As our communities in the global South and North contend with the social and environmental impacts of market-oriented policies, the gathering of world leaders this week in Hamburg, Germany for the G20 does not raise many positive expectations. This is no surprise given that G20 countries currently dominate the world's economic governance -- together accounting for 85 percent of the global GDP, and their economic growth centered priorities have mostly translated to environmental destruction, social conflict and the exploitation of the poor majority.
Because of this, grassroots social justice movements find it imperative to organize transnationally -- in addition to strategic work at the local level -- to bring the voice of rural communities from across the world to international forums. Doing so offers an alternative vision of life by linking the question of food production to those of power and democracy. With the revolutionary concept of Food Sovereignty on the forefront, the peasant women and men of La Via Campesina, assert the rights of peoples to use and manage lands, water, seeds and biodiversity. This goes hand in hand with transparent trade, a system that guarantees just incomes to all as well as the rights of communities to control their food systems.
In this light, we find it unsettling to learn that climate and agriculture are agenda items for this year's G20 Summit. So far, the responses to these two serious issues by the G20 -- representing the governments and central banks of 20 major economies in the world- have been market-oriented solutions. Policies addressing climate change have only been accepted if they were able to generate profits for corporate interests, and, as far as food is concerned, the search for solutions from the top to the climate crisis has served to expand the power of the agroindustry and biotechnology companies. The latest IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) reports and international summits have recognized that the dominant model of food production and distribution is major driver of the GHG emitted.
Instead, governments and corporations are proposing a number of false solutions. There is the empty shell of Climate Smart Agriculture that involves new, risky technologies such as crops genetically engineered or large-scale geoengineering projects. There are also mandates for biofuels, which are driving land grabs in the South and taking away peasant control of their rights to grow, develop, select and diversify their own seeds. And then there are carbon markets, which have allowed governments to grant permits to big industrial polluters so they can trade “rights to pollute” amongst themselves. Other such programs encourage industrialized countries to finance cheap carbon dumps such as large-scale plantations in the global South as a way to avoid reducing their own emissions. As of 2012, these mechanisms may have enabled the emission of 600 million additional tons of CO2. In short, crises have been addressed within the margins of corporate ambitions.
For the 200 million peasant, small farmers, landless workers, pastoralists, fisherfolk, indigenous people, migrants and agricultural workers from all over the world represented in La Via Campesina, these are false solutions because they continue the pattern of accumulation by dispossession -- grabbing our land, seeds, water and livelihoods, while further degrading our planet. Conventional climate change mitigation is just the latest scheme in a long lineage of nonsensical thinking and practice that isolate us from our territories.
For these reasons, we must again highlight our own practices that have worked for us for countless generations. La Vía Campesina remains steadfast in its commitment to Food Sovereignty and Agrarian reform that is inclusive of land, water, and territory. These commitments are part of something even bigger: climate justice. Unlike conventional climate change mitigation strategies, climate justice affirms the disproportional impact of climate change on frontline communities -- such as peasants -- and promotes their solutions to achieve a just transition for people and the planet. One such solution that lies at the nexus of food sovereignty, territory, and climate justice is agroecology, a practice that combines local ancestral agricultural knowledge and culture with modern scientific insight. Sustainable peasant farming modeled on agroecology can actually return CO2 to where it belongs -- the soil (not the atmosphere). If the right policies and incentives were in place worldwide, soil organic matter contents could be restored to pre-industrial agriculture level within a period of 50 years. This would offset from 24 to 30 percent of all current global greenhouse gas emissions, through sustainable production, possible, in part, through the decentralized production, collection and use of energy. Through vibrant family farms packed with biodiversity, often on collective territory, agroecology nourishes people and heals broken ecosystems. In this sense, climate justice and food sovereignty are acts of political resistance. They exist outside corporate control of the food system -- thanks in part to their autonomy from external inputs (such as fertilizers and pesticides). Our solutions enhance the productive potential of the land.
The defense of peasant agriculture would not only guarantee that 70 percent of humanity -- those who practice it -- continue to be nourished with healthy foods, but it also generates resilient agroecosystems. Climate resilience depends on local food and farming systems and agroecological processes in the hands of peasants, Indigenous peoples, rural women and youth. These social forces are, together, an integral part of the world's biodiversity and give life to it.
In a time of rising inequalities and injustice caused by the market-oriented policies set by the wealthy and elite of the world that dominate international forums such as the coming G20, La Via Campesina will gather for its VII International Conference from the 16-24 July in the Basque Country. There, as hundreds of delegates of rural communities from around the world meet to plan common strategies, we will promote climate justice from below through actions that seeks to build and strengthen a fundamentally different, life-affirming society.
This is no easy task, but through the engagement of rural peoples -- and especially the women and youth among them -- we aim to achieve a political and economic system that is controlled by and for grassroots communities. Rather than being passive victims, we are actively building a global resistance movement. And through our models of peasant-based diversified food production, we are cooling the planet -- something that the G20 continually fails to achieve through for-profit environmentalism.
Yet in 2017, more than 120 companies have plans to build new coal-fired power plants (or expand existing ones), increasing coal capacity by roughly 43 percent across the globe. That's more than 840,000 megawatts (MW) of additional coal power.
Some of those expansions are slated to occur in countries that don't yet have any coal power, including Egypt and Malawi, likely locking them into at least 40 years of polluting infrastructure.
This is according to an analysis just released by the German environmental nonprofit Urgewald, which states that if all of these coal expansion plans go ahead, the resulting average rise in global temperatures would be a blazing 7.2°F (4°C).
"This report needs to be a grab-you-by-the-shoulders-and-shake-you-out-of-bed type wake-up call for investors, policymakers, and activists all over the world," said Jamie Henn, communications director for 350.org.
While the largest expansions are occurring in countries like China and India, the United States still has three coal companies planning to build or expand new plants: Southern Company, AES Corporation, and Sunflower Electric Cooperative.
AES plans to build coal plants in the Dominican Republic, Turkey, and the Phillipines, but Sunflower Electric and Southern Company are still investing in coal plants in the US. That's despite the country's lagging prospects for coal and Southern's recent announcement that its ill-fated Kemper "clean coal" plant in Mississippi won't burn coal after all -- and may cost its investors a whopping $3.4 billion in losses.
And though China has made a big announcement about canceling more than 100 coal-fired power plants at home, its own coal companies are already looking to move shop elsewhere, such as Pakistan.
As Urgewald's report notes: "In Pakistan, for example, 4 coal plants are being built and another 2 are in planning to be built. This is happening, even though Pakistan has ample potential for solar energy."
"In countries like the Philippines and Vietnam we see that banks are financing companies that build entirely new coal-fired power plants, making these countries dependent on coal for decades to come. Banks and investors must stop financing coal expansion companies immediately. The climate targets of Paris will otherwise not be met," said Christina Beberdick, coal campaigner at Urgewald.
Henn agrees with the sentiment.
"If you're still invested in the coal industry, you're invested in destroying the future for your children and grandchildren," Henn told DeSmog. "That sounds stark, but the science is incredibly clear. If we want to save the planet, these projects cannot be allowed to go forward."
"Urgewald's new forward-looking divestment tool helps banks and investors to get rid of coal," Beberdick said.
David Turnbull, campaigns director with Oil Change International, told DeSmog:
"Renewable energy is a far better path to provide energy access in developing countries, and in advanced energy markets solar and wind are beating coal on cost already. This analysis highlights companies that are clinging to the past and putting us all at risk by doing so."
Check out which companies are investing in coal, how much capacity is planned, and where the coal expansions are supposed to be built at coalexit.org/database.
In response to Trump's ramped-up deportation and policing, a campaign was launched to extend the idea that all marginalized groups need safety. Named Freedom Cities, this campaign expands on the sanctuary movement to create a framework for cities to offer protection to all oppressed people in the United States.
Area Muslims and local immigration activists participate in a prayer and rally against President Donald Trump's immigration policies on January 27, 2017 in New York City. The Freedom Cities campaign expands on the sanctuary movement to create a framework for cities to offer protection to all oppressed people in the United States. (Photo: Spencer Platt / Getty Images)
This summer will mark the third anniversary of the death of Eric Garner, a New York man who was killed by police officers outside of a neighborhood convenience store in Staten Island (he was suspected of illegally selling loose cigarettes). Garner's death is one of many that has raised Americans' concerns about the increasing number of Black men, women, and children killed by US law enforcement officers.
At only 13 percent of the US population, African Americans are killed by police, incarcerated, live in poverty, and have poor health at higher rates than White Americans, who make up the majority populace. These numbers and conditions are much the same as those attributed to other disenfranchised citizens, including Latino Americans, who are 17 percent of the population.
Contemporary movements continue to address these tragedies.
Black Lives Matter is campaigning against the criminal justice system, calling for an end to racial profiling, police brutality and killings, and for officers to be held accountable for their actions. The Movement for Black Lives policy platform, released last summer, is demanding the reallocation of resources to improve and protect the lives of all Black people in the United States -- citizens, immigrants, cis, trans, queer, gender nonconforming, and differently-abled. And, in response to the Trump administration's deportation machine, cities are looking for ways to create safe spaces for immigrants and refugees in the sanctuary movement.
Earlier this year, a campaign was launched to extend these ideas to all marginalized groups that need safety. Named Freedom Cities, this campaign expands on the sanctuary movement to create a framework for cities to offer protection to all oppressed people in the United States.
Marginalized US Citizens Need Protection, Too
Historically, sanctuary cities or states have existed since slavery, when certain areas were identified as safe zones for enslaved Africans who had escaped their owners' plantations. But the term became more common in the 1980s, under the Reagan administration, when protests grew against federal immigration laws that prevented Central American refugees from gaining asylum in the United States. Pastors designated their churches as sanctuaries for the undocumented immigrants, who were poor and homeless. Today, this concept -- sanctuary as a strategy in which cities refuse to invest local resources in immigration enforcement -- does not go far enough, some say.
On Inauguration Day, a coalition of New York City-based organizations held a mass demonstration outside the Trump Hotel, demanding resources for oppressed communities not only to survive, but also to thrive. The coalition wants sanctuary to include the provision of safety for citizens who live in danger daily. Members ask, "Where is the sanctuary when ICE is setting up checkpoints and conducting raids in our communities? Where is the sanctuary for folks impacted by the War on Drugs, racial profiling, or police violence? Where is the sanctuary for people with convictions?" Cities, towns, and neighborhoods need to be safe for low-wage workers, Black, Latino, and Muslim Americans -- as well as immigrants -- they say.
Enlace, an international multicultural alliance of low-wage worker centers, unions, and community groups in NYC, is a member of the New York Worker Center Federation, the coalition that is organizing Freedom Cities. Enlace Executive Director Daniel Carrillo says the group is shifting how safety is defined.
"The way that Trump and past [presidential] administrations defined it was more prisons, more police in the streets, more deportation and detention," says Carrillo. The Freedom Cities campaign seeks to change that and look at what safety means for whole communities, he explains. "Because all those measures don't create safety actually. They create more of a police state for us."
The goal of Freedom Cities, he adds, is for all people to be safe and free from the threat of physical violence and economic disadvantage: immigrants -- documented or undocumented -- people with criminal convictions, workers, gender nonconforming folks, the poor, and all people of color.
Freedom Cities Strategy and Framework
Days after the 2016 presidential election, the plan for Freedom Cities emerged at a meeting run by NYWCF, a multicultural coalition of organizations for the rights of workers, immigrants, and people of color. The coalition wasn't just responding to the election. It sought to address the violence and oppression against marginalized groups that had been taking place for years. In particular, coalition members looked to the deaths of Garner and Delfino Velazquez -- a New York construction worker who in November 2014 was killed on the job because of contractor negligence -- and the addition of 1,300 NYPD officers the following year. While city officials proclaimed more police officers meant safer neighborhoods, these activists disagreed.
So they have developed the Freedom Cities campaign to create safer communities. The demands in the framework are inspired by various social justice organizations' campaigns over the past decade. Members studied sanctuary city tenets and the Movement for Black Lives policy platform. The Freedom Cities campaign builds on these movements and applies their core principles to issues of immigrant rights, police brutality, gender justice, and state violence. The result is a six-point platform for what the campaign will work toward. This includes:
1. Ending Criminalization
Divest from policing and militarization and invest in programs that produce real public safety, such as mental health services and restorative practices. This includes campaigns to end practices such as broken windows policing.
2. Economic Justice and Workers Rights
Create labor protections, jobs, and employment opportunities for workers. Engage in efforts to combat discrimination, increase wages, and protect the right to organize.
3. Investment in People and Planet
Divert resources toward communities' basic needs, including housing, education, health, (nutritious) food, and safety net programs. Protect our communities from environmental injustices.
4. Community Control
Gain real control of the institutions that people interact with daily, including police and other public agencies.
5. Community Defense
Establish systems of self-defense in neighborhoods to protect rights and dignity.
6. Global Justice
Link national struggles for liberation with others across the world. Recognize that our identities and migration histories connect us globally, and that we are part of an international movement of those who believe that everybody deserves safety and freedom.
Organizers say the action plans are still in development. However, one tactic that Freedom Cities is looking to engage in initially and build upon is Hate Free Zones.
Hate Free Zones, Peace Zones for Life
A model for Hate Free Zones currently exists in Detroit under the designation Peace Zones for Life. For the past five years, Peace Zones has worked to address community violence and interpersonal conflict, which organizers say can bring about police violence when officers are called to scenes of crime or domestic disputes.
The group facilitates community meetings, where participants discuss "what peace zones look and feel like." Organizers have found that sometimes discord comes from the feeling of being ignored. The meetings allow all voices at the table to be heard and space for leaders to emerge within the community.
Artwork plays a role in Peace Zones, too, and the campaign works to beautify neighborhoods to let potential troublemakers know that crime is not welcome, and lessen the need for heavy police presence in their neighborhoods.
Similarly, Freedom Cities' Hate Free Zones seek to end the practice of broken windows policing by restoring and reclaiming neighborhoods through resources that could prevent community violence. The Hate Free Zones campaign extends to Islamophobia, misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia.
"I know that there are neighborhood watch groups that work with the police, but in these times where you have to watch out for your neighbors and police from attacking you, this is the alternative for targeted communities and their allies to organize and create safe communities," Carrillo.
When Freedom Cities launched in January, it attracted the attention of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, where Black Lives Matter co-founder Opal Tometi is a member. The two organizations have partnered with NYWCF's Freedom Cities campaign.
