Truthout Stories Sun, 07 Feb 2016 07:57:59 -0500 en-gb Freeing Julian Assange: The Last Chapter

One of the epic miscarriages of justice of our time is unraveling. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention - the international tribunal that adjudicates and decides whether governments comply with their human rights obligations - has ruled that Julian Assange has been detained unlawfully by Britain and Sweden.

After five years of fighting to clear his name - having been smeared relentlessly yet charged with no crime - Assange is closer to justice and vindication, and perhaps freedom, than at any time since he was arrested and held in London under a European Extradition Warrant, itself now discredited by Parliament.

The UN Working Group bases its judgments on the European Convention on Human Rights and three other treaties that are binding on all its signatories. Both Britain and Sweden participated in the 16-month long UN investigation and submitted evidence and defended their position before the tribunal. It would fly contemptuously in the face of international law if they did not comply with the judgment and allow Assange to leave the refuge granted him by the Ecuadorean government in its London embassy.

In previous, celebrated cases ruled upon by the Working Group - Aung Sang Suu Kyi in Burma, imprisoned opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim in Malaysia, detained Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian in Iran, both Britain and Sweden have given support to the tribunal. The difference now is that Assange's persecution and confinement endures in the heart of London.

The Assange case has never been primarily about allegations of sexual misconduct in Sweden - where the Stockholm Chief Prosecutor, Eva Finne, dismissed the case, saying, "I don't believe there is any reason to suspect that he has committed rape," and one of the women involved accused the police of fabricating evidence and "railroading" her, protesting she "did not want to accuse JA of anything" - and a second prosecutor mysteriously re-opened the case after political intervention, then stalled it.

The Assange case is rooted across the Atlantic in Pentagon-dominated Washington, obsessed with pursuing and prosecuting whistleblowers, especially Assange for having exposed, in WikiLeaks, US capital crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq: the wholesale killing of civilians and a contempt for sovereignty and international law. None of this truth-telling is illegal under the US Constitution. As a presidential candidate in 2008, Barack Obama, a professor of constitutional law, lauded whistleblowers as "part of a healthy democracy [and they] must be protected from reprisal."

Obama has since prosecuted more whistleblowers than all the US presidents combined. The courageous Chelsea Manning is serving 35 years in prison, having been tortured during her long pre-trial detention.

The prospect of a similar fate has hung over Assange like a Damocles sword. According to documents released by Edward Snowden, Assange is on a "Manhunt target list." Vice-President Joe Bidon has called him a "cyber terrorist." In Alexandra, Virginia, a secret grand jury has attempted to concoct a crime for which Assange can be prosecuted in a court. Even though he is not an American, he is currently being fitted up with an espionage law dredged up from a century ago when it was used to silence conscientious objectors during the First World War; the Espionage Act has provisions of both life imprisonment and the death penalty. 

Assange's ability to defend himself in this Kafkaesque world has been hampered by the US declaring his case a state secret. A federal court has blocked the release of all information about what is known as the "national security" investigation of WikiLeaks.

The supporting act in this charade has been played by the second Swedish prosecutor, Marianne Ny. Until recently, Ny had refused to comply with a routine European procedure that required her to travel to London to question Assange and so advance the case that James Catlin, one of Assange's barristers, called "a laughing stock ... it's as if they make it up as they go along." Indeed, even before Assange had left Sweden for London in 2010, Marianne Ny made no attempt to question him. In the years since, she has never properly explained, even to her own judicial authorities, why she has not completed the case she so enthusiastically re-ignited - just as the she has never explained why she has refused to give Assange a guarantee that he will not be extradited on to the US under a secret arrangement agreed between Stockholm and Washington. In 2010, the Independent in London revealed that the two governments had discussed Assange's onward extradition.

Then there is tiny, brave Ecuador. One of the reasons Ecuador granted Julian Assange political asylum was that his own government, in Australia, had offered him none of the help to which he had a legal right and so abandoned him. Australia's collusion with the United States against its own citizen is evident in leaked documents; no more faithful vassals has America than the obeisant politicians of the Antipodes.

Four years ago, in Sydney, I spent several hours with the Liberal Member of the Federal Parliament, Malcolm Turnbull. We discussed the threats to Assange and their wider implications for freedom of speech and justice, and why Australia was obliged to stand by him. Turnbull is now the Prime Minister of Australia and, as I write, is attending an international conference on Syria hosted the Cameron government - about 15 minutes' cab ride from the room that Julian Assange has occupied for three and a half years in the small Ecuadorean embassy just along from Harrod's. The Syria connection is relevant if unreported; it was WikiLeaks that revealed that the United States had long planned to overthrow the Assad government in Syria. Today, as he meets and greets, Prime Minister Turnbull has an opportunity to contribute a modicum of purpose and truth to the conference by speaking up for his unjustly imprisoned compatriot, for whom he showed such concern when we met. All he need do is quote the judgement of the UN Working Party on Arbitrary Detention. Will he reclaim this shred of Australia's reputation in the decent world?

What is certain is that the decent world owes much to Julian Assange. He told us how indecent power behaves in secret, how it lies and manipulates and engages in great acts of violence, sustaining wars that kill and maim and turn millions into the refugees now in the news. Telling us this truth alone earns Assange his freedom, whereas justice is his right.

Opinion Sat, 06 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
Revealing the Fallacy of White Knight Philanthropic Salvation in an Urban Public School

Anthropologist Amy Brown uncovers the ways race and class are manipulated to raise money at one New York City high school. Brown argues that the fundraising reinforces the idea of wealthy white saviors fixing the problems of low- and middle-income students, especially those of color.

Children head into Public School 199 in New York, Oct. 27, 2015.Children head into Public School 199 in New York, October 27, 2015. Amy Brown's book, A Good Investment?, profiles an unnamed New York City public school, the like of which "dehumanize people by making them into commodities" and force them to pander to donors to access resources that should be provided to every student in every school. (Photo: Karsten Moran / The New York Times)

A Good Investment? Philanthropy and the Marketing of Race in an Urban Public School, Amy Brown, University of Minnesota Press, 2015

More than a decade ago, New York City's then mayor, Michael Bloomberg, helped launch a program called Children First, a philanthropic endeavor to pump private money into public schools. In its first year, 2003, $39.9 million was raised.

The money was to be disseminated by an entity called the Fund for Public Schools, and by 2010 its coffers were overflowing: A staggering $250 million had been donated by hedge funds, law firms, corporations and businesses.

