Truthout Stories Sun, 24 Jul 2016 10:41:54 -0400 en-gb Koch Brothers' Fingerprints Can Be Found All Over GOP Convention

Koch brothers(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

At Truthout, we refuse to subject you to ads or "sponsored content" -- we believe in producing journalism with integrity. If you agree, please support us with a donation today!

Though the Kochs have indicated they are staying out of the presidential election and Charles Koch has even had kind words for the Clintons, their fingerprints are all over the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this week in the form of candidates and the extreme RNC platform.

Koch Candidates Take Center Stage at Quicken Arena

The Kochs have had their doubts about Donald Trump, early on refusing to share their voter data base with him and spending their money down-ballot after it appeared he would win the nomination. As CMD has reported, the Kochs have been busy investing millions in a faux "grassroots" ground game in key states. They are hoping to rival labor's mastery in turning out committed volunteer door knockers, by paying an army of teenagers to hit the doors.

The Kochs are not the only people who have their doubts. A sharply divided GOP was on full display Thursday night on the floor of the Quicken Arena in Cleveland. The Texas delegation, relegated to the back of the room, was hooting and hollering for their man Ted Cruz, but the New York delegation turned their backs, and boos broke out across the arena when it became apparent that Cruz was not going to throw his support behind Trump.

Watching the drama from the wings, Trump came out onto the floor unexpectedly, throwing the Secret Service into a tizzy and stealing all the cameras from Cruz. When Cruz finally left the floor to find his wife, who herself was chased to the wings with cries of "Goldman Sachs!," no cameras were on him.

Knowing he would have challenges to unite the party, Trump picked a standard-bearer who he hoped would appeal to all: Indiana Governor Mike Pence, who Trump said "looks good," and that "to be honest," part of the reason for his selection was to unify the party.

Pence took to the stage last night to introduce himself as "a Christian, a Conservative, and a Republican, in that order," to a welcoming crowd. Delegates appeared to appreciate his amusing remarks and humble talk, which introduced his family and reprised his struggle for conservative causes.

But Pence failed to mention his biggest billionaire backers, David and Charles Koch and the institutions they bankroll.

Koch Operatives "Love" Mike Pence

In an interview with Lauren Windsor of The Undercurrent outside the convention, Tim Phillips, President of the Kochs' Americans for Prosperity, said he loved Mike Pence: "he had a great record in the House." But Phillips was being too modest.

Over the years, the Koch network has contributed large amounts of money to Governor Pence, who has pursued a legislative agenda straight out of the Koch-ALEC playbook. In terms of individual donations, David Koch's $300,000 makes him the third largest donor, and Senior Vice President of AFP and General Counsel of Koch Industries Mark Holden's $202,500 makes him the sixth.

And Pence is scheduled to be a "featured guest" at the Koch network's semiannual donor retreat to be held at a resort in Colorado July 30-August 1, 2016 (for more on Pence's bio see CMD's SourceWatch).

When Marco Rubio failed to win the Presidential primary, top Koch operative Marc Short started advising Pence. Short joins the 2016 Trump-Pence campaign as Pence's communication advisor. "Marc is a friend and we had the opportunity to work together when I was serving in the Congress of the United States, and I have immense respect for his integrity and his judgment," said Pence at a Koch event in 2014.

Koch Candidates Headline Trump Convention

But Pence is not the only Koch candidate to address the convention.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker took to the floor in a prime time slot Wednesday night. Walker has been backed by the Kochs and AFP's Tim Phillips throughout his career.

It is no secret that the Kochs would have preferred Walker as the presidential nominee; David Koch threw his support behind Walker early in 2015. And AFP's Phillips told the media he had spent $10 million in Wisconsin in during the tumultuous recall period, when Walker's attack on unionized public workers sparked an unprecedented series of recall elections.

Walker's appearance in the main stage was a bit of a surprise. He was a leader of the #NeverTrump movement, throwing his support behind Cruz and helping the Senator from Texas score an unexpected primary win in Wisconsin. As late as Tuesday this week, Walker said floor delegates should "vote their conscience," a phrase that sparked an uproar last night when spoken by Ted Cruz.

Now Walker has changed his tune, abandoning "Wisconsin Nice" to endorse Trump and bash Clinton as "the ultimate" liberal Washington insider, claiming: "if she were any more on the 'inside,' she'd be in prison."

Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), who was reportedly being considered for VP, was also on the main stage this week. Her election in 2014 was greatly aided by $400,000 that went from the Kochs' Freedom Partners to a dark money group called "Trees of Liberty," which then attacked Mark Jacobs, Ernst's competitor. CMD filed a complaint against Trees of Liberty earlier this year.

And Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) spoke to the RNC Tuesday night. Americans for Prosperity rolled out a $1.1 million campaign in support of Johnson, and the Kochs' Freedom Partners Action Fund spent $2,025,048 attacking his opponent Russ Feingold. Feingold had accused Johnson of "outsourcing his campaign" to the Kochs. Yet the Kochs may have been underwhelmed, because the very next day they pulled down their ads in Wisconsin, abandoning Johnson to focus on more competitive Senate races.

It wasn't just the politicians. "Kochsperts" spoke at multiple panels and events surrounding the RNC. Jason Beardsley, a Special Advisor to the Koch's Concerned Veterans for America, took to the main stage to advance the privatization of the Veterans Administration. Rachel Campos-Duffy, wife of U.S. Representative Sean Duffy, also took to the stage as the national spokesperson for the Kochs' Latino front group called the Libre Initiative. Penny Nance, President of the Koch-funded Concerned Women for America, was also scheduled to be in attendance.

GOP Platform Riddled With Koch/ALEC Policies

The Kochsperts must have had a hand in the creation of the RNC Platform, because the list of American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)-approved policies in the platform is stunning. The Kochs have been among the biggest backers of ALEC and the member organizations, think tanks, and advocacy groups that aid ALEC for decades. Here are some of the Koch-ALEC policies and priorities reflected in the platform.


  • Curtailing IRS oversight of dark money nonprofits active in elections, and repeal the prohibition on nonprofits engaging in political speech
  • Dismantling the last remaining campaign finance rules limiting corruption of elections
  • Limiting access to voting with Voter ID

Jobs and Finance

  • Slashing corporate taxes, including on profits stashed overseas
  • Prioritizing corporate profits and the policing of patents and IP in trade agreements
  • Loosening Dodd-Frank rules on banks and financial markets
  • Eliminating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and other policies that protect consumers from predatory lending and banking
  • Attacking occupational licensing, unions, and prevailing wage

Transportation and Infrastructure

  • Making it harder to fund mass transit and blocking efforts to create high-speed rail
  • A protected funding stream for highway transportation benefiting highway construction companies and fossil fuel
  • Attacking labor unions and workers' rights on all fronts, from calling for a national anti-union "right-to-work" law, to demonizing the earned pension benefits of public employees, to allowing massive corporations like McDonald's to evade taking responsibility for labor standards in their franchise stores
  • Turning much-needed public infrastructure projects—from road construction to broadband access expansion—into privatized profit centers through public-private partnerships.

Courts and Criminal Justice Reform

  • Continue using the courts to attack the Affordable Care Act
  • Demand judges ignore international law
  • Protecting corporate wrongdoers through changes to tort laws, and making it harder to prosecute with stringent intent requirements
  • Maintaining mandatory minimum sentencing for many offenses


  • Continuing to fight President Obama's Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon pollution and campaigning to eliminate the EPA
  • Limiting consumers' right to know by blocking menu labeling and GMO labeling
  • Turning federal public lands over to the states for logging, drilling, and mining by private companies
  • Continuing the fight to build the Keystone XL Pipeline

Federal Budget and Constitution

  • Hamstringing Congress in future recessions and crises by adding a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution
  • Cutting social safety net programs like Medicare and Medicaid by turning them into block grant programs
  • Establish federal term limits by amending the U.S. Constitution
  • Privatize the VA medical system


  • Reducing oversight of homeschooling
  • Privatizing schools through voucher and charter school programs
  • Replace federal student aid for college with private "investment"

The Kochs' may not be too fond of @therealDonald, but they have captured much of the GOP policy agenda. 

News Sun, 24 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Donald Trump's Dark and Scary Night

The GOP's new big dog blew the whistle Thursday night for nearly an hour and a half and it was loud and shrill enough to reach the ears of every angry, resentful, disaffected white American. The tone was divisive, dark, dystopian and grim.

