News Mon, 08 Feb 2016 13:53:08 -0500 en-gb On the News With Thom Hartmann: The TPP Will Cost the US Nearly Half a Million Jobs, and More

In today's On the News segment: The Trans-Pacific Partnership will cost our nation nearly half a million jobs; Since Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder continues to fail the people of Flint, union plumbers have been stepping up to help those impacted by lead-tainted water; Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg says arbitration clauses are as bad as the infamous Lochner ruling was workers and consumers; and more.

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


Thom Hartmann here - on the best of the rest of Economic and Labor News...

You need to know this. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will cost our nation nearly half a million jobs. That's the conclusion of a new report from economists at Tufts University's Global Development and Environment Institute. And, according to that report, our jobs being shipped over seas isn't the only reason we should be concerned about the TPP. Researchers said that claims about how the TPP will boost economic activity in the US are "based on unrealistic assumptions." They also predicted that the TPP - aka SHAFTA - will lower our GDP more than half a point over the next decade, and decrease labor's share of income by 1.3 percent, which would worsen income inequality in the United States. In other words, shipping our jobs to low-wage nations will take money out of the pockets of US workers just to pad the bank accounts of corporate executives. Even the projections about how this deal will help developing nations appear to be wildly overstated. In this report, researchers estimated that a few of the nations involved in the TPP would gain a "negligible" boost from one to three percent of GDP. However, they said, "Businesses in participating countries would strive to become more competitive by cutting labor costs, thereby seeking higher short-term profits while undermining efficiency and productivity in the long term." In other words, businesses in those nations would follow in the footsteps of US corporations by shipping jobs to even-lower-cost countries and screwing their workers at home. And, these concerning statistics only add to worries about workers' rights, environmental regulations and national sovereignty. No matter which way you look at it, the TPP is a bad deal for workers and the projected benefits simply don't add up. We must continue to pressure Congress to keep SHAFTA from becoming reality so that we can keep US jobs, regulations, and sovereignty here at home.

Since Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder continues to fail the people of Flint, union plumbers have been stepping up to help those impacted by lead-tainted water. At the very end of last month, 300 plumbers and pipe fitters came from all over the country to install new faucets and water filters in Flint free of charge. In addition to the lead contamination, many residents were dealing with water faucets so old that they couldn't accommodate the water filters provided by the state. So, Plumbing Manufacturers International donated new fixtures, and members of the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices showed up for free to do the job. Although the water filters aren't enough to help homes with extremely high lead levels, they will work for most impacted by the contamination. The people of Flint have been dealing with this disaster for more than a year, but national media attention is finally bringing in some much-needed help. We should all take a cue from these generous union plumbers and help Flint stand up to Rick Snyder and his team of little dictators.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has a warning for the US worker. She says arbitration clauses are as bad as the infamous Lochner ruling was workers and consumers. That's the 1905 Supreme Court ruling that allowed businesses to exploit workers under the guise of a so-called "right to contract." That ruling was overturned in 1937, but arbitration clauses have taken up where Lochner left off. Every day, millions of consumers and prospective employees are forced to agree to arbitration clauses in order to purchase a product or to get hired for a new job. Those agreements typically dictate how and where someone can legally challenge a corporation, and limit the amount that is typically awarded in any particular case. Arbitration agreements are only used by corporations to bully customers and workers into giving up on legal disputes, and to trick people into signing away their legal rights. It's going to take a heck of a lot of work to unwind these dangerous agreements from our legal system, so it's great that the Notorious RBG is shedding light on arbitration clauses.

North Carolina's voting laws "intentionally" discriminate against people of color. That's the argument from attorneys who are working to overturn that state's restrictive voting laws. And, that's why groups like the North Carolina NAACP sounded the alarm during a recent trial over the state's discriminatory voting restrictions. After the Supreme Court stuck a vital blow to the Voting Rights Act, North Carolina reduced the number of early voting days, implemented a strict ID requirement, ended pre-registration, and prohibited same-day voter registration. Rev. William Barber, the president of that state's NAACP said that this law, "forces the communities who have faced the greatest barriers - who have shed blood and tears to access the ballot - to overcome hurdles once again to exercise their most fundamental right to vote." There is only about a month to go before North Carolina's primary election and no one should be blocked from rightfully participating in our democracy. Republicans have actively worked to keep people from the voting booth, and it's up to all of us to make sure that they don't succeed.

And finally… West Virginia lawmakers could be getting a taste of their own medicine. Well, they may be drug tested for that medicine if one state House Delegate has his way. Last week, in response to a new bill proposing to drug test welfare recipients, state House Delegate Shawn Fluharty introduced his own bill proposing to drug test legislators. His bill would require that West Virginia lawmakers take a drug test before each voting session and if they failed, they would be barred from voting or receiving their pay. He said, "I think the public expects us to adhere to the rules that we try to legislate." And he added, "There's no reason why state legislators should get a pass, simply because we wear suits." If lawmakers think that there's nothing wrong with subjecting people to drug tests, this is their opportunity prove that they don't consider themselves above the law. No one should be treated like a criminal simply for being poor, and "You first" is a perfect response to lawmakers who think otherwise.

And that's the way it is - for the week of February 8, 2016 - I'm Thom Hartmann - on the Economic and Labor News.

News Mon, 08 Feb 2016 13:10:37 -0500
Why Are Black Girls and Women Dying in Police Custody?

Gynna McMillen, a 16-year-old African-American girl who died in a Kentucky juvenile detention facility in January, is one of a growing number of Black women and girls who have died in police custody in the US. We must hold the state accountable for their deaths.

(Photo: Prison Cell Block via Shutterstock; Edited: LW / TO)(Photo: Prison Cell Block via Shutterstock; Edited: LW / TO)

Gynna McMillen was brought into the Lincoln Village Regional Juvenile Detention Center in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, on January 10, 2016, after police were called to her mother's house about a "domestic incident." The next morning she was found unresponsive in a cell. What happened to her? Why is she dead after less than 24 hours in the detention facility? These are questions being asked by Gynna's family and others concerned about the deaths of Black people in police custody.

Slowly, investigators are releasing information, and what we know so far is horrifying. Gynna McMillen, a 16-year-old Black girl, died in a detention center where staff used martial arts to restrain her when she refused to remove her sweatshirt. Gynna McMillen died while isolated in a cell. Gynna McMillen died alone: No one followed the protocol to check on her every 15 minutes.

Violence visited upon the bodies, souls and spirits of Black girls whom society deems "defiant" is all too common.

Black children have always faced disproportionately brutal treatment in jail. "Opportunities Lost: Racial Disparities in Juvenile Justice in Kentucky and Identified Needs for Systems Change," a 2009 issue brief written and published by Kentucky Youth Advocates, details disproportionate contact with children of color at every level of the juvenile legal system, from complaints against youth to arrest and detainment. Despite representing only 9.5 percent of the Kentucky youth population, African-American youth are more than twice as likely as white youth to have complaints filed against them, four times more likely to be detained during any point in court processing and more than four times as likely to have their cases referred to adult courts.

In 2013, the rate of African-American youth detained in juvenile detention, correctional and/or residential facilities was 495 per 100,000, the highest of any racial or ethnic group, according to National Kids Count data. For African-American girls specifically, the rate was 78 per 100,000, according to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

While the arrest rate has declined for boys in the juvenile legal system, it has not fallen as sharply for girls. African-American girls represent 33.2 percent of girls who are detained, although they are only 14 percent of the population. Many incarcerated girls have experienced one or more traumas, including abuse, poverty, mental illness and being funneled through child welfare systems. Instead of receiving the help they need, girls are routed into the juvenile legal system because of their victimization. Sometimes, their response to trauma is itself criminalized. As Monique Morris wrote in America's Wire, African-American girls are often criminalized for qualities associated with survival, such as being loud and defiant.

Violence visited upon the bodies, souls and spirits of Black girls whom society deems "defiant" is all too common. For a Black girl, "defiant behaviors" may include refusing to leave her desk, her presence at a pool party in a white neighborhood or refusing to remove a sweatshirt. When committed by Black girls, these acts are deemed to justify brutality.

Sandra Bland, Raynette Turner, Joyce Curnell, Ralkina Jones, Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Natasha McKenna and Sheneque Proctor: All were Black women who died while in police custody. Sadly, Gynna McMillen's name now joins a growing list of Black women dead at the hands of the state.

How do we hold schools and other institutions accountable to end the arrest and incarceration of African-American girls?

The state has many apparatuses to control, discipline and finally to disappear Black people, especially those deemed most deviant by the state, including women and girls, poor folks, queer, trans and gender-nonconforming folks, sex workers and people with a disability. Whether it's through incarceration in jails and prisons, the funneling of children into the foster care system, decreasing food stamps, not expanding Medicaid eligibility or allowing a community to drink lead-poisoned water, the tentacles of state violence are far reaching. As we mourn McMillen's death, we must recognize the interconnectedness of all of these systems of control and oppression.

