Millions of our nation’s children are suffering such a dangerously high level of trauma and emotional distress that their futures are seriously imperiled. In this instance, it’s not domestic violence or physical abuse, it’s not our dangerously militarized low-income public schools or our abusive juvenile justice system that’s the culprit—although these do also traumatize millions of our nation’s children. It’s the fact that our broken system of aggressive criminalization and mass incarceration has imprisoned their moms and their dads.
Over five million of our nation’s children, according to a new report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, entitled A Shared Sentence: the devastating toll of parental incarceration on kids, families and communities, are suffering levels of trauma equal to the trauma of domestic violence and abuse as they experience the loss of a parent to incarceration.
We are a nation who incarcerates more people than any other nation in the world. Our notorious “tough on crime” policies saw a 500 percent increase in children losing a parent to incarceration between 1988 and 2000, according to Casey report. And because our criminal justice system is disproportionately enforced upon low-income, black and Latino populations, it is those children who are suffering the most. Most are younger than 10 years old. Many are younger than four.
As the report states:
These children feel the absence of that adult — whether it is several nights in jail or years in prison — in myriad ways, even if they weren’t sharing a home. They feel it when their refrigerator is bare because their family has lost a source of income or child support. They feel it when they have to move, sometimes repeatedly, because their families can no longer afford the rent or mortgage. And they feel it when they hear the whispers in school, at church or in their neighborhood about where their mother or father has gone.
These children lose parents at critical times of their development, increasing chances of anxiety, depression, poverty, educational achievement. Not only do the children suffer, the report says, but families and communities are devastated by these losses as well. Even when these fathers and mothers are released, a whole new set of obstacles may interfere with their ability to properly care for their children as criminal records can limit access to everything from a job, to housing, to public assistance.
As our country grapples with the devastation wrought by the “three strikes“ sentencing legislation, harsh drug sentencing laws and other disastrous “tough on crime” policies of the past few decades, the effects on the innocent children trampled in the wake are too often ignored.
What can be done? This new report has several recommendations. First among them is to ensure that children are supported during and after the incarceration of a parent. Returning parents also need assistance breaking down the barriers to jobs, good pay, housing, health and mental healthcare and food for their families. Communities need to be rebuilt and supported. One way to fund such supports, the report recommends, is the adoption of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative which would analyze the ineffective and costly approaches to criminal justice issues and reinvest in better, safer and more cost-efficient alternatives and policies.
At a time when millions of our children are already suffering from poverty, from domestic abuse, from a school-to-prison-pipeline and a broken juvenile justice system, how can it be that we also are allowing over five million children to be traumatized by the loss of parents caught in the hysteria of mass incarceration? A country that allows such massive infliction of trauma on its children is a country whose entire future is in question. Fortunately, there are concrete steps we can and must do to change it.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that “Populist Tone Rankles America’s Executives.”
Apparently the CEOs and board members of big American companies are “increasingly frustrated” by the anti-business rhetoric of both parties, and concerned such sentiments might translate into meaningful public policy change after the election.
“The precipitousness of the political debate is a little scary right now,” Boeing CEO Jim McNerney told The Wall Street Journal. General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt informed investors that relations between government and big business are “the worst I have ever seen.”
Former Republican U.S. Senator Judd Gregg, currently a board member of Honeywell, complained that the GOP has “been captured by a large number of people who basically do not like big.”
Bernie Sanders has shined a bright spotlight on Wall Street greed and millions of voters are cheering him on. With GOP candidates Cruz and Trump both opposed to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce agenda on free trade, corporate mergers, and immigration, the corporate elites are running scared.
How clueless can you be? Our imperial CEOs need a little populism 101. Here are a few clues on what the public is demanding:
Clue #1: Pay Your Taxes: General Electric, Boeing, Verizon and 23 other profitable Fortune 500 firms paid no federal income taxes from 2008 through 2013, according to Citizens for Tax Justice. Show some love to the country that pays for the infrastructure upon which you transport your products, protects your intellectual property in global tribunals, and educates your workers and takes care of them when they are sick or retired.
Clue #2. Stop Squeezing Us. Your global business model seems to be focused on squeezing your workers, your customers, and the communities where you’re based. Verizon is hammering their workers for another healthcare cut. General Electric just squeezed $151 million in tax breaks in their relocation to Boston.
