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Hundreds of Fast Food Workers Rallied at McD's New HQ, Protest to Culminate at Massive Rally

Commondreams - 5 hours 7 sec ago
Fight for $15

Earlier this morning fast food workers and community gathered in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood for a mock groundbreaking ceremony and press conference at the new location of McDonald’s Headquarters. Wearing hard hats and construction vests, workers and community leaders spoke out, sharing their visions of what the “new” McDonald’s needs to be.

Categories: Latest News

Trump Slashes Funds for Endangered Species, Environmental Protection

Commondreams - 5 hours 29 min ago
Center for Biological Diversity

The Trump administration’s detailed 2018 budget proposal, released today, contains unprecedented funding cuts for the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency and increased spending for a border wall.

Trump wants to slash the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service budget by 8.6 percent and the EPA’s budget by 30 percent. Meanwhile the budget proposes an additional $1.6 billion to build 80 new miles of a wall along the southern border.

Categories: Latest News

ACLU Takes Legal Action to Restore DACA Protections for DREAMer in Georgia

Commondreams - 5 hours 30 min ago
ACLU

The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Georgia, and Kuck Immigration Partners LLC took legal action today to restore Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals protections to DREAMer Jessica Colotl.

The Trump administration suddenly and arbitrarily revoked Colotl’s DACA status, even though immigration authorities had granted her DACA twice previously and there has been no change in her circumstances. In denying the request to renew her DACA status and work permit, the U.S. government is stripping Colotl’s authorization to live and work in the United States.

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Statement from Diane Yentel, President and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, on President Trump’s FY18 Budget

Commondreams - 7 hours 28 min ago
National Low Income Housing Coalition

The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) released statements on Friday, May 19 and on Monday, May 22, noting the cruelty of President Trump’s fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget to millions of low income seniors, people with disabilities, low-wage workers, families with children, veterans, and other vulnerable people who are struggling to keep a roof over their heads.

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Lawsuit Targets Trump's Climate-change Censorship

Commondreams - 8 hours 11 min ago
Center for Biological Diversity

The Center for Biological Diversity today sued the Trump administration to uncover public records showing that federal employees have been censored from using words or phrases related to climate change in formal agency communications.

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Appeals Court Allows Wikimedia Challenge to NSA Internet Surveillance to Go Forward

Commondreams - 9 hours 11 min ago
ACLU

A federal appeals court today unanimously reversed a part of a lower court’s dismissal of a lawsuit challenging the National Security Agency’s mass interception and searching of Americans’ international internet communications.

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Trump Budget Disregards Science, Puts Public Health, Innovation at Risk, Science Group Says

Commondreams - 9 hours 29 min ago
Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS)

President Trump’s proposed fiscal year 2018 budget is a deeply unjust budget that would disproportionately harm poor and working class Americans, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. The budget would impose massive cuts on health, environmental and safety net programs. It also would gut federal research in the energy, climate science and medical fields. 

Categories: Latest News

Boycott Trump: Can a Movement to Hurt the President Financially Change the Political Landscape?

Truthout - 9 hours 45 min ago

Anti-Trump activity remains fragmented several months into his term. (Photo: Canadian Pacific)

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In normal times, Dee from New York would have ordered her copy of The Handmaid's Tale from Amazon, but these are not normal times. Amazon is on the Grab Your Wallet list, a campaign to boycott retailers that sell Trump family products, which began as a response to the video revealing our now-president's penchant for grabbing women "by the pussy." Dee bought her book from a smaller retailer instead.

Since Donald Trump's election in November, and especially since his January inauguration, hundreds of small and not-so-small organizations have sprung up to oppose the president.  They joined the ranks of established left-leaning and liberal groups already revving up their engines to fight the administration. Among all the ways you can now voice your dissent, though, there's one tactic that this president will surely understand: economic resistance aimed at his own businesses and those of his children. He may not be swayed by protesters filling the streets, but he does speak the language of money. Through a host of tactics -- including boycotting stores that carry Trump products, punishing corporations and advertisers that underwrite the administration's agenda, and disrupting business-as-usual at Trump companies -- protesters are using the power of the purse to demonstrate their opposition and have planned a day of resistance against his brand on June 14th.

Such economic dissent may prove to be an especially apt path of resistance, especially for the millions of Americans who reside in blue states and have struggled with a sense of powerlessness following the election. After all, it's not immediately obvious how to take effective political action in the usual American way when your legislators already agree with you. But what blue-state dwellers lack in political sway they make up for in economic clout, since blue states have, on average, greater household incomes and more purchasing power than their red-state compatriots. The impact of coordinated blue-state boycotts could be enormous. That's why Grab Your Wallet, along with Color of Change, a racial-justice group, and numerous other organizations are encouraging individuals to see their purchasing power as political muscle.

"It was close at the polls, but it's not close at the cash register," Shannon Coulter, a founder of Grab Your Wallet, told me recently.

And yet, even as throngs of organizations and hundreds of thousands of individuals throw their energy into economic tactics intended to weaken the president, it's still an open question whether this type of resistance -- or, more specifically, its current implementation -- can precipitate anything in the way of meaningful change.

"A Sprawling Landscape of Resistance"

At first glance, Grab Your Wallet is a modest website: a Google spreadsheet that lists about 50 companies to boycott.  Included are the department stores Macy's, Bloomingdale's, and Lord & Taylor, as well as online retailers like Overstock.com, Zappos, and Amazon, all of which sell some type of Trump swag. (The precise number of companies listed continues to decline, as retailers dump the Trump brand.) The site gets an impressive two million unique visitors every month, and when I spoke with Coulter, she told me that 22 retailers had dropped Trump products since the start of the boycott. She believes that this is just the beginning.

"I don't think we'll see the full impact of the boycott until summer, because of how the retail cycle works," she explained. The department store Nordstrom, for instance, the biggest company to date to drop the Ivanka Trump brand, sold through its existing inventory before indicating that it would not reorder. That announcement even attracted attention from the president, who tweeted: "My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom. She is a great person -- always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!"

Color of Change has long deployed strategies of economic resistance, specifically by going after advertisers who underwrite hate. Now that Trump is in the White House, Rashad Robinson, the group's executive director, told me that they're focusing on the role of corporate enablers "who've made this administration possible." He described a strategy in which his organization carefully selects a corporate target and then rallies its million-plus members to participate in a campaign designed to tarnish the company's brand -- unless its executives make more ethical advertising choices. Color of Change played a role in the recent ouster of Bill O'Reilly from Fox News by helping to influence some of the more than 50 major advertisers who pulled their financial support from his top-rated program. After advertisers fled, Fox gave O'Reilly the boot.

Progressive groups are proving increasingly savvy when it comes to designing such consumer-driven tactics. The Center for Popular Democracy and the immigrant-rights group Make the Road New York recently co-launched a campaign called Corporate Backers of Hate, which targets Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, The Walt Disney Company, and a handful of other corporations that have provided various forms of support for Trump and his agenda. Wells Fargo, for instance, has lent millions of dollars to the president's companies, is an investor in immigrant detention centers run by private, for-profit contractors, and has loaned money to developers for the Dakota Access Pipeline, the 1,172-mile oil pipe that would cross Standing Rock Sioux Tribe lands in North Dakota. (Trump signed a memo authorizing that pipeline within days of taking office.) The Corporate Backers of Hate website allows protesters to bypass customer service staff at these corporations and send messages directly to top executives and board members to express their disapproval.

This strategy of going after the funding underlying Trump's network has won some early victories. Several groups have been trying to cut off the flow of advertising dollars to Breitbart, the xenophobic pseudo-news site formerly run by White House strategist Steve Bannon. Leading the charge in this work is a Twitter-based group, Sleeping Giants, with a relatively simple proposition: it asks followers to take screenshots of ads on Breitbart -- preferably next to an offensive headline -- and then tweet that screenshot to the company in the ad along with a polite message asking it to stop underwriting hate. This approach has been wildly successful; according to Sleeping Giants, thousands of advertisers have pulled out of Breitbart.

Nicholas Reville is a seasoned online organizer who has become a leading figure in the campaign to, as he says, make "hate unprofitable." He believes that the Sleeping Giants model of digital resistance represents a new and important type of political action. "It's very, very rare that you have an activism campaign where people are doing something other than signing a petition, showing up to a rally, [or] donating money," he told me. Instead, he pointed out, an individual can now take a discrete action on his or her personal device and actually help win a victory when an advertiser pulls out of Breitbart.