What might justice look like for Gynna McMillen's family and friends? For one thing, it seems, it would involve the state being held accountable and forced to reveal the truth about how Gynna wound up dead in a juvenile detention center after less than 24 hours of entering. How do we hold schools and other institutions accountable to end the arrest and incarceration of African-American girls? The African American Policy Forum, in its 2015 report, "Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected," provides recommendations to address the needs of African-American girls, including: reviewing and revising policies that funnel girls into the juvenile legal system, developing protocols to ensure school personnel enforce all students' rights to an environment free from sexual harassment and bullying, developing programs that identify that signs of sexual victimization in order to support girls who have been traumatized, and advancing and expanding programs that support girls who are pregnant and/or parenting, or otherwise assuming familial responsibilities.

The lives of Black girls matter. Let's fight alongside them to end the state-sanctioned violence that results in their premature death.

News Mon, 08 Feb 2016 11:17:21 -0500
Aiming for Venus: Top GOP Candidates United in Denying Climate Change

Ted Cruz speaks, as Donald Trump, left, and Ben Carson, right, look on, during the Republican presidential debate hosted by ABC News at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., Feb. 6, 2016. (Stephen Crowley / The New York Times) Ted Cruz speaks, as Donald Trump, left, and Ben Carson, right, look on, during the Republican presidential debate hosted by ABC News at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, February 6, 2016. (Stephen Crowley / The New York Times)

None of the four leading Republican presidential candidates believe climate change is human caused, and none have called for any degree of action regarding climate disruption. If a GOP candidate were to become the next president, the prospects for the planet are bleak.

Ted Cruz speaks, as Donald Trump, left, and Ben Carson, right, look on, during the Republican presidential debate hosted by ABC News at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., Feb. 6, 2016. (Stephen Crowley / The New York Times) Ted Cruz speaks, as Donald Trump, left, and Ben Carson, right, look on, during the Republican presidential debate hosted by ABC News at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, February 6, 2016. (Stephen Crowley / The New York Times)

Of the Republican presidential candidates currently leading in the polls - Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Ted Cruz - only Rubio has acknowledged that climate disruption is real.

However, even Rubio's position should be taken with a grain of salt, as he continues to deny the reality of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD). In other words, he doesn't believe that people are to blame for planetary warming. On May 11, 2014, Rubio said, "I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it."

Cruz's stance toward ACD is no secret: He has received much media attention for regularly rejecting climate science, and even more attention for his more famous statement that "Climate change is not science, it is religion."

To see more stories like this, visit "Planet or Profit?"

Cruz also has the distinction of being listed as the only climate policy "hero" by the American Energy Alliance, a Koch brothers-backed climate change denier group that praised Cruz for his stance against taxes and regulations. Cruz recently pulled together a Senate hearing on whether climate science was "data or dogma."

The only two Republican presidential candidates who had reasonable positions about ACD (acknowledging that it is real and human-caused) were Sen. Lindsey Graham and George Pataki, but they received little support and dropped out of the race before the end of 2015.

If one of the Republican candidates currently leading in the polls wins the nomination and goes on to become the next president, the implications for the planet are indeed dire.

Aiming for Venus

Most congressional Republicans have been out of sync with the majority of Americans regarding ACD for quite some time now.

Recent polls show that some 70 percent of Americans accept the scientific consensus that the world is getting warmer. Nevertheless, less than half of Congress, and only 30 percent of those in the Senate, are willing to agree.

This is despite the fact that there has been ample evidence for years now that the fossil fuel industry has played an active role in promoting doubt and denial messages around ACD.

Current scientific data show that the planet is on a crash course to a boiling future that will assuredly be catastrophic without immediate and dramatic government-led mitigation measures. Nevertheless, Republicans remain undeterred in their efforts to allow corporate power to run amok over the environment.

As noted earlier, only Marco Rubio has said that climate disruption is real, with Ted Cruz at one point saying, "It's complicated," before abandoning even that relatively soft response in favor of flat-out denial coupled with an attack on science.

Carson and Trump continue to deny the reality of ACD, and Trump maintains his commanding lead in the polls.

Meanwhile, none of the four leading candidates believe ACD is human caused, none of them have called for any degree of action regarding ACD, none have ever explicitly said they would work to mitigate ACD if elected and not one of them has made a specific proposal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

"I'll tell you what I think about climate change," Carson has told other Republicans. "The temperature's either going up or down at any point in time, so it really is not a big deal."

Cruz has accused the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, along with other federal agencies that generate climate data, including NASA, of "cooking the books."

Even Rubio has shifted his position slightly to align with the other candidates' extreme positions. "I believe climate is changing because there's never been a moment where the climate is not changing," he said on CBS's "Face the Nation."

As for Trump, he has consistently made grandiose statements of denial. In 2013, he tweeted: "Ice storm rolls from Texas to Tennessee - I'm in Los Angeles and it's freezing. Global warming is a total, and very expensive, hoax!"

Earlier, he tweeted that he believes global warming "was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive."

And when it comes to the candidates' positions regarding broader environmental issues, the news is not any better.

Environmental Positions

"Protecting the environment is neither a Democratic nor a Republican position, but rather it should be a logical position for capitalists and socialists, because everyone should be looking out for the interests of future generations and trying to protect their own health as well," Ben Carson has said.

Yet Carson has made several public antagonistic statements against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and his overall positions toward ACD and the environment lack any coherence with his supposed concern for "future generations."

In July 2015, he posted on his Facebook page that he would radically change the way the EPA operates, and wrote, "My EPA would be much more like NASA and much less like the FBI. I believe we all understand that we want to leave our planet better than we found it. However, I believe the EPA should be a research and technology coordinator, not an armed police force. Find ways we can all pitch in and stop the regulatory mandates. Lead us, not leash us."

In a March 29, 2014, op-ed in the Reno Gazette-Journal, Carson wrote, "Many advocates of common sense are also concerned about the environment, but are reasonable enough to realize that rather than using Environmental Protection Agency regulations to stifle abundant energy production, we can use the EPA in conjunction with the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship to produce and export a vast amount of clean energy."

EPA bashing aside, Carson does not offer any actual policies that, if elected, he would try to enact to protect the environment.

Ted Cruz is far more straightforward in his disregard for the environment and the science behind ACD, and has the voting record to prove it.

During his 2012 Senate campaign, Cruz aimed to revoke the offshore drilling moratorium that was still in place at the time, and in September 2011 he penned an op-ed for the National Review in which he wrote:

Currently, the Obama administration is using the alleged presence of a lizard to try to stop oil and gas exploration in West Texas. Even more ominously, the EPA has launched 'investigations' into hydraulic fracturing, a long-used drilling process that has recently unlocked vast new reserves in both natural gas and oil. These new American energy reserves are poised to create countless new jobs and drastically reduce our dependence on foreign energy supplies. But if the Obama administration succeeds in banning hydraulic fracturing, tens of thousands of jobs will be lost and America will be left even more dependent on foreign dictators for our energy needs. We can and should vigilantly protect clean air and water while aggressively developing these new resources and new jobs.

In 2013, Cruz voted not to protect ocean, coastal and Great Lakes ecosystems. Then in 2014, he sponsored the American Energy Renaissance Act, which proposed lifting multiple regulations on energy producing industries.

Similarly, Rubio believes we should just let the so-called free market "fix" the environment. And like the rest of the four candidates in question, he too likes to take shots at the EPA.

On September 17, 2015, Rubio introduced a joint resolution disapproving of the EPA's expansion of federal authority over US land and waterways. "Hardworking Americans have had enough of Washington bureaucrats telling them how to use their land," he wrote. "The EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers are irresponsible to go forward with this job-killing rule despite the serious concerns raised by farmers, ranchers, manufacturers and small business owners across the country."

Rubio has called for lifting a ban on crude oil exports and stopping the EPA's Clean Power Plan, along with empowering local and state governments (rather than the federal government) to regulate energy production.

In 2013, he co-sponsored the National Energy Tax Repeal Act, which proposed prohibiting "the head of a federal agency from promulgating any regulation relating to power sector carbon pollution standards or any substantially similar regulation on or after June 25, 2013, unless that regulation is explicitly authorized by an Act of Congress."

As for Trump, in 2008, he made the claim that development "enhances" the environment, but also claims to have partnered with environmentalists when undertaking development projects.

While talking about energy production in 2011, Trump expressed being exasperated by the fact that the United States was not drilling more aggressively for natural gas and oil.

On August 24, 2012, Trump tweeted that wind turbines were "an environmental & aesthetic disaster," and that same year he told Fox News' Greta Van Susteren that President Obama's rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline was "disgraceful" and that "we should be able to drill our own oil."

When it comes to fossil fuel policy within the Republican presidential field, the candidates seem dedicated to staying the course - marching Earth toward a Venus-like future. 

News Mon, 08 Feb 2016 10:10:33 -0500
Trump Leads GOP Charge Embracing Torture: "I'd Bring Back Worse Than Waterboarding"

In the final debate before Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, Republican presidential contenders battled it out Saturday night at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. While much of the post-debate coverage focused on Marco Rubio for repeatedly reciting the same talking points about President Obama, less attention was paid to how the candidates embraced the use of torture and expanding Guantánamo. We air highlights and speak to Pardiss Kebriaei, senior staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights. She represents current and former Guantánamo detainees.


