Truthout Stories http://www.truth-out.org Fri, 28 Aug 2015 11:03:48 -0400 en-gb Three Necessary Reforms to Reduce Gun Violence in America http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/32549-three-necessary-reforms-to-reduce-gun-violence-in-america http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/32549-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.

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Opinion Fri, 28 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Reflections on New Orleans' Uneven Recovery http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/32548-reflections-on-new-orleans-uneven-recovery http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/32548-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."

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Opinion Fri, 28 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Self-Governing Association in El Salvador Offers Local Solutions to Global Problems http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/32547-self-governing-association-in-el-salvador-offers-local-solutions-to-global-problems http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/32547-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.

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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 http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32546-if-you-are-poor-it-s-like-the-hurricane-just-happened-malik-rahim-on-katrina-ten-years-after http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32546-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.

TRANSCRIPT

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: The Cav.

AMY GOODMAN: Army?

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.

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News Thu, 27 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Guatemala President Faces Arrest as Business Interests and US Scramble to Contain Uprising http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32545-guatemala-president-faces-arrest-as-business-interests-and-us-scramble-to-contain-uprising http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32545-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.

TRANSCRIPT

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.

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News Thu, 27 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Foes Dive for Discarded Records in Abortion Clinic Dumpsters http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32542-foes-dive-for-discarded-records-in-abortion-clinic-dumpsters http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32542-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."

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News Thu, 27 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Hundreds of Detained Children and Mothers Could Soon Be Released http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32541-hundreds-of-detained-children-and-mothers-could-soon-be-released http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32541-hundreds-of-detained-children-and-mothers-could-soon-be-released

Washington - Roughly 1,400 mothers, fathers and children locked up awaiting their asylum hearings could soon be released as the Department of Homeland Security works to comply with a scathing federal ruling against the Obama administration's expanded use of family detention camps.

Advocates estimate about 80 percent of the parents and children currently being detained at family detention facilities have been held for more than the roughly 20 days allowed by the ruling.

Judge Dolly Gee of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California has given the government until Oct. 23 to comply with her order, which requires officials to release children within five days. But she also provided an exception that allows officials to hold families about three weeks under exceptional circumstances like last year's surge of nearly 70,000 families from Central America.

Advocates fighting the policy praised the thrust of Gee's ruling, which found that the administration violated a longstanding agreement on child detention. But they were disappointed about the wiggle room because the extra leeway will allow the government to keep open the controversial centers.

Department of Homeland Security officials indicate they'll continue to operate close to the manner they're currently running. More litigation is possible, as the language in the final order has raised questions about whether the government will be able to hold some mothers and children for longer periods of time.

"I continue to feel let down by the response from DHS, which really seems to be clinging to a model that doesn't work and harms children," said Clara Long, U.S. researcher at Human Rights Watch. "And they have a lot of money sunk in that model. So I guess it's understandable that they want to cling to it."

Federal officials disagreed with the overall findings but added that the language inside the ruling confirms that steps being taken by the administration to cut the time spent at the family detention centers complies with the order.

Gee found that the administration's family detention policy violates an 18-year-old court settlement regarding the detention of migrant children. She described the conditions as "deplorable" and the government's defense of the practice as "fear-mongering."

But deep in Friday's 15-page order, Gee gave the government some space it desperately wanted. She said that children could be held for about three weeks under "extenuating circumstances," like last year's surge of Central American migrants.

"While we continue to disagree with the court's ultimate conclusion, we note that the court has clarified its original order to permit the government to process families apprehended at the border at family residential facilities consistent with congressionally provided authority," DHS spokeswoman Marsha Catron said in a statement.

The average stay now at facilities is currently 20 days, which is used to conduct health screenings and determine whether family members are eligible to remain in the United States, according to federal officials.Under scrutiny from Congress and news outlets like McClatchy, the administration has taken several steps to cut down the detention program. Hundreds of mothers and children have been released. Some had been in detention for over a year.

Luis Zayas, dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin, said that while three weeks is better than a year, it's still too long to detain children.

He specifically cited the judge's concerns about the government's holding facilities on the border. Children and their parents are placed along with other immigrants in cold cells – described by many migrants as hieleras, or iceboxes – which advocates say are used to pressure migrants to agree to deportation.

"We treat our pets better than we treat these detainees in such subhuman conditions," Zayas said.

