Truthout Stories Mon, 24 Nov 2014 19:34:23 -0500 en-gb Are Killers Still in Charge of Our Health Care?

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Malcolm MacDougall is dead, but he left us a really important message before he died.

Just five days before he died of prostate cancer, Malcolm MacDougall, a speechwriter and creative director, wrote about the ordeal he was being put through by his insurance company, Health Republic/MagnaCare.

MacDougall's tale, if true, is another piece of evidence that shows that even with the significant improvements of Obamacare, our health-care system is still broken because for-profit health insurance companies are at the core of it, and they will always, always put profits ahead of people.

For five months, MacDougall writes, he repeatedly had payments denied by Health Republic/MagnaCare for his medical bills.

Every time he went to a doctor or cancer specialist, MacDougall says he made sure that they were covered under Health Republic/MagnaCare. He made sure that they were considered "in-network," meaning that they took his plan.

MacDougall even got letters from the insurance company saying that specific treatments "meet criteria and have been certified," only to find out later, he writes, that they weren't covered and that he was out-of-pocket thousands of dollars.

MacDougall writes that when he asked Health Republica/MagnaCare about those letters, and why the procedures were initially approved and then later denied, all an insurance representative told him was, "we will get back to you on that." They never, he says, got back to him.

And, MacDougall reports, when he asked the insurance company why it took them five months to tell him that none of his doctors' visits or procedures were covered, he says they told him, "we can't possibly inform all of our customers when things like this happen."

Later, MacDougall switched to another oncologist who he says was considered "in-network."

The first thing that doctor did when he saw MacDougall was order a CAT scan to see how the cancer was progressing, and if any new areas could be targeted with treatment.

Health Republic/MagnaCare refused to pay for that test too, MacDougall wrote, even though the new doctor was definitely "in-network."

That CAT scan was already months overdue, but MacDougall had to put it on hold previously because, he says, Health Republic/MagnaCare was refusing to pay for it.

Throughout the progression of his cancer, MacDougall wrote that he had to routinely delay treatments and doctors' visits, which he wrote could have helped slow the spread of the cancer, prolong his life and ease his pain.

Towards the end of October, MacDougall took a turn for the worse. His pain was off the charts, and he found that the cancer had spread from his ribs to his spine, and was dangerously close to entering his spinal cord.

Knowing that he was facing a life and death situation, MacDougall decided that he couldn't worry about the costs of the procedures, and went ahead with more MRI's, CAT scans, biopsies and radiation therapy.

Unfortunately, those latest treatments weren't enough, and MacDougall passed away.

Just days before his death, MacDougall writes that he got a letter from Health Republic/MagnaCare, explaining that, "the request for outpatient medical services has been reviewed and has not been certified."

It was, he writes, another refusal to cover the costs of his treatments.

But that letter went on to say something else. Speaking about MacDougall, it said that, "Member is over 85 years old and continues to smoke."

Referring to that statement, MacDougall wrote that, "So, that's it. According to my insurers, I have already lived too long. And because, until recently, I enjoyed my two or three cigarettes a day, I am a bad boy who is not worth the cost of keeping alive. No wonder they won't pay."

When asked by The Daily Beast to comment on Malcom MacDougall's tragic story, Health Republica/MagnaCare released a statement saying that, "Health Republic Insurance of New York reviews coverage requests to determine if service is covered under the member's plan. We ensure that service is delivered within established evidence-based clinical guidelines issued by recognized national authorities. Our reviews are conducted by highly trained clinicians. In addition, Health Republic has one of the broadest networks of doctors and hospitals in the state, including Memorial Sloan Kettering, one of the leading cancer hospitals in New York and across the country."

In other words, there was no explanation offered for why payment for MacDougall's treatments and doctors' visits was routinely denied, or why doctors who were supposedly "in-network" weren't covered.

Whether MacDougall's charges are true or not, they're similar to complaints people have made about for-profit insurance companies for generations.

Even with Obamacare, US for-profit health insurance companies are still incentivized by their for-profit status to put profits ahead of people's lives.

They're raking in billions of dollars in profits, while you and I can easily be forced to delay treatments or doctors' visits, and while people like Malcolm MacDougall are losing their lives.

Now, a lot of this could be resolved. We could have these for-profit insurance companies out of our lives once and for all.

Calling for Medicare as a public option would be a good start, and it could be added into the Affordable Care Act with a single page of legislation.

But that simple legislative fix is highly unlikely, because Republicans will soon be in control of Congress, and will continue to pursue the "Caucus Room" conspiracy of sabotaging the Obama presidency at every turn possible.

So instead, it's up to you and me to keep pushing for a national single payer health-care system, and to encourage more states to follow in Vermont's footsteps, which will soon have our nation's first single-payer state-wide system.

Obamacare was a good start for reeling in for-profit insurance companies and their "profits over people" platform, but it's not enough.

No more Americans should die because of delayed treatments and denied doctors' visits all done in the name of increased profits.

Opinion Mon, 24 Nov 2014 15:38:50 -0500
Obama Refuses to Close Door on Torture

This year President Barack Obama rejected two excellent opportunities to close the door on the shameful use of torture and cruelty by the United States. First, his administration has resisted attempts by Senate investigators to release a coherent version of their report on torture by the Central Intelligence Agency. Such refusals have led to speculation that they have sought to delay matters so that Republicans can block its release after they take control of the chamber in January. Second, the Obama State Department said last week that the Convention Against Torture requires it to prevent torture only in places that the U.S. "controls as a governmental authority."

The media made much of the U.S. declaration that "torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment are forbidden in all places, at all times, with no exceptions." But this statement of principle is not new. Starting with President Ronald Reagan, the U.S. has taken the position that torture and cruel treatment are banned. President George W. Bush departed from this principle — although even he paid lip service to the ideal.

More strikingly, the U.S. didn't explain whether it believed that torture and cruel treatment was forbidden worldwide under domestic law or under the torture treaty. This distinction is important. The brutal tactics employed by the U.S. after 9/11 have led many observers to question its commitment to postwar human rights treaties. Both allied and hostile nations were watching to see if Obama acknowledged that the U.S. was bound by global torture standards. His answer did not reassure them.   

The goal of the torture treaty is twofold: to reiterate the absolute ban on torture and to effect the ban by requiring countries to take practical measures to prevent and punish torture, no matter where it takes place.

The Obama administration, however, has taken the position that only people within its governmental authority — for example, at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility or aboard U.S.-flagged aircraft and ships — are covered by legal restrictions against torture and cruel treatment. This stance is better than that of the previous administration, which argued that the ban simply didn't apply to operations abroad. But it provides little comfort to those over whom the U.S. exercises control but who are technically under the authority of another country. For instance, the prisoners held at the U.S. air base in Bagram, Afghanistan, where the United States calls the shots even though it exercises only partial legal control, may be out of luck. The CIA black sites that Obama shut down? Probably not covered either.

