Bradley Foundation Fueled "Independent Women's Forum" Campaign Against Paid Sick Leave Laws and More
The Bradley Files provide new insights into who underwrote recent efforts to undermine popular public policies that help women and families, such as paid sick leave laws. The Bradley Foundation did, through funding the controversial Independent Women's Forum.
The files indicate that Bradley gave the Independent Women's Forum more than one million dollars over the years.
That includes nearly half a million dollars in the past three years in response to its proposals for a campaign against public support for requiring paid sick leave, providing better child care policies, addressing the wage gap, and ensuring Americans can access life-saving medical treatment through the Affordable Care Act, known as "Obamacare."
The Independent Women's Forum said the campaign -- dubbed "Working for Women" -- would cost at least $720,000 last year. Bradley staff recommended a gift of $200,000 in 2016 to cover more than a quarter of that budget.
In 2015, the group had sought $350,000 from Bradley for the precursor to that project. Bradley obliged by providing nearly half the amount requested, $150,000.
The Details about the Independent Women's Forum Campaign
Its sales pitch to Bradley was that it would develop "messaging to women which counter progressive appeals for ever-larger government programs to address policy issues of most concern to women."
The Bradley Files described IWF's preparations for the project as follows:
"One such controlled message experiment looked at whether women could be persuaded that the expanded family leave mandate is a bad idea.
Without any additional information or conservative arguments, women are broadly supportive of government-mandated paid leave: 59% to 16 in the control group IWF created.
In that same control group when free market arguments are introduced about how the mandate would hurt the economy and job market, support for proposal (sic) drops dramatically.
For example, even among progressive women a persuasive argument focused on how mandated leave creates a real economic threat of job loss drives down the margin of support among liberal women from 69% to 29%."
The Bradley Files note the project was based on a book the Independent Women's Forum published in 2014 called "Lean Together," which the Foundation promoted on its website, noting it funded IWF.
In 2014, IWF sought nearly a quarter of its annual budget from Bradley or $250,000.
That proposal was spearheaded by the Independent Women's Forum's board President, Heather Higgins. She is an heiress whose fortune comes from the corporation that was most famous for Vicks vapor rub and was most infamous for being the sole U.S. distributor of Thalidomide, which caused severe malformations of the limbs of babies born to women who were given the drug, as CMD documented last year.
The Bradley Files emphasize that her group "provides a voice to the many women not represented by liberal feminist organizations."
Bradley added: "IWF has built its reputation nationally as a leader in combatting the liberal conventional argument "women as victims" needs (sic) government: specifically, an ever expanding set of government programs to protect women and children."
And then, in a nod to their shared political agenda, the proposal summary noted: "IWF works to expand the conservative coalition by increasing the number of women committed to conservative policy reform. Moreover, IWF is dedicated to educating policymakers about how policy issues impact women and families." IWF's 990s, its tax filings, routinely tell the IRS that it spends zero on "lobbying."
The Bradley files contain proposal summaries for IWF from only 2014-2016. It is not known if Bradley has approved additional funding for this project in 2017.
What is known is that the six-figure sum from Bradley was specifically to create messaging to women to try to weaken public support for paid sick leave, increasing the minimum wage, and better government subsidies for the child care needs of American families.
What Did Bradley Buy With Its Big Investment in IWF?
IWF's "Working for Women" proposal is all about countering the very popular vision mainstream women's groups have advanced to help women and men in the workplace and the public square to insist on public policies that address the real world challenges people face, because everyone gets sick, most people have children, and most men and women have to work to survive. Those basic public policy needs include:
- having paid time off if they are sick or caring for a child or parent who is ill,
- having better public support for childcare arrangements,
- addressing low pay and lesser retirement security, and
- making sure people can access affordable health care to save their lives.
Two months before the election, IWF unveiled polling commissioned for the Working for Women project on paid leave. That polling promoted the idea of "Personal Care Accounts" (PCAs) as an alternative to what IWF calls "Universal Paid Leave Mandates."
The Independent Women's Forum touted that if women were given an "honest" message about these two options, their support for PCAs would increase. Here is how IWF's pollsters explained that message:
"Supporters of so-called 'universal paid leave,' which forces almost all businesses to provide paid family and medical leave benefits, aren't being honest -- they ignore the very real costs of these government mandates. Let's be honest about the tradeoffs.
Many businesses can't afford a costly new beneﬁt, and they will either reduce pay, cut jobs and hours, or go out of business. That's bad news for everyone,especially low-income workers who are most vulnerable to losing hours or their jobs.
A government mandate also means fewer choices for workers. Some people want to take home more money save up in case they need time off. Some want more benefits and will take a lower salary for that security.
Others want to work part-time, work from home, or arrange something else at work. Government-mandated paid leave gets in the way of that kind of flexibility.
Nearly 8 out of 10 full-time workers already have paid sick leave. Almost 9 out of 10 have paid vacation time. And taking time off to deal with a family medical problem is already guaranteed by law.
What people need most are good job opportunities and a growing, stable but flexible job market. This government mandate will actually hurt those they are supposed to help.
It's a costly, one-size-fits-all government mandate that will impact all workers—even those who already have plenty of paid leave.
We can't just wave a magic wand and give people unlimited time off. The real world doesn't work that way. There are flexible solutions to help more people. But we can't fall for the false promise of a one-size-fits-all government mandate.
IWF's video on this issue repeats much of the messaging from the polling, along with folksy music and cutesy cartoon characters. That video has more than 16,000 views.
Despite the contention that this represents the honest message on paid leave, IWF's messaging is misleading, for example, through what it omits or obscures.
Although IWF claims 80% of full-time workers already have paid sick leave, that means that at least 25 million Americans who work full-time do not have paid sick leave and millions of Americans who work part-time do not either.
With a U.S. workforce of nearly 150 million people that means one in every three American workers does not have "a single paid sick day to recover from common, short-term illnesses," as noted by the National Partnership for Women and Families. That includes "more than 80% of low-wage workers" in the private sector. NPWF has issued a renewed call for a national paid leave policy to help Americans care for their families.
The failure to have a federal law requiring paid sick leave falls disproportionately on women. As the Kaiser Family Foundation documented last year, "the lower likelihood of paid sick days for part-time workers has a disproportionate impact on women, who are more likely than men to hold part-time jobs. Women are also more likely than men to care for children when they are sick and have to stay home from school."
Yet, the Independent Women's Forum, which describes itself as representing mainstream women in the U.S., is advocating against the interests of millions of women in the workplace. Its claim is that women need "flexibility" more than they need laws that guarantee they will not lose income needed to pay for basic necessities just because they or their children get sick.
These are just a few of the problems with IWF's messaging on this issue.
IWF's new Executive Director Carrie Lukas has argued that to address the desire for paid sick leave "Policymakers can start by making it easier for people to save on their own for periods of leave and encourage Americans to assist those with lower incomes who lack paid leave benefits through tax incentives or private charity."
Private charity? IWF's "solution" is an unrealistic, elitist non-"solution" for most working Americans, whose median take-home income is about $36,000 a year.
IWF's deep roots in Koch doctrine are plain when it rails against public policy solutions that would help make people's lives better and instead proposes that the "free market," i.e. the private sector and private charity, will solve working people's problems.
Need paid sick leave? Here's a solution that works for millionaires but not for most Americans: just pay yourself. Just take money out of your paychecks each month to fund personal savings accounts you can use every time you get sick or need to care for someone in your family, urges IWF as part of its "solution." Or you can seek charity from a church. Just don't support laws requiring corporations to pay sick leave -- like the rest of the world -- if you want to follow the IWF "Working for Women" plan.