The Obama administration is currently detaining more than 1,900 parents and children at three detention facilities, two in Texas and one in Pennsylvania.

Advocates said they'll be watching closely to see what the government does. Several unanswered questions remain that could lead to the two sides returning to court. They include:

– Is the 20-day time limit acceptable under current migration levels? Or would it only be acceptable under a larger surge of migrants?

– Does the 20 days start at the time of arrest or when migrants are checked into a family detention center, which can be several days later?

– What happens after 20 days? How will this be enforced?

– Can the government continue to detain mothers and children if they lose their initial asylum request but appeal?

"I think in November it's possible litigants will be back in court again," said Barbara Hines, a University of Texas law professor who litigated the case leading to the closure of the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas, in 2009.

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News Thu, 27 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Tianjin Explosion Highlights Profits Over People http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/32539-tianjin-explosion-highlights-profits-over-people http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/32539-tianjin-explosion-highlights-profits-over-people

The toxic dust is still settling in Tianjin, China. At the time of writing, at least 123 people have lost their lives, 70 are missing, and more than 700 are injured. It will take lengthy investigations to discover what exactly happened.

What do we know? A shipment of explosives detonated in a warehouse owned by Ruihai Logistics, a company that specializes in handling dangerous and toxic chemicals, including sodium cyanide, toluene diisocyanate and calcium carbide, all of which pose direct threats to human health on contact. The images emerging convey apocalyptic scenes, and the double explosions drew attention from satellites orbiting the Earth’s atmosphere.

Greenpeace calls Tianjin “the tip of the iceberg… What lies beneath the surface is years of negligence in regards to hazardous chemicals policies and their implementation.” Over the years Greenpeace has campaigned for a toxic-free future, a future without chemicals spilling in to our rivers from textile factories, or non-recyclable electronic products creating mountains of e-waste.

The gravity of the incident in Tianjin may serve to highlight the use of dangerous chemicals throughout Chinese factories. Last year (2014), nearly 70,000 people died while working with toxic chemicals in China. This amounts to a fifth of all occupational accidents globally, as measured by the International Labor Organization. In addition, chemicals used in factories have caused employees to be poisoned, and have led to an increase number of workers developing cancers, or becoming infertile.

The past 15 years has seen a rapid growth in China’s chemicals industry. But, certain producers are known to cut corners, including by constructing plants and commencing production even before a project has been approved. Indeed, Ruihai Logistics operated in Tianjin for months without a licence, and the regulator (who was also, incidentally, the previous Vice Mayor of Tianjin) enabled them to get away with it.

The severity of the Tianjin explosion should be a wake-up call. Regulations forcing corporations to safeguard their employees and protect the environment must be bought into law and then “implemented strictly and effectively,” say Greenpeace. They warn that the failure to do so will result in continuing accidents.

In China, some regulations for workplace safety and chemical management exist. However, they are seldom complied with, and there is tacit acceptance of this non-compliance by State officials. Companies who profit from goods produced cheaply in dangerous conditions throughout countries such as China, are largely based in the Global North. Often, these companies will promote market, rather than regulatory solutions.

Thatcher and Reagan influenced lobbyists continue to propel the idea that “regulation” is a dirty word; it reduces competitiveness, traps corporate capital in a bureaucratic compliance maze – or worse, in responding to enforcement notices and threats of litigation. The idea that regulatory frameworks would demand basic decency for labor standards and practices, while also protecting the environment, is deemed unimportant at best – and mostly, regulations are perceived as clear obstacles to profit.

Regulation ring-fences valuable funds which companies would otherwise spend on innovation, shout the free-marketers. Besides, most corporations are sensible enough; they do the right thing. Don’t they? State enforced regulations just hold them back. Look, the best corporations voluntarily obtain fancy green accreditation proving that they have appropriate administrative procedures to manage waste!

While examples such as Tianjin, as well as lessons from the 2007 and 2008 financial crisis, clearly reveal the perilous risks that corporations and banks will take when left alone and free from regulation, the dogma that free market solutions to economic, social, labor and environmental problems are preferable to regulatory frameworks remains intact. In fact, new trade agreements are being negotiated to entrench this view.

In China, a combination of lack of effective regulation – and a lack of State enforcement of existing regulation – results in regular workplace accidents. Companies who profit from cheap labor in China, simultaneously create complicated webs of parent-subsidiary / contractor relationships to avoid accountability, and generously donate to politicians who often keep regulatory frameworks at bay, or turn a blind eye to non-compliance of regulations already in place.

