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For 15 Years, Energy Transfer Partners Pipelines Leaked an Average of Once Every 11 Days

Truthout - Thu, 04/19/2018 - 21:00

A new report from environmental groups Greenpeace USA and the Waterkeeper Alliance, Dakota Access builder Energy Transfer Partners has had spills amassing over 3.6 million gallons of hazardous liquids over the course of fifteen years. The report also notes that the fossil fuel industry's record of spills has only gotten worse over time.

An aerial view shows a natural gas liquids pipeline under construction October 26, 2017 in Smith Township, Washington County, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images)

5,475 days, 527 pipeline spills: that's the math presented in a new report from environmental groups Greenpeace USA and the Waterkeeper Alliance examining pipelines involving Dakota Access builder Energy Transfer Partners (ETP). It's based on public data from 2002 to 2017.

All told, those leaks released 3.6 million gallons of hazardous liquids, including 2.8 million gallons of crude oil, according to data collected from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

That doesn't include an additional 2.4 million gallons of "drilling fluids, sediment, and industrial waste" leaked during ETP's construction of two pipelines in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan. Also left out: air pollution and leaks from natural gas pipelines, which were beyond the scope of the new report but which play a significant role in climate change and can cause explosions.

Across the entire industry, hazardous liquid pipelines spilled a total of 34.7 million gallons during the past decade, directly causing 16 deaths and $2.7 billion worth of damage. More than one in ten of those gallons came from ETP.

"That’s a red flag for a company that has an extensive network across the country and is building even more pipelines as we speak in Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and other states," said Greenpeace USA research lead Tim Donaghy, PhD. "ETP and Sunoco's track record of spills, including several striking examples of big spills, are indicators of a constant threat to communities and water. This could happen again to communities along the pipeline routes."

A Long List of Spills and Accidents

ETP spilled crude oil over 400 times, "refined petroleum products" such as gasoline 92 times, and other flammable or toxic fluids 27 times, the researchers found. And many of the spills involved large amounts of oil -- roughly one in four of ETP's pipeline oil spills involved 2,100 or more gallons of oil.

In one 2005 incident, 436,000 gallons of crude oil spewed from a tank farm into a Delaware River tributary outside Philadelphia. That same year, a pipeline built in the 1950s dumped enough oil into the Kentucky and Ohio river to leave a 17-mile oil slick. And in 2009, a Texas pipeline caught fire and leaked over 140,000 gallons near Colorado City, Texas.

Cleaning up those sorts of spills is no easy job. Out of 3.6 million gallons ETP spilled, almost half -- a total of more than 1.5 million gallons -- was never mopped up, the report found. In addition, the company caused $115 million in property damage, according to federal tallies.

Sunoco, which merged with ETP, is included in the report's analysis. In 2012, ETP first merged with Sunoco, formally absorbing pipeline-wing Sunoco Logistics Partners in 2017. The combined companies operate over 70,000 miles of USpipes. That's "nearly long enough to encircle the earth three times," the report notes.

The new report finds that ETP's pipelines have a somewhat higher-than-average rate of problems. Twelve percent of ETP's spills polluted water sources, finds the report, titled "Oil and Water: ETP and Sunoco's History of Pipeline Spills." That's compared against a 10 percent national average. And three out of eight incidents nationwide where PHMSA specifically noted harm to drinking water supplies involved ETP pipelines.

The pipeline industry's record has grown worse over time, the report notes, reaching a peak of 454 spills in 2015 before dropping "slightly" to 404 in 2017.

Bayou Bridge Pipeline

The company's controversial pipeline construction projects across the US include the Bayou Bridge pipeline that would tie in to the Dakota Access pipeline and carry oil from North Dakota's Bakken shale down to the Gulf of Mexico, the Mariner East 2 pipeline that will carry the plastic precursor ethane across Ohio and Pennsylvania to the Atlantic coast, and the 713-mile Rover pipeline, that will transport natural gas through Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, where millions of gallons of drilling fluid have spilled during construction.

The Bayou Bridge pipeline's route through wetlands and drinking water supplies for over 300,000 people has community and environmental advocates particularly concerned.

"Construction of the Bayou Bridge pipeline represents a high risk to hundreds of waterways across the entire state of Louisiana," said Waterkeeper Alliance Clean and Safe Energy Campaign Manager Donna Lisenby.

The new report warns that if ETP's track record remains unchanged, the Bayou Bridge pipeline will experience multiple spills of 2,100 gallons or more of hazardous materials after it's built. "Assuming the US system-wide rate for significant crude oil spills of 0.001 per year per mile, we estimate that the Bayou Bridge Pipeline would suffer eight significant spills during a 50-year nominal lifetime," the report concludes. Photographs of Bayou Bridge construction taken by photojournalist Julie Dermansky, who has reported on Bayou Bridge for DeSmog, are included in Greenpeace's report.

"We're not happy with Bayou Bridge because we know that Energy Transfer Partners is accident prone," said Harry Joseph, a pastor from St. James, Louisiana, where the Bayou Bridge pipeline will terminate. "We fear that something will happen in St. James -- it's just a matter of time because of ETP’s history. The company has had problems."

Sinkholes, Spills and Suing

Those fears will sound familiar to some Pennsylvanians living near the Mariner East 1 and 2 pipelines, where the new report tallied over a hundred "inadvertent releases" and accidents, some of which contaminated locals' water wells, polluted local trout streams, or even caused massive sinkholes to open up. One of those sinkholes erupted just 300 feet from railroad tracks where Amtrak trains and local commuter rail operates, prompting the state to issue an emergency shutdown.

Many living near Mariner East's path are concerned about the risk of more accidents. "This is an organic farm," West Cornwall farmer Phil Stober told ABC News, "and if it damages our groundwater, what recourse do we have?"

The company's most notoriously controversial project was, of course, the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL), where an encampment by people calling themselves "water protectors" in Standing Rock, North Dakota, drew national attention as law enforcement used attack dogs, tear gas, and high-pressure water cannons in subzero temperatures against Indigenous peoples and allies who opposed DAPL construction.

"We all recall the Dakota Access pipeline construction process because of the inspiring resistance from Indigenous communities that wanted to protect their water," said Greenpeace's Donaghy. "Those Water Protectors were right; that pipeline alone leaked four times in 2017."

An additional three incidents along the full stretch of the Dakota Access-Energy Transfers Crude Oil pipeline were also reported to federal authorities, including a roughly 5,000 gallon oil spill in Tennessee.

Other ETP pipeline construction projects that have had a lower national profile also caused major spills. The Permian IIExpress pipeline dumped 361,200 gallons of crude near Sweetwater, Texas, in the largest pipeline leak of 2016.

Last August, ETP sued Greenpeace, BankTrack, and Earth First!, claiming that anti-pipeline advocates were engaged in racketeering against the firm and demanding $900 million in damages. Greenpeace is currently defending against those charges in court and argues that the case is what's known as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, or SLAPP suit, aimed at silencing discussion of harms caused by ETP. (This month, a federal judge effectively dropped Earth First! from that lawsuit, following arguments that Earth First! is a philosophy and not actually an organization. ETP had attempted to hold a magazine called Earth First! Journal liable as representing Earth First!) The lawsuit against Greenpeace is still ongoing.

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Economic Update: Why People Struggle With the System

Truthout - Thu, 04/19/2018 - 21:00

This week's episode discusses the teachers' strikes, how capitalism abuses facebook, how colleges reward privilege and reproduce it, Shell Oil knowing about fossil fuels and global warming for last 50 years, UK housing size shrinks, how Sinclair Broadcasting traps employees and the US anti-depressant crisis. Also included is an interview with Rob Robinson on water as human right vs. for profit.

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

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

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Who Will Be the Next GOP Speaker?

Truthout - Thu, 04/19/2018 - 21:00

Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan finally admitted that the rumors were true, announcing his intention to step down at the end of the term and retire -- rather than run for reelection in the 2018 midterms. Ryan's decision means that even if the GOP does manage to hold onto a majority after the November election -- an outcome even more in doubt now than it was just weeks ago -- the party will be seeking a new speaker of the House when it reconvenes in 2019.

Or, if some GOP House members have their way, maybe even sooner.

With the party still reeling from Ryan's official announcement that he will be leaving DC, all ambitious House leaders are vying to take over the speakership -- becoming the third, or possibly even second, most powerful Republican in office. And it's a role that many are willing to do anything to win.

The leading contenders are Congressman Kevin Murphy of California and Congressman Steve Scalise of Louisiana, both staunch conservative leaders. Murphy has served as House majority leader since Eric Cantor lost his seat in a surprise upset in 2014, and already campaigned for the speakership when Ryan's predecessor, Ohio Republican John Boehner, was ousted. Scalise is just one step lower than McCarthy in the House GOP hierarchy, and he gained a great deal of admiration and esteem after being critically shot by gunman during a Congressional baseball game.

And they both have considerable baggage. The Denver Post reports:

In 2014, Scalise was discovered to have addressed a white-supremacist group in 2002 founded by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. Scalise apologized and said he'd been unaware of the group's racial views. McCarthy suggested in 2015 that a House committee probing the deadly 2012 raid on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya, had damaged Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's poll numbers, undermining GOP arguments that the investigation wasn't politically motivated. That raised questions about his ability as a communicator, a key for party leaders.

Both Murphy and Scalise are logical choices for a far-right successor. But would they be right-wing enough to appease everyone? Not a chance -- which is why Freedom Caucus leader and Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan has signaled his intention to run, too.

While Ryan has officially backed McCarthy as his favorite -- and even Scalise has agreed that the Californian would be a logical and acceptable replacement -- Jordan has made it clear that no one will simply be anointed and walk away with the position.

"There is no speaker's race right now. Paul Ryan is the speaker," Jordan said Friday, according to the Washington Post. "If and when there is, I've been urged by colleagues to consider that, and I am definitely open to that. Right now, though, the focus has got to be on the next six months, us keeping the majority."

There may not be a speaker's race right now, but not everyone thinks that's the way it should be. Politico reports:

Several allies to speaker hopeful Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the majority leader, say House Republicans need to be united heading into the midterms, and that a leadership race could split the conference. Other Republicans are questioning whether having a lame-duck speaker at the helm of the Republican Conference will hurt their fundraising. "We would have more success if there's no ambiguity as to what the leadership structure might look like," said Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.), one of McCarthy's closest allies, who is pushing for a vote to replace Ryan sooner rather than later. "Certainty is important. … From the conversations I've had, everybody wants our "A team" in place, our strongest team in place, so we have the strongest outcome going into the election cycle."

Was Ryan's decision to public support McCarthy as the next speaker just a ploy to keep McCarthy's faction from ousting him immediately from his leadership role? If so, that may be the most successful negotiation Ryan has managed in his entire tenure as Speaker.

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Students as Teachers: Facing the World Adults Are Wrecking

Truthout - Wed, 04/18/2018 - 21:00

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student, Emma Gonzalez, center, stands next to Naomi Wadler, 11, of Alexandria, Virginia, right, near the conclusion of March for Our Lives on Saturday March 24, 2018, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Matt McClain / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

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During the first week of May 1963, more than 800 African-American students walked out of their classrooms and into the streets of Birmingham, Alabama, to call for an end to segregation. Despite frequent arrests and having dogs and high-pressure firehoses turned on them, they kept marching. Their determination and ceaseless bravery -- later called the Children's Crusade -- was captured in photographs and newspaper articles across the country. Through acts of peaceful and defiant civil disobedience, these students swayed public opinion in support of the civil rights movement.

Fast forward to March 24, 2018. Naomi Wadler, a fifth grader, is standing at a podium in front of hundreds of thousands of protesters at the March for Our Lives in Washington, DC. Young as she was, Wadler, who organized a walkout at her elementary school to honor the 17 victims of the Parkland massacre, delivered a searing and heartfelt speech about the countless gun-related deaths of African-American women in America. Her steely resolve and the power of her message brought me to tears. I wondered: Is this what it will take? Will a new generation of fearless student-leaders be the agents of change that America so desperately needs?

As a teacher, it took me a while to begin to see just what my students truly had in them. During my first two years of high school teaching, I'm not sure I loved or even liked my teenage students. If someone asked me about my job, I knew the right things to say -- working with teenagers was challenging yet inspiring -- but I didn't believe the lip service I was paying the profession. Much of my initial experience in the classroom was emotionally draining, engaged as I was in power struggles with those students, trying to assert my influence and control over them.

It seemed so clear to me then. I was their teacher; they were my students. So I set out to establish a dynamic of one-way respect. I would provide information; they would listen and absorb it. This top-down approach was the model I'd observed and experienced my entire life. Adults talk, kids listen. So it couldn't have been more unsettling to me when certain of those students -- by sheer force of spirit, will, or intelligence -- objected. They caused friction in my classroom and so I saw them as impediments to my work. When they protested by arguing with me or "talking back," I bristled and dug my heels in deeper. I resented them. They posed a continual threat to my ego and my position as the unassailable owner of the classroom stage.

Still, I knew something was wrong. In the quiet hours of the early morning I'd often wake up and feel a discomfort I can't describe. I'd run through exchanges from the previous day that left me wondering if I was doing more harm than good in that classroom. Yes, I continued to assert my right to the ownership of knowledge, but was I actually teaching anyone anything? I was -- I could feel it -- actively disregarding the emotional and intellectual capacities of my students, unwilling to see them as informed, competent, and worthy of being heard. I was, I realized, becoming the very kind of person I hated when I was in high school: the adult who demanded respect but gave none in return.

The best decision I ever made in a classroom was to start listening to my students.

As I slowly shifted the power structure in that room, my thinking about the way we look at youth and how we treat adolescents began to change, too. We ask teenagers to act like adults, but when they do, the response is often surprise followed by derision.

So it came as no real shock to me that, as soon as the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, started to talk back to the "adults in the room" -- the pundits, commentators, politicians, the National Rifle Association, members of other special interest groups, and even the president -- they were met, at least in certain quarters, with remarkable disdain. The collective cry from their opponents went something like this: there is no way a bunch of snot-nosed, lazy, know-nothing teenagers have the right to challenge the status quo. After all, what do they know, even if they did survive a massacre? Why would watching their friends and teachers die in the classrooms and hallways of their school give them any special knowledge or the right to speak out?

This nose-scrunching, finger-waving contempt for all things adolescent is a time-honored tradition. There's even a name for it: ephebiphobia, or fear of youth. The ancient Greek philosopher Plato was quoted as saying: "What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets, inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?"

And in some ways, Plato was right: the old should be fearful of the young. You see, the teenagers who marched after Parkland don't necessarily hate the world; they just hate the particular world we've built for them. They've watched as the rules of the status quo have been laid out for them, a status quo that seems to become grimmer, more restrictive, and more ludicrous by the week. Fight for an end to police violence against unarmed black civilians and you're a terrorist. Kneel during the National Anthem and you're un-American. Walk out of your school to force people to confront gun violence and you're not grateful for your education. In short, whatever the problems in our world and theirs, there is no correct way to protest them and no way to be heard. Not surprisingly, then, they've proceeded in the only way they know how: by forging new paths and ignoring what they've been told is immutable and impossible.