Some activists are going beyond screenshots and tweets. Journalist Naomi Klein recently released a video highlighting the fact that Trump's brand is one of his most important sources of revenue and suggesting that "jamming" the brand -- by turning it from a money-maker into a money-loser -- would be a powerful form of resistance. She mentions tactics like clogging phone lines at Trump companies or making, and then canceling, reservations at his hotels.

One activist who has been working on jamming those Trump phone lines, and who spoke with me on condition of anonymity, said that resisters like her had discovered that it was surprisingly easy to disrupt the president's businesses. "The phone lines do not have the capacity to handle even medium-volume call traffic," she said, and assured me that there was more phone jamming planned for the future. When I asked what she hoped to achieve through this tactic, she responded that the goal was to weaken President Trump financially, politically, and in every way imaginable.

"These strategies are complements to other kinds of organizing," she went on. "None of these tactics alone are going to bring down the Trump administration... that's not how it works. This is part of a sprawling landscape of resistance."

Easy to Resist, Hard to Win

The multitude of groups, campaigns, and individuals going after Donald Trump, Trump businesses, and companies supporting him or his political agenda do indeed form a sprawling, often chaotic landscape of resistance. I receive a dozen different, mostly uncoordinated action-alert messages in my inbox daily. In the weeks immediately following the inauguration, I found all that frenetic energy strangely appealing. After a couple of months of diffuse efforts, however, I began to wonder whether such efforts would be better spent on fewer, more coordinated campaigns. While Trump oppositionists undoubtedly feel a thrill of satisfaction when Nordstrom drops Ivanka's product line and legions of advertisers pull out of Breitbart, it's unclear whether these are steps on the path to a revised political landscape, or whether they are just feel-good wins leading nowhere in particular.

This dilemma is perhaps best exemplified by the Boycott Trump app, which has been downloaded 350,000 times. The concept behind it is similar to the one that animates Grab Your Wallet. The app is essentially a list of companies to boycott, though it includes more than 250 of them, rather than the dozens on Grab Your Wallet, many because they sponsored Trump's NBC show "The Apprentice" back in 2011. I asked Nathan Lerner, who heads an organization called the Democratic Coalition Against Trump, which is responsible for the app, what qualifies a company to be listed, and he said that any company connected to the president was worth listing. I then asked if his group was collaborating with other boycott efforts.

"We've been a little frustrated with partnering," Lerner told me. "Right now we're seeing a ton of enthusiasm around boycotting Trump, but it's fragmented. Folks are popping up doing great work, but they're doing it on their own." That seemed like a remarkably on-target summary of the situation, and Lerner's group seemed to be an example of those working "on their own."

In search of answers, I called up Marshall Ganz, who would surely be in the hall of fame of community organizing if there were one. He worked with Cesar Chavez in the 1960s to organize California farmworkers and was an architect of Barack Obama's organizing strategy for his presidential run in 2007. A professor at Harvard's Kennedy School (and, full disclosure, once my professor), Ganz defines "strategy" as "how we turn what we have into what we need to get what we want." That applies nicely to the Trump boycott concept, in which activists are trying to turn their discrete consumer power into collective influence great enough to change where our country is headed.

When I mentioned to Ganz that so many different boycotts and related campaigns are happening without much coordination, he described the problem this way: "The mechanisms for starting my thing, my thing, my thing, they're so easy in virtual space." Bringing those initiatives together is the problem. As he pointed out, back in 2007 the San Francisco Bay Area alone had about 54 different pro-Obama groups registered online; the hard part was getting them to work together in a way that channeled their energy toward a shared goal. When it comes to fighting Donald Trump, Ganz suggested that it would be far more strategic for the many different boycott and pressure groups to pool their efforts. Were this to happen, he suggested, the anti-Trump movement could become more proactive, rather than reactive.

Not all experts agree with his assessment. L.A. Kaufman is the author of the recent book, Direct Action: Protest and the Reinvention of American Radicalism. "I think that the decentralized character of the resistance gives it resilience," she told me in a phone interview. In her view, the fact that all this activity is totally grassroots and happening outside the Democratic Party is a sign of political renewal in this country. She has a point. Yet it's hard to see how economic resistance, surely a suitable weapon against a businessman-in-chief, can be effective without a critical mass coalescing around an agreed-upon set of actions and goals.

I asked Shannon Coulter whether she's coordinating with other campaigns, and she pointed out that Grab Your Wallet is now aligned with the organizers of the Women's March, the vast post-inauguration protest that swept the country. Those same organizers were also the driving force behind the formation of roughly 5,500 groups of local activists who convened after the march to consider the next steps for the emerging anti-Trump movement. This alliance seemed like a promising sign.

Recalling what Ganz had said about uniting groups that supported Obama in 2007, I asked Coulter whether she would ever consider merging Grab Your Wallet into a larger organization. To this, she responded in the negative. "I say that," she explained, "because Grab Your Wallet is one of the only women-led ones in the movement."

Coulter isn't the only one to offer such reasoning. Since the anti-Trump movement is a heterogeneous collection of groups representing women, people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ folks, and lots of straight white people, there's concern that combining efforts could result in a resistance dominated by white men who might compromise the priorities of specific groups and their constituents. In order to be effective, says Rashad Robinson of Color of Change, campaigns must carry the "moral authority of an impacted constituency." He described situations in which white-led groups had tried to mimic campaigns led by Color of Change -- without realizing that they lacked the moral authority to do so effectively.

In 2014, Zeynep Tufekci, a professor at the University of North Carolina who studies social movements, gave a TED talk titled "Online social change: easy to organize, hard to win," in which she described the March on Washington in 1963. That historic event, where Martin Luther King delivered his famed "I Have a Dream" speech, drew 250,000 people. Tufekci underscored the significance of attracting such a crowd in 1963, when organizers used landline phones, flyers, and word of mouth, in a landscape lacking today's easy digital tools. Fifty years ago it was nothing short of awe-inspiring to draw a quarter million people to the National Mall. "If you're in power," said Tufekci, "you realize that you have to take the capacity signaled by that march, not just the march, but the capacity signaled by that march, seriously."

The anti-Trump movement has yet to accomplish anything so awe-inspiring. Nearly half a million people gathered in Washington for the Women's March -- a number that climbed to more than a million when all the protests around the country were added in -- but it's not at all clear that such numbers carry the same weight today as smaller crowds did in previous eras. Though protesters filled the streets in Washington one day after the inauguration, anti-Trump activity remains fragmented several months into his term.

And when it comes to waging economic resistance against this billionaire president, the pressing question is whether innumerable people across the country, like Dee from New York, who are changing their spending habits, tweeting at advertisers, contacting chief executives, and jamming phones at Trump businesses, will do so in a way that converts their discrete actions into real influence and power.

It's still too early to tell.

Categories: Latest News

Lawsuit Targets Potential Cancer Threat in the South's Farming Communities

Truthout - 11 hours 16 min ago

More than 800 cancer patients nationwide are involved in a class-action lawsuit that accuses the chemical giant Monsanto of failing to adequately warn them about a possible link between their disease and glyphosate, the key ingredient in its enormously popular Roundup herbicide.

The lawsuit was sparked by a 2015 determination by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that glyphosate was a probable carcinogen, with research tying it to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a type of blood cancer, in humans. The IARC also found "convincing evidence" that glyphosate can cause cancer in laboratory animals, while other studies it reviewed found the chemical damages human DNA.

Monsanto maintains that glyphosate is safe, as industry-funded studies have found. But the class-action lawsuit has unearthed documents that cast doubt on its safety -- and on the handling of its potential risks by the US Environmental Protection Agency. As the New York Times reported earlier this year:

The court documents included Monsanto's internal emails and email traffic between the company and federal regulators. The records suggested that Monsanto had ghostwritten research that was later attributed to academics and indicated that a senior official at the Environmental Protection Agency had worked to quash a review of Roundup's main ingredient, glyphosate, that was to have been conducted by the United States Department of Health and Human Services.

The documents also revealed that there was some disagreement within the E.P.A. over its own safety assessment.

The EPA is currently reviewing glyphosate's registration and is scheduled to publish the draft human health and ecological risk assessments for public comment some time this year. It currently classifies glyphosate as having low toxicity.

Glyphosate is the most heavily used agricultural chemical in the world, with over 1.7 million tons applied in the US since 1974. Worldwide, glyphosate use has climbed almost 15-fold since Roundup Ready crops genetically engineered to tolerate glyphosate were introduced in 1996; two-thirds of the total amount of glyphosate applied in the US from 1974 to 2014 has been sprayed in just the last 10 years.

