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Judge Brett Kavanaugh Has Lied Every Time He Has Testified Under Oath

Mon, 10/01/2018 - 15:50

The FBI is investigating Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh after Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified last week that he attempted to rape her in 1982. But Democrats say the FBI’s probe is too limited, and critics claim that Kavanaugh has repeatedly committed perjury by lying during his testimony about his drinking habits, the content of his yearbook and a spate of other topics. We speak with Lisa Graves, co-director of Documented, which investigates corporate influence on democracy. She is the former chief counsel for nominations for the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and was deputy assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice. Her recent article for Slate is titled “I Wrote Some of the Stolen Memos That Brett Kavanaugh Lied to the Senate About.”

Please check back later for full transcript.

The post Judge Brett Kavanaugh Has Lied Every Time He Has Testified Under Oath appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

How Society Embraces Male Denials, From Clarence Thomas to Brett Kavanaugh

Mon, 10/01/2018 - 15:49

When President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testified last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he called Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s accusations against him and the subsequent fallout a “circus” orchestrated by the Democrats. His language echoed Clarence Thomas, who nearly 30 years ago said of the Anita Hill trials, “This is a circus. It’s a national disgrace. … It is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves.” We speak with Kimberlé Crenshaw, professor of law at UCLA and Columbia University who assisted Anita Hill’s legal team. She is the founder of the African American Policy Forum. Her piece for The New York Times last week was headlined “We Still Haven’t Learned from Anita Hill’s Testimony.”

Please check back later for full transcript.

The post How Society Embraces Male Denials, From Clarence Thomas to Brett Kavanaugh appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Recent Disasters Reveal Racial Discrimination in FEMA Aid Process

Mon, 10/01/2018 - 15:36

With Hurricane Florence’s floodwaters receding and people returning home to deal with the damage left behind, the disaster recovery process is getting underway in the Carolinas.

Residents who suffered losses as a result of the storm are now able to register for assistance with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Department of Homeland Security division that coordinates responses to disasters that overwhelm local and state authorities. But if the FEMA response to recent disasters is any indication, storm victims could face barriers in securing federal aid — especially if they’re not white.

Consider what happened in Texas after Hurricane Harvey hit the Gulf Coast last August. A survey of more than 1,600 Texans in 24 counties conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Episcopal Health Foundation from Oct. 17 to Nov. 20 documented how the storm itself had disparate impacts on various demographic groups, with black and Hispanic residents and those with lower incomes more likely to be affected by property damage or income loss than white and wealthier residents, and with the racial disparities persisting even after controlling for income.

The inequality in who the disaster affected was then amplified in the recovery process, with black and Hispanic respondents more likely than their white counterparts to report being unable to access needed aid of any kind. Only 52 percent of the survey’s white respondents impacted by Harvey said they were able to get the help they needed; that number dropped to 46 percent for Hispanic and 32 percent for black respondents.

Among those who applied for post-Harvey disaster assistance from FEMA or the Small Business Administration (which provides low-interest loans for businesses, nonprofits, homeowners, and renters), those who reported incomes at least four times the federal poverty level were more likely to say their application was approved, at 45 percent. And while only 34 percent of all white residents who sought federal assistance said their application passed muster, that figure dropped to 28 percent for Hispanic residents and just 13 percent for black residents.

Kathy Payton, executive director of the Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation in Houston’s historically black community, discussed the disparities she witnessed during the Harvey recovery in an interview earlier this year with the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University. She observed that the reason why many of those hurt by Harvey were unable to qualify for FEMA assistance was because their properties didn’t meet its standards.

“Because they had no access to resources – home improvement loans, homebuyer education, etc. – to make critical repairs in the past, they cannot qualify for most recovery programs today,” Payton said.

FEMA aid denial was also a big problem following last year’s Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, where assistance was even slower to arrive than in post-Harvey Texas. Lawyers and community groups said that about 60 percent of Puerto Rican households’ FEMA aid applications were denied, often because of problems residents had proving ownership of their homes — either because the paperwork was destroyed in the storm, or because they had inherited the property informally, without transfer of the deed.

Similar issues are expected to arise during the recovery in the Carolinas, where heirs’ property — land that’s been informally passed down from generation to generation because of barriers to legal assistance needed to draft wills — is common, particularly in Gullah/Geechee and other African-American communities. A 2017 U.S. Department of Agriculture study found that about 20,000 heirs’ property owners were denied FEMA or other federal assistance following 2005’s Hurricanes Katrina and Rita because they couldn’t show clear title to the property.

Given FEMA’s limits when it comes to making disaster victims whole, it will be critically important for other players involved in the recovery to be prepared to fill in the gaps — especially since the storm hit hard in centers of the state’s African-American and Native American populations, where poverty is endemic. In North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper (D) has already acknowledged the need to prioritize affordable housing in the rebuilding effort. Even before Florence, 43 percent of the state’s renter households were unable to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment at market rates.

“There’s a concern about affordable housing all over the state, in urban areas but particularly in southeastern North Carolina where we are seeing such significant devastation,” Cooper said during a Sept. 16 press conference as the storm still raged across his state. He added that he and the state Department of Emergency Management “have had significant conversations about that with our partners with how we need to aim toward that goal.”

The post Recent Disasters Reveal Racial Discrimination in FEMA Aid Process appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Trump Administration Transfers Immigrant Youth to Tent Camp With No Schooling

Mon, 10/01/2018 - 15:29

With detention facilities overflowing due to President Donald Trump’s monstrous immigration policies — which have sent the number of children detained by the US government soaring to a record 12,800 — the Trump administration is reportedly carrying out dead-of-night “mass transfers” of children from foster homes and shelters to a crowded Texas tent camp, where they have no schooling and limited access to legal services.

According to the New York Times, more than 1,600 “migrant children have been roused in the middle of the night in recent weeks and loaded onto buses with backpacks and snacks for a cross-country journey to their new home: a barren tent city on a sprawling patch of desert in South Texas.”

The Times continued:

Until now, most undocumented children being held by federal immigration authorities had been housed in private foster homes or shelters, sleeping two or three to a room. They received formal schooling and regular visits with legal representatives assigned to their immigration cases.

But in the rows of sand-colored tents in Tornillo, Tex., children in groups of 20, separated by gender, sleep lined up in bunks. There is no school: The children are given workbooks that they have no obligation to complete. Access to legal services is limited.

While the Tornillo tent camp was originally opened for just a short period in June to accommodate the growing number of children the Trump administration was ripping from their parents’ arms and locking up, the “pop-up city” was expanded last month to be able to hold 3,800 children.

“A reminder that the Trump administration is diverting money away from Head Start, the National Cancer Institute, the HIV/AIDS programs, maternal and child health programs, and the CDC to pay for these human rights abuses,” Melissa Boteach of the Center for American Progress pointed out, citing a recent Yahoo News report that found the White House is taking hundreds of millions of dollars from key programs to fund its mass detention and deportation policies.

Citing shelter workers who requested anonymity for fear of being fired, the Times reported on Sunday that the transfers from shelters throughout the country to the Tornillo tent camp “are carried out late at night because children will be less likely to try to run away. For the same reason, children are generally given little advance warning that they will be moved.”

“Obviously we have concerns about kids falling through the cracks, not getting sufficient attention if they need attention, not getting the emotional or mental health care that they need,” said Leah Chavla, a lawyer with the Women’s Refugee Commission, told the Times in an interview. This cannot be the right solution. We need to focus on making sure that kids can get placed with sponsors and get out of custody.”

On waking children up and whisking them away on “midnight voyages” to military tent camps:

“In order to avoid escape attempts, the moves are carried out late at night because the children will be less likely to try to run away.”

Haunting.https://t.co/KmN6tuZ3pO

— Adam Klasfeld (@KlasfeldReports) September 30, 2018

Horrific. Migrant children being moved to *tent camps* in the middle of the night. No schooling. 2018 in the richest country on Earth. https://t.co/GNZI6xGUqn

— Brian Klaas (@brianklaas) September 30, 2018

While the Trump administration’s mass separation and detention of immigrant families sparked outrage at home and throughout the world earlier this year, the fact that hundreds of children remain separated from their families months after the White House’s “zero tolerance” policy supposedly ended has slipped from the headlines amid the day-to-day chaos of the Trump era.

“Please remember there are 13,000 migrant children in detention. We can’t forget about them,” immigrant rights activist Julissa Arce wrote in response to the Times report.

The post Trump Administration Transfers Immigrant Youth to Tent Camp With No Schooling appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Insider Attacks: Blowback From US Policy in Afghanistan and Beyond

Mon, 10/01/2018 - 15:10

He was shot in the back, the ultimate act of treachery. On September 3rd, a US Army sergeant major was killed by two Afghan police officers — the very people his unit, the new Security Force Assistance Brigade, was there to train. It was the second fatal “insider attack,” as such incidents are regularly called, this year and the 102nd since the start of the Afghan War 17 long years ago. Such attacks are sometimes termed “green-on-blue” incidents (in Army lingo, “green” forces are US allies and “blue” forces Americans). For obvious reasons, they are highly destructive to the military mission of training and advising local military and security forces in Afghanistan. Such attacks, not surprisingly, sow distrust and fear, creating distance between Western troops and their supposed Afghan partners.

Reading about this latest tragic victim of Washington’s war in Afghanistan, the seventh American death this year and 2,416th since 2001, I got to thinking about those insider attacks and the bigger story that they embodied. Considered a certain way, US policy across the Greater Middle East has, in fact, produced one insider attack after another.

Short-term thinking, expedience, and a lack of strategic caution (or direction) has led Washington to train, fund, and support group after group that, soon enough, turned its guns on American soldiers and civilians. It’s a long, sordid tale that stretches back decades — and one that, unlike the individual instances of treachery that kill or maim American servicemen, receives next to no attention. It’s worth thinking about, though, because if US policies had been radically different, such green-on-blue incidents might never have occurred. So let’s consider the last decades of American war-making in the context of insider attacks.

The Ground Zero of Insider Attacks: Afghanistan (1979-present)

In 1979, the Washington foreign policy elite saw everything through the prism of a possible existential Cold War clash between the US and the Soviet Union. Such a focus tended to erase local context, nuance, and complexity, leading the US to back a range of nefarious actors as long as they were allies in the struggle against communism.

So in December 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded neighboring Afghanistan, Washington knew just what to do. With the help of the Saudis and the Pakistanis, the CIA financed, trained, and armed— eventually with sophisticated anti-aircraft Stinger missiles, among other weapons — a range of anti-Soviet militias. And it worked! Eight years later, having suffered more than 10,000 combat deaths in its own version of Vietnam, the Red Army left Afghanistan in defeat (and, soon after, the Soviet Union itself imploded).

The problem was that many of those anti-Communist Afghans were also fiercely Islamic fundamentalist, often extreme in their views, and ultimately anti-Western as well as anti-Soviet — and among them, as you undoubtedly remember, was a youthful Saudi by the name of Osama bin Laden.

It was, then, an easy-to-overlook reality. After all, the Islamic fundamentalist mujahideen (as they were generally called) were astute enough to fight one enemy at a time and knew where their proverbial bread was being buttered. As long as the money and arms kept flowing in and the more immediate Soviet threat loomed, even the most extreme of them were willing to play nice with Americans. It was a marriage of convenience. Few in Washington bothered to ask what they would do with all those guns once the Soviets left town.

Recent scholarship and newly opened Russian archives suggest that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was driven as much by defensiveness and insecurity as by any notion of triumphal regional conquest. Despite the fears of officials in the administrations of presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, the Soviets never had the capacity or the intent to march through Afghanistan and seize the oil fields of the Persian Gulf. Like so much Cold War-era thinking, this was pure fantasy and the meddling that went with it anything but necessary.

After the Soviet exit, Afghanistan fell into a long period of chaos, as various mujahideen leaders became local warlords, fought with one another, and terrorized average Afghans. Frustrated by their venality, former mujahideen, aided by students radicalized in madrassas in Pakistani refugee camps (schools that had often been financed by America’s stalwart partner, Saudi Arabia), formed the Taliban movement. Many of its leaders and soldiers had once been funded and armed by the CIA. By 1996, it had swept to power in most of the country, implementing a reign of Islamic fundamentalist terror. Still, that movement was broadly popular in its early years for bringing order to chaos and misery.

And let’s not forget one other small but influential mujahideen group that the US had backed: the “Afghan Arabs,” as they were called — fiercely Islamic fundamentalist foreigners who flocked to that country to fight the godless Soviets. The most notable among them was, of course, Osama bin Laden — and the rest, as they say, is history.

Bin Laden and other Afghan War veterans would form al-Qaeda, bomb American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, blow up the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000, and take down the Twin Towers and part of the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. These, though, were only the most well known acts of those anti-Soviet war vets. Thousands of Afghan Arabs left that war zone and returned to their own countries with plenty of zeal and fight still in them. Those veterans would then form local terror organizations that would challenge or help destabilize secular governments in the Middle East and North Africa.

After 9/11, the question on many American minds was simple enough: “Why do they hate us?” Too few had the knowledge or the sense of history that might have led to far more relevant questions: How did the US contribute to what happened and to what extent was it blowback from previous American operations? Unfortunately, few such questions were raised as the Bush administration headed into what would become a 17-year, still-spreading regional war not on a nation or even a set of nations, but on a tactic, “terror.”

Still, it’s worth reflecting on America’s complicity in its own 9/11 devastation. In a strange fashion, given Washington’s history in Afghanistan, 9/11 could be seen as the most devastating insider attack of all.

The Many Iraq Wars (1980-present)

The 2003 invasion of Iraq — Operation Iraqi Freedom as it was optimistically named — may go down as one of the more foolish wars in American history — and many of the attacks on US troops that followed from it over the years might be considered green-on-blue ones. After all, Washington would, in the end, train and back so many diffuse groups that a number of the members of various terror and insurgent outfits were once on the US payroll.

It began, of course, with Saddam Hussein, the brutal Iraqi dictator whom the American people would be assured (in 1990 and again in 2003) was the “next Hitler.” In the 1980s, however, the US government had backed him in his invasion of Iran (then as now considered a mortal enemy) and the eight-year stalemated war that followed. The US even gave his forces crucial targeting intelligence for the use of his chemical weapons against Iranian troop formations, embittering the Iranians for years to come.

The Reagan administration also took Iraq off the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terror and even allowed the sale of components vital to Saddam’s production of those chemical weapons. Nearly a million people died in that grim war and then, just two years after it ended, the US found that, for its efforts, Saddam would send his troops into neighboring Kuwait and threaten to roll over America’s key ally in the region (then as now), Saudi Arabia. That, of course, kicked off another major Iraqi conflagration, again involving Washington: the First Persian Gulf War.

At the end of that “victory,” President George H.W. Bush encouraged Iraq’s oppressed Shia and Kurdish populations to rise up and overthrow Saddam’s largely Sunni regime. And rebel they did until, bereft of the slightest meaningful support from Washington, they were defeated and massacred. More than a decade later, in 2003, when the US again invaded Iraq — this time under the false pretense that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction — Americans were assured that most civilians (especially the embattled Shia majority) would cheer the arrival of Uncle Sam’s military machine.

In reality, it took less then a year for Shia militias to form and begin openly attacking US troops (with a helping hand later from the Iranians, who had their own bitter American legacy to recall). You see, those Shia — unlike most Americans — still remembered how Washington had betrayed them in 1991 and so launched their own versions of insider attacks on US soldiers.

However, from 2003 to 2007 (including the period when I served as part of the US occupation force in Baghdad), the main threat came from Sunni insurgents. They were a diverse lot, including former Saddam loyalists and military officers (whom the US had thrown out onto the street when it disbanded his army), Islamic fundamentalist jihadis, and Iraqi nationalists who simply opposed a foreign occupation of their country. As Iraq fell into chaos — I was there to see it happen — Washington turned to a savior general, David Petraeus, armed with a plan to “surge” US troops into key Sunni regions and lower the violence there before Democrats in Congress lost patience and started calling for an end to the American role in that country.

