Truth Out

Subscribe to Truth Out feed
Truthout sparks action by revealing systemic injustice and providing a platform for transformative ideas through investigative reporting and analysis.
Updated: 25 min 2 sec ago

Federal Court Rejects Trump Administration's Attempt to Suspend Methane Rule

Sun, 02/25/2018 - 05:00

 Jim Watson / AFP / Getty Images)President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington, DC, on January 10, 2018. (Photo: Jim Watson / AFP / Getty Images)

A court has once again rejected the Trump administration's effort to suspend an Obama-era rule aimed at reducing releases of methane from oil and gas operations on federal and tribal land.

"The decision," writes Meleah Geertsma, a senior attorney with NRDC, "once again sends a message to this administration that it will not get away with illegal handouts to industry, at the expense of Americans' health and the environment."

The latest rebuke to the attempt to derail the Bureau of Land Management's Waste Prevention Rule was delivered late Thursday by the U.S. District Court for the District of Northern California in response to suits filed by a number of environmental groups, as well as the states of California and New Mexico over the rule suspension.

"The BLM's reasoning behind the Suspension Rule is untethered to evidence contradicting the reasons for implementing the Waste Prevention Rule, and so plaintiffs are likely to prevail on the merits," Judge William Orrick wrote in his ruling(pdf). "They have shown irreparable injury caused by the waste of publicly owned natural gas, increased air pollution and associated health impacts, and exacerbated climate impacts."

Orrick granted a preliminary injunction requiring the Interior Department to enforce the regulation, eliciting praise from environmental groups.

"Though they seem to think otherwise," said Kelly Martin, Sierra Club Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign director, "Donald Trump and [Interior Secretary] Ryan Zinke are not above the law. Once again, the courts are serving as a critical backstop against their reckless attempts to unravel key protections for our air, water, and climate. This ruling is a victory for our communities' health and the climate, and we will continue to fight to hold this administration accountable and defend this critical clean air standard."

Echoing Martin, Robin Cooley, an Earthjustice attorney representing tribal and conservation citizen groups, said the decision marked "a tremendous victory for taxpayers, public health, and the planet."

"The court made it clear that the Trump administration is not above the law -- Interior Secretary Zinke cannot yank away a common sense rule that was the product of years of careful deliberation simply to appease his friends in the oil and gas industry," Cooley continued.

Added Peter Zalzal, lead attorney with Environmental Defense Fund, the "protections restored by this decision will help to prevent the waste of natural gas, reduce harmful methane, smog-forming and toxic pollution, and ensure communities and tribes have royalty money that can be used to construct roads and schools."

The setback for administration's climate attacks and deregulation agenda follows similar decisions, as The Wilderness Society noted in its press release:

  1. January 16: Wyoming District Court denies industry trade groups and several states request for preliminary injunction, to prevent the rule from going into effect.
  2. May 10: The effort to kill the methane rule via Congressional Review Act fails with bipartisan support, 51 to 49.
  3. October 4: California court overturns the Interior Department's decision to unilaterally suspend many of the most important protections of the methane waste rule without providing any opportunity for public comment.

The Hill also notes that "The BLM formally proposed earlier this month to repeal most provisions of the methane rule. Thursday's ruling was only on the one-year delay, so it does not directly affect the proposed repeal." Also of note is that when the Obama administration unveiled the BLM rule, some climate groups like offered just tepid praise, saying that truly protecting communities from "the devastating impacts of climate change means keeping fossil fuels in the ground."

Truthout doesn't take corporate money and we don't shy away from confronting the root causes of injustice. Can you help sustain our work with a tax-deductible donation?
Categories: News

Proposed Arizona Law Could Promote Embryonic Personhood

Sun, 02/25/2018 - 05:00

A new bill in Arizona has some reproductive rights advocates worried that the state is trying to set a precedent that would establish embryonic personhood  -- a first in the United States.

Proponents argue that the bill "protects a parent's right to his or her in vitro embryos in a divorce proceeding," and is simply a necessary clarification in the law. But because they're backed by national conservative interests that have historically lobbied against reproductive freedoms, critics are viewing their claim with a grain of salt.

SB 1393 might sound innocuous, and like a much-needed fix to a heartbreaking problem: What happens when a couple divorces and they can't agree on what should happen with embryos they froze while they were married?

This situation isn't just hypothetical, as highlighted by the case of Arizona resident Ruby Torres, a breast cancer survivor who froze embryos before starting treatment in the hopes of having children in the future. Torres and her husband later separated, but when she asked for the embryos so she could have biological children, he refused. He didn't want to bear the cost of parenting, he said.

Fortunately, the two of them had signed a medical agreement at the time of the procedure, articulating how they would handle this situation in the event that it arose. In accordance with the agreement, the judge ruled that the embryos should be donated to a fertility bank or another couple. But Torres appealed, and her fight isn't over.

Situations like these may not be common, but they are snarled and difficult to untangle. SB 1393 purports to resolve the issue by legislating that in the event of a dispute, embryos should go to the person who "intends to allow the in vitro human embryos to develop to birth."

It would terminate all rights for the other party in the dispute, and if they were a genetic parent, they would be required to submit medical records that would be kept on file for 99 years. If both partners want the embryos but only one donated genetic material, that person would be granted access.

In effect, Arizona is passing legislation on the disposition of embryos that sounds a lot like disputes over child custody. That's by design, say some opponents, who fear that this law is setting embryos up like actual children in a divorce. They claim it's unnecessary legislation, as courts can rely on contracts and other documentation to make reasonable decisions in disputes of this nature.

Representatives of Resolve, a nationwide fertility advocacy group, wrote in opposition to the legislation, warning that it could "take away individuals' rights to determine whether or not they want children."

Imagine being in a bitter custody dispute and having your partner seize embryos, when you've decided you no longer want genetic children. Think about how it might feel to watch your ex, or their partner, or a surrogate, gestate embryos that you contributed genetic material to. Resolve worries that the law could be used to make it effectively impossible to destroy embryos, as well -- even in cases where people had banked a large number.

The organization notes that the majority of embryos fail to develop, and that no embryos in frozen storage can even become children without someone willing to gestate them. Though it goes unmentioned, the technology for artificial wombs is quite a long way away -- and when it does arrive, it may open up a new can of worms with respect to issues like these.

This bill could create considerable inconveniences and deprive people of choices, while setting up a dangerous precedent in suggesting that a microscopic cluster of cells is equivalent to an actual human. It's another example of legislation used to slowly throttle reproductive rights in the United States, chipping away bit by bit.

And with a growing number of embryos in cold storage, SB 1393 may be providing a hint about the next frontier of reproductive rights battles: What's going to happen to the hundreds of thousands of embryos in storage in the United States?

No "alternative facts" here -- we publish the uncensored, uncorrupted news you rely on. Support Truthout by making a donation!
Categories: News

A New Landmark in CEO-Worker Pay Ratio Disclosure

Sun, 02/25/2018 - 05:00

Honeywell has become the first large US corporation to report the ratio between its CEO and median worker compensation, in compliance with a new Securities and Exchange Commision regulation based on the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation.

Honeywell, a Fortune 100 company that concentrates on manufacturing technologies, included the pay ratio information in a preliminary proxy statement posted on the SEC web site after 5 p.m. on Friday, February 16.

Two particularly noteworthy revelations stand out in the Honeywell disclosure.

The first: Honeywell CEO Darius Adamczyk, with only nine months of experience in his chief executive job, made 333 times as much in 2017 as the median Honeywell worker.

Adamczyk replaced long-time Honeywell CEO David Cote in April 2017. To calculate the CEO-worker pay ratio, Honeywell annualized Adamczyk's compensation, coming up with a total of $16.5 million. The median worker pay at the firm: $50,296.

The second: The Honeywell pay ratio disclosure reveals previously unreleased information about the extent of the company's offshoring of jobs. Honeywell revealed this information because the SEC pay ratio rule allows companies to exclude some of their foreign-based workers from the calculation of median worker pay. But companies that go this route must make additional disclosures.

Under the SEC ratio disclosure rule, companies have two ways to exclude non-US employees from their calculation of median worker pay.

If a company's non-US employees account for 5 percent or less of its total employees, the firm may exclude all of those employees when making its pay ratio calculations. But in this circumstance, if the company chooses to exclude any non-US employees, it must exclude all of them.

If a company's non-US employees exceed 5 percent of its total US and non-US employees, the firm may exclude up to 5 percent of its total employees who are non-US employees. Honeywell, with 86,092 non-US workers and 57,027 US employees, falls in this category.

Firms have an obvious incentive to exclude non-US employees from low-wage countries from their median worker pay calculations. The more low-wage workers companies exclude, the higher their overall corporate median pay will be — and the less outrageously overpaid their CEO will appear.

But if companies in Honeywell's situation exclude any workers from a foreign nation, they must exclude all non-US employees in that nation and report the number of employees in each nation being excluded.

In its new pay ratio disclosure, Honeywell lists 27 countries where the firm has excluded a total of 7,040 employees. This list of countries does not include any Western European countries or Japan, all higher-wage nations. As a result, the 333:1 ratio that Honeywell is reporting most likely would be even wider if Honeywell took all its workers into account

Corporate pay justice activists around the United States see the new pay ratio data now just starting to emerge as long overdue, and shareholders, workers, consumers, and policymakers interested in narrowing our country's economic divide are already mobilizing to put the data to good use. They're advancing efforts, at every level of government, to leverage the power of the public purse against the extreme economic inequality that existing corporate pay practices so routinely generate.

Thirty seconds: That's how long it takes to support the independent journalism at Truthout. We're counting on you. Click here to chip in!
Categories: News

Red Cloud's Revolution: Oglalla Sioux Freeing Themselves From Fossil Fuel

Sun, 02/25/2018 - 05:00

 Saul Elbein for Mongabay)Henry Red Cloud, founder of Lakota Solar and the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center. (Photo: Saul Elbein for Mongabay)

Ready to make a difference? Help Truthout provide a platform for exposing injustice and inspiring action. Click here to make a one-time or monthly donation.

It's high summer in South Dakota, and a cruel sun beats down with an endless floodtide of photons that burns skin through t-shirts and tinted car windows. That's the way Henry Red Cloud likes it. To Red Cloud -- descendant of a great Lakota insurgent chief, founder of Lakota Solar, and self-proclaimed "solar warrior" -- that July sun is key to the independence of his fellow Lakota and native peoples across America; it also embodies a hot business opportunity.

It's July 5, the tail end of Red Cloud's Energy Independence Day weekend, first announced in the wake of the Trump Inauguration, and meant to spread off-grid skills throughout Indian country -- possibly with radical purpose.

I walked out of the sun and indoors to find Red Cloud leading a solar workshop, holding forth to a group of eager indigenous participants about photovoltaic cells and the danger of phantom loads  -- the way in which many appliances continue drawing current even when switched off. "Vampire" loads are a constant suck on household energy, consuming electricity and thereby emitting carbon to no purpose -- while also draining an off-grid setup with limited juice.

A set up, like, say, the remote, off-grid camps at the Standing Rock Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protests in 2016.

Red Cloud offers up a hypothetical: "Let's say you have a Water Protector camp, your solar array is charging, you notice the inverter is on, but nothing is plugged in." The stocky 60-something instructor, with long ponytail and far-seeing eyes, frowns and shakes his head, indicating trouble. "Well, that empty power strip can draw more than your actual daily use," draining down the batteries faster than they can charge."

A bearded man in his late 20s raises his hand. "That bad for the array?"

"Well," Red Cloud responds, "it's not a problem if you know about it. Just plug in a couple cellphones," and charge them up so protestors can reach out to the media from the remote site. That way, he says, at least now the array is doing some work.

 Saul Elbein)

Man With a Plan

After the workshop, Red Cloud shows me his innovations. A solar trailer, small enough to be pulled by a compact car, is mounted with panels and an inverter. We step into a show-house built out of compressed earthen blocks -- the hydraulic press that makes them runs on diesel, the only machine Red Cloud owns that depends on fossil fuel.

"And then there's this," he says, pointing to a plywood box with Plexiglas atop it, a 35V photovoltaic panel that sparkles in the sun. It's a homemade solar furnace: in the brutal Dakota winter, it can generate a 190 degree Fahrenheit mass of air, along with enough energy to blow that warmth through a house, largely eliminating heating costs. He takes me to see the solar pumps that move running water through his two-story school building.Red Cloud's training center and home is a model for something new and, not to put too harsh a word on it, revolutionary.

His compound represents an all-in-one alternative energy lab and off-grid resistance camp set in the middle of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. That's a highly unlikely place for energy innovation: Pine Ridge is America's second poorest county, a sprawling and desolate collection of about 40,000 spread across the South Dakota Badlands. Most locals are so impoverished, and so estranged from the cash economy, that some 60 percent of them can't afford to hook up to the electric grid.

 Saul Elbein)Gloria Red Cloud shows off a solar-powered floodlight she built for her car using about $100 in materials. (Photo: Saul Elbein)

 Saul Elbein)This solar furnace can generate a 190-degree mass of air, supplementing grid or wood heat in the brutal Dakota winter. (Photo: Saul Elbein)

Which, to many Lakota leaders and especially Red Cloud, represents a huge opportunity -- a chance for the tribe to leapfrog over the 20th Century energy economy of coal and natural gas burning power plants and regional transmission lines into a New Economy. The goal is to build an energy independent First Nation and modern lifestyle, beyond the reach of oil shortages, price hikes, and the environmental harm perpetuated by the U.S. fossil fuel-driven economy.

For more than a decade, Red Cloud has been running Lakota Solar, an off-grid skills school and solar machine factory -- one of Pine Ridge's few locally owned business, and the heart of a business network that extends to a dozen other reservations.