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

AMY GOODMAN: In the final debate before Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, Republican presidential contenders battled it out Saturday night at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. Taking part in the debate were New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Dr. Ben Carson, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, Donald Trump, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Ohio Governor John Kasich. ABC News excluded former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina from the debate despite protests from many Republicans.

Much of the post-debate coverage has focused on Marco Rubio for repeatedly reciting the same talking points about President Obama, even after he was called out by Governor Christie.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: And let's dispel once and for all with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing. He knows exactly what he's doing. ... But I would add this: Let's dispel with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing. He knows exactly what he's doing. ... Here's the bottom line: This notion that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing is just not true.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO: He knows exactly what he's doing.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: There it is, the memorized 25-second speech.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: He's - well, that's the -

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: There it is, everybody.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: That's the reason why this campaign is so important, because I think this notion - I think this is an important point. We have to understand what we're going through here. We are not facing a president that doesn't know what he's doing. He knows what he is doing. ... I think anyone who believes that Barack Obama isn't doing what he's doing on purpose doesn't understand what we're dealing with here. OK? This is a president - this is a president who's trying to change this country.

AMY GOODMAN: While headlines about "Robot Rubio" and "MarcoBot" dominated much of the discussion after the debate, a number of other issues did come up during Saturday's debate, including torture, North Korea, police brutality and eminent domain. We're going to look at all four of these issues and how the candidates responded on today's show. We'll begin with the issue of torture, raised by debate moderator David Muir of ABC News.

DAVID MUIR: We're going to stay on ISIS here and the war on terror, because, as you know, there's been a debate in this country about how to deal with the enemy and about enhanced interrogation techniques ever since 9/11. So, Senator Cruz, you have said, quote, "Torture is wrong, unambiguously, period. Civilized nations do not engage in torture." Some of the other candidates say they don't think waterboarding is torture. Mr. Trump has said, "I would bring it back." Senator Cruz, is waterboarding torture?

SEN. TED CRUZ: Well, under the definition of torture, no, it's not. Under the law, torture is excruciating pain that is equivalent to losing - losing organs and systems. So, under the definition of torture, it is not. It is enhanced interrogation, it is vigorous interrogation, but it does not meet the generally recognized definition of torture.

DAVID MUIR: If elected president, would you bring it back?

SEN. TED CRUZ: I would not bring it back in any sort of widespread use. And indeed, I'd join with Senator McCain in legislation that would prohibit line officers from employing it, because I think bad things happen when enhanced interrogation is employed at lower levels. But when it comes to keeping this country safe, the commander-in-chief has inherent constitutional authority to keep this country safe. And so, if it were necessary to, say, prevent a city from facing an imminent terrorist attack, you can rest assured that, as commander-in-chief, I would use whatever enhanced interrogation methods we could to keep this country safe.

DAVID MUIR: Senator Cruz, thank you. Mr. Trump, you said not only does it work, but that you'd bring it back.

DONALD TRUMP: Well, I'll tell you what. In the Middle East, we have people chopping the heads off Christians. We have people chopping the heads off many other people. We have things that we have never seen before - as a group, we have never seen before what's happening right now. The medieval times - I mean, we studied medieval times. Not since medieval times have people seen what's going on. I would bring back waterboarding, and I'd bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.

DAVID MUIR: Mr. Trump, thank you. Governor Bush, you have said that you won't rule waterboarding out. Congress has passed laws banning the use of waterboarding by the military and the CIA, as you know. Would you want Congress to change that, if you're elected president?

JEB BUSH: No. No, I wouldn't. No, I wouldn't. And it was used sparingly. Congress has changed the laws, and I think where we stand is the appropriate place. But what we need to do is to make sure that we expand our intelligence capabilities. The idea that we're going to solve this fight with Predator drones, killing people, somehow is a - is more acceptable than capturing them, securing the information - this is why closing Guantánamo is a complete disaster. What we need to do is make sure that we are kept safe by having intelligence capabilities, both human and technological intelligence capabilities, far superior than what we have today. That's how you get a more safe place, is by making sure that we're fully engaged. And right now this administration doesn't do that.

DAVID MUIR: Governor Bush, thank you. Senator Rubio, I do want to ask you, you have said that you do not want to telegraph to the enemy what you would do as commander-in-chief, but for the American people watching tonight who want to know where the next president will stand, do you believe waterboarding is torture?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Well, when people talk about interrogating terrorists, they're acting like this is some sort of law enforcement function. Law enforcement is about gathering evidence to take someone to trial and convict them. Antiterrorism is about finding out information to prevent a future attack. So the same tactics do not apply. And it is true: We should not be discussing wide - in a widespread way, the exact tactics that we're going to use, because that allows terrorists and others to practice how to evade us. But here's the bigger part - problem with all this: We're not interrogating anybody right now. Guantánamo is being emptied by this president. We should be putting people into Guantánamo, not emptying it out. And we shouldn't be releasing these killers, who are rejoining the battlefield against the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Marco Rubio at Saturday's Republican debate in New Hampshire, the eighth debate, the final one before the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday.

Joining us now is Pardiss Kebriaei, senior staff attorney with Center for Constitutional Rights representing current and former Guantánamo prisoners.

Welcome to Democracy Now!


AMY GOODMAN: So, quite a discussion here -


AMY GOODMAN: - both around the issue of waterboarding and of expanding Guantánamo.

PARDISS KEBRIAEI: Right. You know, there's a lot to say, hard to know where to begin. To this - to just the basic point about the fact that we are still debating whether things like waterboarding constitute torture and you have candidates able to say, "No, waterboarding is not torture," and to sort of redefine those terms, I mean, that is not - redefine the term of "torture," that's something that's not unique to the issue of torture, it's not unique to a political party. You know, we've heard many times administrations and officials say, "We don't torture, we don't engage in indefinite detention, we don't do targeted assassinations" - all of this by sort of unilaterally redefining and gutting terms of their plain meaning under international law. So, it's not new or unique.

As to whether things like waterboarding constitute torture, clearly, under widely accepted understandings and standards and definitions under international law, it is torture. The UN CAT committee, Committee Against Torture, has said it. The -

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Cruz said it wasn't.

PARDISS KEBRIAEI: Senator Cruz said it wasn't. The International Committee of the Red Cross, which is an authority on the laws of war and international humanitarian law, has said specifically waterboarding is torture. US courts have said it. US - the United States has prosecuted US and foreign soldiers for engaging in waterboarding. There have been prosecutions domestically for waterboarding domestically. So the idea that this is arguable is just not supported. It is clearly illegal.

I think the troubling thing is the fact that it has been made arguable or is able to be debated, still has in part to do with the fact that there has been zero accountability for torture under the Bush administration. And that's been something that has been - you know that falls on the Obama administration, I think.

AMY GOODMAN: What could be Obama administration do?

PARDISS KEBRIAEI: Well, there have been no - there have been calls for a special prosecutor to investigate clear allegations of crimes committed at least by the CIA, as evidenced by the Senate report on the CIA torture program. I mean, there's volumes of documented information about at least one piece of torture under the Bush administration. There should at least be an investigation domestically. Politically, you know, that seems very difficult, if not impossible. Those investigations have not been pursued.

We at CCR have - as a result, because of the lack of complete accountability domestically, we've turned to foreign courts and have supported or been involved or brought a request for prosecution or accountability in the courts of Spain. We've brought - we're supporting an action in France. There have been actions in Canada or before the CAT committee. So, I mean, we're trying, at least internationally through universal jurisdiction in foreign courts, to bring to bear some kind of accounting for what's happened.

But I think the fact that there hasn't been anything domestically, and the message is sort of "we need to look forward and not backward" by the Obama administration, is part of what has allowed this sort of gray zone and for things like torture and waterboarding, which is sort of the - one the most overt forms of it, to remain arguable and debatable, and cheered on national television - by Republican donors, but, you know, nonetheless.

AMY GOODMAN: The issue of expanding Guantánamo and the mutual outrage of the candidates that it was not being - not just closed, but expanded?


AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the prisoners that you represent inside Guantánamo.

PARDISS KEBRIAEI: Well, just one - I mean, there's a lot to unpack there. You know, when Rubio says that we need to be putting more people back into Guantánamo and the basic problem is we're not - we're not interrogating anyone anymore, it is false to suggest that Guantánamo was the only place where the United States or is the only place where the United States is interrogating terrorist suspects. In recent years, for example, there have been operations reported in the media, that we know about, where the United States has snatched suspects off the streets in suburban areas in their own homes. One example is of Abu Anas al-Libi in 2013, snatched in front of his home in a suburb of Tripoli by US military forces, held and interrogated aboard a US Navy ship without counsel, effectively incommunicado, and then appears in federal court in the United States to face charges and trial. And that entire period of extrajudicial holding, treatment, interrogation is effectively erased once that happens, because of the challenges of - because of the difficulty of challenging that treatment in federal court. But that is one sort of hybrid way the US is relying on wartime authorities - problematic ones - to sort of pick people up far from recognized war zones, hold and interrogate them without charge, without counsel, you know, effectively secretly, and then - and then bring prosecution. So we know that those things are happening. And so the suggestion that we're not interrogating anymore is just false.

