Truthout Stories http://www.truth-out.org Sun, 02 Aug 2015 10:27:49 -0400 en-gb It's Time for a New Story of Humanity's Place in the World http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/32170-it-s-time-for-a-new-story-of-humanity-s-place-in-the-world http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/32170-it-s-time-for-a-new-story-of-humanity-s-place-in-the-world

It goes without saying that humans are good at causing problems. Climate change, overfishing and widespread environmental contamination from chemical toxicants are all creations of our own making. But are we destined to create such problems? Many people believe so, and argue that our capacity for self-interest, avarice and ecological shortsightedness make us inherently unsustainable as a species. Not only is this way of thinking built on long-disproven myths about human nature and human origins, it also constrains how we think about solutions and alienates us from the rest of the natural world. We need to abandon this belief and not allow ourselves to be defined only by our most recent history. The truth of the matter is that we belong here, and belonging is a much more powerful narrative for sustainability than isolation.

In western society, most people’s understanding of human nature can be traced back to the writings of a handful of social philosophers: Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, John Adams and Adam Smith, to name the core few. Collectively, their respective works create a picture of humanity that is driven by extreme self-interest and in which life before the advent of government was nasty, brutish and short. This picture of humanity is now widely accepted and invoked; former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan famously opined, for example, that corruption, embezzlement and fraud are all symptoms of human nature, and that the best we can do is try to keep these to a minimum.

Greenspan’s words mirror how many people think about sustainability: People are the problem and we must learn to limit our impacts. Indeed, the environmental movement and many of today’s most popular frameworks for thinking about sustainability are built upon this basic assumption; the “leave no trace” mantra and the notion of the Tragedy of the Commons, which says that people acting in their own self-interest always do so to the detriment of a larger group and common resources, are two ready examples.

Yet these perspectives are ignorant to the full history of humanity. These early social philosophers lived in a time when people believed that we had been around for only a few thousand years. They had little knowledge of evolution, of human origins, or of our species’ many hundreds of thousands of years of tenure on this planet. Hobbes’ Leviathan was published in 1651, more than 200 years before the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859 and the first discovery of a Homo erectus specimen, Java Man, in 1891.

People tend to think of myths as being things of the past — fanciful tales that have been eliminated, at least from secular society. … Yet myths are much more than this.These social philosophers did not know that human altruism and cooperation have an evolutionary basis, rooted in the success of early subsistence strategies for hunting, sharing and enduring short-term resource scarcity. Nor did they know that members of early tribal societies usually worked less and were more food secure than many people today. Finally, they were unaware that humans have a long track record for environmental conservation, including in areas that sustained dense populations of tens to hundreds of thousands of people, such as the Pacific Northwest region of North America.

All of this is not to suggest that humanity should somehow go back to “Stone Age” living, nor am I implying that prehistoric peoples never behaved unsustainably. Rather, I raise these facts because they contribute to a very different picture of human nature than was imagined by Hobbes and others.

People tend to think of myths as being things of the past — fanciful tales that have been eliminated, at least from secular society, by Western science and Enlightenment rationality. Yet myths are much more than this. Mythologist Joseph Campbell wrote extensively on the power of myths and described them as life-motivating and life-directing concepts that provide people with justification and purpose. Many myths are so powerful and fundamental to people’s worldviews, Campbell argued, that they don’t need to actually be elaborated in story form in order to be widely known and believed.

That we are inherently flawed is such a myth, one that infuses many of our cultural stories, secular and religious alike. We find it in the fall from grace in the book of Genesis in the Bible, in Hobbes’ account of the state of nature and in Garret Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons. The latter example is illustrative of just how durable this myth can be; many people still believe Hardin’s tragedy is the default outcome in shared resource situations, despite the decades of research by social and political scientists such as Bonnie McCay and Elinor Ostrom that show otherwise.

The trouble is that belief in this myth preconditions how we try to solve problems. We use it to explain away failings in our contemporaries and come to expect the same of ourselves. We focus on limiting and policing our interactions with the natural world, when the real causes of environmental problems, from rapid population growth to resource overharvest, tend to be societal in nature.

This myth of a broken humanity neuters our potential and alienates us from the rest of the natural community. All other species leave a trace, so why shouldn’t we?

Unsustainable population growth, for example, is not simply a biological feature of our species or even a product of religion. It is driven, tragically, by poverty and high rates of infant mortality. Likewise, when people misuse resources for personal gain, there are invariably social and cultural institutions that drive and reward that behavior. Rather than blindly blaming ourselves for these problems, we need to look to the means of success in our societies. Are people marginalized and left with no other choice but to overharvest resources? Does our society protect human rights to ensure people’s opportunities to live secure and fulfilling lives, or does it leave everyone to pull themselves up by their bootstraps at any expense?

This myth of a broken humanity neuters our potential and alienates us from the rest of the natural community. All other species leave a trace, so why shouldn’t we? Surely, we have a great capacity as a species for self-interest, avarice and hate, and there’s no doubt that there are many people who are ideologically inclined to misuse and overuse resources for short-term gain. Nevertheless, we are a social creature by nature, one with a capacity for and long track record of cooperation and sustainability. Sharing and egalitarian social mores were the norm, not the exception, during our hundreds of thousands of years in hunter-gatherer societies. The great biodiversity of the Amazon is a result, in part, of humanity’s footprint. Likewise, the long-term social and ecological sustainability of Pacific Northwest cultures was the product of a land ethic that emphasized restraint and planning on a long time horizon and social norms regarding reciprocity and gift-giving among houses.

The question at hand is what kind of trace we choose to leave. Rather than focusing on how to shield ecosystems from our impacts, we could be experimenting with ways to achieve comfort and security while also promoting biodiversity and ecosystem structure and function. Using livestock to combat desertification and restore grasslands is one example, and the ongoing efforts of people in places such as Madagascar and Haida Gwaii to find win-win solutions that restore and enhance marine biodiversity and support local food security is another.

Meanwhile, protecting human rights such as the right to food and food sovereignty would be a good start to solving the root causes of unsustainability. Ensuring these rights would eliminate many of the aspects of our societies that pit us against one another and give people the space to experiment with more sustainable ways of living.

Regardless of the specific strategies people develop, and I believe they are numerous, we must stop using human nature as a scapegoat for our environmental problems and turn our attention to addressing the societal drivers of unsustainable practices — issues such as poverty, inequity and injustice. For the long term, we need to teach our children a different story of us, one in which we belong and have the potential to thrive and coexist with the rest of the natural world.View Ensia homepage

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Opinion Sun, 02 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Still Boxed Out: NYU Discriminates Against Students Who Have Faced Arrest http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/32169-still-boxed-out-nyu-discriminates-against-students-who-have-faced-arrest http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/32169-still-boxed-out-nyu-discriminates-against-students-who-have-faced-arrest

It's time to abolish application questions that require an individual to disclose documented interaction with the criminal legal system when applying to college or university. Reformist approaches to this problem are tacit acceptances of the violence that this discriminatory practice inflicts on communities disproportionately targeted by the criminal legal system.

Check box(Image: Check box via Shutterstock; Edited: JR/TO)"Have you ever been arrested or convicted of a felony? Check yes or no."

For over two years the Incarceration to Education Coalition at New York University (NYU) has been organizing to abolish this checkbox from NYU's admissions application.

Composed of current and former New York University students (both with and without "documented" criminal records), the coalition has obtained support from a vast coalition of community members, scholars, activists and artists to abolish this application question, which we refer to as "the box."

We know that this question discriminates against poor communities of color, who are far more likely to be arrested and charged than other communities. Systemic violence such as housing regulation, poor public schooling, underfunded public benefits and sheer racism has continuously pushed these communities away from a college education and the benefits it entails. We know that people with a criminal record are discouraged from applying to college upon seeing this very question.

We are joined in our struggle to abolish this form of discrimination on a national scale by students and community members at a number of colleges and universities, as well as community organizers and activists across the United States.

Incremental Reforms

In response to mounting pressure and tenacious organizing efforts, at least four New York area colleges and universities have taken steps to reform their policies around "the box." In 2014, three institutions (St. John's University, Dowling College and Five Towns College) reached a deal with the New York State Attorney General's Office to change the wording of this application question. These schools agreed only to screen candidates based on convictions, as opposed to inquiring about all arrests, even those that did not lead to conviction. Meanwhile NYU, (after forcibly ejecting student and community organizers from deliberations) has promised to reform its admissions policy so that admissions officers will first review and accept students based on a preliminary "box-blind reading." Students who checked the box will then undergo a secondary screening wherein NYU retains the right to deny admission.

There is a real temptation to herald incremental reforms like these as evidence of social progress, not only for those who currently bolster or benefit from the status quo, but also for those of us doing advocacy and organizing work.

However, even with the best of intentions, reformist approaches to structural violence and oppression can only replicate and entrench that violence. Constitutive to a reformist framework is a piecemeal approach that, in its attempts to alter minor details, necessarily reaffirms the larger structure. These reforms to education access for individuals and communities impacted by the criminal punishment system are no different.

The all-or-nothing stance of an abolitionist framework may appear more difficult and less politically palatable, but any semblance of progress or justice demands nothing less.

It is with this understanding that the Incarceration to Education Coalition refuses to accept these new policies as victories, and instead identifies reformist approaches to the issue as deliberate attempts to further entrench the violent and overtly discriminatory policies of the prison industrial complex.

The Box Does Not Make Our Campuses Safer

The popular rhetoric around the box is the idea that campuses must screen incoming students for their documented criminal histories in order to ensure campus safety, and that such screening is a foregone conclusion.

