Truthout Stories Mon, 26 Sep 2016 18:37:09 -0400 en-gb We Have All Won an Oligarchy and Lost a Democracy

Activists display a lit sign in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, on March 20, 2014. (Photo: Joe Brusky)Activists display a lit sign in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, on March 20, 2014. (Photo: Joe Brusky)

Here's a thought experiment for you. Ask yourself, "When was the last time I heard any conversation at all about the role of corporations in the United States in the US public media?"

In the abstract, it seems like a silly question. So let me rephrase it:

When was the last time you heard in the media that Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson and Donald Trump both support Citizens United and it's concept that corporations are people?

See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.

When was the last time you heard that Hillary Clinton has said, repeatedly, that repealing Citizens United is at the top of her agenda when it comes to picking Supreme Court nominees? Or that Donald Trump wants to put somebody on the court who will reverse Roe v. Wade, and make it illegal for women to get abortions (and, possibly, many forms of birth control) in the US?

And when was the last time you heard about the role of corporations in education? Johnson and the Libertarian Party think that all state and federal funding for schools -- from elementary school all the way through college -- should end.

In Johnson's US, you only get to go to college if you're willing to go into debt or your parents are rich. You also only get to go to elementary school and junior high school and high school if you are willing to go into debt or your parents are rich.

Trump hasn't weighed in on this issue, although Trump University would suggest that he thinks that college students are simply easy-picking suckers for for-profit college corporations.

Democrats, on the other hand, are pushing for free college education for families making under $125,000, and strengthening our public school system so that the zip code you're born into no longer determines the quality of your education.

Have you heard any discussion of this on mainstream television news? It's fundamental to the larger question of what role corporations, including private, for-profit school corporations, should play in our nation… and no one on mainstream cable news is talking about it.

This is true of almost every single important issue facing the country right now, especially those that have to do with corporate power.

Take, for example, the fact that Americans pay more for health care than anybody else in the world, from drugs to eyeglasses to dental work, and we are the only developed nation in the world that allows for-profit corporations to offer primary health insurance? Heard about that in the corporate media? Of course not -- crickets, as usual.

How about the school-to-prison pipeline and the role that the war on drugs and the for-profit prison industry have played in it? Have you heard about that?

I certainly haven't.

It's yet another important dimension of the role for-profit corporations play in US life that the mainstream corporate television media completely ignores.

And then there's the banks. They can borrow at about 1 percent, but lend to us at around 30 percent on our credit cards and 5 to 10 percent on student loans. Their profits are also at all-time highs, and we could be facing another banking crisis like 2008. But is anyone over at CNN talking about this? No, they're not.

And what about CEO salaries? The changes in tax law made during the Reagan administration incentivized CEOs to ignore their workers, their community, the institution of their company and even their customers -- all in favor of jacking up stock prices. How's that working out for you? It's working out great for the CEOs of the big media companies, which is probably why you haven't heard any discussion about it on the mainstream media.

And how about the social safety net? Trump's backers and Johnson want to privatize Social Security and end Medicare. Democrats want to strengthen both. Have you heard a conversation about this on any television program recently? I doubt it.

The list goes on. Johnson and Trump want to end or freeze, respectively, the minimum wage. Democrats want to raise it. Have you heard anyone on mainstream corporate television news talk about this recently?

Or how Republicans froze long-term unemployment insurance a few years back and Libertarians want to do away with it all together, while Democrats wanted to strengthen the system and were blocked by a filibuster? Again, crickets.

For that matter, have you heard any talk about any consequential issues this election?

On my radio show three months ago, I offered to send a free autographed book to the first caller who could point to a serious, thoughtful discussion of even one single issue in this election happening in the corporate media outside of Fareed Zakaria's weekend program on CNN. So far nobody has won the book.

It's fashionable to bemoan the ignorance of the US electorate. We never seem to tire of college students being unable to name the vice president or the speaker of the House. But given our media landscape, what should we expect?

Since Reagan killed the Fairness Doctrine and the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, our media has completely shifted from "news" to infotainment. It's largely fact-free, and the only things discussed are personalities, gotchas and the horse-race claptrap.

It's completely free of facts that would give us any information, context or understanding of the role that corporate power plays in our lives.

In other words, it's completely devoid of the kind of information a functional media is supposed to provide the citizens of a democratic republic.

So here's my challenge for you: Turn the TV to any news network for an hour and count how many times either the hosts or the guests recount the actual positions of each of the presidential candidates on any single issue.

If it happens even once, you may have won a book! If not, we have all won an oligarchy and lost a democracy.   

Opinion Mon, 26 Sep 2016 18:00:06 -0400
Henry Giroux on the Scourge of Neoliberalism ]]> News Mon, 26 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400 Far-Right Trump Consultant to Be Honored Speaker at Illinois Police SWAT Training

An upcoming Chicagoland SWAT training and arms expo for police officers from across Illinois will feature a talk by far-right national security "expert" Sebastian Gorka -- an anti-Muslim extremist who argues that the United States is a "Christian nation" and boosted the presidential campaign of Donald Trump while having taken payments from the GOP candidate.

Gorka's invitation to speak at the Illinois Tactical Officers Association (ITOA) conference, slated to take place in mid October, is raising concern among human rights campaigners, who say the engagement underscores the "toxic racism and Islamophobia" on display at the event.

"Sebastian [Gorka's] entire career is largely built from, and continues to flame the fire of, Islamophobic fear-mongering tactics post-9/11," said Hoda Katebi, an organizer and artist with For The People Artists Collective and communications coordinator for the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "This toxic climate of militarization and fear of an 'ever-looming threat of radical Islam' is rampant across local and federal institutions and manifests in ever-more violent policing, military-grade equipment for local police, heightened surveillance and entrapment and increased spending on policing rather than community services, to name a few examples."

"Making a Living Off of Islamophobia"

Gorka, who did not reply to a request for an interview, is a regular pundit on Fox News and a national security editor for the publication Breitbart. He was hired by Stephen Bannon, who now serves as the chief of Trump's presidential campaign. In October 2015, Gorka received $8,000 from Trump while working at Breitbart. Articles about Gorka's cable news punditry are often framed to highlight his endorsement of Trump's off-the-cuff remarks on national security.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, over the past year Breitbart "has undergone a noticeable shift toward embracing ideas on the extremist fringe of the conservative right. Racist ideas. Anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant ideas -- all key tenets making up an emerging racist ideology known as the 'Alt-Right.'"

Gorka's writings and numerous press appearances appear to be in line with this trajectory.

In a July 15 appearance on Fox News, Gorka appealed to the United States' supposed heritage as a Christian nation to argue for the monitoring and tracking of Syrian refugees living in the United States. "We don't know where the refugees from war zones are living in America?" he said. "We're a Christian nation, we should be charitable to those in need. But charity is not an excuse for suicide."

Pressed on his remark about a Christian nation, Gorka replied: "The capital C creator in our founding document, who do you think the founding fathers were referring to -- Allah?"

In his book Defeating Jihad, published in April of 2016, Gorka argued that the US should wage a Cold-War style ideological battle against "jihad" -- which he claims is rooted in Islam itself.

He reiterated this point in an article from June, in which he argued, "Ultimately we will win when the ideology of global jihadism is no longer attractive to young men and women from Orlando to Brussels, from Paris to San Bernardino. That can only be done through a strategic-level counter-propaganda campaign driven by the White House, in exactly the same way that we did during the Cold War."

Going further, Gorka has repeatedly called for the expansion of police powers to conduct suspicionless spying on Muslim communities. In a 2014 defense of NYPD mapping and surveillance of Muslim neighborhoods, he proclaimed: "What was Osama bin Laden? Muslim… Do we think these individuals hang out in Hindu ashrams or Catholic community centers? No. they hang out in mosques… Are we really saying the NYPD should be going into Jewish temples to find Muslim terrorists?"

Furthermore, Gorka's own bio advertises his ties to mercenary companies and military institutions, stating that he "serves as the Vice President and Professor of Strategy and Irregular Warfare at the Institute of World Politics in Washington, DC. Previously, he was the Major General Matthew C. Horner Distinguished Chair of Military Theory at Marine Corps University where he provided courses and lectures on Irregular Warfare. Before that, he was Associate Dean of Congressional Affairs and Relations to the Special Operations Community at National Defense University."

