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One College's Shift to Training Social Justice Activists

Truthout - Thu, 02/01/2018 - 21:00

Who's training the next generation of movement leaders? Pacific Oaks, a small private college in Pasadena, launched undergraduate and graduate programs in social justice and advocacy for students who wish to turn their passion for human rights into a possible career. Pacific Oaks College joins a growing list of universities in the US, as well as in Canada and Europe, offering degrees in the area of social justice at a time when many Americans are seeking avenues for change in their communities.

(Photo: Nirat / Getty Images)

Who's training the next generation of movement leaders? A small private college in Pasadena this month launched undergraduate and graduate programs in social justice and advocacy for students who wish to turn their passion for human rights into a possible career.

Pacific Oaks College, with 1,100 students, joins a growing list of colleges and universities in the US, as well as in Canada and Europe, offering degrees in the area of social justice at a time when many Americans are seeking avenues for change in their communities.

With an emphasis on grassroots level community organization, the program applies lessons from past movements and students' own experiences to the complex social issues of our time.

Founded in 1945, Pacific Oaks has an anti-bias curriculum and features a unique approach to teaching and learning, where everyone in the classroom is both student and teacher. We asked its associate dean for the School of Human Development, Donald Grant, to tell us more about the new degree program.

Lornet Turnbull: Why did you think it was important for Pacific Oaks to offer degrees in this area and why now?

Donald Grant: Today more than ever, we see individuals with passion to be authentic agents of change. But many of them lack the credentials to be invited to the table to create that change. We wanted to fill that gap.

People are increasingly suffering from the risk factors associated with trauma and disproportionality and need professionals to mediate them. The time is right because the ills of our world are manifesting themselves in ways they have never before and we wanted to influence the professional landscape to address them through a strength-based, community-centered lens.

Such a program seems a natural fit for Pacific Oaks, given your unique tradition and history. Tell us about that.

In the wake of World War II, six local families in Pasadena, California, opened Pacific Oaks Children's School with the belief that everyone has an inner light worth nurturing. Rooted in the Quaker values of community and equity, they believed they could offer an education that would help the world heal.

It became clear that the Children's School model of education of inclusion and self-discovery could be applied to train future teachers. In 1958, Pacific Oaks College was established to train educators to make an impact in their communities through an Early Childhood Education program. Since then, we have expanded our programs to include Marriage and Family Therapy, Education, Human Development, and Organizational Leadership and Change. As our newest program, the Advocacy & Social Justice degrees represent the school's legacy of current, relevant, and progressive programming that responds to the needs of our communities. The program examines the relationship between past and present, and how progressive change in America historically begins at the grassroots level, transforming concept into a movement and then into tangible policy and effective institutions.

How did you develop the curriculum for this new program and what courses did you find it important to include?

We developed an advisory committee of community members to determine what skills they saw as most important to the work they do in the community. We knew that it was critical to gain this insight as we developed the skills and outcomes we wanted our graduates master.

Our course offerings are created from a developmental framework where our students gain a foundational knowledge on the history of social justice movements and how they inform contemporary experiences. Once this foundational knowledge is understood, students are then taught the more technical aspects of movement-building, about how media, social media and technology influence social change.

Students take an Advocacy in Action course where they must complete a minimum of 45 hours of fieldwork in the communities they value and where they want to influence change.

The coursework culminates in our action and participatory research projects that allow students to demonstrate how all the knowledge they gained in the program is applicable to actual communities they care about. The practical, on-the-ground result is a cadre of professionals creating real change in communities and organizations as a part of their actual coursework requirements.

What makes this degree program different from anything Pacific Oaks currently offers?

In the real world, professionals increasingly are working on multidisciplinary teams and require content knowledge in interdisciplinary studies. This degree models that paradigm.

The interdisciplinary degree takes coursework from across the institution and our affiliate, The Colleges of Law, where our master's degree students take courses in legal studies. They not only learn about advocacy as a construct but learn how to actually influence change across several domains. Our specializations include education, culture, and legal studies, which afford our students the opportunity to work effectively with a wide variety of populations who need advocacy and support.

What kind of student do you expect will choose to pursue this course of study?

We believe that this degree will attract students who are looking to create change in their communities and beyond. Many grassroots movements have grown to effectively shift the tapestry of our current advocacy and social justice work, attracting allies and professionals who had not historically pursued this work.

We anticipate our students will come from every demographic age group, ethnicity and religious tradition, as one of the unifying themes of our program is fighting injustice and increasing equity, concepts that transcend cultural boundaries.

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Categories: Latest News

Red Cross General Counsel David Meltzer Resigns Over Handling of Sexual Assault and Harassment Allegations

Truthout - Thu, 02/01/2018 - 21:00

American Red Cross General Counsel David Meltzer has resigned after a ProPublica story detailed troubling aspects of how he handled a sexual misconduct case involving another senior official at the charity. In his resignation letter, dated Jan. 31 and effective immediately, Meltzer wrote to American Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern that he deeply regretted his handling of the case.

(Image: Lauren Walker / Truthout; Adapted: Mega Pixel / Shutterstock)

American Red Cross General Counsel David Meltzer has resigned after a ProPublica story detailed troubling aspects of how he handled a sexual misconduct case involving another senior official at the charity.

In his resignation letter, dated Jan. 31 and effective immediately, Meltzer wrote to American Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern that he deeply regretted his handling of the case. "I want to ensure that the reputation of the institution remains strong and that nothing interferes with the organization's ability to effectively carry out its important mission," his letter says.

In an organization-wide email this morning, McGovern announced the resignation. "Over the course of the last year, we have seen news accounts of other organizations and institutions contending with serious instances of sexual harassment and the harmful repercussions that such misconduct can create. Last week, it was our organization's turn to again struggle with these issues," McGovern wrote. "I am committed to moving forward in a way that strengthens us as an organization."

ProPublica's story last week reported that in 2012 the charity pushed out a senior executive in its international division, Gerald Anderson, after an internal investigation concluded he sexually harassed at least one subordinate. Another Red Cross employee accused him of rape. Through his lawyer, Anderson has denied any sexual misconduct. Save the Children, which hired Anderson after he left the Red Cross, said in a statement today that "Anderson is no longer employed by Save the Children."

At the conclusion of the investigation in 2012, Meltzer sent out an email announcing Anderson's departure in which Meltzer praised Anderson for his "dedication" and "leadership." Meltzer then angered some employees at a staff meeting when he said he wished Anderson were staying at the charity, according to several people who attended.

Shortly after he left the Red Cross, Anderson got a job as senior director for humanitarian response at Save the Children, a global charity based in Connecticut. Anderson was given a positive reference by a senior Red Cross official, according to Save the Children. The Red Cross said last week it was taking disciplinary action because of the positive reference but declined to provide details.

In his resignation letter, Meltzer apologized for his statements around Anderson's departure.

"I deeply regret the damage this language may have caused the organization and its wonderful staff -- particularly the employees involved in this matter," he wrote. "I also deeply regret that my words could have undermined confidence in the commitment of the Red Cross to properly address complaints of this nature. I would never want to be the cause of such a result. Rather, I feel strongly that every employee must feel comfortable and protected in reporting harassment and other misconduct to management."

Meltzer couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

Meltzer's resignation follows what multiple staffers described as a tense week at the charity. At an emotional staff meeting last week of the International Services Department, where Anderson and his accusers had worked, multiple employees called for Meltzer's resignation and a public apology to the two women who made the allegations in 2012.

Meltzer worked for the Red Cross for over 12 years, rising from senior vice president for international services to a dual role as general counsel and chief international officer. In those positions, he helped oversee some of the charity's largest -- and at times, most troubled -- projects. He played a leading role in its half-billion-dollar relief program after the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the subject of a previous investigation by ProPublica and NPR.

