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Maya Schenwar on the DOJ Ending Use of Private Prisons: Will Decarceration Follow?

August 20, 2016 - 4:00am

KIM BROWN, TRNN: Today the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it will phase out the federal use of private prisons. This decision follows an investigative report that the DOJ released last week, which found that conditions in private prisons are far more unsafe and harsh than in their publicly-owned counterparts.

Now joining us to discuss this is Maya Schenwar. Maya is the editor in chief of Truthout, and also the author of Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn't Work and How We Can Do Better. Maya, thanks so much for joining us.

MAYA SCHENWAR: Thanks for having me.

BROWN: Maya, let's talk about the significance of this DOJ announcement. They have said that over the next five years they'll let their contracts expire with the 13 private prisons they currently use. Over 22,000 federal inmates are currently in those prisons, and that's about 11 percent of all federal prisoners. What were your initial reactions to this? Are you celebrating?

SCHENWAR: Absolutely. I do think it's a positive step. And I say step because it is definitely not an end in itself.

What we want is decarceration, right? We want fewer people in prison. But as long as our government is still caging people, we have to remember that these are human beings living in these prisons, and the conditions in private prisons are in general worse than public prisons. There are even fewer resources, more violence, particularly perpetrated by guards. And also just fundamentally, the idea of a profit motive that's contingent on caging human beings is just repugnant.

So these companies lobby to continue existing and continue expanding, so basically they're lobbying for violence. Their interest is in continuing to cage people and lock people up. And I think we need to reject that completely.

So yes, I'm celebrating. But I do think that this announcement by the Department of Justice should not cause us to sit back. Really, we need to, I think, step up as a result of it, because federal private prisons are actually a very, very small percent of the overall system. And even deprivatizing them or moving those people who are incarcerated in private prisons to public prisons doesn't actually get anyone out.

So I think -- just a couple of things about this. First of all, it does not apply to state prisons. So most incarcerated people in the United States are in state prisons or local jails, and this plan doesn't apply to them. So I think first of all we have to recognize this is just happening in the federal system. Also, I think we have to recognize that this is the Department of Justice specifically. It's not the Department of Homeland Security, that deals with immigration. And I think we can get more into that in detail, if you'd like.

And also, I just want to point out the Department of Justice has hundreds of halfway houses, so like, reentry centers, which are operated by private companies. And this decision about getting away from private prisons explicitly doesn't apply to those. It says that in the DOJ memo.
So I think we have to recognize this is a small percentage of the prison population. And ultimately also we have no idea whether this plan will actually fuel decarceration. Getting people out. So that's the question that we need to be asking.

BROWN: Maya, in the past few years there has been increased attention placed on the for-profit prison industry, and the attention has created some momentum. For example, Hillary Clinton stopped accepting funds from private prison lobbyists last October after her campaign had a series of meetings with groups, including Color of Change, Black Lives Matter, and United We Dream. So is this raised awareness and activism to be credited for this DOJ decision?

SCHENWAR: Yeah, I think absolutely activism has played a huge role. And I think that's being minimized a little bit in all of the headlines today. It's being talked about as if there was just this investigation by the Department of Justice and inspector general, and oops, they found the private prisons are not so great. And so therefore they're making these changes.

And I think really, this decision is the result of years and years of activist pressure, of public pressure, including by groups like the Human Rights Defense Center, which has been doing this for years and years and years, just pushing, pushing, pushing on private prisons, as well as all of the momentum happening as a result of the current racial justice movement, the Movement for Black Lives.

And so I think, you know, which is putting, I think, a lot more pressure in general around policing, incarceration, criminalization itself. The idea of criminality, and who that's tied to. And so I think that all of these things have really created a certain amount of momentum.
One thing in my mind around this, and this came up during the primaries, because you know Bernie Sanders, his position on prisons, his advocacy of a ban on private prisons was really, really centered in this idea of privatization. And the one thing that I would caution against is getting the idea that this is a victory that kind of stops. And certainly a lot of the activists who have been pushing back against private prisons would say that they're just one component of this much, much larger system.

And you mentioned Black Lives Matter. I mean, certainly within that movement there is a wholesale recognition that that piece is just a small, small part. So I think that the response needs to be, of course, celebration, but also a renewed commitment. And I think particularly on the part of people who are just sort of seeing this news come through and aren't directly engaged in the issues, I would definitely urge a strong awareness that private prisons are a small piece of the puzzle.

BROWN: Well, over 60 percent of immigration detention beds are operated by these private prisons, and most recently the Obama administration approved a no-bid, $1 billion deal to construct one of these immigration detention centers to house, specifically, Central American refugees who were coming into, coming across the border. Are those amongst the private prisons that will be phased out of use?

SCHENWAR: No. So actually, when I first heard the news, that was the first thing I thought of, because I kind of just heard this. Oh, private prisons are being banned on the federal level. And I thought, that must also include immigrant detention. But no, the Department of Justice's plan does not apply to immigrant detention. That's under the Department of Homeland Security, and this was DOJ specific.

So that's definitely something where you have a system in which the majority of prisons -- they're really prisons, jails, as opposed to just facilities -- these immigrant jails are majority operated by private companies. And so I think that's another area to definitely push back in addition to pushing for, you know, decriminalization in that regard, too, and thinking really seriously about immigrant policy as a whole, as opposed to just who's operating the detention centers.

BROWN: So, Maya, quick question, because obviously we are in an election season and there will be a new president come January of next year. Should we elect a President Trump, is it possible that he could direct the Department of Justice to scrap this Obama initiative, and to maintain contracts with private prisons? Is that a possibility? Could a new administration just say, eh, you know, that was Obama's thing, we're going to do something else?

SCHENWAR: Oh, I see what you're saying. When you first asked that question I thought you were saying, should we elect a President Trump?

BROWN: No.

SCHENWAR: One word answer. Yeah. I mean, I think the one thing to really bear in mind with this is it is a plan. It's not a directive that is forevermore, and it's actually, it's not ending private prisons this instant, it's letting the contracts expire, which will happen over the next few years. And the next few years, obviously, is continuing into the new administration. So I think this is definitely something that we have to be continually vigilant about, as well as continuing to push for decarceration, continuing to push for decriminalization, and continuing to push for recognition of mass incarceration as a whole, and kind of the prison-industrial complex in a larger sense.

BROWN: We've been speaking with Maya Schenwar. Maya is the editor in chief of Truthout. She's also the author of Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn't Work, and How We Can Do Better. We've been talking about the DOJ announcement, that they will phase out contracts with private prison operators. Maya, we appreciate your time today. Thank you.

SCHENWAR: Thank you so much.

BROWN: I'm Kim Brown, and you're watching the Real News Network.

Categories: Newswire

Solitary for Suicide Attempts: The Brutal Punishment of Chelsea Manning

August 20, 2016 - 4:00am

After 1,000 days of detention without trial and the denial of basic medical care, Chelsea Manning is facing yet another complication in her case: possible indefinite solitary confinement for her recent suicide attempt. Likely to exacerbate mental health issues, these recent charges are inhumane.

(Photo: DieselDemon / Flickr)

On August 10, Army Secretary Eric Fanning received a petition with 115,000 signatures, part of an ongoing effort by activists to ensure Chelsea Manning's additional suicide-related charges are dropped. Although public pressure has mounted, there has been no sign that the charges will be dropped any time soon.

Manning's case has been fraught with government abuses of power, ranging from 1,000 days of detention without trial to denial of medical resources when dealing with gender dysphoria. Now, after a suicide attempt, Manning is facing potential conviction that would force her back into solitary confinement. This horribly inhumane treatment is used for many prisoners, particularly those seen as threatening to the state. But Manning hasn't just been punished because of her charges; she has been denied basic resources necessary for dealing with the complexity of both gender dysphoria and the mental ramifications of solitary confinement.

In her personal account of her whistleblowing ordeal, Manning describes how releasing documents revealing "the deliberate diplomatic and economic exploitation of developing countries" would show the public elements of war that had so long been hidden from them. This case was deemed unconvincing by the US military: Manning was found guilty of five accounts of espionage and five of theft, and in August 2013, after a lengthy and abuse-ridden period of trial-less detention, was sentenced to 35 years.

The transparency sought by Manning was by no means desired by the US military. Before her 2013 trial, at the beginning of her detention, Manning was transferred to a large cage in a Kuwaiti prison camp, where she lived for several weeks with no access to legal representation, and no sense of which charges were being brought against her. Not knowing when she was leaving or whether she would be given a public trial, Manning tried to choke herself with a blanket and was placed on suicide watch.

Her three years of detention have only gotten worse as she has been subject to horrible strip searches, banned from having many routine items in her cell due to suicide watch, and denied access to the health care she needs as a transgender woman.

After coming out as a woman and requesting medically necessary support for gender transition -- namely, estrogen and androgen blockers -- Manning's request for medical care was initially denied. Almost a year and a half after the initial request in 2013, Manning was allowed proper medical treatment to continue her transition. Nearly every element of Manning's detention, trial and pursuit of medical treatment has been slow, with Manning kept in the dark for weeks or months at a time.

Then, the day after July 4, Manning attempted suicide again. The new charges being brought against her claim she engaged in "conduct which threatens" and resistance toward staff who entered her cell following her suicide attempt. This is bewildering, though, because ACLU attorney Chase Strangio claims Manning was unconscious following the attempt, and that she has no recollection of any altercation in her cell. It is impossible for the general public to know what specifically happened in the wake of Manning's suicide attempt -- and with only tenuous transparency, it is easy for the military to stack on additional potentially unjust charges against Manning.

ACLU attorneys stress that these charges could increase Manning's 35-year sentence by nine years and deny her parole eligibility, as well as put her into indefinite solitary confinement. The horrors of solitary confinement hardly need to be enumerated. Any person with a sense of decency should be concerned by the way she and others in her situation have been deprived of basic human contact.

Penal Reform International estimates that around 80,000 individuals are being held in "some form of isolation" in the United States. Used as discipline, as a means of managing difficult or risky prisoners, or to coerce, solitary confinement is seen by many as a deprivation of the basic human rights that should be afforded to all -- including prisoners. A 2014 study in the American Journal of Public Health attempted to make sense of increased self-harm risks for those in solitary confinement, finding that prisoners "punished by solitary confinement were 6.9 times more likely to commit acts of self-harm." Any reasonable observer would deduce, from these statistics and Manning's personal account, that another nine years in solitary confinement will only exacerbate current suicidality.

Problems for transgender inmates seeking health care are not isolated to Manning alone. The case of Marius Manson, occurring simultaneously, has striking similarities to Manning's, as Manson -- a trans masculine environmental activist -- began undergoing his gender change while serving time in a federal corrections facility. Although there is currently a federal policy on how to properly deal with gender dysphoria in inmates (including a requirement that prison personnel must use gender-affirming pronouns), prisons are often deliberately slow to adopt these practices. Manson, for example, began initial requests to undergo hormone treatment in 2013. These requests were only accepted recently after pressure from an independent expert review, making it a three-year process to gain necessary medical treatment. As long as prison administrators deny the immense challenges that come with gender dysphoria, acute mental health problems will continue to torment trans prisoners.

In Manning's case, the criminal legal system seems most interested in making an example out of a powerful whistleblower who attempted to bring greater transparency to the way the US military wages war. In a larger sense, the use of solitary confinement to respond to suicide attempts illustrates the system's insistence on punishment as the answer to any problem, particularly when it comes to the most marginalized people in prison.

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Categories: Newswire

Private Prisons Are Far From Ended: 62 Percent of Immigrant Detainees Are in Privatized Jails

August 19, 2016 - 4:00am

On August 18, the Department of Justice announced an end to using private prisons for its federal prisoners, but the decision does not apply to the 46 immigration jails currently run by private prison corporations. In light of these limitations, what does the announcement mean for mass incarceration and decarceration efforts?

Prisoners walk across the prison yard of Saguaro Correctional Center, a private prison in Eloy, Arizona, on October 16, 2009. (Monica Almeida / The New York Times)

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The US Department of Justice's decision to no longer use private prisons for its federal prisoners is a groundbreaking first step, but the August 18 announcement doesn't spell the end to private prisons: Private prison corporations will continue to control 46 immigration detention centers that detain nearly 25,000 people (or 62 percent of the country's 33,676 immigrant detainees) on any given day.

It is perhaps telling that in the hours after the announcement made headlines yesterday, stock prices for both Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group, two of the country's largest private prison corporations, dropped 40 percent, but by today they had started to climb again.

In the Department of Justice's memo on August 18, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates instructed officials to decline to renew contracts with private prison operators when they expire or to "substantially reduce" the contracts' scope. Her reasoning was that private prisons "simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs and resources," "do not substantially save on costs," and "do not maintain the same level of safety and security" as the prisons operated by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The decision impacts 13 privately run federal prisons and approximately 22,600 federal prisoners.

The BOP runs more than 100 prisons that incarcerate more than 170,000 people. Those figures do not include the 22,600 people currently incarcerated in private prisons, many of whom are non-citizens and are likely to be deported after serving their sentences. As the BOP declines to renew its contracts with CCA and GEO Group, it will most likely begin shifting those prisoners to government-run federal prisons to finish their sentences.

While advocates and organizers have hailed the announcement as a victory, some are cautious in their optimism. "Anything is good in the direction of not putting people in private prisons, which is another form of selling people's bodies, particularly Black and Brown people," stated Andrea James, a cofounder of Families for Justice as Healing and the National Council of Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls. But, she cautioned, the memo "doesn't say that they're not going to incarcerate them somewhere else." Having spent a year and a half in the federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut, run by the federal BOP, James knows firsthand that government-run prisons come with their own set of abuses. There, she witnessed numerous examples of neglect and abuse ranging from the lack of soap in the prison's bathrooms to extremely inadequate medical care.

"We advocate for not replacing these prisons," James told Truthout. "We advocate instead for investing the money into the communities most impacted."

In the days ahead, exerting pressure for the US government to also end its use of private prison corporations to run its Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers will likely be a major focus for opponents of private prisons.

Two years ago, in a much-less publicized deal, the Obama administration signed a four-year, $1 billion dollar contract with CCA to build two immigration detention facilities in Texas specifically for mothers and children seeking asylum from Central America. One, in Dilley, holds up to 2,400 asylum seekers; the other is a family detention center in Karnes City that can hold up to 532 women and children. The contract pays CCA a "fixed monthly fee for use of the entire facility regardless of the number of residents." CCA also operates 73 other immigrant detention facilities across the country.

James is still haunted by her visit three weeks earlier to the CCA-run Eloy Detention Center in Phoenix, which detains nearly 1,600 people. "There were men who had been brought from across the country because they couldn't prove citizenship," she said. She met wives and children of several of these men. "Some of them [the children] were 7 or 8 years old, the same age as my son," she said. She recalled one young boy who was in the car with his father when they were pulled over by Sheriff Joe Arpaio. When his father was unable to produce documents affirming his residency or citizenship, he was arrested. "He hasn't seen his father since then," James said. His family, lacking US passports, cannot visit him.

She reiterates that, knowing about abusive conditions inside privately run prisons, the federal government should also end its contracts for immigration detention. Continuing to do so, she charges, sends the message that some people, solely because of their immigration status, are "not worthy to come out of these abusive conditions."

At the same time, she refuses to let government-run jails and prisons off the hook. On that same trip to Phoenix, she participated in a rally outside Tent City, the notorious city-run outdoor jail. The sheriff has proudly compared Tent City to a concentration camp. "It was 112 degrees on the sidewalk," she remembered. "Inside the tents were 135 degrees." Tent City can hold up to 2,126 people -- the majority of them are awaiting trial.

James emphasizes that, regardless of the classification under which people are confined, "It's all the same thing. It's incarcerating people and separating them from their families."

Categories: Newswire

Henry A. Giroux on the Neo-Fascism of the Law-and-Order Candidate

August 19, 2016 - 4:00am

In a provocative interview with Paul Jay on The Real News Network, Henry Giroux comments on the rise of neo-fascism in America and its link to a culture of fear, white supremacy and the expanding racist incarceration state.

TRANSCRIPT

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay.

In the 1930s capitalism faced a very deep crisis, and the strategy for dealing with it was more or less one of two ways: either fascism, or the kind of social democracy of the New Deal, compromise with the domestic working class. The United States chose, on the whole, the new deal.

Roosevelt, to a large extent, excluding Britain, which came very close to choosing fascism, didn't. But certainly Europe did choose fascism. But many economists think not that far from another bout of quite deep crises. '07-'08 was, many people say, a tip of the iceberg. And I think many people are getting ready for the next round that might be far more deep and more profound.

You have the rise of a kind of neofascism in the United States that we once saw in many places in the world in the 1930s, and see again now in Europe in various forms. But on the other side, Hillary Clinton ain't no Roosevelt. She's not a proponent of the New Deal. The closest one could get to that was Bernie Sanders, and that clearly was crushed, that campaign, by the people that control the machinery of the Democratic Party. So what does that mean for people of the United States, and the choices they will make, and what might face them in the coming days?

Joining me to have another round of chat about these types of issues is Henry Giroux. He's a professor for scholarship in the public interest at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. He's author of his -- he's the author of a recent book, Disposable Futures: The Seduction of Violence in the Age of Spectacle. Thanks for joining us, Henry.

HENRY GIROUX: Nice to be here, Paul. Thanks for inviting me.

JAY: So what do you make of that? The -- what won out in the 1930s, certainly a strategy, you know, many people have said, to save capitalism. But as a strategy to save capitalism, you can either have kind of compromises of the New Deal, or you can have the hammer of a kind of new authoritarianism, totalitarianism. Where are we at in that process? And why aren't we seeing a stronger kind of New Deal as an alternative?