The facts of the box fly in the face of this rhetoric. There is nothing natural or common sense about this application question. In fact, this checkbox suddenly and mysteriously appeared on admissions applications for colleges and universities on a national level via the Common Application in 2006. The addition of this question was never proven to significantly alter campus safety. A comprehensive study done by the Center for Community Alternatives found no statistically significant differences in campus safety between schools that require applicants to disclose documented criminal histories and those that do not.

The box completely fails to identify individuals most likely to cause harm on campus. As Alan Rosenthal, co-director of Justice Strategies at the Center for Community Alternatives, reveals, "Those college applicants that do have experience with the criminal justice system, and who then decide to take the big step to go on with their education, are less likely to engage in high-risk behavior than their counterparts who have not had criminal justice experience."

Compounding this harm is the fact that the discrimination of the box forecloses upon an individual's education and the single most effective strategy in reducing recidivism rates.

The box fails by its own logic. Not only does it fail to predict who commits crimes on campus, but also its presence actively makes our campuses and communities less safe.

Reproducing Violence

These blatantly false appeals to public safety are nothing more than pathetic excuses offered in the face of the box's overwhelming racism, sexism, classism and homophobia. Reformist approaches to this application question that in any way attempt to validate its existence do nothing but validate and reproduce its discriminatory violence.

Even a surface level analysis of the reforms undertaken by these four schools reveals them to be nothing but a reproduction of racist violence.

For context, St. John's University, Dowling College and Five Towns College were pressured to change their policies by the attorney general, who took exception to the "overbroad nature" of their versions of the box (it is their version of the box quoted at the beginning of this article). The attorney general's office argued that "the information solicited by the schools was overbroad and not relevant to an applicant's fitness as a student," going on to say that such questions "disproportionately disadvantaged African-American and Hispanic men [who are] more likely than white men to be stopped, detained, and arrested by police for minor misconduct."

The schools in question agreed with the attorney general's objections. Notably, they agreed with the racist and discriminatory implications of the application question as a direct consequence of the racist and discriminatory practices of the criminal legal system. But instead of abolishing the box altogether, they decided that altering the wording of their question to only ask about arrests that led to conviction would somehow solve the problem.

This is where any and all logic seems to break down. The previous iteration of the box that asked about arrests and convictions was deemed unacceptable through an acknowledgement of the discriminatory and racist practices involved in an individual being stopped, detained and arrested by the police. The current iteration, which only asks about convictions, somehow makes the claim that the racism accepted as being inherent in the process of stopping, detaining and arresting an individual magically disappears if an individual is convicted.

This is a perfect example of why reformist practices do not offer tenable solutions. This new version of the box is exactly as racist as its predecessor but is more insidious in that its continued "revised" existence entrenches the idea that the box in some form is necessary, thus entrenching its inherent violence.

NYU attempted a different kind of reformist tactic. In a recent policy change, the university has promised to conduct an initial "box-blind" reading, where it will consider and accept applicants without considering an individual's documented criminal history. It is only after applicants have been accepted, that the university considers whether or not an individual has checked the box, and retains the right to revoke the acceptance.

Again, the failings of a reformist approach are readily apparent. The viability of an initial "box-blind" reading is a tacit admission to the fact that an individual's contact with the criminal legal system is irrelevant to a student's application and their readiness for college-level work. To go back and reassert the box in a secondary reading is simply an attempt to entrench and normalize its violence.

Reformist approaches may offer an ego boost and good PR to those within the institutions, but they do so only by further validating the exclusion of the groups these policies pretend to help, and they are tacit acceptances of the violence that any vestige of the box inflicts on communities that are systematically and historically targeted by the criminal legal system.

The violence and discrimination of the box can only end with its abolition.

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Opinion Sun, 02 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
We Gon' Be Alright: Black Love, Black Resistance and Black Liberation http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/32168-we-gon-be-alright-black-love-black-resistance-and-black-liberation http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/32168-we-gon-be-alright-black-love-black-resistance-and-black-liberation

(Photo: Movement for Black Lives, Laylah Amatullah Barrayn)Participants in the Cleveland convening of the Movement for Black Lives take part in an impromptu dance and drumming circle on the campus of Cleveland State University. (Photo: Movement for Black Lives, Laylah Amatullah Barrayn)

At this month's convening of the Movement for Black Lives in Cleveland, we experienced the power of Black people coming together across different ideologies and experiences. We need to build our strength throughout the country to sustain this reinvigorated Black liberation movement.

(Photo: Movement for Black Lives, Laylah Amatullah Barrayn)Participants in the Cleveland convening of the Movement for Black Lives take part in an impromptu dance and drumming circle on the campus of Cleveland State University. (Photo: Movement for Black Lives, Laylah Amatullah Barrayn)

Coming together across different ideologies, generations, geographies and experiences, participants in the Movement for Black Lives have the potential, the brilliance and the power to get free and to stay free.

More than 1,500 Black people came together in Cleveland, Ohio, last week for the Movement for Black Lives convening. It was a gathering designed to bring Black people together across different fault lines in order to continue to solidify our vision, our purpose and our relationships with one another.

The convening, which began on July 24, was an opportunity to ask ourselves the question of what a world would look like in which Black lives actually mattered - and not just some Black lives, but all Black lives. This question is increasingly important in a context where, as author and public policy leader Heather McGhee so eloquently stated, Black lives were the first currency of this nation.

More importantly, the convening in Cleveland offered an opportunity for us to be together in community and solidarity in ways that are wholly discouraged by a racialized capitalist society - an opportunity for us to practice in real time the strategies and tactics that we need to build a coordinated movement that can get us closer to liberation.

This is more important than one might realize. On the surface, the concept of being in "community" and "solidarity" may seem esoteric. But in fact, this practice of solidarity is an essential step toward liberation. Solidarity means Black people of all genders, geographies and generations coming together across class to love each other in a country that traded and sold our bodies for profit. Solidarity means Black people loving each other in a country that designed state programs like COINTELPRO that were intended specifically to dismantle and disrupt once-powerful and vibrant Black liberation organizations and movements.

The consequences of those dynamics - racialized capitalism and state-sanctioned violence - have meant that Black movements for liberation, which have sparked the imaginations of many other oppressed and marginalized communities, have been so weakened and diminished that it has impacted our ability to be powerful together. Given that, we could say that Black love - building community and solidarity - is a liberatory act and an act of resistance.

As we approach the one-year anniversary of the murder of 18-year-old Michael Brown, the Movement for Black Lives convening was also an opportunity to assess our strength and cohesion as a movement. What's the state of the organizing and the movement-building and the infrastructure in St. Louis, especially as the news cameras have left Canfield Drive, where Brown was murdered, and now reappear in places like the Gilmore Homes in Baltimore, Maryland, where Freddy Gray was murdered?

People in St. Louis loved their brother Mike Brown so much that when he was murdered in August 2014 and bled to death in the middle of the street on Canfield Drive, just steps away from his mother's home, they sparked a resistance movement that impacted this country and the world in profound ways. The willingness of young people to reject respectability politics, to confront power (in the form of police) directly and militantly, and even to challenge the notion that the only place that resistance can happen is within formalized nonprofit organizations has re-infused the movement with new energy and ideas, new tactics and most importantly, more people.

We are reminded on the heels of this month's historical convergence of Black people that we have come so far, and that at the same time, we have to challenge ourselves to go further. If it weren't for the ongoing strength of the resistance movement in Ferguson, the national Movement for Black Lives might risk lacking the strength we need to push forward in ever-growing strength, cohesion and coordination. We need to continue building our strength throughout the country so that a reinvigorated Black liberation movement can be sustained.

Let us not forget that assessing our strength is about more than how many of us can come together, despite racialized capitalism and state-sponsored programs designed to keep us disorganized and in disarray. Our strength lies in how well we take care of one another when the cameras are gone, when the buzz has died down and when the trending on social media ends.

Today, we should be proud of the Movement for Black Lives and all who have contributed to it. And as we celebrate, let us renew our commitment to strengthening the activists, protestors, organizers and institutions that make this movement possible. If we are successful, as hip hop artist Kendrick Lamar so eloquently said, "We gon' be alright."

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Opinion Fri, 31 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Are Undercover Attacks on Planned Parenthood Part of a Broader Effort to Outlaw Abortion? http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32164-are-undercover-attacks-on-planned-parenthood-part-of-a-broader-effort-to-outlaw-abortion http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32164-are-undercover-attacks-on-planned-parenthood-part-of-a-broader-effort-to-outlaw-abortion

The Senate is planning to vote as soon as Monday to strip Planned Parenthood of $500 million in federal funding. The vote comes as Planned Parenthood is coming under fire from anti-choice activists after the release of a series of undercover sting videos were published online. The heavily edited videos suggest the organization profits from supplying aborted fetal tissue for medical research. Planned Parenthood said it broke no laws, because abortion providers are allowed to charge costs to cover expenses associated with fetal tissue donation. We speak to Dr. Willie Parker, a physician, abortion provider and a board member of Physicians for Reproductive Health. He previously worked for Planned Parenthood.

TRANSCRIPT:

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

AMY GOODMAN: The Senate is planning to vote as soon as Monday to strip Planned Parenthood of $500 million in federal funding. The vote comes as Planned Parenthood is coming under fire from anti-choice activists after the release of a series of undercover sting videos were published online. The heavily edited videos suggest that Planned Parenthood profits from supplying aborted fetal tissue for medical research. Planned Parenthood, though, says it broke no laws, because abortion providers are allowed to charge costs to cover expenses associated with fetal tissue donation. In one video, Dr. Deborah Nucatola of Planned Parenthood appears to discuss the cost of fetal tissue with operatives posing as biotechnology representatives. The clip begins with a fake representative raising the issue of costs.

