Racial Bias, Perceptions of Law Enforcement, Legal Standards Make Police Convictions Nearly Impossible

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — In the three years since fatal police shootings of unarmed Black people launched the Black Lives Matter movement, few officers have been charged and none has been convicted by juries in those deaths.

Experts cite a confluence of factors, including racial bias, attitudes toward law enforcement and the challenge of showing precisely what an officer was thinking in a high-pressure situation. In the end, many jurors are simply reluctant to reject the accounts provided by police.

“They just don’t want to second-guess officers in those life-or-death decisions,” said Philip Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. “They think, ‘What if that was me? What if that was my child who was the police officer?’”

A jury last week acquitted the Minnesota officer who fatally shot Philando Castile, whose girlfriend live streamed the moments after the shooting on Facebook. Then on Wednesday, jurors acquitted a Black police officer of first-degree reckless homicide in the killing of a Black Milwaukee man who threw away the gun he was carrying during a brief foot chase after a traffic stop.

Meanwhile, a jury in Cincinnati is scheduled to deliberate for a fourth day Thursday in the second trial of Ray Tensing, a white former University of Cincinnati officer charged with murder and voluntary manslaughter. He shot Sam DuBose, an unarmed Black driver, during a 2015 traffic stop. The first trial in November ended with a hung jury.

A closer look at some factors that work against the prosecution or conviction of officers:

RACIAL BIAS

Studies have shown conscious and unconscious fear of African-American men plays out in numerous ways, including in exchanges between police and Blacks.

“People think that Black men are violent and dangerous,” said Georgetown University professor and former federal prosecutor Paul Butler. “What the law does is respond to that fear by trying to contain the threat. The issue is always, ‘Did the police act reasonably?’”

When the question is put before a jury, jurors must decide whether it was reasonable for an officer to think his or her life was in danger.

“That bias makes it much more reasonable to think that the Black man posed a threat,” Butler said.

PERCEPTIONS OF LAW ENFORCEMENT

Race also plays a role in how people view the role of police. A recent Pew survey found that fewer than half of Blacks surveyed felt the police did an excellent or good job of protecting people from crime compared with nearly 80 percent of whites.

The same poll found that 75 percent of whites believed police used the right amount of force for each situation compared with 33 percent of Blacks, and that 70 percent of whites believed the law holds officers accountable when misconduct occurs compared with 31 percent of Blacks.

“Policing is structured in a way that favors the officer over the civilian,” said Sam Sinyangwe, co-founder of Campaign Zero, which seeks to reduce police killings. “In many ways, the laws and institutions that have been created in this country have been in the context of those beliefs. It’s not a coincidence that those two things align.”

A conviction on charges of homicide or murder often requires prosecutors to establish the suspect’s intent, which can be difficult in the split-second exchanges between police and civilians.

Many police shooting trials center on a self-defense strategy. Stinson found that almost 40 percent of cases in which officers were charged with murder or manslaughter since 2005 ended in mistrials or acquittals when officers testified they feared for their lives.

“It’s about your character, about what you meant to do,” said Phil Goff, president and co-founder of the Center for Policing Equity. “These are not officers who got up that day looking to shoot Black people.”

In Tensing’s trials, both sides called use-of-force experts and other witnesses to testify about police training. The prosecution said Tensing could have de-escalated the situation and did not need to shoot. Defense witnesses said officers are trained to “stop the threat” if they believe they are in danger.

Tensing, 27, testified in both trials, tearfully saying that he feared he could be dragged or run over as DuBose tried to drive away from what began as a stop for missing a front license plate.

“I meant to stop the threat,” he told jurors Friday. “I didn’t shoot to kill him. I didn’t shoot to wound him. I shot to stop his actions.”

A video-analysis expert hired by prosecutors said his frame-by-frame review of the former officer’s body camera video showed Tensing was not being dragged by the car.

In her closing argument Monday, prosecutor Stacey DeGraffenreid said Tensing repeatedly used “stop the threat” and “feared for my life” in his testimony as “buzzwords” he learned in training to justify the shooting.

Donyetta Bailey, president of the Black Lawyers Association of Cincinnati, said she understands how jurors could have difficulty convicting in some cases. But in others, she added, juries seem to disregard the facts, such as in the shooting of Walter Scott in South Carolina as he was running away from officers, and in the Castile slaying.

“We don’t view police officers the same in our community,” she said Wednesday. “I think [white jurors] view them as not being capable of any wrong even when the facts … show the other side.”

Some activists and criminal justice reform advocates say there are legal and systemic factors that can predetermine the outcome.

“Law enforcement is one of the most protected groups in our country,” said Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors. “We don’t have a judicial system that is set up to hold them accountable.”

From Associated Press

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Saudi Arabia Is ‘Playing’ Donald Trump With Potentially Disastrous Consequences

  President Trump and first lady Melania Trump are welcomed by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in May. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

At this point, it’s no great surprise when Donald Trump walks away from past statements in service to some impulse of the moment. Nowhere, however, has such a shift been more extreme or its potential consequences more dangerous than in his sudden love affair with the Saudi royal family. It could in the end destabilize the Middle East in ways not seen in our lifetimes (which, given the growing chaos in the region, is no small thing to say).

