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Caught Her Red-Handed

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 21:00
Categories: Latest News

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

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 21:00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Latest News

Economic Update: Karl Marx From 1818 to 1883

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 21:00

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

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

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

Economic Update is in partnership with Truthout.org

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Categories: Latest News

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

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 21:00

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

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

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

Featuring:

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

Credits:

• Host: R.J. Lozada

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

• Executive Director: Lisa Rudman

• Audience Engagement Director/Web Editor: Sabine Blaizin

• Development Associate: Vera Tykulsker 

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Categories: Latest News

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

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 21:00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Latest News

The "Tax Cuts for Shareholders" Act

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 21:00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes

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

Categories: Latest News

How Medicaid Work Requirements Will Harm Older Americans

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 21:00

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

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

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

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

Older Adults Face Obstacles to Meeting Work Requirements

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

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

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

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

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

Exemptions Won't Keep Older People From Losing Coverage

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

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

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

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

Losing Coverage Will Worsen Health -- and Could Impede Employment

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

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

Work Requirements Won't Increase Economic Mobility

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

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

Categories: Latest News

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

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 06:54

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emanuel and the Department of Justice Masquerade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Schools for Cops, Not for Kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#NoCopAcademy: Charting a New Course for Ending Police Violence

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

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

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

Categories: Latest News

Exxon's Conspiracy Charges Aim to Derail Climate Lawsuits

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 06:20

Oil giant ExxonMobil is engaged in unprecedented efforts to sue and harass in court the very people who are investigating and suing the company over global warming. Faced with determined efforts by states and localities to hold it and other fossil fuel companies accountable for contributing to, and concealing the evidence of, climate change, Exxon is crying foul, contending that it's the victim of politically- and financially-motivated conspiracies.

But in reality there are no improper schemes behind the cases against Exxon. Instead, what's troubling is an apparent effort by Exxon, one of the world's wealthiest corporations, and its powerhouse corporate lawyers, to avoid a courtroom reckoning by making specious legal arguments and outspending their foes in the legal arena.

Through its attorneys at New York's Paul Weiss Rifkin Wharton and Garrison, and Texas-based firms Haynes & Boone and Cantey Hanger, ExxonMobil has sued the attorneys general of Massachusetts, New York, and the US Virgin Islands. And the company has recently targeted for depositions and document subpoenas, and threats of more lawsuits, numerous state officials, private attorneys, and advocates.

Exxon's legal counterattack began after the Massachusetts, New York, and Virgin Islands AGs started investigating whether Exxon misled consumers and investors about the dangers of global warming and the potential impact of those dangers on the company's bottom line. Investigative reporting in 2015 showed that Exxon scientists have known, and told Exxon management for decades, that burning fossil fuels was heating up the planet, but rather than educate the public on the dangers and change its business strategy, Exxon instead spent millions supporting efforts to question and deny the science of climate change. The state AGs also started investigating whether ExxonMobil has properly accounted for its oil reserves in the wake of global price drops and evidence of global warming.

The Massachusetts AG, Maura Healey, has explained that her investigation focuses "on whether Exxon may have misled consumers and/or investors with respect to the impact of fossil fuels on climate change, and climate change-driven risks to Exxon's business," in marketing energy products and in marketing Exxon securities, in violation of the state consumer protection law. Similarly, New York's AG, Eric Schneiderman, has indicated that he is investigating whether ExxonMobil's public statements about climate change conflicted with its internal research, which could have led to "state law violations, including under the Martin Act," the New York law that prohibits financial deception and fraud. (The New York AG reached settlements with Xcel Energy and Dynegy, Inc. in 2008 and with AES Corp. in 2009 based on those companies' failures to disclose climate change risks in securities filings.)

In 2016, Exxon launched its response, suing Healey, Schneiderman, and US Virgin Islands attorney general Claude Earl Walker in federal courts in its home region of Dallas-Fort Worth. The suit against Walker succeeded when his small office halted its investigation of the oil titan, but the other two AGs persisted.

US District Judge Ed Kinkeade approved Exxon's demand that Healey and Schneiderman submit to depositions by Exxon lawyers --  an unwarranted, and  virtually unprecedented move, as prosecutors aren't normally required to face cross examination by people whom they're investigating. Healey and Schneiderman fought back, seeking an unusual mid-case appeal to the 5th Circuit US Court of Appeals, after which Kinkeade backed down, cancelled the depositions, and transferred the case to a federal court in New York.

As Exxon continues its efforts to convince a Manhattan federal judge to allow it to depose the two state AGs and, ultimately, to block their probes, it faces a new wave of lawsuits: since September 2017, eight cities and counties in California, plus New York City, have sued Exxon and other fossil fuel companies, alleging harm to their communities from climate change.

The new lawsuits brought by California cities and counties --  the cities of San Francisco, Oakland, Santa Cruz, Richmond, and Imperial Beach, plus Santa Cruz, San Mateo, and Marin counties --   could pack a powerful punch. The suits allege that ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, and others knew for decades that fossil fuel-driven global warming and rising seas threatened human life, but continued to expand their production, while deceiving consumers about the risks. Asserting that this conduct violates various state tort rules --  public nuisance, failure to warn, design defect, negligence, and trespass -- the suits demand that the companies pay for the costs of environmental harms like damages to seawalls, and dangers from severe weather, droughts, and fires.

These new lawsuits have a stronger chance of success than a 2008 case filed against fossil fuel companies by the small Alaskan community of Kivalina, seeking to recover the cost of relocating their village, which was threatened by rising sea levels. A federal judge dismissed that case, concluding that the village could not trace its injuries to any particular defendant. But today there is much more evidence that global warming is real, accelerating, and caused by burning fossil fuels, and that oil companies knew such information, suppressed it, and sought to counter it. Also, lawyers for the California cities and counties believe that recent scientific advances will make it easier to prove that the specific defendants' activities harmed or threaten their client communities.

Faced with these mounting challenges to its conduct, ExxonMobil is relentlessly trying to change the subject.

In legal papers and public communications attacking the New York and Massachusetts attorney general investigations, Exxon has charged that various meetings among lawyers, advocates, and charitable foundation officials to discuss climate change liability issues, and communications between such people and attorneys general offices, are evidence of an untoward conspiracy against the company. Exxon further alleges that the AG probes attack the company's First Amendment rights.  "The attorneys general have violated Exxon Mobil's right to participate in the national conversation about how to address the risks presented by climate change," Dan Toal, one of Exxon's lawyers at the Paul Weiss firm told Bloomberg.

Now Exxon and its allies are aiming to tie the new California lawsuits into this alleged conspiracy. The company is seeking to depose more than a dozen California officials, plus private attorney Matt Pawa, in anticipation of a threatened lawsuit alleging violation of the company's free speech and other constitutional rights. In a January 8 Texas court petition seeking the depositions, Exxon charges, "A collection of special interests and opportunistic politicians are abusing law enforcement authority and legal process to impose their viewpoint on climate change."

A recent op-ed by New York business consultant John Burnett attacked some of the California cities and counties for hiring outside lawyers to sue Exxon and paying them on a contingent basis -- meaning they get paid if and only if Exxon loses in court or settles -- even though this consultant acknowledges that the cities and counties couldn't afford to pay the lawyers any other way. He calls the arrangement "a perilous new frontier in the world of ambulance-chasing by elected officials." Similarly, Linda Kelly, general counsel for the National Manufacturers Association, told a reporter, "From Richmond, California, to New York City, activist-driven lawsuits are being filed to undermine manufacturers in America without regard to the facts."

But these counterattacks on those pursuing Exxon are themselves fueled by false information and unwarranted charges.

I've worked for many years in association with some of the people Exxon has claimed are part of the alleged conspiracy. They aren't conspirators. They generally do their work and make their cases out in the open. A 2012 meeting in La Jolla, California, among private lawyers and climate experts that Exxon repeatedly cites as the birthplace of the secret plot was meticulously documented and photographed by the participants themselves.

There's also nothing sinister or unusual about scientists, private lawyers, other experts, or simply concerned citizens providing evidence and arguments to state attorney general offices regarding potential legal violations, including, indeed especially, in complex matters involving powerful actors. There's nothing wrong with state and local law enforcement officials working in parallel on probing a common issue or target -- it happens frequently. Nor are public statements by officials regarding those probes proof of political bias or an impingement on Exxon's First Amendment rights. And nor is it unusual or improper for local governments to hire private lawyers to protect their residents' interests in court.