The U.S. is, in fact, the only industrialized country that has no national law requiring employers to provide paid sick leave, including paid maternity leave. Indeed, out of 170 countries, only the United States and the island nation of New Guinea require no paid maternity leave.
However, IWF's Lukas has argued against paid sick leave laws by contending that requiring paid leave results in European women holding fewer management jobs -- concerns she says she has heard from friends abroad. There may be a range of factors for the relative rates of management jobs for women in different countries, including the persistence of sexism or chauvinism, aside from equating a correlation with causation for paid leave laws.
Notably, Ellen Bravo of Family Values @ Work has documented the many benefits for American women and men who have paid leave:
"Women who take paid leave after a child's birth are more likely to be employed the following year and report increased wages than women who do not take leave. First-time mothers who utilized paid leave were 26.3% less likely to quit their jobs and 18.2% more likely to work for the same employer after the birth of their first child. Family and medical leave insurance also increases men's role in caregiving by making it possible for them to be involved without the family taking a big financial hit. In Rhode Island, during the first year that paid time off for caregiving was available, nearly one-third of all leave takers were men. Fathers in the U.S. who take longer paternity leave are more involved with their child's care nine months later...."
That's partly why such measures have proven so popular, but such successes are not touted in IWF's messaging to try to undermine support for paid leave laws.
It has been ten years since San Francisco passed the first paid sick leave law by initiative. Since then, several states and more than two dozen cities and some counties "have passed laws requiring that eligible employees get paid time off to care for themselves or sick children. Several of these laws also specifically allow workers to use paid sick days for reasons related to caring for other sick family members, or in cases of sexual assault, harassment, or domestic violence," as the Kaiser Family Foundation noted.
With six-figure sums from the Bradley Foundation and other funders, however, IWF is busy trying to undermine support for these popular initiatives and other progressive ideas.
So far, IWF has produced messaging kits on paid leave, childcare, and the wage gap that are available with passwords that IWF published in its 2016 annual report to help readers "check out all of the messaging kits from 2016." Earlier this year, IWF also created a messaging kit to help support the controversial effort to repeal the ACA/Obamacare.
The Bradley Files indicate that the IWF messaging kits cost $120,000 a piece: "Of that amount $60,000 is allocated for on-going messaging testing, kit materials development requires $25,0000, briefings/promotions/distribution will cost $15,000, and $20,000 for video creation."
Who Are the Architects of IWF's "Working for Women" Project and What's Next?
As noted, the big money for the Independent Women's Forum from Bradley began to roll in when it asked the Foundation for $350,000 to fund what is was calling its "Women's Policy Project" to expand its "Lean Together" book into a series of messaging kits.
In 2014, IWF told Bradley it was creating a high-profile working group of experts to develop materials on "pay equity, childcare and preschool subsidies, family leave policies, workplace fairness, tax policies (including women as second earners and child tax policy), and retirement and social security."
By 2016, as described in the Bradley Files' proposal summaries, IWF expanded its vision for the messaging kits to include "toolkits" on:
- "economic opportunity for women (alternative to the minimum wage, deregulation, job creation);
- workplace flexibility (reforming labor laws such as [the] Fair Labor Standards Act);
- personal care -- paid leave -- savings accounts (alternative to paid leave mandate or entitlement);
- child-center tax relief (alternative to government daycare subsidies);
- equal pay for equal work (alternative to Paycheck Fairness Act [introduced each year since 1997, most recently by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA)] and government Standardization of Compensation);
- affordability and control (tax reform and spending reform to return resources to women and families rather than more government waste)."
That year, IWF released a "Working for Women" report. It consisted of twenty recycled rightwing policies without any solid record of working for real people in real life. IWF repackaged and presented yet another report late that year entitled, "Working for Young Women," which largely promoted the same old ideas -- the primary difference being a younger demographic focus/images and the occasional insertion of the word "young." The substance of the report was again the fervent promotion of tax cuts and deregulation to solve all of the legitimate challenges that millennial women face. IWF presented its Working for Women report at ALEC's annual meeting last year, as Wisconsin state Rep. Chris Taylor has confirmed to CMD.
According to IWF's 2016 annual report, the advisory committee for the "Working for Women" project ultimately consisted of three men (academics Brian Brenberg and Casey Mulligan plus Randel Johnson from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce) and two women (Tammy McCutchen and Diana Furchtgott-Roth) from outside IWF, plus the group's top leaders (Carrie Lukas and Sabrina Schaeffer, who has since stepped down as IWF's director).
The Chamber of Commerce's participation in the IWF effort to undermine support for paid sick leave laws is noteworthy, in part, because the Chamber and its state affiliate Chambers of Commerce were instrumental to in-depth polling of CEOs in December 2015 that perhaps surprisingly documented wide support by business leaders across the country for progressive measures, as CMD detailed last year.
CMD's investigation revealed the Chambers' polling by the Frank Luntz group and showed how state chambers of commerce were being given arguments to overcome the "empathy" CEOs had expressed toward employees. The Luntz powerpoint sought to overcome that empathy in order to help combat popular support for state and city laws requiring paid sick leave, raising the minimum wage, and more.
According to the Bradley Files, IWF's initial advisory group also included Kim Strassel.
Strassel, of the Wall Street Journal editorial page, was given a $250,000 award from the Bradley Foundation in 2014. She subsequently wrote a book attacking CMD, among others, for its exposure of the Koch-funded ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, which Bradley also funded to help respond to CMD's continuing investigation.
Another member of the IWF working group with Koch ties is Furchgott-Roth. She is with the Manhattan Institute, a think tank has received more than $3 million from Bradley, at least half a million from the Koch family fortune, and Exxon funding as well. She is known for her opposition to raising the minimum wage for American workers and so, perhaps unsurprisingly, was named to the Trump Transition Team for the U.S. Department of Labor.
IWF's Kellyanne Conway (and Donald J. Trump)
It's not just IWF ally Furchgott-Roth who is aligned with Trump.
There is an IWF insider literally inside the Trump White House.
One of Trump's main advocates on TV, the controversial Kellyanne Conway, is on a "leave of absence" from IWF's board. She has worked closely with IWF for years.
IWF is not the only group Conway is closely tied to. According to a recent required public financial disclosure report, Conway's consulting firm, "the polling company/Woman Trend," had $800,000 in revenue last year. Her main clients included: Donald J. Trump for President, Trump for America Inc., Mike Pence for Indiana, the Kochs' network of billionaires called "Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce," David Koch's Americans for Prosperity and Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFP/AFPF), and FreedomWorks (which was formed from the predecessor of AFP).
Other Conway clients include IWF's 501(c)(4) that Higgins directs, the Independent Women's Voice (IWV), along with the group called "Citizens United," the Judicial Crisis Network, and Steve King for Congress, among others. Notably, one of Conway's clients last year was Cambridge Analytica, the murky corporation controlled by the billionaire Mercer family and Steve Bannon, which has taken credit for the deployment of a sophisticated strategy of social media attack ads against Hillary Clinton that helped Trump register wins in key Electoral College states.
Conway's dissembling defense of whatever Trump does -- as a White House "Counselor" who is slated to be paid nearly $200k a year by taxpayers -- has led to a major ethics complaint by law professors from across the country seeking her disbarment from the practice of law. Among other things, Conway infamously deployed the phrase "alternative facts," claimed repeatedly there was a "Bowling Green Massacre" even though that was completely false, and even shilled for Ivanka Trump's retail sales, which was a violation of federal ethics rules.