The administration's legal parsing is somewhat hard to accept, because under domestic law, including the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act, the U.S. is forbidden from subjecting any person under its "physical control" to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, no matter where they are. As the president's own former top international lawyer has argued, it requires no change in law or policy to acknowledge that such conduct is forbidden under the torture treaty as well.

Perhaps Obama dithered because the treaty obliges countries to prevent torture and cruelty. In addition to ensuring that U.S. soldiers and spies don't torture people, the U.S. is not allowed to use proxies to get around the rules. In conducting the war on terrorism, the U.S. sent people to be interrogated by security agencies notorious for their use of torture, in countries such as Egypt and Jordan. Just last week the U.S. asked Congress to exempt its operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant from the 1997 law that bars funding military units suspected of "gross human rights violations" such as murder, torture and extrajudicial imprisonment.

A clean break from Bush's legacy requires the Obama administration to renounce the country's direct use of torture as well as its use by those whose conduct we control. The risks of equivocating are great. By not taking a firm stance, Obama leaves the door open for future presidents — as well as other countries — to claim the authority to abuse people who are held in foreign territory or to use proxies to do so.

The president has been too timid to bring the country back from the dark side. Instead, he has left the national debate in a gray area where the morality and efficacy of torture and cruelty continue to be up for discussion. As a result, he has left the world insecure about the U.S. stance, wondering whether his administration wishes to maintain some wiggle room on the universal ban against brutality.

News Mon, 24 Nov 2014 13:37:37 -0500
Tallying Up Returns on Corporations' Political Investments

Amount that the 200 most politically active corporations in the U.S. spent on federal lobbying and campaign contributions between 2007 and 2012, according to a new report from the Sunlight Foundation titled "Fixed Fortunes": $5.8 billion

In return, amount they got in federal business and support: $4.4 trillion

For every dollar spent influencing politics, amount these corporations received from the federal government, on average: $760

Total value of federal government-issued contracts to purchase goods and services during that period: more than $3 trillion

Portion of those contracts that went to these most politically active corporations: 1/3

Rank of finance, insurance and real estate among the sectors that accounted for most of the 200 corporate political powerhouses: 1

Total amount in loans and other assistance issued under a program created by Congress to address the 2008 financial crisis: $410 billion

Percent of that which went to just 16 of these politically influential companies: 73

Number of foreign financial service and banking firms that were among the companies that received the biggest returns on their political investments: 3*

Amount that North Carolina-based Bank of America spent on campaign contributions and lobbying during the period studied: $45.2 million

Value of federal business and support it got in return: $476.2 billion

Amount that Georgia-based utility giant Southern Co. spent on campaign contributions and lobbying: $86.2 million

Value of federal business and support it got in return: $597.6 million

Southern Co.'s effective tax rate: 11%

Amount that North Carolina-based utility giant Duke Energy spent on contributions and lobbying: $36 million

Value of federal business and support it got: $229.7 million

Duke Energy's effective tax rate: 3%

Portion of Americans who believe corporations should have to pay more in taxes: 2/3

Percent of Americans who trust the federal government: 19

* UBS and Credit Suisse Group of Switzerland and Deutsche Bank of Germany.

(The figures in this index are all from "Fixed Fortunes: Biggest corporate political interests spend billions, get trillions" by Bill Allison and Sarah Harkins of the Sunlight Foundation.)

News Mon, 24 Nov 2014 13:22:06 -0500
Tough Lessons for Rahm

Students, parents and activists staged one protest after another last year against Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan to close 50 schools. The closings have been the most controversial item on the mayor's education agenda, which is likely to play a significant role in next year's mayoral election. (Photo: Jonathan Gibby)Students, parents and activists staged one protest after another last year against Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan to close 50 schools. The closings have been the most controversial item on the mayor's education agenda, which is likely to play a significant role in next year's mayoral election. (Photo: Jonathan Gibby)

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Chicago - On a Monday evening in September, the normally desolate stretch of 75th Street near Yates Avenue in South Shore was lined with cars. Inside a banquet hall, Charles Kyle sat on a small stage with Karen Lewis and asked her questions about crime, economic development and, most of all, education.

"Renaissance 2010 was a real-estate plan," Lewis told the crowd in her matter-of-fact style. Lewis was referring to former Mayor Richard M. Daley's controversial plan, aggressively continued by his successor Rahm Emanuel, to open new schools while closing failing ones in an effort to keep middle-class families in the city. "I don't think many people understand that."

Though the mayoral election was months away, Lewis, the head of the Chicago Teachers Union, was gearing up to mount a dramatic challenge to Emanuel in his bid for a second term. As is well-known by now, serious health issues forced Lewis to bow out of the race before she officially entered it. 

Yet Kyle, the moderator for the Exchange Ideas community forum, which sponsors events aimed at improving South Shore, says the concerns that drew so many residents out to hear Lewis and cling to her words still weigh heavily on the neighborhood.

Black communities, more so than any other neighborhoods in Chicago, have been dramatically affected by the education reform policies championed by Emanuel. The neighborhoods are simultaneously struggling with crime, high unemployment, loss of wealth as a result of the housing crisis and a dire need for economic investment.

A case in point: Last year, South Shore became a food desert when the Dominick's grocery store on 71st Street closed, leaving residents with one neighborhood choice: a weekend farmers market. The neighborhood's dilemma reflects the economic development problems faced by other black communities in the city that want to lure new businesses and jobs. For example, tax increment finance districts, created to spark economic development, have not generated the same level of revenue on the South Side as elsewhere. Among the city's active TIFs, not a single district on the South Side is ranked in the top 20 for property tax revenue. 

Meanwhile, the anger about schools came to a head with last year's closings of 50 schools, virtually all in black neighborhoods. And it is squarely at Emanuel's doorstep, a potential threat to his re-election hopes: A shocking 77 percent of black voters disapprove of Emanuel's handling of schools and only 10 percent agree with the policy of increasing funding for charter schools while cutting budgets for neighborhood schools, according to an August 2014 Chicago Tribune poll. 

Education also promises to figure prominently in aldermanic races, where both the teachers union and the group Democrats for Education Reform, which supports Emanuel's policies, are seeking to field and support candidates who will back their agendas.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announces playground improvements at Kelly Park in Brighton Park. Over the past few months, as Emanuel gears up for the mayoral campaign, he has announced a number of school and park playground improvements. (Photo: Emily Jan)Mayor Rahm Emanuel announces playground improvements at Kelly Park in Brighton Park. Over the past few months, as Emanuel gears up for the mayoral campaign, he has announced a number of school and park playground improvements. (Photo: Emily Jan)

Mayoral challenger Bob Fioretti calls Emanuel the most divisive education politician since Michelle Rhee, the former Washington, D.C., schools chief who made national headlines for shaking up the district but became mired in allegations of test-score cheating on her watch.