FAKE BIOTECH REPRESENTATIVE: What price range would you -

DR. DEBORAH NUCATOLA: You know, I - I'm going to throw a number out. I would say it's probably anywhere from $30 to $100, depending on the facility and what's involved.

FAKE BIOTECH REPRESENTATIVE: The $30 to $100 price range, that's per specimen that we're talking about, right?

DR. DEBORAH NUCATOLA: Per specimen.

FAKE BIOTECH REPRESENTATIVE: Yeah.

DR. DEBORAH NUCATOLA: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: The unedited version of the video actually shows Dr. Nucatola repeatedly saying Planned Parenthood is not trying to profit off fetal tissue. In this clip, she tells the fake researchers there is no revenue stream at play. Just listen carefully.

DR. DEBORAH NUCATOLA: This is not something -

FAKE BIOTECH REPRESENTATIVE: Right.

DR. DEBORAH NUCATOLA: This is not any revenue stream that -

FAKE BIOTECH REPRESENTATIVE: Right.

DR. DEBORAH NUCATOLA: - affiliates are looking at. This is a way to offer patients a service that they want, do good for the medical community -

FAKE BIOTECH REPRESENTATIVE: Right.

DR. DEBORAH NUCATOLA: - and still maintain access.

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this month, House Republicans launched an investigation into Planned Parenthood, claiming it's harvesting fetal tissue for profit. However, Planned Parenthood's president, Cecile Richards, has repeatedly denied these claims.

CECILE RICHARDS: Recently, an organization that opposes safe and legal abortion used secretly recorded, heavily edited videos to make outrageous claims about programs that help women donate fetal tissue for medical research. I want to be really clear: The allegation that Planned Parenthood profits in any way from tissue donation is not true. Our donation programs, like any other high-quality healthcare providers, follows all laws and ethical guidelines. Over our hundred-year history, we've continually engaged leading medical experts to shape our practices, policies and high standards, and we always will. Our top priority is the compassionate care that we provide.

AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, Planned Parenthood's website was reportedly attacked by anti-choice activists, who took the site offline for hours. The organization tweeted the site was being targeted by anti-abortion extremists.

For more, we're joined now by two guests. In Los Angeles, we're joined by Sharona Coutts, vice president of Investigations and Research at RH Reality Check. Her new piece is called "Exclusive: The Faces and Fake Names of People Behind Planned Parenthood Attack Videos."

And in Birmingham, Alabama, we're joined by Dr. Willie Parker, a physician, abortion provider and a board member of Physicians for Reproductive Health. He previously worked for Planned Parenthood and recently wrote an article for Cosmopolitan magazine called "Why I Stand with Dr. Deborah Nucatola."

Sharona Coutts and Dr. Willie Parker, we welcome you to Democracy Now! Dr. Willie Parker, can you talk about what's at the heart of this story? Talk about the allegations that Planned Parenthood is selling fetal tissue.

DR. WILLIE PARKER: Well, Amy, it's a pleasure to be back on your show again. And as I think about what's happening, two things come to mind. I grew up here in Alabama, and we had a photographer, when I was a kid, who would every year take our picture. And in order to get us to pose, he would say, "Watch the birdie," to distract us from what he was really trying to do, which was take a great picture. And in that regard, similarly, what's happening here is a high-stakes game of "watch the birdie." The picture is the sale of fetal parts and impugning Planned Parenthood, but the real theme is to outlaw abortion.

Second thing is the fact that in a court of law, you know, the credibility of the witness goes a long way. And if you don't have a credible witness, nothing that they say counts. We know that what's happening here is an attempt to impugn the integrity of Planned Parenthood using the allegation of the sale of fetal parts, with the ultimate goal of outlawing abortion. This is not new. This is what has always been the case. And the high stakes of this, Amy, is the impairment of very important human science research that can help millions of folk, as well as doing away with very vital abortion services -

AMY GOODMAN: You know -

DR. WILLIE PARKER: - that Planned Parenthood provides.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Parker, I remember when Nancy Reagan, who was extremely anti-choice, broke with other people, who she usually agreed with, on the issue of stem cell research, with her husband who at the time was suffering from Alzheimer's, and afterwards - Ronald Reagan, of course, the president. She said this is too important. Now, I want to ask about what this fetal tissue research is. Explain what fetal tissue is. And how is it used for medical research? And is it used all over the country or only in certain states?

DR. WILLIE PARKER: Well, Amy, they say, when you stay in your lane, there's no traffic. And I would be out of my league to talk in depth about fetal tissue research. But what I can tell you is that, using scientific terms, any of the products of conception that are removed - a preborn, a pregnancy that's not given birth to - all of the parts are called "fetal parts." And so, there are some - you know, over the years, research has been furthered, to the extent that it can be, by using animal models and the like, but there are some disease processes where in order to make the real breakthroughs, you have to have access to human tissue. The one area where there is the availability of human tissue has been with regard to the tissues that are removed during an abortion process.

The only reason that that tissue would be available is that in every situation that I've ever been involved in, even when I worked at Planned Parenthood, there are these heavily regulated, heavily supervised agreements with research facilities, where they procure tissues from places where that tissue is generated. The other side of that is, when women have often approached me as I've done their abortions, when they are asking during the information process and the consent process, they will ask, "Is there any way this tissue could be donated for research?" So, the fact that there are disease processes like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, certain dementias, muscular dystrophy and other disease processes that are causing serious problems, the major breakthroughs that have been achieved have come about as a result of human tissue or fetal tissue being made available to further that research.

AMY GOODMAN: And do you know what states it's allowed in and where it isn't?

DR. WILLIE PARKER: Could you say that again? I'm sorry.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you know what states it's allowed in and where it isn't?

DR. WILLIE PARKER: I do not. I can tell you, like most things that are subject to regulations, there are federal guidelines that are overarching, but state to state, it varies. I would say, where you have states that are more liberal and progressive, like California and New York, where there is a heavier reliance on evidence to guide decision making, it may be more liberal to operate in these states as opposed to others.

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News Fri, 31 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Will Prosecutors Charge Officers Who Lied to Protect Ray Tensing After He Shot Sam Dubose? http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32163-will-prosecutors-charge-officers-who-lied-to-protect-ray-tensing-after-he-shot-sam-dubose http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32163-will-prosecutors-charge-officers-who-lied-to-protect-ray-tensing-after-he-shot-sam-dubose

Former University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing has been released on a $1 million bail after pleading not guilty to the murder of Sam Dubose. Tensing, who is white, fatally shot the 43-year-old African-American man on July 19 after stopping him for not having a front license plate. Two additional officers, Phillip Kidd and David Lindenschmidt, have been placed on administrative leave. Meanwhile, new information shows that Officer Phillip Kidd and another officer on scene during the Dubose shooting were involved in the death of an unarmed African-American man five years earlier. According to documents revealed by The Guardian, Phillip Kidd and Officer Eric Weibel were part of a seven-officer team that tased and shackled a mentally ill man who was having a psychotic episode. We speak to Iris Roley, longtime police accountability activist with the Cincinnati Black United Front. She is the cousin of Kelly Brinson, who died after being tased and restrained by University of Cincinnati police officers in 2010. Two of the police officers involved in Roley's cousin's death were at the scene of Sam Dubose's shooting and later lied to investigators to try to corroborate Officer Ray Tensing's false claim about being dragged by Dubose's car.

TRANSCRIPT:

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

AMY GOODMAN: A former University of Cincinnati police officer charged with murder in the shooting death of an unarmed black man has been released from jail on a million dollars' bail, hours after an initial court appearance on Thursday. Twenty-five-year-old Ray Tensing pleaded not guilty in the death of 43-year-old Samuel DuBose, an unarmed African-American man. Officer Tensing appeared before Hamilton County Judge Megan Shanahan.

JUDGE MEGAN SHANAHAN: Ray Tensing, do you understand you have been charged with one count of murder and one count of voluntary manslaughter?

RAY TENSING: Yes, Your Honor.

JUDGE MEGAN SHANAHAN: This defendant has been served. The defendant is facing the possibility of life in prison. It's the court's duty to ensure his appearance. The bond will be $1 million any way. Ladies and gentlemen, this is a courtroom. You will conduct yourselves at all time appropriately.

AMY GOODMAN: Officer Ray Tensing shot Sam DuBose on July 19th, after pulling him over for not having a front license plate. Tensing wanted to see Dubose's driver's license. When DuBose said he didn't have it, Tensing made a motion to open Dubose's car door. Within seconds of this interaction, Officer Tensing's right hand swung into the video frame with a pistol. He fired a single shot into DuBose's head, which sent the car, with DuBose dead behind the wheel, rolling down the street, where it crashed to a halt. On Thursday, prosecutors released disturbing footage of the actual shooting.

RAY TENSING: Until I can figure out if you have a license or not, go ahead and take your seat belt off for me.

SAM DUBOSE: I didn't even do do nothing.

RAY TENSING: Go ahead and take your seat belt off. Stop! Stop!

AMY GOODMAN: Officer Tensing had claimed he was forced to open fire after he was "dragged" by DuBose's vehicle. But the local prosecutor, Joseph Deters, rejected that claim, saying there's no evidence the officer was dragged. Deters called the killing "senseless" and "horrible."

JOSEPH DETERS: I've been doing this for over 30 years. This is the most asinine act I've ever seen a police officer make. Totally unwarranted. It was - it's an absolute tragedy in the year 2015 that anyone would behave in this manner. It was senseless. And I met with the family just moments ago. It's just horrible.

AMY GOODMAN: The prosecutor, Deters, also said that the whole interaction was based on a, quote, "chicken crap" stop - the police officer stopping Samuel DuBose for not having a front license plate.

