Of course the GOP won’t seat Jones until next year

The petty, partisan, mean and blatantly hypocritical move to try and save Trump's tax plan by blocking the will of the Alabama voters should come as no surprise.

Alabama voters picked former prosecutor Doug Jones over right-wing, Trump-endorsed Roy Moore as their next U.S. senator. Besides an historic upset in a Republican stronghold state, the loss of a Republican vote in the senate and the subsequent addition of a Democratic one could make for a serious roadblock for the Trump administration’s agenda of privatizing public goods, opening tax loopholes for wealthy donors and corporate buyers and dismantling the very social safety net made necessary by the greed of those same wealthy donors and corporations.

Voter analysis shows that this upset wasn’t the result of white, Republican voters in Alabama defecting over allegations that Moore pursued, harassed and assaulted underage women. Rather, it was because Black voters—especially women—and millennials turned out and overwhelmingly supported Jones.

Why? Because he campaigned on values and policies that resonate with these core constituents: access to affordable education, access to affordable healthcare, defending a woman’s right to choose, defending social safety net programs and opposing the Trump administration’s corporate agenda, in particular the tax plan. The upset, therefore, was a definite rebuttal of the Trump’s administration’s anti-poor, anti-minority, anti-women policies, and its appalling rhetoric. In urban areas, where Black and minority voters live, Moore was decidedly rejected. In Jefferson County, which includes Birmingham, Jones captured more than 68 percent of the vote. And in Madison County, home to Huntsville, Jones won 57 percent of the vote.

So when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s says he will not seat Senator-elect Doug Jones before the end of the session, he is directly denying the will of the voters in Alabama based purely on policy and ideology. McConnell’s insistence that Republican Luther Strange—the current, temporary Alabama senator—stay in the seat is a move designed to keep a reliable vote in the Senate for the Trump tax plan in the coming weeks despite the fact that the Alabama voters who picked Jones reject that plan. But this should come as no surprise, given the complete lack of integrity and decency exhibited by the GOP leaders who obviously care more about maintaining ideological control, wielding power and collecting donations from their bankrollers in the corporate oligarchy than they care about building a strong, prosperous and just country.

Republicans rammed through the Senate version of the Trump tax plan in the dead of night a few weeks ago with almost no time for senators to review the document. They even hand-wrote some of the edits in the margins. The committee reconciling the House and Senate versions of the bill could release its next version any day now and the Senate could vote as early as next Monday, December 18. Seating Jones is, therefore, a matter of extreme urgency.

In 2010, when Scott Brown won Ted Kennedy’s seat in a special election after Sen. Kennedy’s passing, then Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called Brown’s election a referendum on the ongoing congressional deliberation to pass health care legislation and argued that the Senate should not finish voting on health care legislation until Brown was seated. Then-Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid honored that request and decided not to hold a vote until the Senate had sworn Brown in.

Democratic Senator Jim Webb supported the move, saying “It is vital that we restore the respect of the American people in our system of government and in our leaders. To that end, I believe it would only be fair and prudent that we suspend further votes on health care legislation until Senator-elect Brown is seated.”

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans held a Supreme Court seat open for an entire year before the 2016 election just to prevent then-President Obama from appointing a judge to the bench. Now they want to rush through a vote before their majority shrinks. The hypocrisy is palpable. It seems only fair that the Senate should wait to take such an important vote until its newest member is seated, especially given the clear message of opposition those Alabama voters who will be most affected by the tax plan sent to Donald Trump about his corporate agenda and racist rhetoric.

Roy Moore is an alleged pedophile, and while some in his party refused to support him after women came forward to report how he had harassed and even assaulted them as teenagers, the Republican National Convention renewed its support for Moore by pointing to his policy positions. They made it about the issues, choosing to skirt around the moral character of the candidate.

Doug Jones ran on a pro-choice, pro health-care platform. He voiced his opposition to the Trump Tax Scam during the race. Republicans must now accept that voters did not just reject Moore’s appalling behavior, they rejected his policies. The Senate must not hold a final vote on the Trump tax scam until Alabama’s new senator is able to vote on it.

