News Fri, 04 Sep 2015 17:07:24 -0400 en-gb Web of Secrecy Surrounds Federal Half-a-Billion Handout to Charter Schools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Insiders Deliberate Far From the Public Eye

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

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

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

There is no way of knowing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After Abysmal Results, States Re-apply for More Money

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

For example, Colorado applied for grant renewal this year.

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

Look at California.

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

How about Wisconsin?

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

Then there's Indiana.

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

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

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

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

Have They Learned Anything?

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

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

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

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

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

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

News Fri, 04 Sep 2015 10:22:32 -0400
Economic Update: When Profits Come First

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

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News Fri, 04 Sep 2015 09:30:58 -0400
In Illinois, New Law Limits Jail Time for Poor People Who Commit Certain Crimes

On any given day, thousands of inmates sit behind bars in Cook County Jail as their cases meander their way through the courts. Many are eligible for release pending trial, but they don't have the thousands of dollars - sometimes far less - that they need to post bail. So they wait incarcerated for weeks or even months, the passing days wreaking havoc on their jobs and family life, without having been convicted of a crime.

Earlier this month, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a law that creates a pilot project to help some of these detainees. The legislation, which passed unanimously in the Illinois Senate and by a substantial majority in the House, will create a separate court for inmates charged with low-level shoplifting and trespassing crimes. If their cases aren't resolved within 30 days and they can't raise the money for bail, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart can release them.

The sheriff, who was one of the law's strongest supporters, says between 150 and 200 of the jail's average daily population of 9,000 inmates would be eligible for the program immediately. Many of these detainees committed crimes of survival, like the 41-year-old woman who has been in the jail for 128 days, after being arrested for stealing hygiene products from a supermarket. One man has been in jail for 46 days after allegedly trespassing at a fish restaurant.

"I'm tired of seeing so many detainees sitting in the jail just because they're poor," Dart said. "This law is going to force the issue."

Some experts, though, say that Dart's solution tackles only a symptom of a much broader and trickier problem: the fact that so many detainees are required to pay a cash bail in the first place.

The vast majority - 82 percent - of the inmates released from the Cook County jail between April 2014 and April 2015 were held as they awaited trial, according to county data. Some (17 percent) were deemed too dangerous to leave the jail before their trial and a handful (about eight percent) were either released without conditions or put on electronic monitoring.

Most of the remaining inmates were given a financial bond to secure their release (the sheriff's office couldn't provide an exact figure because of a change in their data collection system late in 2014). Of those, less than half posted bail.

Inmates who posted bail within a week remained in the jail for an average of one day. By contrast, inmates who could not post bail stayed much longer; the average stay for inmates charged with property crimes was 88 days, and the median length of stay was 32 days. Some remained in jail longer than their maximum possible sentence if convicted, even before they had a trial.

Separate Court Could "Clog the System"

Ali Abid, a criminal justice policy analyst with the Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice, says that with the exception of a handful of cases like the ones Dart highlighted, low-level detainees tend to be released from jail long before 30 days have passed. He worries that creating a separate court could actually clog the system further.

"Thirty days sounds better than two months or two years, and it is, but it's still a long time and that has an impact on people," he said. "What we really need to change is the culture of judges and courts."

Abid isn't the only person to take a critical look at the widespread reliance on monetary bail within the Cook County system. In 2014, the Illinois Supreme Court appointed an administrator to overhaul the Cook County Circuit Court's pre-trial services department, pointing to a general "lack of understanding" of how the system should operate among court and law enforcement officials. And earlier this summer, Cook County's bond court began to use a new kind of risk assessment, an analytic tool to help judges decide who should stay in jail before their trial and who should be released. These assessments use a variety of factors - including criminal history, prior convictions, and prior failures to appear in court - to assess how much of a risk each defendant poses.

Bail is supposed to ensure two things: that defendants show up to court, and they won't commit another crime while they're awaiting trial. Recent research, though, shows that defendants who are released without bail are equally likely to come to their trial, and that bail doesn't seem to do much to improve public safety.

If anything, the prevalence of pretrial detention has a negative effect. One study showed that when held for as few as two or three days, low-risk defendants were 40 percent more likely to commit new crimes before trial, compared to other defendants who stayed in jail for less than a day. Similarly, low-risk defendants who stayed in jail for 8 to 14 days were 50 percent more likely to commit a crime after their case was closed.

"Your ability to pay bail says very little about your risk to the community," said Nancy Fishman, a project director at the Vera Institute of Justice and an expert on jails. "The reality is that most low-risk people don't need to go to jail at all."

In fact, most of the cases get thrown out.

Eight out of 10 misdemeanor cases were dismissed between 2006 and 2012,  according to a Chicago Reporter analysis in 2013 of records for 1.4 million cases maintained by the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County and the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts. The county's dismissal rate is among the highest in the nation.

Assessing Risk

Cook County's bond court in the past has used tools to assess risk, but judges were skeptical about their accuracy and as a result, mostly ignored them. Anne Milgram, vice president of criminal justice at the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, which developed the new risk assessment tool that Cook County adopted in July, says that their goal is to reorient the way judges make decisions.

Before, decisions about bail tended to hinge on the types of charges brought against a defendant. "It's somewhat rare, but you can have people committing low-level offenses who are high-risk, and people committing higher-level offenses who are lower risk," Milgram said.

When it comes to making decisions about risk, "it's about cultural change, a different way of thinking."

A new law pushed by several Cook County commissioners is also trying to tackle bond reform from another direction. Right now, when inmates put up a certain amount of money for bail, Cook County keeps 10 percent of the bond as a processing fee. This means that if an inmate has to post a $6,000 bond, the county will charge them $600, even if they show up for trial. The new law would cap processing fees at $100, in an attempt to lower this burden.

But Sheriff Dart is hoping, eventually, to expand his program to include detainees who committed other low-level crimes, so that people who continue to slip through the cracks of the system don't stay longer than 30 days.

"In a perfect world, this law should become useless because each bond decision is made thoughtfully and no one in this category ends up in the jail at all," he said. "But in the meantime, I want the law as a failsafe. Thirty days, and you're out."

The Chicago Reporter is a non-profit investigative news organization that focuses on race, poverty and income inequality.