GIROUX: I think we're in a very distinctively different historical moment. I mean, I think that you had two things that were operating in the 1930s that seem to be, in many ways, to have been weakened or disappeared. And of course the beginning of the 21st century, I mean, you have -- at one level you had massive social movements. I mean, you had workers' movements. You had left organizations, the Communist Party, that were mobilizing in profoundly powerful ways to basically address the great injustices of capitalism.

And FDR was enormously influenced by this, and afraid. I mean, his intervention was to save capitalism. It wasn't to basically appease the workers. And I think that today you don't have those movements. I mean, those movements, at least to the degree that we had them in the, in the 1930s and '40s, whether we're talking about [inaud.], we're talking about the Communist Party, the Socialist worker's movement, those movements basically have been underlined. We have other movements, but they're not as powerful as the movements that we had then.

Secondly, I think the very idea of the social contract is in disarray. I mean, with the exception of Bernie Sanders, the Black Lives Movement, it's very difficult to, in a sense, especially since the 1980s, to talk about what the social contract is and what it means, and what it means to celebrate public goods, what it means to make, create social investments. Because the ideology of neoliberalism, with its privatization, its deregulation, its emphasis on consumption, its elimination of basically apparatuses that can provide alternative points of view, has been so powerful and so normalized. Certainly I think the state is more than willing to not only attempt to change the consciousness of people, but to employ violence in ways that make people quite fearful.

And finally, I think you have a period of [inaud.] and uncertainty unlike anything we have seen before, because it now has expanded to a whole range of populations, from working-class people to the [underclass], to poor blacks and minorities, to basically the middle class. I mean, I think people now live in an age in which the only thing -- they don't think about getting ahead. They think about surviving. And I think those four factors are pretty important in sort of distinguishing what's happening today from what happened in the 1930s.

JAY: Right. Maybe I'd add a few things to that. In the 1930s there was the vision of what people thought was a socialist alternative, the Soviet Union. You know, whether that was or wasn't, it turned out not to be. Certainly workers had a vision to fight for at that time. And it was a great threat to the whole global capitalist system. Not just ideologically. Even the Soviet Union was not within the sphere of global economics. It was a massive market outside of the capitalist economy.

The other thing is the rise of globalization has so weakened the hand of the American working class and working the unions, that workers from all over the world could be played off against each other. Although interesting enough, in sort of an objective way, the slogan "Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains," from Marx, the truth is for a lot of the American working class for a long time, they actually had a lot more to lose than chains. They had colleges and cars and guaranteed college educations for the upper stratum of the American workers. Auto workers, people working in transport and such. With the rise of globalization and the shift in the balance of power between capital and labor, this upper stratum of American workers got attacked, to the point now where auto workers are starting at $14 an hour. Not even what people are claiming should be a minimum wage, of $15. So that upper stratum, to a large extent, has lost a lot of its privilege and power, especially political power, not just bargaining power.

And then I guess I'd add to that, even though the financial sector was very strong in the late 1920s, nothing compared to what it's become now. The financialization of the economy, and how much of that political power is in the hands of a finance sector which is almost utterly parasitical, invests far more money in [inaud.]. Yeah, go ahead.

GIROUX: I agree with all of that. The rise of globalization, the rise of finance capital, the elimination of the manufacturing base, the decimation of the working class, particularly in terms of those who had some comforts that approximated what the middle class had.

But I think the other side of this is that you really have, in this balance between the social state and the punishing state, remember, the social state has been decimated. And the question becomes, how is finance capital, how does the 1 percent now resort to governing? And they govern basically through a form of lawlessness and what I call the punishing state, in which we've had a punishment creep, and now it moves from the prison to almost every institution in society, from airports to schools to social services. I mean, the degree to which fear now becomes an organizing principle of society is enormous compared to what it was like in the past.

JAY: Yeah, and I think the great threat to this, and the soft underbelly of this, is in fact people who are already established experiencing a fairly overt police state. And that's poor and working black people in many American cities. And there the answer clearly coming from neofascist -- and in practice it's coming from neoliberals as well, or the Democratic Party leadership, as well, is it's going to be the hammer, and it's not going to be the social safety net.

Here's a quote, a little clip from Sheriff David Clarke, who spoke the first night of the Republican convention, which is a pretty overt expression. Of course, they get a black cop to say these things. I think it would be hard for anyone to take from a white cop, but here's Sheriff Clarke from Milwaukee County at the convention.

DAVID CLARKE: What we witnessed in Ferguson and Baltimore and Baton Rouge was a collapse of the social order. So many of the actions of the Occupy movement and Black Lives Matter transcends peaceful protest, and violates the code of conduct we rely on. I call it anarchy.

JAY: And of course, this threat of anarchy is what we've heard as the threat that fascists have referred to for more than 100 years. But this kind of threat, this hard use of the state, when Trump calls himself, I'm going to be the law and order president, he's appealing to people that want, want the use of this hammer.

GIROUX: Yeah. I mean, this -- I think this is really crucial, because it -- and it's a wonderful clip to use, because I think it speaks to a level of oppression that's almost unimaginable in a democracy. You know, when you begin to suggest that dissent, opposition, resistance, the only way to deal with it is not to listen to it and to engage in dialog with it, but basically to label it as anarchy and to repress it with the most violent, in the most violent means possible. I mean, that's essentially an element of neofascism. That's not about democracy.

And I also think that one of the things we often fail to realize is that that kind of violence is now legitimated in multiple public spheres. And not only that, we no longer have the public spheres available to be able to contest that violence. We don't see it in the mainstream media, we no longer see it in the schools. I mean, this endless criminalization, militarization, of every form of behavior, I mean, strikes me as one of the most dangerous and one of the most ever-growing threats to the United States, of which that speech exemplifies perfectly, and which Trump exemplifies with the endless call for law and order.

I mean, think about [Arpaio]. I mean, who is the guy in Arizona, the sheriff, you know, who has been doing this stuff for a long time. This is really the discourse of objectification and demonization. This is a discourse that trades in fear, and ultimately its endpoint is the prison, and massive expressions of repression.

JAY: The other side of the situation -- and Sheriff Clarke mentions Baltimore, the breakdown of social order, and so on. The other side of this is you cannot elect a Republican in Baltimore to be dogcatcher. This is a city that will not support this kind of overt racist and fascist politics at all. And as much as the state uses the hammer against poor and dispossessed people in Baltimore, the Democratic Party machine is vulnerable here. You know, this is a 65 percent black city. And when this city really wakes up at a more conscious, political level, and I think it's inevitable that it will, you could see quite a transformation in a place like this. And cities like Baltimore could actually become the sort of cracks in the armor of this state.

GIROUX: I think that what people have failed to talk about is white supremacy. I mean, we're not talking about simply racism, we're taking about white supremacy. I mean, think of Flint. I mean, think of the lead poisoning of thousands of poor and black children across the United States. Think of the question of mass incarceration. Think of the coding that the Republican Party has used for years, whether they're talking about Obama or blacks or Willie Horton.
I mean, all of this in Trump now has become so overt that it's difficult when we talk about repression not to talk about white supremacy, not to talk about its legacy, from slavery to lynching to mass incarceration, and what it has developed into. I mean, it's developed into, basically, a [race war]. When we talk about total war, and we talk about war zones, and we talk about the breakdown of the cities, when you exclude questions of race from that discourse, something disappears that's really central to the forms of repression that we're talking about.

JAY: Yeah. I mean, that certainly is the overriding ideological justification for the existence of such chronic poverty in a place like Baltimore. The official poverty rate here is about 24 percent, and in reality it's more like 35 percent.

GIROUX: I mean, I think the other side of this -- and you're one of the people who talk about this brilliantly -- is that, you know, we're not just talking about the oppression of economic structures, right? I mean, we're talking about race. It's ideology, it's a mode of policy. It's a practice. And it intertwines with class in a very specific way to create something very distinctive that we see now being legitimated in the United States by fascists who absolutely are unapologetic about what they're saying.

JAY: Now, the other side of this is the role of the Democratic Party. We've had a black president for the last eight years who's spent most of the time running away from that fact. And Hillary Clinton has claimed, and some of her supporters have said, she'll actually be able to do more for urban black communities because she doesn't have to deal with the baggage of being accused of, because Obama's black he can't do more for poor blacks than poor whites. Do you think there's anything to that?

GIROUX: Look, you know and I know she comes out of a legacy with her husband in which the Democratic Party did more, it seems to me, to subjugate blacks to the dynamics of oppression, poverty. The mass incarceration state.

And the real question is, until she faces that legacy and admits that what her husband did was absolutely in the interest of a white supremacist nation, to put it bluntly, I just don't trust her. I mean, even the notion that, you know, Clinton was the black president strikes me as the greatest irony of all times. And you know, and her sort of very cautious kind of uncomfortable, clumsy interaction with the black lives movement, who are very smart in recognizing that historical memory matters, that those legacies live on when you don't identify them, when you're not willing to be in dialog with them, when you're not willing to be self-reflective about the very part that you played as part of that apparatus of power. And I don't see that in her discourse, do you?

JAY: No. The only thing I think might play a role with her, and this goes back to sort of the classic concept of imperialism, that the United States elites, the more conscious elites -- and I think there's a division in the elites, as there is in the working class. There's sections of the working class that are class-conscious and sections that are not very. And I think I get the same thing in the elites, the capitalist elites, that some of them are more class-conscious than others. And what I mean by that is they do see systemic risk as a problem. Like a person like Soros, who has no problem benefiting from all kinds of speculative activity, that's not particularly good for the economic system. Yet he understands if that goes too far there won't be much of an economic system left to take your, your bets with.

So he's for more regulation and mitigating the extent of the speculation, where other people like John Paulson could care less, and don't want any regulation. And some of the hedge fund guys, they just want a complete free-for-all. And I think that division's been in the capitalist class for the longest time. There's a big fight within the capitalist class about whether to have child labor or not. You know, people that had mines, many of them wanted child labor. We're talking about into the mid-1800s or so. And others saw that you're actually wiping out the future working class. You won't have workers to work for you if you wipe out whole sections of young workers before they can reproduce.

GIROUX: I think that your argument is right on. I mean, unless you recognize the contradictions within various strata, you fall prey to a really kind of false homogenization that does not do justice to the way in which those contradictions can be both understood and is sometimes actually used to the benefit of people who need them.

But I think the other side of this is that while the contradictions matter, one of the things that you cannot lose sight of is that even with a guy like Soros the thing that he doesn't question, which does unify that class, is that they don't want to get rid of the capitalist system, they don't see an alternative. And I think that's where we can both seize upon the contradictions and push them to limits that these people would not consider, while at the same time in some way you're taking advantage of what these people are saying within a discourse that has some legitimacy.

JAY: Yeah. I mean, what I was going to add to that was that, you know, for the American elites to maintain social order there's two approaches. One is the hammer, and the second is somewhat of a social safety net. I mean, there are food stamps. There is a, while welfare was gutted by Clinton, there's still something of it left. There are some social services left. And one could imagine that when -- I wouldn't say if -- when the economic crisis deepens the American elites will throw some more crumbs to try to maintain social order, meaning that section led by the Democratic Party.

GIROUX: I think you left one out that is absolutely as central as the other two, and that is, look, in neoliberalism the ruling elite understand something. What they understand is that matters of desire, subjectivities, identities matter. And they take the cultural apparatuses that they control enormously, enormously, in an enormously important way. They have think tanks, they have research institutes, they've invaded universities, they've monopolized the cultural apparatuses.

So neoliberal ideology is enormously powerful. And they haven't given up on it, they use it. And I think they've normalized that ideology, the notion that, for instance, that economics should govern all of social life, to such a degree that it becomes increasingly difficult to challenge it. And I think in light of the other two registers that you mention, there's also that moment. I mean, to what degree do we begin to take education seriously about the production of a subject in which questions of individual and social agency are linked to democratic possibilities?
And so for me, there are three registers there that we need to address.

JAY: Yeah, I agree with that. I just, I would also just go back to the earlier point. I think the weak link in all of this is the African-American population and cities with big black populations. Because they're already living under kind of a police state, and you know -- .

GIROUX: But at the same time, you see in those studies, you see the emergence of various movements among black youth that are really challenging the ideology of neoliberalism since the 1980s.

JAY: And that's, that's my point. That, that could really, has already and could in a much more profound way, ignite a real opposition in the country.

GIROUX: I mean, think about the sheriff that we, the clip you played from. He very specifically mentions the black lives movement. National television, a major convention, and he associates it with anarchy. That to me is a victory for the black lives movement, while also a window into their refusal to actually deal with the questions that they're raising. Because any dominant ideology operates off the assumption that what it has to say is unaccountable and unquestionable.

JAY: All right. Thanks very much for joining us, Henry.

GIROUX: Okay, thank you.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.

Categories: Newswire

"Independent Women's Forum" Uses Misleading Branding to Push Right-Wing Agenda

August 19, 2016 - 4:00am

The Independent Women's Forum and its 501(c)(4) affiliate, the Independent Women's Voice, market themselves to the media and voters as "non-partisan," "independent," and "neutral."

However, a new investigation of the groups by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) reveals them to be anything but that. Joan Walsh in the Nation broke this story this week along with other new details about these not-so independent women's groups.

CMD's Reporters' Guide exposes the groups' leaders admitting to -- and boasting about -- their true role for what it is: finding ways to sell right-wing policies and candidates favored by their funders to reach independent women voters under the guise of neutrality.

IWV Boasts of Its Role in "Republican Conservative Arsenal"

"Being branded as neutral, but actually having people who know know that you're actually conservative puts us in a unique position," Heather Richardson Higgins, the President of the Independent Women's Voice and the Board Chair of the Independent Women's Forum, admitted in a speech to potential 2016 donors at a David Horowitz Freedom Center retreat.

"Our value here and what is needed in the Republican conservative arsenal is a group that can talk to those cohorts [women who are not Republican conservatives] that would not otherwise listen but can do it in a way that is taking a conservative message and packaging it in a way that will be acceptable," she said.

While the Independent Women's Forum and the Independent Women's Voice claim to the public and press that they are a mainstream voice for women voters, their spending and their leaders' speeches reveal the truth.

"Independent" is a PR term these groups use to appeal to women while pushing corporate-backed policies or extreme candidates that actually make things harder for working women and their families, in CMD's assessment.

IWF Attacks Work Policies It Admits Many Women Like

The Independent Women's Forum routinely attacks policies popular with many women, like equal pay, earned sick leave, and raising the minimum wage, as well as Title IX and protections for battered women.

And it has often done so by making extreme claims, which CMD also documents.

CMD's investigation includes analysis of remarks to right-wing donors by the Independent Women's Voice's leader Heather Higgins in 2015.

CMD also analyzed notes from a meeting of the secretive American Legislative Exchange Council in July, at which Independent Women's Forum President Sabrina Schaefer offered to help ALEC legislators "sell" corporate-backed alternatives to paid sick leave, equal pay, quality childcare, and workplace flexibility in their home states.

IWV Spent to Help "War on Women" GOP Candidates

CMD also describes how Independent Women's Voice made "independent expenditures" on political ads or calls to aid some of the most extreme "War on Women" GOP candidates, including the following:

  • It spent $67,242 to aid Missouri U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin with calls and independent voter outreach in November 2012, after Akin claimed on August 19, 2012 that rape victims couldn't get pregnant because "if it's legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."

  • It spent $176,991 on a "Romney wants Mourdock" ad after Indiana U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock asserted that when a woman is raped, she carries a "gift from God" and that such a pregnancy "is something that God intended to happen."

  • Joe Walsh, a GOP Rep. from Illinois claimed in the 2012 race against Tammy Duckworth that abortions to save a mother's life are never medically necessary. Two weeks later, Independent Women's Voice spent more than $5,000 on calls and outreach to independent voters in his district.

  • In the 2014 Senate races, CMD's research finds that Independent Women's Voice spent more than $850,000 on GOP candidates, most of whom had 0% NARAL ratings; it spent more than $5 million that year on related advocacy.

  • Higgins also told donors that Independent Women's Voice made the only significant independent expenditure in Mark Sanford's 2012 congressional race in South Carolina. She said Independent Women's Voice worked to convince "evangelicals to hold their nose and vote for Mark in order to be able to hold onto that seat and not have the liberal win it."

IWF's Koch Ties and More

CMD's investigation also includes an analysis of how the Independent Women's Forum works as part of the Koch policy world infrastructure through its staff and alliances.

No fewer than half of the Independent Women's Forum's full-time staff previously worked directly for Koch-controlled groups or for entities that received Koch funding.

The Independent Women's Forum also pushes numerous policies aligned with Koch-funded groups like David Koch's Americans for Prosperity and the American Legislative Exchange Council.

CMD's analysis also shows that between 2001 and 2014, DonorsTrust and DonorsCapital Fund -- funding entities with ties to the Koch network of billionaires -- gave the Independent Women's Forum a total of $5,344,000 in donations.

In a similar period, Koch-controlled foundations gave the group more than $800,000. Although many of the names of the Independent Women's Forum's big donors are not disclosed, documents analyzed by CMD reveal funding from the fossil fuel giant ExxonMobil and right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh, among others.

A review of tax filings shows that Higgins is the largest individually identified donor to IWF in recent years.

The full CMD Reporters' Guide is available here. And here are links to materials with quotes from IWF/V in general and about women's rights, civil rights, unions and worker rightsLGBTQ rightsour environmenteducationgunshealth, and the ACA.

Arn Pearson, Max Abbott, David Armiak, and Sari Williams also assisted with the report.

Categories: Newswire

McDonald's Could Be Held Liable for Franchise Wage Theft, Federal Judge Rules

August 19, 2016 - 4:00am

(Photo: Thomas Wanhoff; Edited: LW / TO)

A federal judge in California allowed class action wage theft litigation to proceed against McDonald's, on the grounds that a jury could find it guilty of negligence.

Judge Richard Seeborg said Tuesday that the lawsuit against the corporation may continue under the "ostensible agency theory."

The doctrine holds an actor responsible for the fault of another, if victims reasonably believe that the perpetrator committed wrongdoing in the employ of said actor.