The ITOA, for its part, describes Gorka as an "Internationally Recognized Terrorist Expert, Author and Trainer" in its advertisement for his talk, which is titled, "Terrorist Threat -- Trends and Predictions."

Melisa Stephen, a member of the For the People Artists Collective, told AlterNet that it makes a lot of sense" that someone like Gorka would be featured at the ITOA Conference, stating: "We're talking about a man who worked as a policy consultant for Donald Trump's campaign, who frequents Fox News and makes a living off Islamophobia."

"It's important to note that Islamophobia is employed to justify police militarization, including increased partnerships between weapons manufacturers and law enforcement agencies," Stephen continued. "This is how we get organizations like ITOA that teach local law enforcement how to use military equipment and tactics that they then use to continue killing black, brown and indigenous people at alarming rates."

Fueling Police Militarization

Gorka is not the only source of controversy over the ITOA's 29th annual conference, which is slated to last five days and will take place in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, which is an hour from Chicago.

Registered as a not-for-profit corporation, The IOTA's stated purpose is to "advance the education and professionalism of law enforcement officers involved in Emergency Response functions through the exchange of ideas and information relating to tactics, techniques and to further the networking and interrelation of departments and personnel."

However, human rights campaigners say that the organization is fueling a war-like mentality within police departments. The Stop ITOA Coalition, which includes the organizations Assata's Daughters, American Friends Service Committee and War Resisters League, said in a statement:

While Chicago is still reeling from budget cuts that have resulted in the closure of over 50 public schools, mental health clinics, and severe cuts to social services, the city spends over $4 million a day on the Chicago police alone. ITOA is directly involved in training and arming those police, even using empty school buildings as training grounds for Cook County officers. Weapons manufacturers from around the world also use ITOA to sell military grade equipment to local police forces -- equipment that shocked the country when it was deployed against civilians in places like Ferguson, Minneapolis and Baton Rouge (and is used regularly by repressive governments such as Israel).

Notably, the weapons company Safariland is providing classes on classes on "less lethal technologies," "hostage rescue" and "high-risk warrant service." In addition, retired military officials are slated to teach workshops titled, "Video Diagnostics Tac Rifle & Pistol" and "designated marksman."

The ITOA, meanwhile, is just one of numerous Tactical Officers Associations around the country. The annual New York Tactical Officers Association conference attracted outcry this summer when it extended a speaking invitation to Ryan Mauro, an anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist who is designated an extremist by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Meanwhile, organizers in Illinois say they have faced a campaign of harassment after launching the Stop ITOA campaign. Debbie Southorn, a staff member of the American Friends Service Committee in Chicago and core organizer with Stop ITOA, wrote in a statement released this week: "On Monday, September 12th, a small group of organizers, myself included, launched a public campaign to #StopITOA. Less than a week later, my office was burglarized overnight and only my locked up laptop was stolen, although there were computers and other valuables out and left untouched."

The ITOA did not respond to a request for an interview submitted over email. Reached by phone, Eric Perkins from the Elk Grove police department who serves on the board of the ITOA, told AlterNet, "I am not at liberty to make any statements."

This article first appeared on AlterNet.

News Mon, 26 Sep 2016 11:36:22 -0400
Freed Guantánamo Prisoner Speaks as Presidential Candidates Prepare to Debate Terrorism

Tonight, 100 million people are expected to watch the first presidential debate, where the topics will likely include foreign policy and terrorism. Eight years after President Obama vowed to close Guantánamo during his first year in office, it remains open. Meanwhile, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has called for the prison's expansion. Today, in a Democracy Now! exclusive, we speak with a former Guantánamo prisoner who was cleared to leave under President Bush and President Obama but remained at Guantánamo for over 12 years. Jihad Abu Wa'el Dhiab has never been charged with a crime. While at Guantánamo, he launched a series of hunger strikes to demand his freedom, and was among a group of prisoners subjected to force-feeding. Now released to Uruguay, he is currently on a hunger strike to push for his demand to be allowed to reunite with his family in Turkey or in an Arabic-speaking country. Earlier this month, Dhiab slipped into a coma for nine hours while he was on a hunger and thirst fast, revived only by a hydrating IV while he was in that coma. The day after Dhiab awoke, Democracy Now! was able to speak to him in an exclusive interview. Special thanks to José María Ciganda, Alessandro Maradei and Andrés Thomas Conteris.


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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman. Tonight, 100 million people are expected to watch the first presidential debate -- among the topics, foreign policy and terrorism. Guantánamo was not expected to still be an issue at these debates, but eight years after President Obama vowed to close the prison during his first term in office, it remains open. Meanwhile, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has called for the expansion of Guantánamo.

Well, today, in a Democracy Now! exclusive, we speak with a former Guantánamo prisoner who was cleared to leave under both President Bush and President Obama but remained at Guantánamo for over 12 years. His name is Jihad Abu Wa'el Dhiab. He has never been charged with a crime. At Guantánamo, he launched a series of hunger strikes to demand his freedom. He was among a group of prisoners subjected to force-feeding. The Obama administration is refusing to release video of the force-feeding to the public, but after a judge ordered it, the Obama administration did give the redacted [video] to the court, which reportedly shows graphic images of guards restraining Dhiab and feeding him against his will. The case is currently on appeal. Human rights groups have long said the force-feeding of Guantánamo prisoners amounts to torture.

Dhiab is currently on a hunger strike to push for his demand to be allowed to leave Uruguay in order to reunite with his family in Turkey or in an Arabic-speaking country. Dhiab's supporters say he's temporarily resumed drinking liquids and is gaining strength, but he plans to return to a thirst and hunger strike as soon as Tuesday if there's no solution to his long-standing request to rejoin his family.

Earlier this month, Dhiab slipped into a coma for nine hours while he was on a hunger and thirst fast, revived only by a hydrating IV while he was in that coma. A few hours after he came out of the coma, I was able to speak with him in an exclusive Democracy Now! interview. He was exhausted. He was lying on his bed in Montevideo, Uruguay. I asked him to begin by talking about how he felt.

JIHAD ABU WA'EL DHIAB: I feel really very, very worse. All my body hurt me, and my kidney, my headache, my stomach, my right side really bad. Many things. But I feel all my body hurt me.

AMY GOODMAN: There's a battle in court in the United States to release the videotape of your force-feeding in Guantánamo. Can you describe what that force-feeding was like for you?

JIHAD ABU WA'EL DHIAB: Like the United States always say in the media, "Human rights, human rights, human rights." There's never in Guantánamo, don't have any human rights. Never, never, never. He took the video from first time go to me in my cell to move me to chair and give me the tube for give me forced feeding. But if you see this video and see the guard, how treatment with me, how beat me, how make with me, that's not human.

AMY GOODMAN: Dhiab, in Guantánamo, one nurse refused to force-feed the prisoners. Can you talk about that nurse?

JIHAD ABU WA'EL DHIAB: This nurse, from first time come into Guantánamo, me and my brother spoke with him many time. "Why you come in here? This your job, this human right job, a good job. Why come in here for torture the person, the detainee?" He think, think, think too much. After that, he said, "Give me couple days. I take decision for that."

He, after two days or three days, come and tell me, "Jihad, there I don't leave anyone tell me my number, because I am not number, I have name." He tell me, "Jihad, I take decision." I tell him, "What?" He said, "Now I stop give any force-feed for anyone. I refuse to give any. And I spoke with the government in the Guantánamo about this." I tell him, "Me and all my brothers said for you, thank you very much for that," because I respect this person very -- he helped me, and he a gentle man. He treatment with us there -- only him, treatment with us from first day coming there. I see him always, he not all right. And he treatment with us very, very well. And after that, I tell him, "Thank you very much about this." He said, "What's happened after that, I don't care, but I don't -- I refuse give any force-feeding."

And after that, he move from there. And I hear after that in the news they want to take him to court about he refused -- because he refused the Army order. But I respect this person. I need all the person make like him and treatment like him, because this all right idea.

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama says he wants to close Guantánamo. Do you believe that will happen?

JIHAD ABU WA'EL DHIAB: If he wants to close Guantánamo, he can. He can now. Now. He can give order, close Guantánamo. He can close Guantánamo. But he coward. He can't take this decision, because he scared. But Guantánamo supposed to close, should be closed, Guantánamo, because Guantánamo, that's not good for the United States. Never.

