Truthout Stories http://www.truth-out.org Fri, 22 May 2015 10:37:04 -0400 en-gb Body Cameras Are Not Pointed at the Police; They're Pointed at You http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30940-body-cameras-are-not-pointed-at-the-police-they-re-pointed-at-you http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30940-body-cameras-are-not-pointed-at-the-police-they-re-pointed-at-you

Civil rights advocates say body cameras are no substitute for comprehensive police reform and could even threaten civil liberties if proper safeguards are not in place.

 

Something unusual happened during a Senate subcommittee hearing on Tuesday - the committee reached a consensus, at least informally. Although they admitted that there is no "silver bullet" for restoring the public's faith in law enforcement in the wake of several high-profile cases involving killer cops, lawmakers from both parties, along with every witness called in to testify, agreed that police officers across the country should wear body cameras.

"If you could get the right protocols to protect privacy and make sure the officer is using the camera in an appropriate manner, do you think it's best for the nation to go down this road?" Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) asked Wade Henderson, CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a broad coalition of civil rights groups that have drawn up guidelines for body camera deployment.

"Without question, I think it's absolutely essential," Henderson replied.

"Does everybody agree with that? If you don't, speak up," Graham said. The room was silent.

Polls indicate that the vast majority of the public agrees, as well. The highly publicized deaths of one unarmed black man after another at the hands of police have given body cameras serious political momentum.

A 2012 survey found that 25 percent of departments are already using body cameras, and about 80 percent are actively evaluating the technology, and those numbers have probably increased in recent months as Congress and the Obama administration announced millions of dollars in funding for equipment and training. Body cameras, it turns out, tend to be popular among cops and their supervisors.

Henderson and other civil rights advocates, however, warn that body cameras alone will not solve the problem of racist and violent policing. Without the right policies and safeguards in place, body cameras could even make those problems worse.

"There is a real risk that these devices could become instruments of injustice instead of tools of accountability," Henderson told the committee.

No Substitute for Real Reform

Malkia Cyril, a prominent civil rights activist and director of the Center for Media Justice, said body cameras are no substitute for the kind of comprehensive reforms needed to curb police violence and hold cops accountable.

"Police body cameras are an unproven technology to collect evidence," Cyril said in an email to Truthout. "But this technology can't be relied upon to ensure police accountability that we, as a nation, have failed to implement."

Cyril said the focus should be on strategies to demilitarize police forces, fund education and employment programs in communities excluded by racial discrimination, and protect people from government surveillance, which could increase as body cameras are adopted on a mass scale, especially in communities of color, where police already have a heavy presence. Body cameras are pointed at the public, not the police, and could easily become another tool for surveillance.

With body cameras being rolled out across the country, Cyril said, every state must pass a "right to record" law to affirm the public's right to film the police on their own without facing harassment and the threat of arrest.

"It's bystander and civilian video, along with popular uprisings, that brought the issue of police brutality and murder to the national stage - not police body cameras," Cyril said.

Studies on local police departments have shown that the number of complaints against police officers and use-of-force incidents dropped after officers were outfitted with body cameras, and advocates agree both police and the people they interact with tend to behave better when the camera is rolling. Even law enforcement officials, however, say that body cameras alone will not mend community relations or prevent violence.

"Law enforcement agencies across this country are in desperate need [of] cultural diversity, use of force and de-escalation training," said Jarrod Bruder of the South Carolina Sheriff's Association, who called on Congress to increase funding for such programs. "Advanced training, not just basic training, is absolutely critical in our efforts to provide public safety."

Bruder said body cameras can increase protection for police officers and the public, but policy makers should not put "too much trust" in the technology. It cannot "magically" prevent tragic situations like the death of Walter Scott, the unarmed black man who was fatally shot in the back by a police officer in Charleston, South Carolina, after attempting to flee a routine traffic stop last month.

Police representatives like Bruder often request money for more training because it points the finger of accountability at lawmakers and the taxpayer, instead of at the police, who can often dodge taking responsibility for their own actions.

"On the one hand, training is a critical component of any job. On the other hand, cultural sensitivity training is counteracted by the failure of law enforcement to hold its officers accountable," Cyril said. "As a result, the first and most important step we can take to decrease police violence is demilitarize law enforcement."

Who is Under Surveillance?

Sen. Tim Scott, a Republican from Charleston who has championed body cameras since Walter Scott's death, requested Tuesday's Senate hearing on body cameras. (The senator is not related to Walter Scott.) A video of the shooting taken by a bystander drew national attention to the issue, and officer Michael Slager was later charged in Scott's death.

In his testimony, Senator Scott said that body cameras can "rebuild trust and construct brighter futures in many communities," but agreed with advocates that putting cameras on cops is just one of many steps that must be taken to tackle poverty, criminal justice reform and police brutality. Scott and other lawmakers also made it clear that they only want to assist those law enforcement agencies interested in body cameras and would not make adoption of the technology mandatory.

Henderson, however, pointed out that it was bystanders, not police with body cameras, who recorded the tragic encounters that lead to the deaths of men like Walter Scott and Eric Garner.

"There is a temptation to create a false equivalence between these citizen-recorded videos and body-worn cameras operated by law enforcement," Henderson said. "I urge the committee not to give into this temptation, because body-worn cameras won't be operated by concerned citizens and won't be recording officers. They will instead be directed at members of the community."

Henderson said that body cameras would exacerbate the dramatic disparities in how different communities are policed, if the technology becomes a "multiuse surveillance tool" for law enforcement. He warned against using facial recognition and other biometric technologies, along with body cameras, which would give law enforcement unprecedented abilities to peer into heavily policed neighborhoods, where stationary surveillance cameras are already abundant.

"These cameras should be a tool of accountability for police officers - not a face or body scanner for everyone who walks by on the street," Henderson said.

There are currently no federal rules or guidelines for when police officers should turn cameras on and off, or for the handling and storage of footage after it is taken. Individual departments must grapple with questions of how to balance the need to protect personal privacy of those on video and grant the public access to evidence.

"We always want to make sure that people at their most vulnerable do not end up on YouTube," said Lindsey Miller, a researcher at the Police Executive Research Forum, a group that has studied body cameras.

Miller's organization recommends that cops be required, with limited exceptions, to turn the cameras on while responding to all calls for service and to keep them on during encounters with the public. The Forum also recommends that cops be required to ask crime victims for their consent before interviewing them on camera, and that they be allowed to turn the camera off when receiving information from confidential sources.

Henderson and civil rights advocates say they recognize that police departments must consider individual privacy concerns before making footage available to a wide audience, but that any footage of police using force should be made public soon after the incident. Footage should also be made available to anyone who was filmed and wishes to file a complaint, along with the family members of anyone whose death is related to events captured on tape.

State lawmakers in South Carolina are already moving to exempt footage from body cameras from Freedom of Information Act requests, leaving it up to police and those videotaped to decide if and when the footage is publically released. Henderson said he is "concerned" about such "unilateral declarations" that block access to police videos.

Officers should be prohibited from viewing videos before they file reports, for example, and the vast majority of interactions with the public should be recorded, with exceptions made for sensitive interactions such as attending to victims of domestic violence. Such polices should be developed in full view of the public, with input from advocates and the local community.

"Without the appropriate safeguards, we are at risk of compounding the very problems in policing we are trying to fix," Henderson said.

He added, however, that policies for body cameras are meaningless if racial profiling and excessive use of force are not prohibited in the first place.

Research on body cameras suggest that body camera footage provides learning opportunities for officers and can be used during training, but some civil rights activists doubt that providing police departments with millions of dollars in new resources will do anything to curb excessive policing. In fact, it may have the opposite effect.

"You can't train law enforcement to treat communities with respect, then arm them as if they are at war with an enemy combatant," Cyril told Truthout. "That just doesn't work."

]]>
News Fri, 22 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Boondoggle HQ: The $25 Million Building in Afghanistan Nobody Needed http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30938-boondoggle-hq-the-25-million-building-in-afghanistan-nobody-needed http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30938-boondoggle-hq-the-25-million-building-in-afghanistan-nobody-needed

From start to finish, this 64,000-square-foot mistake could easily have been avoided. Not one, not two, but three generals tried to kill it. And they were overruled, not because they were wrong, but seemingly because no one wanted to cancel a project Congress had already given them money to build.

In the process, the story of "64K" reveals a larger truth: Once wartime spending gets rolling there's almost no stopping it. In Afghanistan, the reconstruction effort alone has cost $109 billion, with questionable results.

The 64K project was meant for troops due to flood the country during the temporary surge in 2010. But even under the most optimistic estimates, the project wouldn't be completed until six months after those troops would start going home.

Along the way, the state-of-the-art building, plopped in Afghanistan's Helmand province, nearly doubled in cost and became a running joke among Marines. The Pentagon could have halted construction at many points - 64K made it through five military reviews over two years - but didn't, saying it wanted the building just in case US troops ended up staying. (They didn't.)

The Pentagon brass chalked up their decisions on the project to the inherent uncertainty of executing America's longest war and found no wrongdoing. To them, 64K's beginning, middle and end "was prudent."

The $25-million price tag is a conservative number. The military also built roads and major utilities for the base at a cost of more than $20 million, some of it for 64K.

Ultimately, this story is but one chapter in a very thick book that few read. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction routinely documents jaw-dropping waste, but garners only fleeting attention. Just like the special inspector general for Iraq did with its own reports.

With 64K, SIGAR laid bare how this kind of waste happens and called out the players by name. The following timeline is based on the inspector general's report, supporting documents and ProPublica interviews.

