A shot of a wildfire, location unknown, taken on June 22, 2012. (Photo: Dan Pearce)
Donald Trump is the Republican nominee, Prince may have had a drug problem and a record-breaking 88,000 people have been evacuated from Fort McMurray, Canada.
If you've turned on a corporate 24-hour news network in the last couple of days, those are three things that you have definitely heard about.
But what you didn't hear from the mainstream media is that the wildfires in Alberta, and in Alaska, are directly related to climate change.
The media and the fossil fuel industry's shills won't tell you this, but there is no doubt about the fact that we are witnessing one of the most rapid periods of climate disruption in Earth's history.
The deniers will continue to sow the seeds of doubt. They'll say that the modeling is imperfect, that the science is imprecise and that there is still disagreement in the scientific community.
But the fact is, there is now universal agreement in the real scientific community about the fact that the climate is changing, and that it's cause by human activity.
And as we learn more about the nitty-gritty of the Earth's climate, as we study everything from how different types of clouds reflect sunlight to how quickly rivers will evaporate as the planet warms, one thing is becoming clearer and clearer.
The people who have been making the most extreme predictions about climate change, the so-called "alarmists," have been right all along, and in many cases, even have been too conservative in their predictions.
And for millennials, their children and the generation of teens living today: It's past time to be alarmed.
Unless we start treating this like the planetary emergency that it is, here's what's going to happen in the lifetime of a baby named "Baby Blue," if "Baby Blue" were born earlier today.
We're already seeing the loss of oxygen from our planet's oceans, and by the time "Baby Blue" turns 14 in 2030, reports show that large parts of the Earth's oceans will be depleted of oxygen, disrupting marine food chains and threatening marine ecosystems.
The World Wildlife Fund estimates that our ocean's assets are worth at least $24 trillion, and that goods and services from coastal and marine environments create about $2.5 trillion each year, meaning that trillions of dollars of marine life would be lost by the time that "Baby Blue" turned 24 in 2040.
And then there's the "Arctic Death Spiral," which according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will likely lead to ice-free summers in the Arctic by the time "Baby Blue" is 24.
As the Arctic melts and reflective white ice recedes and reveals the dark ocean below, less sunlight is reflected from the Earth's surface and more heat is absorbed, which speeds up the rate of warming in a feedback loop that's called "Arctic Amplification."
A study published at the end of April connected Arctic sea ice melt and surface melting of the Greenland ice sheet to extreme weather events in North America, like the unusually hot and dry air that is feeding the wildfires in Alberta and Alaska.
Professor Jennifer Francis, who coauthored the study, described the findings to Climate Progress' Joe Romm: "[A]mplified Arctic warming and sea-ice loss favor the formation of blocking high pressure features in the North Atlantic. These blocks can cause all sorts of trouble. Including […] persistent weather patterns both [in North America] and [in Europe]. Persistent weather can result in extreme events, such as prolonged heat waves."
What's going on in Alberta and Alaska is directly related to those "blocking patterns," which also contribute to the breakdown of the jetstream.
And if you think it's jarring that Canada just evacuated a record-breaking 88,000 people from the wildfires in Alberta, you better brace yourself.
In a new volume of "Future of Children," a report put together by Princeton University and the Brookings Institution, the scientists/authors estimate that we could see up to 200 million climate refugees by the year 2050, when "Baby Blue" would be only 34 years old, and just about ready to start a family of his or her own.
By that same year, temperatures of around 114 degrees Fahrenheit will be five times as common in the Middle East and Africa as they were when George W. Bush took office in the year 2000, which will force many of the 500 million people who live in those regions to try to relocate, according to a study from the Max Planck Society.
Right now, record numbers of people are being evacuated due to unusually hot weather in the North; fisheries are under serious threat because our warming oceans aren't absorbing oxygen like they used to; and, the current rate of Arctic melting is threatening to release 2 trillion metric tons of methane into the atmosphere within the next century, which would all but guarantee a sixth mass-extinction event.
If "Baby Blue" were born today, he or she wouldn't see any of the warning signs of runaway global climate change.
Because it's already happening.
This is no longer about saving the planet for future generations way down the line.
This is about preserving the planet so that the babies being born today have healthy oceans to fish and arable lands to farm, and so they don't have to deal with the hundreds of millions of refugees fleeing regions that have been made uninhabitable because of our fossil fuel addiction.
This is about preserving the planet so that the leaders who are being born today can focus on feeding the hungry and lifting people out of poverty as adults, instead of trying to avert a mass-extinction event.
It's past time to raise the alarms, and soon it's going to be past time to put on the brakes.
We need a carbon tax NOW. We need a massive green investment program to go 100 percent renewable and bring our energy system into the 21st century, and we need to hold the fossil fuel giants accountable for knowingly robbing our children of their future.
Do police in the United States keep anyone safe and secure other than the very wealthy? How do history and global context explain recent police killings of young Black people in the US?
Truthout’s first-ever print anthology addresses these and other urgent questions. Edited by Truthout staff -- Maya Schenwar, Joe Macaré and Alana Yu-lan Price -- Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? collects investigative reports and essays exploring racist police violence, miscarriages of justice, and failures of token accountability and reform measures.
Published by Haymarket Books, Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? will be in bookstores in late June, but you can get it before anyone else by ordering it from Truthout today! Directly ordering the book from us will help ensure that we can publish more reporting and analysis like this in future.
Contributions cover a range of issues including police violence against Black, Latino and Indigenous communities; law enforcement’s inhumane treatment of pregnant people and those with mental illness; and the impact of racist police violence on parenting. Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? also profiles the organizers who are fighting back against this violence and finding new ways to keep their communities safe.
The book’s contributors include William C. Anderson, Candice Bernd, Aaron Miguel Cantú, Ejeris Dixon, Kelly Hayes, Adam Hudson, Victoria Law, Mike Ludwig, Sarah Macaraeg, Page May, Andrea Ritchie and Roberto Rodriguez, with a powerful foreword by Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter.
More praise for Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect?:
“As a long-time organizer immersed in the current Movement for Black Lives, I read the contributions hoping to learn and to be inspired. I found the essays to be informative, illuminating and challenging… I cannot recommend this anthology any more highly. It's an indispensable primer for anyone who wants to understand the current rebellions and uprisings against police impunity." – Mariame Kaba, founder and director, Project NIA
“An extraordinary collection of writings… Simultaneously enraging, invigorating, radically imaginative, practical, and inspiring." – Kay Whitlock, co-author, Queer (In)Justice
“A powerful collection of essays by organizers, legal activists and progressive journalists that take us beyond the 'few bad apples' theory of police violence, insisting that we interrogate the essential role and purpose of police and policing in our society. These writers have highlighted some of the critical questions that the anti-state violence movement is wrestling with." – Barbara Ransby, author, Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement
"Resisting state-sanctioned violence, especially by police, has become a paramount issue as a result of grassroots activists mobilizing throughout the country. Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? gives journalists, writers, and activists at the forefront of activism and reporting on state-sanctioned violence in the United States a welcome platform to present their ideas for growing a movement against this violence so activists may have a lasting impact, which empowers and lifts up communities of color." — Kevin Gosztola, managing editor, Shadowproof.com
"This brilliant collection of essays, written by activists, journalists, community organizers and survivors of state violence, urgently confronts the criminalization, police violence and anti-Black racism that is plaguing urban communities. It is one of the most important books to emerge about these critical issues: passionately written with a keen eye towards building a world free of the cruelty and violence of the carceral state." – Beth Richie, author of Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence, and America’s Prison Nation
"Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? goes behind the headlines to ask the deeper questions: Do the police make communities (particularly, communities where Black and Brown people live) safer? Who do community residents fear? Are there ways to address those fears without the police and carceral state? What would we have to create in order to do this? What steps must we take to get there? Each of the essays examines these interrelated questions in depth. Read together, they provide an extremely thorough, and timely, examination of the issues underlying these recent events, forcing us to rethink the very idea of justice in this country." – Alan Mills, Uptown People's Law Center
We spend the hour with Dave Isay, the founder of StoryCorps, the award-winning national oral history project. In a 1989 radio documentary, Tossing Away the Keys, he chronicled the case of Moreese Bickham, a former death row prisoner who recently died at the age of 98. In 1958, Bickham, an African American, was sentenced to death for shooting and killing two police officers in Mandeville, Louisiana, even though Bickham said the officers were Klansmen who had come to kill him and shot him on the front porch of his own home. Many other people in the community also said the officers worked with the Ku Klux Klan, which was a common practice in small Southern towns. Moreese Bickham served 37 years at Angola State Penitentiary, in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day. He won seven stays of execution, but Louisiana's governors repeatedly denied him clemency until, under enormous pressure, he was finally released in 1996. Days after he was released, he traveled to New York, where he was interviewed on WBAI's "Wake-Up Call" by Amy Goodman, Bernard White and others. "Wake-Up Call" had closely followed Bickham's case and helped give it national attention. We play an excerpt from the interview for Isay and discuss Bickham's life and legacy.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Today we spend the hour with Dave Isay, the founder of StoryCorps. Over the last 12 years, StoryCorps has gathered the largest single collection of human voices. In 2003, the first StoryCorps recording booth opened in New York's Grand Central Station. Since then, a quarter of a million people have recorded interviews with their loved ones through StoryCorps.
Dave has just published a new book titled Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work. Amy Goodman and I recently interviewed Dave Isay about the book, but we began by discussing the case of Moreese Bickham, a former death row prisoner who recently died at the age of 98. In 1958, Bickham, an African American, was sentenced to death for shooting and killing two police officers in Mandeville, Louisiana, even though Bickham said the officers were Klansmen who had come to kill him and shot him on the front porch of his own home. Many other people in the community also said the officers worked with the Ku Klux Klan, which was a common practice in small Southern towns. Moreese Bickham served 37 years at Angola State Penitentiary, in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day.
Dave Isay chronicled his story in the 1989 radio documentary, Tossing Away the Keys. Bickham won seven stays of execution, but Louisiana's governors repeatedly denied him clemency until, under enormous pressure, he was finally released in 1996. Days after he was released, he traveled to New York, where he was interviewed on WBAI's "Wake-Up Call" by Amy Goodman, Bernard White and others. "Wake-Up Call" had closely followed Bickham's case and helped give it national attention. We began our interview with Dave Isay by playing for him Moreese Bickham in his own words.
MOREESE BICKHAM: I was shot through the heart with navel string shot off, and I asked the lord, I said, "Lord, I know you're good, God, and you made one promise: Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days be long in the land which the lord thy God giveth thee." I said I might have not been an obedient child, but I tried. And said, for that reason, allow me to have a few more days. And he did. From that day -- I had a good walk with God, but I never had a personal relationship with him until I was laying at the point of death with a bullet shot top of my heart all with. He showed me that I was going to get up. In 48 days, I'm up and working. When I got shot in '52, I asked the lord, I said, if it ever be anything else like this, give me something to shoot; let the other man die, not me. Six years from that day, I was reminded of those words, and I got into it that time, and I have served 37 years for it. I could at least say to the lord, "Don't let this happen anymore." And it wouldn't happen. But I was a person that didn't see but one way, and that was my way. It wasn't God's way. And I've told many ministers and many people that there's something hidden in my head told me to do what I did. And they say, "Oh, no, the lord ain't never told you." I said, well, you -- I know there wasn't no spirit in the world tell me to do something and, when it's over, said everything going to be all right, and I live through seven stays of execution, all the heart attacks and operations I had, and come out in good enough health to be flying all over the world. Nobody can tell me God wasn't on my side.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Moreese Bickham in the studios of WBAI. It was back in 1996. The studio was packed. I remember it so well. It was Martin Luther King Day. And he came in with his family, with his daughter. I think his grandson might have been there. The late, great Gil Noble was there. Of course, Bernard White and I, we hosted "Wake-Up Call." But, Dave Isay, you had really shown the spotlight on Moreese's case when you did a documentary on Angola. Talk about the significance of Moreese Bickham, who just died at the age of 98.
DAVE ISAY: Well, I remember that day well. I just watched the video last night that TV viewers saw. And it was -- it was an incredible moment with all of us sitting there, because you -- WBAI had been fighting for his release for, I think, a year, every day pounding, pounding for his release. And there we were --
AMY GOODMAN: Right. We would say, "Is Moreese Bickham free yet?"
