Fascism is the union of government with private business against the People.
"To The States, or any one of them, or to any city of The States: Resist much, Obey little; Once unquestioning obedience, at once fully enslaved; Once fully enslaved, no nation, state, city, ever afterward resumes its liberty." from "Caution" by Walt Whitman

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

"Senate Agrees: US People Can't Know Overseas Drone Death Toll; At behest of intelligence chief, Senate removes "modest" provision that would reveal number of people killed by US attacks overseas"

2014-04-29 by Jon Queally from "Common Dreams" [http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2014/04/29]:
The Senate Intelligence Committee and the Obama administration agree on this: the American people should not know the number of people killed by U.S. drone attacks overseas, nor should they hope to understand the circumstances under which such lethal killings are authorized or executed.
This high-level agreement was confirmed on Monday after a "modest" provision designed to add transparency to the US drone assassination program was killed in the Senate committee following objections by the Obama administration's intelligence chief.
“How many people have to die for Congress to take even a small step toward transparency? It's stunning that after all these years we still don't know how many people the Obama administration has killed with drones." —Zeke Johnson, Amnesty International
As The Guardian reports [=http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/28/drone-civilian-casualties-senate-bill-feinstein-clapper]: [begin excerpt]
At the behest of the director of national intelligence, US senators have removed a provision from a major intelligence bill that would require the president to publicly disclose information about drone strikes and their victims.
The bill authorizing intelligence operations in fiscal 2014 passed out of the Senate intelligence committee in November, and it originally required the president to issue an annual public report clarifying the total number of “combatants” and “noncombatant civilians” killed or injured by drone strikes in the previous year. It did not require the White House to disclose the total number of strikes worldwide.
But the Guardian has confirmed that Senate leaders have removed the language as they prepare to bring the bill to the floor for a vote, after the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, assured them in a recent letter that the Obama administration was looking for its own ways to disclose more about its highly controversial drone strikes.
[end excerpt]
Critics of the Obama administration's use of drones and ongoing assassination program say that even though the language of the provision was mild, it was at least a step towards transparency and oversight.
“Congress is charged with oversight of the administration and this is a matter of life and death,” Steven W. Hawkins, executive director of Amnesty International USA, told the New York Times [http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/29/world/senate-drops-plan-to-require-disclosure-on-drone-killings.htm]. “A basic report on the number of people killed shouldn’t be too much to ask.”
And Hawkins' colleague Zeke Johnson, Zeke Johnson, who directs the group's security and human rights program asked [http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/28/drone-civilian-casualties-senate-bill-feinstein-clapper]: “How many people have to die for Congress to take even a small step toward transparency? It's stunning that after all these years we still don't know how many people the Obama administration has killed with drones."

Monday, April 28, 2014

USA gives $2.7 Billion to DynCorp for work in Afghanistan and Iraq, despite knowing it engages in sex slavery and death-squad operations

"DynCorp-gate: How State Dept. wasted billions on Afghan reconstruction"2014-04-28 [rt.com/usa/155392-dyncorp-afghan-reconstruction-contract]:
The Department of State has spent billions on Afghan reconstruction since America’s longest-running war began there over a decade ago, but a new report reveals that the majority of that money went to a single contractor with a sordid past.
According to that recently released write-up [http://www.sigar.mil/pdf/special%20projects/SIGAR-14-49-SP.pdf], the United States gave $2.7 billion to Virginia-based military contractor DynCorp between 2002 and March 2013, even as the embattled firm was being berated by bad publicity brought on by a handful of scandals and mishaps.
In 2007, for example, a Special Inspector General for Afghanistan (SIGAR) report determined that “DynCorp seemed to act almost independently of its reporting officers at the Department of State,” and had billed the US government for millions of dollars for unauthorized work. In 2011, the company agreed to settle the dispute by signing a check to the State Dept. for $7.7 million, but that same year the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks published a diplomatic cable that further attracted negative attention to DynCorp by revealing that contractors hired an underage Afghan boy to entertain them [https://web.archive.org/web/20120111115952/http://wikileaks.ch/cable/2009/06/09KABUL1651.html]. Nevertheless, DynCorp continued to take in billions from the State Dept. for contract work in both Afghanistan and Iraq [https://web.archive.org/web/20140108165125/http://rt.com/usa/us-iraq-billion-spending-500/].
The latest SIGAR report — published on Thursday last week — reveals that, despite this reputation, DynCorp managed to rake in more money from the State Dept. than any other contractor. As the US prepares to withdraw combat troops from Afghanistan, however, DynCorp’s efficiency is being called into question.
Of the roughly $4 billion spent by the State Dept. between 2002 and March 2013, the US awarded 1,874 contracts, grants and cooperative agreements to 771 organizations and individuals, according to the report. Of that chunk, about $3.5 billion — or 87 percent — went to supporting large, so-called "rule-of-law" projects — and almost all of that ended up being awarded to DynCorp.
The $2.7 billion in government contracts — $2,751,391,412.62, to be exact — that was awarded to DynCorp during that 11-year duration was for the primary purpose of “police development,” according to last week’s report. And as the SIGAR’s summary indicates, the sheer amount of money awarded to DynCorp far exceeds every other State Dept. contract.
“The top recipient of State reconstruction funding by total awards was Dyncorp International Limited Liability Corporation (Dyncorp),” the SIGAR report reads. “Dyncorp received approximately $2.8 billion in contracts, accounting for 69 percent of total State Department reconstruction awards.” The firm that received the second-most money from the State Dept. through contractors was PAE Government Services Incorporated at $597.8 million — or about one-fourth of what DynCorp received. The next company on the list was awarded only one-tenth of that.
But were the billions dished out for law enforcement operations in Afghanistan even worth it? The latest SIGAR report notes that “Dyncorp contracts dealt principally with training and equipping the Afghan National Police and counternarcotics forces,” and “included police trainers, construction of police infrastructure and fielding police equipment and vehicles.” Last November it was reported that Afghan opium production has only surged, and just last week three American civilians were killed as the result of an attack in Kabul. According to the iCasualties.org website, 16 US troops have died so far this year in Afghanistan.
Neil Gordon, an investigator with the DC-based Project on Government Oversight transparency group, asked in an article published last week if it made sense to but a firm with such a “colorful past” at the helm of reconstruction efforts [https://web.archive.org/web/20140516171808/http://www.myantiwar.org/view/277691.html]. DynCorp, Gordon wrote, has previously been linked to “instances of labor smuggling,weak performance and over payments on a base support services contract,botched construction work on an Afghan Army garrison and lawsuits filed by disgruntled subcontractors.” Nevertheless, they’ve remained the State Department’s go-to guys when it comes to Afghan contracts.
State Dept. whistleblower Peter Van Buren wrote for Firedoglake this week that he thinks these massive contractors several implications, in his opinion [https://web.archive.org/web/20140516172421/http://dissenter.firedoglake.com/2014/04/28/state-department-gives-87-of-afghan-funds-to-only-five-recipients/].
“The smallest issue seems to be the massive hemorrhaging of money into just one corporate pocket. Given the amounts, one looks forward to future SIGAR reporting about how this came to be. How many non-competed contracts? How many insider deals? How much unaccounted for money? The appearance of corruption, as well as the opportunities for corruption, are evident,” Van Buren wrote.
“The next issue of course is what, if anything, was accomplished with all that taxpayer money absent enriching a few large corporations. Pick your trend line, and it is hard to find much bang for the buck(s) in Afghanistan,” he added.
Van Buren isn’t the only one that has raised objections recently about US money in Afghanistan, either: earlier this month, a letter from SIGAR's general counsel accused the US Agency for International Developmentof having “covered up information” that showed that the Afghan government has been largely unable to account for cash or resources provided through US support endeavors.