"What many people don't know is that Black immigrants, like African Americans [and Latinos], live in communities subjected to over-policing, racial profiling, and practices such as broken windows, that result in them experiencing criminal contact more often than their White counterparts, and ultimately disproportionate deportation rates," says Carl Lipscombe, deputy director of BAJI. For this reason, BAJI has led and participated in a number of campaigns that build toward freedom cities over the past few years.
While it's not the first time multicultural alliances have formed in social justice movements, members recognize the challenges and benefits of working together.
"It takes incredible humility and strength to reach out or to accept a call from someone reaching out to restore bridges, or build new ones," Carrillo says. "It is definitely a process … of learning from each other and developing trust."
The process, he says, includes learning how to talk about each others' issues and using messaging that does not undermine one another's work.
So, unity building is necessary, especially in this time of fear and separation of families, says Rosanna Rodríguez, the co-executive director of Laundry Workers Center, another member organization of the NYWCF. Rodríguez says the Freedom Cities campaign creates a safe space to unite.
"Freedom Cities brings to our work the real solidarity [among] the different groups … working with the same purpose together. Our struggles for liberation have always been linked with others across the world."
Now that former Trump University pitchman Donald Trump is the President of the United States, his Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, appears ready to gut the efforts made by the Obama Administration to hold for-profit colleges accountable for engaging in the same kind of deceptive, predatory behavior exhibited by Trump's real estate "school." A for-profit college industry that was in despair, after its hyper-aggressive lobbying strategy ultimately failed in the Obama era, has been miraculously rescued by the election of a president who promised to stand up for the forgotten man and woman but instead, on issue after issue, is standing with wealthy barons who prey on struggling Americans.
And now, the disgraceful for-profit college industry is gearing up to spend more money -- to spend your tax dollars, since many industry players get 80 to 90 percent of their revenue from federal aid -- not on teaching, but on lobbying to make sure it gets everything it wants from the Trump years. Of course, high-priced Washington lobbyists, Republicans and, to the extent they are needed, Democrats, are ready to answer the call. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) once said that the for-profit colleges "own every lobbyist in town," and it appears this industry still strives for that goal.
Here's the rundown of some of who's lobbying for whom (per the latest congressional lobby disclosure forms):
Career Education Colleges and Universities (CECU)
Former Congressman Steve Gunderson (R-WI) spectacularly mismanaged the strategy of the national for-profit college trade association CECU, keeping in the fold member schools even after they were exposed as systematic frauds, and eventually losing the policy and public relations battle and losing numerous members. In the wake of the debacle, Gunderson has abandoned his unquestioning boosterism and has been trying a more confessional approach: admitting that for-profit schools "grew too much, too fast," even acknowledging in private discussions that these schools focused on signing up students sometimes without regard to the students' capacity to succeed in a program.
But now, Gunderson claims, the for-profit college industry is completely healed and is non-stop focusing on programs that actually train students for careers. Yet, although predatory companies like Corinthian, ITT Tech, FastTrain, and ATI are no longer part of CECU, because they went out of business under the weight of fraud investigations, Gunderson's membership roster still includes such predatory companies as: CollegeAmerica, currently being sued for fraud by the U.S. Justice Department and the state of Colorado; Daymar College, which in 2015 paid $12.4 million to settle charges by Kentucky's attorney general that it engaged in deceptive practices; Lincoln Tech, which in 2015 paid $1 million to settle claims by the Massachusetts attorney general that it inflated job placement numbers and employed unfair recruiting tactics; and Globe University, which the U.S. Department of Education cut off from student aid last year after a Minnesota court ruled that the company had used deceptive practices.
When Members of Congress, representatives of legitimate higher education groups, and others, meet with Gunderson, they should keep in mind that he still represents such fraudulent enterprises.
Last week a new lobbying firm registered to represent CECU: the powerhouse Podesta Group. Started by Democrats, Podesta is now heavily stocked with Republicans, including Lauren Maddox, who formerly lobbied for CECU and for-profit Career Education Corp. and this year helped shepherd DeVos through her shaky confirmation hearing. But now it appears that CECU has re-engaged Podesta to try to deliver some Democrats back into the for-profit fold. The Podesta lobbyists hired this time include Dana Thompson, former chief counsel to Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), and Oscar Ramirez, former top aide to Obama Secretary of Labor, and before that congresswoman, Hilda Solis (D-CA).
Gunderson and others in his industry have consistently argued that taxpayers should be forced to fund for-profit colleges because they cater to what they call "minority" students, conveniently missing the point that there's a difference between genuinely educating students of color and simply enrolling them in overpriced, low-quality programs that instead ruin their financial futures. Fortunately, Rep. Waters, one of the leaders in the fight to protect students and taxpayers from predatory colleges, is unlikely to be swayed by these kinds of arguments, and neither will others in Congress who have put conscience over campaign contributions when it comes to this issue.
The Podesta lobbyists join a CECU lobby team that already includes Kimberly Dorgan of Signal Group Consulting Group (who got $50,000 from CECU in the first three months of 2017) and former congressman Henry Bonilla (R-TX) ($30,000). Inside CECU, Gunderson has Michael Dakduk, Executive Vice President and Director of Government Relations, who leveraged his stint as head of Student Veterans of America, tilting that group to favor for-profits, to get the CECU job. (SVA now has strong, principled leadership and fights to protect veterans from predatory schools.)
The University of Phoenix
The largest for-profit college, the University of Phoenix, is now under new private equity ownership, but much of its prior lobbying team remains involved. Democrat Alfred Mottur and his team at Brownstein Hyatt got $40,000 last quarter from Phoenix's operator, Apollo Education Group, and another $280,000 from various components of Apollo Global Management, one of Apollo Education's new owners. Democrat Steve Elmendorf, who runs the lobby firm Subject Matter, got another $50,000 from Apollo Education, while Crossroads Strategies, which includes Jake Perry, a former "senior political advisor and confidante" to ex-Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid (D-NV), got another $50,000, and Penn Hill Group, which includes Alex Nock, a former Democratic deputy staff director of the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor under Representative George Miller (D-CA), got $40,000. (The same Penn Hill team also lobbies for for-profit Laureate Education – $20,000 in the same period.) The company also reports $310,000 for the last quarter in in-house lobbying, with staffers Joanna Acocella and Conwey Casillas listed.
In recent years, the University of Phoenix, which has been getting some $2 billion a year from taxpayers, has been under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education, Department of Defense, Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Securities and Exchange Commission, and the attorneys general of California, Delaware, Florida, and Massachusetts.
Bridgepoint, getting about $640 million a year from taxpayers, last summer beefed up its lobby team by adding former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-KS) and his team from Alston & Bird ($50,000 for the first quarter of 2017).
Bridgepoint has been under investigation for fraud and other abuses by four federal agencies and five state attorneys general.
Other lobby firms that continue to represent Bridgepoint are the big national law firm Holland & Knight ($30,000), including lawyers Paul Bock, who was chief of staff for Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), and Richard Gold, who worked in the Clinton administration; and Fierce Government Relations ($60,000), including Kirk Blalock, a White House aide to George W. Bush. Bridgepoint also reported $150,000 worth of lobbyist expenses in-house, listing lobbyist Jeffrey Pannozzo.
But Bridgepoint has one more key in-house presence -- inside the Department of Education. Robert Eitel, who initially joined Betsy DeVos's team at the Department while taking an unpaid leave of absence as vice president for regulatory legal services at Bridgepoint, is playing a major role on for-profit college issues, having formally recused himself from some matters, but not all.
Career Education Corp.
Before working at Bridgepoint, Robert Eitel was at Career Education Corp., whose current outside lobbying ($30,000 last quarter) is handled by Tony Guida of the law firm Duane Morris. Guida was previously in-house at predatory, now-collapsed Corinthian Colleges, and before that predatory EDMC.
In recent years, Career Education Corp. has been getting some $800 million a year from taxpayers. It's been under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission; Securities and Exchange Commission; attorneys general of Arkansas, Arizona, Connecticut, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington, Illinois, Tennessee, Hawaii, New Mexico, Maryland, Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, and the District of Columbia.
Registered lobbyists for DeVry include Kenneth Salomon of Thompson Coburn ($60,000), Randy Nuckolls of the firm Dentons US ($30,000), and Moises Vela Jr. ($25,500), who formerly worked in the White House for Vice President Joe Biden. (Heather Podesta + Partners received $1,390,000 from DeVry for lobbying between 2010 and the termination of the relationship in mid-2015.)
Devry, which has been getting nearly $1.5 billion annually from taxpayers, has in recent years been under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission, U.S. Department of Education, and the attorneys general of Illinois, Massachusetts, and New York.
With Keiser University head Arthur Keiser, long a dominant figure in CECU, now somehow the chair of the Department of Education's advisory committee on accreditation, despite his school's troubling record, the school has brought on a new lobbying team, to supplement its long-time outside lobbyist Terrence C. Wolfe ($15,000 last quarter). Keiser's new lobbyists, registered last week, are none other than The McKeon Group, headed by former congressman Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-CA), who as chairman of the House education committee worked to block measures to hold predatory colleges accountable, as he accepted campaign contributions from the industry and even owned shares in Corinthian Colleges. It's not disclosed yet what McKeon will get paid to lobby for the industry he once protected as a lawmaker, but Keiser University has been getting at least 86 percent of its $390 million annual revenue from U.S. taxpayers, so it's good to know we're still supporting McKeon to do Keiser's bidding.
Kaplan, which earlier this year proposed a dubious plan to be purchased by Purdue University, continues to rely on in-house lobbyist Rebecca Campoverde and reported $70,000 in expenditures in the first-quarter. Donald Graham, chair of Kaplan's parent, Graham Holdings, has been Kaplan's dominant lobbyist, leveraging his relationships and status as the once-owner of the Washington Post newspaper to press against college accountability measures, and lately to build support for the troubling Purdue deal.
Kaplan has been getting some $875 million a year from U.S. taxpayers. In recent years, it's been under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice; U.S. Department of Education; and the attorneys general of Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, and North Carolina.
Education Management Corp. (EDMC)
Now seeking to be taken over by the Los Angeles-based faith-oriented non-profit Dream Center in a highly questionable transaction, financially shaky and ethically troubled EDMC (nearly $1.5 billion annually in federal aid in recent years) last year terminated its previous lobbyists, Prime Policy Group, including Charles R. Black (former principal in a lobby firm with Trump associates Paul Manafort and Roger Stone), and Barnes & Thornburgh LLP. No lobbyists are currently registered.
This accounting represents just some of the major players in the industry; there are more companies engaged in lobbying. And none of the lobbying disclosure information covers the names and fees of strategic advisors, public relations experts, lawyers, celebrity endorsers, and other non-lobbyist lobbyists paid by the industry to try to influence the outcome of the fight. So the total bill for this activity -- pressuring DeVos and Congress to step up efforts to unleash predatory college abuses -- is hard to calculate. What is clear, given that many for-profit colleges get most of their money from federal dollars, is that you're paying for it.
I also would be curious to know what has motivated ex-congressman Allen West (R-FL) to write a vehement attack on critics of predatory colleges, entitled "Obama's Progressive Socialist Attempt to Destroy Private College Education in America," for the conservative website TownHall.com -- and what motivated West or Town Hall to revise the piece later the same day. Hard to tell if my tweet about a false and defamatory passage in the original version -- see below -- was a factor in shaping the feeble revision, further below.
Health care activists gather outside Trump Tower to "declare healthcare a human right," near Trump Tower, January 13, 2017 in New York City. (Photo: Drew Angerer / Getty Images)
Medicare for All has massive public support and yet politicians, including most Democrats in Washington, oppose the issue and claim the country is not ready for it. Who are the opponents of single-payer who are causing this disconnect and making the fight for health care justice so difficult? A very small but powerful group connected to insurance, pharmaceuticals and for-profit hospitals, among others.
Health care activists gather outside Trump Tower to "declare healthcare a human right," near Trump Tower, January 13, 2017 in New York City. (Photo: Drew Angerer / Getty Images)
This piece is part of Fighting for Our Lives: The Movement for Medicare for All, a Truthout original series.
It has become fashionable to write premature obituaries of the Senate bill to "repeal and replace" the Affordable Care Act, using hyperbolic and misleading language. The Senate bill, according to varying headlines, is "in peril," on "life support" and "dead on arrival." These stories should be of little comfort given that the exact same headlines were published prior to the House passing its version of the repeal. That bill was also reportedly "on the verge of collapse," "in tatters," "flailing" and even "dead."
Such sentiment could give Americans a false sense of complacency. There is still a real danger that this contemptible bill, which according to the Congressional Budget Office would lead to 22 million Americans becoming uninsured, will still become law. Considering this, stopping this legislation -- which repeals Medicaid as much as it does the ACA -- should remain the top short-term priority for advocates of health care justice.
But the fight to stop Trumpcare must also be part of a wider struggle for health care justice. The threat of this contemptible legislation alone has demonstrated that it is morally indefensible to leave anyone without coverage. As a result, the argument for single-payer health care is starting to make sense to a lot of people, including a record number of Congress members and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who publicly came out in favor of the policy in a Wall Street Journal article last week.
What Constituency Is Being Served in Washington?
Indeed, it is a testament to this growing support for single-payer that the New York Times devoted a front-page story to the issue in June. "The Single-payer Party? Democrats Shift Left on Health Care," the headline read. But while a front-page story on momentum for Medicare for All is a welcome sight for advocates, the article amplifies a falsehood that reflects why the policy remains so elusive.
"Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, replied with a flat 'no' when asked if Democrats should make single-payer a central theme in 2018," the Times reported. "The comfort level with the broader base of the American people is not there yet," Pelosi said.
The House minority leader, however, is wrong. Polls show the public supports "Medicare for all," and has for years. A recent Economist/YouGov poll, for instance, shows 60 percent support for the policy, including 75 percent of Democrats. Even a plurality of Republicans supports single payer: 46 percent support Medicare for All, compared with 38 percent opposed. (Seventeen percent are not sure.)
This begs the questions: If Medicare for All has popular support why do power brokers like Pelosi claim it isn't viable? What constituency is not "comfortable" with a more efficient system that would provide universal health care? It is an especially relevant question now when we see Republicans go full bore trying to pass a bill that has only 12 percent support from the public, according to a USA Today poll.
The fact is that a very small and powerful group of rich people would be a little less rich if single-payer became a reality. "Insurance and pharmaceutical firms are the most important opponents of single payer," said Dr. David Himmelstein, a founder of Physicians for a National Health Program, in an interview with Truthout. For-profit hospitals and manufacturers of medical devices oppose single-payer for the same reasons, he added.
