Neoliberalism is just a self-serving racket antithetical to human nature, says George Monbiot, author of Out of the Wreckage. But those of us who want a generous and inclusive society need to come up with new and compelling stories to seed the politics we desire and counter the stories neoliberals have been feeding us.
The idea that human nature is inherently competitive and individualistic isn't just harmful, argues George Monbiot in his new book. It's also contradicted by psychology, neuroscience and evolutionary biology. Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis provides a compelling argument for how we can reorganize our world for the better from the bottom up. Order it today by donating to Truthout!
George Monbiot. (Photo: Verso Books)George Monbiot ardently believes in the "politics of belonging." In this interview with Truthout, he explains the argument put forward in his book Out of the Wreckage: Humans are altruistic, but we need a new story of empathy and shared development to overcome the propaganda of the neoliberal story.
Mark Karlin: You begin your book with the importance of the stories we accept as our personal narratives as members of society. How did we end up with the neoliberal story prevailing?
George Monbiot: Starting with the formation by Friedrich Hayek and others of the Mont Pelerin Society in 1947, the neoliberals, with sponsorship from some very rich backers, built a kind of international network. They set up think tanks, sponsored and captured academic departments, brought journalists and editors into their meetings, and managed to insert advisers into key political departments. They knew that, when Keynesian social democracy was broadly accepted by parties across the political spectrum, that they had no chance of immediate success. But they were patient. Across the course of 30 years, they built their networks, refined their arguments, and brought more and more people into their orbit. They knew that when an economic or political crisis came along, they would be ready to go. As Milton Friedman remarked, "When the time came that you had to change ... there was an alternative ready there to be picked up."Every generation or so, political stories need to be refreshed or replaced.
But most importantly, they had something which their opponents did not: a new story. Every generation or so, political stories need to be refreshed or replaced, partly because the politics they seed runs out of steam or becomes corrupted or weakened by attacks, partly because people become bored and complacent. This is the grand mistake that those of us who want a generous and inclusive politics have made: We have failed to produce a new, well-developed political story since John Maynard Keynes wrote his General Theory in 1936. Our failure to do so is a formula for eventual collapse.
Neoliberalism is, at heart, a self-serving racket: an elaborate theory that serves as an excuse for the very rich to release themselves from the constraints of democracy: tax, regulation, decent pay and conditions for their workers, care for the living world and all the other decencies we owe to each other. But the reason it caught on is that it was framed within the classic political narrative structure that has worked again and again throughout history, that I call the "Restoration Story." This goes as follows:
Disorder afflicts the land, caused by powerful and nefarious forces working against the interests of humanity. The hero -- who might be one person or a group of people -- revolts against this disorder, fights the nefarious forces, overcomes them despite great odds and restores order.
This is a fundamental metanarrative, to which we are innately attuned. They fit their politics around this structure, and told their story with panache and persuasive power. The reason we are stuck with neoliberalism -- despite its manifest failures, particularly the financial crash of 2008 -- is that its opponents have produced no new, coherent Restoration Story of their own. The best they have to offer is a microwaved version of theThe violent and destructive behavior of the few is more salient in our minds than the altruistic and cooperative behavior of the many.
This is what I seek to address in Out of the Wreckage, which learns from the success of neoliberalism and other movements which have used this narrative framing, and tells a whole new Restoration Story that I believe is appropriate for our times.
Implicit and explicit in your book is the contention that people are by nature altruistic and communal. Given the current triumph of the rugged individualism narratives in most developed and extracting nations, what evidence underlies your contention that we inherently are part of a belonging society?
Over the past 20 years or so, there has been a remarkable convergence of findings in neuroscience, psychology, anthropology and evolutionary biology. They all point to the fact that humankind, as an article in the journal Frontiers in Psychology puts it, is "spectacularly unusual when compared to other animals" in our degree of altruism. There's a list of references to scientific papers on this subject in Out of the Wreckage.
We also have an astonishing capacity for empathy, and a tendency toward cooperation that is rivaled among mammals only by the naked mole rat. These tendencies are innate. We evolved in the African savannahs: a world of fangs and claws and horns and tusks. We survived despite being weaker and slower than both our potential predators and most of our prey. We did so through developing, to an extraordinary degree, a capacity for mutual aid. As it was essential to our survival, this urge to cooperate was hard-wired into our brains through natural selection.We do not need to change human nature, we need to reveal it.
But the great tragedy we confront is that this extraordinary good nature has been hidden from us, partly by our own perceptions. We have an inherent tendency to look out for danger. The violent and destructive behavior of the few is more salient in our minds than the altruistic and cooperative behavior of the many.
Of course, in any nation, there are people who do not share the general tendency toward altruism and empathy.... Unfortunately, they are disproportionately represented at the top levels of government and business. The current US president is a good example. We see them, and the way they behave, and tell ourselves that this is what human beings are like. It is not. It is what 1 percent of human beings are like.
But the other reason for this tragedy of misperception is that we are immersed in a virulent ideology of extreme individualism and competition, which tells us, against all the scientific evidence, that our dominant characteristics are selfishness and greed, and that this is a good thing, as it stimulates enterprise, which produces wealth, which will somehow trickle down to enrich everyone. This is the central ideology of neoliberalism, which valorizes and centralizes our worst tendencies, and celebrates the inequality and domination that results. One of our principal tasks is to replace this false story with what the science tells us about who we really are. We do not need to change human nature, we need to reveal it.
What is the difference between provision of services by the state and the role of robust communities?
I do not want to dismiss the importance of state provision. It remains crucial. The character of a society is determined by whether or not the state provides good public services and a robust social safety net. When governments fail to defend their people in this way, insecurity and precarity rule, and society as a whole becomes harsher and more susceptible to fear, hatred and reaction. But we make a mistake if we imagine that we can leave everything to government alone.
The problem with relying only on government is that it contributes to alienation. The state delivers services from on high and tends to push people into silos to ensure they receive the right provision. Alongside other alienating forces, it can undermine social cohesion and the sense of belonging, if it is not balanced by community action. It can also leave us feeling dependent and highly vulnerable to budget cuts. In fact, many people now suffer the worst of both worlds: mutual aid and self-reliance were eroded by the necessity of state provision, but now that state provision is being withdrawn, leaving people with neither.
So, we need, in pursuit of the new vision I'm seeking to promote, what I call the "Politics of Belonging" to revive community life. There are two ways of doing so that interest me.
The first is the development of a rich participatory culture: community projects designed to bring in as many people as possible, some of which will require very little commitment or skill, which gradually proliferate into what practitioners call "thick networks." There are some spectacular examples, like the movement in Rotterdam that began by turning a disused Turkish bath house into a public reading room, and ended up spawning 1,300 projects and community enterprises. Eventually, you reach a tipping point, at which community participation becomes the norm rather than the exception, and so many social enterprises, cooperatives and other community businesses are formed that they begin to comprise a major part of the local economy.
The second is the reclamation of the commons, one of the four great sectors of the economy that we always forget. (Our debates tend to focus on only two: the state and the market, neglecting both the commons and the household). The commons [are] resources owned, managed and shared equally by a community. It has been relentlessly attacked by both state and market. I believe that the restoration of the commons is crucial for the restoration of community, democracy, a sense of belonging and the living world. It is the commons that makes sense of community. In the book, I give examples of what this means and how the restoration can take place.
What is the "single transferable vote system" and why is it important to writing a new story of belonging?
This is the simplest and most direct form of proportional representation. At the moment, we have, in countries such as the UK and the US, electoral systems that are designed to concentrate power and keep democratic aspirations in check. They ensure that some people's votes count for more than others. In the UK, for example, our first-past-the-post electoral system creates two classes of voters: the majority, who live in constituencies in which power is unlikely to change hands, and can therefore be safely ignored, and a minority (reckoned at 800,000 out of 45 million electors) of floating voters in marginal constituencies, who must be courted and flattered and assuaged with all the resources at parties' disposal.
Proportional representation means that the number of seats allocated to a party in a parliament or congress should reflect the number of votes cast. Of the various forms of proportional representation, I favor the single transferable vote because, while it is directly proportional, it also sustains a sense of local attachment. Voters choose their representatives by name from geographical constituencies. It possesses a crucial political quality: simplicity. Voters write numbers on the ballot paper beside the names of the candidates they favor, in order of preference. If their first choice of candidate already has sufficient votes, or has no chance of election, their vote is switched during the count to their second choice.
How would participatory budgeting work?
I think it would be better to ask: "How does it work?" It's been working with great success in Brazil since 1989, and in other places more recently.
In the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, where it began, about 20 percent of the municipal budget -- the portion devoted to infrastructure -- is allocated by the people. The process begins with public meetings that are used to review the previous year's budget and elect local representatives to the new budget council. Working with the people of their districts, these representatives agree [on] local priorities, which are then submitted to the budget council. The council weights the distribution of money according to local levels of poverty and lack of infrastructure. In Porto Alegre, around 50,000 people are typically involved in the development of a budget. Yes, 50,000. Never let anyone tell you that people aren't ready for participatory democracy.
Brazilian cities with participatory budgets have experienced sharper declines in infant mortality and better health care and sanitation than those using traditional budgeting. The number of clinics, schools and nursery places in poor areas increases; water supply improves; rivers are cleaned up; poverty declines faster than elsewhere. The poor and their problems can no longer be ignored.
Local gangs and mafias lose their power, as people have other means of securing social protection. The exchange of favors and corrupt practices declines. The language of government changes, allowing anyone to understand the issues at stake and the means by which decisions are made. Good infrastructure comes to be seen by citizens as a right, rather than as a favor to be handed down from on high.
But exercising control over part of the municipal budget is not enough. We need to find ways to extend the process in two directions: to allow citizens to determine a greater portion of local budgets, and to introduce participatory budgeting at the state and national levels. This is initially difficult, but I believe there are various clever ways in which it can be done. It has to begin with the recruitment of sympathetic governments that are prepared to start experimenting with raising the scale of the model.
What is your answer to an individual who asks, "How do I begin to step into this new story of communal belonging?"Truthout Progressive Pick
How can we create a new "politics of belonging" to radically reorganize our world?Click here now to get the book!
I believe that the Big Organizing models developed by the Sanders campaign in the US and the Corbyn/Momentum campaign in the UK provide a thrilling template for how we can change politics at the national level. The technique is in its infancy, and its use in both campaigns was experimental. But in both cases, from a standing start and under highly inauspicious circumstances, these models gave the candidates a real chance of gaining power.