Trump’s newfound ardor for the Saudi regime is a far cry from his past positions, including his campaign season assertion that the Saudis were behind the 9/11 attacks and complaints, as recently as this April, that the United States was losing a “tremendous amount of money” defending the kingdom.  That was yet another example of the sort of bad deal that President Trump was going to set right as part of his “America First” foreign policy.

Given this background, it came as a surprise to pundits, politicians, and foreign policy experts alike when the president chose Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, as the very first stop on his very first overseas trip. This was clearly meant to underscore the importance his administration was suddenly placing on the need to bolster the long-standing U.S.-Saudi alliance.

Mindful of Trump’s vanity, the Saudi government rolled out the red carpet for our narcissist-in-chief, lining the streets for miles with alternating U.S. and Saudi flags, huge images of which were projected onto the Ritz Carlton hotel where Trump was staying. (Before his arrival, in a sign of the psychological astuteness of his Saudi hosts, the hotel projected a five-story-high image of Trump himself onto its façade, pairing it with a similarly huge and flattering photo of the country’s ruler, King Salman.)  His hosts also put up billboards with pictures of Trump and Salman over the slogan “together we prevail.”  What exactly the two countries were to prevail against was left open to interpretation.  It is, however, unlikely that the Saudis were thinking about Trump’s much-denounced enemy, ISIS—given that Saudi planes, deep into a war in neighboring Yemen, have rarely joined Washington’s air war against that outfit.  More likely, what they had in mind was their country’s bitter regional rival Iran.

The agenda planned for Trump’s stay included an anti-terrorism summit attended by 50 leaders from Arab and Muslim nations, a concert by country singer Toby Keith, and an exhibition game by the Harlem Globetrotters. Then there were the strange touches like President Trump, King Salman, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi laying hands on a futuristically glowing orb—images of which then circled the planet—in a ceremony inaugurating a new Global Center for Combatting Extremist Ideology, and Trump’s awkward participation in an all-male sword dance.

Unsurprisingly enough, the president was pleased with the spectacle staged in his honor, saying of the anti-terrorism summit in one of his many signature flights of hyperbole, “There has never been anything like it before, and perhaps there never will be again.”

Here, however, is a statement that shouldn’t qualify as hyperbole: never have such preparations for a presidential visit paid such quick dividends.  On arriving home, Trump jumped at the chance to embrace a fierce Saudi attempt to blockade and isolate its tiny neighbor Qatar, the policies of whose emir have long irritated them.  The Saudis claimed to be focused on that country’s alleged role in financing terrorist groups in the region (a category they themselves fit into remarkably well).  More likely, however, the royal family wanted to bring Qatar to heel after it failed to jump enthusiastically onto the Saudi-led anti-Iranian bandwagon.

Trump, who clearly knew nothing about the subject, accepted the Saudi move with alacrity and at face value. In his normal fashion, he even tried to take credit for it, tweeting, “During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology.  Leaders pointed to Qatar—look!”  And according to Trump, the historic impact of his travels hardly stopped there.  As he also tweeted: “So good to see Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries paying off… Perhaps it will be the beginning of the end of the horror of terrorism.”

Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution hit the nail on the head when he commented that “the Saudis played Donald Trump like a fiddle.  He unwittingly encouraged their worst instincts toward their neighbors.” The New York Times captured one likely impact of the Saudi move against Qatar when it reported, “Analysts said Mr. Trump’s public support for Saudi Arabia… sent a chill through other Gulf States, including Oman and Kuwait, for fear that any country that defies the Saudis or the United Arab Emirates could face ostracism as Qatar has.”

And Then Came Trump…

And what precisely are the Saudis’ instincts toward their neighbors?  The leaders in Riyadh, led by King Salman’s 31-year-old son, Saudi Defense Minister and deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, are taking the gloves off in an increasingly aggressive bid for regional dominance aimed at isolating Iran.  The defense minister and potential future leader of the kingdom, whose policies have been described as reckless and impulsive, underscored the new, harsher line on Iran in an interview with Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV in which he said, “We will not wait until the battle is in Saudi Arabia, but we will work so the battle is there in Iran.”

The opening salvo in Saudi Arabia’s anti-Iran campaign came in March 2015, when a Saudi-led coalition, including smaller Gulf petro-states (Qatar among them) and Egypt, intervened militarily in a chaotic situation in Yemen in an effort to reinstall Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi as the president of that country.  They clearly expected a quick victory over their ill-armed enemies and yet, more than two years later, in a war that has grown ever harsher, they have in fact achieved little.  Hadi, a pro-Saudi leader, had served as that country’s interim president under an agreement that, in the wake of the Arab Spring in 2012, ousted longstanding Yemeni autocrat Ali Abdullah Saleh.  In January 2015, Hadi himself was deposed by an alliance of Houthi rebels and remnants of forces loyal to former president Saleh.

The Saudis—now joined by Trump and his foreign policy team—have characterized the conflict as a war to blunt Iranian influence and the Houthi rebels have been cast as the vassals of Tehran.  In reality, they have longstanding political and economic grievances that predate the current conflict and they would undoubtedly be fighting at this moment with or without support from Iran.  As Middle Eastern expert Thomas Juneau recently noted in the Washington Post, “Tehran’s support for the Houthis is limited, and its influence in Yemen is marginal. It is simply inaccurate to claim that the Houthis are Iranian proxies.”

