Truthout Stories Tue, 25 Oct 2016 09:53:44 -0400 en-gb The Youthful Carnage of US Gun Culture

Every day, on average, seven kids and teens are shot dead in America. Election 2016 will undoubtedly prove consequential in many ways, but lowering that death count won't be one of them. To grapple with fatalities on that scale -- 2,500 dead children annually -- a candidate would need a thoroughgoing plan for dealing with America's gun culture that goes well beyond background checks. In addition, he or she would need to engage with the inequality, segregation, poverty, and lack of mental health resources that add up to the environment in which this level of violence becomes possible.  Think of it as the huge pile of dry tinder for which the easy availability of firearms is the combustible spark. In America in 2016, to advocate for anything like the kind of policies that might engage with such issues would instantly render a candidacy implausible, if not inconceivable -- not least with the wealthy folks who now fund elections.

So the kids keep dying and, in the absence of any serious political or legislative attempt to tackle the causes of their deaths, the media and the political class move on to excuses. From claims of bad parenting to lack of personal responsibility, they regularly shift the blame from the societal to the individual level. Only one organized group at present takes the blame for such deaths.  The problem, it is suggested, isn't American culture, but gang culture.

Researching my new book, Another Day in the Death of America, about all the children and teens shot dead on a single random Saturday in 2013, it became clear how often the presence of gangs in neighborhoods where so many of these kids die is used as a way to dismiss serious thinking about why this is happening. If a shooting can be described as "gang related," then it can also be discounted as part of the "pathology" of urban life, particularly for people of color. In reality, the main cause, pathologically speaking, is a legislative system that refuses to control the distribution of firearms, making America the only country in the world in which such a book would have been possible.

"Gang Related"

The obsession with whether a shooting is "gang related" and the ignorance the term exposes brings to mind an interview I did 10 years ago with septuagenarian Buford Posey in rural Mississippi. He had lived in Philadelphia, Mississippi, around the time that three civil rights activists -- James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner -- were murdered. As I spoke to him about that era and the people living in that town (some of whom, like him, were still alive), I would bring up a name and he would instantly interject, "Well, he was in the Klan," or "Well, his Daddy was in the Klan," or sometimes he would just say "Klan" and leave it at that.

After a while I had to stop him and ask for confirmation. "Hang on," I said, "I can't just let you say that about these people without some proof or corroboration. How do you know they were in the Klan?"

"Hell," he responded matter-of-factly, "I was in the Klan. Near everybody around here was in the Klan around that time. Being in the Klan was no big deal."

Our allegiances and affiliations are, of course, our choice. Neither Posey nor any of the other white men in Philadelphia had to join the Klan, and clearly some were more enthusiastic participants than others. (Posey himself would go on to support the civil rights movement.)

It's no less true that context shapes such choices. If Posey had grown up in Vermont, it's unlikely that he'd ever have joined the Klan. If a white Vermonter had been born and raised in Mississippi in those years, the likelihood is that he'd have had a pressed white sheet in the closet for special occasions.

At the time, for white men in Philadelphia the Klan was the social mixing place du jour. It was what you did if you had any hope of advancing locally, did not want to be left out of things, or simply preferred to swim with the tide. Since pretty much everyone you knew was involved in one way or another, to be white and live in Philadelphia then was to be, in some way, "Klan related." That doesn't mean being in the Klan should give anyone a pass, but it does mean that if you wanted to understand how it operated, why it had the reach it did, and ultimately how to defeat it rather than just condemn it, you first had to understand its appeal in that moment.

The same is true of gangs today in urban America. On the random day I picked for my book, 10 children and teens died by gun. Not all of their assailants have been caught and probably they never will be. Depending on how you define the term, however, it would be possible to argue that eight of those killings were gang related.  Either the assailant or the victim was (or was likely to have been) part of a group that could be called a gang.  Only two were clearly not gang related -- either the victim and the shooter were not in a gang or membership in a gang had nothing to do with the shooting. But all 10 deaths did have one clear thing in common: they were all gun-related.

The emphasis on gang membership has always seemed to me like a way of filtering child deaths into two categories: deserving and undeserving. If a shooting was gang related then it's assumed that the kid had it coming and was, in some way, responsible for his or her own death. Only those not gang related were innocents and so they alone were worthy of our sympathy.

Making a "Blacklist"

The more I spoke to families and people on the ground, the more it became clear how unhelpful the term "gang related" is in understanding who is getting shot and why.  As a term, it's most often used not to describe but to dismiss.

Take Edwin Rajo, 16, who was shot dead in Houston, Texas, at about 8 p.m. on that November 23rd. He lived in Bellaire Gardens, a low-rise apartment complex on a busy road of commercial and residential properties in an area called Gulfton in southwest Houston. It sat between a store selling bridal wear and highly flammable-looking dresses for quinceañera -- the celebration of a girl's 15th birthday -- and the back of a Fiesta supermarket, part of a Texas-based, Hispanic-oriented chain with garish neon lighting that makes you feel as though you're shopping for groceries in Las Vegas. Opposite it was a pawnshop, a beauty salon, a Mexican taqueria, and a Salvadorean restaurant.

The Southwest Cholos ran this neighborhood, complex by complex. There was no avoiding them. "They start them really, really young," one of Edwin's teachers told me. "In elementary. Third grade, fourth grade. And that's just how it is for kids... You join for protection. Even if you're not cliqued in, so long as you're associated with them, you're good. You have to claim a clique to be safe. If you're not, if you're by yourself, you're gonna get jumped."

In other words, if you grow up in Bellaire Gardens you are a gang member in the same way that Soviet citizens were members of the Communist Party and Iraqis under Saddam Hussein, the Baath Party.  There is precious little choice, which means that, in and of itself, gang affiliation doesn't tell you much.

Edwin, a playful and slightly immature teenager, was not, in fact, an active member of the Cholos, though he identified with them.  Indeed, you get the impression that they considered him something of a liability. "They accepted him," said his teacher.  "He hung with them. But he wasn't in yet." His best friend in the complex, Camilla (not her real name), was in the gang, as allegedly was her mother. She sported the Cholo-style dress and had a gang name. After several altercations with someone from a rival gang, who threatened them and took a shot at Camilla's brother, she decided to get a gun.

"We were thinking like little kids," Camilla told me. "I didn't really know anything about guns. I just know you shoot with it and that's it."

Sure enough, Edwin was at Camilla's apartment that night and suggested they play with the gun. In the process, she shot him, not realizing that, even though the clip was out, one bullet was still in the chamber. So was that shooting gang related? After all, the shooter was in a gang. She had been threatened by someone from a rival gang and Edwin may indeed have had aspirations to be in her gang.

Or was it an accidental shooting in which two kids who knew nothing about guns acquired one and one of them got killed while they were messing around?

In an environment in which gangs run everything, most things most people do are in some way going to be "gang related." But defining all affiliation as a kind of complicity in violence not only means writing off children in entire communities for being born in the wrong place at the wrong time, but criminalizing them in the process.

For one thing, the criteria for gang membership couldn't be more subjective and loose. Gang leaders don't exactly hand out membership cards. Sometimes it's just a matter of young people hanging out. Take Stanley Taylor, who was shot dead in the early hours of that November morning in Charlotte, North Carolina. He spent a lot of his time on Beatties Ford Road with his friends. "I ain't gonna say it was a gang," says his buddy Trey. "But it was a neighborhood thing. Beatties Ford. We got our own little clique. We on the West Side. North Side is a whole different neighborhood you don't even fool with. Everybody was together. This my brother, this my brother. We all in the same clique. We got each other's back. I'm not going to let nobody else touch you. If you hit him, I'm gonna hit you. Cos I'm his brother."

Stanley was shot at a gas station in the wake of an altercation with Demontre Rice, who was from the North Side, after Rice allegedly almost ran him over as he pulled in. It's not obvious that either man knew where the other was from and yet if Rice were in a gang (something I can't even confirm), that would, of course, make his killing gang related.

Sometimes gangs do have actual rites of initiation. Since, however, gang affiliation can be a guide to criminal activity, authorities are constantly trying to come up with more definite ways of identifying gang members. Almost inevitably, such attempts quickly fall back on stereotypes. A 1999 article in Colorlines, for instance, typically pointed out that in "at least five states, wearing baggy FUBU jeans and being related to a gang suspect is enough to meet the 'gang member' definition. In Arizona, a tattoo and blue Adidas sneakers are sufficient." In suburban Aurora, Colorado, local police decided that any two of the following constituted gang membership: "slang," "clothing of a particular color," "pagers," "hairstyles," "jewelry."

Black people made up 11% of Aurora's population and 80% of its gang database. The local head of the ACLU was heard to say, "They might as well call it a blacklist."

Under the Gun

Gangs are neither new nor racially specific. From the Irish, Polish, Jewish, and Puerto Rican gangs of New York to the Mafia, various types of informal gatherings of mostly, but not exclusively, young men have long been part of Western life. They often connect the social, violent, entrepreneurial, and criminal.

None of this should in any way diminish the damaging, often lethal effects organized gangs have on the young. One of the boys who died that day, 18-year-old Tyshon Anderson from Chicago, was by all accounts a gang member. His godmother, Regina, had long expected his life to come to an early end. "He did burglary, sold drugs, he killed people. He had power in the street. He really did. Especially for such a young kid. He had power. A lot of people were intimidated by him and they were scared of him. I know he had bodies under his belt. I seen him grow up and I loved him and I know he could be a good kid. But there ain't no point in sugarcoating it. He was a bad kid, too." If I'd chosen another day that year, I could well have been reporting on one of Tyshon's victims.

