News http://www.truth-out.org Fri, 27 May 2016 00:35:28 -0400 en-gb "Significant Security Risks": State Department Says Clinton Broke Rules Using Private Email Server http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36202-significant-security-risks-state-department-says-clinton-broke-rules-using-private-email-server http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36202-significant-security-risks-state-department-says-clinton-broke-rules-using-private-email-server

An internal government watchdog has concluded Hillary Clinton broke government rules by using a private email server without approval while she was secretary of state. That was the key finding of a long-awaited report by the State Department inspector general. The report concluded that Clinton would not have been allowed to use a private server in her home had she asked department officials in charge of information security, because it posed "significant security risks." This contradicts claims by Clinton that use of a home server was allowed and that no permission was needed. The report also criticized Clinton for not properly preserving emails she wrote and received on her personal account. According to the report, Clinton and eight of her deputies, including Cheryl Mills, Jake Sullivan and Huma Abedin, declined to be interviewed for the inspector general's investigation. Clinton's use of a private email server for State Department business is also the subject of an ongoing FBI investigation. We speak to journalist Michael Tracey.

TRANSCRIPT

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

NERMEEN SHAIKH: An internal government watchdog has concluded Hillary Clinton broke government rules by using a private email server without approval while she was secretary of state. That was the key finding of a long-awaited report by the State Department inspector general. The report concluded that Clinton would not have been allowed to use a private server in her home had she asked department officials in charge of information security, because it posed, quote, "significant security risks." This contradicts claims by Clinton that use of a home server was allowed and that no permission was needed. The report also criticized Clinton for not properly preserving emails she wrote and received on her personal account. Clinton responded to the report during a campaign event in California [sic].

HILLARY CLINTON: [speaking at a press conference at the United Nations in March 2015] Looking back, it would have been better had I simply used a second email account and carried a second phone, but at the time this didn't seem like an issue.

AMY GOODMAN: Though Hillary Clinton said she would comply with all probes into the server use, Clinton and eight of her deputies, including Cheryl Mills, Jake Sullivan and Huma Abedin, declined to be interviewed for the inspector general's investigation. The FBI is conducting a separate inquiry into whether Clinton mishandled classified information. Liz Hempowicz of the group Project on Government Oversight responded by saying the inspector general's report exposed a double standard in government, that those at the top are allowed to break the rules, while whistleblowers face retribution.

LIZ HEMPOWICZ: It's very clear that the highest levels of our federal officials don't believe that these rules apply to them. I think they absolutely should.

AMY GOODMAN: For more on the findings and the fallout of the inspector general's report about Hillary Clinton's email, we're joined by journalist Michael Tracey, frequent contributor to Vice, The Daily Beast, the New York Daily News.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Michael. Talk about what you think is the most significant finding of the inspector general.

MICHAEL TRACEY: Well, in addition to the substance of what was found by the inspector general regarding her conduct with installing a private email server, what really stuck out to me and, I think, most observers was that she declined to be interviewed for the probe. Now, throughout her campaign and even prior to the campaign, she gave repeated assurances that she would comply with every single investigation into the propriety of this conduct. And for her now to have -- to have been revealed that she did not comply with a probe overseen by the department which she headed for four years is pretty astonishing.

AMY GOODMAN: Because it was the inspector general of the State Department.

MICHAEL TRACEY: Of the State Department, right. And she was the head of that agency for four years. And not only did she not participate, but actually at least nine of her associates, whether they were employees of the department or external employees that were under the auspice of Hillary in particular, did not participate, either. So, of course that's going to raise major questions.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: But at the same time, Hillary has said -- Clinton has said that she will participate in the FBI investigation. Is that right?

MICHAEL TRACEY: Right, but if you go and examine the statements that her campaign has made and she has made individually, she never made a clear distinction between participation in the FBI probe and the State Department probe. So, for her now to retroactively claim that she did make that distinction doesn't hold up to scrutiny. As recently as May 7th, she said that she would, quote, "talk to anybody" investigating the matter on behalf of the federal government.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, she also said -- because there's been some speculation about why she chose to use a private email server in the first place, and apparently in November 2010 -- this is what the report says -- she wrote to one of her top aides, Huma Abedin, that, quote, "Let's [get] separate address or device but I don't want any risk of the personal being accessible." What do you think the significance of that is? And that's not what she initially claimed her reason was.

MICHAEL TRACEY: I just think it's indicative of her giving a wide variety of explanations for her behavior that don't cohere into a single, you know, digestible explanation that she could offer to voters. And I -- just one more point, I think that speaks to why there's been a deficiency in the level of scrutiny that's been applied to it in the context of the Democratic primary. So Bernie Sanders has, validly, not raised the issue, and he has his own reasons for doing so. But the natural consequence of that is that it hasn't been given a sufficient airing in the context of the Republican primary, and it's going to be easily seized upon by Donald Trump in the context of a general election.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me turn to a clip from the Democratic debate in March, Clinton facing tough questioning from Univision moderator Jorge Ramos about her use of a home-based email server and who gave her permission to use it.

HILLARY CLINTON: It wasn't the best choice. I made a mistake. It was not prohibited. It was not in any way disallowed. And as I've said and as now has come out, my predecessors did the same thing, and many other people in the government. But here's the cut-to-the-chase facts. I did not send or receive any emails marked "classified" at the time. What you're talking about is retroactive classification. ... I am not concerned about it. I am not worried about it. And no Democrat or American should be, either.

JORGE RAMOS: The questions were -- Secretary Clinton, the questions were: Who gave you permission to -- to operate?

HILLARY CLINTON: There -- there --

JORGE RAMOS: Was it President Obama?

HILLARY CLINTON: There was no permission to be asked. It had been done by my predecessors. It was permitted. I didn't have to ask anyone.

JORGE RAMOS: If you get indicted, would you drop out?

HILLARY CLINTON: Oh, for goodness -- that is not going to happen. I'm not even answering that question.

AMY GOODMAN: Hillary Clinton, speaking at a Democratic debate in March. Just a note about the earlier clip of Hillary Clinton in our lede, it was from March 2015, over a year ago, not from the campaign trail yesterday. So, Michael Tracey, this issue of she didn't do anything differently than her predecessors, like Secretary of State General Colin Powell, who has also said the same thing, actually?

MICHAEL TRACEY: Well, that's been a claim repeatedly made by Hillary Clinton herself and her campaign representatives for as long as this has been a controversy, but the State Department's own report now finds that that claim has no basis. I mean, there were new sets of standards applied to the conduct of Hillary Clinton that did not apply to her predecessors. When Colin Powell was in office, for example -- you know, he left office in 2005, and by then, the use of email was not nearly as widespread or not -- and the security liabilities were not nearly as well understood. So, the idea that that's a rationale for her behavior, I don't think passes muster, either.

AMY GOODMAN: She keeps emphasizing she's turned over 55,000 emails, certainly more than any of her predecessors, not only Condoleezza Rice, by the way, but -- not only Colin Powell, but also Condoleezza Rice. But what about this, 55,000 email that she chose, or her people chose, to hand over?

MICHAEL TRACEY: Well, again, that's a claim that's been made without corroboration. But now we know that the claim is not totally accurate. There were emails found independently by the State Department investigator between Hillary Clinton and David Petraeus that she did not turn over in December 2014, when she purportedly handed over the totality of the batch. So, I mean, obviously, a figure of that significance is someone who the public is going to want to see the correspondence featuring.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, this is interesting, the general, right? Because -- I'm reading from The Washington Post: "In his plea agreement, [General] Petraeus admitted to mishandling classified information that was contained in [his] personal notebooks. Petraeus told [his girlfriend Paula] Broadwell that his notebooks contained 'highly classified' information, yet gave them to her ... lied to the FBI during the investigation -- a felony that's punishable by up to five years in prison," let her see his classified emails, etc.

MICHAEL TRACEY: Yeah, I think this speaks to a broader fallacy in the way that Democrats have spoken about this issue. They've tried to conflate it with, you know, partisan skulduggery, which inevitably is going to engulf Hillary and has for 25 years. But in doing so, they've deflected from the real potential liabilities that this may occasion. And another thing, you know, in the clip that was just played, Hillary Clinton laughed off the possibility of an indictment. And that's probably remote. But it's not laughable that there could be some kind of criminal consequence to this behavior, whether on the part of Hillary or her subordinates.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, wait. Explain this, because, I mean, James Comey is not exactly a friend of President Obama -- the head of the FBI, came in under the Bush administration, has undermined him in a number of ways. There's clearly a conflict. He's pushing forward with this investigation. He could recommend a criminal indictment, but it would be Obama's Justice Department that would have to move forward with it, which would set up a royal conflict and an embarrassing one.

MICHAEL TRACEY: Right. So even if official criminal charges are not levied, it would still provoke a political -- a political discord that we haven't seen in generations, in terms of competing branches of the federal government coming to different conclusions about whether certain behavior rises to the level of criminality. And, you know, I think for her to laugh off that possibility, and for Democrats to laugh off that possibility, has made it such that the feasibility of this hasn't been seriously entertained, maybe until now. And the reason -- one reason why a lawyer would advise a client not to participate in a probe of this nature is because you could divulge information that could be used in a separate criminal investigation to establish a pattern of facts, which could conceivably result in some kind of criminal charges. So that's always been a possibility in the air, but because, you know, the allegations have been so closely associated with Republican gamesmanship, I don't think Democrats have given it sufficient thought in terms of what kind of problems this could pose for Hillary as a general election candidate.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, I want to turn to a clip from then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in December 2011, the day before Army whistleblower Private Chelsea Manning went on trial for passing hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks.

SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: I think that in an age when so much information is, you know, flying through cyberspace, we all have to be aware of the fact that, you know, some information, which is sensitive, which does affect the security of individuals and relationships, deserves to be protected. And we will continue to take necessary steps to do so.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Hillary Clinton speaking in 2011 about the WikiLeaks revelations made by Chelsea Manning. So could you comment on what Hillary Clinton said and whether you think that there's a different standard that's been applied to whistleblowers, like Chelsea Manning, and her opposition to the inquiry now regarding her own, let's say, lax security around her emails while she was secretary of state?

MICHAEL TRACEY: Well, the double standards are overwhelmingly clear. It's not disputed at this point that information marked "top secret," according to the government, traversed the server of Hillary Clinton. And the server was not secured according to the guidelines established by the federal government. Now, had someone of less stature committed a similar infraction, based on the track record of Hillary Clinton's own statements, we could draw a logical through line and assume that she would want the full weight of the criminal apparatus of the federal government to bear down on that individual.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Isn't that what happened to the US ambassador in Kenya? I think that's one of the people who's mentioned.

MICHAEL TRACEY: Right. And, you know, obviously, the case of Chelsea Manning is not totally analogous, but it speaks to a broader principle that's not being evenly applied. So, whether or not you think that the classification regime of the federal government is sound, that has no bearing on whether the regime that exists should be applied broadly and equitably. And in insisting, as Hillary Clinton and her surrogates have done, that this is no big deal, they're essentially arguing for a different standard to be applied to themselves. And that's why people have so little faith in the system. And it's not just for product of Republican fearmongering that there is this hunch that the law is not going to be applied in an equal manner.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Tracey, we just have a minute, but two quick questions. One, the effect of one of -- the person who installed the server in the Chappaqua house being granted immunity? And the other, the reason that they would do this? Is it possible it's related not -- to not wanting to have FOIA requests of emails and questions about these emails that were involved with countries that had dealings with the Clinton Foundation?

MICHAEL TRACEY: Right. Well, a person named Bryan Pagliano has been granted immunity by the Department of Justice, and that doesn't tend to happen unless there's some substantial criminal proceeding having been undertaken or underway. So that's not been given adequate consideration by Democratic partisans, either. And then, as you mentioned, there is the issue of whether public records law has been flouted. And that could conceivably -- you know, depending on how enterprising a prosecutor is, could be folded into a criminal charge, because, you know, there are certain federal statutes governing how agencies and stewards of agencies must maintain public records. And there's -- you know, it's already now established that Hillary Clinton's maintenance of records violated the regulatory framework of the State Department. Now the only question is whether that rises to the level of a criminal violation of federal code. And it's very possible, and, again, it's troubling to someone who may have not given this adequate consideration. Now, I'm repeating myself, but this should have been given more of an airing in the context of the presidential -- the Democratic presidential primaries, because Donald is going to have an absolute field day with it and pummel Hillary Clinton for even the appearance of some kind of impropriety, whether or not it eventuates in criminal charges.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Tracey, I want to thank you for being with us, journalist, researcher, frequent contributor to Vice, The Daily Beast and the New York Daily News.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we look at an Exxon shareholders meeting, the granddaughter of an Exxon scientist who told Exxon decades ago about the dangers of climate change. We'll also speak with Bill McKibben, who's been chosen by presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to serve on the platform committee at the Democratic convention. What will he be demanding the platform say about climate change? Stay with us.