A World of Technology-Adept Students

In doing so, those students have a distinct advantage over their elders. Adolescents understand the optics of the future in a way that most of the rest of us don't. They've spent countless hours making YouTube and Snapchat videos and vlogging about their lives. They're digital natives with the astonishing confidence to navigate the gauntlet of talking heads, corporate news media sites, politicians, commentators, tweeting presidents, and anonymous trolls. They not only do it with remarkable conviction, but it seems to come naturally to them.

They've been raised not only to believe in themselves, but also to have faith that there's an audience online for those beliefs. No wonder Rush Limbaugh has taken to calling David Hogg, one of the most prominent of the Parkland student protesters, "Camera Hogg." No wonder many on the right have accused students like him of being "paid actors." Of course, Hogg isn't acting; he's simply a kid who has made practice perfect.

According to a 2017 American Time Use Study by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, American teenagers spend around 4.5 hours per day online, though that number may actually be low. In 2015, Common Sense Media conducted a study that found "American teenagers (13- to 18-year-olds) average about nine hours (8:56) of entertainment media use, excluding time spent at school or for homework." Two divergent paths emerge when considering such statistics. Follow one and the research supports the conclusion that excessive screen time has deleterious effects on the mental health and wellbeing of teenagers. Follow the other and you find those same teenagers so finely attuned and well adapted to the landscape of social media that they've become virtual masters of the craft.

Seventeen-year-old student activist David Hogg displayed exactly this mastery when he responded recently to Laura Ingraham of Fox News. She had attempted to publicly humiliate him by tweeting condescendingly about how he had been rejected by four California colleges. Hogg proved himself so much savvier than his famous foe when, instead of responding to Ingraham's mudslinging, he promptly tweeted for a boycott of her show's advertisers. More than a dozen of them quickly jumped ship, which was devastating for her. When she issued an anemic mea culpa, he responded on CNN by saying, "The apology... was kind of expected, especially after so many of her advertisers dropped out." In his measured appraisal of the situation lay a striking grasp of the established order. "I'm glad to see corporate America standing with me and the other students of Parkland and everybody else," he said, "because when we work together we can accomplish anything."

That exchange, a real-time adults vs. kids tweet war, had me riveted. The immediacy and efficacy of Hogg's actions seemed to shatter the well-established dynamics between old and young. Hogg not only showcased his understanding of the way things work in America as so much craftier than Ingraham's -- always go for the money -- but also utilized the most powerful tool at his disposal: a single well-aimed tweet meant to upend a seemingly bulletproof target. In doing so, he demonstrated that young people are now capable of speaking far more resonantly than their parents or grandparents could possibly have imagined. The question, of course, remains: Will the rest of us listen to them?

Asking the Big Questions at a Young Age

When focused through collective grief, anger, and urgency, the energy and passion that defines youth can be a powerful stimulus for change. The inherent ridiculousness of the argument against youth-led movements -- that students have no platform on which to stand -- pointedly overlooks the role of youth as catalysts for social transformation. From the Children's Crusade of the civil rights moment to the student protests of the Vietnam War, adolescents (and sometimes even children) have regularly been on the front lines of the fight for social change.

The argument against listening to children is often made by those who forget what it's like to be young. The daily lives of adolescents are, after all, deeply involved in thinking, assessing, analyzing, and evaluating. Nine months out of the year, whether they like it or not, they are actively engaged in education. By the time they graduate from high school -- assuming they've attended for an average of 6.5 hours per day, 172 days per year -- 18-year-olds in Oregon where I teach have spent somewhere around 14,690 hours in the classroom. It should come as no surprise then that, after so many years of being taught how to give speeches, make arguments in papers, support claims with evidence, and study the past, many teenagers are remarkably articulate and well-positioned to grasp the nature of the world they are about to enter. Whether they fully know it or not, they're regularly being forced to ask the "big" questions about a distinctly messy world and beginning to form their own life philosophies.

Yes, just as I felt in my first two years as a teacher, teenagers can be maddeningly self-absorbed. But (as must be increasingly obvious, post-Parkland) those on the threshold of adulthood can also be astute observers of the world around them -- sometimes strikingly more so than the adults who are supposed to provide them with so much wisdom. They're deeply passionate about the things they love and rightfully skeptical of the world they will inherit.

Asking them to accept the depressing realities of the society we're bequeathing to them without expecting them to respond, let alone protest, is tantamount to teaching without listening. My students know that the loan debt for their college-age equivalents already stands at $1.3 trillion and is only likely to get worse. It's a subject that comes up in class all the time. So most of them already grasp their fate in our world as it is. They ask me how they're supposed to pay for college without incurring lifelong, crippling debt, and I can't give them a reasonable answer. But of course they don't really expect me to.

They've been told that the richest 20% of Americans hold 84% of the nation's wealth while the bottom 40% of Americans have less than 1%. They can see those vast wealth disparities for themselves in their lives, in their classrooms. They know that this country is over-weaponized and that neither "hunting" nor the "Second Amendment" can account for it. They've grappled with the terrifying reality that they could be gunned down in their own school, at the movies, at a concert, or even outside their homes. When we practice active-shooter drills in the classroom, all those fears are only confirmed. They see that adults can't protect them and draw the necessary conclusions. So when they disrespect institutions, rules, beliefs, and traditions that look like relics from a past that has wantonly jeopardized their future, and when they disrespect the adults who seem to uphold those traditions, shouldn't we take notice and listen?

Here's one thing that shouldn't surprise anyone. Teachers, exposed daily to these very teens, have been among the first to collectively follow them out of the classrooms and into the streets. The teacher strikes and walkouts in Oklahoma, Kentucky, and West Virginia indicate that support for grassroots movements is building and that adults are, in their own ways, beginning to stand with and support the young.

Those teachers, often in the streets without the support and assistance of their unions (when they even have them), have opted instead to harness the energy and momentum behind the current youth-led activism and the tools available to them on social media to make their demands heard. Noah Karvelis, a new teacher in Arizona, caught the essence of the present situation when he described his colleagues as being, "primed for activism by their anger over the election of President Trump, his appointment of Betsy DeVos as education secretary, and even their own students' participation in anti-gun protests after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida."

Ultimately, the teachers are demanding changes that will benefit not just them but their students. Still, their detractors have opted to respond to their strikes and walkouts by shaming the teachers and reducing their calls for funding and support to so many petty complaints. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin even compared striking teachers in her state to a teenager who "wants a better car." In doing so, she highlighted one thing: the greatest insult you can hurl at teachers these days is to compare them to their students.

Teenagers can indeed be infuriating. They can be rude, naïve, and short sighted, but so can adults. Dismissing adolescents for the fact of their youth and denying them the right to be heard just makes the rest of us look ever more like the enemy. All I can say in response is that this teacher is standing firmly with her students and the hundreds of thousands of others who are collectively demanding a voice.

Categories: Latest News

Stunning Investigation Confirms Black Mothers and Babies in the US Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis

Truthout - Wed, 04/18/2018 - 21:00

Tuesday marked the end of the inaugural Black Maternal Health Week, a campaign founded and led by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance. The effort was launched to build awareness and activism around the state of black maternal health in the US. The United States ranks 32 out of the 35 wealthiest nations in infant mortality. Black infants are now more than twice as likely to die as white infants, a disparity greater than existed in 1850, 15 years before slavery ended. Each year, an estimated 700 to 900 maternal deaths occur in the US, which is one of only 13 countries in the world where the rate of maternal mortality is worse than it was 25 years ago. And according to the Centers for Disease Control, black women are three to four times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes as their white counterparts. These statistics were reported in a powerful new investigation in the New York Times Magazine, "Why America's Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis." Even more shocking is that, according to the report and contrary to widely accepted research, education and income offer little protection. The answer to the disparity in death rates has everything to do with the lived experience of being a black woman in America. We speak to New York Times Magazine contributing writer Linda Villarosa, who directs the journalism program at the City College of New York.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: Here on Democracy Now!, I'm Amy Goodman with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Tuesday marked the end of the inaugural Black Maternal Health Week, a campaign founded and led by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance. The effort was launched to build awareness and activism around the state of black maternal health in the US Here are a few sobering statistics that underscore the need for such a campaign. The United States ranks 32nd out of the 35 wealthiest nations in infant mortality. Black infants are now more than twice as likely to die as white infants, a disparity greater than existed in 1850, 15 years before slavery ended. Each year, an estimated 700 to 900 maternal deaths occur in the US, which is one of only 13 countries in the world where the rate of maternal mortality is worse than it was 25 years ago. And, according to the Centers for Disease Control, black women are three to four times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes as their white counterparts.

AMY GOODMAN: Black women and babies make up a significant number of cases of infant and maternal mortality in the United States. These statistics were reported in a powerful new investigation in The New York Times Magazine called "Why America's Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis." Even more shocking is that, according to the report and contrary to widely accepted research, education and income offer little protection. The answer to the disparity in death rates has everything to do with the lived experience of being a black woman in America, says our guest, journalist and New York Times Magazine contributing writer Linda Villarosa. She directs the journalism program at the City College of New York. Welcome to Democracy Now! It's great to have you with us.

LINDA VILLAROSA: Thank you so much.

AMY GOODMAN: A really powerful piece. Why are America's black mothers and babies in a life or death situation today?

LINDA VILLAROSA: Well, when you go through the research -- and I'm very interested in data and research -- first, you have to look at all of the things that it is not. So you start to think, well, is it because black women are not taking care of themselves? But then there are studies that say, "Oh, even when prenatal care is the same, then still black women have low birth weight babies." Then it's sort of like, well, is there some kind of gene? Is there a genetic component? Then there are studies that say "No, actually." Because when African immigrants and Caribbean immigrants come here, their babies are equal to white babies in size. But after a generation, then they start to look like African American babies, even when they are from the poorest countries. So after a while, it starts to just say, "Well, actually there is something else going on that has to do with being a black woman in America."

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what "it" is.

LINDA VILLAROSA: It is race and racism. So it's in two ways. One is just the lived experience of what happens to black women in the country has a physiological effect. There's a wonderful researcher in the University of Michigan who coined the term "weathering." I love the term because it is very poetic. So its says it's like the weathering of a rock by the ocean. But it is also like the -- weathering a storm, by a house, because it also speaks to resilience and resistance. But there's a physiological effect.

So if you are stressed out -- and I don't mean, "Oh, I'm so stressed out" -- the "lean in" kind of stressed out -- but repeated insults to your psyche over and over and over again, it revs up your system so that it actually starts to wear you down. The internal systems of your body. So that's part one of this, is the lived experience of being a black woman in America.

The second is the way black women are treated in the health care system. And I say black women, but I mean black people. And this has been something studied ad nauseam. I've read so many studies my eyeballs want to fall out, but it's hard to get this across. A lot of people will say,"Oh, the Tuskegee experiment. That is what it is about." And I said, "The Tuskegee experiment was years ago. We're talking about people who are being mistreated, ill treated right now."

If you combine the two and you take a woman who is essentially having a stress test to her body, which is pregnancy and childbirth, and you put her in this volatile situation where she is weathered and worn down by repeated insults, and then she is in a system that maybe is not out for her best interest, you get a volatile mix.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And that would explain why neither education nor income substantially impacts maternal health.

LINDA VILLAROSA: I think what really explains it is -- what really puts it into stark focus is what happened to Serena Williams. So Serena Williams had her baby in September.
And after the baby was born, she started complaining about having shortness of breath. She had a history of pulmonary embolisms, which is a blood clot in the lungs. So, she was ignored, and her concerns were not taken seriously, and it led to a crisis. Presumably, this is one of the richest women in the world, and one of the most proactive and one of the most powerful. But still, her legitimate concerns were ignored at a hospital.

AMY GOODMAN: And she told the nurse exactly what she needed. She knew what she had. She said she needed a CT scan with contrast and IV heparin, a blood thinner, right away. The nurse thought her pain medicine might be making her confused. She insisted. Soon enough a doctor was performing an ultrasound on her legs. And you have the ultrasound revealing nothing, so they sent for a CT. Sure enough, several small blood clots had settled in her lungs. She was right. Minutes later she had the drip. And she said, "I was like 'Listen to Dr. Williams.'"

LINDA VILLAROSA: Yes. Please. The owner of your own body, that you know best.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: In your piece, you also talk about your own experience. Could you tell us what happened in your case?

LINDA VILLAROSA: What was interesting for me is I had read a study about college-educated women who have more -- the higher rate of infant mortality, 75 percent related to low birth weight. So I'm thinking, "OK." I didn't believe it at first, because I was still under the assumption that this was strictly a problem of poor women. Which is wrong and terrible, but I still thought, "Well, OK, I see this." But then when I got pregnant, I ended up -- my baby was not progressing -- was not large enough, given her gestational age.

So my wonderful gynecologist said, "You need to go on bed rest and you need to go to a specialist."

So I went to the specialist, and the specialist was grilling me with all kinds of, "Do you use cocaine? Do you drink? Do you…?" And I'm the health editor of Essencemagazine, so I am super into health, I'm very into fitness, I am trying to be a role model for good health and take care myself and my baby. So I was really insulted. "Do You have all of these different kinds of illnesses?" I'm, like, "No, I am fine."

Then I looked up what I had, called intrauterine growth restriction, and it is something that is associated with women who are not taking care of themselves, smoking, drinking, using drugs, or ill. And so I thought, "What is wrong with me?" It turned out my baby was better not inside of me but on the outside, so I had her induced right at term. She was low birth weight. Low birth weight is 5.5 pounds. She was four pounds, 13 ounces.

She is fine now. She's a healthy, smart, athletic college student. But I thought, is this because of my lived experience of being a black woman in America?

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to do part two of this discussion, and we're going to post it online at Democracynow.org. Linda Villarosa directs the journalism program at City College of New York. Contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine. We will link to her piece "Why America's Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis." That does it for our show.

Categories: Latest News

Rashid Khalidi: Ending the Proxy Wars in Syria Is Key to De-escalating Deadly Conflict

Truthout - Wed, 04/18/2018 - 21:00

Columbia professor Rashid Khalidi discusses how the war in Syria in has become a proxy war with a number of nations involved, including Russia, Iran, the United States, Israel, Turkey and the Gulf States.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

Firing Mueller

Truthout - Wed, 04/18/2018 - 21:00
Categories: Latest News

Trump's Allies Are Threatening Rod Rosenstein With Impeachment if He Doesn't Cooperate

Truthout - Wed, 04/18/2018 - 21:00
With everything going on in the White House, the media must maintain relentless pressure on the Trump administration. Can you support Truthout in this endeavor? Click here to donate.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein continued to face pressure from President Donald Trump's allies this week, according to the Washington Post, as Republicans in Congress try to undermine the special counsel's Russia investigation

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), two of the president's allies on Capitol Hill, are pushing for Rosenstein to turn over documents related to the investigation, the Post found. According to the report, the lawmakers are even threatening to impeach Rosenstein if he does not comply. 

