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Updated: 1 hour 43 min ago

There Is No "Progressive Case" for Charter Schools

Sun, 10/29/2017 - 21:00

(Photo: Porqi; Edited: LW / TO)

President Donald Trump swept into office on a platform that included support for charter schools and other alternatives to public schools, and his Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, an ardent supporter of "school choice" in all its forms, recently announced her department would provide over a quarter-billion dollars to help expand charters.

So it's surprising to see the Center for American Progress, originators of the #Resist campaign, issue a "Progressive Case for Charter Schools" that decries the "waning" support for charters among Democrats and scolds charter school skeptics for being against progressive institutions.

But CAP's argument for charters is flawed and unconvincing in multiple ways.

Its authors rely on a very select and problematic evidence base for the supposed advantages of charters, repeatedly anchor conclusions to charter enthusiasts and charter marketing materials, and cherry-pick a sample of charter schools that prompt more questions than answers.

The authors find examples of worthwhile practices in charters but never bother to look at whether these practices are already evident in existing public schools. They nod their heads toward a troubling "lack of accountability and transparency" among charters but ignore its prevalence. And CAP's argument never considers the important questions of whether charter expansions are necessary or could possibly come with some downsides.

No "Proven Model"

In calling charters a "proven model," CAP draws from a narrow sample of research studies provided by a single source, Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO).

CAP repeatedly links to two CREDO studies to substantiate its claim that "charter schools are improving outcomes for students—especially for low-income students of color."

A more carful read of the first CREDO study reveals the researchers in no way claim to prove charters generally improve outcomes for students. What they do contend is some types of charters have yielded observable improvements in student achievement compared to public schools, others don't, and some actually harm student learning.

The improvements CREDO finds are evident in two types of charter schools that make up a very small percentage of charters overall, and there are significant variations in charter performance based on the states they operate in.

Another review of this CREDO study, by a Michigan-based reporter, finds the Stanford researchers "exaggerate the significance of their findings," according to an expert quoted in the article, Gary Miron, a Western Michigan University professor, "who has done extensive research on charter schools."

Brookings Institute fellow Tom Loveless makes a similar point in examining CREDO's charter school analyses. "Achievement differences between charters and [traditional public schools] are extremely small, so tiny, in fact, that they lack real world significance."

A "Mixed Bag" at Best

CAP is equally cavalier in its citing from anther CREDO study, this one on the academic performance of charters in urban communities.

Here again, Stanford researchers find some evidence of superior results from charters, but the evidence is quite small and not applicable to widespread implementations of these schools.

Writing for The Progressive, my colleague California University -- Sacramento professor Julian Vasquez Heilig says, "Charter school supporters and the media point to [this study] to say that African American and Latino students have more success in charter schools. Leaving aside the integrity of the study, what charter proponents don't mention is that the performance impact is .008 and .05 for Latinos and African Americans in charter schools, respectively. These numbers are larger than zero, but you need a magnifying glass to see them."

"CREDO's studies have shown charter school performance to be a mixed bag," writes Education Week's reporter covering the charter sector, "and as a result, are regularly cited by both charter supporters and opponents, depending upon the outcome of a particular study."

Quoting the Charter Choir 

CAP's evidence base for the supposed superiority of charters is weakened further by the authors' repeated citations from prominent charter cheerleaders.

CAP frequently links to New York Times columnist David Leonhardt, who is well-known to make erroneous claims and false assertions about charter schools, New York Times Magazine's Jonathan Chait, who similarly plays fast and loose with claims about charter superiority, and Richard Whitmire who wrote an adulating portrait of ex-Chancellor of DC Public schools Michelle Rhee that was eventually undermined by the lack of evidence of her success in leading District schools.

CAP's attempts to find evidence of the "progressive values and practices" of charters become so strained that the authors frequently resort to links to the schools' own websites, as if their marketing language is somehow proof they offer "equal educational opportunity and access."

Not So Noble

When CAP's "progressive" case for charters pivots to individual schools, its focus falls on an unfortunate example, the Noble Network in Chicago.

The CAP authors extoll the Noble schools' six-year college graduation rate of 31 percent, "well above the national average for low-income students," as proof the schools have discovered a formula for success. But CAP authors ignore the way Noble produces those higher graduation rates by screening out certain kinds of students -- principally students with learning disabilities and who have trouble with the English language -- and imposing harsh discipline"fees" for code infractions, and high expulsion rates that encourage struggling students to transfer out.

Thus, Noble's mostly black charters "post the highest student attrition rates," in Chicago, a local reporter writes, "which are directly related to discipline, as students with high numbers of detentions are required to repeat the school year. Teachers say many students decide instead to transfer to a neighborhood high school and move on to the next grade."

Does that sound progressive to you?

A Suspension of Reason

CAP's next attempt to make the progressive case for charters is to find the ones that are "leaders in developing more holistic school discipline practices."

While some charter schools may indeed be developing more progressive approaches to school discipline, most charter schools, particularly those located in neighborhoods predominated by black students, continue to post significantly higher suspensions rates than public schools.

The KIPP charter chain CAP mentions favorably has been cited repeatedly by journalists for operating a "no excuses" discipline policy that generally leads to disproportionally high suspensions rates and high student attrition rates.

Other charter operations CAP authors point to, Uncommon Schools and Achievement First, also have very high suspension rates. It may be true that some charters have recently taken steps to lower their high suspension rates, but that likely came about through parent whistle-blowing and public shaming, not by praising them for their practices.

Further, there are numerous examples of public schools implementing some of the very same practices CAP praises charters for "developing." While any new discipline approach pioneered by a charter stays with that charter, when public schools implement more progressive discipline practices, those practices can become the norm across whole districts and states.

So, it's not at all clear we need charter schools to show our public schools a more enlightened path to fairer and more just school discipline. Public schools are blazing that path on their own, thank you very much.

Teach for a While

When CAP's case for progressive charters finds examples of charters doing something right, the authors never consider the larger context of the bigger problems associated with charters.

For instance, there is indeed some evidence charter schools tend to hire higher percentages of non-white teachers than public schools take in. But the bigger picture is that those new teachers who get hired by charters likely won't stay very long.

Teacher turnover has been called "a charter school plague," with one study finding teachers at charter high schools were three times more likely to leave than their peers in public high schools.

KIPP schools, specifically, have very high teacher turnover rates. Teachers at KIPP schools typically stay for an average of only four years.

That CAF authors choose to spotlight Teach for America as an "exemplary" practitioner of teacher recruitment is laughable. While the organization has of late gotten some notoriety for recruiting higher percentages of black and Latino teachers, a national study of TFA found more than half of TFA recruits placed in low-income schools leave after two years, and by their fifth year, only 14.8 percent continue to teach in the same low-income schools they were originally assigned to. This compares to a national turnover rate of 21 percent for teachers at high-poverty schools. Among new teachers in general, 50 percent are still in classrooms after five years, compared to only 27.8 percent for TFA.

Studies have shown that high teacher turnover has a negative impact on student learning. Why would CAP encourage this?

Hurting Rather Than Helping

One thing CAP does get right is that public schools are often "ill-equipped" to meet the needs of special student populations, such as drop-outs, students who are pregnant or have children, immigrant students, or students in the criminal justice system. But the authors never ask why this is so and instead rush to the conclusion that only through charters can these students have opportunities to learn.

This is an unfortunate position for a progressive organization to take. Anyone who has taken time to actually talk with school leaders knows they struggle to serve special student populations but are often pressed to curtail those programs because of lawmakers' decision to cut education budgets or redirect the money to other options, including charter schools.

It would seem to make more sense for a progressive organization like CAP to focus its advocacy on pressuring policy makers and government leaders to provide public schools with the resources they need to attend to the needs of all students rather than advocate for charter schools and other options that actually hurt public schools and the students left in them.

A Progressive Promise Gone Awry?

Perhaps most distressing about CAP's defense of charter schools is the column's quick dismissal of the "accountability and transparency" problems of these schools and its suggestion those problems are confined just to "for-profit" charter schools.

Some of the most prominent examples of charter school corruption and malfeasance have been committed by non-profit charters. The CAP authors know that but choose to ignore it for the purpose of elevating a specific type of charter school, specifically charters operated by non-profit charter management organizations (CMOs). To claim these sorts of charters are immune to the problems of accountability and transparency is to ignore overwhelming evidence that these problems plague all forms of charters.

Based on CAP's progressive case for charter schools, it would be sensible to argue the progressive values that characterize much of CAP's advocacy just don't apply to the organization's education work because of the influence of donors, the background of the staffers, or the close association CAP has to Washington Beltway elites, including members of former President Obama's administration, who are devoted to charters.

Another possibility is CAP's case for charters is an attempt at a more nuanced look at the sector. Certainly, many of the well-intentioned people who operate charters and who labor in these schools deserve a nuanced consideration of their work, and CAP seems to believe critics of charters schools are "unreasonable" and "simply devalue all charter schools."

If this truly is what motivates CAP to make the case for charters, then the organization simply hasn't spent much time seriously considering what charter school skeptics say.

None of the prominent organizations that have called for a moratorium on charter expansions -- including the National Education Association, the NAACP, and the Network for Public Education -- has advocated for a total ban on the schools and immediate closure of existing ones. No one is telling parents they are at fault for sending their kids to these schools.

What charter skeptics say is that ramping up a new and separate sector of charter schools, although it may have been a progressive idea to begin with, has led to lots of negative consequences and fallen far short of any promise to "equalize" opportunities for all students.

That CAP's case for charters refuses to even consider this argument shows who is truly the most "reasonable" in the debate.

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Paul Manafort Has Been Indicted, and Donald Trump Is Reacting

Sun, 10/29/2017 - 21:00

Campaign chairman Paul Manafort checks the podium before Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during an event at Trump SoHo Hotel, June 22, 2016, in New York City. Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his ex-business partner Rick Gates turned themselves in to federal authorities Monday in relation to the special counsel's investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 election. (Photo: Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort was told to surrender to authorities on Monday in connection with special counsel Robert Mueller III's ongoing investigation into the Russia scandal.

Manafort and his former business associate Rick Gates were informed that the Mueller probe was going to press charges against them, according to The New York Times. By Monday morning, Manafort was seen leaving his Alexandria, Va. at 7:38 aM in the passenger seat of a Toyota Sequoia.

The news of the charges against Manafort occurred days after one of the White House lawyers representing Trump insisted that they were not worried about special counsel Robert Mueller III's impending wave of indictments.

"The president has no concerns in terms of any impact, as to what happens to them, on his campaign or on the White House," Ty Cobb, a White House lawyer, told a New York Times podcast on Thursday.

Cobb added, "He likes and respects Mr. Manafort and appreciates the work he did for him during the three months he was with the campaign. He likes General Flynn personally, but understands that they have their own path with the special counsel. I think he would be sad for them, as a friend and a former colleague, if the process results in punishment or indictments. But to the extent that that happens, that’s beyond his control."

Cobb's reassurances did not seem to be reflected in Trump's own tweeting, which took an aggressive turn on Sunday and Monday.

Never seen such Republican ANGER & UNITY as I have concerning the lack of investigation on Clinton made Fake Dossier (now $12,000,000?),....

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 29, 2017

...the Uranium to Russia deal, the 33,000 plus deleted Emails, the Comey fix and so much more. Instead they look at phony Trump/Russia,....

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 29, 2017

..."collusion," which doesn't exist. The Dems are using this terrible (and bad for our country) Witch Hunt for evil politics, but the R's...

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 29, 2017

...are now fighting back like never before. There is so much GUILT by Democrats/Clinton, and now the facts are pouring out. DO SOMETHING!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 29, 2017

All of this "Russia" talk right when the Republicans are making their big push for historic Tax Cuts & Reform. Is this coincidental? NOT!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 29, 2017

Report out that Obama Campaign paid $972,000 to Fusion GPS. The firm also got $12,400,000 (really?) from DNC. Nobody knows who OK'd!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 30, 2017

There is considerable trepidation in Washington over who will be the targets of Mueller's indictments, according to CNN. For one thing, the question over who Mueller targets will determine whether the Trump-Russia scandal remains one that Republicans can continue characterizing as a strictly partisan issue or whether it becomes a genuine crisis, one that cannot be waved away by bringing up accusations about Hillary Clinton. What's more, if Mueller's indictments wind up ensnaring the White House, they could make it more difficult for the Republicans' to score a politically necessary legislative win by passing tax reform.

The charges against Manafort include 12 counts, including conspiracy against the United States and conspiracy to launder money.

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Categories: Latest News

The Tax Scam We Know and the Tax Scam We Don't Know

Sun, 10/29/2017 - 21:00

There has been much attention to the plan put forward by Republicans in Congress to cut individual and corporate income taxes. According to analysis done by independent sources, close to 80 percent of these cuts will go to the richest one percent of the population. It is possible to construct economic theories where corporate tax cuts do produce large gains, but these theories clearly do not describe the world we live in. 

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There has been much attention to the plan put forward by Republicans in Congress to cut individual and corporate income taxes. According to analysis done by independent sources, close to 80 percent of these cuts will go to the richest one percent of the population.

While this may seem unfair and unwarranted in an economy where the rich have seen the overwhelming majority of the gains from growth in the last four decades, we have been told not to worry because the boost to growth will make everyone winners. The average family has been promised an income gain of $4,000 a year and possibly as much as $9,000.

It is possible to construct economic theories where corporate tax cuts do produce large gains, but these theories clearly do not describe the world we live in. For example back in the mid- 1980s, the US lowered the corporate tax rate from 46 percent to 35 percent. Rather than producing an investment boom, the late 1980s were the weakest non-recession period for investment in the post-World War II era.

The idea that investment is highly responsive to the after-tax rate of profit stands history on its head. The strongest period of investment in the last seven decades was the late 1970s when the profit rate was at its post-war low. By contrast, the near record profit rates seen in this recovery have coincided with mediocre levels of investment. It's difficult to believe that if we raised the rate of profit even further by cutting taxes, investment would somehow boom.

But this is the scam everyone knows. There is another potentially far more pernicious scam currently in process. Any tax cut will have to go through Congress with representatives and senators having to cast a vote that in principle they can be held accountable for. The other scam requires no vote; it is about Donald Trump appointing a crony tax avoider as temporary head of the Internal Revenue Service.

Last week, the Trump administration announced that it intends to make David Kautter as acting commissioner of the IRS on November 12th, when the current director's term ends. The IRS's job is enforcing the tax code. Traditionally, IRS directors picked by presidents of both parties have had experience at the I.R.S., which would give them the necessary expertise to lead the agency.

Kauter has zero experience at the IRS and in tax enforcement. Instead, his experience is as the director of "National Tax" at E&Y, the huge accounting firm formerly known as Ernest & Young. Kauter's work there was in developing tax avoidance schemes, minimizing clients' tax liability. This division of EY was so vigilant at its efforts in avoiding taxes that it eventually had to pay $123 million to the government in order to avoid criminal prosecution.

This selection should concern people for a number of reasons. First, President Trump has claimed that his tax returns are being audited. If this is true, he is in effect being allowed to pick his own auditor, with no congressional oversight. Trump has virtually made a sport of flaunting the conflict of interest laws and norms that have governed the behavior of past presidents, but this is getting sufficiently extreme that it should even bother some Republicans.

Apart from Trump personally there is also the question of how prominent Republican donors will be treated by the acting IRS commissioner. One donor in particular stands out in this respect. The ultra-conservative billionaire, Robert Mercer, is in a dispute with the IRS potentially involving more than $7 billion in back taxes and penalties, stemming from the tax treatment of his hedge fund Renaissance Technologies LLC. Favorable treatment from Kauter can mean a huge windfall for Mr. Mercer, much of which is likely to come back to the Republican party in future contributions.

Mercer's case might be an extreme one, but there is a real risk that many other politically connected rich people will be allowed to avoid much or all of their tax liability. For the rich, paying taxes could become a voluntary contribution to the government rather than something they are required to do under threat of punishment.

That is a really huge deal. We can apply any tax rate we want to the rich, but it doesn't matter if no one is enforcing it. And that it is a real risk we face with allowing the Kauter appointment to go through.

There is no reason that Trump can't do what other presidents have done, nominate a commissioner and have them go through the Senate approval process. The alternative is to make a joke of the tax code at the expense of the people who can't afford expensive tax lawyers. This is a case of really swamping the drain, big-time. 

Categories: Latest News

Scientists Warn of "Ecological Armageddon" Amid Waves of Heat and Climate Refugees

Sun, 10/29/2017 - 21:00

A dirt berm is maintained along the coast of Utqiaġvik, the northernmost city in Alaska, in an effort to slow seawater intrusion from increasingly severe Arctic storms. (Photo: Dahr Jamail)

Scientists are sounding the alarm of an "ecological Armageddon" as insect populations across Germany collapse, wildfires scorch California and Portugal, record heat waves swelter the US late into fall, and 14 million people become climate refugees annually -- including Indigenous residents of Alaska's northern coast. While most of the world is finally acknowledging the dangers of anthropogenic climate disruption, the White House remains willfully clueless.

A dirt berm is maintained along the coast of Utqiaġvik, the northernmost city in Alaska, in an effort to slow seawater intrusion from increasingly severe Arctic storms. (Photo: Dahr Jamail)

As the summer Arctic sea ice melts and continues to recede further, the fragile coastline resting atop thawing permafrost is made more vulnerable to the warming waters of the Arctic Ocean, and the waves are given room to grow larger by the vanishing ice.

This past August, every time I walked to the shore in Utqiaġvik, the northernmost point in the US and only 1,300 miles from the North Pole, a large bulldozer was busy maintaining a large dirt barrier that perilously separated the northern edges of the village against the steadily encroaching, increasingly turbulent seas. It is a full-time job, because, as I would soon learn from the president of the Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corporation that owns and runs a large portion of the village, the berm requires rebuilding from storms past, ongoing maintenance, and then building back up in preparation for coming storms.

One evening I walked to the coast as large sets of waves, sent from a windstorm out at sea, rolled onto and up the beach. Many of them were large enough to crash against the flanks of the 25-foot berm. As they did, the water jetted up into the air, colored dark brown from the fresh soil that had just been dumped onto the berm. As the waves pulled back into the ocean, they carried with them large clumps of fresh dirt that rolled down the beach into the shallow waters of the Chuchki Sea.

