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    On the News With Thom Hartmann: Children Are the Most Enduring Victims of the Recession, and More

    Truthout - Mon, 11/03/2014 - 12:49

    In today's On the News segment: According to UNICEF, even in the world's richest countires, children remain "the most enduring victims" of the recession; you are probably aware that the NSA could be spying on your online communication, but did you know that your "snail mail" may be being tracked too?; the average retail worker only makes about $20,000 dollars per year; and more.

    TRANSCRIPT:

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

    You need to know this. According to UNICEF, even in the world's richest countires, children remain "the most enduring victims" of the recession. In the last six years, 2.6 million more kids have fallen below the poverty line, and more than half of them live right here in the United States. Last week, UNICEF released their annual study, "Children of the Recession," which found that more than 76 million children are living in poverty in the 41 wealthiest nations on Earth. The authors of that study say they were not intending to "comment on austerity," but their analysis made clear that the slashing of public services has fueled this rise in child poverty. Nations hit with extreme austerity measures, like Greece and Iceland, saw the number of kids living in poverty increase by more than 50 percent. In comparison, the report states, "Governments that bolstered existing public institutions and programs helped to buffer countless children from the crisis – a strategy that others may consider adopting." Enacting huge budget cuts has left many parents out of work in these counties, and the social programs that once kept their families out of poverty have been slashed as well. The stark increase in the number of struggling families is the end result of lawmakers worrying more about budgets than about their citizens – both young and old. This recession, and the harsh austerity measures that followed, have turned our kids into "a generation cast aside," and that is simply not acceptable. We must continue to fight for the end of austerity, and demand that lawmakers invest in their nations and their people. The children of the world are depending on us.

    When Congress returns to work this month, they'll see some strong messages at their local subway stop. The AFL-CIO has blanketed the Capital South Metro stop with ads demanding that our lawmakers say "no" to "Fast Track." With several massive trade agreements in the works, lobbyists have been working hard to convince legislators to take trade negotiation out of the hands of anyone who has to answer to the voters. These industry schills want trade arbitrators to have the final say on the secret details of the TPP and other deals, instead of the lawmakers who are supposed to represent We The People. So, the AFL-CIO is running a four-week ad campaign against these job-killing trade agreements, and against Congress giving up their power to negotiate. Corporate lobbyists should not be negotiating deals that effect our economy, our enivornment, and our jobs. As AFL-CIO president, Richard Trumka, explained, "America's workers simply can't afford more Fask Track," and it's time for Congress to remember that important point.

    Too many American workers don't get any paid vacation, and those who do often skip out on taking the time off that they're allotted. To fix that problem, one company is trying something different. The job search website company, Authentic Jobs, is now requiring employees to take at least 27 days off every year. When Cameron Moll founded the company, he instituted an unlimited vacation policy, but many of his workers didn't take off enough time to rest. He found that employees who did not take that vacation time were less productive, and less healthy, than workers who utilized the paid time off. So, he flipped his policy, and instituted the mandatory vacation. He explained, "We're saying you need to take off at least 27 days per year, and then beyond that, if you need additional time, feel free to do it." Mr. Moll explained that having a small company with only a few workers allowed him to institue the mandatory vacation time, but he hopes his policy will spread to larger companies. Having rested, healthy employees is a benefit to any business, even if they have to force workers to take that much-needed time to relax.

    You are probably aware that the NSA could be spying on your online communication, but did you know that your "snail mail" may be being tracked too? According to a recent investigation by the New York Times, state and federal agenices are monitoring our mail way more than they have previously disclosed. The Times reveiwed a 2014 Inspector General audit, along with documents obtained using the Freedom of Information Act, and found that in 2013 alone, the Post Office approved almost 50,000 requests to image and store the information on the outside of our letters and packages. In comparison, agenices only made about 8,000 requests per year between 2001 and 2012. Although the authorites need a warrant to open mail, the audit revelaed that "in many cases the Postal Servce approved requests to monitor an individual's mail without adequately describing the reason or having proper written authorization." Just like the tracking of who and when we're emailing, the data on the outside of our mail can provide authorities with a wealth of information about us. And, just like our email, it shouldn't be tracked without a warrant.

    And finally... The average retail worker only makes about $20,000 dollars per year, but employees at The Container Store earn more than twice that amount. According to CEO Kip Tindell, his company pays workers an average of $48,000 a year, and they offer annual raises of as much as eight percent. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Tindell explained his theory is that "one equals three." He said, "one great person can easily do the business productivity of three good people," which means his business gets three times the productivity by paying twice the industry average. The Container Store's high wages actually save the company money in the long run, and their low turnover helps them hang on to great employees. In addition to the cost savings and employee productivity, Kip Tindell said he believes paying more is his responsibility. He said, "If you're lucky enough to be an employer, you have a moral obligation to create a great work environment." He's helping to show other retailers that paying workers well actually pays off for businesses, and he's working to encourage more companies to pay a living wage. Now, imagine what our economy would look like if more business leaders thought like Mr. Tindell...

    And that's the way it is - for the week of November 3, 2014 – I'm Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.

    Vote Counts and Polls: An Insidious Feedback Loop

    Truthout - Mon, 11/03/2014 - 12:28

    The author of CODE RED: Computerized Election Theft and the New American Century examines how a series of corrupted elections can contaminate pre-election and exit polls and what that means as we try to make sense of the results of election 2014.

    (Image: Voting, polling via Shutterstock)In a nation that counts its votes in secret, polls take on a special significance. The United States is such a nation and our polls, both pre-election and exit, serve as parallel vote counts and establish the baseline against which the electoral results themselves are seen to be somewhere on the spectrum from "just what we expected" to "shocking." The polls, in other words, serve as a kind of "smell test": Miscounted elections, the vote counts of which veer widely or consistently away from the polling numbers, emit a certain odor, whether or not their results are actually challenged or investigated.

    As a veteran analyst of election forensics, I have crunched polling and voting data from elections dating to 2002, when the Help America Vote Act hastened the computerization of voting in the United States. During this period, a pervasive pattern characterized that data: a "red shift" in which official vote counts in competitive electoral contests were consistently and significantly to the right of polling results, including both pre-election and exit polls.

    Unfortunately the standard response to our forensic red-flagging of such patterns was "the polls are 'off' again; they must have oversampled Democrats." It did not seem to occur to anyone to actually examine the polling samples or make any impression when we did analyze the samples and found that they had not in fact oversampled Democrats. But any explanation that might point to corruption of the computerized vote counting mechanism was strictly verboten. One suspect election after another managed to pass the stuffed-nose smell test based on the premise, as unshakable as it was irrational, that election rigging could never happen here in the beacon of democracy.

    Polls and vote counts form a feedback loop, and corruption of one ultimately expresses itself in corruption of the other.

    Now the polls tracking the upcoming election ("E2014") are telling us to expect a resounding Republican victory, including control of the US Senate and reinforcement of the GOP House majority. Such results on November 4, 2014, will therefore not be shocking, as was the GOP sweep in 2010, which none of the pollsters predicted. No alarm will sound, even though there would be ample reason to scratch our heads that a party with which a dwindling minority of voters identifies would be rewarded for intransigent political behavior that has dragged Congress down to single-digit levels of approval (lowest in history) by having its control over that very same Congress strengthened. Odd, yes, but just what the polls have been predicting, so no surprise at all.

    Everything fits neatly - too neatly. Polls and vote counts form a feedback loop, and corruption of one ultimately expresses itself in corruption of the other. Pollsters stay in business by predicting election outcomes accurately. A "Certificate of Methodological Purity" may make a nice wall ornament, but matters not a whit when it comes to success within the highly competitive polling profession. If election returns in competitive races were being systematically manipulated in one direction over a period of several biennial elections, we would expect pollsters to make methodological adjustments necessary to match those returns. Indeed, it would be nothing short of professional suicide not to make those adjustments and turn whatever methodological handsprings were required to continue "getting elections right."

    Enter the likely voter cutoff model, or LVCM for short. Introduced by Gallup about 10 years ago (after Gallup came under the control of a right-wing, Christianist heir), the LVCM has gathered adherents until it is now all but universally employed. The LVCM uses a series of screening questions - about past voting history, residential stability, intention of voting, and the like - to qualify and disqualify respondents from the sample. The problem with surveying registered voters without screening for likelihood of voting is obvious: You wind up surveying a significant number of voters whose responses register on the survey, but who then don't vote. If this didn't-vote constituency has a partisan slant it throws off the poll relative to the election results - generally to the left, since as you move to the right on the political spectrum the likelihood of voting rises.

    But the problem with the LVCM as a corrective is that it far overshoots the mark. That is, it eliminates individuals from the sample who will in fact cast a vote, and the respondents/voters so eliminated, as a group, are acknowledged by all to be to the left of those who remain in the sample, skewing the sample to the right (a sound methodology, employed for a brief time by The New York Times/CBS poll, would solve the participation problem by down-weighting, but not eliminating, the responses of interviewees less likely to vote). So the LVCM - which disproportionately eliminates members of the Democratic constituency, including many who will in fact go on to cast a vote, by falsely assigning them a zero percent chance of voting - should get honestly tabulated elections consistently wrong. It should over-predict the Republican vote and under-predict the Democratic vote - by just about enough to cover the margins in the kind of tight races that determine the control of Congress and key state legislatures.

    Basic logic tells us that the methodological contortion known as the likely voter cutoff model can get election results so consistently right only if those election results are consistently wrong - that is, shifted to the right in the darkness of cyberspace.

    Instead it performs brilliantly and has therefore been universally adopted by pollsters, no questions asked, setting expectations not just for individual electoral outcomes, but for broad political trends, contributing to perceptions of political mojo and driving political dynamics - rightward, of course. In fact, the most "successful" likely voter cutoff models are now the ones that are strictest in limiting participation, including those that eliminate all respondents who cannot attest that they have voted in the three preceding biennial elections, cutting off a slew of young, poor and transient voters.

    There is something very wrong with this picture and very basic logic tells us that the methodological contortion known as the LVCM can get election results so consistently right only if those election results are consistently wrong - that is, shifted to the right in the darkness of cyberspace.

    A moment to let that sink in, before adding that, if the LVCM shift is not enough to distort the picture and catch up with the "red-shifted" vote counts, polling (and exit polling) samples are also generally weighted by partisanship or party ID. The problem with this is that these party ID numbers are drawn from prior elections' final exit polls - exit polls that were "adjusted" in virtually every case rightward to conform to vote counts that were to the right of the actual exit polls, the unshakable assumption being that the vote counts are gospel and the exit polls therefore wrong.

    In the process of "adjustment"- also known as "forcing" - the demographics (including party ID, age, race etc.) are dragged along for the ride and shift to the right. These then become the new benchmarks and baselines for current polling, shifting the samples to the right and enabling prior election manipulations to mask forensic and statistical evidence of current and future election manipulations. Specifically, the dramatically red-shifted and highly suspect 2010 election sets the sampling model for the upcoming 2014 election ("off-year" elections model for off-year elections and presidential elections model for presidential elections).

    To sum up, we have a right-shifting, tunable fudge factor in the LVCM, now universally employed with great success to predict electoral outcomes, particularly when tuned to its highest degree of distortion. And we have the incorporation of past election manipulations into current polling samples, again pushing the results to the right. These methodological contortions and distortions could not be successful absent a consistent concomitant distortion of the vote counts in competitive races - noncompetitive races tend neither to be polled (no horserace interest) nor rigged (an outcome reversal wouldn't pass the smell test).

    Since polls and election outcomes are, after some shaky years following the advent of computerized vote counting, now in close agreement, everything looks just fine. But it is a consistency brought about by the polling profession's imperative to find a way to mirror or predict vote counts (imagine, if you will, the professional fate of a pollster stubbornly employing undistorted methodology, who insisted that his/her polls were right and both the official vote counts and all the other pollsters wrong!). It is a consistency which, though achieved without malice on the part of the pollsters, is capable of concealing computerized election theft on a scale grand enough to equate to a rolling coup. On Election Day, accurate polls should be seen as a red flag.

    Vote Counts and Polls: An Insidious Feedback Loop

    Truthout - Mon, 11/03/2014 - 12:28

    The author of CODE RED: Computerized Election Theft and the New American Century examines how a series of corrupted elections can contaminate pre-election and exit polls and what that means as we try to make sense of the results of election 2014.

    (Image: Voting, polling via Shutterstock)In a nation that counts its votes in secret, polls take on a special significance. The United States is such a nation and our polls, both pre-election and exit, serve as parallel vote counts and establish the baseline against which the electoral results themselves are seen to be somewhere on the spectrum from "just what we expected" to "shocking." The polls, in other words, serve as a kind of "smell test": Miscounted elections, the vote counts of which veer widely or consistently away from the polling numbers, emit a certain odor, whether or not their results are actually challenged or investigated.

    As a veteran analyst of election forensics, I have crunched polling and voting data from elections dating to 2002, when the Help America Vote Act hastened the computerization of voting in the United States. During this period, a pervasive pattern characterized that data: a "red shift" in which official vote counts in competitive electoral contests were consistently and significantly to the right of polling results, including both pre-election and exit polls.

    Unfortunately the standard response to our forensic red-flagging of such patterns was "the polls are 'off' again; they must have oversampled Democrats." It did not seem to occur to anyone to actually examine the polling samples or make any impression when we did analyze the samples and found that they had not in fact oversampled Democrats. But any explanation that might point to corruption of the computerized vote counting mechanism was strictly verboten. One suspect election after another managed to pass the stuffed-nose smell test based on the premise, as unshakable as it was irrational, that election rigging could never happen here in the beacon of democracy.

    Polls and vote counts form a feedback loop, and corruption of one ultimately expresses itself in corruption of the other.

    Now the polls tracking the upcoming election ("E2014") are telling us to expect a resounding Republican victory, including control of the US Senate and reinforcement of the GOP House majority. Such results on November 4, 2014, will therefore not be shocking, as was the GOP sweep in 2010, which none of the pollsters predicted. No alarm will sound, even though there would be ample reason to scratch our heads that a party with which a dwindling minority of voters identifies would be rewarded for intransigent political behavior that has dragged Congress down to single-digit levels of approval (lowest in history) by having its control over that very same Congress strengthened. Odd, yes, but just what the polls have been predicting, so no surprise at all.

    Everything fits neatly - too neatly. Polls and vote counts form a feedback loop, and corruption of one ultimately expresses itself in corruption of the other. Pollsters stay in business by predicting election outcomes accurately. A "Certificate of Methodological Purity" may make a nice wall ornament, but matters not a whit when it comes to success within the highly competitive polling profession. If election returns in competitive races were being systematically manipulated in one direction over a period of several biennial elections, we would expect pollsters to make methodological adjustments necessary to match those returns. Indeed, it would be nothing short of professional suicide not to make those adjustments and turn whatever methodological handsprings were required to continue "getting elections right."