And although gangs involve a relatively small minority of young people, they still add up to significant numbers. According to the National Youth Gang Survey, in 2012 in the United States there were around 30,000 gangs and more than 800,000 gang members -- roughly the population of Amsterdam.

What's new in all this isn't the gangs themselves, but how much deadlier they've become in recent years. According to the National Youth Gang Survey, between 2007 and 2012, gang membership rose by 8%, but gang-related homicides leapt by 20%. It seems that the principal reason why gang activity has become so much more deadly is the increasingly easy availability of guns -- and of ever deadlier versions of such weaponry as well. Studies of Los Angeles County between 1979 and 1994 revealed that the proportion of gang incidents involving guns that ended in homicide leapt from 71% to 95%. "The contrast with the present is striking," argues sociologist Malcolm Klein, after reaching a similar conclusion in Philadelphia and East Los Angeles. "Firearms are now standard. They are easily purchased or borrowed and are more readily available than in the past."

This raises the stakes immeasurably when it comes to parents and caregivers trying to protect their adolescent children from bad company or poor choices (as parents of all classes and races tend to do). Identifying with a gang and doing something as seemingly harmless as wearing clothing of a certain color or befriending the wrong person can result in an early death.  As a result, Gustin Hinnant's father in Goldsboro, North Carolina, used to burn his red clothes if he saw him wearing them too often.  Gustin died anyway, hit in the head by a stray bullet meant for another boy who was in a gang. Pedro Cortez's grandmother in San Jose, California, used to similarly hide his red shirts -- the color identified with the local Nortenos gang -- just in case. Yet on that same November 23rd, Pedro, who was legally blind, was shot dead while walking in a park. He was dressed in black, but a friend who was with him was indeed wearing red.

Gangs are hardly unique to America, nor do Americans make worse parents than those elsewhere in the world, nor are their kids worse. There is, however, an unavoidable difference between the United States and all other western nations, or the book I wrote would have been inconceivable. This is the only place where, in addition to the tinder of poverty, inequality, and segregation, among other challenges, you have to include the combustible presence of guns -- guns everywhere, guns so available that they are essentially unavoidable.

As long as Americans refuse to engage with that straightforward fact of their social landscape, the kinds of deaths I recorded in my book will keep happening with gruesome predictability.  In fact, I could have chosen almost any Saturday from at least the past two decades and produced the same work.

Dismissing such fatalities as "gang related" -- as, that is, victims to be dumped in some morally inferior category -- is a way of not facing an American reality. It sets the white noise of daily death sufficiently low to allow the country to go about its business undisturbed.  It ensures a confluence of culture, politics, and economics guaranteeing that an average of seven children will wake up but not go to bed every day of the year, while much of the rest of the country sleeps soundly.

News Mon, 24 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
After Bernie: Will "Our Revolution" Deliver on Its Promise of "Political Revolution"?

Vermont political candidate Mari Cordes stands with Bernie Sanders. "I have known and worked with Mari Cordes for many years," Sanders has said. She is exactly the type of change maker we need in the State House. (Photo: Courtesy of Mari Cordes)Vermont political candidate Mari Cordes stands with Bernie Sanders. "I have known and worked with Mari Cordes for many years," Sanders has said. "She is exactly the type of change maker we need in the State House." (Photo: Courtesy of Mari Cordes)When Our Revolution -- the new organization founded by Sen. Bernie Sanders -- kicked off in Burlington, Vermont, a nurse and long-time union organizer, Mari Cordes, introduced the iconic senator in front of the many thousands watching across the country. While Cordes is a major advocate for social change in Vermont, she is not a national figure. But some might call her a pioneer whose story may be the epitome of the kind of "political revolution" that Sanders says is "just getting started."

Cordes is among several Vermont progressives, many of whom have worked with Sanders in the past, who have already had success in winning down-ticket primaries this year against what Cordes described in an interview with Truthout as "the Democratic establishment in Vermont." She was endorsed personally by Bernie Sanders in her successful primary challenge for a seat in Vermont's House of Representatives, against an incumbent Democrat.

Vermont political candidate Mari Cordes stands with Bernie Sanders. "I have known and worked with Mari Cordes for many years," Sanders has said. She is exactly the type of change maker we need in the State House. (Photo: Courtesy of Mari Cordes)Vermont political candidate Mari Cordes stands with Bernie Sanders. "I have known and worked with Mari Cordes for many years," Sanders has said. "She is exactly the type of change maker we need in the State House." (Photo: Courtesy of Mari Cordes)When Our Revolution -- the new organization founded by Sen. Bernie Sanders -- kicked off in Burlington, Vermont, a nurse and long-time union organizer, Mari Cordes, introduced the iconic senator in front of the many thousands watching across the country. While Cordes is a major advocate for social change in Vermont, she is not a national figure. But some might call her a pioneer whose story may be the epitome of the kind of "political revolution" that Sanders says is "just getting started."

Cordes is among several Vermont progressives, many of whom have worked with Sanders in the past, who have already had success in winning down-ticket primaries this year against what Cordes described in an interview with Truthout as "the Democratic establishment in Vermont." She was endorsed personally by Bernie Sanders in her successful primary challenge for a seat in Vermont's House of Representatives, against an incumbent Democrat. Since then, she has been among the first candidates endorsed by Our Revolution. She was also endorsed by Rights and Democracy (RAD), a Vermont-based group she helped found, which has similar goals as Our Revolution, emphasizing down-ticket races at the local level.

Cordes is a nurse with a passion for social justice (she was an anti-war tax resister for many years) who ran for local office and won against the political establishment. Her story is a test case in what Our Revolution hopes to accomplish in spades in the coming years. The goal of the "down-ticket strategy" is to transform the Democratic Party by replacing timid, establishment incumbents with passionate progressives who share Sanders' vision for a world where no one starves, or goes without housing or health care.

For more original Truthout election coverage, check out our election section, "Beyond the Sound Bites: Election 2016."

There is no doubt that beating out establishment Democrats in elections across the country would be major progress. But can Our Revolution lead to our revolution? Some on the left are skeptical. They question the emphasis on down-ticket races within the Democratic Party as a viable path to revolutionary change and worry the group will be too compromised by the party from the start. Indeed, most Black Lives Matters (BLM) chapters and Occupy in years past, largely refrained from endorsing any political candidates for any office.

There are many unknowns about what electoral activism in the post-Bernie world may look like. What we know for sure is that the Sanders' message of democratic socialism caught on with much of the public and has prompted millions of Americans -- especially young people -- to become engaged in the world around them. This has created a major opportunity to mobilize for a better world. And it is an opportunity that would be tragic to squander.

Our Revolution and the Down-Ticket Strategy

"Those who know me well, they know that it is not my personality to look backward ... I prefer to look forward," said Bernie Sanders at the launch of the new organization that aims to continue the goals of his political campaign, which had just ended. "But I do think it is important to say a few words about what we accomplished together."

Sanders, who reminded his audience that real change always comes "from the bottom up," listed a number of statistics that, despite being well known to his supporters, still manage to inspire awe: the campaign won 13 million votes, 22 states, 1900 pledged delegates (46 percent of the total) and the "overwhelming support" of young people of all demographics. "When you capture the young people of this country, it means that our ideas, our vision, is the future of this country," Sanders said.

It is significant that young people, in particular, have adopted a vision that embraces human dignity and resists the corporate greed that dominates politics in the United States. It suggests there is reason for hope in an unjust world, and that people hoping for large-scale change needn't feel isolated -- they know there are millions who share their hope, their fears and even their anger.

However, the election will be over in just a few weeks. What happens then? Sanders will go back to his seat as a senator -- one with far more influence than he had when he first joined the Senate 10 years ago. But from the ashes of his campaign, he launched (but will not run) "Our Revolution," a group that hopes to maintain this grassroots support and push into down-ticket elections across the country. Our Revolution's website lays out its mission: "Through supporting a new generation of progressive leaders, empowering millions to fight for progressive change and elevating the political consciousness, Our Revolution will transform American politics to make our political and economic systems once again responsive to the needs of working families."

A "Lot to Prove": Controversies and Critiques

The launch of Our Revolution was not without controversy. Most notable was the fact that a large portion of the group's staff quit the organization just as it began, citing problems with Jeff Weaver, the long-time Sanders staffer who helped run his campaign. The departing staffers questioned Weaver's vision and judgment and frowned on the group's tax status as a 501(c)(4), which they argued could result in dark money -- untraceable donations -- being used by the group.

"Jeff [Weaver] has gone on the record admitting that he wanted to form the organization as a 501(c)(4) for the express purpose of accepting billionaire money," said Claire Sandberg, one of the staff members who quit, in an interview with Democracy Now!

Groups designated as 501(c)(4) can't have political activity as their primary purpose and are not obligated to share donor information. Robert Maguire of the Center for Responsive Politics (CPR), however, told Truthout in an interview, the term "'primary purpose' is not clearly defined." Maguire also said the staff's reservations about the status was "a little hard to understand."

"There is nothing inherently wrong about starting a 501(c)(4)," said Maguire. "There are thousands and thousands of these groups, but the ones we are concerned with are ones without any grassroots support [that] serve exclusively as front groups for political campaigns."

But these ethics are not the only issue. Sandberg, who was Sanders' digital organizing director during the campaign, argues that this designation was a strategic blunder that prohibited the group from coordinating with campaigns. She recently approvingly retweeted a link to an Atlantic article which argued that the "political revolution" had failed Tim Canova. The Florida Democrat was endorsed by Sanders over Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the former head of the DNC who had to resign when it was revealed she was trying to sabotage Sanders' campaign in leaked e-mails. She is considered by many Sanders supporters to epitomize the Democratic establishment -- and she easily beat Canova in August.