To see more stories like this, visit "Planet or Profit?"

Only rows of the very top portions of older canvas bags filled with soil remained atop portions of the beach, remnants of previous attempts to stop the sea's relentless march towards the village. Soil from the newest iteration, the large berm, actively covered and rendered impotent the old barrier. In another place on the beach were the top corners of large metal tanks, rusting as they lay side by side in a row, protruding above the sand ... for now.

Where I stood, the sea was already washing directly against the manmade barrier. The first row of houses in the village was barely 15 meters from the back of the berm. Not far behind them stood government buildings, the police station, tribal offices. One hundred meters south of me along the coast, larger homes stood atop a bluff that was about five meters tall. A dirt road separated the homes from the edge of the bluff. Waves were already splashing against the bottom of the bluff, as they rolled over the tops of mostly buried sandbags.

The motor of the front-loader rumbled as it scooped up shovelfuls of dark soil from a large pile that had been carried from a gravel pit a half a kilometer inland. Black exhaust smoke billowed from the top of the front-loader as it quickly carried another load of soil to the berm where it slowed and allowed its blade to tip down. Out tumbled another load of future seabed. Underneath it, unseen, methane was already bubbling up to further heat the atmosphere and render these efforts laughable.

Utqiaġvik is one of several Indigenous villages along Alaska's north coast that have existed for thousands of years: Estimates vary, but people settled in them between 1,500 and 4,000 years ago. Now, anthropogenic climate disruption is threatening to demolish them.

Less than two months after I left Utqiaġvik, residents experienced coastal flooding in and around the town, as parts of the berm were breached by waves. This kind of erosion and where it will inevitably lead is a central problem for that village, among many others. In talking with a friend who is working with more than 30 other Native villages along rivers and coastlines of Alaska that are susceptible to thawing permafrost and increasingly severe Arctic storms, I learned that they will all have to be relocated. Until they relocate, the plight of these future US climate refugees will only intensify and worsen. In addition to the endangerment of residents' homes and sustenance, their culture and religious practices, which are deeply connected to the land and seas where they currently live, are threatened. And there will be no funding from the Trump administration to assist them in their survival.

We can no longer simply speak about what is happening to the planet in the future tense. And keep in mind that currently, we are "only" at 1.1°C above pre-industrial baseline temperatures.

Growing numbers of scientists have concluded we are already in the midst of the Earth's sixth mass extinction event. A recent report showed that plant and animal species, which in addition to their own intrinsic value are the very foundation of our own food supply, are as endangered as our rapidly disappearing wildlife.

"If there is one thing we cannot allow to become extinct, it is the species that provide the food that sustains each and every one of the seven billion people on our planet," Ann Tutwiler, director general of Bioversity International, which published the report told the Guardian.

Meanwhile, 14 million people around the world are being made homeless due to floods and storms fueled by anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD), according to a recent report.

Although, no single weather event can be attributed solely to ACD, scientists are in agreement that ACD is contributing to the severity and frequency of these phenomena.

According to NASA, meanwhile, this August was the second-hottest August in the 137 years that records have been kept.

From the camp of scientists who aren't convinced that we are already in a mass extinction event comes a study that shows the Earth might be close to the "threshold of catastrophe," given that the amount of CO2 humans will emit by 2100 might be enough to trigger said mass extinction event.

Whether or not we have entered such an event yet, this month's dispatch reveals a sobering future for all the Earth's species, should ACD continue unabated.


As ACD progresses, evidence of dramatic impacts across the terrestrial sphere are becoming ever more obvious.

Likely the most devastating piece of recent news in this section concerns insects. A recent report showed that three-fourths of all flying insects in nature reserves across Germany have disappeared in just the last 25 years. According to shocked scientists, this has very serious implications for all life on Earth. Scientists involved in the study told the Guardian that the planet is now "on course for ecological Armageddon."

This data has serious implications for all agricultural landscapes.

"Insects make up about two-thirds of all life on Earth [but] there has been some kind of horrific decline," Sussex University's Dave Goulson, who is part of the team that generated the new study, told the Guardian. "We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life, and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects then everything is going to collapse."

recently published study in the journal Science sounded the alarm on the fact that Earth's tropical forests are now so degraded that they are emitting more carbon than all of the traffic in the United States. A healthy forest sequesters carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, whereas forests that are degraded by drought, wildfires and deforestation release previously sequestered carbon.

"When I look at these numbers and the map of where the changes are occurring, it's shocking," Alessandro Baccini, one of the lead authors of the research team from Woods Hole Research Center and Boston University, told the Guardian. "My child may not see many of the forests. At this rate of change, they will not be there."

Adding insult to injury, NASA data collected in 2015 revealed that as the planet continues to warm, overall tropical forest CO2 emissions will skyrocket. "Up to now, land ecosystems, mainly forests, have been mitigating part of the fossil fuel problem. They've been sucking CO2 out of air, about 25 percent of our fossil fuel emissions," Colorado State University climate researcher Scott Denning told Inside Climate News. "The worry is that, as the climate warms, that will stop, and that's exactly what we saw." 

Furthermore, another recently published 26-year study showed that warming soils are now releasing much more carbon into the atmosphere than previously thought. This means another disastrous feedback loop exists that will trigger giant carbon releases in a cycle that will be impossible to stop.

Meanwhile, impacts abound.

Forests of ancient bristlecone pines are already being overwhelmed by the impacts of ACD. Temperature and climate changes have created a struggle for dominance between the older and younger trees. The younger, limber pines are moving rapidly (for trees, that is) uphill, consuming moisture, space and nutrients that the ancient bristlecone have always relied upon.

In the wake of Hurricane Maria, the destruction wrought across Puerto Rico has seen tens of thousands of storm victims fleeing the island for the mainland US. Experts note these victims could well be considered the latest iteration of US climate refugees. Other refugees will, before long, include former residents of southern Louisiana, which is melting into the sea, and residents of the shrinking islands in Alaska's Bering Strait.

Lastly in this section, out of a colony of nearly 40,000 penguins in the Antarctic, all have starved to death except for two chicks. Changing conditions due to ACD are a primary cause of the collapse of the colony, which was located in one of the most remote regions on the planet.


The watery realms continue to see massive changes.

In the Antarctic, the Pine Island glacier, which alone is capable of contributing nearly two feet to global sea level rise, recently lost a massive piece of itself, providing scientists with another sign of its ongoing retreat. This is the second time in as many years the glacier has shed such a large portion. The glacier is already losing 45 billion tons of ice to the ocean each year.

Another recent report on the Antarctic showed that sea ice there is literally being attacked by warmer temperatures from above and below. Warming atmospheric temperatures coupled with warmer ocean waters have combined to cause Antarctic sea ice to shrink by two million kilometers in just the last three years. This caused a recent swing from a record large maximum area of coverage to a record low area of coverage.

Meanwhile at the other pole, recently released data showed that the Arctic ice cap melted down to hundreds of thousands of square miles below its average this past summer. The ice minimum for this year was 610,000 square miles below the 1981-2010 average, in addition to its being the eighth-lowest year in the 38-year satellite record.

Across the globe, flooding is intensifying. Central India has seen violent floods triple since 1950, according to a recent report. Violent floods are those that cause death to humans and damage to property. This particular region of India, which is home to roughly half a billion people, is regularly hit with flash floods, landslides and torrential rains that kill thousands and displace millions, in addition to drowning livestock and crops.

Extreme flooding has taken place in Mexico, Guatemala, the Congo, Poland, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Oklahoma recently.

Meanwhile, eroding coastlines along with increasing shortages of food are becoming more common across the Pacific, according to another recent report. Lack of drinking water -- along with vulnerability to rising seas and increasingly extreme storms -- are also growing problems across this largest geographic area of the globe.


For those living in the US, wildfires in California have been in the headlines this month. At the time of this writing, the current death toll from the Northern California wildfires is 42, and the monetary total has reached more than $1 billion in lost and damaged property. Dozens of people remain missing, so the number of deaths is expected to increase. Entire neighborhoods, hotels and schools were burnt to the ground, as thousands had to evacuate. Nearly a quarter of a million acres burned in 13 major fires, and at least 6,700 homes, structures and wineries were destroyed.

California's new normal, for now, is obviously longer and more intense wildfire seasons, ongoing droughts and ever-increasing warm temperatures. Like something out of a science fiction novel, California is en route to being one of several US states (including Florida, Alaska and Louisiana) that are poster children for ACD impacts.

In Europe, we may well be seeing another instance of how ACD is playing a role in destabilizing the government of a country -- this time in Portugal. A minister in charge of emergency services there resigned after at least 106 people were killed in wildfires. The area burned by wildfires in Portugal was a stunning six times higher than the annual average for the last eight years, and was the largest area burned on record.


A recently published study in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society showed, again, how the warming of the Arctic is actually making winters in the US colder, as exemplified by the extreme winter of 2014-2015. The following year, which brought an unusually warm winter to the mid-northerly latitudes, is another example of how the Polar Vortex, a large area of cold air and low pressure that surrounds Earth's poles, is impacting the planet. The study showed that ACD is weakening the vortex, and this was linked to many of the coldest winters over the last four decades.

ACD-fueled warmer temperatures, both in the atmosphere and oceans, have been the primary driver behind this year's horrific hurricane season and extreme weather.

Puerto Rico, home to 3.4 million US citizens, continues to languish from the impact of a massive hurricane with no end in sight. Brazil just experienced its hottest winter on record along with an extreme dry season, while in Spain, thunderstorms that formed in a far warmer-than-normal atmosphere released an apocalyptic half a meter of hail in some areas. Thirty-five liters of water per square meter fell in just half an hour, and temperatures plummeted so suddenly that several people required treatment for hypothermia.

One-hundred-year-old warm temperature records across much of the East Coast and Midwestern US were shattered in late September when a heat wave struck these regions. In the Midwest, the National Weather Service reported, "There has never been a heat wave of this duration and magnitude this late in the season in Chicago." Buffalo, New York saw its latest-ever number of consecutive 90ºF days, while Burlington, Vermont saw the thermometer hit 92ºF on September 25th, which was the latest it had been that hot -- 7 degrees higher than the previous hottest temperature. Records for the hottest day or series of hottest days this late in the year were being set, with room to spare, in Ottawa, Canada, northern Maine, Minneapolis, Minnesota and Green Bay, Wisconsin.

A recent study published in Nature Scientific Reports found, "Summer in some regions of the world will become one long heatwave even if global average temperatures rise only 2°C [3.6ºF] above pre-industrial levels."

In mid-October, Ireland was slammed by the remnants of Hurricane Ophelia, the strongest ever eastern Atlantic hurricane. The storm knocked out power to more than 120,000 people, and left at least one person dead.

Denial and Reality

The US isn't the only country with an ACD-denialist sector of society, as one in five Australians believe, like Donald Trump, that ACD is a hoax.

Meanwhile in the US, the Trump administration is having federal agencies like FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security use the term "resiliency" instead of climate change, as though that will make it go away.

Scott Pruitt, the former fossil-fuel henchman who is now head of the EPA, announced plans to withdraw the Clean Power Plan that regulates greenhouse gas emissions, while no less than 52 environmental policies are on the way out as part of a Trump plan to ease burdens on the fossil fuel industry. Trump's pick to run the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Kathleen Hartnett White, believes that increasing CO2 in the atmosphere is good for humanity and calls it "the gas of life." This should come as no surprise given that she is the senior fellow and director of the Armstrong Center for Energy and the Environment at the fossil-fuel-funded Texas Public Policy Foundation.

On the reality front, a recent report showed that more than half of US citizens want their local officials to take up the fight to mitigate ACD impacts, particularly given that Trump is stomping on the fossil fuel gas pedal. Moreover, more than half of the US population sees ACD as responsible for the severity of recent hurricanes, a universal shift from Hurricane Katrina, when 2/3 said it was just severe weather.

General Motors announced plans to, eventually, only produce electric vehicles. It will release two more electric vehicles next year and another 18 by 2023.

Paris announced plans to banish all but electric cars by 2030, and last year the Netherlands joined Norway in banning the sale of new cars powered by internal-combustion engines after 2025, in addition to stipulating that all vehicles must be zero-emission by 2030.

Forty Catholic institutions around the world are divesting from fossil fuels and have urged others to follow suit.

Although the White House may be closing its eyes to ACD's impacts, the rest of the world is increasingly waking up -- and not a moment too soon.

Categories: Latest News

Stop Trying to Convince Trump Voters. Start Trying to Win

Sat, 10/28/2017 - 21:00

Supporters of Donald Trump jeer the media at the Covelli Centre on July 25, 2017, in Youngstown, Ohio. (Photo: Justin Merriman / Getty Images)

Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, two major GOP figures, threw rocks at Donald Trump last week to no effect. What do you have to do to make a dent? The answer relates to Trump's stalwart voter base. You can't convince them they're wrong. You have to defeat them.

Supporters of Donald Trump jeer the media at the Covelli Centre on July 25, 2017, in Youngstown, Ohio. (Photo: Justin Merriman / Getty Images)

You have to wonder what Jeff Flake and Bob Corker are thinking today. I'm sure neither were expecting their Sunday to be this quiet. These two stalwart bedrock pillar Senate Republicans dropped a couple of building-sized bricks on the White House last week, and all that came of the resulting DONK was yet another hashtagged rhetorical victory lap by Donald Trump.

According to normal political gravity, this was the sun rising in the West. Flake and Corker took Reagan's 11th Commandment -- "Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican" – and fed it to the bears. Two major figures within the GOP brutally attacked a sitting Republican president on national television, using phrases like "debasing the nation" and "flagrant disregard for truth or decency," and in any other time in US history, it would have been a nine-days wonder.

It should be noted that Flake and Corker’s words assailing Trump do not bump them to the head of the line for beatification. Their profile in courage is shorter than the flyers you find on your windshield. Flake happily voted several times to strip millions of Americans of their health insurance not long ago, and Corker just voted to blow up a major consumer protection regulation. Both have voted with Trump 90 percent of the time.

It is the fact of their right-wing street cred that makes this situation all the more remarkable. If normal political gravity still existed, these senators' statements would rank right up there with the "Have you left no sense of decency?" line attorney Joseph Welch deployed to obliterate Joseph McCarthy in 1954. The dam holding back an ocean of congressional resentment should have broken, and the resulting political flood tide should have gone through 1600 Pennsylvania like the rivers that flushed out the Augean stables  … and yet, here we sit on this quiet Sunday, with Flake and Corker left to plumb the mysteries of Mallard Fillmore in the funny pages while wrestling with perhaps the greatest imponderable of the age.

What do you have to do to make a damn dent?

Here are two major players in their party swinging baseball bats at their own leader, and in less time than it takes to type 140 characters, Donald Trump and Steve Bannon were lighting bonfires and howling at the moon. They're losers, they can't win, they're quitters … and the crowd in their MAGA hats, of course, went wild.

Fact: Donald Trump is a feckless racist catastrophe who would gladly light the world on fire just to see his name printed in the last newspaper ever published. This is fairly common knowledge now. Fish swimming in the eternal night of the Marianas Trench know the president of the United States is an exceedingly dangerous clod, and yet he rumbles on like some colossal ball of pumpkin cobbler gone wild on hubris.

How? Why? What do you have to do? It's the most important question in the world right now, and we need to find a new answer, because all the ones we've come up with to date are lying by the side of the road with truck tracks up their backs. It has not been pretty, and a great many people today are wandering through life in a daze, wondering when they're going to wake up.

I don't have all the answers, but one is fairly self-evident: Math. About 20-30 percent of US voters are Trump supporters to the teeth. They are comprised of one of the strangest amalgamations in US political history -- some evangelicals, some wealthy whites, some rural poor whites, some underemployed blue-collar white laborers, some reality TV fans -- and in their eyes, Trump can do no wrong. By itself, this is not a massive coalition, but it becomes truly muscular when:

1. Half the country doesn't vote in the general election;

2. Two-thirds of the country doesn't vote in primaries or in the midterm elections.

That 20-30 percent becomes a juggernaut under such circumstances, and such circumstances are exactly what we've had here in the US for going on 50 years. Jeff Flake and Bob Corker might have thought they were sounding the charge for a congressional revolution against Trump, but every single Republican under that dome can read a polling sheet just fine, thank you, and they were not about to buck that trend. In the modern GOP, opposing Trump in even the smallest fashion has become the new third rail of politics: Touch it, and you die.

Plus, the GOP paymasters want their trillion dollar tax cut, and they have no interest in letting their hired help muck things up with an inter-party civil war before that gets done and signed. The keys to the Treasury dangle only just out of reach. Flake and Corker picked the wrong week to be ersatz heroes.

What do you have to do to make a dent? Here's a thought: Stop trying to convince Trump supporters they're wrong. You may as well try to convince Patriots fans that Tom Brady is a cheater. You will fail, because they won't believe you, and furthermore they don't care. The national spleen is being vented, and right now they love the smell of bile.

This isn't about ignorance or political naivete. This is quite simply what some people, fueled largely by bigotry and fear, want, and they are so eager for it that they will do as instructed and see each defeat as a victory for people like them. There is no reaching past that. They believe, and they belong, and for a certain breed of cat, that is the richest cream of all. To quote another Patriot, it is what it is.

You can't fix that. You have to beat it. This is hardly impossible. Trump may sound like everything is going his way, but that is more deception.

He made former Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions his attorney general. The fellow tapped to replace Sessions lost in the primary to genuine theocratic fascist Roy Moore. Thanks to a high level of revulsion statewide for Moore (even among many Republicans), the state of Alabama might fail to elect a Republican to the Senate for the first time in 20 years.

Across the continent, the looming departures of Jeff Flake and John McCain have the state of Arizona set to send a whole new slate to the Senate. These would normally be two safe Republican seats but for the Trump Factor, which has inspired the Roy Moores of the country to run for high office. Some of the people who stand a good chance of becoming Republican nominees for these Arizona Senate seats truly make Trump look like Cato the Elder.

It is not beyond the realm of possibility for the GOP to lose one, both or all three of those seats, simply by dint of who Trump's supporters choose to back. If Steve Bannon has his way, Trump's people will go all in for the anti-establishment candidates. Mitch McConnell hates everything right now, and his caucus of cowards have only themselves to blame.

