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Art Wed, 26 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Petulance Isn't Presidential

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News Wed, 26 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Obamacare Woes Hit Campaign Trail as Premiums Set to Increase

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race also impacts income, causing many Black and Brown seniors to live in poverty. The federal Administration on Aging reports that in 2013, 19.2 percent of African American seniors; 18.1 percent of Latino and Latina seniors; 14.7 percent of Asian Americans seniors; and 7.8 percent of white seniors were considered poor. Indigenous seniors have it even worse. Although Indigenous people make up just .05 percent of those over 65, a full 42 percent of tribal members over age 65 are impoverished.

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

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

Avoiding One-Size-Fits-All Solutions

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

So what to do?

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

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

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

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

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

New Strategies for Long-Term Care

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Issues Facing LGBT Elders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Fish Story

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

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

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

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

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

Who Will Protect the River?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But humans aren't doing too well either.

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

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

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

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

Those "future claims" are ringing the doorbell now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News Tue, 25 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
An Essential Element of Emergency Preparedness: Modernizing Our Voter Registration System

While still recovering from the impact of Hurricane Matthew, citizens in the Southeast had to scramble over the past week to register to vote for this November's election. Courts in FloridaNorth Carolina, and Georgia have ruled that these states must extend registration deadlines in certain counties as a result of Matthew's disruption. And, in Virginia, an overburdened website stymied voters attempting to register online, leading a federal court to extend that state's registration deadline.

But citizens shouldn't have to run to the courthouse to protect their eligibility to cast a ballot that counts. While a natural disaster or a technological meltdown highlights the shortcomings of our voter registration system, the outdated and backward process by which we register voters in many of our states creates a perennial headache for voters and election officials around the country. Modernizing our voter registration system to maximize the registration of voters year-round would go a long way to ending disenfranchisement due to natural disasters, technological mishaps, or any of the other things that can and do go wrong in the lead-up to an election.

Online voter registration, in which voters can register to vote and update their registration online, has been a welcome reform, popular with voters and with officials. In fact, 39 states have or will soon have online registration systems in place. However, even with online voter registration, there is a pre-election rush of new registrants, which can crash websites and stop voters from registering. This year in Georgia, anyone who tried to register on the state's online registration website between the evening of Friday, October 7 and midday on Monday, October 10 was met with an error message. In Virginia on Monday, the last day for the state's voters to register, the online registration system crashed under the weight of heavy demand. Advocates have estimated that the glitch prevented “tens of thousands” of Virginians from registering. In South Carolina, too, advocates on the ground have reported would-be voters stymied in their attempts to register by the state's overburdened online voter registration system.

So, while online registration is one essential registration method states should offer voters, it can't be the only one. In particular, voters need easy and reliable ways to register throughout the year. The best way to ensure consistent and reliably high voter registration is by implementing automatic voter registration. Under automatic registration, eligible citizens who interact with government agencies are registered to vote unless they decline, and agencies transfer voter registration information electronically to election officials. An eligible citizen who visits the DMV in February, for example, will be registered to vote as part of that visit, and won't need to worry about their registration come October.

We know automatic registration works to steadily grow the rolls because we've seen the incredible successes in Oregon and Connecticut, the two states that have implemented automatic registration at their motor vehicle agencies. Since putting its automatic registration system into place this past January, Oregon has on average registered four times more voters per month at the DMV than previously. Connecticut registered more voters at motor vehicles agencies in the first month of automatic registration than in the entire preceding three years.

The good news for voters is that automatic voter registration is becoming increasingly popular. The legislatures in OregonCaliforniaVermont, and West Virginia have each passed automatic voter registration, and 21 other states introduced legislation to follow suit in this past legislation session. Connecticut implemented automatic registration through an agreement between the Secretary of State's office and the DMV.

The next important step for automatic voter registration is expansion beyond motor vehicle agencies. Many would-be voters don't have a car or a driver's license, and are unlikely to interact with the DMV. In fact, those populations that are disproportionately underrepresented on our voter rolls — minorities and low-income individuals in particular — are also less likely to drive. Automatic voter registration must be expended to register eligible citizens when they interact with social service agencies, get medical benefits, or register for classes at community college.

