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Justice for Decynthia Clements: Demanding Safety, Not Police Bullets, for Black Women in Distress

Truthout - Tue, 04/10/2018 - 21:00

Activists display signs during the #March4BlackGirls on October 17, 2015, in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo: Sarah-Ji)

On April 11, the eve of the one-month anniversary of the police shooting of Decynthia Clements in Chicago, activists are coming together to mourn her death and call for justice in her name. Shot by police as she stepped out of her burning car, Decynthia was yet another victim of our collective failure to respond to people in distress in ways that don't involve armed police.

Activists display signs during the #March4BlackGirls on October 17, 2015, in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo: Sarah-Ji)

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A young unarmed Black man is shot in his grandmother's backyard by police who assume he is armed and up to no good. This is the story of police violence we are most familiar with, and around which we build our analysis of police violence. This is the story that drives protesters into the streets and galvanizes movements.

34-year-old Black mother is shot as she steps out of a burning car by police who are supposedly there to help her. This scenario -- the recent police killing of Decynthia Clements -- is also part of the story of police violence, and is also emblematic of broader patterns. But, chances are, you haven't heard about it. Like many instances of police violence against Black women, it remains invisible because it doesn't fit into the "standard" narrative. Yet this, too, is a story that should spark collective outrage and inform our demands for justice.

The Death of Decynthia Clements

Police first came into contact with Decynthia Clements in the suburbs of Chicago when they found her parked on a dead-end street. She was committing no crime and posed a danger to no one. When the police approached, she drove away. The officers decided not to pursue her -- nor did they really have any reason to, although they claim she ran a stop sign. They later found her car parked on the shoulder of Interstate 90. Somehow, she had lost two tires in the intervening time, and her car showed signs of damage.

57.2 percent of killings of Black women occur when they are unarmed.

When officers first approached her by the side of the highway, it was clear that Decynthia was in distress. They claim they saw a butcher knife and a screwdriver in the car -- both common household items, both read as weapons in the hands of a Black woman in crisis. One officer said he saw a white powder on her hand, and assumed it was crack cocaine -- as opposed to, say, talcum powder or any number of other substances that might look similar, automatically reading a Black woman as a drug user. The officers retreated and began to negotiate with Decynthia about getting out of the car. During this time, they accessed a report that she had told a therapist that she had been suicidal and experienced hallucinations.

But instead of calling for experienced medical professionals, officers continued to respond to a Black woman who had committed no crime and posed no danger to anyone (other than perhaps herself) with orders to get out of her car, and threats of arrest -- again, it is not clear for what. After she moved her car forward a few feet a few times, officers eventually blocked her in with two police vehicles.

After about an hour, Decynthia told police she would get out of her car after she smoked a cigarette. Video footage released by the department shows officers discussing what to do when she did -- including using rubber bullets or a TASER if necessary. And then, as she stepped out, gagging from the smoke of a fire that had broken out inside the vehicle, before she had taken more than a step or two, the lead officer on the scene shot her in the head within seconds, killing her, reading her hasty exit from a burning car as a deadly threat.

A Broader Pattern of Police Shooting Black Women in Distress

Decynthia -- like Saheed Vassell, who was killed by Brooklyn police last week, and like up to half of people killed by police -- was (or was perceived to be) in a mental health crisis at the time she was shot. She became one of the many Black women whom police officers were called to assist but ended up killing insteadDeborah DannerKiwi HerringCharleena LylesAura RosserTanisha AndersonMichelle CusseauxEleanor Bumpurs.... The list is long and painful.

All are victims of our collective failure to imagine, invest in and insist on responses to people in distress that don't involve armed police officers.

More often than any other demographic, Black women are falsely perceived as a threat that must be met with deadly force by police officers.

Decynthia also fell prey to perceptions of Black women as inherently threatening. According to a recent study, 57.2 percent of killings of Black women occur when they are unarmed, making Black women "the only race-gender group to have a majority of its members unarmed when killed." Researchers concluded that their "results imply that black women are racialized in ways ... that put them at a greater relative risk of [fatal police encounters] when unarmed."

In other words, more often than any other demographic, Black women are falsely perceived as a threat that must be met with deadly force by police officers.

This explains how an officer (who knew the right thing to do was to use non-lethal force if necessary) instead instantly shot with intent to kill a Black woman who was stumbling out of a burning car. The police shot Decynthia as she was advancing in the only direction possible when opening a car door -- toward the back of the car, away from the smoke, where the officers who were calling for her to come out were standing. Deeply entrenched notions of Black women as "deranged," animalistic and deadly -- developed to justify their brutal treatment during slavery and beyond -- likely drove the officers' perceptions of threat. Such perceptions have proven fatal for countless Black women like Decynthia, including Kayla MooreBettie JonesMargaret Mitchell and LaTanya Haggerty. Again, the list is long and heartbreaking.

"It was like murder," Charles Clements, Decynthia's father said after watching the video of her killing. "Somebody coming at you is one thing, but she fell out that car and they start shooting her, that's terrible, just awful. The car was burning, obviously she was gasping for air, and when she managed to get the door open, she just fell to the ground and then the shots started going."

Mourning and Demanding Justice

Activists take part in the #SayHerName Finsbury Park Vigil on June 21, 2017, in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo: Sarah-Ji)

Holly Clements, Decynthia's sister-in-law, describes her as "a good mom" who reached out to everybody and had "numerous nieces and nephews that she always picked up and did things with," adding, "it's just a really sad moment for the family that we've lost somebody who has such a big heart."

Decynthia Clements's family -- including her 19-year-old son in college -- are now left to grieve their mother, daughter, sister and cousin, and to await the outcome of investigations by the Illinois State Police, the Cook County State's Attorney's Office and the Elgin Police Department, which employs Lt. Christian Jansen, the officer who shot Decynthia, and who is now on paid administrative leave.

Black women's deaths at the hands of police require us to look at how we value Black women's lives -- both when they are alive and not receiving the care and help they need, as well as after they have been killed by police.

Some commentators are trying to justify Jansen's actions, and mainstream news coverage leads with his commendations and dismisses the prior record of complaints against him regarding racial discrimination and the use of excessive force. While these elements of Decynthia's story are familiar, they have not been the subject of much national discussion -- despite daily protests led by Decynthia's family and community outside the Elgin police department until the department released video footage of the events leading to her death.

Now that the footage has been made public, Decynthia's family and attorneys say they will wait for the outcome of the investigations and legal process. Members of the Elgin community have called for the creation of a civilian oversight agency to investigate cases like Decynthia's, citing distrust of the investigation being conducted by the Illinois State Police.

"People are going to see for themselves," Decynthia's brother Chevelle says. "Now this is not just an angry family demanding justice, but this will be a community as a whole that will see exactly what happened, what shouldn't have happened."

An Uphill Legal Battle

The Supreme Court's recent decision in Hughes v. Kisela does not bode well for the possibilities for justice in Decynthia's case. Seven justices -- with the exception of Sonia Sotomayor, who penned a scathing dissent, joined by Ruth Bader Ginsberg -- essentially endorsed a Tucson, Arizona, officer's 2010 shooting of a woman who was standing in her own yard holding a kitchen knife while speaking to her roommate, who stood six feet away. Hiding behind the ever-expanding doctrine of "qualified immunity" -- which essentially says that even if an officer violated someone's constitutional rights, they can't be held liable for it if the right wasn't clearly established at the time -- the majority found that the officer could not reasonably have known that shooting the woman under these circumstances would violate her constitutional rights.

Nor does a recent court decision dismissing the case brought by the family of Kayla Moore, a Black trans woman and beloved aunt, sister and daughter. Moore suffocated to death after police who were called to her home to assist her in the midst of a mental health crisis instead tackled her face-down against a futon and piled on top of her. As her sister Maria Moore -- a fierce advocate for justice for Kayla and for improved responses to people in mental health crisis -- described in a recent radio interview, "instead of trained mental health professionals, she got police.... Trans people are already seen as nonconforming, already seen as a troublemaker.... They came at Kayla like she had killed someone.... What was Kayla's crime?" The court hearing the family's case nevertheless dismissed claims of excessive force and dismissed claims that the Berkeley Police Department is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act for failing to reasonably accommodate the needs of people in mental health crises. The family plans to appeal the decision, and Moore declares, "It's not over. We are going to take this where it needs to go, and that's the Supreme Court."

The more complex circumstances of many Black women's deaths at the hands of police -- during an eviction, when opening the door to let police into a home to assist a neighbor, during a domestic violence call, following a call about transphobic and homophobic neighbors, or following a call for help from a friend or family member seeking support for a loved one -- require us to step back and examine how they came into contact with the officers who killed them in the first place, and how things might have gone differently had they received the support they deserved instead of a police response. They require us to look at how we value Black women's lives -- both when they are alive and not receiving the care and help they need, as well as after they have been killed by police.

Their stories, which might be complicated and take more than Twitter's character limit to tell, bring into sharp relief the reality that there is no safety for Black women, whether they are sitting in their own cars or standing in their own backyards. There is no safety in police responses to calls for assistance for people in crisis, and no justice in the courts for Black women.

As Maria Moore put it, "If you want something as simple as mental health services or just help, you're bringing in militarized police. And their thing is not about helping you, it's about controlling you.... They don't want to hear you, they just want to silence you."

We owe it to the memories of Decynthia Clements, Kayla Moore and so many more Black women to tell their stories of police violence and to protest the injustices done to them and their families. It is our duty to demand accountability for the officers who killed them, to challenge the dehumanizing narratives about Black women that drove the killings, and to demand responses to people in mental health crisis that involve care and compassion, not policing and punishment.

Decynthia Clements. Let's say her name and make sure her story, too, shapes the solutions we seek to the plague of police violence against Black lives.

Note: Members of the Chicago community will come together on Wednesday, April 11, the eve of the one-month anniversary of Decynthia Clements's death, for a vigil at 6 pm at the north side of the DuSable Bridge (400 N. Michigan) to mourn her death, uplift her memory and demand justice in her name.

Categories: Latest News

ACLU: Facebook Has to Do Much More to Stop Housing and Job Discrimination on Platform

Truthout - Tue, 04/10/2018 - 21:00

As Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified to lawmakers Tuesday about the massive privacy scandal enveloping the platform, Facebook has also been slapped with a new lawsuit by fair housing groups who accuse Facebook of allowing employers and housing brokers to discriminate in their targeted advertising. The lawsuit says some of Facebook's advertisers do not show job and housing listings to African Americans and women. For more, we speak with Neema Singh Guliani, legislative counsel for surveillance and privacy at the American Civil Liberties Union.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

Facebook Doesn't Sell Your Data. It Sells You": How the Company's Profit Really Works

Truthout - Tue, 04/10/2018 - 21:00

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced off with lawmakers in a marathon 5-hour hearing Tuesday about how the voter-profiling company Cambridge Analytica harvested the data of more than 87 million Facebook users, without their permission, in efforts to sway voters to support President Donald Trump. We speak with Zeynep Tufekci, associate professor of information and library science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is also a faculty associate at the Harvard Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. Her book is titled "Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest."

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced off with senators Tuesday in a marathon 5-hour hearing on the privacy scandals plaguing the social network. Zuckerberg was called to answer questions about how the voter-profiling company Cambridge Analytica harvested the data of more than 87 million Facebook users, without their permission, in efforts to sway voters to support President Donald Trump. In the first of two days of hearings, Zuckerberg repeatedly apologized.

MARK ZUCKERBERG: We didn't take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. And it was my mistake. And I'm sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I'm responsible for what happens here.

AMY GOODMAN: The Facebook data was first obtained by a Cambridge University academic named Aleksandr Kogan, whose company, Global Science Research, built an app that paid Facebook users to take a personality test and agree to have their data collected. The app also collected data on these users' friends, meaning it actually collected personal information from tens of millions of users without their knowledge. Cambridge Analytica then bought this data in order to turn a voter-profiling company into a powerful psychological tool, which began launching targeted political ads aimed at carrying out Robert Mercer's far-right political agenda.

Democratic Senator Kamala Harris of California questioned Zuckerberg about why it took Facebook 27 months -- more than two years -- to alert users to the Cambridge Analytica breach.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS: Are you aware of anyone in leadership at Facebook who was in a conversation where a decision was made not to inform your users, or do you believe no such conversation ever took place?

MARK ZUCKERBERG: I'm not sure whether there was a conversation about that, but I can tell you the thought process at the time, of the company, which was that, in 2015, when we heard about this, we banned the developer, and we demanded that they delete all the data and stop using it, and same with Cambridge Analytica. They told us they had.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS: And I heard your testimony in that regard, but I'm talking about notification of the users. And this relates to the issue of transparency and the relationship of trust, informing the user about what you know in terms of how their personal information has been misused. And I'm also concerned that -- when you personally became aware of this, did you or senior leadership do an inquiry to find out who at Facebook had this information, and did they not have a discussion about whether or not the users should be informed, back in December of 2015?

MARK ZUCKERBERG: Senator, in retrospect, I think we clearly view it as a mistake that we didn't inform people. And we did that based on false information, that we thought that the case was closed and that the data had been deleted.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS: So there was a decision made, on that basis, not to inform the users. Is that correct?

MARK ZUCKERBERG: That's my understanding, yes.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS: OK, and --

MARK ZUCKERBERG: But I -- in retrospect, I think that was a mistake. And knowing what we know now, we should have handled a lot of things here differently.

AMY GOODMAN: That is Mark Zuckerberg answering the questions of California Senator Kamala Harris.

We begin today's show with Zeynep Tufekci. She's an associate professor of information and library science at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, also faculty associate at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet & Society, author of Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest. Her recent piece for The New York Times is headlined "We Already Know How to Protect Ourselves from Facebook." More than 2 million people have viewed her recent TED talk titled "We're Building a Dystopia Just to Make People Click on Ads."

Professor Zeynep Tufekci, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you talk about what happened yesterday, what Mark Zuckerberg said, what he didn't say, and what was and wasn't asked by the senators, in the first of two days of hearings?

ZEYNEP TUFEKCI: So, what was really interesting yesterday is that the senators started asking questions that sounded fine, and probably because the staffers sort of prepared the questions well, and then they got lost in asking the questions. They weren't able to understand how Facebook actually worked. They kept asking sort of technically weird questions that didn't make sense.