As to, you know, expanding Guantánamo and, you know, what is happening with the prison now, there is a certain momentum in terms of transfers of people. We need to be very clear about who is being transferred. Those are people who US intelligence and defense officials themselves have said do not need to be at Guantánamo.

AMY GOODMAN: We're talking not only Obama administration officials -

PARDISS KEBRIAEI: Bush administration.

AMY GOODMAN: - but Bush administration officials.

PARDISS KEBRIAEI: We have said this 'til we're red in the face. I mean, it's just - it's just a complete distortion to suggest.

AMY GOODMAN: Many of these prisoners held for well over 10 years, cleared for years to be released.

PARDISS KEBRIAEI: The first group of people under the Obama administration were approved for transfer in 2009 and '10. Many of them are sitting in Guantánamo today, including some of our clients - Tariq Ba Odah, nine-year hunger striker, still at Guantánamo; Mohammed al-Hamiri, cleared for release in 2009, sitting in Guantánamo, perhaps even watching this broadcast now. There's another group of men who have been cleared under more recent administrative reviews, under what's known as the Periodic Review Board. Those are reviews that were set up and meant to start in 2011, didn't - nothing happened until 2013. That's entirely on the Obama administration. That's something entirely within executive control. There was an executive order that said these reviews need to start in 2011, they need to be done by 2012. Nothing happened until -

AMY GOODMAN: So it's four years later.

PARDISS KEBRIAEI: Four years later. Nothing happened after - until after a mass hunger strike at the prison in 2013. I mean, Guantánamo had really sort of fallen off the administration's agenda as a priority until after the hunger strike. Slowly, since then, the reviews have started. But there are still dozens of people who are waiting for their first review. One of my clients - two of my clients, Zahir Hamdoun, just went through his review, was approved for transfer; another, Ghaleb al-Bihani - both Yemenis - approved for transfer last year, still waiting for transfer. So, those men, cleared men by the administration itself, remain sitting in Guantánamo.

There is another problem in terms of the way people are being transferred from Guantánamo. That's an issue that's gotten far less attention. But in terms of what they face, particularly for those people not going home, which means a lot of the Yemenis, and they're not going home not because they don't want to go home or they can't go home, but because it is US policy not to send them back to Yemen because of conflicts that have nothing to do with some of their individual circumstances or their families or their facts, so, as a result, is needing to find third countries for them. You know, it's just the experience of people who have been held for 14 years without charge, arbitrarily, tortured, getting on another - getting on a plane and then landing in an entirely alien environment, without family, without community, with very little support. And -

AMY GOODMAN: Are the Democrats different in their approach to Guantánamo? I mean, Hillary Clinton was secretary of state during a number of these years.

PARDISS KEBRIAEI: No, I mean, these transfers - dozens of them, over 70, 80, 90 of them - have happened under the Obama administration. And certainly, transfers need to keep happening. Bottom line, the men in Guantánamo need to be out. But how they are being transferred, the support they have, what their experience on re-entry is like, that's important to pay attention to, as well. But separate from these issues, I think -

AMY GOODMAN: We have 30 seconds.

PARDISS KEBRIAEI: - we need to be clear about: The Obama administration's own plan for closing Guantánamo envisions maintaining the policy of indefinite detention. So part of the danger of that is that it allows for things. It allows for the policy and legal justifications to remain open, and would allow for a place, whether in Cuba or in a US prison, for future administrations to send additional detainees to. So that's part of the danger of the administration's own close - so-called close Guantánamo plan.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you, Pardiss Kebriaei, senior staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights representing current and former Guantánamo prisoners.

We're going to go on with this debate on the issue of eminent domain, preemptive strikes against North Korea, and about the issue of police brutality. Then we'll look at the Super Bowl, the protests, the concussions, and we'll look at Beyoncé, the song she released and the one she performed at halftime. Stay with us.

News Mon, 08 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
Only Ten of Scores Killed by US Drones in Pakistan Last Year Have Been Identified

Just 10 of the scores killed by US drones in Pakistan last year have so far been identified, according to data collected by the Bureau's Naming the Dead project.

The names for all 10 came from either terrorist propaganda or the US government, with officials from Pakistan's government, military and intelligence services declining to provide any names of those killed by the CIA for the first time since strikes started in 2004.

Only a minority of those killed are ever identified, but the number of those named in 2015 was particularly low. In total, according to Bureau research, of the minimum 2,494 people killed by US drones since 2004, only 729 have been named. At least 1,765 victims remain nameless.

The Bureau's Naming the Dead project is an attempt to identify more of these victims to better ensure accountability for the drone strikes. The CIA continues to carry out signature strikes in Pakistan - attacks on people it claims are terrorists from extensive surveillance and data analysis operations - but the targets' names are often not known.

In 2015, at least 60 people were killed by 13 strikes.

Of the 10 victims named, two were civilians: westerners Giovanni Lo Porto and Warren Weinstein, who were both aid workers taken hostage by al Qaeda when they were killed in a calamitous drone strike on January 15.

Five more were from al Qaeda and the remaining three were part of the Pakistan Taliban (TTP).

Of the 10, four names were provided by the US after weeks of CIA investigations, while the other six emerged from al Qaeda and TTP propaganda.

Name Nationality Group affiliation or job Source
Giovanni Lo Porto Italian Aid worker The White House
Warren Weinstein US Aid worker The White House
Ahmed Farouq US Al Qaeda The White House
Adam Gadahn US Al Qaeda The White House
Qari Ubaidullah Pakistani Al Qaeda Al Qaeda propaganda
Mohammad Ashraf Dar Indian Al Qaeda Al Qaeda propaganda
Talwar Shaheed Pakistani Pakistan Taliban Pakistan Taliban propaganda
Umar Shaheed Pakistani Pakistan Taliban Pakistan Taliban propaganda
Kharey Mehsud Pakistani Pakistan Taliban Pakistan Taliban propaganda
Burak Karlier Turkish Al Qaeda Al Qaeda propaganda

Little or nothing is publicly known about the remaining 50 people. Most were described as "militants" of varying nationalities by intelligence and government officials, and military officers who were quoted anonymously in Pakistani and international media.

In six of the 13 strikes in 2015, the unnamed sources labelled some if not all the people killed as "Uzbeks".

In four more strikes, the dead were described by their affiliation to an armed group, such as a TTP faction under a specific commander.

Although Pakistani officials were happy to brief journalists throughout last year on the nature of the drone strikes and the nationalities or terrorist affiliations of those killed, it was the first time since 2004 they did not help in the identification process.

They have previously leaked the names of those killed.

Why So Few Named in 2015?

It is unclear why 2015 was different. It could be that the identities of those killed were not known before Hellfire missiles struck and unless friends, relatives or comrades come forward their names might never be known.

Alternatively, victims' names could have been caught in the information lock down put in place in the tribal areas by ISPR - the Pakistani military's propaganda wing.

The Pakistani military has been fighting terrorists and other non-state armed groups in Waziristan since June 2014. Since then there has been a tight control on information released to the press about the campaign.

CIA drone strikes may be subject to the same strict information control.

Spies, Officials and Terrorist Propaganda: How We Get the Names

It is not unusual for the those carrying out drone strikes - nor for communities on the receiving end - to give out the names of the dead, though they have never been the only sources of names.

Terrorist propaganda has been a rich seam for identities and background information. Similarly, intelligence service and government officials in Washington have also quietly revealed to reporters the names and potted histories of some of the senior terrorists killed in the strikes.

Pakistan's premier spy agency, the ISI, may know the identities of many if not all of the dead. It is believed to have kept a record of the names of the people killed in the tribal areas, by drones and other means. Its officers have been sources of names of the dead in strikes from 2004 to 2014.

Why this stopped in 2015 is all the more confusing considering unnamed "Pakistani security officials" told the Express Tribune the first and so far only CIA strike of 2016 killed senior Taliban commander Maulana Noor Saeed, along with four others, on January 9.

Although the ISI enjoys a reputation for omniscience it is still possible even its officials do not know who died.

The same officials, intelligence officers and soldiers in Pakistan, however, told journalists the names of TTP and al Qaeda terrorists killed in US strikes across the border in eastern and southern Afghan provinces.

The Pakistani army has slowly worked its way across the tribal areas that run along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, driving the various armed groups deeper in to the mountains that run across the boundary separating the two countries.

Many of these fighters appear to have been forced across the border.

Afghan officials in Kabul and the provincial capitals also identified people killed in strikes in Afghanistan. The Bureau has recorded more than 100 names from over 700 people reported killed last year in Afghanistan.

