Truthout Stories
As US Military Outposts Crumble Under Climate Change, Pentagon Refuses to Take Precautions
December 15th, 2017, 04:05 PM

A watchdog report released Wednesday criticized the Pentagon for not taking enough precautions to deal with climate change-induced damage at military sites around the world.

Although the Department of Defense has previously acknowledged that a warming planet poses a threat to its operations, it hasn't done the legwork in evaluating those threats on a site-by-site basis, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

And when finally confronted on the damage climate change is already inflicting on sites around the world, the military is adopting a position of denialism.

Among the defense installations currently feeling the brunt of climate change is a facility in the Middle East that is experiencing increasing numbers of "black flag days" when some activities are halted due to extreme temperatures.

There's also a training range in the Pacific facing erosion from sea level increases. At another site in Europe, more frequent flooding posed a "significant threat to the base's infrastructure and mission."

GAO found, however, that officials at a majority of the sites reviewed said that they don't regularly keep tabs on the costs of increasing extreme weather damage. Because these costs are not consistently tracked, GAO noted that the department "could not provide the complete picture of the budgetary risks posed by climate change for infrastructure on their installations."

The military did conduct a survey at over 3,500 sites between 2013 and 2015, for the stated purpose of identifying vulnerabilities at installations across the globe due to climate change. But in this effort, too, GAO reported that the Pentagon compiled incomplete data. Nearly 200 sites were exempted from the survey -- many of them passed over with, as the GAO described, "inadequate justification."

Several recommendations for the Pentagon were contained within Wednesday's report. They included issuing a new requirement to installations to track extreme weather costs, and conducting a more thorough survey at these installations around the world.

But those calls were rejected by the Defense Department, which questioned the science linking facility damage to climate change.

"Associating a single event to climate change is difficult and does not warrant the time and money expended in doing so," the Pentagon claimed.

"We continue to believe that our recommendation is appropriate," GAO responded.

Economic Update: Different Economics, Different Policies
December 14th, 2017, 04:05 PM

This week's episode includes discussions of parental leave policies in the UK, the fining of Citibank for its abuse of student borrowers, the self-critical ads now being aired by tobacco companies and Jeff Bezos's obscene wealth. We also address Marxian economics and UK Labor Party policy initiatives.

To see more stories like this, visit Economic Update: Your Weekly Dose of Revolutionary Economics

To listen in live on Saturdays at noon, visit WBAI's Live Stream

Economic Update is in partnership with Truthout.org

Your radio station needs Economic Update! If you are a radio station, check this out. If you want to hear Economic Update on your favorite local station, send them this.

Visit Professor Wolff's social movement project, democracyatwork.info.

Permission to reprint Professor Wolff's writing and videos is granted on an individual basis. Please contact profwolff@rdwolff.com to request permission. We reserve the right to refuse or rescind permission at any time.

The Growing Case for Impeaching Donald Trump, From Lawlessness and Corruption to Abuse of Power
December 14th, 2017, 04:05 PM

On Thursday, another Democrat endorsed articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, a resolution presented in November by a half-dozen Democrats accusing Trump of obstruction of justice and other offenses. Democrat Carol Shea-Porter of New Hampshire is the latest official to join the effort and is one of 12 House Democrats who represent a district won by Trump in 2016. This comes as a petition for impeachment launched in October by Democratic donor Tom Steyer has garnered more than 3.5 million supporters. At least 17 communities around the country are now on record calling for impeachment proceedings against Trump. "It is not acceptable to say that we will simply kick the can down the road and wait until after an election cycle to lay the groundwork for the impeachment proceedings," says constitutional attorney John Bonifaz, co-founder and director of Free Speech for People. "We need to be laying that groundwork and making this call now."

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I'm Amy Goodman, as we turn now to an update on the movement to impeach President Donald Trump. In November, a half-dozen Democrats introduced articles of impeachment against Trump, accusing him of obstruction of justice and other offenses. Co-sponsors include Democratic Representatives Steve Cohen, Luis Gutiérrez, Al Green, Marcia Fudge, Adriano Espaillat and John Yarmuth.

Well, on Thursday, another congressmember endorsed articles of impeachment. This time it was one of the 12 House Democrats representing a district won by Trump in 2016: Democratic Congressmember Carol Shea-Porter of New Hampshire. She said in a statement Thursday, "Many Members of Congress, including myself, agree with Republican Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker that President Trump poses a dangerous threat to national security and the future of our democracy. … I believe it is past time for Members of Congress to put country before party and bring these discussions out into the open," Shea-Porter said. Until now, other Democrats who have endorsed Trump's impeachment have hailed from safe blue districts. Porter plans to retire at the end of her term.

This comes as the House rejected an effort last week by Congressmember Al Green of Houston to move forward with articles of impeachment, even as some 58 Democrats voted in support of the resolution -- nearly a third of the caucus. Meanwhile, a petition for impeachment launched in October by Democratic donor Tom Steyer now has more than three-and-a-half million supporters, and at least 17 communities around the country are on record calling for impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump.

Well, earlier this month, Democracy Now! spoke to constitutional attorney John Bonifaz, co-founder and director of Free Speech for People. I started by asking him about the movement to impeach Trump.

JOHN BONIFAZ: Well, to be clear, what we're doing here with this impeachment campaign that we launched with RootsAction on the day of the inauguration, because the president had refused to divest from his business holdings all across the world in defiance of the anti-corruption provisions of the Constitution -- what we're doing, Amy, is designed to defend our Constitution and our democracy.

This is not about being dissatisfied about certain policies of the president. This is about the Constitution and the basic fundamental principle in this country that no one is above the law, not even the president of the United States. And he walked into the Oval Office that day already defying the rule of law, already refusing to comply with those two anti-corruption provisions of the Constitution.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain exactly what those two anti-corruption articles of the Constitution are and what he refused to do with his businesses.

JOHN BONIFAZ: So those two anti-corruption provisions are the Foreign Emoluments Clause and the Domestic Emoluments Clause. The Foreign Emoluments Clause makes clear that the president shall not receive, nor any other federal elected official shall not receive, any payments or financial benefits of any kind from any foreign governments. The Domestic Emoluments Clause applies only to the president and says he shall not receive any financial benefits or payments of any kind from the federal government or the state government other than his federal salary.

This is a president who has 111-plus business interests all over the world, many of which involve illegal foreign benefits, foreign government benefits, to him personally, through his company, the Trump Organization, as well as having properties all over the United States that involve state government benefits and the federal government, through the leasing of the Post Office Square in Washington, DC, that is now the place where the Trump International Hotel resides.

So, what we're dealing here with is a president who knew, prior to taking the Oval Office, warned by constitutional scholars, that he needed to divest from his business interests in order to comply with those anti-corruption provisions. He refused to, and he is engaged in treating the Oval Office as a profit-making enterprise at the public expense.

AMY GOODMAN: How have things changed since January, when Donald Trump became president?

JOHN BONIFAZ: I think what has happened is we've seen a growing list of impeachable offenses that require an impeachment investigation in the US Congress parallel to the Mueller investigation. This is not a question of having to wait and see whether or not the federal criminal investigation that's proceeding turns up violations of federal criminal law by the president or any of his associates. That's a separate question.