In the years that followed, the statistics seemed to vindicate the Petraeus “miracle.” Using divide-and-conquer tactics, he paid off the tribal leaders, who became known as the “Sunni Awakening” movement, to turn their guns on more Islamic fundamentalist-focused Sunni groups. Many of his new allies had only recently been insurgents with American blood on their hands.

Still, the gamble seemed to work — until it didn’t. In 2011, after the Obama administration withdrew most American troops from the country, the Shia-dominated (and US-backed) government in Baghdad failed to continue to pay the “awakened” Sunnis or integrate them into the official security forces. I’m sure you can guess what happened next. Sunni grievances led to mass protests, which led to a Shia crackdown, which led to the explosion of a new insurgent terror group: the Islamic State, or ISIS, whose origins — talk about “insider” — can be traced back to the inspiration of al-Qaeda and to a group initially known as al-Qaeda in Iraq.

In fact, it was a dirty secret that many of the Awakening veterans either joined or tacitly supported ISIS in 2013 or thereafter, seeing that brutal group as the best bet for protecting Sunni power from Shia chauvinism and American deceit. Soon enough, the US military was back in action (as it stillis today) in response to ISIS conquests that included some of Iraq’s major cities. And if all of that doesn’t qualify as a tale of blowback, what does?

Yemen, Syria and Beyond (2011-forever)

Syria is a humanitarian disaster area and no US administration has demonstrated anything resembling a coherent or consistent strategy when it comes to that country. Torn between Iraq War fatigue and military overstretch, the Obama team waffled on what its policy there should even be and ultimately failed to achieve anything of substance — except to potentially sow the seeds for future insider attacks. Indeed, a paltry (yet startlingly expensive) CIA attempt to arm “moderate” rebels opposed to the regime of Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad turned out to be wholly counterproductive. Some of those arms were ultimately reported to have made their way into the hands of extremist groups like the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda franchise in Syria. In a situation where truth proved more farcical than fiction, the $500 million effort to train anti-ISIS rebels managed to train “four or five” of them, according to the top US military commander overseeing the Syrian effort.

In Yemen, in a Saudi-led war in which the US has been shamelessly complicit, a brutal bombing campaign waged largely against civilians and a blockade of rebel ports have undoubtedly sown the seeds for future insider attacks. Beyond the staggering humanitarian toll — a minimum of 10,000civilian deaths, mass starvation, and the outbreak of the world’s worst cholera epidemic in modern memory — there is already strategic blowback that could harm future American security. As the US military provides in-flight refueling of Saudi planes, smart bombs for them to drop, and vital intelligence, it is also undoubtedly helping its future enemies. The chaos, violence, and ungoverned spaces that war has created are, for instance, empowering the al-Qaeda franchise there, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), one of the most active and dangerous jihadist crews around. When, however, AQAP inevitably succeeds in some future strike aimed at Americans or their property, precious few pundits and policymakers will call it by its proper name: an insider attack.

So, as we lament the death of yet another soldier in a green-on-blue strike in Afghanistan, it’s worth thinking about the broader contours of US policy across the Greater Middle East and Africa in these years. Is anything the US doing, anyone it is empowering or arming, likely to make the Middle East or America any safer? If not, wouldn’t a different, less interventionist approach be the essence of sober strategy?

It may, of course, be too late. Washington’s military policies since 9/11 have alienated tens of millions of Muslims across the Greater Middle East and elsewhere. Grievances are gestating, plots unfolding, and new terror outfits gaining recruits due to the very presence of the US military, its air power, and the CIA’s drone force in a “war” that is about to enter its 18th year. Seen in this light, it’s hard not to believe that more anti-US “insider” attacks aren’t on the way.

The question is only where and when, not if.

Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author, expressed in an unofficial capacity, and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the US government.

The post Insider Attacks: Blowback From US Policy in Afghanistan and Beyond appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Keeping the Spirit of the Prison Labor Strike Alive

Mon, 10/01/2018 - 14:59

In 2005, when I was in Lompoc US Penitentiary, prison authorities sent me a slip telling me they had returned a book a publisher had sent me because it included a chapter entitled “How to Organize a Strike.” They deemed this as inappropriate reading material — a measure of their paranoia about the “S”-word.

Thirteen years later, the prison authorities haven’t changed. Their fear of collective action by people in prison is central to their identity. Hence, when I hear about events like the Prison Labor Strike of 2018 and its aftermath, I find it stunning that so many people behind the walls are now prepared to take mass action against the system of incarceration.

The Prison Labor Strike of 2018

This year’s Prison Labor Strike was one of the most amazing mobilizations of liberatory politics in the past decade. It was the latest iteration in the most recent generation of prison rebellions, which has included labor strikes in Georgia prisons in 2010, the three Pelican Bay Hunger Strikes in California 2011-2013, and the direct predecessor of the latest action: the strike against prison slavery in 2016.

The authoritarian nature of prison bureaucracies prevents us from compiling a precise chronicle of what takes place behind the walls. However, according to the lead organization in the strike, the network of prisoners known as Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, actions occurred in 16 states and federal prisons. Plus, over 200 people went on strike in the Northwest Immigration Detention Center.

Amani Sawari, the official spokesperson for Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, emphasized that the mobilization took many forms. In some prisons, striking meant refusing work; in others it involved hunger strikes or refusing to spend money for commissary and phone services. Apart from actions inside prisons, Sawari reported that more than 200 community organizations across the country endorsed the strike. These supporters carried out dozens of solidarity actions including call-in campaigns known as phone zaps, noise demonstrations, teach-ins, sit-ins and massive email campaigns.

Strike, Not an Insurrection

The Prison Labor Strike of 2018 was organized very specifically a strike — not an insurrection or attempt at revolution. Since strikes are so rare in the US, we might revisit exactly what a strike implies. While revolutionaries may engage in strikes, in all but the rarest of circumstances, a strike does not aim for radical change. When workers go on strike, they typically have a specific set of demands they want their bosses to meet. A strike may win some demands but perhaps more importantly will provide worker organizations (and even unfortunately for the bosses as well) a quick assessment of the balance of forces. Strikes teach workers what is possible and show that what they have to do to extend the boundaries of possibility. The more strikers have the capacity to learn from past actions, the greater their potential to advance their interests in the future.

The 2016 strike was an open-ended mobilization to end prison slavery. While this provided powerful lessons about the nature of the prison system, the demand was clearly unwinnable at any time in the foreseeable future. With no specific deadline, the action created some confusion among strikers and supporters about how long to carry on. The lack of a specific deadline made it uncertain for strikers and supporters as to how long they should continue their actions.

By contrast, the carefully crafted program for this year incorporated a specific time frame (August 21 to September 9) and put forward ten demands, which organizers had whittled down from an original list of 35. These demands focused on the key pieces that hold the system of mass incarceration together. They aimed, in Sawari’s words, at “making prisons better and safer places for the people who have to live there.” While ending prison slavery remained a key element, the list targeted narrower reforms such as ending truth-in-sentencing laws and racialized over-charging, eliminating life without parole, and increased training and education opportunities for people inside prisons.

Clearly the criminal legal system would look a lot different if these demands were implemented, but it would still not be abolished. While many of the Jailhouse Lawyers Speak leaders identified as prison abolitionists, their approach accepted that ending mass incarceration is a long, complicated political struggle, not the product of one insurrectionary event.

While the demands represented the key change from 2016, three other points were also salient. First was the recognition that not all prisoners labor under conditions of chattel slavery. Although in rural southern prisons like Angola in Louisiana, men do pick cotton, people in other states have varying work regimes. Some incarcerated people work in factories under contract from private companies, but far more are warehoused, remaining locked in their cells with few if any work opportunities and an ever-shrinking menu of education and other programs. The 2018 approach to organizing embodied an expanded understanding of prison slavery — the notion of slavery as a system of total control, a total lack of freedom in which laboring without pay is but one element.

Second, the connection between this strike and the killing of seven men at Lee prison in South Carolina in April was profound. The men in Lee were not killed by guards but as a result of in-fighting between prisoners. In a sense, this is similar to the hundreds of cases we unfortunately witness every year in the streets of our urban communities, where residents, especially youth, kill each other through gun violence. The deaths at Lee ultimately happened because the guards waited seven hours before intervening. In other words, like many urban police forces, they were content to let the killing go ahead.

In response, Jailhouse Lawyers Speak did not press for the guards to do their job more effectively or call on their comrades to exact revenge on those who carried out the killings inside Lee. Instead, similar to activists in urban communities who don’t call for more police to solve the problem, the Jailhouse Lawyers Speak leadership properly identified the root cause of the killings as the oppressive system of mass incarceration. They developed their demands to draw attention to, and challenge, that system. This strategic response was a big part of why the 2018 strike got far much more attention from the mainstream media than previous strikes.

How Organizers Built Upon the Lessons of 2016

Five groups were listed as organizers of the strike: Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, Incarcerated Workers’ Organizing Committee (IWOC), Fire Inside, the Free Alabama Movement and Millions for Prisoners. In the end, Jailhouse Lawyers Speak and IWOC were the key drivers. Jailhouse Lawyers Speak had a very different presence than the 2016 strike leaders of the Free Alabama Movement.

During 2016, much of the media profile and communication centered around key incarcerated individuals, especially Kinetik Justice and Malik Washington. Largely due to the limitations of communicating from inside prison, the Free Alabama Movement’s messaging at times was sporadic and contradictory. Plus, on occasion media spokespeople put out information of questionable veracity.

In 2018, Jailhouse Lawyers Speak chose to remain in the background and communicate through Sawari who anchored a media team that comprised freelance journalist Jared Ware plus half a dozen IWOC members, including Brooke Terpstra. This committee performed magnificently. Its members kept their voices on the sidelines and promoted the words of Jailhouse Lawyers Speak. They constantly re-directed mainstream and left media attention to the strikers’ demands when journalists wanted to divert the message down some other sensationalistic route. In addition, they offered insightful analyses when called upon to do so. Moreover, the structured time frame of the 2018 strike enabled a more planned approach to communication efforts.

IWOC continues to often puzzle both the mainstream media and other elements of the political left. While linked to the anarchist-leaning Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), according to leading member Brooke Terpstra, IWOC is the “prisoner led section of the IWW.” Terpstra, who has had family members incarcerated, told Truthout their successes were the fruit of “working our asses off.” He rejected any categorization of IWOC as a solidarity group that was distant from the realities of prison but stressed that a large portion of IWOC members are “critically impacted” and this is what drives their passion. “We got skin in the game,” he told Truthout.

IWOC’s growth and development offer useful lessons in what it means to be an ally or an accomplice in a struggle of the oppressed. They have now played a leading role in the last two prison strikes, helping coordinate communication between in-prison leaders and community activists while also engaging in popular education about mass incarceration. While IWOC stresses that a considerable portion of their ranks are “critically impacted” by mass incarceration, they have also found a way to extend their message into the ranks of students and organizations like the Democratic Socialists of America for whom incarceration is not a reality.

Who Was Missing?

Predictably, the voice of organized labor was very faint in the choir of support. Of the more than 200 supporting organizations, only a handful of US unions featured-three local branches of the United Auto Workers and two Graduate Employees Organizations. Despite efforts to frame the strike as a workers’ action, IWOC and Jailhouse Lawyers Speak were unable to crack the general failure of trade unions to recognize mass incarceration as a working-class issue. The unions’ excessive concentration on industrial and public sector workers often leaves people in prison and other precarious layers of the laborers outside organizing orbits. Moreover, once again the strike failed to report any action in women’s prisons or jails.

These absences relate to a bigger question: how to connect this movement led by people inside prisons to those folks on the outside struggling for their own survival. The family and community members of those in prison are largely from the precarious layer of the working class, the population most impacted by the growing inequality, white supremacy, xenophobia and lack of services in our society. This cohort suffers not only from losing loved ones to prison, but from the lack of housing, education, health care, and living wage employment. In other circles, the mobilization of family members, particularly women, has become a key component of campaigns against mass incarceration. Groups like the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People and Family Movement, the National Council of Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, Moms United Against Violence and Incarceration and California Families Against Solitary Confinement as well as many locally based groups have become essential vehicles in bringing together critically impacted communities. Hence, it was surprising not to see these forces leading the demonstrations, formulating the messaging and handling the media queries during this strike.

What Comes Next?

According to Sawari, those who supported the strike should focus on two immediate tasks: fighting back against efforts by prison authorities to punish strikers and organizers and pushing elected officials to move ahead on the demands of the strikers.

Minimizing retribution is a mighty challenge. As historian Heather Thompson reminds us, previous uprisings by people in prison have brought vicious retribution. The classic case is the Attica Prison Uprising in 1971, which concluded with state troopers mounting a brutal military offensive against the prisoners, killing 39 people in the process and torturing many more men in its wake.

The Prisoners’ Legal Advocacy Network of the National Lawyers’ Guild has been compiling a list of retaliatory acts carried out by prison authorities surrounding the 2018 strike. In the first two weeks after the strike, they received reports from people behind the walls in twelve states who chronicled physical abuse, pre-emptive lockdowns before the strike, along with placing jailhouse lawyers and other activists in solitary confinement. Those who have loved ones in prison echoed the observations the Prisoners’ Legal Advocacy Network in interviews with Truthout.

Prisoners who did not participate in the action are also facing retaliation. Sarah Roogow, who visits Atiba Ajamu Olugbala in a Maryland prison, told Truthout that Olugbala is being “victimized” now, even though there was no strike action in that state. In her words, “whenever you’re politically active in these institutions it’s easy to be a target for retaliation, especially when you’re educated.” Despite the repression visited on Olugbala, she says the strike is “necessary,” that ultimately this is a “peaceful way of saying something’s got to change without causing chaos.”

Apart from direct retaliation, mass action in prisons often triggers repression not directly attributable to the strike but emerging from the paranoia that collective action prompts among prison personnel.

In this vein, at the end of August the entire prison system of Pennsylvania went on lockdown, allegedly due to a number of guards becoming ill after exposure to an “unknown substance,” later identified as a synthetic form of marijuana known as K2 or spice. Authorities concluded that the substance was entering the prison through the mail system. They immediately banned direct communication by letters. Instead, according to Justina, whose husband is in a Pennsylvania prison and who asked that her last name be withheld due to her fear of retaliation against her partner, all those wanting to correspond with someone in a Pennsylvania facility were instructed to send their letters to an address in St. Petersburg, Florida, where they would be photocopied and sent to the addressee. The Pennsylvania ACLU protested this lockdown, arguing that it jeopardized the health of the men inside prison and left their families “in the dark” on the welfare of their loved ones.

Even in the face of such repression, Sawari urged those who supported the strike to push forward with the demands advanced by Jailhouse Lawyers Speak. In its post-strike statement, the media committee concluded: “It has been a huge success of the 2018 prison strike that the 10 points have been pushed into the national and international consciousness. The work of spreading and fighting for these demands will continue on all fronts until they are actualized, and then beyond that onto what [Jailhouse Lawyers Speak] aptly calls ‘the dismantling process,’ as we build a movement toward abolition.”

The post Keeping the Spirit of the Prison Labor Strike Alive appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Colleges Have a Responsibility to Divest From Fossil Fuels

Mon, 10/01/2018 - 14:43

As a new academic year begins after a summer of deadly heat waves, wildfires, droughts and floods, many college students and faculty are debating whether and how to get involved in climate politics.