"US: DynCorp Disgrace"
2002-01-14 by Kelly Patricia O'Meara from "Insight Magazine", archived at [https://web.archive.org/web/20120114085022/http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=11119]:
Middle-aged men having sex with 12- to 15-year-olds was too much for Ben Johnston, a hulking 6-foot-5-inch Texan, and more than a year ago he blew the whistle on his employer, DynCorp, a U.S. contracting company doing business in Bosnia.
According to the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) lawsuit filed in Texas on behalf of the former DynCorp aircraft mechanic, "in the latter part of 1999 Johnston learned that employees and supervisors from DynCorpwere engaging in perverse, illegal and inhumane behavior [and] were purchasing illegal weapons, women, forged passports and [participating in other immoral acts. Johnston witnessed coworkers and supervisors literally buying and selling women for their own personal enjoyment, and employees would brag about the various ages and talents of the individual slaves they had purchased."
Rather than acknowledge and reward Johnston's effort to get this behavior stopped, DynCorp fired him, forcing him into protective custody by the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) until the investigators could get him safely out of Kosovo and returned to the United States. That departure from the war-torn country was a far cry from what Johnston imagined a year earlier when he arrived in Bosnia to begin a three-year U.S. Air Force contract with DynCorp as an aircraft-maintenance technician for Apache and Blackhawk helicopters.
For more than 50 years DynCorp, based in Reston, Va., has been a worldwide force providing maintenance support to the U.S. military through contract field teams (CFTs). As one of the federal government's top 25 contractors, DynCorp has received nearly $1 billion since 1995 for these services and has deployed 181 personnel to Bosnia during the last six years. Although DynCorp long has been respected for such work, according to Johnston and internal DynCorp communications it appears that extracurricular sexcapades on the part of its employees were tolerated by some as part of its business in Bosnia.
But DynCorp was nervous. For instance, an internal e-mail from DynCorp employee Darrin Mills, who apparently was sent to Bosnia to look into reported problems, said, "I met with Col. Braun [a base supervisor] yesterday. He is very concerned about the CID investigation; however, he views it mostly as a DynCorp problem. What he wanted to talk about most was how I am going to fix the maintenance problems here and how the investigation is going to impact our ability to fix his airplanes." The Mills e-mail continued: "The first thing he told me is that 'they are tired of having smoke blown up their ass.' They don't want anymore empty promises."
An e-mail from Dyncorp's Bosnia site supervisor, John Hirtz (later fired for alleged sexual indiscretions), explains DynCorp's position in Bosnia. "The bottom line is that DynCorp has taken what used to be a real positive program that has very high visibility with every Army unit in the world and turned it into a bag of worms. Poor quality was the major issue."
Johnston was on the ground and saw firsthand what the military was complaining about. "My main problem," he explains, "was [sexual misbehavior] with the kids, but I wasn't too happy with them ripping off the
 government, either. DynCorp is just as immoral and elite as possible, and any rule they can break they do. There was this one guy who would hide parts so we would have to wait for parts and, when the military would question why it was taking so long, he'd pull out the part and say 'Hey, you need to install this.' They'd have us replace windows in helicopters that weren't bad just to get paid. They had one kid, James Harlin, over there who was right out of high school and he didn't even know the names and purposes of the basic tools. Soldiers that are paid $18,000 a year know more than this kid, but this is the way they [DynCorp] grease their pockets. What they say in Bosnia is that DynCorp just needs a warm body - that's the DynCorp slogan. Even if you don't do an eight-hour day, they'll sign you in for it because that's how they bill the government. It's a total fraud."
Remember, Johnston was fired by this company. He laughs bitterly recalling the work habits of a DynCorp employee in Bosnia who "weighed 400 pounds and would stick cheeseburgers in his pockets and eat them while he worked. The problem was he would literally fall asleep every five minutes. One time he fell asleep with a torch in his hand and burned a hole through the plastic on an aircraft." This same man, according to Johnston, "owned a girl who couldn't have been more than 14 years old. It's a sick sight anyway to see any grown man [having sex] with a child, but to see some 45-year-old man who weighs 400 pounds with a little girl, it just makes you sick." It is precisely these allegations that Johnston believes got him fired.
Johnston reports that he had been in Bosnia only a few days when he became aware of misbehavior in which many of his DynCorp colleagues were involved. He tells INSIGHT, "I noticed there were problems as soon as I got there, and I tried to be covert because I knew it was a rougher crowd than I'd ever dealt with. It's not like I don't drink or anything, but DynCorp employees would come to work drunk. A DynCorp van would pick us up every morning and you could smell the alcohol on them. There were big-time drinking issues. I always told these guys what I thought of what they were doing, and I guess they just thought I was a self-righteous fool or something, but I didn't care what they thought."
The mix of drunkenness and working on multimillion-dollar aircraft upon which the lives of U.S. military personnel depended was a serious enough issue, but Johnston drew the line when it came to buying young girls and women as sex slaves. "I heard talk about the prostitution right away, but it took some time before I understood that they were buying these girls. I'd tell them that it was wrong and that it was no different than slavery - that you can't buy women. But they'd buy the women's passports and they [then] owned them and would sell them to each other."
"At first," explains Johnston, "I just told the guys it was wrong. Then I went to my supervisors, including John Hirtz, although at the time I didn't realize how deep into it he was. Later I learned that he had videotaped himself having sex with two girls and CID has that video as evidence. Hirtz is the guy who would take new employees to the brothels and set them up so he got his women free. The Serbian mafia would give Hirtz the women free and, when one of the guys was leaving the country, Hirtz would go to the mafia and make sure that the guys didn't owe them any money."
"None of the girls," continues Johnston, "were from Bosnia. They were from Russia, Romania and other places, and they were imported in by DynCorp and the Serbian mafia. These guys would say 'I gotta go to Serbia this weekend topick up three girls.' They talk about it and brag about how much they pay for them - usually between $600 and $800. In fact, there was this one guy who had to be 60 years old who had a girl who couldn't have been 14. DynCorp leadership was 100 percent in bed with the mafia over there. I didn't get any results from talking to DynCorp officials, so I went to Army CID and I drove around with them, pointing out everyone's houses who owned women and weapons."
That's when Johnston's life took a dramatic turn.
On June 2, 2000, members of the 48th Military Police Detachment conducted a sting on the DynCorp hangar at Comanche Base Camp, one of two U.S. bases in Bosnia, and all DynCorp personnel were detained for questioning. CID spent several weeks working the investigation and the results appear to support Johnston's allegations. For example, according to DynCorp employee Kevin Werner's sworn statement to CID, "during my last six months I have come to know a man we call 'Debeli,' which is Bosnian for fat boy. He is the operator of a nightclub by the name of Harley's that offers prostitution. Women are sold hourly, nightly or permanently."
Werner admitted to having purchased a woman to get her out of prostitution and named other DynCorp employees who also had paid to own women. He further admitted to having purchased weapons (against the law in Bosnia) and it was Werner who turned over to CID the videotape made by Hirtz. Werner apparently intended to use the video as leverage in the event that Hirtz decided to fire him. Werner tells CID, "I told him [Hirtz] I had a copy and that all I wanted was to be treated fairly. If I was going to be fired or laid off, I
 wanted it to be because of my work performance and not because he was not happy with me."
According to Hirtz's own sworn statement to CID, there appears to be little doubt that he did indeed rape one of the girls with whom he is shown having sexual intercourse in his homemade video.
CID: Did you have sexual intercourse with the second woman on the tape?
Hirtz: Yes
CID: Did you have intercourse with the second woman after she said "no" to you?
Hirtz: I don't recall her saying that. I don't think it was her saying "no."
CID: Who do you think said "no"?
Hirtz: I don't know.
CID: According to what you witnessed on the videotape played for you in which you were having sexual intercourse with the second woman, did you have sexual intercourse with the second woman after she said "no" to you?
Hirtz: Yes.
CID: Did you know you were being videotaped?
Hirtz: Yes. I set it up.
CID: Did you know it is wrong to force yourself upon someone without their consent?
Hirtz: Yes.
The CID agents did not ask any of the men involved what the ages of the "women" were who had been purchased or used for prostitution. According to CID, which sought guidance from the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate in Bosnia, "under the Dayton Peace Accord, the contractors were protected from Bosnian law which did not apply to them. They knew of no [U.S.] federal laws that would apply to these individuals at this time."
However, CID took another look and, according to the investigation report, under Paragraph 5 of the NATO Agreement Between the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia regarding the status of NATO and its personnel, contractors "were not immune from local prosecution if the acts were committed outside the scope of their official duties."
Incredibly, the CID case was closed in June 2000 and turned over to the Bosnian authorities. DynCorp says it conducted its own investigation, and Hirtz and Werner were fired by DynCorp and returned to the United States but were not prosecuted. Experts in slave trafficking aren't buying the CID's
interpretation of the law.
Widney Brown, an advocate for Human Rights Watch, tells INSIGHT "our government has an obligation to tell these companies that this behavior is wrong and they will be held accountable. They should be sending a clear message that it won't be tolerated. One would hope that these people wouldn't need to be told that they can't buy women, but you have to start off by laying the ground rules. Rape is a crime in any jurisdiction and there should not be impunity for anyone. Firing someone is not sufficient punishment. This is a very distressing story - especially when you think that these people and organizations are going into these countries to try and make it better, to restore a rule of law and some civility."
Christine Dolan, founder of the International Humanitarian Campaign Against the Exploitation of Children, a Washington-based nonprofit organization, tells Insight: "What is surprising to me is that Dyncorp has kept this contract. The U.S. says it wants to eradicate trafficking of people, has established an office in the State Department for this purpose, and yet neither State nor the government-contracting authorities have stepped in and done an investigation of this matter."
Dolan says, "It's not just Americans who are participating in these illegal acts. But what makes this more egregious for the U.S. is that our purpose in those regions is to restore some sense of civility. Now you've got employees of U.S. contractors in bed with the local mafia and buying kids for sex! That these
 guys have some kind of immunity from prosecution is morally outrageous. How can men be allowed to get away with rape simply because of location? Rape is a crime no matter where it occurs and it's important to remember that even prostitution is against the law in Bosnia. The message we're sending to kids is that it's okay for America's representatives to rape children. We talk about the future of the children, helping to build economies, democracy, the rule of law, and at the same time we fail to prosecute cases like this. That is immoral and hypocritical, and if DynCorp is involved in this in any way it should forfeit its contract and pay restitution in the form of training about trafficking."
Charlene Wheeless, a spokeswoman for DynCorp, vehemently denies any culpability on the part of the company, According to Wheeless, "The notion that a company such as DynCorp would turn a blind eye to illegal behavior by our employees is incomprehensible. DynCorp adheres to a core set of values that has served as the backbone of our corporation for the last 55 years, helping us become one of the largest and most respected professional-services and outsourcing companies in the world. We can't stress strongly enough that, as an employee-owned corporation, we take ethics very seriously. DynCorp stands by its decision to terminate [whistle-blower] Ben Johnston, who was terminated for cause."
What was the "cause" for which Johnston was fired? He received his only reprimand from DynCorp one day prior to the sting on the DynCorp hangar when Johnston was working with CID. A week later he received a letter of discharge for bringing "discredit to the company and the U.S. Army while working in Tuzla, Bosnia-Herzegovina." The discharge notice did not say how Johnston "brought discredit to the company."
It soon developed conveniently, according to Johnston's attorneys, that he was implicated by a DynCorp employee for illegal activity in Bosnia. Harlin, the young high-school graduate Johnston complained had no experience in aircraft maintenance and didn't even know the purposes of the basic tools, provided a sworn statement to CID about Johnston. Asked if anyone ever had offered to sell him a weapon, Harlin fingered Johnston and DynCorp employee Tom Oliver, who also had disapproved of the behavior of DynCorp employees.
Harlin even alleged that Johnston was "hanging out with Kevin Werner." Although Werner had no problem revealing the names and illegal activities of other DynCorp employees, Werner did not mention Johnston's name in his sworn statement.
 Kevin Glasheen, Johnston's attorney, says flatly of this: "It's DynCorp's effort to undermine Ben's credibility. But I think once the jury hears this case, that accusation is only going to make them more angry at DynCorp. In order to make our claim, we have to show that DynCorp was retaliating against Ben, and that fits under racketeering. There is a lot of evidence that shows this was what they were doing and that it went all the way up the management chain."
According to Glasheen, "DynCorp says that whatever these guys were doing isn't corporate activity and they're not responsible for it. But this problem permeated their business and management and they made business decisions to further the scheme and to cover it up. We have to show that there was a causal connection between Ben's whistle-blowing about the sex trade and his being fired. We can do that. We're here to prove a retaliation case, not convict DynCorp of participating in the sex-slave trade.
"What you have here is a Lord of the Flies mentality. Basically you've got a bunch of strong men who are raping and manipulating young girls who have been kidnapped from their homes. Who's the bad guy? Is it the guy who buys the girl to give her freedom, the one who kidnaps her and sells her or the one who liberates her and ends up having sex with her? And what does it mean when the U.S. steps up and says, 'We don't have any jurisdiction'? That's absurd."
The outraged attorney pauses for breath. "This is more than one twisted mind. There was a real corporate culture with a deep commitment to a cover-up. And it's outrageous that DynCorp still is being paid by the government on this contract. The worst thing I've seen is a DynCorp e-mail after this first came up where they're saying how they have turned this thing into a marketing success, that they have convinced the government that they could handle something like this."
Johnston is not the only DynCorp employee to blow the whistle and sue the billion-dollar government contractor. Kathryn Bolkovac, a U.N. International Police Force monitor hired by the U.S. company on another U.N.-related contract, has filed a lawsuit in Great Britain against DynCorp for wrongful
 termination. DynCorp had a $15 million contract to hire and train police officers for duty in Bosnia at the time she reported such officers were paying for prostitutes and participating in sex-trafficking. Many of these were forced to resign under suspicion of illegal activity, but none have been prosecuted, as they also enjoy immunity from prosecution in Bosnia.
DynCorp has admitted it fired five employees for similar illegal activities prior to Johnston's charges.
But Johnston worries about what this company's culture does to the reputation of the United States. "The Bosnians think we're all trash. It's a shame. When I was there as a soldier they loved us, but DynCorp employees have changed how they think about us. I tried to tell them that this is not how all Americans act, but it's hard to convince them when you see what they're seeing. The fact is, DynCorp is the worst diplomat you could possibly have over there."
Johnston's attorney looks to the outcome. "How this all ends," says Glasheen, "will say a lot about what we stand for and what we won't stand for." Kelly Patricia O'Meara is an investigative reporter for Insight.

