of trade, but the competition has been for manufacturing workers.

2. The Loss of Manufacturing Jobs Was Due to Productivity Growth, Not Trade

This is a classic economist’s sleight of hand. Manufacturing productivity typically increases at the rate of 2.0-3.0 percent annually. (It has been much slower in the last dozen years.) This is also roughly the rate of growth of demand, which means that increased demand for goods typically offset the jobs lost to productivity growth.

The data are clear. In the three decades from December 1970 to December 2000, manufacturing employment only fell by 100,000, less than 1.0 percent. By contrast, we lost more than 3.4 million manufacturing jobs from 2000 to 2007 (before the crash), which was more than 20 percent of total employment.

This was due to the explosion of the trade deficit in these years, which peaked at almost 6.0 percent of GDP in 2005 and 2006. That would be equal to $1.2 trillion annually in today’s economy. There were benefits from getting cheap imports, but it is incredibly dishonest not to acknowledge the enormous job loss associated with the expansion of the trade deficit in those years.

And of course, over the last 50 years, many more manufacturing jobs were lost to productivity than trade. This is true, but completely irrelevant.   

3. It Is Inevitable That Less-Educated Workers Lose Jobs to the Developing World

This is a great example where the classism of our elites obstructs clear thinking. It is absolutely true that there are hundreds of millions of people in the developing world who are willing to work in factories at a fraction of the wages that US manufacturing workers receive. This means that opening to trade puts downward pressure on the wages of US manufacturing workers, and less-educated workers more generally, as they either accept large pay cuts or lose their jobs.

The complication is that there are also tens of millions of very smart hard-working people in the developing world who would be happy to work in the United States as doctors, dentists, lawyers or as other highly paid professionals at a fraction of the pay of our professionals. They could train to our standards and learn English where necessary. This would drive down the salary in highly paid professions, and thereby lead to savings to consumers, but we don’t allow it. Trade deals have been about lowering the pay of less-educated workers, while highly paid professionals continue to enjoy protection from international competition.

4. Trade Deficits Don’t Cost Jobs

It is very popular among pundits to claim that trade deficits don’t cost jobs by pointing to our current 3.8 percent unemployment rate, even as the deficit is on a course to exceed $600 billion (3.0 percent of GDP) this year. While it is true that a trade deficit does not necessarily cost jobs, in a period where we are below full employment, a $100 billion increase in the trade deficit reduces demand and employment in the same way that a $100 billion reduction in investment would reduce demand and employment.

The large trade deficit in the last decade was certainly a big factor in the weak labor market recovery from the 2001 recession. We eventually filled the demand gap from the trade deficit with the demand generated by the housing bubble. This is hardly a good model for the future.

5. It Is Important That Other Countries Respect “Our” Intellectual Property

This is a line that has come up repeatedly in Trump’s trade war with China. We have been told that we have an interest in making China pay for the intellectual property of US corporations that it allegedly steals.

Okay, it is clear that Pfizer has an interest in having its drug patents respected by China, as does Microsoft with its software copyrights and patents. But what about the vast majority of us who don’t own lots of stock in these or other companies that have intellectual property claims at risk?

The standard trade theory tells us that if China and other countries have to pay less money to Pfizer and Microsoft due to patent and copyright monopolies, they have more money to spend on other items we produce. In other words, the money they pay to these companies increases the trade deficit in other areas.

We do have to support innovation, but that is a separate issue. There are far more efficient mechanisms than patent and copyright monopolies for financing innovation in the 21st century.

6. The Developing World Needed to Kill US Manufacturing to Allow People to Escape Poverty

Hundreds of millions of people in the developing world have seen huge improvements in living standards over the last three decades, especially in China. These people went from living near or below poverty levels to enjoying middle-class living standards.

This is indeed a great story, but it is not true that this rise in living standards had to come at the expense of manufacturing workers in the United States and other wealthy countries. In the 1990s, the countries of East Asia (the big success stories) had even more rapid growth than they did in the last decade. This was a period in which they were running large trade deficits, with the important exception of China, which had nearly balanced trade.

In principle, there is no reason these countries could not have continued on a path where domestic demand fueled growth and was funded by foreign investment flows. However, the East Asian financial crisis hit in 1997. The United States led the bailout organized by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and essentially required that these countries run large trade surpluses as a condition of getting aid.

The shift from running trade deficits to running trade surpluses was a requirement of the IMF, not a law of economic development. If these countries were allowed to continue to be importers of foreign investment (the standard textbook model), and sustained the 1990s growth path, they would be far richer today. In fact, countries like South Korea and Malaysia would now be richer than the United States on a per person basis.