Meltzer has also tried to manage the charity's relationship with overseers on Capitol Hill. A 2016 Senate report found that Meltzer had successfully maneuvered to limit the scope of an inquiry into the charity's disaster relief operations by the Government Accountability Office.

Categories: Latest News

Trump's Financial Arsonists: The Next Financial Crisis May Well Be Around the Corner

Truthout - Thu, 02/01/2018 - 08:30
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There's been lots of fire and fury around Washington lately, including a brief government shutdown. In Donald Trump's White House, you can hardly keep up with the ongoing brouhahas from North Korea to Robert Mueller's Russian investigation, while it already feels like ages since the celebratory mood over the vast corporate tax cuts Congress passed last year. But don't be fooled: none of that is as important as what's missing from the picture. Like a disease, in the nation's capital it's often what you can't see that will, in the end, hurt you most.

Amid a roaring stock market and a planet of upbeat CEOs, few are even thinking about the havoc that a multi-trillion-dollar financial system gone rogue could inflict upon global stability. But watch out. Even in the seemingly best of times, neglecting Wall Street is a dangerous idea. With a rag-tag Trumpian crew of ex-bankers and Goldman Sachs alumni as the only watchdogs in town, it's time to focus, because one thing is clear: Donald Trump's economic team is in the process of making the financial system combustible again.

Collectively, the biggest US banks already have their get-out-out-of-jail-free cards and are now sitting on record profits after, not so long ago, triggering sweeping unemployment, wrecking countless lives, and elevating global instability. (Not a single major bank CEO was given jail time for such acts.) Still, let's not blame the dangers lurking at the heart of the financial system solely on the Trump doctrine of leaving banks alone. They should be shared by the Democrats who, under President Barack Obama, believed, and still believe, in the perfection of the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010.

While Dodd-Frank created important financial safeguards like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, even stronger long-term banking reforms were left on the sidelines. Crucially, that law didn't force banks to separate the deposits of everyday Americans from Wall Street's complex derivatives transactions. In other words, it didn't resurrect the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 (axed in the Clinton era).

Wall Street is now thoroughly emboldened as the financial elite follows the mantra of Kelly Clarkston's hit song: "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." Since the crisis of 2007-2008, the Big Six US banks -- JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley -- have seen the share price of their stocks significantly outpace those of the S&P 500 index as a whole.

Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, the nation's largest bank (that's paid $13 billion in settlements for various fraudulent acts), recently even pooh-poohed the chances of the Democratic Party in 2020, suggesting that it was about time its leaders let banks do whatever they wanted. As he told Maria Bartiromo, host of Fox Business's "Wall Street Week," "The thing about the Democrats is they will not have a chance, in my opinion. They don't have a strong centrist, pro-business, pro-free enterprise person."

This is a man who was basically gifted two banks, Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual, by the U.S government during the financial crisis. That present came as his own company got cheap loans from the Federal Reserve, while clamoring for billions in bailout money that he swore it didn't need.

Dimon can afford to be brazen. JPMorgan Chase is now the second most profitable company in the country. Why should he be worried about what might happen in another crisis, given that the Trump administration is in charge? With pro-business and pro-bailout thinking reigning supreme, what could go wrong?

Protect or Destroy?

There are, of course, supposed to be safeguards against freewheeling types like Dimon. In Washington, key regulatory bodies are tasked with keeping too-big-to-fail banks from wrecking the economy and committing financial crimes against the public. They include the Federal Reserve, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Treasury Department, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (an independent bureau of the Treasury), and most recently, under the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (an independent agency funded by the Federal Reserve).

These entities are now run by men whose only desire is to give Wall Street more latitude. Former Goldman Sachs partner, now treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin caught the spirit of the moment with a selfie of his wife and him holding reams of newly printed money "like a couple of James Bond villains." (After all, he was a Hollywood producer and even appeared in the Warren Beatty flick Rules Don't Apply.) He's making his mark on us, however, not by producing economic security, but by cheerleading for financial deregulation.

Despite the fact that the Republican platform in election 2016 endorsed reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act, Mnuchin made it clear that he has no intention of letting that happen. In a signal to every too-big-not-to-fail financial outfit around, he also released AIG from its regulatory chains. That's the insurance company that was at the epicenter of the last financial crisis. By freeing AIG from being monitored by the Financial Services Oversight Board that he chairs, he's left it and others like it free to repeat the same mistakes.

Elsewhere, having successfully spun through the revolving door from banking to Washington, Joseph Otting, a former colleague of Mnuchin's, is now running the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC). While he's no household name, he was the CEO of OneWest (formerly, the failed California-based bank IndyMac). That's the bank Mnuchin and his billionaire posse picked up on the cheap in 2009 before carrying out a vast set of foreclosures on the homes of ordinary Americans (including active-duty servicemen and -women) and reselling it for hundreds of millions of dollars in personal profits.

At the Federal Reserve, Trump's selection for chairman, Jerome Powell (another Mnuchin pick), has repeatedly expressed his disinterest in bank regulations. To him, too-big-to-fail banks are a thing of the past. And to round out this heady crew, there's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) head Mick Mulvaney now also at the helm of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), whose very existence he's mocked.

In time, we'll come to a reckoning with this era of Trumpian finance. Meanwhile, however, the agenda of these men (and they are all men) could lead to a financial crisis of the first order. So here's a little rundown on them: what drives them and how they are blindly taking the economy onto distinctly treacherous ground.

Joseph Otting, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency

The Office of the Comptroller is responsible for ensuring that banks operate in a secure and reasonable manner, provide equal access to their services, treat customers properly, and adhere to the laws of the land as well as federal regulations.

As for Joseph Otting, though the Senate confirmed him as the new head of the OCC in November, four key senators called him "highly unqualified for [the] job." He will run an agency whose history snakes back to the Civil War. Established by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, it was meant to safeguard the solidity and viability of the banking system. Its leader remains charged with preventing bank-caused financial crashes, not enabling them. 

Fast forward to the 1990s when Otting held a ranking position at Union Bank NA, overseeing its lending practices to medium-sized companies. From there he transitioned to US Bancorp, where he was tasked with building its middle-market business (covering companies with $50 million to $1 billion in annual revenues) as part of that lender's expansion in California.

In 2010, Otting was hired as CEO of OneWest (now owned by CIT Group). During his time there with Mnuchin, OneWest foreclosed on about 36,000 people and was faced with sweeping allegations of abusive foreclosure practices for which it was fined $89 million. Otting received $10.5 million in an employment contract payout when terminated by CIT in 2015. As Senator Sherrod Brown tweeted all too accurately during his confirmation hearings in the Senate, "Joseph Otting is yet another bank exec who profited off the financial crisis who is being rewarded by the Trump Administration with a powerful job overseeing our nation's banking system."

Like Trump and Mnuchin, Otting has never held public office. He is, however, an enthusiastic proponent of loosening lending regulations. Not only is he against reinstating Glass-Steagall, but he also wants to weaken the "Volcker Rule," a part of the Dodd-Frank Act that was meant to place restrictions on various kinds of speculative transactions by banks that might not benefit their customers.

Jay Clayton, the Securities and Exchange Commission

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) was established by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1934, in the wake of the crash of 1929 and in the midst of the Great Depression. Its intention was to protect investors by certifying that the securities business operated in a fair, transparent, and legal manner. Admittedly, its first head, Joseph Kennedy (President John F. Kennedy's father), wasn't exactly a beacon of virtue. He had helped raise contributions for Roosevelt's election campaign even while under suspicion for alleged bootlegging and other illicit activities.