AMY GOODMAN: That's Jihad Abu Wa'el Dhiab, a Syrian prisoner at Guantánamo for more than 12 years. He was released to Uruguay. He was speaking to us in English from his bed in Montevideo, Uruguay. He's been on a hunger strike. At the time of our interview, he had just come out of a nine-hour coma after refusing water, as well. Throughout our interview, which we did just after he revived, he was very tired and weak. He would sometimes switch into Arabic from the English, the language of course he felt more comfortable in. This is Dhiab speaking about why the US wouldn't want to release the video of his force-feeding at Guantánamo and more.

JIHAD ABU WA'EL DHIAB: [translated] The US does not want the world to see the truth about what happens in Guantánamo. They want to keep the black box closed and to show instead that the black box is full. But it is indeed actually empty and a lie. They can't let the world see the video and know the truth, because the truth will contradict the reasons the US is holding the prisoners.

For example, I have papers showing to be innocent since 2006, since the time of George Bush, yet they kept me in Guantánamo. And again, I had papers proving my innocence in 2009 with Obama now president, but they still kept me in Guantánamo. I ended up staying until December 2014. And even the media started to report on me, saying that I was a victim and that I was an innocent man that didn't do anything wrong. In Guantánamo, they said I will not get out until I admit a crime. This is the fact of America. You have to admit to any crime. Why? I said I will not admit to anything. I didn't do anything. That is number one. But they will not say up front to their people, "We caught innocent people who didn't commit any crime." They had to create anything. They must force us to admit anything. They offered multiple choices for us to admit something. Is that justice? The issue is, the United States knows it's wrong and implicated in Guantánamo, but the US does not want to apologize and go back and stop this injustice and solve this problem.

With this, I want to send a message to the American people about the American government's policy, with Muslims and non-Muslims, because their policies with Muslims will bring a lot of problems. America is who creates enemies for themselves. America is who creates terrorism and hostility toward themselves.

AMY GOODMAN: Dhiab, are you willing to die on this hunger strike?

JIHAD ABU WA'EL DHIAB: [translated] I can only see two solutions: Either I am reunited with my family or I will have to pay with my life. I want to reach my family, that I have not seen for 15 years. I didn't see any of them -- my mother, father or brothers and sisters. I lost my son in war in Syria, and 28 others of my family died, as well. My entire family is spread out in different countries, leaving no one with my parents. This is a very complicated issue. I want my right to live a good life and to be free.

AMY GOODMAN: That's Jihad Abu Wa'el Dhiab. He was held at Guantánamo for more than 12 years, has not seen his family for between 15 and 20 years, speaking to us exhausted from his bed in Montevideo, Uruguay. He's on a hunger strike, had just come out of a coma extremely weak and tired, after refusing water, and he had been hydrated through an IV during the coma. Less than a week ago, he lifted his dry fast at the behest of his support group. He says he's going to go back to a thirst and hunger strike if he cannot reunite with his family.

When we come back, we'll speak with one of the lawyers who helped to negotiate his release to Uruguay. Stay with us.

News Mon, 26 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Keith Lamont Scott's Wife Is Latest Black Woman Forced to Film State Violence Against a Partner

Content Warning: Graphic content contained in this video.

On Friday, NBC released a gut-wrenching cellphone video by Rakeyia Scott witnessing her husband, Keith Lamont Scott, being shot and killed by Charlotte-Mecklenburg police. "She was trying to do what police somehow couldn't do, which was de-escalate the situation. ... It's really a remarkable act of courage and clearheadedness by his wife," says Marc Lamont Hill, journalist, distinguished professor of African American studies at Morehouse College. He notes this is not the first time an African-American wife has had to watch state violence take place in real time against her spouse, while being ignored and disrespected by officers.


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

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today's show in North Carolina, where Charlotte-Mecklenburg police have yielded to pressure and released two videos of last Tuesday's fatal police shooting of 43-year-old African American Keith Lamont Scott. One video is from a police dashboard camera, the other from an officer's body camera. Police say they also have more video that they have not released. The Scott family is asking the police to release all of the videos. The dashboard camera video shows Scott exiting his vehicle and taking steps backwards with his arms at his sides. Police fire four shots at Scott as he falls to the ground. The body camera video shows Scott on the ground after being shot by officer Brentley Vincent, who's also African-American. Scott family attorney Justin Bamberg responded to the footage on Sunday.

JUSTIN BAMBERG: What we see when we look at this dash cam video is Mr. Scott steps out of the vehicle. He doesn't appear to be acting aggressive towards any of the law enforcement officers on the scene. He doesn't appear to be making gestures or motions as though he's arguing with anybody. He doesn't lunge at the officers. It appears he has his hands by his side. Again, there is no definitive evidence in this video as to whether or not there is an object in his hand, and, if there is, what that object is. That question still remains. But what we do know is that the moment Mr. Scott is shot, it appears as though he is not aggressively moving towards law enforcement. He's actually doing the opposite: He's passively stepping back.

AMY GOODMAN: The Charlotte police have also released pictures of a handgun as well as an ankle holster and a marijuana joint they say were in Scott's possession. They did not say where they found the gun. North Carolina is an open-carry state.

This came after NBC News obtained gut-wrenching cellphone video capturing the shooting, filmed and narrated by Scott's wife, Rakeyia Scott. NBC released the video on Friday. In it, Scott tells officers her husband is unarmed and suffers from a traumatic brain injury, or TBI.

RAKEYIA SCOTT: Don't shoot him. Don't shoot him. He has no weapon. He has no weapon. Don't shoot him.

POLICE OFFICER: Gun! Gun! Drop the gun! Drop the [bleep] gun!

RAKEYIA SCOTT: Don't shoot him! Don't shoot him. He didn't do anything.

POLICE OFFICER: Drop the gun! Drop the gun! Drop the gun!

RAKEYIA SCOTT: He doesn't have a gun. He has a TBI.

POLICE OFFICER: Drop the gun!

RAKEYIA SCOTT: He's not going to do anything to you guys. He just took his medicine.

POLICE OFFICER: Drop the gun! Let me get a [bleep] baton over here.

RAKEYIA SCOTT: Keith, don't let them break the windows. Come on out the car!

POLICE OFFICER: Drop the gun!

RAKEYIA SCOTT: Keith, don't do it.

POLICE OFFICER: Drop the gun!

RAKEYIA SCOTT: Keith, get out the car. Keith, Keith! Don't you do it. Don't you do it. Keith! Keith! Keith! Don't you do it! [bleep]! Did you shoot him? Did you shoot him? Did you shoot him? He better not be [bleep] dead! He better not be [bleep] dead! I know that [bleep] much. I know that much, he better not be dead! I'm not going to come near you; I'm going to record, though.


RAKEYIA SCOTT: I'm not coming near you. I'm going to record, though. He better be alive, because I'm -- you better be alive! How about that? Yes, we're over here at 9453 Lexington Court. These are the police officers that shot my husband. And he better live. He better live. Because he didn't do nothing to them.

POLICE OFFICER: Is everybody good? Are you good?

RAKEYIA SCOTT: He don't -- ain't nobody touch nobody, so they all good.


RAKEYIA SCOTT: I know he better live. I know he better live. How about that? I'm not coming to you guys, but he better live. He better live. Y'all hear this and you see this, right? He better live. He better live. I swear he better live. Yup, he better live. He better [bleep] live. He better live. Where is -- he better [bleep] live. And I can't even believe --


RAKEYIA SCOTT: I ain't going nowhere! I'm in the same damn spot! The [bleep]! That's OK. Did you all call the police? I mean, did you all call the ambulance?

AMY GOODMAN: That was cellphone video of the police killing of Keith Lamont Scott, filmed and narrated by his wife, Rakeyia Scott, in real time as he lay dying. Police claim they tased and then shot Scott because he was armed, but Scott's family says he was not armed -- except with a book in hand. They say Scott, the father of seven children, had been sitting in his car waiting to pick up his son after school.

Meanwhile, Sunday, hundreds continued to protest for a sixth straight day in Charlotte. Uniformed National Guard soldiers carrying rifles deployed outside a Carolina Panthers football game, while police in riot gear surrounded about a hundred demonstrators chanting "Black Lives Matter." Inside, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton signaled his support during his pregame workout by wearing a T-shirt with a Martin Luther King Jr. quote: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Also on Sunday evening, Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts lifted the curfew that had been in place since Thursday.