The case involves McDonald's franchise co-owners, Bobby and Carol Haynes, who operate eight restaurants in Northern California. Leading the class are three women who work in one of their Oakland restaurants: Guadalupe Salazar, Judith Zarate, and Genoveva Lopez.

"Looking at the record, there is considerable evidence, albeit subject to dispute, that McDonalds caused plaintiffs reasonably to believe Haynes was acting as its agent," Seeborg ruled.

"[P]laintiffs submit they sought employment at McDonalds because it 'is a large corporation with many stores around the world,' 'would involve a steady job in a safe environment,' and 'would make sure [they were] paid and treated correctly, because it is a large corporation with standardized systems,'" he also said.

Seeborg also noted that the plaintiffs "believed both they and Haynes worked for McDonalds" (emphasis his).

Retail corporations have absolved themselves of much legal responsibility for working conditions they heavily influence by arguing that they are not "joint employers." They simply oversee a system of franchises and contractors, without directly impacting terms of employment, their lawyers often successfully argue.

Seeborg did say that his ruling came down to a "close call" and dismissed some of the workers' claims, but one of their attorneys was pleased with the decision, regardless.

"If plaintiffs prevail on our ostensible agency theory at trial, we will have no need to appeal the ruling on our other liability theories," Michael Rubin told Courthouse News. "And if we do not prevail at trial on ostensible agency, we have very strong grounds for appeal given the many disputed issues of fact that we believe are material to McDonald's 'joint employer' status."

Rubin is representing McDonalds workers in six class action wage theft lawsuits that were filed in 2014.

Another one of those cases, Ochoa v. McDonalds, is set to go to the trial phase in December, as Courthouse News noted. The case is also being argued in Northern California. It was also permitted under the ostensible agency doctrine.

If you want journalism that challenges authority and is accountable to you -- not to government or corporate interests -- then make a donation to Truthout today!

Categories: Newswire

Videos Surface of a Death in Custody the LAPD Didn't Want Released

August 19, 2016 - 4:00am

Early on the afternoon of June 4, 2012, Vachel Howard was handcuffed to a bench inside the Los Angeles Police Department's 77th Street Station Jail. He was 56 years old, and had been taken into custody for driving while intoxicated. The grandfather of seven had been strip-searched, and his shirt still hung open. Howard told the officers present that he suffered from schizophrenia. Police suspected he was high on cocaine.

Less than an hour later, Howard was pronounced dead at Good Samaritan Hospital, just miles from the jail. He had been released from the handcuffs, but later subdued by half a dozen officers after he became, by their testimony, "violent and combative." A coroner eventually listed three contributing causes of death: cocaine intoxication, heart disease, and a chokehold employed by one of the officers.

Two years of litigation followed before, in October of 2015, the city of Los Angeles agreed to pay Howard's family $2.85 million to settle a wrongful death claim.

The legal fight included dozens of depositions and competing medical opinions and claims of responsibility, all of them publicly filed in federal court in Los Angeles. What never became public, however, were 30 minutes of video showing Howard's death inside the 77th Street Station Jail -- recordings of a sequence of events that had enraged a family and cost Los Angeles taxpayers nearly $3 million. The tapes -- recorded by two fixed cameras in the jail -- had been filed with the judge in the case, S. James Otero, but when ProPublica requested the footage, Otero's clerk said he was unsure if the judge still had it, and that the judge's practice was not to make such material available to the news media. The police department denied a request for any video and the city attorney's office said it didn't have the footage.

ProPublica has now obtained copies of the tapes, and is publishing them in the interest of establishing a more complete public record of a controversial and costly death. The videos offer compelling evidence of how Howard died and how police and medical personnel at the jail responded to Howard's needs in the aftermath of an ultimately deadly jailhouse struggle.

The videos capture Howard in an agitated state on the station house bench. They show the officers shooting him with a Taser while simultaneously tackling him to the ground. For four minutes, six officers are either on top of or surrounding Howard, handcuffing his hands and feet. One officer is atop him, with a knee in his back. Another, at least briefly, can be seen with his arm around Howard's neck and shoulders. Officers and medical personnel slowly come to realize Howard is in distress. Four different people perform CPR over nine minutes. Finally, emergency medical personnel arrive and work on Howard for another eight minutes. Howard is then wheeled to an ambulance and police tape is used to cordon off the station house floor.

ProPublica contacted Howard's daughter and her lawyer. Tushana Howard said her father had struggled with drugs for years, but that he did not deserve to die that night in the jail. V. James DeSimone, Tushana Howard's lawyer, was more blunt.

"Mr. Howard posed no threat whatsoever," said DeSimone. "He was down on the ground, six officers on top of him, no guns in the nearby vicinity executing a chokehold where there was no threat to the officers or to anybody else. It's out of policy, it's unlawful, and in this case it's murder."

Officials with the police department and the city attorney's office would not comment. Neither agency admitted to wrongdoing as part of the settlement. The officer accused of using the chokehold, Juan Romero, was suspended for 22 days. Prosecutors decided not to pursue a case against Romero. In court filings, the police said Howard had tried to bite Romero and defended the officer's actions.

"Given what were indisputably tense and rapidly evolving circumstances, Officer Romero's decision to apply and upper body hold on the decedent was justified," the filing said.

The five-member board that reviewed the fatal encounter between Howard and the police was established in the 1920s. Known as the Board of Police Commissioners, it sets policy for the department and recommends discipline of officers. On April 16, 2013, it reviewed the Howard case and subsequently issued an 18-page summary of its findings. Its detailed analysis noted that some things might have been handled differently -- the decision to remove the handcuffs from Howard among them -- but determined that, as a matter of policy, only Romero's chokehold amounted to a violation.

Video recordings have played a central role in heightening the nation's attention on deadly interactions between the police and the public. They have surfaced in Chicago and New York, North Charleston, S.C., and Cleveland. Some of the videos have served as grim vindication for black communities whose allegations of police misconduct are often meet with skepticism, and whose calls for the punishment of offending officers often go unsatisfied. For their part, the police have argued the disputed episodes are isolated, and some officials have even claimed that the making and sharing of videos have hurt law enforcement's efforts to fight crime.

Video images such as those involving Howard's encounter with the LAPD have rarely been seen by Californians. Since the late 1970s, California law has specifically authorized police agencies to keep material involving real or alleged police misconduct secret from the general public. But the question of what police owe the public has been given fresh context as the LAPD moves to become the largest police department in the country to routinely outfit its officers with body cameras. The department so far has said it has no plans to make footage readily available to the public, even after deadly incidents.

The events that led to Howard's death began with a traffic stop. Officers had seen Howard's car swerving, crossing a center divide and nearly striking a car in oncoming traffic.

According to his family, Howard had made money restoring old cars and working with his father's lawn service. He had a history of drug use, but his daughter, Tushana, said she had years ago drawn a line with him. If he was to have a relationship with her children, she said, he would have to kick the drugs. Tushana said her father appeared to make good on the deal.

"He said his family was more important, and he wanted to be there for my kids," she said.

Tushana Howard said she was surprised to learn her father had cocaine in his system the day he died. Still, she made clear, his relapse hardly warranted his death.

"Someone's past doesn't determine who they are in the present and people shouldn't assume the worst," she said.

Howard's initial arrest, however, did not go smoothly, involving a car chase and a tense standoff with officers, one of whom wound up drawing his weapon. Howard had driven off after the initial stop, and according to the commission's report, officers worried that he had reached under the driver's side seat for a gun when he again came to a halt. Howard eventually got out of the car and was handcuffed. The two arresting officers noted Howard was sweating profusely, that his speech was repetitive, and that he seemed paranoid, but there was no further drama in the patrol car as they transported him for evaluation and booking.

At the jail, Howard was strip-searched, during which an officer said Howard described himself as a paranoid schizophrenic and indicated that he had not recently been taking his prescribed medication. On one video -- there is no accompanying audio for either tape -- Howard and several officers can be seen returning to the jail lobby after the search. Howard appears to have been told by an officer to sit on a bench. He sits down and is handcuffed to the bench. He appears agitated and moves constantly while on the bench, turning from left to right and gesturing at officers.

Howard sits on the bench for about 90 seconds before an officer begins to unshackle him. At that point, another officer, Maryann Bunag, enters the camera's view and un-holsters her stun gun. Howard, who still appears to be talking to officers, is escorted out of the camera's view. Court records state that Howard was being taken to see a nurse in the dispensary. Howard and the officers are off camera for about 90 seconds.

The report by the board of commissioners said officers claimed Howard became uncooperative and refused to be assessed by a nurse. He was, the officers said, verbally abusive, and had advanced toward the nurse, prompting her to scream. One officer described Howard, 5-foot–8, 247 pounds, as having been foaming at the mouth during the earlier strip search.

What followed was an extended wrestling match, one that spilled back into the camera's view. Four officers can be seen grabbing at Howard's waist and legs. A Taser was employed five times, according to the commission's report. The officers said Howard was unfazed, often swearing and once removing the Taser probes from his body. The officers reported that at least twice they themselves were exposed to the Taser's electrical charge.

Once Howard is on the ground, a fifth and sixth officer join the fracas. It is then that Romero alleges Howard tried to bite him. The officers told the commission they feared for their lives.

It is difficult to clearly see Romero in the video. But the commission summed up his actions:

"Detention Officer A placed his right arm around the subject's neck, with his right bicep pressed into the right side of the subject's neck, and his right forearm pressed into the left side of the subject's neck. Detention Officer A cupped his left hand over his right wrist, and applied downward pressure with his bodyweight as the subject tried to push off the floor with his right hand."

Romero said he applied the hold for only five seconds. He said Howard did not lose consciousness, and that he let go of Howard's neck once another officer got on top of Howard and put a knee into his back.

Officers eventually handcuff Howard and bind his feet. Officer Richard Fox, 6-foot–3, 230 pounds, then puts his knee into Howard's back and keeps it there for about a minute in order to maintain control, and because, he said in a deposition, he was utterly exhausted.

Howard is visibly motionless. One officer uses his feet to move Howard's feet, but there is no visible response from Howard. About 40 seconds later, a nurse, Irene Rowe, responds to calls from officers and peers over Howard. She walks away to retrieve her stethoscope.

While Rowe is retrieving her stethoscope, officers can be seen laughing and smiling. It is unclear what prompts the chuckling or what is said. When Rowe returns about 50 seconds later she appears to have a hard time assessing Howard because he is lying on his side or stomach. The officers then roll Howard over on his back.

Another 20 seconds pass. Rowe couldn't hear Howard's heart, she testified. He wasn't breathing. Fox makes a 911 call on the radio for an ambulance.

Rowe then begins her first compressions on Howard's chest, nearly 4 minutes after he was first visibly motionless. The resuscitation effort is interrupted momentarily to allow officers to roll Howard on his side so they could undo his handcuffs and foot restraints. Medical staff and officers, including Romero, spend the next nine minutes compressing Howard's chest until paramedics arrive. He was never revived. The coroner found hemorrhages and fractured cartilage in Howard's neck.

Howard, who was affectionately called Big Duck by friends and family because of the way he walked, was laid to rest on June 16, 2012 in Inglewood, California. A number of restored late-model vehicles and their owners were present in tribute at Howard's funeral. His family filed their lawsuit in March of 2013, asserting that Howard was the victim of abusive treatment and unnecessary use of deadly force in the form of a chokehold.

Across the months of legal sparring, lawyers for the department and the city cited Howard's obesity, health history and state of delirium as critical to his death. One officer described Howard as super human, akin to the cartoon character the Hulk.

The family said through its lawyer that it had no knowledge of any mental health history for Howard. They blamed the chokehold, and argued that the officers and nurses failed to render aid to Howard in a timely fashion.

"They're noticeably laughing on the video when they've essentially just killed a man and he's lying at their feet," said DeSimone, the lawyer for Howard's daughter, of one moment in the episode.

The LAPD declined requests by ProPublica to speak with the officers involved.

The Board of Commissioners that reviewed the incident included two former US Attorneys, including one who had investigated the infamous Rodney King beating, as well as a civil rights leader and law school dean. Its report offers a detailed chronology, from the traffic stop through Howard's departure for the hospital from the jail. The board notes that the officers initially failed to broadcast a required alert during the chase, but determined that the circumstances made that understandable. It noted that re-handcuffing Howard after he had been freed from the jail bench "would have been tactically prudent," but did not amount to a policy violation. It faulted an officer for how she holstered her Taser, but found its repeated use to have been reasonable.

Only Romero was sanctioned in any way. The board noted Howard was on the ground in a controlled position with five officers on top of him and two others monitoring. It said Howard's attempt to bite Romero did not equate to a deadly threat and did not require the chokehold.

"Given the totality of the circumstances," the board wrote, "the BOPC found that a detention officer with similar training and experience as detention officer a, while faced with similar circumstances, would not reasonably believe that the subject's actions presented an imminent threat of serious bodily injury or death. The BOPC found detention officer a's use of lethal force to be out of policy."

The penalty was a suspension of 22 days. Romero was soon back on the job.

Earlier this year, California State Sen. Mark Leno put forward a bill that would have given the public more access to police disciplinary records and videos. This was Leno's second attempt to change the state's laws pertaining to police misconduct. But Leno's bill didn't so much as make it out of committee.

Police officers do important and dangerous work critical to a civil society, and that work is based on trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve, said Leno.

"But the lack of transparency and accountability does not serve the establishment of trust," he said. "We're now seeing throughout the country, due to a lack of transparency and an inability for the public to access important information, that that trust is seriously frayed."

A member of the board that suspended Romero after Howard's death told the Los Angeles Times last month that the LAPD's policy on police videos needed to be revisited. The board member said he and his colleagues would look into how other cities are handling police videos.

For Tushana Howard, the lack of transparency by the authorities can wind up diminishing those whose lives have been lost or damaged.

"It sort of says that we don't matter because we don't have the badge backing us," she said. "They matter more than we do. It's more important for them to go home to their families instead of the people they come in contact with to return to their families as well."

Warning: This video shows graphic content. 

Categories: Newswire

What You Need to Know About the DOJ's Claim It Is Ending Private Prisons

August 19, 2016 - 4:00am

An aerial view of the yard at the Albert M. "Bo" Robinson Assessment and Treatment Center in Trenton, New Jersey, on April 19, 2012. The Bo Robinson center is run by a company with deep ties to Gov. Chris Christie that dominates New Jersey's system of large halfway houses, where there has been little state oversight, despite widespread problems. (Richard Perry / The New York Times)

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The U.S. Justice Department issued a memo, first reported Thursday by Matt Zapotosky and Chico Harlan of the Washington Post, in which the federal agency claims that it will end the use of private prisons.

"I am eager to enlist your help in beginning the process of reducing -- and ultimately ending -- our use of privately operated prisons," wrote Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates. "As you know, all of the Bureau's existing contracts with private prison companies are term-limited and subject to renewal or termination. I am directing that, as each contract reaches the end of its term, the Bureau should either decline to renew that contract or substantially reduce its scope in a manner consistent with law and the overall decline of the Bureau's inmate population."

The declaration has been met with considerable fanfare among a public weary of mass incarceration. In a country that comprises just 5 percent of the global population, the U.S. is responsible for locking up 20 percent of the world’s prison population.

However, human rights campaigners and scholars of prisons and criminality are greeting the announcement with caution. Christopher Petrella is a lecturer at Bates College who sits on the board of Grassroots Leadership. He told AlterNet, "This is a small slice of a large pie, and I worry that our diagnostic tool is the microscope when it should be a mountaintop."

DOJ Plan Doesn't Reduce Prison Population

While private prisons have been rightfully rebuked for their human rights abuses, they ultimately are not the key driver behind mass incarceration, a point illustrated in the following graph provided by the Prison Policy Initiative:

Ruth Wilson Gilmore, professor at the City University of New York and expert in race, prisons and capitalism, pointed out in an article published last February, "Private prisons hold about 8 percent of the prison population and a barely measurable number (5 percent) of those in jails. Overall, about 5 percent of the people locked up are doing time in private prisons."

In fact, according to the reporting of Zapotosky and Harlan, the directive is "limited to the 13 privately run facilities, housing a little more than 22,000 inmates, in the federal Bureau of Prisons system."

Gilmore argued that, to truly take on the horrors of mass incarceration, it is necessary to take on public prisons. "What kind of future will prison divestment campaigns produce if they pay no attention to the money that flows through and is extracted from the public prisons and jails, where 95 percent of inmates are held?" she posed. "Jurisdiction by jurisdiction, we can see that contracts come and go, without a corresponding change in the number or the demographic identity of people in custody. In addition, many contracts are not even held by private firms, but by rather municipalities to whom custody has been delegated by state corrections departments."

Won't Address Human Rights Abuses in Immigrant Detention Centers

Because the memo only applies to Bureau of Prison facilities, it will not impact notorious immigrant detention centers -- the fastest growing area of the U.S. private prison industry. As of last year, 62 percent all beds in ICE immigrant detention centers were operated by for-profit companies -- a significant jump from 49 percent in 2009.

For-profit immigrant detention centers, some of which house mothers with their children, have been rocked by repeated protests and hunger strikes against inhumane conditions.

Bethany Carson, immigration researcher and organizer for Grassroots Leadership, told AlterNet, "We believe that the DOJ should sever all contracts with for-profit prisons." Grassroots Leadership found in a report last year that the private prison industry has played a critical role in driving harsh and inhumane immigration policies. The organization’s report, titled "Payoff: How Congress Ensures Private Prison Profit with an Immigrant Detention Quota," found:

In 2009, in the midst of a multi-year decline in the undocumented immigrant population,[1] Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), then Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, inserted the following language regarding Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) detention budget into the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act of 2010: "…funding made available under this heading shall maintain a level of not less than 33,400 detention beds."[2] This directive established what would become a controversial policy interpreted by ICE as a mandate to contract for and fill 33,400 (increased in 2013 to 34,000)[3] detention beds on a daily basis. The directive would come to be known as the "immigrant detention quota" or "bed mandate." The immigration detention quota is unprecedented; no other law enforcement agency operates under a detention quota mandated by Congress.

