Turkey farmers facing squeeze after Trump kills agriculture rules

Politico – Agriculture

Turkey farmers facing squeeze after Trump kills agriculture rules

A USDA decision is giving significant power to the multibillion-dollar meat industry, potentially crushing the smaller turkey farmers.

Turkey farmer Ike Horst is pictured. | POLITICOTurkey farmer Ike Horst is one of the independent businessmen caught up in the Trump administration’s government-wide deregulation frenzy. | M. Scott Mahaskey/POLITICO

By Christine Haughney     November 22, 2017

Ike Horst raises 22,000 turkeys a year on his farm in the rolling hills of south-central Pennsylvania, selling them to a processing company that was providing him with enough of a nest egg that he hoped he could sell the farm and retire.

But a Trump administration decision to block proposed agriculture regulations may blow up those plans, preserving the multibillion-dollar meat industry’s power over the smaller turkey farmers whose birds will grace the tables in millions of American homes this Thanksgiving.

Horst is one of the independent businessmen caught up in the Trump administration’s government-wide deregulation frenzy.

Obama-era rules that had yet to take effect would have given smaller farmers more power to set the terms of their deals with massive meat companies, empowering the growers to sue and better define abusive practices by processors and distributors under federal law. Trump’s Agriculture Department killed two of the proposed rules, one of which would have taken effect in October.

Major agribusinesses like Cargill and Butterball fought the rules, saying they would lead to endless litigation between farmers and global food companies.

Trump’s deregulatory strike — lauded by big business — has consequences, even for the mom-and-pop turkey farmers who raise free-range, antibiotic-free turkeys that have seen increasing demand as Americans become more socially conscious about the production of their foods.

Horst is afraid a planned sale of his farm will fall through because Plainville Farms, a major organic food producer and the primary customer for his turkeys, is requiring the buyer to install upgrades including fans, tunnel ventilation and a stationary generator if it wants to continue supplying to the company.

Under the rules Trump killed, Horst’s buyer could have resisted such new costs.

“That was my retirement,” said Horst, who is selling his farm for health reasons and is scheduled to close the sale in January.

In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, some turkey farmers said the processing and distribution companies already have been setting tougher terms. Farmers who produce birds for Plainville received letters in October amending their contracts by cutting performance incentives and demanding that they invest in equipment upgrades. They blame the Trump administration.

If Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue hadn’t done away with the proposed rules, “the companies wouldn’t be doing things like this,” said Mike Weaver, a West Virginia poultry grower and president of the Organization for Competitive Markets, who has been contacted by Plainville’s turkey growers about their fears. “We think this has emboldened the companies to abuse the growers.”

Distributors and large poultry growers, for their part, have praised the decision to ditch the proposed Obama-era regulations, which were developed under USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration and are commonly referred to as the GIPSA rules. If allowed to go into effect, they “would have opened the floodgates to frivolous and costly litigation,” said Mike Brown, president of the National Chicken Council.

Meanwhile, turkey farmers have fewer and fewer choices about where to sell their birds. Contract farmers account for 69 percent of turkey production, according to the USDA. As of 2011, 58 percent of turkey slaughter was controlled by just four companies: Butterball, Jennie-O, Cargill, and Farbest Foods.

As the industry has consolidated, margins for turkey farmers have gotten thinner. Billy Turner, a Virginia-based grower who raises 54,000 turkeys annually for Cargill, noted that when he started working 25 years ago, he earned $2.25 to $2.50 for each bird he raised. Now he receives $1.35 a head. But he can’t get out of the business because Cargill asked him recently to make upgrades to his barns that he had to take out a $150,000 loan to pay for. He said those upgrades have raised his utility bills from $75 a month to $700 to $800 a month. He survives by raising corn and cattle as well. He said if he raised only turkeys, “I couldn’t do it. I would probably be bankrupt by now.”

Plainville is not a large-scale, mass-market distributor, but one that supplies the high-end organic food segment. It specializes in antibiotic-free and organic turkey meat for which consumers pay a premium. But Plainville’s farmers don’t get much of that: Farmers interviewed for this article said the new contracts cut what they receive on turkeys to 11 cents a pound from 13 cents. Cook’s Illustrated reported that these turkeys sell for more than 10 times more, for $1.19 a pound.

The farmers point out that Plainville’s parent company, Hain Celestial Group Inc., which promotes itself as a healthy food company and owns brands like Celestial Seasonings Tea, reported a 131 percent increase in profit in its most recent earnings statement.

When contacted by POLITICO, Mickey Baugher, vice president of operations for Plainville Farms, replied via a LinkedIn message that “our decision to modify the terms of our grower agreements were not influenced by any changes in GIPSA rules.” He noted that even with the updated contracts, growers make 20 percent more than the average industry grower. He added, “We do not believe that any modifications to our grower agreements will have any effect on the quality of our turkeys.”

The letter he sent to turkey growers also stated that “the decision to reduce grower pay was not made quickly or lightly” and that “having the best housing in the industry will benefit the welfare of our turkeys.”

Turkey farmer Ike Horst's farm in Orrstown, Pa., is pictured.Turkey farmer Ike Horst’s farm in Orrstown, Pa., is pictured. | M. Scott Mahaskey/POLITICO

Mike Lilburn, an Ohio State University professor and unit supervisor of the Poultry Research Center, explained that turkey farms are now raising larger birds much faster and require newer ventilation systems.

“It has to be done for the grower to be competitive, and it has to be done for the company to be competitive with other companies out there,” Lilburn said.

Several turkey farmers interviewed for this article, however, said that there are better, more cost-effective solutions. Horst, who has been raising turkeys since 1995, said that instead of installing expensive fans, he has let his turkeys go outside.

“The best thing is natural air,” he said.

Years ago, Horst said, the processing and distribution companies, known as integrators, would meet with farmers to discuss contract changes before implementing them. That no longer happens. “Integrators don’t want to hear the growers griping and complaining,” he said.

Despite his financial worries, he calls turkey farming a “low-stress job,” one made enjoyable by the comic antics of the birds. He talks to his turkeys and tells them he won’t eat them. Instead, this Thanksgiving, he’ll be eating an old German dish that involves stuffing a pig’s stomach with sausage and potatoes. He thinks his turkeys appreciate it.

“It’s like raising kids,” he said. “If you enjoy kids, they’ll do good for you. But if you mistreat your children, they’re going to be in trouble all the time.”

Insanity of GOP Tax Bill: They’re Coming For Your Social Security & Medicare

Daily Kos

Forbes Botton Lines Insanity of GOP Tax Bill:

They’re Coming For Your Social Security & Medicare

IMG_6805.JPG

Why would they want to do that?

By Heavy Metal        November 20, 2017 

Today’s article in a Forbes oped contributor blog post describes how the current GOP tax bills are “the end of GOP economic sanity” and goes through a long list of problems that would never have been inflicted on the US populace before:

“If it’s enacted, the GOP tax cut now working its way through Congress will be the start of a decades-long economic policy disaster unlike any other that has occurred in American history.”

“There’s no economic justification whatsoever for a tax cut at this time. U.S. GDP is growing, unemployment is close to 4 percent (below what is commonly considered “full employment“), corporate profits are at record levels and stock markets are soaring. It makes no sense to add any federal government-induced stimulus to all this private sector-caused economic activity, let alone a tax cut as big as this one.”

After going through a list of problems it will cause, such as high inflation which monetary policy will no longer be able to affect, they come to this:

Without massive cuts in Social Security, Medicare and the Pentagon, it won’t be possible to reduce federal spending enough to do more than tweak the deficit.

And there it is. The only option that will be available to ameliorate the significant problems these tax cuts will cause is to cut these parts of the budget. None of the other options is feasible. And the Pentagon budget is sacrosanct. That leaves Social Security and Medicare.

This was a goal of the invasion of Iraq- explode the debt and deficit to the point where cuts to entitlements are the only solution. But that was staved off with a democratic president. And now we are back to square one. Only this time the super rich get a massive windfall in the bargain.

This is what they have wanted for decades. They have had their eyes on the prize and they see it getting closer and clearer. This won’t be an unintended consequence- it is the plan. The goal.

And the gall to try and sell a measly tax cut of a few hundred dollars as a boon for the “middle class”.

I’m sure Democratic legislators are well aware of this. My question- is it taboo for them to engage on this subject?

www.forbes.com/…

Forbes

GOP Tax Bill Is The End Of All Economic Sanity In Washington

Stan Collender, Contributor       November 19, 2017

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

TWEET THIS

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

No doubt many of you read the above headline and immediately started to tweet that the GOP tax bill can’t be the end of economic sanity in Washington because there never was any to begin with.

I have two responses.

First…please do tweet that, and link to this post when you do.

Second…you’re wrong. If it’s enacted, the GOP tax cut now working its way through Congress will be the start of a decades-long economic policy disaster unlike any other that has occurred in American history.

There’s no economic justification whatsoever for a tax cut at this time. U.S. GDP is growing, unemployment is close to 4 percent (below what is commonly considered “full employment“), corporate profits are at record levels and stock markets are soaring. It makes no sense to add any federal government-induced stimulus to all this private sector-caused economic activity, let alone a tax cut as big as this one.

This is actually the ideal time for Washington to be doing the opposite.  But by damning the economic torpedoes and moving full-speed ahead, House and Senate Republicans and the Trump White House are setting up the U.S. for the modern-day analog of the inflation-producing guns-and-butter economic policy of the Vietnam era. The GOP tax bill will increase the federal deficit by $2 trillion or more over the next decade (the official estimates of $1.5 trillion hide the real amount with a witches brew of gimmicks and outright lies) that, unless all the rules have changed, is virtually certain to result in inflation and much higher interest rates than would otherwise occur.