Here was the alpha dog of the von Trump family, baying at a blood-red moon that the hills are alive with the sounds of menace.

According to Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump, this land is rapidly becoming as bleak and dangerous as one of those twisted, vicious kingdoms in Game of Thrones, a place filled with violent crime and despair, a smoldering ruin overrun with foreigners out to take our jobs and terrorists bent on destroying our villages.

It's mourning in America.

And only he can save us.

This has been his message all year: I alone can fix it. Remember his tweet on Easter morning?

He alone has the potion. He alone can call out the incantation. He alone can cast out the demons. It's a little bit Mussolini. A little bit Berlusconi. A little bit George Wallace. And a lot of Napoleon in a trucker's hat. "I am not an ordinary man," Bonaparte once said." I am an extraordinary man and ordinary rules do not apply to me."

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

So he will do it all alone, this Trump. Until he has the US military to carpet-bomb on his orders, and the nuclear codes at the ready beside his bed at 3 a.m., and the 101st Airborne at the southern border, ready to act -- as long as Mexico pays for it.

This was a convention pledged to serve and protect the little guy, but as Rachel Maddow pointed out on MSNBC, it was officially addressed by five -- count 'em, five -- billionaires, including Trump and one, Silicon Valley's Peter Thiel, who has said that woman's suffrage was a bad idea and wrote in 2009 that "I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible." Boy, was he in the right place.

Thiel was one of the Thursday night speakers leading up to the official coronation of King Donald as the Republican Party's standard-bearer. Introduced by daughter Ivanka, who without a trace of irony lauded her dad's "kindness and compassion" (except of course for all those women he has verbally abused and minorities he has slandered and even the fellow candidates he mocked), Trump announced, "Here, at our convention, there will be no lies. We will honor the American people with the truth and nothing else… I will tell you the plain facts that have been edited out of your nightly news and your morning newspaper."

But as Washington Post fact checkers Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee noted:

"The dark portrait of America that Donald J. Trump sketched… is a compendium of doomsday stats that fall apart upon close scrutiny. Numbers are taken out of context, data is manipulated, and sometimes the facts are wrong.

"When facts are inconveniently positive -- such as rising incomes and an unemployment rate under 5 percent -- Trump simply declines to mention them. He describes an exceedingly violent nation, flooded with murders, when in reality, the violent-crime rate has been cut in half since the crack cocaine epidemic hit its peak in 1991."

He said 58 percent of young African-Americans are unemployed -- and the dog whistle signals, you know what that means -- but the number's actually about half that. He insists we're one of the highest taxed nations in the world -- we're nowhere near -- and that we have "no way to screen" refugees, which is just not true.

The speech went on and on like that and the crowd inside the convention hall ate it up, their bitterness and frustration spurred on by Trump's own sputtering, red-faced outrage. The legacy of Hillary Clinton, he said, is "death, destruction and weakness." She proposes "mass amnesty, mass immigration, and mass lawlessness." As for Barack Obama, "The irresponsible rhetoric of our president, who has used the pulpit of the presidency to divide us by race and color, has made America a more dangerous environment for everyone."

By the way, of the 2,472 delegates at the convention, only 18 of them were black, the lowest percentage in over a century, according to History News Network and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. With Trump at the helm, Republicans will soon have purged their party of any memory of its own past. "Lincoln" simply will have been the name of a town car.

As columnist Eugene Robinson said about Thursday's speech, "Frankly, this was a message, at least to my ears, to white America: Be afraid. I will protect you." It's not for nothing that as convention officials projected tweets from Trump supporters on the hall's video screens during his speech, one of them turned out to be from a notorious white supremacist account.

Can anyone imagine Donald Trump breaking into "Amazing Grace" at the service for black worshippers in Charleston, SC, gunned down in their church by a white supremacist? There certainly was not a grace note in his speech. And -- sorry, Ivanka -- not a single note of "kindness and compassion." No touch of humility.

Watching, we could only think of Augustus, during the first century B.C., in a time roiled by corruption and the wealth of empire, who terminated the government and installed himself as emperor, careful to preserve all the forms of the republic while dispensing with their meaning.

Or, as the less august, but funnier folks at The Onion tweeted while the smoke from Trump's cannonade lingered into the night, "Thanks for joining our live coverage of the RNC. This concludes democracy."

News Sat, 23 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Fighting for Seats at the Table: A Poor People's Movement in a Rustbelt Town

In this painting by community organizer Allen Schwartz, people line up to get school supplies for their children in Newark. (Artwork: Allen Schwartz)In this painting by community organizer Allen Schwartz, people line up to get school supplies for their children in Newark. (Artwork: Allen Schwartz)

The Newark Think Tank on Poverty -- a group of working class and self-identified poor people in Ohio -- goes directly to those in power through lobbying efforts and one-on-one meetings, a model for organizing that has empowered members and already created change.

In this painting by community organizer Allen Schwartz, people line up to get school supplies for their children in Newark. (Artwork: Allen Schwartz)In this painting by community organizer Allen Schwartz, people line up to get school supplies for their children in Newark. (Artwork: Allen Schwartz)

The following article could only be published thanks to support from our readers. To fund more stories like it, make a donation to Truthout by clicking here!

When Chris Wills got out of prison, he could not find a job. He applied, but no one would hire him because of his record.

And then he started using drugs again.

In a moment of desperation, he went to talk with a friend who ran programs in the local jail. His friend didn't tell him to just get clean. He didn't tell him to just get a job. He gave him some advice that, in the moment, Wills thought was just weird. His friend told him to go meet with some community organizers from a group called the Newark Think Tank on Poverty.

The Think Tank is an organization started in 2014 that is modelling a new approach for addressing poverty. Based in Newark, Ohio, the town where Wills lives, the group is made up of people currently struggling with poverty, or who have struggled in the past. The group's goal is to have their voices heard by people who make decisions.

Wills told me in a recent interview that he has three families now. His piercing blue eyes lit up as he named them: "My friends in recovery, my church, and the Think Tank."

After years in and out of jail, Chris Wills says his work as an organizer with the Newark Think Tank on Poverty gives me a reason not to go back. (Photo: Jack Shuler)After years in and out of jail, Chris Wills says his work as an organizer with the Newark Think Tank on Poverty "gives me a reason not to go back." (Photo: Jack Shuler)As the Republicans gathered in Cleveland to discuss supporting that guy who wants to build a wall, Wills woke up every morning at the men's shelter where he lives, two-and-a-half hours away in Newark. He went to work, focused on recovery and built his new life. He was also organizing for change in this Rust Belt town.

This is no small task.

Newark, population 48,000 plus, is a red city in a red county. It's about 45 minutes from Columbus and on the outskirts of Appalachian Ohio. One of its claims to fame is an enormous building in the shape of a basket, just off Highway 16. Since 1997, the basket has served as an office space for the Longaberger basket-making company. Layoffs have led the company to move staff out of the building to another site. About a week ago, the last remaining employees left.

Fadhel Kaboub, an economist at Denison University and president of the Binzagr Institute for Sustainable Prosperity, says that Newark is a microcosm of the American economy -- a once prosperous industrial city that has felt the effects of neoliberal free-trade policies. As industry moved away in the 1970s and 80s, nothing replaced it. In a sense, it's a mini Detroit.

Kaboub says it took some time for people to recognize that this change was permanent. He says, "There wasn't a recalibration of the skills expectations, the education expectations." It has taken time for people to realize the need for a different economy, a different set of skills -- not just in Newark, of course, but globally.

Part of this "recalibration" is the people in a community figuring out how to address the damage done by the economic system and trying to fill the gaps. Citing economist Karl Polanyi, Kaboub says the creation of free markets is not natural. In the wake of the damage produced by neoliberal policies, resistance is inevitable. Sometimes, he says, it comes from NGOs. Sometimes it comes in the form of labor activism. And sometimes what happens is a political movement.

A People's Movement

Lesha Farias and Allen Schwartz are sitting in a booth at the Sparta Restaurant, a downtown Newark diner that hires formerly incarcerated people, as well as people in recovery from addiction. It's one of the places trying to fill the gaps in this community.