Here's How the Story Unfolded:

First General Rejects 64K

Marine Maj. Gen. Richard Mills arrived at the dusty military camp in Helmand province at the start of the surge, and quickly faced decisions on what the base needed - and what it didn't.

Christened "Camp Leatherneck," the base was fairly barren with dirt-floored tents for a few thousand Marines, but would grow sizably as President Barack Obama's surge of 33,000 troops arrived in Afghanistan. The Marines were taking charge of Helmand and Nimroz provinces, an area the military called Regional Command Southwest.

They were working on creating housing, a post office, four gyms, a store and nearly 11 miles of roads - all the necessities of daily life at large bases, even in combat zones - and commanders had recently upgraded from a tent to plywood headquarters.

But in Kabul and an ocean away, at military commands in South Carolina and Florida, plans had been underway to replace the plywood with a hulking, 64,000-square-foot facility that would dwarf its surroundings in both size and sophistication. (And also suck up considerable power from a new $14-million utilities upgrade for electrical, sewage and water that planners had decided was now required on base.) Even with the growth, Mills was skeptical he needed the headquarters.

The 64K building was a part of 2010's massive, $482-million build-up for the surge. Although Obama had made clear the flood had an end date - troops would start to withdraw in July of 2011 - the military was prepping to build way past that timeframe.

In fact, despite what Obama said publicly, the military quietly assumed troop strengths would be maintained for five years and had master plans for 10, according to Army Maj. Gen. Bryan Watson, who would later be director of engineering for US forces in Afghanistan.

But, at least in the case of 64K, no one had asked the commander at Camp Leatherneck whether anyone needed or wanted a sprawling new facility larger than a football field. Marine Maj. Gen. Larry Nicholson, who was Mills' predecessor, said he not only didn't ask for it, he had no idea it was in the works.

"We certainly needed many things in those early days at Camp Leatherneck," Nicholson would later recall, "but we were very pleased with [current headquarters], and frankly we had many far more pressing facility issues."

That hadn't changed when Mills took over. He reviewed all planned projects for the next two years to evaluate "the relevancy of each project to the overall counter-insurgency mission" and whether the troops needed them.

The 64K building didn't make the cut.

Mills cancellation request memo

Second and Third Generals Want 64K Killed

Mills sent a cancellation request for 64K up the chain to Army Maj. Gen. Timothy P. McHale, a deputy commander for US forces in Afghanistan. McHale agreed with Mills.

The Marines have an adequate command headquarters, he wrote in a memo, so the project is "no longer required."

McHale

Later that week, a third general echoed Mills and McHale. Army Brig. Gen. William Buckler sent a memo to the US command that oversees Afghanistan, saying that given the overall Afghanistan campaign plan and its strategy for bases, the building is "no longer required."

Three generals had now come to the same conclusion: No one needed the 64K building. This was the time to stop the project.


Three "No" Votes Overruled By One Superior "Yes". 64K Moves Ahead

The cancellation requests landed on the desk of Army Maj. Gen. Peter Vangjel, deputy commanding general of US Army Central. The command was ultimately in charge of military construction in Afghanistan.

Vangjel rejected the advice of the three generals that the 64K building was superfluous. Not, SIGAR said, because he believed the building was essential, but because the money for the project was already in hand.

The previous month, funding for the surge - including $24 million specifically ticketed for the 64K building - had been signed into law. To kill the facility now and divert the funds elsewhere, the military would have to consult Congress, a bureaucratic process called "reprogramming." And no one seemed to want that.

Vangjel agreed to Mills' requests to cancel other Leatherneck projects that hadn't been assigned money by Congress already, but not 64K. Cancelling the project, "which has appropriated funds, and reprogramming it for a later year is not prudent," he wrote in a memo.

Vangjel

Vangjel gave no other reasons to justify spending the millions of taxpayer money.

For similar reasons, Vangjel at the same time refused to substitute the 64K building with a new request from Mills for a much smaller headquarters. Vangjel later said he was advised that a new round of approvals would delay the project too long and it might end up being too small.

But US Army Central wasn't eager to get 64K going. The command wanted to "move it to the bottom of the pile," Vangjel's staff member Lt. Col. Marty Norvel wrote in an email. They would like to push it "as far to the right as possible" on the calendar, as late as January 2012, and "ensure we time this award to support other operational needs."

SIGAR found that the correspondence "confirm[ed] there was no immediate operational need for the 64K building." Instead, "the real purpose was to retain the project for some other possible use in the future."


Military Opens Tab

Contract is awarded to build 64K for $13.5 million.

Construction Begins on 64K, Even Though No One Needs It

The military broke ground on the 64K building at an inauspicious time.

The Coalition forces had already begun handing control of the country back to the Afghans and would soon start pulling troops out of the country.

On June 22, Obama announced what everyone already knew. The drawdown of forces would begin in July. Ten thousand troops would be home by the end of the year, 20,000 more would leave by the end of 2012. And by the end of 2014, the combat mission would be over. Marines, in particular, would be headed out.

At this point, the 64K building wasn't even "12 percent complete."

It was the same story throughout Afghanistan. Construction that the military decided it needed in 2009 was just starting to come to fruition. Just like everything else in government, the projects took a long time to wind through the bureaucracy. Too long for war.

So come August, the military in Afghanistan, according to Watson, was "still building like crazy."


Tab Goes Up $109,545

A change was made to the building.

Tab Goes Up $2,661

A change was made to the building.

Military Axes $128 Million of Military Construction, But Not 64K

Five months after Obama told the country troops will "continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan Security forces move into the lead," the military suddenly realized it had to, Watson said, "take steps to get off the 'build out' program."

Marine Maj. Gen. John A. Toolan, the Regional Command Southwest commander at the time, canceled $128 million in military construction projects and wrote that "the time to stop building is now."

The 64K building wasn't on the list.

For projects already underway, Watson said, the military weighed the consequences of cancelling, including "how much was already obligated, how much could be saved after we paid the contractor termination penalties" and whether the project could be used for something else.

The Pentagon also told SIGAR that at the time 64K was required to serve as the headquarters "for an enduring presence at Camp Leatherneck." But that conflicts with the recollections of other generals who said the matter was far from settled.

Watson

Watson wrote that at this time the military construction review for Marine bases was "very contentious because there was no clear decision on whether [Leatherneck] would become an enduring base."

And the fate of the base would remain undecided for at least another year and a half. Marine Maj. Gen. Charles Gurganus, an RC-Southwest commander, said in an interview with ProPublica that when he left in 2013 "there were still discussions about it."

So whether the US would keep a long-term presence in Helmand was up in the air, and thousands of Marines already were going home. Yet the military continued to build a pricey, permanent headquarters facility at Leatherneck - just in case.


Tab Goes Up $105,656

A change was made to the building.

Tab Goes Up $257,396

A change was made to the building.

Marines' Mission Shrinks. But 64K Still Grows

Once construction got rolling on 64K - after Mills was gone - the Marines embraced it. Neither of the next two commanders, Toolan and Gurganus, attempted to downgrade the plans.

Stuck with the building, the Marines modified it to their liking. From September 2011 to April 2012, they made 15 changes. Seven increased the total cost by about $1 million. And they made an assortment of pricey upgrades, spending, for example, nearly $3 million for audio and video electronics and more than $526,000 for a video teleconference suite.

All the "bells and whistles" came from the Marines, according to Watson.

64K cost sheet
Click to view the 64K cost sheet.

By this point, the Afghans had taken over security for all of Helmand, and the US had started closing bases and sending equipment home. The Marines would soon shutter dozens of outposts.

And yet construction on 64K continued apace, seemingly without regard to the changing dynamics of the war. Stopping construction at that point would have cost more, Gurganus said. It's a common dilemma with wartime contracts. Payments often are made up front and half the money can be spent before anything is built.

Though he said he "would have done fine with a tent," Gurganus planned to move into 64K once the building was finished.

Finally, five months later, in October, the 64K building was done - but problems with the fire exits kept Marines from moving in right away. Then, in December, the Marines went for yet another change, this time moving around interior walls to accommodate a large conference table. The modification added more than $341,000 to the tab and caused more delays.

By the end of December, the Marines who poured into the country during the surge had gone home - and no one had used 64K.


Tab Goes Up $1,934,658

Furniture was ordered.

Tab Goes Up $2,774,637

Audio and visual equipment was bought for $2,304,669 and a video teleconference suite for $469,968

Tab Goes Up $3,047,434

In September, a water tank was bought for $176,255, along with more audio and video equipment for $603,474,and communication equipment for $2,267,705. An entry control point was also put in at a cost of $29,655.

Tab Goes Up $88,676

Expedited shipping was ordered on the furniture.

Tab Goes Up $501,978

Construction modifications were made to walls to accommodate a bigger conference table at a cost of $341,556 and more money was spent on furniture at a cost of $160,422.

Tab Goes Up $12,480

More was spent to expedite the shipping of the furniture.

64K Is Built. Marines Decide Not to Use It

Maj. Gen. Walter Lee Miller sent an email to his bosses: He wouldn't be using the 64K building that was finished in February, but still lacked communications equipment.

"I have no intent to move in," Miller wrote. "Many reasons, we are too small...we are moving into the fighting season and it is not ready." Any further installations to the building have been halted, he continued, to "end the money drain." (Another $19,414 went toward workers for furniture assembly regardless.)

This confirmed, SIGAR wrote in its report, "what was already known back in May 2010: that the Marines at Camp Leatherneck did not require a 64K command and control facility."


Tab Goes Up $19,414

Paying for costs related to workers for furniture assembly.

