Truthout Stories http://www.truth-out.org Wed, 31 Aug 2016 10:44:57 -0400 en-gb The Last Four Undecided Voters http://www.truth-out.org/art/item/37435-the-last-four-undecided-voters http://www.truth-out.org/art/item/37435-the-last-four-undecided-voters ]]> Matt_Bors_Cartoonist@hotmail.com (Matt Bors) Art Wed, 31 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400 How Billionaire Trump Is Missing Greener Pastures http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37432-how-billionaire-trump-is-missing-greener-pastures http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37432-how-billionaire-trump-is-missing-greener-pastures

Donald Trump speaks to supporters at a campaign rally in Fountain Hills, Arizona, on March 19, 2016. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)Donald Trump speaks to supporters at a campaign rally in Fountain Hills, Arizona, on March 19, 2016. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

Considering how much he brags about his business acumen, shouldn't Donald Trump do a better job of keeping up with economic trends? The "great" America he pines for preceded the advent of today's globalized information age and the automation that rendered steelmaking a largely worker-free endeavor. Likewise, the Republican presidential nominee's fossil-fueled ambitions make no sense in light of what's up with energy and its tremendous labor consequences: The oil, gas and coal industries are heading toward obsolescence as green energy booms.

Since Trump enjoys talking about energy industries and their workers, his clueless declarations about them get lots of airtime and ink. Here's one galling example: "The Obama-Clinton administration has blocked and destroyed millions of jobs through their anti-energy regulations," Trump said in a Detroit speech. "The Obama-Clinton war on coal has cost Michigan over 50,000 jobs."

To see more stories like this, visit Moyers & Company at Truthout.

It's hard to know where to start with this motherlode of lies, given that the United States produced more oil than Saudi Arabia and more natural gas than Russia last year, following massive growth for both fuels during the Obama administration. But here's what's amiss in that last line. The Trump campaign told Politifact that the Michigan assertion, which surely confused the locals in a state where the last coal mines closed in the 1950s, addressed the loss of potential employment opportunities from decisions not to build coal-fired power plants.

Politifact deemed the assertion false. "Market forces, not just environmental regulations, have driven many of the job losses in the coal sector," the fact-checking outlet observed. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were only 60,000 people employed at power plants in the entire country in 2014, so the notion that 50,000 Michiganders could have found those mythical jobs underscores Trump's unpresidential habit of making up numbers to suit his whims.

I'll get to those market forces shortly, after a quick review of pertinent US job statistics drawn from an International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) report released in late May. All told, according to the group, a total of 769,000 Americans were toiling for renewable energy businesses in 2015, including small-scale hydropower, biofuels, and geothermal. Here IRENA's  snapshot of energy employment by industry:

  • Solar: 209,000 jobs
  • Oil and gas extraction: 187,200 jobs
  • Wind: 88,000 jobs
  • Coal mining: 67,929 jobs

Interestingly, IRENA's fossil-fuel employment figures are actually higher than the latest data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Coal mining jobs have now dwindled further to 52,300. As for oil and gas extraction workers, there were only 172,700 of them in July. The BLS does not track wind and solar employment with the same regularity as oil, gas and coal jobs, but it did predict that wind turbine technician would be the nation's fastest-growing profession through 2024. Renewable-energy jobs grew 6 percent last year, in stark contrast with an 18-percent decline in oil and gas employment, IRENA found.

The new energy paradigm that Trump either can't or won't accept has created a labor market where the solar power industry employs more US workers than oil and gas extraction. There are also more than three times as many solar workers as coal miners and the solar industry is growing at 12 times the speed of overall job creation. Green-energy job growth may keep going for decades. The share of power generated by renewable energy will triple to 44 percent from 14 percent by 2040, according to the latest Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecast. In other words, this is no blip.

Furthermore, the Obama administration couldn't do away with or prevent the creation of "millions" of jobs if it tried. These professions only employ tens and hundreds of thousands of workers.

About those market forces: Some 350,000 and gas workers around the world did lose their jobs between October 2014 and January 2016, including 100,000 here in the United States. That was due to price collapses, which caused oil and gas companies to suffer massive losses and, in many cases, go bankrupt. Trump calls for a yuuuuge boost in national fossil-fuel output, but it was a massive increase in US production that triggered the oversupply problems and sent prices into the doldrums. So a government policy intended to boost US production even more would not necessarily spur the creation of more oil and gas jobs.

Coal employment has also continued to implode, but that's mostly because of coal's eroding market share and the industry's preference for mountaintop removal and other environmentally devastating techniques that require less labor. "Perhaps as President, Donald Trump will have his energy secretary restore coal jobs by requiring the coal industry to return to pick-and-shovel days," suggested Tina Casey on the CleanTechnica website. Most big US coal companies, having declared bankruptcy, surely can't afford to expand their payrolls that way.

Utilities are replacing coal with cheaper natural gas -- no big climate win -- and wind power. Increasingly, utility-scale solar is gaining traction too as the costs of solar panels have plunged, making renewable energy more competitive. Until now, battery technology has not progressed to the point where fossil-fuel backup systems seem unnecessary, but that too could change -- with dire consequences for natural gas. So far, oil prices have been depressed by a global glut. If buoyant predictions about electric vehicle sales soaring in the 2020s prove true, it would bring about something else: a collapse in the demand for oil that would naturally undercut oil prices and employment.

Despite that important climate deal reached in Paris last year, carbon-cutting policies are not solely responsible for our nation's new energy paradigm. President Barack Obama has taken some steps to expedite the transition to greener energy, but his Clean Power Plan is tied up in the courts and he failed to get a climate bill passed. In the wake of that legislative debacle, individual states retained plenty of leeway and the consequences, to say the least, are inconsistent. Oregon, which still gets 30 percent of its power from coal, has decided to wean itself off the stuff altogether within two decades. But Nevada has gone out of its way to squelch its own rooftop solar boom. While regulatory pressure on coal is real, the closures of coal-fired power plants seen so far have generally had more to do with public health woes, like asthma, environmental concerns unrelated to carbon pollution, and the competitive pressures posed by cheaper alternatives like natural gas, than climate action.

The rise and fall of specific energy jobs reflect the dynamics of their industries. Investment in US-generated renewable energy rose 17 percent to $44 billion last year as investment in fossil fuels fell. Renewable energy constituted just about all of the new electricity-generating capacity that came online in this country during the first quarter of 2016 as no new coal or nuclear generation entered the mix and additional natural gas capacity was negligible.

Meanwhile, more than 40 coal-fired power plants are slated to close in 2016, on top of the 94 that shut down last year.

One of the strangest things about Trump's poor grasp of the energy business could be how it may distort his perceived chances of victory. Grilled about how he thinks he can win the White House without a traditional ground game as a growing number of Republicans back his opponent and his poll numbers droop, the real estate mogul counted coal miners among the constituencies he believes will deliver.

"We are gonna have tremendous turnout from the evangelicals, from the miners, from the people that make our steel, from people that are getting killed by trade deals, from people that have been just decimated, from the military who are with Trump 100 percent," he told Eric Bolling in an early August Fox News interview. "I don't know that we need to get out the vote."

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News Wed, 31 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Cables Reveal US Government's Role in Herakles Farms Land Grab in Cameroon http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37431-cables-reveal-us-government-s-role-in-herakles-farms-land-grab-in-cameroon http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37431-cables-reveal-us-government-s-role-in-herakles-farms-land-grab-in-cameroon

Cables obtained by the non-profit Oakland Institute through a Freedom of Information Act request reveal that US government officials pushed the Central African nation of Cameroon to approve a deeply controversial oil palm development owned by Herakles Farms despite full knowledge of the project's negative impacts on the environment and local communities.

Sithe Global Sustainable Oils Cameroon (SG-SOC), a subsidiary of US agribusiness firm Herakles Farms, signed a convention with a Cameroonian government minister in 2009 to develop a large-scale palm oil plantation that included a 99-year lease for 73,086 hectares (about 180,600 acres) of land in the Ndian and Kupe-Manenguba Divisions in southwest Cameroon. The development was contentious from the start, as the convention was likely illegal, given that land in excess of 50 hectares can only be granted by presidential decree under Cameroonian law.

Nonetheless, the company began clearing forest and developing nurseries in 2010, converting pristine tropical rainforest into monoculture oil palm plantations despite massive local opposition, according to a report released today by the Oakland Institute. The area where SG-SOC began operating is considered a biodiversity hotspot, and its operations allegedly put the livelihoods of 45,000 people at risk.

Herakles Farms ignored local court orders to cease these operations, "one of which specifically ordered the company to cease work until a proper environmental impact assessment was conducted, compensation was made to those directly affected by the project, and a Memorandum of Understanding was negotiated with local indigenous peoples," the report states.

Then, four years later, SG-SOC got the decree it needed. President Paul Biya signed three decrees in November 2013 green-lighting the project, though it had been scaled back significantly, from a 99-year lease to a three-year probationary lease for just 19,843 hectares.

"It was shocking that President Biya signed the decrees despite the mountain of evidence exposing the vast social, economic, and environmental consequences of the project," Frederic Mousseau, Policy Director at the Oakland Institute, said in a statement. "We now know that behind the scenes, US government officials were applying serious pressure to the Cameroonian government to grant Herakles Farms the land."

In at least three meetings in May 2013, for instance, Cynthia Akuetteh, then-Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs at the US State Department, pressed President Biya, Prime Minister Philémon Yang, and other Cameroonian officials to end the "investment dispute" with Herakles.