As of 2016, herbicide-tolerant varieties represented 94 percent of the US soybean acreage and 89 percent of the cotton and corn acreage, according to the US Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service. Other crops that have been genetically modified to withstand glyphosate applications include canola, alfalfa and sugar beets.

Not surprisingly, given the importance of agriculture to the South's economy, glyphosate is used widely across the region, as the US Geological Survey map above shows. Its use is particularly concentrated in the Mississippi Delta region and in the Black Belt region running along the Southeastern coastal plain. That has important environmental justice implications, since the residents of those areas are disproportionately African-American.

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On Leaving Prison: A Reflection on Entering and Exiting Communities

Truthout - Mon, 05/22/2017 - 21:00

Formerly incarcerated people suffer from losing their community twice -- first while entering prison and again while leaving it. (Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

Navigating life after prison can be daunting, even with the help of well-intentioned allies and organizations set up for that purpose, says Monica Cosby who was imprisoned for 20 years. But an often-overlooked challenge facing formerly incarcerated people is the loss of their two communities -- those who were a part of their lives before prison and those who became their community in prison.

Formerly incarcerated people suffer from losing their community twice -- first while entering prison and again while leaving it. (Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

This story is the sixth piece in the Truthout series, Severed Ties: The Human Toll of Prisons. This series dives deeply into the impact of incarceration on families, loved ones and communities, demonstrating how the United States' incarceration of more than 2 million people also harms many millions more -- including 2.7 million children.

Returning from prison after 20 years has been nearly as traumatizing as being in prison for that length of time. Trying to rebuild my life and reunite with my family after my long absence from their lives, and to keep my sense of self that I'd managed to reclaim while in prison, has been daunting and difficult. The community to which I returned was so different; after 16 months out of prison, I am still struck by how much changed during the time I was incarcerated.

I'm from the Uptown neighborhood on the north side of Chicago. Those of us from the north side have called it the North Pole for decades. Most of the families I knew while growing up are gone. Buildings I knew well are no longer there, and the ones that remain are largely unaffordable. My own family no longer is in Uptown; they moved out of state in 1998 just before I was sentenced to prison. A few of my favorite places are still around: It is a comfort to me that the Uptown People's Law Center -- a nonprofit legal organization that specializes in prisoners' rights, tenant rights and Social Security benefits -- is still in Uptown, and Jake's, a restaurant I'd gone to since childhood, is right down the street from the law center. So much, however, is gone. The times when I feel home, when I feel free, are few and far between.

The Communities I've Lost

I've lost two communities. The first is the one I grew up in, sitting on the lake, walking along "the rocks" just off Montrose Beach, being a student of the long-gone Uptown People's Learning Center, working with the Heart of Uptown Coalition and the Chicago Area Black Lung Association as a teenager, going to the movies with my friends at the Uptown Theater and the Riviera, and buying my favorite music at Topper's, a record store in the midst of what used to be a bustling shopping district. There was Survival Day, when the whole of Uptown would gather on the mall to celebrate another year of survival of our community.

The other community I've lost is the one I was a part of in prison. I was part of that community for so long -- almost as long as I lived in Uptown. It was a community composed of deep, abiding, loving, affectionate, mutually beneficial, supportive friendships and kinships. Our solidarity was borne of shared sorrows, grief, guilt, shame about our pasts, regrets for our failings. Together, we suffered the indignities of being in prison. Out here, I am missing my prison family as much as I missed my family while inside.

Prison is a society, a community, as much as any other that exists in the "free world." As with any society, there are communities within the larger community. While in prison, I was in a theater troupe, Acting Out Theatre. The women in that troupe were sisters, friends and mothers to me. We laughed and cried and argued and comforted one another. This community extended outward -- to cellmates and friends who weren't in the troupe but would help me learn my lines by running lines with me on the rec yard or in the shower room after lock-up time.

One of the women in my troupe had her cell shaken down by correctional officers, and contraband was found in her cell. She and her cellmates were told that if no one claimed the contraband or told whose it was, the four of them would be taken to solitary. One of them took responsibility for the contraband, though it was not hers. She was a friend of many of us in our theatre troupe. She knew how important being in the troupe was for all us, and how the women on the grounds looked forward to the troupe's performances, and so she decided to claim responsibility for the contraband in the hope that the troupe would not lose a member. That is community at its best: acts of solidarity and a sense of responsibility and caring for everyone in the community with you.

My membership in the theater troupe gave me more than community and meaningful relationships in prison -- it also helped me to be in relationship with my youngest daughter. During my time in prison with my troupe, my youngest daughter was in high school, participating in theater. We had something in common, something to talk about in our few letters and phone calls. We'd compare experiences, talking about troupe dynamics, how we prepared for our roles, and even costuming and set design. At one point, she and I were performing in our respective troupes' productions of Shakespeare; my daughter played Helena in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and I was Don John in "Much Ado About Nothing." She sent me pictures of herself in full costume from a couple of the productions she had a role in, which I shared with my troupe with more love and pride than I can ever write about. My baby girl is so talented, intelligent, creative and beautiful, and our respective theater communities gave us the chance to connect. I always looked forward to our letters and conversations about theater.

Since my release from prison, we do not talk nearly as much as we did during my last few years in prison. My return to "community" has distanced me even further from my youngest daughter. This breaks my heart. I wish and hope to remedy this disconnect, but how? Outside of the context of our theater communities -- and with no shared community -- what route do we have to build a connection? I have told her that I am here for her whenever she wishes to try to rebuild our relationship, but want to respect her boundaries, so I will not force myself into her life.

How Prison Separated Me From My Children

My youngest daughter was one year old when I went to prison; she was 21 when I was released on parole. It was only in the first couple of years of my incarceration and my last couple of years that I had any steady communication with my family. I was in Cook County Jail from 1995 to 1998. During that time I was able to see my daughters nearly every week -- from behind a plexiglass window, but still, I saw them. After my conviction, my family moved out of Illinois, and the strongest connections in my life were suddenly broken. From September 1998 to December 2015, I saw only one member of family, one time. My oldest daughter came to see me in August 2013. We'd planned visits several times before and they'd always fallen through; I had all but given up hope.

Then, she and I were in the visiting room, along with my two grandchildren, who before then I'd seen only in a few pictures. I was overjoyed and afraid at once. What if my daughter didn't like me? What if she didn't recognize me? After all, I hadn't seen her since 1998 while in Cook County Jail, when she was 10 years old.

Now, my oldest daughter and I have a fairly solid relationship, though we have had to work hard for it. I am happy to say that we talk on the phone nearly every day. We have seen one another. I have spent time with my four grandchildren, and it has been frightening and beautiful. I was afraid to hold my youngest granddaughter for the first time, when she was six months old. I'd forgotten how small babies are.

My children and I have been separated by miles and years. We have been separated by my actions and my failure to act. My daughters have their own feelings about my having been absent so long, and that is their story to tell, not mine. I have never forgiven myself for being gone from my children's lives, nor do I expect that anyone else will. I hope, but do not expect. Indeed, no one can or will ever hate me as much as I have hated myself, nor can anyone judge me more harshly than I have judged myself.

Of course, there are those who will continue to judge and condemn me, and anyone else who has been in prison. This makes the return to community even harder.

Struggling With Re-Entry in the Absence of a Caring Community

I have met hundreds of people from many different organizations purporting to be allies of incarcerated and formerly-incarcerated people in the 16 months I have been out of prison. However, the people whom I can call on for support are few in comparison to the number of people and organizations I've come across. I have come to believe there is a difference between ally and community. The idea of allyship to me seems to suggest a temporary connection -- once a shared goal is accomplished, all the people involved go their separate ways. It is practical, yes, and necessary to have allies in any movement, but to me allyship feels very dry and dispassionate.

To me, community means something different. Within community, there is shared responsibility and accountability, caring and connection. It is understood that the health, happiness, success, security and stability of the community is directly connected to that of the individuals within it. In community, support is given where needed. Solidarity is lived, not just a word spoken.

Returning to Chicago from prison, I quickly discovered what a lack of community feels like, and what dangers it poses. I paroled to a halfway house. Ostensibly, this placement was meant to help me reintegrate into society, but in fact, it hindered me greatly. I had no sense of belonging to a community, no feeling of being supported or being able or welcome to ask for guidance to this new world to which I had come. Neither did I feel that the halfway house was an ally. The process of getting my ID and fulfilling other requirements of parole (which, if left unfulfilled, would mean a parole violation and potentially a return to prison) was overwhelming, nearly impossible to navigate. I received no help from the halfway house.

