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Forum Post: New York's Police Union Worked With the NYPD to Set Arrest and Summons Quotas

Posted 5 years ago on March 20, 2013, 10:22 p.m. EST by LeoYo (5909)
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New York's Police Union Worked With the NYPD to Set Arrest and Summons Quotas

Wednesday, 20 March 2013 10:09 By Ross Tuttle, The Nation | Report and Video


Audio obtained by The Nation confirms an instance of New York City’s police union cooperating with the NYPD in setting arrest quotas for the department’s officers. According to some officers and critics of quotas, the practice has played a direct role in increasing the number of stop-and-frisk encounters since Mayor Michael Bloomberg came to office. Patrolmen who spoke to The Nation explained that the pressure from superiors to meet quota goals has caused some officers to seek out or even manufacture arrests to avoid department retaliation. The audio could be included as evidence in the landmark federal class action lawsuit Floyd, et al. v. City of New York, et al., which opened yesterday in US District Court for New York’s Southern District and which was brought forward by the Center for Constitutional Rights.

The audio, recorded in 2009 by officer Adhyl Polanco, is part of a series of recordings originally released to the media that year, and a selection first aired on WABC-TV in 2010. But WABC-TV used only a small portion of the recordings, and did not air the union representative’s explosive admission.

“I spoke to the CO [commanding officer] for about an hour-and-a-half,” the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association delegate says in the audio recording, captured at a Bronx precinct roll call meeting. “twenty-and-one. Twenty-and-one is what the union is backing up…. They spoke to the [Union] trustees. And that’s what they want, they want 20-and-1.”

Listen to the full audio here.

“Twenty-and-one means twenty summonses and one arrest a month,” says a veteran NYPD officer who listened to the recording, and who spoke to The Nation on the condition of anonymity. Summonses can range from parking violations, to moving violations, to criminal court summonses for infractions such as open container or public urination.

“It’s a quota, and they [the Union] agreed to it,” says the officer. “It’s crazy.”

“Many officers feel pressure to meet their numbers to get the rewards that their commanding officer is giving out,” says John Eterno, a former police captain and co-author of The Crime Numbers Game: Management by Manipulation. But if an officer’s union delegate is also pushing the numbers, “this puts inordinate pressure on officers, getting it from the top down and getting it from the union.” The plaintiffs in the Floyd case allege that the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy results in unconstitutional stops based on racial-profiling. The department’s emphasis on bringing in arrest and summons numbers has caused officers to carry out suspicion-less stops in communities of color.

As Polanco explained in court today, his superiors would often push him to carry out this specific number of summons and arrest stops per month: "20-and-1, they were very clear, it's non-negotiable, you're gonna do it, or you're gonna become a Pizza Hut delivery man."

“There’s always been some pressure to get arrests and summonses,” says Eterno. “But now it’s become the overwhelming management style of the department. It has become a numbers game. They have lost the ability to see that communities are dissatisfied with this type of policing, especially minority communities. They are the ones being overly burdened for doing the same sorts of things that kids in middle-class neighborhoods are doing—only they’re getting records because officers have to make these arrests.”

When asked for comment, Al O'Leary, a spokesperson for the Patrolman's Benevolent Association, said: "The PBA has been consistently and firmly opposed to quotas for police activities including arrests, summonses and stop-and-frisks. These are all effective tools for maintaining order when they are left to the discretion of individual police officers but become problematic when officers are forced to meet quotas. This union has sought and obtained changes to state law making quotas for all police activities illegal. We have sued and forced an individual commanding officer to stop the use of illegal quotas and will continue to be vigilant and vocal in our opposition to police activity quotas.”

Physical evidence has periodically surfaced of the existence of numerical arrest targets for NYPD officers, though arrest and summons quotas for police have been illegal in New York State since 2010. Precinct commanders defend their right to set productivity goals for their staff—but what the department defines as productivity goals can have the force of quotas when officers are subject to retaliation for not meeting them.

Cops who have spoken to The Nation say that retaliation can take many forms, including denied overtime; change of squads and days off that can disrupt family obligations like taking children to school or daycare; transfers to boroughs far from home in order to increase their commute and the amount they’ll have to pay in tolls; and low evaluation scores.

Officers even reported being forced to carry out unwarranted stops to fulfill the summons and arrest numbers. In a second recording obtained by The Nation, a captain addressing a roll call in the same Bronx precinct illustrated how such retaliation plays out.

“When the chief came in…[he] said: ‘you know what, you really can’t reduce crime much more, the guys are doing a great job,’” the captain can be heard saying in the rough audio. “[He] said that we can…get some of our people who aren’t chipping in to go to some locations [where we are] having problems, and give them [the area’s residents] the business…”

The recording continues: “That’s all we’re asking you to do, that’s all, that’s all. And if we do that, everyone chips in, it’s fine. It’s really nonnegotiable. ’Cause if you don’t do it now, I’m gonna have you work with the boss to make sure it happens.”

“If you don’t meet the quota, they will find [activity] for you,” another veteran officer explained to The Nation. “The sergeant will put you in his car and drive you around until whatever he sees he will stop and tell you to make an arrest or write a summons, even if you didn’t observe what he said it was.”

Sometimes these are legitimate stops, but other times, they’re bogus: “The sergeant told me to write two minorities for blocking pedestrian traffic,” the anonymous officer said, “but they were not blocking pedestrian traffic.”

The pressure for numbers, say cops, is unrelenting, and it’s leading to high anxiety and low morale. And that the union, an organization that is supposed to have officers’ interests at heart, is involved in the setting of quotas is mystifying, says one cop.

It’s all the more problematic given the union’s very vocal and public stance against quotas, such as in their ad campaign, “Don’t Blame The Cop,” which tries to engender sympathy for the officers who are pressured to write tickets and arrest motorists. “Blame NYPD management,” it says.

This development also signals to officers that there is one fewer place they can go to register their concern about departmental policy and practice. “I feel foolish for having gone to my [union] delegate with my complaints,” says one officer who has been unsettled by the continued pressure to meet quotas.