(Image: Univ Of Minnesota Press)(Image: Univ Of Minnesota Press)Many people were thrilled. After all, anyone familiar with New York City's public schools knows that money is desperately needed, especially in low-income neighborhoods like Flatbush and Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn; the South Bronx; and the heavily immigrant neighborhood of Corona, Queens, areas beset by overcrowded classrooms, supply shortages and a lack of basics, from books, to desks, to computers.

Years earlier, The New York Times had begun to cover this issue and regularly sent journalists to report on the dire state of most New York City schools. Then, in 2013, the Gray Lady dug more deeply to reveal that kindergarten to eighth grade spending in the state's poorest districts totaled $287,000 per pupil, while the state's richest districts spent $1.9 million for the same 13 years.

The blatant disparity sparked outrage.

But is private philanthropy the solution to this inequity? Can outside money change oppressive social structures or does it leave basic inequalities unchecked? Furthermore, does increased funding challenge entrenched assumptions about who is entitled to high-quality instruction?

Brown's conclusions about philanthropy's limitations are essential reading for anyone interested in pedagogical reform and racial justice.

Educational anthropologist Amy Brown's insightful new book, A Good Investment?, probes these questions by zeroing in on one New York City public high school. Brown never names the school she is profiling, but instead calls it the College Preparatory Academy, or College Prep. Similarly, all names - of students, faculty and parents - are disguised. Nonetheless, College Prep, by whatever name, is a real program. Established in 2004, its largely Black student body - 81 percent of 458 students - does well, at least on paper. Ninety-three percent of students graduate, and 97 percent of seniors are accepted by one or more college. Prep also distinguishes itself by running its own in-house nonprofit called The Foundation to solicit funds from Midtown law firms and other potential donors and grant makers.

In many ways, Prep's work has paid off. Although the program shares its building with two other schools, its on-site gym, library and cafeteria are a boon to students. What's more, there are working elevators and lockers, as well as a dance studio, a college office, an up-to-date computer lab, multiple copy machines and scanners, and whiteboards and projectors in every room.

For many teachers and students, the facility sounds like a dream come true.

That said, Prep is a place of rules - lots and lots of them. Students are expected, for example, to adhere to a dress code: a white- or blue-collared shirt, black pants or skirt, and black shoes. Hoodies are forbidden, as are sneakers, and students are punished for even the smallest infraction.

Furthermore, Brown writes, every student is expected to follow standards of "professional conduct," and many of the school's instructors lower student grades for "unprofessional" behavior. Offenses include failure to pay attention in class, talking out of turn, lateness, swearing and fighting. Not surprisingly, many of the students Brown interviewed expressed overt hatred for the restrictions and rolled their eyes at being given detention or other sanctions for acting their age.

Brown agrees with them - and this is not her only critique of the school. In fact, her analysis of the program's deficits is grounded in the many years she spent there, first as a teacher and subsequently as a researcher and interviewer. Her account includes both personal reflections and rigorous critical analysis, and while I wish she'd also interviewed donors to the school about their impressions and expectations, her sobering conclusions about philanthropy's limitations are essential reading for anyone interested in pedagogical reform and racial justice.

To wit: Brown concludes that Prep's students are never allowed to forget that they have to "enact an acceptable kind of [racialized and classed] performance for an audience." Who is that audience? Wealthy women and men who typically see themselves as "saving" failing public schools and the "underprivileged" youth who attend them. That the donors are largely white and the students are not, Brown writes, further underscores a problematic racial hierarchy.

A Good Investment? makes clear that philanthropic solutions can't fix urban education. Only a groundswell of activism can.

As the school tells it, "the greatest threat to students' education and college matriculation seemed to be their own challenging backgrounds and circumstances. Parents and older community members were absent, serving to reinforce the College Prep narrative of urban teacher and students working together, against all odds, to pull students up by their bootstraps, help them to graduate, and securely set them on the road to achievement in the real world - in this case synonymous with college readiness and a secure place in the middle class."

Needless to say, this account negates the fact that many of the students at Prep are not from impoverished backgrounds. Likewise, many of them have tremendous parental and community support, and people in their corners who champion their achievements and prod them to excel. In addition, the narrative that's told fosters the ludicrous assumption that teachers - most of whom are white, upper-middle-class women who did not grow up in New York City - are the sole mentors for students.

Almost everyone at Prep knows that this is untrue. Still, the image of the valiant white knight coming to the rescue of disadvantaged teens of color sells, which is why, Brown believes, it continues to be used. Furthermore, she reports that The Foundation's annual fundraiser cherry-picks students to showcase, parading them before donors like prize pups. Bold and rambunctious students are never chosen to attend public events - Brown calls them spectacles - because administrators fear that they'll say something that deviates from the well-worn playbook. Obviously, this takes its toll on the students selected. As one teacher explained, "They choose the same kids over and over again. They've gotta sit through those presentations over and over again, and all they keep hearing is, it's not their hard work that makes a difference, it's not their parents that make a difference. It's these white folks who are giving them twenty-five thousand dollars a pop who make their lives possible."

Not surprisingly, this egregious lie eats away at the self-esteem and confidence of those students who internalize its message.

The school's racial politics also have a negative impact on teachers of color. According to an instructor Brown calls Mr. Battle - he was one of the few men of color on staff - whenever a professional "poster boy" was needed, he was called into action. This was especially noticeable during his first few years at the school. "I'd say like once a month, there were people from the mayor's office, judges, prominent lawyers, newspaper reporters. Where do they go? My room. Hung out there. 'Black science teacher! New York City public school.'"

Worse, photographs of Battle were routinely placed in all bulletins and reports, making him feel like a "prop" in the spectacle. Later, however, when it came time for decision-making, Battle bitterly notes that he was rarely consulted.

This insulting treatment eventually led Battle - along with several other colleagues, both white teachers and teachers of color - to leave the job. Surprisingly, high turnover does not seem to faze Prep's administrators or rattle donors. In fact, teachers seem to be expected to stay for just a few years before either pursuing doctoral studies or moving on. But while the faces change, the overall messaging does not: "College Prep portrays itself [to funders] as both needy and deserving of the funders' generosity," Brown writes. "Students and their families are expected to thank the school for 'saving' them and in turn the school thanks the funders who continue to provide."

It's an unsavory dance that stereotypes everyone - from students and faculty to parents and communities. Meanwhile, the problems facing urban public schools, most prominently funding disparities and racism, continue to fester. A Good Investment? makes clear that philanthropic solutions can't fix urban education. Only a groundswell of activism led by parents, students and educators can do that.

Schools like College Prep, Brown concludes, "dehumanize people by making them into commodities" and forcing them to pander to donors to access resources that should be provided to every student in every school. Isn't it time we fought for a more egalitarian system of public education?