Empty, Fancy Building Attracts Attention of SIGAR

Not surprisingly, the state-of-the-art building, empty except for the furniture still wrapped in plastic, caught the eye of SIGAR.

It was "the best constructed building I have seen in my travels to Afghanistan," John Sopko, SIGAR's head, told then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, after he saw the wood-panelled auditorium, reclining chairs for conferences and high-end credenzas during a tour.

Officers, well aware of the joke the building had become, had taken Sopko aside while he was in Afghanistan to ensure he saw it.

Sopko later learned that the military had been scrambling to determine what to do and say about what had become a white elephant.

The Pentagon told SIGAR there had already been one investigation in May and another was underway. The first investigation had concluded that the best thing to do was to convert the building to something else, maybe a gym or a movie theater, so it wasn't a complete waste.

But Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, who was Commander of US Forces-Afghanistan and who would later be nominated as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, realized those conclusions were insufficient. The building, he wrote in his order for a new investigation, "has the potential to draw significant attention from auditors and Congress, and raises questions as to its approval and construction." He had this new investigation helmed by a two-star general.

In August, a month after SIGAR began asking questions, Army Maj. Gen. James Richardson concluded no one was at fault in the construction of the building.

Vangjel was correct in refusing the Marines' request to cancel the project because he knew that 64K was part of a larger "strategic vision" for long-term use of Camp Leatherneck, Richardson wrote in his report. The Marines' request for a smaller headquarters also proved that there was a need for some sort of facility.

An email exchange from Richardson's investigation starkly displayed the pervasive military culture of nonchalance towards costs. Although "as a taxpayer [I'm] not happy with waste," Navy Cmdr. Timothy Wallace wrote Richardson, given how much the military has spent on construction in the uncertain environment of Afghanistan, "if $30 million is the worst of it, that's probably not bad in the grand scheme of things."

email
Click to view email excerpt.

In his final report Richardson also heaped blame on the Marines who did not attempt to "reduce or prevent costs" until three years after the cancellation request.

To bolster his finding that the building was appropriately constructed, he noted that it had progressed through the leadership of five different Marine commanders. He did not mention that three out of five had never been consulted or had deemed the project unnecessary. The first didn't know about it, the second tried to cancel it, and the fifth arrived after it was done and said he wasn't going to move in.

Richardson recommended that 64K be completely finished by adding the required communication equipment and that troops be ordered to use it as their headquarters.

This recommendation, or "viable option" as Richardson put it, would cost an additional $5 million - more than twice the cost of just demolishing it.


SIGAR Doubts Pentagon, Opens Own Investigation

Concerned that Richardson's investigation was not a "thorough and candid review," SIGAR decided to jump in.

"We were surprised that the results we saw didn't really make much sense," Sopko said.

The military was not pleased and immediately moved to quash, or at least inhibit, SIGAR's work.

Col. Norman Allen, a staff lawyer for Dunford at the US Forces-Afghanistan command, sent an email to some command staff saying he'd prefer that they "slow-roll" SIGAR, but thought they couldn't.

In February, Allen sent another email mentioning "loyalty to the command" and noting that he "would consider it inappropriate" for people to tell "SIGAR what they think of the...investigation appointed and approved by the commander."

Allen also wrote that he, personally, has a good deal of knowledge about the investigation, but he wasn't going to cooperate with SIGAR.

Three days later, the US Forces-Afghanistan inspector general - who was on those email chains - sent a memo asking that "appropriate authorities intervene to cease SIGAR's evaluation of command internal business." How the military conducted its investigation of the 64K building, he wrote, is out of SIGAR's jurisdiction.

As SIGAR discovered those documents, investigators were troubled, because as Dunford's legal advisor, Allen was in a position to discourage full cooperation.

SIGAR's Sopko said in an interview that he couldn't fathom how anyone would think that as an independent inspector general he couldn't look behind the scenes.

"That's like saying I can look at fraud, waste and abuse but I can't look at generals. Or I can look at fraud, waste and abuse, but not the reasons why" they occur, he said.

The Pentagon stalled Sopko where it could, initially withholding from SIGAR the exhibits for the second investigation done by Richardson, for example. Then officers resisted turning over any other documents related to 64K, and Allen commented in an email that he didn't think Sopko "had the authority" to force them to, and, regardless, "[we] don't think we're working on providing him more info." Forced by law to reply, some unclassified documents were turned over on a classified disc, requiring time-consuming procedures and limiting who could view them.

"I think they delayed this a long time," Sopko said.

Later in the year, during a summer visit to Camp Leatherneck as SIGAR's investigation was ongoing, Sopko said he learned his military escorts had been told not to even drive by the 64K building with him.


Marines Go Home Without Ever Using 64K

The US turned the 64K building over to the Afghans. It is wired for American voltage, not Afghan, and the sophisticated fire system, air conditioning and power generation system all require specialized training. Not even the Marines had anyone on base who could repair the A/C. The monthly cost to operate the building is $108,300. As such, the military predicted the building would fast fall into disrepair in Afghan hands.

Employing serious understatement, one Defense Department document stated: "certain technologies, such as those designed in the [64K building] are not as accessible to nations in this region, whether because of cost or lack of interest or requirement."

The document said there was "no knowledge" that Afghanistan has the "basic desire to maintain and operate" the building.


Military Bungled 64K; Training Needed in Not Wasting Taxpayer Money

SIGAR Report
Click to read full SIGAR report

SIGAR's final report blasted the military for almost every decision it made in the 64K boondoggle. The military, it charged, disregarded sound advice from three generals for seemingly no valid reason. It attempted to frustrate SIGAR's examination. And it performed a limited, ineffectual investigation of the project.

SIGAR said that 64K cost the taxpayers $36 million. But its math both fails to include some costs and sweeps in too much of others. Investigators didn't account for the $1 million worth of modifications and the $8.3 million worth of communications equipment installed in the building, but added in the full cost of the utilities infrastructure and the nearly 11 miles of roads - even though they were for the entire base that housed about 20,000 people at its peak.

The Pentagon does not consider the utilities and the roads part of the building's cost, only conceding that the building, with the modifications and communication equipment, cost $25 million.

ProPublica used the $25-million figure and did not count the utilities and roads cost even though a portion of each was for 64K. Parsing the cost wasn't possible.

SIGAR found that Richardson "mismanaged" the inquiry, failed "to carry out a fulsome investigation," and had "no reasonable basis" to recommend that the military complete and move into the 64K building at considerable additional cost.

"Not only was the surge long over," the report said, "but the US had already begun to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and Camp Leatherneck's future was in doubt."

One startling discovery: Richardson never spoke to Vangjel, the man who denied the request to kill 64K. Richardson also didn't conduct any interviews or take sworn statements from other witnesses, instead posing questions over email, SIGAR's report said.

In an interview, Sopko said Richardson's explanation - that he didn't need to speak to Vangjel because he had sufficient information from documentation - "makes no sense, and particularly not from a general" who should know better.

SIGAR, however, did interview Vangjel and wasn't satisfied with his answers. He told them his decision to deny the cancellation was based on a "larger strategic plan" for Camp Leatherneck.

"However, [Vangjel] was unable to point to any documents, classified or unclassified, showing the existence of such a strategic plan," SIGAR wrote.

Further, SIGAR cited concerns that Allen had, in essence, coached Vangjel on how to respond by emailing him advanced excerpts of the military's own investigation's findings.

Allen sent Vangjel an email including language from the report that said Vangjel's decision was based on the "strategic vision of the enduring presence" in Helmand.

"Rather than simply asking General Vangjel why he thought it was prudent to approve the 64K building, Col. Allen appears to have provided him with the answer," SIGAR wrote.

requirements

Mills, the general who asked to cancel 64K and had since been promoted to lieutenant general, wrote Allen that he didn't recall being consulted about the denial - contradicting both Vangjel's claims and the military's report. If Vangjel had talked to Marines before his decision, Mills said, he did so "well below Flag Officer level."

Both Allen and Vangjel disputed SIGAR's characterization and conclusions. They each responded in writing: "I never sought to interfere with legal requirements or to coach the testimony of witnesses" and there was "no basis to question my integrity," Allen said.

Vangjel said he thought there were "significant errors throughout [SIGAR's] report and inadequate consideration of context and timing." He also denied being "coached" by Allen and repeated his assertions that there was both a need at the time for 64K and a long-term requirement.

Richardson, who is now in charge of aviation and missile readiness for the Army, didn't provide SIGAR with any comments on its report.

In its report, SIGAR recommended that Vangjel, Richardson and Allen be disciplined, and that the Pentagon do training, basically, on how not to waste taxpayer money.

The Pentagon rejected those recommendations, saying the military already has enough rules to prevent financial waste and maintaining that the decision to build the 64K building "was prudent."

The one recommendation that SIGAR and the Pentagon agreed on is a need to instruct service members on their legal obligation to cooperate with inspectors general.

But no one was disciplined. In fact, by November 2011, Vangjel had been promoted to lieutenant general and taken over a new post: He was the Army's inspector general in charge of sniffing out fraud, waste and abuse. He retired in February.

Today, the lavish project serves as the headquarters of a small Afghan regiment, according to an Afghan colonel who is a spokesman with the Ministry of Defense. Unable to make use of the high-tech "bells and whistles," it brought its own generator and occupies only a fraction of a cavernous space meant for at least 1,200 people.

Sources:

Data: ProPublica interviews; reports and supporting documents from the the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction and the United States Marine Corps. Additional Design & Development: Mike Tigas, ProPublica.