Adhyl Polanco, the officer who recorded the audio and first brought it to the attention of the press, has since had charges brought against him by the department for writing false reports—the same false reports he pointed out to the department’s Internal Affairs office as evidence of the quota system. Polanco maintains these and other charges against him and other officers who have spoken out are evidence that the department is retaliating against him and others for blowing the whistle.

The NYPD has just surpassed 5 million stop-and-frisks during the Bloomberg era. Most stops have been of people of color, and the overwhelming majority were found innocent of any wrongdoing, according to the department’s own statistics. And though the number of stops may have gone down recently—as pressure on the department and increased awareness of the policy has officers and supervisors thinking twice about how they employ the practice—the existence of quotas ensures that New Yorkers will continue to be harassed unnecessarily by the NYPD.

“The way I think about it,” says a patrolman, “is, say a fireman is told by a supervisor, we need you to put out fifteen fires this month. And if you don’t put out fifteen fires you’re gonna get penalized for it. So if he doesn’t find fifteen fires to put out, is that his fault? It’s not. But the fireman might even go out there and start setting fires, causing fires, just so he’s not penalized or looks bad…. And that’s kind of what the police officers are doing.”

What are the plaintiffs in the Floyd v. City of New York case fighting against? Watch the exclusive video of a stop-and-frisk encounter gone wrong.

Editor's note: This piece has been edited since publication to reflect the response of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.

This story originally appeared in The Nation. Copyright © 2012 The Nation 2013 distributed by Agence Global.



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[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

America's Three-Tiered Justice System

Wednesday, 20 March 2013 00:00 By Mike Lofgren, Truthout | News Analysis


Big shots are above the law, the government now admits, but a three-tiered justice system has Congress churning out new bills to keep the prison industry booming.

"Equal Justice under Law," is the motto inscribed on the frieze of the United States Supreme Court building.

Sticklers for semantics say that the modifiers "equal" and "under law" in the Supreme Court's motto are redundant, because justice by definition is equal treatment under a system of written and publicly accessible rules. Whether that is the case is precisely what is at issue in America today.

Tier I: The Great and the Good

Events since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008 have provided plenty of fodder for the belief that there is one law for the rich and another for the common clay. Practical as opposed to explicit inequality before the law is common in societies all over the world; it usually boils down to how legal procedures are applied as opposed to what the letter of the law is on the statute books. Officials who are pledged to uphold the law will invariably protest that they are neutral and unimpeachable executors of justice and that it is unthinkable to suggest they are administering a rigged system. Honi soit qui mal y pense! ("Shamed be he who thinks evil of it.") is their usual indignant attitude when the rabble becomes pushy.

It is unclear if there was a rare outbreak of candor among officials in Washington during the past two weeks, or whether they simply calculated that the system has so completely slipped from public control that it doesn't matter if forbidden truths are spoken. On March 6, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Attorney General Eric Holder stated the following: "I am concerned that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if you do prosecute, if you do bring a criminal charge, it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy." Yes, well, that could explain it. When the banks hold a gun to the head of the economy, it is no longer the relationship between regulator and regulated, but a hostage relationship. A relationship made even more complex, no doubt, by the fact that the hostage-taker is also the principal corporate funder of the bosses of the putative hostage negotiators.

Apparently none of his senatorial interrogators had the wit to ask the following of the attorney general: Why would criminally prosecuting a handful of senior executives at a financial institution be more economically damaging than levying a civil fine? HSBC's $1.9-billion settlement with the Justice Department for money-laundering is almost derisory in view of its $21.9 billion in global profits during the past year, but if anyone is going to suffer from that small subtraction from the bank's revenues, it is likely to be shareholders and depositors who had nothing to do with the crime rather than the management who committed it. And even in an extreme situation, where most or all of a bank's management were criminally involved, the government could seize the bank and operate it as a conservator in the manner of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Innocent stakeholders would be protected, thus nullifying Holder's fear-mongering about endangering the world economy.

Thus it requires only a moment's thought to conclude that it is not the size, complexity or fragility of the financial system that stays the hand of criminal prosecution, but the status of the persons within those institutions. Apparently, robbing a bank is a criminal activity depending which side of the teller's window you are on and whether you are upper management or a $12-an-hour cashier. The Senate has given no indication of being overly concerned: After a perfunctory hearing, the Banking Committee favorably reported the Wall Street-connected Mary Jo White to the full Senate for confirmation as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. The dead giveaway that the fix was in was the fact that committee Republicans, who ordinarily obstruct nominees purely out of habit, did not raise a peep of objection. White, like Holder, is not a fan of prosecuting the executives of big banks.

Tier II: The Great Unwashed

Perhaps the big shots are above the law. This does not mean, however, that the mighty wheel of justice does not turn in this country. Somebody must be getting prosecuted, given that the United States has more incarcerated people in its jurisdiction than any other country, including China, which has four times our population. The incarceration rate is no accident: The vast accretion of harsh punishments for essentially victimless crimes like drug possession, mandatory minimum sentences and "three strikes" provisions in many state laws virtually guarantee the highest rate of imprisonment since the days of Stalin's gulags.

Our Congress, acting as an agent of Corporate America, is working assiduously to issue ever more novel and oppressive laws so as to keep the machinery of law enforcement operating. Even the right of possession and free use of an article legally obtained by legitimate purchase, a right celebrated by libertarian economists, can be nullified when corporations deem it necessary to extract rents. Pursuant to the Millennium Digital Copyright Act, it is now illegal to alter a cell phone that you bought and paid for if you are dissatisfied with the service provider that the phone manufacturer has an exclusive agreement with. How illegal? - a $500,000 fine and five years in prison (double for repeat offenders). Apparently citizens no longer have a freehold in this country; they are instead serfs dwelling on a feudal demesne at the sufferance of their corporate landlords. State legislatures have kept up with Congress in this endeavor. One might think the exposure of animal cruelty and unsanitary conditions in the corporatized farming and food processing industries would cause lawmakers to be indignant against the perpetrators and desirous of protecting the safety of the food supply. But no, state legislatures have directed their fury against the citizen-activists who exposed the wrongdoing by levying heavy penalties against surreptitious photographing of the outrages.