Over a thousand alumni have learned to build solar arrays, solar furnaces and solar-driven water pumps in his schools. To Red Cloud, these are practical skills that expand people's economic and political options. But they're also something mystical ­­ -- a key to a new personal and communal future. The two of us settle under a shade tree, and Red Cloud declares: "Number 45," (that being his way of referring to U.S. President Donald Trump) "is changing a whole lot in our country. So we need to start banding together, natives and non-natives, and if we're going to build this country let's build it efficient."

He wipes his forehead. "We're all waiting for something. What? I don't know. But it's time to get started," he says.

 Saul Elbein)Portable solar arrays helped power the Oceti Sakowin Camp, which rose on the north end of the Standing Rock Reservation in the summer and fall of 2016 in opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline. Though primarily powered by wood and gasoline, the camps also ran on a great deal of solar. (Photo: Saul Elbein)

An Independent Tradition

In the early 2000s, Henry Red Cloud came home to the Pine Ridge Reservation and realized he had a problem. He'd spent years on the road, working seasonal construction, building with structural steel, interlocking the bones of skyscrapers "high above 5th Avenue" in New York City, and elsewhere, seeing much of America. But that wasn't the world he wanted to live in.

"I had all these hopes of going home, having a job, getting to spend quality time with my people," he recalls.

The word "home" for Red Cloud, and his moniker too, resonate with historic cadences. He is named for his five-times great-grandfather, the war-chief Red Cloud of the Oglalla Sioux. Though not a member of one of the traditional Oglalla ruling families, the original Red Cloud led a highly successful insurgency from 1866-1868 to prevent U.S. expansion into the productive buffalo grounds that the Lakota were then seizing from the Crow Indians.

During that conflict -- now remembered as the Powder River War or Red Cloud's War -- the Oglalla and their Cheyenne and Arapahoe allies, defeated a number of U.S. expeditionary forces, wiping out an 81-man cavalry unit in the worst American military defeat at the hands of Plains Indians up to the defeat of Custer's 7th Calvary at Little Big Horn, Montana in 1876.

The end of Red Cloud's War resulted in the federal government signing the Treaty of 1868, ceding a vast territory to the Lakota that made up much of what is now the U.S. Midwest. Red Cloud then agreed to settle the Oglalla at Pine Ridge, and his fight ended there. When in 1876 the Hunkpapas under Sitting Bull rose against the U.S. in anger at the treaty's violation, the elder Red Cloud stayed out, seeing no benefit in further battles against the Americans.

The Oglallas have been at Pine Ridge since, renowned among the other Lakota and Dakota peoples for the extent to which they have proudly maintained their culture. It is still common to meet elderly Oglalla who speak only their tribal language well, and English with difficulty.

 Saul Elbein)One of the portable solar trailers that Red Cloud brought to Standing Rock. (Photo: Saul Elbein)

Here Comes the Sun

According to Henry Red Cloud, what the Oglallas lack today, and badly need, is a thriving economy. When he came home in 2002, he found a reservation that relied on something roughly comparable to a colonial economy -- indigenous settlements were largely dependent on franchise stores and chains that brought little money into the community, but which sucked out dollars to the benefit of faraway corporate headquarters. About the only jobs on the reservation were with the tribe -- as police, in schools and government.

With the initial intention of just making some cash, Red Cloud signed up for a solar installation course. It was a revelation.

"I thought, as natives we've been embracing the sun for eons," he says, offering the Sundance as an example, the most sacred rite of the Plains Indians, in which devotees dance ecstatically for four days, exposed to the elements, without sleep, food or water.

"We have always believed in living off the land," he says. After graduating from that first solar course, he decided there was no reason that this native self-sufficiency shouldn't be reestablished.

He took more solar courses, learned more about alternative energy and green technology. He started working as a solar installer, always expecting to run into other Native Americans who had enjoyed the same epiphany he had. "But there weren't any," he recalls.

"I encouraged my brothers to come [and learn from me], but people can't just get up and [come to my workshops]. Everyone is doing something, like making handicrafts or gathering wild food, to help their families survive. They can't leave their families for 19 days. So I thought, what if I bring this knowledge here, to Indian Country?"

By 2004, he had learned solar installation; by 2005 he was making his own solar machines; by 2006 he had founded Red Cloud Renewable Energy and was employing locals to make solar panels to sell to the other tribes. Meanwhile, his alternative energy training school began turning out graduates.

 Saul Elbein)Water protectors planting cedar trees in the path of the Dakota Access pipeline in September 2016. Mounting an effective resistance opposition against pipeline projects in remote areas requires that activists be able to operate -- and stay connected to the web. To Henry Red Cloud, off-grid solar is the ideal technology to meet that need. (Photo: Saul Elbein)

Finding an Alternative to the Devil's Choice

For Red Cloud, solar and renewable energy are to the New Economy what the sun is to an intact ecosystem -- the basis of everything, offering perpetual sustenance. A place as "underdeveloped" and remote as Pine Ridge, he says, has always presented its First Nation inhabitants with a devil's choice: either continue in poverty, or sacrifice your culture to the world coming in from outside -- usually the malls-and-suburban model of 20th Century America.

"But out here we're rural," Red Cloud says, pointing to the far horizon. "We're the West of the West. At night you have a sky full of stars. You can see thunderstorms coming from 100 miles away. We have no Interstate, no banks, no nothing. And that's how I like it -- being able to go to the hills and see as far as the naked eyeball can see. I wouldn't want to see mainstream America flood this place."So, Lakota Solar and the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center have become catalysts for an innovative economic network -- one that employs locals and connects tribes, while building greater independence.

Ten years on, Red Cloud employs a dozen people at around $12 an hour, well above the U.S. minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. The products they make, they sell to other tribes, who add their own innovations to the mix. The nearby Rosebud Sioux have "gone to the next level," says Red Cloud, installing residential-scale wind and rooftop solar. But they also buy their solar furnaces and photovoltaic arrays from Red Cloud. Lakota Solar is now the main supplier for three other native-owned small businesses -- a solar-powered paper recycling company and two solar installation firms.

The alternative energy systems Red Cloud builds, and boosts, are what's known as "grid-tie." For now, they tie into the conventional electricity grid, providing a household, depending on its solar setup, with anywhere from 40 to 80 percent of their power. The systems are designed to be small scale and supplemental, offering a bit more power (or a bit more saved cash) to families that otherwise might go without, or fall short.

A mid-range residential setup from Lakota Solar goes for $3,500 and lasts about 30 years; that's drastically below the $25 to $35 thousand dollar average cost for solar arrays found in the rest of residential America. His systems don't pay the entire electric bill, Red Cloud says, "but it's still money saved that goes back into the community. It's enough to help build our own economy here."

While not the be all, or end all, these inexpensive solar installations offer more than just extra electricity to High Plains reservations. For Red Cloud and other Native American leaders, these solar solutions possess a deep philosophical appeal, extending beyond economic or environmental motives, and extending into the communal, and even to the nearly spiritual.

"People don't like being on the grid here," Red Cloud says, "because they've been coexisting with the earth -- the sun, the wind -- for most of their history." Clearly, the man who came back to the reservation in 2002 has found his way home, and he's now bringing his people home too.

 Saul Elbein)Campers at Oceti Sakowin in September 2016 sit on "Facebook Hill." The height, being the highest point in the camp, was the only place to reliably receive the cell service that tied the water protectors to the rest of the world, including social media. Charging stations there used diverse forms of renewable energy including solar panels, bicycle generators or the windmill seen here in the background. (Photo: Saul Elbein)

 Saul Elbein)At an action in September 2016, activists threw rocks into a trench dug for the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL). Building on the earlier anti-Keystone XL protests, the no-DAPL demonstrations often framed the fossil fuel economy as a "black snake" threatening the future of the world. Solar is seen as a way of breaking free of the grip of both oil and transnational energy companies. (Photo: Saul Elbein)

Categories: News

State Insecurity: Why Are Top NSA Personnel Leaving in Droves?

Sat, 02/24/2018 - 05:00
Thirty seconds: That's how long it takes to support the independent journalism at Truthout. We're counting on you. Click here to chip in!

US intelligence bodies haven't particularly enjoyed their time in the spotlight these last few years. The National Security Agency, or NSA, occupies a particularly complicated and frustrating place in the collective unconscious: It's an institution we must trust with our wellbeing on a daily basis, but it is also fundamentally unaccountable and untrustworthy. When was the last time you voted for an NSA director?

Beginning with the Edward Snowden leaks in summer 2013, we've watched this formerly hidden bureaucratic appendage grow more and more visible to the public -- and what we've seen isn't encouraging. We now know that the NSA regularly colludes with domestic internet service providers and spies indiscriminately on the heads of foreign governments, usually without justification. We also know that low morale within the agency has resulted in the leak of sensitive state secrets. Some of those secrets involve the way the NSA holds basic freedoms like privacy in contempt.

So it might feel like schadenfreude to watch this feared and reviled agency fall into disarray over the past half decade. But the truth is that the NSA still serves a vital purpose, now more than ever, yet it is barely any longer able to do its job (ie. monitoring malign foreign actors, anticipating the future moves of national governments, and keeping America's intel safe from prying eyes). The latest crisis: the NSA's hemorrhaging of talent.

Hey, Where's Everyone Going?

Of the country's 17 intelligence-gathering apparatuses, the NSA is the most prolific. The agency's headquarters, located in Fort Meade, Md., staffs some 21,000 individuals. But their heavy workload is now imperiled by a chronic flight of talent from the agency, described from within as an "epidemic". It's hard to know exactly how bad of a situation we're talking about because, of course, the NSA won't tell us details. But we do have some rough numbers:

• The NSA's current attrition rate for science, math and technology specialists is 5.6 percent.

• The attrition rate for hackers and cyberattack specialists is as high as 9 percent.

• And some teams within the NSA have lost as much as half their staff.

Interestingly, between 2016 and 2017, the agency made the conspicuous decision to remove all references to "openness," "honor" and "trust" from its core values and mission statements. Which begs the question: Is it any wonder nobody wants to work there?

The fact is, it's not the quantity of lost talent that may be most worrisome, but the quality of that talent. The folks now leaving the NSA are extremely knowledgeable veterans. And while the agency can successfully fill those positions, new hires won't have the same quality of background and experience.

A factor in the NSA's deterioration appears to be its general mismanagement, including unpopular philosophies concerning how best to "reorganize" the agency. In 2016, NSA director Michael S. Rogers set about rethinking some of the "walls of granite" between the independent offices within the NSA. Rogers called it among the NSA's most "comprehensive" restructuring moves since the 1990s.

It sounded great on paper, but even during the Obama administration, Rogers' recommendations were met with hostility by Pentagon and other intelligence officials. They said the restructuring wasn't so much a reduction of redundancy but, in fact, the creation of separate chains of command. This may represent a worsening of, rather than a solution for, the NSA's ongoing identity crisis as physical threats continue to mesh with digital ones.

The NSA's Talent Shortage Isn't the Only One

In a broader sense, we're in the middle of a very real cybersecurity gap across both the private and public spheres. The NSA may have had a run of bad luck lately -- a great deal of which, most people might agree, it deserves -- but the truth is that our country, across the board, appears woefully unprepared for the emerging reality of cyber threats.

Michael Brengs, CRO of the identity and security management company Optimal IdM, spoke at length with on the subject. "A recent survey shows that nearly 70 percent of cybersecurity professionals claimed their organization was impacted by the cybersecurity skills shortage," Brengs said. "The ISACA, a non-profit information security advocacy group, predicts there will be a global shortage of 2 million cybersecurity professionals by 2019. And for every 10 cybersecurity job ads that appear on the career site, only seven people even click on one of the ads, let alone apply."

"One of the areas where the cybersecurity skills gap is the greatest is in the field of identity and access management (IAM)," he continued. "This is the ability of your system to make sure every person who accesses the network at any time is an authorized and identifiable user and restricting each person's level of access to exactly the amount the company allows them to have. Overcoming the IAM skills gap is a huge challenge for organizations, especially when the identity infrastructure is architected, maintained and supported by a few internal employees. Any one of these individuals leaving the organization can put that infrastructure at great risk."

It has always been tempting to believe that there is a clear firewall between government and private enterprise. But situations like this help reveal just how entwined all of our fates really are. Identity and access management are complex topics that the average voter might be tempted to ignore. But security within privately owned companies is hardly the only thing at stake.

Experts have warned for years that the slow death of traceable paper ballots, combined with ever-more-vulnerable electronic voting machines, means the democratic process itself is on the line. Other estimates are less dire, but it's clear we don't yet fully understand this new threat landscape.

Depending whom you ask, American elections are either unhackable or extremely hackable. Perhaps nobody actually knows. But given the degree to which technology has pervaded our social lives, commerce and politics, it's clear we don't need fewer cybersecurity thought-leaders in government -- we need far more.

Categories: News

Two More Senators Ditch Corporate PACs

Sat, 02/24/2018 - 05:00

Two Senate Democrats joined a group of congressional incumbents running for reelection who have sworn off contributions from corporate political action committees (PACs).

Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) announced on Twitter this month that they would join at least 10 other members of Congress in rejecting donations from corporate PACs in their upcoming reelection campaigns.

"Because of the corrosive effects of corporate money I have decided from this point on I will not be accepting corporate PAC checks into my campaign," Gillibrand said in a video earlier this month.

Booker announced a similar pledge in a tweet this month, saying "our campaign finance system is broken."

A corporate PAC is a committee funded primarily by employee and individual contributions -- not from corporate treasuries -- and have a $5,000 per-candidate, per-cycle donation limit. Neither candidate has said they plan to reject individual donations from employees of corporations.

End Citizens United, a nonprofit that opposes corporate money in politics, hailed the move as a victory.

"Right now, we're seeing a wave of candidates rejecting corporate PAC money and taking a stand against the rigged system," Anne Feldman, a spokeswoman for ECU, said in an email. "By making this commitment, Senator Gillibrand, Booker and others are showing they will fight for people and not corporate interests."

Corporate PAC donations make up just a small percentage of campaign funding for incumbents, such as Gillibrand and Booker, who have accepted millions in PAC donations from banks, pharmaceutical companies, and international and corporate interests, FEC data shows.