In short, it is simply not true that the pain to factory workers, who lost their jobs in the United States, was somehow a necessary condition for hundreds of millions of people in the developing world to escape poverty. Other paths would have allowed for even more rapid growth in these countries.

Getting to a Reality-Based Trade Policy

It seems likely that Trump’s trade war will go down in flames when Trump eventually loses interest and goes back to the hunt for President Obama’s Kenyan birth certificate. His reckless actions deserve all the ridicule and contempt they have received.

However, we should not go back to a trade policy that was based on lies. We need a trade policy that is about raising the living standards of working people in the United States and the developing world, not just giving all the money to the rich. 

The post Six Lies on Trade appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

How ER Bills Can Cost as Much as $50,000 for “Trauma Response”

Sun, 07/08/2018 - 14:20

On the first morning of Jang Yeo Im’s vacation to San Francisco in 2016, her 8-month-old son, Park Jeong Whan, fell off the bed in the family’s hotel room and hit his head.

There was no blood, but the baby was inconsolable. Jang and her husband worried he might have an injury they couldn’t see, so they called 911, and an ambulance took the family — tourists from South Korea — to Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH).

The doctors at the hospital quickly determined that baby Jeong Whan was fine — just a little bruising on his nose and forehead. He took a short nap in his mother’s arms, drank some infant formula and was discharged a few hours later with a clean bill of health. The family continued their vacation, and the incident was quickly forgotten.

Two years later, the bill finally arrived at their home: They owed the hospital $18,836 for a visit lasting three hours and 22 minutes, the bulk of which was for a mysterious fee for $15,666 labeled “trauma activation,” also known as “a trauma response fee.”

A photo of Park Jeong Whan at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital after his admission shows bruise marks on the forehead and nose from his fall.

“It’s a huge amount of money for my family,” said Jang, whose family had travel insurance that would cover only $5,000. “If my baby got special treatment, OK. That would be OK. But he didn’t. So why should I have to pay the bill? They did nothing for my son.”

American hospital bills are today littered with multiplying fees, many of which don’t even exist in other countries: fees for blood draws, fees for checking the blood oxygen level with a skin probe, fees for putting on a cast, minute-by-minute fees for lying in the recovery room.

But perhaps the pinnacle is the “trauma fee,” in part because it often runs more than $10,000 and in part because it seems to be applied so arbitrarily.

A trauma fee is the price a trauma center charges when it activates and assembles a team of medical professionals that can meet a patient with potentially serious injuries in the ER. It is billed on top of the hospital’s emergency room physician charge and procedures, equipment and facility fees.

Emergency room bills collected by Vox and Kaiser Health News show that trauma fees are expensive and vary widely from one hospital to another.

Charges ranged from $1,112 at a hospital in Missouri to $50,659 at a hospital in California, according to Medliminal, a company that helps insurers and employers around the country identify medical billing errors.

“It’s like the Wild West. Any trauma center can decide what their activation fee is,” says Dr. Renee Hsia, director of health policy studies in the emergency medicine department at the University of California-San Francisco.

Hsia is also an emergency medicine doctor at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, but was not involved in the care of the patients discussed in the story — and spoke about the fees generally.

Comprehensive data from the Health Care Cost Institute shows that the average price that health insurers paid hospitals for trauma response (which is often lower than what the hospital charges) was $3,968 in 2016. But hospitals in the lowest 10 percent of prices received an average of $725 — while hospitals in the most expensive 10 percent were paid $13,525.

Data from Amino, a health cost transparency company, shows the same trend. On average, Medicare pays just $957.50 for the fee.

According to Medicare guidelines, the fee can be charged only when the patient receives at least 30 minutes of critical care provided by a trauma team — but hospitals do not appear to be following that rule when billing non-Medicare patients.

At the turn of the century such fees didn’t even exist.

But today many insurers willingly pay them, albeit at negotiated rates for hospitals in their networks. Six insurers and industry groups declined to discuss the fees, and a spokeswoman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry trade group, said, “We have not seen any concerning trends surrounding trauma center fees.”

Trauma centers argue that these fees are necessary to train and maintain a full roster of trauma doctors, from surgeons to anesthesiologists, on-call and able to respond to medical emergencies at all times.

SFGH spokesman Brent Andrew defended the hospital’s fee of over $15,000 even though the baby didn’t require those services.

”We are the trauma center for a very large, very densely populated area. We deal with so many traumas in this city — car accidents, mass shootings, multiple vehicle collisions,” said Andrew. “It’s expensive to prepare for that.”

At What Cost Trauma?