Well, on Thursday, two other University of Cincinnati officers, Phillip Kidd and David Lindenschmidt, were placed on administrative leave after being accused of lying that Tensing had been dragged. Newly released police body cam video shows officers discussing the incident with Tensing moments after it happened.

RAY TENSING: I think I'm OK. He was just dragging me.

PHILLIP KIDD: Yeah, I saw that.

RAY TENSING: I thought I was going to get run over. I was trying to stop him. No, he was dragging me, man.

PHILLIP KIDD: You good?

RAY TENSING: I'm good. I just got my hand and my arm caught inside.

PHILLIP KIDD: Yeah, I saw that.

POLICE SERGEANT: You can talk about anything you want except for what happened. For my purposes, for the investigation part of it, I need to know where it started, which is going to be right - it's at this center on this side of the tape, is that correct?

RAY TENSING: Yes, just south of the back of the intersection of Vale and Rice.

POLICE SERGEANT: And it looks like you got dragged, if I'm looking -

RAY TENSING: Yeah.

POLICE SERGEANT: OK. And it ended up here?

RAY TENSING: I'm sorry?

POLICE SERGEANT: This is our crime scene, right here?

RAY TENSING: Correct.

AMY GOODMAN: Excerpts from the police body cam video released Thursday, edited by The Guardian.

Well, for more, we go to Cincinnati, where we're joined by Iris Roley, who's a longtime police accountability activist with the Cincinnati Black United Front. She has been working closely on the Samuel DuBose case and with his family. But her work began more than a decade ago, in 2001, when riots broke out after the wrongful death of two unarmed black men by the Cincinnati Police Department. Roley helped document more than 400 stories of police brutality and misconduct for a class action lawsuit that led to the historic Collaborative Agreement and the Memorandum of Understanding between Cincinnati and the Department of Justice.

Well, I want to welcome you to Democracy Now! And if you can start off by talking about, Iris Roley, the family's reaction at this point, since you watched the video, when it was released, with them.

IRIS ROLEY: Well, good morning. Good morning. The family's reaction has been far superior to my family's reaction. We had the same incident with university police with my cousin, Kelly Brinson, in 2010, who was a mental patient and who was tased to death by the university police officers. I have watched this family deal with this with such grace and dignity. It has just been phenomenal. The children have been asking the most appropriate questions, to be children, and they have made me take a step back and think about some things. His sisters and brothers and his friends, they are all trying to honor Samuel DuBose's legacy by being more like him. They want the community to be peaceful and calm, and to let the process play out. So they have been phenomenally giving gifts to the community even in their time of grief.

AMY GOODMAN: After the indictment of Officer Tensing Wednesday, protesters gathered to demand an end to police britality. Sam DuBose's nine-year-old son, Samuel, addressed the crowd.

SAMUEL DUBOSE: I feel good that he's being locked up, because he had shot him, blatantly murdered. He didn't do nothing but shoot him. He just shot him. Like what is he doing? My daddy, he was just shot at. [inaudible] They just shot him in the head. He didn't go. He didn't get caught up in a car. This dude lied. He knew he was going to be on video. He knew he was going to lie. He thought he wasn't going to get locked up. That's why they're charging him for murder.

AMY GOODMAN: That is Samuel DuBose, Samuel DuBose's son. You know, Samuel DuBose, 43 years old, killed just this past July 19th - it was July 17th, a year ago, that another 43-year-old African-American man, Eric Garner, was killed in Staten Island.

Iris Roley, so now the police officer has met the bond he needed to meet for the $1 million bail. His lawyer said he is raising it hand and fist from people just wanting to give money. What about the other two officers who have now been - what is the word? They have been suspended or placed on administrative leave. Can you talk about them confirming what Tensing said, that he was being dragged, not saying that the man was dead in the car? The car started going after he shot him in the head.

IRIS ROLEY: Yeah, that is extremely difficult for me to imagine that these two officers are not being charged, because they clearly lied. And also, I may add that these same two officers were involved in my cousin's murder, as well. So there is a lot of evidence that they should no longer be on the force, as well. I think that the university president should have fired them also, as well as the prosecutor charging them with this blatant lie. It's clear, even though all three officers knew that Officer Tensing had a body camera on, they still chose to lie. And that is very problematic for people who are trying to reform police departments and build stronger community relations with police, in particular the University of Cincinnati's police department.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, it is very rare for a police officer to be charged for a murder. You heard the cheer break out in the courtroom. Can you talk about the significance - and we just have 10 seconds - of the DA's very strong response, the immediate indictment for murder, not to mention the mayor backing him up?

IRIS ROLEY: Well, one, the mayor had the same problem in 2001, when he was chair of law and public safety, and that's when the eruption spilled into the streets of Cincinnati, Ohio - part of his language, too. African Americans in the city of Cincinnati have had a terrible relationship with the prosecutor, Joe Deters. So we are waiting for a conviction. We're not in celebratory mode. Officer Tensing has bonded himself out. The family is very worried about that, and so is the community. So we're waiting on a conviction.

AMY GOODMAN: Iris Roley, we hope to speak to you again next week, longtime police accountability activist with the Cincinnati Black United Front.

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News Fri, 31 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Police Remove Activists From Portland Bridge After They Blocked Shell Ship http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32162-police-remove-activists-from-portland-bridge-after-they-blocked-shell-ship http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32162-police-remove-activists-from-portland-bridge-after-they-blocked-shell-ship

In Portland, Oregon law enforcement officers have removed Greenpeace activists who spent 40 hours suspended from the St. Johns Bridge in order to block an icebreaking ship commissioned by oil giant Shell from leaving for the Arctic. Hundreds of activists have been gathering on the bridge and in kayaks since Tuesday night in efforts to stop Shell's plans to drill in the remote Chukchi Sea. Early Thursday morning, the suspended Greenpeace activists successfully forced Shell's ship to turn back to port in a showdown that grabbed international headlines. Joining us to discuss the action is Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace USA.

TRANSCRIPT:

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

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today's show in Portland, Oregon, where law enforcement officers have removed Greenpeace activists who spent 40 hours suspended from a bridge in order to block an icebreaking ship commissioned by the oil giant Shell from leaving for the Arctic. Hundreds of activists have been gathering on the bridge and in kayaks since Tuesday night in efforts to stop Shell's plans to drill in the remote Chukchi Sea. Early Thursday morning, the suspended Greenpeace activists successfully forced Shell's ship to turn back to port in a showdown that grabbed international headlines. Greenpeace activist Kristina Flores discussed watching the ship turn around as she stood on top of St. Johns Bridge on Thursday.

KRISTINA FLORES: This morning was quite the adventure. It felt really, really great to watch the Fennica turn around and go back to port. That was just a really great, great sign that we are winning, that we are strong, and when the people come together, we can win. And we will win.

AMY GOODMAN: Joining us from Portland, Oregon, is Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace USA.

Annie, we spoke to you a few days ago. You were on the bridge at the time, as the Greenpeace activists descended by rope from the bridge to try to stop this Shell rig from going through. Can you tell us what's happened since?

ANNIE LEONARD: Well, yesterday was an absolutely incredible day, a display of people power. Throughout the day, the crowds just kept growing, as you said. There were hundreds of kayakers going in shifts, filling the river so that if the boat tried to leave, there would be both lines of defense - the aerial barricade and then the people.

In the morning, Shell went - got a hearing in a court in Alaska. Shell had taken out a preliminary injunction prohibiting us from going within a certain distance of them and prohibiting us from interfering with their work. The court did find us in contempt of court and ordered us to get off the bridge and fined us hourly fines starting at $2,500 an hour, going up to $10,000 an hour. We met with the climbers on the bridge. We really felt it was their decision, first and foremost. And we all decided to stay on the bridge, that saving the Arctic was worth more than the monetary value of the fine that they were imposing. So we stayed absolutely put there.

Then, around 3:00 in the afternoon, the police came out to the bridge and began to escort the anchors off. The anchors were the people that each climber had on the bridge to ensure their safety, who stayed there 24/7. They took them away, gave them very minor citations and released them. Then they started to force the climbers down. And in an incredible display of just absolute chaos, the police and the Coast Guard came, forced the climbers down and began to take them all away. And they only opened up - didn't take all of them; they opened up an opening large enough for the Shell ship to come through. The ship started to come, and dozens and dozens of kayakers came and threw themselves in front of the ship. People jumped out of their kayaks to try to stop them. People were on inflatable pool toys. And it was absolute chaos. The Coast Guard ran over one of the kayakers. I mean, it was absolute mayhem.

The Coast Guard managed to pull all the kayakers away, one by one, in a very dangerous situation, clearing just enough space for the Shell vessel to squeak through. It came so close to the remaining climbers that were there, squeaked through. People on the shore literally started crying. It was just heartbreaking to watch this thing go through, because we know the climate implications. It squeaked through, and then it headed out to sea to go up to the Arctic and start the drilling process.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let's talk about why that ship came into port in Portland. In fact, it was already out at sea. It was already in the Arctic but got a hole in it somehow? Sprung a leak?

ANNIE LEONARD: Right, that's a very - that's a very important point, too. This whole thing happened in Portland because of Shell's incompetence. The Arctic is a very, very dangerous place to drill, and all the other oil companies have dropped out and said it is too dangerous, too expensive, it just doesn't make sense. This ship is required to be there when the drilling happens. The permit requires it. It ran into something and got a 39-inch hole in its hull. It couldn't be fixed in Alaska, presumably didn't want to go back to Seattle, where there had been such protest, so it came to Portland on a very tight timeline to repair it and then get back up to the Arctic. And that's why this blockade was so powerful, was that any delay that we could have shortened the amount of time that Shell can drill this summer, because they have such a short ice-free window. They have to get up there, drill and get out before the winter ice returns.