The Saudi-Emirati intervention in Yemen has had disastrous results.  Thousands of civilians have been killed in an indiscriminate bombing campaign that has targeted hospitals, marketplaces, civilian neighborhoods, and even a funeral, in actions that Congressman Ted Lieu (D-CA) has said “look like war crimes.”  The Saudi bombing campaign has, in addition, been enabled by Washington, which has supplied the kingdom with bombs, including cluster munitions, and aircraft, while providing aerial refueling services to Saudi planes to ensure longer missions and the ability to hit more targets.  It has also shared intelligence on targeting in Yemen.

The destruction of that country’s port facilities and the imposition of a naval blockade have had an even more devastating effect, radically reducing the ability of aid groups to get food, medicine, and other essential supplies into a country now suffering from a major outbreak of cholera and on the brink of a massive famine. This situation will only be made worse if the coalition tries to retake the port of Hodeidah, the entry point for most of the humanitarian aid still getting into Yemen. Not only has the U.S.-backed Saudi war sparked a humanitarian crisis, but it has inadvertently strengthened al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has increased its influence in Yemen while the Saudi- and Houthi-led coalitions are busy fighting each other.

Trump’s all-in support for the Saudis in its war doesn’t, in fact, come out of the blue. Despite some internal divisions over the wisdom of doing so, the Obama administration also supported the Saudi war effort in a major way. This was part of an attempt to reassure the royals that the United States was still on their side and would not tilt towards Iran in the wake of an agreement to cap and reverse that country’s nuclear program.

It was only after concerted pressure from Congress and a coalition of peace, human rights, and humanitarian aid groups that the Obama administration finally took a concrete, if limited, step to express opposition to the Saudi targeting of civilians in Yemen.  In a December 2016 decision, it suspended a sale of laser-guided bombs and other precision-guided munitions to their military.  The move outraged the Saudis, but proved at best a halfway measure as the refueling of Saudi aircraft continued, and none of rest of the record $115 billion in U.S. weaponry offered to that country during the Obama years was affected.

And then came Trump.  His administration has doubled down on the Saudi war in Yemen by lifting the suspension of the bomb deal, despite the objections of a Senate coalition led by Chris Murphy (D-CT), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Al Franken (D-MN) that recently mustered an unprecedented 47 votes against Trump’s offer of precision-guided bombs to Riyadh.  Defense Secretary James Mattis has advocated yet more vigorous support for the Saudi-led intervention, including additional planning assistance and yet more intelligence sharing—but not, for the moment, the introduction of U.S. troops.  Although the Trump foreign policy team has refused to endorse a proposal by the United Arab Emirates, one of the Saudi coalition members, to attack the port at Hodeidah, it’s not clear if that will hold.

A Parade for an American President?

In addition to Trump’s kind words on Twitter, the clearest sign of his administration’s uncritical support for the Saudi regime has been the offer of an astounding $110 billion worth of arms to the kingdom, a sum almost equal to the record levels reached during all eight years of the Obama administration. (This may, of course, have been part of the point, showing that President Trump could make a bigger, better deal than that slacker Obama, while supporting what he described as “jobs, jobs, jobs” in the United States.)

Like all things Trumpian, however, that $110 billion figure proved to be an exaggeration.  Tens of billions of dollars’ worth of arms included in the package had already been promised under Obama, and tens of billions more represent promises that, experts suspect, are unlikely to be kept.  But that still leaves a huge package, one that, according to the Pentagon, will include more than 100,000 bombs of the sort that can be used in the Yemen war, should the Saudis choose to do so.  All that being said, the most important aspect of the deal may be political—Trump’s way of telling “my friend King Salman,” as he now calls him, that the United States is firmly in his camp.  And this is, in fact, the most troubling development of all.

It’s bad enough that the Obama administration allowed itself to be dragged into an ill-conceived, counterproductive, and regionally destabilizing war in Yemen. Trump’s uncritical support of Saudi foreign policy could have even more dangerous consequences. The Saudis are more intent than Trump’s own advisers (distinctly a crew of Iranophobes) on ratcheting up tensions with Iran.  It’s no small thing, for instance, that Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who has asserted that Iran is “the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East,” and who advocated U.S. military attacks on that country during his tenure as head of the U.S. Central Command, looks sober-minded compared to the Saudi royals.

If there is even a glimmer of hope in the situation, it might lie in the efforts of both Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to walk back the president’s full-throated support for a Saudi confrontation with Qatar. Tillerson, for instance, has attempted to pursue an effort to mediate the Saudi-Qatari dispute and has called for a “calm and thoughtful dialogue.” Similarly, on the same day as Trump tweeted in support of the Saudis, the Pentagon issued a statement praising Qatar’s “enduring commitment to regional security.”  This is hardly surprising given the roughly 10,000 troops the U.S. has at al-Udeid air base in Doha, its capital, and the key role that base plays in Washington’s war on terror in the region.  It is the largest American base in the Middle East and the forward headquarters of U.S. Central Command, as well as a primary staging area for the U.S. war on ISIS. The administration’s confusion regarding how to deal with Qatar was further underscored when Mattis and Qatari Defense Minister Khalid Al-Attiyah signed a $12 billion deal for up to 36 Boeing F-15 combat aircraft, barely a week after President Trump had implied that Qatar was the world capital of terrorist financing.