Experts who’ve studied trauma fees say that at some hospitals there’s little rationale behind how hospitals calculate the charge and when the fee is billed. But, of course, those decisions have tremendous financial implications.

After Alexa Sulvetta, a 30-year-old nurse, broke her ankle while rock climbing at a San Francisco gym in January, she faced an out-of-pocket bill of $31,250 bill.

An ambulance also brought Sulvetta to Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, where, she recalled, “my foot was twisted sideways. I had been given morphine in the ambulance.”

Sulvetta was evaluated by an emergency medicine doctor and sent for emergency surgery. She was discharged the next day.

Alexa Sulvetta and her husband, Ben Verley, at their home in Oakland, Calif.

SFGH also charged Sulvetta a $15,666 trauma response fee, a hefty chunk of her $113,338 bill. Her insurance decided that the hospital fees for the one-day stay were too high, and — after negotiations — agreed to pay only a charge it deemed reasonable. The hospital then went after Sulvetta for $31,250.

“My husband and I were starting to think about buying a house, but we keep putting that off because we might need to use our life savings to pay this bill,” she said.

SFGH spokesman Andrew, meanwhile, said that the hospital is justified in pursuing the bill. “It’s fairly typical for us to pursue patients when there are unpaid balances,” he said. “This is not an uncommon thing.”

“I Feel Like I Created a Monster”

Trauma response fees were first approved by the National Uniform Billing Committee in January 2002, following a push by a national consulting firm specializing in trauma care. The high costs of staffing a trauma team available at all hours, the firm argued, threatened to shut down trauma centers across the country.

Trauma centers require special certification to provide emergency care for patients suffering very serious injuries above and beyond a regular emergency department.

“We were keeping an ongoing list of trauma centers that were closing all over the country,” said Connie Potter, who was executive director of the firm that succeeded in getting the fee approved. She now consults with hospital trauma centers on how to bill appropriately.

Trauma teams are activated by medics in the field, who radio the hospital to announce they are arriving with a trauma patient. The physician or nurse who receives the call then decides whether a full or partial trauma team is needed, which results in different fees. Potter said that person can also activate the trauma team based on the consultation with the EMTs.

But reports from the field are often fragmentary and there is much discretion in when to alert the trauma team.

An alert means paging a wide range of medical staff to stand at the ready, which may include a trauma surgeon, who may not be in the hospital.

Potter said if the patient arrives and does not require at least 30 minutes of critical care, the trauma center is supposed to downgrade the fee to a regular emergency room visit and bill at a lower rate, but many do not do so.

Hospitals were supposed to come up with the fee for this service by looking at the actual costs of activating the trauma team, and then dividing it over the amount that their patients are likely to pay. Hospitals that see a lot of uninsured and Medicaid patients might charge more to patients with private insurance to make up for possible losses.

But soon, Potter said, some hospitals began abusing the fee by charging an exorbitant amount that seemed to be based on the whims of executives rather than actual costs.

“To a degree, I feel like I created a monster,” Potter said. “Some hospitals are turning this into a cash cow on the backs of patients.”

The $15,666 is San Francisco General’s low-level trauma response fee. The high-level response fee in which the trauma surgeon is called into action is $30,206. The hospital would not provide a breakdown of how these fees are calculated.

Unfortunately, outside of Medicare and state hospitals, regulators have little sway over how much is charged. And at public hospitals, such fees may be a way to balance government budgets. At SFGH, the $30,206 higher-level trauma response fee, which increased by about $2,000 last year, was approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

An Ibuprofen, Two Medical Staples — and a $26,998 Bill

Some patients question whether their particular cases ought to include a trauma fee at all — and experts think they’re right to do so.

Sam Hausen, 28, was charged a $22,550 trauma response fee for his visit to Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa, Calif., in January.

An ambulance brought him to the Level 3 trauma center after a minor motorcycle accident, when he took a turn too quickly and fell from his bike. Records show that he was alert with normal vital signs during the 4-mile ambulance ride, and that the ambulance staff alerted the hospital that the incoming patient had traumatic injuries.

He was at the hospital for only about half an hour for a minor cut on his head, and he didn’t even need X-rays, CAT scans or a blood test.

Sam Hausen was charged a $22,550 trauma response fee for his visit to Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa, Calif., after a motorcycle accident.

“The only things I got were ibuprofen, two staples and a saline injection. Those were the only services rendered. I was conscious and lucid for the whole thing,” said Hausen.

But because the ambulance medics called for a trauma team, the total for the visit came to $26,998 — and the vast majority of that was the $22,550 trauma response fee.