"For the sake of politics, he gave children the shaft," Fioretti says. 

Another challenger, Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, spoke to an audience of teachers union members at a recent dinner and told them that a belief in the importance of neighborhood schools is what sets him apart from Emanuel. Garcia recounted his involvement in a hunger strike that led to the creation of Little Village High School. 

"We stood up for our children and protected them," Garcia told the audience, after receiving Lewis' crucial endorsement. "Instead of closing our schools, I believe in successful community schools."

Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett says she has not seen the polls that show dissatisfaction with the mayor's policies. And she strongly disagrees with the notion that neighborhood schools have suffered from disinvestment under Emanuel. The district has spent "tens of millions of dollars" putting new STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curricula and International Baccalaureate programs into some neighborhood schools, while providing extra help to failing schools, Byrd-Bennett points out. "These things have made a tremendous difference," she says.

* * *

The dissatisfaction with Emanuel's education agenda is local evidence of a rising tide against the current version of "school reform." In New York City, for example, Mayor Bill de Blasio rode to victory on campaign promises that he would curb charter expansion and standardized tests, and forge better relationships with teachers and parents.  

Chicago's mass school closings became symbolic across the country of the disinvestment in neighborhood schools that has come as a result of the privatization movement, says author and education historian Diane Ravitch.

"No one had ever done that in one day in America," she says of the 50 closings. Ravitch, who is also on the education faculty at New York University, is perhaps the most outspoken and well-known critic of the reform movement that she once strongly supported. 

The public is also increasingly resistant to the use of standardized tests, another hallmark of reform. More and more, people have begun to realize that standardized tests are used to justify the closing of neighborhood schools and privatization of school systems, Ravitch says. 

A recent report by the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, known as FairTest, examined the anti-testing movement. According to the report, in New York City, 60,000 children and their parents refused to take federally mandated state tests in grades three through eight in 2014, up from a few thousand in 2013. More than 1,000 children and families opted out in both Chicago and Colorado, FairTest found, and smaller numbers of families did so in other regions.

Meanwhile, the charter movement is now more than a decade old and the public is starting to ask hard questions about it, notes Peter Cunningham, who was press secretary for Arne Duncan when Duncan ran Chicago schools and followed him to the U.S. Department of Education. 

"We are further down the path," says Cunningham, who now runs an organization called Education Post. "Is it enough to say that 29 percent of charter schools out-perform traditional schools? Maybe it should be 40 percent or 50 percent. It is not acceptable for charter schools to be worse." 

CEO Byrd-Bennett says she is "absolutely agnostic [about] the type of school" and wants to talk instead about high-quality schools.

She also points out that her administration has held charter schools accountable by creating a warning list for those not performing well, and closing two charters during her tenure. But the mayor and Byrd-Bennett will not commit to curtailing charter expansion altogether. 

These days, Emanuel talks little about charter schools, perhaps recognizing that they are not politically popular.  No new ones will be approved for next school year, putting the timetable for the approval process outside the timeframe for the run-up to the mayoral election. 

* * *

Providing a good education for his son has always been a priority for Charles Kyle and his son's mother, Kyle says. But the issue really hit home when he began to look at schools as his son was nearing kindergarten age. He went to visit Madison Elementary School, which he had attended until sixth grade. Along with familiarity, proximity was a factor: Madison is located less than a block from where he lives. 

Kyle says he would have liked to show his commitment to the neighborhood by sending his son to the local school. But he just wasn't impressed. "The kindergarten classroom didn't have sight words on the wall," he says. The school's test scores are average to below-average. 

Fewer than half of the children who live in the attendance area go to Madison, which has space for up to 750 students, but enrolled only 233 students at the time Kyle visited. 

So when Kyle's son was offered a seat at Murray Language Academy, a magnet school two neighborhoods away in Hyde Park, he reluctantly accepted it. Murray has high test scores and also offers foreign language classes—French, Spanish, Japanese and Mandarin Chinese—every day. 

Charles Kyle picks up his son Landon, who attends kindergarten at Murray Language Academy in Hyde Park. Like most South Shore residents, Kyle decided not to send his son to a neighborhood school. Kyle felt his local school was not up to par academically. (Photo: Grace Donnelly)Charles Kyle picks up his son Landon, who attends kindergarten at Murray Language Academy in Hyde Park. Like most South Shore residents, Kyle decided not to send his son to a neighborhood school. Kyle felt his local school was not up to par academically. (Photo: Grace Donnelly)

Kyle's experience is replicated in families throughout South Shore: About 8,000 school-aged children live in the community, but instead of attending the neighborhood schools, they are spread out among 364 schools across the city. That means more than half of the city's public schools have at least one student from South Shore, according to a Catalyst Chicago analysis.

Yet the exodus hasn't resulted in children traveling to substantially better schools. Among those children who leave the neighborhood to attend school, only 21 percent are enrolled in top schools. A larger number, 25 percent, are enrolled in schools with test scores that are among the worst in the city. African-American students are more likely to travel to mediocre or poor-performing schools than any other group of children.

The phenomenon is not new. For years, the number of students traveling outside their neighborhood to school has been on the rise. And one point in Emanuel's favor is that a smaller percentage of students are now making the trip to low-achieving schools than under Daley, according to a Catalyst analysis. 

Still, Byrd-Bennett says she is "very worried" about the numbers and says the district needs to do a better job of sharing information with parents. "Sometimes schools appeal to parents because they are quiet or calm, but they are not high-quality [educationally]," she says. 

Last year's school closings may have aggravated the trend: Two-thirds of the schools designated to take in displaced children experienced a significant drop in state test scores—an indicator that children from closed schools perhaps fared no better academically in their new ones. 

* * *

Another bone of contention in black communities is the diminishing public input and control of decisions about schools in African-American neighborhoods. 

When Emanuel walked into office, only three of the schools in South Shore and South Chicago, the community next door, were run by private entities. Now, eight of 21 schools, or about 38 percent, are either charter schools, contract schools or turnaround schools, which are managed by the non-profit Academy for Urban School Leadership.  

A telling example is evident in South Shore. Val Free, execcutive director of the South Shore Planning Coalition, recalls the opening of Great Lakes Academy, a charter school that is technically in South Chicago but draws South Shore students. 

Free feels that Great Lakes was forced upon the community unnecessarily. Virtually all the neighborhood elementary schools in the surrounding area are underutilized. While many are low-performing schools, one of them, Powell Elementary, earned the highest academic rating last year. 

"Why would you try to dilute Powell by adding a charter?" Free says. "It seems like sabotage."

Neither the planning coalition nor the South Shore Community Action Council—one of several such entities created by CPS to weigh in on school decisions—supported the Great Lakes plan. Yet school board members approved it and the charter opened its doors last school year.