Revival of "Law-and-Order" Framework

In her memo, Yates proclaimed that private prisons "do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department’s Office of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security."

According to Petrella, "the language reads like private prisons don’t provide the same level of correctional services and don’t maintain the same safety and security. That’s a very conservative framework within which to house an ostensibly progressive intervention. It tacitly forces a law-and-order paradigm and reinforces the legitimacy of public prisons."

"By a law-and-order framework, I mean the rhetorical strategies that shore up broad-based support for continued criminalization of marginalized communities in this country," Petrella continued. "Shifting populations does nothing to disturb that paradigm at all. If anything, it reinforces the paradigm by allowing white moderates and liberals to pat themselves on the backs and inoculate themselves of guilt."

Announcement Has Not Curbed Prison Profiteering

It is too soon to determine exactly how the new directive will play out, particularly given that it does not apply to existing contracts and it is not yet clear what it will mean to "substantially reduce" contracts.

Prison profiteering extends into both public and private prisons, in an industry where ankle monitors and prison phone calls bring windfall profits. While private prison stocks have taken a nose dive following the DOJ announcement, Petrella thinks they will bounce back. "I am unconvinced that that is the new normal for them," he said. "They will probably announce a new venture over the next month or so."

Some human rights campaigners are greeting the DOJ’s announcement with cautious optimism. "We must end prison profiteering as a part of mass decarceration and reconciliation," Danielle Chynoweth, organizer with the Center for Media Justice, told AlterNet. "The DOJ's decision is a great first step. But we also need to take on auxiliary services like the private prison phone industry that to this day continues to fight reasonable regulation of phone call costs. As part of the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, we have worked for over a decade to keep families connected. Because of industry blockades, many families are still waiting for phone justice."

Others warn that it is dangerous to overstate the accomplishment. "This is another example of a more symbolic prison reform, which is what the prison reforms of the last few years have been," Dan Berger, the author ofCaptive Nation: Black Prison Organizing in the Civil Rights Era, told AlterNet. "It makes a difference to some people’s lives, but it is nowhere near the sweeping and realizable changes that are needed."

Categories: Newswire

Economic Update: The System Exposed

August 19, 2016 - 4:00am

This episode of Professor Wolff's radio show discusses the economics of the Olympics, mass transit, productivity truths and the crimes of the Pacific Gas and Electric Company. The show also examines political conflict between unions and the rich.

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

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Categories: Newswire

TiSA: Big Brother and Big Business Together

August 18, 2016 - 4:00am

(Photo: Tim Dorr)

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President Obama started a fresh push for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) on Friday when he sent Congress a draft Statement of Administrative Action.

That action means that after 30 days, the White House will be able to present Congress with legislation on the TPP.

And on Tuesday, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton chose Ken Salazar, who is an aggressively outspoken supporter of the TPP, to lead her White House transition team, despite the fact that Clinton has come out firmly against the TPP.

See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.

Salazar's appointment raises serious questions about what we can expect from a Clinton administration, and whether she's sincere in her opposition to the TPP and other so-called "free trade" deals that are still being negotiated.

And it's important to remember why these trade deals are so dangerous to begin with.

Activists from the right and the left have been working hard to raise awareness about the dangers of the TPP and its transatlantic cousin, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

But by far the most sweeping deal that's being negotiated in secret and largely overlooked by activists is the Trade in Services Agreement, also known as TiSA.

TiSA will undermine citizens' privacy and governments' sovereignty, and negotiators are hoping to have a deal finalized by the end of this year.

Paola Casale at EconomyInCrisis writes bluntly about TiSA that, "You may be asking: 'how does this affect me?' The best one sentence response I can come up with is: 'how does this not affect you.'"

Fifty-one countries would be initially governed by TiSA, including the United States, the European Union, and 22 other nations from around the world, representing 70 percent of the world's services' trade.

If it goes into effect, it would cover close to 80 percent of the US economy that falls under the heading of "services."

"Services" is a broad term that covers all sorts of things, such as shipping, air travel, e-commerce, telecommunications, the internet, health care, financial services, engineering and the list goes on and on.

Based on leaked texts and summaries published by the European Union, it's clear that TiSA aims to go even further than the World Trade Organization (WTO) to globalize markets, functionally destroy national borders, and to create new corporate-friendly rules and regulations in sectors like e-commerce and financial services.

TiSA would include a "standstill clause" for financial services, and Switzerland has proposed that the agreement force all signatories to allow "any new financial service" to enter the market, which would virtually guarantee that banks all over the world, freed from sovereign regulation, would adopt the same sort of reckless speculation that destroyed the global economy just eight years ago.

The deal also aims to make it so that banks and e-commerce outlets like Amazon could send an individual's data out of a TiSA country for processing, regardless of national privacy laws, breaking with centuries of precedent on locally kept business records accounting to David Dayen at The New Republic.

Alberto Mucci recently explained in an article on Politico that, "TiSA deals with barriers to services' trade such as the conditions by which lawyers from Norway might be able to practice in the United States or German engineers might gain easier access to Mexico."

In other words, TiSA will have profound impacts on immigration and employment policies in every single country that takes part in the agreement.

More than that, it will cripple our democratic republic by making it even easier for corporations to manage or strike down our public laws.

In recent months under existing trade laws, we've seen Canada and Mexico successfully sue the United States to force us to overturn our "Country Of Origin Labeling" law for meat imports.

And Transcanada is suing the United States right now for $15 billion as retaliation for President Obama's rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Dayen also reported last year that under TiSA, "governments may not be able to regulate staff to patient ratios in hospitals, or ban fracking, or tighten safety controls on airlines, or refuse accreditation to [bad] schools and universities. Foreign corporations must receive the same 'national treatment' as domestic ones, and could argue that such regulations violate their ability to provide the service."

Based on leaked documents, we know that democratically passed government regulations would only be allowed so long as they are not "more burdensome than necessary to ensure the quality of service."

That would likely mean gutting important rules on financial services, foreign investment limits and it could force state-owned public services around the world to compete with foreign corporations.

Almost every single country that's taking part in the TiSA negotiations is already part of the WTO, and the agreement is actually based on the WTO's General Agreement on Trade in Services, also known as GATS, which includes 159 member countries.

And it's telling that TiSA involves WTO member nations and is based on the WTO, because as Dayen points out, "The only reason to re-write the rules is to replace GATS, which the European Union readily admits."
On the European Commission's webpage it says very clearly that "if enough WTO members join, TiSA could be turned into a broader WTO agreement."

In other words, TiSA isn't just another sweeping regional trade agreement like the TPP or the TTIP.

TiSA aims to corporatize markets and functionally destroy borders around the world so that Corporate Big Brother can know everything about everyone, and so that Big Business can sell anything to anyone, no matter the harm it may cause.

Call your lawmakers and tell them that you oppose any trade deal that gives corporations the ability to challenge the sovereignty of governments around the world.  

Instead, democratic republics should be able to pass and enforce laws and trade policies that first serve the best interests of its citizens instead of transnational corporations and billionaires. 

Just say "no" to TPP, TTIP and especially to TiSA. 

Categories: Newswire

Justice Department Announces Initiative to End Use of For-Profit Prisons

August 18, 2016 - 4:00am

The yard at the Albert M. "Bo" Robinson Assessment and Treatment Center in Trenton, New Jersey, March 13, 2012. The Bo Robinson center is run by a company with deep ties to Gov. Chris Christie that dominates New Jersey's system of large halfway houses, where there has been little state oversight, despite widespread problems. (Richard Perry / The New York Times)

The Justice Department said that it will attempt to cease its use of for-profit prisons, in the wake of a scathing inspector general investigation that found privately-run detention centers are more dangerous and inefficiently run than public sector counterparts.

Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates revealed the move on Thursday in a directive ordering department officials to either let corporate prisons' contracts expire or to "substantially reduce" reliance on their services.

The purpose of the initiative is "reducing -- and ultimately ending -- our use of privately operated prisons," Yates said, according to The Washington Post. There are currently 13 privately-run federal correctional institutions under the Justice Department.

"The fact of the matter is that private prisons don't compare favorably to Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facilities in terms of safety or security or services, and now with the decline in the federal prison population, we have both the opportunity and the responsibility to do something about that," Yates told the paper.

She said that DOJ officials had been discussing for months how to end reliance on the facilities. Scrutiny of private prisons has increased this year in the wake of exposes published by Mother Jones and The Nation magazines, the Post noted.

The move to end department use of for-profit prisons already began, Yates said in her memo, when the Bureau of Prisons decided against renewing a contract for a 1,200-bed private facility in New Mexico.

She predicted that by May 1, 2017, the population throughout privately-operated federal facilities would be less than 14,200. She also said for-profit prison contracts would all be subject to renewal within the next five years.

"We have to be realistic about the time it will take, but that really depends on the continuing decline of the federal prison population, and that's really hard to accurately predict," Yates added.

The federal private prison population reached a fulcrum in 2013, after for-profit prisons were first established by the Justice Department under the George W. Bush administration. Yates said it started to diminish due to a push to adjust sentencing guidelines and relative leniency for minor drug offenders.

She also described for-profit prisons as having "served an important role during a difficult time period."

There are currently 22,660 federal inmates at BOP-contracted facilities. The prisons are managed by three companies: the Corrections Corporation of America, GEO Group, Inc. and the Management Training Corporation. The population and their prisons accounts for roughly 12 percent of the total federal prison population.

The Justice Department inspector general report, which was released last week, revealed that BOP outlays on for-profit prisons increased to $639 million in 2014, from $569 million in 2011, despite the decline in population.

According to the findings, "contract prisons" experience higher rates of assaults and use of force by guards. They also experienced more lockdowns, inmate disciplinary actions, and more grievances filed by prisoners against staff.

Earlier this week, The Washington Post also exposed how the Corrections Corporation of America was chosen in 2014 by the Department of Homeland Security -- in a secretive no-bid, four-year contract -- to run immigration detention facilities for $1 billion.

The family detention centers were opened as part of Secretary Jeh Johnson's "aggressive deterrence strategy," amid an uptick in the arrival of asylum-seekers from Central America. The strategy was later effectively declared legal in two separate rulings by federal judges.

Asylum seekers were not held in detention in the US "until two years ago," the Post noted.

"They instead settled in whatever town they chose, told to eventually appear in court," the paper said.

The Justice Department's decision Thursday has no bearing on DHS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities.

Categories: Newswire

Turkey and Iran Reach Agreement on Conditions for Syria Peace

August 18, 2016 - 4:00am

The surprise agreement on Syria between Turkey and Iran, which sidelines the US, may have much to do with Turkey's concerns that the US alliance with the Kurdish Democratic Union Party militia against Daesh may lead to an eventual push for Kurdish statehood.

President Obama and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey leave after holding a joint news conference, at the White House in Washington, May 16, 2013. (Doug Mills / The New York Times)

In a stunning diplomatic surprise, Turkey and Iran have announced a preliminary agreement on fundamental principles for a settlement of the Syrian conflict.

The dramatic turn in the diplomacy of the Syria War was revealed in Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim's regular weekly speech to the ruling AKP Party in the parliament and confirmed by a senior Iranian foreign ministry official Tuesday.

Both Yildirim's speech and the Iranian corroboration were reported Tuesday by Al-Araby Al-Jadeed and Al-Hayat, Arabic-language newspapers published in London, but the potentially pivotal development has been unreported thus far in Western news media.

The common approach to a Syria settlement outlined by Turkey and Iran represent what appears to be the first significant diplomatic break in a five-year international conflict on Syria that has been immune from any real peace negotiations up to now. International conferences on Syria under UN auspices have generated no real moves toward compromise.

The new negotiations between Iran and Turkey are the result of a major policy shift by the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan toward diplomatic cooperation with Russia and Iran on Syria and away from alignment with the United States and its Gulf allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Turkey has been coordinating military assistance to the armed opposition to the Assad government -- including jihadists and other hardline extremists -- with Saudi Arabia and Qatar since early in the war. However, Erdogan began searching in May for an alternative policy more in line with Turkey's primary strategic interest in Syria: containing the threat of Kurdish demands for a separate state.

The announced agreement on broad principles for ending the Syrian crisis is only the beginning of a process of negotiations on the details of a settlement, as Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Jaberi Ansari made clear. "This agreement on the general lines will contribute to creating an environment suitable to solving the Syrian crisis," Ansari said, according to Al Hayat.

It is also possible that Turkey may be planning to use the threat of allying with Russia and Iran on Syria to force the United States to reduce its own reliance on Kurdish forces in Northern Syria -- the main issue dividing US and Turkish policies toward the conflict. But Yildirim had already hinted last month -- before the failed military coup in Turkey and the launching of a new offensive by al-Qaeda's al-Nusra Front around and in Aleppo -- at Turkey's intention to revise its policy toward Syria in order to prevent Kurdish forces in Syria from establishing their own mini-state.

Yildirim said in his speech Tuesday that the solution to the Syrian crisis would require "two basic conditions: first to preserve the territorial unity of Syria and second, establishing a system of government in which all ethnicities and religions are represented."

In the context of the territorial unity issue, Yildirim raised the specter of an international drift toward the partitioning of Syria. "Someone would come and say, I will give the West of Syria to one," he said, "and the south to another and the north to the Kurds."

"This is not possible," said Yildirim, meaning that Turkey would not stand for it.

The Turkish prime minister's reference to the threat of partition in general and Kurdish inheritance of much of northern Syria in particular was clearly aimed at the Obama administration's de facto military alliance with the YPG militia units of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in the war against Daesh. That policy has encouraged the Kurds to continue to extend their territorial control westward along the Turkish border.

Turkey is especially upset that the YPG units have already moved west of the Euphrates River, which was Turkey's publicly announced "red line," and don't intend to stop. Turkey has been demanding that the United States keep its promise that the Kurds will retreat to east of the Euphrates, but the YPG has said it intends to link Manbij -- the city west of the Euphrates that it has just helped recover from Daesh -- with Afrin and then gain control of al-Bab city on the border, thus uniting two previously separate Kurdish zones of control.

Turkey fears that a consolidation of Kurdish power over such a large territory on the Turkish border will embolden the militant Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Turkey to demand its own state. "A Kurdish state in the Middle East," Yildirim declared, "will not bring a solution."

On the second condition for a settlement, Yildirim said there is a "possibility to establish a Syrian administration in which all of Syria's religious communities and ethnicities can be represented...." After that was accomplished, he said, "there will be no obstacle to reaching a solution."

Al-Hayat quoted Ansari as saying that a third principle discussed but not agreed on was that "the Syrian people will decide their own fate." That was apparently a coded reference to the fate of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Turkey has publicly insisted in the past that Assad must step down before a settlement can be reached.

Yildirim's language on the second principle and Ansari's further clarification suggest that Turkey is dangling before Iran and Russia the possibility that Assad could remain in the government if Turkey is satisfied with a set of reforms to assure that all ethnic and religious communities in Syria have adequate political representation. Despite speculation by pundits that Iran would not mind having Syria carved up into a set of enclaves under foreign protection, Tehran has responded with unconditional endorsement of the Turkish demand.

The principles that have been announced indicate that Turkey will insist on Russia and Iran using their weight in Syria to pressure the Kurds to retreat from their territorial gains in the northwest. Turkey, in return, would have to halt all support for the armed opposition, starting with its favorite Syrian military client Ahrar al Sham and that group's close political-military ally, the newly renamed Jabhat Fateh al-Sham -- the al-Qaeda affiliate formerly called Jabhat al-Nusra.

Russia was instrumental in initiating the new diplomatic approach with Turkey. On August 8, just before Erdogan met with President Putin in St. Petersburg, Mikhail Bogdanov, Russia's deputy foreign minister for Middle East and Africa, met with Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmet Yildiz for four hours, Iran's Ansari told Al-Hayat.

After that summit, Bogdanov briefed Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on the Russian-Turkish discussions related to Syria. That led to Zarif's crucial visit to Ankara last Friday -- including a meeting with Erdogan -- which Ansari said was necessary to the formulation of the framework that was agreed to by Turkey.

The two countries will try to keep the diplomatic momentum toward an agreement this coming week, when Turkey's Yildiz will travel to Tehran for more negotiations on the framework, according to Al-Hayat. Although it is still partial and tentative, the framework appears to offer far more hope for peace than any cooperation between Russia and an Obama administration without any consistent strategy.

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Categories: Newswire

The Far Right Proposals in the 2016 Republican Party Platform

July 24, 2016 - 4:00am

The Republican Party platform is a wish list for what Republicans in Congress and Donald Trump would like to impose on America. What's surprising is that it goes further to the right than what's even been heard on the campaign trail from Trump as he has promised to build a wall along the Mexican border and embrace the religious right's long-held tenets opposing abortion, LGBT rights and more.

The GOP 2016 platform would make Christianity the official American religion, English the official American language, replace sex education with abstinence-only advice for teenagers, privatize almost all areas of federal services, cut taxes and regulations for the rich and titans of industry, and impose a belligerent foreign policy and military build-up.

Here are 50 excerpts from the 2016 GOP platform.

1. Tax cuts for the rich: "Wherever tax rates penalize thrift or discourage investment, they must  be  lowered.  Wherever  current  provisions  of  the  code  are  disincentives  for  economic growth,  they  must  be  changed… We propose to level the international playing field by lowering the corporate  tax  rate  to  be  on  a  par  with,  or  below,  the  rates  of  other  industrial  nations."

2. Deregulate the banks: "The  Republican  vision  for  American  banking calls for establishing transparent, efficient markets where consumers can obtain loans they need at reasonable rates based on market conditions. Unfortunately, in response to the financial institutions crisis of 2008-2009, the Democratic-controlled Congress enacted the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, otherwise known as Dodd-Frank."