Since May 2017, the SEC has been run by Jay Clayton, a top Wall Street lawyer. Following law school, he eventually made partner at the elite legal firm Sullivan & Cromwell. After the 2008 financial crisis, Clayton was deeply involved in dealing with the companies that tanked as that crisis began. He advised Barclays during its acquisition of Lehman Brothers' assets and then represented Bear Stearns when JPMorgan Chase acquired it.

In the three years before he became head of the SEC, Clayton represented eight of the 10 largest Wall Street banks, institutions that were then regularly being investigated and charged with securities violations by the very agency Clayton now heads. He and his wife happen to hold assets valued at between $12 million and $47 million in some of those very institutions.

Not surprisingly in this administration (or any other recent one), Clayton also has solid Goldman Sachs ties. On at least seven occasions between 2007 and 2014, he advised Goldman directly or represented its corporate clients in their initial public offerings. Recently, Goldman Sachs requested that the SEC release it from having to report its lobbying activities or payments because, it claimed, they didn't make up a large enough percentage of its assets to be worth the bother. (Don't be surprised when the agency agrees.) 

Clayton's main accomplishment so far has been to significantly reduce oversight activities. SEC penalties, for instance, fell by 15.5% to $3.5 billion during the first year of the Trump administration. The SEC also issued enforcement actions against only 62 public companies in 2017, a 33% decline from the previous year. Perhaps you won't then be surprised to learn that its enforcement division has an estimated 100 unfilled investigative and supervisory positions, while it has also trimmed its wish list for new regulatory provisions. As for Dodd-Frank, Clayton insists he won't "attack" it, but thinks it should be "looked" at.

Mick Mulvaney, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Office of Management and Budget

As a congressman from South Carolina, ultra-conservative Republican Mick Mulvaney, dubbed "Mick the Knife," once even labeled himself a "right-wing nut job." Chosen by President Trump in November 2016 to run the Office of Management and Budget, he was confirmed by Congress last February.

As he said during his confirmation hearings, "Each day, families across our nation make disciplined choices about how to spend their hard-earned money, and the federal government should exercise the same discretion that hard-working Americans do every day." As soon as he was at the OMB, he took an axe to social programs that help everyday Americans. He was instrumental in creating the GOP tax plan that will add up to $1.5 trillion to the country's debt in order to provide major tax breaks to corporations and wealthy individuals. He was also a key figure in selling the plan to the media.

When Richard Cordray resigned as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in November, Trump promptly selected Mick the Knife for that role, undercutting the deputy director Cordray had appointed to the post. After much debate and a court order in his favor, Mulvaney grabbed a box of Dunkin' Donuts and headed over from his OMB office adjacent to the White House. So even though he's got a new job, Mulvaney is never far from Trump's reach.

The problem for the rest of us: Mulvaney loathes the CFPB, an agency he once called "a joke." While he can't unilaterally demolish it, he's already obstructed its ability to enforce its government mandates. Soon after Trump appointed him, he imposed a 30-day freeze on hiring and similarly froze all further rule-making and regulatory actions.

In his latest effort to undermine American consumers, he's working to defund the CFPB. He just sent the Federal Reserve a letter stating that, "for the second quarter of fiscal year 2018, the Bureau is requesting $0." That doesn't bode well for American consumers.

Jerome "Jay" Powell, Federal Reserve

Thanks to the Senate confirmation of his selection for chairman of the board, Donald Trump now owns the Fed, too. The former number two man under Janet Yellen, Jerome Powell will be running the Fed, come Monday morning, February 5th.

Established in 1913 during President Woodrow Wilson's administration, the Fed's official mission is to "promote a safe, sound, competitive, and accessible banking system." In reality, it's acted more like that system's main drug dealer in recent years. In the wake of the 2007-2008 financial crisis, in addition to buying trillions of dollars in bonds (a strategy called "quantitative easing," or QE), the Fed supplied four of the biggest Wall Street banks with an injection of $7.8 trillion in secret loans. The move was meant to stimulate the economy, but really, it coddled the banks.

Powell's monetary policy undoubtedly won't represent a startling change from that of previous head Janet Yellen, or her predecessor, Ben Bernanke. History shows that Powell has repeatedly voted for pumping financial markets with Federal Reserve funds and, despite displaying reservations about the practice of quantitative easing, he always voted in favor of it, too. What makes his nomination out of the ordinary, though, is that he's a trained lawyer, not an economist.

Powell is assuming the helm at a time when deregulation is central to the White House's economic and financial strategy. Keep in mind that he will also have a role in choosing and guiding future Fed appointments. (At present, the Fed has the smallest number of sitting governors in its history.) The first such appointee, private equity investor Randal Quarles, already approved as the Fed's vice chairman for supervision, is another major deregulator.

Powell will be able to steer banking system decisions in other ways. In recent Senate testimony, he confirmed his deregulatory predisposition. In that vein, the Fed has already announced that it seeks to loosen the capital requirements big banks need to put behind their riskier assets and activities. This will, it claims, allow them to more freely make loans to Main Street, in case a decade of cheap money wasn't enough of an incentive.

The Emperor Has No Rules

Nearly every regulatory institution in Trumpville tasked with monitoring the financial system is now run by someone who once profited from bending or breaking its rules. Historically, severe financial crises tend to erupt after periods of lax oversight and loose banking regulations. By filling America's key institutions with representatives of just such negligence, Trump has effectively hired a team of financial arsonists.

Naturally, Wall Street views Trump's chosen ones with glee. Amid the present financial euphoria of the stock market, big bank stock prices have soared. But one thing is certain: when the next crisis comes, it will leave the last meltdown in the shade because our financial system is, at its core, unreformed and without adult supervision. Banks not only remain too big to fail but are still growing, while this government pushes policies guaranteed to put us all at risk again.

There's a pattern to this: first, there's a crash; then comes a period of remorse and talk of reform; and eventually comes the great forgetting. As time passes, markets rise, greed becomes good, and Wall Street begins to champion more deregulation. The government attracts deregulatory enthusiasts and then, of course, there's another crash, millions suffer, and remorse returns.

Ominously, we're now in the deregulation stage following the bull run. We know what comes next, just not when. Count on one thing: it won't be pretty.

Categories: Latest News

I Had to Bury My 26-Year-Old Son Because He Couldn't Afford Insulin

Truthout - Thu, 02/01/2018 - 07:08

Access to insulin is a human right: This is what its inventor believed and why he gave away his patent for $1. Yet, countless people in the US suffering from diabetes today cannot afford this life-essential medicine because of price gouging by its manufacturers, and many, like Alec, die -- victims of a system that prioritizes profit over lives.

(Photo: Hero Images / Getty Images)

On June 27, 2017, my son Alec was found dead, alone in his Minneapolis apartment. It shouldn't have happened.

Alec had Type 1 diabetes, a serious condition that is manageable with access to insulin and proper supplies. But Alec turned 26 years old on May 20 of last year, which meant that his coverage under my health insurance policy ended a few days later. Alec had a full-time, steady job. But, like a lot of US workers, he did not have good health insurance offered through his employer.

For Alec and others with diabetes, this presents a deadly situation. Many people with type 2 diabetes need regular access to insulin to live; all persons with Type 1 do. Insulin is a 95-year-old drug whose discoverers sold their patents for $1 each, but its price has increased over 1,000 percent since the late 1990s. A vial of the same insulin that was once sold for around $25 can now cost patients like Alec nearly $300, and many people need multiple vials per month to survive.

