Truthout Stories Fri, 28 Aug 2015 13:09:43 -0400 en-gb Do You Know What It Means to Love New Orleans?

A flooded neighborhood adjacent to the 12th Street levee in New Orleans, Sept. 1, 2005. (Vincent Laforet/The New York Times)A flooded neighborhood adjacent to the 12th Street levee in New Orleans, September 1, 2005. (Vincent Laforet/The New York Times)

The island in the center of my kitchen is red upon green. These are not the colors of the countertop; they are the decorations provided by our absurdly productive garden. Zucchini the size of nuclear submarines, cucumbers big enough to club a Grizzly bear to death, string beans and snow peas all the way around the block, and tomatoes ... oh my goodness, the tomatoes this year, beefsteak and early-girls and cherries coming through the damn window, a riot of red.

The smell on my fingertips after I do a harvest is ... I suppose "humbling" would be the proper word. I don't have another one, and I lack the adequate vocabulary to explain the scent, or the product. Nothing I will ever do can equal the simple beauty that grows from the ground. The counter is covered, and the kitchen windowsill is likewise packed to the final inch. Once I'm done blanching, blending and freezing the tomatoes, I'm never going to have to buy a can of sauce again, and I will make lasagna this winter by the long ton.

There's a ritual involved. One morning early this summer, when the grass was spring-long and riddled with dandelions and busy bees, I wore sandals to the garden and got stung on the foot for my trouble. Now, therefore, it's a sturdy pair of shoes, a broad gardening hat, my old work gloves and a canvas bag to collect whatever has arrived. I swim through an ocean of goldenrod to get there, and my nose quite simply sings. The garden, encased in stone, hums like a live transformer from the tilling of the insects. I pay them no mind, and they pay me less. We work, and then we feast.

Here's the thing about a garden: You sit there, weeding or seeding or planting or picking, and the whole time you're saying to yourself, "Well, next year, I'm going to do this different" or "that different" or "I'm going to try something new." In the verdant green of that present moment, with the soil under your nails and the hot lovely stink of life on your fingers, you dream of tomorrow, of what may be, and the bees hum your name as you do. Gardens are about the future.

I sat in the garden on Thursday under the shade of my wide-brim hat, picked beans and tomatoes with my gnarled old gloves, listened to the bees ignoring me, smelled the earth, felt the sun on my skin, paused in that basic splendor, and thought of New Orleans. Ten years ago Friday, a storm half the size of Texas hit that old blues town in the teeth, and the ocean rose, and the sky fell, and the jazz stopped in jangled discordance, and everyone ran for their lives.

And the people were abandoned. It took George W. Bush and his mob of hapless brigands days simply to get water to dying citizens in one of the most important and iconic cities on the continent. Why? Because the people were Black, and poor? Because Bush and his people were incompetent beyond the bounds of useful language? Because greedy people plundered the levy budget to the tune of nine figures to "fund" the Iraq war prior to the storm? Yes, in my humble opinion, on all three counts.

Native Americans had lived for more than a thousand years in and around what became the city of New Orleans when the French founded it in 1718. In the War of 1812, the British attempted to capture the city, but were thrown back by Andrew Jackson and a ragtag band of defenders. The Port of New Orleans is as important to the world as the femoral artery is to the body. It is history, distilled.

The unique musical phenomenon called jazz emerged in the late nineteenth century in New Orleans as musicians like Buddy Bolden fused elements of blues and ragtime on the heels of Papa Jack Laine. Nick LaRocca and Jelly-Roll Morton followed, along with Bunk Johnson, Sidney Bechet, Louis Armstrong, Ellis, Wynton and Branford Marsalis, and Harry Connick, Jr., for openers. All of the musicians who enjoyed a role in the creation of this nation's unique music culture have played their asses off there, often more than once.

So I sit in my garden, girded by dirt and green and growth, I smell life ... and I think of New Orleans. Ten years ago, the sea rose up and did damage the likes of which we've never seen. People were scattered to the wind, the Lower 9th Ward was subsumed and then devoured by developers, fast after the buck to be plucked from the wreckage left behind by good people in flight. Wreckage upon wreckage.

I remember Katrina. But I also remember "Acknowledgement." I remember "Kind of Blue." I remember "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans." I remember the blues, and jazz, and the long river that raised them both like a pair of talented, fussy children in a Louisiana port city that smells like life.

And I remember, in my own little patch of earth, that everything grows back soon enough, given time. The ground looks to tomorrow, because that's all it has. My garden, and New Orleans, know the truth of this full well.

Opinion Fri, 28 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Culture Change - Not Policy Change - Is Needed: Reflections on Gun Violence in the US

"We don't talk about why our culture is grounded in a romanticization - and in fact, a sexualization - of gun violence ... And when the noise dies down, we return to accepting the mundane," says Kelly Hayes.

(Photo: US Guns via Shutterstock; Edited: LW / TO)(Photo: US Guns via Shutterstock; Edited: LW / TO)

This week, I saw a statistic that made my skin crawl. It was one of those numerical comparisons that makes perfect sense when you see it but also causes a shudder or two when you grasp its full meaning. According to numbers pulled from various sources, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more Americans have died as a result of gun violence here in the United States since 1968 than have died in all US wars combined. When one considers the enormity of the bloodshed that has occurred over the course of US conflicts, the extremity of this internal violence is indeed quite staggering.

The Vietnam War sparked one of the most potent social movements of the last century and inspired connections between evolving movements. The tragedy of the Civil War - which pitted "brother against brother" - has been the subject of countless books and films, with many going so far as to romanticize the bravery of those whose fight was ultimately waged in defense of slavery. We marvel at the horrors of war, dramatize them and perpetually claim to learn from them, but we allow the horrors of our own culture to fade into the realm of the mundane. Barring a headline-worthy statistical anomaly that allows for the use of sensationalist language like "epidemic" or "crime wave," our attention is rarely roused by everyday violence in the United States.

Occasionally, however, a spectacle of violence manages to grab our collective attention.

The gunning down of two Virginia journalists during a live news broadcast on Wednesday did just that. Like many victims of violence, Alison Parker and Adam Ward were simply going about their daily lives when they were struck down by gunfire. Their deaths hit some Americans especially hard because, as viewers and consumers of media imagery, they weren't expecting it, either. Most Americans only hear or read about gun violence. They are removed from the day-to-day reality of it and spared the role of witness.

The striking exception to our common exemption is, of course, the commonplace publication of videos and images of police violence inflicted upon Black people and other people of color. But many also avoid those images or regard them as irregular, or worse, as an unfortunate consequence of the maintenance of law and order.

But to see violence up close, not uncovered or exposed in the pursuit of justice, but brandished on social media by the killer himself, made many feel as though they had been roped into the position of bystander. And they were. But what does this say about us as a culture, that we treat something so common as something utterly extraordinary?

When Hillary Clinton was recently called out by Black Lives Matter activists for her complicity with the expansion of the prison industrial complex - an expansion that has only fueled greater harm in Black communities - Clinton garnered a great deal of attention by telling the activists, "I don't believe you change hearts; I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate." Clinton went on to stress that if the activists only succeeded in changing hearts, "We'll be back here in 10 years having the same conversation."

The problem with that logic, of course, is that laws have been changed over the course of social movements, and we're still back here having the same conversations. Laws are broken and bent backward over time when culture fails to change with them. Rules are disregarded or unraveled by insidious policy changes such as voter ID laws.

