Welcome to Truth Against The Machine

In October 2015, I was ready to call it quits. On year 10 of dead-end, soul-sucking corporate media jobs, I realized I couldn’t lead a fulfilling life making so little impact and simply serving as part of the problem.

I’d worked inside the belly of the beast, having booked guests and produced segments at RNC television—I mean Fox News (one day I’ll write a book)—followed by a year-long stint at MSNBC. After three-and-a-half years in cable news, I knew I couldn’t spend the next 20-30 years pushing false narratives and substanceless drivel.

After a 2-year-hiatus in the non-profit world (hence my distaste for all things meetings and bureaucracy), I took a major risk at 27, leaving a comfy digital producer position in favor of becoming a full-time writer.

The $25,000 pay cut was a tough pill to swallow, but it was now or never.

Over the next two years, I wrote about media and politics for TVNewser.com and then TheWrap.com, but again, I was trapped in the bullshit-substanceless-clickbait-drivel vortex.

I knew I had a unique voice and determination within—I just couldn’t find the platform to unleash it.

Then one November night in 2015, I pushed through the flu to go watch Cenk Uygur give a talk about his career in New York City.

We spoke after as I groveled at his feet for a janitor job at The Young Turks.

As if the universe was finally ready to stop fucking with me and throw me a bone, Cenk called me a month later to offer me a first for The Young Turks—a reporter job, covering the presidential campaign.

A year and a few months later—and a whirlwind campaign mixed with witnessing corruption and searing injustice nationwide—I can honestly say I’m the luckiest journalist in America.

In a country with very few left.

What drapes TV screens and fills up newspapers and websites on a daily basis isn’t journalism—it’s infotainment (and frankly, not very entertaining).

I remember spending a day in a Portland, Oregon houseless community, covering the growing population of working people who get paid such poverty wages, they can’t even afford to put a roof over their head.

But when I turned on the TV in the hotel, CNN was having a “debate” over the latest series of tweets from then-candidate Donald Trump.

Yup, I know.

This plays out every single day: real issues, real struggle, REAL stories lay silent as overpaid, glorified PR-spinsters put on makeup, hold up a microphone, and claim to be “holding the powerful accountable”.

The only thing they are holding is a fat wallet and a meaningless career.

And when I say real stories, I’m not simply talking about what I personally think is important.

I mean life and death situations that without the proper spotlight, can get people killed: faulty big oil pipelines; communities with toxic water they don’t even know about and the media ignores; banks STILL illegally tossing families on the streets; politicians voting against making life-saving prescription drugs cheaper.

The list goes on (and doesn’t even touch on the military industrial complex and total propaganda “journalism” that launches us and keeps us in perpetual war, crippling our families, economy, and very way of life).

So, if you’ve read this far, you probably agree with me (or at least have an open mind).

Experiencing all this injustice up close and personal has both drained me, at times depressed me, and at times—made me extremely hopeful.

The hope appeared from the dozens of aspiring, fearless independent journalists I’ve met: in Standing Rock, Flint, East Chicago, and dozens of other cities and communities I’ve covered over the last year or so.

These folks have the potential to do great, impactful things, but due to the digital diarrhea we currently live in, they’re often crowded out or have their work buried underneath all the clutter.

So why not bring everyone together in one place?

That’s my concept for Truth Against The Machine.

The name is simple. Everything in me starts with truth. I’m a no bullshit, keep it real kind of guy. I don’t believe in talking or acting one way when the camera rolls and another when it’s off.

I also believe that if we’re going to be depended on for facts and truth, we have to make sure we have the facts right. Sure, sometimes we’ll mess up. We’re human. When it happens, we will correct it and move on.

Against the Machine represents my healthy dose of anger and determination toward the revolving door that has hijacked our country: the corrupt cabal of banks, big corporations, lobbyists, corporate media, and politicians, all working together in one, big, corrupt circle-jerk.

Together, through a collection of independent journalists telling the stories happening in their communities—ones the local and national media won’t touch with a 10-foot pole because it might make the powerful or moneyed interests look bad—I truly believe we can create a thriving journalistic platform that creates the REAL journalism stars of today and tomorrow.

And if we do it right, maybe even change.

Because make no mistake about it: makeup doesn’t make you a journalist. An iPhone or a microphone doesn’t either. And having a nationally popular media outlet behind you doesn’t mean you are some type of journalistic icon.

To me, a journalist is everything those old, stuffy journalist 101 professors told you NOT TO BE.

I’m NOT neutral. I’m a progressive who believes rich people should not run our country and money should not be hoarded by them. My BIAS is for justice, truth, and equality (economic and social).

I didn’t get into journalism to simply tell you what one side says vs. the other. Find a stenographer for that.

I got into journalism to CREATE CHANGE.

And if this site does anything, my hope is it gives other talented, hungry journalists the platform to do so.

This will be a total community effort. If you believe in our purpose and the stories that are being told, please DONATE what you can!

With my full-time reporting job keeping me very busy, I’ll have dedicated folks running the website, editing, vetting stories, doing social media, etc.

Also, call me old-fashioned, but I believe in paying folks. Won’t be much (unless you surprise me and donate millions!), but I’d like to contribute to the journalists contributing here.

In the end, this country has a very long way to go and it’s not going to get turned around by faux progressives tossing out platitudes. It’s certainly not going to be turned by corporate media giving them the endless platform to do so unchallenged. And, of course, those super duper awesome “job creators” Republicans love to fantasize about aren’t running toward us with relief.

It’s going to get turned around by you, me, and us.

Today is a bit of a soft-launch. Click on dispatches and video to see what we have so far and some of the faces who’ll be bringing stories to you.

Please join me to wage Truth Against The Machine.

Sincerely,

Jordan Chariton

Don’t Read Too Much into Rob Quist’s Loss

GREAT FALLS, MT - MAY 22: Democratic U.S. Congressional candidate Rob Quist looks on during a gathering with supporters at Darkhorse Hall and Wine Snug on May 22, 2017 in Great Falls, Montana. Rob Quist is campaigning throughout Montana ahead of a May 25 special election to fill Montana's single congressional seat. Quist is in a tight race against republican Greg Gianforte. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Last night, Berniecrat Rob Quist predictably lost his race to Republican Greg Gianforte, former 2016 gubernatorial candidate who assaulted Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs on the eve of the election.

While few expected a Democrat to pull off a win in Montana’s at-large Congressional District, which has not gone blue since 1994, that hasn’t stopped both progressives and neoliberal Democrats from drawing their own conclusions about the significance of Quist’s loss.

Despite the loss, Quist narrowed the margin for defeat in Montana by 15 points: Trump had won by 21 points; Quist lost by six (also, over half of the voting was done by early ballot-before the body slam heard round the world).

He decidedly outperformed Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in virtually every county in the district, even flipping several that had gone overwhelmingly for Donald Trump, Quist also outperformed his predecessor, Denise Juneau, taking several counties she’d lost.

Some of that success is likely attributable to anti-Trump sentiment—the President’s approval rating has plummeted in recent weeks amid speculation over the Russia investigation and his firing of former FBI Director James Comey—and the news of Gianforte’s violent outburst.

Indeed, these are the aspects to the race establishment Democrats will inevitably emphasize as they try to take a shot a Bernie Sanders, who is currently the most popular politician in America. These partisans will point out that Montana’s governor, Steve Bullock, a centrist, outperformed Quist and defeated Gianforte in 2016.

On the flip side, progressives will correctly counter that Quist was a first-time candidate who began with little name recognition running against someone who’d just barely lost the gubernatorial race a few months prior.

And though he was unable to make up the name-recognition gap in the short time he had, they’ll also correctly say he was able to perform well with little help from the national Democratic Party, which only began investing in the state recently.

The DNC has been focusing on Georgia’s 6th District congressional race between centrist golden boy Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel, rather than Quist’s race.

Meanwhile, Gianforte was flush with cash from Republicans and outside groups. Beyond that, Quist was also a somewhat flawed candidate, having a history of personal troubles with taxes and debt.

But there is more to the puzzle. Special elections are “weird” as David Daley, former editor-in-chief of Salon and author of “Ratf**cked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy,” put it in our interview last month. They are not the best indicator of public sentiment as they are generally associated with low turnout like we saw in the Quist/Gianforte race.