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News Thu, 26 May 2016 00:00:00 -0400
The Desperate Plight of Petro-States http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36200-the-desperate-plight-of-petro-states http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36200-the-desperate-plight-of-petro-states

(Photo: Mr. Hicks46; Edited: LW / TO)(Photo: Mr. Hicks46; Edited: LW / TO)

Pity the poor petro-states. Once so wealthy from oil sales that they could finance wars, mega-projects, and domestic social peace simultaneously, some of them are now beset by internal strife or are on the brink of collapse as oil prices remain at ruinously low levels. Unlike other countries, which largely finance their governments through taxation, petro-states rely on their oil and natural gas revenues. Russia, for example, obtains about 50% of government income that way; Nigeria, 60%; and Saudi Arabia, a whopping 90%. When oil was selling at $100 per barrel or above, as was the case until 2014, these countries could finance lavish government projects and social welfare operations, ensuring widespread popular support. Now, with oil below $50 and likely to persist at that level, they find themselves curbing public spending and fending off rising domestic discontent or even incipient revolt.

At the peak of their glory, the petro-states played an outsized role in world affairs. The members of OPEC, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, earned an estimated $821 billion from oil exports in 2013 alone. Flush with cash, they were able to exert influence over other countries through a wide variety of aid and patronage operations. Venezuela, for example, sought to counter US influence in Latin America via its Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), a cooperative network of mostly leftist governments. Saudi Arabia spread its influence throughout the Islamic world in part by financing the efforts of its ultra-conservative Wahhabi clergy to establish madrassas (religious academies) throughout the Islamic world. Russia, under Vladimir Putin, used its prodigious oil wealth to rebuild and refurbish its military, which had largely disintegrated following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Lesser members of the petro-state club like Angola, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan became accustomed to regular fawning visits from the presidents and prime ministers of major oil-importing countries.

That, of course, was then, and this is now. While these countries still matter, what worries these presidents and prime ministers now is the growing likelihood of civil violence or even state collapse. Take, for example, Venezuela, long an ardent foe of US policy in Latin America, but today the potential site of a future bloody civil war between supporters and opponents of the current government. Similar kinds of internal strife and civil disorder are likely in oil-producing states like Algeria and Nigeria, where the potential for the further growth of terrorist violence amid chaos is always high.

Some petro-states like Venezuela and Iraq already appear to be edging up to the brink of collapse. Others like Russia and Saudi Arabia will be forced to reorient their economies if they hope to avoid such future outcomes. Whatever their degree of risk, all of them are already experiencing economic hardship, leaving their leaders under growing pressure to somehow alter course in the bleakest of circumstances -- or face the consequences.

A Busted Business Model

Petro-states are different from other countries because the fates of their governing institutions are so deeply woven into the boom-and-bust cycles of the international petroleum economy. The challenges they face are only compounded by the unnaturally close ties between their political leaderships and senior officials of their state-owned or state-controlled oil and natural gas industries. Historically, their rulers have placed close allies or even family members in key industry positions, ensuring continuing government control and in many cases personal enrichment as well. In Russia, for example, the management of Gazprom, the state-controlled natural gas company, and Rosneft, the state-owned oil company, is almost indistinguishable from the senior leadership in the Kremlin, with both groups answering to President Putin. A similar pattern holds for Venezuela, where the government keeps the state-owned company, Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA), on a tight leash, and in Saudi Arabia, where the royal family oversees the operations of the state-owned Saudi Aramco.

In 2016, one thing is finally clear, however: the business model for these corporatized states is busted. The most basic assumption behind their operation -- that global oil demand will continue to outpace world petroleum supplies and ensure high prices into the foreseeable future -- no longer holds. Instead, in what for any petro-state is a nightmarish, upside-down version of that model, supply, not demand, is forging ahead, leaving the market flooded with fossil fuels.

Most analysts, including those at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), now believe that increases in energy efficiency, the spread of affordable alternative energy sources (especially wind and solar), slowing worldwide economic growth, and concern over climate change will continue to put a damper on fossil fuel demand in the years ahead. Meanwhile, the oil industry -- now equipped with fracking technology and other advanced extractive techniques -- will continue to boost supplies. It's a formula for keeping prices low. In fact, a growing number of analysts are convinced that world oil demand will in the not-so-distant future reach a peak and begin a long-term decline, ensuring that large reserves of petroleum will be left in the ground. For the petro-states, all of this means persistent pain unless they can find a new business model that is somehow predicated on a permanent low-oil-price environment.

These states vary in both their willingness and ability to respond to this new reality effectively. Some are too deeply committed to their existing business model (and its associated leadership system) to consider significant changes; others, increasingly aware of the need to do something, find almost insuperable structural roadblocks in the way; and a third group, recognizing the desperate need for change, is attempting a total economic overhaul of its oil economies. In recent weeks, examples of all three types – Venezuela for the first, Nigeria the second, and Saudi Arabia the third -- have surfaced in the news.

Venezuela: A Nation on the Brink

Venezuela claims the world's largest proven reserves of petroleum, an estimated 298 billion barrels of oil. In past decades, the exploitation of this vast fossil fuel patrimony has ensured incredible wealth for foreign companies and Venezuelan elites alike. After assuming the presidency in 1999, however, Hugo Chávez sought to channel the bulk of this wealth to Venezuela's poor and working classes by forcing foreign firms to partner with the state-owned oil firm PdVSA and redirecting that company's profits to government spending programs. Billions of dollars were funneled into state-directed "missions" to the poor, lifting millions of Venezuelans out of poverty. In 2002, when the company's long-serving managers rebelled against these moves, Chávez simply replaced them with his own party loyalists and the diversion of funds continued.

In the wake of the ousting of that original management team, the country's oil production began to decline. With prices running at or above $100 per barrel, this initially seemed to make little difference as money continued to pour into government coffers and those missions to the poor kept right on going. What Chavez didn't do, however, was create the national equivalent of a rainy-day fund. Little of the oil money was channeled into a sovereign wealth fund for more problematic moments, nor was any invested in other kinds of industries that might in time have generated streams of non-fossil-fuel income for the government.

As a result, when prices began to drop in the fall of 2014, Chavez's presidential successor, Nicolás Maduro, faced a triple calamity: diminished revenues for social services, scant savings to draw upon, and no alternative sources of income. Not surprisingly, as a new impoverishment spread, many former Chavistas lost faith in the regime and, in last December's parliamentary elections, voted for emboldened opposition candidates.

Today, Venezuela is a nation living under an officially declared "state of emergency," politically riven, experiencing food riots and other violence, and possibly on the brink of collapse. According to the IMF, the economy contracted by 5.7% in 2015 and is expected to diminish by another 8% this year -- more, that is, than any other country on the planet. Inflation is out of control, unemployment and crime are soaring, and what little money Venezuela had in its rainy-day account has largely been spent. Only China has been willing to lend it money to pay off its debts. If Beijing chooses to hold back when the next payments come due this fall, the country could face default. Opposition leaders in the National Assembly seek to oust Maduro and move ahead with various reforms, but the government is using its control of the courts to block such efforts, and the nation remains in a state of paralysis.

Nigeria: Continuing Disorder

Nigeria possesses the largest oil and natural gas reserves in sub-Saharan Africa. The exploitation of those reserves has long proved immensely profitable for foreign companies like Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron and also for well-connected Nigerian elites. Very little of this wealth, however, has trickled down to those living in the Niger Delta region in the south of the country where most of the oil and gas is produced. Opposition to the central government in Abuja, the capital, to which the oil income flows, has long been strong in the Delta, leading to periodic outbursts of violence. Successive federal administrations have promised a more equitable allocation of oil revenues, but a promise this has remained.

From 2006 to 2009, Nigeria was wracked by an insurgency spearheaded by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, a militant group seeking to redirect oil revenues to the country's impoverished southern states. In 2009, when President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua offered the militants an amnesty and monthly cash payments, the insurgency died down. His successor, Goodluck Jonathan, a southerner, promised to respect the amnesty and channel more funds to the region.

For a while, high oil prices enabled Jonathan to make good on some of his promises, even as entrenched elites in Abuja continued to pocket a substantial percentage of the country's petroleum income. When prices began to plummet, however, he was confronted with mounting challenges. Pervasive corruption turned people against the government, feeding recruits into Boko Haram, the terror movement then growing in the country's northern reaches; money intended for soldiers in the Nigerian army disappeared into the pockets of military elites, subverting efforts to fight the insurgents. In national elections held a year ago, Muhammadu Buhari, a former general who vowed to crack down on corruption, rescue the economy, and defeat Boko Haram, took the presidency from Jonathan.

Since assuming office, Buhari has demonstrated a grasp of Nigeria's structural weaknesses, especially its overwhelming dependency on oil monies, along with a determination to overcome them. As promised, he has launched a serious crackdown on the sort of corruption that is a commonplace feature of petro-states, firing officials accused of blatant thievery. At the same time, he has stepped up military pressure on Boko Haram, for the first time putting a crimp in that group's brutal activities. Crucially, he has announced plans to diversify the economy, placing more emphasis on agriculture and non-fossil-fuel-related industries, which might, if pursued seriously, help diminish Nigeria's increasingly disastrous reliance on oil.

In the cold light of day, however, the country still needs those oil revenues for the lion's share of its income, which means that in the current low-price environment it has ever less money to fight Boko Haram, pay for social services, or pursue alternative investment schemes. In addition, Buhari has been accused of disproportionately targeting southerners in his fight against corruption, sparking not just fresh discontent in the Delta region but the rise of a new militant group -- the Niger Delta Avengers -- that poses a threat to oil production. On May 4th, the Avengers attacked an offshore oil platform operated by Chevron and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, forcing the companies to shut down production of about 90,000 barrels per day. Add that to other insurgent attacks on the country's oil infrastructure and the Nigerian government is expected to lose $1 billion in May alone. If repairs are not completed on time, it may lose an equal amount in June. It remains a nation on edge, in danger of devastating impoverishment, and with few genuine alternatives available.

Saudi Arabia: Seeking a New Vision

With the world's second largest reserves of oil, Saudi Arabia is also the planet's leading producer, pumping out a staggering 10.2 million barrels daily. Originally, those massive energy reserves were owned by a consortium of American companies operating under the umbrella of the Arabian-American Oil Company (Aramco). In the 1970s, however, Aramco was nationalized and is now owned by the Saudi state -- which is to say, the Saudi monarchy. Today, it is the world's most valuable company, worth by some estimates as much as $10 trillion (10 times more than Apple), and so a source of almost unimaginable wealth for the Saudi royal family.

For decades, the country's leadership pursued a consistent political-economic business plan: sell as much oil as possible and use the proceeds to enrich the numerous princes and princesses of the realm; provide lavish social benefits to the rest of the population, thereby averting popular unrest of the "Arab Spring" variety; finance the ultra-conservative Wahhabi clergy so as to ensure its loyalty to the regime; finance like-minded states in the region; and put aside money for those rainy-day periods of low oil prices.

Saudi leaders have recently come to recognize that this plan is no longer sustainable. In 2016, the Saudi budget has, for the first time in recent memory, moved into deficit territory and the monarchy has had to cut back on both its usual subsidies to and social programs for its people. Unlike the Venezuelans or the Nigerians, the Saudi royals socked away enough money in the country's sovereign wealth fund to cover deficit spending for at least a couple of years. It is now, however, burning through those funds at a prodigious rate, in part to finance a brutal and futile war in Yemen. At some point, it will have to sharply curtail government spending. Given the youthfulness of the Saudi population -- 70% of its citizens are under 30 -- and its long dependence on government handouts, such moves could, in the view of many analysts, lead to widespread civil unrest.