News Fri, 04 Sep 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Chicago Hunger Strikers Challenge Rahm Emanuel's Push to Privatize Schools

In Chicago, a group of public school parents, grandmothers and education activists are entering the 19th day of a hunger strike to save Dyett High School, the only remaining open-enrollment public high school left in the community of Bronzeville. Supporters say the city neglected the school for years before announcing plans to close it. Under Rahm Emanuel, Chicago's mayor and former Obama chief of staff, the city has closed about 50 schools in predominantly African-American and Latino neighborhoods as part of what critics say is a push to privatize education. We speak to one of the hunger strikers. Jitu Brown is the national director of the Journey for Justice Alliance, a member of the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett, and one of the lead organizers of the hunger strike.


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

AMY GOODMAN: That's D13 performing The White Stripes' song, "Seven Nation Army," students at the Dyett High School in Chicago performing. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, in Chicago, a group of public school parents, grandmothers and education activists are entering the 19th day of a hunger strike to save Dyett High School, the only remaining open-enrollment public high school left in the community of Bronzeville. Supporters say the city neglected the school for years before announcing plans to close it. Under Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who's the former chief of staff of President Obama, the city has closed about 50 schools in predominantly African-American and Latino neighborhoods as part of what critics say is a push to privatize education. The hunger strikers have called for Chicago to reopen Dyett High School as a global leadership and green technology school.

On Wednesday, Mayor Emanuel was to meet with the Dyett supporters after a city budget town hall meeting, but his security detail escorted him out when protesters took to the stage and confronted him.

PROTESTERS: Right now! Right now! Right now! Right now! Right now! Right now! Right now! Right now! Right now! Right now! Right now! Right now!

AMY GOODMAN: Well, in a new development Thursday afternoon, Janice Jackson, chief of education for Chicago Public Schools, announced that Dyett High School will reopen as an open-enrollment arts-themed high school. But the announcement was seen by some as an attempt to end the hunger strike. The protesters have rejected the proposal, saying, quote, "This does not reflect the vision of the community."

Well, for more, we go to one of the hunger strikers. Jitu Brown is joining us from Chicago, the national director of the Journey for Justice Alliance, a member of the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett, one of the lead organizers of the hunger strike.

Jitu, welcome back to Democracy Now! Talk about what's at issue, the significance of Dyett, of Bronzeville and Chicago history.

JITU BROWN: Yes, and thank you, Amy and Juan, for having me back.

The significance of Bronzeville is that in the 20 century it was one of the main destinations for African Americans as we evacuated the South. Bronzeville is the home of Richard Wright, Ida B. Wells, former Chicago Mayor Harold Washington, Nat King Cole, Redd Foxx, Louis Armstrong - the list goes on and on - Minnie Riperton, Sam Cooke, Dr. Daniel Hale Williams. So it's a proud community, that has suffered from decades of disinvestment.

And Dyett High School is the poster child for public school sabotage. I've served on Dyett's Local School Council since 2003. In 2008, we had the largest increase of students going to college in all of Chicago Public Schools. For two straight years, we had the largest decrease in arrests and suspensions. We had a nationally recognized restorative justice program. In 2011, we won the ESPN RISE UP Award as a small school that was doing great things and needed a little help. We beat out 400 other schools around the country. And the next year, they voted to phase it out. We're very clear that in America today we don't have failing schools - we've been failed. And we have to be firm on that, because in that process, our children are demonized, shuffled around from school to school, and people actually make money off what should be a human right.

This hunger strike came about because we had - we were left with no other alternative. Since 2009, the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett has attempted to engage Chicago Public Schools on a K-through-12 vision for education in our neighborhood, in absence of one provided by the district. We have met with literally thousands of Bronzeville residents. We've held six town hall meetings, gotten over 3,000 petition signatures. Over 578 people in Bronzeville mailed letters to Mayor Rahm Emanuel saying that we want Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School as the hub for what we call a sustainable community school village. And that means that we want feeder schools vertically aligned with Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School. We want the curriculum to be vertically aligned. We want parents and Local School Council members to train together. We want to create a network of schools, so that we have not only relevance and we have rigor, but we have relationships. This is a visionary plan. The president of the American Educational Research Association, Jeannie Oakes, said it was a wonderful plan. The president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, said it was the best academic plan she's seen in 30 years of teaching.

But Chicago Public Schools, instead of working with the community, created an RFP process, after we gave them the proposal in April, and violated their own process by changing the date of a hearing. And that's what prompted the hunger strike. It was the latest in just a round of deception, lies, misdirection, ignoring parents, ignoring community input, locking us out of meetings. And so, we're on this hunger strike because we've been rendered voiceless. We pay taxes, but our voices don't matter, while - the voices of black parents don't matter, black students don't matter, while the voices of parents in Lincoln Park are honored. An example would be when parents in Rogers Park said they did not want Intrinsic and Noble Street Charter School. They didn't have to get arrested, they didn't have to protest. They went to two meetings. And in two weeks, that deal was off the table. Parents in Bronzeville, black parents in Bronzeville, create a visionary plan for schools, and we're railroaded at every turn. And yesterday was another example of that.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Jitu, Jitu Brown, the issue of these massive closings of schools in the black and brown communities of Chicago, what excuse do they give for a school like you - like yours to be closed? And what were the proposals that they were entertaining to replace it with?

JITU BROWN: So, I appreciate that, Juan. The reason, the rationale that they give is either the school is underperforming or is under-enrolled. But what we don't realize is that CPS actually makes the schools underperform, and set up a situation where schools are under-enrolled. So, in 1995, when Paul Vallas was the CEO of Chicago Public Schools, they initiated something called school probation, which said if your students didn't have a certain test score, there were punitive interventions that the district would make. Schools that go on probation, for most cases, never come off. It's a graveyard.

So what happens when your schools go on probation? The curriculum gets narrowed. So from instead of 9:00 to 9:50 you have reading, and then from 10:00 to 10:50 you have creative writing or social studies, now from 9:00 to 11:30 you have reading block, test prep. So the curriculum gets narrowed. The opportunities for inspiration diminish, because students now don't have the options in the curriculum that could capture their imagination. And so the schools don't perform. And so, then what happens? We say, well, the solution to this is, we're going to close this underperforming school, and then we're going to bring in a private operator who cares less about our input than the district does.