And even more striking, there were times that Facebook's own CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, couldn't answer fairly basic questions on how the platform worked. For example, he was asked, "Can Facebook track users across devices? Does Facebook track people's browsing or their activities when they're logged out?" The answers to both are yes, and Zuckerberg struggled and said, "I'll have my team get back to you." To me, this is kind of like this interesting moment where we are finally struggling to understand and grapple with the new information commons, even after all these scandals, all this brouhaha.

And I wrote a piece recently for Wired, too, where I listed the 14 years of apologies. So this isn't even the first time Facebook CEO is apologizing. He's been apologizing nonstop, before even Facebook was founded. He was apologizing for the previous version of -- the initial prototype for Facebook, Facemash.

So, I mean, 15 years later in, we're finally starting to deal with the kind of power, a platform with 2 billion users, a pretty much significant amount of information flow, socialization, civic functions, politics happens. I did find it quite interesting that there's finally some questions on its power, whether it had competition, how -- you know, because Facebook is essentially without competition at this point. That's what makes it partly so powerful.

There were a lot of questions that weren't really asked. I mean, Facebook tracks people who opt -- who don't even use the platform. They have shadow profiles. Its data -- Mark Zuckerberg constantly tried to say, "We'll keep the data within our walls." But the problem is how much data they collect in the first place. I mean, of course, it's better if they don't just recklessly give away the data, as they did probably more than once, not just Cambridge Analytica. But even if they shut that down, as they did in 2015, and even if they do a good job, collecting this much data on 2 billion people, and then selling their eyeballs to whomever is paying Facebook, selling their attention -- that's the product of Facebook -- is a huge problem. The fact that if you want to do politics, if you want to socialize, if you have -- if you're an immigrant and have family around the world, the fact that that's the platform you kind of have to be on is a huge problem. It was touched upon, but not really delved into.

And maybe what I didn't really see is -- and which is what I wrote in The New York Times op-ed that you mentioned -- is that: What are we going to do about it? I mean, we actually know enough. We don't really need Mark Zuckerberg to explain the very basics of Facebook to a bunch of senators who don't seem to even understand that. We need to sit down and say, "How do we deal with the new information commons? How do we deal with the new public sphere as it operates?"

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois questioning Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

SEN. DICK DURBIN: Would you be comfortable sharing with us the name of the hotel you stayed in last night?

MARK ZUCKERBERG: Umm, uh, no.

SEN. DICK DURBIN: If you've messaged anybody this week, would you share with us the names of the people you've messaged?

MARK ZUCKERBERG: Senator, no, I would probably not choose to do that publicly here.

SEN. DICK DURBIN: I think that may be what this is all about: your right to privacy, the limits of your right to privacy, and how much you give away in modern America in the name of, quote, "connecting people around the world" -- a question, basically, of what information Facebook's collecting, who they're sending it to, and whether they ever asked me, in advance, my permission to do that. Is that a fair thing for a user of Facebook to expect?

MARK ZUCKERBERG: Yes, Senator. I think everyone should have control over how their information is used. And as we've talked about in some of the other questions, I think that that is laid out in some of the documents. But, more importantly, you want to give people control in the product itself.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was Mark Zuckerberg's response. Zeynep Tufekci, just explain exactly what's going on here. And also, this bigger point that Kamala Harris raised, when she said, "For more than two years you decided not to tell anyone about the fact --

ZEYNEP TUFEKCI: Right.

AMY GOODMAN:  -- "that 80 million users had their information given over."

ZEYNEP TUFEKCI: Right. So, the first thing, what happened is, if your friend had downloaded an app, then your information got transferred to the app maker. And while Cambridge Analytica is in the news because of its political implications, there were maybe tens of thousands, maybe even more, apps that had that kind of access, until 2015 or so. So I would personally be surprised if the number of people whose information was taken that way and then transferred to other parties and is existing somewhere on the, you know, dark web is not pretty much everybody who's been on the site. That was about a billion people at the time. So, that's the important thing, is I think that kind of data harvesting probably is much larger than just the Cambridge Analytica app, which is just one app among many.

So, the second thing about the privacy controls is, Facebook does two things here. One, they keep trying to say, "We give you control. We give you control. We'll keep the data ourselves." And even if you take that at face value -- but as the Cambridge Analytica app scandal sort of shows you, they weren't -- but even if they do this, from going forward, what happens is, it's quite hard for people to understand exactly what kind of data is collected, and a lot of their controls have been obscure. Like, there's no one little click saying, "Do not collect data about me." It's like you have to kind of figure out. You have to go into a million different menus. And, you know, I have a technical background. I've been studying this stuff for a long time. And I sometimes get lost in the weeds of their menus and can't figure out how to do this. How is an ordinary person supposed to figure this out? So, that's the first thing.

The second thing is, by promising to keep the data completely secure from now on, they're still not dealing with the fact that they are collecting an enormous amount of data. And that is not just what you voluntarily share. So, a lot of people say, "You know what? I don't care. I told Facebook where my college is, what my political views are, and I told Facebook the pages I like, and that's OK." But that's not all it collects. It purchases data from data brokers. You know, there's your shopping habits. It promised to merges offline data, life if you go into a store and buy something, it wants to match you to your Facebook ID. It collects data while you're browsing across the web, by tracking pixels.

It tracks you across devices. On Android phones, there was this missed sort of -- there was this obscure control. If you kind of missed it, it flashed before you. Before you knew it, you had just given it permission to read and sort of have information on all the text messages, the SMSmessages you send, outside of the app. You know, you're just texting normal people. And when people were downloading their Facebook database this week, as a result of the scandal, and thinking, "What's in there?" a lot of people found that every single text message they had sent on their Android phone -- you know, they're just messaging their parent or their girlfriend, boyfriend, whatever -- it's all in Facebook's databases.

So, this kind of surveillance machine, which is then used where the data is used to target you to whomever is paying Facebook, is dangerous on its own. Now, a lot of people mistakenly think that Facebook sells your data. Facebook doesn't sell your data. Facebook sells you. Right? Facebook is selling your attention. And it's selling people's attention screen by screen, so you don't really get to see on a global level what's going on. For example, you know, a lot of media critics would remember when, leading up to the Iraq War, New York Times got a lot of things wrong. And it was horrible in its consequences, and it was a grave problem. But you could at least see it and say, "Look, this is wrong." And you could try to get in the public sphere and try to correct it. I mean, it's not an ideal situation, obviously. But at least you know what's in front of you, and you can organize, and you can try to do something, whereas when misinformation is targeted on Facebook, or hate speech or things that either go viral organically or where advertisers can target you, you don't even see it. So, it's a -- the combination of this kind of power is a huge problem that we need to deal with.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, you gave this very interesting TED talk, where you talk about artificial intelligence, this kind of ad targeting. And people know about ad targeting, maybe. But how deep it is.

ZEYNEP TUFEKCI: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And you talked, for example, about identifying people who are bipolar.

ZEYNEP TUFEKCI: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain this. It is just astounding.

ZEYNEP TUFEKCI: OK, so, it is astounding. And this is the part -- once again, it doesn't get understood well, because people think like the past. Like I subscribe to Outside magazine. It's like this travel adventure. So, if somebody wants to advertise on that to me, I'm on the subscriber list. That's the old method, right? It's a pretty clear, direct link.

What happens now with artificial intelligence is that computers, computational inference, can take seemingly unrelated data, things like your Facebook likes -- right? -- not on the topic, but just your Facebook likes, your posting frequency, sort of the semantic tone of your words, and it can predict things like whether you're likely to enter into clinical depression or whether you're likely, say, to enter a manic phase, if you have bipolar mental health issues, before the onset of clinical symptoms. So the computer can, you know, with enough data about you -- and it's not a lot of data. It's definitely the kind of data Facebook has on you. You can predict people's likelihood of entering a depressive state or a manic state in the next few months, before we even have a clinical test for it, because there are no clinical symptoms.

Now, you can imagine the kind of manipulation that it's open to. You know, you want to target people that -- you want to sell them discounted Las Vegas tickets to? You want to invite them to a casino? Well, you know what? People about to enter a manic phase would be prime, vulnerable targets, because people become compulsive spenders and gamblers, or at least have a tendency to. If you want -- if you've got people's personality profiles, which we know from research you can do with Facebook, people with, you know, certain kinds of personality traits are more open to voting for authoritarians when they're afraid, according to research. You can try to target those people. And sometimes you can do all of this -- because of the way current computational models work, you can do all of this without even knowing you're doing this. You're going to go tell the computer, "Go find me people who are going to -- you know, more likely to buy tickets to Vegas, or more likely to vote for this guy when they're afraid." You can just sort of tell the computer what to optimize for, and it can do all of this. And you don't even know. Like you could even not have the intention to do this, but the way machine learning works today, you could do this.

So, this is what I said. We could enter into a phase of what I term "surveillance authoritarianism," where we don't face the kind of 1984 model, where there's open totalitarianism, where we're kind of dragged off in the middle of the night, kind of situation. But we're silently and quietly, and person by person, screen by screen, nudged and manipulated according to our individual vulnerabilities. That kind of authoritarianism would even be hard to realize. You'd just be sort of like being nudged here and there, and there are these slow changes over time. And that's what's scary. That's what we've got to get ahead of and not end up there.

Categories: Latest News

Woman Who Hates Endangered Species Act Will Be in Charge of Wildlife Policy

Truthout - Tue, 04/10/2018 - 21:00
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As if endangered species didn't have enough to worry about, they're about to have a vocal opponent of animals and conservation overseeing their protection in the White House. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has named Susan Combs to serve as the acting assistant secretary of fish, wildlife and parks.

To fully understand why Combs is such a terrible pick, take a look at her history as a comptroller in Texas. In that role, she routinely went up against the US Fish and Wildlife Service when they tried to enforce portions of the Endangered Species Act in her state. She also successfully fought to keep the golden-cheeked warbler and the dune sagebrush lizard from being included on the endangered list.

Combs made it her business to protect the oil industry and other corporations from the supposed drag of having to make adjustments to preserve vulnerable species. She opposed pretty much every creature considered for endangered designation on economic grounds.

Perhaps most infamously, Combs once labeled animals included on the official endangered list as "incoming Scud missiles." How her mind managed to decide that animals in need of conservation efforts are equivalent to deadly weapons is completely perplexing.

You're kidding yourself if you think this nomination is some kind of accident. It's both deliberate and telling for Zinke to put a known opponent of the Endangered Species Act in charge of wildlife policy.

Granted, Combs cannot dismantle the Endangered Species Act -- that kind of thing would require legislation by Congress. However, from this secretary position, should we have the discretion to enforce the rules, thereby allowing companies to flout the rules without repercussions. Furthermore, the policies she would promote are almost certainly not going to benefit the wildlife she's charged with protecting.

Interestingly, this role is not the first for which the Trump administration has nominated Combs. Last summer, she was named the assistant secretary for policy, management and budget for the Interior Department, but the Senate has yet to confirm her for a number of reasons, not the least of which was vehement opposition from conservation organizations.

Evidently, when a women hates endangered species that much, you just have to make sure she gets a job somewhere in your administration!

The Interior Department says it is still hoping to have her fill the original role, but it wants her to take on this other job in the meantime. Although this second position also requires Senate confirmation, due to technical rules, she can serve it in an acting capacity until Senate puts it in a vote, meaning to prevent her from wreaking havoc in this job she's unsuited for, the Senate will have to not just vote no, but do so quickly.

Take Action

Let's make sure that happens. The Senate obviously has some reservations about Combs in the first place, so let's encourage them to reject her nomination via this Care2 petition. Animals in this country deserve better than to have a longstanding opponent of the Endangered Species Act put in control of their welfare.

Categories: Latest News

More Hiring Shakeups at The Atlantic

Truthout - Tue, 04/10/2018 - 21:00
Categories: Latest News

When Your Lawyer Needs a Lawyer: Trump, Cohen and the FBI Raid

Truthout - Tue, 04/10/2018 - 21:00

US political history is replete with needle-off-the-record moments when everything just stops with a screech. The firing of Archibald Cox, the testimony of John Dean, Joe Welch asking Joe McCarthy if, at long last, he had any sense of decency … those moments come, and every moment after is changed forever. This was one of those moments. 

Michael Cohen, personal lawyer for Donald Trump, walks through the lobby at Trump Tower, January 12, 2017, in New York City. (Photo: Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

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Donald Trump's personal lawyer needs a lawyer. That lawyer will also need a lawyer, who in turn will also need a lawyer. If this keeps up, a friend noted, we'll have to change "MAGA" to "My Attorney Got Arrested."

Michael D. Cohen, Trump's long-time consigliere and Man Who Knows All Secrets had his world turned inside out like a laundered sock on Monday morning when the FBI basically raided every place he's ever spent more than five minutes. Cohen's home, office and hotel all got the no-knock treatment courtesy of the office of the United States attorney for the southern district of New York, operating off a tip from special counsel Robert Mueller and his investigative team. 

Saying "no" was not an option. Like Arnold Schwarzenegger asking for Cohen's clothes, boots and motorcycle, they took everything. According to the Washington Post on Tuesday, the searches are part of a "federal investigation for possible bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations." A goodly slice of the records seized pertain to adult film star Stormy Daniels and the 2016 payment Cohen made to her in order to buy her silence about an alleged sexual dalliance with Trump. Attorney-client communications between Cohen and Trump himself were also seized.

Possible collusion with Russia, election interference, obstruction of justice … so of course it's all going to come down to Stormy. This boulder started rolling down the mountain for real a few days ago on Air Force One when Trump finally broke his silence on the Daniels matter and threw Cohen under the bus with the speed of a startled cheetah. I know nothing, said Trump. Ask the lawyer.

Cohen was left holding the bag on the $130,000 hush payment to Daniels, a fact that could make those charges of wire fraud, bank fraud and campaign finance violations all too real. Even Cohen's admission that he paid Daniels himself without Trump's knowledge, and Trump's professed ignorance of the transaction, carries legal peril for Cohen: Acting on behalf of your client in legal matters without the client's knowledge and consent is grounds for disbarment in the state of New York.