The one thing that can be gleaned from this race is that partisanship still very much plays a role in people’s voting patterns. If progressives and Democrats in general, want to change America, perhaps a new strategy is required in light of the Republican Party’s hold on Congress and the state legislatures.

In the meantime, both sides of the Democratic divide would do well not to read too far into these races, and instead gear up for 2018.

For full interview with Mr. Daley, see video below:

Oligarchy Justice: How Police Rob Poor To Help Make the Rich Richer

The idealized view of the police in American culture is that they are the people who protect society and prevent people from doing immoral things like steal each other’s property. Sadly, reality doesn’t always line up to this ideal, and we are living in a society where the police have established policies that literally rob from the poor in order to avoid increasing taxes on the wealthy.

The policy I am referring to is called “civil asset forfeiture.” At the most basic level, this policy allows police departments to seize the money and property of individuals who are suspected of a crime, sell the property at open auction, and use the proceeds to fund police activities. People who have their property seized don’t need to be convicted of a crime before their property is seized, or even before it is sold off, and they are not entitled to a publicly-funded lawyer to defend themselves. Oftentimes, a police officer will seize the property based simply upon their unsubstantiated assumption that it was paid for using money raised through illegal means.

Even if an individual decides to challenge the seizure of their property in court, the burden of proof is on them to prove that their property is not related to any crime and that they obtained it legally. They must hire a lawyer out of their own pocket and sometimes face the reality that their property has already been sold and cannot be recovered.

Even if an individual decides to challenge the seizure of their property in court, the burden of proof is on them to prove that their property is not related to any crime and that they obtained it legally. They must hire a lawyer out of their own pocket and sometimes face the reality that their property has already been sold and cannot be recovered.

Using civil asset forfeiture, police have seized billions of dollars in cash, cars, houses, electronics, jewelry, and other valuable goods—many of those who had their property seized weren’t even charged with a crime, never mind convicted. Police departments can keep the proceeds of civil asset forfeitures and often split the profits with the prosecutors, giving both police and prosecutors an incentive to seize first and never ask questions.

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Just to put into perspective how capricious and absurd these seizures can be, you can look to the case of Yianni Sourovelis; a 22-year-old who was living at his family home in Philadelphia and dealing with a heroin addiction.

After being picked up with $40 worth of opiates, he was arrested and the police seized his family’s house based upon the argument that it was being used to sell drugs. When this merited national media attention (the Sourovelis family is white and lower-middle class), the police backed off to avoid a scandal, but this is an exception to the rule—there are thousands of examples of such seizures every year, none of them you have ever heard about, and many of them just as unfair as this case.

Civil Asset Forfeiture as Regressive Taxation

It shouldn’t be a surprise that civil asset forfeiture is a tactic that almost exclusively targets those who lack the resources to defend themselves. While it was designed to claw back money from kingpins and cartel bosses, its application has been to target poor and middle class communities that have some assets, but are unable to challenge the seizure of these assets in court. Rich people can easily hire a lawyer to contest false seizures, but the average American—who can’t handle a $500 surprise expense—is often forced to simply accept the seizure without question. Because the goal of civil asset forfeiture is to raise money for the police, this creates a natural incentive for police to target working class Americans, most commonly belonging to communities of color.

To put into real-life terms, a banker who steals millions from innocent Americans gets a bailout and is allowed to keep his bonuses, while a black factory worker who happens to get stopped while driving with a couple joints in certain cities is likely going to lose his car. The authorities let this happen because they are afraid of going up against the banker’s legal team and starting an expensive trial, but are confident that they can take the other guy’s car with minimum fuss, and turn a personal profit.

This dynamic creates a situation where civil asset forfeiture becomes an extremely unjust and regressive form of taxation that lets police departments operate expensive programs while reducing their tax burden on those who have large amounts of wealth.
Police departments are typically funded through property taxes, which everybody living in an area pays (either through their home or rolled into the rent after their landlord pays the taxes on the building). Civil asset forfeiture creates an alternate revenue stream that can supplement property taxes or even replace funds lost to tax cuts.

In short, politicians have the ability to reduce the tax rates on all people living in a city, and then impose a form of shadow-taxation that only strikes the poor and working class, in order to recoup the funds lost from tax cuts. On paper, it appears that taxes have decreased, the police are still operating well within their budgets and the only people losing are those who have broken the law, but the reality is far darker. Police departments flood working class communities with officers, who have the incentive not only to enforce the law, but to seize enough property from residents to properly fund the department even after their taxpayer funds are reduced.

Tax cuts are not the only revenue reductions that can spur an increase in civil asset forfeiture. A study of civil asset forfeitures conducted between 2001 and 2014 by the DOJ found relatively stable rates of seizures between 2001 and 2007, followed by a meteoric rise from 2008 to 2014 (with the value of property seized by the DOJ increasing by over 400% from 2007 to 2014). This rise is attributed to the budget cuts caused by the recession and the need to increase funding for the DOJ. Unfortunately, forfeiture data is much harder to obtain on the state level, as some states have extremely poor transparency standards, so it is much harder to isolate such patterns in some of the states with the most abusive forfeiture laws (e.g. Alabama).

The idea that the police should be incentivized to steal from those they are expected to protect is extremely disturbing and shouldn’t be tolerated. It is fundamentally unjust and disadvantages those who are already disadvantaged—for example, what do you think happens when a working class American has his car or house stolen just because he likes to smoke a little pot? He is rendered homeless, can lose his job, and is likely to be alienated from the police forever.

Communities that have been targeted by these abuses are extremely unlikely to rely on the police for help. Every interaction with the police produces the threat they, their family, or their neighbors are going to lose a vital piece of property or get evicted from the community altogether. Obviously, this isn’t conducive to a functional police/community relationship, and communities where this dynamic has been established can see police as an occupying force rather than a social good.

Hillary Clinton’s New Dark Money Group Is Onward to the Status Quo

Truth Against The Machine reporter Walker Bragman reported on Hillary Clinton’s new dark money group “Onward Together,” which also has a Super Pac, and whether it’s the next faux progressive enterprise to keep the establishment in power.

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Flint CFO Foreclosing On Poisoned Residents To Pay For Corporate Welfare

In covering Flint for over a month now including a press conference, town hall, city council meeting, multiple protests, and conducting many interviews with residents and government employees, a clear trend has presented itself.

The people who are fighting, who’ve been fighting since the beginning of the water crisis in 2014, have been forthcoming and factual. They feel as though they’ve been abandoned by their government, and the corporate media. When a journalist comes around, there’s a queue of citizens who speak up and speak out, because once all the mainstream media left, they had no outlet to express the injustices they’ve been subjected to.

So, when someone refuses questioning, it raises alarm bells. But that’s exactly what David Sabuda, the Interim Financial Director, or CFO, of Flint did when I approached him at a recent town hall.

He has a record of consistently acting on behalf of the Snyder administration, defending egregious inaction by the state concerning the water crisis since his hiring in June 2016.

Sabuda acts as a mediator between Snyder and city interests, passing down the word of the governor’s office to be implemented on-the-ground in Flint.

According to the Detroit Free Press, the state has estimated that home delivery of water in Flint would cost $9 million a month, which Sabuda said would drain the city’s water fund dry in a month and a half, and severely impact the city’s budget.

He has testified in defense of the City’s and State’s non-compliance of the Judge-ordered, door-to-door delivery of bottled water to Flint residents.

“It would be devastating,” Sabuda said.

“Devastating” to pay for home delivery? The devastation came when Flint residents were poisoned, and then forced out of their homes when they don’t pay for toxic water.

As for the city’s budget, Mr. Sabuda himself accepted a $40,000 raise from the previous CFO’s salary-he makes over $133,000 a year before benefits from city taxpayer money—more than Flint Mayor Karen Weaver. Now obviously, there’s a big gap between $9 million and a $40,000 raise.

However, Sabuda wasn’t the only government official to get a pay raise during the crisis. In Flint, mis-allocated funds are everywhere, and go hand-in-hand with the corruption that’s run amok in Michigan for decades.

But local and state officials here are used to operating without scrutiny from the media. There’s a lot to be found just under the surface, as long as you’re willing to dig.

Sabuda is also heavily involved with a state organization that, if libertarians knew of its operation, would make their heads explode.

The Receivership Transition Advisory Board (RTAB) exists to vote on whether or not elected Flint officials get to do their jobs. The Snyder-appointed team meets every few weeks and has the ability to dissolve resolutions passed by the Flint City Council and Flint Mayor.