Community organizer Allen Schwartz helped to convene the Newark Think Tank on Poverty to enable people struggling with poverty to have seats at the table and make decisions about how poverty is addressed in their town. (Photo: Jack Shuler)Community organizer Allen Schwartz helped to convene the Newark Think Tank on Poverty to enable people struggling with poverty to have "seats at the table" and make decisions about how poverty is addressed in their town. (Photo: Jack Shuler)Both Farias and Schwartz are seasoned community organizers who, a few years ago, grew frustrated with how poverty was being addressed in Newark. There were many charity organizations doing important work offering immediate and much-needed assistance. But charity only stanches wounds, they say. It doesn't fundamentally change the system or promote justice.

Farias and Schwartz felt that in order for systemic change to begin to happen, people who were struggling should actually become the decision makers -- they should have "seats at the table," when it came to how poverty would be addressed in their town.

Schwartz has a salt-and-pepper beard, a goofy grin, and a ball cap that never comes off. Chris Wills affectionately calls him "Pa." Like Farias, he speaks with determination and intention.

"Poverty is the big invisible in the US," Schwartz says, "the thing we want to make invisible. We try to ignore it by saying things like, 'This is the land of promise; or, if you really want to work, there's no reason you shouldn't; or, if you're poor, it's your own damn fault.'"

Farias and Schwartz want to change that narrative.

Farias says that the first meeting of the Think Tank was empowering. "For people to come together who share the same struggles, the same stories -- there was a sense of belonging." The group received a grant from the St. Vincent de Paul Society and used it to pay attendees for their time as consultants.

The Think Tank moved quickly to address an issue that affects many members -- how to get a job when you have a criminal record. One in six Ohioans, over 16 percent of the state's workforce, has one. The Ban the Box movement was gaining traction in Ohio and the group made it their issue. With the help of Columbus-based organizer Wendy Tarr, they lobbied state representatives to pass a bill banning the box for public employment and then encouraged their local council members to ban the box in Newark. Ultimately, both efforts succeeded.

These were concrete victories, but now the Think Tank is trying to build a platform for addressing systemic concerns. Rather than being an issue-specific movement, the group aims to become an integral part of community decision-making.

The Real Job Numbers

The street in front of the Sparta Restaurant is being ripped up as part of a multimillion-dollar renewal project. A block away, the county courthouse is under renovation and new restaurants, yoga studios and loft apartments are popping up around the courthouse square. Couple this development with the most recent unemployment numbers (Licking County: 4 percent; Ohio: 5 percent) and it feels like good things are happening here.

"If you look out the window from where we are," Farias says, "it's all glorious." But the reality for most working-class people is more complicated. She notes that the businesses coming to downtown Newark are mostly providing services that the working class, or the 22.1 percent of the community living in poverty, can't utilize.

Schwartz chimes in, "It's the Republican vision. You support the middle class that can still pay. Create a market that way. They'll say that either we build for that sector, or nothing will happen. Maybe so. Within their market-defined world, it works."

Besides, he says, the working class and the middle class live in two different worlds -- even in a small town like Newark. Most middle-class people are sealed off from working-class poverty and avoid seeing it firsthand.

Wills says he's never seen homelessness so bad in Newark. He has one friend living in a tent, and he hears of folks sleeping "in the weeds" by the railroad tracks and others sleeping in cars, on couches, or in budget motels.

Official employment numbers may be up, but the industrial or distribution center jobs that do exist, Schwartz says, are unstable and have poor working conditions.

"The norm is people working with unstable schedules," Schwartz says. "People are treated as expendable, and then they begin to feel expendable."  

Responses to a recent article about a new Amazon distribution facility in the Newark Advocate underscore Schwartz's assertions, as well as the trouble with employment in the community. Facebook comments from previous employees mention the sporadic hours and the fact that while some people would love to work with the company, they lack transportation. Indeed, there are no fixed public transportation routes in the area.

According to Kaboub, in Rustbelt towns like Newark there are many people who have looked for work for a very long time but aren't technically counted as unemployed. The Bureau of Labor Statistics calls these people "discouraged workers." If you add in those numbers, and the number of involuntary part-time workers, the unemployment number in Ohio doubles to almost 10 percent. That number, he says, doesn't include people who aren't working because of long-term illnesses, a lack of adequate child or elder care, or a lack of transportation. "So you can imagine the extent of the true cost to society," Kaboub says.

Addressing all these issues has been made even more difficult for Newark because of budget cuts and tax changes by the administration of Ohio Gov. John Kasich. On the campaign trail, the former presidential candidate claimed that he had solved Ohio's budget issues even as municipalities around the state, including Newark, struggled to pave streets and pay for public safety. The Plain Dealer estimates that Newark lost almost $1.7 million in state funding since 2011. Over 70 cities across Ohio have lost more than $1 million.

Recreating Democracy, Ground Up

It's a gorgeous July day, yet there's a big crowd gathered for a Think Tank open meeting at the Newark Public Library. There are several dozen Think Tank members, as well as a handful of people from local nonprofits who are starting to pay attention to what the Think Tank is doing.

Farias calls the meeting to order, then Think Tank member David Lee stands up to talk about what happened on this day in history. He explains that on July 9, 1917, federal authorities raided the IWW Hall in Yakima, Washington, arresting 24 Wobblies and confiscating pamphlets after local leaders tipped them off. Those in power, Lee says, were terrified of working class organizing efforts.

The Think Tank needs to share narratives of resistance, Lee tells me. As a Saponi, he takes his strength from his own cultural and historical narratives of resistance, he says, especially "both Wounded Knees, the second in particular."

"People who are in the struggle have to come together to tell these stories and to re-energize spiritually and to get ready to go back out there," Lee adds. "Otherwise, it's so lonely. We have to acknowledge the current hopelessness and then organize for a better fight." 

Jill Beeler Andrews, deputy director of Appellate Services at the Ohio Public Defender Office, tells the group that there are over 51,000 people in Ohio prisons, just shy of record numbers. She also talks about having criminal records sealed or expunged -- valuable information, because employers and landlords can't see sealed records.

Next come reports from the local farmer's market, a group addressing predatory lending, and an organization dealing with addiction issues -- in particular, the opioid crisis.

At the end of the meeting, there's a request from a local transportation advocate for the Think Tank to consider advocating for fixed route transit, such as regular bus routes.

The power of the Think Tank is that its members have experience with poverty, and so their recommendations come with an understanding that many policy-makers lack. Some people in powerful positions are starting to recognize this fact -- though not always.

When Andrews tells about a forthcoming report from a state legislative committee on recommendations for streamlining criminal justice statutes that would bring about some major changes to the state's criminal justice code, Schwartz immediately asks: "Are there any returning citizens on that committee?"

Everyone in the room knows the answer.

To some, Schwartz might come off as that overenthusiastic kid in the classroom -- persistent to a fault. But to others, he's spot on. He's asking for seats at that table.

Economist Kaboub says, "What the Newark Think Tank is doing is recreating democracy. In the United States, participation has come to mean voting for the elites every two or four years." The Think Tank offers a different model because it assesses the methods used to address problems, and then actively participates in transforming those methods.

"We see this model in other countries," Kaboub says. "In Brazil, for example, there's participatory auditing, participatory budgeting. And it's done in almost an Occupy Wall Street kind of way. There's no leadership, but citizens are plugged into government agencies and they say, 'You have to hear our voice. You work for us.'" 

Think Tank member Mary Sutton is one of the people making this model happen in Newark. She says she's still inspired by the group's first work on banning the box because it impacted her directly, but she wants to do more. Sutton works as a janitor at a local university and has been with the Think Tank since its inception. She appreciates the organization's participatory model.

"We've had discussions about having a president and so on," she says, "but that's not us."

The Think Tank's organizational structure is simple -- there are monthly open meetings and smaller working committees focusing on food, reentry and housing. Sutton chairs the food committee and one of her goals has been to gain a seat on the board of directors for a county-wide food network. She was recently told that that was impossible.

So she's creating a citizen's committee -- a group of community members who use pantries -- that will report their collective concerns to local pantries and to the board. Sutton knows the pantries well because she uses them. "I work, but I can't afford certain things," she says. "I'm not lazy. I work, but sometimes I just can't."

Sutton's the expert that people in power need to hear from. As also Eric Lee, a formerly incarcerated man who now has a seat at the table with the county's re-entry program. And Linda Mossholder, a retired educator and child and family counselor who is helping the Think Tank's housing committee mobilize to ban the box on housing applications and challenge exorbitant housing application fees.