The pharmaceutical companies that sell insulin won't disclose any details, but it is likely that this same vial is manufactured for just a few dollars. Which means that those companies are making huge profits and paying huge CEO salaries. The three insulin manufacturers have raised their prices in lockstep for many years now, prompting a class-action lawsuit and criminal investigations into collusion. Additionally, the insurance industry is also complicit in the drug pricing scheme.

For Alec, this meant that his insulin and supplies cost almost $1,300 a month. He and I together researched for months in advance about his health insurance options. They weren't good. The best plan we found would cost him $450 a month for the premium with a whopping $7,600 deductible. That deductible meant he would be paying out-of-pocket for his medicine for many months anyway, so he decided to go without the plan until he could find a different job with benefits.

With the cost so high, Alec tried to ration his insulin. I have since learned that this is not uncommon. Globally, half of the people who need insulin can't reliably get access to it. With 6 million people in the US insulin-dependent, and nearly 40 percent of Americans uninsured or facing high deductibles that leave their medicine costs uncovered, the crisis is occurring right here, too.

Endocrinologists here in the US report that as many as one in five of their patients are not able to afford their insulin. For many persons with diabetes, that means they land in the emergency room with diabetic ketoacidosis. For others, like Alec, they never get there. Just 27 days after his coverage under my insurance ended, I received the call no parent ever wants to get.

As you would imagine, my family and I are still grieving. But I've decided that sharing our story may help prevent someone else from going through what Alec did. There are a lot of proposals to increase access to affordable health coverage and to lower the price of medicines, including forcing drug companies to be transparent about their research costs and profits, and allowing Medicare to negotiate down the price it pays for prescription drugs. To me, they all boil down to one theme: Access to insulin, and other life-essential medicines, is a human right.

The inventor of insulin, Frederick Banting, believed that. When he was asked why he gave away his patent for $1, he replied, "Because insulin does not belong to me. It belongs to the world." That spirit is being violated today, where there are thousands of GoFundMe pages devoted to people like Alec, desperately trying to cobble together the money they need for their monthly insulin.

There are a lot of good people working to change this, including US lawmakers. But it seems clear to me that significant movement toward universal access to essential medicines will only come when the affected patients and their loved ones help lead the way.

So I was happy to see that people with diabetes in Nevada were able to help push through a law that requires transparency in insulin pricing there. And that is why I support the patient group T1International's demand that insulin manufacturers disclose the profits they are making off of each vial and reverse their unjustified price increases. That is why I shared Alec's story at a recent demonstration led by Type 1 diabetes patients outside the headquarters of insulin manufacturer Eli Lilly and Company, demanding increased transparency and lower prices.

As I told the patients and activists gathered there, my Alec was the best son anyone could ask for. He was loved by so many and I am so proud to have been his mom for the short 26 years I had with him. But he should still be here. I should not have buried my son at 26 because he couldn't afford the one thing in life that was created to keep him alive.

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The GOP Plans to Release "the Memo," but What Is It?

Truthout - Thu, 02/01/2018 - 06:21
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If you spend any time on conservative websites, happen to catch a minute of Fox News or have Republican friends on social media, you've probably heard someone demanding that the House "release the memo." Now, that may finally happen.

But what exactly is "the memo," who's "releasing" it and how will it affect the political landscape? Here's everything you need to know about the already infamous memo.

1. "The Memo" Is a GOP-Authored Document

Despite most of the hype surrounding this document, the memo wasn't written by the FBI. The memo was written by Republicans who claim to have chronicled a series of abuses in the FBI, such as misuse of surveillance techniques, that were allegedly committed to hurt President Donald Trump and his administration.

The memo itself has been classified, so the four-page document couldn't be made public. Now, thanks to efforts spearheaded by House Intelligence Committee Chair and Republican Congressman Devin Nunes, the memo will be released beyond the committee -- and everyone will be able to read its contents.

2. But What Is It About?

The memo focuses on the Russian probe, of course. As CNN reports:

The Nunes memo says the FBI abused the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act over its use of the opposition research dossier on Donald Trump and Russia as part of the case to obtain a FISA warrant for former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page. It cites the roles of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and outgoing Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe in overseeing aspects of the investigation, according to a source briefed on the matter.

The memo claims that the FBI maintains an anti-Trump bias, prompting agency leaders to approve otherwise unacceptable surveillance in an effort to bring the president down.

3. Why Is This Partisan?

The memo is just a summary -- it's the Nunes version of what he believes happened inside the FBI, providing only the information he wants to highlight and disregarding the rest. Meanwhile, a second "memo" -- this one written Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, allegedly examines the source materials offered by the FBI. Schiff claims Nunes didn't bother to read those sources, only cherry-picking Republican talking points:

The chairman never bothered to go read these underlying materials. After months and months of making this argument that the FBI and DOJ are involved in some sort of conspiracy, he didn't even bother to read the materials himself.

While the committee voted to declassify the Nunes memo, they voted to keep Schiff's response classified so no one can see it.

 4. Why Is This a Big Deal?

The memo really isn't that big of a deal -- after all, pretty much everything in it has probably already appeared on a right-wing website by now, and it's assumed to contain mostly retreaded GOP fever dreams. That said, the debate surrounding the memo highlights just how partisan Congress has become.

The GOP has pushed to get "the memo" into the public eye, regardless of how many times they've been told that doing so could jeopardize the Russian investigation, potentially endanger agents and even undermine the trust in the FBI itself -- a bureau that needs to be both non-partisan and independent from any political administration. Huffington Post reports:

In a letter last week, a top Justice Department official said releasing the classified memo would be an "unprecedented action" that would be "extraordinarily reckless" and could "risk harm to national security and to ongoing investigations." The department did not "understand why the Committee would possibly seek to disclose classified and law enforcement sensitive information without first consulting with the relevant members of the Intelligence Community," the letter read.

5. If Republicans Are Concerned About National Security, Why Would They Do This?

Two reasons: they want to clean out the FBI and replace existing officials with Trump administration yes-men, as well as to discredit any findings that suggest the Russians played a role in the 2016 presidential election. And that claim is gaining even more traction now that the president just announced he will not impose the Russian sanctions Congress passed last year to punish the country for meddling in the election.

6. Well When Do We Get to See "the Memo"?

Now that the committee has voted to release it, the memo will move to the White House. The president has five days to decide whether he agrees with declassifying and releasing the document, and if so, the public will finally get a peek at the most highly sought after three-and-a-half pages of information in recent years.

Categories: Latest News

Trump Has Already Broken All of the Promises He Made to Workers During the State of the Union

Truthout - Thu, 02/01/2018 - 06:19

This article was published by TalkPoverty.org.

Tuesday night, President Donald Trump gave his first official State of the Union speech. The script was as expected: He bragged about his tax bill, repeated some promises about infrastructure, and promoted his administration's latest wish list of anti-immigrant policies. He even claimed to be concerned for "America's struggling workers." But a lot was conspicuously absent from the speech -- including all the ways his administration has harmed those very workers.

When he was a candidate, Trump pledged to turn the Republican Party into a "worker's party." He claimed that each of his policy decisions would hinge on whether it creates "more jobs and better wages for Americans" and promised to side with workers instead of "special interests" and the "financial elite." But throughout his first year, he sided with corporations and the wealthy instead.

In 2017, Trump used his executive authority to pare down worker safety protections, make it harder for workers to receive the pay they earned, and hamstring their ability to collectively bargain for decent wages and benefits. His administration took action to weaken mine inspection rules, undermine the quality and pay of apprenticeship programs, and delay and roll back rules that will prevent construction and agricultural workers from being exposed to toxic chemicals.