Translated: overrule the Mayor and City Council.

[BEAT THE PRESS: DONATE TO TATM TO HELP FUND REPORTERS LIKE CARLY STAY ON THE FLINT WATER CRISIS STORY.]

They are an appointed, unelected, voting body paid by the State of Michigan to keep the Snyder administration—the same one that poisoned Flint—in control of the city.

It’s the closest thing to a ‘shadow government’ I’ve ever seen.

They have no listed email, no listed phone number, and their offices are supposedly in Lansing, but no address is listed. While the RTAB is supposed to comply with Michigan’s Open Meetings Act of 1974, not one resident I’ve spoken to has been able to attend a meeting, which are held on the second Wednesday of every month at 2pm.

However, they do comply with the stipulation that they have to provide transcripts of their meetings to the public- also known as the meeting minutes.

Public documents of meeting minutes with the Snyder-appointed Receivership Transition Advisory Board (RTAB) demonstrate Sabuda’s lack of concern for the residents he’s paid $64/hour to represent.

Transcripts show his support and advocacy of bullying tactics to get poisoned Flint residents to pay up on late, undrinkable water bills.

“As I reported last month on the water collection piece, we are holding our own on water collections. On the last few months we have started to turn off water on the residential side and we’ve seen our residential collections pick up dramatically,” Sabuda said, according to the RTAB Meeting Minutes on April 12th, 2017.

He continued: “I would say for the last month of collection I looked at, which would be March, will be about 68 percent collected; on the commercial side over 100 percent collected for March, which is really, really good. But as you know, credits are ended, have ended as of February 28th. Those will be reflected on the March bill. After that there will be no more credits being applied to individual customer accounts. Those who have credits on their account will keep those credits and then they will burn through them as live progresses.”

Sabuda proposed the tax lien idea to the board and encouraged the use of delinquent property taxes to boost city revenue:

“What we’ll do is if we don’t get paid, whether it’s a commercial customer or it’s a residential customer, we will place water, that balance that is eligible underneath the law, we will put that on the tax bill.” -David Sabuda, RTAB Meeting Minutes April 12th, 2017 (a fuller transcript of Sabuda’s comments are at the bottom of this story)

In defense of his policy of shutting off water and threatening residents, he says
“We are willing to work with residents unable to meet the full terms of the payment requirement, but we City officials must also show the state that our customers are paying for the services we provide,” -David Sabuda, as quoted on Michigan Radio http://michiganradio.org/post/flint-residential-water-customers-face-choice-pay-or-risk-shutoff

Sabuda shows with his own statements that he’s completely remorseless to Flint residents’ predicaments, and clueless that the “water services” provided by the state are what poisoned residents in the first place. He, like a sea of other selfish “public servants” shows a willingness to rob money from the poor in order to pay for tax cuts for the rich and corporate welfare.

His lack of ability to answer for his own actions highlights his lack of concern for the Flint citizens who have every right to question the administration that’s been consistently poisoning them and their children, meanwhile spending millions on a PR campaign to convince residents that all their physical ailments are just a figment of their imagination (and forcing taxpayers to may millions for Governor Snyder’s criminal defense fund).

This video from TYT Politics exposes the out-of-touch attitude of Sabuda, an appointed official who makes a six-figure salary while Flint suffers from poverty and poison.

People like David Sabuda want the media to go away, to back down, to be complacent.

We’re not going anywhere.

MR. FINNEY: And then the last question, with respect to the water fund and the collection activity that’s going on, it certainly sounds like a lot of improvement has been made. That’s great. Have there been any shut-offs at all?

MR. SABUDA: Yes. So, we’ve done this in phases. We started with the commercial piece first. What we do is we reach out to the owners on the commercial side. We then, if we get no justice as far as payment goes —— and remember now what we’re asking for is current balance, current due plus 10 percent of your outstanding balance. That’s what we’re asking for. And if you do that we consider you paid in full and we will not charge any interest or penalty on your outstanding balance. So —— and that goes for both commercial and residential customers.

So, on the commercial side what we do is we reach out to them via telephone, letter or usually it’s an e—mail, e—mail or telephone call. If we don’t get a response back we go out and we post the business or the commercial structure. And usually we get a lot of reaction from that because we’re actually hanging on every door the notice that the water is going to be turned off. That basically gets a lot of people’s attention.

Even with that process what ends up happening is I want to say two that we have shut off. So, I want to say there’s a Lakeside Apartments we have definitely shutoff, and I believe there’s one other that we had to shut off. But I have to tell you this, and this is what’s SO disappointing about the whole process is we have to go through this every month. The businesses still are requiring us to go through this. They don’t believe us that we’re going to shut them off. And until we go through this process over the next six, eight, twelve months and continue to do it the businesses, they will not come in on their own until pressed to pay their bill. So, that’s the disheartening piece.

The best piece about this is so, when we do do this they do pay and we do see our money. And if we go into a shut—off mode in order to turn it back on they have to pay a fee to turn back on and we’re asking for 50 percent of their delinquent balance due. So, they definitely don’t want to go into that shut—off mode because now we’re asking for a lot more money.

Now, on the residential side we follow the same process. We try to reach out and try to get to the point where they know we’re coming. However, with residents it’s much harder, so what we do is we look at where we’re going, what we’re doing without getting into a lot of detail here. We post the residence. We give them time to come in and try to square up their accounts. And we have gone through the shut-off notice. We have gone through the shut—off s. That happened in March. As the weather got warmer we started to shut off.

What we discovered is a third of the homes that were shutting off are vacant, and that’s rough. So, we have to tackle this vacant parcel issue in a much bigger and much global scale. So, now we have to go and we have to search.

What we’ll do is if we don’t get paid, whether it’s a commercial customer or it’s a residential customer, we will place water, that balance that is eligible underneath the law, we will put that on the tax bill. We usually do that in May based upon whatever the ordinance requires us to do. And I can tell you, and I’ll forewarn you, the County Treasurer has given us a hard time about this. We basically said that we’re going to deliver a delinquent water to the tax roll July of ‘17, and we’re expecting that if it isn’t paid by the customer or by the property owner in the ‘17 tax year that we’re going to see that paid to us in the delinquent roll in March of ‘18, and we’re expecting the County Treasurer to collect on that delinquent roll.

So, all that is happening right now. We’ve had numerous discussions with the County Treasurer. I think she’s coming around and seeing our position, but I think it’s going to take a meeting or two more to scoop out the process. But that’s how we’re tackling the delinquent water issue now.

Our goal is to get to a 80 percent collection rate on a monthly basis. We are getting there. And I want to say overall net we had an estimated for ‘16—17, I’m sorry, for calendar year ‘16 we had approximately almost a 50 percent collection rate. And you got to remember with that we went through the time when no one was paying a water bill. Okay? So, as the months have improved and we’ve got the threat of shut—off out there we’re seeing collection rates on a monthly basis now of 68, 70, 112, 115 percent both on the residential and commercial side depending on what you’re looking at here. And that’s because of the threat of the shut—off, and we need to continue to do that.

CHAIRPERSON HEADEN: You mentioned just ‘17 collections that are not being paid with the threat of delinquent March 1 of ‘18, I think under the General Property Tax Act. Was that done —­ just out of curiosity, in fiscal ‘16 or calendar year ‘16 was anything returned delinquent March 1 of ‘17?

MR. SABUDA: A good question. No. What ended up happening is this. My understanding is that the City went to put those tax, those delinquent charges on the taxes. The Treasurer, the County Treasurer wrote a letter saying we’re not going to collect on that, don’t even think about putting that on there. The City, to make a long story short, brought those balances back to —— and we held them on account. Then what wound up happening is we went through the credit process, and the credit process came in and, the way I look at it, that was taken care of through the credit process.

REMINDER: Senseless State Leaders Have Demolished Our Planet Long Before Trump

Earlier this year, Trump made headlines when the EPA—presumably under his direction—began to purge its web pages dealing with the issue of climate change and the agency’s plans to address the crisis. While this was an important story, the sad fact is that Republican governors have been doing this long before Trump won office, to little fanfare and outrage.