This is from a cable authored by the US Embassy in Cameroon and dated May 31, 2013:

Akuetteh urged the Prime Minister to make a decision and take action to resolve the dispute. She told Yang that the United States does not want to tell Cameroon what decision to make, but Cameroon should act quickly and avoid arbitration or protracted legal proceedings. She warned that a failure to act could cause uncertainty in the local business climate and have a chilling effect on future foreign investment…

And this is from a cable authored by the US Embassy in Cameroon and dated May 24, 2013:

Akuetteh said that we hoped that the Government could resolve its dispute with palm-oil producer Herakles Farms. Biya responded that nongovernmental organizations are adamantly opposed to this project…

Just six months later, President Biya signed the decrees granting Herakles the three-year probationary lease. Requests for comment by the US State Department's Bureau of African Affairs were not returned by press time.

The cables also appear to show that the US government was aware of the flaws in the SG-SOC project, but pushed for its acceptance anyway, according to the Oakland Institute. Internal correspondence from February 25, 2013 includes a detailed briefing with the title "Herakles Farms: The Environment vs Palm Oil in Cameroon with a Dose of Unethical Behavior Mixed In." The memo notes the existence of major local opposition to the project, the flawed environmental impact assessment prepared by the company, the ongoing illegal tree felling, the negative socio-economic and environmental impacts, and the fact that the Cameroonian government had rejected an earlier proposal over concerns about the size and location of the plantation, among several other issues.

The memo even details an incident that occurred in 2012 in which company representatives are alleged to have physically assaulted and attempted to abduct a local activist, Nasako Besingi, who serves as director of Struggle to Economize Future Environment (SEFE), a local NGO that has organized against Herakles Farms for years. A cable dated February 25, 2013, states: "In August 2012, SG-SOC representatives physically assaulted Besingi, who was riding his motorbike along a road in or near the SG-SOC project site."

As the Oakland Institute points out in its report, US officials were lobbying for SG-SOC and Herakles Farms in "blatant contradiction" of official US policy and goals around climate change and conservation -- policy backed up by numerous projects financed by the US in the region.

In a cable dated May 17, 2013, embassy staff wrote that "Efforts to combat deforestation of the Congo Basin, which constitutes the world's second largest rain forest and extends into southeast Cameroon, are critical to protecting a vital carbon sink and offsetting global warming. Our efforts in this area, coordinated through USAID's Central African Regional Program on the Environment (CARPE), have multiple side benefits, including improving the economic prospects of populations, combating poaching, protecting endangered species and biodiversity, reducing the spread of contagious diseases, and developing the capacity of law enforcement and border protection authorities."

Herakles Farms' three-year probationary lease must be renewed by November of this year. Greenpeace Africa reported earlier this year that although Herakles Farms appeared to be pulling out of the project as recently as the summer of 2015, it was merely restructuring and selling SG-SOC to new investors.

"While all materialization of the Herakles Farms name has disappeared in Cameroon, the new owners are making up for lost time by rapidly clearing forest, planting new palms and orchestrating a public relations campaign to get the SGSOC plantation land lease extended later this year," Greenpeace Africa said in a post on its website. "But our research reveals that they have failed to engage in any meaningful way with the local communities that oppose the project or implement environmental safeguards."

The Oakland Institute's Frederic Mousseau said that he's hoping the revelations made by publicizing the cables will help give Cameroonian officials the cover they need to kill the project once and for all.

"This November, the government of Cameroon will decide whether to extend Herakles Farms' lease or end the project for good," Mousseau said. "By exposing the dubious tactics of the US government, we hope that Cameroonian officials will side with the people and bring an end to this project that remains unfavorable to the people and the economy of Cameroon."

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News Wed, 31 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Why the TPP and TTIP Trade Deals May Now Be Dead in the Water http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37430-why-the-tpp-and-ttip-trade-deals-may-now-be-dead-in-the-water http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37430-why-the-tpp-and-ttip-trade-deals-may-now-be-dead-in-the-water

German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel. (Photo: Christliches Medienmagazin Pro)German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel. (Photo: Christliches Medienmagazin Pro; Edited: LW / TO)

The Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is dead, at least according to Angela Merkel's second-in-command. And the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) may not be far behind.

German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said Sunday that "negotiations with the United States have de facto failed, even though nobody is really admitting it." According to Gabriel, who also serves as his country's economy minister, negotiators from the European Union and United States have failed -- despite 14 rounds of talks -- to align on any item out of 27 chapters being discussed. Gabriel and his ministry are not directly involved in the negotiations.

EU officials were quick to downplay Sigmar's statement, saying they hoped to "close this deal by the end of the year." But Gabriel isn't the first to cry foul on the TTIP, which, if enacted, would establish the world's largest free trade zone between the United States and the EU's 28 member states. In May, French negotiators threatened to block the agreement. U.S. negotiators have also reportedly been angry over the passage of a similar agreement between Canada and the EU, which included protections U.S. negotiators don't want included in the TTIP.

Sunday's TTIP news comes on the heels of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) saying that the Senate would not vote on the TPP in the upcoming lame-duck session of Congress. (The Obama administration countered, saying it still hopes to pass the deal before the next president takes office.)

Both trade announcements follow years of protests on each side of the Atlantic to fight the TTIP and the TPP, especially from unions and environmental groups.

"The fact that TTIP has failed is testament to the hundreds of thousands of people who took to the streets to protest against it, the three million people who signed a petition calling for it to be scrapped, and the huge coalition of civil society groups, trade unions, progressive politicians and activists who came together to stop it," writes Kevin Smith of Global Justice Now, an organization that has worked to fight TTIP in the United Kingdom.

While the TPP has become a lightning rod for labor and other progressive organizations in the United States, the TTIP has slipped mostly under the radar stateside. That's partially because talks over it, which began in 2013, have taken place almost entirely behind closed doors. Among the proposals unearthed are provisions to open European public services to U.S. businesses and to scale back online privacy protections. European groups have also raised the concern that the deal could send jobs from their continent to the United States, where trade unions and labor protections are weaker than in the EU.

Like the TPP, the TTIP would dismantle regulations in areas like banking and the environment by limiting governments' ability to impose rules on transnational corporations. Both trade deals would further allow the investor-state dispute settlement system, which permits corporations to sue states. (TransCanada Corp. -- the Canadian company behind the now-defunct Keystone XL oil pipeline -- is currently seeking $15 billion from Washington under a similar NAFTA provision for rejecting the controversial project.)

Though both presidential candidates in the United States have voiced their opposition to the TPP, neither has said much about TTIP. Hillary Clinton changed her tune on the former, which she pushed for as secretary of state. The move is largely seen as a response to dedicated protests from unions and community groups that have been mobilizing to stop the talks since they began, and as a reaction to the fact that both her primary and general election opponents have spoken out aggressively against so-called free trade agreements.

In a letter this month, a coalition of progressive groups including Demand Progress and 350 Action called on Clinton to reject a vote on the TPP in the next session. "Allowing a lame-duck vote," they write, "would be a tacit admission that corporate interests matter more than the will of the people."

Beyond progressive organizations' fold, though, lies a growing bipartisan resentment of NAFTA-style deals. A poll released in April found that just 17 percent of Germans and 18 percent of Americans support the TTIP -- likely not enough to save deals like the TTIP and TPP from a political climate that increasingly sees free trade agreements as anything but free.

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News Wed, 31 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400
No Other Way Than to Struggle: The Farmworker-Led Boycott of Driscoll's Berries http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37429-no-other-way-than-to-struggle-the-farmworker-led-boycott-of-driscoll-s-berries http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37429-no-other-way-than-to-struggle-the-farmworker-led-boycott-of-driscoll-s-berries

Felimon Piñeda, vice president of Familias Unidas por la Justicia, an independent union in Washington state, organized to demand better pay and working conditions for berry pickers, tells David Bacon about his personal journey as a field laborer in Mexico and the US.

Felimon Piñeda sits with his children. (Photo: David Bacon)Felimon Piñeda sits with his children. (Photo: David Bacon)

Felimon Piñeda is vice president of Familias Unidas por la Justicia, the independent farm workers union in Washington State. He was one of the original strikers when the union was organized in 2013. The union, together with the union of striking farm workers in Baja California, Mexico, has organized a boycott of Driscoll's Berries, the world's largest berry company. They demand that Driscoll's take responsibility for the conditions and violations of labor rights by the growers whose berries they sell. Piñeda describes the life of a farm worker producing Driscoll's berries, and his own history that brought him into the fields of Washington State. He told his story to David Bacon during an interview in Linden, Washington.

Our town in Oaxaca is Jicaral Coicoyan de las Flores. We speak Mixteco Bajo. I am 33 years old, but I left at a very young age. In 1996 I got to San Quintin [in Baja California] with my older brother. After four nights in Punta Colonet, we found a place to stay in a camp. There were a lot of cabins for people and we stayed there for six months. We planned to go back to Oaxaca afterwards, but when we'd been there for six months we had no money. We were all working -- me, my sister, my older brother and his wife and two kids -- but we'd all pick tomatoes and cucumbers just to have something to eat. There was no bathroom then. People would go to the bathroom out in the tomatoes and chiles. The children too.

Another man living there, who spoke another dialect of Mixteco, rented us a little house. It was one room, very small. We were there a year. We were getting home at five in the evening and the children were all eating their food cold because we couldn't make the stove work. Then my brother said we should buy a plot between all of us, to give us a place to live. So we paid one payment, and then another. My brother is still living there, and his children are grown up now. His oldest son is 22 or 23. My niece now has kids.