Climate advocacy has become well established on US campuses over the past decade, in diverse forms. More than 600 colleges and universities have signed the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment. Schools are expanding interdisciplinary teaching and research in environmental studies, sustainability science and climate resilience, and investing in “greening” their campuses. And many activists on campuses around the country are participating in global campaigns like “Rise for Climate, Jobs and Justice” and “Keep it in the Ground.”

One of the most controversial strategies is campaigning for schools to divest their holdings in fossil fuel companies. Campus divestment is widely viewed as mainly a student cause. But when I analyzed the movement with Peter Frumhoff of the Union of Concerned Scientists and Yale (now Stanford) graduate student Leehi Yona, we found widespread faculty support for divestment. For example, in a survey at Harvard in spring 2018, 67 percent of faculty respondents supported divestment, while only 9 percent were opposed and 24 percent were neutral.

So far, however, only about 150 campuses worldwide have committed to fossil fuel divestment – and less than a third of those are in the United States. Why so few? I see two reasons. First, divestment is controversial because it acknowledges the need for radical change. Second, there is a disconnect in institutional priorities between administrators on one side and faculty and students on the other side.

A Growing Global Movement

Fossil fuel divestment is intended to stigmatize the industry and hold companies accountable for opposing action to slow climate change and for their strategic misinformation campaign designed to confuse the public about climate science and the risks of climate change.

To date, over 800 institutions with assets valued at over US$6 trillion have committed to some form of fossil fuel divestment. They include the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Guardian Media Group and the World Council of Churches.

New York City has set a goal of divesting its pension funds from fossil fuel companies by 2023. And in July 2018, the Irish parliament passed a bill making Ireland the first country in the world to divest from fossil fuels.

Check out our Open Letter to President Brown, who has rejected us 16 times. #DivestBU https://t.co/20nnjII7q5

— Divest BU (@DivestBU) February 22, 2017

Student and Faculty Support

Our analysis of campus support for divestment focused on 30 colleges and universities in the United States and Canada. We reviewed the number and type of faculty at these schools who had signed publicly available letters endorsing fossil fuel divestment. Over 4,550 faculty had taken such positions, representing all major disciplines and fields. They included 30 members of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine and two Nobel laureates. These findings suggest that faculty engagement in the divestment movement is broader than generally realized.

Faculty support reflects concern about fossil fuel companies’ negative influence in our political system, in our increasingly unequal economy and in public understanding of science. Faculty are also concerned about the industry’s direct influence over research and teaching within higher education.

A wide array of US schools, ranging from large state universities to prestigious elite institutions such as Harvard and MIT, have received financial support from individuals or foundations whose wealth comes from fossil fuels. Many professors and students are concerned about how these relationships constrain campus research, inquiry and conversation about responses to climate change and the need for radical change in energy systems.

Resisting Calls to Divest

So why have leaders at institutions like Harvard, Swarthmore and Middlebury resisted faculty and student calls to divest? Many administrators cite their fiduciary responsibility to maximize returns on endowment investments. However, a recent study that compared financial performance of investment portfolios with and without fossil fuel companies from 1927-2016 found that fossil fuel divestment did not reduce investment portfolio performance.

Administrators also often contend that their school’s investments should not be politicized. They say the endowment is not an appropriate lever for social change. But there is no such thing as an apolitical investment. Every investment does, in fact, influence change in one way or another. Many schools are now implicitly acknowledging this by developing guidelines for socially or environmentally responsible investing.

Senior administrators may also fear alienating important university constituents who are connected to the fossil fuel industry. They may feel a need to protect direct or indirect funding from fossil fuel companies for academic programs, or to maintain a non-threatening environment for board members with fossil fuel interests.

Higher education administrators also resist calls to divest because they recognize the potential for campus activists to call for divesting from other ethically challenged businesses, including tobacco and firearms. As social impact investing grows, it is not clear whether or how fossil fuel energy companies will be integrated.

Colleges and Universities as Citizens

The core missions of our institutions of higher education are to generate knowledge and educate citizens and leaders. Many schools also embrace a third role: addressing pressing social issues, whether through research and teaching or other strategies – for example, protecting undocumented students from the Trump administration’s aggressive enforcement of immigration law.

Education scholars have argued that all universities transmit powerful educational messages far beyond their specific teaching and research activities. Concepts of “universities as citizens” or “universities as change agents” capture the potential for universities to be active, contributing, influential and responsive members of society. Higher education thought leader Richard Freeland and many others have argued that colleges and universities have a responsibility to cultivate civic responsibility and citizenship via a scholarship of public engagement.

As disruptions linked to climate change become more intense, many faculty and students are asking why their schools are not explicitly incorporating their strategic societal priorities into financial decisions and investment portfolios. Under the Trump administration, standing up against misinformation about climate change takes on greater urgency.

That’s why I believe fossil fuel divestment raises important questions about the changing role and responsibilities of higher education in society. At this moment in human history, education must engage with how to bridge the gap between knowledge and action. Divestment debates are forcing colleges and universities to reconsider how to contribute to a more resilient and sustainable future.

The post Colleges Have a Responsibility to Divest From Fossil Fuels appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

How Feedback Loops Are Driving Runaway Climate Change

Mon, 10/01/2018 - 14:27

If you think this summer has been intense as far as record warm temperatures, wildfires, drought, and flooding events around the Northern Hemisphere, you haven’t seen anything yet — unless you happen to live in the Arctic.

According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), air temperatures there are increasing at an “unprecedented rate” — twice as fast as they are around the rest of the globe. NOAA’s 2017 Arctic Report Card states unequivocally that the Arctic “shows no sign of returning to reliably frozen region of recent past decades.”

The Executive Summary of the report also adds, “Arctic paleo-reconstructions, which extend back millions of years, indicate that the magnitude and pace of the 21st century sea-ice decline and surface ocean warming is unprecedented in at least the last 1,500 years and likely much longer.”

A recent report from National Geographic revealed that some of the ground in the Arctic is no longer freezing, even during the winter. Along with causing other problems, this will become yet another feedback loop in the Arctic, causing yet more greenhouse gasses to be released from permafrost than are already being released and impacting the entire planet.

The simplest explanation for a positive climate feedback loop is this: The more something happens, the more it happens. One of the most well-known examples is the melting of sea ice in the Arctic during the summer, which is accelerating. As greater amounts of Arctic summer sea ice melt away, less sunlight is reflected back into space. Hence, more light is absorbed into the ocean, which warms it and causes more ice to melt, and on and on.

Dr. Ira Leifer is an academic researcher who specializes in bubble-related oceanographic processes (such as subsea bubble plumes emanating from the ocean floor), satellite remote sensing, and air pollution. Working closely with NASA on some of his projects, Leifer uses the agency’s satellite data to study methane in the Arctic and its role in climate disruption.

One of his concerns about a feedback loop already at play in the Arctic is how the heating of that region is already being amplified by ocean currents that transport warmer, more southerly waters northwards into Arctic seabed waters where it can affect methane deposits in submerged permafrost and sub-seabed methane hydrates.

“The release of this methane contributes powerfully to overall warming – methane is a very potent greenhouse gas, which actually has a bigger effect [on] the atmosphere’s radiative balance than carbon dioxide on decadal timescales,” Dr. Leifer told Truthout.

Although climate is generally thought to occur on century timescales, human timescales and ecological adaptation timescales are measured in decades instead of centuries, and this is now how many climate processes are being monitored given the rapidity of human-forced planetary warming.

Dr. Peter Wadhams is a world-renowned expert who has been studying Arctic sea ice for decades.

His prognosis for the Arctic sea ice is grim: He says it is in its “death spiral.”

“Multi-year ice is now much less than 10 percent of the area of the ice cover; it was 60 percent or more before 2000,” Dr. Wadhams told Truthout. “[Sea ice] extent in summer is down to 50 percent of its value in the 1980s.”

Dr. Wadhams, who is also the President of the International Association for the Physical Sciences of the Ocean (IAPSO), noted that this primary feedback loop is much further along than most of us realize.

“I see the summer sea ice disappearing by the early 2020s,” Wadhams said. He noted that the change of albedo (a measure of reflection of solar radiation) due to the loss of sea ice and snowline retreat across the Arctic “is sufficient to add 50 percent to the warming effect of CO2 emissions alone.”

Alarmingly, on August 21, Arctic scientists told The Guardian that the oldest and strongest sea ice in the Arctic had broken up for the first time in recorded history. One of them described the event as “scary,” in part because it occurred off the north coast of Greenland, which is normally frozen year-round. The region has long been believed to be “the last ice area”: It was thought, at least until now, to be the final place that would hold out against the melting impacts from an increasingly warmer planet.

Abrupt Acceleration

Temperatures are rising most strongly in the Arctic, with some areas already showing an increase of as much as 5.7 degrees Celsius (10.26 degrees Fahrenheit).

Dr. Michael MacCracken, Chief Scientist for Climate Change Programs with the Climate Institute in Washington, DC, explained to Truthout how, now that the Arctic is warmer, the temperature gradient between the tropics and the traditionally cold Arctic is reduced.

With a reduced gradient, the movement of warmth from low to high latitudes is slowed. As Earth rotates, this leads to a wavier jet stream that can carry low latitude warmth up to Alaska and elsewhere in the Arctic, and the southward reach of cold air in the Arctic to lower latitudes. This explains why New Orleans, for example, has recently experienced unusual freezing winter weather.

“In addition, the waves in the jet stream that result are shifting to the east less rapidly, which means the unusual weather patterns that are more frequently occurring are moving eastward less rapidly,” Dr. MacCracken explained. “So both wet and dry periods are lasting longer, contributing to both excessively wet (e.g., flooding) and excessively dry (e.g., wildfire) conditions.”

Dr. Wadhams is concerned about this as well.

“The jet stream effect is because Arctic air is warming faster than tropical air, so the temperature difference is decreasing,” he explained. “This reduces the driving force on the jet stream, so it then meanders, which brings hot air to the higher latitudes (and cold air to some low latitudes).”

Summer weather patterns are now increasingly likely to become stalled out over places like North America, portions of Asia, and Europe, according to a recent climate study that showed how a warming Arctic is causing heatwaves in other places to become more intense and persistent due to a slowing of the jet stream.

Dr. Leifer warned that as these processes continue and the Arctic continues to heat up faster than the tropics, the pole-equator temperature difference that controls our weather and causes three major weather circulation “cells” — tropical, mid-latitude, and arctic — will merge into a single weather cell. A similar merging of weather cells occurred during the time of the dinosaurs.

“The jet stream, which controls seasonal storms in the midlatitudes, is a result of these three cells, and would disappear in a single weather cell planet, dramatically altering rain patterns and almost certainly heralding an ecosystem catastrophe,” Leifer explained. “The plants that underlie the food chain would be replaced by others that the local animals (insects to apex predators) could not utilize — in short, an abrupt acceleration of the current Great Anthropocene Extinction event.”

The diminishment of the jet stream also contributes to another potentially catastrophic feedback loop within the Arctic seabed: Changes to the jet stream are causing longer and more intense heat waves to occur across the Arctic, which of course causes the Arctic Ocean to warm further.

Kevin Lister, an associate with the Climate Restoration Foundation in Washington, DC, co-authored a paper with Dr. MacCracken for the United Nations that addressed the crisis in the Arctic, among other climate disruption-related issues.

Unlike the most commonly accepted idea that global temperatures should not be allowed to increase by more than 1.5°C, Lister told Truthout that the planet reaching 1.5°C above baseline “is fundamentally dangerous and that the rate of change we are seeing today means we will not even be able to stop the temperature at this level.”

Lister said this conclusion was reached, in part, due to initial observations from Dr. Wadhams regarding how the loss of sea ice was amplifying rates of change in the Arctic.

Lister told Truthout that “methane emissions [in the Arctic] are already a severe risk,” and that he and Dr. MacCracken’s UN paper shows that once temperatures started rising they would be largely unstoppable due to the interacting nature of the feedback mechanisms.

“Thus, one feedback mechanism, such as sea ice melting, can trigger another, such as methane releases, which then accelerates the first in a tightening spiral,” he explained. “In reality, there are many critical feedback mechanisms and the interlocking effects between them means that the climate is far more unstable and irreversible than we are led to believe, and the climate’s change is likely to follow a super exponential progression once the temperature rises above a certain level.”

Dr. Leifer, who has been studying Arctic methane for years, shares the same concern.

“There is the potential for seabed methane deposits off Greenland to be destabilized by the input of warm melt water and also heat transport,” he said, in addition to having pointed out that this process has been occurring in other areas around the Arctic for many years.

As I have written in the past, we are currently facing the very real possibility of a major methane release in the Arctic. Such a release would be a catastrophe for the global climate — and the survival of humans and other species.

Could a Dire Situation Lead to a “War for Survival”?

Lister and Dr. MacCracken both believe that the global focus on a maximum allowable temperature increase target of 1.5°C above baseline is both dangerous and unachievable. Most media and governmental attention has centered on keeping the Earth from warming 2°C over pre-industrial revolution baseline temperatures, and ideally limiting warming to 1.5°C. This is based on a politically agreed upon goal set forth during the 2015 Paris Climate talks, which were nonbinding.

“It reflects the way that intergovernmental climate change policy has been managed which has been to arbitrarily set a temperature target, which was firstly 2°C and then latterly 1.5°C, and then to see if economic and political policy can deliver an appropriate carbon budget,” Lister explained. “This is clearly not a rational way to develop climate change policy.”

Lister and Dr. MacCracken both believe that, in an ideal world, the process would be the other way round; governments would decide a safe temperature rise based on the best science and then set an appropriate climate change policy. But this is not the world we live in.

Mark Serreze, the director of the US National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder, recently pointed out how the Arctic climate system has entered uncharted territory, so that even computer models are “no longer providing a reliable guide to the future.”

Dr. Leifer said that even if we prepare for the inevitable sea level rise from Greenland melting alone, accelerated melting there is “very bad,” as it reduces the time to implement plans. However, he noted, most countries are not in preparation mode to begin with.

“For example, a forward-looking society would encourage relocation through, say, tax incentives and disincentives from, say, most of Florida, to higher ground — even purely on a hurricane insurance basis,” he said. “Sadly, forward-looking is incompatible with our political system’s biannual money festival, aka elections. Still, very few other countries are doing better — excepting some northern European countries, like Holland — despite differences.”

The impacts of climate disruption aren’t waiting for our preparations, or lack thereof. Dr. Leifer believes that, sooner or later, the sea levels will rise dramatically.

Once this happens, he believes coastal cities will have to be abandoned due to sea level rise and increasingly destructive hurricanes. He believes that the sooner that departure happens, the less destruction and loss of human lives we will experience.

Dr. Leifer also expressed concern about the changes to the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), which is currently weakening and already at its weakest in at least the last 1,600 years.

Dr. MacCracken told Truthout that his greatest concern about Arctic feedback loops is that of the melting of the plateau of the Greenland Ice Sheet. He explained that the meltwater and warmth at the surface is penetrating down into the ice sheet, softening it enough that the glacial ice has started flowing outward, and as this happens, the surface of the ice sinks to lower altitudes.

This kicks in a feedback loop that ultimately causes warming to accelerate, which causes the ice to flow faster, which further accelerates the melting.

“The ice making up the Greenland Ice Sheet holds about the equivalent of 6-7 meters (~20 feet) of global sea level rise, and glaciological evidence makes clear that an order of approximately half of that melted during the last interglacial about 125,000 years ago, contributing significantly to the 4-8 meter rise in sea level at that time,” Dr. MacCracken said.

He pointed out that this rise was caused by a 1°C temperature increase, similar to the temperature increase Earth is experiencing right now (1.16°C above baseline).

