Truthout Stories Wed, 26 Oct 2016 21:01:01 -0400 en-gb Our Own Mandelas: Former Black Panthers Call for Release of Their Comrades

Some members of the Black Panther Party have been behind bars for more than four decades and are now suffering from poor health. In some cases, court documents show they were punished essentially for being in the black liberation struggle. Many continue to face parole board denials based on their relationship with the party. We discuss their cases with Sekou Odinga, a former Black Panther who was a political prisoner for 33 years and was released in November 2014.


AMY GOODMAN: Sekou Odinga, while you're out of jail, you're very much focused on those who are still in prison. Can you talk about some of those cases?

SEKOU ODINGA: Yeah. We have a number of brothers left in the prisons, about 15 of them. And for the most part, they're in bad condition. Most of us are getting older, you know. I believe all of them is 60 years or older. They've been in prison for long periods of time. Many of them should have never been in prison at all. They were framed and illegally convicted. So, I've been trying to, as well as many of the other brothers—I know all three of the other brothers that's on this program with us have been advocating for the release of these other political prisoners, prisoners like Mumia Abu-Jamal, Sundiata Acoli, Mutulu Shakur, Robert Seth Hayes, Kamau Sadiki, Veronza Bowers. It's another—like I say, it's 15 from the party itself, and there's many other political prisoners in this country.

You know, this country maintains that there is no political prisoners, that everybody is criminals, but it's just not true. You know, the same—the same things that we hurray and support in other places, like people like Nelson Mandela, our prisoners were doing the same thing, and they were captured and convicted of the same things. And we should remember them and treat them like the heroes they are. They earned that respect. Most of them, like I said, are getting older. A lot of them are sick.

You know, a lot of them are being held even after the courts have ordered them released, people like Veronza Bowers, who was—did all of his time and then was—after he was on his way out, they locked him back up, with no charges, and he's been locked up now for over 11 years, 11 or 12 years now, after he did all of his time. Sundiata Acoli was—won in—won a court case where the judge ordered him released, and they refuse to release him. And they keep going back with appeals so they can keep him in jail. Now he's almost 80 years old. You know, it's—

AMY GOODMAN: In Sundiata Acoli's case, the judge ordered the parole board to "expeditiously set conditions" for his release. He said then of his June 2016 New Jersey Parole Board hearing, they asked me "almost nothing about my positive accomplishments. They ... asked: 'Aren't you angry ... they broke Assata out of prison instead of you?' My response was: 'No, I don't or wouldn't wish prison on anyone.'"

SEKOU ODINGA: Yeah. So, these brothers need to be released. And we need to—first of all, we need to know who they are. People don't even know that we have political prisoners. Most of the names that I mentioned, most people wouldn't even—wouldn't recognize it, if they're not already politically involved. We want to raise their names up to a point where people will start knowing who they are and start demanding their release.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Is there any hope that President Obama might do something before he leaves office?

SEKOU ODINGA: Yes, there's hope. There's definitely hope. And I'm sure that those—well, I know for a fact that the prisoners, the political prisoners in the federal system, is asking him for clemency or for some kind of release. I don't know if he's going to recognize them and help them. But—

AMY GOODMAN: Albert Woodfox, earlier this month you had the opportunity to meet the U.S. District Judge James Brady of the Middle District of Louisiana, who issued the order saying you should be immediately released and barred from being retried for the killing of the Angola prison guard, Brent Miller, whose former wife even said she did not believe that you had done this. Judge Brady later said, quote, "I did what a judge is supposed to do." We only have a minute, but what was it like to meet him? And the power of judges in some of these cases, as prisoners, Black—former Black Panthers, are still seeking release?

ALBERT WOODFOX: Well, you know, at the time, I was speaking at Southern University Law School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. And it was a total surprise to know that Judge Brady was in the audience. And so, after speaking with the law students and attorneys and other people involved in the judicial system, I learned that Judge Brady was there, and I wanted to thank him for having the courage to apply the law and not allow my being a former Black Panther Party or my activism in prison to cloud the issues, and to apply the law. And that's exactly what he'd done. You know, of course, we know that the state of Louisiana, mostly through the Attorney General Office, continuously appeal his rulings, and in most cases his rulings were reversed or stayed. And this process was drug out over a 44-year period.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there, but it's been a fascinating discussion. I want to thank Albert Woodfox and Robert King, now in Austin; Sekou Odinga, joining us here in New York; and Eddie Conway in Baltimore. Go to for our special report on the Black Panthers who are still behind bars to find out more about their cases.

Also, I'll be speaking at Arizona State University in Tempe Thursday, 7:00 p.m.; Saturday morning here in New York at the New York Press Club's 2016 Journalism Conference at the NYU Kimmel Center. Check our website for more.

Democracy Now! currently accepting applications for internships.

News Wed, 26 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Freed Panther Sekou Odinga on Joining the Panthers, COINTELPRO and Assata Shakur's Escape

We spend the hour focusing on the Black Panther Party's legacy of political prisoners in the United States. Perhaps the most famous is Mumia Abu-Jamal, who has regularly been interviewed on Democracy Now! as an award-winning journalist. But there are many others. In fact, two former Black Panthers have already died in prison this year: Abdul Majid in New York and Mondo we Langa in Nebraska. Joining us for our historic roundtable discussion is Sekou Odinga, who helped build the Black Panther Party in New York City and was later involved in the Black Liberation Army. He was convicted in 1984 of charges related to his alleged involvement in the escape of Assata Shakur from prison and a Brink's armored car robbery. After serving 33 years in state and federal prison, he was released in November 2014.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, we're also joined here in studio by Sekou Odinga. Talk to us about how you originally got involved in the Panther Party, what drew you to it and how it shaped your own life.

SEKOU ODINGA: I got involved in the Black Panther Party early 1968, when the party first come to New York. What kind of motivated me to join the Black Panther Party was that I, along with some of the comrades that I was working with in New York, had heard about the Black Panther Party, and they were doing things that we wanted to do in New York, and we thought that would be a better vehicle than the vehicle that we had going on in New York. They were better organized, and they already had their Ten-Point Platform and Program, and people already heard about them. So we decided that we would join the party, when given a chance. In fact, a few of us had actually went out to California in late '67 to check it out, to see if was it all we thought it was, and we had found out from them that it was. And so, when we heard they were coming to New York, we got there and joined the party as soon as we could.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But even before that, you were also a member of Malcolm X's Organization of African-American Unity.

SEKOU ODINGA: Yes, I was, right before he passed. But he passed right -- you know, the Organization of Afro-American Unity was only a year old, maybe less. I can't even remember exactly how long. So, we didn't really get a chance to do much work in that organization. I had been attracted by Malcolm X when he was still a member of the Nation of Islam. And I was in a -- supposed to have been a youth prison, but it was really just a prison that they had turned over and said now it's for youth. I was 16 years old when I went in there. And when I come out, I was looking for him to see if -- you know, to hear him, to see him, to see if I wanted to be a part of what he was dealing with. So, it took me about two years before I actually joined, maybe a little less, but I didn't spend much time with it. We tried to organize our own organization called the Grassroot Advisory Council. That was the group that I was saying that we were part of, that we were -- thought that the Black Panther Party would have been a better vehicle for us to participate in, which is what we dropped and went into.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about how being in the Black Panther Party shaped your case, how you ended up in prison.