The AGs and local officials are doing their jobs -- pursuing evidence of law-breaking. If Exxon believes it has behaved properly with respect to climate change, it should use its expensive and talented lawyers to defend itself on the merits, rather than harassing others over invented conspiracy theories.

This article originally appeared on Republic Report.

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Categories: Latest News

Trump Administration Proposes Rule to Loosen Curbs on Short-Term Health Plans

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 06:19
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Insurers will again be able to sell short-term health insurance good for up to 12 months under a proposed rule released Tuesday by the Trump administration that could further roil the marketplace.

"We want to open up affordable alternatives to unaffordable Affordable Care Act policies," said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. "This is one step in the direction of providing Americans health insurance options that are more affordable and more suitable to individual and family circumstances."

The proposed rule said short-term plans could add more choices to the market at lower cost and may offer broader provider networks than Affordable Care Act plans in rural areas.

But most short-term coverage requires answering a string of medical questions, and insurers can reject applicants with preexisting medical problems, which ACA plans cannot do. As a result, the proposed rule also noted that some people who switch to them from ACA coverage may see "reduced access to some services," and "increased out of pocket costs, possibly leading to financial hardship."

The directive follows an executive order issued in October to roll back restrictions put in place during the Obama administration that limited these plans to three months. The rule comes on the heels of Congress’ approval of tax legislation that in 2019 will end the penalty for people who opt not to carry insurance coverage.

The administration also issued separate regulations Jan. 4 that would make it easier to form "association health plans," which are offered to small businesses through membership organizations.

Together, the proposed regulations and the elimination of the so-called individual mandate by Congress could further undermine the Affordable Care Act marketplace, critics say.

Seema Verma, who now heads the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which oversees the marketplaces, told reporters Tuesday that federal officials believe that between 100,000 and 200,000 "healthy people" now buying insurance through those federal exchanges would switch to the short-term plans, as well as others who are now uninsured.

The new rule is expected to entice younger and healthier people from the general insurance pool by allowing a range of lower-cost options that don’t include all the benefits required by the federal law -- including plans that can reject people with preexisting medical conditions. Most short-term coverage excludes benefits for maternity care, preventive care, mental health services or substance abuse treatment.

"It’s deeply concerning to me, considering the tragedy in Florida and national opioid crisis, that the administration would be encouraging the sale of policies that don’t have to cover mental health and substance abuse," said Kevin Lucia, a research professor and project director at Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute.

Over time, those remaining in ACA plans will increasingly be those who qualify for premium tax credit subsidies and the sick, who can’t get an alternative like a short-term plan, predicts Lucia and other experts. That, in turn, would drive up ACA premiums further.

"If consumers think Obamacare premiums are high today, wait until people flood into these short-term and association health plans," said industry consultant Robert Laszewski. "The Trump administration will bring rates down substantially for healthy people, but woe unto those who get a condition and have to go back into Obamacare."

If 100,000 to 200,000 people shift from ACA-compliant plans in 2019, this would cause "average monthly individual market premiums … to  increase," the proposed rule states. That, in turn, would cause subsidies for eligible policyholders in the ACA market to rise, costing the government $96 million to $168 million.

Supporters said the rules are needed because the ACA plans have already become too costly for people who don’t receive a government subsidy to help them purchase the coverage. "The current system is failing too many," said Verma.

And, many supporters don’t think the change is as significant as skeptics fear.

"It simply reverts back to where the short-term plan rules were prior to Obama limiting those plans," said Christopher Condeluci, a benefits attorney who also served as tax counsel to the U.S. Senate Finance Committee. "While these plans might not be the best answer, people do need a choice, and this new proposal provides needed choice to a certain subsection of the population."

But, in their call with reporters, CMS officials said the proposed rule seeks comment on whether there are ways to guarantee renewability of the plans, which currently cannot be renewed. Instead, policyholders must reapply and answer medical questions again.  The proposal also seeks comments on whether the plans should be allowed for longer than 12-month periods.

The comment period for the proposed rule runs for 60 days. Verma said CMS hopes to get final rules out "as quickly as possible," so insurers could start offering the longer duration plans.

Short-term plans had been designed as temporary coverage, lasting for a few months while, for instance, a worker is between jobs and employer-sponsored insurance. They provide some protection to those who enroll, generally paying a percentage of hospital and doctor bills after the policyholder meets a deductible.

They are generally less expensive than ACA plans, because they cover less. For example, they set annual and lifetime caps on benefits, and few cover prescription drugs.

Most require applicants to pass a medical questionnaire -- and they can also exclude coverage for preexisting medical conditions.

The plans are appealing to consumers because they are cheaper than Obamacare plans. They are also attractive to brokers, because they often pay higher commissions than ACA plans. Insurers like them because their profit margins are relatively high -- and are not held to the ACA requirement that they spend at least 80 percent of premium revenue on plan members’ medical care.

Extending short-term plans to a full year could be a benefit to consumers because they must pass the health questionnaire only once. Still, if a consumer develops a health condition during the contract’s term, that person would likely be rejected if he or she tried to renew.

Both supporters and critics of short-term plans say consumers who do develop health problems could then sign up for an ACA plan during the next open enrollment because the ACA bars insurers from rejecting people with preexisting conditions.

"We’re going to have two different markets, a Wild West frontier called short-term medical … and a high-risk pool called Obamacare," said Laszewski.

KHN senior correspondent Phil Galewitz contributed to this article.

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

Categories: Latest News

"A Monstrous Campaign of Annihilation": Death Toll in Eastern Ghouta Tops 300 From Syrian Assault

Wed, 02/21/2018 - 21:00

The United Nations has condemned the Syrian government's recent deadly barrage of airstrikes and artillery fire against the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta, outside the capital of Damascus. Aid workers report at least 300 people have been killed over the past three days. Many of the victims are women and children. Targets have included hospitals and residential apartment buildings. We are joined now by three guests: Rawya Rageh of Amnesty International, Syrian-American journalist Alia Malek and Wendy Pearlman, author of We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from Syria.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

Former Parkland Student: "I Interned for Senator Rubio and Now I'm Begging Him to Act on Guns"

Wed, 02/21/2018 - 21:00

As students protests grow in Florida, we speak to a former intern for Senator Rubio who is also a graduate from Stoneman Douglas High School. Shana Rosenthal just wrote a piece for The New York Times titled "I Interned for Senator Rubio. Now I'm Begging Him to Act on Guns." In the piece, the 21-year-old reveals she has already been near four mass shootings: at Florida State University, Fort Lauderdale airport and the massacres at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando and at Stoneman Douglas High School last week. She attended the CNN town hall last night.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I'm Amy Goodman, as we continue to cover the fallout from last week's Valentine's Day massacre in Florida. We turn now to a former intern for Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. She is also a graduate from Stoneman Douglas High School. Shana Rosenthal just wrote a piece for The New York Times. It's headlined "I Interned for Senator Rubio. Now I'm Begging Him to Act on Guns." In the piece, the 21-year-old reveals she's already been near four mass shootings: at Florida State University, Fort Lauderdale airport, the massacres at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando and Stoneman Douglas High School last week. She attended the CNN town hall meeting last night of 7,000 people.

Shana Rosenthal, welcome to Democracy Now! What was last night like?

SHANA ROSENTHAL: Good morning, Amy. Last night was incredibly empowering, to see my community come together and really speak directly to their elected officials.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Marco Rubio did show up. The governor of Florida, Rick Scott, did not come. President Trump was invited to be there in person or to attend by video from the White House. He did not respond. He did not come. But your senator, Marco Rubio, did come. And I wanted to play yet another clip from last night's town hall, where survivors of the massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School questioned Republican Senator Marco Rubio. This is Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jamie was killed in Parkland shooting last week.

FRED GUTTENBERG: Your comments this week and those of our president have been pathetically weak. So, you and I are now eye to eye, because I want to like you. Look at me and tell me guns were the factor in the hunting of our kids in the school this week. And look at me and tell me you accept it and you will work with us to do something about guns.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Now, I think what you're asking about is the assault weapons ban.

FRED GUTTENBERG: Yes, sir.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: So let me be honest with you about that one. If I believed that that law would have prevented this from happening, I would support it. But I want to explain to you why it would not.

FRED GUTTENBERG: Senator Rubio, my daughter, running down the hallway at Marjory Stoneman Douglas --

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Yes, sir.