It seems like what passes for “innovation” in corporate America is an experiment in “how hard can we squeeze customers and workers until they push back?” So are you really surprised that people are pushing back?
Have any of you luxury jet flying CEOs been on a commercial airline flight in the last ten years? Talk about squeezing your customers, physically in seats and literally for every nickel and dime. This is the capitalism we are living through. Big corporations take things away (like legroom, checked bags, and snacks) and sell them back to us.
Clue #3. Support Young Workers. Have you talked to any college students lately who don’t have daddy CEOs to pay their tuition? Do you know what it’s like to graduate from college with $100,000 in debt? Imagine entering a workforce where, thanks to corporate lobbying, the minimum wage is insufficient to live on.
This populism isn’t anti-business. But people are enraged with disconnected business elites at global companies that use their considerable clout to shape the rules of the economy – like trade policy, minimum wage, deregulation – and don’t pay their fair share of taxes to continue basic services.
Many small and medium-sized businesses in our communities are appreciated and valued. They are rooted in place and understand that you can’t keep squeezing your customers, workers, and communities before no one comes to your door. It’s the big boys that squeeze the hardest and then wonder, “why are people upset?”
The chairman of a medium-sized steel company, Jim Philipsky, tried to explain rising populism to his CEO brethren. He told The Wall Street Journal, “The establishment has been at the wheel for a long time, and the system has worked well for them, but not for everyone else.”
There’s a CEO who’s been paying attention.
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe issued an executive order to give 200,000 formerly incarcerated people their right to vote back. The governor’s action is a step in the right direction to reverse voter suppression laws that were designed to stifle black and brown America, but Karen Dolan, Director of the Criminalization of Race and Poverty project at IPS believes we can do more:
“Denying voting rights based on criminal records is an egregious affront to the democratic values we espouse in this country. I welcome Governor McAuliffe’s Executive Order and I believe we should go farther,” Dolan said.
Only two states, Main and Vermont, and Puerto Rico, allow felons to retain their Constitutional and civil right to vote while incarcerated. In ten states, incarcerated people can lose their right to vote indefinitely.
“In a country that incarcerates more people than any other nation, with a disproportionate number being black and Latino, the denial of voting rights to people with criminal records and people capable of rational thought even if incarcerated, perpetuates the days of slavery and Jim Crow,” Dolan said.
Denying incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people the right to vote is just one example of a collateral consequence, or extra set of punishments, placed on individuals with criminal convictions. In her report, The Poor Get Prison, Karen Dolan writes that barriers to voting, along with barriers to housing, employment, and many other public benefits, make it even more daunting to reenter society after being incarcerated, and contribute to increased recidivism rates.
It’s time for every state to follow Governor McAuliffe’s example and help restore our democracy.
A recent video from a school in Texas showcased a brutal assault by a school police officer on 12-year-old student Janissa Valdez. Quite appropriately, it sparked an outcry over the state of school discipline.
These images, while shocking, are nothing new. From the handcuffing of 6-year-old kindergartener Salecia Johnson for unruly behaviour in Georgia to the violent body-slamming of a 16-year-old student in South Carolina who refused to put away her phone, oppressive school discipline techniques are increasingly becoming the norm.
According to Monique Morris — the author of Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools — these highly publicized cases represent a mere fraction of the wider systemic discrimination experienced by girls of color in the U.S. education system. These practices are turning kids out of school and towards contact with the juvenile justice system — a phenomenon known as “pushout,” from which Morris’s book takes its title. The egregious criminalization of children in the classroom is a grim reality for students caught up in what’s been termed the school-to-prison pipeline.
While the impact of discriminatory school discipline on boys has been better documented, there’s a growing recognition of the unique vulnerability of black girls to this school pushout as well.
Indeed, black girls are the fastest growing segment of the juvenile justice system and face discriminatory school discipline at a starker level than even black boys. Black girls receive suspensions at a rate of 6 times that of white girls. They account for 16 percent of students but 34 percent of girls arrested on campus, and they’re far more likely than their white counterparts to be disciplined for subjective behaviors such as “defiance” and “disrespect,” particularly when the teacher involved is white.