Free says her group asked the charter operator to sign a community benefits agreement that would stipulate having a certain number of people from the neighborhood on the school's board, in the classroom and in other jobs, such as janitorial. 

Great Lakes Charter operator Katherine Myers was resistant, Free says. At one point, the charter did offer spots on the board to community members. Yet when Free was nominated to serve, Myers refused because Free had opposed the opening of the school. 

Despite how she felt about the school, Free says she would have been fair on the board out of a desire to have the students get a good education. (Myers did not return numerous calls from Catalyst.)

Henry English, the head of the Black United Fund, which supports local non-profits and is active in the community, says he is disappointed when he sees the teachers walking through the doors of Great Lakes. 

"They seem short on experience," he says. "Great Lakes did not hire any teachers from the community… that is for sure." 

* * *

2014 1124chicag 4The impact of school actions—closings, turnarounds in which most teachers end up losing their jobs, and charter expansion—on the black teaching force is a major flashpoint for many in the black community. African-American teachers have borne the brunt of layoffs as a result of closings, since the teaching force at shuttered schools was largely made up of veteran black teachers, according to an analysis of Illinois teacher service records. Meanwhile, the new, privately run schools have tended to hire younger, white teachers.

Citywide, 1,134 black educators—teachers, social workers and school counselors—are gone from the CPS payroll in recent years, according to CTU data. (The numbers include retirees.)  In South Shore, the number is 91. These job figures help fuel antagonism toward charters and turnaround schools. 

What typically has happened to schools in South Shore and other black communities is the exact opposite of what has taken place in white and Latino communities. 

Take Lakeview, a mostly white North Side community that, like South Shore, sits on the lakefront. Here, 70 percent of children attend their neighborhood school. Of those students who travel outside the community, nearly 90 percent land at a high-achieving school. No charters or contract schools operate in Lakeview. No schools have closed or undergone a turnaround. And since 2011, 140 additional teachers are working in schools in the neighborhood.

The contrast in what has happened in different communities has been by design. Andrea Zopp, a school board member and head of the Chicago Urban League, told a City Club audience recently that charters and other privately run schools were opened in neighborhoods that needed "quality options." 

District officials have also maintained that school closings were intended to make the school system more efficient by shuttering buildings with too few children, and that the closings were done at one time to minimize disruption over multiple years.  

But the closings were still a bitter pill for many to swallow. And as for choice, education organizer Jitu Brown of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization argues that what people want is good neighborhood schools, not a million options to sift through. Brown is also national coordinator for Journey for Justice, an alliance of activists who have fought against school closings, turnarounds and charter expansion in communities of color.

"It has ripped black communities apart, and people are becoming more sophisticated and angry," Brown says.

* * *

Last year, Kyle worked in an afterschool program at Fiske Elementary in Woodlawn, a school designated to take in displaced students from Sexton. Kyle says that the students in his program felt as if they were being moved around like pawns on a chess board.

"No one asked them what they felt about the merger," Kyle says. "They didn't have a choice at all, and they felt abandoned by the staff at their old school."

The first few months at Fiske were rough, Kyle recalls. Students fought and the staff struggled to maintain discipline. Eventually, the environment calmed down. But Kyle worries that the disappointment the students had in the education system will linger.

Like others, Free has mixed feelings about the closings. The schools were failing and "not producing global citizens," she says. Free, like so many parents, decided not to send her son to a neighborhood high school; instead, she enrolled him at the Chicago Military Academy at Bronzeville, a good 6 miles from South Shore.

Yet what didn't make sense to her, and still does not, is that immediately after closing schools, neighborhoods with a lot of half-empty buildings got new schools thrust on them. 

Byrd-Bennett acknowledges that some community groups are still unhappy about the closings, but adds that parents of displaced students have told her they are pleased with the education their children are getting. 

According to CPS statistics, 74 percent of welcoming schools saw their enrollment fall by more than 10 students. Byrd-Bennett said she is not familiar with those figures.

* * *

When Emanuel talks about schools now, he emphasizes new programs and statistics that have improved, like graduation rates. The five-year graduation rate this year was 69 percent, up from 58 percent when he came into office.

Kyle says the statistic does not resonate for him or people in his community. Despite areas of South Shore that are wealthier, the community still has blocks crowded with abandoned apartment buildings, boarded-up businesses, high unemployment and too many young guys hanging out with nothing to do all day.  

The graduation rate for black males in Chicago still hovers at about 50 percent and is still the lowest compared with other racial groups. A shocking 92 percent of black male teens in Chicago are unemployed, according to a January 2014 Chicago Urban League report.

Sitting at a coffee shop one day, Kyle looks out the window and points to a young man whose shoulders are slouched as he peers down the block.  Kyle says the boy's name is Donte and he worked with him at Fiske.  "I told him to go home, but look, he is back out there," he says. 

The combination of dropouts and high unemployment means that illegal activity is commonplace. This reality intertwines with other concerns, including education and the ability to attract businesses to the neighborhood. 

It becomes a cycle that is hard for a community to break. "I never saw a good school surrounded by a depressed community," says Kyle.

The Chicago Reporter is a nonprofit investigative news organization that focuses on race, poverty and income inequality. 

News Mon, 24 Nov 2014 13:23:04 -0500
On the News With Thom Hartmann: The Future of the Postal Service May Be in Jeopardy, and More

In today's On the News segment: If Congress refuses to act in the next month, the future of the United States Postal Service could be in jeopardy; about one out of every 30 kids in the US is homeless; Walmart workers are preparing for their biggest Black Friday strike yet; and more.


Thom Hartmann here – on the best of the rest of Economic and Labor News...

You need to know this. If Congress refuses to act in the next month, the future of the United States Postal Service could be in jeopardy. This lame duck session may be the last chance to pass the Postal Reform Act of 2014 before Sen. Ron Johnson takes over as chair of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, which oversees the Postal Service. While that legislation is far from perfect, it's unlikely that the new, anti-union, pro-privatization Republican chairman will offer any better solutions. The Postal Reform Act of 2014 would begin to scale back the poison-pill requirement that they pre-fund employee benefits 75 years into the future. However, that bipartisan bill would also open the door to ending Saturday mail delivery, raising postal rates, or even stopping door-to-door delivery. As bad as those provisions may be, none of them are mandated in the bill, and they could be removed from the legislation before it's enacted. And, they're still far better than Ron Johnson's suggestions, which include bankruptcy, layoffs, terminating union contracts, and even privatization. They only way to prevent Republicans from trying to push these extreme measures is to pass the Postal Reform Act now, preferably without provisions that threaten Saturday or door-to-door delivery. The Postal Service is a national treasure that has provided reliable, affordable communication since the beginning of our country. Republicans can't stand the fact that USPS is the largest unionized employer in our nation, and that's one of the most important reasons we must fight to protect it. There are only a few days left in this lame duck session, so call Congress now and tell them to save the Postal Service.