"I would absolutely say the prohibition on coordinating hurt the Canova campaign," Paul Schaffer, the former data and analytics director for Our Revolution, said to the Atlantic.

The kerfuffle made headlines and put the new organization under close scrutiny. "Turmoil is, of course, not foreign to the internal dynamics of movements, but it always needs to be honestly interrogated for the truths it encompasses. Our Revolution, off to a bit of a rocky start, will have a lot to prove," wrote James Schaffer in Nonprofit Quarterly.

To be sure, the debate over how best to harness the energy from Sanders' campaign is an important one among the left. And Our Revolution's strategy of emphasizing down-ticket campaigns and working within the Democratic Party has its detractors.

"Sanders' strategy of transforming the Democrats will not succeed," said Ashley Smith, a frequent contributor to the Socialist Worker, in an interview with Truthout. "This is not a new strategy but an old one that has been tried many times before when the left was stronger. It failed each time." The better course, Smith maintains, is to build an alternative to the Democratic Party -- to start a "long struggle to build a new left and a new party that fights for the 99 percent in workplaces, communities and in elections."

The Socialist Worker published a pair of criticisms, including one titled "Is it Really 'Our Revolution'?" that argued the group lacks a proper forum for debate or discussion for its supporters and members. "Sanders' speech [launching the group] did not explain at all what campaign promises these candidates would be expected to make. It was clear that at least the vast majority of them would be running in the Democratic Party, but this issue was never openly discussed," wrote Daniel Werst, lamenting the lack of any discussion of Green Party candidates. "Candidates marked as 'progressive' by Our Revolution have been chosen and will be chosen without any open debate by the membership."

Our Revolution did not respond to a request for comment.

Noam Chomsky Says Down-Ticket Strategy Holds Promise

Smith and his newspaper raise important questions. But the down-ticket strategy seems to have broad support from many on the left, including radical critics of capitalism and the Democratic Party. ZNet, a website/media organization with strong anti-capitalist views, for instance, aired Our Revolution's launch video on its website and has urged left writers to focus less on Donald Trump and more on the organization and its prospects. Social critic Noam Chomsky also sees promise in the strategy.

"These [down-ticket approaches] seem to me very sensible initiatives. That's the way to build an authentic political movement, and it's not entirely within the [Democratic] party. If it really grows, and the bureaucrats block it, it can take off independently," said Noam Chomsky in an interview with Truthout. "[It] might succeed in doing what the Greens [members of the Green Party] have lacked interest in doing -- one reason why they remain so marginal. I've been urging something like this for a long time, as have many others. There have been some good steps in this direction, but the Sanders momentum might make a big difference."

That Chomsky and the editors of ZNet see promise in Our Revolution reflects one of the ways in which Sanders' candidacy has transformed politics on the left. In some ways, Sanders provides a bridge between radicals and more mainstream progressives, in a way that Ralph Nader and Jill Stein could not. This potential "unity" should not be overstated, though. As noted, many feel that nothing revolutionary can come in collaboration with the Democratic Party. Much of this skepticism is warranted. But the worst possible approach may be to shun the masses who vigorously trust and support Sanders, his flaws and capitulations notwithstanding, because no revolution is possible without a unified working class.

Vermont: "A Heavy Burden" to Lead

Of course, so much of these debates is still theoretical. But as noted above, in Vermont, the down-ticket strategy is happening already. In addition to the support of Sanders and Our Revolution, Mari Cordes also had the support and endorsement of another local group that is emphasizing down-ticket races: Rights and Democracy, a group in Vermont that was launched in April 2015 and aims to "Bring Bernie's Revolution Back Home."

"We feel a great burden as Vermonters, who have been working with Bernie Sanders for years, to show that we can help lead the way in the political revolution," said James Haslam, who spent 15 years as the director of the Vermont Workers' Center, which was instrumental in fighting for single-payer health care in the state, before it was abandoned by Gov. Peter Shumlin. "Having a corporate Democrat promise to fight for single-payer to win progressive support and then turning his back on it was a learning experience. We can't just push politicians, we must have allies in a position to help complement the grassroots work we have been doing for years."

Cordes also sees her connection to Vermont and Sanders as a "motivating factor" in running for office. "He has been a major inspiration for me on so many issues," she told Truthout. "I think the most important point he makes is that change comes from the bottom up. If you think about Occupy, some say it fizzled out. I don't think so. I think it framed the issues beautifully and in a way that made Sanders more appealing. They touched on many of the same themes."

Cordes is not the only, or even the biggest success story for the movement in Vermont. David Zuckerman, a state senator, is another Progressive Democrat and longtime Sanders ally, who had a big night during the primary. He beat a powerhouse Democrat, speaker of the Vermont House of Representatives Shap Smith, to get the nomination for lieutenant governor.

The lieutenant governor position in Vermont may not be the most consequential job on the planet, but it is often a position that puts candidates in line for a gubernatorial candidacy down the line. And given that the outgoing Vermont governor is best known for abandoning his supporters on single-payer health care, putting someone like Zuckerman in that role could have very real benefits.

The state senator, known for his farming background and long dark hair, said that like Sanders, he felt resistance from the Democratic Party establishment during his primary. As reported by Seven Days, an alternative weekly in Vermont, Zuckerman, "managed to reach voters without the help of the Vermont Democratic Party's contact list. The party denied him access after he declined to declare himself a 'bona fide' Democrat, as he put it, 'if it means putting the Democratic Party above policy.'"

The reference to a 'bona fide Democrat' is another issue fairly unique to the Green Mountain State, which is home to the most viable third party alternative in the country, the Vermont Progressive Party, which was founded during Sander's campaign for mayor of Burlington in the 1980s. The Progressive Party has members in the State House and in Burlington's City Hall and in 2008 its gubernatorial candidate finished second to the incumbent Republican Jim Douglas, ahead of the Democratic candidate, Gale Symington.

Zuckerman, who is the first state senator in the party's history, is now doing what several other candidates have been doing, in part to avoid splitting the tickets and helping the Republicans. He (like Cordes) is running as a "fusion" candidate; he is a Progressive-Democrat, which put him up against Democrats in the primary, while still remaining a Progressive. This approach has its critics, but, as Cordes says, it "rankles the establishment." It also means these candidates won't lose votes to the Democrats in the general election (and had they lost, they would not take votes away from the "bona fide Democrats").

Zuckerman and Cordes, with the support of Rights and Democracy and Our Revolution, will have their day with the voters come Election Day. Should they win it, the victories may be seen as an important part of the "political revolution" Sanders is hoping to start.

Activism in the Post-Bernie Era

Even if Our Revolution is successful in electing its candidates in the coming years, the country will have a lot of work to do. There are many progressive groups and, as Nonprofit Quarterly said, Our Revolution has "a lot to prove." But whatever its fate, it should not discourage other efforts at mobilization, in and out of electoral politics.

One group, Brand New Congress, also made up of former Sanders staffers and volunteers, is hatching an effort to recruit enough candidates to make sure there is a progressive on the ballot in every single congressional election for 2018. It is a monumental endeavor, and will include, if things go well, bringing candidates to the reddest districts in the country to at least force the incumbents to answer to someone. Saikat Chakrabarti, the Sanders campaign's director of organizing technology, is heading up this mammoth task. Chakrabarti, who studied computers at Harvard University, told Truthout that when working for Sanders people would always ask him, "If Bernie wins, how is he going to get anything done with the Congress that he has to work with?" Their response to this question is Brave New Congress. "Basically, we're trying to offer America a big change that can happen immediately in 2018 instead of a long, drawn-out fight to win back congressional seats one at a time," Chakrabarti said.

Further, and perhaps more importantly, the existence of Our Revolution ought not to discourage more direct forms of resistance. "It is crucial that pressure continues to come at the grassroots, not just in elections," Zuckerman said. Indeed, at the launch of Our Revolution, Bernie Sanders cited the labor movement, the civil rights movements and other important acts of resistance in America. Most of this change did not come from the voting booth, but from outside of it. In 2008 Howard Zinn decried the "election frenzy" that "seizes the country every four years because we have all been brought up to believe that voting is crucial in determining our destiny, that the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls and choose one of the two mediocrities who have already been chosen for us."

Zinn added:

Would I support one candidate against another? Yes, for two minutes -- the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth. But before and after those two minutes, our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, in Congress, into changing national policy on matters of war and social justice.

If Zinn's words sound hyperbolic, it is worth noting that his ambitions are not less achievable than what Bernie Sanders proposes, nor are they mutually exclusive. In fact, in some ways, they may be more achievable, since there are so many institutional biases inside the electoral system. The most encouraging part of the Sanders campaign is that, along with concurrent grassroots movements, it demonstrated the scale and intensity of those who wish to fight for social justice. The goal, after all, is not merely better candidates, but a better world.

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News Tue, 25 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Legendary Antiwar Activist and SDS Organizer Tom Hayden Dies at 76

Tom Hayden has died at the age of 76. Hayden spent decades shaping movements against war and for social justice. He was the principal author of the Port Huron Statement, the founding document of Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS. The statement advocated for participatory democracy and helped launch the student movement of the 1960s. In 1968, Hayden became one of the so-called Chicago 8 and was convicted of crossing state lines to start a riot after he helped organize protests against the Vietnam War outside the Democratic National Convention. We play an excerpt of an address by Hayden speaking about the antiwar movement he helped lead.