"Impeachment" itself may be an empty threat. Two-thirds of Senate would have to vote in favor of removing Rosenstein from office, and any effort would likely face blowback from Democrats and Republicans in the chamber.

It would also be unnecessary: If even a halfway-compelling article of impeachment could be drafted in the House of Representatives, the president could just fire Rosenstein instead.

However, the lawmakers are also reportedly considering holding Rosenstein in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over the documents. This might serve as political cover for Trump to fire Rosenstein.

Since Rosenstein oversees special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the president and his associates, GOP lawmakers likely perceive him as a serious threat to their ability to govern. Demonstrating their power over him -- even if it's mostly for show -- could be designed to send a message to him and anyone else investigating Trump that Congress has the president's back.

The effort also falls in line with the Republican's attempts to muddy the water around the investigation. If they can imply or suggest that Rosenstein, Mueller, James Comey, all the other investigators are somehow corrupt or duplicitous, it will weaken any impact that the special counsel's final report could have.

At the same time, all the effort Republicans are putting in to fighting the investigation suggests that they're deeply afraid Mueller might discover something exceptionally damaging about the president.

Categories: Latest News

Island-Wide Blackout Deepens Puerto Rico Crisis

Truthout - Wed, 04/18/2018 - 21:00

View of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico on April 18, 2018, as a major failure knocked out the electricity in Puerto Rico, leaving the entire island without power nearly seven months after Hurricane Maria destroyed the electrical grid. It could take up to 36 hours to restore electricity to nearly 1.5 million affected customers. It was the second widespread failure in less than a week, underscoring just how fragile Puerto Rico's electricity remains since the storm hit on September 20, 2017. (Photo: Jose Jimenez / Getty Images)

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After struggling for nearly seven months to rebuild Puerto Rico's power grid, which was destroyed by Hurricane Maria, the US territory experienced an island-wide blackout on Wednesday -- its first since the storm struck last September.

As meteorologist Eric Holthaus put it, "This is still a humanitarian emergency."

Puerto Rico, Day 210:
—The entire island (>3,000,000 people) is w/o power for the first time since Hurricane Maria struck
—More than 10k people still w/o clean water, >100k continuously w/o power since the hurricane
—This is still a humanitarian emergencyhttps://t.co/0Nxwh48Tlj

— Eric Holthaus (@EricHolthaus) April 18, 2018

Officials told The Associated Press that "an excavator accidentally downed a transmission line" and "it could take 24 to 36 hours to fully restore power to more than 1.4 million customers." The blackout is just the latest in a series of power outages that residents have endured since the storm hit, including one last week that left about 840,000 people in the dark.

Responding to the incident on Twitter, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) targeted the Trump administration's recovery efforts post-Maria -- which have been widely denounced as inadequate -- while Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called for a broader government investment to repair the island's power system.

It’s shameful, and a total failure of governance by the Trump White House, that the people of Puerto Rico are still dealing with an unstable and unreliable power grid almost 7 months after Hurricane Maria. https://t.co/SUxjYWFBPS

— Rep. Keith Ellison (@keithellison) April 18, 2018

We are the wealthiest country in the world. Our full resources must be brought to fix not just this blackout, but the ongoing outages that have left hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans without power since Hurricane Maria.https://t.co/uax2XJoHGu

— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) April 18, 2018

Sanders is among those who have advocated for rebuilding the grid to rely on renewable forms of energy as well as sweeping loan forgiveness for Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), which even before the storm was plagued by outdated infrastructure and massive amounts of debt.

Wednesday's blackout, as the AP noted, "occurred as Puerto Rico legislators debate a bill that would privatize the island's power company, which is $14 billion in debt and relies on infrastructure nearly three times older than the industry average."

The privatization plan, announced by the governor earlier this year, has been met with contempt among local leaders and residents.

Writing for The Intercept last month, Naomi Klein explained that based on Puerto Ricans' past experiences with private telephone companies and water treatment systems, many fear "that if PREPA is privatized, the Puerto Rican government will lose an important source of revenue, while getting stiffed with the utility's multibillion-dollar debt."

"They also fear that electricity rates will stay high," she wrote, "and that poor and remote regions where people are less able to pay could well lose access to the grid altogether."

The privatization fears are accompanied by critiques of controversial repair work by government contractors such as Whitefish and Fluor following the hurricane.

The people of #PuertoRico are in the dark again. They deserve so much better than this. And no accountability for contractors like Fluor, which was paid $830-million to "rebuild" the grid. They've already returned to Texas... https://t.co/uzzXyOFzST

— Naomi Klein (@NaomiAKlein) April 18, 2018
Categories: Latest News

Congress Urged to Cut Medicare Payments to Many Stand-Alone Emergency Rooms

Truthout - Wed, 04/18/2018 - 21:00

The woman arrived at the emergency department gasping for air, her severe emphysema causing such shortness of breath that the physician who examined her put her on a ventilator immediately to help her breathe.

The patient lived across the street from the emergency department in suburban Denver, said Dr. David Friedenson, who cared for her that day a few years ago. The facility wasn't physically located at a hospital but was affiliated with North Suburban Medical Center several miles away.

Free-standing emergency departments have been cropping up in recent years and now number more than 500, according to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC), which reports to Congress. Often touted as more convenient, less crowded alternatives to hospitals, they often attract suburban walk-in patients with good insurance whose medical problems are less acute than those who visit an emergency room located in a hospital.

If a recent MedPAC proposal is adopted, however, some providers predict that these free-standing facilities could become scarcer. Propelling the effort are concerns that MedPAC's payment for services at these facilities is higher than it should be since the patients who visit them are sometimes not as severely injured or ill as those at on-campus facilities.

The proposal would reduce Medicare payment rates by 30 percent for some services at hospital-affiliated free-standing emergency departments that are located within 6 miles of an on-campus hospital emergency department.

"There has been a growth in free-standing emergency departments in urban areas that does not seem to be addressing any particular access need for emergency care," said James Mathews, executive director of MedPAC. The convenience of a neighborhood emergency department may even induce demand, he said, calling it an "if you build it, they will come" effect.

Emergency care is more expensive than a visit to a primary care doctor or urgent care center, in part because emergency departments have to be on standby 24/7, with expensive equipment and personnel ready to handle serious car accidents, gunshot wounds and other trauma cases. Even though free-standing emergency departments have lower standby costs than hospital-based facilities, they typically receive the same Medicare rate for emergency services. The Medicare "facility fee" payments, which include some ancillary lab and imaging services but not reimbursement to physicians, are designed to help defray hospitals' overhead costs.

The proposal would affect only payments for Medicare beneficiaries. But private insurers often consider Medicare payment policies when setting their rules.

According to a MedPAC analysis of five markets -- Charlotte, N.C.; Cincinnati; Dallas; Denver; and Jacksonville, Fla. --  75 percent of the free-standing facilities were located within 6 miles of a hospital with an emergency department. The average drive time to the nearest hospital was 10 minutes.

Overall, the number of outpatient emergency department visits by Medicare beneficiaries increased 13.6 percent per capita from 2010 to 2015, compared with a 3.5 percent growth in physician visits, according to MedPAC. (The reported data doesn't distinguish between conventional and free-standing emergency facility visits.)

"I think [the MedPAC proposal] is a move in the right direction," said Dr. Renee Hsia, a professor of emergency medicine and health policy at the University of California-San Francisco who has written about free-standing emergency departments. "We have to understand there are limited resources, and the fixed costs for stand-alone EDs are lower."

Hospital representatives say the proposal could cause some free-standing emergency departments to close their doors.

"We are deeply concerned that MedPAC's recommendation has the potential to reduce patient access to care, particularly in vulnerable communities, following a year in which hospital EDs responded to record-setting natural disasters and flu infections," Joanna Hiatt Kim, vice president for payment policy at the American Hospital Association, said in a statement.

Independent free-standing emergency departments that are not affiliated with a hospital would not be affected by the MedPAC proposal. These facilities, which make up about a third of all free-standing emergency facilities, aren't clinically integrated with a hospital and can't participate in the Medicare program.

The MedPAC proposal will be included in the group's report to Congress in June.

Even though stand-alone emergency facilities might not routinely treat patients with serious trauma, they can provide lifesaving care, proponents say.

Friedenson said that for his emphysema patient, avoiding the 15- to 20-minute drive to the main hospital made a critical difference.

"By stopping at our emergency department, I truly think her life was saved," he said.

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Categories: Latest News

Remove Trump, Defang Pence: Impeachment Is the Way

Truthout - Wed, 04/18/2018 - 21:00

Palestinians walk on a poster bearing images of Donald Trump and his deputy Mike Pence during a demonstration at the al-Quds Open University in Dura village on the outskirts of the West Bank town of Hebron on December 13, 2017. (Photo: Hazem Bader / AFP / Getty Images)

As matters currently stand, the odds of Donald Trump being impeached by this Congress are so profoundly minute, they defy even the existence of mathematics. There are no numbers -- here, there or anywhere -- that say such a thing is remotely possible. The federal government is rendered powerless by its own inadequacies; after giving a trillion dollars to rich people, there isn't much else the Republicans in the majority can do, so they are content to hunker in the bunker and see what November brings. Open support for impeachment, even among Democrats, is so gossamer right now that it doesn't cast a shadow in the high noon sun.

Rather than wallow in the riptides of the stormy present, cast your mind forward to the possibilities of the New Year. Imagine Trump -- mired in scandal and in a permanent state of full-throttle temper tantrum -- spending the summer and fall taking a lead pipe to any hopes the GOP had of retaining a majority in either chamber. The House and Senate are lost in a November bloodbath, the House by historic margins and the Senate by a nose. Finally, like the tolling of a funeral bell, the Mueller Report is made public after the special counsel finishes his investigation.

Maybe it's obstruction of justice. Maybe it's collusion with a foreign power to interfere with an election. Maybe it's money laundering. Maybe it's all of these and worse. Come January, a new Democratic Congress with the Mueller Report in hand will almost certainly have the necessary voltage to zap Donald Trump out of his current government sinecure and send him home to Trump Tower to watch his empire fall. As Paul Waldman recently explained in The Washington Post, "He may well be the single most corrupt major business figure in the United States of America." That corruption did not evaporate once he took the oath of office, but stuck fast to him like a kale fart in a hot car.

They will have the goods on Trump, I am mortally sure. Will they act?

For good reason, the very existence of Vice President Mike Pence is enough to derail any serious discussion of the impeachment of Donald Trump. As it stands, the man certainly serves as a potent insurance policy against Article II, Section 4.

When conversations turn to Trump's impeachment, LGBTQ activists and others have rightly raised an alarm about the acute dangers they would face from a President Pence. He could, with the right allies in Congress, push for a "religious objections" bill that legalizes discrimination against LGBTQ citizens, as he did while governor of Indiana. He might push for a bill requiring people who have abortions to hold funerals for the fetus, as he did in 2016. He might sign a bill requiring people seeking abortions to undergo two invasive trans-vaginal ultrasound procedures, as he did in 2013.

Hell yes, there is good reason for concern, and even fear. Pence is the kind of Christian evangelical zealot who would have been right at home putting "pagan" villages to the sword and torch a thousand years ago. His misogyny and homophobia are the stuff of nightmares. He is, very quietly, a darling of the right-wing moneyed elite and speaks their language fluently. Worse, as a former governor and member of the House, Pence actually knows how government works. He does not regularly dismember fellow Republicans in public, and he could easily build coalitions with the worst elements in Congress. With his knowledge and their help, they could pass legislation hateful enough to frighten the Freedom statue off the Capitol Dome.

That is now, today, tomorrow, next week and every week until November. My kid will still be eating her Halloween candy when the midterm deal goes down, and if the numbers hold or get worse for Republicans, it's going to be a whole different conversation at this year's Thanksgiving table. Sure, Pence is terrifying on a number of levels, but if the cookie crumbles just so in November, the beast will be without teeth.

There is ample precedent to support this presumption, in the guise of former President Gerald R. Ford. No historical comparison is seamless, of course, but the example of Ford is highly instructive.

After Richard Nixon resigned the presidency and fled back to California, Ford pardoned him. A few days later, he unveiled a program of conditional amnesty for Vietnam draft evaders. A year later, he presided over the US military's final, staggering exit from that war; Operation Frequent Wind was a frantic evacuation that saw helicopter gunships shoved over the sides of aircraft carriers and into the sea to make room for more refugees. Amazingly enough, Ford got Justice John Paul Stevens onto the Supreme Court. He was shot at more often than any president since George Washington.

That's pretty much it. Gerald Ford's presidential library is one room with a magazine rack and some mints in a dish. Ford didn't do nothing, but he didn't do much. Why?

There are several reasons. The long agony of Watergate, culminating in the concussion of Nixon's resignation, left the nation and the government so exhausted as to be effectively rendered powerless. With only a few scant accomplishments and no signature legislation to his name, Ford spent much of his time in office as an animated placeholder while the country tried to come to grips with what had just happened to it. Moreover, the Democrats in Congress -- cat-wary after Watergate -- watched him like a hawk. Everyone just waited for 1976, when a peanut farmer came along and sent this accidental president back home to Michigan.

As stated, no historical analogy is seamless. Ford was appointed, not elected, and the Congress of that day had yet to be infected by the rancid teachings of Supply Side Jesus. That being said, the similarities and probabilities are too obvious to ignore. If the impeachment of Donald Trump were successfully undertaken in 2019 or even 2020, the aftermath would find Mike Pence frozen like an ant in amber.

The ultimate removal of Trump would be preceded by a massive political upheaval that would leave the Republican Party on fire from stem to stern. The executive branch would be shattered and splattered, cornered into virtual immobility under the Say-No-to-Everything sway of a Democratic majority … if that Democratic majority decides to show up. Everything on the table this time, Nancy. Keep your powder dry long enough and it turns to dust.

If the proper circumstances combine to allow the removal of Donald Trump from office, President Pence will become a cipher until an election comes along to remove him. He is neither smart enough nor strong enough to overcome the forces of history that will be sluicing through the cracks in his walls. He will be a man-suit stuffed with straw. He will be nothing, and then he, too, will be gone.

So let's do this. Climb on the 'Peach Train. If you happen to believe there will soon be sufficient evidence to justify the removal of this catastrophe president, don't let Pence chase you off. He might be scary today, but if voters pull his fangs come November, it will get really interesting around here.

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Categories: Latest News

Lawmakers Want the EPA to Ignore Impacts of Pesticides on Endangered Species

Truthout - Wed, 04/18/2018 - 21:00

According to the latest push by House Republicans, pesticides -- all of them -- are so safe there's no longer any need to bother asking experts to determine their harm to our most endangered species before approving them.

It's not true, of course -- not even vaguely. It's such an outrageously anti-science statement it's laughable.