Queen of the Valley Medical Center defended the charge. “Trauma team activation does not mean every patient will consult with and/or be cared for by a trauma surgeon,” spokeswoman Vanessa deGier said over email. “The activation engages a team of medical professionals. Which professional assesses and cares for a trauma patient depends on the needs and injury/illness of the patient.”

Guidelines for trauma activation are written broadly on purpose, in order to make sure they don’t miss any emergencies that could otherwise kill patients, said Dr. Daniel Margulies, a trauma surgeon at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles and chair of the American College of Surgeons committee on trauma center verification and review. Internal injuries, for example, can be difficult to diagnose at the scene of an accident.

“If you had someone who needed a trauma team and didn’t get called, they could die,” he said.

Medics err on the side of caution when calling in trauma patients to avoid missing a true emergency. To that end, the American College of Surgeons says it is acceptable to “overtriage,” summoning the trauma team for 25-35 percent of patients who don’t end up needing it.

But that logic leaves health consumers like Jang, Sulvetta and Hausen with tens of thousands in potential debt for care they didn’t ask for or need, care that is ordered out of an abundance of caution — a judgment call by an ambulance worker, a triage nurse or a physician — based on scant information received over a phone.

Jeong Whan had fallen 3 feet from a hotel bed onto a carpeted floor when his nervous parents summoned an ambulance. By the time the EMTs arrived, Jeong Whan was “crawling on the bed, not appearing to be in any distress,” according to the ambulance records. The EMTs called SFGH and, after a consultation with a physician, transported Jeong Whan as a trauma patient, likely because of the baby’s young age.

At the hospital, Jeong Whan was evaluated briefly by a triage nurse and sent to an emergency department resuscitation bay.

Jang recalls being greeted by nine or 10 providers at the hospital, but the baby’s medical records from the visit do not mention a trauma team being present, according to Teresa Brown of Medliminal, who reviewed the case.

Jeong Whan was discharged with a clean bill of health after staying at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital for a couple of hours. Jang Yeo Im claims that he didn’t receive any medical treatment at the hospital and she put the Band-Aid on her son’s nose herself.

The baby appeared to have no signs of major injury, and no critical care was required. Five minutes later, the family was transferred to an exam room for observation before being released a few hours later. Brown said she would dispute the $15,666 trauma response fee because the family does not appear to have received 30 minutes of critical care from a trauma team.

Jang currently has a patient advocate working on her behalf to try to negotiate the bill with the hospital. She said she fears that the pending medical debt could prevent her from getting a visa to visit New York and Chicago, which she hopes to do in the next few years.

She said her experience with the U.S. health care system and its fees has been shocking. “I like the USA. There are many things to see when traveling,” she said. “But the health care system in USA was very bad.”

This story was produced in collaboration with Vox, which is collecting emergency room bills as part of a year-long project focused on American health care prices.

The post How ER Bills Can Cost as Much as $50,000 for “Trauma Response” appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Trump’s EPA Suppressing Cancer-Causing Chemical Study

Sun, 07/08/2018 - 14:15

New reporting in Politico puts the spotlight on continued themes of the Trump administration: suppression of science, threats to public health, and carrying out the bidding of industry. The issue laid out involves alleged political interference at the Environmental Protection Agency, and while the agency’s current administrator, scandal-riddled Scott Pruitt, is now on his way out the door, the reins now head to number two Andrew Wheeler, who offers little reason to believe the burying of a key report will soon end.

As Politico‘s Annie Snider reported, Trump appointees at the agency are blocking the release of an assessment on formaldehyde produced by the EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS). A draft assessment already completed confirms research linking the common chemical to leukemia, nose and throat cancer, and other adverse health effects.

“They’re stonewalling every step of the way,” an anonymous current official at EPA told Politico.

Because the political aides are suppressing the assessment, they’re preventing it from moving on to required review by the National Academies of Sciences (NAS), an independent panel of top researchers—even though the EPA has already shelled out $500,000 to pay for that review. Why wouldn’t it send off the assessment to NAS? “You don’t want the answer,” an anonymous former EPA official told Politico.

According to internal documents seen by the publication, a chemical industry group urged the EPA to bury the findings. In a Jan. 26 letter to top EPA officials, Kimberly Wise White, who leads the American Chemistry Council’s Formaldehyde Panel, wrote, “As stated in our meeting, a premature release of a draft assessment … will cause irreparable harm to the companies represented by the panel and to the many companies and jobs that depend on the broad use of the chemical.”

“The new assessment,” as Snider reported, “would give greater weight to warnings about the chemical’s risks and could lead to stricter regulations from the EPA or class-action lawsuits targeting its manufacturers, as frequently occurs after these types of studies are released.”