In 2015, it was exposed that Governor Rick Scott imposed an unwritten ban on state employees at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection using the terms “climate change,” “global warming,” or “sustainability.” While this ban was not written into the official policies of the agency, numerous employees and ex-employees of the agency described verbal warnings against using these words, enforced through a fear of losing project funding or suffering professional consequences. Not only were state employees banned from discussing these issues, but they weren’t allowed to include them in state-sponsored reports, educational materials, or presentations.

If there is one state in the union that cannot afford to ignore climate change, it is Florida. Not only does Florida have an extremely low elevation, but it sits in a hurricane path, thus is very vulnerable to flooding. To make matters worse, much of Florida’s geology is composed of limestone, which is porous thus will allow water to travel under flood barriers. The vast majority living in the state lives under this extreme set of risk factors and large portions of the state will almost certainly become uninhabitable due to climate change.

The idea that the state government would not only deny this reality, but also impose a ban on discussing it in public, should be unfathomable. Unfortunately, this is the current reality and very well may be so until Rick Scott leaves office. The DEP director is appointed by the governor and, as a climate change denier, Rick Scott is unlikely to appoint a person who disagrees with him to head the agency.

Also in 2015, journalists in Wisconsin noticed that websites for both the state Department of Natural Resources and Public Service Commission had been altered to cast doubt on whether human activity is affecting climate change and remove information on past programs to address the issue. The current page on climate change reads as follows:

As it has done throughout the centuries, the earth is going through a change. The reasons for this change at this particular time in the earth’s long history are being debated and researched by academic entities outside the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

The effects of such a change are also being debated but whatever the causes and effects, the DNR’s responsibility is to manage our state’s natural resources through whatever event presents itself; flood, drought, tornadoes, ice/snow or severe heat. The DNR staff stands ready to adapt our management strategies in an effort to protect our lakes, waterways, plants, wildlife and people who depend on them.

While less overt than the climate change denialism being implemented in Florida, the information being spread here is still extremely inaccurate. There is no debate in the scientific community about the reality of climate change and human activity’s role in driving these changes. Every relevant scientific society and over 97% of scientists published in the field agree that anthropogenic climate change is real, establishing a strong consensus within the scientific community.

The idea that this is still a “debate” is akin to arguing that there is a “debate” over whether smoking kills or the historicity of the holocaust—the vast majority of experts agree, while a handful of extremists argue the other side.

A third form of official climate change denial was implemented by the North Carolina legislature in 2012. The majority Republican legislature passed a law banning the use of climate science in projections of future sea levels. In short, they imposed climate denialism on state regulators and forced them to use obviously false assumptions when making zoning, disaster preparation, and urban planning policy choices. This could have had disastrous effects, as failing to take into account sea level increases makes it impossible to rationally assess flooding risks and determine where it is safe to build.

Fortunately, this law expired last year and hasn’t been reauthorized. The North Carolina Coastal Resource Commission—which produced the projections that enraged Republicans and business groups enough to pass this law—issued another report using 30-year projections instead of 100-year projections, resulting in estimated sea level increases that reduced the impacts on business. Effectively, regulators are able to craft policy with 30-years in mind instead of 100, letting localities invest in areas that will be unsustainable as soon as 40 years in the future.

Banning discussion of climate change, spreading disinformation about its causes, and stopping regulators from using the best science may be comforting to partisans who want to deny reality, but it is damaging to the long-term health of our nation. We, as a people, need to address climate change on both the state and federal levels if we hope to minimize the damage it will cause to our nation.

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Corporate Media Has Lost Its Fucking Mind

I think Russia has hacked the corporate media’s already useless minds.

Having already had zero confidence in the collective corporate-media-industrial-complex’s ability, or desire, to cover mass suffering permeating America, I generally gave them the benefit of the doubt that it was more cluelessness and laziness than intentional ignorance.

But, as I returned from my seventh reporting trip in the rubble of the former Middle Class that is Flint, Michigan, and turned on my TV this morning, I officially realized NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, CNN and their brothers at The New York Times, Washington Post, and the rest of the worst have lost their fucking minds.

Does it matter if the Trump campaign “colluded” with the Russian government to influence our election results: sure.

Is there any real, concrete evidence that this occurred? Absolutely not.

Shady business dealings of Trump confidantes and Trump himself; inappropriate conversations Trump campaign officials had with Russian ambassadors, Trump firing the FBI Director because he wanted the investigation to end; Paul Manafort being a mobster-like huckster; and Trump’s hesitance to adopt John McCain-like hysteria over Russia are not concrete proof of “collusion.”

And by the way—what does “collusion” even mean? Did Trump’s campaign, filled with a bunch of rag-tag shape shifters without much campaign experience—somehow coordinate with the Kremlin to hack into DNC emails (which, by the way, occurred in in 2015 when Trump was very far from being the Republican nominee), then John Podesta’s emails (who, by the way, lost his phone in a taxi cab in summer of 2015 and fell for an email phishing scheme in March of 2016), to then contact WikiLeaks, who then ended up releasing the DNC emails nearly a year after Russia allegedly hacked into them and Podesta’s months after Russia allegedly hacked into them?

Besides the fact that Trump, and his campaign, are not the smartest tools in the shed to pull this off, the DNC “hack” occurred nearly a full year before WikiLeaks released the emails during the DNC Convention. If Russia, with a president who hates Hillary Clinton, and Julian Assange, who equally hates Clinton, had access to emails that could potentially cause a media and campaign firestorm during the Democratic Primary, why wouldn’t they release them in order to help Senator Bernie Sanders?

If, the aforementioned parties worked together to hack Podesta’s email through a phishing scam in March of 2016—and were successful—why would they sit on the emails until the fall? Again, why wouldn’t they immediately deploy them when Sanders still had a mathematical chance during the primary and thousands of emails were now available that directly supported his anti-establishment argument.

Have you heard corporate media outlets ask any of these common sense questions? No, because it doesn’t fit their red scare narrative which has been delivering stellar ratings for MSNBC, CNN, Fox, and website traffic for legacy media online.

In truth, even my employer, The Young Turks, has covered the story extensively, to the detriment of other stories that need covering.

Again, if a presidential candidate worked with a foreign government to get elected, it’s a scandal. But, where I come from, 24/7 news reporting shouldn’t be a mass speculation show on what sinister things might have happened, chomping at the bit on every new bone that gets tossed your way. Or how the potential, hypothetical events might affect the Trump presidency and 2020.

What about the things we KNOW have already happened and the things THAT GO BEYOND SPECULATION.

The Dakota Access Pipeline, which the corporate media completely ignored aside from sending news crews down in hopes of a police-veterans shootout, leaked crude oil in the FIRST WEEK OF OPERATION! Crickets on cable news and scarce coverage in print. Did you know there’s still two lawsuits in play against DAPL, that, gee, gosh jolly Jim, might merit coverage now that what EVERY OBJECTIVE person and their mother who warned in regards to the pipeline leaking were proved correct?

Why isn’t the corporate media covering the leak, which fortunately did not happen in the Missouri River, before it does?

Why isn’t the corporate media grilling Kelcy Warren, the CEO of parent company Energy Transfer Partners, about his now-debunked claim that a spill was unlikely because of the brand new, state of the art steel pipe? Or the 18 spills ETP’s Rover Pipeline in Ohio has had already?

Maybe because they don’t see the profit in it and it would require some actual hard work beyond RUSSIA, RUSSIA, RUSSIA!

Did you know there is a nuclear waste site in the St. Louis area that the EPA and local officials have NO CLUE about in regards to how close it is to an underground chemical fire that experts warn could create an explosion whose radius could reach Illinois?

Why would you? Russia didn’t cause the chemicals, or refuse to move the waste, so why would “liberal” darling Rachel Maddow give a damn (need a whole other piece for this former-progressive-turned-Glenn-Beck charlatan)?

And then there’s Flint—the catastrophe that’s poisoned a whole city in silence. Silence left by a corporate media, whose main duty it is to equip the public with information so they can act and make informed decisions, but has allowed the poisoning of citizens by their corrupt government to become normalized by simply ignoring it.

Do journalists at CNN, who presumably entered journalism in order to make a difference, not care that poor white and black people are facing FORCED EVICTIONS and HOME FORECLOSURES because they won’t pay their POISONOUS water bill?

Do they not care that these same citizens have permanent medical conditions brought on by a privatization scheme gone wrong? Or that the federal and state government refuses to fully cover these illnesses via health insurance?