Nevertheless, IWF has announced that it plans to honor Conway with its highest award, the Woman of Valor, at its annual gala on November 15, 2017.
While the U.S. military gives it highest Medal of Honor for acts of valor or "great courage in the face of danger," IWF is recognizing Conway for a different kind of valor, one that seems audacious or even brazen -- which is one way to describe her statements for Trump.
In many ways, the "Working for Women" project that the Bradley Foundation has funded is consistent with just that kind of alternative facts approach to public policymaking.
Sidebar: What Else Do the Bradley Files Reveal About IWF?
One of the most revealing pieces of information about the Independent Women's Forum from the Bradley Files is that as of February 2014, the group had only a couple dozen funders.
Specifically, Bradley noted that: "In the past 18 months, the organization has received support from individuals, corporations, and foundations totaling 60 in number."
That is, in a nation with a population of more than 300 million people, more than half of whom are women or girls, a women's group that claims to "provide a voice for responsible, mainstream women" was funded by .0000004 of the female population -- if all 60 of those funders were women, but they were not. The figure includes corporations and foundations, but Bradley does not list the corporate underwriters of IWF.
The Bradley Files list just three of IWF's major individual donors, two of whom are men: William "Jerry" Hume and John Templeton, Jr.
Hume has been described as one of the "California power brokers" working "to further inequality." He made his fortune through his family's instant mashed potato company, and he has spent it on efforts that undermine public schools and unions. He has also been a director of Donors Trust, which Mother Jones called the "dark money ATM" for secretive funding of groups by billionaires who are part of the Koch network. Donors Trust is the second largest foundation funder of IWF, with donations totaling more than $3.7 million.
Templeton, who passed away in 2015, ran the $3 billion Templeton Foundation, which was founded through his father's wealth. He and his wife spent millions and millions on rightwing groups, including giving at least $1 million to the Proposition 8 campaign to bar gay marriage in California.
The only other individual donor listed for IWF in the Bradley Files was Mary Kohler of Wisconsin. She's the widow of Terry Kohler, who was the heir to the Kohler faucet fortune, and like Templeton and Hume, a major GOP donor.
Among the 60 donors to IWF, the Bradley Files list several foundation donors whose gifts are required by law to be disclosed in tax filings, including rightwing foundations started or controlled by the uber-rich Coors, Pope, Maclellan, and Taube families.
The Bradley Files also list the biggest publicly known funder of IWF: the Randolph Foundation. It is controlled by Higgins, who is also the President of IWF's Board and the leader of its related 501(c)(4), IWV. According to Conservative Transparency, the Randolph Foundation has given IWF $3,779,850 as of 2015.
It is not known how many of IWF's 60 donors referenced in the Bradley Files are women.
This question is significant because the group describes itself as representing independent women of America and, yet, last year CMD discovered that IWV's biggest publicly reported funders were actually men, like the billionaire Foster Friess.
That is, IWF's sister group, which calls itself the "Independent Women's Voice," was actually throwing the voices of men. It did so through ads and robo-calls backing some of the most controversial U.S. Senate candidates in the War on Women. CMD's investigation showed how IWV had spent the money of men who funded it to back other men, like extreme U.S. Senate candidate Todd "legitimate rape" Akin, in the name of "independent women." (CMD has also filed an FEC complaint against IWV based on its investigation, which is available here, as reported by NBC News.)
Other Revelations: Bradley Funded IWF to Undermine Title IX
The Bradley Files also list all funding provided to the Independent Women's Forum since 1993. That includes not only general support but also funding for three specific projects.
The list shows that the Bradley Foundation funded an IWF project called "Play Fair," which was focused on attacks on Title IX, a law that has transformed generations of women's lives by ensuring that girls and women have equal opportunities to play sports in publicly funded schools.
Through that project, IWF attacked Title IX and even took the side of men's wrestling teams claiming that Title IX's protections for women discriminated against men.
The National Women's Law Center and Women's Sports Foundation, along with other groups that actually represent mainstream women, debunked the kind of headline-grabbing myths about Title IX that were peddled by IWF.
Bradley also helped fund IWF's "The American Promise" project in 2006, which was focused on the "Break Down of the American Family." IWF has said that project was about addressing "deterrents" to "family formation" that lead to children being "born out of wedlock." That project also pushed for "school choice" to address what IWF called the "Failing Public Education System."
Bradley also spent more than $165,000 funding fellowships for Kate O'Beirne and related work. O'Beirne, who passed away in April, was described by the National Review, which published her column for many years, as "the den mother of the modern American right." She was a regular commentator on the "Capital Gang."
As the New York Times noted, "She was the author of 'Women Who Make the World Worse and How Their Radical Feminist Assault Is Ruining Our Schools, Families, Military and Sports' (2005), which cited Bella Abzug, Gloria Steinem and Eleanor Smeal, the former president of the National Organization for Women..." (The Bradley Foundation did not fund her to write that book.)
This is how the Bradley Foundation described IWF's role in the rightwing infrastructure, in the files:
"[IWF] has been working hard to creating for women a sensible, attractive alternative to the radical leftist feminist organizations focused on making women actively committed to exercising their rights to secure benefits and status owing to their gender, from the municipal, state, and federal government. IWF aspires to stand for a vision which is in stark contrast to leftist organizations such as the National Organization of Women, National Women's Law Center, Emily's List, and the [American] Association of University Women."
IWF's website routinely describes one of its goals as reclaiming "real feminism," asserting, for example, that American women's groups have narrowed their "focus to magnifying discrimination where there may be none and scaring young woman into thinking that we are constantly victims of some atrocity or another where government law is the only solution."
That is typical of IWF's approach to issues, deploying straw man -- or straw woman -- fallacies. Meanwhile, IWF has vociferously objected to the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in the U.S. and has even attacked reporting about the epidemic of rape on campuses.
As CMD recently noted in its investigation of Tucker Carlson:
"IWF has sponsored a forum where its panelists contended that 'rape culture statistics have been blown out of proportion in the United States, and that this is largely a product of the media's focus on rape and sexual assault.' That's the description from The Daily Caller's coverage of the event. Another piece, titled 'Restraining Orders Hurt Women' also credited IWF's analysis."
IWF has made a name for itself by making claims at odds with public policies that most women support -- all the while claiming to represent mainstream women.
As CMD noted, IWF was founded to defend Clarence Thomas in the midst of the uproar over the testimony of Professor Anita Hill that Thomas had sexually harassed her when he led the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
In the words of Bradley, though, now IWF's "primary goal is to change how women think about conservative political principles and their relationship to the formation of public policy."
IWF's legal policy agenda recites the mantra of almost all Koch-fueled groups, including the GOP: "personal responsibility, free markets, and limited government." As CMD has documented, IWF has deep ties to the billionaire Koch brothers, including shacking up with David Koch's Americans for Prosperity and its predecessor and being led for years by Koch Industries' former top DC lobbyist.
CMD's report illustrates how IWF is not independent, mainstream, and neutral, despite its claims.
As Joan Walsh noted in the Nation: "the IWF website looks like it still shares content with Americans for Prosperity, with posts devoted to lowering corporate tax rates and ending the 'death tax,' criticizing food stamps... alongside screeds against Hillary Clinton and on how Title IX hurts boys. On its website, IWV says its five core issues areas are 'healthcare, responsible government, workplace regulation, energy and economic literacy,' which are all core concerns of the Kochs and their allies."
About the Bradley Foundation
IWF's approach to women's issues was richly rewarded by Bradley with Dan Schmidt as the foundation's Vice President. During Schmidt's tenure, Bradley steered more than $1 million to IWF.