3. Stop consumer protection: "The  worst  of  Dodd-Frank  is  the  Consumer  Financial Protection Bureau, deliberately designed to be a rogue agency. It answers to neither Congress nor the executive, has its own guaranteed funding outside  the  appropriations  process… If the Bureau is not abolished, it should be subjected to congressional appropriation."

4. Start repealing environmental laws: "We call for a comprehensive review of federal regulations, especially those dealing with the environment, that make it harder  and  more costly for Americans to rent, buy, or sell homes."

5. Start shrinking unions and union labor: "We renew our call for repeal of the Davis-Bacon law, which limits employment and drives up construction and maintenance costs for the benefit of unions… Although  unionization  has  never  been  permitted in any government agency concerned with national  security,  the  current  Administration  has  reversed  that  policy  for  the  Transportation  Security  Administration.  We  will  correct  that  mistake… We  support  the  right  of  states  to  enact  Right-to-Work  laws  and  call  for  a  national law to protect the economic liberty of the modern workforce."

6. Privatize federal railway service: "Amtrak  is  an  extremely  expensive   railroad   for   the   American taxpayers, who must subsidize every ticket. The federal  government  should  allow  private ventures to provide passenger service in the northeast corridor.  The  same  holds  true  with  regard  to  high-speed  and  intercity rail across the country.  We reaffirm our intention to end federal  support  for  boondoggles  like  California's  high-speed train to nowhere."  

7. No change in federal minimum wage: "Minimum wage is an issue that should be handled at the state and local level."

8. Cut government salaries and benefits: "The taxpayers spend an average of $35,000 a year per employee on non-cash benefits, triple  the  average  non-cash  compensation  of  the  average  worker  in  the  private  sector.  Federal  employees receive extraordinary pension benefits and vacation  time  wildly  out  of  line  with  those  of  the  private sector."

9. Appoint anti-choice Supreme Court justices: "Only  a  Republican  president  will  appoint  judges  who  respect  the  rule  of  law  expressed within the Constitution and Declaration of  Independence,  including  the  inalienable  right  to life and the laws of nature and nature's God, as did the late Justice Antonin Scalia."

10. Appoint anti-LGBT and anti-Obamacare justices: "Only such appointments will enable courts to begin to reverse the  long  line  of  activist  decisions  —  including  Roe, Obergefell, and the Obamacare cases — that have  usurped  Congress's  and  states'  lawmaking  authority."

11. Legalize anti-LGBT discrimination: "We endorse the First Amendment Defense Act, Republican legislation in the House and Senate which  will  bar  government  discrimination  against  individuals and businesses for acting on the belief that  marriage  is  the  union  of  one  man  and  one  woman."

12. Make Christianity a national religion: "We  support  the  public  display  of  the  Ten  Commandments as a reflection of our history and our country's Judeo-Christian heritage and further affirm the rights of religious students to engage in voluntary prayer at public school events and to have equal access to school facilities."

13. Loosen campaign finance loopholes and dark money: "Freedom of speech includes the right to devote resources  to  whatever  cause  or  candidate  one  supports. We oppose any restrictions or conditions that would discourage citizens from participating in the  public  square  or  limit  their  ability  to  promote  their ideas, such as requiring private organizations to publicly disclose their donors to the government."

14. Loosen gun controls nationwide: "We  support  firearm  reciprocity  legislation  to  recognize  the  right  of  law-abiding  Americans to carry firearms to protect themselves and  their  families  in  all  50  states.  We  support  constitutional  carry  statutes  and  salute  the  states  that  have  passed  them.  We  oppose  ill-conceived  laws  that  would  restrict  magazine  capacity  or  ban  the  sale  of  the  most  popular  and  common  modern rifle."

15. Pass an anti-choice constitutional amendment: "We  assert  the  sanctity  of  human  life  and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a  human  life  amendment  to  the  Constitution  and  legislation  to  make  clear  that  the  Fourteenth  Amendment's protections apply to children before birth."

16. End federal funding for Planned Parenthood: "We oppose the use of public funds to perform or promote abortion or to fund organizations, like Planned  Parenthood,  so  long  as  they  provide  or  refer for elective abortions or sell fetal body parts rather than provide healthcare."

17. Allow states to shut down abortion Clinics: "We  condemn the Supreme Court's  activist  decision  in  Whole  Woman's  Health v. Hellerstedt striking down commonsense Texas laws providing for basic health and safety standards in abortion  clinics."

18. Oppose stem cell scientific research: "We  oppose  embryonic  stem  cell  research.  We  oppose  federal  funding  of  embryonic  stem cell research.  We support adult stem cell research and urge the  restoration  of  the  national  placental stem cell bank created by President George H.W. Bush but  abolished  by  his  Democrat  successor, President Bill Clinton. We  oppose  federal  funding  for  harvesting embryos and call for a ban on human cloning."

19. Oppose executive branch policy making: "We condemn the current Administration's unconstitutional  expansion  into  areas  beyond  those  specifically  enumerated,  including  bullying  of state and local governments in matters ranging from voter identification (ID) laws to immigration, from  healthcare  programs  to  land  use  decisions,  and  from  forced  education  curricula  to  school  restroom policies."

20. Oppose efforts to end the electoral college: "We oppose the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact  and  any  other  scheme  to  abolish  or distort the procedures of the Electoral College."

21. Require citizenship documents to register to vote: "We  support  legislation  to  require  proof  of  citizenship  when  registering  to  vote  and  secure  photo  ID  when  voting. We strongly oppose litigation against states exercising their sovereign authority to enact such laws."

22. Ignore undocumented immigrants when drawing congressional districts: "In  order  to  preserve  the principle of one person, one vote, we urge our elected representatives to ensure that citizenship, rather than mere residency, be made the basis for the  apportionment  of  representatives  among  the  states."

23. No labeling of GMO ingredients in food products: "The  intrusive  and  expensive  federal mandates on food options and menu labeling should be  ended  as  soon  as  possible  by  a  Republican  Congress.  We  oppose  the  mandatory  labeling  of  genetically modified food, which has proven to be safe, healthy, and a literal life-saver for millions in the developing world."

24. Add work requirements to welfare and cut food stamps: Nearly all the work requirements for able-bodied adults, instituted by our  landmark  welfare  reform  of  1996,  have  been  removed.  We  will  restore  those  provisions  and,  to correct a mistake made when the Food Stamp program  was  first  created  in  1964,  separate  the  administration  of  SNAP  [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program] from  the  Department  of  Agriculture.

25. Open America's shores to more oil and gas drilling: "We support the opening of public lands and the outer continental shelf to exploration and responsible production, even if these resources will not be immediately developed."

26. Build the Keystone XL Pipeline: "The  Keystone  Pipeline  has  become  a  symbol  of  everything  wrong  with  the  current  Administration's  ideological  approach.  After years of delay, the President killed it to satisfy environmental extremists. We intend to finish that pipeline and others as part of our commitment to North American energy security."

27. Expand fracking and burying nuclear waste: "A  federal  judge  has  struck  down  the  BLM's rule on hydraulic fracturing and we support upholding  this  decision.  We  respect  the  states'  proven  ability  to  regulate  the  use  of  hydraulic  fracturing,  methane  emissions,  and  horizontal  drilling,  and  we  will  end  the  Administration's  disregard  of  the  Nuclear  Waste  Policy  Act  with  respect to the long-term storage of nuclear waste."

28. No tax on carbon products: "We oppose any carbon tax… We  urge the private sector to focus its resources on the development of carbon capture and sequestration technology still in its early stages here and overseas. "

29. Ignore global climate change agreements: "The  United  Nations'  Intergovernmental  Panel  on  Climate  Change  is  a  political  mechanism,  not  an  unbiased  scientific  institution.  Its  unreliability  is  reflected  in  its  intolerance  toward  scientists  and  others  who  dissent  from  its  orthodoxy.  We  will  evaluate  its  recommendations  accordingly.  We  reject  the  agendas of both the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement,  which  represent  only  the  personal  commitments   of   their   signatories;   no   such   agreement can be binding upon the United States until it is submitted to and ratified by the Senate."

30. Privatize Medicare, the health plan for seniors: "Impose no changes  for  persons  55  or  older.  Give  others  the  option  of  traditional  Medicare  or  transition  to  a  premium-support  model  designed  to  strengthen  patient  choice,  promote  cost-saving  competition  among  providers."

31. Turn Medicaid, the poor's health plan, over to states: "Moving to a block grant approach would allow for state  and  local  governments  to  create  solutions  for  individuals  and  families  in  desperate  need  of  help  in  addressing  mental  illness.  We  respect  the  states' authority and flexibility to exclude abortion providers from federal programs such as Medicaid and other healthcare and family planning programs so  long  as  they  continue  to  perform  or  refer  for  elective abortions."

32. No increasing Social Security benefits by taxing the rich: "As  Republicans, we oppose tax increases and believe in  the  power  of  markets to create  wealth  and  to  help secure the future of our Social Security system."

33. Repeal Obamacare: "Any  honest  agenda  for  improving  healthcare  must  start  with  repeal  of  the  dishonestly  named  Affordable Care Act of 2010: Obamacare."

34. Give internet service providers monopoly control: "The President ordered  the  chair  of  the  supposedly  independent  Federal  Communications  Commission  to  impose  upon the internet rules devised in the 1930s for the telephone monopoly… The  internet's  free  market needs to be free and open to all ideas and competition  without  the  government  or  service  providers picking winners and losers." 

35. Make English the official U.S. language: "We both encourage the preservation of heritage tongues and support English as the nation's official language, a unifying force  essential  for  the  advancement  of  immigrant  communities and our nation as a whole."

36. No amnesty for undocumented immigrants: "Illegal immigration endangers everyone,  exploits  the  taxpayers,  and  insults  all  who  aspire  to  enter  America  legally.  We  oppose  any form of amnesty for those who, by breaking the law,  have  disadvantaged  those  who  have  obeyed it."

37. Build a border wall to keep immigrants out: "Our  highest  priority,  therefore,  must  be  to  secure  our  borders  and  all  ports  of  entry  and  to  enforce our immigration laws. That  is  why  we  support  building  a  wall  along  our  southern  border  and  protecting  all  ports  of  entry.  The  border  wall  must  cover  the  entirety  of  the  southern  border  and  must  be  sufficient  to  stop  both  vehicular  and  pedestrian  traffic."

38. Require government verification of citizenship of all workers: "Use  of  the  E-verify  program  —  an  internet-based system that verifies the employment authorization  and  identity  of  employees  —  must  be  made  mandatory  nationwide.  We  reaffirm  our  endorsement  of  the  SAVE  program  —  Systematic  Alien Verification for Entitlements — to ensure that public  funds  are  not  given  to  persons  not  legally  present in this country."

39. Penalize cities that give sanctuary to migrants: "Because 'sanctuary cities' violate federal law and endanger their own citizens, they should not be eligible for federal funding. Using state licenses to reward people in the country illegally is an affront to the rule of law and must be halted."

40. Puerto Rico should be a state but not Washington DC: "We  support  the  right  of  the  United  States  citizens of Puerto Rico to be admitted to the Union as a fully sovereign state… A [D.C.} statehood amendment was soundly rejected by the states when last proposed in 1976 and should not be revived."

41. Support traditional marriage but no other families: "Children  raised  in  a  two-parent  household  tend  to  be  physically and emotionally healthier, more likely to do well in school, less likely to use drugs and alcohol, engage  in  crime  or  become  pregnant  outside  of  marriage. We oppose policies and laws that create a financial incentive for or encourage cohabitation."

42. Privatize government services in the name of fighting poverty: "We call for removal of structural impediments which progressives throw in the path of poor people: Over-regulation  of  start-up  enterprises,  excessive  licensing  requirements,  needless  restrictions  on  formation of schools and day-care centers serving neighborhood families, and restrictions on providing public services in fields like transport and sanitation."

43. Require bible study in public schools: "A  good  understanding   of   the   Bible   being  indispensable  for  the  development  of  an  educated  citizenry,  we  encourage  state  legislatures  to  offer  the  Bible  in  a  literature  curriculum  as  an  elective  in  America's  high  schools."

44. Replace traditional public schools with privatized options: "We  support  options  for  learning,  including  home-schooling,  career  and  technical  education,  private  or  parochial  schools,  magnet  schools,  charter  schools,  online  learning,  and  early-college  high schools."

45. Replace sex education with abstinence-only approaches: "We renew our call for replacing “family  planning”  programs  for  teens  with  sexual  risk  avoidance  education  that  sets  abstinence  until  marriage  as  the  responsible  and  respected  standard  of  behavior.  That  approach  —  the  only  one always effective against premarital pregnancy and  sexually-transmitted  disease  —  empowers  teens  to  achieve  optimal  health  outcomes.  We oppose  school-based  clinics  that  provide  referral  or  counseling  for  abortion  and  contraception  and  believe  that  federal  funds  should  not  be  used  in mandatory or universal mental health, psychiatric, or socio-emotional screening programs."

46. Privatize student loans instead of lowering interest rates: "The  federal  government  should  not  be  in  the  business  of  originating  student  loans.  In  order  to  bring  down  college  costs  and  give  students  access to a multitude of financing options, private sector participation in student financing should be restored."

47. Restore the death penalty: "The  constitutionality  of  the  death  penalty  is  firmly  settled  by  its  explicit  mention  in  the  Fifth  Amendment.  With  the  murder  rate  soaring  in  our  great  cities,  we  condemn  the  Supreme  Court's  erosion of the right of the people to enact capital punishment in their states."

48. Dramatically increase Pentagon budget: "Quite simply, the Republican Party is committed to rebuilding the U.S. military into the strongest on earth, with vast superiority over any other nation or group of nations in the world."

49. Cancel Iran nuclear treaty and expand nuclear arsenal: "We  should  abandon  arms  control  treaties  that  benefit  our  adversaries  without  improving our national security. We must fund, develop, and deploy a multi-layered missile defense system. We must modernize nuclear weapons and their delivery platforms."

50. Reaffirm support for Israel and slam sanctions movement: "We reaffirm   America's   commitment to Israel's security and will ensure that Israel maintains a qualitative military edge over any and all adversaries… We  reject  the false notion that Israel is an occupier and specifically recognize  that  the  Boycott,  Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS) is anti-Semitic in nature and seeks to destroy Israel. Therefore, we call for effective legislation to thwart actions that are intended to limit commercial relations with Israel, or persons or entities doing business in Israel or in Israeli-controlled territories, in a discriminatory manner."

Categories: Newswire

How Utah Coal Interests Helped Push a Secret Plan to Export Coal From California

July 24, 2016 - 4:00am

This story was originally published on July 21, 2016 at High Country News (hcn.org).

On June 27, hundreds of people packed the Oakland City Council meeting where a proposal to ban the transport of coal through the California city was up for a vote. Speakers on both sides of the issue delivered passionate arguments, pitting the promise of good jobs in a depressed area against concern about environmental impacts. The meeting quickly became rowdy. "There was a lot of tension," says Rev. Ken Chambers, pastor of West Side Missionary Baptist Church in West Oakland, who spoke in support of the ban. Pro-coal supporters stationed in the audience heckled him throughout his address, and at times, Lynette Gibson McElhaney, the council president, struggled to maintain order.

"Officers," she requested, "please escort those persons who continue to have disrespectful outbursts outside of the chamber."

The vote came after more than a year of heated debate over plans to build a marine terminal, from which coal mined in Utah could be shipped to Asia. The proposed terminal was part of a larger redevelopment project slated for the old Oakland Army Base, located in West Oakland, a predominantly black neighborhood that's among the region's poorest and most polluted.

One by one, the seven council members present voted to uphold the ban on transporting coal. The decision was finalized by a second vote on July 19, leaving the proposed $250 million project in limbo.  Without coal as one of the terminal's possible bulk commodities, proponents warned, it would be at risk of losing critical funding -- depriving an economically struggling neighborhood of job opportunities. Critics of the plan, however, worried that transporting millions of tons of coal by rail  -- even in covered cars -- through West Oakland poses a public health and safety risk to local residents, who already experience high levels of air pollution.

The decision -- and the wider controversy around it -- places Oakland at the center of a growing battle over coal exports on the West Coast. From British Columbia all the way to California, plans for new export terminals are faltering, thanks to opposition from local communities concerned about climate change and the environmental impacts of fossil fuel development.

Working against that movement, however, is a network of powerful financial interests that have invested heavily in coal and are now desperate to find a way to recoup their investments and somehow still profit. The Oakland terminal was an important part of a larger plan to sell landlocked Utah coal overseas.  And it was hatched in a web of money and politics that entangled struggling communities in two vastly different regions: West Oakland and rural Utah.

Carbon County, Utah, got its name from the vast amounts of coal found in the rugged country southeast of Salt Lake City. Coal mining took off in the late 1880s, bringing jobs along with the occasional violent upheaval. In 1897, legendary bank robber Butch Cassidy and his partner, William Ellsworth "Elzy" Lay, stole the $8,000 payroll of the Pleasant Valley Coal Company, which operated mines in the county. And later, two mine explosions, one in 1900 and the other in 1924, killed nearly 400 people.

Despite the early tumult, Carbon County grew to depend on coal economically. For most of the last century, it looked like a good bet, with coal supplying the vast majority of Utah's energy needs. Other states wanted Utah's coal as well. In the early 1980s, an electrical utility cooperative in Southern California helped persuade the state to build a massive power plant, the Intermountain Power Project (IPP), in Delta, Utah, promising to buy its coal-generated electricity.

But Carbon County's fortune changed as utilities increasingly moved to replace coal with cheaper natural gas and renewables like solar and wind energy. In 2013, the city of Los Angeles, which had a contract with IPP, voted to end its reliance on coal-fired electricity by 2025, in favor of natural gas. The decision hit Carbon County hard, says County Commissioner Jae Potter. Between 75 and 80 percent of the county's jobs rely on coal mining and power generation. Over the last several years, hundreds of locals have lost their jobs as coal-fired power plants have closed and mines have shuttered.