    Enter the likely voter cutoff model, or LVCM for short. Introduced by Gallup about 10 years ago (after Gallup came under the control of a right-wing, Christianist heir), the LVCM has gathered adherents until it is now all but universally employed. The LVCM uses a series of screening questions - about past voting history, residential stability, intention of voting, and the like - to qualify and disqualify respondents from the sample. The problem with surveying registered voters without screening for likelihood of voting is obvious: You wind up surveying a significant number of voters whose responses register on the survey, but who then don't vote. If this didn't-vote constituency has a partisan slant it throws off the poll relative to the election results - generally to the left, since as you move to the right on the political spectrum the likelihood of voting rises.

    But the problem with the LVCM as a corrective is that it far overshoots the mark. That is, it eliminates individuals from the sample who will in fact cast a vote, and the respondents/voters so eliminated, as a group, are acknowledged by all to be to the left of those who remain in the sample, skewing the sample to the right (a sound methodology, employed for a brief time by The New York Times/CBS poll, would solve the participation problem by down-weighting, but not eliminating, the responses of interviewees less likely to vote). So the LVCM - which disproportionately eliminates members of the Democratic constituency, including many who will in fact go on to cast a vote, by falsely assigning them a zero percent chance of voting - should get honestly tabulated elections consistently wrong. It should over-predict the Republican vote and under-predict the Democratic vote - by just about enough to cover the margins in the kind of tight races that determine the control of Congress and key state legislatures.

    Basic logic tells us that the methodological contortion known as the likely voter cutoff model can get election results so consistently right only if those election results are consistently wrong - that is, shifted to the right in the darkness of cyberspace.

    Instead it performs brilliantly and has therefore been universally adopted by pollsters, no questions asked, setting expectations not just for individual electoral outcomes, but for broad political trends, contributing to perceptions of political mojo and driving political dynamics - rightward, of course. In fact, the most "successful" likely voter cutoff models are now the ones that are strictest in limiting participation, including those that eliminate all respondents who cannot attest that they have voted in the three preceding biennial elections, cutting off a slew of young, poor and transient voters.

    There is something very wrong with this picture and very basic logic tells us that the methodological contortion known as the LVCM can get election results so consistently right only if those election results are consistently wrong - that is, shifted to the right in the darkness of cyberspace.

    A moment to let that sink in, before adding that, if the LVCM shift is not enough to distort the picture and catch up with the "red-shifted" vote counts, polling (and exit polling) samples are also generally weighted by partisanship or party ID. The problem with this is that these party ID numbers are drawn from prior elections' final exit polls - exit polls that were "adjusted" in virtually every case rightward to conform to vote counts that were to the right of the actual exit polls, the unshakable assumption being that the vote counts are gospel and the exit polls therefore wrong.

    In the process of "adjustment"- also known as "forcing" - the demographics (including party ID, age, race etc.) are dragged along for the ride and shift to the right. These then become the new benchmarks and baselines for current polling, shifting the samples to the right and enabling prior election manipulations to mask forensic and statistical evidence of current and future election manipulations. Specifically, the dramatically red-shifted and highly suspect 2010 election sets the sampling model for the upcoming 2014 election ("off-year" elections model for off-year elections and presidential elections model for presidential elections).

    To sum up, we have a right-shifting, tunable fudge factor in the LVCM, now universally employed with great success to predict electoral outcomes, particularly when tuned to its highest degree of distortion. And we have the incorporation of past election manipulations into current polling samples, again pushing the results to the right. These methodological contortions and distortions could not be successful absent a consistent concomitant distortion of the vote counts in competitive races - noncompetitive races tend neither to be polled (no horserace interest) nor rigged (an outcome reversal wouldn't pass the smell test).

    Since polls and election outcomes are, after some shaky years following the advent of computerized vote counting, now in close agreement, everything looks just fine. But it is a consistency brought about by the polling profession's imperative to find a way to mirror or predict vote counts (imagine, if you will, the professional fate of a pollster stubbornly employing undistorted methodology, who insisted that his/her polls were right and both the official vote counts and all the other pollsters wrong!). It is a consistency which, though achieved without malice on the part of the pollsters, is capable of concealing computerized election theft on a scale grand enough to equate to a rolling coup. On Election Day, accurate polls should be seen as a red flag.

    FAIR TV: Time Magazine Fail, Climate Change Dodge and Erasing Non-Voters

    Truthout - Mon, 11/03/2014 - 12:19

    FAIR TV covers Time magazine's attacks on public school teachers, new GOP tactics on climate change denial and campaign coverage which omits the non-voting majority.

    FAIR TV: Time Magazine Fail, Climate Change Dodge and Erasing Non-Voters

    Truthout - Mon, 11/03/2014 - 12:19

    FAIR TV covers Time magazine's attacks on public school teachers, new GOP tactics on climate change denial and campaign coverage which omits the non-voting majority.

    Fasting for Democracy: Why I've Given Up Food to Fight Corruption

    Truthout - Mon, 11/03/2014 - 12:13

    Fourteen days ago I had my last meal — if you can call it that. A cup of apple juice on a flight. Since then I’ve been living on water alone and I’m prepared to continue for days to come.

    Why would someone willingly take on this kind of discomfort? I’ve chosen to do so to demonstrate through my own bodily sacrifice the seriousness of what I and more and more Americans believe to be a crisis: the utter corruption of our democracy by what Abraham Lincoln called “the money power.” I want to call on people who acknowledge this problem, but may not act on it, to take a simple step: pledge to vote this November and to do so in support of candidates who will fight to end this corruption.

    In the days since I began my fast others who feel this urgency have joined me. Some for just a day in solidarity, others — like retired attorney Steve Bass in Los Angeles and civil servant Laura Rubalcalba in Sacramento — for the duration. The pool of people to whom we appeal by our collective sacrifice is an enormous one. Indeed, a growing consensus is emerging among the American people that billionaires and corporations are essentially buying our elections and insisting that the victors they finance — Republican and Democrat alike — govern in their narrow interest rather than that of the nation.

    Look at any injustice, any critical and chronic problem in America — from climate disruption to mass incarceration to student debt or outrageous wealth inequality — and a clear assessment will reveal that the wishes and needs of big money interests are being served instead of those of the vast majority of Americans. Koch brother beats grandma or your kids every time. We must face the hard truth: America has become a plutocratic oligarchy. Our economic and political life are dominated by a tiny elite, a fraction of the wealthiest 1 percent.

    This is wrong; it’s a betrayal of this country’s tremendous legacy of struggle to realize the democratic promise of its founding principles, and it threatens our future as a people. Yet, far too many of us who feel this truth at some level lack the hope or courage to take on the challenge of doing something about it. We are fasting to help change that. There is hope and courage is contagious.

    The hope that I see is not in any one candidate or leader — this isn’t 2008. Instead I see hope in a movement that is growing in this land, our land. Especially in the last almost 5 years since the Supreme Court disgraced itself with the infamous Citizens United decision, people across our country have begun waking up and organizing to confront what Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig calls the “first issue” for progress in the United States: ending political corruption through fundamental reform of election funding and, more broadly, the intersection of private wealth, corporate power and public governance.  In the summer of 2012, I decided after years of community organizing and political work to join this movement and devote myself to this fight.

    I left my position as a deputy for a Los Angeles City Councilman to help launch 99Rise— a growing grassroots organization fighting to end corruption and win real democracy in America through nonviolent civil resistance in the tradition of the abolitionists, the suffragettes, the early trade union organizers, the civil rights workers and beyond. In the two years since then, I’ve been to jail four times — once for disrupting the Supreme Court on the eve of another shameful “go corruption!” decision, McCutcheon v. FEC — and marched almost 500 miles from Los Angeles to the California capitol in Sacramento. As thousands of others have stepped up to sacrifice in many different ways, we’ve won victories that are slowly shifting the political weather on this issue.

    We see the signs of the Democratic Party and many Republicans shifting tentatively but significantly in our direction — from California and Vermont issuing binding calls for a Constitutional Convention to address it; to hundreds of cities and nearly a third of states calling by resolution or referendum for Congress to do so; to the recent Senate vote on an imperfect but serious Amendment and the proposal of a strong public finance bill in the House.

    Right now, many candidates for office who have begun to feel the power of this growing movement are staking their flag on our side of this fight. The big money forces of corruption — the Koch brothers, Chevrons, and Sheldon Adelsons — see this and they are spending unprecedented millions to tighten their grip on our government before we grow much stronger. On the eve of what will be the most expensive midterm election in American history marked by perhaps the lowest voter turnout ever, people who care about democracy, about our country — about ourselves — cannot sit this one out. So, in this moment we have chosen one tool of civil resistance — fasting — to move many more to commit to stand against corruption by taking up another: the vote.

    Fasting is a weapon that anyone can wield — it’s requirements are only a living body and a determined will. Indeed, while the epic fasts of historic leaders like Gandhi and Cesar Chavez are best known, ordinary people have put this tool to powerful use in movements for immigrant rights, the human rights of prisoners, and other fights for generations. While many fasts or hunger strikes demand something of an opponent or oppressor, our fast — and some of the most powerful examples in history — makes a demand of our supporters, those who agree with and even love us. By our sacrifice, we implore you to consider that which moves us to such uncommon action and — if you in fact do agree — to take action yourself.

    Now 14 days into our Fast for Democracy, over 1,000 people have pledged and our message has reached tens of thousands more. The other night a friend said he didn’t recognize me — and another suggested I won’t have to dress up to be a skeleton for Halloween. I’ve lost some weight, true, and this isn’t easy. But I and those who have joined me will continue our fast until at least 28,000 people — symbolic of the 28th Constitutional Amendment for which we fight — have taken the Democracy Voter Pledge or until the polls close on November 4th. If you, the reader, are among those who agree: stand with us and sign the pledge.

    The Democracy Voter Pledge is simple. It states: “I pledge to vote on or before November 4th, 2014, for pro-democracy candidates who will fight for reform to end corruption.” To help people identify pro-democracy candidates to support, we’ve developed Democracy Voter Guides that we share with everyone who pledges.

    What makes a “pro-democracy” candidate? For us, the litmus test is whether or not a candidate has voted for, co-sponsored, or made clear public statements in favor of legislation to either advance a 28th Amendment to ban big money from elections or advance public financing of elections. If yes on either, pro-democracy; if no on both, pro-corruption. Some have asked whether this standard is strong enough and even whether participating in an election system we know is rigged makes sense. Let me respond here to them.

    No promise or past behavior from a politician is a guarantee of future action. We know this. But electing those who commit to back anti-corruption reform in principle or who have taken steps to do so already helps to build a popular mandate for this change by validating our position. And it gives us leverage as a movement to hold them accountable by further mobilizing a now more emboldened public. As Gandhi, Dr. King, and scholars like Gene Sharp have taught us, ultimately, power lies in a mobilized people. A strategy of nonviolent civil resistance is based on galvanizing both the sympathy of a majority of the public and a critical mass of active participation for a cause. When we achieve that decisive threshold of active public support, the key institutions — or pillars — that uphold the status quo are forced to shift to concede to our demands or face unsustainable political, social and economic costs.

    Engaging in this election to elevate our cause and support candidates likely to stand with us is a step in that broader process. In this critical struggle, we must be prepared to use every nonviolent tool. Voting is one such tool, and a powerful one with particular meaning in this fight, which is, in one sense, a struggle to defend our very right to vote.

    Indeed, the struggle to end corruption and establish political equality regardless of wealth is a struggle to ensure that universal suffrage still means something. That it is still the lever, shared equally by all adult citizens, that sets our representative government on its course. If we are dismayed by corruption, by the rigging of the game, and discard our ballot power we defame that for which we fight. And further, in my view, the blood, sweat and tears that Americans who came before us have shed in order to win that right to vote, to expand the franchise from a tiny minority of property-owning white men to Americans of any class, color or gender, makes voting a sacred right. And a sacred duty. We fast to call on all who stand with us in principle on the question of political equality to stand with us now in action: vote for democracy this November.

    Join us. Pledge to vote. Help us build a movement. This is just a step in much larger struggle — but it is an important step. Whatever happens when the election results come in, our path forward is still clear: to build a mass movement of nonviolent civil resistance that galvanizes the American public and leverages our people power in a way that no plutocrat can withstand.

    I know this will be miles away from easy. But when I look at the history of our country, I see a humbling, profoundly powerful tradition of nonviolent struggle that has overcome tremendous entrenched resistance to advance progress toward “liberty and justice for all” in America. We surely face no greater obstacles than they did. From the abolitionists to the suffragettes, from the early trade union organizers to the civil rights workers and beyond, everyday Americans have built movements and put their bodies and freedom on the line for justice. And won. Every one of us is heir in some way to that legacy of struggle — if not in this country, then in those from which most Americans ancestors came. The same strength is in us. It’s time to remember who we are, take up the same tools our ancestors did, and renew our democracy.

    Fasting for Democracy: Why I've Given Up Food to Fight Corruption

    Truthout - Mon, 11/03/2014 - 12:13

    Fourteen days ago I had my last meal — if you can call it that. A cup of apple juice on a flight. Since then I’ve been living on water alone and I’m prepared to continue for days to come.

    Why would someone willingly take on this kind of discomfort? I’ve chosen to do so to demonstrate through my own bodily sacrifice the seriousness of what I and more and more Americans believe to be a crisis: the utter corruption of our democracy by what Abraham Lincoln called “the money power.” I want to call on people who acknowledge this problem, but may not act on it, to take a simple step: pledge to vote this November and to do so in support of candidates who will fight to end this corruption.

    In the days since I began my fast others who feel this urgency have joined me. Some for just a day in solidarity, others — like retired attorney Steve Bass in Los Angeles and civil servant Laura Rubalcalba in Sacramento — for the duration. The pool of people to whom we appeal by our collective sacrifice is an enormous one. Indeed, a growing consensus is emerging among the American people that billionaires and corporations are essentially buying our elections and insisting that the victors they finance — Republican and Democrat alike — govern in their narrow interest rather than that of the nation.

    Look at any injustice, any critical and chronic problem in America — from climate disruption to mass incarceration to student debt or outrageous wealth inequality — and a clear assessment will reveal that the wishes and needs of big money interests are being served instead of those of the vast majority of Americans. Koch brother beats grandma or your kids every time. We must face the hard truth: America has become a plutocratic oligarchy. Our economic and political life are dominated by a tiny elite, a fraction of the wealthiest 1 percent.

    This is wrong; it’s a betrayal of this country’s tremendous legacy of struggle to realize the democratic promise of its founding principles, and it threatens our future as a people. Yet, far too many of us who feel this truth at some level lack the hope or courage to take on the challenge of doing something about it. We are fasting to help change that. There is hope and courage is contagious.

    The hope that I see is not in any one candidate or leader — this isn’t 2008. Instead I see hope in a movement that is growing in this land, our land. Especially in the last almost 5 years since the Supreme Court disgraced itself with the infamous Citizens United decision, people across our country have begun waking up and organizing to confront what Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig calls the “first issue” for progress in the United States: ending political corruption through fundamental reform of election funding and, more broadly, the intersection of private wealth, corporate power and public governance.  In the summer of 2012, I decided after years of community organizing and political work to join this movement and devote myself to this fight.