Having Hope, Making Connections 

Born in 1977, Wills' childhood coincided with the worst economic times in recent memory for Newark and the Midwest. His father was absent, and he was raised by a single mom. In his teens, he got involved with drugs and gangs and dropped out of school.  

"I used to always wake up and feel like I had nothing to live for and I had to have some drug to make me feel motivated," Wills says. "I wake up today and don't feel that. After so many years of going in and out of jail. Losing everything. Getting it back. Losing. Getting it back. I was tired of that constant cycle and I just didn't know how to get out of it. That's where the Think Tank helps; it gives me a reason not to go back and to do something positive."

The true center of his motivation, though, is a deep and abiding love for his son, whose name is tattooed on the top of his hand. He wants to be with his son, to rebuild that relationship. So he's channeling his frustrations into productive actions. He's holding down a construction job, attending recovery meetings and staying committed to the Think Tank. 

"There's never been another time in my life when I felt and knew that my voice mattered like this," he says. "It's always been, 'Just lock him up and throw him away.'"  

Wills says he's active in the Think Tank not in spite of, but because of the fact that he's still struggling. Despite being out of prison for over a year, he's only just now able to pay his full child support obligation. "I wanted to pay," he says, "I think people should support their kids." But he couldn't because he could not get a job and was dealing with addiction issues.

One popular American narrative is that poor people are lazy, that they're not trying hard enough. But Wills is full of "try hard" and then some. He wishes he could tell his story to people running for office. He'd tell them "straight up" that when he got out of prison, he couldn't get a job. That's when he went back to using. It's that simple. "If you don't have hope, you lose all will," he says.

A month ago, Wills went to a local festival and to sign people up for the Think Tank. He talked to everyone that walked by. "I let them know that I was a felon, recently back in the community, and that I struggle with addiction. People were responsive. Now we just need to get them to meetings so their voices can be heard." 

Wills' friends in the Think Tank say that he's a born organizer. He wasn't afraid to speak to anyone -- he just walked right up to passersby and shared his story, started building connections.

Schwartz told me that the Think Tank is about helping people like Chris Wills find a community and a place where they won't be judged. "If that's all we do," he said, "then we will have done something."

They already have done something.

Opinion Sun, 24 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
How Can This Be Happening in the US? International Journalists Reflect on Rise of Donald Trump

On Wednesday, Democracy Now!'s Deena Guzder and Hany Massoud spoke to members of the international press covering the Republican National Convention to find out how other countries view Donald Trump.

Please check back later for full transcript.

News Fri, 22 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
"Build Bridges, Not Walls": Medea Benjamin on How She Disrupted Donald Trump's Speech

CodePink's Medea Benjamin disrupted Donald Trump's acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention by holding up a banner reading "Build bridges, not walls!" Her protest diverted cameras away from Trump's speech. Benjamin was removed after the disruption and says she was later interviewed by the Secret Service. Democracy Now! spoke to her on the street afterwards.


AMY GOODMAN: We turn right now to CodePink's Medea Benjamin, who disrupted Donald Trump's speech last night. By the way, the speech, the longest in presidential convention history at an hour and 15 minutes. Media Benjamin stood up, holding a banner reading "Build bridges, not walls!" Her protest diverted cameras away from Trump's speech. She was removed by security after the disruption. Medea Benjamin says she was later interviewed by the Secret Service. Democracy Now! caught up with her on the streets of Cleveland afterwards.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: I got a pass inside. I went to a press area, which I thought was as good as I was going to get. I had a sign that said "Build bridges, not walls!" I had read the speech beforehand, so I knew exactly when I wanted to interrupt: when he said, "I am your voice." And I wanted to get up then and say, "You are not my voice. Your voice is one of hatred and anti-immigrant sentiment and Islamophobia and misogyny. And we need someone who will build bridges, not walls."

And there was a lot of tussling going on with the people next to me, who were grabbing my sign and trying to pull me down. And there were all kinds of people around me doing various things. At one point, I know my legs were in the air. And I just kept speaking out that Donald Trump is dangerous for this country and dangerous for the world. I think it's so important CodePink has been in three out of the four nights in the convention center interrupting Donald Trump. And I think we speak for millions of people in this country and people all over the world who are horrified with the idea of Donald Trump for president.

AMY GOODMAN: Who were the people that were sitting next to you, and what did they say? And who ended up dragging you out?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: There were other journalists next to me from conservative papers. And I know that because I looked at some of their name tags. And they also were clapping so much during the speech. You know, if you're an objective journalist, you're not going to get up and clap when Donald Trump comes in and after every two sentences. So they were very enthusiastic press, and they were really upset when I got up, and immediately started trying to tackle me.

DELEGATES: U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

AMY GOODMAN: You got an early transcript of the speech. Did anything surprise you in it?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, I was -- I found it interesting that before Donald came on, there were -- there's a Republican gay businessman. There were people who talked about gay rights. And Ivanka was really focusing on women's rights and how great her husband -- her father was for women. And I think Donald Trump, in the beginning of the speech, tried to come across as somebody who would unite this country. And, of course, it's all about how he's a great builder, builder, builder. And then he got, at one point, very negative. And his talk about how we are besieged by immigrants who are coming across our border and then murdering people is such a horrible thing to be focusing on, when 99 percent of the immigrants are peaceful, hard-working people who have contributed so much to this society. I just got back from Latin America, and I've been to the Middle East a lot, and I know people are really terrified about Donald Trump, as well as our friends here who are Muslim and our friends here who are Latino.

DELEGATES: Build that wall! Build that wall! Build that wall! Build that wall!

MEDEA BENJAMIN: When he starts in his rhetoric and people start yelling "Build that wall! Build that wall!" that's a very scary thing. So, I think it was very appropriate to be there with the "Build bridges, not walls!"

AMY GOODMAN: That is Medea Benjamin, the founder of CodePink, the women's peace group. She disrupted Donald Trump's speech last night, holding a banner reading "Build bridges, not walls!" This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. We are "Breaking with Convention: War, Peace and the Presidency," everyday two-hour expanded broadcast from the Cleveland Republican convention here in Ohio. Next week we'll be in Philadelphia at the Democratic National Convention. This is Democracy Now! We'll be back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: "You Can't Always Get What You Want," The Rolling Stones. It was closing song last night after Donald Trump's speech, the longest in presidential convention history. Over 100,000 balloons were dropped as the song played and the family was on the stage.

News Fri, 22 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
We Must Reject Economic Cannibalism

Neoliberal ideology has created a cannibalistic economy that is consuming us into extinction. We can change that by joining and supporting social movements that are pressuring governments and corporations to create a more regenerative economy.

Economic cannibalism(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

Truthout is your go-to source for news about the most critical issues of our time. If you want to see more stories like this one, make a tax-deductible donation today!

"What can I do to fix a broken global economy?" It's a question I've been asked a lot these past few months as I've crisscrossed the US speaking at TED venues, music concerts, the World Affairs Council, bookstores, on radio and TV shows, and at a variety of other forums.

During this election year it is important to recognize that corporations pretty much run the world. Despite the outcome of the elections, they will continue to do so -- at least until we organize and change the rules that have created the dominant neoliberal system.

We all support corporations. We buy from them, work for them, manage them, invest in them, and help them with our tax dollars. We have to ask ourselves -- and answer -- the following questions:

Question 1: Do we want to support companies that maximize short-term profits if that means causing the oceans to rise, destroying rainforests and other vital resources -- in essence destroying the resources that support our economy?

The obvious answer: No.

But that is exactly what's happening today. We've created a cannibalistic economy that is consuming itself -- and us -- into extinction. Paul Levy, the author of Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the Curse of Evil, calls it the "Wetikonomy": a reference to wetiko, an Algonquin word for cannibalism that was used specifically to describe the European colonialists and their destructive way of interacting with the world. The consequence of the corporate-led global economy is to destroy life in a perpetual quest to grow GDP.

Question 2: Change what?

What can we learn from the American Revolution? In 1773, most colonists believed the British were invincible. But George Washington recalled the Battle of the Monongahela during the French and Indian war, about 20 years earlier, when he had seen a huge British army badly defeated by a handful of Indians. "No, they are not invincible," he said. "We just need to hide behind trees."

We must change the story and the rules.