Schmidt has been credited on the right with turning Bradley into "one of the most influential" foundations in the country, working for former RNC lawyer Michael Grebe and Michael Joyce. Bradley's new leader is Rick Graber, who helmed the Wisconsin Republican party for years shortly before Reince Preibus, who later became the RNC chair and now is Trump's Chief of Staff.
Schmidt's recommendations for major funding for IWF and other groups went to Bradley's Board of Directors, which includes two of the biggest GOP funders in the country: Koch allies Art Pope and Diane Hendricks.
They each have reputations for using millions of their own billions to push aggressively divisive legislative and their personal political wish lists, like right to work in Wisconsin for Hendricks and an array of disastrous legislation in Pope's home state of North Carolina.
Through their role on Bradley's board, they now have the ability to have influence beyond even their own vast personal fortunes. They are tasked with helping to direct the nearly one billion in assets of the Bradley Foundation, whose assets exceed the Koch brothers' foundations, though not the personal wealth of the billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, themselves.
CMD's research team, including David Armiak and Evan James, assisted on this report, with the help of Nick Surgey.
When women are incarcerated, their children become "collateral damage" within a system that's more focused on punishment than providing the support needed by women struggling with poverty, abuse or addiction. Mary Fish, herself an incarcerated mother and grandmother in Oklahoma, interviews fellow prisoners about how incarceration has affected their relationships with their children.
This story is the ninth piece in the Truthout series, Severed Ties: The Human Toll of Prisons. This series dives deeply into the impact of incarceration on families, loved ones and communities, demonstrating how the United States' incarceration of more than 2 million people also harms many millions more -- including 2.7 million children.
Oklahoma continues to be number one in the incarceration of women. Its maximum-security prison, Mabel Bassett Correctional Center -- where I am incarcerated -- houses many mothers. Many of them also had parents who were incarcerated. A report from the Oklahoma Children of Incarcerated Parents Advisory Committee found that nearly 4,000 children in Oklahoma have a mother in prison. And in Oklahoma, 96,000 children -- or 10 percent of Oklahoma's children -- experienced parental incarceration between 2011 and 2012.
As of May 22, 2017, Mabel Bassett had 1,321 women in custody and new arrivals in the Assessment and Reception Center for mental and physical evaluations numbered 107. As is true in women's prisons across the country, the majority of the women here at Mabel Bassett are mothers. Here are some of their stories.
A Childhood-Long Prison Sentence
Twenty-seven-year-old Ashleigh Jenkins has a father currently in prison. As a young girl, Jenkins was curious as to how people lived in prison and why her dad kept going back. Her own experience brings that childhood memory back, along with unanswered questions about why anyone would keep coming back to prison.
Jenkins was arrested May 5, 2015, for "assault and battery with a deadly weapon with intent to kill." Jenkins felt the arresting officers added the latter to make her sound "so bad." Jenkins told Truthout that the reason she stabbed her friend was because she did not want to be with him, yet felt trapped with no other way out. "I was in a domestic emotional abuse situation," she said. Jenkins' victim was not the father of either of her sons.
"I was always on drugs, so the state ended up terminating my rights when Keylan [one of her sons] was nine months old, before I was arrested for the assault charge," she said. "I still had my kids' best interest in mind. I didn't know it at the time but I was later diagnosed by a doctor that I was suffering from postpartum depression. That was something I had never heard of before. I grew up in a single-parent home, and my mother Stacy suffered from severe depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. And my dad, who was in and out of prison, used to beat my mom unmercifully."
When Jenkins was arrested, one-year-old Keylan went to live with his dad. Three-year-old Khylan, her other son, whom she had already potty-trained, went to live with her best friend."The courts don't know me. They just think the worst of every mom that gets into trouble."
In April 2016 Jenkins' grandmother adopted Khylan and took him to her home in Georgia. Jenkins is at ease about her children's placement now, but the period before it was settled was one of her most trying times. The court administrators advised against Jenkins having contact with the children.
"The courts don't know me," she said. "They just think the worst of every mom that gets into trouble."
Jenkins visits weekly with Keylan, now almost three, but five-year-old Khylan comes only twice a year from Georgia. Jenkins also writes her children letters and they send her colored pictures. She saves every single one of them.
"Distance is a huge barrier for me and Khylan because he lives in Georgia and the phone calls are so expensive," she said, "We have managed to stay connected through mail. I send pictures, painted cups that I've made in Arts and Crafts, crocheted hats that I've made, and letters galore telling them that I love them. The last time I talked to Keylan's dad, he told me they had been riding around in the car and when he woke up, he started saying, "Mama Ashleigh, Mama Ashleigh. He must have thought that he was waking up and arriving to come in to visit me."
Jenkins has a 25-year split sentence: 13 years in prison and the remaining 12 on probation. Even if she is granted parole, she will have to complete at least 11 and a half years behind bars due to Oklahoma's 85 percent law, which requires physically remaining in prison for the whole amount in calendar years except for about 18 months. "So far I have two years done. So, another nine and a half years. My kids will be teenagers when I am released."
"They Tore Us Apart and Threw Us Away"
At least Jenkins knows where her sons are and will have some time with them before they are grown. For some mothers, incarceration means a complete break from their children.
"I don't know right now where any of my children are," 45-year-old Geneva Phillips said. "Prison has become a barrier [too] deep and hard to chisel through to have a relationship with my children. Too many years of missed birthdays and Thanksgivings and Christmases and lost quality time of their childhoods have severed the tie that binds mother and child."
Phillips has four children. She was initially arrested in 2006 for an old warrant that had been adjudicated two years earlier. Her older children lived in Arkansas and her youngest, Zen, who is severely autistic, was living with Geneva's ex-husband who was Zen's biological father. Zen's father had remarried and Zen now had a stepmother. Zen eventually ended up in state custody because his father went to jail and the school nurse said Zen was sent to school with a dirty diaper by his stepmother. That was when DHS intervened and Zen was placed into the system. Meanwhile, Phillips' roommate said she would keep the other kids from the moment when Phillips was arrested until she got out of jail 10 days later. The roommate was unable to follow through on her promise after only two days, however: She called DHS and the children were put into a shelter two days after Phillips was arrested. Upon release 10 days later, Phillips had to follow a tedious treatment plan to get her children out of state custody.
Phillips noted that while in state custody, her children were moving five times in one month between one court docket date to the next. She recalled that the family court judge even commented on the number of moves, shortly after they were placed in separate group homes on the same property. They were later split up and unable to see each other except for rare visits.
For the next two years, Phillips tried to get her children back, but family court still terminated her rights. Phillips was never given a reason as to why nor was there a hearing that she was told about. After that, she says, she just gave up trying to live.
"I had been working the program they gave me, had entered college full time, and had an apartment," Phillips said. "Once they terminated my rights I fell apart and spent the next several years heavily medicated along with illegal narcotics. That is what I was arrested for -- robbery to get money for narcotics -- while in a drug-induced blackout. I entered prison in 2013."
Over the years Phillips has had only sporadic correspondence. Her daughter, now 19, aged out of a shelter. Her son wrote her for a year and a half, then was moved to yet another foster home that prohibited their correspondence. He is still being shuffled from foster home to foster home. Last year, DHS sent her a form letter stating that one of her children was about to "age" out of the system and he would need a place to spend holidays, so that he would have a sense of "family." Phillips did not think the social worker realized that she was sending the letter to the mother in prison.