If this keeps up, we'll have to change "MAGA" to "My Attorney Got Arrested."

Merriam-Webster defines "Schadenfreude" as "Enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others." When word got out that Cohen's inner sanctums had been de-doored by the FBI, the schaden met the freude in the rye and danced the night away. Why? Michael Cohen has moved through the world like a mouthy wheat thresher, "fixing" and intimidating people who make trouble for Trump. He has few friends, and fewer admirers. Today, he has empty filing cabinets in his office and a ball of ice in his gut to show for his years spent as a wanna-be menace on behalf of the pretend-billionaire set. From Manhattan to DC on Monday, many people smiled into their martinis and waited for the latest update.

This is going to become about more than Stormy Daniels, and Trump knows it. His panic on Monday was palpable, and justly so. Michael Cohen is in deep trouble, and Donald is right there with him. Cohen knows where all the bodies are buried, having buried many of them himself. As Rick Wilson points out in The Daily Beast, Cohen "realizes how deep this hole can become if he doesn't roll over. He doesn't have the resources to defend himself, and Trump isn't exactly known for paying his bills in the first place. Cohen is scared, and he's not alone."

What do you call a leader without followers? Just a guy taking a walk.

One jagged nugget of irony to be found in all this is the fact that the warrants came from the offices of New York's southern district US attorney, now headed by a Trump appointee named Geoffrey Berman. As far as Trump is concerned, the rain started falling last year when his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, recused himself from the Russia probe. It will give Trump no joy to learn that Berman has also recused himself from the matter now consuming Michael Cohen, and that the warrants were approved by one of Berman's underlings.

The tastiest bit of bitter history here is the office itself. Before Berman, the southern district US attorney was a world-class investigator and prosecutor named Preet Bharara. Among his many cases, Bharara was sniffing heavily around shady real estate dealings between Trump and some Russian oligarchs, many of whom have since played starring roles in Mueller's ongoing investigation. 

Very early in his presidency, Trump fired or demanded resignations from every serving US attorney in the country, including Bharara. All of Bharara's cases, including those involving Trump and the Russians, came to a screeching halt. This was no accident: A Trump lawyer named Marc Kasowitz bragged about convincing Trump to fire Bharara because, as Kasowitz reportedly told Trump, "This guy is going to get you."

It appears the southern district isn't quite finished with "The Donald" just yet. Trump could complain to the boss, but the boss has recused himself. Lather, rinse, repeat.

At last, then, comes the simple astonishment of it all. Obtaining a valid search warrant for an attorney's office is incredibly difficult given the strictures of the attorney-client privilege. Obtaining a search warrant for the offices, home and hotel of the personal attorney to the president of the United States is just slightly less difficult than dropping a warrant on God. 

According to the US Attorneys' Manual, obtaining these warrants required investigators to first try and acquire the evidence through other means like a subpoena. The US Attorney or a deputy had to approve the warrants. Approval from the criminal division of the Department of Justice was required, which means Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein also had to approve them. Firewalls and a "privilege team" had to be deployed to protect from infringement of the attorney-client privilege. Finally, the whole thing had to be signed off on by a US District Court judge.

They got it all. Damned if they didn't. Even Richard Nixon's lawyers didn't see their offices and homes raided. In an administration without precedent, this was yet another Whole New Thing.

US political history is replete with needle-off-the-record moments when everything just stops with a screech. The firing of Archibald Cox, the testimony of John Dean, Joe Welch asking Joe McCarthy if, at long last, he had any sense of decency … those moments come, and every moment after is marked forever. This was one of those moments. 

There is a certain eerie symmetry to the fact that Cohen was served with these warrants on the anniversary of the surrender at the Appomattox courthouse. If this were a Game of Thrones episode, it would be time to retreat to Maegor's Holdfast with the Tears of Lys and a goblet of good wine. The Main Enemy has splintered the gate, and unfriendly footfalls can be heard on the stairs.

For the record, this is why so many of us were so strident in our belief that Donald Trump should never be allowed anywhere near the power of the presidency. The man is as crooked as a rhombus and has the temperament of a pit viper on a good day, and this is not a good day. 

Trump is fit to be tied, frantic in his rage and fear, and as of this writing trembles on the verge of unleashing even more war upon the rubble in Syria … with John Bolton whispering in his ear all the while. No one in Washington is more eager than Bolton to take advantage of an unstable president's lust to punish. This could be a big moment for the new national security adviser.

 This could be a big moment for us all. Donald Trump's lawyer's lawyer's lawyer's lawyer's lawyer better be ready for some late nights.

Categories: Latest News

"Democracy Means Everyone Counts"

Truthout - Tue, 04/10/2018 - 21:00
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Janine Jackson: How much impact could the addition of a single question to the US Census have? So much that 12 states are suing the Trump administration to counter the move.

The question in question is, "Are you a US citizen?" It might raise eyebrows coming from any White House, but coming from this one, the last-minute move raises tremendous concerns, that only begin with the likelihood that the question would depress response.

Karen Hobert Flynn is a long-time democracy reform activist and the president of Common Cause. She joins us now by phone from Washington, DC. Welcome to CounterSpin, Karen Hobert Flynn.

Karen Hobert Flynn: Thank you for having me.

What are the big concerns about adding a question about citizenship to the census?

You know, America's founders created the census, and wrote into the Constitution a requirement that their successors need to count all the nation's inhabitants every ten years. Because they understood that for a truly representative democracy, we must know how many of us there are in the country, and the states in which we live. So, inhabitants, not citizens, was the requirement.

So people are alarmed when they see -- for the first time since 1950 -- that this administration wants to put a citizenship question in the census, without any kind of testing. And in an atmosphere where we have seen this administration, with its anti-immigrant rhetoric and long list of anti-immigrant policies and proposals (many that have been struck down by judges), it's created a tidal wave of fear, and concern that any information they provide to the census (although it's supposed to be kept private) could be used to deport family members and neighbors.

Absolutely. You know, in another context, I might have started with a rhetorical, "What's the big deal?" But I think it's just so obvious, in this case, what the big deal potentially is. It's wholly appropriate, isn't it, to see this in the context of other moves by the administration. Why wouldn't respondents have concerns about confidentiality, when this administration has said explicitly, "We're looking to root out non-citizens"? But then, of course, going on from that…if you undercount, what happens?

There are many impacts that go to both the heart of our democratic system, and also how that data is used by communities. For instance, that information is used by communities to decide if they need a new fire station. It has an impact on schools, resources in a community to deal with assistance for veterans, hospitals, transportation. And so the impacts are large.

And then, when it comes to our democracy, democracy means everyone counts and has equal and fair representation. So it's important to ensure every person is counted accurately, so that they have fair political representation.

This data that they collect is used by states to draw district lines. And those district lines determine how many seats a state will have in the House of Representatives, and also the maps drawn for state legislative districts. We already see some real challenges, and the politicization of drawing maps that occurs every ten years, where incumbents like to select their voters, rather than the other way around. But this actually rigs the system before we even get to the part of redistricting. And so that's one of the biggest challenges.

And it's interesting, because the Census Bureau has really tried, for the last several decades, to remove that kind of politicization, and to work to make sure that they can get the best count they can. Back in 2010, the Census Bureau worked with community organizations to do outreach, to let people know that the information that they collect is kept private and that nothing bad will happen to them if they comply and answer the census data. This move, I think, is going to really undermine that.

It really trashes that trust that's been built up.

Well, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross presented it as just a dry, sober, statistical matter: It has something to do with protecting voters, you know, enforcing the Voting Rights Act. It's a little too Orwellian, almost, even to engage. But what I really wanted to say is, at the same time the Trump reelection campaign is fundraising off this possible change to the census, making it clear that it really does have something to do with what one of the former directors of the census, Kenneth Prewitt, said: "It's a step toward not counting the people you don't want to count."

That's right. Two things: One, this notion that the Voting Rights Act's enforcement is needed, using census data, has been debunked by Eric Holder, our former attorney general. He, as attorney general, and his predecessors, never needed to get a citizenship question on the census, because they could use the data derived from the existing census process for any voting rights litigation. And, actually, the Voting Rights Act, it was enacted in 1965 -- and the census hasn't included a citizenship question since 1950. So to suggest that now this administration is concerned about enforcement of the Voting Rights Act really is laughable.

Doesn't pass the sniff test. And then, to that point about "not counting the people you don't want" -- and this is coming from a former director of the Census. Six former directors of the Census have written this letter, saying this is a bad move, that it will dampen turnout, but then Prewitt goes on to say, no, we can actually see a strategy here, and it's an anti-democratic strategy.

That's right. There's going to be more litigation besides the 12 states. I saw the NAACP is suing. We know California has already sued. So I expect that there are going to be many court challenges. And I'm not sure what that's going to mean for the timing of this. You know, usually if there are new questions, this is brought up early in the process. It's thoroughly vetted; Congress is involved in that process. And this is a very last-minute addition, with no testing, and that's why it raises an even greater concern.

And that was going to be my final question, is what do you see happening? It sounds like a lot of lawsuits. Is there any way for folks to weigh in, or do we just kind of watch what happens?

I do think that it is important for citizens to let their elected officials know that a citizenship question is a bad decision for the census, for our communities and for America. And they should be urging their members of Congress to weigh in against this citizenship question. And I also think that we will also see more litigation around this matter, so I don't think this is going to be a settled matter anytime soon.

And I should have asked you if you had any thoughts on media. Frankly, what media I've seen in the last few days has been pretty explanatory, and critics have been represented, critics of this move. But are there angles of the issue you'd like to see journalists dig into, or explore more?

I do think, and I've seen some of this, but: push back on the White House assertion that this is pro forma, that these questions have been asked for years. There is a more detailed long form that goes to one in, I think, 38 people, that asks questions about citizenship, but for the bulk of the census, the people that participate in the census, they are not questioned. So to suggest that they're just doing something that's always been done -- that isn't true. So I think continuing push back, because we see the Trump administration has Fox News and others repeat what they say from the White House pressroom; it's important to continue to push back on those errors.

We've been speaking with Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause. You can follow their work online at CommonCause.org, and her article, "Ensure Everyone Is Counted," co-authored with former Census Bureau Director Vincent Barabba, is on US News and World Report's website, USNews.com.

Karen Hobert Flynn, thank you very much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

Thank you.

Categories: Latest News

Teachers in Puerto Rico Demand an End to School Closures and Privatization

Truthout - Tue, 04/10/2018 - 21:00

Efforts to privatize the public schools in Puerto Rico were already under way when Hurricane Maria provided just the impetus the neoliberal establishment was looking for. But educators there are fighting back -- with the support of their peers on the mainland. Ultimately, it's a fight for the future of the working class, say Liza Fournier and Mercedes Martinez, unionized teachers in Puerto Rico.

Teachers participate in a one-day strike against the government's privatization drive in public education, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on March 19, 2018. (Photo: Ricardo Arduengo / AFP / Getty Images)

Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. We're now more than a year into the Trump administration, and activists have scored some important victories in those months. Yet there is always more to be done, and for many people, the question of where to focus and how to help remains. In this series, we talk with organizers, agitators and educators not only about how to resist but also about how to build a better world. Today's interview is the 117th in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.

Today we bring you a conversation with Liza Fournier and Mercedes Martinez, unionized teachers in Puerto Rico. They discuss how public education was imperiled even before Hurricane Maria, but was absolutely devastated after the storm, especially with the recent passage of a law to privatize schools on the island. They also discuss the importance of solidarity with other striking teachers on the US mainland.

Sarah Jaffe: Puerto Rico has been hit with two disasters. There was the debt crisis [with the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA)] and all of that, and then [Hurricane Maria]. Take us back to before the hurricane. What were the big issues that you were dealing with before the storm hit?

Mercedes Martinez: Prior to the hurricane, as you know, President Barack Obama and Congress approved the PROMESA law. People in Puerto Rico were already facing a lot of austerity measure attacks against their dignified life. We were exposed to proposals, such as pension cuts, school closures, thousands of layoffs, cancellation of public agencies. It is the disposal of all the public goods to the corporate sector, into the private sector, into the bankers, into that 1%. So, before the hurricane, our colonial situation allowed the government to approve this law and they wanted for the people of Puerto Rico to pay a $72 billion odious debt that was not created by the workers, and the workers are the ones that are being expected to sacrifice their working conditions, their lives, to pay these corporate moguls.

What were some of the things before the hurricane that you were struggling with in your union?

Liza Fournier: Well, before the hurricane, we even had schools that were shut down ... because it was all part of the system. They wanted to reduce the system. They want[ed] to cut money from schools before the hurricane, so we had ... how many schools were shut down before the hurricane?

Martinez: One-hundred-and-sixty-six.

Fournier: One-hundred-and-sixty-six schools last year. Before that, there were 120. Things were pretty bad before the hurricane; teachers struggling because they were moving teachers from one school to another in the middle of the semester. It was pretty much bad before, and it got worse after the hurricane.

I know in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, I have heard stories of teachers going back in and cleaning the schools up to get them open again and stuff like that. Can you tell us what that was like in that time?

Fournier: I work in a school. I am an active teacher. We went back a week after the hurricane. Schools were completely damaged by trees, trash, structures had fallen down. So, the teachers were the first ones who got [to] school. We were the ones with the machetes, cleaning the schools, taking out all the garbage, trying to get schools fixed as soon as possible to bring students back. But guess what? They didn't let us open the schools. My school was ready to be open like two weeks after the hurricane, but we opened in November. So, my students were two and a half months without going to school. Not because we weren't ready or it was our fault. It was because they didn't let us open. Mainly, the teachers and organizations and the community were the ones who really cleaned the schools to reopen.

Martinez: After the hurricane, teachers, as Liza said, were the ones that reconditioned the schools. A lot of women.... They were ready to receive their children. Every psychologist knows -- they will tell you, after a disaster like the one we had -- [after] a Category 5 hurricane, you need to come to some type of normalcy again, and the Department of Education was denying our children their right to an education.