]]>
News Fri, 22 May 2015 09:10:36 -0400
Despite Advances, the Trans Struggle for Justice Behind Bars Is Just Beginning http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30937-despite-advances-the-trans-struggle-for-justice-behind-bars-is-just-beginning http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30937-despite-advances-the-trans-struggle-for-justice-behind-bars-is-just-beginning

Ashley Diamond's mother Diane, left, and one of her sisters, Diana Diamond-Wilson, upset by something Ashley is telling them during a rare phone call with her from prison, in Rome, Ga., March 24, 2015. Trans women sent to male prisons are at high risk for sexual assault - one study found that 59 percent of trans women in California's male prisons had been sexually assaulted while incarcerated compared to 4 percent of the cisgender male population. (Ruth Fremson/The New York Times) Ashley Diamond's mother Diane, left, and one of her sisters, Diana Diamond-Wilson, upset by something Ashley is telling them during a rare phone call with her from prison, in Rome, Georgia, March 24, 2015. Trans women sent to male prisons are at high risk for sexual assault - one study found that 59 percent of trans women in California's male prisons had been sexually assaulted while incarcerated compared to 4 percent of the cisgender male population. (Ruth Fremson/The New York Times)

Want to challenge injustice and make real change happen? That's Truthout's goal - support our work with a donation today!

For the past three years, Ashley Diamond has been denied health care as well as protection from recurring violence from the men around her. But she has been fighting back - and her fight has been making headlines and wresting small changes from the Georgia Department of Corrections. Her story starkly illustrates the challenges facing trans women behind bars - from frequent violence and sexual assaults to the denial of hormones and other medical neglect. But Diamond's experiences are far from unique, or even unusual. Nor is her decision to challenge prison policies around trans health care and safety an exception. Across the country, trans people have individually challenged and collectively organized to be free from physical, sexual and medical violence.

In 2012, Ashley Diamond, a black trans woman, was sentenced and sent to a men's prison. There, she was denied access to the hormones she had been taking prior to her arrest. This was in line with Georgia's policy to "freeze" treatment and current levels when a person is first sent to prison and to deny "new" hormone treatment. In Diamond's case, it was unclear why she was denied her existing treatment. Without the estrogen, progestin creams, testosterone blockers and anti-androgen medications, her body began to change.

But medical neglect was not the only form of violence she experienced. Although new standards under the Prison Rape Elimination Act recognized trans people as an especially vulnerable group whose placement should be considered and continually reviewed, officials ignored these standards when placing Diamond, who announced that she was a trans woman during intake. Despite her declaration, officials assigned her to a high-security men's prison. Within a month, six gang members attacked her, punching, stomping, raping and knocking her unconscious. She was transferred to another high-security prison, where she endured repeated harassments and sexual assaults. When she reported the assaults to prison officials, she said that they told her, 'You brought this on yourself.'"

In February 2015, she filed a lawsuit challenging the Georgia Department of Corrections' blanket denial of new hormone therapy to trans people within its prisons as well as requesting that the judge order her transferred to a lower-security prison. The New York Times profiled her and her safety efforts in April 2015. Then the Department of Justice got involved, arguing that denying Diamond treatment violated the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Less than a week later, Georgia announced that it was ending its blanket denial of hormone therapy to trans people in prison and would provide "constitutionally appropriate medical and mental health treatment." In doing so, Georgia is not going above and beyond their responsibility. People in jails and prisons have a constitutional right to medical care - a right that prison administrators and staff frequently ignore.

While she has made numerous headlines in recent weeks, Diamond is not the first trans person to force prison systems to provide needed health care. In 2005, after Wisconsin banned hormone treatment, civil rights groups challenged the law. It took six years, but a federal appeals court finally agreed that the ban was unconstitutional and overturned the law. In August 2013, Chelsea Manning announced that she was a woman and that she would be seeking hormone therapy from military prison. This past February, the Defense Department approved hormone therapy, the first time they had ever done so.

However, not every lawsuit has forced a blanket change - or garnered as much media attention. On the heels of Diamond's much-publicized victory, Vice reported the story of Ashley Jean Arnold, a trans woman incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Facility in Petersberg, Virginia. After she entered prison, Arnold was diagnosed with gender identity disorder. But the Bureau of Prisons also had a freeze frame policy denying new hormone therapy to people who could not prove having it before their incarceration. (The policy was changed in 2011 after the Obama administration settled a lawsuit.) Like Diamond, Arnold, with the assistance of jailhouse lawyers Sangye Rinchen (another trans woman) and Christopher Zoukis, filed suit challenging the denial of treatment. Although Arnold was placed on hormones six months later, the judge dismissed her case, ruling that prison officials had provided her with "constitutionally adequate treatment." The following year, on February 24, 2015, Arnold hung herself in her cell. Rinchen and Zoukis are now petitioning the Department of Justice to open a criminal investigation into the sexual harassment and retaliation that Arnold suffered after filing her suit. Zoukis has also vowed to continue helping other trans people fight for medical care within the prison.

In Georgia, although Diamond has succeeded in changing policy, changing practice may still remain a battle. According to her lawyers, her hormone dosage seemed to be too low to be therapeutic. The courts initially issued another blow, denying her request to be transferred to a lower-security prison where she might avoid the constant violence inflicted upon her since she entered prison.

Diamond and Arnold's experiences of constant violence and harassment are not exceptional. Rather, in men's prisons, they seem to be the rule. Trans women sent to male prisons are at high risk for sexual assault - one study found that 59 percent of trans women in California's male prisons had been sexually assaulted while incarcerated compared to 4 percent of the cisgender male population. As Diamond's story demonstrates, staff often blame them for the assaults; the solution offered is to place them in "protective custody," a form of solitary confinement in which they are confined to their cells nearly 24 hours a day without access to programming or human contact. Staff often perpetuate other forms of violence, such as harassment, humiliation and excessive strip searches as well as the refusal to recognize their gender identity.

Jenni Gann, currently incarcerated at California's Kern Valley State Prison, can attest to that. After renouncing her gang membership in 2002, she was sent to one of the Sensitive Needs Yards in California's prison system, where former gang members are sent ostensibly to avoid retaliation. The yard also holds people vulnerable to violence for other reasons, such as their sexuality or gender identity. Gann, who had quietly been struggling with her own gender identity for years, recalled in a recent letter, "I was so encouraged and inspired by the beauty and strength of some queens [a term used to describe flamboyant gay men] in particular that I said, 'Fuck the haters!'" She came out as trans in 2006 and began her gender transition; the following year, she began estrogen hormone therapy and connected with the trans community inside and out.

Gann has endured repeated sexual harassment during strip searches, with guards ridiculing her anatomy, threatening her and exposing her to incarcerated men. She notes that other trans women have experienced similar abuse from staff. Staff hostility could also be fatal: In November 2013, Carmen Guerrero, a trans woman at Kern Valley, was killed by her cellmate. The cellmate, who was housed in the yard for renouncing his gang membership, had repeatedly and openly told staff that he would murder Guerrero. Neither he nor Guerrero were moved. Then he strangled her. While prison officials launched an investigation into Crespo's actions, Gann reports that the officer whom he had told about his planned murder remains on duty and has faced no consequences.

Gann and others have not been keeping quiet. In every letter, Gann reminds me that Carmen Guerrero's murder could have been prevented had prison staff acted when Crespo first started making threats. "It's not safe for trans women [here]," she wrote, adding that she and another trans woman have been pressing for policy changes so that trans women can be housed in California's women's prisons where they are less likely to face the brutal transphobic violence that occurs daily in men's prisons.

Gann has reached across the bars to help organize and alert people about trans women's incarceration. For the past five years, she was a member of the leadership circle of Black and Pink, an organization of incarcerated queer and trans people and their non-incarcerated allies, and started the California chapter. Through Black and Pink's newsletter, as well as a blog on Between the Bars, she's reminded people about Carmen's murder and the lack of accountability, as well as the everyday injustices trans women face behind bars. Recently, she has also joined the leadership team of the TGI Justice Project, a group of trans people inside and outside of prison fighting for change, as well as the Gender Anarky Collective, a group of trans women incarcerated throughout California's prison system.

She and others have also reached out to support each other inside the prison. To combat the lack of information and trans-specific health care, they contact outside groups for up-to-date information and then share it with each other. "Because of the complex interdisciplinary treatment of gender dysphoria, which involves both mental health and medical care aspects, it's very important for us to be aware of the process of transitioning and to be an active participant in making the decision to proceed with each stage of triadic therapy," she explained in a recent letter. "For someone just coming out as trans, the support and advice of other queens is most important."

After hearing the judge deny her request for a transfer, Diamond reportedly hugged her mother and sister before guards shackled her and returned her to prison. "It's not over," she said. "It's just the beginning. Y'all stay strong." It wasn't over. One month later, the Georgia Department of Corrections transferred her to a medium-security prison, where Diamond says she feels safer.

]]>
News Fri, 22 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
The Left Matters - Now, More Than Ever http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/30936-the-left-matters-now-more-than-ever http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/30936-the-left-matters-now-more-than-ever

15 April, 2015: Elizabeth Warren speaks at Washington, D.C rally to end Fast-Track. (Photo: AFGE)Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks at Washington, DC rally to oppose fast-track trade promotion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, April 15, 2015. (Photo: AFGE)

Do you want to see more stories like this published? Click here to help Truthout continue doing this work!

Some leading Democrats seem to have a love-hate relationship with the left. Sure, progressives seem to have more influence than ever in the party this year, at least rhetorically. But it doesn't look like the friction will be going away any time soon.