AMY GOODMAN: We end today on the death of Tom Hayden, who died at the age of 76. He suffered a stroke last year. Tom Hayden spent decades shaping movements against war and for social justice. He was principal author of the Port Huron Statement, the founding document for Students for a Democratic Society, SDS. The statement, advocating for participatory democracy, helped launch the student movement of the '60s. In '68, Hayden became one of the so-called Chicago 8, was convicted of crossing state lines to start a riot when he helped organize protests against the Vietnam War outside the Democratic convention. We're going to turn to a clip of Tom Hayden now.

TOM HAYDEN: So we can never forget that, of course, it was the Vietnamese resistance and their sacrifice that led to our awakening, along with the civil rights movement at home. It began with handfuls of young people, black students who led Freedom Rides, sit-ins. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was the first to resist the war. Julian Bond, who's sitting here, was rejected after being elected to the Georgia Legislature. Muhammad Ali was stripped of his boxing titles. It also began with the Vietnam Day Committee in Berkeley, growing out of teach-ins, out of SDS, that called the first march, the draft resistance. There had never been a peace movement like the one in 1965 that arose out of the civil rights movement and came just weeks after Selma. At least 29 would die at the hands of police while demonstrating for peace.

I'd like here to introduce Luis Rodriguez and Rosalio Muñoz and Jorge Mariscal from the Chicano Moratorium, where four died, including Gustav [Montag], Lyn Ward, José Diaz and Rubén Salazar. Rubén Salazar was an early Juan González. Rubén Salazar was a great reporter for the Los Angeles Times who served as a journalist in Vietnam before he started critical reporting on the streets of Los Angeles. And he was shot by the sheriff's deputies.

AMY GOODMAN: That is Tom Hayden, remembering the people who came before him. And we will remember Tom Hayden tomorrow on Democracy Now!, who has died at the age of 76. To see his speeches and interviews, go to

News Mon, 24 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Police Arrest 120+ Water Protectors as Dakota Access Speeds Up Pipeline Construction

We go to North Dakota for an update on the ongoing Standoff at Standing Rock, where thousands of Native Americans representing more than 200 tribes from across the Americas are resisting the construction of the $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline, which is slated to carry oil from North Dakota's Bakken oilfields through South Dakota, Iowa and into Illinois. On Saturday, over 100 people, who call themselves protectors, not protesters, were arrested at a peaceful march after they were confronted by police in riot gear, carrying assault rifles. They say police pepper-sprayed them and then arrested them en masse, and discharged rubber bullets to shoot down drones the water protectors were using to document the police activity. We are joined by Sacheen Seitcham, media activist with West Coast Women Warriors Media Cooperative who was arrested Saturday along with more than 80 other protesters and journalists at a construction site for the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota.


AMY GOODMAN: We begin today's show in North Dakota with the ongoing Standoff at Standing Rock, where thousands of Native Americans, representing more than 200 tribes from across the Americas, are resisting the construction of the $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline, which is slated to carry oil from North Dakota's Bakken oilfields through South Dakota, Iowa and into Illinois. On Saturday, over a hundred people, who call themselves protectors, not protesters, were arrested on a peaceful march after they were confronted by police in riot gear carrying assault rifles. They say police pepper-sprayed them, then arrested them en masse. This is footage from the Sacred Stone Camp.

POLICE OFFICER 1: You're all under arrest!



POLICE OFFICER 2: You're all under arrest!

WATER PROTECTOR 1: Stay together! Stay together! Do not be afraid! Stand your prayer!


AMY GOODMAN: Organizers also say police discharged rubber bullets to shoot down drones the water protectors were using to document the police activity. In response to Saturday's protest, Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said, quote, "Today's situation clearly illustrates what we have been saying for weeks, that this protest is not peaceful or lawful. ... This protest was intentionally coordinated and planned by agitators with the specific intent to engage in illegal activities," Kirchmeier said. Those arrested face charges including riot, reckless endangerment, criminal trespass, assaulting an officer and resisting arrest.

On Sunday, hundreds of water protectors erected a new frontline camp of several structures and tipis directly on the proposed path of the Dakota Access pipeline. The new frontline camp is just to the east of North Dakota State Highway 1806 across from the site where on September 3rd, over Labor Day weekend, Dakota Access security guards unleashed pepper spray and dogs against Native Americans trying to protect a sacred ground from destruction. The water protectors also erected three road blockades that stopped traffic for hours on Highway 1806 Saturday to the north and south of the main resistance camp and along County Road 134. The group cited an 1851 treaty, which they say makes the entire area unceded sovereign land under the control of the Sioux. The blockades were dismantled late Sunday.

For more, we're joined by two guests. Sacheen Seitcham is an activist and journalist with West Coast Women Warriors Media Cooperative. She was arrested Saturday along with more than a hundred water protectors and journalists at a construction site for the Dakota Access pipeline. And Tara Houska, national campaigns director for Honor the Earth, she's Ojibwe from Couchiching First Nation.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! OK, let's first go to Sacheen. You were arrested Saturday. Can you take us through this day? What happened on Saturday?

SACHEEN SEITCHAM: What happened on Saturday was completely uncalled for, out of -- out of the realm of any understanding of people who exist in this world who are trying to do something good and right. Basically, we had come to a lockdown that was trying to reach -- we were trying to stop the construction of the DAPL pipeline that day. And our objective was to go walk with them in prayer and meet with them and to lift them up, to be with them as they were locked down. While we walked, we encountered quite a few police. And basically, they had little ATVs, where they were like dune buggies. They were following us. And then more and more police cars came. We actually had to avoid them by running down a hill into a gully and crossing a small river to go and reach the worksite. And at this point, there had been at least six to eight [inaudible] police cars and many officers on the opposite side of the fence from us. And so, we kept walking so that we could go and meet our objective, be at this worksite and to, you know, really prevent the pipeline from being built on sacred ground, on ancient burial sites where the ancestors are laying and should not be disturbed.


SACHEEN SEITCHAM: Sorry. At this point, there had been about two -- maybe roughly 200 of us. And we're walking to the field with banners, singing. There was a lot of ceremony and prayer songs. There was a lot of smudging going on with people with sweetgrass and sage and tobacco. And this police vehicle rolled up beside us and basically said, "You're all trespassing. You're all under arrest." So we kept going, because at this point we knew -- too important what we're doing. We can't be intimidated or fearful. Regardless of what they do to us, we must continue and do what we are going to do to protect the sacred water, to protect the sacred ground. So we kept walking.

They kept massing more people of their -- their cop riot gear. They had their lethal assault weapons, holding them. And, you know, they're rubber bullets, but, as we know, rubber bullets can also be fatal. They had their batons out and were openly carrying around cans of mace in a threatening manner. And they eventually, as we walked, cut open the fence to come at us. And they started yelling and running towards us and yelling and inducing fear in people. And we were trying to create a sense of, you know, organization, where we were asking people, "Please, stay calm. Everybody, group together." At this point, they just started being snatch-happy. They were just grabbing people, out of pocket, just, you know, throwing them off to the side. They threw a young woman who was trying to protect a child in the march. They smacked her in the ribs with a baton and, you know, broke it. That's how forceful they were.

AMY GOODMAN: Sacheen, how were you arrested?

SACHEEN SEITCHAM: I was arrested -- basically, the cops tried to tell us to go, and I was arrested, because we were walking away. So, we said, "OK, we're going to leave. You've asked us to leave. You told us we're trespassing." And so, we all started walking away. And as we walked, the police came through to the front, and then they surrounded us at the back, creating a circle. They kettled us in. We were arrested for engaging in a riot and criminal trespass.

AMY GOODMAN: How many people, do you believe, have been arrested so far? We see the estimates between 87, around there, that the Sheriff's Office is saying, to upwards of -- CNN is reporting 127. The camp is reporting 140.

SACHEEN SEITCHAM: I'm going to go with the camp's estimate. While I was being processed in the -- we were all in the garage. They had no idea what to do with us. They were completely disorganized. The Sheriff's Office had us all penned up in the garage for roughly two hours. And there was upwards of more than a hundred people down there.

AMY GOODMAN: What were you charged with?

SACHEEN SEITCHAM: I was charged with criminal trespass and engaging in a riot at DAPL worksite 127.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you ever brought to the Mandan jail?


AMY GOODMAN: And were you strip-searched?

SACHEEN SEITCHAM: Yes, I was made to disrobe. At this point, they were very disorganized, and I wasn't treated, basically, the way other women were. I wasn't forced to squat or cough. They just basically made me disrobe and then put my clothes back on. But, you know, at that point, there was a lot of other women who shared their stories with me that they were strip-searched, they were forced to squat, they were forced to cough and be treated in that manner.

AMY GOODMAN: And how long were you held?

SACHEEN SEITCHAM: I got to the jail, I would say, roughly around maybe 2:00 in the afternoon, and I was released at 7:00 a.m. yesterday morning.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Sacheen Seitcham, I want to thank you for being with us. Sacheen is a member of the West Coast Women Warriors Media Cooperative. She was arrested Saturday along with scores of other people, both protesters, or, as they call themselves, protectors, as well as journalists, at the construction site for the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota. When we come back, we'll speak to Tara Houska about the overall plan. We called Dakota Access pipeline but weren't able to get them on. The plan right now -- is the pipeline accelerating construction? And then we'll speak with Shailene Woodley. Shailene Woodley, the actress, who went to the Dakota Access pipeline protests, she was arrested. She was strip-searched, like so many others. Stay with us.

News Mon, 24 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
The Trump of the Iceberg of Sexual Harassment

As more women come forward each day with new examples of Donald Trump grabbing, groping and kissing them, it exposes not just Trump's brutish misogyny but something larger -- the reality of persistent and pervasive sexual harassment and abuse faced by millions of women.