It is very important that after the hurricane happened, even though the schools were ready, they denied the schools to open, but school communities that had no light, that had no water, that had no communication, organized themselves. There were multiple protests ... the Teachers Federation was in a lot of communities organizing the parents and requesting the secretary of education [Julia Beatrice Keleher] to open the schools.

When she denied that after the protests, we performed a civil disobedience activity in her office. Twenty-one of us got arrested for requesting her to open the schools.... After that, she still denied the schools to be opened, so we took her to court. When we started the court case, she had 300 schools -- that was in November -- that were still closed. For the first hearing, when the judge ordered her to tell us why the schools were still closed ... she had already opened 260 schools, leaving only 40 closed, so the protests, the civil disobedience, the pickets in front of her office, plus the court case stopped her from implementing the agenda that she had.

She said that she was going to shut down 200 schools during the hurricane and the community organization -- plus all the activities that I mentioned -- stopped her from doing that, from converting Puerto Rico into the New Orleans of the decade.

Fournier: The delay to open the schools is what provoked ... many students [to come] to the [United] States, because they were waiting to go back to school ... many students came to the States to study and find better conditions, because we had no electricity. I got electricity in January, and there are still a lot of people in Puerto Rico that don't have electricity or water.

They announced that they want to privatize the schools.

Martinez: They announced that they want to privatize it ... from day one. Now they just made it into a law. They approved the law March 29.... The teacher unions went to public hearings and we presented them with a lot of letters from different community organizations from the states that have charter schools, that have voucher programs -- telling the legislature, "Don't vote in favor of this bill, because this is what happened to us in the States." Hundreds of letters.

They did not listen. Obviously, this is an agenda -- it is to fill the pockets of the ones that have too much that want more. They just approved the bill into law. The same day they were voting on it, we -- the teachers' alliance ... and other organizations of teachers -- performed a one-day strike. Sixteen thousand teachers were absent from their schools. We organized that. We announced the strike on Wednesday and it started on Monday.

Now that they approved the law ... they have just announced last week the ... closures of 283 schools. We are having a general assembly on the 15th of April -- all of the organizations, the teachers unions' -- to propose an action plan which definitely will take us back to the streets until we get justice for the people of Puerto Rico and our children and our workers.

It has become almost a cliché now to talk about the "shock doctrine," the things that they came in wanting to do, [which] they then pushed through because of the hurricane. What is the response from parents, from students? How are they feeling?

Fournier: We have lots of parents that are supporting us. Since they know that schools are shutting down, they are calling the different unions ... they are calling us. It is because they want us to be in their assemblies, they want help from us to organize the communities because they want to fight back.

We are talking about schools that are really in the country, that children would have to wake up at 5:00 in the morning to get ready to go to school and sometimes come at 6:00 to school, and schools open at 8:00. So, we are talking about kids from six, seven, eight years [old] that would have maybe to travel an hour, 45 minutes to get to school. Parents are very supportive. They are ready to fight for their schools and the teachers are going to be standing right next to them because this is the work that we have to do together. We are grateful for that. We can hardly wait to go back home to start organizing the communities. We are going to fight back.

What has it been like here, connecting with some of the other teachers and their other struggles around the US?

Martinez: Well, when we come here, we know that is the same struggle that we are given in Puerto Rico -- not only in the States, but throughout the globe with teachers. Teachers in the entire continent are fighting against this capitalist agenda, this neoliberal agenda that wants to destroy not only public education, but all the public services in our country.

The attack is not only on education. They want to privatize schools, to implement those charters, they want to give the voucher programs, they want to shut down the schools, they want to fire public employees. We are talking about 100,000 employees that will be fired from different agencies. They want to destroy the University of Puerto Rico, which is a state university, by eliminating campuses. They want to increase the admission fee, they want to increase the cost per credit, per course. They want to cut the pensions from 10 percent to 25 percent [for] people that do not have enough to live. It is not only an attack on public education....

We have heard [of] the same attack against all public sectors; this is a generalized attack. I don't even think it is the "shock doctrine" anymore. It is the terror doctrine that they have implemented here in Puerto Rico.... Being here and talking to teachers and listening to the stories -- West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona. We have a great alliance with MORE from New York, and just listening to them, it just renews our energy and it lets us know that this is one struggle of the working class, and that we will have small victories until we triumph entirely. We are not hopeless. We have much hope to go back to our country and give the fight that we have to give.

What can people in the mainland US do to support you?

Fournier: Yesterday, we were talking about that in one of the workshops. All of the teachers were interested in helping Puerto Rico.... They can make videos, they can take pictures, send us messages. Maybe we will open another GoFundMe campaign if we go on strike. So, they can help by donating to the GoFundMe campaign. But it is very important ... yesterday, they made a video with teachers from 12 states saying, "We are here with Puerto Rico. We support you." We spread it out on Facebook and the teachers went, "Oh my god! I can't believe it! This is great. We feel that we are getting renewed with this." That is very important that we know that we are not alone in this. But it is very important for the teachers over there in Puerto Rico to know that we have support.

Martinez: And not only support for the teachers. We have been working with other comrades in other unions, we have been working with a sisterhood program where you adopt a school in Puerto Rico, but it is not a charity. It is a solidarity event. Then, they create pen pals between schools from different schools -- Puerto Rico and the States. So, kids can understand why we are fighting in Puerto Rico and ... know why the teachers and the children of the States are fighting the same fights. So, they get to know each other. They get to be in solidarity with each other and they get to know that what we are going through.... It is building relationships, it is not just a solidarity event. It is more than that. It is a lasting bond. It is a long-term relationship that we need to construct.

What else should people know about what is going on in Puerto Rico and what is going to be happening in the next few weeks and months?

Martinez: They should know that we are definitely going to our general assembly on the 15th of April. That we are going to vote for a strike. That we are going to propose a strike indefinitely for the time that we have to -- until they revoke this law and they guarantee that no charter schools will be implemented. That they stop the school closures. That we are going to take the case to court, but we don't rely on the court case for justice; it has proven to not benefit the workers in history.

We are giving the biggest fight of our lives and we are very energized. Being here with so many wonderful people, so many union members that are working, that are fighting, that are organizing -- the best gift I take with me is to know that people all around the globe are organizing and are giving the same struggles that we are giving. We are all in this together, and ultimately, it is not an individual situation of a country. It is a global situation about the working class. We are in it together and we take to our country renewed energies to fight for what is right and more than just defend public education, to fight for the world that we want to build -- a just world, an equitable world for the children of Puerto Rico.

Fournier: People need to know that Puerto Rico is still struggling with the hurricane that we had. That we still have a lot of places that don't have electricity, that still are reconstructing their houses. That is the main thing going on. That teachers are getting ready to strike pretty soon. We are going to organize and we are going to defend our public schools. That is the main thing. We are united together and we are going to do whatever it takes to defend our public schools and education for our kids.... It is not even a thing about teachers. It is about, as Mercedes said, our legacy for our future, what we want to leave for our children, for our kids. That is the main thing.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Interviews for Resistance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assistance from Laura Feuillebois and support from the Nation Institute. It is also available as a podcast on iTunes. Not to be reprinted without permission.

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Categories: Latest News

Sending Troops to the Border Will Cause More Migrant Deaths

Truthout - Tue, 04/10/2018 - 21:00

Late Friday night, Defense Secretary James Mattis approved the deployment of up to 4,000 troops to the US-Mexico border. The order, which came after Trump called for an increase in troops in response to a caravan of refugees seeking asylum, is not the first time the National Guard has been sent to the border. However, many people living in the borderlands believe the action escalates an already-weaponized war zone, and at a time when the US is seeing the lowest border crossing numbers since 1971.

Crosses memoralize those killed at a section of fence along the US / Mexico border. (Photo: Daniel Lobo; Edited: LW / TO)

This article was published by TalkPoverty.org.

Late Friday night, Defense Secretary James Mattis approved the deployment of up to 4,000 troops to the US-Mexico border. The order, which came after President Donald Trump called for an increase in troops in response to a caravan of refugees making their way north to seek asylum, is not the first time the National Guard has been sent to the border (President George W. Bush sent 6,000 troops in 2006 and President Barack Obama sent 1,200 in 2011). However, many people living in the borderlands believe the action escalates an already-weaponized war zone, and at a time when the United States is seeing the lowest border crossing numbers since 1971.

The National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (NNIRR) defines border militarization as "the systematic intensification of the border's security apparatus, transforming the area from a transnational frontier to a zone of permanent vigilance, enforcement, and violence."

The NNIRR further states that "the outcome of border militarization has not been to deter migration, but instead to create more vulnerability."

Sixty miles south of my home in Tucson, at the US-Mexico border, a crude steel wall cleaves the town of Nogales in half. Once a single town, relatives now stretch their arms through slits in the wall to hold hands. North of the border, Interstate 19 runs through a scrubby desert, past dusty Arizona ranch towns and gated retirement communities, paralleling the green line that marks the Santa Cruz River. The desert stretches out as far as you can see: thousands of acres of rocky mountain ranges, remote wilderness areas, First Nations land, and cattle ranches.

In 1994, the US Border Patrol began a new strategy called Prevention Through Deterrence. Urban areas from Brownsville, Texas, to San Diego, California, were outfitted with more Border Patrol agents and military-style equipment, including cameras and walls. As a result, it was no longer possible for migrants to cross the border in urban areas. They now had to traverse remote stretches of desert by foot.

In the Sonoran Desert, summer temperatures can climb up to 120 degrees near some of the most commonly used crossing routes. Monsoon storms turn bone-dry arroyos into dangerous flash floods. In winter, below-freezing nighttime temperatures can induce hypothermia. There is little shade and the only water might be found inside the belly of a cactus, or an algae-filled cattle tank. There are rocks to turn ankles, rattlesnakes, and miles upon miles of spiny cacti.

In the last two decades, more than 7,000 bodies of migrants have been found in the Arizona desert, most having died of exposure or dehydration. Thousands more men, women, and children have disappeared. In 2015 alone, more than 1,200 missing persons cases were opened by the human rights organization La Coalición de Derechos Humanos, in response to people looking for loved ones who went missing on the journey through the desert.

report co-authored by La Coalición de Derechos Humanos and humanitarian group No More Deaths reads, "The region has been transformed into a vast graveyard of the missing."

***

In the late 1990s, southern Arizona communities began to witness the effects of increased border militarization. Human remains were found in the desert. The Medical Examiner's morgues continued to fill up throughout the early 2000s, as missing persons reports and phone calls increased from frantic family members. Border Patrol checkpoints appeared along rural roads and highways. Reports of racial profiling in urban areas increased, as did raids in neighborhoods and workplaces.

A widespread citizen response began -- one that, full disclosure, I joined as a volunteer for La Coalición de Derechos Humanos and No More Deaths when I moved to Tucson in 2005. Several groups were formed to provide legal support, missing migrant searches, public education, and direct humanitarian aid. Others continued the work they'd been doing to support border crossers since the Sanctuary Movement of the 1980s. Local volunteers -- including retirees, pastors, nurses, and youth activists -- drove desert roads and hiked into remote areas to leave gallons of water along migrant trails, hoping it would save lives. "¡Hola, hermanos! Somos amigos de la iglesia. Tenemos comida y agua," they called as they walk through the desert brush. Hello, brothers! We're friends from the church. We have food and water.

Over a three year period between 2012 and 2015, No More Deaths tracked approximately 31,000 gallons of water they placed in an 800-square-mile radius. Eighty-six percent of the water was used, demonstrating high need. But over that same period of years, water jugs were vandalized by humans at an average of twice per week. "Although it is likely that multiple actors are responsible for the destruction of humanitarian aid at our water-drop sites, the results of our [geographic] data analysis indicate that US Border Patrol agents likely are the most consistent actors," states the report.

A series of videos taken by wildlife cameras and personal cameras clearly show Border Patrol agents destroying water jugs and other humanitarian aid supplies. In one video, a female agent kicks a line of water jugs one by one, smashing the plastic containers against the rocks. In another, a male agent looks into the camera and sneers at the unseen videographer. "You're gonna' get a good shot. Just picking up this trash somebody left on the trail," he says. "It's not yours, is it? All you have to do is tell me that it's yours." He pours out water from the jugs as he talks, his forehead glistening with sweat.

On January 17, 2018, just hours after the above video footage was released, eight No More Deaths volunteers were apprehended by Border Patrol. All are being charged with federal misdemeanors, except for Scott Warren, a faculty associate at Arizona State University and a longtime No More Deaths volunteer, who is being charged with a felony for harboring migrants after agents witnessed him providing two people with water and food. If convicted, he could face five years in prison. In Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge -- where the volunteers had been looking for distressed migrants and leaving humanitarian aid supplies -- No More Deaths volunteers discovered 32 sets of human remains in 2017.

This is not the first time that the federal government has brought charges against No More Deaths volunteers. In 2005, Shanti Sellz and Daniel Strauss were arrested while transporting three severely dehydrated migrants to a medical facility, and charged with smuggling and conspiracy felonies. They each faced a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. After over a year of legal proceedings and a widespread grassroots campaign in support of humanitarian aid, the charges against them were dropped. In 2008, Walt Staton, then a seminary student, was cited for littering after US Fish and Wildlife officers found him leaving water containers on trails in the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. Several months before Staton's citation, Dan Millis was cited for littering, also by US Fish and Wildlife officers, for leaving water containers in the wildlife refuge.

For Millis, the citation came just two days after he and three other No More Deaths volunteers found the lifeless body of a 14-year-old Salvadoran girl in a nearby remote area. Josseline Hernandez and her 10-year-old brother had been traveling with a group of other border crossers when Josseline became ill and was left behind. The siblings were on their way to California to meet their mother. Millis spent months in court fighting the littering charges, arguing -- as Sellz and Strauss did -- that "humanitarian aid is never a crime," and that water containers left in the desert with the intent to save lives is not litter. He won the case in an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court, which ruled that the water containers were not garbage.

***

Todd Miller, a journalist and the author of two books about the militarization of the US-Mexico border, says the Trump Administration's decision to send the National Guard troops to the border "reinforces, supports, and frees up the US Border Patrol, a self-described paramilitary agency."