SEKOU ODINGA: Well, as one of the leadership of the Black Panther Party in New York, I was the first Bronx section leader when it first come to New York, and I was also a member of the -- founding member of the international section of the Black Panther Party in Africa, Algeria. So I was kind of one of those identified by COINTELPRO as someone to maintain, to follow, to listen to, to control any way they could. So --

AMY GOODMAN: That's J. Edgar Hoover's Counterintelligence Program.

SEKOU ODINGA: Yes. And so, I think once they realized who I was, after my capture -- when they first captured me, they didn't know who I was. And there had -- although there had been what they call a shootout, there was no real shootout. We were running, my comrade and I, Mtayari Shabaka Sundiata. We were running from the police. He had been involved in a action up in Rockland County, and they were looking for him, and I was trying to help him get out of New York. And so, we were running from the police, and we both shot over our shoulders while we were running, hoping to slow them down, so we could try and get away. But so when we was first captured -- well, he was murdered on the street. When they caught him, they knew who he was right away, and they murdered him laying on the street.

But they didn't know who I was. They hadn't seen me in about 13 years, so they didn't. When they brought me in, they at first charged me with something like -- if I remember right, it was resisting arrest and having an illegal gun, or something to that nature, under Sullivan law. But after my prints come back and they found out who I was, later on that night or the next day they -- actually, it was the next week, if I remember correctly. It's been a while now. This is back -- we're talking about 34, 35 years ago. But later on, they upped those charges --

AMY GOODMAN: You were captured in '81.

SEKOU ODINGA: Yeah. They upped those charges from the resisting arrest, etc., to attempted murder of police, which upped the time that they could give me from a few years to life, because for attempted murder of police, you can get 25 years to life. And that's what they gave me, six charges -- six counts of 25 years to life, or six sentences of 25 years to life running together. So, that's how I think it changed. Once they realized who I was and that I was one of the targets of COINTELPRO, the charges went from low charges to extra high charges.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And this whole issue you mention of being part of the international section of the party, most, especially young people, a lot of them watching this show, don't really understand the -- necessarily, the impact that the Panthers had, not only in the United States, but internationally. And for a while after, there was a split in the party between Huey Newton and Eldridge. There was a whole group that was working in Algeria, weren't they? Could you talk about what happened there and your impact in terms of the movements in Africa that were in existence at the time?

SEKOU ODINGA: Well, let me back up a little bit. I don't think that it was just a split between Eldridge Cleaver and Huey Newton. There was a split between two factions.


SEKOU ODINGA: And people have, for whatever reason, identified it as Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver.


SEKOU ODINGA: But it was like -- from my perspective, it was the left and the right, you know, that some people who were on the right, as we can -- called it, were moving to the right and moving into mainstream politics rather than revolutionary politics. And those of us on the left was maintaining that we had to be different from that.

Now, to go to the effect that it was -- the party was having a big effect all through the world -- through Europe, Latin America, Africa. And in many places, support committees came up, in Europe and in Africa. We were able to work with many of the different liberation movements. We were welcomed by all of them that was in there, and almost everyone was in -- excuse me -- in Algeria at the time. So, I think we had a profound effect on many of the different movements. You were seeing people emulating our Ten-Point Program and Platform, seeing people start to emulate our dress code, the black tam cut to the side and leather jackets and stuff like that.

AMY GOODMAN: And the Ten-Point Program, what was most important to you there? What was it that attracted you to the Black Panthers?

SEKOU ODINGA: Well, the program -- the whole program attracted me. But what attracted me more than anything else was the stand against police brutality, because like all the other ghettos in this country or black areas of this country, police brutality was running rampant. From my first memory of it was -- in New York was little Clifford Glover, who was murdered out in my neighborhood in Jamaica, Queens, out over on New York Boulevard -- Guy Brewer Boulevard, they call it now. So, I think what we were really concerned about was trying to put some kind of control on the police, or at least be in a position that we could counter some of what they were doing. So, that was the attraction, the big attraction, for me, personally, and many of the comrades that I came in with, because they really -- we were not part of the civil rights movement to turn -- turn your other cheek. We was mostly followers of the Malcolm X position that if someone smack you, you smack him back; if someone punch you, you punch him back; that your life was the biggest and best thing you had, and you had a right to not only protect it, but to defend it by any means necessary. And so, those were the things that really attracted me to the party.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you get out of jail after 33 years?

SEKOU ODINGA: I think -- I know that the biggest thing was that I filed a Article 78, which is a legal position in the courts, claiming that New York state had -- did not have the right to hold me any longer. Their law basically says that the jurisdiction -- I was under two jurisdictions, the New York state jurisdiction and the federal jurisdiction. And the law basically says that the first jurisdiction, the controlling jurisdiction, has to exhaust their remedies with you before giving you to any -- to another jurisdiction. And I maintained that they didn't do that, that once they gave me up, then they lost control of me, because that's what their law says. And basically, the judge agreed with me, and he ruled that -- only thing he ruled was that they didn't give me up deliberately, as he put it. He says that "I think they made a mistake," which the law don't have no position in there for making a mistake. If you give him up, you lose him. But to save the face for them, he said, "I think that they made a mistake. So, to fix that mistake, what I'm going to do is run the time that you did in the federal system with the time that you were supposed to do in the state system. And I'm going to order them to give you everything that they should have given you if you'd had been in the state," which he's basically saying that "You have to give him parole." So --

AMY GOODMAN: And were you convicted of helping Assata Shakur to escape?

SEKOU ODINGA: That was one of the charges in the federal system.

AMY GOODMAN: And what was your contention?

SEKOU ODINGA: I have no contentions on that at this point. I was found guilty of it. I don't -- if anything, I'm proud to be associated with the liberation of Assata Shakur. So, since they found me -- I did plead not guilty to it, if that's what you're asking me. I pled not guilty to it in the court case. But at this point that I've done the time, I don't have no contention on it any longer. I'm proud to be associated with the liberation of Assata Shakur. She should have never been locked up for all that time anyhow and treated like she was treated, because it was clear that she didn't murder any officer, or her comrade, Zayd Shakur. So, I am -- that's my position now.

AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Sekou Odinga here in New York, Albert Woodfox and Robert King in Austin, Texas. They're about to go on a European tour talking about their experiences in jail, the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party and more. When we come back, Eddie Conway will join the conversation, served over four decades in prison. He's joining us from Baltimore. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: "The Meeting" by Elaine Brown, here on Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. Elaine Brown, a former leader of the Black Panther Party, as well. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

News Wed, 26 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Why Women Claim Sexual Assault

©Universal Uclick

Art Wed, 26 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Donald Trump Could Have Manufactured His Products in the US; He Chose China

"Make me." That's how Donald Trump responded during the last debate when Hillary Clinton pointed out that he failed to use American steel to construct the Trump Hotel in Las Vegas.

Trump used Chinese steel. So he created jobs for Chinese workers. Not American steelworkers. He could have done the right thing. He could have inserted a clause in the contract requiring American-made steel. But he didn't. Similarly, he could require that his dozens of signature Trump products from shirts to eyeglasses be made in America. But he does not.  The vast majority are manufactured overseas. Creating jobs in other countries.

Trump said during the debate that it was Clinton's fault he didn't use American steel. Like some sort of guardian, she should have passed a law forcing him to do the right thing, he said. With that, Trump described himself as a petulant brat, not a leader. A leader envisions what would be wise economically or morally for the nation, and takes that action to set an example, then urges others to follow. The president of the United States is the leader of the free world. For that person, leadership is an essential skill.

