Truthout Stories Wed, 24 Aug 2016 09:50:50 -0400 en-gb Trickle-Down Election Economics: How Big Money Can Affect Small Races

At a press event in Kingston, New York, a Hudson Valley community about 90 miles north of Manhattan, the local Democratic congressional candidate, Zephyr Teachout, earlier this month called for a debate. But not with her Republican opponent, John Faso.

Instead she issued the challenge to two high-rolling hedge fund bosses who back him.

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"These two New York City billionaires, Paul Singer and Robert Mercer, have put $1 million together into the super PAC supporting my opponent," she said. "The voters deserve to hear directly from the billionaires backing John Faso about what they expect to get from him in Congress.

"When someone writes a $500,000 check they don't do it out of the goodness of their heart, continued Teachout, a Fordham University law professor who literally wrote the book on political quid pro quos: In 2014, her Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin's Snuff Box to Citizens United, laid out a strong argument for what she calls "prophylactic" anti-corruption laws that focus on preventing the circumstances that give rise to corruption rather than prosecuting it after the fact.

"These are people probably trying to buy power, and voters should know who they are and what they stand for," she said in Kingston. "I'm challenging Paul Singer and Robert Mercer to put your mouth where your money is and debate me directly, not through your mouthpiece." Her supporters echoed her, reversal of the familiar adage: "Put your mouth where your money is!" they chanted.

Teachout's race for New York's 19th Congressional District, an open seat, highlights two important factors that are easily overlooked in a year when most of the political attention will be focused on the incendiary presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump:

  • First, the importance of the so-called "down-ballot" races for seats in the US Congress and state legislatures.
  • Second, the likelihood that massive amounts of outside money, some of it untraceable to its source, will be brought to bear to sway the outcomes.

Although New York is not expected to be a presidential battleground this year (the state's historically Democratic tilt making Clinton, who represented New York for two terms in the US Senate, the odds-on favorite to beat Manhattan real estate mogul Trump), the respected political handicapper Charlie Cook rates five of the state's congressional races as tossups: the 1st, the 3rd, the 19th, the 22nd and the 24th Congressional Districts. Three of those contests are for seats opened up by the retirements of incumbents. Only one of the seats is currently occupied by a Democrat.

In addition, the chance of winning decisive control of the state Senate, where the political balance has been teeter-tottering between the two parties, will raise the stakes in a number of close contests for seats in the legislature's upper chamber.

New York political battlegrounds tend to cluster: competitive state legislative races often overlap with those for the US House. What follows is a closer look at a couple of the hot spots, along with the issues and the money that could impact the outcomes:

Hudson Valley

The 19th District spans the width of the Hudson Valley, from Connecticut and Massachusetts to Pennsylvania, but was drawn to leave out cities including Poughkeepsie, Newburgh and Beacon to the south, and Albany to the north, though it extends below and above them on either side. Teachout and Faso are vying for the seat currently occupied by retiring Republican Rep. Chris Gibson.

Endorsed by Bernie Sanders, Teachout garnered hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from the senator's campaign email list, but she expects that to be far outstripped by the outsider funders backing Faso. "What are Paul Singer and Robert Mercer doing spending basically three times the cost of most people's houses on a Hudson Valley race?" she asked.

Singer, a Republican mega-donor who refused to take part in the Republican National Convention because he opposes Trump, spent more than $5 million backing Marco Rubio's unsuccessful bid the for the GOP nomination; fellow hedge fund manager Robert Mercer, spent some $11 million on a super PAC backing the Republican presidential bid of Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. Between the two of them, the financiers provided the lion's share of the more than $900,000 the super PAC dubbed New York Wins, spent to submarine Faso's Republican primary opponent,the pro-Trump Andrew Heaney.

"The dynamic we see in these state Senate races are billionaires from Greenwich, Connecticut and Park Avenue giving half a million dollars to try to swing a state Senate race in the Hudson Valley," says Michael Kink of Strong Economy for All, a coalition of labor and community groups. "There are just not a lot of billionaires in these areas and the idea that the billionaires are funding these elections suggests that those policies are not going to benefit the vast majority of people in those areas."

Several competitive state Senate races overlap with or border the 19th District. The 46th Senate District is currently occupied by Republican George Amedore, the vice president of a construction company. He's being challenged this year by Sara Niccoli, a town supervisor from the town of Palatine. She lives on the farm where her husband grew up. When she ran for local office, Niccoli says, "I was sure I wouldn't win because I'm a Democrat and it's a very Republican town, but I really got into it, I loved knocking on doors and talking to people around the community and so I won."

In local elections, Niccoli notes, there was often only one person on the ballot, on the Republican line. "You could either vote for that person or no one, or write in someone." For her, that was unacceptable. In deciding to run for the state Senate, what motivated her was the disparity between her daughter's school and those in wealthier districts.

Education is key to these races because a lot of the big money flowing into them comes from charter school backers, who push for Albany's continued funneling of public money to privately run charters, most of which are located in New York City. Paul Singer gave $500,000 each to two super PACs, New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany and Balance New York, in 2014. Balance New York spent heavily to elect Amedore that year. (Charter school money is often bipartisan; Gov. Andrew Cuomo has benefited from it in the past.) New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany, founded by the corporate education reform group StudentsFirst, also targeted Democratic state legislative candidates in 2014.

Meanwhile, the public schools are suffering, and not just in New York City or in communities of color. Niccoli isn't the only one seeing that. "You have lots of tiny rural districts around the state and those school districts have a lot of poverty, a lot of need and very little money locally," says Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, a labor-affiliated organization.

Running a competitive race with small dollars, Niccoli says, "is just nonstop work -- it's telephone calls and emails and letters to everybody who I've ever met in my entire life. I will always always remember the person who says 'yes, I really want to support your campaign but I'm just waiting for my SSI check to come in, I'll give you $5.' I think that's as it should be in some ways; campaigns should be funded by regular people, experiencing life in their communities. They should not be funded by big corporations who establish multiple LLCs."

The LLC loophole is one of the most common complaints from those who would reform Albany. Lawrence Norden of the Brennan Center's Democracy Program describes how it works: "The Board of Elections currently classifies limited liability companies (LLCs) as individuals rather than 'corporations' or 'partnerships,' as they are treated under federal law. While most corporations can give no more than $5,000 every year, each LLC can give at the much higher limits permitted for individuals. Worse still, individuals with multiple LLCs use them to evade contribution limits entirely. And since LLCs need not disclose the identities of their members or officers, we often don't know who is behind these sums of money."

Norden cites the example of a single developer who used 27 different LLCs to donate over $4 million to PACs. He donated more than $1 million to both Gov. Cuomo and the state Senate Republican Campaign Committee.

Fighting uphill battles alongside Niccoli are Terry Gipson and Chris Eachus in the 41st and 39th Districts, respectively. Eachus knows the public school fight firsthand, as a retired teacher at Newburgh Free Academy in Newburgh, New York, a small, poor city with a large population of Latino and black residents. Newburgh was one of several small cities named in a recent lawsuit known as the "small cities" case, challenging New York's funding for public schools and its failure to live up to the 2006 Campaign for Fiscal Equity ruling. He's challenging 88-year-old William Larkin Jr., who is running for his 14th Senate term. Eachus ran in 2012 against Larkin and says he was outspent 3 to 1. "Everybody wrote that district off and it was a mistake, it would've been a different outcome I think if people had paid attention," Easton says.

Gipson, a resident of Rhinebeck, was the senator for the 41st district from 2012 to 2014 but lost his re-election bid and aims to take the seat back from Sue Serino, the Republican who beat him. He too has made campaign finance and corruption an issue in his race, writing a letter to Gov. Cuomo in June asking him to call the legislature back in to close the LLC loophole and pass campaign finance reform. "As a former New York State Senator…I refused to help the New York City Real Estate Board get tax breaks to build luxury condominiums for Wall Street billionaires. REBNY retaliated by spending millions of dollars in support of my opponent, because the laws allowed them to do so," he wrote.

In all these races, as the election nears and the polls tighten, the candidates expect to see big donations coming. "I think one of the reasons that I was able to outraise my opponent is that he doesn't really have to work for the money, it will come in in large amounts when he needs it," Niccoli says. "What we'll see in this campaign is he'll saturate television and radio networks, everything through the airwaves will be negative on me but what I can do in response is get out on the ground."

Long Island

After announcing he would not seek re-election this year, Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) -- representing the 3rd Congressional District -- followed it up with a tell-all New York Timesop-ed, explaining that he was tired of the endless money race. "The romance was crushed by lesson No. 1: Get re-elected. A fundraising consultant advised that if I didn't raise at least $10,000 a week (in pre-Citizens United dollars), I wouldn't be back," he wrote. "Since then, I've spent roughly 4,200 hours in call time, attended more than 1,600 fundraisers just for my own campaign and raised nearly $20 million in increments of $1,000, $2,500 and $5,000 per election cycle. And things have only become worse in the five years since the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which ignited an explosion of money in politics by ruling that the government may not ban political spending by corporations in elections."

Israel may have been tired of the game, but there was plenty of interest in replacing him. Tom Suozzi, a former Nassau County Executive, won the Democratic primary; he will face off against current State Sen. Jack Martins, a Republican and Libertarian Michael McDermott.

Martins' open 7th Senate District also becomes a target for a potential flood of money. Democrat Adam Haber, a former school board member who challenged Martins in 2014, leads so far in the fundraising race over Republican nominee Elaine Phillips, mayor of the village of Flower Hill.

Long Island's state Senate districts are deeply gerrymandered: Most communities of color are split across several state Senate districts, including the 7th and the 6th.

In the 6th, Republican incumbent Kemp Hannon is fighting to maintain his seat in the legislature, where he's served since 1977. The head of the Senate Health Committee, Hannon has drawn fire in the past for having investments in companies under his committee's purview and for getting campaign donations from the medical industry. "Hannon has been getting a lower and lower percentage of the vote," in recent years, says Kink of Strong Economy for All. "There's going to be continued interest in what he's doing for regular people versus what he's doing for billionaires and big corporations." Hannon will face a rematch with Ryan Cronin, an attorney who represented financial fraud victims and positions himself as a reformer. Cronin lost to Hannon in 2012, but by less than 4 percent of the total vote.

The fact that Haber and Cronin are competitive represents a sea change: Before last spring, every single state senator from Long Island was a Republican. Then the corruption investigation roiling Albany took out Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, sentenced to five years in prison alongside his son for bribery, extortion, and conspiracy. Skelos had represented the 9th district for nearly 30 years, and had managed to maintain control of the Senate majority by hook or by crook, but his conviction left an opening for a Democrat with a strong anti-corruption message, and Todd Kaminsky, a former assistant US attorney who had famously prosecuted former Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada in 2012, won a bruising special election in April.