AMY GOODMAN: So how long did it take this ship, that had sprung a leak, which makes you nervous about other things that could go wrong in the Arctic that involve oil spills - it took it what? Something like 12 days to make its way down, in this very narrow window, to get fixed, turn around and then come back - go back?

ANNIE LEONARD: That's right. And so, presumably, it will take another 12 days to get back up there.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, what about the people who suspended themselves from the bridge? Can you talk about exactly what they did? I mean, the action called "Rappel Shell" is pretty astounding, the bravery of doing something like this. It was sort of like - I thought of Bree Newsome, who climbed the flagpole to take the Confederate flag down, but this was going the other way: They were rappelling down.

ANNIE LEONARD: Right. So, they went up into the bridge in the middle of the night, secured themselves very safely - they really are professionals at this; I mean, Greenpeace knows what it's doing on the technical front - and then rappelled off the side of the bridge. They had hammocks, they had climbers' - kind of like rock climbers use - bags of equipment, and they stayed there for 40 hours. And I cannot explain to you what the conditions were like. Portland is having record heat. It was over 100 degrees during the day and then very cold at night. They stayed there, and up until the end, they were emotionally and physically strong, and said they wanted to stay, because their commitment to keep that Arctic oil in the ground was stronger than their human frailties at that moment. They absolutely wanted to stay.

AMY GOODMAN: Annie, I wanted to go to this point. This is not just incidental to the story, when you talked about this record heat. From AccuWeather.com this morning, "Record-Challenging Heat Wave Bakes Seattle and Portland, Oregon": "Temperatures will crack the century mark throughout Oregon's Willamette Valley and many of the valley locations of the interior Northwest." Can you talk about this record-breaking heat wave and why Greenpeace is doing what it's doing?

ANNIE LEONARD: It is so baking hot in Portland. I grew up in this region. This is just unprecedented. There were times that I was actually worried about the climbers' physical health. And I thought, how ironic that it is climate change that drove them up there, and at times I thought it might be climate change that would force them down. Absolutely so hot.

And the Arctic is connected to this, because scientists have said that we need to keep 80 percent of the known fossil fuel reserves underground if we're going to stay below that two-degree threshold over which climate scientists say will be absolute catastrophe. If we go up to two degrees, it's still going to be bad, but absolute catastrophe. Scientists have looked at what oil reserves around the world need to stay underground, and the Arctic is at the top of the list. It is really well documented at this point that extracting Arctic oil from the region and then putting it into market and then burning it will guarantee that we go over two degrees. So this is - this is a situation where Shell is not just threatening an ecosystem that provides important habitat or threatening a beautiful forest or river that we're fond of. This is a situation where Shell's Arctic oil drilling is actually threatening everything and everyone that we love. And we want to do whatever we can to stand up and stop it.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, Annie Leonard, Shell can't do this on their own. So explain how the Obama administration is involved. I saw some of the banners yesterday of some of the people hanging from the bridge, and they had Obama's name on them.

ANNIE LEONARD: Well, that's because Shell still does not have the absolute final permit that it needs to drill. Even though they've spent about $4 billion so far invested in drilling this summer and have all their equipment up there or now on the way up there, they still need one final permit. And so, the future of the planet, in so many ways, is in Obama's hands. He still has time to deny that one final permit. And in a way, we were doing him a favor, by buying him a little extra time, holding that ship back and giving him time to stand up, be the real climate leader he keeps saying he wants to be, and deny that permit. It's crazy that they've granted it at all, because even the Department of the Interior's own scientists have said that if an oil company drills in this region where Shell wants to drill, that there is a 75 percent chance of a major oil spill. And I thought, my gosh, would you get on an airplane with a 75 percent chance of crashing? I mean, it is just crazy for this project to go forward.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, the judge said he was going to fine Greenpeace. But was everyone there involved with Greenpeace? Did people spontaneously get involved with these actions?

ANNIE LEONARD: That's a very good point. The people on the bridge were Greenpeace. The people on the ground and in the water, which really grew to hundreds and hundreds of people, were not Greenpeace. They were Mosquito Fleet, 350, Rising Tide, and then just everyday citizens that were unaffiliated. People just came down by the scores to just fill the crowd. People were driving across the bridge, dropping off food and water for the climbers. We got emails of support from all around the world. There were a couple of news channels that were live doing this. I got messages from Argentina and Turkey, where people said that all around their offices and homes they were gathered around the TV watching this. I have never, in my 30 years of work as an environmental activist, seen this level of support coming in from locally and all around the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, but the ship made it out, so what is Greenpeace doing next?

ANNIE LEONARD: We are doubling down on this campaign. I feel like the climbers came down, but really what they did was pass the baton to the rest of us, that we need to now pick it up and run with this. Greenpeace everywhere has made this a global priority, and we are just doubling down to protect the Arctic and stop that drilling.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you, Annie Leonard, for joining us, executive director of Greenpeace USA, speaking to us from Portland, Oregon.

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, the controversy around Planned Parenthood. Will Congress defund it? Stay with us.

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News Fri, 31 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
TransCanada's Keystone XL Permit Renewal Hearing Sheds Light on Serious Pipeline Risks http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32161-evidence-released-at-transcanada-s-keystone-xl-permit-renewal-hearing-sheds-light-on-serious-pipeline-risks http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32161-evidence-released-at-transcanada-s-keystone-xl-permit-renewal-hearing-sheds-light-on-serious-pipeline-risks

Just because TransCanada continually states that the Keystone XL pipeline will be the safest pipeline ever built, doesn't mean it is true.

The company's pipeline construction record is facing intense scrutiny in America's heartland, where many see no justifiable rationale to risk their water and agricultural lands for a tar sands export pipeline.

New documents submitted as evidence in the Keystone XL permitting process in South Dakota - including one published here on DeSmog for the first time publicly - paint a troubling picture of the company's shoddy construction mishaps. This document, produced by TransCanada and signed by two company executives, details the results of its investigation into the "root cause" of the corrosion problems discovered on the Keystone pipeline.

TransCanada Corporation is continuing its push to build the northern route of the Keystone XL pipeline. On July 27, the company appeared at a hearing in Pierre, South Dakota, to seek recertification of the Keystone XLconstruction permit that expired last year. 

The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission must decide if TransCanada can guarantee it can build the pipeline under the conditions set in 2010, which it must do in order to have the permit reapproved.

High-profile spills and other incidents already tar TransCanada's safety record. The company faces at least two known ongoing investigations by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). The incident records of the southern route of the Keystone XL (renamed the Gulf Coast Pipeline) and the Keystone 1 Pipeline call into question TransCanada's claim that its pipelines are among the safest ever built. 

Over the last couple of years TransCanada's public relations team, with the help of friendly regulators, have kept critical evidence away from the public and quashed many media inquiries.

But evidence of TransCanada's poor performance continues to emerge. Earlier this year, DeSmog obtained documents revealing extreme external corrosion in a section of the Keystone 1 pipeline that was only two years old.

Documents the group obtained during discovery show that the corrosion occurred dangerously close to the Mississippi River near St. Louis.

"Talk about a near miss," Robin Martinez, a lawyer for the grassroots citizens group Dakota Rural Action fighting to stop the permit, told DeSmog.

"Had the pipeline failed, the drinking water supply for a significant number of people could have been destroyed," Martinez said.

"The Commission is abrogating its responsibility by refusing to look at evidence we want to present," Martinez told DeSmog." It is abundantly clear to us the Commission doesn't want to look at anything from any other agencies."  

Although Dakota Rural Action was denied the opportunity to enter into evidence documents showing TransCanada failed to follow the federally mandated code of construction while building the southern route of the Keystone XL, Martinez still believes he can present a very strong case against TransCanada's permit renewal request.

"Granting a permit would be a risky venture for South Dakota, putting the state's land and water at risk," he said.

According to Martinez, the witnesses the group will present, including Evan Vokes, former TransCanada employee turned whistleblower, will make it clear that TransCanada's corporate culture put profits over safety.

report by DeSmog earlier this year revealed an alarming rate of external corrosion to parts of TransCanada's Keystone 1 pipeline. Documents obtained through a freedom of information act request indicated the pipeline was 95% corroded, leaving it paper-thin in one area (one-third the thickness of a dime) and dangerously thin in three other places, causing TransCanada to immediately shut it down.

In fact, TransCanada's instrument readings state it was 96.8% corroded.

Due to PHMSA's open investigation of the pipeline, regulators refused to turn over any documents that might explain the cause of the pipeline failure. 

But lawyers for the Dakota Rural Action group were able to compel TransCanada to turn over documents to which DeSmog and other media sources had been denied acess to - documents the group entered into evidence and is making public.

The documents include TransCanada's root cause analysis explaining what caused the external corrosion incident in the Keystone 1 pipeline, where it took place and what the damaged pipeline looked like. The report shows how close to a catastrophic failure that pipeline was before a mandatory test exposed the problem. 

What caused such deep corrosion in Keystone 1 in a short period of time? Stray current interference, the company argues. A spokesperson for TransCanada told Politico the problems were linked to "low-voltage electric currents from the Keystone and a nearby pipeline interfering with one another."

In laymen's terms, that means "a bunch of professional engineers were behaving badly," Vokes told DeSmog, "because there are adequate checks and balances in the regulations to avoid this."

Vokes was not surprised when he reviewed the root cause analysis report, although it was the first time he saw photos of the pipeline's coating that looked as if "it had been gnawed at by rats."

When the line was shut down, Vokes advised reporters to look into what happened because he suspected that something very serious had gone wrong. "You don't shut a pipe down that earns millions of dollars a day over a small anomaly," he said. And that is how TransCanada described the incident to reporters in 2012.

Even with such damaging evidence, Vokes has doubts the Keystone XL permit will be denied.