The back and forth between Trump and Clinton at the debate last week in Las Vegas went like this:

Hillary:  But he mentioned China. And, you know, one of the biggest problems we have with China is the illegal dumping of steel and aluminum into our markets. I have fought against that as a senator. I've stood up against it as secretary of state.

Donald has bought Chinese steel and aluminum. In fact, the Trump Hotel right here in Las Vegas was made with Chinese steel. So he goes around with crocodile tears about how terrible it is, but he has given jobs to Chinese steelworkers, not American steelworkers.

Trump: For 30 years, you've been in a position to help, and if you say that I use steel or I use something else, I — make it impossible for me to do that. I wouldn't mind.

There it is, the "make me." Trump said he wouldn't mind if the government forced him to use American products. But he certainly wasn't going to stick his billionaire neck out and exhibit the leadership that would be required to do it on his own and urge other builders and businessmen to follow his example.

For decades now, Americans have permitted plutocrats like Trump to get away with half-assed citizenship. Though they use every advantage of the American capitalist system, from its courts to its highways, to accrue their billions, too many exploit every loophole to avoid the taxes that pay for that system. Trump admitted paying no federal income tax at all.

At the same time, corporations like Wells Fargo compensate their executives with tens of millions while cheating customers and paying tellers so little that many rely on public assistance. Similarly, throughout six bankruptcies in Atlantic City, Donald Trump brought back to Manhattan millions for himself, while his workers in New Jersey lost millions in retirement savings and many unpaid contractors lost their businesses.

Corporations like Carrier have for the past three decades closed down American factories and moved them to places like Mexico and China, not because US facilities were unprofitable, but because foreign workers, rivers and air could be more easily exploited for even higher profits.

Trump did the same.  He manufactured his signature products overseas, and he recently made a deal with a corrupt government-owned corporation in China to brand and manage a major development in Beijing, though a government investigation of the project has suspended construction. Trump could have "made great deals" that would have created jobs in the United States. But he chose China.

That philosophy, like the Carrier move from Indiana to Mexico, puts profits first, not America first. And maybe that's marginally defensible by nationless capitalists. But it's far from tolerable by an American political leader.

Despite that history of relegating America second to profit, Trump contends he will make America great again – as if America is not great now. And one way Trump repeatedly says he's going do that is by trouncing his business partner China.

He vilifies China nearly every day. He calls it America's enemy. In May, he said, "We can't continue to allow China to rape our country," referring to the trade deficit he helped create by manufacturing his products in China. He constantly berates China for "taking our jobs."

He says he alone can solve these problems. These are important words to mill workers and factory workers and steelworkers who have lost jobs as industry moved overseas.

But leadership requires more than words. And when Donald Trump had the opportunity to forge a path for others to follow regarding China, he manufactured his signature suits, tiesmirrors, ceramic vases, wall decorations, kitchen items and lighting fixtures in China. His hotels' shampoo, body wash, moisturizers, shower caps, laundry bags and bath towels are made in China. He got the steel for his Las Vegas hotel and the aluminum for his Chicago hotel, two of his three most recent American projects, from China. He planned a massive construction project with a Chinese state owned corporation before corruption stopped it.

Had Trump deliberately manufactured his signature products in America, had he built his hotels with American steel and aluminum, had he outfitted them with American-made toiletries, had he purposively chosen only to invest in new hotel projects in America, then he would have exemplified patriotic leadership. He would have demonstrated the kind of leadership that others could follow when he chose to become a politician.

And he would have exhibited the kind of leadership that would have given him credibility when he talked about China now.

If Hillary Clinton had passed a law that forced Trump to buy American steel, it would have meant he was coerced to follow rules. It would have meant he was a follower.

Opinion Wed, 26 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Wife of Use-of-Force Victim Advocates to Hold Border Officials Accountable

Shena Gutierrez calls for an end to border militarization at a rally on the U.S.-Mexico border in Nogales, Arizona on October 8. (Photo: Alexa Mencia / MEDILL)Shena Gutierrez calls for an end to border militarization at a rally on the US-Mexico border in Nogales, Arizona on October 8. (Photo: Alexa Mencia / MEDILL)

Shena Gutierrez's husband José almost died March 30, 2011.

As the leader of a support network for those affected by US border authorities' use of force, Gutierrez knows her husband was one of the lucky ones. But after José survived a coma and traumatic brain injuries attempting to cross back into Arizona after being deported, he hasn't been the same.

"He has multiple personalities now because of the trauma he sustained. I don't ever know what my day will look like," Gutierrez said.

"He's still in danger of deportation. So after everything we went through -- all the horrors we went through -- they're still holding it over our heads."

Gutierrez believes that José was beaten unconscious by federal border agents inside the San Luis Port of Entry in Arizona. He had lived in Los Angeles ever since he was 9 years old. In March of 2011, José was summoned by immigration authorities, separated from his wife Shena and two young children and deported to Tijuana, Mexico. Like many other deportees with family in the United States, José tried to return to them. But an altercation with agents led to permanent brain damage for José, plus seizures and few answers.

When Shena Gutierrez arrived at the Phoenix hospital where José was taken after the incident, an agent told her that her husband was tased as he was trying to escape from his friend's car, fell and suffered serious injuries. Later, a representative from the Mexican consulate told her that agents told them that José was tased after becoming combative while under interrogation in an inspection office, and that his fall caused the injuries. An incident report that is heavily redacted supports that version. [See copy of the report here.]

Shena believes that José tried to escape custody, was tased, and dragged back to an inspection office where he was beaten.

Since then, Gutierrez has worked tirelessly to hold the officials who injured her husband accountable -- with little success. José's case was closed in March because of insufficient evidence. However, Gutierrez supports other victims and families in holding US Customs and Border Protection officers and US Patrol agents accountable and in advancing the conversation about excessive use of force by law enforcement in general.

To that end, Gutierrez helped found the Border Patrol Victims Network, an emotional support group for families and individuals who have been affected by border authorities' use of force.

"It's easy to brush off someone who is speaking for somebody else, but it's more difficult to brush off the voice of the families, of the people who are going through this pain," said Ana Maria Vasquez, a network volunteer.

US Customs and Border Protection reported a 26 percent decline in uses of force from Fiscal Year 2014 to 2015. CBP has outlined specific guidelines on what types of force are to be used -- whether lethal, like firearms, or less-lethal, like tasers and batons -- and under what circumstances.

Chris Rickerd, policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, explained that CBP had not maintained proper use of force reporting in the past but has remedied some of the data collection and public transparency recently.

Christiana Coleman, public affairs officer for CBP, pointed to the commissioner's June  findings from four use of force cases as one of the efforts to become transparent.

However, CBP's incident reports, which are available to the public through Freedom of Information Act requests, don't identify whether the use of force was deemed excessive.

"This reporting doesn't say whether the uses of force were within or outside policy, doesn't say anything about disciplinary consequences, doesn't identify whether injuries took place," Rickerd said.

For families or individuals affected by the use of force by federal authorities, this can be unsettling.

CBP takes complaints of excessive use of force seriously, said Coleman, though the agency doesn't have a timeline to respond to complaints because each incident requires a different level of investigation. State, local or other federal agencies reviewing an incident can also affect the length of time for CBP to respond.