Corruption and blatant dealmaking, Kaminsky argues, is at the heart of the disgust for Albany that he hears about in his district. "It's not really a partisan issue," he says. "I'm a Democrat but I mostly prosecuted Democrats; it's not about party, it's about people in power liking the system as it is and not wanting to make changes."

The special election Kaminsky won last spring provided  a sneak preview what could happen this fall. Kaminsky saw a media blitz against him in the few weeks right before the election. "They reached a saturation level on broadcast television, which is a difficult thing to conceptualize," he says. "There were people in New Jersey, in upstate New York, in the city, way further out of a state Senate district that is only in Nassau County. They had so much money they could afford to spend it in frivolous ways that didn't even impact the election."

New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany, the pro-charter school group, dropped near $1.5 million on the race, nearly half of the total spent on the election. Despite the group's education connection, Kaminsky notes, most of the ads it ran accused him of wanting to raise taxes and tried to tie him to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. "These things aren't supposed to be coordinated between the party and the independent expenditure group," Kaminsky notes, "but it was the same message that the opponent's campaign was saying and it was done at a very opportune time for the opposition."

He's girding for more of the same this fall as he seeks election to a full term. "I know that [New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany] have reloaded and have almost $3 million back in the same independent expenditure account, whether they target me or target a different race remains to be seen," Kaminsky says. "Obviously there's very little you can do to prepare yourself for $1.5 million in negative advertising. But you have to be prepared."

The message that Kaminsky was in league with de Blasio isn't a novel one in New York state politics, where the division between the city and everywhere else is often sharp. It's an accusation that flies in the Hudson Valley as well as on Long Island. The irony is that the very people spending heavily to spread that message usually themselves are not from the districts in which they're dropping thousands of dollars. "It's extremely disingenuous and misleading to try to portray some of these upstate or even Long Island candidates as somehow beholden to New York City when the fact is that the people financing these attack campaigns are largely from New York City," says Billy Easton. "What they're failing to talk about is that the same incumbent senators who are benefiting from all this political campaign largesse from these Wall Street types are also actually standing in the way of adequately funding their own schools."

In particular, the charter-school affiliated groups that spend so heavily outside of NYC are mostly advocating for more money to flow into their schools -- almost all of which are located in the city.

Real estate money also flows freely on Long Island, notes Lucas Sánchez, Long Island Director of New York Communities for Change, mostly to prevent more regulation around affordable housing but also to prevent higher taxes on the wealthy. NYCC members, mostly from communities of color in the city and on Long Island, have to challenge the heavy spending with on-the-ground organizing. "We need senators who will represent the people who are living here -- not wealthy Wall Street interests -- and our members are doing everything they can to ensure their voices will be heard in November," Sánchez says.

Another potentially tight race has emerged in Long Island's 1st Congressional District, where Anna Throne-Holst, a Southampton town supervisor and one of very few Democratic elected officials in her part of the island, is running against incumbent Lee Zeldin. Between them the two candidates already have spent more than $2 million. So far, Throne-Holst has had the most help from super PACs, but New York Wins, the group underwritten by Singer and Mercer, has surfaced in a small way on Zeldin's behalf.


A couple of upstate state Senate districts also merit watching:

The 58th District, currently held by Republican Tom O'Mara, who is being challenged by attorney and longtime Democratic party activist Leslie Danks Burke,  and the 60th, where Amber Small, a civic activist with witty campaign slogans like "Think Big, Vote Small," and "Cutting the Crap [out of our water]" originally filed to oust state Sen. Mark Panepinto, a fellow Democrat. Then Panepinto announced that he would not seek re-election -- as questions swirled about his ethics and behavior. Small now faces Republican Chris Jacobs, the Erie County Clerk and member of the Jacobs family, which owns the Boston Bruins hockey team and the Delaware North Companies.

The only thing that's certain is that with several tight House races and the fate of the state Senate in the balance, big money is sure to flow. To combat it, community organizations will be out on the ground and a group of activists are working to direct some of the money heading into headline-grabbing races toward grass-roots get-out-the-vote work and longer-term community organizing. "We are making a larger argument that funding grass-roots organizing is a better bang for the buck than TV ads or super PACs," Billy Wimsatt of Movement 2016 says. "The beauty of funding local groups that do vote work is it's not just about one candidate or one election, it's about building people power to organize in the community and make the community a better place."

News Wed, 24 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400
The Price of the Life-Saving EpiPen Increased by More Than 450 Percent

Americans are being forced to pay hundreds of dollars for a common life-saving product that has been on the market since 1977.Americans are being forced to pay hundreds of dollars for a common life-saving product that has been on the market since 1977. (Photo: Phillip Bradshaw / Flickr)

Martin Shkreli became one of the most notorious people in the United States for hiking the price of a rarely used life-saving drug by 4,000 percent in September 2015. And nearly a year later, dozens of reports are now coming out about how Mylan Pharmaceuticals hiked the price of the very common life-saving EpiPen by over 450 percent since Mylan bought EpiPen in 2007.

You've probably heard of EpiPens, and you probably know someone who needs to carry two around with them at all times, just in case they have a severe allergic reaction as a result of some everyday occurrence -- for example, encountering a food product with peanuts or being stung by a bee.

ABC News reports that, "The website Good Rx … currently lists EpiPens as costing around $600 at multiple drug stores. In 2007, when Mylan Pharmaceuticals took over producing the drug from Merck, the cash price of the pens was about $50." And Bloomberg reports that the device only contains about $1 -- one dollar -- worth of epinephrine.

See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.

But it's not the epinephrine that makes EpiPens unique, it's the precision delivery system, the "Pen," that makes the product special. And that delivery system really hasn't changed since 1977 when the EpiPen hit the market. So why did the price jump up from $57 in 2007? Why are patients paying more than $600 for two pens less than a decade later?

Because of the greed at Mylan Pharmaceuticals, plain and simple.

Cynthia Koons and Robert Langreth at Bloomberg wrote last year about "How Marketing Turned the EpiPen Into A Billion-Dollar Business." The report details how Mylan bought EpiPen from Merck and then aggressively marketed the drug to concerned parents, while increasing prices annually.

That strategy boosted the revenues from EpiPens by more than $1 billion, from $200 million in revenues in 2007, up to $1.2 billion in 2015. That strategy worked so well for Mylan that by 2015, EpiPen represented 40 percent of Mylan's operating profits, according to ABR/Healthco estimates.

A report from NBC News shows that during that same period Mylan CEO Heather Bresch's total compensation increased from $2.5 million to nearly $19 million -- a 671 percent increase!

The stock price also more than tripled from $13.29 in 2007 to $47.59 in 2015, and according to OpenSecrets, the company's lobbying efforts spiked from $270,000 to $1.2 million in 2008, resulting in changes in FDA guidelines that directly benefited the company's bottom line -- while patients still saw annual price increases.

That strategy of aggressive marketing, price hikes and intense lobbying efforts also feeds the problem that Sen. Bernie Sanders spotlighted on the campaign trail last year: Americans pay the highest prices for prescription drugs in the entire world because the pharmaceutical companies take Americans for suckers.

So in 2015, while patients in the United States paid about $415 for a package of two EpiPens even after insurance company discounts, patients in France only paid about $85 for the very same package.

And just to be clear, EpiPens aren't sold in packages of two so that patients can buy a package and be safe for two allergic reactions. EpiPens are sold in packages of two because in the case of a severe allergic reaction, if emergency services can't arrive within 15 minutes of the first EpiPen shot, a second EpiPen shot needs to be administered, and if it isn't, that person could die.

One parent wrote to Emily Willingham at Forbes and described how quickly that all starts adding up: "In our case, with 2 kids, we have to have 8 at all times: 2 for each child at school and 2 for each child at home, and that is if we don't even use them! If we do have to use one, we have to purchase more."

And because EpiPens expire after one year, they'll have to purchase more anyway, and it could cost that parent nearly $5,000 every year to replace all eight EpiPens (in the unlikely scenario that Mylan doesn't continue to cruelly hike the price).

The truth is, life-threatening food and insect allergies are on the rise, and we should be doing everything we can to make easy-to-administer epinephrine at least as available as defibrillators in public places, like restaurants, schools, universities, businesses, and so on.

It's true that Mylan has made small efforts to make EpiPens more available; for instance the company has distributed nearly 700,000 free EpiPens to more than 65,000 schools around the country. And there is at least one cheaper generic option that costs "only" about $142 with a coupon, nearly twice the cost of two EpiPens in France.

Thanks to runaway corporate power, Americans are being forced to pay hundreds of dollars for a common life-saving product that has been on the market since 1977.

So, while Martin Shkreli grabbed media headlines and was widely reviled for his cruel 4,000 percent price hike last year, he's by no means the only pharmaceutical executive who is relentlessly pursuing profits by taking sick Americans as suckers to be exploited and left for dead.

If we want to solve this issue, we need to rein in the pharmaceutical industries and take the profit-motive out of health care. That means we must join every other developed country in the world and expand universal Medicare coverage to every person in the country, and we need to allow Medicare to negotiate with prescription drug companies for reasonable prices that don't force people to choose between food or pharmaceuticals.

Opinion Tue, 23 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Waste Not, Save More

On average, each person in the US throws away five pounds of solid waste each day. While many eco-conscious citizens do their due diligence to recycle, compost, and reduce waste, others remain apathetic about preserving the environment.

Wherever you might land on the eco-friendly scale, innovative "Pay As You Throw" (PAYT) programs are incentivizing people nationwide to increase (or start) recycling and composting through a usage-pricing model.

Basically, the less trash you send to a landfill, the less you pay.

Over 7,000 communities in the US report using this green solution, with cities seeing an average of 45 percent less trash.

Though various types of PAYT programs have been tested, waste-reduction company WasteZero reports the most cost-effective and convenient option for reducing waste is using specialized bags. With this approach, residents purchase uniquely printed bags approved by their municipality, just like you would purchase garbage bags from a store. Trash collectors only pick up these bags, incentivizing residents to follow the protocol.

A common concern is that people will just dump their trash illegally in communities where these policies are implemented. But according to the Environmental Protection Agency, that's not the case. In fact, when residents are offered reliable recycling and composting options for yard trimmings, they find it easier to reduce their waste.

And PAYT is often cheaper than what most households pay for waste management, especially if you pay a trash tax to help your municipality cover the cost of having waste dropped off at a landfill.

Imagine if your city decided that everyone would have to pay a flat fee for electricity, regardless of how much you use. This fee would likely be much higher than your monthly bill, and you wouldn't have any control over it.

That's exactly how the conventional "trash tax" many of us currently pay works.