So while the mainstream media and the Democratic Party, as well as large sections of Republicans, have chosen to respond with shock at Trump's supposedly exceptional sexism and beyond-the-pale behavior, for many women, their response is a feeling of recognition.

The weekend after a 2005 video was released of Trump bragging about groping, grabbing and kissing women without their consent, there was a 33 percent increase in traffic to the online National Sexual Assault Hotline. This peaked during the October 9 presidential debate, when there was a backlog of 20 to 30 people in line at one time.

When a Canadian writer posted her own story of sexual assault on Twitter and asked others to respond, she received an average of 50 stories a minute for over 14 hours.

This suggests that this issue is bigger than Donald Trump. In fact, it might explain how someone who clearly engaged in and bragged about this behavior for decades has managed to amass great wealth, attain celebrity status, and enjoy privilege and power without challenge.


By focusing on Trump and his particularly vile and lurid brand of misogyny, the media have managed to pump out non-stop coverage and "analysis" of each new revelation of harassment and assault while engaging in collective denial about the widespread reality of such abuse -- let alone the impact on its victims.

It's no wonder that so many people turn away in disgust and see this as just another, albeit particularly bad, Washington "sex scandal."

Anita Hill, who faced a torrent of abuse when she revealed that then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her, put it well:

Missing from the conversation this weekend, which focused almost exclusively on the character of the offender, was concern about the victims of sexual violence. At virtually every dinner table this weekend, people talked about what should happen to Donald Trump's political ambitions. But little consideration was given to what impact the brutish behavior he claimed to have had on the women he victimized.

The experience of Rachel Crooks, who told reporters that Trump kissed her without her consent while she was working as a secretary in one of his buildings, gives a glimpse into what that impact is. The New York Times reports that she returned home to her boyfriend of the time and broke down crying:

"I asked, 'How was your day?'" [Clint Hackenburg, Crooks' boyfriend] recalled. "She paused for a second, and then started hysterically crying."

After Ms. Crooks described her experience with Mr. Trump, she and Mr. Hackenburg discussed what to do.

"I think that what was more upsetting than him kissing her was that she felt like she couldn't do anything to him because of his position," he said. "She was 22. She was a secretary. It was her first job out of college. I remember her saying, 'I can't do anything to this guy, because he's Donald Trump.'"

This feeling of violation and powerlessness is something millions of women have experienced. According to the National Women's Law Center, one in four women reported being sexually harassed at work, and 70 percent say they never reported it.


Coverage of the Trump scandal has tended to unfold around incidents within a fairly narrow and rarified world that the vast majority of us will never be part of: boardrooms where multibillion-dollar deals are signed, beauty pageants, celebrity gossip magazines, Hollywood sets and exclusive nightclubs and parties.

We should be clear: no woman, no matter how rich, famous or otherwise powerful (and many of Trump's victims were none of these) should be subjected to harassment and abuse.

But the media's coverage of Trump can make it seem as though this is a problem of an elite few. The use of these exposures as such an obvious electoral ploy can feed the cynicism that so many people justifiably feel right now.

For the Clinton campaign, keeping the focus squarely on Trump has an obvious electoral calculus, but it does nothing to advance what is an urgently needed discussion of women's inequality. To talk about the reality of sexual harassment and abuse in this country would mean talking about racism, poverty, inequality and all of the other issues that she would rather avoid.

Sexual violence cannot be divorced from the social context in which it takes place, and the toxic sexism that we are witnessing right now cannot be divorced from its very material impact on women's lives.

The women who suffer the most from sexual harassment are the ones who are most powerless to do anything about it. Women make up more than 75 percent of the 10 lowest-wage occupations in this country and face particularly high levels of abuse. Nearly half of those women are women of color, and Black women report substantially higher levels of harassment.

Many of these women are the only source of income for their families -- 41 percent of families are dependent on a woman's income. This makes it nearly impossible for these women to stand up for themselves or even to move jobs. According to all the reports, the vast majority suffers in silence.


A recent Supreme Court decision made it even harder for women to make official complaints by ruling that 3 million low-level supervisors cannot have harassment charges filed against them. Instead, a woman would have to claim that the company failed to protect her from co-worker harassment -- a much higher legal hurdle.

But as a brief by the National Women's Law Center points out, these supervisors have substantial control over the scheduling of shifts, the assignment of duties, requests for time off or sick leave for a child and more. Beyond the desperately needed paycheck, because these women are also the prime caregivers, these are precisely the conditions that affect a woman's ability to provide for her family's needs.

Agriculture, a male-dominated industry, is another place where women face rampant levels of harassment and abuse. In one California study, as many as 80 percent of women reported being abused or raped in the fields. Due to the nature of the work, these women face particularly appalling levels of violence, which is often perpetrated by armed men in physically remote locations. Because many of these workers are also undocumented immigrants, speaking up can mean risking deportations and losing one's children.

While the majority of women are concentrated in low-wage jobs, a smaller number of women in relatively high-paid, male-dominated industries experience even higher rates of harassment and abuse. Eighty-eight percent of women in construction experience some form of sexual harassment while miners experience the highest levels.

The physically dangerous nature of these jobs can combine with harassment in ways that are life-threatening to women. It is these conditions, rather than the sexist assumption that women are too weak or uninterested in this type of work, that help maintain gender segregation that concentrates women in the lowest-paid occupations.

Even when women suffer violence outside of the workplace, it still has repercussions on their work and their ability to provide for themselves and their families. A National Sexual Violence Research Center study found that 50 percent of rape victims lost or were forced to quit their jobs in the year following their rape because of the severity of their reactions. Some 21 percent of women who were abused by an intimate partner lost time from work as a result.


Anita Hill is right to say that this isn't about "men behaving badly" or, in this case, one particularly repulsive man behaving particularly badly. It is, or should be, about the ways in which sexism, sexual assault, harassment and violence have cumulative impacts that profoundly affect all aspects of women's lives.

Such a conversation would have to begin by acknowledging that while Trump may be exceptionally public and explicit in his objectification and degradation of women, the abuse he has committed isn't at all exceptional. It would also have to address the social conditions in which women experience sexism.

We may be about to elect our first woman president, but conditions for the vast majority of women have worsened. Almost 60 percent of families headed by a single mother live in poverty. The decline in social spending -- from the destruction of welfare programs to reductions in food stamps and cutbacks in child care services -- have made the situation of women and their children even more precarious.

These economic realities make women more vulnerable to abuse both in the workplace and in intimate relationships. And these conditions are the direct result of a bipartisan commitment to austerity, which Clinton fully embraces.

Similarly, Clinton has defended U.S. immigration policy that has led to the deportation of more than 2 million immigrants in the last eight years. So long as this threat remains in place, migrant women will be subject to much higher levels of sexual violence.

If we really want to challenge the toxic sexism that lurks beneath the surface, and which the exposure of Trump has brought to light, then we need to address the persistent social and economic inequality that women face.

But if one thing has become clear since this story broke, the aim for much of the media and certainly for Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party hasn't been exposing or defeating sexual harassment and assault; It's been about exposing and defeating Donald Trump.

These aren't the same thing -- no matter how much Clinton and the media want us to believe they are.

In fact, perhaps the only thing more sickening than hearing Trump brag about sexual assault is realizing that for Clinton, this is the best thing that could have happened for her campaign. While most women must have watched the first minutes of last week's debate with a sense of dread and revulsion, Clinton was smiling and confident.

Her reaction is almost impossible to fathom unless you understand that she wanted this misogynist and racist to rise to the top of the Republican field because there's nothing better for her campaign than running as "not Trump."

Women may very well be the margin of victory for the first woman president of the U.S., and a misogynist may well see his hopes for the White House go down in flames over sexual assault. But it feels like we're still the ones losing -- as once again, women's lives and bodies are treated as nothing more than political pawns.

No matter what happens on November, it's been made all the more clear that we live in a deeply sexist society -- and it will be up to women and men to build a movement to challenge that.

News Mon, 24 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline Could Be the East Coast's Dakota Access Pipeline

While the Dakota Access Pipeline is making headlines, there's a storm brewing in the East. Dominion wants to lay down nearly 600 miles of natural gas pipeline across West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina to service energy companies across the region.

But the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is finding opposition from people concerned about environmental impacts, property values, landscape preservation and dangerous eminent domain precedents.

While seizure of private property for public uses has a long-established history, taking land for a privately owned and operated natural gas pipeline -- as is happening more and more across the U.S. -- is a troubling step.

Dominion argues that it will improve access to safe, cleaner energy generation that will stabilize and lower prices for customers across the region. Rather than investing in actual clean energy, however, the firm apparently wants to continue relying on fossil fuels.

The governors of the three states involved all support the pipeline, but their populations are delivering mixed reviews.

When it was first presented, plans indicated that the pipeline would cut across national forests. Now, it will slice through more a populated landscape, including properties protected under conservation easements.

Like pipeline opponents in many places, people are concerned about the environmental impacts of transporting fossil fuels to generate energy, as well as the ecological fallout of pipeline construction in potentially vulnerable areas.

Even if the pipeline meets official scrutiny to move forward, habitat fragmentation is a serious concern.

For those with conservation easements, the proposed pipeline carries an especially bitter sting.

Numerous property owners are being ordered -- via lawsuit -- to turn over their land to the company. Those with easements, however, put land into easement specifically to forestall development.

Conservation easements are an incredibly valuable tool for protecting the landscape, as well as natural resources. But they only work when they're perpetual -- when someone buys land with a conservation easement, they must honor it.