Even with online voter registration and automatic voter registration, there will be some would-be voters who fall through the cracks.  For this reason, states should also offer same day registration opportunities, in which eligible citizens can register and vote in one trip. Fifteen states plus the District of Columbia already offer same day registration, allowing eligible citizens to register or update their information at the polls on Election Day. Same day registration also has the benefits of increasing voter turnout by 5-7 percent and decreasing provisional voting, without any increases in voter fraud.

Natural disasters strike and technology is not fail-safe, but democratic participation in elections is far too important to be jeopardized by weather and computer glitches. By diversifying registration methods, voters will have a wider variety of options to ensure eligibility on Election Day. States should implement these systems in order to alleviate last-minute rushes to register and to mitigate the disenfranchisement caused by website crashes, natural disasters, and other barriers to voter registration. 

News Wed, 26 Oct 2016 09:20:23 -0400
Three Reasons to Be Worried About the Blackstone Group -- and Their Friend, Hillary Clinton

Stephen Schwarzman, chairman the Blackstone Group outside the New York Public Library in Manhattan, March 12, 2014. Leaked emails show Clinton's advisers sought to "develop a real relationship with" the controversial private equity firm. (Photo: Victor J. Blue / The New York Times)Stephen Schwarzman, chairman the Blackstone Group outside the New York Public Library in Manhattan, March 12, 2014. Leaked emails show Clinton's advisers sought to "develop a real relationship with" the controversial private equity firm. (Photo: Victor J. Blue / The New York Times)

Buried among the thousands of John Podesta's emails released over the last week, you'll find a short, revealing exchange between Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta and Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress and Clinton advisor-in-waiting.

"I saw Jon Grey [sic] today," writes Podesta. "We both sang your praises."

"He's a really good guy," she replies. "And given he will take over Blackstone, one to develop a real relationship with."

Podesta and Tanden were talking about Jonathan Gray, the global head of real estate and member of the board of directors of the Blackstone Group, a Wall Street private equity firm that is now the largest single owner of real estate in the entire world. This wasn't the only appearance Blackstone has made in the Podesta emails. Another thread from January 2016 shows Clinton staff trying to arrange a dinner with Gray and the company's Number 2, Tony James, as well as Tim Geithner and Larry Summers, two former Obama administration officials widely credited with spearheading Obama's soft-on-Wall-Street policies.

In fact, despite Tanden's email, Blackstone already has substantial ties to Clinton and the Democratic Party as a whole. James not only meets regularly with both Obama and Clinton, but has held two fundraisers for Clinton in the past year, including one last month where attendees paid from $50,000 to over $100,000 to rub elbows with the Democratic candidate. Clinton is the second biggest recipient of Blackstone members' money this cycle, narrowly behind Marco Rubio, and while the firm consistently gives more to Republicans, they've donated millions of dollars to Democrats in the past few years.

The mutual admiration between Clinton and Blackstone executives, and their attempts to woo each other, should concern anyone eager to see Clinton -- at this stage, following the implosion of the Trump campaign, the likely winner of the election -- follow through on a progressive agenda once in office. Blackstone has a less-than-stellar record of shady business dealings and red flags.

1) They're in the Slumlord Business

After the housing crash left millions of US homeowners underwater, Blackstone swooped in and lined its pockets from the misery of ordinary Americans. As homeownership rates have dipped, Blackstone, through its subsidiary Invitation Homes, has become the largest owner of single-family rental homes in the country, buying up tens of thousands of vacant, foreclosed homes.

As a 2014 In These Times investigation revealed, once these houses were occupied by tenants, Blackstone operated more as slumlord than landlord. Across the country, the company left homes in disrepair, shifting the responsibility of maintenance to tenants and ignoring constant requests to fix electrical and plumbing problems. One tenant had no less than six property managers over the course of a single year. In Atlanta, many tenants have no one to whom they can relay complaints directly, instead forced to navigate a straight-to-voicemail system.

Blackstone has violated tenants' rights in other ways too. It has hit tenants with sudden, unreasonably quick evictions, in one case sending a resident a five-day eviction notice after the company's own online payment system failed to deduct the tenant's rent for the month. In other cases, it sent eviction notices before the rent was even due.

Such rapid eviction may be motivated by the desire to sell homes that have accrued in value.

The company also charges tenants as much as 180 percent of a city's market rent and is not above raising the rent anywhere around 10 percent or more in lease reewals.