Even if you use five large PAYT bags of garbage a week, at $1.50 each -- which includes the cost of the bag itself, transportation, and disposal -- it'd be less than half the cost of the trash tax in the communities that charge it. Additionally, many communities have coupon or voucher programs for lower income residents and larger families concerned about the cost of the bags.

While cutting costs is a huge incentive, the environmental benefits of PAYT programs can't be understated. Landfills stuffed to the brim with solid waste emit large amounts of methane, a shorter-lived and more potent greenhouse gas with over 70 times the heat-trapping potential of carbon dioxide.

One of the most effective ways to curb methane emissions that threaten our climate, second only to reducing our meat consumption, is to shrink the amount of solid waste decomposing in landfills. And with less trash to be burned at incinerators, programs like PAYT will also improve air quality.

Even residents with a laissez-faire take on the environment won't be able to find a reason not to pay as they throw.

Opinion Wed, 24 Aug 2016 09:42:50 -0400
Khalid Jabara's Family Speaks Out After His Murder by Racist White Neighbor

In Oklahoma, funeral services were held Friday for Khalid Jabara, a Lebanese-American man police say was shot dead by his next-door neighbor in a possible hate crime. Police say Stanley Majors will be charged with first-degree murder. Majors has harassed the Jabara family for years. The August 12 killing came less than a year after Majors was arrested and jailed for hitting Jabara's mother with his car while she was jogging. At the time, the mother, Haifa Jabara, already had a restraining order against Majors, after he had threatened and harassed her. But eight months later, Majors was released on $60,000 bond even though Tulsa County prosecutors called him "a substantial risk to the public." For more, we speak with Khalid's brother and sister, Rami Jabara and Victoria Jabara Williams.


AMY GOODMAN: In Oklahoma, funeral services were held Friday for Khalid Jabara, a Lebanese-American man police say was shot dead by his next-door neighbor in a possible hate crime. Police say Stanley Majors will be charged with first-degree murder. The August 12th killing came less than a year after Majors was arrested and jailed for hitting Jabara's mother with his car while she was jogging. At the time, the mother, Haifa Jabara, already had a restraining order against Majors, after he threatened and harassed her. Majors served eight months in jail, but was then released on $60,000 bond even though Tulsa County prosecutors called him, quote, "a substantial risk to the public," unquote.

The Jabara family says Majors had harassed them for years, calling them racial slurs. The Jabaras are Orthodox Christian immigrants from Lebanon, which they fled in the '80s. Victoria Jabara Williams, Khalid's sister, wrote on Facebook, "My family lived in fear of this man and his hatred for years. Yet in May, not even one year after he ran over our mother and despite our repeated protests, he was released from jail with no conditions on his bond -- no ankle monitor, no drug/alcohol testing, nothing," unquote. Shortly before he was shot, Khalid Jabara called 911 to report his neighbor had a gun.

KHALID JABARA: The old man was driving off, and I caught him, and I asked him, "What's going on?" He said -- he was bruising me up. He hit me with the -- his end of the -- his [inaudible] --

911 DISPATCHER: Here, let me -- hold on, sir. I'm going to get you over to the non-emergency line, OK? So you can tell them.

KHALID JABARA: This is an emergency.

911 DISPATCHER: Is he already gone?

KHALID JABARA: This is an -- this is an emergency. So, the old man left. The other person was -- he told me that he hit him with the gun and fired it three times somewhere in the house. So --

911 DISPATCHER: Somebody fired a gun into your neighbor's house?

KHALID JABARA: In his -- yeah, in his own house. The old man told me, when he was leaving -- he said he was going to -- I told him he should go [inaudible] --

911 DISPATCHER: Did you hear any gunshots?

KHALID JABARA: The noise that I heard on my window was like tuck, tuck. It was not a knock. I don't know what it was. But I don't -- it's really not me -- I'm not really saying that -- if I heard it or not, because I didn't -- I didn't hear -- I can never --

911 DISPATCHER: Do you think it was at the 9332 South 85th East Avenue where this happened?


911 DISPATCHER: And was this guy white, black or Indian?

KHALID JABARA: All right, so the person next door is white.

AMY GOODMAN: Police responded to Khalid Jabara's call, but left without speaking to Stanley Majors. Soon after Khalid was shot, his father, Mounah Jabara, called 911 to report what happened.

911 DISPATCHER: 911. Do you need police, fire or medical?

MOUNAH JABARA: Yes, no, this is -- I need to talk to the police. Somebody shot my son.

911 DISPATCHER: OK. He has been shot?

MOUNAH JABARA: Yes, yes, and he's on the floor. Our neighbor. 9328 South 85th East Avenue.

911 DISPATCHER: How many minutes ago did this happen?

MOUNAH JABARA: Just now. Just now. In front of me.

911 DISPATCHER: OK. The guy who shot the gun, was he white, black, Indian or Hispanic?

MOUNAH JABARA: Yes, yeah. No, no. White, white. He's the next-door neighbor.

911 DISPATCHER: How old is he, if you had to guess?

MOUNAH JABARA: Just a next-door neighbor.

911 DISPATCHER: How old is he, if you had to guess?

MOUNAH JABARA: Maybe 60, 65.

911 DISPATCHER: What color shirt and pants is he wearing?

MOUNAH JABARA: I don't know. I can't say; I can't see. He's still -- my son is on the floor. I can't go, because he -- I'm afraid shots will be [inaudible] --


MOUNAH JABARA: 9328 South 85th.

911 DISPATCHER: OK. You didn't see what color shirt and pants he was wearing?

MOUNAH JABARA: No, no, ma'am. He is there. He is here, in the next-door neighbor. I did hear -- I did not go out.

911 DISPATCHER: OK. Do you know what kind of gun he has?

MOUNAH JABARA: I don't know. I haven't seen him. I heard the shots, and I heard the shots. I'm afraid he will come now, actually. I --

911 DISPATCHER: OK. What -- how many gunshots were fired?

MOUNAH JABARA: Three, three. He is on the floor, my son.

911 DISPATCHER: Where was he shot at? Where was he shot at?

MOUNAH JABARA: He shot him! He shot him! He shot him!

911 DISPATCHER: Did he shoot him outside or inside the house?

MOUNAH JABARA: I am [inaudible].

NEIGHBOR: Stay inside!

MOUNAH JABARA: Yes. Where he did shot you? Where did he shot you? OK. Let me call the ambulance.

911 DISPATCHER: I have an ambulance and everyone en route to you, OK?

MOUNAH JABARA: He shot him! He shot him!

911 DISPATCHER: Just stay on the phone.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Mounah Jabara, moments after his son Khalid was shot dead in front of his home in Tulsa, Oklahoma. We're going now to Tulsa, where we're joined by Khalid's brother and sister, Rami Jabara and Victoria Jabara Williams.

I welcome you both to Democracy Now! My condolences on the death of your brother. Victoria, can you describe the history of what took place? This didn't just happen in one moment.

VICTORIA JABARA WILLIAMS: No, it definitely was a progression of events. And it seemed like every time my family and I would contact either police or the authorities, as we were supposed to do, you know, over the last several years, Stanley Majors would just retaliate and stronger. And so, you know, over the last four -- I think four years or so, you know, from violating two protective orders -- obviously, one of them being hitting my mom, while she was walking, with his car -- and to the most recent incident where he killed my brother, you know, it's just been, you know, pretty -- pretty traumatic over those years, especially since we were -- we did everything we were supposed to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Again, Rami, my condolences, all of our condolences to you and your family. When did you first meet Stanley Majors, your next-door neighbor?

RAMI JABARA: I think he came around maybe in 2012. I actually don't think I've officially met him face to face. You know, we tried to avoid him, especially, as my sister was saying, as the insults and remarks and racist comments began; you know, we just thought like we need to stay away from this particular neighbor.

AMY GOODMAN: What would he say?

VICTORIA JABARA WILLIAMS: You know, he's yelled racial slurs at us, at my mom and dad and my brother, because they all reside in my parents' house, and so they're there all the time.


VICTORIA JABARA WILLIAMS: So, "dirty Arabs," "dirty Lebanese," "Muslims," even though my family is Orthodox Christian. You know, he's yelled racial slurs at neighbors, as well. We have our family friend and -- you know, was mowing our lawn, and he's African-American. He's yelled racial slurs at him, as he was mowing our lawn.

RAMI JABARA: Just unprovoked.

VICTORIA JABARA WILLIAMS: Just, yeah, completely unprovoked.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what happened when you filed your first complaint against Stanley Majors?

RAMI JABARA: Well, so, as my sister said, it was kind of a slow progression of comments and racist remarks. And in -- you know, my mom was like, "What can we do to, you know, help protect ourselves?" And we told her that, you know, she can file a protective order against him. And in, I believe, November 2013, that was -- that was completed.


RAMI JABARA: We got a protective order against him. My mom did.

VICTORIA JABARA WILLIAMS: I should say that, during that time, he was coming on our property and like taking pictures of our house and of my parents. And so, I think that was kind of that final like, OK, this guy is going to come onto our property, so we need to, you know --

RAMI JABARA: Making obscure phone calls, sending very strange letters to my sister and my uncle.

AMY GOODMAN: You had a productive order when he ran over your mother?


VICTORIA JABARA WILLIAMS: Correct. And that was the second violation.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, violation? So, he is arrested, and he's jailed, and he's not tried? He is held for eight months and then released?

RAMI JABARA: Well, so, there was a first violation of protective order in March 2015.


RAMI JABARA: And that involved him making his usual racist remarks, I think, being belligerent and drunk, while we had a family gathering over Easter. So that was violation number one. And he -- you know, as most criminal defendants, he would have several hearings, supposedly leading up to a trial. But he continually did not show up to his hearings. And eventually, the judge issued a bench warrant for his arrest, which is common when a defendant does not show up to their required hearings. So that was violation number one. In September 2015, that was violation number two, when he ran over our mother, leaving her for dead in the street.

VICTORIA JABARA WILLIAMS: And that's when he went to jail. But he was never tried, because --



RAMI JABARA: He was -- as with many defendants, they have the option to set bond. And over -- after we had discussed with the district attorney, basically saying this guy cannot be out on the streets, he needs to be held without bond, and they did follow our instructions. And for eight months, he was held without bond.

AMY GOODMAN: And then?

RAMI JABARA: And then, in May of 2015 --


RAMI JABARA: 2016, I'm sorry, we get -- we were checking the status of the case, as we normally do, as it is slowly leading up to a supposed trial. And we realize that, on a routine hearing, where a new criminal defense attorney entered his appearance on Majors' behalf, there was an oral motion made to reconsider bond, and the judge granted it, without our knowledge, basically without objection from the District Attorney's Office.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, he was released.

RAMI JABARA: He was released, without --


RAMI JABARA: Without any actual, you know, conditions on his release, of course, but without any resolution of the prior incidents.