With draconian sentences looming over defendants, it is no wonder that most criminal processes end in plea bargains rather than jury trials: Even an accused person believing himself innocent may plead guilty to lesser charges (charges that still land him in prison, albeit for a shorter term) rather than face either bankrupting legal fees or suffer an incompetent appointed counsel and the possibility of a sentence lasting decades.

Incompetent or not, even the constitutional right of counsel is not always provided, as the attorney general himself has admitted. The big banks, with their extensive in-house legal departments and endless reserves of cash, have no such worries. Their attorneys are skillful enough, and have sufficient resources, to file change-of-venue motions so as to escape the wrath either of unfriendly judges or - one of the worst engines of injustice since the Inquisition - demagogic district attorneys itching for higher office and lusting for juries to inflame. As a practical matter, ordinary citizens have no such protection.

Some officials have conceded the infeasibility of locking up more and more people, perhaps less because of the ethical issues involved than because of the fiscal drain attendant with incarcerating so many bodies. Traditionally a function of the state, prisons represent a large input of taxpayer dollars whose only output, other than license plates, is a social sense of safety and security (an intangible and hard-to-prove value). But Corporate America has come up with an answer to that as well: the private prison industry. In addition to promising security, the growing private prison lobby can offer a much more tangible benefit to politicians: campaign donations. We can be sure that consultants for this industry will invent more and more ingenious felony statutes for state legislatures to pass into law so as to keep their prisons full and profits flowing, as we have already seen happen in Arizona.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

Tier III: The Untouchables

Thus far we have dealt with the law: law that is perhaps hatched with malign intent, corruptly enforced and unequally applied, but at any rate law that exists openly in the US Code or the state statutes. But justice for foreigners and discrete categories of American citizens enters the realm of the Wild West, where there is neither law nor redress. Where international treaties may apply, such as the Geneva Convention or treaties against torture, they are assumed not to exist for purposes of official US government conduct.

Should the plaintiff, a group like Amnesty International, say, argue on behalf of injured parties before a United State court, the plaintiff lacks standing because he is not an injured party. Should the injured party himself seek redress, he lacks standing because of his status at the time of the alleged crime. Should all else fail, and the court needs to avail itself of some excuse not to hear the case, it employs the state secrets privilege, a completely fictitious, made-up doctrine deriving from an incident whereby the executive branch, in asserting that classified information would be revealed, committed perjury. There was no classified information, but the rabbinical automatons of the federal judiciary have pretended for the past 50 years that the government's having lied about whether a fatal plane crash involved classified information must henceforth and forever be twisted into a reason why the government's assertions about classified information must always be taken as true, definitive and legally binding. One suspects a similar morass of dishonesty lies behind the present administration's policy on the use of drones for the purposes of assassination. For instance, in deciding to carry out assassinations, did President Obama or his predecessor go to the trouble of revoking Executive Order 11905, Executive Order 12036, or Executive Order 12333, all of which prohibit assassinations? Or were they merely reinterpreted to mean that a ban on assassination means "not unless you really want to?" Unquestionably the latter, because someone deemed it useful to keep the old executive orders on the books as sacred artifacts one could point to as examples of how virtuous we are - much in the same manner as the Roman curia, ever rife with corruption and intrigue, is charged with regulating the veneration of holy relics.

As for when the policy is to be implemented, the administration has done its best to keep that secret. It has maintained a close hold on the alleged documents describing the policy in detail, but has purposely leaked a white paper that supposedly summarizes the policy. Here one gets a sense of ad hoc improvisation: Since John Brennan and other administration officials had already publicly stated that drone strikes were only used to disrupt "imminent" threats of attack, the white paper appears to have been engineered ex post facto to prevent the administration from being constrained by Brennan's words. In the paper itself "imminent" is gradually redefined over the course of several paragraphs so that it no longer means a criminal action is temporally nigh, but rather inheres in the status of the individual so targeted. Thus are certain persons beneath the law: Their status assumes their intended action, so they are fair game for assassination.

The white paper qualifies this startling legal theory (which is rather similar to the Commissar Order, albeit the shooting occurs at greater distance) by helpfully stating that such operations would not be conducted if civilian casualties would be "excessive." One supposes the definition of the term "excessive" is as elastic as that of "imminent;" in any case unofficial estimates suggest civilian casualties in the thousands, including several hundred children. One is tempted to conclude that there really is no administration-level drone policy, let alone one constrained by law, except a sham one, which is cobbled together after the fact to construct a plausible justification whenever complaints arise. At the lower level, drone employment is constrained neither by the military code, nor the laws of war nor by any other applicable treaty. It is probably just an intelligence-driven target set applied to a checklist: Does target X-ray fit "terrorist signatures" alpha, bravo, charlie and delta? If the boxes can be checked, the government operative (or contractor) hits the switch.

None of this should be surprising. Since the Moro uprising in the Philippines, American exceptionalism as it operates abroad has been built on hecatombs of corpses. That it doesn't bother the American public should not be surprising given the human capacity for moral compartmentalization. But lawlessness abroad cannot be walled off from domestic life: impunity for oligarchs, draconian sentences and bulging prisons for those lacking privileged status, and casual death for those beneath the law and even innocent people in the vicinity, are at bottom inevitable and inseparable once the rule of law is compromised. Apocryphal perhaps, but the following exchange describes the present American dilemma:

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!

Copyright, Truthout.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

Access to Health Care, Basic Necessities a Matter of Life or Debt

Wednesday, 20 March 2013 00:00 By Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese, Truthout | News Analysis


Examining the argument that "medical and other debt shouldn't exist because debt is part of a rigged system of mafia capitalism that extracts wealth from people who are trying to meet their basic needs."

This week the Strike Debt Rolling Jubilee, a project that arose from Occupy Wall Street, will announce its purchase of more than $1 million of medical debt as part of a weeklong national conversation about why people should be put in debt meeting their basic needs. The Rolling Jubilee raised funds to purchase bundles of debt for pennies on the dollar. Unlike the rapidly growing industry of collection agencies that purchase debt and then hound debtors until they repay, the Rolling Jubilee will erase their purchased debt, freeing debtors from their obligation. Rolling Jubilee members view debt as the intersection between Wall Street and people's lives. They argue that medical and other debt shouldn't exist because debt is part of a rigged system of mafia capitalism that extracts wealth from people who are trying to meet their basic needs.