The question here are crimes against the state. That is what impeachment is about -- abuse of power, abuse of public trust, and not only through the violations of the anti-corruption provisions. There is now, of course, evidence of obstruction of justice. There's evidence of potential conspiracy with the Russian government to interfere with the 2016 elections and violate federal campaign finance laws, among others. There is now evidence of abuse of the pardon power in the pardoning of former Maricopa County Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio. There's recklessly threatening nuclear war against a foreign nation. There's misuse of the Justice Department to try to prosecute political adversaries. And there's the giving aid and comfort to neo-Nazis and white supremacists. All of this -- all of this deserves an impeachment investigation in the US House of Representatives.

AMY GOODMAN: So, in response to some Democratic leaders warning against calls for impeachment before Robert Mueller's investigation has been completed, billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer defended his $20 million ad campaign to impeach President Trump, and blasted his critics, telling The Wall Street Journal, "The Republican nominee wasn't really a Republican. The person who energized the Democratic Party wasn't really a Democrat. So, when I hear the Washington establishment tell me, 'Shut the f -- up,' I think, well, maybe."

And on Thursday, he tweeted, "It doesn't surprise me that the political establishment in Washington, D.C. can't imagine the idea of the American people having an independent voice. They're scared of any threat to their control. But it's important to do what's right," said Tom Steyer. I want to play a clip of the ad that has been running on television.

TOM STEYER: He's brought us to the brink of nuclear war, obstructed justice at the FBI. And in direct violation of the Constitution, he's taken money from foreign governments and threatened to shut down news organizations that report the truth. If that isn't a case for impeaching and removing a dangerous president, then what has our government become?

AMY GOODMAN: That's the billionaire Tom Steyer, who has spent millions on this ad campaign that's running on television. Can you talk about what he is attempting to do -- it's the Need to Impeach campaign -- and whether you're working with him, John Bonifaz?

JOHN BONIFAZ: Well, we're in communication with Tom Steyer and his team about collaborating possibly, and we do think what's important here is to elevate the national conversation. He's obviously helping to do that. We fully agree with all that he's saying about the need for this impeachment process to move forward in the House of Representatives. And the more voices that come forward from the American people all over the country is going to help push that forward in Congress.

AMY GOODMAN: So let's talk about what's happened this November, these six House Democrats announcing they've introduced articles of impeachment against President Trump. This is Congressman Steve Cohen making the announcement on November 15th.

REP. STEVE COHEN: I am proud to stand here with my friend, Congressman Gutiérrez, with other congresspeople who will be here, in announcing that we are introducing articles of impeachment to remove President Trump from office. There will be, I believe, six signatories on the resolution. We have taken this action because of great concern for our country and our Constitution, our national security and our democracy. We believe that President Trump has violated the Constitution, and we've introduced five articles of impeachment.

AMY GOODMAN: Again, that's Congressmember Steve Cohen of Memphis, Tennessee. Joining him, Luis Gutiérrez of Chicago, Marcia Fudge of Ohio, Adriano Espaillat of New York, John Yarmuth of Kentucky and Al Green of Houston, Texas. So, explain what they're introducing.

JOHN BONIFAZ: Well, they've introduced five articles of impeachment, and they've done it as a group. And it's significant because up until now there were two members of Congress, Al Green being one of them, Congressman Al Green from Houston, and Congressman Brad Sherman from Los Angeles, who had introduced articles of impeachment around obstruction of justice. These articles go beyond obstruction of justice, including that, but also the violations of the foreign and domestic emoluments clauses and the president's continued attacks on freedom of the press and on the independence of the judiciary.

And what's significant here, Amy, is that these articles have been introduced by members of Congress despite the continued opposition by their own party's leadership in the Congress. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has made clear that she doesn't think impeachment should move forward at this time, and yet they are going ahead and moving this forward. And I think they're asking for other members of Congress to join them, beyond those who already have stepped forward. And we, as Americans, all across the country, should push for an impeachment investigation and should urge our members of Congress to take the same kind of action.

AMY GOODMAN: So, respond to Nancy Pelosi. I mean, what these Democrats are saying is this is not the way to retake the House in 2018, that if you disagree with the president, the way to deal with that is through elections. Explain why you see impeachment as key.

JOHN BONIFAZ: Well, we're a nonpartisan organization. We're not involved in the political strategy of any political party. What we are focused on is defending our Constitution. At this particular moment in time, it is not acceptable to say that we will simply kick the can down the road and wait until after an election cycle to lay the groundwork for the impeachment proceedings. They may not happen tomorrow. They may not get started next month. But the fact is, we need to be laying that groundwork and making this call now.

And members of Congress, whether they're Democratic, Republican, independent or what have you, need to be stepping up to protect and defend the Constitution. That's the oath they took, in addition to the president taking that oath, to protect, defend and preserve the Constitution.

And the other point on this, Amy, is that Nancy Pelosi has been saying that we don't have the facts out, we don't have the Mueller investigation completed. But what they're really saying is they want other facts out, because we already have the facts out about what this president has done with respect to the emoluments clauses, with respect to obstruction of justice and so many other impeachable offenses.

And when we look at the Mueller investigation, we're mixing apples and oranges. That's a criminal investigation, whether or not the president and his associates have committed violations of federal criminal law. The question of impeachment is about abuse of power, abuse of public trust, crimes against the state. And it is just wrong for any member of Congress to suggest that a criminal investigation needs to be completed before an impeachment proceeding can begin.

AMY GOODMAN: One of the people who has gone before the congressional committees is Roger Stone, one of President Trump's oldest advisers. He issued what appeared to be a veiled threat, warning in August any politician who voted to impeach President Trump would face a violent response.

ROGER STONE: Try to impeach him. Just try it. You will have a spasm of violence in this country, an insurrection like you've never seen.

REPORTER: You think?

ROGER STONE: No question.

REPORTER: You think if he got impeached, like the country would go to --

ROGER STONE: Both sides are heavily armed, my friend. Yes, absolutely. This is not 1974. The people will not stand for impeachment. A politician who votes for it would be endangering their own life. There will be violence on both sides. Let me make this clear: I'm not advocating violence, but I am predicting it.

AMY GOODMAN: That's Roger Stone speaking to TMZ. He says there would be a violent response. John Bonifaz?

JOHN BONIFAZ: It's an outrageous statement, but it also highlights that we cannot allow fear to dictate our response to this lawless president. We cannot say that we're going to stay on the sidelines here while the Constitution is being shredded, because of that kind of claim that Roger Stone or anyone else might make.

AMY GOODMAN: So, explain how impeachment would work. What would the process look like?

JOHN BONIFAZ: So, the first process involves the House Judiciary Committee taking up the question. The House of Representatives would need to pass a resolution that would advance to the House Judiciary Committee the question of an impeachment investigation or articles of impeachment. You know, Congressman Al Green has said that he wants to go to the floor with a privileged resolution immediately, that will force a vote in the House of Representatives as early as in the next few days in this coming week.

But, you know, beyond that process, the process of having the House Judiciary Committee take up this question would then involve subpoena power, would then involve taking witnesses. This is what happened during the Nixon impeachment proceedings.