Migrants and travelers wait in line at the Nogales port of entry, the second largest Border Patrol station in the United States. (Photo: Alexa Mencia / MEDILL)Migrants and travelers wait in line at the Nogales port of entry, the second largest Border Patrol station in the United States. (Photo: Alexa Mencia / MEDILL)

Gutierrez has the luxury, though with difficulty, of passing through ports of entry freely because she is a US citizen, and she uses that advantage to comfort families affected by excessive use of force at the border.

"A lot of them, because they are undocumented, they can't really be traveling," Gutierrez said. "So, I try to go to every family whenever possible and give them that encouragement, that although our cases were closed, it doesn't mean that we have to give up in the fight for justice."

Gutierrez believes that there are far more cases of verbal and physical abuse by federal officials than those filed. "They threaten. They intimidate. They instill that fear into you," Gutierrez said. "I'm pretty positive that there are a lot of people out there, especially undocumented, and they're afraid to come forward because of what could possibly be done to them."

"I know that we are not the first," Gutierrez said. "We're not the last."

News Wed, 26 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Obamacare Premiums Are Set to Increase Steeply Next Year

Demonstrators in support of the Affordable Care Act outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, June 25, 2015. While the Affordable Care Act has cut the rate of uninsured Americans, it has not managed to bring down insurance prices. (Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times) Demonstrators in support of the Affordable Care Act outside the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, June 25, 2015. While the Affordable Care Act has cut the rate of uninsured Americans, it has not managed to bring down insurance prices. (Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times)

The stories at Truthout equip ordinary people with the facts and resources to create extraordinary change. Support this vital work by making a tax-deductible donation now!

Two weeks before election day, the Obama administration confirmed that insurance premiums are set to increase by double-digits next year, despite the President's signature healthcare reform law.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reported Monday that in 39 states where the government has set up Affordable Care Act exchanges, the average cost of purchasing the benchmark health insurance policy will rise by 25 percent next year.

"It's over for Obamacare," Donald Trump said on the campaign trail Monday night, striking a tune that Republican elders would likely appreciate.

Since its enactment, the Affordable Care Act has succeeded in cutting the rate of uninsured Americans by expanding access to state administrated Medicaid programs and providing premium support to Americans who can't afford to purchase insurance. It also has provided more security to policyholders, preventing insurance company abuses.

The law, however, has not managed to bring down insurance prices.

Attempting to squash anxiety about rising costs, the White House noted that federal subsidies will also increase and help three-quarters of Americans find plans for less than $100 a month. Those making less than $47,000 a year qualify for premium support.

But just as worrisome for the administration is the lack of cooperation from health insurers.

The industry spent millions muscling Members of Congress during the initial Affordable Care Act debate in 2009. Although they didn't succeed in defeating the law, they did ensure that the ACA would be palatable. By killing off the public option and mandating the purchase of health insurance, for example, the companies ensured they would have access to a large pool of new customers.

Years into the implementation of the law, however, those same companies are now working to sabotage the ACA. UnitedHealth Group, Humana, and Aetna have all reduced their operations of the health insurance exchanges. Their departures will bring down the total number of insurers on the exchanges from 232 this year to 167 in 2017.

As a result, HHS revealed that 20 percent of the more than ten million consumers would have only one health care company to choose from next year.

The inadequacies of the ACA flared up during the Democratic primary, when Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called for a single-payer system -- a set-up that Obamacare explicitly sought to avoid.

Hillary Clinton accused Sanders of having a "theoretical debate about some better idea that will never, ever come to pass." She promised to defend the ACA if elected, and to expand tax credits to help offset rising costs.

Bad news about Obamacare, though, could stifle Democrats' momentum heading into Election Day as they try to retake the Senate. The latest reading from the Cook Political Report has Democrats poised to pick up 5-7 seats, a margin that would give them back control of the upper chamber.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, used the news of ACA premium hikes on Monday to needle his Democratic colleagues.

"While the president's allies in Washington will try to spin the numbers, families across the country will be forced to figure out how to pay for such unaffordable insurance," he said in a statement.

News Wed, 26 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
As Aging Population Increases, Elders and Allies Fight for Social Supports

(Photo: Huey Phan; Edited: LW / TO)(Photo: Huey Phan; Edited: LW / TO)

Elders and their advocates are mobilizing on many fronts for comprehensive social support reforms for a rapidly growing aging population in the US. Securing better access to home-care services, creating uniform conservatorship laws across states and opposing service privatization are just some of the issues.

(Photo: Huey Phan; Edited: LW / TO)(Photo: Huey Phan; Edited: LW / TO)

Support your favorite writers by making sure we can keep publishing them! Make a donation to Truthout to ensure independent journalism survives.

According to a spring 2016 report released by the Older Women's League, men in the top 1 percent live 15 years longer than those in the bottom 1 percent. The gap for women is 10 years. And it's getting worse. As the league's annual study, "Aging in Community," notes, "The inequality of life spans between rich and poor has widened from 2001 to 2014."

The result? By the time folks reach age 75, 6.7 percent of men and 12.3 percent of women live below the poverty line: $11,880 for a single person and $16,020 for a household of two. Gender, of course, is a key variable: Women earn, on average, a lower annual income -- typically caused by wage disparities as well as breaks in employment to rear children -- resulting in smaller monthly Social Security checks. This is no small thing since a lower income impacts everything from access to health care to the ability to secure decent, affordable housing and nutritious food.

Race also impacts income, causing many Black and Brown seniors to live in poverty. The federal Administration on Aging reports that in 2013 poverty among the elderly impacted 19.2 percent African Americans; 18.1 percent of Latino and Latinas; 14.7 percent of Asian Americans; and 7.8 percent of whites aged 65 or older. Indigenous seniors have it even worse. Although Indigenous people make up just .05 percent of those over 65, a full 42 percent of tribal seniors are impoverished.

Indeed, the collision between poverty and aging is a problem of startling magnitude. It's also more complicated than it seems, thanks to the rapid aging of the US population. For one, since 1900, the percentage of Americans aged 65 or older has more than tripled. Two years ago, they numbered 46.2 million and made up 14.5 percent of the total population. Flash forward to 2040 and 21.7 percent will fall into that category. Even more remarkable, each and every day 10,000 US residents turn 65.

How they age, and what social supports they acquire, touches on an array of hot-button issues, from government's role in providing income and services for elders, to the question of whether health care is a human right, to the ways families and communities can be helped in caring for, and better integrating, older people into everyday life.

Avoiding One-Size-Fits-All Solutions

There are no one-size-fits-all strategies to ensure healthy and productive aging since different people want different things. Some want to remain in their homes, no matter what, while others prefer facilities that offer meals, planned activities and opportunities for socialization. Some want to retire at the first possible moment while others want to -- or often must -- work until they are unable to do so. Some want routine contact with diverse groups of people, while a different cohort wants to live exclusively with age-mates.

So what to do?

Diane Menio, the executive director of the Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly (CARIE) starts by listening. Based in Philadelphia, CARIE has developed a "case to cause" model in which staff field between 4,000 and 5,000 telephone calls a year from individuals. These calls help the agency identify systemic issues that, in turn, determine the group's organizing agenda.

Right now, Menio told Truthout, one of CARIE'S main concerns is the imposition of privately-run managed care on in-home services and skilled nursing facilities. Beginning in July, 2017, Menio said, just two companies, Maximus and IBM -- yes, International Business Machines -- will be in charge of enrolling people for home care and assigning providers to them.