In Punta Colonet life was very hard. Work was always badly paid. You had to work a lot for very little. In 1996 the wage was 45 pesos. In 2002 I worked three months there again, and in 2005 I worked almost a year. The bosses paid about 100 pesos. But the food was cheaper then. Maseca [corn flour] cost 55 [pesos]. We were not living well, but earning enough to afford it. A soda then cost five pesos. Now it costs 12 pesos.

Felimon Piñeda and his wife in their room in the labor camp at Sakuma Farms, during the strike in 2013. (Photo: David Bacon)Felimon Piñeda and his wife in their room in the labor camp at Sakuma Farms, during the strike in 2013. (Photo: David Bacon)

I lived in Punta Colonet two years, and then, because of our great need, I had to begin coming to the US. I worked in the tomatoes in Florida, where it was very hot. It was very hard work, because they have a trailer for the tomatoes, and I'm short. You have to lift the bucket full of tomatoes to about nine feet. The person on the trailer grabs it and empties it, and then hands it back. I couldn't do it, and I had to stand on something, and the bucket weighs more than 30 pounds. It was very hard, and I did that work for a year-and-a-half. In San Quintin I picked tomatoes too, but it wasn't as hard.

Recently, we've seen the movement grow in San Quintin -- the Alianza de Organizaciones Nacional Estatal y Municipal por la Justicia Social. They're defending the people. To me, it's very important that there's someone willing to defend people. The political parties aren't interested in what's happening to us at work. I don't know how the Alianza got started, but I hear they're suffering a lot from threats by the companies, threats from the government. The rich and the bosses have bought the government. They pay the police, who then shoot at the people. It doesn't matter if they're women or children. That's the worst thing I've seen in the San Quintin Valley.

At some point in the future, I'll be going back to Mexico. With the threats they received, that could affect me too. For that reason I'm very grateful for the movement they've organized. For my part, I want to send my greetings to all the leaders in San Quintin. In 2013 Sakuma Brothers here in Washington state threatened us also, because of the movement we organized. They threatened us with the police and hired consultants and guards. Their purpose was to get rid of our union. Thanks to the union we've organized here, Familias Unidas por la Justicia, we stayed firm, and the company wasn't able to get rid of us. We continue to struggle.

That's why I'm so interested in the struggle going on in the San Quintin Valley. When I heard they'd gone out on strike I spoke with my brother and asked him for the phone number of the radio station there. Then I spoke with them and got the number of Bonifacio Martinez from the Alianza, so that we could communicate with the leaders.

Felimon Piñeda talks to workers and supporters, at the end of the march to Sakuma Farms offices in 2015. (Photo: David Bacon)Felimon Piñeda talks to workers and supporters, at the end of the march to Sakuma Farms offices in 2015. (Photo: David Bacon)

It seems they arrived at an agreement on the wages. But after they got an answer from the government last year, I understand that the governor went back on his word, and so did the bosses. So then they started a boycott of Driscoll's, the company that distributes a lot of berries from San Quintin. It's been hard to keep in communication, but we haven't lost touch.

They know something of our struggle here in Washington state. Our movement started on July 11 in 2013, the first day of our strike at Sakuma Farms. Sometimes the struggle has been very hard. Sometimes we feel tired. But then we recover our strength and we continue. And we continue with the help of a lot of unions, reporters, supporters of the boycott. And we're making progress.

In 2013, at one point, we were negotiating with the company to improve the working conditions for all the workers at Sakuma Brothers. Sakuma signed an agreement and said he'd respect it, but after two weeks he broke it. That was when we started our boycott, and it is growing every day. Sakuma sends his fruit to Driscoll's in Watsonville. In 2013 I said to the compañeros that we had to go to Watsonville to bring our boycott there. I thought that if Driscoll's saw the people there it would put more pressure on the company.

The boycott kept growing and Driscoll's felt the pressure. Finally the company called one of our supporters and said they wanted to talk about how to get the boycott stopped. She said they had to talk with us. So last year on May 8 we went to Driscoll's office in Watsonville. I thought their warehouse would be small, but there were two very big buildings. Everything there was Driscoll's.

The children of farm workers at Sakuma Farms hold signs during a march to the company offices in 2016. (Photo: David Bacon)The children of farm workers at Sakuma Farms hold signs during a march to the company offices in 2016. (Photo: David Bacon)

We started to talk about why the boycott started. At the beginning they put a big bowl on the table with strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries. They offered them to us and asked us to try some. We said, how can we try some if we're boycotting them?

We were there almost a day. They said they couldn't force Sakuma to sign a contract. We said, OK, the boycott will continue until we get a union contract. This year Sakuma has said he wants to negotiate with us, but we'll see what happens. Sakuma now has a gringo who works with them who's supposed to be good at working in places where there are collective demands and problems.

Last year they were paying $10 an hour, which they say is a lot. But although they pay by the hour, they demand 50 pounds per hour to get $10. For 5 pounds more there's a bonus of 1.50, or 11.50 an hour. But only the workers who work fast can get that.... Since 2013 the weekly pay has actually gone down, in both strawberries and blueberries. Both last year and this year the people have walked out on strike because they didn't agree with the wages.

When the workers struck last year, even though I was working at another company I went out there. I didn't want to leave the Mixtec people by themselves -- they're my people and they chose me as vice president of the union. I had to travel from far away to get there, but there were still about 250 people waiting for me. People said we had to do something, so we went to a field where people were still working. Those workers said the pay was no good, and they left the field too.

Farmworkers march to the offices of Sakuma Farms in 2015. (Photo: David Bacon)

When we demanded a collective bargaining agreement the supervisors said they wouldn't discuss it. Then they sent in the police. The police asked to talk with me, and said I wasn't working there. Alfredo Juarez from our comité [committee] said I had a right to be there because I was the union vice president. The police said they were going to arrest me. So the people asked, are you going to arrest us all? The police didn't know what to say.

Finally the police said that if we didn't move out of the field, into a public place, they'd have to do what they came there for. So the people said, OK, and we all left the field and went to the Costco supermarket in Burlington to demonstrate for the boycott. The next day the company bought burritos for everyone at work.

This year there have been more strikes like this, and more boycott demonstrations. That's why the company says now it wants to negotiate with us.

Talking to Bonifacio, I asked them to do a boycott also -- us in the north and them in the south. That way we'd put more pressure on Driscoll's. We talk about the tactics we use and I told him about our history. He said Driscoll's and the Alianza had to go to the government to ask that the wages get raised. I think that's no good. The government has its role, but Driscoll's has to talk with its growers, like BerryMex, and ensure that they're paying the workers well. That's what we told Driscoll's. We're not going to stop the boycott until the day we sign a contract at Sakuma. Same with Driscoll's and BerryMex.

Adela Estrada Ortiz picks blueberries in a field near Burlington, Washington. (Photo: David Bacon)Adela Estrada Ortiz picks blueberries in a field near Burlington, Washington. (Photo: David Bacon)

I think the idea of an independent union in San Quintin is the best way to do it, with a direct contract. The farm workers of San Quintin have been suffering for over 20 years. Hunger wages are the reason why the people went on strike. They're doing a very good thing. But I think it's better to sign a collective agreement with the companies. The government is not the owner of the farms. Better to force the bosses to pay. They're millionaires. The companies have the main responsibility to pay the workers well. We are demanding the same things both here and there, and the company is the same, Driscoll's.

Last year they invited me to speak on the radio in San Quintin by telephone, so everyone in San Quintin could hear about us. I wanted to tell people to get involved in the movement. It's good for everyone. The strike is the best way to get a fair wage. I wanted to tell people not to get discouraged, that in Washington state we're struggling too. But then the people at the radio station said they weren't authorized, and they wouldn't let me speak.

People in Santa Maria and Madera in California are supporting us too. Many of them come up to Washington in the berry season, and are working at Sakuma right now. They are members of Familias Unidas. I don't know if people are also thinking about striking in California. In Greenfield, in the Salinas Valley in California, there are a lot of people from the Triqui region, and they organize a lot of movements. They're very militant. Maybe they will organize a movement there. It would be wonderful if they would.

We are all part of a movement of Indigenous people. In San Quintin the majority of people are Indigenous. On the radio there they speak Mixteco, Zapoteco, Triqui and Nahuatl. Their strike movement is Indigenous. Everyone involved in our union in Washington is Indigenous also.

Ricardo, an immigrant from Putla, Oaxaca, prunes blackberry vines to allow more light to get to the fruit, and to allow pickers to move down the rows more easily. (Photo: David Bacon)Ricardo, an immigrant from Putla, Oaxaca, prunes blackberry vines to allow more light to get to the fruit, and to allow pickers to move down the rows more easily. (Photo: David Bacon)

Here Indigenous people are really worried about getting fired. The supervisors and foremen shout at them and push them hard. They abuse Indigenous workers more than any others. It's the same here and in Baja California. What we want is respect for everyone. No matter if you're from Guatemala or Honduras, Chiapas or Guerrero. The right to be human is for everyone. But sometimes people see us as being very low. They think we have no rights. But they're wrong. The right to be human is the same. There should be respect for all.

When we were on strike in 2013, many of us didn't speak Spanish well. Some of the young people at work would say, "These people don't know how to talk. They don't know what they're doing." The supervisors would say that too. Then, a year later, we won a legal suit to force Sakuma to pay us for our break time. We won over $800,000. After that the people who didn't want to have anything to do with us began wanting to talk with us. The boys who were making fun of us started coming around because they wanted money.