When it comes to violence, Clinton's theory of changing laws rather than hearts has already proved false during her own time in politics. Three-strikes laws and mandatory minimums were championed by the Clintons during Bill Clinton's presidency, but as we have seen over the course of prison expansion, stiffer penalties don't make for safer communities. It's not surprising that policy makers are attached to the notion of their own relevance - the idea that the world can be rewritten by the legislation they author and promote - but the world has a way of disregarding and undoing any change it's not ready for, and that is a difficult reality for any policy maker to swallow.

Now, in the wake of Wednesday's shooting, many on the left are discussing gun control. While I understand the intentions of such conversations, most fail to address the root issues at work. Why is it that violence is so inevitable in our country? Is it because we have access to guns, or is it because we are so attached to them? Both American pop culture and our manner of appreciating history indicate that gun violence is something that we simply can't stop consuming. And when has illegality ever curbed the destructive habits of any population?

In reality, most of the measures that liberals push for at a legislative level wouldn't keep guns out of the hands of most high-profile killers. But intensifying the aims of those would-be legislative cures wouldn't curb our collective habit either. There is something deeper at work that manifests itself in the hands of Americans who pick up loaded weapons. But our problem-solving skills have been limited by the logic of politicians like Clinton, who sells quick fixes for cultural problems - fixes that never seem to work.

Many are also talking about mental health in the wake of Wednesday's shooting. And while a lack of resources for those with mental illness is a very important topic, these conversations tend to follow a similar pattern to those that center on gun control in the wake of tragedy. The daily suffering of people with mental illness who have been denied resources - mental anguish, self-medication, homelessness and suicide - fade into the mundane in the United States, while a violent man with a gun conjures arguments about mental health being important because, well, without it, people with mental illness might kill us, or so the notion goes.

The fact that people who are mentally ill are much more likely to be victims of violence than to commit acts of violence is, of course, completely lost in these dialogues.

We don't talk about creating a culture that cares for its own because they are deserving of care, or about how our treatment of vulnerable people is a reflection of our humanity. We don't talk about why our culture is grounded in a romanticization - and in fact, a sexualization - of gun violence. Instead, we argue about laws when extreme circumstances unfold. And when the noise dies down, we return to accepting the mundane.

Hillary Clinton was wrong. What's needed is a culture change. No policy or law can save us from ourselves. No amount of criminalization has prevented us from killing ourselves in greater numbers than any foreign enemy ever has, and no policy or law ever will. Hillary Clinton missed an important opportunity when she talked down to those young activists. She was talking to a group of people from a community deeply affected by violence, to whom suffering has not become mundane. She was hearing an honest analysis of the part she had played in making the world such as it is, and she was being given the opportunity to have an honest dialogue about how we can dismantle the ugliest aspects of our culture. Clinton passed up that opportunity, but the rest of the country doesn't have to.

Opinion Fri, 28 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Since When Has Monoculture Been a Founding American Principle?

With the Republican presidential candidates each trying to say increasingly offensive things about immigrants in order to prove to the base how opposed to immigration they are, it's no wonder that my Facebook feed is filling up with depressing anti-immigrant memes from my conservative friends and acquaintances. One person has been on an aggressive tear, sharing every post she can find condemning immigrants as "illegals" who mooch off our tax dollars, steal our jobs and destroy our country.

While scrolling through her page, I stopped shaking my head in frustration long enough to chuckle at this particular meme:

"If you don't like it, leave!" is actually a common refrain in her posts, but the hypocrisy had only finally struck me. How do these two schools of thought coexist? In one breath, this person is encouraging someone to emigrate if they're not happy with their homeland. In the next breath, this same person is condemning people for emigrating from their homelands to make a better life. If she doesn't want the outcasts from one country, what makes her so sure that another country would want the outcasts from ours?

What I've realized by perusing these conflicting memes is that it's really not about people immigrating to or emigrating from the United States. It's about a strong desire for monoculture, a desire to be surrounded by people who think and act like themselves. You don't agree with me? Leave! You don't speak my language? Stay out!

Several of other posts I've seen address how no one respects the principles this country was founded on anymore. Of course, history tells us that this country was built on immigration, welcoming "huddled masses" from all over the globe in search of a better life. Native Americans comprise less than the two percent of the U.S. population at this point, so you'd have to be kidding yourself to think that the United States was founded on the idea of keeping immigrants at bay.

We've seen members of the Christian right seek office and openly use the Bible to guide their decisions and ignore the rule of law. Yet this group of people is the same one that blasts President Obama for "destroying" the Constitution when he pushes for affordable health care. The "Constitution" gets used as a cover to protect certain rightwing views, even though there's plenty of protections that document provides Americans that conservatives would happily ignore.

It takes some real hutzpah for someone to proclaim their own views as being "patriotic" while outright dismissing the rest. That First Amendment right that allows someone to tell people off is the same one that allows other Americans to dissent and fight for democratic change, all without being asked to leave the country.

America is and always has been a diverse group of people with a variety of ideas coming together to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Perhaps those who cannot handle immigrants or natural-born citizens who have different politics or view the world in a different light should be the ones who need to find another country.

Opinion Fri, 28 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Three Necessary Reforms to Reduce Gun Violence in America

Every day, 31 Americans are murdered with guns. In our society, we're inundated with statistics — but these 31 Americans aren't just an abstract number. They are our friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers. They are men, women, and children — people with dreams for the future.

After a gunman opened fire inside a Louisiana movie theater during a screening of Amy Schumer's film "Trainwreck," killing two people and himself, the film's writer and star described the personal connection she felt to the shooter's victims. In remarks made Monday, she described Jillian Johnson as "a mother, daughter, sister, and a wonderful wife," adding, "She was an artist. I think we would have been friends." Schumer conveyed the heartache experienced by those left in the wake of gun violence, but also emphasized the resolve to transform our country's lax policies. "Unless something is done and done soon, dangerous people will continue to get their hands on guns," Schumer said.

Weak gun laws are strongly correlated with a higher prevalence of gun violence. As a prime example, Louisiana's firearm laws are practically non-existent. As the state's governor, Bobby Jindal, famously proclaimed, "We love us some guns." This love for firearms directly translates into some of the highest levels of gun violence in the country.

As evidenced by the press conference held Monday featuring Schumer and her cousin, Senator Chuck Schumer, taking action to promote stricter gun laws is no longer taboo. However, these actions must be bold. There are three clear steps that Congress and state legislators can and should take if they truly intend on preventing future tragedies.

  1. Close the private gun sales background check loophole.

Background checks have been proven to be extremely effective. The Brady Act, authored by Senator Chuck Schumer and passed in 1993, has stopped over 2.1 million gun sales from taking place, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

But we must finish the job that the Brady Act began. The law does not extend to private transfers of firearms. 40 percent of gun sales are considered private sales, which means the buyer isn't required to undergo a background check. Allowing private gun sales to take place without any type of restrictions only makes our cities more dangerous.

Some cities and states have taken matters into their own hands through the use of ballot initiatives. For example, Seattle's voters approved expanding background checks to private gun sales and transfers in 2014.

  1. Ensure that domestic abusers and stalkers don't have access to guns.

Federal law prohibits domestic abusers from gaining access to a gun — unless of course it's through a private sale. Although closing the loophole for private gun transfers is key, it is also necessary to mandate a more comprehensive definition of "domestic abusers" under the current law.

For example, the law excludes domestic abusers who are in dating relationships. This is commonly referred to as the "Boyfriend Loophole." Thankfully, a bipartisan bill has been introduced in Congress to strengthen existing domestic violence prevention laws. This bill would prevent convicted stalkers from owning a gun, as well.