Opinion Sat, 06 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
Sanders and Clinton Spar on 2002 Iraq Vote, Clinton Praises Henry Kissinger

During Thursday's debate in New Hampshire, while Sen. Bernie Sanders conceded former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has more experience in foreign affairs, he questioned her judgment for voting for the Iraq War. "But experience is not the only point - judgment is," Sanders said. "And once again, back in 2002, when we both looked at the same evidence about the wisdom of the war in Iraq, one of us voted the right way, and one of us didn't." Clinton repeatedly touted her time as secretary of state. "I was very flattered when Henry Kissinger said I ran the State Department better - better than anybody had run it in a long time," she said.


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

AMY GOODMAN: I want to play more of the debate. As former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders continued to draw distinctions between one another during the debate, they faced off over the issue of the 2002 Iraq War vote.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: We differed on the war in Iraq, which created barbaric organizations like ISIS. Not only did I vote against that war, I helped lead the opposition. And if you go to my website,, you will see the statement that I made in 2002. And it gives me no pleasure to tell you that much of what I feared would happen the day after Saddam Hussein was overthrown, in fact, did happen.

CHUCK TODD: All right, Senator, I want to stay, though -


CHUCK TODD: Go ahead. Thirty seconds -

HILLARY CLINTON: If I could just respectfully add -

CHUCK TODD: - Secretary.

HILLARY CLINTON: Look, we did differ. A vote in 2002 is not a plan to defeat ISIS. We have to look at the threats that we face right now.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: I fully, fully concede that Secretary Clinton, who was secretary of state for four years, has more experience - that is not arguable - in foreign affairs. But experience is not the only point - judgment is. And once again, back in 2002, when we both looked at the same evidence about the wisdom of the war in Iraq, one of us voted the right way, and one of us didn't.

AMY GOODMAN: During the debate, Hillary Clinton also boasted she has received support from former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

HILLARY CLINTON: I have had the opportunity to run a big agency. I was very flattered when Henry Kissinger said I ran the State Department better than anybody had run it in a long time. So I have an idea about what it's going to take to make our government work more efficiently.

AMY GOODMAN: The issue of the war vote, Lee Fang? Hillary Clinton, as students were being taken out of her office protesting that night in 2002, she took to the floor, as many other Republicans and some Democrats did, and voted to authorize the war in Iraq. How significant that is, what, 14 years later, Lee Fang, and that comment on Henry Kissinger's support or praise?

LEE FANG: Nothing says anti-establishment like praising Henry Kissinger on stage, right? But seriously, you know, Hillary Clinton did vote for the war in Iraq, and she defended that vote for many, many years. It wasn't until very late in the game that she kind of retracted and said it was the wrong move.

But, you know, I kind of wish that the moderators pressed the candidates on other specific issues. You know, Hillary Clinton has embraced militarism in a lot of different ways. She has been very belligerent on issues, from Libya, you know, joking with Charlie Rose about wanting to take out Iran. The Obama administration, which worked with the State Department to approve just an incredible increase in arms transfers all throughout the Middle East - I mean, this is something that we don't talk about much on broadcast news, but, you know, the Obama administration, in part with Secretary Clinton, approved over $90 billion in weapons transfers to Saudi Arabia alone. We've really flooded the region with weapons, fueled conflicts, whether it's in Iraq, Syria and beyond. So these are tough questions, and I kind of wish that the moderators got more specific here, beyond just the Iraq War vote and what to do in Syria. You know, how are you going to resolve these issues?

You know, my colleague, Zaid, he did a story, I think a year ago - you know, Bernie Sanders, back in 1988, when he was campaigning with Jesse Jackson, the issue of Israel-Palestine came up. And he was asked, you know, "How are we going to use our leverage to really resolve the simmering conflict that's gone on forever?" And Bernie Sanders said, well, you know, we could use our military support, our foreign aid to Israel, and say we were going to withhold that aid unless Israel changes its behavior. I mean, that's a pretty radical move that really could push the Israel-Palestine issue in the right direction, but we haven't seen him speak about that on a stage. We haven't seen Hillary Clinton really address the issue, except in an op-ed that she wrote a few months ago saying that she actually wants to increase military support with Israel and saying that she'll be a very strong ally with Netanyahu.

So, you know, I would love to see the candidates get more specific about how they will deal with military contractors, how they'll deal with foreign policy, and really talking about a whole number of votes that we don't really hear much in public. I mean, Hillary Clinton, when she was in the Senate, voted for - with the Republicans, voted for using cluster bombs in civilian areas. I mean, this is not - the Iraq War vote was not an aberration. There's a huge pattern of votes that really show her position on foreign policy.

AMY GOODMAN: Last response, Bertha Lewis?

BERTHA LEWIS: Well, I agree with some of what Mr. Fang has said. I'm adamantly opposed to the Iraq War. And again, I keep repeating this, but we're complex animals, at least I am in my political decisions and how I view things. All of the facts that he pointed out are there. I don't like -

AMY GOODMAN: But the deciding point, then, clearly, as you talk about that we're complex people, what has -

BERTHA LEWIS: But the platform -

AMY GOODMAN: - made you cast your lot with Hillary Clinton?

BERTHA LEWIS: For me, the three things that - well, the four things that I cited. With everything put together - like I say, in 2008, I was there, I'm here now, because I really, really believe that when women are in office and this country is behind the rest of the planet, then we have a chance to actually fundamentally move things. We've seen it on the Supreme Court. We've seen it everywhere.

Number two, because of this experience, the mistakes, disagreements and being involved in that arena, we can go right at her, you know, because, again, I disagree with Barack Obama as the deporter-in-chief, but that doesn't stop my support for him.

And number three, you know, like I say, I wish - some people have a perch from which they can be very pure and don't have to engage. For one thing - and I look through a racial lens - I make no bones about that. There's a movie coming out that has a trailer about Jesse Jackson [sic] going to Germany to run in the Olympics. And -

AMY GOODMAN: Jesse Owens.

BERTHA LEWIS: Jesse Owens. Oh, Jesse Jackson, he might have been there, too. There were black people who said, "Don't do it. Don't go," a bunch of white people saying, "Oh, you've got to do it, and ignore everything else." And there's a scene there in which Jesse is saying, "You don't know what it's like for me to have to go through this." And this white man says, "I don't care!" And Jesse says, "Because you don't have to." So, again, for me, you can have all of the mistakes and all of everything, but she's a woman. She's head and shoulders above anyone else. Come on.

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to have to leave it there.

BERTHA LEWIS: And she's a great fighter.