Historically, Saudi leaders have been slow to initiate change. But recently, the royal family has defied expectations, taking radical steps to prepare the country for a transition to what's being termed a post-petroleum economy. On April 25th, the powerful Deputy Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, unveiled "Saudi Vision 2030," a somewhat hazy blueprint for the kingdom's economic diversification and modernization. Prince Mohammed also indicated that the country will soon begin to offer public shares in Saudi Aramco, with the intention of raising massive funds to invest in and create non-oil-related Saudi industries and revenue streams. On May 7th, the monarchy also abruptly dismissed its long-serving oil minister, Ali al-Naimi, and replaced him with the head of Saudi Aramco, Khalid al-Falih, a figure deemed more subservient to Prince Mohammed. Falih's job title was also changed to minister of energy, industry, and mineral resources, which was (so the experts speculated) a signal from the monarchy of its determination to move beyond exclusive reliance on oil as a source of income.

This is all so unprecedented that there is no way of predicting whether the Saudi royals are actually capable of bringing anything like Saudi Vision 2030 to fruition, no less moving away in a serious fashion from its reliance on oil. Many obstacles remain, including the possibility that jealous royals will push Prince Mohammed (and his vision) aside when his father, King Salman, now 80, passes from the scene. (There are regular rumors that some members of the royal family resent the meteoric rise of the 31-year-old prince.) Nevertheless, his dramatic statements about the need to diversify the kingdom's economy do show that even Saudi Arabia -- the petro-state par excellence -- now recognizes that some kind of new identity is now a necessity.

The Stakes for Us All

You may not live in a petro-state, but that doesn't mean you don't have a stake in the evolution of this unique political life form. From at least the "oil shock" of 1973, when the Arab OPEC members announced an "oil boycott" against the US for its involvement in the Yom Kippur War, such countries have played an outsized role on the world stage, distorting international relations, and -- in the Greater Middle East -- involving themselves (and their financial resources) in one conflict after another from the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988 to the wars in Yemen and Syria today.

Their fervent support for and financing of favored causes -- whether it be Wahhabism and associated jihadist groups (Saudi Arabia), anti-Westernism (Russia), or the survival of the Assad regime in Syria (Iran) -- has provoked widespread disorder and misery. It will hardly be a tragedy if a lack of funds forces such states to pull back from efforts of this sort. But given the centrality of fossil fuels to our world for the last century or more, the chaos that could ensue in the oil heartlands of the planet from low oil prices and high supply is likely to create unpredictable new nightmares of its own.

And the greatest nightmares of all lurk not in any of this but in the inability of these states and those they supply to liberate themselves from reliance on fossil fuels fast enough. Looking into the future, the demise of petro-states as we've known them could have a profound impact on the struggle to avert catastrophic climate change. Although these states are not primarily responsible for the actual combustion of fossil fuels -- that's something we in the oil-importing countries must take responsibility for -- their pivotal role in fueling the global petroleum economy has made them largely resistant to international efforts to curb emissions of carbon dioxide. As they try to repair their busted business model or collapse under the weight of its failures, we can only hope that the path they follow will entail significantly less dependence on oil exports as well as a determination to speed up the conclusion of the fossil fuel era and so diminish its legacy of climate disaster.

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News Thu, 26 May 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Ten Things to Know About DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz's Progressive Challenger http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36191-ten-things-to-know-about-dnc-chair-debbie-wasserman-schultz-s-super-progressive-challenger http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36191-ten-things-to-know-about-dnc-chair-debbie-wasserman-schultz-s-super-progressive-challenger

The Bernie Sanders campaign has given DNC Chair, Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, major political headaches about primaries, superdelegates and the number of debates. Now Wasserman-Schultz has an even bigger problem on her hands -- a primary challenger in her own congressional district, Tim Canova. To make things worse, this past Sunday, when asked about Wasserman-Schultz's leadership, Bernie Sanders told Jake Tapper on CNN's "State of the Union" that he would most certainly be endorsing her opponent, Tim Canova.

Here are 10 more things you should know about Tim Canova.

1. Canova is not only Wasserman-Schultz's first challenger in the DNC, but the first in her political career according to WPBT2, South Florida's public television.

2. Canova is a lifelong activist and hopes the Democratic Party will adopt a more progressive agenda. Canova has been involved in the anti-globalization movement and the Occupy movement and helped abolish felony disenfranchisement in New Mexico.

3. Canova has known Bernie Sanders for years. The law professor and finance expert campaigned for Sanders prior to receiving his endorsement and even served on Sanders' Wall Street reform advisory committee in 2011.

4. Canova's congressional campaign has raised more than $250,000 since Bernie Sanders officially endorsed Canova this past weekend.

5. Canova is a professor of law and public finance at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

6. Canova may be running against Wasserman-Schultz, but "doesn't think anyone could do both [jobs of serving in the House of Representatives and as DNC chair] effectively," he told CNN. However, he also stated that he doesn't believe Wasserman-Schultz is currently doing either job effectively.

7. Canova believes the biggest divide in America isn't between Democrats and Republicans, but between the haves and have-nots. "The recent budget disputes that almost shut down the federal government were over $139 billion in cuts," Canova told RT America in 2011. "In a budget that's $3-4 trillion a year, it's actually not a huge difference between the two parties."

8. Canova sent an open letter in March to Wasserman-Schultz regarding payday lenders. "Debbie Wasserman-Schultz is pushing legislation in the House of Representatives which would help the payday lending industry which would undermine consumer protection laws. And at the same time Wasserman-Schultz has been taking many thousands of dollars from this industry over the past decade," Canova said.

9. Canova has sent Wasserman-Schultz several invitations to debate him before the August primary, but to date she has not responded to him or to any of the pundits asking if she will debate her opponent.

10. Canova never planned on running for political office until last year, when he "got involved in the anti transpacific partnership, trying to lobby [his] local congresswoman and getting nowhere," Canova explained at the Bernie Sanders Miami campaign warehouse launch.

"If you have a $5,000 check from a PAC, you get a response from Debbie Wasserman-Schultz," Canova added. "And a whole bunch of us thought somebody's gotta challenge her in a primary. I didn't think it was going to be me."

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News Thu, 26 May 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Racism From Above in Appalachia http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36190-racism-from-above-in-appalachia http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36190-racism-from-above-in-appalachia

There's been buzz since Bernie Sanders won West Virginia's primary about the nature of the white working class. Touching it off were a series of polls showing high support for Trump among the voters who handed Sanders a nearly 16 point lead in the 97.3 percent white state. Almost 40 percent of Sanders supporters said they would vote for Trump in November, compared with a third of primary voters overall. The same night, Trump won 77 percent of the vote. For liberal pundits, the upshot seemed clear: Even when they dress up as socialists, white working-class voters are more committed to white supremacy than economic populism.

As Connor Kilpatrick quipped in Jacobin, "Somehow, someway, West Virginia's vote for a Jewish socialist Brooklyn native was a vote for racism."

At the same time, however, West Virginia native Jedediah Purdy -- writing for Scalawag -- explained the Democratic primary results by saying, "I can't pretend that his 15 point victory in my home state is an embrace of his Scandinavian-style democratic socialism. West Virginia is neither a secret socialist stronghold nor a racist fever-dream."

In many parts of Appalachia, economies have been built brick by brick around a single industry: coal. As toxic and complex as the legacy of mining in Appalachia remains, however, it's also a region that has been shaped at least as much by militant, organized labor. More specifically, a rich if complicated history of integrated unions, stemming from the Knights of Labor and then the United Mineworkers of America, or UMWA. As in other industries in other parts of the country, big business -- coal operators, in this case -- were central to breaking unions and racial solidarity alike, weaponizing existing divisions to break unions and maintain control over the mines. Did the coal barons invent racism? Of course not, but they did exploit it plenty to stamp out dissent and accumulate profits.

By the early 20th century, a quarter of the UMWA's membership -- around 20,000 miners -- were black. As the Great Depression rolled through America in 1934, some 60 percent of UMWA members were African American, a significant portion living in the Jim Crow South. Notable, too, was the election of several black members to the union's executive board at a time when union leadership nationwide remained almost exclusively white.

Where black workers were systematically excluded from the North's manufacturing economy, work in coal mining and transport offered paying -- if brutal -- opportunities. Coal companies saw their own strategic benefit to keeping workplaces integrated. "Here," writes historian Ronald L. Lewis, "operators maintained control over their workers through a policy of 'judicious mixture,' which enabled them to divide and conquer by offering the carrot of equal opportunity to all miners without regard to race or nationality and the stick of company police repression against those who did not accept complete subservience."

They also had no qualms about paying black workers the lowest wages for the most dangerous jobs, and handing supervisory positions over to their white counterparts. Coal camps, self-contained communities amounting to virtual fiefdoms, became more segregated through the early 20th century, between white and black workers, respectively, and recent immigrants.

In Coal, Class, and Color, historian Joe William Trotter traced the history of black miners in West Virginia. When addressing a period of accelerated black migration to Appalachia, he wrote, "As new coalfields opened during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, [coal] operators upheld the principle of segregation in public schools; supported the continuation of state prohibitions on interracial marriage; and either segregated or excluded blacks from rooming houses, cafes, poolrooms and theaters."

That industrialists were so interested in stoking racial division is one reason why UMWA miners strove to keep the union united. "I was raised a slave," black UMWA organizer George Echols once said. "My master and my mistress called me and I answered … and I feel just like we feel now … Let us be free men. Let us stand equal." While racial inequality certainly coursed through integrated unions, solidarity among miners was a key factor in a number of fights against the coal industry.

A favorite and especially nasty tactic used by mine owners around the country was bringing in black (non-union) strikebreakers to keep operations running as the UMWA fought for contracts and better wages. The tactic infused existing racial tensions with a deeply felt economic anxiety, leading to outright violence against black miners that often left unaffiliated black families caught in the fray. These strikebreakers were often uninformed or -- more likely -- deceived about the conditions they were entering, especially in places where there were few other jobs on offer. Many found themselves as cannon fodder in dangerous and often deadly battles between unions and coal operators.

"Colored miners come along," read one 1890s ad for an Alabama mine embroiled in a major strike action. "Let us see whether you can have an Eden of your own or not. I will see that you will have a fair show … It is not likely you will have another chance to demonstrate to the world that you are capable of governing your social affairs without the aid of interference of the white race." After responding to a similar ad for jobs in Kansas, 175 men decided to ignore its claims and turn back when they discovered mineworkers in the area were striking.

These stories, of course, aren't unique to either Appalachia or the coal industry. Everyone from Henry Ford to Andrew Carnegie used racism to their advantage in turning beefier profits, often by tamping down on workers' right to organize. When industry won, the results were eerily similar: black workers were hurt or killed, unions were broken or weakened, and workers walked away with lower wages and less power.

As Ian Haney-López and Heather McGhee detailed for The Nation in January, conservatives have only continued to weaponize race against working people in the post-war era, using racist tropes to starve public support for key entitlement programs. As the party tacked right in the early 1990s, Democrats like Bill Clinton joined in and even spearheaded efforts to "end welfare as we know it."

"Today's right-wing, anti-tax, anti-spending agenda succeeds by stoking a deep distrust of the purported beneficiaries of government in thinly veiled dog-whistle language that is almost always about race," Haney-López and McGhee wrote. "By exposing how the political manipulation of racial anxiety has hollowed out of the middle class, Sanders can elevate a simple message: When racism wins, everyone loses."

In few places has that statement been more true than in Appalachia. As the lines of today's two-party system continue to shift into uncertain territory, movements eager to continue the political revolution -- and win over white working class voters, away from Trump -- might do well to pick up Haney-López and McGhee's call.

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News Thu, 26 May 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Software Used to Predict Criminality Is Biased Against Black People http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36189-machine-bias-software-used-to-predict-future-criminals-is-biased-against-blacks http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36189-machine-bias-software-used-to-predict-future-criminals-is-biased-against-blacks

(Photo: Karen Neoh; Edited: LW / TO)(Photo: Karen Neoh; Edited: LW / TO)

On a spring afternoon in 2014, Brisha Borden was running late to pick up her god-sister from school when she spotted an unlocked kid's blue Huffy bicycle and a silver Razor scooter. Borden and a friend grabbed the bike and scooter and tried to ride them down the street in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Coral Springs.

Just as the 18-year-old girls were realizing they were too big for the tiny conveyances -- which belonged to a 6-year-old boy -- a woman came running after them saying, "That's my kid's stuff." Borden and her friend immediately dropped the bike and scooter and walked away.