We spoke with Thomas Gokey of Strike Debt and Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program and author of the leading studies on bankruptcy caused by medical debt, to learn more. We explored why medical debt exists in the United States, what its impacts are on health and what could be done to end medical debt completely. Woolhandler also described the impact of the 2006 Massachusetts' health law, which was used as a blueprint for the national health law, on debt and health care costs. The solution, a national single-payer health system, described as "Expanded and Improved Medicare for All," is already supported by the majority of Americans. Until this and other solutions to our crises are realized, Strike Debt provides a guide for organizing and resisting the culture of debt that binds us.

Living in the Land of Health Injustice

The US has used a market-based health system for so long that most people probably feel that it is normal, but in truth, the US health system is an aberration. Most industrialized nations have publicly-funded universal health care systems paid for through taxes that cover virtually 100 percent of necessary care. Their systems have been in existence for many decades, and while no system is perfect, other countries spend half what the United States does per person on health care, cover everyone and have better health outcomes. After World War II, the United States moved toward a system of health insurance primarily accessed through employment. Then, under President Reagan in the 1980s, there was an intentional effort to create investor-owned health-care services, turn health insurance into a profit-making sector and privatize the delivery of health care in for-profit hospitals. Creating a for-profit health care system is a thirty-year experiment with clear outcomes: uncontrolled costs, growing health disparities, falling life expectancy and other indicators of poor health status, including high numbers of preventable deaths. If such an experiment were to have been conducted by a research team, ethics would have demanded that the experiment be stopped a long time ago.

The basic flaws of the US system are obvious. When health insurance is tied to employment, the healthiest segment of the population (i.e. essentially those who are working) is covered. Those who cannot work, perhaps because of a serious accident or illness, lose their coverage or struggle to afford it on the individual market where the prices are higher and the coverage is skimpier. When the bottom line is profit, not health, health insurers compete to attract those who are healthy in the first place and then find ways to restrict and deny payment for care through provider networks, authorization processes and out-of-pocket costs.

Patients and providers spend so much time and energy trying to navigate the complicated health system in the United States that it is hard to see the forest for the trees. But each time that a patient delays or avoids necessary care, that a patient is asked what kind of insurance they have before they are asked what they need, or that a family has to choose between paying for treatment and paying for basics such as food and shelter, a health injustice has occurred. These scenarios do not happen in other wealthy nations. In fact, medical debt and bankruptcy are uniquely American experiences among wealthy nations. Some enter into medical debt because they are uninsured and need medical services, but the majority of people who end up with medical bankruptcy have health insurance. Dr. Woolhandler and her colleagues interviewed over two thousand people in bankruptcy court. They found that more than 60 percent became bankrupt because of medical illness and medical bills, and nearly 80 percent had insurance when they first became ill. Despite being insured, the out-of-pocket costs for the premiums, copays, deductibles, co-insurance and uncovered services combined to create an unsustainable financial burden.

Woolhandler's landmark bankruptcy study was based on data from 2007, before the financial crisis of 2008. At present, over one-third of working families have no savings, and nearly two-thirds do not have enough cash on hand to withstand a $1,000 emergency. When families are living paycheck to paycheck, one serious accident or illness is enough to push them over the edge.

In addition to the obvious risk of financial ruin, we asked Woolhandler about the impact of being uninsured or underinsured on health outcomes. The consequences are well-documented. People without insurance do not receive primary or preventive care, have worse outcomes when they do seek treatment and are more likely to die. The same goes for those who have skimpy health insurance. Copays and deductibles cause people to delay or avoid necessary care

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

ObamaCare Will Escalate Health Injustice

There is a lot of confusion about the Affordable Care Act (ACA). At its root the ACA was an insurance company takeover of health care in the United States which included lots of ways for health corporations to profit. There has been a marketing effort to sell people on the ACA by claiming more people will have health insurance, but what is not mentioned is that the type of insurance coverage people will have is going to be skimpier. While it is true that more people will have insurance, the ACA will still leave tens of millions without insurance when fully implemented, and there will be an increase in expensive under-insurance plans.

Prior to the passage of the Obama health reform, there were efforts by some state-level insurance regulators to require insurance companies to provide more extensive coverage by spending 80 to 85 percent of premiums on health services rather than on profit and administration. The Obama law stopped those efforts by putting in place a law for the first time which said that 60-40 plans are acceptable. In a 60-40 plan, the insurance company pays 60 percent of the covered costs, while the enrollee pays 40 percent plus the full amount of uncovered costs, those not included in their policies. Enrollee costs include premiums, deductibles, copays, co-insurance and other out-of-pocket expenses. It is these out-of-pocket costs that quickly lead to health-care debt and bankruptcy.

The ACA will push coverage in the direction of under-insurance in a number of ways. One is through taxing so-called "Cadillac Plans" which are merely insurance plans that provide the kind of coverage all Americans once viewed as standard - actual health insurance. Employers are planning to avoid the Cadillac tax by lowering benefits so that their plans do not meet the Cadillac Plan criteria. Employers are also planning to drop health benefits and pay a penalty instead, which saves money, or to drop health benefits and offer subsidies to employees to purchase health insurance on their own. Other employers are changing the status of their employees to be consultants or less than full time to avoid having to provide health benefits.

The ACA will result in more people purchasing inadequate insurance plans when the state insurance exchanges open later this year. There will be four tiers of coverage from 90-10 to 60-40 plans. Most people will be forced to choose the lower tiers because premiums will rise even higher when the requirement to offer policies to people with pre-existing conditions begins.

Those who qualify for subsidies by earning below 250 percent of the federal poverty level (the Federal Poverty Level income for a family of four is $23,550, the qualifying income, $58,875) will be allowed to purchase 70-30 plans only.