About one out of every 30 kids in the US is homeless. A new report called "America's Youngest Outcasts" from the National Center on Family Homelessness says that almost 2.5 million children did not have a place to call home at some point in 2013. That's an all-time high for our nation, but it's not the type of record we should be celebrating. In the richest country on Earth, low-wages, lack of affordable housing, and a shrinking social safety net are pushing more and more parents out on the street, and that means their kids are going right along with them. These homeless children face immediate problems like hunger and illness, but the long-term effects on their education and social development can impact their entire lives. Carmela DeCandia, one of the co-authors of the report, said, "As a society, we're going to pay a high price in human and economic terms." We're failing these kids, and there is no acceptable reason for it. We can afford to pay parents more. We can afford to fund our safety net. And, if we can't afford to care for our children, what right do we have to call ourselves "exceptional?"

Walmart workers are preparing for their biggest Black Friday strike yet. For the last two years, employees and organizers from the group Our Walmart held rallies outside Walmart stores all over the country. This year, protests are expected outside at least 1,600 stores, and workers will be joined by tens of thousands of their supporters. Once again, these protests will focus on the workers' fight for better wages and the right to unionize, and they'll take place on the busiest shopping day of the year. Organizers hope to remind shoppers that the low-price retailer can afford to pay a living wage without raising prices, and highlight their ongoing fight to help workers form a union. Walmart rakes in billions every year in profits, and even more in direct and in-direct taxpayer subsidies. There's no excuse for the company to keep paying poverty wages. The Our Walmart protesters want the right to fair pay and union representation, and they're not giving up until those reasonable demands have been met.

You may think that slavery came to an end about 150 years ago, but according to Australia's "Walk Free Foundation," you'd be wrong. A new report from that organization says that slavery was found in every country they studied, and there are more than 35 million people living in slavery right now. That report explains that forms of modern-day slavery range from children being forced to work or marry early, to men who can't leave work because of crushing debts, to women and girls who are exploited as unpaid, abused domestic help. Even here in the U.S., the researchers found people subject to many different forms of modern-day slavery, like bonded labor, physical confinement, or deplorable working conditions without rest or drinking water. Our so-called developed nation is not immune to human exploitation. Andrew Forrest, Chairman of the Walk Free Foundation, said, "These findings show that modern slavery exists in every country. We are all responsible for the most appalling situations where modern slavery exists and the desperate misery it brings upon our fellow human beings." And, that means we're all responsible for bringing this horrible practice to an end.

And finally... New York City understands that internet access is a basic right, not a privilege. So, next year, the Big Apple is going to turn their old payphones into free WiFi hotspots. The new plan, called LinkNYC, will replace 10,000 decrepit payphones with new towers that offer people free WiFi, nationwide calling, and even a place to charge their phones and other devices. Even in New York City, one of the most modern cities on the planet, 20 percent of residents don't have access to high-speed internet. That number is even higher among minority communities and the elderly. Considering that many important applications, services, and agencies are now only available online, the lack of internet access can prevent someone from applying for jobs, registering for government benefits, or requesting help with various services. These new WiFi hotspots can help bridge that gap, and connect millions to the world wide web. Although the LinkNYC plan hasn't been approved yet, city regulators are already working to ensure it complies with laws and regulations, and a team of companies is ready to install the new towers. Just like basic phone service and utilities, everyone should have access to the web, and LinkNYC is a great way to make that happen.

And that's the way it is - for the week of November 24, 2014 – I'm Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.

News Mon, 24 Nov 2014 12:47:42 -0500
Thanksgiving Tirade ]]> Art Mon, 24 Nov 2014 12:36:27 -0500 Nearly 5 Million Undocumented Immigrants Benefit From President Obama's Executive Action

The ongoing debate regarding the nearly 11 million undocumented people living in the United States played out in dramatic form on Thursday evening. President Barack Obama made a live address to the nation announcing his executive actions on immigration reform. The speech was a culmination of nearly six years of contentiousness between the White House and, well, everyone else.

From the very beginning of his presidency, President Obama was at odds over his approach to immigration. The first criticism came from his most ardent supporters due to his continuation, and expansion, of the Secure Communities Program that started under former President George W. Bush. Anyone who was booked into a jail, whether it was a simple traffic violation or a more serious offense, was fingerprinted. The information was shared with federal authorities, who would then match them against a database of immigrants, both legal and undocumented.

This led to a significant increase in deportations, causing immigrants rights groups to dub the president the “deporter-in-chief.”

The move was a political calculation on the part of the White House to curb criticism from opponents ready to label the president soft on border security and illegal immigration. After the 2010 midterms, where Republicans gained the majority in the House, the immigration debate became more heated and difficult. Nevertheless, the Senate was able to pass a sweeping bipartisan reform bill in 2013 that gave those already here without legal status a chance to stay and pursue citizenship. It also altered provisions for family sponsorship, eased rules for employers to hire foreign workers and required an extensive increase in border security.

The bill never made it out of the House.

This summer, the president promised to use the power of the executive branch wherever possible to address the decades’ long issues with immigration. He had already done so in 2012, when he signed an executive order establishing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program. That allowed the issuing of work permits and protection from deportation for undocumented immigrants under the age of 31 who came here as children. This enabled them to live and work temporarily with the option to renew their permits every two years.

As many of those permits are being renewed, the president has, once again, been forced to act where Congress has not.

In the nearly 15 minute speech, the president reminded the nation of the ongoing issues and the steps that have been taken to improve the system. He pointed out that Congress has had the opportunity to take action, and that the 2013 Senate bill is still awaiting a vote in the House of Representatives. He also said he was ready to follow up on his promise from this summer and do what he could via executive action.

He announced the continuation and expansion of the DACA program. He eliminated the age cap of 31, and opened it to anyone who arrived in the US illegally prior to the age of 16, in the country for at least five years, even if they were over the age of 31 in 2012. Furthermore, those adults that came in as children and have lived here since January 1, 2010 are also available for the temporary two year visa and the subsequent renewals.

These newly eligible immigrants can begin applying next year.

Undocumented parents with children that qualify under DACA or who have children that are American citizens can also apply for a temporary visa if they have lived in the country for five years or more. To do so, they must register with the government, pass a criminal background check and pay all applicable taxes. While this will not grant a path to citizenship or otherwise bestow rights to those that are legal residents, they can now remain in the country without fear of deportation.

The immigrants that qualify for these visas also have greater flexibility to travel outside of the country. For those here on employment visas, they will be able to change jobs more easily. Their spouses will also find it easier to get visas.

The new actions include a new approach to deportations by focusing strictly on criminals and not families. While many local cities and states were not participating in the Secure Communities Program, the focus on criminal activity will reduce the number of undocumented immigrants that were deported for minor infractions. There will also be immigration enforcement reform, as well as continued focus on border security.