Since 1993, the US Border Patrol's annual budget has increased more than ten-fold, from $363 million to over $3.8 billion, and the number of agents increased from 4,000 to 21,000. The combined budgets for Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2017 was $19 billion -- more than the FBI, DEA, and US Marshals Service combined.

"The Border Patrol not only operates on the international boundary line, but also in 100-mile jurisdictions, and they do it with extraconstitutional powers above and beyond what normal law enforcement can do," says Miller. "They can put up checkpoints, pull people over in roving patrols, and essentially violate the 4th amendment -- the right to not be searched or seized. This is why the ACLU calls the borderlands a 'constitution-free zone.'"

The effects of militarization also spill into courtrooms in communities along the border. In 2005, under President George W. Bush, Operation Streamline began, a daily assembly-line courtroom processing of undocumented migrants found crossing the border. During the Obama presidency, Operation Streamline increased dramatically. In just two hours, up to 70 people can be tried and sentenced.

Miller has spent the last eight years researching the private military companies that also want to cash in on border militarization. He describes attending border security conventions with "vendors and companies adamantly discussing their desire to break into the border security market." In the early 2010s, as US military operations were winding down in Iraq and Afghanistan, Miller says many of those companies expressed that they were in search of new markets. "One vendor, who had before sold his company's products to the US military, told me 'we are now bringing the battlefield to the border.'"

In the years since Prevention Through Deterrence began, poverty and violence have continued to force those fleeing for their lives to head north. And so they come -- exhausted from the journey, some with babies in their arms, seeking work, seeking a good safe life -- and when they reach the border, they are inhumanely squeezed into the gauntlet of the desert, where, as Miller says, "death has become one of many deterrents."

"When you consider human security, such as the right for a person to have shelter, food, health, education, a future, you see quickly that the billions of dollars put into border militarization are drastically misplaced," Miller says, joining the many border residents who say that the US government should address the socioeconomic and political reasons driving migration in the first place.

But instead of tackling those root causes of migration, Miller says the US government has focused on putting up walls and bringing the military to the border. In an April 5 interview with Democracy Now, he said, "There will be more agents. There will be more walls. There will be more technologies. There will be more checkpoints. There will be more drone surveillance. There will be more expansion of this apparatus into these 100-mile jurisdictions. And I think that's the intention."

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Categories: Latest News

Is "Sorry" Enough? Facebook Built Empire on Harvesting Personal Information With Little Oversight

Truthout - Mon, 04/09/2018 - 21:00

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is set to testify today on Capitol Hill amid the burgeoning scandal about how the voter-profiling company Cambridge Analytica harvested the data of more than 87 million Facebook users, without their permission, in efforts to sway voters to support President Donald Trump. In prepared remarks ahead of his testimony today, he writes, "We didn't take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. … It was my mistake, and I'm sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I'm responsible for what happens here." The company has also unveiled new privacy tools ahead of Zuckerberg's testimony today. For more, we speak with David Dayen, a contributor to The Intercept and columnist for The New Republic. His recent pieces include "Ban Targeted Advertising" and "The US Government Is Finally Scrambling to Regulate Facebook."

TRANSCRIPT

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

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is set to testify today on Capitol Hill amid the burgeoning scandal about how the voter-profiling company Cambridge Analytica harvested the data of more than 87 million Facebook users, without their permission, in efforts to sway voters to support President Donald Trump. In his prepared testimony for today, Zuckerberg says, quote, "We didn't take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. … It was my mistake, and I'm sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I'm responsible for what happens here." This is Zuckerberg speaking on CNN last month.

MARK ZUCKERBERG: This was a major breach of trust. And I'm really sorry that this happened. You know, we have a basic responsibility to protect people's data. And if we can't do that, then we don't deserve to have the opportunity to serve people. So, our responsibility now is to make sure that this doesn't happen again.

AMY GOODMAN: The company has also unveiled new privacy tools ahead of Zuckerberg's testimony today.

For more, we go to Los Angeles, California, where we're joined by David Dayen, a contributor to The Intercept and columnist for The New Republic. His recent pieces include "Ban Targeted Advertising" and "The U.S. Government Is Finally Scrambling to Regulate Facebook." David is also the author of the award-winning book Chain of Title: How Three Ordinary Americans Uncovered Wall Street's Great Foreclosure Fraud.

So, David, talk about the significance of -- well, you've read -- he's pre-released his statement, Mark Zuckerberg. What has happened at Facebook, and what needs to be done?

DAVID DAYEN: Well, it's very significant that Mark Zuckerberg is appearing before Congress today. This is the first time that he's done so. And Congress has really not kept up with the revolution happening online, as far social media and these companies are concerned. And they've sort of given over the playing field of regulation to Facebook, companies like Facebook, which have become really almost private governments, that are making these monumental decisions based on their business model, that have wide-ranging effects for elections, for the viability of businesses, for, you know, the mass problems that we see in places like Burma and the Philippines. It's really consequential. And so, what we see today is really Congress trying to sort of catch up to where they should be and should have been for a long time, seeing that these companies are incredibly powerful, incredibly large and require a Democratic impulse to step in and make some changes.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, David, you heard Zuckerberg talk about how this is a mistake, a terrible mistake. But the reality is, this is the model. This is the way that Facebook makes money, being able to monetize the activity of the people on their network. This whole issue of the failure of congressional leaders to adequately regulate the development of the internet, the way they did television, the way that they did other forms of communication technology, the telephone, and, basically, the privatization of the most important means of communication that we have in the world today -- what was the responsibility of Congress, that should have been, earlier on, tackling this problem?

DAVID DAYEN: Right, Congress absolutely should have stepped in much sooner than now, when we've already seen this problem. Obviously, as you mentioned, Facebook and Google and other social media sites make money off of exploiting the data of their users. Their users aren't really the customers, they are the product, as it's often said. And, you know, this has implications for privacy laws. It has implications for anti-discrimination laws. It obviously has implications for our elections. And these are all ways in which the government needs to get involved and come up with some real standards to protect people. And in their absence, Facebook has sort of done this on their own whim -- really on the whim of one person: Mark Zuckerberg.

AMY GOODMAN: On Thursday, NBC's Savannah Guthrie interviewed Facebook COO, the chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg. Let's go to a clip.

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Could you come up with a tool that said, "I do not want Facebook to use my personal profile data to target me for advertising"? Could you have an opt-out button: "Please don't use my profile data for advertising"?

SHERYL SANDBERG: We have different forms of opt-out. We don't have an opt-out at the highest level. That would be a paid product.

AMY GOODMAN: David Dayen, respond to this. And talk about how what happened with Cambridge Analytica harvesting, what, now they're telling us 87 million Facebook users, could have been prevented.

DAVID DAYEN: Well, absolutely. You know --

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about her saying this would be a paid product.

DAVID DAYEN: Yeah, Sheryl Sandberg says that you would only have to be able to pay if you're opting out completely of advertising. This is seemingly ridiculous. Facebook has 2 billion members of an audience. If a television station or radio station had that kind of massive audience, I think they'd figure out a way to make money with advertising, without harvesting the data of every single person. We went through many decades in this country without targeted advertising. I think we can go back to that.

The idea of an opt-out button is very similar to what -- the regime that is being constructed in Europe. It's called the GDPR, the General Data Protection Regulation, and it would require affirmative consent from people to have their data collected and sold to advertisers or used in the targeting of advertising. And I think that there are more and more people in Washington who are seeing that as a viable method to protect citizens. However, it's very consent-based. We could do something stronger and just opt out, and certainly get rid of this idea that if one of your friends on Facebook takes a quiz, that they -- that company that put the quiz together gets access to all of your profile data, which is exactly what happened in the Cambridge Analytica situation. Only about 270,000 Facebook users took that quiz, but because they got the derivative data of all the friends of those people, 87 million, at least -- I mean, that's the number they're using now, 87 million users -- had their data harvested and then put to use in political targeting.

So, you know, we need to really get a handle on this. I don't think Facebook has a handle on it necessarily. They have millions of advertisers. They don't know what any one advertiser is doing from one moment to the next. This is a problem of a company that's really too big to manage. And government needs to step in with some clear rules around what is allowable.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But, David, specifically on that issue of all of the profiles that were harvested as a result of this voluntary quiz by only a few hundred thousand people, are there legal questions there for -- or potential lawsuits by those people whose data was harvested without their participating at all in any kind of a survey?

DAVID DAYEN: Well, lawsuits have already been filed. I think there are eight consumer lawsuits, class action lawsuits. We'll see how they work their way through the courts. Certainly, there are violations involved in a lot of this kind of targeting that we see. There's a lawsuit right now being put forward by housing advocates, showing that advertisers used Facebook tools to create housing and employment advertisements that necessarily avoided African Americans and Hispanics from seeing the ads. And that seemingly violates fair housing, fair employment laws. There are all sorts of applications that you can use, when you can get down to that granular level and know, you know, practically everything about the individual to whom you're serving that ad. It has all sorts of legal implications.

And that's why -- you know, I mean, I think what we're going to see today in Congress is a lot of grandstanding, but I think, behind the scenes, there are people really seriously thinking through this and trying to come up with a way of dealing with these companies, that have gotten so large, that have such large troves of data, that are, you know, most inherently insecure, that offer so many tools to advertisers. What are the implications of that? And it's something -- it's a place government needs to be involved; otherwise, we have regulation by Facebook, a private government, that is only really concerned with their own financial interests.

AMY GOODMAN: Should Facebook be nationalized?

DAVID DAYEN: That's something that has been brought up by commentators. I think it's an interesting way to go about it, to think about it, to regulate it as a public utility. There are ideas of, you know, things like interoperability, where you would be able to take your sort of social media graph to any competing site. This is what was done with AOL Instant Messenger way back in the turn of the century. And it enabled text messaging to sort of migrate away from this one site. Right now we have the situation where Facebook owns Instagram, Facebook owns WhatsApp. Anytime there's a competitor to Facebook, they either buy it or they ape the technology that's used within it, like they did with Snapchat. This is an anti-trust problem, that I think requires some solutions around that. And also, I think there needs to be very broad privacy regulations that understand, you know, that individuals that come to a site do not consent, or they do not have the expectation that everything that they've ever written, everything that they've ever put on that site, is going to be used in targeting them. This is the kinds of things we can do.

AMY GOODMAN: David Dayen, we want to thank you very much for being with us, contributor to The Intercept, columnist for The New Republic, most recent piece, we'll link to, "Ban Targeted Advertising." And we will bring you excerpts of Zuckerberg's testimony tomorrow, in Congress, and commentary.

Categories: Latest News

Denver Post Revolts Against Its Vulture Hedge-Fund Owner and Demands 126-Year-Old Newspaper Be Saved

Truthout - Mon, 04/09/2018 - 21:00

The Denver Post has launched a revolt against its owner: New York-based hedge fund Alden Global Capital. On Sunday, The Denver Post's editorial board published a lead editorial headlined "As vultures circle, The Denver Post must be saved." Alden Global Capital is the parent company of Digital First Media, one of the country's largest newspaper chains. Since 2010, Digital First Media has slashed budgets and staff at newspapers across the country, including the Oakland Tribune, The San Jose Mercury News and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Alden Global Capital is backed by founder and chief of investments Randall Smith and president Heath Freeman. Both are known on Wall Street as vulture capitalists who make their money investing in distressed businesses and selling them off. For more, we speak with Ricardo Baca, the former cannabis editor at The Denver Post, who wrote one of the op-eds, titled "When a hedge fund tries to kill the newspapers it owns, journalists must fight back." Baca worked at the Post for 16 years and is now the CEO and founder of Grasslands.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, The Denver Post has launched a revolt against its owner: New York-based hedge fund Alden Global Capital. On Sunday, the Post editorial board published a lead editorial headlined "As vultures circle, The Denver Post must be saved." In the piece, editorial page editor Chuck Plunkett writes, quote, "If Alden isn't willing to do good journalism here, it should sell The Post to owners who will," unquote. Alden Global Capital is the parent company of Digital First Media, one of the country's largest newspaper chains. Since 2010, Digital First Media has slashed budgets and staffs at newspapers across the country, including the Oakland Tribune, The San Jose Mercury and the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

AMY GOODMAN: Alden Global Capital is backed by founder and chief of investments Randall Smith and president Heath Freeman. Both are well known on Wall Street as vulture capitalists who make their money investing in distressed businesses and selling them off.

For more, we go to Denver, to Denver Open Media, where we're joined by Ricardo Baca, the former cannabis editor at The Denver Post, who wrote one of the op-eds, headlined, "When a hedge fund tries to kill the newspapers it owns, journalists must fight back." Ricardo Baca worked at The Denver Post for 16 years and is now the CEO and founder of Grasslands.

Welcome to Democracy Now! I mean, this is quite amazing. The Denver Post, in its own pages, published this open revolt against its new owners, against this New York-based hedge fund. Ricardo Baca, what's happening there in the newsroom? And what is being demanded?

RICARDO BACA: You know, Alden Global Capital has actually owned the Post and all other MediaNews Group, DFM papers for eight years now. They bought into this group in the year 2010. And even though we've seen cut after cut, buyout after layoff, over the years, in my tenure there -- I left a year and a half ago -- these are still hitting. We found out last month that the Alden Global Capital sent the word down the pike that The Denver Post had to lay off 30 full-time staffers from the newsroom alone. And that was the largest cut, by percentage, in the history of the newspaper, which is 100-plus years. And it was just devastating. And I think, even though we've seen so many cuts over the years and so much devastation, we've never seen anything to this level. And I think this editorial page from last Sunday is the result of that.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Ricardo, I remember, when I was president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, back in 2002 and '04, I spent a lot of time in Denver, when there were still two papers. There were over 200 reporters at the Rocky Mountain News and, I think, about 300 in the newsroom at The Denver Post. What is the situation like now? Obviously, the Rocky was closed down. What's the situation in terms of the actual numbers of reporters doing reporting in Denver right now on papers?

RICARDO BACA: Of course, Juan. And I'm a former Rocky Mountain News staffer, back from the '90s, and I remember those heady days. Certainly, you know, the two papers were in a joint operating agreement until 2009, when the Rocky Mountain News went out of business. And when I started at The Denver Post 16 years ago, legitimately, there almost 300 journalists in the newsroom. And, of course, that's copy editors and artists, reporters and editors. But now we're talking between 60 and 70 journalists, so the staff has been cut by four-fifths in the last 15-plus years. And --

AMY GOODMAN: And they would cut 30 from that?