    I left my position as a deputy for a Los Angeles City Councilman to help launch 99Rise— a growing grassroots organization fighting to end corruption and win real democracy in America through nonviolent civil resistance in the tradition of the abolitionists, the suffragettes, the early trade union organizers, the civil rights workers and beyond. In the two years since then, I’ve been to jail four times — once for disrupting the Supreme Court on the eve of another shameful “go corruption!” decision, McCutcheon v. FEC — and marched almost 500 miles from Los Angeles to the California capitol in Sacramento. As thousands of others have stepped up to sacrifice in many different ways, we’ve won victories that are slowly shifting the political weather on this issue.

    We see the signs of the Democratic Party and many Republicans shifting tentatively but significantly in our direction — from California and Vermont issuing binding calls for a Constitutional Convention to address it; to hundreds of cities and nearly a third of states calling by resolution or referendum for Congress to do so; to the recent Senate vote on an imperfect but serious Amendment and the proposal of a strong public finance bill in the House.

    Right now, many candidates for office who have begun to feel the power of this growing movement are staking their flag on our side of this fight. The big money forces of corruption — the Koch brothers, Chevrons, and Sheldon Adelsons — see this and they are spending unprecedented millions to tighten their grip on our government before we grow much stronger. On the eve of what will be the most expensive midterm election in American history marked by perhaps the lowest voter turnout ever, people who care about democracy, about our country — about ourselves — cannot sit this one out. So, in this moment we have chosen one tool of civil resistance — fasting — to move many more to commit to stand against corruption by taking up another: the vote.

    Fasting is a weapon that anyone can wield — it’s requirements are only a living body and a determined will. Indeed, while the epic fasts of historic leaders like Gandhi and Cesar Chavez are best known, ordinary people have put this tool to powerful use in movements for immigrant rights, the human rights of prisoners, and other fights for generations. While many fasts or hunger strikes demand something of an opponent or oppressor, our fast — and some of the most powerful examples in history — makes a demand of our supporters, those who agree with and even love us. By our sacrifice, we implore you to consider that which moves us to such uncommon action and — if you in fact do agree — to take action yourself.

    Now 14 days into our Fast for Democracy, over 1,000 people have pledged and our message has reached tens of thousands more. The other night a friend said he didn’t recognize me — and another suggested I won’t have to dress up to be a skeleton for Halloween. I’ve lost some weight, true, and this isn’t easy. But I and those who have joined me will continue our fast until at least 28,000 people — symbolic of the 28th Constitutional Amendment for which we fight — have taken the Democracy Voter Pledge or until the polls close on November 4th. If you, the reader, are among those who agree: stand with us and sign the pledge.

    The Democracy Voter Pledge is simple. It states: “I pledge to vote on or before November 4th, 2014, for pro-democracy candidates who will fight for reform to end corruption.” To help people identify pro-democracy candidates to support, we’ve developed Democracy Voter Guides that we share with everyone who pledges.

    What makes a “pro-democracy” candidate? For us, the litmus test is whether or not a candidate has voted for, co-sponsored, or made clear public statements in favor of legislation to either advance a 28th Amendment to ban big money from elections or advance public financing of elections. If yes on either, pro-democracy; if no on both, pro-corruption. Some have asked whether this standard is strong enough and even whether participating in an election system we know is rigged makes sense. Let me respond here to them.

    No promise or past behavior from a politician is a guarantee of future action. We know this. But electing those who commit to back anti-corruption reform in principle or who have taken steps to do so already helps to build a popular mandate for this change by validating our position. And it gives us leverage as a movement to hold them accountable by further mobilizing a now more emboldened public. As Gandhi, Dr. King, and scholars like Gene Sharp have taught us, ultimately, power lies in a mobilized people. A strategy of nonviolent civil resistance is based on galvanizing both the sympathy of a majority of the public and a critical mass of active participation for a cause. When we achieve that decisive threshold of active public support, the key institutions — or pillars — that uphold the status quo are forced to shift to concede to our demands or face unsustainable political, social and economic costs.

    Engaging in this election to elevate our cause and support candidates likely to stand with us is a step in that broader process. In this critical struggle, we must be prepared to use every nonviolent tool. Voting is one such tool, and a powerful one with particular meaning in this fight, which is, in one sense, a struggle to defend our very right to vote.

    Indeed, the struggle to end corruption and establish political equality regardless of wealth is a struggle to ensure that universal suffrage still means something. That it is still the lever, shared equally by all adult citizens, that sets our representative government on its course. If we are dismayed by corruption, by the rigging of the game, and discard our ballot power we defame that for which we fight. And further, in my view, the blood, sweat and tears that Americans who came before us have shed in order to win that right to vote, to expand the franchise from a tiny minority of property-owning white men to Americans of any class, color or gender, makes voting a sacred right. And a sacred duty. We fast to call on all who stand with us in principle on the question of political equality to stand with us now in action: vote for democracy this November.

    Join us. Pledge to vote. Help us build a movement. This is just a step in much larger struggle — but it is an important step. Whatever happens when the election results come in, our path forward is still clear: to build a mass movement of nonviolent civil resistance that galvanizes the American public and leverages our people power in a way that no plutocrat can withstand.

    I know this will be miles away from easy. But when I look at the history of our country, I see a humbling, profoundly powerful tradition of nonviolent struggle that has overcome tremendous entrenched resistance to advance progress toward “liberty and justice for all” in America. We surely face no greater obstacles than they did. From the abolitionists to the suffragettes, from the early trade union organizers to the civil rights workers and beyond, everyday Americans have built movements and put their bodies and freedom on the line for justice. And won. Every one of us is heir in some way to that legacy of struggle — if not in this country, then in those from which most Americans ancestors came. The same strength is in us. It’s time to remember who we are, take up the same tools our ancestors did, and renew our democracy.

    Mariana Mazzucato: Government Risk and Private Sector Reward

    Truthout - Mon, 11/03/2014 - 12:12

    Is there a role for the state in fostering innovation?

    The usual caricature of government involvement in business, which has become especially prominent in the last 40 years, can be seen in the classic American aphorism: "The government that governs least, governs best." Admittedly, it's a nice, pithy expression. And it has gained a powerful following among policymakers starting in the Reagan years.

    But is it true?

    In her work and in this interview, Prof. Mariana Mazzucato of the University of Sussex in the U.K. debunks the pervasive myth of a lumbering, bureaucratic state versus a dynamic, innovative private sector. In fact, as Mazzucato shows in her latest book, The Entrepreneurial State, the opposite is true. Typically the private sector only finds the courage to invest in breakthrough technologies after a so-called "entrepreneurial state" has made the initial high-risk investments.

    This can be seen today in the green revolution, the development of biotech and pharmaceutical industry, and the technological advancements coming out of Silicon Valley. Mazzucato argues that by not giving due credit to the state's role in this process we are socializing the risks of investing, while privatizing the rewards.

    So who benefits from the state's role in the development of technology? Consider Apple's iPhone and Google's search engine. In both cases these extremely popular consumer products benefitted mightily from state intervention. For the iPhone, many of the revolutionary technologies that make it and similar devices "smart" were funded by the U.S. government, such as the global positioning system (or GPS), the touchscreen display, and the voice-activated personal assistant, Siri. And for Google, the creation of its algorithm was funded by the National Science Foundation. Plus, of course, there's the development of the Internet, another government funded venture, which enables the iPhone to be a valuable tool and makes Google searches possible.

    But despite the fact that these companies directly benefitted from taxpayer-funded technologies, they and other high tech outfits have strategically "underfunded" the tax purse that helped lead to their success. This is a troubling development.

    So how should the government recoup the benefits from the fruits of its research? And what role should the government play going forward in important areas such as clean tech? Mazzucato seeks to address these issues in this interview.

    Mariana Mazzucato: Government Risk and Private Sector Reward

    Truthout - Mon, 11/03/2014 - 12:12

    Is there a role for the state in fostering innovation?

    The usual caricature of government involvement in business, which has become especially prominent in the last 40 years, can be seen in the classic American aphorism: "The government that governs least, governs best." Admittedly, it's a nice, pithy expression. And it has gained a powerful following among policymakers starting in the Reagan years.

    But is it true?

    In her work and in this interview, Prof. Mariana Mazzucato of the University of Sussex in the U.K. debunks the pervasive myth of a lumbering, bureaucratic state versus a dynamic, innovative private sector. In fact, as Mazzucato shows in her latest book, The Entrepreneurial State, the opposite is true. Typically the private sector only finds the courage to invest in breakthrough technologies after a so-called "entrepreneurial state" has made the initial high-risk investments.

    This can be seen today in the green revolution, the development of biotech and pharmaceutical industry, and the technological advancements coming out of Silicon Valley. Mazzucato argues that by not giving due credit to the state's role in this process we are socializing the risks of investing, while privatizing the rewards.

    So who benefits from the state's role in the development of technology? Consider Apple's iPhone and Google's search engine. In both cases these extremely popular consumer products benefitted mightily from state intervention. For the iPhone, many of the revolutionary technologies that make it and similar devices "smart" were funded by the U.S. government, such as the global positioning system (or GPS), the touchscreen display, and the voice-activated personal assistant, Siri. And for Google, the creation of its algorithm was funded by the National Science Foundation. Plus, of course, there's the development of the Internet, another government funded venture, which enables the iPhone to be a valuable tool and makes Google searches possible.

    But despite the fact that these companies directly benefitted from taxpayer-funded technologies, they and other high tech outfits have strategically "underfunded" the tax purse that helped lead to their success. This is a troubling development.

    So how should the government recoup the benefits from the fruits of its research? And what role should the government play going forward in important areas such as clean tech? Mazzucato seeks to address these issues in this interview.

    Hedges and Wolin (6/8): Can Capitalism and Democracy Coexist?

    The Real News Network - Mon, 11/03/2014 - 12:11
    Journalist Chris Hedges and political philosopher Sheldon Wolin continue their discussion of the threats faced by democratic institutions

    Iraqi Parliament Takes Two Months to Appoint Two Key Cabinet Ministers

    The Real News Network - Mon, 11/03/2014 - 12:11
    "You get your man, I get mine" method of appointing a cabinet just means more of the same corrupt elite at the helm while 3 million Iraqis remain internally displaced, says Sabah Alnasseri, Professor at York University's Department of Political Science.

    Halfway There

    Truthout - Mon, 11/03/2014 - 12:02

    The squiggle illustrated here may look like the Ebola virus, but it isn’t. The resemblance is just an eerie coincidence. It’s actually a graphical snapshot of the classic “Predator-Prey Model.” This mathematical exercise, first developed in the 1920s, serves as the introductory basis for a more recent NASA funded effort which produced—amidst a brief flurry of news and commentary last spring—the startling conclusion that a complete collapse of modern civilization may now be “irreversible.”

    The NASA study involved the creation and running of a more elaborate model—HANDY(Human and Nature Dynamics)—which simulates the human consumption of naturally replenishing systems, as well as (intriguingly, given today’s news cycle) wealth and income inequality between two classes of citizens: “Elites” and “Commoners.” Now a new study, just released by the World Wildlife Fund, reports a grim statistic suggesting the abstract mathematics of the HANDY Model may be more than just a theoretical exercise. According to the WWF, in the last forty years—from 1970 to 2010—the Earth has lost over HALF (52%) of its wildlife population.

    If you graph this wildlife population loss, it looks uncannily similar to the graph-line of “Nature” in the HANDY Model: a point is reached where, suddenly, after a steady rise, or a gradual equilibrium, the graph-line of “Nature’s” population changes direction and begins to plummet. What is startling about the HANDY Model is that when this happens, the human populations of “Elites” and “Commoners” continue to rise, crossing the falling graph-line of “Nature.” This is called “overshoot”—the point where the human population begins consuming “Nature’s” resources faster than “Nature” can replenish them. The human population, after some period of “overshoot,” begins (of necessity) to collapse as well. The population of “Commoners” collapses first because the “Elites” are able, for a period of time, to thrive on their “Wealth.” In some iterations of the model, “Nature” recovers after the “Elite” population finally base-lines; in other iterations “Nature” fails to recover at all—the world becomes simply a wasteland, like one of those planets we keep investigating to see if it ever supported life.

    In addition to giving a dose of reality to the graph-lines of the HANDY Model, the WWF study calculates the degree of “overshoot” the human population is currently engaged in: According to the study, at present rates of consumption, human civilization requires 1.5 Earths to meet its needs. The NASA funded scientists were able to get their model to reach equilibrium (avoid collapse) by adjusting variables that significantly reduced consumption, but this proved difficult to achieve without also substantially reducing the inequality of wealth and income between the “Elites” and “Commoners.” Failing more often than not to avoid collapse, the NASA report dryly (and parenthetically) comments on what a suddenly falling graph-line for the human population would actually mean in everyday reality: “There are a variety of mechanisms which can reduce population when it exceeds carrying capacity, including everything from emigration, increased disease susceptibility and outright starvation, to breakdowns in social order and increased social violence, such as banditry, riots, rebellions, revolutions and wars.” If all that sounds familiar, keep this in mind: assuming we’re presently in the middle of our “overshoot,” we haven’t even gotten there yet.

    It seems to me this poses a dilemma for the field of economics. As Keynes says (with such sudden clarity in the midst of his densely worded General Theory): “Consumption—to repeat the obvious—is the sole end and object of all economic activity.” How then are we to have “economic growth and prosperity” if we must—as the HANDY Model and WWF study are telling us—cut back our present consumption of natural resources? Modern Monetary Theory makes it clear that a sovereign government can issue fiat dollars to employ its citizens to accomplish virtually anything they’re capable of—so long as the real resources are available to be used. And the point is added that paying the citizens to accomplish these things gives them purchasing power to subsequently produce and consume things in the private economy, which contributes to a general economic prosperity. But now we have the problem that the building of that consumer power will inevitably result in an INCREASE in consumption—exactly the opposite of what we can see is required to avoid the collapse.

    The questions that arise, then, are these: Can we create jobs and REDUCE our consumption of nature’s resources at the same time? Is it possible to increase our “standard of living” while consuming less of what nature must regenerate? Can we create world-wide full employment at a living wage without bringing on the collapse of the natural systems we’re embedded in and feeding on? And, finally, what is the meaning of “wealth” itself if we must reduce consumption rather than increase it?

    This may sound like the old song “sustainability” that’s been played so many times now, for so many years, it’s gotten worn out. The reason I think it’s worn out, however, is because it was never properly composed in the first place. What the worn-out version of “sustainability” gave us to pursue was simply a continuation of what Keynes refers to as our “propensity to consume”—but doing it now “sustainably” with different energy sources and a new palette of materials. Thus we’ll drive electric cars, but we’ll still aspire to having two or even three of them in every driveway. We’ll continue stringing our housing communities all over the countryside with roads and freeways, but we’ll build the houses with wood from “managed” forests. We’ll generate our electricity with wind turbines, but we’ll still aspire to owning every electrical appliance that can be invented. If this idea of “sustainability” has produced what the WWF study is reporting, then it’s clearly an idea that’s not accomplishing what’s needed.