Despite 82 percent of Americans voicing support for the measure, the gun lobby managed to successfully stop a similar bill in Louisiana this year by misrepresenting the effects of the law.

In addition to adding new regulations, we must enforce our current laws. The federal government has failed to take away guns that individuals had in their possession prior to their domestic abuse conviction. This is especially dangerous — as one study found, "perpetrators who continued to possess firearms after they were prohibited from doing so by federal law were more likely to attempt homicide or threaten their partners with guns than domestic violence perpetrators who had relinquished their firearms."

  1. Stop open carry laws in every state.

Open carry laws are a direct threat to public safety. As research shows, more guns do not equal a safer society. The idea that we need more "good guys" with guns has proven to be a myth.

Thirty-one states currently allow citizens to open carry without any type of license or permit. Guns in the public space both normalize weapons and violence that can occur with their use. As one Slate author wrote, "If it communicates anything, carrying a gun in public tells bystanders that the carrier is prepared to kill someone."

From popular chains like Whataburger, to college officials and schoolteachers, people are taking a stand against laws enabling guns to remain a ubiquitous staple in our country. Hopefully, this opposition will reach the halls of Congress as well.

These policy changes won't stop gun violence completely. But they will provide meaningful first steps in fighting our national gun epidemic, in addition to proving that elected officials are committed to protecting the public safety — as they've sworn to do.

Opinion Fri, 28 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Reflections on New Orleans' Uneven Recovery

New Orleans' politicians are slapping themselves on the back for a job well done, clinking glasses and proclaiming the city to be better off than it was before Hurricane Katrina pummeled the coastline ten years ago. But are they right?

The numbers paint a markedly less triumphant picture of the postdiluvian decade. According to a Data Center analysis, of the million-plus residents displaced by the storm, more than a hundred thousand still haven't returned – most of them black. The African-American share of New Orleans' population has dropped from 67 to 59 percent, and the white population has jumped from 27 to 31 percent. Some lifelong residents are trying to keep that demographic shift from affecting the cultural landscape. "The city is different. It doesn't look the same," said Jeremiah Group Lead Organizer Jackie Jones. "We had a lot of folks who came in after the storm and they took up residency here. And I think people here in New Orleans do not want to lose the heritage, the culture, and I think they are willing to have their voices heard and to do the work that's necessary to keep some things in place."

The Data Center recently released the New Orleans Index at 10, which graded the rebuilding efforts of the eight-parish metro area in four main categories: economic growth, the inclusion of low-income populations in the recovery, quality of life and sustainability. The report card was mixed. It found infrastructure investments and an influx of federal money benefitted the overall economy with an entrepreneurship boom. The region also made significant strides in educational and criminal justice systems. Revenue flowing to arts and culture nonprofits were four times the national average. But the region scored abysmally on measures such as poverty, violent crime, incarceration rates, affordable housing and income inequality. New Orleans' poverty rate was a crushing 27 percent, and black families were suffering the most. Researchers found white households' median income to be on par with the national average, but the median income for black households was 20 percent lower than black households nationally. The income disparity was 54 percent, well above the national average of 40 percent. To exacerbate matters, wages have not kept up with the ballooning housing, property tax and flood insurance costs, and the city does not have the authority to raise its minimum wage above the federal baseline of $7.25. "The stagnant post-Katrina income for the poorest New Orleanians suggests that many are not benefiting from the New Orleans economic recovery," concludes the study.

As lopsided as it has been, the recovery would be even less equitable were it not for the persistent efforts of several organizations. As rental rates and home prices started skyrocketing, the Jeremiah Group advocated for affordable housing so displaced families could return home, but their goal was to build community wealth, not enrich landlords. "A house that may have cost you $500 or $600 [per month] to live in pre-Katrina, post-Katrina, you paid $2,200, $2,300, $24 – I mean, there was just no cap on what people were charging on rent because people wanted to come back and so those who were able, they came back and they could pay that high cost for rent," said Jones. "There was an affordable rental program, and that program would give money to landlords and they would agree to rent those units or houses for so much, for a certain period of time. … We said, if we're gonna bring people back and we're gonna rebuild this city, one of the best ways to do it is through homeownership, because we believe homeownership would stabilize the community. We believe that it would give opportunities to folks who would never be able to become homeowners – that would be made available because funds were coming here. So we began to meet with the LRA, the Louisiana Recovery Authority, to talk about what it would look like to have funding made available for homeownership, affordable homeownership versus affordable rental. … We fought long and hard for it, and we were able to win a unanimous vote by the LRA for $75 million for an affordable homeownership program. … The Jeremiah Group created the largest homeownership program in the city, in the history of the city of New Orleans."

Another organization that has been championing a just recovery is One Voice Louisiana. It's been pursuing multiple pathways, including the development of leaders that are representative of and accountable to their communities. "Here we are ten years on the other side of it and we do have an opportunity to be proactive, we have an opportunity to say what we want, we have an opportunity to build what we want," said Director Ashley Shelton. "What are those strategies that allow us to build voice and power? What are the tools that we need to be able to do that? … We need you to think about, would you run for city council? Would you run for the school board? What's the pipeline that we're building? How are we encouraging people in community to step up and have a voice? … How do we encourage more women of color to run for office? How are we encouraging more young people to run for office?

Not only has it done its own advocacy, One Voice has also armed fellow advocates with valuable research to sway policymakers. "We've worked with several organizations in providing support and data for the purposes of action, policy action, to a series of different campaigns, so whereas those campaigns really focused on serving the needs and the issues of vulnerable families, we really had a great opportunity to serve those organizations with data and information that they could then use to make sure that the actions that they were taking to change policy could be realized," Shelton said.

Another facet to a fair recovery has been the fight to keep the million-plus residents who fled New Orleans enfranchised. "One of the most interesting memories of Katrina was trying to ensure that everyone that had been displaced would be able to participate in the elections," said Shelton. "It was really important because it meant that you still mattered and you still counted and that even though you weren't here, that there was this possibility that you could come back, that we were gonna figure it out, we were gonna fix the city of New Orleans better than it was before and that you would have a place in whatever that solution was."

Opinion Fri, 28 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Self-Governing Association in El Salvador Offers Local Solutions to Global Problems

While Washington pays lip service to Central America's dire social situation, local communities in the region are doing something to address the root causes of poverty and violence, from the lack of educational and economic opportunities to environmental degradation.

The banner on this “Romero Vive” painting reads, “If they kill me, I will be resurrected in the struggle of my people." (Photo: EcoViva Photo Archive)The banner on this “Romero Vive” painting reads, “If they kill me, I will be resurrected in the struggle of my people." (Photo: EcoViva Photo Archive)

Much of the news coming out of El Salvador these days highlights the violence and suffering plaguing the small Central American nation of 6.34 million people. The country has seen a worrying amount of violence of late, with 3,830 murders since the new year, earning it the dubious distinction of having one of the world's highest homicide rates. Along with many other countries in the region, El Salvador also faces widespread poverty, wealth disparities, narco-traffic and ecological degradation. Insecurity and violence have reached levels not seen since the end of the civil war in 1992. Simultaneously, Salvadoran farmers are losing their crops to severe drought caused by a particularly strong El Niño. Only in the last couple of weeks have they seen some rain and relief.

But while many fret over escalating violence, and others in Washington pay lip service to Central America's dire social situation, local communities are doing something to address the root causes of poverty and violence, from the lack of educational and economic opportunities to environmental degradation. Indeed, local actors are taking the reins and are tackling climate change as they live it. There is a growing grassroots movement that is working toward finding solutions to the problem of rural development and environmental conservation and promoting democracy and youth leadership.