I understand when people say, "Well, the Republicans control the House Judiciary Committee. They control the House of Representatives. They control the Senate. Where do we think this process could actually go?" But, you know, there were plenty of people who argued on the day that we launched this campaign, on Inauguration Day, that there was just no way people would be standing up to demand this, and now we see millions of Americans demanding it. Now we see 17 communities on record, and now we see seven members of Congress on record. And the facts continue to build that this president is defying the rule of law. We must place country over party here and stand up for the basic principle that no one is above the law.

AMY GOODMAN: So, if you were arguing for the impeachment in Congress, if you were laying out the case against Trump over this almost a year that he's been in office -- not quite yet -- can you lay out the articles of impeachment?

JOHN BONIFAZ: Yes. We would start with the violations of the two anti-corruption provisions of the Constitution: the Foreign Emoluments Clause and the Domestic Emoluments Clause. This president is treating the Oval Office as a profit-making enterprise at the public expense. He's taking illegal payments and benefits from foreign governments in violation of the Foreign Emoluments Clause, and he's taking illegal payments from the state governments around the country, as well as from the federal government, in violation of the Domestic Emoluments Clause. That's point one, or point one and two, if you will, because they're two different clauses.

Then you have obstruction of justice. This is a president who first demanded loyalty of his former FBI Director James Comey. When he didn't get that, he went ahead and fired him for not letting go, as he put it, of the Flynn investigation and "this Russia thing," as he said. That was obstruction of justice. That FBI director was involved in investigating the Russian interference in the 2016 election and its potential connection to the Trump campaign. It led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller. And now we know, based on new reporting by The New York Times, that soon after that, the president sought to stop the congressional investigations in the Senate that were going -- that continue to go on with respect to that. So obstruction of justice, which was the first article of impeachment against Richard Nixon, would certainly be part of this case.

Then we have the potential conspiracy with the Russian government, potential collusion, to violate federal campaign finance laws and other federal laws and to interfere with our elections. That evidence continues to be built. But it's also an impeachment question, and the House Judiciary Committee should take that up.

Then we have the abuse of the pardon power. This is a power that is not unlimited by a president. And what the president has done with the pardon of former sheriff, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, is he has essentially undermined the due process rights of the thousands of people who were impacted by Sheriff Joe Arpaio's illegal actions. This is the sheriff who was found in criminal contempt of court for refusing to stop his illegal practices of detaining people based on the color of their skin. And this president went ahead and used the pardon power in a wrongful way to pardon him.

Then we have the giving aid and comfort to neo-Nazis and white supremacists, not just what the president said after the Charlottesville tragedy, but also his most recent tweets, tweeting out anti-Muslim -- inflammatory anti-Muslim videos. This president is giving that aid and comfort to white supremacists.

Then, you know, this president also has engaged in recklessly threatening nuclear war. Now, the fact is that the president is the commander-in-chief. He does not have the power to initiate a war. That is established under the War Powers Clause, despite the fact that we've seen violations of it in the past. But this takes it to a whole new scale. This is a president who literally is engaged in recklessly threatening nuclear war against a foreign nation. That reckless and wanton disregard for the established norms and for essentially putting millions of lives at stake, threatening really the world, is an impeachable offense.

And then, finally, most recently, this president has talked about how he would like to see the Justice Department prosecute Hillary Clinton and other political adversaries. This misuse of the Justice Department, or attempted misuse, to prosecute political adversaries would be another impeachable offense worthy of investigation.

AMY GOODMAN: Constitutional attorney John Bonifaz, co-founder and director of Free Speech for People. For Part 1 of our conversation, go to democracynow.org.

When we come back, 27 psychiatrists and mental health experts assess a president. Stay with us.

Medics, Observers and a Journalist Face 50 Years in Prison in First Trial of J20 Inauguration Protests
December 14th, 2017, 04:05 PM

Final arguments are underway today in Washington, DC, in a case that could shape the future of free speech and the right to protest in the United States: the first trial of the nearly 200 people arrested during President Donald Trump's inauguration. As demonstrators, journalists and observers gathered in Northwest DC after the inauguration on January 20, some separated from the group and vandalized nearby businesses and vehicles. Police officers then swept hundreds of people in the vicinity into a blockaded corner in a process known as "kettling," where they carried out mass arrests of everyone in the area. The first so-called J20 trial could go to a jury as early as today, and involves six people, including one journalist, Alexei Wood, a freelance photojournalist. The defendants face multiple felony and misdemeanor charges, including multiple counts of destruction of property. Evidence against the defendants has been scant. We get an update from Jude Ortiz, a member of the organizing crew of Defend J20 and the Mass Defense Committee chair for the National Lawyers Guild. He's been in court throughout the first J20 trial.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today's show with an update on a case that could shape the future of free speech and the right to protest in the United States. Final arguments are underway today in Washington, DC, for the first trial of the nearly 200 people arrested during President Trump's inauguration. As demonstrators, journalists and observers gathered in Northwest DC after the inauguration, on January 20th, some separated from the group and broke windows of nearby businesses and damaged cars. Police officers then swept hundreds of people in the vicinity into a blockaded corner in a process known as "kettling," where they carried out mass arrests of everyone in the area.

The first so-called J20 trial could go to a jury as early as today, and involves six people, including one journalist, Alexei Wood, a freelance photojournalist. The defendants face multiple felony and misdemeanor charges, including multiple counts of destruction of property. Evidence against the defendants has been scant from the moment of their arrest. Earlier this week, Superior Court Judge Lynn Leibovitz threw out the felony charge of inciting a riot for the six people on trial now, meaning they now face up to 50 years in prison instead of up to 60.

This comes as police conduct on Inauguration Day has come under scrutiny by the ACLU, and the chief detective in this case is a police union official who tweeted that police showed great restraint during the inauguration.

Well, for more, we go to Washington, DC. We're joined by Jude Ortiz, a member of the organizing crew of Defend J20 and the Mass Defense Committee chair for National Lawyers Guild. He's been in court throughout this first J20 trial.

Jude, welcome back to Democracy Now! Explain what has happened so far and the significance of the judge throwing out the charge.

JUDE ORTIZ: Right. Thank you so much for having me on again.

So, since I was on last, the prosecutor has rested their entire case with all the so-called evidence against the defendants, and then the defense has also put on their witnesses to -- like as part of their right to have witnesses come and testify on their behalf. That process for the defense was very short, about only about half a day in court. And then, now it's into the like final arguments stage. So the prosecutors had their argument first, and then each of the defense attorneys for the defendants are putting on their arguments. This morning at 9:30, there will be the final two defendants, will have their closing arguments, and then the prosecutor will do a rebuttal. Then there will be some more kind of like legal housekeeping to do, before it goes to the jury.

So, the judge throwing out the inciting a riot charge was a huge development in the case. It's something that after the prosecutor rests their case, defense attorneys will almost always file a motion to have the charges dismissed. In DC, it's called a motion for judgment of acquittal. And it's a formality, for the most part. It's rarely ever successful. So it was really notable that one of the most significant charges against the defendants, not only in this trial bloc, but also in the case as a whole, was found, in this case, at least, to have no evidentiary basis at all. So, basically, the judge said that the state did not meet the burden of proof, and that charge therefore was dismissed, and the jury will not have to deliberate on that one at all.

AMY GOODMAN: So, but explain what that means, because we're talking about numerous cases that will follow this one. Does this judge preside over all of these cases if the inciting to riot remains in the other cases?