    What has to be adjusted is not just our energy sources and building materials, but our “propensity of consume” itself. It’s important to note this does not mean we must reduce consumption in general, or even in aggregate. We need only reduce consumption with regard to non-renewable stocks and regenerative natural systems. There are many other kinds of consumption which can be increased (and even increased a great deal.) For example, we could consume a lot more of education, art, leisure, literature, music, craft-work, and care-giving. Wealth is still desirable to maximize the production and consumption of these and other things—and “employment” (human effort) is required to both produce the things themselves and provide the income to consume them.

    What we need to imagine, I think, is a new kind of “prosperity”—one that combines a carefully limited consumption of nature’s regenerative resources with a robust consumption of human labor and creativity. And the most important of those creative efforts would be directed toward rebuilding the capacity of nature itself—and devising ways to “live” in that nature (and consume what it produces) without degrading it.

    The best example of this I’ve come across is the no-tillage farming techniques developed by Masanobu Fukuoko, a Japanese plant pathologist turned experimental farmer who, before his death, came close to making the world realize that modern agriculture is a natural disaster. While mechanized growing systems have  enabled the production and consumption of food on an enormous scale, Fukuoko showed us they have also “consumed” the regenerative capacity of the most important layer of the biosphere: the soil. Beginning with the very act of tilling—which disrupts the subsurface culture of micro-organisms that make the soil “alive”, modern agriculture proceeds to to transform a complex, self-generating, incubator-of-life into a neutral “root medium” which must subsequently be saturated with chemicals to support plant growth. The plants themselves must then be genetically modified to better thrive in the chemical stew of the root medium that used to be soil.

    What Fukuoko demonstrated was that it is possible to achieve “modern” yields of rice (and other grains and vegetables) without ever tilling the soil, flooding it with excessive irrigation, or administering it with chemical fertilizers, weed-killers, or pesticides of any kind. His techniques of food-growing eliminate the consumption of (a) fossil fuels for tractors, (b) steel and rubber for the tractors themselves, (c) chemical fertilizers, (d) chemical weed-killers and pesticides, and (e) excess irrigation. Most important, however, his methods actually replenish and increase the regenerative capability of the soil itself. Fukuoko’s agriculture also requires something that modern agribusiness has done its level best to eliminate: Farmers. Nor is Fukuoko’s farmer a back-breaking, toiling peasant: he is a philosopher who can sleep late if he wants, and who spends much of his time cooking fresh, seasonal food and entertaining visitors. That sounds like “prosperity” to me.

    Three years ago I finished a novel (The Architect Who Couldn’t Sing) and put the following tag-line on the cover: “It’s too late now to save wild nature. What we can do, if we’re lucky, is give it room to save us.” At the time it seemed an appropriate intimation of the story. Now I think I’m beginning to see what it actually means. The HANDY graph we need to create is this:

    Halfway There

    Truthout - Mon, 11/03/2014 - 12:02

    The squiggle illustrated here may look like the Ebola virus, but it isn’t. The resemblance is just an eerie coincidence. It’s actually a graphical snapshot of the classic “Predator-Prey Model.” This mathematical exercise, first developed in the 1920s, serves as the introductory basis for a more recent NASA funded effort which produced—amidst a brief flurry of news and commentary last spring—the startling conclusion that a complete collapse of modern civilization may now be “irreversible.”

    The NASA study involved the creation and running of a more elaborate model—HANDY(Human and Nature Dynamics)—which simulates the human consumption of naturally replenishing systems, as well as (intriguingly, given today’s news cycle) wealth and income inequality between two classes of citizens: “Elites” and “Commoners.” Now a new study, just released by the World Wildlife Fund, reports a grim statistic suggesting the abstract mathematics of the HANDY Model may be more than just a theoretical exercise. According to the WWF, in the last forty years—from 1970 to 2010—the Earth has lost over HALF (52%) of its wildlife population.

    If you graph this wildlife population loss, it looks uncannily similar to the graph-line of “Nature” in the HANDY Model: a point is reached where, suddenly, after a steady rise, or a gradual equilibrium, the graph-line of “Nature’s” population changes direction and begins to plummet. What is startling about the HANDY Model is that when this happens, the human populations of “Elites” and “Commoners” continue to rise, crossing the falling graph-line of “Nature.” This is called “overshoot”—the point where the human population begins consuming “Nature’s” resources faster than “Nature” can replenish them. The human population, after some period of “overshoot,” begins (of necessity) to collapse as well. The population of “Commoners” collapses first because the “Elites” are able, for a period of time, to thrive on their “Wealth.” In some iterations of the model, “Nature” recovers after the “Elite” population finally base-lines; in other iterations “Nature” fails to recover at all—the world becomes simply a wasteland, like one of those planets we keep investigating to see if it ever supported life.

    In addition to giving a dose of reality to the graph-lines of the HANDY Model, the WWF study calculates the degree of “overshoot” the human population is currently engaged in: According to the study, at present rates of consumption, human civilization requires 1.5 Earths to meet its needs. The NASA funded scientists were able to get their model to reach equilibrium (avoid collapse) by adjusting variables that significantly reduced consumption, but this proved difficult to achieve without also substantially reducing the inequality of wealth and income between the “Elites” and “Commoners.” Failing more often than not to avoid collapse, the NASA report dryly (and parenthetically) comments on what a suddenly falling graph-line for the human population would actually mean in everyday reality: “There are a variety of mechanisms which can reduce population when it exceeds carrying capacity, including everything from emigration, increased disease susceptibility and outright starvation, to breakdowns in social order and increased social violence, such as banditry, riots, rebellions, revolutions and wars.” If all that sounds familiar, keep this in mind: assuming we’re presently in the middle of our “overshoot,” we haven’t even gotten there yet.

    It seems to me this poses a dilemma for the field of economics. As Keynes says (with such sudden clarity in the midst of his densely worded General Theory): “Consumption—to repeat the obvious—is the sole end and object of all economic activity.” How then are we to have “economic growth and prosperity” if we must—as the HANDY Model and WWF study are telling us—cut back our present consumption of natural resources? Modern Monetary Theory makes it clear that a sovereign government can issue fiat dollars to employ its citizens to accomplish virtually anything they’re capable of—so long as the real resources are available to be used. And the point is added that paying the citizens to accomplish these things gives them purchasing power to subsequently produce and consume things in the private economy, which contributes to a general economic prosperity. But now we have the problem that the building of that consumer power will inevitably result in an INCREASE in consumption—exactly the opposite of what we can see is required to avoid the collapse.

    The questions that arise, then, are these: Can we create jobs and REDUCE our consumption of nature’s resources at the same time? Is it possible to increase our “standard of living” while consuming less of what nature must regenerate? Can we create world-wide full employment at a living wage without bringing on the collapse of the natural systems we’re embedded in and feeding on? And, finally, what is the meaning of “wealth” itself if we must reduce consumption rather than increase it?

    This may sound like the old song “sustainability” that’s been played so many times now, for so many years, it’s gotten worn out. The reason I think it’s worn out, however, is because it was never properly composed in the first place. What the worn-out version of “sustainability” gave us to pursue was simply a continuation of what Keynes refers to as our “propensity to consume”—but doing it now “sustainably” with different energy sources and a new palette of materials. Thus we’ll drive electric cars, but we’ll still aspire to having two or even three of them in every driveway. We’ll continue stringing our housing communities all over the countryside with roads and freeways, but we’ll build the houses with wood from “managed” forests. We’ll generate our electricity with wind turbines, but we’ll still aspire to owning every electrical appliance that can be invented. If this idea of “sustainability” has produced what the WWF study is reporting, then it’s clearly an idea that’s not accomplishing what’s needed.

    What has to be adjusted is not just our energy sources and building materials, but our “propensity of consume” itself. It’s important to note this does not mean we must reduce consumption in general, or even in aggregate. We need only reduce consumption with regard to non-renewable stocks and regenerative natural systems. There are many other kinds of consumption which can be increased (and even increased a great deal.) For example, we could consume a lot more of education, art, leisure, literature, music, craft-work, and care-giving. Wealth is still desirable to maximize the production and consumption of these and other things—and “employment” (human effort) is required to both produce the things themselves and provide the income to consume them.

    What we need to imagine, I think, is a new kind of “prosperity”—one that combines a carefully limited consumption of nature’s regenerative resources with a robust consumption of human labor and creativity. And the most important of those creative efforts would be directed toward rebuilding the capacity of nature itself—and devising ways to “live” in that nature (and consume what it produces) without degrading it.

    The best example of this I’ve come across is the no-tillage farming techniques developed by Masanobu Fukuoko, a Japanese plant pathologist turned experimental farmer who, before his death, came close to making the world realize that modern agriculture is a natural disaster. While mechanized growing systems have  enabled the production and consumption of food on an enormous scale, Fukuoko showed us they have also “consumed” the regenerative capacity of the most important layer of the biosphere: the soil. Beginning with the very act of tilling—which disrupts the subsurface culture of micro-organisms that make the soil “alive”, modern agriculture proceeds to to transform a complex, self-generating, incubator-of-life into a neutral “root medium” which must subsequently be saturated with chemicals to support plant growth. The plants themselves must then be genetically modified to better thrive in the chemical stew of the root medium that used to be soil.

    What Fukuoko demonstrated was that it is possible to achieve “modern” yields of rice (and other grains and vegetables) without ever tilling the soil, flooding it with excessive irrigation, or administering it with chemical fertilizers, weed-killers, or pesticides of any kind. His techniques of food-growing eliminate the consumption of (a) fossil fuels for tractors, (b) steel and rubber for the tractors themselves, (c) chemical fertilizers, (d) chemical weed-killers and pesticides, and (e) excess irrigation. Most important, however, his methods actually replenish and increase the regenerative capability of the soil itself. Fukuoko’s agriculture also requires something that modern agribusiness has done its level best to eliminate: Farmers. Nor is Fukuoko’s farmer a back-breaking, toiling peasant: he is a philosopher who can sleep late if he wants, and who spends much of his time cooking fresh, seasonal food and entertaining visitors. That sounds like “prosperity” to me.

    Three years ago I finished a novel (The Architect Who Couldn’t Sing) and put the following tag-line on the cover: “It’s too late now to save wild nature. What we can do, if we’re lucky, is give it room to save us.” At the time it seemed an appropriate intimation of the story. Now I think I’m beginning to see what it actually means. The HANDY graph we need to create is this:

    Nature Conservancy Contributes $500,000 to Yes on Proposition 1 Campaign

    Truthout - Mon, 11/03/2014 - 11:47

    The Nature Conservancy, one of the largest recipients of Walton Family Foundation money every year, has joined Big Oil, corporate agribusiness, the health insurance industry, tobacco giant Philip Morris and greedy billionaires in dumping big money into the Yes on Proposition 1 campaign. 

    Opponents of Prop. 1, Governor Jerry Brown's State Water Bond, responded to the $500,000 political contribution to Prop. 1 from The Nature Conservancy by calling it “disturbing.” 

    Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta, said, “Donors to Prop. 1 want this water bond to pass so that they can get something from it: short-term jobs building dams that will be created with public tax dollars, land to manage bought with public funds, and taxpayer-subsidized water to grow permanent crops on unsuitable land." 

    “Prop. 1’s big dam projects will make very little new water, and the water will mainly go to unsustainable huge agribusinesses,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla. “Most disturbing is the $500,000 that the Nature Conservancy has contributed to the Prop 1 campaign. The Nature Conservancy has benefited from the gifting of public lands in the Delta by the Department of Water Resources." 

    She emphasized, "The Nature Conservancy turned a blind eye to oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico for the ability to manage wetlands, and pumps oil on its own lands. In California, they are turning a blind eye to the issue of how water exports will be accelerated from the Bay-Delta estuary if Prop. 1 passes, and how this water will fill Governor Brown's Delta tunnels." 

    "They are supporting water policies that will serve special corporate interests in exchange for the opportunity to manage more conservancy projects in the Delta and throughout California," concluded Barrigan-Parrilla. 

    The Nature Conservancy, known for its service to corporate interests at great expense to fish, wildlife, the environment and the public trust, received a total of $5,482,699 from the Walton Family Foundation in 2013. This includes $1,545,963 for freshwater "conservation" on the Colorado River, $1,437,986 for freshwater "conservation" on the Mississippi River. $475,000 for marine "conservation," and $2,023,750 for other "conservation" grants. 

    The Walton Family Foundation is governed by the descendants of Sam and Helen Walton, the founders of retail giant Walmart, a company notorious for the poor treatment of its workers and its environmentally destructive practices around the globe. 

    And the Nature Conservancy is not the only NGO supporting the water bond that is funded by Walmart money. An analysis of environmental grants that the Walton Family Foundation gave to conservation organizations in 2013 reveals that NGOs supporting Proposition 1, the water bond on California's November 4 ballot, received a total of $10,786,949 in grants while opponents of the controversial measure received none. 

    Supporters of the water bond getting money from the Walton Family Foundation in 2013 include the Nature Conservancy, National Audubon Society (the parent organization of Audubon California, a bond backer), the Ocean Conservancy, Trout Unlimited, American Rivers, Defenders of Wildlife and Ducks Unlimited. The Foundation lists their environmental contributions in three categories: freshwater conservation, marine conservation and other conservation grants

    National Audubon Society, the parent organization of Audubon California, received $2,570,767, including $312,100 for freshwater conservation on the Colorado River, $2,058,667 for freshwater conservation on the Mississippi River and $200,000 for marine conservation. 

    The foundation gave the Ocean Conservancy, a strong supporter of the privately funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative to create questionable "marine protected areas" in California, $1,552,083 for projects in the Gulf of Mexico. 

    Trout Unlimited was awarded $610,650 for freshwater conservation on the Colorado River. 

    American Rivers received $424,400 for freshwater conservation on the Colorado River. 

    Defenders of Wildlife got $100,058 for freshwater conservation on the Mississippi River. 

    Finally, Ducks Unlimited, Inc. received $46,292 for freshwater conservation on the Mississippi River from the Walton Family Foundation. 

    The Walton Family Foundation dumps many millions of dollars every year into corporate environmental NGOs, including the Environmental Defense Fund, Conservation International, Nature Conservancy and the Ocean Conservancy, that promote the privatization of the oceans through "catch shares," questionable "marine protected areas" and other projects. 

    “It is highly troubling to see the impact that Walmart and a few big foundations are having on the conservation of our resources, as well as the protection of our artisanal and traditional fisheries including tribal fisheries," said Zeke Grader, Executive Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations (PCFFA) and opponent of Proposition 1. 