And the Obama administration narrowly interpreted the law so that qualification for subsidies based on the cost of premiums only applies to individual, not family, plans. This means that if the cost of an individual plan is less than 9.5 percent of a person's income, even if that person actually needs a family plan which would cost more than 9.5 percent, they do not qualify for a subsidy to buy a family plan.

One way to know how the Obama law will fare is to look at the experience of the pilot project in Massachusetts. The 2006 Massachusetts health-care law cut the number of uninsured in half, which is similar to what the ACA is expected to accomplish. Those who are still without coverage are primarily the working poor. The health insurance exchange has not brought the cost of premiums down and is not used by the majority of the public. The exchange is mainly used by those who receive a subsidy from the government because subsidized plans must be purchased from the exchange. To pay for subsidies for insurance premiums, Massachusetts cut important safety net public health programs, especially programs like those for mental health services that are not covered by insurance. The cost of health care in Massachusetts, already the highest in the nation, continues to rise. And the cost of health care continues to be a barrier for people who need health services. Medical debt and bankruptcies continue at the same levels as before the law was passed.

Based on predictions by groups like the Congressional Budget Office and the experience in Massachusetts, we can predict the result of the ACA: continued lack of insurance for at least 30 million, more people in the costly individual insurance market, more people with under-insurance, continued increases in the cost of health care, continued financial barriers to necessary health care and continued high levels of medical debt and medical bankruptcy. In other words, health injustice will continue in the United States.

How to End Health Injustice

One of the first steps required for change is awareness of the problem. The Strike Debt Rolling Jubilee "Life or Debt" campaign will help some people directly, but it will do more to highlight the ongoing problems of medical debt and the debtor system. The Rolling Jubilee has joined with single-payer health care advocates for a week of national solidarity actions to educate about the single-payer solution and to shift the broader conversation to one that questions a system that profits from people's attempts to meet their needs.

The dominant message in the United States is one that places the blame on individuals when they are unable to meet their basic needs for health care, housing, education and food. The individual is blamed for making a bad decision to borrow money or for not being able to put money aside in a savings account. This is meant to make people feel shame. It is a form of social control that disempowers people and silences them. But Strike Debt recognizes that 76 percent of Americans are in debt and asks, "How is it possible that three-quarters of us could all have just somehow failed to figure out how to properly manage our money, all at the same time?"

This is a fundamental question because real transformation becomes possible when people stop feeling isolated and ashamed and instead join together to tell their stories, to find connections between their stories and to question the root causes of their shared situation. For us, this was a key reason for the physical occupations in the fall of 2011. In the occupations, people met others who were struggling with the same problems of homelessness, unemployment and debt. The Strike Debt campaign says it well, "You are not a loan. You are not alone." Working in solidarity is both empowering and powerful. For too long in the United States, politicians and the corporate media have defined the narrative. We can use single payer as a prime example. A single-payer health-care system or "improved Medicare-for-All" would ensure access to health care from birth to death for everyone in the United States. This is eminently affordable, indeed the US already spends the most per person on health care in the world; we just get the least return for our spending. It is not a question of the cost; rather it is a question of the US political system being able to put in place real solutions despite the power of the insurance and for-profit health-care industries.

The arguments for single payer are widely supported and well-known. It is the only proven path to a national health system that will provide coverage to everyone in the United States, control costs and produce excellent health outcomes. There is a solid majority of the public, including a majority of health professionals, who supports a single-payer health system despite the intentional misinformation campaign that characterizes single payer as "socialism" and "rationing." But single-payer supporters are disempowered by being told that they are asking for too much and that what they want is not politically feasible. They are urged to be pragmatic and to accept incremental solutions.

Tens of millions of dollars have been invested in front groups such as Health Care for America Now to channel popular energy away from single payer and into Wall Street solutions such as the ACA. And it has been very effective. During the health-reform process, the groups who supported health reform were effectively split. Single-payer supporters were divided into those who held firm for a single payer plan and those who supported what was called the public option. Single-payer supporters who held firm were chastised for not being pragmatic and supporting a public option, which was mislabeled as a step toward single payer even though the evidence showed that a public option was neither a practical step nor was it intended to be included in the health law.

As the health law neared the final steps in the process, and the provisions in the bill were increasingly unacceptable, two additional methods of social control were employed. One was straight up lying. Politicians and their front groups called the health law "universal, affordable and guaranteed," when it was none of those. And the other was to tie the success of the law to the success of the Democratic Party and to frighten the public into believing that Republicans would be much worse. This line of thinking ignored the fact that the state model for the bill was passed under a Republican administration, Governor Romney, in Massachusetts, and that the blueprint for the bill was developed in the conservative Heritage Foundation.

There are important lessons to learn from the health-reform process. First, is that advocates must have a solid understanding of what constitutes a real solution so they are not led down a path toward a false solution. Second, is that advocates must work in solidarity for real solutions with confidence rather than accepting watered-down solutions. And third, is that advocates must not tether their work to the agenda of any political party but must be willing to hold whoever is in office accountable.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

Commodifying Human Needs Violates Human Rights

The human rights framework is being used more and more as a way to understand problems and their solutions and to empower people to demand that basic needs are met. The concept of human rights runs counter to the incentive of the market, which is to make everything a commodity. When human needs are treated as commodities, those who control access to them have a captive population.

Like the company towns that arose during the Industrial Revolution, Wall Street controls the currency, the jobs, and goods and services, so that many people have nowhere to go. It is estimated by author John Curl that 92 percent of the working population in the US is trapped in indentured servitude, dependent on their job for their survival. As anthropologist David Graeber points out, the earliest wage contracts were slave rentals. Today, the reality for almost all Americans is living as indebted wage slaves.

One of the tools used by dictatorships to control their populations and prevent uprisings is to impose economic sanctions. Sanctions are easy to recognize when we look at other nations, but not so easy to see at home. The United States is the wealthiest nation in the world, and total wealth is growing. But this wealth, much of which is derived from the resources and labor of the population, is flowing to the top 1 percent or above, while the wealth of the bottom 99 percent is falling. There is enough wealth in the United States to provide free education and health care to all and to create a full employment program. The US could invest in a clean energy infrastructure and affordable housing. The failure to do so is equivalent to imposing sanctions on the majority of the people.