Two states, three seats, and hats over the windmill. There are many paths to activism, but in the meantime, don't squander your energy trying to crack the façade of the true believers. That, among other things, is bad strategy. Instead, fight to win, period

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Categories: Latest News

Launching a "Down-Ballot Revolution" in Chicago

Sat, 10/28/2017 - 21:00

Amanda Weaver is inspiring new politicians from the grass roots of greater Chicago by nurturing, supporting and connecting them with a wider network of allies. As executive director of Reclaim Chicago, a political organization, Weaver encourages everyday people in the neighborhoods and suburbs of the city to run for office. She taps people who display charisma, drive and dedication -- including everyone from nurses to teachers to community leaders -- in her effort to launch what she calls a "down-ballot revolution."

Since Reclaim Chicago started in 2014, the group has supported and helped elect three state representatives, a state senator, two aldermen and a city clerk. In 2016, they also backed Kim Foxx, who became the first African-American elected as state's attorney for Cook County, the second-largest prosecutor's office in the country.

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

Working with a coalition of progressive groups like The People's Lobby and National Nurses United, Weaver helps potential candidates develop long-term plans, provides them with training and establishes the ongoing network of support that people need to run for seats on school boards, in city hall, or in the state house. And when a Reclaim Chicago candidate enters office, says Weaver, "We're going to have to hold them accountable."

Weaver initially entered grass-roots political organizing as a student activist. She was the first in her family to attend college but her parents didn't have the financial resources to support her, leaving her with six-figure debt by the time she graduated with a master's degree.

She soon realized that "no amount of talking about problems, like not being able to put food on the table, was going to actually change people's lives." It was a tipping point she says in this video. "I feel like I bought a ticket to a broken system, " she says. Ever since, she has been looking for new ways to fix the system from the ground up.

She draws inspiration from her mother who, after losing a son to the opioid epidemic, is now speaking out about the crisis. "If my mom can do it," says Weaver, "then I truly believe that we can take this crisis that we have as a country, and turn it into a moment to build power and create something beautiful."

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Categories: Latest News

Economic Inequalities and Climate Apartheid: Ashley Dawson on "Extreme Cities"

Sat, 10/28/2017 - 21:00

Climate change is past the point of being resolved by nature's resilience. Only radical social and economic change will halt global warming and "climate apartheid." A good place to start would be in the "extreme cities" of Ashley Dawson's new book of that title. "Radical demands can quickly come to seem acceptable if enough social movement energy gathers behind them," Dawson tells Truthout.

Floodwaters surround office buildings on September 5, 2017, in Houston, Texas. The decrepancy of treatment between Houston and Puerto Rico, which was later hit by Hurricane Maria, is an example of "climate apartheid," according to author Ashley Dawson. (Photo: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

Today's big cities are ground zero for the impacts of climate disruption -- at risk from floods, cyclones and heat waves. In his new book, Ashley Dawson examines the dangers facing the world's megacities and the urban movements fighting to make city living not just safer, but more fair and equal. Order your copy of Extreme Cities: The Peril and Promise of Urban Life in the Age of Climate Change by making a donation to Truthout today!

Climate change is past the point of being resolved by nature's resilience. Only radical social and economic change will halt global warming and "climate apartheid." A good place to start is in what Ashley Dawson's new book calls Extreme Cities, as the author tells Truthout in the following interview.

An economically polarized city is far more likely to leave sections of its population vulnerable to climate change.

Mark Karlin: What are the characteristics of an "extreme city"? Is anything serious being done globally to address our cities under extreme threat from climate change?

Ashley Dawson: Extreme cities are characterized, on the one hand, by dramatic forms of social and economic polarization. This inequality increases their vulnerability to the other form of extremity: the extreme forms of weather generated by climate change, whether these are heavy monsoon rains, storm surges driven by hurricanes or deadly heat waves, to name but a few. Cities are warming at about twice the rate of the planet as a whole, and generate their own climates, as well as being responsible for over 70 percent of global carbon emissions. An economically polarized city is far more likely to leave sections of its population (and physical territory) vulnerable to climate change.

There is a great deal of interesting work being done to climate-proof cities. As I discuss at length in Extreme Cities, some of the most interesting efforts to do so are being undertaken by landscape architects and designers, who are experimenting with ways to make urban life more harmonious with the natural ecosystems upon which all cities rely. Examples include the work of Kate Orff and the SCAPE studio to build protective natural barriers to prevent storm surge-related flooding of coastal communities using reefs made from oysters. This "oyster-tecture" would grow over time as sea levels rise, and the oysters along the reef would also purify significant amounts of coastal waters, providing a boon for other life forms, including fish, birds and humans.

These experiments at "living with water" offer an alternative to traditional engineering approaches, which hinge on building levees and other kinds of barriers to keep floodwaters at bay. All too often, the latter approach ends up worsening problems in the long run, as the flooding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina showed. But although these new approaches are inspiring and important, they need to be complemented by efforts to fight environmental and social inequality and injustice. Otherwise the new "natural" barriers to climate catastrophe will benefit only the 1 percent.

Ashley Dawson (Photo: Verso Books) Can you provide a couple of examples of what you term "climate apartheid" in the book?

The outrageous abandonment of Puerto Rico by the Trump administration for almost a week after Hurricane Maria devastated the island is a good example of "climate apartheid." While Texas and Florida immediately got promises of massive aid from the federal government after they were hit by hurricanes, Puerto Rico was not only given scant help, but is under the control of a Congress-appointed financial oversight board that has been systematically unraveling the island's critical infrastructures (including their public electricity utility) for the last year.

Resilience has become yet another justification for shrinking down the state and ignoring increasingly rampant inequalities.

So, the term "climate apartheid" alludes to the retreat of global elites (who are responsible for the lion's share of carbon emissions) into various forms of lifeboats, while the global poor are left to sink or swim. Another good example of climate apartheid is the xenophobia and anti-immigrant hysteria that has overwhelmed Europe as refugees from the political and environmental crisis in Syria have sought harbor in the relatively affluent countries of the European Union.

Again, European countries historically bear disproportionate responsibility for carbon emissions, given their early industrialization, but they are increasingly unwilling to abide by international agreements governing refugees. Such forms of exclusion are the most glaring ones, but we could also think about H-1B visas in the US and similar "guest worker" arrangements in European countries that seek to recruit desirable workers from Global South countries; this is a form of apartheid, since the system as it was originally instituted in South Africa was based not simply on keeping populations "apart," but also on ensuring a steady supply of workers for capitalist industries like the diamond and gold mines.

Today, as increasing numbers of countries around the world face climate disasters as well as slower forms of ecocide, the wealthy nations of the world are seeing increasingly potent racist movements that want to build high walls, both real and metaphorical.

The recent rash of hurricanes seemed to be connected to climate change only sparingly by the corporate mass media. It appears these massively destructive forces have done little to nudge policy along on climate change. Any thoughts?

Short answer: The revolution will not be televised.

Longer answer.... Although I don't own a TV, during the few times that I was in front of one during recent weeks, I repeatedly saw weathermen standing in heavy winds and torrential downpours talking about the storms bearing down on them. This seemed a rather ridiculous spectacle, but the corporate media did seem to be serving the public in such instances by telling people where the storms were going and what people needed to do protect themselves.

Radical demands can quickly come to seem acceptable if enough social movement energy gathers behind them.

While it would have been nice to have discussion of the way in which rising carbon emissions are driving ever-fiercer storms more often in the corporate media, I found that these issues were very strenuously underlined by alternative and social media in recent weeks. I think most people sense that there is a connection between the extreme weather of the last month and climate change, and are hungry to know the latest news from scientists in this regard -- at least those who are not totally captive to right-wing, climate-change-denying ideologues. US policy is not going to move while the federal government is controlled by these forces -- as it presently is -- but there's a massive resistance building to these reactionary trends, including in progressive states and cities like California and New York, and the movement for environmental and climate justice is an important part of this resistance.

What is wrong with the slogan of "resiliency" to deal with climate change?

Resilience is a term from the biological sciences that refers to the ability of complex ecosystems or life forms to withstand and even "bounce back" from various forms of stress. The idea emerged in the life science in the 1970s as a critique of models that presumed ecosystems were static (e.g. the idea of sustainability). In this domain, the idea is important and useful.

The problem, though, is that the notion has been hijacked by a bewildering variety of other discourses. Everyone now wants to be resilient, from anti-terrorist experts at the Department of Homeland Security to financial gurus on Wall Street to urban planners. The term has not only been emptied of much of its meaning, but has come to legitimize neoliberal ideas which shunt responsibility for withstanding the climate crisis onto the shoulders of individuals and communities, no matter how economically or socially marginalized they may be. So, resilience has become yet another justification for shrinking down the state and ignoring increasingly rampant inequalities.

You write that a transition away from capitalism that fosters climate change will require a "lockdown" of roughly $20 trillion in "fossil fuel infrastructure around the world." Is there any government willing to make a commitment to that, even one?

It depends how you put the question. Are any of the current crop of political leaders talking about throwing oil company executives into prison and seizing their assets? No.

We must stop this engine running pell-mell toward planetary ecocide.

But there are governments that are talking about total decarbonization of their economies. Half of Denmark's electricity will be produced from wind by 2020, and by 2030, coal will be phased out entirely. By 2035, all of Denmark's energy demands in electricity and heating will be met by renewable energy -- and, by 2050, Denmark has pledged that all of its energy will be clean, safe and renewable. Germany and Spain are not far behind Denmark in their decarbonization ambitions. Solar and wind power are growing very quickly, driven by economies of scale in places like China and India.

The transition is, however, not going fast enough, and will not happen of its own accord -- despite the hopes placed in the market by eco-modernists like Al Gore. This is why it is important to put radical demands like a total lockdown of fossil fuel infrastructure (along with plans for a just transition for workers in these industries) on the table now, even if there are no governments presently willing to endorse such demands. While these demands may seem quixotic now, they are what scientists are telling us we should demand if we are to avert planetary ecocide. Radical demands can quickly come to seem acceptable if enough social movement energy gathers behind them.

You state in Extreme Cities that, "We need to step off this treadmill of ceaseless growth if we are to survive as a species." What are the implications for consumer capitalism?

Truthout Progressive Pick

"A ground-breaking investigation of the vulnerability of our cities in an age of climate chaos." -- Bill McKibben

Click here now to get the book!

The other day I bought some garlic at my local supermarket and noticed that it came from China.... As if it wasn't bad enough that most of the manufactured goods Americans buy are shipped here from half a world away because corporations want to take advantage of dirt-cheap labor and oppression of worker organizing in China, now even the simplest items of food are being shipped -- in massive refrigerated container ships, one imagines -- similar distances. But it gets even worse: Much of the meat now being consumed in China is being produced with soya produced in the Amazon, where the rainforest -- the lungs of the planet -- is being chopped down at a record clip.

Contemporary capitalism is a plague on the face of the Earth. And, in addition, it doesn't even work in its own terms: Economic inequalities are at record levels and the main engine of the capitalist system -- the US economy -- only keeps going through unsustainable injections of credit. Witness the fact that consumer debt is back at record levels in the US. We must stop this engine running pell-mell toward planetary ecocide. We have nothing to lose but our mind-forged manacles.

Categories: Latest News

Universities Are Protecting Free Speech for Bigots at the Expense of Student Safety

Sat, 10/28/2017 - 21:00

Many university presidents and administrators have demonstrated a willingness to allow hate speech from fascists and white supremacists on campus under the rubric of "free speech" but made campuses unsafe for some students in the process. Overwhelming opposition from students on some campuses leading up to and at these events, however, has successfully sabotaged fascist organizing.

White nationalist Tyler Tenbrink of Houston, Texas, is handcuffed by Florida Highway Patrol troopers at a speech by white supremacist Richard Spencer at the University of Florida campus on October 19, 2017, in Gainesville, Florida. Tenbrink was later arrested, along with friends William Fears and Colton Fears, as suspects in a shooting following the speech. (Photo: Brian Blanco/Getty Images)

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"When I see these people on the roofs," said University of Florida (UF) student Ebony Love, gesturing to the groups of snipers on nearby campus buildings, "I understand the reason why they're up there, but at the same time, you have to take my money and pay for that, but I couldn't get an escort to walk me to my classes, and you said you were going to post security outside these classes and you didn't."

When I talked to her, Love was leaning on a police barricade set up outside of the auditorium on campus where prominent white supremacist Richard Spencer was due to speak on October 19. The night before, however, Love was escorting a student to an 8 pm exam. She and another student sat watch outside for two hours in lieu of the campus security she said the university had promised but failed to provide.

Sacrificing Safety

Across the country, the education and safety of students is being sacrificed for the sake of accommodating a few well-financed bigots sowing an atmosphere of divisive aggression on college campuses. Security budgets for these events range upwards of $500,000, but few students and residents of the nearby community feel protected -- and often feel greatly encumbered.

"We can't carry backpacks," lamented a graduate teaching assistant at UF who wished to remain anonymous given the precarity of his position. "Buses aren't functioning. Kids can't park to even come to campus." A layered police perimeter about a mile in diameter prohibited traffic and enforced a restrictive list of banned items. In addition to various weapons, common items students might carry to class such as water, cigarettes and any sort of bag were prohibited, raising concerns that police were icing out street medics.

Despite the presence of police and physical barricades, one man was arrested at the protest site beyond two police checkpoints with an openly holstered handgun. Later that night, shots rang out from a car full of three Nazis who were antagonizing pedestrians less than a mile away. One person was injured and the Nazis were arrested.

If Richard Spencer's goal was to have his message heard and respected, at University of Florida, it was an abysmal failure. A group of counter-protesters outnumbered the presence of his supporters inside the auditorium, chanting anti-racist slogans over Spencer's exasperated attempt to deliver his speech. He alienated members of the press with reportedly racist screening processes.

In the lead-up to the event, logistics were in constant flux. Initially, the university was handling ticket distribution a week prior to the event. A local brewery launched a campaign to exchange free beer for event tickets they promised to destroy. The National Policy Institute, Spencer's think tank, secured distribution rights for the tickets and moved the date twice, distributing all the tickets at the door on the day of the event.

If, however, Spencer sought to seriously disrupt campus life and the lives of those whom he denigrates through a fear of imminent racial violence, his event was wildly successful. Bobby Mermer, the bargainer with the Graduate Assistants United union and teaching assistant in political science, said that this chilling effect on the educational environment of the university was widely felt. "I have students who have left town, been pulled out of Gainesville altogether by their parents," Mermer said.

"[Graduate assistants] in particular, along with faculty, have had difficulty managing what they were going to do today with classes," Mermer continued. "We've had to move around a lot of our curriculum. There's worry that we might not be able to cover all the curriculum we're supposed to cover in the semester because of this disruptive speaker." He told me he had to cancel two sections of the class he was teaching, affecting 50 students altogether.

When I talked to him on October 18, Paul Ortiz, vice president of the United Faculty of Florida union, reported similar stories: "I've talked to parents who have called me [and] expressed concern, who have said they're pulling their children out of classes not just this Thursday, but the whole week. They're reassessing whether they want to continue having their students enrolled in the University of Florida."

Threats Targeting Individuals

Apparently aware of the hostile environment Richard Spencer's speech created, the University of Florida allowed some faculty, students and staff to take the day off. Those who wished to take the day off were required to register an appeal with a superior (faculty to the dean, students to the instructor, staff to their supervisors), which was then assessed on a case-by-case basis. A similar policy was enacted at Auburn University when Spencer spoke there in April.

"What leg would anyone have to stand on if everybody in the class said, 'I feel threatened and afraid to come to class. I can't come'?" said Malini Johar Schueller, a professor of English at University of Florida. "Effectively, that's a disruption of all the classes."

At the University of California at Berkeley (UC Berkeley) last September, professors were moved to boycott holding classes during what was originally slated to be a series of right-wing speakers billed as "Free Speech Week." In a petition signed by over 100 professors, boycotters explained that they were motivated by a pattern of violence from a newly galvanized far right, including a shooting at the University of Washington outside of a speech by professional fascism launderer Milo Yiannopoulos and the torch-lit beating of nonviolent protesters at the University of Virginia led by Richard Spencer.

In advance of his speech at UC Berkeley, Yiannopoulos posted screenshots of student senator Juniperangelica Cordova-Goff's Facebook page to his Instagram account, stoking his followers to harass, threaten and doxx her. Doxxing, the practice of centralizing and disseminating someone's personal identifying information, is designed to make an individual and their loved ones vulnerable to stalking, "swatting" (calling a SWAT team to someone's house) and identity theft. In a statement released on her Facebook page, Cordova-Goff said, "The theoretical debate of free speech on campus has turned into a platform that is being used to target individuals who are organizing for a safer campus environment; a situation that could have been, and should have been, prevented by the university itself."

For Yiannopoulos, this is a pattern of behavior. In December of last year, during his "Dangerous Faggot" tour, he stoked the audience at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee against a transgender student. On that same tour the previous April, he targeted Noa Leibowitz, a trans student organizer at American University. The day before his speech, Milo tweeted an article about the protests, sparking his followers to doxx Leibowitz in the comment section. Almost immediately, the threats poured in.

"Even months after the Milo protest," Leibowitz recalled, "I still had Twitter beef with Milo. He would still tweet at me occasionally." The event, held during finals week, put pressure on Leibowitz's studies. They missed a final that their instructor let them make up.

"It kind of threw me into a mental-health spiral doing all this stuff," Leibowitz said. "Getting all these death threats really put me in a weird position." When they returned for the next semester, their trauma led them to submerge themselves in campus activism at the expense of their education, they said. Their grades suffered, and they took medical leave for two semesters to receive outpatient mental health care. They are preparing to return for the spring semester.

Counter-Recruitment on the Rise

The lasting effects of far-right events on campus sometimes extend beyond consequences for counterprotesters. At Texas A&M, where Richard Spencer spoke last fall, a clandestine white chauvinist student group formed, occasionally posting flyers around campus. Adam Key, who co-founded BTHO Hate to oppose Spencer, recalls the rhetoric: "There was a bunch of 'the goyim know' that I had to look up what that meant, but it's something the 'alt-right' say about Jews."

As of October 17, the Southern Poverty Law Center has tracked 329 instances of nationalist flyering at 241 different college campuses in the US since March 2016. The uptick in flyering corresponds with the subject of an article published on Spencer's site, just a day before his University of Florida appearance.