FRED GUTTENBERG:  -- was shot in the back --

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Yes, sir.

FRED GUTTENBERG:  -- with an assault weapon, the weapon of choice.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Yes, sir.

FRED GUTTENBERG: OK? It's too easy to get. It is a weapon of war. The fact that you can't stand with everybody in this building and say that, I'm sorry.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Fred Guttenberg, who lost his daughter Jamie, gunned down in her high school. Shana Rosenthal, what was your response to your senator, who you interned for? And when did you intern for him?

SHANA ROSENTHAL: First and foremost, Senator Marco Rubio did show up to that town hall meeting. But I do believe it's our elected officials' job. They work for us. And they need to take action, and they need to do it now. Now, I interned for him my sophomore year at Florida State University during the fall.

AMY GOODMAN: And what did you think of his responses? What's very interesting, and as you pointed out, he did attend this session, and he did answer questions. And it does look like he is changing his position on a number of issues around guns. Were you satisfied?

SHANA ROSENTHAL: It's a first step. But as you could tell by the voices you heard at the town hall meeting and the community as a whole, it's not enough. And I think we need to reinforce that by writing letters to our senators, as I did to Senator Marco Rubio. Everyone has an important point of view on this issue. Everyone has a story. And that's why my sister and I began our Letter to Your Senator campaign.

AMY GOODMAN: And what is that campaign?

SHANA ROSENTHAL: That campaign, you could find us at Letter to Your Senator, where people post letters to their senators on social media, and then they tag their elected officials, and they use a hashtag, #LetterToYourSenator, so, one, we could connect, virtually, while the students are marching out in the streets. If you think, "What can I do?" you could write a letter to your senator, and you can be empowered. And you could use the hashtag and read other people's stories, and maybe this will keep the conversation going and hold our elected officials accountable.

AMY GOODMAN: To be clear, Marco Rubio was not willing to say he supported an assault weapons ban, although I got the feeling if there were a number of these 7,000-person town halls, he might be on the way. He was not willing to renounce support from the National Rifle Association. You had your -- the students from your alma mater, from the Stoneman Douglas High School, going to Tallahassee. When they arrived, the Republican legislators voted -- I think, what, 71 people -- to not even begin a discussion about an automatic weapons ban. And as CNN pointed out, almost all of them have close to A ratings by the National Rifle Association. President Trump, at his listening session at the White House, where he had survivors from Columbine to the latest Valentine's Day massacre, he suggested arming teachers. At the opening of last night's town hall meeting, that you attended, Broward School Superintendent Robert Runcie addressed the crowd.

ROBERT RUNCIE: Some of the dialogue that I've heard recently is about arming teachers. We don't need to put guns in the hands of teachers. … You know what we need? We need to arm our teachers with more money in their pocket. This country plays a lot of lip service to the importance of the teaching profession, but we never put our money behind it. Let teacher compensation, benefits and working conditions be part of this national debate, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: That's Broward School Superintendent Robert Runcie, clearly responding to President Trump, just hours before at his listening session, where Trump was countered by people in the listening session when he called for arming teachers. Shana Rosenthal, what was your response to that proposal?

SHANA ROSENTHAL: To Trump's proposal?

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, to arm your teachers.

SHANA ROSENTHAL: I don't believe we should be arming our teachers. I believe they are teachers, first and foremost. And to expect them to be armed and protect their students at these great lengths is -- it's sad that it would even have to come to that point. And we should really focus on the main issues. But if that is someone's point of view and they express that, if they write their letter to their senators expressing that, I think we could begin to understand other people's point of views. We're all after the same goal, which is to protect our students, the children of this country. And I believe we deserve more than a quick fix. That's my view on that.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn back to the White House listening session earlier in the day. This is Florida shooting survivor Alfonso Calderon.

ALFONSO CALDERON: We aren't being taken seriously enough. Now, I personally don't know the steps that we're going to have to take. But once we figure that out, we're going to take them. And you better believe we're going to take them as soon as possible, because, although we are just kids, we understand. We know.

We are old enough to understand financial responsibilities. We are old enough to understand why a senator cares about re-election or not. We are old enough to understand why someone might want to discredit us for their own political purposes. But we will not be silenced. It has gone on long enough that we, just because we are kids, we are not allowed to understand.

But, trust me, I understand. I was in a closet, locked for four hours with people who I would consider almost family crying and weeping on me, begging for their lives. I understand what it's like to text my parents, "Goodbye. I might never, ever get to see you again. I love you." I understand what it's like to fear for your life. And I don't think we should ever be discredited because of that. I don't think we should ever be silenced because we are just children.

AMY GOODMAN: That's Alfonso Calderon, actually a high school student from the Stoneman Douglas High School, but he was speaking in Tallahassee after the Republicans voted down opening the debate on an automatic weapons ban. The NRA's Dana Loesch took part in the CNN town hall last night. Here she is being questioned by Linda Biegel Schulman. Her son, Scott Biegel, was a teacher killed in the Parkland, Florida, shooting.

LINDA BIEGEL SCHULMAN: Why are my son's unalienable rights not protected as fiercely as the right to bear arms?

DANA LOESCH: I am sorry for what you experienced. And I'm not going to -- as I said, I'm a parent, but I've not been in this position. And as a parent, it terrifies me, to be honest with you.

LINDA BIEGEL SCHULMAN: It should.

DANA LOESCH: It's terrifying. Now, you asked whether it's a life-or-firearms or life-or-Second Amendment thing. I think that all lives should be protected. All lives should be protected. That's why next week there's going to be good guys with guns that are going to be in school protecting lives, just as there's armed security here. We are in the presence of firearms protecting lives. This isn't a you -- if you believe in your right to self-defense, you hate kids, or if you believe in your right to self-defense, you don't believe that people have the right to live. That's not what this issue is. This issue is about making sure that we're protecting innocent lives. No innocent lives should be lost. None of them should.

LINDA BIEGEL SCHULMAN: When the Second Amendment was ratified, they were talking about muskets. We're not talking about muskets. We're talking about assault weapons. We're talking about weapons that -- of mass destruction that kill people.

DANA LOESCH: On that issue, at the time, there were fully automatic firearms that were available: the Belton gun and the Puckle gun. And, in fact, the Continental Congress reviewed a purchase of one of those firearms for the --

LINDA BIEGEL SCHULMAN: Doesn't make it right.

DANA LOESCH: Well, what I'm saying is there was more than just muskets available. We don't say that no one has a right to free speech because of Twitter or social media. But the point that you raise -- and I think it's a good one, and I know what you're saying. And, believe me, I understand that. I think all innocent lives should be protected. I don't think that you should have ever had to gone through that. If I could change time and change circumstances, I would have done everything in my power to prevent that.

LINDA BIEGEL SCHULMAN: I think you have that power.

AMY GOODMAN: That was the NRA's Dana Loesch, who is a former right-wing radio host, taking part in the CNN town hall. She's a spokesperson for the NRA, being questioned by Linda Biegel Schulman. Her son, Scott Biegel, was a teacher who was saved many and was killed in the Valentine's Day massacre. I wanted to turn right now to the NRA's ad. In June, they produced a recruitment video, which came under fire from liberals and conservatives for stoking violence. The video was narrated by conservative television host, yes, the woman who was there last night, Dana Loesch.

DANA LOESCH: They use their media to assassinate real news. They use their schools to teach children that their president is another Hitler. They use their movie stars and singers and comedy shows and award shows to repeat their narrative over and over again. And then they use their ex-president to endorse the resistance -- all to make them march, make them protest, make them scream racism and sexism and xenophobia and homophobia, to smash windows, burn cars, shut down interstates and airports, bully and terrorize the law-abiding, until the only option left is for the police to do their jobs and stop the madness. And when that happens, they'll use it as an excuse for their outrage. The only way we stop this, the only way we save our country and our freedom, is to fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth. I'm the National Rifle Association of America, and I'm freedom's safest place.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, the NRA Television has announced they will be launching a new show in March hosted by Dana Loesch. And right before the town hall meeting, they released a statement saying that the NRA is rejecting proposals to raise the minimum age for purchasing rifles. So, Shana Rosenthal, you have a major force that has captured many politicians, Republican and Democrat, has them in their crosshairs if they ever dare step out of line. What about this new movement of young people, that you are a part of, student survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School killing and others? What is your response?