The order still falls short of the 2013 Senate bill. The president does not have legal authority to allow parents of the children who qualified for DACA in 2012 to apply for temporary status. Immigrants cannot be granted permanent status by the president’s order, as that can only be done by Congress. And unlike the Senate bill, those immigrants already deported can not apply to return. Most importantly, no one who has been here for less than five years is eligible for any of these reprieves.

It is expected that these actions will allow almost 5 million undocumented immigrants to remain in the US legally, at least temporarily.

While critics are suggesting that the president’s actions are illegal, he has simply followed a long line of previous president exercising similar authority. Furthermore, legal scholars agree that this falls under the authority of the Executive Branch. In fact, President Ronald Reagan, the last president credited with significant immigration reform, perfected the law passed by Congress in 1985, by issuing an executive order.

President Reagan’s order also shielded family members from deportation.

The president acknowledged his critics would be unhappy with his moves, but said that he was willing to work with them to find a permanent solution. “To those members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill,” he reminded them.

He continued, “The day I sign that bill into law, the actions I take will no longer be necessary.”

The ball is now in Congress’ court. Again.

News Mon, 24 Nov 2014 11:35:55 -0500
Obama Extends War in Afghanistan

US soldiers shoot a round down range from their M777A2 howitzer on Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Aug. 22, 2014.US soldiers shoot a round down range from their M777A2 howitzer on Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Aug. 22, 2014. (Photo: Spc. Ariel Solomon / US Army; Edited: JR/TO)

News agencies reported Saturday morning that weeks ago President Obama signed an order, kept secret until now, to authorize continuation of the Afghan war for at least another year. The order authorizes US airstrikes “to support Afghan military operations in the country” and US ground troops to continue normal operations, which is to say, to “occasionally accompany Afghan troops” on operations against the Taliban.

The administration, in its leak to the New York Times, affirmed that there had been “heated debate” between Pentagon advisers and others in Obama’s cabinet chiefly concerned not to lose soldiers in combat.  Oil strategy isn't mentioned as having been debated and neither is further encirclement of China, but the most notable absence in the reporting was any mention of cabinet members’ concern for Afghan civilians affected by air strikes and ground troop operations, in a country already afflicted by nightmares of poverty and social breakdown.  

Here are just three events, excerpted from an August 2014 Amnesty International report, which President Obama and his advisors should have considered (and allowed into a public debate) before once more expanding the US combat role in Afghanistan:

1. In September, 2012 a group of women from an impoverished village in mountainous Laghman province were collecting firewood when a US plane dropped at least two bombs on them, killing seven and injuring seven others, four of them seriously. One villager, Mullah Bashir, told Amnesty, “…I started searching for my daughter. Finally I found her. Her face was covered with blood and her body was shattered.”

2. A US Special Operations Forces unit was responsible for extrajudicial killing, torture and enforced disappearances during the period of December, 2012 to February, 2013. Included among those tortured was 51 year old Qandi Agha, “a petty employee of the Ministry of Culture,” who described in detail the various torture techniques he suffered.  He was told that he would be tortured using “14 different types of torture”. These included: Beatings with cables, electric shock, prolonged, painful stress positions, repeated head first dunking in a barrel of water, and burial in a hole full of cold water for entire nights. He said that both US Special Forces and Afghans participated in the torture and often smoked hashish while doing so.

3. On March 26, 2013 the village of Sajawand was attacked by joint Afghan—ISAF (International Special Assistance Forces). Between 20-30 people were killed including children. After the attack, a cousin of one of the villagers visited the scene and stated, ”The first thing I saw as I entered the compound was a little child of maybe three years old whose chest was torn apart; you could see inside her body. The house was turned into a pile of mud and poles and there was nothing left. When we were taking out the bodies we didn’t see any Taliban among the dead, and we didn’t know why they were hit or killed.”

New York Times coverage of the leaked debate mentions Obama's promise, made earlier this year and now broken, to withdraw troops.  The article doesn’t make any other mention of US public opposition to a continuation of the war.

Attempts to remake Afghanistan by military force have resulted in warlordism, ever more widespread and desperate poverty, and bereavement for hundreds of thousands whose loved ones are among the tens of thousands of casualties. Area hospitals report seeing fewer IED injuries and many more bullet wounds from pitched battles between rival armed militias whose allegiances, Taliban, government, or other, are hard to determine.  With 40% of US weapon supplies to Afghan security forces now unaccounted for, many of the weapons employed on all sides may have been supplied by the US.

Meanwhile the implications for US democracy aren’t reassuring.  Was this decision really made weeks ago but only announced now that congressional elections are safely over? Was a Friday night cabinet leak, buried between official Administration announcements on immigration and Iran sanctions, really the President’s solution to the unpopularity of  a decision affecting the lives of so many?  With concern for the wishes of US citizens given so little weight, it is doubtful that much thought was given to the terrible costs of these military interventions for ordinary people trying to live, raise families and survive in Afghanistan.

But for those whose “heated debates” focus solely on what is best for US national interests, here are a few suggestions:

1. The US should end its current provocative drive toward military alliances and encirclement of Russia and China with missiles.  It should accept pluralism of economic and political power in the contemporary world.  Present US policies are provoking a return to Cold War with Russia and possibly beginning one with China.  This is a lose/lose proposition for all countries involved.

2. By a resetting of policy focused on cooperation with Russia, China and other influential countries within the framework of the United Nations, the United States could foster international mediation.

3. The US should offer generous medical and economic aid and technical expertise wherever it may be helpful in other countries and thus build a reservoir of international goodwill and positive influence.

That’s something that nobody would have to keep secret.

News Mon, 24 Nov 2014 11:23:23 -0500
Oklahoma Ignores Link Between Record Number of Earthquakes and Fracking Wastewater Disposal Wells

As Oklahoma continues to experience more earthquakes than California this year, residents are questioning why regulators haven’t taken any meaningful action to guard against increased seismic activity.

The US Geological Survey (USGS) says that wastewater injection into deep geologic formations, a part of the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) process, is a likely contributing factor to this increase in quakes. The phenomenon, known as “injection-induced seismicity,” has been documented for nearly half a century, according to the USGS.

“The rate of earthquakes in Oklahoma has increased remarkably since October 2013 — by about 50 per cent — significantly increasing the chance for a damaging magnitude 5.5 or greater quake in central Oklahoma,” says the USGS report.

Angela Spotts is one of many Oklahoma residents who is wondering why no meaningful action has been taken to safeguard residents.

Angela Spotts across from a drilling rig at a hydraulic fracturing site near her home. ©2014 Julie DermanskyAngela Spotts across from a drilling rig at a hydraulic fracturing site near her home. ©2014 Julie Dermansky

“It is kind of like an assault. You feel like you are being sacrificed for this gold they are pulling out of the ground. And you start meeting people that are getting sick,” Spotts, a member of Stop Fracking Payne County, told DeSmogBlog. “It is the tobacco industry all over again.” 