The article, titled "We're Not In Weimar Yet," calls for focusing on recruitment, and does not deny that the ultimate aim is sustained street fights with the left. It should perhaps also be noted that the article was written anonymously under the pseudonym J. Evola – an apparent reference to mystical anti-Semitic monarchist Julius Evola who critiqued his contemporary Mussolini for not being right wing enough.

Meanwhile, some university administrations have demonstrated a willingness to protect this type of speech at the expense of everyone else's. Presidents and administrators have tacitly or openly supported efforts to hold alternative events to divert students away from the venue of the speaker. Each Spencer appearance had its own hashtag-titled diversion event. At A&M, it was #AggiesUnited. At Auburn it was #AuburnUnites. At University of Florida it was #TogetherUF. Many activists feel these tactics merely represent further accommodation for those who seek to make campus unsafe.

"The university was hamstringing our efforts at getting information out about the event the entire time," an anonymous Auburn University student organizer who tweets at @no_nazis_auburn told me in a phone interview. He recounted stories of the university removing their flyers, power-washing their chalk messages, and leaving students to fend for themselves on the day of the event.

"As they showed at UF, if you have enough people there saying, 'We refuse this,' they can't do anything," he said, referring to the threat of the attendees of Spencer's talk who have been known to brandish weapons against their targets. He explained that his role was to contain those attending Spencer's talk that might be motivated to harm his fellow students.

@no_nazis_auburn also reported the presence of Nazi flyers around campus. His crew is committed to stopping their recruiting efforts. "People don't realize the White Student Union is still here because we take all their flyers down, but they're still here and they're still active."

At UF, where the presence of opposition to Richard Spencer was overwhelming both outside the event hall as well as inside, students reported no evidence of fascist organizing afterwards. "Literally nothing; it's wild. No flyers anywhere," reported a student organizer with No Nazis At UF, which coordinated the protest against Spencer. "Campus has returned completely to normal. It's really weird, but good I guess."

Categories: Latest News

The Woman Aiming to Get 50 Million Americans Into the Worker-Owner Economy

Sat, 10/28/2017 - 21:00

For decades Marjorie Kelly has looked for ways that businesses can better contribute to the good of society. In 1987, after getting a master's degree in journalism, she founded Business Ethics magazine to showcase socially responsible corporations. But after 20 years as president and publisher, she sold the magazine. She had come to an epiphany: Encouraging individual corporations to behave better was an insufficient route to improving society. Significant change would require a shift in the ownership structure of business. Kelly's 2012 book, Owning Our Future, lays out ways to expand democratized ownership models, including employee ownership.

Through the Fifty By Fifty Network, which Kelly co-founded with Jessica Rose, she is now putting those ideas into action. Fifty By Fifty is based at the nonprofit Democracy Collaborative, where Kelly is executive vice president. It aims to increase the number of employee-owners in the United States from 10 million today to 50 million by 2050. It's a shift they believe will transform our economy and our democracy.

Fran Korten caught Kelly at her home in Salem, Massachusetts, to learn more about the network, and its ambitious plans.

Fran Korten: What makes you so passionate about expanding employee ownership?

Marjorie Kelly: It's the advantages it provides employees. Research shows that when employees own the company, they make higher wages, have about double the retirement savings, and are one-fourth as likely to be laid off. Their companies are more likely to be environmental stewards, and they don't export their jobs overseas.

With employee ownership, a lot of things we worry about in the economy are on their way to being solved. That's because you no longer have absentee shareholders looking only at their returns. It's a radically different vision of a company.

Another reason I'm passionate about this work is that I see employee ownership as the first alternative business model that's ready to go to scale. It's a significant, proven model.

What led you to feel that owning assets is so important?

I grew up in a family of eight children. My dad owned his own company, a small business that supplied photographic plates to the printing trade. There were 10 of us supported on one salary, and we lived pretty well. My father never saved a dime, but he owned a business. He and my mother owned a house. He owned some real estate. And I learned, not in words but from the arc of his life, that asset ownership is the secret to security. It's the key to a comfortable retirement.

Financial security is what so many people lack today. I've always felt safe because my father provided a foundation of asset ownership. We weren't rich, but we were secure.

Where did Fifty By Fifty's goal of 50 million employee-owners come from?

Thomas Dudley, a Ph.D. student at the Stanford Business School, conducted research that showed that half of all employees in the U.S. could own their companies. When you can find one employee-owned company in an industry, that shows it can work in that industry. The ICA Group, one of our network partners, believes there are whole industries that employees can own. Home care is an example. Employee-owned companies could dominate the whole industry.

So we think our goal is doable. Our 50 million employee-owners goal would be about 20 to 25 percent of the workforce in 2050. That would be larger than all manufacturing employment in the United States at its height, in about 1980.

How would our economy and our society be different if you and your colleagues could actually reach that goal?

We believe it would begin to restore the middle class. It would reduce inequality and stabilize companies with local ownership so they're not sending jobs overseas. When companies are locally owned, three times as much money circulates locally. Other companies in the area -- accountants, lawyers, grocery stores -- tap this local wealth. So there are large economic benefits locally.

We also think expanding employee ownership can begin to restore democracy. The 99 percent cannot really be empowered as long as the 1 percent owns nearly all the assets.

How does the idea of employee ownership play politically?

It crosses the aisle. Employee ownership is the only policy approach that I can think of that has been favored by both Ronald Reagan and Bernie Sanders. It was under Reagan when a lot of the tax advantages were put in place for Employee Stock Ownership Plans. And many of the business owners who are selling to their employees are Republicans -- often in rural areas. Take Galfab, a company that sells waste-hauling equipment. It has 150 employees in rural Indiana. "Taking care of all the employees was foremost in our mind," CEO Jerry Samson said when he announced the sale of the company to his employees. He decided not to take the highest bid he received. He didn't want the company sold and moved to some other place, with all those people losing their jobs.

Are there forces out there that are against what you are trying to achieve?

Our greatest enemies are ignorance and invisibility. There is a shocking lack of awareness about employee ownership -- how big it is, how successful it is.

What are some employee-owned companies that I might recognize?

You probably have seen King Arthur Flour in the grocery store. That's 100 percent owned by employees. New Belgium Brewery that makes Fat Tire Amber Ale. That's 100 percent employee-owned. Equal Exchange, which sells fair trade coffee, is employee-owned. Clif Bar, Dansko, Gardener's Supply, W.L. Gore & Associates -- the makers of Gore-Tex -- they all have significant employee ownership.

Eileen Fisher clothing, which has about $350 million in annual revenue, is substantially employee-owned. Fisher has said that she didn't want her company to be just a little morsel that's devoured by some big company so they can go devour somebody else tomorrow. She put the ownership of her company in the hands of the people that she thought would steward the company's mission. That's her employees.

But the problem is that the public doesn't know that Eileen Fisher or these other companies are employee-owned. We want to give a face to employee ownership. Eileen Fisher is known for putting her employees in her ads. It would be great if those ads said these are employee-owners. We want employee ownership to be as cool and as well-known as organic or buying local or green building. It should be one of these ideas that everybody thinks is great. It may help if employee-owned companies are certified. That's a need Thomas Dudley is filling with his recently established organization, Certified Employee Ownership.

When you say "employee-owners," are you talking about employees in a worker cooperative, or something else?

There are many forms of employee ownership. The worker cooperative is one. The Employee Stock Ownership Plan is another. ESOPs represent a much bigger proportion of worker-owned companies. That's partly because ESOPs have tax advantages that worker co-ops don't have. If I sold my company to a worker co-op, I would immediately pay taxes on capital gains. If I sold to my employees as an ESOP, I can avoid or defer taxes on that gain. And ESOPs are officially owned by a trust so the company pays no income tax. Also bankers are more willing to loan to an ESOP. In a worker co-op, its not so clear who is on the hook if that debt that goes bad. There are solutions to that, but it can be a challenge. So, for a variety of reasons, worker co-ops tend to be smaller companies. ESOP companies can be huge. W.L. Gore & Associates has 10,000 employees and more than $3 billion in revenue.

I've heard some people say that ESOPs aren't as democratic as worker-owned cooperatives. Is that right?

There's a lot of variety in ESOPs. The National Center for Employee Ownership, one of our Fifty By Fifty Network members, counts about 7,000 companies that have ESOPs. Some are publicly traded companies where the employees own just a tiny amount. Among the 10 million employee-owners today, about two-thirds are at these kinds of companies. When employees own, say, just 5 percent of a company's stock, it doesn't amount to much of a change in the company. But there are at least 1,600 ESOPs -- with roughly a million employees -- where employees own the majority of the stock. When employees own at least 30 percent of the stock, you can start to have a genuine empowerment culture.

Getting to 50 million employee-owners in this country sounds like a big challenge. How do you and your colleagues hope to get there?

Fifty By Fifty plans to promote much greater awareness of employee ownership. We are also talking with impact investors (investors who want to generate a beneficial social or environmental impact with their money). Right now employee ownership is off the radar for impact investors, yet our research indicates that capital can be a big factor in expanding employee ownership. We found just one mutual fund, Parnassus Endeavor Fund, where all of their holdings have employee ownership. But they don't advertise that fact. We want there to be many more such investment opportunities and for them to be well known.

Cities can help expand employee ownership. In Rochester, New York, for example, the mayor set up an entity to help launch employee-owned companies and convert businesses to employee ownership. New York City committed $3.3 million over two years to develop worker cooperatives.

And reaching out to civil society groups can help. There are Black empowerment groups that are promoting worker co-ops. They are building on the long tradition of worker co-ops in the Black community. That experience was beautifully documented in Jessica Gordon Nembhard's recent book Collective Courage: A History of African American Co-operative Economics in Thought and Practice.

What can an ordinary person do to advance employee ownership?

Well, they should go to our website and sign up for our blog about advances in employee ownership. They can shop at companies that are employee-owned. They can encourage their senators and [congress members] to support federal legislation such as the WORK act, introduced by Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Kirsten Gillibrand. It would fund state employee ownership centers. A second bill would establish an employee ownership bank.

There are some opportunities to invest in employee-owned companies, like Equal Exchange. People should also think about whether employee ownership is possible at companies where they work. Or look for that when they're job hunting. Citizens can encourage their city to advance employee-ownership. Cities are always surprised when companies that have been in their city for a long time are closed or sold. But the city could identify vulnerable companies and help them stay locally owned and, in some cases, shift to ownership by their employees.

So in conclusion, it sounds like you and your colleagues are attempting to change the very nature of our economy. Is that right?

Absolutely. In studying history, I saw that every economy is defined by its predominant form of asset ownership. In a monarchy, the king and aristocracy own all the land. In a feudal economy, lords own the land. In communism, the state owns the means of production. In early-stage capitalism in the United States, the robber barons and railroad kings owned a lot of the economy. More recently ownership has passed into the financial markets. The next stage is to democratize asset ownership. If we want to have a more democratic country, then we need to have more democratic asset ownership.

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Categories: Latest News

The GOP Declares War on "Abortion Bonds"

Sat, 10/28/2017 - 21:00

There may be no more amorphous political phrase in the English language than "taxpayer-funded abortion." The term originally appeared along with the Hyde Amendment to prevent insurance from covering the abortion procedures of Medicaid patients. But the expression has since blossomed into a hodgepodge of exaggerated definitions, especially within the last few years of anti-abortion legislation.

In Kansas, the legislature used the term to close every tax loophole that could conceivably allow a person to write off any aspect of an abortion or education. And in Ohio, they insisted that taxpayer-funded abortion justified forbidding university or public hospitals from offering transfer agreements to doctors who worked in abortion clinics.

Conservatives have long claimed any funding going to an entity that offers abortion along with contraception and other sexual health services is simply "freeing up" money to be used for terminations, thereby inadvertently forcing taxpayers to fund the procedure. The federal government has even tried to eliminate all abortion coverage in any insurance plans that would receive subsidies under Obamacare in order to "protect" people from being forced to fund abortions.

But just when it seemed that the definition had been stretched further than anyone could ever imagine, abortion opponents are at it again. This time their target is funding from states or cities that could potentially be used to open new reproductive health centers. Or, as the GOP is putting it, "abortion bonds."

"Abortion bonds" is the new moniker offered by North Carolina Rep. Robert Pittenger, a Tea Party Republican. He's perhaps best known for telling people with pre-existing conditions who would lose coverage if the Affordable Care Act were repealed that maybe they should just move.

According to Pittenger, cities and states have been allowing Planned Parenthood to use local bonds -- very low interest loans offered to businesses and entities that will benefit the area economically or socially -- in order to build new clinics. These "abortion bonds" then force unsuspecting taxpayers to subsidize abortion because the interest payments on the bonds are tax exempt, meaning the clinic receives a tax break by using them.

It's that tax break that Pittenger insists must come to an end -- regardless of how small of an advantage the clinics may be getting or how minuscule the alleged subsidies might be.

"Overall, the federal government lost $29 billion in revenue in 2014 to exempt bonds, according to the Tax Policy Center," writes the Washington Times. "Planned Parenthood facilities are an infinitesimal fraction of that total, but the principle at stake, Mr. Pittenger said, is the use of taxpayers' money. 'The intent is to close a loophole in the tax code that allows for them to finance their clinics,' he said."

And of course, the principle is being embraced by a number of anti-abortion action groups hoping that the "death by a thousand paper cuts" attempts at ending abortion may eventually have some effect.

"Jennifer Popik, director of federal legislation at National Right to Life, said Planned Parenthood receives taxpayer dollars and other forms of support through numerous government streams, and Pittenger's legislation would help cut off one avenue of support," reports Lifenews. "'This is a good small step here,' Popik told the Times. "This isn't defunding Planned Parenthood, this isn't defunding large abortion providers, but this is one thing we can show we're moving in a positive direction.'"

Pittenger predicts that his legislation will be added to the already immense and unpopular new tax code revamp that the GOP is currently drafting. And that means it's likely to be passed with a very slim Republican majority, as they continue to push legislation via the reconciliation process. It is also unlikely to be the only attempt at defunding Planned Parenthood, changing tax exemptions around abortion services or otherwise restricting the constitutional right to choose.

But while "abortion bonds" may seem like a small deal in the grand scheme of attacks on abortion rights, in reality it shows the endless lengths the right will go to in order to isolate and ostracize abortion.

For now conservatives are blocking every piece of tax code "for the principle" of it. But what if they decide that having police prevent protesters from violating FACE is forcing taxpayers to fund abortion? Or that a city fire department can't respond to a call at a clinic, or roads can't be repaired in front of one? Or even worse, that a hospital doesn't have to take in a patient on the very rare occasion that there is a complication during a procedure?

"Taxpayer-funded abortion" has always been a slippery slope definition, and now the ground has crumbled out from underneath it all together. "Abortion bonds" may allegedly just be about "the principle" to Pittenger, but the argument shows the rest of us the right's dedication to making clinics completely inaccessible once and for all.

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Categories: Latest News

How Many US Women Die From Causes Related to Pregnancy or Childbirth? No One Knows

Sat, 10/28/2017 - 21:00

(Photo: FP; Edited: LW / TO)

The questions are straightforward, with public health implications that would seem impossible to shrug off.

How many American women die each year from causes related to pregnancy or childbirth? How many of these deaths are preventable? How does the nation's current rate of maternal mortality compare to the rate 10 or 20 or 30 years ago?

The answers are central to any true picture of US maternal health, and an essential tool in limiting such tragedies going forward. Much as an accurate census is vital to a functioning democracy, so reliable information on what goes right or wrong in pregnancy and childbirth is key to saving lives.

Yet because of flaws in the way the US identifies and investigates maternal deaths -- a process perennially short on funding and scientific attention -- what data exists on this particular set of vital statistics is incomplete and untrustworthy. Indeed, for the last decade, the US hasn't had an official annual count of pregnancy-related fatalities, or an official maternal mortality rate -- a damning reflection of health officials' lack of confidence in the available numbers.

"Our maternal data is embarrassing," said Stacie Geller, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Illinois College of Medicine and a leading scholar on the subject. "Maternal health in the US is simply still not a priority. It's not interesting. Preventable maternal deaths are not in the basement of our priorities, they are in the sub-basement."

It's generally agreed upon that about 700 to 900 American women die each year for reasons tied to pregnancy and that many of these deaths are preventable. Over the last two decades, other affluent nations have reduced their maternal mortality rates, in some cases dramatically.

The best estimates show US rates rising over that period, but those estimates vary -- a lot. A study in The Lancet put the 2015 US rate at 26.4 per 100,000 live births, almost twice the World Health Organization's estimated rate of 14 per 100,000 live births. (Researchers calculated maternal deaths slightly differently in each model, yet came to similar rates for several other countries.)

Doubts about US data on maternal deaths are so profound that some experts have questioned if the rise in US rates over the last 25 years is a mirage, reflecting noise in the numbers rather than a real increase in fatalities.

Elements of how deaths are counted have changed over that time. Most significantly, since 2003, states have added a checkbox to death certificates, asking if the person who died was pregnant, or had been within the last year of their lives. The checkbox has helped identify maternal deaths that previously would have been missed, but also may be capturing cases not related to pregnancy, studies show.

Dr. William Callaghan, who leads the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's maternal and infant health branch and is a prominent researcher on maternal mortality, said changing data explains some of the rise in US rates -- but not all of it.

Even factoring in some over-counting as a result of the checkbox, he and other experts say, the US would still have the highest maternal mortality rate of any affluent country.

"That's still not great," he said. "We should be better."

When it wants to, the American health care system produces a dizzying array of detailed data on diseases and drugs, treatments and outcomes.

States rigorously track infant mortality, for example, collecting dates of birth and death for all babies, as well as rates of teenage pregnancy, capturing the age of mothers on birth certificates. State cancer registries amass granular data to look for trends and patterns. Using standardized data from doctors and hospitals, government contractors scrupulously tabulate every conceivable measure of the performance of transplant centers, including the number of transplants performed, deaths on transplant waiting lists and death rates after transplant.

Callaghan rated the difficulty of measuring maternal deaths at about a three on a scale of one to 10, so he views the longstanding lack of reliable data as a reflection of the scant importance American society places on expectant and new mothers and the urgency of acting to save them.

There's an "implicit value decision when we don't do everything we can," he said. "What we choose to measure is a statement of what we value in health."