Since then, the techniques have been developed and refined, and it's not going to be long before we see a series of spectacular wins by genuinely progressive candidates on the back of this model. But it can also be deployed, especially in conjunction with the very useful tactics developed by the Indivisible movement, in pursuit of specific campaigns. I feel we are only just beginning to see what proliferating networks of volunteers using digital technology as well as direct human contact can now achieve. If we get this right, it is my belief that we will become unstoppable.
(Image: Lauren Walker / Truthout)
Grassroots movements have inspired efforts at both state and federal levels to address the problem of incarceration due to unaffordability of bail. But nearly all of the initiatives are relying heavily on electronic monitors -- marketed aggressively by prison technology firms -- as an alternative to incarceration without first properly considering their impact on the lives of criminalized people and their families.
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Despite the "law and order" vows of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, states and counties continue to take steps to reduce prison and jail populations. Last month, Cook County, Illinois initiated its own special court dedicated to setting bond for people with felony cases. The mandate of the court is to set bond at a level the charged individual says they can afford. In California, meanwhile, the SB10 bail reform bill has passed the Senate and appears likely to become law in the coming year. SB10 would greatly reduce the use of cash bail, freeing thousands of people currently awaiting trial. California is one of eight states currently considering such legislation. At the federal level, Senators Kamala Harris and Rand Paul have co-authored legislation that would provide incentives to states that implement bail reform.
Such efforts have been inspired by grassroots movements calling attention to the injustices of money bond, and have drawn funding and policy development support from nonprofits like the Pretrial Justice Institute and the MacArthur Foundation. The main argument for bail reform is that people who are presumed innocent should not be kept in jail simply because they lack money for a cash bond. Reformers contend that releasing people with no cash bond or an affordable bond will allow them to keep their jobs, hold onto their housing, carry out caregiving responsibilities and more effectively mount a legal defense.The punitive nature of most electronic monitoring regimes is crystal clear.
In addition to bail reform, early release programs are expanding at the state level. Most recently, Oklahoma, which has the second-highest per capita incarceration rate among states and the highest for women, is looking at releasing 1,500 people defined as low-risk from prison within the next few months.
While such measures are likely to reduce incarcerated populations, nearly all of these initiatives have an unacknowledged Achilles heel: uncritical acceptance of electronic monitors (EM) as an alternative to incarceration. Typically taking the form of ankle bands and house arrest, monitors are gaining lots of traction in reform packages. In its second week of operation, Cook County's new bond court released one out of eight people who appeared on EM. On some days, it was nearly one in three. In 2016 Philadelphia authorities opened a bidding process to contractors to supply more than 2,000 monitoring devices in 2016, in anticipation of bail reform and pre-trial release. Similarly, Oklahoma plans to place all 1,500 early-release candidates on monitors. Although the immediate financial arguments for EM might make sense, these moves ignore the impact of the monitors on people's lives and the implications of their expanded use for the future of mass incarceration.In many instances, unauthorized movement in response to an emergency can lead to re-incarceration.
While monitors have been around for more than three decades, remarkably little research has been done on their impact. Despite this lack of evidence of its effectiveness, EM has become a preferred option because it is convenient to implement, exerts control over criminalized individuals in the name of "public safety" and saves the state money. Apart from these factors, leading firms in the EM market, like private prison operator GEO Group and carceral phone provider Securus Technologies, have escalated promotion efforts.
Before electronic monitors become part of the DNA of the criminal legal system, we need a deeper exploration of this technology and its impact.Legal Status
To begin with, there is a lack of legal consensus about whether electronic monitoring constitutes a form of incarceration. Most states say no. This means that if a person spends time on a monitor during the pretrial phase and they end up being sentenced to prison, time spent on the monitor is not deducted from their total sentence. By contrast, time spent in jail is deducted. There are exceptions. Illinois statutes give credit for time served on home detention in most instances but actual practice presents contradictions. One Illinois case judgement differentiates between electronic monitoring categorized as "home supervision," which is pre-trial release, and electronic monitoring categorized as "home detention," which is part of a sentence. People who've spent time on "home supervision" do not receive credit as time spent in incarceration, whereas those on "home detention" do, though both have essentially the same conditions. Washington case law only provides credit for a person with a felony case, not for someone with a misdemeanor. In recent years, many states have categorized tampering with or removing an electronic monitor as a felony escape charge, even though being on the device is not categorized as being in custody.At least 10 states allow for lifetime GPS monitoring for certain categories of offenses.
While legal definitions may remain murky, the punitive nature of most EM regimes is crystal clear. In most instances, individuals on a monitor must request permission from a judge or probation officer to get "movement" from their home. The purpose of movement and the precise time out of the house need to be specified. Moreover, monitoring regimes rarely state that a person is "entitled" to or has a "right" to be granted movement. My survey of dozens of monitoring contracts at both state and local levels revealed that only the Texas Department of Criminal Justice offered a detailed list of permitted movements for a person on a monitor. These included tending to "daily living needs," such as grocery shopping, laundry, banking, haircuts and obtaining clothing. Texas also grants eight hours of movement on 10 designated holidays. While these may seem minimal, they are extraordinary. Most states' regulations either leave decisions up to the discretion of supervisors or contain highly restrictive conditions. Northwest Ohio, for example, only allows two hours of movement on just two holidays: Christmas and Thanksgiving, and grants movement to do laundry or shopping only if no one else in the house is available to do it. In many instances, unauthorized movement in response to an emergency can lead to re-incarceration. In one notorious Michigan case, Kent Shultz was on a monitor when his apartment caught fire. Although he called authorities as soon as the fire started to inform them of his "unauthorized movement," a warrant was still issued for his arrest. He ended up spending several hours in jail the next day before being released.
The increased use of GPS-enabled devices, which track and record an individual's location, compound problems with regard to movement. By contrast, devices using the older radio frequency technology only indicate if a person is at home. According to a 2016 Pew Research report, GPS-based devices constitute about 70 percent of the roughly 150,000 electronic monitoring devices in current use. With GPS, monitored individuals typically must submit a schedule of all their movements a week or two in advance. Normally, each movement listing must include the address where a person intends to go and how long they will spend there. Some GPS devices program in "exclusion zones," so that an alarm is sounded if a person enters a forbidden area of the city. Exclusions zones are most frequently applied to those with sex offense convictions (excluded from being near parks, schools and child care facilities) and individuals with alleged gang histories (excluded from "gang territories"). At least 10 states allow for lifetime GPS monitoring for certain categories of offenses.The Experience of EM: The Voice of the Monitored
In the absence of meaningful studies of the impact of electronic monitoring, policy makers and activists would do well to examine the stories of those who have experienced EM. While legislators and legal scholars may debate whether house arrest constitutes incarceration, few people who have been on an ankle monitor equivocate on the issue. Johnny Page, who spent 90 days on a monitor after serving over 23 years in Illinois prisons, summed it up for Truthout: "It's like being locked up but you're paying your own bills. You get to feed yourself, you don't have to fight for the telephone, you don't have to fight for the shower, but you're still in jail." Edmund Buck, who also spent more than two decades in Illinois state prisons, said that under EM "you definitely feel the long arm of the law on your shoulder ... there's no real sense of freedom."
Topeka K. Sam was placed on a monitor in New York City after serving a term in federal prison. In our interview, she referred to the device as a "shackle" rather than a "bracelet." She said the shackle was "suffocating," and called EM "transincarceration ... moving people from "inside the prison walls to inside these prison walls in the community ... and it does not reduce harm." Shaun Harris, on a monitor for a year in Lansing, Michigan, echoed these views: "All you did was switch from a prison setting to a housing setting, which is now your new cell ... you're not really free when you got the monitoring system."Monitoring conditions permit parole or probation officers to search a person's residence or workplace any time of the day or night without a warrant.
The experience of Father David Kelly, who directs a restorative justice center for youth in Chicago's South Side, raises another concern. He told Truthout that a number of youth participants in his programs are on monitors. He says the majority end up violating the strict house arrest terms of EM and get sent back to jail. In his view, this is not due to irresponsibility on their part. Rather, authorities operate under false assumptions that staying at home will shield these young people from the "temptations" of the streets. "Their houses are not stable," Father Kelly told Truthout, "not places where you have your own bedroom you just go to and there's a lot of privacy." Kelly says what puzzles him is that youth are often placed on monitoring "without giving it much thought." He cites cases of individuals being put on house arrest who don't even have a residence, or whose loved ones live in public housing where local housing authorities do not allow monitors.
A common argument for pretrial release on monitors is that it removes the pressure to accept a plea bargain simply to get out of jail. However, the case of Chicago's Lavette Mayes highlights that extreme versions of house arrest can create a similar degree of coercion. For Mayes, being out on an electronic monitor was supposed to enable her to fight her case while looking after her two children. However, her rules were so strict she couldn't even take out the garbage without explicit permission. Mayes finally opted to halt her legal battle and plead guilty to a felony, her first ever such conviction. Ultimately, she said the pressure on her family compelled her to take the deal, especially since she was staying with a relative. She recalled how during searches of the house, the sheriffs forced her hosts to throw out any alcohol and even remove their pets. "The people who have not done anything are constantly being incarcerated with the person," she said. "Whoever lives in that house is being policed in that jail." Since resolving her case, Mayes has become an active member of the Chicago Community Bond Fund, an organization that advocates for bail reform but also attempts to limit the harm done by EM.EM and Work
One of the other key selling points of electronic monitoring is that it allows people to work while on house arrest. But terms and conditions of monitoring often render employment difficult. For individuals on GPS, jobs that include multiple work sites like gardening, house cleaning, construction or delivery are typically verboten since EM supervisors require employers to verify every location where a person works and the precise time they will be at a specific address. Even when people do find employment, problems frequently arise. Edmund Buck succeeded in finding a night shift job and was told he would not be allowed to work after sunset. Augie Torres gave up looking for work because his efforts to secure movement to attend interviews were so frequently unsuccessful. He said he got a job within a week after being released from EM. Although Topeka K. Sam was able to secure employment while on the monitor, she said several friends of hers were refused jobs while on the "shackle." Some employers simply told them, "Come apply when it's gone."User fees have become increasingly common for electronic monitors, with daily tariffs sometimes reaching as high as $25.