“At that time, the atmospheric CO2 concentration was near 300 ppm and the warming was due to differences in the Earth’s orbit around the Sun; today, the orbital parameters are less favorable to significant warming, but the CO2 concentration is a good bit higher and growing,” Dr. MacCracken said. “And its warming influence acts all year long, making it not surprising that the loss of mass of ice from the Greenland Ice Sheet is going up rapidly with a stronger and stronger influence on sea level around the world.”

The rapidly melting Greenland Ice Sheet is precisely what is causing the AMOC to slow.

Moreover, an Arctic that is continuing to warm could lead to the failure of the Gulf Current, Dr. Leifer said.

“The resultant deep freeze that would hit Europe would destroy European agriculture and likely lead to a massive war for survival,” he warned.

The post How Feedback Loops Are Driving Runaway Climate Change appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

A Boost for the Worker-Owned Economy

Mon, 10/01/2018 - 14:15

Business owners looking to sell their companies to their employees just got a helping hand from the federal government. It’s the first such measure that’s passed Congress in more than 20 years.

Tucked into the omnibus National Defense Authorization Act signed by President Trump in August 2018 was language directing the US Small Business Administration to help retiring owners sell their businesses to their employees, either as a worker cooperative or as an Employee Stock Ownership Plan.

The measure was backed by an array of nonprofit advocates of employee ownership, including the ESOP Association, the National Urban League, the American Sustainable Business Council, and the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives. According to Melissa Hoover of the nonprofit Democracy at Work Institute, it is the first federal legislation ever to explicitly name worker cooperatives as an SBA priority.

The help appears to be timely, as retirement looms for a “silver tsunami” of business owners. According to the Harvard Business Review, 2.3 million companies are owned by baby boomers, half of whom are expected to retire in the next 10 years. Those companies employ 25 million people.

As that wave of retirees breaks, business owners don’t have many options. Most do not have children who want to run the business, according to Joseph Blasi and Douglas Kruse, professors at the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations. Studies show that many will simply close up shop, with their employees losing their jobs. Some may sell to a competitor such as another local company, a larger publicly traded corporation, or a private equity fund — options that also can trigger job losses.

“That makes selling their businesses to the workers who helped create all the value in the first place one of the best options available,” Blasi and Kruse wrote in The Conversation. “It not only helps secure the owner’s retirement but also leaves behind a legacy in the local community.”

The SBA sets the legal standards for what qualifies as a small business, and the standard varies by industry.

The new federal law directs the SBA to use its nationwide network of nearly 1,000 Small Business Development Centers to educate owners about selling to their employees. One obstacle, however, is that owners commonly want or need an immediate cash payment, which employees can rarely afford.

The law addresses that problem by authorizing the SBA to use its 7(a) loan guarantees for such buyouts. The SBA does not make the loans, but its guarantees mean that intermediaries such as banks are much more willing to make the loans. For 2018, Congress authorized the SBA to guarantee up to $28.5 billion for those loans.

Hoover cautions, however, that despite the law and loan guarantee authorization, “we can’t assume employee ownership will be a priority for the SBA. We must help make it a priority. The legislation is well-written, so now our work is to support the implementation to make sure it meets our needs.”

In 2016, the Democracy at Work Institute convened a Workers to Owners collaborative to expand the number of providers assisting with employee-to-owner transitions. Hoover noted, “now the national network is well-positioned to coordinate efforts in implementing the new law.”

Marjorie Kelly of the nonprofit Democracy Collaborative has found that retiring owners are often concerned about their employees losing their jobs. She has cited Galfab, a company that makes waste-hauling equipment in rural Indiana, as an example of a company that made a successful transition to employee ownership.

“Taking care of all the employees was foremost in our mind,” CEO Jerry Samson said when he announced the sale of the company to his employees. Kelly said that Samson decided not to take the highest bid he received for the company because he didn’t want the company sold and moved to some other place, with all those people losing their jobs.

Employee ownership is viewed by many advocates as a fundamental building block for a just economy because workers can have a say in the company’s management and share in the benefits of its success. A growing body of data supports the advantages for workers. A study from the National Center for Employee Ownership reveals that in the last recession, employee owners were four times less likely to be laid off, have two and a half times more money in their retirement accounts, and receive 5 percent to 12 percent more in wages than those in comparable non-employee-owned companies.

That information, alongside a growing concern with economic inequality, is spurring bipartisan interest in employee ownership. US Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, (D-New York) who introduced the employee-ownership bill in the Senate, had three Republican and three Democratic co-sponsors.

“There’s a reason employee ownership has been favored by people as diverse as Ronald Reagan and Bernie Sanders,” Kelly said. “It works, both as a business proposition and as a pathway to a more democratic economy that works for everyone.”

The bipartisan enthusiasm is significant, Kelly said. “We have the opportunity to bend the curve of history. We can watch these 2 million baby boomer-owned businesses close or be absorbed by big companies, with the accompanying layoffs and job loss. Or we can have a major national commitment to moving these companies into employee ownership, reducing inequality, spreading asset ownership, and rebuilding the middle class.”

One form such a government commitment could take is a much larger loan-guarantee program for employee ownership, similar to federal home loan programs. This could double the number of employee owners in a decade, from 14 million today to 27 million.

“After World War II, we made a commitment to broad-based home ownership. We can now do the same for enterprise ownership,” Kelly said.

The post A Boost for the Worker-Owned Economy appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

The Iran Sanctions: Donald Trump’s Carbon Tax

Mon, 10/01/2018 - 14:08

Most folks may have noticed that gas prices have been going up in recent months. While there are always multiple causes for market fluctuations, virtually all analysts would agree that the sanctions that Donald Trump has imposed on Iran are a major factor.

Donald Trump re-imposed sanctions on Iran earlier this year after pulling out of a deal that restricted Iran’s ability to produce nuclear weapons. While just about every expert who does not work for Donald Trump agreed that the deal effectively restrained Iran’s nuclear capacity and that the country was abiding by the deal, Trump refused to be bothered by the facts.

He re-imposed the sanctions against Iran that had been in place for more than three decades following the Iranian revolution. These sanctions not only prohibit US companies from dealing with Iran, they also apply to third parties so that a company that does business with Iran is also subject to sanctions.

Since virtually no one else in the world shares Donald Trump’s perspective on Iran, its oil exports will not fall to zero. Some companies will not care about the sanctions or find ways to skirt them. Nonetheless, the sanctions are substantially reducing the amount of Iranian oil that is coming on world markets.

Before the new sanctions went into effect, Iran was exporting 2.8 million barrels of oil a day (a bit more than 3.0 percent of world supply). Its exports were heading up as foreign investment was coming into the country to help it tap its vast reserves. It had been exporting almost 6 million barrels a day before the Iranian revolution in 1979.

Since the imposition of sanctions, exports have fallen to below 1.8 million barrels a day. They will almost certainly fall lower in the months ahead as the Trump administration increases its efforts to enforce the sanctions.

The result is a shortfall of more than 1 million barrels a day in production that cannot easily be replaced, at least in the short run. Consequently, oil prices have risen from roughly $50 a barrel a year ago to almost $72 a barrel in the most recent trading days.

With roughly 40 gallons in a barrel, this $22 price hike in oil translates into an increase in gas prices of more than 50 cents a gallon. We can think of this 50-cent-a-gallon price hike as Donald Trump’s carbon tax.

While Donald Trump has made it as clear as possible that he doesn’t give a damn about global warming, this rise in the price of gasoline will have the same impact in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from oil as a $50 a ton carbon tax. This is the amount that many environmentalists had been advocating as a first step in reducing oil consumption.

Although Trump’s version of a carbon tax will have the same effect in encouraging conservation as the carbon tax advocated by environmentalists, there is a very important difference. The revenue from the tax advocated by environmentalists would go to the government. Most of them advocated using some of the revenue as a rebate to low- and moderate-income households.

Environmentalists also wanted to use some of the revenue to promote energy efficiency, providing subsidies for better insulation in homes and businesses and for mass transit. They also wanted to promote the development of clean energy, like wind and solar. But we know Donald Trump has an aversion to such things.

With Donald Trump’s backhanded carbon tax, the beneficiaries from higher oil prices will be big oil companies like Exxon-Mobil and BP. Major oil exporters will also gain, giving a bump to countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Russia, and Trump’s newfound enemy north of the border, Canada.

The folks who thought that electing Trump would mean that their gas prices would stay low are likely disappointed. But, they can take some pleasure in knowing that at least the money out of their pockets is not being used to address the problem of global warming.

The post The Iran Sanctions: Donald Trump’s Carbon Tax appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

After Centuries of Housing Racism, a Southern City Gets Innovative

Sun, 09/30/2018 - 16:38

Denise Fitzgerald’s property abuts the string of quiet, empty lots that line Ewing Street in Jackson, Mississippi. Recently she was leaf-blowing detritus shed by the enormous sycamore tree dominating the yard of her tidy Habitat for Humanity home. She says she’d cut the tree down herself but knows it’s big enough to take out both her house and the house beside her if she dare try it.

Fitzgerald is familiar with the empty lots of Ewing Street, just a few blocks from Jackson State University. She’s lived here since 2008, and she remembers when Ewing was a series of derelict buildings smeared across the neighborhood.

Only two empty houses remain. The rest is a collection of oak and hackberry trees, with some untamed vines.

There is some human intervention, however. Every other week volunteers with Cooperation Jackson, a local workers’ cooperative that owns the lots, pick up litter. Cooperation Jackson has big plans for the street, and Fitzgerald stands behind them.

“I would like to see all that over there with new homes with people in them,” Fitzgerald says, pointing across the street. “It’s been either a mess or empty over there since I got here, and that would be a nice change.”

Once a thriving neighborhood before the 1980s, the area is now CJ’s proposed site of a series of price-capped homes and gardens organized into a community land trust that it hopes will form a tight-knit community. Cultivating an intimate community in Jackson’s neglected western territory is no easy feat, however. The mean annual income in the area surrounding Ewing, according the Census Bureau, is about $22,000.

Concentrated poverty is measured by the percentage of poor individuals living in high-poverty neighborhoods, and for Black people in Mississippi, that rate is 29.7 percent—made possible, in part, by a long history of discrimination. Until the 1968 passage of the Fair Housing Act, US lending institutions restricted Black families from many home loans.

Since family wealth commonly manifests in home value, those discriminatory housing practices essentially robbed whole generations of minority families of capital that White families had access to for decades. Even the Fair Housing Act couldn’t prevent more recent redlining and the roping of middle-class Black families, or “mud people,” as one Wells Fargo employee called them, into subprime loans, despite their eligibility for standard loans.

Cooperation Jackson wants to clear some of that damage by giving people the transferable wealth of affordable homeownership. Officials know they are not up against a series of unlucky social accidents, however. This is the colossus of American apartheid, and they’ll need more than just affordable housing to make real relief stick.

“When you think about shifting an economy away from one of profit to one that’s for the people, you have to think of the whole thing as an ecosystem,” said Sacajawea Hall, operations coordinator for Cooperation Jackson. “People need food, but they also need jobs and housing. The community land trust is a crucial part of a whole ecosystem.”

A community land trust works by reducing the price of property that would otherwise be out of reach for people or families with modest incomes. A CLT typically sets the house price for each subsequent buyer through a formula. Some formulas are based on an average 1 percent annual index, added to the price the last buyer paid for the home, while others are based upon appraisals, or an index/appraisal mix. The CLT retains ownership of the land, thus allowing those price controls to remain in place permanently. In exchange for a more modest return on the sale, the buyer receives a manageable mortgage that a bank or mortgage company is willing to work with at their income level.

The National Housing Institute points out, however, that the homeowner is not guaranteed the formula-determined price, particularly in the event of plummeting property value. The fixed resale value also means less wealth-building through the sale of the home, which can’t be cashed out at a market rate. The more modest equity resulting from this arrangement could also make the homeowner less eligible for a home equity line of credit for rare family emergencies. (Instead, CLTs generally set up repair and reserve programs for the occasional roof replacement or broken water heater.)

Hall acknowledges that the typical CLT plan comes with drawbacks, but pointed out that many residents would not be eligible for homeownership outside of a price-capped model. She said Cooperation Jackson’s model also allows participant homeowners to take advantage of a community environment where often-overpriced goods and services can be made affordable through sharing.

“The owners get to be a part of a financial ecosystem, a larger web,” Hall said. “There will be resources available through co-ops that provide goods and services, like childcare, and an interconnectedness that keeps resources in the community instead of getting lost outside of the community.”

Even with a percentage of profits from the sale of a home going back into the community trust, however, most CLTs still have to deftly manage the gap between the affordable price they set for the property and the development costs of creating it. That’s where a subsidy, either from private donors, grants, or government aid, typically comes in.

Hall’s organization, for example, operates the Freedom Farms urban farming cooperative, is expanding its Café and Catering Cooperative, and is developing the Green Team recycling and composting cooperative. Just across the street from Cooperation Jackson’s Capitol Street headquarters lies property that Hall hopes will house a community production co-op with a 3D printing lab. The organization is gathering donations and volunteers, and has brought in pro bono grant writers and legal document preparers to make it all happen, but Hall said she anticipates revenue from the various cooperatives will help sustain the overall effort.

Other organizations get things rolling through partnerships. Working solely with donors, nonprofit organization Revitalize Mississippi raised $150,000 in private donations for Rosemont Human Services Inc. to form a community land trust. Revitalize Mississippi plans to donate demolition and lot cleanup services to a target neighborhood, while Rosemont CLT Inc. will use its seed money during the startup and planning phases. Revitalize Mississippi Director Andy Frame said the CLT model has a proven track record, however long the startup process takes.

“We’re hoping, with the original money we’ve raised, that we can do a couple of houses and sell them,” Frame said. “Then we’ll have money to do a couple of more houses, and grow like that. If we can rehab on a three-month window, then by the end of a year, you might have eight to 10 houses with people living in them. It’s slow growth, but once you prove you can do it, that makes it easier to raise funds and get better at it.”

With its unhurried progress and low profits, the CLT model holds little appeal to a banking industry dedicated to profit. While homeowners buying CLT property may use traditional 30-year mortgages to finance their homes, CLT organizers themselves have to find inventive ways to buy the land they plan to renovate, largely without bank participation.

In 2015, the Detroit nonprofit Storehouse of Hope’s Community Land Trust financed the purchase of properties with the help of a GoFundMe campaign. The effort raised more than $108,000 to prevent foreclosure on several senior citizen and single-parent households, even as the housing crisis felled whole neighborhoods.

Athens Land Trust, in Georgia, renovates and sells affordable homes, but it also trains independent farm owners and minority farmers in sustainable land management, conservation, and production-boosting farming techniques. While the trust uses the help of donors and the proceeds from home sales to close the gap between home prices and renovation costs, it funds the sustainable farming component of the organization with revenue generated through sales of produce from CLT-owned farms, and by charging fees to vendors at the trust’s West Broad Farmers Market.

“We have about 20 other vendors at the farmers market, producing baked goods, prepared food, crafts, soap, eggs—all that stuff,” says Kelsey Thompson, the education director at the Athens Land Trust.

Many state and municipal governments acknowledge the value of reducing blight and spurring the economy through price-capped land management. The city of Boston bought into the neighborhood revitalization plan offered by the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative in 1987 and dedicated $134 million to the endeavor. The Florida legislature also got on board with the idea and passed the Sadowski Act in 1992 to commit a 10 cents-per-$100 surcharge on every real estate transaction to a fund earmarked for affordable housing.

Government money isn’t reliable, however. Florida legislators, under Gov. Rick Scott, have annually raided the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund to finance state tax cuts, snatching $1.3 billion out of the $1.87 billion collected over the last 10 years. This, despite Miami ranking as one of the country’s least affordable cities.

Some CLTs, including those in less supportive states like Mississippi, have never enjoyed government participation.

One Mississippi CLT survives.