SHANA ROSENTHAL: The students are absolutely inspiring and incredible. And I think what's unique about this is that, one, the victims are within a succinct community, which it's -- I don't want to say easier, but the collective action is strong. And also, it's students who can speak up, who are tomorrow's voters, tomorrow's leaders. And that's why it's unique. And it has sparked something across the nation, and which parents are joining, which neighbors are joining. And they have inspired everyone. And they've inspired me.

AMY GOODMAN: Shana, it sounds like the namesake of the school -- the school was named for Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who was a true crusader, iconoclast. She was a suffragist, fighting for women's right to vote, a civil rights activist. And she was considered the "Grande Dame of the Everglades," a great environmentalist, saving the Everglades, which your community, Parkland, is right next to. Do you see yourself and other students following in her footsteps, as she took on the entrenched developer and business interests?

SHANA ROSENTHAL: Of course, I definitely see. You've heard it all before, our motto at our school: "Be passionate. Be proud to be an Eagle." And that's exactly what is embedded in the Parkland community. That's what's embedded in Marjory Stoneman Douglas. And I have to say, it's embedded in the surrounding area, the greater area of South Florida. Students -- I live right around the corner from Marjory Stoneman Douglas, and every day I hear students marching from other schools all the way to Douglas. And I think it's beautiful and incredible, what they are doing on the ground. We need to compliment that. We need to write letters. We need to march alongside them. We need to do whatever we can to support these students.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you, Shana Rosenthal, for being with us, former intern for Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. By the way, did he respond to your letter to him in The New York Times? You were his intern.

SHANA ROSENTHAL: I have not gotten a response yet, but that is why I'm going to great lengths to get a response. And that's just mimicking what my community is doing. They've gone through great lengths to get a response, as well. And I think the town hall was a first step in that. And I hope we can continue this conversation.

AMY GOODMAN: Shana is a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. And we'll link to your piece, "I Interned for Senator Rubio. Now I'm Begging Him to Act on Guns."

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, the horror that is Syria, a roundtable discussion. Stay with us.

Categories: Latest News

Particle Blaster Massacres

Wed, 02/21/2018 - 21:00
Categories: Latest News

Trump's Jabs at North Korea Build on Long History of Treaty Violations

Wed, 02/21/2018 - 21:00

President Trump's policy toward North Korea is merely a continuation of US regional designs in the Asia Pacific. Having killed several million Koreans in the Korean war, the US proceeded to repeatedly violate treaties concerning North Korea under the leadership of George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Kim Yong-nam and Kim Yo-jong, sister of president of North Korea Kim Jong-un, sit with Vice President Mike Pence and wife Karen Pence during the Opening Ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games at Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium on February 9, 2018, in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea. (Photo: Jean Catuffe / Getty Images)

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In recent days the Trump administration has continued to scupper reconciliation efforts made by its ally South Korea and its enemy North Korea. On Feb. 9, Vice President Pence reportedly refused to applaud the two nations' carrying of a united Korea flag at the recent Olympic Games. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated that any potential US-North Korea negotiations must be contingent on North Korea's willingness to give up its nuclear arsenal -- an arsenal which US intelligence reports cite as a "deterrence" against potential US aggression.

But Trump's stance is not unusual. Ever since the US split Korea between 1945 and 1948, and then killed several million Koreans in a war unofficially ending in 1953, the US has violated treaties, both bilateral and multilateral, concerning North Korea. Both Republican and Democratic presidential administrations have violated these treaties, including the administrations of George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Bush the Elder and Clinton

report by the right-wing Heritage Foundation notes that until the late 1980s and early '90s, the US "refused even casual contact with [North Korean] officials." In 1990, the US claimed that it had satellite proof that North Korea was developing nuclear weapons. Following presentation of the images to the UN, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) sprang surprise visits on North Korea, which North Korean leaders rejected. This is because North Korea was not legally obliged to permit surprise inspections. The regime feared that UN inspectors could gain access to their non-nuclear related weapons and thus pose a security risk. Also in 1990, North Korea announced that it would accept IAEA inspections on the condition that the US withdraw its nuclear forces from the region. By the end of the year, Hans Blix, the head of the IAEA, confirmed that North Korea was seeking assurances that the US would not attack it. The US rejected the offers.

In 1992, North and South Korea signed the Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. This involved joint and mutually-agreed inspections of the other's nuclear systems. Initially, North Korea lived up to its promises in the agreement, halting plutonium reprocessing and eventually allowing IAEA inspectors into the country. North Korean leadership even invited US government officials and the IAEA to inspect its reactors. The offer was rejected by the hard-line George H.W. Bush administration, though former President Carter visited in 1994. Writing in the respected Arms Control Association journal in 1997, specialist Leon V. Sigal notes:

For a country supposedly intent on obtaining nuclear weapons, that self-restraint seems difficult to explain. One possible explanation is that, starting in 1990 or 1991, North Korea was trying to trade in its weapons program for what it thought it needed more -- security, political and economic ties with the United States ... Washington entered into talks only with extreme reluctance, and even then it was unwilling to specify what it would give North Korea in return for abandoning its nuclear arms program. When it did make promises, they were not always kept, often because Washington was dependent on others to fulfill them. As a consequence, the United States very nearly stumbled into war [in 1994].

Under the US-North Korea Agreed Framework of 1994, the US, now led by President Bill Clinton, was obliged to replace North Korea's graphite nuclear reactor with light-water plants. It never did.

After the start of the Agreed Framework, the US helped establish the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) in 1995. International funds were raised to transport oil to North Korea and 8,000 spent fuel rods from North Korea's Yongbyon reactor were removed and sealed. The US never lived up to its obligations under the Agreement and failed to dismantle the reactors and replace them with light water ones.

From Clinton to Bush the Younger

In 1998, North Korea fired a long-range missile over Japan. According to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, this was designed in part to force the US back to the negotiating table; a move that worked. Between 1999 and 2000, the Clinton administration re-entered talks with North Korea.

In his state of the union address in January 2002, President George W. Bush called North Korea part of an "axis of evil," along with Iran and Iraq. Three scholars writing for the Woodrow Wilson Center said at the time: "Faced with such a clear and present danger," i.e., the United States, "Pyongyang did what most countries [sic] under similar circumstances would do," namely it turned to developing weapons of mass destruction. They go on to note that " 'evil' is something to be destroyed, not something to negotiate with. Indeed, the Bush administration ... boxed itself -- and North Korea -- into a corner."

In 2002, the US initiated the Proliferation Security Initiative with allies in the East China Sea, the Yellow Sea and Indian Ocean. In October 2002, US Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly claimed that North Korea "confessed" to him an illicit uranium enrichment weapons program. North Korea denied this. As a result of the allegations, Bush suspended heavy oil supplies delivered under the Agreed Framework.

In January 2003, following Bush's axis of evil speech, North Korea announced its intention to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which allows countries to develop nuclear technologies for civilian usage, but not nuclear weapons or technologies for use in nuclear weapons programs. The implication was that North Korea would begin work on developing a nuclear weapon to deter US aggression. Following the withdrawal, the US requested China take a role in mediating talks over North Korea's nuclear program.

The Bush administration entered into talks with China on the issue, and North Korea was persuaded by China to attend the talks and informed both parties that the matter is between North Korea and the US.

North Korea requested direct talks with the US, but the Bush administration refused. At one of the trilateral talks mediated by China, the Bush administration made a fateful decision in rejecting North Korea's proposal to freeze nuclear development in exchange for economic assistance and so-called security guarantees from the US, South Korea and Japan. The Bush administration said that the "military option" was "on the table" and also "not off the table." The language confused the Chinese- and Korean-speaking delegates, who asked, "Then where is it now?"

The result was the establishment of Three-Party Talks with the US, China and North Korea in 2003. The aim of the talks was to get North Korea to denuclearize on terms acceptable to the regime, i.e., with guarantees that the US won't attack. These became Six-Party talks when South Korea, Russia and Japan joined in. The talks failed for several reasons. First, at the first and second Joint Statement 2005, in which all parties voiced their concerns, Bush prohibited US delegates from negotiating bilaterally with North Korea. North Korea responded by withdrawing from the talks.