Employment challenges are compounded by the regimes of intense supervision that often come with EM. Monitoring conditions permit parole or probation officers to search a person's residence or workplace any time of the day or night without a warrant. For Sara, who preferred not to use her last name, being on a monitor in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, cost her a job after her probation officer phoned her employer, revealed that she was on EM, and cautioned the employer that they "didn't usually let people like Sara work." Her employer fired her. Once this happened, she said her first reaction was, "I'm cutting this thing and running," but she kept looking for work, finally landing a job that paid three dollars an hour less than her previous position.Paying for EM
Her reduced wages left Sara struggling to confront another of the major hurdles of electronic monitoring: fees and set up charges. At the time, Sara was paying $600 a month for monitoring fees, as much as she paid for her rent. In addition, as is true for many people on monitoring devices, she was required to have a landline phone. User fees have become increasingly common for electronic monitors, with daily tariffs sometimes reaching as high as $25. An NPR survey in 2015 revealed that jurisdictions in 49 states imposed fees for electronic monitoring. My own research in 40 counties in Illinois revealed fees ranging from $10 to $15 a day with set-up fees up to $70.
In fact, "self-financing" is one of the major marketing tropes for EM providers, promising to save money for state and local governments. Sentinel Services, one of the major EM providers in California, prides itself on having "pioneered the first participant funded program model." 3M, a major EM provider advertises their "Offender Pay System" as "easy and convenient to use." Offender Pay allows people on monitors to pay online via phones or mobile apps.The Future of EM and Bail Reform
Stories of people who have been on electronic monitors reveal an enormous gap between lived experience and the vision of policy makers, service providers and some bail reform advocates. As a study by the Prison Policy Initiative showed, most people who are incarcerated in the US are poor, disproportionately Black and Brown. Even if they are released on bond with EM, they are not going back to stable households or steady, living-wage employment. The majority return to poverty and instability. Being "free" on bond with EM does not help them sustain a life that is already working well, but delays the inevitable, and perhaps adds extra sets of financial and emotional stressors for them and their family.
Rebecca Brown, who has studied juvenile electronic monitoring extensively in parts of the San Francisco Bay Area, rejects the notion that the alternatives are "lock 'em up or hook 'em up." Like Topeka K. Sam, Brown looks at EM not as intrinsically leading to decarceration, but rather as "an insidious new form of incarceration" that uses "high-tech shackles" to convert public and community spaces into "open air prisons." She also views monitors as tools of privatization, shifting responsibility and authority to companies that provide punitive services like probation and electronic monitoring while squeezing the payment for these from impoverished people of color.
In Philadelphia, Soros Justice fellow and long-time activist Hannah Sassaman expresses similar concerns. She is involved in an in-depth study of the risk assessment tools that typically determine whether a person is released on EM or remains in jail. Sassaman worries that these allegedly "race-neutral" algorithms disproportionately impact people of color. Furthermore, she argues that policy makers often try to ignore stories of individuals who experience the punitive nature of EM by casting them as "outliers" or "exceptions to the rule." In fact, she asserts, "they are the rule."
For her, the solution is to move toward more "transparent processes" that involve those directly impacted. She cites the possibility, for example, of bringing together individuals who have been on a monitor, people involved in racial justice work and policy makers to consider how risk assessment and EM allocation might reflect "racialized factors." She maintains such a process could help address inequalities.
Meanwhile, it's clear that EM is not an effective route to reducing the volume of people who ultimately get caught up in the system. Real decarceration requires more participatory policy making processes and the allocation of resources to employment opportunities, mental health services, substance abuse treatment and more public housing, alongside powerful anti-racist campaigns.
For Topeka K. Sam, electronic monitoring does not ultimately hold the key.
"If you're talking about decarceration, there are other ways to do that," Sam said. "This is not it."
Being perceived as Arab, South Asian or Muslim undeniably makes one more vulnerable to being forced off a plane. The recent forcible removal of Anila Daulatzai from a Southwest flight is yet another manifestation of the pattern of Islamophobia and discrimination pervading the airline industry and it must no longer be tolerated.
A Southwest Airlines passenger plane prepares to take off from Denver International Airport as seen from a passenger plane landing at the airport on September 7, 2016. (Photo: Robert Alexander / Getty Images)
Millions of people have now watched the video of Anila Daulatzai, a pregnant 46-year-old college professor, getting dragged off a Southwest Airlines plane on September 26 at Thurgood Marshall Airport in Baltimore. After it happened, the airline put out a statement alleging that Daulatzai had been legitimately removed because of a life-threatening allergy to dogs and her not possessing a medical certificate stating it was safe for her to travel; a service dog accompanied another passenger on the flight. In this way, Southwest sought to justify the forced removal of Daulatzai, who is from a South Asian background, and blame her for the incident.
Since the incident, Daulatzai has offered her version of what happened. She said that while she does have an allergy to dogs, it is not one that is life threatening. Southwest allows passengers to choose their seats upon boarding and Daulatzai was happy to find a seat away from the dog. However, according to Daulatzai, Southwest representatives did not believe her statements about her allergy and ordered her off the plane. She attempted to negotiate a reasonable solution, but appears to have come up against a perception that, as a woman of color, she was just meant to follow orders without discussion. Maryland Transportation Authority Police (MTAP) officers then boarded the plane, violently removed her from her seat and dragged her through the aircraft. The MTAP officers ignored her repeated protests that she was pregnant.
Daulatzai was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, failure to obey a reasonable and lawful order, disturbing the peace, obstructing and hindering a police officer and resisting arrest. As the video of the incident went viral, Daulatzai received hate mail, racist messages and death threats. Photographs of her wearing a hijab and working in Afghanistan were widely circulated online to indicate that she is Muslim and to try to support the view that the airline was right to consider her suspect. Islamophobia was thus added to the racial and gender biases of the original incident, as Daulatzai was bombarded with violent hatred.
The treatment of Daulatzai is reminiscent of a broader pattern. Most recently, in April 2017, 69-year-old David Dao, a passenger on a United Airlines flight from Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky, was violently dragged down the aisle of the plane by airport security officers after refusing to give up the seat, which United wanted an airline crewmember to use instead.
One year earlier, 26-year-old University of California, Berkeley, student Khairuldeen Makhzoomi was booted from a Southwest flight and questioned by the FBI after speaking to his uncle on the phone in Arabic while he was waiting for the flight to depart.
That same month, Hakima Abdulle, who is of Somali background and wears a hijab, was forced by airport police to leave a Seattle-bound Southwest Airlines aircraft in Chicago. She was given no explanation for her removal. In response to her experience, Abdulle did not seek financial compensation, but asked Southwest to properly investigate the incident, apologize in person, reimburse her fare and ensure that its employees are properly trained to respect diversity. Had Southwest fully heeded her requests, perhaps Daulatzai's ordeal could have been avoided.
In another incident a month later, Guido Menzio, a 40-year-old man described as having dark, curly hair, olive skin and a foreign accent, was escorted off an American Airlines flight after a passenger became suspicious of the strange writing in his notebook. The passenger suspected that perhaps he was writing notes in Arabic; in fact, he was an economist writing math equations.
In December 2015 four US citizens of South Asian and Arab backgrounds were told to leave an American Airlines flight from Toronto to New York because the pilot felt "uneasy and uncomfortable" with their presence on the flight. This unease was linked to no evidence that would raise legitimate suspicion, aside from the ethnicities and perceived religions of the four passengers.
In each of these cases, different physical appearances and individual behaviors resulted in the removal of passengers. Yet it is hard to deny that being perceived as Arab, South Asian or Muslim makes one especially vulnerable to being forced off a plane. Moreover, this is not a problem with any one airline, but an issue pervasive across the industry.
There is a deep tension in what it means to be an airline passenger today. On the one hand, passengers are customers of commercial businesses that depend upon their income. On the other hand, passengers are targets of intensified state and private security and can be intimately searched, questioned about their lives and have their movements coercively restricted. Whether the first or the second of these defines one's experience will likely depend on whether one is perceived as suspect according to the Islamophobic imagination. Flying while Brown or Black is markedly different from flying while white. This will continue to be true so long as airlines have authority to racially and religiously profile in the removal of passengers.
At a moment when racism and Islamophobia are proliferating and trumpeted from within the highest office of the land, this most recent incident is more than a case of one wrongfully removed passenger, but a vivid manifestation of institutional discrimination that can no longer be justified.Help Truthout keep publishing stories like this: They can't be found in corporate media! Chip in now by clicking here.
Around the globe, about 815 million people -- 11 percent of the world's population -- went hungry in 2016, according to the latest data from the United Nations. This was the first increase in more than 15 years.
Between 1990 and 2015, due largely to a set of sweeping initiatives by the global community, the proportion of undernourished people in the world was cut in half. In 2015, UN member countries adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, which doubled down on this success by setting out to end hunger entirely by 2030. But a recent UN report shows that, after years of decline, hunger is on the rise again.
As evidenced by nonstop news coverage of floods, fires, refugees and violence, our planet has become a more unstable and less predictable place over the past few years. As these disasters compete for our attention, they make it harder for people in poor, marginalized and war-torn regions to access adequate food.
I study decisions that smallholder farmers and pastoralists, or livestock herders, make about their crops, animals and land. These choices are limited by lack of access to services, markets or credit; by poor governance or inappropriate policies; and by ethnic, gender and educational barriers. As a result, there is often little they can do to maintain secure or sustainable food production in the face of crises.
The new UN report shows that to reduce and ultimately eliminate hunger, simply making agriculture more productive will not be enough. It also is essential to increase the options available to rural populations in an uncertain world.Conflict and Climate Change Threaten Rural Livelihoods
Around the world, social and political instability are on the rise. Since 2010, state-based conflict has increased by 60 percent and armed conflict within countries has increased by 125 percent. More than half of the food-insecure people identified in the UN report (489 million out of 815 million) live in countries with ongoing violence. More than three-quarters of the world's chronically malnourished children (122 million of 155 million) live in conflict-affected regions.
At the same time, these regions are experiencing increasingly powerful storms, more frequent and persistent drought and more variable rainfall associated with global climate change. These trends are not unrelated. Conflict-torn communities are more vulnerable to climate-related disasters, and crop or livestock failure due to climate can contribute to social unrest.
War hits farmers especially hard. Conflict can evict them from their land, destroy crops and livestock, prevent them from acquiring seed and fertilizer or selling their produce, restrict their access to water and forage, and disrupt planting or harvest cycles. Many conflicts play out in rural areas characterized by smallholder agriculture or pastoralism. These small-scale farmers are some of the most vulnerable people on the planet. Supporting them is one of the UN's key strategies for reaching its food security targets.Disrupted and Displaced
Without other options to feed themselves, farmers and pastoralists in crisis may be forced to leave their land and communities. Migration is one of the most visible coping mechanisms for rural populations who face conflict or climate-related disasters.