Phillips says that parenting was difficult for her due to her own traumatic childhood, but she never abused, neglected or hurt her children. Her children knew they were loved, well-provided for and valued. She sent them to school, they had good clothes and they never went hungry."They loved me and they loved each other. The state took all that away and broke us apart and cast us to the wind."
"They loved me and they loved each other," Phillips recounted. "The state took all that away and broke us apart and cast us to the wind without a thought. I was completely broken after that. I am in prison and I have no idea where my children are now but I know they are broken, too. The state did not help us -- not me or my children. They tore us apart and threw us away -- from one system to another."
No Visits, No Calls, No Letters
Forty-six-year-old Jordon is the mother of three boys, all over the age of 21, and a daughter who turned 16 in January. By the time she was arrested, Jordon did not have much of a relationship with her three sons; at the time, her two oldest, ages 13 and 14, were with their adopted family, while her nine-year-old was with her best friend. Only her five-year-old daughter lived with her, and she was sent to her grandmother after Jordon's arrest.
Jordon does not receive visits, phone calls, or letters from her children. The last time she saw, spoke or heard from any of them was a year ago when her daughter came to the prison with the Girl Scouts program. The Girl Scouts Beyond Bars program brings 25 children to visit their mothers once a month for two hours.
"Girl Scouts was the only time I was able to be in contact with my daughter Shannon," she said.
Her daughter has now aged out of the program, and Jordon does not know when she'll see her -- or any of her children -- again.
Brenda Rayburn also knows something about being completely cut off from her children. Rayburn had already spent 22 years in Texas prisons before she arrived here eight years ago, for another case. Rayburn was 22 years old and in an abusive marriage when her husband went to jail for beating her. As a direct result of the domestic abuse, Rayburn's two children, aged two and three were taken by Child Protective Services (CPS) in California.
"I didn't feel like I had anything left to live for after my kids were taken from me," Rayburn said. She met another man through a mutual friend and left all that she had known to go on a three-state crime spree with him. They were arrested in Texas. After serving time in Texas, Rayburn is now serving two 30-year sentences in Oklahoma.
Rayburn's daughter went to live with her in-laws, who prohibited Rayburn from any contact. It wasn't until recently that Rayburn's nephew, whom she has kept in touch with for all these years, informed her that he had found her daughter, now 31, on Facebook. Now they are corresponding and rebuilding a mother-daughter relationship through a request to the warden for permission and authorization to correspond. It is an eight-week process. Rayburn's 30-year-old son is now a two-time recidivist himself and only corresponds when he is in prison. Rayburn's daughter has been to prison three times and is presently court-ordered to an in-prison drug treatment facility. It is worth noting that studies show children of incarcerated parents are more likely to become incarcerated themselves, demonstrating the multigenerational impacts of imprisonment.
Nearly 20 percent of Oklahoma's women prisoners are African American, although on the outside Black people make up only 7.7 percent of the state's population. Dorothy Faye Marshall, a mother of four, is one of those 20 percent. Marshall has been locked up for 25 years. Her own parents never had a chance to visit because her mom couldn't get her birth certificate to prove she was Dorothy's real mother. This was necessary because only immediate family were allowed on each individual visitation card, plus one friend. Both parents died while Marshall was in prison.
When she was arrested, Marshall's four children went to her mother's home. Now, they're grown up and have families of their own. Their last visit was five years ago. When Marshall saw her oldest son, she didn't recognize him; her oldest daughter had to introduce mother and son.
She said, "Mom, this is Jeremy!' and I said 'WHAT!... that's Jeremy?' She said, 'Yes' and he hugged me so tight and I grabbed him and hugged him and he held my hand the whole time. Jeremy has a little son named Cue and his mama wants to meet me," She said of that visit. "They told me, 'Mom, no matter what, we're always gonna love you.' And when Jeremy was up here, he asked me all kinds of questions about my case. It was hard but I had to do it. It was hard for me to explain it but I did it."
Moms Weigh In on How to Change the System
Each of these mothers feels that incarceration devastated their relationships with their children. They all have ideas on how to keep the mother-child bond stronger.
Marshall believes there needs to be more programs like Oklahoma's Messages Project, which allow some mothers to record a 15-minute message to their children and grandchildren, even though restrictions apply, and not every mother receives permission from guardians to participate and send books or messages. The Mommy and Me program also sends recorded messages along with a photo and age-appropriate books for the little ones. At one time, there was a rumor that video calls were going to be implemented at our prison, but this has not occurred.
However, no matter how many connections are able to be built from behind bars, it's no replacement for seeing each other in person.
"There needs to be a connection and more social contact between mothers and their children," Marshall said. She now has grandchildren, and has only met them once.
These questions of "connection" raise the issue of why all these mothers are imprisoned in the first place. Jenkins thinks criminal court systems need to look more deeply into the reasons why a mother has committed a crime and not just say, "Bad mother -- put on your prison shoes, that's it and that's all."
In Jenkins' case, the reasons were addiction and depression. She needed help, she says, and instead she was put in prison, where she struggles to ensure that her children won't forget her. "There has got to be a better way -- putting people in prison for an illness seems sacrilegious in a state that is in the Bible belt," she said.
Jordon, too, believes that on the criminal court level, the judges need to order mandatory investigations into the "why" of it all. If mitigating circumstances exist, she says, a restorative justice committee should convene on behalf of the mother. The system shouldn't "just throw her away."
Countless lives -- including those of millions of children -- could be considered to be "collateral damage" of mass incarceration. Plus, as these women's stories have shown, other state systems also intersect with imprisonment to disrupt families and separate mothers and children.
"Most of my experience was from the child welfare system, and that system is just as much in need of reformation as the criminal justice system," said Phillips. "Warehousing children in various homes with people who are not emotionally invested in them is only going to perpetuate the cycles of brokenness in those lives. Placing siblings in separate homes, moving them multiple times, giving them to families for adoption who give them back when faced with the emotional and behavioral problems of children stored in the systems for 8-10 years only damages them further. The state needs to invest in the successes of a child's future and stop warehousing them and guaranteeing their failure."
Rayburn, who has been locked up in other states, reflected, "Oklahoma is very much behind other states and I believe that is why they rank number one in the incarceration of women." She pointed to programs like California's Civil Addict Program, in which people with drug addictions may receive a "civil addict commitment" instead of a criminal sentence. When Rayburn participated in the program, she was offered classes on how to cope with trauma. She also pointed to New York, where coalitions are advocating for better conditions within prisons -- and to shut down prisons instead of building more of them.
"Mass incarceration of mothers and fathers begets more prisoners," Rayburn said.
Immigrant rights advocates and attorneys describe how, in his first 100 days in office, Donald Trump has coordinated an unprecedented crackdown on immigration, poured hundreds of millions of dollars into state attacks on undocumented immigrants and funded a brutal expansion of the US deportation infrastructure.
Silvia Maceda, a native of Mexico who lives in Staten Island under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, at a march in New York, January 29, 2017. (Photo: Yana Paskova / The New York Times)
In his first 100 days in office, Donald Trump has coordinated an unprecedented crackdown on immigration, poured hundreds of millions of dollars into state attacks on undocumented immigrants and funded a brutal expansion of the US deportation infrastructure.
The force and viciousness of this new immigration regime led even a federal court judge to remark on its inhumanity. In his opinion on one case, Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the Ninth Circuit Court wrote, "The government forces us to participate in ripping apart a family … three United States citizen children will now have to choose between their father and their country."
Yet none of this is surprising. Trump has not broken stride in stoking the flames of hate and distrust -- even his comments on the Portland murders of two people who were defending two Muslim women against verbal abuse rang hollow and hypocritical. Both during and after his campaign, Trump set the stage for such incidents and even provided a kind of script for it. These new policies and practices are having immediate and often profound effects on the way immigration law is practiced at the grassroots level.