RICARDO BACA: No, that includes the 30. So there were about 90 to 100, and now there are about 60 to 70.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I wanted to go to the lead editorial in The Denver Post's package, blasting the paper's hedge-fund owner, Alden Global Capital. The editorial board displayed a striking interactive photo showing the toll staff cuts have taken on the newsroom. If you slide the bar to the right, you see a photo taken in May 2013, in which 142 staffers had gathered to celebrate winning a staff Pulitzer Prize. When you slide the bar to the left, however, you see the same picture, dated April 2018, showing the staffers who are now gone -- more than half -- rendered in black. Ricardo Baca, what are you calling for? What is the staff? I mean, you wrote about how you thought it was odd that you, as reporters, would go outside the paper and actually protest and hold up banners, the kind of thing you were covering years ago with other people in other groups.

RICARDO BACA: It's so true. You know, I remember that day in 2013, after the Pulitzer, when we went downstairs to the lobby to shoot that picture. And that picture has been hanging in the newsroom ever since, as a very stark and real reminder of what's been happening since then.

And then, yeah, two years ago, 2016, us reporters, many editors and other journalistic staff did take to the streets. We protested on the steps of the newsroom, which was historic in and of itself. You know, journalists, this is not what we are taught to do in J-school. This is not what we're supposed to do. But we felt like we didn't even have a choice. And so, I think the 2018, now, this most recent cut, and this perspective section dedicated to the subject matter, speaks to the desperate times, desperate measures the staff and us former staffers are willing to take.

It's just -- this is heartbreaking for Denver. This is awful news for Colorado. The only good news -- this is good news only to crooked CEOs and bad news politicians who don't want that oversight happening, frankly, at the state Legislature or in boardrooms across the state.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Ricardo, if we can, just speaking about crooked CEOs, one of the interesting things about this particular tragedy is that the paper, according to the hedge fund that owns you, was making money, but that, basically, we're talking about the second-largest newspaper chain in America right now, after Gannett, and apparently they're using these newspapers as cash cows to invest in other -- in other businesses. Could you talk about that?

RICARDO BACA: That's exactly what's happening. You know, there have been multiple published reports saying The Denver Post alone is making a very healthy profit. We also know this because when I was still at the newspaper in 2016, we got a note from our president at the time, the president of Digital First Media, saying we're profitable, we're doing better than our competitors. And we knew that wasn't going to stop the hemorrhaging, because that's only continued since then. And we knew it was bad news for us from the start. So I think this is just where we are. It's a dire place to be.

And I think, as journalists, because we're not taught to organize, because we're taught to kind of stay in the background and keep a nonpublic presence, this was the only thing we knew how to do. We didn't know how to organize, but we know how to write and put together a section. And I couldn't be prouder of Denver Post's editorial page editor Chuck Plunkett for doing what he did this last Sunday.

AMY GOODMAN: Ricardo Baca, we want to ask you to stay for Part 2 -- we'll post it as a web exclusive at democracynow.org -- to talk about Alden's owners and to talk about how important local media is in journalism across the country. Ricardo Baca is now CEO and founder of Grasslands. He was the cannabis editor for The Denver Post, when he resigned in 2016 after 16 years. We'll link to your piece, "When a hedge fund tries to kill the newspapers it owns, journalists must fight back."

That does it for our show. Democracy Now! is accepting applications for our paid year-long social media fellowship. Check it out at democracynow.org.

I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Happy birthday, David Prude!

Categories: Latest News

Donald Trump's Latest Conflict of Interest Is on Full Display

Truthout - Mon, 04/09/2018 - 21:00

President Donald Trump is facing a new potential scandal as reports surface suggesting his administration may have pressured the government of Panama into helping one of his businesses in that country. After a dispute involving management of a hotel, Trump's business sent a letter asking the Panamanian president to intervene on its behalf in spite of a judicial decision siding with another majority owner of the hotel -- a clear violation of Panama's separation of powers.

View of the hotel sign after the Trump letters were removed from outside the hotel in Panama City on March 5, 2018. (Photo: Rodrigo Arangua / AFP / Getty Images)

President Donald Trump is facing a new potential scandal as reports surface suggesting his administration may have pressured the government of Panama into helping one of his businesses in that country.

The issue traces back to a decision in February by Orestes Fintiklis, the majority owner of Trump's hotel business in Panama, to fire Trump's hotel management so that the owners' association could control the property, according to the Associated Press. Although the Trump Organization tried to avoid needing to remove its personnel, the Panamanian judicial branch wound up siding with Fintiklis, sending police officers to order the Trump employees out of the building in March.

All of this would have been standard in terms of the world of business disputes -- but then, on March 22, attorneys representing Trump's hotel businesses sent a letter to Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela and copied Panama’s Foreign Secretary Isabel de Saint Malo, asking the executive branch to intervene on their behalf.

"It is a letter that urges Panama’s executive branch to interfere in an issue clearly of the judicial branch. I don’t believe the executive branch has a position to take while the issue is in the judicial process," de Saint Malo told reporters. The letter argued that the eviction of Trump Organization personnel could violate the Bilateral Investment Treaty and included a suggestion that the Panamanian government could face adverse consequences if the Trump Organization does not prevail in the dispute.

"We appreciate your influence in order to avoid that these damages are attributed not to the other party, but to the Panamanian government," the letter said, implying that the Panamanian government, rather than the new management team, would be held responsible.

Further complicating matters, the United States Embassy in Panama said that "matters related to the Trump Organization are sent directly to the White House," according to the Panamanian newspaper La Prensa.

"This is exactly what our Founding Fathers were concerned about when they wrote the Emoluments Clause -- Presidents trying to use the levers of power to help themselves financially," Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md. and Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, told Salon by email. "Panama should not give the Trump Organization special favors just because this involves the President’s company, and President Trump’s company should never ask for them. Why are U.S. embassies reportedly sending these matters to the White House if the President is supposed to be walled off? The President, the White House, our embassies, and our government should not be playing any role whatsoever in this dispute."

Independent ethics experts expressed similar concerns.

"I think there are serious ethical implications here and a lot of questions raised," Lawrence M. Noble, Senior Director and General Counsel of the Campaign Legal Center, told Salon. "First of all, this is exactly what people were concerned about with Trump keeping his interests in the Trump Organization and the hotels. This really presents a potential conflict with his business interests and his role as president."

He added, "A couple of things that really stuck out at me: One was that the embassy said that matters related to the Trump Organization are sent directly to the White House. Why that is going on I have no idea, because Trump has kept the financial interest in his organization, refused to divest his business interests, but said that the management of it would be turned over to his kids. So why are they sending information regarding the Trump Organization to the White House? That even suggests some sort of subtle pressure."

Noble's concerns were echoed by Jordan Libowitz, communications director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

"We believe all presidents should divest themselves from their assets," Libowitz told Salon by email. "The fear if they don't is what could happen if there is some kind of incident between their business interests and a local or foreign government. That appears to be exactly the case here. When the president's business puts pressure on a government, are they using the force of the American government to apply that pressure? When the president makes foreign policy decisions, does he have his business in mind or the American people? These are questions we should not have to be asking but President Trump has forced us to ask."

Noble also elaborated on the dangers that the Trump Organization's actions pose in terms of the US's relationship with Panama.

"The reference to the situation possibly damaging the Panamanian state presents a lot of problems," Noble told Salon. "Something like from a regular business could just be seen as some sort of suggestion that they'd get a bad reputation. But being written by a company that is still owned by the President of the United States has very serious implications. . . that the U.S. government might want to do something that will affect relations with Panama. That's not explicit, but it could be read that way, and it just shows you the serious ethical conflicts that are involved with the president still keeping interest in his businesses."

Noble also acknowledged that -- in light of stories such as one last month, which suggested  Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner may have supported a blockade against Qatar as punishment for its refusal to invest in a property owned by the Kushner family at 666 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan -- a troubling pattern may have emerged.

"I think there has been a pattern here of the Trump Organization and the family doing things to leave the impression that the government is involved, and that if you do favors for the Trump Organization, you might get some benefit from the government," Noble told Salon.

There have been other occasions in which there have seemed to be uncomfortable ties between Trump's business interests and policymaking, such as when countries that are involved with the president's real estate and licensing empire were left off his controversial Muslim travel ban and when Donald Trump Jr. promised to meet investors in a Trump real estate project in India. The ramifications of Trump's ongoing conflicts of interest are not limited to the foreign policy sphere either.

"Congress must be vigilant against the potential for President Trump to enrich himself and his family at the expense of the average American," said Sen. Martin Heinrich, D- N.M, in a report released in June on the economic impact of Trump's alleged corruption. "The president and his family’s conflicts of interests are inexcusable and unacceptable, and could depress economic output by over $1,000 per person just in one year. Not only are these practices dangerous, but harmful to the economic security of American families across the country."

As Heinrich told Salon at the time, "The stakes are high and the risks are real. It’s not just about how the president, his family, and his administration benefit from these conflicts of interest -- but how they could hinder economic growth in the long term."

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Categories: Latest News

Why Breitbart and the Right Are Co-opting Net Neutrality

Truthout - Mon, 04/09/2018 - 21:00

Conservatives like Ann Coulter and the editors at Breitbart are accusing big web platforms like Facebook and Google of censoring and discriminating against right-wing websites and painting progressives as Silicon Valley's willing allies. The right is even co-opting net neutrality, a traditionally progressive cause, but experts say their efforts are a vessel for misinformation.  

Conservatives like the editors at Breitbart are accusing big web platforms like Facebook and Google of censoring and discriminating against right-wing websites. (Photo: Jaap Arriens / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

For a moment, it appeared that right-wing pundit Ann Coulter was coming out in support of net neutrality, a concept traditionally championed by progressives in order to prevent big corporations that bring us the internet from meddling with how we access information online.

"I just think we'll all wake up one day and I'll try to go to Breitbart, and I won't be able to get there," Coulter said during a "town hall" held by Breitbart News Network, the conservative news site, in a New Orleans suburb last week. "I'll try to email you, and it won't be able to get there. I won't be able to find the Drudge Report."

Coulter's comment appears to echo arguments long made by progressives: Without firm net neutrality regulations, big internet service providers like AT&T and Comcast could dampen online voices outside the mainstream and prioritize those that make them more money. The Obama administration enacted net neutrality protections in 2015 despite conservative opposition, and the Trump administration has since dismantled the rules.

However, Coulter's comment was not directed toward the service providers that bring the internet into our homes. She was talking about the impact that big web platforms like Google and Facebook have on what we see online.

While liberals have skewered Facebook for allowing Russian propagandists to use the world's largest social network to influence the 2016 elections, conservatives have accused Silicon Valley giants like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Google of censoring and discriminating against right-wing social media users and websites like Breitbart under the guise of combating "fake news" and hate speech.

"Any attack on the internet, on total free speech on the internet, is a disaster for conservatives," said Coulter, who also suggested that Big Tech was aiding the mainstream media efforts to derail President Trump. "It's absolutely shocking what is being done to Breitbart. This is a major threat."

This "threat" has conservatives doing some odd mental gymnastics. Some are even bucking the Republican Party's line and calling on Congress to impose federal regulations on web platforms as well as internet service providers, even as the Trump administration takes the Federal Communication Commission's (FCC) existing net neutrality regulations off the books. How did we get here?

Reinstating net neutrality at the FCC is not the same as giving Facebook a free pass to censor content.

The Breitbart town hall was entitled "Masters of the Universe" and featured Coulter, Breitbart head editor Alex Marlow and Robert Epstein, a psychologist who researches mass data collection and media manipulation online. The panelists derided the "oligarchs" at Facebook and Google for violating user privacy and shaping the national political narrative to their liberal liking, a problem they said both sides of the political aisle should be concerned about.

Conservatives may assume that everyone working in Silicon Valley is a staunch progressive (which is not necessarily true), but the immense power held by the likes of Facebook and Google has raised concerns on both the left and the right. Lawmakers of both parties have called on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to appear before Congress this week in the wake of several scandals, including allegations that the consulting firm Cambridge Analytica improperly harvested data from millions of Facebook users to aid the Trump campaign during the last election.

Big web platforms like Netflix support net neutrality because it prevents internet service providers from charging them extra fees to reach customers, but as Truthout has reported, net neutrality also protects consumer and civil rights. Some conservatives are now attempting to paint liberals and progressives as close allies to Silicon Valley as it undermines online privacy and free expression. Breitbart's town hall was held in partnership with Free Our Internet, an obscure group that appears to support net neutrality in some form, but has also pledged to fight "the tech-left's assault of free speech."

Free Our Internet did not respond to an inquiry from Truthout, but the group's website declares that Facebook and Google have "stolen everything we do online and sold it to political campaigns and advertisers." The web behemoths "don't show us what we want" but "what they want us to see," which is presumably skewed to the left. Who is to blame? According to Free Our Internet, it's the Democrats and their "fake" net neutrality rules.

Polls show that a clear majority of voters -- including 75 percent of Republicans -- support the net neutrality rules that the Republican-controlled FCC recently repealed with Trump's blessing. In February, leading Democrats introduced legislation in Congress that would reverse this decision, and if Republicans don't get on board, Democrats plan to use the issue against them in the midterm elections.

Free Our Internet claims the much-debated net neutrality rules are "fake" because they only apply to providers like Verizon and Comcast, not to big web platforms like Google and Facebook. In a petition to Congress, the group claims that a vote for the legislation undoing the net neutrality repeal "is a vote in favor of allowing Facebook and Google to continue blocking and censoring content, stealing our personal information, and selling it to advertisers and politicians."

Instead, the group says, Congress should impose consumer protection regulations on Facebook and Google and any other company that deals with online content -- an odd request, considering that conservatives tend to oppose new regulations on businesses, particularly under Trump. Apparently, this standard does not apply to corporations perceived to be run by liberal technocrats conspiring to undermine a Republican president.