But not surprisingly, that's what pesticide makers like Dow Chemical would have us believe.

And now that's what Republicans in Congress would have us believe.

This week some of the biggest agriculture and pesticide players in Washington, D.C. -- including Croplife and Dow Chemical -- succeeded in getting Republicans to include a rider in the 2018 Farm Bill that would exempt the Environmental Protection Agency's pesticide-registration program from the most important parts of the Endangered Species Act: The provisions requiring that a pesticide's harm to endangered species be assessed and addressed before it can be approved, and the provisions that prohibit a pesticide's killing of endangered species.

That's right: If the rider remains in place, consideration for impacts on endangered species would be written out of the process of registering pesticides.

Shortly after President Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt took power last year, they made it clear how little they cared about science, public health and wildlife when Pruitt reversed an EPA plan to ban Dow's chlorpyrifos from use on crops, despite troves of evidence showing that this chemical causes brain damage in children and is likely to harm imperiled species.

The troth of evidence against chlorpyrifos was so compelling that prior to Trump taking office, the EPA had found that the chemical harmed 97 percent of the nation's 1,800 endangered plants and animals.

The evidence of risk was overwhelming. Hence the EPA's plan to ban it.

But then Dow donated $1 million to Trump's inaugural fund, and the EPA simply walked away from years of research.

And now, Dow and friends are getting even more bang for their buck -- this time with House Republicans who don't seem to care how many species they drive extinct. 

It seems like Dow has really been cashing in on its D.C. spending spree over the past six years, during which the company has donated $11 million to congressional campaigns and political action committees and spent an additional $75 million lobbying Congress. 

It would be hard to overstate the dangers of this Farm Bill rider. If we don't stop it, it could not only directly fuel the extinction of many of our most endangered plants and animals -- it could eliminate one of the most important shields we have to protect all species, including humans, against highly toxic pesticides poisoning the waterways and landscapes we all depend on.

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Categories: Latest News

Sinclair Has Thrived for So Long Under the Radar

Truthout - Wed, 04/18/2018 - 07:27

Janine Jackson: The viral video of dozens of local newscasters from around the country, reciting identical scripts about "fake news," is the definition of painful irony. But what Sinclair Broadcast Group, the parent company that forced the broadcasters to parrot the words, is doing, and wants to do, is no laughing matter. Sinclair's been largely under the radar til now, though known to some as the owner that forced its stations to run a pseudo-documentary hit piece on John Kerry days before the 2004 election. The chain's Washington bureau chief resisted, told the Baltimore Sun, "I couldn't be part of this special and call it news, when what it is is political propaganda," and was promptly fired.

So what does it mean that Sinclair may acquire a station in your town next? Our next guest has been immersed in things Sinclair. Pam Vogel is a research fellow at Media Matters. She joins us by phone from Washington, DC. Welcome to CounterSpin, Pam Vogel.

Pam Vogel: Thanks for having me on.

Let's start with that video that Deadspin cut together. It's chilling in its content. People who obviously don't have any control over what they're saying, talking about "free speech" and "mind control," you know? Someone said that it looks like "hostage video," and in a way, it almost is. People need their jobs, after all. The "must-run" is a significant part of the Sinclair way, isn't it?

Yes, and this sort of scripted segment that's read by local anchors isn't necessarily typical for Sinclair. It's a little bit of an escalation, which I think is maybe why some folks are so riled up when they see this video. It does feel very eerie and disingenuous. But in addition to a sort of scripted segment like the one in that video, Sinclair regularly mandates that all of its local TV news stations run certain types of segments that they produce nationally at their headquarters near us here in DC.

So those types of must-run segments are more regularly produced. There's one called Bottom Line with Boris, and that is featuring a man named Boris Epshteyn, who used to be a Trump aide. He was hired by Sinclair a little bit after he left the White House, and his commentary segments are produced, pretty much every weekday there's a new one. They're pretty short, about 90 seconds, two minutes. And it's pretty predictable. So I watch all of them as they come out, and I already know what's going to be in them, for the most part. It's always either in agreement with President Trump, or a defense of something that Trump has done, or in a few cases -- including yesterday -- a defense of Sinclair itself, or a defense of Epshteyn's commentary segment.

And the second must-run that they typically are mandating that their stations air is called Terrorism Alert Desk. Those also are relatively short segments. They're produced about every other day, there's a new one, and those are sort of quick-hit, vague headline-reading of stories that they have determined are about terrorism. And I watched a year of those segments. And some of the things that we sort of pulled away in analysis of those segments were that they weren't very informative for viewers, but the repetition aspect of reading vague headlines about things like terror-related arrests, where we never get any follow-up information, a focus overall on terror associated with Islam -- taken all together like that, it really just serves to gin up xenophobia in local news audiences.

So I think when we talk about that context, and some of the other must-run segments Sinclair's doing, the idea of having local anchors decry "one-sided and biased news" feels even more ironic.

Really, it takes it over the top. And it's two things, because it's the content, and then it's the nature of it being must-run. There was a guy who worked briefly at a Sinclair station named Aaron Weiss, who wrote a piece for Huffington Post, and he recounted a conference call of news directors. When someone asked if they could ever run local commentary during newscasts, the answer was a firm "no." So the threat of Sinclair, the concern, is not just that it's right-wing, it's what they mean for the localism of local news, as well, isn't it?

Yes. There's a recent study out of Emory University, where the authors found that a small group of stations last year was acquired by Sinclair, and when those stations saw the transfer in ownership, that was pretty much immediately accompanied by a change in the types of news that those stations covered. So they began to cover more national stories at the expense of local stories.

Yeah, I saw that Emory research, and I thought it was interesting that they found more national politics, as opposed to local, and a slant to the right, and then they note that the results suggest a substantial "supply-side" role in these trends toward nationalization and polarization of politics news. In other words, the changes weren't responsive to viewers' tastes changing. They really just came from the ownership changing.

And this is something to keep in mind when we're talking about Sinclair, too, because they're in the middle of trying to finalize an acquisition of more media stations across the country: 42 more local TV stations, some in the largest media markets -- New York, Chicago, LA -- where they don't really currently have any stations that they control, whether it's through ownership or through operating them solely, which is part of Sinclair's MO. But this speaks to their efforts to consolidate, and they view it as a win for innovation.

But what really happens is that they're free to minimize the resources that stations need, which, again, takes away from the localism. And it can be also kind of creepy, in a way that's a little bit similar to the way that these local anchors were mandated to read those scripts. We're seeing other instances already with Sinclair stations where they're using the same local anchors broadcasting from one station in one state, and they're actually narrating nightly news segments in other states.

So it's not even really local at all at this point, and this is in a time in which local news resources are already shrinking, or already have been dwindling.

Exactly. So to be clear, in that sort of arrangement they still have some local reporters that are in the community. But the anchors at the desk are in a completely different state. So they're basically making the argument -- through the way that they're allocating those resources -- that the anchors don't matter. It just seems like overall a kind of lack of respect for journalistic integrity, for their employees.

Absolutely. Well, I did read that David Smith, the chairman of Sinclair, has quipped that Sinclair is "forever expanding, like the universe." That doesn't sound good. You just hinted toward it: They are trying now to have a huge acquisition, or an acquisition that would get them into the three biggest markets in the country. So what's in between them and that right now?

Yeah. The acquisition is waiting final approval from the FCC and from the Department of Justice, on antitrust grounds, and it's pretty much expected that both of those entities will approve the deal. They're obviously pretty aligned with the Trump administration, and President Trump has vocalized his support for Sinclair in two tweets in the last couple of days. So I don't think we're going to see any pushback there.

But one thing that is interesting is that the FCC is actually under an internal investigation right now, because they've made so many moves, regulatory and deregulatory, in the last year since they acquired a Republican majority on that commission, because of the Trump administration, to make things easier for Sinclair to see that deal through. They reinstated some outdated, wonky math for calculating ownership caps, that basically is allowing Sinclair to own an unprecedented number of stations, and reach up to 72 percent of US television households, which is completely unheard of, and wouldn't have been possible before the FCC was under Republican control.

I want to be clear: It's not like there's a Sinclair network, and that if you don't want it, you can avoid it, you know? That's part of the problem, is that there's kind of a labeling issue, as well, isn't there?

Yes, absolutely. If you're tuning in to cable news -- Fox, MSNBC, CNN -- you sort of know what you're tuning in to. You're signing up for something specific, whether it's news delivered with a particular perspective, whether it's commentators that have a national profile, and so you might know already what their background is and their approach. But with Sinclair, you don't have that same expectation. So if you're turning to your local nightly news, you might see that it's called ABC 6 or CBS 12, but you don't see a Sinclair logo anywhere on your screen.

The good news is, it's relatively easy to find out who owns your station. And that's exactly what Sinclair doesn't want folks to do. They have thrived for so long under the radar. So I think now that people are becoming aware of what they've been up to, it's important to keep that drumbeat going, and to take a little bit of time to just know who owns your station, because they're not making it very clear.

We've been speaking with Pam Vogel. She's research fellow at Media Matters. They're online at MediaMatters.org. Pam Vogel, thank you so much for joining us today on CounterSpin.

Thank you.

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Categories: Latest News

The 2018 Farm Bill's Hidden Agenda to Push Millions Off Food Stamps

Truthout - Wed, 04/18/2018 - 07:20
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Last August, on the first day of an eight state, two-installment RV tour to address poverty and prosperity in rural America for the upcoming farm bill, US Department of Agriculture Secretary George "Sonny" Perdue visited the Wisconsin State Fair. 

Activities that morning included carnival rides and a listening session with farmers, which Perdue hosted alongside Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Afterward, Perdue, Walker and their families were in search of food. Walker quipped, "We'll probably find a few things on a stick."

Perdue then set out in a Class A Hurricane Thor Motor Coach (floorplans start with an MSRP value above $100,000) to meet with young farmers at a farm he called, "a feed the hunger" type farm -- in reference to the Hunger Task Force Farm south of Milwaukee. Perdue also hosted Paul Ryan in the RV later that day. They sat around a thumbnail kitchen table beneath a blank, wall-mounted LED television, before hosting a speaking event. 

Dubbed the "Back to Our Roots" tour, Perdue vowed that the "USDA will be intimately involved" with Congress in writing the next farm bill, and that the tour would put him out "on the front lines of American agriculture" and enable him to "know best what the current issues are."

His quest culminated in late January in Mifflingtown, Penn., where he presented the USDA's "2018 Farm Bill & Legislative Principles" to Pennsylvania Farm Bureau members at Reinford Farms. Perdue described the four-page document as the "roadmap" to the USDA's farm bill priorities.

The report comes as Congress has begun deliberations for the next farm bill -- what could be one of the largest non-defense funding authorizations in our nation's history. The current bill expires on September 30, and the House Ag committee could take its first votes on a new bill any day now.

The farm bill structures almost everything that governs our food system. It dictates incentives as to what is grown and what we eat. It establishes farm subsidies and trade policy. It regulates crop insurance, nutrition programs, forestry polices and conservation programs. It allocates funds for disaster relief and food assistance programs. Farm bills are passed by Congress about every four or five years.  

But what began as a strategy to restore farm purchasing power has become infamous for its history of political drama and logrolling spectacle; a chimeric piece of legislation over which a dizzying array of interests vie for their stake. Lurking behind a name that connotes pastoral innocence, lies a knotted entanglement of Congresspeople serving the interests of Big Ag and corporate lobbyists. Some experts have even decried the bill as a public health crisis. 

"No one person has a handle over the entire bill. They can't possibly do that," says Marion Nestle, former professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. "Everybody knows what a farm bill ought to do. But power politics gets involved. There were hundreds of amendments put forth for the last one. Nobody can possibly know the issues involved in them. So, it's who pushes the hardest." 

Nestle recalls how one staff member from the Senate Agricultural Committee met with an NYU class she taught on the farm bill.  The staffer admitted to the class that after eight years working with the committee, her best resources for learning what was in the bill were lobbyists.

"[Senate Agriculture Committee staff] would meet with lobbyists and lobbyists would explain what the programs were about and what they wanted, and that's how she learned it," Nestle says. In 2014, the farm bill was the sixth most lobbied piece of legislation that year.

Since the tumultuous passage of the last farm bill in 2014 (it was passed two years after the previous farm bill expired), farmers have been experiencing an economic upheaval similar to that of the 1980s

In May 2017, the National Farmers Union launched a website to address a four-year prolonged farm crisis, replete with information on disaster relief for the year's weather catastrophes, how to apply for emergency relief loans, and a suicide prevention hotline. (A 2016 study by the Centers for Disease Control found that that people working in agriculture -- including farmers, farm laborers, ranchers, fishers, and lumber harvesters -- take their lives at a higher rate than any other occupation.)

According to Jennifer Fahy, communications director for the nonprofit organization Farm Aid, in 2017 chapter 12 bankruptcies -- farm bankruptcies -- increased at a faster rate than any other type of bankruptcy. Fahy says the Farm Aid has been receiving a record number of calls in recent years. In 2017, Farm Aid tripled the number of emergency grants made to farmers, and in 2018 they're on track to triple that number again. "Land rents are up and expenses are up and [farmers'] margins are smaller and smaller," she says. "These are people who have built their lives around their farms. When a farm goes under, it's not just the business that goes under; it's the loss of the farm and the land, and usually the family's home."

The USDA estimates that from 2009 to 2016, about 109,660 farms have disappeared, with small and midsized farms bearing the brunt of these closures. Over the past four years, net farm income has declined by an estimated 50 percent, marking the largest drop since the Great Depression. Commodity prices have taken a nosedive across the industry, with significant losses to corn, wheat, soybean, and dairy prices dipping below their post-2008-recession levels.

To address the crisis, Perdue has commandeered rhetoric of his predecessor Henry A. Wallace, Roosevelt's agriculture secretary. Perdue chairs the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity, which was established by Trump in 2017, and he's donned a new mantra for the USDA: "Do Right and Feed Everyone."

The first farm bill, passed in 1933, in many ways embodied Wallace's New Deal vision. In the years leading to the Great Depression, many farm journals and farm organizations had warned farmers to control production, as ready markets and fair prices were shrinking or not available. When the economy crashed, farmers were struck swiftly and directly. As prices for commodities plummeted, farmers faced a surplus of production because  many US families were too poor to buy food. Wallace pledged that the government would buy "from those who have too much to give to those who have too little." The Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 was established by Congress' to "relieve the existing National Economic Emergency by increasing agricultural purchasing power." It was the first major New Deal agricultural legislation, and was declared unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court in 1936.

For farmers and farm advocates, Perdue's rhetoric has so far shown to be full of empty promises, raising great concerns with how the farm bill will proceed. Perdue has helmed something of a skeleton crew at the USDA, which is undergoing major organizational restructurings (he eliminated the Rural Development Mission Area), staff vacancies and scandal. It was not until January -- long after farm bill discussions had begun -- that the USDA appointed an official congressional liaison. As of April 12, only six of the 13 USDA positions that require Senate confirmation have been confirmed. Three are pending and the other four have no nominee. 