“We are existing in a genocidal condition,” says Nia Umoja, lead organizer of Cooperative Community of New West Jackson. “We need to find lasting solutions for the deep-seated social challenges we face within our community—the distrust, the self-hatred, the miseducation, the despondency, the economic disparities—so that the most vulnerable can take advantage of the opportunities we are unable to see now.”

Founded by residents in 2013, CCNWJ quietly acquired 65 properties from absentee owners and slumlords within a sprawling, largely neglected eight-block area of West Jackson containing vacant lots, commercial and residential property, and long-term lease property. Rather than rehabbing through contractors, the association uses “neighbor labor” for “all renovations,” Umoja says. It also operates a community supported agriculture site and manages the Airbnb-listed Mulberry Tree Guesthouse.

The organization successfully assembled itself alone and under the radar, without much intervention beyond the hard work of its members. Still, Umoja admits that “nobody knows yet if the CLT structure will work for communities here in Jackson.”

What seems clear, however, is that the CLT model works best when it’s self-sustaining, like One Roof Community Housing, in Duluth, Minnesota, which also cuts costs in home rehabbing like CCNWJ, except through a subsidiary.

“We handle the purchasing of the land, while our construction company [Common Ground Construction] does the home building and renovation,” One Roof Director Jim Philbin says. “They’re a professional contractor, but we’re able to get better pricing with them rather than a general contractor because they’re, well, a part of us.”

Some CLTs have mastered the art of revenue generation. Jackie Keogh, fund development manager of Portland, Oregon-based Proud Ground, says her group financed its property purchases in 2016 with the help of real estate brokers who donated their sales commissions from market-rate sales. Proud Ground is still the only nonprofit brokerage in Oregon, and it continues to maintain itself through commission fees. This adds up when the CLT has more than 280 homes in its portfolio.

“We make about $100,000 annually from that, and it goes to fulfill our mission to subsidize some of our affordable housing. The more homes in your portfolio, the greater number of leases and transactions you collect,” Keogh says.

Some CLTs have to go “way outside the box” to fund themselves, says Jason Webb, a former CLT operator and current training specialist at Grounded Solutions Network, an organization that educates groups looking to create their own CLTs. He predicts that the model will become more sustainable now that federal lending agencies like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have announced their willingness to embrace CLTs. Banks, he says, also are learning that CLT-orchestrated mortgages are astoundingly stable, with very few homebuyers walking away from their financial commitments.

“The demand for affordable housing will always be there, and now, with these additional resources opening up, we’ll be able to get more folks into their homes faster,” Webb says. “Every one of the 100 homeowners that I personally put into a home [as a CLT operator] went through a traditional bank to get a 30-year conventional mortgage, and those mortgages are some of the safest investment vehicles at those banks.”

Regardless of CLTs’ proven track record, Hall says, Cooperation Jackson still has a steep hill to climb over the next few years on funding, however creative the funding options may be. The group learned recently that the soil at Ewing Street isn’t very suitable for gardening, and is now mulling over whether to begin soil remediation to make the farming component of the Ewing community feasible. Still, she says, a groundbreaking shouldn’t be too far into the future.

“Looking at the financing and business planning for property development, I think we’re looking at the end of 2019 or 2020,” she says.

The post After Centuries of Housing Racism, a Southern City Gets Innovative appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Will the New Crimes Against Humanity Treaty Protect Women and LGBTI Persons?

Sun, 09/30/2018 - 16:01

If you haven’t heard about the new treaty on crimes against humanity that the United Nations has in the works, you’re not alone. Most haven’t.

What you should know is that if this treaty goes forward for adoption in its current draft form, only some – not all – people will be protected from crimes against humanity like massacres, rape, torture and persecution. This is because the treaty adopts an outdated definition of gender that some states will inevitably use to shirk their responsibility for addressing gender-based crimes.

We need this treaty, first of all, because it could help bring such atrocities to light and perpetrators to justice. The only permanent court in existence for prosecuting such crimes, the International Criminal Court (ICC), doesn’t have a mechanism for interstate cooperation, and few states have crimes against humanity incorporated into their domestic legislation.

The problem is that the draft treaty adopts the definition of gender from the Rome Statute, which established the ICC, stating: “it is understood that the term ‘gender’ refers to the two sexes, male and female, within the context of society.”

On its own, the definition does not make clear who is protected. While it’s understood to be inclusive of all gendered crimes that meet the threshold of persecution, there has never been a successful prosecution at the ICC. Not surprisingly, no other mechanism has adopted this opaque definition.

To understand how this definition of gender came about we have to go back about 20 years. During the 1990s, women’s rights advocates rallied for the term “gender” instead of “sex” to be listed alongside race, ethnicity, religion and other protected groups from persecution. A small, socially conservative opposition objected, fearing the term “gender” would more broadly affirm LGBTI rights as human rights. They also wanted to limit the scope of women’s rights.

Since then, two decades of international human rights law have solidified the definition of gender as a social construct across UN agencies and human rights mechanisms. The term sex is left for biologists. However, while the Rome Statute’s definition of the term gender is understood by legal scholars and the ICC prosecutor’s office to be inclusive, there are states that would take advantage of its opacity to ignore conflict-related gender-based crimes.

How does an outdated definition for a protected group get adopted into a new draft treaty on crimes against humanity?

While oodles of rights and protections were taken into consideration during dialogues on the draft treaty, none of the states and experts involved thought to discuss gender. Perusing the comments over the last four years of discussions and debates, not one mentions the outdated definition that was cut and pasted into the draft. While issues concerning everything from the rights of witnesses and victims to the cooperation between states were discussed in great detail, there’s no mention of women, LGBTI people, or even sexual violence.

At the start of the drafting process, a small handful of legal advocates did point to the definition and call on drafters to either not include it – as no other protected category required such a definition – or adopt a clearer definition.

Valerie Oosterveld, an international criminal law professor, raised concerns about the problematic nature of adopting a definition into the treaty that was deliberately ambiguous (possessing “constructive ambiguity,” in diplomatic parlance) in order to resolve polarised positions during negotiations. Considering that she’s one of the foremost experts on the issue of gender under international criminal law, it’s astonishing that her ideas were dismissed.

Part of the problem stemmed from the fear that the controversy surrounding the definition 20 years ago would resurface and tank the new treaty if the debate on gender were reopened. Some states and treaty drafters have expressed the need to get the treaty passed expeditiously and to keep the original language from the Rome Statute intact. But does a new treaty that codifies an outdated definition of gender serve the interests of justice?

Fighting for recognition of gender-based violence is not new. Sexual violence crimes were not taken as seriously as other crimes in the early years of international criminal tribunals. Feminists had to struggle tirelessly to secure the recognition of rape as a form of torture in certain contexts.

In the 1990s, the Human Rights and Gender Justice Clinic of CUNY Law School, (then the International Women’s Human Rights Initiative Clinic) served as the secretariat for the Women’s Caucus for Gender Justice, a global coalition of women’s rights activists working to address gender gaps in the then-draft Rome Statute. As there was push-back against the term “gender”, there was also opposition to recognising sexual violence as a serious international crime.

A key component to their success was combining advocacy with legal strategy. Gender strategies in the tribunals grew from the notion that “women’s rights are human rights.” Today, advocates are calling for a “gender equal world.”

This is a pivotal moment in history to affirm our understanding of discrimination, including when based on sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics.

What we do now will affect people’s rights for generations to come. It’s time for the international community to take a stand. A treaty meant to protect people against the worst atrocities imaginable by its nature should protect all of us.

The post Will the New Crimes Against Humanity Treaty Protect Women and LGBTI Persons? appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Can the Great Lakes Continue to Fend Off an Increasingly Thirsty World?

Sun, 09/30/2018 - 15:38

On the rocky beach at Little Girls Point County Park in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the heavy wash of Lake Superior seeking the shore rolls stones the size of softballs back and forth in the surf.

The power and immensity of the lake seems immutable. If there is anything in nature that will withstand the passing of time, this inland ocean would seem a likely candidate.

Peter Annin knows better. The author of The Great Lakes Water Wars, which examines the fight to protect the lakes from an encroaching and increasingly water-starved world, has stood in the dry ocean bed of Central Asia’s Aral Sea and reflected upon the fragility of such seemingly infinite resources. The Aral was once the fourth largest inland body of water in the world. But the Soviet diversion of Aral water in the 1950s to grow crops dried up 90 percent of the lake in the span of a generation.

“Standing in the middle of the seafloor in a place where the water was once forty-five feet deep, the magnitude of the disaster can be difficult to grasp — nothing but sand stretches off to the horizon in all directions,” Annin wrote in his book. “Photos cannot capture the true extent of this ecological calamity; it even challenges the bounds of the written word.”

At least partly because of the lesson learned from the fate of the Aral Sea, withdrawals from Lake Superior and its four sister lakes are regulated by a hard-won eight-state protective agreement called the Great Lakes Compact and a companion document that provides oversight in Ontario and Quebec.

Hammered out over five years, the compact, aimed at keeping Great Lakes water in the Great Lakes, was approved by the legislatures of all eight states bordering the Great Lakes, Congress and the Canadian provinces and signed into law by President George W. Bush on Oct. 3, 2008.

The soon-to-be-celebrated 10th anniversary of the compact’s creation comes at a time when the durability and effectiveness of the agreement are under close scrutiny. With a major proposed diversion being challenged in court and scientists warning of climate-driven drought in coming decades, the 10-year-milestone offers a timely opportunity to consider whether the compact is working as intended and whether it is likely to withstand the political challenges that will come with fending off a thirsty world.

Pressure Off

The Great Lakes Compact prohibits new or increased diversions outside the Great Lakes basin with limited exceptions for communities and counties that straddle the basin boundary and meet rigorous standards. It asks states to develop water conservation plans, collect water use data, and produce annual water use reports. Great Lakes states as well as Ontario and Quebec are to keep track of impacts of water use in the basin.

A few diversions have been approved under the compact, including withdrawals from Lake Michigan by New Berlin and Waukesha in Wisconsin. The Waukesha diversion of 8.2 million gallons (31 million liters) a day was especially controversial. While the city is outside the basin, it is located in a county that straddles the boundary. The dispute took six years to resolve, with Great Lakes states finally approving the request in 2016.

The latest test of the document comes with the controversial approval by Wisconsin of a giant Taiwanese-owned factory near Racine. The city requested a diversion from Lake Michigan of 7 million gallons a day (nearly 27 million liters). Of that, according to the state Department of Natural Resources, 5.8 millions gallons (22 million liters) a day will be used by Foxconn Technology Group to manufacture liquid-crystal display screens. The plant, the size of three Pentagons, is projected to create 13,000 jobs.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources says the factory’s withdrawal satisfies the terms of the compact — including returning a specified amount of water to the lake. But environmentalists and others disagree. Midwest Environmental Advocates has filed a legal challenge of the agency’s decision to approve the withdrawal. The group argues that the diversion ignores a key requirement in the compact — that all water withdrawn from the Great Lakes basin must be used for public water supply purposes.

Annin, who has just completed a second edition of his book, points out the irony of compact disputes to date all originating within the Great Lakes region and not from more far-flung and ambitious diversion proposals by water-needy entities elsewhere in the world.

Indeed, a private company’s failed 1998 plan to ship Great Lakes water to Asia was a shocking reminder that others in the world had their eyes on the lakes as a solution to their water problems. But such schemes, including ones to pipe water to dry western states such as New Mexico and Arizona, seem to have been short-circuited by the compact, according to Annin.

“The Great Lakes compact has successfully taken the pressure off the Great Lakes Basin,” says Annin. “It’s almost nonexistent right now because of the compact. If anyone was considering it, they have turned away to look for other avenues.”

Others agree that the compact has done what it was intended to do — regulate diversions, encourage water conservation and provide for more data collection on water use.

Todd Ambs, now campaign director of the advocacy group Healing Our Waters – Great Lakes Coalition, was the head of the water division for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and represented the state in the development of the compact. He says the very fact that proposals such as the Waukesha and Foxconn diversions are being debated under the terms of the compact show that the agreement is providing necessary oversight.

Ambs says the compact “is regarded as one of the most significant public water policy achievements in the world.”“You wouldn’t even be grappling with these questions or asking them if you didn’t have the compact,” says Ambs. “These are big issues, big questions and the compact lays out a framework for dealing with them.” Ambs says the compact “is regarded as one of the most significant public water policy achievements in the world.”

Karen Hobbs, senior policy analyst on water issues for the Natural Resources Defense Council, says the compact has provided what has been a largely successful means to manage Great Lakes water. It provided a way for Great Lakes states and Canadian provinces to work together that didn’t exist before.

“I think it’s a seminal milestone in terms of managing the water in the Great Lakes Basin,” says Hobbs.

Hobbs adds, however, that the compact is not without faults. She says implementation has been a slow process for some states, especially efforts to put conservation measures in place.

Some say that the approval of Foxconn reveals weaknesses in the compact’s language. And some say that the approval of Foxconn reveals weaknesses in the compact’s language. While most new diversions are banned under the compact, the Foxconn withdrawal was approved under the provision that allows straddling communities to apply for a diversion. In such cases, the governor of the state has the final say, bypassing approval by all the compact states.

John Dickert, president and CEO of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, says it sets a dangerous precedent. “If we allow cracks in the armor,” he says, “then the armor is no good.”

Hobbs, however, says the compact is relatively young as far as such agreements go and that it should be viewed as a living document that is likely to be fine-tuned over time, often through difficult disputes and legal challenges similar to the Foxconn case.

Todd Jarvis, director of the Institute for Water and Watersheds at Oregon State University, agrees that amendments to such compacts are not unusual and even to be expected. He cites the Colorado River Compact, which dates from the 1920s. That agreement, he says, was signed during a period of abundant water. With the region now under siege by drought, some experts are looking to alter how the compact apportions available water.

“Things change,” says Jarvis. “So what we need to do is go back every few years and reassess where we are.”

In an article in the Environmental & Energy Law & Policy Journal, Noah Hall, an environmental lawyer from Wayne State University, said the changes wrought by climate alterations could require amendments to water compacts.

“While some of these reforms can happen at the state level,” Hall wrote, “or through operational changes in compact administration, more fundamental changes will require revision of existing compacts.” Such changes will not come easy, he added, and “will require leadership and political will.”

Looming Large

Certainly, the future of water on the planet seems fraught enough to make one wonder how the compact will fare as the years pass. The most ardent supporters of the compact say that challenges abound. These include a changing climate that is expected to bring drought as well as heightened political pressure to open up what some view as an invaluable public resource now off limits to the rest of the world.

Water shortages throughout the world are on the rise, among the most visible being in the city of Cape Town in South Africa, where severe drought nearly dried up the drinking water supply. Hall, in his analysis of water compacts and climate change, said global warming is expected to lead to reductions in water supplies throughout the United States. Even the water-rich Great Lakes region will be subject to the trend, he added, with most climate models predicting water levels in the lakes dropping below historic lows in the next century.

Growing threats to the availability of water are already causing consternation in Canada, where droughts have alarmed water experts, according to John Pomeroy, director of the Global Water Futures Program at the University of Saskatchewan.

In a recent article for The Conversation, Pomeroy wrote that the program’s extensive research reveals a bleak water future for large parts of the country, with climate change reducing snow packs and increasing the likelihood of drought.

So it is easy to see why the Great Lakes loom large in the eyes of those who seek to solve their water woes. The lakes are the largest system of fresh surface water on Earth. They hold 84 percent of North America’s surface fresh water and about 21 percent of the world’s supply, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.

This blue and liquid treasure may be such a powerful allure in a dry future that even a legal document such as the compact will be of little protection. Jay Famiglietti, director of the Global Institute for Water Security at Canada’s University of Saskatchewan, says water scarcity may conspire to force the opening up of the Great Lakes or other water resources as sources for water in the future. He says it is less a matter of politics than practicality, especially when it comes to growing food.