Ilyce Shugall, directing attorney of the Immigration Program at Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto, California, confirms the new intensity and aggressiveness of the Trump regime. She told Truthout that in immigration court, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of the General Counsel is opposing "essentially every motion -- basic motions for continuance are being opposed, motions for administrative closure or motions to terminate in cases of children who are eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status are being opposed when those were routinely agreed upon previously."
This comes at a cost to both humanitarian principles and also to efficiency -- huge backlogs are being created as new immigration cases fill the system. Shugall fears that "Every case is suddenly going to have to be litigated, and every case is suddenly going to be a battle." She believes that the ICE attorneys have directives from above.
Lucas Guttentag, a professor at Stanford Law School who founded the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project and recently served as a senior immigration advisor in the Obama administration, agrees. "I think we're going to see Attorney General Sessions taking much more aggressive action both on criminal prosecutions, which he's threatened, but also on reinterpreting the immigration laws and how they apply," Guttentag told Truthout.
He added that Sessions has certain authority in that respect and is likely to issue decisions that reinterpret the law in ways that "might not get huge attention right away but will have really, really pervasive consequences." For example, Guttentag said, Sessions could try to erode domestic violence as a basis for getting political asylum in the United States.
Guttentag's perception is that the Trump administration is also trying to gradually change the culture within the Department of Homeland Security. "Everything's gone out the window -- it's a free for all," he told Truthout. He explained that even though the Trump administration has retreated somewhat in the face of legal challenges to its sweeping orders, damage has already been done in the message sent to ICE and Customs and Border Protection officers.
"What happened in the sanctuary litigation is the government went into court and said, 'Oh, we're not really going to cut off everybody's funding ... we're only going to go after cities after giving them notice,'" Guttentag said.
This kind of erratic behavior, which has become a hallmark of this administration, is often not easily constrained by the US Constitution, since the executive orders are often vague, though Trump's intent is clear. The result of this combination of this erratic behavior with newly aggressive enforcement and litigation is increasing fear. Guttentag believes this is deliberate: "I think part of the Trump administration's strategy is to make people so afraid that they'll leave. It's causing people to abandon jobs, homes, schools, even their kids in some instances where they have US-citizen kids. I think that's a conscious strategy to create as much fear as possible."
The Trump administration has also threatened to expand the use of the "Expedited Removal" initiative -- under which it can deport people without any immigration court check. The initiative has been used at the border, but now the government may use it in the interior -- it allows ICE agents to make extrajudicial decisions to deport individuals on the spot.
Another aspect of this new mode of enforcement and judgment is that more people who are seeking asylum are not being granted parole and are being detained. As a result, the non-detained, non-priority cases get dragged out. That now includes children's cases, which have become deprioritized. Consequently people are reluctant to even make a case and apply for what they may well qualify for.
With all these actions taking place or being threatened, there is a widening disconnect between the goals of the federal government and the aims of local law enforcement. Shugall gives an example from San Mateo County, where the sheriff's department doesn't want to deputize its law enforcement officers to be immigration agents for fear that doing so would decrease the safety of the community. The sheriff's department has expressed fear that doing so could "prevent immigrants from reporting crimes and it could very well prevent people in mixed-status families from reporting crimes," Shugall told Truthout. "We've already seen statistics coming out of Los Angeles that there's been a decrease in reporting of domestic violence and sexual assault. And the belief is that it's because people are afraid to work with law enforcement."
Ultimately, Guttentag says there is an even larger issue at hand -- something that goes to the heart of what we are as a nation: "I don't think it's just about undocumented immigrants. I think it's about changing the perception and the reality of America and its composition. I think the Trump administration wants to change the immigration laws far more deeply than just what we're talking about now," he says. "It feels like we are in a period like at the beginning of the 1900s that lead to the 1920s National Origins Quota Act. That was -- as you know -- an openly racist and exclusionary law designed with the explicit goal using immigration to return to an era of America as a white, northern European, Christian nation. Barring all Asian immigration, and virtually no Jewish, Southern or Eastern European immigration."
In the face of the retrenchment of racist exclusionary practices, however, Guttentag said there is also some good news: The movement against these practices "has broadened and deepened the voices in support of immigrant communities, and made those communities feel there is a larger movement supporting them and that immigrants are not alone."
Shugall adds that, "Local advocacy is really key, because advocacy at the federal level is not going to be super successful at this point." She asks people who want to help to look at the websites of nonprofits like hers in their local communities to learn how they can support their efforts.
This focus on the local seems entirely reasonable, given the chaos that seems to reign in Washington these days. It is crucial to address the immediate impact these new practices are having on people in one's own community, to help shine a light on their dilemmas and to gather broader support for their defense. In all these areas, local nonprofits are fighting an increasingly costly and exhausting fight.
This truly is about what we are as a nation. Those who voted for Trump, at least in part because of his promise to "Make America Great Again," need to be answered: We must counter the premise that the US was "great" in past eras when injustice, racism and sexism flourished. The recent votes in France and in the UK might be taken as signs that anti-immigrant fears are not always able to guarantee overwhelming votes for right-wing candidates, but we cannot take that for granted. Here in the United States, we have immediate damage to contend with.
On Feb. 26, 2008, a $9-million underground seed vault began operating deep in the permafrost on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, just 810 miles from the North Pole. This high-tech Noah's Ark for the world's food varieties was intended to assure that, even in a worst-case scenario, our irreplaceable heritage of food seeds would remain safely frozen.
Less than 10 years after it opened, the facility flooded. The seeds are safe; the water only entered a passageway. Still, as vast areas of permafrost melt, the breach raises serious questions about the security of the seeds, and whether a centralized seed bank is really the best way to safeguard the world's food supply.
Meanwhile, a much older approach to saving the world's heritage of food varieties is making a comeback.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, a group of volunteers in the northern Montana city of Great Falls met in the local library to package seeds for their newly formed seed exchange, and to share their passion for gardening and food security.
"We don't know what's going to happen to our climate in the future," said Alice Kestler, a library specialist. "Hopefully, as the years go by, we can develop local cultivars that are really suited to the local climate here."
For millennia, people the world over have selected the best edible plants, saved the seeds, and planted and shared them in sophisticated, locally adapted breeding projects that created the vast array of foods we rely on today. This dance of human intelligence, plant life, pollinators, and animals is key to how human communities became prosperous and took root across the planet.
The Great Falls Library Seed Exchange is continuing that tradition even while a modern agribusiness model works to reduce the genetic diversity of our food stocks and consolidate control over the world's seeds. Six seed companies now control three quarters of the seed market. In the years between 1903 and 1983, the world lost 93 percent of its food seed varieties, according to a study by the Rural Advancement Foundation International.Especially in a time of climate change, genetic diversity is what we need to assure food security and resilience.
Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that giant agribusiness companies have no interest in the vast varieties and diverse ways people breed plants. It is hard to get rich off of an approach based on the distributed genius of people everywhere. Such a model doesn't scale or centralize well. It is intensely democratic. Many people contribute to a common pool of knowledge and genetic diversity. Many people share the benefits.
Making big profits requires scarcity, exclusive knowledge, and the power to deny others the benefits. In this case, that means the appropriation of the knowledge built up over generations, coupled with the legal framework to patent seed varieties and punish those who fail to comply.
Especially in a time of climate change, though, genetic diversity is what we need to assure food security and resilience.