Now, at the same time, while children are going through that at a school like Mollison, where the - on the Chicago South Side, where the school is so crowded that students have to get their special ed services under the stairs on the first floor, where students are eating lunch on the floor outside of their classrooms because the school is so crowded, where there's no librarian - at the same time, you have a school like Agassiz in Lincoln Park, a neighborhood school that serves white middle-class residents, where the students have Mandarin Chinese, Arabic and Spanish, where every teacher has a teacher aide, where you have a fully stocked library. That's not bad teachers. That's not bad students. That's separate and unequal education. So, closing schools has been a way to, one, accelerate the movement of African-American and Latino families out of communities, but then also to line the pockets of people that are politically connected. And that's the same thing that's happening in the case of Dyett High School.

AMY GOODMAN: Jitu Brown, on day 10 of the hunger strike, paramedics had to be called to check on you, as you and the other strikers sat outside of Dyett High School. What happened, and how are you feeling today?

JITU BROWN: Yeah, what happened was just that, the press conference, I got a little - to be honest, I got a little emotional during the press conference, and I expended, I think, a little too much energy. And I hadn't really hydrated like I needed to. So, I sat down, and when I jumped up, I was a little lightheaded. That's all. So they checked my blood pressure, they checked my blood glucose and said that everything was fine. And they just made me drink a lot of water, which I've been doing every day.

AMY GOODMAN: Yeah, but that was day 10.

JITU BROWN: That I've been doing every day - yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: You're now moving in on day 20; it's the 19th day.

JITU BROWN: Yes, ma'am.

AMY GOODMAN: How long are you planning to hunger strike? How many of you are there?

JITU BROWN: We - people are calling the group "the Dyett 12." There are 12 hunger strikers. After the mayor's decision to basically open it up - and let me say, we're clear that the school wouldn't be open without us. So we have accomplished that. We're clear on that. But we do not see this as a victory. This is not a victory for the children in Bronzeville. The people in Bronzeville did not say they wanted an arts school. People in Bronzeville said they wanted a global leadership and green technology high school, that's part of a sustainable community school village, a system of education.

So, we spoke with - I got a call from CPS CEO Forrest Claypool 15 minutes before the press conference, that we were locked out of by CPS, and he told me - I asked him, "Well, where is the room for negotiation?" And he said, "Well, we're moving forward." So my message to him today is: So are we. We're moving forward. This is a human rights issue. You know, the great poet and author Alice Walker said, "No one is your friend who demands your silence or denies your right to grow." This is not something that we take lightly. These are our children. These are our communities. We have to live with CPS reforms after the people that implement them get promoted to some other job. So we will determine the type of education that our children receive in Bronzeville.

We are calling on the US Department of Education, where we have opened Title VI civil rights complaints, where they're being investigated right now, to intervene. At the press conference yesterday with the mayor, there were people - they locked out the people who fought, so they negotiated the deal with them. And there were these African-American individuals, posing as leaders, who stood there and said that they will work on Dyett High School. Now, one of the people was also one of the ministers who led paid protesters into the Dyett hearings in 2012 to close the school, where he went in front of the liquor store and the halfway house and got those of us that were most vulnerable, gave them $25 apiece and told them to - and they held up prefabricated signs saying, "You can't support failure. Close Dyett High School." They got on the microphone and ranted -

AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds.

JITU BROWN: OK - and ranted incoherent statements. And so, those were not the people that struggled for that school, and those will not be the people that lead Dyett's renaissance as Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School.

AMY GOODMAN: Jitu Brown, thanks so much for being with us, national director of the Journey for Justice Alliance. He's in the 19th day of a hunger strike with other hunger strikers around Chicago Public Schools.

News Fri, 04 Sep 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Allan Nairn: US Backers of Guatemalan Death Squads Should Be Jailed

As former Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina is held in jail on corruption charges, investigative journalist Allan Nairn looks at how Pérez Molina could also be charged for his role in the mass killings of indigenous Guatemalans in the 1980s. In 1982, Nairn interviewed a Guatemalan general named "Tito" on camera during the height of the indigenous massacres. It turns out the man was actually Pérez Molina.


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

AMY GOODMAN: We continue to look at the situation in Guatemala. On Thursday, President Otto Pérez Molina was jailed on charges of corruption, only hours after he resigned, bowing to massive popular protest.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We go to Guatemala City, where we're joined by Allan Nairn, a Polk Award-winning journalist who has been covering Guatemala since the 1980s.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Allan.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Allan, I wanted to ask you not only your reaction to this stunning development in Guatemala, but also if you could talk to us about the guy who has replaced Pérez Molina temporarily, Alejandro Maldonado, and - because, while this is an enormous change, it doesn't necessarily mean that the balance of forces or the political situation in Guatemala has changed that drastically.

ALLAN NAIRN: Yeah, it's a very important point. The balance of forces, in one sense, is the same. You have the same powers in place - the oligarchs, the army, the foreign investors, the US government. But the difference is that in these past months and weeks, those most powerful, dominant people, who have been able for decades to kill at will, to take the minerals, to make people work from dawn to sundown for a wage that is not enough to feed their children, to keep their children's brains from being stunted, who have been able to do all that, these past few months and weeks, those people have been on the run. They have been the ones who have been scared. Rigoberta Menchú was just talking about the fear that the people have been living with for decades. Well, the rulers have been living with a certain degree of fear these past few weeks. It was extraordinary on Tuesday at the Congress. On Tuesday morning, nobody who follows politics expected the Congress to yank the immunity from prosecution of Pérez Molina. It looked to be rigged. But by the afternoon, they had done so, and done so unanimously. And it became clear that they did it because they were afraid of what the mass reaction would be if they didn't do it.

However, this is a temporary situation. This is one of those recurring rare moments of history, a revolutionary type of moment, when the normal rules of politics are suspended, when the normal constraints don't apply. On the streets, people say that the people are on their feet, and everything is shaking. But this is not going to last. And Guatemalans now face a tremendous series of difficulties. You just mentioned Maldonado Aguirre, the new president. On Sunday, there's going to be a presidential election, where all of the leading candidates are funded by gangsters, narcos and the oligarchs and the most murderous of the old military. That structure is still in place. If this movement continues, and especially if it deepens and brings in even more of the indigenous population, it may be possible to shake and change and alter and, some hope, abolish that structure, but it's going to be very difficult. Nobody exactly sees a precise path forward. But there may be - there may be a way to do it.