Initiatives such as the ElectronicsWatch and Workers’ Rights Consortium try to encourage purchasers to demand better workplace conditions and environmental management. The initiatives target specific purchasers based in the Global North, such as universities and local authorities, and work with them to encourage better workplace conditions and environmental management in garment factories, and factories producing electronic products. Both industries rely heavily on chemical materials. Some of these chemicals are carcinogenic and lethal in large and concentrated doses.

To its credit, China has detained top executives of Ruihai Logistics as it investigates the Tianjin warehouse blasts. China is reportedly also investigating the Director of the country's Work Safety Agency, Yang Dongliang, who was also Tianjin's Vice Mayor until 2012 - for failing to protect people from corporate cost-cutting and profit making motivated negligence. The enforced implementation of regulations to protect labor standards and the environment may have prevented this month’s tragic explosions in Tianjin. 

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Opinion Thu, 27 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Big Oil Spent $6.2 Million Lobbying California Officials in Year's First Six Months http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32537-big-oil-spent-6-2-million-lobbying-california-officials-in-year-s-first-six-months http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32537-big-oil-spent-6-2-million-lobbying-california-officials-in-year-s-first-six-months

2015 0827lsWho would have ever thought WSPA was funding the California Driver's Alliance? (Graphic: courtesy of Stop Fooling California)The oil industry spent $6.2 million to lobby legislators and other state officials in California in the first six months of 2015, according to a report just released by the California Secretary of State's Office. 

The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), the largest and most powerful corporate lobbying group in Sacramento, alone spent a total of $1,388,203 in the first quarter of the 2015-2016 session and $1,141,037 in the second quarter of the session. That's a total of $2,529,240 spent on lobbying in six months.

Last year WSPA spent a record $8.9 million on lobbying, double what it spent in the previous year. WSPA spent $4.67 million in 2013. 

Big Oil is currently spending over $1 million per month to fight legislation and regulations to prevent future oil spills, to protect our drinking water supplies from contamination by fracking waste water, from cleaning up the air, and from protecting marine protected areas from offshore oil drilling. 

Oil companies funnel most of their California lobbying money through WSPA, the industry's trade association, but they also spend additional money through their own lobbyists. In addition to their WSPA contributions, Chevron spent $1.5 million lobbying for influence over California laws in 2015's first six month, according to Sarah Rose, Chief Executive Officer of the California League of Conservation Voters, in a letter to supporters. 

"That means two spots on California's top-five list for big-spending lobbyists belong to Big Oil," noted Rose. 

Besides lobbying state officials, the oil industry also spends millions every year on political campaigns. 2014 was a record year for Big Oil spending on lobbying and campaigns. The oil industry spent a combined total of $38,653,186 for lobbying and campaigns in 2014. That is a 129 percent increase from the 2013 total of $16,915,226. 

Last year, the oil industry spent $7.6 million to defeate a measure calling for a fracking ban in Santa Barbara County and nearly $2 million into an unsuccessful campaign to defeat a measure banning fracking in San Benito County during the November 2014 election. Chevron spent $3 million to elect their selected candidates to the Richmond City Council, but they were defeated by a grassroots coalition. 

Big Oil also exerts its influence by setting up Astroturf groups to promote its agenda. Last week, WSPA launched a campaign against climate change bills in the Legislature, according to Rose. Under the thinly-disguised mask of their Astroturf group "California Driver's Alliance," WSPA's ads attacking the legislation are now running on television, internet, and radio in several key legislative districts throughout the state. 

In addition, the oil industry is very effective at getting its lobbyists and friends on regulatory panels. In a glaring conflict of interest, Western States Petroleum Association President Catherine Reheis-Boyd, who is now fighting bills protecting the ocean from offshore oil drilling and oil spills, chaired the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Froce to create "marine protected areas" in Southern California. She also served on the MLPA Initiative task forces that developed "marine protected areas" on the North Coast, North Central Coast and South Coast. 

Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) has jointly authored with Senator Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) Senate Bill 788, which would ban new offshore oil drilling in state waters off Tranquillon Ridge, located in a "Marine Protected Area" off the coast of Vandenberg Air Force Base created under the MLPA Initiative. SB 788 is currently in the Assembly Appropriations Committee and is expected to be up for a vote in the State Assembly as the Legislature enters its last month of the legislative session, according to Senator Jackson's office. 