Do they not care that citizens are now being arrested in Flint for the crime of speaking out in frustration at public town halls?

They don’t give a DAMN, which makes them just as bad as the government officials who delivered the poison.

If it ends up being revealed that Trump is a secret, Russian spy who, alongside his comrades in Russia executed a sinister plot to “steal” an election, I’ll be the first one to say I was wrong and welcome egg on my face (even though said sinister plan didn’t actually “steal” anything. Hillary Clinton lost because she was an awful candidate).

But, that egg won’t change the more important egg these corporate stooges masquerading as journalists have all over their souls.

The truth is, you’re either a fighter for justice or you’re not. You’re either someone who believes in reporting news to save lives and lift communities or you’re someone trying to wear makeup, a nice suit, be on TV and get mentioned in the papers while sipping summery drinks in the Hamptons (talking to you Anderson Cooper).

But to me, Saturday night was who I am and why I do this. At a local Flint bar, several Flint residents who were facing potential felony jail time due to bogus charges against them thanked me. One nearly broke down in tears.

To them, my continued reporting on their behalf—while the national and local media ignored their arrests and the shady investigation afterward—was the reason the county prosecutor had no choice but to drop the charges.

I don’t know if my reporting made the difference or not, but I do know this: a scandal is when American citizens are poisoned by their government so that government officials can launch privatization schemes, and then arrested for speaking out too loudly, three years later, when their water is still a disgusting pool of toxins.

A scandal is when one of the most controversial pipelines, which sparked one of the most historic protest movements in U.S. history, leaks in its first week of operation, and there’s barely a pin drop.

A scandal is when I do a report driving around a Flint neighborhood, and what the audience sees is a ghost town that was once America: vacant lots, burnt down homes, and a sea of abandoned homes—left by the very people who built the modern middle class.

Russia isn’t a scandal—it’s a distraction that continues to allow corporate media cover to ignore the active demolition of America’s middle class.

And the government-commissioned fascism that has begun to take root in order to protect special interests.

I’ll never stop calling them out because they currently hold the largest microphone.

But as their kooky, corrupt coverage continues, that won’t last for long.

BEAT THE PRESS: DONATE TO TATM TO HELP JORDAN PUT LIKE-MINDED REPORTERS OUT IN THE FIELD TO EXPOSE THE OLIGARCHY.

South Florida’s Battle Against Monsanto

Anti-Monsanto mural in Wynwood, South Florida. Photo: Mario DIaz

The battle against greedy, power-hungry corporations and their choke-hold on the foods we eat continues in one of the reddest states in the country: Florida. The good news is that there is a new, progressive awakening happening in Miami that is birthing a new wave of resistance through information and activism.

Meet Nicole Sauvageau, a Miami progressive who has been organizing the 5th annual March Against Monsanto that is taking place this Saturday, May 20, 2017 in Miami. Though she has attended all the other past marches as a participant, this is the first time she has ever organized for it.

Activist Nicole Sauvageau working on a sign for this weekend’s March Against Monsanto. Photo: Mario Diaz

Nicole, who was involved in the Bernie Sanders campaign here in South Florida, says she is compelled to always seek justice. And what initially inspired her to follow Bernie’s movement, which she invested quite a bit of time and money into (she went to Philadelphia twice), led her to getting involved with the South Florida Green Party, which is not only a political party, but an activist group deeply entrenched in many environmental issues in Florida, including the Sabal Pipeline and the privatization of North Miami Beach’s water utility, among others.

Activist Nicole Sauvageau. Photo: Mario Diaz

“I’ve also been involved in the food and beverage industry for over 26 years,” said Nicole. “And when I first started, I never noticed so many food allergies. But as time went on, I’ve noticed more and more cases of food sensitivities to wheats and nuts. So when I started doing research, it led me to the source of our food, and I noticed that what has changed in the past 20 years is how we approach agriculture.”

And that’s no coincidence. Specifically in Florida, there are quite a few farms, many of which use Monsanto seeds, and use Roundup as their pesticide of choice.

Want a quick review of the history of Monsanto? Check this video:

You see, it’s not really the gene manipulation technology Monsanto uses that is inherently harmful. It’s the fact that the manipulated gene specifically makes the crop immune to Roundup, which is a Monsanto-produced pesticide that not only kills insects that might eat the crops, but weeds as well. This allows farmers and Monsanto to make a large profit in savings from space and fewer pest-damaged products, simply by spraying the fuck out of their crops with Roundup.

You know what’s NOT immune to Roundup? Humans.

That’s right, while this combination sounds like an innovative solution on paper, the effects of Roundup on human beings is not only devastating, it’s also a main focus of Monsanto’s legal teams as they try to fight against lawsuits from people who allege that they got CANCER from to exposure of glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup. In 2015, the World Health Organization deemed glyphosate a probable human carcinogen, but alarmingly, it is still used with GMO crops and used as a ripening agent on wheat, nuts, seeds etc.

According to EcoWatch and CommonDreams.org, there has been a large effort from Monsanto to make sure that no scientific study of Roundup ever gets used against them in some of these cases (Monsanto is currently facing more than 700 lawsuits in regards to Roundup health issues). For example:

  • Field worker Enrique Rubio developed bone cancer after being exposed to Roundup (Case No. 2:15-cv-7426)
  • Aaron Johnson was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma after Roundup exposure on a macadamia farm and his own property (Case 1:16-cv-00075-ACK-RLP)
  • Anthony McCall died of complications of lymphoma after Roundup exposure (Case 2:16-cv-01609)
  • Yolanda Mendoza was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma after using Roundup once a week on her property

But how was Monsanto even allowed to use that shit in the first place? BECAUSE MONEY IN POLITICS, that’s why. More specifically, COLLUSION between them and the EPA. They have the money to buy power and influence. Not only that, but Monsanto has invested quite a lot of money in anti-labeling campaigns for GMO products. Here’s just a few examples:

Monsanto Anti-Labeling Contributions:

COALITION AGAINST THE COSTLY FOOD LABELING PROPOSITION$8,112,069
NO ON 92 COALITION$5,958,750
NO ON 522$5,374,484
COALITION AGAINST THE MISLEADING LABELING INITIATIVE$3,351,728


That way, people like you and me won’t be able to make INFORMED DECISIONS ON THE FOOD WE FEED TO OUR FAMILIES.

And their oppressive power chokehold doesn’t end there. You know how I mentioned that a lot of farmers use Monsanto GMO seeds for their crops? Guess what happens when the wind or a bee accidentally pollinates one of your ORGANIC crops with a Monsanto crop: your ass gets sued to hell.

Anti-Monsanto mural, Wynwood, South Florida.

That’s right, Monsanto’s modified seeds have legal patents. If you get caught growing some accidental hybrid with a Monsanto strain, you might as well burn your entire crop down or face the wrath of Monsanto’s multi-million dollar legal team. Why? Well, in 2013 they got the thumbs up from the Supreme Court to do it because, like I said before, MONEY IN POLITICS.

But, in my opinion, the award for most corrupt arm of Monsanto goes to its propaganda team. The most recent example being Bill Nye The Science Guy’s new Netflix show, in which he conveniently fails to mention ANY of the above concerns. Instead, he has some guy make a segment about people not knowing what the ‘O’ in GMO stands for, because what better way to push back concerns than to make some dumb ass gotcha’ joke?

“Bill Nye is the Rachel Maddow of science,” added Nicole Sauvageau, who doesn’t watch TV, but is very familiar with Monsanto’s straw-grasping spins and propaganda. “For him to be in denial of the effects of the GMO industry, must mean he has some deep ties to his pockets. Frankly, it is anti-science to pay your own ‘in-house scientists’ to tell the world their products are safe!”

Nye, who was originally anti-GMO, made a complete 180 on the matter after he “went to Monsanto and spent a lot of time with the scientists there.” The original copy of his book, Undeniable, even emphasized that, “if you’re asking me, we should stop introducing genes from one species into another,” because “we just can’t know what will happen to other species in that modified species’ ecosystem.” Guess not even science is immune to the temptation of money.

Robert Farley, EVP & CTO of Monsanto, with Bill Nye. Source: Monsanto

Bill Nye, seen here chilling with his good buddy Robert Falley, Monsanto EVP and CTO, thinks that poking fun at some people who don’t know the ‘O’ in GMO will make you minimize the real concerns people have with Monsanto, and how they strong-arm the agricultural industry while giving people CANCER for their own profits. They pass off the narrative that only irrational hippies have problems with GMOs and that any rebuttal to that is simply anti-science.