President Obama has been escalating his war of words with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and her allies, reigniting a burning resentment he last let slip in 2010. Hillary Clinton has adopted more progressive rhetoric, but her unwillingness to fight for specific policies has left activists frustrated.

Clearly, the left matters. Why, then, is it so difficult for progressives to get a seat at the table?

The Obama White House and the Left

While Obama seems to have targeted Warren for especially intense criticism, some of his barbs were aimed at broader targets. "Every single one of the critics … (who) send out e-mails to their fundraising base that they're working to stop a secret deal, could walk over and see the text of the agreement," Obama said. "… I gotta say, it's dishonest."

Those remarks were aimed, not just at Warren, but Obama's other critics of the Trans-Pacific Partnership in Congress. That includes Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), as well as Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), and Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.).

There is no need to relitigate the TPP's secrecy or the honesty of TPP critics. It's a matter of tone as well as substance. The president hasn't sounded this piqued since 2010, when he dismissed progressives who criticized his compromises (some would say caves) with Republicans as seeking to "have the satisfaction of having a purist position and no victories for the American people."

That was not long after then-White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs sneered at "the professional left" and mischaracterized progressive positions so that he could say things like "these people ought to be drug tested." And it was the same year that Rahm Emanuel, who seemed to function as the administration's id, told a roomful of liberal activists that they were "f—ing retarded."

After the Détente

The administration's rancor toward the activist left seemed to disappear, or at least go underground, after the dustups of 2010 and 2011. The president tacked rhetorically to the left in response to the Occupy movement and in the run-up to the 2012 election. That boosted his poll numbers and is arguably responsible for his reelection.

In fact, five years after Obama excoriated progressives for rejecting his overtures to the GOP, outgoing White House advisor Dan Pfeiffer essentially acknowledged that Republicans never intended to work with the president and the left had been right all along. "There's never been a time when we've taken progressive action and regretted it," said Pfeiffer.

But that realization does not seem to have engendered new appreciation. The president seems unusually determined, not merely to win the TPP battle, but to knock his left-leaning adversaries out of the game altogether.

Clinton's Changes

As for Hillary Clinton, her 2008 campaign was marked by pointed criticisms of what she and her advisers described as "naiveté" - often a stalking horse for principled leftism - on the part of Obama and his supporters, as well as a deeply contemptuous series of attacks on "idealism" from aides and family friends. (I got sucker-punched in the ensuing brawl myself.)

Clinton's campaign is taking a decidedly different tone this time around, which is both judicious and welcome. Secretary Clinton seems to have recognized that idealism and leftist ideals are part of the essential DNA of her party - and of American politics.

Clinton has certainly embraced marriage equality, publicly "evolving" on this issue much as President Obama and former President Clinton have done. There, too, the left laid the groundwork. "I'm not evolving when it comes to gay rights," says Bernie Sanders. "I was there!"

Love Is Not Enough

It is beautiful to see love honored and validated in all its forms. But "love is not all," as the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote. "It is not meat nor drink nor slumber nor a roof against the rain."

Progressive positions on economic issues - which affect "meat, drink, and a roof against the rain" for families of all social groups and orientations - seem somewhat harder for certain Dems to embrace.

Wall Street, the largest source of mainstream Democratic financial support, is comfortable with socially liberal initiatives like gay marriage. But it is largely opposed to some of the specific measures that would reduce wealth inequality and encourage economic growth, especially in the areas of taxation, stronger regulations and the criminal prosecution of banker fraud.

The Populist Moment

How have the top Democrats responded to growing calls for economic populism? President Obama recently moved to increase the minimum wage for federal contractors, and has increased the hourly minimum wage he endorses. But he has not cracked down on Wall Street fraud and did not move to break up the big banks when he could have done so.

For her part, Secretary Clinton's embrace of economic populism has so far been largely rhetorical. She has taken verbal swipes at hedge funders, for example, but has thus far refused to speak up on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and its potential impact on American workers. She has tweeted in support of workers marching for a higher minimum wage, saying she thinks it should be raised, but she has not backed specific minimum-wage proposals or indicated what she thinks that wage should be.

Gratifyingly, Clinton has also spoken out against mass incarceration. That's one of the major crises of our time, one which was accelerated when President Bill Clinton signed the Violent Crimes Control Act. (President Clinton has essentially acknowledged as much in recent weeks.)

The Left Was Right

Which raises another point: On issue after issue, the left has been prescient in its analysis.

Welfare reform? When Bill Clinton signed the 1996 legislation, it was the left that pointed out that it wouldn't work. "I have devoted the last 30-plus years to doing whatever I could to help in reducing poverty in America," said Peter Edelman of the Department of Health and Human Services as he tendered his resignation. "I believe the recently enacted welfare bill goes in the opposite direction."

Edelman was right, and so were many others on the left. Thanks to a report from the University of Michigan's National Poverty Center, we now know that poverty increased in the United States by 130 percent between 1996 and 2013, and that "welfare reform" was the primary cause.

The invasion of Iraq? Many on the left were marginalized for opposing it, but they stood up when others - including some leading Democrats - did not.

Deregulation? When top Democrats were pushing it, it was the left that warned of fraud and future financial crises.

Gay marriage? The left's early adoption of this issue raises a thought that could make certain minds reel: Liberals may actually have a better feel for the zeitgeist than their triangulating counterparts.

Mass incarceration? When Bill Clinton was emphasizing enforcement, it was the left that warned that social measures were needed to reduce crime. (The The Justice Policy Institute has assembled the evidence.) Hillary Clinton repeated frightening myths about youth crime, saying: "They are not just gangs of kids anymore. They are often the kinds of kids that are called 'super-predators.' No conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way but first we have to bring them to heel …"

We now know that the "super predator" myth is nothing more than the product of junk science, urban legend, and some unconscious biases. In fact, the left was already saying so in the '90s.

The Left is Popular

The left hasn't just been right. It has also been popular.

Some centrist Democrats like to say they'd govern more liberally, but the United States is a "center-right" country. There is very little truth in this. It's true that relatively few Americans describe themselves as liberal or progressive (although that number is rising), but Americans hold progressive positions on many issues.

Vox said it best: "Bernie Sanders's ideas are so popular that Hillary Clinton is running on them." Polls show that, issue after issue, Americans support a leftist agenda of economic populism - that is, as long as is presented to them on an issue-by-issue basis. (See PopulistMajority.org for more.)

The Price of Success

It's a paradoxical situation: within the Democratic Party, those who have most often been right continue to be held at arm's length by those who - at least in most cases - were so often originally wrong.

Part of it appears to be a genuine feeling of contempt, despite the left's enviable record. There seems to be a belief among some top Dems that ideological progressives are merely less sophisticated versions of themselves. They argue that liberals are "stuck in the 1960s," not considering the possibility that they remain stuck in the 1990s. "If they knew how the world really works," they seem to be saying of progressives, "they'd be more like us."

And yet, the left has arguably shown a deeper understanding of how the world really works, one that has been tacitly accepted at times. Centrist Democrats are adopting progressive rhetoric because it works politically. They're talking about inequality because they know the left's analysis is correct.

The left's successes may, in fact, may have made it more of a threat. President Obama's resentment towards Warren, for example, is probably only exacerbated by her growing influence and credibility.

Secretary Clinton certainly can't be enjoying Warren's "wait and see" posture toward her candidacy. And while she praises Warren to the skies, she has yet to fight for any of Warren's key initiatives - or defend her from Obama's heated attacks.

Canary in a Coalmine

Democratic Party insiders will sometimes remind independent leftists that they are few in number, and that most Democrats are happy with their leaders. That's missing the point.

The independent left may not be an important voting bloc. But it holds the key to energizing disaffected voters across the political spectrum. They're the voters who believe that neither political party is speaking to their most deeply-felt needs: for a living wage, a secure retirement, a chance to put their kids to college and keep their family healthy.

For economic populists, those views have cohered into a "left" political perspective. For millions of other Americans, they remain little more than a vague and inchoate disaffection. They know that today's political debate isn't addressing their issues. They're sick of candidates who eat hotdogs at Iowa barbecues while telling them they know what they're feeling. They've heard a lot of rhetoric, but not much in the way of specifics.

(Speaking of specifics: As Sen. Warren said this week, this would be a good time for Hillary Clinton to "weigh in on trade.")

These voters want answers, and they want change. Since they're not seeing that, they have concluded that politics is pointless. So they either hunker down in predetermined party preferences or choose not to vote at all.

The activist left isn't important because of its numbers. It's important because its members are the canaries in the coalmine for an unresponsive political process. A Democratic Party that patronizes them will also fail to reach the disaffected majority.

The left shares something else with that majority: it's heard a lot of empty promises. Many (though not all) progressives will vote for the Democrats once again in 2016, even if they're dissatisfied. But it will take more than rhetoric to win millions of other alienated voters. It will take commitment - and action.

Want to know how to do that? Once again, the left can point the way.

]]>
Opinion Fri, 22 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Economic Update: Austerity Resistance Rising http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30933-economic-update-austerity-resistance-rising http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30933-economic-update-austerity-resistance-rising

This episode provides updates on business domination of universities in service to profits, and Republican efforts to undermine Democrats revenues from unions. We also respond to questions regarding business influence over government policies and the definition of fascism. Finally, we give an in-depth critical analysis on repression of those resisting austerity, and the crisis of US higher education.

To see more stories like this, visit Economic Update: Your Weekly Dose of Revolutionary Economics

To listen in live on Saturdays at noon, visit WBAI's Live Stream

Economic Update is in partnership with Truthout.org

Your radio station needs Economic Update! If you are a radio station, check this out. If you want to hear Economic Update on your favorite local station, send them this.