Drilling rig in Stillwater County, near Angela Spotts home. ©2014 Julie DermanskyDrilling rig in Stillwater County, near Angela Spotts home. ©2014 Julie Dermansky

When oil and gas companies use a method called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” they blast a high-pressure chemical concoction underground to break apart rock to release oil and gas. This process results in high volumes of toxic wastewater that is disposed of by injecting it at high pressures deep under ground into what are known as wastewater injection wells. These disposal wells can lubricate subterranean faults, causing earthquakes.

There have been more than 400 magnitude 3.0 or greater earthquakes in Oklahoma this year, coinciding with a fracking boom in Central and Northern Oklahoma, and across the state line in southern Kansas. Stop Fracking Payne County counts 480 earthquakes over magnitude 3.0 as of today. The group's figures are derived by following Oklahoma's USGS site.

“This isn’t new science,” Oklahoma State University geology professor Todd Halihan told DeSmogBlog.

What is new is how we deal with science that is coupled with uncertainty, he says. Though scientists can link injection well use to earthquakes, linking a specific well to a specific quake is not possible.

“Uncertainty used to be a reason we would slow things down and now uncertainly is being used to avoid things,” Halihan says. 

He fears that if no action is taken and there is a catastrophic quake, lives will be lost and, in the disaster’s aftermath, industry in the area could be shut down completely. 

“The options for moving forward in effective ways are not being taken,” Halihan said.

Though Halihan doesn’t believe there is a need to shut down all the wells, “taking high volume ones [wells] off line or lowering their rates is advisable. If seismicity is reduced or stops completely in the following months, a connection could be verified.”

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission, the agency that regulates the oil and gas industry in Oklahoma, stopped operations at an injection well thought to have caused a 4.3 magnitude earthquake near Cushing in October. Yet the commission still fails to embrace the science. 

A bipartisan interim study undertaken at the request of state representativesJason Murphey (R-Guthrie) and Cory Williams (D-Stillwater), whose districts are in areas with high levels of seismic activity, was presented at the state capitol on October 28. 

During the hearing, politicians questioned regulators and scientists who outlined the progress of research into the increased incidence of earthquakes in Oklahoma. After reviewing the data, the state is expected to write new legislation regarding wastewater injection well use. 

“The study reassured us that the Corporation Commission and governor’s Coordinating Council are working hard to research and oversee injection wells in Oklahoma,” State Rep. Mark McBride (R-Moore) said.

“Currently, there is no scientific evidence that there is a correlation between the injection wells and seismic activity,” states a press release from Moore.

Yet Halihan presented information during the hearing that says otherwise. And you’d think the US Geological Survey would count as a pretty reputable source.

Since the study, notable seismic events have rattled the state including five quakes that struck within minutes of each other on November 9 and a 4.8 earthquake on November 12 near Conway Springs, Kansas, that was felt in Oklahoma and Arkansas. 

The Oklahoma regulatory agency is not alone in ignoring the science that links earthquakes to injection well use. The Texas Railroad Commission came up with new rules to deal with injection wells after an earthquake swarm rattled cities west of Fort Worth. The commission’s new rules fail to acknowledge a connection between injection wells and seismic activity and are similar to new rules set in Oklahoma.

The connection between the fracking process and earthquakes is likely contributing to seismicity as well, according to Cliff Frohlich, associate director and senior research scientist at the Institute of Geophysics at the University of Texas at Austin.

“In the last year there have been three well-documented earthquakes that occurred during frack jobs and were probably related to fracking. They were all small earthquakes — of a magnitude of 2 or 3 — and, considering that there are millions of frack jobs, fracking-related earthquakes are rare,” Frohlich told NPR’s StateImpact Texas

Sara Winsted, a resident of Edmond, an upscale Oklahoma City suburb, finds the quakes terrifying and is frustrated with politicians in both parties for failing to act beyond asking for further study. 

“It isn't a Democratic or Republican issue. It is an earthquake fracking issue. Republicans are feeling the same earthquakes the liberals are,” she told DeSmogBlog. 

She downloaded apps on her phone to follow the activity, but many of the quakes don’t show up, so she calls them in to the USGS.

“There are many more than the USGS is reporting,” she says. 

An app on Sara Winsted’s phone shows her earthquakes around the world. ©2014 Julie DermanskyAn app on Sara Winsted’s phone shows her earthquakes around the world. ©2014 Julie Dermansky

Regulators in Oklahoma continue monitoring the situation while refusing to acknowledge the connection between fracking and earthquakes. Halihan points out there are psychological studies that show people only support science that supports their beliefs. 

“Science has become an opinion, versus a process that looks at data from a neutral perspective,” he says. 

Drilling rig in Stillwater County, Oklahoma, near Angela Spotts' home. ©2104 Julie DermanskyDrilling rig in Stillwater County, Oklahoma, near Angela Spotts' home. ©2104 Julie Dermansky

News Mon, 24 Nov 2014 11:10:01 -0500
Viggo Mortensen Helps Mark 10 Years of Howard Zinn's "Voices of a People's History"

Actors including Viggo Mortensen, Peter Sarsgaard and Kelly Macdonald are gathering in New York today for a reading of "Voices of a People’s History of the United States," based on the late historian Howard Zinn’s book "A People’s History of the United States" — which has sold over a million copies. The event marks the 10th anniversary of publication of "Voices," which was edited by Zinn and Anthony Arnove. Mortensen, an Academy Award-nominated actor whose credits include The Lord of the Rings trilogy, has appeared in numerous performances of "Voices" and is a cast member of the television documentary version, "The People Speak." He joins us along with Anthony Arnove to discuss the 10th anniversary of "Voices" and its continued political relevance today.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Actors including Viggo Mortensen, Peter Sarsgaard and Kelly Macdonald are gathering in New York today for a reading of Voices of a People’s History of the United States, based on the late historian Howard Zinn’s book, A People’s History of the United States, which has sold over a million copies. The event marks the 10th anniversary of publication of Voices, which was edited by Zinn and Anthony Arnove. At a reading in 2005 in Los Angeles, Zinn talked about why he wrote the book.

HOWARD ZINN: It seems that a lot of people who read the book were particularly struck by the fact that there were a lot of quotations in it, a lot of sort of nuggets of statements by people you don’t normally hear from, because I wasn’t quoting presidents and congressmen and industrialists and generals. No, I was quoting Native Americans and factory workers and women who went to work in the Lowell Mills at the age of 12 and died at the age of 25, very often. I was quoting dissenters of all sorts. Socialists and anarchists and antiwar people are heroes in this book. The people we quote are not Andrew Jackson, but the Indians that he ordered removed from the Southeastern states of the United States. You know, our heroes are not the war makers. Our heroes are not Theodore Roosevelt, but Mark Twain, not Woodrow Wilson, but Helen Keller.