JUDE ORTIZ: At this point, the judge is assigned to all the other cases. It's important to note that there's another case that is scheduled for this coming Monday for seven defendants, but that one probably will not be happening on Monday, because the jury will still be deliberating on this case. So, it's unclear when the second trial will begin. It's looking like it might be in January. And then, on March 5th of next year, all the way through October of next year, are all the remaining trials. And starting in May, there's a trial scheduled for every single week. But the judge has indicated that her rotation, her job assignment, is switching from criminal court to family court as of January 2nd, so there will be a new judge or judges beginning in 2018.

AMY GOODMAN: Why do you see this case as so significant for free speech in the United States?

JUDE ORTIZ: So, on January 20th, the police rounded up everyone who they can get a hold of in this vicinity. The police commander who testified at the beginning of the trial, or towards the beginning of trial, was very clear, both in his testimony as well as recordings from the police radio, that they were interested in the protest -- it was an anti-fascist, anti-capitalist march -- and they responded to that kind of preemptively by having around a hundred riot cops and their like lieutenants and sergeants, whatnot, there at Logan Circle, where the protest was scheduled to depart from and begin. And that commander said that rather than doing what is typical in DC, where they do rolling road closures to facilitate the exercise of free speech, instead they showed up with numerous vans full of riot police, and then they followed the march and began, pretty much immediately, to start to crack down on the march. That commander repeatedly used the word "anarchist" to describe everybody who was there. And that officer -- or, that commander and other officers talked about everybody being like one group with nefarious intent.

So, from the outset, because of the alleged politics of the march and of the people who were there, the police responded in this very heavy-handed manner that culminated in them rounding everybody up and mass-arresting people. And the prosecutor has continued that by going forward with these charges against everyone. So, when that is the kind of method of operations, for the police going hand in hand with the prosecutor, that sends a very chilling message to anybody who's interested in going out in the streets and voicing dissent, especially dissent to Trump, dissent to the rise of fascism, dissent to white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, like all these other like very devastating systems of oppression.

AMY GOODMAN: Jude, Assistant US Attorney Qureshi, the second-ranking prosecutor, who made closing arguments, said, in those arguments, a street medic was guilty by being present, and asked, "What do you need a medic with gauze for? She was aiding and abetting the riot. That was her role," Qureshi said. Respond to that.

JUDE ORTIZ: So, that's an entirely ludicrous claim. Medics have been at protests across the country for decades to be able to provide first aid type of care to people who are injured in various ways. One of the most notable ways people get injured at protests, as your listeners and viewers know, is by actions from the police. On January 20th, there was a massive amount of pepper spray deployed by police on people, sometimes directly in the face, sometimes on the side or from behind. And we saw this in trial through body cam -- body-worn camera videos. There's also a lot of body-worn camera videos of police knocking people down from behind with their batons. One of the officers who testified ran his bike directly into a protester. And so, there's all these different ways that the people who are out there like in the streets can get injured very easily. There's also the elements to deal with. In January, it was very cold, for the January 20th inauguration protest. Lots of different reasons why you'd have medics there in order to like render aid to people who get injured.

That prosecutor said that the supplies that were there kind of show that the medics, in general, were kind of like prepared for war, which is a -- it's as insulting as it is ludicrous to say that people who were out there in the streets were prepared for war, especially when you saw the Department of Homeland Security helicopter video showing all the police operations that were happening there on Inauguration Day, how the police took this like paramilitary approach, that was also supported by the National Guard in order to like corral people and use chemical and projectile weapons against people. So, if there was any kind of warlike conditions, that was coming from the police and from the government, and not from people who were there to render aid.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you about some of the videos submitted as evidence in this case by federal prosecutors. This includes video by the Canadian YouTuber Lauren Southern, who the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as, quote, "tiptoe[ing] at the precipice of outright white nationalism." Southern was there on January 20th, Inauguration Day, and was kettled during the protest, but was allowed to leave without being arrested. Prosecutors also submitted video evidence from the right-wing militia group Oath Keepers, who infiltrated protest planning meetings and secretly recorded them. Prosecutors also presented video from the discredited far-right group Project Veritas, just one day after The Washington Post reported Project Veritas had tried to dupe them with a false story of sexual misconduct by a woman undercover pretending to be a victim of Roy Moore. Go into this and why this matters, Jude Ortiz.

JUDE ORTIZ: It's appalling to see so much of the state's -- the prosecution's case and their so-called like evidence coming from overtly far-right sources. So, the Project Veritas video that you mention, it did come out in the courtroom as like a main piece of evidence, exactly like one day after that story broke. And one would think that that would kind of discredit or like cast into doubt like the kind of truthfulness or the usefulness of that evidence. The prosecutor and the police officer who was testifying about it gave no indication that the source of it was at all even a question mark or some cause of concern. The state, through various witnesses, the detectives who like testified about the video and whatnot, admitted that they did no kind of forensic investigation or examination of the tape to make sure that it wasn't doctored in some way. Project Veritas, of course, is notorious for doctoring in the editing of their videos. And they were presented to the jury as one of their main pieces of evidence, and especially with the idea of conspiracy.

And so, when so much of the so-called evidence against these defendants and the defendants at large depends on this kind of so-called like investigative work of far-right actors, it really shows how the state itself, but with their police investigators, undercover cops infiltrating political protest planning meetings, the undercover and plainclothes police who were present on the march and like in the streets that day -- all of these different like state actors were not able to find the evidence that would substantiate the charges the prosecutor has been so ferociously pursuing, and so they have to supplement that and really kind of create the evidentiary base through drawing on the far right.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about the main detective working full time on the J20 case, Greggory Pemberton. On Inauguration Day, January 20th, he tweeted DC police officers used a, quote, "inspiring amount of restraint" and showed "professionalism." Last November, he also tweeted about, quote, "disingenuous 'activists' who peddle lies and falsehood." During the J20 trial, defense lawyers played this clip of an interview Pemberton gave to the far-right media outlet One America News Network, praising President Trump.

GREGGORY PEMBERTON: He certainly has a message of law and order, and he really is appealing to a lot of police officers. … Police officers want to hear that someone is going to come in and not allow this divisive, vitriolic rhetoric of this false narrative that all police officers are inherently criminal racists that are out here committing crimes against the citizens, and that they're going to come in and put a stop to that.

AMY GOODMAN: Jude Ortiz, as we wrap up, can you respond to the significance of his involvement with the case and what he's saying here?

JUDE ORTIZ: Yes. The detective, Pemberton, has claimed that he has looked through hundreds of hours of videos, hundreds of times, since January 21st. It's been his full-time job, his only assignment. He was able, through that review, to present various compilation boards of photographs, as well as videos and PowerPoints, to give to the jury for their deliberations, that claims to have documentation of the location of each of the defendants all throughout the march, and presenting this as if that's something that, like, being present like in the streets is a sign of guilt and is evidence of guilt of all these charges.