Visit Professor Wolff's social movement project, democracyatwork.info.

Permission to reprint Professor Wolff's writing and videos is granted on an individual basis. Please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">profwolff@rdwolff.com to request permission. We reserve the right to refuse or rescind permission at any time.

]]>
News Fri, 22 May 2015 09:08:04 -0400
Say Her Name: Families Seek Justice in Overlooked Police Killings of African-American Women http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30932-say-her-name-families-seek-justice-in-overlooked-police-killings-of-african-american-women http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30932-say-her-name-families-seek-justice-in-overlooked-police-killings-of-african-american-women

As the Black Lives Matter movement grows across the country, the names of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and Freddie Gray have become well known. All died at the hands of local police, sparking waves of protest. During this time, far less attention has been paid to women who have been killed by law enforcement. Today, a vigil under the banner of Say Her Name is being organized in New York to remember them. We are joined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, professor of law at UCLA and Columbia University, founder of the African American Policy Forum and co-author of the new report, "Police Brutality Against Black Women."

TRANSCRIPT:

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

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: As the Black Lives Matter movement grows across the country, the names of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and Freddie Gray have become household names. All died at the hands of local police, sparking waves of protest. During this time, far less attention has been paid to women who have been killed by law enforcement, women like Tanisha Anderson, Rekia Boyd, Miriam Carey, Michelle Cusseaux, Shelly Frey and Kayla Moore. Well, today, a vigil under the banner of "Say Her Name" is being organized in New York to remember these and other women.

AMY GOODMAN: With us today are three guests here in New York who will be attending the vigil. Frances Garrett is the mother of Michelle Cusseaux, who was killed in 2014 at close range by a Phoenix police officer who had been called to take the 50-year-old woman to a mental health facility.

Martinez Sutton is also with us. He is the brother of Rekia Boyd, who was fatally shot [in 2012] by an off-duty police officer in Chicago.

Also with us is Kimberlé Crenshaw, professor of law at UCLA and Columbia University, founder of the African American Policy Forum. She's the co-author of this new report. The group is releasing the report today. It's titled "Police Brutality Against Black Women."

Professor Crenshaw, let's start with you. Lay out what it is that you have found.

KIMBERLÉ CRENSHAW: Well, we have known that there's been a problem with police brutality for decades. And over the last years, as we've been talking about just now, there has been a movement that has grown in response to it. And there are certain frames around which we understand police brutality. There's the driving while black. There's the entire frame around Mike Brown being seen as literally a monster, and that justifies the excessive force that was used against him. What we know less about is how black women have experienced police brutality. And all during this time that we have been marching around police brutality, there have been a steady number of women who have also been killed, and we haven't really known their names, we haven't really understood their circumstances.

So, the report was basically an effort to literally lift up the names of people like Michelle Cusseaux or Rekia Boyd, to recognize that black women experience police brutality in many of the same ways that black men do and also in some ways that are different. Many of the cases that we talk about in the report involve police literally coming into people's homes, into their bedrooms, and actually killing them. So it's important that if we understand that the names that we repeat, the stories that we repeat, help us think about how to broaden the demands against police brutality, we have to include women in it, so some of the interventions that are necessary extend to the ways in which women are also vulnerable to police brutality.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And why do you think there's been so little attention or even publicity on these women who have been killed?

KIMBERLÉ CRENSHAW: Well, I think there are a couple reasons. I mean, men, in general, are killed more by the police than women, so there are more opportunities. But women are still killed, too. And when they are killed, they're not part of the conversation. And our argument is it's partly because the frames that we have are not frames that are gendered, as female. We understand police brutality largely through a traditional frame of this is state-sponsored lynching, and we understand lynching as extrajudicial efforts to constrain and suppress and repress black masculinity. It is also true throughout history black women have been lynched. They've also been subject to other kinds of racial violence, like rape and sexual abuse. And we're finding that not only are black women killed by police, they're also subject to some of these same historical problems of sexual abuse. So they're women that many people don't believe. They're women that are seen as vulnerable. They're women that are not empathized with or seen as sympathetic or women in need. And so that, in turn, prompts a certain kind of coercive or violent response to them or an effort to abuse them, knowing that no one will believe them.

]]>
News Thu, 21 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Alan Greenspan, Fearmonger http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/30931-alan-greenspan-fearmonger http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/30931-alan-greenspan-fearmonger

(CREDIT: BATEUP; Australia/CartoonArts International/The New York Times Syndicate)(CREDIT: BATEUP; Australia/CartoonArts International/The New York Times Syndicate)When Alan Greenspan left the Federal Reserve in 2006, he had nearly divine status in the eyes of the financial press and, I'm sorry to say, quite a few economists. Since then, of course, the former chairman's reputation has faltered badly.

Whether or not you blame Fed policy for the housing bubble (you shouldn't), Mr. Greenspan denied the bubble's existence, even as it was inflating, while actively blocking efforts to tighten financial regulation.

But it's his track record since leaving office that is truly remarkable. Mr. Greenspan has been an inflation and debt fearmonger, helping to make his successor's already hard job even harder - and he famously complains about ungrateful markets that keep failing to deliver the crises he predicts.

After a brief moment of doubt about the wisdom of financial markets, Mr. Greenspan has gone right back to denouncing regulation, while proclaiming that markets get it right "with notably rare exceptions."

I currently have in my inbox a notice that as the Fed holds its annual meeting in Jackson Hole, Wyo., later this year, Mr. Greenspan will address a counterconference organized by a group called the American Principles Project. The organization combines social conservatism - anti-gay-marriage, anti-abortion rights, pro-"religious liberty" - with goldbug economic doctrine.

The second half of the group's agenda may be appealing to Mr. Greenspan, a former Ayn Rand intimate. As the late economist Paul Samuelson once remarked: "You can take the boy out of the cult, but you can't take the cult out of the boy."

But the antigay stuff? And helping these people attack his former colleagues at the Fed?

Awesome.

Bernanke and the Inflationistas

Ben Bernanke, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, recently delivered a righteous smackdown of the Wall Street Journal's editorial page: "It's generous of the WSJ writers to note, as they do, that 'economic forecasting isn't easy,'" he wrote on his Brookings Institution blog. "They should know, since The Journal has been forecasting a breakout in inflation and a collapse in the dollar at least since 2006, when the [Federal Open Market Committee] decided not to raise the federal funds rate above 5-1/4 percent."

It has taken Mr. Bernanke almost no time in his blogging career to start sounding pretty much identical to liberal econobloggers like Brad Delong - and others one might think of!

And of course Mr. Bernanke is right that The Wall Street Journal has been consistently wrong on inflation, just as it has been consistently wrong on interest rates. The Journal has spent a very long time peddling a specific kind of scare story - debt! printing presses! Zimbabwe! - that has been utterly wrong, but is never revised.

But what's interesting here is that The Journal is far from alone in peddling this story - it's also the staple of financial television shows and many financial publications. After all these years, there are still avid consumers of complete predictive failure.

We really need to stop pretending that this story has anything to do with rational argument. There's something about "inflation derp" that goes straight to the ids of certain people - largely, one suspects, angry old men (though it would be nice to have hard evidence about exactly which demographic derp appeals to).

And they will keep regarding The Journal as the place to get the truth no matter how much money it costs them.

]]>
Opinion Thu, 21 May 2015 13:44:30 -0400
Sgt. James Brown, 26, Survived Two Tours in Iraq Only to Die Begging for His Life in Texas Jail http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30926-sgt-james-brown-26-survived-two-tours-in-iraq-only-to-die-begging-for-his-life-in-texas-jail http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30926-sgt-james-brown-26-survived-two-tours-in-iraq-only-to-die-begging-for-his-life-in-texas-jail

Newly released video has revealed the dying moments of an African-American active-duty soldier who checked himself into the El Paso, Texas, county jail for a two-day sentence for driving under the influence, and died while in custody in 2012. Authorities claimed Sgt. James Brown died due to a pre-existing medical condition, but shocking new video from inside the jail raises new questions about what happened. The video shows guards swarming on top of him as he repeatedly says he can't breathe and appears not to resist. By the end of the video, he is shown naked, not blinking or responding, his breathing shallow. Attorneys say an ambulance was never called. Brown was eventually brought to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. His family had long suspected foul play in his death but received little information from authorities. They've now filed a lawsuit against El Paso County saying his constitutional rights were violated. We are joined by Brown's mother, Dinetta Scott.

TRANSCRIPT:

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

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We begin today with a story about an Iraq War veteran who served two tours in Iraq only to die in a county jail in El Paso, Texas. Sergeant James Brown was just 26 years old when he mysteriously died in 2012 after he reported to jail for a two-day sentence for driving while intoxicated. Brown, who was African-American, was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder at the time. His family had long suspected foul play in his death but received little information from authorities, who said he died because of a pre-existing medical condition. Well, a local news station, KFOX14, recently obtained video from inside the jail showing Brown's last moments.

AMY GOODMAN: The video shows something happened which caused Brown to bleed in his cell. When he refuses to speak with guards, a team in riot gear storms in and swarms on top of him, while he repeatedly says he can't breathe and appears not to resist. A warning to our audience: The following video is disturbing.

SGT. JAMES BROWN: I can't breathe! Dude, I can't breathe! Help me! Help me! Help! I can't breathe! I'm choking on my blood! Help me! I'm choking on my blood! I'm choking on my blood! I'm choking on my blood!