    Prop. 1 opponents find it even more disturbing to find out that the Nature Conservancy has joined a rogue's gallery of corporate interests that want to pass the $7.5 billion bond so they can get something from it, such as land to manage and "restore" after it is bought with public funds, taxpayer-subsidized water to grow permanent crops on unsuitable land that should have never been irrigated, and short-term jobs building dams that will be created with public tax dollars. 

    For more information go to http://www.noonprop1.org.

    Nature Conservancy Contributes $500,000 to Yes on Proposition 1 Campaign

    Truthout - Mon, 11/03/2014 - 11:47

    The Nature Conservancy, one of the largest recipients of Walton Family Foundation money every year, has joined Big Oil, corporate agribusiness, the health insurance industry, tobacco giant Philip Morris and greedy billionaires in dumping big money into the Yes on Proposition 1 campaign. 

    Opponents of Prop. 1, Governor Jerry Brown's State Water Bond, responded to the $500,000 political contribution to Prop. 1 from The Nature Conservancy by calling it “disturbing.” 

    Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta, said, “Donors to Prop. 1 want this water bond to pass so that they can get something from it: short-term jobs building dams that will be created with public tax dollars, land to manage bought with public funds, and taxpayer-subsidized water to grow permanent crops on unsuitable land." 

    “Prop. 1’s big dam projects will make very little new water, and the water will mainly go to unsustainable huge agribusinesses,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla. “Most disturbing is the $500,000 that the Nature Conservancy has contributed to the Prop 1 campaign. The Nature Conservancy has benefited from the gifting of public lands in the Delta by the Department of Water Resources." 

    She emphasized, "The Nature Conservancy turned a blind eye to oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico for the ability to manage wetlands, and pumps oil on its own lands. In California, they are turning a blind eye to the issue of how water exports will be accelerated from the Bay-Delta estuary if Prop. 1 passes, and how this water will fill Governor Brown's Delta tunnels." 

    "They are supporting water policies that will serve special corporate interests in exchange for the opportunity to manage more conservancy projects in the Delta and throughout California," concluded Barrigan-Parrilla. 

    The Nature Conservancy, known for its service to corporate interests at great expense to fish, wildlife, the environment and the public trust, received a total of $5,482,699 from the Walton Family Foundation in 2013. This includes $1,545,963 for freshwater "conservation" on the Colorado River, $1,437,986 for freshwater "conservation" on the Mississippi River. $475,000 for marine "conservation," and $2,023,750 for other "conservation" grants. 

    The Walton Family Foundation is governed by the descendants of Sam and Helen Walton, the founders of retail giant Walmart, a company notorious for the poor treatment of its workers and its environmentally destructive practices around the globe. 

    And the Nature Conservancy is not the only NGO supporting the water bond that is funded by Walmart money. An analysis of environmental grants that the Walton Family Foundation gave to conservation organizations in 2013 reveals that NGOs supporting Proposition 1, the water bond on California's November 4 ballot, received a total of $10,786,949 in grants while opponents of the controversial measure received none. 

    Supporters of the water bond getting money from the Walton Family Foundation in 2013 include the Nature Conservancy, National Audubon Society (the parent organization of Audubon California, a bond backer), the Ocean Conservancy, Trout Unlimited, American Rivers, Defenders of Wildlife and Ducks Unlimited. The Foundation lists their environmental contributions in three categories: freshwater conservation, marine conservation and other conservation grants

    National Audubon Society, the parent organization of Audubon California, received $2,570,767, including $312,100 for freshwater conservation on the Colorado River, $2,058,667 for freshwater conservation on the Mississippi River and $200,000 for marine conservation. 

    The foundation gave the Ocean Conservancy, a strong supporter of the privately funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative to create questionable "marine protected areas" in California, $1,552,083 for projects in the Gulf of Mexico. 

    Trout Unlimited was awarded $610,650 for freshwater conservation on the Colorado River. 

    American Rivers received $424,400 for freshwater conservation on the Colorado River. 

    Defenders of Wildlife got $100,058 for freshwater conservation on the Mississippi River. 

    Finally, Ducks Unlimited, Inc. received $46,292 for freshwater conservation on the Mississippi River from the Walton Family Foundation. 

    The Walton Family Foundation dumps many millions of dollars every year into corporate environmental NGOs, including the Environmental Defense Fund, Conservation International, Nature Conservancy and the Ocean Conservancy, that promote the privatization of the oceans through "catch shares," questionable "marine protected areas" and other projects. 

    “It is highly troubling to see the impact that Walmart and a few big foundations are having on the conservation of our resources, as well as the protection of our artisanal and traditional fisheries including tribal fisheries," said Zeke Grader, Executive Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations (PCFFA) and opponent of Proposition 1. 

    Prop. 1 opponents find it even more disturbing to find out that the Nature Conservancy has joined a rogue's gallery of corporate interests that want to pass the $7.5 billion bond so they can get something from it, such as land to manage and "restore" after it is bought with public funds, taxpayer-subsidized water to grow permanent crops on unsuitable land that should have never been irrigated, and short-term jobs building dams that will be created with public tax dollars. 

    For more information go to http://www.noonprop1.org.

    Feminism: The Men Arrive!

    Truthout - Mon, 11/03/2014 - 11:40

    What do the prime minister of India, retired National Football League punter Chris Kluwe, and superstar comedian Aziz Ansari have in common? It’s not that they’ve all walked into a bar, though Ansari could probably figure out the punch line to that joke. They’ve all spoken up for feminism this year, part of an unprecedented wave of men actively engaging with what’s usually called “women’s issues,” though violence and discrimination against women are only women’s issues because they’re things done to women -- mostly by men, so maybe they should always have been “men’s issues.”

    The arrival of the guys signifies a sea change, part of an extraordinary year for feminism, in which the conversation has been transformed, as have some crucial laws, while new voices and constituencies joined in. There have always been men who agreed on the importance of those women’s issues, and some who spoke up, but never in such numbers or with such effect. And we need them. So consider this a watershed year for feminism.

    Take the speech Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave on that country’s Independence Day. Usually it’s an occasion for boosterism and pride. Instead, he spoke powerfully of India’s horrendous rape problem. “Brothers and sisters, when we hear about the incidents of rape, we hang our heads in shame,” he said in Hindi. “I want to ask every parent that you have a daughter of 10 or 12 years age, you are always on the alert, every now and then you keep on asking where are you going, when would you come back... Parents ask their daughters hundreds of questions, but have any parents ever dared to ask their son as to where he is going, why he is going out, who his friends are? After all, a rapist is also somebody's son. He also has parents.”

    It was a remarkable thing to say, the result of a new discourse in that country in which many are now starting to blame perpetrators, not victims -- to accept, as campus anti-rape activists here put it, that “rapists cause rape.” That act, in other words, is not caused by any of the everyday activities women have been blamed for when men assault them. That in itself represents a huge shift, especially when the analysis comes from the mouths of men.

    The Obama administration, too, recently launched a campaign to get bystanders, particularly men, to reach out to protect potential victims of sexual assault under the rubric “It’s On Us.” Easy as it might be to critique that slogan as a tone-deaf gesture, it’s a landmark all the same, part of a larger response in this country to campus rape in particular.

    And here’s what it all means: the winds of change have reached our largest weathervanes. The highest powers in the country have begun calling on men to take responsibility not only for their own conduct, but for that of the men around them, to be agents of change.

    When X Doesn’t Equal Y

    Feminism needs men. For one thing, the men who hate and despise women will be changed, if they change, by a culture in which doing horrible things to, or saying horrible things about, women will undermine rather than enhance a man’s standing with other men.

    There are infinite varieties of men or at least about 3.5 billion different ones living on Earth now, Klansmen and human rights activists, drag queens and duck hunters. For the purposes of feminism, I’d like to delineate three big blurry categories. There are the allies, mentioned above (and below). There are the raging misogynists and haters in word and deed. You can see them in various places online where they thrive (and seem to have remarkable amounts of time on their hands): the Men’s Rights forums, for instance, where they endlessly stoke the flames of their resentment, and the guys on Twitter who barrage almost any outspoken woman with threats and insults. Take the recent threat not just to kill media analyst Anita Sarkeesian for daring to speak up about sexism in video games, but to launch a massacre of women at a speech she was to give at the University of Utah. Sarkeesian’s not the only one in that world to receive death threats. And don’t forget all the gamers who have gone down the rabbit hole of misogynist conspiracy theories under the hashtag #Gamergate.

    Their position was recently attacked in a striking rant by avid gamer, former football player, outspoken queer rights advocate, and feminist Chris Kluwe. He told his gaming brethren, in one of his more polite passages: “Unfortunately, all you #Gamergaters keep defending this puerile filth, and so the only conclusion to draw is the logical one: That you support those misogynistic cretins in all their mouthbreathing glory. That you support the harassment of women in the video game industry (and in general). That you support the idiotic stereotype of the ‘gamer’ as a basement-dwelling sweatbeast that so many people have worked so hard to try and get rid of.”

    Someone then tweeted at Kluwe, “Go fuck yourself you stupid cunt. Gamergate is not hating on women.” To which I’d like to append a variation on Lewis’s Law (“all comments on feminism justify feminism”): the plethora of men attacking women and anyone who stands up for women in order to prove that women are not under attack and feminism has no basis in reality are apparently unaware that they’re handily proving the opposite. 

    There are so many rape and death threats these days. In Sarkeesian’s case, the University of Utah declined to take the threat of a massacre at the school seriously (despite the fact that weapons could legally be brought into the lecture hall), because she gets death threats all the time and as a result, she had to cancel her own lecture.

    So there are the allies and the haters. And then there are a slew of men who may mean well, but enter the conversation about feminism with factually challenged assertions that someone -- usually, in my experience, a woman -- will spend a lot of time trying to rectify. They may be why Elizabeth Sims started a website called The Womansplainer, “for men who have better things to do than educate themselves about feminism.”

    Other times they try to refocus anything said about women’s woes on men’s woes. Reading men commenting online about campus rape, for example, you’d think that unconscious but malicious young women regularly impaled themselves on innocent bystanders for the purpose of getting them in trouble. Forbes recently ran, and then scrambled to delete, a tirade by a former president of an MIT fraternity titled "Drunk Female Guests Are the Gravest Threat to Fraternities.” 

    Sometimes, men insist “fairness” means admitting that men suffer from women just as women do from men, or even that they suffer more. You might as well argue that white people suffer from racism exactly as much as black people, or that there are no hierarchies of privilege and degrees of oppression in this world.

    It’s true, for example, that women do commit domestic violence, but the consequences are drastically dissimilar in both numbers or severity. As I wrote in Men Explain Things to Me, domestic violence is “the number-one cause of injury to American women; of the two million injured annually, more than half a million of those injuries require medical attention while about 145,000 require overnight hospitalizations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and you don’t want to know about the dentistry needed afterward. Spouses are also the leading cause of death for pregnant women in the U.S.” Pregnant women are not, however, a leading cause of death for spouses of pregnant women. There’s just no equivalency.

    Not all men get this, but some do (and that might make a nice hashtag). Late this summer, for instance, I saw stand-up comic Aziz Ansari perform in a routine focused on sexual harassment. “Creepy dudes are everywhere,” he said, while describing a woman who had to take refuge in a pet store for an hour to shake off a guy following her. He pointed out that men never have to deal with women whipping out their genitals and masturbating at them in public or harassing them in other similarly grotesque ways. “Women just don’t do that shit!” he exclaimed. (He credits his girlfriend with turning him into a feminist.)

    The comedians Nato Green, W. Kamau Bell, and Louis C.K. are among the other feminist stand-up comics now speaking out, and Jon Stewart has had some fine feminist moments. It’s great that men are not only in the conversation, but an increasingly witty part of it as well.

    The uproar over last week’s news that three women say they were brutally assaulted by popular Canadian radio personality Jian Ghomeshi has been an interesting test case for the discourse. People of both genders have taken both sides, though those defending him have often reverted to the recurrent stereotype of the vindictively lying woman. This might, however, have been undermined by the five more women who then came forward to testify to similarly horrific experiences.

    Ideas are equipment to address and sometimes adjust reality. Seeing a host of new feminist ideas deployed in this case is a sign of how much ground those ideas have gained in the last year or so. During that time, I’ve watched several good men do the work of rethinking much of what they’ve been taught and reach new conclusions.  

    The Obsession About False Rape Accusations: A Handy Pullout Section

    Of course, the old ideas are out in force, too. Pretty much every time someone raises the subject of rape in my hearing (or online reading), a man pops up to raise the “issue” of “false rape accusations.” Seriously, it’s almost inevitably the first thing out of some guy’s mouth; men appear obsessed with the subject, and it often becomes a convenient way of changing the focus from widespread female victims to exceedingly rare male victims. As a result, I’ve assembled this handy pullout guide to the subject in the hope that I never have to address it again.

    Rape is so common in our culture it’s fair to call it an epidemic. After all, what else could you call something that impacts nearly one in five women (and one in 71 men) directly and, as a threat, virtually all women, that is so pervasive it modifies how we live and think and move through the world for most of our lives? Actual instances in which women have untruthfully claimed a rape occurred simply to malign some guy are extremely uncommon. The most reliable studies suggest that about 2% of reported rapes are false, which means that 98% are real. Even that statistic doesn’t mean that 2% are false rape accusations, because saying you were raped if you weren’t isn’t the same thing as claiming a specific person raped you when he didn’t. (No one sifts for the category of false rape accusation per se, by the way.) Still, those stats don’t stop men from bringing the subject up again and again and again. And again.

    Here’s what such accusations sound like in translation:

    Her: There’s an epidemic afflicting my people!

    Him: I'm worried about this incredibly rare disease I heard about (but didn’t research) that could possibly afflict a member of my tribe!   

    Or maybe it sounds like this:

    Her: Your tribe does horrible things to mine, which is well documented.

    Him: Your tribe is full of malicious liars. I don't really have evidence of that, but my feelings are more rational than your facts.  

    Keep in mind, by the way, when you consider those figures on rape, that most of them are not reported. Of the rapes that are, most are not prosecuted. Of those that are prosecuted, the great majority fail to achieve convictions. Bringing rape charges is generally not a fun and effective way either to seek revenge or justice, and falsely reporting a crime is itself a crime, something the police do not generally look kindly upon.

    Hundreds of thousands of rape kits collected by the police in this country were, we now know, never sent to crime labs for testing and a few years back, various cities -- New Orleans, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and St. Louis -- were exposed for not even bothering to file police reports on tens of thousands of rape claims.  This should help convince you that the system does not work that well for rape victims. And remember who the police are: an increasingly militarized, mostly male group with high rates of domestic violence and some notable rape charges of their own recently. In other words, they’re not always the most sympathetic people for women -- particularly nonwhite women, sex workers, transgendered women, and other marginalized groups -- to talk to about male sexual misconduct.  

    People also often wonder why colleges adjudicate rape cases themselves rather than report them to the police, particularly since many of them don’t do it well. The reasons are numerous, including the fact that campuses are required under Title IX (a 1972 amendment to the 1964 federal Civil Rights Act) to ensure equal access to education for everyone. Sexual assault undermines that equality under the law. Then there’s the fact that the criminal justice system is broken when it comes to sexual violence and that many rape survivors regard dealing with the legal system as a second round of violation and humiliation. Sometimes charges are dropped simply because the victim can’t endure the process any longer.  