But it was too late -- a neighbor who witnessed the heist had already called the police. Borden and her friend were arrested and charged with burglary and petty theft for the items, which were valued at a total of $80.

Compare their crime with a similar one: The previous summer, 41-year-old Vernon Prater was picked up for shoplifting $86.35 worth of tools from a nearby Home Depot store.

Prater was the more seasoned criminal. He had already been convicted of armed robbery and attempted armed robbery, for which he served five years in prison, in addition to another armed robbery charge. Borden had a record, too, but it was for misdemeanors committed when she was a juvenile.

Yet something odd happened when Borden and Prater were booked into jail: A computer program spat out a score predicting the likelihood of each committing a future crime. Borden -- who is black -- was rated a high risk. Prater -- who is white -- was rated a low risk.

Two years later, we know the computer algorithm got it exactly backward. Borden has not been charged with any new crimes. Prater is serving an eight-year prison term for subsequently breaking into a warehouse and stealing thousands of dollars' worth of electronics.

Scores like this -- known as risk assessments -- are increasingly common in courtrooms across the nation. They are used to inform decisions about who can be set free at every stage of the criminal justice system, from assigning bond amounts -- as is the case in Fort Lauderdale -- to even more fundamental decisions about defendants' freedom. In Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin, the results of such assessments are given to judges during criminal sentencing.

Rating a defendant's risk of future crime is often done in conjunction with an evaluation of a defendant's rehabilitation needs. The Justice Department's National Institute of Corrections now encourages the use of such combined assessments at every stage of the criminal justice process. And a landmark sentencing reform bill currently pending in Congress would mandate the use of such assessments in federal prisons.

Borden was rated high risk for future crime after she and a friend took a kid's bike and scooter that were sitting outside. She did not reoffend.

In 2014, then US Attorney General Eric Holder warned that the risk scores might be injecting bias into the courts. He called for the US Sentencing Commission to study their use. "Although these measures were crafted with the best of intentions, I am concerned that they inadvertently undermine our efforts to ensure individualized and equal justice," he said, adding, "they may exacerbate unwarranted and unjust disparities that are already far too common in our criminal justice system and in our society."

The sentencing commission did not, however, launch a study of risk scores. So ProPublica did, as part of a larger examination of the powerful, largely hidden effect of algorithms in American life.

We obtained the risk scores assigned to more than 7,000 people arrested in Broward County, Florida, in 2013 and 2014 and checked to see how many were charged with new crimes over the next two years, the same benchmark used by the creators of the algorithm.

The score proved remarkably unreliable in forecasting violent crime: Only 20 percent of the people predicted to commit violent crimes actually went on to do so.

When a full range of crimes were taken into account -- including misdemeanors such as driving with an expired license -- the algorithm was somewhat more accurate than a coin flip. Of those deemed likely to re-offend, 61 percent were arrested for any subsequent crimes within two years.

We also turned up significant racial disparities, just as Holder feared. In forecasting who would re-offend, the algorithm made mistakes with black and white defendants at roughly the same rate but in very different ways.

  • The formula was particularly likely to falsely flag black defendants as future criminals, wrongly labeling them this way at almost twice the rate as white defendants.
  • White defendants were mislabeled as low risk more often than black defendants.

Could this disparity be explained by defendants' prior crimes or the type of crimes they were arrested for? No. We ran a statistical test that isolated the effect of race from criminal history and recidivism, as well as from defendants' age and gender. Black defendants were still 77 percent more likely to be pegged as at higher risk of committing a future violent crime and 45 percent more likely to be predicted to commit a future crime of any kind. (Read our analysis.)

The algorithm used to create the Florida risk scores is a product of a for-profit company, Northpointe. The company disputes our analysis.

In a letter, it criticized ProPublica's methodology and defended the accuracy of its test: "Northpointe does not agree that the results of your analysis, or the claims being made based upon that analysis, are correct or that they accurately reflect the outcomes from the application of the model."

Northpointe's software is among the most widely used assessment tools in the country. The company does not publicly disclose the calculations used to arrive at defendants' risk scores, so it is not possible for either defendants or the public to see what might be driving the disparity. (On Sunday, Northpointe gave ProPublica the basics of its future-crime formula -- which includes factors such as education levels, and whether a defendant has a job. It did not share the specific calculations, which it said are proprietary.)

Northpointe's core product is a set of scores derived from 137 questions that are either answered by defendants or pulled from criminal records. Race is not one of the questions. The survey asks defendants such things as: "Was one of your parents ever sent to jail or prison?" "How many of your friends/acquaintances are taking drugs illegally?" and "How often did you get in fights while at school?" The questionnaire also asks people to agree or disagree with statements such as "A hungry person has a right to steal" and "If people make me angry or lose my temper, I can be dangerous."

The appeal of risk scores is obvious: The United States locks up far more people than any other country, a disproportionate number of them black. For more than two centuries, the key decisions in the legal process, from pretrial release to sentencing to parole, have been in the hands of human beings guided by their instincts and personal biases.

If computers could accurately predict which defendants were likely to commit new crimes, the criminal justice system could be fairer and more selective about who is incarcerated and for how long. The trick, of course, is to make sure the computer gets it right. If it's wrong in one direction, a dangerous criminal could go free. If it's wrong in another direction, it could result in someone unfairly receiving a harsher sentence or waiting longer for parole than is appropriate.

The first time Paul Zilly heard of his score -- and realized how much was riding on it -- was during his sentencing hearing on Feb. 15, 2013, in court in Barron County, Wisconsin. Zilly had been convicted of stealing a push lawnmower and some tools. The prosecutor recommended a year in county jail and follow-up supervision that could help Zilly with "staying on the right path." His lawyer agreed to a plea deal.

But Judge James Babler had seen Zilly's scores. Northpointe's software had rated Zilly as a high risk for future violent crime and a medium risk for general recidivism. "When I look at the risk assessment," Babler said in court, "it is about as bad as it could be."

Then Babler overturned the plea deal that had been agreed on by the prosecution and defense and imposed two years in state prison and three years of supervision.

***

Criminologists have long tried to predict which criminals are more dangerous before deciding whether they should be released. Race, nationality and skin color were often used in making such predictions until about the 1970s, when it became politically unacceptable, according to a survey of risk assessment tools by Columbia University law professor Bernard Harcourt.

In the 1980s, as a crime wave engulfed the nation, lawmakers made it much harder for judges and parole boards to exercise discretion in making such decisions. States and the federal government began instituting mandatory sentences and, in some cases, abolished parole, making it less important to evaluate individual offenders.

But as states struggle to pay for swelling prison and jail populations, forecasting criminal risk has made a comeback.

Fugett was rated low risk after being arrested with cocaine and marijuana. He was arrested three times on drug charges after that.

Dozens of risk assessments are being used across the nation -- some created by for-profit companies such as Northpointe and others by nonprofit organizations. (One tool being used in states including Kentucky and Arizona, called the Public Safety Assessment, was developed by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, which also is a funder of ProPublica.)

There have been few independent studies of these criminal risk assessments. In 2013, researchers Sarah Desmarais and Jay Singh examined 19 different risk methodologies used in the United States and found that "in most cases, validity had only been examined in one or two studies" and that "frequently, those investigations were completed by the same people who developed the instrument."

Their analysis of the research through 2012 found that the tools "were moderate at best in terms of predictive validity," Desmarais said in an interview. And she could not find any substantial set of studies conducted in the United States that examined whether risk scores were racially biased. "The data do not exist," she said.

Since then, there have been some attempts to explore racial disparities in risk scores. One 2016 study examined the validity of a risk assessment tool, not Northpointe's, used to make probation decisions for about 35,000 federal convicts. The researchers, Jennifer Skeem at University of California, Berkeley, and Christopher T. Lowenkamp from the Administrative Office of the US Courts, found that blacks did get a higher average score but concluded the differences were not attributable to bias.

The increasing use of risk scores is controversial and has garnered media coverage, including articles by the Associated Press, and the Marshall Project and FiveThirtyEight last year.

Most modern risk tools were originally designed to provide judges with insight into the types of treatment that an individual might need -- from drug treatment to mental health counseling.

"What it tells the judge is that if I put you on probation, I'm going to need to give you a lot of services or you're probably going to fail," said Edward Latessa, a University of Cincinnati professor who is the author of a risk assessment tool that is used in Ohio and several other states.

But being judged ineligible for alternative treatment -- particularly during a sentencing hearing -- can translate into incarceration. Defendants rarely have an opportunity to challenge their assessments. The results are usually shared with the defendant's attorney, but the calculations that transformed the underlying data into a score are rarely revealed.

"Risk assessments should be impermissible unless both parties get to see all the data that go into them," said Christopher Slobogin, director of the criminal justice program at Vanderbilt Law School. "It should be an open, full-court adversarial proceeding."

Black Defendants' Risk Scores

White Defendants' Risk Scores

These charts show that scores for white defendants were skewed toward lower-risk categories. Scores for Black defendants were not. (Source: ProPublica analysis of data from Broward County, Florida.)

Proponents of risk scores argue they can be used to reduce the rate of incarceration. In 2002, Virginia became one of the first states to begin using a risk assessment tool in the sentencing of nonviolent felony offenders statewide. In 2014, Virginia judges using the tool sent nearly half of those defendants to alternatives to prison, according to a state sentencing commission report. Since 2005, the state's prison population growth has slowed to 5 percent from a rate of 31 percent the previous decade.

In some jurisdictions, such as Napa County, California, the probation department uses risk assessments to suggest to the judge an appropriate probation or treatment plan for individuals being sentenced. Napa County Superior Court Judge Mark Boessenecker said he finds the recommendations helpful. "We have a dearth of good treatment programs, so filling a slot in a program with someone who doesn't need it is foolish," he said.

However, Boessenecker, who trains other judges around the state in evidence-based sentencing, cautions his colleagues that the score doesn't necessarily reveal whether a person is dangerous or if they should go to prison.

"A guy who has molested a small child every day for a year could still come out as a low risk because he probably has a job," Boessenecker said. "Meanwhile, a drunk guy will look high risk because he's homeless. These risk factors don't tell you whether the guy ought to go to prison or not; the risk factors tell you more about what the probation conditions ought to be."

Sometimes, the scores make little sense even to defendants.

James Rivelli, a 54-year old Hollywood, Florida, man, was arrested two years ago for shoplifting seven boxes of Crest Whitestrips from a CVS drugstore. Despite a criminal record that included aggravated assault, multiple thefts and felony drug trafficking, the Northpointe algorithm classified him as being at a low risk of reoffending.

"I am surprised it is so low," Rivelli said when told by a reporter he had been rated a 3 out of a possible 10. "I spent five years in state prison in Massachusetts. But I guess they don't count that here in Broward County." In fact, criminal records from across the nation are supposed to be included in risk assessments.

Less than a year later, he was charged with two felony counts for shoplifting about $1,000 worth of tools from Home Depot. He said his crimes were fueled by drug addiction and that he is now sober.

***

Northpointe was founded in 1989 by Tim Brennan, then a professor of statistics at the University of Colorado, and Dave Wells, who was running a corrections program in Traverse City, Michigan.

Wells had built a prisoner classification system for his jail. "It was a beautiful piece of work," Brennan said in an interview conducted before ProPublica had completed its analysis. Brennan and Wells shared a love for what Brennan called "quantitative taxonomy" -- the measurement of personality traits such as intelligence, extroversion and introversion. The two decided to build a risk assessment score for the corrections industry.

Brennan wanted to improve on a leading risk assessment score, the LSI, or Level of Service Inventory, which had been developed in Canada. "I found a fair amount of weakness in the LSI," Brennan said. He wanted a tool that addressed the major theories about the causes of crime.

Brennan and Wells named their product the Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions, or COMPAS. It assesses not just risk but also nearly two dozen so-called "criminogenic needs" that relate to the major theories of criminality, including "criminal personality," "social isolation," "substance abuse" and "residence/stability." Defendants are ranked low, medium or high risk in each category.

Lugo crashed his Lincoln Navigator into a Toyota Camry while drunk. He was rated as a low risk of reoffending despite the fact that it was at least his fourth DUI.