Farmers and farmer advocates say such administrative uncertainty and negligence has resulted in delays and impaired access for essential services during the Spring planting season, and have raised concerns about how committed the USDA will be to small farmers through the stifling political process of the farm bill. 

"The language from the administration on issues like trade and immigration have been really challenging because they're creating this climate of uncertainty that's impacting farmers," says Fahy of Farm Aid. "There's language out there that rural America is important and that the administration is going to do the right thing, but the details are missing. We have farmers calling because they can't get access to the credit they need for the operating loans to put seeds in the ground for this spring." 

In the months since Secretary Perdue's visit to the Hunger Task Force Farm, Sherrie Tussler, executive director of the Hunger Task Force, has likewise noted a significant shift in her group's relationship with the USDA.

"There seems to be a chilling effect, frankly, on the work that we've done together previously of improving the quality of the federal nutrition programs and their access at a local level," says Tussler. 

For Tussler, Perdue's visit to Wisconsin may have signaled the USDA's legislative agenda to come. When asked about food assistance programs during his trip, Perdue said at the time, "Everybody can get down on their luck. We understand that. We understand compassion is needed. But that should not be a lifestyle of dependency on the government for food."

Tussler was recently surprised to see her photo with Perdue in the 2018 report next to the section calling for strengthening work requirements for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) recipients. "I'm holding up commodities because I'm showing him what kind of foods low-income people live on," Tussler says. "He was not terribly impressed with the powdered milk," which is one of the commodity products seniors receive through the USDA's Commodity Supplemental Foods Program. "We're at the farm, but I'm showing him commodities."

Tussler, who has been with the Hunger Task Force for 20 years, sees what has been happening in Wisconsin as foreshadowing what Congress might do with the farm bill with its largest Republican majority in Congress since 1929.

A Bureaucracy That Benefits the Rich at the Expense of the Poor 

In 2015, Wisconsin extended work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents throughout the state, requiring 80 hours of unpaid work experience a month for enrollees in order to receive FoodShare benefits -- the state's version of SNAP. As a result, Tussler says, people are required to work more than 100 hours in unpaid labor to receive an average of $105 in food assistance benefits per month. ResCare, a for-profit agency in Milwaukee that provides such employability programs for FoodShare recipients, found that only 7 percent gained employment, while 53 percent lost their benefits and were banned from the FoodShare program for three years.  

As a part of Governor Walker's plan to root out fraud in food assistance programs, he also established an Office of the Inspector General in Wisconsin. According to Tussler, recent memos internal to the OIG's welfare office in Milwaukee -- the state's largest welfare office -- report that each new case being opened was required to be marked as potential fraud. 

"We don't really have a fraud problem," Tussler says, citing Wisconsin as having one of the lowest error rates in food assistance benefits, at 2.5 percent compared with the national average of 3.6 percent. "It just shows a complete lack of understanding for how people live on food stamps." 

The crusade by conservatives to reign in anti-poverty and anti-hunger programs was poignantly on display last February when Perdue pitched the idea of supplementing SNAP with "Harvest Boxes." As part of the Trump administration's goal to slash food assistance programs by $214 billion over the next 10 years, the boxes would include "shelf-stable," low nutrition industrialized calories -- in essence the same powdered milk that made Perdue cringe at the Hunger Task Force Farm. 

Yet, what received little coverage in the media was not the proposal's blatant inability to provide healthy food, but rather the fact it's already been normalized. Since 1977, the USDA's Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations -- designed as an alternative to SNAP -- has been distributing shelf-stable processed food commodities, like apple sauce that contains no apples, to low-income Native Americans. The program has been infamous for perpetuating the "thrifty gene theory" -- the notion that falsely puts forth a biological reason as to why American Indians and Alaska Natives have a higher rate of obesity than whites and are far more likely to have Type 2 diabetes.

The effect of imposing this diet of processed food on Native communities has given rise to the phenomenon: "commod bod." As one University of Oklahoma researcher told NPR, "It makes you look a certain way when you eat these foods." It has also done little to reduce the prevalence of hunger and poverty. Today 60 percent of Native Americans living on reservations who receive food assistance through SNAP rely on the program as their primary source of food.

Efforts to block-grant the SNAP program have been proposed by House Republicans in the past -- a measure Paul Ryan has championed for years, and one that has already been implemented in Puerto Rico with disastrous effect. Such measures would eliminate the program's entitlement structure, cap spending, cut benefits and increase competition between communities for the program's resources.

Changing work requirements for SNAP eligibility would target low-income Americans already struggling to provide for themselves and their families. In 2015, nearly half of all SNAP participants (44 percent) were under age 18, while 11 percent were over the age of 60 and 10 percent were disabled nonelderly adults. Furthermore, most SNAP households already held earnings, and a majority of households did not receive cash welfare benefits. Nearly half of all SNAP participants (42 percent) held income at or below the poverty, and more than half (55 percent) of households with children already held jobs. According to the USDA, during the past 25 years, the primary form of income among SNAP participants has shifted from welfare to work. In that time, the number of SNAP households with zero net income rose more than two-fold.

"We are going to reach a point where people are not only living as a sub-class in poverty constantly, but we're going to put them at risk of not even being able to eat regularly," says Tussler.

Writing a Bill "in Secret" That Puts Commodities and Corporations First

As of mid-February, the House version of the farm bill had been drafted, but the draft had not been made public. "There is a bill out there that is supposedly being scored by the Congressional Budget Office, but nobody's seen it," said Congressman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) at a public forum in Massachusetts. According to McGovern, the bill was "being written in secret," bypassing the traditional subcommittee structure. 

Yet as the process wore on, initial rhetoric within the House Agricultural Committee of gaining a needed a bipartisan consensus had dissolved. In March, Reps. David Scott (D- GA) and Jim Costa (D-CA) sent a letter to ranking Democratic Ag committee member Rep, Collin Peterson (Calif.) asking that he abstain from all farm bill negotiations until Conaway agreed to share part of the drafted legislative text. "At no point during the Committee's 23 hearings on SNAP was there testimony in favor of radical reforms to SNAP," Scott and Costa wrote. 

By early April, House Ag Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas) made the pledge of "going forward" with the farm bill in order to defend SNAP eligibility changes. On April 12, the House Ag Committee released the first draft of their bill. With mounting opposition from House Democrats, along with pressure to pass a farm bill with a Republican majority before mid-term elections this year, the new draft faces the chance of a paralyzing death on the House floor.

The drafted bill would increase the age limit of able-bodied working adults from 49 to 59, and would require individuals to work or be enrolled in a job-training program for at least 20 hours a week beginning in fiscal year 2021. By 2026, that minimum number would jump to 25 hours per week. Those who violate the work requirements could become ineligible for SNAP benefits for a 12-month period. Those who fail to meet the requirements a second time would be subject to three years of lost benefits, "unless an individual obtains employment sufficient to meet the hourly requirement or is no longer subject to the work requirements at an earlier time." Such changes could make as many as 5 to 7 million SNAP recipients subject to stricter work requirements.

And as presaged by Wisconsin's FoodShare program, the bill seeks to expand a nation-wide crackdown on purported fraud. For instance, state agencies would be allowed to use retained SNAP funds to carry out "actions to prevent fraud," while also promoting public-private partnerships,paving the way to implement programs such as ResCare and Wisconsin's FoodShare nationally. It would also expand the Duplicative Enrollment Database in order to "prevent Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participants from receiving duplicative benefits in multiple states."

According to a statement, Conaway said, "The farm bill also keeps faith with these families by not only maintaining SNAP benefits but by offering SNAP beneficiaries a springboard out of poverty to a good paying job, and opportunity for a better way of life for themselves and their families."

In addition to opposition from Democrats over cuts to food assistance, Conaway faces a divided Republican Party when it comes to crop insurance, with some of the more conservative and libertarian wings of the party (as represented by the Heritage Foundation) also in support of cutting crop insurance. Paul Ryan himself claimed in 2013 that crop insurance was evidence of "crony capitalism."

"The interests of the commodity producers and the corporations outweigh the interests of low-income people, and as a result we don't end up assuring the dietary guidelines for Americans," says Tussler.

"People are supposed to get fruits and vegetables to be half their plate, but we don't get fruit and vegetables as half our supply," she says. "The process by which [fruits and vegetables] are offered and the frequency [of which they are provided] really has nothing to do with the needs of low-income people and everything to do with excesses the agricultural market and the politics of the people on the Ag Committee."

"People can't just eat canned green beans every single night for dinner," says Tussler. That is one of the reasons the Hunger Task Force established its own farm to supplement the food and emergency assistance it receives. "We're a farm ourselves," says Tussler. "That's a damn hard life."

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To Be a Survivor in a Nation of Embedded Racism: Black Lives Matter

Truthout - Tue, 04/17/2018 - 21:00

Vividly and trenchantly, Patrisse Khan-Cullors -- with the assistance of asha bendele -- draws on her personal experience to convey how Black communities are under systemic attack. In this excerpt of When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, she writes of a precarious life caught between the police, poverty and prejudice.

Black Lives Matter cofounder Patrisse Khan-Cullors speaks to people gathered at Pershing Square to protest a homeless man who was shot by the LAPD, March 1, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo: Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

A compelling memoir from a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement. Get When They Call You a Terrorist now from Truthout. Click here now.

Vividly and trenchantly, Patrisse Khan-Cullors -- with the assistance of asha bendele -- draws on her personal experience to convey how Black communities are under systemic attack. In compelling prose, she makes a cogent case for why Black lives are under siege by a deeply embedded racism. The following is her introduction to When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir. She writes of a precarious life caught between the police, poverty and prejudice.

INTRODUCTION: We Are Stardust

I write to keep in contact with our ancestors and to spread truth to people. —Sonia Sanchez

Days after the elections of 2016, asha sent me a link to a talk by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. We have to have hope, she says to me across 3,000 miles, she in Brooklyn, me in Los Angeles. We listen together as Dr. deGrasse Tyson explains that the very atoms and molecules in our bodies are traceable to the crucibles in the centers of stars that once upon a time exploded into gas clouds. And those gas clouds formed other stars and those stars possessed the divine-right mix of properties needed to create not only planets, including our own, but also people, including us, me and her. He is saying that not only are we in the universe, but that the universe is in us. He is saying that we, human beings, are literally made out of stardust.

And I know when I hear Dr. deGrasse Tyson say this that he is telling the truth because I have seen it since I was a child, the magic, the stardust we are, in the lives of the people I come from.

I watched it in the labor of my mother, a Jehovah's Witness and a woman who worked two and sometimes three jobs at a time, keeping other people's children, working the reception desks at gyms, telemarketing, doing anything and everything for 16 hours a day the whole of my childhood in the Van Nuys barrio where we lived. My mother, cocoa brown and smooth, disowned by her family for the children she had as a very young and unmarried woman. My mother, never giving up despite never making a living wage.

I saw it in the thin, brown face of my father, a boy out of Cajun country, a wounded healer, whose addictions were borne of a world that did not love him and told him so not once but constantly. My father, who always came back, who never stopped trying to be a version of himself there were no mirrors for.

And I knew it because I am the thirteenth-generation progeny of a people who survived the hulls of slave ships, survived the chains, the whips, the months laying in their own shit and piss. The human beings legislated as not human beings who watched their names, their languages, their Goddesses and Gods, the arc of their dances and beats of their songs, the majesty of their dreams, their very families snatched up and stolen, disassembled and discarded, and despite this built language and honored God and created movement and upheld love. What could they be but stardust, these people who refused to die, who refused to accept the idea that their lives did not matter, that their children's lives did not matter?

Our foreparents imagined our families out of whole cloth. They imagined each individual one of us. They imagined me. They had to. It is the only way I am here, today, a mother and a wife, a community organizer and Queer, an artist and a dreamer learning to find hope while navigating the shadows of hell even as I know it might have been otherwise.

I was not expected or encouraged to survive. My brothers and little sister, my family -- the one I was born into and the one I created -- were not expected to survive. We lived a precarious life on the tightrope of poverty bordered at each end with the politics of personal responsibility that Black pastors and then the first Black president preached -- they preached that more than they preached a commitment to collective responsibility.

They preached it more than they preached about what it meant to be the world's wealthiest nation and yet the place with extraordinary unemployment, an extraordinary lack of livable wages and an extraordinary disruption of basic opportunity.

And they preached that more than they preached about America having 5 percent of the world's population but 25 percent of its prison population, a population which for a long time included my disabled brother and gentle father who never raised a hand to another human being. And a prison population that, with extraordinary deliberation, today excludes the man who shot and killed a 17-year-old boy who was carrying Skittles and iced tea.

There was a petition that was drafted and circulated all the way to the White House. It said we were terrorists. We, who in response to the killing of that child, said Black Lives Matter. The document gained traction during the first week of July 2016 after a week of protests against the back-to-back police killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in Minneapolis. At the end of that week, on July 7, in Dallas, Texas, a sniper opened fire during a Black Lives Matter protest that was populated with mothers and fathers who brought their children along to proclaim: We have a right to live.

The sniper, identified as 25-year-old Micah Johnson, an Army reservist home from Afghanistan, holed up in a building on the campus of El Centro College after killing five police officers and wounding eleven others, including two protesters. And in the early morning hours of July 8, 2016, he became the first individual ever to be blown up by local law enforcement. They used a military-grade bomb against Micah Johnson and programmed a robot to deliver it to him. No jury, no trial. No patience like the patience shown the killers who gunned down nine worshippers in Charleston, or moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado.

Of course, we will never know what his motivations really were and we will never know if he was mentally unstable. We will only know for sure that the single organization to which he ever belonged was the U.S. Army. And we will remember that the white men who were mass killers, in Aurora and Charleston, were taken alive and one was fed fast food on the way to jail. We will remember that most of the cops who are killed in this nation are killed by white men who are taken alive.

And we will experience all the ways the ghost of Micah Johnson will be weaponized against Black Lives Matter, will be weaponized against me, a tactic from the way back that has continuously been used against people who challenge white supremacy. We will remember that Nelson Mandela remained on the FBI's list of terrorists until 2008.

Even still, the accusation of being a terrorist is devastating, and I allow myself space to cry quietly as I lie in bed on a Sunday morning listening to a red-faced, hysterical Rudolph Giuliani spit lies about us three days after Dallas.

Like many of the people who embody our movement, I have lived my life between the twin terrors of poverty and the police. Coming of age in the drug war climate that was ratcheted up by Ronald Reagan and then Bill Clinton, the neighborhood where I lived and loved and the neighborhoods where many of the members of Black Lives Matter have lived and loved were designated war zones and the enemy was us.

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"This book is a must-read for all of us." - Michelle Alexander

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The fact that more white people have always used and sold drugs than Black and Brown people and yet when we close our eyes and think of a drug seller or user the face most of us see is Black or Brown tells you what you need to know if you cannot readily imagine how someone can be doing no harm and yet be harassed by police. Literally breathing while Black became cause for arrest -- or worse.