Under Trump's watch, the Department of Labor has signaled that it will use its regulatory power to roll back overtime coverage and protections for millions of workers and allow companies to legally confiscate employees' tips. It withdrew guidance that held corporations accountable for wage theft. And the National Labor Relations Board is trying to slow the process for workers to request a union election.

Already, Trump's agency appointees overturned a 2015 precedent that protected workers' rights to bargain with companies that influence their workplaces. These so-called "joint-employer" protections are increasingly important since large corporations are more often relying on temporary staffing agencies, labor subcontractors, and franchises to supply their labor force. Now corporate interests are pushing even more extreme legislation: A bill to roll back protections for minimum wage, overtime, and child labor violations by joint employers has already passed the House. A president who cares about the rights of workers would fight hard against such a proposal.

Trump's war on workers extends to the public sector as well. The Trump administration has backed union opponents that want to eliminate fair-share fees in the public sector, attempting to overturn a 40-year-old Supreme Court precedent and weaken public sector unions. And last night, he promised to make it easier for political appointees to fire federal public sector employees.

Just like last year's joint address to Congress, the president promised last night to create jobs with a new infrastructure program. However, his fiscal year 2018 budget shows that this "new plan" is a shell game, since it would be paid for in part by cutting $138 billion from the Highway Trust Fund, which currently funds highway and public transportation projects across the United States, and eliminating existing job-creating infrastructure programs like TIGER and New Starts grants.

And while Trump touted his infrastructure plan, he didn't guarantee that the jobs created will actually support a family. While the federal government has upheld Davis-Bacon prevailing wage standards for nearly 90 years to ensure that construction jobs funded through federal spending provide decent wages, many on the right are pressuring the administration to leave out these protections. Trump failed to mention them last night. If the president really wants to help workers, he should guarantee that all jobs created by the infrastructure package include the prevailing wage protections and pay at least $15 per hour, and expand contracting job quality protections broadly to ensure that all government spending creates well-paying jobs for workers.

The president also boasted about the performance of the US stock market and the benefits of his tax cut bill. Yet neither today's market performance nor the tax bill will make substantial, long-term improvements in the lives of everyday Americans. The run-up in stock market value predominantly benefits the rich, as 80 percent of US stock value is held by the wealthiest 10 percent of households. Meanwhile, despite Trump's false claim that "we are finally seeing rising wages," the average wage of production and non-supervisory workers rose by only four cents in 2017 when adjusted for inflation -- a growth rate of just 0.17 percent, below the last four years of wage growth.  And the tax bill -- which Trump previously justified by saying working- and middle-class taxpayers would "receive the biggest benefit – it won't even be close" -- in fact gives the most to the richest taxpayers. This year, taxpayers making over $1 million will bring home a tax cut 100 times larger than the average tax cut for families in the bottom 80 percent by income. And in 2027, once individual tax cuts expire, nearly 92 million families making less than $200,000 annually will be paying more in taxes.

Viewers also heard Trump boast about one-time bonuses from companies seeking favor with the administration. However, the fact that some of these companies laid off thousands of workers as they were announcing the bonuses failed to make it to the presidential teleprompter.

Trump's claims during last night's speech can't hide the truth: Month after month, the Trump administration took action to benefit wealthy donors instead of working people. From denying overtime protections for millions of Americans, to raising health insurance premiums, to weakening safety protections for workers, he has continually failed to stand up for those he claims to support. His pledge to lead a new "worker's party" was a bait-and-switch, and he should be held accountable for this failure.

In these troubling and surreal times, honest journalism is more important than ever. Help us keep real news flowing: Make a donation to Truthout today.
Categories: Latest News

How Economic Distress Impacts Your Health

Truthout - Thu, 02/01/2018 - 06:16
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According to a recent report, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and West Virginia have the worst health in the US. These states have higher rates of premature deaths, chronic diseases and poor health behaviors year after year.

Why are people in some places in the US consistently less healthy than those in others? If you look to health and fitness magazines, it may seem like poor diet, lack of exercise and other bad behaviors are to blame. Genetics and access to health care are also commonly cited reasons for why some people are healthier than others.

But where a person lives, works and plays also matters. As a public health researcher interested in how society affects our health, my research shows where you live plays a powerful role on your health.

Economic Distress

Public health experts often talk about the "social determinants of health": community traits like housing quality, access to nutritious and fresh food, water and air quality, education quality and employment opportunities. These factors are thought to be among the most powerful influences on a person's health.

Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and West Virginia also share a similar economic environment. Data from the Economic Innovation Group (EIG), a bipartisan public policy organization in DC, shows that these states are the top five most economically distressed states in the US.

In fact, Alabama and Mississippi have the highest shares of people living in distressed zip codes.

The US has experienced economic prosperity since the end of the Great Recession. But not all states have shared equally in this economic growth. In North Dakota, for example, employment rates increased almost 20 percent between 2010 and 2013. During the same time period, residents in Alabama have seen only about four percent growth in employment.

Local communities in every state across the US face similar poor economic realities: 52.3 million Americans live in economically distressed zip codes. This means that about 17 percent of the US population lives in places with limited opportunities for education, good housing and employment. These factors are essential for good health.

Prosperous zip codes tend to have social resources that distressed zip codes do not, like access to fresh and nutritious foodscleaner air and high-quality schools.

Place and Health

Analysts at the Economic Innovation Group found that people in prosperous counties live, on average, five years longer than those living in distressed counties. In distressed counties, deaths from mental and substance abuse are 64 percent higher compared to prosperous counties.

My own analysis of EIG data and the 2017 County Health Rankings follow this pattern. The more economically distressed a county is, the worse their health outcomes are. This is true across measures of clinical care, quality of life, mortality, chronic conditions, health behaviors and health environments.

I am currently researching a range of health outcomes across the US. My unpublished results show that infants are about 20 percent more likely to die before their first birthday in distressed counties. Adults in distressed counties are 18 percent more likely to report poor or fair health than those in prosperous counties.

Those in distressed counties are also more likely to live in places with fewer resources for good health. For example, distressed counties are 26 percent more likely to have limited access to healthy foods and have about 24 percent fewer opportunities for exercise. They also have about 20 percent fewer primary care providers than prosperous counties.

Investing in Solutions

Shared economic prosperity is good for our health and good for the economy.

Improving population health requires more than changing health behaviors or increasing health care access. Similarly, if we want to increase shared economic prosperity among those who need it most, we need to focus on more than employment rates and average incomes.

As public health researcher David Williams and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Executive Vice President James Marks wrote, "reaching America's full health potential will require that targeted initiatives have a dual focus" on health and community economic development. This means that the health and economic sectors must collaborate, which is often made difficult by separate funding streams and political battles.

Despite challenges, there are successful examples of communities working together to improve health and foster economic opportunity. In Sacramento, California, the Building Healthy Communities program worked with community members to develop bike paths and expand community gardens. This effort was a part of an initiative to transform formerly contaminated land into healthy, livable and usable property.

More investments in the social determinants of health will help close the health gaps we see across the US.

Categories: Latest News

The Deep State

Truthout - Wed, 01/31/2018 - 21:00
Categories: Latest News

Johann Hari on How the "Junk Values" of Neoliberalism Drive Depression and Anxiety in the US

Truthout - Wed, 01/31/2018 - 21:00

The United States is one of the most depressed countries in the world. Could it be because of the country's adoption of neoliberal economic policies? We speak to Johann Hari, author of a controversial new book, "Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression -- and the Unexpected Solutions." He writes, "Junk food has taken over our diets, and it is making millions of people physically sick. A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that something similar is happening with our minds -- that they have become dominated by junk values, and this is making us mentally sick, triggering soaring rates of depression and anxiety."