"This will pose complications for consumers. It's a major change," Menio said. "Maximus began enrolling people in April 2016 and already we've seen loads of problems, including delays and lost paperwork. When people need a service to be able to stay in their homes, they need it quickly and can't wait six months for the paperwork to be processed."

Menio's frustration is obvious, but she is also resigned to the trend toward privatization. "We're not going to be able to stop this. [The] state is being pushed by the feds to do what Pennsylvania is doing. The government seems to want homecare and nursing homes to be modeled after HMOs where consumers will have to use an in-network agency or be willing to pay out-of-pocket for a different provider."

At this juncture, CARIE is publicizing Maximus' glitches as loudly and widely as possible. But the group is also pushing for the establishment of an Ombuds Office so that seniors and their families will have an impartial place to lodge complaints about delays and the quality of care being offered. Lastly, they are working to develop a formal appeals process for consumers.

New Strategies for Long-Term Care

Not surprisingly, the issue of long-term care (that is, who provides and pays for it) is contentious, and while Pennsylvania is racing to privatize, other states are resisting -- even going so far as to consider something radically different. Take Hawaii.

Although the idea of a Long-Term Care Benefit Trust Fund did not pass Hawaii's state legislature last term, the state's lawmakers did put it on the table. Kevin Simowitz, political director of Caring Across Generations, told Truthout that the fund would have been the first social insurance program in the US specifically designated for long-term care. "The program would create a fund by increasing the state excise tax on all goods and services," he began. "More than a third of the revenue would come from tourists who would not be able to draw on the money, but everyone would pay into it. The fund would then provide $70 a day for up to 365 days of care and help pay for things -- typically called activities of daily living -- which a particular senior needs help with."

As written, the bill would have allowed seniors to use the benefit trust fund whenever they needed assistance -- up to a lifetime cap of 365 consecutive or nonconsecutive days. What's more, the grant could have been used to pay for things like wheelchair ramps, handrails, or respite care, a huge help to seniors and the countless Hawaiian families scrambling to afford these goods and services.

Simowitz expects the trust fund bill to be reintroduced this year and sees Hawaii as a bellwether. Already, he says, other states have expressed interest in the idea. Washington has funded a large-scale study of long-term care needs; the results are due in late December. Maine, Michigan and Oregon are also considering options.

"Talking about care opens an unusual window into conversations about the economy," Simowitz continues. "A $3,000 tax deduction, the Credit for Caring Act, has been proposed in Congress. It's not nearly enough but it's a step forward, a positive development. In addition, the issue of care gives us a way to discuss who leaves the workforce to provide this aid and gives us a way into the cultural change piece of the conversation; it gives us a way to challenge the idea that daughters are supposed to be caregivers, and that paid caretakers are not really working so should not earn much."

There have been significant inroads made on these topics, Simowitz says. "The gender divide is still there but at the same time, a lot of male hands are being forced by demographic changes. They simply have to provide the care.... Care is proving to be a universal issue. It moves from the personal into the political and bridges divides."

Elaine Ryan, vice president of state advocacy and strategy at AARP agrees with Simowitz and points to several small but tangible victories in winning respect for caregivers. For example, she says grassroots mobilizations have resulted in 33 states passing the CARE Act. "The Act requires a hospital to ask a patient for the name of a designated family caregiver," Ryan says. "Once they're named, the caretaker has to be apprised about what is going on, bringing them into the loop." In addition, prior to discharge from a facility, hospital staff in those states must give the caregiver adequate notice -- at least 24 hours -- of the anticipated release and make sure they receive language-appropriate training in dispensing medication or performing tasks like cleaning an IV, checking a wound, filling a syringe or identifying an infection.

Ryan is further buoyed by the extension of the National Fair Labor Standards Act to home-care workers, enabling them to earn overtime pay and other labor protections. Additionally, family members in New York and Vermont -- the daughters, sons, cousins and grandchildren who typically provide care on the fly -- recently won the right to use employer-provided sick time for caretaking, and Ryan expects many other states to pass similar measures in the next year or two.

AARP's other work revolves around creating uniform guardianship and power of attorney -- sometimes called conservatorship -- laws to enable movement across state lines. This comes up when a person has guardianship (the authority to make decisions regarding the medical care, place of residence, or major life decisions of a person who has been deemed mentally or physically incompetent by a court) or power of attorney (which adds control of finances to the aforementioned responsibilities). Should said person want or need to move their charge across state lines to a different facility or to be closer to them, divergent state laws can make this virtually impossible. "One woman," Ryan explains, "told us that it would have cost her $50,000 to establish out-of-state guardianship so that she could move her brother nearer to where she lived after he got into an accident. She couldn't afford to do it. There should be state-to-state reciprocity on this."

Then there's the perennial issue of money for everyday living. There are approximately 40 million family caregivers who lose about $350,000 in earnings due to time away from the job, Ryan noted, adding, "This is a huge hit to families, which is why we support the Credit for Caring Act as well as flexible work hours so that people don't lose their jobs when they take dad to the doctor."

Ryan would also like to see every employer offer savings options to their employees. "We know that people are 15 times more likely to save -- whether it's opening an IRA or starting a 401K -- if it's offered at work," she said. "Fifty-five million people, 60 percent of them people of color, do not have access to savings plans for retirement on the job. This is a way to start closing the racial disparity gap."

Illinois law, she added, now requires every company with more than 25 workers to offer a low-fee, simple savings option that can move with a worker when he or she changes jobs, something Ryan hopes every state will do in the near future.

Short-term, AARP is focused on opposing the privatization of Social Security and making sure there are cost-of-living increases in monthly benefits. It is also supporting the Recognize, Assist, Include, Support, Engage (RAISE) Act, a first step in authorizing the federal government to put together a national caregiving strategy.

Issues Facing LGBT Elders

While issues of income security and access to long-term care affect most retirees, LGBT seniors face these issues at greater rates. SAGE (Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders) works to meet their social, emotional and material needs. "Older LGBT adults face a lot of challenges that impede their ability to age in a healthy way," said Aaron Tax, director of federal government relations at SAGE. "Many are isolated. The poverty rate for LGBT seniors, 24 percent, is higher than for other adults due to workplace discrimination and lack of job protections."

These things are compounded, he continues, by internalized oppression and fear. Although many LGBT elders came out decades ago, he says something happens as they get older. "Many go back into the closet when they begin to feel more vulnerable," he reports.

In addition, he adds, some members of the community grew up at a time when harassment and bigotry were so ubiquitous they were taken as a given. "Part of the challenge," Tax said, "is empowering LGBT seniors to understand that they should not be treated badly."

HIV is another challenge faced by LGBT seniors at greater rates: About half of people living with the virus are over the age of 50. "LGBT seniors don't get tested or treated and often live in poverty, without family, and are not getting the care they need and deserve," Tax continued. "HIV providers are not well-versed in issues related to aging, and gerontologists are not well-versed in HIV."

SAGE sees its role, at least in part, as training providers to be culturally competent. Equally important, says Tax, is sensitizing LGBT activists to the needs of aging community members. "We train LGBTQ groups to be welcoming to older folks, reminding them that many LGBT seniors bristle when they hear the word 'queer.' Many of them see it not as a welcoming word, but as a taunt."