Communities in the global South have already organized movements and implemented practices to save their environment and confront the impact of climate change. One such movement, headed by a network of communities in coastal El Salvador, shows what can be done. Nestled between the mangroves and farmland of the Lower Lempa River Basin, the Mangrove Association was formed by peasant farmers who fled the repression of the Salvadoran government during the brutal, 12-year civil war that spanned the 1980s and tore apart Salvadoran society (See Hancock, 2007). The refugees returned to the country at the end of El Salvador's conflict to rebuild their lives on land granted to the displaced in the 1992 Peace Accords. They named the heart of their new territory "Ciudad Romero" and have sought to create an egalitarian civil society where local democracy and environmental stewardship are key principles.

Local actors are taking the reins and are tackling climate change as they live it.

Since its formation, the Mangrove Association has grown to include more than 100 communities and over 20,000 members. It is governed locally by representatives selected by community councils, who then elect a board that promotes the goals of environmental protection, sustainable development and fair representation for all who participate. Today, this movement has produced national legislators and government leaders who carry the message that immense, non-local problems like climate change have local solutions too.

From its beginning, the Mangrove Association has been concerned with the effects of droughts, flooding and damaging storms. Its territory consists of land at the delta of the Lempa River and the Bay of Jiquilisco, which contains Central America's largest mangrove forest. Communities originally came together in the mid-1990s to protest the sudden and unannounced release of water from a government-run hydroelectric dam system that flooded their lands every rainy season.

Community emergency response crews evacuate residents following severe flooding in 2011. (Photo: Mangrove Association Archive)Community emergency response crews evacuate residents following severe flooding in 2011. (Photo: Mangrove Association Archive)

The Mangrove Association set up a community radio network to alert nearby communities when flooding was imminent. After a tropical storm in 2011, while nearby communities suffered numerous casualties, the youth-led emergency response network prevented any loss of life in the Mangrove Association area. The communities of the Lower Lempa engaged in organizing together and eventually received cooperation from the Salvadoran government concerning notice and timing of the release of water. Government officials and local leaders went on to work together to rebuild the levees to better protect the communities from future floods.

Immense, non-local problems like climate change have local solutions too.

For one, national farming cooperatives are producing high-quality corn seed that out-competes that of agricultural giants like Monsanto. These corn seed varieties, developed in El Salvador, have proven resistant to the country's harsh climate and drought-prone summers. In 2014, the country had record yields of corn despite prolonged drought. A government aid program, which distributed domestically produced seed to over 400,000 subsistence farmers that year, largely facilitated the country's record production. As drought-resistant varieties adapt to the tropical climate, these hearty seeds are suitable for mitigating the food-related impacts of climate change and the extreme weather events communities throughout El Salvador are already having to face.

The Mangrove Association’s other accomplishments include:

• Building a network of municipalities to introduce and teach the most effective methods of protecting the natural resources found in Central America's largest mangrove forest;

• Organizing a system of local beach and boat patrols, which has, among its other achievements, helped the communities on the Bay of Jiquilisco convert from unsustainable blast fishing to sustainable line-fishing practices. Local communities have built an aquaculture economy that markets sustainably caught local seafood and have also learned to protect endangered sea turtle species by gathering and incubating eggs in local hatcheries for release, diverting them from underground market consumption;

• Diversifying local agriculture from pesticide-intensive mono crops to organically grown fruits and vegetables, while advocating for a landmark national ban on 53 dangerous agrochemicals in a country where chronic kidney disease (CKD) is an epidemic;

• Playing a key role in organizing corn-growing co-ops to bid for and obtain government contracts for local seeds as an alternative to genetically modified seed from Monsanto-backed competitors, who used to dominate seed supply;

• Introducing a law to the Salvadoran Legislature making clean drinking water a human right and implementing policies and initiatives throughout El Salvador to deliver potable water to thousands in rural areas;

• Creating a local egalitarian civil society, which is becoming a model for providing community solutions to environmental and egalitarian issues, including the empowerment of women in communities that are part of the Mangrove Association to take leadership in the local councils; (Proudly, Estela Hernandez, the former executive director of the Mangrove Association, is now a popular Salvadoran legislator advocating for environmental protection versus unchecked development.)

• Promoting youth leadership and developing projects for youth entrepreneurship and employment, including a youth-operated radio alert system, which mobilizes area communities hit hard by hurricanes and floods;

• Developing public sector and civil society partnerships to confront vulnerabilities exacerbated by climate change. Local coastal populations, which have already suffered intense drought and flooding, are living the reality of higher-than-average temperatures, more frequent and intense storm events and longer dry periods or drought.

Communities developed their own network of emergency response to make their communities more resilient to climate change. Thanks to those concrete plans and actions, the government of El Salvador completed an innovative public policy process that will integrate climate response across the majority of its public agencies. Today, El Salvador has reduced its vulnerability rating - thanks in great part to the heavy lifting done by civil society in coordination with the public sector. There is much work to be done, but also much to be learned from El Salvador's continued struggle.

We owe a debt to the communities already experiencing climate change without having contributed to the global warming that is causing it. A good way to recognize that debt is to support communities that are suffering from extreme weather and flooding resulting from climate change and finding ways of building a resilient, sustainable society in the face of these challenges. The Mangrove Association is an example of a local organization that is applying its principles in its everyday work.

Note: Parts of this article were adapted from an article that appeared previously on EcoViva. EcoViva staff also contributed to this piece.

Opinion Fri, 28 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
If You Are Poor, It's Like the Hurricane Just Happened: Malik Rahim on Katrina Ten Years After

We continue our coverage of the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina by speaking to Malik Rahim, co-founder of the Common Ground Collective and one of the founders of the Louisiana chapter of the Black Panther Party. In 2005, he and the Common Ground Collective helped bring thousands of people from all over the world to assist in the rebuilding of New Orleans. Just weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit the city, Malik took us around the neighborhood of Algiers, where he showed us how a corpse still remained in the street unattended, lying right around the corner from a community health center. Malik returns to Democracy Now! to talk about the storm a decade later.


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

AMY GOODMAN: We continue our coverage of the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. In a moment, we'll be joined by Malik Rahim, co-founder of the Common Ground Collective, which helped bring thousands of people from all over the world to help rebuild New Orleans after the storm. But first, I want to rebroadcast a part of theinterview that we did with Malik on Democracy Now! just days after Katrina hit in 2005, when we went down to New Orleans and the community, the neighborhood of Algiers. Malik took us around to the corner at a community health center, a multi-service center, and he showed us how a corpse still remained on the street unattended. Let's go back to that day.

MALIK RAHIM: You could basically smell it from right here. You know, and the police, they pass by. They look at it, and they ain't gonna do nothing, you know, to pick it up.

AMY GOODMAN: Malik then walked us down the driveway next to the health center and lifted up a sheet of corrugated metal marked with an X, revealing the dead body underneath.

MALIK RAHIM: Now, his body been here for almost two weeks. Two weeks tomorrow. All right. That this man's body been laying here. And there's no reason for it. Look where we at? I mean, it's not flooded. There's no reason for them to be—left that body right here like this. I mean, that's just totally disrespect. You know? And I mean two weeks. Every day, we ask them about coming and pick it up. And they refuse to come and pick it up. And you could see, it's literally decomposing right here. Right out in the sun. Every day we sit up and we ask them about it. Because, I mean, this is close as you could get to tropical climate in America. And they won't do anything with it.

AMY GOODMAN: Malik, do you know who this person is?