AMY GOODMAN: But we will, of course, continue to follow this race very closely. The primary in New Hampshire is Tuesday night. Bertha Lewis with The Black Institute and New York Working Families Party, thanks so much, and Lee Fang, investigative journalist at The Intercept.

LEE FANG: Thank you for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: When we come back, we go across the pond to see what has happened with this UN committee that has said that Julian Assange should be able to walk free. Stay with us.

News Fri, 05 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
A Cannonball in the Oil Market ]]> (Lauren Walker) Art Fri, 05 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500 Contaminated Water Requires a National Public Health Mobilization

Clean Up The Mines! team at Riley Pass, SD. Charmaine White Face is in the foreground. (Photo: Ellen Davidson)The Clean Up The Mines! team gathers at Riley Pass, South Dakota. Activist Charmaine White Face is in the foreground. (Photo: Ellen Davidson)

As physicians, we are concerned about the future of our water supply. The Flint water crisis should provoke a national public debate about the best ways to protect clean water, including what type of water infrastructure is required and how water is owned and managed.

Clean Up The Mines! team at Riley Pass, SD. Charmaine White Face is in the foreground. (Photo: Ellen Davidson)The Clean Up The Mines! team gathers at Riley Pass, South Dakota. Activist Charmaine White Face is in the foreground. (Photo: Ellen Davidson)

It's hard to miss the water contamination that residents in Flint, Michigan, are experiencing. Television footage shows family members holding bottles of yellow, orange or brown water. They could see and taste the change in their water quality shortly after Gov. Rick Snyder ordered the switch to supply water from the polluted Flint River, rather than Lake Huron, without adding anti-corrosives to prevent leaching from lead pipes in early 2014. Thanks to a few dedicated researchers from Virginia Tech, the elevated lead in Flint's water has been exposed.

Since national attention has turned to Flint, information from other cities is coming to light showing similar problems. Sebring, Ohio, is one city where residents have been warned not to drink the water because of elevated lead levels. And it was recently revealed that there are high levels of lead in water in Jackson, Mississippi, even though the results of the tests were available six months ago.

Water should be tested for radioactivity, as well as for heavy metals such as lead.

In Flint, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did not inform the public about the high lead levels in the water when they learned about it, even though the state provided bottled water to public employees. The governor also reconnected General Motors to Lake Huron when they complained, just a few months after the transition in early 2014. The state knew, but continued to allow toxic water - which qualified as "hazardous waste" by EPA standards - for Flint residents without telling them.

Not talked about, perhaps because it is harder to see, is a national water contamination crisis that has been going on for decades. It is invisible and tasteless and the mainstream media won't cover it. This contamination is caused by the United States' secret Fukushima, radioactive and other heavy metals leaking from the more than 15,000 abandoned uranium mines, as well as other sources related to energy extraction throughout the United States.

Measuring radiation levels at an elementary school in Ludlow, SD. April, 2014. (Photo: Klee Benally)Measuring radiation levels at an elementary school in Ludlow, South Dakota, April 2014. (Photo: Klee Benally)

We need a national public health mobilization to assess all drinking water sources in a transparent way and a plan to protect the health of residents and the future of our water supply. Water should be tested for radioactivity, as well as for heavy metals such as lead. In addition, the toxic byproducts of our dirty energy system are another of many compelling reasons why we need to transition rapidly to a cleaner, sustainable green energy economy.

The Biggest Nuclear Accident You've Never Heard About

Most people in the United States know about the accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in March 1979. Although the official reports stated that an "insignificant" amount of radiation was released (this understatement has since been refuted), it is called "America's worst nuclear accident." Very few people know about the actual worst nuclear accident in the United States, which happened three months later in Church Rock, New Mexico. Perhaps this is because it mostly impacted people of the Navajo (Diné) Nation.

On July 16, 1979, the wall of a tailings pond for a uranium mill broke open and released 93 million gallons of radioactive waste into the Arroyo Pipeline, a tributary to the Puerco River. The waste traveled 80 miles down the Puerco River into Arizona. Not only is it amazing that this spill was not reported in the media, but it is also remarkable that the governor of New Mexico refused to issue a state of emergency. It took days for people who live along the Puerco River to be told about the accident, and though they were warned not to use the water for themselves or their livestock, they were not given access to sufficient clean water.

To this day, people who live downstream from the mill drink water that is polluted by uranium and other radioactive and heavy metals. Tommy Rock, cofounder of Diné No Nukes and a doctoral student at Northern Arizona University, has been testing the water that people around Church Rock, New Mexico, drink. He is finding high levels of uranium in some of the wells - even wells that are regulated and supposed to be tested routinely.

Tommy Rock, of Diné No Nukes, meets with staff of the USDA, January, 2016. (Photo: Klee Benally) Tommy Rock, of Diné No Nukes, meets with US Department of Agriculture staff in January 2016. (Photo: Klee Benally)

One of the wells that showed levels of uranium at twice the maximum limit serves the Sanders Unified School District in northern Arizona, which has a thousand students. The community did not know about the high uranium content until Rock informed them.

"State and federal regulators knew about the contamination for years, and our community is concerned about the long-term chronic exposure to uranium because we have been consuming this contaminated water without being notified," said Sanders resident Tonya Baloo, a member of the Diné people.Now Rock is working with the Sanders community to find clean water.

The solution to the water contamination crisis requires an urgent public health response.

There are roughly 1,000 abandoned uranium mines in and around the Navajo Nation, and very few of them have been cleaned up. None of them have been taken care of adequately. Klee Benally, who lives in Arizona and coordinates the Clean Up The Mines! campaign, calls it "toxic landscaping." Benally adds that the Gold King Mine spill, which polluted the 215-mile segment of the San Juan River that flows through the Navajo Nation last August, further compels the urgent need to clean up abandoned mines before they destroy more rivers with toxic waste.

Uranium is the radioactive metal that is used to power nuclear plants and to make nuclear weapons. When it is mined, 85 percent of the radioactivity is left behind in the waste rock. That waste and exposed ore continue to emit radiation for hundreds of thousands of years. As the uranium breaks down to become lead in its final form, it also releases radon gas, which causes lung cancer. Exposure to uranium and other radioactive metals by drinking contaminated water, breathing contaminated dust or eating food produced in contaminated areas causes cancer, birth defects, kidney disease and autoimmune diseases. Children and the elderly are most affected. These mines are located in the breadbasket of the United States, which provides food to the country and many parts of the world.