EPA spokeswoman Kelsi Daniell brushed off the assertion that the assessment was being suppressed, telling Politico that the agency “continues to discuss this assessment with our agency program partners and have no further updates to provide at this time.” But that runs counter to Pruitt’s testimony in January before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, when he told Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) that his understanding was that the report was ready for public review and did, in fact, link formaldehyde to leukemia and other cancers.

However, several months after that hearing Markey and other members of that committee—Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.)—sent a letter to Pruitt in May asking him to explain why the assessment had still not been released. They also pointed a finger at two of the same alleged culprits behind the suppression as named in the Politico reporting: EPA chief of staff Ryan Jackson and Nancy Beck, deputy assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. Beck, as Politico reported, “criticized the IRIS program in her previous job as a top chemical industry expert.”

In addition to those appointeses, the senators also say they believe the American Chemistry Council “as well as interested corporations such a Exxon Mobil have been pressuring EPA not to release the assessment for public comment as drafted.”

As for Wheeler, Politico noted that he “was staff director for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in 2004, when his boss, then-Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), sought to delay an earlier iteration of the formaldehyde assessment.” As ProPublica previously reported, that stalling occurred “even though preliminary findings from a National Cancer Institute study had already linked formaldehyde to leukemia. Inhofe insisted that the EPA wait for a more ‘robust set of findings’ from the institute.” Those “robust findings,” released 5 years later, however, merely backed up the earlier findings.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), for her part, warned in a tweet Friday that Wheeler is “just as dirty” as Pruitt, and “is a former coal lobbyist who will work to poison the agency—and the environment he’s supposed to protect— from the inside.”

The post Trump’s EPA Suppressing Cancer-Causing Chemical Study appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Even With SNAP Benefits, Some Low-Income Americans Lack Nutritious Food

Sun, 07/08/2018 - 13:57

While researching how hard it is for low-income Americans to eat healthy on tight budgets, I’ve often found a mismatch between what people want to eat and the diet they can afford to follow. This made me wonder what eating right costs and how much of this tab gets covered by the largest federal nutrition program, commonly known as SNAP or food stamps.

To find out, I teamed up with Kranti Mulik, an agricultural economist.

MyPlate and SNAP

We based our nutrition assumptions on MyPlate, the federal government’s dietary guidelines, which account for differences according to age and gender. The guidelines spell out what you should eat from five food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy and protein – including meat, beans, eggs, tofu and other soy-based products, nuts and seeds.

SNAP benefits also vary, based on household income and how many eligible people live in a given household.

These modest benefits, which average about US$1.40 per meal, reduce the number of people who would otherwise go hungry at the end of each month by nearly 30 percent, according to Urban Institute economist Caroline Ratcliffe.

Meal Accounting

Conversations around healthy eating often leave out cooking time. But to estimate the monthly shortfall for people living in economic hardship who get SNAP benefits, we took into account not just grocery prices and SNAP benefits but the effort eating home-prepared meals requires.

This includes traveling to stores and shopping for ingredients, as well as prepping, cooking and serving meals and cleaning up afterwards. To estimate this value, economists have used the average U.S. hourly wage rate, multiplying it by the time it takes to prepare meals. They find that labor is worth 40 percent of what Americans spend on food that they eat at home.

For people who rely on SNAP benefits, the labor costs can be daunting. They may not live close to supermarkets or any stores that sell produce. They might not own cars and lack access to transit, and they might lack the basic cooking equipment needed to prepare meals.

The government does not officially bill SNAP as covering everything that beneficiaries spend on food – that’s why the word supplemental is part of the program’s name. In 2016, however, it estimated that Americans could afford to feed a family of four a healthy diet for as little as $588 a month – less than the $649 that a family of four can get at most in SNAP benefits. Remember, this amount excludes the labor of preparing meals.

We calculate that it would take about $1,100 per month, including labor, to keep food on this hypothetical family’s table. According to our calculations, SNAP covers about half – between 43 and 60 percent – of what following a MyPlate diet costs after taking into account the labor required for meal preparation.

For households that purchase only fresh produce, grains, dairy and meat, this shortfall is much bigger than for those buying canned, frozen fruits and vegetables. Serving a meal of freshly steamed broccoli, whole-wheat pasta and roast chicken costs more than heating up canned diced tomatoes and red beans to eat with white rice.

Besides, many breadwinners who have to stretch their food dollars work multiple jobs or have other constraints on their time. For them, every hour spent on meal preparation can amount to an hour’s worth of pay lost.

$600 More per Month

Based on our model, we found that a family of four with two adults and two teens or tweens would need to spend more than $600 per month in addition to their SNAP benefits, if they ate only fresh produce, grains, meat and dairy.