It was only through the Uptown People's Law Center -- still in my life, after all these years -- and my case manager at Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities that I was able to get my ID and fulfill those other requirements. While living at the halfway house, I felt constantly under threat because I questioned some of its policies. While living there, I was constantly afraid of being sent back to prison. Other residents felt the same way. We did not feel safe or supported there, but we were stuck. Anyone familiar with how parole works knows that one cannot just leave while on parole.

While at the halfway house, I refused to say the Serenity Prayer during Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings. While I understand that AA and the Serenity Prayer may work for some people, it is not for me. I had no significant history of alcohol or drug abuse, and attending AA or any other substance abuse treatment program was not a part of my parole stipulations. I am not religious in any way. I asked why I was required to attend AA. This was not well received, either.

Meanwhile, we finally managed to persuade the halfway house to bring in a counselor to run a group for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, but it ended abruptly after the counselor refused to hand all her notes over to the halfway house staff, citing the right of therapist-patient confidentiality. Our group met three times; then it was gone.

While in prison, I was fortunate enough to participate in many groups and classes, earning certificates relating to reentry, domestic violence and healthy relationships, critical thinking and many others. My achievements were dismissed by the director of the halfway house: She told me that they meant nothing.

Rediscovering Community Through Restorative Justice

However, there were a couple of good things that happened at the halfway house. Two women, one from the restorative justice community, the other from the Unitarian Universalist Church (a nondenominational church), came to speak with me. This was not arranged by the halfway house, but through the Uptown People's Law Center. In talking with them, I found hope, coming to believe maybe I did have a place out here. I was invited to attend restorative justice circles, eventually becoming a restorative justice "circle keeper" (a facilitator of restorative justice processes aimed at healing and repairing harms). I felt at home in these spaces, particularly since I'd taken part in a peace circle training while at Logan Correctional Center. I was also invited to a meeting with the Unitarian Universalist Prison Ministry of Illinois, where I was requested to help design the restorative justice circles that are now being held weekly in Cook County Jail and soon to be held in Logan Correctional Center. These circles are radically inclusive, welcoming to all regardless of race, sexual orientation or religious beliefs. They include readings from Starhawk to Kahlil Gibran. In the conversation around choosing readings, I was not condescended to or patronized. My contributions and input were welcomed and respected, and my being and my selfhood were never diminished. These were the spaces in which I finally felt free.

Being a part of these communities has helped me to reintegrate, to belong, to be truly free. Even though there were a few people within each community who questioned whether "violent offenders" (a label that could be applied to me) have a place within said communities, at no point was I made to feel unwelcome. Rather, when this question of "violent offenders" was raised, the larger community reassured those who were raising the question that yes, people like me belonged in their space. In arguing for my inclusion, they cited two principles of Unitarian Universalism: the inherent worth and dignity of all people, and respect for the interdependent web of existence of which we all are a part.

The principles of restorative justice are very similar to the principles of Unitarian Universalism. As much as anything else, these principles are both about accountability and taking responsibility. Restorative justice is about caring for one another and addressing harm in such a way that the heart and humanity of both the victim and offender are affirmed so that there can be true reparation of harm.

A person who has committed a violent crime is not always a "violent person." Too often the criminal legal system ignores the totality of a person's life in deciding who is and is not violent. This happens even in spaces occupied by people claiming solidarity with those caught up in the criminal legal system.

Restorative justice understands these truths. Within a restorative justice framework, everyone understands that the health of a community is intricately bound to the health of all its members. And in this frame "health" is defined broadly, meaning emotional and mental well-being, social and economic stability, happiness, solid relationships within the community, a sense of pride in one's self and in the community, and the freedom to live and learn and love without fear of judgement or recrimination.

Within months of being released, I also became involved with the LGBTQ prison abolition group Black & Pink, first through speaking at a letter-writing event held by the group along with Love & Protect and Moms United Against Violence and Incarceration. The event was a show of solidarity with Bresha Meadows and others who are incarcerated. I am proud to say I am now an organizer with Moms United Against Violence and Incarceration. To be in a space where I am welcome, where my thoughts and feelings are not dismissed but heard, and where I can engage in authentic conversation, is such a gift. Since that time, I have become friends with people in Black & Pink, the restorative justice community and the Unitarian Universalist Church. These are not just allies. They are my radically beautiful community, and I am grateful to have found them.

There are so many of us in prison who have wished and cried and prayed to undo the past, to change things and do them differently. We've done this wishing, crying and praying even while knowing there is no going back -- and so, we've also wished for the chance to live our lives better, for the chance to make things right. How can we do this if we have no community to help or guide us?

In a true community, all of these concerns can be spoken and addressed and alleviated, because everyone is valued. No one is thrown away or disposed of. When we talk about the "reentry" and "reintegration" of people coming out of prison, that critical component -- real community -- must not be forgotten.

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Categories: Latest News

As Last Confederate Statue Is Removed in New Orleans, Will School Names and Street Signs Follow?

Truthout - Mon, 05/22/2017 - 21:00

New Orleans has removed the last of four Confederate statues in recent weeks. Workers wore bulletproof vests and face coverings to conceal their identities as they used a crane to remove the statue from its pedestal. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said threats and intimidation necessitated the overnight work and extra safety precautions. White nationalists have staged a series of protests and issued threats in the lead-up to the memorials' removals. Though the four most prominent Confederate monuments have been removed, activists are calling for New Orleans officials to remove all monuments, school names and street signs in the city dedicated to white supremacists. We speak with Malcolm Suber, co-founder of Take 'Em Down NOLA.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

As Trump Visits Israel, How Can Palestine Negotiate Peace as Prisoners' Lives Are at Stake?

Truthout - Mon, 05/22/2017 - 21:00

President Trump arrived in Bethlehem Tuesday during a two-day visit to Israel as part of his first trip abroad as president and vowed to do whatever necessary to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians. This comes as Palestinians across the West Bank and Gaza launched a general strike Monday to protest Trump's visit to Israel and Palestine and to show solidarity with Palestinian prisoners currently on hunger strike in Israeli jails. We get an update from Jerusalem, where Nathan Thrall of the International Crisis Group notes leaders on both sides are unsure what to expect from Trump, who made negative comments about Israel on the campaign trail. "That's really the locus of the fear on the Israeli side with respect to Trump," Thrall says. "It's the notion that he could really try and exert pressure on Israel, threaten real consequences in the US-Israeli relationship, if Israel were not to agree to, let's say, the outlines of an American proposal for a settlement of the conflict or the outlines of an American proposal on which the two sides would negotiate and work out the details." Thrall argues that if Trump uses his leverage, "we're looking at a totally different Israeli-Palestinian peace process than we have seen in the past."

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

Democracy Is Not Partisan

Truthout - Mon, 05/22/2017 - 21:00
Categories: Latest News

In the Face of Trump's Surveillance Threats, a Local Movement Demands Disclosure of Police Technologies

Truthout - Mon, 05/22/2017 - 21:00

Nineteen US cities and the state of Maine have introduced bills to enforce transparency in the acquisition and use of secretive surveillance technologies by local police. Concerns over privacy and the disproportionate use of these technologies to target communities of color are driving these ordinances in red and blue states alike.

Reflections of pedestrians in a window of a restaurant on Steinway Street in Astoria, Queens, in an area known as Little Morocco that was under surveillance by the New York City Police Department, January 7, 2016. The department has agreed to even greater oversight of its intelligence-gathering programs as it tries, for the second time, to settle a lawsuit over its surveillance of Muslims. (Photo: Uli Seit / The New York Times)

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President Trump issued a proclamation on May 15 dedicating last week to law enforcement officers, saying he would make it a "personal priority" to ensure police are "finally treated fairly." Meanwhile, around the country, a different set of priorities is taking shape: Cities, counties and even one state are working to push legislation that would force police agencies to disclose their acquisition and use of surveillance technologies to local lawmakers and communities.

At least 19 cities have introduced ordinances that would force transparency in local police departments' acquisition and use of secretive surveillance technologies, which are disproportionately used to target communities of color. A statewide bill in Maine, sponsored by State Rep. Shenna Bellows, would take similar steps.

The measures being introduced around the country mandate that the acquisition and/or use of local police surveillance tools like "Stingray" cellphone tracking equipment, automated license plate readers, facial recognition technology and closed-circuit television cameras, among other surveillance tools, be explicitly approved by local city councils and subject to a public hearing process that would ensure public input in decisions that directly impact communities' collective privacy and civil rights.