Although some do not know it yet, all people in the United States are united by their human rights to have basic needs met. Indeed, the United States has signed onto two international treaties that delineate these human rights. One is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the other is the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. These rights, including our right to health care, are being violated. It is up to the people to realize this and to join together in demanding that our rights be honored. Human rights are the glue that binds us to each other. Debt is the shackle that enslaves us to Wall Street.

Starting at the Roots

The commodification of health care is the root cause of medical debt and bankruptcy, but we see the same pattern when it comes to other essentials such as housing, education and more. The Strike Debt campaign on medical debt is part of a broader campaign against our debt-based economy. Debt has been part of human society for thousands of years and, as David Graeber notes, there are "potentially catastrophic social consequences of debt." In order to avoid a debt crisis:

"It soon became traditional for each new ruler to wipe the slate clean, cancel all debts, and declare a general amnesty or 'freedom', so that all bonded labourers could return to their families. (It is significant here that the first word for 'freedom' known in any human language, the Sumerian amarga, literally means 'return to mother'.) Biblical prophets instituted a similar custom, the Jubilee, whereby after seven years all debts were similarly cancelled. This is the direct ancestor of the New Testament notion of 'redemption.' "

Strike Debt seeks to "build popular resistance to all forms of debt imposed on us by the banks. Debt keeps us isolated, ashamed and afraid. We are building a movement to challenge this system while creating alternatives and supporting each other. We want an economy where our debts are to our friends, families and communities - and not to the 1%."

This type of thinking is fundamental to achieving a society based on equality, prosperity and human rights. A culture shift away from the dominant narrative of the marketplace to one of social solidarity is essential because a population that is empowered and works together is more difficult to oppress and control.

The Strike Debt campaign prepared a Debt Resisters Organizing Manual to provide people with tools to both resist debt and build the society we want to live in. The manual is an ongoing work that is available for free on the Strike Debt website. It explains debt and how it is created. It provides specific actions that people can take to decrease their individual debt. And it provides information so that communities can understand ways that debt controls their collective lives, for example when public debt is used to justify cuts to social services and basic public infrastructure.

Debt is a global problem. It is a tool that has been used for decades to advance a neoliberal agenda of privatization of goods and services. Secretary of State John Kerry's first trip to Egypt was to push their new government to accept an International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan with the requirement that it end subsidies for fuel and food, among other structural adjustments. The United States, through the World Bank and IMF, routinely requires Structural Adjustment Programs as conditions of loans that demand decreased funding for public programs and increased foreign ownership of resources.

Indeed, rather than ending debt as wise rulers of the past have done, for the first time in the 5,000-year history of debt, Graeber writes, "we have begun to see the creation of the first effective planetary administrative system, operating through the IMF, World Bank, corporations and other financial institutions, largely in order to protect the interests of creditors."

But more civil societies are taking a stand against debt that has been imposed upon them without their consent. In Spain, this is being done through the "No Pagamos" (We Won't Pay) campaign. Likewise, it is happening in the UK and Greece. We have written previously about successes in Latin America such as Venezuela and Ecuador.

As neoliberal policies take root at home, more communities in the US are building Strike Debt chapters and fighting back. To find a chapter near you or to start one, visit Strike Debt. It is time for Americans to stand together, with the people of the world, and end the systemic problem of debt enslavement. For this, our solidarity is more important than ever.

You can listen to our interview with Thomas Gokey of Strike Debt and Dr. Steffie Woolhandler of PNHP.org on Medical Debt and Bankruptcy on Clearing the FOG.

Copyright, Truthout.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

ALEC Is Now Deciding What You Eat

Tuesday, 19 March 2013 15:07 By The Daily Take, The Thom Hartmann Show | Report


ALEC is back. The Conservative corporate-friendly group funded in part by the Koch brothers and responsible for the infamous Stand Your Ground and Voter Suppression ID laws, and a slew of other corporate-friendly laws, now doesn't want you to know about the food that you're eating.

The way they come up with all this is that a couple of times a year they get corporate lobbyists and executives together in a fancy hotel or resort with mostly Republican state representatives and state senators. The ratio is roughly one-to-one of lobbyists to elected officials.

ALEC is now parading around bills in six states that would make it a crime to film animal abuse at factory farms, or lie on job applications in order to get a job in a factory farm with the goal of taking pictures. All of this is to stop animal rights activists who infiltrate slaughterhouses to expose their deplorable conditions.

The bill proposals pushed by ALEC require all evidence of animal abuse at factory farms be turned over to law enforcement authorities within 48 hours, or those who took the pictures face a financial penalty.

The proposals also make it a crime to lie on slaughterhouse job applications, which activists commonly do in order to get documentation of animal abuse.

Right now, according to the Associated Press, the bills to block animal rights activists are under consideration in California, Nebraska, Tennessee, Indiana, Arkansas and Pennsylvania. Three other states – New Mexico, Wyoming and New Hampshire – have already rejected similar bills this year.

And several states already have laws similar to what ALEC is currently pushing. Utah has a law that bans unauthorized photography in farms, and Iowa has a law that makes it a crime to lie to gain access to a farm's staff.

But despite what ALEC may argue, Americans should have an absolute right to know what's happening to the food they eat. Take chickens and eggs for instance.

When most Americans eat a chicken's egg, they don't think twice about where it came from.

Or, if they do, they think of the egg coming from a chicken that could mosey around a farm, with free reign to move whenever they wanted to.

Unfortunately, this idealistic view of a chicken farm is the exception, and not the norm.

In reality, according to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, chickens are arguably the most abused animal in the world.

In the United States alone, more than 7 billion chickens are killed for their flesh each year, while 452 million hens are used for their eggs. Nearly 99 percent of these chickens spend their lives in total confinement, from birth until death.

Chickens raised on factory farms in the U.S never have a chance to do what comes naturally to them, like taking dust baths, resting in the sun, and building nests. And baby chicks born on factory farms are never allowed contact with their mothers.