Guatemala has a history of producing very brave and brilliant and creative people. And that's one reason why the army had to be so active during the time of crisis in the '80s in killing so many. There were so many great minds to murder, and they did so. Specifically, the new president, Maldonado, he rose within the MLN, the self-described "party of organized violence," the party that worked with the CIA in the 1954 invasion of Guatemala that overthrew the democratic government. It was actually an operation quite parallel to that in Iran in '53, and like that of Iran, where a democratic government was also overthrown, the horrible consequences are still reverberating today. Maldonado, he basically has spent his career as the smooth, presentable, intellectual face of the men of the death squads. That's what he's done. His most recent accomplishment was, while on the High Court, he denied an effort by the Spanish courts to extradite the Guatemalan generals to Spain to stand trial for their role in atrocities, like the Spanish Embassy slaughter that killed Rigoberta's father. And most importantly, he led -

AMY GOODMAN: Allan is - his voice is breaking up. Allan, if you could continue saying - we lost you at "he led." Allan is speaking to us by Democracy Now! video stream from Guatemala City.

ALLAN NAIRN: Maldonado Aguirre led the campaign at the High Court to annul the Ríos Montt genocide verdict. And now he is the president of Guatemala.

AMY GOODMAN: Allan, we only have a few minutes, but I was wondering if you could describe for us the dramatic moments yesterday, what it was like in Guatemala City when the president resigned, when he was brought before the court and the charges were read against him, and then if you could tell us, since we only have a few minutes, what has been the role of the United States to the end here in Otto Pérez Molina's reign.

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, the news came out about 1:00 a.m. that Pérez Molina had quit. He quit, knowing that he was facing arrest at dawn. And starting at 1:00 a.m., people went out onto the streets, and you could hear the horns sounding throughout the city.

Yesterday, as he sat in court, on the TV screen of one of the stations, they had the text at the bottom that said, "Entered as president, will leave as prisoner." And you could see him sitting behind the table as the judge was asking him for his personal details. He was undergoing the humiliation that every prisoner has to undergo. He was being asked, "Who is your wife? What is your occupation? What is your address?" And I saw a look on his face that I've never seen before. I met him in the highlands in '82 as he was carrying out the Ríos Montt program of slaughter, spent some time with him then, I've seen him on TV many times since. I've never seen that kind of look of fear on the face of Pérez Molina. It's probably the same look that he saw on the faces of some of his captives, who ended up dead. In fact, in the film we did back then, you can see us talking, standing over the corpses of some people who he had just finished interrogating.

I think we should see Americans sitting behind that defense table, as well, because there were American advisers working with the Guatemalan army as they did those mass killings. And the US and also Israel provided the weaponry. Most recently, the US has been urging Pérez Molina - had been urging Pérez Molina not to resign, but they couldn't sustain that. They were swept away by the popular wave.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Allan, the impact of what's going on in Guatemala in terms of what's happened across Latin America, as social movements and popular movements have enforced more accountability by their leaders?

ALLAN NAIRN: Yeah, this is a real example of that. And I think, in a certain sense, it's a step even beyond that, because, as you say, we've seen these kind of mass uprisings before in recent years, especially in South America, which has been leading the world in popular movements for democratization, but Guatemala has now added an extra dimension. And that is, you have movements of the people, movements of the survivors, of the poorest, of the most oppressed, who have been - essentially, come together with professionals, with honorable lawyers, people who managed to find their way into the system as prosecutors or judges and then do their jobs - attempt to enforce the murder laws, with the backing of the people. And that's what produced the prosecution of Ríos Montt, the first time in the world that any country has been able to bring its own president, or its own former head of state - he was a dictator - to trial for crimes against humanity and genocide, and now bringing down a sitting president, a military man, a man of the mano dura, a tremendous power, with the backing of the richest in society, bringing him down on criminal charges. He now faces a corruption charge, but waiting in the wings are charges for mass murder.

Guatemala is now setting an example for the world with the de facto alliance between popular movements and honest professionals who are willing to enforce the murder laws, first with the Ríos Montt case, now with the toppling of Pérez Molina. I'd like to see the US follow that example. Let's make it conceivable that an American president could be brought down or an American president could be brought into a courtroom and asked to list his personal details, have a judge ask George W. Bush, "What is your address? What is the name of your spouse? When were you born? What is your occupation, Mr. Bush? Write down all the personal details," and then have him account, for example, for the invasion of Iraq and the hundreds of thousands of civilians who were killed as a result. That's exactly what has just been done in Guatemala by the people of Guatemala. Why can't Americans advance to that level, as well?

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Allan, he is not being charged with genocide. Otto Pérez Molina is not being charged with murder. He's being charged with corruption. What makes you think that these charges will broaden out from there?

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, one possibility is that Guatemala law allows ordinary citizens to come forward and file criminal charges. For example, that's how the Ríos Montt case started. Rigoberta was one of the leaders in bringing forward charges against generals like Ríos Montt for the massacres, and that eventually culminated in his genocide conviction. A charge could be brought by ordinary citizens against Pérez Molina. And if it is accepted by the Attorney General's Office, by the Justice Department of Guatemala, the Ministerio Público, it would be able to go forward. And now, since Pérez Molina's immunity from prosecution has been eliminated and he's out of the presidency, he would in fact not be able to legally shield himself from such a charge. And he also is no longer surrounded by men with guns who would be able to shoot down those who try to bring him to justice.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you very much for being with us, Allan Nairn, a George Polk Award-winning journalist and activist, reporting from Guatemala City. He has covered Guatemala since the 1980s. You can follow him at @AllanNairn14 on Twitter for the latest news on the resignation and the imprisonment of Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina, as well as the developments of the elections that will be taking place on Sunday. Also special thanks to our translator, Charlie Roberts.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we go to Chicago. Why are grandmothers on hunger strike? Stay with us.