Friday, April 25, 2014

"Billionaires' influence felt in state's water policy"

by Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta [restorethedelta.org], published 2014-04-25 by "San Francisco Chronicle" [http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/article/Billionaires-influence-felt-in-state-s-water-5430496.php]:
To track the outsized influence of Stewart and Lynda Resnick is tough because they have so many subsidiaries and so much money. There are Paramount Farms, Westside Mutual Water Company, a subsidiary of Roll International called Roll Global, which exports almonds - the list goes on and on.
The influence of the Resnicks and their cohorts in the Westlands and Kern water districts has been brought to bear so heavily on the governor's office during the past three administrations that the fix is basically in on building the peripheral tunnels.
The Resnicks made $270,000 in contributions to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, $350,000 to support Gov. Gray Davis, and $102,000 to Gov. Jerry Brown. As a result of the political influence of billionaires who receive taxpayer-subsidized water, the state Department of Water Resources functions almost as a subsidiary of the water exporters.
The outsize influence of delta water exporters can be seen in the recent "drought relief" action by state and federal regulators, which undid with the stroke of a pen Endangered Species Act protections for fisheries that were the result of a decade-long legal challenge. In addition to the requirements set in the biological opinions for delta fisheries, there are three sets of water quality standards arrived at through legal processes that already take into account critical dry-year situations. Two sets of water quality standards are being waived as part of drought emergency measures - one set to protect fisheries, another set to protect water quality for delta family farms.
Beyond that, requirements in the court-issued biological opinions to protect fisheries are being waived. Now, Sen. Dianne Feinstein is working with San Joaquin Valley congressional representatives, who have received numerous campaign contributions from Stewart Resnick, on legislation to further weaken already inadequate protections in order to facilitate increased pumping of delta water to southern water users.
In just this year, Westlands Water District's budget includes a $1 million "community outreach" campaign by a New York political ad firm specializing in "brand identity" and "brand loyalty," more than $250,000 spent on D.C. lobbyists and $135,000 on Sacramento lobbyists. They're getting good returns on their influence-buying investments.
Many would say the process begins back in the Davis administration with the delivery of a state asset, the Kern Water Bank, to the private interests of the Resnick companies. Under Gov. Schwarzenegger, and in the closing days of the Bush administration, fundamental changes were made to the purpose of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan that turned it into a water-export plan, with a shadow group directing the project under the auspices of the Department of Water Resources.
There is a revolving door for Westlands employees in government. Westlands Chief Deputy General Manager Jason Peltier served in the Interior Department in the Bush administration.
Employees of Westlands and the State Water Contractors have been "on loan" to the Department of Water Resources, overseeing water projects that impact their employers directly, before becoming department employees.
In July 2012, Gov. Brown and U.S. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar announced their support for the 9,000 cubic-foot-per-second delta water tunnels before any environmental impact report was completed, or a record of decision issued.
Current State Water Project contract negotiators include representatives with ties to Paramount Farms, who have a privileged seat at the table along with other water contractors. Yet the public and Legislature won only observation status of these negotiations through a legal challenge. So the people have no voice, just the right to watch, while the Department of Water Resources and the water contractors negotiate a 50-year contract extension, reducing bond reserve safeguards by 50 percent, and leaving taxpayers on the hook for "fish and wildlife" mitigations required under federal permits, in addition to operation and maintenance costs for those facilities. These negotiators have yet to work out financing for the peripheral tunnels.
The outsize influence of subsidized mega-growers yields significant indirect control of our state and federal agencies that regulate them. That's a problem, as their private interests trump the public interest.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Minimum-Wage Economy: An Apartheid of Dollars

"I'm a Whistleblower: Want Fries with That?" 
"An Apartheid of Dollars: Life in the New American Minimum-Wage Economy"
2014-04-24 by Peter Van Buren for "Tom Dispatch" [http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175835/tomgram%3A_peter_van_buren%2C_i%27m_a_whistleblower%3A_want_fries_with_that/]:
There are many sides to whistleblowing. The one that most people don't know about is the very personal cost, prison aside, including the high cost of lawyers and the strain on family relations, that follows the decision to risk it all in an act of conscience. Here's a part of my own story I've not talked about much before.
At age 53, everything changed. Following my whistleblowing first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, I was run out of the good job I had held for more than 20 years with the U.S. Department of State. As one of its threats, State also took aim at the pension and benefits I'd earned, even as it forced me into retirement. Would my family and I lose everything I'd worked for as part of the retaliation campaign State was waging? [http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/federal-eye/post/state-dept-moves-to-fire-peter-van-buren-author-of-book-critical-of-iraq-reconstruction-effort/2012/01/31/gIQAiXNSCS_blog.html]
I was worried. That pension was the thing I’d counted on to provide for us and it remained in jeopardy for many months. I was scared.
My skill set was pretty specific to my old job. The market was tough in the Washington, D.C. area for someone with a suspended security clearance [http://diplopundit.net/2011/10/18/devastating-tsunami-hits-peter-van-buren-security-clearance-and-diplomatic-ppt-swept-away-in-foggy-waters/]. Nobody with a salaried job to offer seemed interested in an old guy, and I needed some money. All the signs pointed one way -- toward the retail economy and a minimum-wage job.
And soon enough, I did indeed find myself working in exactly that economy and, worse yet, trying to live on the money I made. But it wasn’t just the money. There’s this American thing in which jobs define us, and those definitions tell us what our individual futures and the future of our society is likely to be. And believe me, rock bottom is a miserable base for any future.

