Truthout Stories Fri, 04 Sep 2015 10:35:54 -0400 en-gb Web of Secrecy Surrounds Federal Half-a-Billion Handout to Charter Schools

(Photo: Classroom via Shutterstock; Edited: LW / TO)(Photo: Classroom via Shutterstock; Edited: LW / TO)

The US Department of Education is poised to spend half a billion dollars to help create new charter schools, while the public is being kept in the dark about which states have applied for the lucrative grants, and what their actual track records are when it comes to preventing fraud and misuse.

Already the federal government has spent $3.3 billion in American tax dollars under the Charter Schools Program (CSP), as tallied by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD).

But the government has done so without requiring any accountability from the states and schools that receive the money, as CMD revealed earlier this year.

Throwing good money after bad, Education Secretary Arne Duncan called for a 48 percent increase in federal charter funding earlier this year, and the House and Senate budget proposals also call for an increase - albeit a more modest one - while at the same time slashing education programs for immigrants and language learners.

The clamor for charter expansion comes despite the fact that there are federal probes underway into suspected waste and mismanagement within the program, not to mention ongoing and recently completed state audits of fraud perpetrated by charter school operators.

Earlier this year, the Center for Popular Democracy documented more than $200 million in fraud, waste, and mismanagement in the charter school industry in 15 states alone, a number that is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg.

Is now really the right time to plow more tax money into charters?

Insiders Deliberate Far From the Public Eye

The Department of Education is currently deciding what states to award $116 million this year, and more than half a billion during the five-year grant cycle.

So who is in the running and what are their track records?

Which states have applied for a grant designed to eviscerate the public school system in the name of "flexibility?" (CMD's review of state applications and reviewers' comments from the previous grant cycle exposed "flexibility" as a term of art used by the industry for state laws that allow charter schools to: operate independently from locally elected school boards, employ people to teach without adequate training or certification, and avoid collective bargaining that helps ensure that teacher-student ratios are good so that each kid gets the attention he or she deserves.)

There is no way of knowing.

The US Department of Education has repeatedly refused to honor a CMD request under the Freedom of Information Act for the grant applications, even though public information about which states have applied would not chill deliberation and might even help better assess which applicants should receive federal money.

The agency has even declined to provide a list with states that have applied:

"We cannot release a list of states that have applied while it is in the midst of competition."

The upshot of this reticence is that states will land grants - possibly to the tune of a hundred million dollars or more in some cases - all at the discretion of charter school interests contracted to evaluate the applications, but without any input from ordinary citizens and advocates concerned about public schools and troubled by charter school secrecy and fraud.   

But, if people in a state know that a state is applying they can weigh in so that the agency is not just hearing from an applicant who wants the money, regardless of the history of fraud and waste in that state.

Charter Millions by Hook or by Crook: The Case of Ohio

Despite ED's unwillingness to put all the cards on the table, state reports tell us that Ohio has once again applied for a grant under the program.

The state, whose lax-to-non-existing charter school laws are an embarrassment even to the industry, has previously been awarded at least $49 million in CSP money - money that went to schools overseen by a rightwing think-tank, and, more worryingly, to schools overseen by an authorizer that had its performance rating boosted this year by top education officials who removed the failing virtual schools from the statistics so as not to stop the flow of state and federal funds.

As The Plain Dealer put it in an exposé: "It turns out that Ohio's grand plan to stop the national ridicule of its charter school system is giving overseers of many of the lowest-performing schools a pass from taking heat for some of their worst problems."

Another component of this plan, it turns out, was to apply for more federal millions to the failing schools that - by a miraculous sleight of hand - are no longer failing.

The director of Ohio's Office of Quality School Choice, David Hansen, fell on the sword and announced his resignation in June. But Democratic lawmakers suspect that this goes higher up in the chain of command, and have called on State Superintendent Richard Ross to resign.

Did the scrubbed statistics touting the success of Ohio's charters find its way into the state application for federal millions, signed by Superintendent Ross?

What about other states, such as Indiana, with a similar history of doctoring data to turn failing charter schools into resounding success stories?

After Abysmal Results, States Re-apply for More Money

While the known unknowns are troubling, the known knowns - to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld - also equally disturbing.

For example, Colorado applied for grant renewal this year.

But, the last time around, in 2010, the state landed a $46 million CSP grant thanks in no small part to the lax "hiring and firing" rules and the lack of certification requirements for charter school teachers - a reviewer contracted by the US Department of Education to score the application noted.

Look at California.

Through meeting minutes from the California State Board of Education we also know that the Golden State submitted an application this year. In 2010, California was awarded $254 million over five years in CSP money, but as the Inspector General discovered in a 2012 audit, the state department of education did not adequately monitor any of the schools that received sub-grants. Some schools even received federal money "without ever opening to students." A review by CMD revealed that a staggering 9 out of the 41 schools that shuttered in the 2014-'15 school year were created by federal money under CSP.

How about Wisconsin?

Wisconsin received $69.6 million between 2010 and 2015, but out of the charter schools awarded sub-grants during the first two years of the cycle, one-fifth (16 out of 85) have closed since, as CMD discovered.

Then there's Indiana.

Indiana was awarded $31.3 million over the same period, partly because of the fact that charter schools in the state are exempt from democratic oversight by elected school boards. "[C]harter schools are accountable solely to authorizers under Indiana law," one reviewer enthused, awarding the application 30/30 under the rubric "flexibility offered by state law."

This "flexibility" has been a recipe for disaster in the Hoosier state with countless examples of schools pocketing the grant money and then converting to private schools, as CMD discovered by taking a closer look at grantees under the previous cycle:

  • The Indiana Cyber Charter School opened in 2012 with $420,000 in seed money from the federal program. Dogged by financial scandals and plummeting student results the charter was revoked in 2015 and the school last month leaving 1,100 students in the lurch.

  • Padua Academy lost its charter in 2014 and converted to a private religious school, but not before receiving $702,000 in federal seed money.

Have They Learned Anything?

Secretary Duncan has previously called for "absolute transparency" when it comes to school performance, but that's just a talking point unless he releases the applications, or even a list of the states that are in the running, before they are given the final stamp of approval.

As it stands, there is no way of knowing if the state departments of education seeking millions in tax dollars:

  • Have supplied actual performance data that reflect the reality for students enrolled in charter schools rather than "scrubbed" or doctored numbers;

  • Try to outbid each other in "flexibility" by explaining, say, how charter schools in X can hire teachers without a license and fire them without cause. In its 2010 application, the Colorado Department of Education, for example, boasted of how charter school teachers are "employed at will by the school";

  • Have corrective action plans so as to avoid repeating the costly waste and mistakes from the previous grant cycle (such as schools created by federal seed money closing within a few years or never even opening).

Because the federal charter schools program is designed to foster charter school growth, which in turn means that money will be diverted from traditional public schools to an industry that resists government enforcement of basic standards for financial controls, accountability, and democratic oversight, the public has a big stake in this and a right to know more, before their money disappears down black holes.

News Fri, 04 Sep 2015 10:22:32 -0400
Trump's No Outlier

There are those who would have you believe that Donald Trump is an aberration among Republican presidential contenders — the black sheep uncle who shows up half-drunk at family gatherings, insults the guests, scandalizes the women, and otherwise brings dishonor to the clan.

Don't believe them.

Trump is as Republican as capital gains and Richard Nixon.

You might even say that Trump's the quintessential Republican politician — he's just willing to say out loud what the rest say only in private. Think Mitt Romney and his infamous "47 percent" remarks, which Romney intended for a fat-cat Republican audience only.

Trump was at it again the other week with a plan for making Detroit's auto companies more competitive. He would have them pull their manufacturing jobs from the relatively high-paying plants of the north and move them south — to Tennessee, say — where employees are willing to work for less.

Once Detroit workers have learned their lesson and are desperate for jobs, his plan continues, he would offer to move the factories back and pay lower wages than even Tennesseans are willing to accept.

Can there be a more Republican plan than that? Pit workers against each other, driving wages down and profits up. It's called the free enterprise system.

Republicans know that catechism well, but they don't talk about it in public. They talk about freeing workers from the tyranny of unions and allowing them to negotiate their wages on their own — as Adam Smith and God intended them to.

Give them this: The Republicans have done a brilliant job of selling that nonsense to the American public. Even famously labor-friendly Michigan is now a so-called right-to-work state. It's as though the Vatican became Presbyterian.

Without the countervailing force of unions, corporations are free to run roughshod over the hard-won economic and political gains made by the working classes over the past 100 years.