News Fri, 04 Sep 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Nobel Laureate Rigoberta Menchú Celebrates Jailing of Ex-Guatemalan President

In Guatemala, Otto Pérez Molina has been jailed on charges of corruption only hours after he resigned as president, bowing to massive popular protest. We speak to Mayan activist Rigoberta Menchú, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992. Her lawsuits helped bring former US-backed dictator Efraín Ríos Montt to trial for his role in the killings of more than 1,700 Ixil Mayan people. Menchú lost her father, mother and two brothers during the Guatemalan genocide, later winning the Nobel Peace Prize for her campaigning on behalf of Guatemala's indigenous population. Now Menchú is calling for Pérez Molina to be tried for commanding troops in the El Quiché region in the 1980s, the site of some of the worst massacres committed by the military.


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

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In Guatemala, former President Otto Pérez Molina has been jailed on charges of corruption only hours after he resigned, bowing to massive popular protest. In court Thursday, prosecutors played wiretapped conversations that they say show Pérez Molina was part of a customs fraud ring that pilfered tens of millions of dollars from the state treasury. Guatemalan Judge Miguel Angel Galvez ordered Pérez Molina to jail.

JUDGE MIGUEL ANGEL GALVEZ: [translated] This court considers it wise to order provisional prison for Mr. Otto Fernando Pérez Molina. This is effective of this judicial order and is not preventive detention but provisional custody ahead of trial.

AMY GOODMAN: The resignation and jailing of President Otto Pérez Molina sparked celebrations in the streets of Guatemala City.

JORGE DELGADO: [translated] We've been here since very early, celebrating after so many marches, in the rain, in the sun, so many shouts that we have made here in the plaza to see that the objective that we have been reaching for is done, to know that there is justice for the people, that the corrupt will be tried, that they are in the hands of justice for the coming years. We are very happy, and it's hard to describe. The end of all this is that it benefits the people.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Vice President Alejandro Maldonado has been sworn in as interim president until January, when Pérez Molina's term was set to end. Maldonado had been vice president since only May, after he assumed the post when the former vice president, Roxana Baldetti, resigned over allegations of corruption. Like Pérez Molina, Baldetti also is in jail awaiting trial. Guatemala's new president, Alejandro Maldonado, spoke on Thursday.

PRESIDENT ALEJANDRO MALDONADO AGUIRRE: [translated] I believe I can take on this commitment to call on political sectors of the state, from the Congress, so that we bring in the reforms that the country needs, and that in the first and second rounds of voting we can have a focus on these issues, for these legislative reforms to come to a conclusion.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go now to Guatemala City, where we're joined by the Guatemalan indigenous activist Rigoberta Menchú, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992. She has published many books, including I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala. She's been translated into over a dozen languages, awarded more than 30 honorary degrees, runs the Rigoberta Menchú Tum Foundation.

We welcome you back to Democracy Now!, Rigoberta Menchú. Can you respond to this latest development in your country, the president, Otto Pérez Molina, resigning and jailed?

RIGOBERTA MENCHÚ: [translated] That's right. It is an extremely unique event in the history of Guatemala. For more than 50 years here, there's been extraordinary fear of the military, the specialized members of the military forces, called the Kaibiles, those Kaibiles who were trained in order to control people, in order to crush civil society, in order to try to cover up all kinds of opinion against them. And we mustn't forget today that Otto Pérez Molina, like many veteran members of the military, in the style of Ríos Montt, Quilo Ayuso and other members of the military, who are in the shadows today and who are alive, all of them were trained at the School of the Americas of the United States. And they are not willing to remove their boots. They will die with their military boots on, wearing them. That is why we are extremely happy that Otto Pérez Molina has resigned, because we reached the point of believing that perhaps he wasn't going to step down and that the opinion of everyone wouldn't matter to him.

But there's also a very important record that we must bear in mind. His government is a government that has just been around for a few years; nonetheless, he re-established certain aspects of the regime of the 1980s, in the late 1980s. And one of these aspects is criminalizing the peasant and small farmer leaders, criminalizing civil society, imposing censorship. Now, if we look through the Guatemalan media, how many of the Mayan peoples have spoken in these three years? We've not been a part of the voice of the people of Guatemala that has been heard, and there is a lot of complicity. So it's not just that a general has fallen, but a general who is a dictator has fallen. And not only has a repressive general fallen, but also a general who was implicated in a bloody past in Guatemala. Commander Tito, as he is known by the human rights communities here in Guatemala, Otto Pérez Molina, he carried out the genocide in the past. He was a young commander who directed the army in the Ixil areas and the areas where there was the heaviest armed struggle and where a sad mark was left, as reflected in the exhumations that have been done, the mass graves, the cases of forced disappearance. This is what we have done over these years, reveal all of this, so there is a past that he carries around with him. But there's also the present, which is to say the last three years, in which he also sent many peasant leaders to prison, defending the interests of many military officers who were all involved in the mining businesses, in the businesses involving exploiting natural resources in Guatemala.

And then the last part, which is really cruel, shameful, which is to say Otto Pérez, as president, headed up a criminal band. That criminal band is a new matter in his record. Well, you know, throughout my life, throughout these last 35 years of my life, I always said that there were corporatist mafias, that there were dark powers encrusted in the state. And it seems that everyone ignored our concern. They were always there in the customs service. They always created empty areas in the border in order for trafficking - all kinds of business, not just drug trafficking. You know that in Guatemala there's also been human trafficking, there's been disappearance of children, disappearance of other persons, and we've never been paid attention when we've denounced all of this.

So I can say now more than how joyful we are, because the youth of Guatemala - I am Maya. I cannot speak of a single youth or just one youth; there are youths in the different peoples, the different youths of - sectors of the youth of Guatemala have made possible this great civic celebration, leading us Guatemalans to feel triumphant, because we have shown that it is possible to defeat fear. Many adults, many people who are my age, we have suffered from a syndrome which is called fear. We don't want to talk, we don't want to expose ourselves much, because we're then isolated by silence, or they end up inventing lawsuits to bring against us.