However, what people DEMAND is the LABELING of these products so that human beings and their families have the liberty to CHOOSE the food they ingest. Wouldn’t that be nice? Having the ability to decide whether or not to feed your family something that DIDN’T give people cancer?

“Knowing the dangers of glyphosate, we need to BAN glyphosate from being sprayed in schools, parks, public spaces!” added Nicole.

That’s what the March Against Monsanto is all about. Nicole told me they are expecting about 600+ people in Miami to march in solidarity against the misery inflicted by Monsanto, its agricultural practices and its legal bullying.

And because activists not only work hard, they PARTY hard too, a whole range of music groups, organizations and artists have come together to host an after-party in Wynwood after the march. Promising a night of good music, food and speakers; including Reverend Billy Talen, a radical performance artist.

Murals in Wynwood, South Florida

I’m urging all progressives to stand up, reject the faux-science pivot and join your LOCAL March Against Monsanto for the sake of our health. And if you can’t make it, you can still vote with your wallet (and fork), by supporting local farmers, support organic and non-GMO project labels, avoid at-risk crops or even grow your own food. But most importantly, SHARE this with your friends!

EXCLUSIVE: Sabal Trail Pipeline Construction Marked By Multiple Violations

Active pipeline construction. Source: Mitch Allen, Polk County, FL

A few weeks ago, I covered the literal cover-up of the Sabal Trail Pipeline/Florida Southeast Connection (FSC) pipeline’s neglectful installation. The Southeastern region’s DAPL-like natural gas pipeline, spanning from Alabama to Florida, has led to protests, police brutality and arrests–because environmentalists are aware of the extreme dangers that come with building these pipelines, and progressives know that it’s funded by dirty money.

PSC Rockford (the company installing the pipeline) forgot to install the required weighted ecobags, and had to re-excavate already-installed pipeline. The most damning part of our video showed that, while re-excavating the pipeline, PSC’s machinery scraped the pipeline’s anti-corrosion coating in at least one area, possibly along approximately a thousand feet of pipeline.

Unfortunately, the negligence does not end at simple scratches. You see, the Sabal Pipeline and the FSC, along with any large-scale construction project like this comes with some very strict, agreed-upon regulations, that have been set-up in a way to PROTECT the environment and the people who live in those areas. And when I say protect, what I actually mean is HOLD ACCOUNTABLE.

The thing is, I’ve noticed a bit of disconnect on the emphasis of importance of the potential impact of these seemingly small violations-–and legal ramifications they might have. In other words, when PCS Rockford is out there cutting corners and half-assing this project and not following the FERC guidelines they agreed upon, they’re putting YOUR family at risk, and should be held LIABLE for it.

Let’s talk about some of those violations:

1. COMPROMISING THE ANTI-CORROSION COATING 

Realizing you forgot to weigh down your pipeline with ecobags (an important necessity for keeping the pipeline in place) and having to dig it back up in multiple locations is the sort of screw up someone might lose their job over–but that’s exactly what happened in March/April and in at least one location, they DAMAGED the anti-corrosion coating along the entire re-excavation area, which was approximately one-thousand feet of pipeline.

While reviewing our video, we also noticed that the required “Cathodic Protection” or Integrity Management system had not been installed (I’ll talk more on this later). This shoddy construction is a direct contradiction to what they are legally SUPPOSED to do:  

§ 192.459 External corrosion control: Examination of buried pipeline when exposed.

Whenever an operator has KNOWLEDGE THAT ANY PORTION OF A BURIED PIPELINE IS EXPOSED, the exposed portion MUST BE EXAMINED FOR EVIDENCE of external corrosion if the pipe is bare, or if the coating is deteriorated. If external corrosion requiring remedial action under §§ 192.483 through 192.489 is found, THE OPERATOR SHALL INVESTIGATE CIRCUMFERENTIALLY AND LONGITUDINALLY BEYOND THE EXPOSED PORTION (by visual examination, indirect method, or both) to determine whether additional corrosion requiring remedial action exists in the vicinity of the exposed portion.”


Now, compare that to what they ACTUALLY did (skip to 15:00 for damage):

And before anyone tries to minimize the importance of a possible breach of the coating, keep in mind that this is no isolated incident. According to Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) reports, human error associated with excavation damage was responsible for 15.1 percent of all (reported) onshore pipeline incidents from 1994 to 2013. Since April 1982, operators have been required to participate in “one call” public utility programs in populated areas to minimize unauthorized excavation activities in the vicinity of pipelines.

Since construction on the Sabal Trail Pipeline first began in 2013, this $3.5 billion-dollar pipeline has seen over $7,040,377 worth of HUMAN-ERROR DAMAGES:

In other words, you can bet your sweet ass this thing will soon have a leak.

2. CATHODIC PROTECTION IS BEING IGNORED

So there’s a mysterious item in the Sabal Pipeline project that construction workers seem to have forgotten the importance of. This item is a cathodic protection, an anti-erosion wire system that is supposed to run parallel to the ENTIRE pipeline and on both sides, from the Sabal Pipeline Trail down to the Florida Southeast Connection. Is this wiring important? Yes–in fact, the law requires that any pipeline installed after July 31, 1971 MUST have a cathodic protection system installed:

“What are the regulatory requirements for cathodic protection on a pipeline?

Gas pipelines installed after July 31, 1971, and hazardous liquid interstate pipelines installed after March 31, 1970, must be properly coated and have cathodic protection (CP). Effective dates for other categories of pipelines apply.
CP is required on any pipeline installed before these dates if the pipeline is coated, or where areas of active corrosion are present if the line is bare or ineffectively coated.

Performance of CP Systems must be monitored regularly with tests performed at least once per year. Records must be maintained for the life of the pipeline.
Each pipeline must have sufficient test points for electrical measurement to determine CP adequacy. Test points should be shown on CP system maps.

Operators must maintain records or maps of their CP systems. Records of all tests, surveys, or inspections required by the regulations must be maintained.
Pipelines that are found to have deficient CP must be remediated in a timely manner (usually within 12 to 18 months after discovery).”


Corrosion is a
big fucking deal. According to Pipeline Accident Data from 1994 to 2013, corrosion has been the cause of over 17% of the total of gas-transmission incidents.

Prior to 1971, pipelines were not required to use cathodic protection and protective
coatings. Nowadays, the use of both an external protective coating and a cathodic protection system significantly reduces the rate of failure, as compared to unprotected or partially protected pipes. It also helps protect the pipeline from “outside force incidents,” or damage caused by the encroachment of mechanical equipment, and earth movements due to soil settlement, washouts, or geologic hazards. It is even supposed to help against the many Floridian weather effects, such as wind, storms, thermal strains (fires) and other forces.

PSC is either taking their sweet ass time to install the external part of this system, or they’re hoping no one notices the fact that it HAS NOT BEEN COMPLETELY INSTALLED.

So let’s take a look at all the violations in this photo:

The red arrow shows how the cathodic protection wires are installed, but when you look closer, you also see the PSC crew trying to install the cathodic protection in a very unsafe ditch. The workers are sandwiched between the 36” steel pipe and the sand wall of a 10 to 12 foot deep ditch. You can also tell that the sand walls of the ditch are caving in (just beyond the black and white ecobags) with heavy equipment directly above the workers.

FERC/Sabal Trail documents state that ditches need to be pumped DRY before backfilling, and shoring boxes (sturdy walls that protect workers from cave-ins) are required if workers are in ditches that are more than 4 feet deep. This ditch, however, has standing water in it and you can even see these guys literally SINKING up to their knees. There is no ladder, no shoring boxes, and there’s even a supervisor walking across a makeshift bridge that has NO safety rails! Damn.

Polk County, Florida resident Mitch Allen’s library of documented footage of the Sabal Pipeline construction (including the video and image above) proves that the wiring is consistently NOT INSTALLED or is partially installed in some areas. And while the document allows for the Cathodic Protection to be installed up to a year after the pipeline is laid in the ground, the Sabal Trail Plan states that it will be installed within the right-of-way and DURING pipeline construction. In fact, when Allen, who is a resident in Polk County, Florida, asked John Peconom, environmental biologist staff member at FERC, he confirmed via email that the wires are indeed intended to be installed throughout the entirety of pipeline’s route.