Michigan, once one of the most progressive states in the union, is now ruled by free enterprise Republicans. And it can no longer repair its roads, support its schools, or keep its parks open.

Do you want better roads? Then, these Republicans say, you must pay for them by cutting Social Security, health care, and pensions — not to mention wages.

That death of the American middle class has occurred in parallel with the decline of unions in this country. That's no coincidence.

The labor movement was behind virtually every progressive advance of the 20th century. The 40-hour work week, pensions, paid vacations, sick leave, safety rules, employer-paid health insurance, and the banning of child labor — all these bore the union label to one degree or another.

In a sense it was the labor movement that created the middle class in this country.

Then the powers that be convinced a good share of the American people that they're consumers rather than workers — and unions are bad for consumers. Hard-won labor rights, according to this mindset, make things more expensive.

But they also make it possible for ordinary working-class Americans to live a comfortable life, take vacations, and send their kids to college. At least that's what they used to do. I fear those days are gone forever.

The Republicans will have to get rid of Trump, of course. He scares the horses. They're going to have to find a candidate who walks like Trump but talks like Fred Rogers, the beautiful-day-in-the-neighborhood man.

Could it be Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin? He has a proven record as a union-buster and has yet to utter a single original thought. Of late, however, he's been yanked into Trump territory by his fear of the tea party.

How about Marco Rubio, the Chinese take-out candidate? You read one of his speeches and an hour later you're hungry. There's no substance.

Take heart. At least we don't have Michele Bachmann to worry about. That's something.

Opinion Fri, 04 Sep 2015 00:00:00 -0400
The GOP Is Taking the Texas Women's Health Crisis National

As of this week, nearly three thousand low-income women in Texas will need to find a new place to get their breast and cervical cancer screenings, thanks to a decision by lawmakers to oust Planned Parenthood from the program that subsidized care for uninsured women. The new rule is just the latest reminder that reproductive health services that were once off-limits are now fair game in the GOP's long and tireless battle against abortion.

Wendy Davis launched Texas into the national spotlight in the summer of 2013 when she filibustered HB2, a law that placed sweeping restrictions on abortion providers and quickly closed 17 of the state's 41 clinics that offered the procedure. In November the Supreme Court will decide if it will hear the case, and if it rules the law constitutional, seven more will close.

Many of the restrictions included in HB2 have also been implemented in other states, reducing access to birth control, pap smears, breast exams, pregnancy tests, and abortion.

But long before HB2 turned national attention to Texas, lawmakers had been busy dismantling the state's reproductive health infrastructure. Between 2011 and 2013, they cut the state's family planning budget by nearly two-thirds and established a tiered system that prioritized primary care centers, health department providers, and "crisis pregnancy centers," leaving little to no funding for family planning clinics - the very entities for which the funding is intended. The state violated federal regulations by banning Planned Parenthood from its Medicaid Women's Health Program (WHP) and forfeited the federal government's 9:1 funding match. Governor Perry insisted the state could operate the program without federal support, but the results have proven otherwise: in 2013 the new WHP served almost 30,000 fewer women - and received more than 100,000 fewer claims for birth control - than it did in 2011 (before it lost Medicaid funding). In the wake of these vast changes, 82 family planning clinics closed, 49 more reduced hours, and 54 percent fewer clients were served. In response to public outcry, lawmakers increased funding in 2013, but many women remain left out.

In a recent survey of providers in Texas, respondents reported that "they did not know what had happened to their former clients but suspected that they simply were not seeking reproductive health care."

Despite the mounting challenges to accessing care, Texas lawmakers added yet another barrier. For 20 years Planned Parenthood participated in the state's Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening (BCCS) Program, and last year served 10 percent of the state's patients who receive the subsidized services. Lawmakers intent on routing abortion - and Planned Parenthood - out of their state argued that clinics receiving BCCS funding "should not be facilities for performing abortions." Texas lawmakers insist women can simply receive their care elsewhere, but that's simply not the case, and it's particularly troublesome given that the incidence of cervical cancer among Texas women is 17 percent higher than the national average. According to a new report from the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, Texas Latinas experience a higher incidence rate of cervical cancer than their white or Black peers, and those living in counties near the Texas-Mexico border - among the worst impacted by the regulations of the last four years - are 31 percent more likely to die of cervical cancer compared to women living in non-border counties.

Aimee Arrambide, Director of Policy and Advocacy for the Texas Women's Healthcare Coalition, said it's hard to predict where the women who relied on Planned Parenthood for their cancer screenings will now go. "Even after the 2013 Texas Legislature restored funding to the Texas women's healthcare programs, the safety net of providers was already so devastated by the 2011 cuts and the exclusion of the most active providers, like Planned Parenthood, that it did not recover." Rebuilding clinics and getting patients back into the fold is a long and complicated process, especially when new restrictions keep cropping up.

Lawmakers in other states have followed the lead of their Texas colleagues in extending the battle against abortion access to a broad range of reproductive health services. Today Ohio and Michigan have developed tiered systems similar to that of Texas. Oklahoma and Kansas prohibit private family planning providers from receiving state and federal funding and seven other states prevent organizations that also provide abortion services from receiving funding.

Republicans at the federal level have followed suit. In 2011 the GOP proposed eliminating Title X, the national family planning program started in 1970 by President Nixon and then-Congressman George H.W. Bush (marking the first of such efforts in the program's 40-year history). Today funding for Title X is 70 percent lower 1980 levels (accounting for inflation), and House Republicans again proposed eliminating Title X in June of this year, while Senate Republicans proposed further funding cuts. The GOP has voted 55 times to overturn the Affordable Care Act - which has dramatically improved reproductive health coverage - and it shut down the government in opposition to the law's requirement that employers and insurers cover all FDA-approved methods of contraception. In recent weeks Republicans have lined up to decry the heavily doctored Planned Parenthood videos and demand the organization be stripped of its federal funding. Last week Jeb Bush, a GOP presidential hopeful, argued that Planned Parenthood is not "actually doing women's health issues." 

Texas lawmakers might have blazed the trail in steamrolling reproductive health access, ignoring the cost to the health and lives of their constituents, but it's clear that others are eager to follow the same path, methodically whittling away at the reproductive health infrastructures on which so many individuals have long relied - particularly poor women, women of color, young men and women, and members of the LGBT community.

Texas governor Greg Abbott said in his inaugural speech. "As goes Texas, so goes America." Unfortunately for women and families, that certainly seems to ring true.

News Fri, 04 Sep 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Rising CEO Pay Levels ]]> (Lauren Walker) Art Fri, 04 Sep 2015 00:00:00 -0400 When Not to Listen to a Columnist: The Dyett Hunger Strikers Must Be Heard

Last week, Eric Zorn, an op-ed columnist and daily blogger for the Chicago Tribune, wrote a piece criticizing the tactics and aims of Chicagoans who have gone on a hunger strike to save Dyett High School. This week, Alan Mills, the Executive Director of the Uptown People's Law Center, responds to Zorn's commentary.

A dozen activists are slowly starving themselves, now entering the third week of a hunger strike demanding that the mayor and the Board of Education save Bronzeville's only community high school. Hunger strikes have a long history, dating back to feudal times. The mythology is that if a man starved himself to death on the offending party's doorstep, then his demands had to be met—because who would starve themselves to death for an unjust cause?

Hunger strikes have a storied history in more recent years as well. Mandela embarked on a lengthy hunger strike shortly after being imprisoned by apartheid South Africa. The prisoners at Guantanamo are currently engaged in a year-plus hunger strike—kept alive because the U.S. government straps them down daily and force-feeds them. Perhaps most dramatically, the Irish, in their battle lead by Bobbie Sands against British occupation , started a rolling hunger strike that continued until ten political prisoners died. These cases are remarkable not just for the dedication of the hunger strikers, but because in each case the hunger strike arose from, and was an integral part of, a larger organizing effort. The Dyett hunger strikers continue this tradition.

Despite their willingness to sacrifice their time, health, and perhaps very lives, the city and members of the press have dismissed the hunger strikers, labeling them as "hostage takers" trying to force the city to provide a "particular type of new school" in their community. This cavalier dismissal of the hunger strikers' commitment, and the very serious issues facing the community, reeks of middle-class White privilege.

Bronzeville is a neighborhood with a rich cultural history, located in the heart of Chicago's "black belt," where Black people were forced to live as they moved to Chicago during the Great Migration in the early 20th century. Ida B. Wells, Richard Wright, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Louis Armstrong all called Bronzeville home. Today, the people who live in Bronzeville remain overwhelmingly Black. The neighborhood contains an eclectic mix of elegant single-family homes, rehabbed apartments converted to condominiums, new construction, and run-down rental units, with vacant lots scattered throughout.