The multi-state effort is part of the Community Control Over Police Surveillance (CCOPS) initiative, launched in partnership with a coalition of human and civil rights organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the NAACP, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the National Network for Arab American Communities and the Million Hoodies Movement for Justice, among others.

The 19 cities include Washington, DC; New York City; Seattle; Richmond, Virginia; Milwaukee; Miami Beach and St. Louis, among others. According to Chad Marlow, who is advocacy and policy counsel at the ACLU, another 46 cities are organizing to introduce the transparency legislation; many of them are now working to identify a potential sponsor. The growth of the initiative since its launch last year comes as local organizers, faced with the Trump administration's repressive "law-and-order" agenda, work to find ways to protect vulnerable communities across the US.

Representative Bellows of Maine told Truthout that the bill there is being tabled until next year to allow legislators and stakeholders to work out the details for how a public hearing process will work for state-level law enforcement agencies, as well as to define surveillance technologies in more detail. When the legislation is complete, it could provide a model for other state legislatures to follow.

"A lot of times what happens is people find out after the fact that law enforcement has purchased this new surveillance technology with this unanticipated surveillance capability; and then there's outrage, and ... as legislators we are responding to that outrage rather than getting out in front of it," Bellows told Truthout.

Bellows' sponsorship of the bill was, in part, motivated by concerns over the Trump administration's advocacy for increased surveillance and abuses of power. "In that context, looking at state and local levels, I think putting those safeguards in law now is particularly important, but it matters regardless of who is in power," she said.

According to Marlow, the Trump administration has been a big factor in the spread of CCOPS legislation and ordinances across the nation. "Certainly, when Trump got elected, it really added an additional level onto the work," he said. "Our concern was that they wanted to go after particular groups like Muslims, like immigrants, but ... given the size of these groups and the size of the country, there's no way that the federal government has the resources on its own to accomplish the goal that the Trump administration was laying out. So what that means is that they're going to have to use local law enforcement to help them."

The Trump administration has an enhanced ability to target vulnerable communities, thanks to an Obama-era practice of providing federal grants to localities to buy surveillance technologies on the condition that the locality provide the federal government with access to its surveillance data. However, CCOPS holds the possibility of interrupting that process.

"What we found is that the CCOPS effort, by requiring an approval process not just for acquiring and using the surveillance technologies, but also for sharing their data, is going to move the city council and the public into the process of reviewing and approving or disapproving ... these agreements," Marlow told Truthout.

That includes many sanctuary jurisdictions that have promised not to comply with the Trump administration's mass deportation and immigration policies. Moreover, the legislation could provide an additional layer of protection in red states that have passed anti-sanctuary-city legislation. Under the CCOPS ordinances, even if local police participate in assisting federal immigration enforcement, they may not be able to provide access to surveillance technologies, share that surveillance data, or use the technologies for purposes that haven't been explicitly approved by local lawmakers.

Since the model ordinance does not specifically contain language regarding sanctuary status, it could have a positive impact in protecting targeted communities in a way that doesn't run afoul of anti-sanctuary laws. Still, the local legislation would not have an impact on what state and federal police agencies can do with surveillance technologies, except potentially in Maine, if Representative Bellows' legislation eventually passes.

Federal agents are already using counterterrorism surveillance technologies, such as cell-site stimulators, known as "Hailstorm" or "Stingray" devices, to hunt undocumented immigrants amid President Trump's immigration crackdown. FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents used one such device in March to track down Rudy Carcamo-Carranza in Metro Detroit. Privacy and civil liberties advocates warn the practice could become adopted more widely by local law enforcement agencies working to assist federal immigration enforcement.

So far, CCOPS legislation has already passed, or is poised to pass, in several jurisdictions that have outwardly labeled themselves as "sanctuary" localities, and have vowed to resist the Trump administration's immigration agenda. For example, CCOPS ordinances have been adopted in Santa Clara County, California and Seattle, Washington. Neither locality has since received a request to acquire or use sensitive surveillance technologies, perhaps because police agencies anticipate such moves will be politically unpalatable to the public.

In Oakland, California, another sanctuary city, a CCOPS ordinance was unanimously approved by the city's Public Safety Committee, and is slated for a vote by city councilors, with proponents largely expecting its adoption. Brian Hofer is chair of the city's Privacy Advisory Commission. The Commission was established after controversy over the city's effort to build a citywide surveillance hub (formerly known as the Domain Awareness Center) that would have monitored people's activities from cameras and other sensors.

Hofer has been working on the draft ordinance with the city's sanctuary status in mind, and told Truthout that the Privacy Advisory Commission's last few meetings have all touched on ICE. He has examined the city's relationship to ICE, and determined that the city's license-plate-reader data has ended up in ICE's hands via area fusion centers. He told Truthout, "We have a paper trail showing that."

That's where the draft ordinance comes in.

"Big data is here," Hofer said. "These big fusion centers where we give everybody access to all our data, both public and private partners: It's a huge concern. We have a municipal ID card in Oakland.... Secondly, there's a debit card tied to it, so there's the financial transaction paper trail. So there's all these things right now that the Privacy Commission is looking at, how to minimize, to the extent possible, any exposure of Oaklanders to outside [agencies]."

If the ordinance passes, that kind of data sharing would have to be publicly disclosed and approved.

Hofer said the Privacy Advisory Commission used the ACLU's model legislation and modified it to fit Oakland's particular privacy needs. The commission proposed the ordinance in January. On Tuesday, May 9, the city's Public Safety Committee approved it, sending it on to the full council for a vote.

Hofer is working to expand Oakland's proposed ordinance across other jurisdictions in the Bay Area, and told Truthout that the legislation is now in play in Palo Alto, Berkeley and Richmond, as well as for the Bay Area Rapid Transit system.

Because the ordinance would be governing city employees, it requires dialogue with public unions, including Oakland's police union. City attorneys are in the process of conferring with the union about the ordinance's penalties; Hofer expects the union to advocate to eliminate or water down those penalties. After that process concludes, according to Hofer, the council will vote on the ordinance.

"[The union] has always been the elephant in the room," Hofer said. "They've always carried a ton of weight, but recently ... their endorsements have been the kiss of death. Candidates they wanted to run on council lost.... Their power has diminished."

Hofer noted that the union could potentially influence the legislation's accompanying misdemeanor penalty, but he expects most of the penalty components to survive.

"We're definitely in this very aggressive, anti-Trump, self-defense mode out here in Oakland," he said.

But draft CCOPS ordinances haven't been limited to liberal-leaning localities and sanctuary jurisdictions. They are also cropping up in cities in southern states, including Florida and Mississippi, where civil libertarian-minded conservatives have provided some support.

"People on the political right are as supportive of this bill as people on the political left. It crosses the spectrum, which is why you see it in places like [Pensacola and Hattiesburg]," Marlow tells Truthout.

In Pensacola and Miami Beach, Florida, ACLU staffers are meeting with local law enforcement officials to encourage their support for the CCOPS ordinances, according to Sara Latshaw, who is the ACLU's director for North Florida.

"Our ordinance in Pensacola has support from both sides of the aisle," Latshaw told Truthout.

Latshaw explained that while some communities are most concerned about privacy violations, others are more concerned about the disproportionate use of surveillance technologies to target people of color and activists.

"Everyone is at the table for a different reason, which makes it unique and also an opportunity to work with unlikely allies," Latshaw said. "But certainly for some folks, they are concerned about some of the troubling policy objectives that Trump has brought forward."

Categories: Latest News

Making Us All Sicker: Detroit Water Shut-Offs May Well Have Caused Irreparable Damage

Truthout - Mon, 05/22/2017 - 21:00

Despite widespread concern across the US and around the world, the water crises in Detroit and Flint, as well as many neighboring towns and suburbs, have only worsened. Now the emphasis on profits over clean water access for all residents is making people physically ill, says water warrior Monica Lewis Patrick.

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This story we've been telling this season, in Anne Elizabeth Moore and Melissa Mendes' comics journalism series exclusive to Truthout, started for folks like Nicole Hill three years ago. For many across the nation and throughout the world, that was when concern for Detroit's water crisis started -- and ended. Focus shifted to Flint, Michigan, and the work of people like Melissa Mays, shortly thereafter. But as we saw last month, these threats to public health have barely been addressed in the courts in that time. What movement has been made to ensure water as a human -- and as a statutory -- right has largely happened through the tremendous efforts of civil rights attorneys like Detroit-based Alice Jennings.