Since running for Congress, Gillibrand has accepted $4.9 million from business PACs -- 9.7 percent of her total fundraising. Her top PAC donors include Goldman SachsUBS AG and Morgan Stanley.

Booker, with one run for Senate under his belt, has accepted $1.8 million from business PACs -- 8 percent of his total fundraising. His top PAC donors include JP Morgan ChaseVerizon, and law firms Connell Foley and DLA Piper.

Gillibrand's highest PAC contributor and Booker's second highest was the pharmaceutical company Pfizer.

Neither candidate has said they plan to return corporate contributions or reject the support of super PACs, which can raise and spend an unlimited amount on behalf of a candidate. The announcements also didn't acknowledge the corporate dollars donated to party and leadership PACs that so often funnel into personal campaign accounts.

The senators follow a pack of other congressional candidates -- mostly Democrats -- who have made similar no-corporate PAC pledges. Around 70 candidates have sworn off those contributions thus far, Feldman said.

Other incumbent senators taking the pledge include Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.).

House members include Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas)John Sarbanes (D-Md.)Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.)Ro Khanna (D-Calif.)Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii)Jared Polis (D-Colo.), and Francis Rooney (R-Fla.), according to ECU.

The no-corporate PAC pledges appear to mean different things to different candidates. For instance, according to details reported by Roll Call, Gillibrand's ban includes for-profit companies, trade associations and law firms, but excludes money from labor unions and ideological groups. Meanwhile, some of these candidates have accepted contributions this cycle from certain trade associations and corporations.

Last year, fundraising by PACs reached an all-time high of $2.2 billion, a number that, 20 years earlier, was $450.9 million. Already this cycle PACs have raised $1.2 billion, according to Center for Responsive Politics data.

In her statement, Gillibrand cited the 2010 Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v. FEC, which allowed super PACs to spend unlimited sums of money in support of -- or in opposition to -- candidates as long they spend independently of the campaign. But the court decision has little to do with corporate PACs. Other cases, such as the 2014 McCutcheon v. FEC decision, which removed caps on the amount an individual can donate to PACs, have played a bigger role in their  growth and influence.

Some candidates who have taken the pledge have gathered a following. Gillibrand, Booker, Warren and Sanders have all been eyeballed as candidates for the 2020 presidential race.

In addition, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) are all facing challengers who have refused corporate PAC money.

Last quarter, Cruz was outraised by his no-PAC Democratic challenger O'Rourke. While Cruz still leads the funding race by nearly $10 million, O'Rourke saw a jump in a recent telephone poll after pollsters noted that he was not accepting PAC contributions.

"I think the real way to change money in politics is to win this election without PACs and just ensure that it's the people I want to represent who are primarily funding this," O'Rourke said in a January interview.

You shouldn't have to wade through ads and "sponsored content" to get to the real news. Keep Truthout ad-free by making a tax-deductible donation.
Categories: News

Behold the Reckoning of a Gun Culture in Collapse

Sat, 02/24/2018 - 05:00

 Karissa Saenz, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, holds a sign that reads, ' White House You are Killing Our Future!,' on February 18, 2018 in Parkland, Florida. Police arrested and charged 19 year old former student Nikolas Cruz for the February 14 shooting that killed 17 people. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images) Karissa Saenz, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, holds a sign that reads, "White House You are Killing Our Future!," on February 18, 2018, in Parkland, Florida. (Photo:Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

It has been 19 years since Columbine, 6 years since Sandy Hook, 5 months since Las Vegas and 4 months since Sutherland Springs. In all that time and after all that blood, the script has not wavered an inch, when it comes to the NRA, the GOP and the mainstream Democratic Party. Can the student activists who survived the Parkland massacre spark a groundswell of change?

 Karissa Saenz, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, holds a sign that reads, ' White House You are Killing Our Future!,' on February 18, 2018 in Parkland, Florida. Police arrested and charged 19 year old former student Nikolas Cruz for the February 14 shooting that killed 17 people. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images) Karissa Saenz, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, holds a sign that reads, "White House You are Killing Our Future!," on February 18, 2018, in Parkland, Florida. (Photo: Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

Help Truthout keep publishing stories like this: They can't be found in corporate media! Chip in now by clicking here.

I've been wondering lately who my five-year-old daughter's role models will be when she gets older. If there is still good fortune to be found in the world, she will come to see and emulate the authentic heroism, courage and determination being shown by the student survivors of the massacre at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

She is still too young to understand when she sees them on TV, but when the time comes for her to find real flesh-and-blood people to admire, I can think of no one better than these remarkable youth.

It has been 19 years since Columbine, six years since Sandy Hook, five months since Las Vegas and four months since Sutherland Springs. There have been 438 people shot in 239 school shootings since 20 kids my daughter's age were cut down in Newtown by the same weapon that took 17 more lives in Parkland last week.

In all that time and after all that blood, the script has not wavered an inch: There is outrage, the National Rifle Association (NRA) digs in and reminds Congress of the fragility of their re-election prospects, and it all goes away until the bodies drop again.

Not this time. This time, there are these youth, who have lived their entire lives deep in the shadow of unchecked gun violence in schools, who have lived their entire lives in a country fighting permanent wars all over the globe, and with the threat of terrorism thrown in their faces on a daily basis. They do not appear to scare easily, and they have mastered the art of social media in a way their chosen adversaries will never know.

They survived a horror in their own school and are taking action to keep it from happening again. They have stout hearts, and will need them, because they have squared off against some of the vilest people this country is capable of producing.

There have been 438 people shot in 239 school shootings since 20 kids my daughter’s age were cut down in Newtown by the same weapon that took 17 more lives in Parkland last week.

Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg were there when the bullets started flying in their school, and are among the most vocal and visible activists to emerge from that catastrophe. The pair made a number of television appearances on CNN and other networks to describe their experience and demand change. Passionate and articulate, they immediately drew the attention of the sewer rats of the conservative pro-gun dungeon.

Benjamin Kelly, an aide to Florida Republican state Rep. Shawn Harrison, emailed a screen shot of a Gonzales-Hogg TV appearance to Tampa Bay Times reporter Alex Leary. The photo came with a note from Kelly: "Both kids in the picture are not students here but actors that travel to various crisis when they happen."

If you don't get the reference to "actors," buckle up. A "crisis actor" is someone who works with rescue and police personnel during training exercises. In order to heighten the realism of the exercise, either volunteers or paid actors will pretend to be victims of a catastrophic event, using makeup and other methods to simulate wounds.

According to the clearly false allegations of a clutch of pro-gun conspiracy peddlers, crisis actors were used to portray grieving parents after the Sandy Hook massacre, because according to far-right opinion-makers like Alex Jones, the whole thing was fabricated so President Obama and the federal government could have a pretext for taking away everyone's guns.

Those same ghouls have arrived in the aftermath of the Parkland massacre, fobbing off this nonsense in order to derange the debate and protect the gun industry. They are the NRA's shock troops, and they are gruesomely effective. David Hogg's family has confirmed that a number of death threats have been made against him.

Making schools feel like war zones or prisons is not the solution.

NRA Vice President Wayne LaPierre, the most visible crisis actor in the US, spent his Thursday morning at the Conservative Political Action Conference, slagging the Parkland survivors on the sly. Without mentioning them by name, LaPierre claimed that those seeking gun reform are exploiting a tragedy because they are European socialists like Obama, who hate all individual freedoms and are the reason why The Communist Manifesto is among the most frequently assigned texts on college campuses today. What we need is a good guy with a gun, declared LaPierre, lather rinse reload repeat.

And then there was the president himself, sitting down with a gathering of Parkland survivors while clutching a notecard. "What would you want me to know about your experience?" read one talking point. "What can we do to make you feel safe?" read another. Last but not least: "I hear you." On the cuff of his left sleeve was an embroidered "45," put there to remind him, I suppose, what his day job actually is.

Trump's big idea after that gut-wrenching meeting: Give guns to teachers. LaPierre doubled down on the idea during his CPAC speech. Predictably, the proposal went over like the proverbial lead balloon with a significant segment of the population.

The NRA owns a vast portion of Congress.

"All students deserve to go to a school in a place without guns," Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of the Advancement Project's National Office, told Truthout. "Communities of color know all too well that schools with armed police and metal detectors don't make students feel safe. Making schools feel like war zones or prisons is not the solution."

As the proposals of Trump and the NRA meet with widespread derision, the Parkland activists have been seeing broad support, despite the aggressive pushback coming their way. They have also been making their case with gusto. Viewers who tuned in to CNN's town hall broadcast on school shootings saw, among other things, the near-complete obliteration of Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who was bulldozed by a high school kid named Cameron Kasky.

Kasky, one of the founders of the #NeverAgain movement that emerged from the Parkland massacre, stood 10 feet tall under the lights as he nailed Rubio's feet to the stage over the question of NRA campaign money. Rubio hemmed and hawed before giving a pat DC answer and was roundly vilified by the audience. A lot of people used to think Marco had a real future in politics. After this, maybe not so much.

Of course, any effective challenge to the current gun crisis in the US will require a long-term, ongoing effort. LaPierre and his minions have been on this battlefield many times, and they have emerged victorious every single time.

The psychological and actual effects of the US's permanent state of militarism have created a siege mentality.

The NRA's undefeated record can be explained by its patience -- it is adept at waiting in the tall grass until the news narrative carries the latest tragedy out of immediate memory -- and money. The NRA owns a vast portion of Congress, and it is not shy about reminding their federal and state congressional "employees" of this when necessary.

Marco Rubio was in a building filled with Parkland survivors and the furious parents of the fallen, all of whom were on him like a million tons of woe, and still he refused to denounce or even mildly criticize the NRA. The president of the United States of America peddled the NRA's boilerplate "Arm the teachers!" argument before LaPierre had a chance to make it himself, and was also surrounded by Parkland survivors when he did so. More guns in schools, he said, would "solve the problem instantly."

That, right there, is power.

Beyond the array of potent foes who oppose gun reform for financial reasons while buttressed by a foundation of white supremacy, we need to acknowledge the incredible complexity of the issue itself. Finding effective solutions cannot simply be a matter of regurgitating Democratic Party talking points or proposals. Too many of those are only about punishing individuals, instead of addressing the core problems, and often serve only to exacerbate the racist violence of arrest and incarceration perpetrated by authorities against communities of color. Laying blame for the phenomenon of gun violence on mental illness is an equally fruitless and ultimately destructive act of denialism.

A frontal assault on the multibillion-dollar gun industry in the US is a necessary step in solving the nation's gun crisis. Thanks to effective lobbyists like Wayne LaPierre -- that's all he is, remember: just another damn lobbyist -- gun manufacturers have been all but inoculated by Congress against legal responsibility when their product kills someone.

The auto and tobacco industries -- also makers of potentially lethal products -- sought and enjoyed similar legal protections for years before finally being brought to heel. If the gun industry loses its legal immunity, nature will take its course through the civil court system. After a few massive financial judgments against them, the industry will come to see addressing the gun crisis as being very much in its own self-interest. What was the industry's fertile field could become its goad to duty.

When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Furthermore, we need to look at how militarism has fueled gun violence within the US. We have been at war in Iraq and Afghanistan for more than 27 years. We have been on a permanent wartime footing since Pearl Harbor. And this country has been waging war against Indigenous people since the first Europeans made landfall here seeking their fortunes. The psychological and physical effects of the US's permanent state of militarism have created a siege mentality that is caustic to all of us. When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

We must bear witness to the overwhelming militarization of this society, and understand the consequences of same. Our worship of all things military -- conspicuously absent after Vietnam but ever-present after Desert Storm and September 11 -- has become an active menace. What started with some fighter jets at the ballgame has become a ubiquitous presence, right down to the local police forces now swaddled in leftover hardware from the Forever Wars.

The media were far less inclined to note that the Parkland shooter was wearing his JROTC shirt when he opened fire, that he was taught to shoot while a member of JROTC, and that his school’s shooting club enjoyed funding from the National Rifle Association.

Three of the Parkland massacre victims were members of their school's Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC). All were awarded medals of honor by the US Army. One of them was a 15-year-old freshman named Peter Wang. He died holding a door open so others could escape, and was wearing his JROTC uniform when he did. The US Military Academy at West Point, which Wang wished to attend after graduation, announced that he would be posthumously admitted to its class of 2025.

These are the ties that bind, the stories of fallen heroes and honors bestowed. The media were swift to spotlight the recognition these three JROTC students received … but were far less inclined to note that the Parkland shooter was wearing his JROTC shirt when he opened fire, that he was taught to shoot while a member of JROTC, and that his school's shooting club enjoyed funding from the National Rifle Association. The military and the NRA: Two members of the Untouchable Class in the hierarchy of American power.

This nation must have a reckoning with itself. Ours is a hyper-violent culture, and not because of movies or video games. There are more guns than people in the United States. Ours is the only country on Earth that loses tens of thousands of citizens per year to guns and still fails to act. The mythology of "freedom" has been usurped to help sell more guns. Enforced systemic poverty generates its own forms of violence.

Ours is a hyper-violent culture, and not because of movies or video games.

Every square inch of this country was stolen in a genocidal campaign that knows few peers in history. The early wealth extracted from this land was obtained on the backs of millions of enslaved Africans, whose confinement was maintained through the systematic application of overwhelming violence that continues today, well after the ratification of the 13th Amendment. Violence has been our first resort and final answer for hundreds of years.

Today, the US holds only 4.4 percent of the world's population but houses a full 22 percent of the world's prison population. This is another form of state-sponsored violence, perpetrated under the guise of facile "Law and Order solutions" that only perpetuate what they claim to defeat. A focus on individual punishment as a solution for the gun crisis also enriches the prison industry, which has its own DC lobbyists, just like Wayne LaPierre.

This, too, must change.