DAVE ISAY: That's right.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, Bernard White, Errol Maitland: "Wait, has Moreese Bickham gotten out of jail yet?"
DAVE ISAY: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: I think the -- even the Louisiana attorney general or the governor talked about the significance of this radio station.
DAVE ISAY: Yeah, it was -- and, you know, I think every day you would play the Nina Simone song, "I Wish I Knew How It Feels to Be Free." And sitting in that room with Moreese with his headphones on as he rocked back and forth, 48 hours after getting out, you know, listening to that song with his kids and his grandkid, crying, was just one of the most remarkable moments, I think, of my life. So, he was a -- I mean, it was an absolutely insane case. I mean, these two sheriff's deputies had come to his house.
AMY GOODMAN: This is in the 1950s.
DAVE ISAY: Yeah, in the '50s. And they had come to kill him. And they shot him right above the heart, and he rolled over on a gun, and he killed the two of them. And he actually talks, in that interview -- because I watched last night this thing from 20 years ago -- and he talks about how one of the -- the kid and grandkid of one of the officers he shot was visiting him, back then, in the '50s, saying, "You shouldn't -- you should not be here." And now, you know, there's a granddaughter of one of the officers who was killed, who has been trying to apologize to Moreese and never got a chance, because he was 98 when he died, and he was too sick.
AMY GOODMAN: These deputies were so determined to kill Moreese Bickham, coming to his house, that they wore their sheriff's clothes over their pajamas.
DAVE ISAY: That's right.
AMY GOODMAN: They came in the middle of the night.
DAVE ISAY: That's right. And I heard -- they claimed that they had to kill him because he was angry for not allowing -- them allowing him to get into the car with them or something, like just some absolute craziness.
AMY GOODMAN: But, Dave, you --
DAVE ISAY: He was a fine, fine human being.
AMY GOODMAN: You had discovered him when you did your documentary, Throwing Away the Keys.
DAVE ISAY: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: About Angola.
DAVE ISAY: Thirty years ago, yeah. So he was one of these guys who had been in Angola serving the longest prison sentences in history. And he cared for the rose bushes at Angola and was just -- just a --
AMY GOODMAN: A plantation prison.
DAVE ISAY: That's right.
AMY GOODMAN: Named for the country in Africa where so many people had become enslaved in this country, had been taken, kidnapped from Africa. And the plantation was named for the country that the Africans had been taken from.
DAVE ISAY: And there were a bunch of men who had been -- who had been there for longer than anyone else in history. And some of these men had actually -- this was not the case with Moreese, who had spent all of his time on death row, but there were many men who had been brought in and told to plead guilty to whatever crime they had been accused of, even though many of them hadn't committed them, because if they went to trial, they'd get the death penalty. And there was a law back then that the rule was you got out after 10 years on a murder. And then they changed the law when some of these guys were about to get out. So you had people serving 30, 40, 50 years for crimes that they hadn't committed, because they were trying to save their lives. And Moreese had spent all this time on death row. And it was just -- you know, he was a minister. He told the story of getting old in prison, how he became Pops -- that was his name from when he was a young man -- how he'd had to pretend he was crazy on death row, going into psychiatric hospitals, because it was the only way to avoid the death penalty. And he was an amazing man. And more amazing than that, he got out 20 years ago, and he lived 'til the age of 98, by himself, independently, in Oakland, with his family.
AMY GOODMAN: In California.
DAVE ISAY: Yeah, and was just -- was just a remarkable man.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was StoryCorps founder Dave Isay. We'll be with him in a minute.
I'm holding in my hand what has been called "one of the most daring books of the 21st century," a "book for the ages," "bracing," "unrelenting." The title is Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul, and it breathes with prophetic fire.
Its power comes because the author does not begin with "pristine principles or with assumptions about our inherent goodness." Rather, its view of democracy, as he writes, "emerges out of an unflinching encounter with lynching trees, prison cells, foreclosed homes, young men and women gunned down by police and places where 'hope, unborn, had died.'"
Democracy in Black is rich in history and bold in opinion, and inconvenient truths leap from every page. For example, and I'm quoting the book again, "black people must lose their blackness if America is to be transformed. But of course, white people get to stay white."
The book opens in Ferguson, Missouri, with the author talking to three, dynamic young black women, newly born to activism, and it closes in the intimacy of the reader's heart, where each of us wrestles with the question of whether we can indeed change the habits of racism and create together a new politics based on a revolution in values.
The author is Eddie Glaude Jr. Glaude was raised in the Deep South, in Moss Point, Mississippi, and still remembers the Ku Klux Klan burning a cross at the fairground. He's now a professor of religion and African-American studies at Princeton University, where he also chairs the Center for African-American Studies. This is his third book, and he's a member in good standing of the black establishment, which he rigorously calls to account in Democracy in Black.
Listen to our conversation by clicking on the stream above. You can also download it and take it with you, or click to read the full transcript. Sign up for our audio podcast feed to get new conversations as soon as we record them.
My guest is Eddie Glaude Jr., author of Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul. In the first part of our conversation, Professor Glaude and I discussed the crisis that continues to engulf black America.
Eddie Glaude Jr.: We talk about the achievement gap, we talk about the empathy gap, we talk about the wealth gap, and the value gap is this: the belief that white people matter more than others. And to the extent to which that belief animates our social arrangements, our political practices, our economic realities, under different material conditions, as long as that belief obtains, democracy will always be in abeyance in this country.
We continue with Professor Glaude’s proposal to upend our politics and launch a revolution of values.
Listen to our conversation by clicking on the stream above. You can also download it and take it with you, or click to read the full transcript. Sign up for our audio podcast feed to get new conversations as soon as we record them.
This week the Colorado Supreme Court ruled unanimously against two cities' bans on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, as it's also known. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association, the group which brought the original lawsuits against the cities of Fort Collins and Longmont, is hailing the decisions as "a win for the energy industry."
The Colorado Supreme Court framed its rulings not as a decision on the safety of fracking but as an assertion of state law's authority over local legislation -- even if that legislation was formed following successful ballot initiatives.
In 2012, Longmont voters approved the prohibition of any fracking or fracking waste storage within city limits. The next year, Fort Collins residents voted in favor of a similar ban until 2018. Both were struck down in separate rulings. "It's a blow to democracy and local control," Rep. Jared Polis says.
In a state where fracking ranks among its most controversial issues, it is hard to not view the Colorado Supreme Court's unanimous rulings as politically profound.
That's because, as anti-fracking activists now worry, the Colorado Supreme Court's actions could have a chilling effect on other cities and municipalities that may have or may seek future bans of their own. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association's president and CEO, Dan Haley, even boasts that the rulings send "a strong message" that anti-fracking efforts "will not be tolerated at any level" in Colorado.
In the court's Longmont ruling, it was explained that local fracking bans do not constitute laws "alleged to concern life, liberty, property, safety or happiness." If they did, they would override state laws, per Colorado's constitution.
Despite the court's assertion, hydraulic fracturing (and, more importantly, the storage of the resulting wastewater) can and will lead to exactly those things -- life, property and safety -- being endangered. And that's not fear-mongering or mere speculation: When it comes to the dangers of fracking, the science is in.
As reported on Care2 previously, a crucial Stanford University study on the chemicals used in the fracking process (benzene and xylene) confirmed that they are not only toxic to ingest but that they are likely seeping into water tables to cause permanent damage -- confirming what most anti-fracking activists had suspected for years.
Another report came from the US Geological Survey this year, warning that fracking practices have been directly linked to a rise in man-made earthquakes. Seven million Americans are now at risk and several states -- including Colorado -- are considered newly vulnerable to unnatural tremors.
Then there are other studies showing the incredible environmental damage caused every time a fracking well or gas pipeline pours methane into the atmosphere, as happened recently with the disastrous Porter Ranch leak in California.
How could anyone argue against the evidence at this point?
It's difficult to say whether it's money-fueled ignorance or dangerous myopia (or both) propping up Colorado's fracking boom. Support for fracking does not fall along party lines in the Western state -- Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper has been a very vocal advocate of shale drilling.
In 2013 Hickenlooper testified before a Senate committee that fracking fluids were perfectly safe; so safe, apparently, that he claims he actually drank fluid provided by Halliburton. However, as they say in this day and age -- pictures or it didn't happen.
With Colorado's courts and even its Democratic governor apparently throwing their weight behind the fossil fuel industry, the state's anti-fracking activists are facing an uphill battle. These new rulings make it clear that any success must come in the form of a statewide fracking ban, either through state legislative action or via ballot initiative.
As the active ingredient in Monsanto's branded Roundup weed killer, along with hundreds of other weed-killing products, the chemical called glyphosate spells billions of dollars in sales for Monsanto and other companies each year as farmers around the world use it in their fields and orchards. Ubiquitous in food production, glyphosate is used not just with row crops like corn, soybeans and wheat but also a range of fruits, nuts and veggies. Even spinach growers use glyphosate.
Though considered for years as among the safest of agrichemicals, concerns about glyphosate have been growing after the World Health Organization's cancer experts last year classified it as a probable human carcinogen, based on a series of scientific studies. There are other concerns as well -- mounting weed resistance to glyphosate; negative impacts on soil health; and a demise in the monarch butterfly population tied to glyphosate use on forage that young monarchs feed on. The EPA is currently finishing a risk assessment for glyphosate that examines the range of issues.
The EPA is still trying to determine just how worrisome glyphosate is, or isn't. In the meantime it's worth a look at how widespread the use of glyphosate is in our food supply. A document released by EPA on April 29 gives us a peek.
In a memorandum dated Oct. 22, 2015, EPA analysts reported an "updated Screening Level Usage Analysis"for glyphosate use on food items. That memo updates estimates of glyphosate use on crops in top agricultural states, and provides annual average use estimates for the decade 2004-2013. Seventy crops are on the EPA list, ranging alphabetically from alfalfa and almonds to watermelons and wheat. And, when compared to a prior analysis that ran through 2011, it shows that glyphosate use has been growing in production of most of the key food crops on the list. Here's a snapshot:
Glyphosate used on US soybean fields, on an average annual basis, was pegged at 101.2 million pounds; with corn-related use at 63.5 million pounds. Both estimates are up from a prior analysis that ran through 2011, which pegged average annual soybean use at 86.4 million pounds and corn at 54.6 million pounds. Both those crops are genetically engineered so they can be sprayed directly with glyphosate as farmers treat fields for weeds. Use with sugar beets, also genetically engineered as glyphosate-tolerant, was estimated at 1.3 million pounds, compared to 1 million pounds.
Notably, glyphosate use is also seen with a variety of crops not engineered to be sprayed directly. Looking at the period ending in 2013 compared to 2011, glyphosate use in wheat production was pegged at 8.6 million pounds, up from 8.1 million pounds; use in almonds was pegged at 2.1 million pounds, unchanged from the prior analysis; grape use was pegged at 1.5 million pounds, up from 1.4 million pounds; and rice use was estimated at 800,000 pounds, compared to 700,000 pounds in the prior analysis.
You can check out your own favorite food here, and compare it to the prior analysis here. Some on the list may surprise you, including cherries, avocados, apples, lemons, grapefruit, peanuts, pecans and walnuts.
The growing use of glyphosate on food crops has prompted calls for regulators to start testing levels of such residues on food to determine if they are within levels regulators deem safe. They've been doing such testing for years for residues of other agrichemicals. The Food and Drug Administration said in February it would start doing that type of testing for glyphosate residues this year on a limited basis.
In the meantime, the EPA, which sets the "tolerance" levels that deem what is safe regarding pesticide residue, announced May 3 that it was finalizing a new rule that will expand the numbers of crops that can have tolerances established. The EPA said this will "allow minor use growers a wider choice of pest control tools including lower-risk pesticides, to be used on minor crops, both domestically and in countries that import food to the United States."
Authorities in Honduras have arrested four men allegedly connected to the murder of Berta Cáceres, the country's most recognized activist. While the president celebrated the arrests as evidence of progress on the case, Cáceres' family continues to demand an independent investigation by international experts. Shannon Young has more.