Globally, the number of refugees and internally displaced persons doubled between 2007 and 2016. Of the estimated 64 million people who are currently displaced, more than 15 million are linked to one of the world's most severe conflict-related food crises in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, South Sudan, Nigeria and Somalia.
While migrating is uncertain and difficult, those with the fewest resources may not even have that option. New research by my colleagues at the University of Minnesota shows that the most vulnerable populations may be "trapped" in place, without the resources to migrate.
Displacement due to climate disasters also feeds conflict. Drought-induced migration in Syria, for example, has been linked to the conflict there, and many militants in Nigeria have been identified as farmers displaced by drought.Supporting Rural Communities
To reduce world hunger in the long term, rural populations need sustainable ways to support themselves in the face of crisis. This means investing in strategies to support rural livelihoods that are resilient, diverse and interconnected.
Many large-scale food security initiatives supply farmers with improved crop and livestock varieties, plus fertilizer and other necessary inputs. This approach is crucial, but can lead farmers to focus most or all of their resources on growing more productive maize, wheat or rice. Specializing in this way increases risk. If farmers cannot plant seed on time or obtain fertilizers, or if rains fail, they have little to fall back on.
Increasingly, agricultural research and development agencies, NGOs and aid programs are working to help farmers maintain traditionally diverse farms by providing financial, agronomic and policy support for production and marketing of native crop and livestock species. Growing many different locally adapted crops provides for a range of nutritional needs and reduces farmers' risk from variability in weather, inputs or timing.
While investing in agriculture is viewed as the way forward in many developing regions, equally important is the ability of farmers to diversify their livelihood strategies beyond the farm. Income from off-farm employment can buffer farmers against crop failure or livestock loss, and is a key component of food security for many agricultural households.
Training, education, and literacy programs allow rural people to access a greater range of income and information sources. This is especially true for women, who are often more vulnerable to food insecurity than men.
Conflict also tears apart rural communities, breaking down traditional social structures. These networks and relationships facilitate exchanges of information, goods and services, help protect natural resources, and provide insurance and buffering mechanisms.
In many places, one of the best ways to bolster food security is by helping farmers connect to both traditional and innovative social networks, through which they can pool resources, store food, seed and inputs and make investments. Mobile phones enable farmers to get information on weather and market prices, work cooperatively with other producers and buyers and obtain aid, agricultural extension or veterinary services. Leveraging multiple forms of connectivity is a central strategy for supporting resilient livelihoods.
In the past two decades the world has come together to fight hunger. This effort has produced innovations in agriculture, technology and knowledge transfer. Now, however, the compounding crises of violent conflict and a changing climate show that this approach is not enough. In the planet's most vulnerable places, food security depends not just on making agriculture more productive, but also on making rural livelihoods diverse, interconnected and adaptable.
"Why don't you Americans drop the bullshit about the land of the free and the home of the brave? Admit you're now basically a tinpot dictatorship."
This, from my playwright friend Diane in London, with whom I'm Skyping. I've just told her about what happened to Herman Bell, my friend in prison. He's a former Black Panther who turns 70 this January and has been locked up since 1974. On September 5, Herman survived a "beat-down" by five to seven white correctional officers half his age at Great Meadow prison -- one of the more Klan-friendly joints in upstate New York. Two of Herman's ribs are broken; he's lost some vision in one eye; probably has a concussion.
Diane continues. "The mind fuck: 'Everybody's created equal?' Please…"
I find it refreshing to hear my United States besmirched by a non-American (even one who shops at Banana Republic when she comes here). This means a lot when it pertains to Herman, who, after 40-plus years inside, only wants to get out on parole, to live what's left of his life with his wife and grandchildren. Herman isn't a saint; he isn't my hero. He is my friend, one of the kindest, funniest people I know. Now, he's badly hurt.
What happened to Herman isn't unique in New York State, where brutal -- sometimes fatal -- assaults by guards on prisoners have persisted for years. As an American, though, I don't usually hear about this, since the normalizing zeitgeist in this tinpot land o' the free is that people behind bars -- especially "convicted cop killers" -- deserve whatever they get.
Herman's beat-down happened when he was out in the rec yard. There's a bank of phones there, and he was talking with his wife, Nancy, who was coming in a few days for a contact visit -- their first in almost three years. Herman and Nancy have been allowed to see one another sitting across a divided table in a crowded visiting room. Recently, though, the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) allowed them family, or "trailer," visits, which is when a prisoner can actually be alone in a makeshift room with a family member for a day or two. Herman and Nancy were planning their first time in awhile being really together, when across the yard, a fight broke out. The officers announced the yard was closed, and Herman said to Nancy, "I got to hang up."
Next thing he knows, one guard yanks Herman away, drags him into a hall where there are no surveillance cameras. Then he slaps the glasses off Herman's face and starts in punching him. Other guards pile on, punching and kicking, and somebody sprays mace in Herman's eyes and mouth. They try to pull off his boots and break his legs. When they slam his head repeatedly onto the concrete floor, Herman thinks that he is surely dying. But Herman never hits back. He knows how to act in prison. He never hits back.
I know this happened in this way because Herman is widely respected as a humble and peaceable man by the people incarcerated with him. One of them heard about the beating and called a friend outside. From there, word got to Herman's lawyer, who managed to call Herman. Nancy stepped in. Immediately, people started working on his case…
Back at the prison, the guards, after beating Herman, do the usual thing cops do: they charge him with assaulting an officer. Herman is transferred to another prison and placed in SHU -- an Orwellian acronym for "special housing unit," which means solitary confinement.
About four days later, Herman and Nancy get one short, no-contact visit. Herman is brought in, beat-up and handcuffed, stumbling in leg shackles. He and Nancy have to yell through a hole in a thick Plexiglas wall.
At my regular therapy session, I describe all this.
"Herman must have done something," says my therapist -- a well-mannered, white, liberal American, who believes in balance, symmetry, and National Public Radio. "What did Herman do to cause this?"
"I don't know," I snap. "Maybe he didn't hang up the phone fast enough? Maybe he was looking too black that day? If he'd raised one finger to defend himself, those thugs would have killed him. And if he's convicted, he'll spend an indefinite amount of time in SHU, lose any privileges, and kiss his last chance of parole goodbye."
"I'm curious," continues my therapist, who really did ask this: "If these officers are so thuggish and macho, why was Herman maced? Isn't pummeling and kicking more satisfying than spraying a chemical into somebody's face? Wasn't Herman convicted of something serious?"
Pause. Inwardly, I reel at the degree to which TV shows like "Law and Order" have permeated even the most professional, free-to-be-you-and-me brain. I blurt out something rhetorical like, "How many US Army vets who wiped out whole villages in Vietnam or Iraq do we pass every day on the street? Do they spend any time in jail?"
"You have a big heart," she counters. "But what life choices have you made that would attract you to a friendship with someone like Herman?
"Why shouldn't I be friends with Herman?" I ask. "He's a good person." I realize this therapeutic relationship has reached its "sell-by" date. "You know what, lady?" I say, "you just asked the kind of what's-in-it-for-me question that keeps us all in hell. It's certainly keeping Herman in lockdown."
Then I fire her.
Thing is, I believe Herman. I never had any doubt. I visited him maybe 10 days after his beating. With a "land-of-the-free" sincerity, Herman talked about the "right to remain innocent," meaning everyone's need to expect justice.
And here's a fucking miracle: Evidently, DOCCS believes Herman, too. Because on October 5, they dropped his charges and moved him into general population at a prison closer to New York City. This bare-bones justice almost never happens -- even to prisoners like Herman, with several hundred supporters mailing letters and making phone calls. That's why we need to make this miracle an ordinary, procedural occurrence for everybody Herman describes as "the mass incarcerated and the voiceless." Because we should not have to work so hard to prove that brutality is wrong. Because incarcerated people have human rights and can be believed.
Meanwhile, Herman remains in prison. "Let's hope," says my stalwart, non-American friend Diane, "that life will now unravel in a way that leads to Herman's coming home."
A newly appointed federal regulator charged with overseeing pipeline safety personally profits from oil spill responses, a DeSmog investigation has found.
Drue Pearce is the acting administrator for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), an agency in the Department of Transportation responsible for ensuring oil and gas pipeline integrity. However, she is also associated with a company specializing in the sale of oil spill equipment.
Pearce, a Republican from Alaska, was appointed on August 7 by the Trump administration to serve as PHMSA's deputy administrator, a position that does not require US Senate confirmation. However, since at the time the administration had yet to nominate an administrator for the agency, Pearce stepped into the role as acting administrator.
In early September, Trump finally nominated, and last Friday the Senate confirmed rail transport executive Howard Elliot as PHMSA administrator. Once Elliot formally takes the helm at PHMSA, Pearce will serve as his deputy.Pearce's Oil Spill Business
Business records filed in the state of Alaska and reviewed by DeSmog show that since 2009 Pearce and her husband, Michael F. Williams, have owned Spill Shield Inc., an Anchorage-based company selling equipment for oil spill responses. The company's website offers various products, including booms, baffles, skimmers, absorbents, and oil spill response kits.
The company advertises itself as "the Arctic's preferred partner for environmental compliance products & Oil Spill Response," and says its products "are very popular in small northern communities, in mining industrial and construction industries, and fishing and hunting lodges."
From Spill Shield Inc.'s February 2017 business filings, showing Pearce's and her husband Michael Williams' involvement in the company.
Since the couple first became involved in the company in 2009, Pearce was listed as its president and majority owner. On September 14 this year, over a month after she began serving as PHMSA's acting administrator, her name was removed from Spill Shield's filings. In her place, Pearce's husband has assumed the role of president and majority owner.
Both Pearce and Williams are also registered in Alaska as owning a company by the name of Cloverland LLC, which shares the same Anchorage address as Spill Shield. Company records for Cloverland indicate it is involved in the "sale of environmental response equipment." The relationship between Cloverland LLC and Spill Shield is unclear.
According to government spending records, since 2010 Spill Shield was awarded three different federal contracts. In 2010 and 2015, the company provided waste disposal equipment to the Department of Defense. In 2014 it supplied the Department of Commerce with similar equipment.Ethical Questions
Adding another layer of complexity to this situation is the fact that Pearce also has a background as a Washington, DC, and Anchorage lobbyist. Before her appointment to PHMSA, and in addition to owning Spill Shield, she headed public affairs at the law firm Hart & Holland LLP, where she focused on energy, natural resources, and manufacturing industries. Prior to that, she worked as a lobbyist and senior policy advisor for the law firm Crowell & Moring LLP.