As often happens with risk assessment tools, many jurisdictions have adopted Northpointe's software before rigorously testing whether it works. New York State, for instance, started using the tool to assess people on probation in a pilot project in 2001 and rolled it out to the rest of the state's probation departments -- except New York City -- by 2010. The state didn't publish a comprehensive statistical evaluation of the tool until 2012. The study of more than 16,000 probationers found the tool was 71 percent accurate, but it did not evaluate racial differences.

A spokeswoman for the New York state division of criminal justice services said the study did not examine race because it only sought to test whether the tool had been properly calibrated to fit New York's probation population. She also said judges in nearly all New York counties are given defendants' Northpointe assessments during sentencing.

In 2009, Brennan and two colleagues published a validation study that found that Northpointe's risk of recidivism score had an accuracy rate of 68 percent in a sample of 2,328 people. Their study also found that the score was slightly less predictive for black men than white men -- 67 percent versus 69 percent. It did not examine racial disparities beyond that, including whether some groups were more likely to be wrongly labeled higher risk.

Brennan said it is difficult to construct a score that doesn't include items that can be correlated with race -- such as poverty, joblessness and social marginalization. "If those are omitted from your risk assessment, accuracy goes down," he said.

In 2011, Brennan and Wells sold Northpointe to Toronto-based conglomerate Constellation Software for an undisclosed sum.

Wisconsin has been among the most eager and expansive users of Northpointe's risk assessment tool in sentencing decisions. In 2012, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections launched the use of the software throughout the state. It is used at each step in the prison system, from sentencing to parole.

In a 2012 presentation, corrections official Jared Hoy described the system as a "giant correctional pinball machine" in which correctional officers could use the scores at every "decision point."

Wisconsin has not yet completed a statistical validation study of the tool and has not said when one might be released. State corrections officials declined repeated requests to comment for this article.

Some Wisconsin counties use other risk assessment tools at arrest to determine if a defendant is too risky for pretrial release. Once a defendant is convicted of a felony anywhere in the state, the Department of Corrections attaches Northpointe's assessment to the confidential presentence report given to judges, according to Hoy's presentation.

In theory, judges are not supposed to give longer sentences to defendants with higher risk scores. Rather, they are supposed to use the tests primarily to determine which defendants are eligible for probation or treatment programs.

Prediction Fails Differently for Black Defendants

 WhiteAfrican American
Labeled Higher Risk, But Didn't Re-Offend 23.5% 44.9%
Labeled Lower Risk, Yet Did Re-Offend 47.7% 28.0%

 

Overall, Northpointe's assessment tool correctly predicts recidivism 61 percent of the time. But blacks are almost twice as likely as whites to be labeled a higher risk but not actually re-offend. It makes the opposite mistake among whites: They are much more likely than blacks to be labeled lower risk but go on to commit other crimes. (Source: ProPublica analysis of data from Broward County, Fla.)

But judges have cited scores in their sentencing decisions. In August 2013, Judge Scott Horne in La Crosse County, Wisconsin, declared that defendant Eric Loomis had been "identified, through the COMPAS assessment, as an individual who is at high risk to the community." The judge then imposed a sentence of eight years and six months in prison.

Loomis, who was charged with driving a stolen vehicle and fleeing from police, is challenging the use of the score at sentencing as a violation of his due process rights. The state has defended Horne's use of the score with the argument that judges can consider the score in addition to other factors. It has also stopped including scores in presentencing reports until the state Supreme Court decides the case.

"The risk score alone should not determine the sentence of an offender," Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General Christine Remington said last month during state Supreme Court arguments in the Loomis case. "We don't want courts to say, this person in front of me is a 10 on COMPAS as far as risk, and therefore I'm going to give him the maximum sentence."

That is almost exactly what happened to Zilly, the 48-year-old construction worker sent to prison for stealing a push lawnmower and some tools he intended to sell for parts. Zilly has long struggled with a meth habit. In 2012, he had been working toward recovery with the help of a Christian pastor when he relapsed and committed the thefts.

After Zilly was scored as a high risk for violent recidivism and sent to prison, a public defender appealed the sentence and called the score's creator, Brennan, as a witness.

Brennan testified that he didn't design his software to be used in sentencing. "I wanted to stay away from the courts," Brennan said, explaining that his focus was on reducing crime rather than punishment. "But as time went on I started realizing that so many decisions are made, you know, in the courts. So I gradually softened on whether this could be used in the courts or not."

Still, Brennan testified, "I don't like the idea myself of COMPAS being the sole evidence that a decision would be based upon."

After Brennan's testimony, Judge Babler reduced Zilly's sentence, from two years in prison to 18 months. "Had I not had the COMPAS, I believe it would likely be that I would have given one year, six months," the judge said at an appeals hearing on Nov. 14, 2013.

Zilly said the score didn't take into account all the changes he was making in his life -- his conversion to Christianity, his struggle to quit using drugs and his efforts to be more available for his son. "Not that I'm innocent, but I just believe people do change."

***

Florida's Broward County, where Brisha Borden stole the Huffy bike and was scored as high risk, does not use risk assessments in sentencing. "We don't think the [risk assessment] factors have any bearing on a sentence," said David Scharf, executive director of community programs for the Broward County Sheriff's Office in Fort Lauderdale.

Broward County has, however, adopted the score in pretrial hearings, in the hope of addressing jail overcrowding. A court-appointed monitor has overseen Broward County's jails since 1994 as a result of the settlement of a lawsuit brought by inmates in the 1970s. Even now, years later, the Broward County jail system is often more than 85 percent full, Scharf said.

In 2008, the sheriff's office decided that instead of building another jail, it would begin using Northpointe's risk scores to help identify which defendants were low risk enough to be released on bail pending trial. Since then, nearly everyone arrested in Broward has been scored soon after being booked. (People charged with murder and other capital crimes are not scored because they are not eligible for pretrial release.)

The scores are provided to the judges who decide which defendants can be released from jail. "My feeling is that if they don't need them to be in jail, let's get them out of there," Scharf said.

After Rivelli stole from a CVS and was caught with heroin in his car, he was rated a low risk. He later shoplifted $1,000 worth of tools from a Home Depot.

Scharf said the county chose Northpointe's software over other tools because it was easy to use and produced "simple yet effective charts and graphs for judicial review." He said the system costs about $22,000 a year.

In 2010, researchers at Florida State University examined the use of Northpointe's system in Broward County over a 12-month period and concluded that its predictive accuracy was "equivalent" in assessing defendants of different races. Like others, they did not examine whether different races were classified differently as low or high risk.

Scharf said the county would review ProPublica's findings. "We'll really look at them up close," he said.

Broward County Judge John Hurley, who oversees most of the pretrial release hearings, said the scores were helpful when he was a new judge, but now that he has experience he prefers to rely on his own judgment. "I haven't relied on COMPAS in a couple years," he said.

Hurley said he relies on factors including a person's prior criminal record, the type of crime committed, ties to the community, and their history of failing to appear at court proceedings.

ProPublica's analysis reveals that higher Northpointe scores are slightly correlated with longer pretrial incarceration in Broward County. But there are many reasons that could be true other than judges being swayed by the scores -- people with higher risk scores may also be poorer and have difficulty paying bond, for example.

Most crimes are presented to the judge with a recommended bond amount, but he or she can adjust the amount. Hurley said he often releases first-time or low-level offenders without any bond at all.

However, in the case of Borden and her friend Sade Jones, the teenage girls who stole a kid's bike and scooter, Hurley raised the bond amount for each girl from the recommended $0 to $1,000 each.

Hurley said he has no recollection of the case and cannot recall if the scores influenced his decision.

The girls spent two nights in jail before being released on bond.

"We literally sat there and cried" the whole time they were in jail, Jones recalled. The girls were kept in the same cell. Otherwise, Jones said, "I would have gone crazy." Borden declined repeated requests to comment for this article.

Jones, who had never been arrested before, was rated a medium risk. She completed probation and got the felony burglary charge reduced to misdemeanor trespassing, but she has still struggled to find work.

"I went to McDonald's and a dollar store, and they all said no because of my background," she said. "It's all kind of difficult and unnecessary."

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News Thu, 26 May 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Seven Myths About GMOs Debunked http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36188-seven-myths-about-gmos-debunked http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36188-seven-myths-about-gmos-debunked

Myth 1: GMOs are an "invention" of corporations, and therefore can be patented and owned. Living organisms, including seeds, thus become the "intellectual property" of the GMO industry. Using these property rights, corporations can forcibly prevent farmers from saving seeds.

Farmers harvest crops in Chennai, India. Corporations that produce GMOs are not interested in a  free market; they are interested in creating a monopoly over GMOs and genetically­modified. (Photo: Vinoth Chandar; Edited: LW / TO)Farmers harvest crops in Chennai, India. Corporations that produce GMOs are not interested in a free market; they are interested in creating a monopoly over GMOs. (Photo: Vinoth Chandar; Edited: LW / TO)

A global battle is being fought over the future of the world's food. Hear from the women on the front lines in Seed Sovereignty, Food Security: Women in the Vanguard of the Fight Against GMOs and Corporate Agriculture. These seed keepers, food producers, scientists, activists and scholars are committed to building a food system that is better aligned with ecological processes, human health and justice for all. Order this amazing book by donating to Truthout today!

The following is excerpted from Vandana Shiva's foreword to Seed Sovereignty, Food Security:

Myth 1: GMOs are an "invention" of corporations, and therefore can be patented and owned. Living organisms, including seeds, thus become the "intellectual property" of the GMO industry. Using these property rights, corporations can forcibly prevent farmers from saving and sharing seeds, and can collect royalties on their patented products. A Monsanto representative is on record stating that his company wrote the intellectual property agreement of the World Trade Organization (WTO). He added that they were the "patient, diagnostician, physician"; they defined the problem -- farmers save seeds -- and offered a solution: seed saving should be made illegal.

The claim to invention is a myth because genetic engineering does not create a plant or an organism; it is merely a tool to transfer genes across species. Living organisms are self-organizing, self-replicating systems. They make themselves. Unlike machines, they cannot be engineered. There are only two ways of introducing genes from unrelated species: one is the use of a gene gun, the other is through plant cancer. Just as a mover of furniture is not the maker or owner of the house to which the furniture is moved, the GMO industry is merely the mover of genes from one organism to another, not the creator or inventor of the organism, including seeds and plants. Through the false claim of "invention" and creation, the GMO industry is appropriating millions of years of nature 's evolution, and thousands of years of farmers' breeding.

Myth 2: Genetic engineering is more accurate and precise than conventional breeding. All breeding has been based on breeding within the same species: rice is bred with rice, wheat with wheat, corn with corn.

The tools of genetic engineering allow the introduction of genes from unrelated species into a plant, and include genes from bacteria, scorpions, fish, and cows. The introduction of genes from unrelated species is a blind technology, neither accurate nor precise. When genes are introduced into the cells of a plant using a gene gun, it is not known if the cell has absorbed the gene or not. That is why every GMO also uses an antibiotic-resistance marker gene, to separate cells that have absorbed the gene from those that have not. This means that every GMO in food has antibiotic-resistance genes that can mix with bacteria in the human gut and aggravate the crisis of antibiotic resistance we are currently facing.

Further, since the introduced gene does not belong to the organism, genes from virulent viruses are added as "promoters" to express the trait for which genes have been introduced. These additional transformations are evidence of the unreliability and inaccuracy of the gene transfer technology. Moreover, nothing is known about what these genes do when they enter our body as food. In the case of herbicide-tolerant crops like Roundup Ready soy and corn, the combination that needs to be considered for its impact on the environment and on health is both Roundup (glyphosate) and the new genes in the food crop.

(Image: North Atlantic Books)(Image: North Atlantic Books) Myth 3: GMOs are just like naturally occurring organisms, and are therefore safe. Myth 3 is inconsistent with myth 1. To establish ownership, the GMO industry claims novelty. To avoid responsibility for adverse impact, it claims naturalness. I have called this "ontological schizophrenia." GMOs have an impact on the environment, on our health, and on farmers' socioeconomic status; that is why we have an international UN Biosafety Protocol.

I was appointed a member of the expert group that worked on the framework of the protocol to implement Article 19.3 of the Convention on Biological Diversity. The unscientific principle of "substantial equivalence" has been institutionalized in order to avoid research on biosafety. Substantial equivalence assumes that the GMO is substantially equivalent to the parent organism. This leads to a "don't look, don't see, don't find" policy, and not having looked for impacts, GMOs are declared "safe." Ignorance of impacts, however, is not proof of safety.