Chickens raised for meat spend their entire lives in dirty sheds with tens of thousands of other birds, and as a result, the intense crowding and close conditions often lead to outbreaks of disease. These animals are bred and drugged to grow so large that their legs and organs can't keep up with the growth, making heart attacks, organ failure, and growth deformities quite common.

And those chickens used to lay eggs, called laying hens by the agriculture industry, have lives that are just as bad.

Laying hens are crammed together in wire cages, where there's not enough room to move and spread out, and because the hens are so close together, they are forced to urinate and defecate on one another.

In fact, hens are kept in cages above large manure pits, and the cages are stacked so high that excrement from birds in higher cages often falls on those below, who then eat it.

For chickens on the second and third layer down, the chicken poop from above has some nutritional value, because chickens don't have 100 percent efficient digestive systems – something that some chicken factory farms know and use to save money.

Why feed a chicken food when it's cheaper to have it eat the poop of the chicken above it?

The important thing to realize is that these are not wildly abnormal practices when it comes to factory farming in the United States, whether we're talking about chickens, cows, or pigs.

Like the rest of corporate America, Big Agriculture's primary concern is with profit, and everything else comes second, including treating animals with dignity and respect.

And it's because of these injustices that are taking place each and every day that animal activists do what they do, and take the graphic photos and video that they take.

We have a right to know where our food has come from, and what it looks like.

It's time to knock down ALEC's factory-farm abuse cover-up efforts, so every American can see the truth – and the pain – behind the food they eat.

Copyright, Truthout.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

Monsanto's Death Patents

Friday, 22 March 2013 09:19 By Randall Amster JD, Counterpunch | Op-Ed


Monsanto has yet another case pending in the court system, this time before the U.S. Supreme Court on the exclusivity of its genetically modified seed patents. Narrowly at issue is whether Monsanto retains patent rights on soybeans that have been replanted after showing up in generic stocks rather than being sold specifically as seeds, or whether those patent rights are “exhausted” after the initial planting. But more broadly the case also raises implications regarding control of the food supply and the patenting of life – questions that current patent laws are ill-equipped to meaningfully address.

On the specific legal issues, Monsanto is likely to win the case (they almost always do). The extant facts make this a relatively poor platform to serve as a test case of Monsanto’s right to exert such expansive powers. The farmer in this situation had previously purchased Monsanto soybeans for planting (back in 1999), and in this instance bought previously harvested soybeans with the intention of planting them – even spraying Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide on them in the hopes that at least some of the generic stock would be of the so-called “Roundup Ready” variety. Despite this unfortunate posture, the case does provide another opportunity for critical inquiry regarding the unprecedented and perverse level of control Monsanto is asserting over the food supply. It is estimated that 90 percent of the soybeans in the U.S. are genetically modified and thus subject to potential patents. A random handful of soybeans procured anywhere is likely to contain at least some Monsanto-altered beans. Such a near-monopoly effectively gives Monsanto the right to control access to a staple food item that is found in a wide range of consumer products.

Other variations on this theme include pollen from Monsanto corn (similarly dominant in the U.S. market) pollinating a farmer’s crop, or seeds from Monsanto-engineered grains being distributed by animals, winds, or waterways and commingling with non-GMO plantings. In each case, Monsanto could have a cause of action against an unwitting farmer by claiming patent infringement. More broadly, and unlikely to be addressed in the instant case, is whether Monsanto (or any other company) should be able to patent seeds – the core of global food supplies, and thus of sustenance for billions of people – in the first place. Activists will decry the fact that Monsanto is patenting life, and this is indeed an Orwellian (or perhaps a Huxleyan) prospect, to be sure. Yet I would submit that Monsanto is actually patenting death, which is potentially even more disconcerting.

Consider that by exerting this level of control over the food supply, Monsanto is rapidly creating a world in which people have to pay fealty to the corporation in order to grow food and/or consume it. In this sense, Monsanto gains enormous power to determine who is allowed to eat – and thus who lives or dies. Consider further that Monsanto’s patents also include technologies in which seeds are sold that cannot propagate themselves, resulting in plants terminating rather than perpetuating, requiring farmers to have to go back to the “company store” in order to replant their fields.

In the case currently before the Court, shades of the latter issue are present, with the question being whether the seeds of the seeds of Monsanto creations retain their exclusive patent rights – possibly in perpetuity. This sort of argument might give us cause to wonder whether an animal (or even a human being, someday?) who consumes these proprietary foods could be implicated in such assertions if they are somehow genetically altered in the process. Perverse slippery slopes aside, the permeation of patentable materials throughout the food chain is by now a clear and present danger.

These are troubling trends indeed. Monsanto wants the right to exert perpetual control, and with it the power to make decisions about who/what lives or dies. In addition to seed patents, their corporate creations include herbicides, pesticides, and biocides that toxify soils and poison waters. Genetically modified foods increasingly dominate the U.S. food supply (and supplies elsewhere, at least where they haven’t been explicitly banned) despite insufficient testing and concerns about their health impacts. The ability of corporations like Monsanto to continue plying such products with little oversight constitutes a de facto consumer beta test on a mass level, the full effects of which may not be known for decades, if ever.

Taking all of this together, it increasingly appears that Monsanto is patenting death, perhaps even more so than life. Their patent rights should not trump the rights of people to procure safe, healthy, living foods. Whatever the result in the Supreme Court case, we should roundly deem Monsanto a loser in the court of public opinion, and strive to loosen their death grip on our food supply.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

Detroit Citizens Prepare to Fight Their Corporate Master

Wednesday, 20 March 2013 09:29 By Mark Vorpahl, Occupy.com | Report


Fresh from shoving his "Right to Work for Less" legislation down the throats of Michigan's workers, Governor Rick Snyder has grown bolder in pursuing a corporate agenda. He has now appointed Kevyn Orr of Jones Day Law firm to act as an Emergency Financial Manager (EFM) of Detroit.

As an EFM, Orr can dismiss elected officials, tear up union contracts, privatize public assets and impose new taxes without a vote. The trappings of democracy are swept away like so many cobwebs. Nearly half of all of Michigan's African-American citizens are now effectively left with no vote in local government; they are stuck with taxation without representation.