MALIK RAHIM: No. But regardless of who it is, I wouldn't care if it's Saddam Hussein or bin Laden. Nobody deserve to be left here, and the kids pass by here and they're seeing it. I mean, the elderly. This is what's frightening a lot of people into leaving. We don't know if he's a victim of vigilantes or what. But that's all we know is that his body had been allowed to remain out here for over two weeks.

AMY GOODMAN: We're standing right outside the health clinic. Its doors are chained. The building is not seriously damaged. Have you reached people there? What authorities have you talked to to pick up this body?

MALIK RAHIM: We done talked to everyone, from the Army to the New Orleans police to the state troopers to—I mean, we done talked to everybody who we can. I even talked to Oliver Thomas, who is the councilman-at-large, yesterday about this body. He said he was surprised to see that this body is still there. But it's two weeks, two weeks that this man been just laying here.

AMY GOODMAN: As Malik Rahim was speaking, as if on cue, every level of authority he mentioned drove by. There's a dead body right here. Is—who are you with?

SOLDIER: We're with Bravo 15.

AMY GOODMAN: Which is?



SOLDIER: Army, yes. Regular Army.

AMY GOODMAN: There's a dead body right here. Can you guys pick it up?

SOLDIER: I don't think we can pick it up, but we can call the local authorities to come and pick it up.

AMY GOODMAN: This gentleman who lives in the neighborhood said that they have been trying to get—here, let me ask these guys, too. Excuse me. Excuse me. Hi. There's a dead body right here. Can Louisiana state troopers, can you pick it up?

LOUISIANA STATE TROOPER: You need to talk to our public information officer, Ma'am.

AMY GOODMAN: It's been here for two weeks. We filmed it last week, and gentleman over here said he's been trying to get it picked up for two weeks. And Louisiana state troopers, the police, the Army, no one has responded. We're looking right over at it right there.

LOUISIANA STATE TROOPER: You need to talk to our public information officer and contact him at the troop.

AMY GOODMAN: Your name is?

LOUISIANA STATE TROOPER: You need to talk to our public information officer.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you know about the body?

LOUISIANA STATE TROOPER: You need to talk to our public information officer.

AMY GOODMAN: Sir, do you know about the body over there?

LOUISIANA STATE TROOPER: Ma'am, you talk with our public information officer.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you know what they should do to get this body removed?

ROBERT GONZALEZ: I have no idea. I can't tell you. I don't know. There's been several people over here looking at it.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Homeland Security that just went by. Sir, what were you saying?

ROBERT GONZALEZ: There's been several people over here looking at it, but, you know, like I said, I haven't seen anybody take it.

AMY GOODMAN: Several Army guys?

ROBERT GONZALEZ: Army. I've seen police over here looking at it. Seen ambulances looking at it. That's about it.

AMY GOODMAN: That was a part of our coverage 10 years ago in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. That last speaker, Robert Gonzalez, was with the Army National Guard, one of the many different levels of law enforcement that drove by within minutes of us going near that corpse. The body had been there for 13 days at that point.

Well, for more, we go back to New Orleans, Louisiana, where we're joined by Malik Rahim, co-founder of the Common Ground Collective, one of the founders of the Louisiana chapter of the Black Panther Party before that.

Malik, it's hard to ever forget that day. Talk about what happened to that body and also what's happened to your city, New Orleans, in this past 10 years.

MALIK RAHIM: Well, first of all, it's an honor to be on your show once again.

What happened to the body, I would say the next day after it was viewed on Democracy Now!, they picked him up. They picked up that one and other bodies that was laid out in Algiers. All of a sudden, it was like you had waved a magic wand, you know, by bringing awareness to the tragedy of Katrina, that they started making a move.

Over the 10 years, you know, New Orleans is still a story of two cities. You know, if you're white or if you're part of that privileged black class or free people of color class, then, you know, I mean, it's recovered. But if you're poor and part of that African or Maroon class, then it's like the hurricane just happened last year.

Right now we're in the midst of some of the most violent times in the history of this city. And it's only because of the fact that that 10-, that eight-year-old, that six-year-old child, that 12-year-old child, that was in the Convention Center and abandoned in that Superdome, now they are 22, 16, full of rage, because we did not deem—have any trauma counselors there with them through this.

We have unemployment is over 50 percent. And the ones who are blessed with a job, the disparity of wages is that they make three times less than their white counterpart. Public housing is no more. They displaced everyone. The only equal opportunity employer is the drug dealer. So now we've been in the midst of a drug war. And the tails of it is just in the last two days there has been maybe six shootings. So, again, you know, by the fact that our administrations—and I'm talking about on all levels—refused to address the real, pertinent issues of the aftermath of Katrina is the reason why we are in this way, in this dilemma now.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you a question. Kristen McQueary of the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board recently wrote a piece about Chicago's financial crisis titled "In Chicago, Wishing for a Hurricane Katrina." She writes, quote, "I find [myself] wishing for a storm in Chicago—an unpredictable, haughty, devastating swirl of fury. A dramatic levee break. Geysers bursting through manhole covers. A sleeping city, forced onto [the] rooftops." She later apologized for offending the entire city of New Orleans and beyond. Your response in this last minute we have with you, Malik?

MALIK RAHIM: Well, again, I think that it was totally disrespectful for a person to say that, because, I mean, as an African American, more of my people was killed in the aftermath of Katrina than at any time in the history of this nation. Never at one time have we lost over a thousand lives. And we lost almost 1,200 just in the Lower Ninth Ward. So I feel offended with it.

AMY GOODMAN: And what would you say to President Obama today as he makes his way to the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans?

MALIK RAHIM: I wouldn't know what to tell him, because of the fact that, you know, our people have seen over six years of President Obama administration, and nothing have changed.

AMY GOODMAN: But they're hailing New Orleans as a great victory, a remarkable trajectory of progress.

MALIK RAHIM: Yeah, again, that's among that white and that privileged black class. But that's only part of this population. And it's not even the majority. That's that 40 percent.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you for being with us, co-founder of the Common Ground Collective, and for being there for these 10 years since Hurricane Katrina, not to mention before—Common Ground Collective, which helped bring thousands of people from around the world to help rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina—speaking to us from New Orleans.

News Thu, 27 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Guatemala President Faces Arrest as Business Interests and US Scramble to Contain Uprising

In Guatemala, a judge has ordered that former Vice President Roxana Baldetti must remain in prison while her corruption trial takes place. The ruling comes on the heels of the Guatemalan Supreme Court's decision Tuesday to lift the immunity from prosecution for President Otto Pérez Molina, clearing the way for his impeachment. The court passed the impeachment recommendation along to Congress. A general strike has been called in Guatemala for today. We are joined by Allan Nairn, longtime journalist who has covered Guatemala since the 1980s.


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

AMY GOODMAN: In Guatemala, a judge has ordered former Vice President Roxana Baldetti must remain in prison while her corruption trial takes place. The ruling comes on the heels of the Guatemalan Supreme Court's decision Tuesday to lift the immunity from prosecution for President Otto Pérez Molina, clearing the way for his impeachment. The court passed the impeachment recommendation along to Congress. Miguel Pineda is a spokesperson for the Guatemalan Supreme Court.

MIGUEL PINEDA: [translated] Today, all Supreme Court judges met for an extraordinary session regarding a request for the impeachment of President Otto Pérez Molina. Because of this, they met with the head magistrate of the Second Chamber of the Criminal Court of Appeals, Magistrate Gustavo Dubón. They then studied the case, and after their respective analysis, they established that there exists the possibility of transferring the case to the republic's Congress. Consequently, the request has been passed on to the republic's Congress for its resolution.