A popular racist caricature of black girls as loud and unruly forces girls of color to adapt their behavior to conform with notions of white femininity. In order to succeed in the classroom and avoid negative perception by teachers, these girls are continuously asked to suppress their identity as black women.
That’s no exaggeration: There’s been a recent spate of disciplinary procedures instigated against black girls choosing to wear their natural hair to school. This saw a 12-year-old Florida student facing expulsion in 2013 and just this year gave rise to the #SupportthePuff movement after a similar case in the Bahamas.
White teachers in predominantly minority schools have reported a perceived “racial threat” which can and does lead to the escalation of disciplinary matters. Teachers’ biases and the cultural gap between white teachers and black students are important factors in understanding the growth of this problem, which is exacerbated tremendously by the presence of police officers in schools.
Immediate recourse to punitive measures is serving to further victimize these girls, many of whom have already been subjected to trauma in their lives. Black girls of school age experience a disproportionate rate of interpersonal violence.
Restorative models of discipline are gaining increasing support among advocates in this area who note their unique value in the case of girls. As part of a wider policy and practice, these practices are essential to stem the flow of black girls from school into the juvenile justice system.
Don Blankenship might finally see the inside of a prison cell. Six years after the tragic explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine killed 29 workers, former Massey Energy CEO, Don Blankenship, has been found guilty of conspiring to violate mine safety laws.
The misdemeanor charge came with a one-year prison sentence, far less than the 30 years he could have faced had Blankenship been found guilty of the multiple felony charges brought against him. And far less than many think he deserves.
My colleague, Sam Pizzigati, wrote about Blankenship in a piece titled, “America’s Greediest: The 2011 Top Ten Edition.” He noted that Blankenship “pocketed $38.2 million from 2007 through 2009, after $34 million in 2005, and retired this past December with a $5.7 million pension, $12 million in severance, another $27.2 million in deferred pay, and a lush consulting agreement.”
He also noted that Massey Energy, the nation’s fourth largest coal producer, was found “directly to blame” for the deadly 2010 explosion. “Under Blankenship, Massey managers kept two sets of books, one accurate for internal use and another fake for regulators.”
Safety was a far second priority to maximizing profit for Blankenship and the workers that trusted him paid the ultimate price. In a searing interview following Blankenship’s sentencing, former Massey employee, Tommy Davis, recounts losing his brother, his nephew, and his son in the blast. Choking back tears, Davis recounts how Blankenship never once tried to contact him in the six years since their deaths.
“I miss my family. He hugged his. And all he gets is a year…There needs to be much stricter penalties for people like that who put greed and money over human life.”
It is rare that corporate executives are forced to take a perp walk. Remember all the Wall Street bankers brought out in handcuffs for tanking the global economy? Me neither.
According to federal regulators, Blankenship is the first high-ranking executive to be convicted of a workplace safety violation. His lawyer has vowed he will appeal the one-year prison sentence, the maximum allowable for the crime.
Don Blankenship will remain an exceptionally wealthy man and might still wiggle his way out of spending time behind bars. The judge that sentenced him denied requests for restitution both from the miners’ families and from the company Blankenship left behind, now in bankruptcy.
Tommy Davis is right; we need much stricter penalties for those who value profit over people. It shouldn’t take another tragedy like the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion to bring about this change.
Fifteen hundred people from at least 22 countries convened in Honduras from April 13-15, 2016 for the “Peoples of ¡Berta Vive!” International Gathering. They came to honor slain global movement leader Berta Cáceres and to commit themselves to keeping her legacy alive.
Members of the international gathering also experienced the violence of the Honduran government and Desarrollos Energéticos S.A. – DESA, the foreign-backed company illegally constructing a dam on the indigenous ancestral Gualcarque River – which shadowed Berta throughout her final years and ended her life this past March 2.
Berta Cáceres’ “Emancipatory Vision”
The Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), the group Berta founded in 1993 and ran until her assassination, and two other Honduran organizations hosted the gathering. The final declaration gave the context of the meeting.
In this land which has struggled for more than 500 years, with the sound of the free-running rivers, the strength of the mountains, the neighborhoods and communities; with the fury and tenderness of the beings of nature; with the spirit of the ancestors, and the hope and pain of men, children, and women [who are] all people of Berta… We are convened here for her memory and her rebellious life.