These industries, and not the public, are the constituency who are not "comfortable," with Medicare for All. This group might represent a very small number of people, but it is disproportionately powerful. In fact, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, Pelosi gets more money from health services than from any other industry -- more than double the amount she receives from public-sector unions and investment firms combined:
A screen shot of data from the Center for Responsive Politics shows the industries who spent the most in lobbying in 2016. Health-related industries accounted for four of the top six sectors. (Credit: Center for Responsive Politics)
From a wider angle, the attack on single payer (and Medicaid for that matter) is, like so much of the neoliberal agenda, a form of class warfare that seeks to privatize and commodify almost everything. The goal is to add to the enormous fortunes of corporations and billionaires while, in the words of Eugene Debs, "millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence." These forces are emboldened by the ever-pervasive role of money in politics and enabled by the corporate-owned media establishment, which reliably serves elite interests.
Other enemies of single-payer include the American Medical Association (AMA), AARP, the Koch Brothers and the Chamber of Commerce. Even some ostensibly liberal advocacy groups, particularly those with industry funding, have also served as an obstacle to single-payer.
Understanding the nature of the opposition is a necessary, if daunting, step for advocates of health care justice to take on the road to making this reform a reality.
Single-Payer: An Existential Threat to the For-Profit Industry
The most significant enemies are health insurance and drug companies. "A single-payer reform would end insurers' role in the health care system, essentially wiping out their entire business," Himmelstein said.
The health sector spent more than $500 million on lobbying in 2016 and several billion in the last decade, according to the Center for Responsive Politics' data. Lobbying from pharmaceutical firms accounts for almost half of the overall spending, totaling a little more than $245 million.
(Chart: Michael Corcoran / Truthout; Data is from the Center for Responsive Politics)
"The [pharmaceutical] industry has never lacked for resources to amplify its voice in politics and policy making. Since 1999, pharmaceutical firms and health product companies have poured more money annually into lobbying than any other industry, including $229 million last year alone. PhRMA [Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America] led the group, plowing $16.6 million into helping advance drug makers' priorities in Washington," observed a report by the Center for Responsive Politics.
The insurance industry has even more at stake. American Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) is the primary lobby for health insurers. Russell Mokhiber of Single Payer Action once described the lobby as "public enemy number one," and "the most aggressive opponent to single payer."
"The health insurance corporations must die so that the American people can live," he said.
Indeed, a true single-payer system would effectively abolish private health insurance as we know it. Therefore, the insurance lobby will always oppose any shift away from our system, which provides it with billions in profit every year. UnitedHealth Group, for instance, took in $185 billion in revenue in 2016, up $28 billion from 2015, according to its shareholder report released in January. The report "estimated revenues of $197 billion to $199 billion" in 2017.
AHIP has donated more than $250,000 to 100 Congress members in the current election cycle; 59 percent of that went to Republicans. The group has 36 registered lobbyists, and a startling 76 percent of them have been through the "revolving door," according to the Center for Responsive Politics' data: They formerly worked for the US government. Kyle Nevins, a lobbyist from Harbinger Strategies, spent "over a decade on Capitol Hill working with the House Republican Leadership."
Another AHIP lobbyist, Aryana Khalid, worked for prominent Democrats until recently. She was chief of staff to the director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) and a project director for the Affordable Care Act, and spent years working for Democrats. Her Twitter account is filled with support for the Affordable Care Act and critiques of Trump, but her day job is to help maximize profits for the nation's biggest opponent of universal health care.
How the Industry Shapes the Debate
These industries have not been forced to actively lobby against a single-payer bill since none have come close to becoming law. Insurance and drug companies, however, have attacked single-payer successfully in other ways for years, using misinformation campaigns decrying the evils of "socialized medicine." Wendell Potter, the former CIGNA executive who has turned into an advocate for health care justice, has described this sinister work from an insider's point of view. He observed that a front group, Health Care America, founded largely by drug companies and maintained with the help of AHIP and the PR firm APCO Worldwide, existed "for the sole purpose of attacking" Michael Moore's film Sicko -- released 10 years ago this month.
AHIP's planning documents for its strategy to counter Sicko's influence are quite revelatory. They show an industry that greatly fears a blossoming movement for single-payer, cautioning lobbyists to "prepare for the worst." The documents outline plans to ally with corporate/centrist groups like the Democratic Leadership Council and the Progressive Policy Institute, and to shape "media coverage to reflect the industry position" and highlight "horror stories" of government-run systems.
These industries have also spent decades smearing the Canadian health care system, which is universal, far less expensive and beloved by citizens of the country. "Over the course of a two-decade career as a health insurance executive, I spent hours and hours implementing my industry's ongoing propaganda campaign to mislead people about the Canadian health care system," Potter once said to a Canadian audience, noting he had yet to "encounter a single Canadian who didn't talk about their Medicare program with pride."
These campaigns to spread falsehoods about government-run health care have been quite effective. As of this writing, searching for "Canada" and "health care" via Google, pulls up numerous attacks about the "ugly truth" of the Canadian system and articles that describe Canada's embrace of universal health care as a "cautionary tale."
Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) has documented for years how the corporate media has been dismissive of single-payer -- when they give it any attention at all. That bias continues to this day. The Times's front page article on June 3 cited a poll saying there is only "40 percent" support for single-payer, even though when the language "Medicare for All" is used, support is near or above 60 percent. There was no mention of these polls, or other polls showing that the insurance industry is no longer succeeding in making "single-payer" into a pejorative term.
The dominant media, however, have played right into the industry's hands. AHIP's president was given space in USA Today to advance the industry narrative after Sicko was released. CNN famously ran a smear job by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, which Gupta later begrudgingly confessed contained provable falsehoods. The response from Washington Post staff writer Stephen Hunter to Moore was similar to the most common (and spurious) straw man attacks against Bernie Sanders: that the left thinks health care can be "free." In reality, single-payer health care is not free, it is simply paid for by taxes rather than by co-pays, premiums, and so on.
This attack was used not only by the usual suspects, but also by some self-identified progressives. This is also an obstacle to single-payer. Some liberal groups like Health Care for America Now, the Center for American Progress, and the Urban Institute, have not come out in support of single-payer and sometimes attack it. They also tend to cut it out of the conversation entirely. For instance, a search of the website for Health Care for America Now for the term "single payer" yields zero results. These groups narrow the parameters of debate to the exclusion of the most humane and efficient solution.
Single-Payer as Class Warfare
Opponents of single-payer, as noted above, are not merely those in the health sector. By and large, the top 1 percent of the population -- the billionaire class, as Sanders would call it -- embraces privatization of most things, including health care.
A Center for Public Integrity (CPI) analysis of Senate lobbying disclosure forms from 2010 "shows that more than 1,750 companies and organizations hired about 4,525 lobbyists -- eight for each member of Congress -- to influence health reform bills in 2009."
The industry's money did not go to waste.
"A close look at the health reform bills that passed the House and Senate show lobbyists were apparently effective at blocking provisions like a robust government-run insurance program," the CPI analysis observed.
But the health industry was not the only powerful player working to quash single payer. The US Chamber of Commerce, for instance, was hiring lobbyists to shape the federal reform. They were also active in successfully opposing state-wide single-payer efforts in Colorado and Vermont. Koch-funded groups like Americans for Prosperity, the Independence Institute and the Ethan Allen Institute also contributed to the battle to halt momentum for Medicare for All. More recently a bill in California for a state-wide single-payer died in the State Assembly on June 23. The Chamber has been attacking the bill as a "job killer" before the Democrats pulled the legislation back.
The Koch brothers aren't even active in the for-profit health industry; they deal largely in energy. But pushing back against single-payer is aligned with their wider goal: shrinking government as much as possible.
"If single payer ever took off anywhere, it could threaten their anti-government messages," Mary Bottari, of the Center for Media and Democracy, told Truthout in a previous interview about the Kochs' activities on health policy.
Single Payer and the Fight for Social Democracy
In this sense, we see how single payer is not merely a threat to the insurance industry; it is also a boon to democracy. Its passage would threaten part of the top 1 percent of Americans -- the constituents politicians care most about. Their ability to keep that level of influence is threatened if the public can enforce its will and win single-payer, either in a state or nationally.
This is one of many reasons why the battle for single-payer is about much more than health care policy. How a nation treats its sick people says something about the country's ability to have a functioning social democracy. Winning this battle against single-payer's powerful enemies would not only be good for the health of the nation; it would serve as an enormous victory for the movement for social justice more broadly.
The Government will apply for a secret hearing in a challenge to a prosecution decision for the first time in a case stemming from the involvement of a senior MI6 officer in the abduction and ‘rendition’ of two families to Gaddafi’s Libya, it emerged today.
(Image: GetUpStudio / iStock / Getty Images Plus)
This is the first July 4 of the Donald Trump era, and I am at a loss. At bottom, this nation is an idea held together only by the will of good people. I do not intend to let Donald Trump or anyone else doom that idea, not within reach of my good right arm.
(Image: GetUpStudio / iStock / Getty Images Plus)
This is the first July 4 of the Donald Trump era, and I am at a loss. It hasn't been six months since his inaugural carnage, and already I feel like I'm a mile underwater with a boulder tied to both feet. You can't even see the daylight when you're down this deep. The pressure is crushing, and my lungs are screaming for air.
His every spoken word is a punishing humiliation. "I have, seem to get very high ratings," he told the Associated Press not long ago. "It's the highest they've ever had. On any, on air, [CBS 'Face the Nation' host John] Dickerson had 5.2 million people. It's the highest for 'Face the Nation' or as I call it, 'Deface the Nation.' It's the highest for 'Deface the Nation' since the World Trade Center. Since the World Trade Center came down. It's a tremendous advantage."
That's one comment. Just one. In it, he brags about getting high ratings as if he were still a reality TV star instead of the president of the United States before going on to say that getting more viewers than the attacks of September 11 did is a "tremendous advantage." In the middle, he coughed up that hairball of a joke about the show's name like a little kid who thinks he just invented something. This kind of thing has been happening every day since he slithered into office, and every time it does, we are all diminished like Donne's promontory.
Trump didn't know about all the tax cuts for rich people in the Senate's latest Affordable Care Act-repeal bill. He believes "internet taxes" exist. He gleefully gives away incredibly sensitive intelligence data to visiting Russian swells while sitting in the Oval Office, and all on camera. He probably couldn't find North Korea on a map. He leers like a lecher at Irish reporters who are just trying to do their job. Visiting dignitaries and world leaders approach him as if he were a bag of live snakes. The man quite literally appears entirely incapable of shame.
A slice of the population cheers this on because, as Alfred said of the Joker, some just want to see the world burn. He plays to them like the jolly wrecker he is while his friends in Congress conspire to steal as much as they can scrounge for their wealthy benefactors. Whenever his cratering approval ratings have him down in the dumps, he holds medieval pep rallies and whoops it up with stream-of-consciousness gibberish generously flecked with bile.
Thanks to this small fraction of a man, the caricature of dominant US culture that Hunter S. Thompson produced almost 50 years ago is gaining new relevance every day: "We are really just a nation of 220 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns, and no qualms at all about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable."
Donald Trump is our salesman-in-chief, his absurd comb-over a capstone stacked upon the gruesome dark side of our worst collective attributes: Greed, fear, spite, malice, rage, hate, disdain and cheerfully willful ignorance. This is his core essence, and our cross to bear.
I am at a loss, so I choose to take today and ruminate on some beliefs I have held close and dear for a very long time. Here's what I think; your mileage may vary: The United States is not entirely limited by its history as a settler colony, a dumping ground for England's poor and unwanted or as a society built on slavery. It's also more than a geographic location or a place on a rock in space.
The US is indeed all of these things, but it's also an idea. Some words on old parchment we could choose to live by, created in a time of extreme violence and brutality. The idea began and remains deeply flawed, but it was gifted with the capacity for self-improvement right alongside its capacity for self-destruction. We have seen our fair share of both over the years; for every Dred Scott decision there is a Civil Rights Act, for every Dick Cheney there is an Archibald Cox.
The only thing holding the idea together is the thing that makes it beautiful and so terribly vulnerable: The will of good people to hold to the idea and their desire to let no one be above it or undermine it. If we have that, we can hope for a future that begins to address some of the harms engrained in the founding of the United States. If we lose this idea, we are doomed.
I do not intend to let Donald Trump or anyone else doom that idea, not within reach of my good right arm. It is bigger than he is, bigger than all of us and very much worth fighting for. When I watch my daughter gasp in awe at the bursting colors in the sky tonight, that is what I will be celebrating: A flawed idea with a strong heart, and the will of good people to keep it alive.
Happy Fourth of July.
The United States has entered a new phase of residential foreclosure. The basic narrative is shocking: House-flippers are being allowed to push troubled homeowners out of their houses. As a neighbor of mine said, succinctly, "It's cheaper for them."
In an ugly way, house flipping is a sweet deal in any area where the house market has rebounded, as in metropolitan Washington, DC, where I live, with eager buyers and reduced home inventory.
Instead of waiting for a house to come on the market and negotiating with a voluntary seller who could make decent terms for the sale, the house flippers enter the foreclosure pipeline. Once the homeowner is pushed out, the flipper gets the house for a song. The price tends to be even lower than the price of a house already foreclosed, and vacant, where the seller would be the bank. The flipping company is already in touch with the lender (see below), so the process is fairly red-tape-free, especially when the company makes hundreds of these foreclosures. Then the flippers can sell the house quickly, because they sell below market price. They still make a handsome profit. And the houses -- having been lived in -- tend to be in better shape than vacant properties; often there is good equity to boot, since reluctant sellers may have been living in their home for some time. Selling the houses at a below-market price then depresses local house values.
How does all this happen? In a hideous irony, house flippers are allowed into the foreclosure process as "substitute trustees." The bank or lender holding the mortgage is often based out of state. When a homeowner falls into financial difficulties -- such as job loss or medical bills -- the lender may, in effect, turn the delinquent account over to an in-state firm. Whether advertising as law firms, real estate investment facilitators, "creditors' rights" companies or foreclosure attorneys, the firms are in effect debt collectors -- agencies that buy up delinquent credit-card accounts on the cheap, and then try to recoup from the small debtors.
They are also, in effect, house flippers. The national passion for "house-flipping" has been fueled by television, where it is entertainment as well as finance. (Disclosure -- while I myself have not done any flipping, I support home renovation and/or home improvement, preferably keeping as much debris as possible out of landfill.) But this is a different process than going into a vacant, derelict house and fixing it up to sell.