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

Trump Joins Obama and Bush in Using State of the Union to Hail "Progress" in Afghan War

Truthout - Wed, 01/31/2018 - 21:00

On Tuesday night, President Trump became the third president in a row to attempt to put a positive spin on the war in Afghanistan -- the longest war in US history. Five years earlier, President Barack Obama predicted at his 2013 State of the Union that the war would soon be over. And back in 2006, President George W. Bush used his State of the Union to praise Afghanistan for building a "new democracy." More than 16 years after the US War in Afghanistan began, the country remains in a state of crisis. On Saturday, more than 100 people died in Kabul when an ambulance packed with explosives blew up. Then, on Monday, Islamic State militants carried out an early-morning attack on a military academy in the western outskirts of the capital of Kabul, killing at least 11 troops and wounding 16. We speak to investigative reporter May Jeong in Kabul. Her most recent piece for The Intercept is titled "Losing Sight: A 4-Year-Old Girl Was the Sole Survivor of a US Drone Strike in Afghanistan. Then She Disappeared."

TRANSCRIPT

NERMEEN SHAIKH: On Tuesday night, President Trump became the third president in a row to attempt to put a positive spin on the war in Afghanistan, the longest war in US history.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Our warriors in Afghanistan have new rules of engagement. … Along with their heroic Afghan partners, our military is no longer undermined by artificial timelines, and we no longer tell our enemies our plans.

AMY GOODMAN: Five years earlier, President Barack Obama predicted at his 2013 State of the Union that the war would soon be over.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Our forces will move into a support role, while Afghan security forces take the lead. Tonight I can announce that over the next year another 34,000 American troops will come home from Afghanistan. This drawdown will continue. And by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over.

AMY GOODMAN: And back in 2005 [sic], President George W. Bush used his State of the Union -- I think it was 2006 -- to praise Afghanistan for building a, quote, "new democracy."

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We remain on the offensive in Afghanistan, where a fine president and a National Assembly are fighting terror while building the institutions of a new democracy.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, more than 16 years after the US War in Afghanistan began, the country remains in a state of crisis. On Saturday, more than 100 people died in Kabul when an ambulance packed with explosives blew up. Then, on Monday, Islamic State militants carried out an early-morning attack on a military academy in the western outskirts of the capital of Kabul, killing at least 11 troops and wounding 16.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go to Kabul, Afghanistan, where we're joined by investigative reporter May Jeong. Her most recent piece for The Intercept is titled "Losing Sight: A 4-Year-Old Girl Was the Sole Survivor of a US Drone Strike in Afghanistan. Then She Disappeared." May Jeong is also a Logan nonfiction fellow at the Carey Institute for Global Good and a visiting scholar at New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.

May, it's great to have you with us, joining us from Kabul. First, respond to this incredibly bloody week in Afghanistan, in the "Ring of Steel" in Kabul.

MAY JEONG: Yes, as you, Amy, and Nermeen mentioned, it's been a terrible, terrible winter, really, for Afghanistan. Just before coming on air, I was talking to my colleagues about the bloodbath that has been, you know, Kabul for the past couple weeks. Apart from the massive attack, the MoI -- on the MoI Road, the Ministry of Interior Road, and the military academy, there's also been the Intercontinental Hotel that has been attacked. In a nearby city, in Jalalabad, Save the Children office, an NGO there, was attacked, as well. And there's a real sense of a crescendoing of violence.

And there's real helplessness among the people about the lack of options that are, you know, provided for them, and also a massive grievance and resentment. Today, there was a protest in front of the embassy in Pakistan here in Kabul, organized by civil society members who wanted to, you know, protest the absence of, lack of action on part of the Afghan government, which is exactly the thing -- the message that the Taliban was hoping to send. You know, these spectacular attacks, they are, in a way -- they could be pure disasters, in a way, for the insurgent group. Most of the people who die are civilians. But they do this because the message that they want to send to the public is telling them that your government cannot protect you. It's this -- it's become this sick popularity contest almost between the Afghan state and various insurgent groups -- the Taliban, ISIS, Haqqani network, you know, being among the big ones.

But the other -- the other note that you detect among the people here is that for foreigners watching from abroad, this week seems very bloody, but this kind of atrocity happens on a daily basis in provinces that we have no access to, never mind the fact that the war has been ongoing -- the NATO war, as we call it here, has been ongoing for 17 years. And even before that, there's been the civil war, the Russian, you know, Soviet occupation. And yeah, I mean, people here have been living with this kind of conflict. Sorry, there's a -- speaking of which, a NATO helicopter overhead, so you might not be able to hear me. But it's been a continuation of conflict in various iterations.

And with that has come various coping mechanisms, one of which is humor. And so, my colleague and I were talking about how at this protest earlier, people who had -- you know, they were meant to have been burning the flag of Pakistan, which can be confused with the national flag of Nigeria. And so there were -- some protesters were mistakenly burning a Nigerian flag. And, you know, there was a rare respite, from this sort of a moment of unexpected humor. But that's what people do here to get by, because, otherwise, taking everything -- really internalizing everything that happens, I think, is -- you know, that way lies insanity for a lot of people.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, May, you talked about the fact that this protest that took place in Kabul took place outside the Pakistani Embassy and that protesters were burning the Pakistani flag. Can you talk about the role of Pakistan, the Pakistani state and military intelligence services, in Afghanistan, in particular their relationship to two of the three groups that you mentioned, insurgent groups, the Taliban and the Haqqani network?

MAY JEONG: Of course. It's widely established now that the Taliban and the Haqqani network have their safe havens in Pakistan, which is the way that they've been managed -- they've managed to operate, consolidate their power and also, you know, arrange for funding streams. And it's a very contentious, controversial topic here. President Ashraf Ghani, when he first came to power in late 2014, used a lot of his political power -- political capital, pardon me, to try to negotiate peace by going straight to Islamabad. But that did not -- that didn't amount to anything. But the reason why he did that was because he, you know, like the head of state before him, understood that if you want to have a peace settlement with the Taliban, it's not just that particular insurgent group -- pardon me -- that you are dealing with, it's all these other stakeholders of the conflict that are at play, you know?

We often talk about the war in Afghanistan as a proxy war. Who are the -- you know, who are the proxies? Afghanistan and Pakistan. Who are their backers? I mean, the obvious one for the Afghan government right now is, you know, the American government. And on the other side, for the Taliban, it is the government of Pakistan. And President Donald Trump has been making a lot of public statements about how he wants to cut funding to force the Pakistan state to, you know, force them into submission. But, I mean, the American policy towards Pakistan -- I mean, of course, and also Afghanistan -- has been very inconsistent. And so it's no wonder that the actors don't respond to these incentive structures that are presented to them --

AMY GOODMAN: So, let's talk --

MAY JEONG: -- because it's unclear for them how long this will last.

AMY GOODMAN: Let's talk about the US role. You just did a very important piece called "Losing Sight: A 4-Year-Old Girl Was the Sole Survivor of a US Drone Strike in Afghanistan. Then She Disappeared." Talk about this story and its significance for what the US is doing there.

MAY JEONG: I think the important thing to know about -- note about this story is that it's about a specific drone strike, just one of them, one of many. There's been hundreds and hundreds over the course of, you know, the duration of the war here.

This particular strike happened in September of 2013. There was a family traveling in a pickup truck from Asadabad, which is the provincial capital of Kunar province. Kunar province is to east of Kabul. That's where Lone Survivor was shot, you know, for audiences who might be aware of that, or Restrepo, as well, the documentary by Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington. And from Asadabad, they set off midday, and they were on their way to Gambir province, which is in the Pech Valley, which is where a majority of the family members were from. And along the way, this truck was hit by what the American military calls the precision strike, and everyone died, except for a 4-year-old girl, who was then taken to a hospal -- hospital, pardon me, in another town called Jalalabad and then to a French Role 3 hospital in Kabul, the military hospital here.