The four men accused of links to the murder of Berta Cáceres reportedly include current and former employees of the company behind the dam the environmentalist fiercely opposed, as well as one active duty and one retired member of the Honduran military.
The arrests indicate that investigators have probed allegations made by Cáceres' family and colleagues about the origins of repeated death threats against the renowned campaigner. But the family remains skeptical of the state's ability to carry out a credible and thorough investigation.
In a group statement released after news of the arrests broke, Cáceres' daughters, son and mother reiterated their demand that the government of Honduras allow a commission of experts from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to investigate and "analyze the actions carried out thus far and establish whether they are consistent with the highest international standards of due diligence."
The family says they found out about the arrests through news reports, instead of through the proper protocol of homicide investigations in which authorities first notify victims' families of major case developments.
Cáceres' youngest daughter, Berta Zúñiga, was in Barcelona Monday to accept a posthumous award for her mother.
"The issue is that impunity rates in our country are off the charts and the interests that could be involved make it difficult to guarantee that the investigative process will be objective and transparent. That's why we're demanding an independent commission of experts through the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights," Zúñiga told Catalan broadcaster Televisió 3. "Speaking of which, during our visit here to Europe, we've received pledges of financial support for this commission, which we think is important. Basically all that's needed now is a little political will to get to the bottom of the case."
The government of Honduras has thus far sidestepped the request.
In the two months since Berta Cáceres was murdered, another member of her organization was also killed, and the Dutch bank FMO has suspended its financial backing of the Agua Zarca dam project. But, construction work on the dam continues, as does violence against opponents and watchdogs.
Just hours after Monday's arrests, Honduran journalist Félix Molina penned a detailed column mapping out intertwined political and economic interests behind the dam project. He narrowly survived an assassination attempt Monday evening.
What will happen when technology replaces people in the service, manufacturing and professional industries of an already-struggling economy? In their new book, Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols explore the possibility of reclaiming the future for the people, before it's too late. Noam Chomsky calls People Get Ready "lucid and informed" while Thom Hartmann says it's an "essential book." Get your copy by making a donation to Truthout today!
The following is an excerpt from People Get Ready: The Fight Against a Jobless Economy and a Citizens Democracy:
The growth in the economy's capacity to produce since the 1930s, or even the 1960s, has been extraordinary, much as these economists anticipated. If the experts we used as counsel for this chapter are anywhere near accurate, the next four or five decades could make the twentieth century look like the twelfth century.
In popular economic theory, such revolutionary increases in productive capacity are supposed to translate into higher living standards, much shorter workweeks, richer public infrastructure, and a greater overall social security. Society should have the resources to tackle vexing environmental problems with the least amount of pain possible. In fact, however, nothing on the horizon suggests that this is in the offing. As automation and computerization take productive capacity to undreamed-of heights, jobs grow more scarce and are de-skilled, many people are poorer, and all the talk is of austerity and seemingly endless cutbacks in social services. There is growing wealth for the few combined with greater insecurity for the many. Washington, we've got a problem.
(Image: Nation Books)The false assumptions, of course, are that the benefits of the technology accrue to more than the owners of the firms deploying the technologies. And also that capitalists have incentive to produce far more than they do to satisfy the needs of people worldwide. In fact, Veblen had it right: capitalists produce as much as they do only as long as it remains profitable to do so. Producing more than that lowers prices and lessens profits. In short, to follow Keynes's logic to a place he did not go, capitalism would seem to have little or no reason to exist if the "economic problem" is solved, so it is imperative that the economic problem remain. For business and wealthy investors to continue to win, everyone else has to lose.
In our view, the evidence points in one direction: the economy needs to be fundamentally reformed, if not replaced. Capitalism as we know it is the wrong economic system for the material world that is emerging. This is a radical conclusion, but it is not made merely by radicals. The number of true believers who think leaving firms and wealthy investors alone to do as they wish will ultimately solve the employment problem and give us a great economy that can be the foundation for a vibrant democracy is shrinking, primarily because it is a faith-based position. There are also some who have a similar faith that technology is innately progressive and all-powerful, so it can and will solve capitalism's problems for us. They tell us that all we have to do is get out of the way, make some fresh popcorn, and grab a front-row seat as the future unfolds.
But researching this book, what has been striking to us is that many, perhaps most, of the people who have studied these matters -- from across the political spectrum -- recognize that if the system is left alone, it will not right itself. Instead, structural changes are needed, and government will have to play the central role in determining and instituting these changes. Even those who believe that the existing capitalist system provides benefits that make it worth saving realize that significant reforms and government policy interventions are necessary to prevent intolerable outcomes. "It's time to start discussing what kind of society we should construct around a labor-light economy," Brynjolfsson and McAfee conclude. "How should the abundance of such an economy be shared? How can the tendency of modern capitalism to produce high levels of inequality be muted while preserving its ability to allocate resources efficiently and reward initiative and effort? What do fulfilling lives look like when they no longer center on industrial-era conceptions of work? How should education, the social safety net, taxation, and other important elements of civic society be rethought?"
Where markets and business and private investment figure into the new economy is a matter to be studied, debated, and resolved; we only know that it cannot be the same as what we have had for generations. The solutions to the employment and economic crises in the United States are political. The great debate is over what types of reforms there should be, and what type of system we should end up with. A core responsibility of the democratic state is to provide the ground rules and basis for an economy that will best serve the democratically determined needs of the people. An unavoidable part of this debate is to take up the issues last taken seriously in the 1960s: How should technology best be deployed to serve human needs? Never has the need for such a democratic debate and policymaking been greater than it is today.
Copyright (2016) by Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols. Not to be reprinted without permission of the publisher, Nation Books.
Wisconsin's 99% march on GE at their shareholder meeting in Detroit, Michigan, on April 25, 2012. (Photo: Wisconsin Jobs Now)
There's a pile of money hiding offshore. It's true that jobs are also leaving the United States because American companies find it convenient to cut labor costs by moving manufacturing abroad, the economic issue you're hearing most about in this election season. But the stunning amount of money that continues to flow across American borders (and those of other countries), and eventually disappears into the pockets of the corporate and political elite, ultimately causes even more damage to our finances and our lives.
While the two leading candidates for the presidency, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, have indeed suggested cosmetic fixes for a situation that only grows more extreme with the passage of time, they have themselves taken advantage of numerous tax "efficiency" strategies that make money evaporate. Of course, you shouldn't doubt for a second that they'll change their ways once in the Oval Office.
As with so much in our American heritage, there's a history to the "offshore" world, too. Finding places to shield money from tax collection first became commonplace among upper-crust industrialists, bankers, and even public servants back in the 1920s. Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon, a millionaire mogul who served presidents Calvin Coolidge, Warren Harding, and Herbert Hoover (and had a knack for cutting taxes on the wealthy), left office under mounting congressional probes into his tax evasion strategies.
Fast-forward about a century and tax dodging has been woven into the fabric of the lives of the affluent and corporate worldwide in an extraordinary way. According to an April 2016 Oxfam report, the top 50 US companies are hoarding more than $1.4 trillion in cash offshore.
What's more, for every dollar that these firms spent lobbying Congress for "favorable" tax treatment (a collective total of $2.6 billion between 2008 and 2014), they received $130 dollars in tax breaks and $4,000 in subsidies from the US government. These companies, including Pfizer, Goldman Sachs, Dow Chemical, Chevron, Walmart, IBM, and Procter & Gamble, created "an opaque and secretive network" of more than 1,600 company subsidiaries located in tax havens that they decided to disclose. (Because of the weak reporting requirements of the Securities and Exchange Commission, there could be thousands more.) According to a March 3rd report from the Citizens for Tax Justice, the Fortune 500 companies are now saving $695 billion in federal income taxes on a total of $2.4 trillion in offshore holdings.
Americans can't afford to ignore such tax games, since we're the ones who, in effect, wind up paying the taxes these firms don't. For government policymakers, such tax evasion is a grim matter of attrition, since the US (and other countries) plunge ever deeper into debt thanks to such antics and then find themselves cutting services or raising taxes on us to cover the gap between the money they're losing and the taxes they're collecting.
Not only are such firms unpatriotic, they are parasitic and while they're at it, they use similar techniques -- let's not call it theft (though it is) -- to avoid tax payments in the poorest places on Earth. As Oxfam reports, "the biggest burden" of tax havens "falls on the poorest people." In the process, they only increase already oppressive levels of inequality globally.
Tax "secrecy" specialists -- people working in the money-hiding field -- help rich individuals, multinational corporations, political leaders, terrorists, and organized crime groups divert cash and capital, sometimes in staggering amounts, from local economies into an obscure, complex, multi-layered global financial network that operates outside any national or international regulatory or tax system. Given this, isn't it a little surprising that the top candidates for the presidency barely pay lip service to the impact of such hidden money? What toothless policies they have proposed to deal with the phenomenon will do little or nothing to change it.
The Panama Papers
US trade agreements generally include rosy promises about partnering with regional economies around the world to encourage the flow of goods and services across borders. At the same time, they generally are focused on the obliteration of barriers that in any way restrict money from flowing out of the United States or into the embrace of other nations. The free movement of capital, or financial globalization as it's called, has been a bedrock Washington policy for a century and, since the 1980s, places like Panama -- a renowned tax haven -- have abetted this process.
A month ago, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists released a trove of documents, 2.6 terabytes of them, including "more than 4.8 million emails, 3 million database files, and 2.1 million PDFs." These were turned over by an undisclosed source ("John Doe"), communicating through encrypted channels to avoid repercussions. Now known as "the Panama Papers," they reveal how elite multinational companies, the super rich, and government figures have engaged in tax-dodging practices engineered by a single Panama City-based law firm, Mossack Fonseca (MF).
In addition to public officials and billionaires, more than 500 global banks, their subsidiaries and branches, have registered at least 15,600 shell companies there using MF's services. That word "shell" is descriptively accurate since such "companies" rarely have employees and are commonly no more than a post office box providing a façade through which books can be doctored, taxes dodged, losses concealed, and money-laundering and other criminal actions carried out. And keep in mind that MF, which acts for approximately 300,000 companies, is only the fourth largest provider of such offshore services globally.
One mega-bank that used its services extensively was HSBC, which created an astonishing 2,300 shell companies with that law firm's help. We'll return to HSBC.
Mossack Fonseca's official mission, it claims, is "to deliver quality, reliable and comprehensive services to our worldwide clients in the legal, trust, investment consultancy, and digital solution fields." That's code for helping select establishment outfits and dubious enterprises to avoid paying taxes on profits, investments, or money made from buying and selling real estate, luxury yachts or planes, oil wells, weapons, or drugs, among other things.
Secrecy is its calling card. Tax havens, or locales amenable to tax dodging, whether in the Caribbean, Central America, Switzerland (still the world's top location for financial secrecy), or for that matter the state of Delaware, exist to circumvent tax laws. Period. And these operations are so shady that even the functionaries working in the shadows to establish such secret accounts are barely aware of exactly who owns them, where the money came from, or where it's going. For regulators, prosecutors, and tax collectors, the opacity is far worse.
You don't necessarily have to be rich or powerful to access the services of such offshore firms and banks, but it helps. Some havens take anyone ready to put up a minimum of $25,000, while others demand staggering sums. Western Samoa, for instance, requires a cool $10 million to get started.
The most alarming aspect of the Panama Papers revelations was not MF's clientele or even its secretive practices, but that what it does is completely "legal." Nor was this the first such disclosure. In November 2014, for instance, the "Luxleaks" scandal involving a whole "menagerie of Luxembourg-based tax schemes," as the Guardian put it, was disclosed by two whistleblowers from the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. (Luxembourg is a major European tax haven.) Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, Facebook, HSBC, JPMorgan Chase, and Microsoft were on the list of its more than 350 multinational "tax avoiders."
Avoiding vs. Evading Taxes and Corporate Inversions
Avoiding and evading taxes are technically considered different kinds of acts, the former being legal in the US, the latter not. According to the Internal Revenue Service, "Taxpayers have the right to reduce, avoid, or minimize their taxes by legitimate means." Tax evasion, on the other hand, involves an "act to evade or defeat a tax, or payment of tax" by "deceit, subterfuge, camouflage, concealment, attempts to color or obscure events, or make things seem other than they are."
