Truthout Stories Wed, 04 Mar 2015 10:24:38 -0500 en-gb Does the Supreme Leader Love Our Land Mass? ]]> (Lauren Walker) Art Wed, 04 Mar 2015 09:38:31 -0500 Why Chuy Garcia Needs to Condemn Rahm Emanuel's Secret Police Interrogation Site

Guardian (U.K.) investigative reporter Spencer Ackerman has sparked a firestorm with a series of reports exposing a “secret” site, in the heart of Chicago’s predominantly African-American West Side, at which police have conducted off-the-books interrogations for more than 15 years.

Ackerman reports that black and brown suspects and witnesses, as well as white activists, have been taken by police to the abandoned Sears and Roebuck complex, known as Homan Square, and subjected to abuse. The victims describe, variously, being denied contact with lawyers or family for up to three days, being shackled hand and foot, and being subjected to starvation, sweltering heat, sensory deprivation and beatings. On at least one occasion, a detainee—John Hubbard, 44—died in an interview room. (After the Guardian article appeared, Cook County said the death was due to heroin intoxication.)

The initial Guardian exposé prompted calls for an investigation from two former high-level Justice Department officials, William Yeomans and Sam Bagenstos, and several progressive Chicago politicians (including one, Luis Gutierrez, who has been a conspicuous supporter of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel). The city attempted to give the growing scandal the back of the hand: Emanuel stated that the allegations were “not true. We follow the rules.” The police department issued a statement claiming that the site was not secret, that lawyers had access to their clients (the lawyers disagree) and that the charges of brutality were “offensive.” The local press, beaten on the story—by a UK paper no less—and having lost many of its award-winning investigative journalists years ago, turned to the Chicago Sun-Times’ veteran police reporter, Frank Main, who has long embedded with the CPD, to attack the Guardian reports. Main said that he had been to Homan Square 20 to 30 times to be shown drugs seized in raids. This, however, exhibits only the strange hidden-in-plain-sight nature of Homan Square: Press and lawyers were sometimes allowed in, but the interrogations and brutality were never reported. Nonetheless, a local NPR reporter, relying on Main's assertion and doggedly focusing on the Guardian’s use of the term “black site” to draw a parallel with the CIA’s secret interrogation sites in the Middle East, attempted to dismiss the reports as “exaggerated.” 

The Guardian countered with yet another story, which detailed four more cases of secret physical abuse in “kennel-like” cells at Homan Square. The young African-American men describe being grilled about gun and gangs for days. This time, the alleged practices included handcuffing both wrists in a way that, according to the victim, felt like being “crucified,” and stomping on another victim’s groin.

The textbook definition

So how should we view Homan Square? The U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which has been adopted, with reservations, by the United States, defines torture as follows:

Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.

Given this, the emerging evidence of abuses at Homan Square once again places the question of systemic, racially and politically motivated torture squarely at the doorstep of the political powers that be in Chicago.

The similarities to the Burge torture era of the 1970s and 1980s are hard to miss. While the coercive tactics that have so far been documented at Homan Square are not as extreme as those practiced by then-Police Commander Jon Burge and his men (which included electric shock, simulating suffocation with a bag and mock-executions), they still intentionally inflict ”severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental” as forbidden by the CAT. During the Burge era, lawyers and family members would call the police looking for an African-American client or loved one who had been taken into custody, only to be told that he or she was not there. When the person was finally located, Burge and his confederates had finished their torture and abuse, and in most cases, obtained a confession. Similar to Homan Square, numerous black men, including Darrell Cannon, Michael Tillman, and Alonzo Smith, were taken offsite to remote locations or to the basement of the police station to be interrogated under torture. And, as in Homan, at least one person died under highly suspicious circumstances on Burge’s watch.

Homan Square itself has a direct tie to other brutal chapters of Chicago police history: The site is geographically located in the notorious Fillmore Police District, near the former Area 4 detective headquarters. In the 1980s and 1990s, a team of well-known Area 4 detectives interrogated suspects with a viciousness that was second only to that of Burge and his men. Decades earlier, in the 1960s, Fillmore District Officer James “Gloves” Davis, and his partner, Nedrick Miller, patrolled the streets with a brutality so extreme that they are remembered by residents to this day. (Davis has another claim to infamy: When the Chicago police were enlisted by Cook County State’s Attorney Edward Hanrahan and F.B.I. Director J. Edgar Hoover’s Cointelpro program to execute the deadly West Side raid on the apartment of Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, Davis was one of the leaders of the raid, and bullets from his carbine were found in the bodies of both of the slain leaders.)

More to unearth?

The first case of Burge related torture came to light in 1982, but it was more than two decades before the larger scope of his unit’s systemic torture on the South and West Sides of Chicago—120 victims and still counting—was unearthed. So it is little wonder that the stories emerging from the sprawling brick edifice chill those who have experienced similar terrorizing brutality at the hands of the Chicago police. At a rally in front of Emanuel’s City Hall on March 2, torture victim Darrell Cannon linked Homan Square to Burge’s racist torture, paraphrasing Martin Luther King Jr.: “Justice denied to one is justice denied to all.” Angry young activists of color at the rally suggested that the revelations to date are just the tip of an iceberg and described everyday occurrences of brutal interrogations in their communities. Since the Guardian stories hit, lawyers have come forward and complained that holding clients incommunicado is a citywide problem.

That it is, without doubt, and it is much too early to call the story “exaggerated” or to conclude that there has been transparency with regard to what goes on in those kennel-like cells. One veteran and well-respected African American activist, Prexy Nesbitt, who has lived in the shadow of that complex of buildings and had tasted the lawlessness of the Fillmore cops back in the day, has asserted, with a straight face, that Homan Square is “where the bodies are buried.” Unfortunately, in Chicago that statement can be taken literally, as well as figuratively.

On the Saturday after the first Homan Square article broke, a group of hardy protesters, led by Black Lives Matter, gathered before the fortified entrance of the main building. A spokesperson posed questions to the silent row of police guards: “How many people are you holding there?” “What are you doing to them?”

Those questions deserve answers, along with many others. Foremost among them: Given Chicago lawyers’ reports that officers feel free to practice these kinds of abuses throughout the city, what is the purpose of taking people off the books to interrogate them at Homan Square? And who, among the thousands that may be taken into custody by the Chicago police on a given week, are brought there?

The CPD isn’t telling. But an answer may be pieced together from what the police, the embedded reporter and the Guardian’s exposé have so far revealed. Here’s what we know: First, the CPD’s undercover operations and intelligence and anti-gang units are based at Homan Square. Second, selected political activists are brought there, along with youth of color. The former are questioned about “terrorist” and other political activities, and the latter are grilled about gang activities, drugs and guns. Third, detainees are secreted away from their lawyers and families for as long as possible, sometimes days. Fourth, in many instances they are not charged with a crime. Fifth, one of Homan Square’s main functions  is, by the CPD’s own admission, to “disrupt” gang activity, in a chilling echo of how the FBI’s Cointelpro program characterized an illegal set of tactics, which were also practiced by the CPD’s notorious Red Squad and Gang Intelligence Unit to trample on the rights of political activists and people of color in the 1960s and 1970s.