I carry the memory of living under that terror -- the terror of knowing that I, or any member of my family, could be killed with impunity -- in my blood, my bones, in every step I take.

And yet I was called a terrorist.

The members of our movement are called terrorists.

We -- me, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi -- the three women who founded Black Lives Matter, are called terrorists.

We, the people.

We are not terrorists.

I am not a terrorist.

I am Patrisse Marie Khan-Cullors Brignac.

I am a survivor.

I am stardust.

Copyright (2017) by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bendele. Not to be reproduced without permission of the publisher, St. Martin's Press.

Categories: Latest News

A Stampede of Scandals

Truthout - Tue, 04/17/2018 - 21:00
Categories: Latest News

The US's #1 Weapons Salesman: Trump Promotes US Arms Manufacturers and Weakens Export Rules

Truthout - Tue, 04/17/2018 - 21:00

A new exposé by Reuters reveals how the Trump administration plans to make the US an even larger weapons exporter by loosening restrictions on the sale of equipment ranging from fighter jets and drones to warships and artillery. Reuters reveals that the new initiative will provide guidelines that could allow more countries to be granted faster deal approvals, and will call on Cabinet officials to help close deals between foreign governments and US defense contractors. In one example, Reuters reveals President Trump himself urged the emir of Kuwait, in a telephone call, to finalize a $10 billion fighter jet deal with Boeing, the country's second-largest defense contractor. The exposé details the role US Cabinet officials may be asked to play in pushing arms exports abroad as part of the new initiative, which will call for a "whole of government" approach -- from the president and his Cabinet to military attachés and diplomats -- to help draw in billions of dollars more in arms business overseas. The Trump administration is expected to announce the new rules as early as Thursday. We speak to Mike Stone of Reuters and William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to a new exposé that reveals how the Trump administration plans to make the US an even larger weapons exporter by loosening restrictions on the sale of equipment ranging from fighter jets and drones to warships and artillery. Reuters reveals that the new initiative will provide guidelines that could allow more countries to be granted faster deal approvals, and will call on Cabinet officials to help close deals between foreign governments and US defense contractors. In one example, Reuters reveals President Trump himself urged the emir of Kuwait, in a telephone call, to finalize a $10 billion fighter jet deal with Boeing, the country's second-largest defense contractor. The exposé details the role US Cabinet officials may be asked to play in pushing arms exports abroad as part of the new initiative, which will call for a, quote, "whole of government" approach -- from the president and his Cabinet to military attachés and diplomats -- to help draw in billions of dollars more in arms business overseas. The Trump administration is expected to announce the new rules as early as Thursday.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the Trump administration's arms sales initiative, we're joined now by two guests. In Washington, Mike Stone is a reporter on the arms industry for Reuters, co-author of the Reuters exposéexposé, headlined "Arming the world: Inside Trump's 'Buy American' drive to expand weapons exports." And William Hartung is with us, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, his recent piece for The Nation headlined "Donald Trump Is America's Number-One Weapon Salesman."

We go first, though, to Mike Stone. Mike, lay out what you found.

MIKE STONE: The Boeing signal to the embassy in Kuwait that it wanted to get this transaction through, when it occurred was in November of 2016, right around the time of the election. The State Department approved this arms transfer. It's 40 F-18s for a total potential cost of $10 billion. What was occurring was, Kuwait was slow to finish the contract negotiations, slow to send the check, as it were. And so, over the course of the year, Boeing pressed, and then this pressure moved up the chain of command through the White House, through various offices at the White House, until it finally reached the Oval Office.

And then, in a January 17th telephone call between the president and the emir, the president pressed on a few different issues. And in a way that's been explained to me by my sources, he really likes -- the president really likes to talk about specific arms deals on calls and have that feeling of just the touch, just getting it over the line. So that's exactly what happened in this case. A month later, Rex Tillerson -- well, a month later, Rex Tillerson said that the deal was finalized, but only a few days after the call between the emir and the president, local media were reporting that the deal had come to completion, after being, let's say, stalled for more than a year.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Mike Stone, in terms of the changes in policy now, could you talk about the significance of possibly moving the approval or oversight of arms sales from the State Department to the Commerce Department?

MIKE STONE: So, there's a variety of things that are going to come out in what's anticipated to be a Thursday rollout. It's going to be a conventional arms transfer policy that gets signed. There are several aspects of that. Some items will go to Commerce eventually from the State Department, but oversight for foreign military sales will remain at the State Department. And those sales, in years past, have been $42 billion, just for the FMS part. This is separate from direct commercial sales, which are when an arms manufacturer goes straight to a close ally, like a Britain or a France. But not many things in this rollout will go from the State Department over to Commerce. That's really a different thing that will happen later.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Mike Stone, how different is President Trump from, well, President Obama, for example?

MIKE STONE: So, what's actually quite interesting about this specific presidency is, Obama would go and push foreign leaders to buy commercial things more, but President Trump is very much interested in having a role in expanding the reach of the lethal weapons, having foreign leaders really dig in and buy those from US manufacturers. And that's the great big difference.

AMY GOODMAN: That picture of him with the Saudi prince with the weapon sales -- talk about Trump meeting with the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince MBS, Mohammed bin Salman, at the White House, the two leaders finalizing this $12.5 billion weapons deal, during the meeting Trump holding up posters of recent Saudi weapons purchases from the US and saying, "We make the best equipment in the world." Let's go to that clip.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Saudi Arabia has been a very great friend and a big purchaser of equipment and lots of other things. … Some of the things that we are now working on -- thanks -- and that have been ordered and will shortly be started in construction and delivered: THAAD system, $13 billion; the C-130 heli -- airplanes, the Hercules, great plane, $3.8 billion; the Bradley vehicles, that's the tanks, $1.2 billion; and the P-8 Poseidons, $1.4 billion. … So, we make the best equipment in the world. There's nobody even close. And Saudi Arabia is buying a lot of this equipment.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was President Trump talking in terms of sales to Saudi Arabia. But, Bill Hartung, you've written in your Nation piece recently that 25 of the past 26 years, the United States has been a leading arms dealer in the world. And you say that the arms race isn't really between the United States and other countries, it's between various US presidents, as to who will sell the most arms to the rest of the world.

WILLIAM HARTUNG: That's correct. And Trump is really racing with Obama at this point. We did a report for the Security Assistance Monitor, my office, and we found that in his first year Trump approved $82 billion in arms offers, versus $76 billion in the last year of Obama, so not that much more. And Obama set a record of $102 billion during his administration. So, actually, to outdo Obama, Trump is going to have to hustle. And, of course, that is what he's doing.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what, again -- the same question to Mike Stone -- makes him different?

WILLIAM HARTUNG: Well, he's much more blatant about it. He's shouting it from the rooftops. He's playing a very personal role. I don't know if you noticed -- it wasn't made clear in that clip -- but he held up a chart that showed 40,000 jobs from Saudi arms sales, and it showed the states, and they were all the swing states -- Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Florida. So, among other things, not only is this a business proposition for Trump, but it's a blatant political move to shore up his base.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, of course, there's a former Lockheed Martin executive, John Rood, who is now Trump's -- the undersecretary of defense for policy. So, clearly, the arms manufacturers are even more deeply rooted in the new administration.

WILLIAM HARTUNG: Well, yes. A lot of people talk about Trump's generals. He had McMaster. He's got Kelly. He's got Mattis. But he's actually got even more arms executives -- the top three at the Pentagon, National Security Council. And Rood actually refused, in his confirmation hearings, to say whether he would recuse himself from arms deals relating to Lockheed Martin, which led to pushback from Elizabeth Warren and others. But nonetheless, he was approved 81 to 7. So Congress really hasn't played its oversight role in terms of the arms industry infiltrating our government.

AMY GOODMAN: Mike Stone, I wanted to ask you about what is happening in these next few days, the Trump administration unveiling plans to loosen the restrictions even further on US arms exports. Explain what is proposed.

MIKE STONE: So, it will be a couple different signings. One will be a national security policy memorandum. Many presidents sign these. That will be an overarching document. Then there will be a thing called the conventional arms transfer policy. Now, what this is, is it is the lens through which all foreign military sales are observed. So, the current lens is the Obama lens. It has several bullet points to it. Human rights has been a very important part of that. My sources tell me that human rights will remain a very important part of the Trump-era CAT policy. But we're also hearing that business will have a much more substantial role in the evaluation of a policy. So, if it's good for -- if a sale is good for jobs, if a sale is good for the trade deficit, those things will have a greater weight than under the Obama policy. And if you look around the table and say, "Oh, how does a human rights person here at the State Department feel about this? How does the business person feel about it?" those two power structures are going to now struggle in the evaluation of each deal.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Mike, one of the points that the Trump administration makes is that the loosening of these restrictions will make the United States more competitive against Chinese and Russian manufacturers of weapons. Your response to that?

MIKE STONE: So, it's actually an interesting dynamic that the State Department has to wrestle with. Under the Obama administration, as Bill rightly pointed out, weapons sales went up. Secretary Clinton used weapons sales as an instrument of soft power. There is a greater relationship that happens with a US ally when that ally purchases that weaponry. This is only going to expand, and so, therefore, if you think of the world as a zero-sum game, Russian and Chinese influence, through its -- through their weapons sales, would therefore shrink.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill, I wanted to ask you -- in your article, you write, "selling weapons to dictatorships and repressive regimes often fuels instability, war, and terrorism, as the American war on terror has vividly demonstrated for the last [nearly] 17 years."

WILLIAM HARTUNG: Well, there's a couple examples. If you look at all the equipment that was given and sold to Iraq, much of that ended up with ISIS, because the Iraqi military basically collapsed when ISIS invaded the north of Iraq. If you look at Yemen, Saudi Arabia is using US fighter planes, US bombs, US missiles to commit horrendous war crimes, bombing civilians indiscriminately, blockading the country, which is resulting in a famine and major disease outbreaks.

So there are cases where Obama shouldn't have sold, where Trump certainly shouldn't sell. In the case of Yemen, Obama finally held back on a sale of precision-guided munitions, bombs, and Trump immediately reversed that. And there was resistance in Congress. Forty-seven senators voted to block the deal. But nonetheless Trump is moving full speed ahead. And, of course, he and Jared Kushner have a very tight relationship with the Saudi crown prince.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And didn't the Obama administration restrict sales to Bahrain, as well, but the Trump administration is loosening that now?

WILLIAM HARTUNG: Yes, there were a number of cases -- Bahrain, Nigeria -- where Obama held back on human rights grounds, and Trump immediately waived those and moved forward with big sales.

AMY GOODMAN: And restricted weapons in Saudi Arabia.

WILLIAM HARTUNG: Yes, exactly. So, basically, anything that Obama had done to rein in any kind of weapons sale, Trump immediately reversed.

AMY GOODMAN: There was, just a month ago -- after his election in 2016, Trump took to Twitter and criticized the country's largest defense contractor -- I want to put this question to Mike Stone -- Lockheed Martin. He tweeted, "Based on the tremendous cost and cost overruns of the Lockheed Martin F-35, I have asked Boeing to price-out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet!" Talk about Trump's relationship now with Lockheed Martin and Boeing, Mike.

MIKE STONE: So, there were several tweets that were very surprising to the business community. Everyone didn't know what to do at the time. However, here we are a year out, and what those tweets were -- criticizing Carrier for moving jobs to Mexico, criticizing Boeing for the cost of Air Force One, criticizing Lockheed Martin for the cost of the F-35 -- these tweets became straw men. And now these CEOs have surmounted that -- you know, the false criticism of the president and have been given this victory over that straw man. So, the relationship looked very difficult at the time, but here we are a year on, and he's about to -- he's literally picking up the telephone and closing deals and becoming the high-touch salesperson that the "art of the deal" president wants to be.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us, Bill Hartung of the Center for International Policy and Mike Stone with Reuters. Your piece, "Arming the world: Inside Trump's 'Buy American' drive to expand weapons exports," at Reuters, we'll link to that. And, William Hartung, we'll link to your piece, as well, the piece you did for The Nation, "Donald Trump Is America's Number-One Weapon Salesman." William Hartung's latest book, Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex. This is Democracy Now! Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: "Come Ye" by Nina Simone. Nina Simone was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this weekend, 15 years after she died.

Categories: Latest News

Unlimited Worldwide War: ACLU Warns Senate Against Giving Trump Blank Check to Declare War

Truthout - Tue, 04/17/2018 - 21:00

The New York Times is reporting President Trump launched airstrikes against Syria on Friday despite opposition from his own defense secretary, James Mattis, who wanted Trump to first get congressional approval. Meanwhile, a number of lawmakers have described the strikes on Syria as illegal since Trump did not seek congressional input or authorization. This comes as Congress is considering rewriting the war powers granted to the president after the September 11 attacks -- what's known as the AUMF, or Authorization for Use of Military Force. On September 14, 2001, the current AUMF passed the Senate 98-0 and 420-1 in the House, with California Democrat Barbara Lee casting the sole dissenting vote. Since then, it's been used by Presidents Bush, Obama and Trump to justify at least 37 military operations in 14 countries -- many of which were entirely unrelated to 9/11. On Monday, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, and Democratic committee member Tim Kaine of Virginia introduced legislation to replace the AUMFs with a new one. Corker and Kaine claim their legislation would strengthen congressional oversight. But critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union, warn the proposed legislation would actually expand the authority of President Trump and all future presidents to engage in worldwide war without limitations. For more, we're joined by Faiz Shakir, national policy director for the ACLU.

TRANSCRIPT

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The New York Times is reporting President Trump launched airstrikes against Syria on Friday despite opposition from his own defense secretary, James Mattis, who wanted Trump to first get congressional approval. Meanwhile, a number of lawmakers have described the strikes on Syria as illegal since Trump did not seek congressional input or authorization.

This comes as Congress is considering rewriting the war powers granted to the president after the September 11th attacks -- what's known as the AUMF, or Authorization for Use of Military Force. On September 14th, 2001, three days after the World Trade Center attack, the current AUMF passed the Senate 98 to 0, and 420 to 1 in the House, with California Democrat Barbara Lee casting the sole dissenting vote. Since then, it's been used by Presidents Bush, Obama and Trump to justify at least 37 military operations in 14 countries -- many of which were entirely unrelated to 9/11. A second AUMF was passed in 2002 ahead of the Iraq invasion.

AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, and Democratic committee Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia introduced legislation to replace the AUMFs with a new one. Corker and Kaine claim their legislation would strengthen congressional oversight. But critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union, warn the proposed legislation would actually expand the authority of President Trump and all future presidents to engage in worldwide war without limit.

For more, we're joined by Faiz Shakir. He is national policy director for the ACLU.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

FAIZ SHAKIR: Thank you for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain your concern. Most people may be very surprised right now, saying, "No, Congress wanted to take the control back from the president." You see this AUMF otherwise.