For more, we're joined here in studio by Marc Lamont Hill, journalist and distinguished professor of African American studies at Morehouse College. His book is titled Nobody: Casualties of America's War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!

MARC LAMONT HILL: Good to be here. Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: A lot has happened since our show on Friday, these three videotapes released. We begin with Rakeyia Scott's video, the shocking, horrifying video of a wife watching as her husband is shot by police. Respond to that.

MARC LAMONT HILL: Yeah, it's heart-wrenching. And we saw the same thing with Philando Castile just a few months ago, where a wife has to watch state violence take place in -- you know, in real time against their spouse. She was trying to explain to the police that he had a traumatic brain injury. She was saying that he didn't have a weapon. She was trying to do what police somehow couldn't do, which was de-escalate the situation. She was trying to offer information that would get them to back off. At the same time, she was trying to encourage her husband to stay where he was supposed to be, in the car, so that he wouldn't be as vulnerable to state violence. It's really a remarkable act of courage and clearheadedness by his wife. At the same time, police seemed to be completely unresponsive to her instruction, to her insights. It was really disappointing.

AMY GOODMAN: They wouldn't even let her near him as he lay dying and they are handcuffing him.

MARC LAMONT HILL: Handcuffing him, yeah. That was the other part of this. You know, again, we watch this over and over again -- and not just at the current moment, but throughout history -- black women, in particular, watching their spouses killed at the hands of the state and then being thoroughly disrespected and marginalized even in real time. She couldn't go over and attend to him. She couldn't talk to him. They're more worried about telling her to stay away. Same thing happened with Philando Castile: "Stay away. Don't film. Don't come near us." That kind of attitude and that kind of sensibility makes it difficult to believe that the police were invested in de-escalation at any point that day.

News Mon, 26 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Neonicotinoids: Unpublished Industry Studies Detail Harm to Bee Health

Chemical giants Bayer and Syngenta commissioned private studies which showed that their neonicotinoid pesticides can cause serious harm to bees, a Greenpeace investigation has uncovered.

The revelations come with the UK set to decide its own policy on pesticide use once it leaves the EU. The UK lobbied against the current EU ban when it was introduced.

The company research -- designed with regulators to reveal the level at which their products harm bees -- was obtained through freedom of information (FOI) requests to the US environmental regulator. 

Publicly the two firms have often sought to play down suggestions that their products can cause harm to honey bees.

Weak Research

However, the studies will cause little surprise in industry circles. Industry and scientists have long known that the products can harm bees at certain levels.

Instead the research has been criticised by experts because it assumes a very narrow definition of harm to bee health and ignores wild bees which evidence suggests are more likely to be harmed by neonicotinoids.

It means the studies may substantially underestimate the impact of the two firm's products on pollinators.

Due to commercial confidentiality rules, Energydesk is not allowed to release the studies in full.


The latest revelations have sparked calls for greater transparency from the industry and regulators to publish data on the impact of pesticides on pollinators used to make -- or lobby for -- regulatory decisions.

Responding to Greenpeace, Syngenta said it's study was due to be published in a journal -- though the company did not give details. Bayer said the study would be discussed at an upcoming conference.

Both firms claimed that whilst the studies did show a risk to honeybees from their products this would only apply at higher concentrations than normally seen in agriculture.

Each study focused exclusively on honeybees, though recent research has shown that the chemicals have a negative impact on wild bees.

Matt Shardlow, chief executive of the charity Buglife, told the Guardian:

"These studies may not show an impact on honeybee health [at low levels], but then the studies are not realistic. The bees were not exposed to the neonics that we know are in planting dust, water drunk by bees and wildflowers, wherever neonics are used as seed treatments. This secret evidence highlights the profound weakness of regulatory tests."

Responding to the news the US EPA said federal law required that companies carry out research themselves:

"Sections 3 and 4 of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), the primary federal law governing the regulation of pesticides, make clear that EPA must require the submission of studies from pesticide applicants and registrants to support registration, registration review, and re-registration decisions.

Congress placed this obligation on the pesticide registrant rather than requiring taxpayers to fund such data."

Bee Deaths

The newly uncovered studies examined the impact of Bayer's clothianidin and Syngenta's thiamethoxam on honey bees at varying concentrations.

Both show that chemicals can seriously harm honey bee colonies at high concentrations, though the effects were less marked at lower levels,  concentrations of 50 parts per billion (ppb) and 40ppb respectively.

Christian Krupke, an entomologist at Purdue University, told Energydesk: "Bayer and Syngenta's commitment to pollinator health should include publishing these data or otherwise making them public. This work presents a rich dataset that could greatly benefit the many publicly funded scientists examining the issue worldwide, including avoiding costly and unnecessary duplication of research."

In the US, the EPA is currently conducting a review of neonicotinoid pesticides and their impact on pollinator health.

Back in January the first stage of this review found that imidacloprid, which is made by Bayer, harmed honey bees and suggested it "could potentially take action" to "restrict or limit the use" of the chemical by the end of 2016. The findings of the reviews into thiamethoxam and clothianidin, from which these two studies are taken, are due to be published in 2017.


The unpublished research comes after previous assurances by Syngenta in particular about the impact of its product on pollinators.  

On its website, Syngenta, states there is "no direct correlation between neonicotinoids use and poor bee health' and 'the allegation that neonicotinoids-based pesticides are inherently damaging to bee colonies or populations is not true."

In statements issued to Energydesk last month the firm added:

"None of the studies Syngenta has undertaken or commissioned for use by regulatory agencies have shown that thiamethoxam damages the health of bee colonies and we stand by the integrity of our neonicotinoid product.

The private research did not examine the impact of the product on bee colonies in "normal" conditions. Other studies have done so however.

Last month, a study by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology linked the long-term decline of wild bees in England to the use of neonicotinoids.

A major field study in Sweden last year found that wild bees were badly affected when exposed to fields treated with clothianidin, while honey bees proved more robust.

EPA, Bayer and Syngenta Responses in Full


Q1: Request for advice on Affirmation of Non-Multinational Status regarding two studies.

EPA cannot provide advice with respect to compliance with the Affirmation of Non-Multinational Status. The agency's clothianidin and thiamethoxam risk assessments are still under development, so we cannot comment on them or studies that may or may not inform the assessments.

Q2: When will the EPA make a decision in its review of Thiamethoxam and Clothianidin?

EPA plans to complete its risk assessments for thiamethoxam and clothianidin in 2017 and will make a decision after considering public comment.

Q3: Will these studies feature in any decision the EPA makes on this issue?

The EPA has not yet completed its environmental risk assessments for thiamethoxam and clothianidin, and we cannot say until we make our final regulatory decisions.

Q4: Did the EPA provide any guidance to Bayer and Syngenta before they submitted these studies?

The EPA has posted to the Web guidance on pollinator exposure and effects data that registrants must submit in support of our ongoing registration review process for these chemicals.

We also provide direct guidance to registrants on the specific data they must generate and submit for particular chemicals.

Additional related background information:

Sections 3 and 4 of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), the primary federal law governing the regulation of pesticides, make clear that EPA must require the submission of studies from pesticide applicants and registrants to support registration, registration review, and re-registration decisions. Congress placed this obligation on the pesticide registrant rather than requiring taxpayers to fund such data.

More information here.


In a statement to Energydesk, a Bayer spokesperson said: "The study conducted in North Carolina is an artificial feeding study that intentionally exaggerates the exposure potential because it is designed to calculate a "no-effect" concentration for clothianidin. Although the colony was artificially provided with a spiked sugar solution, the bees were allowed to forage freely in the environment, so there is less stress (which can be a contributing variable) than if they were completely confined to cages.

"This protocol was developed jointly by Bayer and the EPA several years ago and it is now being applied to other compounds. Based on these results, we believe the data support the establishment of a no-effect concentration of 20 ppb for clothianidin, which is consistent to that of other neonicotinoids."

"One of our research scientists will make a public presentation next week at the International Congress of Entomology meeting in Orlando, Florida, in which he will discuss the similarities of the findings of these studies, as well as the merits of the new test protocol."


Responding to our story, a Syngenta spokesperson said: "The EPA asked us to do this study and agreed the methodology. A sucrose based mechanism was used on the basis that it was required to expose bees artificially to Thiamethoxam to determine what actual level of residue would exert a toxic effect.