So it's a tremendous amount of work that is like put in for these like very politically motivated way -- or, reasons. And those political motivations are pretty clear when you look at his Twitter feed, with all of the far-right and pro-Trump things that he has promoted, like through retweets and through likes and through his own comments on Twitter. He claimed on the stand that that was only in the kind of exercise of his position as a board member of the police union. But whether that's true or whether it's his own personal opinions, those opinions that are put forward are very much in favor of like right-wing causes and very much against liberal or progressive, like radical-left causes and movements. And he's even done very inflammatory and insulting things, like saying "black lies matter" -- L-I-E-S -- instead of "Black Lives Matter," and discounting that entire movement, that has been so prominent in responding to police violence and brutality across the country.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, shortly after winning the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump tweeted his thoughts on dissent. He tweeted, "Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag–if they do, there must be consequences–perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!" Your final comment, Jude Ortiz?

JUDE ORTIZ: I think comments like that show the kind of concerted effort and nature of repression of social movements in the United States. I want to clarify that: I mean like left social movements. The right social movements, that have become more prominent and public under Trump, have been facilitated by the state. We're seeing that in places like Charlottesville. We're seeing that in places like St. Louis and all across the country. People need to recognize like how things are shifting, and be ready to be out in resistance, to dissent and to not be scared away. And this case is a very important part of that.

AMY GOODMAN: Jude Ortiz, I want to thank you for being with us, member of the organizing crew of Defend J20 and the Mass Defense Committee chair for the National Lawyers Guild. He's been in court throughout this first J20 trial. And we'll keep you updated on this and other trials as they go on.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, the movement to impeach President Trump, where does it stand, from Congress to counties, cities, towns across the United States? Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: "Blood and Roses" by The Smithereens. The lead singer, Pat DiNizio, died on Tuesday at the age of 62. And a shout-out to the classes that are visiting Democracy Now! today for today's broadcast: Brooklyn Prep High School and Asian American Writers' Workshop.

Under Threat of Regulation, Profiteers Blame Each Other for High Drug Prices
December 14th, 2017, 04:05 PM

The industries benefiting from rising drug prices are once again pointing fingers at each other as members of Congress threaten them with "reforms." Much of the blame has fallen on drug manufacturers, but will lawmakers -- beholden to the insurance lobby -- hold insurance companies accountable for their role in making drugs unaffordable?

(Photo: Digicomphoto / Getty Images)(Photo: Digicomphoto / Getty Images)

Insurance companies receive steep rebates from pharmaceutical companies that are pushing up the price of prescription drugs. However, insurers are not passing the savings down to their customers in the form of lower premiums and out-of-pocket costs.

At least, that's what the drug manufacturing industry claims. If you ask the insurance industry, it's drug manufacturers that are to blame for the sky-high drug prices that have enraged the public -- and forced insurers to raise premiums and deductibles in recent years.

Congress has so far failed to take meaningful action to rein in prescription drug prices, but constituents are demanding relief.

Drug costs in the US are higher than in many European countries, and manufacturers are under increasing public scrutiny for raising the price of specialty medicines like insulin year after year. However, the backroom negotiations that determine the prices insurance plans actually pay for prescription drugs are as confidential as the prices themselves, allowing both sides to accuse the other of gouging customers.

The drug-pricing blame game is on full display in Congress again this week as lawmakers grilled representatives of insurers, manufacturers and their middlemen during a House Committee on Energy and Commerce hearing on Wednesday. Congress has so far failed to take meaningful action to rein in prescription drug prices, but lawmakers told industry witnesses on the panel that their constituents are demanding relief. 

"We're going to reform, we need to reform," said Rep. Anna Eshoo, a Democrat from California. "We have to answer to constituents, we have to answer to what the costs are in the system that we oversee."

Polls consistently show that a majority of voters think drug prices are too high and lowering them should be a priority for Congress and President Trump. Efforts to bring transparency to the system are already on the move in several states, including Eshoo's home state of California.

What exactly reforms will look like is still up for debate, and the three big industry players that have benefited from rising pharmaceutical prices -- drug manufacturers, insurance companies and middlemen known as pharmacy benefit managers -- are now pointing fingers at each other as they jostle for the best position to protect their individual profit margins.

Representatives from all three industries testified before the committee on Wednesday, and their stories did not add up.

"Prices are set by drug companies with zero input from everybody else in the supply chain, including pharmacy benefit managers," said Mark Merritt of the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, a trade group that represents pharmacy benefit managers.

Pharmacy benefit managers give manufacturers access to millions of customers by deciding what drugs are available on insurance plans, and they use this leverage to negotiate hefty reimbursements or "rebates" for insurers. Insurers depend on these payments to raise revenue and lower premiums.

That's not how insurance is supposed to work -- we're not supposed to rob Peter who buys insulin, so we can modestly reduce Paul's premium.

"So, when drug prices go up, insurance premiums go up, and that's an economic reality," said Matt Eyles, senior vice president of regulatory affairs at the insurance industry trade group America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), at the hearing.

Lori Reilly, the vice president of policy, research and membership at the powerful drug manufacturing trade group PhRMA, told a different story. She said manufacturers do not set drug prices "in a vacuum" and the other players' preferences "matter significantly." The nation's three largest pharmacy benefit managers -- Express Scripts, CVSHealth and OptumRx -- control about 70 percent of prescriptions filled in the United States, giving them substantial leverage over drug costs.

Reilly said pharmacy benefit managers even prefer that drug companies set high prices for drugs, because high prices translate to deeper rebate payments for their insurer clients.

"Unfortunately, they are not sharing those rebates and discounts back with patients as they do when a patient ends up in the hospital or uses a physician," Reilly said. "And that's what needs to change."

Merritt shot right back at Reilly, arguing that antitrust laws prevent pharmacy benefit managers from having a say in the list prices set by manufacturers.

However, a series of lawsuits filed earlier this year by people with diabetes allege that antitrust laws are indeed being violated. They claim collusion between manufacturers and pharmacy benefit managers (working on behalf of insurers) to drive up list prices and rebate payments for insulin and other medications has put life-sustaining drugs out of reach for many patients.

As Truthout has reported, there are actually two prices of many brand-name and specialty drugs used to treat conditions ranging from cancer to diabetes: the original "list price" set by manufacturers, and a secret "net price" paid by insurance companies after negotiating hefty rebates through pharmacy benefit managers.

While these rebates can lower the price of a drug like insulin by 50 to 70 percent, insurance plans require patients to pay a list price that is hundreds of dollars more until they meet their deductibles. While patients with robust coverage are shielded from rising drug prices created by this system of "kickbacks," those with high deductibles or no insurance at all pay more for drugs like insulin than insurance companies do.

"Obviously, that's not how insurance is supposed to work -- we're not supposed to rob Peter who buys insulin, so we can modestly reduce Paul's premium," said Charles Fournier, the legal director of the Type 1 Diabetes Defense Foundation.

The controversy over high drug prices and the political battle to bring them down is just beginning.

Steven Knievel, an advocate with Public Citizen's Access to Medicines campaign, said insurance companies have been raising deductibles and copays in order to keep premiums down, which are what customers pay the most attention to when shopping for plans.

"This has been their response to higher drug prices generally, to hold down premiums as far as getting more customers to buy insurance," Knievel told Truthout in an interview.

Knievel suggested that lawmakers focus their reform efforts on the manufacturers that set the high drug prices in the first place. The most popular and well-known proposal would allow Medicare's drug program to negotiate prices directly with manufacturers. The federal government is the largest buyer of health care services in the country and could use that leverage to benefit everyone.