"It put us into a tailspin," says Potter. "What do you do?"

But the collapsing coal market still looked profitable to one private equity firm -- Galena Private Equity Resources, registered in the Cayman Islands. (Private equity firms buy up troubled or undervalued businesses and other assets, then re-structure and sell them.)

In 2013, Galena invested over $104 million in Bowie Resources, a Kentucky-based coal firm, acquiring a significant minority stake in a new joint venture company called Bowie Resource Partners. Backed by money from Galena's private investors, Bowie began buying the assets of other coal companies on the verge of bankruptcy. In Utah, Bowie bought three mines from Arch Coal, which filed for bankruptcy in January.

"Galena has built an impressive record of prudently selecting high performing investments," said Jeremy Weir, CEO of Galena Asset Management, in a press release. "We believe that Bowie Resource Partners has a unique opportunity to reshape the Western US coal paradigm."

But for the investment to pay off, Bowie needed to get that coal out of Utah and overseas to Asia, where, in contrast to the U.S. market, demand still seemed insatiable. To do that, however, it needed access to West Coast ports.

Galena was not the only private equity firm to bet on coal. Lighthouse Resources, a Salt Lake City-based firm, owns two mines -- one in Montana and the other in Wyoming -- and is the main driver behind the proposed Millennium Bulk Terminal in Washington and the Morrow Pacific coal export project in Oregon.

"For Galena, the hope was that they would help transform Bowie into a thriving export-oriented coal business so they could then sell their stake to another private equity fund or run it as a public company on the stock market," says Clark Williams-Derry, the director of energy finance at the Sightline Institute, a Seattle-based environmental think tank.

In its financial documents, Bowie outlined its plans to export through West Coast ports. But it glossed over a major problem: Few of the existing marine terminals in California and other West Coast states are capable of exporting the millions of tons of coal that Bowie's Utah mines could produce. A new terminal project in West Oakland, however, one equipped to handle coal, could provide the opportunity Bowie needed.

West Oakland, where the terminal would be located, hugs the eastern side of San Francisco Bay. Once, it relied on the 7,000 blue-collar jobs supported by the Oakland Army Base. But the base closed in 1999, and ever since, the neighborhood has struggled.

In an effort to rebuild the neighborhood's economy, the city of Oakland contracted with a private company, California Capital & Investment Group, to redevelop the old base. The Oakland Global Trade and Logistics Center would include a rail terminal, truck parking, warehouse space, a recycling center, and a bulk marine terminal. When the project was announced in 2013, the developer promised that coal was not part of the plan. Instead, the terminal would ship bulk goods like iron ore, corn, wind turbines and auto parts.

But last April, a small Utah paper broke a story that the developer had tried to keep under wraps: Four counties in Utah, where Bowie's coal mines were located, intended to invest in the proposed Oakland terminal, with the intent of shipping their coal out of it.

Opposition from environmental groups and West Oakland residents quickly mounted. In 2014, the nearby Port of Oakland had rejected a separate proposal from Bowie to build and operate a coal export terminal. This new proposal was equally unpopular. Surrounded by three major highways, an active railroad, and the fifth-busiest port in the U.S., West Oakland already suffers disproportionately from air pollution. According to the latest statistics, local asthma rates are 2.5 to 3 times higher than those of other Oakland neighborhoods, and many residents worried that coal dust could escape from the coal trains and make the problem worse. 

Still, not everyone was opposed. Last December, Rev. Chambers attended ameeting at another church on Oakland's East Side, where a representative from the terminal developer promised that bringing coal through the area would create jobs without bringing new health and safety problems. Some people in the audience perked up.

Unemployment is high here, and thanks to Silicon Valley's booming tech industry, the neighborhood is undergoing a housing crisis. Rental prices in San Francisco have risen so much so that people are now snapping up property in West Oakland, driving up rents for the mostly poor working-class families who live there. To many of those gathered at the meeting in the church, the coal export facility sounded good, recalls Chambers, "a way to contradict all the hardships."

Kevin Barnes, one of the other pastors at the meeting, said the facility offered hope to unemployed people. "I'm not an environmentalist," he later said. "But I support this project because I believe some jobs can come in -- all they're asking for is a chance."

It wasn't the first time Utah counties had tried to fund transport for their land-locked coal; as early as 2001, several counties sought to build a 43-mile railroad connecting a coal transfer terminal near Salina, Utah, with the Union Pacific Railroad south of Nephi, Utah. The purpose of the line, known as the Central Utah Rail Project, was "to provide rail access to local industries, primarily the Southern Utah Fuel Company (SUFCO) coal mine owned by Bowie Resources," in order to move bulk cargo to other parts of the country. But the railroad plan would only work if it included a port from which to export the coal. By late 2014, the counties' efforts -- backed by Bowie -- were focused on securing access to the proposed Oakland bulk terminal, enabling them to ship goods such as salt, grain and hay -- and especially coal -- to overseas markets.

Soon after, Jeffrey Holt, an advisor to the counties who served simultaneously as chairman of the Utah Transportation Commission and as an investment banker with BMO Capital, organized visits to the proposed Oakland terminal site for Sevier and Carbon County officials.

For both Bowie and Holt, there were huge financial incentives: The terminal offered a way to sell millions of tons of Utah coal abroad and could earn millions of dollars for Holt's investment firm, BMO Capital. (The terms of the loan include a $3 million "strategic advisory" fee.) At a meeting in early April 2015, four of the counties involved in the rail line proposal -- Carbon, Sevier, Emery and Sanpete -- asked Utah's Community Impact Board for a  $53 million loan in federal Mineral Leasing Act (MLA) payments to help finance the terminal, with the remaining $200 million to be raised by private investors. The loan money would come from Utah's MLA proceeds, which, under federal law, are intended to fund public works projects in communities impacted by mining.

The loan was approved, but at least one Community Impact Board member, Uintah County Commissioner Mike McKee, expressed concern about the legality of funding a private out-of-state development with MLA money. "The mineral lease law itself says the priority of funding is for infrastructure, planning and community services, with priority of those funds going back to the area of impact," he told the Moab Times-Independent. "One of the concerns that I had is I don't think that Oakland, California, is really returning (funding) to the area of impact."

As criticism mounted over the loan, county officials urged the Utah Legislature to enact a new funding scheme designed to evade the MLA's funding limitations. The result was Senate Bill 246, which swapped $53 million in federal MLA funds with $53 million in state transportation funds to provide money to finance the export terminal.

Many of the bill's supporters, including Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, who signed it, had received campaign contributions from Bowie.  The company declined to comment on its involvement in the Oakland terminal for this article.

In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, environmental and government watchdog groups raised doubts about the exchange's legality and the potential ethical violations involved in the campaign contributions, calling for a formal investigation.

Potter, however, believes the legal and ethical concerns are unfounded; he focuses instead on how the ability to sell Utah's coal overseas would help revitalize Carbon County's economy. The return on investment, he estimates, could bring in millions per year for the four counties, boosting local budgets.

Given the coal industry's precipitous decline, however, that optimism can appear tenuous. Nationwide, coal consumption has declined by nearly a third since its peak in 2007, when it was the dominant source of U.S. power. Over the past five years, the international benchmark prices for coal have fallen by more than 50 percent. Meanwhile, the prospect of booming markets abroad has begun to fade. China has started burning less coal, and imports have shrunk accordingly. Other Asian countries, especially India, have developed new coal supplies, driving prices down even further. Many of the private equity firms that invested on the promise of overseas markets have had trouble finding new investors and buyers for their coal assets.

Even Bob Murray, the CEO of coal giant Murray Energy, who has filed more than a dozen lawsuits over federal climate change policies, admitted that politicians should stop setting unrealistic expectations for coal's big comeback. "I don't think it will be a thriving industry ever again," Murray said. "We'll hold our own. It will be an extremely competitive industry and it will be half-size. … The coal mines cannot come back to where they were or anywhere near it."

It's still unclear what Oakland's decision to ban coal exports will mean for the terminal -- whether the developer will raise enough money to build it for other products or decide to challenge the city's decision in court, like the proponents of the proposed Morrow Pacific terminal did in Oregon after state regulators deniedthe project a key permit. 

"It's very hard to actually kill a project until proponents give up," says Williams-Derry. And the coal market is likely to continue to fluctuate, even as its future dims. Small rebounds like one this May, where China's coal imports increased slightly for the first time in 22 months, may be enough "to keep proponents' dreams alive until something bigger changes," he says.

For Oakland, though, last month's vote to ban coal exports signaled a new approach. Air-quality conditions in the polluted port neighborhood have improved, thanks to new laws regulating emissions. During the Paris climate negotiations last year, Oakland was recognized for its efforts at reducing greenhouse gases and black carbon emissions from trucks diesel ships. After struggling so long to improve his community's air, Rev. Chambers, like many of his neighbors, feels allowing coal exports would be a step back.

Still, he feels badly for places like Carbon County that have hitched themselves to a single commodity. "They're struggling, too," he says, and West Oakland can empathize.

Like Carbon County, Chambers' community needs jobs, but not, he believes, at the expense of human health. All four of Chambers' children developed asthma, and the family spent a lot of time when they were growing up at the hospital.

Keeping coal out of Oakland is about more than protecting his neighborhood. For Chambers, this is why the fight matters: the stuff we put in the air isn't just local, it's global.  "When we keep it [coal] in the ground, it helps people in Utah, and it helps people in China, too."

Categories: Newswire

Northwest Tribes Band Together to Stop Oil-by-Rail

July 24, 2016 - 4:00am

There's no such thing as a good place for an oil-train derailment, but this year's June 3 spill outside Mosier, Oregon, could have been worse if the 16 oil cars had derailed and caught fire even a few hundred feet in either direction. The derailment was just far enough away from populated areas, including a nearby school and mobile home park, that no injuries resulted, and the amount of oil that spilled into the river was limited. If it had happened another mile-and-a-half down the tracks, the damaged tank cars would have tumbled directly into the Columbia river during the peak of the spring Chinook salmon run.

"This derailment right along the Columbia River is ... a reminder that oil trains mean an ever-present risk of an oil spill into our waterways, threatening fisheries and livelihoods for Quinault Indian Nation members and our neighbors in Grays Harbor," Quinault Vice President Tyson Johnston said.

There are massive oil train ports planned for Anacortes, Grays Harbor, and Vancouver in Washington state. They have not yet broken ground, but if they ever do get built, the indigenous tribes that need healthy salmon to sustain their communities got a preview of what could go wrong.

The communities that live and fish along the Northwest's most important waterways have been working to bring these proposals to a screeching halt. "Proposed crude oil terminals in Grays Harbor are a threat to our treaty rights to fish in our usual and accustomed places," Johnston said. "Our safety, way of life, and economic future is on the line."

The 96-car train that derailed in Mosier was headed to Tacoma from the Bakken oil fields. Bakken oil train traffic to the West Coast spiked from practically nothing in 2012 to almost 200,000 barrels a day at the start of 2015, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

While production in the Bakken fields is off its late-2014 peak, terminal developers are betting on the long-term prospects of oil pumped from the Bakken region and from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada. If the proposed facilities for Anacortes, Grays Harbor, and Vancouver ever operate at full capacity, that 2014 peak for crude oil by rail will look like a drop in the bucket:

  • In Grays Harbor, Westway Terminal's proposed expansion would outfit the company's port to move crude oil from trains onto ships. The crude oil terminal could bring in nearly five trains per week to the harbor.
  • In Vancouver, the proposed Tesoro-Savage oil terminal would be the largest rail-to-vessel shipping facility in North America. It would bring in another 36 loaded trains per week, or about 360,000 barrels of oil.
  • In Anacortes, the Shell Refinery aims to build out a rail loop and additional unloading equipment in order to facilitate six more oil trains weekly than it already handles.

Significantly, weeks before the Mosier derailment, the Lummi Nation in the coastal northwest corner of Washington won a years-long battle against a massive coal export terminal proposed for the tribe's shores.

Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT), a project of marine shipping corporation SSA Marine, would have been the largest coal export facility anywhere in North America, large enough to handle 48 million metric tons of coal annually. It had the backing of two major players in the Powder River Basin coal industry, Peabody Energy and Cloud Peak Energy, to build a 3,000-foot-long wharf extending into waters fished by generations of Lummis.

Burning the coal proposed to ship through GPT would have produced 96 million metric tons per year of carbon pollution. Even the unburned coal at the terminal would have posed spill risks to the local aquatic ecosystem, an important economic, cultural, and spiritual resource for the Lummi Nation. An environmental impact analysis, begun in February 2014, had been slow-moving and its outcome uncertain.

How did the Lummi stop Gateway Pacific? They took a bold and unusual stand in January 2015, when they asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to protect their right to fish their "usual and accustomed grounds and stations," as written in the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott. Treaties are powerful legal instruments with the force of federal law and the potential to preempt inconsistent state laws. If successful, they would win a decisive, precedent-setting victory. A failure would open the door to weakening treaty protections.

After 16 months of increasingly well-organized and visible public opposition to the project, the Corps decided the tribe was right: The coal port would impede tribal fishing practices. The Corps rejected SSA Marine's application to build the pier.

The victory resounded throughout the region, increasing support and bolstering the resolve of other tribes embroiled in their own energy development battles.

"Today was a victory not only for tribes but for everyone in the Salish Sea. I hope we are reversing a 100-year trend of a pollution-based economy, one victory at a time," Brian Cladoosby, chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and president of the National Congress of American Indians, told the Seattle Times.

"The Corps' decision is a victory for the Yakama Nation and all other treaty tribes," JoDe Goudy, chairman of the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, said in a written statement. "The fight, however, is not over. The threat of the coal movement remains, and the Yakama Nation will not abide these threats."

Sure enough, the Yakama have joined with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and others to protest the massive Tesoro-Savage oil-by-rail terminal proposed for the banks of the Columbia River in Vancouver. In contrast to the Lummi, the Umatilla and Yakama are willing to let the environmental review process play out before taking overt action to protect their treaty rights.

In 2014, both tribes asked that the environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Tesoro-Savage project consider impacts to treaty rights. However, as the Lummi fight illustrated, treaty rights may be considered separately from the EIS, which remains the centerpiece of any major environmental review and is intended to outline all the potential environmental problems and ways to handle them.

Still, Yakama officials clearly rejected the notion that impacts to their land and treaty rights could be mitigated. "To be clear," wrote Chairman of the Yakama Nation Tribal Council Harry Smiskin in a 2014 comment to the Corps, "Yakama Nation will not negotiate nor agree to so-called mitigation for any violations or actions resulting in the diminishment or destruction of its treaty-reserved rights."

Cladoosby, the Swinomish chairman, struck the same note in a statement to the media earlier this year about the GPT: "There is no mitigation. We have to make a stand before this very destructive poison they want to introduce into our backyards. We say no."

In another tactic, the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community sued BNSF Railways in April last year for violating a contract between the tribe and the railroad that limited the length of trains that passed through the Swinomish reservation to 25 cars each and required the tribe be informed of changes in cargo. The Swinomish had learned from the media that BNSF was delivering crude oil on trains with 100 cars or more to the Shell and Tesoro refineries in Anacortes.

The tribe won an early decision in the lawsuit when a federal judge denied a BNSF motion to bring the issue before the Surface Transportation Board. The case is properly heard in federal court, the tribe said in a September 2015 statement, "The STB has no jurisdiction over tribal rights."

It's worth noting the basis for the Corps' decision in the Lummi case. While the Lummi Nation was prompted to make its request to the Corps by a vessel traffic study that concluded the coal port would bring 487 more vessels through the tribe's fishing grounds, the Corps did not rely on busier vessel-traffic lanes through Lummi fishing territory to make its decision. Instead, it referred only to the disruption of fishing that would occur at the dock site itself -- about 122 acres total.

While the main area of concern for the Yakama and Umatilla is away from the proposed Vancouver oil terminal site -- their main fishing grounds are the 150 miles of the Columbia River between Bonneville Dam and McNary Dam -- the Quinault Indian Nation fishes out of Grays Harbor, where it has notable success fishing where ships would dock at the Westway expansion.

That fishing spot would be disrupted. The completed draft EIS for Westway describes how tribal fishers would need to either work around the increased number of vessels or fish elsewhere. But here's an important legal point: In the Lummi Nation's case, the Corps' Colonel Buck found that just going somewhere else to fish, as long as the tribe could hit its catch quota, was not an adequate protection of treaty rights.

Tribes are not confronting fossil-fuel projects alone and in a vacuum. They have been sharing resources and lobbying together in Washington, D.C., to oppose the many fossil-fuel projects proposed for the Pacific Northwest. "Working with the Lummis and seeing what they've gone through with the Army Corps of Engineers was definitely helpful, because it sets a precedent," said Johnston, the Quinault Indian Nation vice president.

Unlike the Lummi, the Quinault approach has been to focus the fight at the state rather than the federal level. Even with the different approach, the Quinault tribe believes the Lummi decision "bolsters and strengthens the position we have," Johnston said.

Could the Lummi Nation's assertion of treaty rights be a magic bullet other tribes could use to stop fossil-fuel projects?

"There's no direct answer to the question, except -- maybe," said Robert Anderson, director of the Native American Law Center at the University of Washington School of Law. "The Cherry Point decision rested on evidence of direct interference with Lummi fishing by increased shipping traffic (at the terminal). The less direct the connection between such interference and environmental harm, the more difficult any case will be."

For the Lummi, fishing is such an integral part of their identity that they decided to sidestep the long, drawn-out EIS process and pull out all the stops to save their way of life. The Quinault, Umatilla, and Yakama appear willing to see the environmental reviews for Tesoro-Savage and Westway through to the end.