The GOP’s insanity is compounded by its moving ahead without having any idea of what this policy will actually do to the economy. The debates in the Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees and on the House floor all took place before the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis and, if it really exists, the constantly-promised-but-never-seen report from the Treasury on the economics of this tax bill.

Meanwhile, Congress has ignored other estimates like this one from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School showing that the tax bill won’t do what the GOP is promising.

In other words, the GOP tax bill may be enacted without anyone who votes for it having any understanding of the damage it could do to the economy. They have wishes, hopes and prayers but in reality nothing beyond the economic equivalent of pagan superstition.

On top of everything else, there is no reason to rush this debate as the GOP is doing. Given that it’s not really needed, a bill that is enacted next January or February will make as much economic sense as one signed into law by the end of this December. The must-do-it-by-Christmas deadline Trump has imposed is completely artificial and nonsensical.

The real economic insanity of the GOP’s tax bill will be felt in future years. Consider the following.

  • The $1 trillion a year budget deficit will not be the result of cyclical changes that will be reversed when the economy improves. These will be permanent structural deficit increases.
  • The tax hikes that will be needed to resolve the structural imbalance between federal spending and revenues will be impossible for political reasons.
  • Whenever the S. economy grows more slowly than expected or there’s a downturn, an annual deficit of $2 trillion could easily become the norm.
  • The federal government will have far less ability to respond to economic downturns unless previously unimaginable and politically intolerable deficits, tax increases or spending cuts suddenly become acceptable.
  • Reduce the national debt? As they say in New York, fuhgeddaboudit at least in the next decade.
  • Much more national debt plus rising interest rates means interest on the national debt will be the fastest growing part of the federal budget.
  • Without massive cuts in Social Security, Medicare and the Pentagon, it won’t be possible to reduce federal spending enough to do more than tweak the deficit.
  • Washington’s ability to invest in anything new that will improve the economy (think infrastructure, education and medical research) will be far less given the already-high deficits.
  • Even though the limits to monetary policy became obvious the past few years, the Federal Reserve will be the major economic policy maker in Washington over the next decade.

In other words, if the GOP tax bill is enacted, Congress and the president this year will give up almost all ability to deal with the U.S. economy for at least a decade even when, as almost certainly will happen, there’s a downturn. No one else will be able to fulfill this role.

That’s almost a textbook definition of economic insanity.

Follow Stan Collender on Twitter at TheBudgetGuy

House tax bill is littered with loopholes for Wall Street’s wealthiest

November 21, 2017

Crains – House tax bill is littered with loopholes for Wall Street’s wealthiest

ThinkstockPhoto by Thinkstock

(Bloomberg)—Lawmakers who sped a bill through the U.S. House last week may have handed a few more goodies to Wall Street’s wealthiest than they realize.

Investors in billion-dollar hedge funds might be able to take advantage of a new, lower tax rate touted as a break for small businesses. Private equity fund managers might be able to sidestep a new tax on their earnings. And a combination of proposed changes might allow the children and grandchildren of the very wealthy to avoid income taxes in perpetuity.

These are some of the quirks that tax experts have spotted in the bill passed by the House on Nov. 16, just two weeks after it was introduced. Whether they were intentional or accidental, it will be up to congressional tax writers to keep or revise them before a final bill makes it to President Donald Trump’s desk—assuming both chambers can work out a compromise. Senate leaders plan to vote on their own version of tax legislation by the end of this month.

“There sure are a lot of glitches and loopholes, in large measure because there’s so much complexity in this bill that’s being raced through,” said Steven Rosenthal, a senior fellow with the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, a Washington policy group.

Loopholes aside, the biggest features of the Republican tax plans in both chambers bear a mix of news for wealthy investors.

The good: a potential cut in the top marginal income tax rate; big cuts in business taxes; an end to the alternative minimum tax; and a cut or repeal of the estate tax. The bad: limits or the outright end of individual deductions for state and local taxes and tax hikes on the debt financing that fuels private equity deals.

The loopholes are deep in the details. 

The House bill contemplates a major shift in how most American businesses are taxed. Right now, profits from “pass-through” entities, like sole proprietorships and partnerships, show up on their owners’ individual income taxes. The House bill replaces that with a new, 25 percent top tax rate on pass-throughs’ business income. Supporters describe the change as a boon for small business owners, a way to keep them relatively even with corporations, which stand to see their tax rate drop to 20 percent from 35 percent.

POSSIBLE WORKAROUND

The bill’s drafters probably didn’t mean for investors in partnerships like hedge funds to use the new pass-through rate, according to David S. Miller, a tax partner at Proskauer Rose LLP in New York. Capital gains, the kind of income these funds tend to generate, would be excluded.

But there may be a workaround. In a note published on Nov. 13, Miller highlights what he calls “an unusual set of drafting glitches.”

Here’s how it would work, according to Miller: A fund could choose to be taxed the same way a securities dealer is. It would have to mark its portfolio to market regularly and record any profits as ordinary income. Doing so would allow it to characterize the money it makes as “business income” rather than investing income, and qualify for the pass-through rate.

For a hedge fund that generates short-term capital gains, this strategy could have the effect of dropping an investor’s tax rate to 25 percent from 39.6 percent. The manager of the fund probably wouldn’t get the full benefit, Miller said.

The Senate bill, which was released Tuesday, would overhaul taxes for pass-through businesses in a completely different way.

CARRIED-INTEREST DISCREPANCY

Another provision in the House bill is aimed squarely at fund managers. It targets the so-called carried interest tax break that Trump called for ending during his campaign when he said “hedge fund guys are getting away with murder.”

Hedge fund and private equity managers typically get some of their pay in the form of carried interest — a percentage of their investors’ profits. Under current law, if those underlying profits stem from investments held for more than a year, the managers enjoy the same preferential, lower rate on the carried interest that their clients pay on their investments.

The House bill preserves this break, but limits it by extending the holding period from one year to three.

Even that tax hike might be avoidable, according to Monte Jackel, a senior counsel at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP. Jackel notes that the provision doesn’t apply to corporations that hold carried interest. So a fund manager could collect his carried interest through a type of corporation that doesn’t itself pay taxes.

“It looks like that’s what they’ve written,” Jackel said, adding that it’s the type of discrepancy that’s likely to get fixed once someone notices it. The Senate bill contains identical language about corporations.

ESTATE TAX

Another quirk in the House bill is so glaring that Richard Levine, a special counsel at Withers Bergman LLP in New Haven, Connecticut, says he can’t believe it was accidental. This one involves the estate tax, a 40 percent levy that applies to the estates of a few thousand of the richest Americans each year.

The House bill would limit the tax to even fewer estates right away, and then eliminate it entirely in 2025. But it leaves in place a related measure that allows heirs to sell assets without having to pay income tax on the appreciation that took place before they inherited them.

Taken together, that means that a family whose fortune derives from a long-held asset—think Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., or the Walton family’s Wal-Mart Stores Inc.—might never have to pay tax on the bulk of that wealth at all. The founding generation could borrow against the stock to meet expenses, and the next generation could sell it income tax-free.

The last time the estate tax was repealed, during the single year of 2010, Congress changed the rules on inherited assets to avoid this result, said Robert Gordon, who advises clients on the tax implications of investments at Twenty-First Securities Corp. in New York.

He predicted the same thing will happen this time, but that it’s being held back as a negotiating tactic. (The Senate bill would limit the estate tax to fewer people but not repeal it.)

Levine helps wealthy individuals with tax planning, and he said the House proposal is “very welcome for my clients.”

“As a matter of tax policy it’s completely indefensible,” he said. “It permits income that is obviously income, in a constitutional sense, to go entirely un-taxed.”

When Our Allies Are Accused of Harassment

New York Times – Opinion

OP-ED COLUMNIST

When Our Allies Are Accused of Harassment

Sen. Al Franken on Capitol Hill last week. Credit Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Michelle Goldberg             November 20, 2017

Last Thursday, after a photograph emerged of Senator Al Franken either groping or pretending to grope a sleeping woman, Leeann Tweeden, with whom he’d been traveling on a 2006 U.S.O. tour, I wrote that he should resign. Almost as soon as it was published I started having second thoughts. I spent all weekend feeling guilty that I’d called for the sacrifice of an otherwise decent man to make a political point.

Then I saw the news that a woman named Lindsay Menz accused Franken of grabbing her butt while they posed for a photo at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010, when he was a senator, and I read Franken’s lame non-denial: “I feel badly that Ms. Menz came away from our interaction feeling disrespected.”

Yet I am still not sure I made the right call. My thinking last week, when the first accusation emerged, was: cauterize the wound. It doesn’t matter that Franken’s transgression wasn’t on the same level as the abuses that the Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore or Donald Trump have been accused of. That photo — the unconscious woman, the leering grin — is a weight Democrats shouldn’t have to carry, given that they’ve lately been insisting that it’s disqualifying for a candidate to grab a woman sexually against her will. It seemed cruel to expect Democratic women to make Jesuitical arguments that the shadows under Franken’s hands meant he wasn’t really touching Tweeden’s chest. Especially since, with a Democratic governor in Minnesota, the party would maintain control of Franken’s seat.

But even as I made the case for resignation, I was relieved that it seemed as if Franken might stick around, because I adore him as a public figure. It’s easy to condemn morally worthless men like Trump; it’s much harder to figure out what should happen to men who make valuable political and cultural contributions, and whose alleged misdeeds fall far short of criminal. Learning about all the seemingly good guys who do shameful things is what makes this moment, with its frenzied pace of revelations, so painful and confounding.