The forum combined presentations by COPINH leaders and members of Berta’s family; workshops on extraction and its prerequisite, militarization, on human rights, and on women’s power; a cultural presentation by the Afro-indigenous Garifuna; a videotaped message from Gustavo Castro Soto, Berta’s Mexican counterpart in environmental defense and the sole witness to her murder; and much more. A march through the capital of Tegucigalpa was loud, long, and invigorated.
The overarching message of the gathering was two-fold justice for Berta. This includes, first, the fair investigation and prosecution of Berta’s killers, both intellectual authors and paid hitmen. (Toward this end, COPINH and Berta’s family are requesting that the Honduran government allow the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights actively contribute to the legal process.) Second, justice for Berta means the fulfillment of what she lived and died for. In the short term, this is the cancellation of the dam project on the Gualcarque River. In the longer term, it means a liberatory transformation toward a human- and earth-centered economics, politics, and society in Honduras and around the world.
The Declaration of the International Peoples of “Berta Vive” characterized her contribution toward that transformation as her:
…ethics and practice… and her commitment to the peoples of the world. Her proposal for life was sustained by the radicality and honesty of her words; the profundity of her decolonized thoughts; her profound knowledge and great confidence in people who struggle; and the international horizon of her emancipatory vision.
Assault by Machetes and Rocks
The third day of the gathering, March 15, consisted of a procession to the Gualcarque River. Numerous busloads of farmers, environmentalists, anarchists, human rights observers, children, and others from throughout the Americas and Europe, including many Hondurans, traveled to the village of San Ramón, municipality of San Francisco Ojuera. This villages abuts the river from the north side, from which DESA is now constructing the dam. The internationally financed company moved operations after protests by the COPINH community of Rio Blanco, on the south side of the river, forced construction to a standstill.
During five years of dam-building operations in Rio Blanco, five people have been killed and four have been injured by DESA’s hired guns. Despite this non-prosecuted violence, DESA could not quash the opposition from the highly organized community. The dam construction is in violation of both the Honduran constitution and Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization, which grants free, prior, and informed consent before development or extraction may occur on indigenous lands.
San Francisco Ojuera, alternatively, is composed of campesinos/as who are not organized through COPINH. They do not identify as indigenous, and have not chosen to resist.
This past Friday, after having been arbitrarily stopped by police twice, and passing several phalanxes of soldiers in anti-riot gear, the caravan of vehicles parked and the crowd began the 45-or-so minute walk to the river. As the crowd approached a bend in the road, 20 or so goons – protected by about an equal number of Honduran national police – shook their machetes in the air. Some held rifles, sticks, and rocks. They voiced vicious statements about Black people and COPINH.
Among the group were individuals who had several times threatened Berta and other members of COPINH with death, according to a communique of April 16, 2016 by COPINH and the other conference organizers. The men and a few women called out that the “fly” had been killed, though she left behind a “plague.”
This was reminiscent of an attempted visit to the river by about 100 COPINH members, including Berta, on March 20. Then, police, soldiers, anti-riot special forces called the Tigres (created and funded by the US), and armed men in civilian clothes blocked their route and assaulted them.
According to testimony given to COPINH by contracted criminals, DESA pays 200 lempiras, or US$8.87, for a day’s work of violence and harassment of dam opponents. On this recent march, a well-known red truck belonging to DESA was parked next to police cars along the road to the river.
The hundreds of Honduran and international delegates continued down to the dam-threatened Gualcarque River despite the threat. There, some swam and others participated in a ceremony, led by Guatemalan Mayans, for Berta’s spirit and strength and for protection of the new COPINH leaders. Some of the armed men followed, filming the faces of delegation members.
As the visitors began to return from the river valley in late afternoon, the operatives became even more wild, lunging and screaming and thrusting their machetes. The police, who had been standing in front of the group to protect them, now moved aside to let them loose. The men, some of whom were clearly drunk, began throwing rocks at delegation members’ heads, using their fists to beat others, and throwing still others on the ground and kicking them. One assailant slashed a delegation member’s wrist with his machete. Two men, within moments of each other, drew their machetes sharply to the top of the head of this writer, but halted inches above their target. Another attacker tried to slash his machete down on the arm of a Spanish activist, but one of the COPINH team was able to wrest the machete away.