Old World/New World -
The last time I worked for minimum wage was in a small store in my hometown in northern Ohio. It was almost a rite of passage during high school, when I pulled in about four bucks an hour stocking shelves alongside my friends. Our girlfriends ran the cash registers and our moms and dads shopped in the store. A good story about a possible date could get you a night off from the sympathetic manager, who was probably the only adult in those days we called by his first name. When you graduated from high school, he would hire one of your friends and the cycle would continue.
At age 53, I expected to be quizzed about why I was looking for minimum-wage work in a big box retail store we'll call “Bullseye.” I had prepared a story about wanting some fun part-time work and a new experience, but no one asked or cared. It felt like joining the French Foreign Legion, where you leave your past behind, assume a new name, and disappear anonymously into the organization in some distant land. The manager who hired me seemed focused only on whether I'd show up on time and not steal. My biggest marketable skill seemed to be speaking English better than some of his Hispanic employees. I was, that is, “well qualified.”
Before I could start, however, I had to pass a background and credit check, along with a drug test. Any of the anonymous agencies processing the checks could have vetoed my employment and I would never have known why. You don't have any idea what might be in the reports the store receives, or what to feel about the fact that some stranger at a local store now knows your financial and criminal history, all for the chance to earn seven bucks an hour.
You also don't know whether the drug tests were conducted properly or, as an older guy, if your high blood pressure medicine could trigger a positive response. As I learned from my co-workers later, everybody always worries about “pissing hot.” Most places that don't pay much seem especially concerned that their workers are drug-free. I'm not sure why this is, since you can trade bonds and get through the day higher than a bird on a cloud. Nonetheless, I did what I had to in front of another person, handing him the cup. He gave me one of those universal signs of the underemployed I now recognize, a we're-all-in-it, what're-ya-gonna-do look, just a little upward flick of his eyes.
Now a valued member of the Bullseye team, I was told to follow another employee who had been on the job for a few weeks, do what he did, and then start doing it by myself by the end of my first shift. The work was dull but not pointless: put stuff on shelves; tell customers where stuff was; sweep up spilled stuff; repeat.

Basic Training -
It turned out that doing the work was easy compared to dealing with the job. I still had to be trained for that.
You had to pay attention, but not too much. Believe it or not, that turns out to be an acquired skill, even for a former pasty government bureaucrat like me. Spend enough time in the retail minimum-wage economy and it’ll be trained into you for life, but for a newcomer, it proved a remarkably slow process. Take the initiative, get slapped down. Break a rule, be told you're paid to follow the rules. Don't forget who's the boss. (It's never you.) It all becomes who you are.
Diving straight from a salaried career back into the kiddie pool was tough. I still wanted to do a good job today, and maybe be a little better tomorrow. At first, I tried to think about how to do the simple tasks more efficiently, maybe just in a different order to save some walking back and forth. I knew I wasn't going to be paid more, but that work ethic was still inside of me. The problem was that none of us were supposed to be trying to be good, just good enough. If you didn't know that, you learned it fast. In the process, you felt yourself getting more and more tired each day.

Patient Zero in the New Economy -
One co-worker got fired for stealing employee lunches out of the break room fridge. He apologized to us as security marched him out, saying he was just hungry and couldn't always afford three meals. I heard that when he missed his rent payments he'd been sleeping in his car in the store parking lot. He didn't shower much and now I knew why. Another guy, whose only task was to rodeo up stray carts in the parking lot, would entertain us after work by putting his cigarette out on his naked heel. The guys who came in to clean up the toilets got up each morning knowing that was what they would do with another of the days in their lives.
Other workers were amazingly educated. One painted in oils. One was a recent college grad who couldn’t find work and liked to argue with me about the deeper meanings in the modern fiction we’d both read.
At age 53, I was the third-oldest minimum-wage worker in the store. A number of the others were single moms. Sixty-four percent of minimum-wage employees are women [http://www.raisetheminimumwage.com/facts/]. About half of all single-parent families live in poverty [http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2012/11/why-are-so-many-single-parent-families-in-poverty/265078]. There was at least one veteran. ("The Army taught me to drive a Humvee, which turns out not to be a marketable skill.") There were a couple of students who were alternating semesters at work with semesters at community college, and a small handful of recent immigrants. One guy said that because another big box store had driven his small shop out of business, he had to take a minimum-wage job. He was Patient Zero in our New Economy.
State law only required a company to give you a break if you worked six hours or more under certain conditions. Even then, it was only 30 minutes -- and unpaid. You won’t be surprised to discover that, at Bullseye, most non-holiday shifts were five-and-a-half hours or less. Somebody said it might be illegal not to give us more breaks, but what can you do? Call 911 like it was a real crime?
Some good news, though. It turned out that I had another marketable skill in addition to speaking decent English: being old. One day as a customer was bawling out a younger worker over some imagined slight, I happened to wander by. The customer assumed I was the manager, given my age, and began directing her complaints at me. I played along, even steepling my fingers to show my sincere concern just as I had seen actual managers do. The younger worker didn't get in trouble, and for a while I was quite popular among the kids whenever I pulled the manager routine to cover them.
Hours were our currency. You could trade them with other employees if they needed a day off to visit their kid's school. You could grab a few extra on holidays. If you could afford it, you could swap five bad-shift hours for three good-shift hours. The store really didn't care who showed up as long as someone showed up. Most minimum-wage places cap workers at under 40 hours a week to avoid letting them become "full time" and so possibly qualify for any kind of benefits. In my case, as work expanded and contracted, I was scheduled for as few as seven hours a week and I never got notice until the last moment if my hours were going to be cut.
Living on a small paycheck was hard enough. Trying to budget around wildly varying hours, and so paychecks, from week to week was next to impossible. Seven hours a week at minimum wage was less than fifty bucks. A good week around the Christmas rush was 39 hours, or more than $270. At the end of 2013, after I had stopped working at Bullseye, the minimum wage did go up from a little more than $7 to $8 an hour, which was next to no improvement at all. Doesn't every little bit help? Maybe, but what are a few more crumbs of bread worth when you need a whole loaf not to be hungry?

Working to Be Poor -
So how do you live on $50 a week, or for that matter, $270 a week? Cut back? Recycle cans?
One answer is: you don't live on those wages alone. You can't. Luckily I had some savings, no kids left in the house to feed, and my wife was still at her “good” job.  Many of my co-workers, however, dealt with the situation by holding down two or three minimum-wage jobs. Six hours on your feet is tough, but what about 12 or 14? And remember, there are no weekends or holidays in most minimum-wage jobs. Bullseye had even begun opening on Thanksgiving and Christmas afternoons.
The smart workers found their other jobs in the same strip mall as our Bullseye, so they could run from one to the next, cram in as many hours as they could, and save the bus fare. It mattered: at seven bucks an hour, that round trip fare meant you worked your first 45 minutes not for Bullseye but for the bus company. (The next 45 minutes you worked to pay taxes.)

Poverty as a Profit Center -
Many low-wage workers have to take some form of public assistance. Food stamps -- now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP -- were a regular topic of conversation among my colleagues. Despite holding two or three jobs, there were still never enough hours to earn enough to eat enough. SNAP was on a lot of other American's minds as well -- the number of people using food stamps increased by 13% a year from 2008 to 2012. About 1 in 7 Americans get some of their food through SNAP. About 45% of food stamp benefits go to children [http://www.eatdrinkpolitics.com/wp-content/uploads/FoodStampsFollowtheMoneySimon.pdf].
Enjoying that Big Mac? Here’s one reason it’s pretty cheap and that the junk sold at “Bullseye” and the other big box stores is, too: those businesses get away with paying below a living wage and instead you, the taxpayer, help subsidize those lousy wages with SNAP. (And of course since minimum-wage workers have taxes deducted, too, they are -- imagine the irony -- essentially forced to subsidize themselves.)
That subsidy does not come cheap, either. The cost of public assistance to families of workers in the fast-food industry alone is nearly $7 billion per year [http://laborcenter.berkeley.edu/publiccosts/fastfoodpovertywages.shtml]. McDonald’s workers alone account for $1.2 billion in federal assistance annually [http://www.nelp.org/page/-/rtmw/uploads/NELP-Super-Sizing-Public-Costs-Fast-Food-Report.pdf?nocdn=1].
All that SNAP money is needed to bridge the gap between what the majority of employed people earn through the minimum wage, and what they need to live a minimum life. Nearly three-quarters of enrollments in America's major public benefits programs involve working families stuck in jobs like I had. There are a lot of those jobs, too. The positions that account for the most workers in the U.S. right now are retail salespeople, cashiers, restaurant workers, and janitors [http://www.bls.gov/oes/2012/may/largest_smallest.htm]. All of those positions pay minimum wage or nearly so. Employers are actually allowed to pay below minimum wage to food workers who might receive tips [http://billmoyers.com/2013/07/26/the-minimum-wage-doesnt-apply-to-everyone/].
And by the way, if somehow at this point you're feeling bad for Walmart, don't. In addition to having it's workforce partially paid for by the government, Walmart also makes a significant portion of its profits by selling to people receiving federal food assistance. Though the Walton family is a little too shy to release absolute numbers, a researcher found that in one year, nine Walmart Supercenters in Massachusetts together received more than $33 million in SNAP dollars. One Walmart Supercenter in Tulsa, Oklahoma, received $15.2 million, while another (also in Tulsa) took in close to $9 million in SNAP spending.
You could say that taxpayers are basically moneylenders to a government that is far more interested in subsidizing business than in caring for their workers, but would anyone believe you?