Additionally, the fact that the topsoil (which is full of gravel, stones, etc.) was mixed with other sediment and not segregated properly, elevates the need to have this cathodic protection installed sooner rather than later.

This is a big deal, considering that these construction sites include WETLANDS and WATER BODIES that act as filters and supply the aquifers with Florida’s main source of drinking water. This is not a joke. The ENTIRE FSC/Sabal Pipeline Project area is underlain by the Florida aquifer system, which includes an area of approximately 100,000 square miles in the southeastern United States, including ALL of Florida. It’s estimated that the Florida aquifer supplies 10 million people with their daily water needs.

3. DUMPING WATER INTO PRIVATE PROPERTY

Careful attention is always supposed to be paid to where the water goes during the de-watering process of wetland, which pumps water out of the area and prepares the land for pipeline installation. I’m not saying it’s an easy process, but it demands attention and discretion. Unfortunately, when the Sabal Pipeline de-watered many of the wetlands in Polk County, Florida, they thought it’d be acceptable to flood private property and even a HOMELESS CAMP.

On several occasions, PSC Rockford set up discharge hoses to pump out wetland water only to sneakily have that water, which was filtered with dirty and often sliced/defective filter bags, pour into residential back yards and other private properties-–not only causing damage, but assuring that all the conditions are ripe for sinkholes…which brings us to the next topic:

4. MIXING OF TOPSOIL & RISK OF SINKHOLES

Construction workers are NOT SUPPOSED to mix the layers of soil when installing a pipeline anywhere, especially in wetlands. Why? Because doing so decimates wetlands and leaves behind a crusty, fissure-filled surface that suffocates the remaining moisture of the wetland. You know what can happen when you fail to segregate soil in wetlands? Sink holes. That’s right. Sabal Pipeline construction has blatantly neglected to properly ‘restore’ wetland by mixing dusty construction soil with wetland soil, which is EXACTLY how you can induce sinkholes.

Want to know what a decimated wetland that had its topsoil mixed looks like?

And I’m not just picking at straws here, guys. There’s an entire, extensive section in the Sabal Pipeline’s Erosion And Sedimentation Control Plan that emphasizes the importance of topsoil segregation, SPECIFICALLY in all residential areas:

“3.5.3.1 Topsoil Segregation
1. Topsoil segregation methods will be used in all residential areas, cultivated or rotated croplands, managed pastures, hayfields, and other areas at the landowner’s or land managing agency’s request.
2. Prevent the mixing of topsoil with subsoil by stripping topsoil (Figure 13) from either the full work area or from the trench line and subsoil storage area (ditch plus spoil side method) as stipulated in the Construction Contract or Line List.
3. Segregate at least 12 inches of topsoil in deep soils with more than 12 inches of topsoil. In soils with less than 12 inches of topsoil, make every effort to segregate the entire topsoil layer.
4. Where topsoil segregation is required, maintain separation of salvaged topsoil and subsoil throughout all construction activities.
5. For wetlands, segregate the top 12 inches of topsoil within the ditchline, except in areas where standing water is present or soils are saturated.
6. Leave gaps in the topsoil piles for the installation of temporary interceptor dikes to allow water to be diverted off ROW.
7. Topsoil replacement (i.e., importation of topsoil) may be used as an alternative to topsoil segregation if approved by the landowner and Chief Inspector.
8. Never use topsoil for padding the pipe, constructing temporary slope breakers or trench plugs, improving or maintaining roads, or as a fill material.
9. Stabilize topsoil piles and minimize loss due to wind and water erosion with use of sediment barriers, mulch, temporary seeding, tackifiers, or functional equivalents, where necessary.”

Now that you know the regulations on how to manage topsoil, check out how PSC Rockford actually handled topsoil in Wetland #47 back in January:

When asked about the video footage of topsoil mixing, chief spokesperson for FERC, Mary O’Driscoll, refused to comment. Instead, she told me that landowners with concerns or complaints can go to the landowner’s helpline.

Thanks for nothing, Mary.

These sinkholes are no joke, and Florida is famous for them. In fact, just last week, a new one emerged just a few miles west of Disney World. Back in December, a sinkhole displaced residents of a condo complex in that same area. And just four years ago, a man named Jeff Bush was tragically swallowed by a sinkhole as he was sleeping.

Groundwater pumping for urban water supply, irrigation, or in this case, pipeline installment, can produce new sinkholes in sinkhole-prone areas.
Sinkholes can also form when natural water-drainage patterns are changed and new water-diversion systems are developed. Some sinkholes form when the land surface is changed, such as when industrial and runoff-storage ponds are created. The substantial weight of the new material can trigger an underground collapse of supporting material, thus causing a sinkhole.

The water below ground is actually helping to keep the surface soil in place. The overburden sediments that cover buried cavities in the aquifer systems are delicately balanced by groundwater fluid pressure. Basically, if pumping results in a lowering of groundwater levels, then underground structural failure will happen.

ALL of these changes and sinkhole triggers are sad realities of the Sabal Pipeline construction. Just look at these sinkholes that PSC Rockford created in Loughman and Kissimmee, Florida:

Simply knowing the lack of effort going into following guidelines and procedures of building this pipeline isn’t enough. The mainstream media won’t cover this until a gas leak actually happens, so it’s up to the rest of us to hold these companies and public regulators accountable.

Action needs to be taken towards the FERC’s inability to do its job correctly, to make sure the agreed-upon RULES and REGULATIONS are met, and that RECORD-KEEPING and TRANSPARENCY is available for ALL residents who request them. Yet, the FERC has done an abysmal job at keeping Floridians assured that all possible steps have been taken to avoid a spill of methane gas and other chemicals into our wetland.

When asked for comment, representatives from both FERC and PSC have either denied to comment, deflected to seeking help from the “landowner’s helpline,” or confirmed proper construction tactics that these workers were supposed to take–as evidenced above, many of these steps were not taken.

We CANNOT wait for the inevitable leak. Share this article far and wide and tell Governor Rick Scott (R-FL), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), the silent Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, and “progressive champion” Debbie Wasserman Schultz that YOU won’t tolerate a shoddy project risking the water source of YOUR family, especially because these seats will be up for grabs in 2018. We have reached out to all of their offices, but requests for comment have not yet been returned.

Gov. Rick Scott’s Tallahassee, FL Office:
(850) 488-7146

Sen. Marco Rubio’s Washington, D.C. Office:
(202) 224-3041

Sen. Bill Nelson’s Washington, D.C. Office:
(202) 224-5274

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s Sunrise, FL Office:
(954) 845-1179

Special thanks to Mitch Allen for the pictures and videos included in this report.

NY Education Commissioner Criticizes Religious School Funding–Then TRIPLES It

East Ramapo School Board Members. Photo: Carucha L. Meuse/The Journal News

New York Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia rescinded approval of the East Ramapo school district’s budget after she discovered it included five days worth of funding for busing students to private religious schools. She then traveled to the district to discuss the budget behind closed doors, where she ultimately approved funding for fourteen days of the busing, at a cost of about $1.4 million dollars.

This is only the latest dust-up in the continuing saga of the embattled East Ramapo school district, where affiliates of a large Hasidic community have controlled the school board for years. For the uninitiated, NPR unpacked the fascinating story in a 2014 episode of This American Life, but the short version is that about 24,000 East Ramapo students attend private yeshivas while public schools hold only about 8,500 students. The Hasidic community is so densely populated in the district they have dominated school board elections and slashed funding for public schools, shifting tax dollars to cover private school expenses and even closed public schools, only to sell the properties to the yeshivas at deep discounts.

The actions of the school board, usually carried out in secret, have been considered detrimental to public education, so the NY state legislature and education department stepped in, appointing outside monitors and oversight of school board activities. But now local parents say the monitors and the education commissioner are part of the problem.

Parent groups and school board candidates are circulating a petition calling for Commissioner Elia to step down after her flip-flop-flip on the latest proposed budget.

Because of East Ramapo’s unique monitor law, Elia has to approve the school budget proposal. She did so last month, apparently without reading it. Two days later, Elia rescinded her approval when she discovered it included five days of funding for busing students to private religious schools on days the public schools are closed.