Needless to say, there is a slew of diverse issues confronting American elders, gay and straight, from the need to reduce the price of prescription medications, to the need to fend off abuse from scam artists. Add in poverty, social isolation, health problems and prejudice, and you've got an overflowing to-do list.

At the same time, the US does not need to start from scratch. Germany and Japan offer a range of services for those 65 or older, and we can learn a great deal from them if we choose to. For one, both countries have developed a comprehensive, universal, long-term care fund -- similar to the plan proposed in Hawaii -- that elders can draw from.

That said, the benefits offered by the two countries have little else in common. Germany, for example, has since 1994 imposed a tax earmarked to give a cash allowance to any family that spends more than 14 hours a week aiding an elderly or infirm household member. Family members can use this grant to offset their out-of-pocket expenditures -- essentially compensating them for time out of the paid workforce -- or hire someone else to come into the home and provide needed services.

Japan's program, instituted in 1997, is different. Rather than receiving an allowance, families instead receive a range of free, licensed services including adult day care, home modification and assistive devices, and in-home aid from a visiting nurse.

Both nations took these steps in response to demographic shifts born of a rapidly aging population. Isn't it time for US lawmakers to get their heads out of the sand and do likewise?

News Wed, 26 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
A Billionaire's Fantasy Island on the Hudson: Private Glitter, Public Land

In the United States' new gilded age, the super rich are making incursions into land and waterways belonging to the public. One example is a floating island and performance space -- mostly funded by billionaire Barry Diller -- under construction in New York City's Hudson River estuarine sanctuary.

Barry Diller, an executive with a knack for finding the hottest media fad, on a terrace overlooking New York City's Central Park on February 14, 1999. (Suzanne DeChillo / New York Times Photo) Barry Diller, an executive with a knack for finding the hottest media fad, on a terrace overlooking New York City's Central Park on February 14, 1999. (Suzanne DeChillo / New York Times Photo)

Stories like this one depend on support from readers like you. If you like what you read at Truthout, please make a donation!

One of the joys of moving to Manhattan this past spring has been the Hudson River, which flows past the front door of my apartment building. A minute's walk takes me to a biking and walking path that goes all the way (eleven miles south) to Manhattan's southernmost point, Battery Park. A richly diverse crowd of picnickers, joggers and bikers, African American, Dominican, Asian and European American, working class and middle class, revels against a background of blue water, and in the near distance you can see the graceful sweep of the George Washington Bridge. For me this is New York City at its best. I grew up in Philadelphia but have had family and friends in New York City since my childhood, so I've known it well practically all my life. It has always felt like the joyous quintessence of city living, and I suspect something in me always yearned to be here as a proud resident.

But Manhattan has been undergoing striking and dismaying changes. The real estate industry started the process, driving out New York's legendary jazz venues and small performance spaces (I'm an amateur jazz pianist and I've been coming to New York to hear jazz since the 1970s), then creeping into neighborhoods to obliterate their mom-and-pop stores and most of their affordable housing, turning the city increasingly into a playground for the rich. This has happened in other American cities, as well as European ones, but New York is singular. Not only is it the country's financial capital; it's the US's most walkable city. With a panoply of theaters, museums and restaurants and a skyline that ranks among the world's most splendid, it is second only to Los Angeles as a US destination for the world's tourists.

"There is an over-arching glory and fame to New York City," writes Evan Pritchard in his book, Native New Yorkers, "one that shines on everyone who lives there. Go to Thailand or Italy, and tell someone you live in New York, and you too are an instant celebrity." (Pritchard's book is about the ways the Algonquin nation shaped, and continues shaping, Manhattan. In their general ignorance of that history, all New Yorkers are just as much usurpers of an older commonwealth as today's super rich.)

Few of the moneyed people who are changing the face of Manhattan are richer than billionaire Barry Diller, currently chairman and senior executive of IAC/InterActiveCorp and Expedia, Inc. and the media executive responsible for the creation of Fox Broadcasting Company and USA Broadcasting. Diller and his wife, fashion designer Diane Von Furstenberg, are the largest private benefactors of New York's High Line, an aerial greenway at 20th Street built on an elevated section of a disused railway.

Since 2012 Diller has treasured the notion of building an island dedicated to himself in the Hudson, seven city blocks below the High Line. "Diller Island," as many who know about this giant tribute to one rich man's ego call it, is now under construction. It will consist of a long esplanade connected to a floating island with undulating greenery replete with walkways and three performance spaces, resting on 300 piles that in pictures look like so many golf tees. The whole structure will reach elevations as high as 70 feet. At 2.4 acres it will be larger than two football fields, jutting out from the shoreline like a cluster of enormous mushrooms. It is backed by glitterati who include Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Diana Taylor, chair of the board of directors of the Hudson River Park Trust (HRPT) and companion to former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The land where the island is to be built is public. It falls under the jurisdiction of the HRPT, a partnership between New York State and City charged with the construction and design of the four-mile Hudson River Park. The Park belongs to millions of New York City residents whose taxes subsidize it. And so it's significant that Diller Island's backers include de Blasio, who in 2014 chaired a "Cities of Opportunity Task Force" and whose pledge to create a more equal city hallmarked his third State of the City address last February, even while his increasing partnerships with the very rich in beefing up social programs has drawn media attention.

Diller Island, though, isn't like the existing public programs de Blasio has promised to bolster (schools, more broadband access for the Bronx, affordable housing, etc.). It's an almost wholly private venture dedicated to a single person and largely financed by him. In this venture, the responsibilities of regulatory agencies have been eroded. They include the US Army Corps of Engineers and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, both of which this past spring gave permits for the giant structure despite the fact that its promoters have never filed a state-required environmental impact assessment. If the project succeeds, it will be one of the nation's leading precedents for the colonization of public spaces by private interests.

Charged with all construction in the park, the HRPT is responsible for endorsing and forwarding the project. In January 2015 The City Club of New York, a land-use policy organization, together with other groups launched a lawsuit against the Trust to halt the project. The suit charges that the Trust has never carried out the requisite environmental impact review; that the agreement to build the island was kept secret until it was announced in 2014; that its performances would be largely unaffordable for New York's citizens; and that it would obstruct the view for which the esplanade running along the Hudson is famous. The Trust's representatives claim that it has engaged in its own ecological reviews, and that the island will simply enhance a shoreline that had been falling into ruin. Madelyn Wils, who began her tenure as the Trust's CEO in 2011, in 2015 asserted that the Trust was taking care of the river. "We take our role as stewards of the Hudson River Park sanctuary seriously," she told The New York Times. "And that's exactly why we not only conducted a thorough environmental review in accordance with state law, but went beyond what was required by inviting public comment on that review."

But The City Club's president, Michael Gruen, charges that a proper environmental impact statement (EIS), as required by New York's State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), has never been filed by the Trust. Neither has The Army Corps of Engineers filed a similar EIS required at the federal level. "Instead," Gruen told me, "they did what is called 'a negative declaration,' which says they considered the possible impacts and decided there was no possible adverse impact."

Gruen added: "Bypassing the EIS requirement and the extensive public input it would have required, [the Trust] decided on its own, and with its own bias in favor of the project, that there is no possible adverse impact worthy of further analysis. SEQRA presumes that a project of this magnitude must get the thorough investigation of an EIS to assess the presence and extent of adverse impacts. Clearly there are ... possible impacts, such as the obliteration of a two-block wide view over the Hudson from the shore, that cannot be dismissed with the wave of a hand."