The United Kingdom, which Callaghan describes as having the "gold standard for maternal health data," starts with vital statistics information but goes much deeper. As part of a national inquiry, health care practitioners review every maternal death, using medical records and more to identify deaths related to pregnancy or childbirth and to determine why they happened and if better care could have prevented them.

Four million women give birth in the US each year, roughly six times as many as in the U.K. Yet the US has no national review of maternal deaths. Slightly more than half the states have maternal mortality review committees -- experts that take on in-depth case analyses -- that have been operating for at least a year. Many receive little or no funding and rely on volunteers to take on time-consuming case analyses. They publish reports irregularly and, in some cases, do not address the issue of preventability at all.

Members of Congress have introduced several bills attempting to fund review committees nationwide as well as standardizing and pooling their data, but none have moved forward. Instead, a CDC scientist is leading an effort to establish a standardized national reporting system, but, for funding, it depends on Merck for Mothers, a charitable initiative created by the pharmaceutical giant.

Marian MacDorman, a research professor at the University of Maryland's population research center, said it's frustrating that decades of flawed data collection have left the US where it is today -- still without maternal mortality numbers it trusts enough to certify as official and still without a roadmap to prevent women from dying.

"It's a tragedy," she said. "I really draw a direct link. People are dying because the federal government is not publishing this data."


The problems with US maternal mortality data start at the most basic level. For more than a century, the US has been largely dependent on a single source of information -- death certificates -- to count maternal deaths and understand their causes.

For everyone who dies there is a death certificate, making it the common currency of an otherwise decentralized system. There are 52 separate reporting jurisdictions for vital statistics -- 50 states, plus New York City and Washington, DC.

Certificates are filled out with information from doctors, collected by state and local vital statistics offices and further assessed by experts at the CDC. Jurisdictions have long relied on death certificates (sometimes matched with birth certificates or certificates that report deaths of fetuses not developed enough to breathe on their own) to identify women who died during pregnancy or within one year after giving birth. They shared these records with the CDC, where epidemiologists with the agency's Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System use standardized codes for causes of death to try to determine if a death was related to pregnancy or childbirth.

There have always been gaping holes in this process.

The certificate is supposed to identify the cause of death, but when an expectant or new mother dies, it's not always easy to determine why. Death certificates ask for the immediate cause of death (i.e., the ailment that directly precedes it), intermediate causes (which lead to the immediate cause) and the underlying cause, which sets off the events that result in death. The CDC's mortality statistics rely on the underlying cause, though this may not always show a link to pregnancy or childbirth.

Death certificates are notoriously prone to error and, often, are missing critical information, CDC officials say. In the case of maternal deaths, they may not be filled out by an OB-GYN or anyone trained to recognize a link to pregnancy -- or even anyone conscious that what he or she is recording has public health implications. For decades, researchers found that many death certificates for women in the right age group to give birth missed that they had been pregnant, especially if they didn't die in childbirth.

Callaghan offered one example of how this could happen: Expectant and new mothers are at greater risk of pulmonary embolism. A young woman shows up in an emergency room, has an embolism, then dies -- but the emergency room doctor doesn't know or note on the death certificate that she gave birth a week earlier. Thus, the death isn't counted as related to pregnancy or childbirth.

To this day, the codes used to specify causes of death are quite exact for some underlying factors in maternal deaths, but not for others, Callaghan added. This can make deaths tied to pregnancy hard to discern, even for experts like him. "There are death certificates I stare at all day long and I wouldn't be able to tell you what the real cause of death was," he said ruefully.


Tabulating maternal deaths this way led to a substantial undercount of maternal deaths through at least the early '90s and possibly beyond, CDC officials say. Studies suggested the true totals could be 50 to 100 percent higher.

In an effort to catch deaths that were being overlooked, the National Center for Health Statistics revised the standard US death certificate to include a checkbox question asking whether the person who died, if female, was pregnant at the time of death or within a year before death.

In some ways, however, the saga of this well-intentioned change reflects the hurdles to achieving comprehensive, accurate data.

Sixteen states already had pregnancy checkboxes on their death certificates well before the NCHS move, some going back to the early '90s. Problem was, each state used its own wording -- some asked if a woman had been pregnant within 42 days of dying, or six weeks, or three months, or 12 months. They weren't capturing consistent information; a woman whose death might be linked to pregnancy in one state might be classified differently if she died across the state line.

Even after NCHS added checkbox language to the standard national death certificate in 2003, states and cities weren't required to use it and didn't institute the change all at once. Instead, a few states made the switch each year, with a couple finally trickling into line in 2016 and 2017. Within New England alone, states added checkboxes as early as 2005 (Connecticut) and as recently as 2014 (Massachusetts).

The checkbox had an instant effect on numbers of maternal deaths.

"Adding the checkbox almost doubles a state's reported maternal mortality rate," said Eugene Declercq, a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health who has studied the effect.

There are persuasive signs the checkbox has solved the problem of missed deaths that had been the surveillance system's biggest flaw.

A recent report bringing together data from maternal mortality review committees in Colorado, Delaware, Georgia and Ohio showed that without the checkbox, substantial numbers of pregnancy-related fatalities would have gone uncounted; they included about half the deaths that occurred during pregnancy, 11 percent of deaths that occurred within 42 days after childbirth, and 8 percent of deaths that occurred 43 days to one year after childbirth.

But the checkbox has brought its own set of problems.

Researchers are finding the checkbox produces so-called false positives -- deaths categorized as related to pregnancy or childbirth that aren't. The data from Colorado, Delaware, Georgia and Ohio showed no evidence of pregnancy within the prior year for about 15 percent of the women -- or 97 out of 650 -- whose deaths were identified as related by the checkbox.

A separate study by MacDorman, Declercq and a third researcher found that "implausibly high" numbers of maternal deaths identified via the checkbox involve women 40 or older or attributed to less specific causes, i.e., other obstetric complications, or obstetric death of unspecified cause. Based on past patterns, it's likely at least some of these deaths were not pregnancy-related, the study concluded.

The study offered several suggestions for shoring up the data, from training for those who complete death certificates to rechecking certain death certificates to make sure older women or women whose deaths were coded to non-specific causes really had been pregnant. So far, however, these steps haven't been taken.

The federal government stopped publishing official maternal mortality numbers starting in 2007 to wait for all states to adopt the checkbox and produce consistent data.

But even now, with virtually all jurisdictions on board, doubts about the reliability of data based solely on the checkbox have made health officials hesitant to start publishing again, MacDorman said. The longer this continues, the more problems with the data will become entrenched, she warned.

"If you have a data system and you're not publishing the data, you're not monitoring it and cleaning it and working with it," she noted. "Data quality's going to go down."


MacDorman's study also offered another suggestion for improving data on maternal deaths: Using information collected by state maternal mortality review committees to validate and improve information gleaned from death certificates.

Review committees draw not only from vital records, but from a variety of sources, from obituaries to social media, to identify and compile facts about maternal deaths. For each case, they typically extract demographic data such as a woman's age and race, then use medical records, notes from care providers and other resources to look at what happened, determining whether the catastrophic outcome was related to pregnancy or childbirth and whether it was preventable.

The most active committees play crucial roles in uncovering the truth about maternal deaths -- both their number and their nature.

California's committee, the California Pregnancy-Associated Mortality Review, was established in 2006, at the crest of a 15-year increase in the state's maternal mortality rates. "It gave us data and it gave us stories," said Dr. Elliott Main, whose group, the California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative, partners with the state Department of Public Health on the review.

Main said the ability to turn insights from data into prevention has helped California engineer a dramatic turnaround. The state has designed hospital toolkits and safety bundles based on preventable causes of death and mistakes in care identified by the review. Since 2006, California's maternal mortality rate dropped by more than 55 percent.

Stacie Geller has been a member of the Illinois Maternal Mortality Review Committee since it began in 2001. After the panel determined the No. 1 cause of preventable maternal death in Illinois was obstetrical hemorrhage, the state spent $1 million retraining hospitals on how to deal with it. Within a couple of years, Geller said, clinical practices improved.

Despite review committees' clear benefits, however, a fluctuating, but substantial number of states lack review processes.

Indiana, Oregon and Alabama don't have them. Pennsylvania, the sixth most populous state, has never had one, though it has a working group studying the idea and the city of Philadelphia has a longstanding review panel. Loren Robinson, Pennsylvania's deputy secretary for health promotion and disease prevention, conceded it was "hard to know why it had taken so long" for the state to move forward.

Several large states established committees only recently, prodded by poor maternal outcomes.

In Georgia -- where the maternal mortality rate routinely ranks among the country's highest -- the review panel began meeting in 2012 and produced its first report in mid-2015. Texas launched its Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force in 2013, as the state experienced an apparent surge in maternal deaths and near-deaths.

Most experts blame review committees' struggles primarily on a dearth of resources, saying they often lose out to other health care priorities perceived as more pressing.

They are hardly pricey items by government standards. Committee members -- typically health practitioners who specialize in maternal care -- volunteer their time, sometimes with part-time support from staff at the state health department.

Still, an assessment completed in 2012 by The Association of Maternal & Child Health Programs found that at least one-third of states that had maternal mortality review committees had no budgets for these efforts, making them extremely fragile.

Geller said she and the other members of Illinois' panel had subsidized its work with "donated time," and that, by providing the state with much of its most meaningful data, they've, in effect, "done the state's work" for a pittance.

She blames the lack of funding in part on this not being a "sexy" or "innovative" area for research.

"Fixing maternal health is pretty basic," she said.

There's a considerably stronger record of sustaining review processes related to child deaths, which all 50 states and the District of Columbia have. While child deaths far outnumber maternal ones, experts see something else behind the differences.

"It's a reflection that for decades, it's really the infant child that has been the focus and priority, and much less so the mother," said David Goodman, who oversees maternal health efforts at the CDC's maternal and infant health branch.

Other obstacles, too, hinder maternal mortality reviews. Since committees need confidential medical information to do their work, states trying to set them up often have to pass laws to assuage concerns about patient privacy and liability for hospitals and doctors. This can take years.

Goodman is leading a new collaborative effort by the CDC, its foundation and AMCHP to build a less piecemeal review system.

They've created a tool, the Maternal Mortality Review Information Application, to collect and analyze standardized data from review panels, the first-ever attempt to pool such information nationally. So far, about a dozen states are feeding into it. Goodman's crew also has designed a web portal to help states and local jurisdiction start or improve maternal mortality reviews.

Few would argue this isn't essential public health work, but the project receives not one penny of public money. Instead, it's paid for by Merck for Mothers, which has poured in $2.3 million so far.

Asked if this was surprising, Goodman allowed that "I've been struggling with this a little bit myself." In the end, though, he said he doesn't parse the source of the money -- he just appreciates the accelerated progress it allows.

"I'm very pragmatic, and in public health, you have priorities that emerge and go, and you have those you can act on and those where the timing isn't right," he said. "It doesn't actually make me crazy because I understand that, and I've understood for all the time I've been working on this that it was important to keep going."

There were times when he doubted they'd ever get this far. He sees Merck for Mothers' support as a sign that the moment for improving US maternal mortality data has arrived.

"Every little step you take is a little step forward and you're keeping the conversation alive for when that opportunity does come up, and I think it's now that the timing seems to be right," he said.

Many in the field are eager to believe that.

Bette Begleiter, a member of Philadelphia's review panel and an official with the city's Maternity Care Coalition, said the struggle to get reliable data and sustain committees in the face of a rising death rate was a "national disgrace." As she sees it, one test of whether things are improving will be whether Pennsylvania goes ahead and actually creates and funds a state panel.

"Everyone we talk to supports paying attention to maternal deaths," Begleiter said. "But there's been a disconnect between support and action. We need to see action."

Categories: Latest News

New Investigative Website Fights Rich and Powerful "Who Call the Shots"

Fri, 10/27/2017 - 21:00

In 2009, he came to us at Bill Moyers Journal because he wanted to tell the truth and needed someone to hear him. As Wendell Potter told his story, we listened -- and what we heard was sickening: a story of corruption in the health insurance industry that not only raised the cost of coverage to consumers but put lives at risk.

Potter had seen it up close, as head of corporate public relations pulling down a six-figure salary for one of the country's biggest insurers. He had watched in disbelief as he saw how Wall Street's hunger to force up quarterly profits gave insurers every incentive to deny coverage, as every dollar not paid out to a claim added to profits and to the soaring paychecks and bonuses of CEOs. Under these conditions, Potter told us, you don't think about individuals, "you think about the numbers, and whether or not you're going to meet Wall Street's expectations."

One day, back home in Tennessee, where he had begun his career as a journalist, Potter happened upon a makeshift health clinic set up at a rural fairgrounds for people who couldn't afford to visit a doctor, fill a prescription or go to a hospital. He told us, "When I walked through the fairground gates, I saw hundreds of people lined up, in the rain, waiting to get care in animal stalls. Animal stalls!"

Potter blew the whistle, becoming management's "worst nightmare," revealing how public opinion was manipulated with deceitful corporate propaganda. His testimony before Congress rocked the industry. His revelations during our hour-long interview --  his first on television  -- reverberated far and wide. He expected to be vilified and was. The first requirement for a whistleblower is credibility; the second is courage; the third, a thick hide. Potter never flinched. The journalist-turned-executive-turned-whistleblower has became a reformer, working with reporters and activists to track the abuses of an industry with extraordinary power over our lives, our economy and our politics.

Now Wendell Potter returns to journalism. Today, he launches a new organization for investigative reporting called Tarbell  -- a watchdog we'll wager can bite as well as bark.  He's named it for -- well, that's what you will find out from this conversation between Potter and our senior writer, Michael Winship.

-- Bill Moyers

Michael Winship: Wendell, welcome. To begin, why have you decided to call your website Tarbell?

Wendell Potter: I think a lot of people don't recognize the name, but Ida Tarbell was one of America's most important journalists. She was a journalist in the early part of the 20thcentury, the early 1900s, and her muckraking really led to some very important legislation, antitrust and campaign finance laws during the Teddy Roosevelt administration, largely as a report of her dogged reporting and investigating of John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company, which was a huge monopoly and conglomerate. Over a series of six reports that were published in McClure's Magazine, she really exposed what the consequences of that monopoly were on American society.

So she is our guiding spirit. We hope to shine a light on corporations and other special interests that have really rigged the system against regular folks.

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

Why did you decide to start a website?

You know, it was largely because of what I learned when I was in corporate America. I headed corporate communications for two big health insurance companies at different times, Humana and Cigna, and toward the end of my career, I saw that there were fewer and fewer reporters who were interested or able to really take a close look at how corporations do business and what the consequences of their practices are. And that's why I testified before Congress after I left my old job and tried to pull the curtain back so people could understand more how corporations and special interests manipulate public opinion.

I wrote a book called Deadly Spin after that. More recently, I also wrote, with Nick Penniman, a book called Nation on the Take: How Big Money Corrupted Democracy and What We Can Do About It, and that focused on how those special interests, those moneyed interests, spend money to manipulate public policy, influence elections and what the consequences are to the rest of us.

Not enough people read books or hear congressional testimony, so I decided to go the extra step and try to reach a much broader audience. I think few people are really aware of just how much our system of government has shifted from the democratic republic envisioned by our founders to one that is largely an oligarchy and I want to expose that.

Our journalists will take that on and over a period of time make the case that we need to really get involved to change the system and how it can be changed. So we're also going to be focusing on solutions, not just investigating the problem, but what can we do about it? How can we, for example, improve the health care system in ways that we haven't seen our policymakers attempt yet? And what can we do to enact meaningful reforms that clean up the corruption that is so prevalent in governments at all levels?

You've said that Tarbell's mission is to report stories essential to our democracy and our lives. Besides health care, what would be some examples of that?

The financial services industry, the chemical industry, the fossil fuel industry. We have a situation obviously in which the planet is warming and we've got to take action but there are big fossil fuel companies that are able to call the shots in Washington and state capitals around the country that prevent the action we need to make sure that we're not continuing on this path toward an uninhabitable planet.

Another is why is higher education so expensive? Why are our young people now saddled with so much student debt that many of them will probably never pay it off? Why are so few chemicals that are in everyday products not regulated and not even tested?

Is the overarching story then money in politics?

Money in politics is a very, very big part of it because money has become so much a part of our political system that members of Congress don't spend nearly as much time in their offices on the people's business, they have to constantly be raising money for re-election. They spend on average half of their day dialing for dollars. They leave their offices and go to Democratic and Republican offices to be telemarketers trying to raise money for re-election. And then in the evenings they go to fundraisers that are hosted by lobbyists.

So we've got a situation that really has facilitated this shift from a democratic republic to an oligarchy. The rich and powerful really call the shots and we want to address that. It is pervasive. In addition, we want to show just how some business practices, even if they're not influencing public policy, affect our lives in ways that we need to know about.

There are a lot of different areas that we want to take on but we also want to have our readers help us determine some of the topics that we cover. This is going to be participatory journalism in a very real sense. We want to get story ideas from our readers, we want to have them suggest not just topics but to engage in online conversations with our journalists as they're working on stories.

So you think that that kind of interactivity is what will set Tarbell apart from some of the other investigative journalism sites?

It's essential for citizens to be involved and I see no reason why they shouldn't be involved in journalism. And I think we would even publish some pieces that are submitted by readers. We want to build a community of readers. We're nonprofit, so we're going to be relying on donations but we will not have a paywall. We want everyone to be able to see the work that we produce.

We also want to help people understand how they can actually become part of the solution, what some of the tools and information are that they need to be more involved. The solutions journalism part of what we're doing will help them understand what some of the options are to improve our government and society and will give them information on how they can affiliate with groups that are engaged in an issue.

There's been such a drumbeat from Donald Trump and the White House about fake news. How do you see Tarbell combatting that accusation?

Donald Trump has kind of defined fake news in his own terms. Originally, it was a term that was applied to information that was not true, that was being disseminated by people who were trying to influence the elections by spreading false information. He usurped the term and uses it to try to delegitimize the media, which I think is something he's doing quite effectively with some segments of the population.

But that said, to a certain extent I think that Americans have lost trust in the fourth estate. One reason is that there are far fewer reporters doing the investigative work that we hope to do. And so much of what you see in the media these days -- the talking head, political TV shows; people shouting at each other or the he said/she said kind of stuff -- that is about all we get. We want to go more in depth. We want to help people understand an issue more deeply -- not just what politicians are saying about an issue, [but] how they're affected and what they can do about it. So one of our objectives is to try to bring back public confidence in the media.