We are at such a time now.

When Milton Friedman won the Nobel Prize in Economics, he promoted the current story: "the only responsibility of business is to maximize profits, regardless of the social and environmental costs." The rules governing business ever since reflect that story. That was in 1976, a time when financial capital was considered in short supply and nature abundant. No one was talking about peak oil or climate change. But that is no longer true. The situation has changed. The story and the rules must also change.

Question 3: What is the new story?

I was taught in pre-1976 business school that corporations should be good citizens, should serve a public interest, in addition to paying a decent rate of return to investors. They should give employees health care insurance, retirement pensions, job security, pay taxes, and support public service institutions, like schools and recreational facilities.

The acceptance of Friedman's logic, the Reagan/Thatcher (counter)revolution, the hijacking of academia and the economics profession, the absurd concentrations of wealth and power among a tiny elite, and many other events have led to a new dominant moral and economic order called neoliberalism. We must now create a new story, one that states that the responsibility of business is to serve the public, to be good citizens, to contribute to our shared commons, and to create a regenerative economy rather than a cannibalizing one.

It is essential to recognize that the old story and rules have resulted in a dysfunctional system, a global failure on an unimaginable scale. We are in the midst of the 6th great extinction on this planet, and the first to be created by a single species. We need to build an economic system that is regenerative -- that is itself a renewable resource -- instead of one that is consuming itself into extinction.

We need new rules, regulations and laws that support ideas and processes that clean up pollution, that internalize the so-called 'externalities' of doing business, that regenerate destroyed environments, and that develop technologies for new, more efficient energy, communications, transportation and other systems.

Question 4: What can you do?

There are no simple answers to this question because so much depends on your context, your life path, your particular set of privileges and desires.

One place where we all can start is to look for and shine a light on the story behind the story. One of the things I learned through the process that eventually resulted in my book, The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, is that there are almost always stories behind the "official" story.

Recent incidents, such as WikiLeaks and the Snowden/NSA files, and great investigative reporting from Pulitzer Prize-winning ProPublica and the committee of journalists who published the Panama Papers, have exposed corrupt politicians and tax-evading billionaires.

Democracy depends on spreading information, on transparency and a healthy dose of skepticism. It demands that we question our leaders, government policies, and the ingrained logic of our cultural, political and economic operating systems. In order to create a less destructive world, we have to first be able to see the cannibalistic tendencies rooted in selfish consumption (wetiko) in our culture, in our community, and indeed, in ourselves.

The second aspect of what you can do is to create local, individual, and collective power to demand political change. Most change gets implemented on local levels -- and it all starts with an individual or group of individuals. Social media has increased the power of each and every one of us in powerful ways.

Recently, a small group of activists and bloggers in Vermont, a state with less than 0.2 percent of the US population, got a law passed forcing corporations to label GMOs. As a result, some of the biggest food producers in the country -- Kellogg's, General Mills, Campbell's Soup, Mars, and ConAgra -- committed to the national labeling of GMOs.

The power of community organizing ended apartheid, gave women and Black people voting and civil rights, has ensured that corporations clean up polluted rivers, and almost brought an obscure Vermont senator and proclaimed socialist into the White House (and in the process deeply influenced the Democratic Party). The list of successes is endless.

Through joining and supporting social movements, we will inspire government to pass laws that will create a regenerative economy.

We have to demand that corporations serve a public interest. Corporations run the world and they depend on you. CEOs receive monthly summaries about email, Facebook and Twitter messages that come to their offices. They know they have to listen to their customers.

Pick a corporation you want to change. Start a social networking campaign: "I love your products but I won't buy them any more until you pay your workers a living wage, clean up the pollution you caused, pay your taxes, and create transparency in your operations." Send it to all your social networking circles and ask them to send it to theirs.

You are living at a watershed moment in history. This presidential campaign has, above all else, shown the power elites that we understand that the system is broken. Now we must change the story and the rules, and do it in time for civilizational and planetary regeneration.

Opinion Sun, 24 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Pastor on Tamir Rice Shooting: Ohio Is an Open-Carry State Except if You're an African-American Male

The Republican National Convention is underway just a few miles from the park where 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot dead by police in November of 2014 while he was playing with a toy pellet gun. We speak with Rev. Dr. Jawanza Karriem Colvin, the pastor of the Olivet Institutional Baptist Church, which is one of the largest African-American congregations in Cleveland, about how city officials and activists responded to the killing. He was recently profiled in a Politico report titled "The Preacher Who Took on the Police."


AMY GOODMAN: We're joined right now by Reverend Dr. Jawanza Karriem Colvin, the pastor of the Olivet Institutional Baptist Church, which is one of the largest African-American congregations in Cleveland. He was recently profiled in Politico in a piece titled "The Preacher Who Took on the Police."

Reverend Colvin, welcome to Democracy Now!


AMY GOODMAN: Took on the police how?

REV. JAWANZA KARRIEM COLVIN: Well, when the incident took place with respect to the fatal shooting of Tamir Rice, I and others within the activist community made a decision that we couldn't allow the death of this young boy to go without justice. I reached out to the Department of Justice. I began to reach out to my brothers and sisters in the activist community, many not in the church, but within a community of conscience built around academics, people in the nonprofit community. And we began to work together to figure out a way in which we could bring this issue to light. The family had done a great job in bringing national civil rights attorneys to their assistance. But we thought that if they did not have community support and they didn't have community activism to continue to bring this, not only for individual justice for their son, but to make sure that there was attention brought to the injustice related to the entire Cleveland Police Department.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain something to me? We went to Cudell Park, to the recreational center, where young Tamir, 12 years old -- it was what? November 22nd --


AMY GOODMAN:  -- 2014, has a toy gun, police move in within a few seconds, Officer Loehmann shoots Tamir Rice dead. Now, we're here at the convention. There have been protests around the issue of assault weapons. You have open carry in this state, so people carry guns all the time. Even if they thought he had a gun, within seconds shooting him? And it's been shown by studies that white police officers think kids, black kids, are older like by 10 years than they are. So here they're seeing -- they thought he was like 20, and he's got a gun. You're allowed to carry a gun in this state.

REV. JAWANZA KARRIEM COLVIN: Except if you're an African-American male, particularly if you're an African-American male that's in a community that is perceived as hostile, if you're in a community in which young people are oftentimes viewed as much older than they particularly are. The challenge is that there were a number of forces that were working against Tamir that day. Being a young black male with historical challenges between police and community, Tamir found himself in a place and a position where, when Loehmann, who we know had a history of instability with respect to his unfitness to being in another department, but when he came to the city of Cleveland, he was allowed to not only have a badge but also allowed to carry a gun, and when Tamir found himself in the crosshairs, in less than two seconds, this young boy, who was playing with his toy gun, was only doing something that any young 12-year-old would do in a community center, place that he went to every day, obviously found himself in a circumstance and a situation which, unfortunately, was not in the best judgment of those police officers.

AMY GOODMAN: Neither of these officers, the one who shot him, Loehmann, who, what, was described as having low gun impulse control at the previous department he worked in Independence --


AMY GOODMAN:  -- and Garmback, who had another excessive force case around him, where they had -- the police department had to pay out, I think, a six-figure amount, have been indicted. What about the federal investigation?

REV. JAWANZA KARRIEM COLVIN: Well, the federal investigation, at this point, we know that, in terms of civil rights, the civil rights bar is so high that oftentimes we can't -- we don't see any federal action taking place. I mean, that's why that I and seven of my colleagues went into municipal court, looking at the Ohio Revised Code and finding there was a statute that if citizens can come and find an affidavit -- and file an affidavit stating that there is evidence, reason to believe, that a crime has been committed, you can do that. We did that. That video indicated that there was probable cause. And the fact that while a municipal court judge, an African-American municipal court judge in a majority African-American city, found there was reasonable -- I mean, at least probable cause, which is a low bar. Ironically, when it went to the county, County Prosecutor Tim McGinty found that there was not enough evidence to even to have an indictment, which, in and of itself, is problematic. We've seen the article, which indicates that it was a sham from the beginning, that it was an orchestrated attempt, really, to try this case in secret, which I only thought we did in Eastern Bloc countries 50 years ago.

AMY GOODMAN: McGinty ultimately losing his race again for prosecutor.