"There were transient effects observed and the reported No Adverse Effect Level (NOAEL) for this study was 50 ppb (parts per billion). It is accepted that residues of Thiamethoxam in pollen and nectar from seed treated crops are in the single ppb level. So this reported NOAEL of 50 ppb indicates that honey bee colonies are at low risk from exposure to Thiamethoxam in pollen and nectar of seed treated crops. This research is already in the process of being published in a forthcoming journal and is clearly already publicly available through the Freedom Of Information process in the United States."

News Mon, 26 Sep 2016 11:10:28 -0400
Which Voters Show Up When States Allow Early Voting?

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 37 states now offer voters some way to cast ballots early and avoid lining up at the polls on Election Day.

These options are popular. About one-third of voters made use of them in the 2012 election.

But so-called "convenience voting" remains controversial: In some states, various types of early balloting has been challenged on grounds that it opens the door to fraud, though there's been little evidence that such fraud is taking place.

Supporters of early voting say partisan politics is what really drives the objections. Research shows early voting increases turnout by 2 percent to 4 percent. In some cases, it particularly boosts voting among minorities, a constituency that tends to vote Democrat.

A GOP consultant acknowledged as much after a federal judge struck down North Carolina's effort to curtail some kinds of convenience voting on the basis that legislators had targeted measures that disproportionately aided African Americans.

"Look, if African Americans voted overwhelmingly Republican, they would have kept early voting right where it was," the consultant, Carter Wrenn, told The Washington Post. "It wasn't about discriminating against African Americans. They just ended up in the middle of it because they vote Democrat."

We took a look at some convenience voting tactics and what they do -- or don't do -- for turnout, particularly in minority communities:

In-Person Absentee Voting

This form of early voting has a confusing name but an easy concept: Voters get a ballot before Election Day and turn it in at a designated place. The ballot is counted with other absentee ballots. This is also known as in-person early voting or early in-person voting.

The Brennan Center for Justice reported that 14 percent of voters in nine of the top-turnout states with in-person absentee as an option used it in 2012, up from 13 percent in 2008 and 8.4 percent in 2004. Political science research hasn't come to a consensus on what it does for overall turnout: A study out of the University of Wisconsin found that in-person absentee voting actually decreased participation.

Other studies have shown that in-person absentee voting has boosted black turnout, in part because some states allow people to submit votes on the weekend. This has enabled African-American churches' "Souls to the Polls" initiatives, in which churchgoers are transported straight from the pews to the ballot box.

A paper examining the effects of Florida's early voting patterns in the 2008 election showed that African Americans were more likely to cast in-person absentee ballots than white voters. African Americans made up 13 percent of registered voters in Florida, but cast 22 percent of the in-person absentee votes.

The same pattern holds true in Ohio, which has been embroiled in litigation over cuts to the state's "Golden Week" of early voting. A 2015 paper showed that restricting in-person absentee voting in Ohio would have disparate impacts on different racial groups and that African Americans would be hardest hit by such cuts.

No-Excuse Absentee Voting

Every state allows people who cannot get to polling places for specific reasons -- illness or disability, military service, etc. -- to mail in absentee ballots before the election.

Some 27 states -- plus the District of Columbia -- also let residents vote by absentee ballot without providing a reason.

The first states allowing no-excuse absentee voting -- California, Oregon and Washington -- did so in the 1980s and other states followed suit in the following decades. An early study in the 1990s found that opening up absentee voting can lead to a small increase in turnout, but since then research hasn't shown that it has a significant impact on how many people vote.

Vote by Mail

Oregon, Washington and Colorado conduct elections entirely by mail, sending out ballots to all eligible voters and giving them until Election Day to mail them back in.

Oregon was the first state to conduct its elections by mail after a ballot measure passed in 1998. Washington, which had allowed counties to choose whether to conduct elections regularly or by mail, switched to an entirely postal system in 2011. Colorado followed in 2013.

The first wave of vote-by-mail studies found a huge jump in turnout, ranging from 10 to 19 percent. But as voters settled into the new laws, follow-up studies showed significantly less impact. A 2007 study in Washington found a 5 percent impact. A study in Switzerland, conducted from 1970 to 2005, saw a turnout increase of 4.1 percent.

There's also no indication that these modest increases are skewed toward any particular racial or ethnic group.

In addition to the various modes of early voting, there's a couple more way states make it more convenient to vote:

Same-Day Registration

In at least 13 states and the District of Columbia, voters can show up at polling stations on Election Day, register and vote (some states such as Maryland only allow same-day registration during early voting). In addition, Utah passed a 2014 bill enacting a pilot project of same-day registration; the project will continue through 2016.

To register and vote at the same time, voters typically must show proof of residency (such as a driver's license or, in some states, a utility bill) and provide an ID to verify their identity (photo or non-photo, depending on the state).

Groups that advocate for same-day registration say it not only eases access, but also solves the problem of inaccurate voter rolls from which people who move frequently might have purged or left off. According to a study from Demos, one such group, same-day registration can increase turnout from 3 percent to 6 percent. Pew Charitable Trusts found that one in eight voters in states with same-day registration used it in the 2012 election.

Not having to register in advance appears to boost minority voting disproportionately. In North Carolina, African-American voters accounted for 35 percent of those who used same-day registration in 2012, though African Americans made up only 22 percent of the electorate, according to PBS.

While voters who move frequently tend to be younger, and younger voters tend to vote Democrat, that's not always the case. A 2012 study looking at Wisconsin's same-day registration found that while it increased turnout, it actually decreased Democrats' share of the presidential vote.

North Carolina passed a law banning same-day registration in 2013, but it has since been overturned.

Automatic Registration

Five states have recently approved automatic voter registration, which registers citizens who come into contact with government agencies (often at a DMV) to vote unless they opt out.

Oregon passed the first major automatic registration law in 2015. Currently, 29 states and the District of Columbia have bills pending that would implement automatic registration, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

While it's too soon to have significant studies on how automatic registration affects turnout, advocates contend the practice not only makes elections more accessible, but saves money and improves the accuracy of voter rolls.

News Mon, 26 Sep 2016 10:54:41 -0400
How Much More Environmental Injustice Must Uniontown, Alabama, Bear?

It is with deep concern that I write to address the ongoing travesty inflicted on the residents of one small, impoverished community: Uniontown, Perry County, in Alabama's Black Belt. My family has lived in Uniontown for many generations and, as a longtime resident, I have observed with sadness the harmful effects, distress, and heartache Uniontown citizens have experienced since the establishment of Arrowhead Landfill. Although other factors have contributed to the economic decline of our small town, it is clear to me that Arrowhead's mountain of garbage mixed with toxic coal ash is the major reason for the disintegration in recent years of a once-thriving community.

In 2003, in defiance of overwhelming opposition from Perry County citizens, the Perry County Commission voted to host a huge landfill to be constructed just 1.5 miles southeast of Uniontown. The 1,116-acre landfill was designed as the largest municipal solid waste (MSW) disposal facility in Alabama, permitted to accept up to 7,500 tons of waste per day, with a waste stream generated from an unprecedented 16 states, roughly one-third of the United States.

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) approved the permit for the landfill despite: 1) substantial evidence that the proposed site was unsuitable, 2) the landfill developer's admission to fraud and misrepresentations in the permit application, and 3) ADEM's knowledge that the environmental impact would fall on a predominantly poor, African-American community.

In 2006, ADEM modified the landfill's permit, authorizing disposal of up to 15,000 tons of waste per day generated from 33 of the 50 states. As a result, Uniontown has become the dumping ground for two-thirds of the United States and suffers from more pollution and contamination than ever.

Although Arrowhead Landfill was originally designed and permitted as an MSW facility, ADEM and the landfill owners have turned it into a site that welcomes hazardous waste. ADEM approved disposal of the 4 million tons of toxic coal ash from the December 2008 Kingston, Tennessee, spill as "special waste." Now Arrowhead is advertising for even more coal ash.

We are at a critical moment because the landfill's permit is up for renewal for another five years. Green Group Holdings, the landfill owner, has submitted an application for permit renewal. ADEM has reviewed it, drafted a proposed permit, and scheduled a public comment period.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, color or national origin in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance. ADEM receives federal financial assistance from EPA.