AMY GOODMAN: "I'm choking on my blood!" said Sergeant James Brown. As his condition deteriorates, as he's carried to an infirmary and has a mask placed over his face, he's then given an injection. He begs for water and is given half a Dixie cup as he heaves. Sergeant Brown repeatedly states he's having severe trouble breathing.

SGT. JAMES BROWN: Now that's blocking too much air. That's over my nose and my mouth. Could you unhook my arm out of this?

PRISON GUARD: You need to calm down first.

SGT. JAMES BROWN: Can I lay on the floor?

PRISON GUARD: No, sir.

SGT. JAMES BROWN: Well, you're going to have to do one or the other to help my breathing. Please, that's all I ask.

PRISON GUARD: You got to calm down a little bit first.

SGT. JAMES BROWN: I will. I just need the mask - please.

PRISON GUARD: Relax.

SGT. JAMES BROWN: Please. Please. I can't breathe. I can't relax. You've got to take this mask off, dude, please.

PRISON GUARD: Can't take it off, sir. I'm sorry.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: By the end of the video, Brown has said he can't breathe at least 20 times. Then he is left naked in a cell, not blinking or responding, his breathing shallow. Attorneys say an ambulance was never called. Brown was eventually brought to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Authorities claim he died from natural causes after an autopsy report cited a, quote, "sickle cell crisis." But his family says he died as a result of his treatment in jail. The family's attorney, B.J. Crow, spoke to KFOX.

B.J. CROW: When a 26-year-old active military person checks in to jail for a court-imposed sentence on a Friday, and he leaves Sunday, you know, in a casket, something went horribly wrong there. He was bleeding out the ears, the nose, the mouth. His kidneys shut down. His blood pressure dropped to a very dangerous level. And his liver shut down.

AMY GOODMAN: Sergeant James Brown's family has filed a lawsuit against El Paso County saying his constitutional rights were violated. Democracy Now! invited El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles to join us on Democracy Now! today, but he declined. He did send a statement saying, quote, "Mr. Brown's death was an unfortunate tragedy. The Sheriff's Office has conducted a thorough review of the facts surrounding Mr. Brown's death and, based upon all the evidence obtained, determined that his death was caused by a pre-existing medical condition."

Well, for more, we go to Seattle, Washington, where we're joined by Sergeant James Brown's mother, Dinetta Scott.

Ms. Scott, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you explain the significance of this video that has now been released because a local TV station in El Paso had been trying to get it for years now? The death of your son, Sergeant Brown, occurred in 2012. It's now 2015. Tell us about the significance of what you know now.

DINETTA SCOTT: Amy, I have not watched this video in its entirety. I have seen four seconds of it, and I heard my son begging for his life. I can't watch it. I do know that it is very disturbing. The part that I did see, where he is unable to breathe, it's devastating. It's inhumane. It's unexplainable what happened to him.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Were you ever told by authorities that the video existed and why it's never come to light or been made public since then?

DINETTA SCOTT: No, that was never explained to us.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in terms of the autopsy report, did authorities - what did they tell you about how your son died?

DINETTA SCOTT: The medical examiner stated that it was a sickle cell crisis due to him being restrained. That's why he went into a sickle cell crisis. And he stated that he had viewed this on the video. And that's when we said, "A video exists. We would like that video." And nothing ever came of that until two-and-a-half years later, which is where we're at now.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, the video is just astonishing. But can you go back to 2012 to - did you talk to your son before he self-reported into the jail? He was stopped for DUI, and he was going to be held - what? For two nights?

DINETTA SCOTT: Correct. He received the DWI in 2011, and they had continuously went to court. When he got his sentencing, it was five days with time served, so since he had already served three days when they initially picked him up, he only had to do the weekend. I spoke to him prior to him checking in on that Friday night, and then I received a call from him Saturday morning, stating that the jailers had said he was going to have to stay incarcerated for seven days instead of the initial two days. And he said, "Could you please send money so that I can pay the court fine, so that I can leave here? Because I need to report to duty on Monday."

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, he had already served two tours in Iraq, and he was still on active duty?

DINETTA SCOTT: Correct.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And when was he diagnosed with post-traumatic stress?

DINETTA SCOTT: I believe it was the beginning of 2011.

AMY GOODMAN: Did he talk to you about the conditions in the jail, Dinetta Scott?

DINETTA SCOTT: No, he just basically said he needed to get out of there, and could I please get the money so that he could leave, and he would explain everything to me when he got out.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you describe your son, Sergeant James Brown, to us?

DINETTA SCOTT: Excuse me. He was a jokester. He was very confident, a natural born leader, loyal to no fault, a loving person. Either you liked him, or you didn't. He didn't really care what people thought of him. He just was a loving kind of guy, one of a kind. And I'm not saying that just because he's my son. He just was a genuine person. He didn't sugarcoat things, and he didn't lie to you. If you wanted to know the truth, that's the person that you would ask. And many of his friends said, you know, if you wanted somebody to have your back, you wanted James Brown to have your back.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the terrible irony of him coming back from serving his country twice in Iraq to end up in a cell, dead in a cell, in El Paso, Texas?

DINETTA SCOTT: In that video, I heard my son begging for his life on US soil. This was not his enemy that he was facing. This was a US citizen that was treating him like he was an animal. And it should not be allowed. That should not happen to anyone in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: We were just showing pictures of James. How many kids does he have?

DINETTA SCOTT: Two.

AMY GOODMAN: How old are his children?

DINETTA SCOTT: His stepson, Armani, is 12, and his daughter, Jayliah, is five.

AMY GOODMAN: When did he join the military?

DINETTA SCOTT: In 2005.

AMY GOODMAN: Was it right out of high school?

DINETTA SCOTT: No, he graduated in 2004, and he was in a car - a motorcycle accident in 2003, which he had to have a rod put into his femur, so he opted to wait a year to have that rod removed so that he could join the military. So his joining was delayed.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In the past year or two, we've seen this enormous growth of the Black Lives Matter movement as a result of what's happened in Ferguson and Cleveland and other African-American men killed under - in police custody. Your son died almost three years ago. And your sense of the connection to this movement that has grown up in the United States in the last two years?

DINETTA SCOTT: I believe it - race isn't an issue. I believe it's men who have been given a certain amount of authority who are abusing it. It's very unfortunate that all the victims have been African-American, but this lies within our system. These are people that are abusing their authority and using it inappropriately.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Dinetta Scott, what has happened to these guards? One, the pile-on we see in the cell, then this mask is put over him. He is begging, saying he's not - he can't take the mask off, can they take the mask off, that he can't breathe, that he is choking on his own blood. What happened to all these guards?

DINETTA SCOTT: Absolutely nothing.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to play one clip for you. KFOX14 in El Paso interviewed one of the last people to see Sergeant Brown alive, a fellow prisoner who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

ANONYMOUS PRISONER: He was like, "I didn't do nothing. You know what? I'm staying back here. I'm keeping my mouth shut." Well, he grabbed him. They took him out, and they took him to a little room in front of us. They took him back there. They kind of roughed him up. And when they were bringing him out, a guard from behind gave him a - I don't know what this shot is called. Some guys here were telling me that some places can do that. I never knew they can do that. They gave him a shot, and he collapsed. I guess he didn't react good to it. And when he collapsed, that's when they jumped on him, and they kind of beat him up and picked - I mean, he was out of conscious, so really there was no need for them to jump on him the way they did. Pretty bad. Like he was already out of conscious, and it's like you jumping on somebody and putting your elbow in their neck. You know, you can probably snap somebody's neck like that. And they picked him up and dragged him out.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was a fellow prisoner who spoke on the condition of anonymity. He was speaking on a jail phone through a glass. Dinetta Scott, can you respond to what he described about what happened to your son, Sergeant James Brown?

DINETTA SCOTT: It's inexcusable. They all need to be held accountable for what they did to my son. The sheriff made a statement that my son died of natural causes. There was nothing natural about the way that he died. They never should have went in that cell. They never should have pulled him out. And if there was a problem, they should have contacted the military, or they should have contacted mental health, somebody that was able to deal with him, instead of rushing him like that and attacking him and beating him when he's down and can't defend his self. It's unacceptable.

AMY GOODMAN: What are you asking for in the lawsuit?

DINETTA SCOTT: I want change. I want policies and procedures put in place that will protect our soldiers when they are in public facilities, that the military step in and take accountability for their soldiers. These are men that they trained. They should never be put in the hands of civilians, because civilians live one life, and soldiers live another life. And they need to be dealt with by soldiers. Policies need to be put in place for CID, that when an incident happens in a public facility, they need to go in and investigate, instead of just taking the word of that institution. They need to find out what happened to their soldier. And if they have a liaison in place, they would already know what went wrong, when it went wrong, or whatever the case may be. I believe if my son would have had a representative from the military with him every step of the way, we wouldn't be here today.

AMY GOODMAN: One last question: Do we know what your son was injected with? In that video, we see him injected at least once by the guards.

DINETTA SCOTT: According to the report, it was [Haloperidol] and Ativan, combination. I am not sure on the exact amount that was given to him, but according to the jail report, that is what they state they gave him.

AMY GOODMAN: Dinetta Scott, we want to thank you for being with us, mother of Sergeant James Brown, also our condolences. Sergeant James Brown died after being held in an El Paso County jail in 2012. He served in Iraq two tours of duty before he came home. He was on active duty at the time.

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. Do black women's lives matter? That's the question that's being raised by a group of people around the country, those who have lost loved ones, black women, at the hands of authorities, of police. Stay with us.