There is more anger now. People believe that they shouldn't be living in bad conditions, people shouldn't be mistreated. More people are defending their rights. A lot of new people coming from California are already with us. They have a good way of thinking. If we don't fight for ourselves, who's going to fight for us? If the bosses want to trample on us, if the government and the police don't like us, there's no other way than to struggle.

© Copyright David Bacon

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News Wed, 31 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400
How France Sets the Rules for Discussions About Racism, Terrorism and Islam http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37425-how-france-sets-the-rules-for-discussions-about-racism-terrorism-and-islam http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37425-how-france-sets-the-rules-for-discussions-about-racism-terrorism-and-islam

In response to various anti-racist movements, the French state has sought to preemptively define acceptable ways of speaking about race by claiming "color-blindness." Similarly ­-- in conjunction with the mainstream media -- it has funneled the discussion of Islam and terrorism into "acceptable" channels.

A woman in a "burkini," a full-body bathing suit designed to meet Islamic modesty codes, in Marseille, France, on August 20, 2016. Some French politicians began backpedaling as an outcry grew on social media over the public humiliation and ostracism of Muslim women dressed in modest attire on the country’s beaches. (Dmitry Kostyukov / The New York Times)A woman in a "burkini," a full-body bathing suit designed to meet Islamic modesty codes, in Marseille, France, on August 20, 2016. Some French politicians began backpedaling as an outcry grew on social media over the public humiliation and ostracism of Muslim women dressed in modest attire on the country’s beaches. (Dmitry Kostyukov / The New York Times)

The last decade has seen a global rise in authoritarian populism, racism and Islamophobia in Europe. Indeed, there is an increasing stigmatization of Muslims, both those who were born in Europe, as well as those who are arriving as refugees. Moreover, the recent wave of terrorism in France has drawn particular attention to the Republic's failures at the so-called project of "integration." Sparring French intellectuals have even become a major news story in the Anglophone press. Despite claims that there is a "taboo" around the Algerian War of Independence (1954-1962), or that one cannot talk about racial difference because the Republic is "color-blind," there is no lack of discussion on the topics of Islam or racism. In fact, anti-racist movements are receiving renewed attention -- from the Parti des Indigènes de la Republique to Black Lives Matter to the "Decolonial" Summer Camp held in late August.

The state's response to the demands made by these groups has been decisive: It has denied the legitimacy of any organization explicitly based on race. In so doing, the government has also carefully delimited "acceptable" and "unacceptable" ways of speaking about racial difference. In other words, rather than silencing a discussion on race, there is a strict set of rules for discussing the plight of France's minorities. Yet, the rules of engagement ensure that any examination of the root causes for racial discrimination is considered hors-jeu, or out of bounds.

The Question of "Non-Mixity"

In France, the first Black Lives protest in Paris in July 2016 led to accusations that the movement is based on "communitarianism" (communautarisme). This is a French way of expressing the accusations of anti-white racism the group faced in the United States. As protesters proclaimed "les vies noires comptent!" (Black Lives Matter!), their grievances centered on the legacy of France as a colonial power and the fallacies of France's purportedly universal ideals. Another anti-racist movement, the "Decolonial Summer Camp," has taken a cue from a study group at the Paris 8 University that was organized in April 2016 in response to the reform of the labor code. Both of these initiatives have been defined as spaces of "non-mixity" that are explicitly and exclusively geared for those who have been victims of racism.

One might understand these groups as a way to address the widespread silencing of certain communities that have specific grievances based on their racial identity. Yet, rather than taking a frank look at the racialized nature of police violence, housing policies or employment statistics, the French newspaper Le Monde asked if non-mixity was a "tool of emancipation" or a "communitarian folding inwards" (repli communautaire). Centrist websites like Marianne were even more hostile, making a pernicious parallel between this event and the "no Blacks allowed" policy of Jim Crow in the United States. A workshop that addresses the experiences of those who have been victims of racism is thus being likened to racial segregation in the US (US apartheid), prompting the question: "Who are the real racists?"

Reading the French mainstream press, one might have the impression that the forces of exclusion stem from these myriad social movements, rather than from the French state. Racial difference can thus be acknowledged in the public sphere, as long as the discussion actively erases the distinction between racism (a set of structures that historically marginalizes a population) and anti-racism (a strategy that seeks to redress this violence). As David Theo Goldberg has argued in the American case, this is a sign of the "post-racial" era in which we now live.

Islamophobia: A Misnomer?

A similar confusion is being enacted in relationship to Islamophobia. Scholars, such as Gilles Kepel have claimed that a use of the term Islamophobia itself serves to evade a critical analysis of religion. Going one step further, he even argued that the term was invented by Islamists themselves. In this series of claims and counterclaims, it is increasingly difficult to differentiate between the victim and perpetrator of racism -- a confusion that suits the State of Emergency just fine.

These rules of discourse have also extended to the academy as the French government has promoted knowledge production around Islam. Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the minister of education (whose Moroccan origins prompted much discussion among the right wing of the political spectrum), supported a research agenda on Islam that led to the creation of 10 academic posts on "Islamology and radicalization." According to a March 2016 report, which explicitly linked Islam and terrorism: "An understanding of the causes and an explanation of reasons are the best way to determine and decide how to fight terrorism." It is hard to argue with such logic -- except that Vallaud-Belkacem has also publicly condemned the Decolonial Summer Camp as fostering a "racist vision of society."

Similarly, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has claimed that certain sociologists who attempt to "explain" terrorism merely provide an alibi for these violent acts. Clearly, the line between "useful" and "subversive" knowledge is being carefully guarded, and the brows of the state furrow when its non-white subjects gather outside of the Republic's pedagogical gaze. At the same time, the goal of the state, in conjunction with the mainstream media, is not to silence a discussion of Islam and terrorism, but to funnel it into certain acceptable channels.

How else can we explain the project of the French state to reform Muslim institutions (again), often written about as the "reform of French Islam"? After all, recent perpetrators of terrorism are closer to the "born again" model of religious practice rather than reliable Mosque-goers, as Olivier Roy has pointed out. The man who committed the attack in Nice, for example, never attended a mosque; he was reported to be an avid salsa dancer, and an alleged womanizer who also drank alcohol before his quite sudden turn to ISIS (also known as Daesh). It is thus unclear how teaching Muslims how to appreciate French secularism through official religious channels would have changed his violent trajectory.

On August 2, 2016, French President François Hollande appointed Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve as the head of the Foundation for Islam in France (Fondation pour l'islam de France). Cazeneuve has drawn attention to the international financing of mosques and asked the Muslim population in France to show "discretion" in their religious practice and suggested the creation of a "halal" tax, which highlights the fixation of the Islamophobia industry on the "right to difference" summarized in symbolic differences, such as eating habits and clothing. Here, one could also cite the long-winded debates on the burkini, which offer another platform to recycle clichés about Islam and the public space. Discussions on the appropriate role of Islam in the Republic are underpinned by a long debate that dates back to the French Revolution and the fraught relationship between the Catholic Church and the state. These polemics have now become the bread and butter of the Islamophobia industry.

Thus, as commentators drone on about the need to encourage "living together" (vivre ensemble), they treat Islamophobia as a mere question of personal prejudice against Muslims. Indeed, the phenomenon has been discussed as a question of individual psychology or as an unwillingness to socialize with Muslims. Like all racism, Islamophobia is based on a perception of difference that can be as superficial as a style of dress, a last name or a facility with the Arabic language. Indeed, as the "one drop rule" in the United States reminds us, race has always been a fluid category that scholars generally acknowledge is socially constructed rather than biologically determined. Nevertheless, any attempts to address the problem at the level of individual preference is bound to fail; the solution can be nothing less than a radical change in the structures of governance.

The War Without a Name

Recently, a different kind of violence has also become a frequent tool in the Islamophobia industry's toolbox: The Algerian War of Independence.  Scholars have termed the violence a "war without a name" since France refused to admit that Algeria -- which was legally part of France and not a colony -- was engaged in a struggle for independence. At the time, the French government referred vaguely to "events" in Algeria, and was more likely to see the struggle in terms of a civil war or communist incursion.

Yet in 2016, it is undeniable that the Algerian War is widely discussed in France as well as in the United States and the UK. A recent article in the Guardian was one of dozens of pieces that established a link between the attack in Nice and decolonization in Algeria. So why, at this precise moment, has the mainstream press looked to 1962 as a useful paradigm? Rehashing the Algerian War establishes a link between terrorism and another war that was seen as "savage" by French observers at the time. Moreover, it also obscures 50 years of history in France, including its domestic policies and close partnership with the Algerian state (here one could cite cooperation on so-called "anti-terrorism" policies and the largely unpopular intervention in Mali). Instead of engaging with these contemporary realities, the Islamophobia industry would have you think that old Cold War animosities (and Muslims) are again rearing their violent (and covered) heads.

A robust system of economic and cultural exclusion has created solidarity among individuals who rightly recognize that they have been excluded on the basis of their religion or skin color. Yet, when they organize along these lines realizing that any mediation or dialogue with the state is largely futile, observers worry that the fabric of the Republic is under threat. Exposing the rules of talking about race in France should not stop us from asking important questions about the efficacy of certain forms of organization, or expressing our discomfort with certain political positions (the Parti des Indigènes de la Republique's statements on Muslim masculinity and homosexuality in the Arab world, for example). But what we must do, imperatively, is to reject the myth of the French Republican taboo.