All of this indicates that Homan Square houses a centralized police intelligence gathering and disruption operation—secret, lawless, and out of control. Since the tactics at least sometimes include human rights violations forbidden by the United Nations Convention Against Torture, it seems depressingly appropriate to liken Homan Square to Burge’s House of Screams, to Guantanamo Bay, and yes, to the CIA’s secret black sites.

The politics at play

Two final overarching questions also must be posed: How, if at all, will the Obama Justice Department respond? And will these related human rights issues impact the mayoral runoff between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and progressive challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia on April 7?

With regard to the Justice Department, local activists remember all too well that Barack Obama, when a state senator, steered a wide berth around the Burge torture issue. That, coupled with his staunch support for his former chief of staff in the mayoral primary, make the chances of a meaningful federal investigation, at least in the short term, next to zero.

As for the race, Garcia, for his part, took a position in the primary elections that, to many progressives, appeared to be to the right of Emanuel on the issue of policing. He called for 1,000 more cops on the street in his one and only TV advertisement, a position that hardly resonated with those people of color and progressives who suffer the slings and arrows of overly aggressive, racially motivated policing. He does support the ordinance for reparations for Burge torture survivors, but came to it late in the campaign, with an ill-informed written statement. He thereby missed a golden opportunity to seize upon an issue that would have further separated himself from Emanuel—who has refused to commit to the ordinance despite its support by a majority of the City’s aldermen—while appealing to the African-American community.

The Homan Square scandal offers Garcia yet another chance to show progressives and people of color that he is committed to reform a corrupt and brutal police department. With a broad-based attack on his opponent for failing to support torture reparations or to halt Homan Square, Garcia would be taking a page from his mentor, the late and great Mayor Harold Washington. Harold’s campaign caught fire in 1983 when he heeded the advice of one of his progressive advisors and seized on the issue of rampant police brutality to attack the incumbent, Jane Byrne. His base was galvanized, and the rest is history. Unfortunately, to date, Garcia has ignored that successful example and remained silent on Homan Square. Time is running short, but to paraphrase the late Congressman Ralph Metcalfe, it is never too late to be right.

Opinion Wed, 04 Mar 2015 09:23:38 -0500
Can the Violence in Honduras Be Stopped?

Nearly 100 percent of the murders in Honduras' second city go unsolved. Community development, not militarization, is the answer.

Honduras is one of the most violent nations in the world. The situation in the country’s second largest city, San Pedro Sula, demonstrates the depth of the problem.

For the fourth year running, San Pedro Sula has been one of the most dangerous places on the planet outside of a war zone. Its murder rate in 2014 was an astonishing 171 per 100,000. The city, which is caught in the crossfire between vicious criminal gangs, has been the largest source of the 18,000 Honduran children who have fled to the United States in recent years.

The vast majority of killings in Honduras are carried out with impunity. For example, 97 percent of the murders in San Pedro Sula go unsolved.

Corruption within and abuses by the civilian police undermine its effectiveness. A controversial new internal security force, the Military Police of Public Order (Policia Militar del Orden Publico, or PMOP), does not carry out investigations needed to deter crime and is facing a series of allegations of abuses in the short time it has been deployed. There are currently 3,000 PMOP soldiers deployed throughout the country, but this number is expected to grow to 5,000 this year. The national police feel that the government is starving them for funds and trying to replace them with PMOP.

The rise of PMOP is part of a larger trend toward the militarization of government and civil society. The military is now in charge of most aspects of public security in Honduras. But the signs of militarization are everywhere. Each Saturday, for example, 25,000 kids receive military training as part of the “Guardians of the Homeland” program, which the government says is designed to keep youths age 5-23 from joining the street gangs that control entire sections of the country’s most violent cities.

But putting more guns on the street is unlikely to sustainably stem the tide of violence in Honduras. What would make a difference is an end to the climate of impunity that allows murderers to kill people with no fear of consequences.

“This country needs to strengthen its capacity and will to carry out criminal investigations. This is the key to everything,” said an expert on violence in Honduras who spent years working in justice agencies there, and who spoke on condition of anonymity for reasons of personal safety.

The Three-Fold Challenge

The Honduran government faces three key challenges: It must reform a corrupt and abusive police force, strengthen criminal investigations, and ensure an impartial and independent judiciary.

Police reform appears to be stalled. There was some hope after the surge of civilian pressure for reform that followed the 2011 killing of the son of the rector for the Autonomous National University of Honduras and a friend. The Commission for the Reform of Public Security produced a series of proposals to improve the safety of the Honduran citizenry, including recommendations for improving police training, disciplinary procedures, and the structure of pubic security institutions.

Unfortunately, the Honduran Congress dissolved the commission in January 2014, during the lame duck period before President Juan Orlando Hernandez took office. Few of its recommendations have been carried out.

“They could have purged and trained the police during this time. But instead they put 5,000 military police on the street who don’t know what a chain of custody is,” lamented the expert on violence.

The Honduran government claims that over 2,000 police officers have been purged since May 2012, but there is little public information that would allow for an independent assessment of the reasons for the dismissals. And even when police are removed, they are not prosecuted; some are even allowed to return to the force. This is no way to instill accountability.

Meanwhile, the independence of the Honduran justice system is under attack. Since November 2013, the Judiciary Council has dismissed 29 judges and suspended 28 without an appropriate process, according to a member of the Association of Judges for Democracy. “This means that judges feel intimidated. They feel if they rule against well-connected people, against politicians, they can be dismissed.”

In an attempt to improve investigations and prosecutions, special units have been created to investigate specific types of crimes. For example, the Special Victims Task Force was created in 2011 to tackle crimes against vulnerable groups such as journalists, human rights advocates, and the LGBT community. This approach has been funded by the United States. It has promise, but the results are unclear so far. So is the question of whether the success of these specialized efforts can lead to broader improvements in the judicial system.

Protecting the Protectors

Providing security for justice operators is a particularly daunting problem. From 2010 to December 2014, 86 legal professionals were killed, according to information received by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Although the state provides some protection, the funding allocated for this purpose is inadequate. “In a country with the highest levels of violence and impunity in the region,” noted the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, “the State necessarily has a special obligation to protect, so that its justice sector operators can carry out their work to fight impunity without becoming victims in the very cases they are investigating.”

To try and target the problems driving the endemic violence in Honduras, the government, joined by the governments of Guatemala and El Salvador, has released its Alliance for Prosperity plan, which is designed to increase investment in infrastructure and encourage foreign investment. The Obama administration has announced that it will ask Congress for $1 billion to help fund the initiative, but details about the security strategy are scarce.

It remains to be seen exactly how this money will be spent. Looking at San Pedro Sula, it is clear that a dramatic change in political will would be needed for any initiative of this kind to be successful. International donors should not support a militarized security strategy, which would intensify abuses and fail to provide sustainable citizen security.

Funding for well-designed, community-based violence prevention programs could be helpful, but only if there is a government willing to reform the police, push for justice, and invest in the education, jobs, violence prevention, health, child protection, and community development programs needed to protect its poorest citizens.