The line between the two is obviously thin and vague, but both practices result in the same thing: paying fewer taxes or hiding money.
The subject of tax avoidance and evasion has generally gotten little traction on the campaign trail in election 2016, the exception being corporate "inversions." These happen when, for example, an American company merges with a foreign one in a tax haven, and so gets a lower tax rate by re-incorporating (filling out some paperwork) there. This, too, is "legal," although it represents the purest form of corporate tax evasion. Perhaps you won't be surprised to learn that the practice began in Panama about 30 years ago.
In 2014, companies with household names like Apple, Microsoft, Pfizer, and General Electric avoided paying a collective $90 billion in taxes through inversion strategies. Apple led that list, holding $181.1 billion offshore. That's a lot of iPhone sales.
The Leading Candidates and Hidden Money
Tax havens are, in essence, perfectly "legal" criminal facilities designed to steal money from the rest of us. The two leading candidates in this election season, however, aren't talking about closing down tax havens for good (which would piss off lots of rich people, banks, drug cartels, and terrorists). They are instead focused on getting companies to voluntarily repatriate, or return, profits made abroad for taxation purposes or on closing tax "loopholes" that allow money to disappear. Neither, however, offers much detail as to what that means.
Both do share one thing, however, when it comes to tax havens: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have companies registered at the same address (also "shared" by 285,000 other companies) in Wilmington, Delaware. In other words, they make use of the "Delaware loophole," which allows for the legal shifting of earnings from elsewhere in the country to the ultimate tax haven state in the US Neither, as Rupert Neate of the Guardian has written, has been willing to offer any explanation for this. That's the political beauty of loopholes: closing one is different from eradicating an entire practice but suffices as a promise.
Hillary has gone after tax havens before. In 2004, as a New York senator, she vowed to close tax loopholes for "people who create a mailbox, or a drop, or send one person to sit on the beach in some island paradise and claim that it is their offshore headquarters." She introduced no bills to do so, however.
She has spoken out against corporate tax inversions, too. She wants Congress to prevent them by imposing what she calls a "commonsense 50%" threshold on them; in other words, as long as a company keeps at least half of its operations in this country, it would be considered a US company for tax purposes, no matter the inversions. She also has favored an "exit tax" to ensure that multinationals pay a "fair" share of US taxes owed on earnings stored overseas. Both of these suggestions would put some modest limits on offshore tax dodging (after the fact), but not come within a country mile of banning it.
On such subjects, she can sound strong indeed at appropriate moments. In February 2016, for instance, she said, "We need to go after a company like Johnson Controls that is trying to avoid paying taxes after all of us bailed it out by pretending to sell itself in a so-called inversion in Europe." It evidently didn't matter to her that the same automotive parts company set to merge with Tyco International (based in Ireland to dodge taxes) had donated money to the Clinton Foundation charity as recently as December 2015. (Johnson Controls denied Hillary's claims that it had received a bailout during the financial crisis.)
Hillary, lest we forget, joined the board of directors of the the Clinton Foundation, the family charity, in 2013. She resigned in April 2015 to run for president. Now, keeping it in the family, her husband, Bill, and her daughter, Chelsea, remain standing members of the board. Spawned from the William J. Clinton Foundation, founded in 1997, the charity has raised $2 billion, has about 2,000 employees (including at times members of Hillary's political team), and boasts an annual budget of $223 million.
Like many gilt-edged couples, Hillary and Bill Clinton have themselves utilized onshore and offshore tax loopholes. In 2010, they used a common tax-dodging technique by placing their multi-million dollar home in Chappaqua, New York, in a "residence trust." After he left office, Bill spent five years as an "adviser" to billionaire (now-ex-pal) Ron Burkle's investment fund, Yucaipa Global, which had funds registered in the Cayman Islands and Dubai. That alliance netted Bill at least $15 million.
Hillary's bedrock thinking on money flowing out of the US and into the offshore world can best be seen in her support for the 2012 US-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement when she was secretary of state. The agreement removed "barriers to US services, including financial services," which actually simplified the process of squirreling money away in or through Panama by allowing it to flow freely into that country.
The Clinton Foundation inhales donations from people using tax havens (including Panama). Although Hillary denounced Mossack Fonseca's dealings on cue after the Panama Papers story broke, a number of individuals and multinationals that have contributed to the foundation used MF to establish offshore accounts, according to McClatchy. These include Canadian mining billionaire Frank Giustra who features in the foundation's $25 million top-tier donor bracket, and two firms tied to Ng Lap Seng, the Chinese billionaire implicated in a major donor scandal involving the Clintons and the Democratic National Committee.
Similarly, in a speech she gave at the New School in July 2015, Hillary highlighted the "criminal behavior" of global bank HSBC. In 2012, the behemoth financial institution agreed to a record $1.92 billion settlement with the Department of Justice and the Treasury Department for enabling drug cartel money laundering and violating US sanctions by conducting transactions for customers in Iran, Libya, Sudan, and Burma. She vowed, "On my watch, it will change."
Yet, in 2014, the Clinton Foundation accepted between $500,000 and $1 million from that bank.
The Panama Papers are but one conflicted instance in which Hillary's stated beliefs, her actions, and the generosity of her friends and acquaintances came together in a contradictory fashion. The evidence suggests that tax-dodgers will, in fact, be able to breathe a sigh of relief if she becomes president. Her actions are likely to -- if you'll excuse the expression -- trump her words when it comes to curtailing the behavior of offshore scofflaws in significant ways. And speaking of Trump...
Consider the fact that The Donald won't even disclose his tax returns. His indignantly delivered explanation is that they are "under audit." Under the circumstances, don't hold your breath. Perhaps he doesn't make nearly as much money as he claims -- or maybe he has an embarrassing tax haven habit. Who knows?
Ironically, Mossack Fonseca's Panama City headquarters is located a mere seven-minute drive from the Trump International Hotel and Towers in Panama City. (If you're interested, its website is pitching a bargain on rooms at "15% off our currently available Best Unrestricted Rate.") That decadent complex is one of many sketchy enterprises to which Trump lent his name for licensing purposes. According to his (unaudited) personal financial disclosure report filed with the Federal Election Commission, the deal earned him $5 million. In true Trumpian style, lawsuits and battles surround the endeavor.
Under the tax plan he's touting in his presidential campaign, US businesses would see a reduction in their maximum tax rate from 35% to 15%. This lower rate ("one of the best in the world") would, he claims, render corporate inversions unnecessary. The Donald apparently hopes that corporate America will be so eternally grateful to him that they'll move their money back onshore and pay taxes on it voluntarily (though most of them already don't pay the top tax rate here anyway).
Trump's views on a "repatriation tax holiday" that would let companies bring home their overseas stashes on a one-time basis for little or nothing have shifted over the course of his candidacy. Last year, he proposed the repatriation of hidden funds without penalty or taxation of any kind. Now he's advocating a more populist one-time 10% tax on them.
Although a key promise of his tax reform plan is to end the practice of stockpiling money in offshore accounts by American companies, he has personally invested in many of the companies that do so. As CBS News noted, in October 2015, Trump owned stock in 22 of the top 30 Fortune 500 companies ranked by their number of offshore subsidiaries. It's a group that has engineered 1,225 tax-haven subsidiaries holding $1.4 trillion. Of course, Trump has a keen understanding of the practices that disguise or shelter money from taxes. As he explained to supporters in Iowa this January, when it comes to his own business enterprises, "I pay as little as possible. I use every single thing in the book."
As far as we know, Bernie has no personal experience with tax havens and has a far more structured plan than either of the leading candidates to combat their money-sucking, tax-dodging prowess. His policies would prevent American companies from avoiding US taxes through inversions, block them from escaping taxes by establishing a post office box in a tax haven site, and end the practice of letting corporations defer paying taxes on profits from offshore subsidiaries.
In the real world, financial speculation, crime, and tax evasion -- sorry for this word again -- trump the highly touted goal of "free trade" when it comes to tax havens. Bernie understood this well when he voted against the Panama "free trade" agreement of 2011. In a Senate speech on the subject, he presciently noted that "Panama is a world leader when it comes to allowing large corporations and wealthy Americans to evade US taxes by stashing their cash in offshore tax havens. And the Panama free trade agreement would make this bad situation much worse."
He was right then and he remains right today. Unfortunately, no one was listening or interested in acting on his warning -- certainly not Hillary, who, as secretary of state, characterized the agreement as "an example of the Obama Administration's commitment to economic statecraft and deepening our economic engagement throughout the world."
In practical terms, Sanders went significantly further than Hillary by formulating actual legislation on the subject. Last April, he introduced the Corporate Tax Dodging Prevention Act of 2015 in the Senate. Among other things, it aspires to "prevent corporations from sheltering profits in tax havens like Bermuda and the Cayman Islands and would stop rewarding companies that ship jobs and factories overseas with tax breaks."
Regarding inversions, he would treat companies as American for tax purposes if they were majority-owned by US interests and operating in this country. Even his plan, however, would fall short unless it made inversions illegal -- and too many companies are invested in not letting that happen.
Missing Money Costs
As of 2014, according to Gabriel Zucman, University of California economist and author of The Hidden Wealth of Nations, at least $7.6 trillion, or approximately 8% of global financial wealth, was "missing" somewhere offshore. His analysis demonstrates that the sorts of tax-dodging practices we've been discussing put governments across the planet in the red by approximately $200 billion annually. Tax avoidance by major US companies costs governments an additional $130 billion per year since nearly a third of their profits are hidden offshore.
The UN estimates that tax dodging by multinational companies costs developing countries $100 billion a year, an amount "equivalent to what it would cost to provide basic life-saving health services or safe water and sanitation to more than 2.2 billion people."
There are, in other words, harrowing costs to tax dodging. When the wealthy and powerful hide money from governments or speculate with it in sneaky ways, it destabilizes economies and enables the commission of crimes that place a further burden on ordinary people. When money flows from the economic necessities needed by the less privileged to the top fraction of a percent of the world's population and is then hidden offshore, essentially "disappeared," it's a net drain on and a blow to the world economy. This impacts jobs and the quality of our future. Unfortunately, the leading candidates in this election year aren't championing a major change for the better.
Donald Trump's political rise to become the last Republican presidential candidate standing can be largely attributed to the permanent guest member of most US families -- television. Trump has used corporate TV news networks to stoke right-wing voters' fears, anger and racism. Television is his medium.
A camera records Donald Trump speaking at a campaign rally in Columbus, Ohio, November 23, 2015. Many in the news media feel their profession has been complicit in assisting Donald Trump's rise -- particularly the ratings-minded television networks that gave him tremendous amounts of free publicity. (Andrew Spear / The New York Times)
Given that the Tuesday Indiana primary has resulted in Donald Trump being the presumptive Republican nominee, there is a lot of speculation -- particularly on the internet -- as to how the presidential campaign of a boldly vulgar and boorish billionaire became a juggernaut among GOP xenophobes and racists.
Author and columnist Neal Gabler recently wrote a commentary for Bill Moyers & Company in which Trump is portrayed as the emperor of social media. Gabler further proposed, "As FDR mastered radio and JFK conquered TV, Donald Trump rules the Internet like no other candidate." As insightful as many of Gabler's points are -- including Trump's cunning use of Twitter -- Gabler confuses Trump's relatively narrow use of the internet with candidates that have robustly employed its power and potential outreach. Just examine how the staffs of Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama harnessed the web, for example.
To put it simply, would Trump have risen to become the likely Republican nominee if there were television but no internet? The answer is yes. Swap that question around and the answer is no.
Trump's bid for the presidency would not have gone farther than a beetle's belch without the particular convergence of television and swaggering white guys (and some white women) who are smoldering with racial animosity for their perceived grievances. The permanent guest member of most US families -- television -- made it possible for Trump to pour the gas out of his cans of megalomania and light the fire.Trump has relied on one basic tool to create a cult electoral following: television.
In fact, from the time he was late to his own candidacy announcement last June until now, Trump has relied on one basic tool to create a cult electoral following: television. Furthermore, the billionaire has ironically managed to accomplish this feat with generally free coverage based on gasp-inducing barbs, an atmosphere of potential violence, momentum (largely enabled by the focus of mainstream corporate TV news on him) and his celebrity status.