How hard is it to begin a startup these days? What surprised you along the way that you didn't expect?

It surprised me that it takes longer than I would like it to have and it takes money. We would like to have been publishing six months ago but it takes a while to do all that needs to be done from being designated a nonprofit organization, which we have, we got our determination letter from the IRS that we are a 501(c)(3).

The name of the nonprofit that will publish Tarbell is "To Be Fair," and that name has some significance. We wanted to signify that whatever we do will be fair, fair reporting, but also aim to help achieve a more just and fair society through journalism. I think that journalism has shown itself over decades and centuries to be essential to democracy and to help drive important change. We want to be a part of that, to make sure that the watchdog role of the press continues.

We're tenacious and determined and so grateful that we are at this point and can soon start publishing the journalism that we've been telling people we plan to do.

How have you staffed this?

I've got a small team of people who are helping us to build this, journalists and tech experts. We've got a terrific board of directors and board of advisers.

We've had so many emails and calls from reporters around the country who are interested and would like to work for us. Ultimately, what we want to do is to build a paid staff of 10 to 12 people. We also will work with freelance reporters around the country. Hopefully, we will have an ample freelance budget.

We really want to have news and information from all across the country. We will not be based in Washington or New York. We want to be away from those media centers for various reasons. We're going to be based in Philadelphia, where our country began. Our core staff will be based there but even some of the paid staff will be working virtually from wherever they might be.

We mentioned that the scope of your interests is vast but your focus for a long time was the health care insurance industry, as an executive within it and then as an advocate for reform, and we know that health care constitutes a sixth of the American economy. How much of Tarbell's focus will be on it?

A significant amount of our emphasis will be on health care, certainly to start. It's one of the most topical issues clearly and our health care system once again is under threat. What the president is doing now despite what he says is really undermining the Affordable Care Act, trying to make it collapse if he possibly can. And whether or not he goes forward or is able to achieve what he's trying to achieve, we need to do much more than what we have done even with the Affordable Care Act.

I said during that debate that the Affordable Care Act did good things but it was just the end of the beginning of reform. There are a lot of things that we need to do to improve our health care system. The Affordable Care Act brought a lot of people into coverage but there are still 30 million of us who don't have it and health care costs continue to go up.

As part of solutions journalism, we want to help people understand what Bernie Sanders' Medicare for All legislation is all about and other proposals as well. And we want to help people to get the truth about how other systems around the world operate, on how the Canadian health care system operates and is different from ours and how other systems around the world have been able to achieve universal coverage and much better cost control than we have and while doing all that have much better outcomes.

It can be done. We won't be advocating for the adoption of any particular system but we want people to really understand what the possibilities are. One of my jobs in my old career was to scare people away from any kind of system that wasn't like the one we have now because it benefits the insurance industry and the other influential special interests -- they make a lot of money off of this system. And to a certain extent, I'm making amends for the deception, the misleading information that I was part of disseminating for many years in my old job.

You mentioned the president and health care, what are your thoughts on these most recent developments, the executive actions to undercut the ACA and his declaration on Monday that Obamacare is dead? And what do you make of the attempt by Sens. Patty Murray and Lamar Alexander to come up with a temporary bipartisan compromise?

If his executive orders do go forward, there's no doubt that what we had referred to or known as Obamacare is no more. In fact, I think it probably is time to start calling what we have Trumpcare.

The executive orders would really be such a disadvantage to people who really need insurance. A lot of people will be once again priced out of the market and won't be able to afford coverage. One of the executive orders creates what's referred to as association health plans that will enable small employers in particular to circumvent state law and even federal law so that they can sell skimpy insurance, junk insurance if you will, to people, which will undoubtedly attract a lot of young and healthy people because the premiums will be cheaper but the value of what they're buying is so much less, to the point that many of those policies will indeed be junk insurance. So it's tragic what would happen if that executive order goes forward.

Now he's directed the Department of Health and Human Services and other departments to write the regulations for the implementation of this order. That will take time and there has to be a period of public comment. So it's not going to happen tomorrow. It may be months down the road but it could happen. And it will be devastating. And even during that time it creates more uncertainty in the health insurance marketplace. And that undoubtedly will also lead to more health insurers leaving the Obamacare exchanges or if they stay increasing their premiums because of the uncertainty of knowing whether or not there will be any money to help cover the out of pocket expenses for example of the people enrolled in those plans.

Another part of the executive order is to cut off the payments that have gone to or through insurance companies to help people afford to get the care that they need, to help offset their out of pocket expenses, which is so important for a lot of low and middle income people. So it could be really quite devastating.

That's why I'm delighted Sens. Alexander and Murray were able to land on a bipartisan short-term proposal to preserve the subsidies many low- and middle-income Americans are getting to help them cover those out of pocket medical expenses. Without the subsidies, a lot of folks wouldn't be able to pay for the care they need. What's not good is letting states permit the sale of policies that are nowhere close to adequate. Many people who enroll in those so-called catastrophic plans find out when it's too late that they have to pay far more than they're able to pay for expensive medical care. It would lead to more people filing for bankruptcy because of medical debt.

Senate Democrats seem to be on board with what Alexander and Murray have come up with, but 60 votes will be needed for it to pass the Senate. And in the House, the odds are even slimmer. Paul Ryan has already said he's against anything that doesn't repeal and replace Obamacare. And it's anybody's guess where the president will land. One minute he likes it, the next minute he hates it. I wouldn't give it much chance of going anywhere.

Also, with the new ACA enrollment period about to start, all these efforts to cut back on promoting new enrollments and then just the very fact of his declaring Obamacare dead would seem to be either a conscious or unconscious way to quash enrollments.

There's no doubt that's true. For a lot of people, in many cases, perception is reality. It's the news that they get. And without advertising and other means of spreading the word about open enrollment, then we probably will see a lot of people not enrolling for coverage beginning next month for 2018. More than likely we will see a drop-off in people who sign up and premiums will be higher for a lot of people.

Once again, because of the uncertainty, the insurance companies that are still in the Obamacare exchanges didn't know what the president or Congress might do. Some of them suspected that some of the payments that have been going through them to help low and middle income people might be cut off and so consequently they've raised premiums in many places. So people will find it in some cases more expensive to get coverage than it has been in the past.

They're projecting 20–25 percent increases in premiums over the next couple of years.

That's correct in many places, not in every place but that absolutely could happen and be more the average. It even could be higher than that. And it's not just premiums that we're talking about. It's important to pay attention to where the premiums are, but it's just as important and sometimes more important to know what your out of pocket obligations are.

One of the things that led me to leave my job was the industry strategy of moving more and more of us, all of us eventually, into high deductible plans. And I knew that those plans were not good for a lot of people who have a lot of medical expenses because of health status or pre-existing conditions and income. So that strategy has continued and what the president's executive orders would do is make it even more challenging for people who really need insurance and need care.

Wendell, as someone who's been both a journalist and a corporate executive, what do you think you're going to bring to this Tarbell endeavor that will make it different?

First of all, I'm so grateful to be able to return to journalism. I realized during my corporate career -- and it was a long corporate career -- that I am really a journalist at heart. I sometimes joke that I spent 20 years inside the health insurance industry undercover. So what I can do is offer and provide some insights and help journalists understand where to go look for a story and how to get information and how to cover big business in a way that is not being done much anymore.

I've seen it from the inside, I know the tricks. I know how they go about doing what they do to manipulate public opinion and elections and public policy. And what I bring to this is an emphasis on bringing the watchdog press back with scrutiny on business and business practices and the way that big businesses and other moneyed interests like trade associations. We want to help people understand how they do what they do and how we are often so disadvantaged. They do what they do to enhance profits, to enhance shareholder value, to protect a profitable status quo. And we at Tarbell will explain how it is they go about doing this and why it's important. We'll be connecting the dots for people so that they can understand why they should care to the point of getting involved to help move us to solutions.

Wendell, thank you and best of luck with Tarbell.

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Categories: Latest News

Who Controls Jane Doe's Body?

Fri, 10/27/2017 - 21:00
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An undocumented teen being held at a government detention shelter in Texas was finally -- after weeks of delays and court hearings -- able to obtain the abortion this week that she had requested in early September.

The 17-year-old, known as Jane Doe, was detained shortly after crossing the US-Mexico border as an unaccompanied minor on September 7. She was given a physical examination and learned that she was nine weeks pregnant.

Though she decided to have an abortion, the state of Texas and the federal government attempted to prevent the procedure.

According to Texas law, minors seeking an abortion must have parental consent or have special permission granted by a judge. A state judge granted that permission, and Jane Doe's abortion was scheduled for September 25.

The ordeal should have ended there, but under Texas's misnamed "Women's Right to Know Act", those seeking abortions are forced to undergo a medically unnecessary ultrasound 24 hours before an abortion, during which the pregnant person is subjected to seeing the fetus and the doctor must go over state-mandated information about the stages of development, adoption options and possible medical risks. Then the patient is subjected to a 24-hour waiting period.

On the day of the ultrasound appointment, Jane Doe was denied transportation to the clinic, under the theory that transporting her to her appointment would have been considered "facilitating an abortion" -- which is not permissible, since the privately owned detention shelter is funded by the federal government.

The shelter is managed by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which has adopted anti-choice policies under the Trump administration and ORR Director E. Scott Lloyd, who is staunchly anti-choice.

Federally funded shelters must obtain written authorization from Lloyd before assisting in abortions in any way. In an e-mail to colleagues in March, Lloyd stated that shelters receiving federal funding "should not be supporting abortion services pre- or post-release; only pregnancy services and life-affirming options counseling."

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which represented Doe in court, says that Lloyd has personally contacted at least one other pregnant unaccompanied immigrant minor to "discuss" her decision to get an abortion.

Instead of going to an abortion clinic, Doe was forced to go to a "crisis pregnancy center." While there, she was prevented from participating in any recreational activities as the staff attempted to dissuade her from having the abortion.

Lloyd also reportedly made the shelter call Doe's mother in her home country, informing her about the pregnancy, despite the fact that Doe had said her mother was physically abusive. According to reports, Jane Doe stated that she did not want her parents to know about her pregnancy because her older sister had been pregnant and was beaten by her parents until she miscarried.


The ACLU got involved with the case and filed a lawsuit to demand that Jane Doe be allowed to obtain the abortion. "The federal government is holding Jane Doe hostage and preventing her from having an abortion," said Brigitte Amiri, senior staff lawyer for the ACLU. "It is blatantly unconstitutional."

The Trump administration claimed that it was not preventing Jane Doe from obtaining an abortion because she could "choose" to return to her home country, which would take her out of immigration proceedings in the US But abortion is illegal in Jane Doe's native country in Central America.

On October 18, US District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan ruled that Jane Doe could have an abortion, and she was taken to a clinic for the mandatory ultrasound so that she could get the procedure without further delay.

But before the procedure took place, a three-judge panel from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals issued an administrative stay of that ruling -- and, on October 20, ruled that Doe must have a sponsor selected by the government to accompany her to her appointment.

Though no federal money was going to the procedure -- which was paid for by a private donor -- this ruling meant that neither the young woman's lawyers, a court-appointed representative nor shelter staff could take her to her appointment.

Fear began to grow that the state was attempting to delay long enough to put Jane Doe -- who was 16 weeks pregnant by that time -- past the 20-week threshold at which Texas bans abortion, except in life-threatening cases. Finding a sponsor who passed government vetting easily could have taken months.

The ACLU once again took action and got an emergency hearing with US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. On October 24, the court ruled 6-3 in favor of overruling the earlier decision, and sent the case back to Judge Chutkan, who ruled the same day that Jane Doe should be transported to an abortion clinic "without delay."

The ACLU announced Doe had finally been able to obtain an abortion on October 25 -- but only, it appears, because government lawyers miscalculated the amount of time it would take Doe to get the abortion, which took place that morning.

Had the case been delayed much longer, however, Texas law would have required that the abortion occur in an ambulatory surgical center or hospital, which would have meant that the teen would have had to travel some 200 miles for the procedure.


Jane Doe has found herself at the intersection of two things Trump and his administration have demonstrated tremendous hostility toward: the rights of women and undocumented immigrants.

The appeals court decision that kicked the case back to Judge Chutkan was divided down party lines, with six Democratic appointees voting in favor. But even their statements were condescending and centered on portraying Doe as a "child having a child" -- rather than as a young woman capable of making an informed choice about what should happen to her body and whether or not she wanted to be a mother.

The three Republicans who dissented in the case used Jane Doe's status as an undocumented immigrant to fan fears that immigrants seeking abortions will now be flooding US borders. One of those dissenting judges, US Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh, is being eyed by Trump for a potential future vacancy on the Supreme Court.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton tied his distaste for abortion and bigotry against undocumented immigrants together in just a few sentences by saying, "Unlawfully present aliens with no substantial ties to the US do not have a right to abortion on demand...Texas must not become a sanctuary state for abortions."

In the 45 years since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, hundreds of restrictive laws at the state and federal level have created numerous obstacles for anyone seeking to end a pregnancy.

For over a month, Jane Doe was at the mercy of countless people who were given control over her decision -- a violation of her autonomy over her own body. That violation was compounded by the additional psychological torment she was subjected to because of her undocumented status.

We have to fight for a world where no one can be forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy at the whim of politicians and judges, and where the right to abortion on demand is respected for anyone who wants to terminate a pregnancy.

Every city, town, state must be a place of sanctuary for undocumented immigrants. And we must fight for a world where people are free to migrate based on desire rather than being forced to flee as a result of neoliberal policies that have devastated the poor and working class across the globe.

In a statement issued by the ACLU, Jane Doe affirmed her right -- and the rights of all people -- to control their own bodies:

I made my decision, and that is between me and God. Through all of this, I have never changed my mind. No one should be shamed for making the right decision for themselves. I would not tell any other girl in my situation what they should do. That decision is hers and hers alone.

Categories: Latest News

Workers Say NAFTA's Neoliberal Foundations Need to Be Dismantled From the Left -- Not the Right

Fri, 10/27/2017 - 21:00
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Rejecting both economic nationalism and free-market fundamentalism, workers across North America are building transnational solidarity and demanding labor rights for all.

Last week, nearly 60 representatives of unions and civil society organizations from Mexico, Canada and the United States gathered in Chicago for a two-day meeting to discuss strategies for collaboration as their governments renegotiate the 23-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The meeting was coordinated by the United Electrical Workers (UE), UCLA Labor Center and Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, an international civic education institution affiliated with Germany's Left Party. While many Mexican unions are dominated by the government, only the country's more independent and democratically run labor organizations attended.

"We're discussing what kinds of relationships can be built, either bi-nationally or tri-nationally," Benedicto Martínez, a national co-coordinator of Mexico's Frente Auténtico del Trabajo, or Authentic Labor Front (FAT), told In These Times. "At the forefront of our vision would be the rights of people, including better wages, better education, better healthcare and immigration rights."

Critics argue that NAFTA has accelerated the global "race to the bottom," where governments dismantle workplace and environmental protections in order to attract capital investment.

"NAFTA has had many negative impacts. Big companies come to Mexico accommodated by the government as workers' rights are constantly violated," Julia Quiñones, coordinator of the Comité Fronterizo de Obrer@s, or Border Workers' Committee (CFO), told In These Times.

CFO organizes maquiladora workers in the northern Mexican states of Tamaulipas, Coahuila and Chihuahua. The foreign-owned maquiladoras along the US-Mexico border, which produce goods for export, embody the most pernicious aspects of "free trade": exploiting low-paid, majority-women workers and polluting their surroundings.

Quiñones explained that maquila workers often face sexual violence from their managers, are exposed to dangerous chemicals, work 12- to 14-hour days and are frequently fired or blacklisted for trying to organize.

"Nobody benefits from these trade deals other than corporations," said Kari Thompson, UE's director of international strategies, in an interview with In These Times. "Not working people, not the environment, not women, not people of color, not farmers."

The tri-national participants in last week's Chicago gathering protested outside the Mexican Consulate Friday afternoon, calling on the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto to listen to the demands of Mexico's workers in the NAFTA renegotiations. Adhering to neoliberal orthodoxy, Peña Nieto's negotiators say that more trade, not more labor protections, will benefit workers.

"We're denouncing the fact that independent, democratic unions like the ones we represent are not being heard," Víctor Enrique Fabela Rocha of the Sindicato de Telefonistas (Telephone Operators Union) told In These Times. "We want a strong labor component in NAFTA. We want decent work as expressed by the International Labor Organization."

In particular, the consulate protesters demanded Mexico raise its minimum wage. They argue that the increase would not only benefit Mexican workers, but also workers in the United States and Canada, by making it less profitable for companies to move production to Mexico. The current minimum wage in Mexico is roughly $4 per day.

Abraham Garcilazo Espinosa, a mineworker from Mexico City and representative of the Sindicato Minero (the National Union of Miners and Metalworkers), told In These Times that the wage disparity in the mining industry is especially glaring.

"In Canada and the US, miners are doing the same thing we do in Mexico, often for the same companies, but Mexican miners are making a lot less money," he said. "The work requires the same level of specialization, training and risk in all three countries, but with very different wages." While the median monthly income of mineworkers in the United States and Canada is about $2600, in Mexico it's about $600.

Prompted by President Donald Trump, the NAFTA renegotiations began in August and are expected to continue into 2018. As part of his "America First" vision, which has been widely criticized for racist and xenophobic overtones, Trump wants to reverse the US trade deficit with Canada and Mexico.

"We think NAFTA is a bad deal, absolutely," Thompson says. "But just because Trump wants to renegotiate this deal doesn't mean he actually has the interests of working people in mind."

Two key demands of the organizers who gathered in Chicago -- ending corporate protections like the undemocratic Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) and making it easier for workers in all three countries to form unions -- are not on the Trump administration's agenda.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has complained that the hostile legal environment for unions in the United States compared to Canada creates unfair labor market competition between the two countries. In response, Senator Elizabeth Warren introduced a bill last month that would prohibit states from passing anti-union "right-to-work" laws.

Although Canada has fewer legal obstacles to forming unions, activists there say guest workers from Mexico and other countries are routinely exploited.