Other proposals currently before Congress would punish companies for sudden price spikes, promote generic drug competition and require drug companies to report the amount of revenue they reinvest into research and development. Lawmakers routinely rail against high drug prices, but these bills have hardly budged in a Republican Congress focused on taxes and repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Some policymakers also want to shine a light on rebate schemes. Several members of the House committee pushed for drug manufacturers to disclose their rebate negotiations with pharmacy benefit managers, and state and federal investigators have demanded the same in probes of insulin price-fixing allegations. New laws in California and Nevada aim to increase pricing transparency as well.

Fournier said one potential target of reforms is missing from the conversation: insurance companies. Insurers often calculate cost-sharing benefits based on the list price of a drug, not the net price they pay after rebates -- a practice experts want Congress to outlaw. Insurers also do not report the actual net cost they pay for drugs to their customers, lest those with high deductibles discover how much they are being gouged.

Up until now, Fournier said, insurers successfully focused blame on manufacturers, all while misleading the public to believe they pay the same high list prices for prescription drugs as a patient without insurance.

If insurers are not being honest with their customers about the prices they pay for drugs, why hasn't it come up in congressional hearings? Both the insurance and pharmaceutical industry hold considerable influence in Congress, but Fournier suggested that lawmakers may owe insurers political favors for cooperating on Medicare's popular drug program and efforts to stabilize insurance markets under the ACA. Democrats may also remember that AHIP was critical of Republican efforts to repeal the ACA.

"No one on either side of the political aisle wants suddenly, in a live-streamed hearing in December of 2017, to draw public attention to the reality: Congress has looked the other way on consumer fraud for a decade in order to obtain private insurer cooperation in two successive public-private partnerships, Medicare Part D and the ACA," Fournier said.

The controversy over high drug prices and the political battle to bring them down is just beginning. The public is demanding change, and the industry is fighting a pitched battle over who will pay for it.

The FCC Put the Internet at the Mercy of a Handful of Multibillion-Dollar Corporations
December 14th, 2017, 04:05 PM
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai listens during a commission meeting December 14, 2017, in Washington, DC. FCC has voted to repeal its net neutrality rules at the meeting. (Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images)Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai listens during a commission meeting December 14, 2017, in Washington, DC. FCC has voted to repeal its net neutrality rules at the meeting. (Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images)
 

The nonpartisan First Amendment advocacy group Free Press vowed to take the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to court Thursday after the Republican-controlled panel moved to gut net neutrality protections that prohibit internet service providers (ISPs) from charging for and discriminating against content, in a 3-2 vote along party lines.

The ACLU released a statement calling the "misguided" decision "a radical departure that risks erosion of the biggest free speech platform the world has ever known."

"Today's loss means that telecommunications companies will start intruding more on how people use the internet. Internet service providers will become much more aggressive in their efforts to make money off their role as online gatekeepers," said Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst for the group.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) also denounced the ruling:

Once again, the Trump administration has sided with big money and against the interests of the American people. The FCC's vote to end net neutrality is an egregious attack on our democracy. With this decision the internet and its free exchange of information as we have come to know it will cease to exist. The end of net neutrality protections means that the internet will be for sale to the highest bidder, instead of everyone having the same access regardless of whether they are rich or poor, a big corporation or small business, a multimedia conglomerate or a small online publication. At a time when our democratic institutions are already in peril, we must do everything we can to stop this decision from taking effect.

Free Press and their many allies rallied outside the FCC headquarters in Washington, DC as the five commissioners prepared to vote on FCC chair Ajit Pai's proposal to roll back the Obama-era protections. The protest represented the final push to stop the vote in its tracks, following hundreds of demonstrations outside Verizon stores across the country last week, Fight for the Future's "Break the Internet" action earlier this week, and thousands of calls to members of Congress.

The two Democratic commissioners on the panel, Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel, met with protesters outside and issued powerful dissents ahead of the vote, with Clyburn noting, "The fight to save net neutrality does not end today. This agency does not have, the final word. Thank goodness."

In addition to Free Press's plan to sue the FCC, the group urged supporters to push Congress to nullify Pai's plan using the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which allows representatives and senators to review new regulations and overrule them by passing a joint resolution.

Forty senators, including one Republican, have voiced opposition to the net neutrality rollback, while a handful of Republican representatives have said they disagree with Pai's plan. But the loudest opposition so far has come from the public and groups like Free Press and Fight for the Future.

"Why are we witnessing such an unprecedented groundswell of public support" for net neutrality, asked Clyburn in her dissent. "Because the public can plainly see a soon-to-be-toothless FCC is handing the keys to the Internet to a handful of multi-billion dollar corporations."

With the vote, ISPs like Verizon -- Pai's former employer -- will no longer be prohibited from blocking or slowing down certain websites and content, and will be able to charge fees to web companies that can afford to pay them for access to an internet "fast lane," leaving smaller sites struggling to reach audiences.

Despite comments from millions of Americans who spoke out in favor of the protections, Pai did not mention the widespread opposition to net neutrality in his order to repeal the rules. Last week, he refused to release documents related to potentially fraudulent comments left on the FCC's public comment website.

"That speaks volumes about the direction the FCC is heading," said Clyburn. That speaks volumes about just who is being heard."

"I dissent from this rash decision to roll back net neutrality rules," added Rosenworcel. "I dissent from the corrupt process that has brought us to this point. And I dissent from the contempt this agency has shown our citizens in pursuing this path today."

Online, open internet defenders reacted to the ruling.

Random Screening
December 14th, 2017, 04:05 PM
Meet the Woman Who's Boosting Arizona's Mom-and-Pop Business Culture
December 14th, 2017, 04:05 PM

In the Arizona economic landscape, Kimber Lanning acts as a fierce advocate for local economies. In 2003, Lanning started Local First Arizona, which is now the largest coalition of local businesses in the country with 3,200 members. Lanning discusses how to bolster local business and the connection between buying local and a thriving local culture and economy.

Local First Arizona founder Kimber Lanning speaks at TEDxPhoenix in Phoenix, Arizona on November 6, 2010. (Photo: Ali Jalili / TEDxPhoenix)Local First Arizona Founder Kimber Lanning speaks at TEDxPhoenix in Phoenix, Arizona, on November 6, 2010. (Photo: Ali Jalili / TEDxPhoenix)
 

Kimber Lanning stands at just 5 feet 1 inch. But in the Arizona economic landscape where she acts as a fierce advocate for local economies, she is a giant.

In 2003, Lanning started Local First Arizona. She was the only employee, and didn't take any salary. Now, with 3,200 members, it is the largest coalition of local businesses in the country. The coalition's staff of 24 manages programs ranging from an annual local business fall festival to the state's first directory of locally grown food to a program in Spanish for micro-entrepreneurs.

Lanning is widely recognized for her work. Even though she finds traditional economic development planners to be frequent adversaries, in 2014 the International Economic Development Council awarded her a Citizen Leader of the Year Award. She considers that a turning point in planners' recognition of the value of local businesses. Arizona Business Magazine named her one of the 50 most influential women in Arizona, and the American Planning Association named her Distinguished Citizen Planner for her work on the reuse of old buildings.

In November, at a conference of the nonprofit Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, for which Lanning is an incoming co-chair, Lanning told me of the sources of her passion for local business.