Personally, I’m torn by competing impulses. I want to see sexual harassment finally taken seriously but fear participating in a sex panic. My instinct is often to defend men I like, but I don’t want to be an enabler or a sucker. I try not to be a hypocrite, while being aware that the right plays on the media’s desire to seem fair-minded, which is part of what led to wildly excessive coverage of Hillary Clinton’s emails during the presidential campaign, among other distortions.

It’s not a coincidence that the post-Harvey Weinstein purge of sexual harassers has been largely confined to liberal-leaning fields like Hollywood, media and the Democratic Party. This isn’t because progressive institutions are more sexist than others — I’m confident there’s at least as much sexual abuse in finance as in publishing. Rather, organizations with liberal values have suddenly become extremely responsive to claims of sexism. Feminists, enraged and traumatized by Donald Trump’s election, know they can’t expect accountability from Republicans, but they’ve forced it from people who claim to share their ideals. As a result, it sometimes feels as if liberal institutions are devouring themselves over sex while conservatives, unburdened by the pretense of caring about gender equality, blithely continue their misrule.

Adding to the confusion is the way so many different behaviors are being lumped together. Weinstein’s sadistic serial predation isn’t comparable to Louis C.K.’s exhibitionism. The groping Franken has been accused of isn’t in the same moral universe as Moore’s alleged sexual abuse of minors. It seems perverse that Franken could be on his way out of the Senate while Moore might be on his way in.

It’s possible that feminists, in trying to hold Democrats to standards that they wish were universal, risk unilateral disarmament. Kate Harding made this case in The Washington Post last Friday, arguing against Franken’s resignation. If Democrats “set this precedent in the interest of demonstrating our party’s solidarity with harassed and abused women, we’re only going to drain the swamp of people who, however flawed, still regularly vote to protect women’s rights and freedoms,” she wrote. And when the next Democratic member of Congress goes down, there might not be a Democratic governor to choose his replacement.

I’m partly persuaded by this line of reasoning, though conservatives mock it as the “one free grope” rule. It’s a strange political fiction that anyone can really separate partisanship from principle. In general, the character of the party that controls the government has a much greater impact on people’s lives than the character of individual representatives. Those who care about women’s rights shouldn’t be expected to prove it by being willing to hand power to people devoted to taking those rights away.

Yet just as there’s a cost for cutting good but imperfect men loose, there’s a cost to defending them from consequences we’d demand if the politics were reversed. It forces feminists to treat our own standards as unrealistic, to undermine our own arguments. Ultimately, however these dilemmas play out, we lose: either the moral high ground or men whom we need, admire and maybe even love.

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Why Pipeline Opponents Cheered Monday’s Keystone XL Approval

EcoWatch

Why Pipeline Opponents Cheered Monday’s Keystone XL Approval

The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation tweeted: “The Keystone XL must be stopped: commit to peaceful resistance on the route http://nokxlpromise.org   #NoKXL #KeystoneXLPipeline  #KeystoneSpill”

Lorraine Chow    November 21, 2017

Yes, it’s true that the Nebraska Public Service Commission voted Monday to approve the long-gestating Keystone XL (KXL) tar sands pipeline. But don’t score it as a win for TransCanada—or as a “boost for Trump”—just yet.

That’s because the commission approved the “mainline alternative route,” and that’s not the route that the pipeline operator wants.

It could take years before the project finally gets off the ground (if it ever does), as the alternative route includes 63 miles of new pipeline not yet approved by the federal government and plenty of landowners could stand in the way.

As Crystal Rhoades, a commission member, wrote in her dissent: “The route violates the due process of landowners. There are at least 40 landowners along the approved route who may not even know that their land is in this pipeline’s path. Since they might not know that they are in the path of the pipeline, they may not have participated in this proceeding.”

And you can bet with last week’s 210,000-gallon oil spill from the existing Keystone pipeline in South Dakota that many landowners wouldn’t be thrilled about the project.

Even TransCanada seemed lukewarm about the commission’s decision.

“As a result of today’s decision, we will conduct a careful review of the Public Service Commission’s ruling while assessing how the decision would impact the cost and schedule of the project,” said Russ Girling, TransCanada’s president and chief executive officer.

Even though President Trump has issued a presidential permit for the KXL, it was based on an environmental analysis assuming that the pipeline would follow the route TransCanada preferred, The Hill reported.

A State Department spokesperson told The Hill that the agency “heard about a possible modified route, and we are in the process of gaining more precise information in order to determine if there will be any permitting impacts as a result of those changes.”

Many pipeline opponents stressed that the fight is not over.

“TransCanada has to now go back to the drawing board. They’ll need new plans, new permits, new agreements with landowners, new assessments, and more,” 350.org co-founder Jamie Henn tweeted.

“The decision to re-route the pipeline opens up *tons* of opportunities for legal challenges. To name a few: there was no tribal consultation, proper environmental impact studies haven’t been done, landowners weren’t consulted, etc.” Henn added.

Jane Kleeb, the founder of Bold Nebraska and a prominent anti-KXL activist, tweeted that the Public Service Commission’s decision means “years of new review and legal challenges are now on the table.”

Jane Fleming Kleeb@janekleeb  Today was a victory for everyone working to stop Keystone XL. TransCanada did not get their preferred route which means years of new review and legal challenges are now on the table.  

Immediately after Monday’s announcement, environmental groups and Native American tribes launched a renewed effort to battle the controversial pipeline, including the “Promise to Protect” campaign to make “a concerted stand” against TransCanada’s $8 billion project.

Finally, Mother Jones pointed out that TransCanada’s biggest challenge might come down to economics:

“When TransCanada originally proposed the route, the energy economy was different. As gas has flooded the market and oil prices have come down, TransCanada has had trouble attracting buyers interested in the heavy viscous oil that is more expensive and energy intensive to extract and refine. The company wants enough customers to fill 90 percent of its capacity before it proceeds. In June, the Wall Street Journal reported the ‘oil producers and refiners the pipeline was originally meant to serve aren’t interested in it anymore.'”

As Henn noted: “Every bit of uncertainty and every day of delay makes Keystone XL less likely. The economics are already stacked against this project and it’s just a matter of time before the last few backers pull out, leaving TransCanada all alone.”

Costa Rica Runs Entirely on Renewable Energy for 300 Days

EcoWatch: Costa Rica Runs Entirely on Renewable Energy for 300 Days

“Eólica” or wind power plant in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. ICE Group / Twitter

Lorraine Chow      November 21, 2017

Costa Rica has charted another clean energy accolade. So far this year, the Central American country has run on 300 days of 100 percent power generation from renewable energy sources, according to the Costa Rican Institute of Electricity (ICE), which cited figures from the National Center for Energy Control.

With six weeks left of 2017 to go, Costa Rica could easily surpass 300 days.

This impressive feat bests its 2015 record of 299 days of 100 percent renewable production. The country went 271 days using only renewable energy production in 2016.

Costa Rica currently receives 99.62 percent of its electricity from five renewable sources, the highest proportion since 1987. This year, 78.26 percent of electricity came from hydropower, 10.29 percent from wind, 10.23 percent from geothermal energy and 0.84 percent from biomass and solar.

Costa Rica has emerged as an global environmental leader, with its frequent 100 percent renewable energy streaks and its 2021 goal of becoming carbon neutral—a deadline set a decade ago.

In June, Costa Rican government officials announced an ambitious plan to become the world’s first country to achieve a comprehensive national strategy to eliminate single-use plastics by 2021.

The ICE also noted that 2017 is poised to the biggest year for wind production in the country’s history, with 1,014.82 gigawatt hours generated by 16 wind farms.

A Republican ‘win’ on the tax bill will actually be a loss

The Washington Post -Opinion

Democracy Dies in Darkness

A Republican ‘win’ on the tax bill will actually be a loss

By Jennifer Rubin        November 20, 2017


President Trump, flanked by Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, left, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, sits down with staff members during a federal budget luncheon at the White House in Washington in February. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Democrats are reaching the conclusion that the GOP tax bill — with huge benefits for the rich and elimination or limits on the state and local tax deduction — could be a Pyrrhic victory for Republicans. The Post reports:

A University of New Hampshire poll released Tuesday found the tax bill already underwater, with just 39 percent of voters in support. A majority of New Hampshire voters favored the bill’s expanded child tax credit, but just 35 percent favored its slash to corporate taxes, which Republicans have described for months as a job creator. But the talk of changes to state tax deductions overwhelmed all.

“A lot of people here work in Massachusetts and pay some of those taxes,” said Chris Pappas, a member of the state’s Executive Council who’s now running for the Manchester-based 1st Congressional District. “They’re going to get whacked if they cut the state and local tax deduction.”

Democratic confidence about fighting the tax cuts has also been bolstered [by] experience in recent years. In 2009, the party passed a stimulus package with little Republican support, and waited for voters to appreciate its payroll tax and alternative minimum tax cuts. In a sluggish 2010 economy, Democrats were blown away, with voters largely unaware of minor changes to their taxes.

Democrats are already polishing their campaign themes, arguing that the middle class will get hit twice — once by the tax bill and again by the cuts in federal spending that will be needed to pay for it. (“At the New Hampshire dinner, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), who just months earlier had warned his party not to rule out a tax plan, described a Republican Party that would put suburban and working-class taxpayers in hock.”)

Republicans face two additional issues — the real cost of the bill and the meager economic results it is likely to generate.

Mulvaney: White House may drop the individual mandate repeal to pass a tax bill. White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said on Nov. 19 that they would remove the repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate if “a good tax bill can pass.”