"Because conservatives decided that regulation is always bad, the only way they can justify the regulation is to somehow imagine that there is this conspiracy out there to justify that regulation," said Harold Feld, vice president of the digital rights group Public Knowledge, in an interview with Truthout.

Free Our Internet could learn a thing or two from Feld, who has worked in telecommunications policy long enough to remember when Republicans used to support net neutrality before the Tea Party takeover allowed the telecom lobby to put the issue on its deregulatory wish list.

For starters, it was the FCC, not Congress, that imposed net neutrality rules on internet service providers. Companies in charge of the physical wiring that brings us the internet clearly fall under the agency's jurisdiction, but social media sites and search engines do not, at least under current federal statutes. Reinstating net neutrality at the FCC is not the same as giving Facebook a free pass to censor content.

"Who controls access to the entire communications network, that's a very different issue than what are the platforms (on that network) where these ideas are discussed," Feld said.

There are only so many fiber lines and cable wires that physically connect us to the internet, which explains why internet service providers enjoy monopolies and duopolies in many markets, leaving consumers with few choices. Once online, however, consumers can choose whether to use Facebook, Google or any number of competing services.

Large numbers of people do choose the major platforms, providing the data necessary to create powerful search engines and global social networks. The sheer popularity of Facebook, Google and YouTube also gives the companies behind the platforms power to control how large numbers of people access information and interact with each other, raising real questions about how to hold them accountable in the public square.

"I don't have to make up conspiracy theories to show how people do cyber bulling or manipulate news and information everyday [on social media]," Feld said. "It's a question we need to answer, but you don't answer it by treating it as some sort of revenge for net neutrality. You deal with it by actually looking at the problem."

Should Twitter be required to remove hate speech from its network, or recognize a racist troll's right to free speech? Is hate speech the same as harassment? Facebook and Google remain largely unregulated. Should Congress empower the FCC to regulate them, or change antitrust law so the Federal Trade Commission can break up networks when they get too big? Feld said these are the real questions facing lawmakers and the Zuckerbergs of the world, but in casting themselves as victims, conservatives seem to be missing the point.

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Categories: Latest News

Vowing "Major Decisions" Within 24 to 48 Hours, Trump Says "Nothing Off the Table" for Syria

Truthout - Mon, 04/09/2018 - 21:00

President Donald Trump is flanked by National Security Advisor John Bolton as he speaks, while receiving a briefing from senior military leaders regarding Syria, in the Cabinet Room, on April 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

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During a cabinet meeting on Monday following his promise to impose a "heavy price" on the Syrian government after it was accused of launching a chemical attack this weekend, President Donald Trump declared that no options -- including military action -- are "off the table" when it comes to a possible US response.

Asked by a reporter if increased military involvement in Syria is being considered, Trump said, "Nothing's off the table."

Watch:

Pres. Trump: "Nothing's off the table" in response to suspected Syria chemical attack, including U.S. military actions. https://t.co/RQ6BfFqz9w pic.twitter.com/3E9x9mUPcx

— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) April 9, 2018

With new national security adviser and warmonger John Bolton looming in the background, Trump also informed the press that, despite not knowing who exactly is responsible for the attack, "major decisions" on possible US military retaliation will be made in the next 24 to 48 hours. Trump was scheduled to meet with generals last evening.

"You don't see things like that, as bad as the news is around the world," Trump claimed. "If it's the Russians, if it's Syria, if it's Iran, if it's all of them together, we'll figure it out."

As Common Dreams reported, Iran and Russia have both warned that the horrifying images and reported casualties from the chemical attack could be used as a pretext for US and others to escalate their military operations in Syria.

Watch Trump's remarks:

President Trump condemns the "atrocious" suspected chemical attack on Syrian civilians and says the US "will be making some major decisions over the next 24-48 hours" https://t.co/lrXGJfbDTw

— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) April 9, 2018
Categories: Latest News

Fueling Our Demise

Truthout - Mon, 04/09/2018 - 21:00
Categories: Latest News

Red State Teachers Continue to Press Their Demands as Walkouts, Protests Capture Public Support

Truthout - Mon, 04/09/2018 - 21:00

Inspired by the teachers' strike in West Virginia, fed-up teachers in right-to-work states like Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona are continuing to press their demands for better wages and more school funding. Republican legislators in these states have systematically shortchanged public education and other public services while slashing corporate taxes over the past decade.

Oklahoma students rally outside the state capitol in support of the ongoing teachers' walkout for education funding, Thursday, April 5, 2018. (Photo: Candice Bernd)

Also see "Red State Rebellion: Inside the Oklahoma Teacher Walkout."

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Fed-up teachers in right-to-work states like Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona are continuing to press demands of their majority-Republican legislators who have slashed corporate tax rates over the years, shortchanging public education and other public services.

In a special Friday session, the Oklahoma state legislature passed two bills teachers had been pushing as additional sources of revenue for education: HB 3375, the "ball and dice" legislation will expand tribal gambling, and HB 1019XX, which requires Amazon and similar online retailers to collect state sales tax on items sold through their platforms from third-party vendors. The two bills raised an additional $44 million in funding for teachers and students in Oklahoma.

But schools in Oklahoma are closed again this week as more than 40,000 teachers, students and supporters -- potentially the largest crowd yet -- packed the capitol again Monday to push for the last pieces of education revenue needed to meet their demands of $200 million for new annual education funding. Teachers are asking Republican Gov. Mary Fallin to veto a repeal of a $5-per-night hotel and motel tax that was part of the initial tax package passed by legislators in late March, and for lawmakers to pass a bill that would remove a capital gains exemption. Lawmakers discussed the capital gains bill Monday, which teachers say could raise $100 million in revenue.

"We need to invest that money that only goes to the super-wealthy and invest that in all of our citizens," Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA), told Truthout outside the state capitol building Thursday. "We're really close to gaining all of [our] asks. ... We need our legislature to understand that we can't be in this same scenario next year or the year after. We can't go back on cuts."

Teachers, students and supporters rally outside the Oklahoma state capitol building, Thursday, April 5, 2018, (Photo: Candice Bernd)Oklahoma's teachers have the public's ear. According to a survey taken from a Sooner Poll last Friday, 72.1 percent of respondents supported the walkout.

State legislators passed a tax increase package last month that originally provided about $450 million to teachers, school staff and state workers, raising the average teacher's pay about $6,100. Governor Fallin signed the bill into law, making it teachers' first raise since 2007. But the legislature's hotel-motel tax repeal reduced the revenue raised by the tax package by about $45 million. The raise, however, was not enough to meet the Oklahoma Education Association's demands, whose "Together We're Stronger" plan asked for a $10,000 raise for teachers over three years, and a $5,000 raise for support staff.

About 200 of the state's 584 school districts -- including its three largest in Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Edmond -- closed last week in recognition of the walkout. Sixty-six school districts, including Oklahoma City and Tulsa, closed Monday, with many expected to stay closed through Tuesday.

Governor Fallin came under further criticism from teachers after she compared them to a "teenage kid that wants a better car." Teachers have decried her role in supporting tax cuts and granting subsidies for businesses in the erosion of state education funding.

Priest told Truthout that many supporters wanted her to use her leadership position as the president of the state's largest teachers' union to condemn officials for the comments they made. "Emotions are high and we don't always use the best words, and so I'm going to allow some grace to our elected officials ... to work through this process on their own and not respond to those kinds of comments."

Teachers also decried comments from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos Monday, who criticized the walkout last week, telling the Dallas Morning News that she hopes "that adults would keep adult disagreements and disputes in a separate place, and serve the students that are there to be served."

Prospect of Walkout Still Looms in Arizona

Teachers in Arizona again rallied at their own state capitol Monday, with about 800 teachers from the Dysart and Peoria school districts using time meant for professional development to instead chant happy birthday to Gov. Doug Ducey, who turned 54 Monday. They followed that by chanting, "What's the plan, Ducey?"

Teachers there have also threatened a walkout unless they receive a 20 percent raise and additional revenue for schools. Last Monday, Governor Ducey indicated that move wasn't likely, raising the stakes for a similar standoff between teachers and politicians.

The Arizona Education Association (AEA) and Arizona Educators United, the primary groups organizing protests over education funding, sent a letter to Governor Ducey asking for a sit-down meeting to negotiate over teachers' demands, which also include raises for support staff and for school funding to be restored to prerecession 2008 levels, alongside a halt on any new tax cuts.

AEA President Joe Thomas, who has taught for 17 years in Arizona, told Truthout teachers there are continuing protests this week, with statewide school "walk-ins" planned Wednesday in which teachers and support staff will rally before schools' first bell, walking in together and wearing "red for ed" as part of the state's campaign for education funding. Hundreds of other local protests are also expected to continue as educators wait to see whether "the governor steps up and decides he wants to start talking to teachers and educators and move to fix the crisis that we're facing," Thomas said.

He told Truthout teachers will strike if the legislature does not end with a budget that meets teachers' demands for education funding. "For 10 years, teachers have made phone calls. They've emailed. They've had face-to-face conversations with their legislators and we've not seen the needle move on this. When you've done all that, and you see in West Virginia and Oklahoma and Kentucky that it looks like the only thing elected officials will respond to is a walkout, then teachers are going to walk out," Thomas told Truthout.

A protester holds a sign in response to Oklahoma state Rep. John Enns's claim that 25 percent of protesters at the state capitol are paid actors, bussed in from Chicago. (Photo: Candice Bernd)

West Virginia teachers led a nine-day strike that resulted in a 5 percent raise in March, galvanizing teachers in other red states to take similar action. Thomas described Arizona's unions and independent protest groups as strongly united and emboldened by teachers' actions in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky, saying that, "This will be a pretty massive movement once it takes shape as a statewide action."

He said that while he believes the governor is feeling the pressure from teachers and is likely to raise education funding somewhat this year, he has "little faith that the governor has the political courage to meet the demands educators have laid out in way that will end our teaching crisis." Governor Ducey has so far offered a 1 percent salary increase above the 1 percent offered to teachers last year.

Both Thomas and his wife, who is also an educator, have had to work a second job at various times, as well as teach summer school to make ends meet while raising their three children.

Further, he emphasized that Arizona, like Oklahoma, faces a crisis in which 10 percent of the state's workforce is substitute or "emergency-certified" -- teachers who bypass normal training requirements and lack the skills necessary to meet the complex needs of students.

Kentucky Teachers Contemplate Next Moves as Governor Vetoes Budget Bill

Many of Kentucky's teachers are back to their classrooms this week after the state's largest teachers' union, the Kentucky Education Association (KEA), called on educators to return to class and continue their "advocacy back home by speaking directly with your elected senators and representatives."

After Kentucky teachers' walkout last Monday, the legislature passed a new state budget that increases education funding, restoring $254 million for school transportation as well as previously eliminated funding for a statewide program that provides support for students dealing with emotional and social issues. The budget also guarantees teachers who retired after 2010 health insurance if they don't qualify for Medicare. But the legislature also passed a sweeping tax overhaul last week that cuts taxes for corporations and the wealthy while raising them on 95 percent of the state residents.

Republican Gov. Matt Bevin vetoed the budget bill and the tax overhaul Monday over the demands of educators to spare the education-funding components of the budget. Lawmakers have until midnight Saturday to overturn Governor Bevin's vetoes.

At least one Jefferson County union has called on teachers to use any availalbe personal days this Friday to protest again at the capitol in Frankfurt. The KEA has not indicated whether it would support a walkout, which Governor Bevin told reporters Monday "would be illegal." Further, Governor Bevin told reporters that, "The KEA has been a problem."

KEA President Stephanie Winkler responded in a statement, writing, "We are disappointed as well by the governor's reference to KEA as 'the problem.' KEA is 45,000 women and men who serve in every community in Kentucky, supporting and training our children for the jobs they will do when they take their places in the adult world. KEA members live, work and pay taxes in every community in this state. If the governor wants to work with 'job creators and taxpayers' why does he insist on insulting so many people who do both?"

While the KEA characterized the vetoed bills as less than perfect, the organization called on the governor to sign them "instead of sending the legislature back to square one and forcing a special session that the citizens of Kentucky should not have to pay for."

Teachers called in sick or requested substitutes in late March in protest over Kentucky lawmakers' passage of a pension reform bill, resulting in the closure of schools in more than 20 counties. The state's educators rallied in Frankfort last Monday, marching to the state capitol to protest the overhaul of the state's pension system, and to press for additional education funding.

The pension bill moves future teacher hires to a "hybrid" plan that does not offer a set pension. The plan consists of individual retirement accounts in which the state would keep 15 percent of any investment gains. The bill would also not protect them from future benefit changes.

Protesters rally outside the Oklahoma state capitol building Thursday, April 5, 2018. (Photo: Candice Bernd)

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear has threatened to sue over the pension bill's implementation if Governor Bevin signs it into law. The KEA has said it will join the suit if it moves forward.

The state's teachers are also eyeing an electoral strategy as their legislative session winds down. This November marks the state's first election since Republicans took control of the legislature, with all 100 House seats and half the state Senate seats up for grabs. Dozens of current and former educators are running for legislative seats not only in Kentucky, but also in Oklahoma and Arizona.

Sustained tax cuts in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona and Kentucky have paved the way for chronic underfunding of the states' schools over the past decade. In 2015, 29 states provided less education funding per student than in 2008, according to a 2017 Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report. Local funding has also taken a hit, dropping dramatically from 2008 levels across the nation.

Categories: Latest News

Calling for Change Is Not a Crime

Truthout - Mon, 04/09/2018 - 21:00

Janine Jackson interviewed Omar Farah about the Department of Homeland Security's "Race Paper" on the March 23, 2018, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

MP3 Link

Janine Jackson: Listeners know the US government has a shameful history of surveilling and intimidating people engaged in First Amendment-protected acts of public protest or public criticism. Black activists have for decades been victims of campaigns to demonize, harass and discredit them and their movements.

So when racial justice groups -- using the Freedom of Information Act to find out how the FBI and Department of Homeland Security are monitoring protests around police violence and the Movement for Black Lives -- turn up a document referred to as the "Race Paper," which, on receipt, turns out to be completely redacted, with not even the official title visible, it makes for a handy emblem…but just an emblem of a problem that's far deeper and more worrying.