Trump has been the Wizard of Oz masterfully manipulating "political coverage" of the Republican primaries, which were promoted on cable news like prize fights and gladiator contests. He knew that TV political news coverage had evolved into entertainment, spectacle and theater. All it needed was a brazen candidate to breach the thin veneer of news "legitimacy" in order to be at the center of an endless churning of National Enquirer-style stories.
Television is Trump's medium, in large part because many of his followers are overwhelmingly dependent on TV -- whether they watch it online or on a larger screen -- for their "news." He is a secular preacher of the entitled white male. He has mastered harvesting the low hanging fruit of resentment and faltering self-esteem among white folks who think this nation was "taken from them" -- when it was actually stolen from an Indigenous population that was nearly decimated. It was also founded on a bedrock of chattel slavery that exploited and brutalized Black enslaved people, mostly in the South, while the North made tidy profits from industries that bought cheap cotton. Trump reassures his fans that they should not only continue to deny their own complicity, but that they should feel justified in harboring resentment, to boot. After all, Trump signals, the United States belongs to the "winners."
In his argument, Gabler undervalues TV as he tries to make the JFK/TV, FDR/radio and Trump/internet analogies work -- although he does concede that Trump has garnered attention from television. However, TV has changed a lot since 1960, to say the least. Kennedy was a handsome, dashing, lofty-sounding candidate covered by traditional journalists in a staid black-and-white medium. Trump is the brawling, blustering actual World Wrestling Entertainment celebrity contestant, former Miss Universe television franchise owner and former star of "The Apprentice." The state of television journalism has morphed, creating an opportunity for a candidate that embodies its degraded news values.The state of television journalism has morphed, creating an opportunity for a candidate that embodies its degraded news values.
Both JFK and Trump built their followings through television. Since 1960, however, television news has become solidly part of the networks' entertainment divisions, for the most part. The distinction between "reality TV" shows, competitive shows composed of so-called winner and losers, nighttime serials, celebrity news, comedy programs and cable news are now blurred. If you peg 1950 as the first step into large-scale television watching in the United States, we have had 65 years to be influenced by what we as a nation view on television. One key question is how much we now reflect the alternative reality of television in our internal narratives, as opposed to television reflecting back to us the real narrative of our nation.
Like the radio was for FDR, the television is for Trump -- except FDR, for instance, used the radio to assure families caught in the despair of the Great Depression and then the fear of World War II that there was hope for the nation as a whole. Trump uses television to send verbal and physical cues aimed toward a more limited xenophobic, white audience to kindle hate for the scapegoat, the "other." Indeed, not only is television more and more the amplifier of a hi-tech carnival, but its reach has extended dramatically. It is now ubiquitous in restaurants, bars, health clubs, airports -- even gas stations and supermarkets. You might run into Trump on television while in your doctor's waiting room.
Gabler states it is easier for misinformation and "decontextualization" to spread on the internet. That is, of course, true, but the Trump voter is not generally interested in whether information is true or not; they are interested in Trump's explicit breaking of verbal barriers regarding white privilege and xenophobia. He uses coded language to say that white people who support him are winners. The rest of them -- Mexicans, Muslims, Black people (referenced in his contempt for Black Lives Matter activists), other people of color -- they're losers. Trump makes this implicitly and explicitly clear.
In the prescient and brilliant 1976 movie Network (written by Paddy Chayefsky), a news anchor has a nervous breakdown and due to a series of sensational outbursts, networks ratings unexpectedly spike upward. In time, he becomes a prophet leading an entire city to open their apartment windows and yell, "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore." In some telling strategies, the Trump campaign, which has run primarily on the fuel of television, seems to have learned more than a little from the film of 40 years ago.
Many Trump supporters believe the government gives "losers" an unfair advantage by providing them with a boost to be equal or surpass white "winners" who are now in economic distress (regardless of the fact that the plurality of food stamp recipients, for example, are in fact white). That's what Trump is messaging when he singles out a protester at nearly every campaign event for exercising a First Amendment right, and when he expresses a desire to punch a protester in the face, and when he offers to pay the legal bills of one of his followers who took Trump's advice and actually sucker punched a Black protester (although Trump later equivocated on that offer).
As Trump frequently and smarmily tells his followers, after expressing contempt for a protester: "When I make speeches, there's so much love in the room it's easy."When Trump proclaims, "Take Back the American Dream," this particular dream is one of white governmental and business dominance.
That is because he is the paternalistic strong father figure who will protect the interests of a self-selected family of supporters whose shared bond is being white and angry. When Trump proclaims, "Take Back the American Dream," this particular dream is one of white governmental and business dominance and the subjugation of people of color to second-class status. All of this is conveyed on television through a variety of techniques, which include Trump's call-in interviews to morning talk shows that cover the full rounds of national programs on some days. A Trump tweet may briefly draw the attention of a news cycle or two, but it doesn't alter the basic dynamics of his campaign other than to suck up the oxygen of television coverage from other candidates.
When Trump supporters say that he would never lie, or that he may make a mistake now and then but they support him because "he says what he means," they mean, "I trust him because I know where he stands, and he stands with the 'forgotten' white people." The "factometer" doesn't apply to Trump because it is not a question of the veracity of individual statements, or whether he acts crudely. What matters is what his followers believe Trump stands for, which could be paraphrased, "I am one of you, and when I'm in the White House the 'losers' aren't going to get a cent of your money. And I'm going to be kicking a lot of foreigners out of this country, you can be sure of that." It's not accuracy that counts; it's Trump's attitude.
That's his platform, that's his appeal; that is the secular religion that he offers his believers, because, yes, those who cling desperately to white supremacy and xenophobia do often love each other. They are one big exclusionary family.
Trump will likely be the first person to become a presidential nominee of either major party without having held elective office, been a military leader or been a senior government official. He accomplished this by using television news to lure watchers to a candidate who was like a never-ending gaper's block.
Before Ted Cruz threw in the towel after the Indiana primary, The New York Times reported that Cruz saw some Trump protesters across the street from one of his Hoosier events and walked over and talked with them. After Cruz left, the Times journalist quoted the leader of the Trump supporters as saying, "Anything that Donald Trump talks about," he said, "that's what I'm about."
This man perhaps first met Trump while watching the television set in his living room, and it was on TV that their courtship composed of racial resentment and xenophobia was conducted. Now, Trump speaks for him. It's a matter of being a true believer in a strong man bent on ensuring the electoral and economic power of white people.
All of this promotion leading to a presumptive nomination -- one thought laughable last year -- hardly cost the billionaire but some pocket change. The television news executives knew that Trump was like money in the bank for boosting advertising dollars. To the suits in the television news media marketing departments, he is not just a candidate; he is a lucrative, branded celebrity of monumental impertinence who is a jackpot for advertising revenue. Should the television news programs care that in return for enhanced profits, they are assisting in the swelling of a homegrown brownshirt movement?
That is a question, indeed, worth tweeting about.
Video ads for Donald Trump run on a digital screen before a rally at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, Indiana, May 1, 2016. In a flurry of social media posts and interviews since Ted Cruz dropped out of the race on Tuesday, many Republicans have raced to distance themselves from Trump, delivering a remarkable rebuke to him at precisely the moment when parties usually coalesce around a candidacy. (Photo: Sam Hodgson / The New York Times)
Now that John Kasich and Ted Cruz have dropped out, it's pretty much official: Donald Trump is the 2016 Republican nominee for president.
The pundits never saw this coming, but they should have. The Republican Party has been running a scam on its base for decades now, and voters were bound to discover this scam sooner or later.
Ever since Nixon initiated the Southern strategy, Republicans have tricked millions of (mostly white) Americans into voting for them by giving lip service to old-timey racism and anti-immigrant xenophobia. The purpose of this all this pandering, of course, was to rally the masses around the real goal of the Republican elites, which is to push through economic policies that help out the billionaires and corporations that fund the Republican Party. This strategy worked best when it conflated economics with race.
Ronald Reagan's advisor Lee Atwater described this process in pretty blunt language back in the 1980s.
That kind of talk -- talk that essentially converts the language of racism into the language of economics -- is powerful, and it's been perhaps the most important piece of the scam Republicans have been running on their base for decades. But it was always a risky way of rallying people around the GOP brand because it depended on the Republican base continuing to believe their economic interests are aligned with those of the Republican donor class.
At some point, the Republican base was going to realize that the Republican elites didn't actually give a damn about them. At some time, the scared and bigoted white people who vote Republican were going to realize that the people they were voting into office only cared about the billionaires and big corporations who wrote their campaign checks. At some point, the mask was going to fall off and the base was going to revolt against the elites.
Well, "some point" is now, and with Donald Trump's clinching of the nomination, the base has finally had its revenge on the Republican elite. The irony, of course is that the racism and xenophobia that's motivated the Republican base for the past few decades hasn't gone away. If anything, Trump has made it more explicit.
But one thing that Donald Trump hasn't done is bow down before the altar of "small government." In many ways, he's completely rejected orthodox Republican economic thinking on key issues.
For example, not only does Trump blast so-called "free trade" deals on a daily basis, he also talks about protecting Social Security, and has called for a massive infrastructure investment program. He's also called on the government to close the carried interest loophole.
And you know what? The Republican base loves it.
Republicans aren't voting for Trump in spite of the fact that he's kind of a "big government" Republican. They're voting for Trump because he's a "big government" Republican, coupled with a platform infused with racism and xenophobia. They've finally realized the scam party elites have been running on them for the past few decades, and just like Trump, they're rejecting "small government" Republicanism once and for all.
There's an opening here for Democrats if they care to take it.
By cleaving the Republican base away from the "small government" crowd ever so slightly, Trump is making it OK talk about "big government" again, and if Democrats were smart, they'd use this to their advantage. They'd go to Donald Trump voters, show them why Trump's ideas are wrong and demonstrate why their vision of government works better. If the polls are any indication, Americans are ready and waiting.
For example a recent Progressive Change Institute survey of likely 2016 voters shows that Americans overwhelmingly support government-oriented solutions to things education, health care and the economy:
- 75 percent of Americans polled support fair trade that protects workers, the environment and jobs.
- 71 percent support giving all students access to a debt-free college education.
- 71 percent support a massive infrastructure spending program aimed at rebuilding our broken roads and bridges and putting people back to work.
- 70 percent support expanding Social Security.
- 59 percent support raising taxes on the wealthy so that millionaires pay the same 74 percent rate in taxes as they did in 1980.
- 58 percent support breaking up the big banks.
- 55 percent support a financial transaction tax (or Robin Hood tax) on Wall Street traders.
- 51 percent support single-payer health care, and so and so on.
Americans, it turns out, really favor government-oriented solutions to problems. It's a shame that it has taken Donald Trump for them to realize it, but Democrats should be excited. They now have an opportunity build a broad progressive coalition for decades to come; one that believes, like FDR did, that government has the power to do good.
It will take a lot of work to break through the racism that motivates a lot of Trump supporters, but the groundwork for a new era of "big government" progressivism is there for the taking.
Let's hope that Democrats don't let this moment go to waste.
Sen. Ted Cruz leaves the stage after ending his presidential campaign at a primary night rally in Indianapolis, May 3, 2016. (Photo: Eric Thayer / The New York Times)
Kasich is gone. Carly Fiorina was a vice presidential candidate for six days while Donald Trump accused Ted Cruz's father of having a hand in the murder of John F. Kennedy before declaring on national television that he was going to win "bigly." That's right, "bigly." Bernie Sanders still has some fight in him, but the Trump v. Clinton contest is taking shape, and it is gruesomely likely that we're all going to lose bigly when the deal goes down.
Sen. Ted Cruz leaves the stage after ending his presidential campaign at a primary night rally in Indianapolis, May 3, 2016. (Photo: Eric Thayer / The New York Times)
When the bent roadshow that is this 2016 presidential election season kicked off months ago -- comprised of 17 gremlins, a Republican Democrat and a democratic socialist from the woods all running for the prize like the ingredients for the worst fruitcake you've ever heard of -- I said to myself, "Yeah, OK, get ready, because this one is going to be really, really weird." I bought a helmet, a mouth guard, and installed four-point NASCAR-approved restraints in my office chair. I thought I was ready. Just another campaign season, right? Stomp the gas, let's do this.