As to cost, Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Budget and Management, has no real answer to the argument that the tax bill is using a phony sunset provision to disguise its actual cost. On “Meet the Press,” there was this exchange:

MULVANEY: We’re using reconciliation so that we only need 50 votes in the Senate instead of 60. In order to do that the certain proposals can only have certain economic impact. And one of the ways to game the system is to make things expire. The Bush tax cuts back in early 2000 did the same thing. They supposedly would expire after nine years. What we tell folks is this is if it’s good policy it will become permanent. If it’s bad policy it will become temporary. That’s just the way that it is. So this is done more to force, to shoehorn the bill into the rules than because we think it’s good policy.

ANDREA MITCHELL: Isn’t that an admission though that it’s a gimmick. You’re saying it’s a $1.5 trillion tax cut. The impact on the deficit. But in fact, it’s, according to most analyses, $2.2 trillion.

MULVANEY: Well, not most analyses …

MITCHELL: Well, a non-partisan analysis. And the fact is that you’re squeezing it into these rules. But you really do intend for it to be extended down the road which will explode the deficit even farther … We’re not taking a political point of view here. We are actually going by nonpartisan groups like the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, all the impact on the exploding deficit which will impact future generations.

In addition, the $1.5 trillion limit on debt expansion in the budget assumes billions of cuts in entitlements — something President Trump said he would never do and something moderates such as Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) have said they won’t allow. The explosion of debt that Republicans will unleash will not only be a drag on growth but also exert pressure to make cuts in both defense and domestic spending.

Moreover, the premise of the bill — we need to jump-start the economy to create jobs — is flawed. We are already at “full employment,” and the bill’s incentives to reinvest in the U.S. economy make little sense. For one thing, U.S. businesses already are sitting on mounds of cash; for another, U.S. businesses — as senior economic adviser Gary Cohn learned — are not keen on using any tax savings to hire more workers or pay them more.

David Frum sums up the consequences of the GOP’s legislative recklessness:

By refusing to hold hearings and forestalling Congressional Budget Office scoring, Republicans have moved fast. But they have not convinced the public mind to recycle an antique but still meaningful phrase. They may win a vote. They have not won the argument. What they are doing will not last, and will therefore not deliver any of the promised benefits. It’s the equivalent of a 1980s-style corporate raid, which will yield a hasty and morally dubious windfall for a few insiders while damaging the longer-term economic health of the larger enterprise.

In sum, it’s quite likely that by the midterms and certainly by the 2020 election, the only real results of the tax bill will be bigger debt and greater income inequality. Sure, Democrats would like to defeat a bill that they consider to be rotten policy. They’d be delighted to see Trump humiliated by another legislative defeat and watch as the GOP’s circular firing squad forms. Nevertheless, watching vulnerable Republicans cast votes for a very unpopular bill that will likely have little benefit for all but the super-rich would be a fine consolation prize.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.    Follow @JRubinBlogger 

A Mexican Town Wages Its Own War On Drugs

The New Yorker

A Mexican Town Wages Its Own War On Drugs

When the authorities could no longer be trusted, Nestora Salgado organized a citizens police force. Did she go too far?

“We tried to bring peace to the town,” Salgado said. “We didn’t want to start a war.” Photograph by Ian C. Bates for The New Yorker

By  Alexis Okeowo

Audio: Listen to this story. To hear more feature stories, download the Audm app for your iPhone.

Late one night last January, in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero, a group of community policemen met in the courtyard of a friend’s house to discuss the murders, kidnappings, and extortion that had beset Olinalá, a remote town high in the Sierra Madre del Sur. Nearly all were indigenous farmers, and their skin was burnished by the sun. Most carried guns. The group’s coördinator, a slim man with a mustache named Bernardo Ayala, laid his cell phone on a table, put it on speaker, and called their leader: Nestora Salgado, a grandmother of five who lives outside Seattle.

“Hello, commander,” Ayala said. “All of the compañeros are here.” Salgado greeted them, her voice echoing in the courtyard, which was decorated with shrines to Catholic saints. In person, Salgado, who is forty-five, has dark bangs that sweep over a cherubic face with kohl-rimmed eyes; she has a cheery disposition and a deceptively guileless manner. Since 2012, she has divided her time between Washington State and Guerrero, where she was born, in the hope of helping her town resist an influx of drugs and violence.

For more than a decade, the Mexican government has been waging war against organized crime, deploying tens of thousands of troops. That war has failed; more than a hundred and fifty thousand people have been killed and another thirty-two thousand have disappeared. Amid the violence, the government forces have often been no less venal and corrupt than the drug cartels they were dispatched to fight. In many places, citizens have grown so distrustful of the security forces that they have formed armed community self-defense groups to restore order to their battered towns.

In less than a year, Salgado transformed a group of untrained local citizens into an armed force that was able to track down and arrest kidnappers and murderers. Its success helped inspire a surge of community police; of eighty-one municipalities in Guerrero, fifty-four now have forces. But the group, founded with the intention of fighting criminals, had ended up fighting the Mexican government as well. In 2013, Salgado was arrested, and authorities accused her of murder, kidnapping, organized crime, and robbery. After almost three years in prison, she was cleared of charges, but many of her colleagues still had open arrest warrants. The force, which at one point had two hundred and forty volunteer officers, was down to eighty, and they were struggling to keep working.

“Does anyone have questions for Nestora?” Ayala asked the group.

Compañera Nestora, the thing that has most stopped us is that we don’t have any money to operate,” a heavyset man named Calixto Reyes said. “We pay for everything out of our own pockets and from whatever people give us. And there are many communities that have requested our support.”

Salgado urged them not to give up. “The government is trying to stop our work,” she said. “But we have to continue.” As the community policemen prepared to begin the night’s patrol, she signed off. “I would like to send a very strong hug to all of you,” she said. “We will stay in touch.”

Ayala began chanting the group’s motto: “Respect for our rights—”

The others joined in: “Will bring justice!”

Ayala said, “Vámonos, compañeros,” and the group walked to two white trucks, emblazoned with the community-police insignia. They eased their vehicles down a near-vertical road into town, past kids nestled in doorways and shopkeepers closing down businesses. Most offered friendly greetings. A slender man with graying hair flagged them down. “There are some guys racing on motorcycles here,” he said, waving at the street, which was wide enough for only one lane of traffic. “They’re using the street as a drag strip. If you see them, please get them to calm down.”

Around another corner, the community policemen encountered a group of young people with a red motorbike, but they turned out not to be the culprits. “If that was the motorcycle, we would have just taken it,” Julia Silva, one of two women on patrol that night, joked. “We need them for rapid response.”

A municipal-police truck passed, and turned down a parallel street. One of the men looked at the vehicle with disgust. “The police,” he said. “Whenever they see us out, then they remember they have a job to do.”

Olinalá is a modest place of nine thousand people, with sloping streets, a scenic plaza, and the reddish spectre of mountains looming in the distance. The town is known for its ornate lacquerware, and the mountains for fields of poppies. Mexico is the world’s third-largest producer of opium, and Guerrero grows fifty to seventy per cent of the country’s poppies; the mountains near Olinalá are among the most productive regions. When Nestora Salgado was growing up there, the drug trade was negligible, and the town was poor but safe. “It was beautiful,” Salgado said. “My family, my friends, everything was there.” Surrounded by six siblings and many aunts, uncles, and cousins, she felt that she was related to almost everyone. Her family lived in an adobe house with a tin roof on a vast farm, and she was free to roam. Though her mother urged her to “behave like a little woman,” she preferred to go horseback riding and shoot birds with her brothers. She often came home with bruises and a bloody nose.

Salgado’s mother, Aurora, had come to Olinalá from a nearby indigenous Tlapanec village. “People were very discriminatory toward indigenous people,” Salgado said. “It’s why she didn’t teach us to speak her language. She thought that if I spoke it people would laugh at me.” Aurora hadn’t gone to school, but she was intelligent and resourceful. She taught herself to sew clothes and to make cookware; in addition to taking care of the children, she helped with planting and harvesting crops. Salgado’s father, Fernando, a playful, easygoing man with deep-blue eyes, worked as a farmer and a practitioner of traditional medicine. He housed patients at the farm while they recuperated, giving them food and a place to sleep.

When Salgado was twelve, her mother died, of a heart attack, and her father started disappearing on drinking binges, sometimes for a week at a time. Not long afterward, Salgado began spending time with a friend named Miguel, the first boy she ever liked. He was funny and friendly, and within a few months they married. She was fourteen and he was nineteen. “My father looked at me like I was crazy,” she said. “My husband was very scared. He thought my father wanted to hurt him.” She moved to Miguel’s family farm and soon had a daughter, Saira. Miguel wouldn’t allow her to return to school, but she didn’t mind. “I played like a little kid at their house,” she recalled. Things became harder, though, as she had two more daughters, Ruby and Grisel. There was very little work outside the farm, and barely enough money to buy milk for the children. “We had nothing,” Salgado said.

Miguel sometimes went to the United States for stints of work, but Salgado never saw the earnings. “I would be waiting for him, for him to send money to us,” she said. “I think he was drinking a lot.” So, at nineteen, she headed to the border, leaving her daughters with her sister in Mexico City. “It was very hard to leave them,” Salgado recalled. She had nightmares of her daughters drowning. Salgado had to cross illegally, running across fields and highways. She was captured, and sent back to Tijuana by bus. She tried again the next day, and, this time, she made it to San Diego. During the crossing, though, she lost Miguel’s phone number. “I didn’t know how I would find my husband,” Salgado recalled. “I was scared and didn’t know what I was going to do.” She thought of going home, but she owed money to her coyote—the smuggler who had helped her cross. A woman who worked for the coyote, providing meals for the migrants, hired Salgado as a nanny for her young children.