    And now, back to those false rape accusations. In the new hardcover edition of Men Explain Things to Me, I added this footnote: “False accusations of rape are a reality, and a relatively rare one, though the stories of those convicted falsely are terrible. A British study by the Crown Prosecution Service released in 2013 noted that there were 5,651 prosecutions for rape in the period studied, versus only 35 prosecutions for false allegations of rape (or more than 160 rapes for every false allegation, well under 1%). And a 2000 U.S. Department of Justice report cited these estimates for the United States: 322,230 rapes annually, resulting in 55,424 reports to police, 26,271 arrests, and 7,007 convictions -- or slightly more than 2% of rapes counted and 12% of rapes reported resulted in jail sentences.”

    In other words, reporting a rape is not likely to get someone jailed, and though perhaps 2% of rape charges are false, only slightly more than 2% of all charges result in convictions. (Some estimates go as high as 3%.) In other words, there are an awful lot of unpunished rapists out there. And most rapists, when accused or charged, do not admit to committing rape. Which means we have a host of rapists who are also liars out there, and that maybe the lies that abound are by men who have raped, not women who have not been raped.

    Of course false-rape allegations have happened. My friend Astra Taylor points out that the most dramatic examples in this country were when white men falsely accused black men of assaulting white women. Which means that if you want to be indignant on the subject, you’ll need to summon up a more complicated picture of how power, blame, and mendacity actually work. There have been incidents -- the infamous Scottsboro Boys gang-rape case of the 1930s, for example -- where white women were also pressured by the authorities to lie in order to incriminate black men. In the Scottsboro case, one of the accusers, 17-year-old Ruby Bates, later recanted and told the truth, despite the threats against her.

    Then there’s the Central Park jogger case of 1989 in which the police coerced false confessions and the judicial system (including a woman prosecutor) convicted and jailed five innocent African-American and Latino teens. The white victim, who had been beaten nearly to death, had no memory of the incident and was not a witness against them. In 2002, the real assailant confessed and the five were exonerated. Convicting the innocent tends to result from corruption and misconduct in the justice system, not just a lone accuser. Of course, there are exceptions. My point is: they are rare.

    The false-rape-allegation obsession apparently arises from a number of things, including the delusion that they are common and the enduring slander that women are naturally duplicitous, manipulative, and unreliable. The constant mention of the issue suggests that there’s a weird kind of male confidence that comes from a sense of having more credibility than women. And now that’s changing. Maybe by confidence I mean entitlement. Maybe what these guys are saying is: men are finally going to be held accountable and that frightens them. Maybe it’s good for them to be frightened or at least accountable.

    What Makes a Planet Inhabitable

    The situation as it has long existed needs to be described bluntly.  Let’s just say that a significant number of men hate women, whether it’s the stranger harassed in the street, the Twitter user threatened into silence online, or the wife who’s beaten. Some men believe they are entitled to humiliate, punish, silence, violate, and even annihilate women. As a consequence, women face a startling amount of everyday violence and an atmosphere of menace, as well as a host of smaller insults and aggressions meant to keep us down. It’s not surprising, then, that the Southern Poverty Law Center classifies some men’s rights groups as hate groups. 

    In this context, consider what we mean by rape culture. It’s hate. Those sports-team and fraternity rapes, the ones that sometimes result in young men swapping phone videos that they never seem to recognize as evidence of felonies, are predicated on the idea that violating the rights, dignity, and body of another human being is a cool thing to do. Such group acts are based on a predatory-monster notion of what masculinity is, one to which many men don’t subscribe but that affects us all. It’s also a problem that men are capable of rectifying in ways women are not.

    And maybe this is the answer to the guy in Alaska who asked me last June what feminism had in it for him. Remembering that conversation now, I can’t help but think of the slogan that John Lennon and Yoko Ono began to circulate in the Vietnam era: “War is over (if you want it).” It was always assumed to be about the Vietnam War and was revived in the years of George W. Bush’s wars, but it could mean any kind of war or every kind of war, including the ones that live in our own hearts and minds.  

    Hate is an exhausting pursuit with no real victories, and enemies are not a good thing to have. The mind of a rapist must not be a pleasant place to inhabit, and men who can’t hear or recognize the humanity of half the population are missing something. If only the war were over! But, guy in Alaska, it would be nice if you could care about the well-being of others without reference to whether it confers advantages on you, too, especially since you have a lot of the advantages we aspire to, like being able to walk around without worrying about being a target.

    The other evening, I left a talk on what makes a planet inhabitable -- temperature, atmosphere, distance from a star -- by an astrophysicist I know. I’d thought about asking a young man who was a friend of a friend of mine to accompany me to my car in the very dark park outside the California Academy of Sciences, but the astrophysicist and I fell to talking and walked to the car together without even questioning the necessity of it, and then I drove her to her car.

    A couple of weeks earlier, I joined Emma Sulkowicz and a group of young women who were carrying a mattress between classes at Columbia University. You may already know that Sulkowicz is an art major who reported being raped and received nothing that resembled justice either from the campus authorities or the New York Police Department. In response, she is bearing witness to her plight with a performance-art piece that consists of carrying a dorm-room mattress with her whenever she’s on campus, wherever she’s going.

    The media response has been tremendous. A documentary film team was along that day and the middle-aged camerawoman remarked to me that, if campus consent standards had existed when she was young, if the right of women to say no and the obligation of men to respect women’s decisions had been recognized, her life would have been utterly different. I thought about it for a moment and realized: so would mine. So much of my energy between the ages of 12 and 30 was given over just to surviving predatory men. The revelation that humiliation, harm, and maybe even death was liable to be inflicted on me by complete strangers and casual acquaintances because of my gender and that I had to be on watch all the time to avoid such a fate -- well, that’s part of what made me a feminist.  

    I care passionately about the inhabitability of our planet from an environmental perspective, but until it’s fully inhabitable by women who can walk freely down the street without the constant fear of trouble and danger, we will labor under practical and psychological burdens that impair our full powers. Which is why, as someone who thinks climate is the most important thing in the world right now, I’m still writing about feminism and women’s rights. And celebrating the men who have made changing the world slightly more possible or are now part of the great changes underway.

    The Leading Terrorist State

    Truthout - Mon, 11/03/2014 - 11:25

    (Image: USA flag via Shutterstock; Edited: JR/TO)"It's official: The U.S. is the world's leading terrorist state, and proud of it."

    That should have been the headline for the lead story in The New York Times on Oct. 15, which was more politely titled "CIA Study of Covert Aid Fueled Skepticism About Helping Syrian Rebels."

    The article reports on a CIA review of recent U.S. covert operations to determine their effectiveness. The White House concluded that unfortunately successes were so rare that some rethinking of the policy was in order.

    The article quoted President Barack Obama as saying that he had asked the CIA to conduct the review to find cases of "financing and supplying arms to an insurgency in a country that actually worked out well. And they couldn't come up with much." So Obama has some reluctance about continuing such efforts.

    The first paragraph of the Times article cites three major examples of "covert aid": Angola, Nicaragua and Cuba. In fact, each case was a major terrorist operation conducted by the U.S.

    (Image: USA flag via Shutterstock; Edited: JR/TO)"It's official: The U.S. is the world's leading terrorist state, and proud of it."

    That should have been the headline for the lead story in The New York Times on Oct. 15, which was more politely titled "CIA Study of Covert Aid Fueled Skepticism About Helping Syrian Rebels."

    The article reports on a CIA review of recent U.S. covert operations to determine their effectiveness. The White House concluded that unfortunately successes were so rare that some rethinking of the policy was in order.

    The article quoted President Barack Obama as saying that he had asked the CIA to conduct the review to find cases of "financing and supplying arms to an insurgency in a country that actually worked out well. And they couldn't come up with much." So Obama has some reluctance about continuing such efforts.

    The first paragraph of the Times article cites three major examples of "covert aid": Angola, Nicaragua and Cuba. In fact, each case was a major terrorist operation conducted by the U.S.

    Angola was invaded by South Africa, which, according to Washington, was defending itself from one of the world's "more notorious terrorist groups" - Nelson Mandela's African National Congress. That was 1988.

    By then the Reagan administration was virtually alone in its support for the apartheid regime, even violating congressional sanctions to increase trade with its South African ally.

    Meanwhile Washington joined South Africa in providing crucial support for Jonas Savimbi's terrorist Unita army in Angola. Washington continued to do so even after Savimbi had been roundly defeated in a carefully monitored free election, and South Africa had withdrawn its support. Savimbi was a "monster whose lust for power had brought appalling misery to his people," in the words of Marrack Goulding, British ambassador to Angola.

    The consequences were horrendous. A 1989 U.N. inquiry estimated that South African depredations led to 1.5 million deaths in neighboring countries, let alone what was happening within South Africa itself. Cuban forces finally beat back the South African aggressors and compelled them to withdraw from illegally occupied Namibia. The U.S. alone continued to support the monster Savimbi.

    In Cuba, after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, President John F. Kennedy launched a murderous and destructive campaign to bring "the terrors of the earth" to Cuba - the words of Kennedy's close associate, the historian Arthur Schlesinger, in his semiofficial biography of Robert Kennedy, who was assigned responsibility for the terrorist war.

    The atrocities against Cuba were severe. The plans were for the terrorism to culminate in an uprising in October 1962, which would lead to a U.S. invasion. By now, scholarship recognizes that this was one reason why Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev placed missiles in Cuba, initiating a crisis that came perilously close to nuclear war. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara later conceded that if he had been a Cuban leader, he "might have expected a U.S. invasion."

    American terrorist attacks against Cuba continued for more than 30 years. The cost to Cubans was of course harsh. The accounts of the victims, hardly ever heard in the U.S., were reported in detail for the first time in a study by Canadian scholar Keith Bolender, "Voices From the Other Side: an Oral History of Terrorism Against Cuba," in 2010.

    The toll of the long terrorist war was amplified by a crushing embargo, which continues even today in defiance of the world. On Oct. 28, the U.N., for the 23rd time, endorsed "the necessity of ending the economic, commercial, financial blockade imposed by the United States against Cuba." The vote was 188 to 2 (U.S., Israel), with three U.S. Pacific Island dependencies abstaining.

    There is by now some opposition to the embargo in high places in the U.S., reports ABC News, because "it is no longer useful" (citing Hillary Clinton's new book "Hard Choices"). French scholar Salim Lamrani reviews the bitter costs to Cubans in his 2013 book "The Economic War Against Cuba."

    Nicaragua need hardly be mentioned. President Ronald Reagan's terrorist war was condemned by the World Court, which ordered the U.S. to terminate its "unlawful use of force" and to pay substantial reparations.

    Washington responded by escalating the war and vetoing a 1986 U.N. Security Council resolution calling on all states - meaning the U.S. - to observe international law.

    Another example of terrorism will be commemorated on Nov. 16, the 25th anniversary of the assassination of six Jesuit priests in San Salvador by a terrorist unit of the Salvadoran army, armed and trained by the U.S. On the orders of the military high command, the soldiers broke into the Jesuit university to murder the priests and any witnesses - including their housekeeper and her daughter.

    This event culminated the U.S. terrorist wars in Central America in the 1980s, though the effects are still on the front pages today in the reports of "illegal immigrants," fleeing in no small measure from the consequences of that carnage, and being deported from the U.S. to survive, if they can, in the ruins of their home countries.

    Washington has also emerged as the world champion in generating terror. Former CIA analyst Paul Pillar warns of the "resentment-generating impact of the U.S. strikes" in Syria, which may further induce the jihadi organizations Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State toward "repairing their breach from last year and campaigning in tandem against the U.S. intervention by portraying it as a war against Islam."

    That is by now a familiar consequence of U.S. operations that have helped to spread jihadism from a corner of Afghanistan to a large part of the world.

    Jihadism's most fearsome current manifestation is the Islamic State, or ISIS, which has established its murderous caliphate in large areas of Iraq and Syria.

    "I think the United States is one of the key creators of this organization," reports former CIA analyst Graham Fuller, a prominent commentator on the region. "The United States did not plan the formation of ISIS," he adds, "but its destructive interventions in the Middle East and the War in Iraq were the basic causes of the birth of ISIS."

    To this we may add the world's greatest terrorist campaign: Obama's global project of assassination of "terrorists." The "resentment-generating impact" of those drone and special-forces strikes should be too well known to require further comment.

    This is a record to be contemplated with some awe.

    © 2014 Noam Chomsky
    Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate

    The Leading Terrorist State

    Truthout - Mon, 11/03/2014 - 11:25

    (Image: USA flag via Shutterstock; Edited: JR/TO)"It's official: The U.S. is the world's leading terrorist state, and proud of it."

    That should have been the headline for the lead story in The New York Times on Oct. 15, which was more politely titled "CIA Study of Covert Aid Fueled Skepticism About Helping Syrian Rebels."

    The article reports on a CIA review of recent U.S. covert operations to determine their effectiveness. The White House concluded that unfortunately successes were so rare that some rethinking of the policy was in order.

    The article quoted President Barack Obama as saying that he had asked the CIA to conduct the review to find cases of "financing and supplying arms to an insurgency in a country that actually worked out well. And they couldn't come up with much." So Obama has some reluctance about continuing such efforts.

    The first paragraph of the Times article cites three major examples of "covert aid": Angola, Nicaragua and Cuba. In fact, each case was a major terrorist operation conducted by the U.S.

    (Image: USA flag via Shutterstock; Edited: JR/TO)"It's official: The U.S. is the world's leading terrorist state, and proud of it."

    That should have been the headline for the lead story in The New York Times on Oct. 15, which was more politely titled "CIA Study of Covert Aid Fueled Skepticism About Helping Syrian Rebels."

    The article reports on a CIA review of recent U.S. covert operations to determine their effectiveness. The White House concluded that unfortunately successes were so rare that some rethinking of the policy was in order.

    The article quoted President Barack Obama as saying that he had asked the CIA to conduct the review to find cases of "financing and supplying arms to an insurgency in a country that actually worked out well. And they couldn't come up with much." So Obama has some reluctance about continuing such efforts.

    The first paragraph of the Times article cites three major examples of "covert aid": Angola, Nicaragua and Cuba. In fact, each case was a major terrorist operation conducted by the U.S.

    Angola was invaded by South Africa, which, according to Washington, was defending itself from one of the world's "more notorious terrorist groups" - Nelson Mandela's African National Congress. That was 1988.

    By then the Reagan administration was virtually alone in its support for the apartheid regime, even violating congressional sanctions to increase trade with its South African ally.

    Meanwhile Washington joined South Africa in providing crucial support for Jonas Savimbi's terrorist Unita army in Angola. Washington continued to do so even after Savimbi had been roundly defeated in a carefully monitored free election, and South Africa had withdrawn its support. Savimbi was a "monster whose lust for power had brought appalling misery to his people," in the words of Marrack Goulding, British ambassador to Angola.