AMY GOODMAN: A general strike has been called in Guatemala for today. Well, for more, we're joined by Allan Nairn, longtime journalist who has covered Guatemala since the 1980s.

Allan, welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you talk about what is engulfing Guatemala today, the significance of what's happening to the president, the general strike that's called for today?

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, it's an uprising, and it could lead to the fall of Pérez Molina. They're calling for a general strike, mass demonstration today. The issue is corruption. But if the movement develops further, if it spreads more fully to the Mayan heartland of the country, then the issue could move from corruption to justice, because the reason the Guatemalan elite, like General Pérez Molina and Vice President Baldetti, have been able to loot the treasury to the tune of more than $100 million, been able to steal for themselves cash which was used for Jaguar cars, plantations, villas, yachts, airplanes, helicopters, was because they took and have maintained themselves in power through mass murder. Pérez Molina was a commander in the northwest highlands during the '80s. He personally helped implement the Ríos Montt program of mass murder—effectively, genocide—against the Mayan population. And that's what the Guatemalan system has been built on.

So if this uprising spreads, if it becomes an even broader, deeper movement, and you move from the question of corruption to the question of justice for mass murder, that can only be resolved by implicating not just Pérez Molina personally, but also the Guatemalan army as a whole institution, also the U.S. government, which has armed, trained and financed that army, backed that program of slaughter, which the American CIA had Pérez Molina on the payroll when he was head of G-2, the intelligence unit. And it also can't be resolved without implicating CACIF, the association of the oligarchy, which backed the army during the slaughter and which, individually, ran its own death squads. The oligarchs, the young men, would go through what was kind of a ritual of bloodying their own hands, and if there was a union-organizing drive at their fathers' factory, some of the boys would get together, and they'd go out and kill the unionists. And those young men who did that in the '80s are now in their fifties and sixties, and they're the leaders of the Guatemalan oligarchy. So the last thing they want to see is a true investigation and bringing to justice of perpetrators. That's the last thing Washington wants to see.

And the situation is basically out of control right now. The U.S. is trying to prop up Pérez Molina. They're trying to keep him in office. CACIF is trying to co-opt and wind down the movement, the demonstrations. But no one knows if they'll succeed, and no one knows where this will lead. And it could lead to fundamental change in Guatemala. There's already talk of postponing the elections, which are due for September 6th, of rewriting the electoral law, of rewriting the constitution. So it's a question of whether popular power prevails or whether the same old perpetrators continue to run the country, and nobody knows what will happen.

AMY GOODMAN: Allan, I want to go back to 1982, when you interviewed Otto Pérez Molina in the area of Quiché of Guatemala during the height of the massacres targeting indigenous communities. At the time, Otto Pérez Molina was known as Tito. This is part of your exchange.

ALLAN NAIRN: [in Spanish, translated] The United States is considering giving military help here in the form of helicopters. What is the importance of helicopters for all of you?

MAYOR OTTO PÉREZ MOLINA: [translated] A helicopter is an apparatus that's become of great importance not only here in Guatemala but also in other countries where they've had problems of a counterinsurgency.

ALLAN NAIRN: [translated] Like in Vietnam?

MAYOR OTTO PÉREZ MOLINA: [translated] In Vietnam, for example, the helicopter was an apparatus that was used a lot.

AMY GOODMAN: Allan Nairn, you were speaking to Otto Pérez Molina. Can you explain what it is he said and who you understood he was at the time?

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, he was using the alias "Mayor Tito," Major Tito. He was the commander working out of the town of Nebaj of the Ixil zone, where he was implementing the Ríos Montt program of massacre. The soldiers below him described in detail how they would go into villages, strangle people, make them dig their own mass graves, bomb their houses.

Pérez Molina was telling me in that clip about the helicopters they had and were hoping to get more of from the United States, which they used to attack the villages. The U.S. and Israel armed that program of slaughter. After he did that in the highlands, he rose to become general, become head of G-2, the military intelligence unit, which did disappearances, torture. They even had their own crematorium in the town of Huehuetenango. And the CIA, the American CIA, gave funds to Pérez Molina. They placed North American CIA operatives inside the G-2 as those atrocities were being carried out. And the U.S. was fully behind this.

Now, there's fear in Washington. There's fear among the oligarchs that this whole Pandora's box could be opened, because the people are in the streets. Now the people are in the streets talking about the corruption, but if they start more intensively talking about the blood, if they follow that trail of blood, it leads directly back to Washington. It leads directly back to the suites of CACIF, the oligarchs who own Guatemala.

AMY GOODMAN: When you say CACIF, talking about the oligarchy, what does CACIFstand for? Who are they, actually? Is it equivalent in the United States to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce?

ALLAN NAIRN: It's much stronger than the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It would be as if all of the U.S. billionaires, all of the U.S. corporations came together in one entity and usually spoke with a single voice. For example, after the Ríos Montt genocide trial, in which he was, in an extraordinary achievement—I think a world historic civilizational breakthrough—Guatemala domestically brought to trial its own former dictator, convicted him of genocide, sentenced him to 80 years. The leaders of CACIF, the oligarchs, stood up and demanded, demanded on national TV in a press conference, that that verdict be annulled. They were giving orders to a court. And the High Court of Guatemala, as they usually do, responded to the bidding of CACIF, and they annulled the verdict.

But now the Ríos Montt trial is being renewed. It's due to start again in January. But this is an oligarchy in Guatemala which kills its own unionists, which kills peasants who try to organize the plantations, which works hand in glove with Washington and is now trying to hold onto their power, because, for the first time, it's under threat. I mean, this is a historic moment. It all began in 1954, when the CIA invaded Guatemala, overthrew a democratically elected government and put the army in power. And now, the people have risen.

AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Allan Nairn, a journalist and activist who has covered Guatemala for decades. Ríos Montt, the trial for Ríos Montt, it's in the midst of happening now, is that right? We were just looking at images of Ríos Montt laid out on a gurney. Explain who he was in the 1980s, his relationship with the U.S. government. At the time, it was President Ronald Reagan, is that right?

ALLAN NAIRN: Yes. Ríos Montt was a dictator who seized power in a coup. He sent his army sweeping through the Mayan northwest highlands. Ríos Montt told me that for every one who is shooting, referring to guerrilla insurgents, there are 10 working behind them, meaning 10 civilians. He considered those civilians who had any feelings of opposition to the rich, to the army, to the government, as legitimate targets for extermination. And that's what they did with—and that's what he did with the help of field officers like Mayor Tito, Otto Pérez Molina.

After he fell, I interviewed Ríos Montt again. And I said to him, "Well, General, you were a big proponent of the death penalty. Do you think that you should be executed for your role in the slaughter of the Mayan population?" And when I asked him that question, Ríos Montt jumped to his feet, and he shouted—and this is Ríos Montt's style of speaking—he said, "Yes! Put me on trial! Put me against the wall! Execute me! But if you're going to try me, you also have to try the Americans, including Ronald Reagan."

And he had a point in that, because he had the full support of the U.S. Reagan personally embraced Ríos Montt, said he was getting a bum rap on human rights, and did everything he could to overcome resistance in the U.S. Congress to send weapons, arms and training. And there was a covert relationship through which the CIA sponsored one generation after another of G-2 assassins. And the G-2 leaders, like General Pérez Molina and also General Ortega Menaldo, General Godoy Gaitán, also received funds from the CIA. So this is a very—Guatemala has been one of the key projects of Washington for decades, one of the countries in the world most under the influence of the U.S. government and defense establishment and corporations, and also, not—I think not unrelated, one of the hungriest countries in the world. They have one of the highest indices of malnutrition in Latin America. The exploitation is as gross as it can get. That's why so many Guatemalans are flooding into America as immigrants looking for work—and now possibly facing the prospect of expulsion at the hands of people like Donald Trump.