Opinion Wed, 04 Mar 2015 00:00:00 -0500
Nationwide Week of Action Calls on ICE to Free Nicoll Hernandez-Polanco From Men's Detention Facility

Immigration activists are gathering across the US this week to demand the release of Nicoll Hernández-Polanco, a Guatemalan transgender woman currently held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in an immigration detention center for men in Florence, Arizona. Hernández-Polanco applied for asylum in October 2014, after experiencing transphobic and transmisogynistic sexual and physical violence for nearly a decade in Guatemala and Mexico. While in detention, she has faced continued sexual assault and harassment from ICE staff and other detainees.

Actions in Phoenix, Los Angeles, New York City and Washington, DC will call for two main demands: that ICE immediately free Hernández-Polanco from detention, to be housed and supported by Mariposas Sin Fronteras, an organization in Tucson, AZ, while her asylum case is processed; and that the White House and Department of Homeland Security take immediate action to define LGBTQ immigrants as a vulnerable group whose detention is specified in the President’s executive action memos to be “not in the public interest.”

In a letter to her supporters which will be read at the actions this week, Hernández-Polanco wrote,

Here in detention, unfortunately, I feel very discriminated and not protected. The conditions are very inhumane. Here they do not treat anyone with dignity, much less a transgender womyn like myself.

Aquí en la detención, lamentablemente, me siento muy discriminada y sin protección. Las condiciones son muy inhumanas. Aquí no hay trato digno para nadie, mucho menos para una mujer transgénero como yo.

Yesenia Valdez, national organizer for Familia: TQLM, told Autostraddle that making cases like Nicoll’s highly visible is critical:

Unfortunately these cases are very common, and don’t get enough media or visibility. People don’t really hear about them. And so we just have to fight as much as possible to get even into the media. We feel that nationally, we have a lot of different partnerships, and so that really helps us get the word out and highlight the stories such as Nicoll’s. She needs all the support, and by doing a nationwide week of action, we can highlight the work that still needs to be done in order to free her.

ICE Policies Don’t Reflect Reality

Hernández-Polanco’s experiences in detention reflect reality for many, if not most, trans women detained in immigration facilities. As Fusion reports, while trans women make up 1 in 500 detainees, they represent 1 in 5 victims of sexual abuse. As we saw last summer with the case of Marichuy Leal Gamino, another trans woman detained in a men’s facility in Arizona — despite the fact that the Prison Rape Elimination Act creates regulations and protocol for reducing and responding to sexual violence in prisons, including detention centers — these regulations are implemented spottily, at best. Olga Tomchin, an advocate for Hernández-Polanco, Leal Gamino and other detained trans women as the Soros Justice Fellow for the Transgender Law Center, told Autostraddle,

“ICE has progressive policies that exist solely on paper: trans women are supposed to be housed with women; people are supposed to be given access to medical care right away; people are supposed to be allowed to choose the gender of the guards that search them; trans women are never supposed to be forced to shower with men. However, ICE is a rogue agency that never follows its own rules. There is absolutely no accountability. I’ve seen that the conditions for my clients are not improving. ICE has shown over and over and over again that they are totally incapable of detaining trans people with even minimal levels of dignity and safety, so they have no business detaining trans people.”

Tomchin says ICE claims to be “investigating” Hernández-Polanco’s case. They also say that because she has been deported in the past, she is classified as a “priority” for deportation under the terms of President Obama’s recent executive action. This is arbitrary. Unlike incarceration in prison, where people have been sentenced to serve a specific amount of time there, ICE detention is a holding mechanism, which detains people for an unspecified amount of time, until they have a hearing to determine if they will be deported or not, or before the hearing if the person is deemed vulnerable or with some other extenuating circumstance. However, ICE has complete discretion in determining who they will release and when. If ICE felt like it, nothing would stop them from releasing Hernández-Polanco tomorrow.

Community Support for Nicoll

If ICE releases Hernández-Polanco, Mariposas Sin Fronteras would be ready to support her. Mariposas Sin Fronteras is a grassroots organization in Tucson which has been supporting current and former LGBTQ detainees since 2012. Raul Alcaraz Ochoa, a community organizer with Mariposas sin Fronteras, told Autostraddle they would be able to provide her with an extensive support network.

We have a place for her to stay. We also have our organization and she'd have support if she's looking to get to English classes, if she needs medical attention or mental health care. We'd be able to connect her with a network of support of people here in our community so that she can begin to heal from all that trauma that she's been undergoing and that's been intensified by being detained in ICE custody.

Mariposas Sin Fronteras does extensive outreach and network building within the Florence and Eloy detention centers in Southern Arizona, offering legal support, bail money through the Rainbow Defense Fund, community visits and letter writing campaigns. It was through these networks that they initially connected with Nicoll. Alcaraz Ochoa explained,

Another trans woman was in detention earlier. We helped her get released. She called us a few months later and told us that her friend Nicoll was planning to enter the US and seek asylum. So once we got information on her and figured out where she was detained, we wrote to her and visited her, and now we've been in contact since October of last year as she seeks asylum in the US.

Mariposas Sin Fronteras, the Transgender Law Center and other organizations have been pressuring ICE to release Hernández-Polanco since late 2014, and in late January, community members marched to the ICE office in Phoenix calling for Hernández-Polanco's freedom. ICE has refused, saying that they monitor complaints.

Cycles of Detention and Deportation

Hernández-Polanco's case and her categorization as a "deportation priority" also highlights contradictions in the rhetoric pushed forward by ICE and the Department of Homeland Security. She's been designated a priority because she has been deported multiple times and last entered the US in October, after the January 2014 cutoff, set by the President's Executive Action documents. However, Tomchin said her multiple deportations are the result of her coming to the US to flee transphobic violence, being detained, and then consenting to be deported before her asylum hearings, just to escape the unlivable abuse she faced in detention. This is a common cycle. According to Tomchin,

"[If you are in immigration detention], you can decide that you can't handle one more day in immigration detention. You can decide that you'd rather risk being killed back in your home country rather than spend one more day being raped and subjected to solitary confinement inside detention. ICE agents will come to people's cells every day and basically will pressure them to sign deportation orders and give up on their asylum case. Most trans women will win their cases under existing asylum law, but ICE makes things so horrible for them that people just can't go through with the process. That's what's happened with Nicoll."

So while immigration rhetoric and asylum law claim to offer relief for vulnerable populations, including trans women, the actual conditions trans women face ultimately make them more likely to be deported, rather than less. The ongoing abuse of transgender women in immigration detention also highlights a glaring contradiction in President Obama's lauding his administration for standing against persecution of trans people in the State of the Union. ICE personnel who have been harassing Hernández-Polanco are employees of the Department of Homeland Security, which is part of the executive branch. "As he does a victory lap on LGBT issues," Tomchin said, "[the President's] staff are torturing trans women, and we will not let him forget."

As Tomchin pointed out, the increased vulnerability for trans women like Hernández-Polanco, who have been detained and deported multiple times, who have any semblance of a criminal record, or who otherwise don’t qualify for protection under DACA and executive action, is connected to the financial mechanisms which drive the detention system. While DACA and executive action make fewer people eligible for detention and deportation, the “bed quota,” or the arbitrary number of beds required to be filled in immigration detention centers on any given night, has not been reduced. This means that the people who are not protected by DACA or executive action are more susceptible than they were before to deportation and long stays in detention.