In addition, Pearce has a history of moving among politics, government, and the private sector. A former state representative and president of the Alaska state Senate, she was appointed by the Bush-Cheney administration to serve as federal coordinator for Alaska Natural Gas Transportation Projects, an independent federal agency charged with expediting the delivery of natural gas from Alaska to North American markets.
Pearce's husband, Michael Williams, is a former oil executive, who worked at BP for many years.
Government ethics rules define a personal financial interest as instances in which a government employee's immediate family members -- including spouses -- receive financial gain that may compromise the employee's service of the public interest.
Jeff Hauser, executive director of the Revolving Door Project at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, says that Pearce's situation raises serious red flags.
"It's important and disturbing to learn that a senior Trump administration official has a significant financial interest in oil spills. The fact that it's an appointee's spouse who owns a company, rather than the appointee, does not shield them from conflicts of interest scrutiny in either common sense or the law," Hauser told DeSmog.
"But troublingly," Hauser added, "the law generally allows appointees with particular conflicts of interest to work on issues of broad impact on a given sector even when common sense says that they're hopelessly conflicted. That hole in the law was problematic under Barack Obama and previous presidents and has become catastrophic under Trump. Concern that the power of the federal government to do good is being subverted by people seeking to enrich themselves corrodes our democracy."
DeSmog has requested copies of Pearce's financial disclosure, which executive branch officials must submit to ethics officers upon appointment. On September 26, a representative of the Department of Transportation's ethics office told DeSmog that Pearce needed to "clarify a couple of items on the report" and have the disclosure certified. The official said that the document will be provided to DeSmog "ASAP," but at the time of publication it has yet to be supplied.
DeSmog also inquired whether, as acting administrator, Pearce filed an ethics agreement, which would detail which steps she plans to take in order to mitigate any potential conflicts.
In response, a PHMSA spokesperson said that Pearce will recuse herself from involvement in instances that might affect her finances.
"In accordance with executive branch ethics laws, Ms. Pearce timely filed a Public Financial Disclosure Report (OGE Form 278e) that is under review by agency ethics officials," the spokesperson said. "Under the ethics laws, Ms. Pearce is recused from participating in any particular matter that would have a direct and predictable effect upon the financial interests of any entity in which she holds a financial interest. Only Presidential appointees who are confirmed by the Senate file Ethics Agreements; here, because Ms. Pearce is not a Senate-confirmed appointee, she does not have an Ethics Agreement."Truthout refuses corporate funding and all the strings that come attached. Instead, reader support powers us. Make a tax-deductible donation today!
Janine Jackson: We are definitely in challenging times, but it's useful to remember that it isn't that Americans per se are opposed to gun control, human rights for LGBTQ people, or affordable healthcare. At the same time, it's painful to remember why it appears that we are. It's because, as a recent piece by Neal Gabler for BillMoyers.com reminds us, we don't have a working democracy where every voice is heard: A minority of people have outsized power.
One of the reasons for that is being considered right now in the Supreme Court. Recalled by many of us as an old-timey graphic in middle school textbooks, the term "gerrymander" refers to the drawing of political districts in such a way as to benefit a particular party. The case Gill v. Whitford is focused on Wisconsin, where in 2012 Republicans won just 48.6 percent of the statewide vote, but captured 60 out of 99 seats in the state assembly.
Here to help us see what's going on and what's at stake is Steven Rosenfeld. He covers national political issues for AlterNet, and he's author of a number of books, including the forthcoming Inside Job: How American Elections Are Still Rigged Against Voters. He joins us now by phone from San Francisco. Welcome to CounterSpin, Steven Rosenfeld.
Steven Rosenfeld: Thank you very much. I'm glad to be here.
Wisconsin is asking the Supreme Court to overturn a decision striking down the 2011 redistricting plan for the lower house of their state assembly. Can you remind us what happened in Wisconsin that led to this being the test case for this issue?
What happened was the Republicans, after they got completely trounced by Obama in 2008, saw a way back from political wilderness, as the cliche goes, and they realized that if they won enough seats in state legislatures in 2010 that they could draw the maps that would last this decade. So Karl Rove wrote about this in the Wall Street Journal, the Democrats from Nancy Pelosi to Obama completely ignored it, and then the Republicans went out with some of the nastiest political ads you could ever imagine at the local level, and they just emptied these legislatures out of long-time citizen legislators. They called women prostitutes, they called guys every kind of crook imaginable.
And then they drew the maps, and what they did was they drew maps segregating the reliable voters, their party's and the Democrats. They looked at who came out and voted for John McCain in 2008, which was a lousy year, and they made sure that in these districts, they would have at least 56 percent, sometimes not too much more than that, reliable Republican majorities. And they put the Democrats, they packed them into other districts where they would typically win with 65, 70, 75 percent of the vote. So that's how you end up getting these Republican supermajorities. It's how they control the US House, it's how they control all these states that you think should be purple, like Wisconsin or Georgia or North Carolina, but instead they're firmly, firmly red.
And it turns out that if you draw lines, political districts, using race, it's illegal under federal law -- with one exception, which is sort of affirmative action for minorities. But if you draw these lines using extreme partisanship, which is what the Republicans argue they did in Wisconsin, so far, in the Supreme Court, it's been legal; it has not been judged to be illegal. But Anthony Kennedy, in an earlier case, sort of hinted at, well, maybe we gotta take a look at this, because it's so unfair, and if you can come up with a formula for us to prove how unfair it is and how anti-democratic is, we may consider it.
Well, that is what the people in Wisconsin did; they came up with the formula. A lower federal court said, OK, we agree with you. The Republicans in Wisconsin said, uh, we are going to appeal, and that's what's brought us to the Supreme Court, where basically they're going to decide the rules that will either make our national politics fairer and more balanced, or continue being as extreme as they have been through the next decade, the decade of the 2020s, because redistricting is coming right around the corner.
The way of measuring it, that's been the sort of missing piece, that's the social science that Justice Roberts dismisses as "sociological gobbledygook"; he claimed during the arguing of this case that "the intelligent man on the street" would never understand how you could have a formula to figure out which votes were, quote unquote, "wasted."
Yeah. I should remind you that John Roberts also said, before Donald Trump's election campaign, that we were in a post-racial society and therefore we no longer needed the Voting Rights Act's enforcement provisions. And then within 24 hours of that Supreme Court decision in 2013, virtually every red state in the Old South passed voter ID laws, they got rid of same-day registration, they ended early voting. This is completely nuts.
Yeah. And it seems so disingenuous in the extreme to say, as Roberts also did, that the problem of gerrymandering should be fixed, he said through "democracy," by which he meant the normal political process. But this is the normal political process!
Yes, this is democracy, and it's not very democratic.
In fact, this is what people really don't understand. This is one of the biggest, most influential factors on why Democrats and progressives have not been winning. The Supreme Court had a decision, before Gorsuch was on it, that basically threw out North Carolina's racially motivated US House districts. And the numbers in it were that Republicans kept winning with 56 percent of the vote, and the Democrats and the few seats they held were like 69 and 70 percent. It's not democratic when you segregate voters. The language people use is, politicians shouldn't choose their voters.
But it's segregating voters, reliable voters, and it gives you a 6 percent head start. And then you have other things that academics have tracked. Strict voter ID peels off another 2 or 3 percent. And then pretty soon Republicans have a starting line advantage, before anybody knows who's running, of 10 percent. And for you to win elections by more than 10 percent, I mean, maybe we'll see that in 2018, but, gosh, it's so, so rare.
Well, this case, Gill v. Whitford, is talking about the Supreme Court's ability to shut down extreme cases, which we should note could theoretically be committed by either major party. But that's not really a system for going forward, it doesn't sound like.
Well, the Republicans in 2010, after they won political monopoly control in lots of states -- they targeted a dozen states, and these are the states that are always among the finalists in presidential elections. We're talking about Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Texas. And it's as if we have two entirely different countries and two entirely different sets of voting rules. We have blue state coastal America, where none of this stuff is happening. People almost don't understand how could this be happening, they can't relate to it in their experience. And then you have this red state set of rules.
And the Democrats are no angels; they had plenty of things that they did to stop Bernie Sanders in that presidential nominating contest. I'm not sure he would have won, but they sure made it harder. The Democrats who run California are not exactly angels, either. But they have done nothing on the level of a coordinated nationwide strategy to basically seize the House and seize these states.
And [Republicans] have done it, and it's held for every race, every election, every two-year cycle this decade. I mean, think of it. After 2010, the House, Republicans have held it. And all those states, all those states that filed those lawsuits against everything -- Obamacare, LGBT rights, affirmative action this, climate change that -- this is what's been the result.
And actually, it goes worse than that, because today in the House, things have been segregated to such an extreme amongst who votes, that you have the most extreme Republicans saying that, well, taking healthcare away for 20-something million people is not good enough; and Paul Ryan can't control them. This has created a downward spiral that's pulling us to the bottom.
Finally we're recording this on October 5. Do you have any thoughts right now about how Gill v. Whitford is likely to play out?
Yeah, I do. I suspect that they're not going to touch it, which means the status quo will hold. And the reason I say that is because Kennedy, who is the swing vote, said or signed on to a dissent in the North Carolina case that came out and threw out their congressional House seats last spring. It was written by Alito, and it said that, odious as all this extreme partisanship is, it's part of human nature and part of politics, and it just comes with the turf, and we just can't and shouldn't touch it.
And I think that even though he was the one who invited the folks in Wisconsin to come up with a standard, that was several years ago, the most recent real clue we have from him is saying, well, I don't know, it just seems like it's just so much a part of human nature, and human nature is reflected in politics, we just got to live with the dark side. And I'm not optimistic.
We've been speaking with Steven Rosenfeld, journalist at AlterNet.org and author of the forthcoming Inside Job: How American Elections Are Still Rigged Against Voters. Steven Rosenfeld, thank you for joining us this week on CounterSpin.
Well, thank you so much.
Sexual harassment doesn't happen just to glamorous women in glamorous industries. Since sexual harassment is about power, not sex, it's not surprising that low-wage women in lousy jobs get a lot of it.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says the restaurant industry is the largest source of sexual harassment claims. In a national survey of 4,300 restaurant workers by the worker center Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, more than one in 10 workers reported that they or a co-worker had experienced sexual harassment. ROC says even this creepy figure is likely an undercount.