The Parkland activists have stormed and seized the national stage, and now must hold it if they wish to succeed. These are the treacherous waters they must navigate if they wish to prevail. I have every faith they will do precisely that, for they have more friends and allies than they can possibly count, and those friends are answering the call. Enough is enough. Someday, when the time is right, I will tell my daughter all about them, and in them, she will find a yardstick for courage that will serve her the rest of her days.

Never again.

Categories: News

Timothy Snyder: Trump May Use Russian Interference as a Pretext for Canceling Elections

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 05:00

President Donald Trump prepares to address the general debate of the Assembly’s seventy-second session on September 19, 2017.President Donald Trump prepares to address the general debate of the Assembly's seventy-second session on September 19, 2017. (Photo: UN Photo / Kim Haughton)

In his 2017 New York Times bestselling book On Tyranny, Yale historian Timothy Snyder warned that the American people only had one year to stop Donald Trump from causing serious and perhaps irreversible harm to our democracy, as well as other social and political institutions.

Snyder's concerns were centered on how the rule of law, reality and truth, civil and human rights, and the ways Americans interact with each other as members of a shared community would come under assault by Trump and his allies' agenda. He also sounded the alarm about the possibility that the Trump administration could stage its own version of Nazi Germany's "Reichstag fire" as a way of declaring a national emergency in order to consolidate power.

In many ways, Snyder's On Tyranny has proven eerily prescient. How has America endured under Trump's rule? Is there a way to bring Trump's voters and the Republican Party back to normal politics? What does their reaction to Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election reveal about the health of American democracy? Can our be saved, and eventually redeemed?

I recently spoke with Timothy Snyder in an effort to answer these questions. This is our third conversation since the election of Donald Trump.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

A longer version of this conversation can also be heard on my podcast, which is available on Salon's Featured Audio page.

Chauncey DeVega: I am deeply troubled by how the American people have become numb to Donald Trump and this dangerous and abnormal situation. What is your assessment of America under Trump and the first year of his rule?

Timothy Snyder: I think what people have done in the last year has made a tremendous difference. Things are bad and they're going to get worse before they get better, but if it weren't for the marches, local activists, lawyers defending people's civil rights, citizens calling their representatives and investigative journalists doing their jobs. things could be a lot worse than they are. As a whole, America has not done a great job of reacting to Trump, but some Americans have done a great job. If we all get tired and say we can't do it anymore, then things will go south very quickly. So yes, things are bad, but we have stopped them from being much worse.

How does an authoritarian such as Trump try to counter the people's resistance against him?

You need to see how they think without mirroring it yourself or being seduced by it. If you are an authoritarian or one of that type, the first thing you do is constantly claim to have a majority -- even if you do not. You talk about "the people" as though they are supposedly on your side. The second thing that you do is question the legal foundations of the system. Trump is doing this by attacking the Mueller investigation, packing the courts and undermining the FBI.

If you're a Trump-style authoritarian you are not trying to make a big powerful state. What you're trying to do is make the state dysfunctional and then at the end of the crumbling, you and your friends are at the top. What you also do is discredit the resistance actively both by calling people names, whether that's African Americans or Native Americans or women or any other group. You say that protesters are paid, and journalism is all fake news. Insofar as Mr. Trump has a domestic policy it involves shaking people's belief in reality and the facts, because if you do that then everybody just has their own opinion. Money will be the only thing that matters in terms of "the truth." In the end the Trump-style authoritarian who creates the greatest spectacle is going to win.

What impact does Trump's strategy of spectacle and distraction have on America's role in the world?

"America First" is not a policy that advances American interests. "America First" is a big con. When you look at "America First" from the point of view of Europe it means that we say that we need special rules, but we don't know what those rules are. So meanwhile the Europeans are taking up the mission that we used to have, such as supporting some sense of universal values. If you're China and you look at America, "America First" just means that we pushed the pause button on our own power. They did not expect to have such a free hand in Asia, but they do, and they're taking advantage of it.

Mr. Trump has publicly said that  it might be a good thing to have a "major event," meaning a terrorist attack, because that will "bring us all together." Along the same lines is this idea of a military parade. The Soviets had military parades not because they were winning but because they were losing and they were trying to show their defiance. This kind of feels like that: We're going to spend a huge amount of money to bring the military to a Washington for no particular purpose except for the spectacle of greatness. It actually demonstrates the opposite. We've got one American military veteran committing suicide on average every hour in this country. Every hour. If we're going to care about the military and the people in it, let's first think about health care for those folks. Once we attend to those veterans in some kind of civilized way then maybe the country can celebrate having done that.

When democracies are in crisis how do the establishment political parties behave? For example, most of the "principled Republicans" and "never-Trumpers" have rolled over and support almost all of Trump's policies while publicly complaining about him.

If the Democrats had allowed Russia to win an election for them the Republicans would not be quiet about it. Yet most Republicans seem to have no problem with just shrugging off Russia's interference in the 2016 election in favor of Trump and their party.  I am also really surprised about the lack of any realization that the Republicans are a mainstream party that is allowing something extraordinary to happen in America. But after a while there will not be mainstream parties anymore. The analogies are clearly there.

One of the ways that Hitler came to power is that the conventional conservatives thought, "You know, with this guy we can have a majority, we can get our stuff done. Of course we will get rid of him in the end." But there was enough of a base in Germany for Hitler to stay in power. This is roughly the same size of the base that Trump has in the United States, roughly a third of the population. I'm surprised by how few Republicans care about how they will be described in the history books.

What percentage of a given population must support an authoritarian for that country's democracy to die?

For American democracy? Our country's system has not survived because we have had radically different demographics or preferences than other places. We've gotten lucky with leadership at certain moments. We've got pretty good institutional design, at least by comparison with other countries through about the middle of the 20th century. American democracy has not survived because of public opinion. For example, during the 1920s and 1930s there was significant hostility to immigrants and a not insignificant extreme right-wing movement in the country.

What's changing is that the United States has not had a leader like Trump before. Another thing that has changed is how economic inequality hasn't been this bad for 90 years, since 1929. Those things make the whole system shudder. Then there's the information environment which has radically changed so that it's very hard to have a sensible conversation, which makes it harder to hold up the system as a whole. So, it's not a situation where if Donald Trump has 25 percent of the public, we are safe, and if he has 35 percent, we are doomed. There are other structural factors to be concerned about as well.

There are also tens of millions of Americans who enjoy Trump's cruelty to nonwhites and immigrants -- his racism, misogyny and violence. He is a hero to them.

Trump is not a populist. He does not actually deliver anything of an economic or socially positive nature. But he is delivering something psychological to his base. It's the sense that "maybe we're hurting, but other people are hurting worse, and that's what we like." The design of Trump is to change politics from a positive-sum game where the idea is that everybody's going to do a little bit better because we're going to have better policies, to a negative-sum game where you're not doing anything for people in Virginia or Pennsylvania or Ohio. However, Trump is going to offer them a spectacle in which other people doing worse. The public gets caught up in the spectacle and that is what people then begin to expect from politics.

For example, Americans on average are leading shorter lives -- which is completely anomalous in the developed world -- and that's going to keep happening. But meanwhile, some of the people who are suffering the most are immigrants or blacks or Muslims. The psychological pleasure and joy for Trump's public from this horrible situation means they feel like they are on the right side of things. It's about pain. Trump's public may feel like they are hurting, but their leader is hurting other people worse and that feels good.

Is there a way to break out of this bubble of political sadism?

I am just not convinced that Americans are less enlightened now than they were in, say, 1924 or 1938. With the help of reasonable public policy and non-governmental organizations -- unions for example -- you can get people to see the future as a positive-sum game. It also requires that some of us keep up the standards of decency and try to maintain a public language which isn't as negative as what it occurring at present. Getting out of this bubble of political sadism also necessitates that people win elections who actually carry out decent public policy.

How do you reconcile Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia's interference in the election and related matters with your concerns about Trump and American democracy?  

Start with the rule of law. It should be an issue which has much broader sway than it does, because when the rule of law breaks down then what you end up with is oligarchy. In that system there is a whole lot less national wealth, but concentrated at the top even more. This means that almost all of the people who voted for Mr. Trump will be losers. Almost all Republicans will be losers out of this. If you break the rule of law at the top by doing something like firing Mueller, then the rule of law is going to collapse elsewhere as well.

I wish that folks on the right who are concerned about the economy and big business would think more about this dynamic. In the type of oligarchy that Trump is trying to create, unless you're friends with the right oligarchical clan -- which you won't be -- you are going to be in real trouble. Regarding Mueller's investigation, it has to go through judges and juries. If you believe in the rule of law, you shouldn't be concerned about this investigation. You should want it to go forward. This investigation is also about whether the president is above the law or below the law. We know where this president's instincts are. He believes that he is above the law. The law is going to need some defenders. If Mueller is fired, those people are going to have to protest because such an outcome will just hasten a larger breakdown in the rule of law.

When Trump was elected you said America had roughly one year before the country's democracy was irrevocably damaged. You were also concerned that Trump and his allies would stage some type of "Reichstag fire," a staged event that would permit them to expand their control. Where are we with those predictions?

My allusion to the Reichstag fire was meant to be a self-defeating prophecy. I was trying from the very beginning to get that idea out there in order to make it less likely. I think that conversation has now gone well beyond me. I am happy that plenty of other folks have now raised it. My new concern is that there will be something that happens around the time of the midterms. This will allow Trump and his allies to say that the midterms don't really count or that we have to have the midterms under exceptional conditions. Take note of how Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently said that the Russians are going to hack the 2018 election and we really can't do anything about it.

I'm starting to wonder whether the idea might be to discredit the election and use Russian interference as a pretext to say that the elections aren't real and therefore we must not have any turnover. It is odd otherwise for Tillerson to say, "Yes, there is Russian interference, but no, we can't do anything about it." It's one thing to say it's not real. It's another thing to say it's real, but hey, you know, what the hell? That is basically Tillerson's position, as I understood him.

As for the one-year prediction? 

There were a couple of things I couldn't anticipate. I was not sure if Trump's administration was going to try true national socialism, which would be a welfare state for white people, or whether it was going to be an effort to increase inequality and blame other people for it. It's now clear that the second option is Trump's preferred strategy. Many Americans have reacted better than the Germans did in 1933. This would include physicians, lawyers and journalists. We are still in the early stages of an authoritarian regime change. We still have an aspiring authoritarian leader. Many people have gotten to the point where I was a year ago, which is recognizing that this situation is uncertain and the outcome depends upon us. Matters are not hopeless but they are dire. The stakes are very high.

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

Blue Cross Pressures Employees to Donate to Opponent of Single-Payer Candidates

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 05:00

 TEDxUofM Conference)Abdul El-Sayed, a proponent of single-payer health care who is running for the governor's office in Michigan, speaks at a TED Talk in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo: TEDxUofM Conference)

In the 2018 Michigan gubernatorial race, two of the Democratic candidates support single-payer health care. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, one of the largest employers in the state, has asked its employees to donate to their anti-single-payer opponent, Gretchen Whitmer. This outward display of industry influence to bolster a corporate Democrat exemplifies what is preventing the party from embracing a national health system.

 TEDxUofM Conference)Abdul El-Sayed, a proponent of single-payer health care who is running for the governor's office in Michigan, speaks at a TED Talk in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo: TEDxUofM Conference)

This Truthout original was only possible because of our readers' ongoing support. Can you make a monthly donation to ensure we can publish more like it? Click here to give.

This piece is part of Fighting for Our Lives: The Movement for Medicare for All, a Truthout original series.

Often, the structural problems that keep Democrats from embracing Medicare for All are hidden beneath the political surface. This week, however, Democratic candidate for governor in Michigan Gretchen Whitmer and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan offered no such subtlety.  Their very public collaboration is a case study in how industry money influences campaigns and elections.

Whitmer does not support single-payer health care. She is, however, being challenged by two candidates who do: Abdul El-Sayed, and Shri Thanedar. This appears to have Blue Cross (the state's largest insurer) nervous enough to request that its 8,100 employees support Whitmer for Governor. In a letter signed by Blue Cross executives but paid for by the Whitmer campaign, Blue Cross employees were invited to a fundraiser on March 7 and were given suggested donation amounts based on job title. Significantly, the candidate's father, Richard Whitmer, was president of Blue Cross of Michigan for 18 years and even has a building named after him on Blue Cross's campus.

2018 0223bcbs2Screen shot of letter from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan asking employees to donate to a candidate. (Image: Splinter News)

"This is a perfect example of how corporate politicians hold Democrats back, even as other party leaders, like Senators Cory Booker and [Kristen] Gillibrand, are calling for Medicare for All and no corporate money corrupting our politics," said Adam Joseph, communications director for the El-Sayed campaign, in an interview with Truthout. He is referencing the two senators' separate announcements from last week that they would reject corporate Pac money.

Indeed, in recent years progressives have become far more aware of how industry money influences policy, and the health care debate more broadly. While polls show that about 80 percent of Democratic voters support Medicare for All, only 128 of 243 Democrats in Congress (about 57 percent of the caucus) have sponsored or co-sponsored a single-payer bill in Congress. Two such bills are on the table: HR 676 in the House and Sen. Bernie Sanders's Medicare for All in the Senate. Key leaders such as Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer have not backed either proposal.

Last year, when Cory Booker voted against an amendment to allow Americans to purchase cheaper pharmaceuticals from Canada, progressives castigated him severely on social media for the money he had received from Big Pharma. In time, Booker said he would stop taking donations from Pharma and endorsed Bernie Sanders's Medicare for All bill. So, while there is momentum for single-payer, the Democrats' relationship with the pharmaceutical and insurance industries hurts prospects for the reform dramatically.

Single-payer has become a key issue for the Michigan race.

"A fundraising letter signed by top executives from Blue Cross Blue Shield is just another example of Gretchen Whitmer continuing to line her campaign coffers with contributions from corporate special interests and the wealthy and well-connected," said Thanedar, in a statement provided to Truthout. "It's further proof she's just another career politician beholden to her career corporate donors."