But Michigan residents know that water crises in Detroit and Flint, as well as many of the neighboring towns and suburbs -- have only worsened. New findings on the impact of the water shutoffs show they may have a significant impact on the health of the region. In fact, Detroit-based water warrior Monica Lewis Patrick suggests that the city's profiteering is making people physically ill. Meet her, and some of the other folks involved in water rights, in "Making Us All Sicker," the final strip in the water part of our Michigan water, land and housing series.

  1. "Officials: 400 Detroit water customers disconnected," Christina Ferretti, The Detroit News, April 25, 2017. Accessed April 25, 2017. http://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/detroit-city/2017/04/25/officials-detroit-water-customers-disconnected/100885254/
  2. Ibid. Local groups suggest that service is staying shut off for an average of 48 hours, and Detroit Water and Sewerage Department has released no data to support their claim.
  3. "Detroit Area Economic Summary," US Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 6, 2017. Accessed May 5, 2017. https://www.bls.gov/regions/midwest/summary/blssummary_detroit.pdf
  4. "Detroit's latest US Census numbers: Good news or bad?" Nancy Kaffer, Detroit Free Press, May 19, 2016. Accessed May 8, 2017. http://www.freep.com/story/opinion/columnists/nancy-kaffer/2016/05/19/detroit-population-decline/84590056/
  5. "Architecture of Segregation," Paul Jargowsky, The Century Foundation, August 7, 2015. Accessed May 8, 2017. https://tcf.org/content/report/architecture-of-segregation/
  6. "The Association Between Income and Life Expectancy in the United States, 2001-2014," Raj Chetty, Michael Stepner, Sarah Abraham, et al., Journal of the American Medical Association, April 26, 2016. Accessed May 8, 2017. http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2513561
  7. "The Impact of Geographical Water Shutoffs on the Diagnosis of Potentially Water-associated Illness, with the Role of Social Vulnerability Examined," Alexander Plum, Kyle Moxley, Marcus Zervos, The Henry Ford Global Health Initiative, April 8, 2017. A request for an interview with the authors was denied, and the following statement supplied by Henry Ford Health Systems Media Relations Director Brenda Craig: "We've shared the results of our study with city officials and are thankful for their quick response. We are working in partnership with them on next steps and remain committed to the health and safety of the residents of the city of Detroit."
  8. "Testing Water Quality" workshop offered by We the People of Detroit on March 25, 2017, Jennifer Carrera, Jade Mitchell, and Monica Lewis Patrick, Cass Corridor Commons, Detroit.
  9. Ibid.

Copyright 2017 Anne Elizabeth Moore and Melissa Mendes. Reprints available via Truthout.

Categories: Latest News

Footing the $15 Million Bill for the Dakota Access Pipeline's Private Army

Truthout - Mon, 05/22/2017 - 21:00

Police face off against protestors occupying a bridge immediately north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, October 28, 2016. (Photo: Angus Mordant / The New York Times)

Last fall, the eyes of the world were fixated on Standing Rock.

Among the images burned into the brains of so many abroad were those of Morton County sheriff's department, joined by law enforcement officers from across the country, bedecked in military gear and armed to the teeth, brutalizing defenseless water protectors for expressing their first amendment rights and freedom of religion. Eyes were opened when mercs sicced vicious attack dogs on women and children guarding sacred burial grounds with their lives. Folks thousands of miles away watched in horror as they witnessed concussion grenades being thrown into crowds and elders being maced in the midst of sweat lodge raids. People will never forget live stream video picked up by mainstream media, showing hundreds of civilians being shot with water cannons in subzero temperatures by a corporate police state army. Some photos of injuries were judged too graphic to post by social media, as they revealed a young woman with a near severed limb and another who'd been blinded in one eye.

This was not Iraq or Afghanistan. There was no foreign enemy invading our shores. These events occurred in the middle of the United States, on Lakota treaty lands; and the only thing these innocent people had done was dare to stand in the way of the Dakota Access Pipeline, the same one Bismarck, North Dakota residents rejected due to fears it would contaminate their water supply. This war zone created by Dakota Access and Morton County was meant to subdue Standing Rock residents and water protectors and force them to accept an unwarranted risk to their fresh water and the desecration of ancestral graves, under the barrel of a gun.

Here in the states, hundreds of Native Nations and the American public sided with Standing Rock. Scores came to camp along the shores of the Mni Sosa (Missouri River). Others rallied in the local cities, signed petitions, and called the White House. Millions were outraged by the injustice.

Yet who is paying for the corporate police state brutality I just mentioned? You are.

Senator John Hoeven (R-ND), who accepted money from Energy Transfer Partners (the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline) and has been vocal in his support of both the Dakota Access Pipeline as well as the Keystone XL pipeline, has announced that North Dakota will receive $15 million in federal funds to reimburse the state for costs incurred as a result of militarizing Barney Fife and company while they pushed the pipeline through for ETP and engaged in the violent, forced removal of water protectors. Hoeven slid said monies into the Department of Justice's budget as part of Fiscal 2017 funding legislation.

By the way, Hoeven sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee and is now the chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. Welcome to Custer's wet dream.

The distinguished Senator from North Dakota would have us believe his state was alone in its mission to extinguish #NoDAPL. Nothing could be further from the truth.

When Morton County requested backup, law enforcement officials from across the nation came to North Dakota via the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC). The Sheriff's Association also showed up in full force.

New York Daily News writer Shaun King obtained audio where Energy Transfer Partners freely admitted that they worked closely with the Sheriff's Association, and wow, did they ever. They became one and the same.

Water protectors who lived at camp can attest to ETP and law enforcement's collusion and fraternization, but the record speaks for itself.

The Sheriffs' Association has a $3.46 million budget, according to tax forms. Some of this funding comes from corporate sources, like TigerSwan. TigerSwan maintains offices in Iraq and Afghanistan. TigerSwan's CEO is a former adviser to the multinational private security firm, Blackwater. Blackwater was founded by Erik Prince, a Trump campaign donor and the brother of Betsy DeVos, the US Secretary of Education. Besides funding the Sheriff's Association, TigerSwan is in charge of Dakota Access intelligence and supervising overall security for the company. Tigerswan works for Dakota Access, while funding and partnering with the Sheriffs' Association.

The Sheriff's Association purchased military gear from the US Department's Defense Logistics Agency thanks to the Defense Department's 1033 program. Think corporate welfare for the defense industry.

Wait, there's more. Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren offered to reimburse North Dakota and Morton County for costs due to defending the Dakota Access Pipeline.

So why are US taxpayers forking over $15 million to North Dakota?

Despite the fossil fuel industry's wishes, America is not an oil company with an army. We should not be bankrolling our own oppression.

Incidentally, the Dakota Access Pipeline is not even operational yet, and it's already sprung a leak in South Dakota, just southwest of the Lake Traverse Reservation. End this foolishness.

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Categories: Latest News

Massachusetts Let Spectra Energy Secretly Edit Its Pollution Permit in Atlantic Bridge Gas Project

Truthout - Mon, 05/22/2017 - 21:00

Massachusetts environmental officials allowed Spectra Energy to quietly review and edit a draft approval of an air pollution permit the state plans to grant the company for its Atlantic Bridge gas project. 

According to emails obtained by DeSmog through an open records request, this privilege of reviewing and editing the draft approval was granted exclusively to Spectra and not to the general public.   

Editing Compressor Project's Draft Pollution Permit 

As part of the project, a planned expansion of Spectra's Algonquin pipeline through the northeast US, the company intends to build a new gas compressor station in Weymouth, Massachusetts. Late last year, Spectra was purchased by Canadian energy giant, Enbridge. 

Since the compressor station will emit various pollutants, it requires environmental permits from state authorities. Spectra submitted an air quality application to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in October 2015. 

Emails show that within a few months, state officials had already drafted a preliminary permit, or "Plan Approval," of the application.

Then, in February 2016, the DEP's Permitting Chief for the Southeast Region, Thomas Cushing, sent the draft for editing to David Cotter of Trinity Consultants, Spectra's air pollution contractor in the project. Cushing wrote, "David, [A]s discussed, I attached a rough draft of the Algonquin approval for your review and comment."

At that point, the draft was already written on the DEP's official letterhead and addressed to Spectra's Houston headquarters.   

Cotter returned the draft to Cushing in early April 2016, after revising it in numerous places using Microsoft Word's track changes tool. In his edits, Cotter changed text, deleted several words and data, and inserted comments. 