There is as yet no proof of safety.

Myth 4: GMOs are based on cutting-edge science; GMO critics are "antiscience." Genetic engineering is based on an obsolete paradigm of genetic determinism, a linear and deterministic flow of information from genes, which are called "master molecules," to proteins. Francis Crick called this the "central dogma" of molecular biology. Genetic determinism assumes that genes are atoms of biological determinism, with one gene carrying one trait, and determining the traits in an organism. But these are assumptions that come from the idea of control and domination; this is patriarchal ideology, not science.

Cutting-edge science teaches us that these assumptions are false. Genes are fluid, not fixed.

Each gene contributes to multiple traits; each trait is an expression of many genes acting in concert. As Richard Lewontin states in the doctrine of DNA:

DNA is a dead molecule, among the most non-reactive chemically inert molecules in the world. It has no power to reproduce itself. When we refer to genes as self-replicating, we endow them with a mysterious, autonomous power that seems to place them above the more ordinary materials of the body. Yet if anything in the world can be said to be self-replicating, it is not the gene, but the entire organism as a complex system.

Living organisms, including seed, are self-organized, complex systems; moreover, genes are influenced by the environment, as the new discipline of epigenetics shows.

On the basis of the latest and independent science, leading scientists across the world have contributed to the new science of biosafety; and corporate ideology, parading as science, has launched a brutal, violent, and unscientific attack on every scientist speaking the truth about GMOs on the basis of detailed scientific research on the impact of GMOs. This includes Dr. Arpad Pusztai, Dr. Ignacio Chapela, Dr. Eric Seralini, and me.

The GMO debate is science versus ideology, with GMOs being promoted through blind ideology -- the ideology of mechanistic, reductionist, deterministic assumptions about the world, combining with the ideology of unbridled corporate greed.

Myth 5: GMOs increase yields and are the answer to world hunger. Genetic engineering as a tool for the transfer of genes is not a breeding technology; it does not contribute to breeding high yielding crops. Yields come from conventional breeding; all that genetic engineering does is add a Bt toxin gene or a gene for herbicide tolerance, and antibiotic-resistance marker and virus genes. These do not increase production of food, but they do contribute to the production of risks from toxins and antibiotic resistance.

Even the argument that GMOs increase yield indirectly by controlling weeds and pests is incorrect because rather than controlling pests and weeds, Bt GMOs have contributed to the emergence of new pests and superpests resistant to the Bt toxin, and herbicide-resistant crops have led to superweeds resistant to Roundup. Hence, new GMOs have now been developed that are resistant to 2,4-D, an ingredient of Agent Orange.

When one notes the fact that when Roundup is sprayed, food crops are destroyed, GMO cultivation in fact leads to a decline in food and nutrition production at the systems level. As Navdanya studies show, biodiverse organic systems can increase nutrition per acre, and have the potential to feed two Indias.

Myth 6: GMOs reduce chemical use and are therefore environmentally beneficial. Two applications of genetic engineering account for most commercial planting, Bt crops, and HT crops. Herbicide-tolerant crops account for 63 percent of the cultivation of GM crops. Bt crops have led to an increase in pesticide use because of new pests and pest resistance in the bollworm. As the Directorate of Plant Protection shows, pesticide use has increased with the increase of Bt cotton cultivation. Herbicide-tolerant crops are designed to make crops resistant to herbicide spraying.

Myth 7: GMOs promote free choice. The myth of "free choice" begins with a "free market" and "free trade." When five transnational corporations control the seed market, it is not a free market, it is a cartel.

When corporations write the rules of "free trade," it is corporate dictatorship, not free trade.

When enforcing patents and intellectual property rights (IPR) laws written by themselves, corporations prevent farmers from saving seed; it is not "free choice," it is seed slavery.

In India, Monsanto has locked local seed companies into licensing agreements to only sell Bt cotton. The labels have different names, but they are all "Bollgard," Monsanto's Bt cotton. This is illusionary "free choice": the reality is seed monopoly.

When corporations spend millions to prevent the labeling of GMOs and deny citizens the right to know and the right to choose, free choice is being stifled.

Copyright (2016) of Vandana Shiva. Not to be reprinted without permission of the publisher, North Atlantic Books.

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News Thu, 26 May 2016 00:00:00 -0400
No Cake for Nazis: Meet the Young Libertarian Gunning for the Millennial Vote http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36187-no-cake-for-nazis-meet-the-young-libertarian-gunning-for-the-millennial-vote http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36187-no-cake-for-nazis-meet-the-young-libertarian-gunning-for-the-millennial-vote

Libertarian presidential candidate Austin Petersen is by far the youngest receiving national attention. The self-described "millennial" discusses the controversy over "Nazi cakes" along with his plans to end the federal drug war -- and reduce abortions and slash government spending.

Austin Petersen speaks at the Young Americans for Liberty's Campus Debate at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo:Gage Skidmore)Libertarian presidential candidate Austin Petersen speaks at the Young Americans for Liberty's campus debate at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

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Last month, election researchers estimated that 1.5 million people under the age of 30 voted for Bernie Sanders in primaries, a number more than double the youth turnout for both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. It's no secret that the 74-year-old democratic socialist energized millennial voters by challenging the political establishment, and third-party players are betting that these voters will be up for grabs if Clinton secures the Democratic nomination. Green Party front-runner Jill Stein is campaigning as the progressive "plan B," and Libertarian candidates have not been shy about appearing cutting edge.

Libertarian front-runner and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson is touting his support for LGBTQ rights, medical marijuana and ending the war on drugs. A promotional video for rival John McAfee features young marijuana smokers, antiwar hippies and Burning Man revelers alongside Steve Jobs and the controversial CEO of Whole Foods, a tableau of counterculture and techno-capitalism that seems to summarize the software tycoon's personal identity.

These Libertarians apparently want millennial voters to know that their party is not just for aging white guys with backgrounds in venture capitalism -- even when that's exactly what they are. However, a much younger and more conservative candidate, Austin Petersen, is challenging both of them from the right, and he's bringing a sizable chunk of the party's youthful base with him.

This could be a big year for a Libertarian candidate. Trump and Clinton are deeply unpopular, and a recent poll found that nearly half of all voters would consider supporting a third-party candidate if Trump and Clinton are the nominees. The Libertarians already credit Trump for a surge in new party memberships and are eager to pull in disappointed Sanders fans.

For more original Truthout election coverage, check out our election section, "Beyond the Sound Bites: Election 2016."

To an outsider, Johnson seems like a shoo-in. He is the only candidate mentioned in major polls and recently took 10 percent of the vote when pitted against Clinton and Trump, including 18 percent of participants under the age of 35. An ongoing poll on the Libertarian Party's website, however, shows Petersen way ahead of both Johnson and McAfee, suggesting that he may have the support of the party's rank and file -- or at least its legions of online activists -- as the Libertarians prepare to nominate a candidate at their convention this weekend.

At 35 years old, Petersen is by far the youngest candidate receiving national attention. The Libertarian Party operative and former TV producer claims to have inherited the movement of young voters that propelled Ron Paul's brand of libertarianism into the national conversation during the 2012 primaries. Nonreligious but oddly pro-life, against drug prohibition but also against environmental regulation, Petersen reminds me of the Ayn Rand-worshipping Young Republicans I knew in college, who were totally cool with drug users and queer people as long as we weren't asking for handouts.

Petersen may be best known for asking Johnson if he would require a Jewish baker to bake a wedding cake for Nazis during a debate over anti-discrimination laws. Johnson fumbled and, perhaps sensing the political gravity of young Sanders fans, later issued a statement dismissing "religious freedom" as code words for discriminating against LGBTQ people. I recently got Petersen on the phone to talk "Nazi cakes" and other hypotheticals, including the volcanoes causing climate change and the specter of state-mandated bong rips in California.

Mike Ludwig: One of the things that I like about Libertarians is that they describe themselves as the opposite of authoritarians, but we have a candidate, Donald Trump, who has been called an authoritarian in the media. Do you think Donald Trump is an authoritarian? 

Austin Petersen: Yes I do, and I feel that he doesn't quite understand the limitations of power on the executive branch. A lot of promises being made about building walls or forcing companies to repatriate to the United States are far and beyond anything that the founders laid out in the [US] Constitution for the executive branch. I think he just doesn't understand the law; the president is required to obey the law and have strict limited powers, and I think he would seek to expand the powers of the presidency far beyond what constitutional authority the president should have. 

What about Hillary Clinton? Is she an authoritarian? 

I would say so. They are both progressives. Both believe in a progressive income tax, both believe in redistribution of wealth. Hillary Clinton supported the war in Iraq. To me, I feel like they are two sides to the same coin. 

There are going to be a lot of disaffected voters because people just are not happy about Clinton and Trump in general. You feel like you will probably peel more voters off the Trump side?

I think I am going to pull equally from both because I'm a 35-year-old millennial running for president who wants to end the war on drugs, end crony capitalism, get government out of our lives and allow gay people to get married if they please, but also wants to cut the IRS ... you don't get much better than a Libertarian at pulling from both left and right.

So do I think I will pull from Trump? Absolutely. Am I going to pull from Hillary Clinton? Darn right. We may see a revolution this year if I can put together a coalition of people who are disaffected. 

Gotcha. You're a critic of big government ... you've proposed to slim it down. What would be your priorities for cuts? 

Well, my spending plan actually cuts everything. The spending plan I am proposing is a 1 percent, across-the-board, total cut to spending from every single federal program. That also comes alongside a balanced budget amendment that would hopefully be passed by Congress as well. That means that every program would get one penny out of every federal dollar spent cut, so that we would have that total overall cut, that's everybody. DOD, DOJ, CIA, DIA, every single alphabet agency would receive the same cut, so that way there is no crying from the special interests. Everybody has to do more with less, and if they cannot give me one penny, just one penny out of every federal dollar, then I will veto every single bill that comes across my desk until they give me the cuts that I demand. 

Well, one of those agencies is the EPA, and the Obama administration is using the EPA to tackle climate change by placing regulations on power plants and the amount of carbon they produce. Those are the biggest sources of carbon in the United States ... what are your thoughts on climate change, and what are your thoughts on the federal government tackling it as an issue? 

Actually, the biggest sources of carbon are active volcanoes,* so maybe the president can figure out how we can put a cap on all the active volcanoes in the world so we can stop carbon. I think it's ridiculous to think that through central planning we are going to solve a crisis as large as climate change. Most of the problems that we face in the United States have absolutely to do with the climate ... The hubris that a small group of bureaucrats in the United States are going to solve the global problem is ridiculous. And the United States is not even the greatest polluter in the world. You can look to China for that. So, perhaps we need to start looking at how we can tackle climate change in third world countries. If you think that the federal government can't deliver the mail properly, then just how in the hell are they going to solve climate change? 

What do you think about bathroom laws and legislating who can use what bathroom? I am thinking about transgender people here especially. 

Everybody has a right to use the bathroom regardless of your biological sex or your gender or whatever you call yourself. Everybody has to go the bathroom, and I am absolutely sickened by people who would use the force of government to try to force people to use bathrooms according to their biological sex. And there is no way you can enforce that. It's absolutely ludicrous, and I think that [the state of North Carolina] and the federal government are both wrong, and I would fight for the right for people to be able to use whatever bathroom they please; if it's a public restroom, it should be gender neutral; if it's a private restroom, then it shouldn't be anybody's business. The private facility can decide who can or cannot use the private facilities ... It seems to me that a bunch of rabid social conservatives have taken up one of their favorite cudgels, and now a bunch of rabid leftists are trying to use their favorite cudgel; both want to force everyone to comply with their idea of what is moral, true and right. Libertarians, they keep government the hell out, and mind your own damn business. 

I know Libertarians often disagree on abortion. What is your position? 

I am a rare unicorn in that position. I am a secular, pro-life humanist. I do believe that it is a human child, that we should find ways to limit abortions and we should take a moral stance against abortion. I don't think there is anybody who is really pro-abortion, except the worst eugenicists, Hitler wannabes perhaps. I think everyone can agree that we want fewer abortions, but how we get that is tricky.

The number one solution I am advocating for as the most noncoercive way for us to reduce abortion is to legalize birth control over the counter, and I think I can get a wide consensus on that. And I think that just statistically that will result in fewer abortions. But I believe it is a child, it is a human child, it has separate DNA, and Libertarians believe in personal responsibility. There is nothing that will piss people off more than telling them that they have to be personally responsible. So, we need more education on birth control methods, and we need that birth control [to be] more readily available. 