I would like to say that this is also the fall of a symbol of what in Guatemala was called anti-communism. Every time I raise my voice, they say, "Oh, you're a communist, you don't have to speak." Anytime I address a national problem seriously, I'm accused of being a subversive, a communist, a guerrilla, as though the guerrilla movement continued to exist in this country, when we know that more than 23 years ago the Guatemalan guerrilla movement was disbanded. But here, there are people who still think that there are guerrillas. So they have justified their businesses by getting people to - by threatening people and getting people to be fearful. So, I celebrate this civic celebration.

I would hope that such arrangements of state terrorism never return, that such arrangements of censorship not return, that we no longer be hushed up and threatened so that they can prevail. That cannot happen again. This is a true watershed for Guatemala. It does honor to our struggles and honor to everything that we have done to denounce genocide. We have gone to the courts. We have gone to the National Court of Spain. I have filed a lawsuit for state terrorism and genocide, crimes against humanity, forced disappearance, torture. And we also have filed lawsuits here in Guatemala, more than a dozen, for genocide, that are before the courts. And we hope that this ushers in a new era. I am just happy to be alive to see this moment.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Rigoberta Menchú, I wanted to ask you - you mentioned that the president, Pérez Molina, had only been in office a short time, but there were so many members, not only his vice president, but other members of his Cabinet, who have been jailed for corruption. Could you talk about the role of the popular movement, of the protests that have occurred over the last few months, in finally forcing the president out of office?

RIGOBERTA MENCHÚ: [translated] Yes, clearly, several struggles were combined. One of these, in which there was genuine citizen participation, grew day after day. In the last three months, there are people who haven't slept at home. They have come out to demonstrate Sunday after Sunday, Saturday after Saturday. These protests were carried out with great peace, tranquilly, maturity. It is not a violent Guatemala that has removed Otto Pérez, it is a peaceful Guatemala that has removed Otto Pérez. But it also was combined with several legal actions and investigative actions. I would pay tribute to the work of the prosecutorial authorities, because this is the first time that the prosecutorial authorities have had the valor to go forward to such an end. I would also like to pay tribute to the International Commission Against Impunity, the CICIG, which has quietly done its work, and particularly Iván Velásquez, who is the commissioner. He is brave. He has come here, decided to touch the fibers of criminal power.

And also Amílcar Pop and the political movement. I founded a party some nine years ago, we began to work. And Amílcar is our candidate for re-election right now. But ever since Amílcar came into the Congress, he began to take initiatives against impunity. At least 100 officials of Pérez Molina, including mayors, including legislators, are facing charges. We're seeking that they be handed over to the justice authorities, because we have evidence of corruption in the localities. So, there is a pending dossier before the Congress, before the courts, under investigation. And all of this points in the same direction, and that direction is that we, Guatemalans, are sick and tired of having them make a mockery of our dignity and further impoverishing the country with each passing day. That is what I think. We have a lot of work to do from here, going forward.

AMY GOODMAN: Rigoberta Menchú, your father, Don Vicente Menchú, burned to death in the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala City in 1980 with more than - well, with about 36 other indigenous peasants. Can you explain how what's happening today relates to what happened, well, what, almost 40 years ago, 35 years ago?

RIGOBERTA MENCHÚ: [translated] Yes, the burning of the Spanish Embassy was marked by the idea, "Kill all of them. Don't leave anyone alive." And that was the order that came from General Lucas García, and that is the order that converted the six police bodies that participated in that massacre, the [inaudible] of the six police bodies that [inaudible] to the massacre in the Spanish Embassy. For 16 years we have been involved in a trial to try to get a judgment. There is a judgment which is now a firm judgment, but there was influencing, influence peddling from the office of Mrs. Baldetti, the vice president, and from the office of the president, so as to make sure that the state not be implicated in that judgment. And that is why we have challenged that judgment. But for 16 years we brought together the witnesses, the testimony. There are some witnesses who have died, and there are other witnesses who did not want to appear in the record, because it mentions names of persons, and those names include, obviously, the name of Mr. Otto Pérez Molina. I think that is why he was very afraid of going to jail. And I don't think he should be sleeping at home under house arrest, because at any given point in time a member of the military, such as him, is - well, there's a danger. We need to take preventive measures to make sure that he continues to answer for that.

But, of course, it has everything to do with what is happening today. Civil society, the human rights community, we have worked tirelessly to take on a policy that is seeking to erase the past, to erase evidence, to erase testimony, to hush up witnesses. That is still there. So, it's one thing to just look at the past, it's fine to look at the past, but we also want to look at these three years during which Otto Pérez Molina has been in the presidency. There are any number of parameters that we can look at and compare. That is why he is dangerous. And I would conclude by saying that we've already seen that the members of the military in power pose a danger, and civil society cannot continue to put such persons in politics, because that's what they do. They want to control, give orders and impose hierarchical structures. And using those hierarchical structures, they create parallel groups that take advantage of public office. And that cannot be.

AMY GOODMAN: Rigoberta Menchú, we want to thank you very much for much for being with us. Rigoberta Menchú is a Nobel Peace laureate. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992. She has published many books, including I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala. She has been awarded more than 30 honorary degrees around the world and runs the Rigoberta Menchú Tum Foundation, speaking to us from her home in Guatemala City. When we come back, we'll be joined by journalist Allan Nairn in Guatemala City, as well, in these major historic developments with the president of Guatemala, Otto Pérez Molina, now in prison after resigning. Stay with us.

News Fri, 04 Sep 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Central American "Springs" Foregone

The United States has waged a war on democracy in Central America for decades.

Today, the international media is portraying the recent wave of anti-corruption, pro-democracy protests in Guatemala and Honduras as part of a Central American spring. This so-called spring is fighting against structural corruption, violence and impunity that is largely due to US meddling in these countries. It is instructive to look back at how Washington responded to similar democratic movements in the past and how that has shaped the current democratic crises the region is facing.

What is known as the first Guatemala spring occurred after a popular uprising forced US-backed dictator Jorge Ubico from power July 1, 1944. What followed was the country's decade-long flirtation with democracy between 1944-1954. During this decade, Presidents Juan Jose Arevalo and Jacobo Arbenz Guzman initiated social democratic reforms, which included adopting a new constitution and passing progressive labor and land reforms, much to the chagrin of local elites and foreign capitalist interests, like the US-based United Fruit Company.