The Algerian War, race and Islam are splattered over front pages, televised debates and even school curricula for the bac (the academic exam taken by high school students). As Foucault taught us about sexuality, race in France only seems to be a repressed topic of conversation. Rather than something that must be discussed in whispers, it is a subject that has been actively and purposely fashioned through state power. Multiculturalism might not be the operative vocabulary in France, but there, too, demands for visibility and inclusion have resulted in a defeat for anti-racist struggles. As Robin D.G. Kelley writes about Black Lives Matter, attending to the trauma of exclusion, or making that exclusion feel less violent, does nothing to dismantle the social and epistemological architecture that allows racism to flourish.

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News Wed, 31 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Burkini Bans, New Atheism and State Worship: Noam Chomsky on Religion in Politics http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37424-burkini-bans-new-atheism-and-state-worship-noam-chomsky-on-religion-in-politics http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37424-burkini-bans-new-atheism-and-state-worship-noam-chomsky-on-religion-in-politics

(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

Religion and politics have often marched hand-in-hand in the course of human affairs. Leading public intellectual and linguist Noam Chomsky shares his views about the links between the two -- in the US, Latin America, Saudi Arabia and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

Religion and politics have often marched hand-in-hand in the course of human affairs. In this latest interview, leading public intellectual and father of modern linguistics Noam Chomsky shares his views about religion and its link to politics, with particular reference to American society and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Chomsky also offers his perspective on the "New Atheism" movement and assesses the claim that knowledge and reality are simply socially constructed artifacts.

C. J. Polychroniou and Lily Sage: In the course of human history, religion has provided relief from pain and suffering to poor and oppressed people around the world, which is probably what Marx meant when he said, "Religion is the opium of the people." But, at the same time, unspeakable atrocities have been committed in the name of God, and religious institutions often function as the guardians of tradition. What are your own views on the role of religion in human affairs?

Noam Chomsky: The general picture is quite ugly and too familiar to recount. But it is worth remembering that there are some exceptions. One striking example is what happened in Latin America after Vatican II in 1962, called at the initiative of Pope John XXIII. The proceedings took significant steps toward restoring the radical pacifist message of the Gospels that had been largely abandoned when the Emperor Constantine, in the fourth century, adopted Christianity as the official doctrine of the Roman empire -- turning the church of the persecuted into the church of the persecutors, as historian of Christianity Hans Küng described the transformation. The message of Vatican II was taken up in Latin America by bishops, priests, lay persons who devoted themselves to helping poor and bitterly oppressed people to organize to gain and defend their rights -- what came to be called "liberation theology."

There were, of course, earlier roots and counterparts in many Protestant denominations, including evangelical Christians. These groups formed a core part of a remarkable development in the United States in the 1980s when, for the first time ever to my knowledge, a great many people not only protested the terrible crimes that their government was committing but went to join and help the victims to survive the onslaught.

The US launched a virtual war against the Church, most dramatically in Central America in the 1980s. The decade was framed by two crucial events in El Salvador: the assassination in 1980 of Archbishop Oscar Romero, the "voice for the voiceless," and the assassination of six leading Latin American intellectuals, Jesuit priests, in 1989. Romero was assassinated a few days after he sent an eloquent letter to President Carter pleading with him not to send aid to the murderous military junta, who [would] use it "to destroy the people's organizations fighting to defend their fundamental human rights," in Romero's words. So the security forces did in the US-dominated states of the region, leaving many religious martyrs along with tens of thousands of the usual victims: poor peasants, human rights activists, and others seeking "to defend their fundamental human rights."

The US military takes pride in helping to destroy the dangerous heresy that adopted "the preferential option for the poor," the message of the Gospels. The School of the Americas (renamed "The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation"), famous for training of Latin American killers, announces proudly that liberation theology was "defeated with the assistance of the US army."

Do you believe in the spiritual factor behind religion or find something useful in it?

For me, personally, no. I think irrational belief is a dangerous phenomenon and I try to avoid it. On the other hand, I recognize that it's a significant part of the lives of others, with mixed effects.

What are your views on the rise of "New Atheism," which seems to have come about in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks? Who are this movement's target audiences and does it have a distinguishable political agenda around which the progressive and left forces should rally?

It's often not very clear who the target audience is, and agendas no doubt vary. It's fine to carry out educational initiatives aimed at encouraging people to question baseless and irrational beliefs, which can often be quite dangerous. And perhaps, sometimes such efforts have positive effects. But questions arise.

Take, for example, George W. Bush, who invoked his fundamentalist Christian beliefs in justifying his invasion of Iraq, the worst crime of the century. Is he part of the intended audience, or his variety of evangelical Christians? Or the prominent Rabbis in Israel who call for visiting the judgment of Amalek on all Palestinians (total destruction, down to their animals)? Or the radical Islamic fundamentalists in Saudi Arabia who have been Washington's highly valued allies in the Middle East for 75 years while they have been implementing the Wahhabization of Sunni Islam, which Mideast correspondent Patrick Cockburn describes as one of the great tragedies of the modern age? If groups like these are the intended audiences [of New Atheism], the effort is not very promising, to say the least. Is it people with no particular religious beliefs who attend religious ceremonies regularly and celebrate holidays so that they can become part of a community of mutual support and solidarity, and together with others enjoy a tradition and reinforce values that help overcome the isolation of an atomized world lacking social bonds? Is it the grieving mother who consoles herself by thinking that she will see her dying child again in heaven? No one would deliver solemn lectures on epistemology to her. There may indeed be an audience, but its composition and bounds raise questions.

Furthermore, to be serious, the "new atheism" should target the virulent secular religions of state worship, often disguised in the rhetoric of exceptionalism and noble intent, the source of crimes so frequent and immense that recounting them is hardly necessary.

Without going on, I have reservations. Though, again, efforts to overcome false and often extremely dangerous beliefs [are] always appropriate.

One could make the argument that the United States is in reality a deeply fundamentalist country when it comes to the issue of religion. Is there a hope for true progressive change in this country when the overwhelming bulk of the population seems to be in the grip of religious fervor?

The US has been a deeply fundamentalist country since its origins, with repeated Great Awakenings and outbursts of religious fervor. It stands out today among the industrial societies in the power of religion. Nevertheless, also from its origins there has been significant progressive change, and it has not necessarily been in conflict with religious commitments.

One thinks, for example, of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement. Or of the powerful role of religion in African-American communities in the great civil rights movement -- and as a personal aside, it was deeply moving to be able to take part in meetings of demonstrators in churches in the South after a day of brutal beatings and savagery, where the participants were reinforcing bonds of solidarity, singing hymns, gathering strength to go on the next day. This is, of course, by no means the norm, and commonly the impact of fundamentalist religious commitment on social policy has been harmful, if not pernicious.

As usual, there are no simple answers, just the old familiar ones: sympathetic concern, efforts to bring out what is constructive and worthwhile and to overcome harmful tendencies, and to continue to develop the forces of secular humanism and far-reaching and radical commitments that are urgently needed to deal with the pressing and urgent problems we all face.

So many political speeches in the United States end with, "God bless you, and God bless America." Do linguistic expressions like these influence politics, culture and social reality?

I presume the causal relation is substantially in the opposite direction, though there may well be feedback. A drumbeat of propaganda on how "we are good" and "they are evil," with constant exercises of self-admiration and abuse of others, can hardly fail to have an impact on perception of the world.

Examples abound, but merely to illustrate the common pattern, take a current example from the peak of the intellectual culture: Samantha Power's August 18 article in the New York Review of Books. Without any relevant qualification or comment, the author presents Henry Kissinger's sage reflections on "America's tragic flaw": namely, "believing that our principles are universal principles, and seeking to extend human rights far beyond our nation's borders... 'No nation... has ever imposed the moral demands on itself that America has. And no country has so tormented itself over the gap between its moral values, which are by definition absolute, and the imperfection inherent in the concrete situations to which they must be applied.'"

For anyone with the slightest familiarity with contemporary history, such fatuous musings are simply an embarrassment -- or to be more accurate, a horror. And this is not talk radio, but a leading journal of left-liberal intellectuals. People bombarded with patriotic drivel from all corners are likely to have a view of themselves and the world that poses major threats to humanity. It is hardly surprising in the light, both of the historical record and the self-images concocted by ideologists, that the US is ranked in international polls as the greatest threat to world peace, no one else even close. Nor is it surprising that the population is protected from such improper facts by the "free press."

Rhetoric is widely used in political campaigns and is frequently abused in a political context. Do you have a theory of political rhetoric?

I don't have any theory of rhetoric, but I try to keep in mind the principle that one should not try to persuade; rather, to lay out the territory as best one can so that others can use their own intellectual powers to determine for themselves what they think is taking place and what is right or wrong. I also try, particularly in political writing, to make it extremely clear in advance exactly where I stand so that readers can make judgments accordingly. The idea of neutral objectivity is at best misleading and often fraudulent. We cannot help but approach complex and controversial questions -- especially those of human significance -- with a definite point of view, with an ax to grind if you like, and that ax should be apparent right up front so that those we address can see where we are coming from in our choice and interpretation of the events of history.

To the extent that I can monitor my own rhetorical activities, which is probably not a lot, I try to refrain from efforts to bring people to reach my conclusions without thinking the matter through on their own. Similarly, any good teacher knows that conveying information is of far less importance than helping students gain the ability to inquire and create on their own.