Human rights reporters, after subsequent investigation, put the number of those wounded at 8 or 10. Throughout it all, COPINH members remained completely nonviolent and called for calm.
The policemen stood by all this while, doing nothing to stop the attacks. Then at a certain point, they began aggressively trying to push all those who had returned from the river back down the road to the buses.
However, many refused to leave because a group of delegation members still remained at the river. This included Tomas García, Berta’s successor as COPINH coordinator, whom the goons had been shouting that they wanted to attack. Dusk was approaching.
After some negotiation with caravan members, the police agreed to go collect the remainder at the river in their truck. They refused, though, to allow representatives of the delegation to ride along with them. This would have left the same police who had threatened and arrested Tomas in the past to have free access to him and other COPINH members. Pressure from the visitors finally prevailed, and they were allowed to ride along in the trucks. Everyone was shuttled up to the village safely.
There the safety ended. The police then actively joined the paid attackers. They shoved people and pointed their rifles at them, shouted and cursed them. On foot and in their trucks, policemen pushed the delegation down the road, driving so closely as to almost hit some of the retreating group.
A favorite expression of Berta’s was, “They fear us because we are fearless.” COPINH is not retreating in the face of this or countless earlier attacks.
The final declaration of the international gathering reflects this spirit. It says:
To all the peoples, men and women, we invite you with energy and ethical unity to strengthen the struggle. We will never give up hope. We will live toward a future of utopia with justice, liberty, and autonomy… on this land.
The World Bank’s recently released Climate Action Plan reiterates the risk of climate change to development gains, and adds another document to a long list of cleaner energy strategies published by the Bank since the turn of the century. But will the global development institution’s rhetoric be matched by action this time?
Last fall, the Institute for Policy Studies and Brown University’s Climate and Development Lab reviewed the Bank’s major plans for tackling climate change released since 2000 and surveyed its energy sector financing through the branches specifically targeting poverty reduction.
In comparing energy funding from 2000 to 2004 and 2010 to 2014, we found some good news. The number of new renewable energy (geothermal, wind, solar, small and run of river hydro-power) and demand-side energy efficiency projects is on the path to reaching parity with fossil fuel projects and lending to new renewables increased almost five-fold.
That achievement was somewhat marred by the fact that, despite evidence of their negative environmental and social impacts, financing for large hydroelectric projects has enjoyed a renaissance at the Bank, growing more than 10-fold, from $373 million to $4.3 billion between the two periods.
But the really bad news was that financing for oil, coal, and gas grew almost four-fold in that time frame. The World Bank was still providing more than 1.5 times the funding for fossil fuel projects as for renewable energy projects. That number doesn’t even include dirty energy lending through the Bank’s private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation.
The new climate plan commits the World Bank to linking nearly 30 percent of its total portfolio –financing in all sectors, through all four arms – to climate in the next five years. But climate change affects 100 percent of the world’s population, and the poorest are hit by its impacts first and worst. In a world where the consequences of climate change are being experienced more rapidly than predicted, shouldn’t the other 70 percent of the Bank’s lending address climate change, too?
If the World Bank is serious about putting its money where its mouth is, it must immediately end coal financing, quickly phase out oil investment, and reassess its approach to financing natural gas expansion infrastructure – even those improving the efficiency of fossil fuel facilities. To do this, the Bank must make specific commitments to reduce absolute fossil fuel financing within specific timelines, and devote more resources to renewable energy development.
It’s an odd thing to watch your boss, fist in the air, being led away by police to be booked for “crowding, obstructing, and incommoding” as a crowd of supporters cheers him on.
The April 13 agenda for Democracy Spring was racial justice, and as I found myself surrounded by many different organizations and individuals, I started to think that this could be a defining moment for cross-issue collaboration.
The movement to combat police brutality and hold murderers accountable can ally with the movement for a living wage. The movement to battle voter suppression should support the movement to end mass incarceration. The fight of the Restaurant Opportunities Center United should include the fight of Black Lives Matter.