This formalized protection is being shredded with threats to seize such property for pipeline construction, which requires a 75-foot swath of clearance -- in addition to access for repairs and inspections.

Last year, multiple protesters were arrested after forming a blockade in opposition to the pipeline. This year, protesters planted and harvested sacred corn grown from seeds cultivated by the Ponca Tribe before it was expelled from its land.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, is currently reviewing substantial data from both sides of the debate. The group will need to make some challenging decisions balancing the law, public interest, pressure from Dominion and concerns of the people who will be directly affected by the pipeline.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is only one among a slew of planned pipelines across the United States. Unfortunately, many don't attract attention until protest reaches a critical mass, which makes them much more challenging for opponents to fight.

If you want to keep a closer eye on the proposed construction, FERC notices are a good place to start. They represent an early intervention point, providing information about project proposals and offering an opportunity for formal public comment.

News Mon, 24 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Many Voters Are Disenfranchised by Bad Ballot Design

This Nov. 8, even if you manage to be registered in time and have the right identification, there is something else that could stop you from exercising your right to vote.

The ballot. Specifically, the ballot's design.

Bad ballot design gained national attention almost 16 years ago when Americans became unwilling experts in butterflies and chads. The now-infamous Palm Beach County butterfly ballot, which interlaced candidate names along a central column of punch holes, was so confusing that many voters accidentally voted for Patrick Buchanan instead of Al Gore.

Before: no header for the Senate race, after: consistent headers for all contests. (Brennan Center, Better Design Better Elections)Palm Beach county's infamous butterfly ballot. (Wikimedia Commons)

We've made some progress since then, but we still likely lose hundreds of thousands of votes every election year due to poor ballot design and instructions. In 2008 and 2010 alone, almost half a million people did not have their votes counted due to mistakes filling out the ballot. Bad ballot design also contributes to long lines on election day. And the effects are not the same for all people: the disenfranchised are disproportionately poor, minority, elderly and disabled.

In the predominantly African American city of East St. Louis, the race for United States senator in 2008 was missing a header that specified the type or level of government (Federal, Congressional, Legislative, etc). Almost 10 percent of East St. Louis voters did not have their vote counted for U.S. Senate, compared to the state average of 4.4 percent. Merely adding a header could have solved the problem. Below you can see the original ballot and the Brennan Center redesign.

Before: no header for the Senate race, after: consistent headers for all contests. (Brennan Center, Better Design Better Elections)Before the Brennan Center redesign: no header for the Senate race. After the redesign: consistent headers for all contests. (Brennan Center, Better Design Better Elections)

"When we design things in a way that doesn't work for all voters, we degrade the quality of democracy," said Whitney Quesenbery, a ballot expert and co-director of the Center for Civic Design, an organization that uses design to ensure voters vote the way they want to on Election Day.

Many Mistakes Can Be Avoided With Tiny Tweaks

Designer Marcia Lausen, who directs the School of Design at the University of Illinois at Chicago, wrote a whole book about how democracy can be improved with design. She even tackles the infamous butterfly ballot. The 2000 Chicago Cook County judicial retention ballot crammed 73 candidates into 10 pages of a butterfly layout punch card ballot, with punch holes packed much more tightly together than in previous elections. As in Palm Beach, Yes/No votes for the candidates on the left page were confusingly interlaced with Yes/No votes for the right page.

Lausen's proposed redesign eliminates the interlaced Yes/No votes, introduces a more legible typeface, uses shading and outlines to connect names and Yes/No's with the appropriate punch holes, and removes redundant language.


2016 1024ballots3


2016 1024ballots4Before and after butterfly ballots. (Design for Democracy)

In the 2002 midterm election in Illinois' Hamilton County, each column of candidate names was next to a series of incomplete arrows. Voters were supposed to indicate their choice of candidate by completing the arrow on the left of the candidate name. But because we read left to right and the candidate names in two races lined up perfectly, many voters marked the arrow to the right. As presented in a Brennan Center analysis, setting the columns a bit further apart and adding borders would have cleared up this confusion:

Illinois’ Hamilton county confusing ballot, and suggested redesign. (Brennan Center)Illinois’ Hamilton county confusing ballot, and suggested redesign. (Brennan Center)

In Minnesota in 2008, Al Franken beat Norm Coleman for the U.S. Senate seat by a sliver, less than 300 votes. In that race, almost 4,000 absentee ballots were not counted because the envelope was not signed. The Minnesota Secretary of State's office decided to redesign the mailing envelope. After a series of usability tests, they added a big X to mark where people should sign. In the following election in 2010, the rate of missing signatures dropped to 837. Below is the before and after from a Brennan Center report:

Minnesota absentee ballot mailing envelopes, in 2008 and redesign in 2010. (<a href="" target="_blank">Brennan Center</a>, Better Design Better Elections)Minnesota absentee ballot mailing envelopes, in 2008 and redesign in 2010. (Brennan Center, Better Design Better Elections)

Minnesota's mailing envelope is a good example of how designers can solve design problems well before any election actually happens -- by testing those ballots beforehand.

"Test and test and test," recommends Don Norman, a designer and cognitive scientist who wrote the the book on designing objects for everyday life. The most important aspect of ballot design, he says, is considering the needs of the voters. He suggests doing extensive testing of ballots on a sample of people, which should include those who are "blind, deaf, or people with physical disabilities as well as people with language difficulties."

Bad Instructions Are a Design Problem, Too

Beyond layout and ordering, the unanimous winner for worst part of ballot design? Instructions.

"The instructions are uniformly horrible!" said usability expert Dana Chisnell, who co-directs the Center for Civic Design with Quesenbery. Confusing jargon, run-on sentences, old-fashioned language left over from 100 years ago: all of these plague ballots across the country. Here are a few example instructions (the first from Kansas, the second from Ohio) along with the Brennan Center's redesign:


2016 1024ballots7


(Brennan Center, Better Ballots)(Brennan Center, Better Ballots)


2016 1024ballots9


(Brennan Center, Better Ballots)(Brennan Center, Better Ballots)

Even if the instructions are clear, placement of instructions has a huge effect on whether people understand them. In usability tests conducted in Florida's Sarasota and Duval counties in 2008, the majority of participants got to the end of the ballot and stopped. Which was a problem, because the ballot continued on the other side. Despite instructions specifically telling people to vote both sides of the ballot, they didn't.

So designers added three words to the end of the right column: Turn Ballot Over. The result? An estimated 28,000 fewer lost votes in the two counties that adopted the redesign. Here's the before and after:

(Brennan Center, Better Design Better Elections)(Brennan Center, Better Design Better Elections)

Designers Have Already Put Together Guidelines for Making Better Ballots

Luckily, there are resources for how to help avoid these predictable problems. In addition to Lausen's book, the Design for Democracy initiative has worked for years at applying design principles to improve elections. A few years ago the design association AIGA combined forces with Whitney Quesenbery and Dana Chisnell to condense their best practices into a set of handy field guides.

The ballot-specific guide, Designing Usable Ballots, has this advice:

  1. Use lowercase letters.
  2. Avoid centered type.
  3. Use big enough type.
  4. Pick one sans-serif font.
  5. Support process and navigation.
  6. Use clear, simple language.
  7. Use accurate instructional illustrations.
  8. Use informational icons (only).
  9. Use contrast and color to support meaning.
  10. Show what's most important.

For the designers, these recommendations may seem obvious. But election officials -- the ones responsible for laying out a ballot -- are not designers.

Sometimes, Reality Thwarts Good Design

Even if officials wanted to follow every design best practice, they probably wouldn't be able to.

That's because ballots are as complicated as the elections they represent. Elections in the U.S. are determined at the local level, and so each ballot must be uniquely crafted to its own jurisdiction. Ballots must combine federal, state, and local contests, display measures and propositions, and sometime require voters to express their choices in various formats -- for example ranking their choices versus selecting one candidate for the job.

"There will always be special circumstances that present new problems for ballot design," said David Kimball, a political science professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis who has written extensively on voting behavior and ballot design.

Take what happened this summer in California's Senate race primary. A record number of 34 candidates were running to replace incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer, and the ballot needed to fit them all. In many counties, elections officials simply couldn't follow the good design recommendation of "Put all candidate names in one column."

To Make Matters Worse, Bad Design Is Written Right Into the Law

Election officials are often constricted in what they can and can't do by specific language in their local election code. More often than not, the law is to blame for bad design.

For example, numerous jurisdictions require that candidate names and titles be written in capital letters. This goes against huge amounts of evidence that lowercase letters are easier to read. Other requirements like setting a specific font size, making sections bold or center-aligning headers make it next to impossible to follow all the design best practices.

Illinois Election Code used to require candidate names to be printed in capital letters. (Statutes of the State of Illinois)Illinois Election Code used to require candidate names to be printed in capital letters. (Statutes of the State of Illinois)

Some election code requirements just seem to invite clutter. In Kansas, a candidate's hometown must be listed under their name. In California, the candidate's occupation. Designers argue that this additional text complicates the ballot with needless information, but they can't get rid of it without breaking the law.

"It's amazing how many design prescriptions are written into law by non-designers," said designer Drew Davies, who has worked with numerous jurisdictions to improve their ballots and voting materials and is design director of AIGA's Design for Democracy.