Fran Korten: Kimber, what propelled you to start Local First Arizona?

Kimber Lanning: I was angry. I wanted to expose the horrible subsidies being given to big corporate chains. I own a record store that I started when I was 19. And I saw how unfair the competition is for local businesses. For example, in Glendale, Cabela's got a $68 million subsidy. Bass Pro got $32 million. And I began to see the fallout. You'd read that Bass Pro is to create 160 jobs. Yet, I'm going over to Lorada's Army Surplus and they're closing. They say the city just took the income tax, the property tax, the sales tax that they've been paying for the 30 years and incentivized the competition to put them out of business. So I wanted to level the playing field for locally owned businesses.

I also wanted to strengthen people's connection to place. In Arizona, a lot of people have moved here from Chicago. They are always talking about how great Chicago is. So I asked people why they love Chicago. They would say, "In my old neighborhood, I knew all the store owners." One guy said, "I had the same barber for 40 years, and I come out here to Phoenix and all you guys have is Supercuts." And I said, "This is so unfair. You give me 20 minutes and I'll find you 20 barbers." And he said "Really? Where?"

So I realized I've got to introduce these people to my world and the rich culture we have amongst the locally owned businesses. In Phoenix I put together a fall festival where I had all these businesses in one place. We are so geographically spread out that you never see them in one place. Put them all together and people started to go, "Wow. There is some cool stuff going on right here."

You make the connection between buying local and having a thriving local culture and economy. Do you think other people see that?

Generally they don't. One of my mentors, Eddie Basha, told me this story. He owned a group of local grocery stores. The husband of a couple who were long-time customers died. Eddie called the widow and offered to provide all the food for the service. She was incredibly grateful. But he also told her, "I can't bring the drinks." And she said, "Oh, don't worry, I'll pick up the drinks at Costco." When I tell that story, people in the audience gasp because they've done exactly that. We're so disconnected from how the economy works that we believe we can put money into these big corporate entities and our friends who donate food when your husband passes away will survive and be there for you. And I'm here to tell you that they won't.

After the Trump election, a lot of people are paying more attention to jobs in rural areas. You're based in Phoenix. How does Local First Arizona work in rural areas?

Rural towns have massive economic leakage. Amazon is the biggest threat facing rural America. People in rural communities tend to either buy online or travel to Tucson or Phoenix to spend their money. They don't connect that to the fact that the town can no longer balance the budget because they don't have sales tax revenue coming in and the storefronts are boarded up. You know, the jobs they lose aren't just baristas. It's the graphic designer, the payroll service provider, the accountant. Those jobs go away when you lose local businesses. I always tell people, don't support mom-and-pop because mom and pop need you -- support them because you want your children to have a job.

At Local First Arizona we make sure that these local businesses have the tools and resources they need to compete. One program we do is Mythbusters. People in rural areas will tell you, "I can't buy this here." So we reintroduce them to their town, showing what they can buy locally. And we dispel the myths about how expensive it is. I had a guy just barely hanging on, selling appliances in the town of Ajo. Everybody said he's too expensive. They go buy in Tucson, which is two hours away. So I compared his prices with those in Tucson. Sure enough he was more expensive. But I factored in my gas to get to Tucson and back and the fact that, say, for a washing machine, I'd have to get a trailer to bring it home. And I'd have to pay somebody to haul away my old one, whereas he would do that for free. You stack those up and he was actually cheaper. After our Mythbusters program, his business is up significantly.

Arizona has a lot of Latinos. How do you reach them with your programs?

Our Fuerza Local program is a six-month business accelerator program taught in Spanish. We help Latino micro-entrepreneurs strengthen their businesses.

What's an example of a business you have helped with that program?

We have many remarkable examples. We had a wedding cake baker whose business was all word of mouth. She had no marketing and no formal contracts. She had been sold three kinds of insurance that she didn't need and was paying 48 percent interest on her loans. She had no health permit, no business permit. She was just a great baker. People would ask her to bake their wedding cake. She would quote, say, $500. But she'd go to deliver the cake and they would say, "We're sorry. We only have $275." So she would leave the cake and just feel sad.

After graduating from our Fuerza Local program, she enrolled in a credit union where she got a 6 percent interest loan and paid off all of her bad loans. We got her the right kind of insurance. GoDaddy donated a website. We got her up on Facebook and helped her develop contracts. I remember her face when I explained that she needed to ask for 50 percent down when a customer placed the order. She said, "I can't do that." I said, "Don't bake a thing until you've got 50 percent in your hands." Now, three and a half years later, she's in a commercial kitchen. She has six full-time employees and she has a contract with Bashas', the biggest locally owned grocery store.

Does anyone oppose your work in building up local businesses?

Absolutely. One group is the traditional economic developers. Their whole mission is creating jobs by giving away massive corporate subsidies. Just like everybody's jockeying for Amazon right now.

But that's changing. In 2014 the International Economic Development Council awarded me a Citizen Leader of the Year Award. That was an acknowledgement that local economy work is important. Now they're bringing in more people at their conference who are talking about a new way of doing economic development.

Who are your biggest supporters?

Local businesses, of course. Moms who care about healthy food and the future for their children. Young people who want to make change in the world. They are jumping in with both feet because they don't like the way the corporations are treating the world. But they exempt Amazon from their concern with big corporations because they like the convenience.

Both the millennials and the baby boomers are speaking loudly with their wallets. Generally they want to place relationships first. They also want a unique experience. They may not be thinking about voting with their dollars, but you look at a comparison of craft beer versus Budweiser sales and you will see that people are voting for something unique. So when you ask who is with us, it's the people who are choosing relationships.

I believe the American public is being divided into two camps -- one that prioritizes convenience, the other that prioritizes relationships. The latter is something the media never anticipated. They were beating the death drum for local independent businesses. But local businesses are climbing back. More record stores opened in the last two years than opened in the 20 years before that; more bookstores have opened; more independent coffee shops have opened than Starbucks branches.

Do you feel that local businesses advance sustainability and justice?

I think local business owners inherently care more about the community than a nonlocal corporation that's answering to shareholders who don't live in the community. They're more likely to care about long-term sustainability because it impacts their children.

Sometimes sustainability and justice are baked right into the programs that support local businesses. Take our program to repurpose old buildings. There's nothing greener than keeping an old building rather than tearing it down and building a new one. There's a study called "Older, Smaller Better," which demonstrates that communities that preserve their older building stock have more jobs per block. They support more businesses owned by people of color. They provide a unique sense of place. They are vital incubator spaces for small businesses. People say we want more entrepreneurs, but then they mow down the older buildings and put in big ones where there's no place for entrepreneurs. With the cities of Phoenix and Tucson, we've streamlined the process for a new business to open in an older building. Phoenix has the most progressive adaptive reuse program in the country. We have about 85 new businesses right in our city center to show for it.

How did you get the city to keep the old buildings?

I just said if we don't protect our older buildings that usher in entrepreneurs and create a unique sense of place, we're not going to be competitive. That word "competitive" makes my conservative audiences sit up and listen.

One issue we had to deal with in order to keep the old buildings was the requirement that stores have ADA accessible bathrooms. If you put bathrooms in each of these small stores, it would take up a third of the floor space. I said why can't we do a district bathroom so the building owner only has to put in one set? I got the attorneys who defend the Americans with Disabilities Act to come to the city council and agree on that solution. With this change and other new policies, we've saved countless buildings and made it easier for lots of new businesses to get their doors open.