Take Action

Hernández-Polanco wrote further in her letter,

We need to be included, not persecuted, not targeted, not incarcerated, not discriminated. Release us from detention TODAY!

¡Necesitamos ser incluidas, no perseguidas, no encarceladas, ni discriminadas! ¡Déjenos libre HOY!

A wide coalition of immigration and LGBTQ groups across the country are working together to make Hernández-Polanco’s message heard, to draw national attention to her case, to speak out against the injustices faced by the LGBTQ community as a whole in immigration detention, and to demand freedom for Nicoll and all LGBTQ detainees. H Kapp-Klote, communications coordinator for GetEqual said in an email, “[Multiple actions show] that people all over the country are standing with Nicoll, and that the repercussions of  ICE and President Obama’s actions go far beyond Arizona, where Nicoll is currently detained.”

In Los Angeles, the week of action to Free Nicoll coincides with the Trans Power Month of Action, drawing attention to the trans women of color who have been murdered and committed suicide so far this year. Valdez, who has been organizing with the Trans Power Month of Action and the Free Nicoll Week of Action, spoke to the connections between the two:

Because of all the recent trans murders — trans women of color, specifically — we have been meeting [in LA] these past two weeks, just to bring our community together and bring more awareness of what’s really going on. We feel like nobody’s paying attention… We’re going to continue the month of action by being in solidarity and joining the Free Nicoll action… The physical violence of murder and the physical violence and mental violence that trans women are suffering in detention – they’re very different struggles, but it’s the same pain, the same hurt for our communities and for these women who are suffering.

Other collaborating organizations for the Free Nicoll Week of Action include the Arcoiris Liberation Team, the Arizona Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project, the Queer Detainee Empowerment Project, the CA Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, the TransLatin@ Coalition, Gender Justice LA, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, Casa Ruby, United We Dream, the YAYA Network, the Audre Lorde Project and others.

There are lots of ways to support the Free Nicoll Week of Action. Alongside the actions in Phoenix, Los Angeles, New York and Washington (details listed below), supporters can call ICE and demand they release Hernández-Polanco, sign the petition for her release or send her a letter of support. Hernández-Polanco is particularly interested in femme sparkly letters. She doesn’t speak English, so if you if you can write in Spanish, or translate your message in some way, that would be appreciated. Otherwise, follow your sparklefemme heart and send along the best message of support you can.


Monday March 2
Rally at ICE ERO Field Office, coordinated by Mariposas Sin Fronteras, Arcoiris Liberation Team, AZ QUIP
2035 N. Central Avenue
Phoenix, AZ, 85004

Tuesday March 3
Rally at ICE Headquarters, coordinated by GetEqual, Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project of United We Dream, Casa Ruby
500 12th St. SW
Washington, DC 20536

Wednesday March 4
Rally at Metropolitan Detention Center, Coordinated by Familia: Trans/Queer Liberation Movement, Translatina Coalition, Gender Justice LA, California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance (CIYJA), Los Angeles Immigrant Youth Coalition, GetEQUAL
180 N Alameda St
Los Angeles, CA 90071

Thursday March 5
Rally at New York ICE ERO Field Office, coordinated by Queer Detainee Empowerment Project
26 Federal Plaza, New York, New York 10278

To call and demand Nicoll’s release, contact ICE at 202-732-4262

Sign the petition demanding ICE immediately release Nicoll

Write to Nicoll
Hernandez-Polanco, Abner Neftali (Nicoll)
A# 089-841-646
Florence Detention Center
3250 N. Pinal Parkway Ave.
Florence, AZ 85132

News Wed, 04 Mar 2015 00:00:00 -0500
Wrong-Way Obama?

President Barack Obama holds a meeting before a phone call in the Oval Office, Feb. 17, 2015.President Barack Obama holds a meeting before a phone call in the Oval Office, Feb. 17, 2015. (Photo: Pete Souza/Official White House Photo)

Disregard the happy talk from the Obama White House. The stagnant global economy remains at the precipice of something worse—full-blown deflation. And the so-called US recovery remains shaky, despite good employment numbers. Here and abroad, the governing authorities seem to have forgotten a key aspect of our situation: we live now in a globalized economy, in which one nation’s cold can lead to another country’s pneumonia. Their ignorance is shocking, but also dangerous.

In fact, the United States and other leading economies are beginning to mimic some of the same grave errors that governments committed in the distant past, circa 1929, when collapses of banks and financial markets morphed into the Great Depression. I’m not predicting such a catastrophic outcome now. Not yet, anyway. But the risk is present. The road to the Depression was paved with similarly myopic strategies. This president is not Herbert Hoover. But he might someday be remembered as Wrong-Way Obama.

The misdirection of government power suggests that many leaders don’t believe things were changed that much by the 2008 breakdown. They’re complacently doing the same stuff that failed more than eighty years ago.

First, the United States finds itself once again attempting to be the locomotive that pulls the rest of the world out of the ditch. America has done this successfully in previous decades, to help allies get well. The problem is that the American economy is now much more wobbly itself, deeply indebted after thirty years of trade deficits and costly wars. There’s a lot less US excess to spread around.

Second, trading partners like Japan, China and others in Asia are employing a nasty trade strategy from the 1930s known as “beggar thy neighbor.” They are weakening the value of their own currencies (and boosting the dollar’s value) so their exports will be cheaper than American products. The US trade deficit is now rising, especially in manufactured goods, and it’s sure to worsen as other currencies weaken. That means losing good jobs and wages for Americans.

Clyde Prestowitz of the Economic Strategy Institute, a longtime critic of the lopsided trading system, observed:

“The whole bloody world has somehow figured they are going to recover by selling exports to the US. While the world is depending on American demand, we are shipping more jobs and industry abroad, but we can’t keep it going. I fear we are going to keep playing this game because we think we can get away with it.”

Prestowitz ticked off currencies that have fallen in value—some as dramatically as 20 to 30 percent. They include those of Japan, China, Singapore, Australia, Canada and the European Central Bank. The ECB’s motive is legitimate—reducing interest rates to provide economic stimulus and fend off deflation—but the economic consequences are the same: more downward pressure on US production and employment. Japan’s currency manipulation cost 896,000 US jobs in 2013, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Third, President Obama appears oblivious to these changed circumstances. The evidence is his insistence that he wants to approve yet another “free trade” agreement, this time with eleven other nations in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (some of which are gaming their currencies to increase exports to the United States). The administration has made extravagant claims that this will create something like 650,000 jobs in America. Similar promises were made before previous trade agreements, starting with NAFTA in 1993. All proved bogus.

The Washington Post, a hearty advocate of trade agreements, blew a big hole in Obama’s promise. Glenn Kessler, the Post’s fact-checker, chased down the statistics and discovered that White House experts essentially made up the numbers. It was what you call a “back-of-the-envelope” estimate, but this one was written on toilet paper. Kessler was quite harsh in his judgment. He concluded,

“Our advice remains: be wary whenever a politician claims a policy will yield bountiful jobs. In this case, the correct number is zero…not 650,000, according to the very study used to calculate this number. Administration officials earn four Pinocchios for their fishy math.”