"Thank you for offering us the opportunity to provide comment on the preliminary draft of the Weymouth permit," Cotter wrote to DEP's Cushing. "Based on your responses to our recommended edits and changes the next version of the draft permit will be forwarded to Spectra for review. We look forward to working with you as we move forward to the final permit."

Cushing wrote back to Cotter, saying: "I took a quick read and can accept most changes, but some I can't. Can I call Friday and discuss?"

Early Draft "Will Not Be Provided to the Public" 

In late April Cotter provided an update to Kate Brown, Spectra's consulting scientist in the project, saying that Cushing will send soon the draft for Spectra's review and comment. "Note that this is a client review copy and will not be provided to the public," Cotter assured Brown. 

From an email between Spectra consultant David Cotter and Spectra's consulting scientist, Kate Brown, indicating the company's exclusivity in editing the draft permit.

On June 17, 2016, DEP's Cushing finally sent the draft approval to Brown and Ralph Child, an attorney for Mintz Levin, a firm providing legal and permitting services to Spectra in the project. "Please provide comment as appropriate," Cushing wrote. "Feel free to call me to discuss." 

Brown sent Spectra's edits on the document back to Cushing in December, writing: "Hi Tom, [A]ttached is the draft Weymouth Compressor Station plan approval, incorporating language as discussed in our meeting last week." As Cotter had done previously, Brown changed and deleted text, and inserted comments.

Cushing allowed Spectra one more round of edits in January this year. Spectra's Brown wrote to him on January 13: "Hi Tom -- Attached is the draft Weymouth Compressor Station plan approval, including all Algonquin comments on the plan approval, to date, and incorporating the additional information you requested when we last spoke on 12/29/16." 

Cushing also asked Spectra to resubmit a modified application for the permit.  

What the Public Didn't See in the Draft Permit

On March 30 this year, the DEP published on its website the draft Plan Approval, addressed to Spectra's corporate vice president of field operation. Due to the contentious nature of the project, the DEP allowed for a month-long public comment period on the draft before deciding on a final permit. 

Comparing Cushing's original draft approval document to the Spectra-revised and final one reveals the DEP had accepted many of the company's edits. For example, Spectra increased the threshold for what will be considered a leak from a pipe seal, from Cushing's original 2,000 parts per million by volume (ppmv) to 10,000 ppmv. 

Spectra also removed from the original draft a requirement for the station's initial compliance testing for sulfur dioxide (SO2), and PM10, which refers to small particulate matter. Both were edited out of the draft approval published online.    


On the top, from DEP's original draft approval of the Weymouth compressor pollution permit. Below that, the draft with edits by Spectra Energy.

Following the publication of the draft approval, the DEP received many public comments in opposition to the draft permit. These include a letter by 13 Massachusetts lawmakers who cite various health and safety hazards to the many residents living close to the station, as well as the project's contradiction to the state's goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

Spectra Asks for Exemptions From Emission Standards

Spectra apparently also benefitted from the constant phone communication with Cushing, the state official. Emails show that Cushing originally planned to include the station's separator vessel and condensate storage tanks as individual emission units subject to the state's pollution standards. 

But following Spectra's request to include these as fugitive emissions exempt from individual emission standards, Cushing seems to have changed his mind. 

"Tom was fine with us wanting to include the tanks as fugitives and asked that we send him an email containing a description on how the tanks operate along with our reasoning on why they should be included as fugitives so that he could review," Cotter reported to Spectra in April 2016.  

These revelations come shortly after Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton promised to assess Spectra's pending state permits on their merits and "not in any predetermined way." 

Yet DeSmog recently revealed the cozy relationship the company's lobbyists in the state had forged in the past two years with its top environmental decision makers, particularly Beaton and his undersecretary, Ned Bartlett. Another of Spectra's lobbyists, ML Strategies, the lobbying arm of law firm Mintz Levin, has connections to Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker.  

DeSmog reached out to but did not receive responses from Spectra Energy, Massachusetts DEP, and Thomas Cushing.

Categories: Latest News

On Leaving Prison: A Reflection on Entering and Exiting Communities

Truthout - Mon, 05/22/2017 - 21:00

Formerly incarcerated people suffer from losing their community twice -- first while entering prison and again while leaving it. (Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

Navigating life after prison can be daunting, even with the help of well-intentioned allies and organizations set up for that purpose, says Monica Crosby who was imprisoned for 20 years. But an often-overlooked challenge facing former prisoners is the loss of their two communities -- those who were a part of their lives before prison and those who became their community in prison.

Formerly incarcerated people suffer from losing their community twice -- first while entering prison and again while leaving it. (Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

This story is the sixth piece in the Truthout series, Severed Ties: The Human Toll of Prisons. This series dives deeply into the impact of incarceration on families, loved ones and communities, demonstrating how the United States' incarceration of more than 2 million people also harms many millions more -- including 2.7 million children.

Returning from prison after 20 years has been nearly as traumatizing as being in prison for that length of time. Trying to rebuild my life and reunite with my family after my long absence from their lives, and to keep my sense of self that I'd managed to reclaim while in prison, has been daunting and difficult. The community to which I returned was so different; after 16 months out of prison, I am still struck by how much changed during the time I was incarcerated.

I'm from the Uptown neighborhood on the north side of Chicago. Those of us from the north side have called it the North Pole for decades. Most of the families I knew while growing up are gone. Buildings I knew well are no longer there, and the ones that remain are largely unaffordable. My own family no longer is in Uptown; they moved out of state in 1998 just before I was sentenced to prison. A few of my favorite places are still around: It is a comfort to me that the Uptown People's Law Center -- a nonprofit legal organization that specializes in prisoners' rights, tenant rights and Social Security benefits -- is still in Uptown, and Jake's, a restaurant I'd gone to since childhood, is right down the street from the law center. So much, however, is gone. The times when I feel home, when I feel free, are few and far between.

The Communities I've Lost

I've lost two communities. The first is the one I grew up in, sitting on the lake, walking along "the rocks" just off Montrose Beach, being a student of the long-gone Uptown People's Learning Center, working with the Heart of Uptown Coalition and the Chicago Area Black Lung Association as a teenager, going to the movies with my friends at the Uptown Theater and the Riviera, and buying my favorite music at Topper's, a record store in the midst of what used to be a bustling shopping district. There was Survival Day, when the whole of Uptown would gather on the mall to celebrate another year of survival of our community.

The other community I've lost is the one I was a part of in prison. I was part of that community for so long -- almost as long as I lived in Uptown. It was a community composed of deep, abiding, loving, affectionate, mutually beneficial, supportive friendships and kinships. Our solidarity was borne of shared sorrows, grief, guilt, shame about our pasts, regrets for our failings. Together, we suffered the indignities of being in prison. Out here, I am missing my prison family as much as I missed my family while inside.

Prison is a society, a community, as much as any other that exists in the "free world." As with any society, there are communities within the larger community. While in prison, I was in a theater troupe, Acting Out Theatre. The women in that troupe were sisters, friends and mothers to me. We laughed and cried and argued and comforted one another. This community extended outward -- to cellmates and friends who weren't in the troupe but would help me learn my lines by running lines with me on the rec yard or in the shower room after lock-up time.

One of the women in my troupe had her cell shaken down by correctional officers, and contraband was found in her cell. She and her cellmates were told that if no one claimed the contraband or told whose it was, the four of them would be taken to solitary. One of them took responsibility for the contraband, though it was not hers. She was a friend of many of us in our theatre troupe. She knew how important being in the troupe was for all us, and how the women on the grounds looked forward to the troupe's performances, and so she decided to claim responsibility for the contraband in the hope that the troupe would not lose a member. That is community at its best: acts of solidarity and a sense of responsibility and caring for everyone in the community with you.

My membership in the theater troupe gave me more than community and meaningful relationships in prison -- it also helped me to be in relationship with my youngest daughter. During my time in prison with my troupe, my youngest daughter was in high school, participating in theater. We had something in common, something to talk about in our few letters and phone calls. We'd compare experiences, talking about troupe dynamics, how we prepared for our roles, and even costuming and set design. At one point, she and I were performing in our respective troupes' productions of Shakespeare; my daughter played Helena in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and I was Don John in "Much Ado About Nothing." She sent me pictures of herself in full costume from a couple of the productions she had a role in, which I shared with my troupe with more love and pride than I can ever write about. My baby girl is so talented, intelligent, creative and beautiful, and our respective theater communities gave us the chance to connect. I always looked forward to our letters and conversations about theater.