The practice is national, with some variation by local real estate market. For me, it is also personal and local, direct from a sixtyish neighbor of mine, weeping in my living room. From a hard-working immigrant family, she has lived in her home since 1998. She has been trying to stave off foreclosure since 2014. I know her; I have seen and copied some of the legal documents; I've been in her house. She is the rightful owner; she has a relative who can make terms on the payments. But a house flipper wants the house, and once the bank turns over the mortgage to a "substitute trustee" there is little legal obligation for him to make terms. My neighbor is not even upside-down on her mortgage, so this flipper -- if he wins in court -- will get substantial equity as well as a house in a good neighborhood.
The process is toxic. 1.) The homeowner gets into trouble and falls behind on payments -- like my neighbor, who paid many thousands in medical bills for her late parents instead of just defaulting on the bills. 2.) The bank turns the mortgage over to a real estate-flipping company as "substitute trustees." 3.) The house flippers work first with the lender and then with some too-friendly judges to push out the homeowner via court action.
It goes without saying that the substitute trustees have better access to lawyers and courts than do the troubled homeowners. Legal aid for the indigent may not be available for someone who still owns her house -- ironically. Help from friends and relatives, and the occasional pro bono legal work, may well be the only options. The option offered by advocacy groups or other realtors is too often only an unwanted "short sale," i.e. loss of the house she is trying to keep.
Yet more ironically, the trustees are supposed to be assisting the courts and thus the public; hence the term "trustee." Instead, as said, they have a direct pecuniary interest in getting persons out of their home instead of helping them stay in it. This process can involve illegal tactics as well as borderline legalities. But when the homeowner is already troubled, there is far too little redress even for open and apparent, documented illegality.
For the record, reducing the "foreclosure backlog" is not the same as reducing foreclosures. Cutting the Gordian knot is not always the best idea or in the public interest.
Tactics that this writer has seen and heard include posting a fake abandoned-property notice on the door of a house the owner is living in; filing fraudulent claims of ownership in courts which lack jurisdiction in foreclosure cases; getting court orders from courts which lack jurisdiction to grant foreclosure motions; and appearing in court claiming to be a third-party "intervenor" while actually a party (the house flipper) in the foreclosure.
Some foreclosure firms have become notorious, and on some there is information online. One source is attorney Neil Garfield's website titled Living Lies (Livinglies.wordpress.com), which includes a list of known "foreclosure mills" (though somewhat outdated) by state. The non-profit Pro Publica (ProPublica.org) has also published information on foreclosure mills, as have the magazine American Prospect and the website Above the Law (AboveTheLaw.com). Some material has gone out of date, now that the immediate consequences of the 2008 mortgage-derivatives debacle are less feverish.
But the long-term consequences are still with us. One foreclosure group in Maryland is involved in hundreds of foreclosures, largely in Prince George's County (DC suburbs). The county's diverse population is officially "majority-minority" and the real estate market includes many immigrant families, first-time home buyers and members of historically excluded groups. And, as mentioned, this is a region where the real estate market is picking up and house hunters are eager to buy. All in all, it's the perfect storm -- houses easy to pick up, from a population easy to pick on, by judges who largely did not get picked by the public.
Antonio Espree's ear-to-ear smile is the biggest I've ever seen. It nearly outshines the radiance I heard in his voice over the phone when scheduling the interview for this article. "Anytime. I'm free!" he exclaimed when I asked about a good time to meet.
His response was loaded with meaning. At 17, when most of his peers were preparing to graduate from high school, a judge was sentencing Espree to natural life in prison without the possibility of parole.
After serving nearly three decades of that time, he stands -- a middle-aged man -- on the front porch of his attorney's Ann Arbor, Michigan, home, waiting to greet me as I exit my car. Espree, now 46, is indeed free.
But his freedom has come at a steep price.
Just 45 minutes up the highway is his hometown of Detroit, where a dysfunctional and abusive childhood led to an incident that would rob him of 29 years of his life.
Espree's story is a textbook case of what can happen when children lack love and attention in an abusive home. And the evolution of his case reflects a nationwide movement to address the way underage offenders are treated in the justice system.
For a teenage Espree, street life provided what home life with parents addicted to drugs and booze did not -- the feeling that he mattered. By age 15, he was skipping school and had run away from home.
Within months of being released from a center for delinquent boys, he became involved in drug-related activity that led to a shootout with rivals. A bystander was killed -- struck by a bullet from Espree's gun. And at 16, he was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.
"I couldn't comprehend it," Espree said of his teen years. "I was still thinking 'I'mma get out.' I really didn't understand the magnitude of everything. Somehow I equated prison to the youth home."
A Model in New York, but Not in Michigan
Espree is one of 364 individuals who were age 17 or younger when the state of Michigan sentenced them to life without parole. That represents almost 15 percent of the 2,500 juvenile lifers in the United States. Only the state of Pennsylvania has more.
Across the country there is a movement -- in communities, in the courts, and in legislatures -- to not only raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction and end the practice of trying 16- and 17-year-olds as adults, but also to give second chances to those who've served time, or are currently incarcerated.
In New York, where 16-year-olds facing criminal charges are automatically placed in the adult system, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed a bill supporting the Raise the Age campaign, to set the adult criminal responsibility age at 18 and prohibit minors from being held in any adult facility.
Cuomo has also created a youth pardon program for former offenders who committed a nonsexual, nonviolent crime when they were 16 or 17 and who remain conviction-free for at least 10 years.
Recipients of the pardon have their criminal records sealed from the public, creating greater opportunities for them to obtain employment and housing. More than 10,000 people in New York qualify for pardon and more than 100 have received it.
Angel Rodriguez, who's been working with juvenile offenders in New York City for more than 30 years, said he's glad that under the Raise the Age bill, 16- and 17-year-old will no longer be held on Rikers Island. "That place is a hellhole for kids," said Rodriguez, executive director of Avenues for Justice Andrew Glover Youth Program in New York.
Alternative-to-incarceration programs like his have benefited thousands of young people since the late 1980s, when states began cracking down on juvenile crime. And while Avenues' focus is on incarcerated youth, its work also includes prevention. About 350 youth a year benefit from workshops and education programs that keep them from going to jail.
It takes only two minutes for a kid to get into the kind of trouble that could alter his life. And with such easy access to drugs and gang violence in inner cities, Rodriguez said, his organization tries to steer kids from such activity.
From getting youth back in school to work training and drug rehabilitation, he said, his agency is helping young people move their lives forward.
"I get a lot of kids out of jail," Rodriguez said. "I think it's important to society and the system, but I think that prevention is as important as anything else we do."
Supreme Court Rulings Pave the Way
What's happening in Michigan, meanwhile, is a model for what states should not do, said attorney Deborah LaBelle, a crusader for that state's juvenile lifers. "We've had some pretty repressive politics here for a number of years that have caused a lot of problems," said LaBelle. "We've actually been pretty recalcitrant to addressing these issues."
In 2010, LaBelle led an ACLU's lawsuit against the state of Michigan to overturn the juvenile lifer law. Her case was helped by a US Supreme Court ruling two years later in Miller v. Alabama that held that life without the possibility of parole for children constituted cruel and unusual punishment and was unconstitutional.
Despite that ruling, Michigan prosecutors chose to adhere to state law, which restricts the number of juveniles whose cases can be reheard for re-sentencing, and allows for prosecutors to select those cases. It was among several states that refused to rehear cases dating back to before 2012.
Last year, in another landmark case, Montgomery v. Louisiana, SCOTUS held that the Miller ruling retroactively applied to all those sentenced prior to 2012. This meant those who had been incarcerated for decades were eligible for re-sentencing. Approximately 2,100 juvenile lifers in 28 states were affected.
While Michigan county prosecutors have been slow to comply -- nearly 300 cases are still in review -- LaBelle is banking on a package of bills in the state legislature that would bring quicker results, by raising the age for life sentences to 18 and prohibiting the state from putting youth in adult prisons. It would also prevent youth under 21 from being put in solitary confinement. "So, if you're going to look at a model, it would be helpful to look at the package of youth bills that Michigan hasn't voted on yet," LaBelle said.
If passed and signed into law, LaBelle said, the policies would save money and lives, adding that "we fail kids and then punish them for our own failures.
"It would address the fact that a hugely disproportionate percentage of the youth are youth of color … reflective of who doesn't have the resources to get out of the harshest sentences," she said.
Although the future of most of the bills in the package is uncertain, one piece of legislation was signed into law last fall. Senate Bill 251, sponsored by state Sen. John Proos, a Republican, expands diversion opportunities for juveniles in the criminal justice system to more quickly direct them to treatment services. Public Act 185, as it's called, gives judges the flexibility to find more age-appropriate penalties for young offenders that could enhance and expedite rehabilitation.
"The intent is to allow individuals a second chance," Proos said. The law allows a judge to decriminalize court proceedings, and ensures victims are notified, in compliance with the Victims' Rights Act. All parties, "the judge, prosecutor, defense attorney, juvenile and the juvenile's guardian, work together so that [the case] doesn't become a matter of record," Proos said.
All public records of the proceedings are destroyed and the state police is given a non-public record of the case. "So, it's not as if the juvenile isn't noted as having had a run-in with the law," Proos said.
It's not retroactive.
Rehabilitation to Reentry Is Possible
In response to Miller ruling, Michigan has so far re-sentenced 62 young people and released 15 -- including Espree.
Things began to turn around for him after he'd served almost 14 years of his life sentence. That's when he received a letter from LaBelle, accompanied by a questionnaire asking about his background and his case.
While he eventually answered and returned it, "I really wasn't even interested," Espree said.
He had been locked up for so long, he said, he couldn't see how the information LaBelle shared with him about re-sentencing youthful offenders who were serving life sentences could benefit him. The idea of being released from prison seemed surreal.
He recalled five years in when the full meaning of "life behind bars" had first hit him, when older lifers would tell him, "You need to do something with yourself because you got a bit to do in here; you gone die in here." They would then ask, "How you gone do it?"
He figured it out. Seven years in, he completed his GED. He signed up for every class that he could, including some college courses. He has over 20 certificates of completion. And he read a lot -- Viktor Frankl, author of Man's Search for Meaning; Dr. Wayne Dyer, The Power of Intentions, Khalil Gibran Muhammad's The Condemnation of Blackness, and others.
Espree pulled from what he read to form curricula for workshops and classes he was called on to facilitate. A Michigan Department of Corrections' program he's most proud of facilitating is Cage of Rage, an anger management program. Traditionally, it is designed for white people, but his success in culturally adapting it earned him recognition, he said.
From No Chance to a Second Chance
But one of Espree's greatest rewards came not from what happened within those prison walls, but from what happened within himself: forgiveness for what he had done 30 years before. First he had to forgive himself, he said. But even more rewarding was the forgiveness from his victim's family. "It was essential for me to have and receive, and once it happened I was taken in a whole other place," he said.
His victim's mother was the first to speak in favor of him being re-sentenced. But the daughter, was initially hesitant. "She hated me," he said. However, after a lengthy conversation where she shared the hurt and pain of her father's absence, and how she missed out on so much by not having him in her life, "she wanted to hear about [my] life."
In the legal narrative presented to the court to support not just Espree's re-sentencing but also his release, his victim's mother said, "I feel sorry for him because I believe he came from a very poor background in which the parents did not take time for him." She added that while she favored a lengthy incarceration, she envisioned his release, and "hoped he could receive some sort of help that would prevent him from leading a life of crime."
Espree's aunt, Evelyn, who tried to get custody of him when he was young, is quoted as saying that, in his childhood, "Antonio didn't have a chance."
Espree feels fortunate that LaBelle connected him with attorney Richard Soble, who worked on Espree's case for four-and-a-half years and allowed Espree to stay at his Ann Arbor home until his parole was reassigned to Arizona, where a cousin lives.
He has spent almost every day of his freedom speaking to young people, as he awaits acceptance to Arizona State University, where he will participate in a work-study program. He's been invited to speak at the national convention for The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth in November. He wants to go beyond talking just to teenagers about how to avoid trouble, but to those empowered to help youth steer clear of trouble in the first place. Ultimately, he said, he wants to change legislation at the local, state and federal levels.
"I understand [the] purpose and reason for [my] being free," Espree said. "I'm trying to be an example because I know juveniles are still stuck in prison because prosecutors … want to keep that natural life sentence on them. Judges don't want to seem soft. [But] some of these guys have made true transformation. … And so if I'm out here being an example, I want some attorney to say Antonio Espree done it, my client can too."
Scientists have found for the first time that neonicotinoid pesticides can harm honey bees in the real world.
The major new study from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) found that pesticides called neonicotinoids can cause harm to bees, a development that is likely to increase calls for a ban of the chemicals across Europe.
The UK -- which has long lobbied against a ban -- could make its own rules on pesticide use after Brexit.
Conservative MEP Julie Girling recently tried unsuccessfully to derail the Commission's efforts to introduce an outright ban in the EU Parliament.
The finding is particularly significant because the study was funded in part by pesticides giants Bayer and Syngenta.
The hotly anticipated research, published in the journal Science this evening, also discovered that exposure to the nicotine-based chemicals can reduce the reproductive success of three different bee species -- honey bees, bumblebees and the red mason bee.
With £3 million in funding from the chemical companies and additional money from Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the researchers were able to conduct a large scale, field-realistic experiment across three different European countries -- UK, Germany and Hungary.
Previous experiments showing that neonicotinoids cause harm to bees have been criticised by industry because of their limited scope and test conditions not mimicking real life.
The researchers exposed three bee species to winter oilseed rape crops treated with two types of neonicotinoids, manufactured by Bayer and Syngenta.
The researchers found that neonics affected bees in different ways from country to country, with the impact of the chemicals more marked in Hungary and the UK than in Germany, where neonics were found to have no impact on honey bees.
Overall, clothianidin, manufactured by Bayer, was found to have a more profound impact on bee health.
CEH scientists acknowledged that the results of the study were nuanced.
In a press release, CEH lead author Dr Ben Woodcock explained: "The neonicotinoids investigated caused a reduced capacity for all three bee species to establish new populations in the following year, at least in the UK and Hungary."
Professor Richard Pywell, the co-author of the study, said in a statement that the results of the research were complex.
"Neonicotinoids remain a highly contentious issue with previous research on both honeybees and wild bees inconclusive.
"This latest field study was designed, as far as possible, to reflect the real world due to its size and scope. We therefore believe it goes a considerable way to explaining the inconsistencies in the results of past research, as we were better able to account for natural variation in factors like exposure to the pesticide, bee food resources and bee health for different bee species.
"Our findings also raise important questions about the basis for regulatory testing of future pesticides."
A Bayer spokesperson told Energydesk the company was disappointed with way the results had been presented.
He said: "This study is one of a number of landscape studies carried out recently. The results of the CEH study are inconsistent and therefore inconclusive with variability of effects over both the bee species and the countries in which they were studied.