The Great Falls Library Seed Exchange is on the second floor of the library, which sits less than a mile from the Missouri River. Climb the brick building's big, central staircase, and you can't miss the brightly painted seed catalog. Borrowers are encouraged, but not required, to save some of the seeds and return them to the library for others to plant."The seed in its essence is all of the past evolution of the Earth."
The exchange began just over a year ago, and is one of 500-some seed libraries worldwide. It sources its seeds from local organic farms and distant companies that specialize in plants that can grow in the rugged terrain of the northern plains, as well as heirloom varieties that have proven their worth over generations of seed saving. Locals also bring in their favorite varieties to share.
Each grower chooses which of each variety to save for seed, and those choices shape future availability.
"Since we have such a short growing climate here, getting seeds from plants that fruit early is really advantageous," Kestler said. Some growers, though, select for the biggest fruit; others for the best-tasting. This built-in diversity helps to secure a resilient food supply.
"The seed in its essence is all of the past evolution of the Earth, the evolution of human history, and the potential for future evolution," author and seed saver Vandana Shiva told me when I interviewed her in 2013. "The seed is the embodiment of culture because culture shaped the seed with careful selection. That is a convergence of human intelligence and nature's intelligence.""Seed saving is such an important political act in this time."
The Norwegian doomsday vault makes an important statement about the irreplaceable value of the genetic diversity of our planet, and it may prove to be an important failsafe in the event of disaster. But the time-honored process of saving and sharing seeds is dynamic. It naturally adapts to changing conditions, like climate change, and keeps the power with people everywhere to make choices that assure local resilience.
"Seed saving is such an important political act in this time," Shiva said. "Save the seeds, have a community garden, create an exchange, do everything that it takes to protect and rejuvenate the seed."
Climate activist Ken Ward, the "valve turner" who was arrested and prosecuted for closing the emergency valve on an oil sands pipeline, and who argued in front the jury with considerable success that the urgency of climate change compelled him to act, was sentenced Friday in Skagit County Superior Court in Washington State. His sentence of two days in jail has already been fulfilled.
In Georgia's special election, Karen Handel dimmed, if not doused, Democratic hopes that younger candidates will bring younger voters to polls. As both parties' strategists evaluate the lessons of the race, their attention will turn to the role that Ossoff's age played in his initial pre-runoff success and eventual failure.
Jon Ossoff, Democratic candidate for Georgia's 6th Congressional District, at a campaign stop in Dunwoody, Georgia, April 11, 2017. (Photo: Kevin D. Liles / The New York Times)
Tuesday night, 55-year-old Republican candidate Karen Handel defeated 30-year-old Democratic hopeful Jon Ossoff and secured the seat in Georgia's 6th District in the most expensive congressional race in US history. The $28 million raised by the candidates drew national attention, but the contest was also viewed as an early test of each political party's strength since Trump's election.
Handel dimmed, if not doused, Democratic hopes that younger candidates will bring younger voters to polls. As both parties' strategists evaluate the lessons of the race, their attention will turn to the role that Ossoff's age played in his initial pre-runoff success and eventual failure. From a political perspective, youth has its appeal. Ossoff's age created a buzz and a political story of promise, which helped propel him into the runoff but didn't deliver him the big finish.
In the aftermath of the 2016 election, several progressive Democratic groups formed to support millennial-aged candidates running for public offices across the country. Among those groups: the Alliance for Youth Action, the Arena and Run For Something. "We entice millions of young voters into our sweet democracy," the Alliance's website declares.
Will the numerous-yet-elusive millennial voters go to the polls for candidates who are their own age, as strategists presume? Arguably, they should. Many issues under debate in Congress concern the long-term direction of the country -- policies about which those youthful voters share the longest-term stakes like health care, Social Security and climate change.
Young progressive candidates have other advantages. For Democrats in their 20s and 30s, the 2016 election was a cycle in which winning candidates in both parties and those leading Congress were several generations older. When the presidential race ended in a historic upset, resulting in the election of a president who stands in opposition to the values they view as most important, they lost faith in the predictions and assumptions of those party leaders. The 2016 election created a kind of moral directive for these young Democrats, which is why so many hundreds have expressed interest in running, according to groups like Run for Something.
Young candidates also benefit from the explosion of social media, since its pervasiveness and accessibility make name recognition a more realistic possibility for political newcomers, the category into which younger candidates invariably fit.
Youthful candidates, however, face obstacles; Ossoff faced many.
Being young is more a matter of fact than an individual accomplishment, and Handel used Ossoff's relative youth in her attack ads against him. One Republican strategist in charge of a wealthy super PAC said of Ossoff, "He wants to play dress-up and pretend to be a grownup and say, for five years he was a national security adviser when, in fact, he's just a spoiled frat boy, playing dress-up and advocating for underage drinking."
Other young candidates haven't managed to tap into the millennial voting bloc promise either.
In May, Alexis Frank, a 26-year-old Democrat, lost a primary race for South Carolina's 5thCongressional District. "The greatest thing I have received from this election is the realization that I care about this country way more than I ever thought I did," she told supporters on Facebook.
In mid-June, Hannah Risheq, a 25-year-old Democrat from Virginia, lost a primary race for Virginia's 67th Legislative District. As the daughter of a Muslim Palestinian immigrant father and a Jewish-American mother, she cast herself as a candidate informed by her age and background and focused on grass-roots support. She said, "They say they want young people to get involved. And then when you show up after getting an education and getting life experience, and you come back to your hometown and you are ready to make the difference, they're like. 'Well, you've been gone too long.' …Well? I'm 25. When did you want me to get involved? So, I'm here."
Those defeats have not stopped Lindsay Brown, a 28-year-old progressive millennial, from running in a primary for New Jersey's 7th Congressional District. Notably though, Brown whose campaign platform calls for addressing man-made global warming, raising the minimum wage and welcoming Syrian refugees, is running in the Republican primary. Why? The New Jersey Democratic party "is not supportive of young people who don't have deep, deep, deep political experience or a lot of money to fund their own race," she said.
Ossoff's loss shows Democrats cannot alone pin their hopes on the appeal of young candidates who often face longer odds than more established candidates. But losses don't indicate the strategy's failure. Millennial turnout in the 2016 presidential election was only slightly less than in 2012, and skewed more heavily for Clinton it did for than Obama. Millennial voters prevented more devastating losses in swing states like Michigan. As for Ossoff's runoff in Georgia, the 2016 election was not determined by strikingly low millennial turnout so much as strikingly high Republican turnout. If candidates like Ossoff, Frank, Risheq and Brown lead more Democrats to become lifelong voters in midterm and local elections, they are fighting one of the party's biggest weaknesses.
Trump took an oath to defend the First Amendment, but when peaceful demonstrators outside the Turkish embassy were assaulted by Turkish presidential bodyguards, Trump's prolific Twitter account was strangely silent. Was the silence owing to diplomatic discretion or a conflict of interest in the shape of two luxury towers in Istanbul bearing the Trump name?
President Donald Trump leaves after making a joint statement with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey, at the White House in Washington, May 16, 2017. (Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times)
In May, employees of a foreign government attacked US demonstrators, injuring at least 11 people. The main response has come not from the White House, but from a local police department. And all this occurred against the backdrop of Donald Trump's disdain for freedom of speech, his admiration for foreign strongmen, his vulnerability to foreign government pressure on his businesses, and his team's seeming penetration by foreign agents.