It has become popular over the years to think of knowledge as something that is socially constructed, and proponents of the idea that knowledge is simply the outcome of a consensus on any subject matter requiring research and analysis say the same goes for reality itself. Do you agree with this relativistic view of knowledge and reality?

I think it is mostly far off track, though there is an element of truth hidden within. No doubt the pursuit of knowledge is guided by prior conceptions, and no doubt it is often, not always, but typically, a communal activity. That's substantially true of organized knowledge, say research in the natural sciences. For example, a graduate student will come in and inform me I was wrong about what I said in a lecture yesterday for this or that reason, and we'll discuss it, and we'll agree or disagree, and maybe another set of problems will come out. Well, that's normal inquiry, and whatever results is some form of knowledge or understanding, which is, in part, socially determined by the nature of these interactions.

There is a great deal that we don't understand much about, like how scientific knowledge is acquired and develops. If we look more deeply at the domains where we do understand something, we discover that the development of cognitive systems, including systems of knowledge and understanding, is substantially directed by our biological nature. In the case of knowledge of language, we have clear evidence and substantial results about this. Part of my own personal interest in the study of language is that it's a domain in which these questions can be studied fairly clearly, much more so than in many others. Also, it's a domain that is intrinsic to human nature and human functions, not a marginal case. Here, I think, we have very powerful evidence of the directive effect of biological nature on the form of the system of knowledge that arises.

In other domains like, for example, the internal construction of our moral code, we just know less, though there is quite interesting and revealing current research into the topic. I think the qualitative nature of the problem faced strongly suggests a very similar conclusion: a highly directive effect of biological nature. When you turn to scientific inquiry, again, so little is known about how it proceeds -- how discoveries are made -- that we are reduced to speculation and review of historical examples. But I think the qualitative nature of the process of acquiring scientific knowledge again suggests a highly directive effect of biological nature. The reasoning behind this is basically Plato's, which I think is essentially valid. That's why it's sometimes called "Plato's problem." The reasoning in the Platonic dialogues is that the richness and specificity and commonality of the knowledge we attain is far beyond anything that can be accounted for by the experience available, which includes interpersonal interactions. And, apart from acts of God, that leaves only the possibility that it's inner-determined in essential ways, ultimately by biological endowment.

That's the same logic that's routinely used by natural scientists studying organic systems. So, for example, when we study physical growth -- metaphorically speaking, "below the neck," everything but the mind -- we take this reasoning for granted.... Let's say I were to suggest to you that undergoing puberty is a matter of social interaction and people do it because they see other people do it, that it's peer pressure. Well, you would laugh. Why? There is nothing in the environment that could direct these highly specific changes in the organism. Accordingly, we all take for granted that it is biologically determined, that growing children are somehow programmed to undergo puberty at a certain stage of development. Are social factors irrelevant to puberty? No, not at all. Social interaction is certainly going to be relevant. Under certain conditions of social isolation, it might not even take place. The same logic holds when inquiry proceeds "above the neck."

Returning to the subject of the link between religion and politics, it has been argued by quite a few commentators that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a war of religion, not territory. Any validity in this?

The Zionist movement was initially secular, though religious elements have been gaining a considerably greater role, particularly after the 1967 war and the onset of the occupation, which had a major impact on Israeli society and culture. That's particularly true in the military, a matter that has deeply concerned analysts of military affairs since the 1980s (Yoram Peri's warnings at the time were perceptive) and increasingly today. The Palestinian movements were also largely secular, though religious extremism is also growing -- throughout the Muslim world, in fact, as secular initiatives are beaten back and the victims seek something else to grasp. Still, it would be quite misleading I think to regard it as a war of religion. Whatever one thinks of it, Zionism has been a settler-colonial movement, with all that that entails.

What do you think of the French law on secularity and conspicuous religious symbols? A step forward or backwards on progress and universalism?

I don't think there should be laws forcing women to remove veils or preferred clothes when swimming. Secular values should, I think, be honored; among them, respect for individual choice, as long as it does not harm others. Secular values that should be respected are undermined when state power intrudes in areas that should be matters of personal choice. If Hassidic Jews choose to dress in black cloaks, white shirts and black hats, with hair in orthodox style and with religious garb, that's not the state's business. Same when a Muslim woman decides to wear a scarf or go swimming in a "burkini."

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News Wed, 31 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Debate: Is Recalling Judge Persky a Victory for Sexual Assault Survivors or a Dangerous Precedent? http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37423-debate-is-recalling-judge-persky-a-victory-for-sexual-assault-survivors-or-a-dangerous-precedent http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37423-debate-is-recalling-judge-persky-a-victory-for-sexual-assault-survivors-or-a-dangerous-precedent

California lawmakers voted Monday to pass a law requiring prison time for those convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious victim. This comes after news that California Judge Aaron Persky will no longer hear criminal cases, following outrage over lenient sentences he handed down to sex offenders. Persky became the subject of a recall campaign after he sentenced Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner to a six-month prison term for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. Judge Persky said he was concerned a longer prison sentence would have a "severe impact" on Turner. Turner is white, and Judge Persky has since given a harsher sentence to a Latino man who committed a similar crime. Turner is set to be released from Santa Clara jail on Friday, after serving only half of his six-month sentence. More than 1 million people have signed a petition demanding Persky be removed from the bench. But supporters of Judge Persky caution that efforts to recall a jurist based on his use of judicial discretion may have unintended consequences, leading to less care in sentencing and a negative impact on people of color. For more, we host a debate. Michele Landis Dauber is a Stanford law professor who is leading the recall campaign against Aaron Persky. Sajid Khan is a public defender in San Jose, California, who leads the effort in support of Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky.

TRANSCRIPT

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman. California lawmakers voted Monday to pass a law requiring prison time for those convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious victim. This comes after news that California Judge Aaron Persky will no longer hear criminal cases, following outrage over lenient sentences he handed down to sex offenders. Persky became the subject of a recall campaign after he sentenced Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner to a six-month prison term for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. Judge Persky said he was concerned a longer term would have a serious impact on Turner. Turner was caught by two witnesses thrusting on top of the victim as she lay unconscious behind a dumpster. Turner is white, and Judge Persky has since given a harsher sentence to a Latino man who committed a similar crime.

More than 1 million people have signed a petition demanding Persky be removed from the bench. He will be reassigned to a civil court in San Jose, at his own request. In a statement to Democracy Now!, Judge Persky said, quote, "I believe strongly in judicial independence. I took an oath to uphold the Constitution, not to appease politicians or ideologues. When your own rights and property are at stake, you want the judge to make a fair and lawful decision, free from political influence. ... As a judge, I have heard thousands of cases. I have a reputation for being fair to both sides," he said.

Turner is set to be released from Santa Clara jail on Friday, after serving half of his sentence. Activists plan to protest across the street from the jail on the day of Turner's release. This comes as people point to another case in which they allege bias by Judge Persky. In 2015, 21-year-old college football player Ikaika Gunderson pleaded no contest to felony domestic violence for assaulting his ex-girlfriend. He faced up to four years in prison. Judge Persky delayed sentencing for a year to allow Gunderson to attend college at the University of Hawaii.

But supporters of Persky caution that efforts to recall a jurist based on his use of judicial discretion may have unintended consequences, leading to less care in sentencing and a negative impact on people of color.

For more, we're joined by two guests. Michele Landis Dauber is a Stanford law professor leading the recall campaign against Judge Persky. And Sajid Khan is with us, a public defender in San Jose, California, who leads the effort in support of Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let us begin with Michele Landis Dauber. We spoke to you when you began your campaign. Explain your response to the judge's decision to take himself off of criminal cases, and the law that has been passed as a result of the case that you were so deeply concerned about.

MICHELE LANDIS DAUBER: Well, we are continuing the recall, Amy, because this is a voluntary, temporary reassignment that the judge has requested, and judges are reassigned annually in Santa Clara County Court, and he can return to the criminal court later, when he chooses to do so. And, in addition, we believe that this judge is biased in the area of sexual assault and violence against women. And many issues like sexual harassment in the workplace or educational sexual assault, molestation by teachers, these kinds of issues are still heard in the civil court. And we feel that that bias is not a good thing in the civil court, either.

AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly, explain the case at the heart of the recall that so motivated you to make the move that you did.

MICHELE LANDIS DAUBER: Well, in the Turner case, which I assume is the case that you're referring to, Judge Persky gave a sentence that we believe is overly lenient. And in order to do that, he had to make a finding on the record that this was an unusual case and that the interests of justice required that he grant Mr. Turner probation rather than the minimum two-year sentence. We don't believe that the interests of justice required, in any way, that he make that exception for Mr. Turner, and we think that the two-year minimum sentence would have been far more appropriate.

And since that time, we've, of course, learned about many other cases that show what we believe is a clear pattern of bias, a blind spot, if you will, that this judge has in cases of violence against women -- for example, the case of Mr. Gunderson that you just mentioned. And in that case, I think -- I think that may, in fact, be worse, in many ways, than the Turner case, because in that case it appears that the judge sent Mr. Gunderson to another state -- that is, to the state of Hawaii -- without following the Interstate Compact for Adult Offender Supervision and without informing the state of Hawaii that Mr. Gunderson, as a convicted domestic violence felon, was even located within the state. He wasn't on probation. He didn't have to report to anyone. No one knew he was there. He left that state, went to another state, Washington, where he apparently reoffended. So, we just feel that, particularly with collegiate athletes, this judge just has a blind spot. He doesn't see these as the serious felonies against women that they are, and treats them like misdemeanors.