But now the system is coming under challenge from people on the ground in Guatemala, but no one knows how far it will go. CACIF, the oligarchs, and Washington are trying to implement a smooth transition, where, you know, one military man, one oligarch, is replaced by another, nothing basic changes. But this could get out of control, and it could lead to a rewriting of the constitution, of the electoral law, and perhaps the beginnings of a kind of popular government, like we see in parts of South America, that starts doing some kind of work for basic justice, for a basic redistribution of wealth, making it possible for workers in the fields who break their backs trying to support their families, making it possible for them to get enough to feed the kids, to give them some education, to get some healthcare.

AMY GOODMAN: Allan, The New York Times editorial today says, "The president [Otto Pérez Molina], whose term expires in January, [and] who enjoys immunity while in office, has refused to heed the calls for his resignation, even as the business establishment and many politicians have turned on him. Of course he deserves his day in court, but right now he is only delaying the inevitable—meaning, quite likely, a prison sentence, along with one for [former Vice President Roxana] Baldetti. That outcome would send a powerful message to Guatemalans who aspire to be governed by honest leaders. It should also be studied, and possibly emulated, in neighboring countries where justice is still too often administered arbitrarily or not at all." That from The New York Times today. Your response?

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, one neighboring country that needs justice is the United States. The United States has not yet reached the level of civilization of Guatemala. Guatemala put their own former head of state, their own former dictator, Ríos Montt, on trial and convicted him of genocide. When I was in the courtroom as that verdict was being read out, I was trying to imagine if you could be standing in a court in Texas and hearing a guilty verdict being read out against George W. Bush for the civilians he killed during the invasion of Iraq, or in a court in Illinois hearing a guilty verdict being read out against President Barack Obama for the civilians he killed with his drone strikes. And it's just—I didn't have enough imagination to reach that point. It's inconceivable in the U.S. now. But Guatemala has done that.

Now, they're going after the sitting president for corruption. This is being down with the initiative, the main initiative, of the special prosecutor's office, that was created as a result of agitation by human rights activists in Guatemala who succeeded in getting a special statute implemented. That special prosecutor is backed by the United Nations, and the Attorney General's Office of Guatemala has gone along with them. And now they have arrested the sitting vice president. They're seeking to arrest the sitting president for corruption. But again, the question is if the movement spreads broadly enough, if it reaches the Mayan heartland, if people come into the streets and are not intimidated by CACIF, not intimidated by the army, and they start demanding justice for the years of mass murder, the ongoing economic exploitation at the hands of local oligarchs, but also at the hands of foreign corporations who they brought in—now there's mass looting of the mineral wealth of Guatemala by American and especially Canadian mining companies, and activists who protested against that have been murdered. This could all face change now if the movement goes far enough. And Washington and the rich are desperately trying to stop it.

AMY GOODMAN: Allan, I want to thank you for being with us. Allan Nairn, journalist and activist, has long covered Guatemala. We'll link to your many articles on the Central American country.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, it's 10 years since Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. We'll go to New Orleans. Stay with us.

News Thu, 27 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
The Ramos-Trump Exchange: GOP Candidate's Muddled, Xenophobic Message

Jorge Ramos, the longtime news anchor for Univision, in Doral, Fla., Oct. 15, 2013. Sometimes dubbed the Walter Cronkite of Spanish-language TV, Ramos now anchors broadcasts for Fusion, a English-language spinoff network which Univision hopes will reach a more acculturated audience of young Latinos. (Cindy Karp/The New York Times)Jorge Ramos, the longtime news anchor for Univision, in Doral, Fla., Oct. 15, 2013. Sometimes dubbed the Walter Cronkite of Spanish-language TV, Ramos now anchors broadcasts for Fusion, a English-language spinoff network which Univision hopes will reach a more acculturated audience of young Latinos. (Cindy Karp/The New York Times)At an August 24, 2015, press conference in Dubuque, Iowa, would-be Republican Party presidential candidate Donald Trump parried questions by Spanish-language television network Univisión's Jorge Ramos with a brief, disjointed and remarkably racist rant before having the long-time Mexican-American anchor ejected from the proceedings.

Trump did take the opportunity to quickly cite several trite anti-immigrant epithets, aided by having complete control of the microphone while Ramos' responses were unrecorded and largely inaudible. And yet, soft-spoken but erudite Ramos' unheard interjections were enough to stop Trump in his tracks, such that the latter careened between unrelated xenophobic allusions and boasts until he turned and summoned a member of his security detail to physically remove Ramos from the hall.

When Ramos was later to return to the press conference and be acknowledged by Trump, who ostentatiously permitted him to pose his questions anew, Trump again appeared confused and was unable to make a coherent response. This second abbreviated exchange was ended when Trump simply turned and began to speak to another reporter.

Notepad in hand, Ramos first began to speak after having raised his hand and then standing up. He asked Trump how he proposed to deport 11 million people from the United States. Instead of answering, Trump alluded to favourite racist postures of the far right when he said, "Wait your turn," and "Go back to Univision." Ramos persevered and asked how Trump intended to finance a wall across the Mexican border and justify the mass deportation of US-born children before Trump turned to direct a large man standing behind him to leave the podium and approach Ramos.  The man quickly came face to face with Ramos, grabbing his shoulder and pushing him backwards out of the room. Ramos could be heard saying, "Don't touch me. I am a reporter. I have a right to ask questions."

In a video released by Univisión, Ramos was then accosted in the hallway by a male Trump staffer, who sneered, "Univision," and said, "Get out of my country." Ramos responded that he was an American citizen, to which the staffer said, "Whatever." Later, a young woman who identified herself as another Trump staffer approached Ramos and asked if he would like to return to the press conference, admonishing him to "wait until he was called upon…. I'm sure he'll call upon you."

Back at the conference, Trump said, "Good to have you back."

Ramos began to speak. "You cannot deport [11 million] people. You cannot deny citizenship to their children. You cannot build a wall…"

At which point, Trump asserted that "a lot of people think" those things could be done through an Act of Congress, and then digressed to a discussion of pregnant women crossing the border within a day of giving birth, using the derogatory term "anchor babies," which he said was a theory supported by "some of the great legal scholars."

Ramos then said, "Nobody is going to build a 1,900-mile wall," to which Trump replied, "I'm a builder." The real estate developer cum reality television entertainer referred to his "94 story buildings" over Ramos's interjections. "What's more complicated is building a building that's 95 stories tall." Trump then moved on to the subject of drugs coming across the border, "They have pictures… coming over the fences which are this high. There are fences which are not as tall as I am." Trump asserted that the Border Patrol were not being allowed to stop people at the border, and when Ramos managed to ask if he was intending to call in the Army, Trump suddenly changed course and asked Ramos if he agreed that there are gangs. "Do you agree that there are some bad ones or do you think that everyone is just perfect?" Ramos attempted, still off mike, to return to his question, at which point Trump exclaimed, "I can't deal with this."

Then Trump suddenly switched to calling out locations salient to the Black Lives Matter movement without clearly making the connection with Latinos or the Mexican border. "They looked at gangs in Baltimore. They looked at gangs in Chicago. They looked at gangs in Ferguson."

On Friday's 4pm EST edition of Univisión program El gordo y la flaca, Ramos told presenters, "I hope it's easier to talk to you than it is to talk to Donald Trump."