REV. JAWANZA KARRIEM COLVIN: He did lose his race, but, unfortunately, justice still has not been served. And so, while justice was meted out for Mr. McGinty, unfortunately we still have -- we still have a case, and there is no statute of limitations on murder. And so, you know, it is up to the family whether they want to continue to pursue that, because many of us in the activist community are supporting the family in such a case. But what we do know is from both the law enforcement community to the Prosecutor's Office, there was clearly injustice that was done. And it is not simply to be found in Loehmann. It is systemic, it is institutional, and I'm not sure that changing one prosecutor is really going to change the process.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to the Republican National Convention. On Monday night, the Milwaukee County sheriff, David Clarke, celebrated the acquittal of the Baltimore police officer Brian Rice, one of the officers on trial in the Freddie Gray case. Gray died from injuries sustained in police custody. We were on the floor when Sheriff Clarke took the stage of the convention.

SHERIFF DAVID CLARKE: There is some good news out of Baltimore, Maryland, as Lieutenant Brian Rice was acquitted on all charges. ... What we witnessed in Ferguson and Baltimore and Baton Rouge was a collapse of the social order. So many of the actions of the Occupy movement and Black Lives Matter transcends peaceful protest and violates the code of conduct we rely on. I call it anarchy.

AMY GOODMAN: That is the Milwaukee County sheriff, David Clarke. Your response, Dr. Jawanza Karriem Colvin?

REV. JAWANZA KARRIEM COLVIN: What's interesting is that what the sheriff is calling anarchy, we call, you know, our First Amendment rights -- the right to protest, the right to peaceful assembly. Black Lives Matter has utilized the best of the civil rights tradition: nonviolent direct action. The only thing and the only association that he can connect with the murders of those police officers and Black Lives Matter is the fact that they are, in fact, black. I mean, officers -- we talk about the challenge with respect to rebuilding the trust between officers, law enforcement and the community. Historically, there has never been trust between the law enforcement community and African-American community. And this only reinforces the same type of enmity, deeply embedded mistrust, that is clearly not simply on the perspective or the side of the African-American community. But also, this is reflective, clearly, of mistrust on the side of law enforcement.

AMY GOODMAN: The Texas lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, appeared on CNN here in Cleveland, expressed support for an investigation, following Donald Trump's statement Monday night on Fox News that, if elected, he would instruct his attorney general to look into Black Lives Matter.

REV. JAWANZA KARRIEM COLVIN: Well, thankfully, he's lieutenant governor, not president of the United States and not the head of the Department of Justice. You know, it's amazing that Black Lives Matter, which is a movement which has brought to the fore the issue of, you know, police misconduct, Black Lives Matter, which has finally put on the national platform and in the national conversation the issue of the excessive use of force and the unconstitutionality of the encounters with police and African Americans, are now themselves being criminalized. They are the ones being criminalized. It is an amazing phenomenon that now we have the law enforcement community, and those who support them, saying somehow that the blue shield is more important than citizenship and expressing constitutional rights.

AMY GOODMAN: The number of black delegates, 18, lowest number, believed, in more than half a -- in more than a century here at the Republican convention.

REV. JAWANZA KARRIEM COLVIN: And I would add to that, I saw the recent poll, that zero percent support for Donald Trump, and I know that is not within the margin of error. It's absolutely right. You know, Adam Clayton Powell said decades ago, the reason that black people -- most African Americans are not conservative, because they have nothing to conserve. There is nothing in the current state of the American economy, the current state of American social order, the current state of policing in America that African Americans would want to preserve. So I'm not surprised. I'm actually surprised that we have as -- the few that we do have, even in light of the fact of the vitriol that we have coming out of Donald Trump.

But I would say this, is that African Americans are not going to be -- even on the left, are not going to be intimidated to vote against Donald Trump. We're not going to be, in any way, shape or form, made to feel that he's the bogeyman or anything of that nature. The truth is, African Americans, over the course of 400 years, since 1619, have dealt with all kinds of blowhards, whether we're talking about Bull Connor, Orval Faubus, George Wallace. And so, we know how to deal with the Donald Trumps. So, when we go to the -- into the polls, it's not about who we're voting against or what we --

AMY GOODMAN: We have five seconds.

REV. JAWANZA KARRIEM COLVIN:  -- but rather, what we're voting for.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you so much for being with us, Reverend Dr. Jawanza Karriem Colvin, pastor of the Olivet Institutional Baptist Church here in Cleveland, Ohio.

That does it for our show. I'll be doing a report back from the conventions after our two weeks of coverage -- on Friday, July 29th at the Provincetown Town Hall in Massachusetts, and Saturday, July 30th, on Martha's Vineyard at Old Whaling Church. Check our website. Follow our team for the latest updates from the convention on FacebookTwitterInstagram and Snapchat.

News Fri, 22 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Abolish Long-Term Solitary Confinement: It's a Threat to the Public

2016.7.23.lead.mainSolitary confinement dehumanizes everyone involved and is, ultimately, a threat to society at large. (Photo: Steve Rhodes / Flickr)

Supermax prisons are the most widely abused "tool" in corrections departments across the country, says Joseph Dole, who knows firsthand the physical and mental health costs of long-term isolation after spending 10 years at the notorious Tamms supermax in Illinois.

2016.7.23.lead.mainSolitary confinement dehumanizes everyone involved and is, ultimately, a threat to society at large. (Photo: Steve Rhodes / Flickr)

Truthout is your go-to source for news about the most critical issues of our time. If you want to see more stories like this one, make a tax-deductible donation today!

I have a very intimate understanding of the effects of long-term isolation on a person's mental and physical health. An entire decade of my life was spent involuntarily entombed in isolation at the notorious Tamms supermax prison in southern Illinois.

While serving a sentence of life-without-parole, I was sent to Tamms for punching an assistant warden in another Illinois prison where humans are simply warehoused without any programs and with few jobs, and where we were constantly disrespected and dehumanized by staff and administrators alike. In retaliation for that incident, I was assaulted, while in handcuffs, by several staff members who broke my nose and did other damage, prior to shipping me off to Tamms.

Tamms was allegedly opened as a sort of "shock-treatment" for violent prisoners and gang leaders. If the prisoner behaved, he was supposed to be transferred out after a year. But the reality was that the Illinois Department of Corrections abused its power and used Tamms to mete out retaliation and not just against those who were violent. Jailhouse lawyers and many of the mentally ill prisoners, whom the administration wished to lock in a closet somewhere, were sent to Tamms.

In the 10 years I was there, I never received a single disciplinary infraction. Nonetheless, I was denied a transfer out of Tamms 39 times. For the first seven or eight years after my arrival at Tamms, I was repeatedly told that I would never be released from indeterminate disciplinary segregation and would, in fact, die alone of old age in that concrete box. I was 26 at the time.

For nearly the first three years, I was denied a television or radio. Thus, I spent every waking hour reading, writing, cleaning, or working out in order to try to maintain my sanity. Still, by year five, I was experiencing auditory hallucinations (thinking I heard someone calling my name), extreme anxiety, erratic heart palpitations, and severe bouts of depression. All of these conditions were a direct consequence of long-term solitary confinement, and would become worse as the years wore on.

Luckily, that was the extent of the mental and physical repercussions of being isolated for so long. (Well, that is, if you don't count the atrophy of my eyesight, hearing, social skills, and a number of my relationships with family members and friends.) I say "luckily" because it could have been much worse.

I went to Tamms bloody, but with no mental illness, so I was able to withstand its effects longer than others. Had I been living with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, or had I been illiterate, who knows what would have happened? Imagine being trapped behind a steel door for years on end with no television or radio, unable to read or write, with no one to teach you, and absolutely nothing to do. For many, this is a daily reality.

I may have ended up cutting or biting off chunks of my skin, as many did while I was there. Or, I may have killed myself or attempted to, like so many others I know. Or, I might have cut off my penis and watched a guard carry it off. Who knows? None of that happened to me. I survived intact. Many others don't.

I know that many Americans may feel that I got what I deserved. We Americans have perfected the art of being both sanctimonious and deliberately indifferent to the plight of others. While I can agree that I deserved to be punished for my actions, at a certain point, the isolation ceased being about punishment, or even "institutional security," and became a sadistic abuse of power.