These democratic reforms proved unpalatable for Washington. Largely at the behest of the United Fruit Company, which looked to suffer huge profit losses as a result, in 1954 the CIA planned and executed a coup against President Arbenz. What followed was a succession of brutal military regimes and a 36-year internal conflict that started in 1960 and left over 200,000, mostly Indigenous Guatemalans killed, and tens of thousands tortured and disappeared.

In neighboring Honduras, Washington was instrumental in the rise of the death squad Battalion 316. A 1995 Baltimore Sun exposé revealed that it was trained by the CIA, along with Argentine counterinsurgency experts. At the time, the US-backed military junta ruling Argentina launched a "dirty war" against its own population, which used its own death squads to murder, torture and disappear tens of thousands of its civilians. The Washington-backed Honduras death squad, aided and abetted at the time by US Ambassador John Negroponte, abducted, murdered and tortured students, trade unionists, journalists, college professors and other social movement actors who were deemed subversives. Their crimes? They organized for labor rights, affordable education, and freedom for political prisoners.

Honduras also served as a de facto military base for the United States during the Cold War. During the aforementioned coup in Guatemala, Honduras was a training ground for US-backed mercenaries charged with overthrowing democracy. Decades later, in the 1980s, the same Argentine trainers of Battalion 316 also trained the murderous, drug trafficking Nicaraguan paramilitaries known as the Contras, who US President Ronald Reagan likened as "freedom fighters" and "the moral equal of our founding fathers." The Contras were Washington's proxy paramilitaries created to terrorize Nicaragua and overthrow the progressive Sandinista government, which removed US-backed dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979 and governed afterward to help the country's majority poor population and promote social justice. In 1986, the International Court of Justice ruled that Washington's support of the Contras, as well as other miltary operations against Nicaragua, amounted to the "unlawful use of force," or the equivalent of terrorism.

Also during the 1980s, the US provided over $US4 billion in aid to the brutal right-wing government and military of El Salvador. Between 1979-1992, the country was embroiled in a brutal civil war where the military-led government and death squads terrorized the civilian population and fought against a left-wing insurgency led by the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) that sought to bring democracy back to the country.

More recently, the US-backed the 2009 military coup in Honduras that removed the moderate reformer President Manuel Zelaya and replaced him with a de facto regime, thus illustrating a continuity of US imperialism in the region from President Dwight D. Eisenhower to Reagan, to current US President Barack Obama.

Democracy in the region has continuously been deemed such a threat that murder, torture, femicide, genocide, disappearances and other acts of state terror by Washington's despotic allies has been regarded as acceptable in order to quash any kind of democratic uprisings or dissent. The fact that Reagan visited Rios Montt and said that he "is a man of great personal integrity" and is committed to "promot[ing] social justice," is one example of the political support Washington provided to dictators and war criminals.

An indication of the success of US military doctrines in Central America is the structural violence and poverty and continued impunity which have relegated countries such as Guatemala and Honduras as banana republics to provide cheap labor and natural resources to US and transnational capital. And Guatemala is currently ruled by a president, Otto Perez Molina (Editor's Note: As of 9/03/2015 Molina has resigned), who is a former School of the Americas graduate and general believed to be involved in the massacres of Indigenous people in Guatemala during the country's internal conflict, while subsequently serving under genocidal dictator Efrain Rios Montt. Perez Molina faces a potential court date and possible impeachment, not for any past war crimes or human rights abuses, but for his alleged involvement in a corruption scheme.

Honduras, it can be argued, hasn't had a legitimate election since the 2009 election which occurred just months after the coup. The election was held while the country was ruled by a de facto regime that unleashed violent repression against the country's population opposed to the usurpation of democracy. The right-wing Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo Sosa was elected, before being succeeded by current President Juan Orlando Hernandez, who has been implicated in a corruption scandal where his National Party stole millions of dollars from the country's social security institute to finance its 2013 election campaign. Hernandez, who has been facing calls from voters to resign (like his colleague Perez Molina), faced accusations by an EU election observer right after the vote that the actual results were changed.

If these two countries are in fact at the precipice of a "revolutionary moment," as Guatemala feminist and activist Sandra Moran suggested to teleSUR, this begs the question: What will be Washington's response?

While the United States is not free to employ the naked barbarism that it had used and subsidized in the past, the threat of democratic reforms could still prove to be an even bigger threat to the people pushing for them, if history is any indicator.

News Fri, 04 Sep 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Job Growth Weakens in August

The Labor Department reported that the economy added 173,000 jobs in August, somewhat fewer than most predictions. However, the prior two months' numbers were revised upward by 44,000, bringing the average gain over the last three months to 221,000. The story on the household side was mixed. The unemployment rate dropped to 5.1 percent, as employment increased by 196,000. However the employment-to-population ratio (EPOP) was little changed at 59.4 percent, a number that is still three percentage points below the pre-recession peak.

Health care was the biggest job gainer in August, adding 40,500 jobs. Job growth in health care has increased substantially since the ACA took effect. Average job gains over the last five months have been 43,700 compared to growth of just 18,300 per month in the three years from December 2010 to December 2013. Restaurants added 26,100 jobs, roughly in line with their recent pattern. One of the aspects of the recovery that has been striking is that restaurant employment continues to account for a large share of employment growth. In the late 1990s, the share of employment growth in restaurants fell as the labor market tightened and workers were able to get better paying jobs.  

Restaurant Industry Employment Growth as Share of Total Employment Growth, for Years 1992-2015 with Employment Gains

The other sector reporting big gains was state and local government education which added 31,600 jobs. This reflects a timing issue with many schools starting earlier than normal. These jobs will likely disappear in next month's report.

Construction added just 3,000 jobs. Average growth in the sector over the last three months has been just 3,700 jobs. This is surprisingly weak given relatively strong data on housing starts and construction more generally. On the other hand, the growth earlier in the year was surprisingly strong given relatively weak construction data. Manufacturing lost 17,000 jobs, more than reversing a gain of 12,000 in July. With the rise in the dollar and weak growth elsewhere in the world, the general trend is likely to be downward.

Retail added just 11,200, less than half the 27,700 average monthly rate for the last year. This might just be the result of unusually rapid growth in the prior three months. The temp sector added 10,700, barely offsetting a loss of 9,200 jobs in July. The extent to which the temp sector provides a harbinger of future job growth is exaggerated, but this growth is not a strong point.