AMY GOODMAN: You have alleged that Judge Persky broke the law?

MICHELE LANDIS DAUBER: Well, we do think that the attorney general and the commission that enforce the adult offender supervision compact should investigate and get to the bottom of this situation, because it is not lawful, in fact, for an offender, a felony convicted offender, like Mr. Gunderson, to leave the state of California, except under the supervision of this compact. This is a 50-state compact, and it has the force of federal law, and it is also part of the California Penal Code. So, it is very improper to do this. I don't think it was appropriate, and I actually think there are real questions about whether it was lawful, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Sajid Khan, you're leading the effort against the recall. Explain why.

SAJID KHAN: I just think that the recall effort is misguided and shortsighted. I think that we, as a community, when we attempt to recall Judge Persky, are sending the message that we want our judges to be more harsh and punitive rather than being merciful and compassionate. We don't see recall efforts at all when it comes to judges that impose what we believe to be disproportionately harsh sentences on clients of mine, public defender clients, minorities, in our system. But here we have a scenario where Judge Persky exercised discretion, afforded to him within the law, to see Brock Turner for more than the crime -- more than just the crime he committed. And we saw Judge Persky exercise that discretion with a certain sense of mercy for Brock Turner. And we want to encourage that type of holistic, humane approach to sentencing, rather than the one-size-fits-all sentencing schemes that have plagued our country. And so, ultimately, I've taken the stance so that we, as a community, encourage judicial discretion, compassion and mercy, rather than discourage it.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Brock Turner was convicted in March of three felony counts: assault with the intent to commit rape of an unconscious person, sexual penetration of an unconscious person and sexual penetration of an intoxicated person. At his sentencing, the Stanford swimmer faced up to 14 years in prison. Prosecutors sought a six-year term. He got six months. He served three months, and he's being released on Friday. Talk about why you think that's fair, Sajid.

SAJID KHAN: You know, the headlines when we -- when this news broke about Brock Turner captured exactly what you just said, which was felony -- you know, rapist gets six months in county jail. And that is a -- those were misleading headlines. It didn't capture the totality of the sentence that Brock Turner received. He's a convicted felon, something that he can't shake for the rest of his life. He has to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life, whether that be here in the state of California or anywhere else. He's on felony probation for three years, which means that he's supervised by a probation officer, and if he violates his probation by committing a new offense or by not doing what he's directed to do, he can still go to prison for up to 14 years.

And here we had someone who was a young man who had no criminal history, who was in school and had shown himself, beyond the crime, to be a capable member of the community. And so, this is the exact type of offender, even despite the severity of the crimes that he was convicted of, that merited probation and the opportunity to rehabilitate himself in the community, rather than being sent to prison. So, when we look at it holistically, we see that it was a harsh penalty, a harsh sentence, and it was not lenient, as many perceive it to be. And it did take into account, again, Brock Turner's humanity and not just the crime that he was convicted of.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Dauber, your response?

MICHELE LANDIS DAUBER: Well, obviously, we just have to see this differently, and we disagree. I want to say that I have the utmost respect for the Public Defender Service. I think that they are, you know, typically speaking, doing fantastic work for low pay, and I support them wholeheartedly. We just part company on this issue. We do not agree that this sentence was appropriate. And I want to say, I am no fan of harsh sentencing for nonviolent minority drug offenders, you know, that have really fed our mass incarceration problem. I'm typically not a fan, for example, of mandatory minimums.

But with judicial discretion and judicial independence, you know, these are very important things, but they come with the obligation, the very important obligation, to act without bias. And we feel strongly that violence against women is a serious, serious crime and that Mr. Turner was a very, very unlikely candidate for the kind of low exception sentence that he received. He did not plead guilty. He never took full responsibility for the crime. He never really accepted the jury's verdict. He never expressed remorse for the crime that he actually committed, which was sexual assault. On every dimension, he was not, in our opinion, a typical or good candidate for this kind of leniency. And so, we just, you know, strongly disagree that this was an adequate sentence.

AMY GOODMAN: Sajid Khan, can you respond to Professor Dauber and her arguments?

SAJID KHAN: Yeah. I mean, my concern here is that we, as a community, have accepted the notion of more prison time or prison time being the answer to all criminal behavior, even serious criminal behavior like sexual assault. And so we tend, as a community based on the -- based on the system of mass incarceration that we've essentially existed in for so long, to equate justice to the amount of time that someone is incarcerated for. And I just think that's the wrong metric; I think it's the wrong measure of justice.

And so, I do think that even with crimes like sexual assault, even with the crimes that Brock Turner was convicted of, there still has to be room within the law -- and there is room within this particular law -- for a judge like Judge Persky to see that there may be mitigating circumstances that merit someone being -- merit someone getting probation rather than prison. And I want to -- I want us, as a community, to encourage that use of discretion and encourage the individualized assessments of offenders, rather than this, again, one-size-fits-all approach to criminal behavior and sentencing. So --

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn for a moment to the defining moment in the Brock Turner case, the reason this case, I think, became so well known, and that is the victim impact statement. The statement is over 7,000 words long, condemns the role of privilege in the trial and the way the legal system deals with sexual assaults. It's since gone viral, with over 10 million views. The statement is addressed directly to the defendant, Brock Turner. The person who was raped -- and she said, "You don't know me, but you've been inside me, and that's why we're here today."

The victim, often referred to as Emily Doe, went on to write, "My life has been on hold for over a year, a year of anger, anguish and uncertainty, until a jury of my peers rendered a judgment that validated the injustices I had endured. Had Brock admitted guilt and remorse and offered to settle early on, I would have considered a lighter sentence, respecting his honesty, grateful to be able to move our lives forward. Instead he took the risk of going to trial, added insult to injury and forced me to relive the hurt as details about my personal life and sexual assault were brutally dissected before the public. He pushed me and my family through a year of inexplicable, unnecessary suffering, and should face the consequences of challenging his crime, of putting my pain into question, of making us wait so long for justice.

“I told the probation officer I do not want Brock to rot away in prison. I did not say he does not deserve to be behind bars. The probation officer's recommendation of a year or less in county jail is a soft time­out, a mockery of the seriousness of his assaults, an insult to me and all women. It gives the message that a stranger can be inside you without proper consent and he will receive less than what has been defined as the minimum sentence. Probation should be denied. I also told the probation officer that what I truly wanted was for Brock to get it, to understand and admit to his wrongdoing.

"Unfortunately, after reading the defendant's report, I am severely disappointed and feel that he has failed to exhibit sincere remorse or responsibility for his conduct. I fully respected his right to a trial, but even after twelve jurors unanimously convicted him guilty of three felonies, all he has admitted to [doing] is ingesting alcohol. Someone who cannot take full accountability for his actions does not deserve a mitigating sentence. It is deeply offensive that he would try and dilute rape with a suggestion of 'promiscuity,'" she said.

When you hear that, Sajid Khan, as we wrap up this discussion, do you understand the anger of the people who have called for the judge's recall?

SAJID KHAN: Sure, I understand it. I understand it completely, and I have empathy for Ms. Doe and what she endured. My concern is that we, as a community, need to have a thoughtful response to this sentence and this case, that not only takes into account this particular victim and particular offender, but also takes into account the -- our system generally. And our -- I think our system generally benefits from judicial discretion, judicial compassion and mercy, rather than mandatory minimums and the -- again, the metric that prison time equals justice. And I don't think that's what we -- what we want to -- it's not the message that we want to send to our community. And I think that's the message that the recall effort does send, is that we want our judges to err on the side of being more harsh and more punitive rather than exercising that mercy. And that's something that our community does't benefit from.

AMY GOODMAN: And where, Professor Landis Dauber, does the recall go from here, in the last 30 seconds?

MICHELE LANDIS DAUBER: We are going to be holding a rally to protest the short sentence given to Mr. Turner. That will be Friday morning, as he is released. And then we are going to continue to bring forward research about his record in sex crimes -- the judge's record -- as in the Gunderson case and in the Robert Chain child pornography case, that was also a couple weeks ago, in order to educate voters so that they can examine his record and decide if they want to select another candidate in the election, that I hope we'll be having in November of 2017.

AMY GOODMAN: And each of you, 10 seconds -- the law that was passed, that was introduced by the Legislature on Monday, are you satisfied with it? Professor Dauber?

MICHELE LANDIS DAUBER: Well, I don't oppose that change. I think it's a, you know, sort of a commonsense change. I don't think that assault of an intoxicated person should be treated differently than assault through force. So, you know, it seems fine to me. I think, in general, our rape law is antiquated and could use a sort of a generalized overhaul.

AMY GOODMAN: And Sajid Khan?

SAJID KHAN: I just -- I just have concerns about kind of swinging the pendulum back towards mandatory minimum sentences. I think it's a slippery slope. And it's actually something that we've been working hard to counter, and I think we don't want to go back down that path of mandatory minimums, that essentially have resulted in our mass incarceration epidemic.

AMY GOODMAN: Just to repeat, California lawmakers voted Monday to pass a law requiring prison time for those convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious victim. I want to thank you both for being with us, Michele Landis Dauber, Stanford law professor, and Sajid Khan, Santa Clara public defender, leading the effort in support of Judge Persky.