AMY GOODMAN: And how soon after he was released did he kill Khalid?

VICTORIA JABARA WILLIAMS: So, I think, beginning of June, they had the emergency hearing where they increased the bond. And then he made bail. So, June to August 12th.

AMY GOODMAN: And what happened? What did you understand? Were you, either of you, there on August 12?

VICTORIA JABARA WILLIAMS: My brother Rami lives in Dallas, and I live in Tulsa. And so, my mom called. I was at a friend's house with my daughter. She said, you know, "Khalid's been shot. You have to go to the hospital. Khalid's been shot. They won't let me leave, because it's a crime scene." And at that time, I don't know how -- what information she got, but she made it seem that like he got hit in the leg, and he was going to be OK. So, I rushed to the hospital. And, you know, obviously, they told us he had -- he died. And I met my parents -- my husband and I met my parents at -- they were staying in a secure area next to the -- our house, while the detectives were there, on Friday night. And so I met them there. And it was, you know, I think, a four- or five-hour pursuit of Majors. And they never were able to get into his house, because they never got a warrant.

AMY GOODMAN: And Khalid -- Khalid had called, right before Majors shot him dead, and said, "He has a gun. Please come." And the police came and left?

VICTORIA JABARA WILLIAMS: Yeah. So, we're still waiting for the police report, but it looks like my brother Khalid called twice to call the police, once when he learned he had a gun. He said he heard some knocking on his door or on a window, and he went out, and Stanley Majors's spouse, his husband, was driving away. And he said, "He has a gun. He hit me with the gun." And so, my brother called my mom, who was not home at the time. He said, "Don't come home, because we learned he had a gun." And so they called 911. My brother called 911 the first time, saying he heard some knocking. I don't know; I haven't read the police report. I don't know if he called when he heard the knocking the first time, and then he called again when he learned he had a gun, but he called twice, and the police came out once. And they said that they knocked on Stanley Majors' door. They couldn't go in. They couldn't do anything, despite my brother's plea and explaining the story. And then, the police left. And then, eight minutes later, my brother was shot.

News Tue, 23 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Standing Rock Sioux Chairman: Dakota Access Pipeline "Is Threatening the Lives of My Tribe"

In North Dakota, indigenous activists are continuing to protest the proposed $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline, which they say would threaten to contaminate the Missouri River. More than a thousand indigenous activists from dozens of different tribes across the country have traveled to the Sacred Stone Spirit Camp, which was launched on April 1 by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The protests have so far shut down construction along parts of the pipeline. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has also sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over its approval of the pipeline. For more, we're joined by Dave Archambault, chairperson of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. He's in Washington, D.C., where there is a hearing in the tribe's lawsuit on Wednesday.


AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to look at North Dakota, where indigenous activists are continuing to protest the proposed $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline, which they say would threaten to contaminate the Missouri River.

INDIGENOUS ACTIVISTS: Respect our water! Respect our lands! Honor our treaties! Honor our rights!

AMY GOODMAN: More than a thousand indigenous activists from dozens of different tribes across the country have traveled to the Sacred Stone Spirit Camp. The protests have so far shut down construction along parts of the pipeline. Protesters have included Debra White Plume, an Oglala Lakota water rights activist.

DEBRA WHITE PLUME: The need to protect this water has grown way beyond Standing Rock. I'm Oglala and Northern Cheyenne. Many red nations are here. Many more red nations are coming. We put the call out for water protectors to come, land defenders to come. And the word "resistance" is being used. And sometimes we have a problem with the English language, deciding which word to use, but if we just listen to our spirits, we're here to protect sacred water. People will come from all along the river to protect the river that they belong to.

AMY GOODMAN: Dennis Banks, co-founder of the American Indian Movement, has also taken part in the protests against the Dakota pipeline. Banks also was part of the 1973 Wounded Knee standoff.

DENNIS BANKS: What's happening here is equally as important, because of the stand that you're ready to make. When they threaten the environment, they're threatening you. We are part mountain. We are part ocean. We are part river. We are part flower and grass and tree. All of this, we are part of all of it, so that when they threaten the environment anyplace, they're threatening you. You have to be in that mindset like that. That's who you are. That's who we are. And our culture, our heritage is what has made us warriors.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Dennis Banks. We're joined now by Dave Archambault, the chair of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, who's joining us from Washington, D.C.

Chairman, thanks very much for being with us. Can you explain for us what this whole controversy is about?

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT: There's a lot of different components that all lead up to one, and it is a pipeline that is threatening the lives of people, lives of my tribe, as well as millions down the river. It threatens the ancestral sites that are significant to our tribe. And we never had an opportunity to express our concerns. This is a corporation that is coming forward and just bulldozing through without any concern for tribes. And the things that have happened to tribal nations across this nation have been unjust and unfair, and this has come to a point where we can no longer pay the costs for this nation's well-being. We pay for economic development, we pay for national security, and we pay for energy independence. It is at our expense that this nation reaps those benefits. And all too often we share similar concerns, similar wrongdoings to us, so we are uniting, and we're standing up, and we're saying, "No more."

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what exactly the Dakota Access pipeline is and how it ended up going through your land?

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT: Dakota Access pipeline is a pipeline that goes 1,200 miles, taking Bakken crude oil from the northwest side of North Dakota down to Illinois. And we were brought -- made aware of this in 2014. And our biggest concern was it was -- it crossed the Missouri River twice, once north of -- once in Lake Sakakawea and once north of our reservation. And right away, when we first learned of it, we said, "We don't want this. We don't want it here." But it's a private pipeline from a private company out of Dallas, Texas. And so, there's a big corporation, Energy Transfer Partners, out of Dallas, who are making decisions for the state and for North Dakota, for my reservation, and they have no sensitivity or no acknowledgment of what is in place. All they see is dollar signs and greed. So we are not happy with this private-based company.

There are portions of this pipeline that cross federal lands, like water, and so they have to get permits, but they get easements on private property. And the private landowners who do not approve of the pipeline, there's the eminent domain taking. So, the landowners where the pipeline crosses kind of have their hands tied. But in the federal permitting process -- and it's like, of the 1,200 miles, 200 waterways, maybe 300 miles are on federal lands. That's what we're saying: If we can't do anything on the private lands, we're going to ask the federal agencies to reconsider and take a look at this, because we never had the opportunity to express our concerns.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to Debra White Plume, an Oglala Lakota water rights activist, speaking at the Sacred Stone camp.

DEBRA WHITE PLUME: We're putting a call out for warriors to come here to do direct action, to stop them from boring under this water, because that's going to contaminate it. We can't stand for that. We can't let that happen. I, for one, made a commitment. They're going to have to kill me, or they're going to have to lock me in jail, but I'm going to stand to protect the sacred water. And I'm guided by spirit.

AMY GOODMAN: So that's Debra White Plume, who participated in the 1973 standoff in which members of the American Indian Movement occupied Wounded Knee to demand their treaty rights. She called for focus in the action at Sacred Stone.

DEBRA WHITE PLUME: I understand that rage. I fought with cops before. I've been shot at by police. I've been shot by police. We got it on with the police on Pine Ridge back in the day. So I understand that rage. But when we're here together to protect sacred water, let's do it with dignity, let's do it with training, let's do it with unity.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Chairman Dave Archambault, explain what this camp is, where it is, and how many people are coming out to it, and how the state is responding.

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT: This camp is along the Cannonball River, close to the mouth of Missouri River. And the camp is -- started out in April of 2016 as a prayer camp. And the prayers have been answered. There has been power in prayer. And it opened the eyes to everybody that, through prayer and unity, great things can happen. Since the -- about two -- the demonstrations started, more and more people began coming and showing overwhelming support for this, and we had to anticipate large masses of people coming, so we occupied a space just north of the Cannonball River off the Standing Rock Reservation, which is core land, and it's on a nice flat.

Right now what's going on is it's about peace, and it's about prayer, and it's about uniting. And there's a really good feeling, if you were to walk through the camp. There are no guns, no violence, no drugs, no alcohol. And it kind of took a life of its own. It evolved into something very special.

The state, on the other side, has taken action, which there's no cause for. They created a barricade just south of Mandan, right before you get into Fort Lincoln, Custer's park. It's about 25 miles north of the camp. And this barricade creates a hardship for the members who live on Standing Rock. The state also removed its emergency assistance vehicles, that we initially got to establish and accommodate large masses of people.

AMY GOODMAN: You were arrested there, Chairman?


AMY GOODMAN: I want to play Morton County, North Dakota, Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier's comments, claims he made that there have been reports of weapons at Sacred Stone Spirit Camp, and get your response.

SHERIFF KYLE KIRCHMEIER: It's turning into an unlawful protest with some of the things that have been done and has been compromised up to this point. We have had incidents and reports of weapons, of pipe bombs, of some shots fired.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that's the sheriff. Dave Archambault, your response?

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT: There never was any shots fired. There never were any pipe bombs. There were never any incidents of unlawful activity taking place. When you have a large mass of people in an area, especially with social media, you have Facebook, that can create rumors. And I would ask that the sheriff and the governor validate any rumors that they come across, before they make haste decisions to create a blockade or to declare a state of emergency or to remove any of their emergency assistance vehicles. I understand they have safety concerns, but you just have to be present at the camp, and you'll see that it's a peaceful place, and there are happy people who share a common prayer. And that is --

AMY GOODMAN: Chairman, can you explain the lawsuit?

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT: So, what we're filing a lawsuit on is the destruction of our ancestral burial sites and never being given the opportunity to protect them, as well as the nationwide permitting process. Rather than permitting the project as a whole and doing a full EIS, the Corps of Engineers asked that they permit chunks and pieces of it. And they require an EA. Now, the EA is less intensive as the EIS, so they're able to kind of do unlawful things, that -- such as destroy our sites that are sacred to us.

We don't agree with the fact -- they're going to say they had consulted with us on this matter. To us, consulting doesn't mean corresponding through letter or mail, or it doesn't mean presenting us a final draft of what you're going to do. Consulting, to us, would mean that we need to have deliberation and share our concerns and hope that they hear us and see a reflection of our concerns in the final plan. None of that has taken place. We asked for consultation prior to any final drafts and to survey the routes to make sure that none of the sites that we cherish would be destroyed. It's not until after they finalized what they want to do, this Dallas-based company who is doing the EA for the Corps of Engineers tells us how or where they're going to go. Now they come and invite us to do surveys, and we don't think that's right. We think it's unlawful, and we think it's unjust.

AMY GOODMAN: Dave Archambault, chair of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. When we come back, indigenous rights activist Winona LaDuke will also join us. Stay with us.