The true death toll is higher. The Bureau's tally of people killed relates to 187 US strikes in Afghanistan last year for which there are media or other open source reports. The US says it carried out 411 air and drone strikes in total. The US will not provide individual details on each of these attacks and most of them go unreported - leaving a considerable gap in public understanding of the ongoing US war in Afghanistan.

News Mon, 08 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
Flint Whistleblowers Who Exposed Their Poisoned Water: We're Just Getting Started

The actions of a small group of dedicated activists in the Coalition for Clean Water led to the revelation that Flint, Michigan, residents were being poisoned by lead-contaminated water. The activists had been living with the yellow, brown, and red water flowing from their taps even as government officials denied it and the same poisoned water flowed from the taps at government buildings.

The activists, whose different organizations came together to form the coalition, organized, strategized, did water research and testing to expose the government's lies. Coalition activists included Flint residents Rev. Alfred Harris of the Concerned Pastors for Social Action; Melissa Mays, a mother of three who co-founded the group Water You Fighting For; and Trachelle Young, a former Flint city attorney.

"After the switch to Flint River water, members of my congregation experienced dirty water, hair loss, and rashes," says Harris, pastor of Flint's Saints of God Church. "As a concerned pastor, I contacted city and state officials. I was told the water was OK according to these [federal] guidelines. But it was irrefutably true that the water was having an adverse affect on the people of Flint."

That truth kept the members of the coalition fighting for justice. Now the whole world knows that lead-contaminated water poisoned people in the community of 100,000 where more than 60 percent are minorities and 40 percent live below the poverty level.

It started April 25, 2014, when the city switched from Lake Huron water treated by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to Flint River water treated at the Flint water treatment plant as a cost-saving measure. However, the Flint treatment plant did not add an anticorrosion chemical that would have kept the pipes from leaching lead into the water.

Many blame Gov. Rick Snyder because he appointed the emergency manager who made the switch. Michigan's emergency manager law is a controversial statute allowing a state takeover - without a vote - of municipalities and school systems suffering extreme financial problems.

Intended to save Flint a reported $5 million over two years, the move will end up costing billions for long-term physical, mental, and social health care for an as yet unknown number of poisoning victims, in addition to infrastructure repair and replacement.

It could have been much worse had the coalition not stepped up when it did. Harris began acting on the issue just a few months after Flint River water began running through the pipes.

Melissa Mays began noticing health problems in late 2014. She and her three boys lost hair and developed rashes. During a nagging respiratory infection, Mays' said her phlegm tasted like bleach. One preteen son had been having bone pain; when he broke a bone, it was brittle and it shattered.

Bone pain is a symptom of lead poisoning. That's one of many science lessons Mays learned during her Flint water ordeal.

She grew suspicious after the city issued three boil-water warnings for E. Coli and other bacteria in the drinking water. The city's solution had been to add extra chlorine. Then the water tested high for trihalomethanes, a chlorine byproduct that can lead to kidney or liver problems and an increased risk of cancer.

Mays and her husband, Michael Mays, began meeting with other concerned residents and formed the group Water You Fighting For. Michael, a web designer, put together a website to share information. That immediately got the attention of others, including environmental activist Erin Brockovich, who sent a representative to Flint to help bring more attention to the crisis.

When it became clear the group would need legal help, they contacted Trachelle Young, a former city attorney  who was then in private practice as a criminal defense lawyer. Although she didn't work in environmental law, the water had been affecting her, too. Every day, Young and her daughter travel about 35 miles to bathe at her mother's or friends' homes in Flint suburbs.

"I knew I wasn't going to get paid," says Young of taking on an initial suit to force the city to switch back to Detroit water. "I was going to have to research the subject, but this is more than just a case."

Young and the coalition first sued in June 2015, unsuccessfully, to force the city to resume getting its water from Detroit.

Then the coalition decided it needed to conduct its own water tests. Members worked with Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech environmental engineering professor, to distribute 300 water testing kits among city residents.

Edwards expected to get back about 75 water test kits. He got 277.

"He was totally blown away by the number of kits that got returned," says Curt Guyette, an ACLU reporter who got involved after investigating the emergency manager who made the Flint water decisions. Test accuracy relied on high community involvement.

Their test results showed a serious problem with the lead content - well over the federal action level for drinking water. City and state officials disputed the results, but they couldn't deny them anymore when Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha of Hurley Medical Center released a study in September that showed high blood-lead levels in Flint children. By Oct. 16, Flint was reconnected with the Detroit water system.

On Jan. 27, 2016, the Concerned Pastors, along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and activist Mays, sued in federal court to force Flint and the state to adhere to the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. The suit includes a demand that the city replace all lead pipes at no cost to residents. Separate county, state, and federal class action lawsuits have demanded the same.

There is still plenty to be done in Flint. Volunteers need to distribute the thousands of donated cases of bottled water. Health officials need to test children for lead poisoning and arrange for health care and rehabilitation for those who need it. Lead poisoning can cause developmental delays, learning difficulties, loss of appetite, fatigue, vomiting, and hearing loss, among other issues.

The recovery needs oversight. The government has damaged credibility with its residents.

Virginia Tech's Edwards has been appointed to the newly created Flint Water Interagency Coordinating Committee, which is tasked with finding a way to fix the water crisis. Hanna-Attisha is also on the committee.

In the meantime, coalition members are getting on with their lives. Attorney Young's trajectory has gone from city attorney to city opponent. Pastor Harris signed up for social action a long time ago and has a hopeful sense of what this all means. "If there ever was an issue than can bring us together, the Lord has sent it to us."

Like everyone else in Flint, their new life includes a whole new way of dealing with water. And other issues are looming: An entire generation has been endangered and the cost of infrastructure repair is daunting.

And not least, the issue of environmental racism has come up continually throughout the ordeal with people asking if this would have happened to a more affluent, more white community.

News Mon, 08 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
How Do We Define Climate Pollution's Cost to Society?

This story was originally published on January 27 at High Country News.

In a 2007 ruling on a dispute concerning fuel economy standards for cars, a judge sent a clear message to federal agencies. They could no longer continue business as usual and fail to account for climate change when assessing the costs and benefits of regulations. "The value of carbon emissions reduction is certainly not zero," Judge Betty B. Fletcher wrote in her opinion for the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. And by treating it as such, her opinion declared, the government was acting in an arbitrary and capricious fashion.

So, if the cost of polluting is not zero, what it is? Fletcher's ruling challenged government officials to come up with a dollar amount that represents how much a ton of carbon pollution will "cost" society over the long run. Economists refer to this as the social cost of carbon.

The concept is still evolving and will only become more important to understand as governments grapple with how to address climate change in the most effective and least costly manner.

It was in early 2009 that White House officials decided it was time to develop a unified way for agencies to estimate the social cost of carbon. They knew passing comprehensive climate legislation during the Great Recession would be difficult. They wanted a plan B that would help President Obama address global warming through regulations if legislation failed.

But regulations would force industries to adopt low-carbon energy options, which would be costly. Thus, the administration needed a way to prove that the benefits of reducing carbon dioxide emissions would be worth it. "We needed a way to convert carbon dioxide into dollars," recalls Michael Greenstone, a University of Chicago economist who, at the time, was the chief economist on the White House Council of Economic Advisors. Greenstone led a multiagency working group to come up with the government's approach.

Calculating a social cost of carbon is complicated. First off, climate change affects many aspects of society, including public health, environment, agriculture, natural disasters and economies. Also, scientists are still figuring out many basic questions of climate science, such as exactly how much pollution it takes to increase concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and boost temperature on Earth. A puff of carbon dioxide emitted today usually stays in the atmosphere for a couple hundred years, and a portion of it more than a thousand years, continuing to contribute to climate change. The damages from the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere - everything from heat waves to sea level rise - are felt across the globe. So the social cost of carbon has to reflect a stream of damages across time and around the globe.

The interagency group turned to academic researchers who had been studying the economics of climate change and calculating its social cost for decades. Their methods and outcomes differed. So, the government opted to utilize three widely-used models, taking the average of the three to derive the federal government's official estimate.

First, the models estimate how a metric ton of carbon pollution will impact concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Second, the models estimate how those concentrations will affect temperature on Earth. Third, they analyze how increases in temperature will translate into a range of impacts such as the loss of usable dry land because of sea level rise; stresses to agriculture from droughts; and increased need for air conditioning.

Discount Rate

To account for the fact that carbon emitted today will have impacts decades from now, the models require a discount rate, which tries to answer the question: How much money is it worth to today's society to avoid damages for future societies?

A discount rate works basically like an interest in a bank account, explains UC Berkeley research fellow Danny Cullenward. Imagine that climate change will result in a heat wave in 2100 that causes $1 billion in destruction, in 2100 dollars. How much would you be willing to pay now, in 2015, to avoid those damages? With a 2.5 percent discount rate, you would need to invest almost $123 million today in order to have $1 billion in 2100. With a 3 percent discount rate you would only need to invest $81 million, and with a 5 percent discount rate, $16 million. A lower discount rate calculates a higher cost of carbon.