The statement also notes that "Whitmer received more than $50,000 in contributions from Blue Cross Blue Shield donors over the course of her career, including a number of years in which she held elected office." The current CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield Michigan, Daniel Loepp, donated $6,800 to Whitmer last year.

 Michigan Secretary of State database)Daniel Loepp, CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, donates to Gretchen Whitmer. (Image: Michigan Secretary of State database)

When contacted by Truthout for comment, the Whitmer campaign responded by touting the candidate's record on health care as a state legislator, without directly addressing the Blue Cross fundraiser. 

"Whitmer brokered the deal with a Republican governor to expand health care to 680,000 people through Medicaid expansion because she'll work with everyone who wants to solve problems, and take on anyone who stands in our way to increase access to quality, affordable health care for every Michigander," Annie Ellison, Whitmer's communications director, told Truthout.

Whitmer's record in the state legislature does little, however, to assuage critics' concerns about how her campaign is collaborating with Blue Cross.

"I think there is something significantly unethical [about] how a company can tell their employees who to vote for," said Tim Lambert, a member of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) of Michigan. "I don't even understand how that is legal."

It is legal, however, and this "employer mobilization," is becoming an "increasing threat," according to a 2015 American Prospect article about the trend. "Since Citizens United, companies can legally require workers to participate in politics -- and fire them if they refuse," the magazine reported.

The Prospect reports "13 percent [of workers] reported employer contacts about specific issues or political candidates," and "7 percent of workers reported employer messages that made them uncomfortable or included threats of economic retaliation, such as job loss, changes to hours and wages, and plant closures."

Industry Money vs. Advancing Tide of Single-Payer Support

It is telling that Michigan has two candidates who have largely embraced the Bernie Sanders model for their campaigns: progressive economic policies and small individual donations. And while Whitmer is still a heavy favorite, the 2016 election was a reminder that elections can be hard to predict.

 The Movement for Medicare for All"At the moment, Whitmer's most significant rival could be former Detroit Health Department executive director Abdul El-Sayed," reported Bridge magazine, out of Michigan. "Running to Whitmer's left, he appeals to many of the idealistic, young and college-educated progressives who gravitated to Sanders. That was reflected in an October survey of 500 University of Michigan students in which he polled at 32 percent, highest by far among the candidates for governor."

Jeff Stein at Vox did a flattering profile of the 32-year-old, who aims to be the first Muslim governor elected in the United States, and is not shy about criticizing Democrats for being too timid or conservative. He dismissed comparisons made between him and President Obama, calling Obama an advocate of "fairly centrist, middle-of-the-road Democratic policies," rather than the transformative policies proposed by Sanders and other social democrats who seek to push the party left.

El-Sayed's enthusiasm for a Medicare for All system is apparent in his speeches and comments. "I will drive DC to pass Medicare for All, and if they can't, then we'll do what it takes to achieve universal healthcare as a state," he said after a Trumpcare vote. His policies and tactics are similar to those of Sanders, who beat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic Primary in Michigan.

As a result, single-payer has become a key issue for the Michigan race, according to local news reports and advocates who spoke with Truthout. "I think we are seeing some momentum in the state on the issue," Lambert said. "And I think it mirrors public sentiment nationally."

David Himmelstein, a co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program, also suspects the industry is getting nervous about the rise of support for the policy.

"The fact that a single-payer supporter -- and one who seems quite committed to the idea -- is a threat to gain high office is a sign of the advancing tide of support for single payer," Himmelstein told Truthout. "So, I think Blue Cross's impulse to enter the arena to forestall that is a result of that advance. The money that corrupts politics is a significant problem for single-payer, but, as the Sanders campaign illustrated, not an insurmountable one."

Categories: News

#ArmMeWith: Teachers Lead Opposition to Trump's Plan to Give Educators Guns

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 05:00

 Lorie Shaull)A demonstrator holds a sign during a protest organized by Teens for Gun Reform on February 19, 2018, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Lorie Shaull)

In these troubling and surreal times, honest journalism is more important than ever. Help us keep real news flowing: Make a donation to Truthout today.

As students lead the nation in fighting for stricter gun control legislation, teachers across the country are speaking out against an alternative measure President Donald Trump has suggested to prevent school shootings like the one that took place last week in Parkland, Florida: arming teachers and training them to use firearms.

With the #ArmMeWith social media campaign, educators are calling for the government to provide them with school supplies, books, and other resources instead of spending an estimated $1 billion to train teachers to act as armed guards -- while also being responsible for educating the nation's children.

#ArmMeWith fair pay, an abundance of resources, excellent insurance, mental health treatment for TEACHERS, compassion from administration, less testing, more free will to teach my students to be GOOD HUMANS.

— Kay Kinsey. (@_kaykinsey) February 21, 2018

#ArmMeWith School counselors, nurses, social workers, meals/glasses/medical & dental care/shelter/clothing for students & families in need. What do you want to be armed with? @EducationMN @NEAToday @AFTunion

— Callie Bush (@calliembush) February 17, 2018

#ArmMeWith support, so that I can educate ALL of my students, no matter their level, and help them achieve their goals. Do NOT arm me with a gun. I need SUPPORT from society, our community, & our politicians to help every child achieve goals. Guns have no place in education.

— Megan Glidden (@msgliddenves) February 21, 2018

Teachers, we must as a nation and profession, refuse to be armed. This is not a professional development that we are willing to participate in. #ArmMeWith ample funding and small class sizes, counselors and trauma therapists, behavior interventionists, healthy foods! #IRefuseGuns

— Susan DuFresne (@GetUpStandUp2) February 22, 2018

#ArmMeWith enough counselors for the students. Enough afterschool programs to help children. Enough funding so we do not run out of paper in January.

— Linda Witte (@DoubleU09) February 22, 2018

The president has proposed arming 20 percent of teachers -- about 700,000 people. When asked about the practicality and wisdom of the plan on Thursday, White House Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah told reporters, "When you have a horrific situation like you had last week and other school shootings we've seen, these horrible tragedies, what we think and don't think is practical can change."

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) pushed back against the notion that the onus to protect students' lives should be on their teachers, rather than on legislators, who many Americans believe should pass legislation that would prevent school shootings.

"Anyone who suggests this has no real understanding of what goes on in schools, or worse doesn't care, and is more focused on the needs of gun manufacturers and the NRA than of children," Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teacher, told Politico.

"You're asking the teacher to have the presence of mind to not only do what her instincts compel her to do, but then find her loaded handgun and get in position… and be a good enough shot -- in the middle of all of this -- so that she can be the marksperson who then maims or kills the intruder with the rifle," Weingarten continued. "That may work on a movie, but in real life that is not a situation that most people will -- even those who have been trained -- will be able to do."

The Violence Policy Center noted that supplying teachers with weapons would likely do little to prevent the loss of life during a shooting -- as guns are rarely able to stop a crime that's already underway.

"Highly trained police officers, whose only job is law enforcement, all too often fail to use firearms successfully," said the group in a statement. "Trained law enforcement officials have only an average 20 percent hit ratio in armed confrontations, meaning that only 20 percent of shots fired hit the intended target."

Trump critics on social media also spoke out against the proposal.

A problem with arming teachers: Teacher shows up to school for work, gets out of the car with his gun. Teacher is named Philando, Tamir, or something like that. A "Good Samaritan" passerby sees the gun, calls cops. SWAT Team arrives, kills teacher. (Epilogue: NRA says nothing.)

— Robby Soave (@robbysoave) February 22, 2018

This whole arming teachers more guns not less conversation is so f*cking transparent. #Trump spoke to the NRA, and this is what they’re pushing. More guns = more profits. It’s irrational and idiotic. Throwing gas on a fire is not how you put out a fire.

— JackiSchechner (@JackiSchechner) February 22, 2018
Categories: News

Masha Gessen: Did a Russian Troll Farm's Inflammatory Posts Really Sway the 2016 Election for Trump?

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 05:00

The Justice Department recently indicted 13 Russians and three companies in connection with efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election. The indicted are accused of orchestrating an online propaganda effort to undermine the U.S. election system. The indictment claims the Russians spread negative information online about Hillary Clinton and supportive information about Donald Trump, as well as Bernie Sanders -- but some are warning against overstating what Russia accomplished. For more, we speak with award-winning Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen, a longtime critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Her recent piece for The New Yorker is titled "The Fundamental Uncertainty of Mueller's Russia Indictments."


AMY GOODMAN: We begin today's show looking at the Justice Department's recent indictment of 13 Russians and three companies in connection with efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election. The indicted are accused of orchestrating an online propaganda effort to undermine the U.S. election system. The indictment claims the Russians spread negative information online about Hillary Clinton and supportive information about Donald Trump, as well as Bernie Sanders.

After the indictments on Friday, some analysts compared the Russian interference to Japan's 1941 attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor. But others have warned not to overstate what Russia accomplished.

On Thursday, I sat down with the prize-winning Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen, a longtime critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Her recent book, The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, it won the National Book Award in 2017. Gessen recently wrote a piece for The New Yorker magazine headlined "The Fundamental Uncertainty of Mueller's Russia Indictments." I began there, asking her about these indictments.

MASHA GESSEN: So, you know, for somebody who actually has read the indictment in its entirety, and, actually, the Russian reporting that is almost entirely repeated in the indictment, it's really hard to square that with the way that it's been portrayed as, you know, a sophisticated, bold effort. I think H.R. McMaster is correct in saying, yes, there's "incontrovertible" evidence of Russian meddling, but to call it bold, to call it sophisticated and to imply that we now know that it actually had an influence on the outcome of the election is absurd. It was not bold. It was not sophisticated. And it -- we don't know, and probably never will know, whether it had any impact.

AMY GOODMAN: Let's go to the deputy attorney general, which surprised many, that he was the person who spoke on Friday, Rod Rosenstein, the man very much under attack by President Trump, who said there's no evidence -- this is Rosenstein -- said there's no evidence that the alleged interference influenced the outcome of the election.

DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL ROD ROSENSTEIN: The indictment charges 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies for committing federal crimes while seeking to interfere in the United States' political system, including the 2016 presidential election. The defendants allegedly conducted what they called 'information warfare' against the United States, with the stated goal of spreading distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Masha Gessen, talk about what you found in reading the indictment, looking at how people are responding in Russia and here.

MASHA GESSEN: So, I am really fascinated with what it tells us about our imagination about the Russian imagination. So, Russia imagines America and the American political system as like this unassailable monolith that they are throwing stuff at just to try to make a dent, whereas the United States is starting increasingly to imagine Russia as all-powerful, as incredibly sophisticated, as capable of, you know, sending out some really absurd tweets, in sub-literate English, and somehow changing the outcome of the election. And that projects such a belief in the fragility of the system and the basic instability of it and in the gullibility of voters who read something that's not even comprehensible English and suddenly change their vote. I mean, the working theory of the investigation -- right? -- is that Russians influenced the election by influencing American public opinion. And so, we're asked to believe that a significant impact on American public opinion could be produced by, you know, the Bernie the Superman coloring book tweet.


MASHA GESSEN: Well, among the Facebook ads -- you know, a lot of them were truly absurd. They're like caricatures of American political propaganda. For example, there was a coloring book of a sort of buff Bernie, with tweets going out saying that it was suitable for all ages, and that was supposed to sort of advance the Sanders candidacy to detract from Hillary Clinton's candidacy. There was the Satan arm-wrestling Jesus ad, where Satan is supposed to be Hillary and Jesus is supposed to be Trump, and you have to vote the right way. And we're asked to believe that that had a measurable impact on a billion-dollar campaign?

AMY GOODMAN: Well, you write about all the different reactions, from the vice president of Facebook, Rob Goldman, what he said, what Trump said. And take it from there.

MASHA GESSEN: Well, so, Rob Goldman wrote that he has seen all the Russian ads and tweets, which -- ads and posts, which, of course, we haven't, right? We know that Facebook turned them over to the congressional investigators, but we've only seen a small selection of them. And I suspect that what we've seen are the ones that make any sense at all, right? Because there's also just this giant amount of internet static that's produced. And so, Rob Goldman posted -- tweeted, "I've seen all the Russian ads. Their goal was not to elect Trump," I think -- am I quoting this correctly?

AMY GOODMAN: Let me go to what the Facebook vice president, Rob Goldman, said, as he took to Twitter, writing, "Very excited to see the Mueller indictment today. We shared Russian ads with Congress, Mueller and the American people to help the public understand how the Russians abused our system. Still, there are key facts about the Russian actions that are still not well understood." And then, in a subsequent tweet, Goldman wrote, "Most of the coverage of Russian meddling involves their attempt to effect the outcome of the 2016 US election. I have seen all of the Russian ads and I can say very definitively that swaying the election was 'NOT' the main goal." President Trump quoted the latter statement in a tweet the next day.

MASHA GESSEN: Right. So, swaying the election was not the main goal. And I think --

AMY GOODMAN: Just creating --

MASHA GESSEN: I mean, this is conjecture on my part, but also based on what I know about what the Russian trolls themselves are saying, because they have been interviewed at this point by Russian journalists. And, you know, their goal was to create a mess, to screw with us, right? And I think that what Rob Goldman is probably looking at is a huge mess of incomprehensible sort of messaging. Incomprehensible messaging is a very important part of Russian propaganda. I mean, it's not -- you know, this is not an imaginary phenomenon, right? Creating a cacophony --

AMY GOODMAN: It's not unimaginable here, either.

MASHA GESSEN: But creating a cacophony, creating confusion, creating the sense that nothing means anything anymore is definitely important, right? But that is different from saying that their goal was to sway the outcome of the election and that we can say with any amount of certainty that that worked and that's how we got Trump.

AMY GOODMAN: And it's also served another purpose, for example, when it comes to these large megacorporations, like Facebook and Twitter. They've been hauled before Congress, before the British Parliament, and they're saying, "How could you have allowed this to appear?" And in the end, they're being pressured, basically, these corporations, to censor what is out there.