"How are we supposed to have a fact-based hearing if the Commission won't admit the documents into evidence?" Vokes wonders.

TransCanada's technical shortcomings are not the only hurdle the company has to overcome. The company is being challenged by Native American tribes. "Tribes have a trump card - the treaty rights," Gary Dorr, of the Nez Perce Nation told DeSmog. "Treaty rights are the supreme law of the land."

*The hearings will stream live on the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission site.

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News Fri, 31 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Seattle Led the Country's Minimum Wage Revolution. Can It Do the Same With Rent Control? http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32160-seattle-led-the-country-s-minimum-wage-revolution-can-it-do-the-same-with-rent-control http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32160-seattle-led-the-country-s-minimum-wage-revolution-can-it-do-the-same-with-rent-control

Major cities across the country may soon be finding inspiration from Seattle, the same city that last year sparked the movement for a $15-an-hour minimum wage. The progressive push this time is for what affordable housing proponents see as a necessary antidote to skyrocketing rents, a phenomenon plaguing major cities across the country.

Seattle currently finds itself in the midst of a grand dilemma experienced by other metropolitan cities: How do you maintain growth while simultaneously preserving standards of affordability?

The answer, according to at least one Seattle City Council member, is simple: rent control.

Kshama Sawant, the council member who helped spearhead the adoption of a $15 minimum wage ordinance passed in June 2014, is now calling for the Council to implement a rent control measure she says is critical to Seattle maintaining affordable housing for its residents.

"We aren't experiencing rent increases in this city. We're experiencing rents skyrocketing, because landlords are free to engage in price gouging under a system with no rent stabilization," said Sawant during an interview from her City Hall office.

Sawant said she is not calling for an all-out freeze on rent increases, but instead a ceiling that would prevent rates from soaring skyward, a distinction often lacking in discussions.

Many local housing affordability activists agree.

"Rent control is about regulating the rent market. Our city council needs to stop abdicating responsibility for affordable housing to private capital," said Joshua Farris, formerly the executive director of Standing Against Foreclosure and Eviction-Seattle, an anti-homelessness nonprofit.

Farris, who is now running for a City Council seat on the platform of "housing as a human right," was recently evicted from his home after his landlord nearly doubled his rent in the course of three months.

"People determine the rules by which the market works. It's not a question of do we need rent control. It's a question of how strong should our rent control be here," said Farris.

Sawant said she wants to see a policy where tenants would spend no more than 30 percent of their income on rent, with increases being tied directly to the rate of inflation.

Lessons From San Francisco

Rent control often serves as the Kanye West of city land use policy - championed just as often as derided. Although on the books of more than 200 cities nationwide, it has a record of being somewhat of a mixed bag. The densely populated cities of New York and San Francisco have both suffered from soaring rents and gentrification, despite each employing variations of rent control.

In San Francisco, more than 172,000 of about 381,000 housing units are rent controlled. However, as of last April, tenants could expect to pay an average of $3,458 per month for an apartment - a historic high for the city.

"[Rent] here equates to about $40,000 a year. Which means you have to make at least two to three times that to live somewhat comfortably," said Scott Weaver, a spokesperson for the San Francisco Tenants Union.

Weaver said that the reason rent control appears to be floundering in San Francisco is because of loopholes in the law that allow landlords to phase out those protections. The most pernicious of these loopholes, according to many affordable housing supporters, is a process known as vacancy decontrol.

Essentially it works as follows: Once a tenant moves out of a rent controlled apartment (or, once that person dies), a landlord is then permitted to raise the rent of the next tenant to whatever the market will allow; the apartment, in effect, is no longer subject to rent control. Weaver joins other tenants-rights activists in pointing to the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act of 1995 as establishing this practice.

"People who say rent control doesn't work here are uninformed. It just needs to be strengthened," said Weaver.

The case of San Francisco can serve as a valuable lesson for Seattle and other municipalities seeking to promote rent control policies, according to Sawant.

"The reason rent control supposedly doesn't work is that it is being phased out in these other cities," she said. "You have the real estate and landlord lobbies who have pushed through these various loopholes so as to water down rent control."

She compared it to the current state of public education: "We consistently defund public schools, and then turn around and say they don't work, we need free market solutions such as charter schools. The failure of policy becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Sawant said she is not suggesting a freeze on rent prices, just a method to halt extreme price hikes, ensuring rent increases are small enough to avoid economic evictions while leaving landlords with enough profit to finance maintenance and operations.

Her proposal has attracted a hive of critics who say that rent control will not abate the housing affordability crisis the city faces, pointing to the failure of rent control measures in cities that have experienced an astronomical rise. The proposal would also face several obstacles before being put up for a council vote, as Washington state law currently prohibits such regulation.

But Sawant said she's convinced that should a movement emerge from Seattle akin to the $15 minimum wage push, it will span the country.

"Struggles and victories, particularly victories that are achieved through organized struggle, are always contagious," she said. "There's no doubt that it will happen."

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News Fri, 31 Jul 2015 10:53:40 -0400
The Americans With Disabilities Act Is a Model for the World - Literally http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32159-the-americans-with-disabilities-act-is-a-model-for-the-world-literally http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32159-the-americans-with-disabilities-act-is-a-model-for-the-world-literally

July 26 marked the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Its passage harkens back to a bygone era when Americans with disabilities could count on bipartisan efforts in the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. Congress passed the ADA in 1990, and President George H.W. Bush signed it into law. Some years later, in 2008, President George W. Bush signed the ADA Amendments Act into law, seeking to restore the drafters' intentions against a judicial onslaught that had effectively gutted the law.

Breaking with this bipartisan tradition, the Senate could not garner enough votes to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2012. The first human rights treaty of the 21st century, the CRPD is also the first legally binding international instrument with the power specifically to protect the rights of the world's largest minority: the 1 billion persons with disabilities.

The Senate voted down the treaty against the advice of two esteemed World War II veterans who acquired disabilities during their service, Senator Bob Dole and Senator John McCain, and a host of other supporters from both parties. A decidedly tepid grassroots response failed to counter an overwhelming surge from right-wing homeschooling parent networks, who oppose the protections. A second attempt to ratify the CRPD in 2013 yielded a second defeat.

An International Disabilities Convention

Disability advocates from around the world have long looked to the United States as a leader in opening up space for persons with disabilities to thrive and flourish as full citizens. Borrowed in large part from the American disability rights framework and informed by principles reflected in our disability rights legislation, the CRPD is designed to secure full participation for persons with disabilities in all aspects of life, on an equal basis with others.

In an approach drawn directly from American disability law, the treaty prohibits disability discrimination and mandates the provision of reasonable accommodation that doesn't impose an undue burden. The CRPD supports full participation and inclusion in the community as well as independence and autonomy, ideas that are hardly subversive to American values. Indeed they are the salient values of our republic. This is standard stuff for us - but not for the vast majority of countries around the world with legal frameworks that simply don't support or welcome the inclusion of persons with disabilities in schools, workplaces, recreational facilities, or religious spaces.

Many path-breaking US laws on disabilities - the Architectural Barriers Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the Education for all Handicapped Children Act (now called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) - helped set international guidelines and became standardized in the CRPD. That makes the two US failures at ratification all the more striking.

Some 157 countries have ratified the CRPD. The Obama administration signed it in July 2009. The White House submitted the treaty to the Senate for ratification after a lengthy and very comprehensive inter-agency review process and extensive legal analysis. It prepared recommended reservations, understandings, and declarations that mitigate concerns about inconsistencies with our own legal framework.

Despite this careful consideration, the Senate voted down the measure. In so doing it sent the message that this treaty was not for us, but for the foreign "others" out there.

Human Rights Exceptionalism

In the 1950s, Senator John Bricker (R-OH) and his cohort saw international human rights as a major threat to the preservation of domestic racial discrimination in our country.

Fearful that human rights treaties might threaten America's legislatively entrenched racism, Bricker proposed an amendment to the Constitution which would have made all treaties non-self-executing - meaning, among other things, that individuals would be unable to invoke treaty provisions in US courts without implementing legislation. This would have made it extremely difficult for the United States to join human rights treaties, helping to preserve racist state legislation.

The senator's amendment was defeated, but resulted in a Pyrrhic victory. In order to defeat the amendment, the Eisenhower administration promised not to accede to any human rights treaties.

This retrogressive legacy lives on in an enduring resistance to US participation in human rights treaties that cuts across administrations. There remains a real disconnect between some of the human rights-strengthening activities we pursue abroad in USAID- and State Department-funded programs and what we're doing back home.

During a summer when we've been starkly reminded of the deep roots of racism in our country, treaty ratification would signal a move beyond our cultural resistance to human rights treaties - and beyond the legacy of stalwart defenders of segregationist laws.

Until the Senate looks more favorably at ratifying the CRPD, I support Patricia Morrissey's suggestion. She's the president of the US International Council on Disabilities. "At a minimum we should amend section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act," she says, "which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in federally conducted programs or activities and in federally financial assistance awarded in the US, by deleting 'US,' and extending the reach of section 504 overseas." Such a move should trigger bipartisan support.

According to Professor Jacobus tenBroek, a renowned law professor and legal scholar who was also blind, the United States wants Americans with disabilities to be abroad in the world. And we, as the longtime leader in disability rights law, policy, and practice, want a seat at the table as an unprecedented era of law reform and policy development occurs across the globe. Americans with disabilities deserve nothing less.