In a further possible counter to Trump’s aggressive stance, Secretary of Defense Mattis has suggested that perhaps it’s time to pursue a diplomatic settlement of the war in Yemen.  In April, he told reporters that, “in regards to the Saudi and Emirati campaign in Yemen, our goal, ladies and gentleman, is for that crisis down there, that ongoing fight, [to] be put in front of a U.N.-brokered negotiating team and try to resolve this politically as soon as possible.” Mattis went on to decry the number of civilians being killed, stating that the war there “has simply got to be brought to an end.”

It remains to be seen whether Tillerson’s and Mattis’s conciliatory words are hints of a possible foot on the brake in the Trump administration when it comes to building momentum for what could, in the end, be a U.S. military strike against Iran, egged on by Donald Trump’s good friends in Saudi Arabia.  As Ali Vaez of the International Crisis Group has noted, if the U.S. ends up going to war against Iran, it would “make the Afghan and Iraqi conflicts look like a walk in the park.”

In fact, in a period when the turmoil has only risen in much of the rest of the Greater Middle East, the Saudi Arabian peninsula remained relatively stable, at least until the Saudi-led coalition drastically escalated the civil war in Yemen.  The new, more aggressive course being pursued against the royal family in Qatar and in relation to Iran could, however, make matters much worse, and fast.  Given the situation in the region today, including the spread of terror movements and failing states, the thought that Saudi Arabia itself might be destabilized (and Iran with it) should be daunting indeed, though not perhaps for Donald Trump.

So far, through a combination of internal repression and generous social benefits to its citizens—a form of political bribery designed to buy loyalty—the Saudi royal family has managed to avoid the fate of other regional autocrats driven from power.  But with low oil prices and a costly war in Yemen, the regime is being forced to reduce the social spending that has helped cement its hold on power. It’s possible that further military adventures, coupled with a backlash against its repressive policies, could break what analysts Sarah Chayes and Alex de Waal have described as the current regime’s “brittle hold on power.” In other words, what a time for the Trump administration to offer its all-in support for the plans of an aggressive yet fragile regime whose reckless policies could even spark a regional war.

Maybe it’s time for opponents of a stepped-up U.S. military role in the Middle East to throw Donald Trump a big, glitzy parade aimed at boosting his ego and dampening his enthusiasm for the Saudi royal family.  It might not change his policies, but at least it would get his attention.

William D. Hartung, a TomDispatch regular, is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy and the author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, as well as John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

By William D. Hartung/TomDispatch

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Senate GOP Health Care Bill Would End Obamacare Penalties and Taxes

(WASHINGTON) — Senate Republicans would cut Medicaid, end penalties for people not buying insurance and erase a raft of tax increases as part of their long-awaited plan to scuttle President Barack Obama’s health care law, congressional aides and lobbyists say.

After weeks of closed-door meetings that angered Democrats and some Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell planned to release the proposal Thursday. The package represents McConnell’s attempt to quell criticism by party moderates and conservatives and win the support he needs in a vote he hopes to stage next week.

In a departure from the version the House approved last month, which President Donald Trump privately called “mean,” the Senate plan would drop the House’s waivers allowing states to let insurers boost premiums on some people with pre-existing conditions. It would also largely retain the subsidies Obama provided to help millions buy insurance, which are pegged mostly to people’s incomes and the premiums they pay.

The House’s tax credits were tied to people’s ages, a change the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said would boost out-of-pocket costs to many lower earners. Starting in 2020, the Senate version would begin shifting increasing amounts of tax credits away from higher earners, making more funds available to lower-income recipients, some officials said.

The emerging Senate bill was described by people on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly.

Facing uniform Democratic opposition, the Senate plan would fail if just three of the chamber’s 52 Republicans defect. More than half a dozen GOP senators have expressed problems with the measure, and a defeat would be a humiliating setback for Trump and McConnell on one of their party’s top priorities.

“We have a responsibility to move forward, and we are,” said McConnell, R-Ky.

GOP Senate leaders were eager for a seal of approval from Trump, who had urged them to produce a bill more “generous” than the House’s.

“They seem to be enthusiastic about what we’re producing tomorrow,” No. 2 Senate GOP leader John Cornyn of Texas said Wednesday of White House officials. “It’s going to be important to get the president’s support to get us across the finish line.”

Democrats say GOP characterizations of Obama’s law as failing are wrong, while the Republican effort would boot millions off coverage and leave others facing higher out-of-pocket costs. The budget office said the House bill would cause 23 million to lose coverage by 2026.

The sources said that, in some instances, the documents McConnell planned to release might suggest optional approaches for issues that remain in dispute among Republicans.

That could include the number of years the bill would take to phase out the extra money Obama provided to expand the federal-state Medicaid program for the poor and disabled to millions of additional low earners.