The City Club is suing the Trust in Manhattan Supreme Court. In late June a New York State appeals court ordered work temporarily halted on the project. But in July the judicial panel modified the order, allowing some piles to be installed. In early September a New York State appellate court ruled that construction could proceed. The City Club is appealing the decision.

A curious aspect of the story is that it involves two of the super-rich squaring off against each other. A real estate tycoon, Douglas Durst, once chairman of the Trust, is supporting the suit. Durst hasn't disclosed whether he is financing it, but he has said, "I do not like the process or the project and I am in favor of the litigation." Mr. Durst could not be reached for comment for this article.

Public parks are notoriously expensive to run, and Hudson River Park is no exception. Founded in 1998, it extends from 59th Street south to Battery Park. Originally it was to be funded mainly by capital from the State and City, but in an era of municipal and state financial scarcity, the Trust has depended on donations. In early 2012 Madelyn Wils approached Diller for a contribution to repair a long-dilapidated pier on the river at 13th Street, Pier 54, where survivors of the Titanic's iceberg collision landed in 1912, and from where the Lusitania departed on its fateful voyage in 1915 (it was sunk by a German submarine). Discussions about what to do with the long-derelict structure had swirled around Pier 54 from the early 1990s. But instead of writing a check specifically designated for its repair, Diller proposed a brand-new park that would be called Pier 55. He donated $113 million for constructing it, promising to fund its maintenance for 20 years. The full cost will be $170 million. The public will foot $39.5 million, a little over a fifth of the cost but hardly chicken feed.

While the HRPT billed Pier 55 as a reconstruction of Pier 54 it turned out, says Gruen, "that the Trust had been talking with Mr. Diller for several years ... and had worked out a plan that was completely different." Diller Island will be far larger, and built outside the original Pier 54 limits. The act that originally established the park stipulated that no construction could take place other than reconstruction of existing piers in their original form and in their footprints. But in 2013 the act was amended to allow certain other structures to exist outside those parameters.

A Fish Story

The legislation that created Hudson River Park empowered the Trust to design, build and operate it, designating its 400 water acres as an estuarine sanctuary, "a critical habitat worthy of special protection," to be cared for by the Trust "in a manner which promotes and preserves the Sanctuary's marine resources." (An estuary is the lower part of a river where salt water from the ocean meets fresh water from the land.)

One of the Hudson's stellar resources is its legendary striped bass population, which in its first year of life spends the winter in the waters surrounding Pier 54. The bass have been under threat before. In the 1980s an estimated $2.4 billion mega project called Westway would have run a four-mile-long super highway into the river on landfill, obliterating the bass's habitat.

This massive undertaking was backed by Presidents Carter and Reagan, Governors Hugh Carey and Mario Cuomo, Senators Alfonse D'Amato and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Mayor Edward Koch, David Rockefeller and The New York Times, among others. Memorialized in numerous books and articles, Westway was fiercely opposed by a mass movement involving a coalition of organizations that included the Sierra Club, the Clean Air Campaign and The Hudson River Fishermen's Association, founded in 1966 by Robert Boyle, an environmentalist/journalist who for 40 years wrote articles about angling and other topics for "Sports Illustrated," and participated in all of New York's major environmental battles starting in the early 1960s. Because of the strength of the coalition and in specific because of the participation of the Fishermen's Association, Westway was defeated. The judicial ruling halting the project cited the harm it would have caused to the striped bass.

Westway's proponents engaged in chicaneries that included a false tally of the river's striped bass population by the Army Corps of Engineers, involved here, as it is in the Diller Island project, because it is responsible for regulating activities that could obstruct or alter navigable US waters. "I have sentenced people to prison for securities fraud where the conduct was less blatant than the drafting of these instruments [the fallacious striped bass studies]. I am deadly serious about this," said Thomas P. Griesa, federal judge for the southern district of New York, in ruling against the project.

"Given the bitter and prolonged battle over Westway, laden with deceit by its backers, any proposed change in the area is automatically suspect," says Boyle.

Who Will Protect the River?

Riverkeeper, the organization that succeeded The Hudson River Fishermen's Association and gave rise to 150 similar river protection organizations worldwide, at its website describes its mission as "defending the Hudson River and its tributaries." In January 2015 its then-program director, Phillip Musegaas, together with NY/NJ Baykeeper Executive Director Deborah A. Mans, wrote a meticulously documented 13-page letter that reads like a legal brief, to William Heinzen, senior vice president and legal counsel for the Trust. Salient points include charges that the Trust hadn't provided a proper EIS and that its deliberations over the new structure were conducted "entirely behind closed doors." The letter projected "myriad significant environmental impacts that are likely to result from the construction and operation of Pier 55, including loss of river habitat in the Estuarine Sanctuary from dredging and pile driving, long-term impacts from shading caused by the pier ... impacts of lighting on river habitat, as well as noise, traffic and visual impacts to the Hudson River, adjoining areas of the Park and nearby New York City neighborhoods."

Despite this textbook summary of the myriad cases against the project, Riverkeeper has failed to join the City Club suit. My calls to Riverkeeper's president, Paul Gallay, weren't answered. Instead, the group sent a letter abdicating Riverkeeper's responsibility on the basis that other parties were suing the Trust. When asked for comment about the letter, Phillip Musegaas, now legal director at Potomac Riverkeeper, said: "The letter speaks for itself. It was the position of the organization at that time. I no longer work for Riverkeeper, so I don't have anything to add."

"I find it astonishing," says Peter Silverstein, a former member of the board of directors of the Hudson River Fishermen's Association, "that Riverkeeper has failed to take action against this project. This is even more surprising in light of the fact that Riverkeeper sent detailed comments outlining the potential impacts of this project to the Hudson River Park Trust in January 2015."

In an email to me last month, fishing historian and Hudson River advocate John Mylod lambasted the "corrupt political system of conflicts of interest, campaign contributions, compliant permitting agencies and neutered environmental groups [that] make this kind of environmental fiasco possible." Put another way, Diller Island is a grand illustration of "money talks," showing the impacts America's new, unrestrained gilded age can wield on the property of U.S. citizens.

News Wed, 26 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Deepwater Horizon Continues to Impact Public Health

It's hard to believe that the Deepwater Horizon incident, which discharged over 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, happened six years ago. What's not hard to believe is that the environmental health implications of the spill are stubbornly lingering.

Gulf residents of variety of species are paying a high price for it -- so high that litigation against BP for its role in the spill, officially deemed "negligent," is likely to continue for decades as people fight to get help with ongoing medical expenses.

Last year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that the spill was linked to an uptick in dolphin deaths, illustrating that this unprecedented release of petroleum products in the Gulf had a lasting health impact for animals.

Similarly, abnormalities in heart development among fish have also been connected to Deepwater Horizon exposure. Part of the problem is that sediments remain coated in oil and sludge. Because it was impossible to clean up every drop of crude from the Gulf, the oil that settled to the bottom continues to interfere with the embryonic development of a range of fish species.

But humans aren't doing too well either.

In the aftermath of the spill, people were exposed both to crude petroleum and to Corexit, a chemical dispersant used in unprecedented volumes during the cleanup.

Subsequent research has shown that in addition to having some hazardous health effects on its own, the combination of Corexit and the type of crude spilled during the Deepwater Horizon incident packs a hefty punch for marine animals.

In the weeks following the spill, first responders reported symptoms like rashes, respiratory problems, headaches, seizures and depression. In response to the complains, agencies closely monitored these individuals.