“The Democracy Spring demonstration recognizes a common problem amongst those working for racial justice – money in politics,” Jessica Wynter Martin of ROC told me. “The reason that we [ROC United] have to fight so fiercely for a fair wage is because of hugely funded lobbying campaigns that keep our legislators from representing the rights of restaurant workers.”
The majority of restaurant workers are people of color, and the lowest paid are women of color. Groups like the National Restaurant Association flood Congress with money every year to keep the minimum tipped wage at just $2.13 an hour.
Just as the racial justice movement has multiple layers, “Protesting at the capitol is just one step in a multi-tiered approach to fighting money in politics,” Wynter Martin said.
While dozens were arrested at the demonstration on Wednesday and hundreds more the days prior, not everyone who marched on Capitol Hill could afford to risk arrest.
Some people of color avoided as much interaction with police as possible, for the very real fear of violence, or as we’ve seen too many times, death. Some of those who stood further back were immigrants, fearing deportation even if they had the proper documentation. I kept to the side myself, a Muslim woman with my own concerns about having my name in the system.
“The important thing is that we’re burdening them just by being here. They have to hire all of these police, all of this security,” Wynter Martin said. “We’re taxing them like they’re taxing us.”
Taxes are the price we pay to live in a civilized society. It’s that time of year when we talk about taxes with our friends, neighbors, and family. But there are a lot of misconceptions out there, and our biggest tax problem — that the very wealthy and our largest corporations have reduced their taxes, shifting obligations onto everyone else — often gets obscured. Facts don’t always work to change people’s minds, but sometimes they break through. Try these.
- “The Rich Are Paying More and More Taxes”
Wrong. Wealthy individuals today pay about half of what they paid in taxes a generation ago. Top tax rates have fallen from over 90 percent in the 1950s to under 40 percent for the last decade. As a result, the wealthiest 0.1 percent – the top one in a thousand households – used to pay an average effective rate of 60 percent. Today they pay between 25 and 30 percent of their income in federal taxes.
See for yourself: For a history of tax rates and revenue, see the IRS Historical Tables, IRS data on top income tax rates, the Joint Committee on taxation report on income tax rates, or this report from the National Taxpayer Union
- “Those Corporations Are Forced Overseas by High U.S. Corporate Income Taxes!”
Some people have heard about the Panama Papers and corporate tax dodging and go “ho hum” because they believe corporations move offshore because “U.S. corporate taxes are the highest in the world!”
The statutory U.S. corporate income tax rate does stand at 35 percent, but the actual annual effective rate corporations pay runs about 27.1 percent, a rate lower than the OECD average for industrialized countries. Some large corporations, using offshore tax havens and aggressive tax avoidance techniques, have gamed their taxes down considerably below that 27.1 percent figure.
The largest 288 profitable corporations among the Fortune 500 paid an average effective federal tax rate of 19.4 percent between 2008 and 2012. General Electric, Boeing, Verizon, and 23 other profitable Fortune 500 firms paid no federal income taxes between 2008 and 2012.
See for yourself: Read “The Sorry State of Corporate Taxes: What Fortune 500 Firms Pay (or Don’t Pay) in the USA and What they Pay Abroad – 2008 to 2012.” by Citizens for Tax Justice. Also check out “International Corporate Tax Rate Comparisons and Policy Implications” by Congressional Research Service.
- “Don’t Corporations Pay a Big Share of U.S. Taxes”
It’s the opposite. Corporations used to pay a more significant share of the national budget. In 1952, corporations paid 32.1 percent of federal income. By 2013, corporate taxation paid 9.9 percent of federal income.
See For Yourself: Check out the IRS historical data.
- “We Need Tax Cuts to Stimulate the Economy”
Actually, we need public investment to stimulate the economy. The rich and large corporations used to pay more — and we used that money to do great things. Between the 1950s and 1970s, we built an interstate highway system and a first-class infrastructure. This stimulated our economy and created millions of good jobs. We sent millions of people to college debt-free and provided first-time homebuyer loans at low interest rates that built a (white) middle class after World War II. When people complain there is no money for these things, we just have to look at our own history and priorities.
See for yourself: “Corporate Tax rates and economic growth” by the Economic Policy Institute.