"Canada bills [its guest worker program] as a best-practice model of labor mobility, but the workers have no mobility. They get fired if they speak up and have no recourse," said Evelyn Encalada, a founding member of the Canadian nonprofit Justice for Migrant Workers who participated in last week's meeting. "We want all workers in North America to have mobility, labor rights and the right to have rights," Encalada told In These Times.

The transnational solidarity on display last week is based on relationships that have developed over several years. The FAT and UE have been in a strategic alliance -- consisting of worker-to-worker exchanges and cross-border organizing -- since NAFTA's original negotiations began in 1992. This August, the UE also entered into a new cooperation agreement with the progressive Canadian union Unifor.

The Mexican unionists who visited Chicago hope to draw international support for activists with Sitrajor, the independent union of employees at the left-leaning Mexico City newspaper La Jornada. After Sitrajor staged a five-day strike to defend wages and benefits this summer, the company that owns the paper fired two of the union's leaders. Activists say the dismissals were retaliatory and are calling for the fired workers to be reinstated.

"International solidarity has been fundamental for the survival of our union in recent years," explained Garcilazo Espinosa of the Sindicato Minero. His union's leader, Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, was forced to flee to Canada in 2006 after the Mexican government -- which he openly criticized -- accused him of corruption and issued an arrest warrant. An appeals court overturned the warrant in 2014 for lack of evidence.

Garcilazo Espinosa told In These Times the Sindicato Minero has withstood repression with the help of labor organizations around the world, including the United Steelworkers and the global union federation IndustriALL.

The organizers at last week's gathering agree that transnational labor solidarity is better for workers than Trump's brand of nationalism. "I don't know who invented those lines called borders, but everything Trump is saying about putting up a wall -- we're completely against all of that," said Martínez.

"If we just try to fight against these trade deals within the silos of our own individual organizations," Thompson warned, "then the corporations will win."

Categories: Latest News

Neo-Nazis Target College Campuses in Recruitment Drive

Fri, 10/27/2017 - 21:00

A flyer put up at the Texas Women's University for the neo-Nazi group the National Bloc. (Photo courtesy of Justin Cook)Many US college campuses have been targeted by "alt-right" and neo-Nazi groups attempting to recruit young white males. And a significant number of students, swayed by the messages about threats to white male identity and rights, are joining racist, sexist, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim groups. Students on many campuses are actively resisting the white supremacists and their messages.

Since the start of the Trump presidency, hundreds of campuses -- public and private, two- and four-year -- have been targeted by neo-Nazi recruiters. Texas has been particularly hard hit -- Vanguard America launched its Texas Offensive in February 2017 -- but virtually every state has seen some "alt-right" outreach.

A flyer put up at the Texas Women's University for the neo-Nazi group the National Bloc. (Photo courtesy of Justin Cook)

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The messages are not subtle: "Make America White Again"; "Imagine a Muslim-Free America"; "Are You Sick of Anti-White Propaganda in College? You Are Not Alone. Take Your Country Back."

They're signed by a handful of neo-Nazi groups -- Identity Evropa [sometimes spelled Europa], The Right Stuff and Vanguard America -- and they aim to inspire students to oppose multiculturalism and efforts to promote diversity. Their specific targets are feminists, anti-racist assemblies including Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ activists and organizations, and those in support of immigrant rights. Bigotry against Muslims and Jews provides the foundational pillar for their rage and resentment.

"Our movement is almost 90 percent young White men who know they are screwed if things don't start improving," a July 2017 article on states. "We are de facto not a White advocacy group as much as we are a Young White Men's Advocacy group.... Minorities have explicit advocacy groups. Jews have just about everything. Young White Men do not have any money or political power.... or even deep-pocketed supporters. But then, they never have. Young White Men have always had to make up for this disadvantage through their enthusiasm, energy and ambition. They have always had to rise up and take what was theirs."

At the core of this delusion is the fact that US demographics are changing and the US and Europe will soon join the rest of the world in being majority non-white. Three years ago, in fact, 50.2 percent of American children under the age of five were African American, Asian, Latinx or mixed race; by 2060, projections suggest that 56 percent of the US population will be of color, a stark contrast to 1965, when the population was 85 percent Caucasian.

Recruiting on College Campuses

Perhaps surprisingly, many white college students have proven receptive to arguments about the beleaguered white male. Neo-Nazi darling Richard Spencer, the 39-year-old Duke University graduate school dropout credited with coining the term "alt-right," explains his rationale for targeting males in this age group: "People in college are at this point in their lives where they are actually open to alternative perspectives.... You need to get them while they're young. I think rewiring the neurons of someone over age 50 is effectively impossible."

Part of the right's appeal is situational, says Ryan Lenz, senior writer at the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project, since many young white men have a hard time seeing themselves as privileged. "Many were born in a time of recession and are taking out college loans that they might not be able to pay back," he told Truthout. "They give a welcome ear to anyone speaking about white pride and white superiority."

A neo-Nazi flyer posted at Texas Women's University. (Photo courtesy of Justin Cook)In addition, because neo-Nazis position themselves as underdogs, they prey on student sympathies because many young adults automatically side with those on society's lowest rungs. "They purport to be a fresh political voice looking for a moment in the public square," Lenz said. It's a claim that at first blush can appear reasonable. Only later, he says, will the "alt-right" recruiters' actual goal become apparent -- to, in his words, "undo a system of pedagogy that accepts tolerance as truth."

Indianapolis therapist Carol Hornbeck notes that many white adolescents and young adults are susceptible to this recruitment strategy because it is an invitation to avoid confronting their own status or position. "Unless young men have feminist or progressive family members, they can be oblivious to their privilege," she said. "For those who attend a liberal arts college, this can mean they are completely unprepared to have their identities challenged."

What's more, she continues, many students finish college only to find themselves underemployed, and if white male students have not developed an understanding of their own privilege and how structures of oppression benefit them, they may be drawn to false arguments about how they are disadvantaged.

"When someone comes along and tells them it's not their fault, but rather women and people of color have taken what should have been theirs, you've got a perfect set-up for reactivity," Hornbeck said.

And they do react. Since the start of the Trump presidency, hundreds of campuses -- public and private, two- and four-year -- have been targeted by neo-Nazi recruiters. Here's a smattering: American University, Arizona State, Auburn, Bates, Cal State, Clark, Emerson, Georgetown, Georgia State, Ohio State, University of California-Berkeley, University of California-Davis, The University of Texas-Austin, St. Olaf, Texas Women's University, Texas Christian, The University of Massachusetts-Amherst, The University of Washington, The University of Virginia, Rochester University, Southern Methodist, and countless more.

A Vanguard America flyer posted at Texas Women's University. (Photo courtesy of Justin Cook)Texas has been particularly hard hit -- Vanguard America launched its Texas Offensive in February 2017 -- but virtually every state has seen some "alt-right" outreach. Indeed, on campus after campus, students, faculty and staff have found posters and stickers with "white pride" messages. While a few schools have welcomed speakers like Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopoulos, most have avoided direct engagement with "alt-right" stars, since the inevitable confrontations have a negative impact on recruitment and retention.

David P. Angel, president of Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts -- the first US university to offer a Ph.D. in Holocaust Studies -- for example, issued a short statement shortly after the campus was stickered with messages, including "Look Around White Man, Your Culture is Being Eroded."

Angel's two-paragraph response declared that, "We at Clark University refuse to be a platform for this hate speech.... Let us join together and denounce these racist views loudly and without qualification. We combat hate by raising our voices and by reaffirming the values of diversity, inclusion and respect that bring strength to our community."

Of course, the strategies by which students and faculty will raise those voices differ across states, campuses and communities.

Texas Activists Respond

Peter, an undergraduate at the University of Texas-Austin has little patience for statements that are unaccompanied by action. A member of the Autonomous Student Network (ASN), he reports that since Trump's election, Identity Evropa has plastered racist leaflets on the UT campus approximately twice a month and has coalesced with other neo-Nazis to hold rallies and marches in different parts of the city. ASN has opposed them at every turn.

A flyer for Vanguard America posted at Texas Women's University. (Photo courtesy of Justin Cook)"If we want people in our communities to be safe, it is up to anti-fascists to stop their propaganda campaigns and recruitment," he told Truthout. "The police won't do it. We don't egg the fascists on, but we do weekend patrols, put up anti-racist posters, and confront hate-mongers when they march in Austin or show up on campus. When we learned that UT had hired a fascist as a cook, we doxed him."

Resisting fascism, however, has utilized a variety of diverse strategies. At Texas Woman's University (TWU), the nation's largest university primarily for women (87 percent of the student body is female), Vanguard America has reached out to potential recruits on campus twice since August. Sarah Gamblin, associate professor of dance, says that after the first stickering at the end of summer, a group of students and campus staff came together to remove the leaflets and signs. Later, a student group distributed hearts and flowers with messages like "TWU does not support hate" and "TWU loves diversity."

"The chancellor and the upper-level administrators liked this response," Gamblin says.

However, the white supremacist group was not yet finished with TWU: A second leafleting by Vanguard America took place on October 6. This time, the posters included several messages. The most overt depicted an Aryan-looking man: "The time has come where mere words must give way to action. Join the Fight. Take Back What is Rightfully Ours."

"There was no public acknowledgment of this second postering from the TWU administration," Gamblin reports. "People seem to believe that the best response is to ignore them.

TWU graduate student Justin Cook, who teaches first-year composition classes on campus, disagrees with this strategy and joined several other students and faculty members to remove the messages as soon as they noticed them. "TWU is majority women and has a large population of students of color. As an instructor, I could not in good conscience have my students walk past these hurtful posters," he said. "Of course, this raises age-old questions about free speech on campus, a subject that is always fraught."

A Reactionary Moment

A neo-Nazi flyer posted at Texas Women's University. (Photo courtesy of Justin Cook)While free speech debates will undoubtedly continue to unfold, the reality of neo-Nazi recruitment efforts is both terrifying and grim.

"The 'alt-right' has found a shocking number of men who are receptive to their message," SPLC's Ryan Lenz said. Equally disturbing, despite blatant sexism, a small number of women are also entering the "alt-right" ranks. Take Ayla, a Utah mother of six whose "Wife with a Purpose" blog encourages female subservience and advises white women that it is their patriotic duty to procreate with white men.

 "The ugly reality comes down to how white people see their place in the world," Lenz said. "For some college students, joining a white nationalist group is a way to give the middle finger to the culture. It's a reactive backlash to the multiculturalism, tolerance and equality that they've heard promoted throughout their lives."

Mounting an effective resistance to counter this reactionary current remains one of the biggest challenges of our time.

Categories: Latest News

One Hundred "Handmaids" Greet Mike Pence to Protest GOP's Anti-Choice Agenda

Fri, 10/27/2017 - 21:00

Supporters of Planned Parenthood dressed as characters from The Handmaid's Tale, hold a rally as they protest the US Senate Republicans' healthcare bill outside the US Capitol in Washington, DC, June 27, 2017. Similar protests have cropped up in recent months. (Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

In a solemn and visually stunning protest aimed at Vice President Mike Pence on Thurdsay night in Denver, more than one hundred women -- dressed in costumes out of Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel A Handmaid's Tale -- marched and spoke out against the Republican Party's relentless attack on women's right and reproductive choice.

Denver Indivisible dressed up as Handmaids to mock the visit of Vice President Pence in Colorado. #copolitics #kdvr

— Joe St. George (@JoeStGeorge) October 26, 2017

"We thought Ronald Reagan was bad enough with the religious right and Focus on the Family," Kathy Partridge, one of the women protesters, told the Boulder Daily Camera. "That is what inspired the book. But that was nothing like Mike Pence."

The protest comes as Republicans in the House this week announced hearings for a bill that would make it illegal for doctors to perform abortions after only 6 weeks, earlier than most women even know they are pregnant. That comes after the House, in fact, passed a similar ban for abortion after 20 weeks. The GOP leadership in the Senate has said the 20-week ban will get a vote, but hasn't specified when.

With Pence in town for a state GOP fundraiser, local activist Katie Farnan, a member of Indivisible Front Range which helped organized the rally, said the agenda the vice president and his party represent must be challenged.

"It's a scary thought, thinking someone like Mike Pence is dead set on taking away the rights of women," Farnan said. "We stand against discrimination of any kind, and women shouldn't be relegated to the second class."

The Denver Post has a slide show here.

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Categories: Latest News

DACA Immigrants Are Confronted by a US-Created Triangle of Fear

Fri, 10/27/2017 - 21:00

Immigrants fleeing to the US without documents are the visible consequence of an invisible US foreign policy and covert actions based on intimidation, violence and economic "restructuring." Congress has an obligation to work together to protect refugees and Dreamers by supporting the DREAM Act and respecting sanctuary cities that offer safety to people fleeing violence and despair.

Protesters shout slogans against US President Donald Trump during a demonstration in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), also known as DREAM Act, near the Trump Tower in New York on October 5, 2017. (Photo: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

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History and cultural context are crucial for understanding the forces that drive immigrants to cross the United States-Mexico border. Sadly, we are taught to forget or deny history, so we move without a compass and feel lost in the maze of deception and collective amnesia.

On October 8, President Trump demanded Congress fund the new border wall in exchange for granting "amnesty" for recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), or Dreamers. This means holding the Dreamers hostage to the wall. His hard-line list includes "cracking down" on child migrants.

The concerns Dreamers highlight the underlying structural issues that have promoted rising fear on both sides of the border. The history of the border and migration have been influenced by powers and patterns that we need to examine in order to see what pathways lie open to us for the future and how to address the sources of fear today.

A Shifting Border

For Indigenous peoples, the border has always been a violation of historical tribal sovereignty, religious traditions of pilgrimage and identity. For centuries, peoples of the Tohono O'odham, Apache, Yoeme (Yaqui) and other Native American nations have traveled throughout this region. The trade route from what is now New Mexico to what is now Mexico City was called the Turquoise Road, named for the vast trade network that involved turquoise moving south while cacao, parrot feathers and other precious objects flowed north.

After the Spanish Conquest, much of what became the Southwestern US was part of Mexico. It was not until 1848, with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, that this Mexican territory taken in war was ceded to the US. These lands included what are now California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Texas and parts of Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas and Oklahoma.

Furthermore, the border between the US and Mexico has not been stable or enduring, changing as recently as 1970, when the US ceded to Mexico territory known as El Chamizal. Nation states presume fixed territories, and the effect of border enforcement has been to halt migration and force settlement upon people who practice seasonal or annual movement for economic and religious purposes. It has totally disrupted the lives of these peoples, divided communities and created more fear.

In 1929, the US prohibited informal crossing from Mexico. As UCLA professor Kelly Lytle Hernández has noted in her book City of Inmates, this was intended to criminalize Mexican immigrants. But migration is not a criminal offense -- it is a tradition that free nations respect.

In the 1940s, when Mexican labor was needed once again, the door to immigration was opened -- but with strict conditions. The US government encouraged Mexicans to come to the US under the Bracero Program to perform agricultural labor that was needed while US citizens were fighting in WWII. When the war ended, the program was abruptly curtailed, and people who had easily moved back and forth across the border were suddenly ordered back to Mexico. Then, under pressure from American farmers, the program was reinstated. According to the Bracero History Archive, there were 4.6 million contracts signed by US employers hiring Mexican workers over the 40-year period of the program. 

The Triangle of Fear

In the debate about immigration, the corporate mass media avoid the key question: What is driving immigrants north? Why do people continue to risk coming to the United States at such great cost to their personal health and safety, and the well-being of their families? They are mainly driven by a "Triangle of Fear" created by US foreign policy. There are three key points to the Triangle of Fear.

1.  Training for Fear Through Militarization

The driving force behind immigration from Latin America is US foreign policy. The United States has created a neocolonial structure that combines political manipulation, foreign aid, militarization and counterinsurgency techniques to build an economic empire that extracts natural resources and captures cheap labor, through buying off local elites and intimidating or crushing those who refuse to comply.

Military intervention in Latin America has a long history. The Spanish Empire used the territory that became Panama to establish their first military school in the Americas. When the US colonized Panama in the late 19th century, they continued to use it as a base for military expansion, training soldiers in jungle warfare and torture, and testing weapons. For example, Agent Orange was tested there before being used in the Vietnam War, as documented by John Lindsay-Poland in Emperors in the Jungle: The Hidden History of the US in Panama (2003).

In 1949, the US government established a military training program in Panama at Ft. Gulick, calling it the School of the Americas (SOA). In 1984, the SOA was expelled from Panama, and then relocated to Ft. Benning, Georgia. In 2001, the SOA was renamed WHINSEC (the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) to avoid closure when training with torture manuals came to light. Known by critics as the "School of Assassins," it has trained Latin American militaries in counterinsurgency techniques of torture and disappearances, particularly targeting Indigenous communities. The list of graduates reads like a "who's who" of infamy, including many who became death squad leaders and repressive dictators in Latin America.

Political repression and counterinsurgency, such as the Contra Wars in the 1980s and the military coup in Honduras, have driven vast numbers of people off their lands, most recently in Central America in what is called the "Northern Triangle of Central America," which includes Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

Many refugees and migrants flee to neighboring countries like Costa Rica, Nicaragua or Belize, where asylum requests between 2008 and 2014 increased almost 1,200 percent. But most flee to Mexico or the US. According to former Panamanian President Jorge Illueca, the School of the Americas was the "biggest base for destabilization in Latin America."

Training military elites at the SOA is one facet of a policy to establish military bases throughout Latin America. Colombia alone has eight bases, according to David Vine in Base Nation (2015). Even Costa Rica -- whose 1949 Peace Constitution prohibits the creation of a military -- has two bases, and has been coerced into accepting regular patrols by hundreds of warships of the US Navy and Coast Guard.

2.  Sowing Fear Through the Destruction of Communities

In addition to militarization, US foreign policy imposes a free-market model of economic development in Latin America that displaces historic alternative forms of economic organization, such as communally held lands and cooperative work groups like the ancient tequios. This new model promotes the fragmentation and reorganization of local communities, along with displacement and even total destruction.

For example, with encouragement from the United Fruit Company, in 1954, the CIA instigated a coup in Guatemala that removed President Jacobo Árbenz from office, unleashing decades of military violence throughout the country. Particularly targeted were Mayan communities, such as Santiago Atitlán. Hundreds of thousands were forced to flee the violence, and 440 Mayan villages were obliterated in what is called the Guatemalan Genocide or the Mayan Genocide.