The House-passed bill would halt the extra funds for new beneficiaries in three years, a suggestion McConnell has offered. But Republicans from states that expanded Medicaid, like Ohio’s Rob Portman, want to extend that to seven years.

The Senate proposal would also impose annual limits on the federal Medicaid funds that would go to each state, which would tighten even further by the mid-2020s. Unlimited federal dollars now flow to each state for the program, covering all eligible beneficiaries and services.

The Senate would end the tax penalties Obama’s law created for people not buying insurance and larger employers not offering coverage to workers. The so-called individual mandate — aimed at keeping insurance markets solvent by prompting younger, healthier people to buy policies — has long been one of the GOP’s favorite targets.

To help pay for its expanded coverage to around 20 million more people, Obama’s law increased taxes on higher income people, medical industry companies and others, totaling around $1 trillion over a decade. Like the House bill, the Senate plan would repeal or delay many of those tax boosts.

The House waiver allowing higher premiums for some people with pre-existing serious illnesses was added shortly before that chamber approved its bill last month and helped attract conservative support. It has come under widespread criticism from Democrats and helped prompt some moderate House Republicans to vote against the measure.

Conservatives like Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., have warned they could oppose the bill if it doesn’t go far enough in dismantling Obama’s law. Moderates including Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, have expressed concern that the measure would cause many to lose coverage.

From Alan Fram & Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar / AP/Time

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Democrats Have a Bigger Problem Than Jill Stein

  Jill Stein at a Green Party town hall meeting in Arizona in 2016. (Gage Skidmore / CC 2.0)

Jill Stein is back in the spotlight.

In the past few weeks, a number of interviews with the 2016 Green Party presidential nominee have popped up—and with them comes the inevitable ire of the Democratic Party.

Stein has faced this wave of criticism before, and it doesn’t seem to bother her. Earlier in June, she spoke with The Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill on his “Intercepted” podcast to discuss liberal accusations that her campaign took crucial votes away from Hillary Clinton.

“We’ve got to find a reason. We’ve got to blame somebody,” Stein says of the mentality of voters who see her as a “spoiler.”

“That said,” she continues, “it’s really important to stand back and realize that the solution for a democracy on life support is not less democracy. Silencing political opposition is a very dangerous thing to do.”

She expressed similar sentiments in an interview with Ben Schreckinger for Politico Magazine. “I consider it a great honor that the party and our prior campaign for president is suddenly being attacked outside of an election season,” she told him, adding that she doesn’t have any regrets about her 2016 presidential bid.

Stein’s comments in these interviews and on social media have prompted backlash. The left-leaning site Jezebel ran a story attacking her for her “infuriating” point of view. Keith Olbermann, who has a Twitter following of 972,000, called Stein an “imbecile” in a tweet earlier this month. Neera Tanden, president of the policy research organization Center for American Progress, also used Twitter to blame Stein for rising tensions in Syria.  Even Schreckinger latched on to the assumption that Stein may have something to apologize for, running his interview with her under the title “Jill Stein Isn’t Sorry.”

Stein is probably used to intense criticism—she faced plenty of it when she was running for president. And as Schreckinger notes, there are some issues, such as her relationship with the Russian government, that may merit a closer look (although she addresses this topic in detail during her interview with Scahill, lambasting the “neo-McCarthyism” currently at play in American politics). But the Democrats’ insistence that Stein is partly to blame for Donald Trump’s election overlooks a more insidious element of American politics: nonvoters, or those who showed up at a polling place in 2016 and neglected to cast a vote for president.

Meagan Day of The Week explains:

There are two categories of non-two-party votes in the contemporary American political climate, and they’re regarded differently. The first is the third-party vote, which, especially on the left side of the aisle, is considered burglary. The second is total abstention, which is considered inevitable, and therefore hardly factors into the mainstream media’s election postmortems. In neither scenario does the losing major party (in this case the Democrats) take responsibility for failing to move potential voters to act on its behalf.

“But,” you may protest, “Donald Trump won by a margin smaller than the number of Green Party votes in key states, particularly the Upper Midwest!” And you’re right, that’s true. Take Michigan: Trump won Michigan by 13,225 votes, while Jill Stein walked away with 51,463 votes. Clearly, if all of those people had voted for Hillary Clinton instead of Stein, Clinton would have won Michigan. (Whether Stein votes ought to be otherwise considered shoo-in Democrat votes is a separate matter.)

If these are the only variables of interest to us — the number of ballots affirmatively cast for Trump, Clinton, Stein, and maybe Johnson — then yeah, the Stein-as-spoiler argument makes some sense. But here’s another number, one that ought to change your perspective: 87,810. That’s how many Michigan voters showed up to the polls, cast ballots, and declined to vote for a presidential candidate at all.

Day goes on to explain that in the swing states of Michigan, Maine, Florida and Arizona, “the undervote total was larger than the margin of victory.”

“And what is an undervote but an intentional expression of distaste for the prospects on offer?” Day ponders. “Apparently these voters found the presidential choices too unappetizing for even a clothespin vote.”

Also worth mentioning, of course, is the problem of low voter turnout. “Nearly three million Michiganders joined the roughly 40 percent of eligible American adults who declined to vote at all last year,” Day writes. “In Michigan, those eligible nonvoters were 200 times larger than Trump’s margin of victory.”