But, true to the GOP M.O., Roy Moore is refusing to concede, and the Alabama secretary of state will not certify the results until after Christmas or into the new year. The people of Alabama elected a Democrat to the Senate for the first time in 25 years. They deserve to have their voices heard, especially when sweeping legislation that will affect them and the rest of the country is at stake.

Edit: an earlier version of this piece misidentified Merrick Brian Garland as a “progressive” judge. While he was eminently qualified to fill the position, he would more accurately be described as a “centrist,” which was part of the reason then-President Obama nominated him—so that a reasonable GOP-controlled Senate would confirm him and most people could live with his decisions. Of course, we do not have a reasonable GOP-controlled Senate, which is still the point of this piece.

Will Caron / Elections / Read
Hawaii becomes first state to invest in elder care infrastructure

The newly launched Kupuna Caregivers Program will help working caregivers pay for vital support services for their elderly charges.

Working caregivers who pay for services to support kūpuna may now be eligible for up to $70 per day of financial help to cover the cost of adult day care, chore services, home-delivered meals, homemaker services, personal care, respite and transportation.

The Hawaiʻi Executive Office on Aging (EOA) has officially launched the state’s Kupuna Caregivers Program which was mandated through a law signed earlier this year by Gov. David Ige. The law, Act 102, was championed by the Hawaiʻi branch of a national initiative called Caring Across Generations (CAG) through a campaign called “Care For Our Kūpuna.”

“The landmark initiative is a first step in recognizing the significant contributions and sacrifices of Hawaiʻi’s working caregivers as they celebrate and honor their kūpuna,” said Gov. David Ige in a press release. “Support for our caregivers is critically needed as Hawaiʻi’s population is aging more rapidly than the national average and our seniors live longer than seniors in any other state.”

“We are hopeful that this program will provide working caregivers with the opportunity to continue working and with peace of mind knowing that their loved ones are safe and are receiving services and supports that maximize their independence and quality of life,” said Terri Byers, director of the EOA. “[We are] looking forward to analyzing the data we collect during this first six-month pilot period to evaluate demand for services, provider capacity and how effective the program is in helping caregivers retain employment and ease financial burden.”

Hawaiʻi was the second state in the nation to pass a domestic workers bill of rights, signed into law by former Governor Abercrombie in 2013. As part of her work on that initiative, Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance Ai-jen Poo realized that the importance of the domestic workforce would become increasingly vital as the United States population continues to age. “More and more of us have family members who are growing old and living longer, and we want them to be able to stay at home and be a part of their families and their communities,” she said in an interview conducted for The Independent’s sister publication, Summit. “The need for care is just exploding.”

So she returned to Hawaiʻi, and visited a few other states, to help create CAG. “We have a major problem in this country where we really underpay and undervalue our caregivers—whether they are family caregivers or professional caregivers. Hawaiʻi is poised to become the first states in the country to reverse that trend,” said Poo.

Every day, 10,000 people turn 65 in America. That’s one person every 8 seconds; 4 million per year. Because of advances in healthcare and medicine, people are living longer, healthier lives. By the year 2020, about 300,000 people will be over the age of 65 in Hawaiʻi alone.

“It’s potentially a great opportunity: the ability to live longer also means the ability to connect with your family longer, to work longer, to contribute, to love—all these opportunities, if we have the right support in place to actually take care of people, and to make sure that have what they need to live healthy lives. And that’s what this campaign is all about,” Poo said.

Under Act 102, qualified caregivers who apply for the program may receive up to $70 per day in services (subject to the availability of funds and paid directly to contracted service providers, not the caregiver). To be eligible, caregivers must be employed at least 30 hours a week by one or more employers and provide direct care to a care recipient who is a citizen of the U.S. or a qualified alien, 60 years of age or older, and not covered by any comparable government or private home and community-based care service, except kūpuna care services. The care recipient cannot reside in a long-term care facility and must have impairments of at least two activities of daily living or two instrumental activities of daily living or one activity of daily living and one instrumental activity of daily living or substantive cognitive impairment requiring substantial supervision.