]]>
News Thu, 21 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Can the DOJ Reform the Baltimore Police Department? http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30924-can-the-doj-reform-the-baltimore-police-department http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30924-can-the-doj-reform-the-baltimore-police-department

See The Real News Network's website for both earlier in-depth reporting and current coverage of events in Baltimore, where The Real News Network studios are located.

TRANSCRIPT:

ANTON WORONCZUK, TRNN: The announcement of a full-scale civil rights investigation into the Baltimore City Police Department earlier this month brought with it an important question: will it lead to meaningful and enduring reform? Freddie Gray's death led to the indictment of six officers and a swift response from the Department of Justice, which has announced it's beginning an investigation into possible constitutional or civil rights violations by the Baltimore Police Department.

LORETTA LYNCH, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: This investigation will begin immediately, and will focus on allegations that Baltimore Police Department officers use excessive force, including deadly force, conduct unlawful searches, seizures, and arrests, and engage in discriminatory policing.

WORONCZUK: Many are cautiously optimistic that federal intervention will produce real change in a department whose deep-seated problems were thrust upon the national stage. But an analysis by The Real News Network of past federal interventions shows mixed results. One study by Noah Kupferberg, professor at Brooklyn Law School, looked at cities that agreed to federal intervention in the form of legal agreements called consent decrees following an investigation by the DOJ.

In New York City, his research found that the consent decree likely pressured the city to release startling data. Arrests in the city increased 422 percent from 2002 to 2006, over the same time period of the federal intervention. And in New Jersey, after four years of federal monitoring and oversight, racial disparities in stops, searches, and arrests among state troopers increased, an issue which was the initial spur for the DOJ investigation. His conclusion: "The DOJ and the public should abandon the idea that police consent decrees will alter racial disparity, and instead use such decrees as a means of requiring the recording and public release of data, thus forcing openness and transparency in law enforcement."

The need to reform the data collection practices of police departments is reflected in the experience of David Rocah, senior staff attorney for the Maryland ACLU. In 2013 he requested stop and frisk data of the Baltimore police.

DAVID ROCAH, SENIOR STAFF ATTORNEY, ACLU-MARYLAND: What their response to that request showed was that they were expending a significant amount of effort compiling data in a way that was utterly useless. There's been a lot of talk in Baltimore, as in other cities, about data-driven policing. And yet, it's remarkable to which we don't collect the right data about what officers are doing as a way of changing behavior.

WORONCZUK: Another study conducted by Harvard University and funded by the LA Police Foundation claimed successful federal intervention. It cited a 15 percent drop in the use of force by the LAPD from 2004 to 2009, while noting that blacks and Hispanics faced use of force disproportionately. Police were also shown to have engaged in more arrests, and more citizens faced felony charges while overall crime was decreasing throughout the city. Rocha says one should not conclude that DOJ oversight necessarily leads to more intrusive or aggressive policing, but he does believe that current federal and state policy sets limits on the success of police reform.

ROCAH: Now, I think there are questions to be asked about what it is that we're asking police to do, and what things we're making crimes. And I think a lot of the problems with policing today stem in significant part from our so-called war on drugs.

WORONCZUK: Many police reform advocates point to the 2001 consent decree in Cincinnati as an example of successful federal intervention following uprisings in response to the killing of 15 black men over seven years. Its major achievement included an independent civilian police review board as well as new policies for community-based policing, and training for police responding to people with mental illness or drug addiction. The role of third parties such as the American Civil Liberties Union was crucial to its success, says Michael Brickner, senior policy director of the ACLU-Ohio.

MICHAEL BRICKNER, SENIOR POLICY DIRECTOR, ACLU-OHIO: Because again, oftentimes when it's just the city and the Department of Justice there's not necessarily a voice for the people who are affected. And the ACLU, we could play a really unique role in that we were there to represent the community, and I don't think had other interests, like you sometimes see with the city or even the Department of Justice.

WORONCZUK: That's why people such as Dayvon Love from Baltimore-based Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle say they want a seat at the table.

DAYVON LOVE, LEADERS OF A BEAUTIFUL STRUGGLE: Ultimately like I've always said, it's about independent black institution-building, developing our fortitude to force law enforcement and political establishment to act in the way that is in our best interests.

WORONCZUK: Brickner also cited the willingness of all parties to go ahead with the agreement, including the Cincinnati Police Union and city officials, as key to its success.

BRICKNER: We did not all sit down and hold hands and sing Kumbaya. There were a lot of really tense moments after the collaborative agreement were brought about. Things that did not work as well as we had hoped. But that commitment towards everyone kind of moving towards reform was always there no matter what happened.

WORONCZUK: The Maryland ACLU's experience in Baltimore suggests reform efforts will not be any easier. In 2010 the ACLU settled a lawsuit against the Baltimore Police Department over tens of thousands of illegal arrests as a result of controversial zero tolerance policy.

ROCAH: I would say that the police departments' efforts to comply with the settlement left something to be desired. There was in my view an improper withholding of information. There were significant delays in implementing specific parts of the settlement, and there were continuing problems with adhering to some of the terms over the life of the consent decree.

The DOJ by itself can't reform the Baltimore Police Department. The ACLU can't reform the Baltimore Police Department. The Baltimore Police Department has to reform the Baltimore Police Department, and whether or not that will happen I think depends in significant part on the degree to which there is continuing community pressure for reform.

WORONCZUK: With Stephen Janis, this is Anton Woronczuk for The Real News Network.

]]>
News Thu, 21 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Why This US Doctor Is Moving to Canada http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/30923-why-this-us-doctor-is-moving-to-canada http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/30923-why-this-us-doctor-is-moving-to-canada

I'm a U.S. family physician who has decided to relocate to Canada. The hassles of working in the dysfunctional health care "system" in the U.S. have simply become too intense.

I'm not alone. According to a physician recruiter in Windsor, Ont., over the past decade more than 100 U.S. doctors have relocated to her city alone. More generally, the Canadian Institute for Health Information reports that Canada has been gaining more physicians from international migration than it's been losing.

Like many of my U.S. counterparts, I'm moving to Canada because I'm tired of doing daily battle with the same adversary that my patients face – the private health insurance industry, with its frequent errors in processing claims (the American Medical Association reports that one of every 14 claims submitted to commercial insurers are paid incorrectly); outright denials of payment (about one to five percent); and costly paperwork that consumes about 16 percent of physicians' working time, according to a recent journal study.

I've also witnessed the painful and continual shifting of medical costs onto my patients' shoulders through rising co-payments, deductibles and other out-of-pocket expenses. According to a survey conducted by the Commonwealth Fund, 66 million – 36 percent of Americans — reported delaying or forgoing needed medical care in 2014 due to cost.

My story is relatively brief. Six years ago, shortly after completing my residency in Rochester, New York, I opened a solo family medicine practice in what had become my adopted hometown.

I had a vision of cultivating a practice where patients felt heard and cared for, and where I could provide full-spectrum family medicine care, including obstetrical care. My practice embraced the principles of patient-centered collaborative care. It employed the latest in 21st-century technology.

I loved my work and my patients. But after five years of constant fighting with multiple private insurance companies in order to get paid, I ultimately made the heart-wrenching decision to close my practice down. The emotional stress was too great.

My spirit was being crushed. It broke my heart to have to pressure my patients to pay the bills their insurance companies said they owed. Private insurance never covers the whole bill and doesn't kick in until patients have first paid down the deductible. For some this means paying thousands of dollars out-of-pocket before insurance ever pays a penny. But because I had my own business to keep solvent, I was forced to pursue the balance owed.

Doctors deal with this conundrum in different ways. A recent New York Times article described how an increasing number of physicians are turning away from independent practice to join large employer groups (often owned by hospital systems) in order to be shielded from this side of our system. About 60 percent of family physicians are now salaried employees rather than independent practitioners.

That was a temptation for me, too. But too often I've seen in these large, corporate physician practices that the personal relationship between doctor and patient gets lost. Both are reduced to mere cogs in the machine of what the late Dr. Arnold Relman, former editor of The New England Journal of Medicine, called the medical-industrial complex in the U.S.

So I looked for alternatives. I spoke with other physicians, both inside and outside my specialty. We invariably ended up talking about the tumultuous time that the U.S. health care system is in – and the challenges physicians face in trying to achieve the twin goals of improved medical outcomes and reduced cost.

The rub, of course, is that we're working in a fragmented, broken system where powerful, moneyed corporate interests thrive on this fragmentation, finding it easy to drive up costs and outmaneuver patients and doctors alike. And having multiple payers, each with their own rules, also drives up unnecessary administrative costs – about $375 billion in waste annually, according to another recent journal study.

I knew that Canada had largely resolved the problem of delivering affordable, universal care by establishing a publicly financed single-payer system. I also knew that Canada's system operates much more efficiently than the U.S. system, as outlined in a landmark paper in The New England Journal of Medicine. So I decided to look at Canadian health care more closely.

I liked what I saw. I realized that I did not have to sacrifice my family medicine career because of the dysfunctional system on our side of the border.

In conversations with my husband, we decided we'd be willing to relocate our family so I could pursue the career in medicine that I love. I'll be starting and growing my own practice in Penetanguishene on the tip of Georgian Bay this autumn.

I'm excited about resuming my practice, this time in a context that is not subject to the vagaries of backroom deals between moneyed, vested interests. I'm looking forward to being part of a larger system that values caring for the health of individuals, families and communities as a common good – where health care is valued as a human right.

I hope the U.S. will get there some day. I believe it will. Perhaps our neighbor to the north will help us find our way.

]]>
Opinion Thu, 21 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400