And guess who opposes this legislation? Yes, "marine guardian" Reheis Boyd's WSPA, is leading the charge to defeat the bill. 

WSPA is also opposing two bills sponsored by Senator Jackson that were spurred by the recent Santa Barbara Oil Spill that fouled many miles of coastline on May 19 after after a badly corroded oil pipeline owned by Plains All American Pipeline burst off Refugio State Beach. 

Senate Bill 295 requires annual oil pipeline inspections and would reestablish the State Fire Marshal's role in inspecting federally regulated pipelines. Senate Bill 414, the Rapid Oil Spill Response Act, would help make oil spill response faster, more effective, and more environmentally friendly. 

You can expect Big Oil to continue dumping millions of dollars into stopping these and other environmental bills in the California Legislature, as the industry has done over the past decade. 

Big Oil spent a total of $266 million influencing California politics from 2005 to 2014, according to an analysis of California Secretary of State data by StopFoolingCA.org, an online and social media public education and awareness campaign that highlights oil companies' efforts to "mislead and confuse Californians." The industry spent $112 million of this money on lobbying and the other $154 million on political campaigns. 

Big Oil is the largest and most powerful corporate lobby in Sacramento, and as we have discussed, wields its influence by spending its money on lobbying and election campaigns, creating Astroturf groups and getting its officials and friends on state regulatory panels. 

In California environmental politics now, there is no bigger issue than than the capture of the regulatory apparatus by the regulated, including Big Oil, agribusiness, developers, the timber industry and other corporate interests. This is why fishermen, Tribal leaders, family farmers, environmentalists and grassroots Californians must relentlessly expose and fight this regulatory capture in order to restore our rivers, oceans, fisheries and the public trust - and support state and national campaigns including 99Rise and Move to Amend to take the corporate money out of politics. 

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News Thu, 27 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Guatemalan Supreme Court Approves Motion to Impeach President http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32536-guatemalan-supreme-court-approves-motion-to-impeach-president http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32536-guatemalan-supreme-court-approves-motion-to-impeach-president

8 May, 2014: Otto Perez Molina, President of Guatemala, attends to presidency assumption of Luis Guillermo Solis in San Jose, Costa Rica. (Photo via Shutterstock)Otto Pérez Molina, President of Guatemala, attends the presidency assumption of Luis Guillermo Solis in San Jose, Costa Rica, May 2014. (Photo: lvalin / Shutterstock.com)Amid a growing political crisis in Guatemala, the country's Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision on August 25 to approve a motion by the attorney general to impeach the president.[1] The attorney general identified President Otto Pérez Molina as the head of a corruption scheme that led to the resignation of the country's vice president and a number of other senior officials. The growing crisis has mired the president's administration for much of this year, but until now the opposition has been unable to get enough votes in congress to lift the immunity granted to Pérez Molina by Guatemalan law.

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As opposition to his continuance in office mounted, Guatemalan President Pérez Molina announced on August 23 through a televised address that he would not resign.[2] He categorically denied all claims that he has ties to the corruption scandal, which led to the May resignation of the country's former vice president, Roxana Baldetti, who was arrested on August 21 and taken to court. The scandal concerns the funneling of taxes into private accounts and offering discounted custom rates for under-the-table payments.[3] Despite growing protests and increasing pressure from those who oppose his continued rule, however, the president continues to reject any responsibility and does not show signs of succumbing to demands for his resignation.[4]

In a statement sent via email to COHA, a U.S. Department of State Spokesperson said the department was closely monitoring the situation in Guatemala. The spokesperson reaffirmed the department's support in "transparent, independent and impartial legal processes" and noted that the CICIG "has been a proven partner of both the government and people of Guatemala in their efforts to promote the rule of law." The spokesperson did acknowledge the recent request by Guatemalan prosecutors for the right to impeach the president, but also urged all parties to respect the schedule of national elections and the Guatemalan constitutional process. Earlier in May, the State Department had issued a press release expressing its support of President Pérez Molina and his administration in efforts to address the issue of corruption in Guatemala. The State Department had also urged Guatemalans to support government institutions in investigations and prosecution of corruption and encouraged the president to work closely with the CICIG. However, the CICG has now identified Pérez Molina as complicit in the corruption scandal.