There are about 4 million home care workers and caregivers providing elder care in the United States, and about 52 million family caregivers: people who are providing up to 20 hours a week of care for their family members on top of full-time jobs, class and other commitments. Managing the pressures of working while supporting family members is one of the primary pain points that working families experience today.

“When we think of infrastructure ... we think of roads and bridges and pipes and fiber optic cables. In the 21st century, when 75 percent of children are growing up in households where all of the adults are working outside the home, we actually need a whole new infrastructure to support people while they care for their families,” said Poo. “And Hawaiʻi, through the Kupuna Caregiver bill, has become the first state to invest in that infrastructure, to invest in the ability of working families to keep their loved ones at home instead of putting them in institutions; to insure that the workforce that supports that infrastructure is fairly compensated. It invests in both workers and families. It’s about the value of care giving.”

Interested caregivers should contact the Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC) as soon as possible to apply for the program. Program funding is limited to a total of $600,000 available until June 30, 2018 unless a subsequent appropriation is made by the Hawaii State Legislature. Applying for the program includes employment verification, assessment of the care recipient, and a caregiver burden assessment. For further information or to apply, call the ADRC statewide phone number (808) 643-2372, ADRC TTY line (808) 643-0899, or go to hawaiiadrc.org.

To read the complete interview with Ai-jen Poo, visit summitzine.com

Will Caron / Labor / Read
8 takeaways from the state tax system review

Hawaiʻi Tax Review Commission recommendations will form the backbone of House and Senate revenue packages in 2018.

Kris Coffield / Tax Reform / Read
A Thanksgiving guide to indigenous justice

Resources for important holiday discussions with family and loved ones about race and justice

Hawaii Independent Staff / Decolonization / Read
The $700 billion military spending package could pay for tuition-free college with room to spare

127 Democrats, including Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, backed the proposed National Defense Authorization Act of 2018.

Both Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to approve the $700 billion National Defense Authorization Act of 2018 on Nov. 14, 2017. The bill would boost military spending by $80 billion a year. Senator Bernie Sanders’ proposal to create tuition-free public higher education would have cost the federal government $47 billion per year to cover 67 percent of the cost. (Even if the federal government were to pay for 100 percent of the proposal, it would cost just $70 billion per year.)

The vote tally was 357–70, with 127 Democrats—including Rep. Colleen Hanabusa—backing the bill. Sixty-seven Democrats—including Rep. Tulsi Gabbard—voted against the legislation.

The bill provides funding for 90 F-35 jets—20 more than President Trump requested—and approves more than $12 billion for the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency just as tensions between the United States and North Korea are at an all time high.

According to the Associated Press, the legislation additionally “includes money for as many as 28 additional Ground-Based Interceptors, which are anti-missile missiles that would be launched from underground silos in Alaska in the event the U.S. decided to try to shoot down a North Korean missile heading toward the United States. The interceptors are designed to directly hit the enemy missile outside the Earth’s atmosphere, obliterating it by the force of impact.”

The Senate will debate the legislation shortly after Thanksgiving before voting on whether or not to send it to President Trump’s desk. Because the spending package far exceeds the $549 billion ceiling set by the Budget Control Act, which President Obama signed to resolve the debt-ceiling crisis of 2011, House and Senate leaders will first have to strike a budget deal that increases the cap.

The single biggest section of the discretionary portion of the budget is military spending. The Pentagon tried to hide $125 billion in wasted spending last fall, and it has been unable to pass a financial audit. Major new weapons systems, including the F-35, have been outright disasters.

U.S. war efforts in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan have cost $4.79 trillion as of 2016.

If the bill is signed into law, the U.S. would begin spending more than three times as much as China on its military, and 10 times as much as Russia. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the U.S. already accounts for more than a third of all military spending on the planet.