The public may not care for my well-being, or that of the nearly 100,000 Americans who are currently being held in long-term isolation -- but they should. Through their indifference, the public is directly responsible for the torture of their fellow citizens, the deterioration of their mental health, and all of the suicides that occur in isolation units (which account for nearly one half of all prison suicides). They are also responsible for the effects these facilities have on the people who work there, as well as the threat these places pose to society at large.

People who work in isolation units are severely affected by their work of brutalizing people on a daily basis. Their average life expectancy, according to one study, is 20 years less than that of the average citizen, and rates of alcoholism are significantly higher. They also have higher rates of spousal abuse. Becoming accustomed to being above the law and able to abuse people at will, they bring that attitude home to their families and communities.

Beyond the direct human impacts on prisoners and guards, control units and supermax prisons are also extremely expensive, siphoning limited resources away from things that actually protect society, like rehabilitation programs, police and fire departments and schools. Plus, there are the additional court costs of all the lawsuits isolation units generate.

These places make people so irrationally angry that it is the height of folly to continue operating them, and more so to then release people straight from solitary to the streets. No example is more demonstrative than that of Evan Ebel, a mentally ill man who was sentenced to eight years in prison in Colorado for carjacking, and ended up spending the entire eight years in solitary confinement. His mental health steadily deteriorated over time.

Prior to release, Ebel filed a grievance asking, "Do you have any obligation to the public to reacclimate me, the dangerous inmate, to being around other human beings prior to release, and, if not, why?"

The written response he received was that a grievance was not the appropriate place to discuss policy.

In 2013, within two months of being released, Ebel killed a pizza delivery man and wore the man's uniform to the home of the Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, whom he shot to death. He got into two shootouts with police before dying of gunshot wounds.

This did not surprise me at all when I read about it. I witnessed countless people grow angrier and angrier, year after year, due to being arbitrarily isolated and brutalized.

Solitary confinement units are incubators of hate, which is completely understandable. Treat people inhumanely long enough, and not only will they cease to view you as humane, but some may want to return the favor.

The good news is that many people are finally, belatedly, starting to realize all of this. In the past year alone, both New York and California settled lawsuits by promising to curb their use of long-term isolation, and President Obama ordered the Bureau of Prisons to limit its use of isolation.

Still, there is a long way to go. While all reforms are welcome, those currently underway will barely put a dent in the number of people being abused in solitary confinement around the country. Control units and supermax prisons are the most widely abused "tool" in corrections departments across the country.

Tamms wasn't closed quickly enough to save hundreds of us from years of torture and its ill effects. Nor did Colorado reform its use of solitary confinement in time to prevent the tragedy of Evan Ebel. For everyone's sake, let's hope more states choose to accelerate reforms instead of fighting them.

Opinion Sat, 23 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Feminism Slowly Gaining Support at United Nations

Achieving gender equality has long been one of the United Nations' top priorities yet the word feminism has only recently begun to find its way into speeches at UN headquarters.

Croatia's Vesna Pusic, one of 12 candidates for the post of UN Secretary-General, explained why she thought her feminism made her suitable for the UN's top job, during a globally televised debate, on 12 July.

"I happen to be a woman, I don't think this is enough, I happen to be a feminist and I think this is (important)," Pusic said, to applause from the diplomats and UN staff filling the UN General Assembly hall.

Pusic joins other high profile feminists at the UN including British actor Emma Watson, whose September 2014 speech about her own feminism gained worldwide media attention.

More recently, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told UN Women's Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at a UN meeting in March 2016 that there shouldn't be such a big reaction every time he uses the word feminist.

"For me, it's just really obvious. We should be standing up for women's rights and trying to create more equal societies," he said.

Perhaps more significant though than these speeches is Sweden's recent election to the UN Security Council on a feminist foreign policy platform.

Sweden will join the 15-member council for two years in January 2017, the same month that the new Secretary-General will take office. There are hopes that the UN's ninth Secretary-General, will be the first woman to lead the organisation, with women making up half of the 12 candidates currently under consideration.

"There could be a lot of elements coming together to finally create some momentum for progress," Jessica Neuwirth, one of the founders and Honorary President of Equality Now told IPS.

Even the number of female candidates running represents a change for the UN, Natalie Samarasinghe, Executive Director of the United Nations Association UK told IPS.

"Not only has no woman ever held the UN's top job, but just three of 31 formal candidates in previous appointments have been female."

The push to select a female Secretary-General has seen all candidates, both male and female, eager to show their commitment to gender equality.

Whoever is selected will be continuing on work already started by current Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said Neuwirth, who believes that Ban has shown a commitment to gender equality at the UN, even if he may not use the word feminist to describe himself.

"I'm not a person who really lives or dies on the words, I think what people do is really much more important than what they call themselves," said Neuwirth, who is the director of Donor Direct Action, founded to raise funds for frontline women's groups.

"I don't know that I've ever heard (Ban) use the word feminist, definitely not to describe himself," she added. "On the other hand as somebody who had the privilege of working at the UN during his tenure I did see first hand the efforts he made to increase the representation of women at the UN at the highest levels, he made a very conscious effort to increase those numbers."

"It's still not 50:50 and it's even slid backwards which is disappointing, but he showed that one person can make a big difference."

Samarasinghe also noted that even if the word feminist is not explicitly used at the UN, its meaning is reflected in the UN's many objectives for achieving gender equality.

"Feminism is about women and men having equal opportunities and rights – something reaffirmed countless times in UN documents, from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights onwards."

However Samarasinghe noted that the word feminist remains controversial. The UN's 193 member states include many countries which lag far behind outliers such as Sweden and Canada on gender equality.

"Being a feminist is a complete no-brainer. It's like having to explain to people that you're not racist. But clearly the word is still controversial so we have to keep using it until people get it," she said.

Emma Watson noted in her high profile UN speech, that the word feminist is not as easy to use as it should be.

"I decided that I was a feminist, and this seemed uncomplicated to me. But my recent research has shown me that feminism has become an unpopular word. Women are choosing not to identify as feminists."

"Apparently, I'm among the ranks of women whose expressions are seen as too strong, too aggressive, isolating, and anti-men. Unattractive, even," said Watson.

In late 2015, some media reported that Watson had said she had been advised not to use the word feminist in her speech.

Neuwirth who was present when Watson made her speech told IPS that Watson's choice of words ultimately had a strong impact.

"That was an incredible event, I mean the level of emotion in that room was so high it was kind of shocking to me."

"There were so many diplomats there, which was a good thing, and it was just really a powerful speech that she made, and it moved them, you could just see visibly that it moved them," said Neuwirth.

However since Watson's speech, progress on gender equality at the UN has not always been easy.

Media organisation PassBlue, which monitors gender equality at the UN, has noted that the number of women appointed to senior UN positions has been slipping.

When Sweden takes up its position on the Security Council, it will have big strides to make on both improving women's representation in decision making positions at the UN and enacting policies which promote gender equality more broadly.

In fact, it is anticipated that all 15 permanent representatives on the UN Security Council in 2017 will be men, unless the United States chooses a woman to replace Samantha Power, who is expected to leave her post by the end of 2016.

Sweden hopes to use its seat on the Security Council to increase women's involvement in negotiating and mediating peace agreements, Sweden's Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said at a media briefing hosted by Donor Direct Action on 30 June.

Neuwirth welcomed Wallstrom's comments, noting that in Syria, for example, women continue to be shut out of peace negotiations.

Syrian women "are trying to play a meaningful role in the negotiations over Syria, which are totally a mess," she said, "yet these women really just are struggling so hard to get even inside a corridor let alone to the table."

"Why wouldn't they just give these women a little more of a chance to see if they could do better, because it would be hard to do worse?"

News Fri, 22 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Facing Down Trump's Demagoguery: Lessons From Weimar Germany

2016.7.22.Lead.mainDonald Trump points to his vice presidential nominee, Mike Pence, on the final night of the Republican National Convention, at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, July 21, 2016. (Photo: Stephen Crowley / The New York Times)

To fight Donald Trump's dangerous messages, US progressives of all stripes -- the Democrats, Bernie Sanders supporters and all major social justice movements -- must take both right-wing populism and each other seriously and find ways to present a united front against fascism.

2016.7.22.Lead.mainDonald Trump points to his vice presidential nominee, Mike Pence, on the final night of the Republican National Convention, at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, July 21, 2016. (Photo: Stephen Crowley / The New York Times)

Donald Trump is not the first authoritarian demagogue who could take power and undermine constitutional government in the US or Europe. Right-wing authoritarian populists have often grabbed power during economic crises, particularly in Western societies suffering national decline and severe racial divisions or culture wars.