FAIZ SHAKIR: Absolutely. If you look at the language that Senators Kaine and Corker have proposed, they are offering unlimited war to the president of the United States. And under this president, we should all be concerned. The specific language of the authorization says that the president may just designate various groups to engage in war against, and those wars can proceed in any country around the world, without limit and with congressional authorization. So the president would not need to then go to Congress to seek authorization for any of his expansions of the war effort. Unlike the 9/11 AUMF, it constrains the president's ability to, let's say, send ground troops into Libya, under President Obama, who tried to expand the 9/11 AUMF to carry out that war. Under this authorization, the president could just send ground troops and expand the war in perpetuity without congressional authorization.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And so -- and there would be no time limit on this legislation, as well, right? So it could potentially be limitless for years to come? Doesn't that, in effect, abdicate the responsibility of Congress to be the part of government that actually declares war?

FAIZ SHAKIR: That is exactly what is happening, that this legislation, in effect, is abdicating congressional responsibility. And to give Senators Kaine and Corker a little bit of credit here, they're coming at it with good intention. They have recognized that the 9/11 AUMF has been abused. And it is an embarrassment to Congress that it has done nothing while the president and the executive branch expand worldwide operations under that now-17-year-old authorization. So they're saying, "OK, well, Congress should wade into this and actually create a new AUMF." In doing so, what they're saying is "We're just going to justify all the current ongoing operations and just give de facto authorization from Congress to go carry it out for as long as you'd like."

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to a tweet by Virginia Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, a co-sponsor of the legislation. He said, quote, "For too long, Congress has given Presidents a blank check to wage war. … It's time for that to stop. We've introduced a new plan -- Democrats and Republicans -- to reassert Congress' authority to authorize where, when, and with who we are at war." After the U.S. strike on Syria last week, Kaine tweeted, "Trump's decision to launch airstrikes against Syria without Congress's approval is illegal. We need to stop giving presidents a blank check to wage war. Today it's Syria, but what's going to stop him from bombing Iran or North Korea next?" Why does Tim Kaine seem to think that the Corker AUMF will check the president's authority to start a war?

FAIZ SHAKIR: So, the Syria authorization -- the Syria war would have been authorized under the Kaine legislation. He is not doing anything to constrain the president's power. He's just putting into place that it is permanent law, and giving congressional stamp of approval for anything the president wants to do. There's no check on him whatsoever. It's just that Congress will now modify the 9/11 AUMF to include some of the groups -- al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qaeda, ISIS -- and it will name them specifically but then grant the president whatever authorities and powers he wants to carry out war against those groups, wherever they may go.

I think Senator Kaine is trying to say that Congress should act and Congress should deliberate and Congress should have debate and argument over the president's scope and power and authority -- which is right. But what they should do is retract and repeal the AUMF of 9/11 and then have specific, targeted authorizations if and when they want to carry it out. I mean, in Syria, for instance, if you feel very comfortable with carrying out operations against a brutal regime who's carried out illegal activities, then have the confidence of your convictions, make the argument to the American public and get specific authorization for that conflict.

AMY GOODMAN: That's what Mattis recommended.

FAIZ SHAKIR: Yes, of course. That is the way it should go. And the American public should have a role in this conversation. They should be told by the president of the United States, "Here's the argument, here's the intelligence that we have, and this is what we would like you to do." It should be a full deliberation. But now, of course, under the 9/11 AUMF, we've just been allowing the president to carry these strikes and authorizations out without any kind of deliberation whatsoever.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, this move to rewrite the AUMF, Corker actually started it last year, after the debacle that occurred in Niger and where Sergeant La David Johnson died, and most members of Congress didn't even know that there were all of these American troops in Niger. How does it get to the point now where Congress doesn't even know what the military is doing around the world?

FAIZ SHAKIR: They have decided that they're not going to have any role in foreign affairs. And that is literally Tim Kaine's argument, is that we should have a role. We should -- and that they have a role, under Article I of the U.S. Constitution. The Congress is supposed to be the body that declares war. Reassume that responsibility and start having a deliberation.

I mean, unfortunately, we had an abuse of the AUMF under President Obama. He carried out a war in Libya, an air war, and they said, "You know, it's just an air war, so we can just do it under the 9/11 AUMF." Nonsense! It was the wrong choice then, and, unfortunately, that precedent is setting a dangerous precedent for the future under Trump.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to Congressmember Barbara Lee, the sole congressmember to vote against the AUMF after 9/11. She spoke on Democracy Now! a few years ago.

REP. BARBARA LEE: I voted against that resolution 15 years ago because it was so broad that I knew it was setting the stage and the foundation for perpetual war. And that is exactly what it has done. I actually asked the Library of Congress to conduct a study and to present to us the unclassified version of how many times and where it has been used. It's been used over 37 times everywhere in the world. And it's time that we repeal that blank check, Amy; otherwise, we're going to continue in this state of endless war.

AMY GOODMAN: So that was Barbara Lee, Faiz Shakir, talking about how this AUMF has been used scores of times, 37 times.

FAIZ SHAKIR: I think that there's a number of options here for Congress. I mean, first, I think they would -- I would ask them to repeal the 9/11 AUMF. Start with that. Then, if the president is thinking about carrying out war in Syria, North Korea, there's plenty of time to deliberate over those. The 9/11 authorization was intended to be responsive to an immediate attack, something that needed to be done with urgency. We are not in that time -- we are not in that context right now. And so I think there's opportunities for Congress to reassert its authority to authorize war. And hopefully, I think, the American public understands that the Tim Kaine and Bob Corker approach is the wrong way to go. And we'd ask people to go to ACLU and join us and raise your voices on this and, hopefully, build a movement that is concerned about war expanding around the world without authorization and in perpetuity.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Faiz, I wanted to get your comment on these words by the secretary of state nominee, Mike Pompeo. At his confirmation hearing last week, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker asked him if he thinks President Trump has the power to launch airstrikes against Syria without congressional approval, and this is what Pompeo said.

MIKE POMPEO: I believe that he has the authority he needs to do that today. I don't believe we need a new AUMF for the president to engage in the activity that you described.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: This is our nominee for secretary of state.

FAIZ SHAKIR: Yeah. So, I think the nominee -- I mean, I think there's a real danger that Pompeo is simply going to go along for the ride, whenever Donald Trump asks him to do anything. And that's why I think, at this particular moment in time, Congress has the most important role to force deliberation here. And they are just not interested and not engaged. And I think it's up to we, the people, the American public, to raise their voices and say, "Hey, this is nonsense. We cannot allow this to continue."

AMY GOODMAN: Faiz Shakir, we want to thank you for being with us. Of course, we will continue to follow this. It's expected to be taken up next week in the Senate. Faiz Shakir is national [political] director for the ACLU.

This is Democracy Now! Number-one arms salesman, the president of the United States, Donald Trump? We'll bring you a very interesting exposé from Reuters. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: "Strange Things Happen Every Day" by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who was just inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

 

Categories: Latest News

Anticipating a Crush: In Prison, Tact Teams Declare Uneven War

Truthout - Tue, 04/17/2018 - 21:00

Orange Crush -- or the tact team, as they're called officially -- is the Illinois Department of Correction's most oppressive armed wing. They are bullies dressed in riot gear who kick you when you're down, both figuratively and literally. These are usually big white guys with insecurities, poor communication skills and a power complex that makes for a horrible mix.

(Photo: Rafael Belincanta / EyeEm / Getty Images)

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About 7:45 am on Tuesday, January 17, 2017, I muster the energy to get out of bed and walk the step to the sink from the bottom bunk and I hear it. Clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk. "Shit!" I say to myself as my cellmate and I look at each other wide-eyed. We know that sound anywhere. That's three-foot-long, two-inch diameter solid wood batons hitting the steel bars as "Orange Crush" runs down the gallery clunking every bar along the way as they yell. Though it's not our cell house, it's E House right behind us. We're able to hear them through the utility alley that the cell houses share behind the cells. They're making their rounds due to an unauthorized pair of headphones found during a cell search in another cell house. 

We've already been on lockdown since Sunday afternoon here at Stateville Correctional Center, a maximum security prison in Joliet, Illinois. That means nomovement unless it's a medical emergency, and then that means dead. So, we're confined to a space with a toilet, absent a shower and a bunkbed, also known as a 7 x 10-foot concrete cell. 

Orange Crush -- or the tact team, as they're called officially -- is the Illinois Department of Correction's (IDOC) most oppressive armed wing. They are bullies dressed in riot gear who kick you when you're down, both figuratively and literally. These are usually big white guys with insecurities, poor communication skills and a power complex that makes for a horrible mix. Their outfits consist of a one-piece orange jumpsuit, a protector vest, elbow and knee pads, boots, and gloves -- all black -- with a helmet with a face shield. They carry a solid wood baton, a shield about half the size of one of them (usually only used for cell extractions) and a can of chemical agent on their hip that will bring you to your knees when sprayed. Many of their helmets have skulls and crossbones, blacked-out American flags and other military insignia as if they're going to war and we're the enemy.

When it comes to dealing with Orange Crush, prisoners are strip searched and fully restrained in handcuffs and/or shackles. If the inmate is "non-complaint," well, that's where the name "crush" comes from -- because that's when they have their fun crushing you, six of them with chemical agent, shield and baton. It's a battle you can't win, period. 

Imagine your most precious items being thrown away by someone who couldn't care less.

The IDOC uses these orange bullies for many things, but typically for punishment and retaliation. For example, IDOC will enlist the tact team to "shakedown" an entire facility after an incident. These shakedowns are the worst. No one likes them. They are dehumanizing and painful, to say the least. Imagine having everything you own being searched through, including your body. Everything tossed around, ripped, broken, stomped on, mixed in with your cellmates or neighbor's belongings, discarded as garbage. Pictures of loved ones, bedding, letters, clothing, books, important legal documents all scattered and thrown around.  It's a horrible experience I wouldn't wish on anybody. I know that if Orange Crush is in E House today, then that means they'll be over here in the next day or so, banging on my bars and screaming out orders.

So, as the whole cell house now anticipates the impending tsunami, I try to prepare myself as best as possible. Immediately opening the larger of the two suitcase size boxes I am forced to live out of, I start trying to condense all of my belonging by throwing out what I can spare. I pour out all my liquid bottles so they won't pour them on my papers or bedding. I untie my TV from the metal bars of my bunkbed (that's how I hold it up since there are no shelves here) so they won't tear it down and break it. I make sure all my food is new and unopened and not in the wrong bag or container. But I know all of this may be in vain since Orange Crush can and will take what they want with no logical reason and there is no recourse whatsoever. No shakedown is the same as the last; it's always different. One time it's okay to have something; the next time it's not.  

Wednesday, about 4:00 am, I hear the sounds of toilets flushing and quiet talking much more than usual. I try to lay back down and stay asleep until 6:00 am, but my mind won't let me. I periodically wake up every 30 minutes until then. As I get up again, I start my routine. I drink a small shot of coffee and a little water to wake me up, but not too much. If they come today, we could be stuck handcuffed in the chow hall for three to six hours, and last time, some guys ended up going on themselves because we weren't allowed to use the bathroom. I brush my teeth and make a joke to my neighbor, trying to lighten the mood. Recalling the last time Orange Crush came, maybe six months ago, I remind him -- and myself -- that they didn't do C House. So maybe, just maybe, we'll get lucky this time and they won't hit us. Then I make sure to use the washroom because all the water in the building will be shut off. This means that even after we're brought back to our cells following an Orange Crush shakedown, we won't be able to flush the toilet for at least a few more hours. That means no drinking, washing hands or using the toilet. 

As time edges closer to 7:30 am, I hear someone yell out, "Plumbers in the building," indicating that the water will probably be shut off and after that, they'll be here. I flush my toilet and push my water as I pace back and forth from the bars at the front of the cell, looking out the mirror that I that I set up on the cell door so I can watch the gallery. I'm already four flights up so it's hot, but the impending anxiety of waiting makes me sweat even more. I have my clothes and shoes laid out by the bars for the strip search. I sip a little water as I continue to pace. Neither my cell mate nor I say a word as we listen for our jail house P.A. system of guys who yell out what they can see. "They're on the walk," someone says, meaning they're in front of the cell house but not coming for us. I push the water again to make sure it is still on. They are going to C House. We manage to dodge the bullet today.  

Not long after that, we can see out the window on the far wall of the cell house by the cat walk. Prisoners from C-house in rows of two -- Black and Brown men all handcuffed with their heads down are being escorted by a third row of faux soldiers wielding batons in orange and black riot gear. We count 93 in all.  

The men are forced to wait in the chow hall for six hours. We watch from our cells, and see bag after bag of prisoners' property being taken, everything from TVs to shower shoes to cassette tapes. Shaking my head, I think to myself, I hope they don't do me like that.

Later that night, we hear the horror stories of all the things taken from the guys in C and E Houses. We try to make light of it by thinking, "Well, I don't have that much stuff." I think how some of these men, myself included, have been confined to these cells for 20 years or more, and some will be here for the rest of their lives. Forced to live out of what amounts to two suitcases, saving obituaries of loved ones, pictures of funerals and weddings, and the last letters they wrote. These are the only things we have to remember them by. Imagine your most precious items being thrown away by someone who couldn't care less, or members of the so-called tact team looking at pictures of your wife or girlfriend making dirty remarks. They'll eat your food, leaving the remnants behind as if to say, "Fuck you, this is my shit." They've ripped my bed coverings off, dumped an ashtray on my pillow case and sheets, and stomped on them, leaving their boot marks all over. They've stuck objects in my peanut butter. This is the type of treatment we experience during these times. Just another reminder that we've been demoted from the human race.  

Thursday morning is the same routine. I know they have to be coming today. I'm up again early, pacing back and forth, clothes ready. The whole cell house up. "Plumbers in the building," someone yells. But somehow, we dodge a bullet again. I watch them march to C House again. This time, I watch as three galleries get taken out for another six hours. I dread the impending torture and secretly wish it had already passed because the wait is killing me. Waking up so early, not being able to fully rest really does something to your mental stability. Locked in a small room with another man, both of us easily agitated as we await our turn at being shaken down, isn't a good situation for anyone. My cell mate and I wince as we watch bags of property being taken out of C House. 

That day as these faux soldiers leave, as if to put an exclamation point on their "fuck you," they march extra hard as they sing some military cadence, stomping and yelling loud enough so both cell houses can hear, as if they are soldiers congregating after a day of battle. They seem to take pleasure in the anger and anxiety they are generating, which only adds insult to injury in an already hostile environment. Apparently, we are the enemy defeated on the most uneven playing field ever designed.   