“My research has shown quite clearly that when you look at the US, the upper half is getting wetter while the lower half is getting drier,” says Famiglietti. “Embedded in the drying lower half are our two major food-producing regions, the Central Valley and the High Plains aquifer. The southern halves of both of these are running out of water. So it begs the question about the future. Will we move water to where food systems and food production are optimized, or will we move food production to where the water is?”

Famiglietti says he believes there are better solutions than piping in water from elsewhere, including conservation and growing crops in the proper locations. But he adds that time may be running out and that it may be necessary sooner rather than later to make a decision about tapping a resource such as the Great Lakes to grow food elsewhere in the country.

“I believe that it’s just a matter of time before — assuming we want to continue producing food at current or increased levels in the Central Valley or the High Plains — we will have to bring in water. Obviously, because there won’t be any groundwater left.”

“There is going to come a day when somebody, somewhere, in a loud enough voice, starts talking about hoarding, saying, ‘Wait a minute folks, you’ve got 20 percent of the world’s freshwater? Why would you be able to contain and restrict it in the manner that you have?’” – Pat MulroyAnnin reports in an epilogue to the second edition of his book that others see Famiglietti’s prediction as inevitable and are not happy with what they believe is an effort to lock up an invaluable public resource such as the Great Lakes. Pat Mulroy, a well-known and outspoken Nevada water official, predicted that, in an age of growing water scarcity, the protections afforded by the compact would eventually be breached.

“Anything that is born of fear and paranoia, in essence, has some issues with it,” Mulroy told Annin. “There is going to come a day when somebody, somewhere, in a loud enough voice, starts talking about hoarding, saying, ‘Wait a minute folks, you’ve got 20 percent of the world’s freshwater? Why would you be able to contain and restrict it in the manner that you have?’”

Uncertain Future

Officials in the Great Lakes region recognize such sentiment and point to the compact as a forward-looking document that was put in place not only to encourage conservation but also as a hedge against the day when the world knocks on the door for water.

Environmental lawyer Hall praises that foresight. “The Great Lakes Compact states made a rare move to address a problem before it became a problem,” Hall says.

Dickert, who is also a former three-term mayor of Racine, says the compact gives shape to the desire of the region to protect its most valuable resource in the face of growing threats.

“The water wars are just beginning,” he says. “We just haven’t done a very good job of taking care of our water. The compact has reminded us that water is precious and needs [to be] looked after.”

Shawn Reilly, mayor of Waukesha, speaks about the compact from very personal experience. He helped shepherd the city’s request for a diversion through what ended up being a six-year battle for approval. Satisfying the provisions of the compact proved a complicated and difficult process, but Reilly says that is as it should be. After going through the ordeal, Reilly says he now believes future proposals for diversions from dry regions outside the basin are less likely and would be nearly impossible under the rigorous protections of the compact.

Reilly doesn’t foresee that — or the compact itself — changing, even in the face of growing water shortages.

“I don’t think the compact would change so much that it would allow water to go to Arizona,” Reilly says. “I think the world would really have to change dramatically for the politics to be such that the compact would be changed.”

Reilly adds that the large public works projects that would be required to build pipelines to move water across the country are probably too expensive to be viable. He says Waukesha’s Lake Michigan pipeline is costing US$286 million and isn’t expected to be completed until 2023.

Whatever our political will, nature has a way of undoing the most carefully designed protections that humans devise.Hall says history is on the side of the compact. “Congress has never in US history amended or repealed a compact against the states’ consensus,” he says. But he also warned that, despite this history, Congress could take action in the face of a national water crisis — such as passing a public law that allocates freshwater or enacting a national water policy — that would substantially weaken or negate the protections offered by the compact.

“It’s a nice law,” Hall says, “but it’s just a law.”

So the future remains uncertain even with the compact in place. Whatever our political will, nature has a way of undoing the most carefully designed protections that humans devise and changing the face of places that we, in our naivete, believe would be unchanged forever — a beloved wilderness stand of seemingly indestructible white pine toppled by straight-line winds, a favorite stream turned warm and devoid of trout by a changing climate.

Consider Little Girls Point, where this story began. A few years ago, its beach was the classic example of a wild Lake Superior shoreline with golden stretches of sand intermingled with patches of glistening stones and agates. Above the shoreline rose a green and piney bluff.

Today, the beach is narrow and battered and littered by a tangled nightmare of bare and broken tree trunks washed down a nearby stream by an enormous storm that brought chaos and death up and down the southern shore of Lake Superior in 2016. Bluffs once green with growth are now raw and eroded and bare. Clouds of silt stain the normally crystalline water. It happened in a stormy, violent flash of a few hours on a summer afternoon.

To some extent, the fate of the Great Lakes in the end may be linked to the whim and fury of a natural world that we’ve made even more unpredictable. Regardless of the directions those winds blow, the Great Lakes Compact offers some assurance that any potential change wrought by humans will at least be well-considered. View Ensia homepage

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Categories: News

“Contraception Deserts” Likely to Widen Under New Trump Administration Policy

Sun, 09/30/2018 - 15:22

Lawrenceville, Georgia — When Nikia Jackson needed to be screened for a sexually transmitted disease, she wanted a clinic that was reputable, quick and inexpensive.

After searching online, Jackson, 23, ended up at the Obria Medical Clinics’ sparkling new facility in an office park in suburban Atlanta. She was unaware that the clinic does not offer condoms or other kinds of birth control beyond so-called natural family planning methods.

Religious conservatives say these types of clinics are the future of women’s sexual health care in the United States.

“A woman needs choice, but you can’t have a choice if the only clinic that a woman can go to is Planned Parenthood,” said Kathleen Bravo, chief executive of the Obria Group and a devout Catholic.

Young women, she said, “don’t want to live every day having to take a carcinogen,” referring to hormonal contraception.

For decades, contraception drew widespread bipartisan support, but since the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, religious conservatives trained their ire on the law’s contraception mandates, and the politics of abortion and birth control converged.

Bravo is positioning her company to become a nationwide alternative to Planned Parenthood and aims for it to qualify for millions of dollars in federal family planning funds next year. With 38 clinics and 22 more slated to open, Obria offers tests for pregnancy, STIs, HIV and cervical cancer and prenatal care.

But patients seeking to prevent pregnancy can receive only fertility planning methods that require women to track their periods and refrain from sex when most fertile. When followed exactly, the method is 76 percent effective, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That vision has found favor with the Trump administration, which has proposed sweeping changes to a $280 million federal program called Title X, the only source of federal funds for birth control for low-income women who lack health insurance.

For more than four decades, thousands of women’s health clinics, including Planned Parenthood affiliates, that received these federal funds have been required to offer a full range of medically effective contraception, including condoms, birth control pills, intrauterine devices and implants. (The clinics cannot use federal funds to pay for abortion, and many Title X clinics do not offer the procedure.)

But with Title X now under the direction of Dr. Diane Foley, the former chief executive of Life Network, a Christian organization that operates anti-abortion pregnancy centers, the Trump administration is widely expected to adopt rules in the coming months that promote and direct federal dollars to clinics like Obria that do not offer condoms, hormonal contraception, intrauterine devices or abortion.

Called the “Protect Life Rule,” the new restrictions are aimed at narrowing women’s access to clinics that discuss or refer patients to abortion providers. The Trump administration has worked quickly to shape women’s reproductive health care, rolling back an Obama-era rule that required employers to cover contraception in their health insurance plans and nominating to the Supreme Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who referred to common forms of contraception as “abortion-inducing drugs” during his confirmation hearing.

With Vice President Mike Pence, an evangelical Christian, as a powerful ally and anti-abortion and abstinence advocates, including Foley, appointed by the Trump administration overseeing key federal health programs, religious conservatives are seizing this moment to shape women’s sexual health care.

In 2011, anti-abortion state lawmakers in Texas sought to shutter Planned Parenthood clinics and slashed state funding for family planning by 66 percent. As a result, more than 80 family planning clinics closed, and women across Texas suddenly found their birth control needs caught up amid the fight against abortion.

The impact was swift and widespread: Researchers found the number of women on the most effective forms of birth control ― IUDs, implants and injections ― plunged by a third, and births by poor women on Medicaid increased 27 percent from 2011 to 2014.

In the immediate aftermath, family planning clinics in Texas became almost entirely dependent on Title X federal funds. Now many administrators here and around the country are bracing for the Trump administration’s new rules.

Kathryn Hearn, community services director at Access Esperanza in McAllen, Texas, said clinics that offer the full range of FDA-approved birth control could be replaced by those like Obria.

“Today a woman can come into a Title X clinic, any clinic in the United States, in Texas, and be offered a wide range of contraceptive methods,” she said. “With these proposed rules, she could only be offered abstinence. Well, she says, I’m married. Or I’m in a relationship. That does not work for me. I need real contraceptive care.”

Ofelia Alonso, a 22-year-old community organizer, said that because of deceptive tactics and lack of comprehensive sex education, young women in Texas already find it difficult to discern between medical clinics and crisis pregnancy centers, offices where women are counseled against abortion.

“It’s like abstinence only, and then, crisis pregnancy centers, anti-abortion propaganda, defunding our family clinics. So what is left for us?” Alonso said. “We’re going to have these weird centers where you can’t get anything?”

But women seeking contraception have to go somewhere, and one alternative, she said, is to cross the nearby border into Mexico to buy birth control over the counter.

“It shouldn’t have to be that way,” she said. “We shouldn’t have to travel to another country to get what we need.”

Some uninsured patients in Texas do find alternative ways to get birth control.

Claire Hammons runs an historic hotel in Llano, a small city an hour and half west of Austin with no full-service women’s health clinic.

The vast geography combined with widespread clinic closures means that some 10 million Texans live at least half an hour from a clinic, a common standard used to determine health care shortages. It’s a phenomenon some call “contraception deserts.”

Hammons lives in one of these contraception deserts and when she could no longer afford health insurance, she turned to the internet for help. Now, she gets her birth control delivered every three months to her mailbox from a San Francisco-based company called Nurx. She pays about $15 a month and can message Dr. Jessica Rubino, a Nurx physician in Austin. Rubino can review her patients’ medical histories and renew their prescriptions without additional cost.

Rubino said she sees what happens to women who live in contraception deserts.

“I’m also an abortion provider, and I do that outside of Nurx at another facility,” she said. “I had one [patient] last week who drove five hours to see me. And the entire reason that she came to see me for the abortion is because she didn’t have any access to contraception.”

That lack of access worries Kami Geoffray, CEO of the Women’s Health and Family Planning Association of Texas, the nonprofit group that has coordinated the state’s application for Title X funds.

If the Trump administration’s overhaul of Title X succeeds, Geoffray said, it will undermine the goal of the program that the federal government has operated since the 1970s.

“We know that every dollar we spend on Title X saves $7 across other government programs, including Medicaid,” said Geoffray. “We avert Medicaid births very frequently by [getting contraception for] clients and preventing unplanned pregnancies.”

But back in suburban Atlanta at the Obria Medical Clinic, Bravo has declared it’s time for companies like hers to put a bigger mark on reproductive health care. The company is launching a $240 million capital campaign to open more clinics.

“Obria is a comprehensive primary care clinic for women that is an alternative model to Planned Parenthood,” said Bravo. “We put huge amounts of money into marketing our clinics, like all medical clinics do, to make sure that women know that we’re here in their city.”

KHN’s coverage of women’s health care issues is supported in part by The David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

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

The post “Contraception Deserts” Likely to Widen Under New Trump Administration Policy appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Trump Accused of Rigging FBI’s Kavanaugh Probe by Imposing “Outrageous” Limits

Sun, 09/30/2018 - 15:01

Just 24 hours after caving to pressure from the Senate and requesting an FBI probe into the sexual assault allegations against his Supreme Court pick Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump is reportedly already working to impose strict limitations on the scope of the investigation—a move that has been denounced as a flagrant attempt to further rig the process in Kavanaugh’s favor.

Citing multiple anonymous officials briefed on the matter, NBC News reported on Saturday that while “the FBI will examine the allegations of Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez, the bureau has not been permitted to investigate the claims of Julie Swetnick, who has accused Kavanaugh of engaging in sexual misconduct at parties while he was a student at Georgetown Preparatory School in the 1980s.”

Michael Avenatti, the attorney of Stormy Daniels who is representing Swetnick, wrote on Twitter that if NBC‘s report is accurate, “this is outrageous.”

“Why are Trump and his cronies in the Senate trying to prevent the American people from learning the truth?” Avenatti asked. “Why do they insist on muzzling women with information submitted under penalty of perjury? Why Ramirez but not my client?”

Trump has now determined that he and he alone will be the sole arbiter of whether a woman’s claims of sexual assault and misogyny are credible. Why even have an FBI investigation? I thought it was their job to make this determination. He and Kavanaugh are afraid of the truth.

— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) September 29, 2018

According to NBC News, the White House counsel’s office has also “given the FBI a list of witnesses they are permitted to interview,” a restriction that “may make it difficult to pursue additional leads in a case in which a Supreme Court nominee has been accused of sexual assault.”

Additionally, the FBI will not be permitted to “examine why Kavanaugh’s account of his drinking at Yale University differs from those of some former classmates” or ask the supermarket that employed Kavanaugh’s friend Mark Judge “for records verifying when he was employed there”—a line of inquiry that could help bolster Ford’s account.

This is the most glaring, obvious and telling limitation above and beyond the others. https://t.co/0hWVfccaVn

— Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes) September 29, 2018

“This is a farce, not an investigation,” MoveOn.org declared in a tweet reacting to NBC’s reporting. “It insults the intelligence of the Senate and the country and is an act of profound disrespect toward Dr. Blasey Ford and all survivors of sexual violence. No self-respecting senator can pretend otherwise.”

Independent journalist Marcy Wheeler argued that the primary reason the White House is working to “carefully control” the scope of the FBI probe is because “Kavanaugh lied so much on Thursday that if FBI pursues obvious leads, [Kavanaugh] will get referred for lying his ass off.”

This is exactly right: the White House has to carefully control scope bc Kavanaugh LIED SO MUCH on Thursday that if FBI pursues obvious leads, Kav will get referred for lying his ass off. https://t.co/2ZRTkDUK3Y

— emptywheel (@emptywheel) September 29, 2018

In a tweet responding to NBC‘s report late Saturday, Trump insisted that he is not limiting the FBI’s probe. But shortly after Trump’s denial, the New York Times confirmed that the White House has provided the FBI a list of witnesses it can interview and is restricting the scope of the investigation.

After this tweet, @nytmike reported the exact two things the president is specifically claiming are incorrect: that the white house is limiting the scope of the inquiry and those who will be interviewed. https://t.co/VdXzq4Tjcc https://t.co/KeMYhzXYOO

— Dafna Linzer (@DafnaLinzer) September 30, 2018

Denouncing the reported restraints the Trump White House is reportedly imposing on the FBI’s investigation despite the president’s vow of no limitations, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) wrote: “This is not how you conduct an investigation. But it is how you do a whitewash.”

Immediately after NBC’s story was published on Saturday, commentators and activists immediately began sending the story to Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who has agreed to vote yes on Kavanaugh as long as there is a full FBI investigation into the sexual assault allegations against him.

The post Trump Accused of Rigging FBI’s Kavanaugh Probe by Imposing “Outrageous” Limits appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

When Survivors Unite

Sun, 09/30/2018 - 14:11

To anyone whose reflexive response is to disbelieve survivors and treat the multiple allegations about Brett Kavanaugh as “invalid” absent the type of normative evidence required in typical legal cases, it’s important to clarify: The evidence is incomplete because Republicans have refused an impartial investigation. This parallels a legal system that fails to identify, prevent and redress the widespread sexual assault and mistreatment of women. We must account for that failure in parsing these events and allegations.