2) They're Engaged in Shadow Banking

Following the deregulatory free-for-all of the late 90s and early 2000s, banks engaged in all kinds of risky behavior that ultimately tanked the global economy. While they were mostly let off with a slap on the wrist and a few harsh words, policymakers did institute some regulatory changes to prevent a future catastrophe. One of these was to increase scrutiny of lending.

This left many banks more reluctant to lend, and in response there's been a trend toward "shadow banking," or non-banks engaging in lending. According to a 2015 report by Goldman Sachs, "shadow banks" -- of which Blackstone is one -- are responsible for 41 percent of all lending, or nearly $5 trillion worth, while avoiding the same regulatory oversight as traditional banks.

Nor are shadow banks bound by the so-called Volcker Rule, part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill. This bill prohibited banks from pursuing certain kinds of profit-driven trading, as well as restricting commercial banks' investments in hedge funds and private equity.

"Shadow banking" represents such a risk that one politician criticized Bernie Sanders' plan to break up the banks as insufficient because it did not deal with the problem. That individual? Hillary Clinton.

3) They Want Your Retirement Savings

The United States has one of the highest percentages of pensioners living in poverty in the world, with 21.5 percent of those aged 65 or older receiving an income less than half the national median. Blackstone's Tony James' solution to this problem, however, as he laid out in a January email to John Podesta, is not to make Social Security better funded, which he suggested isn't "politically viable" or "implementable."

Rather, James, together with the New School's Professor Teresa Ghilarducci, collaborated on a retirement savings plan (called, fittingly, "the Retirement Savings Plan") that would see workers and employers invest 3 percent of an employee's salary each year into "high-yielding and risk-reducing alternative asset classes like real estate, hedge funds, managed futures and commodities." Ghilarducci also happens to be one of Clinton's advisers, and according to the email, Podesta expressed "interest" in the plan.

There are several things wrong with the scheme, however. Not only do hedge funds underperform -- the Kentucky Retirement Systems, for instance, invests in a hedge fund that brought a return of 1 percent over three years, including a return of negative 8 percent in 2016 -- but they also siphon off profits in the form of exorbitant fees. For these reasons, pension funds have been abandoning hedge funds in recent years. As author Jane White pointed out, real estate and managed future funds aren't particularly "risk-reducing" either. Not to mention the fact that the James plan would reduce employee contributions from 5 percent, already one of the lowest in the world.

Of course, even if such a scheme would hurt pensioners, it might serve to benefit companies that deal in real estate, hedge funds and managed futures. A company that is "the world's largest discretionary investor in hedge funds." A company like Blackstone.

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News Wed, 26 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
One of the Biggest Media Mergers Ever May Be on the Horizon

AT&T is an enormous media, telecom and internet gatekeeper with a horrible track record of overcharging you, limiting your choices and spying on you.

It's still fighting Net Neutrality. It helps the government spy on people by turning over its customer records to the NSA. It tries to stop communities from building their own broadband networks. It's a member of ALEC, the corporate-backed lobbying group that's pushed legislation like pro-fracking, voter-suppression and "stand your ground" bills that disproportionately harm people of color.

And now AT&T wants to get even bigger.

The company wants to buy Time Warner in a deal valued at $85 billion. This would be one of the largest media mergers ever.

Time Warner owns CNN, HBO, TBS and TNT, major movie franchises like Harry Potter and Batman, DC Comics … the list goes on. AT&T just swallowed up DirecTV in another massive merger. This deal would combine one of the nation's largest phone and satellite-TV companies with a media content behemoth.

Deals like this don't benefit ordinary people: They just line the pockets of overpaid media executives (the Time Warner CEO could walk away with as much as $400 million) and lead to job losses for working people. These kinds of mergers hike prices for internet access and put up bigger barriers to entry for content creators -- shutting out independent voices and people of color who have been locked out of the traditional media system.

This merger would create a media powerhouse unlike anything we've ever seen before. AT&T would control mobile and wired internet access, cable channels, movie franchises, a film studio and more.

That means AT&T would control internet access for hundreds of millions of people and the content they view, enabling it to prioritize its own offerings and use sneaky tricks to undermine Net Neutrality.

This merger would give one bad company way too much power.

Massive mergers like this -- and the billions of dollars they waste -- never work out for the rest of us. Urge policymakers to block this deal.

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