Finally, Congress will be asked to approve the TPP, but many Democrats and some Republicans are resisting on the grounds that it does not include a serious provision for stopping currency manipulations by other nations. Their real intention, I suspect, is to kill the TPP, since they know other countries would walk away if that issue is included. I’m also for killing the TPP, but there are crucial flaws in focusing on currency manipulations as the reason. For one thing, it would shrink still further the sovereignty of nation-states (including the United States) to manage their own financial systems. Globalization has already crippled governing rights of people and transferred power to multinational banks and corporations. The world doesn’t need more of that.

My more fundamental objection is that a far more important imperative is to generate worldwide economic recovery. That requires a cooperative agenda for shared relief and aggressive stimulus—not more dogfights between central banks and governments or rival political ideologies. The fundamental problem blocking recovery is the shortage of consumer demand and the abundance of debt. A vigorous recovery program would have nations joining to confront those two in a big way.

First, make the creditors and governments write off lots of debt, especially for folks who need it to survive. Washington did a little of this, but not enough. Obama was more generous with guilty bankers than he was with the borrowers they swindled. Second, create jobs. Governments and stores of private wealth must be coaxed or compelled to finance large-scale projects. The Federal Reserve should get credit for staving off collapse, but its monetary stimulus didn’t generate a genuine recovery. Europe, now in more desperate straits, is making a late attempt to mimic the Fed, but I expect it will not do any better. The financial guys caused this disaster, but they have proved they are incapable of correcting their sins or healing society. Obama, unfortunately, listened to them. This is why I fear the president may get a “Wrong-Way Obama” judgment from history. Surrounded by Wall Street expertise and conventional political actors, he didn’t understand the larger bonfire raging in the global economy, or else was persuaded not to take it seriously.

The next president will have to begin the great task of understanding what went wrong in the global system and reformulating its rules and functions in profound ways. Otherwise, we may limp along like this for quite a long time. Or things could get even worse.

Opinion Wed, 04 Mar 2015 00:00:00 -0500
"Medicare Part E": A Framework for Universal Health Care

It's time for universal health care in the US.

More than 100 economic professors from across our country have signed on to a letter, calling for Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin and that state's legislature to enact universal health care in the Green Mountain State.

Vermont has had plans to implement a universal health care system in that state for some time now, but Gov. Shumlin put those plans on hold late last year, after concerns came up over how the system would be paid for.

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

In the letter to Shumlin, the professors argue that health care should be provided as a public good, and that financing it actually helps to save money in the long run.

The professors write in part that, "Evidence from around the world demonstrates that publicly financed health care systems result in improved health outcomes, lower costs and greater equity. Public financing is not a matter of raising new money, but of distributing existing payments more equitably and efficiently."

While the professors make a great point, the fact is that Vermont gave universal health care a great shot. That state tried hard to make it work, and did its best to bring health care to all Vermonters.

But Vermont is a very small state, with a population of just over 626,000 people. And, in a state that small, implementing universal health care is a very hard thing to do.

For universal health care to really be successful, it needs to be done at a national level.

Fortunately, the US already has the framework in place to make universal health care a success. That framework is called Medicare.

A lot of people forget this but, back in July of 1965 when Medicare was established by Congress, it was established with the idea that one day it would be slightly changed to become THE national single-payer health insurance program for the US.

Well, the day to make those changes is now.

Currently, Medicare is made up of four parts: Part A which covers hospital stays, Part B with pays for medical services, Part C which pays for private insurance coverage, and Part D with pays for prescription drugs.

Now, it's time to create "Medicare Part E," which would cover every single American. Just let any citizen in the US buy into Medicare.

Best of all, creating "Medicare Part E" would be really easy. It wouldn't be some complicated process that requires Congress and the government to re-invent the wheel.

All Congress would have to do is pass a simple bill that says any American can buy into Medicare at a rate predetermined by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Department of Health and Human Services.

In would also be pretty easy to get Americans enrolled in universal health care and "Medicare Part E."

Basically, as soon as legislation is passed approving "Medicare Part E," the government would begin lowering the eligibility age for Medicare.

Each year, the eligibility age would drop by a decade, letting around 30 million new Americans into the program.

This process would be repeated each year, and within seven years, all Americans are covered by Medicare.

Of course, like with any idea, "Medicare Part E" has its opponents. There are people who just won't want to be part of it.

Luckily for them, they would still be able to buy private health insurance, and hand over their hard-earned money to billionaire insurance executives.

That's because universal health care doesn't mean government-only or even government-run healthcare.

In fact, many of the 32 developed countries in the world that have a universal health care plan in place continue to have both public and private insurance and medical providers.

And, in those countries where universal health care is in place, it's working wonders.

Take Australia for example.

In Australia, universal health care is guaranteed to all Australians, and the program is working really well.

In 2003, Australia's death rate from conditions that can be medically treated was a whopping 50 percent less than in the US.

The framework for universal health care in the US is already in place and the resources for it to be successful are readily available. We just have to make it happen.

The United States is the ONLY free-market country in the world without a universal health care system.

Countries with universal nonprofit health care don't have millions of people struggling to afford health care.

And they don't have millions of people skipping out on prescriptions because they cost too much money.

From Switzerland to Australia, and Norway to the UK, health care is considered a basic human right.

No one questions the notion that everyone, no matter who they are, is entitled to lifesaving and affordable health care.

When it comes to improving health care in the US, Obamacare has been a great start, but it's just one piece of the puzzle.

It's time to enact "Medicare Part E" and ensure that all Americans have access to lifesaving and affordable health care.

Opinion Tue, 03 Mar 2015 15:46:17 -0500
For Peace, We Must Defeat Netanyahu on Iran Diplomacy

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel addresses a joint meeting of Congress in the Capitol Building in Washington, March 3, 2015. (Photo: Jabin Botsford/The New York Times)Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel addresses a joint meeting of Congress in the Capitol Building in Washington, March 3, 2015. (Photo: Jabin Botsford / The New York Times)

Peace and justice advocates in the US are fighting Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his US amen corner on two fronts. The first front is the fight over Iran diplomacy, which Netanyahu is trying to blow up. The second front is the fight for justice for the Palestinians. One front is on the front page of the newspaper right now. The other front is barely a footnote right now in mainstream public discourse.

But it seems obvious that if we can't beat these people on Iran diplomacy, we haven't got a prayer of beating them on Israeli settlements in the West Bank. If we want to have a serious conversation about how to beat Netanyahu on settlements, the fight over Iran diplomacy should be required reading, because we're facing the same adversaries, with the key difference right now being that on the second front, we have far fewer friends.

Since 2006, with one exception, every time we ever won anything on the Iran diplomacy front, President Obama was on our side. Or, if you like, we were on President Obama's side.

On our issues, it matters greatly who the President of the United States is; it's far and away the most important thing. This is why on our issues, stopping the uncontested Hillary train is a top priority. Senator Schumer bragged that Netanyahu tickets were going like hot latkes. Within the Democratic Party, that's who Senator Schumer represents. Within the Democratic Party, that's who Hillary is representing right now. That is why we must do all we can to stop that train.