That same household would need to spend almost $500 more than the maximum SNAP benefits if they ate a vegetarian diet with a mix of fresh, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables – and derived their protein from tofu and other soy-based products, beans, eggs, nuts and seeds.

The ConversationEven excluding the labor it takes to put food on the table, that family would need to spend at least $200 monthly on top of its members’ SNAP benefits to consume a healthy diet.

The post Even With SNAP Benefits, Some Low-Income Americans Lack Nutritious Food appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

How Can Environmental Groups Diversify?

Sun, 07/08/2018 - 13:44

May 15, 2018 — Eddie Love was the lone African American in a cohort of 90 wildlife management students at Auburn University and one of the three people of color at his U.S. Forest Service internship in the western Great Plains region of the U.S. Still, he was surprised by the lack of diversity in the marine non-governmental organization community when he accepted a Roger Arliner Young (RAY) Marine Conservation Diversity Fellowship, part of a program designed to attract people of color to work on ocean issues.

Concerned that colleagues might not appreciate his background, culture or upbringing, he was pleasantly surprised that co-workers at two of the conservation non-profits behind the fellowship, Ocean Conservancy and Rare, welcomed him with open arms. They were more eager to address race and other inequities than he had anticipated. Following the fellowship, Love accepted a job to work on initiatives aiming at protecting marine mammals as well as efforts to increase diversity, equity and inclusion­ at the Ocean Foundation. He says he surprised himself by ending up in the marine field. “It never would have crossed my mind,” he says.

Ocean Foundation program associate Eddie Love is one of relatively few people of color who staff U.S. environmental organizations.Ocean Foundation program associate Eddie Love is one of relatively few people of color who staff U.S. environmental organizations.Courtesy of Marja Diaz / Ocean Conservancy

And that’s the problem: There are still relatively few connections between communities of color and the environmental sector. The ongoing lack of ethnic diversity on environmental organization boards and staff suggests that, overall, talk of increasing diversity has not turned into widespread action. There are signs, however, that some organizations are taking fundamental steps to seek out people with valuable, yet underrepresented perspectives and skills — and ensure a welcoming environment once they arrive.

Serious Disconnect

The lack of diversity in U.S. environmental non-profit organizations has been well chronicled in recent years. A 2014 study of 191 U.S. conservation and preservation organizations, 74 government environmental agencies and 28 environmental grant-making foundations found that ethnic minorities do not exceed 16 percent of board members and or staff of environmental organizations. In January 2018, study author Dorceta Taylor, director of diversity, equity and inclusion at University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability, released another report of 2,057 U.S. environmental nonprofit organizations, analyzing voluntary diversity data between 2014 and 2016. She found that 3.9 percent of organizations reveal their data on racial diversity; on average, 80 percent of their board members and 85 percent of their staff were white.

A number of organizations are diversifying their ranks in the wake of the reports. Asian American Rhea Suh became president of the Natural Resources Defense Council in 2014. Also in 2014, the Environmental Defense Fund created a 64-page diversity strategy. In 2015, Audubon created a statement outlining the organization’s diversity goals, and last year hired pioneering environmental justice lawyer Deeohn Ferris as vice president for equity, diversity and inclusion

Other environmental funding organizations and non-profits, however, are less forthcoming. The Pew Charitable Trusts and Conservation International, for example, do not share their diversity data and did not respond to repeated interview requests for this story. [Editor’s note: After publication, Conservation International contacted Ensia to explain that interview requests were misrouted. A representative told Ensia that 35 percent of Conservation International’s U.S. staff members — including CEO M. Sanjayan — are minorities, and the organization is a partner in EcologyPlus, an effort to connect diverse college students and early-career scientists with ecology careers.]

“It’s a good news, bad news situation,” says Taylor. “There is greater recognition that there’s a problem, but we are nowhere near where we should be in terms of hiring people of color.”

Mustafa Ali, senior vice president of climate, environmental justice and community revitalization with the Hip Hop Caucus, a national non-profit that encourages civic engagement, agrees.

“Numbers don’t lie,” he says. “There is a serious disconnect between the changing demographics in our country and the lack of diverse leadership and staffing at organizations that protect our health and the environment.”

Systemic Change

Diversifying environmental non-profits takes time, patience and, most importantly, thoughtful, sustained action. In 2017, The Wilderness Society reported that people of color held 4 percent of its senior staff positions, 14 percent of all staff positions, and 10 percent of its board positions. Society president Jamie Williams realized the organization needed to make systemic changes to the board, staffing and partnership efforts to better achieve its mission of protecting public lands.