After three months, Miguel found her, and the two moved to Bellevue, Washington, where a cousin of his lived. Miguel worked as a dishwasher. Salgado found a job as a housekeeper at a hotel, and another at a dry cleaner. “I remember waking up in the mornings and going to work happy,” she said. “Walking the streets, I saw everything as beautiful—the plants, the flowers. Olinalá doesn’t have any parks. I wanted my daughters to see this.” After a year, she had saved enough money to bring their daughters to Bellevue. But she had to hire a babysitter while she was at work; Miguel couldn’t be relied on to watch the children. Salgado would come home to find her husband drinking with his friends, the kitchen empty of food for their daughters. Once, the sheriff came to her house to put their belongings outside because they hadn’t paid rent. “The terrible thing was that I saw my husband not worrying about anything,” she said. Miguel physically abused her so viciously that he was eventually sent to prison.

At twenty-six, she finally left him. She got a job as a waitress, and at the restaurant where she worked she met a cook from Jalisco named José Luis Ávila. “My life changed,” Salgado said. Ávila helped her with her children and the rent. They got married, and eventually moved to Renton, a small city near Seattle. In 2001, she obtained a residency card, and, ten years after leaving Olinalá, she was able to return for a visit. “Everyone was so happy,” she said. “But I was also sad, because I saw how truly poor my town was.” Salgado began going back every year, bringing children’s toys, clothes, and other donations she had collected in Washington. Her daughters didn’t like the town, which seemed too foreign, too small, too quiet. To Salgado, it was paradise. She gardened, farmed, and rode horses; on an undeveloped part of her father’s land, she began building a house.

Yet the area was becoming increasingly unrecognizable. For years, the Beltrán Leyva cartel had controlled Guerrero’s opium production. But, starting in 2009, the government killed or arrested most of its leaders. With the Beltrán Leyvas gone, and with U.S. demand for heroin rising, more than a dozen gangs began a fierce struggle for raw material and transport routes. Their members committed kidnappings and murders; they took over the commerce of towns, and then forced residents to pay taxes to them.

The government was little help. Mexico’s then-President, Felipe Calderón, had sent a surge of troops to the region, but the presence of the military often intensified the violence. Local forces were no better. Mike Vigil, a former Drug Enforcement Administration chief of international operations in Mexico City, told me, “The municipal police were endemic with corruption.” The drug trade had saturated the government with corruption, and few politicians evaded it. “You can count them on one hand, the ones who are clean,” Salgado said. Leaked government documents from 2014 assert that state security knew of at least twelve mayors in Guerrero who were connected to organized crime. “This is the true nightmare: that the enemy, the Mafioso, who is tearing society apart, goes unnoticed in public office,” Anabel Hernández wrote in the book “Narcoland.” Guerrero became one of the most violent states in Mexico, with thousands of killings each year. During my visit, security forces found six decapitated bodies in a car in the state capital and four tortured corpses in another town. “A lot of people were scared, but no one said anything,” Salgado said. “You can’t live like that.”

In the fall of 2012, Salgado’s father fell ill, and she went to Olinalá to care for him. She found the town besieged by sicarios, or hit men, connected to the Los Rojos gang. Salgado told me that they operated freely on the streets, shooting guns at all hours of the day. They kidnapped a hotel owner and extorted money from shopkeepers. A mother of three told me that, after months of paying protection fees, she closed her shop. Illicit business proliferated: the sale of bootleg liquor and cigars, stolen cars and animals. “The police wouldn’t do anything,” Bernardo Rosendo, who runs an art school in town, told me. The sicarios acted with such impunity that some townspeople began to believe that the mayor, Eusebio González Rodríguez, was tolerating their presence. (González denied this, saying, “I have always done things within the law.”)

In the month before Salgado arrived, at least three people had been murdered. That October, during her visit, a taxi-driver named Cecilio Morales was kidnapped. A group of people, including her brothers, went looking for him, and finally found his body near a ravine, his head smashed in with a rock. “People were really angry,” Salgado recalled. At the funeral, the next morning, rumors spread that another driver from the town had been kidnapped. “We were fed up,” Tomás Bello Flores, a community policeman, told me.

People gathered in the central plaza, where the town’s church stood amid trimmed shrubs and palm trees. A few residents rang the church bell, and hundreds more came to the square to find out what was going on. “That was the moment that started the movement,” Salgado said. “I was planning how we could work together to defend ourselves.”

Some residents had grabbed one suspected criminal and turned him over to the police, but he was quickly released. “We realized the police were not going to do anything,” Juan Guevara Ayala, a corn farmer and an uncle of the missing driver, recalled. As the sun was setting, Salgado and the other townspeople stopped a police truck near the plaza, and forced the policemen to get out and turn over their guns. “I felt I was in God’s hands,” Ayala said. “Whatever would happen would happen.”

For the next two hours, Salgado drove the truck through town, shouting through a megaphone, “Come out! You don’t have to be scared!” People started organizing by neighborhood, and, armed with AK-47s and hunting rifles from home, and sometimes wearing ski masks, they set up checkpoints to monitor who was coming in and out of town. “The streets were packed,” Ayala recalled.

In less than a year, Salgado transformed a group of untrained citizens into an armed force that was able to track down and arrest kidnappers and murderers. “Fear can make you react, or it can flatten you,” she said. “I am someone who reacts.” Photograph by Ian C. Bates for The New Yorker

More than a hundred townspeople headed to a house where several of the sicarios lived, to make them reveal the whereabouts of the second driver. The men were gone when the group arrived, but the townspeople found a car and two motorcycles, and torched them. A few days later, one man called Salgado and reported that a group of men had detained the sicarios’ teen-age girlfriends. Furious, they wanted to take them to the plaza, douse them in gasoline, and burn them. “I hurried over there,” Salgado said. “I said to them, ‘What are you doing?’ ” She told them that killing the girls would just create trouble. Instead, she suggested questioning them. They had worked as lookouts for the sicarios, and as prostitutes for the men.

The next day, they picked up the girls from their family homes and took them to a school, where they had arranged for a lawyer to be present. The girls told them whom the sicarios were planning to kidnap (Salgado was on the list) and whom they were working with: wealthy residents of Olinalá, the head of local government security, the public prosecutor, and the mayor. (The officials deny working with the sicarios.) They showed cell-phone videos of executions that their boyfriends had committed, and of children being sexually abused. Salgado and the others put the footage on disks to keep as evidence.

In the sicarios’ home, they discovered shotguns and bulletproof vests, along with a cache of driver’s licenses from various states in Mexico, declaring that the men belonged to several branches of the armed forces simultaneously. Before the townspeople left, Armando Patrón Jiménez, the town’s public prosecutor, came to collect the items. He and Salgado had been friendly for years, occasionally going for drinks together, but the timing of his arrival made her suspicious. “Why?” Salgado said. “How did he know those things were there?” (Patrón Jiménez says that he was there as part of a routine investigation, and denies that there were weapons.)The following week, the governor of Guerrero, Ángel Aguirre Rivero, came to Olinalá, and Salgado gave him a disk with the footage from the girls’ cell phones. “I said, ‘That’s why my town needs community police,’ ” she recalled. “And he said, ‘Oh, yes, yes—that’s very good. I am proud of you for wanting to provide security for your people.’ ” But neither he nor the military attempted to arrest the sicarios. Instead, the governor later supplied the community police with trucks and uniforms, and recognized Salgado as head of the force. She was forty-one years old, and had recently become a grandmother. “He said the security of the town would now be in my hands,” she said.

Guerrero has a long history of indigenous revolt. The Sierra Madre del Sur was often the site of protests against Spanish colonists and post-independence Presidents. Since then, leftist guerrilla movements have proliferated in the region, even though the Army has tried to extinguish them, through extrajudicial killings, abduction, and torture. In the seventies, the schoolteacher turned revolutionary Lucio Cabañas lived in the mountains and led a guerrilla group that waged a rebellion for the poor; they supported themselves through bank robberies and other crimes against the wealthy and the state. More recently, indigenous communities have organized grassroots protests against environmentally hazardous infrastructure projects and the incursion of mining companies on their land.

Salgado’s force grew out of a civilian police organization called Coordinadora Regional de Autoridades Comunitarias-Policía Comunitaria. crac-P.C., as it is known, was founded, in 1995, to provide security in the place of hapless or disinterested police and military. It is sanctioned by Guerrero State Law 701, which recognizes the authority of indigenous communities to administer themselves, “based on their ancestral customs and traditions that have been transmitted for generations, enriched and adapted with the passage of time.” Law 701 also permits a judicial system “for the prevention and resolution of conflicts” and “to reduce crime, eradicate impunity, and rehabilitate and reintegrate social transgressors.” It endorses the idea of collective justice, which is valued in many indigenous Mexican communities. Under the law, towns with indigenous and mestizo residents can reconcile perpetrators and victims in accordance with traditional methods; the community police formed institutions called casas de justicia, which tried people for minor crimes.

Salgado’s new force was made up of farmers, ranchers, engineers, doctors, accountants, and teachers, mostly of indigenous descent. Boys under eighteen could join if they were married. When Salgado became leader, some men bristled, but she offered her position to anyone who wanted it, saying that she would be happy to be just a community policewoman. No one came forward. “Nestora has more balls than anyone in this town,” Bernardo Ayala said.