Over the last several weeks, many of us were very engaged in trying to get Democrats to skip Netanyahu's speech to Congress. We generated tens of thousands of petition signatures and emails and thousands of phone calls. We organized petition deliveries to Congress.

And, as of Tuesday morning, The Hill reported that 56 Democrats were skipping the speech. JFP and NIAC reported 61. The majority of the Congressional Black Caucus skipped. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders, the national leaders of the populist wing of the Democratic Party, skipped the speech. So: yay us! That's totally historic.

But let's not forget the context in which we got 61 Democrats to skip. The context is that Netanyahu is attacking Obama. In the past there was no fight over whether Democrats would attend Netanyahu's speech or not; it would have been unthinkable. It's because of Netanyahu attacking Obama that it became thinkable; it's because Obama is trying to do something - make a diplomatic agreement with Iran - that Netanyahu and his amen corner are resorting to extreme measures to try to stop.

If we want to win on Israel-Palestine, we have to win on Iran diplomacy. This is as much a must-win for people who are focused on justice for Palestinians as it is for people who are focused on Iran diplomacy. Because if we lose on Iran diplomacy, people who we need to recruit to help us win on Israel-Palestine will conclude that it's totally futile.

But if we win on Iran diplomacy - if Obama wins - it's a new world. If Obama wins on Iran diplomacy, will he be content? Will he say, OK, that's my legacy, that's good enough, no point in trying to do anything else? Victory is addictive. If the workers win a nickel raise, they don't think, ok, that's all we can ever get. They think: that was great. Maybe next time we can get more. That's why the boss fights them tooth and nail on the nickel. Because he knows that victory is addictive.

I think this is a key reason that Netanyahu is fighting so hard against what everyone knows the Iran deal is, what everyone has known for years the Iran deal is. Because he knows that this might not be the end. If Obama wins on this, maybe Obama will go after the Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

If Obama did go after Israeli settlements in the West Bank, it's plausible that he could bring Democratic constituency groups with him. Think about the progressive Democratic groups that have sent alerts on Iran diplomacy. If Obama wins on Iran diplomacy and then goes after the settlements, some of these groups might come with. I'm not saying that they will; I'm saying that they might. It's plausible. Victory is addictive for them too. If it becomes a Democratic/Republican thing - as this did - if Democrats start to rally around Obama, that makes it much easier for these groups to come in, to do things that they couldn't do before.

That, to me, is a plausible path to victory on Israel-Palestine. Obama wins on Iran diplomacy. Then Obama makes a move on Israel-Palestine, we rally Democrats behind him, we rally Democratic constituency groups behind him, we rally Congressional Democrats behind him. Then we win.

To test that proposition, we have to win on Iran diplomacy right now. That means we have to rally Congressional Democrats to defeat the two bills - the Kirk-Menendez bill and the Corker-Graham bill - that AIPAC is pushing in Congress this week, bills whose passage would blow up the Iran talks. Everyone in the US who cares about justice for Palestinians must do everything they can to defeat these two bills.

Opinion Tue, 03 Mar 2015 14:50:22 -0500
A Review of "Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the EPA"
Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the EPA
by E.G. Vallianatos and McKay Jenkins
(Bloomsbury Press)

“Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts,” Richard Feynman famously declared in 1966. Ever quick to challenge accepted wisdom, he distinguished the laudable ignorance of science, forever seeking unattainable certainties, from the dangerous ignorance of experts who professed such certainty.

Twenty years later, he would drop a rubber ring into a glass of ice water to show a panel of clueless rocket experts how willful ignorance of basic temperature effects likely caused the Challenger shuttle disaster. (1)

Experts with delusions of certainty create imitative forms of science, he warned, producing “the kind of tyranny we have today in the many institutions that have come under the influence of pseudoscientific advisors.” (2)

Feynman’s warning against faith in the phony trappings of “cargo cult science” fell on deaf ears. Policies affecting every aspect of our lives are now based on dangerous forms of ignorance.

A prime case in point is the noble edifice of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, where a high-ranking EPA official was recently jailed and fined for collecting pay and bonuses for decades of non-existent work while he claimed to be working elsewhere for the CIA. Such long-standing fraud would hardly come as a surprise to Evaggelos Vallianatos, who toiled for a quarter of a century in the EPA’s Pesticide Division, ostensibly responsible for protecting human health and the environment from commercial poisons. His new book, Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the EPA, documents a culture of fraud and corruption infesting every corner and closet of the agency.

The EPA, created with much fanfare by Richard Nixon in 1970, was an agency crippled at birth by inadequate funding, political hypocrisy, and laws protecting industry profits above all. Vallianatos points out that one of the fledgling agency’s greatest handicaps was its initial staffing with personnel from USDA, steeped in the religion of corporate agriculture and lethal technologies. With USDA staff came also USDA’s outdated pesticide registrations, which were to be reviewed and reregistered by EPA.  In addition, hundreds of new pesticide applications accumulated every year, each supported by industry-produced safety studies to meet new federal requirements. Hired as scientists, EPA staffers spent their time cutting and pasting industry studies and conclusions into rubber-stamped registration approvals. Under industry-crafted laws, once a pesticide was registered, it could never be unregistered without massive, unequivocal evidence of harm.

As if such misuse of science weren’t bad enough, audits by FDA and EPA soon found that most of the thousands of industry safety studies used to approve pesticide registrations were fraudulent. Alerted by FDA scientist Adrian Gross, EPA had discovered in 1976 that Industrial BioTest Laboratories [IBT], which had conducted many of the pesticide safety tests submitted to EPA by manufacturers, had been routinely faking tests, falsifying data, and altering results for years.  Subsequent investigations of other testing laboratories found similar practices in more than half the labs whose tests supported EPA registrations of pesticides.

“IBT was not a unique case of scientific fraud,” Vallianatos writes, “it was emblematic of a dark and deviant scientific culture, a ‘brave new science’ with deep roots throughout agribusiness, the chemical industry, universities, and the government.” (3)

In 1979, during the seven years of EPA dithering over this scandal, Vallianatos came to work at EPA. He soon learned that not a single pesticide registration was to be canceled due to fraudulent or nonexistent test data. Instead, he notes, EPA’s reaction was to outsource science. It shut down its own testing laboratories, closed its own libraries of toxicity data on thousands of chemicals, and outsourced all evaluations of industry-sponsored studies. “The unspoken understanding in this outsourcing of government functions has been the near certainty of finding industry data satisfactory – all the time.” This issue is relevant today, given that chemicals such as 2,4-D and glyphosate (Roundup™), whose uses have been vastly increased by GMO practices, were originally registered on the basis of invalid IBT studies.

During Vallianatos’s first year at EPA,1980, some 1.1 billion pounds of pesticide active ingredients were applied to U.S. food crops, a number that does not include home and garden uses, parklands, golf courses, playing fields, and municipal landscapes. In 2011, two billion pounds of pesticides were sold in the U.S.  Most if not all of those pesticides lacked valid testing data then, and still lack such data today.  Furthering the fraud, Vallianatos points out, the active ingredient is only the tip of the iceberg, being as little as one percent of the product; the remainder is a trade secret stew of untested, unknown “inert” ingredients that are often more toxic than the active ingredients. What he calls “The Big Business of Fraudulent Science” has replaced even the semblance of environmental protection.