The working group couldn't agree on one discount rate. So the group recommends that agencies consider four social costs of carbon per year, when crafting regulations. That's one for each of the three interest rates and a fourth to reflect the possibility that the planet will heat up faster and damages will be greater than currently expected.

Government agencies just need to multiply these numbers by the tons of carbon their regulations are expected to either reduce or increase. And voila, they have the carbon costs or benefits of their regulations.

For example, if the social cost of carbon in 2030 is $48, the EPA could multiply that by 413 million short tons (this regulation uses the measurement short tons instead of metric tons) of carbon dioxide, which is the amount the agency expects will be kept out of the atmosphere that year under the Clean Power Plan. That means the regulation that year theoretically will save society $20 billion.

That's with the 3 percent discount. But because the government uses four social costs of carbon, regulations designed to reduce carbon emissions show a broad range of possible benefits. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency's analysis of its Clean Power Plan cites benefits in carbon dioxide reductions in 2030 that range from $6 billion to $60 billion.


There's lot of uncertainty that goes into estimating the social cost of carbon. For instance, climate scientists still are figuring how sensitive global temperatures are to increases in carbon pollution. So, when calculating its social cost of carbon, the government ran the models thousands of times using various temperature projections. The science also continues to evolve on the many damages expected from climate change such as forest fires, floods, sea-level rise and heat waves.

The government also used five different estimates of economic and population growth.

"These models are guesses at best; there's an enormous amount of uncertainty," says David Weisbach, a University of Chicago economist. Not only are the estimates uncertain, but they evolve over time. In 2013, the government revised its estimates to reflect updates in climate science, and in 2015, made additional tweaks. To make the cost more transparent, Weisbach's research group created a website, which anyone can use to see how widely the social cost of carbon can vary depending on the assumptions applied.

Weisbach is an author of one of a handful of recent academic articles that argue that the government's numbers are far too low because the models the government uses assume that the global economy will continue to grow over the next 200 to 300 years, even in the face of extreme climate change. One of these articles, published in 2015 by the journal Nature Climate Change, found that social costs of carbon should be several times higher to reflect the impact severe climate change likely would have on economic growth.

Given these and other criticisms, the interagency working group asked advice from the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, which appointed a group of engineers, climate scientists and economists to review the government's estimates and consider ways to update the methodology. Its first report, in January 2016, did not recommend any major short-term changes but suggested ways to better communicate uncertainties. A more comprehensive and final report is expected in 2017.

While the government's approach to assessing the social cost of carbon is imperfect, it represents a huge improvement from 2007 when Judge Fletcher called out the government for failing to assess the cost of climate change impacts. "This is 100 percent better than zero," Cullenward says.

The University of Chicago's Greenstone argues that the government would do well to start using its social cost of carbon to set rates for royalties and leasing federal fossil fuels. His calculations suggest such a policy would have little impact on oil and gas, but huge implications for coal because its market value is a fraction of the cost of the climate damages from extracting and burning it.

News Mon, 08 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
Mainstream Media Must Leave Abortion Stigma in the Past

"Violent." "Sickening." "Disgusting." "Inhuman." These are all words regularly used by prominent media sources to stigmatize and mislead on the reality of abortion.

Listening to these words used to smear and shame women who exercise the right to an abortion, it'd be easy to forget that 43 years ago the Supreme Court protected that constitutional right.

Women's access to reproductive health care is as much in jeopardy as ever, as anti-choice activists and their GOP accomplices in Congress are rapidly chipping away at that right, emboldened by the echo chamber where media figures perpetuate abortion stigma.

Abortion stigma is the "shared understanding" that abortion is morally wrong or socially unacceptable. It shows up in all facets of popular culture but is especially dangerous when it taints news coverage of abortion stories.

Abortion Stigma Takes Many Forms

Abortion stigmatization can be incredibly obvious in right-wing media, where abortion is often referred to as sickening, "grizzly," unethical, and on par with terrorism, while abortion providers are smeared as villains and compared to Nazis. But some of the most insidious perpetuations of abortion stigma are subtly pushed by mainstream media, like in news stories about abortion laden with emotionally manipulative language and images, and in popular culture, such as our favorite TV shows and movies.

When news outlets use footage of extremely pregnant women and even babies to cover abortion stories, the viewer's focus shifts from the women seeking abortions to the contents of their wombs. Stock footage that cuts off the heads of women and shows only their bodies in later stages of pregnancy is particularly egregious. These images also offer a subtle nod to the anti-choice activists who want news consumers and voters to believe that the majority of women getting abortions are 40 weeks pregnant. But that could not be further from the truth. The vast majority of abortions - 90 percent - occur during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, when it's often not visible.

The media also help carry water for anti-choice activists when they squander opportunities to correct misinformation. In the past year alone, states have introduced 45 TRAP laws (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers), which are deceptive measures aimed at shutting down abortion providers by imposing medically unnecessary regulations under the guise of protecting women's health. TRAP laws include requirements for abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges and rules that clinics must be outfitted like ambulatory surgical centers - measures that are not only unnecessary, but that also impede abortion access and put women's health at risk by delaying or even preventing care. When the media report on these TRAP laws without acknowledging the medical community's consensus that these rules are medically unnecessary, they further promote abortion stigma by telling women that abortion is inherently unsafe and in need of regulation.

Hollywood Is Also Part of the Abortion Stigmatization Process in Media

Rush Limbaugh is wrong - Hollywood will not do "anything" to "normalize" and "promote" abortion. In fact, it's often the opposite. Abortion stigma shows up in other media as well, like when our favorite TV shows and movies depict abortion as anything other than a routine medical procedure. A recent study conducted by University of California, San Francisco sociologists Gretchen Sisson and Katrina Kimport of TV stories from 1916 to 2013 explained that abortion in fictional shows is often linked to death for female characters - whether they obtain the procedure or not - perpetuating the false myth that abortion frequently causes death. In reality, pregnancy is a more frequent cause of death than is induced abortion. Another study by Sisson and Kimport identified how TV depictions of abortion contribute to misconceptions about who has abortions and why. In an interview with The Washington Post's Alyssa Rosenberg*, Sisson explained that characters who get abortions on TV tend to be wealthy, white teenagers who have never given birth before. She noted that while in reality, such women do get abortions, the depictions on aggregate underrepresent the Latina and black women who obtain abortions, and distort the reasons why they obtain them. When shows emphasize women obtaining abortions when they either don't want children, or want to prioritize their careers or education, and underrepresent women who make the choice due to financial pressures, health risks, or a need to focus on their other children, they create the "perception that abortion is a want rather than a need." And when they depict a disproportionate number of women obtaining abortions because the pregnancies were the result of rape or incest, they send the message that abortion is a legitimate choice only in those horrific circumstances.

Abortion Stigma Creates Space for Anti-Choice Activists and Extremists to Justify Violence

The year 2015 saw an uptick in the number of attacks against abortion providers over previous years, culminating in the deadly November shooting attack on a Colorado Planned Parenthood by a man who called himself a "warrior for the babies" and said he was trying to ensure that there were "no more baby parts." The phrase "baby parts" had been used repeatedly in cable news coverage about Planned Parenthood in the months prior to the attacks. The deadly attack on a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood affiliate came after an FBI Intelligence Assessment reportedly concluded, "it is likely criminal or suspicious incidents will continue to be directed against reproductive health care providers, their staff and facilities." And as Vox's Emily Crockett pointed out in November, "threats, vandalism, and violence against abortion providers and clinics have escalated since this summer," when the anti-abortion organization Center for Medical Progress (CMP), "released deceptively edited videos that accused Planned Parenthood of 'selling baby parts.'" CMP's smear campaign was bolstered by the conservative echo chamber and right-wing media, which obsessively aired and backed the organization's false claims that Planned Parenthood had committed crimes. The Colorado Springs shooter's vitriol bore remarkable resemblance to the deceptively edited smear videos. It serves as a tragic reminder of the violent repercussions of pervasive abortion stigma when anti-choice activists are able to capitalize on the conservative echo chamber.

At least five other Planned Parenthood facilities were attacked in 2015 since the release of CMP's first video in July (some reports from September 2015 indicated there may have been as many as nine criminal or suspicious incidents targeting the group). Before Colorado, clinics in Thousand Oaks, CA; Pullman, WA; Aurora, IL; and New Orleans, LA, experienced attacks that in some cases impeded clinic operations.

There is no definitive evidence tying a specific attack to a specific media report, but it is crucial to note that the incidents have occurred in the midst of a prevalent smear campaign against abortion providers that has been enabled in part by abortion stigma.

Attacks on reproductive rights don't occur in a vacuum. According to RH Reality Check, "A report released in February [2015] found that threats of harassment, intimidation, and violence against women's health clinics have doubled since 2010. Reproductive rights advocates have raised concerns that radical anti-choice activists have been emboldened by a wave of GOP legislative attacks on reproductive rights."