As the years went by, enough significant health problems arose for a class action lawsuit against BP. The company eventually agreed to a settlement that included the potential for filing future claims related to exposure.

Those "future claims" are ringing the doorbell now.

And they're not just coming from first responders. Those exposed to oil in other ways, including from living and working around the areas where oil washed ashore and handling clothing and tools used by first responders, are developing persistent health problems.

While it's too early to definitively link all their reported symptoms to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the individuals claim that conditions like pneumonia, leukemia, infertility, nerve damage, cognitive disabilities and endocrine disorders are a result of their exposure to oil and solvents.

These kinds of health issues have been connected to other oil spills in the past, but BP is dragging its feet on helping with health expenses, which can be ruinously expensive in the the United States.

These lingering problems highlight the fact that the problems associated with an oil spill don't end when the last news camera goes away and the last containment boom is pulled up.

People in the Gulf will be dealing with Deepwater Horizon for decades, especially those who live in low-income communities. Given this reality, the government is conducting longitudinal studies on people who were exposed to analyze potential long-term health impacts.

While that research may help victims of the next big oil spill, it's hollow for Deepwater Horizon survivors who lost their livelihoods -- and their health -- to the disaster.

News Wed, 26 Oct 2016 09:20:42 -0400
Water Protectors Erect New Front Line Camp Directly in Path of Dakota Access Pipeline

On Sunday, hundreds of water protectors erected a new frontline camp of several structures and tipis directly on the proposed path of the Dakota Access pipeline. The new frontline camp is just to the east of North Dakota State Highway 1806, across from the site where on September 3, over Labor Day weekend, Dakota Access security guards unleashed pepper spray and dogs against Native Americans trying to protect a sacred tribal burial ground from destruction. The water protectors also erected three road blockades that stopped traffic for hours on Highway 1806 to the north and the south of the main resistance camp and along County Road 134. The group cited an 1851 treaty, which they say makes the entire area unceded sovereign land under the control of the Sioux. The blockades were dismantled late Sunday. We speak with Tara Houska, national campaigns director for Honor the Earth. She is Ojibwe from Couchiching First Nation.


AMY GOODMAN: We continue our coverage of the Standoff at Standing Rock with Tara Houska, national campaigns director for Honor the Earth, Ojibwe, Couchiching First Nation. She has been in North Dakota for quite some time now. It seems this weekend an acceleration of the building of the Dakota Access pipeline, as well, of the protests of the water protectors and also of journalists, where numbers range from 87 to 140 people arrested this weekend.

Tara, what do you know is happening, the numbers? But also, is the Dakota Access pipeline -- and we'd like to put this question to them, but we weren't able to get them on the show -- is it accelerating, the construction right now? Are they trying to race towards deadline to get this pipeline built?

TARA HOUSKA: As soon as the court lifted the 20-mile, you know, so-called buffer zone on either side of Lake Oahe, or the Missouri River, I mean, it was full steam ahead. They've been doing everything they can -- you know, constructing on weekends, constructing long hours with massive crews, to get this pipeline into the ground. Probably, I mean, as another tactic, too, to pressure this final -- the Army Corps permits that are under the water crossings are all under review right now, so I'm sure they're looking to get as much of the pipeline in the ground as they possibly can up to the Army Corps crossings, as another pressure point.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, what happened exactly this weekend? Why this acceleration also of the arrests?

TARA HOUSKA: I think, you know, the sheriff is telling a story of these escalated behaviors and, you know, agitators. I found it very interesting that the Morton County press -- their press contact actually stated instead that, you know, although the protesters peacefully dispersed, what they were doing was still illegal. So they're -- you know, the Sheriff's Office is attempting to characterize it both as a riot, as people praying as a riot, and increasing numbers of arrests, while at the same time acknowledging that people are indeed peacefully dispersing when asked to leave. So, it's kind of like two conflicting stories here. And I think they're looking to scare folks off to get this pipeline into the ground, to do anything it takes to get the pipeline into the ground, including massive arrests and, you know, open violations of, you know -- I mean, using mace on people for absolutely no reason. Some of the videos show that there was no way that the officer was in any threaten of harm, actually grabbing protesters and macing them.

AMY GOODMAN: I was on a North Dakota radio program right after Sheriff Kirchmeier, and he was very clear. He said five people, or more than five people, is a riot. Can you respond to this? Because it seems that the charges have escalated. In the beginning, it was disorderly conduct, then criminal trespass, and now it's riot.

TARA HOUSKA: I think they're looking to -- you know, like I said, I think they're looking to scare folks off. They're also looking to drain resources. There is a legal fund that has been collected off of people's goodwill donations to support the direct action -- the direct actions against Dakota Access to stop the construction. And now, with these escalated charges, they can increase the amount of bail for each individual arrested. You know, claiming that people praying and drumming is somehow a riot is ludicrous. I'm interested to see how a prosecutor could even bring that and prove that in a court of law. I know that at one of the lockdowns that happened in the last week, there was only four people there. That doesn't even meet the statutory requirement of their so-called riot, yet they still were all charged with inciting a riot. Four people doesn't seem like a riot to me, nor does a group of Native Americans peacefully praying and smudging one another.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask about the letter that Honor the Earth, the Indigenous Environmental Network and others sent to the Army Corps of Engineers on October 10th. What does this letter say?

TARA HOUSKA: It goes through, you know, the various violations and issues that are present within the permitting process. In particular, it's very, very important that people know that on September 3rd, which was the day of these dog attacks, folks were out there protecting a sacred site that had been identified the day prior by the tribe. They had gone out with Tim Mentz. They had actually, you know, submitted a supplemental brief and stated, "Here are -- you know, here are the exact sacred places that are not being considered on your pipeline route. Here are several of them." And they submitted that at 5:00 p.m. on a Friday. The following day, Dakota Access skipped over 20 miles ahead to bulldoze those sites. In the National Historic Preservation Act, Section 110(k) states, if they -- if the company intentionally destroys or disrupts sacred places, that the permit cannot be issued, that the Army Corps cannot issue these permits, that, you know, this project cannot be approved. And that's exactly what happened here.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, what happens at this point? Today, what is happening, for example? And where does this all go from here?

TARA HOUSKA: Folks are continuing to -- you know, you mentioned the construction of the frontlines encampment growing now, people putting tipis and enacting structures for living directly on the pipeline route. They are -- they are miles away. Dakota Access is moving at an incredible pace to try and get this pipeline into the ground. And so, I think that, you know, the interactions will continue between protectors, water protectors, and the police. There will continue to be resistance of, you know, people putting their actual bodies on the line, because this is such a larger issue. This is the -- you know, we're fighting for future generations. We're fighting for the protection of water for the 17 million people that live along the Missouri River. I think, you know, the court cases are continuing. There is a long process for that. But really, the Army Corps of Engineers needs to answer: You know, what -- where is this review process? Are you going to uphold the National Historic Preservation Act and acknowledge that Dakota Access intentionally destroyed these sites, and cancel these permits, cancel all these water permits? This is not a legal pipeline. It was never an environmental impact statement. Stringent-level review was never conducted. That is not in the public interest. Dakota Access profits do not come over the safety and well-being of the people.

AMY GOODMAN: Tara Houska, I want to thank you for being with us, of Honor the Earth, Ojibwe, Couchiching First Nation.

News Tue, 25 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400