The city has engaged in massive disinvestment from Bronzeville. By one count, the city has closed 16 elementary schools in Bronzeville since 1998. These closings have left gaping holes in the neighborhood. Students have been shuffled from school to school, and any sense of neighborhood schools has been destroyed. Today, Bronzeville has exactly one community high school left—Dyett. This is the school the hunger strikers are trying to save.

The hunger strike did not come from nowhere. Rather, it is the culmination of five years of intense grassroots community organizing to rebuild its community-based education system that Chicago's powers that be have worked so hard to destroy. Lead by the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (commonly known as "KOCO"), parents and community leaders created a plan which called for an educational continuum, where grade schools, middle schools, and Dyett High School all worked together on a common curriculum, where each grade prepared students for the next grade—whether that grade was in the next classroom, or in an entirely different school. This effort brought the community and the schools closer together, involving parents and community residents directly in the schools. Instead of places where kids involuntarily sat for six hours a day, the schools began to fulfill the role they were always intended to fill—forming the center of a vibrant community. Children from different blocks would get to know each other by going to school together year after year, parents would know other parents and their children through school activities, and the community would see the schools as education centers for the entire community.

For those like me, who grew up in solidly middle–class, largely White areas, neighborhood schools were taken for granted. I didn't know of any kids on my block growing up who did not attend the local elementary school with me. A few of my friends went to religious schools after they finished elementary school, and a very few went off to private school, but almost everyone headed to the local middle school, and then to the local high school. But this has not been the historical experience for many Black families in the U.S. Before school desegregation, many Black students were bussed past their local (all-White) schools to a far-off Black school. In Chicago over the last decade, the city has increasingly developed a two-tier educational system: one system of elite schools for the select 10% or so of the very best students; a few charter or other selective-enrollment schools (some great, some good, many terrible); and run-down, neglected schools for everyone else.

The grassroots movement in Bronzeville to revitalize its public schools was sabotaged by the city and the Chicago Board of Education (whose members are all appointed by the mayor). Four years ago, the city announced that Dyett would be closed in 2015. The Board of Education stopped enrolling new students, but allowed current students to finish. Last Spring, the final class of 13 students graduated. Again, the community did not accept this decision quietly. The community formed the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School and worked to produce a proposal. Working with partners from University of Illinois at Chicago's College of Education, the Chicago Teachers Union, the DuSable Museum of African-American History, the Chicago Botanic Garden, and other not-for-profits, the community produced a plan for "The Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology Community High School." The plan called for rehabbing the building to become LEED-certified for green technology, and developed a curriculum focused on science, taking advantage of the school's location next to a park.

In 2014, the city rejected the community's proposal, but did agree after intense pressure to accept proposals from private organizations to operate the school on behalf of the district. The community submitted its proposal, and by the deadline, one other proposal had been submitted—by a failing local charter school operator who proposed a school focused on arts and entertainment. After the deadline, a third proposal was submitted, focused on athletics, not academics. Note the subtle racism here—are Black children really only fit to entertain, whether through arts or sports? The city announced it would hold a hearing and make a decision on August 10th.

To the casual observer, these may all seem like similar proposals, but they are not. The community proposal is for an open enrollment, community-based school. Every student who lives in the attendance area is automatically eligible to attend. No one has to apply, pass a test, or be selected. If you live in Bronzeville, Dyett would be your high school. Neither of the other proposals do this. Both are selective enrollment schools. Students need to apply. They would NOT be community schools, open to any child from the neighborhood.

At the last minute, the city cancelled the August 10th hearing. This means Dyett would not open this Fall.

It was then that the Dyett 12 began their hunger strike. Their demand is simple: the community has worked for five years to produce a quality plan to save Dyett High School; the community held innumerable meetings and public forums. The proposal is academically rigorous, and focuses on science—one of the areas in which jobs are expected to be widely available for decades, as technology continues to develop at an unprecedented pace. There is no need for additional lengthy hearings. The community needs, and deserves, a community school.

The hunger strikers are now entering their third week without eating. Hunger strikes have serious consequences to people's health, and this protest was not undertaken lightly. For the first three days, the body largely survives off of stored glucose. After three days, the body begins to live off of stored fat. After three weeks, the body begins to "mine" nutrients from muscles and organs. At this point, the body can begin to break down bone marrow, and cell walls can begin to thin. Eventually, one of the vital organs stops working, or cell walls become so thin they implode, no longer able to carry oxygen and nutrients through the bloodstream. Either effect can be fatal. After four weeks, death becomes increasingly likely.

After his community budget hearing was constantly interrupted by protesters demanding he meet with the Dyett hunger strikers, the mayor spent a few minutes with them. However, according to reports, he committed to nothing, and claimed he needed more time.

Do we really have to wait until the first of the hunger strikers dies before the city will agree to provide Bronzeville with what most people take for granted: a neighborhood school?

News Fri, 04 Sep 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Landlords in LA Push for Tenants to Bear Costs of Earthquake Retrofits

(Image: Lauren Walker / Truthout)(Image: Lauren Walker / Truthout)

Nationwide, rent increases continue to outpace wage growth, with LA proving no exception to that rule as the most unaffordable rental market in the nation. LA Mayor Eric Garcetti's plan to earthquake retrofit thousands of vulnerable buildings will impose another heavy toll on the city's lowest-income renters if, as many have suggested, tenants shoulder the full cost of the retrofits.

(Image: Lauren Walker / Truthout)(Image: Lauren Walker / Truthout)

Martha Barrios has a gift: she can turn scraps of cloth into haute couture.

She sewed the dresses for all of the dolls that fringe the ceiling of her small one room apartment where she lives alone in the shadow of the 110 Freeway in Los Angeles. She worked as a seamstress when clothing manufacturers adorned the 110 corridor like sequins. When the clothing manufacturing industry unraveled in Los Angeles, Barrios turned to cleaning to pay her bills. She is now 60, and her work has slowed of late - her business has been squeezed by a slew of other younger cleaners willing to work for less. She only gets about two or three full days of work a week. Not one dollar of the money she earns is spent on anything other than basic necessities.

Barrios' rent just went up another $35 to $738 a month. She spends roughly $100 a month on her telephone bill - expensive long distance calls to her family in Guatemala means it's rarely less. She spends about $40 a week on groceries. That her local 99 Cents store now stocks fruit and vegetables and milk has proven a godsend. She buys her clothes at Goodwill. There's no room for luxuries: She considers the time her friend drove her up to Bakersfield for a baby shower as her last big extravagance. Her friend paid for the gas there and back.

Every time her rent increases, she has to go without a little more, and she's scared that she'll soon be forced out of her home of 10 years.

"If I were to get another big rent increase, I'd have to find somewhere else to go," she told me, via a Spanish-speaking translator. "I wouldn't want to but I'd have to leave here and find somebody to share with. I don't like to share but I'd have to do it."

However, Barrios' greatest fear is what could happen to untold numbers of struggling renters in LA as a result of the largest seismic retrofit program ever undertaken in California.

The Largest Retrofit Program in California

At the unveiling last December of a year-long comprehensive study into the potential impact a major earthquake could have on the city, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti revealed plans to mandate earthquake retrofits for thousands of vulnerable buildings in LA.

Under Garcetti's proposal, soft-story buildings - those with large open sections such as garages or parking spaces beneath the first floor that can pancake during an earthquake - will be retrofitted within five years after the law goes into effect. Building officials estimate that there are 13,000 of these types of buildings across the city. Owners of concrete buildings will be given 30 years to complete the retrofits. The cost to retrofit a soft-story building could be as high as $130,000. Some concrete buildings are likely to cost significantly more. And under current law, tenants could see an increase of up to $75 a month if they were to carry the full cost of the program.

The question garnering heat therefore is this: Who should bear the cost of the retrofits, tenants or property owners?

Negotiations are currently underway between the city and various tenant and landlord rights groups. But there has already been much posturing by officials as to who should be saddled with the costs. Last year, former council member Bernard Parks said tenants should shoulder 100 percent of any retrofit costs. Council member Gil Cedillo, head of the City Council's housing committee, has vowed to ensure that won't happen.