    The consequences were horrendous. A 1989 U.N. inquiry estimated that South African depredations led to 1.5 million deaths in neighboring countries, let alone what was happening within South Africa itself. Cuban forces finally beat back the South African aggressors and compelled them to withdraw from illegally occupied Namibia. The U.S. alone continued to support the monster Savimbi.

    In Cuba, after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, President John F. Kennedy launched a murderous and destructive campaign to bring "the terrors of the earth" to Cuba - the words of Kennedy's close associate, the historian Arthur Schlesinger, in his semiofficial biography of Robert Kennedy, who was assigned responsibility for the terrorist war.

    The atrocities against Cuba were severe. The plans were for the terrorism to culminate in an uprising in October 1962, which would lead to a U.S. invasion. By now, scholarship recognizes that this was one reason why Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev placed missiles in Cuba, initiating a crisis that came perilously close to nuclear war. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara later conceded that if he had been a Cuban leader, he "might have expected a U.S. invasion."

    American terrorist attacks against Cuba continued for more than 30 years. The cost to Cubans was of course harsh. The accounts of the victims, hardly ever heard in the U.S., were reported in detail for the first time in a study by Canadian scholar Keith Bolender, "Voices From the Other Side: an Oral History of Terrorism Against Cuba," in 2010.

    The toll of the long terrorist war was amplified by a crushing embargo, which continues even today in defiance of the world. On Oct. 28, the U.N., for the 23rd time, endorsed "the necessity of ending the economic, commercial, financial blockade imposed by the United States against Cuba." The vote was 188 to 2 (U.S., Israel), with three U.S. Pacific Island dependencies abstaining.

    There is by now some opposition to the embargo in high places in the U.S., reports ABC News, because "it is no longer useful" (citing Hillary Clinton's new book "Hard Choices"). French scholar Salim Lamrani reviews the bitter costs to Cubans in his 2013 book "The Economic War Against Cuba."

    Nicaragua need hardly be mentioned. President Ronald Reagan's terrorist war was condemned by the World Court, which ordered the U.S. to terminate its "unlawful use of force" and to pay substantial reparations.

    Washington responded by escalating the war and vetoing a 1986 U.N. Security Council resolution calling on all states - meaning the U.S. - to observe international law.

    Another example of terrorism will be commemorated on Nov. 16, the 25th anniversary of the assassination of six Jesuit priests in San Salvador by a terrorist unit of the Salvadoran army, armed and trained by the U.S. On the orders of the military high command, the soldiers broke into the Jesuit university to murder the priests and any witnesses - including their housekeeper and her daughter.

    This event culminated the U.S. terrorist wars in Central America in the 1980s, though the effects are still on the front pages today in the reports of "illegal immigrants," fleeing in no small measure from the consequences of that carnage, and being deported from the U.S. to survive, if they can, in the ruins of their home countries.

    Washington has also emerged as the world champion in generating terror. Former CIA analyst Paul Pillar warns of the "resentment-generating impact of the U.S. strikes" in Syria, which may further induce the jihadi organizations Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State toward "repairing their breach from last year and campaigning in tandem against the U.S. intervention by portraying it as a war against Islam."

    That is by now a familiar consequence of U.S. operations that have helped to spread jihadism from a corner of Afghanistan to a large part of the world.

    Jihadism's most fearsome current manifestation is the Islamic State, or ISIS, which has established its murderous caliphate in large areas of Iraq and Syria.

    "I think the United States is one of the key creators of this organization," reports former CIA analyst Graham Fuller, a prominent commentator on the region. "The United States did not plan the formation of ISIS," he adds, "but its destructive interventions in the Middle East and the War in Iraq were the basic causes of the birth of ISIS."

    To this we may add the world's greatest terrorist campaign: Obama's global project of assassination of "terrorists." The "resentment-generating impact" of those drone and special-forces strikes should be too well known to require further comment.

    This is a record to be contemplated with some awe.

    © 2014 Noam Chomsky
    Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate

    A Mother Who Just Wanted to Know When Her Son Would Eat

    Truthout - Mon, 11/03/2014 - 11:13

    The temperature in Corona, Calif., can soar above 100 degrees in the summer, sometimes climbing as high as 110. For Dolores Canales and others locked into their cells 22 hours a day in the Administrative Segregation Unit at the California Institution for Women, the extreme heat was aggravated by the extreme lack of privacy.

    “The cells get extremely hot in the summer, so you have to take your clothes off [to stay cool],” she recounted.

    But the unit was circular, and the guard stationed in the center was able to see into any cell with the turn of his head. “You can’t cover the window on the door, so you’re always exposed to the guards, who are mostly men.”

    Canales spent nine months in segregation at the California Institute for Women in 1999. “There, I had a window. The guards would take me out to the yard every day. I’d get to go out to the yard with other people,” she told me in 2013, while I was working on an article for The Nation.

    Still, being in isolation took its toll. “There’s an anxiety that overcomes you in the middle of the night because you’re so locked in.”

    Canales was unable to shake that anxiety even after leaving segregation and reentering the general prison population until she was released in 2000. She recalled breaking into a sweat and panicking any time she saw a group of officers even though she had broken no rules.

    “I just can’t forget,” she said.

    With her dark brown hair pulled into a ponytail, one can see the emotions that play across Canales’ face when she talks about solitary confinement — especially since her son Johnny is now living through a similar experience.

    At the Security Housing Unit in Pelican Bay State Prison, Johnny spends nearly 24 hours a day locked in a windowless cell. Twice a day, food is shoved through a slot in the door. He exercises alone in a cement yard the length of three cells with a roof only partially open to the sky. He never sees the sun. This has been Johnny’s life for the past 13 years.

    The Security Housing Unit, known as the SHU, comprises half of Pelican Bay State Prison in the coastal town of Crescent City, 13 miles from the Oregon border. Prison administrators place people in the SHU either for a fixed term for violating a prison rule or for an indeterminate term for being accused of gang affiliation. Accusations often rely on confidential informants and circumstantial evidence. Hundreds have been confined within the SHU for more than 10 years. Until recently, providing information incriminating others, a process known as debriefing, was the only way to be released from the SHU. Those implicated are then placed in the SHU for an indeterminate sentence. One does not necessarily need to be a gang member to be sent to the SHU; jailhouse lawyers and others who challenge inhumane prison conditions are disproportionately sent to the SHU. Johnny was one of those jailhouse lawyers.

    By 2011, SHU prisoners had had enough. They declared a hunger strike, demanding an end to these policies and conditions. Over a thousand people, including Johnny, joined in. Although not the first time SHU prisoners have gone on hunger strike, this particular call came at a time when prison organizing was intensifying. Less than a year earlier, in December 2010, people in a dozen Georgia prisons united across racial lines to go on work strike. Their demands included wages for their labor, educational opportunities, decent health care, nutritious meals and improved living conditions. In Illinois, activists were on the verge of closing the notorious Tamms prison, where men spent years in extreme isolation. Across the nation, lawsuits against inhumane prison conditions were filed — and won. At the same time, an increasing number of people were paying attention to mass incarceration and its effects, questioning the need to lock 2.3 million people behind bars at exorbitant prices. Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow, which traced the evolution from Jim Crow to today’s drug war policies, popularized the issue.

    In California, the state prison system was packed at nearly twice its capacity. Earlier in 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that the extreme overcrowding violated the Eighth Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment and ordered California to reduce its prison population to 137.5 percent capacity. The state appealed the decision. At the same time, it contracted with the for-profit Corrections Corporation of America to send male prisoners to privately-run prisons in Arizona, Oklahoma and Mississippi, and began a program known as realignment, in which people convicted of lower-level non-serious, non-sexual offenses serve their sentences in county jails rather than state prisons.

    The July 2011 strike was the first of several that catapulted the hidden realities of solitary confinement into the American consciousness. It also began connecting isolated family members, like Canales, and pulling them into the fight against inhumane prison practices. Canales had never thought about organizing to change — let alone abolish — solitary confinement. But she soon found herself swept up in the mounting outcry against mass incarceration. In less than two years, the concerned mother became the de facto spokeswoman of a growing movement of family members joining together to end solitary confinement.

    Connections Inside and Out

    In April 2011, Johnny began sending Canales letters that he asked her to forward to the governor, the head of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the prison’s warden. Johnny normally handwrites his letters on lined paper, but he had asked an outside attorney to type this particular letter to make it easier for his mother to photocopy and disseminate.

    “On July 1, 2011, I and my fellow prisoners — on their own free will — will be commencing a hunger strike to protest the denial of our human rights and equality via the use of perpetual solitary confinement,” the letter began.

    On that day, 1,035 of the 1,111 people locked in Pelican Bay’s Security Housing Unit began a three-week hunger strike. They issued five core demands, including the elimination of group punishments, when an individual violated a prison rule; an end to the debriefing policy and changes in the criteria for being labeled a gang affiliate; compliance with the 2006 recommendations of the U.S. Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons, regarding an end to long-term solitary confinement; adequate food; and constructive programs for those confined to the SHU indefinitely.

    That day, Canales drove to a church in Los Angeles to attend an event about the strike. When she told the people at the door that her son was in the SHU, they invited her to speak. At first, she declined.

    “I didn’t think I had anything to say. I didn’t even remember I had his letter with me, so I said no,” she said later.

    But, as she listened to the various speakers, she decided that she would speak. From the pulpit, drawing confidence from Johnny’s letter, Dolores addressed an audience for the first time.

    “The SHU does not discriminate,” were her first words. She emphasized that the hunger strikers came together across racial lines to fight for an end to SHU policies and conditions.

    “I really wanted to bring in the fact that they were doing this all together, all the races,” she later recalled. “They’ve been killing each other for decades, but now they’re coming together. This was huge.”

    Then she read her son’s letter. That was her entry into organizing.

    Later that day, an event organizer invited her to speak on the local radio station KGLA about the strike. She agreed, reading Johnny’s letter on the air. From then, she plunged into a whirlwind of organizing, driving an hour from Orange County to Los Angeles several times a week for rallies, demonstrations and media appearances.

    In three weeks, the strike spread to 13 other prisons and, at one point, involved at least 6,600 people in men’s and women’s prisons throughout California. Outside prison, Canales and other family members began connecting with each other to support their loved ones and their demands.

    “We started meeting every other day,” she said. “More and more family members were coming out, sharing stories of their loved ones in different prisons and jails who were on hunger strike.”

    The strike also reconnected family members, such as Oakland resident Marie Levin and her brother Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa. The two share the same facial features: the same nose and dark brown eyes. But Jamaa has been in the SHU since 1990, so his skin is several shades lighter than his sister’s dark brown complexion and, from lack of sun, has a gray cast. By 2011, Levin had not seen her brother for 15 years. “It was too painful to be part of his life,” she explained.

    Shortly before the strike, she received a visit from Carol Strickman, an attorney with Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, who brought an audiotape in which Jamaa talked about his decision to go on strike. Moved, Levin attended a solidarity rally in nearby San Francisco. Like Canales, that rally became her entry into political organizing. It also spurred her decision to reenter her brother’s life. She began attending meetings of Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity, a coalition of lawyers, advocates and family members in the Bay Area.

    “It was overwhelming at first,” she told me in an interview for The Nation. “I found out so much information I didn’t know about. Not just about SHU conditions; they were talking about the Black Panthers and history that I didn’t know.” But Levin continued to attend, learn and grow as an organizer.

    San Diego resident Maribel Herrera has a similar story. Her mother has a photo in which her uncle Luis Esquivel, then in his mid-twenties, is holding a one-month-old Herrera. But Herrera herself had no memories of her uncle. In 2011, Herrera was 23 when her mother received a letter from Luis telling her about the upcoming strike and asking for her support. ”

    Taking two cars, Herrera and her family drove three hours from their home in San Diego to Los Angeles. They relied on GPS to guide them through the unfamiliar streets. At the rally, they learned about conditions in the SHU — conditions her uncle had never mentioned in his letters. “He was trying to protect us,” Herrera reflected later. “He never said anything to make us uncomfortable, so we’d had the Hollywood image that he was getting rehabilitated.”

    Herrera and her mother drove to Los Angeles for every rally that summer.

    Family members were not limited to those with loved ones at Pelican Bay. Daletha Hayden’s son Ian, labeled a gang associate, has been in the SHU at the California Correctional Institution at Tehachapi since 2009. Neither Hayden nor her family had prior experience with addiction or incarceration and so had no idea where to turn for help.

    “I was just desperate to find answers,” she said.

    Hayden, who sports a small gold ring in her nostril and an armful of bangles on her wrist, speaks slowly and clearly. Occasionally, she pauses as the weight of those years — and her son’s confinement — hit her.

    In 2011, Ian sent his mother the newsletter for California Prison Focus, an Oakland-based organization dedicated to ending the human rights abuses, including long-term solitary confinement, in California’s prison system. Hayden, who lives 400 miles away on the outskirts of Victorville, visited the group’s website and learned they were holding a meeting.

    “I jumped in my car and went to connect with other people,” she recalled. The drive took seven hours — and two tanks of gas. “It was that serious,” she explained. “I needed to be able to do something other than pay for quarterly packages and search for attorneys.”

    When she arrived, only four other people had shown up. But the small meeting allowed Hayden to ask questions about SHU conditions and the group’s efforts to challenge them.

    The Group Coalesces

    While family members were connecting, hunger strikers were attempting to negotiate. On July 20, four strike representatives met with Scott Kernan, Undersecretary of Operations for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Kernan, who retired later that year at the age of 49, has been named in several lawsuits alleging medical neglect and deliberate indifference to abuse. Two years earlier, he also made headlines when he was arrested for drunk driving. At the meeting, Kernan assured them of upcoming positive changes to SHU.

    His assurances led prisoners to temporarily suspend the strike, allowing CDCR time to fulfill these promises. But the families continued their efforts. They traveled to Sacramento to remind legislators that, although the strike was over, conditions had not changed. In August 2011, Dolores Canales and Marie Levin were among nearly a dozen family members who publicly commented about SHU conditions and the need for substantial change at a hearing hosted by the Public Safety Committee, a legislative committee that investigates and studies bills about the state’s penal code and prison system.

    In September 2011, when none of their demands were met, prisoners struck again. By the third day, nearly 12,000 were refusing to eat. The strike spread to 12 prisons inside California. It also spread to the privately run prisons in Arizona, Mississippi and Oklahoma that the state had contracted with to comply with the Supreme Court order.

    The strike ended on October 31, 2011, after CDCR promised a comprehensive review of every prisoner whose SHU sentence is related to gang validation. By then, family members had established connections across southern California and, from their regular meetings, formed California Families Against Solitary Confinement.

    “We were the voices of our loved ones inside and as family members,” Daletha Hayden explained. “We wanted to make the public aware of these conditions — how long people had been in solitary confinement, ways people were placed there, that it was indefinite.”