Lobbying groups in this sector contributed more than $11 million in campaign donations in 2016, with 38 percent going to Democrats and 62 percent going to Republicans. The top 100 aerospace & defense (A&D) companies accounted for $709 billion in revenue, resulting in $69 billion in profits for 2016, an increase from $689 billion in revenue and $64 billion in profits compared with 2015.

Senator Sanders was the top recipient of Congressional A&D donations in 2016 during his bid for president. A&D was not in the top five industries that donated to the Sanders campaign. Out of the previous four election cycles, Republicans were the top recipients in three of them. The fourth, 2008, saw then-Senator Barack Obama receive the most A&D money.

Will Caron / Militarism / Read
Still Not Free: the Meek Mill case is hardly unique

The FBI is investigating the judge who sent Meek Mill back to prison for minor probation violations from almost nine years ago.

Against the recommendation of the assistant district attorney and the probation officer, Judge Genece Brinkley sentenced Robert Rihmeek Williams, who uses the stage name Meek Mill, to 2–4 years in prison for insignificant probation violations from a nearly decade-old case from 2009. Mill was arrested twice but hadn’t been convicted of any new crime; both cases were eventually dropped or dismissed.

Mill owned up to the violations in his only statement during the hearing and said that jailing him would likely end his musical career. The hip hop artist has battled addiction to the prescription painkiller Percocet and says he has only ever tried to escape a life of crime. Nothing about Mill is a risk to public safety. In fact, he’s contributed to society through his community service and activism. Mill’s lawyers have made strong allegations against Brinkley regarding personal bias against Mill. And now, news has broken that she is under investigation by the FBI for possible “extortionate demands.” FBI undercover agents have been monitoring her court proceedings in Meek’s case dating back to April of 2016.

Judge Brinkley made it hard for Mill to live a normal life while on probation by limiting which cities he could travel too, many of which were a part of his tour. In 2014, Brinkley ordered Mill to take etiquette classes and put him in jail for five months—where he spent most of the time in solitary confinement—for performing in a state without getting her permission to travel there.

Mill has been on probation since he was 19 years old. He’s now 30 and has been under the strain of the state his entire adult life—and his situation is not uncommon. One out of every 3 people in Pennsylvania prisons are there because of a probation or parole violation. The state has the second highest rate of people on probation or parole in the country, and Philly has the highest incarceration rate of the 10 largest U.S. cities, with half of the people sitting in jail because of probation or parole violations.

The system is essentially waiting for opportunities to re-incarcerate Black people and people of color.

Judge Brinkley is notorious in Philadelphia for doing just that: following people on probation and parole and calling their status into review without any credible evidence that they even violated. On top of that, she has one of the highest rates of sending people to prison for probation violations. She’s part of a system that is terrorizing and entrapping Black people every day.

Probation is supposed to be an alternative to prison that allows people to move on from their mistakes and make a better life—but, in actuality, it is state surveillance, sometimes for decades. Offenders are given restrictions, called “conditions,” that must be adhered to on penalty of violation of probation. Probation violations are treated harshly by our system, yielding tougher punishments for minor infractions—like being late to meetings, traveling out of town for work, and sometimes even being homeless—that you would never see prison time for if you weren’t on probation in the first place.

Mill’s is just a high-profile example of what’s happening to millions of men and women of color around the country. These petty parole/probation violations are one of the biggest drivers of mass incarceration—and they disproportionately affect Black people. One-third of the 4.65 million people who are currently under state supervision are Black, and African-Americans are twice as likely to have their parole or probation revoked. The criminal justice system over-polices, over-incarcerates and under-invests in minority communities. In Hawaiʻi, the same thing is true of Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander and Filipino communities.

Hundreds of people have shared similar stories under the hashtag #StillNotFree in the wake of Mill’s sentencing.

Hawaii Independent Staff / Criminal Justice Reform / Read
Gabbard will face Congressional challenger in 2018

Her challenger will be another woman leader with a military background and a strong environmental track record.