Second, the third Joint Statement was held in collaboration with the Six Parties (the US and North Korea, plus China, Russia, South Korea and Japan). South Korea agreed to not develop nuclear weapons, and North Korea agreed for the first time to abandon its nuclear weapons program. In September 2005, the US threatened sanctions on banks doing business with North Korea. North Korea responded by boycotting the Six-Party Talks. The US responded by not only slapping sanctions on North Korea for the first time, but also accusing the country of having accounts in Macao used for money laundering in support of terrorism. The US froze $25 million of North Korea's assets and blacklisted eight North Korean companies. North Korea responded by reverting to its nuclear and ballistic missile developments.

Finally, at the Six-Party talks in late 2006 and early 2007, North Korea agreed to the Initial Actions for the Implementation of the Joint Statement. This plan outlined closing North Korea's nuclear facilities in Yongbyon and abandoning future nuclear programs. In exchange, the Bush administration would remove the country from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism.

From Bush to Obama

In February 2007, North Korea's vice foreign minister met with Bush administration officials in the US. This was the first time that diplomacy had been so warm. One of North Korea's prerequisites for denuclearization was ending the US embargo. The Bush administration refused. By July, the US was still freezing North Korea's foreign assets under spurious pretexts, but did deliver 6,200 tons of oil via South Korea, as agreed in the previous decade. North Korea permitted the arrival of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to verify the closing of the Yongbyon station.

By the start of 2008, US reciprocation had declined. The remaining oil promised to North Korea never arrived, new equipment for power plants never came and material assistance for denuclearization was not forthcoming. Despite this, North Korea achieved 75 percent denuclearization unilaterally. In June 2008, North Korea agreed to provide reports to the US concerning its production of plutonium. But the very moment that North Korea supplied the information, the Bush administration announced that it wanted an explanation of the report and failed to honor its commitment to remove North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. North Korea reacted in kind, expelling the UN inspectors and announcing its intention to re-nuclearize.

Also, in June 2008, North Korea publicly demolished its Yongbyon cooling tower. The US briefly lifted sanctions, but Japan refused to oblige the Six-Party agreement and supply North Korea with 200,000 tons of heavy oil. When US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill visited North Korea and promised to remove it from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, North Korea signalled willingness to reinstate the inspectors.

By then, Obama had come to office and was scoring points at home by portraying North Korea as the bogeyman of Asia. In March 2009, two US journalists were caught operating in North Korea without a permit near the Chinese border and were returned to the US. In April, North Korea announced its intention to launch a satellite (Kwangmyŏngsŏng-2) and then withdrew from the Six-Party Talks, following the election in South Korea of the hard-line President Lee Myung-bak. In May, North Korea launched its second nuclear test. Following UN Security Council Sanctions on North Korea (UNSCR 1874), China encouraged North Korea to rejoin the Six-Party talks.

By January 2010, North Korea had agreed to a peace treaty with the US, including denuclearization, on the condition that sanctions are removed. The US refused the offer and instead conditioned talks on the sanctions remaining in force until North Korea rejoined in the Six-Party negotiations. North Korea's second, this time bilateral offers with the US on January 11 were met with ridicule by Japanese media. Tensions mounted again in March 2010, when a South Korean warship (Cheonan) exploded and sank, killing 46 people. North Korea denied responsibility, but the US and South Korea immediately accused the country of torpedoing the vessel.

In April 2010, according to the US-based Nuclear Threat Initiative nonprofit group, North Korea not only "renewed its calls for a peace treaty," but also "released a memorandum stating that it would limit the number of nuclear weapons it produced [and] rejoin denuclearization efforts in exchange for being recognized as a nuclear arms state." The US rejected the offer.

Trump's Policies Toward North Korea

North Korea does not have the ability to reach the continental US with an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) carrying a nuclear warhead. Business Insider reported in November 2017 that the Hwasong-15 ICBM would be weighed down significantly if it carried a nuclear warhead. In December, CNN quoted unnamed US "officials" as saying that North Korea's longest-range ICBM likely broke up on re-entry into the atmosphere.

US citizens must recognize that President Trump's policy toward North Korea is merely a continuation of US regional designs in the Asia Pacific. All over the region, there are networks of dedicated peace activists, including Japanese citizens opposing the presence of US military bases on Okinawa, South Korean activists opposing US bases on Jeju Island, and many, many more, such as Women Cross the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) -- an organization of women from around the world who march in solidarity with both North Koreans and South Koreans. If these resistance networks do not come together in a globalized movement strong enough to force the US to pursue peace, North Korea might one day develop a weapon capable of hitting the US, and the US might start yet another war, this time perhaps a terminal nuclear one.

This article has been adapted from Fire and Fury: How the US Isolates North Korea, Encircles China and Risks Nuclear War in Asia (Clairview Books).

Categories: Latest News

The 9/11 Hijackers Were Iraqis, Right? Teaching in a Time of Wars

Wed, 02/21/2018 - 21:00

Smoke spews from a tower of the World Trade Center September 11, 2001, after two hijacked airplanes hit the twin towers in a terrorist attack on New York City. (Photo: Mario Tama / Getty Images)

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I was teaching the day the airplanes hit the World Trade Center. It was the second meeting of "The Communist Manifesto for Seminarians," a course for my fellow graduate students. By the time I got to class, both towers had collapsed. A few hours later, Building 7 came down as well. We dispensed with a planned discussion about what Marxists mean by "idealism" and "materialism" and talked instead about the meaning of this particular example of the "propaganda of the deed."

We already sensed that, with George W. Bush and Dick Cheney in the White House, the attacks would mean war. But like the rest of the world, we didn't yet have the faintest idea how long that war would last. And 16 years on, we still don't know.

A few years later, I found myself in front of 40 undergraduates on the first day of the first ethics course I would ever teach. You know how sometimes you have no idea what you're going to say until the words are out of your mouth? That day, I opened my mouth and this came out: "I was so excited about this class that I couldn't sleep last night." Eighty horrified eyes stared back at me. "I guess it wasn't like that for you," I added, and felt the blush creep up my face. Most of them had the grace to laugh.

Thirteen years later, I still have trouble sleeping the night before a new semester begins. It's not exactly stage fright, but knowing that I'll only have a few chances to convince a new crop of students that they really do want to examine their deepest values -- the things they care most about -- and even talk about them in front of their peers.

In fact, most of them do care deeply and about important things, too, like how they should treat their friends, their parents, and their sexual and/or romantic partners. They care about their friends who drink and drug too much and appreciate the friends who get them home safe when they do the same. They care about economic inequality, especially when they're trying to find a place they can afford to rent in this city of soaring prices, San Francisco, or when contemplating the massive debt most of them will be carrying for years, if not a lifetime, after they graduate.

Some of them regularly turn out to be Milton Friedman-style economic libertarians. Almost invariably, more are reflexively anti-capitalist. More than half of them are young people of color. They and the majority of their white peers care deeply about racism. They don't think the police should shoot unarmed black men and they tend to believe that people of color face institutional barriers that white people never even see. Slavery, they know, was a terrible idea, but many of them are fuzzy about when it started in this country and how it ended.

Quite a few of them are immigrants or the children of immigrants. Some are undocumented or DACA recipients, so not surprisingly they care about immigration laws and policies. Their fellow students would never turn them in to the authorities. They may not know exactly why, but they have the feeling it would be unethical.

Some of them are in the Reserve Officer Training Corps, or ROTC. Some are veterans. US military adventures affect them directly. While the rest of the students do care about war and peace, most of their lives are touched more lightly by America's wars than were those of their peers a decade ago.

Education is crucial to citizenship in a democracy and, for many years, those on the right in this country have done their best to defund and dismantle public education.

They care about so much, but there's a lot they just don't know.

Don't Know Much About History...

The first hint I got about the gaps in my students' background knowledge came early on in my teaching career. In a homework assignment a student wrote that Aristotle had quoted Shakespeare. Another thought that when that Greek philosopher mentioned a theater, he was talking about going to the movies.

I wasn't surprised that those students knew little about ancient Athens; there's no reason to expect them to arrive at college versed in Greek philosophy. But something far more basic was missing: a sense of the sweep of what Americans call "western" history -- a chronological grid on which to pin the key movements and events that shape today's world. I soon found myself putting a giant timeline on the blackboard on which the students would try to place the authors we were reading. Then we'd fill it in with other world events.

Even the relatively short history of the United States occupies a strangely flattened state in many of their imaginations. In their minds, for instance, all of the country's wars -- especially those of the twentieth century -- seem to run together, making it hard to understand how one war can lead to another.