News Tue, 23 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400
School-Based Police Are Using Tasers on Students -- and No One Knows How Often It Happens

Knightdale, NC -- It was just a dumb fight. Two boys, both juniors, stood in the hallway discussing a classic teenage hypothetical: whether one of them could win in a fight against another student. But when one of the teens, Scott, said he didn't think his friend could win, things turned personal.

They flung curse words back and forth that Thursday morning in March, lurching through the hallway of Knightdale High School, slamming into a row of lockers and tripping over a trashcan. A video shot by another student shows a teacher breaking up the fight after a few seconds, and both teens ending up on the ground, hurt only in pride.

One student was ushered away. But 17-year-old Scott, whose name has been changed to protect his privacy, didn't have a chance to get up. A school police officer rushed over, and pinned one of Scott's arms behind his back. The student stopped filming the fight at this point. Scott says the police officer then sat on him and ordered him to place his other hand behind his back. He tried to comply, he says, but the officer was holding him down.

Seconds later, Scott felt a piercing electric jolt in his right shoulder that sent convulsions running through the rest of his body. The officer Tasered Scott once, according to Lawrence Capps, the chief of police in Knightdale who supervises police in the high school. The five-second zap sent thousands of volts through Scott's body.

"I was going to get back up after the fight," Scott recalled of the moment that defined his junior year.

Months later, on a hot July day in this small town in North Carolina, Scott was watching the news with his mother, Stephanie Grice. Three days earlier, Alton Sterling had been fatally shot by a police officer in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Two days earlier, police in Minnesota had shot and killed Philando Castile. The night before, five police officers had been gunned down in Dallas. Like the rest of the nation, Scott and Grice couldn't turn away.

Grice, who works as a patient account representative at a nearby medical center, said she can't help but wonder if her son's harsh punishment was influenced by the color of his skin. Both students involved in the fight were black; the school police officer, named Pete Smith, was white.

"Every day I pray for my son out here in this world. Even when he goes to school, I'm afraid," said Grice, 45, who enrolled her son in night school after the incident out of fear for his safety. "He's watching these African-American men just die like we're pieces of meat."

In the moments after he was struck by the Taser, Scott's legs bounced up and down uncontrollably on his 6-foot-3, 260-pound frame. After getting up, he couldn't stop shaking from the pulsing waves of electricity, he said.

Later that day he was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting an officer. He had never been in trouble with the police before.

This is one of at least 84 incidents of children being Tasered or shot with a stun gun by a school police officer since September 2011, according to media reports tracked by The Huffington Post. The number is a gross underestimation because not every incident is reported, and no state or federal organization track how often children are zapped at schools. The children, who were all hit by a Taser or stun gun by school-based police officers, also called school resource officers, were 12 to 19 years old when the incidents occurred.

They were shocked by a Taser or stun gun for mouthing off to a police officer. For trying to run from the principal's office. For, at the age of 12, getting into a fight with another girl.

"I didn't even know they allow police officers to do those things to children," Grice said. "When I was growing up, we had school fights. We got suspended or what have you. That was then. It was never no Tasering or handcuffs or fingerprinting."

It can be medically risky to stun a child with an electrical weapon, especially if that child isn't fully grown. The jolts of electricity puts them at greater risk for cardiac arrest, said Dr. Zian Tseng, a cardiologist and cardiac electrophysiologist at the University of California in San Francisco who has studied the impact of Tasers.

"It is a potentially lethal weapon, and it should be treated as such," Tseng said.

Being Tasered by a school resource officer can also traumatize a child psychologically. Such an incident can make it harder for children to trust authority figures, according to Linda Fleming McGhee, a clinical psychologist in Chevy Chase, Maryland, who specializes in treating children who have experienced trauma.

"It might make a child believe that they are a 'bad person,'" she said, because the people who get Tasered by the police, at least in a child's eyes, are typically people who are not good people. Seeing themselves this way can lower their self-esteem and self-confidence.

Taser International recommends that officers avoid stunning children. Using a Taser on a child "could increase the risk of death or serious injury," according to an instruction manual for the tool.

The company does not have an exact count of how many Tasers are carried by school resource officers "because you're talking thousands, and at some point you can't even keep track of it," said Steven Tuttle, the vice president of strategic communications. He added that he does not know of any other companies that provide stun guns to police departments.

We do know, however, that the number of Tasers in schools has risen in the past decade. According to a Huffington Post analysis of Department of Education statistics, 17 percent of public schools equipped their security personnel with Tasers or stun guns in 2010, up from 13 percent in 2006. (The federal government cut funding to this survey after 2010. It recently reversed that decision, but results for 2016 are not yet available.)

The number of police officers in schools in North Carolina has quadrupled since 1997. The number of Tasers in schools grew more quickly. Source: North Carolina Department of Public Safety

Statistics from the Department of Public Safety in North Carolina, where Scott lives, show that the number of school resource officers carrying Tasers in the state grew to 392 in 2009 from 184 in 2007. (The department stopped conducting regular surveys after 2009.)

The number of police officers in schools has ballooned amid high-profile incidents of school violence -- like the Columbine High School shooting in 1999 -- and new tough-on-crime, zero-tolerance policies. In 1997 only 10 percent of public schools had police officers; in 2014, 30 percent did.

It's a natural instinct to want to protect children. Indeed, the Obama administration funded a program to hire up to 1,000 school resource officers and counselors a year after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.

But the consequence of having more police in schools is only now being fully realized: More children who engage in adolescent misbehavior are being hit with arrest records and the possibility of being struck by dangerous electroshocks.

This issue disproportionately affects black students, who are arrested at significantly greater rates than their white counterparts. Black students are also suspended more than white students, even for the same offenses, according to the Equity Project at Indiana University. The pattern perpetuates a trend called the school-to-prison pipeline, in which children are funneled from school into the criminal justice system.

Both students involved in the fight at Knightdale High were suspended from school for five days -- which Scott and his mother say was appropriate. But because Smith charged Scott with disorderly conduct and resisting an officer, the student's punishment was much longer than the length of his suspension.

North Carolina is one of two states that automatically charges all 16- and 17-year-olds as adults, regardless of the crime. Scott was relatively fortunate; the district attorney ultimately dismissed his charges and referred him to a local court program to get his arrest record expunged.

Scott has to complete a six-month program that includes counseling and 20 hours of community service -- punishment, essentially, for "acting like a teenager," said Jennifer Story, an education justice lawyer for Legal Aid of North Carolina who is advising Scott's family.

Scott's mugshot will remain online, even after he completes the program. His mother understands the potential repercussions of this.

"He's looking at colleges he wants to attend," Grice said. His mugshot is "going to be there forever."

But Are Kids Safer?

Having more cops in schools is supposed to prevent on-campus crime and keep students safe from shootings and other violence. In fact, there have been a handful of instances in which a school resource officer has successfully obstructed armed intruders.

Mo Canady, the executive director of the National Association for School Resource Officers, an organization that provides training for officers working in schools, said he believes school resource officers can also help students establish trusting relationships with the police -- a foundation that can help build goodwill between young people and law enforcement.

"What we're doing in schools should hopefully transition out into the community," Canady said.

Tuttle, the Taser International spokesman, said the weapon is only meant to be used in certain serious situations, like when a crime is being committed. School police officers carry them so they can be prepared for dangerous situations on campuses.

"[Officers are] there to protect students in case fights break out, perpetrators come on campus, and what have you," Tuttle said. "God love these officers for being there to protect my kids."

But there is little evidence to indicate that school resource officers are actually making schools safer, according to Jason Langberg, a lawyer who previously worked for the Legal Aid Justice Center of Virginia and specializes in school policing.

Positive relationships between students and staff -- not police presence -- is a strong predictor of school safety, according to University of Florida professor Jason Nance, whose research focuses on the impact of police in schools. He cited studies, such as a Department of Education analysis conducted after the Columbine massacre, that found a tightknit community can help make schools safer.

There is a dearth of research on the overall impact of police on school crime and culture, he added.

Scott and Grice say they feel devastated by what happened, and Grice feared her son might get in more trouble -- or worse, hurt -- if he stayed in school. After finishing his junior year in night school, Scott will return to Knightdale as a full-time student this month.

Grice's fears are well-founded. Since 2014, the police officers in Scott's school district have been required to get special training before working with children. This requirement came after Legal Aid of North Carolina and other civil rights organizations filed a complaint against the school system with the US Department of Justice. The complaint, which has not been investigated, alleges that African-American students in the district are disproportionately subjected to harassment and unreasonable force at the hands of school-based police officers. It further notes that school resource officers used Tasers against students at least eight times between 2005 and 2014. In one incident, the device's prongs punctured the lungs of a 15-year-old.

Since the complaint was filed, the district has developed a number of initiatives designed to address these issues, including one to monitor for potential racial disparities in school arrest data, a district spokeswoman noted.

Capps, the chief of police for Knightdale, said his department conducted a mandatory internal inquiry of what happened in the high school hallway that March morning. The investigation determined that Smith had acted within the normal parameters of his job. The officer, according to the findings, had stunned Scott "to gain compliance" after the student resisted him.

The family says it had minimal interaction with police officers before moving to North Carolina from New York City in October. Grice said she thought living in a suburban community could provide Scott with a better life and more athletic opportunities. Now she's questioning her decision, and says moving has brought Scott into the "lion's den."

Scott is aware of the impact his race and size has on the way people -- particularly authority figures like law enforcement officers -- perceive him. He is big. He is dark-skinned.

"They look at us like we don't know how to control ourselves and we just get angry quick," he said. "It's not even like that. They criminalize us for no reason."

Scott's instincts aren't far from the truth. Black boys aren't always given the luxury of being seen as children. A 2014 study found that people tend to overestimate the ages of black children and perceive them as less innocent than white kids. Police officers who participated in the study were more likely to miscategorize black 13-year-olds as adults than white children.

The Knightdale police district is aware of the problem, and Capps said officers receive training on preventing "biased-based policing."

Still, he said officers should respond to perceived physical threats as they see fit.

"While we respect the fact that students are developing adolescents and they don't necessarily process information the way adults do, many of them are adults in terms of physical size and physical capability. Those are things officers have to take into consideration," Capps said.

Nance, the professor who researches school policing, believes Tasers could be used on campuses sometimes, but only in very extreme circumstances, like if someone's safety is in danger.

"Perhaps it might be justified on the very rare occasion," he said, adding that schools need to address harsh discipline practices. Some students have described school as being a "prison-like environment," Nance said.

Indeed, what happened to Scott represents a larger trend of police intervention in conflicts that may have previously been dealt with by teachers.

Media reports show this playing out: An October 2015 cellphone video from a Spring Valley High School classroom in Columbia, South Carolina, captures a school resource officer hurling a black female student to the ground while she was still seated at her desk. A March 2016 video taken in a Baltimore school shows a school resource officer hitting and kicking a black student. An April video depicts a school resource officer in San Antonio body-slamming a 12-year-old student to the ground.