On January 21, 2017, Sherry Campagna was in Washington D.C. with a group of 200 Hawaiʻi-based social justice advocates participating in the 2 million-person Women’s March in D.C. to support legislation and policies regarding human rights—especially women’s rights—immigration reform, healthcare reform, reproductive rights, environmental protection, LGBTQ rights, racial equality, freedom of religion and workers’ rights, all of which have become threatened by the ascension of Donald Trump to the White House. It was the largest single-day protest in American history.

As one of the original national organizers of the Women’s March, Campagna helped to rally some 15,000 people on Oʻahu, Maui, Kauaʻi and Hawaiʻi Island. This was also the largest recorded public demonstration in the history of the state, and in each county.

On Saturday, November 18, at noon in the Atherton Building of the YWCA Kokokahi on Kāneʻohe Bay Drive, Campagna will publicly announce her candidacy for Hawaiʻi’s Second Congressional District.

“I decided to run for this very important position because the people of CD2 deserve a representative who will remain a true servant to their needs in Congress,” Campagna said in a press release. “While I am not a politician, I am a proven leader, confident that I will succeed in protecting the people of CD2 and their families, growing a thriving community, and preserving the ʻāina.” According to the release, her priorities will be economic justice, job creation, prison reform, environmental stewardship, healthcare and equal rights.

She will be challenging a tough incumbent. Tulsi Gabbard has more than $2 million to spend on her campaign and is capable of raising another half a million each campaign cycle. She has a strong base of support among environmentalists and her early denouncement of the DNC and her support for campaign finance reform and for Bernie Sanders won over many progressives. There is even talk that she should run for president or vice-president in 2020. She is also a military veteran who has generally been seen as anti-war.

But Campagna has her own environmental track record. She is an environmental scientist and small business owner of an environmental planning, permitting, remediation and renewable energy company called Kamaka Green, which was responsible for the master environmental plan for the controversial military live-fire training area at Pōhakuloa on Hawaiʻi Island; the Matson molasses spill emergency response plan; and the plan for Waikōloa unexploded ordnance remediation. Campagna was born in Honolulu, but grew up around the world as “a dependent of the Department of Defense.”

In college, Campagna advocated for racial equality as a Native Hawaiian, then widened her scope to include women’s rights and class disparities. She is a commissioner with the Hawaiʻi Commission on the Status of Women.

“Sherry has long been an outspoken and effective advocate for women’s rights, struggling families, marginalized groups and global responsibility. I enthusiastically support [her] candidacy for Hawaiʻi’s Second Congressional District, as would my sister, the late iconic civil rights attorney, Flo Kennedy,” said Faye Kennedy in the press release sent by the Campagna campaign.

Campagna also founded the nonprofit Olomea, which helps foster kids who are aging out of care. She has been a foster care system reform advocate for over a decade and recently won a landmark court decision based on a class action lawsuit awarding foster families an increase in care payments, which had not been matched for inflation or the cost of living in 24 years. Without such an increase, the retention of quality foster care families for foster children in need remained unnecessarily encumbered. Through Olomea, Campagna also succeeded in legislatively increasing the cutoff age for foster children receiving care from 18 to 21.

Campagna also serves as the director of the Kinaole Foundation, a nonprofit that helps veterans start their own businesses; as director for the YWCA of Oʻahu; as fund development chair for TEDxHonolulu; and is a member of the ʻAhahui Kaʻahumanu Hawaiian Civic Club, the Kalihi Palama Hawaiian Civic Club and the Prince Kūhiō Hawaiian Club.

Hawaii Independent Staff / Hawaii Politics / Read
City to hold final Important Ag Lands community meeting

Which land is in, which land is out?

The Department of Planning and Permitting (DPP) will hold its final community meeting on Monday, Nov. 20, 2017, to present its recommendations for lands to be included as O‘ahu Important Agricultural Lands (IAL).

The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in the ‘Aiea Intermediate School Cafeteria at 99-600 Kulawea St.

The public, particularly landowners who received a notice from the DPP that their property is proposed for IAL inclusion or exclusion, is encouraged to attend.