Focus groups and interviews ROC conducted nationwide found sexual harassment an "accepted… part of the culture." One worker said, "It's inevitable. If it's not verbal assault, someone wants to rub up against you."
ROC reviewed four years of EEOC sexual harassment settlements and verdicts in the restaurant industry and found that cases were filed primarily against well-known chains, including McDonald's (the worst with 16 percent of the cases), KFC, Sonic, IHOP, Applebee's, Cracker Barrel, Ruby Tuesday, and Denny's.
Most often, workers were abused and harassed daily and faced some form of retaliation for complaining.
Labor Notes' Jenny Brown, who now works for National Women's Liberation, points out that the "dismal stats" for restaurant workers are connected to how they get paid: tips.
The Restaurant Opportunities Centers United notes, in a 2014 report, that "a majority-female workforce must please and curry favor with customers to earn a living." Men take advantage with harassing questions, gestures, groping, even stalking.
"Unfortunately, it's just become the societal norm, and we have all accepted it and we all hate it," a woman bartender told ROC.
Managers tend to side with the customers when workers complain. One server reported her boss's words: "Well, those people pay a lot of money for our services and, I mean, would it hurt to smile a little bit, be a little bit more friendly to them?"In the Fields
One farmworker described the norm in the fields similarly to that in restaurants: "You allow it or they fire you." A 2010 study of farmworker women found 80 percent had experienced sexual harassment at work.
Farmworker women are especially vulnerable when they are employed and paid by individual crewleaders, who thus have tight control over their livelihoods.
Janitors are another low-paid case in point, as Sonia Singh wrote this year. They're predominantly female, often working late at night in isolated workplaces. The 2015 PBS documentary "Rape on the Night Shift" exposed how widespread and underreported sexual violence is for janitors.
In May 2016 United Service Workers West won a new master contract in California that requires sexual harassment training for supervisors and workers, and ensures that workers can make complaints to managers above their direct supervisors.
The union explored using a telenovela (soap opera) format for the training, which could be paused for participants to debrief on scenarios they'd just watched.
The union also worked with legislators to develop a statewide bill, the Property Services Worker Protection Act. The union got local mayors and unionized cleaning contractors to pledge support, and paid for "End Rape on the Night Shift" billboards in strategic locations.
When they still weren't clear that Governor Jerry Brown would sign the bill, rank-and-file organizers decided to stage a fast.
Twelve survivors of workplace sexual violence and harassment began their hunger strike in front of the state Capitol. Many of the women read out open letters to their attackers. Most had never shared their stories publicly before this campaign.
After the group had fasted for five days, Brown signed the law, which will take effect in 2019. It requires cleaning and security employers to train employees and managers on sexual violence and harassment.In a Hotel Room
Perhaps the women workers most vulnerable to actual assault are hotel cleaners. Apparently male guests reason that if there's a woman in a bedroom, she must be available. Jenny Brown wrote, "Workers report that male customers expose themselves, attempt to buy sexual services, grab and grope them and, in some cases, attempt to rape them."
"Customers offer money for massage -- but they don't want massage, they want something else," said Elizabeth Moreno, an 18-year Chicago hotel worker. When she delivers room service items, male guests occasionally come to the door naked, she said.
The problem is so prevalent that hotel workers in Hawaii and San Francisco have resisted management efforts to make them wear skirts. Workers said the uniforms make them more vulnerable to groping in a job that requires bending over beds, tubs, and floors.
At the New York Sofitel, where Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the International Monetary Fund, assaulted a housekeeper in a $3,000-a-night room in 2011, management changed the skirt uniform to pants and tunic, according to a union representative.
Room attendants' safety is compromised by staff cuts that leave women isolated as they work. Some Hawaiian hotel workers on "turn down duty," which involves entering rooms in the evening to draw drapes and turn down covers, used to work in pairs. Now management is asking them to work alone, and they say it makes them feel unsafe.
In Chicago, workers have fought for the right to prop the hotel room door open with their supply cart while they clean. Some hotel managements said it was "unprofessional" or might allow theft of items from the room.
"When we're running water, we don't hear the guest come in," said Moreno. In her union hotel, a supervisor oversees room cleaning if a customer is present.Management Laughs
After the Strauss-Kahn incident, the hotel workers union UNITE HERE held speak-outs in eight cities. "These customers think they can use us for anything they want, because we don't have the power that they have or the money that they have," said Yazmin Vazquez, a Chicago room attendant.
A 30-year hotel worker in Indianapolis, a "guest runner" on the evening shift, brought towels and shampoo to customers who requested them. She said that twice a week she confronted men who came to the door naked, propositioned her, or worse. Managers knew about this, she said, but most laughed it off.
Toronto hotel worker Andria Babbington also said managers laughed at her when she complained about a naked guest who asked to be tucked in.
"Hotels are complicit in a culture of silence," said Annemarie Strassel of UNITE HERE. "The premise is that the guest is always right."
Add in management's desire to please guests and sweep publicity-causing incidents under the rug, and many workers feel pressured to endure insults and assaults as a part of the job.
If workers do report a guest's behavior, the police are rarely called. "No matter what we say, the managers will always respect the guest," said Hortensia Valera at the Chicago speak-out.
Still, the police did arrest Strauss-Kahn (though charges were later dropped) and, soon after, the Egyptian banker Mahmoud Abdel-Salam Omar, whom a housekeeper had charged with a similar assault. Both the New York City housekeepers were union members.
Just as is happening today with the stream of reports on media mogul Harvey Weinstein, the publicity then made workers freer to talk about similar incidents.
Managements at both hotels said they would give workers panic buttons.
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"Pipelines are genocide!" and "Keep the frack out of my water" were just a few of the signs held by protesters at a rally in Oklahoma City on this month. Standing outside the building that houses the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, protesters rallied for nearly two hours to demand that the public utilities commission ban fracking and limit the damage of the fossil fuel industry.
The rally was set up to coincide with the one year anniversary of "Oilfield Prayer Day," a state-sanctioned event proclaimed by Gov. Mary Fallin in an effort to recognize, as she explained it, "the incredible economic, community and faith-based impact demonstrated across the state by oil and natural gas companies." Last year's celebration involved a prayer breakfast in Oklahoma City with more than 400 people in attendance, including Gov. Fallin, to support an industry suffering from low prices and mass layoffs.
Indigenous people and other local residents at this month's gathering said they weren't protesting prayer itself, but rather the harmful impacts of the fossil fuel industry. One such impact has been measured regularly by the state government itself. In 2010, the Oklahoma Geological Survey reported 41 earthquakes with a magnitude of 3 or greater in center and north-central Oklahoma. Five years later, the same region experienced 903 such earthquakes in a single year. According to the survey, they were "very likely triggered by the injection of produced water in [wastewater] disposal wells" used by oil and gas firms.
In addition to earthquakes, Oklahomans are regularly faced with oil and gas leaks. A few years ago, Oklahoma was second in the country for most spills. The state's drinking water is at risk of contamination from fracking, and polluted ecosystems can lead to dead wildlife. The latter issue led the Ponca tribe, an indigenous group near Ponca City, Oklahoma, to pass a moratorium on any future fossil fuel work near their lands.
"Tribal sovereignty is also being ignored for the sake of Big Oil," said Ashley Nicole McCray, a member of the Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma. "The Pawnee nation is one example of a tribe that has banned this sort of resource extraction from taking place on their lands, but this has been ignored by the state of Oklahoma. Last year, the Pawnee nation was hit hard by a 5.8 magnitude earthquake that destroyed much of the community."
The Oklahoma Corporation Commission, or OCC, is a three-person board that regulates industries such as oil and gas. The commission, as McCray noted, possesses "scientific information that shows the direct correlation between fracking and earthquakes," yet are not opposed to the presence of fracking companies.
"We want to not only draw attention to the purpose of the OCC for Oklahomans who were unaware of their purpose prior to this day, but also demand that they ban fracking statewide," she said.
Meanwhile, Casey Holcomb, a community organizer from Norman, Oklahoma, noted the importance of pressuring officials who can change the state's oil and gas policy.
"We're really tired of the earthquakes. We're tired of the negligence of the industry. We're tired of [oil and gas companies] bankrupting our state," Holcomb said.
He then pointed out the connection between the state's budget crisis and gross production taxes paid by the industry. The state's gross production tax used to be 7 percent -- until, in 2015, lawmakers temporarily lowered it to 2 percent, essentially as a tax cut for companies. Yet, some smaller producers actually favor a return to the old rate amid the state's monetary shortfall.
"We wouldn't be in this situation if the horizontal drillers paid their fair share," Holcomb said. "But they're not, and they're being subsidized by the taxpayers of Oklahoma. As a result, we have schools that are only open four days a week because they can't afford to pay the salaries of the teachers and overhead costs of the schools."
Oklahoma residents face additional barriers in curtailing the power of the oil and gas industry. For example, in 2015, some lawmakers drafted a bill barring local governments from banning fracking, while also establishing the OCC as the only entity allowed to regulate oil and gas firms. After lawmakers voted in favor of the measure, Gov. Fallin signed it into law.
"The single biggest issue that we are trying to convey to Oklahomans is that this is not an anti-fossil fuel movement," said Jonathan Bridgwater, the director of Sierra Club's Oklahoma chapter. "This is a pro-Oklahoma movement."
Activists in the state are emphasizing the failure of Oklahoma's politicians to advocate an economic system that does not rely on fossil fuels and instead focuses on other industries such as renewable energy.
"To sum it up, we completely see the state government of Oklahoma heading down a track that's going to turn Oklahoma into the next West Virginia, rather than turn it into, say, Texas or California," Bridgwater said.
Organizers are determined to pressure officials into changing their relationship with fossil fuel companies despite the crackdown they continue to face. Earlier this year, their efforts against the Diamond pipeline -- a nearly $900 million interstate venture -- were deemed "domestic terrorist threats" by the Department of Homeland Security. In addition, officials implemented a law on May 3 that penalizes citizens who protest "critical infrastructure," which are mainly oil and gas facilities.
"The situation in Oklahoma is tense to say the least," McCray explained. "Fighting against Big Oil -- which has had a huge hold over Oklahoma since the illegal inception of this so-called state -- is difficult for everyone, especially indigenous people."
Nicole wants the state to acknowledge and respect the federally-recognized tribes in Oklahoma. She recalled how former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, "repeatedly ignored tribal sovereignty to the benefit of Big Oil and the detriment of the people of the state of Oklahoma."