Overall, private sector job growth of 140,000 was the weakest since a weather-reduced 117,000 reported for March. Prior to that, it would be necessary to go back to December, 2013 to find weaker numbers.

Wage growth remains weak. The average hourly wage rose by 8 cents in August. It has risen at a 1.9 percent annual rate in the last three months compared with the prior three months,

down slightly from its 2.2 percent rate over the last year.

Apart from the drop in the unemployment rate, other news in the household survey was mixed. The percentage of unemployment due to people voluntarily quitting their jobs fell slightly

from 10.2 percent to 9.8 percent. This measure of confidence in the labor market is extraordinarily low given the 5.1 percent unemployment rate. When unemployment fell to 5.1 percent in May of 2005, voluntary quits accounted for 12.2 percent of unemployment.

All the duration measures of unemployment increased in August, with the share of long-term unemployed rising from 26.9 percent to 27.7 percent, the second consecutive increase. The declines reported in black and black teen unemployment in July were reversed in August, standing at 9.5 percent and 31.3 percent, respectively. Younger workers are accounting for a larger share of job growth in the post ACA era, with employment of workers over age 55 actually falling by 213,000 (all men) in this report. People between the ages of 20–24 have accounted for 16.7 percent of the job growth over the last year.

While the drop in unemployment in the August report is encouraging, the overall report is not especially positive. There is no evidence that wage growth is accelerating and there is a real risk that employment growth is slowing. The big question is whether the 140,000 private sector job growth in August is the new trend or whether it was weakened by the strong growth in prior months.

News Fri, 04 Sep 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Why the Clean Power Plan Isn't a Death Knell for Coal

(Photo: Coal Mine via Shutterstock)(Photo: Coal Mine via Shutterstock)

This story was originally published on August 31 at High Country News.

On a Thursday afternoon in early August, Wyoming's governor, both its US senators and its lone House representative joined dozens of coal miners and other locals in a library in the town of Gillette. The Bureau of Land Management - under pressure to reform its coal-leasing program - was holding a listening session on royalty rates for federal coal, and Wyoming's political heavyweights had opinions to share.

They all vigorously opposed raising the rates. But the frustration and fear they expressed had at least as much to do with President Barack Obama's announcement a week earlier that power plants would soon have to answer for their carbon pollution.

Finalized Aug. 3, the Clean Power Plan sets carbon-reduction targets for 2030, for states and tribes with power plants. Nationwide, the plan is expected to yield a 32 percent cut in emissions from 2005 levels. From an environmental perspective, this is momentous: Carbon dioxide is easily the most abundant power-plant pollutant, and until now, the federal government has completely neglected regulating it at existing facilities. But Wyoming, which mines 40 percent of the nation's coal and claims 23,000 coal-related jobs, sees the plan as an existential threat. "What's happening to coal right now is a disaster for this state," Gov. Matt Mead, R, told BLM officials. "We just ask that you don't kill the golden goose," Republican Sen. Mike Enzi added. "If we put them out of business, it will ripple through the entire economy."  

It's worth remembering that while Obama and the US Environmental Protection Agency had some choice in how to regulate carbon dioxide, they had no choice in whether to regulate it. Supreme Court decisions since 2007 have affirmed that carbon is a pollutant the EPA is legally required to control.

Still, the coal states' hostility is understandable. Coal is responsible for 75 percent of the electricity sector's carbon emissions, and aside from improving energy efficiency, the easiest way to cut climate-changing pollution is to start burning less of it. There's room under the plan for natural gas, wind and solar to grow, but barring major advancements in carbon-capture technology, coal has no option but to shrink.

Despite this, the plan isn't a certain deathblow for the West's oldest facilities. That's partly because a number of those units are already slated for closure, either to comply with federal regulations to clear haze from national parks and wilderness areas, or to meet states' carbon goals. Any shutdowns after 2012 will count toward the 2030 targets and could go a long way toward helping to meet them.

Take the Navajo Generating Station and Four Corners Power Plant, both of which sit on the Navajo Nation. Under the Clean Power Plan's draft version, released last year, the Navajo would have been required to cut emissions by 6 percent, an easy goal since three units at Four Corners were idled in 2013, and one at the Navajo Generating Station will likely close in 2019. In the end, the EPA revamped how it calculated the targets, and the reservation's goal leapt to at least 38 percent. And that's a goal that the planned closures at the two plants could still achieve - or at least come close to - under one of the EPA's proposed compliance options, according to a rough calculation provided by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Similarly, New Mexico's existing renewable energy and efficiency standards, plus the planned closure of two units at the San Juan Generating Station, seem likely to put the state within striking distance of its 2030 goal. PNM, New Mexico's largest utility, agreed this month to reconsider the remaining units' future in 2018, and environmental groups remain hopeful it will abandon San Juan. Since the EPA is encouraging participation in emissions trading markets under the Clean Power Plan, PNM might even stand to profit from closing more units. If it reduces emissions more than required, it will have credits to sell on the market, explains Steve Michel, an attorney with Western Resource Advocates.

In the West as a whole, says Noah Long, director of NRDC's Western Energy Project, some additional coal-fired units will have to be shuttered to meet targets, even if it's currently unclear where those closures might happen. And one way or another, the states that are most reliant on coal, like Montana and Wyoming, will have to do more to cut pollution than they're currently planning, which is very little.

As the West's largest coal economy, Wyoming in particular faces big changes. Rob Godby, a University of Wyoming energy economist, says the concern is less how Wyoming will meet its own target than how other states - its coal customers - will meet theirs. Godby led a recent study that found that the regulations could reduce Wyoming coal production by 34 to 50 percent. How big the hit will be depends in part on how much coal power Wyoming's customers will have the option of keeping, which in turn depends on whether emissions can be offset elsewhere, by improving energy efficiency or buying emissions credits. "This isn't the death of coal," Godby says, but it is a formidable new challenge.

In the short term, the coal industry's wellbeing hinges primarily on gas prices. In the long run, however, carbon limits are one of its greatest threats - one it and the states it bankrolls may no longer be able to evade.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News Fri, 04 Sep 2015 00:00:00 -0400