Abortion Stigma Is Used to Justify Laws That Close Down Abortion Providers

Legislative attacks by the GOP on reproductive rights are marshaled in by media figures perpetuating abortion stigma. According to a November 2015 report from NARAL Pro-Choice America, 22 states enacted 41 anti-choice measures in 2015. These measures included medically unnecessary TRAP laws, mandatory delays that force women to wait a certain period of time before obtaining an abortion, and laws barring abortion providers from receiving public funds.

This year there will be a landmark decision regarding abortion access when the US Supreme Court hears Whole Women's Health v. Hellerstedt. The case is expected to determine the constitutionality of a Texas anti-choice law that, if allowed to stand, will have far-reaching consequences involving the ability to access abortion. The law is both medically unnecessary and based on the myth that abortion is unsafe and requires extra regulations to protect women's health - a myth used to stigmatize abortion and shutter providers.

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court's previous decisions on abortion have already echoed stigmatizing language on abortion.

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has repeatedly adopted one of the right-wing media's favorite stigmatizing anti-choice abortion myths. Slate notes that Justice Kennedy has exhibited a troubling pattern of using "language straight out of the anti-abortion movement's talking points," including floating the right-wing media myth that women "regret" their choice to have an abortion. Medical experts have repeatedly debunked the stigmatizing myth, explaining that the vast majority of women receiving abortions "felt it was the right decision." Amicus briefs have been submitted to the justices in the Whole Women's Health v. Hellerstedt case that were meant to combat the media-encouraged stigma and ensure that justices hear from women who say access to abortion care improved their lives.

Anti-choice laws have dire consequences for women and families, causing clinic closures and restricted access to services. Texas' anti-choice restrictions have already forced about half the state's clinics to close, and some estimates predict up to 75 percent of clinics could ultimately close as a result of the law. The closures would disproportionately harm low-income women in rural areas of the state and strand nearly 1 million women more than 150 miles from the nearest abortion provider. The Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP)interviewed a number of women whose access to abortion care was severely impeded as a result of Texas' anti-choice law, and found that women's health care "was delayed, and in some cases [women were] prevented altogether" from obtaining an abortion. Investigators noted that women not only "reported a lack of information and confusion" in the wake of clinic closures, but also that once they had located an affordable provider, many "faced substantial added travel and hotel costs when seeking abortion services." Experts have warned that the Texas law could actually place more women at risk, predicting that women are more likely to self-induce abortion "as clinic-based care becomes more difficult to access."

Abortion Stigma Should Have No Place in 2016

Abortion isn't scary, but the threat that these laws and anti-choice extremists pose to women's health and basic human rights is terrifying. Imagine a potentially imminent future where women are forced back into the margins of society, and expected to sacrifice their lives, jobs, and education because they no longer control their own bodies or decision to give birth - where miscarriages can become criminalized and the basis to investigate women for self-abortions. That future sounds alarmingly like the past, like a time when women were forced to take their health care into their own hands, and risk their lives to end unwanted or life-threatening pregnancies in the shadows. When women lose control over their reproductive health, they lose control over nearly every other aspect of their lives.

*Rosenberg is married to Media Matters Research Director Matt Gertz.

News Mon, 08 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
Why Is Cornell University Hosting a GMO Propaganda Campaign?

(Photo: Microbiology lab via Shutterstock; Edited: LW / TO)(Photo: Microbiology Lab via Shutterstock; Edited: LW / TO)

The founders of Cornell University, Andrew D. White and Ezra Cornell, dreamed of creating a great university that took a radical approach to learning.

Their revolutionary spirit, and the promise to pursue knowledge for the greater good, is said to be at the heart of the Ivy League school their dream became.

It is difficult to understand how these ideals are served by a unit of Cornell operating as a public relations arm for the agrichemical industry.

Yet that is what seems to be going on at the Cornell Alliance for Science (CAS), a program launched in 2014 with a $5.6 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and a goal to "depolarize the charged debate" about GMOs.

A review of the group's materials and programs suggests that beneath its promise to "restore the importance of scientific evidence in decision making," CAS is promoting GMOs using dishonest messaging and PR tactics developed by agrichemical corporations with a long history of misleading the public about science.

Communicating Science or Propaganda?

CAS is a communications campaign devoted to promoting genetically engineered foods (also known as GMOs) around the world. This is made clear in the group's promotional video.

CAS Director Sarah Evanega, PhD, describes her group as a "communications-based nonprofit organization represented by scientists, farmers, NGOs, journalists and concerned citizens" who will use "interactive online platforms, multimedia resources and communication training programs to build a global movement to advocate for access to biotechnology."

In this way, they say they will help alleviate malnourishment and hunger in developing countries, according to the video.

Dr. Evanega said her group has no connections to industry and receives no resources from industry. "We do not write for industry, and we do not advocate for or promote industry-owned products," she wrote in a blog post titled "A Right to Be Known (Accurately)" in which she pushed back against criticisms from my group, US Right to Know.

Yet the flagship programs of CAS - a 12-week course for Global Leadership Fellows and two-day intensive communications courses - teach communication skills to people who are "committed to advocating for increased access to biotechnology" specifically so they can "lead advocacy efforts in their local contexts."

The group also has unusual dealings with journalists. What does it mean, as the CAS video states, that it is "represented by" journalists?

CAS offers journalism fellowships with cash awards for select journalists to "promote in-depth contextualized reporting" about issues related to food security, crop production, biotechnology and sustainable agricultural. Are these journalists also GMO advocates? How ethical is it for journalists to represent the policy positions of a pro-agrichemical-industry group?

Messaging for Corporate Interests

One thing is clear from the publicly available CAS messaging: the context they offer on the topic of genetically engineered foods is not in depth and comprehensive but rather highly selective and geared toward advancing the interests of the agrichemical industry.

For example, the video: Brimming with hope about the possibilities of GMOs to solve world hunger in the future, it ignores a large body of scientific research that has documented problems connected with GMOs - that herbicide-tolerant GMO crops have driven up the use of glyphosate, an herbicide linked to cancer by the world's leading cancer experts; and accelerated weed resistance on millions of acres of US farmland, which makes crop production harder for farmers, not easier.

There is no mention of the failure of GMO crops designed to ward off harmful insects, or the rising concerns of medical doctors about patterns of illness in places like Hawaii and Argentina where exposures are heaviest to the chemicals associated with GMOs.

There is no recognition that many scientists and food leaders have said GMOs are not a priority for feeding the world, a debate that is a key reason GMO crops have not been widely embraced outside of the United States and Latin America.

All these factors are relevant to the discussion about whether or not developing countries should embrace genetically engineered crops and foods. But CAS leaves aside these details and amplifies the false idea that the science is settled on the safety and necessity of GMOs.

Disseminating selective information of a biased or misleading nature to promote a particular agenda is known as the practice of propaganda.

Working From Industry's PR Playbook

The Cornell Alliance for Science was supposed to present "a new vision for biotechnology communications," yet the group relies on an established set of messages and communication tactics that are familiar to anyone who follows the PR campaigns of the agribusiness industry.

The report Spinning Food, which I co-authored with Kari Hamerschlag and Anna Lappé, documents how agribusiness and food industry funded groups are spending tens of millions of dollars a year to promote misleading messages about the safety and necessity of industrial-scale, chemical-intensive, genetically engineered agriculture.

The companies that profit most from this system - Monsanto, Dow, DuPont and other agrichemical giants - have repeatedly violated trust by misleading the public about science, as Gary Ruskin showed in his report "Seedy Business." So they rely on front groups and third-party allies such as scientists and professors to spread their messaging for them.

A core industry narrative is that the science on GMO safety is settled. Pro-industry messengers focus on possible future uses of the technology while downplaying, ignoring or denying the risks; make inaccurate claims about the level of scientific agreement on GMOs; and attack critics who raise concerns as "anti-science."

As one example, Mark Lynas, political director of CAS, wrote a New York Times op-ed accusing 17 European Union countries that banned GMO crop cultivation of "turning against science." He dubbed them the "coalition of the ignorant."

The article is heavy on attack and light on science, brushing over the topic with an inaccurate claim about a safety consensus that many scientists have disputed. As molecular geneticist Belinda Martineau, PhD, wrote in response to Lynas, "Making general claims about the safety of genetic engineering ... (is) unscientific, illogical and absurd."

The World Health Organization states, "it is not possible to make general statements on the safety of all GM foods." Yet, while claiming to stand up for science, CAS routinely makes general - even outlandish - claims about GMO safety.

From the group's FAQ:

  • "You are more likely to be hit by an asteroid than be hurt by GE food - and that's not an exaggeration."
  • "GE crops currently available to the public pose no greater health risks or environmental concerns than their non-engineered counterparts. This is not opinion."

In fact, it is propaganda.

Battling Transparency in Science

In the spring of 2014, CAS launched a petition attacking my group US Right to Know for filing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to obtain the emails of publicly funded professors as part of our investigation into the food and agrichemical industries and their PR operations.

CAS called the FOIA requests a "witch hunt," yet documents obtained via these FOIA requests generated news stories in several top media outlets about academics who were working with industry PR operatives on campaigns to promote GMOs without disclosing those ties to the public.