My safety precautions served me well through those ridiculous GOP debates, through primary and caucus and absurdity after absurdity, but none of it helped after I crashed into the Indiana primary. When Donald Trump on Tuesday accused Ted Cruz's father of involvement in the John F. Kennedy assassination based on a "report" by the National Enquirer, my finely tuned race car hit the wall at speed, rolled over twelve times and burst into flames. I was thankfully thrown free and landed softly in a hedgerow, but a part of me will always be in that burning car wondering how in the blue hell I got there.
Here's the funny part: Trump won Indiana by 17 points, and Ted Cruz dropped out. On planet Earth, where I thought I was until yesterday, accusing someone's father of helping to assassinate a president would be grounds for immediate disqualification, not fodder for double-digit domination that all but seals the Republican nomination. Unless Godzilla rises from the sea and devours the North American continent, Donald fa-chrissakes Trump is going to win this thing in a rout. John Kasich got 8 percent of the vote in Indiana and literally went to bed. No statement, nothing. If Kasich kept up this anti-frenetic pace, you'd start seeing his face on milk cartons at the supermarket. "Have you seen me?" No. It's over. He just dropped out.
In a season as bizarre as this has been, the fact that I found myself having a grudging respect for Ted Cruz is certainly the strangest part of all. Make no mistake: I consider Cruz dropping out of the presidential race to be the equivalent of an extinction-level-event meteor narrowly missing the planet. Trump is genuinely dangerous, but he is at the end of the day a carnival barker with a flat head. He is a certain menace, but Cruz means what he says, and his gift for rhetoric could have delivered us into a new Dark Age. Trump is ridiculous, but Cruz is a truly frightening Dominionist demagogue who has no business even looking at the White House, much less residing in it. He is not a monster, but he would become one if given the chance.
All that being said, Cruz left everything on the field in Indiana -- his confrontation with those Trump supporters when he effectively shut them down, his pure rage against Trump after the Kennedy assassination thing hit the wires -- and it tells me he's not done seeking the presidency. That spooks me, but you have to give credit where it is due. The man went down swinging. I'm reminded of the line by Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in the film Full Metal Jacket: "He's silly and he's ignorant but he's got guts, and guts is enough." The 2020 election season is a scant four years away. Cruz is silly and he's ignorant, and he'll be back. Take appropriate precautions.
While the mayhem of the GOP nomination race ratcheted up to a whole new level of farce, a funny thing happened on the way to the coronation of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee. Her chariot hit a Bernie-shaped speed bump south of Gary and cracked an axle. Bernie Sanders, who can't win according to the television people, won Indiana, and in fairly decisive fashion.
Sanders gave a muted, calm victory statement as he prepared to move on to next week's contests in Nebraska and West Virginia. Clinton, on the other hand, went dark and silent like a deep-diving submarine. No statement to her supporters, just like Kasich. It's almost as if she was never there. What's that phrase submariners use? Make like a hole in the water. Indeed.
Conventional wisdom and the delegate math has Hillary Clinton winning the nomination, but Bernie Sanders hasn't gotten that particular memo. After Nebraska and West Virginia comes Kentucky and Oregon, followed by Washington State, followed after that by delegate-rich California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota and South Dakota all on the 7th of June. Indiana proved that anything is possible. The media wants a Trump v. Clinton contest for obvious reasons. Sanders has other ideas.
This is truly the Let's All Drop Acid And Have A Presidential Race campaign season. Kasich is gone with a whimper. Carly Fiorina was a vice presidential candidate for six days while Donald Trump accused Ted Cruz's father of having a hand in the murder of John F. Kennedy before declaring on national television that he was going to win "bigly." That's right, "bigly." My new favorite word to describe this race; it means nothing, and everything. Bernie Sanders still has some fight in him, but the Trump v. Clinton contest is taking shape, and it is gruesomely likely that we're all going to lose bigly when the deal goes down.
Thanks, Indiana. I can see the music.
A few weeks after leaving office, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may have breathed a sigh of relief and reassurance when Director of National Intelligence James Clapper denied reports of the National Security Agency eavesdropping on Americans. After all, Clinton had been handling official business at the State Department like many Americans do with their personal business, on an unsecured server.
In sworn testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on March 12, 2013, Clapper said the NSA was not collecting, wittingly, "any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans," which presumably would have covered Clinton's unsecured emails.
I would guess that Clapper's confession may have come as a shock to then ex-Secretary Clinton, as she became aware that her own emails might be among the trillions of communications that NSA was vacuuming up. Nevertheless, she found Snowden's truth-telling a safer target for her fury than Clapper's dishonesty and NSA's dragnet. But NSA contractor Edward Snowden's revelations -- starting on June 5, 2013 -- gave the lie to Clapper's testimony, which Clapper then retracted on June 21 -- coincidentally, Snowden's 30th birthday -- when Clapper sent a letter to the Senators to whom he had, well, lied. Clapper admitted his "response was clearly erroneous -- for which I apologize." (On the chance you are wondering what became of Clapper, he is still DNI.)
In April 2014, Clinton suggested that Snowden had helped terrorists by giving "all kinds of information, not only to big countries, but to networks and terrorist groups and the like." Clinton was particularly hard on Snowden for going to China (Hong Kong) and Russia to escape a vengeful prosecution by the U.S. government.
Clinton even explained what extraordinary lengths she and her people went to in safeguarding government secrets: "When I would go to China or would go to Russia, we would leave all my electronic equipment on the plane with the batteries out, because … they're trying to find out not just about what we do in our government, they're … going after the personal emails of people who worked in the State Department." Yes, she said that. (emphasis added)
Hoisted on Her Own Petard
Alas, nearly a year later, in March 2015, it became known that during her tenure as Secretary of State she had not been as diligent as she led the American people to believe. She had used a private server for official communications, rather than the usual official State Department email accounts maintained on federal servers. Thousands of those emails would retroactively be marked classified -- some at the TOP SECRET/Codeword level -- by the department.
During an interview last September, Snowden was asked to respond to the revelations about highly classified material showing up on Clinton's personal server: "When the unclassified systems of the United States government, which has a full-time information security staff, regularly gets hacked, the idea that someone keeping a private server in the renovated bathroom of a server farm in Colorado is more secure is completely ridiculous."
"She would never intentionally put America in any kind of jeopardy," the President said on April 10. In the same interview, Obama told Chris Wallace, "I guarantee that there is no political influence in any investigation conducted by the Justice Department, or the FBI -- not just in this case, but in any case. Full stop. Period."
Asked if Clinton "intentionally endangered US international security by being so careless with her email," Snowden said it was not his place to say. Nor, it would seem, is it President Barack Obama's place to say, especially considering that the FBI is actively investigating Clinton's security breach. But Obama has said it anyway.
But, although a former professor of Constitutional law, the President sports a checkered history when it comes to prejudicing investigations and even trials, conducted by those ultimately reporting to him. For example, more than two years before Chelsea Manning was brought to trial, the President stated publicly: "We are a nation of laws. We don't let individuals make decisions about how the law operates. [Manning] broke the law!"
Not surprisingly, the ensuing court martial found Manning guilty, just as the Commander in Chief had predicted. Though Manning's purpose in disclosing mostly low-level classified information was to alert the American public about war crimes and other abuses by the U.S. government, Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
Prosecutorial Double Standards
On March 9, when presidential candidate Clinton was asked, impertinently during a debate, whether she would withdraw from the race if she were indicted for her cavalier handling of government secrets, she offered her own certain prediction: "Oh, for goodness sake! It's not going to happen. I'm not even answering that question."
Merited or not, there is, sadly, some precedent for Clinton's supreme confidence. Retired General and ex-CIA Director David Petraeus, after all, lied to the FBI (a felony for "lesser" folks) about giving his mistress/biographer highly classified information and got off with a slap on the wrist, a misdemeanor fine and probation, no jail time -- a deal that Obama's first Attorney General Eric Holder did on his way out the door.
We are likely to learn shortly whether Attorney General Loretta Lynch is as malleable as Holder or whether she will allow FBI Director James Comey, who held his nose in letting Petraeus cop a plea, to conduct an unfettered investigation this time -- or simply whether Comey will be compelled to enforce Clinton's assurance that "it's not going to happen."
Last week, Fox News TV legal commentator Andrew Napolitano said the FBI is in the final stages of its investigation into Clinton and her private email server. His sources tell him that "the evidence of her guilt is overwhelming," and that the FBI has enough evidence to indict and convict.
Whether Napolitano has it right or not, it seems likely that Clinton is reading President Obama correctly -- no profile in courage is he. Nor is Obama likely to kill the political fortunes of the now presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. Yet, if he orders Lynch and Comey not to hold Hillary Clinton accountable for what -- in my opinion and that of most other veteran intelligence officials whom I've consulted -- amounts to at least criminal negligence, another noxious precedent will be set.
Knowing Too Much
This time, however, the equities and interests of the powerful, secretive NSA, as well as the FBI and Justice, are deeply involved. And by now all of them know "where the bodies are buried," as the smart folks inside the Beltway like to say. So the question becomes would a future President Hillary Clinton have total freedom of maneuver if she were beholden to those all well aware of her past infractions and the harm they have done to this country.
One very important, though as yet unmentioned, question is whether security lapses involving Clinton and her emails contributed to what Clinton has deemed her worst moment as Secretary of State, the killing of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. personnel at the lightly guarded U.S. "mission" (a very small, idiosyncratic, consulate-type complex not performing any consular affairs) in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012.
However, if there is any indication that Clinton's belatedly classified emails contained information about internal State Department discussions regarding the consulate's security shortcomings, questions may be raised about whether that information was somehow compromised by a foreign intelligence agency and shared with the attackers. Somehow the terrorists who mounted the assault were aware of the absence of meaningful security at the facility, though obviously there were other means for them to have made that determination, including the State Department's reliance on unreliable local militias who might well have shared that inside information with the attackers.
We know that State Department bureaucrats under Secretary Clinton overruled repeated requests for additional security in Benghazi. We also know that Clinton disregarded NSA's repeated warnings against the use of unencrypted communications. One of NSA's core missions, after all, is to create and maintain secure communications for military, diplomatic, and other government users.
Clinton's flouting of the rules, in NSA's face, would have created additional incentive for NSA to keep an especially close watch on her emails and telephone calls. The NSA also might know whether some intelligence service successfully hacked into Clinton's server, but there's no reason to think that the NSA would share that sort of information with the FBI, given the NSA's history of not sharing its data with other federal agencies even when doing so makes sense.
The NSA arrogates to itself the prerogative of deciding what information to keep within NSA walls and what to share with the other intelligence and law enforcement agencies like the FBI. (One bitter consequence of this jealously guarded parochialism was the NSA's failure to share very precise information that could have thwarted the attacks of 9/11, as former NSA insiders have revealed.)
It is altogether likely that Gen. Keith Alexander, head of NSA from 2005 to 2014, neglected to tell the Secretary of State of NSA's "collect it all" dragnet collection that included the emails and telephone calls of Americans -- including Clinton's. This need not have been simply the result of Alexander's pique at her disdain for communications security requirements, but rather mostly a consequence of NSA's modus operandi.
With the mindset at NSA, one could readily argue that the Secretary of State -- and perhaps the President himself -- had no "need-to-know." And, needless to say, the fewer briefed on the NSA's flagrant disregard for Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures the better.
So, if there is something incriminating -- or at least politically damaging -- in Clinton's emails, it's a safe bet that at least the NSA and maybe the FBI, as well, knows. And that could make life difficult for a Clinton-45 presidency. Inside the Beltway, we don't say the word "blackmail," but the potential will be there. The whole thing needs to be cleaned up now before the choices for the next President are locked in.
As Donald Trump virtually clinches the Republican presidential nomination after Senator Ted Cruz suspends his campaign following a devastating defeat in the Indiana primary, we are joined by Tom Robbins, investigative journalist in residence at the CUNY Journalism School, who has reported on Trump's history of close relationships with organized crime figures in the United States. We examine some of the characters and connections Robbins helped expose as a reporter who covered politics, labor and organized crime for the Daily News and The Village Voice from 1985 to 2011. His recent article for The Marshall Project is "Trump and the Mob." Robbins also critiques the media's coverage of Trump on the campaign trail.