MASHA GESSEN: Yeah, I mean, I don't think that the agenda of holding Facebook accountable publicly is such a bad agenda. You know, I think that a conversation about what Facebook is -- is it a public resource, even though it's a privately owned corporation? Is it a media company? It is certainly not just a platform, as Facebook has claimed repeatedly. I think that is a really important question. I just think it's been asked in the wrong way, right? It's been asked -- you know, when we saw Senator Al Franken badgering the Facebook lawyer and screaming, you know, "They were Russians! You know, how could you not see that these ads were bought for rubles?" Well, why are we starting at a place where we assume that selling advertising for rubles, that there's something necessarily sinister and horrible about it? Right? And that is -- I don't think that moves forward a conversation about how something that has de facto become a public resource, but is privately owned, functions in society.

AMY GOODMAN: Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen wrote a piece in The New Yorker magazine, "The Fundamental Uncertainty of Mueller's Russia Indictments." We will come back to this discussion in a minute.

Categories: News

What Marxism Can Tell Us About Organizing for Gun Reform

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 05:00

World-famous filmmaker Raoul Peck is releasing a film today in Los Angeles and New York on the life and times of Karl Marx. It's called "The Young Karl Marx." The film's release comes as the head of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre, broke his silence after last week’s Florida school shooting that left 17 dead, attacking gun control advocates as communists in an address to the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC. We speak with acclaimed Haitian filmmaker and political activist Raoul Peck about his new film and the role of Marxism in organizing for gun reform.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: News

Caught Her Red-Handed

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 05:00
Categories: News

As Enforcement Falls at Pruitt's EPA, Fines for Shell Oil Feel Like a Slap on the Wrist

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 05:00

Contrary to Scott Pruitt's boast about the EPA pursuing pollution violations and protecting public health, the government's settlement with Shell Oil over a long list of air pollution violations in Norco, Louisiana, is meaningless, say locals who have lived under Shell's toxic cloud. The $350,000 fine is a slap on the wrist, and the multimillion-dollar pollution control consent decree is worthless without enforcement.

 Pete Marovich / Getty Images)Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee about the mission of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on December 7, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Pete Marovich / Getty Images)

Support your favorite writers by making sure we can keep publishing them! Make a donation to Truthout to ensure independent journalism survives.

New Orleans -- On February 12, as much of southern Louisiana was focused on Mardi Gras parades, the government announced a multimillion-dollar settlement with Shell Oil over a long list of air pollution violations at a petrochemical refinery in Norco, Louisiana. In a statement, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt said the settlement "demonstrates EPA's dedication" to pursuing pollution violations and protecting public health.

However, it was President Obama's EPA, not Pruitt and the Trump administration, that issued the long list of air pollution violations against the Norco refinery. Environmentalists say the $350,000 in fines finally levied against Shell amount to a slap on the wrist, part of a pattern of lax enforcement under Pruitt's watch. Federal regulators say the Norco refinery has illegally released toxic pollutants such as benzene into the air since at least 2009, and local advocates have been documenting such pollution for nearly two decades. They say the government should have been enforcing the law 20 years ago.

In 1999, when environmental justice organizer Anne Rolfes first arrived in Diamond, Norco's historically Black neighborhood located along the refinery's fence line, residents were already years into a fight with Shell Oil.

"When I got there in 1999 there had [already] been 30 years of pollution, people had been experiencing it for a long time," Rolfes told Truthout in an interview.

The refinery mostly hired workers from Norco's white neighborhoods, so most Diamond residents did not benefit from an uptick in jobs. Meanwhile, Diamond residents had long suspected that foul-smelling fumes from the plant were making them sick. The memories of two deadly explosions -- one in 1973 that engulfed a teenager and his neighbor in flames and another in 1988 that killed seven refinery workers and was felt for miles -- were still fresh in their minds. The residents were demanding Shell buy their homes so they could move somewhere else. Some said they feared for their lives.

The consent decree looks good on paper, but it's meaningless without regulatory enforcement.

"For us who lived there, it was like living next to a ticking time bomb," Margie Richard, a former Norco resident who organized with a local environmental justice group to take on Shell Oil, told Truthout in an interview. "You could never breathe the air."

To prove their point, residents armed themselves with five-gallon buckets containing air-sampling units and began testing the air in their neighborhood. They consistently detected benzene, a known carcinogen that causes an array of health problems, as well as other toxic emissions. Each positive test bolstered their argument against the company, which eventually agreed after several years of negotiations to buy out a number of homes so residents could relocate. Richard moved about 20 minutes away to nearby Destrehan, where she could stay close to family.

Such "bucket brigades" have since become a hallmark of the grassroots environmental justice movement. Rolfes is the founding director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, and her organization still tracks pollution from the Norco refinery and several other facilities in Louisiana's industrial corridor. The Norco refinery reported 23 accidents and released more than 100,000 pounds of benzene, sulfur dioxide and other pollutants into the air in 2013 alone, according to the group's accident database.

Penalties for violating environmental laws are down 60 percent compared to the first year of the Obama administration.

Now, the government is finally catching up with local activists after settling with Shell Oil over a long list of air pollution violations at the refinery. According to a consent decree negotiated by the Justice Department, the company will pay $350,000 in fines and spend $10 million on new pollution control equipment to reduce dangerous emissions from the refinery's four industrial flares, which can often be seen burning bright in the night sky.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates the settlement will help Shell reduce air pollution emissions by 150 tons, but Rolfes will believe it when she sees it. She said the consent decree looks good on paper, but it's meaningless without regulatory enforcement, which is sorely lacking in Louisiana. She added that $350,000 in fines is a paltry sum considering the environmental laws the refinery has broken and the lives that have been impacted.

"A fine tells you how serious they are, and they didn't get fined for a quarter century of pollution," Rolfes said.

In fact, the amount that polluters are paying in fines and penalties has plummeted over the past year under Pruitt and the Trump administration. Penalties for violating environmental laws are down 60 percent compared to the first year of the Obama administration and 49 percent compared to the average amount levied by the EPA during the first year of Bush, Obama and Clinton administrations, according to a recent report by the Environmental Working Group.

The amount that Trump's EPA has required companies to spend to clean up their pollution has also dropped. The EPA demanded polluters spend $3.3 billion on cleanup during the first year of the Obama administration, while the current EPA has asked for $966 million so far, according to the report. The EPA has also resolved fewer cases than previous administrations, and a backlog of unresolved violations is growing, some dating back to the Obama years. Environmentalists say the drop in penalties is not due to better behavior among polluters, but to staffing, budget and policy changes at the EPA.

Watchdogs like Rolfes say tough enforcement is necessary because polluters refuse to clean up their acts on their own. In Louisiana, she said, polluters have promised to install air monitoring systems and better pollution controls around residential neighborhoods but fail to follow through, and state regulators often have closer ties to the industry than to residents.

"They are all about making promise for the future that they have no intention of keeping," Rolfes said.

The Shell refinery in Norco hires workers from neighborhoods surrounding the plant and beyond, and despite a long list of accidents and violations, the company says it's dedicated to environmental safety and to the local community. A spokesman told the local press that upgrades required by the consent decree are "consistent" with the company's environmental objectives.

Rolfes doesn't believe that for a minute, and with Pruitt at the helm of the EPA, groups like the Bucket Brigade that catch polluters in the act when the government falls short may be just as important as they were decades ago.

Categories: News

Economic Update: Karl Marx From 1818 to 1883

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 05:00

This week's episode discusses Oxfam's report on global capitalism's extreme inequality, the billionaire owner of Victoria's Secret, why immigration is a weapon of political distraction, how GOP tax cuts help the rich, and how the Michigan State University sex abuse scandal reflects how schools are run like businesses. Also included is a major discussion of Karl Marx's life, the goals of his writings and their lasting relevance.

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

To listen in live on Saturdays at noon, visit WBAI's Live Stream

Economic Update is in partnership with

Your radio station needs Economic Update! If you are a radio station, check this out. If you want to hear Economic Update on your favorite local station, send them this.

Visit Professor Wolff's social movement project,

Permission to reprint Professor Wolff's writing and videos is granted on an individual basis. Please contact to request permission. We reserve the right to refuse or rescind permission at any time.

Categories: News

"Police Reform Is a Dead End": Alex Vitale on "The End of Policing"

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 05:00

Do the police protect communities or suppress them? Alex S. Vitale argues that far too often, it is the latter, and that it is only through the radical rethinking of policing and the role of communities in building safe neighborhoods can effective change be achieved. Get The End of Policing with a donation to Truthout now!

Truthout Progressive Pick The End of Policing

Incremental police reforms are not enough.

Click here now to get the book!

Alex Vitale is Professor of Sociology and coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College. Vitale's book The End of Policing, is an accessible study of police history as an imperial tool for social control that continues to exacerbate class and racial tensions. Vitale also goes deep into the shortcomings of reform and in contrast, deepens the conversations around meaningful alternatives to ultimately ask the people to consider the end of policing.

Special thanks to producers: Della Duncan, Robert Raymond; Upstream podcast.


• Alex Vitale, professor of sociology, coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College, and author of The End of Policing


• Host: R.J. Lozada

• Producers: Anita Johnson, Marie Choi, Monica Lopez, R.J. Lozada, Della Duncan, Robert Raymond

• Executive Director: Lisa Rudman

• Audience Engagement Director/Web Editor: Sabine Blaizin

• Development Associate: Vera Tykulsker 

Ready to challenge injustice and spark real change? So are we. Support Truthout's mission today by making a tax-deductible donation.
Categories: News

A Larger Role for Midwives Could Improve Deficient US Care for Mothers and Babies

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 05:00

In Great Britain, midwives deliver half of all babies, including Kate Middleton's first two children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte. In Sweden, Norway and France, midwives oversee most expectant and new mothers, enabling obstetricians to concentrate on high-risk births. In Canada and New Zealand, midwives are so highly valued that they're brought in to manage complex cases that need special attention.

All of those countries have much lower rates of maternal and infant mortality than the US Here, severe maternal complications have more than doubled in the past 20 years. Shortages of maternity care have reached critical levels: Nearly half of US counties don't have a single practicing obstetrician-gynecologist, and in rural areas, the number of hospitals offering obstetric services has fallen more than 16 percent since 2004. Nevertheless, thanks in part to opposition from doctors and hospitals, midwives are far less prevalent in the US than in other affluent countries, attending around 10 percent of births, and the extent to which they can legally participate in patient care varies widely from one state to the next.

Now a groundbreaking study, the first systematic look at what midwives can and can't do in the states where they practice, offers new evidence that empowering them could significantly boost maternal and infant health. The five-year effort by researchers in Canada and the US, published Wednesday, found that states that have done the most to integrate midwives into their health care systems, including Washington, New Mexico and Oregon, have some of the best outcomes for mothers and babies. Conversely, states with some of the most restrictive midwife laws and practices -- including Alabama, Ohio and Mississippi -- tend to do significantly worse on key indicators of maternal and neonatal well-being.

"We have been able to establish that midwifery care is strongly associated with lower interventions, cost-effectiveness and improved outcomes," said lead researcher Saraswathi Vedam, an associate professor of midwifery who heads the Birth Place Lab at the University of British Columbia.

Many of the states characterized by poor health outcomes and hostility to midwives also have large black populations, raising the possibility that greater use of midwives could reduce racial disparities in maternity care. Black mothers are three to four times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than their white counterparts; black babies are 49 percent more likely to be born prematurely and twice as likely to perish before their first birthdays.

"In communities that are most at risk for adverse outcomes, increased access to midwives who can work as part of the health care system may improve both outcomes and the mothers' experience," Vedam said.

That's because of the midwifery model, which emphasizes community-based care, close relationships between providers and patients, prenatal and postpartum wellness, and avoiding unnecessary interventions that can spiral into dangerous complications, said Jennie Joseph, a British-trained midwife who runs Commonsense Childbirth, a Florida birthing center and maternal care nonprofit. "It's a model that somewhat mitigates the impact of any systemic racial bias. You listen. You're compassionate. There's such a depth of racism that's intermingled with [medical] systems. If you're practicing in [the midwifery] model you're mitigating this without even realizing it."

The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE, analyzes hundreds of laws and regulations in 50 states and the District of Columbia -- things like the settings where midwives are allowed to work, whether they can provide the full scope of pregnancy- and childbirth-related care, how much autonomy they have to make decisions without a doctor's supervision, and whether they can prescribe medication, receive insurance reimbursement or obtain hospital privileges. Then researchers overlaid state data on nine maternal and infant health indicators, including rates of cesarean sections, premature births, breastfeeding and neonatal deaths. (Maternal deaths and severe complications were not included because data is unreliable.)

The differences between state laws can be stark. In Washington, which has some of the highest rankings on measures such as C-sections, premature births, infant mortality and breastfeeding, midwives don't need nursing degrees to be licensed. They often collaborate closely with OB-GYNs, and can generally transfer care to hospitals smoothly when risks to the mother or baby emerge. They sit on the state's perinatal advisory committee, are actively involved in shaping health policy and receive Medicaid reimbursement even for home births.

At the other end of the spectrum, North Carolina not only requires midwives to be registered nurses, but it also requires them to have a physician sign off on their application to the state for approval to practice. North Carolina scores considerably worse than Washington on indices such as low-birthweight babies and neonatal deaths.

Neel Shah, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and a leader in the movement to reduce unnecessary C-sections, praised the study as "a remarkable paper -- novel, ambitious, and provocative." He said licensed midwives could be used to solve shortages of maternity care that disproportionately affect rural and low-income mothers, many of them women of color. "Growing our workforce, including both midwives and obstetricians, and then ensuring we have a regulatory environment that facilitates integrated, team-based care are key parts of the solution," he said.