As SOA Watch has noted, the "SOA trains the military muscle to enforce 'Free Trade' in Latin America." In Mexico, these policies include the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the rewriting of Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution to do away with communal lands, and the rescinding of price supports for basic Mexican foods, such as tortillas and sugar. Once local producers were forced out by restructuring, then genetically engineered corn from the US flooded the Mexican market, contaminating native breeds of Mexican corn developed over thousands of years in Oaxaca. Local farmers could not compete with subsidized agriculture from the US, so many migrated to Mexican cities and then north to the border.

The destruction wrought by US policies is exacerbated by the effects of increased climate instability that makes agriculture extremely precarious and drives more farmers off the land.

The US military has taken climate change very seriously, concerned about waves of climate refugees from Central America coming across the Mexican border. Their response has been to militarize the border with Guatemala as the "third border," which Todd Miller analyzes in Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration, and Homeland Security. He also notes that the government knew NAFTA would create havoc, which is another reason why the number of guards at the US border with Mexico was multiplied and the "border zone" was extended 100 miles north into the US, in what the ACLU calls a "Constitution-free zone" because the Fourth Amendment no longer applies.

David Bacon observes that NAFTA "put migration on steroids" due to job losses, the peso crash and substandard factory wages in the maquiladoras. More recently, the Mexican government has been promoting programs like Plan Puebla Panamá, Plan Mérida and the Special Economic Zones -- mega-projects, such as enormous wind farms and vast mining enterprises that contaminate water supplies with cyanide and mercury and drive Indigenous peoples off their lands. In the state of Chiapas, for example, in 2015 the government awarded 99 mining concessions until 2050-2060, covering 14.2 percent of the state.

When US policies like Plan Mérida came into effect, drug-related violence surged, as the drug cartels clashed with the military, leaving dismembered bodies as a warning. Now the Trump administration wants to push forward an expanded initiative in the failed war on drugs, despite all the evidence that shows military "solutions" to the drug-related problems have failed for over 40 years. According to Ethan Nadelmann, founder and former executive director of Drug Policy Alliance, "Attempts at interdiction just move the drug trafficking around, wreaking havoc in its wake."

The statistics on violent crimes are much higher than reported, as Mexican authorities intentionally misrepresent murder and kidnapping "to obscure the true number of high-profile crimes." According to México Evalúa, an NGO that does independent reporting on statistics, government reporting on homicide rates was artificially lowered by 30-50 percent last year.

The US-sponsored drug war has made the economic situation worse by dumping military aid and equipment into Mexico with the supposed purpose of eradicating the drug cartels. Instead, the drug cartels have used these modern weapons in their internecine rivalry and clashes with the police or the military, turning the conflict into full-fledged wars that have killed hundreds of thousands of people. Moreover, the cartels have expanded their operations to include weapons trafficking, money-laundering, kidnapping, forced disappearances, assassinations, human trafficking and extortion.

Alarming extortion rates hold people captive to fear in Mexico and Central America. WOLA (Washington Office on Latin America) cites figures showing that: "Salvadorans pay an estimated US $400 million a year in extortion fees, while Hondurans pay around $200 million and Guatemalans an estimated $61 million." In El Salvador, 70 percent of businesses are forced to pay extortionists. Those who fail to pay up are killed. In Guatemala, from January to July of 2014, at least 700 people were killed for failing to pay extortionists.

While US officials in the current government fan hysteria against immigrants, overall migration across the border with Mexico has dropped drastically. However, the numbers of families and unaccompanied children have increased. These children and families did not "choose" to migrate. They are refugees escaping political violence, economic upheaval and climate chaos.

3.  Harvesting Fear at Border Crossings

The third point in the Triangle of Fear is the journey northward to cross the US border. Immigrants who brave the journey face terrible dangers at every step -- riding the freight train called La Bestia (The Beast), risking kidnapping and death by gangs and the drug cartels.

Approaching the border, the migrants follow footpaths through the desert, fearing betrayal by the coyotes (human traffickers) they've paid to smuggle them across, and then dodging arrest by La Migra/ICE -- all the while facing the possibility of a horrible death from dehydration and exposure. One Mexican man told me that out of desperation, he drank from a livestock waterhole and vomited into unconsciousness, saved only by a dog who found his body and brought help from a kindly neighbor. He dares not tell his wife how he suffered, as he is worried about frightening her.

Along the journey, migrants are often robbed, tortured or raped. Most of the women and girls traveling to the border must use contraception, as 80 percent will be raped.

If you are lucky enough to survive the journey and make it across the border, you still have to get past the Border Patrol, praying that you don't get caught and thrown into a detention center where you may be kept for months or even years without a hearing. If you successfully pass all these hurdles and find an employer who doesn't cheat you out of your wages, knowing that you have no legal recourse, then just maybe you can make enough money to send some back to your family. Those immigrants who successfully make it across the border are visible where they work in public places, but their suffering is invisible.

If arrested, undocumented immigrants face months and even years in detention camps that violate basic human rights. Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona boasts that he built a "concentration camp," proud of the suffering and deaths of prisoners.

Deported immigrants face even greater dangers when sent back to their home countries -- a violent death at the hands of drug cartels, street gangs, or police and military death squads. Some have been killed within a day of being sent back to their country of origin.

Daring to Dream

Immigrants fleeing to the US without documents are the visible consequence of an invisible US foreign policy based on intimidation and economic "restructuring." We are reaping a harvest of fear at the border with Mexico because we have sown fear throughout Latin America.

One-fourth of the Dreamers live in California, helping to build California's economy. Research demonstrates that DACA beneficiaries provide economic and educational benefits from sales and property taxes, as well as creating new jobs. Statistics show that if allowed to stay, the Dreamers would contribute billions of dollars in federal revenues.

The current administration insists on withholding federal funds to sanctuary cities that offer political support or protection to refugees and undocumented immigrants. The current US administration is punishing sanctuary cities with mass arrests, such as those held in September in California and Pennsylvania.

Under President Obama's DACA program, permits were renewable for two years. But in March 2018, the roughly 690,000 DACA recipients will lose the legal protections that enable them to study and work in the US. This is why Congress is under pressure to regularize their status.

There are several alternative acts presented in Congress. The most basic one is the Bridge Act -- bipartisan legislation that would renew DACA protections for three years, allowing recipients work and study in the US. This would also prohibit government agencies from sharing personal information of DACA recipients with Immigration and Border Patrol. If the legislation passes, it would become law and could not be undone by executive order. But this would only provide temporary relief.

A stronger alternative is the bipartisan DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act), introduced by both Republican and Democratic legislators. It has nine cosponsors in the Senate and 200 in the House (mostly Democrats).

This legislation would enable youths to secure US citizenship if they fulfill all the requirements. Their status would be secured for eight years, after which, they could apply for lawful permanent resident status, and eventually citizenship. To please Republicans in Congress, the DREAM Act would also offer heightened border security, so critics argue this means sacrificing immigrant rights to secure the future for DACA recipients.

Republicans have proposed more conservative legislation known as the Succeed Act, which would offer a pathway to citizenship, but with a long list of restrictive measures. Many Republicans balk at both the DREAM Act and the Succeed Act, arguing that citizenship should never be granted to DACA recipients. But how can we deport children and youths who have studied and worked in the US for years and call the US their home?

Deporting the Dreamers is cruel and unjust, as it means splitting up families, and in many cases sending children back to countries they have not seen since they were babies or very small children. We should have the courage of our convictions to defend human dignity and freedom by supporting the DREAM Act, without punishing other immigrants. And if Congress continues to stall in order to obtain funding for the notorious Wall, then we should support the Bridge Act until something more just can be worked out.

Let us work together to provide protection to refugees, the Dreamers and other immigrants among us by supporting the DREAM Act and protecting sanctuary cities that stand as islands of safety for people fleeing violence and despair.

Let us say "No" to fear-mongers and build bridges instead of walls.

To address the violence in Central America and end US military aid to Honduras, please ask your representatives to support Amendment HR 1299.

Categories: Latest News

Trump's Plan for a "Drug-Free Society" Won't Fix the Opioid Problem, Experts Say

Thu, 10/26/2017 - 21:00

President Trump declared opioid addiction and overdoses a public health emergency on Thursday in an address steeped in drug war rhetoric, but experts on the front lines of the crisis say new White House directives do not go far enough to expand access to crucial health care services. Meanwhile, the GOP's own budget-cutting agenda may be undermining efforts to respond to opioids. 

Donald Trump greets a guest during an event highlighting the opioid crisis in the US October 26, 2017, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC. (Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images)

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President Donald Trump declared opioid addiction and overdoses a public health emergency on Thursday. Is this announcement a victory for public health?

Trump is directing federal health officials to remove a few regulations that create barriers to addiction treatment. However, experts on the front lines of the opioid crisis say his "emergency plan" does not go nearly far enough to expand access to crucial medicines and health care services, especially for poor and criminalized people.

Trump delcared the opioid crisis a public health emergency, allowing the health department to tap into an emergency fund with only $57,000 left in it.

In an address announcing the plan, Trump repeated decades-old themes of the war on drugs, pledging to crack down on immigration and illegal drug use and sales in order to build a "drug-free society." This effort will include a "massive" advertising campaign targeted at young people, even though similar anti-drug campaigns have proven largely ineffective in the past. As Truthout has reportedsocial stigma, racist policing and mass incarceration resulting from the war on drugs have exacerbated opioid problems across the country. 

"There is nothing desirable about drugs; they are bad," Trump said on Thursday. 

The president also hailed drug courts, which coerce people suffering from opioid disorders into treatment after they are arrested and facing jail time. Critics say drug courts embolden judges with no medical experience to make crucial medical decisions that should be made by patients with the support of their doctors. Advocates also emphasize that people should not be criminalized for drug use or addiction in the first place.

In the past, Trump made statements indicating he would declare the opioid overdose crisis a national emergency, which could have unlocked large sums of the same federal emergency management funds use for natural disaster relief. Instead, he declared a public health emergency, allowing the Department of Health and Human Services to tap into an emergency fund with only $57,000 left in it.

"Studies show that only 1 in 10 people with addiction can receive the treatment that they need -- a statistic we would not find acceptable for any other disease," said Leana Wen, the public health commissioner of Baltimore, a city hard-hit by opioids and overdose deaths, in a statement. "The president needs to announce a specific dollar amount for new funding, not repurposed dollars that take away from other key health priorities."

Wen spearheaded a groundbreaking initiative in Baltimore, expanding access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone. The program is saving lives, but her department is running out of money to purchase naloxone, forcing public health workers to ration doses of a key medication in the fight to prevent overdose deaths. She called on the White House to use its full federal authority to negotiate prices with the drug's manufacturers, which have increased the price of naloxone in order to maximize profits.

The White House, however, has punted the funding question to Congress, promising to work with lawmakers to carve out funds for expanding addiction treatment and prevention programs in the already highly contentious budget package by the end of the year. Advocates on the front lines are also turning to Congress, because Trump's initiatives do not support the expansion of certain public health strategies that are proven to reduce the harms of drug use and prevent overdose deaths.

"The actions announced by the White House today make one thing clear: Real solutions will need to come from Congress," said Daniel Raymond, policy director at the Harm Reduction Coalition, in an email to Truthout.

However, the Republican majority in Congress has an agenda that could undermine efforts to expand addiction treatment. House Republicans on Thursday passed a Senate-approved budget resolution that outlines $1.3 trillion in cuts to Medicaid and healthcare subsidies for lower-income people over the next decade in order to pay for massive tax cuts for the wealthy. Medicaid has made addiction treatment more affordable for millions of people, but Trump and other Republicans have spent months trying to roll back expansions to the program as part of their effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Democrats in Congress were quick to point out the hypocrisy, both in the GOP's plan for Medicaid and the president's budget. In a statement, Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vermont), vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said there is no new funding behind Trump's "empty words" on the opioid crisis, and the White House is attempting to take credit for $1 billion in opioid funding approved by Congress last year.

"In fact, the President's fiscal year 2018 budget would reduce funding for the opioid epidemic by $97 million," Leahy said, adding that the appropriations committee has not taken up the proposed cuts.

"We have a critical gap in lifesaving medication-assisted treatment that can support recovery and reduce overdose risk."

As part of his opioid response plan, Trump is allowing the Department of Labor to issue dislocated worker grants to help workers "displaced from the workforce because of the opioid crisis," but Leahy said the president's budget would cut funding for the emergency dislocated worker program by $500 million, or 40 percent, in 2018.

Trump's emergency plan does take some limited steps to expand access to opioid addiction medication and treatment, reflecting some of the draft recommendations drawn up by a presidential commission headed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

A presidential memorandum directs federal health officials to grant waivers allowing states to circumvent a decades-old rule prohibiting federal Medicaid dollars from paying for inpatient services at rehabs and mental health facilities with more than 16 beds. It will also shift resources in federal HIV/AIDS programs to provide eligible participants with addiction treatment.

The order also loosens regulations around telemedicine services, allowing people in rural areas to receive prescriptions for certain addiction medications remotely. Currently, federal law requires doctors to receive training and a special federal waiver to prescribe the opioid addiction medication buprenorphine, forcing people in some parts of the country to travel hundreds of miles to find a doctor who can prescribe the drug.

Trump's order does nothing to loosen or waive these rules, which also cap the number of patients to whom doctors can prescribe buprenorphine. Buprenorphine acts like an opioid in the brain to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms and has some potential for misuse, but critics point out that there are no such restrictions on prescribing the painkiller opioids fueling high rates of addiction. Methadone, another "medication-assisted treatment" used to treat addiction, is also subject to regulations that limit its availability in hard-hit areas.

"We have a critical gap in lifesaving medication-assisted treatment that can support recovery and reduce overdose risk," Raymond said. "Congress needs to take action to remove regulatory and statutory barriers to broader prescribing and mandate adequate access through health clinics and treatment programs receiving federal funds."

Kevin Fiscella, a professor of public health at the University of Rochester and a member of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, said the Trump administration should push to lift restrictions on prescribing these medication-assisted treatments, or at least provide incentives and mandates to ensure that as many doctors as possible are able and willing to prescribe them.

Trump did not mention "harm reduction" even once in his speech. One initiative he did mention: his proposed wall.

"This is critical if the original law is not changed or waived," Fiscella told Truthout. "Without these steps, the shortage of prescribers will persist."

Fiscella said that access to buprenorphine and other drugs used to treat addiction must also be expanded in jails and prisons. Incarceration interrupts treatment regimens and causes people with opioid disorders to lose their drug tolerance, which is a major reason why the risk of fatal overdose skyrockets for patients recently released from jail or prison. The federal prison system could lead by example and provide such medications, but a recent Truthout investigation found that an Obama-era effort to do just that fizzled by the time Trump took office.

In fact, in late July, Trump's opioid commission called for expanding access to medication-assisted treatment in jails and prisons, but like a number of draft recommendations the commission released earlier this year, the White House has yet to propose anything specific on that front. The commission will be submitting its final report next week, and Trump indicated that the White House may take further action on those recommendations but did get into specifics.

Raymond said advocates and public health workers on the front lines "desperately" need more support from leaders in Washington for harm-reduction programs, including syringe exchange and supervised injection facilities. Despite an ever-growing body of evidence that these services stem the spread of disease and prevent fatal overdoses, Trump did not mention "harm reduction" even once in his speech.

One initiative Trump did mention: his proposed wall on the Mexican border, which he said would stem the flow of heroin into the country. However, experts say drug traffickers have plenty of tricks for getting around a wall, and the Drug Enforcement Administration reports that heroin is most commonly smuggled in vehicles through border crossings. Trump's opioid commission made no mention of a border wall in its recommendations.

Categories: Latest News

Pruitt Stinks

Thu, 10/26/2017 - 21:00
Categories: Latest News

"New Gilded Age" Reaches New Heights With World's Billionaires Owning Staggering $6 Trillion

Thu, 10/26/2017 - 21:00

(Photo: PM Images / Getty Images)

In an analysis (pdf) published Thursday that throws into stark relief the "unjust and unsustainable" nature of what economists have termed the New Gilded Age, the Swiss financial firm UBS found that the wealth of the world's billionaires grew by 17 percent in 2016, bringing their combined fortune to a record $6 trillion -- more than double the gross domestic product of the United Kingdom.

The report also found that there are 1,542 billionaires in the world and more than 563 in the United States alone, more than any other country.

Josef Stadler, lead author of the UBS analysis, told the Guardian that the firm's findings demonstrate that the world is "now two years into the peak of the second Gilded Age."

The extent of the world's wealth concentration -- just eight men now own as much wealth as half of the global population -- raises a number of questions, one of which is whether the world's population will continue to tolerate such vast inequities, Stadler said.

"We're at an inflection point," Stadler argued. "Wealth concentration is as high as in 1905, this is something billionaires are concerned about. The problem is the power of interest on interest -- that makes big money bigger and, the question is to what extent is that sustainable and at what point will society intervene and strike back?"

But despite insistence from leading economists and institutions like the International Monetary Fund that raising taxes on the wealthy is necessary to shrink the growing gap between the billionaires and everyone else, many global powers are doing precisely the opposite.

In France, President Emmanuel Macron earlier this week made what economist Thomas Piketty called a "historical error" by drastically slashing the country's wealth tax as part of his sweeping pro-business economic agenda.

The Republican-controlled US Congress, meanwhile, is moving rapidly to adopt a tax plan that would deliver massive gains to the already wealthy while slashing safety net programs that low-income and middle class families depend on for survival.

According to an analysis by the People's Policy Project, the top one percent in the US already owns a "stunning" 77 percent of the wealth. Meanwhile, those in the bottom ten percent are "net debtors." Non-partisan analyses have found that the GOP tax plan would make this gap even larger.

As Common Dreams reported earlier this month, even some billionaires agree that inequality is out of control, and that a more progressive tax code is necessary to remedy the problem.

"Three decades of data prove that tax cuts for the wealthy do not 'trickle down' to working people or grow the overall economy," billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer concluded in a recent op-ed for the Los Angeles Times. "Let's raise taxes on the rich.... Let's boost wages to stimulate economic growth and job creation. It's the only way we will create broad prosperity, rebuild the middle class, and give working families a fair shake."

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