Speaking in Spanish, Ramos brought up the following points:

"11 million people. Are you going to put people in stadiums?"

"75 percent of Latinos have a negative view of Donald Trump."

When asked if he had spoken out of turn, Ramos tried to explain how press conferences function.

"Sometimes people are called, sometimes people speak out. Nobody else was talking when I asked my question. I asked my question, he didn't like my question and he tried to cut me off."

"This was the first time in my 30 year career as a reporter that I have been removed from a press conference."

"It's important to note that this is not Donald Trump's country. It is our country."

"If we as reporters do not take a stand and ask the difficult questions, we are not doing our job."

When asked if he thought Trump could possibly be the next president of the United States, Ramos said he had no idea.

"It is a grave error not to take Donald Trump seriously. His ideas are very dangerous.… Many millions of Americans think the way he does, and this is what is very dangerous.

"They blame immigrants…. We need to make sure that we will not accept this sitting down…. There comes a moment to confront that."

When asked if he believes he will ever have a sit-down interview with Trump, he said he doubted it despite the fact that Trump was "someone so outspoken."

In conclusion, Ramos said, "16 million Latinos will be able to go to the polls in the next election and it is very important for Latinos to come out and vote."

Opinion Fri, 28 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Foes Dive for Discarded Records in Abortion Clinic Dumpsters

This story was co-published with NPR's Shots blog.

The scene in front of abortion clinics is often tense, with clinic workers escorting patients past activists waving signs and taking photographs.

But increasingly, another drama is unfolding out back. There, abortion opponents dig through the trash in search of patient information.

Using garbage as their ammunition, anti-abortion activists – who have sometimes been accused of violating abortion seekers' privacy – are turning the tables. They claim it's the clinics that are violating patients' privacy by discarding medical records in unsecured ways.

"Everybody acts like the abortion clinics are this bastion of protection for women's privacy, and they're like the chief offenders of just dumping this stuff willy-nilly," said Cheryl Sullenger, senior policy advisor at Operation Rescue, an anti-abortion group based in Wichita, Kansas. "It's so hypocritical."

Abortion rights groups counter that while a small number of clinics have improperly disposed of records, the vast majority take strict precautions to protect patient privacy. It's far more common, they say, for abortion opponents to trespass on private property or try to break into locked dumpsters.

"Oftentimes, the dumpsters are not on public property," said Vicki Saporta, chief executive officer of the National Abortion Federation, the professional association for abortion providers. "These people trespass, their trespasses get reported, and law enforcement doesn't end up prosecuting that level of criminal activity."

Trash is at the center of several disputes involving patient privacy and abortion.

In Kansas City, Operation Rescue says a now-closed clinic improperly discarded records for at least 86 patients. In 2012, the group said it had received files from an informant, some of which included names and phone numbers. The group posted examples on its website.

Jeff Pederson, the former manager of the clinic, said the dumpster was located on private property and was locked. He later learned, however, that his waste company used a common key for all of its locked containers, which may have allowed an outsider to open it.

Pederson said he filed a complaint with local police about trespassing, which was caught on a low-resolution camera on the property, but it went nowhere. The state's investigation into Operation Rescue's complaint against the clinic and its physician remains open, Pederson said.

At least some cases involving abortion-clinic dumpster dives have resulted in complaints to the Office for Civil Rights within the Department of Health and Human Services. The office is charged with enforcing the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, which prohibits patients' medical information from being shared without their consent.

The office cited three Michigan clinics in 2010 after abortion opponents said they found records including intake forms, driver's licenses and recovery room reports, as well as fetal remains, in dumpster bins. One clinic blamed a janitorial service, but all subsequently took steps to comply with the law. Separately, Michigan prosecutors charged that one clinic with illegally disposing of patient records. It's corporate owner pleaded guilty to one count, which was dismissed six months later.

Since HIPAA only covers clinics if they transmit health information electronically, the Office for Civil Rights has been unable to pursue some complaints related to abortion records, spokeswoman Rachel Seeger said in an email. A Louisiana abortion clinic that was the subject of a 2014 privacy complaint fell outside the office's jurisdiction for that reason, she said.

Sullenger said groups like hers began rummaging through clinics' trash in part because they were having difficulty getting regulators interested in investigating abortion providers.

Activists see plenty of potential evidence in the material that clinics throw away, which has sometimes fallen into the hands of random passersby.

In 2012, for example, a Kansas woman found more than 1,000 abortion records dumped in a recycling bin outside an elementary school. The clinic had shut down. "I was under the impression that these would not be seen by anyone," its former owner told the Kansas City Star. "I thought that these would be recycled away just like any other papers."

Abortion opponents are as entitled as anyone else to help themselves to clinics' discards, Sullenger said.

"If it's lying out on the curb, it's a free-for-all, you know what I'm saying? That's the way we look at it," she said.

Operation Rescue filed complaints with Texas regulators based on material found by volunteers in the dumpsters of several Texas abortion clinics in 2010 and 2011.

The group collected medical waste, as well as sonograms and documents containing patient names, the name of escorts, dates of abortion, whether the patient had been to the clinic before and the patient's referral source, among other things.

Operation Rescue posted a couple of examples on its website, redacting patient names. "All of your information will be kept very confidential," the clinic documents say. An investigation by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality found that at least two clinics had improperly disposed of aborted fetuses.

Sometimes authorities are reluctant to act even when they are provided with evidence, anti-abortion activists say.

This year, Lynn Mills, a leader of Pro-Life Detroit, went to a shuttered abortion clinic near Flint, Mich., run by the same doctor who had operated the clinic cited in 2010 by the Office for Civil Rights. At the Flint facility,she said she discovered rows of boxes containing patient records from clinics the doctor had owned, as well as piles of syringes on the floor.

She called the authorities, but dispatch recordings show local law enforcement was unsure what to do about her discovery.

Mills was left frustrated. "You would think they'd say, 'Thank you Lynn,' " she said. "Basically, nothing happened."

Michigan health regulators said they "immediately" dispatched an inspector in the area to verify the building was secured and did so again after receiving a second call. They also contacted the Flint police department to see if they had sent a person out too, which they had.

"In short, the building was being used as a warehouse and secured," wrote Michael Loepp, a spokesman for Michigan's Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, in an email.

The records were removed within days, Mills said, and the doctor is no longer licensed to practice in Michigan. The doctor did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

Occasionally, activists' complaints about privacy violations have alerted authorities to broader problems involving abortion providers.

Last year, Operation Rescue filed a complaint against an Oklahoma City abortion doctor, saying an "anonymous source" had provided the group with medical records that had been thrown away in unsecured garbage bins.

The group said the records had been discarded before the seven-year period required by law had expired, and that "sensitive documents were placed in the common trash where any person or animal poking through garbage could easily find and uncover such personal and confidential paperwork."

The Oklahoma Attorney General's office investigated and found wrongdoing that went well beyond recordkeeping. The doctor was charged with felonies for providing abortion drugs to undercover agents who were not pregnant. He also agreed to stop practicing medicine.

The doctor's attorney, Mack Martin, said his client was never charged with any privacy violations but has pleaded not guilty to the other charges against him. "Their allegation was that by not having shred the evidence [records], he violated HIPAA," Martin said. "I guess maybe from the strictest technicality that may be true, but normal citizens don't dumpster dive."

Sullenger said she recognizes that sifting through garbage appears unsavory, but she said it won't stop anytime soon.

"Is it a little bit on the sketchy side? Yeah, maybe. Who wants to dig through trash? But if we can find evidence of wrongdoing, we'll dig through trash all day long."

News Thu, 27 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400