Back in the Crosshairs -
Some employees at Bullseye had been yelled at too many times or were too afraid of losing their jobs. They were not only broke, but broken. People -- like dogs -- don't get that way quickly, only by a process of erosion eating away at whatever self-esteem they may still possess. Then one day, if a supervisor tells them by mistake to hang a sign upside down, they'll be too afraid of contradicting the boss not to do it.
I'd see employees rushing in early, terrified, to stand by the time clock so as not to be late. One of my fellow workers broke down in tears when she accidentally dropped something, afraid she'd be fired on the spot. And what a lousy way to live that is, your only incentive for doing good work being the desperate need to hang onto a job guaranteed to make you hate yourself for another day. Nobody cared about the work, only keeping the job. That was how management set things up.
About 30 million Americans work this way, live this way, at McJobs. These situations are not unique to any one place or region. After all, Walmart has more than two million employees [http://frugaldad.com/2011/12/01/weight-of-walmart-infographic/]. If that company were an army, it would be the second largest military on the planet, just behind China. It is, in fact, the largest overall employer in the country and the biggest employer in 25 states [http://www.businessinsider.com/16-walmart-facts]. When Walmart won’t pay more than minimum, it hurts. When it rains like that, we all get wet. This is who we are now.

I Was Minimum -
It’s time to forget the up-by-the-bootstraps fantasies of conservative economists bleating on Fox. If any of it was ever true, it's certainly not true anymore. There is no ladder up, no promotion path in the minimum-wage world. You can’t work “harder” because your hours are capped, and all the jobs are broken into little pieces anyone could do anyway. Minimum wage is what you get; there are no real raises. I don't know where all the assistant managers came from, but not from among us.
I worked in retail for minimum wage at age 16 and again at 53. In that span, the minimum wage itself rose only by a few bucks. What changed, however, is the cast of characters. Once upon a time, minimum-wage jobs were filled with high school kids earning pocket money. In 2014, it’s mainly adults struggling to get by. Something is obviously wrong.
In his State of the Union Address, President Obama urged that the federal minimum wage be raised to $9 an hour. He also said that a person holding down a full-time job should not have to live in poverty in a country like America.
To the president I say, yes, please, do raise the minimum wage. But how far is nine bucks an hour going to go? Are so many of us destined to do five hours of labor for the cell phone bill, another 12 for the groceries each week, and 20 or 30 for a car payment? How many hours are we going to work? How many can we work?
Nobody can make a real living doing these jobs. You can't raise a family on minimum wage, not in the way Americans once defined raising a family when our country emerged from World War II so fat and happy. And you can't build a nation on vast armies of working poor with nowhere to go. The president is right that it’s time for a change, but what’s needed is far more than a minimalist nudge to the minimum wage. Maybe what we need is to spend more on education and less on war, even out the tax laws and rules just a bit, require a standard living wage instead of a minimum one. Some sort of rebalancing. Those aren't answers to everything, but they might be a start.
People who work deserve to be paid, but McDonald’s CEO Donald Thompson last year took home $13.7 million in salary, with perks to go. If one of his fry cooks put in 30 hours a week, she'd take in a bit more than $10,000 a year -- before taxes of course. There is indeed a redistribution of wealth taking place in America, and it’s all moving upstream.
I got lucky. I won my pension fight with my “career” employer, the State Department, and was able to crawl out of the minimum-wage economy after less than a year and properly retire. I quit Bullseye because I could, one gray day when a customer about half my age cursed me out for something unimportant she didn’t like, ending with “I guess there’s a reason why people like you work at places like this.” I agreed with her: there is a reason. We just wouldn’t agree on what it was.
I’m different now for the experience. I think more about where I shop, and try to avoid big places that pay low wages if I can. I treat minimum-wage workers a little better, too. If I have to complain about something in a store, I keep the worker out of it and focus on solving the problem. I take a bit more care in the restroom not to leave a mess. I don't get angry anymore when a worker says to me, “I really can't do anything about it.” Now I know from personal experience that, in most cases, they really can't.
Above all, I carry with me the knowledge that economics isn’t about numbers, it’s about people. I know now that it’s up to us to decide whether the way we pay people, the work we offer them, and how we treat them on the job is just about money or if it’s about society, about how we live, who we are, the nature of America. The real target now should be to look deeply into the apartheid of dollars our country has created and decide it needs to change. We -- the 99% anyway -- can't afford not to.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Benton Harbor: Retaliation against supporters of Mayor Candidate who is against economic domination of community by Whirlpool Corp.

Benton Harbor, a town in Michigan under an executive dictatorship [link]

"Whirlpool stooge fires Benton Harbor community role model"
2014-04-20 from Rev Edward Pinkney [blogtalkradio.com/rev-pinkney]:
Major protest Wednesday, 3pm April 23, 2014, at the Boys and Girls Club (Empire Ave., Benton Harbor, Michigan).
John Howard, Director of the Boys and Girls Club in Benton Harbor, was forced to resign after eight years, only because he supported mayoral candidate Marcus Muhammad for Mayor.
John Howard was a role model for the community and ran a successful organization for the children of Benton Harbor. He was given an ultimatum: quit and take a benefit package, or quietly be let go with no severance of any kind.
Boys and Girls Club CEO Brian Sexton who gave Howard the ultimatum.
We are demanding that Brian Sexton resign by May 1. 2014.
We will protest until he resigns.  

Friday, April 18, 2014

High Frequency Trading

"'Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt,' by Michael Lewis"
2014-04-18 book review by Susan Antilla for "San Francisco Chornicle"[http://www.sfgate.com/books/article/Flash-Boys-A-Wall-Street-Revolt-by-Michael-5413774.php]:
Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt By Michael Lewis (W.W. Norton; 274 pages; $27.95)
Every reporter who's gone a few rounds with the powers that be on Wall Street recognizes the cue that they're on to something: The broker or bank executive or snarly in-house flack derides you as a flaming idiot for your ill-advised view of their very important work.
For his new book, "Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt," Michael Lewis has earned recognition in some Wall Street circles as the flaming idiot of the moment. The most likely explanation is that his polemic against the stock market abuses of high-frequency traders has struck an acutely touchy nerve.
"Flash Boys" deconstructs the byzantine world of Wall Street's high-frequency stock trading, the algorithm-driven transactions considered a boon to smooth and inexpensive markets by some, an exploitative labyrinth by others.
Remember that afternoon in May 2010 when the market plunged 1,000 points and bounced back more than 600 points by the close? The so-called Flash Crash was brought to you in part by the high-frequency traders who are the mischief-making subjects of Lewis' book.
Bradley Katsuyama wears the white hat in "Flash Boys." Born in Toronto, Katsuyama started out trading U.S. energy stocks at Royal Bank of Canada in his hometown before making his way to RBC's New York office, where he ultimately became head of Global Electronic Sales & Trading. Katsuyama was the antithesis of the Wall Street Guy, offended by the excesses of New York City and at home working at a firm whose culture was dubbed "RBC nice."
Something weird started happening on Katsuyama's stock-trading screens in 2006, just after RBC bought Carlin Financial, a U.S. electronic stock market trading firm. Up until then, when he saw another investor offering 10,000 shares of a stock he wanted to buy, he could simply push a button and buy the stock. Suddenly, though, Katsuyama would push that button, and all the offers would vanish.
The mystery compounded when, along with the trading troubles, RBC's bills from the stock exchanges began to swell. Only one thing had changed in the interim: the addition of the new electronic trading connection that put his orders on a complex trading fast-track.
Katsuyama began an education process to better understand what RBC had gotten into, hiring of a team of pros from the arcane world known as HFT to accelerate his learning curve. By trial and error, they figured it out.
Traders with connections even a millisecond faster than the competition would spot Katsuyama's bids before anyone else on one exchange, and then move to another exchange to buy it in time to unload it on him at a higher price. That sort of behavior is known as "front-running" in regulatory parlance, and is illegal when some people do it - say, the investor who's been tipped off that a research analyst will be hyping a stock. When HFTs do it, though, they're not breaking any laws.
The quest to gain those millisecond-long advantages can include extraordinary measures. Lewis' opening chapter describes the staggering effort of a company called Spread Networks, which employed 205 crews of eight men apiece to blast holes through mountains and tunnel under riverbeds between Chicago and northern New Jersey in 2009 and 2010. The purpose of the backbreaking venture: to lay 827 miles of fiber-optic cable that would send financial data from Chicago to New Jersey in 13 milliseconds.
For two lanes - one in each direction - on this new HFT superhighway, Wall Street banks paid $14 million apiece.
Along with hardware to foster faster trading, vendors pitched software to the high-frequency crowd. One mutual fund manager said a bank pitched him an algorithm that was akin to "a tiger that lurks in the woods and waits for the prey and then jumps on it." The "algos," as they're called, came with names befitting the darkest video game: Dark Attack, Dagger, Slicer, Guerrilla and Ambush.
At RBC, Katsuyama and his crew got to work on an HFT-busting program they called Thor that was designed to stymie the front-runners. They successfully sold Thor to trading customers for about a year, but in 2011 business fell off. Soon after, Katsuyama sat around a table with his team and suggested they take their campaign against abusive trading to the next level: "Let's just create our own stock exchange," he said. On Oct. 25, after resigning from RBC, they did exactly that, launching a stock exchange called IEX. The firm is "dedicated to institutionalizing fairness in the markets," according to its Web page.
Critics on Wall Street and in financial journalism have taken liberal shots at "Flash Boys." A popular blogger said the book's weaknesses were similar to those of the market: "It's just too fast."
With more time, Lewis could have broadened his story and explained the "real dangers" of HFT, the writer said beneath a headline "Michael Lewis's high-speed journalism." Seven days earlier, the same columnist had shared 900 words about the "flawed new book" after noting he'd read only half of it. Talk about being in a hurry.
Detractors also have said Lewis doesn't call stock exchanges to task for their role (he does), and that "Flash Boys" in any event comes on the heels of an important book on HFT by Wall Street Journal reporter Scott Patterson. (Lewis acknowledges in "Flash Boys" that Patterson's book is "an excellent history.") He's also been criticized for rousing prosecutors who might go after HFT front-runners. Start putting handcuffs on these guys and the public might mistakenly conclude that the markets are fair, the argument went. No joke.
Lewis sometimes overstates his case. When he talks about HFTs' impact on individual investors, he doesn't make a clear distinction between the harm to individuals whose mutual funds and pension funds are being traded, and the harm - if it exists at all - when a small investor is buying a stock on his own. And he doesn't do a good job when he introduces the story of a computer programmer who was arrested and imprisoned after copying computer code from Goldman before he left for a new position. The story is relevant to the narrative of "Flash Boys," but is dropped into the book as a stand-alone.
Still, when it's Michael Lewis doing the writing, previously incomprehensible topics become clear as day. That's dangerous stuff for financial types who fare best when their activities are dense and misunderstood, and perhaps a tad threatening to the rest of us in the writing trade, who wish we could be in Lewis' league.
Even Grandma can read "Flash Boys," understand it and be entertained by it. No wonder there's such a push to discredit Lewis' latest hit on Wall Street.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Oklahoma Republican Party prevents cities from enacting minimum-wage standards