The DPP will explain what lands are being recommended for IAL inclusion/exclusion. The DPP anticipates sending the draft IAL map to the City Council for consideration by February 2018. The Council will then make a recommendation to the state Land Use Commission for adoption.

Each county is required by the Hawai‘i Constitution to identify and map lands that have the potential for designation as IAL according to standards, criteria and procedures established under state law. The intent of IAL is to ensure that the best of O‘ahu’s high-quality farm land is protected and preserved for long-term agricultural use. Developments have already broken ground on some land that, objectively, should have been considered IAL.

If food security is truly a priority for the city and the state, as it must be, then any and all land that is capable of successfully growing food should be included. With prime Ag land at Ho‘opili and Koa Ridge now rendered unusable, this issue is more critical than ever.

Will Caron / Food Sovereignty / Read
“I made this item you are going to buy but I didn’t get paid for it.”

Notes like this are being found sewn into clothes sold under the brands Zara, Mango and Next and distributed at stores around the global north. Reports say they were written by factory workers in Istanbul, employed by the major brands.

Overnight, the factory that makes the clothing for Zara’s parent company, Indetix, was shut down, leaving employees out of work. In addition, some employees were reportedly underpaid for the previous several months.

Amancio Ortega Gaona, the man who founded Indetix, became the third richest person in the world in 2012, worth $74.5 billion as of 2017.

Hawaii Independent Staff / Labor / Read
Big Pharma is fueling the opiod epidemic

But a new bill in the Senate would restore one of the DEA's primary tools in combating the wave of opiod-related tragedy in America.

The opioid crisis is now responsible for the loss of an estimated 200,000 lives in the United States, more than three times as many American lives lost in action during the Vietnam War. It has devastated families across the country, particularly in rural and under-served areas, all while making billions for the pharmaceutical industry.

One family, the Sacklers, have made around $35 billion off of one drug: OxyContin. Doctors were originally reluctant to prescribe opioid painkillers, chemical relatives of heroin, due to fears of addiction and overdose. But intentional and well-funded campaigns from pharmaceutical companies like the Sackler’s Purdue Pharma resulted in a massive uptick in prescriptions in the mid-‘90s, pushing the drugs on patients who did not need them and kicking off the opioid crisis of today.

The drug dealers of the opioid crisis don’t hang out on street corners or under power lines dangled with pairs of shoes; they don’t live in college dorms or operate out of the back of tattoo parlors or strip clubs. They wear suits and ties and lab coats. They line their own pockets with illicit sales or by deliberately looking the other way when pharmacies place huge orders. According to former Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents quoted in a recent blockbuster report by the Washington Post, drug distributors ignore red flags out of pure greed.

The drug industry worked with well-paid former DEA agents and well-compensated members of Congress to pass a little-noticed 2016 law that sabotaged the DEA’s anti-opioid efforts.

For years, one of the DEA’s best tools in combating prescription drug dealing was its ability to suspend the operations of distributors who were funneling suspiciously large shipments of painkillers. But a former DEA agent turned drug industry lobbyist turned drug distributor worked with industry lobbyists and friendly lawmakers to effectively rob the DEA of that power.

Rep. Tom Marino, whom Trump had named as his anti-drug czar, recently withdrew his name from consideration for the position. He was the primary sponsor of the lobbyist-written legislation to hamstring the DEA, all in pursuit of making drug enforcement less of a nuisance to deep-pocketed pharmaceutical companies.

Sen. Claire McCaskill has introduced legislation to undo the glaring 2016 mistake that hampered the DEA. With enough public outcry, it may be possible to overcome Big Pharma opposition that will surely pressure the GOP-controlled senate to vote against the bill.

Lives depend on Congress passing this bill. Big Pharma must be prevented from further fueling the devastating opioid epidemic. Repealing Rep. Marino’s law and giving the DEA back its power to suspend the operations of shady drug distributors is a good first step toward addressing this serious public health crisis.

Will Caron / Public Health / Read