As he prepares to return to Knightdale High, Scott said he is focused on making sure he has a good senior year. He plans on making his summer job at a sports park into a weekend job. He has been going to football practice and finishing up the community service hours he needs to get his arrest record expunged. Still, he and his mother are nervous. Scott has little room for error.

"I realized where I want to go in life," Scott said. "I don't want to go to jail. I don't want to have a record. I want to stay on a clean slate, play sports, get a job. Make my mom proud." He wants to play basketball for a school like Shaw University, and maybe even play professionally someday.

But Grice says she has already seen a change in her son. The teenager she describes as a "gentle giant" already seems less emotionally open.

"I think some of Scott's experiences made him hard," she said. "I noticed that with him. I'm like, 'your heart is not as soft as it used to be.' And he says he's just tired of being treated a certain way."

The Huffington Post collaborated with The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education, to produce this story as part of a series on the impact of police in schools.

News Wed, 24 Aug 2016 09:43:39 -0400
Why Solidarity Between the Movement for Black Lives and Palestine Makes Sense

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

Critics of solidarity between the Movements for Black Lives and the Palestinian struggle miss how concepts like apartheid are not meant to apply only when there is perfect equivalence between two situations. They also apply when the experiences of two oppressed groups share common features.

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

The recent release of a policy platform by the Movement for Black Lives has drawn both expressions of solidarity, as well as disavowals and strident criticism. The policy statement is a remarkable document, as it not only continues the spirit of the 2015 statement signed by over a thousand Black activists, intellectuals and cultural workers after Israel's 2014 attacks on Gaza but also proposes for the first time a comprehensive set of policies backed by clearly spelled-out rationales. The 2015 statement read in part:

On the anniversary of last summer's Gaza massacre, in the 48th year of Israeli occupation, the 67th year of Palestinians' ongoing Nakba (the Arabic word for Israel's ethnic cleansing) -- and in the fourth century of Black oppression in the present-day United States -- we, the undersigned Black activists, artists, scholars, writers, and political prisoners offer this letter of reaffirmed solidarity with the Palestinian struggle and commitment to the liberation of Palestine's land and people.

The list of signatories then included scholar-activists Angela Davis and Cornel West, political prisoners Mumia Abu-Jamal and Sundiata Acoli, rappers Talib Kweli, Boots Riley and Jasiri X and Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors. Organizational signers included the Florida-based Dream Defenders and St. Louis-based Hands Up United and Tribe X, which were founded after the killings of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown, respectively, as well as the 35-year-old Organization for Black Struggle in St. Louis.

Now, in the Movement for Black Lives platform we see the same spirit, this time forming the foundation of what will be one of the most important political documents of the 21st century: "In response to the sustained and increasingly visible violence against Black communities in the U.S. and globally, a collective of more than 50 organizations representing thousands of Black people from across the country have come together with renewed energy and purpose to articulate a common vision and agenda. We are a collective that centers and is rooted in Black communities, but we recognize we have a shared struggle with all oppressed people; collective liberation will be a product of all of our work."

Crucially, the platform's support of Palestinian rights, its endorsement of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and its condemnation of anti-boycott repression is directly linked to the larger issue of US foreign policy -- especially its military budget. The platform describes these things as increasing and facilitating oppression and injustice both abroad and domestically, as much-needed resources are siphoned out of Black and poor communities:

Resources and funds needed for reparations and for building a just and equitable society domestically are instead used to wage war against a majority of the world's communities.... The results of this policy are twofold: it not only diverts much needed funding from domestic education and social programs, but it makes US citizens complicit in the abuses committed by the Israeli government. Israel is an apartheid state with over 50 laws on the books that sanction discrimination against the Palestinian people.

The blowback for making such statements has been vociferous and pointed. As detailed by AlterNet, Mondoweiss, The Electronic Intifada and others, the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Boston and others have issued statements of condemnation. What is common to much of the criticism of the policy platform are the charges that it tries to liken persecution of Black Americans to the situation of Palestinians. For instance, the JCRC says: "We are deeply dismayed by elements of this platform, specifically the co-opting and manipulation of a movement addressing concerns about racial disparities in criminal justice in the United States in order to advance a biased and false narrative about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. To conflate the experiences of African-Americans and Palestinians oversimplifies complex matters and advances false equivalencies that diminish the unique nature of each."

In other words, the Council decries the very spirit of solidarity that the Movement for Black Lives platform takes as essential.

This line of defense is not at all new. In 2013, Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat asserted, "The problem is, and this is for Hispanic and Asian Americans and African Americans, they see themselves as minorities. If you look at polling on attitudes of African Americans, there is a much higher percentage of sympathy with Palestinians."  He warned of the danger that US minorities might regard Palestinians as being similarly disadvantaged and said the Jewish community needs to "make it clear, this is not a civil rights issue. It's rather a very different conflict in which violence is being used and Israel's right to be a state is questioned."

And as recently as January 2016, David Bernstein, president and CEO of the Jewish Council of Public Affairs, wrote:

The BDS movement has successfully injected the anti-Israel cause into these intersecting forms of oppression and itself into the interlocking communities of people who hold by them. So it's increasingly likely that if a group sees itself as oppressed, it will see Israel as part of the dominant power structure doing the oppressing and Palestinians as fellow victims. That oppressed group will be susceptible to joining forces with the BDS movement.... Indeed, the growing acceptance of intersectionality arguably poses the most significant community relations challenge of our time.

And yet when Rachel Gilmer, the author of much of the portion of the platform that deals with Israel-Palestine visited the area, she was convinced of the "intersection." Haaretz reports Gilmer's reaction to her trip:

Going this past May was so transformative. Seeing all the parallels between black and Palestinian struggles.... Gentrification [in the United States] parallels home demolition [in Israel and the West Bank]. Going to the apartheid wall and seeing how it broke up communities... it's the same systems of patriarchy, imperialism and colonialism that we're up against.

Why is the claim that the common causes of Black Americans and Palestinians are centered on rights, and that the broader view that social justice issues for people of color in the US "intersect" with those of the Palestinians such an important one for critics of the platform and others to disarm? In addition to attempting to break up acts of solidarity between a growing and increasingly vocal set of minority populations in the United States and the Palestinians, those who are making the claim that "this is not a civil rights issue" are trying to cut away the core of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, which declares its rootedness in human rights and sees its cause as anti-racist: "Inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, the BDS call urges action to pressure Israel to comply with international law." Seeing how BDS has from its inception been influenced by struggles for Black liberation introduces a much needed historical depth to this topic and allows us to see that calls for solidarity are not merely the upshot of contemporary political fashions.

The conjunction of Black activist, Jewish and Palestinian struggle has a long and critical history, as documented thoroughly in Keith Feldman's essential book, A Shadow over Palestine: The Imperial Life of Race in America. Feldman notes that between roughly 1960 and 1985: "Struggles over hegemony in the United States became entangled with transformed relations of rule in Israel and Palestine, that is, when US civil rights and antiwar struggles, Zionist settler colonization and Israeli military and administrative occupation, and Palestinian narratives of dispossession, dispersion, and resistance were forged, felt, and thought together."

As we follow the developments of these debates over the flexibility, or rigidity of language and consequently solidarity, we should be mindful of this legacy.

A critical point of convergence is not just how these projects overlap conceptually, but also legally, in terms of international human rights discourse. Their common complaints are indeed legible in the language of human rights and thus, have a legitimate ground for world attention. The appeal to rights -- civil, political and human -- clearly links the Black and Palestinian causes today under the umbrella of international human rights, as found, for example, in the United Nations "International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights," which begins in Article 1: "All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development." Thus, the issue of Black and Palestinian rights are in fact firmly established within rights discourse.

Yet, when this issue of common rights and common appeals to rights is raised, critics of the notion that Black and Palestinian rights can be taken together, often insist on some notion of "equivalence." When they do so, critics of this form of solidarity miss how concepts like apartheid are not meant to apply only when there is perfect equivalence between each supposed case of apartheid but when two cases share common features that are parts of the declared definition of apartheid. For example, in its criticism of the platform, J Street writes: "The characterization of Israel as an "apartheid state" is also misleading and unhelpful. The best way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the occupation is to address the unique and specific circumstances and conditions underlying them, without insistence on fitting them within the ill-fitting framework of a different conflict from a different time and place."

What J Street wishes to do is to dismiss out of hand a "framework" that sets up the definition of apartheid in the first place. Once one does that, the term itself disappears. The Movement for Black Lives and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement instead insist that looking at the definition of "apartheid" one finds it an appropriate label for both what went on during apartheid in South Africa and what is going on now in Palestine. In short, the frame is not "ill-fitting" at all. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court states clearly: "The crime of apartheid means inhumane acts... committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime."

The issue is not to argue whether or not racist and exclusionary practices in US or Israel-Palestine are exactly the same in all ways as those found in apartheid South Africa -- it is whether or not in those countries we find "an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups," and there clearly is a case to be made that we do. But J Street and others wish to preemptively take that word off the table altogether, and by so doing remove a powerful and legitimate critique based again on rights and international law.

The issue becomes more complex and more heated when the term "genocide" is used. In its statement on the Movement for Black Lives, T'ruah: the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights declared:

While we agree with many of the policy recommendations, we are extremely dismayed at the decision to refer to the Israeli occupation as genocide. We are committed to ending the occupation, which leads to daily human rights violations against Palestinians, and also compromises the safety of Israelis....

However, the military occupation does not rise to the level of genocide -- a term defined as "the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group." While we agree that the occupation violates the human rights of Palestinians, and has caused too many deaths, the Israeli government is not carrying out a plan intended to wipe out the Palestinians.

In response, Rabbi Brant Rosen notes:

The claim that Israel is committing "genocide" against the Palestinians undeniably pushes all kinds of buttons for many Jews. But there are also Jews and Israelis who feel it is not an inappropriate word to use, particularly in regard to Israel's regular military assaults against Gaza. Likewise, while the BDS call is extraordinarily controversial for many Jews, there are also Jews who respect it as a legitimate call for nonviolent resistance from over 150 Palestinian civil society organizations. And it is simply not true to claim, as T'ruah does, that "the BDS movement (rejects) Israel's right to exist." On the contrary, the goal of the BDS call is equal rights for Palestinians as well as Jews.

Rosen said he also wonders why T'ruah did not engage the Movement for Black Lives in discussion: "If they were to be true to their own articulated values, T'ruah should have reached out to them, engaged with them and tried to understand where they were coming from, thus opening a real dialogue." However, according to Rachel Gilmer, the Black activist cited above who wrote this portion of the Movement for Black Lives platform:, "Using the word genocide wasn't a haphazard piece of work.... It was a yearlong process of bringing together 60 organizations about our vision for the world as black people. We've been in community with Jewish Voice for Peace, If Not Now and individual Jewish people who are against the occupation."