EPA defines Environmental Justice (EJ) as the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people, regardless of race, color, national origin or income, with respect to environmental laws. Uniontown residents have not received fair treatment, nor have we experienced meaningful involvement. In fact, the residents who live closest to the landfill had no voice in the landfill siting decision. We believe that ADEM's decision to permit this landfill in Uniontown was, and continues to be, an act of environmental injustice.

Federal EJ policy is intended to protect low-income and minority communities from bearing a disproportionate amount of environmental risks. Uniontown has been designated by EPA as an EJ area. Throughout the original landfill application process and the first renewal process in 2011, it was clear that no one at ADEM conducted an EJ review. ADEM still does not have an independent division whose primary focus is EJ. Apparently, ADEM does not take seriously its responsibility to advance EJ or to protect communities already overburdened by, and most vulnerable to, pollution. ADEM should never have issued a permit for Arrowhead Landfill in the first place, as it is a blatant violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and EPA's EJ policy.

Instead of issuing the permit for Arrowhead Landfill, ADEM should have adhered to EPA's EJ policy and taken steps to avoid placing such an inordinately high burden of risk on the population of Uniontown. Due to ADEM's indifference to EJ policy, Uniontown residents have been forced to live with another black eye for the community, the mega-landfill that has destroyed the peaceful rural environment we once enjoyed.

Renewing this permit would have disproportionately high adverse human health and environmental effects on a population that is both minority and low-income. We believe that the renewal permit requested by Green Group Holdings should be summarily denied by ADEM.

At the public hearing held by ADEM in Uniontown on Sept. 6, all but one of the citizens who spoke called for ADEM to revoke the landfill's permit.

We want ADEM to do the right thing for Uniontown's citizens and our environment: 1) deny the application for permit renewal, 2) revoke the existing permit, 3) remove the coal ash and other toxic waste from the landfill and relocate it to a facility designed to accept hazardous waste, 4) close the landfill, and 5) compensate for the environmental injustice done to Uniontown by giving the city the $4 million that ADEM was compensated for its decision to permit the Kingston coal ash for disposal in the Arrowhead Landfill.
Persons wishing to comment on Arrowhead Landfill's request for permit renewal may do so, in writing, to Russell A. Kelly, Chief, Permits and Services Division, ADEM, PO Box 301463, Montgomery, AL 36130-1463. In order to affect final decisions, comments must offer technically substantial information that is applicable to the proposed permit.

ADEM will hold a second public meeting in Uniontown, a question-and-answer session, on Thursday, Sept. 29 at 6 p.m. in the City Hall Auditorium. The deadline for written comments has been extended to Thursday, Oct. 13. Copies of the public notice and proposed permit are available electronically via the ADEM website.

How much more environmental injustice can Uniontown bear? Would such a horrific assault be allowed to continue in Hoover, or Huntsville, or Montgomery? We think not. No one should have to live like this. It is appalling and shameful that ADEM allows this despicable situation to exist anywhere in Alabama. As Martin Luther King once said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

Opinion Mon, 26 Sep 2016 10:37:20 -0400
There Oughta Be a Law... Should Prison Really Be the US Way?

A proposed New Jersey law would punish pedestrians who cross the street while using their smartphones with fines and, in some cases, up to 15 days in jail. (Photo:; Edited: LW / TO)A proposed New Jersey law would punish pedestrians who cross the street while using their smartphones with fines and, in some cases, up to 15 days in jail. (Photo: Startupstockphotos; Edited: LW / TO)

You've heard of distracted driving? It causes quite a few auto accidents and it's illegal in a majority of states.

Well, this year, a brave New Jersey state senator, a Democrat, took on the pernicious problem of distracted walking. Faced with the fact that some people can't tear themselves away from their smartphones long enough to get across a street in safety, Pamela Lampitt of Camden, New Jersey, proposed a law making it a crime to cross a street while texting. Violators would face a fine, and repeat violators up to 15 days in jail. Similar measures, says The Washington Post, have been proposed (though not passed) in Arkansas, Nevada, and New York. This May, a bill on the subject made it out of committee in Hawaii.

That's right. In several states around the country, one response to people being struck by cars in intersections is to consider preemptively sending some of those prospective accident victims to jail. This would be funny, if it weren't emblematic of something larger. We are living in a country where the solution to just about any social problem is to create a law against it, and then punish those who break it.

I've been teaching an ethics class at the University of San Francisco for years now, and at the start of every semester, I always ask my students this deceptively simple question: What's your definition of justice?

As you might expect in a classroom where half the students are young people of color, up to a third are first-generation college goers, and maybe a sixth come from outside the United States, the answers vary. For some students, justice means "standing up for the little guy." For many, it involves some combination of "fairness" and "equality," which often means treating everyone exactly the same way, regardless of race, gender, or anything else. Others display a more sophisticated understanding. An economics major writes, for instance,

"People are born unequal in genetic potential, financial and environmental stability, racial prejudice, geographic conditions, and nearly every other facet of life imaginable. I believe that the aim of a just society is to enable its citizens to overcome or improve their inherited inequalities."

A Danish student compares his country to the one where he's studying:

"The Danish welfare system is constructed in such a way that people pay more in taxes and the government plays a significant role in the country. We have free healthcare, education and financial aid to the less fortunate. Personally, I believe this is a just system where we take care of our own."

For a young Latino, justice has a cosmic dimension:

"My sense of justice tends to revolve around my idea that the universe and life are so grand and inexplicable that everything you put into it comes back to you. This I can trace to my childhood, when my mother would tell me to do everything in life with 'love, faith, and courage.' Ever since, I believe that any action or endeavor that is guided by these three qualities can be considered just." 

Justice Is Punishment

The most common response to my question, however, brings us back to those street-crossing texters.  For most of my students -- for most Americans in fact -- justice means establishing the proper penalties for crimes committed. "Justice for me," says one, "is defined by the punishment of wrongdoing." Students may add that justice must be impartial, but their primary focus is always on retribution. "Justice," as another put it, "is a rational judgment involving fairness in which the wrongdoer receives punishment deserving of his/her crime."

When I ask where their ideas about justice come from, they often mention the punishments ("fair" or otherwise) meted out by their families when they were children. These experiences, they say, shaped their adult desire to do the right thing so that they will not be punished, whether by the law or the universe. Religious upbringing plays a role as well. Some believe in heavenly rewards for good behavior, and especially in the righteousness of divine punishment, which they hope and generally expect to escape through good behavior.

Often, when citing the sources of their beliefs about justice, students point to police procedurals like the now-elderly "CSI" and "Law and Order" franchises. These provide a sanitary model of justice, with generally tidy hour-long depictions of crime and punishment, of perps whose punishment is usually relatively swift and righteous.

Certainly, many of my students are aware that the US criminal justice system falls far short of impartiality and fairness. Strangely, however, they seldom mention that this country has 2.2 million people in prison or jail; or that it imprisons the largest proportion of people in the world; or that, with 4% of the global population, it holds 22% of the world's prisoners; or that these prisoners are disproportionately brown and black. Their concern is less about those who are in prison and perhaps shouldn't be, than about those who are not in prison and ought to be.

They are (not unreasonably) offended when rich or otherwise privileged people avoid punishment for crimes that would send others to jail. At the height of the Great Recession, their focus was on the Wall Street bankers who escaped prosecution for their part in inflating the housing bubble that brought the global economy to its knees. This fall, for several of them, Exhibit A when it comes to justice denied is the case of former Stanford student Brock Turner, recently released after serving a mere three months for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman. They are (perhaps properly) outraged by what they perceive as a failure of justice in Turner's case.  But they are equally convinced of something I struggle with -- that a harsher sentence for Turner would have been a step in the direction of making his victim whole faster. They are far more convinced than I am that punishment is always the best way for a community to hold responsible those who violate its rules and values.

In this, they are in good company in the US.

There Oughta Be a Law

Of course, the urge to extend punishment to every sort of socially disapproved behavior, including texting in a crosswalk, is hardly a new phenomenon. Since the founding of the United States, government at every level has tended to make unpopular behavior illegal. Just to name a few obvious examples of past prohibitions now likely to stop us in our tracks: at various times there have been laws against having sex outside marriage, distributing birth control, or marrying across races (as highlighted in the new movie Loving).

In 1919, for instance, a constitutional amendment was ratified outlawing the making, shipping, or selling of alcohol (although it didn't last long). You might think that the experience of Prohibition, including the rise of violent gangs feeding on the illegal liquor trade, would have given us a hint about the likely effects of outlawing other mind-bending substances, but no such luck.