If this approach seems more conservative, keep in mind the Lummi strategy was risky. If the decision had been appealed in federal court, a judge somewhere down the line could reverse the Corps' ruling and, by doing so, unravel some of the treaty protections the Lummi Nation and other tribes rely on for their survival.

"I definitely think there should be concern from all tribal leadership because we don't know what the results would be if it went to a higher court," reflected Lummi council member Jeremiah "Jay" Julius a few days before the Corps released its decision.

But even a setback for treaty rights through a decision by, say, a conservative U.S. Supreme Court wouldn't be daunting for the Lummi Nation, said Darrell Hillaire, a former tribal chairman. "You think that this one issue is going to extinguish that belief? No, it's going to strengthen us."

Like other tribal members interviewed for this article, Hillaire takes a long view, both when looking forward and looking back. He pointed out that White settlers thought they might eradicate Lummi members after the introduction of alcohol and smallpox, or force them to assimilate after sending Lummi children to boarding schools where they couldn't learn their own language. Hillaire said Lummi believe they are survivors.

The Lummi Nation showed remarkable unity in its opposition to the terminal, which helped members get through the long fight. Likewise, other tribes are united in opposition to fossil fuel projects across the region. Whatever the end game might be for tribes such as the Yakama and Swinomish, there's a sense that the tide is turning in their favor. Hillaire sees the current times as empowering for tribes.

"What we have now is an emergence," he said. "Not just Lummi, but there are a lot of First Nations people -- their culture and their social structures, their government itself ... they're all emerging. I think they see that as a continuation of their sacred responsibility."

Categories: Newswire

The Republicans Just Passed a Platform That Would Eviscerate Workers' Rights

July 24, 2016 - 4:00am

Ripped signs and confetti litters the floor of the Quicken Loans Arena at the conclusion of the Republican National Convention, where Donald Trump accepted the Republican nomination for president, in Cleveland, July 21, 2016. (Photo: Damon Winter / The New York Times)

The Republican Party's official 2016 platform, released this week, proudly states "the greatest asset of the American economy is the hard working American."

The writers must have a twisted sense of humor.

In a not particularly unexpected move, the party platform eviscerates the "hard working American," denying workers of their right to unionize while targeting their most vulnerable communities. 

Grand Old Union Busters

Perhaps the strongest anti-union feature of the Republican Party's platform is the call for national right-to-work (RTW) legislation. RTW laws, the bane of unions nationwide, prevent unions from collecting fees from non-members, who nevertheless benefit from unions' grievance and bargaining services.

The platform claims that these laws will "protect the economic liberty of the modern workforce," but in fact, they do just the opposite. According to the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, workers in RTW states make $5,791 (12 percent) less per year than workers without RTW, and are far less likely to be insured.

More importantly, RTW weakens unions by forcing them to serve those who don't pay for their services. When Michigan approved a right-to-work law in 2012, its union membership dropped by 48,000, despite the addition of 44,000 new jobs.

The platform also targets both unionized Transportation Security Administration employees and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)'s presence in Native American communities, with Republicans pledging to "correct (the) mistake" of permitting TSA employees to organize, and claiming to defend tribal governments from the Democrats' "egregious" pro-union influence. 

A Government for the People

"We pledge to make the government work for the people," reads the platform, "not the other way around." Yet for the country's most financially vulnerable -- the 3.9 percent working for minimum wage -- the Republicans offer neither support nor protection.

The platform dismisses the widespread call for a nationwide minimum wage, asserting that the matter "should be handled on a state and local level," and pledges to repeal Davis-Bacon, a 1931 act mandating that federal construction projects pay union-level (read: living) wages.

It has even less mercy for the undocumented. The platform echoes Donald Trump's racist rhetoric with its total rejection of amnesty for undocumented workers. It also supports his proposal for building a wall between the U.S.-Mexico border, with the intent of "keep(ing) dangerous aliens off our streets."

In the preamble to the platform, Republicans claim their plan "lays out -- in clear language -- the path to making America great and united again." Yet if the Republicans' path to greatness is to be built on the backs of American workers, it is a greatness of which we should all be wary. 

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Categories: Newswire

Koch Brothers' Fingerprints Can Be Found All Over GOP Convention

July 24, 2016 - 4:00am

(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

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Though the Kochs have indicated they are staying out of the presidential election and Charles Koch has even had kind words for the Clintons, their fingerprints are all over the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this week in the form of candidates and the extreme RNC platform.

Koch Candidates Take Center Stage at Quicken Arena

The Kochs have had their doubts about Donald Trump, early on refusing to share their voter data base with him and spending their money down-ballot after it appeared he would win the nomination. As CMD has reported, the Kochs have been busy investing millions in a faux "grassroots" ground game in key states. They are hoping to rival labor's mastery in turning out committed volunteer door knockers, by paying an army of teenagers to hit the doors.

The Kochs are not the only people who have their doubts. A sharply divided GOP was on full display Thursday night on the floor of the Quicken Arena in Cleveland. The Texas delegation, relegated to the back of the room, was hooting and hollering for their man Ted Cruz, but the New York delegation turned their backs, and boos broke out across the arena when it became apparent that Cruz was not going to throw his support behind Trump.

Watching the drama from the wings, Trump came out onto the floor unexpectedly, throwing the Secret Service into a tizzy and stealing all the cameras from Cruz. When Cruz finally left the floor to find his wife, who herself was chased to the wings with cries of "Goldman Sachs!," no cameras were on him.

Knowing he would have challenges to unite the party, Trump picked a standard-bearer who he hoped would appeal to all: Indiana Governor Mike Pence, who Trump said "looks good," and that "to be honest," part of the reason for his selection was to unify the party.

Pence took to the stage last night to introduce himself as "a Christian, a Conservative, and a Republican, in that order," to a welcoming crowd. Delegates appeared to appreciate his amusing remarks and humble talk, which introduced his family and reprised his struggle for conservative causes.

But Pence failed to mention his biggest billionaire backers, David and Charles Koch and the institutions they bankroll.

Koch Operatives "Love" Mike Pence

In an interview with Lauren Windsor of The Undercurrent outside the convention, Tim Phillips, President of the Kochs' Americans for Prosperity, said he loved Mike Pence: "he had a great record in the House." But Phillips was being too modest.

Over the years, the Koch network has contributed large amounts of money to Governor Pence, who has pursued a legislative agenda straight out of the Koch-ALEC playbook. In terms of individual donations, David Koch's $300,000 makes him the third largest donor, and Senior Vice President of AFP and General Counsel of Koch Industries Mark Holden's $202,500 makes him the sixth.

And Pence is scheduled to be a "featured guest" at the Koch network's semiannual donor retreat to be held at a resort in Colorado July 30-August 1, 2016 (for more on Pence's bio see CMD's SourceWatch).

When Marco Rubio failed to win the Presidential primary, top Koch operative Marc Short started advising Pence. Short joins the 2016 Trump-Pence campaign as Pence's communication advisor. "Marc is a friend and we had the opportunity to work together when I was serving in the Congress of the United States, and I have immense respect for his integrity and his judgment," said Pence at a Koch event in 2014.

Koch Candidates Headline Trump Convention

But Pence is not the only Koch candidate to address the convention.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker took to the floor in a prime time slot Wednesday night. Walker has been backed by the Kochs and AFP's Tim Phillips throughout his career.

It is no secret that the Kochs would have preferred Walker as the presidential nominee; David Koch threw his support behind Walker early in 2015. And AFP's Phillips told the media he had spent $10 million in Wisconsin in during the tumultuous recall period, when Walker's attack on unionized public workers sparked an unprecedented series of recall elections.

Walker's appearance in the main stage was a bit of a surprise. He was a leader of the #NeverTrump movement, throwing his support behind Cruz and helping the Senator from Texas score an unexpected primary win in Wisconsin. As late as Tuesday this week, Walker said floor delegates should "vote their conscience," a phrase that sparked an uproar last night when spoken by Ted Cruz.

Now Walker has changed his tune, abandoning "Wisconsin Nice" to endorse Trump and bash Clinton as "the ultimate" liberal Washington insider, claiming: "if she were any more on the 'inside,' she'd be in prison."

Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), who was reportedly being considered for VP, was also on the main stage this week. Her election in 2014 was greatly aided by $400,000 that went from the Kochs' Freedom Partners to a dark money group called "Trees of Liberty," which then attacked Mark Jacobs, Ernst's competitor. CMD filed a complaint against Trees of Liberty earlier this year.

And Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) spoke to the RNC Tuesday night. Americans for Prosperity rolled out a $1.1 million campaign in support of Johnson, and the Kochs' Freedom Partners Action Fund spent $2,025,048 attacking his opponent Russ Feingold. Feingold had accused Johnson of "outsourcing his campaign" to the Kochs. Yet the Kochs may have been underwhelmed, because the very next day they pulled down their ads in Wisconsin, abandoning Johnson to focus on more competitive Senate races.

It wasn't just the politicians. "Kochsperts" spoke at multiple panels and events surrounding the RNC. Jason Beardsley, a Special Advisor to the Koch's Concerned Veterans for America, took to the main stage to advance the privatization of the Veterans Administration. Rachel Campos-Duffy, wife of U.S. Representative Sean Duffy, also took to the stage as the national spokesperson for the Kochs' Latino front group called the Libre Initiative. Penny Nance, President of the Koch-funded Concerned Women for America, was also scheduled to be in attendance.

GOP Platform Riddled With Koch/ALEC Policies

The Kochsperts must have had a hand in the creation of the RNC Platform, because the list of American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)-approved policies in the platform is stunning. The Kochs have been among the biggest backers of ALEC and the member organizations, think tanks, and advocacy groups that aid ALEC for decades. Here are some of the Koch-ALEC policies and priorities reflected in the platform.

Elections

  • Curtailing IRS oversight of dark money nonprofits active in elections, and repeal the prohibition on nonprofits engaging in political speech
  • Dismantling the last remaining campaign finance rules limiting corruption of elections
  • Limiting access to voting with Voter ID

Jobs and Finance

  • Slashing corporate taxes, including on profits stashed overseas
  • Prioritizing corporate profits and the policing of patents and IP in trade agreements
  • Loosening Dodd-Frank rules on banks and financial markets
  • Eliminating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and other policies that protect consumers from predatory lending and banking
  • Attacking occupational licensing, unions, and prevailing wage

Transportation and Infrastructure

  • Making it harder to fund mass transit and blocking efforts to create high-speed rail
  • A protected funding stream for highway transportation benefiting highway construction companies and fossil fuel
  • Attacking labor unions and workers' rights on all fronts, from calling for a national anti-union "right-to-work" law, to demonizing the earned pension benefits of public employees, to allowing massive corporations like McDonald's to evade taking responsibility for labor standards in their franchise stores
  • Turning much-needed public infrastructure projects—from road construction to broadband access expansion—into privatized profit centers through public-private partnerships.

Courts and Criminal Justice Reform

  • Continue using the courts to attack the Affordable Care Act
  • Demand judges ignore international law
  • Protecting corporate wrongdoers through changes to tort laws, and making it harder to prosecute with stringent intent requirements
  • Maintaining mandatory minimum sentencing for many offenses

Environment

  • Continuing to fight President Obama's Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon pollution and campaigning to eliminate the EPA
  • Limiting consumers' right to know by blocking menu labeling and GMO labeling
  • Turning federal public lands over to the states for logging, drilling, and mining by private companies
  • Continuing the fight to build the Keystone XL Pipeline

Federal Budget and Constitution

  • Hamstringing Congress in future recessions and crises by adding a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution
  • Cutting social safety net programs like Medicare and Medicaid by turning them into block grant programs
  • Establish federal term limits by amending the U.S. Constitution
  • Privatize the VA medical system

Education

  • Reducing oversight of homeschooling
  • Privatizing schools through voucher and charter school programs
  • Replace federal student aid for college with private "investment"

The Kochs' may not be too fond of @therealDonald, but they have captured much of the GOP policy agenda. 

Categories: Newswire

Fighting for Seats at the Table: A Poor People's Movement in a Rustbelt Town

July 24, 2016 - 4:00am

In this painting by community organizer Allen Schwartz, people line up to get school supplies for their children in Newark. (Artwork: Allen Schwartz)

The Newark Think Tank on Poverty -- a group of working class and self-identified poor people in Ohio -- goes directly to those in power through lobbying efforts and one-on-one meetings, a model for organizing that has empowered members and already created change.

In this painting by community organizer Allen Schwartz, people line up to get school supplies for their children in Newark. (Artwork: Allen Schwartz)

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When Chris Wills got out of prison, he could not find a job. He applied, but no one would hire him because of his record.

And then he started using drugs again.

In a moment of desperation, he went to talk with a friend who ran programs in the local jail. His friend didn't tell him to just get clean. He didn't tell him to just get a job. He gave him some advice that, in the moment, Wills thought was just weird. His friend told him to go meet with some community organizers from a group called the Newark Think Tank on Poverty.

The Think Tank is an organization started in 2014 that is modelling a new approach for addressing poverty. Based in Newark, Ohio, the town where Wills lives, the group is made up of people currently struggling with poverty, or who have struggled in the past. The group's goal is to have their voices heard by people who make decisions.

Wills told me in a recent interview that he has three families now. His piercing blue eyes lit up as he named them: "My friends in recovery, my church, and the Think Tank."

After years in and out of jail, Chris Wills says his work as an organizer with the Newark Think Tank on Poverty "gives me a reason not to go back." (Photo: Jack Shuler)As the Republicans gathered in Cleveland to discuss supporting that guy who wants to build a wall, Wills woke up every morning at the men's shelter where he lives, two-and-a-half hours away in Newark. He went to work, focused on recovery and built his new life. He was also organizing for change in this Rust Belt town.

This is no small task.

Newark, population 48,000 plus, is a red city in a red county. It's about 45 minutes from Columbus and on the outskirts of Appalachian Ohio. One of its claims to fame is an enormous building in the shape of a basket, just off Highway 16. Since 1997, the basket has served as an office space for the Longaberger basket-making company. Layoffs have led the company to move staff out of the building to another site. About a week ago, the last remaining employees left.

Fadhel Kaboub, an economist at Denison University and president of the Binzagr Institute for Sustainable Prosperity, says that Newark is a microcosm of the American economy -- a once prosperous industrial city that has felt the effects of neoliberal free-trade policies. As industry moved away in the 1970s and 80s, nothing replaced it. In a sense, it's a mini Detroit.

Kaboub says it took some time for people to recognize that this change was permanent. He says, "There wasn't a recalibration of the skills expectations, the education expectations." It has taken time for people to realize the need for a different economy, a different set of skills -- not just in Newark, of course, but globally.

Part of this "recalibration" is the people in a community figuring out how to address the damage done by the economic system and trying to fill the gaps. Citing economist Karl Polanyi, Kaboub says the creation of free markets is not natural. In the wake of the damage produced by neoliberal policies, resistance is inevitable. Sometimes, he says, it comes from NGOs. Sometimes it comes in the form of labor activism. And sometimes what happens is a political movement.

A People's Movement

Lesha Farias and Allen Schwartz are sitting in a booth at the Sparta Restaurant, a downtown Newark diner that hires formerly incarcerated people, as well as people in recovery from addiction. It's one of the places trying to fill the gaps in this community.

Community organizer Allen Schwartz helped to convene the Newark Think Tank on Poverty to enable people struggling with poverty to have "seats at the table" and make decisions about how poverty is addressed in their town. (Photo: Jack Shuler)Both Farias and Schwartz are seasoned community organizers who, a few years ago, grew frustrated with how poverty was being addressed in Newark. There were many charity organizations doing important work offering immediate and much-needed assistance. But charity only stanches wounds, they say. It doesn't fundamentally change the system or promote justice.

Farias and Schwartz felt that in order for systemic change to begin to happen, people who were struggling should actually become the decision makers -- they should have "seats at the table," when it came to how poverty would be addressed in their town.

Schwartz has a salt-and-pepper beard, a goofy grin, and a ball cap that never comes off. Chris Wills affectionately calls him "Pa." Like Farias, he speaks with determination and intention.

"Poverty is the big invisible in the US," Schwartz says, "the thing we want to make invisible. We try to ignore it by saying things like, 'This is the land of promise; or, if you really want to work, there's no reason you shouldn't; or, if you're poor, it's your own damn fault.'"

Farias and Schwartz want to change that narrative.

Farias says that the first meeting of the Think Tank was empowering. "For people to come together who share the same struggles, the same stories -- there was a sense of belonging." The group received a grant from the St. Vincent de Paul Society and used it to pay attendees for their time as consultants.

The Think Tank moved quickly to address an issue that affects many members -- how to get a job when you have a criminal record. One in six Ohioans, over 16 percent of the state's workforce, has one. The Ban the Box movement was gaining traction in Ohio and the group made it their issue. With the help of Columbus-based organizer Wendy Tarr, they lobbied state representatives to pass a bill banning the box for public employment and then encouraged their local council members to ban the box in Newark. Ultimately, both efforts succeeded.

These were concrete victories, but now the Think Tank is trying to build a platform for addressing systemic concerns. Rather than being an issue-specific movement, the group aims to become an integral part of community decision-making.

The Real Job Numbers

The street in front of the Sparta Restaurant is being ripped up as part of a multimillion-dollar renewal project. A block away, the county courthouse is under renovation and new restaurants, yoga studios and loft apartments are popping up around the courthouse square. Couple this development with the most recent unemployment numbers (Licking County: 4 percent; Ohio: 5 percent) and it feels like good things are happening here.

"If you look out the window from where we are," Farias says, "it's all glorious." But the reality for most working-class people is more complicated. She notes that the businesses coming to downtown Newark are mostly providing services that the working class, or the 22.1 percent of the community living in poverty, can't utilize.

Schwartz chimes in, "It's the Republican vision. You support the middle class that can still pay. Create a market that way. They'll say that either we build for that sector, or nothing will happen. Maybe so. Within their market-defined world, it works."