When the Clean Up The Mines! campaign was launched nearly two years ago, we toured abandoned uranium mines in South Dakota with Klee Benally and Charmaine White Face of Defenders of the Black Hills. Many of the abandoned mines are open pits. One that we visited was very close to an elementary school in Ludlow, South Dakota. We measured high levels of radiation - over 150 counts per minute in the playground area.

White Face has been working for years to raise awareness of the radioactive contamination in the Great Sioux Nation, which includes North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana and parts of Nebraska. She has asked for studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but has been denied because she was told there aren't enough people in the area. However, she is certain that people are being impacted. Communities close to the mines suffer high cancer and miscarriage rates.

Like Tommy Rock, White Face has also been testing drinking water and is finding high levels of uranium as well as thorium, a radioactive metal not regulated by the EPA. The composition of the uranium shows that it is coming from the abandoned mines rather than being naturally occurring. Despite the contamination, communities continue to drink the water because they have no choice. This has been going on for decades.

Klee Benally chants in front of the EPA, January, 2016. (Photo: DC Indymedia)Klee Benally chants in front of the Environmental Protection Agency in January 2016. (Photo: DC Indymedia)

Recently, White Face, Rock and Benally traveled to Washington, DC, with other Indigenous people from the Southwest and Northern Great Plains to sound the alarm about radioactive pollution. They call themselves the "miner's canary" because they are trying to alert the public about the impacts of this national problem. In addition to the 15,000 abandoned uranium mines, there are other sources of radioactive pollution that are not being monitored.

The largest coal mine in the United States, the Black Thunder Mine in Wyoming, provides 40 percent of the nation's coal. Its uranium-laced coal is shipped both to the East and the West, where it is burned in power plants and turned into radioactive coal ash. Fracking is another concern, because the wastewater from fracking wells in the Bakken oil and other shales bring radioactive metals up from deep underground. This wastewater is held in open ponds, is sometimes discharged into waterways and is sprayed on roads during ice and snowstorms.

A National Problem That Needs a National Solution

Charmaine White Face at Red Shirt Village press conference. (Photo: Jill Stein)Charmaine White Face at Red Shirt Village press conference. (Photo: Jill Stein)

The solution to the water contamination crisis requires an urgent public health response. Water must be tested regularly for contaminants, including radioactivity; the public must be notified immediately when there are concerns; and clean drinking water must be provided when public water is not potable, no matter the size of the affected population. Sources of contamination must be cleaned up.

This may sound like a lot to require, but consider the flip side. Governor Snyder in Michigan changed the water source for Flint in order to save money. However, the result of that decision will be much more expensive than doing the right thing from the start. The state has already authorized $28 million to address the problem. Flint's mayor says it will cost up to $1.5 billion to replace the city's aging pipes. Expensive medical care will be required for the 6,000 to 12,000 children who have been exposed to lead poisoning. Altogether, it is estimated that this crisis will cost $10 billion.

As physicians, we are concerned about the future of our water supply.

One of the problems exposed by the Flint water crisis is the inadequacy of water testing and notification systems. Some municipalities meet their clean water requirements by conducting tests that violate EPA guidelines. They only test areas that are known to be clean or flush out the pipes prior to testing. According to the Guardian, "A report published [in 2015], commissioned by the American Water Works Association, found that if the water was tested directly from lead pipes, up to 96 million Americans could be found to be drinking water with unsafe levels of lead."

Another problem is that utilities conduct their own testing without adequate oversight by local EPA regulators. It is a scenario that is seen all too often in the United States: close relationships between regulators and the entities they are supposed to regulate that lead to lax oversight.

An EPA task force issued recommendations in 2015 on lead and copper monitoring in water. Those recommendations have not yet been adopted. That needs to be expedited. And there needs to be a task force that will test water for radioactivity and issue rules to protect the public from radioactive pollution in water.

Tommy Rock reports that the standard for radioactive pollution in water is higher than what was originally recommended because utilities didn't want to have more stringent requirements, and they are pushing to raise the maximum allowable levels for radioactive pollutants to be higher. This must be prevented; as Physicians for Social Responsibility reports, "There is no safe level of radionuclide exposure, whether from food, water or other sources. Period."

Steps must also be taken to stop the leaking of uranium and other radioactive metals into water, and that means cleaning up the thousands of abandoned uranium mines. Legislation is being drafted that would require a single high standard of clean up for the mines. You can learn more about that bill and how to support it at

Access to Water Is a Public Good

Warning at Riley Pass mine. (Photo: Jill Stein)Warning at Riley Pass mine. (Photo: Jill Stein)Clean water is a necessity. People cannot survive without access to water. There are many threats to our water system beyond contamination, such as the climate crisis, overuse and privatization. Water is quickly becoming our most precious resource, one that needs to be managed in a holistic way so that there is enough water to meet everyone's basic needs.

As physicians, we are concerned about the future of our water supply. The Flint water crisis should provoke a public debate at the national level about the best ways to protect clean water, including what type of water infrastructure is required and how water is owned and managed.

With the reality of the climate crisis upon us, corporations view water as a commodity that will increase in value. In 2013, almost 70 percent of water systems in the United States were privately owned. A report by Food & Water Watch shows that private water companies charge higher prices and cut corners, such as using poor construction materials and not hiring sufficient staff. Privatization of water must be prevented and reversed because corporations do not treat water as a public good, but as a profit center for their investors.

The invisible crisis of radioactive metals in our water raises the question of the impacts of fossil fuel and nuclear energy extraction on our water quality and availability. The extractive energy industry is one that consumes tremendous amounts of water and pollutes it with chemicals and radioactive metals. This means that protecting our fragile water future also means transitioning rapidly to a clean and green carbon-free and nuclear-free energy economy.

We need a national plan to manage this precious necessity, clean water. That includes an integrated approach to preserve and protect clean water in a way that involves coordinated but decentralized decision-making, transparency and participation by local communities. We will need to conserve wetlands, manage agricultural use, reduce water demand and reuse water. We can no longer take clean water for granted. These crises are a wake-up call to create a 21st century water policy that treats water as a public good, not a commodity for corporate profit.

Opinion Fri, 05 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
Economy Adds 151,000 Jobs in January

The economy added 151,000 jobs in January, in line with some economists' expectations. There were largely offsetting revisions to the prior two months data leaving the average change over the last three months at 231,000. The slowing was sharpest in construction, which added 18,000 jobs after adding an average of 56,500 jobs in the prior two months. The temp sector lost 25,000 jobs in January after a reported gain of the same size in December. The big job gainers were restaurants, which added 46,700 jobs, health care with a gain of 36,800, and retail with a gain of 57,700. Both restaurants and retail were likely helped by unusually good weather. (The storms hit after the survey period.)