One big difference between the 18th Amendment and today's drug laws was that, although Prohibition outlawed traffic in alcohol, it didn't mention consumption. No one got arrested for drinking. By comparison, as The Huffington Post reported last year,

"Law enforcement officers made just over 700,000 arrests on marijuana-related charges in 2014... Of that total, 88.4 percent -- or about 619,800 arrests -- were made for marijuana possession alone, a rate of about one arrest every 51 seconds over the entire year."

One marijuana arrest every 51 seconds. It should be no surprise, then, that drug possession is a major reason why people end up in debt (from court-imposed fines), locked up, or both -- but hardly the only reason. Punishment is the response of choice for all kinds of behavior, including drinking in public (which is why people wrap their beer bottles in paper bags and kids who look up to them do the same with their soda cans), indecent exposure, "lewd conduct," prostitution, gambling, and all kinds of petty theft.

But doesn't punishing undesirable behavior have a deterrent effect, and more and harsher punishment increase that effect? This is obviously a hard thing to measure, but there is data available suggesting that lighter penalties for a particular crime do not necessarily result in more of that crime.

Take petty theft. Different states have different thresholds for what counts as "petty" and what is the more serious crime of "grand" larceny. Petty theft is usually classified as a misdemeanor, a category of crime that carries sentences of up to a year in a county jail. Above a certain dollar amount, thefts become felonies, which means those convicted serve at least a year -- and often many years -- in state prison. Depending on the state, some felons also lose their voting rights for life. Those convicted of federal felonies may not serve on juries, may not be able to work for the federal government, and are often not permitted to work for labor unions. A felony conviction is a big deal.

The Pew Charitable Trusts wondered what would happen if states treated fewer thefts as felonies by raising the dollar cutoff for a felony prosecution.  Pew asked: Would there be more minor theft because the penalties were lower? (Some state felony thresholds were, in fact, shockingly low. Until 2001, in Oklahoma, stealing anything worth more than $50 would throw you into that category. Even that state's new limit, $500, is still on the low side.)

The Pew researchers examined "crime trends in 23 states" that have raised the dollar threshold for felony theft and concluded that it had "no impact on overall property crime or larceny rates." In fact, since 2007 property theft has been declining across the country, with no difference between states with higher and lower felony thresholds. So at least in the case of petty theft, threatening to send fewer people to state prison does not seem to raise the crime rate.

What's the Alternative?

In the late 1980s, the United Kingdom's first woman prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, adopted the slogan "there is no alternative," often shortened to TINA. In Thatcher's case, she meant that there was no imaginable economic alternative to her campaign to destroy the power of unions, deregulate everything in sight, and gut the British welfare state.  It's hard indeed to imagine other ways of organizing things when there is -- or at least is believed to be -- no alternative. It's hard to imagine a justice system that doesn't rely primarily on the threat of punishment when, for most Americans, no alternative is imaginable. But what if there were alternatives to keeping 2.2 million people in cages that didn't make the rest of us less safe, that might actually improve our lives?

Portugal has tried one such alternative. In 2001, as The Washington Post reported, that country "decriminalized the use of all drugs" and decided to treat drug addiction as a public health problem rather than a criminal matter. The results? Portugal now has close to the lowest rate of drug-induced deaths in Europe -- three overdose deaths a year per million people. By comparison, at 45 deaths per million population, the United Kingdom's rate is more than 14 times greater. In addition, HIV infections have also declined in Portugal, unlike, for example, in the rural United States where a heroin epidemic has the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention worried about the potential for skyrocketing infection rates.

All right, but drug use has often been called a "victimless" crime. Maybe it doesn't make sense to lock up people who are really only hurting themselves. What about crimes like theft or assault, where the victims are other people? Isn't punishment a social necessity then?

If you'd asked me that question a few years ago, I would probably have agreed that there are no alternatives to prosecution and punishment in response to such crimes. That was before I met Rachel Herzing, a community organizer who worked for the national prison-abolition group Critical Resistance for 15 years. I invited her to my classes to listen to my students talk about crime, policing, and punishment. She then asked them to imagine the impossible -- other methods besides locking people up that a community could use to restore itself to wholeness.

This is the approach taken by the international movement for restorative justice. The Washington, DC-based Centre for Justice and Reconciliation describes it this way: "Restorative justice repairs the harm caused by crime. When victims, offenders, and community members meet to decide how to do that, the results can be transformational."

Similarly, "transitional justice" is the name given to a range of measures taken in countries that have suffered national traumas, including ethnic cleansing and other massive human rights violations. According to the International Center for Transitional Justice, such measures to heal a wounded country and deal with often terrible crimes do "include criminal prosecutions," but the emphasis is often placed on "truth commissions, reparations programs, and various kinds of institutional reforms," or even, as the Centre for Justice and Reconciliation suggests, "meetings between victims, offenders, and other persons" to emphasize accountability and make amends.

The most famous of such experiments has undoubtedly been South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. From 1948 to 1994, South Africa operated under the official policy of apartheid, the legal separation of South Africans into four different racial categories with four different levels of rights. The South African government employed all the usual tools of state terrorism -- murder, torture, beatings, incarceration, and daily repression -- to keep the oppressed majority out of power. Eventually, international sanctions and internal resistance, followed by an extraordinary negotiation between African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela and then-president F.W. De Klerk, brought a peaceful end to apartheid.

In 1994, after Mandela had become president and the crimes of that country's white regime were at an end, that Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established to confront the country's history of apartheid atrocities. Behind that process was a recognition that there could be no peaceable future without a public acknowledgement of the harm that had been done by those who had done it. In South Africa, even torturers and murderers under the apartheid system were granted amnesties for their crimes as part of a social healing process, but only after they had publicly admitted their actions and genuinely asked for forgiveness. It was not punishment but the acknowledgement of wrongdoing that marked the beginning of justice in that country and it seemed to work for many of those who had suffered grievously under apartheid.

A similar approach might work in the United States. Indeed, it already happens all the time on a small scale around the country, through community mediation services. These organizations help neighbors settle disputes that might otherwise result in a trip to civil courts or the pressing of criminal charges. An important aspect of the process is listening to and acknowledging the harm others have experienced. It might be possible to expand this kind of mediation to address more serious instances of harm to individuals or a community, and to work out means of restitution that did not involve prison time.

There are other alternatives to punishment as well. For example, as Critical Resistance suggests, instead of training police forces to "deal" with people experiencing mental health breakdowns by arresting them and putting them in the "justice" system, we might begin to treat such events as what they are: health crises. It's a horror that jails and prisons have become the biggest mental "hospitals" in the country -- with the Justice Department reporting that half of those now incarcerated have some form of mental illness.

Some communities have also begun to question the wisdom of the "broken windows" approach to policing first proposed by criminal justice scholar George Kelling and political scientist James Q. Wilson. They argued that when the police enforce laws and informal rules against nuisance behavior in neighborhoods, reductions in more serious crimes followed. In their seminal 1982 article on the subject in the Atlantic, Kelling and Wilson suggested that just as an "untended" building with one broken window was eventually likely to end up with all its windows broken, "'untended' behavior also leads to the breakdown of community controls." They wrote approvingly of a police officer who made a habit of arresting for vagrancy anyone who broke the "informal rules" of the neighborhood to which he was assigned -- by begging for money at a bus stop or drinking alcohol from an unwrapped container or on the sidewalk of a major street.

Bill Bratton, New York City's just-retired police chief, championed this "broken windows" approach to policing, including a race-based "stop-and-frisk" policy in which police searched New Yorkers on the streets of their city five million times between 2002 and 2015. Nearly 90% of those stopped were, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union, "completely innocent" of anything and of the remaining 10%, only one-quarter, or 2.5% of all stops, resulted in convictions -- most often for marijuana possession. But hundreds of thousands of people, mostly young African American and Latino men, lived with the expectation that, at any time, the police might stop them on the street in a humiliating display of power. In a landmark 2013 decision, a New York federal court found the police department's stop-and-frisk policy unconstitutional.

Here's another idea: Even people of goodwill who are not yet ready to jump on any prison abolition bandwagon might agree that we could stop sending people to jail for many misdemeanors.