The classic example is Weimar Germany in the 1920s and early 1930s. The Nazis were one of many far-right movements in Weimar -- and Hitler was only one of many hyper-nationalist demagogues stoking the flames of economic discontent and promising to restore Aryan racial supremacy and make Germany great again.

For progressives who want to (1) fight Trump's dangerous messages and (2) win the long-term struggle for justice and democracy, there are vital lessons to be learned from the failure of Weimar progressives.

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

First, the German Left splintered and failed to create strong coalitions. The Social Democrats and the German Communist Party -- both large parties of Labor -- made little efforts to work together or to organize and coordinate closely with many of the remarkably progressive Weimar urban feminist, gay and civil rights movements. Much of the blame falls on the Communists, who decided to take their marching orders from Stalin, believing that the collapse of the German economy would lead to a Communist revolution. But the Social Democrats were also responsible, aligning themselves with conservative parties and aristocratic landed elites -- and supporting repression of Far Left movements while failing to reach out to and make concessions to either the Communists or the movements.

Had the Social Democrats and Communists formed a common bloc, working in a strong coalition with progressive urban cultural movements, they would have controlled the majority of Parliament and might have kept power. The lesson here is that we must wrestle with the potential ways in which the Democratic Party, the Sanders supporters and our major social justice movements might work together, building a coalitional front that can push back against the dangers posed by Trump, promote the aims of the Sanders "revolution," and help unite or "universalize" Left grassroots movements in a long-term effort to create a systemic transformation of militarized, racialized, patriarchal capitalism.

Second, to build a united front, all types of progressives must grapple with the real threat of a Trump victory and of a broader right-wing populist ascendancy, with or without a Trump victory. The German Left -- as well as the German corporate and landed gentry Establishment -- never took Hitler seriously, dismissing Far Right movements and believing Hitler had no large popular base. Likewise, many US progressives cannot imagine that Americans would embrace Far Right populism and elect an overtly racist demagogue such as Trump.

The Weimar Left and the German Establishment wildly underestimated the Far Right and Hitler's resonance during a massive economic crisis with a public with authoritarian tendencies. They lost touch with the working and lower middle class, especially the rural or small town population, who felt they were losing not just their jobs but their country and culture. They also never believed Hitler could gain so much support in his pursuit of genocide.

The US Left and the US Establishment may be making a similar mistake about Trump and today's Far Right populism. On the one hand, Trumpism resonates strongly with some economically disenfranchised white workers who, like the Weimar culturally conservative workers, fear loss of both their jobs and their honored racial status in their nation. Moreover, recent surveys and social-psychological studies show that the authoritarian cultural currents in Weimar are prevalent in large sectors of the US white working class and middle class conservative movement, creating fertile ground for an authoritarian bully like Trump.

Trump does not seem to be joking about the changes he proposes, nor could he be controlled easily if in power. Trump as president would heighten institutional racism throughout the country and sabotage many constitutional rights, even with congressional resistance, using executive power already being concentrated in the presidency.

The second Weimar lesson, then, is this: take right-wing populism and Trump's magnetic resonance with large sectors of the American public very seriously. This is a lesson reinforced not just by Weimar but by the Brexit vote in the UK. Progressives must understand how and why Trump connects with millions of Americans -- and then move to undercut resonating ties.

This leads to a third lesson: the need for a massive shift in the Democratic Party and a resurgence of progressive movements to solve the economic crisis and address the sense of national decline perpetrated by the Establishment itself. The Weimar Left, especially the Social Democratic Party, largely disconnected from grassroots urban progressive cultural movements, had no transformative vision or energy. It was an exhausted, reformist party offering no economic or social solutions. The Communists didn't even try, as they promoted collapse.

The Democratic Party in the age of Clintons, disconnected from social movements, has aligned with the corporate and military establishment. While Bernie Sanders resonated far and wide because of his urgent message of "political revolution" and democratic socialism, Hillary Clinton has only begun to -- at least in rhetoric -- embrace the importance of structural change. But to win, she has to take Sanders more seriously and respond not only to his demands but also to the demands of the civil rights, Black liberation, peace and environmental movements. One approach is to promote a massive green public investment agenda to begin solving the jobs and environmental crisis, while cutting the military budget and taxing the rich to meet educational, health and job-creation priorities, while also addressing the crises of racism, sexism, mass incarceration and civil liberties.

If she fails to campaign on this united front agenda, and our movements do not force her to do so, Clinton will suffer the fate of the German Social Democrats. Trump will ride the anti-Establishment anger and angst into the White House and right-wing populism will take over the nation.

We must universalize our activism from single-issue silos to a long-term coalition for liberation and universal rights

A careful look at Clinton's current proposals offers a glimpse of hope. She has begun to integrate some of Sanders' demands about free college education, more expansive funding of social needs, confronting institutionalized racism and mass incarceration, stronger anti-fracking and higher solar and wind production, a higher minimum wage, and reversing Citizens United. Sanders' supporters, now linking or "universalizing" with other social justice movements, must push her much further. The concern is not only about Trump; it is also necessary to mobilize sustainable democracy movements that can defeat new cycles of right-wing populism and create a real political revolution.

Clinton and the Left movements face considerable challenges in building a true popular united front. Clinton's proposals tend to be means-tested and polarize the working classes against professional and middle classes; her set-asides for particular groups in programs like her College Compact pit groups against each other.

Clinton must adopt a universalizing posture supporting universalizing programs and entitlements, such as expanded social security and health care for all. These bring the working and middle classes together, and reflect the agenda of universalizing movements seeking cross-class and cross-identity coalitions.

The movements must push Clinton to adopt these Left-oriented designs, which do not take working class, people of color or social movement support for granted and universalize resistance.  More broadly, movements must openly and forcefully criticize Clinton's penchant for intervention abroad (e.g., in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan), the stultifying incrementalism of her domestic reforms regarding inequality, corporate trade agreements, and union rights, and her failure to deliver solutions to institutionalized racism, sexism, homophobia, mass incarceration and denial of immigrant rights.

This connects with the fourth Weimar lesson: the need to address personal fear about national decline, racial conflict and national or terrorist enemies. Hitler and right-wing movements stoked all these fears. They saw the anxiety and anger and redirected it at the non-Aryan Enemy within and without. They were masters of the politcs and propaganda of emotion.

The Weimar Left collapsed not only because of its abject policy failures on the economy and in meeting social needs, but also because of its inability to speak to deep emotions of fear and anger, particularly those stirred up by right-wing populists.

The lesson here is to redirect fear to the real causes of public suffering and to identify clearly who are the enemies of the people. The united front must clearly indict the corporate and military Establishment that is battering both workers and the nation, showing how both Establishment and right-wing populists are using racism, immigrant-bashing and sexism to refocus anger on the most powerless people. Progressives must embrace the zeitgeist of anti-Establishment feeling on both Left and Right. It must make clear how big money, racism and militarism abroad and at home are dividing Americans and degrading their economic and social prospects.

Having been a leading figure of the Establishment for 25 years, it is virtually impossible for Clinton to embrace the anti-Establishment moment and lead a progressive populism. The united front must do the work that she cannot. Sanders speaks forcefully to anti-Establishment emotions and highlights anti-Establishment policies that can meet many universalized public needs. And social movements have deep roots in communities and have built the foundations for an emotional as well as universalizing policy response to Establishment power.

Our grassroots social movements are central to transformation. We are already seeing their resurgence, from Black Lives Matter to large-scale environmental and climate change movements ( and anti-fracking) to anti-corporate and anti-Wall Street movements (Occupy and its successors) seeking democratic socialism. Many are beginning to recognize the need to coalesce and universalize their resistance against the ruling order, in concert with a progressive political and electoral agenda symbolized by Bernie Sanders.

The lessons of Weimar are stark. Without universalizing resistance across a united progressive front, we could easily see the rise of Trump and the entrenchment of right-wing populism. We must meld together movements and progressive politics. And we must universalize our activism from single-issue silos to a long-term coalition for liberation and universal rights.

Truthout is one of the few remaining sources of stories like the one you just read -- and readers like you keep us alive. Click here to support independent news!

Opinion Fri, 22 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400