These nonvoters represent a critical problem in both the Democratic and the Republican parties, in that nonvoters tend to be poor or working-class people of color. Day writes:

Nonvoters are far less likely to identify with one of the major parties. And who can blame them? While it’s unfair and ill-advised to completely elide the differences between Democrats and Republicans, the fact remains that neither party has a proven track record of robustly demanding and taking consistent steps to ensure that everyone is paid a living wage, has access to health care, has quality public education — even where the provision of those basic goods and services contravenes corporate or donor-class interests. …

Without a functional safety net, poor and working-class people have a hard time in America, and neither party is truly committed to fixing that.

“The only reason the [minuscule] Stein vote totals matter to anyone is that, deep down, they take the political inactivity of poor people — especially poor people of color — for granted,” Day concludes. And yet liberal media repeatedly utilize its platform to attack Stein for speaking up about poverty, the environment and inequality.

“We need a political process that creates multi-partisan democracy. That’s really where democracies get their best shot at moving forward and solving our crises,” Stein told Scahill in her “Intercepted” interview. “Let’s create the democracy that enables us to choose the candidates that we want.”

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Lead and the Black Community: How The Flint Water Crises May Be Just the Beginning

Water is essential for life. Without it, the average person would die after four days.

In the aftermath of the Flint, Mich., water crisis, which saw 15 people die and more than 100,000 exposed to lead due to a forced switch of Flint’s water source from the Detroit Water Authority to the Flint River, questions about the health of the nation’s water infrastructure have filled political discussions. The Flint water crisis, which was caused in part due to aged, rusted delivery pipelines, exposed problems that many cities across the United States now have: a delivery infrastructure that has exceeded its utility age and a lack of funding and political will to effectively address the issues.

The long shadow inequality casts on policy making compounds this issue. “Black and Hispanic neighborhoods exhibited extraordinarily high rates of lead toxicity compared to white neighborhoods at the start of our study in 1995, in some cases with prevalence rates topping 90 percent of the child population,” Robert J. Sampson and Alix S. Winter wrote in their 2016 research paper “The Racial Ecology of Lead Poisoning: Toxic Inequality in Chicago Neighborhoods, 1995-2013.”

“Black disadvantage in particular is pronounced not only relative to whites but even relative to Hispanics in every year from 1995-2013. The profound heterogeneity in the racial ecology of what we call toxic inequality is partially attributable to socioeconomic factors, such as poverty and education, and to housing-related factors, such as unit age, vacancy and dilapidation. But controlling these factors, neighborhood prevalence rates of elevated BLL (Blood Lead Levels) remain closely linked to racial and ethnic segregation.”

In cities that have limited resources for infrastructure repairs, the picking of winners and losers has historically fallen upon racial biases, with minority neighborhoods and communities being overlooked in favor for more-affluent communities. As pointed out by the research paper, as white neighborhoods are more likely to gentrify and receive infrastructure repairs than nonwhite neighborhoods, there is a greater risk of lead exposure and prolonged health complications that comes with the water made available in Black and Hispanic neighborhoods.

With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirming that there is no safe identified level of lead for the blood, and with minuscule amounts of lead being shown to affect intelligence, attention span and academic achievement, the question of the safety of the nation’s water has never been so pertinent. With most of the nation’s water-delivery infrastructure compromised and in need of replacement, questions of how these repairs can be made in this current political climate and if these repairs will be equitably allocated remain concerns of both high importance and high complexity

“Racism in regards to water access was certainly a factor of our past. Just look at some places in the South, especially along the Mississippi Delta, where you have white communities side by side with Black communities but the white communities have adequate water infrastructure and the Black communities do not,” said Cecil Corbin-Mark, Deputy Director of WE ACT. “That is not the result of the Black communities saying we don’t want water infrastructure, it is a legacy of racial discrimination. If you travel in indigenous land or heavily Latino communities in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, you can also see the disparity in water infrastructure.”

Flint

To a certain extent, Flint is your prototypical Northern industrial city. It is the former home of many of General Motor’s facilities, including its headquarters and the majority of its manufacturing plants. Prior to the deindustrialization of the 1960s, Flint was a wealthy city within a stone’s toss of the wealthiest city in the United States during the early part of the 20th century, Detroit.

The downturn of the nation’s industrial base, along with “white flight” and the 1973 oil crisis — which saw a popular switching from American-made car to fuel-efficient Japanese cars — threw Flint into a debt spiral. The result of this was two state-declared financial emergencies.

It was under the second emergency that the water crisis, which has to date led to 17 criminal indictments, several lawsuits, the resignation of a litany of state officials and a federal state of emergency, happened. In an attempt to save money, the state-approved emergency financial manager for Flint approved the adoption of an emergency plan to draw water from the Flint River as the primary water delivery scheme for the city while Flint’s own pipeline to Lake Huron was being completed. Before this, Flint received its water from Detroit, which sourced it from the Detroit River and Lake Huron.

Unfortunately, no one took the time to consider if switching the water supply would change the delivered water’s composition. While the water was treated, it was found that the water was more corrosive than the water received from Detroit. This was the result of bacterial growth from fertilizer and pesticide runoffs and it caused exposed lead in the city’s pipes to bleed into the water.