The issue of nomenclature is thus key to this discussion -- it may, in fact, not be a matter of legal definition so much as worldview and the capacity to forge solidarity based on the latter.

Finally, in its reference to "false equivalencies," the JCRC distorts the entire nature of the political work at hand. In fact, as the Dream Defenders' "Statement on the Condemnation of M4BL Platform by Some Pro-Israel Groups" asserts:

...the basic understanding that the state violence we experience is directly tied to the violence facing Black and Brown communities in Palestine and around the world. While our struggles are not identical, we recognize that we are up against the same systems.... The Dream Defenders remain committed to a world in which ALL people are free. As Black people fighting for our freedom, we are not thugs and our Palestinian brothers and sisters are not terrorists. For the children who are met with tear gas and rubber bullets as they walk home from school, for the families of those we have lost to police violence, for the communities devastated by economic violence and apartheid walls, we fight. To all those who believe in a world in which all people are free, join us. For those who no longer stand with Black people because of this belief, goodbye. We do not need nor want you in our movement.

In response to the Movement for Black Lives policy platform, the BDS movement declared, "We pledge to firmly and consistently stand in solidarity with our black sisters and brothers in the United States and around the world by supporting the demands and policy proposals in this platform," adding that "the BDS movement is deeply inspired by the US Civil Rights Movement and the many struggles by Blacks and other people of color for racial and economic justice."

One cannot place too much emphasis on this fact: Solidarity is not based on identity or any demand that each struggle have exactly the same root and set of goals. It is not premised on exact equivalences and historical sameness. How could anything be premised on that without being solipsistic, and entirely self-interested?

What we are witnessing, with the release of this brilliant and inspiring document, is a recognition of the need to form lines of solidarity.

News Wed, 24 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400
How a US Energy Company Tried to Sell Its Failing "Clean Coal" Project to the World

The company behind America's flagship 'clean coal' project tried to push the technology on countries around the world, even after they discovered its profound problems, Energydesk can reveal.

Last month a New York Times investigation chronicled the spiralling costs, missed deadlines, technical issues and administrative chaos at Southern Company's coal gasification facility in Mississippi.

The Kemper project, as it is called, is currently more than $4 billion over budget and more than two years late, with Southern now promising it will begin delivering 'clean coal' power no later than September 30th.

Engineers who have worked on Kemper expect the project's Kemper's start-date to be delayed yet again -- until 2017.

Dodgy Deal

A new look into Southern's PR operations over the past few years suggests that selling the technology abroad was central to the project's business model, and the company pursued that in spite of the mounting problems.

In December 2015 the company announced that it had signed a letter of intent with South Korean firm Alps Energy to "evaluate the deployment" of the Kemper technology at one of its power plants.

By this time, Southern was well aware of the crisis unfolding at the plant.

But the South Korea deal has been perhaps the most concrete success of the global 'clean coal' offensive, standing out among Southern's attempts to hawk the technology in Poland, Norway, China, Romania, Serbia and Australia.

Dirty Secrets

To understand just how important the international sales element was to Southern, you need look no further than a 2008 memo from Mississippi's then-Governor Haley Barbour in which he describes the project as a "key piece of America's and the world's energy future."

Less than a year later the company touted a deal with China for its clean coal technology -- a proprietary process called TRIG (transport integrated gasification) -- even though Kemper hadn't even broken ground.

Around this time Southern CEO Tom Fanning wrote to the Energy Secretary urging him to divert focus from the bigger FutureGen CCS project in Illinois (the government pulled the plug in 2015) because Kemper was "now ready for commercial deployment" -- and that it was being discussed for licensing in China and Australia.

That didn't end up happening.

Hidden Crisis

By 2012, Southern's subsidiary Mississippi Power had already concealed cost overruns of $366 million, and a year later admitted the project was $1 billion more expensive than anticipated.

In late 2013, an earnings call revealed massive losses and serious delays, with Fanning admitting that they "made a mistake on the engineering."

The scandal had already cost the jobs of two of Mississippi Power's top executives, including president Ed Day.

That, however, didn't stop Southern and the US Department of Energy from taking Norway's minister of petroleum and energy, along with seven other energy ministers, on a tour of the facility a month later.

Hey, Poland

In 2014, months after a whistleblower told Southern officials -- including Fanning -- that the company had broken the law and misled investors over its false schedule and budget, a top executive flew to Poland for the Wroclaw Global Forum.

There, Karl Moor tried to sell the country on the Kemper technology, claiming the plant was already running and "utilising 65% of the CO2 and sending three and a half million tons of CO2 down a pipeline for enhanced oil recovery" -- things that still haven't actually happened.

"Our first response should be to get Poland the technology so that they can use their native lignite in a strategic way," Moor said.

"For some reason the Department of Energy for the last 20 years has been helping us develop a technology aimed at Poland's coal," he added.

Six months later Fanning and the US Energy Secretary were doing the same thing in Turkey.

Consequences at Home

As Southern eyes international deals, the deeply deprived Mississippi county of Kemper wrestles with the plant's unfulfilled jobs and tax promises.

As Fanning spoke in Philadelphia at the end of July, reaffirming the project's September 2016 start-date, Kemper residents were called to an emergency meeting on a proposed 41% tax hike to pay the county's crumbling schools.

The region's public services have been starved of revenue as long-time homeowners were forced to move in order to make room for the facility's gigantic footprint.

DeKalb, the town nearest the plant, had to eliminate its police department due to a lack of money.

And, if Southern sells its clean coal technology abroad, the County does not stand to receive any of the proceeds -- as per the government agreement.

We got in touch with Southern Company for comment and will update this piece if they get back to us.

News Wed, 24 Aug 2016 09:44:04 -0400
Pod People ]]> Art Tue, 23 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400 No Need to Build Donald Trump's Wall -- It's Already Built

A painted metal mural attached to the Mexican side of the US border wall in the city of Heroica Nogales, Sonora.A painted metal mural attached to the Mexican side of the US border wall in the city of Heroica Nogales, Sonora. The mural is titled "Paseo de Humanidad" (Parade of Humanity) and was created by artists Alberto Morackis, Alfred Quiróz and Guadalupe Serrano. It depicts the struggles and harsh realities of economic refugees traveling through the Sonoran desert to reach the US. (Photo: Jonathan McIntosh / Flickr)

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At the federal courthouse, Ignacio Sarabia asks the magistrate judge, Jacqueline Rateau, if he can explain why he crossed the international boundary between the two countries without authorization. He has already pleaded guilty to the federal misdemeanor commonly known as "illegal entry" and is about to receive a prison sentence. On either side of him are eight men in the same predicament, all still sunburned, all in the same ripped, soiled clothes they were wearing when arrested in the Arizona desert by agents of the U.S. Border Patrol.

Once again, the zero tolerance border enforcement program known as Operation Streamline has unfolded just as it always does here in Tucson, Arizona. Close to 60 people have already approached the judge in groups of seven or eight, their heads bowed submissively, their bodies weighed down by shackles and chains around wrists, waists, and ankles. The judge has handed out the requisite prison sentences in quick succession -- 180 days, 60 days, 90 days, 30 days.

On and on it goes, day-in, day-out. Like so many meals served in fast-food restaurants, 750,000 prison sentences of this sort have been handed down since Operation Streamline was launched in 2005. This mass prosecution of undocumented border crossers has become so much the norm that one report concluded it is now a "driving force in mass incarceration" in the United States. Yet it is but a single program among many overseen by the massive U.S. border enforcement and incarceration regime that has developed during the last two decades, particularly in the post-9/11 era.

Sarabia takes a half-step forward. "My infant is four months old," he tells the judge in Spanish. The baby was, he assures her, born with a heart condition and is a U.S. citizen. They have no option but to operate. This is the reason, he says, that "I'm here before you." He pauses.

"I want to be with my child, who is in the United States."

It's clear that Sarabia would like to gesture emphatically as he speaks, but that's difficult, thanks to the shackles that constrain him. Rateau fills her coffee cup as she waits for his comments to be translated into English.

Earlier in April 2016, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, still in the heat of his primary campaign, stated once again that he would build a massive concrete border wall towering 30 (or, depending on the moment, 55) feet high along the 2,000 mile U.S.-Mexican border. He would, he insisted, force Mexico to pay for the $8 billion to $10 billion barrier. Repeatedly throwing such red meat into the gaping jaws of nativism, he has over these last months also announced that he would create a major "deportation force," repeatedly sworn that he would ban Muslims from entering the country (a position that he regularly revises), and most recently, that he would institute an "extreme vetting" process for foreign nationals arriving in the United States.

In June 2015, when he rode a Trump Tower escalator into the presidential campaign, among his initial promises was the building of a "great" and "beautiful" wall on the border. ("And no one builds walls better than me, believe me. I will do it very inexpensively. I will have Mexico pay for that wall.")  As he pulled that promise out of a hat with a magician's flair, the actual history of the border disappeared. From then on in Election 2016, there was just empty desert and Donald Trump.

Suddenly, there hadn't been a bipartisan government effort over the last quarter-century to put in place an unprecedented array of walls, detection systems, and guards for that southern border. In those years, the number of Border Patrol agents had, in fact, quintupled from 4,000 to more than 21,000, while Customs and Border Protection became the largest federal law enforcement agency in the country with more than 60,000 agents. The annual budget for border and immigration enforcement went from $1.5 to $19.5 billion, a more than 12-fold increase. By 2016, federal government funding of border and immigration enforcement added up to $5 billion more than that for all other federal law enforcement agencies combined.

Operation Streamline, a cornerstone program in the "Consequence Delivery System," part of a broader Border Patrol deterrence strategy for stopping undocumented immigration, is just one part of a vast enforcement-incarceration-deportation machine. The program is as no-nonsense as its name suggests. It's not The Wall, but it embodies the logic of the wall: either you crossed "illegally" or you didn't. It doesn't matter why, or whether you lost your job, or if you've had to skip meals to feed your kids. It doesn't matter if your house was flooded or the drought dried up your fields. It doesn't matter if you're running for your life from drug cartel gunmen or the very army and police forces that are supposed to protect you.

This system was what Ignacio Sarabia faced a few months ago in a Tucson court.  His tragedy is one that plays out so many times daily a mere seven blocks from where I live.