Please check back later for full transcript.
TransCanada's pipe yard near Gascoyne, North Dakota. (Photo: Cindy Meyers)
The US government agency responsible for interstate pipelines recorded a catalog of problems with the construction of TransCanada's Keystone Pipeline and the Cushing Extension, a DeSmog investigation has found.
Inspectors at the US Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) observed TransCanada's contractors violating construction design codes established to ensure a pipeline's safety, according to inspection reports released to DeSmog under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Evan Vokes, former TransCanada materials engineer-turned-whistleblower, told DeSmog the problems uncovered in the reports show issues that could lead to future pipeline failures and might also explain some of the failures the pipeline had already suffered.
Vokes claimed PHMSA was negligent in failing to use its powers to shut down construction of the pipeline when inspectors found contractors doing work incorrectly. "You cannot have a safe pipeline without code compliance," Vokes said.
The Keystone and the Cushing Extension are part of TransCanada's Keystone Pipeline network, giving the company a path to move diluted Canadian tar sands, also known as dilbit, to the U.S. Gulf Coast.
The Keystone pipeline network is made up of the Keystone Pipeline (Phase I), that runs from Hardistry, Alberta, to Steele City, Nebraska, and the Keystone-Cushing extension (Phase ll), from Steele City to Cushing, Oklahoma. There, it connects to the southern route of the Keystone XL, renamed the Gulf Coast Extension (Phase III), that runs from Cushing, Oklahoma to the Gulf Coast in Texas.
The final phase of TransCanada's network, the Keystone XL, (Phase lV), originating in Alberta, is meant to connect to the Gulf Coast pipeline. But KXL is blocked for now since President Obama rejected a permit TransCanada needs to finish its network.
According to the inspection reports PHMSA provided, its inspectors observed TransCanada violating construction design codes established to assure a pipeline's safety. Inspectors wrote that some contractors working on the Keystone were not familiar with the construction specifications.
The reports show that when PHMSA inspectors found improper work, they explained the correct procedures -- such as telling welders the correct temperature and speed they needed to weld at according to specifications.
In one instance, a PHMSA inspector found a coating inspector using an improperly calibrated tool, so the PHMSArepresentative instructed him on the proper setting.
The inspection reports also describe regulators identifying visible problems with pipe sections as they were placed in ditches, and of ditches not properly prepared to receive the pipe.
PHMSA inspection report of the Keystone pipeline 6/15/2009 to 6/19/2009.
"Regulators did nothing to stop TransCanada from building a pipeline that was bound to fail," Vokes told DeSmog after reviewing the construction inspection reports for the Keystone 1 pipeline and the Cushing Extension.
According to Vokes, those welders and inspectors should have been fired because problems with welds and coatings can lead to slow and hard to detect leaks.
"It is impossible to believe the welders and inspectors cited in the PHMSA reports were operator qualified, which is a mandated requirement by PHMSA," Vokes said.
TransCanada insists it used qualified contractors.
Matthew John, a communications specialist for TransCanada, told DeSmog: "In fact, the Special Permit conditions for Keystone Phase 1 and the Cushing Extension included a requirement for TransCanada to implement a Construction 'Operator Qualification' program. We only use highly trained and specially certified contractors in the construction of the Keystone System."
But the PHMSA inspection reports cast doubt on the effectiveness of the 'Operator Qualification' program.
Vokes said: "How is it possible that PHMSA could find multiple violations at multiple sites on multiple days in multiple years?"
"It isn't a regulator's job to instruct contractors how to comply to code," Vokes said.
"If the construction crew was not familiar with the correct procedures, they shouldn't have been allowed to continue constructing the pipeline."
Part of Vokes's job as a pipeline materials engineer was to ensure TransCanada adhered to the accepted codes of pipeline construction set by institutions such as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
"Straying from the adopted code is not only illegal, but it compromises the integrity of a pipeline," he said.
Vokes says that during his five years with the company he did his best to get TransCanada to identify and solve its problems. But he said the company continued to emphasize cost and speed rather than compliance.
This compelled Vokes to send damning evidence of code violations to the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta, the Canadian National Energy Board, and PHMSA.
He was fired after airing TransCanada's failures, which did not surprise him. He is, however, surprised regulators in the U.S.and Canada continue to let TransCanada and other companies build pipelines that are not built to safety standards.
Vokes told DeSmog he had sent senior PHMSA investigator Gery Bauman a "binder full of information" showing issues with TransCanada's construction methods. "Bauman seemed concerned and told me that he would look into my allegations, but blew me off." According to Vokes, Bauman stopped responding to his emails.
PHMSA confirmed it received documents Vokes sent to Bauman and reviewed them. Bauman and other communication specialists at PHMSA were asked by DeSmog to comment on the communications with Vokes, but have not responded.
According to Vokes, the documents he gave Bauman contained proof that TransCanada didn't follow minimum safety standards when building the Luddem pumping station -- the same pump station that spilled about 400 gallons of oil in North Dakota in 2011.
Bauman witnessed some of the construction problems firsthand. An inspection report on the construction of the Keystone Pipeline bearing his name, dated 06/15/2009 to 06/19/2009, states:
"G. Bauman and M. Kieba conducted an inspection of Spread 3B out of Aberdeen, SD. The issues and concerns noted by Gery ranged from coating anomalies not being repaired to bolts causing coating damage. Additionally, a joint of pipe was found with a three-inch section where the wall of the pipe was measured to be 0.356". Gery also inquired about the CP [cathodic protection] of the line that had been in the ground for almost a year, and line markers to help prevent any possible third party damage."
Vokes believes the problems Bauman described could lead to a spill. He explained regulators should have required an integrity test to determine if a sleeve (protective layer) was required, but the report makes no mention whether such a test was ordered.
DeSmog asked Bauman and the PHMSA if the issues Bauman reported on Spread 3B could lead to a spill and an integrity test or any other kind of follow-up work was ordered, but did not receive a reply.
Bauman warned Kinder Morgan, another pipeline industry giant, on similar "inappropriate" construction practices when he inspected REX, a natural gas pipeline that runs from Colorado to Pennsylvania completed in 2009. PHMSA accepted assurances form Kinder Morgan that remedial actions would be taken. But whatever actions Kinder Morgan took, they did not prevent a gas leak causing evacuation of nearby homes in southeastern Ohio or a slew of other incidents.
After reviewing the construction inspection reports obtained by DeSmog on the Keystone and the Cushing Extension, Vokes said that regulators cite numerous problems grave enough that, in his opinion, PHMSA should have shut the project down. He said PHMSA's apparent acceptance that operators would change their ways showed the agency learned nothing fromREX.
Another PHMSA inspection report, dated June 2009, indicates TransCanada ignored basic protocols by working on the Keystone pipeline without written specifications. "That gave PHMSA grounds to shut the work down on the spot," Vokes said.
PHMSA inspection report 7/06/2009 to 7/10/2009 indicating multiple regulation violations by a third-party auditor.
"The PHMSA inspection report dated 10/05/2009 to 10/09/2009 foretells the kind of leak that led to the spill from a section of Keystone Pipeline in South Dakota," Vokes said. The spill, discovered on 2 April, leaked an estimated 16,800 gallons of dilbit because of a faulty transition weld.
The report states: "There has been a problem with cracked welds on this spread, which is well known to the personnel involved. The problem got worse with twenty cracks the last seven working days. The mainline welded out on Wednesday, October 7, 2009."
The PHMSA inspection report dated 08/24/2009 to 08/28/2009 calls out a coating inspector for using an unauthorized tool, stating: "The procedures call for a utility knife of a specific size to be used for performing the coating V notch adhesion test. The coating inspector used a lock blade knife for the inspection."
"Why not just use a pocket knife or prison shank while the coating inspector is at it?" Vokes joked.
Though PHMSA chose not to fine TransCanada for any code violations during construction of the Keystone and Cushing Extension phases after the Keystone Pipeline became operational, PHMSA fined the company twice for construction violations following incidents that required the Keystone pipeline to be shut down for repair.
This included the spill at the Luddem pump station in 2011 and an extreme corrosion event that was detected in multiple spots in 2012 as well as other probable violations.
Most recently, following the South Dakota spill, PHMSA issued a Corrective Order Notice to TransCanada.
"These actions don't change the fact that any pipeline not built to code is an accident waiting to happen," Vokes said.
For regulators to allow companies like TransCanada to break the rules seems criminal to him. "It goes against the code of ethics licensed engineers take that require them to put the safety of people and the environment first," he said.
Inside Climate News reported that Jeffrey Wiese, a top PHMSA administrator, informed a group of industry insiders thatPHMSA has "very few tools to work with" in enforcing safety rules.
But PHMSA does have the power to shut a job site down, to fine operators and require additional integrity tests if regulators have reason to doubt a pipeline's safety.
A PHMSA public affairs specialist told DeSmog: "PHMSA can refer any discovery of possible criminal activity to either the Department's Office of the Inspector General or the Department of Justice for further investigation and action. Those agencies may initiate criminal investigations and prosecution as a result of, or separate from a PHMSA referral."
DeSmog asked PHMSA why inspectors did not shut down construction work or fine TransCanada for breaking rules on the Keystone Pipeline and Cushing Extension projects. PHMSA has not responded.
Despite problems with the Keystone Pipeline prior to the 2 April spill, TransCanada's CEO Russ Girling boasted about the Keystone Pipeline network's safety last year on the occasion of the company transporting its billionth barrel of Canadian and U.S. crude oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast.
TransCanada spokesperson John said: "Any deficiencies in code compliance identified during the construction of the pipeline were addressed prior to it being put into service. The Keystone System is safe and TransCanada has one of the best operating records in the entire industry."
But Vokes asked about the violations that inspectors didn't catch. "If a pipeline is not built to code," Vokes insists, "it's not ifthe pipeline will spill, it is when."
DeSmog asked PHMSA for final evaluation reports on the Keystone Pipeline and the Cushing Extension after reviewing aFinal Evaluation Report for the Gulf Coast Pipeline obtained through a FOIA request.
But PHMSA claims no such reports were conducted for the other two pipelines. Background information provided to DeSmog by the agency indicates that different regions do different kinds of paperwork, which might explain why no final evaluation reports exist for these pipelines.
PHMSA did not quantify what percentage of the inspection reports conducted on the two pipelines it provided to DeSmog.
"It is hard to believe some kind of final inspection report was not done for those pipelines. The Keystone Pipeline was the largest pipeline project in the United States at that time," Vokes said.
The agency's website states: "PHMSA inspects pipeline construction to assure compliance with these requirements. Inspectors review operator-prepared construction procedures to verify that they conform to regulatory requirements. Inspectors then observe construction activities in the field to assure that they are conducted in accordance with the procedures."
The newly released PHMSA inspection reports, minus a final evaluation report, raise further questions about the integrity of the Keystone Pipeline and the Cushing Extension.
The Democratic National Committee's (DNC) chairwoman and the party's left-wing presidential contender are sparring in the media over how welcoming the party should be toward independent voters.
Heading into the Indiana primary on Tuesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) made the case that all party elections should be held as open contests. Primaries in the Hoosier state and nineteen others allow voters who identify as independents to participate in the Democrats' nominating process.
Sanders once again finds himself pitted against DNC Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla.), who on Monday called for an entirely closed primary system.
"I think Debbie has got it backwards," he told MSNBC Tuesday morning.
"The world has changed," the senator said. "More and more people are independents, and I think it makes no sense for the Democrats to say to those people, 'You can't help us.'"
He went on to say future electoral success hinges on opening the party up to those who don't identify with either major political faction.
"For Democrats to do well in a national election they're going to need a lot of independents, and I would not think it's a good idea to push those people away."
Speaking to MSNBC on Monday, Rep. Wasserman-Schultz made the opposite argument.
Stressing that she was giving a personal opinion and not speaking in her capacity as DNC chair, Wasserman-Schultz stated: "I believe that the party's nominee should be chosen … by members of the party."