For decades, these systemic inequities have barred people from reporting assault and receiving justice. This sad state of affairs is totally ignored by the Republican dinosaurs on the Judicial Committee, stuck like a needle on a broken record, petulantly insisting over and over that “she should have come forward sooner,” nattering about the inconvenience to themselves and their master plan. Stingy and reluctant, despite their unconvincing lip service, they are incapable of assessing the human toll of the actual assaults visited upon the alleged victims of their nominee, as well as millions of women like them from every social stratum in this country. Not all that surprising when their goal is to increase these inequities through the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh.

For survivors of sexual assault, the flawed nomination of Brett Kavanaugh is both personal and political.

In response to being excluded from a hearing, respect and consideration, women long ago developed personal back channels to cope—sharing, discussing, supporting — and yes, believing each other. That network of trust and support is an invaluable asset in the fight to protect not only survivors’ rights, but also democracy.

Despite a stellar exemplar like Christine Blasey Ford, unless one has lived it, it’s hard to understand the inner world of survivorship. Over the last week, the crisis over the Kavanaugh nomination has taken survivors through a landscape rife with horrifying incidents, heartless acts, painful reminders, triggers, trauma, denial and the all too familiar experience of being blamed for the actions of perpetrators. Painful and triggering as this is for anyone who has survived similar experiences, it does have a silver lining. As the call for the right to a hearing, belief and respect has been re-enacted at the very epicenter of the US judicial system, survivors are learning that what was once a lonely and hidden terrain buried within each person’s psyche is now populated with loved ones, friends, family members, teachers, fellow students, work colleagues, neighbors, social media pals, as well as thousands — indeed millions — of total strangers.

People we know but never knew so well before have also experienced the loss of innocence, trust and even for some, virginity in that ghostly half-world. Millions throng there, as the specters of societal authority loom menacing in their denial of its existence.

As survivors, whenever we hear these unique, familiar and poignant stories; as we offer our support and belief; as we embrace our pained bodies and broken dreams in order to repair the self-loss, self-distrust and self-blame imposed by societal stonewallers, still, we keep marching forward. Birthing a new collective, a new movement, and a new demand for accountability and justice for everyone, we keep marching forward.

Stepping into formation, a new breed of social warrior — not hardened by self-importance, but tempered by vulnerability — is awakened by a suffering so intimate and personal that it endows each one of us with a rare potential for empathy. This empathy and the call to account extend to other survivors, their loved ones and to all burdened by this society’s acts of harm. The redress that has never come from the legal system has inspired a new, internalized ethical code engraved with compassion for self and other within each one of us. Each person’s story is mine. Each history to which I bear witness informs my own. Each act of harshness towards another survivor affects me. Each harsh act of entitlement targets #MeToo.

And each act of courage has the potential to produce a breakthrough. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony, and the young protesters who confronted Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) reveal this surprising efficacy of courage and protest. Following that “elevator talk,” Flake broke ranks. According to Linda Sarsour, national co-chair of the Women’s March, Flake “asked that the larger Senate vote be delayed no more than a week so that there can be an FBI investigation,” additionally threatening to withhold his vote for Kavanaugh unless Senate leaders request the White House to ask for an FBI investigation.

“Protest works,” said Bob Bland, co-president of the Women’s March.

The readiness to lie even under oath, the insistence on deadening (or dissociating from) one’s own feelings, the willingness to trample everything in one’s path — these are not signs of strength, but weakness. In its thrall to billionaires, in its stampede to serve them rather than justice, the Republican leadership has sacrificed the signature qualities that make people human.

In survivors, those human qualities live on and deepen.

Obviously, inequities towards the half of the human race that gives birth to every single person on this planet will only be worsened with ideologues attaining the swing seat on the Supreme Court. To the cabal pushing this nomination under the misleading banner of “pro-life,” we say: You don’t fool us. One who values life does not despise and victimize the bearers of it.

Acts of courage are cumulative. Each individual act has the potential to produce a breakthrough. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony, and the young protesters who confronted Jeff Flake on the elevator, reveal this surprising efficacy of courage and protest.

Retreating into silence is no longer an option. And that’s why the mantra of the www.CancelKavanaugh.com protest is: I believe that we will win. Make it so by joining.

The post When Survivors Unite appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Feminists and Trans Activists Rise Against State Violence in Argentina

Sun, 09/30/2018 - 14:08

In Argentina, a long-awaited congressional bill to legalize abortion was defeated on August 8, 2018. But according to many of the estimated 2 million feminist activists gathered on the day of the vote, the loss was only provisional. Decriminalization remains a possibility. As organizer and scholar Cecilia Palmeiro commented, “We already won in the streets, in public opinion.”

The feminist collective Ni Una Menos (“Not One Less”) was key in mobilizing the demonstration. Access to abortion is not the collective’s sole objective; the group originally formed in response to a series of femicides, and it continues to work to end gendered violence. Ni Una Menos also protests economic exploitation and neoliberal economic restructuring, and supports Indigenous land struggles and the extension of reparations for victims of state violence to trans people and “travestis” (a term generally used in Argentina by working-class, trans-feminine people — often migrants from majority Indigenous and Mestizo non-urban provinces who organize with trans people but do not describe themselves as “trans”).

On March 8, 2018, these wide-ranging positions were articulated as part of an International Women’s Day strike. Demands issued for Ni Una Menos’s annual march in June of 2018 were similarly broad, opening with the anti-colonialist gesture: “Our bodies, our Earth and our people are not territories of conquest.”

In this manner, the “feminist tide” sweeping Argentina and Latin America takes issue with gendered and sexual violence in their structural and interpersonal expressions. Linking neoliberal reforms with rape and political marginalization with murder, Argentinian feminists are struggling against the diffuse harms of institutionalized violence. Meanwhile, they have also found ways to connect the struggle for gender-affirming health care to the struggle for abortion access.

Legal, Safe and Free Abortion

Ni Una Menos is not the only group in Argentina advocating for decriminalization of and increased access to abortion. The National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion has been working for 13 years to make abortion, contraception and sex education widely available throughout the nation. The campaign’s objectives foreground the disparate effects of economic marginalization in the struggle for reproductive autonomy. Sociologist Julia McReynolds-Pérez describes the “dual system of clandestine abortions,” in which people with wealth can access illegal but safe abortions, while poor people risk their lives to seek them. In addition, as McReynolds-Pérez has described, groups such as Lesbians and Feminists for the Decriminalization of Abortion address this divide by providing information about affordable pharmaceutical abortions. While the notion of “choice” remains central for Argentinian feminist activists—signs reading “My body, my choice” were common in street demonstrations—the problem of the “dual system” remains at the center of struggles for access.

While femicide has most commonly referred to murders and sexual violence, Ni Una Menos members and other feminists describe deaths from clandestine abortions as “femicides at the hands of the state.” During the debate leading up to the vote, Sen. María de los Ángeles Sacnun echoed these assertions, calling these deaths “part of an institutional violence that we cannot continue to permit.”

Institutional violence is a concept with particular salience in Argentina. The phrase is frequently invoked in the condemnation of state terrorism that took place during the nation’s dictatorship. It has also been extended by activists criticizing present-day police repression, including in recent protests against state austerity measures.

In this regard, many activists understand criminalization of abortion to be a problem affecting a much broader group than only those who might seek these services. They frame it as one of the many effects of institutional and state violence that place certain forms of life above others. Activist and historian Emmanuel Theumer points out how, despite certain tensions, activist coalitions generally recognize commonalities among those who are targets of state violence, control, marginalization or extermination.

A feminist collective named after the late travesti and feminist activist Lohana Berkins advocates for abortion access as a vital objective for coalition politics. In a similar vein, the transnationally penned Yogyakarta Principles—upon which Argentina’s Gender Identity Law was partially based—position bodily autonomy for all as a guiding principle. In so doing, the document synthesizes political and economic concerns about access to reproductive autonomy, intersex self-determination and gender-affirming care for trans people (among others).

Activists have also worked to contest the presumption that only women are invested in access to abortion. Trans activists have issued the reminder that “Trans men also get abortions.” Travesti activists have asserted the imperative of solidarity and of trans-inclusive sisterhood. Over a decade before the vote, Berkins urged travestis to support the decriminalization of abortion, describing bodies as “the first peaceful territory to defend.”

“To Recognize Is to Repair”

In May of 2018, the province of Santa Fe expanded a law providing economic reparations for people who were persecuted during the military dictatorship to travestis and trans people. Organizers have been working on a national version of this expansion since 2014. The bill was conceived and co-authored by travesti activist Marlene Wayar, who advocated for it alongside the late Berkins and Diana Sacayán. The Colectiva Lohana Berkins and other travesti and legal groups have advanced the “To Recognize is to Repair” (#ReconocerEsReparar) campaign to extend pensions to “victims of institutional violence related to gender identity.” The proposal seeks redress not only for historical persecution on the basis of gender identity, but also for ongoing criminalization and arbitrary arrest.

Legal recognition of trans identities has been a primary objective for trans activists worldwide, but the #ReconocerEsReparar campaign is unique in its assertion of the state’s economic responsibility to address systemic marginalization in the past and present. Blas Radi and Alejandra Sardá-Chandiramani assert that travestis and trans people “are excluded from the opportunities of life,” and the proposed law aims to economically mitigate these conditions for some survivors of state violence. The bill has twice been introduced in Congress but has not yet come up for vote.

Social Travesticide

#ReconocerEsReparar was gaining momentum when travesti activist Sacayán was killed in 2015. In June 2018, her murderer was convicted of “travesticidio,” or travesticide. It was at this point that activists introduced the term “travesticidio social,” or social travesticide. Pointing to the estimated 35-year average life expectancy for travestis, activists like Florencia Guimaraes-García charged state complicity: “Society and the State are responsible for our lives being so short.”

Referring obliquely to the nation’s historical dictatorship, travesti, LGBT and feminist activists assert that “the state is at fault” for multiple forms of gendered and sexual violence. In so doing, the wave of leftist resistance to the center-right neoliberal Mauricio Macri administration connects gendered/sexualized violence to economic distribution as intertwined forms of state violence.

As author Maria Mariasch comments, femicide “is a more extreme expression of a series of violence that is expressed daily in distinct ways…. Not all of these expressions have to do with physical, psychological, or even symbolic violence, but also economic, political, laboral, and institutional violence.”

While legal struggles may be stalled, activists are generating sharp political critiques of state violence and abandonment. Charges of “state femicide” and “social travesticide” produce wide-ranging demands not only for recognition but for material guarantees to support life and survival.

The post Feminists and Trans Activists Rise Against State Violence in Argentina appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

For People Behind Bars, Reporting Sexual Assault Leads to More Punishment

Sun, 09/30/2018 - 14:01

When Dr. Christine Blasey Ford broke a decades-long silence about nearly being violently raped by Brett Kavanaugh, now a Supreme Court nominee, her allegations were met with death threats. Her address was published, forcing her family to relocate; people followed her on freeways and attempted to enter her place of work. At the same time, her detractors questioned the legitimacy of her accusations, noting that she did not report the attempted rape. These criticisms are nothing new—countless survivors have faced similar challenges for not reporting assaults and attempted assaults. This is particularly true for incarcerated survivors, who know that reporting sexual abuse is more likely to result in more punishment for them—and little to no accountability for the person who harmed them.

When Carolee first entered the Texas prison system in 2016, she was shown a video explaining what to do if she were sexually assaulted. “The video did not show any difficulties and it made you feel comfortable and safe if you told,” Carolee recalled. One year later, however, she found out just how wrong the video was.

While in the shower, Carolee’s cellmate grabbed her breast. Carolee shrieked, her cellmate backed off, and nothing more happened. The next day, Carolee approached a prison officer, reported the assault and asked to be moved to another cell.

“After that, things just got absolutely ridiculous,” Carolee, who is still imprisoned in Texas and asked that her last name not be used, told Truthout. Staff did move her—to “segregation” (otherwise known as solitary confinement), where she spent 15 days locked in a cell by herself. “Then I was taken to an interrogation room where the Safe Prisons person asked me all these questions,” she said. “I told them it wasn’t that bad, she didn’t rape me or anything, I just felt uncomfortable being in the same room with her and I didn’t want her to try it again the next time we were alone in the shower. They came up with the assumption that I had made the entire thing up…. For filing a ‘false’ OPI [Offender Protection Investigation], I couldn’t go to commissary for 30 days.”

To make matters worse, her cellmate learned about Carolee’s report. Once Carolee was allowed out of segregation, her cellmate physically attacked her. Carolee fought back, staff tear-gassed both women, then placed them in segregation.

Looking back on the experience, Carolee concluded, “I never would have told had I known what process I would go through. They put me in seg to seclude me and interrogate me. Yes, it was supposed to be protective custody, but it ended up being an interrogation … I wanted no trouble. I just wanted to be moved discreetly.” To anyone else in a similar situation, “I would say, ‘Just keep your mouth shut and make up a lie instead to get moved.’ I definitely would have done it differently. When I was put in seg for the 15 days, I felt absolutely embarrassed. The other girls in seg found out from the [Prison Rape Elimination Act] sign on my door that I had reported sexual assault … I felt on display and judged. I felt like I was in trouble instead of being the victim.”

The use of solitary confinement as “protection” has long been reported by rape survivors in jails and prisons nationwide. In 1996, Human Rights Watch found that, in at least six states, incarcerated women were routinely placed in solitary after reporting sexual abuse by prison staff. Prisons claim this placement is for the survivor’s protection. More than two decades later, this remains one of the only national studies acknowledging the prevalence of placing survivors in solitary. But advocates, family members and people in prison report that this practice continues, discouraging many from reporting sexual abuse by either staff or, as Carolee’s experience demonstrates, other incarcerated people. In addition, many jails and prisons utilize solitary as “protection” for people who are visibly gay, lesbian or transgender.

Under the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act, or PREA, prisons and jails that receive federal money must adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward sexual violence. This means that prisons are supposed to discipline people, whether staff or incarcerated, who sexually harass, abuse or assault others; prisons are also required to protect those who are vulnerable to sexual violence. By the end of 2015, jails and prisons nationwide reported 24,661 allegations of sexual abuse, nearly triple the number in 2011. More than half (or 58 percent) of these allegations were against prison staff.

Blasey Ford’s treatment shows what women behind bars have long known to be true—sexual assault is not considered to actually have happened unless it has been reported. At the same time, they know that saying #MeToo rarely, if ever, stops the violence. Instead, it brings more problems and additional punishments, including being cut off from all human contact.

Isolation as Protection for People Seen as “Victim-Prone”

When Venus Williams, a 25-year-old trans woman incarcerated in east Arkansas, arrived at the state’s male prison in March 2010, she was immediately placed in segregation. Why? Because she informed staff that she was trans and, during her previous incarceration in 2007, had been caught having consensual sex with another incarcerated person. At the time, she was told that consensual sex does not exist in prison, was written up for violating the prison’s rule against sexual activity, and was placed in segregation until her release a year later. In 2010, when she re-entered the prison system on a parole revocation, staff labeled her “victim-prone” and placed her in segregation, where she has remained for the past eight years.

But isolation has not kept her safe. “The past eight years have been pure hell and full of verbal harassment, discrimination and physical assault by a correctional officer back in 2012,” the 33-year-old told Truthout in a series of letters. Any time she is taken out of her cell to the shower area, she is shackled, or placed in handcuffs and leg irons. “When I walk past inmates’ cells fully shackled to be escorted to shower, inmates throw urine on me, throw batteries, pieces of trash and soaps at me and the guards do nothing about it but laugh. The guards do not even try to protect me at all.”