On the household side, there was another large increase in labor force participation, with 284,000 entering the labor force, after adjusting for changes in population controls. Employment rose by 409,000 after the adjustment. Other news in the household survey was mixed. The number of involuntary part-time workers fell again and is now down by almost 800,000 over the last year. The number of people who choose to work part-time rose slightly. It is now up by almost 500,000 from its year ago level. This is a predictable effect of the ACA as people no longer need to work full-time to get health care insurance through their jobs.

On the negative side, the unemployment rate for African Americans by rose by 0.5 percentage points and for African American teens by 1.5 percentage points. This indicates the drop in December was a blip. The percentage of unemployment due to voluntary job leavers also dropped in January, indicating a lack of confidence in the labor market.

There was a large 12 cent jump in the average hourly wage in January, but this followed a month in which there was no reported rise at all. Over the last three months the wage has risen at a 2.5 percent annual rate compared to the prior three months, the same as its pace over the last year. There is little basis for believing there is any notable increase in wage wage growth.

News Fri, 05 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Roosh?

Daryush "Roosh" Valizadeh in Warsaw, Poland. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons; Edited: LW / TO)Daryush "Roosh" Valizadeh in Warsaw, Poland. (Photo: Bartek Kucharczyk; Edited: LW / TO)A widely despised blogger and lauded hero within the so-called "Men's Right Movement" grabbed headlines this week as the "pro-rape" website Return of Kings announced a series of international meetups for its hyper-masculine fan base. Daryush Valizadeh, also known by the online moniker Roosh V, or Roosh Valizadeh, said that the meetups were being planned to allow men who view themselves as "pickup artists" and "men's rights activists" to "come out of the shadows" and build deeper relationships with like-minded, straight cis men. The Return of Kings website, which treats women as both "the enemy" and the subject of constant sexual fixation, promised "furious retribution" against anyone who attempted to disrupt the boys-only rendezvous. But amid widespread threats of protest and confrontation, Roosh apparently lost touch with his self-purported ferocity, and announced on Wednesday that all scheduled meetups were cancelled.

By Thursday, Roosh had apparently become so concerned for his safety that he actually summoned police to his mother's home in Silver Spring, Maryland - where he lives in the basement - to discuss threats he's received from around the world.

Much of the outrage directed at Roosh highlighted a piece from last year, in which the blogger argued that rape should be legalized, so long as it occurs on private property. Roosh now claims the post was satirical, but the Return of Kings website has never been known to stray from the contention that the term "rape" is used too broadly to describe the sexual conduct of men, or the notion that manipulating women into sex, or even taking advantage of women who are too intoxicated to consent, is acceptable behavior.

While the blowback against these meetups was wholly understandable, there is a hard truth that will likely be lost in much of the conversation about Roosh and his followers.

In the predictably sensational media coverage of a standoff between feminists and misogynists that never quite played out, there has been virtually no discussion of the fact that a great number of men who feel comfortable denouncing Roosh and his fandom are, in fact, part of the problem.

While George Lawlor, the University student who famously proclaimed, "This is not what a rapist looks like!" was greatly maligned on social media, his sentiments were actually fairly normative. While there was no doubt racism and classism embedded in Lawlor's comments, there was something else at work that also poses an ongoing threat to the safety of women: the idea that men with good intentions - or even "good politics" - are not capable of crossing boundaries of consent, and that such things are not commonplace.

The fact that extremity exists in the world, on the spectrum of every bad "-ism," in no way astonishes me, or even startles me. When I encounter Roosh's vitriol amid my social media scrolling, it neither brings my blood to a boil, nor inspires me to take significant action. To me, he is a mere caricature. And while caricatures can be deeply disturbing, they can also keep us comfortable.

If popular fiction tells us anything, it's that people love battles that come down to good vs. evil. We love the simplicity of obvious targets and the satisfaction of righteous victories. We want a world that offers us heroes and villains, and allows us to feel confident that we are standing on the right side of whatever conflict is at hand. But the real world rarely offers such simplicity, and our aversion to complex matters leaves many issues and manifestations of harm unaddressed.

I am not afraid of Roosh Valizadeh.

Because to me, he is not the face of rape.

I am afraid because most of the women I know who have survived assault have not been abused by blustering creeps like Roosh. They have been harmed by their friends, their neighbors, their partners and others who managed to gain their trust. The situations in which many are harmed are often mundane, or even positive, until someone crosses a line. And in the aftermath of such moments, those responsible rarely believe that they've committed any harm at all. Because rape, to them, is a clear-cut matter. And when they brush aside the possibility of two people experiencing the same events differently, and focus on terms they cannot reconcile with their own identities rather than pondering what it is to feel harmed or violated, in real human terms, they reject all responsibility.

And they will almost always be abetted in doing so, because their friends, coworkers and partners are equally averse to acknowledging the complications of harm and the true bounds of consent, because no one wants to believe that "good guys" are capable of bad things.

So when Roosh says he's coming to their town, these men raise their voices in disgust, and are applauded for doing so. Because they are nothing like Roosh. And really, we shouldn't pretend that they are. Because a person need not be wholly bad or terrifying to do great harm. A person can be decent in many ways, and still hurt someone - even someone they care about. A person living in a culture of rape can mistake violation for passion, and they often do.

Each and every day.

And this is why some of us are so very afraid.

Not because of Roosh or a stranger in the bushes or some other human being that can be reduced to a concept.

But because some of the people reading this have no doubt crossed lines and broken boundaries of consent without ever knowing they'd caused harm.

Just as some of the people reading this will cross those lines tomorrow, or the next day, or some time after that.

And the person they harm won't see it coming.

So rage against the likes of Roosh, if that rage empowers you. Mock them, call them what they are and menace them all you like, as they are no doubt worthy of scorn. But be careful. Because there's a reason that people so readily engage with these moments, rather than the day-to-day realities of rape culture and sexual violence. There's a reason that we sort the world into heroes and villains. There's a reason most rapes are never answered for. And it's not because of the Big Bad Roosh.

Opinion Fri, 05 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
Why Ted Cruz Won Iowa

Republican presidential candidates US Senator Ted Cruz and Donald J. Trump clap at CNN republican presidential debate on December 15, 2015, in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo via Shutterstock)Presidential candidates Sen. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump clap at the CNN Republican presidential debate on December 15, 2015, in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo: Joseph Sohm /

Election 2016 officially kicked off with the Iowa caucus on Monday, February 1. While the attention of political pundits has already moved on to next week's New Hampshire primary, the outcome in Iowa provides an interesting preview of the road ahead. The Democratic results went down to the wire, with Hillary Clinton not formally declared the winner (which was essentially a tie) until the next day. Yet, Ted Cruz winning the Republican caucus provides a clearer picture of GOP voters and what the eventual Democratic nominee will be up against - and always has been.