My pre-collegiate history education was not really much better than theirs, but it was somewhat different. I grew up in Washington, D.C., in the days when Congress ran the city directly, including defining the curriculum for elementary and secondary school students. We were required to take three cracks at American history (in fifth, eighth, and twelfth grade). Repeatedly, we spent so much time on the 13 original colonies that, by the day school let out for the year, we had barely reached World War I. I never did find out what happened after that, not in school anyway. Nowadays, schools have speeded things up a bit and the war they never get to happened in Vietnam.

I'm certainly not the first person to discover that, for new generations, foundational events in her own life -- the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War, the women's liberation movement, even the first Gulf War -- are, to the young, history almost as ancient as the Civil War. Why should they know about such things? They weren't even born yet.

But here's a surprising development -- surprising because this last decade and a half seems to have flown past so quickly. I'm now encountering students who have no memory of an event that has shaped their lives, this country, and much of the world for the last 16 years: the 9/11 attacks.

The Early Years

The first undergraduates I taught were already in their teens on 9/11, which meant that those attacks formed a historic dividing point in their lives. For them, as for the coterie of men who would lead this country to the "dark side" (to use Vice President Dick Cheney's admonitory phrase), there was a "before 9/11 and an after 9/11."

After 9/11, they lived in a nation "at war." The United States was suddenly fighting an enemy that, as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told "Meet the Press" less than a month after the attacks, "is not just in Afghanistan. It is in 50 or 60 countries and," he added, "it simply has to be liquidated." Little did they -- or the rest of us -- know that the liquid this protean enemy most resembled was a blob of mercury, which multiplies into hundreds of separate droplets when you hit it.

Recently, former CIA director and retired general David Petraeus admitted to Judy Woodruff of the PBS NewsHour that the war on terror's first battlefield, Afghanistan, has become the locus of a "generational struggle," one that more than a decade and a half later is not "going to be won in a few years."

I've watched that generational struggle as it developed in the classroom. My first students had friends and relations fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. One young woman's uncle, a man in his late forties, was a surgeon who had been "reactivated" and sent to Iraq years after completing his active service. In fact, it turns out that everyone who joins the military signs on for eight years, whether they know it or not. Any of those years not spent on active duty or in the "drilling" Reserves still leaves you in the "Individual Ready Reserves," as many were surprised to discover when the US Army ran short of personnel to fight two simultaneous land wars.

A few students had partners fighting overseas and their worry was painful to observe. Soon enough, I had women students whose male partners were returning from those wars as changed -- and dangerous -- men. Several confided (either to me privately or to an entire class) that they'd had to move out because they feared for their safety.

And soon one of our school's graduates, Jennifer Moreno, died in combat.

Every September, the Army would appear on campus. Arriving in gleaming Hummers, they'd erect a portable climbing wall and pass out glossy recruitment literature, encouraging students to join ROTC. Once, I was stunned by the courage of four young women, who stood off to the side of the show holding up homemade antiwar signs. Then one fall, the recruiters didn't show up at all. I never knew whether it was because the wars had fallen out of favor with the board of my Jesuit university or because troop drawdowns had eased recruitment pressure. All I knew was that it probably wasn't thanks to those brave students with their hand-drawn signs.

In the early years, more than one ROTC member admitted to me (or our class) that he or she doubted the Bush administration's rationale for the war in Iraq. One young man from Guam explained that, having accepted a scholarship ("my ticket off the island"), he was duty-bound to fight in Iraq despite his doubts. "I know that in basic training, they try to take you apart as a person and then put you back together as a soldier," he told me. "I want you to know that I'm not going to let that happen to me." I've often wondered what did happen to him.

Here's another thing I remember from those early years. To my surprise, many of my students supported torture -- less as an interrogation method than as punishment for truly heinous crimes (torture, that is, as righteous vengeance). Terrorists should be tortured, some argued, as payback for 9/11, but perhaps because their own childhoods were still so near in time and memory, a number of them thought that those most deserving of torture were not political terrorists, but child abusers.

Just about all of them were certain of one thing: the men who flew the planes on 9/11 were Iraqis.

When Johnny (and Janie) Come Marching Home Again...

Eventually, of course, war veterans began to appear in my classes. They were older and in many cases more mature than the other students in ways that didn't just reflect their age. I often teach an ethics class in which students work with a community-based organization. One veteran chose to do this "service learning" with Swords to Plowshares, which provides services for vets. They'd helped him when he first got out, and he wanted to return the favor. "If anyone tells you they came back whole from Iraq or Afghanistan," he assured me, "they're either lying or they just don't know yet."

He was right, I think. One thing I've noticed over the years: like many survivors of war, those vets never volunteer to talk about what they've seen. Nor do their fellow students show much curiosity about it, and I don't ask directly. But some, like the young man who'd served five years as a sniper in Iraq and Afghanistan, are clearly in pain. He'd suffered a broken back and brain trauma when an improvised explosive device blew up his Humvee. He was bitter about the war and his own role in it, certain that he'd been lied to by his government. Since leaving the military he had learned a lot of history. Now, he sat in the last row of the classroom, back to the wall, one leg bouncing uncontrollably up and down. Usually he left early. The anxiety of being in a room with that many people, he explained to me, was more than he could endure.

Such veterans, however, are classroom oddities, rare exceptions to the general rule that the US can fight an endless war on terror without pain, sacrifice, or even, in recent years, much attention at all. These days, my students live in a country that has been at war almost since they were born, and yet, as is true with most of their fellow citizens, the fighting could be happening on Mars for all the impact it has on them. Most of them no longer know people directly affected. Their friends and family, of course, aren't among the tens of millions of Iraqis, Syrians, Afghans, or Yemenis made refugees by those American wars and their consequences.

Nowadays, schools have speeded things up a bit and the war they never get to happened in Vietnam.

Most of them haven't yet realized that, if their government hadn't spent $5.6 trillion and counting on those very wars, there might have been federal money available to relieve them of the school debt they will carry for decades.

Those Who Fail to Learn...

It's not an accident that my students arrive at college with little understanding of US history or, for that matter, knowledge of how their government works. Nor is it their fault. Education is crucial to citizenship in a democracy and, for many years, those on the right in this country have done their best to defund and dismantle public education. Under President Trump we have a secretary of education who makes no secret of her belief that, like other public goods, education is best left in the tender hands of the market.

The other day I asked my "Ethics: War, Torture, and Terrorism" class to name the countries where the United States is currently involved in some military action. They were able to come up with Iraq and Afghanistan. A veteran then added Djibouti, where US Africa Command has a key base. "Syria?" someone wondered. A ROTC member mentioned Yemen. No one even thought of Somalia or Libya. No one had heard of the West African country of Niger, where Sergeant LaDavid Johnson died in an ambush set by an ISIS affiliate. (If asked, some might have remembered that when Donald Trump called Johnson's widow, he made news by struggling to remember her husband's name and suggesting that Johnson had known "what he signed up for.")

Nor could they name any of the other countries, 76 in all, affected in some fashion by their country's undeclared, never-ending "generational" war on terror.

The good news is that they want to learn.

The bad news: nowadays, they tend to think that the men who flew those planes on 9/11 were from Iran.

Categories: Latest News

#NeverAgain: Parkland Students Lead Thousands in Rally to Demand Gun Control Legislation

Wed, 02/21/2018 - 21:00

Students display signs during a demonstration for gun reform on February 21, 2018, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Lorie Shaull)

The steps of the Florida State Capitol building were crowded with thousands of students, teachers, parents, and advocates on Wednesday as survivors of last week's shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School led a rally to demand gun control reforms including a ban on military-style firearms.

THIS is what democracy looks like! #NeverAgain #ParklandShooting #Tallahassee #ParklandStudentsSpeak pic.twitter.com/uMJLqCYbQk

— Rick Minor (@RickMinor) February 21, 2018

An estimated 3,000 people attended the rally, with many students traveling 450 miles from Parkland, where Nikolas Cruz killed 17 people and injured 14.

The crowd chanted "Never again!" and "Shame on you!" -- directing their anger at Florida lawmakers who on Tuesday voted against a motion to consider a military-style firearm ban for guns like the AR-15 that was used in Parkland as well as a number of other mass shootings in recent years.

"To shoot down a bill like that is absolutely abhorrent, to not even give it a chance to be discussed," said Delaney Tarr, one of the Parkland survivors, who spoke at the rally. "That disgusts me and it disgusts my peers, because we know what we've been through and we know that this needs to be changed...To every lawmaker out there: you can no longer take money from the NRA...We are coming after every single one of you and demanding that you take action, demanding that you make a change."