"Oklahoma prohibits towns from setting own minimum wage standards"
2014-04-16 from "Russia Today" [http://rt.com/usa/oklahoma-cities-minimum-wage-ban-776]:
No city or county in Oklahoma will be allowed to set their own mandatory minimum wage or employee benefits, according to a law signed by Republican Governor Mary Fallin on Monday.
The new law, formerly known as Senate Bill 1023, comes amid a nationwide movement pushing lawmakers to raise the minimum wage across the US. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, although a number of states have raised their standard and US President Obama proposed raising the national minimum to $10.10.
Conservative leaders have opposed such measures, saying that such an influx in payroll expenses would be problematic for businesses.
“Senate Bill 1023 protects our economy from bad public policy that would destroy Oklahoma jobs,” Governor Fallin said in a prepared statement on Monday, as quoted by the Oklahoman [http://newsok.com/cities-banned-from-setting-minimum-wage-standards/article/3955375]. “Mandating a minimum wage increase at the local level would drive businesses to other communities and states, and would raise prices for consumers.”
Rep. Randy Grau, also a Republican, supported the House version of the bill, telling the Associated Press that such legislation is essential for state businesses [http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Fallin-signs-minimum-wage-hike-ban-in-Oklahoma-5401810.php].
“This bill provides a level playing field for all municipalities in Oklahoma,” he said. “An artificial raise in the minimum wage could derail local economies in a matter of months. This is a fair measure for consumers, workers and small business owners.”
The law’s opponents are not buying any such rationale. Attorney David Slane, with help from the Central Oklahoma Labor Federation, is circulating a petition throughout the state to raise Oklahoma's minimum wage to $10.10. The document needs to reach 80,000 signatures to go to a statewide ballot initiative. Oklahoma's population was estimated at 3.9 million in 2013.
“Of course we’re disappointed that the governor and the Republican Legislature stood in the way of the people having the right to vote on whether they want to raise the minimum wage,” Slane told the Oklahoman. “We’re looking now at the possibility of a constitutional challenge to the law that was signed because we think that it abrogates the people’s right to have an initiative petition...We’re going to explore all options, including the possibility of a statewide initiative petition.”
The US Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report earlier this year warning that raising the minimum wage could lead to 500,000 layoffs throughout the US. Fallin cited this aspect of the report, claiming she hopes to protect workers from losing their jobs.
“Most minimum wage workers are young, single people working part-time or entry-level jobs,” she said. “Mandating an increase in the minimum wage would require businesses to fire many of those part-time workers. It would create a hardship for small business owners, stifle job creation and increase costs for consumers.”
Yet the governor neglected to mention the part of the CBO report which says that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 would lift no fewer than 900,000 Americans out of poverty, while boosting collective earnings by $31 billion for 33 million low-income earners.
President Obama simplified the matter two months ago when he raised the minimum wage for federal contractors to $10.10. The executive order goes into effect next year and prevents contractors from being paid less than others if they have disabilities affecting their productivity.
“Raising the minimum wage is good for business, it’s good for workers and it’s good for the economy,” Obama said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Monday, April 14, 2014

"US Is an Oligarchy Not a Democracy, says Scientific Study"

2014-04-14 by Eric Zuesse for "Common Dreams" [https://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/04/14]:
In America, money talks... and democracy dies under its crushing weight.
A study, to appear in the Fall 2014 issue of the academic journal Perspectives on Politics [http://www.princeton.edu/~mgilens/Gilens%20homepage%20materials/Gilens%20and%20Page/Gilens%20and%20Page%202014-Testing%20Theories%203-7-14.pdf], finds that the U.S. is no democracy, but instead an oligarchy, meaning profoundly corrupt, so that the answer to the study’s opening question, "Who governs? Who really rules?" in this country, is:
"Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts. Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But, ..." and then they go on to say, it's not true, and that, "America's claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened" by the findings in this, the first-ever comprehensive scientific study of the subject, which shows that there is instead "the nearly total failure of 'median voter' and other Majoritarian Electoral Democracy theories [of America]. When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy."
To put it short: The United States is no democracy, but actually an oligarchy.
The authors of this historically important study are Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, and their article is titled "Testing Theories of American Politics." The authors clarify that the data available are probably under-representing the actual extent of control of the U.S. by the super-rich:
[begin excerpt] Economic Elite Domination theories do rather well in our analysis, even though our findings probably understate the political influence of elites. Our measure of the preferences of wealthy or elite Americans – though useful, and the best we could generate for a large set of policy cases – is probably less consistent with the relevant preferences than are our measures of the views of ordinary citizens or the alignments of engaged interest groups. Yet we found substantial estimated effects even when using this imperfect measure. The real-world impact of elites upon public policy may be still greater. [end excerpt]
Nonetheless, this is the first-ever scientific study of the question of whether the U.S. is a democracy. "Until recently it has not been possible to test these contrasting theoretical predictions [that U.S. policymaking operates as a democracy, versus as an oligarchy, versus as some mixture of the two] against each other within a single statistical model. This paper reports on an effort to do so, using a unique data set that includes measures of the key variables for 1,779 policy issues." That’s an enormous number of policy-issues studied.
What the authors are able to find, despite the deficiencies of the data, is important: the first-ever scientific analysis of whether the U.S. is a democracy, or is instead an oligarchy, or some combination of the two. The clear finding is that the U.S. is an oligarchy, no democratic country, at all. American democracy is a sham, no matter how much it's pumped by the oligarchs who run the country (and who control the nation's "news" media). The U.S., in other words, is basically similar to Russia or most other dubious "electoral" "democratic" countries. We weren't formerly, but we clearly are now. Today, after this exhaustive analysis of the data, “the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” That's it, in a nutshell.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

North Carolina Republican Party, and Duke Energy, work to prevent the rise of sovereign energy sources

"NC must continue its support for renewable energy"
2014-04-12 [http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/04/12/3776836/nc-must-continue-its-support-for.html]:
Duke Energy’s troubles with coal ash illustrate the hazards of burning fossil fuels and disposing of the byproducts. But another hazard lies in efforts to snuff out a trend that’s decreasing North Carolina’s dependence on fossil fuels: the state’s rising production of renewable energy.
That trend has been fed by a state law requiring utilities – which now effectively means Duke Energy – to get a portion of their electric power from renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and livestock waste methane. The Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards law (commonly known as Senate Bill 3) requires that renewable energy sources account for 3 percent of a utility’s sales this year with the standards rising to 12.5 percent of total retail sales by 2021.
The requirement creates a market for renewable energy sources and has accounted for a boom in the solar energy industry in North Carolina. But building one market takes from another, and the fossil fuel industry is mounting an effort to reduce or repeal the standards.
In North Carolina, that effort has been led by state Rep. Mike Hager of Rutherford, a former Duke Energy employee and the Republican majority whip. His push is supported by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, which is backing similar rollback legislation around the nation, and Americans For Prosperity, the super PAC funded by the Koch brothers, who operate oil refineries and own some 4,000 miles of oil pipelines.
Hager opposes the requirement that utilities purchase power from renewable sources on the grounds that it’s a subsidy. But as the renewable energy industry grows, it requires less support. And to keep it growing, investors must be assured that there will be a stable market.
Hager’s attempts to limit or repeal the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards were defeated last session. He won’t be taking aim at renewable standards when the next session opens in May. “There are other more pressing issues that are more important to the economy,” he says.
Many conservatives oppose renewable energy standards because they think they inflate the cost of energy. Hager says he’s open to including renewable energy in the state’s energy plans if the alternative sources can contribute to savings. “I’m not anti-renewable,” he says. “The vision is to reduce utility costs in North Carolina.”
R. Bruce Thompson, of the Raleigh law firm Parker Poe, is representing the American Wind Energy Association and monitoring threats to the renewable energy standards. “The thing that worries us is when you see groups like Americans For Prosperity continue to hammer (on the law),” he says.
In 2007 North Carolina became the first state in the the Southeast to adopt renewable energy standards. The law has produced positive results not only in cleaner, safer energy, but also in generating jobs and tax revenue. The Research Triangle Institute estimates that North Carolina’s clean energy and energy-efficiency programs spurred $1.4 billion in project investment statewide between 2007 and 2012.
The state’s solar energy industry is the most dramatic example of renewable energy’s growth. North Carolina was second in the nation behind California for solar-power capacity added in 2013. But wind energy may be the best example of how the law is diversifying energy production and stimulating North Carolina’s economy by tapping a limitless resource.
The wind power on the state’s coast is considered one of the best “wind resources” in the East. It is attracting investment to the economically depressed counties of northeastern North Carolina and some mountain counties. The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy says proposed wind farms represent more than $1 billion in investment in North Carolina. In some counties, wind farms are already the largest taxpayers.
As advances in technology drive down the cost of wind power, it could expand here rapidly as it has in other states. In nine states, wind power meets more than 12 percent of the energy needs. The further growth of renewable energy here requires that the legislature stay the course. Lawmakers should stand behind the renewable energy standards that are producing alternatives to the pollution caused by burning fossil fuels.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