AMY GOODMAN: Howard Zinn, speaking in 2005 at a reading of Voices of a People’s History of the United States. At the event, the actor Viggo Mortensen read an excerpt of the 16th century Spanish historian Bartolomé de las Casas, who wrote a short account of the destruction of the Indies.

VIGGO MORTENSEN: [reading Bartolomé de las Casas] "The Indies were discovered in the year one thousand four hundred and ninety-two. Forty-nine years have passed since the first settlers penetrated the land, the first being the large and most happy isle called Hispaniola, perhaps the most densely populated place in the world.

“There must be close to two hundred leagues of land on this island, and all the land so far discovered is a beehive of people; it is as though God had crowded into these lands the great majority of mankind.

“And of all the infinite universe of humanity, these people are the most guileless, the most devoid of wickedness and duplicity, the most obedient and faithful to their native masters and to the Spanish Christians whom they serve. And because they are so weak and complaisant, they are less able to endure heavy labor and soon die of no matter what malady.

“Yet into this sheepfold, into this land of meek outcasts there came some Spaniards who immediately behaved like ravening wild beasts, wolves, tigers, or lions that had been starved for many days—killing, terrorizing, afflicting, torturing, and destroying the native peoples, doing all this with the strangest and most varied new methods of cruelty, never seen or heard of before, and to such a degree that this Island of Hispaniola, once so populous (having a population that I estimated to be more than three millions), has now a population of barely two hundred persons.

"Their reason for killing and destroying such an infinite number of souls is that the Christians have an ultimate aim, which is to acquire gold, and to swell themselves with riches in a very brief time and thus rise to a high estate disproportionate to their merits. It should be kept in mind that their insatiable greed and ambition, the greatest ever seen in the world, is the cause of their villainies. And also, those lands are so rich and felicitous, the native peoples so meek and patient, so easy to subject, that our Spaniards have no more consideration for them than beasts—no, for thanks be to God, they have treated beasts with some respect; I should say instead like excrement on the public squares."

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Viggo Mortensen in 2006, reading Bartolomé de las Casas in a Voices of a People’s History of the United States event. The Academy Award-nominated actor joins us now in New York. He’s appeared in many films, including Lord of the Rings trilogy. Viggo has appeared in numerous performances of Voices and is a cast member of the television documentary version of The People Speak. Also with us, Anthony Arnove, co-editor with Howard Zinn of Voices of a People’s History of the United States and co-directed the documentary, The People Speak.

We welcome you to, both, Democracy Now! Tell us about Bartolomé de las Casas and why he matters to you, Viggo.

VIGGO MORTENSEN: Bartolomé de las Casas was a priest, a religious man, who accompanied some of the first Iberian expeditions to what we call the New World, you know, and what he’s talking about in that text, where he talks about extreme cruelty and basically that period in history’s corporate takeover of what we now call Haiti, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Jamaica, that region, it’s really–it is very disturbing, what he describes. And he wrote these texts and presented them to the court, to the king in Spain, and complained about it. Nothing really changed, because economic interests are what they are, just as they are in this country and other places. Citizens have to do something, have to demand change, you know.

And, you know, this book, Voices of a People’s History of the United States, is unusual in that it has to do with firsthand accounts, contemporary accounts, throughout this nation’s history by people that maybe we’ve never heard of, events that we’ve never heard of, unfortunately. You know, I think that all tribes, all nations have what some call foundation myths, you know, which are—foundation myths, I think, are—well, Anthony can correct me, he’s the scholar here, but they are stories that we like to tell, or that governments like to tell, to protect, to further, to enforce a status quo, you know, established states of affairs. And what this book presents, however, are texts that are, as I say, firsthand historical accounts, reactions by more or less regular people to real social, political events. I think what I call this is foundation facts, you know, which is, I think, what you guys deal with or try to every day here.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, and the relevance of Zinn’s great work for today, for this specific day, this historic day after President Obama has made his announcements. We had on the show today an immigrant, an undocumented mother, who’s an immigrants’ rights activist, and her daughter; a priest leading a sanctuary movement, a New Sanctuary Movement; and an organizer for the farm workers, Immokalee workers—part of those people’s histories. Anthony, the relevance for today of the book?

ANTHONY ARNOVE: Well, absolutely, and that’s why we’ve just done a new edition of the book. It’s the 10th anniversary of the first edition. Howard and I had an opportunity to update it in 2009, and I’ve just updated it for 2014 with 10 new voices, including voices of the undocumented, voices of a day laborer, voices of new movements that are emerging. And as bittersweet as it was to work on this project and to see Howard’s work continuing after he passed away in 2010, I know that he would have wanted to continue to document these struggles, highlight those voices, which are all too often pushed to the margin, and see the connections between today’s struggles and historical struggles for change.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s turn to a clip of Kerry Washington reading Sojourner Truth.

KERRY WASHINGTON: [reading Sojourner Truth] "Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that 'twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all this here talking about? That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman?

“Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man—when I could get it—and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?

“Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? ... Intellect... That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?

“Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

"If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them."

AMY GOODMAN: There you have actress Kerry Washington, most recently of Scandal fame, reading Sojourner Truth from Voices of a People’s History of the United States. And that Sojourner Truth speech, Anthony?

ANTHONY ARNOVE: Yeah, well, that’s from 1851, and it really exemplifies the spirit that Howard was trying to capture and gather in these voices. And, you know, the origin of this project was that when Howard wrote A People’s History of the United States, readers came up to him and said, "I hadn’t heard that speech before. I hadn’t read Eugene Debs in my school classroom. I hadn’t come across these powerful, eloquent voices of dissent." And they began to wonder, "Why hadn’t I learned that? Why had my history teacher not taught me these lessons?" And it opens up a totally different way of thinking about history. And that’s why Howard wanted to create this book, because he realized that the most powerful thing that people got out of A People’s History of the United States was that connection with the voices of struggle.

AMY GOODMAN: And Howard Zinn, what he meant to you, Viggo, in this last few seconds?

VIGGO MORTENSEN: Well, he was a gentleman. He had a great sense of humor. He loves donuts. He would sneak away to Dunkin’ Donuts behind his wife’s back. But this contribution that this book makes, it’s not—and Howard’s efforts throughout his life—he didn’t look at historical references or, more importantly, democracy, or progressive work, as a fixed thing, as something that you accomplish—democracy. Like this show is called Democracy Now! Now is not yesterday. Now is now. It’s a process. It’s a game that moves as you play. And I think it makes sense, perfect sense, that Anthony has—

AMY GOODMAN: Two seconds.

VIGGO MORTENSEN: —has included new text. Can I—since—

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to continue this after the show. Viggo Mortensen, Anthony Arnove, thanks so much.

News Mon, 24 Nov 2014 10:56:31 -0500