Garcetti, meanwhile, has suggested a number of incentives to help property owners - including greater access to low-interest loans and tax breaks - but has remained tight-lipped as to exactly what burden renters should carry. One of the proposed tax breaks, AB 428, which would establish a five-year, 30 percent tax credit for homeowners to offset some of the retrofit costs, is waiting to be read a third time and voted on in the state Senate.

But with LA proving the poster-child of a national trend in rising rents that far outpace wage increases, many tenant's rights organizations fear that even the smallest rent increase could prove a kidney punch for the city's lowest-income tenants at a time when the poorest are already being pushed further to the fringes of the city.

"The landlords are going to benefit in numerous ways," said Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival, who remains circumspect about the possibility of AB 428's successful passage through Sacramento. "Under the current proposal, they are not going to bear any of the financial burden. They will have safer buildings. They will be able to get tax breaks. Their property values will increase, and they'll assume or recover these costs quicker because they can raise the rents upon vacancy and make up the costs that way. Clearly it should not be the full responsibility of tenants to pay for this, because they cannot afford it. It's totally unjust."

Soaring Rents in Los Angeles

Last year, a UCLA study painted a stark picture of life for low-income renters in Los Angeles. The study found that LA has the highest median rent of any US city.

On average, renters in LA are paying 47 percent of their income towards housing - the national average is 30.2 percent. Predictably, those among the lowest 20 percent of the income distribution ladder get hit the hardest. Of the city's lowest earners, 46 percent devote half or more of their income to housing, and more than half pay 30 to 50 percent of their income on rent.

Other recent studies corroborate UCLA's findings. In March, a report by the Economic Policy Institute found that a household with just one parent and one child would need to bring in $60,600 a year to live comfortably in the city. While a study by USC found that in Los Angeles County - which has the region's highest average rent at $1,716 a month month - rents are projected to rise 8.2 percent by mid-2016, to $1,857 a month.

The LA Times' rent map is another useful tool to gauge affordability in the city. According to the map's calculations, not one area of Los Angeles is affordable for someone earning $31,200 a year - a wage of $15 an hour - who pays only the recommended third of their income toward housing costs.

These figures take on added weight when coupled with a recent spike in evictions, along with declining hourly wages for the bottom half of the workforce. Many tenant advocates worry that the most vulnerable are simply in no position to bear a rent increase under current laws, which could come in addition to a minimum raise of 3 percent a year as part of current rent control laws.

A cost recovery analysis of the Rehabilitation Work Program, for example, shows that a retrofit costing $3,400 per unit would leave tenants shouldering a $56.67 increase per month to be paid off over 60 months. A retrofit that costs $4,300 per unit translates into a $71.67 increase per month, again to be paid off over 60 months. The program is capped at a $75 a month increase, to be paid off over 67 months.

How much each retrofit will cost is something of a guessing game. Of the recent soft-story retrofits that have been completed voluntarily, the costs per unit have ranged between $1,429 and $7,987. According to Harold Greenberg, chair of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles, the actual costs are likely to hover around the upper end of those estimates.

"Once that law passes, it'll be an issue of supply and demand," he said. "The sky's the limit as to how much it'll cost because you won't have that many people qualified to do the work."

Current negotiations will lead to tenants shouldering between 30 percent and 40 percent of the overall costs, Greenberg predicted. And in order to ensure the work is done quickly and that the costs are kept to a minimum, he said there should be an incentive for banks to come in with low interest loans.

"Banks are the ones who are going to get hurt if you get a massive earthquake and the building collapses. If there's not much equity in the building, people are going to walk away from the building, and banks aren't in the business of owning property," he said.

Why shouldn't landlords be responsible for the full cost of the retrofits? Greenberg says that "mom and pop" homeowners are already squeezed by current rent control laws and rising insurance costs, and may well be unable to take on the full expense.

"You would see the smaller minority home owners pushed out of business only for the big syndicates and conglomerates to swoop in," he said.

"Means Testing" for Tenants Is Not a Solution

LA, isn't alone in its attempt to preempt the next big one - San Francisco is ahead of the curve when it comes to retrofitting vulnerable buildings. After nearly a decade of negotiations, the city finally gave the go-ahead in 2013 for a mandated retrofit of approximately 6,600 earthquake vulnerable buildings.

As in Los Angeles, San Francisco's rents are skyrocketing. The citywide median rent last year was more than twice the median rent in places like Seattle, New Jersey and Denver. Evictions have increased sharply in recent years. San Francisco saw the largest overall rent increase of any US city last year: nearly 15 percent.

The retrofits are projected to cost anywhere between $60,000 to $130,000 per building. Landlords are allowed to pass the full retrofit costs to tenants over a 20-year period, with officials giving homeowners the green light to waive rent control limits on rent increases.

Low-income tenants have been thrown a lifeline, however. Tenants eligible for a hardship waiver (those who receive some kind of public assistance, for example) are exempt from contributing toward the costs of the retrofits. But only about 4 percent of the mandated retrofits have been completed. And as such, it's too early to gauge if and how the retrofits have hit low-income tenants, said Tommi Avicolli Mecca from San Francisco's Housing Rights Committee.

"I suspect that we will see a problem as more and more buildings get retrofitted," said Avicolli Mecca. "Rents here are incredible. It's unbelievable how high they are."

According to Sandy Gartzman, senior administrative law judge at the Rent Board, 51 tenants who have been issued with a Capital Improvements rent increase have filed for hardship since the start of the year. It's not determined, however, how many of the 51 applications pertain to Capital Improvement petitions for earthquake retrofits.

"It's a lot, but given the number of Capital Improvements petitions that are filed and get decided in our office each year, it's not enormous," Gartzman said. "And most of them have been granted. Few tenants who file the application are not eligible."

Tenants advocates in Los Angeles have observed what's happening in San Francisco, and while the hardship waiver reads like a good idea on paper, said Thelmy Perez, LA Human Right to Housing Collective coordinator, in practicality it comes with drawbacks.

"We do agree that there should be a hardship exemption, but what we don't agree with is having means testing for tenants that could put some tenants at risk of a lot of other things," she said.

Means testing could have serious repercussions for those low-income renters scrabbling to eke out an existence month-to-month on hourly wages and with unstable jobs, she said. Privacy rights issues arise, as does the possibility that some tenants could face the risk of not qualifying for subsidized housing in the future.

"We have 70,000 eviction actions filed a year here in Los Angeles County," she said. "We have a lot of antagonism from landlords here as well. There's not a healthy relationship between low income tenants and their landlords, and if tenants are forced to give up their financial information or how they're making their money, some might end up proving to their landlord that they might not necessarily be able to afford their rent and that will put a lot of people in a worse situation."

A Lack of Affordable Housing Nationwide

Rising rents are squeezing those at the lowest rungs of the income ladder nationwide. Since 2000, rents have grown at roughly twice the pace of wages, with many other cities experiencing sharp annual rent increases like San Francisco's. Last year, rents in San Jose rose by 13.4 percent, and in Denver, rents rose by 10.2 percent.

With rising rents come myriad problems. Studies have shown that the nation's gross domestic product is being strangled by the rents being paid by workers in high-growth cities like San Francisco. Then there's the added burden placed on the nation's shrinking inventory of affordable housing.

Garcetti's "Resilience by Design" study singles out New Orleans as an exemplar of the imperative behind disaster preparedness, but the city is also experiencing a dearth of safe, livable affordable housing - due to a post-Katrina cull of over 5,000 affordable housing units - being fought over by a swelling number of low-income tenants. What is more, these tenants are frequently being saddled with the costs of building maintenance and upkeep.

More than 35 percent of the city's residents spend 50 percent or more of their salaries on rent. Overall, rents have increased by nearly 10 percent over the past six months alone. The cost of repairs to crumbling housing stock that was never properly fixed after Katrina is coming out of renters' pockets, said Monika Gerhart-Hambrick, policy director for the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center.

"We don't have code enforcement for rental properties, and renters have basically three options. They either fix the units themselves, or they can put up with it or they can move out," she said. "There's really no process by which a landlord would ever have to fix a rental."

Then there's the encroaching effect from rising rents upon the middle class in cities where even Pulitzer Prize winning journalists cannot afford to live. Social worker Martina Steiner, 34 - who lives in Silverlake, in LA, in an apartment that she shares with a roommate - is one of the many middle-class individuals who are struggling with this trend.

Since Steiner moved into her two-bedroom apartment in 2011, her rent has increased by $159, from $1,275 in 2011 to $1,434 this July. Yet for a long time, she considered herself one of the "lucky ones."