SAJID KHAN: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we head back to Washington. Could polling places be hacked on Election Day? Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: "Stay Gold" by First Aid Kit. It's one of the songs in the documentary The Hunting Ground, which documents how colleges and universities across the country are covering up sexual assaults and failing to protect students from repeat offenders.

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News Tue, 30 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Why Are We Paying $300 for an EpiPen That Holds Only $1 Worth of Medicine? http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37422-why-are-we-paying-300-for-an-epipen-that-holds-only-1-worth-of-medicine http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37422-why-are-we-paying-300-for-an-epipen-that-holds-only-1-worth-of-medicine

In 2007, the wholesale price of the EpiPen in the US was $57. Less than a decade later, the life-saving drug now costs over $300. Each EpiPen reportedly contains only $1 worth of medicine. Mylan has a near monopoly in the US, and the company has seen its profits from the EpiPen alone skyrocket to $1 billion a year. Meanwhile, Mylan CEO Heather Bresch's total compensation has spiked from around $2.5 million in 2007 to almost $19 million today. In response to the price hikes, the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen and its allies will deliver a petition signed by approximately 600,000 people to Mylan's headquarters in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, today demanding further price cuts. For more, we speak with Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen's Global Access to Medicines Program. And we speak with Ashley Alteman, who runs a website called SmashleyAshley.com, where she has just posted an open letter to Mylan CEO Heather Bresch.

TRANSCRIPT

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

AMY GOODMAN: Peter Maybarduk, explain exactly what has happened here. Explain what the price increase was and how people are organizing now. What is Heather Bresch explaining here?

PETER MAYBARDUK: Well, the drug companies want to point fingers at the insurers, and the insurers want to point fingers at the drug companies. But it's all convoluted mechanisms to avoid plain talk about price. This is a 100-year-old drug in a 40-year-old injection technology that was invented in connection with Department of Defense projects, meaning that taxpayers already paid for a considerable amount of the research associated with this -- with this product. It hit the market. When Mylan acquired the rights, the product cost $100. Now it's up to $600. The increases in EpiPen prices have more or less tracked the increases in the Mylan CEO's pay, executive compensation, over that period of time. There haven't been significant improvements to that product, as was mentioned, in the time, so we're not paying for -- we're not paying for innovation. We're paying for price gouging. We're paying for Mylan's shameful greed.

And today, Public Citizen will deliver -- I think the number is increasing -- closer to 1 million signatures, hopefully, if you help us out, to Mylan's corporate headquarters outside Pittsburgh, demanding that that price be reduced. In other words, we can talk -- Mylan wants to talk about coupons and patient assistance programs and this new, absolutely bizarre move of introducing a generic version of its essentially generic own product. And -- but what -- the one thing it won't do, the one thing Mylan refuses to do, is have plain talk about price and just reduce the price. That would be the simplest, most effective thing to do to ensure that everyone who needs an EpiPen can get one and that the cost burden that we all share, paying into our healthcare system, is reduced.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain that further, what they have done, as opposed to just reducing the price?

PETER MAYBARDUK: Well, yesterday, Mylan announced that it was going to introduce what it called a generic EpiPen. Now, this is a little strange, as the drug isn't patented, and it's not patents that are keeping competitors primarily off the market. What they mean is, they'll have -- they've built a big brand reputation through very aggressive marketing around EpiPen, and they intend to retain a premium market, wherein they can sell for this $600 for the branded EpiPen. But at the same time, they're going to introduce an identical product, doing the exact same thing in the exact same way, no differences between the product, except it won't have the EpiPen brand. And they're going to sell that for $300. And that's their solution, so-called, to the criticism, rather than simply reducing the price of the EpiPen in the first place down to a more reasonable level, say $100, which is still a very profitable price. It's the price that many other wealthy countries pay, and was the price at which the product hit the market a decade ago.

AMY GOODMAN: They're also talking about coupons that people can get. Can you explain what that is?

PETER MAYBARDUK: Well, so, if a patient figures out how to use the coupon, they can reduce their copay at the pharmacy. And Mylan says it's going to enroll more people in patient assistance programs to reduce the price, in theory, that consumers are paying at the counter. But not everyone will use the programs, and it doesn't do anything -- those methods don't do anything to reduce the cost that we're all paying into the system for the $600 EpiPen. If you don't have insurance or if you have a high copay, you still may wind up paying very high prices for these EpiPens.

AMY GOODMAN: Mylan did find one prominent defender: Martin Shkreli. Last [year], you might remember, the former hedge fund manager sparked national outrage after he hiked the price of a life-saving drug by more than 5,000 percent. Prosecutors also accused Martin Shkreli of orchestrating a Ponzi-like scheme at his former hedge fund and his startup drug company, Turing Pharmaceuticals. Well, Shkreli is back in the news weighing in on the EpiPen controversy. Here, he's speaking to CBS Minnesota local station WCCO.

MARTIN SHKRELI: Mylan's a good guy. They have one product where they're finally starting to make a little bit of money, and everyone's going crazy over it.

VINITA NAIR: These are life-saving drugs. People don't have a choice whether they can buy them or not.

MARTIN SHKRELI: Yeah, well, that's up to insurance to pay for them. Like I said, it's $300 a pen, $300. My iPhone's $700, OK? So, it's a --

VINITA NAIR: But you don't need an iPhone to exist.

MARTIN SHKRELI: Yeah, that doesn't matter, though, because it's $300, and 90 percent of Americans are insured.

AMY GOODMAN: Last week, Martin Shkreli tweeted, "With 8% margins, Mylan is close to breaking even. Do we want them to lose $? Sole supplier of a life-saving drug should have a better margin." Shkreli later tweeted, quote, "Mylan: 9% net margin (life saving drugs) Viacom: 15%, (Reality TV) Altria (Cigarettes): 21%." Your response to this, Peter?

PETER MAYBARDUK: Well, Mylan's primary contribution to this product is simply aggressive marketing. They're not the ones who really invented the technology behind this, and any investments made in the chain are long since expired. And this is a price that keeps going up without justification. Mylan is taking advantage of their monopolistic position in the market. And that's the broader -- that's the systemic problem that we all face. It's the number one reason that drug prices are so high in the United States, is that we have government-granted monopolies in many areas, de facto monopolies or individuals like Shkreli and companies like Mylan that have figured out how to corner a market, and they charge as much as we and our health system collectively will pay to care for our -- care for our loved ones. And that's the business model, right? It's profit maximizing.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what exactly are you doing today?

PETER MAYBARDUK: So, today, Public Citizen is going to deliver a petition to Mylan corporate headquarters demanding that Mylan simply cut the price, cut the obfuscation, cut the convoluted talk about all these alternative mechanisms, and simply cut the price of EpiPens so that we can all afford it and our healthcare bills ultimately go down.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen's Global Access to Medicines Program, and thanks so much to Ashley Alteman, who runs the website SmashleyAshley.com, where she's just posted an open letter, one mother to another, to Mylan CEO Heather Bresch. Ashley Alteman is a contributor to The Huffington Post and several parenting blogs, including ScaryMommy.com.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we're going to Stanford University, a debate on a sentence given by a judge and what's happened since in the California Legislature. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: "A Ring Around the Atlantic" by Peter Maybarduk -- that's right, our last guest.

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News Tue, 30 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400
ITT Tech Shuts Enrollment After For-Profit College Disqualified From Federal Aid http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37421-itt-tech-shuts-enrollment-after-for-profit-college-disqualified-from-federal-aid http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37421-itt-tech-shuts-enrollment-after-for-profit-college-disqualified-from-federal-aid

A troubled for-profit college has stopped accepting new applicants, after the Department of Education ruled last week that its students would be ineligible for federally-funded aid.

ITT Tech notes simply on its website that it is "not enrolling new students."

Those currently taking courses at ITT can transfer or finish their education, Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell said Thursday, in a blog post.

If enrollees fail to do that before the school shuts down, Mitchell noted, students "will likely be eligible to discharge" their federal loan obligations.

The Debt Collective -- a grassroots group that has organized protests against department rules on discharges from for-profit college debt -- told ITT students to withdraw immediately.

"Do not take a 'teachout,'" it said in a statement, posted over the weekend. "Do not agree to transfer your credits to another sham school."

"Transferring credits could mean you will not get the discharge that you could get if ITT closes before you completed your program," it added.

The enforcement action, as Mitchell noted, was brought against the company "based on the operational and financial risk they pose to students and taxpayers, not on a finding that they defrauded students."

"There are, however, a number of open federal and state investigations into ITT campuses," he said.

Both the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Consumer Federal Protection Bureau are currently probing ITT for deceptive practices. There are also "more than a dozen state attorneys general" investigations into the company, as The Washington Post remarked.

Last October, the Department of Education limited ITT Tech students' eligibility for federal assistance, after it lost track of millions of dollars in aid throughout the previous half-decade.

The Post described the CFPB investigation into ITT as akin to the agency's probe of Corinthian Colleges. In 2015, the company went bankrupt amid numerous government inquiries and lawsuits.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), a critic of the for-profit college industry, cheered the Department's ruling against ITT.

The company's "free ride is finally over," she said Thursday, on Twitter, and "the message is clear: We won't stand by & allow these shady schools to cheat students & taxpayers."

For-profit colleges are heavily subsidized by the US government. Regulations cap the share of taxpayer-financed revenue that for-profit schools are allowed to receive at a whopping 90 percent of overall income, and still the rule has been systemically violated in the recent past. In 2014, the Department of Education reported that 27 different schools were breaking the 90 percent threshold.

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News Wed, 31 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400