You have a passion for local businesses. Do you think it's possible to reach new audiences with this perspective?

Yes. People can see that the dominant system is failing them and their families. And it's failing the Earth. They're looking for something that they can really put their shoulder behind.

Health Care Sign-Up Deadline Is Friday, but Some People May Get Extra Time
December 14th, 2017, 04:05 PM

Open enrollment on the federal health law's marketplace ends today. But some consumers who miss the cutoff could be eligible to apply later during a special enrollment period. People who are eligible for that special enrollment period have up to 60 days after their coverage ends to sign up for a new marketplace plan.

(Photo: SARINYAPINNGAM / Getty Images)(Photo: SARINYAPINNGAM / Getty Images)
 

Open enrollment on the federal health law's marketplace ends today, and most people who want a plan for next year need to meet the deadline.

But some consumers who miss the cutoff could be surprised to learn they have the opportunity to enroll later.

"While a lot of people will be eligible … I am still worried that a lot of consumers won't know it," said Shelby Gonzales, a senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Under the health law, people are entitled to a special enrollment period (SEP) when they have specific changes in their lives, such as losing other health insurance, getting married or having a child, or when they have a change in income that affects their eligibility for premium tax credits or cost-sharing reduction subsidies. Those special enrollment periods generally last at least 60 days.

Other circumstances can also qualify customers for a special enrollment period. But this year, consumer advocates are focused on two that could affect a substantial number of people: consumers whose 2017 marketplace policies are being discontinued in 2018 and people affected by the hurricanes that ravaged Texas, parts of the Southeastern United States and Puerto Rico.

It's not clear how many consumers this will affect. In past years, people who sign up during an SEP made up a tiny fraction of overall marketplace enrollment. In the spring of 2016, 11.1 million people had a marketplace plan. Meanwhile, roughly 1.6 million signed up through a special enrollment period during 2015, according to the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

The majority of people who use a special enrollment period do so because they've lost coverage under another plan. This applies to people who lose their job-based coverage as well as those with marketplace plans whose insurer discontinues their plan for the upcoming year.

Between 2014 and 2018 the average number of issuers per state declined from 5 to 3.5, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. (KHN is an editorially independent program of the foundation.) Several big name companies, including Anthem, Aetna and Humana, dramatically pulled back in their 2018 offerings.

A growing proportion of people will likely qualify for SEPs now because of a loss of marketplace coverage, insurance analysts say.

People who are eligible for that special enrollment period have up to 60 days after their coverage ends on Dec. 31 to sign up for a new marketplace plan. Meeting the regular Dec. 15 sign-up deadline is preferable because it allows coverage to start Jan 1. But eligible people who miss that date can apply through the marketplace for an SEP that will allow them to sign up until the end of February.

Even if the marketplace automatically re-enrolls customers in a plan that's similar to the one that ended, they're entitled to an SEP to pick a new plan, said Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

But people shouldn't count on getting a clear explanation of what the SEP is or how it works, said Pollitz, who has reviewed the consumer notices related to plan discontinuations.

"The notices are not what they could be," she said.

Gonzales concurs.

"The bottom line here is many consumers experienced a discontinuation of their plan this year," she said. "Notices are complicated, and these consumers in particular are going to get several notices which may result in more confusion, and it will not be easily understood by many what an SEP is or how and/or when to activate it."

This year, there are also special enrollment periods for people who were affected by the hurricanes that slopped across all or parts of Texas, Florida, Georgia, Puerto Rico and elsewhere last fall.

The special enrollment period for 2018 applies to people who live in or move from counties designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency as hurricane disaster areas. It gives them an extra two weeks, from Dec. 16 to Dec. 31, to sign up for January coverage. Officials said they'll consider extending the timeframe if necessary.

To take advantage of the special enrollment period, people must request it through the healthcare.gov call center. They'll be asked to attest that they resided in an affected area, but they won't have to provide proof.

Consumer advocates who work on outreach for enrollment and help people sign up for coverage aren't yet talking up the SEPs, said Gonzales.

"They want one clear message for everyone: Open enrollment ends Dec. 15," she said. Starting Dec. 16, these groups will start getting the word out for people who have missed the deadline and may not realize they may have other options.

The GOP's False Promises Emerge as Tax Bill Enters Reconciliation
December 11th, 2017, 04:05 PM

In a political nail-biter, the GOP finally passed their tax reform bill in the Senate -- thanks in large part to a number of late-entrance amendments and lofty promises. But once Vice President Mike Pence provided the tie-breaking vote, the Republican party moved quickly to the next stage: reconciliation.

And that's when a number of wavering senators learned that the last-minute offers they received in exchange for their votes were about as long-lasting as President Donald Trump's breaks from Twitter.

It took a variety of sweeteners to finally get skeptical GOP senators on board with the tax reform bill. But the reconciliation process is stripping a number of those amendments out of the final bill, leaving legislators wondering if there was any good faith in the negotiations at all.

Perhaps one of the most frustrated is Maine Senator Susan Collins. In order to get her vote, fellow Republicans included language that would supposedly add money to insurance pools for high-risk insurees still requiring coverage. The assumption was that plan costs would increase dramatically after eliminating the individual mandate requiring all people to have health insurance.

"Collins added two amendments to the legislation that passed the Senate last week, one of which would allow taxpayers to deduct property taxes from their annual federal filings, restoring a provision of the House bill that the Senate took out," the Hill reported. "Another provision added by Collins would lower the threshold for tax deductions for medical expenses."

Now, Republican leaders are backtracking on their vow.

"Collins voted for the Senate's tax reform legislation after Republican leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, promised to support legislation to prop up US health insurance markets," reports Reuters. "But last week The Hill newspaper reported that House Speaker Paul Ryan told his staff that he wasn't part of the deal that Collins brokered with Senate leaders."

And Collins isn't the only Republican senator to learn that agreements on the Senate floor may be totally disregarded come the committee's final bill.

Fellow legislators promised Arizona Senator Jeff Flake that the bill wouldn't stay in effect if it triggered too big of an increase in the national debt. They also assured Flake that the White House would push a legislative answer to reinstating or addressing DACA so that those who were brought into the US illegally as children could remain in the country rather than face deportation.

But Flake voted yes even after the GOP removed the debt trigger -- and Republicans may very well shut down the government rather than allow movement on passing a new DREAM Act.

Of course, GOP senators didn't just lie to each other -- they lied to Americans, too. Besides promising that tax cuts would help the middle class and reduce most people's taxes, they also claimed that the tax plan wouldn't affect Medicaid, Social Security or Medicare.

In other words, they lied.

According to the Washington Post:

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-WI) said Wednesday that congressional Republicans will aim next year to reduce spending on both federal health care and anti-poverty programs, citing the need to reduce America's deficit. "We're going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit," Ryan said during an appearance on Ross Kaminsky's talk radio show. '". Frankly, it's the health care entitlements that are the big drivers of our debt, so we spend more time on the health care entitlements -- because that's really where the problem lies, fiscally speaking."

In fact, given the Republican Party's track record, there's only one thing you can reliably believe about the GOP: You should never take them at their word.