To be sure, many other factors influence maternal and infant outcomes in the states, including access to preventive care and Medicaid; rates of chronic disease such as diabetes and high blood pressure; and prevalence of opioid addiction. And the study doesn't conclude that more access to midwives directly leads to better outcomes, or vice versa. Indeed, South Dakota, which ranks third from the bottom in terms of midwife-friendliness, scores well on such key indicators as C-sections and preterm births. Even North Carolina is average on C-section rates, breastfeeding and prematurity.

The findings are unlikely to quell the controversies over home births, which are almost always handled by midwives and comprise a tiny but growing percentage of deliveries in the US, or fears among doctors and hospitals that closer collaborations with midwives will raise malpractice insurance rates. In fact, said Ann Geisler, who runs the Florida-based Southern Cross Insurance Solutions, which specializes in insuring midwives, her clients' premiums tend to be just one-tenth of premiums for an OB-GYN because their model of care eschews unnecessary interventions or technology. Far from being medical renegades, the vast majority of midwives want to be integrated into the medical system, she said.

Generally, licensed midwives only treat low-risk women, Geisler said. If the patients become higher risk, midwives are supposed to transfer them to a doctor's care. Since many OB-GYNs only see midwife patients when a problem emerges, they may develop negative views of midwives' skills, she said.

The benefits of midwifery come as no surprise to maternal health advocates. In 2014, the medical journal Lancet concluded that integrating midwives into health care systems could prevent more than 80 percent of maternal and newborn deaths worldwide -- in low-resource countries that lack doctors and hospitals, by filling dangerous gaps in obstetric services; in high-resource countries, by preventing overuse of medical technologies such as unnecessary C-sections that can lead to severe complications. A review by the Cochrane group, an international consortium that examines research to establish best practices in medical care, found that midwives are associated with lower rates of episiotomies, births involving instruments such as forceps and miscarriages.

While widely accepted in Europe, midwives in the US have been at the center of a long-running culture war that encompasses gender, race, class, economic competition, professional and personal autonomy, risk versus safety, and philosophical differences about birth itself.

Midwives were valued members of their communities until the late 19th century, when medicine became professionalized and doctors' groups began pushing for a monopoly over obstetric care. Physicians argued that birth was a "pathologic" process that required scientific knowledge and hospital equipment, and they vilified midwives -- who were mostly immigrants or, in the South, blacks commonly known as "grannies" -- as dangerously uneducated for insisting that birth was a natural ("physiological") function. In 1915, Joseph DeLee of Chicago, the most influential OB-GYN of his day, called midwives "relics of barbarism" and "a drag upon the science and the art of obstetrics," while one North Carolina doctor dismissed black midwives as having "fingers full of dirt" and "brains full of arrogance and superstition." By the 1950s, the vast majority of women gave birth in hospitals, attended by doctors.

Midwifery began to make a comeback in the 1970s and 80s, embraced by middle-class white women who wanted more of a voice in their maternity care, including the possibility of delivering at home. Of the more than 15,000 midwives now certified in the US, the vast majority are certified nurse-midwives, or CNMs -- registered nurses with an additional graduate degree who are trained to provide the full range of reproductive and maternity care, including delivering babies in hospital settings. After that, the definitions get fuzzy, said Ginger Breedlove, a Kansas-based CNM and consultant who is a past president of the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM). There are "direct-entry midwives," "certified professional midwives" and "lay midwives," all of which are primarily associated with home births but who have different types of training and may or may not be licensed and regulated by a state. "It's very confusing," Breedlove said. "The title 'midwife' has multiple meanings" -- which does not help efforts to promote the profession.

In recent years, national groups such as the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have become much more welcoming to nurse-midwives and more open to home births by licensed midwives. But many individual doctors remain wary, acknowledged Dartmouth University's Timothy Fisher, who teaches OB-GYN and is the medical director of the Northern New England Perinatal Quality Improvement Network. One main reason "is the lack of exposure to midwife care during our training as OBs. Things that are foreign are scary, and we view them with skepticism," Fisher said.

In North Carolina, requirements that CNMs have permission from doctors to practice means that they are unable to work in the 31 counties in the state that have no obstetrical care provider, said Suzanne Wertman, president of the ACNM's North Carolina affiliate. Midwives are "just an afterthought here … sort of like a bonus. The idea of one profession overseeing another profession -- it's problematic and it doesn't serve the consumer well."

In Alabama, the state with the worst infant mortality rate in the country, midwifery restrictions have been almost as tough, reflecting attitudes that wiped out the state's once-rich tradition of black birth attendants. "Here they associate us with granny midwives -- someone with absolutely no medical background," said Sheila Lopez, one of just 13 CNMs currently licensed to practice in the state. Alabama has no midwifery education programs, so Lopez had to get her training in Atlanta while working as a full-time labor and delivery nurse in Birmingham, two and a half hours away. Once she graduated with her CNM degree in 2012, it took her three years to find a midwifery job near her home. Alabama law requires that CNMs have a "collaborative physician" who is willing to oversee their practices. "It's really kind of just a harsh work environment," Lopez said. "The doctors don't understand what the role of the midwife is. So they don't go out seeking it. And if they don't know, then they won't back us up."

Carole Campbell of Gadsden, the only black nurse-midwife in current practice listed on the Alabama Board of Nursing website, has even more impressive credentials than Lopez does: a doctorate in nursing practice as well as a CNM, plus five years of teaching experience at a community college. "I'm at the top of my practice," she said, but because no local OB-GYN group has been willing or able to enter into a collaborative arrangement with her, she isn't allowed to provide any prenatal or postpartum care, much less deliver babies. "Would I like to be doing that? Absolutely."

Alabama lawmakers recently passed a bill that would legalize certified professional midwives -- the type who attend home births -- though the process of integrating them into the maternal care system is likely to be long and uncertain. Meanwhile, only 18 out of 54 rural counties in the state have hospitals that offer obstetrical services. Courtney Sirmon, a doula, or birth helper, who heads the Alabama Birth Coalition, recalls a rural client who recently gave birth while on the way to the nearest hospital, in Birmingham. "They were going over 100 miles per hour when she delivered in the back seat."

Categories: News

The "Tax Cuts for Shareholders" Act

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 05:00

In the six weeks since the passage of the GOP tax plan, officially known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, businesses have been lauded for announcements of wages and bonuses. Yet it's corporate stock buybacks -- the practice of companies spending their cash on buying back their own shares in order to raise share prices overall -- that have truly skyrocketed. 

 Erik McGregor / Pacific Press / LightRocket via Getty Images)Hundreds of New Yorkers gather in protest of Donald Trump's tax policy outside Cipriani at 42nd Street in Midtown Manhattan on December 2, 2017. (Photo: Erik McGregor / Pacific Press / LightRocket via Getty Images)

Truthout is funded by readers, not by corporations, lobbyists or government interests. Help us publish more stories like this one: Click here to make a tax-deductible donation!

In the six weeks since the passage of the GOP tax plan, officially known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, businesses have been lauded for announcements of wages and bonuses. Yet it's corporate stock buybacks -- the practice of companies spending their cash on buying back their own shares in order to raise share prices overall -- that have truly skyrocketed. That's why it's time to call the tax bill what it really is: the "Tax Cuts for Shareholders" Act. 

This past Wednesday, a $25 billion stock buyback plan announcement belonged to just one company: Cisco. In contrast, Walmart -- the country's largest employer -- announced wage increases for workers that will cost the company just $700 million. And stock buybacks are double what they were in January and February of 2017. 

Stock buybacks enrich current shareholders -- who too often include corporate executives -- by reducing the number of stocks for sale and raising the value of the remaining shares. The practice had already been on the rise, but the corporate windfall in the aftermath of the tax bill allows corporations to escalate the practice. That's why many financial analysts are pointing out that the tax bill will lead to a rise in shareholder primacy. 

Recently, Morgan Stanley released a research note presenting their expectations of how companies will utilize the corporate tax windfall at the core of Trump's tax law. Analysts expect that 42 percent of the tax savings will be passed on to shareholders, in the form of share buybacks and dividends. That's compared with just 13 percent going to workers through labor compensation [1].

This data tells the whole story of the GOP tax cut. A lot of money is moving out to shareholders, but not much is trickling down to workers.

Some may ask: We all participate in the stock market, so don't we all benefit when shareholders do well? Unfortunately, the concentration of wealth tells a different story. According to research by economist Ed Wolff, less than half of all US households own any stocks at all -- but of the top 1 percent of Americans, 94 percent own shares, and less than a third of all households have over $10,000 in stocks. Equity ownership is also extremely stratified by race and gender: Only one-third of black households have retirement accounts or own shares directly, while over 60 percent of white families do. 

The findings from Morgan Stanley differ by sectors: In manufacturing, analysts predict that nearly 47 percent of the corporate windfall will go to shareholders, while only 9 percent will go to labor -- perhaps a reflection of the relatively higher wages in the manufacturing sector. In services, "just" 40 percent will go to shareholders, while 16 percent will go towards labor compensation. Labor compensation, however, will include the highest-paid executives, as well as the average company worker. 

Several analyses of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act are starting to document the scale of buybacks versus pay increases as a result of the tax bill. Bill Lazonick and Rick Wartzman found that corporations are spending roughly 30 times what they'll spend on workers on stock buybacks. And Americans for Tax Fairness calculated that just 20 corporations have announced approximately $100 billion in new stock buybacks since the passage of the Senate bill in early December (and this was before the Cisco announcement). Using data from the pro-tax cut Americans for Tax Reform, they found that only 3.4 percent of Fortune 500 companies have announced a wage increase tied to the tax bill. 

The political war of words will continue over where the benefits of the tax windfall are going, and proponents of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will continue to elevate a false narrative about who wins under this plan. But when you follow the money, there's no hiding the truth that Trump's tax law is designed for company shareholders -- not workers.


 1. Analysts also expect that 17 percent will go to capital spending, while 18 percent is spent on mergers and acquisitions (M&A) and 8 percent on debt.

Categories: News

How Medicaid Work Requirements Will Harm Older Americans

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 05:00

Many of the 8.5 million Americans age 50-64 who receive Medicaid became eligible due to the Affordable Care Act's expansion of Medicaid to more low-income adults. But Medicaid coverage for many older Americans is at risk due to the Trump administration's decision to let states impose work requirements on enrollees.

 Stígur Már Karlsson / Heimsmyndir)(Photo: Stígur Már Karlsson / Heimsmyndir)

Thirty seconds: That's how long it takes to support the independent journalism at Truthout. We're counting on you. Click here to chip in!

More than 8.5 million Americans age 50-64 get health coverage through Medicaid. Many of them became eligible due to the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) expansion of Medicaid to more low-income adults, which helped drive a nearly 40 percent decline in uninsured rates for lower-income people age 50-64 between 2013 and 2016.

But Medicaid coverage for many low-income, older Americans is at risk due to the Trump Administration's decision to let states impose work requirements on enrollees, other than those who are 65 or older, pregnant, or qualify for Medicaid because they are receiving disability benefits through the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. The Administration has already approved work requirements in Kentucky and Indiana, and proposals from other states are pending. Approved and pending state policies generally require enrollees to provide documents showing that they worked, searched for a job, or volunteered a sufficient number of hours each month.

Older adults face particular challenges in meeting such requirements, and the health consequences if they lose Medicaid coverage are likely to be especially severe.

Older Adults Face Obstacles to Meeting Work Requirements

Across age groups, about 60 percent of non-elderly adult Medicaid enrollees not receiving SSI work; of the rest, about half live in working families, and more than 80 percent report that they are in school or unable to work due to illness, disability, or caregiving responsibilities. But employment rates are lower at older ages. Whereas nearly two-thirds of enrollees under age 50 work, work rates begin to fall off for those over 50, and only a minority of 60- to 64-year-olds work. (See chart.) In addition, some working enrollees (of all ages) work part-time, meaning they may not meet monthly hours requirements under work requirement policies.

There are many reasons older enrollees are more likely to be out of work. Some, especially those in their 60s, are retired. About 68 percent of all current retirees retired before age 65, and nearly half of Social Security retirees claim benefits before age 65. Hundreds of thousands of Social Security retirees age 62 to 64 depend on Medicaid for coverage. To qualify for Social Security benefits, this group must have worked much or all of their adult lives, but if Social Security is their only or primary source of income, they likely qualify for Medicaid: the average Social Security benefit for someone who retires at age 62 puts them just slightly above the poverty line for a single adult.

For example, Ronnie Maurice Stewart, one of the plaintiffs in a recently filed lawsuit against Kentucky's waiver, worked for years in mental health clinics and then as a medical assistant, but he retired once eligible to claim Social Security benefits (worth $841 per month) because he could no longer do a job that required him to be on his feet all day. Stewart, who is 62, has diabetes, arthritis, and high blood pressure and "is concerned that he will lose his health coverage if he is unable to work because of his health or if he takes a job with varying work hours."

People in their 50s and 60s are also much more likely than younger people to have serious chronic health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, or back pain. Such conditions generally do not qualify people for federal disability assistance, and people with these conditions may be able to work when their conditions are controlled through treatment, when they are not at their most severe, or if they can find jobs that allow them to work part time or accommodate their physical limitations. But such conditions often still make it hard for people to maintain steady, full-time employment, putting them at risk of non-compliance with work requirements and therefore lost or interrupted coverage.

For example, Glassie Mae Kasey, another of the plaintiffs in the Kentucky lawsuit, is 56. Kasey worked until September 2017 as a custodian, but since then has struggled to find a job, hampered by health issues including diabetes; arthritis; chronic leg, foot, and back pain; high blood pressure; high cholesterol; urinary problems; chronic chest congestion; and kidney stones. Kasey is now at risk of losing coverage if she cannot find an 80-hour-per-month job or volunteer position that can accommodate her physical limitations.