She came to prominence among -- in the Afghan local media initially, because President Karzai, who was the head of state at the time, who had been, you know, increasingly growing vocal about his anger and discontent at the preponderance of civilian casualties incurred by NATO, the foreign troops, went to go see her. And then, in successive remarks publicly he had, he would sort of often evoke her as one of the many reasons why he did not want to sign this thing called the bilateral securities agreement. This is the -- the BSA is the memorandum of understanding that allows for foreign troops to remain in Afghanistan. And the negotiation for the BSA was ongoing at the time, in 2013, and then onwards into 2014. And when he was often asked about his recalcitrance for signing the agreement, he would mention this girl, Aisha, as well as many other, you know, instances of wedding parties being bombed, houses being bombed, mothers and fathers taking their children to school being bombed -- I mean, the countless attacks that have happened on civilians during the war here.

And my investigation really tried to bore into what happens to just one of them and the human cost of this policy that we call "clean." I mean, we have all these, you know, words, like it being a "precision strike," or it's -- the drones are meant to be the "saner" option to the bloodiness of ground battle. But really, as I mention in the piece, we don't -- at times, we don't even know who we kill.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, May, a lot of people suggest, though, that US and other NATO ground troops are necessary in Afghanistan to maintain a modicum of security. A BBC study found yesterday, which was just published yesterday -- found that the Taliban are now operative in 70 percent of the country, which is, of course, far more than was the case in 2014. So, could you respond to that? I mean, do you think, despite these casualties, the girl Aisha, whom you mention, that a US presence is necessary in Afghanistan, as some suggest?

MAY JEONG: Absolutely not. The places where people suffer the most are in contested areas, where there's still battle between government forces and various insurgent groups. You mentioned that 70 percent of the country is under Taliban control. Areas that are very safely with one side or the other are not being fought over, therefore there is no, you know, active battle there. I think that's something that we often forget. You know, over the past 17 years, there's been a lot of money that's been spent on, you know, gender initiatives and promoting women's rights and children's rights and capacity-building exercises and all this stuff. And that's all very good, but I think what people often forget is that even before we can get to the part of being enlightened or empowered or whatever, most Afghans, you know, their primary desire is to live and not to die. And for that to happen, the war needs to end.

And why is the war continuing? The war continues because there's no understanding of the fact that we are in a stalemate and both sides are suffering. Both sides cling onto this delusional fiction that a military victory is possible. And President Trump is still talking about the fact that -- he still subscribes to this insane logic that what we actually need to do is to advance the war so that we negotiate from an advantage. I mean, what is the definition of insanity? It's doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. And as you, Amy, earlier mentioned, the State of the Union speeches are tragic for the fact that, you know, they're just iterations of the one that's come before, when it comes to Afghanistan. Nothing has changed. So what makes us think that this mini-surge that President Trump has allowed General Mattis to go ahead with, that's going to make any difference, when, under President Obama, we had 140,000 soldiers in country, and that didn't change anything?

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to lose the satellite in a minute, but I wanted to ask you about this meeting President Trump had with members of the UN Security Council, rejecting the idea of peace talks with the Taliban. What is your assessment of this?

MAY JEONG: It's a real shame. It saddens me, personally, deeply. There's a certain momentum that's been built with these peace talks. I mean, the fact that we have a -- whatever you feel about the Taliban, I mean, I think we can all agree that having dialogue is a good thing. And, you know, a lot of resources have been spent trying to get people onto the negotiating table. And for a head of state of a major country that is a big player in the war to come out saying -- you know, denouncing the whole process really takes back the prospects for peace by many, many years. I mean, people don't talk --

AMY GOODMAN: We just lost the satellite, but that's May Jeong, who's an investigative reporter based in Kabul, Afghanistan. Her most recent piece, we'll link to at The intercept, called "Losing Sight: A 4-Year-Old Girl Was the Sole Survivor of a US Drone Strike in Afghanistan. Then She Disappeared."

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, a new book is out. It's called Lost Connections. We'll look at the issue of antidepressants, depression and the best treatments for a very common malady. Stay with us.

Categories: Latest News

Here Comes "the Memo": It's a Desperate, Last-Ditch Gambit

Truthout - Wed, 01/31/2018 - 21:00

Donald Trump speaks with members of Congress as he leaves the House chamber after delivering his State of the Union Address in the Capitol on Tuesday, January 30, 2018. (Photo: Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call)

As President Trump made his way off the floor of the House chamber after his triumphant (or at least competent anyway) State of the Union speech on Tuesday night, he stopped to shake hands and exchange greetings with his ecstatic followers. Not realizing that there was a hot mic in the vicinity, he made the following comments:

CLIP: As President Trump exits the House Chamber, @RepJeffDuncan asks him to #ReleaseTheMemo. #SOTU #SOTU2018 pic.twitter.com/O1hHYFdPxM

— CSPAN (@cspan) January 31, 2018

In what became the night's only real news, Trump told Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., that he would definitely release "the Memo," the four-page document prepared by House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., which purports to show that the FBI and the Justice Department did something nefarious regarding the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in the Russia investigation. Very few people had seen that memo, including, if you believe the White House, President Trump. If that were true it would mean that he had "100 percent" decided to declassify sensitive intelligence without even knowing what it was.

Media reports indicate that the president did indeed know what was in the memo, despite the usual official lies. (There is even some suspicion that Nunes actually worked with the White House to write the memo.) What specifically interested the president was that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein allegedly signed off on a request for a FISA warrant for former Trump adviser Carter Page last spring. Nunes and his gang have cooked up a narrative which they believe proves that Rosenstein was conspiring against Trump, along with virtually everyone else in the Justice Department and the FBI. Or something like that.

The whole point of this, needless to say, is to throw mud on everyone associated with the Russia investigation in order to sow confusion among the public and give the president a rationale to curtail it, if not shut it down altogether. Judging from the Democratic response and the almost frantic objections from the FBI and the Department of Justice, the Nunes memo is based upon lies and omissions to create a false impression. Worse, by releasing classified information, House Republicans appear to be exposing counterintelligence sources and methods for no other reason than to protect Donald Trump.

That's not to say that there is never a rationale for releasing classified information that sheds light on government activity, especially if that activity is unconstitutional or dangerous to the nation. Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers -- the story told in Steven Spielberg's current film The Post -- come to mind. Your mileage may vary on this question, but Edward Snowden's NSA revelations resulted in changes in the secret spy agencies and much greater public awareness of the government's expansion of its domestic surveillance powers in the wake of 9/11.

It's also possible the FBI and DOJ are inflating the risk of releasing the Nunes memo. They have been known to exaggerate the dangers to "sources and methods" if classified information is released to the public. The over-classification of government information is a real problem. But arguing against that theory in this case is the fact that FBI Director Chris Wray went way out on a limb to publicly decry the release, putting himself in the president's crosshairs, which seems foolish unless he believes the issue is truly important to the agency.

In any case, this is the first time Nunes has ever showed even the slightest interest in transparency. His commitment to reining in the FBI and DOJ coincidentally began when he took over the job of intelligence adviser for Trump's transition team, after when former congressman and FBI agent Mike Rogers was summarily dismissed for no apparent reason. But whether or not the classified contents of "the Memo" actually put anyone is risk is beside the point. The fact that Republican members of the Intelligence Committee hauled out an obscure congressional rule that's never been used before in order to get this done is yet another testament to how fully the GOP has embraced its new motto: "By any means necessary."