Some of those prescriptions border on the comical. In New York, election law requires that each candidate name must be preceded by "the image of a closed fist with index finger extended pointing to the party or independent row." Here's how that actually looks on real New York ballots:

(Otsego County and North Castle, Westchester County)(Otsego County and North Castle, Westchester County)

In Design, Everything Matters -- Even the Order of the Candidate Names

Some design problems are not as obvious as a pointing finger. Take something as simple as the order of the candidates' names. There is a well known advantage for being listed first on the ballot. The "primacy effect" can significantly sway elections, especially in smaller races not widely covered in the media where there is no incumbent. One study of the 1998 Democratic primary in New York found that in seven races the advantage from being listed first was bigger than the margin of victory. In other words, if the runner-up candidates in those races had been listed first on the ballot, they likely would have won.

As one report puts it, "a non-negligible portion of local governmental policies are likely being set by individuals elected only because of their ballot position." To combat this unconscious bias, some states have already mandated that names are randomly ordered on the ballot. Still, many states and jurisdictions do not have a standard system for organizing these names.

The Future Will Bring New Design Challenges … but Also New Ways to Make Voting More Accessible

As more and more states adopt absentee and vote-by-mail systems, they make voting more accessible and convenient -- but they also introduce new ways of making mistakes. And those errors are only caught after the ballot has been mailed in, too late to change. A polling place acts as a fail-safe, giving you the opportunity to ask a poll worker for help or letting you fill out a new ballot if yours gets rejected by the voting machine. But on an absentee ballot, if you made a mistake and your vote isn't counted, you'll never know.

There are several current efforts to overhaul the ballot entirely. Los Angeles County, for example, has teamed up with the design company IDEO to create an easier and more accessible way to vote. Their customizable device would let people fill out a sample ballot on their own time from a computer or mobile device, and then scan a code at the polling place to automatically transfer their choices to a real ballot.

The Anywhere Ballot is another open-source project that's designed to create a better voting experience for everyone -- including voters with low literacy or mild cognitive issues. Their digital ballot template, which came out of extensive user testing and follows all the current ballot design best practices, lets anyone use their own electronic device to mark a ballot.

But of course, the design problems that plague ballots affect all aspects of the voting process.

Voter registration materials, mailed voter guides and education booklets, election department websites and online instructions, poll worker materials -- all of these have problems that can be improved with better design.

"Ballots are where all the drama happens," said designer Lausen, "but there is much more to election design."

News Mon, 24 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Court Workers Take the Lead: Bay Area Unionists Gear Up for Contract Fights

After eight years of no pay raises and continuous short-staffing, the court clerks and janitorial staff at the Santa Clara Superior Courts were fed up.

In August, over 300 workers walked off the job. In wealthy Silicon Valley, the clerks and janitorial staff at the Superior Courts have suffered continuous short-staffing and no wage increases since the 2008 recession, even though the cost of living has risen 26 percent. Their 8-day strike was fortified by building community support, especially amongst attorneys, and a resolve to stay out until their demands were met.

This small independent union, the Superior Court Professional Employees Association, primarily made up of women and people of color, shut down 11 facilities, showed the judges who really runs the courts, and won a pay raise in both years of their contract.

Inspiring others. The court strike will resonate with other unions that have contracts expiring in 2016-17. The University of California service and patient care workers (AFSCME 3299) and clericals (Teamsters 2010) -- thousands of workers statewide -- are organizing for their bargaining fights. In the Bay Area, this includes UC Berkeley and UC Hastings College of the Law where this author works. In San Francisco alone, union contracts expiring in 2017 cover public school teachers (United Educators of San Francisco), clerical staff at City College and other city and county workers (in SEIU 1021), and Muni bus drivers (Transit Workers Union Local 250-A).

Bay Area workers are disgusted with prohibitive housing costs while corporations get tax breaks. They are fighting for wage increases, an end to contracting-out, and pension protections. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 1021 strategy is to "link arms with San Francisco residents, elected leaders, and community allies to amplify our united message of expanding and restoring public services." Teamsters 2010 is demanding a 25 percent pay increase over five years.

AFSCME 3299 pledges to strike "for as long as it takes." A main issue is contracting out which it bluntly describes as union busting. With 600,000 fewer public workers overall since the Great Recession, AFSCME is tackling ever-increasing privatization, which creates a dual tier where workers doing the same job are not paid the same. This undermines solidarity in the bargaining unit by pitting workers against each other.

Public workers lead. It is no surprise that the people of color and women working for local governments, school districts and public transit are the most militant. The least paid fight the hardest. And providing services to the poor and disenfranchised creates solidarity with the people they serve.

Public-sector employees make up 49 percent of unionized workers, which is significant because they are only about 16 percent of the total workforce. They are a powerhouse for the labor movement, and therefore critical to halting worsening working conditions, racism and sexism, wages and health benefits, and job insecurity. Organized workers have hard-won rights that prevent their bosses from changing working conditions without negotiating with the union. Unions now represent only 11 percent of the total work force, but they have the power to stop vital production and services. That most definitely scares the ruling class.

The good news is that more rank-and-file unionists are pushing to meet the attacks head on. The bad news? Too often standing in their way are their own labor leaders who prefer to defend the status quo. Last year, for example, national labor honchos were prepared to accept defeat, without a fight, in the Supreme Court case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. The lawsuit, based on the ultra-conservative "right-to-work" assault on union membership, threatened the very existence of public employee unions. The Freedom Socialist Party called for organizing a union march on the Supreme Court and got local and state union resolutions passed for that strategy. But national labor leadership ignored this rank-and-file initiative. It was only the death of Justice Scalia that gave unions a temporary reprieve.

Strike! A winning strategy. While pre-bargaining boldness is a positive start, it needs to be backed up by action. As the Friedrichs case showed, public worker unions are in the crosshairs. Labor must fight back. Bay Area unions can be victorious with a plan that puts strikes on the agenda, prepares members for other potential job actions, and brings unions and community activists together in action.

One of the first things unions could do is to pull resources out of Hillary Clinton's presidential bid to work on unions' survival. Instead of spending millions of dollars and hours on this former Walmart board of directors member, they should invest in a strike fund.

All unions with expiring contracts should strategize together to plan joint actions. If necessary, a general strike should be on the table. Both San Francisco and Oakland share a worthy history of having held the last general strikes in the United States, in 1934.

Unionists need to build community backing for their issues. This includes students, transit riders, parents, faculty, social justice organizations, unorganized workers, radicals, and other unionists. Of special importance is reaching out to people impacted by the job actions. Management always pits public service providers against service recipients to hide the fact that good working conditions mean better service.

The Chicago teachers' strike of 2012 and the East Coast Verizon strike this spring prove that workers can win. Working people everywhere, in a union or not, are sick to death of being priced out of their homes, retirements, healthcare plans and education while head administrators get top dollar. Organized labor has the power to shut down cities and counties. Now is the time for the union movement to show its might and take the offensive.

News Mon, 24 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Long-Standing Economic Issues Cloud the Future of Both Parties

The political future of both parties hinges on two pernicious problems: growth -- or the lack of it -- and inequality. Pundits and parties who overlook the country's structural economic problems are certain to get another big surprise in the post-2016 electoral world.

Donald Trump speaks at CPAC 2011 in Washington, DC, on February 10, 2011. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)Donald Trump speaks at CPAC 2011 in Washington, DC, on February 10, 2011. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

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As the seemingly endless election season ramped up in early 2015, it appeared certain to the punditocracy that we were headed for a rather predictable election year: Hillary Clinton all but wore the mantle of presumptive nominee, and Jeb Bush or perhaps Marco Rubio looked to be the next nominee in the mold of Mitt Romney. Instead, a precedent- and expectation-shattering year left the entire nation struggling to make sense of it.

We'd better do so quickly: Like the increasingly vicious storms that scientists say have been spawned by climate change, this wild election might be the beginning of a trend.

The realignment to come will likely further scramble the two political parties. Long-standing economic schisms are sure to play as key a role in what comes next as they did in crafting our current Trumpian drama. Pundits and parties who overlook the country's structural economic problems are certain to get another big surprise in the post-2016 electoral world.

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

White working-class voters are in many ways the center of this election. Donald Trump is certainly banking on them, and they appear to have returned the favor: In an unprecedented event for modern Republican politics, Trump raised more than $100 million in a few short months from donors giving less than $200.

Even so, Democrats are positioned for a far better year than Republicans, especially following news of Trump's unexpurgated tape and a debate performance had turned "nasty women" and "bad hombres" into pro-Clinton memes and left his fellow Republicans scrambling to handle Trump's hot-potato of a suggestion that he won't honor the election results -- unless he wins.

All of this makes Clinton's path through the Electoral College look increasingly secure; the GOP seems likely to lose the Senate. Analyst Mark Siegel's triumphalist take on the Democrats' future for The Huffington Post largely reflects what we've been hearing for years: The party's demographic advantage grows stronger, especially now with the GOP's nomination of Trump, and it inevitably will dominate the 2020s and probably beyond.

From my perch, in a former steel town whose largest employment base has moved from manufacturing to service, however, demographics don't look like Democratic destiny.

The media has increasingly focused on the declining mobility of white working-class voters while seldom mentioning that many African-American and college-educated millennials are on the same downward slope. Trump's rhetoric around race is anathema to large swaths of these voters, but in reality, their economic situation is often similar or worse than Trump's core constituency.

That is clearly symbolized by Clinton's problems with millennial voters.

Sanders won more votes from those under 30 than both Trump and Clinton combined in the primaries before June in states that compiled exit polling data for the youth vote. The Democrats now fear that young voters are sliding toward third parties, which could tip the election.

Educated young people like myself have been leaving longtime Democratic cities in the Rust Belt and other forgotten corners of the country for years -- sometimes for the coasts (where Democratic-dominated cities are almost universally unaffordable) or Southern cities, where housing remains more attainable.