It would take two years and a MSNBC investigation for the state to admit there was a problem.

While the governor himself has dodged criminal responsibility for now, the crisis gave the Republican administration a black eye. Michigan Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon and Chief Medical Executive Eden Wells are among those who have been arrested on charges that include involuntary manslaughter, misconduct in office, obstruction of justice and providing false testimony to a special agent.

“We’re getting it right,” Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said during a meeting with the Detroit Free Press editorial board. “There are voices out there who would like Flint to go away, that it might be inconvenient and Flint should be swept under the rug and there are voices that view Flint as as chessboard and want to see who can take advantage. Both of those voices are incredibly callous.”

Schuette pointed out that racism may have had a role in what happened in Flint. “I think about the Flint where I used to play sports when I’d come from Midland and it was basically all white,” he said. “I think about all those things and I think about my sister [who adopted two mixed-race children] and how it broadened my perspective. I think about all those things when I drive down the road and go into Flint and think about these charges and meet with these people and try to listen.”

Flint is a majority-Black city. The loss of manufacturing jobs led to a mass exodus of the city’s white residents, leaving behind a city that is 56.6-percent African American, 41.2-percent impoverished and with a median household income of $24,862, 50.1 percent of the state’s average of $49,576.

A Crumbling Infrastructure

The nation’s one million miles of drinking water pipes were laid during the first half of the 20thcentury, largely in massive public works projects. While the quality of the drinking water is regarded as being high, the pipe infrastructure carrying this water to the tap is in a state of disrepair, with most of the pipelines having reached the end of their expected lifespans. This results in an estimated 240,000 water main breaks per year in this country.

The difficulty in bringing the nation’s pipes up to date is typically a monetary one. For most communities, repairs to the water infrastructure is funded by the delivery rate the local community charges water users, along with state funding and federal loan programs such as the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.

Following the recent Great Recession, the states and local governments deemphasized infrastructure in order to deal with falling tax revenues. From 2009 to 2014, for example, capital spending for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure dropped 22 percent. While federal legislation in 2014 and 2016 has allocated up to $1 billion in credit assistance and $2 billion in water infrastructure investment, it is estimated it will take about $1 trillion over the next 25 years to bring the nation’s water infrastructure up to speed.

The condition of the national water system, as it stands today, is responsible for the average loss of over six billion gallons of drinking water from leakage per day.

Race and Picking Winners

The municipal delivery system, however, is only the public half of the national water delivery system. The other half is what happens after the water crosses the water meter. The responsibility of property owners, the conditions of these pipes — particularly in low-income or impoverished areas — can make a significant difference in the quality of the delivered water.

Prior to efforts in the 1970s to remove the substance, lead was a popular additive due to its molecular density. Lead regularly appeared in paints, plastics, piping, woodwork and other building supplies across the country. In older properties where these lead-based products have not been removed, such as inner-city low-income Black housing, young children may come in contact with this toxic substance daily.

“Right now, most middle-class white families feel relatively immune from the dangers of lead, although the gentrification of old neighborhoods and the renovation of old homes can still expose their children to dangerous levels of lead dust from the old paint on those walls,” David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz wrote for Mother Jones. “However, economically and politically vulnerable Black and Hispanic children, many of whom inhabit dilapidated older housing, still suffer disproportionately from the devastating effects of the toxin. This is the meaning of institutional racism in action today.”

While there is less “winner-picking” involved in the allocation of infrastructure funding today, more affluent or “gentrified” neighborhoods have been the neighborhoods least likely to be affected by lead poisoning. Not only were these communities more likely to receive updates to their infrastructure and receive more attention, such as regular lead testing, the increased demand to live in these areas compelled property owners to make critical improvements to their properties. Owners in non-gentrified properties typically can get away with ignoring these repairs and replacements by offering a cheaper rent.

The net effect of all of this adds up to health crisis for the Black and Hispanic communities. The CDC projects that 11.2 percent of all Black children and 4 percent of Mexican-American children have lead poisoning, compared to just 2.3 percent of white children. With more than half of the residents living within 1.86 miles of toxic waste facilities being Black and with Blacks being almost twice as likely as whites to live within the fence line zone of an industrial facility, African-Americans are uniquely challenged with the health consequences of unhealthy water.

Privatization and Other Options

Finding solutions to fix this may be difficult, primarily because there is not the political will to do it. In 2015, for example, Maryland’s Secretary of Housing, Community and Development Kenneth Holt told an audience at the Maryland Association of Counties that a mother could fake a lead poisoning test for her child by putting a lead fishing weight in the child’s mouth before the test. He made the statement, falsely suggesting that the potential positive test would make a landlord liable for providing the child with housing until the age of 18.

Maryland state law only makes the property owner liable for providing safe lodgings until the lead abatement concludes and Holt himself admitted that he was not speaking from evidence but from what a developer told him was possible.

Resolving the drinking water problem will be a costly, difficult proposition that will leave little for politicians to build political capital on. However, finding a viable solution is a life-or-death proposition.