Since my release from prison, we do not talk nearly as much as we did during my last few years in prison. My return to "community" has distanced me even further from my youngest daughter. This breaks my heart. I wish and hope to remedy this disconnect, but how? Outside of the context of our theater communities -- and with no shared community -- what route do we have to build a connection? I have told her that I am here for her whenever she wishes to try to rebuild our relationship, but want to respect her boundaries, so I will not force myself into her life.

How Prison Separated Me From My Children

My youngest daughter was one year old when I went to prison; she was 21 when I was released on parole. It was only in the first couple of years of my incarceration and my last couple of years that I had any steady communication with my family. I was in Cook County Jail from 1995 to 1998. During that time I was able to see my daughters nearly every week -- from behind a plexiglass window, but still, I saw them. After my conviction, my family moved out of Illinois, and the strongest connections in my life were suddenly broken. From September 1998 to December 2015, I saw only one member of family, one time. My oldest daughter came to see me in August 2013. We'd planned visits several times before and they'd always fallen through; I had all but given up hope.

Then, she and I were in the visiting room, along with my two grandchildren, who before then I'd seen only in a few pictures. I was overjoyed and afraid at once. What if my daughter didn't like me? What if she didn't recognize me? After all, I hadn't seen her since 1998 while in Cook County Jail, when she was 10 years old.

Now, my oldest daughter and I have a fairly solid relationship, though we have had to work hard for it. I am happy to say that we talk on the phone nearly every day. We have seen one another. I have spent time with my four grandchildren, and it has been frightening and beautiful. I was afraid to hold my youngest granddaughter for the first time, when she was six months old. I'd forgotten how small babies are.

My children and I have been separated by miles and years. We have been separated by my actions and my failure to act. My daughters have their own feelings about my having been absent so long, and that is their story to tell, not mine. I have never forgiven myself for being gone from my children's lives, nor do I expect that anyone else will. I hope, but do not expect. Indeed, no one can or will ever hate me as much as I have hated myself, nor can anyone judge me more harshly than I have judged myself.

Of course, there are those who will continue to judge and condemn me, and anyone else who has been in prison. This makes the return to community even harder.

Struggling With Re-Entry in the Absence of a Caring Community

I have met hundreds of people from many different organizations purporting to be allies of incarcerated and formerly-incarcerated people in the 16 months I have been out of prison. However, the people whom I can call on for support are few in comparison to the number of people and organizations I've come across. I have come to believe there is a difference between ally and community. The idea of allyship to me seems to suggest a temporary connection -- once a shared goal is accomplished, all the people involved go their separate ways. It is practical, yes, and necessary to have allies in any movement, but to me allyship feels very dry and dispassionate.

To me, community means something different. Within community, there is shared responsibility and accountability, caring and connection. It is understood that the health, happiness, success, security and stability of the community is directly connected to that of the individuals within it. In community, support is given where needed. Solidarity is lived, not just a word spoken.

Returning to Chicago from prison, I quickly discovered what a lack of community feels like, and what dangers it poses. I paroled to a halfway house. Ostensibly, this placement was meant to help me reintegrate into society, but in fact, it hindered me greatly. I had no sense of belonging to a community, no feeling of being supported or being able or welcome to ask for guidance to this new world to which I had come. Neither did I feel that the halfway house was an ally. The process of getting my ID and fulfilling other requirements of parole (which, if left unfulfilled, would mean a parole violation and potentially a return to prison) was overwhelming, nearly impossible to navigate. I received no help from the halfway house.

It was only through the Uptown People's Law Center -- still in my life, after all these years -- and my case manager at Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities that I was able to get my ID and fulfill those other requirements. While living at the halfway house, I felt constantly under threat because I questioned some of its policies. While living there, I was constantly afraid of being sent back to prison. Other residents felt the same way. We did not feel safe or supported there, but we were stuck. Anyone familiar with how parole works knows that one cannot just leave while on parole.

While at the halfway house, I refused to say the Serenity Prayer during Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings. While I understand that AA and the Serenity Prayer may work for some people, it is not for me. I had no significant history of alcohol or drug abuse, and attending AA or any other substance abuse treatment program was not a part of my parole stipulations. I am not religious in any way. I asked why I was required to attend AA. This was not well received, either.

Meanwhile, we finally managed to persuade the halfway house to bring in a counselor to run a group for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, but it ended abruptly after the counselor refused to hand all her notes over to the halfway house staff, citing the right of therapist-patient confidentiality. Our group met three times; then it was gone.

While in prison, I was fortunate enough to participate in many groups and classes, earning certificates relating to reentry, domestic violence and healthy relationships, critical thinking and many others. My achievements were dismissed by the director of the halfway house: She told me that they meant nothing.

Rediscovering Community Through Restorative Justice

However, there were a couple of good things that happened at the halfway house. Two women, one from the restorative justice community, the other from the Unitarian Universalist Church (a nondenominational church), came to speak with me. This was not arranged by the halfway house, but through the Uptown People's Law Center. In talking with them, I found hope, coming to believe maybe I did have a place out here. I was invited to attend restorative justice circles, eventually becoming a restorative justice "circle keeper" (a facilitator of restorative justice processes aimed at healing and repairing harms). I felt at home in these spaces, particularly since I'd taken part in a peace circle training while at Logan Correctional Center. I was also invited to a meeting with the Unitarian Universalist Prison Ministry of Illinois, where I was requested to help design the restorative justice circles that are now being held weekly in Cook County Jail and soon to be held in Logan Correctional Center. These circles are radically inclusive, welcoming to all regardless of race, sexual orientation or religious beliefs. They include readings from Starhawk to Kahlil Gibran. In the conversation around choosing readings, I was not condescended to or patronized. My contributions and input were welcomed and respected, and my being and my selfhood were never diminished. These were the spaces in which I finally felt free.

Being a part of these communities has helped me to reintegrate, to belong, to be truly free. Even though there were a few people within each community who questioned whether "violent offenders" (a label that could be applied to me) have a place within said communities, at no point was I made to feel unwelcome. Rather, when this question of "violent offenders" was raised, the larger community reassured those who were raising the question that yes, people like me belonged in their space. In arguing for my inclusion, they cited two principles of Unitarian Universalism: the inherent worth and dignity of all people, and respect for the interdependent web of existence of which we all are a part.

The principles of restorative justice are very similar to the principles of Unitarian Universalism. As much as anything else, these principles are both about accountability and taking responsibility. Restorative justice is about caring for one another and addressing harm in such a way that the heart and humanity of both the victim and offender are affirmed so that there can be true reparation of harm.

A person who has committed a violent crime is not always a "violent person." Too often the criminal legal system ignores the totality of a person's life in deciding who is and is not violent. This happens even in spaces occupied by people claiming solidarity with those caught up in the criminal legal system.

Restorative justice understands these truths. Within a restorative justice framework, everyone understands that the health of a community is intricately bound to the health of all its members. And in this frame "health" is defined broadly, meaning emotional and mental well-being, social and economic stability, happiness, solid relationships within the community, a sense of pride in one's self and in the community, and the freedom to live and learn and love without fear of judgement or recrimination.

Within months of being released, I also became involved with the LGBTQ prison abolition group Black & Pink, first through speaking at a letter-writing event held by the group along with Love & Protect and Moms United Against Violence and Incarceration. The event was a show of solidarity with Bresha Meadows and others who are incarcerated. I am proud to say I am now an organizer with Moms United Against Violence and Incarceration. To be in a space where I am welcome, where my thoughts and feelings are not dismissed but heard, and where I can engage in authentic conversation, is such a gift. Since that time, I have become friends with people in Black & Pink, the restorative justice community and the Unitarian Universalist Church. These are not just allies. They are my radically beautiful community, and I am grateful to have found them.

There are so many of us in prison who have wished and cried and prayed to undo the past, to change things and do them differently. We've done this wishing, crying and praying even while knowing there is no going back -- and so, we've also wished for the chance to live our lives better, for the chance to make things right. How can we do this if we have no community to help or guide us?

In a true community, all of these concerns can be spoken and addressed and alleviated, because everyone is valued. No one is thrown away or disposed of. When we talk about the "reentry" and "reintegration" of people coming out of prison, that critical component -- real community -- must not be forgotten.

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Trump Budget Endangers People and the Planet

Commondreams - Mon, 05/22/2017 - 12:36
Friends of the Earth

The Trump Administration is expected to release its first detailed budget Tuesday. The budget will contain deep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, sustainable food systems and renewable energy, according to reports.

Ben Schreiber, Friends of the Earth’s senior political strategist, issued the following statement ahead of the budget’s release:

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