In 2008, at a fundraising stop during his initial campaign for president, Barack Obama spoke about the frustration of the small town voter. "They get bitter," he said, "They cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations." The quote caused a media storm, giving his primary opponent Hillary Clinton ammunition to use in the remaining primaries. The man who would be president eventually apologized for the comment, even though his only mistake was that he spoke the truth.

Eight years later, these are the voters that are keeping Donald Trump at the top of the polls, and the ones that gave Ted Cruz the first primary win of the season.

Both have resonated with the bitter, gun-loving, anti-immigrant, white male, as well as the women that love them. This was made abundantly clear in the interviews with 100 Republican primary voters published last month in New York Magazine. Gabriel Sherman spoke with voters in Iowa and New Hampshire to get sense of what the voters wanted. While they highlighted the issues they were most concerned with when asked, the candidates' positions on them did not influence their support. The voters Sherman spoke with saw America as a crumbling nation, with the foundation of the life they had known crumbling around them.

In short, the Republican voter is scared. Scared of change, scared of non-white people and scared of women - particularly Hillary Clinton. Their desire was to seek someone who could keep them safe and stand up to all the bad things. As one voter interviewed stated, they wanted someone with the "testicular fortitude" to make America great again.

Not surprisingly, the most fearful were Trump and Cruz supporters. The common theme was the desire to have someone willing to stand up to the perceived dangers. The xenophobia was strong, with many "get off my lawn" types wishing for more focus on the nation's needs than those in other countries. They are tired of the "PC" culture and their belief that everyone wants a handout. Ironically, many of them were down on their luck and even on assistance.

Cruz's supporters shared these sentiments, highlighting his anti-Muslim rhetoric and appreciating how he stood up to those that are willing to capitulate. Many of the "undecideds" were weighing their choices of either Cruz and Trump, seeing them as the best options for "decider in chief." For many, it was his promotion of Christianity and a desire for a nation based on biblical laws that propelled him to the top.

In the weeks leading up to Iowa, Cruz's religious surrogates were more visible. All represent the most extreme fringes of the evangelical right. Bob Vander Plaats is the head of Iowa's Family Leader and believes that God's law should outweigh all others. Cruz's "Pro-Lifers for Cruz" is headed by Tony Perkins, the leader of the anti-gay and designated hate group Family Research Council. Other endorsements have come from people who believe abortion doctors should be executed and that America should be a theocracy because that is what the founding fathers envisioned.

While it is common for Republican candidates to claim to have received a calling from God to run for president, Cruz has taken it further by claiming that he is a religious prophet called to lead a religious war. His supporters are called "believers" and they are told they are building an army for the coming attacks. Glenn Beck has said he is convinced he is touched by "the hand of divine providence." Rafael Cruz, father of Ted, has implied that his son is a messiah.

The good news is that Ted Cruz is unlikely to make it to the Oval Office if Iowa's track record of being really, really wrong about the Republican nominee continues. However, it does highlight the desperate desire of the Republican base to return to a time where they - meaning straight, white males (and the women that love them) - were the default when it came to public policy. Furthermore, these voters are also very misinformed on how policy actually works, which will be difficult for a Democratic candidate to overcome.

In our very polarized political climate, the candidates on the right are truly representative of the people that vote for them. They don't want information or the factual details on how a candidate will improve their lives. Platitudes and emotional appeals are what will get them to the polls and what will put people like Ted Cruz into office.

Opinion Fri, 05 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
Drowning the Oil Industry

With oil cheaper than bottled water, the average American driver saved $540 at the pump last year.

But oil prices are also battering Alaska's economy, rattling the stock market, and leaving thousands of workers in states like North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Texas jobless.

Can things get any worse for the oil industry and the folks who rely on it? Sure.

The biggest short-term reason is Iran. Having honored the terms of its landmark nuclear deal, the Middle Eastern nation is now at liberty to export more oil after years of sanctions. That's why the commodity has slid as low as $26.55 a barrel - about half of what it fetched a year ago. And that was following a steep slide from the summer of 2014.

Iran has oodles of oil ready to ship at a time when global producers are already pumping 2 million more barrels daily than consumers need. The market is also bracing for a long-term gusher. Iran, with the world's fourth-largest reserves, could eventually ramp up its exports by another million barrels a day.

"Unless something changes, the oil market could drown in oversupply," warns the International Energy Agency, an independent analysis organization.

A consumption spike would change this equation. But demand for oil is unlikely to grow fast enough, especially with China's economic slowdown.

Alternatively, production could stabilize or fall. The most logical thing would be for all major players to cut output in unison. They'd make more money while selling less oil. Venezuela, an oil-dependent country on the brink of hyperinflation, has urged fellow OPEC members and Russia for more than a year to take this step.

Russia, where the economy is so bad that soup kitchens are a hot trend, is warming to this idea. Yet there's no evidence that a broad synchronized price reduction is brewing.

Mostly, it's up to Saudi Arabia to make a move. It's the world's biggest exporter, and its production costs are among the world's lowest. But the Saudis distrust Russia, dislike Iran, and want to extinguish our nation's fracking-fueled oil boom.

As long as this global glut sticks around, prices will stay low or spiral further down. Many North American oil companies won't extract profits or remain credit-worthy.

More than 40 US-based oil and gas exploration and production firms went bankrupt in 2015. Experts generally expect oil prices to remain low for the rest of this year and probably longer.

So don't be surprised if that bankruptcy wave becomes a tsunami in 2016. Or if US production declines and more oil workers lose their jobs.

Until now, after oil prices have gone down, they've always bounced back up. But no law of physics mandates this gravity-defying pattern.

Sooner or later, better alternatives to powering transportation with oil-derived fuels will become dominant. Will electric vehicles charged with renewable energy, hydrogen fuel cells, or something else prevail?

Whatever technology supplants oil, it surely won't foul land, water, and air to the same degree. It probably won't subject millions of people to the economic hardship that accompanies oil shocks. And it might avert climate chaos.

Restoring prices to the $100-per-barrel range would keep more oil companies in business. But that wouldn't solve the world's real energy problems.

Opinion Fri, 05 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
Corporate Interests Take Aim at Local Democracy

Corporate interests and groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council have increasingly been turning to state "preemption" measures - some of them unprecedentedly aggressive - to override an array of progressive policy gains at the city or county level.