During this period, she went to graduate school to get her master's degree in social work, and found a job at a nonprofit organization that paid enough to cover the additional rent costs. Even so, her monthly expenses spread what remains of her income after rent thinly. And what with a 10-year-old old Honda Civic that may soon need to be replaced and student loans that will increase by another $100 to $400 next year, Steiner is unsure how she will cover any kind of rent increase should the soft-story building she lives in fall under the mayor's mandated retrofits - especially now that her roommate, who recently lost her job, has to move out soon.

"She doesn't have the savings to pay rent next month," she said. "I'll be paying the full rent until I find someone else. I added up the costs for the next month and I'll be back to putting about half of my monthly income on rent and utilities and cutting costs where I can. The savings I accrued over the last few months while having a roommate have been eaten up instantly."

Steiner said that she would be hard pressed to cover a $75 rent increase if it were enacted this month. And she's concerned that rising rental costs will make it harder for her to find a roommate.

"I took another look online to consider moving, and it's not an easy fix because rents are high everywhere and the cost of moving is also very high" she said. "I really think before taking that sort of money away from renters, there would have to be a really high bar to show that it's actually an economic burden on landlords."

News Fri, 04 Sep 2015 10:16:34 -0400
Economic Update: When Profits Come First

This episode provides updates on extreme poverty, workers' victory over tech giants and Oakland's worker co-ops. We also respond to questions regarding the injustice of state and local taxes. Finally, we give an in-depth critical analysis of last week's stock market gyrations and the resurgence of socialism.

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

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News Fri, 04 Sep 2015 09:30:58 -0400
In Photos: New Orleans Remembers and Resists

New Orleans observed the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina with a cacophony of sights, sounds and emotions that blurred the lines between art and politics, truth and contradiction, and life and death. Activists on the ground organized around a theme of resistance.

(Photo: Laura Borealis)

All photos: Laura Borealis

New Orleans observed the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina with a cacophony of sights, sounds and emotions that blurred the lines between art and politics, truth and contradiction, and life and death. While elected officials and the mainstream media focused heavily on the city's "resilience," activists on the ground were organizing around a different theme: resistance. In the lead up to the anniversary, racial justice groups held a summit and launched a website,, to remind the powers that be in Louisiana - and the rest of the country - that the city's recovery efforts have mostly benefited white residents and prioritized private profit over people. Then came the second line parades. This is what resistance looks like in New Orleans.

(Photo: Laura Borealis)

A girl prepares to perform with Black feminist artists in front of the levee wall in the Lower Ninth Ward during the memorial second line on August 29. The second line began where the levee wall failed during Katrina, releasing a torrent of water that left the historically Black neighborhood in ruins.

(Photo: Laura Borealis)

Performers with ECOHYBRIDITY, a collaboration of Black feminist artists who held a roaming "visual black opera" on the Katrina anniversary, perform at the levee wall during the second line. Many people who lived in the Lower Ninth War before Katrina have still not returned to their homes.

(Photo: Laura Borealis)

(Photo: Laura Borealis)

ECOHYBRIDITY constructed a mock house as a float that reads, "Housing is a human right." Before Katrina, there were 12,270 public housing units available in New Orleans, and now there are only 2,006. More than 90 percent of the nearly 15,000 families currently on waiting lists for either public housing or Section 8 assistance are Black families, according to

(Photo: Laura Borealis)

(Photo: Laura Borealis)

Youth march in the second line parade. At least 50 percent of Black children in New Orleans live in poverty, more than before Katrina.

(Photo: Laura Borealis)

The Warriors, a youth dance crew and color guard, march in the second line parade. Many New Orleans schools were privatized after Katrina, and now 92 percent of students attend private charter schools. Advocates say harsh discipline polices at charter schools deny students equal access to education, and 15 charter schools in New Orleans have higher suspension rates the rest of the nation. In 2013, there were 46,625 out-of-school suspensions, more than the total number of students in the local school system.

(Photo: Laura Borealis)

(Photo: Laura Borealis)

(Photo: Laura Borealis)

The Katrina memorial second line was more political than most second lines, as activists from New Orleans and across the country joined the parade.

(Photo: Laura Borealis)

(Photo: Laura Borealis)

(Photo: Laura Borealis)

Alicia Garza, a founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, speaks at a racial justice summit held in New Orleans shortly before the Katrina anniversary.

(Photo: Laura Borealis)

ECOHYBRIDITY performers march into position as prison resistance video is projected across the walls of the Orleans Parish Prison, the jail in New Orleans that became infamous for human rights abuses after Katrina. Jail officials have been tussling with the local government and the Justice Department over reforms ever since. There are five times as many Black inmates than white inmates in Louisiana prisons. The state's white population is double that of the Black population. "I hope they can hear us," an organizer said before raising a fist toward the jail.

News Thu, 03 Sep 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Syrian Colonel Faces Charges in Maher Arar Torture Case

In a move to hold government officials accountable for torture, Canada has charged Syrian Colonel George Salloum with allegedly torturing Canadian engineer Maher Arar. In 2002, Arar was kidnapped by US authorities during a layover at JFK Airport and then sent to his native Syria, where he was tortured and interrogated in a tiny underground cell. He was held for nearly a year. This is the first-ever criminal charge of torture brought by Canada against a foreign government official for acts committed abroad. Canada's decision to pursue torture charges in Arar's case may open the door to further such prosecutions, including of US government officials. In 2007, Arar received a $10 million settlement from the Canadian government. The United States has yet to apologize to him. We speak with Maher Arar's wife, Monia Mazigh, and Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada.


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

NERMEEN SHAIKH: In a move to hold government officials accountable for torture, Canada has charged Syrian Colonel George Salloum with allegedly torturing Canadian engineer Maher Arar. In 2002, Arar was kidnapped by US authorities during a layover at JFK Airport and then sent to his native Syria, where he was tortured and interrogated in a tiny underground cell. He was held for nearly a year. This is the first-ever criminal charge of torture brought by Canada against a foreign government official for acts committed abroad. After the news was announced, Maher Arar's wife, Monia Mazigh, read a statement from Maher, who has not spoken to the press in two years.

MONIA MAZIGH: This is by no means the end of the road. It is my hope that George Salloum will be found alive, arrested and extradited to Canada to face Canadian justice. The laying of this charge comes at a critical point in our history. Canada has lost much of its credibility within the last decade when it comes to supporting important human right causes. It is my hope that Canada gives high priority to eradicating torture and bringing who's committed it to justice. Enhancing national security and protecting human rights can go hand in hand. Lastly, I would like to quote former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who said, "Let us be clear: Torture can never be an instrument to fight terror, for torture is an instrument of terror." Merci. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Monia Mazigh, speaking on behalf of her husband, Maher Arar. And we'll be speaking with her in Ottawa in a minute. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police will now attempt to locate and extradite Maher's alleged torturer, Colonel George Salloum. A Canada-wide warrant and Interpol notice have reportedly been issued for his arrest. Canada's decision to pursue torture charges in Maher's case may open the door to further such prosecutions, including of US government officials.

In 2010, Maher Arar appeared on Democracy Now! and described what happened to him.

MAHER ARAR: It's a long story, but I was basically stopped at JFK Airport, and I was told it was routine procedure. Eventually, a team of FBI and New York police showed up, and they started asking me questions, and they had always told me I was not a suspect. The questioning lasted for many, many hours on end, and eventually I was arrested. I was not told why. And I spent that night at the airport. I could not sleep. Next day they asked me to volunteer to go to Syria, and then I refused. I was taken to MDC [Metropolitan Detention Center], where I spent about 10 days, and they eventually secretly took me in the middle of the night and shipped me off to Syria like a parcel.

AMY GOODMAN: And what happened there?

MAHER ARAR: Through Jordan. Well, obviously, it was an expedited process. They didn't allow me to talk to a judge, even though I insisted. They lied to my lawyer, whom my family hired. And they bypassed all the regular procedures. They basically did not care when I protested my - the fact that I may be tortured when I'm in Syria.

AMY GOODMAN: And tell us what happened to you - tell us what happened to you in Syria.

MAHER ARAR: Well, of course, they dumped me in Jordan, a country I have no connection to whatsoever. And it's a known fact now that the Jordanians are cooperating fully with the war on terror. And hours later, they handed me over to the Syrians. And the interrogations started that same day. There was no physical violence the same day - threats and all kinds of verbal threats with electricity and the chair. They call it the German chair. But the beating started the following day, where they started beating me, with no advance warning whatsoever, with a cable, electrical cable. And the most intense beating was on the third day, where for some strange reason they wanted me to say that I've been to Afghanistan. At the end of the day, I lost all my strength, and I told them what they wanted to hear. So the beating did not stop, but it became much, much less intense. But I can tell in the eyes of the investigators, the Syrian investigators - I don't even know if I can call them that; they're torturers - that they were looking for something, that they wanted to please the Americans. But I can tell you, after two weeks of torture and harsh interrogation and humiliation, I can tell in their eyes that there was nothing there for them.