"We believe that had environmental factors (colony strength and landscape effects) other than exposure to treated oilseed rape been appropriately taken into account in the analysis, the results would have been similar to, for example, recent landscape studies conducted with clothianidin in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, a state in northern Germany which demonstrated the safety of clothianidin seed treatments in oilseed rape for bee pollinators under realistic conditions."
In a statement sent to Energydesk, Syngenta were keen to highlight the findings of the study in Germany where neonics had no impact on honey bees.
Dr Peter Campbell, head of research collaborations at the company said: "We welcome the fact that the study concludes that 'neonicotinoid residues were detected infrequently… [and] direct mortality effects by exposure to high concentrations of neonicotinoids are likely to be rare'. We were also pleased to see that in Germany during crop flowering, the use of neonicotinoid seed treatments has a positive and beneficial impact for both honeybees and bumblebees."
The statement continued: "It is also important to better understand the small number of potentially harmful effects reported in Hungary and the United Kingdom and how these differ from Germany where the results were positive."
Neonicotinoids are the most widely used pesticides in the world.
A partial ban on neonicotinoids has been in place across the EU since 2013, due to concerns about the pesticide's impact on bee health.
Recent news reports suggest that the European Commission will call for a complete ban later this year.
The UK has long lobbied against the ban against neonics in Brussels. Back in 2015, the government allowed some uses of the chemicals on UK fields, following pressure from the National Farmers Union, but a similar request was turned down last year.
Uncertainty surrounds what the UK's position will be on the controversial pesticides post-Brexit.
In response to the release of the CEH study, a spokesperson from Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs failed to back an outright ban:
"Bees and other pollinators are vital to the diversity of our environment and food production which is why we are leading a nationwide strategy to better protect them.
"We are encouraging farmers to provide the food and habitats pollinators need on their land, as well as promoting simple actions the public can take to help such as cutting grass less often and growing pollen-rich plants."
This study follows on from research published last summer by CEH, which linked neonics to the long-term decline of the wild bee population in the UK.
Back in September, Energydesk uncovered private studies commissioned by Bayer and Syngenta which showed that their neonicotinoid pesticides can cause serious harm to bees.
Whether the Affordable Care Act remains in force or it's replaced by something else, I believe we won't be able to control health costs until we revamp the system with something like single-payer. Largely by reducing administrative costs within the insurance industry and to providers, a single-payer program could save enough money to provide health care to all Americans.
We won't be able to control health costs until we revamp the system with something like single-payer. (Photo: iStock / Getty Images Plus)
It is easier than ever to buy stuff. You can purchase almost anything on Amazon with a click, and it is only slightly harder to find a place to stay in a foreign city on Airbnb.
So why can't we pay for health care the same way?
My research into the economics of health care suggests we should be able to do just that, but only if we say goodbye to our current system of private insurance -- and the heavy administrative burden that goes along with it. Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would take us in the wrong direction.
What Makes Health Care So Complicated
In a way, the reason buying health care is different than shopping for a garden gnome or short-term apartment seems obvious. Picking the right doctor, for example, involves a lot more anxiety and uncertainty and concerns matters of life and death.
But that's not really the reason we can't purchase health care the same way we buy an iPhone. In 1969, this would almost be true (for a rotary phone anyway). Back then, the bill for a birth in a New Jersey hospital looked a lot like the receipt you'd get for buying pretty much anything else: customer name, amount and a box to be checked for payment by check, charge or money order.
Today, paying for even the simplest office visit can become a nightmare, requiring insurance preauthorization, reimbursements adjusted for in-network or out-of-network copays and deductibles and the physician "tier" (or how your prospective doctor is evaluated for cost and quality by the insurance company).
Prescriptions require even more authorizations, while follow-up care necessitates coordinated review -- and it goes without saying that many forms will have to be completed. And this doesn't end when you arrive at the doctor's office. A large chunk of any visit is spent with a beleaguered nurse, or even the physician, filling out a required checklist of insurance-mandated questions.
The growing complexity of health care finance explains why it's becoming more and more expensive even though there has been little or no improvement in quality. Since 1971, the share of our national income spent on health care has doubled.
We can blame a significant part of the soaring cost of health care on the ever-increasing burden of administrative complexity, whose cost has climbed at a pace of more than 10 percent a year since 1971 and now consumes over 4 percent of GDP, up from less than 1 percent back then.
Lemons and Cherries
So if the rising cost of administration is a primary force driving health care inflation, why don't we do something about it?
That's because administrative complexity and waste are no accident but rather are baked into our private health insurance system and made worse by continuing attempts to use competitive market processes to achieve social ends other than maximizing profit.
Paying a doctor was relatively simple in the 1960s. Most people had the same insurance policy, issued by Blue Cross and Blue Shield, which back then was a private company but operated like a non-profit under strict regulation.
But in hopes of controlling steadily rising costs, policymakers encouraged insurers besides Blue Cross to enter health insurance markets, beginning with the HMO Act of 1973. The proliferation of for-profit companies with competing plans raised billing costs for health care providers, which now had to submit claims to a multitude of different insurers, each with its own codes, forms and regulations.
Not only that, but insurers quickly discovered the dirty secret of health care finance: Sick people are expensive and make up most costs, while healthy people are profitable.
In other words, the vital lesson for an insurer looking to make money is to identify the few sick people and get them to go away ("lemon dropping") and find the healthy majority and do things that attract them to your plan ("cherry picking").
Insurers are happy to offer discounts on fitness club memberships to attract healthy people, for example. But they punish the sick with higher copays and deductibles, as well as increasingly restrictive and intrusive regulations on preauthorization.
Economists call it adverse selection. Regular people call it paperwork hell. Whatever the name, it's the purpose of increasingly complicated insurance plans and reimbursement forms.
A Failure to Fix
The public and government authorities figured this out quickly, but too often the cures have been as bad as the disease.
We could, and I believe should, have abandoned the use of for-profit private insurance to adopt a simple single-payer system, in which a government agency would provide coverage to everyone in the US Instead, in forging the ACA and in every other health reform enacted in the past 40 years, policymakers decided to work with private insurance while trying to fix some of its evils.
We adopted the "Patient's Bill of Rights" around the turn of the century and created processes to allow patients and providers to appeal medical decisions made by insurers. State health commissioners now have considerable power to supervise insurers, while the ACA mandates certain essential benefits be provided in all insurance plans.
Yet each of these efforts to protect the sick from abuses inherent in the for-profit insurance system only added to the administrative burden, and the costs, on the entire industry.
Some perceived the problem as a lack of market competition so governments freed hospitals and other health care providers from regulations on prices and restrictions on mergers, advertising and other practices. Far from reducing administrative complexity or lowering prices, research has shown that deregulation made both problems worse by allowing the formation of networks of hospitals and providers who use advertising and other business and financial practices to control markets and stifle competition.
Simply put, each attempt to fix a problem has led to more administration because we have kept intact the system of private health insurance -- and for-profit medicine -- that is at the root of at the dual problems of rising health care costs and growing complexity.
It's Time to Take a Step Back
Clearly, our experiment in market-driven health care has gone awry.
Before we introduced competition and deregulation into health care, things were relatively simple, with . We could save a lot of money if we went backwards and adopted a single-payer system like Canada's, where insurers do not engage in systematic preauthorization or utilization review and hospitals and pharmaceutical companies do not form monopolies to profit at the expense of the public.
Largely by reducing administrative costs within the insurance industry and to providers, a single-payer program could save enough money to provide health care to all Americans.
Compared with Canada's single payer system, American doctors and hospitals have nearly twice as many administrative staff workers.
So whether the ACA remains in force or it's replaced by something else, I believe we won't be able to control health costs -- and make health care affordable for all Americans -- until we revamp the system with something like single payer.
Disclosure statement: Gerald Friedman belongs to the Massachusetts Society of Professors (a National Education Association affiliate) and Democratic Socialists of America. He has done some consulting work for the Vermont State Employees and has written reports on single-payer plans for several states, including Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York.
Faced with devastating debt, dangerous climate change and unprecedented inequality, the US should rethink its education system. Mainstream schools can look to the "Defenders of the Water School" in Standing Rock for inspiration: It engaged a curriculum centered in Indigenous knowledge and grounded not in a culture of extraction, dispossession and elimination but in the ethics of relationship and accountability to each other, as well as to future generations.
The four main teachers at Mní Wičhóni Nakíčižiŋ Owáyawa, Defenders of the Water School: Jose Zhagnay, Blaze Starkey, Alayna Eagle Shield and Teresa Dzieglewicz. (Photo: Jeremy Garcia, Assistant Professor, University of Arizona)
As a professor of education, an Indigenous scholar and member of the NYC Stands with Standing Rock Collective, I was ecstatic to learn that the Wallace Global Fund recently named the Standing Rock Sioux the inaugural recipient of the Henry A. Wallace Award, a $250,000 prize that includes up to an additional $1 million to support the tribe's transition to renewable energy.
To be sure, such recognition and capital investment will go a long way in eradicating dependence on fossil fuel. But if the Fund's broader aim to "lift up the extraordinary courage and will it takes to stand up to oppressive corporate and political power" is to be realized, then a commensurable investment in education will be needed.
As it stands, Wall Street billionaires, hedge fund managers and corporate think tanks are driving education reform, not out of concern for the environment, but in the interest of profit and -- still -- land. Indeed, historically, US schools were designed for Native erasure and little has changed.
The dominant narrative about Native American students and tribal schools remains that they are "failing." The evidence? The so-called achievement gap as measured by standardized test scores. Beyond the specious nature of the tests, Native student "failure" should not be confused with the refusal to trade one's culture and ways of being for a form of "success" marked by individualist modes of competition and an "American Dream" fundamentally reliant upon property ownership and resource exploitation.
Neither Native peoples nor the planet can afford systems of education that are built upon the reduction of life to transactional relationships, whether for profit or individual advancement. So, without an educational paradigm shift, there will always be a next Standing Rock (see: Bears Ears, Lancaster County, central Florida).
Toward this end, Native education -- centered in Indigenous knowledge and decolonial curricula -- has much to teach mainstream schools. For example, the Defenders of the Water School, founded by Alayna Eagle Shield at the Oceti Sakowin camp, engaged a curriculum centered on Lakota language, culture and intergenerational knowledge as a practice of Indigenous sovereignty. Students at the school spent their days in song, dance and prayer, as well as learned the history, math and science embedded in their surroundings. Most importantly, however, they witnessed the courageous actions taking place in defense of water and their peoples. And, in so doing, they learned about what it means to be a good relative, to be accountable to each other as well as to the generations to come.
In other words, the children of Standing Rock learned that the resistance was not just about a pipeline or even unchecked corporate power, but rather about their right to defend themselves, their land and relatives, including the Missouri River. It was about the history of US settler colonialism -- based on the dispossession of Indigenous peoples from land and Black peoples from labor -- and the ongoing impact of these relations of power on their communities. They learned to question and contest alternative facts: that we need more fossil fuel, more extraction, more oil; that climate change is a myth; that we can trust a multibillion-dollar industry to tell the truth about renewable energy; that history doesn't matter; and that actions of the people don't make a difference.
In short, they learned that Standing Rock was, and is, about a broader struggle for liberation.
So, what is needed is an education for liberation, one that begins with examining the knowledge systems that gave rise to the dispossession of Native peoples and Black enslavement in the first place. Such an education would not only offer a more accurate, complex and nuanced understanding of the history of the United States as a settler nation, but also help to strengthen solidarities between Black, Indigenous and other colonized peoples working to bring an end to violence and injustice in all forms.
Particularly as the US faces devastating debt, dangerous climate change and unprecedented inequality, understanding settler colonialism as a structure defined by processes of extraction, removal, elimination and consumption is not only instructive, but also imperative for defining alternative ways of being. Henry A. Wallace's broader vision for a more democratic US that places well-being ahead of profits needs and deserves an analogous vision for education; one grounded in the ethics of relationship so we would no longer need to make the case that #BlackLivesMatter or "water is life." Enough is enough.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe recently won a major legal victory in federal court which may have the power to force the shutdown of the $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline. District Judge James Boasberg ruled Wednesday that the Trump administration failed to conduct an adequate environmental review of the pipeline, after President Trump ordered the Army Corps to fast-track and greenlight its approval. The judge requested additional briefings next week on whether the pipeline should be shut off until the completion of a full review of a potential oil spill's impacts on fishing and hunting rights, as well as environmental justice. The pipeline faced months of massive resistance from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, members of hundreds of other indigenous tribes from across the Americas, as well as non-Native allies. We speak with Standing Rock Sioux Chair Dave Archambault II and Nick Tilsen, executive director of the Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation and a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, as we turn now to the battle over the Dakota Access pipeline. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe won a major legal victory in federal court in June, which may have the power to force the shutdown of the $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline. US District Judge James Boasberg ruled the Trump administration failed to conduct an adequate environmental review of the pipeline, after President Trump ordered the Army Corps to fast-track and greenlight its approval. The judge requested additional briefings on whether the pipeline should be shut off until the completion of a full review of a potential oil spill's impacts on fishing and hunting rights, as well as environmental justice. The pipeline faced months of massive resistance from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, members of hundreds of other indigenous tribes from across the Americas, as well as non-Native allies.
Speaking at a rally, President Trump said, a few weeks ago, he signed the memo greenlighting the Dakota Access pipeline with his eyes closed.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I'm pleased to announce that the Dakota Access pipeline, which I just mentioned, is now officially open for business, a $3.8 billion investment in American infrastructure that was stalled. And nobody thought any politician would have the guts to approve that final leg. And I just closed my eyes and said, "Do it." ...
You know, when I approved it -- it's up. It's running. It's beautiful. It's great. Everybody's happy. The sun is still shining. The water is clean. But, you know, when I approved it, I thought I'd take a lot of heat. And I took none, actually none. People respected that I approved it. But I take so much heat for nonsense that it probably overrode -- it probably overrode the other. It's like a decoy.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I recently spoke withe Standing Rock Sioux Chair Dave Archambault when he was here in New York. He was joined by Nick Tilsen, executive director of the Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation and a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. I asked Standing Rock Sioux Chair Dave Archambault about the tribe's lawsuit challenging the Dakota Access pipeline.
DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: From the very beginning, we asked the Corps of Engineers, "What impact will this pipeline have on our people?" And the Corps of Engineers never could answer that. Their response is, "We're doing an environmental assessment, and we're going to see what impact it will have on the environment." And there's no impact. That's their -- that's what they state. So when we say, "Well, we need to do a further look and see what really happens when infrastructure projects have an impact on our people" -- and we've experienced many infrastructure projects in the past, such as a railroad system. The railroad system facilitated the near-extinction of buffalo herds. When we were at 70 million buffalo in 1800, by 1889 we're down to less than a hundred. And it was the railroad track system that did that. There's interstates. There's telecommunications. There's dams. All these infrastructure projects have a significant impact on us. So that's the question we asked. And to get the answer, it required a full, in-depth environmental impact statement. So, we were able to, with the past administration, say, "Let's at least do the environmental impact statement." With this administration, the EA: "There's not going to be any impact to you or to your people," which we know is -- if or when this pipeline breaks, we will be the first impacted.
AMY GOODMAN: There were leaks even before it went operational?
DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: Yes, there were.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what that means? It wasn't operational, so how were there leaks?
DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: Yeah, they started putting pipeline -- like, where the valves -- to test the valves, they put oil through the pipelines. And it leaked significant amounts, even though it was a test. So, we understood and we knew that there were going to be leaks. It wasn't even fully operational, and they were already experiencing leaks and getting fined for 200,000 gallons of oil being leaked. And so -- and then they said, "We'll clean it up, and we fixed it. It's OK now." But, you know, that just goes to show that this pipeline is not clean. It's not pretty. It's not a beautiful thing. It's something that's going to come back and haunt -- not us, maybe not us today, but the future.
AMY GOODMAN: Dave Archambault, can you respond to what President Trump said? He just closed his eyes and signed it.
DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: Yeah, when President Trump comes out with statements like that, it just is revealing his true character. It tells America what kind of person he is, when we all know that his first agenda was to sign this presidential memorandum. He was actually calling it an executive order, and then they switched it to a presidential memorandum. But it's because he has his own interest in this pipeline. He was sponsored, with his campaign, by Kelcy Warren. He had shares for Energy Transfer Partners. He had political interests. All the people who support him are saying this has to be done. So, for him to say, "I blindly did this," it's a complete lie, and it tells what kind of character this man really has.
AMY GOODMAN: Nick Tilsen, your response when you heard President Trump say he did this with his eyes closed, signing off on the final permit to allow the Dakota Access pipeline to be built under the Missouri River, and then that there was no response afterwards?
NICK TILSEN: Yeah, I mean, I think that the reality of him signing with his eyes closed, that's probably the truth. It's probably what he did do. I mean, he's been a -- he's been a prop of the energy companies, who are having their heyday. And that's just the reality. I mean, we've seen, you know, one of the biggest outcries in protest in decades, and historical amounts of protest, in Dakota Access. And for him to -- for him to say that there was -- that it was met with no response is a total lie. That's one of his -- another alternative facts that he has, when the reality is, you know, tens of thousands of people sacrificed. We sacrificed our freedoms to protect this water. We sacrificed everything that we had. And it was women and children and families, and indigenous people with our allies from all over the country and all over the world. People around the world understand what happened at Standing Rock.
And I think this is a constant sort of PR thing that says, "Oh, nobody cares." But the reality is, people do care and that, now, you know, there's an established movement in this country. There's an established indigenous rights movement. It's starting to converge with these other movements. And he's not going to be able to say -- you know, he's going to be able to say those things all he wants, but there's a growing movement across this country, and people are outcrying in many different ways. And so, I think, you know, the president, Trump, saying these kinds of things is not true, and there's millions of people who know it's not true. But we have to continue to have our voices be the loudest ones in the room.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask about an explosive new investigation by The Intercept that reveals how international private security firm TigerSwan targeted Dakota Access water protectors with military-style counterterrorism measures. TigerSwan began as a US military and State Department contractor, hired by Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline. The investigation based on leaked internal documents, which show how TigerSwan collaborated closely with law enforcement agencies to surveil and target the nonviolent indigenous-led movement. In the documents, TigerSwan also repeatedly calls the water protectors "insurgents" and the movement "an ideologically driven insurgency," even uses words like "jihadi." Chairman Dave Archambault?
DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: You know, it just goes to show who law enforcement is going to listen to. And law enforcement listens to the political leaders. And the political leaders are bought by corporations. So, in North Dakota, we have a senator who has interests in the oil fields. We have a --
AMY GOODMAN: Who is that?
DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: Senator Hoeven. He has an interest in the wells, that he owns. We have Senator Cramer and Senator -- or, Congressman Cramer and Senator Heitkamp. They receive some of the largest amounts of contributions from the fossil fuel industry. We have a governor -- at that time, Governor Dalrymple -- who had some intermixings with China oil. And so, this whole political leadership in North Dakota will say, "We have to have this pipeline go in." And because they're saying this, they're only going to listen to the corporation and the company. And they're going to give direction to the law enforcement.
And it's frustrating to me, because we had countless meetings with law enforcement. And we let them know that there's infiltrators. This is not all the demonstrators who are creating this. We don't know who all the people are. All along, they're listening to the company's security, private security firms. They're working hand in hand with the company's private security firms. They're having daily meetings, daily briefings, with the company's security firms and ignoring completely tribal leadership. And all we were doing is trying to make sure that safety was the number one priority, where these guys, if the reports from TigerSwan -- on TigerSwan are true, they weren't -- they weren't looking out for safety. They were looking to incite and to harm. And that's disturbing.
AMY GOODMAN: When we were there Labor Day weekend, when I first met you out there at the camps, you know, we could see the planes. And whenever I would point them out and ask, people would say, "Oh, they're just surveilling us." It became business as usual. And, Nick, I was wondering if you could talk about this and the significance of when you have these private paramilitary firms -- TigerSwan founded by a Delta Force member, former Delta Force member -- where you have these companies, as Chairman Dave was just describing, working with local law enforcement and the effect it has. I mean, then I'd like to go into your own personal history and your remarkable family history. But what this means?
NICK TILSEN: I mean, I don't think anybody is surprised, so any -- any water protectors that were out there. These reports that are coming out basically prove -- they prove that this is the -- this is the modern form of COINTELPRO. That's what it is.
AMY GOODMAN: The Counterintelligence Program of the FBI --
NICK TILSEN: Absolutely.
AMY GOODMAN: -- that targeted Black Panthers and people of color for years under Hoover.
NICK TILSEN: This is a modern, contracted version of it, who's designed in using basically all of the lessons that they have been building off of fighting terrorism, but using it on their own people. And this is -- this is real. Like, in the camp and all the organizing and all the stuff that we did, we knew that this was happening. We couldn't prove that it was happening, but we knew that, to an element, it was happening. We would show up at these protests. We'd have security officers and police who knew us by first name, who knew where we came from, who knew where in the camp we were staying. There was all kinds of stuff that happened during that time.
And I think the reality is, like the American public needs to realize that, you know, when we were organizing the camp, we were not allowed to fly our own planes over. We were not allowed to have our own observations. And we thought about doing that. We thought about getting resources to be able to do that. There was a no-fly zone. So there was a no-fly zone in place over the camp. Meanwhile, counterintelligence companies are allowed to come and surveil -- survey us. This is the -- this is a misuse of the democracy. And this is a fundamental issue of our time.
I'm glad that these reports are coming out now, and not 20 years from now, because them coming out now lets the broader movements that are now converging together understand that this is happening. And this is something that the public has have a public outcry over. To use -- to use counterintelligence tactics against peaceful water protectors who are expressing our constitutional rights to -- for freedom of speech, this is -- this is an outrage. And I think that, moving forward, we have to be -- we have to be diligent. Like the movement has to be diligent in recognizing that this is a reality. And those that support us have to recognize what we're fighting against. You know, we show up with our prayers. We show up with our bodies. We show up with our children and our families to these protests. And these guys are showing up with all the technology that's possible and all the weaponry that's possible. And this is a -- this is a fight over the future of this country.
AMY GOODMAN: They have automatic weapons and actually MRAPs, right? These are military technology. You know, it seems like recycling today is sending the weapons back from Afghanistan and Iraq and giving them to the police departments and sheriff departments of our country.
NICK TILSEN: Absolutely. And I think this also represents a misuse of power. I mean, the former governor, you know, created a militarized state on purpose. He created -- he created the militarized state. And the narrative is still the same. We showed up there. We showed up there in peaceful ways, in protest. And we were -- we were compounded with violence. There was dogs that were attacked on our people. This happened, in the 21st century, in this country. And these are some of the realities, you know, that we're faced with.
AMY GOODMAN: Nick Tilsen of the Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation and a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. We'll be back with him and Standing Rock Sioux Chair Dave Archambault in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, as we return to my conversation about the $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline with Standing Rock Sioux Chair Dave Archambault and Nick Tilsen of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He's a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation on the reservation. I asked Nick Tilsen about his family's history.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about your family, your family's history. You're from Pine Ridge.
NICK TILSEN: Yeah. So my mother, JoAnn Tall Janis, is from Pine Ridge. My father, Mark Tilsen, is from the Minneapolis Twin Cities area. My grandfather, Ken Tilsen, was a civil rights attorney and attorney for the American Indian Movement. And my parents met around the time of Wounded Knee. And so I got to really grow up around like activist type of family.
AMY GOODMAN: And for those who don't know what Wounded Knee was?
NICK TILSEN: Wounded Knee -- Wounded Knee was the siege or occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973, that was organizing from different indigenous people from around the country, about --
AMY GOODMAN: In South Dakota.
NICK TILSEN: In South Dakota on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, about three miles from where I live. And it was -- it was -- the generation before, it was their Standing Rock, right? It was the time in which people spoke out about all these grave injustices against all indigenous people. And it sort of sparked -- sparked a movement throughout, you know, the future of Indian country about what it means. And so, I always compare -- I was growing up in a family, hearing all these stories about Wounded Knee and about the American Indian Movement, and always asked, "I wonder what our Wounded Knee is going to be. I wonder what -- I wonder what our generation's Wounded Knee is going to be." And then Standing Rock happened.
And I think the most important point here is, if you looked at after Wounded Knee, the trajectory of Indian country began to change. Different policies were changed to our Indian country. And that's one of the -- that's one of the stories, I guess, that we have here, one of the opportunities that we have as Indian country here, is that where we go from here for the indigenous rights struggle in this country is huge. There's a consciousness that it's raised. There's people that are fired up. And have the -- we have the possibility and the potential to shape what the next, you know, 40, 50 years looks like for indigenous people.
AMY GOODMAN: Your great-grandmother was Meridel Le Sueur?
NICK TILSEN: Yep.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us who she was?
NICK TILSEN: Meridel Le Sueur was -- she was a poet. She was an activist. She was a writer. And she was a bold believer in a different world. And, you know, she was a poet. She was a writer of poetry books. But she also, you know, fought for the women's right to vote. She was an organizer in the labor movement, big sacrificer for some of the rights that we have today and sort of -- not sort of. She's a legend, I guess, beyond our family and did a lot of -- did a lot of things that helped shape this country. And to me, you know, as -- to me and our generation, I think we still derive a lot of courage from the courage that she had.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you were arrested, September.
NICK TILSEN: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: And what were you doing?
NICK TILSEN: On September 14th, there was a group of us -- there as a group of us that locked down to machinery. This was during the period of time where they moved -- they moved the buffer zone. So, there was a buffer zone; there was no construction within 20 miles. But what the companies had done is they moved to a seven-day workweek outside of that 20 miles. So this whole time, they knew that they were going to get approval. They just moved out. So we said, "Well, instead of sit back and waiting for them, let's take the fight to them. Let's use nonviolent direct action, and let's use our abilities to take the fight to them." And so we went to the -- we went to a construction site, came upon the machinery. And immediately when they've seen us, they tried to run us over with the excavators. They swung the buckets at us, barely missed us. We ended up climbing, using our bodies, climbing up on the machinery and shutting the construction down.
AMY GOODMAN: What were you charged with?
NICK TILSEN: I was charged with four different charges. Three misdemeanors -- disorderly conduct, obstruction of a government function -- disorderly conduct, obstruction of a government function. The felony charge was reckless endangerment. And it was a felony charge. This is one of the first felonies that they -- one of the first felony charges that they did in Standing Rock was on the day that I was arrested and with the folks that I was taking the action with.
And it was a pretty important thing, because they were trying to use it as a tactic. They were going to -- they were trying to use it as a tactic to overcharge people, essentially, to use the political and the legal system to discourage people. And I think I was probably about the 40th person arrested. So their strategy to discourage people didn't work. I think there was over 700 people, you know, after I was arrested, that were arrested.
But the disorderly conduct charge is a serious charge. I'm still facing that charge. I'm set to go to trial on August 17th. The difference between a misdemeanor disorderly -- or reckless endangerment charge and a felony is that they're basically saying I had extreme indifference for human life, for locking myself to a piece of machinery to protect water.
AMY GOODMAN: How many people are still facing trials, facing charges?
NICK TILSEN: Hundreds. I mean, I think -- yeah, I was on the Water Protector Legal Collective email chain recently, and I think there's still, you know, between 400 and 600 people facing charges.
AMY GOODMAN: Chairman Dave Archambault, you, too, were arrested.
DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: When were you arrested? And has your case gone to trial?
DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: Yes, I was arrested on August 12th. And last week, I just got done with my trial, and I was acquitted.
AMY GOODMAN: Was it a jury trial?
DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: You alone?
DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: No, there was another, Councilman Dana Yellow Fat, that was in the court case with me. And then there was another lady, Alayna Eagle Shield, who was also going to court with us. And it was interesting. So, when we were arrested, the bond was set at $250. And I know Nick --
AMY GOODMAN: $250.
DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: Yes. I know when Nick was arrested, that had -- it started going up, the cost. Just the bond was starting to increase. And the charges started to change. And the language, all the propaganda began, with the state and the state outlets -- news outlets started saying that "These are terrorist acts. They're inciting riots." And so, for my charge, it was disorderly conduct. I was probably the second day of the entire camp, is when I got arrested. So, there was maybe 12 people at that time, total, that got arrested. And the reason I got arrested was because I was trying to protect another lady, who was standing in the path of vehicles exiting. And I was met by a wall of law enforcement, and I tried to go around. And then --
AMY GOODMAN: Do they know you?
DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: No, they didn't know me. And in the hearing, the officer who confronted me, who I ran into, said I had my hands on him and I was yelling, which was not true. So when I testified in our hearing, I said, "I don't yell. What he was describing a lili that women, Lakota women, do. And he said I was doing that. And when you look at the video and you look at the pictures, my mouth is closed. And he said I had my hands on him, but my hands were back, and I was going through the line. And so, the prosecutor brought up another witness, another law enforcement that was close by, and asked him, "Was the chairman yelling?" And he said, "No." "Did the chairman have his hands...?" He said, "No." So, two officers saying two different things. And I was just --
AMY GOODMAN: These are Morton County sheriff's deputies?
DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: One -- yeah, I think they were both from Morton County. But, you know, the jury being able to hear actually what happened and making the decision was a relief, because this was something -- that was the first thing. Right after that, the Dakota Access pipeline filed a temporary restraining order on me. And that was granted. So, the tribe filed a temporary restraining order on the company, and the judge said, "We're not granting this." But as soon as they file one on me, the judge grants it. And then, after that, they filed a civil suit in federal court against me to try to pin all the costs and expenses that the protest is creating on me. And I would say maybe about three weeks ago that one was dismissed, because you can't -- you can't pin a certain -- I think it has to be $75,000 or more on one individual, and they couldn't put that on me.
AMY GOODMAN: So you were charged with a misdemeanor. And what happened? Were you jailed?
DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: Yes, I went to jail. And we bonded out the same day.
AMY GOODMAN: You were -- were you strip-searched?
DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Were you put in an orange jumpsuit?
DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: And you were jailed?
DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Nick, the same?
NICK TILSEN: Absolutely, yeah. Yeah, strip-searched, jailed. I had a broken foot at the time. Yeah, we weren't treated very well in there. I mean, we didn't get our bedding in. Actually, some of the other -- there was other Native brothers that were in jail for other things, and they were the ones advocating for us to get our bedding and different stuff, because they had been in there for a while.
AMY GOODMAN: At this point, hundreds of members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other tribes and non-Native allies still face trial.
NICK TILSEN: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Your response to this exposé about TigerSwan and them calling the resistance, meaning you, Chairman Dave Archambault, also you, Nick Tilsen, and so many others, the "insurgency"? What do you make of that, even referring to your resistance as a kind of "jihadi" insurgency, Nick?
NICK TILSEN: Insurgents. How is it possible? How is it possible that any indigenous people are insurgents on their own land? Our land has been overrun by corporations, by the militarization of our lands and our communities and our people. It's impossible for us, as indigenous people on our only land, to be insurgents. If there's insurgents, it's the company. If there's insurgents, it's the private military company. It's impossible for us to be insurgents on our own land. We did at Standing Rock what our ancestors did. We did at Standing Rock, which was stand in prayer, we did things founded in our culture, our spirituality. This is women, children, families, people that came there to sacrifice. We were not insurgents. We were people fighting for what was right, simply fighting for what we believed in and protecting water on behalf of 17 million Americans.
And to call us insurgents is a disgrace to the future generations. It's also a reality that this is the political times that we're in. When you rise up and you take political action and you do it in a peaceful way founded in your -- founded in your beliefs, you're faced with guns, you're faced with water cannons, you're faced with bullets, you're faced with all kinds of violence. That violence was put on us. The water protectors never enacted violence on any of the -- on any of the police. That was not -- that was not something that happened. We trained our communities and our people in nonviolent direct action, and we did it collectively. And so, to call us insurgents is completely wrong. It's an alternative fact.
AMY GOODMAN: So, I want to turn now to what's happening now at Standing Rock. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is now leading an initiative to build a solar farm in Cannon Ball, less than three miles from the Dakota Access pipeline. Among the companies that will be helping build the solar farm is Native Renewables. This is Native Renewables co-founder Wahleah Johns, speaking Thursday at the Henry Wallace Award ceremony in New York City for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
WAHLEAH JOHNS: The father, the sun, it provides -- it can provide power. It can empower us. And that's been a lot of what we've been talking about with Native Renewables, is that empowering our communities to actually learn how it works, how solar works, but also building our capacity to manage and own projects to generate power. So far, a lot of tribes are being -- like, our land base is being targeted by fossil fuel companies. And how do we shift away from that? And I'm from a big coal-mining community, and I chose this work because I wanted to see something different, and I want to protect our water, so our future generations have a future that is healthy and clean.
AMY GOODMAN: Chairman Dave Archambault, talk about what it is you're doing now just a few miles from the Dakota Access pipeline, where the oil is flowing. The fossil fuel industry has succeeded in building that. But what are you now doing at Standing Rock?
DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: We have over 12 communities on Standing Rock. What would be a dream or goal is to have all 12 communities powered off of renewables. But we have to start somewhere. And the best place to start is in Cannon Ball, because it's so close to where this pipeline is, where this fossil fuel bane exists. And so, at the community level, then at the national level, if tribes, Native tribal nations can say we are 100 percent powered and 100 percent that we consume renewable energy, that builds awareness for other communities and then maybe the nation.
AMY GOODMAN: So how are you doing this, with wind and solar?
DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: With the solar panels, we're starting off with a 300-kilowatt project. On the commercial wind side, we have a resource, and that's the wind, that can generate a lot of electricity in the Great Plains. And so, how do we develop it to where -- to where the tribe is actually the owner of the project and not the investors or the developers? So we need to take a more active role, and so we're exploring different ways to be the actual owners once this is developed.
AMY GOODMAN: Of a wind farm?
DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: Of a wind farm. And it will be a commercial wind farm, so that we're talking like 100 megawatts, producing on average maybe 40 to 50 megawatts annually. So we'll be able to take those -- that power and sell it commercially and then use the resources to offset or to evolve our homes, so that they can provide heat in a good way, rather than burning fossil fuels.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Nick Tilsen, what does this mean to you in Pine Ridge to have this kind of project?
NICK TILSEN: I think it means a lot to us in Pine Ridge and all of Indian country. I mean, tribal communities have been the place where negative resource extraction -- it's been the place where pipelines go through. It's been the place where they store nuclear waste. It's the -- the Native nations in this country have been the dumping grounds for the energy industry for a long time. It just so happens to be that Native communities are also -- have the potential to be the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy. These communities are also -- you've got eight of the 12 poorest communities in all of America, are in North Dakota and South Dakota, and they're all Indian communities. And so --
AMY GOODMAN: Explain that.
NICK TILSEN: Eight of the -- eight of the 12 poorest communities in all of America are in North Dakota and South Dakota, and they're all tribal communities. So this pipeline and projects -- this pipeline, Keystone -- Keystone XL pipeline, they're not only just going through the heart of Indian country, they're going through ground zero for inequity in America. They're going through ground zero for poverty in America. And so, what we're basically saying is we're not just against these pipelines. We're against these pipelines. We're against -- we believe that these pipelines are pipelines to the past. And we believe that we should be building sustainable infrastructure for the future, and so that we have the potential and we have the opportunity in tribal nations, like they're doing in Standing Rock and like we're doing on Pine Ridge with Thunder Valley -- is building the communities of tomorrow and beginning the process of just transition and what that looks like.
AMY GOODMAN: You're founding executive director of the Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation, which is what?
NICK TILSEN: It's a nonprofit, grassroots, community-based organization doing sustainable economic development in one of the poorest communities in America. And we're building a community from scratch based on renewable energy, sustainable housing and designing communities based on indigenous values.
And so, what this means for us is, the time in Standing Rock, this was not just against the pipeline. We're fighting for our very future. And, you know, we have to be able to meet the needs of our present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. And this is a very indigenous way of thinking, indigenous values way of thinking. It's also a very practical way of thinking, because the past energy and economic model that this country has been operating on has continued to create a separation between the rich and the poor, exploit lands, and we're fighting for something very different.
And so I think that this project at Standing Rock is one -- this movement, having come to Standing Rock, let's make sure something happens for the people of Standing Rock. Let's make sure that this inspiration happening at Standing Rock benefits the people of Standing Rock. And I think that's what Wahleah, Native Renewables, Give Power -- they're all collectively working to help make that happen. And so, this means inspiration for us, because if it can happen at Thunder Valley and Pine Ridge, and if this can happen in Cannon Ball and Standing Rock, this can have a ripple effect to what happens all throughout Indian country, and hopefully begin to reform the way that energy policy and and energy projects happen.
AMY GOODMAN: Nick Tilsen, head of the Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation, a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. And from North Dakota, Standing Rock Sioux Chair Dave Archambault.
When we come back, we speak with the grandson of the former vice president of the United States, Henry Wallace. Scott Wallace wrote a piece in The New York Times recently echoing what his grandfather wrote more than 70 years ago, warning about fascism in America. His Wallace Global Fund just honored the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe with the inaugural Henry Wallace Award and a million-dollar investment in solar and wind renewable energy projects led by the tribe in North Dakota. Back in a minute.
We are radicals at heart. It is time we recognize it. It is time we embrace our radical history. (The Declaration of Independence by John Trumbull / Wikimedia Commons)
Listen closely. Listen closely to Thomas Paine's argument in Common Sense that "[w]e have it in our power to begin the world over again;" to Thomas Jefferson's phrases in the Declaration: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness;" to the framers' first three words of the preamble to the Constitution, "We the People."
Listen well. Listen well to Abraham Lincoln speaking at Gettysburg in 1863: "[T]hat this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth;" to Franklin Roosevelt calling on Americans in 1941 to secure "Freedom of speech and expression… Freedom of worship… Freedom from want… Freedom from fear;" and to Martin Luther King Jr. sermonizing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963: "I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day…"
Those are not just great, moving and memorable words. They are revolutionary, radical and democratic words -- words that at critical times have proclaimed, affirmed and articulated anew America's historic purpose and promise.
And those words speak to you, don't they?
They speak to us as Americans because -- for all of our faults and failings, for all of the tragedies and ironies that have marked our history, and for all of the efforts by the powers that be to make you forget it -- we are radicals at heart.
It is time we recognize it. It is time we embrace our radical history.
We were ready to make history anew in 2016. And in a most tragic way we did. We gave the Congress to reactionaries and the White House to an egomaniacal authoritarian. But it might have been otherwise. After more than 40 years of widening inequalities, intensifying insecurities and mounting injustices, we were coming to realize that our political and economic elites had trumped democracy with plutocracy and hijacked the American dream. We recognized the crisis we faced and we were rejecting the narratives of both the Republican and Democratic establishments -- the narratives that had led us to repress our deepest democratic anxieties and longings.
The Wisconsin Rising and Occupy Wall Street movements of 2011 both ended in defeat, but the chants of "This is what democracy looks like!" continued to reverberate and the energies they excited soon came back to life in the Fight for $15, the anti-pipeline campaigns, the immigrant rights struggle, the Chicago Teachers' strike, the North Carolina Moral Monday movement, Black Lives Matter and the enthusiasm for Elizabeth Warren's calls to corral the big banks. Finally, we shook up the two major parties when millions of us turned out to vote for either Sen. Bernie Sanders' "Political Revolution" or dealmaker Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again."
After more than 40 years of acting like deer caught in headlights -- the headlights of history -- we were moving once again. We were moving because we wanted to reclaim American public life, redeem America's democratic purpose and promise and revive the American dream. In fact, ever swelling numbers of us said we actually wanted "radical action" to address the crisis.
And yet -- as the 2016 presidential tragically revealed -- we remained sorely divided over what those actions should be. We were rejecting the narratives that had cloaked and enabled our inequalities, insecurities and injustices, but had yet to agree on the story we should tell.
We needed a story that would help us to transcend our divisions by reminding us that we are radicals at heart and to truly "make America great again" we must enhance freedom, equality and democracy, not diminish them.
But we didn't get it.
To make sense of our anxieties and longings, to encourage our hopes and aspirations, and to empower our energies and agencies, we need to embrace and cultivate our radical history. We need to recall how Americans high and low turned their colonial rebellion into a revolutionary war for independence and a democratic republic and imbued American life with radical imperative and impulse. We need to recall how generations of Americans -- evangelicals, freethinkers, workingmen's advocates, abolitionists, suffragists, labor unionists, populists, socialists, progressives, liberals, and civil rights, feminist and environmental activists -- served as the prophetic memory of America's promise and how ordinary Americans -- farmers, artisans, slaves, women, industrial workers and racial and ethnic minorities -- have struggled to advance it. And most especially, we need to recall how our greatest generations and their greatest leaders -- George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt -- prevailed over and against the crises and enemies they confronted in the 1770s, 1860s and 1930s and 1940s, not to mention the 1960s, not by giving up or suspending America's finest ideals, but by radically enhancing freedom, equality and democracy.
We need to embrace our radical history not simply because the crisis we confront demands a radical response, but also because to do otherwise would be to deny who we are. Our political and economic elites have always understood that. Ever anxious about our democratic impulses, they have been ever eager to suppress histories that might encourage those energies and to promulgate those that would serve to dampen them -- which is no easy task in a nation created in a revolution.
In the wake of the 1960s democratic surge that enacted civil rights acts, major immigration reform, Medicare and Medicaid, and laws to protect the environment, consumers and workers, corporate executives mobilized against what they called an "excess of democracy." Targeting public-interest campaigns and the movements of labor, women, people of color and the poor, along with liberal columnists and academics, they paved the way for the conservative and neoliberal takeovers of the Republican and Democratic parties, respectively. And ever since, both the New Right Republicans and the Neoliberal Democrats have endeavored to wield the powers of [the] past to suppress, obscure or appropriate America's radical story in favor of dampening, if not doing in, their fellow citizens' democratic impulses.
In 1980, presidential candidate Ronald Reagan spoke directly to the fears and frustrations of Americans engendered by energy crises, defeat in Vietnam, Watergate, "stagflation" and the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. Promising to "make America great again," he conjured up nostalgic images of a lost America -- a virtuous and prosperous America undisturbed by assassinations, riots and protests, and uncorrupted by big government, high taxes, regulatory agencies, welfare programs, affirmative action and women's liberation, and gathered together a coalition of CEOs, Main Street business owners, Christian evangelicals and groups such as the National Rifle Association.
Accepting the 1980 Republican nomination, he audaciously proclaimed the "Reagan Revolution" by quoting Paine's "We have it in our power to begin the word over again," Lincoln's "new birth of freedom" and FDR's "this generation has a rendezvous with destiny." Even more vigorously, he hijacked the Founding Fathers, the "Stars and Stripes" and the idea of American exceptionalism to the right and -- stripping them of their revolutionary lives, histories and meanings -- refashioned them as the champions, symbols and vision of limited government, private enterprise and a faith-based nation.
Reagan zealously crafted a narrative of a divinely ordained nation in which Americans had rejected the "big government" of the British Crown and were now resisting those of not only Soviet communism and European socialism, but also New Deal and Great Society liberalism in favor of "political and economic liberty." It was a wondrous narrative that utterly disregarded both the contradictions between the nation's founding ideals and realities and the struggles then and since to make real those ideals.