With the appointment of an EFM, Governor Snyder is transforming Detroit into an occupied colony within the State. Instead of guns, the armies sent into Detroit will carry briefcases filled with lucrative contracts to ensure complete corporate domination at the expense of the city's residents.

Their task will be to find ways to squeeze more labor out of Detroit's workers while paying them less, open up publicly owned services for private investment, and cut social programs that do not contribute to the enrichment of the 1% by enforcing an austerity program. And the results are predictable: austerity will cause even more unemployment and increase the deficit further just as it has done in Europe.

This development is a bi-partisan affair. While Governor Snyder is a Republican, Kevyn Orr is a Democrat who worked for President Obama's election. Detroit's Democratic Mayor, Dave Bing, said of his relationship with Snyder that they are "joined at the hip."

Who Created the Crisis?

To justify his appointment of an EFM for Detroit, Governor Snyder is citing a state-appointed review team report. The report noted Detroit's $14 billion debt and the $327 million budget deficit, as well as other issues. What it failed to examine is the billions of dollars banks and corporations make every year as a result of doing business in Detroit.

The city business income tax is only 2 percent while individual Detroit residents pay 3 percent. Michigan's corporate income tax is a flat rate of only 6 percent, the same rate as the state sales tax, which impacts middle and low-income individuals the most.

The city's debt would vanish and its budget would flourish if the banks and corporations were paying their fair share for the privilege of doing business in Detroit, Michigan. This is not to mention the $1.1 trillion in annual deductions, credits and other tax breaks that flow disproportionately to the highest income Americans each year on a national scale.

Nor does the report mention that many of the banks in Detroit were bailed out at the onset of the Great Recession with trillions of taxpayer dollars — money that should have been used for jobs and public services. Not only are these banks getting off cheap on taxes while being bailed out, they have actively swindled massive amounts of revenue from Detroit’s citizens.

Credit agencies, like Standard & Poor’s, aggressively targeted homeowners with subprime loans. This has led to fraudulent foreclosures that have driven 200,000 people from Detroit, leaving one-quarter of the city's houses empty. As a result, both real-estate values and tax revenue have been depressed.

These banks also sold the city interest rate swaps, a financial tool they assured would save Detroit money. Then they set the interest rates artificially low (the LIBOR scandal) so they would make money hand over fist and leave Detroit holding the bill or pay a fee for getting out of their trap.

The banks and corporations are the ones responsible for Detroit's financial crisis. Yet they are the ones who will reap the rewards of an Emergency Financial Manager. It will be their interests that Kevyn Orr is there to serve, by making sure they get paid first and foremost, above all other considerations.

In a city with an official 10.2 percent unemployment rate, where 57 percent of children live below the poverty line, where street lights are left off, roads left unrepaired, and bus service is spotty, it would be hard to imagine a scheme worse than appointing an EFM. The priorities of this "solution" are in opposition to the values of a community most workers hold dear.

Fighting Back

In defense of these values, Detroit has a long militant Labor and Civil Rights history. It is a sleeping giant that Kevyn Orr's appointment may arouse. There have already been numerous protests before he has had a chance to get to work, as well as militant sounding statements from some of the city's elected council people.

What is needed is a social movement that will unite Labor and Civil Rights organizations and get Detroit's residents out into the streets in mass protest actions. To do this it will not be enough to demand the ouster of the EFM and a return to the way things were before. Detroit citizens have already endured numerous cuts at the cost of their community's health and the economy's strength without Governor Synder's latest extreme measure.

What will involve the most people in struggle is a fight that reflects their values and addresses their immediate demands. Detroit needs good jobs, good schools, repaired roads and city services as well as public programs that will lift up everyone's standard of living.

In order to do this, debt-service payments should be suspended. Last year alone Detroit paid $597 million for these payments. Even more, the banks and corporations responsible for the city's crisis should be made to pay billions of dollars in reparations. In addition, they must be made to pay their fair share in taxes.

These measures will revitalize the city and provide it with a stable revenue base for the future. However, because they run into sharp conflict with the corporate agenda pursued by politicians from both the Republican and Democratic parties, it will take a popular independent movement of working people to champion them. Such a struggle may start in Detroit. If so, its example will quickly spread. This will breathe new life into the Labor and Civil Rights movements if their leaderships are compelled to take on the challenge, rather than depend on the twin corporate parties for the illusion of a national political voice.

That is why what is happening in Detroit deserves our fullest attention. The AFL-CIO and other national organizations must commit to turning around developments in the city with a mass-based national campaign to put workers' needs above corporate profits.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 1 points by Shule (2638) 5 years ago

I once got stopped by a cop while driving my Ford Ranger. He came up to me and said "I'm pulling over Ford Rangers today." While writing up the ticket, he mentioned he just bought one, and they drive real nice......."thank you officer" I said.

[-] 1 points by quantumystic (1710) from Memphis, TN 5 years ago

the cops in memphis have been going crazy with the traffic stops on highway.

[-] 1 points by DKAtoday (33496) from Coon Rapids, MN 5 years ago

Writing tickets has always been a major source of revenue - township - town - city. Pull the suckers over and fine em.

[-] 1 points by quantumystic (1710) from Memphis, TN 5 years ago

got one the other day on the way to class 68 in a 55 at least he knocked it down to 61, but whatever.

[-] 1 points by DKAtoday (33496) from Coon Rapids, MN 5 years ago

I had a cop write me a ticket for doing 110 around a curve ( was not even close to a quarter mile from a dead stop ) Judge was very nice - reduced it to 75.

[-] 1 points by quantumystic (1710) from Memphis, TN 5 years ago

revenue collection agents.

[-] 1 points by DKAtoday (33496) from Coon Rapids, MN 5 years ago

Revenue solicitation agents = Cops

Revenue collection agents = local courts

[-] 1 points by DKAtoday (33496) from Coon Rapids, MN 5 years ago

Too bad they didn't target major crime = Wallstreet.

[-] 0 points by OTP (-203) from Tampa, FL 5 years ago

Union and corporate leaders are knee deep in the prison system and loving it. Big money in stealing freedom.