AMY GOODMAN: Maher Arar speaking to Democracy Now! in 2010. Well, in 2007, Maher Arar received a $10 million settlement from the Canadian government. The United States has yet to apologize for taking him from Kennedy Airport and rendering him to Syria, where he was tortured for close to a year.

For more, we go now to Ottawa, Canada, where we're joined by two guests. Monia Mazigh is the wife of Maher Arar, the national coordinator, as well, of the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group. And Alex Neve joins us, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Monia, can you explain exactly how you found out who Maher's torturer was?

MONIA MAZIGH: I found out the first time through Maher's - when he came back, during our discussion - and we had many, many of them - you know, about how he was treated, how he was tortured, how he was kept there. And the name of George Salloum came as basically almost one of the very few, because he doesn't know who were his - like, all of the name of the torturers. But George Salloum came out as one precise one.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And what was Maher's reaction, Monia, when he heard that his alleged torturer, this George Salloum, was being charged?

MONIA MAZIGH: Well, I think his first reaction was - I mean, he knew that there was an investigation that started in 2005, after one of his lawyers advised him to ask for - you know, to have a complaint about that person in particular, or, you know, at least someone who tortured him in Syria. But that investigation was taking so much time, and Maher was not sure whether this is going to finalize with a concrete action, so he was very much surprised, almost believing that this cannot happen. But eventually it did.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Alex Neve, could you talk about the significance of Maher Arar's alleged torturer being charged?

ALEX NEVE: Certainly. Well, I and many people, Maher and Monia, as well, have been using words like "historic" and "groundbreaking" and "unprecedented." And it truly is, on a number of fronts. I mean, first and foremost, it's just hugely significant because of what it means for Maher and Monia and their family in terms of personal justice. But this is an astounding breakthrough in the bigger struggle to end torture. We know that torture continues, in the context of national security, certainly, and otherwise, because of impunity, because torturers get away with it. Well, finally, for the first time ever in Canadian history, Canadian legal provisions - which have existed since 1985, so these have been part of Canadian law for 30 years - have for the first time now been used to charge someone for torture that happened outside of Canada, the first time ever that a foreign government official has been charged for torture under Canadian law. And that's an incredible advance in that effort to ensure that people don't escape justice. And it also conveys that very strong message that torture has no role to play in cases where national security supposedly is the motive, that no matter what, torture is a crime. National security doesn't excuse it or justify it. Torture is a crime, and those who carry it out should face justice.

AMY GOODMAN: So, at this point, you don't know where Colonel George Salloum is, is that right? And the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are trying to help you find him. Now, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police also were deeply implicated in Maher Arar's being taken, to begin with, is that right? So talk about those two issues, how you begin to find Colonel Salloum.

ALEX NEVE: Well, maybe I'll do the first, and Monia may want to pick up on the second. Certainly, in terms of trying to find Colonel Salloum now, obviously, it's a challenge. It's a challenge anytime a police force is trying to find a foreign suspect. It's doubly challenging when we're dealing with a country like Syria, which of course has been ripped apart by devastating civil war for over four years now. Who knows if he's still alive? Who knows if he's in Syria, has left Syria? But the RCMP is determined to try to find him, and they have turned to Interpol. Something that's known as a blue notice has been issued, which means that police forces around the world now are being asked to stay on the lookout for a Colonel George Salloum. And if they find him - and that could be when he crosses a border, when he arrives at an airport, when he gets pulled over somewhere for a traffic stop - if he comes to anyone's attention, the RCMP will learn about it right away, and they'll take action. How likely is it that that will actually mean that someday he'll be in a Canadian courthouse? We can't assign any kind of statistical probability to that, but stranger things have happened. And the RCMP will do everything they can to try to make it happen.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Monia, if you could respond to this issue of the RCMP, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, being so deeply implicated in your husband's detention and rendition to Syria, and yet they're the ones who are looking for now his torturer? Can you explain the background here?

MONIA MAZIGH: Well, I think, yes, you're right. Justice O'Connor, the judge who conducted the public inquiry into the action of the Canadian government after what happened to my husband, pointed out to the implication of the RCMP and several other agencies, Canadian agencies, sending erroneous information to the United States about my husband. But I think this investigation came because - it started more, I think, as a legal step, as a legal kind of normal thing to do. And at that time, there was a big break into the confidence and relationship between my husband and the RCMP, so - but my husband decided to go with that investigation, to cooperate, to give them whatever information can be helpful. We were not sure whether this is going to take us anywhere. And the fact that it took 10 years tell you, can tell whoever is hearing or listening about this case, is that it's not an easy one. It is complex investigation, but also there are things happening that we are not aware of, and maybe that made the work of the RCMP more difficult and lengthy.

I don't think - you know, we cannot today - looking more than 10 years after what happened to my husband, we cannot say, while, you know, the RCMP is the culprit, we are not going to talk to them. I think lives move on. And what is important to remember is that, yes, they did something wrong, and now there is this investigation, which is something very positive. What we really need here is more accountability, in general. I think Canada lacks that accountability when it comes to its national security agencies. We are almost - it's nonexistent. And if that case or if this new announcement tell us something, it's we cannot really rely on one particular complaint or one investigation to get justice. We really need to change the system, put more accountability, more oversight, to be able to say that will not happen again to Maher Arar, but also to any other Canadian here in Canada who has been going through this hell.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Alex Neve, you suggested earlier that this was a historic case, the charging of George Salloum. But some have said that it's largely a symbolic act, given the fact, as you also said, that he's Syrian, he's maybe in Syria, which is - at the best of times, as you pointed out, it's very hard to find foreign suspects, trace them, on top of which Syria is engulfed in a civil war. Do you think there's any likelihood that some of the people who were involved in Maher Arar's rendition and torture closer to home, in Canada or here in the United States, are likely to face any consequences?

ALEX NEVE: Well, I think that's one of the big questions that people have been talking about since the charges were announced, that this is - that this is tremendously important, and obviously, as Monia began in talking about how central George Salloum was to the torture and horrific abuses Maher experienced, it's absolutely vital that he's going to face some accountability, but there's so much more. There's obviously others in Syria, including at higher levels above Colonel Salloum. There's certainly US officials. After all, they're the ones who handed him over to Colonel Salloum and his fellow criminals to carry out the torture that was conducted.

And even though we've had the accountability that came through the public inquiry into Maher Arar's case here in Canada, there's never been any personal accountability, whether that's criminal - who knows whether there's criminal accountability? - but even disciplinary accountability for RCMP and other officials who played a role in getting everything rolling in the first place. It was bad information. It was inflammatory accusations that began in Canada, that were passed on to the Americans, that then ended up making it possible, at the end of the day, for Colonel Salloum to torture Maher Arar.

So this can't be the end. Certainly, we and others will be pressing the RCMP to continue, that what we need to view this is as a door that was long shut. A door that is a doorway to justice and accountability has finally been opened. And we now need to not just stand at that doorway and look in; we need to walk through the doorway and ensure that this becomes a much more wide-ranging exercise.

AMY GOODMAN: Monia, the Canadian government awarded your family $10 million in a settlement. Has the US government ever apologized for originally taking Maher at the airport, at JFK? And is he - does he remain on a terrorist watch list in the United States? Could he - could you all fly back into the United States?

MONIA MAZIGH: No. No, actually. Both questions, no. The United States never apologized. I think what was closer, the closest thing that we heard, I remember that was Condoleezza Rice at some point, she said something like that file would have been handled somehow different or something. That was the closest thing to apology, if we can call that, or to admission of wrongdoing. My husband tried the legal routes in the United States, and then, unfortunately, I think in 2008, if I'm not mistaken, his case was dismissed by the Supreme Court in the United States. And they pointed out to the political level, so I think - which is, I agree. I mean, the decision is political. The war on terror is political. And unfortunately, the court did not and could not have the courage, and, I think, enough courage to go ahead and admit that the system of rendition is wrong and illegal.