“Water isn’t very sexy,” Nick Danby wrote for the Harvard Political Review. “Sure, it’s necessary for life, and sometimes threatens life, but there’s no political appeal. Unemployment, terrorism, unions, taxes — those are just a small smorgasbord of hot-button issues that make our partisan and politically charged brains tingle, while water’s controversies merely bore us. The problem, however, is that if our ignorance of water’s contentious situation continues, the four aforementioned political topics will become obsolete — and so will we.”

One suggested possibility is to make the water-delivery system private. In 2014, former President Barack Obama examined the possibility of partnerships between public agencies and private companies to improve the infrastructure problem. Privatization would take this one step farther by allowing municipalities to lease access to the water-delivery infrastructure to private entities, who would then be responsible for any needed upgrades or repairs. These entities would then collect water usage fees directly from the customer.

The challenge in this proposition is whether we are willing to put life-and-death matters into the hands of a business where the first priority is the bottom line.

Whatever solution is found to address this problem, it is important that it is discovered soon and applied quickly. Water is critical for life; only air is more important. The consequences of not being able to have ready access to clean water is one that must be considered and taken seriously in policy planning and in discussions over funding priorities.

For an entire subsection of Americans, the lack of access to safe water means a life subject to crippling physical and mental limitations, all because a politician did not want to spend money on what cannot be seen.

By Frederick Reese/AtlantaBlackStar

Posted by The NON-Conformist

EpiPen maker’s losses on coal investments earn massive tax credits

EpiPen maker’s losses on coal investments earn massive tax credits

Hundreds of millions of dollars in tax credits are going to Mylan, an allergy treatment producer that sparked controversy for hiking the price of its EpiPen. The completely legal financial scheme is based on “clean coal” credits approved by Congress.

Reuters has reviewed Mylan NV’s company filings and reported Wednesday that the pharmaceutical company has been boosting its bottom line since 2011 on refined coal investments. The investments themselves have been losers, but in 2004, as part of an effort to promote “clean coal,” Congress passed tax credits for those willing to invest enough capital in them anyway.

Mylan reportedly confirmed Reuters’ figures, the news agency said.

From 2014 to 2016, Mylan garnered around $300 million in “clean energy and research” tax credits, Reuters reported. Overall, the company’s total tax benefit last year was reportedly $358 million.

The pre-tax losses on the coal investments were $92.3 million in 2016, $93.2 million in 2015 and $78.9 million in 2014, all of which were deductible, according to tax experts, and this scheme helped make up about 9 percent of the company’s earnings last year, Reuters reported.

The tax credit program expires in 2021.

Mylan holds 99-percent stakes in five LLCs, or limited liability companies, which own the following refined coal plants: Canton Fuels Company in Illinois, Marquis Industrial Company in Indiana, Chouteau Fuels Company in Oklahoma, Deogun Manufacturing Company in Utah and Powder Street LLC in West Virginia.

Reuters also cited an unnamed person “familiar with the matter,” who said that Mylan produced approximately 16 million tons of refined coal last year, as the government issued $6.81 in tax credits per ton. The source also said that the company’s expenses amounted to about 60 percent of gross credits earned.

The company’s annual board meeting on Thursday may see a clash between investors and board members, as Reuters reports that investors are upset with Mylan Chairman Robert Coury’s nearly $100 million pay package last year.

Leading the move to vote against the board is New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who oversees New York City pensions funded by 1.1 million shares of Mylan stock, and who told Reuters: “From the EpiPen pricing debacle to embracing complex tax avoidance strategies, Mylan’s board appears more focused on financial engineering than on the company’s core business.”

Mylan has avoided high US tax rates since 2015 by relocating its headquarters overseas, paying “just over four percent in 2014 and 7.4 percent in 2015,” according to Reuters.

From RT

Posted by The NON-Conformist

NC’s Final budget delivers hits to legal services, emergency judges, Department of Justice

It’s only been a little over 24 hours since the North Carolina General Assembly introduced its final budget and its already well on its way to a House vote after passing the Senate on Tuesday.

There is plenty to read in the 438-page document and plenty to get confused about. Below are a few highlights from the Justice and Public Safety budget:

Raise the Age

Lawmakers have finally agreed to raise the juvenile age of prosecution from 16 and 17 years old to 18 years old. The final budget allocates $519,600 the first fiscal year toward “Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act Planning” and $478,000 the second fiscal year.

The budget policy decision mandates that 16- and 17-year-olds who are accused of committing misdemeanors and two classes of felonies no longer be automatically prosecuted in the adult criminal system.

The policy decision also increases the information available on juveniles to law enforcement and establishes a juvenile jurisdiction advisory committee to help with implementation. You can read more about the decision beginning on page 309 of the budget.

The proposed budget would cut $1.7 million in legal services programs across the state, affecting those most in need and almost assuredly creating unequal access to justice.

The Access to Civil Justice Act funds all traditional legal services programs, including Legal Aid Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC), Legal Services of Southern Piedmont and Pisgah Legal Services.

As written in the final budget, the provision means that $1.50 of every court fee imposed in District and Superior Courts would no longer be distributed to the North Carolina State Bar for legal services. It could also mean reducing LANC staff across the state by 50 to 60 or more positions.

More from NC Policy Watch

Posted by Libergirl