"We are out here advocating for change because of this Capitol's failure to do their primary job by keeping us safe," said Florence Yared, one of the students from Parkland. "Some of you said, 'It's too soon to talk about gun control.' No, it is not too soon, no it is not the wrong time, there's no better time than now to talk about gun control. If we wait, someone else might become a victim too. Your children might become victims too!"

BREAKING VIDEO: Survivors of the school shooting in Florida have brought their fight to the capital of Tallahassee, protesting in front of the steps of state congress. #NeverAgain #MarchForOurLives pic.twitter.com/mpIvWvannq

— The Anon Journal (@TheAnonJournal) February 21, 2018

Ahead of the rally, Parkland students marched to the office of Republican Governor Rick Scott, chanting, "You work for us!" Scott was attending the funeral of one of the Parkland victims, but the students spoke with some of the legislators who had voted on Tuesday about proposals including raising the minimum age to purchase military-style semi-automatic weapons.

@NeverAgainMSD team representing in Tallahassee. AWESOME. Sucks that our lawmakers are trying to hide. They have no idea that there’s nowhere to run from millions of children and parents begging for our lives. #NeverAgain #MarchForOurLives pic.twitter.com/4dYdTXoOUb

— Cameron Kasky (@cameron_kasky) February 21, 2018

Tarr expressed anger regarding the meetings, where she said representatives were dismissive of the students' demands.

"We are not here to be patted on the back," Tarr said. "We know what we want. We want gun reform, we want common sense gun laws, we want stronger mental health checks and background checks to work in conjunction. We want a better age limit. We want privatized selling to be completely reformed so you can't just walk into a building with $130 and walk out with an AR-15."

"No longer can you take money from the NRA...we are coming after every single one of you & demanding that you make a change" - Delaney Tarr pic.twitter.com/9kAZfznZ3Y

— igorvolsky (@igorvolsky) February 21, 2018

As the rally was underway, students in towns across Florida and in other states including Iowa and Pennsylvania, as well as Washington, DC, staged walkouts in solidarity with Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. In Iowa City, teenagers marched in the rain chanting, "Enough is enough!" and "Keep your coins, we want change!"

"To Congress: you are responsible to every community that has lost due to gun violence and you have the power to change this," said Yared. "And if you don't, then we will change you. We may be too young to vote, but soon we will be able to vote and we will vote you out!"

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Categories: Latest News

Arizona Has Made It Nearly Impossible to Access Hygiene Products if You're Incarcerated

Wed, 02/21/2018 - 21:00
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Arizona House Bill 2222, menstrual equity legislation that many have referred to as "the tampon bill," was introduced to the all-male committee on Military, Veterans and Regulatory Affairs on February 5. Passage of the bill would give women in Arizona's only female prison, Perryville, access to unlimited feminine hygiene products. Current Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) policy provides women only 12 generic, low-quality pads per month. Additional pads must be requested from corrections officers.

We chose to testify at the committee hearing last week, and in the ensuing days our testimony and images have made their way into article after article after article. We chose to confront the trauma of menstrual inequity and abuse because our sisters continue to suffer inside. At the time, we felt as if we were physically and mentally opening a door we had been knocking at for years while we were incarcerated, and finally our voices were heard. The bill passed the committee with a 5-to-4 vote.  And we -- women who lived in and survived Perryville -- breathed a sigh of relief for the women still inside.

This week, however, the hope we had to effect tangible change proved premature as Rules Committee chairman Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, said he will not hear the bill because ADC intends to correct the policy within the prison code itself. ADC Director Charles Ryan, whose department faces hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for failing to provide adequate healthcare for prisoners, said Tuesday that female prisoners would receive 36 pads per month as part of ADC's proposed $1 billion annual budget.

Shope's decision to not hear the bill in the Rules Committee, and to place the well-being of a vulnerable population back into the hands of ADC, is irresponsible. ADC has a long track record of medical abuse, and even under state scrutiny via Parsons v. Ryan, ADC refuses to comply under its own terms. The department has demonstrated an inability and unwillingness to meet the basic human rights of incarcerated people.

Between the two of us, we spent over a decade incarcerated in Perryville. We know, firsthand, that ADC policy and practice do not meet the hygienic needs of women inside. Women are not receiving enough usable feminine hygiene products to menstruate in a clean, healthy, and dignified manner.

Under the current regulations, women are issued 12 sanitary napkins per month and one roll of toilet paper each week. The majority of women currently incarcerated at Perryville have limited income, and once the 12 free pads are exhausted, some resort to using socks, wash clothes, or homemade tampons made from cotton swabs held together by floss. Though women at Perryville can request an additional 12 pads, the reality is that female prisoners face degradation and the fear of retribution should a guard feel put out by the request. Thus, many women do not ask for what they need to manage their cycles.

Women who are incarcerated at Perryville can purchase tampons, toilet paper, and additional pads from the prison commissary. But again, ADC has made it nearly impossible for most women to gain access to them. Prison wages start as low as $0.10 per hour. A prisoner can only possess up to 24 pads at any given time to remain in compliance. If she is out of compliance for any reason, she can be issued a citation and lose privileges, including phone calls, access to commissary, or even recreation and exercise. Minor violations of ADC policy -- such as having 50 pads among one's personal property -- may result in the loss of privileges for weeks.

Menstruating while incarcerated in Arizona is a layered, precarious, and dangerous endeavor.

Legislating this issue -- rather than simply trusting ADC to do the right thing -- holds insulated prison officials publicly accountable. There is no oversight of ADC beyond Governor Doug Ducey, who is ultimately responsible for the misogyny and human rights violations that occur behind prison walls. Ducey, in his 2018 state of the state address, committed himself to re-entry work. Mitigating the trauma that women experience while incarcerated increases their chances of success once released from prison. It is up to Gov. Ducey to serve all his constituents, including women incarcerated in our state prison system.

Categories: Latest News

The Global Uprising for a More Equitable and Humane Labor Force

Wed, 02/21/2018 - 21:00

Despite the mass corporate media obsession with Donald Trump's reactionary, vulgar and insulting statements, grassroots activity is becoming more energized in the United States and around the globe. In We Are All Fast-Food Workers Now, Annelise Orleck records the movements for a more equitble and humane labor force, speaking with activists and giving grounds for hope. In a world of neoliberal dominance, advocating for fair and deserved worker justice is a challenging task. In this excerpt, Orleck makes the case that workers are rising up around the world to achieve this goal.

A demonstrator holds a sign during a protest for higher wages and a union on April 15, 2015, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Mark Dixon)

Despite the mass corporate media obsession with Donald Trump's reactionary, vulgar and insulting statements, grassroots activity is becoming more energized in the United States and around the globe. History Professor Annelise Orleck records the movements for a more equitble and humane labor force, speaking with activists and giving grounds for hope. Read We Are All Fast-Food Workers Now with a donation to Truthout. Click here.

In a world of neoliberal dominance, advocating for fair and deserved worker justice is a challenging task. In this excerpt from We Are All Fast-Food Workers Now,  Annelise Orleck makes the case that workers are rising up around the world to achieve this goal.

Sometime around 2011 ... a sense of urgency seeped into our collective consciousness with smoke from the campfires of Occupy Wall Street. As Occupy encampments arose in financial districts from New York to Hong Kong, people who had been made homeless by medical bills, student debt, or predatory mortgages began to tell their stories.

They spoke with a ragged eloquence that sometimes even broke through the cynicism of jaded reporters. Or maybe their tales resonated because most of us already understood. Almost everyone, everywhere, was being screwed -- one way or another -- by the twenty-first-century economy and by the widespread belief that increasing shareholder value is more important than any other collective human endeavor.

Scholarly tomes on the subject became surprisingly popular. Economists probed the sources of unequal wealth distribution. Historians and geographers argued that galloping capitalism had become the "new imperialism," that Exxon, Walmart, and McDonald's were the global empires of our age. Then Occupy changed the conversation forever, burning a simple indelible image into our collective psyches. There were always haves and have-nots. But the idea of a 1 percent and a 99 percent endured long after the ragtag Occupy camps were broken up by militarized police. The notion that 1 percent of the world's people dominated and exploited the rest of us was a call for broad coalition-building to which people have responded around the world.