Olinalá has eight neighborhoods, and Salgado helped arrange for the community policemen to patrol each one at night. Each policeman took a couple of shifts a week. Salgado patrolled every night, from nine o’clock until two o’clock, driving her pickup with policemen in the bed. Her neighbors donated food, water, trucks, and gas money to her force, and brought hot coffee and tacos while they patrolled.

Many nights, Salgado’s force simply insured order on the streets: taking drunks home, driving sick people and pregnant women to the hospital. Other work was more serious. They rescued residents who had been abducted, and arrested people whom they suspected of robbery, kidnapping, or extortion. Salgado received phone calls from people threatening to kill her. “A lot of the time, they didn’t have a face,” she said. “They were ghosts.” Still, the patrols gave her a rush. “We knew that if these people were able to get us they would tear us to pieces,” she said. “Fear can make you react, or it can flatten you. I am someone who reacts.” When she called her family in Washington, she kept the details of her new life vague; she didn’t want them to worry.

One afternoon, during her first month leading the force, an eight-year-old boy disappeared from a nearby town. His father, a butcher, received a phone call three hours later: the boy had been abducted, and his kidnappers wanted two million pesos. The parents were afraid. After realizing that they could not come up with the money, they called their town’s community police—“No one trusts the municipal police anymore,” Salgado said—who then called community forces in the surrounding towns. Salgado and thirty of her men joined a search party of community police and residents, looking in abandoned houses and ranches, amid the weeds and the cornfields. One of the searchers, looking near a farm a two-hour drive from town, heard suspicious sounds, and alerted the community police. They found the boy there; the men guarding him had fled. “I was scared, because I knew the sicarios were close and could kill us, but I was happy to see the boy,” Salgado recalled. The kidnappers were later arrested.

Law 701 places few limits on the authority of community police, saying only that they need to operate within “the framework of respect for human rights” and “the limits that the current state of law imposes.” In practice, the state authorities expected them to act as adjuncts of the municipal police. But Salgado and her men felt increasingly confident in their parallel system of justice. Community police forces were reluctant to turn prisoners over to the government, because officials sometimes allowed suspects to buy their way out of jail. In Olinalá, Salgado’s force kept detainees on the top floor of her house, which doubled as her office. “We would just guard them,” Gustavo Patrón Coronel, a sixty-six-year-old artisan and community policeman, said. “They were allowed to receive visitors, they were fed—very much like a regular jail.” After the community police investigated an offense, the victim was invited to face the accused in Salgado’s house, and if the latter confessed reparations were arranged. “Everything had a structure,” Salgado said. When an agreement couldn’t be reached, she sent detainees to a casa de justicia, which decided whether to impose “reëducation”—a period in which prisoners lived in basic facilities while they attended talks and performed public works, like picking up trash, painting churches, and cleaning schools.

Although community police were legally restricted to small rifles, at times they carried higher-calibre weapons, some of them bought from soldiers selling surplus arms. “I carried a gun that was not permitted,” Salgado said—a .38 Super pistol. “If the military had found it, they would have taken it away.” She wore a bulletproof vest and practiced point-blank shooting. “We told the government, ‘We’re not going to war with slingshots. Respect our lives, because our lives mean something, too,’ ” she went on. “The government wanted us to have sticks, and our enemies can take down helicopters.”

By the spring of 2013, Salgado was working to organize community police forces throughout the state. “All the towns within indigenous territory can, within the law, organize themselves,” she said. “Every eight days, a town would rise up.” In May, the governor’s office dispatched a former crac-P.C. coördinator to tell Salgado that the government didn’t like the way the casas de justicia were operating and wanted her to limit her work to Olinalá; Salgado said that he offered her three million pesos to stick to small matters, such as stolen cattle and family disputes. (The governor declined to comment.) She refused, saying that the network of towns helped keep the roads safe. “The government never left us alone,” Bernardo Ayala recalled. “It was constant harassment.” The security forces intimidated them as well. “We received direct threats from the Navy,” Juan Ayala Rendón, a community policeman, said. “They told us that they were going to kill us, that they were going to disappear us, that they were going to arrest us.”

Rather than back away from antagonizing officials, crac-P.C. became more aggressive. When a resident called Salgado to complain that municipal policemen were driving recklessly through town, she and her men located the chief of police and two officers, who were drunk and carrying alcohol. They arrested the officers, and confiscated their guns and their truck. They sent a message to the mayor, but heard back that he didn’t consider it his problem. (The mayor says that the officers assured him that they weren’t drunk; in any case, he says, the governor was responsible for the municipal police.) The next day, representatives from the state government came to collect the policemen, and then returned for their arms and their vehicle.

Around that time, four of the teen-age girls who had been involved with the sicarios began disappearing for days at a time, and their mothers came to crac-P.C. for help finding them. In late May, Salgado received a message that the girls had been found in two nearby towns, with cocaine and marijuana on them; she arranged for community policemen to bring them home. Their mothers told Salgado that she should put them in reëducation, but some members of the community force’s internal council were wary, because the girls were underage. Salgado told the mothers that they would need to give written permission. The women provided it, and Salgado took the girls to the town La Concordia to live at a convent and perform community service.

Ten days later, Salgado recalls, one of the mothers returned to her office and said that the mayor had offered her money to accuse Salgado of kidnapping her daughter. González denied the bribe, saying that he was responding to concerns in the community. “These were minors who were detained, and the pressure was on me, because their families were asking me, ‘You, as mayor, what are you going to do?’ ” he said. “I had to go to the state government. It was a serious matter, because unauthorized firearms were being used, and I had doubts about the legality under which they were operating.”

The next week, two of the mothers returned to the office and said that they wanted to take their daughters home, which Salgado allowed. When she was later arrested, the warrant claimed that she had unlawfully detained the teen-agers. “I was part of the recognized state security,” she said. “But the mayor was working with the governor to put me in jail.”

In August, 2013, two men from Olinalá were murdered near the border with the neighboring town of Cualác. The victims were known as criminals, but they were still members of the community, and their relatives wanted their bodies returned.

The community policemen learned that police in Cualác had taken the bodies to a nearby town, Huamuxtitlán, and went to retrieve them. “We all got together—there were forty or fifty of us in three vehicles,” Patrón Coronel recalled. “But the bodies were already gone.” The public ministry in Huamuxtitlán told them that the bodies had been sent on to the state capital; all that remained was the victims’ truck, riddled with bullet holes, which was being held at a local impound lot. When the community police arrived, they found Armando Patrón Jiménez, the public prosecutor, already there, along with two other men. Salgado says that they had set fire to papers in the truck, and were trying to push a cow that had been recovered from the dead men’s vehicle into the bed of another truck. One of the community policemen recognized the branding on the cow; it had been stolen from his family ranch a few days earlier. Salgado confronted the prosecutor and said, “What are you doing?”

Salgado says that Patrón Jiménez had no ownership papers, which people typically carry, because cattle rustling is pervasive. She asked why he was burning evidence, but he didn’t respond. “You know what?” Salgado said, gesturing at the three men. “Take them away.” Patrón Coronel told me, “I was very nervous arresting Jiménez. But he was claiming something that was not his.” As Patrón Jiménez shouted at Salgado’s men, calling them brutes, they put the suspects in their truck and drove them to a nearby jail. (Patrón Jiménez denies destroying evidence and stealing the cow; he maintains that the two dead men had recently bought the animal, and that he was collecting it to return to their families. “She was a friend,” he said, of Salgado. “Now she is perverse, a psychopath.”)

The governor called almost immediately to order Salgado to release Patrón Jiménez. She refused, insisting that he was guilty of attempted theft and tampering with crime-scene evidence. “Nestora was always fearless; she was always running around alone, even though we told her to move with ten or twelve guys,” Juan Guevara Ayala, a community policeman, said.

Salgado was due to return to Renton the following weekend, but, before she could leave, military personnel spotted her at a gas pump and arrested her. Several other members of the community police force from Guerrero were also arrested. José Luis Ávila, Salgado’s husband, learned of her detention later that day. “When you have family working against organized crime, you expect something to happen,” Ávila, who has a buzz cut and a salt-and-pepper mustache, said. “But I thought, Why was she arrested?” Relatives in Mexico scrambled to obtain news of her. “All we knew was that she had been taken by soldiers,” Ávila went on. “The government kept hiding information.” After a day or two, he called the American Embassy in Mexico and found out that Salgado was in a maximum-security prison in Nayarit, more than six hundred miles from Olinalá.

“We aren’t going to live by the law of the jungle,” Governor Aguirre said at the time. “They can’t go around armed, from one town to the other. They can’t make arrests for major crimes. When they detain someone, they have to turn them over directly to the proper authorities. . . . She refused.”

At first, Salgado did not even know what the charges against her were. For months, she was kept in a ten-foot-square cell with stark-white walls and a bright light that remained on all night. She ate her meals alone and forced herself to drink the dirty water from the tap. Later, her lawyer secured permission for her to go onto the patio, but she was not allowed to talk to the other inmates. Salgado thinks that the prison authorities were afraid she would organize them. She has lingering pains in her arms and legs, the result of a car accident, a decade ago, that left her temporarily paralyzed; she relies on medication to manage her discomfort, but she was unable to get it. “I suffered a lot in prison because of the pain,” she said.

In May, 2015, Salgado went on a hunger strike, restricting herself to water, lime juice, and honey. After thirty-four days, authorities consented to move her to the medical wing of a low-security facility in Mexico City, and she began to eat again. “I survived, thank God,” Salgado said. Still, Ávila was unable to visit her. “We had to make hard choices, because of the money,” he said. “I am the one who had to keep working. It was easier for my daughters to go and visit Nestora.” Ávila travelled instead to Washington, D.C., to meet with congressional staff members, asking them to push the State Department to intervene in Salgado’s case. In those meetings, Ávila tried to convey his wife’s commitment to her home town. “So many people from Mexico, they come to the United States and they truly forget where they come from,” he said. “Thank God Nestora is not one of them. She’s a very strong woman.”