United States Prisons, not medical asylums, house many of the mentally ill

"Jailing of Mentally Ill Has Turned US Prisons into 'Inhumane' Asylums: Study"
"As state psychiatric facilities shut their doors, people with severe mental illnesses are being locked in U.S. prisons and jails, finds report"
2014-04-09 by Sarah Lazare for "Common Dreams" [http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2014/04/09-4]:
There are ten times more people with severe mental illnesses in U.S. jails and prisons than in state psychiatric hospitals, and conditions of incarceration—including abuse and denial of care—are causing the health of this vulnerable population to decline even further.
This is according to a damning study, The Treatment of Persons With Mental Illness in Prisons and Jails (PDF) [http://tacreports.org/storage/documents/treatment-behind-bars/treatment-behind-bars.pdf], released Wednesday by the Treatment Advocacy Center—a non-profit organization that seeks to eliminate barriers to mental health care [http://www.treatmentadvocacycenter.org/].
The report argues that decades of cuts and closures of state psychiatric hospitals have transformed jails and prisons into the modern-day asylums.
According to the study, there are 356,268 people with serious mental illnesses, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, currently locked in U.S. prisons and jails. In 44 states and the District of Columbia, the report states, "a prison or jail in that state holds more individuals with serious mental illness than the largest remaining state psychiatric hospital."
While locked up, people with mental illnesses face a litany of horrors that can include: abuse, denial of care, physical attacks, overcrowding, and "[r]elegation in grossly disproportionate numbers to solitary confinement"—factors that are causing the severity of this population's mental illnesses to grow. "The consequences of putting mentally ill people into prisons and jails are often tragic," states the report, leading to disproportionate suicides among the population.
The report argues that high rates of incarceration for mentally ill people mark a return to the policies of the 1770 to 1820 period in the U.S., during which mentally ill people "were routinely confined in prisons and jails"—practices that later came to be regarded as "inhumane and problematic." Yet, while, "[h]alf a century ago, such reports would have elicited spirited public discussion and proposals for reform; now they elicit a collective public yawn," reads the report.
"This is scary and brutal," Isaac Ontiveros of prison abolition organization Critical Resistance told Common Dreams [http://criticalresistance.org/]. "Once again it should be very clear imprisonment is devastating to individual and public health."
"The best places for people to get health care they need is in their communities," said Ontiveros. "If we want to invest in the health and well-being of communities and the people who make them up, we have to prioritize programs and services in those communities and deprioritize incarceration, criminalization, and policing."

Duke Energy benefits from Industry-Friendly Public-Sector Environmental Regulators

"Industry-Friendly Regulators Ask to be Stripped of Regulatory Power"
"After coal ash spill, state regulators appeal ruling demanding Duke Energy clean up"
2014-04-09 by Lauren McCauley for "Common Dreams" [http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2014/04/09-5]:
The Duke Energy coal ash pond in proximity to the Dan River, where in February it spilled millions of gallons of coal sludge. (Photo: Waterkeeper Alliance/ Creative Commons/ Flickr)

In an 'unprecedented' move, North Carolina officials—whose responsibility it is to enforce environmental protections—are causing outrage in the state for arguing that a court ruling against the coal industry is too harsh.
State-appointed members of the Environmental Management Commission (EMC) announced Monday that they are appealing a ruling that ordered Duke Energy take "immediate action" to clean up its 33 coal ash ponds [http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/04/08/4826555/nc-sides-with-duke-in-appeal-of.html]. The ruling—handed down following a major coal ash spill on February 4—gave state regulators greater ability to force Duke to proactively reduce the risk of polluting other rivers.
However, the EMC says it does not want this authority. Instead of acting as a watchdog to clamp down on Duke, in fact, the members actively argued that Duke should be given more time to make improvements.
“If the state is serious about enforcing the law, why in the world would the state ask the (N.C.) Court of Appeals to limit that authority?” D.J. Gerken, a lawyer with the Southern Environmental Law Center, told the Charlotte Observer. Following the announcement, environmentalists were torn between shock and the sad realization that this is much of the same.
"It seems unprecedented that an environmental commission has asked the state to appeal a ruling that gave it more authority,” said Amy Adams, the North Carolina campaign coordinator with environmental nonprofit Appalachian Voices. “To appeal a ruling that gives you clear authority to help clean up pollution seems appalling.”
Duke Energy has a long history of familial relations with the state government, beginning with Governor Pat McCrory's 28 years of employment at the utility.
As previously noted by Charlotte Observer energy reporter Bruce Henderson [http://obsearthenergy.blogspot.com/2013/07/nc-budget-fires-environmental.html], last summer McCrory and the Republican-led legislature passed a budget that effectively fired all members of the EMC. On his personal blog, Henderson wrote: "The move gives Gov. Pat McCrory and the Republican-led legislature, which has targeted environmental regulation as a drag on business, a clean slate to remake the powerful Environmental Management Commission. The commission is charged with adopting rules protecting air and water resources."
According to activists speaking with Al Jazeera, the move "gave the board almost no independent decision-making power."
Following a previous coal ash spill, the state agency charged with carrying out environmental regulations, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), negotiated a settlement that many called a "sweetheart deal" with the utility [http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2014/04/02-6]. Under scrutiny after the Dan River spill, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Raleigh recently initiated a federal probe into ties between Duke and the DENR [http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/02/13/usa-northcarolina-spill-idUSL2N0LI1G720140213].
According to Gerken, the news of the appeal defies statements made by the state that they will prioritize cleaning up groundwater contamination. "I was very surprised," he said. "I guess the saga continues.”

Monday, April 7, 2014

"SEC Goldman Lawyer Says Agency Too Timid on Wall Street Misdeeds"

2014-04-07 by Robert Schmidt from "Bloomberg News"
A trial attorney from the Securities and Exchange Commission said his bosses were too “tentative and fearful” to bring many Wall Street leaders to heel after the 2008 credit crisis, echoing the regulator’s outside critics.
James Kidney, who joined the SEC in 1986 and retired this month, offered the critique in a speech at his goodbye party. His remarks hit home with many in the crowd of SEC lawyers and alumni thanks to a part of his resume not publicly known: He had campaigned internally to bring charges against more executives in the agency’s 2010 case against Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS)
The SEC has become “an agency that polices the broken windows on the street level and rarely goes to the penthouse floors,” Kidney said, according to a copy of his remarks obtained by Bloomberg News. “On the rare occasions when enforcement does go to the penthouse, good manners are paramount. Tough enforcement, risky enforcement, is subject to extensive negotiation and weakening.”
Kidney said his superiors were more focused on getting high-paying jobs after their government service than on bringing difficult cases. The agency’s penalties, Kidney said, have become “at most a tollbooth on the bankster turnpike.”
His March 27 remarks drew applause from the crowd of about 70 people, according to witnesses. In an interview, Kidney said he hadn’t heard any blowback from SEC officials.
SEC spokesman John Nester declined to comment.

‘Afflicting’ Power -
Kidney, 66, has worked at the agency since 1986 except for a four-year stint at Aetna Inc. At the SEC he won a half-dozen insider-trading trials. His speech bemoaned the lack of SEC enforcers who “believe in afflicting the comfortable and powerful.”
The SEC has taken a beating from critics including lawmakers, judges and advocacy groups who say the agency has been too easy on the banks that helped fuel the 2008 crisis by peddling mortgage-backed securities of questionable value to unwary investors. No senior executive at a major financial firm has gone to jail and the SEC has brought civil charges against only a handful.
In his speech, Kidney also hit the agency for using misleading statistics to showcase its enforcement efforts. The SEC should focus on the quality of its actions, rather than try to file as many as possible just to tout its record to lawmakers and the media, he said.
“It is a cancer,” Kidney said of the agency’s use of numbers. “It should be changed.”

‘Lower Burden’ -
Kidney said in the interview that he will always be an SEC loyalist and was trying to offer constructive criticism that could help the agency. He said he wasn’t singling out any specific cases or officials in his comments.
“I don’t think we did a very aggressive job with all the major players in the crash of ’08,” he said, noting that as a civil enforcement agency, the commission does not need to prove its cases beyond a reasonable doubt like the Justice Department does. “The SEC has a lower burden of proof and we should be pushing the envelope a bit.”
The Goldman Sachs suit was one of the highest-profile SEC actions arising from the credit crisis. The bank agreed to pay $550 million to settle claims that it misled investors when it packaged and sold a complex security known as a collateralized debt obligation that was linked to subprime mortgages.
The SEC also sued Fabrice Tourre, who was vice president on the team that put together the deal at issue in the SEC case, known as Abacus 2007-AC1. A federal jury found Tourre liable last year, and he was ordered in March to pay $825,000 in penalties and other costs.