Joining us now to talk about the "Race Paper" and what it may tell us is Omar Farah, staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. He joins us now by phone, from here in town. Welcome to CounterSpin, Omar Farah.

Omar Farah: Thank you so much for having me.

The Center for Constitutional Rights and Color of Change have filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security to get at the contents of this memo, based on the references to it that you could see. What do you suspect they're hiding?

I think you have to start with the function of the agency that produced the report in order to get a sense of what it might say, and as you pointed out, it is entirely redacted. Every version of the document that we have is blacked-out, from the first word to the very last, and each report is roughly seven or eight pages. The sub-agency within the Department of Homeland Security that produced the report, and that itself calls it the "Race Paper," is the Intelligence and Analysis Office, which is tasked with producing predictive intelligence and national security-related information that then gets funneled throughout the federal government.

And so we are left with the unfortunate assumption that at least part of what this is is a counter-terror or intelligence-related assessment that somehow implicates the question of race. How that is, we obviously can't say. But the two things together are enough to raise some very disquieting questions.

Let's just unpack, a little bit, this idea of predictive intelligence. This is this idea where supposedly you have analytical frameworks or algorithms that can predict criminality?

That's one of the most pressing fears that I have, in speculating about what might actually be behind these redactions. Some of the emails that accompanied the transmission of the "Race Paper" within DHS I&A, the Intelligence and Analysis Office, included references to things like "drivers" and "indicators." Now, I have to be perfectly honest: We just don't know what the document says. But those terms, to me, in the absence of any other information, suggest ways in which law enforcement and intelligence agencies within the government have in the past tried to use indicators that would help them predict criminality or behavior.

Those things, of course, are invariably based on totally bunk analytical frameworks that ascribe behavioral tendencies to certain protected classes of people–by race, and oftentimes by religion, we've seen, in a national security context. Those are things that the public needs to be aware are potential uses of this "Race Paper," and it certainly deserves full scrutiny.

Those kinds of frameworks are exactly the things that lead to the most unfortunate kinds of law enforcement tactics. We've seen it in "stop and frisk"; we've seen it in counter-terror-related policing, and it's one of the things that made the documents jump out at us, amongst the thousands of documents we got.

I'm not sure that we should need to say that public protest is protected activity, that every day it's more obviously an activity that we need to vigorously protect, and that calling for things to change -- even if that means things, yes, including this police force that's right in front of me as I'm protesting -- calling for change is not a crime.

Calling for change is not a crime. It's indispensable to the health of the democracy. But, as you know well, black and brown voices for accountability and for change, and particularly around policing, have historically been viewed as deeply threatening. And that is part of the overall context that prompted the Center for Constitutional Rights and Color of Change to initiate this FOIA, was the very real experience of people in the Movement for Black Lives and allied activists, recognizing that by speaking out about the crisis levels of police violence against black people, they were being targeted. And our effort was really to uncover the scope of that targeting, and to arm people in the movement with the information they need to resist the chilling effect that that has.

You hear people say that, "Well, if activists don't commit any crimes, then really there's nothing to worry about." And that seems to miss something fundamental about the way that this happens, about the impact of this kind of surveillance.

I couldn't agree more. That is a framing that reads out of our history all of the ways that law enforcement has expressly targeted political speech, to raise the stakes associated with speaking out, to a point that just discourages people from doing it. It's not about anyone's individual criminality, or lack thereof. It's about what it costs to get into the street and say, "Enough is enough. This has to change." And if law enforcement uses race, religion or a particular political viewpoint as a proxy for criminality or threat, it just means that that many more of us are going to be reluctant to speak out when it's absolutely necessary.

Well, a fully redacted document strikes me as not just bizarre, but as journalistic catnip. But as of now, I've seen write-ups in Gizmodo, The Intercept, Splinter, The Root, Wisconsin Gazette, News One, Blavity, RT, Mint Press, Color Lines…. I may have missed one or two, but, as of this morning, March 22, my search of mainstream media, so-called, found bupkis on this "Race Paper." Am I missing something, that this is not an important story?

No, I think it's absolutely an important story. You're touching on, I think, one of the equally troubling things that is a feature of the counter-terrorism/national security paradigm that oftentimes we find ourselves in these days. I mean, one of the bases that the Department of Homeland Security is using to claim their entitlement to black out the entirety of the "Race Paper," is the National Security Act.

FOIA is a statute that encourages transparency, but it does give the government some exemptions that it can claim, if it thinks that something is too sensitive to be released to the public. And one of the ways that the government is using that, in this case, is to say, "This information in the 'Race Paper' implicates the National Security Act." And so, unless you are the kind of journalist who sees this as catnip, and can't resist asking more probing questions about what's behind it, you're left with just a totally blacked-out document. And, of course, that presents real challenges for reporting.

So it doesn't surprise me that this is a story that hasn't gained national attention just yet. I certainly hope that in the near future, a judge will see it our way, and suggest that at least some of that document can be segregated, some information can be disclosed to us, and that ends up being the thing that draws more eyes to this document.

We've been speaking with Omar Farah, staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. You can find their work online at CCRJustice.org. Omar Farah, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

I really appreciate your interest in the story. Thanks a lot.

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Categories: Latest News

Ex-Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship Will Try for a Senate Seat in Coal Country

Truthout - Mon, 04/09/2018 - 21:00

Just when you think the GOP has scraped the bottom of the barrel with political candidates -- like, say, Roy Moore – they manage to surprise us again. Democrat Joe Manchin's competitor in the race for one of West Virginia's senate seats is none other than Don Blankenship.

If his name doesn't ring a bell, that might be because Blankenship has spent the last nine months in jail. He's the disgraced former CEO of Massey Energy, as in, the energy company responsible for a coal mining disaster that killed 29 people in 2010. The company had racked up over one thousand warnings about unsafe conditions prior to the incident.

West Virginia is coal country, so is it really a good move for a man who became the public figurehead of a horrific mining disaster to run for US Senate? Astoundingly, on at least some campaign stops, Blankenship has found support.

Massey isn't winning any Democratic hearts and even Republicans are giving him a frosty reception, but in an era of extreme partisan politics, Politico found that some voters were at least open to Massey's candidacy.

Let's be clear: The Republican primary in West Virginia is very crowded, with a number of politicians jockeying for position in the hopes of unseating Senator Joe Manchin. Manchin hasn't been a crowd favorite, with some Democrats frustrated by what they perceive to be relatively centrist politics -- but he's representing a relatively conservative state.

West Virginia has deep economic, cultural, and social ties to coal, all factors that could influence decisions at the polls; Blankenship actually played a role in propagating the myth that the Obama administration was waging a "war on coal," and that helped sway sentiments among voters.

Blankenship is even using the mining disaster to his advantage, as cold as that sounds. He's positioning himself as an anti-establishment candidate who wants to take down corruption and wastefulness in Washington. He's arguing that "natural causes" and the meddling of agencies like the Mine Safety and Health Administration are at blame for the explosion. If he's elected, Blakenship contends that West Virginia can cut through red tape and put an end to "interference" from the federal government.

Coming from a man who once referred to himself as a "political prisoner," it's clear that Massey is hoping to capture the hearts of voters who are dissatisfied with the federal government. And in West Virginia, where coal can be a complicated and emotional topic, his experience may work both for and against him -- some may view Blakenship as someone with real-world knowledge of issues facing the energy, while others may see him as a key culprit in a series of bad decisions that endangered the lives of miners at the Big Branch mine.

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and US Representative Evan Jenkins will be Blakenship's main competition in the primary race, and we'll likely be hearing from all three of them over the next few months in what will surely be a charged primary.

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Categories: Latest News

Pennsylvania Superior Court Rules That Fracking Natural Gas From a Neighboring Property Is Trespassing

Truthout - Mon, 04/09/2018 - 21:00
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Last week the Pennsylvania Superior Court issued an opinion that could have major ramifications for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the state: It states a company trespassed on a family's land by extracting natural gas from beneath their property while operating a fracking well next door.

The Briggs family owns about 11 acres of land in Harford Township in Susquehanna County. When Southwestern Energy began operating an unconventional natural gas well on the adjacent property in 2011, the Briggs declined to lease their mineral rights to the company for development. In 2015, they filed a complaint that Southwestern was trespassing by extracting gas from beneath their property without a lease.

Southwestern didn't dispute they'd removed natural gas from beneath the Briggs' land, but argued they weren't trespassing due to the "rule of capture," which says the first person to "capture" a natural resource like groundwater, gas or oil owns it, regardless of property lines.

A lower court agreed with Southwestern and issued a summary judgment in their favor, but last week's Superior Court opinion overturns that decision, stating that the rule of capture shouldn't apply to unconventional natural gas drilling because of key differences in the method of extraction.

"Unlike oil and gas originating in a common reservoir, natural gas, when trapped in a shale formation, is non-migratory in nature," the opinion states. "Shale gas does not merely 'escape' to adjoining land absent the application of an external force. Instead, the shale must be fractured through the process of hydraulic fracturing; only then may the natural gas contained in the shale move freely through the 'artificially created channel[s].'"

Ultimately, the Court said, "In light of the distinctions between hydraulic fracturing and conventional gas drilling, we conclude that the rule of capture does not preclude liability for trespass due to hydraulic fracturing."

The case has now been remanded to a lower court, which will rule on whether the Briggs are entitled to compensation from Southwestern Energy for trespassing on their property by taking natural gas without a lease. In the meantime, the family has been given the opportunity to further develop their trespass claim, including getting estimates of how far the subsurface fractures and fracking fluid crossed boundary lines into the subsurface of their property.

"I think this potentially has big ramifications for both drilling companies and property owners," said David E. Hess, the director of policy and communications for Harrisburg-based government affairs law firm Crisci Associates and former secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

"If on remand the case requires compensation of the adjacent landowner for trespass as defined in the court decision, I think this could open the door to hundreds of potential similar trespass lawsuits filed all across Pennsylvania where unconventional gas well drilling occurs."

Hess pointed out it's hard to find an area in Pennsylvania's shale patch where existing natural gas extraction leases don't come up against property belonging to other landowners who didn't sell their mineral rights. He also speculated that before this ruling changes the way hydraulic fracturing operates in the state, there would likely be an attempt to clarify the law.

"I think if people perceive this as a threat to the industry," Hess said, "we'll soon see legislative attempts to redefine the rule of capture in Pennsylvania."

Last week's Superior Court opinion differs from similar cases in other states.

Referencing a case in Texas where the fracking company won (Coastal Oil & Gas Corp. v. Garza Energy Trust), the Pennsylvania Superior Court noted in Monday's ruling, "we are not persuaded by the Coastal Oil Court's rationale that a landowner can adequately protect his interests by drilling his own well to prevent drainage to an adjoining property. Hydraulic fracturing is a costly and highly specialized endeavor, and the traditional recourse to 'go and do likewise' is not necessarily readily available for an average landowner."

The Court also noted that applying the rule of capture to hydraulic fracturing is problematic, since it would allow companies to extract natural gas from anywhere without the need for a lease as long as they could set up a fracking well on an adjacent property.

Hess noted that Pennsylvania's laws are unique, so what's happened with regard to the rule of capture and hydraulic fracturing in other states is unlikely to impact how things play out here.

"I think this is going to be an important decision," he said, "but I think people will be chewing on this opinion for a long time to fully understand what it means."

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Sinclair Broadcasting Airs Allied Progress Ad -- Between Attacks on the Group

Truthout - Mon, 04/09/2018 - 08:27
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Sinclair Broadcast Group has agreed to air a commercial from a progressive watchdog that's critical of the broadcaster's actions.

But Allied Progress called foul Sunday.

Sinclair began running the 30-second spot with a 15-second defense of Sinclair, followed by the Allied Progress 30-second ad, and then another 15-second of Sinclair's voiceover: "The misleading ad you just saw focused on a brief promotional message that simply said we're a source for truthful news. It ignored thousands of hours of local news we produce each year to keep you informed. The ad was purchased by a group known for its liberal bias, and we hope you won't buy into the hysteria and hype."

The unusual move comes one week after Sinclair Broadcast Group, the nation's largest television owner, faced mounting scrutiny for its mandatory scripted segments  echoing President Trump's talking point sand pending mega-merger with Tribune Media.

Allied Progress announced on Thursday it's six-figure ad buy.

In response, Allied Progress released the following statement Sunday from its executive direct, Karl Frisch:

"When we bought airtime with Sinclair we didn't think they'd respond by admitting they actively push a partisan agenda. But that's essentially what they've done by attacking Allied Progress for a supposed 'liberal bias' while simultaneously claiming they want viewers to hear the other side in their response."

"That we are a progressive consumer watchdog dedicated to holding special interests accountable is something we wear proudly on our sleeves. We're clear about who we are. Sinclair is not. By claiming 'both sides' and attacking a critic's liberal politics, they are acknowledging they actively disseminate partisan conservative propaganda, something clearly at odds with their repeated claims to the contrary."

"It is standard practice for a station to seek permission before bookending an ad with a content warning. That did not happen here, which is hardly surprising coming from a company that doesn't even subscribe to the basic pillars of independent journalistic integrity."

"When one company owns this much of the local television media marketplace, it can drown out the voices of other sources, push a political agenda with little resistance, and misuse the people's airwaves in an attempt to silence and malign its critics. That is precisely what Sinclair is doing. Imagine what they'll do if the Tribune merger is approved and they can reach into the homes of 72% of Americans."

"We will continue to sound the alarm over Sinclair's encroaching control over America's most trusted sources for local news. They can force their anchors to read from the same politically motivated script, but they can't stop their viewers from changing the channel and contacting the FCC."

The six-figure, one-week ad buy was slated to begin last Friday but faced significant delays from Sinclair and did not begin until this weekend on four stations: WJLA (ABC News) in Washington, DC, KDSM (FOX News) in Des Moines, KOMO (ABC News) in Seattle, and Sinclair's flagship station WBFF (FOX News) in Baltimore.

When a media company responds to critics by calling them liberal, they expose their own political agenda. #StopSinclair

1/9https://t.co/gGM54aVnAD

— Allied Progress (@AlliedProgress) April 8, 2018
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