Exemptions Won't Keep Older People From Losing Coverage

Kentucky's approved work requirements policy, and most other states' pending proposals, apply to people up to age 64, with no exceptions for early retirees. The Administration's work requirements guidance does instruct states that enrollees who are in compliance with or exempt from separate Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) work requirements should be treated as complying with Medicaid requirements. That approach may protect many older adults, since SNAP generally requires people 50 and over to register as looking for work but does not terminate their benefits if they cannot find a job. But millions of older Medicaid enrollees are not enrolled in SNAP and thus could still be at risk of losing coverage in states that implement Medicaid work requirements.

Kentucky's waiver also proposes limited exemptions for people who are "medically frail" and for those "diagnosed with an acute medical condition" that prevents compliance. But these exemptions won't keep older enrollees with serious health conditions from falling through the cracks.

First, the exemptions are narrow, and many people won't qualify as medically frail. Arkansas, for example, estimates that just 10 percent of expansion enrollees are "medically frail." By comparison, almost a quarter of adult Medicaid enrollees not receiving SSI have a disability.

Second, even people who should qualify for exemptions may struggle to prove that they do. Obtaining physician testimony, medical records, or other required documents may be difficult, especially if beneficiaries don't have health coverage while seeking to prove they are exempt. Red tape and paperwork requirements have been shown to reduce enrollment in Medicaid across the board, and people coping with serious mental illness or physical impairments may face particular difficulties meeting these requirements. The experience of work requirements for other programs shows that people with disabilities are disproportionately likely to be sanctioned, even though many should be exempt.

Losing Coverage Will Worsen Health -- and Could Impede Employment

Losing coverage worsens health for all groups, which is why physician groups like the American Medical Associationthe American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and others oppose Medicaid work requirements. But the resulting coverage losses would likely be especially harmful for older enrollees, because of their high rates of chronic conditions. For people with serious health needs, coverage interruptions lead to increased emergency room visits and hospitalizations, admissions to mental health facilities, and health care costs, research has shown.

And by worsening access to health care, Medicaid work requirements may actually make it harder for older people who are trying to keep working to do so. A long-term randomized trial found that providing regular care to people with heart disease increased their earnings, likely by reducing their time out of work due to illness. Conversely, making health care contingent on work is likely to result in a vicious cycle where someone who loses their job because their heart disease or diabetes worsens also loses access to treatment, making it impossible for them to regain their health and employment.

Work Requirements Won't Increase Economic Mobility

The Administration has argued that Medicaid work requirements will advance the goal of economic mobility. Evidence from other programs suggests this won't be the case, and there are a number of signs that it isn't the real goal of the policy. One indication is that the Administration's work requirements guidance makes clear that states don't have to provide supportive services such as transportation or job training in conjunction with work requirements. Another is the decision to apply work requirements to older people who have worked all their lives but now rely on Medicaid to get health care in retirement.

Instead, the guidance -- and other unprecedented provisions of Kentucky's Medicaid waiver that will make it harder for people to get coverage -- reflects the Administration's view that Medicaid coverage should not have been expanded to low-income adults in the first place. That's a view that Congress rejected on a bipartisan basis last year -- and one that, if implemented, would cause millions of older Americans, as well as other low-income adults, to lose coverage. 

Categories: News

Chicago's Youth Push Back Against Mayor's Proposed "Cop Academy"; Demand More Investment in Communities

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 14:54

 Scott Olson / Getty Images)Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (C) and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson (R) attend a police academy graduation and promotion ceremony in the Grand Ballroom at Navy Pier on June 15, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo: Scott Olson / Getty Images)

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has manipulated a Department of Justice finding that Chicago Police routinely used excessive force on Black and Latinx people, into a proposal for a police training facility in a perennially disinvested and majority Black neighborhood. But a Black youth-led campaign is pushing back, demanding more investment in schools and communities instead.

 Scott Olson / Getty Images)Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (C) and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson (R) attend a police academy graduation and promotion ceremony in the Grand Ballroom at Navy Pier on June 15, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo: Scott Olson / Getty Images)

Grassroots, not-for-profit news is rare -- and Truthout's very existence depends on donations from readers. Will you help us publish more stories like this one? Make a one-time or monthly donation by clicking here.

Residents of Black communities on the West and South sides of Chicago are fighting tooth and nail to defend resources in their neighborhoods threatened by Rahm Emanuel, the man some deem "America's Worst Mayor." Meanwhile, Emanuel travels across the country, promoting Chicago as a great place to "work and play." The hard-hitting Democratic Party fundraiser and strategist has worked tirelessly over the past two years to recover from his role in the Laquan McDonald scandal, even calling for "nothing less than total and complete reform of the system." Emanuel is accused of suppressing the video of the October 2014 murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by a Chicago police officer for 400 days in order to help secure his bid for re-election in 2015.

In 2015, Emanuel begrudgingly allowed the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate the Chicago Police Department (CPD), resulting in a report that stated CPD officers routinely used excessive force and most of their ire was focused on Black and Latinx residents of the city. However, Emanuel masterfully manipulated the findings of the investigation into a proposal to build a massive new training compound -- a $95 million "cop academy" -- for the CPD in the majority Black and perennially disinvested neighborhood of West Garfield Park.

We filed a series of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests regarding the cop academy, which have uncovered a number of troubling findings, full details of which remain withheld and redacted. For example, planning for this new cop academy began months before the DOJ report was released, so could not have been a response to the report's findings. Plus, Emanuel seems intent on using this facility as a regional and national police-training hub. Further, the mayor's office colluded with a city department for facilities management called Fleet and Facilities Management (2FM) and the CPD to facilitate the use of closed Chicago public school properties for police training.

While the stated purpose of the proposed cop academy is to facilitate the "improved" training encouraged by the DOJ, there's little evidence to suggest this will lead to meaningful changes. Moreover, communities fighting for resources across Chicago are wary of seeing more resources spent on policing.

Emanuel and the Department of Justice Masquerade

Emanuel has rolled out various "police reforms" in the past two years to champion his new "tough on CPD" stance. He's rallied behind the use of body cameras, and has talked about the importance of more compassionate training techniques. He has promoted the use of Tasers in some circumstances as an alternative to guns. However, all of these supposed fixes ultimately work to expand resources and budgets for police, with little to no impact on CPD's longstanding racism and violence. What's more, Emanuel doesn't appear to believe in the reforms he champions.

Even with Department of Justice intervention and the investment of money in police department "reforms," the outcomes for communities show little improvement.

In December, 2015, he initially resisted calls for DOJ review, and relented only after public pressure from fellow Democrats. When the DOJ completed its yearlong investigation in January, 2017, Emanuel initially agreed to sign a consent decree that would have been overseen by a federal judge. A consent decree is a court-enforced settlement between the DOJ and a police department that has been found to display a "pattern and practice" of misconduct.

Once Obama's presidency ended, Emanuel colluded with Trump's Justice Department to attempt to avoid federal oversight by trying to arrange for a memorandum of understanding (MOU) instead of the consent decree. MOUs are not legally enforceable, meaning that it would be left to Emanuel and the CPD to be responsible for changes requested by the DOJ with only an "appointed monitor" providing oversight. Only after being sued by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan did Emanuel relent.

Currently, Emanuel appears to wholeheartedly accept the DOJ findings, and is using a recommendation given in the report regarding police training to justify the need for an expanded and updated CPD training facility. However, the documents we uncovered reveal that email conversations about the academy were taking place between the mayor's office and 2FM as early as October 2016, a full three months before the DOJ released its findings in January 2017.

Further, while Emanuel sees the DOJ recommendations as a salve for CPD, there is evidence to suggest that large-scale, federal overhauls of police forces that are initiated by the Justice Department do little to deter police misconduct in the long term. According to a 2015 Washington Post article, the Pittsburgh Police Department has struggled to retain the reforms that were supposedly set in place after its DOJ consent decree was lifted. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) was also under a consent decree from 2001 until 2013. Compliance with this consent was costly: it totaled $300 million, which includes $41 million spent on the renovation of the LAPD's training academy. In 2013, the ACLU lauded the LAPD for efforts to change the force, and declared, "This is no longer your father's Los Angeles Police Department." However, from 2013-2017, no police department in the country killed more people than the LAPD.

There is clear evidence that even with Department of Justice intervention and the investment of money in police department "reforms," the outcomes for communities show little improvement.

Schools for Cops, Not for Kids

Rahm Emanuel came under fire both locally and nationally for his role in the largest public school closure in the history of the United States in 2013. That year, he oversaw the closure of 49 Chicago Public Schools (CPS), displacing thousands of Black and Brown students. Currently, parents, teachers and students are fighting his proposed closure of all four public high schools in Englewood, as well as the conversion of National Teachers' Academy -- a successful neighborhood school located on Chicago's Near South Side, serving mostly Black and Brown students -- into a selective enrollment high school.

In 2015, Emanuel wanted to shutter Dyett High School in the Bronzeville neighborhood, another predominantly Black community just south of the loop in Chicago. Community members fought to save the high school, and the school remained open only after concerned parents and grandparents staged a historic 34-day hunger strike, which garnered national media coverage. In 2016, against parent, teacher and student desires, a small elementary school charter operating out of a CPS property, the Bronzeville Lighthouse/Hartigan building, closed its doors.

Advocates from all over Chicago have been calling out the Emanuel administration's hypocrisy: Adequate city funds for Chicago Public Schools are not materializing, but the city is more than willing to sell old properties and dip into tax increment financing (TIF) coffers to support a massive expansion project for CPD.

Through FOIA requests, the authors discovered emails from the mayor's chief of staff attempting to facilitate the use of the recently closed Bronzeville Lighthouse/Hartigan school building for expanded CPD training, before the construction of the new academy.

The commissioner of Fleet and Facilities Management, the director of training for CPD and Emanuel's chief of staff corresponded for weeks in an attempt to stave off a private bid for the closed building, so that CPD officers could make use of it. Here's an excerpt from the emails uncovered through FOIA:

"Attached is a list of vacant CPS buildings. I took a quick look at those closed in 2015 and 2016 via Google Maps. The facilities highlighted on the list appear to have ample parking ... I didn't look at the buildings closed in 2013 or earlier since they will likely be boarded-up and harder to put back into service than the recently closed buildings." -- David J. Reynolds, Commissioner, Fleet and Facilities Management, October 17, 2016.

The Chicago Police Department has a precedent of using closed school buildings for tactical training and K9 training, but this particular negotiation hits close to home for organizers fighting school closures in the same neighborhood of Bronzeville.

Larry Dean is a member of Black Youth Project 100, an organization of young Black activists fighting for justice and freedom for all Black people, and he has been supporting the effort to fight school closures on the Southside. "I think it's part of a larger strategy by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to continue to facilitate the school-to-prison pipeline -- to take buildings that were dedicated to education in underserved communities and Black communities -- and turn them into uses for the police department, which already gets $4 million per day," Dean told Truthout. "It just is not in the interest of the people who live there, and I think that the fact that that's something that's not well-known, that the community doesn't have insight into, is further proof that the mayor just hates Black communities, doesn't support what we do and is not going to give us an equal right to education or life in this city."

A Regional Police Training Hub in the Heart of Chicago's Westside

Emails uncovered through FOIA requests also revealed that members of 2FM, CPD and the Chicago Fire Department visited Appleton, Wisconsin, in 2017 to tour Fox Valley Technical College's Public Safety Training Center (PSTC). The PSTC opened in 2015, and its website boasts that the facility is "a national leader in public safety and resources" able to "provide you and your staff with the knowledge you need most." Indeed, the PSTC has garnered national recognition for its simulation technology, which is comprised of "several mock crime scene scenarios ... including a hotel with adjoining bar, a convenience store, a bank, and two houses for the study of forensic science investigation." These innovations sound strikingly similar to ones planned for the cop academy.

Initially, Appleton, Wisconsin, seems an unlikely inspiration for Chicago's proposed cop academy, as it's located on a rural site, miles from the nearest schools and population centers, in a town of 70,000. However, there is evidence Emanuel envisions that the expanded cop academy in West Garfield Park -- a densely populated, historically divested from, majority-Black neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago -- will operate similarly to PSTC. Emanuel has stated his hopes that regional, national and international police departments will travel to Chicago to learn law enforcement techniques -- all from a corrupt department that has never been meaningfully held accountable for the violence and abuse it perpetrates.

#NoCopAcademy: Charting a New Course for Ending Police Violence

Emanuel wields a great deal of influence as the mayor of one of the nation's largest cities, as well as a long-time Democratic power player. His views on police reform and what he believes it should look like doubtless influence other major cities dealing with the scourge of overwhelming police violence that is focused almost exclusively on marginalized people. Resisting Emanuel's proposal is a critical part of refusing to allow the liberal establishment to dictate the terms/solution to the problem of police violence around the country.

Supported by more than 50 organizations across Chicago, young people from Assata's Daughters -- an organization of young Black women in Chicago fighting for Black liberation -- have been on the front lines of fighting Emanuel's agenda and demanding a radical transformation of budget priorities in Chicago, as well as a resolution to the crisis of police violence. In under six months, the #NoCopAcademy campaign has been wildly successful in turning what would otherwise have been a mundane city maneuver into a national controversy, by demanding that rather than expand CPD training capabilities with a $95 million new cop academy, Chicago invest in young people instead. In that way, the youth leaders with the #NoCopAcademy campaign are both visionary and upholding a Chicago tradition.

More than a year before the DOJ released its report on Chicago police violence, young people of color with We Charge Genocide and Black Youth Project 100 had clearly and consistently stated in their own report and actions that the only way to stop police violence was to halt the constant increase of funds that facilitate said violence. As the #NoCopAcademy campaign pushes back on Emanuel's false solution, young Black people across the city are demanding resources for schools and communities. Rather than taking at face value the word of a politician who has repeatedly shown his capacity to hide and alter the truth for his own political gain, we would do well to listen to young Black people about what they need to survive and thrive in Chicago. Similarly, instead of allowing police departments and mayors to dictate the terms of what creates safe communities, and how to respond to the violence inflicted by those same departments, more cities should listen to marginalized young people and follow their lead in charting a new course forward.

Categories: News