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News Fri, 31 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
How Private Sector Is Cashing in on Pentagon's "Insatiable Demand" for Drone War Intelligence http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32158-reaping-the-rewards-how-private-sector-is-cashing-in-on-pentagon-s-insatiable-demand-for-drone-war-intelligence http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32158-reaping-the-rewards-how-private-sector-is-cashing-in-on-pentagon-s-insatiable-demand-for-drone-war-intelligence

Some months ago, an imagery analyst was sitting in his curtained cubicle at Hurlburt Field airbase in Florida watching footage transmitted from a drone above one of the battlefields in the War on Terror. If he thought the images showed someone doing anything suspicious, or holding a weapon, he had to type it in to a chat channel seen by the pilots controlling the drone's missiles.

Once an observation has been fed in to the chat, he later explained, it's hard to revise it - it influences the whole mindset of the people with their hands on the triggers.

"As a screener anything you say is going to be interpreted in the most hostile way," he said, speaking with the careful deliberation of someone used to their words carrying consequences.

He and the other imagery analysts in the airbase were working gruelling 12-hour shifts: even to take a bathroom break they had to persuade a colleague to step in and watch the computer screen for them. They couldn't let their concentration or judgement lapse for a second. If a spade was misidentified as a weapon, an innocent man could get killed.

"The position I took is that every call I make is a gamble, and I'm betting their life," he said. "That is a motivation to play as safely as I can, because I don't want someone who wasn't a bad guy to get killed."

In spite of his vital role in military operations, the analyst wasn't wearing a uniform. In fact, he wasn't working for the Department of Defense, or indeed any branch of the US government.

He was working for one of a cluster of companies that have made money supplying imagery analysts to the US military's war on terror.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism's award-winning drones team has spent six months exploring this intersection of corporate interests and global surveillance systems. Drawing on interviews with a dozen military insiders (including former generals, drone operators and imagery analysts), contracts obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, scores of contractor CVs publicly available on everyday job sites such as LinkedIn, and the analysis of millions of federal procurement records, the Bureau has identified ten private sector companies operating at the heart of the US's surveillance and targeting networks.

The private sector's involvement could grow: an Air Force official confirmed they are considering bringing in more contractors as it struggles to process the nearly half million hours of video footage filmed each year by drones and other aircraft.

Analysing this video can be a highly sensitive role. As one contractor analyst told the Bureau, "when you mess up, people die."

While the military's use of boots-on-the-ground contractors has prompted numerous congressional responses and tightened procurement protocol, among the general public few are even aware of the private sector's role behind the scenes processing military surveillance video.

"I think they've fallen under the radar to some degree," said Laura Dickinson (pictured), a specialist in military contracting at George Washington University Law School and author of 'Outsourcing War and Peace'. "It's not that these contractors are necessarily doing a bad job, it's that our legal system of oversight isn't necessarily well equipped to deal with this fragmented workforce where you have contractors working alongside uniformed troops."

In theory, these contractors aren't decision-makers. Military officials and project managers are there to ensure they perform effectively, and according to the terms of their contracts.

But past experience in Iraq and Afghanistan suggests that management of military contractors does not always work perfectly in practice, especially when demand for the services they provide is surging.

As one commander told the Bureau, demand for Air Force intelligence against threats such as Islamic State is currently "insatiable."

The ISR Revolution

Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, or ISR as it is known in military jargon, has become central to American warfare in recent years.

US counterterrorism operations such as the May 16 special forces raid on Islamic State commander Abu Sayyaf are critically dependent on the video captured by drones and other aircraft.

Analysts sitting thousands of miles away can tell a team on the ground the exact height of ladder they need to scale a building, or alert them to approaching militants. They can also establish a 'pattern of life', and what constitutes unusual movement in a particular place.

The aircraft are flown by pilots and operators from bases in the US, whilst the imagery analysts poring through the video they transmit are mostly housed in clusters of analysis centres - part of a warfighting structure spreading from Virginia to Germany known as the 'Distributed Common Ground System'.

Remotely Piloted Aircraft, as the US military prefers to call drones, are more often associated with firing missiles at the tribal areas of Pakistan and Yemen than with gathering intelligence.

But it is their intelligence capabilities - particularly the ability to collect and transmit video footage in close to real time - that have revolutionised warfare.

"In Kosovo the intelligence we would get was typically a photo, normally black and white, often from a plane that took it the day before," Lt Colonel David Haworth, director of combat operations at the US's Combined Air Operations Center in Qatar told the Bureau.

"It's like being able to talk on a can and a string before, and now I have a smartphone."

The number of daily drone combat air patrols (CAPs) - that is, the ability to observe a particular spot for 24 hours - went up from five in 2004 to 65 in 2014 as demand for the intelligence they offered soared in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Colonel Jim Cluff, the commander of the drone squadrons at Nevada's Creech Air Force Base, said the recent campaign against Islamic State has fuelled a new surge in demand.

"We're seeing just an insatiable demand signal," he said. "You cannot get enough ISR capability to meet all the warfighters' needs."

Meeting this demand is not simply a question of having enough aircraft. By 2010, according to a presentation by David Deptula, a now retired three star general who was asked to oversee the Air Force's rapidly evolving ISR expansion in 2006, the average Predator or Reaper CAP required 10 pilots and 30 video analysts.

"We're drowning in data," he told the Bureau.

"Growth Industry"

The military has always used the private sector to help operate its drone programmes; according to defence writer Richard Whittle, General Atomics, the manufacturer of the Predator, even supplied some of the pilots for the aircraft's first sorties.

The defence industry's supply of equipment to drone operations is well known, but the private sector's role in providing a workforce has been harder to pin down. Through extensive research, the Bureau has traced the contracting histories of eight companies which have provided the Pentagon with imagery analysts in the past five years (the CIA's transactions remain classified). Two more companies have been linked to the imagery analysis effort.

In 2007, defence industry behemoth SAIC - later rebranded Leidos - was contracted to provide services including imagery analysis to the Air Force Special Operations Command (Afsoc). A contracting document described SAIC's involvement as "intelligence support to direct combat operations." Its 202 contractors embedded in Afsoc were providing "direct support to targeting" among other functions (in military-speak, targeting can refer to surveillance of people and objects as well as lethal strikes).

In a bidding war to renew the deal in 2011, SAIC lost out to a smaller defence firm, MacAulay-Brown.

According to a copy of the contract obtained by the Bureau under a Freedom of Information Act request, MacAulay-Brown was tasked to "support targeting, information operations, deliberate and crisis action planning, and 24/7/365 operations." The company asked for $60 million to perform these functions over three years.

Afsoc required MacAulay-Brown to provide a total of 187 analysts, some of whom were sourced through partnership with another company, Advanced Concepts Enterprises.

A portion of this work was to be carried out outside the US, according to the contract. The Bureau found two CVs posted online by people who had worked for MacAulay-Brown in Afghanistan. Both were embedded with special operations forces supporting targeting.

In January this year the latest award for Afsoc intelligence support went to another company, Zel Technologies. According to a document describing the scope of the contract, Zel was set to provide fewer overall analysts than MacAulay-Brown, but more imagery experts. Zel was also required to offer subject matter experts "in the areas of the Horn of Africa, Arabian Peninsula, Somalia, Syria, Iran, North Africa, Trans Sahel region, Levant region, Gulf States and territorial waters." Afsoc has paid out $12 million for the first year, with options on the contract due to last until January 2018.

Although Zel Technologies is now the prime contractor, MacAulay-Brown is providing some of the intelligence specialists the contract demands. Indeed, it is not unusual for analysts to simply move from company to company as contracts for the same set of services change hands. They market themselves on recruitment sites with a surreal blend of corporate and military jargon.

One boasts of having supported the "kill / capture" of "High Value Targets." Others go in to detail about their expertise in things like establishing a pattern of life and following vehicles.

The Air Force is not the only agency that employs contractor imagery analysts. Intrepid Solutions, a small business based in Reston, Virginia, received an intelligence support contract with the Army's Intelligence and Security Command in 2012, scheduled to run until 2017.

In 2012 TransVoyant LLC, a leading player in real-time intelligence and analysis of big data based in Alexandria, Virginia, was awarded a contract with a maximum value set at $49 million to provide full motion video analysts for a US Marine Corps "exploitation cell" deployed in Afghanistan. Transvoyant had taken over this role from the huge Virginia-based defence companyGeneral Dynamics.

In 2010, the Army gave a million-dollar contract to a translation company, Worldwide Language Resources, to provide US forces in Afghanistan with "intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance collection management and imagery analysis support."

In the same year, the Special Operations Command awarded an imagery analyst services contract to the firm L-3 Communications, which was to net the company $155 million over five years.

Defence industry giants BAE Systems and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden's former employer Booz Allen Hamilton are also involved in the US's ISR effort.

BAE Systems describes itself as "the leading provider of full-motion video analytic services to the intelligence community with more than 370 personnel working 24 hours a day." The Bureau has traced some of the activities it carried out through social media profiles of company employees. People identifying themselves as video and imagery analysts for BAE state that they have used real-time and geo-spatial data to support tracking and targeting.

A job advert posted on June 10 by BAE gave further insight into the services provided. The posting sought a "Full Motion Video (FMV) Analyst providing direct intelligence support to Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO)" to be "part of a high ops tempo team, embedded in a multi-intelligence fusion watch floor environment."

Booz Allen Hamilton has also aided the intelligence exploitation effort for special operations command at Hurlburt Field. Its role included "ongoing and expanding full motion video PED operational intelligence mission," according to transaction records. A recent job ad shows the company is looking for video analysts to join its team "providing direct intelligence support to the Global War on Terror."

The hundreds of millions of dollars paid to these companies for imagery analysis represent just a fraction of the private sector's stake in America's global surveillance effort. The Bureau has found billions of dollars of contracts for a range of ISR services. These include the provision of smaller drones, the supply and maintenance of data collection systems, and the communications infrastructure to fly the drones and connect their sensors with analysts across the other side of the world. These contracts have gone to companies including General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, Ball Aerospace, Boeing, Textron and ITT Corporation.