As the New York Times explained:

There is no known precedent for the Republicans’ action. Though House rules allow the Intelligence Committee to vote to disclose classified information if it is deemed to be in the public interest, the rule is not thought to have ever been used. Typically, lawmakers wishing to make public secretive information classified by the executive branch spend months, if not years, fighting with the White House and the intelligence community over what they can release.

To make matters worse, these same members also voted not to release a Democratic memo on the same topic, all in the name of transparency. Now it turns out, according to ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., that the memo the committee sent to the White House was materially changed after Republican members had voted to release it. It is hard to overstate just how aggressive a move to protect the White House this is. There is no legitimate rationale for throwing out decades of normal practice observed by members of both parties.

On Wednesday afternoon, CNN reported that Trump called Rod Rosenstein into the White House last month and asked him point blank where the Russia investigation was headed, demanding to know whether the deputy attorney general he was on "my team." After the brouhaha over the president's call for loyalty from former FBI Director James Comey and his tantrums over the Russia-related recusal of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, he still doesn't seem to understand that federal officials take oaths of office to the Constitution, not to their president. Over and over again, Trump has reportedly demanded some form of reassurance from top officials in the FBI and the DOJ that they have his back in the Russia probe despite an overwhelming amount of legal advice and political commentary instructing him that this is unethical and could form the basis of an obstruction of justice charge.

This Nunes memo is not a serious matter of national security. It's a political stunt. And because it's such an over-the-top gambit you have to assume the memo's release means the president and his men truly believe they are in danger. Trump may not be the brightest bulb in the chandelier but he's proven to be cunning, and has an instinctive ability to protect himself. There's no way he's so dim that he'd take all these risks and go to all this trouble if he didn't have something to hide.

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Categories: Latest News

Even the Right to an Attorney Comes With a Price Tag: 21st Century Debtors' Prisons

Truthout - Wed, 01/31/2018 - 21:00

Coming into focus now is the highly questionable constitutionality of money bail -- the practice of making a defendant put up a large sum of money to ensure that he will appear for trial, regardless of whether he poses a danger to the community or himself. Defendants who cannot come up with bail -- in low-level matters as well as in more serious cases -- are kept in jail pending trial.

(Photo: HopeMedia Stock Photography; Edited: LW / TO)

Far too many people are considered guilty of being poor. Peter Edelman's book, Not a Crime to Be Poor, details the many pernicious ways that the poor fall prey to the criminal legal system. Get the book now with a donation to Truthout. Click here.

The mass incarceration system in the United States is structured to make poverty itself a crime. Peter Edelman, early on in his book, offers some initial examples of how.

In New Orleans's Municipal Court, Section A, even when the judge was presiding, not a word was audible to anyone in the audience, and, with multiple negotiations happening simultaneously around the room, no one in the gallery could understand anything that was going on. In the center of the grim circus were the shackled men wearing orange jumpsuits -- almost all African American -- being held for arraignment, awaiting trial because they could not make bail, or doing time for criminal contempt because they had not appeared in response to a " judicial attachment" or bench warrant for nonpayment of debt owed to the court. Most of the shackled men, many quite young, were embarking on (or well along in) a long or even endless voyage of debt and incarceration. Unlike other jurisdictions, New Orleans does not jail people at the time they are sentenced and unable to pay a fine. But this is a distinction without a difference: many of the accused are held for days before being arraigned, and more are in for longer times while awaiting trial because they can't afford to post bail. More yet will serve multiple stints in jail for nonpayment of debts to the court, ad infinitum.

In too many cities and small towns across the country, scenes like the one in New Orleans occur every day. The details differ, but high fines and fees are the order of the day in juvenile as well as adult courts. Even in jurisdictions and individual courtrooms where low-income arrestees are not jailed when initially sentenced, the dearth of public defenders, the almost ubiquitous use of money bail (in adult courts), and the ever-mounting payments owed mean repeated time in jail along with unmanageable debt. Ferguson is almost everywhere.

Constitutional violations on the part of the courts are rife, and they go uncorrected largely because of the shortage of public defenders. Police often violate the Fourth Amendment, making stops without reasonable suspicion, making arrests without probable cause, and using excessive force. First Amendment rights are violated when free expression is suppressed, including prohibition of the use of cellphone cameras to film police activity in a public setting. Fourteenth Amendment rights are curtailed when there is racial, economic, and other discrimination by police, judges, and other officials who disregard equal protection and due process.

The very act of jailing an indigent person for a fine-only, low-level offense is unconstitutional, and many of these jailings occur in states that actually have laws explicitly banning debtors' prisons. In 1983 the Supreme Court heard the case of Danny Bearden, an illiterate ninth-grade dropout who was convicted of receiving stolen goods and placed on probation with a fine of $500 and a $250 order of restitution. His parents put up the first $200. Danny Bearden was going to pay the rest himself but was laid off from his factory job. He tried very hard to find work, but finally had to tell the probation people he had lost his job and could not make the payment then due. His probation was revoked and he was sent to jail. The Supreme Court decided in Bearden v. Georgia that "punishing a person for his poverty" violates the equal protection clause and that an indigent defendant cannot be jailed for inability to pay a fine unless he has "willfully refused to pay the fine or restitution when he has the means to pay."

Yes, Bearden and state law are flouted every day. The people who hear the low-level cases are often municipal judges or justices of the peace who are not lawyers or are lawyers but serve part-time and practice in completely different areas of the law. Some judges do not know the law, but other judges know it well and apply it harshly nonetheless.

The Supreme Court has not given clear guidance for what "willfully refused" means, and the literature abounds with instances where the judge said the defendant had expensive-looking shoes or the like and therefore must be able to pay. A judge in Illinois asked all defendants if they smoked, and when any said yes, the judge said they have the means to pay. A judge in Michigan found that because the defendant had cable television he was capable of paying.

And the Bearden ruling that a defendant's ability to pay must be taken into account does not apply when a person is arrested on a bench warrant for defaulting on a payment plan, because now the debtor has committed a crime that does carry a jail sentence. Failure to pay constitutes criminal contempt, which allows incarceration as well as further fines and fees. Because the contempt is a crime that allows jailing, there is no protection for indigence and Bearden becomes irrelevant. The right to an attorney that stemmed from Gideon v. Wainwright applies (which doesn't mean one is available), but Bearden does not apply.

Even the right to an attorney comes with a price tag. The Supreme Court decided in Fuller v. Oregon that charging a fee for a public defender can be constitutional if people who would suffer a "manifest hardship" are relieved from paying it (a requirement ignored in some states). In fact, forty-three states charge for having a public defender. Florida does not waive its $50 public defender application fee for the indigent, instead instructing its courts to include it as part of sentencing or as a condition of probation.

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In North Carolina, defendants have to pay not only the $50 fee but also the full value of the defense services provided, and in Virginia a defendant must pay up to $1,235 for a public defender on each count for certain felonies. South Dakota charges $92 an hour; even a defendant found innocent nonetheless owes $920 for ten hours of representation. If he cannot pay, it is a crime.

Coming into focus now is the highly questionable constitutionality of money bail -- the practice of making a defendant put up a large sum of money to ensure that he will appear for trial, regardless of whether he poses a danger to the community or himself. Defendants who cannot come up with bail -- in low-level matters as well as in more serious cases -- are kept in jail pending trial. The unmistakably different impact of money bail on the rich and poor calls for litigation, which is now under way in a growing number of courts, both on equal protection and due process grounds and the Eighth Amendment's explicit ban on "excessive bail."

[The Cook County Court system reformed bail for the poor last July. It is currently in the process of implementation.]

Copyright of Peter Edelman (2017). Not to be reposted without permission of the publisher, The New Press.

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