The charges against Salgado eventually included organized crime, vehicle theft, homicide, attempted homicide, and fifty-three counts of kidnapping. Roberto Álvarez, a Guerrero state-security spokesman, suggested to me that much of crac-P.C.’s work was illegal. “They were not arrests—they were detainments. And, in the reëducation process, the liberty of the detainees was taken away,” he said. “The community police would ask the families of the detainees for money in exchange for their freedom.” Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission found that the community policemen in Olinalá had subjected twelve prisoners, including four minors, to physical abuse and inhumane treatment, denying their “right to personal integrity, dignified treatment, sexual freedom, and the right to a life without violence.”

Salgado’s first two lawyers, one state-appointed and the other from the indigenous-rights organization Tlachinollan, had difficulty even accessing files related to the government charges. Nine months passed before a lawyer could visit her. “He was not allowed to bring a single piece of paper, and he was allowed to speak with Nestora for only forty-five minutes,” Ávila said. “How can you defend somebody like that?” Ávila recruited Thomas Antkowiak, the director of the International Human Rights Clinic, at the Seattle University School of Law. “Her rights had been violated,” Antkowiak told me. “This persecution against social activists, against human-rights defenders, against indigenous leaders, is happening all over Mexico.” In late 2013, he filed a petition to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, seeking to establish that Salgado’s imprisonment was illegal; Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission declared that it had found violations of Salgado’s right to due process. In the meantime, Salgado’s fame began to grow. “Nestora became a symbol of social rage,” Abel Barrera, the director of Tlachinollan, said. “She had to expose the relationships between the authorities and organized crime, and, for the state authorities of Guerrero, she went too far. For the people who were defenseless against organized crime, she did what she had to do.”

Salgado’s defenders portrayed her case as a matter of political persecution. “She touched on the interests of the governor and the mayor,” Amanda Rivero, one of her Mexican lawyers, said. “The only way to stop the community police was to arrest Nestora.” The state alleged that Salgado forced business owners to help pay for her group’s operations; she says that she held fund-raisers but never coerced anyone. Her colleagues on the force said that they had not asked for ransoms; instead, they collected retribution fines, which were paid to victims. One of the people Salgado allegedly kidnapped and tortured, a man named Francisco Flores Jiménez, told the Mexican press that his rights were respected during the reëducation process, and that his family was never asked for a ransom. He also claimed that the young women who accused Salgado of kidnapping were treated well, and were there with the consent of their parents; Salgado’s attorneys entered the signed permission slips into evidence. None of the victims named by the prosecution showed up in court.

In March, 2016, after Salgado had been incarcerated for two years and eight months, a state court cleared her of all charges. Immediately, the attorney general of Guerrero issued three new warrants, with further counts of murder, kidnapping, robbery, and organized crime. Soon afterward, I met Salgado in an empty office at Penal de Tepepan, a women’s prison on the southern edge of Mexico City. Salgado had a cold, and she huddled into a brown leather couch in a neon-green sweatshirt and black leggings. She feared what the government would do to her, but she was optimistic: she felt that she would soon be home with her family, in Renton. “For sure, I will leave here soon,” she said.

Salgado’s daughter Grisel calls her “strong-headed,” pointing out that, when her children expressed concern over her work, she replied that she would rather die fighting than live on her knees. But things had changed. She stayed in the clinic as much as she could; she was nervous about encountering other prisoners. Misinformation about her was so widespread that some inmates thought she was implicated in the disappearance of forty-three teacher trainees in Ayotzinapa—an incident that had occurred while she was imprisoned. Women had called her profane names in the corridors. “It’s dangerous for me to be in the general population, because people look at me like the enemy,” she said.

In her cell were piles of books from supporters: a biography of the indigenous guerrilla Lucio Cabañas (“My idol”), a history of Catholic nuns, a book on the Zapatistas, Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist.” But she found it hard to concentrate on reading. “Your mind is always thinking about why they think you’re a criminal, why they put you inside,” she said. It all felt like a plot to drive her insane. She wrote in a journal, and tried to avoid the news.

Three days later, she learned that the court had found her innocent: again, the victims named in the arrest orders hadn’t showed up. Salgado walked out of the prison in an olive-green polo shirt with the crac-P.C. logo and a matching baseball cap. Outside, amid a throng of supporters, community policemen from around Guerrero had assembled in two rows extending to the street. In bright sunshine, the men saluted. “They all recognized me as their commander,” she said. “It was beautiful.” One of them brought out handcuffs, which she put on and then dramatically pulled apart, as the crowd cheered. “I am free, thanks to the townspeople,” she told them. “Thank you for your struggle. Thank you for believing in me.”

Salgado heard little news from Olinalá in prison, but she knew that the movement she had helped to revive was troubled. Across Mexico, vigilante militias, called autodefensas, had formed, and were operating outside the law. Some were opportunists, taking advantage of the chaos to carry out illegal activities; some had been infiltrated by the cartels, which used them to expand operational bases and to attack rivals. “Once the vigilante groups established control, they began to criminalize themselves,” Steven Dudley, a co-director of Insight Crime, which investigates organized crime in the Americas, said. “People started to realize many of them weren’t what they were saying they were.” As violence increased throughout the region, popular support waned. The government saw an opportunity for political advantage. It began working to disarm some of the autodefensas, while integrating others into a “rural defense corps” and hailing their work as an example of effective local justice.

Around Olinalá, some of the corrupt autodefensas falsely claimed to work with crac-P.C.—a dangerous situation, because the community police could be caught between the government and the cartels. “We’ve had threats in our own homes, phone calls, and we’ve heard comments on the streets,” Calixto Reyes, the community policeman, said. They patrolled only occasionally, and believed that the sicarios had moved back into town. “Some people are still trying to do something, but everyone is afraid now, and they don’t have any support from the government,” Anabel Hernández said. “It is not enough to fight them alone.”

There were people in Olinalá who felt that Salgado had brought trouble to the town. “Just because no one follows the law doesn’t mean you can make up your own law,” Bernardo Rosendo, who runs the art school, said. He was friendly with both Salgado and Patrón Jiménez, the prosecutor she had arrested. “She should have taken Patrón Jiménez to the authorities with proof. He was being punished under a law we had never heard of. How can you have a state within a state?” For some, it rankled that Salgado was free while several of her colleagues were still imprisoned. Among them was Gonzalo Molina, a crac-P.C. leader in the town of Tixtla, who was arrested after he protested Salgado’s detention by leading his force to disarm the Tixtla municipal police. Like others, he blames Salgado for not doing more to negotiate his freedom.

Not long after Salgado was released, I met her at her family’s apartment in Renton, a plain, comfortable place in a quiet neighborhood. The walls of the living room were filled with photos and illustrations of Salgado, sent by well-wishers; her children and grandchildren wandered in and out. Sitting on the couch, Salgado said that her intentions had been good: “We tried to bring peace to the town, to care for and protect everyone. We didn’t want to start a war.” (Rosendo put it another way: “No matter what happens, she has the conviction that she did what she had to do, and that it was the right thing to do.”) Salgado went on, “I did so many good things in my town. A lot of people liked me. The government accused me of so many things I didn’t do. Now they have accepted that I was within the law, but they took almost three years.”

Eusebio González Rodríguez, the mayor of Olinalá, told me that, while he respected Salgado, he found the actions of the community police dubious. “I always told the government of Guerrero that if it was authorizing self-defense groups then it would have to control them. It’s a situation that spiralled out of the state government’s control,” he said. “I didn’t agree with the fact that there was no limit to the community police’s function.”

The state still maintains that Salgado is a criminal; the Guerrero prosecutor has appealed her release. Álvarez, the state-security spokesman, said, “Even though she acted within Law 701, she went against the constitutional precepts that protect human rights.” Wary of the power that the law gives indigenous civilian forces, politicians have proposed that it be revised to regulate their work.

Salgado argues that crime fell dramatically while the community police were working in Olinalá and the surrounding towns. “There was nowhere for criminals to hide,” she said. “Yes, they can be selling drugs, but not in plain sight, like they used to.” State authorities also believe that the town’s security improved; they say that reports of crime actually increased, but suggest that it was because people felt more comfortable alerting authorities. And recent events have lent credence to Salgado’s charges of government malfeasance. In October, 2014, Aguirre, the governor, resigned amid outrage over the disappearance of the teacher trainees in Ayotzinapa. In his last days in office, he claimed that many of the municipal police forces were working with the cartels; the federal government has since disbanded a third of Guerrero’s municipal police departments. Rogelio Ortega, the interim governor of Guerrero, who replaced Aguirre, called the imprisonment of community policemen “a case of political prisoners.”

Salgado talks at times about going back to police work, although if she returns, she risks being detained by the government or killed by revenge-seekers. Ávila said he would support her. “We have many abandoned little towns in Guerrero, because people have been forced to leave,” he said. “We need to keep fighting.” He considered for a moment. “Of course, the day she decides to go back to Olinalá I’m going to worry a lot.”

In her living room, Salgado told me that she still fervently believed in the need for community police. “It’s the only choice people have in Guerrero,” she said. “They know that we can be in charge of our own security.” She shrugged. The cracks in her assurance were starting to show. “If they don’t want to do it, that’s on them,” she said. “But it’s the only option that we have.”