Goldman Executives -
Kidney, who was part of the initial team that was building the Goldman Sachs case, pressed his bosses in the enforcement division to go higher up the chain. He later took himself off the team after being given a lesser role, according to people familiar with the matter.
In particular, the people said, Kidney argued that the commission should sue Tourre’s boss, Jonathan Egol. Kidney also wanted to bring a case against Paulson & Co. or some executives at the hedge fund, which helped pick the portfolio of securities that were underlying the Abacus vehicle and then bet against it.
The SEC ultimately decided not to sue Egol, the Paulson firm or any individuals from the hedge fund.
Andrew Williams, a spokesman for Goldman Sachs, declined to comment.
While Kidney declined to comment on the Goldman case in particular, much of his role is laid out in a September 2010 report by the agency’s inspector general’s office, which reviewed whether the SEC succumbed to political pressure in bringing the enforcement action. Kidney’s name is blacked out in the report.

‘Little Secret’ -
In his retirement speech, Kidney noted that he had been “involved in a high-profile case or two” and said he had gotten a message from above not to take too many risks.
“I have had bosses, and bosses of my bosses, whose names we all know, who made little secret that they were here to punch their ticket,” Kidney said. “They mouthed serious regard for the mission of the commission, but their actions were tentative and fearful in many instances.”
Stephen Crimmins, a former colleague of Kidney’s at the SEC who attended the retirement party, said he was one of the “finest lawyers ever to serve in the enforcement division.” Kidney was known for winning the SEC’s first jury trial, which was an insider trading case.
Kidney earned his legal degree at night from George Washington University’s law school while working as a Supreme Court reporter for the United Press International wire service and at U.S. News & World Report.
“People point to him as being very frank and not one to just say what people want to hear,” said Crimmins, now a partner at the K&L Gates law firm in Washington. Speakers at the party even ribbed Kidney about it, Crimmins said.
“There were some high-ranking people in the room, and everyone took it in stride,” Crimmins said. “Everyone there respected that.”

Friday, April 4, 2014

"Studies Confirm the Dehumanization of Black Children and the ‘Preschool-to-Prison Pipeline’"

"School to Prison" pipeline [link]

2014-04-04 by Sonali Kolhatkar for "TruthDig.com" [http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/studies_confirm_the_dehumanization_of_black_children_20140403]:
Although African-Americans constitute only 13 percent of all Americans, nearly half of all prison inmates in the U.S. are black. This startling statistic has led the United Nations Human Rights Committee to publicly criticize the U.S. for its treatment of African-Americans. A number of recent studies and reports paint a damning picture of how American society dehumanizes blacks starting from early childhood.
Racial justice activists and prison abolition groups have long argued that the “school-to-prison” pipeline funnels young black kids into the criminal justice system, with higher rates of school suspension and arrest compared with nonblack kids for the same infractions. More than 20 years ago, Smith College professor Ann Arnett Ferguson wrote a groundbreaking book based on her three-year study of how black boys in particular are perceived differently starting in school. In “Bad Boys: Public Schools in the Making of Black Masculinity” [http://www.press.umich.edu/16797/bad_boys], Ferguson laid out the ways in which educators and administrators funneled black male students into the juvenile justice system based on perceived differences between them and other students.
Today this trend continues with record numbers of suspensions as a result of “zero-tolerance” school policies and the increasing presence of campus police officers who arrest students for insubordination, fights and other types of behavior that might be considered normal “acting out” in school-aged children. In fact, black youth are far more likely to be suspended from school than any other race. They also face disproportionate expulsion and arrest rates, and once children enter the juvenile justice system they are far more likely to be incarcerated as adults.
Even the Justice Department under President Obama has understood what a serious problem this is, issuing a set of new guidelines earlier this year to curb discriminatory suspension in schools.
But it turns out that negative disciplinary actions affect African-American children starting as early as age 3. The U.S. Department of Education just released a comprehensive study of public schools, revealing in a report that black children face discrimination even in preschool [https://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/expansive-survey-americas-public-schools-reveals-troubling-racial-disparities]. (That preschool-aged children are suspended at all is hugely disturbing.) Data from the 2011-2012 year show that although black children make up only 18 percent of preschoolers, 42 percent of them were suspended at least once and 48 percent were suspended multiple times.
Consistent with this educational data and taking into account broader demographic, family and economic data for children of various races, broken down by state, is a newer study released this week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation that found African-American children are on the lowest end of nearly every measured index including proficiency in math and reading, high school graduation, poverty and parental education. The report, titled Race for Results [http://www.aecf.org/~/media/Pubs/Initiatives/KIDS%20COUNT/R/RaceforResults/RaceforResults.pdf], plainly says, “The index scores for African-American children should be considered a national crisis.”
Two other studies published recently offer specific evidence of how black children are so disadvantaged at an early age. One research project, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology [http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/psp-a0035663.pdf], examined how college students and police officers estimated the ages of children who they were told had committed crimes. Both groups studied by UCLA professor Phillip Goff and collaborators were more likely to overestimate the ages of black children compared with nonblack ones, implying that black children were seen as “significantly less innocent” than others. The authors wrote:
[begin excerpt] We expected ... that individuals would perceive Black boys as being more responsible for their actions and as being more appropriate targets for police violence. We find support for these hypotheses ... and converging evidence that Black boys are seen as older and less innocent and that they prompt a less essential conception of childhood than do their White same-age peers. [end excerpt]
Another study by researchers at UC Riverside found that teachers tended to be more likely to evaluate black children negatively than nonblack ones who were engaged in pretend play. Psychology professor Tuppett M. Yates, who led the study, observed 171 preschool-aged children interacting with stuffed toys and other props and evaluated them for how imaginative and creative they were. In an interview on Uprising [http://uprisingradio.org/home/2014/03/28/how-institutional-racism-affects-blacks-even-in-early-childhood/], Yates told me that all the children, regardless of race, were “similarly imaginative and similarly expressive,” but when their teachers evaluated those same children at a later time, there was a discriminatory effect. Yates explained, “For white children, imaginative and expressive players were rated very positively [by teachers] but the reverse was true for black children. Imaginative and expressive black children were perceived as less ready for school, as less accepted by their peers, and as greater sources of conflict and tension.”
Although it is clear that negative behaviors were magnified through “race-colored glasses,” according to Yates, her study of children engaged in pretend play found that “there is also potentially a systematic devaluing of positive attributes among black children.” This made her concerned about how “very early on, some kids are being educated towards innovation and leadership and others may be educated towards more menial or concrete social positions.”
Reflecting on the 2001 book “Bad Boys” and how little seems to have changed since then, Yates affirmed that author Ferguson’s assertion that black children are given a “hidden curriculum” is still true now. She told me, “Our data suggests that that hidden curriculum may be persisting today and that it’s starting much earlier than we ever could have anticipated.” She noted her deep concern that “we’re actually reproducing inequality generation after generation.”
When I asked her to comment on the Goff study showing police estimates of black children as older than they are, Yates agreed that it appears as though “the same objective data are being interpreted differently as a function of race.” Ferguson also apparently noted this trend, calling it an “adultification” of black boys. Yates recounted an example from Ferguson’s work in which “when a white student fails to return their library book, they’re seen as forgetful and when a black student fails to return a library book, terms like ‘thief’ or ‘looter’ were used.”
Studies such as these consistently show that African-Americans have the deck stacked against them starting in early childhood through adulthood. Taken together, they make a strong case for the existence of a “preschool-to-prison” pipeline and the systematic dehumanization that black children face in American society.
Yates summarized, “Across these different studies, black children are viewed differently. They are consequently given less access to the kinds of structural avenues required to advance in our society and ultimately they become less valued in our culture,” and are ultimately “fast tracked to the margins.”
Daily Beast staff writer Jamelle Bouie, writing about black preschoolers being disproportionately suspended, provocatively asked, “Are Black Students Unruly? Or is America Just Racist?” [http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/03/21/are-black-kids-unruly-or-is-america-just-racist.html] Yates gave me the obvious answer saying, “We know that [discrimination] exists. It’s the most parsimonious explanation for these kinds of persistent inequalities.”
But perhaps there is also an element of justifiable unruliness involved. Yates offered that “black children—rightfully so—are more likely to disengage from their educational milieus and potentially rebel against them because these systems are at best failing to support them, and at worst channeling them into this pipeline towards negative ends.”
She indicted American society as a whole, saying, “Our educational system, our economic system, our judicial system, all of these are converging to reproduce these kinds of inequalities and perpetuate the criminalization of blacks in our culture.”
Although Attorney General Eric Holder’s push to reform mandatory minimum sentences that disproportionately incarcerate African-Americans is indeed laudable, strong action is needed now to address the early childhood barriers facing black kids. The preschool-to-prison pipeline needs to be dismantled from its starting point rather than simply its endpoint.
Ultimately, “change,” Yates said, “is really going to require effort at all levels such as individual teachers, superintendents, police officers, attorneys general and even in the media.”