As I hear this faux war cry, I think maybe they're done. They skipped C House last time, so maybe they'll skip us again. The uncertainty makes me apprehensive and tense. For two days, they've faked us out, and I can't relax. Friday morning slowly creeps in, and once again, I'm up early with the same routine, hoping maybe we will escape this time. I figure if we make it past Friday, we should be free and clear. But as I'm pacing the floor I hear it: "Plumbers in the building." At 7:40 am, our water is turned off. I'm standing at the door, watching the gallery with my mirror, waiting. I know it's coming. "Tact team in the cell house," someone yells out. My mind races, thinking, Did I properly dispose of and pack everything? Did I forget anything?Right as my thoughts are racing, I hear it: Clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk, with all of them simultaneously yelling, but I can't make out anything they're barking out.    

They run past my cell, one after another, banging their batons on the bars all the way down the gallery from the first to the last cell, 29 in all. As they line up in front of every cell, the two in front of mine tell my cellmate to "cuff up" and face the back of the cell. I am strip searched. No matter how many times I've been stripped and searched, it's still a humiliating experience. I'm comfortable in my own skin, but that doesn't come into my thought process as I'm being forced to disrobe. Afterward, I'm handcuffed and told to face the back as my cellmate goes through the same process. The cell doors all open at once and as we're being told to back out of the cell. The officer grabs me by the cuffs.

Apparently, we are the enemy defeated on the most uneven playing field ever designed.

I'm led into a line with everyone else down the gallery. I walk in formation with a faux soldier in front of me and behind me. The line goes on like this: faux soldier, inmate, faux soldier, inmate, and so on. When I hit the end of the gallery, there is a gauntlet of Orange Crush wielding batons lining the stairwell trying to look as mean and tough as possible. Some of them look funny, but laughing will get you screamed at and possibly physically hurt, so holding it in is your best option.  There's a psychological chess match going on. I can't let them know that they intimidate or scare me in any way because then they will know they've gotten to me, that their tactics work.  

As we're led out of the building into a corridor leading to the chow hall, we're told to stop. In front of me, I see the backs of Black and Brown men; to the left of me, a line of large white men face us in their orange and black gear, smacking their batons in their hands, waiting to pounce at any false move. This really puts the "us vs. them" mentality into perspective. Reminiscent of a time when Black people couldn't look white men in their eyes, we're yelled at to "keep your heads down." I think maybe it's hard for some of them to look us in the face because they know this is inhumane treatment and wrong.  

We're eventually led into the chow hall and told to sit. One of them tells us not to talk, threatening us with being transferred to a downstate prison. Really, I think, you don't want me to talk while I sit here for the next few hours? This is absurd. I sit silently, all the while picturing what they're doing to my property in the cell.

We wait for three hours, which is short compared to what C House endured. The walk back is just as grueling as the walk from our cells, only now I anticipate all my things being thrown about, potentially destroyed, and most definitely in disarray.  

Back up the four flights, down the gallery and I walk back into the cell. As I'm uncuffed, I realize that I'm relieved that at least it's over. Now, I'll pick through the mess and figure out how to put the pieces back together. I hear guys voicing their discontent over missing items, and I hope nothing is missing from my property.  

No matter how many times we have had to go through this, it's never something I want to endure again. There is no way this is normal. I'm sure some might argue that Orange Crush is a necessary security measure. To them, I would say that when and if an incident occurs, the individuals involved are almost always sent to another facility immediately. So they aren't the ones who are subjected to this dehumanizing ritual of retaliation and punishment. 

As the weekend comes and goes, I look forward to the lockdown being lifted and to the norms of prison life. Going to yard, access to the limited library, visits. But as I rise early on Monday and walk to the sink, I can't believe my ears. Clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk. "Shit." My heart drops to my stomach. They're back.

This article was co-published with The Praxis Center.

Categories: Latest News

Anticipating a Crush: In Prison, Tact Teams Declare Uneven War

Truthout - Tue, 04/17/2018 - 21:00

Orange Crush -- or the tact team, as they're called officially -- is the Illinois Department of Correction's (IDOC) most oppressive armed wing. They are bullies dressed in riot gear who kick you when you're down, both figuratively and literally. These are usually big white guys with insecurities, poor communication skills and a power complex that makes for a horrible mix.

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About 7:45 am on Tuesday, January 17, 2017, I muster the energy to get out of bed and walk the step to the sink from the bottom bunk and I hear it. Clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk. "Shit!" I say to myself as my cellmate and I look at each other wide-eyed. We know that sound anywhere. That's three-foot-long, two-inch diameter solid wood batons hitting the steel bars as "Orange Crush" runs down the gallery clunking every bar along the way as they yell. Though it's not our cell house, it's E House right behind us. We're able to hear them through the utility alley that the cell houses share behind the cells. They're making their rounds due to an unauthorized pair of headphones found during a cell search in another cell house. 

We've already been on lockdown since Sunday afternoon here at Stateville Correctional Center, a maximum security prison in Joliet, Illinois. That means nomovement unless it's a medical emergency, and then that means dead. So, we're confined to a space with a toilet, absent a shower and a bunkbed, also known as a 7 x 10-foot concrete cell. 

Orange Crush -- or the tact team, as they're called officially -- is the Illinois Department of Correction's (IDOC) most oppressive armed wing. They are bullies dressed in riot gear who kick you when you're down, both figuratively and literally. These are usually big white guys with insecurities, poor communication skills and a power complex that makes for a horrible mix. Their outfits consist of a one-piece orange jumpsuit, a protector vest, elbow and knee pads, boots, and gloves -- all black -- with a helmet with a face shield. They carry a solid wood baton, a shield about half the size of one of them (usually only used for cell extractions) and a can of chemical agent on their hip that will bring you to your knees when sprayed. Many of their helmets have skulls and crossbones, blacked-out American flags and other military insignia as if they're going to war and we're the enemy.

When it comes to dealing with Orange Crush, prisoners are strip searched and fully restrained in handcuffs and/or shackles. If the inmate is "non-complaint," well, that's where the name "crush" comes from -- because that's when they have their fun crushing you, six of them with chemical agent, shield and baton. It's a battle you can't win, period. 

Imagine your most precious items being thrown away by someone who couldn't care less.

The IDOC uses these orange bullies for many things, but typically for punishment and retaliation. For example, IDOC will enlist the tact team to "shakedown" an entire facility after an incident. These shakedowns are the worst. No one likes them. They are dehumanizing and painful, to say the least. Imagine having everything you own being searched through, including your body. Everything tossed around, ripped, broken, stomped on, mixed in with your cellmates or neighbor's belongings, discarded as garbage. Pictures of loved ones, bedding, letters, clothing, books, important legal documents all scattered and thrown around.  It's a horrible experience I wouldn't wish on anybody. I know that if Orange Crush is in E House today, then that means they'll be over here in the next day or so, banging on my bars and screaming out orders.

So, as the whole cell house now anticipates the impending tsunami, I try to prepare myself as best as possible. Immediately opening the larger of the two suitcase size boxes I am forced to live out of, I start trying to condense all of my belonging by throwing out what I can spare. I pour out all my liquid bottles so they won't pour them on my papers or bedding. I untie my TV from the metal bars of my bunkbed (that's how I hold it up since there are no shelves here) so they won't tear it down and break it. I make sure all my food is new and unopened and not in the wrong bag or container. But I know all of this may be in vain since Orange Crush can and will take what they want with no logical reason and there is no recourse whatsoever. No shakedown is the same as the last; it's always different. One time it's okay to have something; the next time it's not.  

Wednesday, about 4:00 am, I hear the sounds of toilets flushing and quiet talking much more than usual. I try to lay back down and stay asleep until 6:00 am, but my mind won't let me. I periodically wake up every 30 minutes until then. As I get up again, I start my routine. I drink a small shot of coffee and a little water to wake me up, but not too much. If they come today, we could be stuck handcuffed in the chow hall for three to six hours, and last time, some guys ended up going on themselves because we weren't allowed to use the bathroom. I brush my teeth and make a joke to my neighbor, trying to lighten the mood. Recalling the last time Orange Crush came, maybe six months ago, I remind him -- and myself -- that they didn't do C House. So maybe, just maybe, we'll get lucky this time and they won't hit us. Then I make sure to use the washroom because all the water in the building will be shut off. This means that even after we're brought back to our cells following an Orange Crush shakedown, we won't be able to flush the toilet for at least a few more hours. That means no drinking, washing hands or using the toilet. 

As time edges closer to 7:30 am, I hear someone yell out, "Plumbers in the building," indicating that the water will probably be shut off and after that, they'll be here. I flush my toilet and push my water as I pace back and forth from the bars at the front of the cell, looking out the mirror that I that I set up on the cell door so I can watch the gallery. I'm already four flights up so it's hot, but the impending anxiety of waiting makes me sweat even more. I have my clothes and shoes laid out by the bars for the strip search. I sip a little water as I continue to pace. Neither my cell mate nor I say a word as we listen for our jail house P.A. system of guys who yell out what they can see. "They're on the walk," someone says, meaning they're in front of the cell house but not coming for us. I push the water again to make sure it is still on. They are going to C House. We manage to dodge the bullet today.  

Not long after that, we can see out the window on the far wall of the cell house by the cat walk. Prisoners from C-house in rows of two -- Black and Brown men all handcuffed with their heads down are being escorted by a third row of faux soldiers wielding batons in orange and black riot gear. We count 93 in all.  

The men are forced to wait in the chow hall for six hours. We watch from our cells, and see bag after bag of prisoners' property being taken, everything from TVs to shower shoes to cassette tapes. Shaking my head, I think to myself, I hope they don't do me like that.

Later that night, we hear the horror stories of all the things taken from the guys in C and E Houses. We try to make light of it by thinking, "Well, I don't have that much stuff." I think how some of these men, myself included, have been confined to these cells for 20 years or more, and some will be here for the rest of their lives. Forced to live out of what amounts to two suitcases, saving obituaries of loved ones, pictures of funerals and weddings, and the last letters they wrote. These are the only things we have to remember them by. Imagine your most precious items being thrown away by someone who couldn't care less, or members of the so-called tact team looking at pictures of your wife or girlfriend making dirty remarks. They'll eat your food, leaving the remnants behind as if to say, "Fuck you, this is my shit." They've ripped my bed coverings off, dumped an ashtray on my pillow case and sheets, and stomped on them, leaving their boot marks all over. They've stuck objects in my peanut butter. This is the type of treatment we experience during these times. Just another reminder that we've been demoted from the human race.  

Thursday morning is the same routine. I know they have to be coming today. I'm up again early, pacing back and forth, clothes ready. The whole cell house up. "Plumbers in the building," someone yells. But somehow, we dodge a bullet again. I watch them march to C House again. This time, I watch as three galleries get taken out for another six hours. I dread the impending torture and secretly wish it had already passed because the wait is killing me. Waking up so early, not being able to fully rest really does something to your mental stability. Locked in a small room with another man, both of us easily agitated as we await our turn at being shaken down, isn't a good situation for anyone. My cell mate and I wince as we watch bags of property being taken out of C House. 

That day as these faux soldiers leave, as if to put an exclamation point on their "fuck you," they march extra hard as they sing some military cadence, stomping and yelling loud enough so both cell houses can hear, as if they are soldiers congregating after a day of battle. They seem to take pleasure in the anger and anxiety they are generating, which only adds insult to injury in an already hostile environment. Apparently, we are the enemy defeated on the most uneven playing field ever designed.   

As I hear this faux war cry, I think maybe they're done. They skipped C House last time, so maybe they'll skip us again. The uncertainty makes me apprehensive and tense. For two days, they've faked us out, and I can't relax. Friday morning slowly creeps in, and once again, I'm up early with the same routine, hoping maybe we will escape this time. I figure if we make it past Friday, we should be free and clear. But as I'm pacing the floor I hear it: "Plumbers in the building." At 7:40 am, our water is turned off. I'm standing at the door, watching the gallery with my mirror, waiting. I know it's coming. "Tact team in the cell house," someone yells out. My mind races, thinking, Did I properly dispose of and pack everything? Did I forget anything?Right as my thoughts are racing, I hear it: Clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk, with all of them simultaneously yelling, but I can't make out anything they're barking out.    

They run past my cell, one after another, banging their batons on the bars all the way down the gallery from the first to the last cell, 29 in all. As they line up in front of every cell, the two in front of mine tell my cellmate to "cuff up" and face the back of the cell. I am strip searched. No matter how many times I've been stripped and searched, it's still a humiliating experience. I'm comfortable in my own skin, but that doesn't come into my thought process as I'm being forced to disrobe. Afterward, I'm handcuffed and told to face the back as my cellmate goes through the same process. The cell doors all open at once and as we're being told to back out of the cell. The officer grabs me by the cuffs.

Apparently, we are the enemy defeated on the most uneven playing field ever designed.

I'm led into a line with everyone else down the gallery. I walk in formation with a faux soldier in front of me and behind me. The line goes on like this: faux soldier, inmate, faux soldier, inmate, and so on. When I hit the end of the gallery, there is a gauntlet of Orange Crush wielding batons lining the stairwell trying to look as mean and tough as possible. Some of them look funny, but laughing will get you screamed at and possibly physically hurt, so holding it in is your best option.  There's a psychological chess match going on. I can't let them know that they intimidate or scare me in any way because then they will know they've gotten to me, that their tactics work.  

As we're led out of the building into a corridor leading to the chow hall, we're told to stop. In front of me, I see the backs of Black and Brown men; to the left of me, a line of large white men face us in their orange and black gear, smacking their batons in their hands, waiting to pounce at any false move. This really puts the "us vs. them" mentality into perspective. Reminiscent of a time when Black people couldn't look white men in their eyes, we're yelled at to "keep your heads down." I think maybe it's hard for some of them to look us in the face because they know this is inhumane treatment and wrong.  

We're eventually led into the chow hall and told to sit. One of them tells us not to talk, threatening us with being transferred to a downstate prison. Really, I think, you don't want me to talk while I sit here for the next few hours? This is absurd. I sit silently, all the while picturing what they're doing to my property in the cell.

We wait for three hours, which is short compared to what C House endured. The walk back is just as grueling as the walk from our cells, only now I anticipate all my things being thrown about, potentially destroyed, and most definitely in disarray.  

Back up the four flights, down the gallery and I walk back into the cell. As I'm uncuffed, I realize that I'm relieved that at least it's over. Now, I'll pick through the mess and figure out how to put the pieces back together. I hear guys voicing their discontent over missing items, and I hope nothing is missing from my property.  

No matter how many times we have had to go through this, it's never something I want to endure again. There is no way this is normal. I'm sure some might argue that Orange Crush is a necessary security measure. To them, I would say that when and if an incident occurs, the individuals involved are almost always sent to another facility immediately. So they aren't the ones who are subjected to this dehumanizing ritual of retaliation and punishment. 

As the weekend comes and goes, I look forward to the lockdown being lifted and to the norms of prison life. Going to yard, access to the limited library, visits. But as I rise early on Monday and walk to the sink, I can't believe my ears. Clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk. "Shit." My heart drops to my stomach. They're back.

This article was co-published with The Praxis Center.

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