This article appears in the print edition of the November 27, 2017, issue, with the headline “The People’s Police.”

 Alexis Okeowo joined The New Yorker as a staff writer in 2015. She is the author of “A Moonless, Starless Sky: Ordinary Women and Men Fighting Extremism in Africa.”  Read more »

A Few Thoughts on the Keystone Pipeline

Esquire

A Few Thoughts on the Keystone Pipeline

Pipelines leak. We know this. Are they worth the cost?

Getty

By Charles P. Pierce      November 17, 2017

As part of my coverage of our old friend, the Keystone XL pipeline, the continent-spanning death-funnel and eternal conservative fetish object, I have attended several ceremonies at which Native American offered ritual prayers for the project’s demise. Because I am a spiritual daredevil, I was quite moved by these. Because I am something of a skeptic, I didn’t think you could pray away the forces of greed that are behind this misbegotten attempt to bring the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel from the blasted moonscape of northern Alberta through the hemisphere’s most valuable farmland. Now, I’m beginning to wonder.

Next Monday, the Public Service Commission of Nebraska will announce its ruling on whether or not the pipeline will be allowed to cross that state. Unfortunately for TransCanada, the energy behemoth that owns the pipeline, the pipeline itself isn’t with the marketing plan. This is because it is a pipeline, and pipelines leak. They always leak. From The Washington Post:  

“The spill on the first Keystone pipeline is the latest in a series of leaks that critics of the new pipeline say shows that TransCanada should not receive another permit. TransCanada, which has a vast network of oil and natural gas pipelines, said that the latest leak occurred about 35 miles south of the Ludden pump station, which is in southeast North Dakota, and that it was “completely isolated” within 15 minutes. The company said it obtained permission from the landowner to assess the spill and plan cleanup.”

Of course, there’s no reason to believe anything TransCanada says at this point, and 210,000 gallons sounds like a whole mess of tar-sands gloop to have in your field. If something like this happens in or near the Ogalalla Aquifer in Nebraska, you can kiss some of the world’s most arable farmland goodbye. That is what the Native holy men are defending with their prayers. They certainly have a point. Because pipelines leak, because they’re pipelines, and pipelines always leak.

Follow up from Charles P. Pierce:

Esquire

There’s Still a Long Way to Go for the Keystone Pipeline

Including many, many more lawsuits.

Getty

By Charles P. Pierce       November 20, 2017

The Nebraska Public Service Commission on Monday approved our old friend, the Keystone XL pipeline, the continent-spanning death funnel and longtime conservative fetish object. The vote was 3-2, with one Republican member of the PSC jumping to the opposition. This will be celebrated as the final victory for the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel—and for TransCanada, the land-grabbing foreign behemoth that trafficks in it. (Here’s Exhibit A, from The Washington Post.) But there’s many a slip twixt Alberta and Houston, as they’re saying around Marshall County, South Dakota these days.

First of all, there’s no question that the 210,000 gallons of noxious gloop that spilled all over Marshall County last week had an impact on the final PSC vote, making it closer than it might have been. This would indicate that at least part of official Nebraska is increasingly nervous about running tar-sands through or near the most important aquifer on the continent. However, because of skids that were, ah, greased earlier in the process, the state was not allowed to review or to govern on the issues of spillage and public safety. This was ludicrous at the time and looks even more so in the light of current events.

Second, and this is the most important part, the PSC tossed a joker into the deck that most people will overlook. Luckily, we have The Omaha World-Herald to suss the whole thing out:

‘In a 3-2 vote, the Nebraska Public Service Commission OK’d the so-called “mainline alternative route” for the controversial 36-inch crude oil pipeline, a path that would parallel about 100 miles of the route of the existing Keystone pipeline across the state. TransCanada built the Keystone and has proposed to build the Keystone XL. The decision, while giving the Canadian firm a route across Nebraska, raises many questions. One is that about 40 new landowners, along the 63 new miles of the alternative route, must be contacted to obtain right-of-way agreements for the underground pipe.’

Back in the good old days, before the people of Nebraska got their backs up concerning the high-handed way TransCanada was treating them, the company simply would have grabbed up some of the land along the new route while paying off the owners of the rest of it. But now, Nebraska’s had quite enough of the company, its officials, its pipeline, and the entire project in general. The 40 landowners on the route that the PSC approved likely will avail themselves of all the due process that they are, well, due.

As Crystal Rhoades, a member of the PSC who voted against the pipeline, wrote in her dissenting opinion:

“The route violates the due process of landowners. There are at least 40 landowners along the approved route who may not even know that their land is in this pipeline’s path. Since they might not know that they are in the path of the pipeline, they may not have participated in this proceeding.”

In addition, the State Department hasn’t approved this new route, so that whole process has to begin again. And even if you assume that State will rubber-stamp the new route, and even if you assume that Rex Tillerson has left enough people in place in that department to turn the lights on in the morning, I’d say it’s two more years, minimum, before TransCanada even gets a chance to uncrate its shovels. And that’s not even taking into account the inevitable appeal, the equally inevitable blizzard of new lawsuits, or the promised campaign of civil disobedience. Does the company really want two more years of protracted squabbling, or worse, before it even can begin? That remains an open question.

Additional Follow-up:

UPROXX     #disasters
The Keystone Pipeline Spill Could Be Up To Three Times Worse Than Previously Reported

Kimberly Ricci      November 19, 2017

Getty Image

On Thursday, TransCanada revealed that a Keystone pipeline leak had dumped approximately 210,000 gallons of oil in South Dakota, and drone footage posted by the BBC confirmed the spill from the sky. The one scrap of good news was that the spill did not reach a body of water, and TransCanada claims to have contained the oil. However, Vice News has spoken with a local activist who claims to have worked alongside TransCanada. He points out that the spill contained spilled an especially dense type of crude oil. This means that the disaster could be three times worse than initially estimated, and the leak may have actually dumped up to 600,000 gallons:

‘Kent Moeckly, a nearby land owner and member of the Dakota Rural Action Group, told VICE News he’s concerned that the spill could be much larger though, in large part because the computers used to detect oil pressure drops don’t always detect small leaks. “Transcanada thought it was 200,000 gallons. What we found out working with Transcanada, it could very well be 600,000 gallons,” Moeckly said.’

The type of oil that leaked during this spill — diluted bitumen (known also as “dilbit”) — is known, according to the New York Times, as a “garbage” type of crude oil. It’s darker and denser and less desirable within the oil industry, but they’ve resorted to recovering dilbit due to the scarcity of the preferred lighter types of crude oil. Because dilbit is so thick (akin to peanut butter), pipeline companies must dilute it in order to transport it.

As Vice points out, the dense and diluted nature of the new spill likely pushed it deep into the soil, so the full size of the leak hasn’t yet become apparent. The outlet also reminds readers that TransCanada’s last big Keystone spill (occurring in April 2016) was adjusted from 187 gallons to 16,800 gallons because they were working with diluted bitumen. So, official numbers (whenever they arrive) could be so much than previously estimated.

As of now, the portion of the Keystone pipeline that runs from Alberta to Oklahoma and Illinois remains closed while news of the spill jacked crude oil prices higher. And all of this is happening while Nebraska officials consider whether to approve TransCanada’s permit for the pipeline system’s Keystone XL extension. An update on the permit is expected within the next week.

(Via ViceReutersBBC & New York Times)

North Korea Women Are Raped, Sexually Abused And Not Represented Under Kim Jong Un’s Power

Newsweek – World

North Korea Women Are Raped, Sexually Abused And Not Represented Under Kim Jong Un’s Power

Greg Price, Newsweek           November 20, 2017      

North Korean women are subjected to rape and sexual assault while being denied education and work under Kim Jong Un’s totalitarian regime, a United Nations panel said Monday.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women found in its review of the North that women who managed to escape the regime’s clutches but were later brought back faced rape and assaults while in detention, Reuters reported.

According to the panel, the women who flee and return “are reportedly sent to labor training camps or prisons, accused of ‘illegal border crossing,’ and may be exposed to further violations of their human rights, including sexual violence by security officials and forced abortions.”

The panel said penalties for rape — including child rape, rape by a superior at work and recurrent rape — decreased in severity in 2012. In the case of rape by a work supervisor, the penalty was lowered from four years to three years in prison.

Kim himself was accused of having young girls pulled out of schools to be his sex slaves by a defector in September.

Women also lack access to education and are “under-represented or disadvantaged” in North Korea’s judicial system, according to the panel. Opportunities for management and leadership roles are scarce for them.

Twenty-eight percent of pregnant or lactating women were found to have “high levels of malnutrition.”

GettyImages-853458684In a photo taken on September 24, 2017 a women and child stand on a street in Pyongyang. AFP via Getty Images/Ed Jones

North Korea reportedly told the panel November 8 that recent economic sanctions were to blame for the poor treatment of women, and the panel agreed that the sanctions disproportionately affected women.

The United States and the UN have repeatedly tightened sanctions on the North this year to deter its rapidly expanding nuclear and missile defense programs. Kim has refused to cease weapons testing even as the U.S. and China have offered to come to the negotiating table, and it has accused America and its allies of preparing for a military strike or invasion.

This is only the latest instance of a UN panel exposing rampant human rights violations under Kim’s rule. Pyongyang has had a long and terrible history of human rights abuses and was ranked the fourth-worst nation in the world for human rights by watchdog group Freedom House.

The organization’s recent annual rankings put North Korea ahead of only Eritrea, Tibet and Syria in human rights, with North Koreans’ political rights and civil rights each scored at seven, the worst score possible for those categories.