Poison Spring chronicles some of the consequences of that fraud in an agency snared in its own tangled lies: cover-ups of dioxin levels in drinking water and in dead babies; routine suppression of data linking pesticides to soaring rates of cancer, birth defects, and chronic disease; industry access to everything; “revolving door” administrators serving corporate bosses; political appointees dismantling EPA labs and data libraries to dispose of damaging evidence; the cutting of research funds for nontoxic alternatives; the harsh retribution visited on whistleblowers; and ever and again, bureaucrats, with full knowledge of the consequences, setting policies that result in death and suffering. For 25 years, Vallianatos saw and documented it all.

“EPA officials know global chemical and agribusiness industries are manufacturing science,” Vallianatos writes. “They know their products are dangerous…. [EPA] scientists find themselves working in a roomful of funhouse mirrors, plagiarizing industry studies and cutting and pasting the findings of industry studies as their own.”

“This entire book is, in a sense, about a bureaucracy going mad,” Vallianatos adds.

Bureaucracy does not go mad by itself, however. Public indifference to the ignorance of experts and public tolerance of lies are what allow such madness to flourish, enabled by the scientific community’s silence. Inexorably, Vallianatos found, “science and policy themselves have been made a prop to the pesticides industry and agribusiness.”

Such monumental fraud demands drastic remedies, which Vallianatos bravely urges: rebuild an EPA completely independent from industry and politics, remove incentives for huge scale, chemically-dependent corporate agriculture, and address the underlying problem by encouraging small family farms and agriculture without chemical warfare.

“Traditional (and often organic) farmers – until seventy-five years ago, the only farmers there were – are slowly beginning to make a comeback.  They have always known how to raise crops and livestock without industrial poisons,” Vallianatos points out.  “They are the seed for a future harvest of good food, a healthy natural world, and democracy in rural America – and the world.”

These are facts, and this is a book that scientists and citizens alike ignore at great peril.



(1) See his account of the investigation into the Challenger disaster in What Do You Care What Other People Think? By Richard P. Feynman, 1988.

(2) Richard Feynman, What is Science? Presented at the fifteenth annual meeting of the National Science Teachers Association, 1966 in New York City, and reprinted from The Physics Teacher Vol. 7, issue 6, 1969, pp. 313-320 by permission of the editor and the author.

(3) For more information about the extent of this lab fraud, see A Bitter Fog: Herbicides and Human Rights, by Carol Van Strum, 1983, revised 2014 with full texts of Peter von Stackelberg’s exposé of the issue in a new appendix.

Opinion Tue, 03 Mar 2015 13:38:17 -0500
David Petraeus Gets Hand-Slap for Leaking, Two Point Enhancement for Obstruction of Justice

As a supine Congress sitting inside a scaffolded dome applauded Benjamin Netanyahu calling to reject a peace deal with Iran, DOJ quietly announced it had reached a plea deal with former CIA Director David Petraeus for leaking Top Secret/Secure Compartmented Information materials to his mistress, Paula Broadwell.

Among the materials in the eight “Black Books” Petraeus shared with Broadwell were:

…classified information regarding the identities of covert officers, war strategy, intelligence capabilities and mechanisms, diplomatic discussions, quotes and deliberative discussions from high-level National Security Council meetings, and defendant DAVID HOWELL PETRAEUS’s discussions with the President of the United States of America.

The Black Books contained national defense information, including Top Secret/SCI and code word information.

Petraeus kept those Black Books full of code word information including covert identities and conversations with the President “in a rucksack up there somewhere.”

Petreaus retained those Black Books after he signed his debriefing agreement upon leaving DOD, in which he attested “I give my assurance that there is no classified material in my possession, custody, or control at this time.” He kept those Black Books in an unlocked desk drawer.

For mishandling some of the most important secrets the nation has, Petraeus will plead guilty to a misdemeanor. Petraeus, now an employee of a top private equity firm, will be fined $40,000 and serve two years of probation.

He will not, however, be asked to plead guilty at all for lying to FBI investigators. In an interview on October 26, 2012, he told the FBI,

(a) he had never provided any classified information to his biographer, and (b) he had never facilitated the provision of classified information to his biographer.

For lying to the FBI — a crime that others go to prison for for months and years — Petraeus will just get a two point enhancement on his sentencing guidelines. The Department of Justice basically completely wiped away the crime of covering up his crime of leaking some of the country’s most sensitive secrets to his mistress.

When John Kiriakou pled guilty on October 23, 2012 to crimes having to do with sharing a single covert officer’s identity just days before Petraeus would lie to the FBI about sharing, among other things, numerous covert officers’ identities with his mistress, Petraeus sent out a memo to the CIA stating,

Oaths do matter, and there are indeed consequences for those who believe they are above the laws that protect our fellow officers and enable American intelligence agencies to operate with the requisite degree of secrecy.

David Petraeus is now proof of what a lie that statement was.

News Tue, 03 Mar 2015 13:30:36 -0500
Segregation's Insidious New Look

Racial segregation dominated the American residential landscape for generations. We can't afford, suggests the research of Stanford's Sean Reardon, to let economic segregation have anywhere near as long a run.

The world’s ultra rich, filmmaker Jacques Peretti observed last month, now inhabit “their own Elysium-style biosphere.” They live in “a floating bubble high above Earth,” a “chrome Business Class tube in the sky.”

Peretti was, of course, speaking metaphorically. The rich don’t really live in their own biosphere. They live on terra firma, just like the rest of us. But they don’t live with the rest of us. In our increasingly unequal world, those of high income live more and more apart.

Just how apart? And what does this apartness mean for the rest of us? Researchers like Stanford sociologist Sean Reardon and his collaborator Kendra Bischoff of Cornell have been exploring questions like these. Too Much editor Sam Pizzigati recently spoke with Reardon about our economic segregation — and why it so matters.

Too Much: Most people today hear the word segregation and think racial segregation. You’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about economic segregation. Why?

Sean Reardon: We’re concerned about racial segregation, in part, because of the economic segregation that goes along with it. Racial segregation often means that blacks or Latinos are unequally concentrated in poor, disadvantaged neighborhoods, with poor quality schools and institutions.

I’ve been worried that in an era of rising income inequality we may also be seeing rising spatial inequality economically. I worry about the consequences that this might have, particularly for children growing up in increasingly unequal neighborhoods.

Too Much: We can see racial segregation. Economic segregation we can’t see in the same way. How do you go about measuring economic segregation?

Reardon: A couple different ways. One is simple, and I’ve used it in research with Kendra Bischoff at Cornell.

First, for all metropolitan area neighborhoods, we computed the ratio between every neighborhood’s median family income and the overall metropolitan area’s median income. Then we used this ratio to classify neighborhoods as either poor, low income, low-middle income, high-middle income, high income, or affluent. And then we looked at what proportion of families live in neighborhoods in each category.

When we do that, we find that in 1970 about two-thirds of all American families lived in neighborhoods that rated as middle-income relative to the larger metropolitan region. And only about one in six families in 1970 lived in very affluent or very poor neighborhoods.