She then visited the district with NY State Education Department lawyers to discuss the budget–behind closed doors. Local parents later discovered the renegotiated deal included funding for FOURTEEN days of busing private school students at a cost of about $1.4 million dollars. No explanation was offered by Elia as inconsistency apparently changed into total capitulation.

Now, Elia and the monitors are suggesting an “override” vote as the budget exceeds the state tax cap. This means the budget has to pass by 60% or more, but residents vowed during last week’s hearing to vote AGAINST the budget on May 16, expressly because of the giveaway to the private schools, calling schools board members “corrupt” and “deceptive” to their faces. Some also asked why Elia never pushed for a tax cap override for desperately needed academic funding in years past, but is now willing to do so for religious school perks.

The Blaine Amendment clause in New York’s Constitution has, since 1894, “prohibited the use of public money for the direct or indirect support of educational institutions that are controlled or directed by any religious denomination, or where religious tenets or doctrines are taught.” This prevents the board from allocating tax dollars for rent or teacher salaries for religious schools, but there are exceptions regarding transportation, textbooks, technology, health and special education services.

In decades past, East Ramapo’s public schools were considered among the best in the state, but under pressure from the growing Hasidic population, local leaders developed an “understanding” where private schools would receive tax dollars for services like transportation. In exchange, the large voting bloc would agree to support the annual school budget. When the bloc decided to flex their “democratic” muscle and take over the board, the public schools deteriorated as officials voted, in secret, again and again for cutting or privatizing public education funding.

Finally the state stepped in, imposing monitors and oversight to eliminate the funding for private busing on days there is no public school. But now it’s back. The funding for private busing to religious schools not only ensures the bloc will vote for the budget, but will also turn out for school board elections held the same day, where three of nine seats are up for grabs (because of the contention in the district, vote turnout in East Ramapo is typically over five times higher than neighboring districts).

Local religious schools have used budget loopholes as mechanisms to privatize public education money, resulting in scandals, litigation, FBI raids and costly judgments. East Ramapo’s open secret is that the monolithic “bloc” vote is not just powerful enough to control school board elections, but can also tip state and Congressional elections. This is why heavyweights like Bill Clinton and John Boehner come to court local rabbis during campaign season. This is why the monitor law was watered down to exclude all-important “veto” powers. This is why state education officials cut backroom agreements with the 8-1 majority on the board, allocating 38% of new revenue for private schools expenses.

It’s also come to light over the years that New York yeshivas receiving public tax dollars do not actually teach academics at required minimal levels, sometimes excluding entire math, English and science programs.

According to a little-known 1928 state law, responsibility for enforcing adequate secular study in religious schools is supposed to fall to the local school board. For decades, the issue was non-controversial because most religious schools around the state, predominantly Catholic schools, offer robust academic programs. Consequently, the state Education Department has no mechanisms for tracking coursework in religious schools and there is no precedent for penalizing schools who flout the law, leaving the community in charge.

The school board not only looks the other way, but the powerful ultra-Orthodox community reportedly makes local Hasidic parents afraid to speak out in fear of retribution. Thanks to RLIUPA, a federal zoning law designed to help the expansion of religious institutions, East Ramapo’s 80 private yeshivas now dwarf the number of public schools.

Understanding these realities, the question is not why Commissioner Elia approved such a sweet deal for the bloc, but rather why she rescinded her earlier approval when the funding for non-mandated private busing was much lower. This suggests Elia didn’t initially understand “how things work,” until it was explained in person.

Aside from her new troubles in East Ramapo, Elia is also under criticism statewide for her handling of New York’s standardized testing and Common Core, support for charter schools and for moving too slowly to remove billionaire Carl Paladino from Buffalo’s school board after his racist remarks came to light. Elia’s gaffe encouraging students to consider both sides in a Holocaust assignment also made headlines last month, but her recent, privately-struck deal with the East Ramapo board has not been widely reported.

The polls for this vote on the East Ramapo school district’s budget will be open on May 16 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., and it will have to pass by at least 60%. Please check back here for updates on this story, as we will report whether or not the town rejects the proposed budget.

 

MAY 25, 2017
UPDATE: The East Ramapo school budget failed to pass by a crushing 89-11%.

The preferred slate of the ultra-orthodox bloc vote won by a comfortable margin, maintaining an 8-1 majority on the school board.

Public school advocates in East Ramapo say the budget would have been acceptable if not for the $1.4 million in private yeshiva busing costs added in at the last minute.

It is still unclear why Commissioner Elia approved the religious school bus funding after initially objecting to an even lesser amount. It’s also not known why the large bloc of pro-private school voters abandoned the budget in what appears to be a costly miscalculation of voter sentiment.

Another budget vote is scheduled for June 20.

Community members will be also watching closely as it is suspected the board will once again try to award a contract to Brega Transport, a busing operation that was barred from federally-funded contracts after the owner was indicted by Preet Bharara’s office for allegedly falsifying $86,000 in repair invoices. The East Ramapo school board awarded Brega’s firm further contracts despite the scandal, prompting local residents to petition the state Education department for a stay order.

The petition contends Brega should be barred from district business not only because of the fraud and bribery charges, nor even Brega’s blemished safety record, but because they were not even the lowest bid. As is too often the case, political allies of the board were showered with maxed-out campaign contributions by Brega and his family members.

Trump Sets His Sights on Declassifying Dozens of National Monuments

Last week, Trump signed an executive order that initiates a review of every national monument classified since 1996 over 100,000 acres in size—functionally, this includes 22 land-based national monuments and 5 marine monuments. Depending upon the conclusions of these reviews, it is possible that these lands could be declassified as national monuments, sent back to state control, and opened to privatization.

The national monument designation was defined under the 1906 Antiquities Act and is used to protect historic or vulnerable natural sites from abuse. National monuments have designated boundaries, within which there are additional restrictions on land use and enhanced conservation protections. In some cases, these restrictions also prevent the destruction of key archaeological sites and native landmarks. Specific restrictions vary based on the site and are designed to preserve our natural treasures so that future generations can enjoy them.

For example, it would be impossible for an oil company to conduct offshore drilling in a designated marine monument, just as it would be impossible for an oil transfer company to run a pipeline through a land-based national monument. In fact, this is one reason why some activists wanted President Obama to designate the Standing Rock reservation land a national monument–so Energy Transfer Partners would be forced to reroute the pipeline.

If Trump’s Department of the Interior decides to reclassify these monuments, they will be made vulnerable to any number of environmental threats—this will be the case even if the Trump administration’s “reviews” simply shrink the land designation for these monuments, or reduces the restrictions on their use.

For example, one of the marine monuments under review is the vulnerable ecological area in the Atlantic Ocean called the Northeast Canyons. These were classified as a national monument in 2016 by the Obama administration specifically to protect them from oil and gas exploration which would destroy their ecosystems (e.g. through drilling, chemical spills, noise, and other activities). If Trump eliminates this national monument, it will allow private oil companies to start obtaining mineral extraction leases and destroying the environment in an attempt to find valuable natural resources.

During the signing ceremony, Trump made the following statement about the purpose of this executive order:

“The Antiquities Act does not give the federal government unlimited power to lock up millions of acres of land and water, and it’s time we ended this abusive practice.

I’ve spoken with many state and local leaders — a number of them here today — who care very much about preserving our land, and who are gravely concerned about this massive federal land grab. And it’s gotten worse and worse and worse, and now we’re going to free it up, which is what should have happened in the first place.”

This comment makes Trump’s intentions very clear. He is trying to end the “abusive” practice of protecting lands from destruction, while state leaders are perfectly happy to sell out to private corporations. If he has his way, the federal government will step aside and let oil, gas, mining, farming, and other big industries strip-mine these vulnerable lands for a personal profit, while leaving the contaminated husk of the land for the rest of us.

The “massive federal land grab” he cites is, in reality, simply an attempt to protect vulnerable and historic natural treasures and landmarks from pollution and exploitation. These are our public lands and the idea that protecting them amounts to a land grab puts the situation on its head—the real “land grab” will be corrupt state and local politicians selling these public lands to polluters.

This situation is ongoing, as these reviews have not yet begun. While this story isn’t as inflammatory or sensational as many of the other Trump abuses, it is still important for the American people to keep pressure on his administration during this reclassification process. These lands are a legacy that we can easily destroy with careless action and privatization, and there is no way to repair them once they are gone.

 

Our Team

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