In Listen Liberal, author Thomas Frank writes, "It should not surprise us that the liberal class regards the university as the greatest and most necessary social institution of all, or that members of this cohort reflexively propose more education as the answer to just about anything you care to bring up."

The experience of the millennial generation refutes the idea of education as the only balm for deep economic wounds. Over the last decade, median wages have gone down, or at best, remained stagnant in four out of the top five industries employing 18- to 24-year-olds. Out of the top five industry sectors employing older millennials, only in health care have real wages risen. These figures explain Sanders' popularity among this downwardly mobile generation. With millennials growing to half of the workforce by 2020, an inability to extend upward mobility to their voting bloc will endanger any theory of Democratic demographic destiny.

The party's prospects with black voters, long a core constituency, are similarly fraught: President Barack Obama made a highly personal speech in September to African-American voters, stating that it would be a "personal insult" if they fail to turn up at the polls. It was a startling plea, given Trump's deep unpopularity with black voters. Yet, like millennials, African-Americans face economic headwinds. The median wealth of white households is currently 13 times that of black households. As of August 2016, the unemployment rate stood at 4.4 percent for whites and 8.1 percent for African-Americans. Even black college graduates face a harder job market than their white counterparts.

In a recent essay, The New York Times' David Brooks referred to Democrats as "gown" and Republicans as "town." Democrats are indeed electorally dominating the coasts and large metro areas in the country's interior. However, large economic divides -- between the coasts and the interior of the country, and between upwardly mobile professionals and those left behind -- hold ominous portents for Democrats.

The social divide based on educational achievement cuts across racial and class lines. By 2032, most blue-collar workers will be people of color, and 66 percent of the labor force today consists of workers without college degrees. A dominant Democratic Party that cannot address a lack of upward mobility and an education gap between the largely white professional class wing of the party and working-class voters of color, especially African-Americans, faces a formidable future dilemma.

Trump's support among white workers without a college degree is leading many pundits to paint the GOP as the future party of the white working class, not the country club set. It's not surprising given that Trump's populist campaign is filled with attacks against trade deals. In May, Trump even stressed that he would make the GOP a "worker's party," although Trump's tax plan appears closer to supply-side dogma of the Ronald Reagan Republican Party. Underneath the candidate's populist front is a set of thoroughly discredited economic policies.

The political future of both parties hinges on two pernicious problems: growth, or the lack of it, and inequality. Under Obama, the US economy has yet to experience a single year of 3 percent GDP growth. At the same time, most of the income gains since the end of the recession have gone to the very top earners.

According to Moody's Analytics, Trump's economic prescriptions would trigger another recession, costing millions of jobs. Under their optimistic scenario, Clinton's economic plan would result in an estimated 2.7 percent annual GDP growth, better than the current numbers, but far behind the 3.9 percent average growth experienced during Bill Clinton's administration.

In his widely acclaimed new book The Rise and Fall of American Growth, economist Robert Gordon argues that productivity and economic growth will remain constrained into the future. Aside from the anomalous Clinton years in the 1990s, slowing innovation and rising inequality have hampered growth.

These same headwinds have the potential to sink either party going forward.

According to Gordon, we are unlikely to experience the large leaps in innovation that occurred in the 19th and mid-20th centuries. Subsequently, he forecasts that real GDP per person will grow at a rate of 0.8 percent between 2015 and 2040, compared to 2.41 percent from 1920 to 1970 and 1.77 percent since 1970.

Slow growth rates are compounded by the growth in inequality since 1970: This is the perfect recipe for political instability, especially when, according to groundbreaking economist Thomas Piketty, the US by 2030 could face a disparity in salaries alone (in other words, not even counting the wealth the affluent have in the form of capital) more extreme "than in any other society at any time in the past, anywhere in the world."

What could ameliorate these problems and which party is more likely to address them in a substantive way?

Trump's recycling of supply-side economics, highly restrictive immigration policies and lack of a real education platform seems to doom Republican prospects. And after recently leaked tapes from Access Hollywood revealed Trump bragging on a hot microphone about groping women, his campaign could finally be finished -- leaving the Republican Party in utter disarray, perhaps for years on end.

Yet, almost simultaneously, WikiLeaks published excerpts of Clinton's speeches to large financial firms, which portray a person at odds with her more recent liberal utterances. Sanders' supporters will find much to confirm their initial fears about the candidate. Democrats now face the daunting prospect of dealing with a widening inequality gap that if not addressed, threatens to fracture the party's coalition.

Far from being an anomalous election cycle, 2016 could simply signal more widely unpredictable elections to come.

News Mon, 24 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Three Massive Mergers -- Millions for One Bank and a Disaster for Food, Water and Climate

Mega-mergers in the food and energy markets are allowing a handful of corporations to dominate market sectors. Their market dominance means that when it comes to influencing public policy, politically powerful companies call the shots.

Construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline continues near St. Anthony, an unincorporated community in Morton County, N.D., Oct. 8, 2016. As the season's first deep freeze looms, the company behind the pipeline is racing to finish the $3.7 billion project by January, and thousands of protesters are vowing to stop it. (Photo: Kristina Barker/The New York Times)Construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline continues near St. Anthony, an unincorporated community in Morton County, North Dakota, October 8, 2016. As the season's first deep freeze looms, the company behind the pipeline is racing to finish the $3.7 billion project by January, and thousands of protesters are vowing to stop it. (Photo: Kristina Barker / The New York Times)

You probably learned in high school that monopolies are bad for consumers; they eliminate the field of competition in the marketplace, leaving people with fewer options and higher prices. Mega-mergers in the food and energy markets are allowing a handful of corporations to dominate market sectors. Their market dominance means that when it comes to influencing public policy, politically powerful companies call the shots. As Elizabeth Warren said in a speech recently, competition is dying -- and the accompanying consolidation in sector after sector is a threat to our democracy.

Mega-mergers in the food and energy markets are allowing a handful of corporations to dominate market sectors.

Beyond the corporate quest for market dominance, there is another reason these mergers keep coming at everyone else's expense: the deals make big money for the powerful banks that wield enormous power over our democracy. One such bank is Credit Suisse.

Here are the three most valuable mergers happening this year: U.S.-based Monsanto is being bought by German corporation Bayer for $64.5 billion; ChemChina is acquiring Swiss seed and pesticide company Syngenta for $46.7 billion; and the Canadian pipeline company Enbridge is attempting to purchase Houston-based Spectra for $43.1 billion.

There is one thing these deals in the works have in common: they are all being advised by Credit Suisse. And that consultation comes at a hefty price: Enbridge and Spectra are expected to pay banks nearly $100 million in advisory fees alone. For the Monsanto-Bayer merger, fees could top $200 million.

What These Mergers Mean for Food, Water and Climate

While the business press is all aflutter over all the money to be made by these mega-mergers, beyond the headlines these deals are a disaster for our food, water, and climate, not to mention our communities on the front lines of industrial agriculture and energy infrastructure.

In North Dakota, Credit Suisse is playing a big role behind the scenes, banking against the Standing Rock Sioux, along with Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Citigroup, and more. When we revealed this last month, we hadn't yet seen a huge separate loan of $850 million to Energy Transfer, which is Enbridge's main partner on the Dakota Access pipeline project. The pipeline jeopardizes the tribe's sole source of water, and yet over the tribe's objections, it's still being built.

The company has every intent to maximize the amounts of oil and gas that can be brought to the surface and burned.

If the Enbridge merger with Spectra goes through, it would make the biggest energy infrastructure company in North America, with huge political influence. The company has every intent to maximize the amounts of oil and gas that can be brought to the surface and burned, using fracking, but this is at the expense of targeted communities and the stability of our climate.

If the Monsanto and Syngenta mergers go through, Big Agribusiness would have even more economic power over farmers, increasing the prices they pay and limiting their choices for seeds and farm inputs. Even more crops will be grown with dangerous herbicides like glyphosate that have been linked to the growth of superweeds as well as cancer. And lobbying groups will continue to sway the debate over GMOs, thanks to their millions of dollars spent on marketing and misleading people about so-called benefits while downplaying the risks.

More Market Power = More Lobbying Heft

I've written extensively about mergers in the food and energy industry in my two books, Foodopoly and Frackopoly. As companies become more powerful, so does their lobbying heft. This influence peddling paves the way for deregulation and ever-more consolidation. Companies basically get to play by their own rules -- and people have to fight that much harder to make their voices heard in our democracy when this cycle continues.

As a society, we will all suffer from these mergers.

When you look at food issues from this lens, it's easy to see why our policies incentivize industrial agriculture and genetically modified organisms. Even before Ag secretary Earl Butz said farmers need to "get big or get out" in the early 1970s, our food and farm policy has favored large industrial interests. A handful of influential players, from Monsanto to Cargill to Walmart, have enjoyed the spoils -- very lax regulations and the ability to literally buy up their competition. This has led to policies that have created bigger and badder factory farms, for example, or made it harder for farmers get a fair price for their products.

The story is not much different in the oil and gas industry. Since the days of JD Rockefeller, the biggest oil companies have been busy consolidating their power and stopping environmental progress in its tracks, even going so far as to cover up the role of burning fossil fuels in climate change.

While the banks are making money on these mergers, the water protectors at Standing Rock are on the front lines -- along with many other communities, such as those in North Carolina, who are now facing the fallout of massive amounts of factory farm waste flooding communities after Hurricane Matthew. They are bearing the brunt of the effects of our highly consolidated food and energy systems. But make no mistake: as a society, we will all suffer from these mergers, while the banks continue to enjoy record profits and to resist necessary action on climate change because of their own bottom lines.

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Opinion Mon, 24 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400