Before I tell you how the judge responded to his plea, it's important to understand Sarabia's journey, and that of so many thousands like him who end up in this federal courthouse day after day. As he pleads to be with his newborn son, his voice cracking with emotion, his story catches the already Trumpian-style of border enforcement -- both the pain and suffering it has caused, and the strategy and massive build-up behind it -- in ways that the campaign rhetoric of both parties and the reporting on it doesn't. As reporters chase their tails attempting to explain Trump's wild and often unfounded claims and declarations, the on-the-ground border reality goes unreported. Indeed, one of the greatest "secrets" of the 2016 election campaign (though it should be common knowledge) is that the border wall already exists.  It has for years and the fingerprints all over it aren't Donald Trump's but the Clintons', both Bill's and Hillary's.

The Wall That Already Exists

Twenty-one years before Trump's wall-building promise (and seven years before the 9/11 attacks), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began to replace the chain link fence that separated Nogales, Sonora, in Mexico from Nogales, Arizona, in the United States with a wall built of rusty landing mats from the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars. Although there had been various half-hearted attempts at building border walls throughout the twentieth century, this was the first true effort to build a barrier of what might now be called Trumpian magnitude.

That rusty, towering wall snaked through the hills and canyons of northern Sonora and southern Arizona forever deranging a world that, given cross-border familial and community ties, then considered itself one. At the time, who could have known that the strategy the first wall embodied would still be the model for today's massive system of exclusion.

In 1994, the threat wasn't "terrorism." In part, the call for more hardened, militarized borders came in response, among other things, to a never-ending drug war.  It also came from U.S. officials who anticipated the displacement of millions of Mexicans after the implementation of the new North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which, ironically, was aimed at eliminating barriers to trade and investment across North America.

And the expectations of those officials proved well justified. The ensuing upheavals in Mexico, as analyst Marco Antonio Velázquez Navarrete explained to me, were like the aftermath of a war or natural disaster. Small farmers couldn't compete against highly subsidized U.S. agribusiness giants like Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland. Mexican small business owners were bankrupted by the likes of Walmart, Sam's Club, and other corporate powers. Mining by foreign companies extended across vast swaths of Mexico, causing territorial conflicts and poisoning the land. The unprecedented and desperate migration that followed came up against what might be considered the other side of the Clinton doctrine of open trade: walls, increased border agents, increased patrolling, and new surveillance technologies meant to cut off traditional crossing spots in urban areas like El Paso, San Diego, Brownsville, and Nogales.

"This administration has taken a strong stand to stiffen the protection of our borders," President Bill Clinton said in 1996. "We are increasing border controls by fifty percent."

Over the next 20 years, that border apparatus would expand exponentially in terms of personnel, resources, and geographic reach, but the central strategy of the 1990s (labeled "Prevention Through Deterrence") remained the same. The ever-increasing border policing and militarization funneled desperate migrants into remote locations like the Arizona desert where temperatures can soar to 120 degrees in the summer heat.

The first U.S. border strategy memorandum in 1994 predicted the tragic future we now have. "Illegal entrants crossing through remote, uninhabited expanses of land and sea along the border can find themselves in mortal danger," it stated.

Twenty years later, more than 6,000 remains have been found in the desert borderlands of the United States. Hundreds of families continue to search for disappeared loved ones. The Colibri Center for Human Rights has records for more than 2,500 missing people last seen crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. In other words, that border has become a graveyard of bones and sadness.

Despite all the attention given to the wall and the border this election season, neither the Trump nor Clinton campaigns have mentioned "Prevention Through Deterrence," nor the subsequent border deaths. Not once. The same goes for the establishment media that can't stop talking about Trump's wall. There has been little or no mention of what border groups have long called a "humanitarian crisis" of deaths that have increased five-fold over the last decade, thanks, in part, to a wall that already exists. (If the people dying were Canadians or Europeans, attention would, of course, be paid.)

Although wall construction began during Bill Clinton's administration, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) built most of the approximately 700 miles of fencing after the Secure Fence Act of 2006 was passed. At the time, Senator Hillary Clinton voted in favor of that Republican-introduced bill, along with 26 other Democrats. "I voted numerous times when I was a senator to spend money to build a barrier to try to prevent illegal immigrants from coming in," she commented at one 2015 campaign event, "and I do think you have to control your borders."

The 2006 wall-building project was expected to be so environmentally destructive that homeland security chief Michael Chertoff waived 37 environmental and cultural laws in the name of national security.  In this way, he allowed Border Patrol bulldozers to desecrate protected wilderness and sacred land.

"Imagine a bulldozer parking in your family graveyard, turning up bones," Chairman Ned Norris, Jr., of the Tohono O'odham Nation (a Native American tribe whose original land was cut in half by the U.S. border) told Congress in 2008. "This is our reality."

With a price tag of, on average, $4 million a mile, these border walls, barriers, and fences have proven to be one of the costliest border infrastructure projects undertaken by the United States. For private border contractors, on the other hand, it's the gift that just keeps on giving. In 2011, for example, the DHS granted Kellogg, Brown, and Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, one of our "warrior corporations," a $24.4 million upkeep contract.

In Tucson in early August, Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence looked out over a sea of red "Make America Great Again" caps and t-shirts and said, "We will secure our border. Donald Trump will build that wall."  He would be met with roaring applause, even though his statement made no sense at all.

Should Trump actually win, how could he build something that already exists? Indeed, for all practical purposes, the "Great Wall" that Trump talks about may, by January 2017, be as antiquated as the Great Wall of China given the new high-tech surveillance methods now coming on the market.  These are being developed in a major way and on a regular basis by a booming border techno-surveillance industry.

The twenty-first-century border is no longer just about walls; it's about biometrics and drones. It's about a "layered approach to national security," given that, as former Border Patrol Chief Mike Fisher has put it, "the international boundary is no longer the first or last line of defense, but one of many."  Hillary Clinton's promise of "comprehensive immigration reform" -- to be introduced within 100 days of her entering the Oval Office -- is a much more reliable guide than Trump's wall to our grim immigration future. If her bill follows the pattern of previous ones, as it surely will, an increasingly weaponized, privatized, high-tech, layered border regime, increasingly dangerous to future Ignacio Sarabias, will continue to be a priority of the federal government.

On the surface, there are important differences between Clinton's and Trump's immigration platforms. Trump's wildly xenophobic comments and declarations are well known, and Clinton claims that she will, among other things, fight for family unity for those forcibly separated by deportation and enact "humane" immigration enforcement.  Yet deep down, the policies of the two candidates are far more similar than they might at first appear.

Navigating Donald Trump's Borderlands Now

That April day, only one bit of information about Ignacio Sarabia's border crossing to reunite with his wife and newborn child was available at the Tucson federal courthouse. He had entered the United States "near Nogales."  Most likely, he circumvented the wall first started during the Clinton administration, like most immigrants do, by making his way through the potentially treacherous canyons that surround that border town.

If his experience was typical, he probably didn't have enough water or food, and suffered some physical woe like large, painful blisters on his feet. Certainly, he wasn't atypical in trying to reunite with loved ones. After all, more than 2.5 million people have been expelled from the country by the Obama administration, an average annual deportation rate of close to 400,000 people.  This was, by the way, only possible thanks to laws signed by Bill Clinton in 1996 and meant to burnish his legacy.  They vastly expanded the government's deportation powers.  

In 2013 alone, Immigration and Customs Enforcement carried out 72,000 deportations of parents who said that their children were U.S.-born. And many of them are likely to try to cross that dangerous southern border again to reunite with their families.

The enforcement landscape Sarabia faced has changed drastically since that first wall was built in 1994. The post-9/11 border is now both a war zone and a showcase for corporate surveillance.  It represents, according to Border Patrol agent Felix Chavez,  an "unprecedented deployment of resources," any of which could have led to Sarabia's capture. It could have been one of the hundreds of remote video or mobile surveillance systems, or one of the more than 12,000 implanted motion sensors that set off alarms in hidden operational control rooms where agents stare into large monitors.

It could have been the spy towers made by the Israeli company Elbit Systems that spotted him, or Predator B drones built by General Atomics, or VADER radar systems manufactured by the defense giant Northrup Grumman that, like so many similar technologies, have been transported from the battlefields of Afghanistan or Iraq to the U.S. border.

If the comprehensive immigration reform that Hillary Clinton pledges to introduce as president is based on the already existing bipartisan Senate package, as has been indicated, then this corporate-enforcement landscape will be significantly bolstered and reinforced. There will be 19,000 more Border Patrol agents in roving patrols throughout "border enforcement jurisdictions" that extend up to 100 miles inland. More F-150 trucks and all-terrain vehicles will rumble through and, at times, tear up the desert. There will be more Blackhawk helicopters, flying low, their propellers dusting groups of scattering migrants, many of them already lost in the vast, parched desert.

If such a package passes the next Congress, up to $46 billion could be slated to go into more of all of this, including funding for hundreds of miles of new walls. Corporate vendors are salivating at the thought of such a future and in a visible state of elation at homeland security tradeshows across the globe.

The 2013 bill that passed in the Senate but failed in the House of Representatives also included a process of legalization for the millions of undocumented people living in the United States. It maintained programs that will grant legal residence for children who came to the United States at a young age and their parents. Odds are that a comprehensive reform bill in a Clinton presidency would be similar.

Included in that bill was, of course, funding to bolster Operation Streamline. The Evo A. DeConcini Federal Courthouse in Tucson would then have the capacity to prosecute triple the number of people it deals with at present.

After taking a sip from her coffee and listening to the translation of Ignacio Sarabia's comments, the magistrate judge looks at him and says she's sorry for his predicament.

Personally, I'm mesmerized by his story as I sit on a wooden bench at the back of the court. I have a child the same age as his son. I can't imagine his predicament.  Not once while he talks does it leave my mind that my child might even have the same birthday as his.

The judge then looks directly at Sarabia and tells him that he can't just come here "illegally," that he has to find a "legal way" (highly unlikely, given the criminal conviction that will now be on his record).  "Your son," she says, "when he gets better, and his mother, can visit you where you are in Mexico."

"Otherwise," she adds, he'll be "visiting you in prison" -- not exactly, she points out, an appealing scenario: seeing your father in a prison where he will be "locked away for a very long time."

She then sentences the nine men standing side by side in front of her for periods ranging from 60 days to 180 days for the crime of crossing an international border without proper documents. Sarabia receives a 60-day sentence.

Next, armed guards from G4S -- the private contractor that once employed Omar Mateen (the Pulse nightclub killer) and has a lucrative quarter-billion-dollar border contract with Customs and Border Protection -- will transport each of the shackled prisoners to a Corrections Corporation of America private prison in Florence, Arizona. It is there that Sarabia will think about his child's endangered heart from behind layers of coiled razor wire, while the corporation that runs the prison makes $124 per day for incarcerating him.

Indeed, Donald Trump's United States doesn't await his presidency. It's already laid out before us, and one place it's happening every single day is in Tucson, only seven blocks from my house.

News Tue, 23 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400