The story broke in a front-page New York Times article by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Eric Lipton, who explained how Monsanto, facing consumer skepticism about GMOs, "retooled their lobbying and public relations strategy to spotlight a rarefied group of advocates: academics, brought in for the gloss of impartiality and weight of authority that come with a professor's pedigree."

In one case, reported by Laura Krantz in the Boston Globe, a Monsanto executive told Harvard professor Calestous Juma to write a paper about how GMOs are needed to feed Africa.

"Monsanto not only suggested the topic to professor Calestous Juma. It went so far as to provide a summary of what the paper could say and a suggested headline. The company then connected the professor with a marketing company to pump it out over the Internet as part of Monsanto's strategy to win over the public and lawmakers," Krantz wrote.

Juma said he took no money from Monsanto but noted he has received funding from the Gates Foundation, which has been partnering with Monsanto for years on pro-GMO projects after Rob Horsch, Monsanto's veteran top executive for international development, joined the Foundation in 2006. Horsch now leads Gates' agricultural research and development team.

A 2014 analysis by the research group GRAIN found that most of the $3 billion spent by Gates Foundation to feed the poor in Africa went to wealthy nations. A new report by Global Justice Now makes the case that Gates Foundation strategies, especially on agriculture, are exacerbating global inequality and entrenching corporate power globally.

The public has a right to know if academics posing as independent sources are working behind the scenes with corporations and their PR firms on coordinated messaging campaigns to push a corporate agenda.

CAS takes the position in its petition that the public doesn't have a right to know about the ties between industry PR operatives and 14 public scientists who have "contributed to the scientific consensus about the safety of GMOs."

The Cornell petition is accompanied by a photo montage featuring Carl Sagan, Madame Curie, Albert Einstein and other deceased scientists who have not signed the petition, stamped with the slogan, "I stand with the #Science14" - a bit of PR flair that mirrors the dishonest propaganda used to oppose GMO labeling.

Aligning With Industry PR Writers

At an esteemed institution like Cornell, you might expect to find experts in science or ethics teaching communication courses that promise to restore scientific integrity to public discourse. Instead, at CAS, you will find experts in crisis management communication who specialize in opposing public health regulations.

For example, Trevor Butterworth, a visiting fellow at Cornell and director of Sense About Science (which describes itself as a "non-partisan, non-profit organization that advocates for sense about science!") is partnering with CAS to teach students and scientists how to communicate with journalists about GMOs.

Butterworth has a long history of communicating science for the benefit of corporations wishing to keep their products unregulated. A 2009 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article by Meg Kissinger and Susanne Rust about industry lobbying efforts on bisphenol A (BPA) identified him as a "chemical industry public relations writer."

As an editor of STATS at George Mason University, Butterworth was a prolific defender of BPA who "regularly combs the Internet for stories about BPA and offers comments without revealing his ties to industry," Kissinger and Rust wrote.

"STATS claims to be independent and nonpartisan. But a review of its financial reports shows it is a branch of the Center for Media and Public Affairs. That group was paid by the tobacco industry to monitor news stories about the dangers of tobacco." (The tobacco industry, they noted, was lobbying alongside the chemical industry to keep BPA unregulated.)

Butterworth has also promoted industry positions arguing against regulations for vinyl plastic and phthalates, fracking, high fructose corn syrup and sugary sodas.

He now partners with CAS to teach students how to communicate about GMOs, and CAS political director Lynas sits on the advisory board of Sense About Science.

Lynas' work raises more questions: Why does a science group need a political director? And why would CAS choose Lynas for the role? Lynas is not a scientist but an environmental writer who rose to sudden fame after embracing GMOs, and his science has been critiqued at length by scientists, reporters and professors.

Depolarizing the GMO Debate?

Corporations have been known to deploy outrageous messaging when their products run into trouble; examples include "DDT is good for me," "More doctors smoke Camels" and the Dutch Boy campaign to promote lead paint to children.

A low point for chemical industry messaging was its PR campaign to paint Silent Spring author Rachel Carson (and environmentalists in general) as murderers of millions of children in Africa for raising concerns about DDT. That sort of messaging is making a comeback in the GMO debate.

In September 2015, the CAS Speakers Series hosted Owen Paterson, a Conservative Member of the UK Parliament, for a talk titled, "Check Your Green Privilege: It's Not Environmentally Friendly to Allow Millions to Die."

Paterson's speech was filled with hyperbolic claims about GMOs that lack scientific rigor - like the one that GMOs "are in fact safer than conventionally bred crops ... one of the most environmentally friendly advances this world has ever seen ... can save millions of lives that today are squandered by the ideology of massively supported environmental campaign groups."

The speech garnered praise from the American Council on Science and Health, a well-known industry front group, in a blog by Dr. Gil Ross titled, "Billion Dollar Green Campaigns Kill Poor Children."

Ross explained in the blog that the CAS Speakers Series was created, "to use facts to counter the perceived tendency of college students to follow the environmentalist mantra without too much thought ... the concept of being afraid of genetic engineering is akin to looking under the bed for hobgoblins such as Godzilla, awakened by the atomic tests of the Cold War."

Paterson and Ross are unhelpful to the image of scientific integrity CAS is trying to project. Ross is a convicted felon who spent time in jail for Medicaid fraud. Paterson, a former UK environment secretary, is widely seen as a climate change skeptic whose views are incompatible with science.

How Are Bloggers in Hawaii Helping Feed the Poor in Africa?

With its year round growing season, the Hawaiian Islands are an important testing ground for GMOs. They are also ground zero for concerns about pesticides associated with GMOs, and a key focus of industry's pro-GMO propaganda campaigns and allies such as CAS.

Elif Bealle, executive director of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action, has been active in grassroots efforts for pesticide reporting, bans and pesticide buffer zones around GMO crops. She has also been keeping an eye on CAS, which she said has been recruiting local bloggers and has associates on several of the Islands.

"They present themselves as 'just concerned local residents' or 'neutral journalists.' They are almost full time commenting on online newspaper articles, submitting, Community Voice Op-Eds, etc. Their blog posts are regularly picked up and disseminated by the biotech trade group website in Hawaii, the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association," Bealle said.

For example, Joni Kamiya, a CAS Global Leadership Fellow, uses her blog, Hawaii Farmer's Daughter, to promote the "safety and science" of GMOs with messaging that glosses over science and disparages GMO critics.

Kamiya is also an "independent expert" for GMO Answers, a GMO PR website created by Ketchum PR firm and funded by agrichemical companies. Her articles are posted on Jon Entine's Genetic Literacy Project, which was also tapped to publish the GMO promotion papers assigned by Monsanto and written by professors.

Kamiya also writes for the Kauai Farming and Jobs Coalition, a group with unknown funding that claims to "represent a wide range of individuals and organizations in our community" and promotes the Genetic Literacy Project and other food industry front groups such as the Center for Consumer Freedom.

Other CAS allies in the Islands include Lorie Farrell, a CAS associate who writes for GMO Answers and helped coordinate opposition to the GMO cultivation ban on the Big Island for Hawaii Farmers and Ranchers United; and Joan Conrow, who has a consulting contract with Cornell and writes the confrontational blog Kauai Eclectic.

Their messaging follows a typical pattern: they claim a scientific consensus on GMO safety and attack people calling for transparency and safety as outsiders who are killing the "Aloha spirit" of the Islands.

Arming the Conflict

In his article, 'The War on Genetically Modified Food Critics', Tufts Professor Timothy Wise takes the media to task for falling for industry PR tactics and incorrectly reporting the science on GMO as "settled."

"What we're seeing is a concerted campaign to ... paint GMO critics as anti-science while offering no serious discussion of the scientific controversy that still rages," Wise wrote. One indicator of that campaign, he said, was the Gates Foundation award to Cornell to "depolarize" the debate over GM foods.

"The Gates Foundation is paying biotech scientists and advocates at Cornell to help them convince the ignorant and brainwashed public, who 'may not be well informed,' that they are ignorant and brainwashed ... It's kind of like depolarizing an armed conflict by giving one side more weapons," Wise wrote.

Instead of arming the PR wars in service of industry, Cornell University should stand up for science by convening a more honest discussion about GMOs - one that acknowledges the risks as well as the benefits of genetically engineered foods.

One that refrains from attacking and instead seeks common ground with groups calling for transparency and health and safety standards.

CAS Director Dr. Evanega said her group does share common values around right to know and access to information, and she disputes the notion that CAS was formed to promote GMOs.

"So-called 'GMOs' are not a monolithic thing," Dr. Evanega wrote in her blog. "For example, it makes no sense to cluster together such diverse technologies as bacteria engineered to produce insulin and papaya engineered to resist a virus. We support access - to innovation and the information that will help people make sound decisions based on science and evidence - not fear, emotions."

Certainly GMOs are not a monolithic thing. That's exactly why it is inaccurate and dishonest to claim that people are more likely to be hit by an asteroid than to be harmed by GMOs.

A science alliance that truly is about restoring integrity to science should illuminate a comprehensive record of research, not parrot the talking points of PR firms and corporate players.

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