The first step, he says, was to be more representative of the communities they aim to serve — and that required outreach. Throughout the organization — from adjusting its mission to include the needs of underserved communities to addressing unconscious bias in hiring practices — the society is working to embed equity and inclusivity into everything it does, he says. “We learned we need to be intentional about change, not just well-intended,” says Williams.

Broadening the organization’s focus beyond protecting the biggest, wildest places, the Wilderness Society launched an Urban to Wild initiative to protect outdoor recreational areas close to and within cities and increase public transportation from cities to these areas — making it easier for city dwellers, including people of color, to access the outdoors. In addition, the society is working to increase the racial and ethnic diversity of the staff, in part by establishing paid internships. One-third of the 15 people hired in the past year have been people of color.

“We know we still have a lot of work to do,” says Williams, “but [these efforts] will make us a much stronger, dynamic organization over the long run.”

Queta González helps organizations develop strategies to increase equity, diversity and inclusion in her role as director of Center for Diversity & the Environment in Portland, Oregon. She says organizations that successfully attract and retain diverse staff and develop cross-cultural relationships are clear about their goals, transparent, accept feedback, and are authentic.

“If you don’t do it authentically,” says González, “just don’t do it.”

Inauthentic gestures — for example, promoting diverse faces on an organization’s website without concomitant shifts in outreach or recruitment — are a common misstep. Another is focusing too much on increasing the number of people of color hired, instead of investigating why the numbers are so low and addressing the root causes, says Charles “Chas” Lopez, vice president for diversity and inclusion at Earthjustice, a San Francisco–based environmental law nonprofit.

Mary Scoonover, executive vice president of the California-based conservation non-profit Resources Legacy Fund, says her organization has, since inception, focused on broadening, ethnically and economically, the groups and leaders who advocate for conservation. But they decided 10 years ago they needed to do more to diversify their board and staff.

A 2014 study showed that racial diversity in U.S. conservation and preservation organizations tends to be lowest on boards and highest among relatively new employees and interns.A 2014 study showed that racial diversity in U.S. conservation and preservation organizations tends to be lowest on boards and highest among relatively new employees and interns.Source: Taylor, D.E. The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations; Chart by Sean Quinn

The organization found it challenging to recruit ethnically diverse, younger staff to suburban Sacramento, where the organization was originally based. So it made a big move — opening an office in Los Angeles and expanding their presence in San Francisco, in part, to help attract high-caliber candidates from diverse backgrounds.

The organization has also spent time reaching out to local schools and colleges, championing conservation as a career choice. And it created a new category of entry-level managers to offer employees the experience necessary to become leaders of tomorrow. Five years ago, the group’s seven-member board had no people of color. Now, the 11-member board has three people of color. The percent of people of color on staff has gone up from 9 percent to 26 percent since 2015.

“We’re slowly increasing our diversity,” Scoonover says, but admits, “we have more progress to make.” To continue to build a broader, more diverse coalition, the Resources Legacy Fund is looking for synergies between its own mission and a community’s priorities — for example, connecting its concern about air quality with diverse farmworkers’ concern about pesticide drift.

Building Relationships

Despite the increasing number of fellowship, internship and training opportunities to provide people of color with pathways to gain skills and experience in environmental fields, organizations continue to lament a lack of diverse applicants.

Taylor says that type of rhetoric is used to absolve organizations of a responsibility to search out or nurture talent. She is involved in two fellowships for college students of color to gain experience in university research labs and non-profit organizations — yet her program staff receives only a modest number of job advertisements from environmental organizations.

“Environmental jobs are advertised and accepted through established networks,” says Taylor, adding “if you are not connected, you won’t hear about or get those jobs.”

To help build those connections, Taylor organized a New Horizons in Conservation Conference in Washington, D.C., in April 2018. Over 220 participants — mostly students of color — attended with resumes in hand to mingle with representatives of non-profits. This September, the sixth annual HBCU Climate Conference, which brings together Historically Black College and Universities staff, faculty and students, will take place in New Orleans and expects 400 attendees. Over 30 percent of past attendees have gone on to pursue careers in environmental fields, says conference organizer Beverly Wright.

“I want to dispel the myth that there are not diverse young people out there interested in this work,” says Angelou Ezeilo, CEO and founder of Greening Youth Foundation in Atlanta, Georgia. Her organization has trained over 5,000 underserved, underrepresented young adults, ages 16­–25, in environmental stewardship — ranging from conservation to urban agriculture to landscape management.