President Pérez Molina has long been a controversial figure. During the rule of former dictator Efrain Ríos Montt, who is currently facing trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity committed in the 1980s, Pérez Molina held the position of field commander.[5] Although Pérez Molina played a role in the slaughter of innocent Guatemalans during his time at this post, the Guatemalan president could potentially have to step down from office and be tried for a series of criminal acts committed under his own administration.[6]

Guatemala's attorney general and the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), a U.N.-backed anti-corruption body, were responsible for the motion to impeach the president that has been approved by Supreme Court.[7] After months of investigation, the CICIG identified Pérez Molina as being at the top of a mafia structure involved in the major swindling of state customs and other resources.[8]According to the findings of the investigation, the structure had control of over 50 percent of the state taxes through this body known as "La Línea," or "The Line," an allusion to the phone number used to establish the contacts that allowed the illicit evasion.

During his televised address, however, the Guatemalan president insisted: ""I reject any claims that I had any involvement in [the scandal] and that I have received any money from the customs fraud operation, my conscience is clear."[9] He apologized for the scandal, but also criticized the international community who he said were "seeking to intervene" in Guatemalan democracy. [10] He did not specify to whom he was referring with this self-serving remark.

Despite these claims by the president, hundreds of Guatemalans returned to the Presidential Palace to protest against the country's corruption and demand Pérez Molina's resignation.[11] There have been weekly protests in Guatemala City demanding his immediate resignation since April, but protestors have announced that demonstrations will gain intensity.[12] The Catholic Church also issued a call for the president's resignation.[13]

The Guatemalan diplomat to the United Nations resigned on August 25, adding to the list of public officials who have left office amid the scandal unraveling.[14] The diplomat, Fernando Carrera, also issued a statement calling for a resignation of the president due to his involvement in "La Línea." While not officially linked to the scandal, five other government ministers have resigned over the past week.[15] Guatemalan Finance Minister Dorval Carias resigned on August 24 as the ministry was preoccupied with forming next year's budget. Communications Minister Victor Corado resigned on the same day and three other ministers stepped down a number of days before. Back in May, the scandal had forced Pérez Molina to fire several senior cabinet ministers. Therefore, members of the Guatemalan government have left office in increasing numbers over the past four months.

It is in this atmosphere of tension and pressure that Guatemala gears toward its upcoming presidential elections, scheduled for September. Pérez Molina cannot run for reelection by law.[16] However, with mounting protests, pressure and the call for impeachment, President Pérez Molina might have to leave office before his term officially ends. Without a resignation or impeachment, though, he would remain in office until a newly elected president's term is initiated at the start of next year.

Resources:

[1] http://www.cnn.com/2015/08/26/americas/guatemala-president-scandal/

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y9nCkEofqoc

[3] "http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Guatemalas-Explosive-Corruption-Scandal-in-60-Seconds-20150825-0008.html".

[4] http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/08/25/us-guatemala-corruption-idUSKCN0QU09020150825

[5] http://www.democracynow.org/2015/8/24/in_guatemala_protests_threaten_to_unseat

[6] http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Guatemala-Court-Suspends-Dictator-Rios-Montts-Genocide-Trial–20150818-0041.html

[7] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/aug/24/bribery-scandal-grips-guatemala-ex-vice-president-allegations

[8] http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2015/08/24/actualidad/1440387465_951157.html

[9] http://elperiodico.com.gt/2015/08/24/pais/presidente-otto-perez-se-aferra-al-poder-y-arremete-contra-empresarios/

[10] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/aug/24/bribery-scandal-grips-guatemala-ex-vice-president-allegations

[11] http://elperiodico.com.gt/2015/08/24/pais/presidente-otto-perez-se-aferra-al-poder-y-arremete-contra-empresarios/

[12] http://www.cnn.com/2015/08/26/americas/guatemala-president-scandal/; http://elperiodico.com.gt/2015/08/24/pais/presidente-otto-perez-se-aferra-al-poder-y-arremete-contra-empresarios/

[13] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/24/world/americas/calls-grow-in-guatemala-for-president-to-resign.html?_r=0

[14] http://www.telesurtv.net/news/Renuncia-embajador-de-Guatemala-ante-la-ONU-20150826-0019.html

[15] http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/08/25/us-guatemala-corruption-idUSKCN0QU09020150825

[16] http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/08/25/us-guatemala-corruption-idUSKCN0QU09020150825

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