    Their goal was not just to curb the use of solitary, but to end the practice altogether. “We want to abolish solitary confinement,” said Herrera. “We don’t want it to be a practice in California — or in prisons anywhere.”

    On the other side, CDCR insists that there is no solitary confinement in its prison system. SHU prisoners have the option of sharing an 11-by-7 foot cell with another person. Those who choose not to share every waking moment, including using the toilet, with another person still have human contact with prison staff.

    CDCR has also maintained that the SHU is necessary. When he appeared before the California Public Safety Committee, CDCR undersecretary Scott Kernan stated that the SHU is necessary to isolate gang affiliates from the rest of the prison population. “We had to protect inmates, the staff, and the public [from] the tangible threats that gangs present today in our prisons. Murder, extortions, rape, drugs are examples of the criminal activity that require the department to do something,” he testified.

    California Families Against Solitary Confinement began coordinating visits to Pelican Bay. To get from the Los Angeles area, where Canales and many families live, requires a 14-hour drive up the coast. Visits consist of 90 minutes in a small booth with a plexiglass window preventing them from touching or even speaking directly to their incarcerated loved ones. Instead, they must use the phones on the wall beside them. Once those 90 minutes are over, family members face another 14-hour drive home. For many, the distance and expense make visiting impossible. Canales began informally making arrangements to travel with other family members, sharing the cost of the lengthy trip.

    That arrangement enabled Maribel Herrera to see her uncle for the first time since his arrest. In February 2012, when several women planned to visit their loved ones at Pelican Bay, they asked Herrera if she wanted to join them. She and five other women piled into an SUV borrowed from Canales’s boss. It was Herrera’s first time ever visiting a prison, but she credits the other women with helping her through what might have been a more intimidating process.

    “When you walk through the metal detector, you don’t lift your foot up so the machine doesn’t beep. And you have to walk through it slowly. It’s like a sideways penguin move,” she explained. “They showed me how to walk through it so you don’t set it off and you don’t hold up the person behind you.”

    At Pelican Bay, each visitor is assigned a time slot. Herrera’s was at 1 p.m.; the others had been scheduled for 8 a.m. Although bringing Herrera meant delaying their 14-hour drive home by another five hours, no one complained. And so, as an adult, Herrera was able to spend an hour getting to know the uncle from a childhood photo. It was the first visit he’d received in seven years.

    California Families Against Solitary Confinement also began coordinating larger family visits and organizing fundraisers to cover expenses. In November 2012, they brought three vans of adult visitors, some of whom had not seen their loved ones in years. The following month, CFASC rented a charter bus and, with half the bus filled with children, traveled to Pelican Bay again.

    Families also continued to raise awareness. In the Bay Area, Levin helped Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity build a mock SHU cell as a public education tool. The cell is life-sized, allowing people to step in and momentarily experience SHU conditions. “We took that around to different parks, to First Fridays in Oakland, to universities like University of California-Berkeley and University of California-Hastings,” she said.

    Mass Hunger Strike

    In March 2012, CDCR released its plan changing SHU placement from gang affiliates to those labeled as members of Security Threat Groups. While family members, advocates and prisoners charge that the designation enables prisons to place greater numbers of people in the SHU, the department has insisted that being placed in the SHU is now based on behavior — in other words, being classified as part of a Security Threat Group by itself will not land a person in the SHU. Terry Thornton, CDCR’s deputy press secretary, has stated, “The majority of inmates housed in SHUs – are no longer placed in a SHU based solely upon their validation to a Security Threat Group, unless there is a nexus to confirmed gang activity.”

    That same year, CDCR also unveiled its new Step Down program for those serving indefinite SHU sentences for gang membership or association. Thornton has repeatedly noted that under the Step Down program prisoners are not required to debrief or drop out of their gang. However, debriefing has not been eliminated: A gang member or associate can still choose to debrief instead of completing the Step Down program; that person would then be moved to a different unit.

    But none of these changes satisfied the hunger strikers and their families, who continue to charge that the SHU constitutes torture.

    On February 14, 2013, prisoners at Pelican Bay’s SHU announced a renewed hunger strike, promising to go “all the way” if CDCR did not meet their five core demands. They then demanded that CDCR sign a consent decree spelling out the specific terms of the policies it would enact and issued 40 additional demands, such as expunging all violations issued for participation in the 2011 hunger strikes and prohibiting retaliation for those participating in the upcoming hunger strike.

    Word spread in several ways. Publications that offer free subscriptions to people in prison printed news of the 2011 strike, the five core demands and the call for a renewed strike. Sometimes, family members learned about the strike and told their incarcerated loved ones. Once news reached one person in the SHU, that person spread the word, literally yelling through his steel door to his neighbors in adjoining cells. In some instances, staff themselves inadvertently spread the news.

    “The officers talk amongst each other,” Hayden noted. “And they don’t whisper away from the prisoners. They talk right there in front of them.”

    On July 8, 2013, more than 30,000 people incarcerated throughout California heeded the call and refused meals. More than two-thirds of California’s prisoners as well as California prisoners in four out-of-state private prisons participated.

    The strike was the largest in prison history. “Thirty Thousand Inmates Refuse Meals,”exclaimed the Huffington Post. “Hunger Strike by California Inmates, Already Large, is Expected to Be Long,” predicted The New York Times two days later. In response, CDCR asserted that the strike was led by prison gang leaders. CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard wrote an editorial for the Los Angeles Times calling the strike a “gang power play.” 

    Canales has repeatedly refuted this claim. Labeling the hunger strike as gang coercion is a scare tactic, she told me in an interview for Truthout. “They want to draw attention away from the true goals of the hunger strike because it’s been getting support. CDCR pointing to gangs is clearly diverting from the five core demands. As long as they can get you to not look at the reasonableness of the five core demands, that’s the goal that they’re reaching.”

    In the weeks leading up to the strike, family members connected by phone at least once a week to strategize on how to support their loved ones. When it began, they met in person every week in Los Angeles with several family members driving two to three hours to attend.

    But keeping up the pressure hasn’t been easy. “A lot of family members work full-time jobs, so the organizing is all in our spare time even though we have families, jobs, etc.,” Canales pointed out.

    Fortunately, her own boss had been supportive of her organizing. “He let me have the time to take calls for interviews and even take time off to go to rallies,” she said. But others often couldn’t take the time off or afford the cost of driving to Los Angeles for protests or to Sacramento for hearings.

    Even with the boss’s approval, the never-ending struggle still took its toll. “Imagine organizing events on a daily basis — going to Sacramento on three days’ notice. Imagine organizing and being concerned for your son and holding down a full-time job,” described Canales.

    Herrera agreed. “People still have their lives to continue. Being a supporter is like a second job. But,” she added, “if we stop going, others might stop going and then others will stop going.”

    Canales had initially planned to limit her involvement. “I explained to everyone that I couldn’t be involved in organizing around this hunger strike. I’m the sole provider in my home. I can’t lose my job.” But the strike — and her son’s participation — weighed heavily on her. “All I could think about 24-7 was this,” she said.

    As the strike continued, Canales moved past her exhaustion, becoming the go-to spokesperson for families of hunger strikers, speaking with news media and appearing on shows like Democracy Now!, and Al Jazeera’s Consider This, and The Stream. Canales was not always comfortable with this role.

    “I’m not the only family member,” she pointed out, both then and now. “There are so many people who are part of CFASC.” On at least one occasion, she tried to steer media to another family member, but the outlet insisted on her.

    We're Not Going Away

    The hunger strike ended on its 60th day: September 5, 2013. But family members continue to organize. In April 2014, Canales and Levin were attending a CDCR hearing about the Step Down program when they saw CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard. During the 2013 strike, Beard had requested that family members be excluded from meetings between the mediation team and CDCR. “He said he didn’t want to meet with family members during the hunger strike because it would be too emotional,” Canales recalled. But that day, Canales walked up to him, introduced herself and asked when he would meet with family members.

    On June 26, 12 days before the one-year anniversary of the strike, four family members — Canales, Levin, Irene Huerta whose husband has been held in the SHU since 1986, and Beth Witrogen whose partner has been in the SHU for over 17 years — met with Beard and other CDCR officials.

    Meanwhile, prison officials in other states have taken steps to reduce solitary confinement. In Mississippi, after a 2002 hunger strike by Death Row prisoners led the ACLU to file suit, state corrections commissioner Christopher Epps closed Parchman Penitentiary’s notorious Unit 32 in 2010. By June 2012, the number of people in solitary had decreased 75 percent to 316 from 1,300 in 2007. At a Senate subcommittee hearing on solitary confinement, Epps also refuted the belief that solitary is a necessary tool to prevent violence, pointing out that violence decreased throughout the prison by 50 percent after the state reduced its use of solitary confinement by 85 percent.

    Prison directors in other states are also exploring alternatives to solitary confinement. In January 2014, Colorado’s chief of corrections Rick Raemisch decided to experience solitary firsthand at Colorado State Penitentiary. His predecessor, Tom Clements, had already reduced the number of people in segregation from 1,505 to 726 within two years. (Ironically, Clements was killed in March 2013 by a man who had been released directly from solitary confinement.) After 20 hours in isolation, Raemisch wrote, “When I finally left my cell at 3 p.m., I felt even more urgency for reform. If we can’t eliminate solitary confinement, at least we can strive to greatly reduce its use.”

    Raemisch has further reduced the number of people in solitary to 577.

    To compare, in June 2014, 1,188 people were housed in Pelican Bay’s Security Housing Unit alone. That number rose slightly to 1,193 people the following month.

    This past May, New Mexico’s corrections secretary Gregg Marcantel joined the trend, spending 48 hours in solitary. After those 48 hours, he met with senior staff and advocated a clear process rewarding good behavior with increased privileges and an eventual release from segregation. He also concluded that segregation for discipline should be used more sparingly.

    “That can’t be the only tool in our toolbox. There’s gotta be some other sanction that we use to change that behavior that’s more immediate and more effective,” he told the Albuquerque Journal. Marcantel challenged officials to consider alternatives, such as the loss of time taken off a sentence for good behavior, visiting privileges or access to commissary items, before sending prisoners to solitary.

    Armed with these examples, Canales and the other family members arrived at the meeting with Beard and other CDCR officials. Pointing to Raemisch’s and Marcantel’s stays in solitary confinement, Canales invited Beard to do the same at Pelican Bay’s SHU, an invitation that Beard did not accept.

    “But he did say that the intention was that there would be no more indefinite solitary confinement and to have everyone in the Step Down program so they have a chance to move towards getting out of the SHU,” Canales recounted.

    Family members also raised concerns about the slow pace of the reviews for the Step Down process, particularly in Pelican Bay. Johnny, for instance, has yet to receive a date to appear before the Departmental Review Board.

    “My son would qualify for Step Five [being released to general population under observation],” she said. “But I’ve been told that he won’t be seen by the Departmental Review Board for another two years because he’s ‘only’ been in the SHU for 13 years.”

    Others, who have spent more years confined to the SHU, are being scheduled first. At the meeting, Michael Stainer, the director of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Division of Adult Institutions, stated that 68 percent of the prisoners who have been reviewed have been released directly to Step Five.

    Canales walked out of the meeting with hope. “We’ve seen more changes in the last two years than in the past 30 years,” she said. “Nothing would have changed if it wasn’t for the hunger strike. They are the ones who got the attention.”

    But, she added, having a meeting with top CDCR officials is a first step. “With open communication, that’s how solutions can come about. It’s making us feel like we have a voice. They’re sitting there and listening to us and knowing that we’re not going away.”

    A Family Movement

    Family members continue to organize, driving several hours, sometimes as frequently as once a week. “We’re not going away,” stated Canales. “If anything, even more family members are willing to get involved.”

    People inside the SHUs are urging their loved ones to join advocacy efforts; CFASC’s visibility now gives them an opportunity to do so. “A lot of family members had no way of getting involved before,” she explained. “They didn’t know how to do so. They feel isolated with having a loved one in prison, but, with CFASC, they can find encouragement. We know what each other are going through.”

    Organizing has also allowed family members to support each other. “Being part of CFASC and a network has given me the mental and emotional support that I didn’t have for those first 10 years of my son’s incarceration,” said Hayden.

    Canales agreed. “I now am surrounded by family members whose loved ones have been in solitary confinement for 20, 30 years,” she reflected. “We draw our strength from each other. We’re growing our family movement. To speak out, to no longer accept that this is the way it is.”

    In the Bay Area, family members have not yet coalesced in the same way. Levin recalled that, in 2012, Bay Area families suffered a loss when Irma Hedlin, a key organizer, died suddenly. Hedlin had two sons in Pelican Bay’s SHU. Both participated in the 2011 hunger strikes, spurring Hedlin and her daughter Lisa to become involved with anti-SHU organizing.

    “She was the go-getter,” recalled Levin. “She was on the front lines. She’d call me and say, ‘Marie, you wanna go to Pelican Bay?’ or, ‘Go distribute these posters,’ or, ‘Come out to this rally.’ I was learning from her. So when she passed away, it was like, ‘I don’t have a teacher anymore.’ It was devastating.”

    But Levin goes on. In October 2013, she emceed a rally shortly before California’s Public Safety Committee held a hearing about solitary confinement. It was the first rally that she had ever led.

    Levin and other family members, including Hedlin’s daughter Lisa, are building their family networks.

    “We’re having prisoners ask their families to get involved,” said Levin. “We’re organizing to have family members get together. We’re keeping people abreast of what’s happening. We’re trying to build something that we haven’t had here yet.”

    Meanwhile, in southern California, Canales — who, at times, had felt overwhelmed during the 2013 hunger strike — received not only recognition for her organizing, but also the financial support to sustain her efforts in the form of a prestigious Soros Justice Fellowship. Competition for the fellowship is fierce with only 15 to 20 chosen from several hundreds, if not thousands, of applicants working on various aspects of criminal justice reform and advocacy.

    “I would have never applied, but other advocates encouraged me,” Canales recalled. “I went onto the Soros website and saw who had gotten a fellowship before. When I saw lawyers and professional organizers had gotten them, I brushed it off.”

    But advocates continued to encourage her. Azadeh Zohrabi, a member of the mediation team and a former Soros Justice fellow herself, continued to push Canales. “She literally sat down with me and said, ‘Let’s start working on this proposal,'” Canales remembered. “Azadeh is one of the busiest people I know, so I thought, ‘Well, she’s willing to put the work into this. Who am I not to?'”

    When she learned that she’d been awarded a fellowship, she was shocked. “I still can’t believe it,” she exclaimed over one month later. “I’m just a mom who wanted her son to eat.”

    Now, she’s a mom working to build the network of mothers, sisters, daughters, wives and other family members of people in solitary confinement throughout the state. “Even though it’s not specifically for CFASC, everyone is so thrilled for me. Hopefully this means for us to grow stronger.”

    Johnny is proud of his mother. In a recent letter, he wrote, “I just got through watching the news and I saw you come out. Get on, Mom, that’s what I’m talking about. I am very proud of you. Keep up the good work.”

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