Ezeilo estimates only 15 to 17 percent of her trainees have secured long-term employment in environmental organizations. But she also notes that she measures success not by employment, but by the number of people she exposes to environmental fields — trainees who now see things through a lens of sustainability even if they wind up in other professions. Still, “there have to be employers ready to hire them,” she says.

Changing Culture

Changing an organization’s culture takes time and deliberate action. When you commit to do this, you have to go all in, says Center for Diversity & the Environment’s González. “I see a lot of organizations put a toe in the water and try to recruit for diversity but do nothing to create an inclusive environment,” she says. If new hires walk into a space where they don’t feel welcome, the situation is set up for failure, she says.

The Ocean Foundation’s Love agrees that retaining diverse staff will be the key to success. “How do groups plan to keep diverse staff, and create an environment that seeks to understand diverse backgrounds and communicate effectively?” he asks.

To that end, González says one of the most important thing an organization can do is center its actions around the answer to one question: Why does diversity matter to us?

“Organizations need to see diversity as a great opportunity,” she says. “If it’s drudgery or scary, it will fail.”

Ali offers one answer: “If we truly want to win on climate and the environment, that means all voices must help drive the process.” View Ensia homepage

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Toys “R” Us Workers Take on Private Equity Vultures

Sun, 07/08/2018 - 13:40

It was once the biggest toy company in the world. But Toys ‘R’ Us  turned off the lights in its remaining stores for the last time last Friday, becoming the most recent casualty of Wall Street greed.

As Toys ‘R’ Us first began its descent into bankruptcy and liquidation, it was seen as another point on the “retail apocalypse” continuum, with many in the media blaming e-commerce and changing shopping habits for store bankruptcies around the country. But the narrative is shifting to place the blame on the private equity firms that purchased the company with a leveraged buyout in 2005, only to saddle it with billions of dollars in debt.

That shift is due in no small part to the biggest victims of the buyout — the more than 30,000 Toys ‘R’ Us employees now out of a job. Those workers aren’t letting the store close without a fight for fair severance, and consequences for the Wall Street firms that turned a profit while leaving them in financial insecurity.

The private equity companies KKR and Bain Capital and real estate firm Vornado were able to eke $470 million in fees out of the debt-ridden toy store after acquiring it in 2005. Top execs even won approval to hand out millions in bonuses last year while in the midst of bankruptcy proceedings, arguing to the court that the chain “rewards team members at all levels of the company.”

Tell that to the workers, many of whom spent decades at the toy store, who received far less. Store employees were shocked to learn they wouldn’t receive severance upon losing their jobs, and the hefty exec bonuses were salt in the wound. In the weeks preceding the chain’s closing, employees mobilized to demand fair severance pay and decry the corporate greed that left them unemployed.

Tens of thousands of people signed petitions calling on Toys ‘R’ Us owners to pay workers out of the sizeable private equity profits. Workers gathered in Bain Capital’s New York City lobby, creating a mock graveyard to mourn the toy store “killed by Wall Street greed.” They protested at the private equity firms that owned the company, outside the home of former CEO David Brandon, and within their local stores.

Toys R Us is closing forever, but the company didn’t have to go bankrupt. This is the THIRD LARGEST bankruptcy in our country’s history and it was caused by Wall Street greed. Watch workers fight back to demand severance pay #RiseUpRetail #ToysRUs pic.twitter.com/HgQR7fPNf0

— Rise Up Retail (@riseupretail) June 21, 2018

The store’s former employees are also doing their best to deal a blow where it would hurt most — the profits of the private equity firms that took Toys ‘R’ Us down. Workers and labor advocates have been encouraging public pension boards across the country to divest their funds from private equity firms that played a role in the toy store’s demise.

The California pension board heard from Nadia Romo, a store manager in Ventura who worked at the company alongside her fiance and step-son. The combined loss of income meant the family had to try to downsize their home in order to cover her newborn daughter’s medical insurance. She’d heard similar stories from Toys ‘R’ Us workers around the country facing everything from cancer to miscarriages, all while dealing with the loss of their jobs.

“KKR, Bain Capital, and Vornado never put their hearts into a 70-year old company to grow with a great good investments in return,” Romo said. “They just took advantage of investors like you and took advantage of hard workers like us.”

Romo was joined by other Toys ‘R’ Us employees, including Sandra Lopez, a manager who worked her way up from a part-time position over the course of 22 years. Lopez told the board that she’d missed countless family events while working at the store as a single mother. “Our work in retail has value for the families we help at the stores, and our families at home. We can’t let Wall Street and we can’t let Bain and KKR take it all away,” Lopez said.

“Please, I’m asking you to do your homework and make sure you’re not investing in companies that are all about corporate greed instead of workers’ needs.”

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