Relations between the Sanders campaign and the DNC have been frosty from the onset. Wasserman-Schultz, co-chair of Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign, was accused of being deferential to the Clinton camp by restricting the number of debates between the candidates.
The fractious relationship almost led the two parties to court after the DNC blocked the Sanders campaign's access to party voter information. The party had said there were unauthorized breaches of Clinton campaign data by a Sanders' staffer, who later was fired. Eventually, the DNC restored the Sanders campaign's access to their files.
According to state-by-state exit polling, Sanders fares better than Clinton among independent-minded voters: a stat that bolstered prior pundit-defying Sanders victories in states with open contests, like Michigan and Wisconsin.
In New York, on the other hand, which had a closed primary, more than 3 million unaffiliated voters were barred from the polls in an election that Clinton won by roughly a quarter-million votes.
Despite a string of losses over the last two weeks, which have mostly shut the door on his chances of winning the Democratic nomination, Sanders is promising to stay in the race, and even fight for the ticket during a contested Democratic convention in July.
A majority of Democrats support the senator's commitment to stick with it all the way through the primary calendar. An NBC News-Survey Money poll released Tuesday found that 57 percent of Dems believe Sanders should stay in the race.
The Pentagon just made it official: No war crime was committed when a U.S. plane attacked the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan last year, killing 42 patients and health workers and injuring many more.
At least, that's the conclusion of its own investigation -- nearly all of which remains classified.
No war crime, despite the U.S. military having full knowledge of the hospital's location before the bombing. No war crime, despite desperate hospital staffers calling military liaison officers while the rampage was underway. No war crime, despite their calls being routed without response through layers of lethal bureaucracy for an hour or more as the deadly bombing continued.
No war crime, says the Pentagon.
The 16 military personnel involved all will face some kind of administrative consequence, but none of them will be court-martialed. The 16 do not, apparently, include the top strategists of the U.S. war in Afghanistan -- nor anyone responsible for creating or approving the system for responding to desperate calls from civilians being slaughtered by U.S. warplanes. Nor anyone whose job it is to be sure that the U.S. military doesn't violate the Geneva Conventions' prohibitions on things like attacking hospitals.
We don't know for sure, because the vast majority of the official report on the Kunduz hospital assault was redacted -- blacked out -- so no one without top security clearance could read even the Pentagon's own assessment of what happened. Apparently Congress, the press, and the public are all supposed to be satisfied with the explanation that the cause was "a combination of human errors, compounded by process and equipment failures." The official write-up adds that "fatigue and high operational tempo also contributed" to the "fog of war" -- that old standby for excusing large-scale attacks on civilians.
No one should be satisfied with this internal investigation. There's an urgent need for an independent, international investigation, as Doctors Without Borders has been demanding since the attack took place last October.
The press release from U.S. Central Command quotes Army General Joseph Votel, the current Centcom commander. "The fact this was unintentional, an unintentional action, takes it out of the realm of actually being a deliberate war crime against persons or protected locations," the general insists. "That is the principal reason why we do not consider this to be a war crime."
General Votel can consider whatever he likes, but he doesn't get to re-write international humanitarian law on his own. Some war crimes do include specific intent -- a charge of genocide, for instance, requires the perpetrator's intention to destroy, in part or in whole, a racial, ethnic, religious, or other group. Other war crimes, however -- including violating the Geneva Conventions -- do not require that kind of specific intent. (Criminal law has a similar distinction. Some crimes, like assault or battery, are based on a particular action; a separate crime is committed when there is assault with intent to kill.)
In this case, the 4th Geneva Convention, Article 18, states unambiguously that "civilian hospitals organized to give care to the wounded and sick, the infirm and maternity cases, may in no circumstances be the object of attack, but shall at all times be respected and protected by the Parties to the conflict." Criminal negligence may be involved rather than criminal intent, but that would still be a crime.
Yet Army General John Campbell, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, insists, "The label 'war crimes' is typically reserved for intentional acts -- intentionally targeting civilians or intentionally targeting protected objects."
"Typically" is a slippery word. One might conclude from Campbell's words that U.S. military personnel right up the chain of command are indeed "typically" liable for war crimes when they, just for example, order the bombing of heavily populated cities to force regime change, or a drone attack on someone from the kill-or-capture list despite his nephew being at his side. But in fact U.S. military personnel are virtually never charged with war crimes.
And despite the years of brutal U.S. assaults launched in the name of the global war on terror, there is still nothing "typical" about an attack on a civilian hospital whose location was well known to the military, whose staff was desperately calling to try to stop the bombing, and who lost at least 14 doctors and other staff, 24 patients, and four caretakers in the attack. So regardless of whether it's true -- or acceptable -- that "typical" war crimes involve specific intent, that is certainly not a requirement for determining what a war crime is.
On May 3, the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved a resolution reaffirming member states' obligations to protect hospitals, the sick, and the wounded in war zones. Given recent years' escalation of attacks on hospitals and clinics -- from Israel's 2014 assault on Gaza, to last year's Kunduz bombing, and last week's attack on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Aleppo, which killed at least 50 people -- such a resolution is urgently needed.
Quite likely the devastating attack on the hospital at Kunduz was in fact a war crime. Possibly it wasn't. But there's no reason in the world for anyone to accept that an internal Pentagon investigation -- in which almost all of the 3,000 page report remains classified -- is somehow sufficient to determine the answer. An independent, international investigation is crucially required. Letting the Pentagon investigate itself simply isn't good enough.
Break Free protesters release balloons as part of a demonstration against climate change at the Ffos-y-fran Land Reclamation Scheme in South Wales on May 3, 2016. (Photo: Break Free)
For two weeks this May, organizers across 12 countries will participate in Break Free 2016, an open-source invitation to encourage "more action to keep fossil fuels in the ground and an acceleration in the just transition to 100 percent renewable energy." Many of the month's events -- pulled together by 350.org and a slew of groups around the world -- are set to take place within ongoing campaigns to shut down energy infrastructure, targeting "some of the most iconic and dangerous fossil fuel projects all over the world" with civil disobedience.
The Break Free site's opening page invites viewers to "join a global wave of resistance to keep coal, oil and natural gas in the ground." And that's where some unions have taken issue.
The United Steelworkers, or USW, this week released a response. "Short-sighted and narrow-focused activities like 350.org's 'Break Free' actions," they write, "make it much more challenging to work together to create and envision a clean energy economy." Three of the locations targeted -- in Pennsylvania, Indiana and Washington -- are USW-represented refineries. The union argues that, despite record growth in renewables, the economy will continue to be reliant on fossil fuels for some time. "Shutting down a handful of refineries in the United States," they say, "would lead to massive job loss in refinery communities, increased imports of refined oil products, and ultimately no impact on global carbon emissions." Rather, refineries and their workers should be brought into the clean energy economy.
The statement ends arguing that, "We can't choose between good jobs or a healthy environment. If we don't have both, we'll have neither." In more familiar terms, Breaking Free -- for the USW -- sounds like a case of jobs versus the environment.
While similar releases are standard fare for other unions, the 30,000-member USW is one of the country's most progressive -- even when it comes to environmental issues.
"People assume that because we're an industrial union that our leadership doesn't care about the environment," Roxanne Brown told me. "Nothing could be further from the truth."
Brown is the assistant legislative director at USW, and emphasized the union's long history of work on environmental issues. The USW hosted a conference in support of air pollutant regulations in the late 1960s, early on rejecting the kind of weaponized jobs versus environment rhetoric that has cropped up around the Keystone XL pipeline and other extraction fights.
In 1967, former president I.W. Abel said that, "We refuse to be the buffer between positive pollution control activity by the community and resistance by industry," and advocated for unions to play a strong role in determining environmental regulations.
"If you do not participate, the standards may well be determined not by the breathers of air in the community, but by those who have a vested interest in the industrial facilities," he added.
Just last spring, the USW enlisted the support of green groups in their six-week, nationwide strike, each arguing that unsafe refineries posed a threat to workers and communities alike. "The workers are like canaries in the mine," USW spokeswoman Lynn Hancock told me last year. "They can see what's going on and what happens before something tragic happens." Groups like the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Communities for a Better Environment and even Divest London turned out to support on both sides of the Atlantic.
Where unions and greens coalesced around confronting rampant workplace safety issues in refineries -- the kind that caused disasters like the Deepwater Horizon spill of 2010 -- the former see cutting off fossil fuel supplies as an existential threat. Brown didn't have any illusions about the fact that coal, oil and natural gas would be phased out eventually. Unlike Break Free groups, though, she thinks the government should provide incentives and investments in R&D to make sure they're used in "the cleanest and most efficient ways possible."
As recent studies find that some 82 percent of fossil fuels must remain buried to avert catastrophic global warming, keeping them in the ground doesn't sound like such a radical demand. To meet the dangerously modest 2 degree Celsius goal outlined in the Paris Agreement signed last week, it's a bare minimum. The issue, in this case, may not be that Break Free is too ambitious in its anti-extraction plans. It may not be ambitious enough -- either in the scale at which it plans to shut down the industry or how it plans to transition over to an economy not fueled by coal, oil and natural gas.
Of course, there's no mandate on any one initiative to arrive at a fully-formed program for a just transition off fossil fuels. But organizers may do well to see bringing unions like the USW to the table as a strategic boon, not by giving up on calls to keep fossil fuels in the ground, but by working with unions on fleshed-out plans for phasing them out entirely.
"The just transition message loses a lot of its strength if you're not thinking about how to make those jobs on the other end high-road and high-wage," Brown said. The vast majority of the renewables and manufacturing jobs are non-unionized, and the patchwork, "boom and bust" nature of incentives offered to solar and wind turbine companies means that jobs in the industry can leave nearly as quickly as they come.
In 2013, the USW worked with the governor's office in Pennsylvania to attract Spanish wind turbine manufacturer Gamesa to the state, on the grounds that the facility would employ steelworkers. The steel being used to make the blades produced at the Fairless Hills site, moreover, came from USW shops in Illinois and Indiana.
"It was so beautiful to see this whole supply chain come together to make this final product by the clean energy sector made by steelworkers," Brown told me. But once a federal tax incentive for wind power (the Production Tax Credit) expired, the company left the state and put over a thousand union workers out of a job.
The USW and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers have each attempted to organize the renewables sector, but faced pushback from companies. There have been, according to Brown, "Very real attempts to deter organizing campaigns. They engage in the same practices that traditional manufacturing facilities engage in. They hire the same anti-union consultants to come in and keep the union out."
Organized labor, on the defensive in the United States after 40-plus years of neoliberal assault, is understandably shy about saying no to any projects which could provide jobs for their members; just over 11 percent of U.S. workers are represented by unions. But as oil markets face an uncertain future, "the end of oil as we know it" will hit fossil fuel workers -- not executives -- first. With the fossil fuel industry and union density each crumbling, convincing labor to let go of a largely unionized industry will be an uphill battle.
Still, labor is no monolith. There are sharp divides among unions over the climate and the future of fossil fuels. There are also plenty of potential allies. Some unions, mainly in the building trades, have poured money and staff time into stopping green group's efforts. Others have waded more cautiously, signing onto events like the 2014 People's Climate March on the strict condition that it not take a stand on infrastructure projects like the Keystone XL. Unions like National Nurses United and the Communications Workers of America, on the other hand, have been outspoken about their support for the climate fight. And projects like the Labor Network for Sustainability and Trade Unions for Energy Democracy -- a coalition of international unions -- outline and argue for a holistic transition away from fossil fuels.
A unionized renewables sector is just one piece of building a just and low-carbon economy, to be complemented by retraining programs and a bolstered public sphere with funding for such things as public housing and universal childcare. Proposals like the Leap Manifesto in Canada, Britain's One Million Climate Jobs campaign and National People's Action's "Long-Term Agenda to the New Economy" here in the states all present promising models, both for a transition plan and cross-movement organizing efforts with buy-in from unions and environmentalists alike.
A growing, green industry born of the United States' hostile labor climate is unlikely to produce steady and well-paying jobs without a fight -- not to mention a cross-movement plan beyond shutting down individual infrastructure projects. Breaking Free from fossil fuels can also mean breaking into a more sustainable economy.