When you invest in reproductive health care, and you make medicines like birth control available, you have better health outcomes, and you can reduce the number of [unwanted pregnancies]. Is it the government's job to ban abortion, or just to help reduce it? 

It's not the federal government's job. States have already done things like banning "partial birth" abortions, and I definitely support that. So when it comes to the approach of the president, the president has no authority. In a perfect world, where we have no Roe v. Wade, absolutely. Do I think there is going to be a move to overturn it? Probably not. But I still think that it's wrong, and I am going to fight as a moral leader against abortion because I think we need to create a culture of life.

We need to start looking at abortions as a problem that needs to be solved. Government isn't always the best tool for things like that, as a Libertarian I understand that, but government can do certain things, and the number one thing they can do is get out of the war on drugs and reduce the number of abortions, that's number one for me, and otherwise my hands are tied, because my job is to fight ISIS and protect national security, not to get involved in legislating women's private lives.

You mentioned the war on drugs. The movement for Black lives has drawn a lot of attention to police profiling and violence. As president, what would you do to ensure that the police state does not unfairly encroach on the lives of people of color? 

Well, I would end the war on drugs. The fish rots from the top down. So, I would instruct all of my officers under my control and all of my appointments, they will obey the Constitution and the law and they will respect citizens' civil rights. I will end the war on drugs by instructing the chief of the DEA to set the federal drug schedule of all drugs to zero. We will end the federal war on drugs on day one.

Now, this means that the states could be radically separate on drug policy, and that could involve some problems, and I will explain that to the American people. Texas could theoretically execute you just for looking at a joint of marijuana, and California might make it mandatory to wake and bake. So these are theoretically problems we could face. But when it comes to a war on drugs, I will end the federal war on drugs immediately. 

What sets you apart from your opponents in the Libertarian Party, since you are going to be heading to the convention next weekend?

Well, I am obviously the only pro-life candidate. I think it's really a two-man race, and I think McAfee is a great guy but he doesn't have a shot ...

I am the only candidate that is viable in the party that is fighting to defend religious freedom. And when it comes to the Second Amendment, Gov. Gary Johnson has waffled on Second Amendment rights. His VP pick, Bill Weld, a former governor, has also not only waffled on the Second Amendment, but been a Democrat and advocated for assault weapon bans ...

I challenged Gov. Gary Johnson on whether pastors should be forced to marry gay couples, and he refused to answer "no." He refused to answer whether he would require people of the cloth to marry people that they disagree with. That is just an absolutely abhorrent twisting of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ... I asked, "Gov. Johnson, do you believe Jews should be asked to bake cakes for Nazis?" And he said, "That would be my contention, yes." So, his position is more authoritarian than both of the Democratic front-runners.... Even Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton would have said "no" because at minimum they understand the law.

***

After our interview, I thought long and hard about the hypothetical world that Petersen is ready to defend us against. I imagined marijuana death squads in Texas, government weed brownies in San Francisco and a towering wedding cake adorned with swastikas made of icing. ISIS (also known as Daesh) was lurking around somewhere, I'm sure.

I opened iTunes and looked up "California Uber Alles" by the Dead Kennedys, a punk song from 1980 that describes then (and now) California Gov. Jerry Brown launching a hippie-Nazi takeover from the Left Coast. "Zen fascists will control you," singer Jello Biafra warns, and everything will be "100 percent natural." Your kids will be forced to "meditate in school," so "mellow out or you will pay."

Luckily for Californians and the rest of us, "California Uber Alles" was pure punk rock satire, not even a hypothetical situation to be considered by high school debate teams. Yet, of course, campaigns love hypotheticals -- often more than they like reality. I don't know how many young Libertarians listen to the Dead Kennedys, but if enough of them turn out for Petersen at the party's convention this weekend, then he may have his hypothetical cake, and eat it too.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

*Editor's note: This statement is false, according to the US Geological survey.

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News Thu, 26 May 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Students With Nowhere to Stay: Homelessness on College Campuses http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36186-students-with-nowhere-to-stay-homelessness-on-college-campuses http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36186-students-with-nowhere-to-stay-homelessness-on-college-campuses

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

During the past decade, several hundred US colleges and universities have begun creating programs to meet the needs of enrolled students who are hungry or homeless. But many schools still lack comprehensive services to support the estimated 58,000 college students without permanent housing.

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

When the College Cost Reduction and Access Act took effect in 2009, neither lawmakers nor school administrators had any idea how many college students would check the box on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) -- the document that determines eligibility for Pell grants, subsidized loans and work-study awards that help students pay for college or vocational training -- to indicate that they were homeless.

At last tabulation, the number was 58,000, a small percentage of the 20.2 million students presently enrolled in both undergraduate and graduate study. Nonetheless, school counselors and advocates believe the number is starkly inaccurate and represents a mere fraction of university students who actually lack a permanent home.

Shirley Fan-Chan, director of U-ACCESS at the University of Massachusetts Boston, provides on-campus support to students who are experiencing food insecurity and homelessness. "Most students think of homelessness as being on the street, sleeping in doorways, and for the most part, college students don't do this," she told Truthout. "They hide out. They may stay in one place for a few days or a week, then move somewhere else, bouncing from friend to friend with no fixed place to stay. But they think to themselves, 'Well, this is college. As long as I have a roof over my head, I'm okay.'"

And if that roof happens to be in a tent, subway car or vehicle, so be it. As Fan-Chan notes, students typically do their damnedest to make do, showering in the gym and visiting the emergency food pantries that are increasingly popping up on US campuses.

Causes of Student Homelessness

Sara Goldrick-Rab, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has been studying college affordability and its connection to retention since 2008. Her initial research involved analyzing the impact of the Fund for Wisconsin Scholars.

"My team went out to get the lay of the land from students, and asked them how it was going paying for college," she said. "We expected to hear them tell us that they were having trouble affording their books or buying a laptop but what we heard about was food insecurity; one student told us that she was living in a shelter. This stunned us and we had to ask whether this was happening on a larger scale."

"A lot of schools now leave a dorm or two open during school breaks for students with no place to go."

Shortly thereafter, Goldrick-Rab's team interviewed 4,300 students at 10 geographically diverse community colleges. In parsing the results, they discovered that homeless and hungry students were a varied lot: Some had not had enough to eat or had been homeless throughout their childhoods; some had aged out of foster care and had no family to turn to; and some had a falling out with their parents or guardians, or had their family ties altered by deportation or incarceration. Another cohort had grossly underestimated the cost of college and come up short. Lastly, Goldrick-Rab found students living with a host of mental illnesses. For some, completing coursework while living independently proved nearly impossible.

Danielle Stelluto, 29, a student at the City University of New York's (CUNY) Hostos Community College in the South Bronx, knows about homelessness firsthand. Stelluto was living in Florida with her infant son in 2008 when she lost her job as a telemarketer. Unemployment benefits carried her into 2009 but when they were exhausted she fell behind on her rent and received an eviction notice.

Stelluto had grown up in New York so she opted to head north, crossing her fingers that there would be opportunities for her in the Big Apple. She immediately went to social services and was given a subsidized apartment in Far Rockaway, Queens, paid for through a voucher program.

"I got a job as a cashier and my children -- by then I'd given birth to my daughter so I had two kids -- were in day care," Stelluto said. "Things were good until 2012 when the mayor ended the voucher program and I ended up back in the shelter system. This time I was sent to the Bronx. I tried to commute to my job but it took three hours to get there by subway so I had to quit." By then she'd joined an organization called Picture the Homeless. "They taught me how to be an advocate and helped me enroll in college, but from 2012 until Christmas 2015 my kids and I lived in the shelter," she told Truthout.

The challenges were enormous. Not only was Stelluto required to attend shelter meetings that conflicted with her classes, but also she and her children were crammed into a room that she described as "small, moldy, rodent-infested and noisy." On top of this, there was nowhere for her to do her homework or study. "I had to squeeze my assignments in between classes," she said. That said, for the most part, she added, her teachers have been supportive. "I always tell them what's going on and most have gone above and beyond to inspire and motivate me, helping me with time management so I don't fall behind."

It's worked and Stelluto expects to earn her associate's degree in December 2016. She and her kids now live in an apartment near the college and if all goes according to plan, she will enroll in a Bachelor of Arts program next spring. Nonetheless, she anticipates bumps and obstacles as she moves forward.

Private Colleges Prove Ill-Equipped to Respond

Rebecca Hackney, a 2014 graduate of North Carolina's Elon University, is well acquainted with the many possible obstacles to college completion. At the end of her junior year, she says, her life began to unravel. First, her mother lost her job and could no longer help her daughter financially. Secondly, Hackney learned that she could not be a resident adviser in the dorms during her senior year -- something that had cut her housing costs by half and provided her with a small stipend for two years -- because as an education major, she was required to do her student teaching that fall and the university had a rule against doing both simultaneously. Since Hackney could not afford to pay the full dorm fee out of pocket, she slept in her car, stayed with friends and commuted two hours away to her mother's home in Raleigh on weekends.

Eventually, Hackney was able to connect with an adopt-a-college-student program sponsored by Grace Reformed Baptist Church in the nearby town of Mebane. "Sometime after Thanksgiving I moved in with this family. They had seven kids of their own so they had a full house, but they welcomed me and only asked for $200 a month," she said. "By that point I was at the end of my rope and thought I'd have to drop out of school. When I was going through homelessness, I had tunnel vision. It was only after I found a place to stay that I realized how stressful it had been and how dramatically it had affected my academic performance. But it set me on a social justice path so, in the end, the experience really helped me."

When asked whether the college had any support services available to students in her predicament, Hackney said, "Elon is a private school for affluent students. At the time, I didn't think the housing office could help me. I didn't know other students who'd been through anything similar."

This sort of isolation is not the experience of Stelluto and other students who attend many of the country's public colleges and universities. Although most schools have yet to acknowledge the extent of student hunger and homelessness, a number of programs have begun to step up. Tacoma Community College in Washington State, for one, has, since 2013, partnered with that city's Housing Authority to provide 25 three-year housing vouchers to homeless or near-homeless students and their dependents. The program provides a rent subsidy -- the amount varies by family size and household income -- and is intended to help students complete their associate's degrees and become self-sufficient.

No other school has anything comparable; nonetheless, numerous programs are in place to help students without adequate means to complete their degrees.

According to Cyekeia Lee, director of Higher Education Initiatives at the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, more than 400 of the country's 4,706 colleges and universities are taking steps to address the crisis. "A decade ago there was nothing," she said, "so while there's still a lot to be done, there has been some movement. A lot of schools now leave a dorm or two open during school breaks for students with no place to go, or partner with local hotels, and are raising private money to address housing instability. Our model is to have a single point of contact (SPC) for students in need, an office that will help students through case management, personal care, access to a food pantry or to connect them with grants, scholarships and temporary or permanent housing. The SPC also works with the state education authority to identify homeless students who are graduating from high school to hand these students off to colleges." Prior to having one office offer these services, Lee reports that programs worked "in silos" with little coordination.

Colleges Struggle to Identify Homeless Students

Marcy Stidum, the director of the Campus Awareness, Resource and Empowerment Center (CARE) at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, told Truthout, "Sometimes students call or come in on their own as soon as they're admitted to tell us they're homeless. Or sometimes we learn about their situation from financial aid, from the paperwork they file to appeal a grade, or from students or faculty members who've learned that a particular student is in a bad situation."

Kennesaw State University has had a food pantry since 2014 and has given out approximately 10,000 pounds of food over the past two years. Some is donated and some comes from the Atlanta Community Food Bank; students are given prepacked bags of nonperishable items that accommodate dietary needs and family size. CARE also dispenses donated gift cards -- for local supermarkets and shops as well as Zipcar -- and maintains emergency housing for short-term use. In addition, depending on the particulars, CARE can help students with a first month's rent, security deposit or arrears to keep them housed.

But CARE does more than hand out benefits. "We do a lot of case management to make sure that the person can maintain him or herself," Stidum said. Sometimes, this means helping them get an on- or off-campus job or learn how to balance a checkbook or open a bank account. "We had a young white woman come in a few months ago. She had grown up wealthy and had a fancy car but her parents had booted her out of the house for having an African-American friend. She'd never paid a bill or done a budget. She had someone she could stay with but once she found work we had to teach her how to budget and balance the job with taking classes."