General Deptula believes military demand for ISR will continue to grow.  As he puts it, "Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance is a growth industry."

Private Eyes

In the Air Force at least, contractor imagery analysts are still in the minority of the work force. Around one in 10 of the people working in the processing, exploitation and dissemination (PED) of intelligence is estimated to be either a government civilian or a contractor. The Hurlburt Field analyst, who is here referred to as John (like other analysts interviewed, he didn't want his real name to be published because of the sensitivity of the subject matter) estimates that they represent around an eighth of the analysts working there in support of Special Operations.

John argues that taking on even a small number of contractors helps ease the strain on the uniformed force without incurring the expense of pensioned, trained, health-insured employees.

"Contractors are used to fill the gap to give enough manpower to provide flexibility necessary for military to do things like take leave," he said.

Contractor imagery analysts are invariably ex-military, but the framework of their employment and their incentives are differently aligned once they join the private sector.

"In the military no-one's obligated to respect your time," explained John. "There were months you'd never get off days - If they need you to clean the bathroom on your off day that's what you've got to do."

"As a contractor you're not as invested in the unit…your motivations are going to be more selfish."

John and other analysts stressed however that contractors were highly professional, and able to provide a concentration of expertise.

"By the time an airman has built up enough experience to be competent at the job it's usually time to change their duty location. Age also has a lot to do with the professionalism of contractors. Most contractors are at the youngest mid to late 20s, whereas Airmen are fresh out of high school," said one analyst. "As an FMV (analyst), you cannot identify something unless you've seen it before."

Screening for Trouble

According to John the PED units at Hurlburt Field were much smaller than those of regular Air Force crews, consisting of only about three or four people.

As well as an analyst to watch the video in near real-time, and one to make the call on whether to type an observation in to the chat channel (often described as a 'screener'), units typically also need a geospatial analyst to cross-reference the images brought up on the screen with other data. 

Sitting there watching a video screen sounds simple, but the herculean amount of concentration involved requires real discipline and commitment. According to analysts interviewed, between 80 and 85% of the time is spent on long-term surveillance, when very little is happening. "You can go days and weeks watching people do nothing," said John.

Another contractor interviewed said that because of the "long durations of monotonous and low activity levels," a good analyst needs "attention to detail and a vested interest in the mission."

"Many of the younger analysts view the job as a game," he said. "It is critical to understand everything that happens, happens in real life. When you mess up, people die. In fact, the main role of the FMV analyst is to ensure that does not happen."

The screeners type their observations in to a chat channel called mIRC, which is seen by the drone pilot and sensor operator, who are usually sitting in a different base. The Mission Coordinator, or Mission Intelligence Coordinator, typically sitting on the same base as the pilot and operator and communicating with them through a headset, helps ensure they don't miss anything important in the mIRC.

Sometimes, John said, the analysts and the Mission Coordinator will communicate directly with each other in what is known as a "Whisper chat."

"It gives you a way to say 'this is what we think we saw,'" he explained, adding dryly, "a large part of the job is an exercise in trying not to kick the hornets' nest." According to John, once you've influenced the mentality of the pilot and operator by typing something which could signal hostility in to the chat, it's hard to retract it.

He likens his role to that of a citizen tipping off armed police about criminals.

"As a civilian I don't have authority to arrest someone, but if I call the police and say 'this person's doing something', and say 'I think that guy's dangerous'…the police are going to turn up primed to respond to the threat, they'll turn up trusting my statement," he said. "It could be argued that I was responsible, but I'm not the one shooting."

John said that in his unit, imagery analysts usually took a back seat once the use of force had been authorised.

Because there is usually a slight delay between the drone crew receiving the feed and the analysis crew seeing it, John said, "in a situation where it gets high-paced they (military personnel)'ll cut the screener out entirely."

The other analyst however said that in his experience the PED unit still maintained its function for "identifying and confirming IMINT (imagery intelligence) lock on the target" once force is authorised. Video analysts, he said, had the capability to tell other crew members to abort a strike under some circumstances, and the analyst could receive "blowback" when things went wrong. The video analyst is the "subject matter expert," he explained. "As such you have an important role in all the events that have led up to the determination for using force on the target. While you are not the one firing the missile, a misidentification of an enemy combatant with a weapon and a female carrying a broom can have dire consequences."

Inherently Governmental?

Given the Air Force's efforts to keep contractors out of sensitive, decision-making positions, the contractors' role in supporting targeting seems surprising, at first glance.

Charles Blanchard was the Air Force's chief lawyer between 2009 and 2013 when he advised the officials spearheading these efforts.

He describes himself as a "purist" when it comes to contractors flying armed drones. But for a function like imagery analysis, his view is more flexible. "I'd be comfortable with some contractors sprinkled in to this framework because you have so many eyes on one target usually," he said.

"I'd be uncomfortable with contractors advising the commander 'here's where the target is', unless the data collected and analysed was so clear that the Commander could confirm this for themselves, as often happens."

The constraints on using contractors are often more to do with command culture than the "mushy" legal framework surrounding inherently governmental functions, Blanchard explained.

"A commander in the military justice system has a lot more authority to take action where mistakes are made. Someone in blue uniform - or green or white - is someone they feel they have authority over."

The consensus seems to be that contractors effectively taking targeting decisions is undesirable.

MacAulay-Brown's contract with Afsoc stipulated that the contractors were not to be "placed in a position of command, supervision, administration of control" over military or civilian personnel.

There are concerns that such safeguards may be diluted in practice if contractor use goes up.

One of the analysts interviewed said that contractors were already relied on for their greater expertise and experience, effectively placing them in the chain of command.

"It will always be military bodies or civilian government bodies as the overall in charge of the missions…however you will have experienced contractors act as a 'right-hand man' many times because typically contractors are the ones with subject matter expertise, so the military/government leadership lean on those people to make better mission related decisions," he said.

The Profit Motive

Although it is hard for the military to discipline contractors, people are keeping tabs on them and providing them with an incentive to do their jobs well.

John noted that the knowledge that "you can get fired" is a motivational factor for contractors.

In theory, the possibility of losing the contract should also incentivise the contractors' bosses to field the best possible staff and manage them closely.

Jerome Traughber of the Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy is a former program manager for airborne reconnaissance acquisitions in the Air Force. He said that in his experience of intelligence support services, a company's bid and performance would be scrutinised closely, with incentive fees built in.

"If a contractor wasn't measuring up we'd make a change very quickly," he said.

A large part of the monitoring is done through contracting officers, who liaise with other personnel inside the warfighting unit to evaluate the performance of the contractors embedded there.

Traughber acknowledged, however, that during the surge in Afghanistan, when thousands of contracts needed to be overseen, contracting officers and their counterparts inside military units were overwhelmed by their work load.

Nor is it clear that poor performance would necessarily prevent a company getting another contract. Daniel Gordon, a retired law professor and previous Administrator of Federal Procurement Policy, argues that the past performance criteria that contracting officers are supposed to take in to account when awarding bids might not always be rigorously assessed.

"As soon as you start saying the contractor didn't do a good job you risk having litigation, lawyers are going to get involved, it's just not worth it, so… everyone's ok, no-one's outstanding, which makes the rating system completely meaningless," he said.

Another potential problem with the profit motive as a way of delivering good performance is that contractor pay has reportedly gone down.

Mary Blackwell, the president of Advanced Concepts Enterprises, one of the subcontractors who provided analysts in Hurlburt Field, said that since mandatory defence budget caps took effect in 2013, the value of contracts has decreased.

Imagery analysts, along with everyone else, have seen their pay cut by between 15 and 20%, she said.

"The military people - their pay is set. The only place where there's any room is the contracts."

This could drive down quality in the long term, contractors say. "It is running good analysts off," said one. "The quality of force is suffering."

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism contacted all of the contractors named in this story with a series of questions. None provided a statement, though several directed queries towards the US military. The Pentagon and the US Air Force were contacted for comment with a series of questions about transparency and oversight for contractors involved in ISR.

A spokeswoman for the Air Force said ISR was "vital to the national security of the United States and its allies," and there was an "insatiable demand" for it from combatant commanders. She said this demand was the reason for increasing use of contractors, which she said was a "normal process within military operations."

On the issue of whether private contractors' assessments risk pre-empting the military's official decisions, she said the service had thorough oversight and followed all appropriate rules.

"Current AF Judge Advocate rulings define the approved roles for contractors in the AF IRS's processing, exploitation and dissemination capability," she said.

"Air Force DCGS [Distributed Common Ground System] works closely with the Judge Advocate's office to ensure a full, complete, and accurate understanding and implementation of those roles.  Oversight is accomplished by Air Force active duty and civilian personnel in real time and on continual basis with personnel trained on the implementation of procedural checks and balances.

Transparency Gap

Contractors such as John pride themselves on their professionalism and skill. But as ISR demand continues to rise, robust oversight is needed - in particular to ensure contractors do not creep into decision-making roles.

"There are tremendous pressures for that ratio of contractors to governmental personnel to swell," she argued.

"If that ratio balloons, oversight could easily break down, and the current prohibition on contractors making targeting decisions could become meaningless.

Laura Dickinson argues the lack of information about drone operations makes such oversight much harder.  "We urgently need more transparency," she said.

The Department of Defense now publishes a quarterly report on the number of contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, with a breakdown of their functions, but Dickinson said she was not aware of any such information being released on contractors in drone operations.

"There are tremendous pressures for that ratio of contractors to governmental personnel to swell," she argued.

"If that ratio balloons, oversight could easily break down, and the current prohibition on contractors making targeting decisions could become meaningless."

A version of this story appeared in the Guardian.

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News Fri, 31 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400