When it comes to - I think you asked whether he is on a terrorist watch list or - I don't know for sure if his name still exists there. And the reason is that he doesn't travel to the United States. Immediately after he came back, I mean, he knew that he was banned to go to the United States, and that banning was renewed again, I think, after five years. So, I don't want to - I don't want him to try, because I don't think this is really worth doing. It's about his health. It's about his life. And it is unfortunate now that, you know, he cannot travel, period. Not because he knows or he has confirmed information, it's just because of the fear that one day this can be repeated all over him. So, it's not a joke or, you know, just a speculation or something to take very simplistic. It's a trauma, the whole trauma that is attached to my husband. No matter what are the compensation, no matter what, you know, the apology, his name has been out there associated with terrorism. And with today's all what's going on in the world about terrorism, national security, scrutiny of passengers, everything, it's simply impossible to go back and travel.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet he has been completely cleared by the Canadian government.

MONIA MAZIGH: Absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to have to leave it there. I thank you so much, both of you, for being with us from Ottawa, Monia Mazigh, the wife of Maher Arar, and Alex Neve, the head of Amnesty International Canada.

News Thu, 03 Sep 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Protests Grow over Clerk's Denial of Same-Sex Marriages

In Kentucky, the county clerk who has defied the Supreme Court and refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples is set to appear before a federal judge today to make her case for why she shouldn't be held in contempt of court. Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis stopped issuing all marriage licenses rather than comply with the Supreme Court ruling in June that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. On Monday, the Supreme Court denied Davis' appeal that the court grant her "asylum for her conscience." The next day, same-sex couples went to Davis' office. In a video that went viral, David Moore confronted Davis about her decision not to issue same-sex marriage licenses. We speak with Moore about how he and his partner, David Ermold, have been denied a marriage license on three occasions by Kim Davis and staffers in her office. We're also joined by Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, Kentucky's statewide LGBT advocacy group, and Joe Dunman, an attorney who represented the plaintiffs and petitioners in several Kentucky marriage cases which were consolidated into the Supreme Court case that effectively made marriage equality the law of the land.


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

NERMEEN SHAIKH: In Kentucky, the county clerk who has defied the Supreme Court and refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples is set to appear before a federal judge in just a few hours to make her case for why she shouldn't be held in contempt of court. Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis stopped issuing all marriage licenses rather than comply with the Supreme Court ruling in June that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. On Monday, the Supreme Court denied Davis's appeal that the court grant her asylum for her conscience. The next day, same-sex couples confronted Davis at her office. David Moore asked her why she wasn't issuing licenses.

DAVID MOORE: The injunction is the order that you're supposed to issue marriage licenses.

KIM DAVIS: And we're not issuing marriage licenses today.

DAVID MOORE: The Supreme Court denied your stay.

KIM DAVIS: We are not issuing marriage licenses today. So I would -

DAVID MOORE: Based on what?

KIM DAVIS: I would ask you all to go ahead and leave.

DAVID MOORE: Why are you not issuing marriage licenses today?

KIM DAVIS: Because I'm not.

DAVID ERMOLD: Under whose authority are you not issuing licenses?

DAVID MOORE: Why? Whose authority?

KIM DAVIS: Under God's authority.

DAVID ERMOLD: I don't believe in your god.

DAVID MOORE: Did God tell you to do this? Did God tell you treat us like this?

DAVID ERMOLD: I don't believe in your god. I don't believe in your god.

KIM DAVIS: I've asked you all the leave. You are interrupting my business.

DAVID MOORE: You can call the police if you want us to leave.

UNIDENTIFIED: It's not your business; it's the public's.

DAVID MOORE: You can call the police. I pay your salary.

KIM DAVIS: That's exactly right. The public can't get in here.

DAVID MOORE: I pay your salary! I pay you to discriminate against me right now. That's what I'm paying for. That's what I'm paying for. I'm paying for this memory with my partner that I love that I've been with for 17 years. What's the longest you've been with someone, that you've been married to someone?

KIM DAVIS: I'm asking you to leave.

DAVID MOORE: I'm not leaving.

DAVID ERMOLD: We're not leaving until we have a license.

KIM DAVIS: Then you're going to have a long day. Good day.

DAVID MOORE: Well, then, call the police. When they come, I'll ask them to arrest you.

UNIDENTIFIED: Do your job!

DAVID MOORE: Call the police! Call the police! I will have - I will ask them to arrest you.

UNIDENTIFIED: Do your job!


DAVID MOORE: You should be ashamed of yourself! Everyone in this office should be ashamed of themselves. Is this what you want to remember? Is this what you want to remember, that you stood up for this? That your children have to look at you and realize that you're bigots and you discriminated against people? Is that what you want? Is that what you want?

DEPUTY CLERK: I answer to God, and God's word is my calling.

DAVID ERMOLD: God does not belong in the County Clerk's Office.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That's David Moore arguing with Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis. In a filing Wednesday, attorneys for Kim Davis argued a court order requiring her to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, quote, "irreparably and irreversibly violates her conscience." Meanwhile, the Republican president of the Kentucky state Senate has come to Kim Davis's defense, asking a federal judge to withhold his order for her to issue same-sex marriage licenses so that the state Legislature can pass a law exempting her from having to do so.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, national attention is focused on Kim Davis's own marital history. She has been married four times, including twice to her current husband. She says she had a religious awakening about four years ago when her mother-in-law asked, as a dying wish, for Davis to go to church. In a statement, Davis said, quote, "There I heard a message of grace and forgiveness and surrendered my life to Jesus Christ. ... I love my Lord and must be obedient to Him and to the Word of God," she wrote.

Well, to talk more about Kim Davis, we're joined by three guests. David Moore is a graphic designer from Morehead, Kentucky. He and his partner, David Ermold, were denied a marriage license on three occasions by Kim Davis and staffers in her office. His voice is the one you just heard on that video we just played arguing with Kim Davis. That video has gone viral - more than 1.8 million hits. Chris Hartman is also with us. He's the director of the Fairness Campaign, Kentucky's statewide LGBT advocacy group, based in Louisville. They're both joining us from Lexington, Kentucky. But we are also going to Louisville to speak with attorney Joe Dunman, who represented the plaintiffs and petitioners in several in Kentucky marriage cases which were consolidated into the Supreme Court case that effectively made marriage equality the law of the land.

David, let's begin with you in Lexington. Describe that interaction that you had with the county clerk, Kim Davis. Where were you? What were you asking for? And what did she say to you?

DAVID MOORE: I was in the County Clerk's Office in Morehead. We went in. Press was everywhere. We actually saw the couple that went in before us, who are a part of the ACLU case. They came out. We saw that they were denied. At first we thought they got it, but then they turned around and said that they were denied. We walked up to the counter. We stood there for maybe three or four minutes talking to the deputy clerk. She said that Kim Davis was in her office. We could see her blinds were drawn, and she wasn't speaking to anyone. And we pretty much demanded that she come out and face the people. She said she was willing to face the day, so I think it was only fair that she come out and face the people that she was denying a license to. When she came out, I - we both felt infuriated that they were still denying our rights to get a marriage license in the county that we live in, in the home, you know, that we live in. I was infuriated. I just could not control myself. I refuse to accept that. I just refuse.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, David Moore, you've suggested that Kim Davis has a lot of support for the position that she's taking. Could you elaborate on that? Support from whom?

DAVID MOORE: Well, that day, there were protesters and supporters for both sides outside the courthouse. She had support from, I guess, local church groups. And a lot of people that come outside, from outside the community, you know, they came to support her. And the thing is, if she would issue marriage licenses today to everyone, those people who are coming out to say, "We stand with Kim Davis," they would not be protesting. They would not be protesting people just going and getting their license. She is basically sending like a rallying signal that she's a victim. And she's not a victim. So, really, it's just this false signal - "Oh, come and help me" - so all these people show up. But really, she doesn't need any help, because her rights haven't been changed or taken away in any way whatsoever.

AMY GOODMAN: David, I want to go to another video of you at the Rowan County Courthouse. This is the second time that you and your partner, David Ermold, attempted to get a marriage license. After staffers in Kim Davis's offices refused to issue you a license - they said she was not there that day - the two of you go down the hall to the office of the Rowan County judge/executive, Dr. Walter "Doc" Blevins. He was not yet in the office, but his aide calls him and lets you speak with him by phone.

DAVID MOORE: Nope, won't do it. So...

DAVID ERMOLD: What was his reason?

DAVID MOORE: He doesn't have the paperwork, no paperwork, doesn't have the software. He wants the judges to figure out, wants it to go through the court system.

DAVID ERMOLD: It is through the court system.