In my state, California, there were 762,002 arrests for misdemeanors in 2014 alone. Of these, 92,469 were for drug possession, 1,265 for glue sniffing (a "crime" of the truly poor and desperate), and another 90,061 for being drunk in public. The largest single category, however, was driving under the influence, or DUI, with 151,416 arrests. That's a total of almost 335,000 people arrested in one state in one year for crimes connected with the use of either legal or illegal drugs. Add to that the 58,569 people arrested for petty theft, imagine similar figures across the country, and you can see how the jails might begin to fill with record-setting numbers of prisoners.

Even when never convicted, those arrested often end up spending time in jail because they can't afford bail. And spending time in jail can cost you your job, your children, even your home. That's a lot of punishment for someone who hasn't been convicted of a crime. In August 2016, the US Justice Department filed documents in federal court arguing that holding people in jail because they can't afford to bail themselves out is unconstitutional -- a major move toward real justice.

So the next time you find yourself thinking idly that there oughta be a law -- against not giving up your seat on a bus to someone who needs it more, or playing loud music in a public place, or panhandling -- stop for a moment and think again. Yes, such things can be unpleasant for other people, but maybe there's a just alternative to punishing those who do them.

I'll leave the last words to a student of mine, who wrote, "My definition of justice is some sort of restitution and admission of wrongdoing from someone who wronged you in the past... My family has influenced my definition of justice in teaching me that even if someone does something wrong there should always be room for forgiveness and, if they are sincere, forgive them and that is justice."

Now, it's your turn to define the term -- and so our world.

Opinion Mon, 26 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Contractor Behind DAPL Assessment Was Working on Connecting Pipeline for the Same Company

Activists protest in solidarity with the Standing Rock uprising during a demonstration in Oakland, California, on September 13, 2016. (Photo: Peg Hunter)Activists protest in solidarity with the Standing Rock uprising during a demonstration in Oakland, California, on September 13, 2016. (Photo: Peg Hunter)

A private firm that conducted the environmental review for the highly contentious Dakota Access Pipeline was simultaneously working for Energy Transfer, the company behind the project, on a connecting pipeline.

A DeSmog investigation also found that during the review period, the firm -- Perennial Environmental Services LLC ("Perennial") -- advocated for opening new regions for oil and gas drilling.

In 2014, Energy Transfer hired Perennial, a Houston-based environmental consultancy, to perform the Environmental Assessment (EA) for its then-proposed Dakota Access Pipeline, a four-state project that will carry crude oil from North Dakota's Bakken region to Illinois.

Yet Perennial was already working at the time for another subsidiary company of Energy Transfer, Trunkline.

Perennial provided Energy Transfer with environmental permitting services in its project to convert portions of Trunkline from a gas to oil pipeline.

Since DAP will connect to Trunkline in Patoka, Illinois, Trunkline will serve in essence as Dakota Access' southern leg, moving its Bakken oil to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico region.

Trunkline's most recent financial reports filed at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) show that in 2015 alone the company paid Perennial $335,699.

A section from Trunkline's 2015 financial report to FERC, showing payment to Perennial Environmental Services.

The interconnectedness between the two pipelines suggests Perennial had a potential interest in providing an environmental assessment that was beneficial to Energy Transfer's Dakota Access pipeline.

In its final EA report for Dakota Access, Perennial concluded the project woould not cause a significant impact on the environment.

Both Perennial and Energy Transfer have strongly denied to DeSmog any bias in the work related to the EA.

Following the EA's publication, the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) approved the pipeline over the objection of three other federal agencies and despite fierce opposition from Native Americans and other residents living along its route.

While Energy Transfer paid Perennial for the EA, the regulating agency for the project -- the USACE -- did not vet the contractor for possible conflict of interest since, according to USACE regulations, an EA does not require it to screen such contractors.

Still, the EA is prepared and written on behalf and under the supervision of the USACE, which takes ultimate responsibility for verifying its contents.

Dennis Woods, one of Perennial's founding partners and a co-author on the EA, even told DeSmog that Perennial "provided support to the USACE for the preparation of their environmental assessment."

Dakota Access Reviewer Decries "Excessive Regulation" on Oil Drilling

Perennial has shown strong support for the expansion of the oil and gas industry.

During the time it performed the EA for Dakota Access, the firm advocated for opening up new regions for oil and gas drilling.

Perennial's Woods wrote in late 2014 to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) in strong support of oil and gas development in the Chukchi Sea.

Soon after, in 2015, Jonathan Fredland, a Perennial employee and another co-author on the Dakota Access EA, wrote to BOEM on two separate occasions, urging the government to issue new leases for oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic.

Fredland asked the "agencies to promote responsible arctic energy development by instituting sensible policies that will allow current and future operators the ability to explore and develop the region's abundant resources."

In one of the letters, Fredland also railed against what he called "[R]edundant, excessive regulations" that "are not based on the latest science."

All three letters indicated they were written on behalf of Perennial Environmental Resources.

Perennial's Woods told DeSmog: "I can adamantly state that there is no influence or bias in Perennial's work product on this Project [i.e. Dakota Access] or any others.  My staff is comprised of scientists from various disciplines and any professional opinions or conclusions we make are based on the best available data. Further, all of our work is conducted in compliance with the applicable regulatory framework for each individual project."

Asked to respond to Fredland's letters, Woods replied: "I have no knowledge of this endorsement and generally don't become involved with what my staff choose to support or oppose on their own time. Again, I can adamantly state that there is no influence or bias in Perennial's work product on this Project or any others."

Vicki Granado, a spokesperson for Energy Transfer, said: "Dakota Access has followed all applicable rules and regulations in the permitting and approval of both projects [i.e. Dakota Access and Trunkline conversion], and will continue to do so."

Eugene Pawlik, a spokesperson for the USACE, referred DeSmog to the section of the EA which delineates USACE's responsibilities: "It states, 'This action is being completed in accordance with CEQ regulations in Section 1506.5(a) and 1506.5(b), which allow an applicant to prepare an EA for federal actions. The Corps has independently evaluated and verified the information and analysis undertaken in the EA and takes full responsibility for the scope and content contained herein.  Corps offices involved with the preparation and review of this document are provided in Section 9.0 of the EA.' The CEQ NEPA regulations allow an applicant to prepare EAs for federal actions and it is the subsequent responsibility of the federal agency to evaluate and take responsibility for the content of the EA."

Perennial's Owners Partner With Oil-and-Gas Investor

The State of Texas tax records reveal another interesting detail about Perennial. Its two managing partners -- David Beckmeyer and Dennis Woods -- are also managers with Jeffrey Gunst in another Houston-based business, Awesome-O Properties, an investment company that shares the same downtown Houston address as Perennial Environmental Services.

Gunst is a founding member and principal of Avista Capital Partners, a private equity firm with numerous investments in oil and energy companies.

These include Sidewinder Drilling and Empresa Energy, two companies with operations in the Bakken oil fields. According to State of Texas corporation records, Jeffrey Gunst is also a director of Sidewinder Drilling.

In response, Perennial's Woods denied any conflict of interest: "Mr. Gunst and I are personal friends and the investment partnership we're in together is not interrelated with this Project [i.e. Dakota Access] or my firm in any form or fashion. I have no knowledge, involvement, or co-investment in anything Avista is doing and Mr. Gunst has no knowledge, involvement, or co-investment in Perennial. In no way is there any influence on Perennial's work product from this relationship."

Jeffrey Gunst also denied any involvement with Perennial. In response to an email from DeSmog, he wrote: "I am personal friends with Dennis Woods and Awesome-O Properties is a small real estate investment partnership. Neither I nor Avista have ever had any involvement with Perennial or Dakota Access Pipeline."

Fierce Opposition to Dakota Access Continues, Met by Crackdown

In a series of stories, DeSmog has continuously reported on the powerful corporate and political forces linked to the construction of Dakota Access.

Senator John Hoeven (R-ND), who showed support for the pipeline, was revealed to hold investments in oil producing wells in North Dakota.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's energy advisor, Continental Resource's CEO Harold Hamm, told investors its Bakken oil is destined for transport through the Dakota Access pipeline.    

At the same time, the resistance to the pipeline continues in full swing.

At the center of the struggle are the Standing Rock Sioux, whose protests have mobilized many other activists and native people throughout the world.

In a repressive response, Dakota Access hired private security guards who used attack dogs and pepper spray on protesters, injuring several.

News Mon, 26 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400