Besides, he says, the working class and the middle class live in two different worlds -- even in a small town like Newark. Most middle-class people are sealed off from working-class poverty and avoid seeing it firsthand.

Wills says he's never seen homelessness so bad in Newark. He has one friend living in a tent, and he hears of folks sleeping "in the weeds" by the railroad tracks and others sleeping in cars, on couches, or in budget motels.

Official employment numbers may be up, but the industrial or distribution center jobs that do exist, Schwartz says, are unstable and have poor working conditions.

"The norm is people working with unstable schedules," Schwartz says. "People are treated as expendable, and then they begin to feel expendable."  

Responses to a recent article about a new Amazon distribution facility in the Newark Advocate underscore Schwartz's assertions, as well as the trouble with employment in the community. Facebook comments from previous employees mention the sporadic hours and the fact that while some people would love to work with the company, they lack transportation. Indeed, there are no fixed public transportation routes in the area.

According to Kaboub, in Rustbelt towns like Newark there are many people who have looked for work for a very long time but aren't technically counted as unemployed. The Bureau of Labor Statistics calls these people "discouraged workers."?If you add in those numbers, and the number of involuntary part-time workers, the unemployment number in Ohio doubles to almost 10 percent.?That number, he says, doesn't include people who aren't working because of long-term illnesses, a lack of adequate child or elder care, or a lack of transportation. "So you can imagine the extent of the true cost to society," Kaboub says.

Addressing all these issues has been made even more difficult for Newark because of budget cuts and tax changes by the administration of Ohio Gov. John Kasich. On the campaign trail, the former presidential candidate claimed that he had solved Ohio's budget issues even as municipalities around the state, including Newark, struggled to pave streets and pay for public safety. The Plain Dealer estimates that Newark lost almost $1.7 million in state funding since 2011. Over 70 cities across Ohio have lost more than $1 million.

Recreating Democracy, Ground Up

It's a gorgeous July day, yet there's a big crowd gathered for a Think Tank open meeting at the Newark Public Library. There are several dozen Think Tank members, as well as a handful of people from local nonprofits who are starting to pay attention to what the Think Tank is doing.

Farias calls the meeting to order, then Think Tank member David Lee stands up to talk about what happened on this day in history. He explains that on July 9, 1917, federal authorities raided the IWW Hall in Yakima, Washington, arresting 24 Wobblies and confiscating pamphlets after local leaders tipped them off. Those in power, Lee says, were terrified of working class organizing efforts.

The Think Tank needs to share narratives of resistance, Lee tells me. As a Saponi, he takes his strength from his own cultural and historical narratives of resistance, he says, especially "both Wounded Knees, the second in particular."

"People who are in the struggle have to come together to tell these stories and to re-energize spiritually and to get ready to go back out there," Lee adds. "Otherwise, it's so lonely. We have to acknowledge the current hopelessness and then organize for a better fight." 

Jill Beeler Andrews, deputy director of Appellate Services at the Ohio Public Defender Office, tells the group that there are over 51,000 people in Ohio prisons, just shy of record numbers. She also talks about having criminal records sealed or expunged -- valuable information, because employers and landlords can't see sealed records.

Next come reports from the local farmer's market, a group addressing predatory lending, and an organization dealing with addiction issues -- in particular, the opioid crisis.

At the end of the meeting, there's a request from a local transportation advocate for the Think Tank to consider advocating for fixed route transit, such as regular bus routes.

The power of the Think Tank is that its members have experience with poverty, and so their recommendations come with an understanding that many policy-makers lack. Some people in powerful positions are starting to recognize this fact -- though not always.

When Andrews tells about a forthcoming report from a state legislative committee on recommendations for streamlining criminal justice statutes that would bring about some major changes to the state's criminal justice code, Schwartz immediately asks: "Are there any returning citizens on that committee?"

Everyone in the room knows the answer.

To some, Schwartz might come off as that overenthusiastic kid in the classroom -- persistent to a fault. But to others, he's spot on. He's asking for seats at that table.

Economist Kaboub says, "What the Newark Think Tank is doing is recreating democracy. In the United States, participation has come to mean voting for the elites every two or four years." The Think Tank offers a different model because it assesses the methods used to address problems, and then actively participates in transforming those methods.

"We see this model in other countries," Kaboub says. "In Brazil, for example, there's participatory auditing, participatory budgeting. And it's done in almost an Occupy Wall Street kind of way. There's no leadership, but citizens are plugged into government agencies and they say, 'You have to hear our voice. You work for us.'" 

Think Tank member Mary Sutton is one of the people making this model happen in Newark. She says she's still inspired by the group's first work on banning the box because it impacted her directly, but she wants to do more. Sutton works as a janitor at a local university and has been with the Think Tank since its inception. She appreciates the organization's participatory model.

"We've had discussions about having a president and so on," she says, "but that's not us."

The Think Tank's organizational structure is simple -- there are monthly open meetings and smaller working committees focusing on food, reentry and housing. Sutton chairs the food committee and one of her goals has been to gain a seat on the board of directors for a county-wide food network. She was recently told that that was impossible.

So she's creating a citizen's committee -- a group of community members who use pantries -- that will report their collective concerns to local pantries and to the board. Sutton knows the pantries well because she uses them. "I work, but I can't afford certain things," she says. "I'm not lazy. I work, but sometimes I just can't."

Sutton's the expert that people in power need to hear from. As also Eric Lee, a formerly incarcerated man who now has a seat at the table with the county's re-entry program. And Linda Mossholder, a retired educator and child and family counselor who is helping the Think Tank's housing committee mobilize to ban the box on housing applications and challenge exorbitant housing application fees.

Having Hope, Making Connections 

Born in 1977, Wills' childhood coincided with the worst economic times in recent memory for Newark and the Midwest. His father was absent, and he was raised by a single mom. In his teens, he got involved with drugs and gangs and dropped out of school.  

"I used to always wake up and feel like I had nothing to live for and I had to have some drug to make me feel motivated," Wills says. "I wake up today and don't feel that. After so many years of going in and out of jail. Losing everything. Getting it back. Losing. Getting it back. I was tired of that constant cycle and I just didn't know how to get out of it. That's where the Think Tank helps; it gives me a reason not to go back and to do something positive."

The true center of his motivation, though, is a deep and abiding love for his son, whose name is tattooed on the top of his hand. He wants to be with his son, to rebuild that relationship. So he's channeling his frustrations into productive actions. He's holding down a construction job, attending recovery meetings and staying committed to the Think Tank. 

"There's never been another time in my life when I felt and knew that my voice mattered like this," he says. "It's always been, 'Just lock him up and throw him away.'"  

Wills says he's active in the Think Tank not in spite of, but because of the fact that he's still struggling. Despite being out of prison for over a year, he's only just now able to pay his full child support obligation. "I wanted to pay," he says, "I think people should support their kids." But he couldn't because he could not get a job and was dealing with addiction issues.

One popular American narrative is that poor people are lazy, that they're not trying hard enough. But Wills is full of "try hard" and then some. He wishes he could tell his story to people running for office. He'd tell them "straight up" that when he got out of prison, he couldn't get a job. That's when he went back to using. It's that simple. "If you don't have hope, you lose all will," he says.

A month ago, Wills went to a local festival and to sign people up for the Think Tank. He talked to everyone that walked by. "I let them know that I was a felon, recently back in the community, and that I struggle with addiction. People were responsive. Now we just need to get them to meetings so their voices can be heard." 

Wills' friends in the Think Tank say that he's a born organizer. He wasn't afraid to speak to anyone -- he just walked right up to passersby and shared his story, started building connections.

Schwartz told me that the Think Tank is about helping people like Chris Wills find a community and a place where they won't be judged. "If that's all we do," he said, "then we will have done something."

They already have done something.

Categories: Newswire

We Must Reject Economic Cannibalism

July 24, 2016 - 4:00am

Neoliberal ideology has created a cannibalistic economy that is consuming us into extinction. We can change that by joining and supporting social movements that are pressuring governments and corporations to create a more regenerative economy.

(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

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"What can I do to fix a broken global economy?" It's a question I've been asked a lot these past few months as I've crisscrossed the US speaking at TED venues, music concerts, the World Affairs Council, bookstores, on radio and TV shows, and at a variety of other forums.

During this election year it is important to recognize that corporations pretty much run the world. Despite the outcome of the elections, they will continue to do so -- at least until we organize and change the rules that have created the dominant neoliberal system.

We all support corporations. We buy from them, work for them, manage them, invest in them, and help them with our tax dollars. We have to ask ourselves -- and answer -- the following questions:

Question 1: Do we want to support companies that maximize short-term profits if that means causing the oceans to rise, destroying rainforests and other vital resources -- in essence destroying the resources that support our economy?

The obvious answer: No.

But that is exactly what's happening today. We've created a cannibalistic economy that is consuming itself -- and us -- into extinction. Paul Levy, the author of Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the Curse of Evil, calls it the "Wetikonomy": a reference to wetiko, an Algonquin word for cannibalism that was used specifically to describe the European colonialists and their destructive way of interacting with the world. The consequence of the corporate-led global economy is to destroy life in a perpetual quest to grow GDP.

Question 2: Change what?

What can we learn from the American Revolution? In 1773, most colonists believed the British were invincible. But George Washington recalled the Battle of the Monongahela during the French and Indian war, about 20 years earlier, when he had seen a huge British army badly defeated by a handful of Indians. "No, they are not invincible," he said. "We just need to hide behind trees."

We must change the story and the rules.

We are at such a time now.

When Milton Friedman won the Nobel Prize in Economics, he promoted the current story: "the only responsibility of business is to maximize profits, regardless of the social and environmental costs." The rules governing business ever since reflect that story. That was in 1976, a time when financial capital was considered in short supply and nature abundant. No one was talking about peak oil or climate change. But that is no longer true. The situation has changed. The story and the rules must also change.

Question 3: What is the new story?

I was taught in pre-1976 business school that corporations should be good citizens, should serve a public interest, in addition to paying a decent rate of return to investors. They should give employees health care insurance, retirement pensions, job security, pay taxes, and support public service institutions, like schools and recreational facilities.

The acceptance of Friedman's logic, the Reagan/Thatcher (counter)revolution, the hijacking of academia and the economics profession, the absurd concentrations of wealth and power among a tiny elite, and many other events have led to a new dominant moral and economic order called neoliberalism. We must now create a new story, one that states that the responsibility of business is to serve the public, to be good citizens, to contribute to our shared commons, and to create a regenerative economy rather than a cannibalizing one.

It is essential to recognize that the old story and rules have resulted in a dysfunctional system, a global failure on an unimaginable scale. We are in the midst of the 6th great extinction on this planet, and the first to be created by a single species. We need to build an economic system that is regenerative -- that is itself a renewable resource -- instead of one that is consuming itself into extinction.

We need new rules, regulations and laws that support ideas and processes that clean up pollution, that internalize the so-called 'externalities' of doing business, that regenerate destroyed environments, and that develop technologies for new, more efficient energy, communications, transportation and other systems.

Question 4: What can you do?

There are no simple answers to this question because so much depends on your context, your life path, your particular set of privileges and desires.

One place where we all can start is to look for and shine a light on the story behind the story. One of the things I learned through the process that eventually resulted in my book, The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, is that there are almost always stories behind the "official" story.

Recent incidents, such as WikiLeaks and the Snowden/NSA files, and great investigative reporting from Pulitzer Prize-winning ProPublica and the committee of journalists who published the Panama Papers, have exposed corrupt politicians and tax-evading billionaires.

Democracy depends on spreading information, on transparency and a healthy dose of skepticism. It demands that we question our leaders, government policies, and the ingrained logic of our cultural, political and economic operating systems. In order to create a less destructive world, we have to first be able to see the cannibalistic tendencies rooted in selfish consumption (wetiko) in our culture, in our community, and indeed, in ourselves.

The second aspect of what you can do is to create local, individual, and collective power to demand political change. Most change gets implemented on local levels -- and it all starts with an individual or group of individuals. Social media has increased the power of each and every one of us in powerful ways.

Recently, a small group of activists and bloggers in Vermont, a state with less than 0.2 percent of the US population, got a law passed forcing corporations to label GMOs. As a result, some of the biggest food producers in the country -- Kellogg's, General Mills, Campbell's Soup, Mars, and ConAgra -- committed to the national labeling of GMOs.

The power of community organizing ended apartheid, gave women and Black people voting and civil rights, has ensured that corporations clean up polluted rivers, and almost brought an obscure Vermont senator and proclaimed socialist into the White House (and in the process deeply influenced the Democratic Party). The list of successes is endless.

Through joining and supporting social movements, we will inspire government to pass laws that will create a regenerative economy.

We have to demand that corporations serve a public interest. Corporations run the world and they depend on you. CEOs receive monthly summaries about email, Facebook and Twitter messages that come to their offices. They know they have to listen to their customers.

Pick a corporation you want to change. Start a social networking campaign: "I love your products but I won't buy them any more until you pay your workers a living wage, clean up the pollution you caused, pay your taxes, and create transparency in your operations." Send it to all your social networking circles and ask them to send it to theirs.

You are living at a watershed moment in history. This presidential campaign has, above all else, shown the power elites that we understand that the system is broken. Now we must change the story and the rules, and do it in time for civilizational and planetary regeneration.

Categories: Newswire

Donald Trump's Dark and Scary Night

July 23, 2016 - 4:00am

The GOP's new big dog blew the whistle Thursday night for nearly an hour and a half and it was loud and shrill enough to reach the ears of every angry, resentful, disaffected white American. The tone was divisive, dark, dystopian and grim.

Here was the alpha dog of the von Trump family, baying at a blood-red moon that the hills are alive with the sounds of menace.

According to Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump, this land is rapidly becoming as bleak and dangerous as one of those twisted, vicious kingdoms in Game of Thrones, a place filled with violent crime and despair, a smoldering ruin overrun with foreigners out to take our jobs and terrorists bent on destroying our villages.

It's mourning in America.

And only he can save us.

This has been his message all year: I alone can fix it. Remember his tweet on Easter morning?

Another radical Islamic attack, this time in Pakistan, targeting Christian women & children. At least 67 dead,400 injured. I alone can solve

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 27, 2016

He alone has the potion. He alone can call out the incantation. He alone can cast out the demons. It's a little bit Mussolini. A little bit Berlusconi. A little bit George Wallace. And a lot of Napoleon in a trucker's hat. "I am not an ordinary man," Bonaparte once said." I am an extraordinary man and ordinary rules do not apply to me."

To see more stories like this, visit Moyers & Company at Truthout.

So he will do it all alone, this Trump. Until he has the US military to carpet-bomb on his orders, and the nuclear codes at the ready beside his bed at 3 a.m., and the 101st Airborne at the southern border, ready to act -- as long as Mexico pays for it.

This was a convention pledged to serve and protect the little guy, but as Rachel Maddow pointed out on MSNBC, it was officially addressed by five -- count 'em, five -- billionaires, including Trump and one, Silicon Valley's Peter Thiel, who has said that woman's suffrage was a bad idea and wrote in 2009 that "I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible." Boy, was he in the right place.

Thiel was one of the Thursday night speakers leading up to the official coronation of King Donald as the Republican Party's standard-bearer. Introduced by daughter Ivanka, who without a trace of irony lauded her dad's "kindness and compassion" (except of course for all those women he has verbally abused and minorities he has slandered and even the fellow candidates he mocked), Trump announced, "Here, at our convention, there will be no lies. We will honor the American people with the truth and nothing else… I will tell you the plain facts that have been edited out of your nightly news and your morning newspaper."

But as Washington Post fact checkers Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee noted:

"The dark portrait of America that Donald J. Trump sketched… is a compendium of doomsday stats that fall apart upon close scrutiny. Numbers are taken out of context, data is manipulated, and sometimes the facts are wrong.

"When facts are inconveniently positive -- such as rising incomes and an unemployment rate under 5 percent -- Trump simply declines to mention them. He describes an exceedingly violent nation, flooded with murders, when in reality, the violent-crime rate has been cut in half since the crack cocaine epidemic hit its peak in 1991."

He said 58 percent of young African-Americans are unemployed -- and the dog whistle signals, you know what that means -- but the number's actually about half that. He insists we're one of the highest taxed nations in the world -- we're nowhere near -- and that we have "no way to screen" refugees, which is just not true.

The speech went on and on like that and the crowd inside the convention hall ate it up, their bitterness and frustration spurred on by Trump's own sputtering, red-faced outrage. The legacy of Hillary Clinton, he said, is "death, destruction and weakness." She proposes "mass amnesty, mass immigration, and mass lawlessness." As for Barack Obama, "The irresponsible rhetoric of our president, who has used the pulpit of the presidency to divide us by race and color, has made America a more dangerous environment for everyone."

By the way, of the 2,472 delegates at the convention, only 18 of them were black, the lowest percentage in over a century, according to History News Network and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. With Trump at the helm, Republicans will soon have purged their party of any memory of its own past. "Lincoln" simply will have been the name of a town car.

As columnist Eugene Robinson said about Thursday's speech, "Frankly, this was a message, at least to my ears, to white America: Be afraid. I will protect you." It's not for nothing that as convention officials projected tweets from Trump supporters on the hall's video screens during his speech, one of them turned out to be from a notorious white supremacist account.

Can anyone imagine Donald Trump breaking into "Amazing Grace" at the service for black worshippers in Charleston, SC, gunned down in their church by a white supremacist? There certainly was not a grace note in his speech. And -- sorry, Ivanka -- not a single note of "kindness and compassion." No touch of humility.

Watching, we could only think of Augustus, during the first century B.C., in a time roiled by corruption and the wealth of empire, who terminated the government and installed himself as emperor, careful to preserve all the forms of the republic while dispensing with their meaning.

Or, as the less august, but funnier folks at The Onion tweeted while the smoke from Trump's cannonade lingered into the night, "Thanks for joining our live coverage of the RNC. This concludes democracy."

Categories: Newswire