On a pleasant sunny day, about two dozen demonstrators gathered peacefully in a grassy area across from the Turkish ambassador's residence at Sheridan Circle in Washington, DC. They were protesting the visiting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and holding the flag of a Kurdish political party when black-suited men from President Erdoğan's security detail assaulted them. Videos from the scene show the Turkish presidential bodyguards kicking and punching the demonstrators as Erdoğan watched. The DC police intervened to stop the attack, but the Turkish bodyguards continued to attack the demonstrators even while police tried to control the chaos.
President Trump wasn't at Sheridan Circle beating those demonstrators. He was in the White House, having just posed for a press opportunity with President Erdoğan. But he is not entirely blameless either.
First, he has repeatedly incited violence against peaceful protesters at his own events. This isn't a secret; the video is on the internet. He urges crowds to "knock the crap" out of protesters. When the crowds do just that, he says it's "appropriate" and "what we need more of," and offers to pay their legal fees. So it's not surprising that when protesters annoy him, he tells supporters to "get 'em outta here!" and then the protesters are beaten. His lawyers spin this as something other than incitement to violence, but a federal judge was not fooled. And Erdoğan's bodyguards don't seem to have read those legal briefs.
But it's also no coincidence that this was Turkey rather than some other country. Turkey is a US ally, but in recent years, it has descended into authoritarianism under President Erdoğan. (Turkey's response to the event, in fact, was to file a formal complaint with the United States for allowing a "provocative" demonstration.)
And it's no coincidence that this tepid response happened under the Trump administration rather than another, because the president is locked in a sordid embrace with the Turkish government.
Trump himself has openly admitted that he has a "little conflict of interest" in dealings with Turkey because of his buildings there -- the Trump Towers Istanbul. In a December 2015 radio interview on Breitbart News, host (now White House chief strategist) Steve Bannon asked Trump if Turkey was a "reliable partner." Trump responded:
I have a little conflict of interest 'cause I have a major, major building in Istanbul. It's a tremendously successful job. It's called Trump Towers -- two towers, instead of one, not the usual one, it's two.
Erdoğan (who, as Ivanka Trump tweeted, was present for the 2012 launch of the real estate project) has not hesitated to use this leverage. In June 2016 after a statement by Trump angered Erdoğan, the Turkish leader threatened to remove the name "Trump" from the buildings -- a threat he only dropped after Trump praised Erdoğan's strongman tactics in dealing with opposition. Since then, Erdoğan has reciprocated by defending President Trump against protesters in the United States.
Then there is the disgraced Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, who served as a key campaign adviser to candidate Trump while being secretly paid to represent Turkish government interests. The Trump administration's transition team knew that he might be required to register as a foreign agent under the federal Foreign Agents Registration Act. But Trump appointed him as national security adviser nonetheless, until he was forced to resign after just 24 days on the job. In March, General Flynn belatedly filed foreign agent registration paperwork, disclosing that he had earned over half a million dollars as an unregistered Turkish agent while advising Donald Trump on national security matters.
It gets worse. According to James Woolsey, former director of the CIA, in September 2016, General Flynn met with Turkish government officials to discuss kidnapping a Pennsylvania resident (originally from Turkey) and whisking him out of the country to a fate unknown.
This web of squalid connections may explain why the White House did not say a word that day, or the next, about the Turkish presidential bodyguards' assault on peaceful protesters on US soil. On the day of the assault, the only government agencies to report the event were the DC Fire Department and the Turkish-language edition of Voice of America. Belatedly, a State Department spokesperson eventually issued a short statement, and the department summoned the Turkish ambassador to its offices.
The DC police announced criminal charges and arrest warrants against 12 Turkish security officials in June, but these officials are back in Turkey and are unlikely to see the inside of DC Superior Court.
As for President Trump and his prolific Twitter account? Silence.
Of course, it is possible that a president operating in good faith might decide to tread carefully with a key US ally in a problematic region of the world. But Donald Trump is not a good-faith president, and we will never know whether his silence is because of a considered national security judgment, or because of a pair of luxury buildings with his name on them.
Those peaceful demonstrators have a constitutional right under the First Amendment to speak and "peaceably to assemble." Trump swore an oath to "protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." That includes defending the First Amendment, and it includes defending people on US soil from attack by security forces from a foreign country. And there's no exception for a pair of fancy buildings.
Despite Trump’s Own Ethics Rules, Dozens of Former Lobbyists Appear to Work in the Administration on Issues on Which They Lobbied
In what appears to be a breach of Trump’s own ethics rules, dozens of former lobbyists who serve in the Trump administration handle the same specific issues on which they lobbied within the past two years, a new Public Citizen report shows.
Common Cause Praises Senate Intelligence Committee Investigation into Russian Cyber Attacks on US Elections; Urges Action to Prepare for Future Threats
Today, Common Cause praised the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence for its investigation into the Russian government’s cyber attacks on the U.S. election infrastructure and urged the Committee to make recommendations which would safeguard the United States from future attacks.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) today released its Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a controversial 303-mile pipeline that would carry 2 billion cubic feet of fracked gas per day from West Virginia through Virginia.
Senate Republicans Unveil Dangerous Health Care Bill Which Robs Millions of Health Care, Withholds Abortion Coverage for Virtually All Women in the United States
Senate Republicans today unveiled their health care bill that dismantles the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and pushes health care out of reach for millions of people.
In addition to gutting women’s access to basic health care services like birth control and cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood and guaranteed coverage of maternity care, the bill also strips women of their private insurance coverage for abortion care.
After weeks of negotiating in secret, today Republican senators released their plan to leave millions of Americans uninsured and to take away the health protections that families count on. NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue issued the following statement in response:
The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking the U.S. government to turn over all records relating to interrogations at a network of secret prisons in Yemen where — as reported this week by The Associated Press — detainees are being tortured.
Bold Alliance Statement on Issuance of Final Environmental Impact Statement for Proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline
In response to today's issuance by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) on the proposed Mountain Valley fracked gas pipeline, Carolyn Reilly, Bold Alliance organizer and affected landowner stated, “this is further evidence of the FERC’s inadequate and abusive process that is solely supported and funded by the very corporations and industries it regulates.
National Organization for Women, Feminist Majority, In Her Own Voice, and the National Women's Law Center join together to speak out about how the Senate and House versions of Trumpcare harm women.
Who: Terry O'Neill, President of NOW
Michelle Batchelor, Deputy Director of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women's Reproductive Justice Agenda
Janel George, Director of Federal Reproductive Rights and Health
Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority
Mercy Morganfield, Women's March on Washington
President Trump and the Executive Office of the President appear to be violating the Presidential Records Act (PRA) and the Constitution’s requirement that the president “take care” that the laws be faithfully executed through the White House’s use of confidential messaging applications and other problematic practices including its destruction of the president’s tweets, according to a lawsuit filed today by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and the National Security Archive (NSA).
Today, the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA), the Senate’s bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), has finally been made public after unprecedented secrecy.
In response, Physicians for Reproductive Health Advocacy Fellow Dr. Diane Horvath-Cosper issued the following statement:
The healthcare bill proposed by Senate Republicans would reduce key benefits for millions of Americans and defund Planned Parenthood for a year, making breast cancer screenings and basic reproductive services more difficult for women to secure. We get response from Dr. Willie Parker, a physician, abortion provider and the board chair of Physicians for Reproductive Health. "The Affordable Care Act expanded access to the preventive services of contraception and family planning," Parker notes. "It strikes me as odd that the people who are ideologically driven to reduce abortion in this country are going to reduce the very services that make abortion unnecessary. So, hundreds of thousands of women got their birth control through Medicaid coverage because it was a preventive service, and as a result of that, we’ve seen the lowest number of abortions in this country since it became legal."
Please check back later for full transcript.