There have been true believers in the power and glory of capitalism for hundreds of years. But by the mid-twentieth century, most people agreed that some regulation was necessary, that governments must protect people as well as property. Even in that heyday of liberalism there were those who argued that any regulation of trade and commerce, any government programs to diminish economic inequality, constrained and weakened individual freedoms. Ronald Reagan popularized that view in his critical 1964 speech "A Time for Choosing," a clarion call to cut "big government." But that argument did not become dominant until the 1980s, with the elections of Reagan in the United States, Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom, and the rise of Deng Xiaoping in China. The new era they heralded did more than limit progressive taxation and shred the social safety net. The creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995 institutionalized the "neoliberal" vision that profit-taking was a virtue in and of itself. Over the next two decades almost all the world's countries joined the WTO. But it always was -- and still is -- run by and for the wealthiest and most powerful nations.

The global economy that neoliberals celebrated did not emerge overnight. But by the twenty-first century, the idea that unrestrained global capitalism is the best way to reduce poverty and expand freedom had become dogma for political and economic elites worldwide. Still, they only espoused certain kinds of freedom: from trade barriers and labor regulations; from robust taxes to redistribute wealth and fund education, infrastructure, and healthcare; from environmental regulations that might limit profits as they slowed climate change and reduced poisons in our air and water. This new regime sparked fierce global protest, beginning with the Battle of Seattle in 1999 in which trade unionists, students, and environmental groups took to the streets to highlight the dangers posed by World Trade Organization tribunals and secret negotiations. This resistance moved world leaders to place some environmental and human rights limitations on the new global economy. But they were often weak and ineffectual, by design.

In a twenty-first-century update of Andrew Carnegie's nineteenth-century "Gospel of Wealth," corporate titans espoused a gospel of global profit-taking. Politicians -- many with ties to global corporations -- signed on, passing tax cuts for the wealthy, slashing labor and environmental protections, Social Security, education and healthcare programs. Like Carnegie, they have argued that philanthropy obviates the need for rights. But from Donald Trump to the Walton family, the 1 percent has given selectively and stingily. 

In many ways, Trump's election as president of the United States in 2016 was a culminating moment in the rise of the twenty-first-century Gospel of Wealth. The oil-magnate Koch brothers had long worked to dismantle welfare-state provisions and worker protections. They continue to. Walmart had long used government food and cash aid programs to supplement poverty wages, while arguing that corporate employers should not have to pay into workers' compensation programs for those injured on the job. Trump railed against global trade agreements on the campaign trail, promising to help American workers harmed by neoliberalism. But after his inauguration, he and a GOP-run Congress quickly moved to slash federal programs for the poor and the sick and to restructure US political and economic institutions to serve the wealthiest few (even more than they already did).

In the twenty-first century, the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and select transnational corporations have become more powerful than many, if not most, nation-states. Buying the debt of poor nations, they have pressured governments worldwide to cut or privatize essential services: water, transportation, education, healthcare, housing, social welfare, and energy. Indigenous lands have been mined and logged, rivers dammed. Wholesale land grabs by agribusiness and mining, energy, and timber companies have driven hundreds of millions from farms to urban slums, export-processing zones, and migrant worker camps.

It all happened so fast, and in so many parts of the world at once, that it took time for people to grasp what was happening. Far-flung supply chains linking myriad subcontractors obscured the role that global brands played in gutting worker wages, safety protections, smallholders' land rights, and environmental regulations. Many workers no longer knew who their employers were. Consumers did not know where and how their clothes were made, where their food was grown and harvested, and under what conditions. They enjoyed the low prices and chose not ask uncomfortable questions.

Why question low prices when almost everyone was feeling stretched? And that's because they were. In 2016, British-based charity Oxfam reported that the poorer half of the world's people had lost 38 percent of their wealth since 2010, while food, housing, and healthcare costs skyrocketed. In the same period, an ever-increasing share of wealth had flowed to the top 1 percent. By 2016, the 62 richest people on earth controlled more wealth than 3.8 billion people. Occupy Wall Street's rallying cry no longer seemed hyperbolic. It had become cold, hard fact. 

This was not simply a problem in developing nations. Wealth and income were more concentrated at the top in the US than in any other affluent nation. As deindustrialization, automation, and financial deregulation transformed the labor market, massive tax cuts for the wealthy deepened government deficits and provided a rationale for program cuts. The top marginal tax rate in the US during the prosperous 1950s and 1960s approached 90 percent. By the mid-1980s, it had fallen below 30 percent. Federal aid to cities and states dried up; public services were gutted. Private unions withered and public unions, already struggling, faced relentless legislative assaults. 

The Great Recession of 2008 made these inequalities worse, erasing savings for tens of millions. Spiraling healthcare and housing costs and predatory lending drove millions of Americans into bankruptcy. Many literally ended up in the streets.

The recovery since that time has done little for the poor or middle class. Unemployment rates dropped below 5 percent in 2016, but two-thirds of the jobs created in the US since 2008 do not pay a living wage or provide benefits, job security, or potential for growth. By 2014, 71 percent of American workers earned less than $50,000 a year. More than half earned less than $30,000; 38 percent earned less than $20,000. The American middle class has evaporated.

Unemployment is still an issue, but poverty wages are a greater problem -- in the US and around the world. Growing numbers of impoverished workers (worldwide) mark a dramatic shift from the mid-twentieth-century high-water mark of liberalism with its generous government subsidies. Then incomes grew all along the wealth scale, unions and public services were strong, and public colleges were affordable for millions. The twenty-first century is starkly different, a new Gilded Age, in many ways more like the 1870s than the 1970s.

Since 2008, the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans have seen incomes increase by 31.4 percent while everyone else's grew by less than half a percent. Six members of the Walton family control as much wealth as 40 percent of Americans. Half of fast-food workers, retail sales and nonunion manufacturing workers require food stamps or other aid programs to survive. And education is no longer a sure path out of poverty. In 2015, three-quarters of US college professors worked on term-to-term contracts. Between one-quarter and one-third needed some form of public aid -- cash assistance, food, or medical services -- to support themselves, especially if they had children.

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In expensive cities -- New York, Los Angeles, Boston -- three and four generations live together. They pool resources so that they can afford rent. Employed workers sleep on relatives' couches. Some commute to work from homeless shelters.

Secure jobs are disappearing. Employees are reduced to "independent" contractors, as corporate managers relentlessly cut costs. College graduates stagger under crushing levels of debt, unable to purchase homes or even cars. Stagnant wages erode workers' living standards. Wage theft runs rampant. Marx's proletariat has grown scarce, replaced by an expanding global "precariat" -- contingent, commodified labor to whom no one owes anything.

Not surprisingly, many people are angered by the cruelties of the twenty-first-century economy. And their fury has fueled worldwide protest. Simultaneously, and almost everywhere, low-wage workers and small farmers began to revolt: in New York City restaurants, laundries, and warehouses, in Western Cape wineries and the garment shops of Phnom Penh, in Southern California Walmarts, and the big hotels of Providence, Oslo, Karachi, and Abuja. As capital has globalized, so has the labor movement. Marches, strikes, protests, and sit-ins from Tampa to Mali have changed the global conversation about workers' rights.

This book offers sketches of these uprisings. Whenever possible, I try to tell the story through workers' eyes, using their words. If, by the end, you come to believe that we are all fast-food workers now, then you will realize that this is not a story about other people. It is our story, a history of our times.

Copyright (2018) by Annelise Orleck. Not to be reprinted without permission of the publisher, Beacon Press.

Categories: Latest News

Boy/Hood

Tue, 02/20/2018 - 21:00
Categories: Latest News

Inside the US Military Recruitment Program That Trained Nikolas Cruz to Be "a Very Good Shot"

Tue, 02/20/2018 - 21:00

Dozens of students who survived last week's school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida have arrived in Tallahassee to push for new gun control measures. On Tuesday, the Republican-controlled Florida House of Representatives blocked a bid to bring up a bill to ban sales of assault-style rifles in the state. The Florida gunman, a 19-year-old white former student named Nikolas Cruz, was a member of the Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program before he was expelled from the school. Cruz was also part of a four-person JROTC marksmanship team at the school which had received $10,000 in funding from the NRA. For more, we speak with Pat Elder, director of the National Coalition to Protect Student Privacy, an organization that confronts militarism in schools. He's the author of Military Recruiting in the United States.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

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