Sadly, Democratic Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama offered no real challenge to the right-wing story. In fact, they echoed it. Carter actually pioneered the "Reagan Revolution." After declaring that "government cannot solve our problems" -- which Reagan himself would cleverly trump with the now-famous line "Government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem" -- Carter abandoned his promises to the labor and consumer movements, turned his back on the Roosevelt tradition and pursued "national austerity" and corporate deregulation.
Twelve years later, Clinton followed suit. Betraying labor and environmentalists, he pushed the North American Free Trade Agreement through Congress and then -- after declaring that "the era of big government is over" -- signed off on deregulating the communications industry, ending Aid to Families with Dependent Children and killing the New Deal law prohibiting commercial banks from undertaking risky investment banking activities (which paved the way to the 2009 Great Recession). Moreover, he too told a story of America devoid of popular struggle.
Taking office in January 1993, William Jefferson Clinton made every effort to identify himself with Thomas Jefferson. After retracing Jefferson's 1801 inaugural trek from Monticello to Washington, Clinton delivered an inaugural address replete with Jeffersonian references. Nonetheless, the way he presented Jefferson revealed his personal desire to keep "the people" passive and far from power. Calling on Americans to "be bold, embrace change and share the sacrifices needed for the nation to progress," Clinton stated: "Thomas Jefferson believed that to preserve the very foundations of our nation, we would need dramatic change from time to time." However, as every child of the '60s such as Clinton knew, Jefferson did not say we needed "change" to sustain the Republic, but rather "I hold that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical."
Barack Obama's victory in 2008 actually seemed to promise a new New Deal to combat the Great Recession and address American inequalities. And yet -- after enacting massive economic stimulus bills and securing passage of a major national health care act (notably, a mostly corporate friendly one) -- he too would abandon his promises to working people and move in a neoliberal direction. Preaching the need "to live within our means" and hoping to cut a deal on reducing the deficit with the now-Republican-dominated Congress, Obama announced his readiness in 2011 to "put everything on the table" -- including Social Security and Medicare.
Americans might also have imagined Obama was ready to muster us for a fight against the forces that had led us into the Great Recession. After all, he rallied voters with the words "Yes We Can!" And yet, he not only did nothing to mobilize the energies and enthusiasms he had encouraged. He actually drained human agencies from his history telling. Delivering his first inaugural address, he made no reference to the plutocrats' war on the middle class and what it had wrought, but instead held all Americans accountable. "Our economy is badly weakened," he said, "a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age." And when he was finally compelled to address the nation's ever-widening inequalities, he repeatedly cited technological change and globalization as the culprits -- not corporate decision making and union busting.
For all of its originality -- in certain ways, perverse originality -- the 2016 presidential race actually mimicked the recent past in critical ways. The candidates of the party of conservatism and reaction promulgated a nostalgic past intended to exploit and exacerbate our divisions and fears. And those of the party of liberalism and progressivism offered no historical narrative whatsoever.
The time has come to embrace our radical history.
We need to remember how a generation of Americans -- believing they had it in their power to begin the world anew -- launched a grand experiment in freedom, equality and democracy; how ensuing generations of Americans struggled to make real the promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and to expand both the "we" in "we the people" and the people's powers; and how generations of Americans truly made America great, if not exceptional, in the Revolution, the Civil War, the Great Depression, World War II and the 1960s by making the United States radically freer, more equal and more democratic than ever before.
We need to embrace our radical history to attack the evils of our own time. And not just past generations call on us to do so. Even more so, Americans yet to come do so. As the journalist Henry Demarest Lloyd put it just over a century ago: "The price of liberty is something more than eternal vigilance. There must also be eternal advance. We can save the rights we have inherited from our fathers only by winning new ones to bequeath our children."
In fact, we not only need to embrace our radical history. We also apparently want to. Take it from the kids…
In September 2014, just months after Colorado's school board elections, the now-conservative-dominated Jefferson County School Board took up a motion to revise the teaching of Advanced Placement US History -- a desire evidently instigated by a Republican National Committee resolution that branded the AP curriculum "a radically revisionist view of American history that emphasizes negative aspects of our nation's history while omitting or minimizing positive aspects."
In the words of the conservative board member who first proposed the revision: "[US history] should promote citizenship, patriotism, the benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights. [It] should not encourage civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law." And as far as she and her fellow right-wing board members were concerned, the AP curriculum was not just liberal, it was downright subversive. As their own words testified, the Jefferson County conservatives were not really looking to create a curriculum that promoted American ideals of citizenship and patriotism. They were looking to institute one that would inculcate conservative understandings of them.
Liberals responded to the attacks by insisting that historical textbooks should convey both the positive and the negative of America's past. And any good historian would surely agree. But those who would be most affected by the Jefferson County conservatives' motion took more direct action. Hoping to deter the board's actions, Jefferson County high schoolers not only organized an online petition drive that garnered 40,000 signatures. They also came to school dressed as radical figures from American history -- and then walked out of their classes in protest.
Nevertheless, the board's conservative majority -- no doubt all the more convinced that they were doing the right thing -- pushed through the "review and revise" policy.
The kids lost the battle. But embracing America's radical history, they signaled to us how we might yet win the wider struggle. As the essayist Wilson Carey McWilliams observed back in that ominous sounding year of 1984: "As Orwell knew, a people's memory sets the measure of its political freedom."
History may seem an extravagance in the face of our immediate crises and confrontations. But the history we make on our own matters -- powerfully so. Political scientist Benjamin Barber once put it this way: "The story we tell about ourselves defines not just us but our possibilities."
Activists march around the US Capitol to protest the Senate GOP health care bill, on Capitol Hill, June 28, 2017, in Washington, DC. The protest was organized by a wide array of progressive organizations and they are calling for a "People's Filibuster" around the US Capitol in protest of the GOP health care plan. (Photo: Drew Angerer / Getty Images)
Senators are home to celebrate Independence Day this week. Don't let them go back to DC without hearing how important saving health care is to our country.
We have one more chance to stop the GOP's health care repeal before it sickens, bankrupts, and even kills many of us. Remember: grassroots pressure works.
Here's how we can make our voices heard:
Visit your senators at their local offices. Tell them why you oppose health care repeal and believe every person should get health care.
Attend a health care rally or protest in your community.
Find your senators at an Independence Day parade and wave your "no health care repeal!" sign.
Call your senators' local offices every day. Talk to your family and friends during the holiday and ask them to call every day, too!
We Can Resist
Republican leaders in Congress originally wanted President Trump to sign their health care repeal on January 20. We're more than five months past that date.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell then drafted a bill in secret and wanted to rush it through, but is unable to muster enough support from his party, so has had to delay a vote.
This means grassroots activism is working. We've managed to hold off repeal until now. You're saving lives.
But repeal is still at the top of the GOP's agenda, so let's keep the pressure on.
Here's a reminder of what the Senate's repeal legislation does:
Kicks 22 million people off health care in less than decade.
Slashes 35 percent of the Medicaid budget by 2036, cutting health care for more than 70 million people, threatening nursing home coverage for us and our parents, and forcing people with disabilities from their homes.
Brings back lifetime and annual caps on care, cutting off everything from chemotherapy to post-surgery recovery care.
Raises our health costs while making our insurance cover less, raising deductibles to a jaw-dropping $6,000.
Trades away our health care to give massive tax break to the ultra-rich, drug corporations, and insurance companies.
Lead to more than 208,500 deaths by 2026.
Starves state budgets of funds needed not just for health care but also for education, roads, and other needs.
The GOP's Next Move
There's only one way to pass a terrible, unpopular piece of legislation like this: offer side deals to wavering lawmakers.
As one Trump administration official put it bluntly, "I really think they'll bribe off the moderates with opioid money and then actually move policy to shore up Mike Lee and Ted Cruz."
Lee and Cruz are the two extremist GOP senators who once forced a 16-day shutdown of the Federal government to stop the Affordable Care Act from taking effect. Now they're doing everything they can to gut the legislation so many lives depend on.
Court Blocks Scott Pruitt’s Attempt to Delay Key Safeguards Limiting Methane Pollution from the Oil and Gas Sector
Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia granted Sierra Club and its allies’ motion to vacate EPA’s stay of a rule that limits methane pollution from new oil and gas operations, in an attempt to delay its implementation. The Court agreed with our coalition, ruling that the agency did not have legal authority to issue such a stay.
Today, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law filed a formal Hatch Act Complaint against Kris Kobach who appears to have violated the Hatch Act in connection with his role as Vice Chair of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. Kobach, who recently announced his candidacy for the 2018 Kansas gubernatorial election, has repeatedly exploited his Commission role to promote his candidacy and to solicit campaign contributions. Some of these actions took place while Mr.
Chicago’s Field Museum and Lincoln Park Zoo will give away 700 free Endangered Species Condoms on Thursday as part of a new program created by the Center for Biological Diversity to get people who are interested in science and the natural world talking about the effect of human population growth on wildlife.
In an open letter released today, climate scientists, indigenous leaders, environmental and social justice groups, actors and artists call on the European Union to immediately withdraw its support for a gas mega-pipeline that would ‘destroy Europe’s climate targets’.
Janine Jackson: If there is a word for being stunned and stunned again, and yet unable to become numb, it would go some way towards describing how people -- especially black people -- felt as we heard the verdict in the case of the murder of Philando Castile. That a jury determined no crime was committed when Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez pumped seven bullets at Castile and into the back seat of the car where his girlfriend and her four-year-old child were sitting. That this was the system working.
If these outcomes are to be more than a punch in the gut, we have to try and learn what they teach us about the limits of the law in achieving justice. The ultimate response to state violence against black people is building community power. But, with that, can the law -- supposedly a living thing -- be changed? What other points of intervention exist, and how do we measure progress?
Our next guest has been working on these issues for many years now. Ronnie Dunn is professor of urban studies at Cleveland State University in Ohio. He joins us now by phone. Welcome to CounterSpin, Ronnie Dunn.
Ronnie Dunn: Thank you for having me.
There's always room, it seems, for more surprise, but verdicts like the one we've just seen in the case of Philando Castile don't come from nowhere; they have something to do with the rules that jurors are given in such cases. Can you tell us about the Supreme Court rulings around "reasonableness," and the role they play in delivering outcomes like this?
Well, the Supreme Court ruled in Graham v. Connor that the standard used in such cases is the "reasonable officer standard," and that being, would another officer, placed in the same set of circumstances and situation, respond accordingly with the use of deadly force? Then we have Tennessee v. Garner, which dealt with the "defense of life" standard. It shifted from the "fleeing felon" standard, wherein police could shoot at a felon as they fled, to that of defense of life, of either the officer or other citizens in the area.
It seems to say -- and I know I'm putting it a bit crudely -- but if an officer's fear for their life can be used to justify a killing, and we have research showing that many police officers fear black people just because they're black -- well, heck, that sounds like a tight little circle of rationalized racism.
Well, absolutely, I agree. Actually, all the police have to do is utter those five magic words -- "I feared for my life" -- and most likely they're going to be acquitted. And as we've seen over these past several cases now -- Philando Castile, Sylville Smith, Walter Scott, Terence Crutcher -- the juries, once again, they're inclined to take the officer at their word, in spite of video evidence that would contradict much of what the officers are stating.
And in the Philando Castile case, we see that since the officer was acquitted, they've now released a dashcam video, that in my view shows that the shooting was that much more egregious. And one's left to question, why did they not release that video footage prior to the trial, versus after the ruling? So it's very disturbing. Really, it makes one wonder whether or not the current criminal justice system, and our courts as currently constituted, actually have the capacity to deliver justice to people of color, particularly blacks, in these type of cases.
Is there anything that prevents state or local law enforcement from setting standards different than those that seem to have been established by the Supreme Court?
No, they can establish stricter standards. Now, naturally, defense would try to challenge those, challenge the constitutionality of those, but they can. And actually, I've just been kind of brainstorming and thinking about these issues, and trying to think of some means that would provide a greater level of equity and justice.
And my mind keeps turning to the military, for example. I'm a veteran. And the military is held to the standards of the uniform code of military justice. So my thought is, in that the police are a paramilitary institution, that we might need to -- and this is totally thinking out of the box -- move to some type of judicial system or tribunal in regards to police-involved shootings, these controversial police-involved shootings. These cases are tried in a separate court, for example. Currently, many jurisdictions have drug courts, they have special dockets for veterans and other things of that nature. So I'm just trying to think of how we might be able to move to a system that can provide a greater degree of accountability and justice.
There are a couple of things that I think can be done to begin to potentially address this issue, and that is the implementation of more implicit-bias screening and training of police officers, to try to get at this irrational fear of black people that they seem to all universally have. So I would suggest that there needs to be an emphasis on implicit-bias training, both at the screening process and through continual in-service training of officers.
A colleague of mine at Cleveland State conducted research that showed that departments that have a policy that requires the reporting of every instance, every time an officer draws their weapon and aims it, that they have to file a report. That policy has been shown to have an impact on diminishing police-involved shootings.
So those are two strategies that I think have the potential to help to address these issues to some degree. But there's much more research that needs to be done in this area. And other than that, the legislature will need to strengthen our laws to help to address that. And then, once again, it's incumbent that we have to do something within the courts to try to offset this bias that is automatically given to law enforcement.
What's clear is that something has to change. And I just want to ask you, finally, thoughts you have about the role of journalism here. I mean, I am tired of coverage that claims that the whole country is going through a "painful reckoning," when the pain seems, in fact, very localized, and I don't know what kind of reckoning it is that goes on for hundreds of years and doesn't get reckoned. Or where things are framed in terms of "community/police relations," when we're really talking about ending police violence.
There are certainly things that media could do less of, I think. What would you like to see journalists do more of? Are there kinds of stories you think are missing, that might push this rock down the road?
Well, I think it's imperative that journalists continue to do the type of investigative journalism that we saw The Washington Post undertake, and the crowdsourcing of these police killings to develop these databases and fill in some of those gaps -- that the federal government, in this instance, were not providing relevant data, so we would even know the magnitude of this problem. As we see with social media, it has brought this issue out of the dark and shone light on it nationally. Where these type of incidents and shootings have been taking place for God knows how long, it's only with the advent of cellphone cameras and social media that it has now come to light, and been placed on the national and public agenda.
Media has a vital role to play in that, journalists [should] continue to shine light on that, and just keep it out there in the forefront, particularly in this current political environment that we're in, with the changes in Washington, and the return to the war on drugs regime, and the aggressive policing that we saw over the past 30 to 40 years.
We've been speaking with Ronnie Dunn, professor of urban studies at Ohio's Cleveland State University. Ronnie Dunn, thank you so much for joining us today on CounterSpin.
Thank you. My pleasure.