With Pruitt now heading the Environmental Protection Agency, McCray said, "It is vital that the rest of the nation look back to Oklahoma and see how our path has unfolded. What we have endured and what we continue to experience is a mere sample of what the rest of the nation is in for if something drastic doesn't happen now."
For now, Oklahoma activists are preparing and training for future actions. Right after the rally, some organizers headed nearly 20 miles east of Oklahoma City to attend the grand opening of the Good Hearted Peoples Camp, where residents are sharing strategies and experiences, while also getting some rest before continuing their actions against fossil fuels.Truthout refuses corporate funding and all the strings that come attached. Instead, reader support powers us. Make a tax-deductible donation today!
President Donald Trump speaks with Governor Ricardo Rossello of Puerto Rico during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC on Thursday, October 19, 2017. (Photo: Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Sometimes I talk to the president of the United States in my head. It always starts the same way: Dude, let me get this straight. This time it's his Russia-FBI-DNC dossier theory, but really, it's about how he represents everything that has gone wrong. Donald Trump is exactly as strong as the lies that sustain him.
President Donald Trump speaks with Governor Ricardo Rossello of Puerto Rico during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC on Thursday, October 19, 2017. (Photo: Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Workers of firm involved with the discredited and Fake Dossier take the 5th. Who paid for it, Russia, the FBI or the Dems (or all)?
-- Donald J. Trump via Twitter, 19 October 2017, 7:56am
Sometimes I talk to the president of the United States in my head. It's weird, but I have to.
Dude, I say (I can hyperlink words when I talk to the president in my head). Dude, what? Really? It always begins this way. We've covered some serious ground, the president and I, over the 40 miles of bad road that has been the last two years of American politics. His attacks on Muslims and Mexicans, his marauding misogyny, the border wall, penis measuring during a nationally-televised debate, the bag of hammers he chose for his Cabinet, Russia Russia Russia, Puerto Rico, North Korea, his embrace of Nazis and Klansmen, the NFL, the families of fallen soldiers, meeting the president of the Virgin Islands, Comey, Clinton, Mueller, Obama and all his favorite people -- there isn't much we haven't discussed. It always starts the same way.Work doesn't make money anymore. Money makes money. Money made by money made you.
Dude. Let me get this straight. You accused Russia, the Democratic Party and the Federal Bureau of Investigation of conspiring to confabulate a dossier filled with damaging information about you. These three entities, you claimed, came together in secret to undo you by creating a package of reports that include detailed descriptions of deep ties between you, your campaign and Russia … because Russia would enter into a plot that would expose their own clandestine operations, just to burn you? That's so them.
The FBI part is even more odd. You're comfortable accusing the law enforcement arm of the Justice Department of a vendetta against you? Of falsifying information to foment political change -- against you? The bureau has a sordid history, to be sure, but the targets of its sordidness are not powerful, wealthy, white men.
As for the Democrats, whatever dude. The scary freakin' Democrats did it. We're talking about the same party, right? The one that lost to you? You! They lost to you, Donald fa-chrissakes Trump. The Atlanta Falcons ain't got nothing on the Democratic Party when it comes to stalled momentum, chump mistakes and snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The Democrats are having trouble conspiring to put in a lunch order these days. Coming up with something this spectacularly hilarious isn't really in their wheelhouse.
It's all of a piece with you, isn't it. All that stuff about Obama bugging your tower was pretty spiffy but this one is special. This is you changing reality into unreality with your mighty foghorn of nonsense. The world says, "Wha? Huh? How can he say …?" and you smile, because they're talking about you again, and that's what matters.
You are certainly a man of the times, The Man, avatar of all that ails us. You are, among other things, the end product of a decades-debunked economic model that consigns a vast majority of Americans to poverty and stasis while lavishing trillions on the wealthy. This we call "trickle down," and we've waited half a century now for the rain that never comes.
Work doesn't make money anymore. Money makes money. Money made by money made you. From what I hear, the last person you trickled down on got a page in that famous dossier. The economic model has failed dramatically, but you couldn't care less. It did well by you, and that's the dot at the end of the line.
Reality TV star, right? Perfect. Just exactly right. Television, Edward Murrow's wires and lights in a box, will prove in time to be one of the greatest derangers of civilizations in the history of the planet. A spigot of fiction, fear, calamity, greed and deception flows daily from every screen, unmaking reality stitch by stitch. Many see themselves now not as who and what they truly are, but as how they are depicted in the box. That's where you came from, that land of bombast and lies, and it makes seamless sense. "Reality" TV, indeed.You are made of everything that lays us low, and the sooner we dismantle all that, the sooner we dismantle you.
Not that you give a damn, but a lot of people are genuinely terrified right now. Pursuing your catastrophic brand of foreign policy with unstable nuclear nations is only slightly less smart than jumping into a shark tank with a pork chop tied around your neck. I know the folklore of noble American militarism by heart, too. Taking on the flag, the anthem and the football players was you rewriting reality, again, by swaddling yourself in that folklore. John Kelly helped tuck you in. It's the safest place there is in politics, and it only cost tens of trillions of dollars to make it happen. Meanwhile, the country you claim to lead is hiding under the bed.
And since we're on the topic of conspiracies, what about "Climate change is a Chinese hoax"? This past hurricane season must have put at least a small dent in your denialism, not that it's doing Puerto Rico any good. This is the stuff that is going to get us all killed. You have to know that, right? Of course you do. You're the guy who wanted to use his money, which was made by money, to build a wall around his golf course in Scotland to protect it from the rising seas.
You are the distilled essence of the age, a blurred orange watercolor that looks different every time the light changes. There is no substance to you, only menace and the same confused fiction that seeks to define and control this nation. Too many ignore or dismiss you as some sort of terrible mistake, a wrong turn down a blind driveway we can back out of, but that is not the truth of it. You were inevitable, a product of unreality many years in the making. If you didn't exist, someone would have made you up.
Tomorrow, you will wake up and tell another obvious lie, threaten someone else, let fly with that mighty foghorn of nonsense, but I've got the measure of you. You are made of everything that lays us low, and the sooner we dismantle all that, the sooner we dismantle you. You're exactly as strong as the lies that sustain you. There's an answer for that, too.This story could not have been published without the support of readers like you. Click here to make a tax-deductible donation to Truthout and fund more stories like it!
President Donald Trump (R) speaks to new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly after he was sworn in, in the Oval Office of the White House, July 31, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Mike Theiler-Pool / Getty Images)
Ever since Donald Trump was asked about his curious delay in commenting on the deaths of four servicemen in Niger and, instead of answering, began to brag about how he was the only president to call all the families of fallen soldiers, this ugly story has been festering. Once again, Trump's reflexive self-aggrandizement to cover up for his failures has gotten him into trouble.
First of all, other presidents have of course called families of the fallen and have made many other gestures of sympathy and care. It was a low blow to try to tar his predecessors as failing to honor the war dead. Needless to say, the moment he made the claim that he alone called all the families, reporters went out and started asking and it turned out he hadn't done that either.
After making that ignoble boast, Trump went on a radio show and said that someone should ask John Kelly, the former Marine general who is now his chief of staff, whether President Obama had called him after his son was killed in Afghanistan, which obviously meant that was where he'd heard that Obama fell down on the job. The White House later confirmed this.
Evidently, this spurred Trump to finally call Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, one of the soldiers killed in Niger, while she was on the way to meet the coffin at the airport. He behaved like a boor because he doesn't know how to act any other way. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., who was accompanying the family to carry out this terrible duty, complained publicly about Trump's insensitive comments which the fallen soldier's mother confirmed. Instead of taking the mature and dignified course and simply apologizing for being inartful with his words, President Trump called everyone a liar and sent out one of "his generals" to clean up his mess.
Kelly has a distinguished record in the Marine Corps and is himself a Gold Star father who lost a son in Afghanistan. I don't think anyone in the country disrespects either of those things. But he is no longer in uniform and has willingly become a partisan political player working for a contemptible leader. When he decided to use his stature and experience to bail out his boss for making a hash of what he calls a sacred issue on Thursday, he sold his own reputation cheaply.
He went before the press and confirmed that Obama hadn't called him, but said he didn't see this as a negative thing. He wondered how any president can properly express himself if he's never been through the ordeal of losing a child, trying to elicit sympathy for poor Donald Trump and the burden he bears. But most presidents read a book or two about former administrations, they reach out to the living ex-presidents for insight or they just generally give a damn about aspects of the job other than holding rallies and watching "Fox & Friends." But this is Trump: He doesn't read and he doesn't ask for or take advice. He's not like any other president in our history.
After delivering what seemed to be a sincere disquisition on the way members of the military and their families face this tragedy, Kelly abruptly went on the attack, accusing everyone but his boss of lowering the discourse and destroying everything that's traditionally sacred in our society.
Kelly said that women were formerly considered sacred and implied that Khizr and Ghazala Khan and his wife had degraded the sacredness of the Gold Star family by appearing at the Democratic convention, conveniently ignoring the fact that the man he's working for is an admitted sexual predator who mercilessly attacked that Gold Star family. (He didn't mention that POWs used to be held sacred as well, or that his boss says he "prefers people who aren't captured.") He angrily decried the politicization of the war dead, although it was his own boss who politicized a simple question about a military mission that nobody wants to talk about by attacking his predecessors' approach to dealing with this sacred duty.
Then Kelly went for the jugular and brutally attacked Rep. Wilson for "eavesdropping" on the conversation between the president and Sgt. Johnson's wife. Apparently he hadn't bothered to read anything about the incident or he would have known that the call was on a speakerphone in the car and the exchange was confirmed by others who heard it. Had he looked into it, he would also have found out that Wilson, a former educator, is a good friend of the family and ran a program Johnson attended called the 5,000 Role Models of Excellence Project, for youths pursuing military careers.
Not that any of that matters. It was apparently decided in the White House ahead of time that the best way to protect the boss was to smear Rep. Wilson. Kelly carried out the order with relish, even though its premise was a lie.
Just like his boss, the president, Kelly never once uttered the name of Sgt. La David Johnson or his pregnant widow, Myeshia.