DAVID MOORE: He said he cannot force anyone in her office to do it. They can't force her to do it. He said there's one person in her office that's willing to do it, but they can't do it without her authorization. So, there's - no, there's nothing.


DAVID MOORE: So, [inaudible].

DAVID ERMOLD: Basically, if you want a statement from me, I will say that people are cruel. They are cruel. People are cruel. And this is wrong. And that's how it is. That is how it is. And that's the bottom line. She's wrong, and these people are cruel to do this to us.

AMY GOODMAN: That's David Ermold and David Moore. I want to go to Joe Dunman, who's in Louisville, Kentucky. You're an attorney who has worked on this case. You have spearheaded the case that really led to the Supreme Court decision for marriage equality in the United States. What is the law here?

JOE DUNMAN: Well, the law - there's two different kinds of the law. The first is the federal Constitution, which, the Supreme Court has said, requires states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. And then there's the state law, which requires clerks to issue the licenses. And that's what Kim Davis is violating. She is saying that she has a religious objection to following a Kentucky statute, which is neutral and very simple and just says clerks must issue licenses. She doesn't really have a legal argument, because the courts have never observed that public officials have religious - can have a religious exception to just doing their jobs. And so, we're making a very simple argument here that just says that public officials must do their jobs. If there's a conflict with their beliefs, then they need to resign or, you know, lobby the General Assembly to change the law in the meantime. But they still have to follow the statute and issue the licenses.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Joe Dunman, there's a hearing on the case today. On what grounds, if at all, would it be possible for the judge to rule in Kim Davis's favor?

JOE DUNMAN: I don't know. I don't think there are any grounds. I mean, we made a simple motion. You know, we have an injunction in place that requires her to issue licenses. She's violating that by not doing so. We've simply asked that the court impose a financial penalty, which will incentivize her to do her job. And, you know, we don't think there's any grounds for them to argue otherwise. Of course, her attorneys disagree.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And she could keep appealing every court order, is that right?

JOE DUNMAN: Yeah, each order that's considered final, she can appeal. So far, she has shown quite an interest in doing so. It's important to note that we're at the very beginning of the litigation here. We just have a preliminary injunction in place. We haven't done any kind of discovery. We haven't looked at any documents. We haven't done really much of anything other than file some briefs. And so, we're still in the early stages. And even though the injunction is in place, it's being appealed to the Sixth Circuit, so we still have to take an argument there while the rest of the case sits in the district court. So, yeah, it's kind of a unique procedural place we're in.

AMY GOODMAN: So, two questions: One, the significance of Kim Davis being an elected official; and two, when she says that she is having her rights violated, she's trying to follow her conscience?

JOE DUNMAN: Yeah, well, public officials, it's an important distinction, because, you know, they don't operate as individuals. The government is not compelling them to do something as private citizens. It's asking them to do something as their employer. And the case law is very clear that, you know, the government, as an employer, can tell its employees what to do, to a certain extent. And all the case law about the First Amendment and how it operates for public officials is very clear. You know, they have to do their jobs. If they don't, they have the option to resign. It's not mandatory that they hold that office, it's voluntary. And because it's voluntary, they can always choose to do something else. And I'm sorry, your second question?

AMY GOODMAN: Talking about her saying that her rights are being violated, that this is against her religion.

JOE DUNMAN: Right. You know, she has done - she made a big effort in this case to portray herself as the victim here, but the victims are our clients. They're the ones who have been denied marriage licenses to which they're entitled. She is trying to say that she is the one being victimized. She has actually sued the governor as a third-party defendant, claiming that his letter to all the clerks earlier in the year asking them to issue licenses somehow infringes her rights, except that that letter doesn't compel her to do anything. And she's ignoring it anyway. And so, she's complicated this procedurally in a way to make herself seem like a victim, when really it's our clients who are the ones who are entitled to marriage licenses and can't get them in their home, where they deserve them.

AMY GOODMAN: She could as easily say, "It is against my religion to serve any black person."

JOE DUNMAN: Well, I mean, that's the logical extension of her argument. I mean, if we give her a religious exemption, then we give all public officials that kind of exemption, and then there's no rules. And then the 14th Amendment stops meaning anything. Equal protection stops meaning anything. You just have to hope that when you walk into the clerk's office every day, you know, when you need a document, that the clerk shares all your beliefs; otherwise, they can turn you away.

AMY GOODMAN: How many of these cases are being brought around the country? I mean, you are the lawyer who spearheaded the case that went to the Supreme Court that legalized marriage equality in this country. How much are we seeing this in - not only in Kentucky, but in other states?

JOE DUNMAN: Well, I had a lot of help in that effort for marriage equality, I wasn't alone. But as far as the clerk fight, it's a little different. I know in Alabama they do it through probate judges, and they've - I believe it's 11 probate judges in Alabama are still saying that they won't issue any marriage licenses, despite court orders to the contrary. And I want to say there's a fight going on in Texas, but I'm not really clear on it. Our case - in Kentucky, there's at least three clerks who are refusing to issue any marriage licenses, and Kim Davis is just one of them. But, you know, we have 120 counties, and three of them are protesting, so percentage-wise we're doing pretty good. For the most part, the country is complying with the Supreme Court's order, as we should expect.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I'd like to ask Chris Hartman of the Fairness Campaign how representative Kim Davis is of other counties in Kentucky. You have been lobbying for fairness laws for a long time across the state. Could you say a little about that?

CHRIS HARTMAN: Right. Kentucky really is a state of fairness, not of Kim Davis. She's not representative of the population. More than a quarter of Kentucky residents now live in a city or a county that has anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, including the city of Morehead, where Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis works. Morehead actually was the only city in Kentucky to unanimously approve LGBT discrimination protections. Now there are seven other cities and counties in our state that extend those protections, and those numbers keep on increasing every year. Kim Davis is making a last gasp right now with her lawyers from the Liberty Counsel, who are imported into Kentucky. These are late Reverend Jerry Falwell's lawyers. They're not even Kentucky lawyers bringing the case before the courts right now.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Chris Hartman, another organization that's been active in lobbying for LGBT rights is Freedom to Marry, and its national campaign director said that the Kim Davis incident is, quote, "a very small temporary blip that will take care of itself." Do you agree with that assessment?

CHRIS HARTMAN: I do agree with that assessment, that I think even by the end of today or tomorrow marriage licenses are going to start coming out of Rowan County; that sooner, rather than later, folks will be able to get married in every county in which they live across the United States. This is a temporary roadblock. It is a small, but very vocal, population that are simply fighting back and attempting to make as much noise as they can, because they know that the vast majority of Americans and Kentuckians support LGBT rights.

AMY GOODMAN: The other three clerks in Kentucky who are saying no, like Kim Davis, Chris?

CHRIS HARTMAN: Casey Davis, Kay Schwartz, right. Whitley County, Casey County.

AMY GOODMAN: Will their case take the exact same legal route?

CHRIS HARTMAN: Certainly, if there are cases brought against them. I think that they're probably waiting to see what happens in Kim Davis's case. And I think the message will be clear and resounding. I don't believe Judge Bunning is going to tolerate any more delay of couples like David and his longtime partner getting the marriage licenses that they deserve, that the Supreme Court has twice affirmed is their constitutional right to obtain. Kim Davis and these other two county clerks cannot stand in the way much longer.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, David Moore, as we watched you attempt to get a marriage license again and again, tell us why you want to get married, why this is important to you, and what you plan to do now.

DAVID MOORE: Well, we've been together for 17 years, my partner and I, and we kind of already feel like we are married. We went through all the commitment and all the ups and downs that you have in a marriage. This is just kind of a final legal, you know, symbol of our love for each other and our commitment, that everybody else is able to share in, and we should be able to share in that, too. I think we've demonstrated, just by being together for this long, you know, that we deserve that same right. Anyone deserves that right.

What we plan to do is, hopefully, we'll be able to get a license very soon in Rowan County. It's our home, it's where we live and work. And that's what I want to see happen. So I'm looking forward to that and getting that license, going on a trip, a honeymoon, and relaxing and not having to think about the media and Kim Davis for a while.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you all for being with us, David Moore and Chris Hartman, speaking to us from Lexington. Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign. And from Louisville, attorney Joe Dunman.

When we come back from break, will a torturer be brought to justice? That's the question that a Canadian citizen, Maher Arar, is asking, because it was Maher Arar who was tortured, sent by the United States to Syria in 2002, where he was held for almost a year. We'll speak with his wife in Ottawa. Stay with us.

News Thu, 03 Sep 2015 00:00:00 -0400