Today, about 42 percent of families live in middle-income neighborhoods, and about one-third live in very affluent or very poor neighborhoods.

So we’ve seen a shift — from two-thirds to 42 percent — of families who live in middle-income, mixed-income neighborhoods. Many more families today are living in either very affluent or very poor neighborhoods.  You can see this very dramatically in maps showing the economic composition of neighborhoods over time.

Too Much: Is this shift toward greater economic segregation easing or accelerating?

Reardon: Economic segregation increased a lot in the 1980s. It didn’t change much in the 1990s, but it’s grown a lot again in the 2000s. So we seem to be in a period where economic segregation is rapidly increasing.

Too Much: Did the crash in 2008 bring on this latest increase?

Reardon: The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey — the ACS — isn’t sufficiently fine-grained, in a temporal sense, to let us now answer that question. To get a sample big enough to estimate each neighborhood’s income distribution, the ACS averages five years of data collection. So you can’t just look at 2007 before the crash and then look at 2009 because you always have a five-year moving average.

So at this point it’s hard to say what exactly happened as a result of the crash and what’s part of a longer-term trend.

Too Much: Just how does increasing economic inequality feed economic segregation?

Reardon: We have a market-driven housing world. With inequality in family income growing, families can afford to spend increasingly different amounts on housing. They end up sorting themselves more into neighborhoods that have housing at the price they can afford.

In the work that I did with Kendra Bischoff, we showed that in metropolitan areas where income inequality increased a great deal, that’s where you saw income segregation increase the most. In places where income inequality didn’t increase as much, that’s where you saw income segregation increase the least.

Too Much: So market dynamics help explain why the more affluent the affluent become, the more they live among their fellow affluent. Is there a social-psychological motor behind that growing economic segregation as well?

Reardon: There may well be. My research with Kendra Bischoff looked at housing patterns and their relationship to economic forces. But we don’t really observe people’s feelings or motivations. So I don’t have any evidence one way or another on that.

There is, however, some interesting new research from Ann Owens, a sociologist at the University of Southern California. She seems to be finding that increasing income segregation among families with children is driving most of the increase in income segregation.

Childless households — whether single people or elderly people or couples who don’t have kids — aren’t becoming that much more segregated from each other, according to Owens’ evidence.

It’s really families with children that are becoming more economically segregated, and this suggests that concerns about where children are going to grow up and what schools they’ll go to — and maybe who they’re going to play with — are interacting with income inequality to drive the patterns of income segregation.

Too Much: And that brings us to the notion that increasing economic segregation itself generates increasing economic inequality.

Reardon: We can imagine lots of ways increasing economic segregation could do that.

Increasing economic segregation means that kids from high-income families live with kids from other high-income families and go to schools that have more resources. They go on to do better in school and have a better chance at attending a good college.

We have evidence over the last few decades that the achievement gap — the test score gap — between students from high- and low-income families is widening, and maybe that’s related to these processes.

But I think there’s another less direct but maybe more insidious way that these things operate.

If high-income families increasingly live among other high-income families, and far away from middle class and lower-income families, then they may have less understanding of the plight of the middle class or the working class or the poor. They may be less willing to invest their resources in public goods — like schools and child care facilities and health care and infrastructure — that would broadly benefit everyone in society.

And so I worry that income segregation means that the affluent are increasingly sequestered in enclaves where they have little incentive to understand why we should invest in broad public goods that would help everyone. And since these affluent control the vast majority of our economic resources — and also a disproportionate share of our political resources — then their disinvestment from public goods has broad repercussions for our society. Kendra Bischoff and I wrote more about this possibility in a recent post.

Now we don’t have good evidence on the extent of this dynamic. It’s a tricky thing to trace. But it’s a potential concern that I think we should take very seriously.

Too Much: Let’s talk a bit more about your work on the achievement gap between black and white students and high- and low-income students. Fifty years ago, you’ve noted, the achievement gap between black and white students was almost twice as wide as the gap between high- and low-income students. Today’s income-achievement gap is more than 50 percent larger than the racial achievement gap. How directly do you think income and economic segregation is at play here?

Reardon: I think that many different forces, acting in concert, are determining these broad changes in racial and income achievement gaps. Economic segregation plays a role, but so do big changes in how much families invest in their young children’s education and educational experiences, growing disparities in family structure and family resources, maybe even the quality of schools.

So the growth of economic segregation may be part of the story, but I suspect there are many other parts of that story as well.

Too Much: Is income and economic segregation resegregating America along racial lines?

Reardon: No. If you look at residential patterns of racial segregation, they’ve been slowly declining over the past 40-plus years. Now some claim that these declines mean the end of racial separation, but that’s far from true. We still have enormous racial segregation in America, but it is running moderately lower than decades ago and has been steadily declining.

We’re not seeing upticks in racial segregation. We’re seeing slightly less racial segregation but more economic segregation. Those things don’t operate in tandem.

Too Much: We did, through the legal system, outlaw racial segregation in the United States. How can we attack the concentration of income and wealth that fuels economic segregation?

Reardon: That’s the billion-dollar question. We could outlaw explicit racial segregation because of the 14th amendment. The 14th amendment doesn’t apply to socio-economic status. So there’s little leverage there in the legal system.

We need the public and political will to create a society that’s founded more on equal opportunity and less on extremes in inequality and inheritance. You can attack inequality through the tax code and job creation and policies that support the middle class and things like that. You can alter patterns of segregation through housing policy, zoning policy, and investments in neighborhood public goods like schools, and parks, and community centers. You can’t do it through the Constitution.

Too Much: If levels of income and wealth inequality keep growing in the United States, just how economically segregated can we become? If current trends continue, what do you think the United States might look like 25 years from now?

Reardon: I don’t think it’s possible for inequality and economic segregation to continue to rise indefinitely. But things could get worse than they are. And we don’t want to have a society of gated communities and fortress communities.

Too Much: Is the discipline of sociology doing enough now to come to grips with the impact of growing economic inequality?

Reardon: I’d always like to see it do more, but we have a number of prominent sociologists who are addressing these issues, thinking about them, writing about them, worrying about them.

In some ways, issues of inequality have entered the public conversation over the last few years in ways they really haven’t for decades. We’ve always had sociologists concerned about these issues — and political scientists and economists and historians and so on. What’s different now? These issues appear more in the public discourse, and that means there’s potentially some appetite and political will to do something to remedy them.

Too Much: Where are your future research interests taking you?

Reardon: Many directions. I’m interested in the relationship between educational inequality and social mobility. I’m also interested in the great geographic variations we have on inequality.

Nationally, we can see patterns of increasing income segregation, increasing educational inequality by income, and slowly declining racial disparities. But different states, different cities, and different school districts show enormous differences in these patterns.

Trying to find places where the trends are going in a more positive direction — and trying to figure out what’s leading them in that direction — can help us think about broader policies that might help create broader economic opportunity for a much wider stretch of America.


Interested in delving deeper into Sean Reardon’s inequality-related work? You can find much of it now available online.

News Tue, 03 Mar 2015 13:05:13 -0500