Much of the mainstream press was predictably breathless over Kelly's forceful performance. Interestingly, many of the military commentators were not as impressed, correctly observing that it was Trump and Kelly who were politicizing the fallen. And the president just kept going:
The Fake News is going crazy with wacky Congresswoman Wilson(D), who was SECRETLY on a very personal call, and gave a total lie on content!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 20, 2017
Chuck Todd said on "Meet the Press Daily" that people heard what they wanted to hear from the reports of Trump's calls, suggesting that if you liked Trump you understood his reported comment, "He knew what he signed up for," as a sign of empathy and caring. I have no doubt that's true. His fans always give him the benefit of the doubt. For the rest of us it's not that simple, since Trump is a compulsive liar who has never shown empathy toward anyone but himself. As George W. Bush famously said, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me ... won't get fooled again."Truthout won't back down from taking Trump and his cronies to task. Click here to support journalism that holds those in power accountable!
The Egyptian authorities have released an Irish citizen who was arrested at a protest at the age of 17, and who had been facing a death sentence.
Ibrahim Halawa from Dublin, was 17 when he was arrested with hundreds of other people in 2013, as part of a crackdown on protests in Egypt. He was held in pre-trial detention for over four years, and reported being regularly tortured.
This morning, in response to the Senate's passage of a budget resolution that would cut nearly $1.5 trillion from Medicare and Medicaid and give massive tax breaks to wealthy individuals and corporations, the Chair of the Patriotic Millionaires Morris Pearl, former Managing Director at BlackRock, Inc., released the following statement:
Today’s passage of the Senate budget bill signals a step toward oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and potentially other sensitive Arctic areas.
The Senate just passed their budget resolution for 2018. In response, Jennie Olson at Environment America, issued the following statement:
“The Senate budget makes drastic cuts to some of our most vital programs that protect our air, water, and families’ health. In addition, the Senate budget attempts to sell out our public lands to polluters by including instructions to the Senate Natural Resources Committee that would ultimately allow drilling in the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Immigrants Fleeing California Wildfires Find No Sanctuary, Fearing Deportation and Avoiding Shelters
As catastrophic wildfires in California kill at least 42 people and leave thousands of homes and businesses in ruins, many of the area's 20,000 undocumented immigrants have had no sanctuary from the flames, with some sleeping on beaches in order to avoid federal agents at shelters. This comes as far-right media outlets like Breitbart are falsely reporting that an undocumented immigrant was arrested in connection to the fires. Police said there is no indication the man had anything to do with the wildfires. We speak with Alegría De La Cruz, deputy county lawyer of Sonoma County, and Juan Hernandez, executive director of the La Luz Center in Sonoma, California.
Please check back later for full transcript.
Major Victories for Climate Movement, but Global Chaos Grows: Roundtable With Leaders on What's Next
After a summer of extreme weather around the world, we host a roundtable discussion with environmental leaders on next steps: Lindsey Allen, executive director of the Rainforest Action Network; Dallas Goldtooth, an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network; and May Boeve, executive director of 350 Action, the political arm of the climate organization 350.org.
Please check back later for full transcript.
Agricultural pollution is contaminating drinking water supplies for millions of Americans with potentially dangerous chemicals, says a new report. Environmental groups blame the meat industry, which requires massive supplies of industrially grown corn and soy to raise cattle, and are putting pressure on large-scale meat producers to get their supply chains to clean up their acts.
(Photo: FP; Edited: LW / TO)
Scientists recently announced that the "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico, an area the size of New Jersey where oxygen levels are too low to sustain most forms of life, is larger than ever. For years, environmentalists have used annual surveys of the dead zone to bring attention to large amounts of agricultural pollution from the nation's breadbasket that flows down the Mississippi River and fuels oxygen-depleting algae blooms in the Gulf.
This year, the message is hitting much closer to home, especially for those living near farmlands.
A new report from the Environmental Working Group shows that the agricultural pollution causing the dead zone is also contaminating drinking water supplies for millions of Americans with potentially dangerous chemicals. Environmental groups particularly blame large-scale meat production, which require huge supplies of industrially grown corn and soy to raise animals to satisfy the nation's appetite for cheap meat.
The US leads the world in meat production. One-third of all land in the continental US is used to grow feed and provide pasture for animals that will be killed for meat, according to the environmental group Mighty Earth. Now that agricultural pollution's impact on drinking water is coming into focus, meat producers such as Tyson Foods are under pressure to set standards that would require large farms in their supply chains to clean up their acts.
"People just naturally pay more attention to the pollution issue in their own backyard than they do [to] pollution issues thousands of miles away," said Matt Rota, senior policy director at the Gulf Restoration Network, a group that works to reduce pollution in the Gulf South.
Chemicals called nitrates and other pollutants can contaminate drinking water sources when fertilizer and manure drain from poorly protected agricultural fields. Drinking water supplies for roughly 200 million Americans in 49 states have some level of nitrate contamination, but the highest levels are found in rural towns surrounded by industrial farms, according to the Environmental Working Group.
Runoff from farm fields finds its way from rural watersheds to the Gulf, providing nutrients for summertime algae blooms that force fish to migrate and kill off smaller creatures at the bottom of the food chain. The dead zone spanned 8,777 square miles off the coast of Louisiana and Texas when marine scientists measured it over the past summer.Agricultural Pollution Is a Threat to Public Health
Nitrates are naturally found in soil and water, but high levels of exposure have been linked to birth defects, cancer and a dangerous condition known as blue baby syndrome in infants, which results from low levels of oxygen in the blood. Few water supplies in the US have levels of nitrates above the federal limit of 10 parts per million, which was set 25 years ago to prevent blue baby syndrome, but studies have found that the risk of cancer increases at levels as low as 5 parts per million.
Treating polluted water is expensive, and drinking water utilities often use chlorine and other disinfecting treatments when agricultural pollution contaminates sources of drinking water with manure and other pollutants. When these treatment chemicals interact with plant and animal waste, they create potentially dangerous byproducts such as trihalomethanes (THMs), a group of chemicals linked to liver, kidney and intestinal tumors in animals, according to the Environmental Working Group.
The EPA sets limits on the amount of THMs allowed in drinking water, but environmentalists say those limits were based on the technical feasibility of removing the chemicals, not concerns over their long-term toxicity. In 2010, state scientists in California estimated that levels 100 times lower the legal limit would pose a one-in-a-million lifetime risk of cancer.
Nationwide, water supplies in 1,647 communities, serving 4.4 million people, are contaminated with THMs in amounts at least 75 times higher than California's one-in-a-million cancer risk level. In 2014 and 2015, 411 of those communities had levels of THMs at or above the EPA's limits, and two-thirds were found in five states with high levels of agricultural pollution -- Louisiana, California, Oklahoma, Missouri and Texas. (You can find out if THMs and other pollutants are in your water supply using this database.)
Craig Cox, the Environmental Working Group's vice president for agriculture and natural resources, said farmers can take simple steps to reduce agricultural runoff, but too few farmers are taking action. Agricultural trade groups have considerable political clout in Washington, and farmers are exempt from many state and federal environmental regulations. A federal program pays billions of dollars a year to farmers that adopt conservation practices; however, that money does not always support the best pollution control methods.
"Decades of ill-conceived federal farm policy has been a driving factor in this situation we have today that puts millions of American families at risk of drinking tap water contaminated with these dangerous pollutants," Cox said in a statement.Activists Target Meat Mega-Producers
Environmentalists in the Gulf spent years fighting for tougher regulation of industrial farming to protect waterways from runoff and ultimately reduce the size of the dead zone, even filing an unsuccessful lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for failing to act during the Obama administration. The EPA did introduce eight policy guidelines to help states reduce fertilizer pollution in 2011, but no states have implemented more than two of them because the program is largely voluntarily, according to the Mississippi River Collaborative.
Now that the Trump administration is in charge, prospects for establishing tougher standards are slim at best.
"I don't have a whole lot of confidence that the feds will be taking stronger steps to make sure that nitrogen pollution isn't getting into our drinking [water] supply," Rota told Truthout.
Unable to change farming practices with regulation, activists are now focusing on brand-name companies that buy from industrial farms. Mighty Earth recently mapped high levels of nitrates in Midwestern waterways and found that supply chains for major meat companies were responsible for much of the fertilizer pollution. Tyson Foods, which produces roughly 20 percent of the country's meat supply through brands, such as Jimmy Dean, Hillshire Farms, Ball Park and Sara Lee, stood out from the rest, with major processing facilities in all five states that are top contributors to pollution in the Gulf.
Activists across the country are now calling on Tyson directly, demanding that the company pressure its subsidiaries and suppliers to clean up their acts. Audrey Beeble, a community organizer with the Clean It Up Tyson campaign in Louisiana, said that Tyson's new CEO has shown interest in sustainability, and activists see an opening to hold the company to task. Unlike individual farmers, large companies like Tyson are more responsive to pressure from consumers.
"They are a household name; everybody knows Tyson," Beeble said in an interview. "People want to know what's in their food. They are sick of unchecked corporations."
Activists say there are several methods farms can use to prevent agricultural runoff, including rotating crops with small grains, planting cover crops, optimizing fertilizer applications to prevent runoff and using conservation tillage practices. They are also calling for a moratorium on the further clearing of native prairie ecosystems for industrial farming.
Tyson, which runs meat packaging and processing plants, not farms, claims it's "misleading" to single out one company when water pollution is a problem across the agriculture industry. Nearly 40 percent of corn, for example, is grown to produce ethanol, not meat. In a statement to Truthout, Tyson said that real change on this issue requires "a broad coalition of stakeholders," and the company is working with trade associations and researchers to "promote continuous improvement in how we and our suppliers operate."
Rota said individual farmers generally don't want to cause problems in their own communities or downstream. He thinks they will do the right thing if they are provided with the right solutions and held accountable.
"Farmers aren't bad people, and I don't know of any farmer who goes out to say, 'I'm going to pollute other people's drinking water,'" Rota said. "But they are business people, and they need to be responsible for their businesses."Support from readers provides Truthout with vital funds to keep investigating what mainstream media won't cover. Fund more stories like this by donating now!
This week's episode discusses the passage of California's Disclose Act; the untrustworthiness of Equifax, Yahoo and Johnson & Johnson; Washington suing big pharma for contributing to the opioid crisis; and socially destructive corporate behavior. This episode also includes an interview with Emma Yorra, a specialist in the development of worker co-ops.
Visit Professor Wolff's social movement project, democracyatwork.info.
Permission to reprint Professor Wolff's writing and videos is granted on an individual basis. Please contact email@example.com to request permission. We reserve the right to refuse or rescind permission at any time.This story could not have been published without the support of readers like you. Click here to make a tax-deductible donation to Truthout and fund more stories like it!