A demonstrator displays a flag decrying corporate spending in American political elections in front of the Waukesha Convention Center on July, 13, 2015, in Waukesha, Wisconsin. (Photo via Shutterstock)A demonstrator displays a flag decrying corporate spending in US political elections in front of the Waukesha Convention Center on July, 13, 2015, in Waukesha, Wisconsin. (Photo: Juli Hansen /

Across America, corporate interests are taking aim at local government.

With Congress gridlocked and a majority of state legislatures controlled by right-wing interests, cities have become laboratories of democracy for progressive policies like a higher minimum wage, LGBTQ protections, or parental leave.

In response, corporate interests and groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have increasingly been turning to state "preemption" measures - some of them unprecedentedly aggressive - to override an array of progressive policy gains at the city or county level.

"2015 saw more efforts to undermine local control on more issues than any year in history," said Mark Pertschuk, director of the watchdog group Preemption Watch.

Last year, state legislatures in at least 29 states introduced bills to block local control over a range of issues, from the minimum wage, to LGBTQ rights, to immigration, according to Preemption Watch. Seventeen states considered more than one preemption bill.

And just a few weeks into 2016 state legislative sessions, it's clear that ending local authority will continue to be the go-to strategy for state legislators and their special interest allies, as a means of blocking earned sick days, minimum wage hikes, tobacco and fracking bans, pro-worker policies, or anti-discrimination laws.

Bills to stop local fracking bans have been already filed this year in Colorado, New Mexico and and Florida. Minimum wage preemption bills have been filed in Washington and Illinois. Legislation has been filed in Indiana, Michigan and New Mexico to stop local action on fair scheduling ordinances. Advocates are tracking preemption bills targeting LGBTQ ordinances in South Carolina, Virginia, Oklahoma and Indiana, and expect to see bills in North Carolina, Mississippi and West Virginia. Unions are bracing for bills in a spate of states aimed at limiting municipal labor standard-setting.

In Florida alone, lawmakers have already filed more than 20 bills seeking to preempt local authority on issues including oil and gas regulations, construction standards for abortion clinics and whether a town can declare itself a sanctuary city.

And in Oklahoma, legislators just introduced a wide-ranging bill to effectively undo home rule and local control. Under the proposal, local governments would be prohibited from doing almost anything that isn't specifically authorized by the state legislature.

Troubling Preemption Trends Emerged in 2015

Over time, bills interfering in local democracy have become wider in scope and more hostile to home rule. More industries and special interest groups now consider preemption a legislative imperative, using it not just to stop the advancement of policies they disagree with, but also to undo elections and repeal laws already on the books.

These efforts to consolidate power at the state level and stop local progress are part of a long-term corporate-driven strategy. The Koch-funded ALEC and its local offshoot, the American City County Exchange (ACCE), have been central to this anti-local democracy effort. ALEC has long pushed bills like the "Living Wage Mandate Preemption Act" to block local governments from raising the wage. It has worked to preempt community-run municipal broadband in 19 states - which benefits ALEC funders like AT&T and Comcast - and local anti-GMO policies, which benefits ALEC funders like CropLife America.

A new trend that emerged in 2015 was the introduction of wide-ranging bills prohibiting local control over a broad set of issues, such as Michigan's "Death Star" preemption bill (HB 4052) which bars local governments from regulating everything from paid sick days and minimum wage to scheduling for retail stores and ban the box ordinances. Originally, the bill included language that could have eliminated local protections against LGBTQ discrimination. That section was not contained in the final law, but it did pass in Arkansas. North Carolina also considered a "Death Star" preemption bill last year, but too late in the session to move it.

2015 also saw narrowly-focused bills evolve into comprehensive attacks on local control. These so-called "Christmas Tree" bills start out as say, a ban on local plastic bag regulations, and are then hung with an array of other provisions crafted to override local lawmaking. For example, a law in Missouri enacted last year that blocked local government authority to enact paid sick days or raise the minimum wage started as a plastic bag ban.

Last year also saw the rise of "super-preemption" bills that not only block local governments from enacting regulations, but give corporations and individuals the right to sue cities or counties if they don't comply.

Here is a snapshot of some corporate-backed efforts to override local control in 2015:

Paid Sick Days and Minimum Wage

Bills prohibiting local government from enacting paid sick day guarantees were enacted in Michigan, Oregon, and Missouri in 2015. Republican-controlled legislatures in Montana and Virginia also passed paid sick days preemption, but the state's governors ultimately vetoed the measures. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon's veto, however, was overridden by the Republican-controlled legislature.

The spread of these bills can be tied to ALEC and its funder the National Restaurant Association (NRA), which represents big chain restaurants. At ALEC's August 2011 meeting in New Orleans, an NRA executive shared a paid sick day preemption bill that had recently been signed into law by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, as well as an NRA target list and map of state and local paid sick leave policies. In the years following that meeting, similar paid sick day preemption legislation was enacted in sixteen states, in most cases introduced by ALEC members, and with backing from the state NRA affiliates.

Last year - in addition to the five states that passed paid sick day preemption bills - legislation was also introduced in Alabama, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina.

Regulation of Fracking

In recent years, dozens of cities in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania have banned hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, citing public health concerns about water contamination and earthquakes.

Yet after residents of Denton, Texas voted for an anti-fracking ballot initiative in November 2014, the oil and gas industry began to fight back. The industry quickly sued, and ALEC legislators in the state capitol responded with a deluge of bills to override local authority over public health - even though most Texans support local control over fracking.

ALEC has acknowledged its role in promoting fracking preemption, and at the December meeting, of ALEC's local government-focused spinoff, ACCE, members were warned of the "epidemic" of "draconian" local restrictions against fracking, according to a report from the meeting. Jacki Pick of the Koch-backed National Center for Policy Analysis (and a talk show host on Glenn Beck's "The Blaze" network) warned that "the oil and gas industry will be destroyed unless conservatives act."

Both Texas and Oklahoma adopted laws preempting local governments from regulating the oil and gas industry in 2015. Bills were also introduced in Florida and New Mexico. In Wisconsin, where the fine silica sand used in fracking is mined, the Republican-controlled state legislature also considered bills to override local frac sand mining regulation.

LGBTQ Rights

The religious right has also begun using a preemption strategy to override local protections for LGBTQ rights.

"The push for LGBT nondiscrimination protections - laws that would cover both sexual orientation and gender identity in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodations - have stalled at the statewide level," said Andy Garcia, Program Manager at the Equality Federation. "As a result, efforts have shifted to the city and county level in the form of municipal nondiscrimination ordinances."

News Fri, 05 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500