Not only have staff failed to protect her from other incarcerated people on the unit, but they have also inflicted their own violence upon her. “Guards have scarred my ankles and wrists because they have placed leg and hand restraints on me too tight, to harm me. I have been maced because I refused to allow a male guard [to] strip search me and told him I was a woman and needed a female guard to conduct the search. The male guard laughed and maced me multiple times until I couldn’t stand my skin burning no more. I was forced to submit to a strip search. And I cried from humiliation [throughout] the whole search.”

Isolation as a form of protection isn’t limited to Arkansas. In California, the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department has been placing LGBTQ people in a unit called the “Alternative Lifestyle Tank.” Since 2012, nearly 600 people had been locked in their cells 23 hours each day. They were not allowed to attend the jail’s job training, education, drug rehabilitation, religious or community re-entry programs. Instead, during their one hour out of cell, they were allowed only to shower, make a phone call or watch television. In August 2018, the sheriff’s department agreed to a settlement in which it provided LGBTQ people with expanded housing options, access to programs, additional staff training on LGBTQ safety, and a million-dollar payment to be split among those who had been isolated in the Alternative Lifestyle Tank.

In New York City, the Department of Correction started tracking the initial housing placements of the trans, gender-nonconforming and intersex individuals in its jail system. According to figures provided by the Board of Correction, the city agency tasked with monitoring jail conditions, from November 2017 to May 2018, 49 trans women and three trans men were in the city’s jails. Of those, the Department recorded 16 movements to its Trans Housing Unit, a 26-bed unit for trans women that, according to advocates, is rarely full. The Department reported nearly the same number of placements (15) in Protective Custody, a form of isolation in which people spend up to 23 hours each day locked in their cell, to “protect” them from physical and sexual violence.

According to the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, nearly 40 percent of trans people in state and federal prisons and 26 percent in local jails reported sexual victimization behind bars—a rate ten times higher than their cisgender counterparts.

How often is isolation utilized with the justification of protection against sexual violence? It’s fairly common, says Jesse Lerner-Kinglake of Just Detention International, an organization working to end sexual abuse behind bars. Just Detention International receives thousands of letters from people who have been sexually abused in jails and prisons across the country.

Lerner-Kinglake noted that a 2015 Bureau of Justice Statistics report on restrictive housing (another term used for isolation) found that lesbian, gay and bisexual people are more likely to be placed in solitary than their heterosexual counterparts. (The report makes no mention of trans people.) People with mental illnesses are also isolated at a higher rate. These populations are also more likely to be targeted for sexual abuse within jails and prisons.

“We hear disproportionately from trans people because the levels of violence against them are disproportionately high,” Lerner-Kinglake told Truthout.

Punished for Telling the Truth

This has been true for Strawberry Hampton, a trans woman incarcerated in Illinois men’s prisons. But in her case, staff have been the main perpetrators of sexual violence—and isolation has been used to punish her for speaking out. As reported earlier, Hampton was repeatedly verbally and sexually assaulted by prison staff in three different Illinois prisons. When she filed a complaint, staff placed her in solitary. She was transferred to another men’s prison, where she endured not only physical violence and sexual harassment by staff, but sexual abuse and threats by another incarcerated person who threatened to rape her. When she reported his behavior, he was placed in a segregation cell close to hers. He told Hampton that he was in segregation for possessing contraband, not for his threats against her, and that prison officials had dropped the disciplinary ticket against him because staff “does not like her and does not want to protect her.”

Though she has since been transferred to Dixon Correctional Center, another (men’s) prison, Hampton is still in segregation. “I’m not gonna be released until December 26, 2018,” she wrote in a recent letter to Truthout. “That means I been in seg for two years.”

Being in near-constant isolation has taken its toll. In a series of letters to Truthout, Hampton described feeling “emotional depression and sad.” She added that being held in isolation “makes you have panic attacks and anxiety attack. It makes your mind unstable & scared.”

The Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) “uses seg to punish people who are victimized or beaten, raped or speaking out against IDOC,” she wrote. “They punish me for being victimized and telling the truth. They try to silence me from exposing the truth.”

Hampton has attempted suicide three times; each time, staff locked her in a crisis cell, or another type of isolation cell where she was given nothing except a “suicide-proof” smock to wear, and constantly monitored. Later, she was returned to segregation.

“Strawberry’s experience is incredibly common,” noted Sheila Bedi, an attorney with the MacArthur Justice Center which is representing Hampton. “It reflects the truths that these kinds of abuses are endemic to prison.”

In July 2018, Hampton, along with the MacArthur Justice Center and the Uptown People’s Law Center, filed another suit against the Illinois Department of Corrections for the continuing physical and sexual assaults she has experienced at the hands of both staff and other incarcerated people. The suit demands that Hampton be moved to a women’s prison, a form of emergency relief that Hampton has been requesting since being sexually assaulted at Pinckneyville. “Everyday she’s literally scared for her life,” Bedi told Truthout. “She is a woman in a men’s prison. Every day, she’s worried about her safety—predominantly from staff, but also from other incarcerated men who know that staff won’t do anything to protect her.”

Hampton’s lawsuit points to a 2016 Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) report, although 28 trans women are incarcerated in Illinois’s men’s prisons, no trans women are currently in its two women’s prisons. This means that, if Hampton’s suit is successful, her transfer would be one of the first times Illinois assigned a trans woman to a female prison.

In May 2018, Connecticut became the first state to pass a law requiring that trans people be incarcerated according to their gender identity. The law, which took effect on July 1, also requires that trans people be searched by corrections officers who match their gender identity, be addressed with proper pronouns, and be guaranteed access to clothing and toiletries that match their gender identity. But this law only applies if the incarcerated person has either been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, or had their gender marker legally changed. In addition, this “presumptive placement” can be changed if prison administrators determine that their placement could create problems at a particular prison. The Connecticut Department of Correction did not respond to queries about how the policy has been implemented.

On September 11, 2018, Hampton appeared on a video screen before a federal court judge to testify about her experiences. Two other incarcerated people corroborated her stories of violence and another trans woman testified about her own experiences with physical and sexual violence while incarcerated in a men’s prison. In contrast, Bedi noted, the witnesses for the Department of Corrections continually used male pronouns for Hampton and argued that, because she is incarcerated in a men’s prison, she is a man.

“Given these attitudes, she will never be safe in a men’s prison,” Bedi said.

Meanwhile, Hampton remains in segregation in a men’s prison. “Hopefully everything [will] go right,” she wrote from inside her segregation cell.

The post For People Behind Bars, Reporting Sexual Assault Leads to More Punishment appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

I Inherited My Grandfather’s Trauma—and His Healing Culture

Sat, 09/29/2018 - 18:28

My grandfather used to say that he’d never attended an Indian residential school. He’d shrug off his abuse in school as if it was no big deal. After all, everyone he knew was abused by White teachers. They were all beaten for speaking Ojibwe, beaten until they forgot how to speak it altogether.

The Methodist-run residential school for Native children that my grandfather likely attended was called Mount Elgin Industrial Institute. On the reserve, it was known by another name: Mount Elgin Residential School. But he wouldn’t call it that.

He wouldn’t name that school or his trauma, but it was still there. And I inherited it, even if I spent my early years not realizing it.

I grew up away from the reserve, in a middle-class, White-passing family in Ontario. Being Native was not a way of life for me. In fact, I didn’t know that I was Ojibwe until I was in the first grade. It just wasn’t something my family spoke about.

Once I learned, little things poked at my sense of worth—things such as regular, everyday anger and racism toward Native people in Ontario. Clashes between Natives and White communities made headlines there regularly while I was growing up. I was constantly told by the adults in my life that the Natives were “causing trouble.” That they were “bringing it on themselves.” It was easy to believe this racism. After all, I was surrounded by it.

At the same time, I was surrounded by family and friends who denied my indigeneity. The racism and denial took a toll. I was constantly anxious, especially around authority. I flinched when people moved too quickly or raised a hand around me. And I was hypervigilant, something that continues to this day.

The mental illness diagnoses began racking up, and I turned to addictive behaviors—cutting, self-hating, and starving myself. And though I sat through therapy and popped anti-depressants, I continued to feel displaced and angry.

“That’s what being an Indian is,” he replied, touching for the first time on our shared blood and culture. “You’re an Indian woman, so it’s no one’s place to tell you anything. But you’re not going to find it easy. It hasn’t ever been easy for us.” Some of that began to change after I reconnected with my grandfather. After I graduated from college, I mentioned that I felt myself in a constant struggle, trying to figure out where I belonged. I was resentful, I said, feeling like I had no religion, no culture, and nowhere to go to find those things.

Then his voice turned serious.

“You’re the storyteller in the family. You need to listen to me. It’s your job to keep our culture going. Smarten up now.”

Returning to culture is a duty my grandfather believed elders had to their communities. And he passed this on to me.

Around this point, I began learning about intergenerational trauma. WhileNative people have experienced it for years, researchers are just beginning to learn about how trauma is stored and passed on at the cellular level in the emerging field of epigenetics. A 2014 study showed that trauma-altered gene expression in mice, and that these changes were passed down to their offspring. Knowing this is helpful for me. It helps me understand why I, and other family members, have experienced psychological issues that appear to have no trigger. Trauma changes the way our genes are expressed. It lives in our cells and becomes a part of who we are.

But that doesn’t mean my trauma has to define me, my community, or my family. As Native people, we are no less resilient when we admit that colonialism has had lasting effects on us. And it starts with naming the trauma.

In his final years, my grandfather returned to culture and used storytelling as a way to heal from the trauma he experienced as a child and adult. By choosing to tell his stories to me, we both found a way to heal.

Using traditional practices has been shown to have a positive effect on mental health for Native people. Natives celebrating who we are, even in the face of erasure, has helped bring many of us back to our cultures, readying us to fight harder for what is ours. It makes sense that activities that are culturally affirming would build mental and emotional resilience. And while trauma can be passed down generations, so can healing.

Connecting back to culture has been one of the hardest things I’ve done. Without my grandfather, I would not have known where to start my own journey. Sometimes I feel like an imposter or as if I’m letting down my grandfather and the legacy he gave me, but then I realize that I’m doing exactly what he told me to do.

I am telling our story. I am healing my family’s trauma by being exactly who I am—a Native woman who belongs, and has belonged, all along.

The post I Inherited My Grandfather’s Trauma—and His Healing Culture appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Colorado Voters Will Weigh in on Drilling Distances From Homes and Schools

Sat, 09/29/2018 - 17:28

Coloradans will vote on a ballot initiative in November that requires new oil and gas projects to be set back at least 2,500 feet from occupied buildings. If approved, the measure – known as both Initiative 97 and Proposition 112 – would mark a major change from their state’s current limits: 500 feet from homes and 1,000 feet from schools.

As sociologists who have researched oil and gas drilling in the communities that host it for the past seven years, we think this measure would provide local governments and Coloradans more say over where drilling occurs and enhance the rights of those who live near these sites.

Fracking Boom

Domestic oil and gas production has soared over the past decade, leading the US to become the top global producer of those fossil fuels.

Technological innovations, especially the hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, commonly called fracking, have fueled this growth. So has federal deregulation.

Partly because fracking and related industrial processes often occurs close to homes, schools and other occupied buildings, the debate over Proposition 112 is contentious.

Opponents, especially those funded by industry groups, argue that stricter rules will mean less state tax revenue, job losses and weakened private property rights. Proponents express concerns about air pollution, earthquakes, water well contamination and explosions to explain why they want the public to have more sway.

But many state governments have tried to stymie the attempts of communities to gain this power. For example, Colorado’s Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that local communities have no right to regulate where drilling occurs.

And industry-funded groups and the Colorado Farm Bureau, which represents farmers, ranchers and other agricultural interests, are countering this electoral effort to restrict drilling with their own measure. Known as Amendment 74, it would force any city or county government that limits drilling to compensate property owners if new setback rules were to lower property values or reduce revenue from fracking leases.

Regulations and Leasing

Members of the public and local governments have successfully challenged limits on local control over fracking in court before. For example, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court affirmed the power of communities to regulate the oil and gas industry locally when it ruled in 2016 that parts of a law known as Act 13 were unconstitutional.

In that instance, the court ruled against a provision that barred doctors from sharing information about possible toxic exposure if they were given access to industry information about the chemicals used in fracking. It also blocked the enforcement of a measure that allowed the use of eminent domain to site natural gas storage facilities.

But as far as we can tell, Colorado’s ballot initiative marks the first time voters can potentially control the set-back distances of oil and gas facilities from rivers, homes, schools and other buildings in their communities.

Negotiating Terms

Regulating oil and gas leases on private land is hard partly because they are privately negotiated contracts between companies and landowners. To learn more about what happens during these negotiations, we interviewed more than 100 Coloradans and Pennsylvanians about their experiences negotiating these drilling leases.

In our recently published study, we found that these people feel inconvenienced at best. Most told us they felt exploited and mistreated due to the leasing experience despite having made money off of leasing their land or mineral rights.

Some scholars who look at how drilling affects local communities argue that this process empowers private property owners because they play a direct role in deciding the terms of these negotiations. And some of these folks can even get rich from fracking lease earnings.

Certainly, landowners – including some of the people we interviewed – have earned income from these contracts, though the amounts can vary from a few dollars to thousands of dollars per acre. But the overwhelming majority of the Pennsylvanians and Coloradans who met with us in their kitchen tables, backyards and farms described feeling disempowered when they signed fracking leases.

“I knew zip about gas production,” explained a man who operates a small-scale dairy farm in northeastern Pennsylvania and we are calling “Anderson” to honor our promise of confidentiality. “We had no time, we either made a decision to do it or not do it.”

During private negotiations, landmen – the company representatives who try to convince people to sell or lease their land and mineral rights – discouraged neighbors from teaming up to get a better deal or even talking with one another about the terms they’re considering, interviewees told us.

In some situations, when residents negotiated for better-than-average lease terms, landmen made them sign nondisclosure agreements that legally forbade sharing information.

Same Land, Different Owners

Occasionally in Pennsylvania and almost always in Colorado, these fracked properties belong to two or more parties. One owns the surface and someone else possesses the rights to whatever minerals lie beneath it.

And, in Colorado, surface landowners are legally required to provide mineral owners access to their resources.

Many people we interviewed owned land but not the rights to the minerals below it. With limited power to stave off drilling in their backyards or on their farms, the surface rights owners we interviewed said they felt like “sitting ducks” and “unprotected.” They told us that they saw attempting to keep an oil and gas company off their land as “futile.”

“John,” a farmer who lives south of Denver, tried to fight the placement of a pipeline that split his farm into two less usable pieces. When he tried to fight the pipeline placement, he told us, he overheard industry representatives speculating that they simply needed to outspend his opposition.

Mineral Rights

When the people we interviewed owned the mineral rights tied to their property but did not want to lease them, an energy company could pursue them through a state statute allowing a practice known as “forced pooling” in both Pennsylvania and Colorado.

It makes leasing mineral rights mandatory, leaving landowners with no way to say no when a company wants to frack their property.

We also heard about the personal costs participants experienced after they signed leases. Ranchers explained they lost productive pastureland. Other residents believed they became ill because of air pollution. And many farmers described lasting damage to idyllic homesteads.

Even when these factors violated their leases or laws governing oil and gas practices, nearly all lease signers we interviewed told us they had a hard time getting oil and gas operators with whom they’d signed leases to address any violations of those contracts.

To “Connor,” a homesteader in southern Colorado, the negotiation process felt “like having a second job.” At times,“ he told us, “it was absolutely overwhelming. I think we did absolutely everything we could as private citizens to try and mitigate the impacts and in the end, it was futile.”

The post Colorado Voters Will Weigh in on Drilling Distances From Homes and Schools appeared first on Truthout.

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