Like Kennesaw, Florida State University (FSU) runs a food pantry and organizes programs for people who've aged out of foster care, have a history of abuse or neglect, or who are experiencing hunger or homelessness. "We make sure we don't talk about hunger or homelessness as something shameful," said Tadarrayl M. Starke, executive director of the Center for Academic Retention and Enhancement (CARE) at FSU. "We talk about our own struggles. I tell the students my story. My family was never homeless but we were food insecure. I tell them about running out of funds. This makes it more likely that they'll want to be engaged. We're big on personal relationships here."

FSU's CARE office also connects students with grants and zero-interest loans that can be used to pay rent arrears or find student or community housing.

Breaking Through Roadblocks

It makes a dent, of course, but as essential as it is to attend to concrete needs, Shirley Fan-Chan of the University of Massachusetts Boston emphasizes that there are roadblocks that prevent CARE and U-ACCESS from being as effective as they might be.

U-Mass does not have dorms, and instead relies on the shelter system to provide a place for students to stay. "The wait in Boston to get into a youth shelter is two to four weeks and while we can bring the student to intake, we then need to find them a safe place to stay while they go through the process," she said, adding:

The adult shelters, for people over age 24, are first-come, first-served and you need to line up at 5 pm. Once you get inside, you can't leave until 7 am. This doesn't work for students who have night jobs or who take evening classes. Worse, even if you get them housing, homelessness is just one of the issues the student is dealing with. Most of those who are homeless, or have been homeless, are traumatized by what they've been through and they need ongoing support and counseling from professionals as well as peers if they are going to succeed in school.

The National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth champions the single point of contact model as particularly effective, but some schools have brought in Single Stop, a private entity created by the Robin Hood Foundation to address the needs of low-income students on campus. Nine states have on-campus Single Stop programs and the organization operates at seven CUNY-affiliated New York City colleges. What is offered varies by locale, but students can typically get free groceries, get help with tax preparation and consult lawyers about civil matters. The staff also helps with financial planning and screens people for public benefits.

"Our pantry serves 600 to 800 families a month," said Hattie Elmore, director of Single Stop at Brooklyn's Kingsborough Community College. "We also have fresh vegetable distribution in collaboration with the campus farm during harvest season and do cooking demonstrations to show students how to prepare items that may be unfamiliar."

The gap, however, is housing. Although Elmore says that students can apply for a grant of up to $500 each semester they're successfully enrolled, it's admittedly insufficient since the need for affordable shelter far outstrips availability.

It's an issue, of course, that reaches far beyond college or university boundaries.

Equally enraging, while some campuses are struggling to raise money for emergency food and shelter, elite campuses are moving in the opposite direction, building student housing with amenities, including pools, climbing walls and rooftop gardens. Meanwhile, room and board ran between $7,500 and $15,000 a year in 2015-16 and is expected to increase into the foreseeable future.

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News Thu, 26 May 2016 00:00:00 -0400
There May Soon Be No Place Left in the South for Abortions After the First Trimester http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36175-there-may-soon-be-no-place-left-in-the-south-for-abortions-after-the-first-trimester http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36175-there-may-soon-be-no-place-left-in-the-south-for-abortions-after-the-first-trimester

The state of Louisiana often wins the prize when it comes to "most pro-life state" on anti-abortion legislative lists. This year, they may be in the running again. Two major abortion restrictions have passed the legislature -- one extending the state's waiting period between the first clinic visit and actually receiving an abortion from 24 hours to 72 hours, the second banning the method by which almost all abortions after the first trimester are done. Louisiana's ban on dilation and evacuation (D&E) abortions isn't the first to hit the nation, which is part of what makes this ban so dangerous. As connecting states continue to pass this law, the ability to access any abortions after the first trimester may completely disappear for women in certain parts of the US.

The D&E abortion ban essentially makes it illegal to perform any abortion in which the cervix is dilated and forceps or other instruments are used to remove the fetus in any way that isn't all in one piece. It is a procedure that is used in most abortions after about 15 weeks, when the fetus is no longer small enough to just be removed through the cannula using suction. The ban was first introduced in Kansas, where it was signed into law and then blocked by the courts, and later in Oklahoma where the same occurred. West Virginia also passed it, and there has so far been no legal challenge, but the law does not go into effect until the end of May.

Recently, a number of states passed the law within weeks of each other: Mississippi, Alabama and then finally, Louisiana. The passage of the ban in Mississippi was mostly ignored because the state's only provider doesn't offer second trimester abortions. The Alabama bill was overshadowed by another piece of legislation that forbids abortion clinics within 2000 feet of a school -- a bill which could close the two clinics that perform the vast majority of abortions in the state. And now Louisiana has passed its own, which the governor is expected to sign.

Alabama's law won't go into effect until August 1st, and it's unclear when Louisiana's would be implemented, but if all three state abortion laws are enforced, the move would leave a path of states all along the Gulf Coast where it would be impossible to obtain an abortion once a patient is past the first trimester. Everyone between Houston or Dallas Texas and Atlanta, Georgia would need to travel to one of those cities if their pregnancies advanced beyond 14 weeks, leaving a literal 800 mile stretch without any second trimester services.

While it's true that 92 percent of all abortions are performed during the first trimester, second trimester abortion still accounts for almost 7 percent of all abortions, or about 70,000 abortions per year. As clinics close due to new abortion restrictions and states pass longer and longer waiting periods in between appointments, patients who often wanted earlier abortions are finding themselves seeking second trimester procedures instead. Patients who learn about their pregnancies later, or have issues obtaining the money to pay for the abortion are more likely to require a D&E abortion because of advanced gestation. And in the south, where clinics are already sparse, that could become impossible.

When Louisiana and Alabama's laws go into effect, they very likely will be challenged in court and hopefully, like those challenged prior, will be blocked. Unfortunately, this will in no way be the end of it. According to Texas Right to Life, the entire Texas Republican party has pledged to make a D&E ban a legislative priority. "Good news for Pro-Life and preborn Texans comes from the Republican Party of Texas Convention being held in Dallas last week," they announced. "The Party has taken a hard line on Pro-Life issues for 2016, including adopting language favoring a Dismemberment Abortion Ban – a bill passed by five other states and a measure Texas Right to Life considers a Legislative Priority for the upcoming legislative session. Pro-Life delegates to the convention showed considerable support for the measure by voting for this specific plank in a convention general session Friday evening. A majority 90 percent of the voting delegates voted to add the Dismemberment Abortion Ban plank in the Party's 2016 Platform. Convention attendees also showed their support by signing a petition for the Texas Legislature to pursue codification of a law protecting the preborn in the next Texas Legislative Session."

Unlike the 20 week abortion ban the state already passed, it's a virtual certainty that Texas providers would challenge a D&E ban, and that would send the bill before the most conservative circuit in the country. A ruling upholding it would likely put the ban in front of the Supreme Court and, if we do end up with a Trump presidency and Trump nominees on the bench, that could be the end of abortions after the first trimester all throughout the South, and potentially all conservative states as well.

Abortion opponents were never able to get the Supreme Court challenge they were hoping for out of the 20 week "fetal pain" bills they crafted, so it's little wonder that they have created a far more direct and aggressive attack to rally behind this time. And as the legal battle plays out, once more it will be the pregnant people in the least abortion accessible, poorest areas of the country who will be punished.

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News Thu, 26 May 2016 00:00:00 -0400
In Dark Move, Congress Considers Rolling Back Transparency for Meetings http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36173-in-dark-move-congress-considers-rolling-back-transparency-for-meetings http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36173-in-dark-move-congress-considers-rolling-back-transparency-for-meetings

The United States of America has several significant transparency and accountability laws that have had a tremendous impact on how we think about open government. While the public might assume that the principles, checks and balances embodied in the US Code today are long-standing, core values embedded in American government, many of these laws were all enacted in the latter half of the 20th century. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) passed in 1966, the Federal Election Campaign Act passed in 1971, the Government in the Sunshine Act in 1971, and Ethics in Government Act in 1978. FOIA was significantly amended in 1974 in the wake of the Watergate scandal. We cannot and should not take the new norms for government transparency embodied in these bills for granted.

One of these laws, however, is now at risk of being undermined by a largely unnoticed effort in Congress: HR 5116, The Freeing Responsible and Effective Exchanges Act, the FREE Act, would "amend the Federal Trade Commission Act to permit a bipartisan majority of Commissioners to hold a meeting that is closed to the public to discuss official business."

The legislative summary of the FREE Act outlines its basic goal: to create nonpublic collaborative discussions by a bipartisan majority of the FTC commissioners. If passed into law, the agency would only have to disclose a summary of the matters discussed at the meeting and its attendees on FTC.gov, "except for matters that the Commission has determined are not in the public interest to disclose." The difference between a public meeting wherein public business is on-the-record and shared in full could not be more stark.

Given that only three FTC commissioners currently are in place, this bill would effectively enable just two commissioners to decide matters of considerable importance without the scrutiny the public has come to expect as a norm. Even if the agency had its full complement of commissioners, this reduction of public knowledge about governance would be deeply problematic, given how how the lack of movement on consumer privacy legislation in Congress has left it to the FTC to effectively decide how consumer rights and equities should be defined and protected in the Information Age.

That would be a profound mistake.

Like FOIA, the Government in the Sunshine Act (sometimes referred to as the Sunshine in Government Act) enshrined into federal law a broadly accepted standard for how public authority should be wielded: Official government business happens in the open, in public meetings announced sufficiently ahead of time that the press and people can learn what is being done in their name.

What FOIA does in making public records accessible to the public, the Sunshine in Government Act does in making meetings accessible to the public. The blanket requirement across government is a fundamental importance to how we consider the exercise of public authority granted under the law, from Washington, DC, to Washington state. Sunshine laws that mandate the public meetings should be announced and open to the public are also universally adopted in the states, along with open records laws.

This is not the first time that Congress and federal regulators have tried to weaken a core open government law. In fact, there is a disturbing pattern of legislative activity focused on this goal in recent years. In 2009, a bill would have loosened sunshine requirements at the FCC. In 2013, as Kevin Goldberg explained, the Federal Communications Commission Collaboration Act (S. 245 and HR 539) would have allowed commissioners to engage in significant regulatory actions behind closed doors. In 2014, the US House even passed HR 3675, The Federal Communications Commission Process Reform Act of 2014, although the Senate did not take up the bill.

Complying with the Government in the Sunshine Act is not free of challenges nor complexity. There are stories of risk-averse agency counsels arguing that any discussion could run afoul of the law. It's possible that implementation is causing slower or obfuscated governance processes by shifting decision-making to staff meetings, or that the law could use an update that would allow more than two commissioners to attend a conference or other public forum at the same time, including online events. It's reasonable to examine each of these issues in turn to provide a body of evidence that could be used to improve an important law that would inform the public about its benefits, burdens and effects. There is no doubt, however, that the bedrock principle behind the Government in the Sunshine Act is one that is clearly supported by our culture, electorate and experience.

What is being proposed in the FREE Act, however, does not meet the bar for such a significant shift at such a significant regulator. Exempting entire agencies is the wrong approach, particularly in the absence of meaningful public dialogue and consideration. The bill invites secret government, unaccountable in word or action. Public authority has a responsibility to the public and its agents, particularly when power wielded in secret could have such far-reaching effects in a critical area of our economy and public sphere. Our current crises of trust would be made far worse by creating a new norm of secret meetings at the FTC. Once the precedent was set by Congress for the FTC, it would be wholly predictable that other agencies will follow.

Congress should review the effect of the Sunshine in Government Act across different types of agencies and publish a report from the Congressional Research Service or General Accountability Office (GAO) for public consumption, including how agency counsels are interpreting the law's requirements, and how or whether there are instances of chilling effects on deliberation or process. Congress has requested a GAO report into FOIA compliance, which provides both a recent example and precedent.

Agencies should look at the growing number of free technologies and platforms that enable livestreaming meetings to the public and improve the manner and delivery of public notice. Why should it be any harder to be alerted about a hearing than it is to learn that a media company is about to blow up a watermelon with a rubber band?

As of May 2016, however, no federal agencies should be exempted from the requirements of the law in a wholesale manner. Erasing our requirement for public meetings isn't an option.

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News Thu, 26 May 2016 00:00:00 -0400